{nighttime chills}

Unfortunately, in recent years it’s become very rare that I begin reading a book in the evening—and absolutely must finish it before I go to bed. It’s even rarer that upon finishing the book in question, I find myself completely unable to fall asleep (I believe the last example was And Then There Were None when I was 13).

Enter The Vanishing of Katharina Linden.

Ten-year-old Pia Kolvenbach finds herself an outcast in her small German town after her grandmother’s death in a freak accident. Her only remaining ally is Stefan, called StinkStefan by the other children, a pairing that only underlines Pia’s unpopularity. Tired of the namecalling and rumormongering of their peers, Pia and Stefan spend many afternoons with Herr Schiller, a well-respected old gentleman who tells them stories of ghosts, witches, and the battle between Good and Evil. Much as she relishes these, Pia knows they are only stories—until the vanishing of young Katharina Linden.

Over the following months, the town is worked into an increasing frenzy, as more young schoolgirls disappear. Pia and Stefan are determined to solve the mystery, and soon find themselves on a quest involving decades-old village rumors, family tragedies, and a truly creepy reading experience.

Really, no matter what I say about this book, it will not do justice to both its brilliance and thrill/chill factor. Even though I was hooked from the first sentence (“My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded”), it took me quite a while to figure out what this book was about. Helen Grant has a deliciously infuriating habit of interspersing bits of the mystery with chapters full of completely commonplace events: Pia’s trouble at school, Herr Schiller’s stories, the Kolvenbach family life. This kept me constantly turning the pages late into last night, and made the book incredibly suspenseful and creepy (much as I need to, I can’t think of a better word), even though there isn’t too much “action” until the nail-biting climax of the last few chapters.

The story takes place in 1999, making Pia exactly the same age as me. The book, however, was written in 2011, and clearly meant to be Pia’s retelling of events 12 years later—she frequently notes that now, “nearly old enough to be considered an adult myself,” she has increased insight into the events of the past. This struck me as an interesting narrative choice: Usually literary childhood incidents are either told by the child in the present, or recounted from the perspective on someone much older, often an elderly person looking back on the past. To have a young adult retell childhood stories—well, I have to admit that I’m still not quite sure what the literary motives were behind that. Pia as the narrator makes no mention to her current life, nor of any contemporary events that compelled her to “write” the book. My best guess is that the chosen age gap somehow relates to Pia’s accelerated voyage to adulthood, her ability to read people with surprising accuracy for someone so young, her continued questioning of the difference between Good and Evil. Definitely something to keep in mind for a future rereading, which I’m sure will happen.

In conclusion—don’t start this book in the evening unless you’re prepared to stay up late and enjoy a good scare. I’m not ashamed to admit that after finishing, I forced my friend to talk to me online, cuddled with my cat, and watched several music videos on YouTube before I was able to get up and finally go to bed.

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{some autowitting}

Finished! The bifecta of Bridget Jones. Liked them a normal amount, as I figured I would, since I feel the same way about the movies. Overall, I think the movies did a great job of adhering to the books. Small changes included cutting out a lot (had to be done, that Bridge just gets up to too many shenanigans!) and some character changes, most notably in Bridget’s mother and Mark Darcy (somehow I just could not see Colin Firth getting sidetracked by soccer or glancing pointedly at his watch).

So—what have I learned? Taking a page from Bridget herself, I decided to format this one in a sort of list-type thing.

10. Stay away from “alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomaniacs, chauvinists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts.” (direct quote)

9. Your mother will always be insane. But she might just be right about you.

8. Self-help books might always be a weakness, but when they are all you talk about, you sound stupid and people get annoyed with you.

7. Sometimes you have to grin and bear it through a humiliating job. But only until you reach the end of your rope and snap. Then you’ll get rehired after your supervisor is sacked.

6. Always write your Christmas cards while fairly drunk. Everyone will think you are quite amusing.

5. Watch out for bullets disguised as ballpoint pens and/or lipstick with your name on them.

4. While travelling internationally, probably don’t try hallucinogenic drugs.

3. Singletons will forever be superior to Smug Marrieds, even if that truth will always remain a secret.

2. Good friends are the best people in the world, if you are lucky enough to find them.

Which all sums up to

1. It’s okay to be a huge idiot sometimes, because it all works out in the end.

Comforting. But potentially the most dangerous untruth of them all. See also: 4 Pieces of Relationship Advice Movies Need to Stop Giving.

Consider this my PSA for the week.

Edit:

0. When your mother takes you to get your colors done, that does not mean getting highlights. Google Search will help you solve the mystery.

{a quickie}

Just in case you were super concerned by the fact that I changed WHAT I’M READING, rest assured that I will be posting on Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s just that the two books were so similar, I decided to have them both off in one go, and will therefore be doing a megapost once I finished the second.

In other news—if you like Germans and war crimes, read my review of The Reader at the Book Blob!

{in which i reject self-awareness}

Last night, I came across the following quote on a friend’s Facebook:

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. —Eleanor Roosevelt

As much as I do like said friend and respect his opinion, I took issue with this quote. Boo to ideas and events; their only interest lies in how they affect people. Small minded I may be, but I would much rather discuss people.

In keeping with that notion, last week I went on a rare and ill-fated self-improvement kick, which involved watching the following film and reading this almost book-length article from The Atlantic.

Also this weekend, I took a physical trip down Memory Lane and visited my alma mater, as well as the city I worked in last year. These visits always result in some sort of emotional turbulence, during which I attempt to question what my life has become since college and how I can change that. Meh.

What could all of this possibly have to do with book learnin’? Well, this is my long-winded explanation as to why I chucked Swell: A Girl’s Guide to the Good Life. Sometime this weekend, I had a fit of pique about my self-improvement project and instead gave myself up to internal rants on being told how people perceived me, how to perceive myself, how to acclimate myself to a lifetime of spinsterhood, and how to make this all a worthwhile and ultimately successful endeavor. Hooray!

Instead, I immediately picked up Bridget Jones’s Diary and gave myself over to emotional fuckwittage. Because that’s real life, people.

I watched the BJD movies one winter in high school. My parents were out of town and my younger brother was obvi out on some social engagement, so I hightailed it down to BBV, rented the double feature, and watched in sitting on my living room floor, wrapped in my duvet and eating reheated casserole out of the pan. Rarely have I ever had such a meta moment.

So, faced with funemployment and home-aloneness during the parents’ vacay to northern Africa, clearly there were no better books to read. I’m already loving BJD, and can’t wait to blog more about it later.

What do you think? Do you agree with Eleanor Roosevelt? Do you embrace activism/sociology, or do you just sometimes get tired of it and just want to read a hilarious and slightly racy diary?

{in the event of an apocalypse}

I finished The Reader last night and pretty immediately went back to the good-times book I bought in Portland a few weeks ago. Fluffy, mindless reading was in high demand post a Nazi trial read. I’ll be posting on The Reader at the Book Blob later this week.

This is a week or so late, but I came across this article in my publishing-related reading. What do you think? I am really not a huge fan of zombies, so while it would probably make my hypothetical running workouts more interesting, I probably wouldn’t invest. But then I started brainstorming interactive literature-based programs that would make me want to buy them. Here’s a preliminary list:

• Harry Potter (DUHZ)

• Oliver Twist (you’ve got to run fast when you’re a pickpocket, everyone knows that)

• The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (if the adrenaline rush I got from just reading that was any indication)

• The Magicians (ditto)

• The Wolves Chronicles (because I’m a sucker for children’s lit/period novels/mysteries)

• Agatha Christie (because WOW excitement)

Oh dear. A girl can dream.

{for want of a ball}

I read a few Terry Pratchett books in middle school (namely because my brother’s National Geographic Kids said he was DanRad’s favorite author), but I don’t really remember them. They all sort of blended together in a blurry humorous fantasy world. In Unseen Academicals, I actually found the humor to be somewhat lacking, or perhaps of a sort that I enjoyed more when I was younger. UA‘s redemption, however, was found in two particular themes that I found very interesting.

In a small, small nutshell, UA is the story of Unseen University’s decision to field a football (soccer) team for the first time in years. With rival teams and their fans constantly wreaking havoc both on the field and in the streets of Ankh-Morpork, the wizard professors decide to reinvent the game as a more civilized form of entertainment and sportsmanship. In doing so, they unintentionally deprive the local riffraff of the source of satisfying violence and excitement that the sport had become.

The first half of the book contains a handful of encounters between fans of rival teams, all of which carry the threat of street violence. Of course, everyone is familiar with the undying Romeo and Juliet theme of rival gangs warring in the streets, but after watching The Outsiders while in the middle of UE, I thought long and hard about said theme and its applications in the real world. The characters in both works are in very real danger of being jumped in public in broad daylight—or significantly worse. I’m the first to admit that I’ve lived a sheltered life. Growing up in a quiet neighborhood, I’d—perhaps unwisely and certainly to my parents’ distress—never though twice about walking alone at night until around the age of 20. Even after spending last year volunteering at a sexual assault hotline, I’ve never felt seriously afraid of or threatened by someone coming around a dark corner (fact: you are far more likely to be assaulted by someone you know in a private setting). Now, (obviously) the dark corner type of danger is not confined to the works of Shakespeare and Sondheim, and you might just see this as the ramblings of a naïve girl with too much time and security on her hands. But this is why I love to read (and watch movies)! So that I can see what living with the daily threat of physical harm must be like!

In the second half of the book, these football-(soccer)-playing street toughs get a little more human when they’re blindsided by the government and university’s decision to regulate their favorite pastime. The toughs are drunk, illiterate, and frankly have no idea what’s going on. As a football (real football) player myself, I understand the need to get a little violent on the playing field. It’s satisfying. It makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. And to have that taken away from you by a self-proclaimed tyrannical government? I mean, sure, Ankh-Morpork was dealing with civilian injuries and deaths at practically every football (soccer) match. But they signed up for it, right? Even the fans! And the players who died young of head injuries and the like—they still had the glory, didn’t they?

Disclaimer: I’ve known people who have died or been permanently injured while playing a sport. I don’t mean to trivialize or excuse that. But—coming from a fictional standpoint—don’t you think it would be just a bit tough to have something you love taken away because higher-ups didn’t like it? I mean, haven’t we all felt that way about our parents at some point or another?

Hmm.