Monday, January 28, 2013

Snow, Silence and Northern Hospitality

Skiing is a silent sport. There are no cheering fans, no plays to shout. But when the snow guns are shut off and the wind subdued to a faint whisper, you notice just how tranquil the mountains are; how unscathed.  And as you glide down the slope, spraying white tail feathers behind, you believe there is no place better on the Earth.
I spent the weekend at Sugarbush Mountain Resort in Warren, Vermont, with my family. And each day spent there seemed to improve on the previous. The skies got bluer, the air warmer, and my skiing better. It all really lived up to the mountain's slogan of "Be Better Here.". Although the thermometer at the base never reached past 15 degrees, and the words "Frost bite warning" were scrawled on the chair lift chalkboards, it was a fantastic trip. 
I have never been farther south than the Outer Banks (unless you count Disney World, but I don't) so I have never encountered the fabled Southern Hospitality firsthand. Supposedly, southern people are very mannerly and polite; with a lot of "Pardon me," and "How'd you do ma'am?"
I can vouch for the Northerners though. Although their accents aren't so well pronounced, there is something about these people that make you smile. There's the guy in the ski shop, who's business depends on the three ski months of the year and asks you about your day, or the innkeeper who stops refilling the coffee pot to tell you a shortcut to the mountain. The lift operator who scans your ticket and asks how the snow is. Or the old lady in the art studio who brightens up as soon as the bell jangles on the door because you're the only other being she's seen all day besides her cats.
What is it about small towns that brings out the best in people? The humble Main Streets? The love for the arts? The everybody-knows-everything-about-everybody quality? Their adaptiveness to the extreme cold? Or simply the idea that being kind to others is what it means to be human? What ever it is, I want to wrap it up and carry it back home with me, sprinkle it like fairy dust all over the country- in all of the cardinal directions - so that everyone can dig the good out from within their hearts.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Joy of Packing and Sarcasm

This afternoon I leave for Sugarbush, VT.

But, before we make the trek up north, several things have to be done, and they go like this:

1. Pack
2. And pack
3. And pack some more

And then...

4. Check to make sure you have everything.
5. Check again.
6. And again.

...And even after all of that, I still manage to forget something.

Usually it's nothing too important, or something you can easily buy at that general store around the corner, but still, you forgot something.

To be completely honest, I hate packing. I love the feeling of it, because I know I'm headed someplace great. But I never know how much of something to bring, I can never fit stuff in the bag properly, and, a common failing I believe, is that I can't make desicions. The red shirt or the black one? Small purse or big purse? Jeans or sweatpants? It's terrible.

It has been way too long since I have posted any sort of book review (since Let It Snow I believe). I am currently reading Safe Haven, by Nicholas Sparks. The movie adaption comes to theaters this Valentine's Day. I also made a trip too Barnes & Noble last weekend bearing a gift card. Here's what I left with: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and $2.22 left on my card.

I must be heading out the door now, but I hope to be back tomorrow with thoughts from the Tucker Hill Inn!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm a Big Believer in Metaphor...

Most recently, I have been suffering from an overdose of the teenage-tragedy entitled "high school." In order to relieve the stress that Honors classes so heavily pour on, I've been retreating to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars every night. I read this novel of 313 pages for the first time in one day in the midst of last August, but upon receiving the book for Christmas, I decided to re-read my Best Fiction Novel of 2012 in more depth and understanding.  
I don't plan on reviewing this book again, as I've already done that here, but this will be more of an analysis, more of a thought-provoking post. I will try to make this post as spoiler free as possible, for readers who have not yet read the book.

Sixteen year-old Hazel, a girl diagnosed with Stage IV Thyroid in her lungs, has always felt like she was a grenade ready to blow up, hurting everyone around her; a side-effect of death. When she attends the Cancer Kid Support Group one evening, with her oxygen tank trailing behind, not only does she find friendship in Isaac, a boy soon to go blind, but in Augustus Waters, who is gorgeous, in remission, and just won't stop staring at her. Together, the three will ride "the roller coaster that only goes up", which is one of sickness, health, humor, and love.
Favorite Quotes/Passages
I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once. 
My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations. 
Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. 
He smiled. Gallows humor. "I'm on a roller coaster that only goes up," he said.
"And it is my privilege and my responsibility to ride it all the way up with you," I said.
"Oh, I wouldn't mind Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you."
"They don't kill you unless you light them. And I've never lit one. It's a metaphor, see: you put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do it's killing...I'm a big believer in metaphor, Hazel Grace."
The Stars
It was Shakespeare who said, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves." In John Green's novel, Peter Van Houten goes on to say, "Were she better, or you sicker, the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong..."

From here, the title is derived for the novel, and brings about the idea that humans do not really decide who the make friendships with - or more importantly, who they fall in love with - it is merely the coincidental, and magical crossing of their stars.

The Tulip
The national flower of the Netherlands, is the tulip (my best friend pointed that out happily in Honors History the other day, when our teacher asked what flower was used as currency in Amsterdam, and we both had a little OMG moment where we both whispered, "The Dutch Tulip Man" - read the book and you'll know what I'm talking about, but anyway...) Several references to tulips are seen throughout the book for example, an extinct species of tulip, was called Semper Augustus, and the Netherlands is where Peter Van Houten lives. Click here, to watch John Green talk about tulips on his trip to Amsterdam to do research for the book.

The Hero
Throughout his book, several references are made to "the hero" and the real definition of that word. After Hazel and Augustus meet for the first time, together they watch V for Vendetta whereas Hazel gives us a brief synopsis: “The movie was about this heroic guy in a mask who died heroically for Natalie Portman, who’s pretty badass and very hot and does not have anything approaching my puffy steroid face." This goes on to represent one idea in the meaning of life, that we must "be the hero" in someone else's life - must make a huge difference - in order to be remembered when oblivion finally hits.

In an interview with John Green mentions that The Fault in Our Stars is the only book he has written from the point of view of a female character. This showing the opposition to gender constructs, and the idea that the most important "heroes" in both reality and fiction are male. Superman, Prince Charming, the masked-man in V for Vendetta.

The Universe
During a conversation with her dad, Hazel discusses life after death. Although she wants to believe "we'll all go live in the clouds and play harps and live in mansions", she's not quite sure what to believe. Her Dad then goes on to say that he believes the following:

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is inprobably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?” 

And I interpret that passage to mean that mankind will live on until the universe has been as much "noticed" as it can get. That we have advanced as a culture as far as we can go, conquered our differences, and gotten past the fear of oblivion, because only then will we know the true meaning of life.

For further reading on the metaphors in The Fault in Our Stars, check out TFiOS: The Metatext. Or simply, read the book for yourself (which I highly suggest either way).

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Year, New Books, New Challenges

I've done some browsing over the last week or so, and you wouldn't believe how many blog-hosted reading challenges there are out there. I considered running one of my own, but being still new to the whole book-blog thing, I thought I frankly would not have enough participants.

So, for 2013, I've decided to participate instead of host. I kind of failed at the Historical Fiction challenge for last year, so picked a few that I think are a bit more attainable.

Here we go.

YA Contemporary Challenge 2013 This tends to be the genre I read the most, so I have signed myself up as a Level 2 contender (10+ books). All books read for this challenge must be YA books published at some point during 2013. This challenge, hosted by Katie's Book Blog, also has a group on Goodreads, which lists dozens of titles that fit this category.

A Few I Plan on Reading:

1. The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson
2. Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets,  Evan Roskos
3. Fifteenth Summer, Michelle Dalton
4. Just One Day, Gayle Forman
5. Flowers in the Sky, Lynn Joseph

2013 Women Challenge I read a lot of books written by women, but this year I want to focus on the original, classic, women in literature: the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, etc. For this challenge I have signed up for the "Super Girl" category (11-15 books written by women authors) and it is hosted by Peek-a-Book! if you would like to sign up for yourself.

A Few I Plan on Reading:

1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
2. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
3. Emma, Jane Austen
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Re-Read)

For any of these challenges, you do not need a blog to participate, just simply leave a comment on the host site that you are interested. I am looking forward to a fantastic year, and I hope you are too!