Tag Archives: Book Blogs

It Was the Best of Puns (It Was the Worst of Puns)

I was lucky enough to be able to fly home for Christmas this year. Although Halloween might be my favorite holiday, Christmas is the one I personally find hardest to spend without family. Especially considering that my sister will soon be heading to Italy for a semester, I wanted a chance to see her before her globetrotting adventure in fabulousness began. Even better, despite living in the age of Facebook and many of my friends and extended family members knowing I was heading home, I still managed to surprise my sister! And best of all, I got a chance to catch up with a friend from my own semester abroad in Istanbul.

A picture of my friend, Irene, and I, taken right before she had to leave.

A picture of my friend, Irene, and I, taken right before she had to leave.

Although I’ve read many lovely books lately, such as Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, I’m not feeling compelled to review any of them. Maybe I’ve read too many books lately to dedicate a full post to a single one. Instead, my visit home got me thinking on a smaller kind of story: the pun. After all, aside from a fondness for crossword puzzles and the need for multiple road tests, I’ve also inherited my dad’s weakness for puns. If we were Superman, puns would be our kryptonite; we can’t help but fall for any set-up, no matter how good, bad, or ugly.

So what? You might be asking yourself.* Who cares if you enjoy a second-rate form of humor? But I think the pun is a seriously underrated art form (or should I say punderrated?). To quote one of my favorite books of the year, Gayle Forman’s Just One Year, “I’ve since come to understand that the universe operates on the same general equilibrium theory as markets.It never gives you something without making you pay for it somehow.” Though I don’t necessarily agree with the quote on the whole, I think it can be applied to humor. There is no such thing as a buttless joke.

And of course, puns are no exception. People make puns using people’s names or incorporate slurs. But my favorite kind of puns make language itself the true butt of the joke. They function solely on homophones and assonance (and probably some other literary devices). And after all, what’s a butt without a little assonance?** I’m sure Cyndi Lauper would agree with me. Girls just wanna have puns, oh-oh girls just wanna have puns. Okay, I’ll stop now. Maybe.

Found this image here, though I’m not sure who originally came up with the idea. But if Libba Bray wrote it, would that make it A Great and Tearable Beauty?

And since you can take the girl out of the English program but you can’t take the English program out of the girl, I have to put this out there. I think puns are especially admirable for their dichotomous nature, the way it’s hard to tell whether a pun should be called good or bad, and which is a bigger compliment. When we give my dad a hard time for his puns, we don’t tell him they’re bad, we say they’re mediocre.*** Puns have a lot in common with being sore after a workout or getting up from the table following Thanksgiving dinner; they’re groan-inducing, inevitable, but still somehow immensely satisfying experiences.

Do you have a favorite pun? Leave it in the comments!

*Okay, so you might not actually be asking yourself this, but my hypothetical straw man is.
**I’m sorry. That was bad. I’ve had that pun in my system for days.
***But don’t worry, my family’s teasing is all in good pun.

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Indies First (and other assorted endeavors)

Hello, BookEnders! Sorry to leave you hanging for a month. I have many excuses, most of which revolve around the fact that suddenly and not entirely unexpectedly, my life’s been reduced to a flurry of classes, group projects, and dinner shifts at the retirement home. Lately I’ve barely had enough energy for Gossip Girl, my latest Netflix obsession.*

When I have read lately, the last thing I’ve felt like doing has been stringing together coherent thoughts about them. I will say that I was underwhelmed by Trish Doller’s Where the Stars Still Shine and overwhelmed by Hilary Smith’s Wild Awake. Both books revolve around mental illnesses of their characters, and reading them within the same week reinforced the emotional impact I personally felt was absent in Doller’s novel.

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Are we friends on Goodreads? If not, we should be.

Are we friends on Goodreads? If not, we should be.

Despite having limited free-time lately, I’ve still managed to reach my 2013 Goodreads goal this week, about a month ahead of schedule. I’ve been very good this year about the number of books that I’ve read, but less so about challenging myself to read books out of my comfort zone. I have read many more excellent books this year than I have in past years. However, I didn’t get through any of the classics I had hoped to read.

Lastly, today I had a bit of a book endeavor. The Saturday after American Thanksgiving is known as “Small Business Saturday,” a movement for supporting small businesses which emerged to counteract the chain-centric shopping that happens on Black Friday.** As part of Small Business Saturday, author Sherman Alexie suggested an event called Indies First, in which local authors would handsell and recommend books at nearby independent bookstores.

I had been looking forward to Indies First for about a month, and it finally arrived yesterday. Unfortunately, due the string of days I had off from class, I lost track of the days of the week. I totally forgot about until an hour before I had to leave for work. Luckily, I still had enough time to stop by Eliott Bay Book Company. There I browsed a bit before going over to talk to author Jennie Shortridge for a few minutes. She was very friendly, and had some good recommendations. Although I was sorely tempted by a beautiful collection of Louise Glück’s poetry,*** I settled on a few of Shortridge’s recommendations, both set in Seattle. The Glück will still be there next time I go.

The books I got from Eliott Bay Book Company (Where'd You Go, Bernadette and Hotel Angeline)

The books I got from Eliott Bay Book Company (Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Hotel Angeline)

And hopefully I will go again soon, or to one of the other numerous indie bookstores in the area. I’ve shifted to buying many of my books online, due to sheer convenience. I tend to get book cravings, where I remember a certain book and I want to read it immediately. But more often lately I’ve been getting both my e- and hard copy books from the public library. I won’t apologize for enjoying my e-books and frequenting my local library, but there is something to be said for going to the bookstore instead sometimes. Instead of pulling everything off the shelves that looks interesting, you have to pick out a single, perfectly promising book (or two or three). There’s definitely more at stake when you’re playing for keeps.

It was nice catching up… we should do it again sometime. This post was more of a combination platter than the whole enchilada****, so thank you for bearing with me. I’ll be on break from school in about a week, so hopefully I can end out the year with some quality posts. Until next time!

* I’ve been quite conflicted as I like to finish shows before starting new ones, but I still have two season of Gossip Girl left and I suddenly want to start The OC. But I eventually need to return to The West Wing and finish that up. Decisions, decisions.

** I’m not sure that that is the actual origin of Small Business Saturday, but that’s what seems to be generally inferred.

*** Any immediate family members who might be reading this may want to take note of my love for Louise Glück and the traditional exchange of gifts that coincides with the rapidly approaching Christmas holiday.

**** Yes, I am craving Mexican food; no, I probably won’t abandon my inclination toward mixed food metaphors any time soon.

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“Will” Power

Let’s talk about Will. For whatever reason, a surprising number of cute male characters in YA bear the name Will. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Elizabeth Scott’s Perfect You, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence. And of course longtime BookEnders know I would never leave out Will from Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. Maybe it’s some deep-rooted nostalgic fondness for the Will I maintained a misguided, quite unrequited crush on throughout my high school years. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that so many of my favorite YA boys share a moniker. Or maybe authors and I love it because it’s more than a name or a love interest, it’s a tense. The promise of a future. Will.

If that’s the case, then it’s the perfect fit for Maria Boyd’s young adult novel, Will. Its titular protagonist, Will Armstrong, has made an art form of never quite capitalizing on his potential. But since his home life took a turn for a worse last December, he’s gone from St. Andrews’ well-respected slacker to the kid who can’t help pushing things too far. When he takes it upon himself to moon a busful of girls from Lakeside, the nearby girls’ school, his teachers decide to get creative with their punishment.

Although he’s spent years avoiding the stigma of associating with the school band, he is sentenced to play in it for a full two months while St. Andrews and Lakeside mount a joint production of 1953 musical, The Boy Friend. Though he longs for a return to normal life, eventually the company of Year Seven outcast, Zachariah, new kid and male lead in the musical, Mark, and leading actress, Elizabeth, have him starting toward a new normal. But how long can he keep it together now that a single misstep spells expulsion, and worse, no one will leave him alone?

I’d definitely recommend this to fans of Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca. It deals with many of the same topics – family, grief, deciding whether to blend in or stand out – in a way that is equally honest, funny, and best of all, unpatronizing. Not to mention both are set in Sydney area boys’ schools. Will also reminded me a lot of Andrew Smith’s Winger as well, probably due to the similarities between supporting characters Mark (Will) and Joey (Winger), as well as their protagonists’ tendency to take action before thinking about the consequences.

Will wasn’t technically perfect. The dialogue could be confusing sometimes, since there were never any speech tags and characters’ lines weren’t situated in a way that always made it clear. I thought a few of the secondary characters could have been consolidated, since there were quite a few of them and some served overlapping purposes. I was torn between a four and five star rating. But I went for the full five because it had that spark. The one that keeps you up until four in the morning, even though you promised yourself you’d “just read the first chapter or two.” The unquantifiable something that makes you cry in that painful way where your chest hurts because you can’t quite breathe, and the only thing left to do is keep reading.

Although Will was released in 2010, I honestly hadn’t even heard of it in passing before now. Perhaps like many other Aussie YA books, it simply hasn’t received as much publicity or marketing in the U.S. I stumbled across it when playing around with the subject headings for The Piper’s Son on the Seattle Public Library’s online catalog. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful debut from Boyd, and I sincerely hope to see more from her soon. In the meantime – Will Armstrong reinforces my love for the Wills of the world – well, those of the fictional variety, anyway. And you, my dear BookEnders, are left with one last question – Will you or won’t you?

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Reader’s Block

It’s impossible to get a degree in creative writing without hearing the phrase “writer’s block” approximately 10 bajillion times. After constant discussion of it, I’ve come to the conclusion that writer’s block is kind of like Santa Claus – he sneaks into your house in the middle of the night, distracts you with shiny new playthings, and you run out of cookies a lot faster when he’s around. Most of all , the older I get, the less I believe in his existence. Nevertheless, he’s in so many stories and ringing bells on so many street corners, it’s hard to escape the idea of him. He might as well be real.

See? Lying in wait, always watching for any moments of weakness. Photo from here.

This post is not about writer’s block or Christmas (or my weakness for creating increasingly labored metaphors). It’s about a phenomenon I personally have never heard discussed, but have experienced several times. It’s like Santa Claus’ evil twin, the one who secretly goes around punishing those on the Naughty List and suppressing all the elf uprisings. Every now and then, I find myself locked in a fierce battle with him: reader’s block.

I first encountered him when I was eight and several chapters into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There was a creepy disembodied voice only Harry could hear and students were being attacked every which way. Simply put, I was so scared for Harry, Ron, and Hermione* that I couldn’t read on for several weeks. My father had been reading the book at the same rate and I eventually had to let him read ahead of me, a tremendous blow to my childhood pride.

Fast forward twelve years and The Book Thief, once I finally started it, nearly drove me to a complete reader’s block relapse. I generally read a lot like I eat – not necessarily fast, but singlemindedly. While I usually finish a book like The Book Thief in a sitting or two, it took me a month. The book was set in Germany during World War II, centered around a family who harbors a Jewish acquaintance in their basement. I could only read it in bits and pieces, a sense of familiar dread growing as I couldn’t help getting more and more emotionally attached to the characters.


Trailer for The Book Thief‘s upcoming movie!

Why do I bring it up now? Because almost a month after the release of Battle Magic, a new book by one of my favorite authors of all time, I’m only halfway in. I haven’t touched it in weeks… I’m never “in the right mood.” Battle Magic is a novel set in between already-released books in Tamora Pierce’s Circle universe. From reading the The Will of the Empress, I know that this story is about the time that Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy – characters I know and love – get caught in the middle of a war. I know the experiences they have in Battle Magic are enough to give them all nightmares and PTSD.** As much as I love Pierce’s writing, it’s hard for me to know that these characters, who I think about like I do my own friends, are about to go through something so horrible.

It makes me wonder what it’s like for a writer to do something like that to her characters. You have to, or else there’s no story. You have to know them, and you have to make them suffer. You may not always have to kill your darlings, but you always have to at least torture them a little. I’ve never gotten to that point in my own fiction writing. With short stories, I feel like I always catch my characters before they hit rock bottom. I write a lot more poetry, usually, a different beast entirely. And with creative nonfiction, well, it’s writing down the things that have already happened. Though there’s still that same impulse to try and protect my characters.

Which books have you gotten stuck on? Any advice you have for getting yourself to move past it?

*Which I then read as “Hermy-own,” which my entire family persisted on until Goblet of Fire set us straight. I also read Neville as “Neh-veal,” a pronunciation I’ve never heard of anyone else ever using.

**Not spoilers, by the way. This emerges very early on in The Will of the Empress, and doesn’t give anything away about the earlier books in the series.

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Sorting in YA Lit

Next week in class (“The Life Cycle of Information”), I’ll be leading a discussion on how influences such as culture and language shape the frameworks through which we organize information. It relates strongly to the human impulse to categorize. Our entire thought processes tend revolve around putting “like with like.” I think this partially explains why people sometimes have trouble accepting people or ideas that exist within more than one existing category, or outside of the established categories altogether.

The reading and my preparation for the discussion got me thinking about some wildly popular young adult books, and how they include “sorting.” Harry Potter* is the obvious example. In the first book, each new Hogwarts student goes through a public sorting ceremony, which places him or her in one of four houses. Each house has a particular set of attributes. Similarly, in Veronica Roth’s dystopian YA novel, Divergent, all of society is based on five different factions (Abegnation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite) to which people can belong. Again, each faction draws a different kind of person. Even with The Hunger Games, there’s the divide between the (tyrannical) Capitol and the twelve Districts it rules. And each District has its own distinct culture.


The trailer for the upcoming movie version of Divergent. It doesn’t come out until 2014, but luckily the third installment in the trilogy (Allegiant) comes out in only a few weeks.

What interests me most is not so much the existence of these different sorting systems in the books (though I think it’s fascinating how both Divergent and Harry Potter both take on the limitations and problems caused by having such fixed social categories). I’m more curious about the way fan culture incorporates these aspects of the books. When WB debuted the interactive online reading experience, Pottermore, one of the most discussed features was its official** sorting quiz. I personally had somewhat of an existential crisis when it placed me in Slytherin, the house known for its members’ evil cunning and ambition. After months of internal struggle, I came to the conclusion that the quiz did not take into account my strong rejection of Slytherin’s trademark traits, and thus I consider myself a Ravenclaw.


This song and video really captures the depth of fans’ attachments to their Hogwarts houses for me.

Likewise, many tumblr posts, fanart and quizzes are dedicated to studying the faction system within Divergent. In fact, before I even read the book, I kept seeing different posts about these mysterious “factions.” Curious about which one I would fall into, I finally read the book. Similarly with The Hunger Games, there’s a wealth of quizzes about which districts people are most suited for. Again, it’s to a lesser extent as residence in each District is a matter of dictatorship rather than personal choice. But I still find it intriguing that all three of these bestselling series incorporate worlds where people live in formally defined categories.

It reminds me of something one of my favorite musicians, Alex Carpenter (see above), said in a recent video blog he did about rivalry.

“We’re saying to someone, ‘Hey. We both like the same thing, pretty much. We both like this sport, or this book, but we’re going to create a division within that just so we can yell at each other and pretend that we don’t like the same thing.’”

This brings me back to the reading I’ve been doing for class, and the way we seem to instinctively categorize and subcategorize both ourselves and the world around us. There are people who like books, and within that, people who like certain types of books (fantasy, dystopian, young adult, etc.), even people who like specific series. But within that already pretty specific category, it keeps on dividing. Into people who sort themselves one way or another.

Do you have any other examples of popular series that have the attraction of sorting? If you have your own sorting story, share it in the comments!

NOTES:

*Harry Potter is a bit ambiguous in terms of it’s designated reader age. It’s a children’s book series with some very adult themes and crossover appeal. I DON’T KNOW WHICH CATEGORY TO PUT IT IN. But since its protagonists are teenagers and many young adults read it, I’ll include it.

**J.K. Rowling herself approved and tested it, which gave it much more authority than if it was just a quiz WB had created without her input.

 

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Movie Endeavors?

Like most others, when I first meet people I tend to hold back some of the more less favorable facts about myself. Like that I enjoy peanut butter and turkey bacon sandwiches, or that I’ve watched nearly every episode of Who Wants to Be the Next Food Network Star? (I’m still trying to catch up from the half-season I missed while moving across the country). And although I know it’s enjoying a surge of immense popularity, I hate red velvet cake and have never much cared for cream cheese frosting, either.

Maybe the most damning is the fact that I don’t really like movies. Sure, there are some that capture my heart enough that I’ll watch them again and again. Miracle, Grumpy Old Men, Wild America, and 27 Dresses all make the list of favorites. But I tend to be very hesitant to try new movies. Halfway through, I’ll find myself looking at the clock, trying to figure out how much longer it will last. You might blame this on a short attention span caused by the instantaneous Internet Age, but I can watch episode after episode of a television show without losing interest. There’s just something about movies that makes most of them drag for me.


I have a special affection for this one after my own cross-country road trip.

But this week I made a discovery bound to entirely shape my vision of cinematic possibilities. I made a visit to one of the last, and undoubtedly the best, video rental stores: Scarecrow Video. Every obscure movie I have ever watched or wanted to watch, they have available. The way they’ve organized their titles made this budding librarian swoon; movies within the adventure section are also subcategorized by type – jungle, knights, swashbucklers. A large selection of foreign films arranged by country. And a whole section devoted to British films, British comedy television, British dramatic television series, and so on.

Wait a second, you might be saying. Isn’t this blog called Book Endeavors? What are you harping on about movies for? (You are probably not actually saying this, dear reader. You are likely far smarter than the rhetorical straw man reader I frequently converse with. But I digress.) Some of my other favorite movies are based upon books. I use the 1980s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea movies as a frequent point of reference for life. I adore the Richard Harris/Jim Caviezel The Count of Monte Cristo. And one of my favorite movies of all time, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, is based on a novel (which I haven’t read, but the story is fantastic). Sadly, as an independent movie, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont has been difficult to find, but luckily Scarecrow Video has it. It has all of these.


Seriously, if you can find it, watch it. Especially if a) you’re a writer, or b) have ever worked in a retirement home setting.

Even better, the store has a room dedicated to movies based on books and plays. Movies about authors’ lives. Documentaries and biopics about authors, and movies explaining theories and criticism about literary works and worlds. Interviews with authors, and compilations of poets’ readings. Shelves of Jane Austen and Dickens adaptations. Every movie exploring Narnia you could think of. And then in the children’s section they have all of the television series devoted to exploring L. M. Montgomery’s books – Emily of New Moon and The Road to Avonlea (a combination of Avonlea and Story Girl books).

It’s basically an English and Creative Writing B.A.’s dreams incarnated in a video store. Which is not the first place I would’ve looked for enlightenment. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont was checked out when I went there yesterday, but I’ll be back for it. In the meantime, I rented Vitus – a Swiss movie I watched during college in pursuit of German 200 Culture and Communication Points – and The Way We Were. I have to thank my friend Paige for the latter; if anyone has helped me expand my horizons when it comes to films, she has. Before we became friends, I honestly thought Robert Redford was a fictional character.

What’s your favorite movie based on a book? Let me know in comments.

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To the Library, and Beyond!

As a student about to start her master’s in library and information science, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I, you know, like libraries. Throughout high school and some of college I probably single-handedly kept my public library in business with my excessive fines. I know some people will go to the library, pick out a book or maybe two, then return it and find another. My library style has always been a bit more gluttonous: grab everything that looks interesting off the shelves. A week or two of fines adds up when you have fifteen to twenty overdue items. With the help of phone alarms and e-mail reminders, my on-time return rate has greatly improved in recent years.

The past few weeks have taken my appreciation of libraries on a very practical level. On one of my mom and sister’s last nights in Seattle, we watched Matilda together. While watching the disdain of Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father, for reading, libraries, and anything remotely intellectual, I was struck by an important but fleeting thought: I’m lucky to have been born into a family that loves the library as much as I do. One of my earliest memories is my mom doing up my hair for the Beach Day-themed story hour, and the highlight of middle school was the annual system-wide interlibrary “Battle of the Books” competition. So I suppose I’ve taken libraries and easy library-access for granted, just based on their continual presence in my own life.

As I mentioned last post, my apartment for August has no WiFi. I do have a smartphone, for which I’m grateful, but I have a limited data plan and too much impatience to use it for sending e-mails or messages longer than a sentence or two. It’s like trying to live on Ramen after years of dining hall meals – endurable, but hardly satiating. And my first month in Seattle has definitely given me experience in being creative with limited resources, both virtual and victual.

Coffee shops have been my first destination for Internet access. I have a found a few rare gems – coffeehouses with plentiful seating, power outlets, and low prices. But even the cheapest coffee shop still costs a few dollars, and I feel guilty for staying past the end of my tea. While I’m writing this, I’m actually at the coffee shop with the best drinks I’ve had in Seattle yet, but the worst WiFi. I’m lucky if I can get it to work for five minutes. At the moment, it’s not working at all.

At any rate, enter the library. The magical solution to all the world’s problems. Honestly, my dad had to suggest it to me when I explained my dilemma. At first I brushed off the suggestion, thinking that since I’m not yet able to get a library card (as I lack proof of address/Washington State ID), so I can only use their computers for thirty minutes at a time. Then it occurred to me that I could bring my laptop and use their WiFi for free. For as long as I wanted. So I’ve started spending lots of time at the library, either on my computer or reading books. Unfortunately, as I have no card, I can’t check things out. But I can use their Internet to look for jobs, housing, catch up on my Netflix. And just sit there and read books for free, so I don’t fall too terribly far behind on my 2013 GoodReads goal. The possibilities are endless.

IF YOU LOVE BOOKS AND LIBRARIES AND HAVEN’T EVER SEEN THE PAGEMASTER, YOU’VE BEEN MISSING OUT.

So this blog post has mainly been a combo testimonial and public service announcement. Don’t take your local libraries for granted. They’re a brilliant resource that do more than provide written entertainment for the masses. Next time your computer or WiFi or television breaks, if you want something new to read but it’s not in the budget – head to your library. Add them on Facebook, or check out their summer programming. And for those of you that already have, if you’re anything like me, I suggest you check your due dates!

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