Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reading: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I heard about The Descendants because of the film adaption starring George Clooney that was advertised a lot of TV.  My grandma bought the DVD and gave it to my family as an Easter present and I decided to watch it with my good friend Kelly.  The film was good and I decided it would be a pretty cool book to read.  I don't know why but even though I see film adaptions, I can't usually go without reading the books even though I know what is going to happen.  There is just something unique that happens when you read a book that can't be explained.  Same can be said for movies of course, but I prefer the books. :)

The Descendants is about a man named Matt King who's wife is in a coma after a water accident.  Matt has just found out that his wife is not going to wake up and now has to tell his two daughters and everyone close to him so they can say their goodbyes.  This is the same time his oldest daughter decides to tell him that his wife has been cheating on him.  Matt then decides to go on a journey with his daughters and his oldest daughter's friend named Sid to hunt his wife's lover down while he also goes on a journey of self-discovery.  Kinda sounds cheesy when I put it that way but it's actually quite lovely.  Throughout this entire process Matt also feels the pressure from his family to sign an important document which will give away acres of land and give him and his cousins big bucks. 

One thing I loved about this book was the theme of acceptance and forgiveness.  Throughout the book Matt constantly struggles with his two daughters and their ragging personalities.  He tries to figure them out but learns he will never be able to do so if he doesn't kneel down to a personal level.  His first born constantly sends insults to her dying mother's way yet Matt, while comforted, corrects her and tells her to not insult her mother.  He knows what his wife did is wrong but he doesn't want to give his daughters a bad image of their mom (even though his oldest daughter doesn't have much of a chance with that now).  The book also has an underlying theme of tranquility and not letting material things cloud our judgement.  Matt struggles when thinking about the land he has to sign away and how big of a commitment it would be to do so or not do so.  He wants his daughters to grow up in a world that is good and fair and he doesn't want to be a negative example towards that.  While these are many good points to the novel, there was one thing that I found extremely annoying: the dialogue!  The dialogue was so unrealistic and so cheesy at times that I could barely stand it.  The movie basically copies the dialogue word for word and while usually I would praise this tactic, I wish they would have changed it.  Sometimes the dialogue is really raw and other times I wonder how anyone would buy such a sentence.  It just annoyed me to no end.

Overall, I liked the book and recommend it for everyone to read.  It was really good.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reading: Bat 6 by Virginia Wolff

I had to read Bat 6 for a class I'm currently taking that focuses on childhood in war.  At first I wondered how a book about a bunch of girls playing softball would relate to war but after reading the book, I realized that a war novel isn't always one that takes place during the actual war.  It can take place after the war.  In this novel, the town of Barlow is picking up the pieces after World War II. 
Bat 6 by Virginia Wolff is a novel about a softball game played every year called The Bat 6 Game.  Two teams consisting of girls from the 6th grade, Bear Creek Ridge and Barlow, have been playing the annual game since 1899.  The game was first played after people began settling in the town of Barlow and the men couldn't seem to agree on anything.  The women decided to play a game of softball and suddenly the men were laughing and getting along.  The game has been something to unite everyone once a year.  This year, though, each team has a new player with very interesting and compelling stories.  On one team is Aki, a young Japanese girl whose family was sent to a Japanese internment camp after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  Her family has returned to Barlow, after leaving the camps a few years earlier, just for Aki to play in the Bat 6 because it is very important to them.  On the other team is Shazam.  Her real name is Shirley but she prefers to be called Shazam for the reason that Shazam is a Marvel comic character.  Shazam's father was killed during Pearl Harbor and she has had to grow up without a father and a sad mother who never lets Shazam forget she has no father.  Shazam has come to Barlow to live with her grandmother after her mother can't seem to take care of her properly.  When these two teams come to face each other, something unique and frightening happens.
Bat 6 is very poignant novel that centers around all of the girls playing in the Bat 6 ball game.  There are 22 narrators in total.  Each girl has her own voice and has a lot to say.  Mostly they are talking about the new players on their team but they also talk about what they are thankful for and school.  The war has affected all of them in small ways and they talk about their lives to try and make sense of everything that happened during and after the war.  Does Wolff succeed in making this a very human experience?  Absolutely!  Reading this novel, you can't help but imagine that you are one of these girls on the Bat 6 team.  These girls all have strengths and fears and are worried about the game and school and their family life.  What unites them is this softball game.  It's hard not to feel a bit nostalgic reading this novel.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.  It was a really great read!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Art: Mumford & Sons: Below My Feet

I just couldn't go this week without posting something about Mumford & Sons.  Their new album Babel came out this week and it is perfect in every way!  I can't get enough of Mumford & Sons.  Here is the performance they did on SNL this past Saturday.  I'm addicted to these guys.  Such amazing musicians!  Buy their won't be disappointed.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reading: Coffeehouse Theology by Ed Cyzewski

I grew up with the Catholic Church.  I went to public school and went to Catholic-like-schooling every Wednesday night where we learned about our faith but didn't take it seriously.  At the age of 13 I discovered a pop group called Jump5 who introduced me to a different kind of Christianity; one that said Jesus was still alive and standing in front of each of us with open arms wanting us to give our hearts to Him.  I entered high school with doubts about God because I didn't think I could hear His voice.  Everyone said He would speak to me but I couldn't hear him.  I learned that a person didn't need to go to church or call themselves a believer in God to be a good person; there was more to it than what I was led to believe all of my life.  I became fascinated with art.  I began to love musical theatre and traveling to all different lengths to see a show.  I began reading magazines about writing and reading fictional books that moved me more to tears than true stories about real people and their struggles.  I listened to movie scores and turned off the radio.  I feared graduating high school and going to college because I wasn't sure if it was what I wanted.  I wanted to write books but everybody told me, you can't go to college for something like that and quite frankly I didn't want to.  I wasn't sure that college was where I wanted to go but I went anyway from the pressures of family expectations, societal expectations, and partly because of my own fears of the real world.  I had gotten so used to school that I guess I was afraid to leave.  In truth I didn't know I had to power to not go.  I entered my freshman year frightened and not sure where God was in my life.  I still believed with all of my heart and went to church and sometimes read novels with Christian values and listened to Christian music.  Sometimes I wondered if God was real and those thoughts scared me.  I couldn't not believe in God but at the same time, I couldn't see or hear Him.  Where was God in art that I loved that sometimes spoke against Him?  Where was God at college, I wondered?  My peers all drank and had sex and partied and listened to music where singers who called themselves artists dropped the f-bomb every five seconds.  Where was God in that?  Where was God during my lectures that claimed Christianity was oppressing?  I just couldn't see Him anywhere but I wanted to so badly.  So badly.
And then one day during my junior year I was at a bargain store with my mom and spotted this book, Coffeehouse Theology by Ed Cyzewski.  Coffeehouse said artistic and Theology said religious studies.  Never did I think I would find a book like this and yet here is sat before me.  My spirits soared at the sight of this book and I picked it up and held it tightly in my hands, convinced that this was what I had been searching for.  If you read my earlier Wasted Wednesday post, Jesus Moments, I knew right away that this was one of them.  God works in mysterious ways is what everyone has told me.  God works through ordinary things to reach us and speak to us and suddenly I could hear God louder than ever.  I usually didn't choose to read non-fiction books but I couldn't let this one slip away.  I knew I had to read it.

Now that we have a back-story to this novel, let's go into what it is about.  Coffeehouse Theology explores the role of theology in the modern world.  Cyzewski defines postmodernism and discusses how traveling and learning about other cultures can help us see different theological practices that we may not agree with but can help us better to understand our own faith.  In this way, we can strengthen our faith.  The book talks about how much information is at our fingertips these days and with all of that information, it is important to remember that even though this world is full of different cultures and beliefs, we can learn from it all and that we are all united as Christians with the love for God.  Cyzewski says, "The main thing worth knowing is how to love God and to build people up through love."  The book also stresses the importance of reading the bible and not letting all of the information at the tip of our fingers distract us from what the bible says.  This book forces us to think and reflect on God in our everyday lives.

Cyzewski's writing was new to me since I wasn't used to this non-fiction writing style and at first I found it confusing but I slowly let my mind adjust and let the book teach me.  This book helped me clear my mind and put my thoughts in order.  It said things I had been thinking all along but just couldn't fathom the right words and ideas to make sense of it all.  It is a perfect book for anyone seeking a modern view of theology that doesn't question old beliefs but rather gives them a new spin that our generation can understand.  Cyzewski doesn't talk down to his readers but talks as if in  discussion.  I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.  It wasn't entirely what I expected but it was also different and that is what made me love it so much.  I highly recommend this book!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wasted Wednesday: Reading: The Boy Who Lived

As a ten year old kid, Harry Potter seemed to me to be an over-hyped book series that probably couldn't compare to my Little House books.  My love for books, though, got the better of me one day in a Toys R' Us where I spotted a whole section dedicated to Harry Potter and decided it was time for me to start reading the books.  I ended up buying the second book at Toys R' Us and bought the first through my fourth grade book order.  When I finished reading The Sorcerer's Stone, I remember being so proud because I'd never read a book of that size with such small letters.  It was a big achievement.  Iam now reading the books for a fifth time.  Who'd have thought I'd grow to love this series so much?
Harry Potter has changed my life.  The series changed the way I read other books, the way I write my own stories/blogs, and the series changed the way I viewed the world.  The books taught me about faith, love, and redemption, and unlike what radical religious groups say, the story didn't teach me sorcery. 
When someone tells me that they've never read Harry Potter, I always urge them to pick up all seven books.  They have changed my life so much and I always want other people to experience the story of the boy who lived!  I always seem to find a few people who only know Harry Potter from the media and not from reading the books.  This summer I got into a heated discussion with a friend of mine about the books and told her she had to read them.  She had some reservations and her points were very understandable.  Before I go into the heart of this blog post, I want to give two points my friend stated against Harry Potter and then I will explain to you why these points are meaningless when it comes to judging a credible book or series.  The first point that was made is this – I don’t believe in wizardry.  Indeed this statement has been expanded by the media and can be seen as a legitimate reason.  However, if we are going to not read something because we don’t believe in it than I guess I give up all murder mysteries and anything to do with rape because I believe murder and rape are wrong.  See my point?  If Harry Potter was enforcing wizardry than I’d say not to read it and I probably wouldn’t be such a fan of the books myself; but it’s not forcing anyone to be a wizard.  In fact, I honestly can claim that this series isn’t truly about wizards at all.  Harry Potter is a fantasy tale and just like the fantasy and fairy tales before it, the story uses a mythical group to portray the habits and morals of our own society.  Bambi teaches kids that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  It isn’t telling us that we must become rabbits or deer or live in a forest.  The second point made is this – Isn’t it a bit childish?  Its main characters are kids.  While the Harry Potter books appeal to the young, they also appeal to all age groups.  When I was 17 waiting in line to receive my copy of the final book, there were adults in line with me discussing the books and discussing what may happen in the final one.  The book isn’t about children but rather about childhood.  It is a story of growing up.  The books grow as Harry grows.  As Harry becomes more complex, so does his life at Hogwarts and so does J.K. Rowling’s writing.  In order to judge Harry Potter in full, one must read all of the books.  Reading the first one is like reading the first part of a novel and putting it down before discovering all of the other parts.  Harry Potter works like a puzzle and by the end, all of the pieces fit.  Another point I may add is this – saying Harry Potter is a childish book series because its main characters are kids is a big statement to make.  Haven’t we seen many other literary works suitable for adults that contain children as the main character?  To name a few  - The Lovely Bones, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Kite Runner, The Reader, My Sister’s Keeper, etc.  The statement is almost suggesting that for a novel to be adult it must contain continual vulgar language, sex, and adult main characters.  This isn’t always true.  C.S. Lewis says, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Now let’s quote Stephen King, for King is a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, just to get an author’s perspectives on these books.  He says, “Will kids (and adults as well) still be wild about Harry 100 years from now, or 200?  My best guess is that he will indeed stand time’s test and wind up on a shelf where only the best are kept; I think Harry will take his place with Alice, Huck, Frodo, and Dorothy, and this is one series not just for the decade, but for the ages.”  Not only does Harry Potter resemble past fantasy tales but the series also seems to be a pre-Dickens type.  In a recent blog post by Jeff Hanna, Hanna states that many students were struggling to read Dickens’s writing and this was becoming a concern considering Dickens’s is one of the easiest, apart from Jane Austen, Victorian authors.  “Reading Harry Potter,” Hanna quotes Suzanne Keen, “is like taking a crash course in reading Dickens because ‘it's got the humor, it's got the caricatured names, it's got the multi-plots, it's got the really long stories that you read for hours and hours and hours, and you enjoy the fact that they're long.’”  In this blog I am going to present themes that are featured in the Harry Potter series and use examples, but I am going to write in a way that hopefully won’t give away too much information about the series as I want anyone who hasn’t read the books to read them!  Let’s get started!
The first theme I am going to discuss in this blog is the theme of death.  Death is probably the biggest theme in the novels mostly because it has to do with what made Harry famous and what sets him apart from other wizards.  This theme can be split into two sections, one being the dead remain with us and the other being literal death.  I quote the third film, “The ones that love us never really leave us.”  Harry experiences death as a baby but never really understands it while he grows up until he finds out he is a wizard.  Harry’s parents murder lives with him everyday just as his parents live within him and around him everyday.  Harry’s looks alone reflect his mother and father.  The books continually remind us that Harry has his mother’s eyes and his father’s messy jet black hair.  His parents also are reflected through his actions.  Harry shows a great deal of love which reflects his mother, and he doesn’t always abide by the rules but is a great Quidditch seeker like his father.  Even Harry’s patronus is exactly the same as his father’s, showing that James (Harry’s dad) is as much alive in Harry as ever.  Harry also encounters many friends and professors who knew his parents while they were alive and the stories they tell him keep his parents alive in spirit.  Harry sees a lot of his parents through pictures given/shown to him, memories from the enchanted Penseive, and letters he comes upon. He sees his parents in the Mirror of Erised and finds himself emotionally attached to the object just so he can be with his family that will never exist.  At one point in the books, Harry comes upon their graves; “the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them.”  Literal death is very prevalent in these books as well.  Many characters who Harry becomes close with end up dying and we as readers see the toll it takes on Harry’s emotional state throughout the novels.  The entire plot of this story literally revolves around two things: the night Harry’s parents died and Voldemort’s fear of death.

The next theme I want to look at is the theme of alienation/humility.  The death of Harry’s parents and the story of his survival and his scar set him apart even in the wizarding world.  Harry is constantly alienated in these books and it often leaves him feeling isolated and frustrated.  He is alienated in the Chamber of Secrets when people suspect him of murder, in the Goblet of Fire when people suspect he is a cheating dark wizard who is conceited, and in the Order of the Phoenix when the wizarding world claims that he is a liar.  Harry is also very alienated during his childhood living with the Dursley’s.  Harry feels most isolated during the summer months he has to spend away from Hogwarts and at his aunt and uncle’s because the wizarding world is going on without him and he is too far away to enjoy it or sometimes know what’s going on that effects his life.  His scar keeps him isolated because he has to live with the rumors and the pain and the spotlight that he doesn’t want.  Death sets him apart from others especially when Harry can see thestrals when mostly no one else can.  Harry isn’t the only one who feels isolated and alienated.  Even his best friend Ron experiences isolation and alienation at some points in the books.  This alienation, though, helps Harry humble himself.  He knows he hasn’t asked to be in this rather unique position but he accepts it anyway.  He accepts his destiny to help the wizarding world rather than running away from it out of fear to protect himself.  Harry shows his modesty most prominently when he is meeting with other students in the beginning’s of Dumbledore’s Army.  All of his friends are naming the incredible things Harry has done but Harry tells them that he gives all his credit to luck.  He strides to do good even when it may not benefit himself.  The biggest example is in the first book with the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Harry never lets fear hold him back.
Which brings me to the next theme of the books: Fear.  "Fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself,” Dumbledore tells us at one point during the books when referring the a wizards fear of speaking Voldemort’s name.  Yes, fear is a very powerful theme in the Harry Potter books.  It is revealed to the reader that Harry’s biggest fear is fear itself.  He learns to conquer this fear which shows his true strength and determination as a character and as a hero.  Fear is also represented in these books through the magical creatures called boggarts which transform into what a certain person fears the most.  Characters such as Cornelius Fudge and Professor Slughorn represent a large amount of fear during the books.  Even unknown witches and wizards show fear during the books when the wizarding war occurs.  Wizards give into the fear of dying when Voldemort comes to kill them for information or just some fun.  Voldemort himself, as I stated above, fears death above anything else and it proves to be his greatest weakness.  I guess the theme of fear actually should be altered to be conquering fears because this series encourages standing up for what you believe and doing what you think is right despite fear.

On a different subject now, another theme featured in Harry Potter is the theme of Father Figures, Family, and Love.  Harry basically grows up with blood relatives who despise him and then he enters a world of people who love and accept him not just because of his famous status and his scar.  Many men in the story play the role of father figure in Harry’s life such as Hagrid, Dumbledore, Professor Lupin, and a certain someone who is nicknamed Snuffles.  These father figures all have unique attributes to them that overall shape and influence Harry during his years at Hogwarts and basically help mold him into the man he becomes.  The role of family in these stories is another big theme.  Harry Potter makes it clear that family isn’t just defined as having a mom and a dad but rather it is defined as being surrounded by people who genuinely love and care about you.  In Harry’s case, the Weasley’s are his family as well as many of the Hogwarts professors and members of the order.  Mrs. Weasley is always giving to Harry like she gives to her own children and treats him like one of her own sons.  The graphic featured to the right is one that can draw speculation to Harry’s childhood.  In Western culture childhood has a definition but no one usually thinks about it because it is just apart of life.  Questioning the definition of childhood today is like questioning why we eat cereal for breakfast instead of macaroni and cheese.  It can easily be argued that Harry did have a childhood and that it was good in the sense that it humbled him.  It was a childhood, just not the one we read in the definition or the one that most of us have experienced.  Love surrounds Harry all of the time in the wizarding world (as much as hate) and is probably one of the best known themes in the books.  We see love in the form of romance and love in its invisible form that saved Harry’s life the night Voldemort gave Harry his scar.  His mother’s love runs in his veins and is what sets him apart from Voldemort.
This next point I am going to make carries a few themes but ultimately proves this: that this book is packed with three dementional characters.  Emma Watson once said in an interview, “What I love about J.K. Rowling’s books is that no one is ever painted completely black or white apart from Voldemort.”  Indeed Watson is right on the money with this statement.  The characters in Harry Potter have so much depth to them and they all have a story, even if they are only minor characters.  Each character brings a theme of the fallen façade as well as redemption and forgiveness.  We see these themes in characters like Neville, Snape, Lupin, Ron, Draco, and many others.  This theme of fallen façade also occurs when looking at the Hogwarts houses.  I’m not sure who said this quote but it is very important to remember when reading the books.  “Not all Gryffindors are brave, not all Hufflepuffs are weak, not all Ravenclaws are stuck up and arrogant and not all Slytherins are dark wizards.”  If you’ve read the books I think it is safe to say that each of these statements represents a single character and you know who they are.  The only character that stays the same, as Watson pointed out, is Voldemort who is always seeking power and a way to conquer death.
Looking at all of these themes together, another theme comes to mind: the theme of wisdom. These books are packed with wisdom!  Dumbledore says, "To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure,” and, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” and, “We all must make the decision between what is right and what is easy,” and, "“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love," and, "“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”" AND, “it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!”  There are lots of other quotes I love said by Dumbledore and many other characters but those are some of my favorites.  The books continually give the reader time to reflect upon their own lives as Harry reflects on his life, and the characters teach wisdom through their actions.
One last topic of discussion I want to touch on is actually a question.  Where is God in Harry Potter?  Faith in the Harry Potter books is one of the reasons why I love Harry Potter.  I see so many biblical references (intentional or not) and the books have helped guide me as a follower of Jesus.  To start off, the idea of humility (something bigger than ourselves) is a huge attribute when talking about being a follower of Jesus.  Another is patience which we see represented through the interaction of Dumbledore and Harry.  Harry doesn’t always understand Dumbledore’s decisions because of his own preconceived ideas, but he trusts them anyway and that is another thing we need to remember – to trust God because He has more wisdom than we do.  Poet Jeff Bethke once said in an interview when asked if he didn’t agree with some passages in the bible, “This is what it comes down to, I’ve noticed.  Is that, they’re still things I wrestle with [in the bible] and still things that if I were to say I’m God, I wouldn’t do it that way – which of course is the most arrogant thing you could ever say…we don’t have people putting the word of God above them and humbly submitting in hopes that they would ask the Holy Spirit to open their mind every time they read the scriptures and just reveal truth.  Instead we have people putting the bible below them and saying ‘I’m going to force my worldview that I already have into this book.’”  Of course I’m not saying that I would put Harry Potter before the bible however I do feel Harry Potter can teach us these lessons of what it means to be a follower of Christ.  As I said above, Dumbledore is constantly doing things that Harry is very confused about and struggles with and he even gets angry with Dumbledore sometimes yet in the end, he always trusts him and that is the way we need to live.  Yes there are times we will get angry with God but we can’t let our anger lead us down an easier path but we need to trust God because he may just have more wisdom than we do.  Another huge link to faith in these books is seeing Harry as a Jesus figure as well as Dumbledore as a godly figure. 
To conclude, Harry Potter is more than the media has made it out to be.  It isn’t simply some children’s story about getting bad grades or missing a homework assignment or having a crush but rather it is about courage and facing our fears; learning to love and to be humble, and to never judge a book by it’s cover!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Reading: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Going into this review is a very daunting task.  Pride and Prejudice is such a renowned book and I don't feel that I have the credibility to write my feelings about it, however I feel that it has to be done.  So let's get started.
As usual in my book review blogs I like to start with a bit of background nostalgia.  I had never heard of Pride and Prejudice until the film, staring Keira Knightley, came out in 2005 when I was 15.  I didn't have an interest in seeing it until I became an avid Pirates of the Caribbean fan and just had to see all of the actors/actresses previous works.  When I first watched the film I found it to be confusing and I didn't understand how Elizabeth and Darcy fell in love.  My mind had never experienced a love story so profound, mostly because society's idea of a love story is defined as The Notebook.  I still held the film in high regards though and at the age of 18, finally decided to read the novel.  Seeing the movie really helped when it came to reading this piece of literature.  Sad to say but I may have been lost without it.  I watched the film again in my sophomore year of college with my roommate and suddenly found myself swept away by it.  I guess a few years experience finally helped me recognize the beauty of this spectacular story!  I knew that in the future I would have to re-read the book if the movie was this amazing.  To my delight, the book was assigned for one of my college courses.  It took me a while to read...almost a year!  I was reading other books and got caught up in other things and it was just a side reading that I knew I had to finish this summer so I could count it toward my 50 books of 2012.  I ended up finishing it on a cruise (after finishing Game of Thrones).  Like Game of Thrones, I was so sad that the book was over and kept thinking I was still reading it.  I was practically in love! 
I can proudly say that Pride and Prejudice is now one of my favorite novels!  It would take entirely too long to explain my full reasoning so let's just name three.  Number one, the writing style.  How come the authors in the 1700's wrote in so much more detail than today?  I mean, books are amazing today in my opinion and the details are great.  There are so many amazing stories that have come out in the 1900's with fantastic detail.  However, the way Austen words her sentences is just a bit too mind boggling.  The details are different than say, Game of Thrones, in the sense that the language is very, for lack of a better word, sophisticated and elegant.  While books today have amazing details and descriptions, it is a completely different style of writing compared to the classic writers such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.  Number two, they don't take their clothes off!  The characters don't suddenly come on to each other.  Lizzy and Darcy genuinely love each other!  It isn't about sex appeal which is unlike mostly every love story...ever, it seems.  It's refreshing.  And number three, the title.  About a month ago I was watching TV and a movie trailer came on starring Bradley Cooper.  The movie actually looked good and I had an interest in seeing it.  Then the title came on the screen - The Words.  Are you kidding me?  That is the title for the movie?  You couldn't muster anything better, movie makers?  Pride and Prejudice is such a ground breaking title.  It speaks volumes!  It sums up the entire story in just three beautiful words and then makes them far more compelling than anyone could expect.  Well done Austen!
It's no surprise that I'm giving this novel a 5 out of 5 stars.  I really enjoyed reading it for a second time and I encourage anyone who hasn't read it to read it soon, or at least see the movie which is also amazing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wasted Wednesday:Art: Why Disney Princesses Are Good Role Models [Partial Repost]

So during April there is a week named National Princess week.  I had planned to write a whole blog about why the Disney Princess's were good role models but then got caught up in schoolwork!  But now I'm coming back to the topic and it may not be National Princess week but that is okay because I've had time to flesh out my ideas and even read up on other people's opinions on the matter!  So here we go!  I am deleting the original post and restating my ideas in this one.
To start off, I guess I should properly state my stance on the matter of the Princesses/heroines being good role models or not, specifically toward young girls.  I don't think that Disney creates poor role models out of these girls/women.  Rather, I believe, they are an outstanding portrayal of role models for young girls and older women as well.  I'm not coming at this as a feminist or an anti-feminist, but as a human being.  We're all humans here – it is our differences that bring us together while also dividing us.  One thing I've noticed about today's generation is that people are constantly referring to each other as this color or that; this social group or not; this nationality or that.  Can't we all come to a conclusion that we are all human?  We all have different experiences or opinions no matter where we come from and how we are brought up.  Whether you are from China or England; whether you are black or white; whether you are a boy or a girl – it shouldn't matter!  We are all human.  Of course I identify myself as a girl, there is no denying that; however, I also define myself as a brunette and Caucasian.  If you want to take things deeper, I identify myself as a writer and an artist.  I identify myself as funny at times, can be a bit bossy, and a student with little money.  Does being a brunette mean I'm smarter than most blondes?  Does being a student mean I love to party every Thursday night?  Does being a girl mean I love to shop?  When were we sorted into these stereotypes and why do they have to matter when it comes to judging art?
Before diving into what traits make Disney Princesses great role models, I want to discuss the role feminism plays in this argument.  For years feminists have told parents that their children should not be watching Disney movies because the Princesses are all passive and need a man in their lives to be happy.  I disagree with the second point and while I somewhat I agree with the passivity point, I fail to see why a woman being passive makes her less of a feminist.  The fact that a woman is seeking love is seen as weak in the eyes of a feminist these days.  Men are the enemy.  All men are pigs!  Disney Princesses are easy and get men by their looks alone.  Women should not cook for them because they are servants!  Okay...point taken, but what about the guys?  Wouldn't they be servants for cooking for women?  It doesn't make sense.  Now please don't think I am speaking for the entire population of feminists because I know quite a few who don't agree with these statements; however the large portion of feminists do think this way - just go to a liberal arts college class and discuss women in literature!  In a Tumblr blog post, blogger Jessica writes about modern day feminism, "I feel like feminism these days isn't about men and women being equal.  It seems as though lately, feminism has been about women somehow being superior to men.  Men are being made the enemy, and they are not.  If you're fighting for equality, stop trying to make women more important than men, because they're not....Men are not bad.  Fathers are not bad.  Gentlemen are not bad....Yes, there are some bad men in the world, but there are also bad women in the world.  Being a bad person isn't a gender thing, it is a human thing."  The last few lines of Jessica's quotes is so important to understand when we are looking at the Disney Princesses. It is important to see that men are not the enemy.  They are not what defines a Disney Princess no matter how much the media insists.  These heroines have their own personalities that make them unique while also uniting them.  Every Disney character has his/her own personality that makes them unique and that is what makes Disney so special!  In another tumblr post, Rose writes a response to an article titled "Ranked: Disney Princesses from least to most feminist".  Rose states, "I'm so sick and tired of everyone thinking that to be a "feminist", girls have to be like Mulan.  Because no, that's not what feminism is can be a feminist without being strong or bold.  You can be a feminist without wielding a sword and beating up a bunch of guys.  Feminism isn't about telling little girls to get out of the kitchen and shoot guns.  But feminism isn't about telling girls they can't shoot guns either.  Some girls like to cook, some girls want to get married on their own will, and some girls don't want to do either....It is anti-feminism to try to fit these girls into a Mulan mold....People need to understand that girls shouldn't have any designated 'role'....Girls (and boys) should be able to aspire to be anything they want without criticism, whether it be in the kitchen, in a cubicle, in the Oval Office, or in the military."  This is another example at how feminism has been very much not headed toward equality but rather a certain standard that women must live up to...even fictional women.  Walt Disney once said, "We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth, revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us."  In essence, it is what makes us unique that brings us together.  We all have little things in common and that is why it is important to remember that men aren't apart of these women's personalities, nor do these women need to have a certain type of personality to be considered a role model for young girls.
Now that we have looked at the feminist aspects to this argument, let's go ahead and talk about why these Princesses are great role models for the young and the old.  Back in April when I was preparing to write this blog during National Princess week, I stumbled upon an article on SparkNotes titled "Why Disney Princesses Are The Worst Role Models EVER."  Being a huge defender of the Princesses, I quickly clicked the link to read the author's points and then challenge them.  Here I am going to post every snippet in the article that stood out to me and will thereafter make my argument as to why the author's statements are not proof of the Princesses being "the worst" role models.  The author states, "Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White are the same person in different bodies.  They have no personality whatsoever.  Ariel, on the other hand, does have a personality - one that allows her to abandon her family, give up her greatest talent (perhaps permanently!), and radically change her body for a man she's never spoken to.  Jasmine teaches little girls that it's okay if your boyfriend lies to you about his entire life, and Belle thinks that even if a man is horrible to you, stick it out!  You can change him!...There is no a princess out there that learns, grows, changes, or progresses over the course of the story line....The only reason that any of the princesses get a happy ending is because they're gorgeous....Princess stories repeatedly advertise love at first sight....All of these girls [could have escaped] their undesirable situations without being saved by a man.  But none of them do."
The first set of sentences must be discussed in chunks.  Let's start off with the Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White line.  These characters are not all the same.  Each has different talents and faults (God forbid women or Disney Princesses have faults like other human beings and characters!) and while yes their LOVE stories are similar in the sense that they all fall in love at first sight, that doesn't mean they are the same.  They all have completely different situations.  On the famous Disney Confessions blog, one confession states, "I don't understand why people hate Snow White so much. I think she is beautiful, kind, and wonderful....her Stepmother [forced her] to clean...I think it's amazing that she stilled learned to be kind and compassionate when she received no love until her teenage years." Indeed this is something that is often overlooked - passivity.  The idea that Snow White did nothing about her situation but endured it with a kind heart.  To feminists, this is wrong.  Of course no one should have to suffer like that but it is all how a person handles themselves that makes them who they are.  It isn't about being physically strong all of the time but being emotionally strong.  I will go more into their personalities further down in this blog post but for organization sake, let's continue to the next chunk of this sentence.  The sentence talks about Ariel giving up what she loved.  First of all, this theme of giving up things we love exists in all movies!  Why accuse Disney of this when all films are to blame?  It's obvious Ariel is a rebellious character and in this day most adults think it is healthy for kids to rebel like Ariel did.  It is a societal norm that people just accept and say, "well, all teens do these kinds of things."  To accuse Ariel of doing what most teens have been doing and have been doing in the written works is ludicrous!  To pick at another part of the sentence I have another quote from a Disney Confession stating, "I don't like how Ariel sometimes is believed to have given up everything for a guy.  She obviously longed to live out of the sea before she saw Eric.  It was just that, when she saw him it made her want to be there that much more."  This confession puts the Ariel debate into perspective.  The movie starts out with Ariel hunting for human artifacts under the sea!  She always had a dream to be human and Eric made her dream seem much more possible.  She didn't give it all up for a man but rather she gave it up for a dream.  She made a rational decision just like a lot of teens do in popular films today and in real life!
Now let's skip to the Jasmine sentence.  Throughout the film it is obvious that Aladdin lied to Jasmine and it was clear that Jasmine didn't want to be lied to.  Yet she accepts Aladdin at the end.  Why is that?  Jasmine says to Aladdin after he apologizes for lying, "I know why you did."  Okay, so basically what the author is saying is that because Jasmine understands and forgives Aladdin, she is a bad role model?  Now to Belle.  Belle is my favorite Disney Princess and this sentence is completely out of line!  For starters, Belle didn't stick it out to change a really mean beast and make him gentle and nice!  Belle was nice!  It was her kindness and integrity that kept her at the castle.  She did the right thing even when it cost her.  She gave up everything she loved and her freedom in exchange for her father's safety!  That's not stupidity, that's bravery!  She didn't stick things out to make the beast a nicer guy because she didn't know that she played apart in breaking a spell!  She only knew that the beast had been cursed because of his selfishness to a poor older woman.
Okay, so we've got the first paragraph out of the way.  The last sentences focus on these three things: character growth, love by beauty/love at first sight, and passivity. Before I go into the Princesses individually, let's talk about the theme of love by beauty/love at first sight and passivity.  Let's tackle passivity first.  The sparknotes article states that none of the Princesses escape their situations without a man, which isn't true.  For starters, Belle breaks the spell in Beauty and the Beast!  She saved Prince Adam from remaining a beast forever!  She was the hero of her own story!  Snow White runs away from her stepmother.  Ariel rebels and does what she wants despite her family's wishes.  Jasmine takes charge of who she wants to marry.  Pocahontas jumps in front of John Smith and brings peace to the village.  Mulan freaking saves China!  Tiana works hard and stays optimistic even when it seems like she has nothing.  Rapunzel takes charge of her life to live her dream.  Aurora doesn't play a huge role in her own movie and it is hard to focus on what she did because the movie focused more on what the fairies did and what Prince Philip did but I will come back to her further down.  And Cinderella goes to the ball!  Walt Disney once said, "[Cinderella] believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn't come along, she went over to the palace and got him.”  Moving onto the love at first sight/love by beauty, I wanted to quote another tumblr post that I found last week about a movie I haven't mentioned yet - The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  While it isn't a Princess movie, there is a very relevant topic in there that connects to this - love by beauty or how come Quasimodo didn't get the girl?  Why does the handsome guy get the girl?  In a tumblr blog post, author Anna states, "The audience wants Quasimodo to get the girl because he's nice...and he deserves to catch a break for once in his life.  And all those things are true.  However.  That line of thought essentially equates Esmeralda to his prize, to an object rather than a person."  You may think this proves my point wrong but here is what I am getting at.  Quasimodo didn't get the girl not because he was ugly, but because of his attitude.  It wasn't a bad attitude but it wasn't healthy.  Attitude is essential when forming relationships, romantic or non-romantic.  All of the Princes and Princesses have good attitudes.  It isn't love at first sight but rather a genuine mutual attraction between the sexes.  Admit it, this happens all of the time in films!  Disney, again, is not the only film franchise at "fault" for this idea and it certainly doesn't make a person a bad role model or a good one.  In fact, it has virtually nothing to do with it.  It has to do with the Princesses personalities and the time period in which their films were made, not their virtues.
Last but not least, let's talk about character growth.  Each Princess DOES grow as a character in all of the films.  I know this doesn't help my point (but no one is perfect) but Aurora doesn't grow much.  It doesn't mean she isn't a good role model in a small way but it's hard to talk about her when she only has 18 minutes of screen time.  Also, how does not escaping an undesirable situation make a Princess a bad role model?  If anything it makes the Princesses seem strong for keeping faith in such a bad situation.  In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, don't we see Professor McGonagall in a undesirable situation in having to listen to Umbrige even though she knows the truth about Voldemort returning?  Or what about in the famous film Titanic, don't we see a mother tucking her kids into bed even though she knows the boat is going to sink and they will die? Being strong isn't about escaping the bad situation but rather how a person handles it.
Now I am going to focus on each Disney Princess and talk about their virtues.  Finally!  I feel like I've been typing this forever...which I have.  It's been a few hours.  Anyway, Snow White is awarded the kindness virtue.  I know it's a bit cheesy but throughout the film we see Snow White show kindness to the animals and the dwarfs even when she didn't have to.  Now on to Cinderella.  Cinderella is very humble.  She has grown up for most of her life being poor and not having much and yet she still carries herself with grace and overcomes her oppression for the better.  Aurora is respectful.  She respects nature and the adults who raised her.  Ariel's virtue is her determination.  She knows what she wants and goes for it knowing that there may be mistakes but she goes for it anyway.  She always brings out the best of those around her.  Now to Belle!  Belle's virtue is to not be afraid of being different.  Belle is intelligent and reads and the town people think she is strange.  She always wants to learn about the world and see things!  She also holds the virtue of integrity.  When the beast saves her from the pack of wolves, she could have easily left him there to die but instead she turned around and took him back to the castle, even though she could have gone home to her father.  Jasmine's virtue is that she is a leader.  She leads her own destiny.  She runs away from home when she doesn't want to marry and she tells her father that she will not have men coming to claim her as if she is a prize to be won.  She teaches girls that you must respect yourself first before you respect others (which in a sense, all of the Disney girls teach us).  Pocahontas is a very spiritual Princess and teaches us to be one with nature.  She teaches us about equality and that we are no better than our neighbors or the people across the sea.  Mulan teaches us that you don't need a man to fight.  Now, as I stated above, women don't have to play the part of men to be feminist.  That being said, it also isn't wrong for a woman to do such a thing.  Mulan shows girls that while some may choose to not take the tradition route (depending on cultural norms of course), girls can also be involved in athletics and even fight for their country.  Tiana's virtue is optimism.  There are many times when she could have easily given up in her story and yet she always remembers her dad and what he taught her, to love.  She also shares Ariel's virtue of determination but in the end it is her optimism that keeps her going.  Finally, Rapunzel's virtue is independence.  She teaches girls how to follow their dreams and how to go about life once their lives once they find a new dream.  I believe all of these women share virtues too.  They are all determined and they all know who they are.  They all have dreams and know what they want.  The variety of Princesses shows girls that they can be anything they want.  They can work hard like Tiana or read like Belle or break away like Rapunzel. 
One last virtue each of these Princesses holds is one that is unique to my faith.  As a Christian, I believe that falling in love should not involve sex before marriage.  I don't believe this just because the bible says so but rather God, my creator, created it for a purpose and I don't want to abuse it but enjoy it when my time comes.  I won't go into this idea in any more detail for want of not getting off topic but back to the Disney Princesses.  There is a saying I saw somewhere, "the Disney Princesses didn't have to take off their dress or lose anything they couldn't get back the next day in order to get their Prince Charming."  I know that the topic of sex is left out of Disney films because they are family films and because sex is such a "dirty" topic but I enjoy the idea of looking at sex from this point of view.  Each Princess meets a man and genuinely falls in love without taking her clothes off.  This, to me, is another virtue that the Princesses share.  A lot of the virtues of the Princesses also enforce a lot of Christian virtues and I believe the Princesses are good role models for those who want to strengthen their faith from an art perspective like myself while still focusing on the bible.
To conclude, the Disney Princesses are good role models for young girls (and old) because they all hold moral virtues that will help us grow as people.  While "feminists" claim that passivity and finding a man is not a good role model, they fail to see that feminism isn't about the physical strength of a woman or her lack of a man but rather gender equality and knowing that girls can be whatever they want when they grow up.  It is the attitude of a person and not their situation that shows their virtues.  As Dumbledore says, "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."  Girls learn that they can cook like Snow White, go to a ball like Cinderella, or join the military like Mulan.  Each Disney Princess (and Disney characters in general) teaches kids that they have separate personalities from their love life and that they can be anything they want if they are honest.  It is not right to see these women as stereotypical women but rather human beings who can be whatever they choose and not be judged because of it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reading: Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

If you use the internet a lot but haven't heard of Game of Thrones, I'd be very surprised.  Game of Thrones has become an overnight cult success it seems.  The HBO show has finished it's second season and will soon be premiering with it's third.  Suddenly my Tumblr feed was full of Game of Thrones graphics, quotes, and book images.  My best friend's boyfriend loved the show and so it seemed did everyone else.  I began seeing the books in Target and in advertisements as I surfed the web.  It is no surprise that I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  I sat down to watch the show one night when I was at home.  I made sure to watch the show late at night because I had heard about the mature rating and didn't fancy watching the show with my parents.  At first I found the show to be dull and a bit too vulgar for my taste.  Despite it's vulgarities, I came to love the show after a few episodes (same can be said for Shameless) and decided I had better read the books.

Game of Thrones is the first book in a series titled "A Song of Ice and Fire".  It centers around Ned, a humble and moral man who has been called upon by the King, and one of Ned's once closest friends, to be the King's hand.  Ned wants to say no but feels he has no choice and with that he leaves his home of Winterfell, bringing along with him his two daughters (Sansa and Arya), to serve the realm.  While Ned is the main character of the story it is not always in his point of view.  Catelyn, Ned's wife, narrates along with Ned's bastard son Jon Snow, Ned's daughters Arya and Sansa, and Ned's young son Bran.  Two other characters narrate as well who have no relation to Ned.  One is Tyrion Lannister who was born a dwarf.  The other is Daenerys Targaryen who is the sister of Rhaegar Targaryen and daughter of King Aerys II, who sat on the Iron Throne until Tyrion's brother Jaime cut his head off.  Speaking of the Iron Throne, that is what this whole series is about!  It is a game of thrones...a competition, you could call it, between the high houses of the land.  

There were many things I loved about this book which include the characters and their many perspectives, the themes, the descriptions/writing/detail, and the realistic tone.  The characters were phenomenal.  Each one was fleshed out beautifully and their thoughts were written so well on the page.  I felt that I could relate to almost every one is a small way.  I enjoyed reading all of their accounts except for perhaps Catelyn's...I grew a bit bored with her and I often got mad at her decision making.  From Ned's moral character choices to Jon Snow's struggle for being born a bastard; from Arya's wishes of not being a proper lady and dreams of sword-fighting to Sansa's naive dreams of marrying Prince Joffery; from Tyrion's words of wisdom about his strength in mind to Daenerys falling in love and growing into a woman.  I loved them all in their own ways!  I think that is what kept me reading.  I loved how the plots of these character's were interwoven in a way that wasn't random but purely on purpose and genius on Martin's part. 

Another thing I loved about this book was the themes that it embraced.  It combines coming of age themes with the theme of standing to our principles while also bringing in the theme of the memory's that haunt us and partially shape who we are as human beings.  The writing was PHENOMENAL.  I write this in all caps because it's so true and I want to shout it to the whole world!  I read this book and know that I may never ever be able to write like that and I'm okay with it because it's so good!  The descriptions are so real and original and the words Martin uses depict scenes skillfully and...well, perfectly.  Between watching the show and reading the book I found myself cringing at deaths and moments filled with witchcraft and dead bodies that haunted people. That of shows just how amazing Martin is with his descriptions.  They bothered me!  I also should mention how amazing this world is that Martin has created.  It feels as real to me as Hogwarts!  The book is also very realistic despite it's fantasy label.  

When I finished the book I just couldn't believe I was done.  For a few days I still thought I was reading it.  I would reach over to my nightstand and see that it wasn't Game of Thrones sitting there but another book.  It left a strange and empty feeling in my heart.  Despite all of these amazing aspects to the book, there was one negative thing I noticed.  This story is incredibly vulgar.  I already mentioned that I moved past that but it still does bother me at times.  

Despite the vulgarity, I loved the book!  I am definitely giving it 5 out of 5 stars.  I'm not calling it a favorite but it is a book I recommend to everyone because you will not be disappointed.  Seriously, you should buy the book right now.  Don't get it at the library.  If you love to read and write than you will want this book on your shelf! I read the last hundred pages while I was on a cruise!  I was on a cruise and half the time I was thinking about Game of Thrones!  That's how awesome of a book it is!  And also, be sure to watch the show as well.  It is brilliant and sticks to the book 99% of the time.  I watch it and wish to God that Harry Potter would be adapted into an HBO show!  Also be warned that the ending is a tear-jerker.  It took a little while to set it.  When I read the book I became a little teary eyed but when I watched the scene on HBO I burst into tears.  I probably would have cried more reading the book if I had been alone and not on a cruise and I also would have cried more but unfortunately the internet spoiled the ending for me!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Welcome to The Reader!

Welcome to my blog, The Reader!  I know it is a simple name but it basically sums up my blog perfectly.  This blog is dedicated to reading and everything that comes with it.  I'm currently reading 50 books in 2012 and will be posting book reviews for almost all of the books I read.  I am currently a senior in college majoring in English-Literature.  I hope to write a book after I graduate...or many books.  I made this blog last semester for ENG 320 with Professor Ray and found that I really enjoyed blogging about books.  I've been blogging for a while but this is the first blog I've been consistent with and have truly enjoyed.
Thanks for checking out my blog!

Reading: Faceless by Amma Darkon

This past summer I took a class titled Folklore in African Literature.  I wasn't Facelessexpecting to enjoy the class but, to my surprise, I had a good experience!  One of the books we read is by an unknown author named Amma Darko.  The book is Faceless.  The story revolves around two main characters from two very different parts of Accra (the capital of Ghana), Fofo and Kabria. Fofo lives on the streets.  Her mother won't leave her house and believes she is cursed.  The curse, she believes, is the reason she is poor and without a husband.  Kabria is a mother and wife and rescues Fofo from the streets.  Throughout the novel, Kabria and her co-workers look to try and solve the murder mystery of Baby T (Fofo's sister) while also trying solve the issue of why young girls are forced to live their lives in fear on the streets of Accra. 
Keep CalmAmma Darko is a very good writer.  Her writing style was unique and new for me and I enjoyed it very much.  I also enjoyed the story.  There are too many people in this world who face poverty and homelessness and this book does its best to try and find a solution.  Faceless was unlike any book I've ever read and while I liked the story, I found myself becoming bored at times and wanting to put the book down.  The story dragged on and I couldn't wait to be finished the book. 
I can't say this is a good review of the book so please forgive me.  I read it in the beginning of the summer and procrastinated in writing this review.  Overall, I give Faceless 3 out of 5 stars.