I have nothing to add.

Miriam Joy Writes

Disclaimer: I’m a Christian. I like to think I’m an open-minded, non-judgemental, nice person. Most people, when they hear I go to church, assume the opposite. Please don’t judge me before you know me because that is not nice 😦 I’m writing this post from the point of view of a 16-year-old brought up in a Christian family who thinks censoring books for religious reasons is stupid. Just in case that wasn’t clear enough by the end of it.

In my life, I’ve come across quite a few people who try and control what their children, friends, siblings, next-door neighbours, etc, read. Some will do this only occasionally – “Oh, I don’t think you’re quite old enough for that book yet. Try this one.” Others will basically censor the shelves of the local library before they’ll let their children near it.

One of my first experiences of this was when…

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Plane Trips Are Fun

Recently I went on a college-visiting trip to Chicago. The trip itself was awesome, but I want to focus more on the journey there, if I may. (Reading back this post makes me realize it’s probably tremendously dull to other people, but this is my blog, and the experience was interesting to me, so I’m posting it anyway like the Internet rebel I am.)

Now, I don’t think I need to explain to you lovely readers what the phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey is about. How it got to be the fastest-selling paperback book in history is beyond me, but I suppose today’s public no longer cares how explicitly erotic or terribly written their bestsellers are. What’s even further beyond me is how people expect it to be okay when they read it in public. It’s as if they think that nobody else knows what it’s about unless they’ve read it, too.

I have a message for those people: everyone knows what you’re reading. I’ve never read the book and never will. I know perfectly well what you’re doing as you sit on the beach or in the subway. You’ve got to be pretty gutsy, I’ll grant you, but it certainly makes me uncomfortable. Truth be told, seeing that kind of thing- and adapted from Twilight fanfiction, nonetheless- knocks my hope for humanity down a couple of points.

This leads me to the gate of our flight to Chicago, when the woman waiting in the seat across from us was thoroughly engrossed in her copy of Fifty Shades. Here I was with my giant paperback edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, and there she sat with that black cover on top of her lap in a horribly fascinating example of what passes for reading these days.

Needless to say, it put me off a bit. I even considered moving seats so as not to have to be faced with the display, but eventually settled on sitting quietly on my side of the aisle and minding my own business. I figured it was only until we boarded the plane, anyway. And looking back on it, I suppose she wasn’t bothering me directly. But still, it was the principle of the thing.

Well, we get on our flight eventually. It’s just my mom and myself who are taking the trip, and the seats are three to a row, but there’s no one sitting in the seat next to me. We were pretty far back in line, so I’m hopeful that I won’t have to sit next to a stranger for the two-hour flight. I wouldn’t have to worry about them falling asleep on top of me. I could use the armrest and not have it just sitting there between us because each person is too polite to claim it from the other one.

Alas, I dreamed too big. No sooner am I taking my seat than I notice there’s a book lying in the seat next to mine. Surprise, surprise: it’s a black paperback. Instantly I recognized it (my fellow book nerds will attest that we have the ability to identify many books we’re familiar with from just a bit of the cover). Of course, I could have had any other person on that flight as a seatmate, but no. With my luck, I ended up spending two hours with the very person who had made me squirm at the gate.

The flight itself passed uneventfully, and I’m sure she was a very nice woman, but I will never in my life understand how it’s acceptable to read Fifty Shades of Grey openly in a public place.

Happy reading.

The Page-Tearing Monster of Infinite Destruction (Or, Why I Don’t Like People Borrowing My Books)

I’ve never particularly liked to let people borrow my books.

The pristine, unbent cover and clean pages of a new book have always been the height of a novel’s physical life for me, and so I generally try to preserve that. As evidenced by my post two weeks ago, this goes so far as to determine the types of bookmarks I use, and never have I dog-eared a page in recent memory. That, naturally, carried over to a suspicion of all people who wanted me to part with one of my beloved volumes, and a worry, once the book was off my shelf, that they would do some sort of irreparable damage to it.

However, there comes a time where it is necessary that I lend a book to someone, mostly one of my brothers. This is often done with much groaning on my part. My brothers, especially the older of the two, have never been great lovers of literature, and so they do not handle books with the care that I aim for. Still, they have never done anything that can be said to render the book unreadable, or to put it past all hope of ever reaching my shelf again. Sure, there have been worn corners and small tears, but I manage to get over those fairly quickly.

No, the real risk is run when people outside of my family and close friends borrow a book.

There are two particular instances I’d like to get off my digital chest. The first doesn’t really have to do with ruining the book, but it’s an important lesson nonetheless.

This was back in my Twilight phase when I had a copy of The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, Stephenie Meyer’s Eclipse-based novella. It’s a nice story, or at least it was back in my Twilight phase. Anyway, there was this woman in church who liked Twilight as well, and one day while talking with her about it I asked if she’d ever read the novella, and she said no, she hadn’t, but she’d like to.

So of course I gave it to her, making sure to first remove the dust jacket since most people take those off when reading anyway (though I personally don’t).

A few weeks went by. She still didn’t read it. Then a couple of months. I checked up on her. She had forgotten she even had it.

When we switched churches, I started getting a little worried. To this day I still don’t know the whereabouts of Bree Tanner. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get it back. The sad part was when the dust jacket was lying downstairs, just waiting to be reunited with its kin. Alas, that never happened, and eventually it was thrown away.

The second instance was a bit more dramatic. A few years ago, a neighbor across the street needed a copy of Hatchet for his summer reading. I happened to have a copy of that same novel, from when I was his age. After some debate, it was decided that I would lend it to him.

This turned out to be a mistake.

The upside was at least he returned the book to me. Unfortunately, he had apparently gone at it with all the destructive powers an eleven-year-old can manage. The cover was battered into oblivion, the pages wrinkled, the general book knocked down quite a few points on the mintness scale.

I’m not very good at controlling my emotional reactions to things, so I received the book with mouth open in shock. I wasn’t sure how something like this could happen. I certainly had never mistreated my books this way, and I would never, never allow someone else’s book to come to such harm while under my care. It’s kind of an unspoken rule of book lending that you take exceptional care of a book when borrowing it, and this rule had been broken.

I seem to recall actually being struck speechless.

“It got stuck somewhere,” was his vague and rather troubling explanation.

The moral of the story: be careful to whom you lend your books.

Happy reading.

Review: Killing Hitler

It’s about time I did another review for the Eclectic Reader Challenge- this time, a nonfiction. It’s always a bit off-putting for me to read a nonfiction book. I’m not usually accustomed to them, and they take a while for me to finish. However, I do enjoy them when they have a good narrative, so when I saw this in my local indie bookstore I was intrigued by the premise.

Basically, this book is exactly what it sounds like: a tracing of numerous attempts to assassinate Hitler, ranging throughout the span of World War II. Each chapter highlights a different plot, from individual dissidents to underground organizations. However, what jumped out at me while reading this book was not so much the content of the story as the way it was told.

Firstly, each chapter told a different story. There was no central narrative; the chapters weren’t even placed in any kind of chronological order. It seemed to me more like an anthology than a single book. That’s not to say that it’s an altogether bad thing. Having new assassins and new storylines in each chapter made it all the more exciting for me as a reader. With every new plot there were new relationships to be explored, more motives to be uncovered. The only drawback to this, as I have stated above, is the seeming lack of any order to the stories.

Courtesy of Amazon, thus the bit at the top.

Because of this setup, each chapter was individually obliged to give tremendous detail as to the circumstances and historical context surrounding the main players of each particular assassination attempt, which I thought was just brilliant. Too many times in history classes or in our own research we focus simply on what happened without any thought as to how these things came to be. After all, what sense does an assassination attempt make if it was done by someone who, up to that point in time, had been an advocate of Hitler’s ideas? Where is the point at which that person switched sides, and what was the catalyst for that? These are the questions that are settled easily by Roger Moorhouse’s attention to such things. Once the historical context has been established, the reader can begin to more fully understand the true nature of an action.

Still, there is a point where things get to be too much. As an amateur writer myself and one who has sought the advice of numerous other writers and authors on the matter, I’ve found the general consensus to be that, when writing, the point one is trying to get across should be made as simply and briefly as possible. So when I found myself wading through a dozen pages or more of historical context per chapter, I began feeling that surely something could have been cut out. At the very least, the cover of the book had misled me in thinking that this would be a novel about assassination attempts. Rather, it focused more on the world in which these attempts were made, what kind of people made them, and why. And while that’s all right, the amount of what I felt was extra, almost redundant information was much too high for my liking. Overall, it made for a very messy appearance of the narrative.

One last critique, going back to the misleading premise of the book: At least three chapters (out of ten) didn’t contain any concrete assassination attempts at all. Rather, they were discussions of the plans that were almost attempted, or which were contemplated and then set aside, in the midst of that group’s or individual’s greater fight against Hitler and Nazi Germany. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those chapters all the same, but again I felt misinformed as to the nature of the book I had chosen for myself.

In general, this book gave me lots to think about in terms of how I expect nonfiction books to work, and how any story in general should or shouldn’t be told. While the plots themselves were interesting, the amount of prose to work through and the lack of any overarching structure served to worsen my reading experience. Perhaps it’s just my natural aversion to nonfiction books (and war history) talking, but as I got through Julie & Julia just fine, I don’t think that accounts for all of it. Still, I would advise my readers to be cautious in taking my word for it. As a rating, I’d give this book 2 out of 5 stars.

Happy reading.

Bookmarks: A Personal History

I don’t really like using bookmarks. I never have that I can remember. The commercial ones you buy in Barnes & Noble or elsewhere always seem too bulky for me, not to mention they fall apart eventually, and anyway I never want to deal with the tassels. Same goes for metal ones, or strings: I’m super protective of my books and I feel like they’ll damage it if they’re too thick.

And, of course, I never could bring myself to dog-ear a page. That would just be defacing the book, and I could never stand that.

So for most of my childhood I never used any kind of marker. The strange thing was I never kept track of page numbers, either. I would just close the book, and when I wanted to pick it up again, I would flip through until I found where I had left off. It’s clear to me now that this was perhaps the least efficient method I could have used, but it worked for me and so that was what I did.

Then last year (I think it was last year, anyway) I came across the rather clever idea of using index cards. I had tons of extras lying in my room from making flashcards. They were thin, disposable, and reasonably durable to boot. And I had lots of others if I did lose or rip one.

So that’s what I use today. I realize this isn’t much of a post, but I’m not feeling well and also I seem to have run out of things to talk about regarding books. Maybe one of these days I’ll talk about Sherlock or something; heaven knows I can fangirl about that for an indefinite amount of time.

I’d like to hear some feedback from you lovely readers, though (if you can forgive me for largely neglecting you these past few months): what sort of bookmarks do you prefer? Do you have a favorite one? Or have you found an alternative, like me?

No pictures on this post, but I’m sure my fine readers can do without a stock photo of some index cards.

Happy reading.

P.S. A short side note about something I find extremely interesting. Some of you may be aware of the free iTunes app called iTunes U. Essentially, you can download free recordings of actual college lectures on a vast assortment of subjects. Recently I’ve been listening to a class called History of Children’s Literature from La Trobe University in Australia. It’s a really great course that covers everything from Peter Pan to folk tales, and I really recommend that you give it a try. It’s taught me a lot about the nature of fairy tales (I haven’t gotten through the whole course yet), and I’m sure it has a lot to say about more contemporary literature as well.

The Only Time I Ever Cried

[I wrote this a long time ago, relatively, but have saved it as a kind of last resort. I figured since I didn’t have time to write last weekend, I would give it to you now.]

When I was in roundabouts sixth grade, I purchased a copy of the recently book-to-film’d children’s novel Bridge to Terabithia.

(Spoiler Warning: there will be HUGE spoilers for aforementioned children’s novel in this post.  Beware all ye who read here.)

The book looked good; it was about made-up monsters and a boy who liked to run and a girl with a bigger imagination than my own at the time (which is saying something).  Not to mention the film starred everyone’s future favorite boy-with-the-bread, Josh Hutcherson (seriously, though: when did he stop being the cute little boy from Bridge and start being this masculine manly man?).

And so I read the book.  When I finished it, it was at night on the couch in my living room.  I was laying down, perfectly at ease, when WHAM.

Leslie died.

It hit me like a physical blow.  This could not be happening.  No.  She was not dead.  Absolutely not.  She had her whole life ahead of her, she was supposed to go have adventures with Jesse and be happy and show him what it was to imagine things.

I managed to make it through the rest of the book, but only because I was in a state of shock and denial and blank horror.  She was dead.  This girl, this girl whom I had come to identify with and love and take for granted, was dead.  Dead and cremated and now Jesse was terrifyingly alone.

The book ended on a hopeful note, but I was crushed inside.  I put the book down, still not able to come to terms with the fact that the book was over and there was no sequel and she was not coming back.  Leslie was never coming back.

And this is how, a short while later, my mother found me curled up on the couch in the living room, drowning in a small ocean of my own tears.

She, of course, could not understand why I was sobbing in her living room.  As I have stated before, she is not a big reader and thus could not comprehend such a strong emotional reaction to a novel.  And so she, trying to help, stayed with me as I cried and assured me that it was okay, that everything was fine, that Leslie had not been real and that no real people had died.

But I could not tell her how wrong she was.  Leslie was real.  The author had made her real to me, had showed me just how real a fictional person can become.  Leslie was real and so when Leslie died, I felt that pain just as much as if it had happened to a friend.  But no, my mother had not read the book.  My mom could never know how real Leslie was to me.  And so I just went along with her attempts to make me feel better, knowing all the time that it wouldn’t change a thing.

Leslie was dead, and so I mourned her.

Years later, I still think about that book.  It sits on my shelf, quietly waiting for the day when I will work up the courage to take it out and read it again, to see if the pain is as fresh the second time around.  That day hasn’t come yet.  Maybe it never will.

A few months ago, my family rented the film.  I stayed for most of it, but when we got to That Part I retreated to the safety and silence of my bedroom.  Once upstairs, I thumbed through the book again, even reading a small bit where Jesse has just been told the news.

I had to quickly put the book back.

That was the first time I had opened the book since sixth grade.  Just now, while writing this, I opened it again.  I turned to a page farther along in the book, and so the pain was not as severe there.  Still, I did not read very far.  Even writing the story of my experience has made me feel a bit like I’m going to start crying again.

I don’t know why this book is so powerful for me.  I don’t know why I cared so much and cried so hard for Leslie.  Perhaps I had not read a book before with such a real character and such a tragic death.  Certainly I had read deaths before, but never like this.  Maybe Katherine Patterson just understands what it is like to be a child, and more than that, to be a child in grief.  Whatever she did, however she knew how to write this, she did it right.  Her book affected me in a way that perhaps no other book ever has.

Since then, I have read hundreds more books.  Many of them included tragic deaths or tearful happenings.  I can recognize when I am supposed to cry, when the author meant for the reader to feel these certain emotions.

The problem is, I’ve never cried.  Not once.  Not since Bridge to Terabithia.

A few times, I have been very close.  I have felt my eyes well up, but never have I actually shed tears over a character since I shed so many over this one.  Maybe Bridge has increased my tolerance, has made me numb to everything that I’ve read thereafter.  Maybe something inside me refuses to go back to those feelings for anything else.

Maybe I’m just waiting for another Leslie.

Readers, I know today’s post has been a bit of a downer, but I needed to share this.  I’ve only told a very few people about this, but never in such detail.  Thank you for listening.

Happy reading.

Review: The Catcher in the Rye

This is the only book I’ve ever read where I didn’t have a clue what it was about before reading. My copy has no dust jacket, no blurb, no synopsis. Which I think is interesting and worth mentioning. It puts you more immediately in the story, I suppose, and you never quite know what to expect.

That being said, I’ll provide a little synopsis here. (I do recommend reading the book first, though, so you can have the same experience I did.) Holden Caulfield doesn’t seem to be good at anything. He’s been thrown out of multiple boarding schools, and as the book starts he’s about to leave another one. Rather than going straight home, however, Holden decides to hole up for a few days in a New York hotel. This is the story of that weekend, and Holden’s journey of self-discovery during that time.

I read this a little while ago, so it’s not as fresh in my mind as my other reviewed books were. So I apologize if this sounds a bit ramble-ish, but I’m just going to go ahead and give you a series of observations I made while reading the book.

The thing that struck me most about Holden is that he’s very confused. He doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, and he doesn’t understand a lot of things about himself and about what he’s supposed to be doing. In this respect, Holden Caufield could be any adolescent. There are lots of people giving him advice and trying to tell him what to do, but he can’t accept any of that. He doesn’t want any of the answers they’re giving, and he’s not asking the type of questions they can answer (or perhaps they just don’t want to answer). He’s detached from society, an outcast, a loner, and he has to learn to discover his answers on his own.

Another prominent theme in the book is Holden’s loss of innocence, or his childhood, if you will. He lost his brother, with whom he had been very close, about a year prior to the events of the book. The whole time, he’ll go on little nostalgic trips, or he’ll see kids playing, or his little sister, and get sad. Because that’s another part of growing up, is realizing that you’re not a child anymore, and that you have to move along and get on with your life. I think Holden would absolutely love to be younger again, to have his brother back and to not have the weight of all this responsibility and to just be free. But he can’t, so he’s stuck in this nostalgic shadow of a life, eternally wishing for the Good Old Days to come back again.

At the same time, though, he’s trying to act like an adult. He tries to pick up older women. He lives by himself for a weekend. He hires a prostitute. He has a little bit of gray hair on the side of his head, which he uses to prove he’s older than he actually is. But the hair, at least for me, was a metaphor for all of his ventures in this area. He may have the hair, and he may show it off, but that doesn’t mean he’s actually an adult. It doesn’t mean he’s mature. With most of his stunts, it either backfires on him or he chickens out, proving to himself once again that, while he’s older than he wants to be, he’s also younger. He figures if he can’t be a kid anymore, he’ll be an adult, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s a long process and you can’t just jump to the end of it. There is no state of experience without first having the experiences. Holden, therefore, is stuck in between, unable to move back and unable to move forward fast enough. And so he doesn’t go through with anything. The women don’t like him. Holden ends up running to an old friend’s place to sleep. He pays the prostitute without sleeping with her.

Another short thing I want to touch on is Holden’s alienation. He’s completely alone, even though he knows all of these people in New York. And the thing is most of that’s his fault. He keeps insisting that he doesn’t really like anyone, that people are always “phonies”, that they are promise-breakers and thieves. He’s not the most likeable person in the world, either. It’s this alienation, I think, that makes him most like us. He’s the person we all know we are, deep down. He’s the critic, the one reluctant to trust, the one who thinks no one will understand him. And that’s the saddest part of all.

There’s a metaphor early on in this book about the ducks that live at a pond in Central Park: When the pond freezes over in winter, what happens to the ducks? Do they fly away or stick out the winter in the park? Catcher is, essentially, about the story of a duck, Holden, and his attempt to solve that question. The answer, he finds, is that he doesn’t know.

I think that could apply to any one of us who’s ever grown up or is in the process of doing so. We don’t fit in anywhere in society. We are in the midst of making a huge shift, and until we complete that shift we don’t belong with either children or adults. We are stranded and alone, just like Holden in New York. We are trying to carve our own paths. People will try to help us; people will try to give us answers. But the truth is we need to do this ourselves. We need to face our fears and our problems on our own, if only to prove to ourselves that we can.

There are, of course, many more things worth discussing in this book, but I think I’ll stop there. I highly recommend this, it’s an engaging read and is really powerful. This completes my literary fiction requirement for the Eclectic Reader Challenge (about which you can find out more by going to the Challenge tab). Next on the list is nonfiction, but I’m not sure when I’ll get done that just yet.

In the meantime I’ll end this post with a couple of videos. (“Again?” the readers moaned in unison.) Yes, again. I won’t apologize for showing you relevant educational video. Besides, how can you not love John Green? And he talks about the book in a way that is much more articulate and shows a much deeper understanding of the work than I could ever give you.

Happy reading.