Saturday, October 29, 2011

Paradise Lost

By John Milton

Two Things I Liked About Paradise Lost:
1. Finishing it
2. Being able to say I've read it

I have been SO negligent of this blog this year. It's disappointing. I don't like not posting very much. Among other things, I could use the regular writing outlet and practice. But I just... kind of don't have time. Sophomore year has been vastly more time consuming than freshman year. It's all I can do to get my homework done well and in a timely manner, with enough down-time so as not to spiral into a quicksand pit of stress. But I'll do what I can to keep this up! Even though I don't have many readers, this blog is important to me. I like having the record of what I've read and what I've thought about it.

This review is going to be a quickie. I just wanted to get something new up! So. Paradise Lost. Many of you have probably been subjected to this book in either high school or college. That's certainly why I read it, though at times I considered bailing on the effort and succumbing to Sparknotes. (But my academic and bibliophiliac conscience wouldn't let me.) I wanted to give this book one star because it was such a long and unenjoyable slog, but I felt like I shouldn't totally slam it just because it wasn't my taste. I mean, there is some merit to it. Why else would it have withstood the test of time to become one of the most reputable epic poems in the Western canon? Why else indeed.

I feel like I can sum up Paradise Lost in two words: Bible fanfiction. Milton retells the story of Adam and Eve's fall from Eden - starring Satan, and beginning with his fall from Heaven. This poem has everything a good (by which I mean terrible) fanfiction has: sensationalism, revenge, sexual escapades, interpersonal drama not found in the original story... You name it, Paradise Lost has got it. Which is amusing to discuss, but not as amusing as it sounds to read. Milton's language is extravagant and excessively rife with allusions that you may or may not get (in lecture we were told Milton was the most learned man of his time, something which he seems eager to show off), making the poem incredibly dense and arduous to read. His sentences span so many lines that by the end you can't remember what the subject and verb were, and thus have to read the entire thing again.

In short: Not my idea of a good time.

Conversation Starter: Have you ever been subjected to Paradise Lost? If so, what was your experience reading it?

Books Read This Year: 79
Top 100 Progress: 46/100

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door

By Stephanie Perkins

Three Things I Liked About Lola and the Boy Next Door:
1. Setting – San Francisco!
2. Cameos
3. Friends first

Ugh, again with the ugly cover and the cheesy title. Remember Anna and the French Kiss? Same author. Same packaging problem. If you ask me, Stephanie ought to look into hiring a new designer. (I say this as if the cover is at all within the author’s power, when I’m pretty sure it’s not.) But because I knew what delectable goodness lay within the unappealing exterior of Anna and the French Kiss, I was more than willing to look past the equally off-putting cover of Lola and the Boy Next Door. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Any kindergartener can tell you that.

Seventeen-year-old Lola lives with her two dads in a lovely old Victorian house in the Castro district of San Francisco. She dresses up head (wigs) to toe in a different costume every day in lieu of “normal” clothes, works in a movie theater, and is pretty sure she’s found The One: a 22-year-old tattooed musician named Max. Her parents disagree. (And who can blame them? Age aside, one mention of Max’s spider web tattoos was enough to make me gag and start the countdown to the inevitable breakup.) Luckily, there wouldn’t be much plot if she were right. Cue Cricket Bell: adorable next door neighbor, childhood best friend, and almost boyfriend until he inexplicably crushed Lola’s feelings and moved away in one fell swoop. Not that she’s harboring a grudge or anything. But two years later when Cricket moves back into the house next door as suddenly as he departed, Lola decides a grudge would be a whole lot easier to handle than the complex poignancy of the rekindled history between them.

Not gonna lie, Lola and the Boy Next Door is exactly what you expect it to be. There are few, if any, surprises. But it is done with more personality and sincerity than many other books of its ilk. It was adorable and satisfying in all the right ways, without losing its dignity or sacrificing depth. Plus it was delightful to see Anna and Etienne again in a new context, and San Francisco was a very fun setting to read about, with the result being that I now really want to go on a trip there. Why aren’t more books set in San Fran?

My qualm: The characters were all more like caricatures than real people. Lola’s costumes, Cricket’s penchant for invention – not to mention being a descendent of Alexander Graham Bell – and his twin sister’s Olympic talent for figure skating, and Max’s semi-successful rock band (of course) all lent a cartoonish air to the story. You would never find all these people together in real life. I think this is the main reason why I wasn't as blown away by Lola and the Boy Next Door as I was by Anna and the French Kiss, though I can't quite put my finger on it. Now that I think about it, though, I guess Anna's characters were somewhat larger-than-life too, but somehow they managed to be so while keeping their authenticity intact; they seemed like real people whereas Lola's characters feel like just that - characters. Nonetheless, the Cricket/Lola development was believable and swoon-worthy, if a tad idyllic. As always, I love how Stephanie’s couples are always first and foremost friends. It’s refreshing. And it makes the eventual relationship ten times more romantic.

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Books Read This Year: 73
Top 100 Progress: 46/100

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary

By David Levithan

Four Things I Liked About The Lover’s Dictionary:
1. Concept
2. Word choice (of the entries)
3. Style
4. Ambiguous narrator

I haven’t loved David Levithan’s books in the past – they’re a bit too over-the-top for my taste – so I tend to shy away from them, but The Lover’s Dictionary caught my attention. First of all, look at that cover. Pretty, right? It’s simple and attractive and well suited to the book. It’s a pity how rare that seems to be these days. But more importantly, I was intrigued by the concept. Levithan’s gender ambiguous narrator tells the story of their relationship in a series of vignettes organized under the headings of various dictionary entries.

I think this is best demonstrated by example, so here’s one of the entries:

basis, n.

There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself. 

If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it—you’re done. And if the moment does pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it’s even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover’s face. 

This is, needless to say, not a typical novel. So don’t pick it up expecting the spoony love story of a deserving heroine and dashing prince charming to play out along a traditional narrative timeline. The vignettes give you a series of glimpses into the details of the narrator’s romance, but the entries are not chronological, and the do not give you a complete picture. But that’s, I would argue, the beauty of The Lover’s Dictionary. The vignettes are steeped in detail, but they are also anonymous. The lovers could be anyone; they could be you. And so it isn’t a story to be read, enjoyed, and re-shelved. Because the story is inherently incomplete, and because the anonymity invites you in to take the narrator’s place, it is more like a field guide on love. The unexpected words Levithan chooses for his entries, and the vignettes that explain them, illuminate facets of relationships in surprising, delightful, and insightful ways.

The Lover’s Dictionary is a quick read. Two hours max, and most likely less. So there’s not much at stake if you give it a chance, which I recommend you do. It’s unique and poetic and relevant. I doubt there’s a person out there over the age of 15 who won’t identify with something in these entries.

Books Read This Year: 72
Top 100 Progress: 46/100

Okay For Now

By Gary D. Schmidt

Three Things I Liked About Okay For Now:
1. Jane Eyre, the play
2. Library
3. Voice

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, huh? Oops. Excuse: I’m a month into my sophomore year, and it’s been one hectic month. Settling in, scrambling to polish a couple of essays for contests, catching up on homework, starting a new job… It pains me to admit it, but reading and reviewing kind of fell through the cracks. To ease myself back into it, I’ve been reading “easy” books – young adult, and light adult reads. Which is not to say they haven’t been good reads, too! Easy ≠ not good. Remember that.

Things are a little rough for Doug Swieteck. He’s just moved to a new town, he’s got a chip on his shoulder from his abusive father and it’s giving his teachers and classmates the wrong impression, and his eldest brother is coming home from Vietnam. But there’s also Lil Spicer, the spunky daughter of the grocer who hires Doug to make his deliveries, and the library’s copy of Audubon’s Birds of America paintings, which capture his fascination and make his hand twitch with the movements of a phantom pencil, to make him think that even if things aren’t great, they might be okay. For now.

Doug Swieteck is basically Holden Caulfield as a preteen. He’s got the sarcasm, the disillusionment, the catchphrases – “I’m not lying.” He and the other characters are all richly developed; not even the minor characters are three-dimensional and multi-layered. And Doug’s growth throughout the novel is undeniably heartwarming.


There is just too much in this novel, too many conflicts. Spoiler alert: Doug has an abusive father, a bully-in-training as a brother, his eldest brother lost his legs and his sight in Vietnam, he’s ILLITERATE, and then in the LAST CHAPTER, his best friend/girlfriend Lil Spicer gets some kind of potentially deadly never-specified illness (not to mention all the minor things, like having his prized possession, a baseball cap given to him by a famous player, thrown in a gutter by his brother) Like, seriously? That is too much. I mean, I’m sure there are people out there whose lives suck as much as Doug’s or worse, but the paradox of fiction is that it actually has to be more believable than reality. And I just wasn’t buying the freaking deluge of problems plaguing poor Doug.

Books Read This Year: 70
Top 100 Progress: 46/100