(4.5 out of 5 stars)
“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
Hello, I think I just fell in love with that sentence. So sweet, so simple, and so true. The rest of John Green’s The Fault in our Stars does not disappoint either. Green’s novel is a shining example of a young adult book that caters to all ages. As NPR so eloquently stated, “Green writes books for young adults, but his voice is so compulsively readable that it defies categorization. He writes for youth, rather than to them, and the difference is palpable…” A-GREED.
Basic plot - a sixteen year old girl named Hazel Lancaster has terminal cancer. Through a miracle drug, Philanxiphor, Hazel is able to extend her life for an indefinite amount of time. Her life is changed when she meets a boy named Augustus Waters at Cancer Kid Support Group. What begins as a mutual hatred of Support Group slowly evolves into a love story between two of the wittiest teenagers in Indiana that just happen to have cancer as well.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. It is beautifully written, honest and funny. Funny is hard to do when the two main characters are cancer patients, but Green hits it out of the park, finding the perfect balance between self-deprecating humor and vulnerability. Green actually got the idea for the characters in the novel after working as a student chaplain at a children’s hospital for five months at one point in his life. It definitely shows.
Read this book ASAP so we can discuss how wonderful it is! Some of my favorite passages to entice you…
“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.”
“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout in to the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt”
(4 out of 5 stars)
Wild is an amazing true story about a woman named Cheryl Strayed, who goes on an 1100 mile hike on the Pacific Crest trail… ALONE. Talk about ballsy. Her journey begins in the arid Mojave Desert in Southern California and ends at the appropriately named Bridge of the Gods at the Oregon/Washington state line. (The actual Pacific Crest trail starts at the Mexico/California border and reaches all the way to Canada).
Cheryl begins the hike four years after her mother’s death. She is 26 years old, depressed and still struggling with her mother’s passing. She is living a life she is not happy with or proud of, experimenting with heroine, continuing to engage in one-night stands with a number of strangers, divorced (voluntarily) from her husband who is still the love of her life, and just plain miserable. Cheryl sees this hike as a possible solution for piecing her life back together, and decides to just go for it. She has zero experience as a long-distance hiker. She has just an idea.
I really enjoyed this memoir. It was painfully honest and vulnerable, and I, like most readers I’m sure, was cheering for Cheryl the entire way. Imagine a 26-year old girl that is so unprepared for the hike that she cannot even lift her backpack off the ground of the motel floor to begin her first day. Her feet are a constant source of pain, blisters becoming the norm rather than exception, and blackened toenails fall off gradually throughout the hike. Cheryl encounters rattlesnakes and bears, sleeps alone each night, hikes on days as hot as 110 degrees and as cold as 34 degrees, and is completely alone. She crosses ice and snow. Each car ride that she hitches, each individual that she meets, all situations are approached with extreme caution. She gets lost… a lot. She struggles with carrying too much water, not having enough water, not having enough food, and not having enough money. She is broken physically and emotionally. Yet Cheryl prevails.
A truly inspiring story. GIRL POWER is what I’m talking about. Thanks for sharing your story, Cheryl.
(4 out of 5 stars)
My, my, Christopher Hitchens, what beautiful words you speak. That acerbic wit and unrelenting charm is palpable even in your last written words. Mortality is a collection of pieces written by Hitchens during his 18-month battle with esophageal cancer. Most notable is Hitchens’ unwavering view of religion as he is dying; an atheist to the end, Hitchens bravely takes an objective view of death, refusing the solace of religion that so many turn to in their final hours. I found Mortality smart, courageous, witty and honest. Highly recommend, even for those who have a different stance on religion than Hitchens.
“If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.”
“To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: why not?”
“I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent solider is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.”
About Christopher Hitchens (from back cover of Mortality): Hitchens was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Slate, and the Atlantic, and the author of numerous books, including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Orwell. He also wrote the international bestsellers god Is Not Great: How Religions Poisons Everything; Hitch-22: A memoir, and Arguably. He died in 2011.
(2 out of 5 stars)
I had high hopes for The Age of Miracles, but it just didn’t do the trick for me. I think the sixth grade me would’ve enjoyed it a lot. The premise is fascinating - the rotation of the earth has suddenly slowed, the days and nights grow longer, gravity is affected, plants and animals are dying, people are getting sick. All the while, life goes on and main character Julia has to face middle school, making friends, not making friends, and figuring out the boy that she likes. Perfect book for a twelve year old, right? Unfortunately, not quite there for adults. Most of the time I felt like I was doing a reading assignment for a child. It’s rare when young adult books are able to make the leap across the age boundary and appeal to readers of all ages (see The Hunger Games, Eleanor and Park). The Age of Miracles is not one of them.
(2 out of 5 stars)
Hmmm… I’d like to more than pretend I didn’t read this book. I kind of wish I hadn’t read it at all. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is a memoir by Jenny Lawson, from The Bloggess - a popular blog on the Internets that I had not heard about until book.
Before I give you my thoughts, I’d like to say that 1) I am usually a big fan of memoirs 2) memoirs are usually written about people that have something interesting worth writing about and 3) Goodreads advertised this book as “For fans of Tina Fey and David Sedaris”.
In the beginning, it was okay. I wanted to give it a chance. Unfortunately, for the majority of the book, I just couldn’t wait for it to be over. Yes, Jenny Lawson is funny and witty, and has lots of interesting stories to share. But the book itself was incredibly difficult to read. You see, Lawson suffers from chronic anxiety, mild depression, impulse control disorder, and mild OCD. So reading story after story about how she makes even the simplest situation difficult, awkward, embarrassing, stressful and tense was too much for me. Call me callous and unsympathetic, but there is a reason why therapists exist. To listen and listen and listen forever, without judgment. And I am no therapist.
For those less judgmental than myself with higher tolerance for cringe-inducing stories, give it a go and tell me if I’m being completely cruel and unfeeilng. There are a few funny taxidermy-related stories in there too if that is helpful.
(4 out of 5 stars)
“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.” — Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
As you may have gleamed from the very long title, Half of the Sky is about the oppression of women around the world. The book touches upon issues such as sex trafficking, gender-based violence, and forced prostitution in Africa and Asia. Written by Pulitzer Prize winners and New York Times writers Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (a husband and wife team!), Half of the Sky shares very personal stories and experiences from women that Kristoff and WuDunn interview while traveling. (It has also been made into a PBS documentary!)
Half of the Sky really resonated with me. It’s hard to say that I enjoyed reading stories about young Cambodian girls forced into prostitution by their relatives, or by acquaintances that promise them dishwashing jobs in the city only to sell them to a pimp. It’s hard to say that I enjoyed reading about disgusting brothels in India where pimps sell the virginities of young girls like grocer’s sell bananas. It’s hard to say that I enjoyed reading about genital mutilation in Africa, and how African women that suffered this gender-based violence as children turn around and perpetuate the system, encouraging their daughters to voluntarily suffer the same violence. It’s hard to say I liked reading any of these accounts because I didn’t. AT ALL. But reading Half the Sky is not about enjoyment. It’s about becoming informed and educated. It’s about getting people to become involved, and showing them the best way to help. If judging the book by those criteria, I would say that Half the Sky was extremely successful.
Nicolas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn understood that while facts and figures are meaningful, they don’t necessarily trigger the same emotions as stories. For me, after a certain point, statistical figures go in one ear and out the other. But these girls’ stories - they stick with you. One particular scene is particularly vivid in my mind. Kristof is traveling in Cambodia and arranges to buy the freedom of two teenage girls: Srey Neth for $150 and Srey Momm for $203. In exchange for the money, the brothel keeper gives Kristof a receipt and complete dispensation to do whatever he would like with the girls. A RECEIPT.*
I highly recommend reading Half the Sky. It made a very big impact on me and encouraged me to take action. Hopefully it will inspire you to do the same. I feel so fortunate to live in a country where women are treated as equals (for the most part), to have the family that I have, the friends that I have, and a life that, after reading this book, can only be described as luxurious. When the life of a girl can be bought and sold for a fraction of what I pay for skincare lotion every year, there is a big problem. We need to fix that problem. STAT. Learn about how to help here.
* Kristof takes both girls back to their villages and attempts to ease them back into society with the help of an American charity, although this proves to be much more difficult than expected.