Sunday, July 31, 2011

Scary Camp Stories

The act of sharing scary stories around a roaring campfre is an age-old tradition, as old as the history of story-telling itself, when tribes would gather to listen to the words of a wise man. These days, a wise man knows not to orate the tales of Big Foot, the Missing Miners, or the Ghost Whatever, at our campfires, unless they also wish to contend with the blood-curdling screams of my little brother (but I can't poke that much fun, because, a very short time ago, that was me). It seems that the exploits of terrifying creatures and phenomena have been expelled from our camp grounds forever, so we lie around, reading books, instead.

However, maybe we haven't heard the last of the Boogey Man. A handful of tent-pitchings ago, my Dad stowed Mary Roach's Spook in his duffel, and later still, Stiff passed through his (and my) hands, too. The interest in both science and the scary proved too much for us to withstand, and we enjoyed both books immensely, and still reference them casually between episodes of Ghost Hunters (Our family is devoted. No judging).

So this interest in science and spookiness is what prompted me to pick up Death from the Skies: the Science Behind the End of the World (Yes, the cover art work did factor). :) It didn't feature things that went "bump in the night", but instead, Philip Plait, Ph.D., focused his attentions on things that went boom in the sky. Things that could possibly destroy us all.

While the book was informational, interesting, and a great conversation starter, it did confuse me a little. The chapters on various space happenings, like stars going supernova, gamma ray bursts, etc. start out with attention grabbing stories of woe and destruction, then meander through easy-to-follow descriptions of the phenomena themselves, and then finally evolve into the epic conclusion: You're not going to die. At least, not right now. In a while. And for the problems that may affect us, lots of smart people are working on it. So, relax.

To be honest, I feel like it acted as a sort of calming reassurance, for all potential scaredy cats, which contradicted everything the book had promised, with it's eye-catching cover, and apocalypto chapter openings. I felt like it didn't take the topic seriously; therefore, it hindered me from really taking any of it seriously, and didn't get me invested in the information. The message of "Don't Panic" made the entire purpose of the book seem slightly less interesting.

Maybe it's because I'm not enough of an astronomy aficionado. Maybe it's just the same lesson we learned camping: if you have to worry about the chicken hearts, the campfire won't be as fun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eras Will End

This past weekend, my father and I went on our very first (official) college road trip. We rolled past seemingly endless fields of wheat and windfarms, in our efforts to reach the very edge of what is defined as Washington territory, to inspect the separate universes of Central, WSU, Whitworth, Gonzaga, and Eastern. It wasn't that I had to pick one out just yet, my parents said, but that I had to start forming ideas about this upcoming ladder rung of life.

(As someone who has been longing for boarding school since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel, no less than vines covering worn stones and wrought iron, with new friends and hidden staircases left to be discovered inside its walls, will satiate my craving for a literary existence :) ).

While the prospects of a newly-formed, freely-lived second life away from my parents are exciting, and as the classic saying goes, every ending is also a beginning, what about the time BEFORE the ending? The train is heading full speed at an ice wall. The wall may yield to a brighter and warmer climate, but what about 100 yards back, when all you see is an end, and all you can do is brace yourself for the cold shock?

Childhood has always been, at least to me, one of the most easily misplaced luxuries. It sits on your bedside table through elementary, middle, and high school, but one morning, you wake up, and decide you want to take it with you, but it's gone. You wanted nothing more than to have nothing to do with it for the longest time, and then, when you want it the most, it has taught you all it can, and it has to leave. In a sort of Mary Poppins sort of way.

One of the only authors that I've encountered, who has been able to fully articulate my tight-chested feelings on the subject, was Annie Dillard.

"Must I then lose the world forever, that I had so loved? Was it all, the whole bright and various planet, where I had been so ardent about finding myself alive, only a passion peculiar to children, that I would outgrow even against my will?"
Her book, An American Childhood, is one of the most treasured in my collection. She is at the top of my list for Writers I Would Most Like to Talk To. However, the novel also gives me anxiety: I refuse to lend it or recommend it to anyone remotely close to me, because the feelings detailed inside are so real and so familiar, it would be the equivalent of tossing out my own journal to the wolves. It is a beautiful thing, to be able to retire the old, oft-spoken catchphrase of Teenage Rebellion, "No one understands me!", but a frightening one to consider that maybe, instead, the multitudes can. And even worse, do.

The fact that a second childhood is possible to experience, is enough of a reason to read this book. For all literary-minded, fire-hearted, suburban straightlaced and straightjacketed girls everywhere, Annie Dillard gets it. However, she has breached the ice wall. Pretty soon, I'll have to do it, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Realistic Ride

Let's just face facts here: I like some "realistic teen fiction", but, honestly, the majority of it just doesn't appeal to me. The main offenders tend to be the stereotypical characters, simplistic plots, and weird drama, that really just don't fit into reality, and therefore, shouldn't belong in this branch of YA reading. It just strikes me that going through the same sort of books, where characters just barely change names and hair colors, is pretty unexciting, and kind of a waste of my valuable reading time. I'm rarely surprised by these sorts of novels, and therefore, don't spend a lot of time thinking about them.

This is why I read books by Sarah Dessen. While she shares a library shelf with these aforementioned bores, she manages to make her heroines relatable, funny, and endearing, by steering clear of the regular pitfalls of "the pretty, damsel-in-distress, airhead" and "smart, and therefore ugly, nerdgirl" types. And when it comes to plotlines, she doesn't just craft a regular ride around the park, following an easy-to-traverse path, filled with varying potholes and speed bumps of conflict, but instead, crafts entire scenarios that are special, and different enough to prove their title of "reality".

No one lives in plain, old Regularsville, U.S.A. No main love interest would prove himself worthy with just an average smile and cheerful wave of his hand. Everything in her books has a depth to it. Everything has a backstory, which I find very important. There's reasoning, and thought, to it all, and that glue binds the whole of the unique scenario she's set up, into a cohesive miniverse. It makes her characters relatable, and her situations believable. She gives her "realistic teen fiction" an appropriate reality in which to exist. That's why I love to read her books.

Along for the Ride would definitely not disappoint fans of her other material. While it doesn't include the emotional impact I felt from some of her other recent work, like Lock and Key and Just Listen, she still proves to me that there are some YA books of this genre that are worth looking out for. Thanks, Sarah, for the entertaining reading.

(Also, I've got What Happened to Goodbye lined up, with plans to read it before summer's end. )

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I love books. A lot. However, this statement, being a generalization, has the capacity to be incredibly untrue. There are books I think are okay; some that I respect enough to finish, but not enough to stock in my personal collection; even a couple of books that I've really rather hated. Then again, there are the books that are so completely brilliant and amazing that I can't help but love them until their pages turn brown and break down from too many messy fingerprints, and the spine becomes so worn that the slightest nudge will cause it to fold open like a fan. Usually, it takes time for a books to be able to demonstrate my affections in this way, but for hometown hero (Tacoma, represent!) Frank Herbert's Dune, this transformation has taken place only in the stretch between two summers.

Originally, for me, it was one of three book recommendations from my father. I asked him for interesting science fiction reading material, after having enjoyed Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game in Freshman English, and I recieved what he dubbed "practically the trifecta of SciFi literature". This grouping included the first of Issac Asimov's Foundation series, William Gibson's Nueromancer, and Dune. Out of the three, the only one that fitted my sensibilities was Dune, and when I say I enjoyed it, I mean thoroughly. (It's own cover dubs it "Science Fiction's Supreme Masterpeice", and even though I don't have that much experience in the field, I would like to agree :) ). It is currently the Number One book I recommend to friends, and one that I can always count on for entertainment, regardless of how many times I read it.

I would also like to briefly note the irony of the fact that I finished this past rereading just as a summer storm was coming to fruition. (Dune is set on the desert world of Arrakis).

Anyways, what I'm trying to get at is there are many reasons why I choose to make the statement that I love books (a lot), and Dune is one of them. So you really need to read it. Like, now. (Besides, it's summer, and the frequent mentions of "sand" and "heat" make it a reasonably appropriate beach read :) ).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Days When School Might Come in Handy

Not often have I experienced such total longing for the book-club style of our Junior AP English class, as when I was confronted with the closing of the classic Steinbeck novel, Grapes of Wrath. Anyone who has journeyed from Oklahoma to California with the Joad family before, has also been faced with the symbolism-packed, Bible-allusion-laced pathway from poor to tragically destitute, while noting many a critique of the government, and society in general, along the way. Unfortunately, it turns out that I am either too lazy to go through and pick apart every important detail and dissect it for meaning, or not creative enough to get past basic understanding. (I sure hope it's not either of them, actually). So, in the end - and especially at the end, for those of you who have read it and know what I'm talking about - I was left simply confused, and more than a little frustrated that I had spent that much time following these heart-felt and carefully molded characters, and yet had no idea what had happened to them along the way. Well, I did know one thing: every single one of the characters I had taken a special liking to, like the Grandparents, and another one who I'm not going to ruin for those who haven't read it yet, ended up dead, which was pretty depressing, and probably was one of the biggest reasons why I didn't really like the book.

I should probably address that: I really didn't enjoy Grapes of Wrath. It's hard for me to say that I didn't enjoy a book, and especially one that has been branded a classic since the early 20th Century. I understand that it was an important breakthrough in terms of getting people to register the impact of the Dust Bowl and Depression on a personal level, and it was a rallying cry against the big pig bankers and farmowners who were grabbing and clawing at people's livelihoods at that time, and if school has taught me anything thus far, it's that if a book makes you feel bad, that makes it a great book, but really, I really, really did not enjoy this book.

But I can still understand why people - as history has demonstrated, a LOT of people - really care about this book. And like I said, I wish I had the benefit of experiencing it along with a larger group of people, like my lovely Junior AP English class from this past year, who might help me understand, and therefore, enjoy it, a little bit more. And therein lies one message I clearly absorbed from the Grapes of Wrath: It's a terribly hard thing, to have to do it alone. When the people come together, that's when important things happen. Tom Joad knew that the people needed to come together, and devoted himself to the cause.

However, I'm not going to be the first to announce a need for our English class to regroup over the summer, for the summary and review of a book that we were never officially told to finish. :)
P.S. You know you've paid way too much attention to your English teacher when you finish tie-dying, you look down at your hands, and the first thing that pops into your head is Lady Macbeth. "Out, damned spot!" :)