A Review of Life Changing Books: Installment 4 :)

Since series seem to be a popular thing amongst bloggers, and I have left this one dormant for quite the little while, I thought that I would bring back my first and favorite series to date. Reviewing these books truly does mean something special to me, and I sincerely hope that caries over to my readers.

Now, this weeks installment is dedicated to, you guessed it, another John Greene book. What can I say? The man’s writing speaks to me, and I will not pretend to be apologetic about gushing over it.  

Particularly, I’m drawn to his work in the book “Paper Towns”. This book completely changed my perspective on relationships. Before reading this work, I was a decently firm believer in the standard “relationships are time based and sensical” ideal, to a degree anyway. 

However, after observing the story of Quentin Jacobsen’s wild chase after the mystical Margo Roth Spiegleman in a fast paced adventure of no less than outlandish proportions, I found myself not so certain I believed what I had come to know relationships to be. 

Now, in all honesty, since I read every book on this list back to back in one quick series, some of the finer details blend together. For some pieces. But Paper Towns was never one of them. Because I have seldom identified more with a character than Margo. 

She is eccentric, and unpredictable, and chaotic, and untamable, but most importantly, she is unsatisfied with the world around her. She seeks something deeper, something more. And that is what makes this book special to me. 

It isn’t watching Quentin chase after Margo like a dog after a ball (though that part is amusing), it isn’t the chaos of their late night scandals before the chase. It isn’t really even Quentin’s many realizations in the days after Margo’s disappearance, though I identify very closely with them (particularly the epiphany about the feeling of leaving something). It’s the fact that there was someone like me who simply wanted something more. 

The shared, simple, and innate dissatisfaction with the shallow seeming world around us is what draws me to Margo, and therefore this book. In it, the idealistic girl discusses her distaste for “paper people” (i.e. “normal” people) as they go about their lives in their towns and their jobs and their houses. She, I assume, like me, is repelled by the idea of monotonousness and normalcy, and is no less than disgusted by the idea of a normal “nine to five” life. Therefore, she enacts the logical solution of disappearing to relocate to a ghost town in New York and become a writer. Now, admittedly, I do not see myself going to such extreme measures to subvert the cycle of society. However, I, like Margo, refuse to fall into the pit trap of “normal” life. I want adventures, not a day job. I want individuality, not uniformity. I want creativity, not normality, and I intend to get it by living my life in an exciting way. 

All of that isn’t even touching on the flawless way that Greene plays out Margo’s methods of searching for something deeper. The twists and turns in this story truly have the ability to redefine the term “encapsulating” if one allows them to. So, if you ever find yourself feeling unsatisfied in this “paper world”,  give this book a read. I promise you, you will not regret it. 

Sincerely, a somewhat less paper-y person. 

A Review of Life Changing Books: Installment 3 :)

Greetings everyone! I’m very excited to see you all again and, in an effort to get through to all the blog ideas that are quite literally pouring out of me at this point and stockpiling rapidly, we continue this little series. 🙂

The next book in our little series is another work by the famed John Greene, “Looking for Alaska”. 

This absolute miracle work of young adult fiction centers around the experiences of main character Miles “Pudge” Halter as he settles into life around the boarding school “The Creek”. There, he meets characters such as Alaska Young and Chip “the Colonel” and we get to see Miles embark on his journey through the series. 

From petty prank wars, to the absolutely devastating death of his classmate and friend, and everything in between, “Looking for Alaska” puts a previously unexplored spin on the classic telling of the teenage experience. It’s not often certain experiences, especially the more traumatic ones, are explored in such visceral detail, however this book has no qualms in detailing Miles’s feelings about each and every event in his life at The Creek. 

And that, my dear reader, is what I adore about this work. No matter how grisly or dark or stupidly teenage-esque an occurrence gets, this book does not shy away from it. “Looking for Alaska” is unyielding in it’s depth filled pursuit of inner connection with it’s readers, and that brazenness is something I can only hope to live up to when and if I begin novel writing. 

This book changed my life because it wasn’t afraid to. That’s the important part. 

And, as someone who has endured what can easily be considered far more than my fair share of trauma in my life, I’m very proud anytime I find a work of literature that explores that. Works such as this, which don’t hesitate to put emphasis on failed sex attempts and drunken breakdowns and spontaneous forays into the forest that lead to nothing but petty pranks and bad consequences, are truly what brings me comfort as someone who has been through so much. 

I love seeing works like this that give a true picture of the “teenage experience”. Because it is messy. It is nonsensical. It is a roller coaster. It can be awful. It can be amazing. It is often both. It is a good story. 

And this book tells it flawlessly, hence the reason your read for this week is “Looking for Alaska”. I promise, it’s very worth it. 

Until next time, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone between, above and beyond. 

Sincerely, Someone looking for their own Alaska. 

A Review of Life Changing Books: Installment 2 :)

As promised, the list of works that have truly changed my life continues. This week’s installment: “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Greene. 

In this book, seventeen year old Aza Holmes navigates a missing person’s mystery, young love, loss, and extreme anxiety, particularly over physical health. 

This book did something no other piece of literature ever has for me. It gave me a term for the way my anxious mind works. In her story, Aza compares her anxious thoughts to a literal downward spiral, as in a whirlpool of thought that goes further and further down, getting tighter and tighter. 

I never knew how much I related to this feeling until I experienced it. This metaphor, though not exactly identical to my own experience, gave voice to a sensation I wasn’t even aware others experienced. That is one of the most powerful things a piece of literature can do. 

My spiral, however, tends to spin outward. Sure, there are certain thought processes that feel constricting, but my vice is a sort of “creative surplus” rather than an anxious buildup. It often feels like my mind is too big for, well, itself. It’s like my thoughts are spilling over, growing out of me and leaving all that is safe, and solid, and known behind and it can be terrifying. 

An entire universe blossoming out of your head when you’re just trying to stay together is no easy concept to digest. This book helped me believe that, somewhere out there, someone, be it the author or my fellow readers, understands how it feels to have thoughts outside of thoughts. 

Hence, the reason it places so very high on the “life changing” list. 

Another reason this particular book ranks so high is the metaphor of “turtles all the way down”, which is actually referenced within the book. In it, the phrase is used in a sort of parable about a woman in a college lecture to argue a professor that the Earth is on the back of a giant turtle, which is standing on another turtle, which is standing on another turtle, all the way down. Hence, the metaphor. And, though it might not necessarily be the meaning intended to be drawn from this particular inclusion, what I took from it was this: it is completely okay to be wrong about the world. You do not have to have everything all figured out, there’s no pressure to be right. And that, in and of itself is beyond reassuring for someone with my spiral problem. 

If you struggle with any thought disorder, diagnosed and concrete, or unexplained and vague, I suggest checking out this book. It’s no substitute for mental help, but it may help you, at the very least, be a little more grounded for a few pages. Until next time. 🙂

Sincerely, someone learning to ride the upward spiral. 

A review of life changing books: Installment 1 :)

Throughout my time as a person who appreciates literature, I have come across several works by a range of authors that resonated with me in a different way than normal content. 

To put it another way, I’ve stumbled across several “life changing” works. And, considering the wonders they’ve worked for me and my personal thought processes, I’m planning a series to review them and recommend them to you. Because each and every one is truly worth the read. 

First and foremost, Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephan Chbosky. This book completely altered how I perceive the world around me, people and my relationships with them, and even my own self and my identity. I cannot even begin to describe the feelings this book produced in me, and reading this absolutely amazing story for the first time is an experience I envy any soul lucky enough to do so. 

The story of Charlie is a deceptively simple high school tale, told from the perspective of a uniquely keen eyed teenager who struggles to be “present” among other people. More commonly, a “wallflower”. 

Throughout the book, Charlie tells his story through a series of letters to an anonymous “Friend”, formatted to seem like he’s speaking directly to the reader in these installments. This detail alone brings so much depth and meaning into the telling of this story, and completely alters the way it would have been received had it been written traditionally. It’s my personal favorite touch of the book, because it’s inclusive. 

From there, you go on to actually hear Charlie’s story about his trauma upon trauma, high school experiences, his thinking and feeling processes, and what it is like to live as a wallflower. 

However, there is one specific quote that really sticks to me. If you’ve seen the movie, or even the preview, you know it. 

“I would swear, in that moment, we were infinite.” 

The ability of such a simple phrase to completely encapsulate a feeling of such depth that I cannot even begin to express it after dozens of pieces written in attempt speaks volumes as to the effects this book has had on me, and could have on you. If this does not convey what this book can offer you, and entice you to read it. 

Cannot recommend it enough.

Sincerely, a wannabe “wallflower”. 

Mad World: Who Did it Better?

Recently, pop star, Demi Lovato released a new album entitled The Art of Starting Over.  The 17th track on the album is her song, “Mad World,” and when I first heard this song, I was immediately intrigued. Now, for the past two weeks, I have listened to this song on repeat, and I have every word memorized, so it’s safe to say that this has become my new favorite song. Honestly, I really enjoyed the entire album (with a few exceptions), but overall, I’d give the album a 7/10. 

Now, the other day, while scrambling to get class before 8:01am, like I usually do, an unfamiliar song played on my Spotify. I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it. I didn’t have time to stop and look at the before throwing my phone into my bag, but when I got to class and looked at my phone, I saw that it was “La La Land,” a song from one of Lovato’s earlier albums. Spotify most likely played it based on my recent Lovato obsession, but I noticed that the song had similar vibes to “Mad World,” but I dismissed it because I thought it was just me, especially because the two songs differ vastly when it comes to sound. 

However, while researching to write this review, I found an article that said, “Lovato’s ‘Mad World’ lyrics seem like a mature version of those from ‘La La Land,’ which was the 2008 hit from her debut album Don’t Forget.”

It’s not just me! But the story doesn’t stop there… 

As I was researching, I discovered that Lovato did not write “Mad World,” and it is actually a well-known song written by British band, Tears for Fears. Does that name sound familiar? It’s probably because you’ve heard or read, literary icon, Callie Matthews’ endless ramblings about her favorite bands, one of them being (you guessed it!) Tears for Fears. 

Now, I still agree that the two Lovato songs have similar vibes, but I don’t think that was intentional, seeing as how Lovato didn’t even write “Mad World”.

Now the question is: whose version is better? Tears for Fears? Lovato? Gary Jules? 

Personally, I think Lovato’s version is the best. The smoothness of her voice with playing of the piano was so beautiful. I also really enjoyed the key she sang it in, and maybe it’s just that I prefer female voices to male voices. No disrespect to Tears for Fears because honestly, they get all the credit because they wrote the song. They ran, so Lovato could walk, and she definitely walked the walk. 

God’s Presence in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”

For my this month’s review, I will be writing my analysis on Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Sweat”.   *I recently wrote this essay for Mrs. Lambert’s class so if Turnitin tries to check me, I am covered because I am simply repurposing.

© Carl Van Vechten

SUMMARY 

“Sweat” tells the story between an abusive relationship between a Floridian Black couple in the early 1900s. Delia and Sykes have something far from a ordinary happy marriage. Delia is a hardworking washwoman who believes deeply in Christianity. Sykes is jobless man, who openly commits unfaithfulness, and verbally and physically abuses Delia. Through it all Delia keeps her faith and prays against her husband. One day Sykes brings a snake home to place fear in Delia, however, it ended up attacking Sykes leaving him almost dead. 

ANALYSIS
From the very beginning, the Christianity religion presence excludes from the short story, “Sweat” written by Zora Neale Hurston. Sundays, gospels, scriptures, and prayer are only a few tools that help solidify the story’s overarching themes. Hurston’s complex and advanced use of symbolism communicates the hidden parallels between the biblical era and the short story’s period.
Delia’s character arch and her physically weak, yet faithfully strong essence symbolize the power of having blind faith in the Lord. She is a church-going woman and at the beginning of Sunday, Delia reveals that she has taken sacrament. “Ah aint for fuss t’night Sykes. Ah just come home from taking sacrament at the church house” (1023). When one performs sacrament, they repent from past sins and again are pure in the Lord’s eyes. Delia’s refusal to participate in Sykes miserable and abusive actions is to protect her purity. Hurston conveys Delia as weak compared to Sykes when the writer states, “Delia’s habitual meekness seemed to slip from her shoulders like a blown scarf. She was on her feet; her poor little body, her bare knuckly hands bravely defying the strapping hulk before her” (1023). Nevertheless, Delia defends herself against the antagonist not by physical abuse, yet through her strong blind faith.
For example, when Delia first stands up against Sykes, she gives her testimony. “Looks heah, Sykes, you done gone too fur. Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin in washin’ fur fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, pray and sweat!” Another example of this blind faith is shown when Delia prays to the Lord that Sykes will get what he deserves. “Somehow before sleep came she find herself saying aloud: ‘Oh well, whatever goes over the Devil’s back, is got to come under his belly. Sometime or ruther, Sykes, like everybody else, is gointer reap his sowing.’ After that she was able to build a spiritual works against her husband.” These prayers foreshadow Sykes fate when he is violently attacked by the snake, he ironically brought into the house to fear Delia.
Delia purity and strong faith represent the Lord’s presence in “Sweat”, on the other hand Sykes and the snake represents evil and the Devil’s presence in the story. Sykes believes in Christianity. He calls his wife a hypocrite because she works on Sundays. In Christianity, Sundays are the Sabbath, which means to rest. He claims that he told the Lord that her work will not be in his house. However, he uses Christianity to support his abusive actions towards Delia which is hypocritical. “Ah don’t keer if you never git through. Anyhow, Ah done promised Gawd and a couple of other men, Ah aint gointer have it in mah house. Don’t gimme no lip neither, else Ah’ll through ‘em out and put mah fist side yo’ head” (1023). Hurston solidifies the Devil’s presence in Sykes by incorporating his fascination with snakes. In the bible, snakes are seen as the serpent of the Devil. Delia wants the snake out the house because she is afraid but also because she believes that they are the devil. “Whut’s de mattah ol’ satan, you aint kickin’ up yo’ racket? She addressed the snake’s box” (1028).
Delia and Sykes’s relationship is abusive and Delia goes through treacherous events similar to biblical times. There are many examples of Christianity symbolism in “Sweat” and Hurston does an excellent job at connecting them to Delia and Sykes.

The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl: A Review

Recently, I journeyed to the Lincoln County public library for the first time. I went in not expecting to find anything, but I did: Tess Holliday’s memoir, The Not So Subtle Art of Being a Fat Girl. Although I haven’t completely finished the book, I have enjoyed every page I’ve read had so far. Holliday’s journey of being a single teen mom, living in the South, being fat, and trying to be a model is a story like no other. It’s a story that, I think, people from all walks of life can relate to in some way. For me, it really hits home because Holliday grew up in south Mississippi, not too far from where I’m from. The fact that she went from being a single mom in a dingy town in Mississippi to a well-known plus-size supermodel, seemingly overnight is inspiring. Holliday has defied all the odds, and she’s a role model for so many. I’ve only read the first five chapters, but all of them have been so good. Holliday mostly discusses her hometown life in Mississippi in the first few chapters, but in later chapters, she delves into how she got into modeling, raising her son, and managing the industry.

Overall, the book is personal and captivating. Holliday is one of the women who inspires me to live my truth, be myself, and that I can do anything, no matter where I come from. She made it out, as a fat woman, from the same simple-minded place that I grew up, so I know I can do anything I put my mind to because she did. That’s my biggest takeaway from this book. 

Rate: 10/10; it’s an awe-inspiring story of a woman just living her life, and there’s so much truth, vulnerability, and beauty in this book. If you’re looking for a new read, I totally recommend this one! 

 

August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Hello to those who actually decided they care enough to read about my opinions lol. This is another segment of “Stephyne tries to review art by prestigious writers which she one day hopes to be on their level” or as I like to call it,  my monthly literary review! 

 

If you have never heard of the name, August Wilson, be prepared to be amazed. August Wilson was a playwright who captured the joy and struggles of the African American experience through his art. According to the Huntington Theatre, ” The impact of Wilson’s work has made a lasting mark on American theatre, and opened doors to conversations about the black experience in the United States. Wilson was attracted to the theatre and its potential to reach audiences, no matter the class or race.” Mr. Wilson has many accolades including a Tony award for his play Fences and and two Pulitzer Prizes.  

August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand |August Wilson biography and  timeline | American Masters | PBS

The play I will be reviewing is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Ma Rainey was a influential blues singer who is known as the Mother of Blues. Her sound is soulfully, strong, painfully, yet filled with joy.Ma Rainey - Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Wilson play is a fictional story that surrounds Ma Rainey and her band. The setting is placed in the recording session of her hit song, “Black Bottom”. 

 

I watched the screen adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix. The film starred talented and well known stars such as Viola Davis,  Chadwick Bozeman, Gylnn Turman, and Coloman Domingo. The movie was filled with black comedy, black joy, black talent, black dreams, and finally black pain. 

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom movie review (2020) | Roger Ebert

I inspire to write about the black experience vulnerable as August Wilson did. He is the an example of a true artist capturing the art of human interaction. I recommend his plays and movies to anyone. Not only those apart of the black diaspora even though we will identify with it more. I also recommend this to any young writer who is in desperate need of motivation to create truth. August Wilson is the perfect writer and I can only hope I walk through the doors he has opened for any black playwright.

The Price of Man’s Best Friend: A Review

Recently, a man was shot while walking pop star, Lady Gaga’s dogs, Koji and Gustav. The man has since been identified as Ryan Fischer, who has often been seen with Gaga’s dogs in the past. Reports say that while Fischer was unconscious at the scene, he is now out of surgery and in stable condition. Fischer put up a fight when the unidentified men attacked him while walking the dogs, and many believe that’s why he was shot. However, Fischer’s efforts were not in vain, as one of Gaga’s three beloved French bulldogs, Miss Asia, was able to escape. 

Police are still unsure of the motive behind this attack. However, all signs point to a targeted attack, but the reason still remains unclear. Were the dogs stolen because they belong to the pop princess or simply because French bulldogs are high-priced canines? The West Hollywood police department is continuing to try and answer that question. In the meantime, Gaga has yet to make an official statement, as she is out of the country shooting a film in Rome. However, sources close to the star have said that she is devastated and is offering $500,000 for the safe return of her dogs, “no questions asked”. This now raises questions that the robbery was purely for ransom. If so, Gaga has taken the bait to ensure the safety of her beloved Koji and Gustav. 

Nonetheless, I can’t help but think of how ridiculous this all seems. Gaga is willing to pay half-a-million dollars to get her animals back, but seems to have no sympathy for Fischer, whose life was on the line. Doesn’t he deserve justice? I’m an animal-lover too, and while her dogs may be like family, how are we to ignore the fact that a man was shot? Witness, Buck Angel, says, “Someone actually got shot over dogs… Are we gonna start taking people’s dogs for ransom now? It’s horrible.” 

Angel is right; is this the new normal? Will criminals start coming out of the woodworks to steal celebrity animals for a payday? Is man’s best friend really worth all of this?

Writer’s Burnout: A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

Recently, I stumbled upon an article by writerspractice.com. The article is about writer’s burnout: what it is, how it happens, and how to overcome it. Before reading this article, I had never heard of writer’s burnout, but it 100% described what I am going through. The article describes it as “looking at the page, hating the page, and questioning your entire identity as a writer, all for an extended period of time” which puts exactly how I’ve been feeling into words. Honestly, writing in general has been difficult for me lately, and I have been rethinking my entire life because I feel so lost and confused. The steps the article lists to overcome writer’s burnout really helped, and they are as follows:

  • Recognize the Problem

“You can’t move on without first recognizing that maybe something is wrong. Have you ever thought, ‘I just have nothing to say, no words to write.I don’t care about writing anymore. I have no new creative ideas. I never want to write again.’If so, you might be going through a writer’s burnout.” In the process of NaNoWriMo, I felt like a failure. Every day, I’d wake up, pull out my laptop, and swear I was going to make progress. Instead, I stared at that stupid, blinking bar for hours on end, before finally closing my laptop to hide under my mountain of blankets, as if hiding would make the shame and disappointment disappear. As someone who is somewhat of a perfectionist and planner, I try to be in complete control of all things in my life, but with this project, I felt totally out of my element. I’m not a novelist, and I never claimed to be, but maybe that was the problem. I think I went into this assignment with the wrong mindset. I went in not believing in myself, and I think I set my own self up for failure. 

  • Don’t Stop Writing

“Write through the toil. It’s the only way to get to the other side.” I did it; I stopped writing. I gave in to the burn out and fear of imperfection, and that was my second mistake. I get so caught up in wanting everything I put my name on to be the best that I forget how to just write. It’s so tiring trying to be perfect all the time, but I feel so much pressure to do so. I often say, “If it’s not the best or it’s not perfect, why even do it?” I have slowly come to the realization that that isn’t the best mentality to have, but I’ve had that mindset for so long that I just don’t know how to break it. I should’ve pressed on. I should’ve followed through with my daily goals instead of simply avoiding them in fear not being good enough. Sometimes, I think, you just have to do the things you dread in order to become stronger and better. 

  • Find Yourself (again)

“When you’re feeling lost in your writing, try taking a moment to remember who you are as a writer, and more importantly why you write. Remember your audience, your message, and most importantly, your voice.” As much as I hate to admit this, I have lost myself as a writer. I can’t even remember why I started writing or why I love(d) it. Last year, I had so much passion and drive for writing and for literary, but now, everything seems so bleak. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to find that spark that I once had. I’ve lost my voice, and I don’t know how to get it back, but I fear I’ve lost it forever, which breaks my heart. 

  • Don’t Try to Explain Yourself

“It’s a complicated and messy thing to try to explain why you set aside your most important projects. At first, even you might not know exactly why you had to switch gears, and that’s okay.” I struggled with this a lot during NaNoWriMo. During the break, for my story, I talked to women, including my own mother, about their struggles with infertility and pregnancy loss. I heard some of the most moving, emotional, and inspiring stories. I thought that because I had taken the initiative to get these real-life stories that I’d be more enthused to write this story, but instead I felt inept. I couldn’t figure out how to translate such important, powerful stories into my own writing, so I didn’t. I worked on other things, so I could say I had a productive day, but when my fellow writers were sharing their daily goal accomplishments, I was shoving my head deeper into my sheets. I felt embarrassed to tell them that I hadn’t made much progress in my story, so I countered it with the fact that I’d been working and that my home life is crazy, which isn’t false, but I felt the need to explain. I felt like I’d let them down, but really, I had let myself down. 

NaNoWriMo is not for the weak, and for most of the month, I considered myself weak, and even writing this feels like a cop-out. However, in writing and reflecting on the month, I realize that while writer’s burnout is a thing, and I have definitely been experiencing the struggles of it, I am not defined by a word count or an assignment. My self-worth should not be determined by whether or not I adequately completed something, and I should stop holding myself to these impossible standards. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I am. To be a writer, means to write, so I’m gonna do just that. I’m gonna write every day, and I won’t worry about meeting a word count or completing an assignment that I don’t care about. I’m just going to write simply because it makes me feel good, and maybe, in that. I will overcome this writer’s burnout, and find my voice again.