Monthly Archives: September 2012

What I’ve Learned

I like writing. This is something I’ve wavered back-and-forth about for years, but now it’s clear. I enjoy writing and it’s my favorite way of expressing myself. No matter what career path I decide on, writing will always be a part of my life.

That being said, this blog was easier to keep up because I got to write on a topic that is so interesting and relevant to me. I really enjoyed brainstorming topics, doing a little research and just getting to think about and write about my favorite thing in the world and know I was still doing homework! When I look forward to doing homework, that’s a good sign.

Another thing I loved about this project and WordPress in general was the stat map. I loved looking to see how many people from what countries had clicked on my blog. Not in a narcissistic way, but just because I find the reach of the internet so intriguing. It’s amazing to me that people from the Philippines or the United Arab Emirates or Italy can find themselves on my blog simply because of a key word or phrase or photo I posted. News can travel around the world in the blink of an eye, and I think that’s something to take advantage of. I’ve always loved maps, and I think it’s just such a cool visual to put in perspective that what you post online really is out there for anyone to see.

Overall I’ve really enjoyed this project, definitely the best class assignment I’ve ever had! I’d love to keep this blog going, if only to chronicle my thoughts on books when they’re fresh on my mind. I could definitely see myself keeping up a blog in the future, whether it’s as a career or just your typical “Mom blog.”

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Boy Books: Breaking across gender boundaries

There are boy books, and there are girl books. It’s just a fact of literature. However, that doesn’t mean that girls can’t read boy books, and vice versa. This is something I prove daily.

Some of my favorite books are books directed toward middle school boys. Take John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series for example. These books center on a 16-year-old boy named Will who becomes an apprentice to a mysterious Ranger, a group of men skilled in noiseless movement, camouflage, knife-throwing and archery. Give me a character with a bow and arrow and I will be a happy camper. But imagine the looks I got as a high school student carrying these books from class to class. “Megan, what are you reading?” Oh, you know, just books about teenage warriors learning how to sword fight and throw knives. I was judged, but luckily I never worried much about that. However, I think it’s sad that it would be more socially acceptable for me to say I was reading about girls in short skirts backstabbing each other or discussing the pros and cons of different superficial guys they think are “hot.”

Another of my favorite boy book series is the Airborn trilogy by Kenneth Oppel. These books follow the story of cabin boy Matt Cruse and his adventures on an airship. With a  little romance and a lot of swashbuckling, it’s the perfect mix. The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson is one more fantastic series directed toward boys that is absolutely fantastic. It tells of the adventures of a young James Bond attending boarding school in England, and retains all the intrigue, danger, love and betrayal that are key elements to any Bond story.

While I accept that there are books geared specifically for each gender, I am a firm believer that no one is confined by those standards. If you’re a guy who likes bildungsromans whose main character is a girl, then you shouldn’t be judged any more than a girl who happens to enjoy science fiction or war novels. Everyone is different, and no one has to choose one genre of book and stick with it. Read often and read variety. I  enjoy a good romance novel just as much as the next girl (Pride and Prejudice anyone?), but that doesn’t mean I can’t fight pirates or battle dragons with the boys. Read what you like – and no matter what that may be, just remember there’s a girl that’s a sophomore in college anxiously awaiting the next big series featuring a 16-year-old stowaway/archer/explorer. And proud of it.

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Graceling: One of the most underrated teen book series

Everyone’s heard of the Hunger Games. They’re a huge phenomenon, especially with the movies coming out. I’m not going to bash the Hunger Games, I love them (except maybe Mockingjay), and they’re about the only post-apocalypse/distopian society books I can stand. That being said, although they’re definitely a huge step above Twilight, there are better teen books out there with plot lines that are much more complex than the Katniss-Gale-Peeta love traingle.

Take Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue for example. Never heard of them? You’re not alone. Her debut novel, Graceling, was released in 2008, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that I got my hands on it. The story centers on a teenage girl named Katsa who is graced with fighting. Because of her skills she is used by royalty as an assassin, but then she meets a boy, Prince Po, who helps her realize she doesn’t have to do what she’s told. They fall in love (triangle free), but their love is not the purpose of the story: It’s a story of oppression, rebellion, bravery, forgiveness and deceit.

Next, instead of creating a sequel, which would’ve been the obvious next step, Cashore wrote a companion for Graceling called Fire. Set in the same realm as Graceling, Fire takes many years earlier in a different kingdom. This story follows another strong herione, Fire, a beautiful but strange creature. There is one common character between the books, and while it’s not imperative that the reader have finished Graceling, the back story of this character is beautifully and terribly unwoven throughout Fire which lead to many of those “ah-ha” moments that we readers all love.

Then, in 2012, Bitterblue was released, a sequel to Graceling that takes place eight years later. This book takes a more somber turn and addresses some of the most serious issues in the series. It follows the story of young Queen Bitterblue as she uncovers the truth of her past. She must unravel the tangled web left by her father and restore order to her kingdom, all while moonlighting as a poor castle servant and learning the truths of her people. Favorite characters from Fire and Graceling come together, bringing resolution to the kingdom. However, the ending is ultimately left open to interpretation (or another novel, hint hint).

Series like this make me wonder what else is out there that doesn’t get as much attention from the media. Part of me wants these books to get the recognition I know they deserve, but the other part wants to keep them as my own personal treasures. However, I have now shared with you the greatness that is the saga of the gracelings, and I expect you to take full advantage of that.

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Pride & Prejudice: A timeless tale

I just found out that the honors college is offering a seminar over the works of Jane Austen next semester, and I can’t hold in my excitement! I know it’s cliche and girly, but Pride and Prejudice is one of my very favorite books. Each time I read it I fall in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy all over again. I cringe at Mrs. Bennett’s displays and sympathize with Jane and Lizzie in their combination of embarrassment and familial obligation. I have an ongoing debate with myself over which would be worse: to be married to Mr. Collins or to Mr. Wickham? My decision changes daily. I skip over Collins’ proposal, and read and reread Darcy’s. In English my senior year, we were discussing Pride and Prejudice and one of my classmates said Elizabeth reminded them of me. The rest of the class agreed, and to this day that is still the best compliment I’ve ever received. The characterization of Elizabeth Bennett is one of the reasons I love the story so much; although she’s worlds away, I can relate to Lizzie -her love of knowledge, her cynicism, her judgment, her love of family- and she gives me hope of one day finding my own Darcy. Sorry, P&P brings out the Romantic side in me.

But this story is so much more than the greatest love story ever written. It’s an outright criticism of social class and norms. In Mr. Collins, Austen creates a character that, by the standards of the time, should be a suitable match for any of the Bennett girls. He has economic stability, a respectable name, and the ability to have children, all the things that are valued in a marriage. Austen takes this potential suitor and makes him one of the most ridiculous, pompous, annoying, pretentious, rude and repulsive fictional character of all time. By having Charlotte agree to marry him, Austen was showing how outdated the marriage ideas of her time were. Darcy and Elizabeth were the impossible couple, stretching across class, social boundaries, adversity and financial differences, all because of love, and that’s a timeless story.

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An Unpopular Opinion: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a classic novel that has captured the imagination of millions of readers.

I, however, am not one of those readers.

For me, this book held no enchantment. The story line was choppy, and I had trouble following it. There wasn’t enough character development, not to mention that none of the characters were even likable, except maybe Nick. And even then, I never felt like I really got to know him well enough to sympathize with him. Then there’s Daisy. She is such a shallow character and I never could understand why Gatsby was in love with her in the first place. As winning Daisy’s love back is the purpose of the novel, not being able to understand her appeal makes the book difficult to get into.

This is not to say that there aren’t redeeming qualities to this book. Take symbolism for example. Everything takes place under the ever-watchful and judgmental eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, like God watching down on the wicked. These eyes are in the Valley of Ashes, a symbol of moral and social decay in light of the pursuit of wealth. The green light at the end of the dock, representing not only Gatsby’s dreams but the broader American dream. Fitzgerald uses other literary techniques like imagery and allegory to make the story not just about the lives of Gatsby, Nick and Daisy, but American society at this time as a whole.

For me, all of these motifs and themes and the imagery and allegory are overused, trying to mask the fact that the book actually has no plot or relatable characters. So while this will never be one of my favorites or the book I go around recommending to everyone, I recognize its place in literature and I’m glad I’ve read it.

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Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Everyone says “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we are all guilty of this. A lot of times our instincts can be correct, like when I avoid the novels with covers of shirtless men and scantily clothed women that don’t even have faces, or when I pick up each and every book with a ship on the cover. Sometimes you just know. However, sometimes if you look past your preconceived notions or the strange cover art you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

I read The Kite Runner my senior year of high school for my AP English class. It had been on the list since the beginning of the year, and I had not been looking forward to it. I’m sorry, but the recent history of Afghanistan was just not something that interested me. I thought it was going to be a depressing story about how the main character and his/her people had been mistreated and that it wouldn’t apply to me in any way. Oh, how wrong I was.

The story of The Kite Runner centers on the story of a young boy named Amir and his best friend and servant Hassan. When they are quite young, Amir witnesses an older boy, Assef, rape Hassan. After this horrible event, the friendship between Amir and Hassan is never quite the same. Amir spends his time wondering is Hassan knows that he knows, or even worse, that he did nothing to stop it. Hassan, on the other hand, knows what his friend witnessed, but in the perfect picture of unconditional love, he forgives Amir. Amir, however, cannot forgive himself, and finally Hassan and his father Ali cannot stand to live with Amir’s family anymore.

It’s a great story of love, friendship, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Everyone has been Amir at some point in their lives, on the receiving end of a love they don’t think they deserve. There are so many great lessons to be learned from this book. It’s something I never would have picked up on my own, but I’m so glad I did.

Another book we were supposed to read my senior year was Frankenstein. After already reading Dracula for that class, I was done with “monster” books. We ended up running out of time to read another novel, and I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to plow through another morbid, macabre classic. However, I was in for a surprise when I started my 20th Century Honors Seminar second semester of my freshman year and found out the first work we would be reading was, you guessed it, Frankenstein. I dreaded it until I started reading it, then everything changed.

Mary Shelley tells an amazing story. Written when she was only 14, it may be considered a classic but it reads like a modern-day adventure story. It’s an intricate set-up of a story within a story within a story, and she intertwines the characters brilliantly. Everyone views Frankenstein’s monster as just that, a monster. But is it? Shelley explores the basic human ideas of good and evil and challenges the reader to reevaluate human nature.

The story itself was nothing like I thought it would be. No evil scientist in a lab creating something to control that got too powerful and escaped, wreaking havoc everywhere it went. It was a man of prestige with a slight obsession with his work who took it just a little too far, got scared, and tried to forget about what he had done. The creature, newly introduced to the world as a full-grown “man,” was scared and alone, and at times seemed more human than his creator ever did. I expected good and evil to be cut and dry, but the relationships and characters are so much more complex than I ever would have imagined.

So the next time someone’s raving about a book and you’re thinking “That is just not up my alley,” pick it up and give it a try- you may be surprised at the results.

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Holden Caulfield Thinks You’re A Phony: A John Green appreciation post

Right now I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye (yes, for the first time), and yesterday I came across this sentence: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” And that’s when I realized that Holden Caulfield knows what it’s like to read a John Green book.

I read my first John Green book freshman year of high school, and I’m sad to say that it did not change my life. In fact, it wasn’t even all that memorable to be honest with you. Five years later, all I remember about An Abundance of Katherines is an overweight best friend and an affinity for replacing the f-word with “fug.” Then last year, when his newest book, The Fault in Our Stars, was being released, my world was changed. This book was everywhere; I couldn’t go anywhere on the Internet without hearing about how wonderful it was or how amazing John Green is. I had seen a few of John’s videos before this, but I had not yet immersed myself into the realm of Nerdfighteria.

Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to avoid spoilers much longer, and seeing as how I was intrigued with all the excitement surrounding the book, I did what any good, broke college student would do- I found a pdf version of the book online and began reading.

I hate reading on a computer screen, but I finished that book  pdf file in less than 24 hours, half of it spent sitting out in the sun (yes I had the sunburn to prove it.) And I finally understood what all the fuss was about. TFiOS was beautiful, wonderful, amazing, everything people had said it was. But this post isn’t about The Fault in Our Stars, although it is a great book that is definitely worth your time. This post is about the mastermind behind it. A big part of the storyline of this book revolves around an author that the main character, Hazel, wants to meet. However, when she finally does meet Peter van Houten, he less than lives up to the expectations she has built up for him. I have no doubts whatsoever that meeting John Green would not only meet but exceed all of my greatest expectations. Why am I so sure?

Well here’s a good place to start: Vlogbrothers. In 2007, the Green brothers, Hank and John (pictured left) decided they would go a year without communicating by text, and video blog each other ever day for the duration of 2007. I had seen some of these videos on and off, depending on which ones peaked my interest, but recently I decided to go through and watch them from start to finish. It’s a big task to take on, considering that they still post videos daily, but when you’re watching it’s like you’re conversing with two of your best friends. You get to know their lives and their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and you come to love the Green brothers and their love for each other and their Nerdfighters (Nerdfighters is what they call their “followers.” Basically, we’re made of awesome.) John, the elder lit nerd, and Hank, the younger science/computer geek. Together they created Brotherhood 2.0 and thousands of videos for your viewing pleasure. They have also created many spin-off channels, my favorite of which is Crash Course. Here the Green brothers upload short, informative videos about everything from the Civil War to the endocrine system. Sometimes in fifteen minutes or less I can learn more about a subject than I can in a 50 minute class.

Not only is John Green active on YouTube, but also on other social medias, including Twitter and Tumblr. I think this is the way of the future. People love the feeling that they’re connected to the figures they look up to and respect. Being connected to the Green’s in the same ways that I’m connected to my own friends helps give me that feeling that Holden so eloquently describes, and I know that if I called up John Green that he would be a terrific friend of mine.
DFTBA

(P.S. So Hank doesn’t feel left out, here are the links to his Twitter and Tumblr as well.)

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