In the Game of Thrones, You Read or You Watch.

I was trying to wrack my brains to come up with another book for you guys, then I realized I had one, or should I say a whole series, sitting right in my lap, (not literally of course. The combined weight of those books would break my pelvis.) I’m taking about the Song of Fire and Ice series, or Game of Thrones, whatever you’d like to call them. As I’ve not so subtly hinted before, I’ve read and enjoyed them. What people generally want to know when I say that I’ve read the books is whether they too should read them. Well, if you’re going to ask, I’ll answer. Oh, and I’m promising no spoilers here people, for the show or books, just to be nice.

Most people ask me if they should read the books after they’ve already started watching the show. I most certainly did not start reading the series when it was first published back in the nineties, as I was either not born yet or mostly illiterate for the majority of that decade. I don’t wanna think how quickly It was only after I watched the show and my uncle mentioned something about the series being adapted from books that I even knew it was originally a thousand upon thousand of pages book saga. I was on the fence about whether to read it myself until second season ended. I’d been binge watching the show to catch up on old episodes and then keep up with the new. When I faced my first ever GOT dry spell, it only took a couple months before I broke down and decided to go start reading the series.

Oh, right, another disclaimer. I technically listened to the series on audio book. I had limited time to devote to reading for personal entertainment at the time, and so decided to add it to the audio book list so I wouldn’t have to fall behind on my other books piling up. I definitely recommend audio books as an excellent way to fill time while running errands, doing relatively mindless chores, or working out. It’s definitely one of the few ways I could’ve gotten through a series the size of Game of Thrones while also dealing with my English major reading list. The guy who narrates the series, Roy Dotrice, is really good.

Anyhow, I devoured all the books as soon as I could get my hands on them. That still took a while, but I enjoyed myself immensely. Getting to reread the parts I’d already seen on the TV show was no chore, as they were as well written as the show is well made. I only paused before reading the third book, as my aforementioned uncle, the nerd connoisseur of the family, (I’m only the nerd connoisseur in training,) and a couple others who’d read the series, felt that the series got way too slow after that point. I took the plunge and read it anyway. Can’t say I regret it.

I will say that the course of events does slow down quite a bit through the course of the novels. Specifically, I mean when you look at where most characters start at the beginning of the novel and where they end the book, and you’ll definitely notice the pace slowing down, but that’s just the big picture. We’re not talking extended books of the Simarillion slow here, people. George R.R. Martin’s style is still solid, and there’s still plenty of intrigue, sudden deaths, and descriptions of food. Oh yeah, that’s one thing that doesn’t translate to the show. Martin is constantly describing the different feasts and meals all of the characters are having. I feel like HBO took the scenes where Martin described food and replaced them with sex scenes, because they felt he didn’t have enough, and Mr. George R.R. Martin does not skimp on the sex by any means.

Again, it is a huge commitment, but even if the overall pace of the story arcs slow down, the books are no less rewarding a read for people who love Westeros, the Dothraki Sea, and all that. There’s definitely no need to under take the quest unless you really want to, because the TV has so far been incredibly loyal to the series. Most fans who’ve read the books , myself included, agree that the changes made in the series are understandably made the necessary streamlining of the story for television adaptation that remained faithful to the overall tone and spirit of the story. If you’re daunted by the idea of reading a series with the average book being one thousand plus pages, I can’t say I judge you, especially since the TV series seems to be taking over the narrative anyhow, hopefully for the better.

Overall, the Song of Fire and Ice series is no light commitment, but it’s definitely worth the praise and devotion that gave it a devoted fandom and eventually a stellar HBO deal.

Brilliant GOT art courtesy of Pinterest. Artist Marc Simonetti

Brilliant GOT art courtesy of Pinterest. Artist Marc Simonetti

Reading and Bleeding

Okay, so I wear glasses. Frame glasses, not contacts. Yes, I do have some nice thick hipster frames, but that’s not exactly why I choose them as opposed to contacts. I did, for a time , wear contact lenses. After just narrowly failing one of those school vision tests, I was taken to the eye doctor and given glasses. After a short time with those, my optometrist persuaded me to try contacts. I was all for it, as getting contacts seemed the cool, grown up thing to do.

For a while, I wore those contacts like a boss. I wasn’t a four-eyes, didn’t have a weird frame around my vision. I could go swimming normally, (wait, you can go swimming in contacts, right? Crap, I never checked…) Anyhow, things were going fine, until they weren’t. I started to have trouble focusing in class. Not paying attention, I mean I would be taking a test, staring hard at the pages for a while, then notice the words starting to scatter and swim. I had to blink couple times to clear it up, and focus harder. My head could get strained and really achy. Soon enough, my job shelving books at a library, I started to get headaches from focusing on the spines of books I needed to shelf. The headaches become worse and worse, until reading for any period of time caused an intense stabbing of pain in my head. I was definitely freaking out by that point. That was my senior year of high school, so even if I wanted to take my reading slower, the mounds of homework I had meant I could not. I ddi not want to slow down, though. I loved reading and writing and the idea of being unable to follow that passion, possibly for a long term period, truly terrified me.

Upon visiting my dear eye doctors, they decided the brand I was using was the problem, then kept switching out brand after brand and special type after type. None of them worked. They made me switch back to glasses, and when I still had headaches while wearing those, but I could at least take them off. This isn’t an ophthalmological procedures blog, so I’ll try to sum the whole thing up quick. After a bunch of weird tests, we ended up switch optometrists and when the new guys figured out the problem was, something about my internal focusing system being zapped, I learned that there was no quick way out. I had to go through months of eye strengthening exercises to get somewhere close back to normal. In all honesty, I can still feel an unpleasant tug at my one really bad eye after a really long day of studying and computer work.

In that interim, though, I had over a year of time when I could not indulge in my favorite hobby, or even perform at a level in school and work that I could’ve before. I had nightmares about having headaches so bad they would make me go blind, and then I could never finish that one book I was still reading. I started to try and find ways to listen to audio books more often, which definitely helped. Still, though, a bunch of paper books piled themselves in my room, and I couldn’t even look at them. Something that used to be a source of comfort had turned into the most painful sort of labor.

You know the weird thing, though? That didn’t stop me. I would sit down with books I just couldn’t stay away from and spend intense but short periods of time trying to take all the words off the page I could before the pain became too intense, then I’d lay back and take several aspirin. I couldn’t stop, and what those few books I braved reading in print during the bad times always gave me enough to keep coming back for more, a trial instead of a past time now, but not one I could just stop.

I remember one moment very intensely. I’d decided to make myself read Fahrenheit 451 for my seventeenth birthday.

Fahrenheit 451 Cover

Fahrenheit 451 Cover

It was a classic I hadn’t read yet and desperately wanted to. I’d peaked at it and discovered that this one girl Clarisse, the one that gets Guy Montag all hot under the collar for book-learning, was seventeen. It was a short book, I told myself, and wasn’t it kismet? I could only read a book with a seventeen year main character while I was seventeen year-old character for much longer. That was the sort of silly logic I needed to use to goad myself into reading a copy of any book in print instead of  waiting for an audio book or something. I didn’t finish the book before my birthday, but Clarisse died before I turned seventeen, so I figured that fulfilled the weird promise I’d made to myself. Turns out that until you got to a relatively recent era, you couldn’t count on scifi lady characters being much more than sacrificial maidens, even in good books. More on that later, though. Back to my bleeding eyeballs

I just remember sitting in a car, taking out the book, and forcing myself to entertain myself by reading through blurred eyes, tears of pain, and a gashing headache. I stopped to laugh at myself at that point. It was ridiculous, the lengths I was going to to read this book. I also laughed at the characters, who were having books taken away from them by force by a backwards, twisted government while I was losing my ability to read all by myself, thanks to my own stupid head orbs. I cried and laughed, then had to put the book away after that, and not pick it up for a bit.

A while later, I remember `finishing the book and wishing I’d had the foresight, like the guys at the end of the story, to memorize some books to go over in my head while the headaches were really bad. Reading made me feel that. It made me feel other, better things too, before and after that too. Still, though, it made me feel like that, and I guess you know you have something special there.

Do You Read?

Alright, I realize that publicly brooding over the more emotionally damaging things your mother said to you comes off at best as unsettlingly Freudian and at worst downright Psycho with a capital taxidermy mom corpse in you basement, but this is gonna be pertinent to my larger point here. Here’s one of the first things my mother said to me when I happened to tell her that I was writing a book blog:

“Well you know honey, you’re really trying to appeal to a minority of the population there. Don’t expect too much as far as an audience goes.” Thanks mom. Love you too.

Did I mention, though, that my mom’s a librarian? That my love of books was definitely fostered by her own? Leave that out and I suppose it sounds like I’m Matilda, from that Roald Dahl book they turned into a movie with Danny Devito. My mother is not, nor will she ever be, Danny Devito. She does love me, and is a decent women after all.

Why, then, you might ask, would my mother, the book lover, say such a thing? Well, moms do their best to be protective. If there’s one thing she’d know, that I know too really, from years of reading and loving it is that there are many people who think its weird and don’t get the point. I suppose she feared such an illiterate would stumble across my musings on the internet and leave a rude comment calling her darling daughter a fish turd or something. It was meant as a kind sentiment, and I’d like to assure my mother that I grew up with the internet and have been called far worse than a fish turd online and to my face.

Anyhow, I’d like to address the whole “reading is pointless” crowd.  I’ve certainly had to speak to such people on more than one occasion. An uncle once asked me why people bother buying and rereading books. I paused and decided the best way to answer was that rereading books is just like re-watching a movie you like. He looked like he either didn’t believe me,or didn’t quite understand the general concept.

When people say they don’t like to read I almost want to act like a very stupid friend who tells their gay buddy they just haven’t found the right book yet. People write about a ridiculously wide variety of things in a variety of ways. No matter what or how they read them, books can give you something. They can tell you you’re not alone, they can give you new perspectives, they can give you just a few easy laughs and a break from the day.

In the age of the internet, people actually read for fun more than they realize. Those articles your friends share on Facebook, those funny click bait titled lists, that counts as reading, for fun! See? It’s not that hard. I know Buzzfeed lists aren’t hardcore literature, but you don’t have to read hardcore literature to like reading. That right there maybe be the biggest misconception non-readers have about getting into reading. You absolutely don’t have to read a big, fancy looking book your English teacher tried to make you read once just because you didn’t hate reading that one one mystery novel or the baby of whatever book deal your favorite celebrity got.

I almost surprised myself with this realization, but I’m much more worried about people who don’t read anything as opposed to people who read things considered simple or even trashy. I had a freaking serious Twilight phase, and I know how simple those books are but I also know how much that experience gave me. I loved those books. They, just like any other book, were a decent, quiet escape from whatever I was up to me neck in at the time, (puberty, most likely,) and a very patient friend too. Books wait for you. You can read as slow as you want, go back and reread bits you didn’t get, and in general just plod along with the story.

Asking too many questions during a movie or TV show gets you uninvited from the movie theater and/or your friend’s Game of Thrones viewing party. That’s quiet and occasionally live tweeting time. Books, though don’t mind being questioned, or paused, to be thought over, even over basic stuff like “Wait, what’s with this dialogue? Who’s talking? Which character is that again.” The Game of Thrones books all come with character glossaries in case you confuse one or two of the fifty million aging bearded white men that used to be a knight for one of the fifty million aging, bearded white men that are all very stern and perhaps have noble blood in them. I’m considering copying out those character lists, laminating them, and giving them to my friends and parents, especially my parents, in celebration of the new season coming out. I won’t pretend I couldn’t use one either.

The point is, the so called “reading population” isn’t really that big at all, and even the people who don’t think they fall into that category could be more wrong than they’d think. Reading doesn’t have to be crazy dense or formal, or a year long commitment with a mile long text. It’s just one more thing that can make you feel better, safer, more at home, in a busy day. Whether you feel like reading paperbacks, e-readers, or online, please just try. It does give you something,if you’re relaxed enough to just pick a book you know you’d like and read it when you want. Not sure what kind of book you like? Well, that’s what blogs and review sites like these are for. Don’t worry, I got this.

How Are You Reading?

Okay, so here’s a whole other aspect of reading politics that I find irksome. If you’ve been reading my posts, it might seem like I have this strange trend of picking apart things that others and even myself get angry or divisive over then deciding we should all just stop fighting, join hands, and start singing Kumbaya. I myself did not really notice this trend at first but yeah, looking back a couple posts, it seems like I do. At the very least, I feel like a lot of people are fighting over things that shouldn’t matter or aren’t so different after all, not in a way that matters, anyhow. With that in mind,  I’m here to talk another topic in the book world that can get people in the literary world all riled up. How do you read? E-books or paper books?

You know the drill, people say e-readers are the wave of the future and  paper books are saying husks of irrelevance and then other people say books are soulless simulacrums of real reading and that holding a real book beats any sort of electronic experience. I don’t want to agree or disagree with either side on this issue here, because I don’t feel like either one is really right.

I freaking love reading, as you probably should’ve known by now. I’m frequently trying to get my hands on the latest books in any way possible, be it electronic or otherwise. It’s the story that matters the most anyway, isn’t it? Well, whenever I inject this opinion into conversations of e-book versus paper books, people look at me funny and mumble a “I mean, I guess if that’s how you feel, whatever…” and they feel somewhat deflated that I didn’t try to take a “real” side on the debate. Really, though, stop and think for a second. I genuinely feel like most people will take whatever medium gets them the story in the most convenient, (and probably cheapest) form. The convenience card isn’t as fun to play in a philosophical debate of morals, especially when it refuses to take sides with one medium over another, I still see it as the trump card

Look at television. That’s an easy one for me to talk about, and a great example. As a college student, I’m basically living with a whole bunch of people who, like myself, don’t usually have a simple cable TV set up, yet we love to talk about TV. Everyone loves talking Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, or Doctor Who (okay, maybe that’s more my crowd than the mainstream sect of college students,) but next to no one catches up on their shows in the exact same way. Some have Netflix or HBO Go, some borrow their friend’s password’s for Netflix or HBO Go, some use Hulu an Huluplus for some godforsaken reason, and some find sights that can trick their browser into thinking they’re in the UK to get free streaming of this or that show. Different strokes for different folks and all that. The point is, mediums aren’t the reason people watch their favorite show. I’ve never got into a hideous argument with someone because I watch Game of Thrones by borrowing the family HBO Go password and they download it from a shady site with way too many banner ads for breast augmentation. I don’t care.  Why does this happen in the book world, then? In a way, I don’t think it does.

When people get into arguments about electronic versus print publishing, I believe they’re real focus is more on the evolution of technology and less on actually wanting to read this or that book in their favorite medium. I’m not saying it’s wrong or impossible for someone to prefer one medium over the other for reading. I’m saying that people get so heated while discussing this topic because they’re thinking primarily about the broader progression of technology here. Some people feel we lose medium richness,( you know, the physical touch and smell of a book and all,) when switching over to electronic tools. Some people don’t think so, or don’t care. Some people believe in stuff like the singularity or technological determinism, which are often depicted in movies and stuff as the robopocalypse, but really just mean that technology is moving forward, becoming as advanced and intelligent as humans, and that’s something we can’t and shouldn’t stop. I like being able to look at funny videos of cats at 2 AM, and argue that school of thought isn’t as necessarily as terrifying as it sounds.

Some people are more of what the experts would call social constructionists. They believe people control the direction of technology’s development more than it controls us and that we shouldn’t treat the singularity narrative of technology as inevitable, but something to stop and truly think over. I’m all for stopping and thinking, as this blog has proved. Maybe we’d be better in an online market with fewer corporate powerhouses like Amazon controlling the flow of online purchases as much as they are helping it. Maybe libraries shouldn’t have to only check out one digital “copy” of a book at a time to patrons, just to protect the publisher’s wallet. Yes, that’s a thing, if you didn’t know already checkout your own library’s online offerings.  Digital books are listed as unavailable if they are currently being “borrowed” by someone else. Sorry, that’s a hot spot for me. Point is, there are plenty of reasons to stop and think about the fifty million different ways technology is pulling us now, whether unstoppable or not.

Please, though, just remember that your feelings on technology don’t have to interfere with your love and/or discussion of books. Don’t vilify friends who choose e-readers over old paperbacks or vice versa. If someone is being a prick about the whole issue when you just want to sit and talk about the new book that you both just read, calmly sit down, disengage, and use whatever website or cable connection you damn well please to catch up on Game of Thrones. The new season is coming up after all.

What Do You Read?

This is a question I have to ask myself quite a lot lately. I have to, of course, to pick interesting reads to talk about for you guys. I’m used to thinking about the question myself, but in all honesty there’s something in my that ticks nervously when someone else asks it of me. I get asked what sort of books I read all the time, at least partially because  one of the first things I can think to share with other people during small talks is “books? books.” It’s a good secondary question if “food? food.” goes nowhere special. I do want to clarify that I absolutely love talking about books. Hence this blog. However, I sometimes come across people people that make the discussion difficult.

There’s the plenty large crowd of folks who don’t read at all, not for fun anyway. I recall perhaps the shortest conversation I ever had about books. It went something along the lines of, “So, what do you like to read for fun, though?” “Oh, I don’t really read anything for fun, except for the Bible of course.” God bless that person’s soul, because if they thought the Bible was the only book that could provide them with spiritual enlightenment, even of a specifically Christian breed, they’ll need all the help they can get. When people in general feel like there’s nothing to be had by reading books at all, I get very bored with them very quickly, even if they do watch Game of Thrones on HBO.

Then there are those who tell me they would read but they never find the time for it. I mean, I get having less time to do things like read than you normally do. I’ve certainly experienced a significant reduction in reading time around finals week. Still, though, reading is one of those things that does make its way into you life if you like it. Does anyone feel like they can’t “make enough time” to watch hours upon hours of vines or clips of puppies doing silly things on the internet? No, that’s just something that happens. My mom was, at one point, raising two kids, working a part time job, and getting her masters degree and I don’t ever think she stopped reading anything less than two books at a time. Please stop acting like reading is going on an all organic diet or buying only fair trade coffee. It’s supposed to be fun you guys, not an excuse to sound like a potential hipster.

Okay, but those are just minor nuisances. The own thing that always makes me the most nervous is when I tell people what I read. I hope you’ll notice by now that I enjoy a wide variety of books and genres. I do, however, have a soft spot for things in the scifi and fantasy realms. Sometimes, that’s great. The person I’m talking with also loves Lord of the Rings and we go off having a grand old time. Other times, though, whoever I’m talking with will look somewhat downcast at my revelation and say, “Oh, I’m really more into non-fiction and history.” Like now, we’ve come so close, but have nothing to talk about because we picked different favorite genres. I suppose sometimes the geeky-nerdy community that sprouts up around scifi and fantasy can seem a bit insular and exclusive. However, I not only love reading plenty of books beyond that genre, including nonfiction and historical books; I also don’t care how much you know or care about my personal darling genres.

I think back to my young hatred of “chick-lit,” the feeling that I could never discuss books with the girls who called those books “literature.” Sure, I have a problem with people who isolate themselves from potential new reads and genres, but I happen to have a flexible reading palate and am more than willing to talk about any book or genre that pops up. I may have favorites, but as long as I keep exercising my literary muscles, and other people aren’t afraid to help me with that or even try it out for themselves, I find I could read just about anything and find something interesting to talk about with another person. Why yes m’am, I did read that murder mystery series you enjoyed that centered around a yarn shop and includes free knitting patterns in the back. Yes, professor, I did read Gravity’s Rainbow and found it a most mathematical yet passionate discussion of the modern human condition. (Note: That last part was only for illustrative purposes. I had to Google Gravity’s Rainbow to make that reference and I only ever skimmed those knitting mystery books for the sex scenes.)

Long story short, I’d really love the “What do you read?” question to be less about narrowing down a person’s likes and interests and more about broadening our bookish horizons. So, what do you read?

I Came, I Twitted, I’m Okay Now.

Hey guys, I just wanted to talked about my attempt at a paradigm shifting book review tactic, or half-assed attempt at experimenting with twitter. Take your pick. I didn’t have anyone special to go mooning after this past Valentines day, so I went home to visit my parents and sister. Proving they love me like no one else does, my parents got my a book written by George R.R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson called The World of Fire and IceThe Untold History of Westeros and Game of Thrones. (For hard core fans, I should note that technically this book definitely covers even the furthest back ancient history of Essos, Sothos, and the entirety of the Game of Thrones world, not just Westeros.) I of course shoved aside any previous live tweet plans and sat down to live tweet a reaactionary review to this book this past Sunday.

It was a beautiful book, and a highly illuminating one too. GOT lore is notoriously vast and under-explained in the story itself. I’d call it a sort of illustrated Simarillion of sorts. I’m still amazed at how beautiful the illustrations were in that book, so I’ll show one more of my favorites here.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17345242-the-world-of-ice-fire

Chapter illustration from the World of Ice and Fire

Okay, but back to the whole attempt at live tweeting itself. I’ll admit I was getting more and more intrigued by the idea. I definitely considered that minute by minute interaction with the text or event I was interacting with would provide a new, interesting take on things. I was still uncertain because of my relative inexperience with tweeting, but figured I could still  explore the possibilities of a play-by-play book  review.

I found tweeting a book no more disruptive than tweeting a film or event like an Oscar. I could at least pause and resume a text to quickly tweet without missing a moment. So I did feel like this was a preferable live tweet scenario. However, I ended up feeling that the ideal book review, for lengthier and complex texts, would still be in blog form.

I expected that tweeting all 217 pages would be an impossible task, and planned on cutting shy of the whole book anyway, so I new that was a shortcoming in advance. However, I couldn’t help that my tweets were more focused on my reactions to bits and pieces I read as opposed to the more connective, big picture issues I enjoy discussing in my book reviews. I love discussing how this or that book shaped my life or made me think about something differently. That vein of discussion is difficult enough in 140 character bits, and even more so when focusing on individual passages or pictures. Maybe the idea is there, but I cannot point it out so readily for my readers. I daresay I’d react the same way if I chose to review a film, TV episode.

I’ll definitely continue to experiment with Twitter and other social media matters to grow and promote my blog, but I’m definitely over embracing Twitter as one of my primary social media sites. All things considered, I’m glad I tried, but maybe next time I want to tweet my reaction to a new book or some fancy book news, I’ll tweet a link to this here blog, where I can really play around with my thoughts. Hopefully I can make them into something really pretty for all of you guys.

DFTBA!

Alright you guys, I’m outing myself as a nerdfighter here, a fan of the amazing vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. I just wanted to put that out there, and clarify that their catchphrase, DFTBA means Don’t Forget To Be Awesome, in case anyone mistakenly thought I joined a gang or was cursing you out. It’s a nice phrase. People do need to remember that they can and should be awesome. This is a book blog though, and as such I’ll be focusing not on the amazing online community the Green brothers have cultivated, but the thing that first turned me onto this mess in the first place, John Green’s books.

Perhaps you’ve heard of John Green by now with his book The Fault in Our Stars hitting the bestselling big time and movie-land. I couldn’t count on that when I first started to read him, (yup, don’t mind me, just fishing for hipster cred. On with the review.) After reading Looking for Alaska, I wanted to eat up every other book he’d come out with up to that point, which at that point included An Abundance of Katherines, and the imminent promise of Paper Towns. I was quite happy when that promise was finally fulfilled, and found myself fully engrossed in the saga of Margo Roth Spiegelman. With the Paper Towns movie due to come out this June, I figure I’ll go over my experience reading that book, which was certainly a rich one.

I remember reading through the Papertowns book excitedly for a high school book club and getting ready to discuss how marvelous John Green was with whatever book nerds decided to stay after school and discuss the librarian’s latest pick. My heart was nearly broken when a boy I may have had a faint crush on criticized it by mentioning that just like in every single one of John Green’s books, the whole story centered around a teen boy trying to find the puberty-equivalent of enlightenment, by chasing a girl. This was more or less true of each of John’s novel until he came out with The Fault in Our Stars, which had female protagonist Hazel Grace Lancaster focus on the life-and-death struggle young cancer patients go through. I’ll be fair and admit I’d noticed that girl-chasing trend, especially by Papertowns, and that I had worried for that Green did have some sad and sordid sort of high school love life that left his psyche scarred. Ironically, though, Papertowns is all about the peril of idolizing other people, of looking to them for answers they may or may not have.  In fact, considering The Fault in Our Stars was the next novel Green wrote, you could sort of view the novels as a progression towards fully realizing both male and female souls own themselves in a very private, unknowable way, and he doesn’t need to feel so downtrodden over that one high school girlfriend he failed to woo.

I feel that Papertowns has an even greater chance at success than the Fault in Our Stars did. I recall people’s main complaint about the movie being it’s high level of cry-baiting. Emotionallly manipulative, I believe some people who get paid to come up with better terms than I can for movie reviews. Those cry babies can rest easy though, because Papertowns is not about a bunch of terminally ill teenagers. It certainly still goes after some deep themes.

That was the immediate draw for me to John Green. He reached further with his books and the themes therein than most Young Adult books I read. I appreciated feeling like an author was not afraid to discuss issues like the nature of knowledge, the great labyrinth of life, and death with teens on a their level. Green is frighteningly good at capturing the way younger people act, and injecting them with his exponential sense of humor. What’s more, he manages to cover issues that are hugely important for teens to grapple with as they go through the awkward high school years. Papertowns might possibly be one of the best examples of this.

To explain the themes without giving too much away, the title Papertowns refers to a map making companies used to check for copyright infringement. Mapmakers would come up with a fake town name and place it somewhere on their map where no actual town existed, thus ensuring that if they saw any other map with the same town, they’d know they’d been robbed. Green mentions the real world example of Agloe, New York, which was fake until enough confused map users decided to just go and build a town where the map said there was one, thus thwarting the copyright scheme but making making many confused travelers feel better. There you go, creating a fiction to fulfill a need you had, regardless of the inherent dangers and consequences. To get only a little more specific, Margo Roth Spiegelman is a wild girl loved and mooned after by many but when she disappears her friends  are forced to reckon with how little they truly knew her. Protaganist Q,or Quentin, becomes determined to unravel the enigmatic Margo’s disappearance, and hopefully the girl herself as well.

Remembering to view people as their own separate selves, relatively unknowable to you, is an important skill that humans are not born with. While teens are notoriously self-involved, they certainly have greater awareness than prepubescent kids, and thus a greater chance to grasp the notion of other people being their own entities not connected to your own idea of them. Indeed, doesn’t that classic teen cry of “No one understands me!” show teens starting to recognize this disconnect in perhaps the smallest and most angst-ridden of ways? I remember being truly fascinated by the idea when I read the book in my mid-high school stretch. John Green’s books were an invaluable source of entertainment, solace, and advice when I was going my teenage years. I hope that he continues to write books that will give kids the same sort of delightfully funny but honest, earnest look at young people exploring what it means to live with and love other people.

http://www.seventeen.com/entertainment/features/john-green-quotes?src=spr_FBPAGE&spr_id=1442_59072009#slide-9

Pinterest art on Papertowns

Brave New Live Tweet

I’ve tried to become more pro-active on social media since starting this blog. Perhaps you noticed, what with my recent attempt at pinterest. I’ve made myself promise, for the sake of this blog, to take a whack at media I’d never try on my own before. So far, I felt like I was making pretty good on that promise. One medium, though, is something I’ve been approaching with more trepidation than others, the Twitter.

I have an account, as you can probably see in the sidebar, but you can probably also see that I only use it to announce when I have a new blog post out and to retweet funny Onion articles. I really feel like I could be doing more with the medium, is what I’m saying, and so I’m going to try something a little different.

Live tweeting, that’s a thing. I read about it, and read some live tweets. I could maybe do that, and if I couldn’t, at least the internet can be a relatively quiet, anonymous place to fail if you don’t really wow anyone. As long as I don’t fail by hilariously or horribly misappropriating  a hashtag or inadvertently call any famous people a racial slur (it has to be inadvertent. Advertent slurs are a dime a dozen,) then I don’t think too many people will care. There. You know you gave a good pep talk was entirely about how failing won’t necessarily feel so miserable.

Okay, that being established, what will I live tweet? Here’s what made me decide to devote a whole post to this little preview. I think, in lieu of reviewing a book here, I’ll live tweet it. I know, I’m pretty sure that’s not a think either, but here me out. I can’t think of a subject more related to what I’m all about here on this blog. It will be live, as I’m reading it. In many ways, it’ll probably be more accessible than a live tweet of a TV show, movie, or event, because I’ll be picking up a book anyone can, anywhere, at any time. I promise to pick one where spoilers won’t be an issue anyway.

I’m thinking something like poetry or a story collection, because that just feels more tweet friendly, with more places for pauses and ponderings. I’ve included a poll in case anyone is interested in helping me decide what kind of book to live tweet.

It won’t be the same as the more in depth, focused reviews I do here on this blog, hence my reticence towards adopting the media in general, but I do think the idea is interesting enough to give it a try. At the very least, live tweeting a book means I won’t have to leave the house this weekend, and neither do you. I swear, this gray sky weather is turning me into a hermit. Can you be a hermit with a twitter account? Yeah, actually. I’m pretty sure a hermit’s one of the easiest thing to be with a decent internet connection.

Geeking Out

I have some surprisingly miserly instincts that started revealing themselves once I started living on my own. Yesterday I made myself try a carton of milk I hadn’t quite finished that supposedly expired five days ago because dammit when I say I’m done, I’m done. You don’t get to decide for me, milk carton. It ultimately did decide, though, and at least I ultimately spat out the giant mouthful of sour yuck.

Even which my lovely books, which I do almost give priority over food expenses, I get really stingy. What I can’t get in paperback or from the library, even by orders that take weeks, I do try to just furtively flip through, piece by piece in any bookstore that has the desired text on shelf. There are only a few books I’d break those rules for. Just about anything by Neil Gaiman would be one of those groups. Luckily for me, his knew book Trigger Warnings did come out just recently, so I allowed myself to have a really nice weekend.

Making those plans, though, I completely forgot that my darling bookshop Anderson’s made its own plans for the weekend. I’d even read about those plans. Some guy from Pretty Little Liars had popped out a book and was doing an appearance at Anderson’s. Reading the email, I remember thinking the place would surely be swamped by rapid prepubescent girls and that I’d better steer clear of the place. I remember this now. Then I was blinded by the allure of a brand new Gaiman book. Woe is unto me and mine feeble mortal mind. ‘Twould most surely lead me to mine own demise.

Sure enough, I popped in a bit under an hour before the Pretty boy showed up and the place was already swarming with hyped up, love drunk teens and tweens, along with some parents waiting in line to pick up the alleged “book.” It turns out the thing was mostly pictures, as I vaguely suspected. To my ultimate horror, it was easier to find the shelves of that coffee table paperweight than it was to find my precious Neil Gaiman. I looked all over the new release area, to almost no avail, until I finally saw it. The last one on the shelf, it seemed. Be still my heart.

Upon steeling in closer to finally grab the book, I noticed a golden sticker on the corner. On it were some words that just about any bibliophile should be warned of ahead of time, lest they swoon dead away. I was not so prepped, so I think that whatever happened next the fact that I did not lose consciousness was a win. Ready?

“Signed First Addition,” the sticker read. Those words only truly registered after a couple shocked seconds, and then my head did a second or two of radio static. Apparently I had an involuntary muscle response for just this sort of situation because when I finally shifted my attention from that sticker to what my body was doing, I realized I was jumping up and down. It may well have also been that that weird squeaking noise hadn’t just been in my head either. With that realization, I clamped my feet to the ground, my lips shut, and Trigger Warnings to my waiting bosom. My eyes darted around, but no one seemed to have noticed. Of course, I realized  that if anyone had, they’d simply assumed I was just another PLL fan, frothing and geeking out like all the rest over their anticipated bae. The thought made me so unreasonably angry that I wanted to shout to everyone in the bookstore, right there and then, that excuse me but I was here to get excited over a real book so they could all just go home, thank you very much. Luckily, my lips hadn’t disengaged their high security clamp-down yet so I just quietly shuffled to the end of the ridiculously long line of bored dads and gaggling girls.

I felt a bit guilty over my imaginary inflammatory outburst though, as I waited in line. I mean, I could understand why these girls were excited. I’d had my Twilight phase, and even today I might shell out thirty bucks or so for a book that was nothing but selfies and photo spreads of my celebrity crush, (never you mind who that is.) In all likelihood, they would understand my outburst even if they’d learned I was geeking out over some book written by a totes ancient droopy British dinosaur who, like, remembers flip cellphones or whatever. I told myself they would understand, anyway.

Geeks, I ultimately decided upon that fateful day, should be tolerant of other geeks. We all, in the end, just want to love something bigger than ourselves, and for the most part we’ve gone about it more peacefully than many world religions. Just remember everyone, as I probably should from now on, that no matter how grating this or that geek of a fandom you don’t care about is, they have probably never gone straight up genocidal over a perceived disagreement. Probably.

Anyhow, the book itself. Yes. It was definitely worth my involuntary squealing kangaroo impression.  I’ve even read some of these stories before. I didn’t think “The Sleeper and the Spindle” or “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains…” would be as fun or worth reading without the beautiful illustrations hey were originally accompanied by, but I was wrong. I read through both those stories again, and was glad I did so. I did a happy little geek dance again, this time in the privacy of my own room, when I saw he actually included a Doctor Who story, “Nothing O’Clock.” Also,Shadow from American Gods made another welcome appearance as well in “Black Dog.”

My favorite new surprise, though, was probably “Orange,” because of the unique form. Apparently, Gaiman said the story just wouldn’t work until he tried it in the form of a written questionnaire. I’m not sure I want to know what twisted path he took to eventually discover this answer, but I do love the idea, and his actual execution. It compliments his writing’s natural tendencies towards omission for mystique, and now I’m itching to try writing something like that myself.

Oh, and of course his signature is on the title page, in sepia brown ink that clearly came out of a fountain pen. An utter marvel, and well worth that  whole ordeal. The whole thing, I mean… The whole book, that was worth it. Not just his… ah he… never mind. Just buy this book, freak out, and don’t let anyone look at you funny for it.

This Book Has Pictures Though

In Real Life cover courtesy of http://craphound.com/?p=5043

In Real Life cover courtesy of http://craphound.com/?p=5043

This book is something I’ve just read recently and found myself determined to talk or write about to as many people as possible. I feel it shows a trend emerging in literature that gives me great hope for the future. It wasn’t something I even meant to read in the first place, but one of those passing bookshelf encounters that led to a passionate, torrid affair. I’m talking about IRL or In Real Life, written by Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Jen Wang. That’s right. This book has pictures. It’s a graphic novel, to be specific,  and possibly one of the most heartfelt and authentic exploration of online gaming and “real” life I’ve come across yet.

The book follows Anda through a very awkward period in her teenaged-life. She’s moved to an new and unfamiliar school, and soon feels not just homesick but lost in her new life. A constant love for computer and video games leads to her joining an online gaming league promoted by the school, which acts not just as an emotional anchor but as a chance to connect with her peers. Soon, though she realizes her safe haven is an open world, one where she can come into contact with lives just as foreign as the one she finds herself trying to live. When Anda meets a Chinese gold farmer Raymond, she is exposed to an new “real life,” she can barely understand. Raymond works in an office in Shanghai collecting in-game items for gold, which is then illegaly sold to other players for real cash. He has health problems but because of the nature of his work cannot get really fair treatment on the job for his problem. She feels a connection to him because of their shared love of video games, but at the same time can barely comprehend the what Raymond has to endure at his shady job just to escape poverty. Anda’s attempts to connect with and save Raymond show not just her but the reader as well a fascinating, complex web of issues like digital identity, poverty, and globalized interaction. It all packs quite a punch, one meant to get people, especially gamers, thinking.

All this in a young adult book, a comic book no less. We’ve got writers of Adult graphic novels, (some of which I read in my teenage years but I guess we can’t all be wunderkinds,) like Alison Bechdel, Marjane Satrapi and Art Spiegelman using graphic novels as mediums to present the serious issues and sometimes dark stories of their lives, but what about a younger crowd? Well, there’s actually several very promising artists and writers out their making comics and graphic novels with teenagers and young adults in mind.

Some of the better works that pop into my head are American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, or Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. These are just a few of my favorites, but each of these and many more address serious issue like racial, cultural identity, and facing the many strange new choices and changes teenagers face. I know from experience that through the hell that is high school, and yeah sure some of that middle school cesspit as well,  kids are looking for places, things, or people that can show how shared their struggle is perhaps even help them. They could, of course, like Anda, end up finding themselves only by realizing how many people in the world live through struggles they can barely imagine, (unless, perhaps, they pick up a book.)

I also know from experience how many people are intimidated by picking up a book. Reading, why that’s the sort of thing that adults force students to do against their will, they’d exclaim while staring at me with my novel of the week like I was drinking antifreeze. Comics, though, were always “cooler.” They had wicked pictures and often enough, fight scenes or romances, and they didn’t seem to exude the same air of commitment grown up books with no pictures and a teacher glaring at you to read the thing had. Some writers and artists were smart enough to realize the mediums potential for a younger audience and are taking advantage of that, to everyone’s benefit.

Cory Doctorow is a young adult author I’m actually pretty fond of. His books always carried some self-empowering message that made me feel like a super-hero. I’m thinking mainly of the first book I read by him, Little Brother. That’s another one I’ll probably have to cover later because it addressed the patriotic, post 9/11 panic in a way that not only connected to me as a younger person, but made me feel like I could actually have a voice in what course my country took. It also made me want to become a vigilante hacker, but sadly that was years before I could have Chris Hemsworth as a role model and that dream didn’t pan out. I do have a blog though, and am pretty skilled at creeping people on Facebook. Close Enough.

Anyhow, In Real Life specifically is another great addition to the growing bed of evidence that the graphic novel as medium is reaching a renaissance period. I see more and more graphic novels, for adults and young adults alike, coming out and discussing issues that certainly would’ve seemed off limits in the past for the pulpy, “children’s” medium. Not only do comic books not have to be just for children anymore, they don’t have to treat children and youths as simple people looking for simple, mindless comedy or action entertainment.

But Batman can totally stick around if he wants to. There’s always room for the Batman.