Monthly Archives: June 2016

Paper Towns for a Paper Girl

This will be the last one.  Probably.

When I started reading John Green books in high school, my favorite was An Abundance of Katherines.  I liked Looking for Alaska too, because it was beautiful and poetic and addressed some things I struggled with at that time in my life.  The Fault in Our Stars still has tear stains from the first time I read it.  But I rushed through Paper Towns and shrugged it off.

But of the four, Paper Towns is the one I’ve reread twice in the last year and the one I’m currently obsessed with.

Neil Gaiman once said books find us when we’re ready for them.  This is one of my deepest held beliefs.  If you pulled a random book from my shelf, I can probably tell you what was happening in my life that led me to choose that story.  I can also tell you how reading it affected me, both in the moment and in shaping who I am today.  They would have had different effects – or none at all – if I hadn’t been ready for them.

But every once in a while, you catch a book just a little too early.  Maybe you flip through it in a bookstore and put it back, or someone gives it to you and it ends up in a pile with all the others.  Maybe you even pick it up and read through a few pages or chapters before tossing it back.

That’s all right, these books say.  I’ll wait right here.  Come back when you’re ready.  And this was what Paper Towns did for me.  Even though I read it to the end, I didn’t read it completely, and it waited until I was ready to.  It even seemed to give me a sign that the time was coming.

I reread it right before the movie was released and I related so much then to Q, getting lost in Margo and her mystery to shut out his fear of the future.  And I reread it this week, feeling a weight in my chest every time Margo says that the strings inside her broke.  Because now I understand what she means.

It occurs to me that everyone doesn’t have this relationship with books.  Not everyone can point to one and say, “This one literally saved my life when I was fourteen and sixteen, and twenty and twenty-three.”  Not everyone can point to one and say, “I had no idea who I was before I read this, but it was like looking in a mirror and I understand myself a little better now.”  Maybe other people don’t need that, but I do.

Paper Towns didn’t do either of those things the first time I read it.  It didn’t even do those things the second time, even though I did enjoy it a lot more.  But this week, when the strings were pulled so tight that I was sure they’d snap, when I wanted nothing more in the world than to pull a Margo (screw the months of planning, just get in the car, get your revenge, and get out of town), this is what that book has been waiting for.  Margo escapes and Q tells her no one is irreparably broken, and that gave me hope when I needed it.  She gets to be her true self and Q realizes that the light only gets in through his broken places.

Margo is still broken, but with these things, she learns how to go on with her brokenness.  Accepting the brokenness is what allows her to stop being made of paper.

 

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I’m Trying to do One of These Per Month

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The Towns Are Made of Paper

Wow has this been a shitty week for blog posts.  Sorry folks.  I haven’t actually finished a book this week because (1) I started reading a memoir which always takes me longer no matter how good it is and (2) this has been a very busy week so I’ve had less time to read anyway.  It was a bad combination.

But I’m writing this post from a hotel room at the beach and I spent most of the drive listening to an audiobook: Paper Towns by John Green.  This isn’t the first time I’ve read it; that’s my rule for audiobooks.  Otherwise I miss either what’s happening in the story or what’s happening on the road.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Margo Roth Spiegelman lately.  I’ve been relating more and more to how fed up she was with everything and how desperately she needed out of her hometown.  How the last string inside of her broke and everything felt flat.  You’ll hear more about her and what I’m doing to reconcile those feelings between now and October.  In the meantime, I’m trying not to forget Q’s lessons either.

I find it much more difficult to relate to him.  He “likes that his life is boring” and “wants to have fun but not at the cost of his future.”  Meanwhile, Margo abandons her life and runs away because she just can’t take it any more.

Sometimes I’m not sure I can either.

But there is a reason Margo chose Q.  Q sees the beauty in the big picture.  Q enjoys the little things and sees the magic in everyday life.  Q says, “The towns were made of paper, but the memories were not.”

In a way, it’s how I feel about books: the stories may not be real, but the effect they have on us can be.  Like how Margo Roth Spiegelman is inspiring me now.

I’m going to keep listening.  I understand Margo.  But I know I have a lot more to learn from Q.

As soon as I figure out what that is, I’ll let you know.

 

 

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Finishing the Fight

I took my first “upper-level” (read: not Foundations) Krav Maga class today.  I had to pass a test last Thursday to be able to do it, and I felt like I barely made it.  At the end, when Andre (my instructor) asked how I felt, I told him I was dying.  And, in the moment, I wasn’t exaggerating.

It turns out that technique isn’t that important.  It isn’t unimportant, but it’s second to finishing the fight.  That’s something we’re told a lot during a difficult drill: “Finish Your Fight.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately: running low on sleep, long days, etc.  Some times you just have to keep going.

There are a lot of things from Krav Maga I’ve been thinking about lately.  When we do punching drills with the tombstones (basically pads), Chris says to aim for the sticker on the back of it.  “Everything else is in the way,” he says.  It’s the best way to achieve your goal: remember that everything else is in the way.  Punch through it.

Sometimes, like life, Krav Maga can run you ragged, and the trick is to just keep moving. Focus on the moment.  Krav Maga has been teaching me to get through the moment even if it feels like it’s killing me.

But there is also a self-preservation side to Krav Maga.  For instance, the first rule of choke defense is…don’t get choked.  Don’t let someone get that close.  Keep your “fence” up at all times so they can’t get any closer than you want them to.  When in doubt, hit them a few times as hard as you can and then get the hell out of there.

Form is important, but it means nothing if you don’t keep going.  I don’t know if I’m getting any better at the technique of it all, but based on conditioning alone, I’m getting better at continuously moving.  I’m getting better at jogging until he says stop, even after my side hurts and I can’t breathe.

I don’t yet feel confident that I’ll be able to save myself in the event of a real fight, but I am certain I won’t go down without a fight.  And as long as I keep fighting, the rest will come.

I’m pretty sure of that one.

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The Bermudez Triangle

In case you couldn’t tell from Tuesday’s post, I’m still reeling.  It’s made me want to read something fluffy and LGBTQ related.  Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle (also called On the Count of Three) was the only one I had on hand.

Despite how I usually feel about her work, I didn’t love it.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

Like in all her books, the characters are real, with all the strengths and flaws that come with it.  The girls were the heart and soul of this book and the reason I kept reading when it got hard.  I needed to know what happened to Mel and Nina.  Even Avery, with all her mistakes, had me rooting for her in the end.

Mel’s storyline was the best part.  There’s no other word for it: she blossoms.  In the beginning, she’s timid and unsure.  But once she comes to terms with the fact that she’s gay, she begins to mature and open up.  She even learns to stand up for herself – in her own way, of course.

The characters’ reactions are just as authentic as the characters themselves.  Nina’s shock and fear are explored before she settles into her role as best friend and comforter.  Mel’s divorced parents argue until her dad tells her everything will be okay.  Parker’s initial disappointment that she doesn’t return his feelings is evident, but he moves on and becomes her confidante.  No one reacts perfectly, but most of them do their best.  And Mel has enough support to deal with the ones who don’t.

So what’s the problem?  I guess I’m just tired of people treating other people like crap and getting away with it.  There’s a point where Nina says, “Sometimes you have to let people say they’re sorry.”  That’s great and all, but how does she trust those people again?  How does she know they really are sorry when they haven’t done anything different?  It’s not quite the message of self-care and healthy relationships I was looking for.

Though the characters have grown, the end shows all the relationships have gone back to normal without anyone working for it.  Maybe they can sometimes, but after everything else that happened, this “perfect ending” felt hollow.

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In Light of Recent Events

Ever read a “choose your own adventure” book growing up?  (Honestly, I hated them.)  But now I’m going to give you the opportunity to CHOOSE YOUR OWN BLOG POST!

If you, like me, are tired and can’t take anything else about the fucking massacre that just happened in Orlando, look below for some pictures of my cats being adorable.

If, on the other hand, you want to read my reaction to the event, scroll down a little bit farther.  I’ve got something to say.

The striped one is Minnie and the black one is Boo.  They’re precious.

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Cell Phones

The girl on the desk is on the phone
With yet another person wanting to learn self defense.
“We get a lot of new people after tragedy,”
She says, but I say nothing.
I am still thinking about the cell phones.
I get the message
From my ex asking why I don’t want to see him anymore and I
Have the list to share but not the energy.
So I leave his message on read,
Still thinking about the cell phones.
I can’t get away from it.
Even in the grocery store,
I’m scrolling through the list I’ve tapped out on my note pad app,
Trying to focus on where are the apples and
Will the bananas go bad in my trunk but
I cannot stop thinking about the cell phones.
Two days later, ten minutes late,
Grabbing my purse and my phone and my pills
With shaking hands, still thinking
Of tangled hair and limbs and ringtones,
As someone somewhere calls again
Praying praying praying
The ringing will stop.
Praying they’ll hear the click,
The breath,
And not the mechanical beep with the mechanical voice
Telling them the box is full.
The flags will come down.
The lights will return to a shimmering white.
But I will never get the ringing
Of those goddamn cell phones
Out of my ears.
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Another Reason I Won’t Marry…But Fun

Title: The Divorce Papers

Author: Susan Rieger

Genre: Realistic Fiction (unfortunately)

Style: Epistolary Novel

Synopsis: Sophie Diehl likes her job defending meth heads and murders at the Traynor, Hand Law Firm.  She has no desire—or experience—to do the intake interview for the firm’s newest divorcing client, Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim.  She definitely doesn’t want to take the case on for the next ten months.  But when the client takes a liking to her, what else can she do?  She uses these memos, emails, and legal documents to figure out how to handle someone else’s divorce…and maybe her own life too.

Characters: Sophie Diehl and Mia Meiklejohn make a kickass team as the novel’s dual protagonists.  They are spirited and fiery, fighting back in any way they can.  Each has their own cast of supporting characters who bring the drama, insight, and, when they need it most, love…even if it’s tough love.

Format: This story could not have been told in anything but documents, and these are heart-warming, funny, and fascinating at all the right times.  Even the legal documents and inter-office memos add color to the story.  (I may be biased.  I LOVE epistolary novels.)

Style: Each document has a unique writing style benefitting its purpose.  Among the personal correspondences, each writer has a distinct voice that provides a new perspective on what’s happening.  Overall, the various pieces coalesce to show the characters growing and healing; they give us a story with life in it.

Conclusion: Susan Rieger has created something fun and bright using legal documents and the grim subject of divorce.  Talk about a miracle worker.  It helps that she focuses on friendships and learning to own your mistakes, while still giving us an obvious bad-guy.  Emily and I have often wished for a novel for that state between young adult and adult, and this is it.  At the cusp of 30, Sophie is still trying to figure out.  It makes for an amazing read.

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Unconventional Advice for the College-Bound

  • Dye your hair a weird color.  Buy clothes that feel good.  Unless you become self-employed, these are the only four years of your life without a dress code.
  • Take a long trip with your best friend.  If you can’t afford it now, see if you can save for one between junior and senior year.  After you graduate (again), you’ll have jobs you can’t get away from.  They may not even be your best friend any more.  Enjoy them now.
  • Apply for the Disney College Program.  Just do it.
  • DON’T skip class to nap.  DO skip class to celebrate your birthday, attend a private performance of a famous songwriter, or attend a one-time event on or off campus.  Priorities, people.
  • Pay attention to drop dates.  They are your friends.
  • Do that thing you’re scared to do.
  • Talk to that person you’re afraid to talk to.
  • College is a big adjustment.  Don’t be ashamed if you need some psychological help.  Most campuses offer it for free.  Take advantage!  I’m really glad I did.
  • Starbucks is good, but make sure you know where the great, local coffee is.
  • When you drink, make sure you stay with someone you trust.  Don’t drive.  Call for help if you need it.  You won’t get in trouble and it may save your life.  Likewise, TAKE CARE OF YOUR FRIENDS.
  • Go to home games, even if you’re not a sports fan.  That’s your team!  Be proud of them.
  • In four years (hell, in one year), you are going to be a completely different person than you are right now.  Some people will not like that person.  Fuck them.  You have to be happy with you.  As long as you aren’t hurting anyone…you do you, booboo.
  • It’s okay if you don’t know what that means.  No one your age does.  No one my age (23) does.  I’m guessing our parents’ generation doesn’t either.  If you can figure out some of the pieces, that’s plenty.
  • Take a deep breath.  Take another.  Everything will be okay.
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You Can’t Go Home Again (Even When You Do)

I debated whether or not I would read The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz.  Once I did, I loved it and the movie so much that I knew I had to have Return to the Isle of the Lost as soon as it was released.  I found it at an independent bookstore on Wednesday and had finished it by Friday.

It starts by showing how our precious Villain Kids are doing at Auradon Prep.  This was my favorite part.  The best thing about sequels is seeing how the characters have grown while still remaining true to themselves.  It also continues the theme that shows the difference between the good guys and the bad guys isn’t all black and white.

The relationships have also developed.  It’s not that she did this incorrectly, but I liked some of it more than the rest.  The quartet’s friendship (and their friendships with Auradon kids) keeps getting stronger.  In the last book, this friendship was just developing.  In this one, it is a solid frame for the rest of the story.

The only romance that is significant to the plot is Ben and Mal’s.  Even when separated it’s obvious how much they care for and respect each other.  When Mal reminds Yen-sid that Ben is king now, its fierceness comes from her faith in him.  And when Ben sees Mal is heading into danger again, he shows his concern but never thinks to stop her, knowing how capable she is.

The other romantic relationships are barely mentioned, but I would have preferred they be left out completely.  While Doug and Evie can be cute, I felt her being single goes more with her character development in the movie.  The sudden implications of Jay and Carlos crushing on Jordan and Jane respectively felt like a Disney response to the Internet wanting the boys with each other instead.  Honestly, Carlos seems too young for any romance just yet.

The plot was intriguing and original until about chapter 35, and Melissa de la Cruz knew it because she prefaced it with the quote from Peter Pan saying, “All this has happened before.”  The sequence that follows echoes the one in the last book where each of the four must face their personal demons.  The twist is that their demons are meant to come from the darkness in each of them instead of their parents this time.

The problem is that Cruz focused more on how they are like their parents instead of their own inner struggles.  The emotions just aren’t vibrant or authentic, which is why it feels like an echo instead of a peek into the characters’ hearts and minds.  It’s disappointing because, both before and after this sequence, Cruz demonstrated her understanding of these characters and their growth.  These scenes, which focus on the individuals in a way the movies can’t, were an opportunity to explore who they were beneath the glamor.  Evie could have truly acknowledged the witch in her while Mal embraced her dragon blood.  I hope this is a storyline that the movie picks up because their backgrounds deserve more. In the same way, the audience should see Carlos struggling with the scars his mother left him.  Instead of showing us how Jay rejects his father’s dream, she could have shown his true heart’s desire.

The parts of the book set in Auradon are fun and interesting, but the section wherein we actually Return to the Isle of the Lost suffers from a lack of the darkness omnipresent in the last book.  We can blame it on the difficulty of marrying a “happily ever after” with these characters’ dark backgrounds or on the pressure to conform to a Disneyfied world view, but one thing is certain: this fear of the darkness makes what could be a bold, compelling story fall flat.

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