"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reading Recap + Cheese

The past couple of months have been very book-filled, and you guys, they are all SO GOOD! I don't have time to give each one it's own review so here instead is a sampling of my thoughts about all of them. Think of it like a cheese tasting (I like cheese, okay?) ...but in book form!

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

If this book were a type of cheese, it would be smoked gouda. Smooth, sophisticated, with an aged, smoky feel and each bite (chapter) is full of surprises. This is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. From the very first page you are completely immersed in the world of horse racing in the 1930's. If that doesn't peak your interest, know that I was somewhat skeptical myself, especially since I'd already seen the movie, and therefore pretty much knew the story to begin with. What I didn't expect was that I could fall in love with these characters (who were also, like, real people) all over again. The racing scenes in this book are so suspenseful that I found myself wanting to jump up and down from excitement, and the parts that weren't edge-of-your-seat exciting were fascinating and filled with things I never would have known otherwise. There is at least a decade of research in this book, but it is all seamlessly woven into the narrative. If you have even a passing interest in history, or want to learn about a time that is at once completely different and markedly similar to our own, pick up this book. You won't regret it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

This book is like brie. It's melty and warm and light and soft. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake tells the story of a young girl who discovers that she can taste other people's emotions in food. This causes a lot of problems when she discovers that her mother is not as happy as she'd always assumed, and that her brother is even less so. This book is beautiful and sad and lovely all at the same time. The subtle magic of this story is that the presence of the impossible brings about very real emotions and makes the portrait of this family seem so real that it is as if you have lived with them your entire life. My favorite character by far is George. It takes a lot to make me swoon over a book character, but George is definitely swoon-worthy, right up there with Wes from The Truth About Forever and Geric from The Goose Girl. I guess what I love about this book is that despite the magical elements, the emotions, relationships, and actions ring true. My only gripe with this book is that there were a couple places where the author dropped pretty important story threads, and didn't exactly tie them up in the end. Still the absolutely beautiful descriptions of food and emotions, and the very real way in which the characters think and act, make this one of my favorite reads of 2013. (A million thanks to my friend Indigo, who recommended it!)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

If you've read my Letters to October, you may have seen an e-mail I sent to my friend about this book right after finishing it. Truthfully, I still don't exactly know what to make of it, which is why I'm calling this one bleu cheese: surprising, sometimes delicious, sometimes not, and it usually depends on the context (salad? sandwich? pizza?). The first thing that you should know about this book, as that you NEVER know what is real and what isn't. Mara wakes up in the hospital after an accident that kills her two best friends, and things just get crazier from there, with hallucinations and deaths and ghosts. I read most of this book in one sitting, eyes glued to the page, physically unable to put it down because I had to know if what was happening was...actually happening. And then THE ENDING. OH GOD.
Truthfully, my opinion of this book has cooled significantly since I finished reading it. Now that I've given it some space, I see the problems with it: the cliche bad-boy love interest, and the narrator who is not quite as deep or interesting as I first thought she was. But there is still that nagging voice in the back of my head. The one that whispers, "But, Laura, don't you want to know what happens next?" And if I'm honest with myself, I know I do. I might have to pick up the sequel to this one, if only to calm my insatiable curiosity.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

And here, finally, is a book that I can't possibly assign a food to, no matter how strange or delicious. First let me say that I had very high expectations for this one. I've been following this author's blog  for some time and looking for this book ever since. It is REALLY hard to find. But, low and behold, the Cedar Rapids Public Library had it, so of course I had to check it out.
The main character, Chloe, has a bond with her older sister Ruby that goes beyond normal sisterhood. During a night out at the mysterious reservoir (which, according to Ruby, contains the remnants of a flooded town), Chloe stumbles across a dead body floating in its middle. This becomes a catalyst for a number of strange events that point towards a not-so-pleasant truth about Chloe's sister. If that sounds like a vague synopsis, that's because this book is not easy to explain. It is told entirely from Chloe's perspective, who lives her life, if not in the shadow of her sister, then at least orbiting her, taking every cue and impulse from Ruby. It becomes apparent, too, that Chloe is the closest anyone has ever gotten to Ruby. I really enjoyed Chloe as a narrator, and I thought that there was something unique and ephemeral about Suma's prose style. Reading this book is like stepping into a dark, beautiful dream, in which everything, as ordinary as it may first appear, has the potential to morph into something much more sinister. I love the way the creepy moments in this book (and there are quite a few of them), are countered by the seemingly benign: teenagers riding in cars, having lime popsicles for dinner, buying a new pair of sunglasses. In the end, I'm still not really sure what to think of this book. I am still vaguely confused about some aspects of the plot, and there are some supernatural elements that weren't fully explained. All I know is that Imaginary Girls is unlike anything I've ever read, and only time will tell if it ends up staying that way.

So these are the books I've been devoting my time to. I hope you enjoyed this sampling, and I will be sure to keep you up-to-date on the other books on my list. As much I enjoyed writing this post, I still enjoy doing full length reviews of books, and will probably not do many more book-to-cheese comparisons in the future. But for now, the all important question: What books have you been reading lately?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Right Now & Someday Soon

Things that have made me happy recently:
Snow (hint: It snowed today!).
Discovering the band Kodaline (their new album is absolute perfection). 
Planning crazy amazing travel adventures with my friends that may or may not happen ever. 
Learning French songs on the piano. 
Centering the type of this blog post, just because.
Drinking chai tea lattes, obviously. 
Eating pancakes with the people I first met when I visited Coe.
Writing birthday cards and mailing them.
Planning my reading itinerary weeks in advance (i.e. "This is the book I'm going to read over Christmas break!").
That moment when you finally finish a paper.
Successful writing center conferences.
Getting text messages from people I haven't talked to in a while.

Things I'm looking forward to:
Seeing my family and my dog and my friends (in two weeks!).
Walking into my new house for the first time.
Doing stereotypically holiday-ish things.
Having more time to read.
Deciding what book to read on the plane ride home (because I take strange pleasure from that ritual).
Somehow getting my hands on Bellman and Black, the new Diane Setterfield novel.
Having 50,000 words written at the end of November (It's happening folks, somehow, it's happening).
Study abroad in London & Florence (long term excitement for that one).
Baking cookies.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Farewell, October

October. Where did you go? It feels like I let you slip through my fingers, like when I was little and I cupped my hands under the faucet and it seemed no matter how hard I pressed my fingers together there was always a gap for the water to escape through. I suppose I'm sad to leave you. Or are you leaving me? This last week has been a whirlwind of stress and laughter and activity, and today really doesn't feel like a new beginning, not like October 1st felt at all. That's not to say I'm not looking forward to November, or Nanowrimo, or Thanksgiving. I just feel like I let you slip away, October. Like I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I guess this will have to do.

As far as months go, you were probably one of my busiest.  I explored Cedar Rapids and Chicago. I wrote at least four papers. I probably drank half my weight in Chai tea and apple cider. I read three books. I had many interesting conversations, a couple of writing center conferences, and lots of laughs. I carved a pumpkin, flew to North Carolina, and planned several short stories. Despite a few stressful days, you were a good month, October. Best of all I have a record of you. Even if I end up doing this project next year, you will always be special, because you were first.

It's funny, today the leaves on the trees around campus really decided to show their colors. I can't tell if you were only a precursor to fall, October, or if this is this is nature's last burst of flame before winter sets in. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Maybe next year I will be able to read you better. Farewell, October. Until we meet again.

Song of the day: You Are Goodbye by Holly Conlan


Songs that aren't in the playlist because Spotify is stupid:
Trying to Be Found by Snow Mantled Love
Build Me a Boat to Nowhere by Hunter & Wolfe
The Ground by Orla Gartland
Nothing Stays the Same by Luke Sital-Singh

That's all for now! Keep your eye on my Nanowrimo progress in the box underneath the typewriter in the left side bar. Participating in Nanowrimo? Add me as a writing buddy! 

Other than that, have a great November!

Letter #31

Dear October,
        It is super late and I am sitting here in my dorm room, listening to the song of the day on repeat and marveling at life in general. I started my day with the generosity of friends. A few nights ago a classmate and I were talking about how much we missed our dogs at home. When she found out her mother was going to visit and bring their dog, she invited me to join them for some good old fashioned animal time. So I spent my morning with a lovely dog and lovely people. I forgot how much I crave the unwavering energy and enthusiasm  that dogs bring with them to every interaction. It’s just so contagious! The middle of my day was spent studying for my Sociology test, which I think I aced, by the way. After dinner I had a shift in the writing center, and I did my first ever English-as-a-second-language conference. I’m not sure how much help I was, but it was definitely a learning experience. The rest of the evening was spent eating candy in my friend’s room, freaking out (and laughing hysterically) while watching Children of the Corn. There is one scene where the main character is running full speed from the creepy children with a knife wound in his chest, and in the process runs into a pole that slows him down more than the knife wound does. That cracked us up big time. Afterwards we followed Netflix’s suggestion and watched a TV show for pre-teens about a mermaid cult and a guy who turns into a half-merman by falling into a magical pool. We spent most of it trying to figure out if their accents were Australian or New Zealand-ish (?), and examining the sexual tension between the half-merman guy and his best friend.
…So that’s what I did with my Halloween, October. It was an all around good time.
I can’t believe you are almost over. (Actually, you are, since it’s after midnight now.) If there’s anything I’ve learned from this project is that so much can change day to day, and most of the time we don't even notice. I’m not going to pretend I’m a different person than I was at the beginning of the month, but these last few days have felt like I’m on the cusp of change. This project has taught me that life is more than just a procession of moments. It’s thoughts and inside jokes and chances taken and opportunities missed. Each part affects the rest. It’s like a giant puzzle that we will never find all the pieces to, but if we take a few moments to step away from it we can almost make out an image.
At the same time, there’s something to be said for just…living. Experiencing. Feeling. Like the artist in today’s song of the day. You know immediately where his heart is. It is wholly, passionately, impossibly invested in the music, the moment, life. Oh dear life. You’ve been good to me.


Song of the day: Nothing Stays the Same by Luke Sital-Singh