On the Shelf: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This book was a lucky find and Goodwill.  Normally when I buy books secondhand, they sit on my shelf for years waiting to be read.  I picked this one up right away and am very glad I did!

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

My Thoughts:

This is not a perfect book.  The cover says it’s a collection of essays and, in a way, it is.  Each chapter gives Gay’s thoughts on different subjects.  If you’re looking defining essays by formal, academic standards however… this book falls short.  But falling short of academia does not mean that it has no value.

I loved this book.  My time within its pages felt less like reading a book and more like having a conversation with Gay over a cup of tea.  Her voice is informal and engaging.  She covers a wide variety of topics in this book, some relating to feminism and others not relating to it at all.

“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.” Roxane Gay

I love the honesty of this book.  Gay openly acknowledges her contradictions because that’s part of being human.   She’s not consistent at many points, loving aspects of pop culture that directly oppose everything feminists stand for.  But she doesn’t shy away from her contradictions.  She embraces them.

I didn’t always agree with everything Gay said.  At times, she even had me squirming in my seat with discomfort.  But this isn’t a bad thing.  I’ve learned to see challenges to my opinion as extremely valuable.  They teach me to see things from a perspective may not be my own, but is still valid.

Many of the chapters in this book are dedicated to culturally relevant topics like race and privilege.  As a protestant white woman, I’m privy to all kinds of cultural privileges that, most of the time, I’m completely blind to.  Reading Gay’s words about her life, her various experiences, and her responses to certain pop-cultural icons, it hit me for the first time just how deeply the issues of race go.  Which is ridiculous because I’m not uninformed about the shootings in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Charleston shooting, or the Confederate flag debates.  I gave my senior seminar presentation about racial issues regarding the figure of the artist in Barbara Chaise-Riboud’s Sally Hemmings.  But what I’ve got is all head knowledge.  Gay’s words pushed through whatever barrier exists within my consciousness between what’s in my head and what I feel.  I know that I will never truly understand these issues because of my privilege, but this book brought me closer.  Gay writes:

“You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.”

This is what this book did for me.

This book was, at points, incredibly serious.  But, at other points, it was fun.  I appreciated the chapter about Gay’s time playing competitive Scrabble.  I also liked her discussion of The Hunger Games, even if it was relatively shallow.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bad Feminist.  It took several weeks to read, but was well worth the time.  This book challenged and pushed me to see the world from an individual who is very different from myself.  But it also had me nodding, agreeing, and even laughing at points.

You Will Like If You Enjoy: cultural discussions, racial issues, feminism, women’s rights, gender equality, GLBT rights

In Review: September, 2015

Another month has come and gone and it’s time to look back.  Welcome to another…

Month in Review blog heading

Part I. Blogging

It’s been a FANTASTIC month on Keep Your Feet!  At the beginning of September, I made the following goals:

  • Stick to my revamped posting schedule
  • Participate in Blogging University’s Writing 101 challenge
  • Follow at least five new blogs
  • Comment on at least three new blogs

For the most part, I more than met these goals.  Participating in Writing 101 made it easy.  I couldn’t help scrolling through my classmates’ posts, seeing all the interesting ways they interpreted the daily assignments.  Following and commenting came naturally and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more of my fellow bloggers.

I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve been doing in Writing 101.  Some of the posts over the past month have meant more to me than anything I’ve written in a long time. Here’s a list of my favorites, in case you missed them.  I’d really appreciate if you checked them out and would love to hear your responses!

I freely admit that I’ve fudged my posting schedule… AGAIN.  But coming up with features on top of daily assignments is a tall order.  I don’t feel bad for not meeting it.  Last weekend, though, I pulled together several new On the Shelf reviews of books I’ve been reading lately.  Those will be posted over the next few weeks.

As for my attempts to blog about life on an apple orchard… I’m pretty sure that feature is never going to happen.  I work 50+ hours a week at the orchard and, when I’m off duty, don’t want to write about it.

Part II. Books

September was an unusually slow reading month.  I attribute this to the fact that I spent most of my time in non-fiction, which is a bit uncharacteristic.  This was supplemented by listening to the Harry Potter books on audiobook for the second time in three months.  No regrets there!

The main books I have read include:

  • Live, Love, Lead by Brian Houston
  • Love Does by Bob Geoff
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I plan doing informal reviews on Gay, Sanderson, and Geoff’s books in the upcoming weeks.  Keep an eye out for those!

Part III. Life

This month was BUSY, to say the least!  My family’s apple orchard opened on September 3 and, ever since, we’ve all become workaholics.  I’m at the orchard six days a week.  Some days, I only have to be over there for a few hours.  Others, especially when we’re gearing up for a busy weekend, I pull multiple 10-hour-days in a row.  On Saturday night, after working in the store handling an endless stream of customers and transactions, my parents and I go to a local bar for burgers, beer (or, in my case, hard cider), and a rest from toil.

Nevertheless, I have been doing fun things!  With friends in my area, I’ve had a steady stream of movie marathons, bonfires, and girls nights.  I’ve been to my local Applebee’s more times in the past month than I have in my entire life.  A few weeks ago, I met up with one of my study abroad friends who recently moved to Minneapolis.  We went to see Ivan & Alyosha and Noah Gundersen.  My older brother and I also went to a Twins baseball game, which was a blast.  I also went to the Renaissance Festival with an old roommate.  I haven’t been since high school and loved it!  It was so fun exploring the different vendors and watching the jousting.

On the job front, I have a possible job opportunity when orchard season ends!  Nothing is official, but once my resume is approved, I’ll have a part-time job from mid-October through early January.  I’ll tell you all about what the job is once it’s official.  It’s perfect because it’s a job I’m very much interested in, but am hesitant to make a full 2-year commitment.  I love my home community, but don’t really want to put down roots and stay here.  If things work out, I’ll gain professional experience, have a source of income for the next few months, and still have wiggle-room to figure out where the next big adventure lies.

October Blogging Goals:

  • Comment on 3 blogs per week
  • Post at least 3 times per week
  • Clean up and revamp menus and pages
  • Continue using Writing 101 assignments as inspiration for non-feature posts

Photos From This Month:

Fall Posting Schedule

Seasons are changing once more and, as always, we must change with them.  At the beginning of summer, I crafted a blogging schedule and my follow-through was pretty dismal.  However, the beautiful thing about failure is that it provides opportunities to learn and grow.  I’m all about learning and growing.

Here we are at the beginning of another season and it’s time for another attempt.

Without further ado, I present to you my Fall Posting Schedule!  (With new banners!)

Orchard Moments: This is a revamped version of my attempted summer feature, Pleasant Valley Thursday.  My original intent for these posts were to give insight into what it’s like to live at an apple orchard while simultaneously complaining about my field labor job.  The problem is that the formatting just didn’t work.  When it came down to it, I just didn’t want to make big long posts explaining the details of farming.

In the new feature, I’ll post brief glimpses into orchard life–photos, blurbs, funny things that happen, etc.  This way, I can still share a significant part of my life with you all without getting bogged down.  These posts will come out on Tuesdays.

OrchardMoments banner

On the Shelf: These posts became regular over the summer and quickly became one of my favorite parts of blogging.  Each week, I pick a book that I’ve recently read and do an informal review.  I provide a brief summary of the text, rate it on a five-star scale, and discuss my thoughts/experience.  If the book has been adapted into movies, I sometimes share trailers or favorite clips.  Occasionally, I share fan art.  Sometimes, I’m juggling multiple books and am not in the position to write in detail about any of them.  When this happens, I like to make a big post where I briefly touch on everything.  During the summer I published these on Tuesdays, but have decided to move them to Thursdays.  This way, I have time during the week to draft quality posts throughout the week instead of scrambling to pull them together the night before.

On the Shelf Banner

#WeekendCoffeeShare: I know several other bloggers who do these and I’ve recently joined in.  The idea is to draft a post where you discuss your week as if you’re meeting up with your readers for coffee.  It’s a great way to casually talk about things I normally wouldn’t blog about–random happenstances, complaints, and all the in-betweens that make life fun.  It’s hosted by Part Time Monster.

Month in Review: At the end of each month, I’ve decided to pause and look back, focusing on three areas: Blogging, Books, and Life.  I feel like this is a good step towards regularity–it’s a way to look back on my blogging habits and find ways of improving.  It’s also a good way to help position myself in life.  By reflecting on where I’ve been, I can figure out where I’m going–a theme at the heart of what Keep Your Feet is all about.

Month in Review blog heading

Sketchbook Corner: One of the ways I de-stress is by creating art.  I’m not amazing, but when enough art piles up, I like to post it.  This feature is infrequent, but fun.

I’ve also decided to participate in the WordPress Blogging University Writing 101 course.  This means four weeks of daily assignments that will help me find inspiration to write every day.  I attempted to take the course last month, but never received any of the emails, so I am trying again! I’m looking forward to the challenge.  It will definitely be a time commitment and I know that I might not be able to keep up perfectly.  But I’m going to try!  I really love that WordPress offers these classes.  I love polishing my site and exploring new styles of posts.  As always, I hope this opens opportunities to get to know other bloggers and find new sites to follow.

I’ll also be working on updating my features tab found at the top of the page to match the new schedule. Such things take time.

It should be a great fall!  Feel free to join with me as I embark on a season of apple orchards, books, and fun! I’m excited to see what the next few months holds for Keep Your Feet.

In Review: August 2015

In order to help me reflect as a blogger, I’ve been thinking a lot about adopting monthly reviews.  I’ve seen other bloggers pull off the feature effectively.  I feel like it’s a good step towards regularity–it’s a way to look back on my blogging habits and find ways of improving.  It’s also a good way to help me position myself in life.  By reflecting on where I’ve been, I can figure out where I’m going.  Which is one of my primary reasons for blogging.

Each month, I plan on discussing three primary subjects: Blogging, Books, and Life.  At the end of each post, I hope to make some kind of goal for the next month.  So, here we go…

Month in Review blog heading

I. Blogging

Regarding posting, August was a decent month.  My registration for Writing 101 must not have processed, because I never recieved any emails.  Instead of making inquiries, I shrugged it off and went on with life.  I’ve registered for the class this next month instead.  Hopefully, September will bring a new wave of inspiration.

One thing I’m still terrible at is engaging with other bloggers.  I follow many sites that I really enjoy, but only comment on a few of them.  I’ve always been a fairly reserved person in the company of strangers and acquaintances–if I don’t have something to say that contributes something substantial, I usually opt for silence.  This inclination doesn’t do me many favors regarding getting to know the WordPress community.  Hopefully, this month’s Blogging University class will help push me in a more chatty direction.

Something I’m incredibly proud of is that I managed to publish regular On the Shelf reviews!  Over the past few weeks, I covered Fairest by Marissa Meyer, The Silmarillion by Tolkien, and Wildlife by Fiona Wood.  I worked hard to pour thought and substance into these posts–something I hope to continue into next month.

I also started participating in the weekly #WeekedCoffeeShare feature sponsored by Part Time Monster.  These are fun ways to chat about life and generate conversation.  I posted one yesterday about my trip to the Minnesota State Fair and a wedding I attended this past weekend, so definitely check that out.

Slowly, I’m becoming a more organized blogger.  Instead of relying purely on inspired, spur-of-the-moment posts, I’ve been planning ahead, drafting, and keeping a notebook.  I’m reworking my posting schedule for the next few months, which will help me produce the content I want at a pace that will work well with my schedule.  But more on that tomorrow!

II. Books

Some things never change… like my reading habits.  Here are some of the titles I’ve delved into over the past month:

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Sense & Sensibility, Emma, and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, The Silmarilion by J.R.R. Tolkien, Fairest by Marissa Meyer, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, and the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.  Several of these, such as the Austen novels, were consumed via audiobook.  The rest I read in physical copies.

III. Life

A lot of good things happened this month.  I attended the Global Leadership Summit, a two day conference where some of the world’s best leaders share their wisdom, with my family.  Unexpectedly, I got to see my Austrian friends again before they flew back to Europe.  My older brother and I saw Brandi Carlile live in Minneapolis, which I posted about.  My mom and I took a short vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  We spent some relaxing days wandering the town of Grand Marais and hiking to waterfalls.

I also started attending a Bible study for twenty-somethings in my community.  It’s been a challenging summer for my faith.  For the first time in years, I’m not surrounded by a group of Christians to grow and learn with.  It’s still a bit awkward attending The Calling (that’s the name of the Bible study) since I don’t know anyone well, but with time, I hope to forge friendships.

For the first time in sixteen years, I didn’t go back to school.  I thought this was going to be weird.  I thought I’d get sad and miss it.  My heart still flutters when I pass the school supply section at Target, but I think that’s just because I have a deep love of office products.  I know that in time, I’ll miss classroom learning, assigned reading, and paper writing because I’m a nerd like that.  I’ll definitely miss the thrill of academia and being surrounded by intelligent people who think critically about the world.  Right now, though, I’m still glorying in the freedom of reading whatever I want.  I really enjoy working during the day and not having to deal with assignments and deadlines.

September blogging goals:

  • Stick to my revamped posting schedule
  • Participate in Blogging University’s Writing 101 challenge
  • Follow at least five new blogs
  • Comment on at least three new blogs

How was your August?

On the Shelf: Fairest (Levana’s Story)

I read the first three Lunar Chronicles novels last Spring and, although they certainly weren’t perfect, I fell in love with them.  I’ve been putting off reading the novella telling Levana’s story simply because I didn’t want to buy it on my Kindle.  When I saw it on the shelf at the library last week, I picked it up without hesitation.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsFans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

My Thoughts:

The Lunar Chronicles books leave you with serious questions regarding Levana.  Why does she wear the veil?  Why is she so evil?  Was she born a tyrant or made into one?  This novella answers those questions.  Because I liked the series so much, I hoped to enjoy this.

As you can tell by my rating, I was disappointed.

The focus is completely on Levana–her life, her story, her problems.  After cracking open the book, it doesn’t take long to see that she has reason to be unhappy.  Disfigured by the cruelty of her elder sister, Levana is a lonely, insecure girl who just wants someone to value her existence.  At first, this is sad.  Pitiable, even.

But it becomes quickly apparent that the protagonist is also extremely immature, trying to fill her lonliness by forcing a palace guard to marry her, despite the fact that he is in the midst of mourning his beloved wife.  This sets Levana on a lifelong course of manipulation, self-importance, and desire for domination.

What disgusts me about Levana is that her childhood mistreatment, though horrifying, makes her feel that she deserves love, no matter what the cost.  It leads to the ruin of multiple lives.  In order to cling to the thin fabrication of love she’s worked so hard to possess, she turns to violence.

At one point, she has everything she has ever wanted: a husband, step-daughter, and even the throne.  But it’s not enough.  She becomes increasingly power-hungry and paranoid.  In attempt to become all-powerful, she destroys the very thing that she first loved.

Levana is not an admirable character, nor a likable one.  At the start, she’s pitiable.  At the end, she’s disgusting.  I don’t know why Meyer felt her story needed to be told.  It doesn’t redeem Levana in the slightest.  It just makes me hate her more.  I sure do hope that Cinder succeeds in taking her down in the final novel, which comes out in November.

You Will Like If: You enjoy fairy tales, The Lunar Chronicles, villain backstories

On the Shelf: The Silmarillion

I’ve been at it for over a month… and I FINALLY FINISHED!!

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Designed to take fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings deeper into the myths and legends of Middle-Earth, The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales ofThe Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindale is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabeth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Numenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, as narrated inThe Lord of the Rings. This pivotal work features the revised, corrected text and includes, by way of an introduction, a fascinating letter written by Tolkien in 1951 in which he gives a full explanation of how he conceived the early Ages of Middle-Earth.

My Thoughts:

The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it’s dense.  It took me over a month to get through, simply because the writing takes a long time to plod through.  There were weeks where I could barely get through ten pages.  But not because it’s bad.  On the contrary.

The Silmarillion is absolutely incredible.  A friend once described it to me as the Bible of Middle Earth and I can’t help but agree.  Unlike Tolkien’s most popular Middle Earth texts, this is no novel.  It’s a collection of stories that explain the history of Middle Earth.  The first chapters focus on creation mythology, explaining how the world came to be and the deities that dwell within it.  Then, Tolkien brings us through the shaping of the two main races of Middle Earth: Elves and Men.  The majority of the text is dedicated to their histories.  Near the end, we get the history of the men of Numenor, including their downfall and migration to Middle Earth.  This leads swiftly into Middle Earth’s more well-known history spanned in The Lord of the Rings.

At times, it was hard to keep track of all the characters and places.  I constantly had to go back and reread passages and consult maps to make sure I knew what was going on.  But, instead of detracting from my enjoyment, it made the experience that much better.  I was able to deeply appreciate the depth of Tolkien’s world.

There were many stories within these pages that I loved.  Particular favorites include the two great trees in Valinor, forging of the Silmarils, the foundation of Gondolin, Beren and Luthien’s love story, and the tragedy of the Children of Hurin.  I loved hearing about all Morgoth’s treacherous and all the battles fought to bring on his demise.  I liked the story of Eärendil, the fate of his sons, and the history of Numenor.  It was also fun to see names like Galadriel and Elrond cropping up throughout the stories.

The Silmarillion is not for the faint of heart.  It’s a challenging read, but a rewarding one.  It ignited my imagination and curiosity.  I’m now seriously interested in reading further into Tolkien’s world.

You Will Like This Book If: You like Tolkien, fantasy, mythology, folklore, rich world building, and a challenge.

Extra Bonus: “Tuor Reches Gondolin” by Ted Nasmith

On the Shelf: Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Of my most recent library haul, this was my favorite.

Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

Summary from GoodreadsDuring a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating.  New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can’t help but be drawn back into the land of the living.

My Thoughts:

This was one of the most poigniant YA novels I’ve read in a while.  Wood beautifully captures the awkwardness, messiness, and pain of being a teenager without making me roll my eyes once.  So often, YA protagonists are either unrealistically shallow or unrealistically intelligent.  Wood’s are somewhere in the middle.

Wildlife is all about discovery.  In a way, it’s the story we all go through as teens.  It’s about finding a way through the messiness of life and figuring out who you are.  Her main characters are beautiful and complex individuals that captured my heart.  Their stories highlight different aspects of the teenage experience that felt authentic.

Until recently, Syb had never been popular and she was always okay with that.  But when her aunt scores her a modeling gig, her face plastered on a billboard becomes her ticket to the cool table.  Suddenly, the most popular boy in her grade likes her, she’s the center of attention, and her childhood best friend is right by her side, urging her to take advantage of the opportunity.  Deep down, she knows that popularity and the behavior surrounding it just isn’t her.  But, at the same time, she really likes the popular boy.  Stuck between two worlds, she has to decide what really matters–being with the cool kids or being true to herself.

Then, there’s Lou.  Dear, dear Lou.  Devastated by the death of her boyfriend, Lou is still in deep mourning when we meet her at the beginning of the novel.  She has no desire to engage with the world.  She attends therapy, but puts on a show to make them think she’s getting better.  She’s empty inside.  All her thoughts go to the one she lost.  When all her friends go spend a term in Paris, she decides to transfer schools just in time for their wilderness survival term.  Lou steps up to the challenge, finding solace in grueling hikes and beautiful scenery.  Forced to live in close-quarters with a handful of girls, she can’t help but become slowly involved in their lives.

Wildlife isn’t the most gripping novel out there, but what strikes me most is its honesty.  Wood poses questions and gives realistic, truthful answers.  Is popularity worth it?  When is it right to start having sex?  What is it like to lose a loved one?  What does friendship look like?

The best part?  It’s all set at camp!

Sample Quote:

“The trouble is that keeping [memory] alive, giving it all that energy, will, determination, stops me being alive in the present.  I’m not stupid.  I don’t need Esthers and Merills to tell me that is not a brilliant way for a sixteen-year-old to live.  I know what you would say.  You’d say, get on with it, Lou m’Lou.  There’s a lot more to do than thinking about me.  Don’t hang out somewhere that isn’t anymore.  Don’t haunt the landlost past, you’d say… I’ve written you a hundred unsent letters.  Maybe if I keep writing and sealing them, they can sit somewhere safely.  Our story is a one-sided correspondence–I know that’s oxymoronic–and I can allow that to be it.  I can put a lid… I can just go there sometimes… I can know it’s there, safely; we are there.”

You Will Like This Book If: You enjoy Young Adult fiction, wilderness, camp life, and coming of age stories.

On the Shelf: Summer Reading Updates & Mini Reviews

I’ve decided to switch up my On the Shelf this week.  Instead of one big review, I’ve done some mini-reviews, followed by some chit chat about other books I’ve been reading.  (Also, apologies for being a day late on this post…)

The Heir by Kiera Cass

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

A few weeks ago, I finally picked up the fourth book in Cass’s The Selection series.  The thing about Cass is that she isn’t a breathtaking writer–her post-apocalyptic America is relatively boring and her characters lack depth–but I somehow still love her books.  They’re like a mashup of The Hunger Games, The Bachelor, and all my favorite fairy tales.

Taking place after the trilogy ends, the book centers around Eadlyn, the first female heir to the throne.  Although the caste system has been dissolved, the country’s problems aren’t over.  Citizens are increasingly unhappy and are beginning to turn on the royal family.  In attempt to lift morale, another Selection begins and male suitors begin pouring into the palace from all over the country, determined to win Eadlyn’s hand.

For the most part, Eadlyn isn’t very likable.  She’s stubborn, proud, and stuck-up.  She’s pretty high and mighty, but her many flaws are partially forgivable because of the amount she gives up for her throne.  The book makes clear that, given the choice, she wouldn’t choose to rule the country.  But she throws herself into it anyways and, throughout the book, sacrifices her personal desires for her position.  That doesn’t wholly redeem her, though.  She still is annoying at points.

What I love about this book is that it takes us on the other side of the Selection.  In the first three books, we see it all from the point of view of one of the participants.  In this story, we get to see the process from the heir’s point of view.  What would it be like to balance dating 30 young men and learning to rule an unstable country?

The other thing I love is that it brings out a lot of double-standards.  Being a feminist, I LOVE seeing double-standards exposed.  Before this, it was always a male heir surrounded by female suitors.  Boys, though, respond differently to the competition.  While girls got into spats, boys brawl.  With a female heir, sexual assault becomes an issue.  While it’s okay for male heirs to get physical with the candidates, a female one is looked down upon as loose.  While the press was all about praising Maxon in the first series, it seems out to get Eadlyn–painting her as a prideful, spoiled, ice queen.

Is The Heir the best piece of literature out there?  Nope.  Is it enjoyable?  Definitely.

The Kingkiller Chronicles: The Name of the Wind & The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Summary: Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.

I picked up this unfinished series at the high recommendation of a book lover friend.  It’s been a while since I picked up a massive fantasy novel and thought I’d give the highly-acclaimed series a try.  What I can say is that Rothfuss is a very gifted writer.  His prose is truly excellent.

What I can’t say is that I enjoyed these books.  Although they’re entertaining/easy reads, I didn’t feel myself loving these books.  The way they’re set up bothers me.  The premise is that there’s one story taking place present-time regarding a civil war with mysterious monsters on the loose.  The main character, Kvote, is the stuff of legend, but has taken cover as an innkeeper and thought dead.  When discovered by a recorder of stories, Kvote decides to tell his.  The majority of the books follow the course of his life–tracing his childhood in a troupe of traveling musicians to years living as a street urchin to living as a student at the university.  In the second book, Kvote continues his studies, helps a king woo a wife, tracks down bandits in the woods, winds up in the fairy world and shacks up with a fae temptress, and spends time with an off-the-map society where he learns to fight.  All the while, Kvote looks for information on the Chandrian–a group of killers out of legends who killed his parents.

The story, ‘though intriguing, feels like it’s going nowhere.  Kvote isn’t very likable.  He goes from adventure to adventure and is amazing at everything he does.  He’s an amazing musician, student, lover, fighter, and magician.  There’s nothing he can’t do…  And he’s a smart-ass.

Then there’s his love interest, Denna.  Ugh.  She’s one of the worst female characters I’ve ever encountered.  I’d go into how awful she is, but a Goodreads reviewer has said it better than I ever could.

If you’re into fantasy, you might like these books.  If not, skip them.

Other Books I’m Reading…

I’m still plugging through The Silmarillion by Tolkien.  It’s breathtaking, but extremely thick.  I can only manage thirty pages a week.  This afternoon, I finally breached the 200 page mark.  It’s slow going, but I’ll have it finished by the time summer ends!

At work, I’m listening through Harry Potter again.  This week, I reached Order of the Phoenix… so my hours are filled with lots of angst.  I plowed through Goblet of Fire last week and, in the wake of Voldemort’s return, I’m once again annoyed by how unpleasant Harry is in this book.  But it’s okay.  It just makes me thankful I’m out of the teen years.

Recently, I picked up Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.  Yes, more fantasy.  It’s the first of Marillier’s Sevenwaters series.  I’ve read the whole series already, but it’s been a few years.  The first is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Wild Swans”.  I love a good fairytale retelling and am looking forward to this read.

That’s it for this week’s On the Shelf.  What books have you been reading lately?

Removing the Pedestal: Why Paper Towns is Culturally Important

This weekend, 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 isn’t anything special.

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 and only see the pieces of them that we choose.  Women are viewed 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 (a personification of the American Dream) 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.

On the Shelf: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

I’m currently plugging through the masterpiece that is The Silmarilion by J.R.R. Tolkien, but since I can only cover about twenty pages a day due to its density, I’ve been reading more YA on the side.

So, this week I’ll be discussing The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet… or the novelized version of the hit YouTube show, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Goodreads | Amazon

Summary: Twenty-four-year-old grad student Lizzie Bennet is saddled by student loan debt and still living at home along her two sisters – beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. When she starts recording her reflections on life for her thesis project and posts them on YouTube, she has no idea The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will soon take on a life of their own, becoming an online sensation and turning the Bennet sisters into internet celebrities, seemingly overnight.
When rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his stuck-up friend William Darcy, things really start to get interesting for the Bennets — and for Lizzie’s viewers. But not everything happens on-screen. Lucky for us, Lizzie has a secret diary.
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet takes readers deep inside Lizzie’s world and well beyond the confines of her camera — from the wedding where she first meets William Darcy to the local hangout of Carter’s bar, and much more. Providing revealing details about the Bennet household, including Lizzie’s growing suspicions about her parents’ unstable financial situation and her sister’s budding relationship with Bing Lee; her anxieties about life after grad school, the perils of her unexpected fame; and her uncertainty over her future… and whom she wants to share it with.
Featuring plenty of fresh twists to delight fans and new readers alike, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet expands on the web series phenomenon that captivated a generation and reimagines the Pride and Prejudice story like never before.

My Thoughts:

Honestly… I disliked this book.  Usually because of the writing style, YA novels suck me in.  This one left me flat on my face.  The thing is, I ADORE the YouTube series.  That’s why I went through the trouble of buying the book.  But, unfortunately, the book wasn’t worth it.

What I love about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is that it takes a two hundred year old story that I’ve been reading and rereading since the age of thirteen and breathes new life into it.  I was an early viewer–catching wind of the series within its first ten episodes.  I remember agonizing over Mondays and Thursdays when new ones would be released.  I found myself hating Darcy, moaning over Wickham’s lies, and falling in love all over again.  It does incredible things with characters like Charlotte and Lydia who, in Austen’s original, get sidelined and written off.  The way the creators modernize key events and scenes is not only delightful, but believable.

The show took storytelling to a completely new platform–YouTube.  It broke remarkable ground, won an Emmy, and set the trend of adapting classic literature to web video format.  In short, I could gush about my love for LBD for hours.

Written upon the waves of the show’s success, the novelized version takes us behind the camera into Lizzie’s life.  We get to hear about things from her private perspective–learning insights and details that aren’t in the videos.  Although intriguing, the concept falls flat.

My main issue with the book is that it’s just not well written.  I’ve taken enough creative writing classes to know the old “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra like the back of my hand.  But seriously–whoever edited this novel needed to remind the writers of this basic tip.  The book was primarily Lizzie telling us things.  Yes, this is fitting for the diary format.  But it’s just not satisfying.  Scenes left me wanting more.  On-screen characters I adore fall completely flat on page.  They’re underdeveloped and unlikable.  I found myself picking up the book just to get it over with, not because I savored it.

You Will Like This Book If: You like fluffy YA love stories and Pride & Prejudice retellings

I Recommend: Skip the book.  Watch the web series.