Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Mixed Bag: I'm super lazy

Such a loser. Me. Loser. Bad at this blogging thing. I tried setting up a schedule to encourage me to write more routinely. But here's the problem: When you spend hours every day writing, and then more hours editing, carving out another 30 minutes to write a blog entry just manages to always find itself at the bottom of the to-do list.

Plus: I'm seriously boring.

For example, my week consisted of finishing my revisions for Deathday and turning them in, working on my WIP, and watching Six Feet Under. My dog is always good for a couple minutes of amusement, but he has his own life and can't entertain me all the time. Oh, my other big thing this week was upgrading the hard drive in my laptop. I went from a 120GB to a 500GB. Super Big Fun.

I read, "When You Reach Me," a middle grade book that I really liked. I think I would have been in love with it if I'd actually read it in middle school. The great part about the book is that it deals with complex issues without ever playing down to the reader. No small feat when your book is about time travel. The only downside to it is that it's set in 1979 and two of the main plot threads (The $20,000 Pyramid game show, and Latch Key Kids) are relics. These days it's common for kids to be home alone after school. Back then I guess it was more of an issue because more women were entering the workforce. It didn't detract anything from my experience because I watched the show and grew up around some latch key kids, but I wonder if kids reading this today would understand the significance.

The other book I'm reading is Paper Towns by John Green. John Green is one of those writers whose work I both admire and dislike. I have the utmost respect for John Green. Not only do I think he's a fantastic author, but his blog posts and video blog posts and sundry other internet projects, are brilliant in a way I could only hope to be. Mostly I'm just happy with my blog posts if they're mildly intelligible, which they're usually not. Green puts together amazingly cogent arguments on everything from healthcare to censorship to why we should like Catcher in the Rye. It's that admiration that led me to pick up Paper Towns despite not really getting Looking for Alaska.

Okay, that's not true. I did get it. I liked everything that happened BEFORE. It was the AFTER section of the book that left me a little, "eh."

As writers I think we tend to mine the same subjects, whether we know it or not. Deathday reflects my own inability to live life to the fullest all the time. It mines my fear of dying without doing all that I want to do. My current WIP carries similar themes, even though they're significantly different stories. Both have boy protagonists who are unsure of themselves, who flounder through life until something happens to make them take charge. But even when they take charge, they still become barriers to their own success.

Similarly, I feel (notice the "I feel" part, because these are only my opinions) that Margo from Paper Towns, and Alaska from Looking for Alaska, are both manifestations of the same unattainable girl that Green likes to explore. That came out dirty and I didn't mean it to. I didn't read Green's second book...maybe I should...but it became clear to me after the second chapter of Paper Towns that one of John Green's themes that he will probably explore until it's out of his system is the idea of the plain but overachieving boy who is infatuated with the crazy, kooky but ultimately unattainable girl. This theme is nothing new and teen books and films have been doing this for quite some time. My problem thus far (since I haven't finished the book) is that Margo, like Alaska before him, feels two-dimensional. Why does Q love her so fully? I'm hoping I'll find the answer I'm looking for by the end of the book. However I'm beginning to suspect that I, like Q, will only come to realize that there is no real Margo. Margo, and all unattainable girls like her, don't actually exist.

And maybe that's the point of the book. That all unattainable girls (and guys) are little more than Paper Towns. But so far I feel like that's a bit of a cop out. If Q's discovery that the Margo he believed existed never really existed is the point of the story, then fine, but what's missing for me is seeing, at least, the Margo that Q believes existed. It's great that we're getting to see all the places where Margo is supposed to have existed but I'm not buying that Q is obsessed enough to go to such great lengths to find her.

And before I go, I'd like to take a second to discuss the difference between liking a book and not liking a book and being able to say so. For me, loving a book and hating a book produce similar effects. When I loved a book, such as Harry Potter or The Chaos Walking series, I tend to buy every book multiple times so that I can loan them out with abandon and make people love them as much as I do. I talk about the books with anyone who will listen and foster a dialog about them. I then go on to read as many things by that author as I possibly can. When I hate a book, like all the works of Hemmingway, I buy all the books and read them several times, loaning them to my friends to make them hate it as much as I do. I talk about them incessantly because I think talking about books I dislike is even more educational than talking about the ones I liked. I also tend to read everything by that author so that I can form a well rounded opinion.

Making me dislike a book is just as great a feat as making me like it. The biggest failure a book can make is to be uninteresting. I just want everyone to understand that when I hate on a book, it's almost as big a compliment as gushing over it. Because it inspired major feelings in me, and isn't that what books are supposed to do?

Okay, I'm out now. Have a safe labor day.


  1. Hmmm, not sure I want to read everything by Hemingway to argue his dull points, but I may reread one or two.

    Speaking of super lazy, I just now remembered to blog a travel post. Oops.

  2. UPDATE: Just to add an update, I finished reading Paper Towns, and while I still stand in awe of John Green's ability to take a metaphor and weave it so completely into every aspect of the story, I have to stand by my original thoughts.

    Even once the real Margo is found (and even still we only see the tip of an iceberg) Q loves her despite not really knowing her and despite not even being the object of her clues. Not in the way that he imagines. In short, Q is a nice, normal boy who loves the idea of an unattainable girl. Yet even after the illusion is shattered, he continues to love her, and unfortunately I feel like I'm never given a reason why.

  3. You feelings about Green and his work mirror my own, although I would say that I enjoy his writing despite some of the shortcomings you point out. When I read Green I know I'm going to get a voice and style I really enjoy. I'm going to get a male sidekick with a wicked (and vulgar!) sense of humor. I'm going to get great male banter that reminds me of college.

    I'm also going to get a story that is driven by a theme, and I think it should be the other way around. I'm going to get hit over the head with this theme at the end of the book. And I'm going to get some sort of mystery that I could mostly do without. (Green seems to fancy himself a bit of a mystery writer, a notion that the Poe people unfortunately reinforced.)

    All that said, I find his books mostly entertaining and as there aren't a ton of realistic YAs for boys out there, I'll keep reading him.

    And the "After" part of ALASKA was tedious. SPOILER: The girl was dead. Whether it was suicide or an accident really didn't matter to me. Dead is dead.


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