2010: A year in review in books (part III)

Read part I and part II.

September

September was the start of Spartan football, and at halftime of the first game, I came down with a mysterious illness. This was perfect timing, since I lost my health insurance about ten days later. Of course, at that point we still thought it was just a cold. I canceled my birthday party and had two job interviews, during which I tried my best not to sound like death. It must have worked, however, because I was hired as a contract writer and editor with the State of Michigan. Six days after my interview, I started work.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
The second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy, I didn’t feel the letdown so common to sophomore trilogy books. This book was intense and surprising, and the characters took even more shape. I can’t really talk specifics without risking giving away the first book, but in a general sense, I continued to be impressed by the risks Collins took in developing such an unusual and intriguing heroine. Plus, this book ended on the gutsiest of all cliffhangers. But lucky for me, I had the third book ready to go.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
Ah, the book that started it all for me. Thankfully, when I picked up the book, I didn’t remember a serious spoiler I’d accidentally happened across a few weeks before when, like an idiot, I’d decided to read a review. Like Catching Fire, this book took risks, and there were times when I wasn’t sure what to think. But it was a good feeling, because the author had succeeded in leading me off the beaten path of cliche and archetype. Characters faced choices again and again that, not only was I not sure how I’d react, I wasn’t sure how I wanted them to react, or even what I thought the best choice of action was, proving that Collins had successfully complicated both her story and her characters. Some people have made complaints at the ending of the book, and at the way this book deviates from the previous two, but when I put it down, it felt right to me. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part III)” »

2010: A year in review in books (part II)

Continuing from where I left off last time.

May

May was the month of full-on thesis panic. First, I had my committee changed, then we couldn’t agree on a defense date, and for a bit it looked like I’d have to defend the first possible week, meaning that I’d have to turn my thesis in at the beginning of the second week of May. Since I was still having trouble finding that magical rightness for the final 35 pages or so, this was not a happy thought. However, my wonderful committee members ended up going out of their respective ways to make sure that I had a little extra time to get it right. That meant that the panicked phone calls to my parents where I broke down and claimed I was just going to drop out—with one month to go—ended. That was nice for everyone involved. On the downside, though, my work with Willow Springs was coming to a close, and though we were still in full swing getting the next issue to print, it was very bittersweet knowing that it would be my last issue with the magazine.

Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster
Still in thesis reading frenzy, I picked up this Auster book for two reasons. First, I was concerned that my thesis list was leaning heavily toward female authors. Second, I’d read Auster before (The New York Trilogy) and enjoyed him. This book, however, was anything but enjoyable. I was so bothered by the book, in fact, that I wrote a blog post about it for Bark. Talk about overusing device! For a bit I thought about taking the book off my list and replacing it with something better—and the lateness of the date be damned!—but then I remembered that we learn just as much, and sometimes more, from the books that fail. So I kept it. And it ended up being an interesting discussing topic during my defense.

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
To put it succinctly, this book was amazing. I read all but the first dozen or so pages in one sitting, unable to put the book down. For those that don’t know, the book is about the suicides of five sisters, which take place over the course of approximately a year. This fact is presented practically on page one (maybe it’s even on page one, I can’t remember exactly). There’s no melodrama here, no wondering will-she or won’t-she. Rather, it’s the story of a family’s struggles and missteps, as observed by the neighborhood boys (the book is told in first person plural). In some ways, I think putting the fact of the suicides up front goes a long way toward forcing the reader to look at the lives of these girls, as well, and that’s one reason why, though I know there’s a movie version of this, I have no intention of seeing it; that’s something that I can’t imagine will translate well to screen

The Great Hunt, by Robert Jordan
This is becoming something of a yearly thing for me, so I won’t talk too much about these books other than to say that I still love them. This is the second book in the Wheel of Time series. I needed something to read that wasn’t related to school. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part II)” »

2010: A year in review in books (part I)

First, my apologies for not posting here in so long. I’m going to try to post weekly in 2011, at the very least. We’ll see how that goes. It occurs to me only now just how horrible I’ve been. For instance, I never posted the pictures from my Europe trip that I promised. I got back on the last day of June. Yeah. I’m a horrible person.

But this post is not about apologies. It’s my 2010 year in review post, and it’s largely centered around the books I read. So sit back and enjoy, or skip. Because it’s going to be a long one.

First, the goals. For 2010 I set a goal of reading 52 books and 20,000 pages.

And now, the books (with a few life notes for reference).

January

My wonderful parents payed the change fee on my return ticket back to Washington and allowed me to stay in Michigan over the new year. Back in Washington it took a bit of getting used to to be in the apartment alone, but I settled in as well as can be expected. I worked on my thesis and on Willow Springs. I also finished two thesis books this month, since despite all my assertions to read like mad over the summer and through the fall, I was a bit behind.

Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul
I picked this up before flying back to Michigan because I wanted something completely mindless. Plus, it had a cute picture on the cover. But silly me thinking that something shelved in the fantasy and science fiction section would be primarily fantasy. This author couldn’t have been more blatantly preachy if she’d chucked a Bible at me. I finished the book (obviously, or it wouldn’t be on my list) because there was this one tiny humming dragon that was super cute, but it was propaganda to the point where I was actually moved, for the second time in my life, to go online and post a book review on the seller’s website. Now, I can stomach religious mythology (I’ve read the Narnia books, for instance, and will probably read [most of] them again at some point) but this was overboard. And what’s the author’s response to reviews that politely pointed this out? Well, apparently I’m a God-hating cretin (not her words, but very much the sentiment).

Ava, by Carole Maso
This was a reread for me, for maybe the third time. And I loved this book. Was completely captivated by it. However, when I picked it up in January, it didn’t sparkle like it had before. It’s a lyric novel that asks for a lot from the reader (for instance, there are no chapters, no paragraphs, even, and much of it reads more like poetry; the narrative structure is unlike anything I’ve ever seen) and perhaps I just was at a point where I couldn’t give it, because when I reread this book again a few months later (it was a thesis book), it had that old loveliness back.

The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Also a reread (it was only published in late October of 2009, but as it was the 12th book in what is perhaps my favorite series of all time—and super long—it merited a quick reread). I tend to blaze through books the first time I read them, so it was nice to go back through this monster of a book at a slower pace. And it was just as good the second time. Sanderson, the author selected to finish Jordan’s masterpiece after he died, doesn’t quite have the hang of some characters in this book (and who can blame him—there are hundreds of characters!) but the world itself felt the same, and I was able to let go and let him take me along for what was an awesome ride.

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson is one of those authors I kept meaning to get around to, and I was so glad I did. Glad enough that I added this book to my thesis list. Looking back, though, I can’t really say what drew me to her other than the fact she was one of those authors I was supposed to have read. Because if someone would have described her style to me, I think I might have run the other way. Long sweeping narrative (though that isn’t a great way to describe it either), lots of description—those are things I tend to avoid. In some ways, then, this book taught me to expand, that there are ways to make really anything work. That’s it’s not so much what you do, it’s how you do it. Continue reading “2010: A year in review in books (part I)” »

Some writing updates

It’s been an insanely crazy week! There were a few hours on Monday when I thought I might have to turn in my thesis next week (when I was expecting late-May), and, as you can imagine, this triggered a sizable panic attack. But luckily for me my thesis advisor has my back and I’m now scheduled to defend June 9 (instead of May 20). Commence sigh of relief.

My novel (!) is now just over 75 pages and I’ve got the entire narrative arc of section one written. It feels incredible to be able to say that. That means I’ll spend the next three weeks revising, revising, revising. I want to tighten this first section as much as possible. For the first pass I think that will mean continuing to drop little seeds for me to grow later in parts two and three of the book. For instance, one subplot that is going to become pretty big in part two had fallen away by page 35 so I went and dropped a few more small details around page sixty, just so the reader doesn’t forget (and so the eventual importance of that move seems believable). Now I know why it took me twenty-five years to learn how to revise: It’s hard!

In short story news, I wrote my first one today in about a year. It felt good, but those particular writing muscles are a bit rusty. I’m looking forward to being able to spend at least one day a week on short stories once I graduate. (I’m supposed to be breathing thesis right now, but I didn’t really cheat because the short story featured characters from my book.) I’m hoping that will mean I can start sending off more short stories again, for publication. I decided to stop (with Sam’s advice) because if an editor likes my story but it isn’t quite right, and he or she asks to see more work, I don’t have anything to send. Oh, I have other short stories, but none are ready to be sent off, and I don’t have the time right now to devote the tens of hours it would take to get them in shape. So I’m waiting.

Other than that, I’m just pushing my way through my thesis reading list. Right now I’m working on The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s fantastic. Now I just want to find one (or preferably two) more male writers to add to my list; it’s decidedly female-friendly right now with only two men.

Oh, and I need some sort of working title for my book (other than Working Title of Thesis the Awesome). I hate titles.

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day!

If you know me at all, you probably know that I loathe Valentine’s Day, but not for the (horribly) stereotypical reasons of loneliness, jealousy, and cynicism (though I admit, I’m a cynic). In fact, it ranks second on my list of dumbest holidays ever, coming in behind Sweetest Day and right in front of New Years Eve. It’s a Hallmark holiday, hands down. It shouldn’t be about showing your significant other that you care—that should be evident the other 364 days of the year.

I’ve been anti-Valentine’s Day for a long time, and it’s often met by disbelief from the men (boys) I’ve dated. For instance, when I told my first real boyfriend that I didn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day, he stared at me for a full five seconds before asking if that was girl talk for “Buy me something or you die,” but I digress.

30 Rock did a just lovely introduction on Thursday between Tina Fey and a young girl selling Valentine’s Day cookies, so like Tina Fey, I will now be celebrating Anna Howard Shaw Day. And I’m going to celebrate it by doing homework and, if I get enough done, spending some time with my Xbox.

For those of you choosing to stay home (or stuck at home, as you may see it), I present, for your entertainment, what I’ve been enjoying on this here holiday. First, Pride and Prejudice in Emoticons, which covers both holidays fairly well. You’ve got a somewhat sweet and sappy love story, but you also have the story of a woman who dared do things her own way. (And did I mention the link is hillarious?) And second, courtesy of my dad, I have a column from the Lansing State Journal on the dreaded Valentine’s Day Box in elementary school classrooms, which sort of gets at my point of the whole ridiculousness of this holiday. (Though by the time I was in elementary school, you either gave valentines to everyone or to no one; that changed in middle school though, three years during which I never received a Valentine from a male.)

Updated Writing List

Always nice to remember the books I meant to read. Here’s my current and (planned) upcoming reading list.

Current:

To-Read

What are you reading? And always remember to support your independent book seller!

Thesis writing and offensive viewpoints

I think it’s actually thesis news on my blog here, and if it’s not it should be since I started over in September, and I know I haven’t posted since long before then.

I’m working on a novel for my thesis, one of the few students, I think, who is. And I see why. It’s draining to come back to the same piece day after day, to not get a break from the characters and their lives. Don’t get me wrong–I’m loving writing these characters, and I’ve somehow managed to find a soft spot for each of them–but it’s challenging. Especially when it isn’t going well.

Tonight, however, was one of my best writing nights so far. Yeah, some of the middle of the scene I’m working on is pretty flimsy, but I feel that I’ve always had trouble with conflict. Tonight’s scene dealt with the usage of the word raped to describe, well, things other than actually getting raped. What I found most challenging about this scene was to write it from the point of view of a character who is uncomfortable at how much another is offended by the usage rather than from the point of view of the character whose opinion I share (which, if you know me, you know what it is). I’ll be curious, in my meeting next month, to see how well I pulled off separating my own opinions from those of my characters.

So now my question: What books/stories/films have you read/seen that put you in an uncomfortable situation in regard to your own beliefs? For me it’s currently Lolita, a book which I love and am currently rereading as part of my thesis list.

Summer Reading

It’s strange to me to be starting summer in mid-June, but that’s how it works on the quarter system. Last week I officially completed my first year of graduate studies, and that’s means two things: First, it’s time for me to start writing my thesis and, second, that it’s time to start on my summer reading. I’ve amassed quite a stack of books to read over the past months, and my goal is to read at least a book per week all summer.

What am I reading, you ask? Here’s a list:

I’m sure there’s going to be more (much more), since I’m reading for my thesis, but I also know I’m going to need some lighter books to break up some of the more challenging ones. Just a few days ago I finished a wonderful book about an owl (Wesley the Owl).

What are you all planning on reading this summer?

Spring break reading list

This is the first spring break (since I graduated high school) that I can remember having no real commitments: no job, no homework (except writing, but that doesn’t count to me), no pressing commitments. I’m devoting myself to two things: reading and basketball. This post is about reading.

I don’t get much reading done during the quarter due to my workload, so I’m trying for a few hours every day. And here I present to you my spring break reading list. The first section is books I’ve started I want to finish.

Then there are the books I haven’t started but want to read (or at least make a good dent in).

Look for reviews on a least a few of these. I’m off to get some more reading done! What are you reading?

Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream

terrordream

I recently finished reading Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. This book was recommended to me a little over a year ago by my professional writing advisor at MSU. I bought it on a brass trip (Houston for the sweet sixteen, maybe?) and finally got around to reading it.

In some ways I’m disappointed I put it off: It had so many interesting and well-researched points that I feel would do well to be put more in the mainstream media. But on the other hand, I’ve only recently really developed the language with which to talk about those ideas, so perhaps much of it would have been lost on me a year ago.

First, an overview.

It is undeniable that the attacks of September 11, 2001, had devastating consequences for our nation, for the events of a presidency, our foreign policy, and our sense of what it means to be patriotic. Faludi argues, however, that the attacks were responsible for another change in our national identity, a change that has extensive consequences yet has gone mostly unremarked. When the “phallic” symbol of our nation was essentially cut off, we responded by reverting traditional gender roles. When towers that housed predominately male workers fell, taking mainly male firefighters with them, we talked about how the attacks were against the American family and way of life. The media talked about how we had become an overly feminized nation, how feminism and a departure from traditional John Wayne era gender roles were responsible for making us vulnerable. Fauldi explores the gender-blaming reactions to the attacks, how they are situated in history, and what it might mean for us as a nation.

Now, my thoughts.

This book was incredibly well researched, and Faludi does an excellent job situating the responses into a greater American historical context, which helps her open up her issue from possibly isolated incident to yet another symptom of a specific and gendered way of thinking. She explores such topics as

  • the sudden decline in women’s voices in the public sphere in the days and months following the attacks
  • why the flight attendant who threw coffee at a terrorist is not discussed but men who only might have been involved are
  • the ideas of heroism and sacrifice post-9/11
  • the malfunctioning communications equipment that may have resulted in hundreds of firefighter deaths
  • the supposed “rescue” of Jessica Lynch and the ways in which the media wanted to (and did) present it

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in digging beyond the myths the media presented (and continue to present), for anyone interested in exploring more deeply the long-lasting and tragic consequences of the events surrounding 9/11.