Burned Book

When I was about 13-years-old my dad’s old Toyota caught fire. I’ve told this story a hundred times, for different reasons and in different ways. This time though, it’s all about a book. Yes, a book of course, as this is a books and reading and writing blog. See, the day this event occurred, I’d brought my favorite copy of Calvin & Hobbes: Something Under the Bed is Drooling with me.

It was an old copy that I’d dug out of piles of junk my parents had collected over the years, and it smelled like moldy paper. I loved it. I read it over and over again, especially because when I rediscovered it my dad had gotten really excited and said, “Hey, I remember that! I loved that comic. It was my favorite.” It became my favorite, too.

The day the car caught fire, I ran out of the vehicle, not thinking about anything other than not getting burnt to a crisp. My dad, brother and I stood to the side of the highway watching the fire build from the bottom, slowly, and heard the glass pop as the windows got blown out. That’s when I gasped and uttered in a small voice, “My book.”

My brother Daryl heard me, and he tried to run back to the car to grab it from the backseat, but my dad pulled him back. See, he’d just run back a few seconds before to grab his CD case (music is no joke in my family). He said, “C’mon I’ve still got time. I can get her book.” My dad stood firm, saying it wasn’t worth the risk and that he shouldn’t have run back the first time for the CDs.

I nodded in agreement with my dad. No object could be worth risking your life to a fire. An explosion, really, that could happen at any moment. I still swallowed down the lump in my throat, though. My dad’s old copy of Calvin & Hobbes was forever lost to ash, and there was no replacing it. Though my brother did offer to buy me another Calvin & Hobbes book for Christmas (and he kept that promise).

I think Daryl knew what the book meant to me. He never quite shared my attachment to books, but he knew that they were important to me. And even though I’m sad I lost that old original copy, I always remember how my big brother was willing to run into a burning car to grab a book for me. But truthfully, I wouldn’t trade my brother for any number of books. Not even for my old, original copy of Something Under the Bed is Drooling.

A Totally Biased Review of Netflix’s Anne with an E

I say biased because I grew up reading the books and absolutely loved them. I may have mentioned that before in previous posts, but in case you missed it, I LOVE Anne of Green Gables. I read the first book over 15 times, and I know this, because by the time I got to read number 15, I gave up keeping track of how many times I’d read it. So I think at this point in my life it’s safe to say I’ve read the book at least 50 times, and still plan on reading it again soon, especially after watching the new show.

I managed to watch all seven episodes in three days, which doesn’t sound impressive, but with a full-time job and grad school work, seven episodes in three days is an accomplishment for me. I just liked the show that much and felt myself taken back to childhood, hearing the old familiar dialogue and looking forward to the iconic scenes. The show did not disappoint. Even though there were a few deviations from the book, it still remained true to most of the story and the spirit of the characters.

Amybeth McNulty is an exquisite Anne, I think. Her voice and eyes are so expressive when delivering her lines, which is exactly what Anne Shirley is all about. Also, in the scenes that bring to light the true horrors Anne has seen in her life (something I appreciated that’s different from the book), her performance is heart wrenching and I couldn’t help but tear up so many times for poor, dear Anne.

Geraldine James is exactly what I always pictured Marilla to be when I read the books, and she does such a magnificent job of changing from being the completely stern authority figure to newly-made mother with a soft spot for her girl. She handles her role with grace and wit, making Marilla a lovely character to be fond of. I also love the portrayal of her relationship with Rachel Lynde, and how the two women have their differences, but truly it is like they are sisters with how well they know each other and feel comfortable with their banter, especially in a society that tries to stifle women’s personalities.

The last thing I’m going to say about the show (last because otherwise I’ll just keep going on) is I adore how unashamedly feminist it is. I write this as I wear my Mockingbird “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” t-shirt. That’s the thing about media that takes on a feminist message. It often feels like if it overtly states it, it’s trying too hard or pushing an agenda, but watching Anne With an E, for the first time I questioned myself, “Why shouldn’t it be overt and pushed? Why should touting feminist ideals be subtle or hidden or gently suggested?” I just really appreciate how a childhood favorite grew up to resonate still with me as an adult.

Slow and Steady

It’s been three years now since I went on my trip to Spain and brought home two books translated from English to Spanish. I picked them up so I could start practicing the language and have a better understanding of the writing structure. I started reading one of those books, Leyenda, two years ago, and it has been a slow go. I was trying to sit down with my dad and read it with him since Spanish is his first language, so he could correct me on my pronunciation and explain the words I didn’t recognize, but damn, it’s hard to get a minute with that man. No grudges though; he works hard and it’s understandable how tired he is every time he comes home. I’m not a kid anymore, so he’s not obligated to pay attention to me and muck through my elementary out loud reading skills, because trust me, reading in Spanish feels exactly the same as reading in English did at five-years-old: excruciating and frustrating.

The challenge has also been fun though. I started reading on my own, keeping my laptop open with a Spanish to English dictionary on hand to help me out when I get stuck. That’s the beauty of today’s technology. I can have an entire language’s lexicon at my fingertips, and even have the option of an auditory sample to know how to pronounce it. Reading out loud in Spanish on my own leaves me giggling like a mad woman because I can hear how foreign I am to my father’s native tongue, but I like that I can’t get the accent quite right and my tongue still trips over rolled R’s. It’s simultaneously amusing and frustrating that I can say the word mentally, and know how it should sound in my head, but can’t get my mouth and brain to connect to form the words properly. I am a stranger in my own land, and it is exciting and aggravating and makes for a roller coaster reading ride.

I also noticed something new happening. Well, not so much new as an old habit that I’d phased out once I learned how to read at a proficient level in English, and that habit was to imagine the details in my mind like a movie playing out. I’ve become so adept in the English language that it’s easy for me to breeze through a book and barely blink at a passage as my eyes rove over the page and understand the scene that is taking place. I process what the words say, but I don’t stop to visualize the characters’ actions anymore. Reading in Spanish forced me to do that so that I can get a grasp on the vocabulary, grammar and syntax structure. The slow reading brought back my ability to read the action on the page and see it in my mind’s eye as it plays out like an image on a TV screen. I see the woman’s hand shake as she opens the envelope that could hold the very information she’s been seeking for over a decade. I see the priest’s apprehension as he hands over the document that could compromise his faith’s foundation. Slowing down to understand what’s happening on the surface made me slow down and dig into the rich imagery the writer took care to create for the readers.

I’ll take this as a lesson when I progress in my English reading, to remember to slow down and really read beyond the words into the visuals and sensory details. I need to remember it’s not a race, but a journey through different roads and perceptions, and I can’t truly appreciate those perspectives if I don’t take the time or care to stop and see the story.

Crushing on Classics

For the longest time I could not put my finger on what about classics made me love them so much. As far back as I can remember I’ve been a fan of the classics, starting with stories like Anne of Green Gables and The Wind in the Willows. Eventually I graduated to works such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and made my way through high school readings like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and various Shakespeare plays. Of course like every other 13-year-old of my generation (probably. I’m just making that up), I became obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

While I take pride in having a fondness for the classics, I know I’m not a literary snob. Classics are obviously not the only worthwhile books to consume, and I’m certainly a fan of cheesy fantasy/scifi novels as well as comic books and mystery-thrillers. I read across genres frequently, but I always come back to the classics.

I think part of my love for them is the language. Since becoming a kindred spirit with my dearest Anne Shirley, it was the first time I ever read a character that sounded like me. She was a young girl like me and she spoke in earnest and with what the adults and others around us like to call “big words.” I always felt so strange being the kid with a sophisticated vocabulary, but trying to speak the way I was expected at my age felt wrong. It wasn’t until Anne came along that I found a repertoire of characters and people that spoke like me. The flow of the language, its poetry and drama, all spoke to me on an unidentifiable level.

It wasn’t until recently after I started watching Jane the Virgin (great take on the telenovela btw) that I realized why classics called to me. Remember that part I said about the drama? Well, growing up in a house with parents that watched telenovelas, and having been a huge fan of Aguamarina myself, I know a thing or two about drama. The classics spoke to me because even though they were written in English by Europeans (most of the ones I’ve read, anyway), they reminded me of home and my culture’s way of storytelling.

Everything is life or death. Love or hate. Joy or sorrow. Nothing is in between. Apathy does not exist in classics the same way it goes by the wayside in novelas. Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s toxic romance is something straight out of a show on Telemundo. And when Edna Pontellier makes her stand against the men who think they own her, I see glistening eyes, perfectly arched eyebrows, set crimson lips and an icy glare so piercing it makes the room go quiet.

It’s easy now to see the connection between what are considered the classics and my experience with passionate, dramatic storytelling. The language is big and over the top and emotions run high, because whether it’s Aguamarina or Pride & Prejudice, rich people got first world problems that suck everyone into their drama. And I am up front and center with popcorn in hand.

The DNF Doubt

First of all, I only learned what the acronym DNF (did not finish) stands for within the last year. I had to look it up because I’m at that awkward age where I’m a millennial but I don’t know all the lingo the kids are using these days. Anyway, DNF hadn’t been a part of my vocabulary not only because I didn’t know what it meant, but because I used to be the type of reader who couldn’t fathom not finishing a book (except Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood…sorry Ms. Tucker!) Ok, there were two others that fit the rare DNF category, but in my defense they were Jonathan Swift and Nathaniel Hawthorne and I was 8-years-old. My mom was a proponent of letting me pick up books she knew I wouldn’t understand and letting me figure out for myself that I was not smart enough yet to get them.

Other than those three rare occasions, I was never a DNFer. How could I possibly put down a book I’d started without giving it a chance? How could I truly judge its quality without reading all the way through? And what if even after 100 pages of nothing, I missed something truly incredible? I couldn’t not finish a book, no matter how boring or bad it was. Besides, what did it matter if it wasted my time? I had time to waste.

Alas, I am no longer the carefree student with time on my hands and a dwindling bookshelf. Now I’m a responsible adult who has to divide my time carefully between all the things I want to do, read, watch, listen to, etc. And my bookshelf? Double-stacked from top to bottom and I’ve barely made a dent in the last five years. Time can no longer be wasted. Therefore, I decided to no longer waste time on books that just don’t do it for me. I can proudly say in the past year I’ve DNFed two books! And one I stuck around with because “well I already started it and I’m more than halfway through and it’s for my reading challenge I might as well finish it.”

I did it again. I let the DNF doubt drag me down into another non-enjoyable book that I gave nothing but excuses. It’s like I’m in a bad relationship with my book boyfriend. Take my advice, readers. Don’t do this to yourselves. If a book isn’t sparking your interest, or if it’s making you mad or any other negative feeling, don’t hate read or try to give it the benefit of the doubt. Just let it go. There are so many good books out there waiting to be read, and we do not have time to waste on those that do not give us joy.

Set a standard if you have to, whether it’s determining how many pages in you can go before you decide enough’s enough, or taking notes and reviewing how it makes you feel. Just figure out a way to let yourself know it’s time to get out and move on.

Audio Books! Can I Get An Amen?

I started listening to audio books a little over a year ago, hesitant to take on the endeavor because I thought, “I can’t possibly pay attention to a story if I’m listening to it.” Of course, that logic is flawed because that’s how I used to take in stories when I was a kid, before I knew how to read. What opened me up to the idea of audio books was actually podcasts. Once I started listening to things like Limetown Stories, Welcome to Nightvale, Wolf 359 and a plethora more, I realized I did in fact have the capability to multitask when it comes to paying attention to stories audibly.

I started with re-reads, as I figured it’d be easier to listen to a story I was already familiar with, so if I miss a line or two, I wouldn’t be totally lost. Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series is where I dove in to the audio book scene. While I recovered from my LASIK eye surgery a couple of months ago, I voraciously ate up Pride & Prejudice through Spotify and listened to Amy Poehler narrate her memoir Yes Please on Overdrive through my library. Slowly I became more comfortable with listening to audio books and taking care of such tasks as scrolling through Twitter and catching up on emails. Long car rides are also an ideal setting for audio books.

I started a new job last month and I can only listen to so many podcast episodes before I’m all caught up and have nothing left to listen to. I ventured into Playster and decided to give new books a try, now that I was a more skilled multitasker with enhanced listening abilities. Once again, Cassandra Clare came to my rescue with Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy and The Bane Chronicles. Honestly, I marvel at my ability to write about traffic school and listen to the enthralling voices of Chris Wood and Keahu Kahuanui all at the same time. Also, hearing the chilling encounters in World War Z helped me get through the day writing about vital records (it’s a thing; go look it up).

Now as I work I am finally getting into another classic that’s been on my TBR list since 10th grade: Jane Austen’s Emma. British narrators are possibly the best, in my opinion. The wonderful thing about audio books, and I’ve saved this best part for last, is I can add them to my Goodreads count of books read! Why is this so exciting for me? Because on top of starting a new job last month, I also started grad school, which means I’ve had no time whatsoever to do leisure reading. Audio books have changed the game though.

I used to be one of those people who thought, “Audio books don’t really count,” because I had that notion that one can’t really pay attention to them. I have been proven wrong and seen the light. Listening to audio books is just an enhanced way of reading. It’s engaging, entertaining and it definitely counts. Audio books are a full-time worker grad student’s best friend. Hallelujah!

Meagan Reads YA Sci-Fi: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Read this book for the 26 book reading challenge I started a couple of years ago and am still chugging through for the category “a book set in summer.” The whole novel takes place in Portland, Maine in the summer before a life-changing event takes place in the main character’s life.

Quick summary that includes spoilers, so read at your own risk. The premise is that this takes place in a future in which the disease of amor deliria nervosa has been eradicated through a procedure that U.S. citizens undergo when they come of age. So, a special kind of surgery targets the part of the brain that processes and let’s you express emotions related to love.

Lena is a typical teenage girl who enjoys running with her best friend Hannah and can’t wait to undergo the procedure and escape her past: being the daughter of the woman who committed suicide due to falling ill with the delirium. Lena follows the rules and wants to fit into her society until, wait for it, she meets a boy named Alex.

Overall, the idea of this society is interesting and captivating, but I think I’m definitely well past my young adult years, because the nauseating young love oh my god I can’t live without you after having just met you and I hardly know you trope makes me roll my eyes so hard. The whole story and character’s development hinges on this stereotype, but my biggest problem with it is how heteronormative it is.

The point of the procedure is to eradicate falling in love, but everything rides on the idea that only boys and girls fall in love with each other. The society even has rules that doesn’t allow boys and girls to have too much interaction prior to their procedures, to reduce the possibility of falling ill. At this point, I’m over books and stories that perpetuate the idea that only heterosexuals fall in love and no other kind of people even exist. It’s 2017. Get with the times please.

However, maybe it was my mind trying to read too much into it, but I felt a sort of queer element from Hannah. They were best friends, and the way she acts toward Lena and wanting her to break free from society’s restraints always felt like Hannah trying to push her friend to the realization of how she really felt about Lena. In the end, when Lena rebels for Alex, and Lena asks her best friend to run away with them, Hannah let’s her go and says she’s not actually brave enough. That whole relationship felt to me like Hannah was always in love with Lena, but Lena never realized it, and Hannah didn’t want to ruin things for her.

I appreciated the strong use of religion to establish this totalitarian government’s rhetoric behind the eradication of love. That is something that actually translates into real-life as is often seen in the U.S.’s politics with a blurred line between Church and State. Each chapter opens with a passage from the Book of Shhh, which is sort of like their constitution and bible. If the chapter doesn’t open with a passage from that book, it opens with lines from some kind of banned literature such as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, or other poetry and novels that elevate the concept of love.

Another relevant element in this story is how police brutality is seen through Lena’s eyes. With her conditioning, she at first believes the law enforcement is there to protect the country’s citizens from themselves. When she falls to the deliria though and goes through each act of rebellion and becomes a victim of the patrollers, she finds they actually enjoy using extreme force and violence to bring criminals to justice. Lena’s description of her encounter with the police shows her thinking that the cure doesn’t eradicate all emotions, because hate and violence are still prevalent. This leads to the revelation that maybe love isn’t the problem. Love isn’t what makes people go mad and do terrible, chaotic and destructive things. That’s just people.

I’ll end this summary and review with a technical and structural choice the writer made and I think did well. The whole book is written in present tense, which is actually harder than it sounds. There’s a reason most books are written in past tense (in English at least). It’s just one of those things that feels and comes more naturally to our language. Oliver’s choice to write third person limited in present tense makes for an engaging story that brings the audience into the moment and feel like we know what Lena knows. It’s a structure that helps you feel the urgency of every situation, and it’s probably what kept me reading the whole book and look past the love story that I found cliche.

All in all, the book entertains and keeps you intrigued, but I didn’t feel a particular investment in any of the characters, and I don’t feel compelled to pick up the next installment.