TGIF: A Very Special Episode

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TGIF at GReads is a fun feature for recapping the week’s posts (which I usually skip) and answering a book-blogging question posed by Ginger.

This week the question is: Issue Books: Which books have you found to be very rewarding when it comes to tackling tougher issues?

My short answer: anything by John Green

My long, meandering answer:
Ok, so when I think about “issue books,” I think of those very special episodes of TV series I’d watch as a kid.  You know, like that Saved by the Bell episode where Jessie gets hooked on uppers.  Or the episode of Captain Planet where that one kid started popping pills and they made his eyes red (Wikipedia informs me that this episode was called “Mind Pollution” which makes me laugh).  And the thing is I HATE very special episodes.  This says volumes about what a wimp I am, but the very special episodes scared me to death as a kid.  Like gave me nightmares.  As an adult, I really hate them because scaring people about issues 1. doesn’t work and 2. isn’t very nice.  Generally speaking, then, I steer clear of “issue books” because I don’t appreciate the singular focus and mishandling of issues like rape, drug abuse, alcoholism, child abuse, bullying, etc.  (That said, however, I do appreciate when those issues are more deftly woven into a story so that it transcends being just a very special episode and is more like a book where characters face realistic circumstances and have realistic experiences.)

Really, when I want to read about big issues, I want to read about more abstract things like life, death, love, and loss and that is why I picked anything by John Green as my answer for this question.  John Green has a really great way of discussing the big abstract issues that we all face without moralizing.  He encourages his readers to come up with their own answers to the big questions.  In Looking for Alaska, for example, the characters were asked to identify an important life question and to answer it and Pudge ends up writing an essay about the labyrinth of suffering.  For me, anyways, this was an open invitation to think about my own views about the meaning of life and the meaning of suffering and if I had been reading this in a group setting, this would have been a great launch-point for discussion.  That is how issue books should be written!

If you are a new John Green reader and interested in big issues I recommend you check out Looking for Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars first!

How do you feel about very special episode books?  What are your favorites?

The Fault in Our Stars- John Green

Hazel Lancaster has terminal cancer.  At her cancer support group, she meets a very attractive cancer survivor, Augustus “Gus” Waters, and the two connect over An Imperial Affliction, an atypical cancer kid novel which ends in the middle of a sentence.  Hazel and Augustus go on a journey to Amsterdam to meet the author of said novel and somewhere along the way they fall in love.

This was a very emotional read for me.  Everyone has read this book and most have loved it, but I really didn’t know why.  I totally get it now.  It is near impossible to disconnect the emotional and personal experience of this book and approach this rationally.  I cried my way through the last half of this book (I cry at everything, though, so if you are more stalwart you may cry less) and kind of got worked up in contemplating my own mortality and the mortality of the people I love.

I am a big fan of John Green and this book is no exception.  He creates really wonderful characters who face a tragic situation with intelligence and humor.  Hazel and Augustus bring such intensity to their living, feeling, and loving.  It is the intensity of emotion of the teenage experience heightened by their closeness to death and disease.  And I loved how they seemed like actual real kids dealing with a disease.  Normalcy is what they crave and Hazel and Augustus are able to discover normal teenage love with one another.  It was also interesting to see them having to deal with the big questions of life and death– Where do we go when we die?  How do we leave our mark on the world?  How will we be remembered when we are gone?  It certainly left me questioning my own life and relevance.

I think what makes this book so special is the fact that it speaks to one’s personal encounters with death, dying, and disease.  I think that really determines whether you love it or not.  Throughout my reading I thought of the sick kids I was friends with as a child and wondered how their sickness had shaped our relationships.  I thought of the people I know who are dealing with cancer.  I thought about a close friend whose husband died unexpectedly a couple years ago.  I thought about the funerals I’ve been to and the funerals I will some day go to.

The Fault in Our Stars is a beautiful book and I hope that you will read it for yourself and come away as emotionally invested as I did.

In My Mailbox (2)

In My Mailbox is a weekly feature hosted by The Story Siren for us to share the books that have come our way recently.

I never amass books in the quantities some of ya’ll (Texas flair) do, but I did have some library holds come in this week, which is super awesome.  So here’s what I’ve got on deck…

The Library:

The Fault in Our Stars cover

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green– I waited two whole months to get this one.  And it was worth the wait!!  I’ll post my thoughts tomorrow.

After the Snow cover

After the Snow by S.D. Crockett– I haven’t seen much about this book, other than a lot of “it was weird and I loved/hated it” on Goodreads.  This has left me curious to find out for myself.

The Way We Fall cover

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe– I am fascinated by representations of disease in popular culture.  So yeah, this caught my attention because it is about an epidemic.

What’s made it’s way to your TBR pile in the last couple weeks?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Spring To-Be-Read list

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme brought to you by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish (the pic also belongs to them).  This week’s theme is Top Ten Books On My Spring To-Be-Read list (new releases or otherwise).

My TBR list is out of control, but here are a few that I am hoping to get to sooner rather than later!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I love John Green and have heard only good things about this book.  I’ve been on my library’s hold list for almost two months.  It is a testament to my ability to be easily distracted by other books that I haven’t gone out and purchased this yet.

On the Island by Tracy Garvis Graves – A survival/romance story that I have also heard nothing but good things about.  The blog review I read was so positive that I bought this the next day and that almost never happens… I am really eager to get through my library holds so I can start this one!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – I browsed this one at a book store and knew I had to read it after seeing some of the photographs.  I spent much time in grad school talking about and perusing old photographs, so this is up my alley in that respect.  I’ve been on the hold list at the library for at least 6 weeks and suspect this one won’t come my way for at least another month or two.  So it may end up being summer reading!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – This is April’s BHA pick, so I will be reading along with some others online.  I read this book as a kid and remember loving it, but it has been so long I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it.  Very excited to revisit an old favorite!

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien – I have been trying to read all the dystopia I can this year because I love it and because I like to think big thoughts about it.  This one has a midwife as a main character and that is cool.

World War Z by Max Brooks – After my disappointing first encounter with a zombie book, I am looking to find one that will actually be as awesome as I think a zombie book should be.  And this book’s subtitle says “oral history” which make me think this would be a fun audiobook.  Also, my reading twin recommended it.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – This is another that I have only heard good things about.  I admittedly roll my eyes at a romance set in Paris, but I also want to know what all the fuss is about.  So I will read it.  And hopefully not roll my eyes too much.

Paper Towns by John Green – I am working my way through all of the John Green this spring.  This is the other (besides TFIOS) which I haven’t read yet.

1984 by George Orwell – A classic dystopia.  I really am trying to read all the dystopia I can.  I find it fascinating!

Unwind by Neal Shusterman – All the dystopia.  This one made a bunch of top ten dystopia lists from last week, so I am going to add this one to the pile, too!

What are you hoping to read this spring?

An Abundance of Katherines- John Green

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I was pleasantly surprised by this book, having seen a few critical reviews of it.  John Green can do very little wrong in my book (except his teenagers exist in a weird only-child bubble).  He makes me laugh out loud and sneaks in big issues in a way that I enjoy- they are usually large sweeping meaningful statements in the final chapter, but they are not overly dramatic or lame.

So let’s see here, An Abundance of Katherines is about former child prodigy, Colin, who gets dumped by the nineteenth girl he’s dated with the name of Katherine.  Colin gets face-in-the-carpet sad and his BFF, Hassan, convinces him to go on a road trip.  Their road trip lasts a day or two before they land in Gutshot, Tennessee where they meet Lindsey and her mother, find a job conducting oral history interviews, and get up to the typical just-graduated-from-high-school hijinks.  Colin, in particular, mourns his loss of Katherine XIX by trying to come up with a mathematical formula to predict the course of a relationship.  That part is about as lame as it sounds.

And while Colin was a little grating at times (teenagers recovering from a break-up are never NOT whiny and annoying), I enjoyed this book because I saw the sneaking of some historical theory in there.  As I sat reading the epilogue, I was like… has John Green been reading some Hayden White?*  Green talks about how how to make a good history (or story) we have to take tidbits of data and relate them to one another in a meaningful way.**  It is Colin’s great triumph of the book to be able to tell a story.  Green also briefly throws in some stuff about historical memory.  You know, the whole we remember things based on the stories we tell about them, not based on what actually happened.  (I suppose the English major crowd would probably like this portion for what it says about the enduring legacy of stories, but I liked it for what it says about histories.)

This is a super nerd book.  It has math, including formulas and graphs, historical theory, footnotes***, anagrams, an appendix, and probably more nerdy stuff that I am not nerdy enough to have noticed.  I am, however, the right brand of nerd for this book.

So while I seemed to enjoy this more than many other reviewers, that is not to say there weren’t flaws… the characters (other than Hassan, who was awesome) aren’t as endearing as some of Green’s other characters.  The premise is sort of implausible (seriously, what supernerd has dated as much as Colin?).  And the plot wasn’t really anything special.  But I still really really enjoyed this book.  John Green can write with humor and intelligence.  And apparently I am still not over my days as a historian.

Anyways, if you are a John Green fan who can stomach some major nerdiness, read this.  Otherwise, go read his other books.  Green is a good time.

*Should you care to know, Hayden White’s book, The Content of the Form, basically points out that history has as much to do with the way the story is told (its form) as it does with its factual content.  He points out that the narrative (story-telling) form of history that we’ve been using since approximately the 18th century is not the only way to tell history, giving as a counter-example monastic lists of discrete events with no attempts to draw connections between them.  And his point is basically that it is important for historians to know that they are constructing narratives.  Deconstruction is good for the soul.  Or something.  (Gimme a break, it’s been 2.5 years since I had to talk about this stuff.)

**So if you read footnote one, you might realize that Green is basically saying that to make a good history we gotta take the content (discrete facts) and insert them into a form (the narrative).

***I’d just like to footnote that I am putting footnotes in a post about a book with footnotes.

Top Ten Tuesday: Theme Songs for Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme brought to you by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish (the pic also belongs to them).  This week’s theme is the Top Ten Books I’d Give A Theme Song To.

How fun is this week’s theme?  I must admit, though, that I have never ever thought about which songs go with which books, so this was pretty tough for me.  And my jet-lagged brain (it’s possible to get jet lag off a 2.5 hour flight across only one time zone, right?) couldn’t come up with more than five, so uh this is my Top Five Tuesday…

1. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger with “I am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel – Hello, teen angst.  I have no need for friendship/friendship causes pain/it’s laughter and it’s nothing I disdain.

2. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness with “Imagine” by John Lennon –Imagine all the people sharing all the world.  I like to imagine that the New Worlders in Ness’s series could find a way to share the world.  And I also also imagine the idealism that brought the New Worlders to the New World sounded a whole lot like Lennon’s idealism in “Imagine.”  Again, I cannot stop talking about how awesome the Chaos Walking series was (or how awesome John Lennon is, but that is another story).

3. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green with “Have I Told You Lately” by Van Morrison – Colin is constantly wanting validation of Katherine’s love for him.  So I sort of imagine that this song would remind him he is loved.  Abundantly.  And with much cheese factor.

4. Looking for Alaska by John Green with “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes – I have armchair diagnosed Alaska with bipolar disorder.  “Blister in the Sun” is a manic song.  Alaska is often manic.  Therefore they go together.

5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson with “Hotel California” by the Eagles – Both the song and the book are creepy and unsettling.  They also start with seemingly normal situations (checking into a hotel; a girl going shopping in the village) and end pretty terrifyingly (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave; homicidal girl burns down her house to keep her sister home forever).

TGIF: Books for the Ride

I am headed out to Arizona (my former home) for the weekend to enjoy a little whole lotta sunshine and visit with some of my most favorite people on the planet.  This will probably involve great food, too much wine, lots of laughter, and some time in the out-of-doors (I miss the mountains and the desert!).  Hopefully I can squeeze in some reading time when I am on the airplane.  That is, if I don’t fall asleep from the Dramamine.

So here is what I am taking with me:


Divergent by Veronica Roth

I started this a couple of days ago and so far I am falling hard for this book.  Oh dystopias I love you so.

Also I learned after I checked it out that it’s on the Lone Star List.  I am beginning to think I need to challenge myself to read all of those books.  What do you think?  Have you read others on the list and loved them?  Would anyone want to do a group challenge on this?  Texan or not, if you are a YA fan, it might be fun!

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

I know this is probably the least loved of Green’s books, but it was actually on the shelves at my library and that is sort of hard to come by when it comes to John Green books.  I live in the youth-filled burbs where all the popular and new YA has a long hold list.

It’s not a particularly long flight (and I fear that I really will crash out due to the Dramamine) so I think these two books will more than suffice.  What will you be reading this weekend?

Looking for Alaska- John Green

I “read” this one on audiobook.  Prior to the last couple weeks, my only experience with audiobooks has been a few David Sedaris books my husband and I would take with us on the long drive from Arizona to Oklahoma.  They really helped the time pass by more quickly and more pleasantly.  It did not occur to me to listen to audiobooks during my pretty short commute until I read about some other bloggers doing it.  There are some flaws, though, in my audiobook choosing… If I had checked Looking for Alaska out in book form, I’d have been done with it in 2 or 3 days, I’m sure.  Instead it took me ten days to finish and that included some weekend listening in bed during which I fell asleep and missed a chapter of the book.  Oops.  But the voice acting on this book was pretty awesome (the characters had Alabama accents or old man voices or whatever, it was great!) and they even read the acknowledgments (I love acknowledgments).

Anyways… Looking for Alaska features Miles “Pudge” Halter, a high school junior who leaves his lonely, boring life in Florida to “seek the great perhaps” at boarding school in Alabama.  At boarding school, Pudge finally makes friends and falls in love with the girl down the hall, Alaska Young.  Something bad happens, leaving Pudge searching for answers to life’s most pressing questions: where do we go when we die, how do we escape human suffering, etc.

As with my other encounter with John Green, I loved his characters.  Green creates teenagers you will love.  They do stupid teenage stuff (drink, smoke, kiss the wrong girls), but they are smart and funny and really perceptive.  In short, they are like REAL teenagers.  Also, Pudge’s religious studies teacher, Dr. Hyde, might have been one of my favorites in this book.  He was one of those hard ass teachers who truly loved teaching and connecting with students.  My favorite sort of teacher.

The only real flaw I thought it had was that it could have ended a bit sooner and more ambiguously than it did.  We really did not need all the explanation of what Pudge learned from his journey at the end.  I enjoyed what he had to say, but perhaps would have liked the ends left loose.  It seems it would have been more appropriate to end this left with the fact that there are no good, stable, or certain answers to life’s big questions.  Overall, though, this is a great book and I would definitely recommend it.