Giving Up Fiction?!

Nope. Won’t do it. Can’t ever imagine myself not reading fiction.

But that’s what some famous novelists have done, as described in this Salon.com article, “I’ve Stopped Reading Fiction.” Philip Roth is the author being quoted, though writers like William Gibson (!) and Cormac McCarthy have made similar statements. They haven’t stopped reading; they merely prefer non-fiction now. I won’t re-hash their reasons here; read the article if you’re interested.

Me, though? There’s just no way…

Judging

I try hard not to judge a book by its cover, and that includes the title, but that’s the main reason it took me so long to pick up The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. The book’s been out since 2007, and whenever I heard the title, or read it online, I found it super clunky; it didn’t roll off the tongue. I also didn’t love the look of the cover. I know. Super judgey.

But wow. Am I ever sorry I waited so long to read it. It’s a fantastic book! Smart. Hilarious. Honest. Sensitive. Heartbreaking. I want to go read it again right now. The narrator is 14-year-old Arnold Spirit, and through his perspective, you find out what life is like living on the Spokane Indian Reserve. It’s hard and rough and brutal, but it’s also filled with love.

Life gets even tougher for Arnold when he decides to pursue an education off-reserve at a high school 22 miles away. The loneliness pouring out of the kid as he describes how hard it is to fit in at his new school being the only non-white student… It really breaks your heart. He has no friends, his best friend from the reserve has abandoned him, and the other people on the reserve think he’s a traitor. Getting to school isn’t the easiest thing in the world, either. No school bus shows up in front of his house. If his dad’s car is working―or there’s money for gas―Arnold gets a lift in. Mostly, he hitches, and a few times he walked.

Arnold’s always had it tough, though. He was born with “water on the brain,” which left him with a stutter, a lisp, and an over-sized head, feet, and hands. On the reserve, he is verbally abused and beat up almost daily. However, Arnold’s never let this get in his way of going after what he wants. He wants a real education and he wants to be a comic book artist―in this medium, he feels he can best express himself. Everyone can understand a picture. And that’s how the book is set up: text with illustrations throughout.

The content is heavy, but Arnold’s voice is also downright hilarious. Read it.

What’s with the Instruments?

Three of the YA books I read this month featured characters who played musical instruments. And it wasn’t just one character in each book; it was two—a guy and a girl who fell in heavy like primarily because of their shared love of playing.

So, I need to know. What’s with all these characters playing musical instruments? Why haven’t I read about characters falling for each other through their love of writing, painting, hiking, singing, or I don’t know, tagging?

Is teens bonding over music one of the easiest ways to bring two characters together?

Also, two of the three girls played the cello, two of the guys played guitar, and one of the guys played the clarinet, which was refreshing since the clarinet is stereotyped as a “feminine instrument.” I wonder if the author chose the clarinet for his male protagonist to purposely go against the grain. Whatever the reason, it was nice not to read about a boy soulfully strumming his guitar.

Hunter High 2.0

I’ve started rewriting my first draft of Hunter High. I’d been putting it off for weeks because I figured it would be a dreadful task; who wants to rewrite a couple hundred pages? I know. I know. Rewriting is part of the process; there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft, or even second draft, for that matter!

However, I’m happy to say that it’s going much better than I thought it would. Probably because the story is already written and I don’t have to stare at a blank page. It’s weird; it kind of feels like I’m reading someone else’s work.

Getting Personal

Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number? is not a book I would’ve normally picked up. I read mostly fiction; this book is a collection of short personal essays. But someone recommended it to me, and we seem to like the same types of stories, so I got it from the library.

The book immediately reminded me of David Sedaris’s style of writing: funny, intimate, embarrassing, and heartwarming. (In fact, Sedaris is quoted on the back of Crosley’s book as part of the “advance praise.”) Crosley writes about looking for a roommate in New York, travelling to Lisbon alone, attending a friend’s wedding in Alaska, being dumped by a cheater, playing the horrific game, Girl Talk, as a kid…just to name a few.

How Did You Get This Number? is Crosley’s second book; I’ve just put her debut novel, I Was Told There’d be Cake, on reserve at the library. Looking forward to it. I like her writing. It’s straightforward, blunt, and contains a lot of funny word play and outright zingers. I especially liked her description of the time she found a “ransom” note (made from teen magazines) in her locker:

YoU  R  a Looser

I had several elements on my side, spell-check among them. I also questioned the choice of “ransom” as a note-leaving genre. I stood agape in the hallway, my shoulders as slouched as my socks, thinking: And? Was there no price to pay? I flipped the note over, anticipating a “thus your entire pencil collection must be left in the earth-science cubbies by noon oR ElSe.” But the other side was just a mess of glue outlines.

I love that spell-check line!

I have to say, though, that Crosley’s stories didn’t make me burst out laughing the way Sedaris’s did. I remember reading his book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and desperately trying not to guffaw on a crowded subway car; I sat there shaking with laughter instead.

World War Z

I love zombies stories, whether they’re in book, movie, comic, or graphic novel form. I’ve been a zombie story lover ever since I saw Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in the early eighties. I like to consider myself a zombie purist, meaning my zombies shuffle and shamble, not move at lightning speed like the ones in 28 Days Later.

So here I am five years late in reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks, which was published in 2006. I just have to say that this is a completely different take on the subject than I’m used to; most zombie stories occur during the crisis; this book is set about a decade after the “The Dark Years” or “The Walking Plague.”

The narrator, an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission, has put together a book of eyewitness accounts; people who survived the zombie apocalypse and are now more than willing to share their stories, so that perhaps, the world can learn from the horror. Interviewees include civilians, military personal, monks, children, doctors, scientists, politicians—each with different takes on what happened, why it happened, who’s to blame, how the world dig themselves out of this mess.

What I like most about World War Z is that it feels so freaking REAL! I could totally see people/countries reacting like the way they do in this book. For example:

  • the public refuses to believe the outbreak is happening. Zombies? As if.
  • China, where the infection originated, tries to cover up what’s going on
  • the infection is spread by refugees and the black market organ trade
  • Israel is the only country to initiate a quarantine
  • the media reports salacious stories instead of the truth, which could have helped people survive
  • the pharmaceutical industry invents a “vaccine,” and rakes in billions
  • world leaders try to decide what is an acceptable amount of collateral damage when making their defense plans
  • civilians pack up willy nilly and head north, only to freeze to death because they’re not prepared to live through a Canadian winter (zombies also freeze, btw)
  • the world falls apart without electricity, and egads, the Internet
  • people with actual “hard” skills (farmers, doctors, carpenters, mechanics, electricians, etc.) are valued more in this new society than those with “soft” skills like TV execs, actors, or fashion bloggers

I also like how the author alluded to famous people without actually identifying them: like the queen who refused to leave Windsor Castle and the filmmaker (I think it’s Steven Spielberg) who recorded the action around him using an old camera.

Even if you don’t like zombie stories, this is one book not to miss. Read it.

The Giver

This morning, I read The Giver by Lois Lowry, and it’s left me feeling uncomfortable, out-of-sorts, sad, and a little hopeful.

To be honest, I’m mad at myself for having taken so long to read this incredible book; it was published in 1993… What was I doing back then? Oh yeah, 2nd-year university, where, as an English major, I had to read all sorts of books for class, which left me with no desire to read anything for enjoyment.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot of The Giver, lest I give the story away, but the final chapter where 12-year-old Jonas rides off into an unknown future, with little Gabe on the back of his bike, almost made me burst into tears. In fact, once I finished the book, I made up some dumb chore in another room so Trevor wouldn’t see me all teary-eyed. It’s been a while since a book has affected like this, and I am relieved to discover that The Giver is the first in a trilogy.

Young Adult Fiction Too Dark?

So says this article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.

To make her point, the author picks out books that feature self-mutilation, rape, kidnapping, drugs, sex, and abuse. The way she piles them on in her article makes it appear—to me, at least—that ALL YA fiction is horrific. That is simply not the case. I read a ton of YA, and yes, there are books that are extremely dark in nature, but many, many are not. Some of the most recent ones I’ve read, and enjoyed, are the two books mentioned in my previous post, The Sky is Everywhere and The Falls. What else? The Fat Vampire, Johnny Kellock Died Today, The Maze Runner, The Doom Machine, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, H-Bomb Girl

On a different note, I remember some of the authors that I read as a preteen…Stephen King, for instance. Not for the faint of heart. Should I have been reading his books at 12 or 13 years of age? Some adults would say no way. Others probably wouldn’t care—as long as I was reading. When I think about it, my parents had no idea what my sister and I checked out of the library in the summer. We’d come home with a bag of books each, devour them, and then trade off, all the while ignoring my mom as she told us to get outside. For the amount of horror that I read, I think I turned out relatively unscathed. However, I believe it’s different for each reader. Some kids can’t handle the darkness; it stays with them; they can’t get it out of their heads.

Me, though? I’ve always been attracted to the dark side. Ha, ha. And just because I said that, check out the video below.

Loving YA

I finished two very different YA books recently. I absolutely loved the first one, The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. This book made me long to be 17 again. It’s about first love (but not overly sappy or romantic); has a believable love triangle consisting of two hot, damaged guys, and the main female character, Lennie; a supporting cast of quirky relatives and friends (that you’d only find in a book, but yet are surprisingly believable); and a refreshing format, thanks to the insertion of poems that Lennie writes to her recently deceased sister. I kept having to re-read certain passages in the book because I loved them so much.

Sigh.

The second book, The Falls, by Eric Walters, I liked, too, but for entirely different reasons. One, it’s set in Niagara Falls, and I could vividly picture the setting from all the times I had driven there with my friends. Two, the book contained a definite lesson/moral aspect, and I thought the author did a great job of weaving it in nicely; I didn’t feel like he was beating me over the head with it.

Quick summary: the main character is Jay, and his mother is an alcoholic, who has been dry for five years. Jay starts going to Ala-Teen meetings and gets a part-time job at the daredevil museum on Clifton Hill, where he meets his mentor, an older man who has the grim, but necessary, part-time job of pulling bodies out of the river. He encourages Jay to strive for what he wants; graduate high school, go to university, go after your dreams, etc. I found Jay believable, mostly due to his conversations with his best friend, Timmy; I believed these were two teenage boys talking, though to be honest, I have no idea what teen speak sounds like today!