Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reading: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller

I was introduced to Tim Keller by a peer in one of my classes this past semester.  He posts podcasts on iTunes and though I have not yet listened to them, I have them downloaded ready to listen.  I came across this book on Amazon and since it was such a cheap price, I bought it.  I had no idea it was such a small book!  It is only 40 some pages and it took me a little over an hour to read.  That is why I am telling you early that this book is getting 5 out of 5 stars.  It was a simple read and yet it tackled a topic that is not simple what-so-ever!
The book starts out with an intro that talks about how society views the bad things people do to be the work of low self-esteem.  Keller says that this is not the case.  The case of low self-esteem is that a person feels unloved all of their lives and does not feel like they are good enough so they therefore act rashly and out of order.  Viewing the world in this way is said, by Keller, to be very easy because it does not tackle the deeper moral judgement and it only requires building a person up rather than doing any dirty work.  Keller says that low self-esteem is not the problem.  The problem is pride.  The book focuses on a specific passage from the bible - 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7.

I do not want to spoil anything so here is a quick summary of what the rest of this book contains.  The book talks about the ego and the four things that describe the ego.  It then talks about how to deal with the ego and then talks about life without the ego in the picture.  I would love to go into more detail but also do not want to give away what Keller has to say.  Essentially, the book seemed to be a quick but deep look at what Christianity is all about.  It is all about learning to live without limits from others and limits from yourself and therefore forgetting yourself.  While this concept may seem a bit confusing, Keller spills the beans a lot better than I have in this review.  Although the book is small, it speaks volumes and I encourage anyone who is confused about why they feel sad or lonely or feel as if they have low self-esteem, to read it!  I also encourage anyone wishing to understand their faith better to read this book.  I guarantee it won't disappoint!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Reading: Imagine. A Vision for Christians in the Arts by Steve Turner

To talk about the evolution of my faith in Jesus would be to write an entire book.  There are so many aspects of my life that went into my faith and so many aspects that have been shaped because of Jesus.  One of these aspects is art.  When I was 17 and fully aware that I was becoming engaged in dangerous art, I began to surround myself with other artsy people and found that I was happier because of it.  Yet these artsy people were not Christian.  In fact, the more I became involved in the arts, the more I noticed that no one really took Christianity or Christians seriously and I wondered why.  I had a few ideas but not the maturity to form my concerns into words.  With each passing year I began to understand Christianity, art, myself, and Jesus a bit better.  I knew I wanted to read more into the issue because it has always been of great importance to me since one of the biggest questions I asked out of high school was, can a Christian be an artist?  The answer is yes.  I did not need a book to answer that question for me.  The question was answered through reading many books and listening to many different songs and watching Youtube videos and traveling to art museums with my class.  It was this book that put into words what I had failed to say for years.  After reading Imagine. by Steve Turner, I have gained much needed assurance and a much better knowledge of how art and Christianity have been combined in the past.
Each chapter of this book brilliantly tackles how and why art is important for the Christian soul.  It starts out by discussing how a Christian is rarely in the main scene of art directing films or making music.  Too often Christian art is too feel good and mushy instead of being raw and real.  Christian art often times does not look at the big issues of the day nor does it look at what other artists are saying on the issue and therefore display themselves as ignorant and gain no respect for their contribution.  While some Christians are producing "bad art", others shrug off art together and consider it to be a sin.  But Steve Turner says otherwise.  Turner says that art is essential and needs to be studied by Christians.  The book then goes into the history of art in the church, the arts influence on the world, and the theme that God should not be saved only for Sunday mornings but rather He should be present in everything a Christian does.  The book also addresses how Christians can use art without explicitly labeling it "Christian music" or "Christian novel".  The main example Turner uses in one chapter is the popular rock band, U2.

 Overall, I loved this book.  It was very informative and a unique and modern view of Christian art.  I recommend that anyone interested in theology or art to read this book.  I would also recommend it to all Christian artists because the book basically tackles every aspect of art in Christianity.  I most definitely am giving this book 5 out of 5 stars because it is a breath of fresh air in a world where Christians just simply believe that a song with Jesus' name in it 20 times is the only song worth listening to.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Reading: 14 Cows for America, Fireboat, & The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

This past fall semester I took a seminar about childhood and war and we read three picture books to see how September 11th was represented to child readers.  The three books we read were 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, Fireboat by Maira Kalman, and The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein.  Each book had it's own special take on what the twin towers and September 11th meant.  This review will just be a summary of each novel and my rating of it.  Nothing much more...
14 Cows for America was my favorite of the three books specifically because the story appealed to me and I found the artwork to be visually stunning.  The story was about a man who grew up in an African tribe and went to America to study medicine.  He returned after September 11th and told his people what had happened and they felt the "weight of 3,000 souls lost" on their shoulders.  They wanted to do something to help America so they donated 14 Cows because to the Maasai, the cow is life.  The basic moral of the story is, "because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort."  I will give this book 5 out of 5 stars.
Fireboat was my in between book.  The art in this book was also very well done and the story was good.  The book tells the tale of a fireboat in New York City in the 1920's and how useful it was to the city.  But as America grew older, the fireboat faded away until years later when a few people decided to shape it up.  When September 11th broke out, the fireboat helped out as much as they could with putting out fires and such.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is a true story about a French man named Philippe Petit who walked between the twin towers on a wire when the towers were first being built.  This book was my least favorite out of the three.  While the story was very adventerous and fun to read, the art was not appealing compared to the other two.  The story also did not hold the depth in which the other two stories did.  I did enjoy how it showed the towers in history though.  Overall, I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Reading: Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

Shooting Kabul is a book I had to read this past semester for a seminar class which focused on childhood and war.  Intense class, right?  Anyway, I am notorious for not reading the assigned texts for my classes mostly because I am reading other books for pleasure and procrastinate like crazy!  However, this semester I really pushed myself not just for the good grades but because each book I read was going toward my 50 books of 2012 count.  In between my eight a.m. and twelve thirty class, I sat in one of the dining hall lounge areas and began reading this book.  It ended up taking me only three days to read it and I found that it was a rather enjoyable read.
The story centers on a boy named Fadi who's family is in the midst of escaping Afghanistan when his little sister falls of the truck they are on to escape and they are forced to leave her behind as they go to America.  Throughout the story, Fadi's inner struggle mirrors those of iconic characters such as Amir from The Kite Runner and Melinda Sordino from Speak.  He is plagued with the idea that it is his fault that his sister is lost all alone across the ocean.  While his life has been far from what Americans would call "normal", Fadi and his family try to coexist with their new home by getting jobs and going to school and doing things expected of them by the American people.  Fadi often reads a book called From the Mixed-up Filed of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and loves photography.  He enters his own photograph into a contest and desperately hopes to win because the first prize winner is able to travel to India.  Fadi's hope is that he will win and be able to find his sister while over seas.
This book is most definitely a bit wishy-washy at times particularly with the ending.  There are some scenarios that you read and just know would never happen that way.  That being said, I think this was an excellent novel.  One theme I love is that Muslims are not evil.  Fadi and his family are very peaceful people.  Something else I particularly like is the title.  It definitely foreshadows the end of the novel.  Overall it was a fresh read and I will give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Reading: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol has to be one of Charles Dickens most famous works ever.  It is a staple at Christmastime to hear the story; whether it be from watching the many film adaptions, seeing it presented live on stage, hearing it read out loud in schools or in the household, or from reading the book itself, A Christmas Carol is all around us.  I grew up watching Mickey's Christmas Carol on ABC every December.  I remember all kinds of fun Disney specials playing on TV after Disney Michael Eisner introduced them with Mickey Mouse himself (or sometimes Goofy).  It was a Christmas tradition for us to watch these Disney specials.  To this day I still love Mickey's Christmas Carol and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  In seventh grade, my class read the play out loud which was not very fun.  It was then that I thought that A Christmas Carol was written as a play and not a book as I had always thought.  Luckily, I found the actual book a few months ago in a thrift store and bought it so that I could finally read it myself this Christmas. 
I loved this book.  Charles Dickens is truly a masterful writer and storyteller...not that I ever doubted he was.  The classic story tells the tale of Mr. Scrooge who hates merriment and Christmas.  He is snapped out of his funk when his old business partner Jacob Marley who has long since been dead for seven years returns as a ghost and tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits - the ghost of Christmas part, present, and future.  After Scrooge sees his life from these three spirits, he changes his ways and stops his obsession with money. I think my favorite line of the story was said by Tiny Tim and it is not "God Bless us everyone" though that is a close second.  The excerpt I love is this: “'And how did little Tim behave?' asked Mrs Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.  'As good as gold,' said Bob, 'and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.'"
I won't be able to say this enough, I love this book.  It has been added to my favorites!  I will most definitely give it a 5 out of 5 stars!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reading: How to Breath Underwater by Julie Orringer

I do not quite remember how I came across How To Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer.  I must have saw the book in a magazine or something and a few months later I was at a clearance book store and found the book up front.  I was very eager to buy it!  I do not normally read a book filled with short stories so I knew this was going to be a new experience for me.  After all, that is what this 50 books experience is about!
The book was not quite what I expected but the surprise was nice.  The entire book is essentially about young girls becoming young women and learning how to metaphorically breathe underwater...or just learning to swim in general!  My favorite story of the book was one titled Isabella Fish which centered around a girl and her brother whose girlfriend died in a car accident.  Another story I liked was Stations of the Cross because of the themes it implied.  I did not much like the story line though.  The story pointed our precisely what is wrong with organized religion today in terms of being a Catholic which I liked.  However, the facts in this story were not all correct!  Growing up Catholic, I found many mistakes in the story and that sort of irked me. 
While each story in this novel was unique in it's own way, I found them all to be very predictable and often times I predicted the endings beforehand and that sort of ruined the reading experience.  It was not like I was guessing the ending. I felt like I knew the ending and that was annoying.  It was tedious. That being said, all of the stories were very realistic in their own right and they definitely seemed to do a good job at depicting what most girls are like and what they are going through in today's culture/society.  If I had to pick a least favorite story I would have to choose Note to Sixth-Grade Self.  To add another note about individual stories, the first story titled Pilgrims was quite horrifying!  It was an intense story to start the book with!
Overall, fresh read.  I love the title and the themes but the stories themselves could have been better.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Art: Beauty and the Beast

a graphic I made on photoshop for one of my favorite Disney films!

Wasted Wednesday: The Hypocrisy of Tumblr

The world is full of hypocrisy and so is the internet and blogs, but Tumblr is one blogging website that seems to top them all.  The same way reading the book White Noise on a kindle would be an oxymoron, preaching love on Tumblr would be an oxymoron since those who do it go on to show hate directly afterward and act like their opinion is the end all, be all.  I believe in opinions.  Heck, my entire blog is an opinion.  However, it is not the opinions that anger me.  It is the way opinions are expressed here on Tumblr that are directly hateful unlike the love the blogs preach.  This can be seen through anonymous messages, the presidential debate of 2012, and how bloggers reply to their anonymous messengers. 
Let's address the biggest issue first, and when I say biggest issue I mean the most discussed issue on the Tumblr community - anonymous messages or "anons".  Tumblr has a feature, for those of you who may not be aware, called the ask box where users can write to bloggers in response to their posts.  Some Tumblr blogs have the feature of allowing anonymous users to write to the blogger.  In other words, their identity is hidden and like so many other features of the internet, this gives a person power hiding behind a computer screen.  So anons come and may have an opinion but do not want to get hate because of it.  They may come to leave kind words but prefer to remain unknown.  Or they come to leave insults and not get hate because of this.  They would rather keep up the act that they are good people as if this message they are sending that isn't labeled with their name erases it from their moral clock.  Let me make one thing clear for all of those users who are too insecure for their own good - you are not only hurting the person you are writing to but you are also hurting yourself.  Now let's move on to the issue of abusing the privilege of the ask box by becoming anonymous to insult.  To all of you who have done this or plan to do this, stop when you go to the ask box and think about the damage and weight your words hold.  Words matter!  Christianity itself is based on the bible - a bunch of powerful words!  Words have the power to influence.  Next, do not think yourself big enough to insult someone because it is you who is small.  Atticus Finch says in To Kill A Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."  Do not stoop down because you think you understand this person.  You do not.  You may understand the outer layers of the situation and you may even understand the roots as to why the person is blogging about certain things.  I once saw a girl delete her Tumblr because of the hate messages from anons she was receiving.  I wanted to help her but she would not hear it from me or anyone.  Her mind was set and she deleted her Tumblr and I only pray she is okay now.  No one has a right to insult because they disagree.  If the internet taught us anything, it is to be careful with our words and learn to disagree in a friendly way. 
On to the next issue - the presidential debate of 2012 between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  Months before the election, I knew where Tumblr stood on the political scale.  Tumblr, for the most part, is a democratic/liberal "society".  Now, I am not a believer of labels especially when it comes to politics.  However, Tumblr users took this debate to an extreme in which ignorance ruled all and I became sick just looking at the posts.  I saw posts such as "reblog if you think Mitt Romney should have jumped off a cliff" and "Mitt Romney is shit".  This once again ties into Atticus's quote.  First of all, insults like these are just plain uncalled for.  How can these Tumblr blogs post about hate toward a person if they preach love?  It is an oxymoron and it is hypocrisy.  Second of all, let's turn the tables and say there were posts that said these things about Obama.  Tumblr would freak out!  They would cry, "how dare we have so much hate on Tumblr?" or "you are all heartless" or something alone those lines.  So let me get this straight - it is okay to insult Mitt Romney but not President Obama?  Yes, tell me again Tumblr about the love you preach.  If it is wrong to throw out death threats to one person, it is wrong to throw them out at ANY person! 
Finally, I want to talk again about the anon asks but this time I am turning the tables.  I want to discuss how bloggers respond to the hate they receive.  This, to me, is the biggest issue on Tumblr that does not get enough criticism.  It is not just anons that can hate.  I don't know if it was Robin Hood who taught us that just as he stole from the rich like the rich stole from others, we can show hate to those who show hate to others.  There is one specific Tumblr in which I see hateful replies to messages constantly.  This user acts as if she has the right to insult everyone who says something remotely disagreeable to her.  She says that she is telling it how it is which is such a huge lie to herself.  Sometimes she receives messages from anons who are not even insulting her but merely pointing things out to her and trying to peacefully speak with her and she will not have it.  My lesson number one will be this - learn to listen to some of the constructive criticism you receive!  These people may just be right!  In order for us to grow as people, we have to let go of pride and learn to listen to each other and sometimes this means changing our ways in which we may not understand right away.  Second - this user I have centered, and many others, seem to think that swearing and flipping out will make them look like the tough guy and that they are confident in themselves.  Let me take you to a video called F*** You Stephen King in which an angry Twilight fan insults Stephen King because of his criticism for the Twilight saga and uses many swear words to convey her loose point as to why Stephen King is wrong about Twilight.  There were many response videos made to this video and two stood out (1) (2) to me in particular.  Each user says basically the same thing to this girl  - that swearing and yelling will not get your point across and that her ignorance was clearly apparent - very similar to the responses Tumblr users make toward the criticism they receive and also the hate.  The first user states, "You, you are attacking, um Mr. King in fact because you are, you are simply saying f*** you and your reasons for this bold statement are, they're not valid to be honest.  They are pretty pitiful reasons.  So, if anyone is the attacker out of everyone involved here it is yourself, not Stephen King...if you're going to post, you know, a video about your, um, feelings towards the matter stop swearing! cause you're not going to be taken seriously...just calm down."  The second user says, "what authority do you [original video poster] carry when you say that Stephen King should eff off?  Are you an English major?  Have you studied countless works, have you analyzed works for stylistic devices?  Um, I mean if you are, if you're a real authority on the English language and literature then let me know, really.  Although I do doubt an expert on something like this would tell a famous author to eff off.  I find that hard to believe...I do believe you're letting your emotions get ahead of's great that you have a book you like...but I think your love for that book is blinding you into saying these harsh things about someone you haven't really come to understand...and anger is a fascinating emotion but only when directed through the right area when expressed in a calm, reasonable manner.  With all the swear one's going to take your argument seriously."  In addition to these statements, do not be ignorant.  No one on this earth can claim to know all knowledge and just because it is your Tumblr page does not make you higher up than a person commenting. 
Now that I have listed this hypocrisy, what does this mean?  It means that if Tumblr wants to talk about the suicide rates and how people should be ashamed of themselves for being bullies, they need to also look at their own actions and words.  Stop pointing fingers.  I will go as far to say that even I used to hide behind my computer screen and say nasty things to people who were nasty to me.  I never felt good about it but I only reacted instead of taking a step back to evaluate the situation. Our world, especially America, sits upon this idea of revenge and we seem to go along with it.  Let me tell you something, all of this revenge does not equal love just like school shootings do not equal love.
What Tumblr needs is what they have been preaching.  LOVE.  It is so simple yet human beings seem to do the exact opposite.  As J.K. Rowling says, "Humans have a knack for choosing precisely the things that are worst for them."  I am not so bold as to say I am not at fault sometimes.  I know that I need some fixing up in my life and I am learning how to take criticism, how to be honest, and how to love.  I am just sick of all of the hypocrites.  I am sick of reading about why gay marriage should be legal because there is too much hate yet those same people who want "equality" are not equal to their fellow human beings.  If we are to respect your beliefs, you have to respect ours.  It is not a one way street.  Stop being selfish and take a step back, breathe, and stop thinking about yourself but instead how you can serve others.  That is true love.  And learn to forgive.  In an interview between Colleen Ballinger's alter ego, Miranda Sings, and a young child named Bailey, Miranda asks how to deal with the "haters" and Bailey responds, "Forgive them."  It is time to take a step back to innocence I think.
As Charlie says in one of Tumblr's favorite books The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you are not a sad story!  So listen to Charlie and stop acting like a sad story.  Learn from Harry Potter.  I will end with a confession I saw on the Harry Potter confessions.  "I think most of us forget how horrible Harry's life was and judge him too soon.  I don't know for you, but he was perfect the way he was.  The way he was treated and how amazing friend and human being he turned out is fascinating."

Reading: The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

I first bought The Wanderer by Sharon Creech from a Scholastic book fair when I was 11 years old.  I read it a year later when I was 12 in 6th grade and loved it so much that I would read it during class.  I figured this 50 book challenge was a perfect opportunity to re-read it.  The Wanderer is about a young girl named Sophie who dreams of the sea.  Her uncles have decided to sail across the Atlantic ocean to visit their father, Bompie, and Sophie decides to accompany them much against their wishes as they are sailors and believe a woman to be bad luck. 
Throughout the story the narration flips back and forth from Sophie to her cousin Cody.  Both are needed to provide a balance to the story.  What one does not know, the other one discovers and therefore makes the read an easy one.  This style of narration also freshens the book as well as providing a less "cheesy" way of revealing important plot points.  The story itself seems to be about acceptance and love and learning to respect one another.  This theme comes about through Sophie and Cody's interaction with each other, the other family members, and the sea itself.  Cody and Sophie both are very unique in their narration.  Each has their own special quality and hobby.  Sophie loves to tell stories about Bompie and Cody loves to juggle!  Yet there is a small mystery inside these pages.  How can Sophie possibly have heard these stories from Bompie if she never met him before?  Let alone, how could she have heard them since she is only adopted?
What makes this story moving is their time at sea.  Time itself is questioned when they are out at the ocean until time does not seem real.  Sophie begins to forget what morning really means or nighttime.  This theme is great to see in a young adult book since time is such a huge element in our society and although I did not pick up on it as a young reader, I hope other readers pick up on this subtle theme of time and how it runs our lives.
The story is essentially a journey for Sophie toward her own self discovery and the same goes for Cody.  Overall, this novel was great.  It is a young adult novel borderline children's novel so this is something where I find it hard to criticize but overall I enjoyed it thoroughly and give it a 5 out of 5 stars!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reading: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway was assigned for me to read this semester in a Modern American Novel class.  I had never read anything from Hemingway before but, being apart of the public school system, I had heard A LOT about him and was anxious to read his work.  I had this goal over the summer that I would read all of the books that were assigned to me for the Fall semester but this did not happen.  I only read one book and that was, The Old Man and the Sea.  I read it right when I returned from a cruise vacation.  Although the book is small and seems like it would be a quick read, I found it to be longer than expected and tedious.  The story was interesting but I was not sure how this book could be considered a classic.  I spoke my opinions out to my parents and my dad, who is not a literary scholar type man at all, pointed out that the book is not supposed to be what most people think.  It is a book about reflection and it is simple.  These words made me appreciate the book more.
The book centers around an old man named Santiago and it has been days since he has caught a fish.  Fishing is his life and so every day he goes out to the water and today is his lucky day.  A fish bites his line and begins to pull Santiago’s boat.  He pulls the boat all the way out to sea and the story centers on Santiago’s inner thoughts for three days at sea.  The sea is very lonely and isolated which symbolizes Santiago at this stage in life - an old man with no one. When Santiago finds an opening to sleep, he dreams of powerful lions that symbolize his yearn to be young and whole again.  Santiago has been dubbed by Christian scholars as a Christ-figure and at first I too sort of saw a small resemblance but after finishing the novel I would have to disagree completely.  The fact of the matter is, Christ died to save the world from sin.  Santiago symbolically died but for his own achievements and gains.  Christ was destroyed but not defeated.  He rose from the dead.  Santiago returns destroyed and defeated.
The book was good but I still think it was a bit blah.  Overall I really enjoyed how reflective it was but in terms of characters and themes, there was not much.  I will give the book a 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wasted Wednesday: What Public School Did Not Teach Me Part 1 (NaNoWriMo Reflection)

NaNoWriMo has always been an event I have sat on the sidelines for.  I never had the push to write an entire novel in one month.  Sure I had lots of great ideas but nothing I was confident enough to go ahead with.  But this year was different.  This year I actually had an idea.  The idea came to me this past May during finals week.  It seemed like the novel I was born to write.  All during finals week I neglected studying and instead wrote out every little detail I needed for this novel so I would not forget.  It was important.  It seemed life changing.  It was life changing. 
I guess I decided that this November I would participate in NaNoWriMo because I had a solid idea that I had been wanting to write for months but never found the time.  I settled the matter in my head during October that I would finally participate in National Novel Writing Month.  Honestly, I wish I had participated sooner!  Anyway, the idea of it all was very intimating.  As November neared, my nerves began to tense.  I was terrified of changing my calendar to November.  How could I write 1,667 words a day and still find time to do schoolwork for the six classes I was taking?  It seemed like I picked the wrong year to participate in NaNo.  But I went through with it anyway.  I printed all kinds of blog postings about NaNo and guides and rules and tips to help me out.  It was help that I felt I desperately needed.  Truthfully, I only read one page of the many I printed out.  It turns out, I was okay after all.  I only followed one tip the entire time (besides trying to write 2,000 words a day). 
The tip I followed every time I wrote was this - do not use consonants.  It is such a simple thing yet also something I generally never thought about and is very important during NaNo as word count is key.  I mean, teachers have continually told me to not use consonants in my scholarly papers and such, but I used them anyway (unintentionally) and nothing seemed to be able to drill this idea into my head.  Then NaNo came along.  Suddenly I was very much aware of the words I was typing and the effect they were having on my word count and my story itself.  I became accustomed to correcting myself every time I typed a consonant and Ctrl-F became the shortcut I used often to search around my writing to make sure it was clean.  I did not think about it much until I made it halfway through NaNo.  I began to feel a sense of pride in myself.  Not only was I writing the proper amount of words a day and feeling pleased about where my story was going, but I noticed a change in my writing as a whole.  I found that when I wrote blogs and when I wrote papers for school I was very much aware of the consonants in my writing.  In a way, this improved my writing a bit.  It felt good.  And then I thought, how come I never thought like this before?  I mean, teachers have been harping on this tactic since middle school yet I never caught on.  School never truly taught me this skill.  But NaNo did. 
NaNo is a challenge that is essentially a race against the clock.  It is when millions of writers sit at their computers or with their notebooks and pour out their passion and write not to please and not to get a grade but just to write!  There are no rules except get those 50,000 words written by the end of November!  Maybe it was because I did not feel pressure from those around me that I learned this skill.  The only place pressure came from was from myself and that is good pressure.  All I know is that my writing changed for the better during NaNo and it happened when I was writing something that was important to me instead of a term paper for class.
This is one of the many things public school has not taught me.  As I grow older, I tend to notice how much I learn OUTSIDE the classroom.  Everyone learns outside the classroom.  Yet America is obsessed with getting a college education and staying in school.  School has always felt like a cage for me rather than somewhere I can be myself.  I'm not saying school can't benefit us.  I do enjoy the books I read and am exposed to and the conversations that arouse in class.  However, I hate being judged by my grade point average and being told that to be respected in the world I must take four semesters of a language to get a degree where I will never return to that language again or that I must take a science course to be considered diverse when I will never think critically about science again.  I could go on and on about the flaws in the college system and the public school system but let's get back to the point at hand.
Essentially, I took a lot away from NaNoWriMo.  I acquired a new skill and wrote a novel that I am immensely proud of!  I have not written this much since I was in high school and had study hall free time to write as much as possible.  I can not wait til the Fall semester is over and I can edit it!  It was an experience of a lifetime and I hope I can participate next year as well!  Anyway, I would love to hear about everyone's NaNo experience so send a message my way!  I do not bite.
Oh, and my final word count ended up being 50, 425 words! :)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reading: Here's Lily by Nancy Rue & The Mystery At Johnson Farm by Hilda Stahl

The Lily series and The Elizabeth Gail series are both young adult books series for young girls who want to grow spiritually with God.  I did not read the complete series of either of them as a teen but I read quite a few of the books and since I decided to read them again for my 50 book challenge, I figured I would do a compare and contrast book review since they both fit into the same genre! 
Let's start with the similarities these two books have.  Each book centers around the life of a 12 year old girl entering her teen years and dealing with school and peer drama while they are also struggling to form a relationship with God.  Each girl is surrounded by family and people who love them.  That is as far as the similarities go with these two books.  As for the differences, both girls have different struggles which is obviously a typical difference between books in the same genre however both struggles are purely unique while the message is the same.  Both of our main characters have different attitudes and interests as well as a different family history and a different relationship with God. 
In Here's Lily by Nancy Rue, Lily is a red haired and insecure girl who struggles to find God in her new obsession, modeling.  Lily also struggles with bullying and decides to form a club with her friends so they can empower each other.  During the story, Lily does not pray often and seems to overlook prayer but toward the end she begins to pray a lot and learns that through God she can do the right thing and find strength.  Lily's family is, for lack of a better word, whole and her parents never gave her up nor did they get separated.  She is the middle child between an old brother and a younger brother.  Never in the book do we see Lily or her family attend church but rather the reader sees a focus on God in the family activities.  Lily has a good attitude most of the time except toward her brother's and a boy named Shad who is a bully in her class.  Lily is also very kind and wants to help people who are going through similar struggles as she is and who do not want to be bullied any longer.  Her hobbies change with every book but in this book Lily is into fashion and modeling because she is participating in a modeling class and show. 
In The Mystery At Johnson Farm by Hilda Stahl, Libby is a plain foster child who struggles with the idea that she is not loved and will never be loved because she is "just a welfare kid" while also struggling with being blamed for things she did not do.  Libby was never aware that God wanted her and her relationship with Him is very raw, new and unfamiliar in the story.  Libby's dad and mom are out of the picture.  The reader does not hear much about her dad but know Libby's mom could not take care of her.  Libby is now living with a new family, the Johnson's, who accept her as part of the family right away and love her as if she were their own flesh and blood.  Libby has a bitter attitude because she does not want to get attached to anything or anyone because she knows the reality of going to a new home as a foster child and the family becoming bored of her and getting rid of her and sending her back to the foster home.  She puts on a mask of being tough and unyielding because of this.  Libby's favorite hobby is riding horses with her new foster siblings. 
Overall, each book does a good job in depicting realistic characters and events that young girls can relate to.  Each book is about creating a relationship with God and each book has unique characters and situations that will help girls relate in different ways.  The writing techniques are fairly solid.  Here's Lily features a lot of advanced writing techniques in terms of who the book is directed toward.  The Mystery at Johnson Farm is very basic in terms of writing and I saw a lot of repetition.
I am going to give these books both 3 out of 5.  For young girls they are excellent and the message of the book is fresh and unique but artistically, they definitely have more potential. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Social Norms: What Fictional Character Would Make A Great U.S. President? (QUESTION POST)

In a recent article I found on, author Matt Blum lists the top 10 fictional characters that would make great U.S. Presidents.  Indeed we do read about many strong and powerful characters as well as see them on the big screen.  Politics can be such a gruesome topic to discuss and I wanted to touch upon it without actually outright saying my political beliefs and such.
So, before you read the article, I have a question for all of you.  What fictional character do you believe would make a great U.S. President?  Let me know in the comments section!
Here is the article on -->

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wasted Wednesday: Black Friday Religion

Here is a random fact you should know about me - I hate shopping.  When I say shopping, I specifically mean shopping for clothes, shoes, jewelry, and basically anything that a typical girl should like to shop for.  I would much rather go to a book store or a CD store or...well Best Buy and Staples are pretty fun I'd say. ;)  But let's face it, most girls (and A LOT of guys) love to shop for clothes and the other things I listed.  In fact, our nation seems to pride itself in the clothes people pick out and wear.  Yahoo's top news story the other day was about Kate Middleton's sister who apparently has bad fashion sense!  We have pre-academy award shows where stars are interviewed and the first question the interviewers ask is who they are wearing (not what - who!), and it is usually a dress or suit from a famous designer.  Now when I see these things, I get bored sick.  But Americans generally love that kind of stuff.  The only thing Americans obsess over more than their fashion sense is celebrity fashion sense...or rather, celebrities in general.  Americans obsess over the things celebrities do with their money; whether it be wearing expensive clothing or getting their kid's book deals or renting out a theme park for the day or buying a frozen yogurt; Americans love it all.  Material wealth is what celebrities have and Americans want it!
So naturally when Black Friday rolls around with these so called "amazing deals", people jump on top of it.  They clip coupons and set up tents a week before Black Friday and stand in the freezing cold lines only to get an iPad to waste more of their time with by looking at celebrity news!  People actually get violent at these events!  They want that big screen TV so badly that they are prepared to punch faces and trip the handicap to get what they want.  Black Friday, to the customer, is all about me me me.  Black Friday is not just about the customers though but also about the stores.  Big companies prepare for Black Friday months before the event!  They come up with some good deals and some not so good deals that seem good.  "Let's figure out how to make a deal look enticing when secretly it will be just like the store on any other day," they say.  "How about we mark that big screen LED TV $400 but it is a no name brand and probably won't give people the quality they expect.  And make sure we only have 25 of the name brand TV's in stock because, let's face it, we can't afford to give these things away for free!  And no exceptions.  Remember, it's the holidays.  No time to be generous.  This is the time we will be getting the most cash.  Say, mark down the Barbie dolls and all Barbie products, would ya?  I am a feminist and speak against them but make sure other parents buy them for their kids.  That'll boost our toy sales a lot.  Parents are just suckers for those Barbie products.  How can they not buy the Barbie beach house for little Suzy after she threw her temper tantrum for it?"  The fact that they decrease their prices on one day of the year probably brings them the most bang for their buck.  Black Friday, to the stores and companies, is all about me me me.  See the resemblance?  No matter who is involved on Black Friday, it all comes down to me me me.
Now before I continue, I know that there are small businesses who do not use these tactics to trick people or gain more cash by ripping people off.  I also know that some Black Friday shoppers use this day to be generous and buy Christmas gifts.  However, big corporations and dedicated Black Friday shoppers do not get this excuse.  Let's look at the basics of Black Friday for a second.  Both consumers and companies prepare for this day as if it were a Holy day.  People discuss Black Friday as if it is the event of the century every single year.  People dedicate their weeks to clipping coupons and scrolling through their emails and figuring out what they want that is on sale.  And it is not just the preparation for Black Friday.  It is being a part of it.  People set up tents and stand in huge lines for that one product they so desperately desire as if it will fulfill their hopes and dreams...and well, their life.
John Green recently wrote a blog post about Black Friday and says, "I would argue that all these people standing in line aren’t really there to save money. (Like, standing in line at Best Buy for four hours to save $20 on a TV is almost never an economically rational decision.) They’re standing in line to be part of something. And the something is consumer spending, the foundational idea of (and driving force behind) America’s relative economic health. And because we associate economic health so closely with community health, Black Friday is a way of both giving thanks and making an offering. In the end, I would argue the rituals surrounding Black Friday—combing through emails and advertisements for coupons, waking up before dawn, communing with strangers in large indoor public spaces (Target, Wal-Mart, etc.)—aren’t just similar to religious rituals. I would argue that they are religious rituals, just ones played out in a secular world."
John says it better than my entire Wasted Wednesday post ever could.  But just think about what I am saying and what Green is saying.  Black Friday truly has become a religious holiday.  It is a day people devote their lives to and I would argue that more people devote themselves to Black Friday than Catholics do to Lent at Easter time.  I mean, it's completely ridiculous.  Yet people do it every year as if this is what life is worth living for. 
Let me tell you all something - Black Friday is nothing someone should be fighting to live for.  Black Friday is now a religious tradition in America and it all ties into this ideology Americans hold that material wealth is how one gains happiness. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading: The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

The Member of the Wedding is a very peculiar book.  When I first began reading it, I found it to be downright strange.  To my dismay, I set the book aside since I did not have to read it for my class just yet and when I went to pick up where I left off, I noticed that my bookmark had popped out.  I did not want to start reading the book over again but did so anyway and I am glad I did.
The Member of the Wedding is a story of a girl named Frankie on the brink of becoming a teenager but still stuck in her childhood world.  Frankie longs to be apart of something but it seems that everything about her sets her apart from the rest of the world.  She feels disconnected to the earth, to the people who surround her, and her peers.  She is tall and lanky with short hair and often envisions herself joining the freaks at the carnival because of her look.  While the world goes on around her, she does the same thing everyday for the entire summer and sulks in her misfortune.  To her surprise, her brother comes home after being stationed in Alaska for the military and announces that he is getting married.  Frankie begins to question who she is and where she belongs and goes on a journey of minor self-discovery that accurately does not take her very far but far enough to start to grow up.  All Frankie can think about during the novel is how she no longer wants to just be a "me" anymore but instead a "we". 
There were a lot of literary style elements to this book that I loved.  One thing that made this book unique was it's ability to capture time.  The novel literally only takes place in the span of two days or so.  The narration is very reflective and honest.  It is hard not to relate to Frankie in some small way.  Her inner thoughts take the reader back to his/her adolescence and set the stage for all of the crazy thoughts racing through a 12-year-old's mind.  Frankie is an innocent girl yet sees herself at one point as a full grown adult, referring to herself as F.Jasmine.  She wants to join her brother and his new wife on their honeymoon as if it is normal for people to tag along.  She also fails to realize when an older man is obviously coming on to her.  Frankie's ignorance is a bit annoying but in terms of character, it was spot on.  This book also shows the human mind at work and how quickly a person can change his/her mind in an instant.  The reader sees how Frankie got from point A to point B and it all makes sense and feels real as if the reader was the one thinking things through.
Overall, the novel was good but no where near a favorite.  It was just good and that was it.  Nothing special.  I will give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Reading: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

To start out this book review, I want to talk about why The Shallows by Nicholas Carr was a book that I felt that I needed to read.  I'm a kid that grew up in the 90's generation and you know what that means - when I turned 13, I was an internet junkie.  If the internet was considered a drug, I would probably be high off it every single day - actually, I am high off it every single day.  Or maybe I'm low off it every single day.  The computer used to be this fun place where I could play Backyard Baseball and Jumpstart Typing.  Then the internet became more accessible when we got rid of dial-up and got Comcast internet, now known as Xfinity.  At the age of 13 I was obsessed with music that most people my age didn't like.  I turned to the internet to connect with other fans and found that I could be more myself in front of the computer screen than in front of actual people.  I made tons of Xanga blogs and then moved to Myspace where I updated my profile probably ten times a day and then I moved to facebook where I just had to update my status time and time again and pray to God that it would get lots of likes and comments.  Then I entered the world of college where texting was unrestricted.  We didn't need the internet anymore to automatically connect with our friends and our internet friends. 
It was when I entered college that I began to realize the effects the internet and technology had had on my life.  I was still just as shy as I was at the age of 13.  I couldn't connect easily with other people and felt safer at my computer chair.  My heart became jealous all of the time of my friends and how they always seemed to talk to each other through texting and facebook but never to me.  My friends would text about someone in the same room as them!  Even when I was chatting with my friends, they would text while I was talking and they wouldn't hear me.  They would text while we watched TV and then turn to me asking what just happened.  When I confronted them, they became defensive.  I also found that I couldn't even get through a chapter of a book because my phone was vibrating every second and I felt the need to answer every time because if I didn't, my friends would get mad that I had a life separate from them.  It made me so frustrated all of the time.  Typing about it now just brings bad memories that are just so so bad that it makes my heart ache.  I hated who I was becoming.  I was always...angry. 
Another thing that seemed different about me was that I was never reading or writing.  I mean, sure I still read and wrote but not as much as I seemed to in high school.  In high school, I finished writing a novel that was 402 pages long.  In college, I had barely written 50 pages.  Reading was easier because it didn't require the same amount of effort as writing but I was still on my computer and the internet way more than I was reading.  I found that I had a hard time writing if I wasn't using a computer.  I found it hard to stay focused in my daily life.  I found it hard to juggle my internet life, my social life, my literary life, my student life, and my spiritual life.  I knew technology was an addiction but I continued to do it anyway and so did everyone else.  When I entered my junior year, I finally realized that this needed to stop.  I didn't want to buy an ipad and I didn't want a smart phone.  I didn't want to keep depending on computers.  I became aware how my brain was changing but didn't know how to explain this to my friends and family.  I added this book to my Amazon Wishlist and was so excited to see that it was required for a class in Fall 2012.
The Shallows is a detailed look at how technology has altered our brains.  While the book is specific to the technologies today such as the internet and computers and smart phones and e-readers, it greatly touches upon technology itself and talks about earlier technologies such as the clock and the printing press.  Technology has been changing for years and our brains have changed along with it.  For example, before the printing press people were used to oral storytelling.  When the printing press arrived, books became the new medium for storytelling and while oral storytelling didn't stop, it wasn't as popular as it once was.  Socrates, the believed founder of Western culture, claimed that writing would destroy the rich oral culture and Carr writes, "Socrates argues that a dependence on the technology of the alphabet will alter a person’s mind, and not for the better. By substituting outer symbols for inner memories, writing threatens to make us shallower thinkers, he says, preventing us from achieving the intellectual depth that leads to wisdom and true happiness."  I have to disagree with this statement because I believe writing and reading makes me think a lot more and helps exercise my mind.  If Socrates were speaking of technology today then I would probably agree.  While technology can bring a lot of benefits, we humans often use it to our demise.  As J.K. Rowling says in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, "Humans have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them."
Carr also discusses the brain a lot in this book almost to the point where I wondered what it had to do with the book's topic.  He talks about studies done on the brain and relates these studies to technology and today's culture.  One thing I felt when I became annoyed with technology was that I was always being shouted at.  The radio shouted loud and obnoxious music with no deeper meaning and the TV shouted at me to be a certain way and act a certain way and the internet shouted at me about politics and understanding every single culture on the planet and my brain felt like it would explode!  Carr writes, "By combining many different kinds of information on a single screen, the multimedia Net further fragments content and disrupts our concentration.  A single Web page may contain a few chunks of text, a video or audio stream, a set of navigational tools, various advertisements, and several small software applications, or “widgets,” running in their own windows.  We all know how distracting this cacophony of stimuli can be.  We joke about it all the time.  A new e-mail message announces its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site.  A few seconds later, our RSS reader tells us that one of our favorite bloggers has uploaded a new post.  A moment after that, our mobile phone plays the ringtone that signals an incoming text message.  Simultaneously, a Facebook or Twitter alert blinks on-screen.  In addition to everything flowing through the network, we also have immediate access to all the other software programs running on our computers – they, too, compete for a piece of our mind.  Whenever we turn on our computer, we are plunged into an ‘ecosystem of interruption technologies,’ as the blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow terms it.”  The goal of technology today seems to be to distract us human beings!  How do they expect any of us to get work done?  Technology demands of us our full attention and we, with our now shallows brains, commit to this as if this is the way the world works.  The reason I first began questioning technology was for the fact that my friend once got mad at me for not texting her back in an ideal time.  I asked her, how did we communicate before texting?  How did people communicate before phones existed?  We should be grateful that we have them, not abuse the privilege!  Technology demands my attention so I can't give my attention to anything else.  No wonder I'm juggling all of my separate lives!
Overall, this book was a great read and really insightful to how technology has been affecting our brains for centuries.  The ideas Carr presents really helped me understand technology in my own life and I can finally explain my reasons to my friends and family without sounding like a total loser.  If there was one thing I didn't like about the book, it was that it seemed to stray off topic at times because it became so in depth about the brain and technology before our time.  While I believe all this content was necessary, I couldn't help but grow bored while reading.  That could be my modern technologically shallow brain talking though, right?  But, in a world that worships this technology, this book is a flower in the rain.  I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  I recommend everyone pick this up!

Reading: Meet Kit by Valerie Tripp

When I was ten years old going on eleven, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than an American Girl doll.  Both of my best friends had one and I was extremely jealous.  Each doll had her own beautiful hair and beautiful face and beautiful outfits and six books that told their story and they were so much more sophisticated than cuddly soft Kelly dolls.  The only thing that bothered me was that each doll was so expensive - $100.  To me, that seemed like a fortune.  My mom took me to Barnes and Noble in the fall to buy the first two Samantha books and I remember reading them during free time in fifth grade.  But the doll I really wanted was Kit.  I loved her short blonde hair and her pretty purple outfit and beige hat.  Christmas 2001, she was wrapped up under the tree with her first book, Meet Kit, beside her.  I loved Kit and I loved reading her book.  I never read an American Girl book since then though.  I always wanted to read the full Samantha series and Kit series and I even had the Molly series but I read other books instead.  What I loved about the books was the history element they held.  Each American Girl is living during a certain time period and has different struggles to face.  At the end of each American Girl book was a brief history lesson that I seemed to enjoy reading far more than my history book.
What is great about this 50 book challenge is that I have the opportunity to read and re-read a lot of books that I most likely would have never picked up.  I always wanted to come back to the American Girl novels just to relive the experience of reading them.  Meet Kit was a great place to start.  American Girl can sometimes be seen as an over-hyped franchise but I think it does live up to it's promise.  With these dolls and stories it gives young girls someone to relate to.  No one I knew personally as a kid wanted to write a newspaper but Kit did and I longed that she were a real person so we could create a newspaper together! That is what is so, for lack of a better word, magical about reading!  You are taken to so many different places to meet so many new people!
Meet Kit was an easy read but very enjoyable.  While the book's writing wasn't anything entirely special, the story was.  Meet Kit is the story of young Kit Kittredge who is living during the Great Depression.  The gossip is that people are loosing their jobs left and right and Kit can't wait to write about it in her notepad.  But the excitement about this gossip fades when Kit realizes that her father is one of those people who has lost his job.  Wanting to do something, Kit creates her own newspaper and writes about what is going on.  Her mother rents out their empty bedrooms so the family can earn money and not be kicked out of their home like so many other families had been.  Kit is a very resourceful and relatable character.  Her love for writing was one that I'm sure my eleven year old self could have related too. 
Meet Kit was a very fast read as well as engaging.  It was interesting to read about the Great Depression through the eyes of a young girl who doesn't quite yet understand the world.  Wouldn't it be interesting if these books were rewritten in a more literary way?  I would love to see that.  Anyway, it was a good read and I give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reading: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart is another book that I heard about a lot in my high school years but never had to read until I entered college.  I took a seminar course this past summer that focused on African Folktales and Literature.  Things Fall Apart was an assigned reading.
This book focuses on a man named Okonkwo who lives with a tribe in Africa with his three wives and children.  His father was a very gentle, lazy man and Okonkwo has been embarrassed by him since his childhood.  He believes that to be a man he must be forceful strong and daring.  Because of these two things, Okonkwo earns himself a huge character flaw - fear of being weak.  This flaw haunts him throughout the entire novel.  He becomes violent and angry a lot of the time, bringing shame upon him and his family and the purpose of this is to say that we must not let fear of something drive us because things will fall apart. 
This book was a big surprise for me because I didn't expect to like it.  The writing was superb and the story itself was engaging.  As a Christian though, I wanted to comment on the men that came from Europe to colonize in the book.  I personally don't agree with organized religion at all for the reason that religion is political and can be hateful at times.  Reading about colonization just shows the faults religion holds.  Christians sometimes believe that because they are Christian, they are superior to people who aren't Christian.  What they fail to see is that God created each and every one of us equally.  These men were spreading hate, not God's love.  They had the right intentions in a sense but in the end, it was their choices that show that they are not true followers of God.  I wanted to make this point because I think it is important for other Christians to be aware of the difference between religion and being a follower of Jesus Christ.  While this is not a focus in the book, it is something that I found interesting and it can teach us all something.
I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Reading: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was a sort of hidden author for me growing up.  I knew he was there yet I never read any of his work.  Then one day, in my senior year of high school, my teacher had us read a short science fiction story he wrote.  I don't remember the title but I remember I loved the story.  The descriptions and writing was incredible.  I wanted to read more of Bradbury's work but unfortunately I got caught up in other things.  I knew nothing about this book, Fahrenheit 451, when I sat down to read it.  All I knew was that there was a time in my life when I read a story by Ray Bradbury and it touched my life in a small way.  I hoped to recapture that moment by reading this novel. 
Since I knew nothing about the novel, I found it hard to understand in the beginning.  Fahrenheit 451 centers around a man named Guy Montag who's job is to burn books.  He is a fireman but not the type of fireman we know.  The firemen we know save houses from burning down.  The firemen in this book burn houses to the ground.  It is there job to do this if a citizen is found in possession of a book.  This story takes place sometime in the distant future when politicians and people in power realize that books give people too many ideas.  They ban books to make society more "peaceful".  They ban books to water down life so that people will obey without questions.  One day, Montag meets Clarisse - a wise 17 year old girl who opens Montag's eyes to the world's potential.  From then on, Montag seeks to understand why books are banned and wants one for himself.  He becomes wrapped up in a war between being mindless or having a mind of his own.
I hate to say this but for a lot of the novel I was extremely confused.  It took me a while to catch on to the world that Bradbury had created that so much mirrors our own.  It's scary to think about a world where books are banned and yet the idea of it seems realistic.  The concept that Bradbury writes about is one that is hugely original.  I can't imagine a world without books!  And yet here are characters who haven't read books but have been subjected to mindless TV programs and constant noise.  In today's world much of the same things happen.  We are always surrounded by noise.  Has anyone ever thought about that?  When we go to restaurants, there is music playing and big screen TV's playing about three different stations at once.  People can't walk to class without putting headphones on.  I have a friend who can't do her homework in silence.  She has to have music or TV on to help her concentrate.  The world Bradbury has created is so strikingly similar to our own at this current moment that it is almost frightening.  I think this book is a plea to us as readers.  It urges us to not let mindless things like the media and the internet distract us from what is important - whether it be books or something else.  Overall, I think the book covered a great topic and it is, and will be, an important book for people to read!  I will give it 4 out of 5 stars.