Just an upcoming writing contest…

Despite the fact that this is not a book, I thought I’d let you all know about it.

Easy Street is having a contest called The Great American Sentence. You can check it out at this link.

Basically you submit up to 5 of your original sentences (as in sentences written by you) by midnight EST on February 28. If they like your sentences and decide to publish them, you can $5 a word, and if you post a link like I just did, you can get $10 a word. Cool right?

A couple poets that I love:

I love poetry. And recently, I talked with a friend about a specific amazing poet by the name of Shel Silverstein, and they said they had never read anything by him. And I have to say, growing up reading Shel, burrowing my nose in the pages and getting lost in the words of Shel, laughing and crying because of Shel, I was really astonished. I hadn’t realized that some people never read his poetry.

And then I realized there are a lot of poets that people have never read.

So if you’re looking for poets, and amazing, beautiful poems, here are a few that I personally love:

The Most Famous Ones:

Walt Whitman

E.E. Cummings

Emily Dickinson

Shel Silverstein

Robert Frost

Shakespeare

Lord Byron

The ones you’ve probably not heard about but are still amazing:

Clementine Von Radics

Tyler Knott Gregson

“Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen

“Iris” by Vivian St. John

“Tiara” by Mark Doty

“Yes” by Muriel Rukeyser

“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

“In Michael Robins’s Class Minus One” by Bob Hicok

“Confrontations with the Devil in the Form of Love” by Judy Grahn

(I listed the poems specifically here because I’ve yet to read anything else by the author, and so cannot say that I love the poet and not just the poem).

A lot of these are really sad. But they’re all really good. So if you’re looking for a poet, or a few poems, these are my personal favorites.

But even if you don’t I hope that you read Shel Silverstein, at least once in your lifetime. Because if you haven’t, you’re missing out on something wonderful.

Hey guys! Just really quickly:

It doesn’t matter what you read. Whether you are reading comic books/graphic novels, the newspaper, fanfic, or an actual novel. Whether you are reading a series or a YA novel or a bibliography. Whether you read poetry, or intellectual debates. Whether you read cheap romances or horror stories. Whether you are picking up something new or rereading a beloved paperback friend:

Who cares what you’re reading? Does it even matter?

You’re reading. Something new, borrowed, or blue, you’re reading. And that’s all that matters in the end. And you should never feel embarrassed about what you read. Just read it. If you like it, read it. If a friend recommends it, try it. If you want to try something new and totally out of character, go for it. The adventures will always wait within the pages of the book. But never, never let someone else tell you what to read. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t read something because it’s not true reading (and I don’t mean for this to be a reason for little kids to suddenly read Fifty Shades of Grey. That is not what I mean, at all. If you’re parents say no because it’s not appropriate, you should probably be listening to them. But don’t let them tell you not to read it because you’ve already read it, or because it’s “not a real book.”).

And parents: if your kids are rereading something, or reading a book with pictures, or even comics, don’t worry. They’re still reading. If you try to stop them, they may stop reading all together. So let them read what they enjoy reading. It doesn’t matter that they may be reading at a lower level (and by the way, the level doesn’t matter. Everyone reads at their own pace), or that they’re reading graphic novels instead of books. It’s all literature. And it’s better that they’re reading, and enjoying reading, than being forced to read something they don’t enjoy.

(Also: this does not apply to school reading. You should read that because usually, they’re good books. And if you don’t enjoy them, at least you can say you didn’t like it because you’ve read it and didn’t enjoy it.)

And, along those same lines: it doesn’t matter if you’re reading paperback or ebook. They’re both still books. Don’t ever feel shame or embarrassment because you’re reading from a device instead of having the weight of the paperback, or if you’re reading a paperback because you like the way it feels in your hands. Who cares what you’re reading on? Again, all that matters is you’re reading.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This book is about two people: one, a concierge named Renee, the other a twelve year old girl named Paloma. Both are geniuses trying to hide it. Both live at 7 rue de Grenelle, in an elegant hotel in France.

First off, I really liked this book. And I mean, I really liked it. But I do realize that this book is not for everyone. But I’ll get to that later.

I loved reading this. Most of the chapters consist of philosophical debates and observations, but underlying those are the impressions each person experiences as they go through their every day lives. There is, of course, an overall plot, the events that take place within the hotel.

So of course, the main thing I enjoyed was the intellectual debates that they have within the novel. Renee and Paloma contemplate most of the Big Questions (i.e. What is the purpose of life?), as well as the basis of humanity. Their commentary ranges from absolutely hilarious to extremely insightful, and I found myself laughing through most of it.

Renee, for starters, has a very dry sense of humor, but she also has a lot of fear. She’s scared, almost constantly, that she will get found out. Which, of course, makes for even more entertaining commentaries and scenes. Paloma, on the other hand, does not fear the spotlight, but rather just doesn’t care. She lets people think she’s stupid, because it’s simply easier to get peace and quiet that way. She’s also a bit suicidal. (Well, when I say a bit…) I, personally, found both of these characters absolutely delightful. If I had to choose between the two, I probably would not be able to. And it just made it so much better that the novel switched between their two points of view–something I didn’t realize, and got very confused until I figured it out (I hadn’t read the summary before picking it up off my book shelf. I’d gotten the paperback years ago as a birthday present, but hadn’t been interested in reading it. So of course, I was very confused when in one chapter, the narrator said that they were seven years old, and in another, they were suddenly fifty-four. I had thought, at first, that the book was just bouncing through time, but eventually the events in the hotel started to converge and then I thought, “Huh?” So don’t make the same mistake! Read the summary!)

I will say this, though: this book is very hard to follow if read out loud to someone else, and it does contain a lot of big words. Just for an example, I’m including an excerpt at the end of this review. Please, please read it before deciding to pick up the book; if you can’t understand it, you should probably hold off reading it for a little while. But you should read it. It’s really good.

This book is a rather  harder read, and it does talk about drugs and sex, among other things.

Here’s the excerpt:

Which way lies the truth, in the end? In power, or in Art? Is it not the power of well-crafted discourse which enables us not only to sing the praises of mankind’s creations but also to denounce as a crime of illusory vanity the urge to dominate, which moves us all–yes, all, even a wretched concierge in her cramped loge who, although she may have renounced any visible power, nevertheless pursues those dreams of power in her mind?

Indeed, what constitutes life? Day after day, we put up the brave struggle to play our role in this phantom comedy. We are good primates, so we spend most of our time maintaining and defending our territory, so that it will protect and gratify us; climbing–or trying not to slide down–the tribe’s hierarchical ladder, and fornicating in every manner imaginable–even mere phantasms–as much for the pleasure of it as for the promised offspring. Thus we use up a considerable amount of our energy in intimidation and seduction, and these two strategies alone ensure the quest for territory, hierarchy and sex that gives life to our conatus. But none of this touches our consciousness. We talk about love, about good and evil, philosophy and civilization, and we cling to these respectable icons the way a tick clings to its nice big warm dog.

There are times, however, when life becomes a phantom comedy. As if aroused from a dream, we watch ourselves in action and, shocked to realize how much vitality is required simply to support our primitive requirements, we wonder, bewildered, where Art fits in. All our frenzied nudging and posturing suddenly becomes utterly insignificant; our cozy little nest is reduced to some futile barbarian custom, and our position in society, hard-won and eternally precarious, is but a crude vanity. As for our progeny, we view them now with new eyes, and we are horrified, because without the cloak of altruism, the reproductive act seems extraordinarily out of place. All that is left is sexual pleasure, but if it is relegated to a mere manifestation of primal abjection, it will fail in proportion, because a loveless session of gymnastics is not what we have struggled so hard to master.

Eternity eludes us.

At times like this, all the romantic, political, intellectual, metaphysical and moral beliefs that years of instruction and education have tried to inculcate in us seem to be foundering on the altar of our true nature, and society, a territorial field mined with the powerful charges of hierarchy, is sinking into the nothingness of Meaning. Exeunt rich and poor, thinkers, researchers, decision-makers, slaves, the good and the evil, the creative and the conscientious, trade unionists and individualists, progressives and conservatives; all have become primitive hominoids whose nudging and posturing , mannerisms and finery, language and codes are all located on the genetic map of an average primate, and all add up to no more than this: hold your rank, or die.

At times like this you desperately need Art. You seek to reconnect with your spiritual illusions, and you wish fervently that something might rescue you from your biological destiny, so that all poetry and grandeur will not be cast out from the world.

Thus, to withdraw as far as you can from the jousting and combat that are the appanages of our warrior species, you drink a cup of tea, or perhaps you watch a film by Ozu, and place upon this sorry theater the seal of Art and its greatest treasures.

I know, I know. It’s long. But it’s one of my favorites, and I thought it was pretty representative of how the language is within the novel.

Bottom line, though: READ THE BOOK!!!!

Is Ophelia actually crazy?

 

Warning: I am assuming that you have read both book and play. If you have not, you have been warned that there will be spoilers. I am sorry to tell you this, but there are spoilers!!!!! So if you are afraid that this will ruin the book for you, stop reading here. Read the book. And then continue on.

So I don’t normally do this, and I do not know if I’m going to continue to do this. But I’ve been meaning to talk about this, both in my own context and in context with Lisa Klein’s Ophelia, which I reviewed a while ago. I recently reread Hamlet for school, and my teacher said that Ophelia is the only character who is actually crazy, which I disagree with. I see her point, obviously, since there’s not a ton of evidence to say that she’s not actually crazy without the context of Klein’s novel. But, having read Klein’s novel before taking the class, I had already thought about Ophelia as a perfectly sane person, and so naturally found evidence to support my own thoughts.

First: Ophelia’s songs. Ophelia knows exactly what is happening. I’m talking, of course, about after she is “mad.” There is a scene in the play in which she comes in singing songs to an audience of Claudius, Gertrude, and later on, her brother. Of course, to anyone without context, her songs have no meaning. They’re just songs. And for someone with a little context, she’s talking about her dead father, Polonius. But the songs can also be taken another way. (It’s been a while, but I believe Klein’s novel points this out:) one of the songs she sings has the lines:

He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone,
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
(4.5.29-32)
Of course, this could be about Polonius, who was recently slain by Hamlet. But it could also be about the late king, Gertrude’s dead husband. I took it to mean both: that she is both acknowledging her own father’s death, and telling Gertrude about her husband’s death, reminding Gertrude that her late husband is dead. Ophelia is literally telling Gertrude that her husband is dead and gone. Almost as if she is telling Gertrude it is okay, but also reminding her that her husband is dead. So of course, her other song rings true as well.
And will he not come again?
No, no, he is dead,
Go to thy death-bed,
He never will come again.
His beard as white as snow,
All flaxen with his poll:
He is gone, he is gone,
And we cast away moan:
God ha’ mercy on his soul!
(4.5.23-26)
Again, she could be singing for Claudius. But I think that she is also singing to Gertrude, about the late king. “No, no, he is dead…He never will come again,” is telling the queen that her husband is dead, and he will never return. Even if she remarries, it will never be the same. We also know that the late king has a beard. When Hamlet first hears about the Ghost, he asks:
Hamlet: “His beard was grizzled–no?”
Horatio: “It was, as I have seen it in his life,
A sable silver’d.”
In the song, Ophelia talks about a man with a white beard who has died. We know that Polonius and the late king both had silver beards. And so it can be said that she talks about both men within her song. It is not necessarily explicitly Polonius. It is also important to note that she sings these songs to Gertrude, not just a general audience. By singing to Gertrude, she makes it seem much more like a pointed moment than if she had just gone into a chamber at random and sung to some civilians. Instead she seeks Gertrude out, and sings these songs to her.
Second: The Flowers. When we next see Ophelia, she is carrying flowers and herbs. (Whether they are real or imaginary is up for debate, and really up to the reader). And each have specific meanings. Rosemary: remembrance. She gives these to her brother, along with Pansies, for thoughts, in order to tell him to remember and to keep her and their family in his thoughts. To Gertrude, she gives Gertrude (or Claudius; we’re really not told in the play) Fennel, which represents deceit and flattery, and Columbine, which represents ungratefulness, and “forsaken lovers”. She gives these to make a jab at their deceitfulness in their marriage, since Gertrude was once married to the king whom Claudius killed, and Claudius was his brother. Ophelia also gives Gertrude a Daisy, representing innocence. And, of course, no one gets the violets (faithfulness), since they withered all when her father died (her words, not mine). In Ophelia, Klein makes it a point to say that one of these flowers (I don’t actually remember which one but I’m pretty sure it’s Columbine) is a remedy for snake’s poison. And, of course, Claudius killed the king with snake’s poison poured into the ear (Claudius is also very snake-like in that he is cunning and poisoned the king in a Garden, cough cough, Eden). In her own way, Ophelia is telling them (and us) that she does indeed know about the plot against the king’s life. (There are more flower meanings here. I’m not going to go any further with the flowers from Ophelia, but if you’re curious…).
 Of course, in Klein’s Ophelia, she is doing all this because she needs to be protected, so she pretends to be mad. She also needs to get out of Denmark and this is her last herah!
I’m not going to spoil the book more than necessary. If you want to know what happens after this in Ophelia, you’ll just have to read the book.
But I will say that I do not think that suicide would have been her answer. I do think that Ophelia wanted to escape her life, and so suicide would have made sense. But not after what she went through. But I’m speaking from the year 2014. And this brings me to my third point.
Third: History. In the time that Shakespeare would have written this play, women had absolutely no rights. The only  jobs you could have occupied as a woman would have been a maid (maybe), a teacher, or a prostitute. You could only have occupied a teacher’s job if you were educated (naturally). So of course, a woman in Ophelia’s position, who was probably not educated the way teachers needed to be (piano, art, fluency in French, etc.) would have had very few options. She could have gone to a nunnery (as Hamlet suggests), or to a whore house (also as Hamlet suggests), but those were really her only two options. Unless, of course, she marries Hamlet. She was being courted by him, after all. Before the Ghost came, she might even have ended up marrying him. But because she was lured into spying on him by her father, or in Ophelia he scorns her to protect her from his own revenge on Claudius, she never gets that chance. Instead, Hamlet says that he never loved her, and that she should go to a nunnery (which means both a convent, and a whore house). Now, her chance of marrying into wealth is gone. She is no longer under the protection of Hamlet. Which leaves her father. Who is killed by Hamlet. Her brother, being away in France, cannot be there for her in a time where she cannot support herself. She is completely alone. Now, think back to what I said about women in this time: they had absolutely no power. The average woman could do almost nothing to take care of herself financially. And Ophelia, if she is truly sane, probably sees suicide as the only escape, her only true choice. If she goes to a nunnery/whore house, she’s doing what Hamlet said. And she can’t become a teacher, since she doesn’t have the proper education. So the only option that is hers, and only hers, is suicide (and by hers, I mean that it is not doing what someone else said to do. It is completely her choice, without getting the idea from someone else).
Personally, I still like the idea in Ophelia, where she is using suicide to escape from Denmark. Because Denmark is a prison, as Hamlet so eloquently states. Again, not going to spoil the novel. But I like that version a lot more than her just giving up, succumbing to her madness. And even despite the fact that a lot of people are going to disagree and say that she is crazy, that there is not enough evidence to say otherwise, I’ll forever believe that Ophelia is perhaps the sanest character in the play. Which, I realize is not saying a lot considering. But I’m definitely on the side that says she isn’t actually crazy. This play deals a lot with players and the fact that everyone in the play is an actor in their own life (just for example: Hamlet is pretending to be a crazy person). I believe that Ophelia is one of those people, pretending to be crazy.
But I also don’t want to influence your decision. So you read the play, and the novel if you chose, and then you tell me: sane or crazy?

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

The Sea of Tranquility is about Nastya, a girl who survived something awful (no spoilers!), and Josh, a boy whose name is synonymous with death. Their story is about love, and forgiveness, and about salvation; not saving others, but about saving yourself.

Okay, okay. That summary was really cryptic. I’m trying not to spoil anything, and I’m not sure how to summarize the novel without spoiling anything.

I really liked this book. Originally, I was looking for a book to bridge the in-between, as in in-between Monsters (the third book in the Ashes Trilogy, which, by the way, was AMAZING!) and another book, which I had not decided yet. I didn’t need it to be fantastic, or even overly amazing, I just needed it to be good enough to bridge the gap between really intense and whatever I read next. I thought that this book would be just like any other romance novel I read: fairly okay, with a hell of a lot of cliches and empty words said between two characters. I wasn’t looking for umph. I was looking for passable.

I found umph.

This book was absolutely and positively amazing. At first glance, I thought that it wasn’t too good. I actually debated putting it down after the first few pages, because Nastya’s narrative was so moody and annoying. And then I got about ten pages in. And it started to get really good. And then it got really really good. And then it got so amazing that my toes were literally curling and my heart was beating a little faster and I actually did not hear anything around me and forgot that I was even on the planet earth. It was that good.

One of the things I loved was that the book felt real. The chemistry between Josh and Nastya felt very tangible, and it made it more realistic to me that they didn’t just fall in love all of a sudden. It took time. They developed trust. And it made me trust their relationship a little more. He doesn’t just say, “Baby you’re beautiful. Want to go upstairs and hang out,” with a wink and a smile, and she doesn’t swoon immediately after, professing her undying love. Nastya is so much stronger and independent than that. When the guys in the story do that, she practically punches them in the face, or gives them a look that says, “Not in your life-time.” She’s this amazing, sarcastic, funny person, who yes, has a dark past. But she’s also strong enough to hold her past on her shoulders and carry on. She holds on to it, and wallows a little in it, but she more than just her past and her problems. And she was one of the reasons I kept reading.

While I’m on the subject of characters…there were very few that I outright hated. There were the obvious dislikes, but I never really hated any characters, with the exception of the most obvious: the reason for her pain. But I did fall in love with a lot of characters. The first, aside from Nastya, being Josh. Which you’d think would be obvious, since he’s the other narrator. First, his pet name for her is “Sunshine,” not “Baby,” or “Babe,” or “Honey,” or “Princess.” Sunshine. Not only was that one new to me, but it actually fit him and the way he thinks about her. Second, he’s literally Prince Charming, with a few more flaws and problems. He’s not perfect. But he’s close enough that he seems to be a knight in shining armor. I also loved his friend, Drew, who was the flirt in the opening of the book. We’re introduced to him before we are introduced to Josh, and I thought he was an absolutely fantastic friend and character. He’s a beautiful, hilarious person.

There was also Tierney, who was hilarious but I won’t touch too much on her, and Clay, another person I won’t touch on too much but who was a fantastically awesome person, both of whom I wish were real so that I could meet them.

I definitely recommend reading this book. I do have to warn you: there is a lot of mention of sex, use of alcohol and drugs, abuse, violence, dirty and “bad” language, and it is fairly intense. It will also make your stomach drop, it will make you laugh, and it will probably make you cry. But you should definitely read it.

What Goes on Tour by Claire Boston

This book is about a writer named Libby, who goes on a book signing tour, during which she meets Adrian, AKA rock star Kent, and ends up taking care of his niece.

Let me just start by saying this was definitely a guilty pleasure book. I was originally not going to read it, and was saving it for when I needed a book late at night but didn’t want anything heavy. This was the perfect solution. It was heart-warming, and lovely, but it didn’t weigh on my mind when I wasn’t reading it.

That being said, I did enjoy the book. It just wasn’t a I-have-to-find-out-this-second-what-happens kind of book.

There were aspects that I really liked. I liked Libby; she was a fun, interesting character, who let her insecurities eat away at her, but who was still strong. Her point of view was pretty interesting as well, since it wasn’t just about the romance aspect, but also about her friendship with Kate. (Speaking of…) I really loved his niece, Kate. She and George (Adrian’s manager) were by far my favorite characters. Kate was cute and adorable, and she made me laugh most of the time (the rest of the time I was thinking, Oh God, baby it’s okay. You’re going to be okay). George was just an all around great character; he was originally introduce as Adrian’s manager, but it is clear from the start that he really cares about Adrian and Kate.I can’t say that I felt anything significant for Adrian; I definitely liked him; but I also thought he was a total idiot and at times even came close to hating him. At the same time, though, I never really blamed him for anything that happened in the book, mostly because of his past (no spoilers!!! But I gave everything he did in the book some serious thought before posting this, and why he would do some of the things he does, and it sort of made sense to me. Still made me a little upset with him. But it made sense). I really loved his niece, Kate. She and George (Adrian’s manager) were by far my favorite characters. Kate was cute and adorable, and she made me laugh most of the time (the rest of the time I was thinking, Oh God, baby it’s okay. You’re going to be okay). George was just an all around great character; he was originally introduce as Adrian’s manager, but it is clear from the start that he really cares about Adrian and Kate.

I’d have to say, though, the best part was the ending. I didn’t much care for the beginning of the book (although it captured my interest enough to get me curious, it wasn’t as giggle/gasp inducing as the last 100 or so pages), and the writing itself hit me as kind of plain, which happened to work in favor of the text (what I mean is that it allowed the story itself to develop through the characters rather than having very flowery or beautiful writing that would work in a different novel; I don’t think it would have made the book better, although it may have been more fun to read). Overall, I have to say I wasn’t too impressed, although the story itself made me smile.

I’m not spoiling anything here. If at any point you read something about this that interested you, either here, the back of the book, or another review, by all means go ahead and read it. It didn’t enrapture me, although I did enjoy it as a guilty pleasure novel. I would say if you like this kind of romance novel (rock stars and authors), then I say go for it. I do not have many warnings, except to say that there might be some colorful language (I can’t remember for certain if there actually is any, but just in case), and that it probably won’t be a book you put down and think about the entire day. Once you start, it is certainly easy to continue reading; and it’s easy to pick back up. But it doesn’t consume your thoughts the way Charlie St. Cloud might have (if that was a book you liked. I certainly did).