What I’m Reading: Early November Part 2

And… here’s part two of my recent reads list!  As always, let me know what you’ve been reading in the comments.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Oh, what an absolute pleasure to be immersed in a John Green novel!  I’ve been a fan of his work for nearly ten years now and have loved watching his stories progress.  His writing, as always, is rich and deep and leaves me longing for more.  A lot of people criticize Green for creating overly pretentious and deep-thinking protagonists and Turtles definitely falls in line.  But I find it endearing.  This book explores sixteen year old Asa’s experience with mental illness.  The story takes you deep into her mind and I came out with better understanding of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I feel like this is one of those books that will become richer each time I read it.

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

This book was sooooo hyped on bookstagram.  It had everything going for it: gorgeous cover, ACOTAR-like plot… but I was definitely underwhelmed.  The writing was good, but the story just didn’t suck me in.  The season-themed courts seemed used and the characters did nothing for me.  If there was chemistry, I missed it.  And, good grief, don’t get me started on insta-love.  How come supposedly smart, practical leading ladies constantly lose their minds the second an attractive man (or fairy) walks into their life?  I did love the cultural/biological differences between the fairies and humans.  Each longs for what the other has, in their own way.  Fairies long for the ability to create and humans long for eternal youth and beauty.  I did like that this book conveys that these human longings result in nothing but emptiness.

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

This was such a delightful comfort read.  It’s my second book by Lord and I’ve been so impressed with her writing.  It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Paige, who is best known at school as the girl whose boyfriend tragically drowned a year before. It’s not a story of grief, rather a story of figuring out life after grief.  How to put yourself out there and begin anew.  Surrounded by her best friends, Paige goes through her junior year of high school.  Along the way, she meets Max, the nerdy Quiz Bowl captain with whom she becomes close.  I wish I had been able to read this book at the age of sixteen because Max is everything my high school self wanted in a boyfriend.  Sometimes, it’s a treat to lose yourself in a low-key high school novel, and Lord did not disappoint.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Kaur is the darling of Instagram and… I don’t know.  I’m so torn when it comes to her poetry.  On the one hand, I adore the content.  It’s raw, realistic, and I appreciate the honesty.  I like the way the poems look on the page and love the art that accompanies them.  This collection addresses topics like heartbreak, immigration, and self love… all great subjects!  On the other hand, I don’t think the poems are actually well written.  They’re just thoughts on the page, spaced and formatted to look like poems.  There’s little rhythm, rhyme, or structure to them.  Call me a snob, but I’ve studied and read plenty of poetry.  Technical structures add so much depth and richness.  They’re challenging to implement, but almost always pay off.  I want to like Kaur’s work… but am always left wanting more.


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Removing the Pedestal: Why Paper Towns is Culturally Important

This weekend, my the film adaptation of my favorite John Green novel is being released.  In light of this, I’d like to pause my usual On the Shelf book reviews in order to talk about why this story is important–not just to me, but to culture in general.

As far as plots go, Paper Towns is predictable.

Q, the hero of the book, fits the average, nice guy mold to a tee.  He drives his mom’s minivan, hangs out with the band kids, and hates the whole idea of prom.  He actually tries (to an extent) in school, never breaks rules, and is secretly in love with the girl next door.

Then, one night, Margo Roth Spiegelman (the beautiful, mysterious girl Q loves) shows up at his window and takes him on the all-night, prank filled adventure of his dreams.

We live in a culture that idealizes women.  We place them up on pedestals, see only the pieces of them that we choose, and in the process.  Women are seen as perfect, pristine creatures that must be served, protected, and loved.  In the process, their humanity slips away.  Idealized women are scattered throughout literature, starting with the Troubadours in medieval France.  It was true in the Victorian Age when Coventry Patmore wrote his famous poem about “Angels in the House“.  It happens in Tennyson’s Guinevere in Idyls of the King–a poem in which the failure of Camelot’s queen to live on a pedestal brings about the destruction of a nation.  The idealized women shows up in the form of Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  There are hundreds of examples out there.  Literature and film are great shapers of how people think and the presence of supposedly perfect women only leads to the expectation that such women actually exist. (Newsflash: They don’t.)

It’s not surprising, then, that our fictional friend Margo finds herself on a pedestal.  In fact, this is one of the first things we ever learn about her.  In the novel’s prologue, Q informs us that:

The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the Queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.

When the wonderful miracle that is Margo disappears, of course Q feels compelled to rescue her.

In addition to idealizing women, culture has messages for men as well.  You see, we live in a culture that is obsessed with guys “getting the girl”.  Don’t believe me?  Go pick up any chick flick released in the past thirty years.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.  So many movies and books teach men that they can get the girl if they just try hard enough.  Although this story line leads to some adorable, enjoyable, films, it also introduces rhetoric that is alarming.  It implies that nice guys get girls.  Which isn’t always the case.

Messages like these are powerful.  They have consequences.  In 2014, Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree on his college campus to enact revenge against all women.  His logic?  Watch the video he made before committing his murders.  It’s bone-chillingly familiar.

Back to Paper Towns.

The story has been told before.  Average boy (Q) loves unattainable, idealized girl next door (Margo).  Idealized girl disappears and average boy feels the need to rescue her.  They fall in love, ride into the sunset, and live happily ever after.

Or do they?

This is where Green turns the tables.  This is where things get good.

What if Margo is aware that everyone around her idealizes her?  What if she would rather disappear completely than continue living on her pedestal?  What if Q goes on a quest to save her but, instead of saving her, discovers that he never actually knew her in the first place?

The story’s main message is pounded into Q’s head through retracing Margo’s steps and closely analyzing Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”.  In order to find Margo, Q must put himself in her shoes, to see the world as she does.  In the process, he learns that he knows nothing.

Q’s quest, ultimately, isn’t about Margo at all.  It’s about stripping away preconceived notions and learning to see people as they really are.  At one point, one of his friends even points this out, saying “You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves.

Ultimately, this leads to Q’s major revelation:

Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made—and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make—was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.

This is why I love Paper Towns.  Green spoon feeds us the expected “boy gets girl” story only to turn the tables.  The story isn’t about finding Margo.  It’s about taking Margo off the pedestal and restoring her humanity.  It’s about stripping away the ideal and acknowledging that people, even beautiful ones, are cracked, flawed, and messed up.  In the end, the story presents us with the challenge of seeing people as they really are.

My favorite line from the book states it perfectly:

To finish it all off, I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.  I know it won’t be exactly like the book, but I’m okay with that.  I’ve been assured by John Green (via Vlogbrothers videos) that it stays true to the message of the book–a message that I believe is powerful and relevant.

P.S. Much of this post was influenced by the Courtly Love literature class I took this past Spring.  A huge thank you to my professor for giving me insight into the importance of these messages and the way they affect society.

The benefits of dating yourself

Weird title, I know.

By two o’clock today, I had gone to church, worked out, and finished all my weekend homework.  All my friends were busy, and I was left with an entire afternoon with nothing to do.  I’m an introvert, but too much time alone in my room makes me lonely.  It’s like my heart feels heavy and empty and no amount of Netflix can make it better.  Knowing I had hours ahead of me in my own company, I didn’t want to waste the day moping around.

So I took action by taking myself on a date.

It was a wonderful afternoon.  I sang to the radio during the hour drive to and from Alexandria.  I talked to my mom on the phone.  I went to see Cinderella a second time and loved it just as much as the first.  (Be sure to check out my post about it!)  I went out to eat and spent dinner with my favorite John Green novel.  (Which, in case you were wondering, is Paper Towns.)   I meandered through Target, sighing over pretty clothes and household decorations.  I purchased a new purse and the final Hobbit movie.  (Be sure to check out my post about that one too!).

On the drive home, I spent a great deal of time meditating on the nostalgia that comes with the end of a season in life.  With only a handful of weeks left of college, there are so many aspects of life here that I’ve taken for granted.  As I approached Morris, instead of heading to campus, I drove to the overlook just outside of town.  Perched on a rock, I watched the sun set over the tiny town I’ve called home these past few years.  It was such a beautiful, peaceful moment– one that I know I’ll hold in my heart for a long time.

Afternoons like this one remind me that incredible joy can be found in little things.  It felt so good to forget the stresses of college, to drive away, and do things just for the sake of doing them.  I think that it’s important to learn to date yourself.  You can have a lot of fun and learn a great deal in your own company.

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Driving home to Morris in the sunset.