Archive | Books RSS feed for this section

READING: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

10 Jan

Reading: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Why you should be reading: Theme (Identity)

I’ve been ruminating on the topic of race a lot lately. I know its a touchy subject because once people get to talking about, it’s almost certain that someone is bound to get offended or be embarrassed or any multitude of emotions, even if all of the people in the room are of the same race, let alone if there are people of two or more races in one room. Boy. I think we’ve all been in that situation, whether friends have gathered and the conversation veered in that direction or a classroom discussion, generated by by a reading, or a movie.

I’ve recently (last week!) transferred to a university far more diverse than the one I used to attend, where I was one of just a few black people. Now, I see many more black people, white people, Asian students, people of Arabic and Indian descent—every single day. But I only know what it’s like to be one race, and the struggles and challenges presented by that. I have no idea what’s like to be bi- or multiracial, but that’s exactly the life depicted in Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.

Durrow tells the story of Rachel, the child of one black parent (a military G.I.) and one white parent (a Danish woman). Tragically, at a very young age, Rachel is the only living person in her immediate family, and she’s forced to move into a mostly black neighborhood and live with her strict grandmother. Suddenly, Rachel, who’s never really be forced to see herself as one race, is living in a world that wants her to choose—white or black.

As the story progresses, the reader is also treated to the general ups and downs a young girl might face. Rachel has to deal with fitting in at school, puberty, boys, and doing all of the self-evaluation every young person goes through.

Durrow paints her world with such painstaking depth and truth, that in moments of the novel, I honestly felt as though she could have been writing moments from my life, from the couch of my living room, jotting down the words of my aunts and uncles.

All of this is mixed in with a little mystery, and the reader is kept in the dark about some of the events surrounding Rachel, which keeps the story chugging along as the reader is left to question, how, when and why?

Rachel is such an accessible character, because even though her racial identity is such a huge struggle for her, it’s just one facet of the other ways she chooses to identify herself. The great thing about this novel is that it doesn’t deny the effect our race and it’s history has on us. But it does beg the question: Is that all we are? Does that really have to be the only way to define us?

I think that many of us would say, “No, of course not,” but it happens each and every day, from people of all races. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky challenges that, and shows us, through Rachel how to break out and away from that mindset.

So, what topics, big or small have you been thinking about lately? Have you read The Girl Who Fell from the Sky? Or maybe you’ve heard Heidi W. Durrow speak? Let me know, leave a comment below!

(Photo Credit)

Advertisements

READING: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier

27 Dec

Reading: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer

Why you should read it: Theme

(Photo Credit)

I’m a very avid reader, though I do suffer from the go-go-go mentality of the rest of nation/world, meaning I don’t take as much time as I should to enjoy the things I like, such as reading. However, now that I’m older and looking toward a career that is centered around writing, I’m taking time to go back and look at old favorites and figure out what it was about them that made me so attracted to writing in the first place.

I read Packer’s The Dive From Clausen’s Pier when I was a senior in high school, so not so very long ago. I’ve probably read it four or five times since then, and it’s time to revisit it again. The book is about Carrie, a young woman who recently graduated college. She’s been with her boyfriend, Mike, since they were high school students. As the novel begins, Carrie laments about how stuck she feels. She’s been with the same man, had the same friends and been in Madison, Wisconsin for years. What’s worse is she and Mike are engaged, but she’s not sure she even loves him anymore.

She, Mike and their friends go to Clausen’s Pier Memorial Day weekend. Mike dives off the pier and suffers a terrible neck and spine injury, and becomes quadriplegic. For a while Mike and Carrie pretend they don’t know their relationship has come to an end. Carrie struggles to stay by Mike’s side, not because of his injury, but because what was between them has faded. Carrie throws herself into anything else: her sewing, her work, her mother, as long as it keeps her away from Mike.

After running into a friend from high school, Simon, who now lives in New York City, Carrie gets in her car, and heads for New York too, without a warning word for anyone—including Mike. Carrie’s fresh start awards her with new friends, new places—and a whole new life. Including a mysterious and enigmatic lover, Kilroy.

Carrie dances between Kilroy and Mike, New York and Madison, and tries to find herself along the way. Her guilt keeps telling her to go back, but her freedoms and her love for the city keep telling her to stay. I won’t say here what Carrie ultimately does, but Packer weaves a wonderful tale to get her there.

I think this is an appropriate time to think about this book, or at least is for me. With a new year beginning soon, and another behind us, this is always the time people start thinking about how they’d like to change (coughNew-Year’s-Resolutionscough), and that’s what The Dive from Clausen’s Pier is, thematically. It’s all about change, and Packer writes perfectly about all that encompasses change—how it’s terrifying and exhilarating and thrilling all at once.

I often think of this book and Carrie’s journey along with this quote by William James: “To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.” What’s great about The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is that Carrie does just that. I’m not saying that she’s right. And I’m not saying that she’s wrong. I’m just saying that Packer paints a picture of someone choosing their own life, and she does it deftly.

READING: The Sun Also Rises

6 Dec

Reading: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Why you should read it: Perspective

(Photo Credit)

As a young woman and both a writer and avid reader, I’ve been exposed to little literature with a strong theme of masculinity. For most of my high school experience, whenever there was any intense focus on gender perspective, it was usually the female perspective. I’ve read a lot of the classics, and a lot of them do touch on both, but—though I didn’t realize it then—the male perspective wasn’t as prominent in discussion and assignment. When I read for fun, my tastes ran toward typically female-dominated genres like romance and YA literature, and though there are men who write both, I didn’t usually pick up books with a strong, male protagonist. As a woman, I wanted to read about women, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When I was assigned The Sun Also Rises in college, I was in for the intensely masculine experience of protagonist, Jake Barnes. Up until then, my experience with Hemingway was limited, but not totally null. I’d read two of his short stories—“The Killers” and “Hills Like White Elephants”—which I loved, and The Old Man and the Sea, which I hated. And still hate, for the record. There were a lot of elements in Hemingway’s style that I could leave or take. While the legendary, economical quality of his writing is impressive, it can also be a little brusque and abrasive. For the most part, I could leave or take Hemingway.

Then I read The Sun Also Rises. Thought to be semi-autobiographical, the novel is about Jake Barnes, an American expatriate living in Paris during the 1920s. The novel begins with Jake explaining what kind of guy his friend, Robert Cohn is. He talks about how Robert is kind of a weakling, a little sniveling, his wife walked out on him, etc. etc. Basically, he’s the exact kind of guy Jake doesn’t want to be.

But Jake’s own sense of manhood is called into question for two reasons. One: his relationship with Lady Brett Ashley. Brett is kind of a hot mess. She’s good-looking and smart, but she hops from man to man seeking fortune and and attention. But she always comes back to Jake whenever she really needs help or she’s looking for something “real.” But she says she’ll never get in a relationship with him for the second reason. Jake suffered an injury in the war that’s left him impotent, though the extent of this injury is never really explained.

Jake, Brett, Robert and a couple more people, including Brett’s fiancee take a trip to Spain to see some bullfights. Thematically, the bullfights are everything. They’re sex, love, masculinity, passion, all rolled into one symbolic event.

But the real interesting part of the novel for me was watching Jake struggle to define and live with his own manhood, even though he’s impotent and has to watch the love of his life dally around with man after man, including Robert Cohn. The struggle in that is what makes the whole book interesting, and what made me remember why I so liked the Hemingway of his short stories, and forget why I hated The Old Man and the Sea.

The point is, there’s a reason why The Sun Also Rises is a classic. It will always be one of my favorites because Hemingway explores masculinity and what it’s like to be a man without having to be vulgar, or obvious. Hemingway claimed that being simple and direct produced the greatest writing. Maybe so, and though I won’t be taking on his style anytime soon, I appreciate the perspective he writes from, in a manner that’s eloquent and unadorned.

READING: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

15 Nov

Reading: The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Why you should read it: Character, Plotting

(Photo Credit)

With the trailer for the movie released yesterday morning, The Hunger Games fans are in a tizzy (well, at least I am) for the movie based on the series of books. The Hunger Games and the subsequent books in the trilogy (Catching Fire and Mockingjay) have just about something for everyone. A little romance, suspense, a sprinkling of sci-fi, action and intrigue, all set in a futuristic nation. For those who haven’t read them (honestly, what is wrong with you?) I’ll do a quick and non-spoiler tease for the first book.

Set sometime in the future in the nation of Panem (which is created after the destruction of North America as we know it). Panem consists of a greedy, wealthy capitol and 12 much poorer districts. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives in coal-mining District 12, which Collins says is about the area that used to be Appalachia. Katniss has suffered a lot in her life, but doesn’t even know the half of what’s coming her way.

As punishment for a rebellion against the Capitol that occurred years before the book begins, there is an annual Hunger Games. A boy and a girl from each district between the ages of 12 and 18 must enter the Hunger Games, which is essentially a reality television show wherein the children literally fight to death for the amusement of the people in Capitol.

This year is the first year that Katniss’ sister, Primrose is eligible for the Hunger Games, but Katniss doesn’t believe her name will be drawn. It is, and Katniss volunteers herself for the challenge in her place. Nominated along with Katniss is Peeta Mellark, and together they leave for the Hunger Games. From the moment, they enter the challenge, the game is on, and every second is race for life or death.

And that’s just the first portion of the first book. I can’t reveal who lives or who dies, but I can recommend you read them, and go into a little more detail as to why.

 

CHARACTER

Collin’s has a great and intimate understanding of her main character (and all the others, really) from the moment the story begins. I know you might be thinking that any writer has an amazing connection with their characters, but not always. It seems to me that Collin’s knows everything there is to know about Katniss down to the kind of underwear she likes. She does a wonderful job of laying the groundwork for not only Katniss’ decisions but her reactions, skills, and foibles. When we first meet Katniss, she’s doing some (illegal) hunting in the woods with her best friend, Gale. Because of this hunting, she’s great with a bow and arrow, and she’s got nice survival skills, and she’s good at plant identification. Naturally, these will all come in handy in the Hunger Games arena.

In another part of Katniss’ personality, we learn that she hunts to feed her family, who she is fiercely protective off, which explains why she would so quickly and willingly take Primrose’s place in the Games. While this may seem obvious in fiction writing, it is really poor writing when authors don’t lay the groundwork for their characters personalties. It’s fine to reveal different facets of a character as the story progresses, but don’t tell me the main character is entering a knitting competition because she needs the grand prize money before you’ve told me that she’s a great knitter. You may know that about your character, but the reader doesn’t.

 

PLOTTING 

The Hunger Games trilogy is a work of art, where the plot is concerned. Though it remains a mystery to the reader, by the end of the series, it’s clear that Collins knew what would happen at the end from page one, book one, and she wrote unwaveringly toward that end. I’ve read books with distracting subplots or a plethora of characters that end up being poorly woven into the main plot (or not at all). Things aren’t so with Collins who’s plotting is reminiscent of other tight plotters, like J.K. Rowling, or James Patterson.

Collins’ plot is straightforward, and blazes along quickly, but it’s cushioned in the feelings, emotions and thoughts of Katniss. The interweaving of character and plot is seems effortless which is why hoards of people of all ages have flocked to The Hunger Games. You have plenty of time to read the series between now and the 2012 release of the movie, so, catch up already!

If you have read The Hunger Games, was there anything you were able to take away from it as a writer? Or did you just enjoy the ride? Excited for the movie? Drop a comment—let’s chat!

 

Sookie Stackhouse Novels: Deadlocked

12 Nov

(Photo Credit)

I’m going to share: I’m a HUGE True Blood fanatic. I can, and have, talked about this show for hours. I can watch marathons, and never get bored. I love everything about it. I own all three seasons on DVD and regularly watch the season four episodes on HBO Go. With that having been said, I’m equally devoted to the books. (For those of you who are also into the True Blood/ Southern Vampire Mysteries world, don’t ask if I’m more into the show, or if I’m a “bookie.” I honestly love both and see them as two separate entities.)

So naturally, I lost my freaking mind when I saw the book cover and read the UNOFFICIAL synopsis for the upcoming 12th book in the series, Deadlocked in this post from Sookieverseblog.com. Without going into too much detail about this for people who don’t read the books/haven’t read them yet, I’ll just say that the cover art, which I hadn’t seen until today is offering up some pretty good teases.

Do you watch True Blood? Is the wait for the new season or the new book just killing you? Do you need someone to talk  to about it? Drop me a comment or drop me an email! Let’s chat!

P.S. NaNoWriMo has been sucking up all my time like…a vampire. I’m for sure satisfied with that comparison. Sorry! The blog will get back to normal soon, fret not!

READING: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

18 Oct

Reading: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares.

Why you should read it: Emotion

(Photo Credit)

First published in 2001, you’ve probably heard of and maybe even read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. If not, you may have seen or heard of the movie of the same name. Forget what you’ve heard, whether you’ve heard its “just chick lit” or just for young adults, or schmaltzy or whatever. You should read it regardless of what you’ve heard.

Just to get you excited about it, I’ll tantalize you with the plot of this first book in a four (five-ish, but more on that later) book series. The book follows four best friends—Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget—who discover a magical pair of pants that fit all of the girls despite varying heights and weights and body types. Best friends and virtually inseparable, the circumstances of the summer split them up. In order to maintain their friendship they mail the pants to each other. The pants interweave their separate stories into one cohesive unit. By the time its over, the story is a complex and wonderful show of the trials of friendship and growing up.

However, besides being just plain satisfying, writers should read this book because Ann Brashares really knows something about explaining emotions. Sometimes her characters (being adolescent girls, with all of the ricocheting emotions and crazy impulses that go along with that) do irrational, even stupid things, but Brashares always makes the emotional journey clear: what happened that cause them to do that thing, and exactly how they feel about it. Check this tiny section:

“It was her last breakfast with Bapi, her last morning in Greece. In her frenetic bliss that kept her up till dawn, she’d scripted a whole conversation in Greek for her and Bapi to have as their grand finale of the summer. Now she looked at him contentedly munching on his Rice Krispies, waiting for the right juncture for launchtime.

He looked up at her briefly and smiled, and she realized something important. This was how they both liked it. Though most people felt bonded by conversation, Lena and Bapi were two of a kind who didn’t. They bonded by the routine of just eating cereal together.

She promptly forgot her script and went back to her cereal.

At one point, when she was down to just milk, Bapi reached over and put his hand on hers. ‘You’re my girl,’ he said.

And Lena knew she was.”

It’s not that there’s anything especially beautiful or amazing about this passage, but Brashares perfectly captures that moment, that feeling. Haven’t you ever had a moment, where you had something planned, but then realized there was something better out there?

I honestly feel that Brashares’ writing captures the unexplainable emotions. And you all know what they are. The feelings that you feel alone in your room with your favorite song on, or on the drive home from a party, or something. Brashares doesn’t attempt to explain these emotions or name them. But she can certainly make you feel them. And all writers could use a little of that.

READ IT. And honestly, you could stop there, because that one book alone is moving enough. BUT, you should read the other three too! Excitingly, this past summer, Brashares released Sisterhood Everlasting which takes place with the girls of the novels in full-on adulthood, and the challenges that brings. I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t read it—yet. I have read the excerpt online, and I’ve been checking out her other adult novels.

I might be biased because I’m a huge Brashares fan, but you should be too.