{what i like about boogs}

During my daily perusal of the Publishers Lunch e-newsletter, I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite blogs has just signed a book deal. Bangable Dudes in History (subtitle: “Dead man porn for your still-beating heart) is a hilarious and not-so-family-friendly blog that I, a history minor in college, very much enjoy nerding out to. Congratulations, blogger Megan, on your upcoming book!

This may be a controversial opinion, but I am quite a fan of the trending blog-books, or “boogs,” as I’ve decided to call them. Looking over my blogroll (highlights of which I include in the “Other Things I Like” page on this site), several of them have spawned books. Obviously PostSecret has several; Dear Old Love and hipster puppies also recently published. And then, of course, there’s the more “legitimate” books that began as blogs—Julie and Julia and A Homemade Life come to mind.

As a bit of an Internet junkie (umm, duh—I have a blog), I find these boogs to be fun (often hilarious) snippets of human experience (like PS and DOL) or random facts and photos (like BDiH and hp). Now we seem to be moving beyond the blogging world and into any online viral trend that surfaces—for who could resist Boo, Facebook’s cutest dog?

What do you think? Are boogs cool or annoying? What blogs would you like to see made into boogs?

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{crutching along}

Man, am I sick of crutches. Last night, I dreamt that I was walking with crutches. Then I forgot them somewhere and had to go back and get them. So now I am on crutches even in my dreams. Although I guess the point of that dream was that I don’t need them any more! Would that my physical therapist/parents agreed with me.

This weekend at my gramma’s house, I read two books. They were both about 10-year-old girls, but that was about all that they had in common. Ellen Foster, which I brought with me, is a Southern coming-of-age novella, while Sarah’s Key, which my gramma had, is a Holocaust narrative/present-day journalism project mishmash of a novel. Since two books are the subject of this post, I thought I’d cut things down a bit by doing the old 2&2 review of each.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Two things I loved:

1. The setting. I have a large, large soft spot for the South. Seriously. Everything from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café to Friday Night Lights gets me going. It’s just a personal weakness.

2. Ellen Foster. This book is her, with one of the clearest, strongest narrative voices I’ve ever read. This smart-as-a-whip 10-year-old has a spirit that rises above her abominable circumstances and horrific family life and gets her reader smiling with admiration. She’s sincere, loyal, caring, and hilarious, in a way that reminds me of my gramma, oddly enough.

The way to shop when you have a limit on money and you don’t want to be bothered picking out and matching up items in your wardrobe is to buy everything alike. . . I always take a long time to try it all on and make sure I feel right. Then I pay for it and make sure I got my receipt in case something falls apart. . . They ought to build things to last. When I get back to where I am living I lay all the clothes on the bed and admire how it all matches.

Two things I didn’t love:

1. The length. I’m a whiner, but I honestly just wanted more of Ellen. 126 pages was not enough.

2. The ending. The book ended on a strong racial message that seemed a little tacked on. Commentary on race issues are sprinkled sparingly throughout the book, but I thought that Ellen’s journey focused more on other themes (family, faith, free will) that could have served as the ending’s focus.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Two things I loved:

1. The historical content. The book covers an event known as the Vel’ d’Hiv’, when over 13,000 Parisian Jews were rounded up by French police and, after being held in horrific conditions, were sent to concentration camps, from which almost none of them returned. After 10 years of French study and a semester abroad, I count myself more informed than the average reader on France’s role in the Holocaust, and I found the book to be well-researched and fascinating.

2. Sarah’s story. Besides being well-researched, de Rosnay’s writing brings the atrocities that she suffered to life without allowing her reader to lose hope. Sarah’s bravery and compassion makes the reader an ally from the beginning.

Two things I didn’t love:

1. The modern storyline. Sarah’s story is mirrored by that of middle-aged American expatriate journalist Julia, whose discovery of Sarah’s history coincides with her own marital troubles. Frankly, I just wasn’t that interested.

2. The writing style. At times, the writing was a little overdone, almost like de Rosnay was trying to imitate great classics. This mainly happened during the modern storyline; again, the parts about Sarah were for the most part very well-done.

What did you read this weekend? I hope it was enjoyable!

{i want cake}

Well, it’s been a good week of physical therapy and doctor’s appointments. I just got back from 4 hours at the orthopedics center, during which I found out that my immediate quad atrophy after tearing my ACL almost 4 months ago was totally normal, improved my mobility by 12 degrees, and got my sutures removed! BFD. Amiright?

Now I’m off for a weekend at my gramma’s sans internet while the rents take my little brother back to college. I don’t have to go (yay! last time I went was 3 months after grad and everyone thought I was a matriculating freshman, which was depressing on at least 2 separate levels), but for my mother, still on crutches equals can’t take care of self. She’s probably right.

So while I’m gone for the next few days (and reading Ellen Foster, which I started today in the waiting room and is pretty dang good so far), throw a party for all these amazing kids’ books’ birthdays!

{go big or go home}

“Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog. To tell you the truth I’m kind of glad he hit you.”

Thank you, Lev Grossman. Always a pleasure to know my place in the world as a blogger. Grossman’s The Magicians is usually billed as a Harry Potter-Narnia conglomeration, and while I can see why it is dubbed as such, it’s not—really.

Let me be clear: I absolutely love both Harry Potter and Narnia. I have waited in midnight lines for HP books and movies, and when I was 9, I saved up my allowance and bought a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia from the Scholastic book club that I still reread almost every time I go home. But Grossman’s The Magicians treats magical schools and adventures with a certain misanthropic cynicism that I happen to enjoy at this point in my life.

Quentin Coldwater is at the top of his class in everything. He’s slated to have his choice of the Ivy Leagues, if he can fend off all his cutthroat academic equals. Does he care? Is he happy? Not particularly. He dreams of Fillory, the magical land visited by British siblings in his favorite childhood books (which bear distinct similarities to, if not are replicas of, Narnia and the Chronicles). In Fillory, you could be special. In Fillory, you could really prove that you were worth something.

But wait—Quentin receives an invitation to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. He is special. But Brakebills turns out to be less like Hogwarts (although there are passing—usually drunken—references to Quidditch and Hermione’s buckteeth) and more like the college experiences enjoyed by normal individuals: Quentin makes some great friends, starts dating a nerdy sexbomb, and spends his time having houseparties. Actually, though, he gets a little sick of it—he’s stuck in this bubble of self-involved twerps who think they’re something special. But really, in the scheme of things, they’re not.

It’s all good, though. Kinda. Post-college is more drunken debauchery, including some forays into sketchier stuff from his friends’ Manhattan penthouse. None of this magic stuff has really been quite as cool as Quentin thought it would be.

But wait—a third huge plot development occurs (this book is jam-packed, by the way—don’t read it unless you’ve got a fair amount of time on your hands and are in relatively good cardiac health). Quentin and his friends find a way to actually go to Fillory. Now Quentin can prove himself as the questing magical adventurer he always knew he was.

One of the reasons Quentin loves the Fillory books is when the children happen across an entrance to it, it’s like “opening the covers of a book, but a book that did what books always promised to do and never actually quite did: get you out, really out, of where you were and into somewhere better.”

That’s what Quentin is searching for throughout the entire book, and that’s what he thinks he has found once he finally gets to Fillory. But is Fillory as great as he’d always thought it was? What happens to people who go through life always waiting for the next big thing—and then find it? What are you supposed to do once you get there?

I liked this book for its magic, for its adventure, because it was recommended to me by a list for adult Harry Potter readers. And it really is a good fit for that list, but not because it’s about a school of magic.

As a recent post-graduate (and a member of the true Harry Potter generation), I can tell you that all of Quentin’s misdirected cynicism and debauchery rang fairly true to me. Not in the sense that I, too, am living a wild and hedonistic life (just today I managed to bend my knees without crutches! Then my mom took me out for froyo), but because I totally get what it’s like to wonder when something really cool is going to happen. When is my hard work going to pay off? Why can’t the magical stuff I read about as a kid be real? Why is life just so dang boring most of the time? (What if you’re not the Chosen One? What if you don’t happen to stumble across a fantasyland of Christian metaphysics?)

The Magicians does not answer these questions. It does not put a positive spin on them (or on anything, for that matter—I had to have a short recovery period after finishing this one). It attempts to teach you things only in the sense that it brings up these questions and forces you to think about them. Which could be the kick in the pants you need. Or it could just send you spiraling down in a fit of apathy. Take your chances.

He was going to sign the papers and he was going to be a motherfucking magician. Or what the hell else was he going to do with his life?

{felix has a friend}

One semester in college, which is now mainly memorable for its academic, social, and meteorological bleakness, I started doodling in the margins of my notebook during a particularly scintillating 400-level afternoon French class. These doodles transmitted themselves into random paragraphs on the library computer during work, and they eventually became a half-formed idea for a story about a small boy named Felix. Felix wears rectangular black glasses (essentially, hipster glasses before I knew what hipster glasses were or how awesome they are) and lives with his parents in a large, old hotel. He doesn’t have any friends his age, but instead hangs out with all the old people and the staff at the hotel. Essentially, Eloise for older kids. Or Harriet the Spy for less neurotic kids.

Oh, hello, Ottoline. Or rather, hello, Chris Riddell. You had the same idea, only better. And you actually did it, which also makes it better. Kudos to you.

I discovered the Ottoline books while purchasing my mom a birthday card back in July. My favorite card at the store (the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, btdubs) was a bright red one with a cute little sketch of a girl on it (also some shiny swirls and “Happy Birthday”). Neither my mom nor I had any idea who the girl was, but by the time I came home from Denver a month later, my mother had purchased Ottoline Goes to School and Ottoline and the Yellow Cat (there’s also Ottoline at Sea).

Ottoline’s parents are famous collectors, and as such, are always off travelling the globe, leaving Ottoline in their apartment in the Pepperpot Building with Mr. Munroe, her caretaker. Ottoline’s parents rescued Mr. Munroe from a bog in Norway shortly before Ottoline was born; he looks rather like Cousin Itt with furry feet, and doesn’t speak. The two of them have a very close bond, and gallivant around the Pepperpot Building/the Big City/other areas of the world solving mysteries. The books are complete with very amusingly detailed and labelled drawings, which, if you recall the birthday card story, is what attracted me in the first place.

I’m always surprised when I come across children’s authors I really like, namely because, while I love children’s books, the ones I love and keep reading are the same ones I read when I was little, and I’m of the rather crotchety opinion that current authors aren’t as good as the classics. The Ottoline books were one of those pleasant surprises that renew my faith in children’s publishing.

NEWS: I know I am only three posts in. But. I think it is necessary that I call a hiatus on this blog for a while. In my constant post-surgery adventure of battling pain and nausea, this post on Ottoline took me two days to write, and I couldn’t even post on Edgar Sawtelle. I have such grand ideas for my next post, and I do not want to even attempt it until I’m sure I can do it in one sitting. I’m sorry! I will return as soon as I can.

{down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass}

…..and back again!

I had surgery on Friday morning to repair a torn ACL and torn meniscus in my left knee, and the three days since than have been somewhat of a blur. I rarely take medication of any kind, so strong pain pills never fail to make me nauseous. Luckily, Benadryl takes care of that, but also does a great job of knocking me out for the next few hours. But I think I’ve made it through the worst!

I read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, but I promised myself that I would not go into it at all here. Here, though, is the life lesson I learned from it: Do not attempt to read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski while under the influences of pain medication/Benadryl, even if (especially if) you are at a pivotal point in the story and can’t wait to find out what happens next. It will not make sense.

Back tomorrow with a full-length post on a couple of particularly delightful books!

{i want to go to a nostalgia shop}

Two things of moment occurred yesterday.

First of all, I decided to grow out my hair. This is huge. I haven’t had hair past my chest since I was four years old. I have huge amounts of thick, wavy/curly, uncontrollable, bionic hair that I have been wrestling with since I was old enough to care what I look like (although my mother would argue that that day still hasn’t arrived). I even had it chemically straightened almost two years ago, with the understanding that it was so egregiously expensive that I would never do it again, and chopped it all off and added bangs. Even though I have gradually come to accept and even enjoy my curls, I am frequently quite sad that I cannot have bangs.

But this is all beside the point. Before straightening my hair, I had had the same mid-length layered haircut for approximately three years, since I had decided (after some unfortunate styles freshman year of high school) that it was the only safe choice. After straightening, I briefly went on a short-hair stint, being of the opinion that the less work I have to do to style it, the better a haircut is.

Now, however, I have decided to grow it out. This is almost entirely due to photos I’ve been finding on Pinterest of truly gorgeous long curly hair. Also, I believe that post-straightening, my hair has become slightly more obedient. I may even become super ambitious and invest in this. (An eBook? Shock upon shock!)

Also of interest yesterday was Midnight in Paris, the newest Woody Allen film. Having seen nothing by Woody save Sleeper and Matchpoint, both of which I rather disliked, I went into the viewing with some trepidation. My mother, who took me to see it, made swear months beforehand that I would not read any reviews about it or Google it or learn anything about it in any way before seeing it. My mother does this with all movies, and while I hardly ever agree with her, I will humor all those who share her beliefs by hiding my thoughts on the film behind a cut.

In other news, I walked to the bank today—about half an hour round trip. I wasn’t going to, but then I realized that I’m having knee surgery tomorrow and that trip is probably the longest one I’ll have for a good month or two. Ha.

Continue reading

{let’s start at the very beginning}

Let’s get this party started.

Two days from now, I will be undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL and a torn meniscus in my left knee. Five days ago, I graduated from the University of Denver Summer Publishing Institute. Unable to effectively job search until I recover from surgery, I solemnly pledge to document my bookish endeavors and impressions (and anything else I feel like documenting) here for your reading pleasure. Good luck to us all.

A couple of weeks ago, I read Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, and it made such an impression on me that I have, in fact, been saving it for this, my inaugural blog post. I chose Turn of Mind after seeing it pop up on multiple e-mail subscriptions and bookstore flyers as the Indie Next Pick for July.

In a nutshell, it’s told from the perspective of a woman (Jennifer) suffering from Alzheimer’s during the investigation into the murder of her best friend (Amanda), for which Jennifer herself is a suspect. The murder, however, is a secondary plotline. I thought this myself while reading, then in an interview on the Diane Rehm show, the author herself said:

At the heart of the book is—it’s a character study of Jennifer and I think she thinks of herself as having a dark core. And when she realizes a murder has been done to—and Amanda has been murdered, she can’t help but associate that darkness with the possibility she might’ve been responsible.

At the heart of the book is—it’s a character study of Jennifer and I think she thinks of herself as having a dark core. And when she realizes a murder has been done to—and Amanda has been murdered, she can’t help but associate that darkness with the possibility she might’ve been responsible.

As you might have guessed from my brief summary, the book is indeed quite dark, yet not in the way I’d’ve expected before reading. It’s not dark in the Agatha Christie/Alice in Wonderland sense of “Dear God, we’re all a little mad and you can’t trust anyone.” Nor does it have the soft velvety darkness of The Notebook/The Time Traveller’s Wife, as an outsider watches a loved one fading in and out of life uncontrollably.

The darkness of Turn of Mind comes, as LaPlante implied, from Jennifer’s character. A former surgeon, she’s incredibly clinical and controlling, even in the clutches of dementia. Her behavior in relationship is hyper-rational, her sense of humor slightly acrid. Even her fear that she might have something to do with Amanda’s murder is held below the surface, never allowed to emerge and embarrass her.

I rather disliked almost every character in this book. Usually, this is a dealbreaker for me, since I cannot muster up the energy to care about people I dislike, and therefore become incredibly bored before finishing the book. However, the unique narrative structure kept me hooked. LaPlante drew from personal experience with family members with Alzheimer’s to write this novel—although she is adamant that the story is in no way based on real events or people—and I can only imagine how difficult it must’ve been to write, given that the first-person narrator has very little sense of cohesion or chronology.

Yet the book remains a page-turner; unlike Benjy’s portion of The Sound and the Fury, the narration is easily understood.

What do you think? Do you read books with characters you dislike? What do you think about reading a first-person narrator who has dementia?