Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Up All Night

Hello, my name is Savannah, and I was once a Paranormal Teen Lit addict.

I gleefully read the entirety of Meg Cabot's Mediator series - about a girl who can talk to ghosts - in the summer before 6th grade, and R.L. Stine's (yes, the Goosebumps guy) duet of books, Dangerous Girls and the Taste of Night, served as my introduction into the world of teenage vampires. I read about werewolves in Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, and all other sorts of beasties, borrowed from the oft-tread Teen section of my local library. Yes, I will even admit it: I borrowed Stephenie Meyer's Twilight from a friend, and in enjoying it so much, immediately bought the next two over-priced books in the series - New Moon and Eclipse -  from the school book fair. This was a much simpler time, back in middle school, when you could  still be considered that-weird-girl-with-the-vampire-books, but not care, because you were too busy reading about dark forests, dangerous kisses, and a fight to the death. Back when Twilight's sheer size and subject matter still turned most normal young teenage girls off of reading it, we few slumped in the back of the science classroom happily, with our overly-criticized, much-loved teenage fare.

Then everything changed, when the Hollywood studios' mass-production machine attacked.

Suddenly, Twilight was being made into a movie, with hot young actors and blockbuster headlines. We original children of the dark recoiled in horror, as bubble gum pink talons reached for our beloved books and crowed, "Oh, I love Edward!" (or Jacob. Like it really mattered). It was impossible. No one whose hair smelled like strawberries could possibly love these dark, romantic tales like we did. And yet, that same Teen section of the library was flooded by teenage girls, and ransacked of all the novels that I loved most.

Then, the shelves began filling up again, with new novels, and more handsome vampires. Paranormal teen romance was the number-one genre on the market, TV shows and movies starring things that went bump in the night started popping up in every major studio and network, and, all of a sudden... it was cool to be a batgirl. The hype hit what I thought was critical mass, and then kept growing and growing, until it seemed that there wasn't enough breathing space for us originals anymore. So, I sighed, and abandoned that genre that I loved, for the romance of the British classics, and the supernatural horrors of Shelley, Stoker, and King, vowing never to read a book that combined the two genres again. Until now.

As it is, so many years later, paranormal teen lit is still a major selling point, and I've grown to be okay with that. Still, in a genre that has become so over-populated, it isn't easy to determine which are actually well-written, and which have been mindlessly churned out by a career stock writer on a tight deadline. Therefore, if one of these books does grow to become a much-celebrated #1 national bestseller, I'm willing to give it a chance. And that's how the Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, ended up in my to-read pile.

The story, about two conflicting schools of magic at war, fought out by skilled manipulators whose hearts are connected by more than simply the challenge, features all of the best parts of those books I read in middle school, with nary a vamp in sight. However, the mystical, paranormal romance never manages to feel overdone, or like a repetition of something I've seen before. Even the calling card of the genre - the colors black, white, and red - take on an entirely new tint when represented in this novel. Sure, there were some sections I found a little boring or bumpy, and the chronology of the book (the effect of which was revealed to be quite clever, eventually) was pretty irritating when you were trying to really get into the story, but for the most part, the idea that I was the most impressed with, was that there was actually an interesting, emotionally-involving, dark and twisted romance left in this genre, the echos of which I haven't seen anywhere already.

I'm not calling the Night Circus the rebirth of my love of paranormal teen romance, by any means. And I still find all those teenage fangirls obnoxious. By I really must accredit Morgenstern with accomplishing a major feat: which is, to revitalize an entire genre, by finding new ideas and ways of thinking - by creating a clever format, an amazing cast, and enchantingly, whimsically, dark venue - to craft a compelling story, the remarkable nature of which is not often present on those kinds of bookshelves.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Old School

There exists such a thing - at least, among my group of friends - known as "The Austen Rule": being that the first time you read any given book by Jane Austen, you will absolutely despise it, and it will be a hard slog from start to finish, and at any point in the story you will be sorely tempted to quit it, but if you make it through the first time, upon the second reading, you will find it to be smart, humorous, insightful, and highly entertaining. This Rule is the reason why it took me eight tries to finally finish Emma, and why a decent percentage of those who read Pride and Prejudice this past year for their English classes may not have enjoyed it the way us multi-time Darcy-lovers did.

It is also the reason why my decision to read Northanger Abbey in the middle of the summer may have seemed highly ludicrous.

Summer is the time of reading as many good books as possible, stocking up in preparation for the dry and barren mental material coming with school in the fall. Summer is not the time to read, and reread. Summer is the time for beach reads, road trip silence-fillers, stuff that might cause concern if seen poking out of your messenger bag, but looks perfectly appropriate when read while swinging in a hammock or lounging by the pool. Besides, Summer is for American History and Novels. Save the BritLit, with its Gothics, for the gloomy, foggy Winter.

So why in the world would I actually CHOOSE to read Northanger Abbey, when it is perfectly good weather for jumping on some paranormal teen lit bandwagon? The above video is the guilty culprit.

"Jane Austen is my Homegirl," by the comedic troupe known as Pretty Darn Funny,  is a rap in celebration and honor of those BBC and PBS miniseries I just can't ever get enough of, name-checking the Brontes, Jane Austen, and especially Downton Abbey. Like an Austen book, I didn't enjoy it that much at first: I found it a little too contrived, with more lacking or awkward moments than general fluidity or humor. But then, I read the lyrics. And I soon found it to be 1:00 am, and had watched the video over a dozen times, memorizing bits and pieces of it, which I now recite at a moment's notice.

And that's why I purposefully chose to read something as difficult and time-consuming as an Austen novel, when the weather may be a bit more appropriate for a Dessen. The problem was, I thought it might be... I don't know... different this time. But I assure you, it is just as problematic reading an Austen novel in the summer, as it is during the school year.

However, once you get PAST all of the hard-to-interpret language, and figure out who's actually talking in what section, you can see glimmers of the amazing humor and sarcasm within the words. Northanger Abbey - a parody of the Gothic novels in such popularity at the time of its writing - is an amusing account of a girl, Catherine Morland, who imagines her life to be a little too much like those terrifying and treacherous novels she reads, leading to various difficulties as she realizes, that no, she is no great heroine, but that she might still have her own triumphant ending. This book is a prime example of Austen's wit and sarcasm, her humor, and her talent in creating believable characters, but also provides, within the story, a solid defense against all who claim the lack of literary merit in the novel form.

However, again, I didn't really get the chance to fully appreciate those characteristics of the book, because it took me more than two weeks to actually finish it.

Hopefully, someday, I'll return to Northanger Abbey, and find it to be wildly humorous, incredibly insightful, and as brilliant as I find Austen's works to always be. For right now, though, I'm ditching the dust for something a little more current, and not-so-wordy. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let Me Explain...

I needed a change, so I switched up the... everything. Or at least mostly everything. New layout, new style, new background, new color scheme, new "Top Ten" List, new font...

You'll also notice that my brief subtitle bar now reads "An Almost-College Girl," rather than "A High School Girl." This is true: I'm almost in college.

In college, I will be master of my life; therefore, since I am not yet even close to being halfways equipped to take care of myself, I'll just start by being master of my blog. :)

Hope you like it! :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Just Want to Fly

I'm beginning to reach that point in my summer vacation when I get really restless. When my sunglasses finally emerge from the dark hole I've been storing them in all year, and the heat makes it nearly impossible for me to sleep a single wink, is the annual time when the walls of my room and the comfort of my own home start to become a little... claustrophobia-inducing. You can only travel the same path so many times before it feels like you're walking in circles. I'm in need of a change in scenery, for the sake of my sanity, if not to seek some new inspiration.

While my current travel budget doesn't allow for express trips to Disneyland at my every whim (ah, someday...), or even the local bus fare, the global adventures offered up to me by my waiting bookshelf are always within my reach, and my broke-girl budget. :) Next stop: Scotland, and Iceland, by way of Margot Livesey's New York Times best-seller, The Flight of Gemma Hardy.

Set in the 1950s and '60s, the novel follows orphan Gemma, as she endures the torture of her cousins and cruel aunt at a young age, is sent to a strict, scripture-led boarding school, serves as au pair to a small girl while under the gaze of her mysterious employer (with an equally mysterious past), who tries to marry her, but she runs away and nearly dies, so she lives with... no, no, don't worry. No spoiler alert is necessary. This all may sound familiar, but there's no cause to claim "copycat": the book is, in itself, "a captivating homage to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre," so claims the inside cover.

If there's anything to fall under the gaze of my discerning eye, and raise my (no less discerning) eyebrow, then it's the claim of an adaptation/reinvention/homage/modern-day/fractured/whatever. Because if you mess up one of my favorite books, I will hate you: tromping around and pulling up flowers in a celebrated and widely-known garden, is the equivalent of mucking about in one of the world's favorite story lines with your own "ideas" and "opinions." If enough people liked it the first time to make it a classic, then why would you think you could do it better the second time? (And let's be honest here: almost three-fourths of these kinds of novels end up being no better than fan fiction.)

(Some, however, do succeed: read my review of April Lindner's take on Jane Eyre - by far, my fave Gothic romance ever - here!)

Livesey - in my opinion - did not successfully integrate the Jane Eyre plot with her own direction; namely, her Scottish-Icelandic flavor and mod-times aesthetic. Specific elements, themes, and occurrences within the novel, so integral to Eyre's story, are either underplayed, underutilized, or flat-out missing from Gemma's story, to the point where I felt like it was not a real adaptation of her novel at all... it was a half-hearted homage. If I had even seen more of Jane's character present within Gemma herself, then I may have felt more of a connection between the two, but on the whole, I felt that Gemma was more judgemental, selfish, and unconcious of her surroundings than Jane ever was.

Getting that out of the way, the book is not describable as "bad," by any means. When not viewed as an interpretation of Bronte's classic lit, The Flight of Gemma Hardy stands on its own as a solid, emotion-driven, not-just-romance novel, plentiful with beautiful descriptions and well-crafted imagery that successfully capture the magic of the various landscapes throughout Gemma's travels in a single sentence, or two. While I did not enjoy the book on the grounds of it being an adaptation of Jane Eyre, I did enjoy it simply as one enjoys a good novel, when accompanied by warm sunshine and cool lemonade. :)

Besides, while the novel itself could not truly take me out of the confines of my own home, my family did manage a brief excursion to the majesty of Mt. Rainier for a little hiking...a day trip to tame my restless soul. And so, for the moment, I am content (enough to wait until our journeys to Seaside, Disneyland, and Sun River come August, of course.) :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Feeling Ferocious

They stagger, suspended, in defiance of gravity, along the sky blue hunting grounds. Quietly, secretly stalking their prey, they advance with deliberation and patience. Afraid of being spotted, they freeze, stuck to their uncommon perpendicular playing field, steadfast, so as not to give themselves away. However, their inky blackness against the pastel paint yields their location. Sensing motion, hearing noise, they scatter, skittering away, attempting to evade the attack of a frightened, cornered, yet no less powerful, prey.

Yet, the shoe will find them, they will fall, and their spindly spider legs will crumple beneath them, for I am a very territorial creature, and I DO NOT WANT ANY MORE SPIDERS IN MY ROOM.

The heat outside - that rare Washingtonian sun that surfaces for naught but a month or two during the summer - is driving them inwards. The problem is, these are not the dinky, dime-sized variety, but the massive, half-dollar sized ones. I have felled three of these monstrous beasts in the past two days, and I can't help but feel a repetitive scratch, like a little arachnid tap-dance, even when they are not there. It makes me nervous, and itchy. Nonetheless, I am the superior.

This curious sort of bond between biological beings - the question of dominance, the predator/prey relationship - is the most enthralling aspect of my current reading material: The scientific techno-thriller classic, Jurassic Park, by Micheal Crichton. The incredibly popular novel - which spent 3 months on the New York Times Bestseller List before being made into Stephen Spielberg's 1993 tri-Oscar winning major motion picture - was found in the heap of my Dad's books in our garage, but was far more heavily recommended by my younger sister, the Cheerleader, who had read the book earlier this year, after prodding from a dino-minded friend. The two fell so deeply in love with the novel, that they recently attended a lecture in Seattle, at the Pacific Science Center, of one of the paleontologists whose work helped form Jurassic Park. If this novel could cause such a mammoth shift in my sister's reading material - which normally consisted of the likes of Dessen and Sparks -  then it was certainly worth my notice, and I quickly set about making plans for a trip to Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica.

If you are like me, and have seen the movie before reading the books, then you are prepared for the suspense, and later, gore, that you will find within the lush forests of Dr. Hammond's Jurassic Park resort. If you are not, then you should have paid closer attention to the description on the back of the book, as well as the T. Rex on the cover. This territory is not meant to be tread by children, as you will find readily apparent in young Lex and Timmy's encounters with the dinosaurs. Or even some less steel-hearted adults, as you will see in Ed Regis' run-in. The point is, there's a lot of carnage (if you've braved any of the Game of Thrones books, you're fine). But, even with all of the blood being mentioned, this is not a slasher book.

Crichton doesn't kill based on pure whimsy: there is deep method and research that goes into each of his novels, with major-name consultants whose work in their fields have defined such sciences as paleontology. We couldn't expect anything less than a Harvard Med Grad. The world he has crafted and then set into chaos is so suspenseful and terrifying, because we can recognize the reflections of reality within it. While no one has successfully cloned a dinosaur yet, through Crichton, we can not only see how someone could, but also how they could go horribly wrong. The lifelike components of his characters mirror how people would act in these given scary situations, as well as the various ways they could be eaten by various dinosaurs. The true forte of Crichton's works is found in the skewed, but nonetheless, scientific views, of how our world could shift, and how we would rise up to face the change.

The writing is captivating, and while there is a bit of a slow build-up, once you hit the action, you can't let go. This thrill ride, which takes you through foggy forests and raptor jaws, into what you can only hope is safe territory, is wholly deserving of its Rex-sized reputation. 

P.S. Making bookmarks is a hobby of mine, and you may have noticed the one I prominently displayed on the corner of my Jurassic Park copy. To make your own, follow these simple instructions:

Draw a Dino.
Color the Dino.
Cut out the Dino.

ADD TEETH. the end. <3