sábado, 26 de diciembre de 2015

Paper Towns - John Green

John Green is world-level famous, and has a giant number of fans, self called nerdfighters. I had encountered JG before in gifsets and quotes and thought he wasn't my cup of tea. So I let that hype train pass. I then found him on crash course and mental floss, and thought his videos were funny and highly informative, but I still wasn't convinced to read his books. Then I also watched part of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries because how could one not watch it and realized that Hank Green was his brother. So I went to see what vlogbrothers channel was all about, because the brothers Green seemed something special. And it was awkward and funny and great. And I thought that maybe John's quirky monologues would find their way into his books, so I, being a sucker for witty banter because I grew up on Gilmore Girls, couldn't pass up the opportunity to read witty dialogues. But I still wasn't convinced enough to buy his books, since I'm a bit of a snob at heart, and my library doesn't carry JG books. So John Green and me were at an impasse until I got Paper Towns as a Christmas gift. I waited until summer because this book looked like a summer book (and because a movie was happening).

And here we are, after having run out of excuses. The first thing I have to get out of my chest, being the little snob that I am, is that John Green doesn't write high literature. His prose is not something to contemplate, breathless. But the witty banter was there, the pace was quick and I was entertained. Even more, I was rewarded for watching those vlogbrothers vids, because they are an unexpected window into John Green's creative process. I played a game of spotting the references to his research or to real events of his own life in the pages of this novel. It was cool, like being an insider, and made the world of Paper Towns a lot more encompassing and real.

The characters in this book could be any group of real life teens. some were nerds and some were popular, most had sex on their minds. All of them were awkward. They were, in spite of what may seem, believable. One of the assets of John Green is that he accurately remembers how it was being a teen.

What I wasn't expecting was the seriousness underlying the apparent banality. I was expecting a fun road trip with friends, not a study of expression and perception by others. Of depression. A deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girls, which is one of the most pervasive and hateful tropes ever written - I like this story (500 days of summer comes to mind) and like reading iterations of this story. Margo has the right to be selfish and even hateful because she is a real person. She isn't likeable, but I don't see why she should be. That's the point of the book.
Isn't it also that on some fundamental level we find it difficult to understand that other people are human beings in the same way that we are? We idealize them as gods or dismiss them as animals.
It's true that the ending was anticlimatic, but it was the perfect ending for this book. More mature than I was expecting. John Green definitely gets teens. 

Verdict, even though I guess everyone already knows how they feel about John Green: John Green seems to be polarizing, and readers expects too many different things from his books. I liked it way more than I was expecting. I will give my two cents: read his books as if they weren't written by anybody in particular.

miércoles, 23 de diciembre de 2015

The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken

Disclosure: This book came free for review - thanks, Open Road Media! However, this hasn't affected my review. My opinions, as always, are only mine.

As I've repeated quite a few times already, I'm a sucker for short stories. They tempt me - they are bite-sized novels. I can't resist. Open Road Media sure knew what they were doing when they send me a collection of short stories and by an author I'd never heard about before, no less. Well, it turns out he was a great poet, novelist, literary critic, and father of two great writers (Jane and Joan Aiken).

I liked the Collected Stories, but it was as uneven as any other collection out there, specially taking into account that this collects the whole literary production of Conrad Aiken in the field of short stories, from the 1920s to the 1960s. We can see how Conrad grew and matured through his writing. And many things happened in those forty years: a world war, civil rights, women liberation, the first instances of the technological revolution that would shape our century. This is all reflected in Aiken's worldview, and it's a delight to see that world change through his work. 

However, whatever the theme or the subject is, there are two constants to his stories:

1) Great quality of prose. I mean, the man has a Pulitzer, so it's not like y'all needed me to point this out, but his writing is like poetry. It is precious in its simplicity. Honestly, it reads like a writer's writer if I ever saw one.

2) An autobiographical streak. Because, see, Conrad Aiken didn't have an easy childhood. His father killed his mother one day and then committed suicide, leaving Conrad orphaned. This, of course, marked Aiken very deeply, who proceeded to explore different kinds of mental instability in his stories.

He explores the human condition - the good and the bad. Mainly the bad. Infidelity, pettiness, betrayal. What takes to ditch social mores. What happens when one ditches them. Is a killer insane or just off the social path? How does one get off? Is it slowly or just all at once? In many cases, there is a Christian sensibility to his stories: often religion is not the answer, or at least the persons who practice this religion are flawed.

Much as I liked his social/human stories, I couldn't help enjoying his horror stories even better. Which unfortunately were few and far between. The horror of Aiken is quiet and chilling, in a way that reminds me of Poe. In fact, his most anthologized short stories belong to this genre: Mr. Arcularis and Silent Snow, Secret Snow. He actually wrote a ghost story like no other, a story that is so good that is now in my top ten best short stories ever: State of Mind. It is so subtle, well-written, bone-chilling and reflective at the same time that it is a perfect story indeed.

I have to recommend this, it was a great book. Conrad Aiken is unjustly forgotten. Let's hope this new edition will bring up a little bit of recognition to Aiken.

lunes, 21 de diciembre de 2015

Virgin River (Virgin River #1) - Robyn Carr

"Wanted: Midwife/nurse practitioner in Virgin River, population six hundred. Make a difference against the backdrop of towering California redwoods and crystal-clear rivers. Rent-free cabin included." 

When the recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees this ad she quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache, and to reenergize the nursing career she loves. But her high hopes are dashed within an hour of arriving: the cabin is a dump, the roads are treacherous and the local doctor wants nothing to do with her. Realizing she's made a huge mistake, Mel decides to leave town the following morning. But a tiny baby, abandoned on a front porch, changes her plans...and a former marine cements them into place.

This has been my first full romance novel ever. I promise to resist every lame virgin pun. Can we have a look to my GR updates?

I was excited to be reading this! So many opinions.

I liked it. I know I sound surprised, and I shouldn't, because it so judgemental to think badly of romance novels without ever having read one. Hi, I'm Masanobu, a former book snob on the way to recovery. I asked for help, and happily Maria Helena pointed me to Robyn Carr and her Virgin River series, and here I am.

I don't know whether I would have been drawn to the story on my own. It's true that I love medical shenanigans and stories set in small towns, but I'm not big on babies (I do like puppies and ice cream, for the record). And they are a big part of the plot. It's right there in the back of the book. But I gave it a try and, while Virgin River is not devoid of problems, I enjoyed reading it. 

The story is very much a slice of life - it's very quiet. What moves the plot forward is the emotional journey of Melinda, who is trying to get over the death of her husband to be able to function in society again. With time, she forms a friendship with Jack, an ex-marine living in Virgin River, and they both develop feelings for each other. Mel harbors contradicting emotions of love for Jack and betrayal to her dead husband, which were very well portrayed, with much sensitivity. It was easy to feel empathy for her. The initial sexual tension and sex scenes were tastefully written - delicate, but powerful. They made you feel the love between both characters. 

The pace became a little uneven after Jack and Mel get together, though, and I lost a bit of interest on the story. Too much shirt yanking, too few meaningful interactions for my taste. I had my heart set on the wedding and birth, and on the resolution of some of the secondary characters' storylines, so coming to the end without my resolution made me a bit cranky. I guess it's because Virgin River is the first novel of a long saga, but it feels like a cheap trick to make me want to read more. I would have read the subsequent novels anyway - I want to know more about Doc, Liz and Ricky, Connie, Preacher and the couples in Grace Valley. The characters have grown on me. After a few  days, I find myself wondering how they all are doing. I didn't expect to get attached to these people so easily.

What I couldn't wrap my head around was Melinda's recklessness regardind unprotected sex. She is a midwife and an expert on women's health. Even if she thought she was infertile, she should have thought about STDs. That rattled me, and I knew that Mel would get pregnant. As I said, I'm not crazy about babies, so it was hard to identify with her yearning. But that I can get behind. My problem with this storyline is that it is a bit lazy. Pregnancy and overcoming infertility to signify emotional healing and/or growth is so old it's one of Propp's fairy tales functions. It's symbolic, yes, a new life substitutes the life lost, bonds characters and reminds them of their mortality and will to make the most of life. But I wish Mel could have healed before getting pregnant. On the other hand, babies are such a big part of who Mel is that this pregnancy definitely makes sense. By what I've gathered about romance, it seems to rely a lot on conventions. Quite like folk tales, everything is a bit mythic. Am I probably overthinking this? Yes, I am. I'm conflicted, what can you do.

I just have one question for all you who have read Robyn Carr: are there really towns in the US like this one? It felt so quintessentially American that it rang a bit false - shooting bears in the wild, Hummers, rifles, fishing. It amused me, but I couldn't fully get in the setting because of this. I was expecting something similar to Gilmore Girls' Stars Hollow, and I almost got Little House on the Prairie!

Any recs for a romance newbie?

domingo, 20 de diciembre de 2015

Regarding blogging

This blog has been dead for quite a while. 

I told myself it was because I have been travelling quite a lot for grad school. And because I had a load of work and a load of coursework. 

All of that is true, but I just have prioritized other things before the blog. I've been running my tumblr (almost) smoothly. I haven't stopped reading. I've been watching TV shows. I've playing board games and videogames. I've been baking, which I love and hadn't done for quite a while. While I don't enjoy luxurious chunks of spare time, it seems that I'm willing to make time for other things I enjoy.

So I've decided to face the real cause behind my blogging hiatus: I don't enjoy this format. I dread reviews. Most books don't elicit in me that desire to write a long, thoughtful review about them. And let's be real, comments aren't flowing. My main impulse behind blogging was finding a community to talk about books, but I found it better on booklr. I can't seem to find a blogging community where I can fully fit. And I've realized it might be because I'm not blogging as I'd like - I was just following what other bloggers do. That has turned blogging into a chore, not something I enjoy.

I was going to make the usual end-of-year recap about the blog and some New Year's resolutions about how I want to change the content and make my blog truly mine. But screw that - New Year's way too far away.

I'm starting right now. I'm back to blogging!

(I will post past due reviews because I feel like owe these books a fair review, but when I get up to date with those, I will do as I please - mainly, I'll only write extensively about books that warrant it, and write mini-reviews for the rest on a regular basis)