Friday, June 27, 2014

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

I did not know the meaning of this book's title when I bought it. To be truthful, the reason I even came across it was because of an image on Tumblr (below). Someone had taken a photo of a page from this book and I happened to glance over the text when I suddenly saw two familiar names: Elsa and Anne(a). My mind quickly went to Disney's newest movie, Frozen. I went to Google and this book popped up so, naturally, I bought it. The title means hello sadness in French. It is such a simple idea yet carries a lot of weight. It is as if the novelist is greeting sadness as an old friend. The brilliance of this is only scratching the surface. Let me take things to another level for a moment and tell you that this book was written by a 17 year old and published when she was 18! I can't begin to say how awesome that statistic is! When I was 17 I was writing my own novel yet I hardly had the maturity nor the experience to write a great novel. Francoise Sagan, however, makes the art seem effortless.
Hello sadness, says the novel's title, and right away the reader can sense the sadness within main character Cecile as she vacations with her father and his mistress at a house on the beach in France. Everything seems picture perfect at first though the narration, while complex, gives off a sense of emptyness. Yes Cecile and her father have it all...but do they really? The mood takes a sharp turn when an old friend of Cecile's late mother comes to visit. The old friend is Anne, an educated, type A woman who steals Cecile's fathers heart. His mistress, Elsa, leaves when she discovers their affair. Struck with jealousy, abandonment, and annoyance, Cecile makes it her goal to get rid of Anne. But the task isn't easy. Cecile is torn between her love for Anne and for the life she once had when it was only her, her father and another woman.
Cecile's story and narration are sophisticated yet are still able to capture the mind of a seemingly silly teenage girl. Many adults do not take teens seriously because of their rash decisions and their ignorance. They take these two things and label teens as stupid. But teens aren't stupid, just inexperienced and this novel does a fantastic job at portraying this. Sagan handles Cecile with a complexity that most popular novels about teen girls fail to reflect. Cecile is young, doesn't want to study and is blooming into her sexuality with a boy named Cyril.
I sympathized with Cecile. She was so caught up in little luxuries that pushed her to do big things with big consequences. Cecile's father was a good character as well though he desperately needs to commit and Cecile just won't have it. Then there is Anne, the woman who longs to have control and fix things. I loved Anne's character and the drama her character brought to the story, but I don't like Anne the person. She just walks in and starts conducting everyone around her as if they are puppets and she holds the strings. She won't let Cecile bloom into her own personality but limits her to only her studies. The fate of Anne, however, really haunts me and takes the story to an even more hollow place than it was before.
Sagan's writing is full of brutal but beautiful honesty. When this book was released, many people (mostly Christian) denounced it and some even said it was written by the devil. It pains me to read that honest writing is seen as a demonic force. Sagan's simple sentences hold so much power and precision that don't come natural to every teenager who aspires to be a published author. Her talent should not be condemned but should be celebrated!
The book was a wonderful read. I felt very classy while flipping through it's pages and so thankful that I happened upon a few sentences on Tumblr. It really is a brilliant book and while you'll only hear praises from me, it didn't hook me enough to give 5 stars. I will instead give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reading Rainbow

I love seeing all the projects online that encourage learning, conversation, and helping one another. A few weeks ago, a Kickstarter launched that I believe will top all things awesome and that Kickstarter is...Reading Rainbow! You remember that show, right? It's the one with LeVar Burton as the host. It has a theme song that will remain stuck in your head for weeks. It was shown to you probably in elementary school and if you were like me, you loved the concept but may have gotten bored once or twice. Yep, Reading Rainbow is back and prepared to take on the modern age of technology.
Reading Rainbow was big in the 90s. This was a time when children weren't really reading yet were taught that reading is fun. But how could they read when Disney was dishing out hit after hit and the golden age of TV cartoons was booming? How could they read when Nintendo had awesome games like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country? This was a time when PBS was cool and Reading Rainbow was the most popular show. Visual media was so good that kids didn't need to read. Then Harry Potter came out and a new found passion for reading blossomed.
As modern technology has become more and more of a lifestyle, reading has changed. A lot of people are reading from screens instead of thinly sliced bark from trees. Kids aren't in a golden age of TV or videogames. They are in an age where everything is accessible just by the click of a button. Kids are watered down to silence and stillness in our media obsessed culture and then accused of having A.D.H.D. when they can't sit still in the classroom. Teachers, parents, psychologists, and more have tried to fix this issue. But Reading Rainbow is meeting with the issue, right in the middle.
The goal according to their Kickstarter is to bring reading to every school in America! That is something cheer about! Finally, no politicians making empty promises. Finally, no special school is pretending to be something they are not. Reading Rainbow's first achievement was simply using Kickstarter! They have come humbly to regular people. Their project isn't funded by major advertising or big billionaires who want publicity. The project is funded by us, real people who are passionate about bringing reading back to the fore front and helping out schools.
Reading Rainbow plans on using modern techniques to reach kids. They are releasing new episodes on DVD, making apps for phones and tablets, and even making a computer program for teachers to use. How amazingly awesome is that?! Technology is no evil. It is how we use the technology that can be dangerous. Reading Rainbow is spinning negative into a positive. Parents will want their kids to use the Reading Rainbow app! And hopefully the app will work on another level to make kids actually shut the app off and read, preferably from a physical book but to each is own I guess. And what is super great is that with all of the money they have earned, they can provide their program to schools for free. Do you know how incredible that is? That meas that wealthy schools get Reading Rainbow, average schools get Reading Rainbow, and poor schools get Reading Rainbow. The fact that this is equal opportunity shows that Reading Rainbow has embraced education better than most politicians and educators!
The awesome thing about this entire Kickstarter is that nothing about Reading Rainbow is manipulative. It is authentic and real. They aren't manipulating us for their gain but for the gain of kids. If that isn't something to cheer about then I don't know what is. Click here to give them some money and become a backer. Only one week left!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

When Stephen Chbosky, the author of the Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Emma Watson raved about this stunning new book called Love Letters to the Dead, I knew I just had to buy the book and read it for myself. The title seemed interesting - a good combination of darkness and poetic style - while the cover art looked simply flawless. Reviews were posted on my twitter feed for weeks saying the book was stunning and has already been signed to be made into a movie. It was also said to have the same style of Perks (no wonder Chbosky loved it), which is one of my favorite books. In a nutshell, I really expected this to be another book I could soon add to my favorite book shelf. But did it live up to the hype? Let's find out. Warning, spoilers ahead!
The book is written in a journal entry format which is not an easy format to pull off. Our main heroine is Laurel, a freshman in high school whose first English class assignment is to write a letter to a dead person. Instead of turning in her letter, Laurel continues to write letters to the dead and begins revealing her deep, dark inner thoughts. She makes two new friends who are in the midst of romantic self discovery and has her own romance with a mysterious boy named Sky. She writes to certain people who's story reflects her current reality and forms a close friendship with their memories. It is her letters to the dead that help her cope with the spontaneous death of her older sister, May.
This book had it's powerful moments but they were fleeting. There were some fancy sentences that stayed with me and certain celebrities that I grew close to with Laurel. My favorite people she wrote to by far were (and in this order) River Phoenix, Judy Garland, and Amelia Earhart. The author did a good job of developing Laurel and reflecting her inner reality via the dead people she wrote to. It definitely felt a bit like Perks and even seemed reminiscent of the Lovely Bones...except both of those books are better than this one.
I went into this book expecting it to be a favorite by the time I shut it but my expectations weren't met...meaning I expected more. While there were some really high points to this novel, there were way too many more low points. One of the things I found annoying was that this has been one before except this book seemed to be the watered down version. It got really close to being great but then would shy away. The concept is really awesome but the execution was sometimes poor. I found the Sky storyline to be a huge, cliche drag. It felt like I was reading New Moon all over again when he broke up with Laurel and I think that has more to do with the fact that we don't know two things: A. That Laurel was molested when she was 13 and B. How May died. I think the novel would have been stronger had we known why Laurel was so traumatized, besides knowing that her sister died. I also found the ending to be predictable and too wrapped up in a cute bow. Laurel's letter to May made me happy but I expected it to happen. I hoped it would happen but at the same time when I turned to the last chapter I had to say, of course. The ending with Laurel being with Sky again and Hannah and Natalie being confident with their sexuality just seemed to happen very fast and too good to be true. Which brings me to my next point. While I was not a huge fan of Sky, it was Hannah who I truly could not stand. I can't explain why she bothered me so much but she had an air to her of accepted ignorance. I don't think likeable characters are what make a good story but rather what makes a good story are characters I can get behind and sympathize with. I felt for Hannah but her attitude bothered me so much and reminded me of the girls in my high school who were often jerks and rude to others for fun. Since this book is being compared to Perks, let me say that in that book Charlie's two friends weren't picture perfect but they were good - good for him and good in a way that reflected the nature of friendship, love and high school. Plus, they took Charlie in and raised him in a way. That relationship worked. Of course, a story can be very different when the narrator is of a different gender but I still think Perks did it better.
Overall, this became a guilty pleasure read for me. I enjoyed it but have read way better books of this calibur. That being said, I won't deny that this is a strong debut novel. I hope to see more from this author in the future. I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

I'm not going to be one of those people who starts out my review by saying things such as, I now see the light! Why did I ever watch the Disney movie adaption?, or, I knew going into this that Disney probably ruined the story and I was right. I will say the opposite. I still really love the Disney movie and consider it one of their best films. There, I said it. Now the literary internet community will start to throw pitch forks at me and stone me which equates to nasty GoodReads comments and lots of thumbs down on my review. I will state right away that I am aware that I am a walking oxymoron sometimes and this may be one of those times. How many English majors say they love Disney? In my experience, not many. But I digress. I will come back to Disney's adaption later in this review.
I went into this book knowing I was in over my head. I knew the writing would be magnificent but challenging. I knew all my previous experiences with the story wouldn't match the original text. And I knew I would be reading this book for a long time! It took me exactly two months to read this book. You can probably say I was leaping for joy when I finished the book. It's not that I didn't enjoy it. On the contrary, I found the book to be very beautiful. The writing was impeccable and the story was haunting. Victor Hugo attacks this story with a grace that no other writer could have accomplished. He fleshes out Notre Dame until it becomes overkill, yet you still want to read more of his amazing descriptions.
The story centers on an array of characters, each who has a tie to the gypsy La Esmerelda. There is the obvious character we all know, Quasimodo the abandoned Hunchback who becomes the bell ringer in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Then there is his rescuer, Archdeacon Claude Frollo who descends into wickedness after failing to properly raise his orphaned brother and Quasimodo as he envisioned. He is also known for his lust for La Esmerelda. Then there is La Esmerelda herself, a beautiful gypsy girl who performs with her goat Djali. Then we have Pierre Gringoire, a philosopher and playwright who is saved by La Esmerelda and is her "husband." Next we have Phoebus, the handsome captain who saves La Esmerelda but doesn't truly love her. And there are many other characters I will name but not flesh out like Sister Gudule, Jehan Frollo, Clopin Trouillefou, and Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier. All the characters have one thing that unites them and that is the cathedral of Notre Dame. The ancient and historical structure is a character unto itself. In fact, Hugo spends an entire section (at least 40 pages) describing the cathedral and the land surrounding it. It was one of my favorite sections of the book though I had to read it twice.
The story itself starts out slow and doesn't really move until the last hundred pages...maybe last two hundred, give or take. The plot excelled before that but was constantly interrupted by back story. Hugo would often insert little sentences to say something along the line of, I don't need to tell you this but I am telling you anyway. That got a bit old but for the most part, I admired him for his brave narrative style. I don't know much about French literature so perhaps his style was similar to others of his time.
Another part of the novel I loved was a chapter titled This Will Kill That. Over ten pages full this chapter and the entire focus is Frollo's observations on the power of the printing press. Many of us don't think of books or printing as technology but the printing press was a technology for it's time. "The book will kill the edifice," Frollo states. What amazes me about this book is Hugo's ability to describe Notre Dame the way he does. As I previously stated, he spent an entire 40 pages describing the city and the cathedral. He states that the cathedral is not simply one type of architecture but several as there have been many "improvements" made by other generations. This, according to Hugo, is the decline of architecture and modern fashions are more silly and grotesque. This ties into the chapter about the printing press as it comments on modern amenities substituting the original and therefore defacing it. Frollo speaks of the written word and claims this new technology will kill the Church. He then goes on to say that the printing press will kill the power of the architecture which ties back to the 40 pages I previously described to you. I read an awesome blog about this chapter so if you are interested in learning more, click here. Anyway, my point is that Hugo, like many classic novelists, seems to be way ahead of his time and is asking questions similar to what we ask today. Just look at how people question the power of cell phones or e-readers vs. the physical book. Hell I participate in those debates! It is really fascinating.
I now want to talk about the title of this book and tie it back to the Disney film. You may have noticed that I did not title this review with the English translated title but the original French title. On the back of my copy of the book it stated the original French title of the book and apparently Hugo hated the English translation and I personally don't blame him. The tile The Hunchback of Notre Dame suggests that the book is a story that focuses on Quasimodo, the hunchback. But that is not the case in this novel. Quasimodo is a focus but not the main focus. I would argue that La Esmerelda is the main character but I also could say each character is a side character and the main character is the cathedral. For this reason I believe the French title should have remained because it suggests a story about the cathedral. The English title, however, does suite the Disney film because in the adaption Quasimodo is the main character. Disney took a lot of liberty with this film which they tend to do with every one of their movies. But what I love about Disney is their ability to change something and make it good not just as a story but through the music and animation and color choice, voice actors, etc. Hunchback is by far the darkest Disney film ever made and they have never attempted to go as dark since then. I won't go too deep into why I love the movie (I will save that for my Disney podcast) but I do want to mention my favorite aspect of the film and that is the theme that questions monster vs. man. This is a brilliant example of ring composition being used in Disney movies. In the
opening song, The Bells of Notre Dame, the narrator Clopin sings "who is the monster and who is the man?" and the movie ends with the Reprise of the same track and Clopin sings, "What makes a monster and what makes a man?" to tie the story up and also ask a really important question. This question is continually asked throughout the movie, most specifically when (La) Esmerelda sings God Help the Outcasts and sings, "Still I see your face and wonder, were you [Jesus] just an outcast too...I thought we all were the children of God." The movie is questioning organized religion in the most beautiful way and I love it! Plus, the music is incredible! After reading the book, I can understand why some would be upset with the Disney movie but I view the two works as two separate entities. Many are mad because they fear people will watch the film and think that is how it happens in the book and sure, people may think that but that isn't Disney's fault. If people care enough they will pick up the book themselves.
So I am not going to hate on the Disney movie nor will I hate on the book. I think both are ruch and beautiful in two different ways. But now let's move back to the book. As I have already said, the story and characters and writing are brilliant. The book was a tough read but a good one. I do have one complaint about the narration though. There were times during heavy description when Hugo would say things on the lines of, "I don't need to say this but I'm going to," or, "I know you won't want to hear this but I'm going to tell you anyway," and he would then continue with his thoughts. That was a bit of an annoyance. It didn't bother me to the point where I was super annoyed every time but it did stand out to me. Other than that, I don't really have anymore major complaints. It was a great read and definitely challenged me which is always welcomed. I would recommend this book 100% even if you love the Disney movie (and vice versa) and I will give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Calvin and Hobbes; Something Under the Bed is Drooling by Bill Watterson

I'm not a comic book person. I've always strive to be one but end up failing miserably. The only comic book I have read cover to cover is a book called Coffee with Jesus which I reviewed not long ago. Shortly after I began reading that book of comics, I found a Calvin and Hobbes book at a thrift store. It looked like a brand new copy so I bought it for two dollars! What a steal! My intention when buying the book was to set it aside as a gift for my little cousin... but not before reading it myself first. I grew up with Calvin and Hobbes even though I never read their stories. Actually, I did try to read them as a kid in an attempt to be cool but...well you can guess how that ended. I failed miserably. Now that I am an adult, Calvin and Hobbes gives me the same feeling of missing out when people discuss it's greatness, along with the Oregon Trail game and Boy Meets World. Yeah, I'm a 90's kid and I experienced none of those things. That being said, I knew I would eventually have to read Calvin and Hobbes. The way people raved about these comics gave birth to an extreme jealousy inside of me. Why had I not yet read this apparently amazing comic?
Something's Drooling Under the Bed starts out as a silly group of comics that didn't quire feel amazing as people claimed. I kept reading though and soon found the comics to contain hidden beauty within their stillness. If I could explain Calvin and Hobbes in one sentence it would be, Little boy takes on the world of oblivious adults using his imagination with his stuffed tiger. 
That sentence may make Calvin and Hobbes seem simple but it is far from simple. No childrens text is simple. When I mentioned to a friend of mine at work (who is in her late 40s) that I was giving the book to me little cousin who is 10, she said 10 is almost too young. He might now get it. That is what is awesome about this book. It transcends age and finds adults connecting with it more from a bird's eye view of Calvin's adolescence.
I enjoyed the book the more and more I read but it was a little over halfway through when I really began to see and feel what makes these comics timeless. Calvin and Hobbes find a weak and dying raccoon on a walk. Calvin runs to tell his mother who comes and puts the raccoon in a box. They let the raccoon sleep in the garage but it doesn't live through the night. When Calvin's father reveals the bad news, Calvin is in shock and begins to contemplate death and what it means to lose someone. The tie between him and Hobbes is at that moment stronger than ever. Another big topic address is deforestation! Poor Calvin contemplates the idea of animals loosing their homes all for another generic living facility or shopping mall.
Calvin has many questions and concerns about the world we inhabit and as he asks these questions, we find ourselves wanting to seek out the answers with him. We are captured by his wild imagination of dreaming up questions, grams, and schemes with his stuff tiger. Overall, I'd say this book is excellent. I won't go as far to say that I am hooked on comics...but I am hooked on things that keep me thinking and challenging my beliefs. This group of comics does just that and I loved it!
My rating is 4 out of 5 stars. While there was a ton of great strips, there were also a good chunk that didn't really make me laugh or move me in any way. It is a medium I'm still getting used to and I look forward to reading more.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Love Does by Bob Goff

I was introduced to Bob Goff a year or so ago via the Relevant podcast. Ironically enough, that was the first episode of the podcast I had ever listened to and what a fantastic way to start off. It was a beautiful spring day and I was driving to class with the windows open. I can still remember where I was when Bob's interview came on. I had just pulled out of my apartment complex and was sitting at a light waiting to turn left. Bob's energy was what caught my attention while listening. His life was full of so much adventure and love that I immediately felt compelled to buy his book, Love Does. He told stories on the podcast about how he got into law school by sitting outside the dean's office everyday since his grades weren't good enough to get in and how he answers his phone no matter what to have a discussion with someone who has read his book where his phone number is written in the very back. The man seemed too good to be true. It took me a while before I actually picked up his book though. He appeared on Relevant podcast once again and I knew that now was a good a time as ever to start reading Love Does.
Before I even begin this review, I want to explain what I did right after I finished reading. Bob Goff is a man who takes seemingly insignificant moments and makes them extraordinary. I too wanted to do something of the same nature so when I finished reading, I signed my name on the back cover and wrote the month and year I finished reading. Then I put it in my friends graduation gift. I hope the book will inspire her in new ways like it inspired me and when she finishes, she can sign her name beneath mine with the month and year she finishes and then pass it along to someone else. This way, Bob's book can travel around and inspire tons of people!
Now for my actual review of this book. There is no denying that Bob is a pretty radical and eccentric guy who inspires people with his uncanny ability to love and love to the fullest. He truly is the model in showing that love doesn't just stay still. Love does. That being said, this book is not as incredible as Bob himself.
The book consists of short stories from Bob's life. Each one ends with a devotional type section connecting the story to the Bible and what we can learn from it. And this is where my first critique is. This is unnecessary. Explaining how the story connects to the Bible really underestimates the reader. Not only that but some people come to this book not wanting a theology lesson. I'm not saying take the theology out because it is important. But perhaps it would have worked better in the form of optional discussion questions rather than always mechanically ending with forced biblical lessons. The reader should be able to take from Bob's stories whatever they want.
Here comes another critique. I never expected to get bored with this book but guess what, it happened. I was very surprised while reading to find that most of these stories were blah next to Bob. I expected each one to be mind blowing and life altering but more often than not I was left disappointed. There were only two stories that really moved me while reading. The one was about Bob helping his children cope with the recent terrorist attacks on the the twin towers. Instead of letting them watch the news, he explained the situation to them himself. He then had them write down what they would like to tell a world leader to help solve problems and then had them send their responses to EVERY SINGLE WORLD LEADER. They ended up meeting many world leaders and even though that didn't change much, it pushes a certain ideology forward. It shows that there are healthy ways to deal with the worlds problems and politicians can sure learn from Bob Goff in that regard.
Overall, the book was an okay read. There were too many sub-par stories for my taste and the generic tying in the Bible ending of every chapter didn't help things. The writing was okay at best. Bob is a pretty incredible guy, that is for sure. But I can't imagine turning to another book of his if he writes more. I will give this book a 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting to the Core of the Elliot Rodger Shooting

Some people know that Elliot Rodger is the son of Hunger Games co-director, Peter Rodger. What people mostly know him for though is the event in which he shot innocent people and in turn, took his own life. An event like this breathes tragedy. It is an event that is linked to other tragic events, like a paper chain you make in kindergarten. Suddenly people are linking this event to other really horrible events like Columbine and Sandy Hook. They are linked by tragedy but can easily be separated just by tearing the paper. This chain leads to popular thoughts such as the rapture is near and the end of the world will soon be upon us. I'm sure the new movie adaption of the popular (but God awful) book series, Left Behind, will only add to this chain or for some people complete the chain. People will also go to lengths to shake their heads and comment on how effed up our country is. Instead of trying to understand the situation, they act superior to the event altogether.
But there is a lot more to this story and Elliot that people aren't taking into account. Almost every article and opinion piece I have heard or read has taken a different approach to this event and often these approaches are polar opposites. It is almost as if people are arguing about what describes a blueberry Popsicle. "It's blue!" some say. "It's cold," others retort. Well yes, those are both right answers but blue and cold isn't exactly what a blueberry Popsicle is. The same can be said about this situation.
In this post I am going to attempt to flesh out Elliot Rodger and what he did in a non-biased way. I will try to address every single aspect of his story and ask for forgiveness if I miss something. A fair warning that this will be a long blog.
I did a bit of background research on Elliot to see what his life was like before all of this happened. My research wasn't digging too deep but just enough to get an overview. Elliot's parents are different races - his father, the Hunger Games co-director Peter Rodgers, is white and his mother is Asian. Elliot's multiracial background is said by some to have played a big part in his earthly struggles. Elliot was also taking a drug called Alprazolam, also known as Xanax. Apparently he was addicted to this anxiety drug, though that could just be a dramatic fabrication by reporters seeking more readership. Either way, he was taking the drug but it didn't seem to be helping him and what he did supports that hypothesis. Before Elliot went on his slaughtering rampage, he not only recorded a video but wrote a 141 page essay on his plan and how his entire life led up to this moment. He titled it, My Twisted World. The essay is available online via PDF. I plan to read it soon but unfortunately did not read it before writing this blog so I can't comment on anything inside. I did glance over it though and from what I saw, it is a detailed account of Elliot's every year on this earth.
What struck me while reading articles about Elliot and what he did, was the lack of emotion towards his death from his parents. Neither of them even mentioned Elliot's suicide; only the victims of Elliot's revenge plot and their families were mentioned. Perhaps this was a political/media manuver to keep themselves in a good light, that even though they grieved for their son they were afraid to show it. Or perhaps they had no sympathy towards their son. Either they loved him and cherished him while alive but now believe him to be a monster or they never showed him much affection and therefore have little to say about his demise.
I watched Elliot's retribution video after a friend of mine posted it on Facebook commenting on how messed up Elliot was as most people were doing. I had formed an opinion before Elliot's video was even over. I took an extreme interest in this story and did some hunting for other stuff this guy had posted. Turns out, he has a YouTube channel where he posted tons of videos very similar to his last...minus the day of retribution stuff. Almost every video possesses the question, why aren't girls attracted to me? And he goes on with the usual perfect guy crap and self pity.
After watching most of Elliot's videos, I felt a strange but familiar feeling. His narrative voice resembled that of a character in a novel. If Elliot was a fictional character, I would probably have been sympathizing with him in his struggles. The way his story ended would be a perfect tragedy with an artistic message about loneliness, entitlement, and what it means to be alive (and I don't mean the sensation of being alive like you get when you go skydiving or something but to feel your heart beat and breathe air through your lungs kind of alive - like how Harry feels before he enters the forest at the end of Deathly Hallows). The first video itself also showed Elliot in a fictitious light. Between his occasional dark giggles and putting his hand to his chin, one could say he reminded them of a Disney villain. Either way, if this were a fictional story I think our take on it all would be much different. You may be laughing at the very idea of this but let me point out a few stories that display a character who is murdering innocent people. Sweeney Tod, the demon barber is a huge example.Then times him by ten and you've got A Song of Ice and Fire (known as a Game of Thrones to many). In the series there are tons of characters who murder for revenge and it is usually a character we like and route for! My point in bringing this up is that the reason we sympathize with these characters is because of their history of pain and suffering. What Elliot did was wrong. There is no question about that. But to understand this story in its entirety, we must view it through a narrative lens and see our character, Elliot, as a whole and not just the parts we want to see.
Elliot's character was that of quiet reflection. He seemed to love watching sunsets while Belinda Carlisle's voice echoed her popular track Heaven is a Place on Earth over the radio. He would often reflect on the loss of his innocence and the current state of his sad life via poetic musings. He yearned for love just as every person does. In his day of retribution video he states, "All I ever wanted was to love you [girls], and be loved by you." You can argue that his idea of love was sick and twisted and I would have to agree. But his longing isn't unique. It is universal. Everyone has a longing to be with another person in some sense.
In many cases, Elliot's situation can be compared to more classic tales such as Macbeth and Phantom of the Opera. First, the Phantom is a tragic character who fan girls love to swoon over (just go on any Phantom message board) yet he murders so many people to get what he wants and to be with Christine. Fans feel for his character and excuse his dark deeds all because he did them for Christine and had a deformed face. Sounds very similar to Elliot in my opinion. Of course the end gives Phantom his moment of redemption by fleeing but that doesn't change the fact that he is a murderer. Then look at Macbeth! I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the classic play and it seemed to scream Elliot Rodger. It not only shows a man descending into madness but begs the question of fate and free will. Was it the witches or Macbeth's own lust for power that motivated his decisions. For Elliot we must ask, was it societal pressures and girls or his own insanity that brought on this tragedy? And I think the answer for each character is both.
Upon first watching the day of retribution video, I saw a narcissistic college student who had been led to believe that loosing his virginity was his sole cure for loneliness and lack of identity. He said things such as, "I have been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires," and, "I'm 22 years old, I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl," and it is quite plain that this identity he has formed almost accidentally has become his own subconscious way of victimizing himself. This kid was extremely lonely and searching in all the wrong places for find happiness. His first problem was his big head. Something he says repeatedly throughout all of his videos is how fabulous he is. Second, he has been led to believe that sex equals happiness. He doesn't just want a girlfriend or intimacy. He just wants to be able to say he is not a virgin. And how can we fault him for this notion with movies like 40 Year Old Virgin making fun of virginity and our schools sex ed programs that don't teach kids about sex properly? Kids are regularly taught by school, the media, and even their parents that their self worth can be found in how much their lives revolve around sex. And lastly, Elliot is clearly very lonely. I feel like I've written that a million times already but it is true. He is so lonely that he has convinced himself it is the fault of others and nothing to do with him. "I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it," he says in his video. It seems Elliot has a magic mirror complex...which harks back to my Disney villain accusation. Let's talk about the Disney villain who Elliot's demeanor reflects so well, the Evil Queen from Snow White. Elliot is far too often blaming others for his loneliness, just like the Queen blames Snow White for her insecurity about her own beauty. What Elliot needs is a mirror to see his own reflection and realize he is a large part of the problem, but he would most likely begin swooning over himself than see his faults just as the Queen only sees herself being fairest in the land. So if a mirror wouldn't have helped Elliot, what would?
Well it looks like he turned to pills to help him deal with his anxiety. The pills were said to help him. But the pills didn't seem to work and it can be argued they made his condition much worse. It can't be denied that Elliot was mentally unstable. Between his recording a video full of villainous laughter and discussing his plan to "enter the hottest sorority house and slaughter every single spoiled, stuck up blonde slut," one can't say mental health had nothing to do with this. Sure Elliot was angry and frustrated, but if he wrote a 141 page essay on his life and never once stopped to think about what he was doing and what the consequences were, something must have been wrong. It takes a long time to write 141 pages! He had plenty of time to question what he was doing and what it meant. It makes me genuinely mad when someone claims mental health played no part in this story. I'm a regular listener of a podcast called The Moonshine Jesus show and they spent an entire episode discussing Elliot. The episode was titled Mass Media, Mass-Murder, Mass Misogyny and the two guys discussed the "portrayal of women in mass media" and "how misogynistic perspectives contributed not only to the UCSB mass-murder...but to constant negative, abusive and domineering directed toward women on a daily bases." Okay, sounds like interesting conversation, right? And it was. It was a really great conversation actually and I encourage everyone to listen to it. But the two guys on the show made me extremely frustrated when they said, "What we tend to hear mass media doing is trying to be dismissive of it from a mental imbalance or saying this person had some type of a mental issue that led to this which is a really easy out because that's not the reality." Yes that is part of the reality. It isn't the full reality but it is a huge part of it. Obviously another big part of the reality is the way women are viewed by the media and men in general but saying mental health had no part in this story but is just an easy explanation is simply ludicrous. Elliot's perspective on how women should treat him was distorted but even that isn't the root cause of how he felt and what he did. So if simply having a girlfriend wouldn't have helped Elliot, what would have?
Quite frankly, it seems, Elliot had a real sense of entitlement. This is where I believe distorted ideas of woman comes into play. Elliot felt entitled to have a girl not because she wanted to be with him but because he wanted to be with her. He felt entitled to have a lover and someone to love him when no one has a right to force love. His concerns aren't totally out of the blue of course. I can remember being in high school and not having a boyfriend and wondering what guys didn't see in me. Fortunately I didn't define myself on a scale of having a boyfriend or not and knew that even though people said sex mattered, I was okay with waiting. My point is that Elliot's mindset isn't uncommon and isn't specific to his male gender status. Everyone wants to be loved. But we aren't entitled to love. Elliot is among a generation labeled for their sense of entitlement. I would know - I'm a part of that generation. It is ironic that this whole event happened during the same week my mom and I were arguing about why millennial's are so entitled. She claimed that it is because everyone received trophies just for participating and therefore everyone expects reward just for being. I strongly disagree with this argument. It bothered me to an extreme and while at work my brain began to buzz and throughout the day I wrote snippets to disprove her case. My fragmented argument about entitlement can be viewed here. The point is, entitlement in young males plays a role in this event too. So if Elliot learned he did not deserve reciprocated feelings, would that have changed things? I don't think so. We've hit another brick wall. I hope you are noticing a pattern here. There are many hypothesis's to fix Elliot's attitude but none would actually be a valid solution. A mirror would not teach Elliot he was his own problem because he was so vain that he would only admire himself. A girlfriend wouldn't have helped Elliot unless she submitted to his every desire sexually. And telling Elliot he wasn't entitled to be loved would have only damaged him further. I doubt he was at a stage to sit and learn that he wasn't the one the universe revolved around.
No problem of this scale is ever simple yet we tend to dress up fake solutions in a hope to move forward until the problem returns again and someone else has to suffer and deal with it. The best example I can think of to explain my point further is war. War solves nothing. It is a temporary solution to a problem. For example, war eventually ended the Holocaust but prejudice still continues today and Holocausts still go on and war will never fix that. The Holocaust was a branch on an ever growing tree, the root of which is, as already stated, prejudice.
There are many branches that stem from Elliot Rodger. Each continues to add to the discussion and to his story but soon the tree becomes crowded with branches and confusion. Which branch is the strongest? The American Dream and Hollywood's illusion, men's rights, mental health, narcissim, loneliness, sex and virginity, violence, life and death, gun rights, portrayal of women in the media...have I missed any branches? I apologize if I have because it is very likely something is missing. Yes, all of these things are branches in Elliot's story and have to do with what he did, why he did it, and how he did it. But what is the root cause? What holds up this tree and lives deep within the earth? I believe it has to do with our perception of what it means to live: to be alive, give life, receive life, and have a good life.
It doesn't seem like Elliot had a good life and from what I have read and seen, he seems to have struggled with the idea that his life was perfect yet it was also haunted. Besides being lonely, Elliot seems to have also struggled with his race and bullying. He was half white and half Asian and according to, it played a big role in Elliot's pursuit to be the true Alpha male. It would make sense since to be a true Alpha male in American culture you must be a white man, which Elliot was not 100%. But I don't think this was among Elliot's big concerns, otherwise he would have mentioned it in his day of retribution video. I still have yet to read his 141 page essay so perhaps he mentions it in there. Perhaps he felt his feelings on his race were implied by the language he chose to use. After all, I think bullying played a role in this yet he didn't mention being bullied in his video either.
One thing I seem conditioned to do when watching a YouTube video is to scroll down to the comments. When I watched Elliot's YouTube videos, most of the comments were openly stating how messed up he was. It's hard to disagree when a video contains a person saying how fabulous they are. But something else I noticed about Elliot's channel is that most of the videos were posted only days before his violent attacks and one commenter made a point that some were posted after his death. After doing a bit of research, I learned that Elliot's videos must have been reposted - by who I don't know. What I was also interested to learn is that the videos were up a while before all of this madness became headlines but Elliot made them private when he received tons of negative feedback. Regardless of how messed up this kid was, no one is immune to the hurt you feel when you state your feelings out in the open and have them shot down in a harsh way. Some people responded in a healthy way toward Elliot by creating video and audio responses not insulting him but discussing his points made in his videos and then explaining why they weren't very logical. But for the most part, no one reached out to help him. All anyone could do was insult him which I already decided wouldn't have solved anything and it didn't. Just as war kills people but doesn't fix our hearts, negativity killed Elliot internally but didn't fix his own heart. A good character study of bullying and gun violence takes place in a book by Jodi Picoult called Nineteen Minutes. It is a favorite of mine and it takes a look at a boy who was bullied all his life and decided to devise a school shooting. The book deconstructs school shootings and reveals branches while also revealing roots. I'm not saying bullying is the root of the issue, just another branch.
In an attempt to make himself more attractive, Elliot often brought up his luxurious style. He had a nice car and a pair of sunglasses worth $300. Of course he could afford these things with a rich Hollywood Papa but you can't say Elliot is the only person who uses possessions to pump up their exterior and hide the filth on the inside (one word - Kardashian). I think we all do this in some form or another to lie to ourselves that we are better than so and so. In a song titled Not So Nice by the Vespers, they sing, "When my baby brother fell, they didn't even stop to help, Not so nice at all, not so nice. But even though I have this much to say, I'm just like them in my own way." The song is basically recognizing that hey, there are people who are jerks and you know it but guess what, you can be a jerk sometimes too. It is essentially forcing us to recognize that no one is perfect and we can't be hypocritical. Sin is sin and you can't hold one wrong way above another. It speaks to the idea that we all have a bit of Elliot Rodger in us in a unique way and that Elliot Rodger most likely had a piece of us too. He was searching for compassion in a destructive way. Many people do this everyday through less public acts like one night stands or binge drinking, all in the attempt to get rid of loneliness. Isn't it strange how and why people do certain things? Strange but fascinating.
I have now talked out what I believe to be the root of Elliot's issue, a distorted view on life. Banning guns won't stop shootings and women's rights won't convince all men they aren't entitled to women (trust me, I witness ignorant men on a daily basis). But by teaching our kids the value of what it means to live and breath and learn that we are all human and need to respect one another, hopefully we can help kids find their self worth and find worth in those we disagree with.
I think there is a quality ingrained in all of us that makes us naturally jealous of those who have what we can't. Of course everyone handles this jealousy differently but it still exists in all of us. I remember the summer when I was 9 and my brother was 6 and he got a new cool loft bed and bright green stereo. I cried the day they set the bed up and my dad sat me on his lap and explained how lucky I was to have a double bed and a better black stereo. I suddenly began to appreciate what I already had. I think it is really easy for us to put blame on others as Elliot did for having things we don't or just blaming people for doing something that we also do but may not realize. As the Vespers song continues, they sing, "I'm afraid I might be everything I hate." Elliot was, like many of us, an accidental hypocrite. He didn't take the time to reflect on himself but rather what others had done (and not done) to him and therefore did not understand the evil he was conjuring.
I have already pointed out many ways fiction reflects our reality. Allow me one more example. Let's look at Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables. When Jean Valjean is constantly wronged, one person shows him love and he becomes an honest man. It took many people to wrong him and enforce revenge but only one to push forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard and I know it is easier to talk about, especially when you are on the outside of a situation. I was not personally involved with Elliot or what he did yet I feel attached to the situation. That being said, while I can sit here and forgive Elliot, I have an easier time doing it than the mother of one of the girls Elliot shot.
From a Christian perspective, we must forgive because God forgave the unforgivable in us. Do not let what Elliot did poison you. Two wrongs don't make a right. Let Elliot's decision, and the similar decisions made by others in the future, be a learning experience. I pray all the families involved can find forgiveness in their hearts. Forgive others as Jean Valjean. Don't let one hateful act or several spread like wildfire. We have the power to put the fire out.
I believe what would have helped Elliot would have been a person who reached out to him. Perhaps some feel nothing would have helped and Elliot was the Joffery Baratheon of our world and can't be redeemed. Either way, let us recognize that Elliot was a person who was hurting. Let us recognize what he did was wrong and let us forgive him and mourn those who suffered because of his actions. And finally, let us learn from what happened and see the event for what is really was at it's roots instead of arguing. I pray we as a human race can look for those who are troubled and help them to prevent people from making rash decisions like Elliot did.
I'm interested to know what you make of this situation. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Feel free to disagree with me. I would love to have a conversation!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mini Book Review: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking GlassAlice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will be a short review...I wish I had more to say about this book in particular but words seem to be dry at the moment.
I hate to be a negative nancy when I say that I expected more from this book. It has been given rave reviews and it's adaptions have been insulted to no end. I love both of the Disney adaptions and I love literature so I expected to like this book in the way one loves a fancy restaurant meal. Chili's is awesome in its own way, but a fancy cruise ship meal is a delicacy, as is literature. But I was more annoyed by Alice's adventures than invested.
That isn't to say the writing was poor and the depth was lacking. The book had quite a lot to say and should be studied and discussed forever and ever. But it wasn't my cup of tea.

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