Looking for Alaska by John Green

So I went and read this one after reading his Printz honor book for this year, and it was worth the wait. Spoiler alert: someone dies in the book. It seems like it's a book about boarding school, but in the end it's a book about surviving an inexplicable loss.

Favorite quotes:
"The times that were the most fun seemed always to be followed by sadness now, because it was when life started to feel like it did when she was with us that we realized how utterly, totally gone she was." (p. 190)
I felt that I understood something about grief, loss, and death that I hadn't fully gotten before when I read this quote.

"When adults say, 'Teenagers think they are invincible' with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don't know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that wehn they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, as so it cannot fail." (p. 220=221)

Maybe this is a predictable favorite, coming as it does from the next-to-last paragraph of the book. It's still my favorite. It explains all sorts of things for me about why I still feel the same hope that started when I was a teenager, when I realized that in spite of all the odds I was actually going to make it to growing up. Not without scars, not without losses, but I would make it out to a place where I determined my own bedtime, made my own money, and was whole.

The Joy of Doing Things Badly by Veronica Chambers

author of Marisol and Magdalena...

Favcrite quote from this book is from the chapter "A word or two or three about rejection:"

"On the first day, I could cry as much as I wanted. On the second day, I could cry, but I had to get out of the house. On the third day, I could cry, but I had to do something to get back on the horse..."

Things I'm not reading: Storytelling

Monday I heard 8 stories told in class. Tuesday I heard 8 more. Then, 30 minutes after Tuesday's class, I went to the storytelling guild meeting and heard another 6 or so stories told. And, of course, as happens every time I teach this class and am immersed in this world, I am suddenly seeing narrative all around me.

In my immediate environment, there are giants. Many giants. There are quests, like the quests of job applicants for positions in our department. I'm on a quest to develop and respect my own research agenda, which takes the strength of a hero. And I am dragon or champion in the stories of so many others.

This course always affects the time I can put into reading, because I become so saturated with narrative...

still award season... An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

I'm working my way through honor books slowly. The Printz awards this year look so intense that I think I'd need to recover from them emotionally, which is not something I typically have the juice to do during a semester. One more preface: I havent' read Green's winning book, Looking for Alaska.

An Abundance of Katherines was, well, fun. It's summer, there's a road trip, and two guys meet a girl named Lindsey and land a random job with Lindsey's mom recording small town oral history. The over-the-hill-child-prodigy Colin was an amusingly socially dysfunctional character, and his wise-ass sidekick Hassan kept the humor coming while Colin was moping. What's most interesting about the book to me is that Colin's experience of growing out of being special echoes the experiences of many kids. Many modern middle-class kids with adoring American parents are given classes, books, learning experiences, lessons, a host of gadgets and games... the result being that their every waking moment is spent in a state of pleasant stimulation. After years of this, teenage life and the impending doom of adulthood responsibilities are frankly a massive let down.

Colin deals with this let down on an internal level, as he comes to grips with the idea that, despite his high IQ and early achievements, he's basically going to live a normal life. I enjoyed Green's citation of research showing that gifted kids don't, on average, turn out much different than anybody else. Colin is absorbing this through the book, although the reader might leave wondering if Colin's dad is going to push back at him when he gets home from the extended road trip. Since the overall theme is that things are going to change, we don't worry too much about Colin's reentry into normal life. After all, he's headed to college next, and that's sure to be good for an obsessive braniac like Colin.

Fun. Good YA themes. Not groundbreaking in a profound sense, but nonetheless a good read.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

This is the third in the series that started with The Wee Free Men. I've never been able to get into Pratchett's Discworld series, but I love the "Tiffany Aching Adventures" in this series. Tiffany is a young but very powerful witch. She is connected to unseen forces, but is also extremely practical. This book has her accidentally dancing with the god of winter, and thereby accidentally taking the role of summer for herself, until the real summer has to be rescued from the underworld and the balance brought to rights again. There's lots of charcteristic Pratchett humor, including the fact that the Wintersmith demonstrates his love for Tiffany with Tiffany-shaped snowflakes and floating glaciers. As usual, the Nac Mac Feegle are a great help and highly amusing, as they bluster their way down into the underworld and back again.

I had an extremely taxing week, which involved outlining several dissertation chapters and taking notes on the entire decade of the 1890s in Library Journal, meetings with the afterschool and Family Resiliency Center folks, and the interviews for a director candidate of Urbana Free. I more than earned this Saturday escape into amusing fantasy, and I reveled in it thoroughly, in the comfort of our newly rearranged living room.