Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: What Spieling Peter Can Teach Writers

::spieling -- to speak extravagantly; a lengthy speech or argument usually intended to persuade::

Spieling is the nickname a certain Peter Pan acquired while working at Disneyland and being in contact with many video cameras.  Because this particular Peter Pan "spiels", or talks, a lot, he was given the nickname Spieling Peter.  His real name is Andrew Ducote, an actor who just happens to be a huge Peter Pan fan.  Ducote's fresh and energetic take on the character of Peter Pan made Disney fans from all over the United States want to fly to Disney Land in California just to meet him in person.  He is perhaps the most popular "face character" (characters at the Disney theme parks who do not where any type of suit that covers their entire face/body and can speak to the visitors of the park) Disney Land has ever seen.  Fan videos with him earn thousands of hits on YouTube and there are even blogs dedicated to this guy.  Before  you continue reading, maybe you want to watch him in action?  Check out his videos below.

Saying Hello to Giselle | Dream Catcher | Little Boy | Disneyland | Losing Voice | Crow | At Disneyland | Story-time featuring Alice & The Mad Hatter

So why is Spieling Peter so popular to audiences?  Well, there are many reasons why.  For one thing, he is fun and energetic.  His talkative nature makes people laugh.  But more importantly, it is Ducote's interpretation of the character he is playing - a boy who never wants to grow up.  Indeed his nature is funny but also quite annoying at times, much like the actual Peter Pan from the movies.
Surprisingly, watching him in character can teach us writers quite a bit about character painting including flaws, hobbies, habits, and environment.  Throughout the videos I posted above, the audience gets a very good sense from Ducote's portrayal of who Peter Pan would be if he actually existed in the flesh.  He enjoys to play games where he is the winner and loves laughing at another's expense (of course friendly expense).  He knows what Dream Catchers mean to someone who lives in Neverland and loves to play his flute if he hasn't forgotten to bring it with him.  And he knows the stories of the other characters around him, referring a little girl who is too shy to speak to visit Ariel because she "lost her voice".  Essentially, Spieling Peter can teach writers how to stay in character.  This is not only important for writers who wish to create their own spin on a story previously told by someone else but also for writers originating characters.  Spieling Peters helps us to remember the big details and the little ones when it comes to bring a character to life!  It is important to learn from other arts other than the novel.  While I'd of course say the novel is essential to the writer, I would also say that other arts are just as important when it comes to writing and we can learn from anywhere; whether it be from a book, a film, a painting, or a Disney Land face character!
While Spieling Peter seems to be the best at his role, there are plenty of other characters who do a pretty good job at their roles as well.  Here are a few more videos for your viewing pleasure!

Megara | Belle & Gaston

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reading: Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson

Ghosts of War by Ryan Smithson is a true story about how Ryan himself joined the Army Reserve after September 11th. This book was assigned for me to read for a seminar I took that centered on childhood and war studies. I don't have much back-story with this book other than that so let's just get right into the review.
Right when I picked this book up to read I was hooked. Smithson's writing style was very personal and real life. It felt like one of my peers had written the book. Smithson tells a tale about how he grew up really fast after the twin towers collapsed. He felt he needed to do something for his country and therefore joined the Army Reserve. He was soon deployed to Iraq and this book focuses on his time there and the after-math of being there. One thing I very much enjoyed about this book was the general idea that Smithson says, we Americans are spoiled to no end. This book is sort of a wake up call. Smithson states throughout the novel that Americans are spoiled, pampered, and ignorant to what really goes on in the Middle East. Of course he is partially right. Americans are very ignorant to all of the facts about the Middle East and it has a lot to do with the news we watch and the magazine articles we read. Smithson goes into great detail about the conditions he had to live with in Iraq, the people he met along the way, and the emotions he felt during the entire experience.
Although Smithson's war experience is often times moving and raw, I found his narration to be annoying after a while. His tone seemed very forceful. At one point in the novel he lectures his readers that Americans don't take the time to learn about the soldier's true experience. Well, I don't know about anyone else who picked up this book...but the fact that I and so many others did pick it up I believe says a lot about what Americans want to learn and Smithson isn't giving his readers enough credit. He seems to hold himself in higher regard. Another fault, which I did not see at first but one of my classmates pointed out, is that Smithson seems to shake off the notion that to make a huge decision you do not need to put in a lot of thought. The front cover sports the quote, "If I don't do something, who will?". Okay, I get it. I understand that we all feel that we have a bigger purpose in life to help people, etc. etc. However, that doesn't mean we just go and do what-ever we please just because it seems right at the time. Smithson just came across as an immature teen when he went into detail about enlisting and such. In some ways, I guess he wanted his readers to get the sense that he had been immature but I don't think his experiences matured him as much as they changed his view on the world and those around him. He matured from the experience but not in the ways that he thought he did...or at least from what I observed. He was still a bit arrogant when he left for Iraq and when he returned. His outlook on life was just flipped.
This book was a unique read though and in the end, I did enjoy it. Smithson's experiences were very intense and it was very enlightening to read about actual experience in Iraq. I think it is safe to say that this book will stay with me for a long time. I will give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: The Choice to Love

About a week ago, an awesome guy named Jarrid Wilson posted a blog titled Gay, Straight or Purple.  The post was one I'd been hoping for because it is a topic I have struggled with.  I know quite a few gay people who have been nicer to me than any straight person...sometimes nicer than some Christians.  I used to wonder, why do Christians speak out so violently about gay people when God loves gay people just as much as he loves everyone else?  Jarrid makes the point that Christians today handle gay marriage very poorly.  Christians are supposed to love and yet they carry posters saying "God hates fags".  Of course I agree with him when he states, "this doesn’t mean I wont stand for my beliefs and proclaim The Gospel of Jesus Christ."  I still do not agree with gay marriage but that doesn't mean I will treat a gay person any differently than a straight person. We all have different baggage and God does not judge us because of it so why should we judge each other?  Shouldn't we love each other like Jesus would?
Jarrid's post stayed with me throughout the day and by the end of the night, when I was brushing my teeth, the idea for this Wasted Wednesday post came.  We live in a media based culture - where our references are not always back to family events or dinner with friends but to the characters and scenes we watch on television.  I'd say about ten media clips pop into my head daily.  Maybe even more than that.  When I was brushing my teeth, a scene from Friends popped into my head.  For those who don't watch Friends, let me lay out the scene for you.  We will start with the background.  In Season 2, the character Monica started going out with an eye doctor named Richard who had been her eye doctor ever since she was a little girl, friends with her father, and was much older than her.  Despite that, the two of them fell in love and it was with the deepest regret that Monica had to break it off when Richard admitted he didn't want to be a father again.  After raising two kids of his own with his previous wife, he doesn't want to do it again and instead wanted to focus on his life with the love of his life, Monica.  After the break-up, Monica became very depressed and it turns out to be the hardest break-up she ever has.  Never-the-less, life goes on and she begins to date other people.  Now let's speed forward to the actual episode that popped into my head.  It's Season 4 and it's Thanksgiving.  While preparing dinner, Monica gets something in her eye and has to be rushed to the eye doctor where she is relieved to find out that Richard is absent and the on-call doctor is in.  To her surprise (and dismay), it is Richard's son.  After they catch up during her appointment, Monica invites him to her Thanksgiving dinner since he has no where to go and she finds herself attracted to him.  While this doesn't seem weird to her, it seems weird to the other five Friends who won't let it go.  After harping on it all night, Monica finally has enough.  In frustration she shouts, "Fine!  Judge all you want to but (pointing at her brother Ross) married a lesbian, (points to Rachel) left a man at the altar, (points to Phoebe) fell in love with a gay ice dancer, (points to Joey) threw a girl's wooden leg into the fire, (points to Chandler who is in a box for reasons I will not explain) live in a box!" 
The scene is meant to be comical, and it is, but it actually says a lot about the point I am trying to make.  Here are six friends together and five of them are ganging up on the one and judging her because of it.  But then Monica flips it all when she points out that, hey, she isn't the only one who has faults and makes bad decisions.  Each one of her friends has done plenty of stupid things too!  Isn't that true of all of us?  I mean, haven't we all made mistakes?  I think it is safe to say that none of us our perfect.  Yet why do we act like we are?  I know I do it all of the time.  One of my friends re-blogged something yesterday that said, "I have this unexplainable complex where my self-esteem is about as nonexistent as it can get but at the same time I'm in love with myself and feel superior to a lot of people."  This is something I struggle with all of the time.  I have to realize that, yeah I do have some great qualities but I also have a lot of rotten ones.  The truth is, I'm not the best.  No one is.  By realizing this, it is clear that we need to stop putting all our faith into ourselves and instead put our faith in Jesus Christ because He overlooks our imperfections.  Where we are hard on ourselves for not getting published in a magazine or for not getting the job we wanted or for loosing the race, Jesus lets it go and loves us anyway.  Nothing else in the world can do that. 
Tenth Avenue North sings, "You are more than the choices that you've made, you are more than the sum of your past mistakes, you are more than the problems you create, you've been remade."  It's hard to fathom that our choices don't define us.  I struggle with this idea all of the time because I try to make good choices everyday.  But I don't always make the right choice and unlike the government, God doesn't keep a permanent record of what you've done wrong.  It's mind boggling to think that despite all the times I have failed God, He has never failed me.  Now, don't get me wrong, this doesn't mean that choices aren't important.  I'm still all for the Harry Potter quote "It is not our abilities that show what we truly are, it is our choices."  To an extent, yes this quote speaks volumes.  Our choices are important.  But the thing is, we are all born with sinful hearts.  While we may be trying to make a choice that is pleasing to God on an earthly scale, it might not match up on a heavenly scale.  We must learn to look through heavens eyes.  Because we are all sinners, our right choices may seem right at the time but may not be right in the long run.  We may rebel against God or we may rebel against our parents or we may do deliberate harm to one another.  Yet God still loves all of us and says He will let it go.  By His grace alone, we are forgiven and remade.  When we learn to put faith in Jesus Christ, we are reborn.  We must die to live. 
Now, while I struggle with my own sense of perfection, I also struggle with the imperfections of the human race.  I struggle with my family, my friends, and people I don't even know but see on TV or making a left turn on red.  I struggle with their faults and annoyances.  Then I read a book called The Wind Is My Mother by Bear heart which taught me a lot of things but this quote in particular put imperfections into perspective for me.  Bear Heart says, "Do we always have to wait for a crisis to be able to truly manifest our love for one another? People talk about unconditional love, but they never talk about nonjudgmental support, which goes hand in hand with unconditional love. Those two go together to express real love. I used to go to a church where the choir had to march in from both sides to get into the choir loft. Altos and basses came in one way, sopranos and tenors came in the other way, and they had to pass one another until they filled up the loft. There were two ladies in the choir who were not speaking to each other, even in church, so as they passed by, one would look one way and the other would look the other way. And yet the first song was “Oh, How We Love Jesus.” If they can’t love each other, how can they say they love the One who created them? If someone is unkind or throws verbal daggers at you, that person has a problem – why make it your problem, too? You might not love what a person is doing, but you must love the person, because if you are going to say you love a Higher Being, you have to remember He created that person also. If you can’t forgive, then that’s a challenge for you to work on until you can pray for that person and mean it." 
We must die to live.  We must know it is not all about ourselves.  We must learn to love like Jesus.  We must learn to know God so that we can forgive those who hurt us and forgive ourselves.  It isn't an easy task and it is something I am trying to work on to this very day.  But as Tenth Avenue North says, "Hallelujah, we are free to struggle!"  And speaking of music, what song comes to mind when you think of love?  For me it is All You Need It Love by the Beatles.
I took a music class last semester and we actually studied the song All You Need Is Love.  I can't say I am a huge Beatles fan but I am enough of a fan to know that these guys changed music history and wrote some of the greatest radio hits ever.  In my opinion, All You Need Is Love is the best song ever written.  My teacher had us actually break down the song so that we could observe all the levels it had.  In the beginning of the song it plays the French National Anthem.  This is done because the Brits and the French don't really like each other and since the song is about love, the Beatles are making a statement that they want to get along.  All you need is love.  The song was written during the days of the hippies who revolted against the American government for going to war in Vietnam.  It was a time of war and the world wanted peace.  All you need is love.  Throughout the song we hear many modern day instruments that truly symbolize rock n' roll.  But behind those instruments are not-so-modern instruments which includes a brass band.  Why is this important?  Not only are the Beatles appealing to their younger fans and fans their age but they are also appealing to older fans who grew up with brass band concerts in the park.  They are bringing the young and the old together.  All you need is love.
And so that song alone should be enough to tell us that all we need is love.  We have to make the choice to love.  We must love like Bear Heart says, unconditionally and unjudgmentally. We must learn that we are not perfect and that we can't fix people.  Each of us has done some bad things and good things.  And Jesus loves us anyway.  It's a struggle to think that we can't be our own savior.  We always are trying to be better and do better but with God, but it's our faith in Him that defines us.  Not what we have done or have failed to do.  It's something I am still struggling with daily but I am praying that God will show me how to let go of my sinful pride.  So make the choice to love today.  Make the choice to put others before yourself and make the choice to help one another.  Remember God's unfailing love for you and His love will push you to love. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reading: The Wind Is My Mother by Bear Heart

The Wind Is My Mother is a book that was assigned for me to read in my Intro to Religious Studies class this past semester.  In this class we learned about all different types of belief systems which was a very eye opening experience.  In High School, we were assigned to take World Cultures in our sophomore year and in that class we too focused on learning about all of the different belief systems.  However, this class did not push me to learn.  To be perfectly honest, my teacher was not the friendliest of guys and the class felt like it was forced on me.  As a 16 year old, I couldn't see how learning about Hinduism could better me as a student nor was it ever clear as to why learning about other cultures was important.  All I was told is that learning about other cultures would therefore culture me but I did not feel very knowledgeable or cultured after leaving that class.  In fact, I was glad to be rid of it.  Now that I am 22 and much more aware of who I am as a person and what I believe in, I knew that taking a course similar to the one in High School would benefit me.  Truth be told, this class was nothing like the one in High School.  The class was nothing like the classes I was currently taking or that I had previously taken.  Maybe that is why I got so much out of it. One of the biggest differences between this class and the one I took in High School is that we read a book like this one by Bear Heart. 
First on our list of studies were the Native Americans.  Medicine man Bear Heart writes this book that incorporates much of his personal life experience while also his teachings as a medicine man and what other medicine men have taught him growing up.  The lesson to be learned from all of this?  Well, there are actually quite a bit of lessons that Bear Heart teaches his readers throughout the book including prayers and how to stay in tune with Mother Nature.  But the real lesson of the book is learning how to live a harmonious life in a world that is far from it. 
It is hard to give a basic summary of this book because there isn't much to it.  All the book is is a bunch of tales and lessons to be learned from them.  The novel was simple, much like it's basic message.  Bear Heart goes deep into explaining the ways of his Native American tribe and explains how their traditions can also benefit those who do not identify as Native American.  The book is somewhat of a manual for "living a healthy life in a complex world" - John Gray.  It is a book about finding treasure and health in what God has given us, not money and medicine.  It is a book about learning to love and about learning to incorporate our spiritual lives into our everyday lives.  Bear Heart's tribal wisdom is very practical and simple and has a lot to teach us modern day rush-rush-rush beings. 
This review is kind of late so I already somewhat stated my opinion on this book in a previous blog of mine reflecting on my 50 books of 2012 challenge.  For those who didn't read that, I love this book!  It is a masterpiece and extremely underrated.  If people read books like these more often, the world would be a better place.  It most definitely gets 5 out of 5 stars from me!  I'm so thankful that I took the Intro to Religious Studies class because not only did the class teach me so much, but the teacher got me to read this book. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Reading: The Good Life by Trip Lee

There is a quote in this book that seems to summarize the entirety of what this book is saying and it is this, "If God has called you to be a servant, don't stoop so low as to be a king."
The Good Life by rapper Trip Lee is a book that challenges the worldly definitions of the good life.  The good life is often defined as having lots of money, being surrounded by hot girls/guys, and living for today (YOLO!).  To our present day culture, the good life is living the Snooki lifestyle.  But Trip Lee says that the good life is actually when we live in service of the Lord and allow Him to direct our paths and use our talents to ultimately glorify Him.  The quote I used above is basically saying that God has called us to do and be certain things and when we decide to go against his will, we are claiming that we are the king of the world when the king is actually Jesus.  By putting our faith in the king Jesus, we can live the good life. 
Lee uses tons of pop culture references in this book which was really great.  He also uses a lot of clear metaphors that help explain his point in concise terms which was a huge plus.  The phrase "the good life" was a bit overly repetitive but it served a purpose and did it's job so I guess I can't really count that against the book.  Another great aspect to this book is that Lee ties it in with his newest album with the same title.  I'm not usually a rap fan but Lee has me hooked.  Seriously, if I had more money I would buy his album in a heartbeat.  For now, I will have to make due with listening to it on YouTube.  He is a breath of fresh air in a world where rappers delight in using swear words and glorifying sex, drugs, and money.  Lee raps about pursuing God and you can't get much more real than that.  He is a fresh face that needs to be seen.  This book gives him a lot of bonus points on top of his awesome albums.  He takes his album and instead of going through song by song explaining the meanings (BORING), he explains the good life in multiple different ways and at the end of each chapter ties in his music.  This gives the book a real sense of closure after every chapter and makes it easier to reflect on after reading.
Another thing I love about this book is the simple cover art.  On the album, Lee has a picture of himself with an orange line of spray paint crossing out his face.  In an interview I saw online, Lee states that this was done to show that it isn't about him but the music is about something bigger than ourselves; we must forget ourselves.  The book works in the same fashion it seems.  There is a picture of a robot with an orange line of spray paint crossing it out.  It seems to be saying that we are robots, spoon fed what the world wants us to believe the good life is.  But when we cross ourselves out and live for something bigger, we are not longer robots.  Trip Lee is just full of spectacular metaphors!
In the end, I really enjoyed this book.  Lee's points were some I was aware of but maybe couldn't put into words myself or they were completely new views on old topics which was a blessing.  The book really reminds us that we need to learn to see the world through heaven's eyes and not through our worldly eyes.  My only complaint about the novel is that it was a bit repetitive with the wording at times.  While it served a purpose, there are most definitely ways the repetition could have been avoided.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reading:Belle: The Charming Gift by Ellie O'Ryan

Last year I read two Disney Princess chapter books, one story about Belle and another about Ariel.  I really enjoyed the books and know I would have enjoyed them as a kid.  Being a huge Disney fan and a huge Beauty and the Beast fan, I quickly bought the newest book in the story about Belle.  If you read my previous blog reflecting on the books I read in 2012, you will know that I believe that children's books can be just as good and life changing as an adult novel.  Of course, Disney is a huge company that overrates it's princesses (even though I love them to death) and almost dehumanizes them through their merchandise.  However, these books seem to break the mold which I absolutely love and I hope they continue to write Belle books because I can't get enough Beauty and the Beast!
This time Belle's book centers around the story of Belle and the rest of the castle planning a ball for the winter solstice.  While Belle chooses a dress to wear, she thinks she sees a bracelet similar to one her father made her as a child.  After telling her new friends about the bracelet and what it meant to her, she becomes solemn, for she misses her father dearly.  Mrs. Potts and the rest of the gang decide to cheer Belle up by recreating the bracelet to show her that she is welcome in the castle and is apart of their family now.  While the story is very much about Belle and her wish to feel at home, the story is also very much focused on the objects in the castle...if not more focused on than Belle, specifically Chip.  Each object, and the Beast, must make a charm for Belle's bracelet.  Chip decides to help out everyone else with their charms and almost forgets about his own but his friends come to the rescue!
The first thing I want to comment on with this book is the artwork.  Recently, Disney has changed the look of their princesses by giving them more "modern" hairstyles.  Personally, I can't say I like the change very much.  It is just another aspect of dehumanizing the princesses.  Speaking about Belle specifically, I feel like with her new hairstyle she has lost what made her Belle.  She lost her classiness and her personality of a girl who loves to read.  Most of the artwork featured her old hairstyle and it was beautiful artwork.  Even her new hairstyle wasn't all that bad and despite that, the artwork was great.  It's a shame the Beauty and the Beast sequels didn't have animation that was up to par like this books artwork. 
While the story was great and has a great lesson to teach (which I expected), I definitely was disappointed at the lack of Belle and the Beast interaction.  Belle's previous book had much more personality and depth to their relationship while this book mostly kept Belle and their relationship behind the scenes.  I also thought that the Beast was definitely out of character.  But, this is a kids book and being a Disney princess book I think it is safe to say that the author wasn't going for much character development or plot development.  It was written purely for the franchise and as a tool for learning life's moral lessons.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable read.  The story was very magical and the artwork was gorgeous but I wish there would have been more of a focus on Belle and the Beast's relationship instead of having Belle behind the scenes.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.  If only these books were made into a Beauty and the Beast sequel (or mid-quel).  Anything is better than Belle's Enchanted Tales.  That was a train wreck!

Podcast: Compilation

This is my first podcast ever and I made it for a class I took last semester.  It is a compilation of sound clips that basically summarize who I am as a reader and a person.  It isn't much but hope you like it.  I plan to post the other two I did as well which are much better in terms of content and authenticity.  If you have any thoughts, let me know!  I would love to hear feedback.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reading: The Walk by Richard Paul Evans

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans is a book I randomly bought at a Marshalls store a few months back.  My friend was taking a terribly long time looking at jackets and so I decided to walk around the store and found, to my surprise, a book section.  Normally the book selection at department stories isn't usually my taste but I saw this book and figured, the story looks good and it is cheap.  I bought it.  Richard Paul Evans is an author I had never heard of before buying this book but have since seen everywhere after I bought it.  He is very Nicholas Sparks-like from what I have observed.  I can't say I am a huge fan of Nicholas Sparks stories though.  While his love stories are okay and his messages are usually very good, his books never really moved me nor do they carry much weight in terms of literary content.  That is just my experience with his books after reading four of them (The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Last Song).  I guess I will find out if Evans is the same way once I read more of his books which it seems like I have to do since The Walk turned out to be the first book in a series of three. 
The fact that this book is the first in a series is something I want to address right away because it irks me.  Now that I know where Evans stands in the reading world, it seems like the story was only split in three for the purpose of making more money.  The Walk would have been a much stronger read had it been one read.  While sequels can be great, the key to strong novels in a series is a feeling of closure at the end of the novel while still holding a sense of, what is going to happen next.  This book just sort of ended and while yes it ended with a huge event happening and changing the main character's point of view, it did not take his character change into more detail and I am assuming it will be continued in the next book.  There was no need to end it there because it was already a quick read and I'm positive people would have kept reading.  The book had no closure and it is a bit obvious what will happen next.  Either way, it is obvious that there is not much of a technique to splitting these books up to be a series and are only split for the purpose of earning more cash. It should have been one book.
The Walk is the story of a man named Alan who is high up on the advertising ladder.  After just making a deal with a new company with his business partner Kyle, Alan gets a call from his neighbor that his wife was severely injured while horse back riding.  She is paralyzed from the waist down.  After bringing her home, complications occur and in a matter of hours after returning her to the emergency room, Alan's wife dies.  Caught up with grief, Alan does not want to live on this earth without his best friend anymore.  As he is about to swallow a bunch of pills, something stops him and he makes the decision to drop everything and take a walk.  He plans to walk from his home in Seattle, Washington to Key West, Florida. 
The concept of this book is one I've seen many times.  A person's loved one dies and then they go to live their life to the fullest.  We have all seen it before.  That being said, an overused structure can always have a unique and underused take and I read this book with an open mind.  I liked that Alan decided to take a walk to clear his mind and figure out where he would go after his wife's death but I also had a problem with it.  All of a sudden he thinks, I always wanted to hike across the country as a kid and so he just does it.  It doesn't go much deeper than that.  Of course there are circumstances I am not mentioning since I don't want to ruin the entire story for anyone who plans to read this book however this still didn't do it for me.  A man who had everything and had a mindset of a business man needs more than just a childhood dream to go and do something.  Or I should say, I need to know why this childhood dream pushed Alan so far to the edge that he felt he had no choice but to go on this long walk. 
The read was very quick.  I read it in a little over a day.  There were some pluses to the book that I very much enjoyed.  At one point, Alan's phone rings while he travels and he decides to throw it into the forest.  I liked this part because to become connected we must become disconnect...speaking of course of a technological society.  Another part I liked was the whole concept of walking across the country and the people you meet along the way.  My absolute favorite quote from the book is from one of the people Alan meets who says, "Some people in this world have stopped looking for beauty, then wonder why their lives are so ugly.  Don't be like them.  The ability to appreciate beauty is of God.  Especially in one another.  Look for beauty in everyone you meet, and you'll find it.  Everyone carries divinity within them.  And everyone we meet has something to impart."  This quote seems to sum up the entire purpose of this book series to me.  It is very obvious where this book series is taking us and if it goes in a non-uplifting direction I will be incredibly surprised.  I do look forward to the rest of Alan's journey though and can't wait to see how his walk changes him.
Now for another negative about this book.  While the story has many strong points and has a lot of potential, Evan's writing is extremely lazy with detail.  At one point I read a sentence that seems to summarize Evan's writing in this book, which said, "Almost as soon as I woke, the pain returned.  If you've known loss, you know what I mean."  That's the entire book's idea of description for the big issues.  As I said above, Evan's did not dive into Alan's deep persona or explain his reasoning for going on this walk to make it realistic or character connecting.  It leaves the reader to assume his underlying motives.  I think it is safe to say that this book was not written for literary attention but more for the New York Times and to uplift which is all good and just but as a serious reader, I hoped for more. 
The Walk was an overall good read.  I enjoyed the concept of the novel and found it to be very uplifting but I also feel that the book should not have been split into three books but should have been just one book, and that Evan's needs to go deeper with his descriptions.  I will give it 3 out of 5 stars and look forward to reading the next two.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reading: The Anatomy School by Bernard MacLaverty

"If it matters at all, it must matter completely."

The Anatomy School by Bernard MacLaverty is the story of Martin Brennan, an Irish Catholic school boy repeating his final year in school.  Knowing he must pass this time around, he and his two friends Kavanagh and Blaise Foley decide to take a big risk that will hopefully help them to pass their final exams.  The book revolves around the boys witty conversations, tea time with Martin's mother and her friends, and the silent retreat Martin attends in the beginning of the novel.  The book's plot, like another book I have read titled White Noise by Don DeLillo, is somewhat invisible and consists mostly of day to day activities that metaphorically speak for the book.  The themes of sleep, photography, education, and the pressures from the Catholic faith push this story forward and make it impossible to not be able to relate to Martin's struggle in some way.
I bought this book in Oswego, New York at a dollar store.  I am always drawn to the book section in stores but it isn't often that the dollar store has books I want to read.  This book caught my eye initially because of the title.  At the time, my friend was struggling with her anatomy class and I thought the book would be something great to give her.  But this book is not really about anatomy school.  The title seems to point more to what happens at an anatomy school that changes the main character Martin in the end. 
The first 2/3 of this book were good for me.  I didn't love it but I found it engaging.  I had read some reviews of the book on and saw a lot of people had stopped reading after 60 pages because they were bored but I was never bored while reading The Anatomy School.  One thing I loved about the book was how peaceful it was.  It consisted of everyday nights where you have trouble falling to sleep and everyday school days with your friends.  This peacefulness helped me connect greatly to the main character.  I also really liked Martin for most of the book because I related greatly to him.  His experience in school, the emotional aspect, I could relate to very well.  That feeling of being accepted and being scared to speak out and being afraid to have your own opinion about something.  That being said, the last 1/3 of the book was a real let down for me.  For one, the book randomly jumped a few years forward and confused me for a good fifteen pages.  It also did not fully address what the result was of the first 2/3 of the story.  I mean, sure it addressed it in a subtle way that wasn't overly obvious but the story was building up and, in my opinion, deserved a better reveal of the outcome of the boys struggle from the first part of the book. 
There were a few other things I did not like about this book.  In the first part of the book, a lot of scenes take place in the classroom at the Catholic school.  One scene is in a religious class in which is required for the students to take so they can understand what it means to be a Catholic.  In the scene, Martin's friend Blaise decides to push the rules and states, what if someone doesn't believe in God.  The priest/teacher wants to discuss this issue but, like most classes, the boys are too afraid to speak their true feelings aloud in front of the class.  I was excited to read about future classes but this did not happen.  Never again did the book visit this class and it was disappointing.  I wanted to see the debates and hoped it would have challenged not only the students but the priest/teacher.  Another thing I did not like was the climax.  The climax is the title of the book...meaning what happened at the anatomy school.  What happens you ask?  Here is a spoiler...Martin loses his virginity to an Australia woman he just met and never sees again.  Not only was this cliche but it was such an anticlimactic climax.  This entire story led up to Martin having sex for the first time?  That was the climax for this book about religion that could have said a lot more?  It implies that sex is ALWAYS the most important thing that changes a person for the better.  In fact, when Martin had sex (another spoiler), he was neglecting a promise he made to a friend.  His friend, Kavanagh from school, had to do a science experiment at the anatomy school but was going to be away for the night and asked Martin to cover the night-shift for him which Martin did.  Every hour Martin had to kill a mouse and record what time he did it.  The times mattered.  Having sex, Martin missed many of the hours and so killed the mice all at one time and wrote down false times.  He then went on to blame his friend for this mishap, claiming that his friend was changing because of his girlfriend wanting him to commit to his faith and it was all Kavanagh's fault.  Martin needs to grow up and start taking responsibility.  I much liked first part of the book Martin, not second part Martin who grew cocky and just plain stupid and annoying.
Overall, the book seemed to be saying that you don't need religion which I agree with but it also said you don't need God at all.  You need to rely on yourself.  My favorite part of the book though is a quote from Kavanagh in part two when he talks about his girlfriend.  He says, "Her Christianity is so important.  It's not a superficial thing - like music or how you wear your hair.  It's her whole life...I have to promise I'll try to...believe more.  It's no good just living a life of correctness.  She says it has to come from [my heart]...she wants me to accept the Lord as my Savior.  I have to accept I'm a sinner."  This is where I was hoping the book would go and it didn't at all.  Martin was instead left as a guy who was cocky and just a glass half-empty sort of guy and he developed as a character but seemed to move backwards instead of forwards.  I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars.  I liked the first part a good deal but the second part/ending was a huge letdown and the book did not seem to go much anywhere.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: What Public School Did Not Teach Me Part 2 (Reflection on the 50 books of 2012 challenge)

Last year, around this time, I was sitting in the very same room I am now as I type this blog.  I was thinking about this idea of having a New Year's resolution and knew that I did not want to be apart of all of the hullabaloo.  Yet a Tumblr blog user had announced that she was going to read 50 books in 2012 and invited all of her followers to participate.  What a fun idea, I thought.  Reading 50 books in a year can't be too hard, can it?  Well, it wasn't particularly easy and it was definitely a bit of a challenge...but it was a challenge I gladly accepted and found more creative freedom and excitement in my life because of it.  Reading has always been a passion of mine, but after seeing I only read 17 books in 2011, I knew my reading habits had to change.  This challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. 

I first want to talk about all of the benefits this challenge has provided me with.  First of all, this challenge gave me a much more diverse reading experience.  I picked up books that I probably would have skipped over normally.  I reread books of my childhood and actually made a point to read the books assigned to me in my college classes.  Secondly, because of the wide range of books I read, I have learned to read all books as artistic pieces which does not exclude anything just because of its genre (sorry, Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't count).  What I basically am leaning towards is picture books and young reader books.  When I showed my mom my list of books, she laughed when she saw I had read so many young reader books.  She did not take them seriously.  But writing children's books is a real art that seems to be under-appreciated for the most part today.  And thirdly, this challenge is what created this blog!  Before this challenge I had a writing blog that I was not very pleased with and had not blogged on in months.  For the Spring 2012 semester I took a Writing and Computers class and it was required of us to create a blog.  I sure was ashamed of my writing blog and did not want to continue with the same subject matter, especially since my teacher would be reviewing my blog as well as my classmates and I wanted to have something quality to show for myself.  And finally, this challenge has exposed me to so many more aspects of looking at the world and myself.  I think that is what I love about books.  They take you to different worlds while still being rooted in our own and reveal truths about different aspects of the world, of people, and of life.  It's really an awesome experience reading a book!

To reflect further on this experience, I have figured my top 15 reads of the year as well as my 5 least favorite reads of the year, plus some honorable mentions.  Let's start with the top 15 and why (1 being the best) and then I will continue with the bottom 5 (1 being the worst), followed by the honorable mentions.

1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - I have grown up with this story (specifically Mickey's Christmas Carol special) but I never really sat down to read the book, particulary cause I was led to believe it was a play my entire life.  The story is so enriching, the writing is spectacular, and the lesson to be learned is one that brings tears to my eyes.  I have rated it number one because it is the only read in 2012 that I was quick to call a favorite!;
2. Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - This book is so good!  The writing was beyond any modern day novel I have read in a long time.  The story and characters were gripping and I didn't want to finish the book.  I didn't call it a favorite at first but I'm still trying to make my mind up.  Either way, it was an awesome read - I finished reading the last 100 pages while on a cruise which says a lot I think;
3. The Wind Is My Mother by Bear Heart - One thing I have learned on my spiritual journey these past few years is that Christians are not always the ones with right answers.  In fact, a lot of Christians in the media put out the wrong answers!  It is ignorant to just learn from Christian people.  We must learn from all walks of life.  Bear Heart is a Native American and his story and his teachings really moved me and pushed me to be a better person.  The book is such an inspiration about modern day medicine and science in a world that always needs reassurance and proof;
4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson - In 5th grade my class had to read this book though I don't think I really picked it up.  I remember talking about it in class in a reading circle and I remember watching an old movie adaption.  I also only remembered the sad ending and a few other small details.  After re-reading the book, I am astounded that I haven't tried to read it sooner.  It was such a good read.  I love every bit of this book.  The truths it reveals are just amazing and the depth of the story is one that most wouldn't expect from an almost young adult novel.  I find that most younger novels carry more depth to them than some adult novels!  This is a must read;
5. Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts by Steve Turner - This one is kind of self explanatory.  I love the arts and I am very rooted in my faith and in the world we live in, it seems like these two clash most times but this book makes the argument that it shouldn't be that way.  Steve Turner talks about learning from all art and not just Christian art which is something I have believed in firmly for a long time and it is nice to see a book published on the topic;
6. The Shallows by Nicholas Carr - This read was great for me because I have just become so freaking sick of smart phones and e-readers and technology taking over our lives so that we can ignore what is important to us.  Obviously I think technology is great but I think the world overuses it.  This book really makes a clear argument about technology's negative effects and provides a lot of insight to the topic in a way that isn't discussed enough today.  Really great read;
7. White Noise by Don DeLillo - This book actually goes along the lines of #6 except it isn't non-fiction.  White Noise is a book about the effects of technology and "improvements" in our world but is tackled in a metaphorical way which I absolutely love.  The book is so simple yet it says so much and it really surprised me;
8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - I read Pride and Prejudice once when I was 18 and have seen the movie loads of times.  I love the film and wasn't too sure how I felt about the book but it is now safe to say that this book is a favorite.  If it was my first time reading, this would be up higher on the list since I have now called it a favorite book but this wasn't a book that I just sat down, read, and called it a favorite.  This story has grown on me slowly throughout the years and so I have been slowly loving it more and more with each year.  It truly is the world's best love story;
9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - The story was good in this book, but it was the writing that blew me away.  Seriously, this has to be the book with the best imagery EVER!  I wanted to write down so many excerpts and hang them on my wall just so I could use the tips for my own writing!;
10. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini - This is the 4th and final book in the Inheritance series, mostly known for the first book titled Eragon.  I eagerly awaited this book to see the conclusion to this series.  The first book was good, the second was excellent, the third was boring.  Because the third was boring, I was hoping this book would redeem my thoughts about the series as a whole - and it did!  What an amazing conclusion this book was.  Definitely boosted the series as a whole for me;
11. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller - This was a quick read but what I loved about it is how blunt it is about our world.  Tim Keller states the false problem right away, the real problem, and uses biblical and worldly evidence to support his case.  Really good read;
12. La Luna by Enrico Casarosa - Yes, a picture book has made it on this list.  I saw Disney/Pixar's Brave in theaters for my film class and La Luna was a Pixar short that played before the movie.  I loved the short so much that I enjoyed it more than the actual film and have named it my favorite Pixar short of all time.  Needless to say I had to buy the book and it was no surprise that I loved the book since I loved the short film.  Again, it is a book that carries a lot of adult themes that kids will also be able to relate to;
13. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - I really enjoyed the first Hunger Games book and this sequel lives up to it's standards.  While the book starts out slow, it still holds your interest and then after a third of the book it gets intense just like the first book and I loved it;
14. Holes by Louis Sachar - Holes is such an awesome puzzle piece book.  The story is incredible and the themes are even better and once again this is basically a young adult novel that has themes that completely overpower lots of adult novels;
15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - I was hesitant to put this book on my top 15 list for a number of reasons.  For one thing, the Harry Potter series is a favorite of mine and so I didn't want to be bias against other great books that could have been on this list.  And this is the fifth time I have read it so, again, I don't want my favoritism for the books to get in the way of other books that could have made it on this list.  However, when I was rating my top 15 books I had a spot open for the number 15 spot and I figured, I have to put this here.  Not only is it my favorite book in the Potter series but every time I read the book my experience is different and I learn something new.  The book is so spiritual and perfect in terms of writing, plot, and character development.  It is a perfect ending.  I think the thing that kept me reading this time was the deja vu I felt while reading.  I can't really begin to explain the feelings that pulsed through me as I read sort of felt like the feeling you get when you know it is no longer summer but fall and that feeling of peacefulness and newness that comes with it.  It was really great.  The reason it is number 15 is for the simple reason that I stated above.  This will always be a favorite book but I can't put it in the way of the books I read for the first time this year.

Now for the bottom 5. 
5. Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai - This book just was forgettable to me.  It was a good book but it didn't seem to hold as much depth compared to the other books I read.  Maybe that was because I couldn't relate that much...I don't know.  It was just sort of blah.
4. The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin - When I bought this book I was so excited to read it but all it was was a fabrication of The Shallows.  Sure I'm sure Mr. Ulin really thought out this book and I agreed with him a lot, but the book was so slow and a bit of a disappointment.  It also was a bit too political for my taste.
3. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein - This was one of the picture books I had to read for a seminar I took this past semester.  I just found it boring and lacking of what the other pictures books I had to read contained.  It was an incredible story but didn't really have anything to say about the world or the people who inhabit it.
2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer - I honestly don't know why everyone loves this book.  At first it was a good read and I couldn't wait to see where Oscar's journey took him didn't take him much anywhere.  The book didn't seem to have a concluding statement and I was left not knowing what I was supposed to be reading.  Also, the side story about the grandparents or something...can someone explain that too me.  It never made sense for me.
1. The Fault in our Stars by John Green - Okay so I know most people will not agree with me on this one, but this book just didn't do it for me.  To start off, I was highly anticipating it because of it's popularity, because of John's popularity, and because I had never read a John Green book before this.  The title was also pretty sweet.  So I read it and it watching a Hollywood movie.  It is no wonder it is considered a young adult novel.  The dialogue was so overly forced and cheesy and the story was so glass half-empty.  There were some stand out quotes and some sad moments but never was I moved or brought to tears.  I finished and thought...okay?  Just a disappointing read.  John Green is a very witty guy and I love his crash course show on YouTube but as an author, after reading this book, I find him to be overrated.  I will of course read his other books but I've heard they are all on the same type of plot-line which again seems to support my point that he is overrated as an author.

Now for the honorable mentions - Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Room by Emma Donoghue, The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, African Folktales/Gassire's Lute/Mwindo Epic, The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings, Coffeehouse Theology by Ed Cyzewski, Disney Princess: Belle - The Mysterious Message.

This has been a really fun experience and I can't wait to see what other books are in store in 2013!  Now, those who reading are probably wondering about the title of this blog.  This challenge really pushed me not only to expand my reading horizons but also challenged me to truly think about everything I read and have an opinion on it for my reviews.  I can also honestly say that my writing improved from this experience as well as my reading comprehension.  School never pushed me to write or read any better.  It was this challenge I did for fun that changed me for the better. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reading: Crispin, The Cross of Lead by Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi, another re-read in this 50 book challenge, is the story of a young boy who has been framed for murder and is on the run with a musician/juggler.  While struggling to figure out the mystery of his family's heritage, Crispin goes on a journey around the realm and while discovering new cities, he also discovers new things about himself.
In the beginning of the novel, Crispin is attending his mother's funeral.  His father has been out of the picture ever since he was born and now he is all alone.  Soon after the funeral Crispin, referred to as Asta's son in the beginning, is told to give up his only means for survival - the family ox.  The priest takes Crispin away to the church and reveals to him that there are many things he does not know about himself and his family.  He reveals to Crispin his true name (obviously Crispin) and then says that there are secrets he must tell him about his mother and father.  They plan to meet the next night so the priest can give Crispin this information but on the way there Crispin is tricked and the priest is dead.  Crispin is then marked as a wolfs head which means he can be killed at any time because his town blame him for the priest's murder.  Crispin is forced to run away and soon comes across a man named Bear who claims Crispin as his property and slave.  All he brings with him is his cross of lead which belonged to his mother and contains many mysteries in which Crispin can't figure out because he can't read the inscription on the cross.
While this book has a lot of good moral aspects and such, it was very plain and dull at times.  It was also an extremely quick read which I can't really complain about.  Crispin himself had good character development though which I liked.  Anyway, I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reading: White Noise by Don DeLillo

Here it is, yet again, another book that I was assigned to read for school.  I sort of looked forward to reading because it was said in 11th grade that we would read it in 12th grade but then it was replaced by another book.  To my surprise, I really enjoyed the book.  White Noise by Don DeLillo is a book with little plot but a lot to say about our modern world and technologies.  The static from our radios, TV stations, headphones, etc. trap us between two worlds - the real world and the world of the media.  Soon, because we immerse ourselves in both, they become one in the same and we can't tell the difference between life and the media.  Our lives are the media.  You can't tell me that this isn't true.  Everyday small bits of media enter my brain.  Songs get stuck in my head, quotes from film and TV enter my brain such as David Beckham saying "It's so hard to be pretty" from a prank on the Ellen show or Robin Williams yelling "Help is on the way dear!" from Mrs. Doubtfire.  Needless to say, I know I am not the only one this happens too.  The book also points out that because there is so much media clouding our reality, we don't see things as clearly.  This points to the idea that has grown in recent years with smart phones and the internet - that we are so connected, we are disconnected.  One example in the book is a barn the main character Jack visits which is known as the most photographed barn in the world.  Jack's friend says to him that while a lot of people come to visit the barn, no one actually is seeing it.  All they see is the most photographed barn but not the barn itself. 
While the idea of no plot structure seems a bit frightening, the truth is that this key feature is what made the book unique and enjoyable to read.  Instead of plot the book included everyday occurrences such as Jack having conversations with his children or thinking about the structure of the household in which he resides.  Jack is a professor who teaches Hitler studies at a local college.  His intellect is what pushes the story forward as he points out subtle things such as having people come and stay at your house and feeling self conscious about things you do everyday because you know it is strange to your guest. 
While the book focuses much on the rise of technology, it also includes criticism on our consumer culture.  DeLillo suggests, and in my opinion is right on the money (as he is with many ideas in this novel), that we find our identity in what we buy.  We create this idea in our heads that these things will make us feel better and...well, they do!  But only temporarily.  His biggest example in the novel is drugs that are prescribed to people with mental disorders such as anxiety of ADHD. 
Overall, this book was outstanding to me.  The characters are all very three dimensional and the implications in which the book suggests are very real and should be made aware in the general public.  The book really asks the question, what is sacred anymore?  Life is watered down, materialistic, and fun worshipping.  We express ourselves through what we buy and have trouble making decisions because of everything shouted at us on a daily basis.  My only complaints about the novel would be the ending and the unrealistic dialogue.  I thought the dialogue was great in terms of pushing the story forward but the use of dialogue was so obvious that it sort of annoyed me.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: The New Year

Once again it is a new year.  No longer will we write 2012 on our checks and terms papers but we will replace the dreaded year that was said to be our last with the number 2013.  We move from December 31st to January 1st and it becomes an epidemic.  Men and women rush around to find that certain someone to kiss at midnight while those who have no one feel shame or just plain resent.  Thousands of people pile on top of each other in New York City to watch the ball drop that costs thousands, if not millions, of dollars all for just one night of pleasure.  Not to mention the hype that surrounds the ball such as top ten celebrities with not much talent but big names and under appreciated agents behind them.  And finally, now that it is the new year people have to figure out, optimistically, what their faults are and try to fix them in the new year because it is too much to ask them to fix themselves in April or August or October.
Maybe it is just me but it seems like the New Year has become a bit over hyped and a lot commercial!  I mean, don't get me wrong, I grew up watching the ball drop with my parents and celebrating and having fun but this year as I sat watching Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve, I truly felt disgusted with the entire tradition.  I was watching this huge ball slowly sink toward the ground that costs enough to feed a third world country probably, a bunch of sub-par celebrities who don't have much talent but a name to themselves because of the press and their invisible agents, and I wasn't even at a party which automatically made me "sad" because instead I was at home with just my grandma and we played the game CLUE. 
This isn't the first time I have been disgusted by the new year festivities though.  It was around ninth grade when I began to wonder why new year's resolutions were such a hit to the public.  Let's be real here.  At least 75% of the American population makes a new years resolution.  Heck, I made one!  I vowed to read 50 books in 2012 and succeeded.  But most don't succeed at their goals.  In fact, they do not succeed because the goals they are trying to meet are either not realistic or they truly do not want their goal all that badly.  What really bothers me though is this - why must we make a resolution to better ourselves just because it is the new year?  Shouldn't we be trying to better ourselves all of the time?  To point out my 50 books goal, I feel no shame because I was not reading the books to feel better about myself or to better myself.  I only participated in the challenge for fun and look at where it has got me!  I never expected to have a blog I love so much nor did I expect to read so many books in such a wide variety.  I never expected where this blog and this 50 book challenge would take me and I am so grateful for it all.  But most people do not make a new year's resolution in this light.  Just a disclaimer - I'm not trying to make myself sound better than anyone else (considering my new year's resolution would be to lose weight and that hasn't happened for a long while).  Most people make a new year's resolution because they want to, A. please someone, B. rival someone, or C. make themselves feel like they are achieving something just because they say they are "going" to do it.
And then the new years kiss.  I will be honest, this has to be up their with Valentines Day.  What is the big deal?  Why do people feel the urge to kiss someone at midnight?  If you love someone, you should be kissing them all of the time because you love them!  Don't use New Years as an excuse!  However, the kiss isn't a bad tradition.  If you have someone you love and are watching the ball drop, it is nice to kiss them.  But if you aren't in love or don't currently have someone, don't feel any worse off because of it.  Don't let society define your life because you will never be happy that way.
January 1st 2013 was just another day for me.  Both of my grandmas were over for dinner and we played apples to apples, watching some Bowl Games, and ate chilly.  Technically, it is just another day.  Time is a man made invention.  So my advice is, don't take the new year too seriously.  Traditions are great but don't buy into them with so much frivolity and ignorance.  Just make the new year what you want to make it and don't try to do things just because society says they are "New Years" acceptable.