Monday, August 29, 2011

I Want One

A dog I mean. More specifically, an Australian Shepherd. Look how beautiful they are. I saw one in person on Saturday and it looked like this except it had bright blue eyes. It was probably the most beautiful animal I have ever seen. I want a puppy. In a meeting a couple weeks ago, my boss said that ever girl needs a dog. So there you have it. But I can't get one until I'm in a more permanant place in life. Sigh.. freedom has a price.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Love Montaigne

I think I've probably said this before and even included a picture, but I just love this guy. My grandparents have gained a pretty good selection of books over the years. A couple weekends ago I visited and found Selections from the Essays of Montaigne. It is a small blue book copyrighted 1948 and has 30 cents written in black marker on the front (I sincerely hope that was not done by my grandma).

Anyways, I have just delved into a couple of his essays like "Of Idleness" and "The True and False." He is part of the reason I started writing. Also, his essays make for a good conversation starter.

Also, I have realized that I love taking walks in the evening. I especially love it when I get a good friend to come with me to have an interesting conversation/discussion/argument. Thanks Kelsey, for letting me talk.

I think that people should write short essays about subjects they care about rather than write about the events of their day. I think it would be a much more significant piece of writing to leave behind when you die.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Style is Everything

Okay, not everything, but if you want people to pay attention to you and to understand you, how you communicate is important. You can feel heaps of inspiration on your morning walk, or for that matter, while you are high, but you are really not saying anything unless you say it deliberately. I used to want to write poems about feelings that I thought were important, but most of them were useless and cheesy because they weren't focused and the style was shallow (even if what I was trying to say was not). Style relates directly to audience and writers must be very aware of who they want to talk to.

Apparently young adult authors are not wanting to talk to me. Let me explain what bothers me about Mark Zusak's bestseller The Book Thief.

Now I am only on page 46, but I need to give my thoughts on style before I get sucked up in plot. First of all, lets look at the back. USA Today says, "Poised to become a classic" and Time compares it to Slaughterhouse Five. This book may be very popular, but will never become a classic to be placed next to Slaughterhouse Five because it is a young adult book, written in young adult book style.

Let's start with the narrator. If you want to tell a character's story not from the perspective of the character and not from the perspective of the author, you have a couple different choices. You can write from the perspective of another character (sometimes this starts out with a character telling a story to another character, like in Ursula Le Guin's  "Ile Forest") or you can take an omniscient narrator approach (yes this is different from the author inserting himself as a narrator). The omniscient narrator is usually described as one with "god-like" knowledge, but Zusak turns this around and writes from the perspective of Death, combining the omniscient narrator with the "other character" narrator.

It is a very clever idea, but I have a hard time with Death having a personality with human-like thoughts and frustrations ("Mistakes, mistakes, its all I seem capable of at times"), but also full access into humans lives and thoughts ("Liesel had no idea where she was.") This leaves me feeling like this is a story written by Santa Claus, he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, but he enjoys Christmas lights on his way to work and he might not get all the toys made in time for Christmas. I am left wondering who is Death, what is Zusak trying to say about Death (if anything), and what are the limits of Death? This distracts from the story of Liesel. Death becomes too central to play the role of an omniscient narrator.

So Zusak cheats by using Death. You may say that you can't cheat when you are writing fiction. There are no rules a writer has to abide by! And I would agree with you, but whatever a writer does to break the rules, it has to work within the story and for me it does not. Zusak could have made Death work as a narrator, but so far, he has just made Death too unrealistic. You say, "of course Death is unrealistic, the character is not real!" Yes, I know all that, I can trust the author and jump into a fictional setting, but the parts have to be realistic within the context. Let me show you why it is not.
1. Why is Death trying to prove to the human reader that he is cheerful? This seems beside the point, again this goes back to why Death has a distinct human personality in the first place.
2. What the heck does Death mean by "the sound of the smell"? Writers often mix senses to create a certain imagery, but this is so vague that it doesn't have any imagery.
3. Death talks about color being perched on his shoulder as you die, but then he talks about your color being in the sky. Which one is it? Or perhaps Death is an unreliable narrator. A new twist!
4. "Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me." Uh... what people? Why is invisible Death chatting to "people" about what color suits him. Are these people other death people? Am I missing something here?

If its not enough for Death to be an unrealistic narrator, Zusak himself is unreliable at times. For example, in one moment, frozen blood is cracked across Liesel's hands from digging for her dead brother's body in the snow, and the next she walks away holding hands with her mom. Wouldn't clutching a book in one hand and holding your mom's hand with the other hurt your bloody, frozen hands? Wouldn't Mom notice that her daughter is all frozen and bloody? No, Zusak makes it too easy.

Next I will explain how the style of this book is too cliche. Zusak relies way too heavily on fragments, this successfully makes the tone more dramatic but at the price of sounding cliche. He also uses cliche phrases like "dynamic duo." You can the describe the guards any way you want and you choose to use a phrase that has been used so much all it has left to mean is two? Yes, we understand that there are two of them already. Are you trying to tell us that they are great buddies? There are much better ways of doing this. Zusak also gives up credibility for cliches, like with these sentences, "Somewhere in all the snow, she could see her broken heart, in two pieces. Each half was glowing, and beating under all that white." Really? A nine year old imagines her bloody heart in two pieces, beating under the snow? Children are honest, they don't usually see themselves or the world in cliches. On another note, have you ever seen anybody with metallic, soft, melting silver eyes? Of course if we did, we would automatically see that they are the eyes of someone worth a lot, as Liesel saw in Herr Hubermann. Gray maybe, but silver?

Only one more thing to complain about. Zusak constantly breaks the first rule of good writing: show, don't tell. He abruptly tells us the important things we need to know instead of carefully showing us through the characters thoughts and actions (this way makes the reader feel the story much more deeply). For example, instead of telling us that Liesel stood in disbelief, it would have been much more powerful to show it on her face, or in how she walks. Another example is that Zusak tells us Liesel can't believe that her mom loves her, even though she heard "I love you" and knows why she was abandoned. It would have been much more powerful to show them interact, to show Mom standing over Liesel in the middle of the night, Liesel waking up and touching the premature wrinkles on her mother's face, and then showing Mom jerk at her touch, turn away and leave Liesel in the dark. I think that would do the trick, and it would be much more believable coming from a child. However, the most obvious way Zusak shows instead of tells is with Death's interruptions marked in bold and surrounded with *****. Doesn't he have any faith that the reader can pick out what is important without marking it with stars??

Perhaps I have had too many English classes or read too many good books. Now that I've gotten this out though, I am going to try to put Zusak's young adult style behind me and enjoy what looks like a promising plot.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

City Girl (well, for today)

Last Sunday I left my beloved home in Fayetteville, Ga and flew back to Utah. This is my 5th time (really?) doing this, but this time was almost as hard as the first time I left for college. This is probably due to the fact that I stayed home for 2 months. That, and I wasn't an obnoxious brat (see summer 2010). Anyways, I got to compare Atlanta (yeah baby), Phoenix (I'm sorry, but why would anyone want to live in a place that hot and dry. It's unnatural), and Salt Lake (more like a mini-city). And because my family just went to D.C. last week, I've been thinking about what it would be like to live in a big city (like really live IN it). So here is my top list of cities I would love to live in, American and not American.

American Cities (in no particular order):
1. Washington D.C.

This really is my number one right now. I am thinking about doing Washington Seminar through BYU. This city is huge! The architecture is incredible. And, well, there are a lot of important things going on here. I love all of the museums and monuments and the best part is that they are free! My ideal life setting for living here is single, still in college, working as an intern (yes, washington seminar); graduated (from grad school too) with an important job and lots of freedom (sneaking away at night to dance and write novels); or married with young kids. The last one may sound odd (raising a family where?), but it would be before school and before friends are important. I could walk my chillins to the museum of natural history where they can dream about becoming paleontologists. I could take them so fine art galleries and make up stories that go along with the paintings, although, if they are anything like my brother as a kid, this is way to dangerous.

2. Chicago, IL

I have never been here, but it has always been in my mind as the ultimate American city. I have this feeling that it has an extensive intellectual circle. My ideal life setting for living here would be grad school.

3. Seattle, Washington

Mostly I just want to find out what that big spacey tower thing is. I've also heard its a pretty artsy city and I've seen a lot of Seattle pride. Maybe I would live in a suburb just outside of here when I'm older and have kids.

Non-American Cities:
1. Oxford, England
Oh yes. Oxford of course, for grad school (or post-grad?). Yeah, not likely.

2. Geneva, Switzerland
Truly a global city. A lot of important things going on here. Beautiful weather. Museums and art galleries. Also the fourth most expensive city in the world... bleh.

3. San Jose, Costa Rica
I went to Costa Rica for four days and fell in love. Mountains, oceans, jungle, cool culture. Sign me up.

Bridging the Gap

I read the first book on my summer list! The Blue Sweater is inspiring. interesting. informative. If you are at all interested in helping the poor, not just giving handouts, but giving opportunities, you need to read this book.
Some highlights:

"You should focus on being more interested than interesting." -John Gardner
-I feel like a lot of people who travel the world, give money, and try to "help" the poor are doing so to be interesting. They probably are interested as well, but its more interesting to talk about your experiences living in Africa than your experience changing a community in Arkansas.

"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting." -Buddha
-I really love this. I've been thinking about the mantra of "having an open mind." Some may say this is dangerous. I believe it is only dangerous if you go half-way in your search for truth. I believe that an open mind, partnered with humility with bring you ultimately to truth.

"There are none more dangerous to extremists than moderates." -Jacqueline Novogratz
Take that Glenn Beck!

"Monsters do exist, but not in the way I'd imagined them." -Jacqueline Novogratz
Jacqueline had many friends in Rwanda before the genocide. They all played completely different roles. One woman who she had worked with in giving opportunity to all Rwandan women became a major perpetrator in the bloody genocide, destroying safe havens and encouraging people to kill their neighbors. When Jacqueline visited the woman in prison, she looked so childlike. Years ago she had a vision to make the world a better place, but became a monster of evil because of power and politics. I like this example because we often think about "bad guys" as somewhere out there plotting the destruction of our country in caves. We imagine that they were nasty little kids too (like the one in Toy Story.) But evil could be in our neighbors, it could be in us. We all have potential for evil, just like we all have potential for good. Its not so black and white.

"Today's world needs more than humanitarians. We need individuals who know how to listen and who have real and tangible skills to share." -Jacqueline Novogratz

"There is reason to believe that people everywhere can lift themselves up, but they have to be given the tools to do so. We can only open doors so that they can walk through them." -Jacqueline Novogratz

"Dignity is more important than wealth." -Jacqueline Novogratz


Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading is definitely in the top three things I love about summer (don't ask me what the other two are). I'm not in school right now, just working and so I have plenty of time to do what I do best! These are the books that are on my list (on on my shelf) this summer.

I actually have an unusual amount of these. They just keep stacking up.

1. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz (founder of Acumen Fund)

2. 30-Second Philosophies: The 50 Most Thought-Provoking Philosophies, Each Explained in Half a Minute

 Who knew when I bought it on sale three years ago and B&N that I might actually need it for my major? Anyways, I'm pretty excited about this one.

3. The Audactiy of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

Love the title. Want to see my presidents thoughts.

4. The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
I read this one in high school, something on another summer reading list for English. I remember liking it, but I might actually find it useful now.

5.  How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein
This was one of my required texts for my Social Entrepreneurship class, but I didn't read the whole thing. Plus it tells a lot about Bill Drayton and Ashoka, which is good because I am going to be an campus intern with them in the fall.


1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
I have been wanting to read this one for a long time. I love love loved the movie. I have pretty high expectations. I haven't decided whether to read the abridged or unabridged version yet. I guess we'll see how much time I have.

2. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
 This is one of the beat up books I took from the English supply room in high school (don't worry, I had permission). Its a play so its pretty short and I've never really read anything like it.

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I have heard enough people say, "Oh em gee, The Book Thief is my favorite book of all time!" to warrant a read. This one better live up to my expectations.

4. The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O'Conner
I am a huge fan of hers. Also, have a peacock fetish. Plus she is from Savannah, Georgia and writes in the Southern Gothic genre along with William Faulkner.

5. Harry Potter, the entire series, by J.K. Rowling
I'm not actually sure about this one, since I've already read them all so many times. But my guess is that I will go on a huge Potter kick about two weeks before the movie comes out. I will probably read them in my closet, which also happens to be a cupboard under the stairs.

Its going to be a good summer.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The New Yorker

I still don't know what this picture means, but I do know that it represents my current favorite magazine. Fortunately the I do understand the cartoon on the front of the issue sitting on my bed, but unfortunately, the cover price on the top does not say 15 cents but $5.99. But (wait for it...) fortunately, I get an issue every week for a year for 30 bucks.

There have been several instances when I go to the mailbox looking for a letter that is probably not coming, and instead find one of these babies. It lets me down much easier. Wikipedia says the New Yorker "is well known for its illustrated and often topical covers, its commentaries on popular culture and eccentric Americana; its attention to modern fiction by the inclusion of short stories and literary reviews; its rigorous fact checking and copyediting; its journalism on world politics and social issues; and its single-panel cartoons sprinkled throughout each issue." I like the part about eccentric Americana, ha ha. Yesterday I read an article about the issue of rights of the mentally ill. Should the mentally ill who reject their diagnosis be allowed to wander around the cities, perhaps hurting others and more likely themselves? (the article followed the life of a woman who ended up living in an abandoned farmhouse, eating apples and waiting for her "husband" to come save her. She died of starvation.) But then, do we have the right to tell people that they are insane, force medicine into them, and keep them in an asylum their whole lives? Its a difficult situation. But it also lead me on a dizzying mind trail, wondering about the line between mind and spirit.

Today I'm reading about the purpose of higher education. And Iran and the bomb. Oh and also cartoons, short stories, and poetry. What can I say, I'm hooked. And someday I'm going to live in a big city and do eccentric American activities (clean eccentric American activities).