Tag: Reading Reflections Page 3 of 5

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Fangirl

There is no way for me to fit all of my memories and feelings about college into the confines of a blog post. But somehow, author Rainbow Rowell has managed to capture them — my emotions, my experiences — within the pages of her latest novel, FANGIRL.

The tiny dorm rooms. The kind but intimidating professors. The musty, maze-like library. The snowy walks between classes. Seeing different sides of people you thought you knew. Faltering as a writer. Growing as a writer. Falling in love. Making your own home. Living up to other people’s expectations. Learning how to be okay with not living up to them.

All that, and so much more. Rainbow Rowell is now 3-for-3 for me, which means I’ll read pretty much anything/everything she writes from here on out. (Her other two books are ELEANOR & PARK and ATTACHMENTS, in case you were wondering. Which you should be.) I guess you could call me a… fangirl?

(Sorry, I had to.)

“I don’t want to kiss a stranger,” Cath would answer. “I’m not interested in lips out of context.”

Neither am I. Never really have been, for some reason.

Oh, there is a boldness inside me, and sometimes she imagines what it would be like to have “hooked up” with someone. Or to be single in her 20s and dating around. But at the end of the day, that boldness is best served — is happiest — in my stories. She likes adventure without consequences, which doesn’t exist in real life, but is beautifully abundant through fiction.

“How do you not like the internet? That’s like saying, ‘I don’t like things that are convenient. And easy. I don’t like having access to all of mankind’s recorded discoveries at my fingertips. I don’t like light. And knowledge.'”

On the one hand: SO TRUE.

On the other hand: The internet is evil. It’s such a distraction. And such a dangerous distraction, because it distracts you by pretending to be useful. One second you’re researching a “small” and “quick” detail for your story — an hour later, you’ve got a dozen different tabs open, ranging from Wikipedia to the latest controversial think-piece to (let’s be honest) Twitter.

So, I love the internet. But I hate it at the same time.

“I’m afraid,” Professor Piper said, “afraid that you’re never going to discover what you’re truly capable of. That you won’t get to see — that I won’t get to see — any of the wonder that’s inside of you.”

I think that’s what we all fear. Isn’t it?

On a related note — but detouring away from the context of FANGIRL — I don’t care for the one-size-fits-all definition of “seeing the wonder” that our society encourages. In other words, fame & fortune. That is not the only way that wonder can be recognized or valued. And yet that seems to be what we’re telling people matters most. If you’re not spectacular, you’re nothing.

Except that isn’t true at all.

This wasn’t good, but it was something. Cath could always change it later. That was the beauty in stacking up words — they got cheaper, the more you had of them. It would feel good to come back and cut this when she’d worked her way to something better.

Oh words. Words words words. I’ve got to try and remember that you are free. Free to use, free to be bad, free to delete later. Free, and not to be feared.

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OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Olive KitteridgeDuring our recent safari, I actually created a new summertime reading memory of my own, one that I think will be a favorite for years to come. Thanks to digital library lending, I had pre-loaded OLIVE KITTERIDGE onto my iPad, and each day during our afternoon siestas, I would lie on the cot in my tent, or sit outside under the shade of a mopane tree, and enjoy a story or two.

Elizabeth Strout’s writing was dense and delicious. For some reason I hadn’t expected this book to be so … small-town, and yet universally relatable. Strout really transported me to this place, made me care about these people. And in telling me their stories, she taught me about myself.

She also inspired me to reconnect with my love of writing short fiction. Reading this book planted a kernel of creative energy that I’ve been doing my best to nurture and grow.

Here are a few of the lines I loved.

You get used to things, he thinks, without getting used to things.

He had thought more and more how provincial New Yorkers were, and how they didn’t know it.

Hope was a cancer inside him. He didn’t want it; he did not want it. He could not bear these shoots of tender green hope springing up within him any longer.

You couldn’t make yourself stop feeling a certain way, no matter what the other person did. You had to just wait. Eventually the feeling went away because others came along. Or sometimes it didn’t go away but got squeezed into something tiny, and hung like a piece of tinsel in the back of your mind.

Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee.

The appetites of the body were private battles.

Lives get knit together like bones, and fractures might not heal.

“All these lives,” she said. “All the stories we never know.”

I think that’s the essence of why I love to read and write. Because I want to know everyone’s stories. Whether people tell me, or I make them up myself.

Olive had a way about her that was absolutely without apology.

I wish this was more true of myself. I’ve made a conscious effort in recent years to be more confident, less concerned with others’ opinions. And I’ve made big strides. But I think I can go even further.

“‘Don’t be scared of your hunger. If you’re scared of your hunger, you’ll just be one more ninny like everyone else.’”

I don’t remember the context of this line, but I believe it’s about passion. About taking that leap of faith, trusting in yourself, your gut instincts. There are all sorts of reasons to take (or not take) certain paths in life, but I think fear is probably the worst reason.

Everyone thinks they know everything, and no one knows a damn thing.

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SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Silver SparrowSILVER SPARROW was my book club’s most recent selection. I knew nothing about it going in, which sometimes I think is the best way to read a book. This isn’t a feel-good story, so it’s hard to be like, “Omg I loved this!!” But I did really enjoy the writing, and I was impressed by the complexity of the characters and their actions.

She is gifted with language and is able to layer difficult details in such a way that the result is smooth as water. She is a magician who can make the whole world feel like a dizzy illusion. The truth is a coin she pulls from behind your ear. (5)

To me, this is what good writing does. It gifts you with impossibilities that are at once both dazzling and familiar. An unexpected and perfect analogy, a lovely turn of phrase. Images and ideas that were hiding inside you, revealed by someone else’s words. All as silky and natural as the wind. If that’s not magic, then I don’t know what is.

When did I first discover that although I was an only child, my father was not my father and mine alone? I really can’t say. It’s something that I’ve known for as long as I’ve known that I had a father. (6)

My father wasn’t a bigamist like the one in SILVER SPARROW, but he did have a wife and two daughters before my mother and me. I can’t remember being told, but I also can’t remember a time that I didn’t know. (I do remember thinking as a young girl that Phoenix, where my half-sisters lived, was just the name of the apartment complex with dark red awnings down the street from us.)

In spite of all the differences between the family in SILVER SPARROW and ours, I found it fascinating to glimpse into the mental and emotional headspace of the daughter who didn’t get her father full-time. Did my half-sisters resent me the way Dana resented Chaurisse? Did they also long to know me? Would we have been friends? And how do these complex, contradictory feelings compare to the ones that “normal” siblings have?

Whether or not I ever get the answers to these questions, it’s thinking about them that makes me grow. That’s the point and the power of fiction, after all.

(Note: Whatever issues there were in the past, my impression is that our family has done a good job working through them, especially in the past decade or so. I credit my middle half-sister in particular for opening the dialogue between everyone and pushing us all to become closer.)

(Also: She actually reads this blog. Hiiiiiii.)

This was what it was to have a friend, someone who knew exactly who you were and didn’t blame you for it. (75)

This is why people love dogs. (And cats, I guess. Although I suspect that sometimes cats DO blame us for our faults…)

But seriously, if I look at my longtime friends, this is definitely a defining trait of those relationships. And that kind of acceptance is so… essential, so priceless, so healing.

On the other hand, if I look at the friendships that have failed in my life, I can see now that they lacked this. I was blamed for who I am. But the more important thing for me to reflect upon is, Did I blame them for who they were?

And now, a few great lines to close us out:

“Love is a maze. Once you get in it, you’re pretty much trapped. Maybe you manage to claw your way out, but then what have you accomplished?” (116)

“You got to learn how to listen sideways to what people are saying to get at what they really mean.” (260)

The truth is a strange thing. Like pornography, you know it when you see it. (303)

“Just because you were ignorant doesn’t make you innocent.” (327)

People say, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But they are wrong. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. That’s all you get. Sometimes, you just have to hope that’s enough. (340)

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More from THE PARIS WIFE

As I said, there was a bit of overflow in my Reading Reflections on THE PARIS WIFE. Too many great lines, too many thoughts. I couldn’t get it all down in that first post, so here’s a bit more.

An artist given to sexual excess was almost a cliché, but no one seemed to mind. As long as you were making something good or interesting or sensational, you could have as many lovers as you wanted and ruin them all. What was really unacceptable were bourgeois values, wanting something small and staid and predictable, like one true love, or a child. (145)

Ah, the artist as bohemian. (Borderline heathen.) Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll. That’s what we’re supposed to be, right? Wild. As if morals, or other “strappings of society,” would dampen our creativity.

I don’t think that stereotype is as strong today as it used to be, but it isn’t completely eradicated. My own mother tells me that I’m too square (lol) and worries that this limits me, that it’s hindering my path to success. I’m never sure exactly what to say to that, except that I think it’s ridiculous.

Creativity is not about being “wild.” It’s about imagination, observation, distillation. And artistry is about pushing creativity to its max. It’s dedication, discipline, mastery.

There’s no reason that I can’t forge that path in a quiet way. In fact, some might argue that the stability of my life allows me the freedom to explore my writing without fear.

(Of course, some would argue that fear is an incredibly motivating force…)

Also, I wish people would stop knocking normal. Not everyone can be “special,” not everyone can “change the world.” Maybe if more of us would teach our kids that being good and ordinary is just as worthy as any other path in life, we’d have a happier, better world.

“I’m trying to keep it alive,” he said. “To stay with the action, and not try to put in what I’m feeling about it. Not think about myself at all, but what really happened. That’s where the real emotion is.” (162)

Upon a suggestion from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway cuts most of the opening of THE SUN ALSO RISES, which consisted largely of backstory for the main characters. Starting with backstory was apparently the common practice in novels at the time. But instead, Hemingway decides to jump right in with the action, and to strip out the narrative reflection, and to employ sparse, direct prose. All practices that are considered paramount in contemporary writing.

Throughout THE PARIS WIFE, I was fascinated by the evolution of Hemingway as a writer. This quote/anecdote gave me a glimpse into not just his evolution, but the evolution of storytelling as we know it.

I wonder what changes we are seeing — what changes we are making — right now. Young Adult literature as a genre, I think. First person present tense narration as the standard? Closer straddling of the literary-commercial line? What trends are here to stay, versus just marking a place in time? Which authors will have the impact of Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, or Salinger?

That we’ll probably never know the answers to those questions is both beauty and tragedy. It’s for the next generation of readers and writers to uncover.

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THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

The Paris WifeTruth be told, THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain is not the type of book I would have picked up on my own. A “biofic,” it might be called. But after seeing McLain at Books by the Banks last year, I wanted to know if her eloquence and enthusiasm translated to the page. (IMO, it did.) The story is told from the point of view of Hadley Hemingway, Ernest’s first wife, and focuses on their years together. As a woman in a committed relationship, I did connect with Hadley, but to my surprise, I found myself drawn more strongly to Ernest himself. Despite his boorish behavior at times, he was a writer, an artist above all else, and his absolute, uncompromising conviction stirred a lot of emotion in me.

(As did his insecurities. And Hadley’s.)

As I read, I wondered if Andy would identify with Hadley to some degree too. They’re both highly sensible, yet with enough of an artistic sensibility to connect with their creative partners, and they both have to deal with supporting — indirectly enduring? — the unstable, untraditional path of a writer. Granted, I don’t get drunk or fight bulls like Hemingway did… but still. I know it isn’t easy.

Anyway, I highlighted the HECK out of this book, and it was extremely hard to choose which quotes to feature here. I may end up having to do a couple short follow-up posts, actually, but these will do for now.

The whole time he talked fast about his plans, all the things he wanted for himself, the poems, stories, and sketches he was burning to write. I’d never met anyone so vibrant or alive. He moved like light. He never stopped moving — or thinking, or dreaming apparently. (15)

I remember showing my writing journals to Andy for the first time. How vulnerable and exposed I felt, because here were all my innermost ideas, laid bare to be read, possibly judged. Each hastily scribbled line was a seed; whether it would bloom or not, I had no idea. This was not a beautiful garden so much as a vast field that I tended and watched with tentative hope.

Fortunately Andy didn’t say much. He just flipped pages slowly, taking it all in, taking me in, with a kind of reverence that I noticed and appreciated.

His mood was pretty low during this time. He’d gotten several more rejections on stories he’d sent to magazines, and it hurt his pride. It was one thing when he was writing part-time and having no success. But now he was devoted to his craft, working every day, and still failing. What did that mean for the future? (67)

Oy, do I feel this. When you’ve put everything on the line — your reputation, your fortune, your heart — you can’t help but feel it. I am so lucky and thrilled that I could afford to quit my job and pursue writing full-time. But I’m terrified too.

In our circle, everyone believed things would hit for him, and that it was only a matter of time. “You’re making something new,” Pound told him one day in his studio. “Don’t forget that when it starts to hurt.”

“It only hurts to wait.”

“The waiting helps you boil it down. That’s essential, and the hurting helps everything along in its way.” (127)

Patience really is the hardest part. Thank god for the people who believe in you.

Now, switching from the writing focus to the relationship bits…

“Let’s always tell each other the truth. We can choose that, can’t we?” (47)

I feel like that’s a good motto in any relationship, but in a marriage especially. The truth may not always be easy or pretty, but it’s the only foundation you can build anything long-term on.

I also liked to look around at the houses surrounding the park and wonder about the people who filled them, what kinds of marriages they had and how they loved or hurt each other on any given day, and if they were happy, and whether they thought happiness was a sustainable thing. (92)

Do you ever play this game? I know I do. I speculate about couples at restaurants and on the bus, about celebrity couples, about couples I actually know. It’s as if I think figuring out their problems will help me solve — or avoid — my own.

But the truth is, we can’t compare our relationships to anyone else’s. There’s so much that goes on within each person’s heart, head, and home that we never see.

It gave me a sharp kind of sadness to think that no matter how much I loved him and tried to put him back together again, he might stay broken forever. (100)

I felt that way about someone once. I don’t love him anymore, not in that way, but I still think of him from time to time, and wonder about him, and hope for him.

“Sometimes I wish we could rub out all of our mistakes and start fresh, from the beginning,” I said. “And sometimes I think there isn’t anything to us but our mistakes.” (220)

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