Monthly Archives: January 2012
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Page Count: About 400
Genre: Young Adult/Literary Fiction
Prep tells the story of Lee Fiora, a socially awkward teenager from Indiana who gets a scholarship to attend the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. There, she struggles to find her place at the boarding school, feeling left out because she’s not wealthy or pretty like most of her classmates. As much a novel about class and race as it is about growing up, Prep is one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.
This is the second time I’ve read this book. The first was a few years ago, when I was a freshman in college. I enjoyed it then up until the last chapter, which is when I no longer felt like I could relate to the main character, Lee. Now that I’ve lived a bit longer and have actually had a relationship, though, I no longer feel like the last chapter is out of place and out of character. It’s still my least favorite part of the book, but that’s only because the rest of the book is so outstanding that the end could be great and still not live up to the rest of it.
To be fair, I feel like I should mention that a lot of people hate this book. They find the main character whiny and self-centered, and they feel like she hasn’t grown at all from the beginning of the book to the end of it. I feel like the people who gave this book low reviews don’t undertsand Lee, though. The reason I love this book so much is because I can relate to the character so well. In an earlier post, I mentioned that one of the reasons I write is because I don’t find characters like me in books.
Lee Fiora is exactly the type of character I have been looking for. She doubts everything. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. She doesn’t talk to people because she knows that it’s not her place to do so. There were so many momens in this novel that I highlighted because I felt like she was describing something that I had felt a thousand times before.
…I worried that I would take a seat by someone who didn’t want to sit next to me, in class I worried I would say a wrong or foolish thing. I worried that I took too much food at meals, or that I did not disdain the food you were supposed to disdain…I always worried that someone would notice me, and then when no one did, I felt lonely.
I felt like that all the time in high school. Hell, I felt like that in college and still feel like that now. I just don’t see people as much so I don’t have as much opportunity to worry about things like that. People were always complaining about food that I thought looked delicious, so I would only eat it if I was by myself. I ate alone at lunch because I didn’t want to sit with people who might not want me to be there. I rarely join in conversations because I’m so afraid of saying something stupid. I only hang out when I’m pushed into doing it because I’m afraid that the people I’m hanging out with didn’t really want me there to begin with. Which brings me to the next quote:
Of course, now I wonder where I had gotten the idea that for you to participate in a gathering, the other people had to really, really want you to be there and that anything short of rabid enthusiasm on their part meant you’d be a nuisance. Where had I gotten the idea that being a nuisance was that big a deal?
That is a lesson that I’m still trying to learn. I got invited to a party last month, and the entire way there I kept pestering my boyfriend, trying to make sure that the girl who invited us had started drinking after she invited us, because I was afraid that we would get there and she would have forgotten that she had invited us and wouldn’t really want us there.
I realize that a large part of this is about me, not the book that I’m supposed to be reviewing, but the two are so intertwined that I can’t really talk about why I liked the book without talking to me. I feel like the people who don’t like this book are the sorts of people who have always had friends. They might not have been incredibly popular, but they had at least a few friends their whole life. They weren’t constantly afraid of talking to people, of breaking some hidden rule that they weren’t even sure really existed. Even the parts of this book that I hated last time I read it I now realize I only hated because they reminded me of the parts of myself that I hate the most.
This book is not for everyone. People who have never been uncomfortable around people and have no interest in those who have will not like this book. There is sex described in the last hundred pages are so. I wouldn’t say that there’s graphic sex or anything, but it’s definitely more detailed than I had been expecting when I picked up this book. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for middle schoolers (although as a middle schooler, I probably would have enjoyed it). Other than that, I highly recommend people read this book. If you’ve ever known anyone who had social anxiety or avoidant personality disorder (which I’m still half convinced that I have) and/or want to get a closer look into what it’s like to live like that, I recommend this book. Sittenfeld has never said that Lee has either disorder, and there are things that she does (particularly near the end of the book) that someone with SA or APD wouldn’t do. I’m just saying that Lee Fiora is closer to a person with one of those disorders than any character I’ve ever read before, and that’s what makes me appreciate this book so much.
I have decided to start another blog. I will still be updating this blog at least twice a week (once with a book update and once with a writing update), but I will also be posting over on my new political-ish blog, The Glass is Broken. There, I will be ranting about current events that make me lose faith in humanity. I’m pretty liberal (at least on the topics that I will be writing about), so I’m warning people now that if that’s not where most of their beliefs lie, they won’t want to read mine. But I figured that I was staring up another blog, so I might as well mention it in case anyone reading this is interested. I’m planning to update that one at least once a week.
Today was my last day of freedom before work starts up again. I work as a school photographer, a job which is way more demanding than it probably sounds and a job that no one seems to respect. Considering some of the people I work with, that latter point doesn’t surprise me too much. I’ve spent a lot of time in real life complaining about my job, and as much as I hate the politics that go on in the office (which I am privy to because my mother and sister both work there, too), I actually like a lot of aspects of this job.
For instance, I like the hours. I’m not really a morning person, no, and waking up between 4:30 and 5:30 isn’t really my favorite thing, I do like the fact that I’m usually back at home between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. The hours vary, of course (I once got home from a middle school at 6:00 pm), but for the most part I wake up around 5 am and back home by 4 pm. And how many other jobs are going to pay you for the time it takes you to drive to work? Sure, I make less than $12,000 a year after taxes (and that’s including the unemployment I get during the off-season), but it could be worse. I get weekends and holidays off. Since I only work when school’s in session, I end up with a lot of time off (mid-November to late January and then again from mid-May to August).
I’m never going to be paid a lot of money to work at this job. I don’t even think I’ll be able to do it forever. School pictures are going out of style, and I expect the company will close soon, even though we’re the biggest photography company in the state (probably the country). Still, for now I’m enjoying the fact that I have to endure four months of hell before getting a two month break. Not many other jobs out there offer that type of benefit. Sure, most jobs pay a lot better than mine does, but for the hours I work, I’m actually okay with the money I get. I would have to work full-time and year-round at minimum wage to make the same amount of money. I’d much rather work seasonally than year-round for that kind of money, especially because it means that I have four months a year that I can dedicate solely to writing.
My boyfriend’s parents keep trying to get me to find a new job. Part of that is because I complain about it all the time (teachers are really quite stupid most of the time, I’ve discovered), but part of it is because I think they don’t respect my job. I don’t really blame them for that, as I don’t have much respect for it either most of the time, but I’ve discovered I actually really enjoy my job because it gives me time to do what I love. I don’t have to worry about getting home between six and seven at night and then trying to find time to have dinner and socialize and write. I have two days off each week to write, and I generally have at least an hour before anyone else in my family gets home that I can use to write. Then, in the off-chance that I do get too tired and demoralized to write during the week, I always have winter and summer to write.
This post is supposed to be more about writing than work, but I felt that I should go ahead and write about all the positive things about work before I actually go back tomorrow and start hating it again. If I think about it as my career, it makes me want to throw myself off the nearest tall building. If I think about it as my day job while I work on building up my writing portfolio and trying to become a published author, though, it’s not so bad. And while I know that I will probably never be able to support myself solely from my writing, the idea that I’m working toward that goal is enough to keep me going for now.
In writing news, I have written about 2k today, bringing my total for the month up to 80,338. I’m about a day ahead where I want to be, though I’m a few months behind where I wanted to be in Tilt. I found myself summarizing some of the major events that were supposed to occur, which for anyone who knows me is extremely odd, as I tend to draw out everything as long as I can. I decided I wasn’t doing my story justice, so I decided to give myself a break and work on something else. Writing isn’t supposed to feel like a chore. I’ve often found that if I put something off until the “right” time, by the time I give myself permission to work on it, I don’t want to write it anymore. I’m trying to break myself of that habit. Tilt wasn’t working for me at the moment, so I moved on to something else.
That something else is a story about a young woman who cheats on her boyfriend with a guy that she used to know. It’s completely not what I usually write (as I hate the idea of cheating and would never forgive someone for cheating on me), but for some reason I was drawn to this idea. It started with a dream I had that I couldn’t forget. I thought it was going to be a short story about the one-time event, but I’ve now written almost 5k, and she has only just met the guy at a coffee shop. There’s more to these characters than I originally thought (not much more, of course, but a little more), and I’m interested to see where it goes. Who knows – maybe I’ll get bored with them and go back to my original novel in a few days. For now, though, I’m interested in seeing what they do. It’s sort of fun writing about a character whose actions are so drastically different from my own. Usually when I write, I try to think about what I would do in that situation. Now I’m writing about what I wouldn’t do, and it’s kind of fun.
Title: On Writing
Author: Stephen King
Page Count: About 300
F/NF: Non Fiction
This novel is split into four main parts: a memoir on King’s life, a summary of the tools every writer needs, an examination of what writers need to know, and a look into the accident that almost took his life in 1999. The memoir takes up the first half of the book.
I went back and forth trying to rate this book. At first I thought I would rank it a 6, but in the end I couldn’t do it. The last half of the book was too good. That said, I had to force myself to get through the first half of the book, the part where he described his life before he became a famous author (and a little bit after). If I had been a huge Stephen King fan growing up, I probably would have been more interested in the first half of the novel. I know that if JK Rowling wrote a book about her childhood, I would read it happily. That said, the only King book I’ve read (besides this one) is Carrie, and that was a long time ago. I found myself pushing myself to get through most of the pages. The parts directly related to writing were interesting, but for the most part I didn’t care.
The second half of the book, though, was where things really got interested, and those pages were what bumped my rating up from a 6 to a 7. It took me over a week to read the first half of the book and a single afternoon to read the second half. If you pick up this book because you’re a huge Stephen King fan, I highly recommend reading the entire book, as you will learn a lot of information about him and his early days of writing. If you’re reading it (like I was) because you wanted a book on writing, I would skip ahead to the second half, aptly titled “On Writing.” I found that section highly interesting and informative.
On a related note – Stephen King appears to be an endorser of NaNoWriMo, whether he knows it or not. He suggests writing the first draft quickly, before the self-doubt can creep in, which is the main premise behind NaNo
I wrote 6,444 words today and finished up September 2010 in my novel. As far as word count goes, I’m caught up. I have 38,155 words for Tilt Your Head and Smile and 47,584 words total.
My problem is that I was supposed to write October 2010 today. I didn’t write much of anything yesterday since we were at Michael’s house. I wrote enough to make up for it today, but I’m still a month behind in my outline. I’m hoping to fix that this weekend. Over on the WriYe forums, I signed up to write 25k on Monday. If I can do that, I can get really far ahead. Even if I can’t, though, I’m not too worried. I’m only a day behind, and I have an extra day each week factored in to make up for that.
I’m enjoying writing my novel. April is depressed. She’s already been turned down for one job, and she has had a fight with Matthew about money. Things are moving along nicely. Next up, she gets turned down for another job and stops talking to friends because she’s so embarrassed that she doesn’t have a job.
I also have to start reading again. I’ve started On Writing and would like to finish that up before the end of the week. I have a week and a half until I have to go back to work, and I want to get as much reading done before then as possible.
I seem to spend more time thinking about writing than actually writing recently. After I finish this post, that’s going to change. I hope. I’m about 22k into Tilt, and I’ve covered the first two months of the timeline. At this rate, the novel with end around 200k. I can’t let that happen. I’m hoping that I can manage to keep the remaining months to the 5k allotted to them. If so, I can still finish this thing in less than 120k.
I’ve come up with a new writing schedule for this month. Writing 3k a day hasn’t worked so well this month, and now it’s time to make up for the time that I wasted. I’m only about a day behind my goal of 100k for the month, but I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about not finishing this draft, which I really need to finish. I can’t fall behind my 2012 schedule in the first month. So here’s my new schedule:
This is where April finishes up her summer job and still has hope that she will find the job she wants, the job she went to college for.
This is where April loses faith in her ability to find a job. She gets more and more depressed and feels like a failure.
This is where April finally finds a job and has to deal with everyone assuming she is only as smart as her job requires. She is almost as miserable as she was when she was unemployed. She tries to fix it the only way she knows how.
This shouldn’t really be a horrible schedule to stick to. It will take more dedication than I’ve shown for the first part of the month, but I know I can do it. That’s a month a day with one day a week left to either catch up or get ahead (all right – it will be to catch up). I can do this.
My goal for today: finish July 2010.
I can do this.
But first I must make more coffee.
Anti-choice Arguments Parading as Competent Ones
One of the most divisive issues of the twentieth century, abortion has been regulated in the United States since the 1860s. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case everyone credits with overturning these regulations, guarantees women unrestricted access to an abortion within the first trimester of her pregnancy and in all cases where her life or health is at risk. That has not stopped many states from passing laws restricting access to abortion. After “to protect the life of the mother,” the most common exception to such law reads “except in cases of rape or incest.” Many people condemned Sarah Palin for her belief that abortion should be illegal “even in cases of rape.” Indeed, many states’ abortion restrictions can only pass when rape exceptions are added. Such arguments are dangerous to women, however, because they focus not on protecting the supposed life of the fetus—the only “pro-life” argument that has any viability—but on punishing women for having sex. By claiming that rape victims have a greater right to abortion than other women do, people reinforce the notion that women who have sex know the risks involved and should therefore accept the consequences.
Becoming an exception
Before examining the ramifications of such exceptions, one must think about what the exception is saying in the first place: women can only get abortions if they have been raped. What exactly does that mean from a legal standpoint? Does a woman simply have to claim that she was raped? If that is the case, anyone seeking an abortion would just have to claim that they were raped. However, doing so would not only make the exception pointless to begin with but would also make it even more difficult for women who have been raped to be taken seriously than it already is.
The only other option, however, would be to make a woman prove that she was raped. Does someone have to go jail to allow the woman to have an abortion? What happens if she is unable to prove that she was raped as opposed to merely having sex? Does that mean that she cannot get an abortion? And even if she can prove that she was raped, even if she does win the case, so many months will have passed by that point that she will either already have given birth or be too far along to get an abortion anyway.
Why such exceptions are dangerous
Even if the rape exception made sense, though, it would still contradict the entire pro-choice movement. The argument for the rape exception is that the victims did not choose to have sex; therefore, they should not be forced to deal with the consequences. That argument implies, however, that the women who do choose to have sex should be forced to deal with the consequences. The regulation, then, becomes more of a way of punishing women for having sex than it does a way of ensuring fetuses the right to live.
The abortion debate should really come down to one question: when does personhood begin? If it begins, as many supposedly pro-lifers say, at conception, then abortion should always be illegal. If it begins, as Roe v. Wade says, at viability, then abortion should only be illegal in the late-second and third trimesters. If it begins at birth, then abortion should always be legal.
Which moment one deems most important—conception, viability, or birth—is a question for a different essay. The point here is that no matter where you draw the line, it does not (or at least should not) move depending on the circumstances surrounding the conception. If personhood begins at conception, then abortion is murder whether the woman wanted to have sex or not. If personhood does not begin at conception, then the woman should be able to have an abortion whether she wanted to have sex or not.
People are often condemned as being extremists if they feel that a woman who was raped should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Such people are viewed as cold-hearted and merciless. In reality, though, these are the only people whose arguments make any sense. These are the people who truly feel that abortion is murder and that murder is wrong. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with them, one must at the very least respect that they are honestly doing what they believe is right: protecting the life of an innocent baby.
The people who believe that abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape are the ones with the extremist views. These are the people who believe that any woman stupid enough to have sex should be forced to deal with the consequences. These people are clearly not concerned with the life of the embryo; their sole concern is making sure that the woman accepts responsibility for the decision she made to have sex. Presumably, such people believe that sex should only be used for reproductive purposes—a rather extreme belief in this day and age.
Being raped is undoubtedly a terrible experience that no woman—or man, for that matter—should ever have to live through. That does not mean, though, that a child conceived by such means is any more or less real than one conceived by two consenting individuals. Therefore, whether a woman was raped should have no bearing in deciding whether or not she is allowed to have an abortion. Either every woman should be able to have an abortion, or no woman should. Until we stop thinking of “except in cases of rape” as an acceptable compromise, we are just making this world a more and more dangerous place for women to live.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Page Count: About 400
Genre: Young adult/dystopia
Warning: This review contains spoilers for all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Read at your own risk!
Summary: The final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay follows Katniss as she discovers more about the rebellion that has been building in District 13. Will she do as they ask and serve as the face of the rebellion? And what risks are there associated with being their beloved Mockingjay?
Just as a precaution, I’m warning any readers again that this review will contain spoilers for this book. You have been warned.
This was definitely the most intense book of the trilogy. It had the sort of ending I was hoping for, and once I started reading I couldn’t stop. My sister finally finished this book around 11 this morning, and I have done little else today but read and drink coffee. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I’m not sure how much of it was due to Collins’ brilliant narrative and how much was due to my natural distrust of people, but I found myself unable to look away. I didn’t trust anyone in the novel apart from Katniss, and there were even some moments in it when I found myself doubting her, as well. The moment, for instance, when she votes to send the children of the Capitol to a final Hunger Games, I almost lost any respect I might have had for her. My only remaining hope for the book was that that would end up being a ruse to get Coin to trust her. When it turned out that that was exactly what she was going, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief again.
My sister said that this book terrified her. I wouldn’t go that far. I can’t say I wasn’t scared for the characters, but it didn’t terrify me like it did her. I also didn’t find myself crying nearly as often as I thought I would have after my sister’s assessment of it. I think I was too tense to cry for most of it, though there were definitely some parts that had me in tears. One of those moments was the ending, which I don’t understand since that was almost the exact ending I was hoping for.
I think my main problem with this novel, with this entire series, really, was that it was a bit anticlimactic. I still think it’s the best series I’ve read in a really long time, and I can’t deny that it’s filled my thoughts and dreams for the last week and a half. That said, I didn’t find myself enjoying the ending as much as I thought I would. There are quite a few times in this book (and in Cathing Fire) where Katniss blacks out or is sedated and then wakes up to find that all the exciting events have passed, and we get a recap of what happened instead of seeing it for ourselves. For instance, in the previous book we see Katniss shoot at the force field and then everything fades to black and she wakes up and has to have them explain to her what happened. In this book, she’s several feet in front of Snow’s mansion, about to go in, when her sister is killed and everything once again fades to black. When she wakes, we learn that the rebels took the Capitol, that they captured Snow, and that Coin is now in charge of the country. We are also told that Peeta and Gale are injured but alive. This should be one of the most exciting moments of the book, but it’s sort of brushed aside – much like the aftermath of Coin’s death. Katniss is confined to a room and then Haymitch shows up and says, “Oh, this guy testified on your behalf and you can go home and your mother and Gale aren’t coming with you.”
I still love this series, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who asked. That said, I couldn’t help but a feel a bit disappointed that so many important events happened off-camera. Those are the limits with using first person, I guess. Since I can’t deny that Katniss was a great narrator and that Collins made a good decision when she chose to tell the story exclusively from Katniss’s point of view, I guess I can’t really complain too much. Since she ends up with Peea (finally – although, really, I think he deserves better) I have to say that I like this book the best of the trilogy, though I think I might actually have preferred the first one. Still, excellent series. I both eagerly await and fear the upcoming release of the first movie.
I showed my mother my article in Wildflower magazine yesterday. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if she would like what I had to say or if she would think it was stupid that I submitted my work to a magazine that doesn’t offer any money for people’s work. It turns out I had nothing to worry about. In fact, it was good that I showed her. She really liked my article, and she went so far as to say that that is what I should be doing with my life. She already got me a seasonal job as a school photographer, which provides me around $10k a year after taxes. It’s not great, and I actually hate my job most of the time, but it’s still a job, and I’m extremely grateful to have it.
I’m even more grateful, though, that my mother no longer seems to be encouraging me to find some other dull job to occupy my team. She thinks I should spend my time improving my writing and trying to find a way to make money off my writing. I’m not really as optimistic as she is, but it was still nice to hear that she believes in me and my writing. I know a lot of people whose parents don’t support their writing at all and think of it as a waste of time, so I’m glad my mother supports mine – even if she hates NaNoWriMo and everything to do with it. Maybe if I show her some of what I’ve written during NaNo she’ll change her mind about that, too. I’m not as optimistic about that, but it’s still worth a shot.
In other good news, I’m a little over 10k into draft two of Tilt Your Head and Smile, bringing me up to 20k total for my JanNo so far. I’m still about 6k behind where I’m supposed to be, but it’s only 4 pm. I still have time to catch up, perhaps even get ahead.
Okay, this is the second books I’ve read in one week. While technically the phrase “52 books in 52 weeks” implies that as long as you read 52 books in a year you’ve completed the challenge, we’re technically supposed to read one book a week, and if we read two books one week, we’re still supposed to read another book the next week. I think. That said, I’m still just aiming for 52 books. If I read more, great. If not, I’ll still be happy if I hit 52.
Warning: This review contains spoilers for The Hunger Games, the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Read at your own risk.
Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Page Count: About 400
Genre: Young adult/dystopia
For the first time ever, two tributes have been allowed to win the Hunger Games. All is not safe, though, for winners Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. They have won by defying the Capitol, and the president is not pleased. With uprisings springing up all over the country and the Quarter Quell approaching – a Hunger Games even more horrifying than normal – will Katniss and Peeta be able to keep themselves and everyone they love safe? Or is it already too late?
While this book was just as hard to put down as its predecessor was, I found that Catching Fire wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the first one. Part of it had to do with the fact that I was not crying nearly as much through this one as I had the first. Tears were definitely shed – don’t get me wrong – but I found myself more waiting to see how Katniss was going to get herself out of this mess and less worrying about the other people in the novel. I think this is mostly because of the love triangle that seems to have become quite commonplace in books these days. While there was also competition in Katniss’s mind about whom she liked better – the rebellious Gale, who has been her best friend for four years, or the kind-hearted Peeta, whose only concern in life is making sure that she is alive and happy – a large chunk of the first part of this novel deals with her relationships with those two young men – or rather her lack of relationship.
I will say this for Collins: this is the only time a love triangle has not made me want to rip out my hair and murder the person whose affection everyone is directed at. I’m sad to say that when I think of love triangles, I think of Twilight. Part of what makes this series different (apart from a captivating plot and interesting and dynamic characters) is that Katniss has been thrust into the world of romance rather quickly, and both men vying for her attention have their strengths. They want to protect her, yes, but unlike the possessive way Edward “protects” Bella. Katniss has enough strength on her own that she can offer them just as much strength and protection as they give her – at least for the most part.
That said, I think a large part of why I didn’t mind the love triangle in this one was because I was torn about who she should pick. I can now safely say that I like Peeta better, though that may only be because we’ve seen more of him in this series. I think I just end up feeling sorry for Gale, even though I have no real reason to be since I still don’t think Katniss has made up her mind which one she likes better.
Love triangle aside, this was still an excellent book. It didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had for it after the first novel, but the last hundred pages definitely upped the suspense. I can’t wait to start reading the third book. I haven’t been this captivated by a book since I read Harry Potter for the first time.