Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.
The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered."

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls was the second of two books that I had to read for school. I hadn't read too many memoirs before, so I wasn't too sure how to react to it-- should I be analyzing the text, looking in the story for themes and motifs? After a few chapters I understood that I should just be reading for the story, which wasn't bad. Jeannette Walls talks about her rough upcoming, but constantly through the book I was asking, so what? I didn't see any clear ideas showing through that really encompassed the whole story. Jeannette Walls writes well though, her chapters only one or two pages, almost like articles. You get a really good idea of the weaknesses of her parents, and she displays them as people, not glorifying them through a child's eyes, but not villainizing them because of how they raised her. 

I don't think I would really recommend this book-- I found the whole thing kind of sad, and didn't take anything away from it except knowing about a random persons life. 2/5 stars.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Border World-- A Story To Be Continued

I was going through old notebooks today (I only ever write in two pages of each of them) and I found a story called The Border World I had written for a flash-fiction contest. Except it went way over 100 words and needed lots of follow-up.... Anyways, I read it and, kind of like it? So now I'm thinking about continuing with it, because there are a lot of themes and such I'd like to fill out more/ introduce. Tell me what you think!
(Sorry for the funky text, I had to copy and paste and Blogger doesn't like it when I do that )

The shadows cast by the setting sun creeped and crawled across the land, distorting the silhouettes of scattered trees. Slavering waves clawed at the steep cliffs that stood guard against the sea, and the salty moans and howls called up to the girl in the house. She didn't respond to them. Instead she looked into the mug of tea she cupped in her hands, watched as the clear water infused with the brown seeping from the teabag. She looked up as the man called The Poet sat down across from her.
"She had questions, so many, but the first she asked were, "What is this place, why am I here?"
She hadn't heard the poet speak before. His voice was lilting and rythmic as he explained,
"Between where something is, and is,"
He placed each palm up, as if an "is" had come to rest there.
"There lies a place that "isn't",

A place we call the Border World,
A place you've come to visit."
He smiled, as if his quatraine had elucidated everything.
"But poet, that makes no sense! I was in my house and now I'm here, yet you tell me that here isn't anywhere?"
The poet seemed about to speak but paused, tasting the words in his mouth, flavoring and distilling, swirling with meaning and metaphor.
"The Border World, it floats between,

what you see before you and your dreams.
A snow-blank page on which reality resides
Amongst the inky black behind your eyes."
The girl did not comprehend what the poet was saying. She looked out the window to the clamoring waves, and they answered, but she did not understand their language either. Her hands were shaking; the tea she was holding rippled and came near to sloshing over the side of the cup.
Breathing deeply, the girl looked to The Poet and asked, "Why are you here, alone by the sea?"
At this the man looked out toward the afore-mentioned sea, and he seemed to be holding a great sadness in his eyes, if only for a moment. He averted his gaze quickly, getting up to pace the room.
"Before, when I said you had come to visit here, I'm afraid it was the wrong choice of words."
He stopped and shook his head, as if thinking his mistake quite ridiculous.
"Those who find themselves in the Border World,
The lose themselves as well, they change.
You can't go back to who you are,
When you don't even remember your name."
Phantom chills shimmied their way down the girls spine. "But I know my name! Its----"
The Poet met her frightened stare, and his eyes were heavy with the same sadness she had glimpsed there before.
"There's nothing you can do now,
The Border World's decided who you'll be.
But tell me, little girl,"
The Poets thoughts were not in the house, or on the girls answer, for he already knew what it would be. They were out on the edge of the cliffs, looking down at the waves crashing slilently on the rocks of the shore.
"Do you hear the sea?"
The girl did not respond, only shook her head, and sipped her tea.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

On Creativity

I read the above article in Boston magazine about creativity and the whole industry behind it; the tips, the articles, the books, all about how to boost your creativity. Beth Altringer, the author, explored multiple sources and tested out their self-help tips for herself: high ceilings, blue walls, ambient sound, beer and coffee regimens. 

What Beth found was that really none of these worked; not a surprising finding to me. I'll quote her mom, because I think she said some really true things about creativity- "Don’t worry about finding the perfect paper. Use what you have. Just get started. Don’t beat yourself up. Seek supportive people. Just focus on making a little progress every day. "

I think that what Beth's mom said is in accordance with my philosophy about creativity; it's not something that can be planned or organized, it's a constant state of being. You don't sit down and say, "I'm going to be creative and do some art." Creativity should influence everything you do on a day-to-day basis, it should be like a lens that you see everything through. A tree is an opportunity for photography, drawing, sculpture, writing, symbolism, climbing, activism. It's not just a tree when you're creative. 

I also like the idea of not judging yourself. Something I used to do a lot was creative writing, and it was the thing I loved most. If you go back far enough into this blog's archives, you'll find some of my poems and short stories. But something inside me broke around eighth grade-- I couldn't --and didn't want to-- write anymore, and when I did I wasn't pleased with anything I created. It got to the point that I was too afraid to write anything because I was afraid it wouldn't be good. But who's judging? The best things are created for ourselves, not for other people, because we can pour our souls and love into them and not have to be judged; we're freest with ourselves. So I just need to stop judging myself, because if it makes me happy, it's good enough.

At the same time, having creative friends around is such a boost for creativity. I think creativity and creative ideas grow exponentially the more they are bounced around and shared. And endeavoring to do something like art, or a short film, or a story, is a lot less scary when you know there are people that are going to be there for you even if it's a total flop, because they themselves have tried and failed multiple times. 

I think that living creatively is something that improves your life so much, and every day I try to be more creative in everything idea- it never hurts to switch things up and try new things. Beth Altringer's article was a great read that got me thinking, I'd definitely recommend taking a look at it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Library Book Sale

Every year my town has a library book sale of donated books, so early this morning I made my way down there to check out the offerings. I only took thirteen dollars because if given the chance I have no doubt I would blow all my savings on used books. I ended up with a selection of five paperback and one hardcover, all which I got for eight dollars.

The books I ended up with (there was much editing done before I got to the cashier) were:

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
The Stillborn God by Mark Lilla
East of The Sun by Julia Gregson
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Accidental Masterpiece by Michael Kimmelman

"In the realm of psychological suspense, Thomas Harris stands alone. Exploring both the nature of human evil and the nerve-racking anatomy of a forensic investigation, Harris unleashes a frightening vision of the dark side of our well-lighted world. In this extraordinary novel , which proceeded The Silence of The Lambs and Hannibal, Harris introduced the unforgettable character Dr. Hannibal Lecter. And in it, Will Graham--the FBI man who hunted Lecter down-- risks his sanity and his life to duel a killer called...
The Red Dragon"
I'm not really into the whole FBI murder mystery type of book, but I've wanted to read this ever since NBC's Hannibal came out-- it's one of my favorite shows and I just think it was done so excruciatingly well. (To hear me gush more, click here) The plot and ideas in the show were great, especially the way Hannibal and Will Graham's relationship was portrayed, so I wonder if that's drawn from the book or Bryan Fuller's own genius. I'm excited to get through this so I can compare to the show.

(Excuse my dangly hair)

"A professor invites a colleague from the art department to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeer--why has he hidden the important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of stories that trace ownership of the painting back to World War 2 and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work's inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner's hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in human lives. Vreeland's characters remind us, through their love of the mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts, and what in our lives is singular and unforgettable."
Even though people preach not to judge a book by it's cover, I couldn't help it with this one; I love the blue and the little picture window. I picked this book because of the art history aspect, but also because it seems to be the type of book I like best; not very dramatic, relaxed and contemplative, asking questions about human nature, life, beauty, but not necessarily answering them. And it involves a professor--- I have a weakness for any insight into the lives of professors *see: my obsession with The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies*

"The wish to bring political life under God's authority is nothing new, and it's clear that today religious passions are again driving world politics, confounding expectations of a secular future. In this major book, Mark Lilla reveals the sources of this age-old quest--and it's surprising role in shaping Western thought. Making us look deeper into our beliefs about religion, politics, and the fate of civilizations, Lilla reminds us of the modern West's unique trajectory and how to remain on it. Illuminating and challenging, The Stillborn God is a watershed in the history of ideas."

I really had trouble exercising self-control in the philosophy/religion section. I basically wanted to carry the whole table home-- but alas, my thirteen dollars. So I settled on this- combining religion, philosophy, and politics. I was remembering history class this year, learning how the Constitution and early government was built on Judeo-Christian ideas. I think it'll be a good read for when I'm not in the mood for fiction.

"As the Kaisar-i-Hind weighs anchor for Bombay in the autumn of 1928, it's passengers ponder their fate in a distant land. They are part of the "Fishing Fleet"-- the name given to the legions of Englishwomen who sail to India each year in search of husbands, heedless of the life that awaits them. The inexperienced chaperone Viva Holloway has been entrusted to watch over three unsettling charges. There's Rose, as beautiful as she is naive, who plans to marry a cavalry officer she has met a mere handful of times. Her bridesmaid, Victoria, is hell-bent on losing her virginity en route before finding a husband of her own. And shadowing them all is the malevolent presence of a disturbed schoolboy named Guy Glover. 
From the parties of the wealthy Bombay socialites to the poverty of Tamarind Street, from the sooty streets of London to the genteel conversation of the Bombay Yacht Club, East of The Sun  is graced with lavish detail and a penetrating sensitivity---historical fiction at it's greatest."

I originally picked up this book because the title reminded me of the story East of the Sun West of the Moon. I'm not sure if this book relates to that at all, but the story on the back cover sucked me in-- set in an interesting place in an interesting time with interesting people. I don't really expect this book to be all that deep or English-class material, but it sounds like the kind of book I could read just to relax and hear a great story. 

"Set at a boys' boarding school during the early years of World War 2, A Separate Peace  is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world."

I bought this one because I had heard a lot about and I'm also pretty sure I'll have to read it for school sometime in the future. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

"Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother" , Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina- a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black bee-keeping sisters, Lily is introduced to the mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come."

This book tackled a lot of issues and themes; racial discrimination, feminism, religion, and growing up, and I think it did it well. It was interesting that the story was told from the point of view of a white girl. What made Lily an interesting character was that she had a bit of racism in her herself- she had grown up in South Carolina, raised by a white father, what were you to expect? So her fight in the book wasn't against racism in general, it was really just against the racism in herself. But the thing is, Lily wasn't evil, she wasn't a bad person because she was racist, and because of this the reader could understand racism a bit more than if the story were told by a black person villainizing white racists. You get an up close and personal look into what makes someone racist, and what can cure them of it. Lily really only realized how it feels to be discriminated against for skin color when she was surrounded by black people and they didn't want her around. She realized how stupid and superficial of a reason it was to judge people. 

A lot of this book centers around the figure of the Black Madonna/ the Virgin Mary, and besides tying religion into the story, it introduces a sort of feminist, girl-power theme. There is a group of black women that call themselves the Daughters of Mary and worship the Black Madonna, which is not typical of Christianity--Jesus Christ is barely mentioned, and when He is it's by male characters. But what the women are worshiping isn't even the mother of Christ- no, they are worshiping "the mother of thousands", like a queen bee in a hive. And Mary is inside all of them, lending them strength, giving them the will to fight back. I liked this take on religion, the idea that what we worship is not so much figures from a story, but what they represent, the qualities that they have. 

I thought that The Secret Life of Bees was written very well. The imagery was beautiful and vivid, the characters came to life and were easy to connect to, and the plot ran smoothly. But something that I found especially interesting about the writing was the use of smells. Yes, in English class we learn to describe something using all five senses, but in reality descriptions involve mostly sight and a bit of sound. Yet Sue Monk Kidd gave us a pungent tour through most of the South Carolina plant species and a good amount of the cooking too, which really enhanced the setting of the book. Color and light were also used in heavy doses, along with bird imagery and a good amount of symbolism, which sated the more analytical side of me. 

In The Secret Life of Bees Sue Monk Kidd skillfully portrays the idea of racism in the South during the time of the Civil Rights Act, presenting it in a way so that the reader can understand and accept it without simply dismissing it as "bad" and "wrong", but at the same time Sue Monk Kidd doesn't turn her story into a parable preaching against discrimination. Although I enjoyed the book and there was a lot to think about, it didn't leave too much of an impression on me like other books have. I think this was in part to a lot of the questions and ideas being cleared up, answered, or defined by the end; there weren't any of the ideas that two people could debate different sides of and neither one be right or wrong. The ending was pretty predictable in my mind-there weren't any plot twists and everything was wrapped up happily the way you wanted it to be. Overall a good read, but not the kind that sticks.

August 12 2013--

I forgot to say in this review that I wished the character of t.ray-- lily's father--- had been developed a bit more. 

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