Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Best of 2014: Fiction


Hello! I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays - eating lots of gingerbread and spending lots of time with family. Today, I will be wrapping up my "Best of" posts for 2014. So far, I have posted my Best Nonfiction / Memoir / Autobiography  books and my Best Historical Fiction books of the year. 

In 2014, I read a total of 26 books, or 7,876 pages. I gained several new favorites this year, including Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and The Catcher in the Rye

I re-read several books this year before seeing their movie adaptations on the big screen. The Fault in Our Stars and Mockingjay Part 1 were just two of many Hollywood blockbusters of 2014 that were based on novels. This past year I was also selected to attend a five-day creative writing program at Alfred University, and became the Editor-in-Chief of my high school's literary arts magazine. 

2014 was a great year for books and for me...so without further ado, here are my top 10 Fiction novels of 2014. May the close of 2014 and the arrival of 2015 bring you good luck and good books :)

Top 10 Fiction Novels of 2014

10. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

9. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

8. The Beginning of Everything, Robyn Schneider

7. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D Salinger

6. The Truth About Forever, Sarah Dessen

5. Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

4. Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell

3. The Promise of Amazing, Robin Constantine

2. My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, Stephanie Perkins and Others

1. What I Thought Was True, Huntley Fitzpatrick 
Gwen Castle has never so badly wanted to say good-bye to her island home until now. Cassidy Somers, a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, takes a job on the island as the local yard boy, and Gwen hails from a family of fishermen and house cleaners who keep the island's summer people happy. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true with what really is. (Overview from Goodreads.com)


Read my "Best of Fiction" Lists for 2011, 2012, 2013 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Best of 2014: Historical Fiction


2014 was the year I think I fell in love with history. I have had a really great US History teacher for the past two years, who not only gives us bonus points when he scores over par while playing golf, but whose enthusiasm for the subject has made the AP class comedic and interesting. I also discovered Downton Abbey and Midnight in Paris this year, a TV show and a movie that have helped me realize that the period from 1915-1945 is my favorite to read about. Historical fiction is certainly the type of novel I could see myself writing in the future.  

Of the historical fiction novels I read this year, here are the top six. It was a tight race for the #1 spot!

Top Historical Fiction of 2014: 

6. The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty

5. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

4. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

3. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

2. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler

1. The Paris Wife, Paula McLain   (Scored 28/30)
The Paris Wife fictionalizes the time Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, spent in Paris during the 1920s.  McLain writes Hadley in a genuine voice that is honest and kind. Hadley captivated me with the simple lens through which she looked at life, and the true feelings she had those around her. McLain's style is historically accurate and detailed, allowing the reader to walk the streets of Paris alongside the main characters. (Read my full review here)


Also read, my "Best of'" Historical fiction in 20112012, 2013 

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Best of 2014: Autobiography / Memoir / Nonfiction


It's that time of year! Yes, it is the time for some good Christmas cheer, but also for naming the best books of the year. My "Best of"lists for 2014 will be posted over the course of three days, so be sure to check back tomorrow for my top historical fiction novels of the year.

Top Autobiographies, Memoirs, and Nonfiction of 2014: 

4. Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the United States, Nell Irvin Painter

3. Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass

2. Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell

1. Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala (Scored: 25/30)
Wave is the story of Sonali Deraniyagala, who was vacationing with her family in Sri Lanka during Christmas, week of 2004. On December 26th, a tsunami and earthquake occurred, consuming her hotel in waves. Deraniyagala lost her parents, husband, and sons to the tsunami...she writes in an unsentimental prose that is intimate and angry...Wave  is dark and haunting, and yet vividly sprinkled with light - making her story of recovery universal and hopeful. (Read my full review here)


More "Best of" Lists from Around the Web:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Movie vs. The Book: Mockingjay Part 1

"Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!" 

On November 21st, Mockingjay Part 1, based on the bestselling third book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, opened in theaters. 

All of the fan-favorite actors and actresses returned to play their leading roles, but a few new additions needed to be made. Natalie Dormer joined the cast to play Cressida, as well as Julianne Moore to play President Coin. 

The following are some differences between the film adaptation and the book - some for the better, and some for the worse. If you have not yet read Mockingjay, please be aware because... SPOILER ALERT. 

  1. Effie Trinket makes an appearance in District 13 very early in the movie, unlike in the book where she does not appear until the end. I whole-heartedly believe in this change because 1) by replacing Katniss's three stylists, Effie works as a symbol for even greater change within the rebellion, as now even Capitol people are siding with the rebels and 2) her silly humor and clueless attitude  would be greatly missed. 
  2. In the book, before Katniss consents to becoming the symbol of the rebellion, the "Mockingjay", she negotiates with President Coin three important demands: her sister Prim gets to keep her cat, the tributes captured by the Capital will be given immunity upon their rescue, and she gets to kill President Snow. In the movie, quite surprisingly, Katniss only asks for the first two demands, leaving out the request to kill Snow. Because of this, Mockingjay Part 2 could possibly take on a very different plot, giving the book's controversial ending a chance to change.
"Are you, are you
Coming to the tree?
Wear a necklace of hope, side by side with me. 
Strange things did happen here 
No stranger would it be
If we met at midnight in the hanging tree."


Not only is the scene where Katniss sings the song "The Hanging Tree" my favorite part of the movie, but also the part I believe was the most well done. Jennifer Lawrence gives the song a jazzy feel that is both catchy and haunting, causing her voice to echo in your head long after the movie is over. The song continues to play during the two following scenes, scenes that were added in full to the movie whereas they were only hinted at in the book. These two scenes show other Districts joining in the fight against the Capitol - by destroying a dam and attacking a troop of Peacekeepers, the citizens of Panem are shown to be strong and fierce. 

One thing I will criticize is the relationship between Katniss and Gale, it seems forced, and is arguably nonexistent. Although fans of Liam Hemsworth will be happy to see him finally get some well-deserved action, he is still portrayed as a wounded boy waiting for Katniss to realize she is in love with him (readers of the book will realize this is useless).  

Overall, I believe Mockingjay Part 1 did justice to the book, and did a good job setting up the expected more epic and action packed Part 2 which is scheduled for release in November 2015.


Monday, November 10, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
530 pages

"Could they hide here until the war ends? Until the armies finish marching back and forth above their heads, until all they have to do is push open the door and shift some stones aside and the house has become a ruin beside the sea? Until he can hold her fingers in his palms and lead her out into the sunshine? He would walk anywhere to make it happen, bear anything; in a year or three years or ten, France and Germany would not mean what they meant now."   -page 473

France 1944. A sightless sixteen-year-old girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc is curled up beneath her bed, listening as the Americans shower bombs over her beloved ocean, her town, her house.  The roar of explosives is deafening in her ears, her body shakes. Down the street, an eighteen-year old German private named Werner Pfennig sits in a hotel cellar, one hand on his rife, the other on the radio transceiver he invented. He thinks of his younger sister Jutta, so gentle and pure. He thinks that it is impossible to ever know if he is doing the right thing.

All the Light We Cannot See begins in the year 1934, exploring the early childhoods of both Marie-Laure and Werner, two children who are so different, yet still so alike. When the war begins, Marie-Laure and her father flee from Paris to Saint-Malo, where her reclusive great-uncle lives in a large house by the sea. Although blind, she becomes infatuated with sea urchins, snails, and Jules Verne novels. Hundreds of miles away, Werner lives at an orphanage with his sister in the German mining town of Zollverein. Every night, they listen to a radio program hosted by a French scientist. Soon, his intelligence and expertise at building and fixing earns him a place in the Hitler Youth.
Both stories converge later in the novel, when Werner arrives in Saint-Malo, and everything he has been taught, is flipped on its head. Phrases he has memorized - Führer, folk, fatherland. Steel your body, steel your soul. Eat country and breathe nation - no longer seem to have any importance (137, 257).

The radio is an extremely important element in the novel, in fact, it is arguably the single object that the entire novel revolves around. Werner carries one with him practically in every chapter, and although it is illegal, Marie-Laure and her great-uncle have secretly kept one in their attic, from which they broadcast music and messages to give people hope during the Nazi-occupation. Monsieur Droguet wants his daughter to know that he is recovering well. Madame Labas sends word that her daughter it pregnant (346, 406).
"Everything has led to this: the death of his father; all those restless hours with Jutta listening to the crystal radio in the attic...four hundred dark, glittering nights at Schulpforta building transceivers for Dr. Hauptman...Everything leading to this moment" (338).
All the Light We Cannot See, although too slow-moving at the beginning, is expertly sequenced, so that each scene, like Werner says, accelerates and crashes epically into the most important moment.

Anthony Doerr explores the Earth's greatest paradoxes throughout the novel. Light and dark. War and peace. Life and death. Beauty and destruction. All are interwoven themes that present themselves through Doerr's careful blend of science and history. His beautifully crafted, draw-dropping sentences prance across each page:
“What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father recreated in his models... None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes” (452).
All the Light We Cannot See - part science, part history, part love story - intricately presents the idea that even in the darkest of times, in the most unexpected of villains, light and goodness still exists.
“What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible” (48).
All the Light We Cannot See has spent 26 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller's List, and is currently in the running for a 2014 Goodreads Choice Award.

UPDATE: All the Light We Cannot See has been named by The New York Times one of the 10 Best Books of the Year.

Story Line - 6/10
Narrator's Voice - 10/10
Writing Style - 10/10

Overall - 26/30

Monday, October 6, 2014

Thin Yet Thick: The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien
233 pages

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”   (page 36)

In Vietnam, Tim O'Brien and the other members of Alpha Company carried dog tags, two or three canteens of water, and love letters. They carried pocket knives and canned peaches. Plastic ponchos and comic books. An M-60 machine gun and an illustrated New Testament. Grenades and M&Ms. They carried fear, they carried each other. They carried what they could bear, and then some - including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried  (page 7).
 
The Things They Carried is a fictional story based on O'Brien's experiences during the Vietnam War. The novel is broken into short story-like chapters, with titles such as "The Man I Killed", "The Lives of the Dead", and "How to Tell a True War Story".

"How to Tell a True War Story" is the most important part of the novel, as it sets up the message for the rest of the story. This idea of telling a "true story", becomes quite the paradox, considering that all of the stories in this novel are not true. What O'Brien explains though, is that it is not the facts of the stories that make them true, but rather, it is the emotions they convey.
“I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.”  (page 171)
In reading this for my AP English class, I realized that unlike in many other novels, what stands out to the reader of is not the well-developed characters, or the suspenseful plot, (although those two are true as well) but the writing itself. The writing is what is in the spotlight, and more specifically the rhetorical techniques that develop the tone and themes of the novel.  

Short sentences, metaphors, similes, juxtaposition and intense imagery all work together to create O'Brien's interesting style. The use of metaphors and similes also work to connect the reader to the author's experiences. When I was at Alfred University over the summer, the most important writing lesson I took away was the importance of reader participation. Writers can write a story - can write from personal experience or personal emotions - but what makes good writing differ from great writing is whether it explores of the reader to understand, think about, and question that experience that for them is in no way personal.

This idea of reader participation is imperative to The Things They Carried, as the disconnect between author and reader is large, due to the majority of O'Brien's audience having no idea what it feels like to stand in the middle of a battlefield made of rice paddies. He is successful in this quest, through passages like the following:
"They're pretty fried out by now, and one night they start hearing voices. Like at a cocktail party. That's what it sounds like, this big swank  cocktail party somewhere out in fog...They hear the actual martini glasses...all very civilized, except this isn't civilization. This is Nam."  (page 70)
Through metaphor, the reader is immediately connecting the men's hallucinations on the battlefield to a front parlor room they know well, one filled their friends, and the smell of alcohol stinging their noise. The reader can relate, even if just for a little while.

I have called The Things They Carried a "Thin Yet Thick" read, because even though it is only 233 pages long, it packs quite the punch. It's a novel about war, but its also more than that. It's about friendships and enemies, beauty and sacrifice, love and hate, life and death. I'll leave you with three more quotes (my favorites):

“War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”   (page 76)
 “I'm skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story.”   (page 233)
 “But this too is true: stories can save us.”   (page 213)

The Things They Carried was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 1991, and in February 2014, the book was included in Amazon.com's list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.

Story Line - 7/10
Narrator's Voice - 7/10
Writing Style - 10/10

Overall - 24/30
 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On My Nightstand: August



 
{“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably." -C.S Lewis}
 
Hello! It's been a little while, but I am here this week to share what I am currently reading, interested in, and working on this August.
 
Currently Reading
I am currently reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell as part of my AP English summer reading requirement for the upcoming year. The nonfiction story of success has spent 166 weeks so far on the NY Times Best Sellers List.
 
In Outliers, Gladwell argues that it has become no longer enough to look at what a successful person is like, but rather, in order to understand their rise to the top fully, we must look at where these people are from: their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Throughout the book, the author reveals why no star hockey players are born in the fall, why Asians are good at math, and that Bill Gates and the Beatles are more alike than we realize.
 
Interested In
As a blogger, I've learned that it's important to be active within the blogging community. Therefore, not only do I write my own posts, but I read lots of others as well. Sites like Feedly, Bloglovin', and Blogher allow readers to follow numerous Internet blogs, and store them all in one organized location. (You can find and follow Off The Shelf on all of these sites!) 
 
Most of the blogs I read daily deal with books of course, but I also follow a large collection of food blogs. As you already know, I really love to bake. Cookies, bars, brownies, muffins, breads - you name it! I was drawn to all of these sites because of their fabulous photography, quirky and fun writing, and easy to follow recipes.
 
Here are some of my favorites:
 
Working On
Although NaNoWriMo is not until November, I've been working on a story of my own since the spring. I honestly haven't written much past the exposition, but I've got most of it planned out in my head. I've written other novel-sized work before, but this time has been different, as I've realized my writing has become stronger. Here are some other things I've noticed:
 
1. I am the type of writer who writes novels and stories out of order instead of chronologically. If I am stumped as to what comes next after a scene I have just written, I don't sit around and wait for the inspiration to pop, instead, I'll write a scene that I know might happen chapters away. When I attended the writing program at Alfred University this summer, I learned that I am not the only one who writes this way. In fact, I met people who write their stories backwards even, starting with the end, and working towards the beginning!

2. Research is so completely necessary! This story is my first attempt at historical fiction, so I'm learning how to write in this genre as I go. It's been difficult, as I've realized that even the little details have to fit historical context if the characters, setting and plot are going to be believable to the reader. And then, because the Internet is just so damn distracting, I have found myself doing more searching and clicking than actually writing!

3. A good pen seriously makes all the difference. It sounds silly, but a really nice pen makes me really happy. Being left-handed, I always tend to shy away from pen when possible, as blotchy ink always gets smeared by my hand when I write. Finding a pen with ink that doesn't blotch or stay wet too long is very hard, but when I do find one, remembering where I put it is even harder :)


On My Nightstand: March, June

Monday, July 28, 2014

Midsummer Muse

{Lake view from a hammock}

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”     -F. Scott Fitzgerald
 
I almost named this post "Mid-Summer Blues", given that I've been a bit down recently. I suppose it's because I've just gotten all four of my wisdom teeth removed, that I just finished Jojo Moyes' extremely sad Me Before You (review coming soon), and that I've realized that the summer is already half-over.

Don't get me wrong, I've been having a wonderful summer so far - reading lots, kayaking a bit, sleeping in, and venturing out. But still, I can't seem to shake the feeling that with every day that passes, I'm inching closer and closer to what is supposedly the toughest school year yet.
 
In spite of all that, there are several small things making me happy as the hot days of July come to a close. For example, J.K Rowling recently released a new Harry Potter short story that surmises Harry and his friends' post-Hogwarts lives. At thirty-four-years-old "there are a couple threads of silver in the famous Auror's black hair" and he is happily married to Ginny Weasley, who is now a sports journalist for the Daily Prophet. The story was posted on Pottermore, and has since left many readers wondering if more short stories will follow anytime soon.
 
A writer on the Barnes & Noble Book Blog acknowledged that feminism is finally on the rise in literature. The interesting article discussed that two of the most recent book series bestsellers, The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies, and their box office adaptions have paved the way for the strong, female protagonist. The female authors of these books also wrote under their real names, unlike J.K Rowling (Harry Potter) and Lemony Snicket (Series of Unfortunate Events) who wrote their work under gender-neutral pseudonyms so that their books could be marketed to both boy and girl audiences. The writer for B&N wrote, "One could be a fluke, and two an anomaly, but three or more is a pattern. More than a pattern, even: a sea change. What’s going on here? Why is the kickass heroine ascendant? And where literature leads, does culture follow?"

I'm sitting here writing with my headphones in. Sam Smith's Nirvana is currently flowing through the wires and into my ears, and as I listen to the lyrics and the taps of my fingers on the keys and the post-thunderstorm winds rustling the leaves on the trees, I'm beginning to feel better. I honestly didn't know what "nirvana" meant when I first heard the song, only knowing that I liked the beat of the music, but I have since looked it up: Nirvana (n) - (in Buddhism) a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self.  I suppose its a sort of afterlife, but it also reminds me that we each wish to be happy. But also that despite how much we work to be happy, worrying about a new school year for example that hasn't yet begun makes happiness harder and harder to obtain.

Happiness is this ever hopeful goal that comes and goes and never lasts quite long enough. I believe the summer is the best time in which to be happy, and when we look back, its the season where we will find some of our happiest moments. No matter how small these moments of happiness are, (even as simple as reading about Harry again) or how petty (jumping into the pool with a group of friends on the count of 1,2,3...), when remembered, they will no doubt bring about a smile.
 
And I believe Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway was right when he said that with the coming of summer we all begin anew, because the summer is always a time for discovering ourselves in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. This was true for me, as I found myself becoming a better writer, as well as better educated in the literary field when I attended Alfred University's Creative Writing Program a few weeks ago. Summer is also a time for discovering a new favorite ice cream flavor, for finally reading that new bestseller, or for getting that new haircut so that when school rolls around you feel like a different person. Summer only lasts two short months, but nonetheless, it could be two of the best.
 
Reading this over, I've realized this post has gone in an entirely different direction (tacky inspirational direction) than I had originally intended, but hey, sometimes writing does that. I'm okay with it, and I hope you are as well :)
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life After Life

Life After Life
Kate Atkinson
544 pages

"Ursula found it very odd to think that up above there were bombers being flown by men...They weren't evil, they were just doing what had been asked of them by their country. It was war itself that was evil, not men.    -page 411
 
Ursula Todd is born on a cold and snowy night in 1910. She dies before she can take her first breath. No sooner does she die, that she is born again, on the same cold and snowy night, in the same English country home. Ursula continues to die, in varies ways and at varies ages throughout her life, but just as soon as darkness falls over her, Ursula is reborn, allowing her to live an infinite number of lives. As the 20th century barrels towards it's second cataclysmic world war, Ursula's seemingly unusual lifestyle may give her the power to save the world from its destructive destiny.
 
Kate Atkinson's Life After Life deals with the delicate idea of choices, and it argues that even the individual's smallest choices, can shape the face of history. But is the author right? It seems silly to believe that my choice of chocolate over vanilla will have some sort of worldly effect, but with more pointed decisions, like the one below that refers to Hitler, it is possible to be persuaded by Atkinson's argument.  
“'He was born a politician.' said Eva. No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become.”  
The novel marches itself thoroughly through many of the early 20th century's most historic moments: World War I, the roaring 20s, the Spanish Influenza, and the Blitz of the United Kingdom in World War II. Atkinson assumes from the beginning of the story that the reader knows a certain amount of historical context, and therefore does not provide a grand overview. But rather, she uses the narrative technique of in medias res, which means "in the midst", to throw the reader right into the setting,  using small details to reveal time and place.
 
I was curious though, so part way through the novel I found myself doing a bit of research on  England throughout the 1900s (Wikipedia is good at times like these).  Since I have now done some background reading, I can tell you that Atkinson's historical details are spot on, and her short fragmented style of writing allows the reader to feel the disjointed chaos of the time period.
 
The Blitz of 1940-41 consisted of over one-hundred German facilitated air-raids on the United Kingdom. The bombings were strategic, targeting London a total of 71 times, and other important cities ten or more. A good portion of the novel takes place during these years, and Ursula volunteers in the recovery squad that helped to locate and help survivors. Ursula herself dies in one of these attacks, even though she'd been hiding in an underground bomb shelter.
 
I love how novels can teach you so much, and maybe that's why I'm drawn to historical fiction time and time again. I love going into history class and already knowing lots about a particular time period because of something I have read. Sylvie, Ursula's mother, seems to agree...
“Sylvie’s knowledge, like Izzie's, was random yet far-ranging, ‘The sign that one has acquired one’s learning from reading novels rather than an education…”
I found the story a bit slow moving during certain moments, perhaps I found this so because since Ursula keeps living her life over and over again, many of the same events are revisited several times. This would be my only major complaint of the book, other than that the multiple lives were at times difficult to follow.
 
Along with its strong sense of setting, Life After Life also exhibits very strong characters. Often  in novels, the main character's family is pushed to the background, remaining mysterious and static to the reader. In this book however, the Todd family is very much the opposite. Ursula's siblings: Maurice, Pamela, Teddy, and Jimmy are very much alive and prominent. Their story is told alongside Ursula's in away that is believable and impactful. In fact, without them, there would be very little story at all. Ursula's infinite resurrections allow her to not only try to save the world from pain and suffering, but also the people she loves as well.   
 
Life After Life is a complicated, but smartly written novel, aimed at deepening the reader's perspective of history, choices and fate, and the idea that life can offer so much, if we allow it.
“'What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn't that be wonderful?'”  
 
Life After Life was the winner of the 2013 Goodreads Historical Fiction Choice Award and was named one of The New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2013.

Story Line - 7/10
Narrator's Voice - 8/10
Writing Style - 8/10

Overall - 23/30
 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
Paula McLain
314 pages
"We were all on the verge now, bursting with youth and promise and little trills of jazz...Girls everywhere stepped out of their corsets and shortened their dresses and darkened their lips and eyes...Youth, in 1921, was everything."  -page 40

Hadley Richardson expected her trip to Chicago to be simple - as she was a simple girl with simple wishes. What she did not expect however, was to fall madly in love with Ernest Hemingway. After a speedy courtship and wedding, the newlyweds set sail for Paris, where the Jazz Age has already swept what becomes known as the "Lost Generation" right up into its chaos. Once there, Ernest throws himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises while Hadley struggles to balance the roles of friend, wife, and muse. All too soon, a deception more complicated  than either of them could have imagined, blows the marriage they had built on loyalty and love, to pieces.

My reading of The Paris Wife was another side effect of my addiction to Jazz Age-America and Paris. It was an extremely important decade for women, and so much great literature and art arose from the joy and frivolity that followed World War I. I often wonder if I would have had the guts to sneak into a speakeasy for a shot of vodka, or the self-confidence to light up a cigarette with other women loving the freedom of hiking up our skirts past our ankles.

The Paris Wife is the second novel I have read (the first being Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald) that tells the story of the wife of one of America's greatest writers. Both novels explore the creative conflicts that occurred within each couple and detail the time period vividly. Although someday I hope to be a great writer myself, and not just the wife of one, both novels give an eye opening account of what it's like to live in literature's circle.

I almost missed Paula McLain's author's note at the very back of the book, it was not until I began to write this review that I found it, and now I'm quite glad I did. McLain makes it clear that The Paris Wife is a work of fiction, therefore making Hadley and Ernest fictional characters, but she also notes that she tried to make them as true to themselves as possible. The author mentioned that she did not travel to Paris to do research, but rather did not make the trip until after the book was published. The best part of the trip she said, was standing below the window of 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, the apartment where Ernest and Hadley lived together throughout their years in Paris.

Hadley Richardson's voice is authentic and engaging throughout the novel. She captivated me with the simple lens through which she looked at life, and the genuine feelings she had for those around her. Cameos from other literary figures such as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and the Fitzgeralds, can be read throughout the novel, but McLain makes a clear distinction between Hadley and these famous characters. Hadley was content with living her life, rather than making an extraordinary one, as people like Ernest and F. Scott Fitzgerald were obsessed with. McLain does an excellent job in juxtaposing these too separate views, and encircles the plot around it in a way that leads to the dissolution of the Hemingways' marriage.

Hadley divorced Ernest in 1927, even though she was still in love with him, after struggling with their differences and upon learning of his affair with Pauline Pfeiffer. She says, "He had four wives altogether...It was sometimes painful for me to think that to those who followed his life with interest, I was just the early wife, the Paris wife" (page 311).

But then, a few lines later she notes, in what is my favorite quote of the novel:

"We knew what we had and what it meant...and there was nothing like those years in Paris, after the war. Life was painfully pure and simple and good, and I believe Ernest was his best self then. I got the very best of him. We got the best of each other."

The novel had a much sadder ending than I had expected, and I was left feeling both happy that Hadley had found love after Ernest, but extremely upset that happiness had never found Ernest. The ending of The Paris Wife becomes all the more heart-wrenching, when noting that in the last few pages of Ernest's memoir, A Moveable Feast, he writes of Hadley, "I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her."


The Paris Wife was the winner of the 2011 Best Historical Fiction Goodreads Choice Award and was named one of the Best Books of the Year by People Magazine, NPR and The Chicago Tribune.


Story Line - 9/10
Narrator's Voice - 10/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 28/30

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Movie vs. The Book: The Fault in Our Stars

"I believe we have a choice in this world...about how to tell sad stories. On the one hand, you can sugarcoat it. Where nothing is too messed up that it can't be fixed with a Peter Gabriel song. I like that version as much as the next girl does. It just isn't the truth. This is the truth."
 
After months of waiting, I saw The Fault in Our Stars movie on opening night with some friends. The theater was so crowded that they had to turn many people in line behind us away!

Hazel Grace Lancaster was played by Shailene Woodley (Divergent), Augustus Waters was played by Ansel Elgort, their friend Isaac by Nat Woolf, and Mr. and Mrs. Lancaster by Sam Trammell and Laura Dern respectively.

Above are the opening lines to the movie, and right away Hazel tells the viewer that this is not your traditional love story. My friends agreed that this was one of the best parts of the movie because it makes the story more real, and less Nicholas Sparks-esque where everything is made better with an apology in the rain and a dramatic kiss.
 
Here are a few small differences between the book  by John Green and the movie:
  1. Hazel's friend Kaitlyn and Gus's ex-girlfriend Caroline Mathers do not appear in the movie. Although Kaitlyn had a small role in the book, she offers a view into just how removed Hazel is from a normal teenage lifestyle. Caroline, who dies of brain cancer before the novel begins, has a pivotal role because she weighs heavily on Hazel's mind as she wonders what effect her death had on Gus.
  2. No V for Vendetta. When Hazel and Gus first meet at support group, Gus invited her to his house to watch the movie and in in the book, Hazel summarizes it by saying: "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." The plot of the movie symbolizes Gus's obsession with heroism, and his quest to live a meaningful life.
  3. The ending. Very small changes are made, but they were definitely for the better. Unfortunately I can't explain it any more than that because...SPOLIER ALERT.
My favorite part of the movie was Hazel and Augustus's dinner in Amsterdam at Oranjee.  The movie did not show the flowering trees, or have them sit by the canal, but Gus still professes his love in the best way possible ("I'm in love with you, and I'm not in the business of denying myself the pleasure of saying true things.") and my favorite lines from the novel were delivered by their Dutch-accented waiter perfectly:
 
"Do you know what Dom Perignon said when he invented champagne? Come quickly! I am tasting the stars!"  and a moment later he adds "We have bottled all of the stars for you this evening, my young friends."
 
The reason Hazel and Gus travel to Amsterdam is so that Hazel can find out from her favorite author what happens at the end of his novel, An Imperial Affliction which ends mid-sentence. It can be inferred that it ends this way because the main character, Anna, has died, but Hazel wants the author to tell her what happens to Anna's mother, the Dutch Tulip Man, and Anna's pet hamster.
 
Watching the movie helped me to realize that Hazel needs these answers because An Imperial Affliction is representative of her own life - she needs to know that the people closest to her will be okay, will continue to live a happy life, after she is gone.
 
So, you might be thinking, "Bridget, why do you love this book so much?! You've done so many blog posts about it! It's time to write about something else!" That is true. (There are a plethora of posts by the way :)).
 
The answer to your question comes in two parts: 1) It's romantic. While watching the movie, I  couldn't keep the giddy fangirl smile off of my face during all of the gushy parts. 2) I love this book, and John Green (my friends say that if he was a 16 year old boy, they would all swoon after him in a heartbeat) for that matter, because he somehow knows how to combine all of those smart, deeply meaningful metaphors with the hilarity and reality of being a teenager. The Fault in Our Stars somehow manages to express everything I love about writing - the symbolism, the emotion, the ability to make a reader think and feel a certain way - in a style that is captivating, yet loose. It's a sad story, but not a sad book. TFiOS celebrates life, and the beauty that can be found within it, if we choose to look.
 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

On My Nightstand: June



 
 
{An odd mix of classic literature and blockbuster contemporary}
 
Currently Reading
I am currently reading The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. I went to the bookstore (in fact, I drove to the bookstore :)) a few weeks ago hoping to buy something in particular, but ended up coming out with something entirely different. I bought The Chaperone because of it's beautiful cover and of course because of the ever-deciding factor: the blurb on the back, which in a brief summary states:
 
Cora Carlisle, a traditional woman from Kansas, has volunteered to chaperone the beautiful, yet arrogant 15 year old, Louise Brooks to New York City. Louise is on her way to becoming the silent-film star of a generation, with her famous black bob with blunt bangs and lack of respect for convention. Cora has her own reasons for making the trip, but the five weeks the two spend together promise to change their lives forever. Set in the 1920s and drawing on the events of Prohibition and the movement for women's rights, The Chaperone beautifully illustrates women in this pivotal era.

Interested In
I am so excited to FINALLY go see The Fault in Our Stars movie tomorrow! I feel like I have been waiting for it forever, as after I read (and reviewed) (and read again) the book in 2012, I thought it would make a great movie. And now here it is! Just one day away! My friends and I can't wait to wear our TFiOS t-shirts, quote lines from the book along with the movie, and gush about how perfect Augustus Waters is (and of course, his metaphorically resonant cigarette).

Lately, I've been spending far too much time reading news articles about the book/movie. Here are some that I found interesting:

Video: On the TFiOS Blue Carpet - Today Show Interview
'The Fault in Our Stars' By the Numbers: Just How Huge Is This Movie Going to Be?
'Fault in Our Stars' Author John Green: Why He's 'Freaking Out' About Hollywood Success
 
Working On
Not even ten minutes ago, I concluded my research paper on Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. The assignment was to write a literary criticism about a classic novel of our choice.  I discussed throughout my paper, how Woolf uses the distant Lighthouse as a symbol for the meaning of life that humans are always trying to somehow reach. Unlike other students in my English class, I enjoyed writing this paper, as it gave me a chance to analysis this book at a deeper level, and to learn new things about literature.

Here's my favorite passage from To the Lighthouse:
 
 "What is the meaning of life? That was all - a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark..." -Lily Briscoe, page 161


Friday, May 16, 2014

Wave

Wave
Sonali Deraniyagala
273 pages

Wave is the story of Sonali Deraniyagala, who was vacationing with her family in Sri Lanka during Christmas week of 2004. On December 26th, a devastating tsunami and earthquake occurred in the Indian Ocean and her hotel in Yala was consumed by waves. Deraniyagala lost her parents, husband, and sons to the tsunami, and Wave is her incomprehensible story of recovery.

For independent reading in English, we had to choose a memoir to read on our own. I came across several titles that took my interest - Half Broken Horses, Eat Pray Love, and A House in the Sky. Honestly, I choose Wave because it was the only one available at my local bookstore. Looking back now, I guess you could say it was some sort of sign, that this was the only book in-stock, as if the store was shouting: "This is the book you MUST choose."

Wave is relatively short by normal memoir standards, but a lot is packed into so few pages. Deraniyagala covers the events that occurred on December 26th, 2004 with detail and raw emotion. She reflects on the confusion of the aftermath, but the majority of the book chronicles her long struggle to come to terms with her unimaginable loss.
 
Deraniyagala writes with in an unsentimental prose that is intimate,  full of anger, and painful. She regularly flashes back to a moment before the tsunami - a moment from her childhood, a moment with her children in their London home, the moment she met her husband. Although Deraniyagala is a researcher of economic development and public affairs at the University of London and Columbia University, she writes with a beautiful voice many English scholars would envy.
 
This memoir contained many unforgettable passages, but for me, the most impactful one was:
"I stubbed out cigarettes on my hands. I didn't smoke, I only burned them into my skin. Again and again. My boys. I don't have them to hold. What do I do with my arms?" (page 43)
 
Deraniyagala understandably struggles with the definition of a mother. Throughout the memoir, she searches for the answer to the question, "If the death of my children comes before my own, am I still a mother?" She comes to realize however that nothing, not even death, can take this identity away from her.
 
Wave is dark and haunting, and yet vividly sprinkled with light - making this story of one woman's recovery from the greatest loss, utterly incomprehensible.
 
 
 

Story Line - 8/10
Narrator's Voice - 8/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 25/30

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mrs. Weasley's Got Nothing on My Mom

"'Mummy, have you seen my jumper?'
'Yes dear it was on the cat.'"

-Ginny and Mrs. Weasley, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Although Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter books is undoubtedly the Best Book Mom Ever, I think my mom might be #1 on the real-life list.

Mrs. Weasley has always been one of my favorite characters from the Harry Potter books. I loved the way she would sit in the kitchen and watch Mr. Weasley's clock hand move from "At work" to "Traveling" to "Home", the way she knitted family jumpers for all of her children plus Harry, and how she made her family home the coziest place.

Some of my favorite moments from the books take place in the Weasley's home, The Burrow. Harry even agreed, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when he says "This is the best house I've ever been in." Many of my favorite memories also take place in my own home. My mom has always made it a welcoming, comfortable, and safe place to be. I love when she and I play board games on the dining room table, or when we sit downstairs together in front of the fireplace to watch a movie.

Mrs. Weasley was given some of the funniest lines in the books. The above quote is from the second movie, and is definitely my favorite. And then there is her most memorable moment, when upon saving Ginny, and killing Bellatrix Lestrange she shouts: "Not my daughter you BITCH!", in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Whether we realize it or not, mothers are often the bravest, and strongest people in our lives. I guess because I'm older now, I've learned to see just how brave and strong my own mother is.

I, unlike Ron, do not have to be told to go de-gnome the garden, or to stop playing Quidditch in the yard, but I do have to empty to dishwasher and clean my room. And although I don't like doing either of those things, my chores really are such small tasks compared to what my mom does every day, and she doesn't even have a magic wand to make it easier.

And although I might look a bit more like Mrs. Weasley, being a red-haired girl, my mom and I are more alike than I sometimes think. We are both take-charge kind of people, outgoing, and caring - and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

So, on this Mother's Day, I pay tribute to Mrs. Weasley and my own mother, who both, in very different ways , and in very different capacities, have taught me such important lessons.

"'If anyone's got a right to know it's Harry. If it wasn't for him we wouldn't even know Voldemort was back! He's not a child, Molly!'
'He's not an adult either! He's not James, Sirius.'
'He's not your son.'
'He's as good as! Who else has he got?'"

-Sirius Black and Mrs. Weasley, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Friday, April 11, 2014

An Exploration of Spine Poetry

I first saw spine poetry a few days ago, when the Strand Bookstore posted a picture of a creation on their Instagram in celebration of National Poetry Month. Since April 1st, they have been posting a new spine poem everyday.

I have since discovered that "spine poetry", a poem made up completely of book titles, is quite a popular thing. They are all over many book blogs, Tumblr, and Pinterest - so I decided to dive into my bookshelf, and try some of my own!
 
 
Here Today,
Forget Me Not
When Broken Glass Floats.
 
It ended up being harder than I thought, as after throwing a bunch of books that I thought made sense together into a stack, I realized the poem they created made no sense whatsoever! I found myself wanting to cheat a couple of times, thinking if only this book had a "the" in the title, or this one needs a different verb tense. But part of the challenge was making what you have already work, so I refrained from changing anything.
 
A couple of tries, and one very messy room later, I came up with two poems I liked. Though this process was difficult, I was reminded of the freedom of poetry. Unlike novel writing, poems are written in phrases, with little to no grammatical structure. At the Teen Arts Festival last month, one of the speakers said, "Poems are a snippet of time. A very brief moment." So in my exploration here of spine poetry, I tried to capture a moment.

 
 
A Long Way Gone,
The Summer I Learned to Fly
Riding Freedom
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Such a Rush,
The Beginning of Everything.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Movie vs. The Book : Divergent

"Fear does something strange to people, but not you. Fear doesn't shut you down, it wakes you up."
 
On Friday, I saw Divergent in the theater with a few friends. I read the three-book series by Veronica Roth this past fall. (I reviewed the first and third book a few months ago)
 
Divergent is the story of Tris Prior, who lives in what is supposed to be a very Utopian-like Chicago. The people of Chicago are divided into five factions: Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the peaceful), Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest) and Dauntless (the brave).  Upon turning 16, Tris and others must decide which faction they belong to. For Tris, she must decide between her family, and the chance to discover who she really is.
 
Tris Prior is played by Shailene Woodley, her brother Caleb by Ansel Elgort, Four by Theo James, and Christina by Zoe Kravitz.
 
Before seeing the movie, I had read an interview with Shailene Woodley in Teen Vogue Magazine where she talked about why she decided to join the cast of Divergent. She said that her decision was made after she read the script where she discovered the story taught important lessons and values: standing up for what you believe in, the importance of being yourself, and the mutual respect needed to have a healthy relationship. She said the following about the relationship between Tris and Four:
 
"I was so pleased by a relationship that was built on values of respect and communication versus pure physical attraction. There are so many young-adult movies and books out there where there isn't mutual respect between two people...What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve!"
 
Way to go, Shailene! I agree.
 
Note: at this point in the post, I would like to discuss some of the differences between the movie and the book, so please, stop reading now if you have not read Divergent. Spoiler alert. Thank you!
 
  1. No Uriah, Marlene and Lynn - these three Dauntless-born initiates were not shown in the movie, much to my dismay. Viewers did get a glimpse of Uriah's name on the ranking board a few times, but he was never introduced to Tris. This exclusion is the one that I missed the most - Uriah brought a humor and easy-goingness to the initiate training that I feel was missing on screen.
  2. Edward is not stabbed in the eye - (in fact, Edward does not even exist in the film) I was perfectly fine with the exclusion of this scene, given as it's gross and doesn't really add to the plot. In consequence however, the viewer does not get to see juts how cruel Peter really is. Instead, Peter is portrayed as more of a standard bully, who's taunting is minute.
  3. The final scene - In the final moments of the movie when Tris goes to Erudite headquarters to shutdown the system, Four is not the only one running the system. Jeanine is there, which leads to a powerful moment where Tris proves what it means to be Divergent by forcing Jeanine to shutdown the simulation herself. I loved this addition, as it showed Tris' change from a weak teenager who was so unsure of herself, to a woman who is brave and daring.
That's it! Really just three main differences that are worth noting. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and am actually tempted to go see it again! It was definitely better than I thought - as I imagined its structure and ideas to resemble The Hunger Games too much, but it didn't at all. Insurgent, the second installment of the series, is scheduled for theater release on March 20th, 2015.


Friday, March 21, 2014

On My Nightstand : March

{Books and Homework}

I've decided to start a new series of posts entitled On My Nightstand, and hopefully I can get around to posting them once a month. The posts will focus on what I am currently reading, working on, and interested in.

Currently Reading
I had to pick a memoir or autobiography for English class, to read for this semester's independent reading project. I did a lot of research before making a selection, reading excerpts from, and reviews about, a number of memoirs including: A House in the Sky, Eat Pray Love, and Half Broken Horses. And although each of the aforementioned titles have received high critical acclaim, I choose Wave for the emotional power I presumed it would express.

Wave is the story of Sonali Deraniyagala, who was vacationing with her family in Sri Lanka during Christmas week of 2004. On December 26th, a devastating tsunami and earthquake occurred in the Indian Ocean and her hotel in Yala was consumed by waves. Deraniyagala lost her parents, husband, and sons to the tsunami, and Wave is her incomprehensible story of recovery.

I still have yet to reach the story's conclusion, but I have no doubt will agree with The New York Times Book Review who said, "[Wave is] unforgettable...as unsparing as they come, but also defiantly flooded with light...Extraordinary."

Interested In
I LOVE Downton Abbey. And I hate to say it, but part of the reason I haven't posted in a while is because after school I've been catching up on all of the seasons instead of blogging. I received Season One of the popular show for Christmas, and was immediately hooked. For those of you who don't know anything about the show, here's a brief overview:

The show follows the happenings of the aristocratic Crawley family (the residents of Yorkshire's fictional Downton Abbey) and their servants. Season One opens in 1912, just after the sinking of the Titanic. The show continues to be influenced by the major events in history - everything from World War I to the formation of the Irish Free State.

Because of watching so much of this I suppose, (I just completed the most up-to-date season) I have become increasingly interested in anything having to do with the women's suffrage movement, and even more interested in the 1920s than I was before. The book Downton Abbey: Behind the Scenes will have to suffice until the show resumes again the January 2015!

Working On
For the next few days, my Honors English class will be debating a topic with regard to Shakespeare's Macbeth. The topic is: Is Macbeth a victim of fate? My group will be debating the affirmative, which is good, because I actually agree with that. The debate is being laid out like an argumentative essay, so I was tasked with writing my group's introduction. In the introduction, I laid out our three main points, got to be creative in my explanation of fate, and even managed to reference Harry Potter!

"We don't have the ability to change out own fate, but we can change others'."
-J.K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Friday, February 28, 2014

Comparing Cliche Romantic YA Fiction Novels

Eleanor and Park
Rainbow Rowell
328 pages

“You can be Han Solo," he said, "And I'll be Boba Fett. I'll cross the sky for you.”
  
It's 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska and Eleanor meets Park in the most un-romantic place ever. The school bus. They instantly bond over their shared love of rock music, comic books, and disdain for the conventional. And just when they think they know each other inside and out, Eleanor's past comes shooting into the present, with enough force to blow them apart.

As the winner of the 2014 Printz Honor and the 2013 Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction, Eleanor and Park has quickly become one of the most popular YA novels of the past year.

Told in a dual perspective, Eleanor and Park is a sweet and comforting read - one that is different than most other love stories. Rowell creates main characters that are very unlike others found in YA novels. Eleanor is a curly red-haired girl who dresses in oversized sweaters and braids ribbons into her hair. Park is the son of a Korean mother and Irish-American father and his favorite place is the music shop in town.

The plot line is interesting and flows smoothly, but I found the ending to be very flat. All of the sudden it seems to just end - without an explanation or any sort of resolution to the main problem. That being my only criticism, I found Eleanor and Park to be smartly written, but easily readable.

Story Line - 6/10
Character's Voice - 8/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 23/30


The Promise of Amazing
Robin Constantine
371 pages

"It's hard to explain. I'd just rather be with you when my life is less...complicated."

"Then you want to be friends," I said, letting my hands fall. I knew I should be okay with it, but my heart felt like it was free-falling down to my feet. Complicated...Damn, what a cliché.

Wren Caswell is average. She's not popular, but not a social misfit either. She has always been the "good girl", but by Junior year she is ready for something, anything, to make her life exciting. When she performs the Heimlich on Grayson Barrett at her family's Arthurian themed catering hall, she expects to never see him again. Except she does - leaning against the side of his car one day after school, waiting for her. And all of the sudden, her life is about to get more exciting than she bargained for.

Seeing as I live in New Jersey, The Promise of Amazing immediately caught my attention because of its setting of Bergen County. Wren attends Sacred Heart High School while Grayson attended St. Gabe's before he was expelled for being a "term paper pimp".

This novel is also written in a dual perspective. Constantine does a great job in writing in such a way that gives each character a different and distinct tone and voice. What I especially loved about this novel was its unexpected plot line for a YA novel. In most YA books, it's the female character that needs the saving (as in Eleanor and Park) but in this case, it's Grayson - the smart boy who has gotten himself in with the wrong crowd - who needs Wren to pull him back onto the right track. 

Thrilling, fun, and the kind of romance that makes you sigh - The Promise of Amazing is not your typical high school drama.

Story Line - 8/10
Character's Voice - 8/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 25/30


The opening line of the first review I read for The Promise of Amazing was "When is insta-love ever a good idea?"

Here is my answer. Insta-love (as I guess love at first sight is now being referred to as) is a good idea in books. Because no matter what YA novel you pick up off of the library shelf, you will most likely find some version of it buried in its pages. But here is what's interesting, each author tackles the subject of love at first sight in different, unique ways. Rainbow Rowell concocted a situation on a school bus where two misfit teens were each annoyed at the other because they had to share a seat. Robin Constantine created a life-or-death situation where the girl, for a change, got to play hero. And how often do any of us ever get to experience insta-love in real life? And books can, in some cases, be an escape, a chance, to escape into a love that is fantastical and thrilling and dangerous yet at the same time eerily realistic. Wait, now I'm contradicting myself, right? Fantastical and realistic?

That's because I believe books are a vehicle for make-believe stories told in a way that hints at real life. The make-believe makes it fun - an adventure. The actuality makes them relatable, understandable.

Insta-love is a cliché. And sometimes its overdone, or too noticeable - and in those cases, you sometimes want to shut the book because its just too far-fetched. But in these two novels, Eleanor and Park, and The Promise of Amazing the cliché is carefully, and wonderfully exposed.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler
375 pages

"Lord help me, I miss him. I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we're ruined, who thinks Scott's beyond washed-up and I'm about as sharp these days as a sack of wet mice, Look closer.
Look closer and you'll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed." -page 5
When Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is young and beautiful at seventeen years old and he is a dashing army lieutenant. Scott immediately falls in love with her independence and liking for reckless behavior. He promises his writing will bring him fame, and it does, when This Side of Paradise is published in 1920 and earns raving popularity. Zelda, falling in love with his charisma and intelligence, quickly boards a train to New York City where they are married at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The years following are full of lavish parties and endless meet and greets, but even Jay Gatsby's parties never last forever...and soon Zelda and Scott are spiraling downwards, just as quickly as they had risen to the top.
I found it especially interesting to read about a time when being popular meant you were highly-educated, and could speak critically of the arts - not that you wore your skirt too short or were the star of some reality TV show. Scott and Zelda are said to have been America's first "celebrity couple" but, Fowler not only addresses in Z what the public saw, but focuses primarily on what they didn't.
Scott and Zelda's early years of marriage were frivolous and fun, but Zelda quickly tired of their frequent location changes, and all of the attention Scott received, while she received so little. In fact, Fowler spends much time in the novel focusing on Zelda's writing career - a career very few people knew she had. Zelda published 11 short stories in her lifetime, but almost all of them were published under the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald because The Saturday Evening Post didn't believe they would sell otherwise.
Zelda was also an artist, and a ballet dancer, but dancing (as well as her over-consumption of alcohol), is ultimately what drove her to madness. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 1930, although doctors of the 21st century believe the diagnosis should have been bipolar disorder. Zelda was obsessed with the mark she would leave on the world, as she didn't want to just be "Scott's wife". Although she was not involved in the fight for women's suffrage, Zelda is considered today as a member of the first-wave feminist movement, because of her undying determination to not live the life of a housewife.
After the publication of Z, Fowler answered the question "Was Zelda 'crazy'?" :
"Zelda did suffer some mental health crises -- depression, primarily -- and was an uninhibited, uncensored woman who didn't always think before she acted, but she wasn't crazy. Unwise? Sometimes. Insane? No."
Throughout the novel (and throughout her life I suppose) Zelda often contemplated getting a divorce from Scott. Her father had predicted before they had even married, that they would tire each other out, because they were both too independent and too one-minded. He was right of course, but Zelda said, "Scott, for all of his shortcomings, owned my heart." (page 186)
Even though Z is categorized as a work of fiction, it is very easy to tell that all elements are based on the truth. It is also easy to see that Scott drew many of the themes for his novels from his own life, especially from his marriage to Zelda. The following quote, said by Zelda makes Scott seem curiously similar to Jay Gatsby.
"He wanted his adoring flapper, his Jazz Age muse. He wanted to recapture a past that had never existed in the first place. He'd spent his life building what he'd seen as an impressive tower of stone and brick, and woken up to find is was only a little house of cards, sent tumbling now by the wind."   -page 346
I LOVED Zelda's voice in this novel, something about it was completely raw and truthful, as if she was opening up a book of dear secrets to a best friend. Fowler's use of letters, as well as prose, gives readers several different ways to learn Zelda's perspective. Zelda gives an interesting interpretation of Scott's relationship with Ernest Hemingway, and explores her friendship with Sara and Gerald Murphy. Both Hemingway, the Murphys, the Fitzgeralds, as well as Gertrude Stein (who we also meet in the novel) are perceived to be members of the "Lost Generation" - a group of artists and writers who fled America for the excitement of Paris during the roaring 20s.
Overall, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, was just that. A novel of Zelda. Every feeling of love, hatred, and confusion can be found in this novel that expresses the voice she struggled to have heard during her lifetime. There is no doubt that Zelda did leave a mark on this world - one that was inspirational and moving to so many American women.
Story Line - 8/10
Character's Voice - 10/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 27/30