Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Photo Challenge: Part 3

During the month of August, I've been (poorly) trying to keep up with this photo challenge through Tumblr and Instagram.  I'm cheating a little bit with this round of photos because not all the information is being presented in photos--I don't have a picture of the book I wanted to include for my Book Recommendation, and I felt my Favorite Blogs would be most easily presented just as text.  Anyway, I hope my numbering system isn't too confusing and I'm looking forward to collecting another week of pictures!

17 // A Book Set in Your State or Town - I'm proud to call the setting of Diablo Cody's memoir Candy Girl, Minneapolis, Minnesota, my hometown.
18 // Favorite Ending - Life of Pi author Yann Martel's novel Beatrice and Virgil is crazy.  Most of the book moves pretty slowly, and while I was reading I almost put it down a dozen times because the lack of action just seemed so pointless.  But that's because it's just all building up toward the most insane, shocking, and powerful ending I've ever read.
19 // Funniest Character - Georgia Nicholson from The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series!  This series by Louise Rennison is told through diary entries by a teenage girl living in England, and begins with the book Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.
20 // Book Recommendation - Okay, one of my favorite books to recommend is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.  This is a true story of what happened to a Muslim-American family living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and it really introduced me to the terrifying results prejudice can lead to in the United States.
21 // Longest Book - I've read some pretty long children's and young adult books, such as the Deathly Hallows, but because those books are such easy reads they hardly seem to count.  The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates was 582 pages long and took over a month to read, but I love Oates' writing style which made it all worth it.
22 // Bookstack - A few days ago, a secondhand store down the street from me was having a 50% off sale with paperbacks for only 25 cents, and I was excited to actually find some books I've been meaning to read for a while.  I love digging through used books and trying to find the best deals--in fact, I hardly ever buy books full price anymore.
23 // Fictional BF/GF - I've always had a tiny crush on the husband from The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  He works at a library, has great taste in music and art, and has the perfect amount of tutored soul.  Need I say more?
24 // Favorite Blogs - I read blogs in every category, but a few of my favorite writing/book blogs include Dead White Guys, Hazel & Wren, and Wise, Ink.

Parts 1 and 2 of my Book Photo Challenge can be found here and here.

Happy end-of-summer!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"But the book was so much better!"

You’re leaving the theatre after seeing the latest book-to-movie adaptation.  Your legs are still cramped from sitting for the past two hours, and the smell of popcorn and thick carpet lingers in the air.  Almost as if planned, you hear the inevitable words drift from someone’s lips; maybe your own, maybe a friend’s, maybe a stranger who had been sitting a couple rows over. “I liked it,” they say, “but the book was so much better!”

I’ve heard these words so many times that they’re starting to lose their meaning.  Even though it has been widely accepted that the book will always be better than its movie counterpart, fans feel adamant about pointing out this fact, along with exactly what choices the film should have made instead. 

Like most avid readers, I agree that the book is almost always better (the exception usually being if the book was terrible to begin with), but it’s this last part that always gets me.  No two people read a book the same way.  Individual readers will always have their own impression of what the characters and setting look like and their own list of favorite parts that absolutely should have been included. 

Nevertheless, I love movies, and I’ve learned to see this phenomenon not as something to complain about, but as something to celebrate.  Directors, actors, and filmmakers are artists too, and by watching the film adaptation of a book, I like to think of it as if I’m simply getting to see another artist’s interpretation of that piece of literature.

Of course, the film industry isn’t always about pure art, and I want to address this distinction as well.  Hollywood might glamorize characters and events to make them more visually appealing, stretch out a single book into two films (such as for the last Harry Potter and Twilight volumes) primarily to make more money, or even cast primarily white actors just to satisfy racist moviegoers who envision their heroes a certain way.  These are just a few examples of legitimate reasons to be upset that a movie adaptation came out a certain way, and conversations should definitely be had about these issues.

But when it comes down to a favorite scene being left out, or a setting not appearing a certain way, I try not to let it get me down.  Instead, seeing a filmmaker’s interpretation of a book, and how it differs from my own, can be a fun way to reflect back on why I loved the original book so much in the first place.

Some film adaptations I thought were done especially well include:

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Holes by Louis Sachar 
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (I preferred the American version.)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Some upcoming films I’m curious to see are:

Carrie by Stephen King (especially how it compares to the 1976 film, which I love.)
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

And the one film I thought was better than the book:

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (neither was great, but at least the movie had a killer soundtrack and some really beautiful shots of rural Washington.)

Stay cool,

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Follow my blog with Bloglovin!

This is just a quick post to mention that I'm on Bloglovin.  Check it out, but also be sure to spend some time outside on this beautiful, end-of-summer day.

Happy reading,

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Book Photo Challenge: Part 2

I'm back with round 2 of the photos I've collected for Books & Cupcakes' August Book Photo Challenge.  I'm uploading my pictures to Instagram and Tumblr as I go, but since I've been so bad at keeping up with it they're coming out at weird times and slightly out of order.  Sorry.  Anyway, that's part of why it's nice to keep track of them here; where I can see the photos laid out all orderly and organized.

9 // New Book Discovery - Short story collections!  It's so interesting to see a writer's signature style from so many perspectives.
10 // Favorite Author - Neil Gaiman, of course.
11 // Reading Outside - This is one of the best things about summer.
12 // Sunny Book Cover - I wasn't sure what this meant until I scanned the other books posted under this tag, but finally dug out the two sunniest cover designs I could find.  Though they look a bit more like sunsets than bright, daytime sun.
13 // Bookish Item - My two favorite bookish items are my Books. Cats. tote and Gatsby flask.
14 // Back To School Reads - I don't buy textbooks for another few weeks, but here are some books from past classes that I've especially liked.
15 // Book Store - One of my favorite Chicago bookstores is Myopic Books in Wicker Park.
16 // Favorite Fandom - I couldn't find a good picture of the Harry Potter books so I had to settle for this, even though I can't stand J. K. Rowling's adult fiction. Quit while you're ahead girl!

This has been fun!  Be sure to check out Part 1 of the challenge here.

Read on,

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Real Problem with "Sick-lit"

According to some news sources, in particular The Daily Mail, a new (made-up) genre of YA fiction is rising in popularity.  “Sick-lit” is defined as books that exploit serious issues such as depression and illness, which in turn can be traumatizing for its readers.  Some titles supposedly included on this list are The Fault in our Stars by John Green, whose protagonist has cancer, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, which tells the story of a teenage girl who recently committed suicide.  Both books have received tremendous praise from both readers and critics.

So the fact that there are people who believe sick-lit is a legitimate genre is itself sick.

It’s true that some doctors claim that exposure to novels dealing with topics such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders have led to these behaviors in young teens.  This is extremely tragic, and I believe people for whom these books may be triggers should have the ability to pass up on them if necessary.  

But consider the alternative of not exposing teenagers to these topics: by not having a healthy, supportive way to be introduced to serious issues in the first place, teens are being sheltered from the realities of the world.  Fiction, as well as art as a whole, gives us a way to examine our own lives from a unique lens.  It draws attention to topics that might have otherwise been ignored by starting conversations and introducing new perspectives.  And I find it hard to believe that those who have actually read these books really think its authors are writing them out of morbid enjoyment; it’s clear from the first page that authors such as John Green are handling their difficult subject matter with complete respect.

After all, it’s not as if cancer or depression will magically go away if we stop talking about them.

Though I personally am not a huge fan of YA lit, I realize that this genre has recently grown exponentially in popularity among both teens and adults, and I applaud authors who are using this genre to shed light on the issues real teens are facing.  Discussing depression, terminal illness, and other serious topics through literary fiction does not romanticize the subject; instead, it proves that these issues are real, and serious, and worth knowing how to handle if the time should ever come.

Here are the titles of a few more literary young adult books considered “Sick-lit” by certain dumb adults:

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Daelyn Rice
Red Tears by Joanna Kenrick
So Much to Live For by Lurlene McDaniel
Zoe Letting Go by Nora Price

Read on,

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Can Creative Writing be Taught?

Most people grow up believing that the best authors, at least the true, bohemian, artsy types, only write when inspired.  We imagine that words spew from their pens as one raw, release of emotion, a brilliant catharsis of insight that comes out already polished and perfect on the page.  Writing is a gift granted only to a select few.  And the thought that anyone can be taught to write creatively is absurd.

For many years, this was my thought process as well.  Even when I started taking creative writing classes, it wasn’t because I believed my writing would get any better.  It was just a fun outlet; a chance to practice a skill I thought I was mildly okay at.  Instead, I learned just how much of creative writing is a process, and I was surprised to see how much my style grew and evolved as I studied this skill in a rigorous, academic setting. 

It’s still not easy to teach those aspects of creative writing that aspiring writers tend to want to know about the most, such as where to get ideas, but these points don’t end up being what’s important after all.  Learning that writing is work, and acknowledging the process that goes behind creating and revising a strong piece, is fundamental to the pursuit of writing, and something I would not have learned without my creative writing classes.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in class is how to take criticism.  It’s easy to feel as though I’ve worked so hard on a piece that I don’t need to revise it any more, or be so embarrassed by a piece that I don’t even want to take a second look at it.  Writing workshops force its participants to share their work with others, and discover what is actually coming through to their readers.  It can still be hard to hear that something isn’t working, but rejection is a part of the writing process, and simply teaches the writer what to work on.

In addition, a good writer is able to give effective feedback to others as well.  From writing workshops, I’ve learned how pick out specific places where another writer’s piece may seem strong, weak, powerful, or useless, instead of simply whether it is good or bad, and explain it to that writer in specific language. Furthermore, a good critic strikes a balance between compliment and criticism; a writer will always be more encouraged to revise if they can see what is working as well as what is not, and being able to point out these distinctions is an important lesson in any area of writing.

Finally, most of what I have learned about the writing process and industry has come from discussions in my creative writing classes.  Even if my classes tend to focus on the craft of writing, the exposure to different styles and authors has given me a stronger picture of the industry as a whole.  In addition, I can steal what I see in another writer’s style for my own writing, and learn from the techniques they use.  This information is priceless if I plan on pursuing a career in writing.

It is easy to be skeptical of an area of study that is so rooted in creativity, but learning how to effectively get one’s vision across is valuable information for any type of writing.  Creative writing is just one niche way to explore that skill.

Study on,

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Photo Challenge: Part 1

Toward the beginning of the month, I stumbled upon this August Book Photo Challenge by the Tumblr blog Books & Cupcakes.  It's hard to stay motivated to do anything more than sleep in, lay out in the sun and eat cheap food during the last month of the summer, so I love that this challenge has kept me motivated to keep thinking about books over the next few weeks.  A daily update of this challenge can be found on my Tumblr, but below is a recap of the first eight days.

1 // Whatcha reading? - The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
2 // TBR Pile - Mine is made up mostly of books I bought discounted or borrowed from friends.
3 // Your Bookshelf - Mine is currently the underside of my desk, as most of my books are at my parents' house in Minnesota.
4 // Bookmarker - Favorite bookmarks include ticket stubs, bookmarks from my writing center, and free bookmarks from Unabridged Bookstore.
5 // Where You Read - I can't fall asleep without reading before bed.
6 // Favorite Book Cover - I love the design of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog and the back cover of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
7 // Words On A Page - This super short story by a third grader, which reads, "If I had a sidekick he would watch TV.  He would watch TV and eat chips and Nutella." resonated with me for obvious reasons.  Who doesn't want to be this sidekick?
8 // Most Reread Book - Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I've had a lot of fun coming up with what to snap a picture of for these first eight days.  Hopefully I can keep up with this challenge for all of August!

Read on,

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Currently Reading: Memoirs

My dream has always been to write fiction, and for years I was adamant about my refusal to read nonfiction for fun (picture: pretentious teenage Elizabeth claiming "Oh, I only read fiction.")  Obviously, this was really stupid, and over the past several months, creative nonfiction, personal essays and memoirs in particular, have been some of my favorite genres to both read and write.

I am 100% a product of the 21st century, so when my internet spontaneously stopped working a few nights ago, I panicked trying to figure out how I would entertain myself.  Obviously, I headed straight to the bookstore in search of something mindless and fun to read during these dark times, and came back with Diablo Cody's memoir, Candy Girl.  This book is fantastic, and inspired me to write about a few of my other favorite memoirs.

Candy Girl by Diablo Cody - I have been a fan of the famous stripper-turned-screenwriter ever since the release of Juno, so I knew her writing would be clever, unique, fast-paced, and very very funny.  This book chronicles the year Cody spent working as a stripper in Minneapolis, and in addition to the fascinating behind-the-scenes look at these establishments, as someone who grew up in Minneapolis, I was infinitely entertained by trying to count how many strip club names I recognized from driving past them on the way to my summer creative writing classes.  Not to mention her descriptions of Minnesota, such as, "Minnesota is like a church basement with a leaky popcorn ceiling and a bingo caller who's afraid to amp things up past a whisper" are spot-on.

On Writing by Stephen King - This book is half-memoir, half-how-to-write, and strikes a perfect balance between the two.  King gives an intimate insight into several personal details of his life, including his experiences writing for small publications as a teenager to his terrifying drug and alcohol addiction.  He counters this with step-by-step descriptions of the writing process and advice on everything from vocabulary to the publishing industry, while always maintaining a conversational tone that is easy to read, and never comes across as textbook.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers - This fictionalized memoir is Dave Eggers' first book, and though Eggers writes both fiction and nonfiction with success in both genres, his memoir seems to receive the most praise.  At age 22, Eggers moved from Chicago to California following the deaths of his parents to raise his 8-year-old brother, and he recounts this time in his memoir through not only stories, but lists, fictionalized interviews, and charts.  It's sad, and funny, and creative, and takes crazy risks in its writing but succeeds immensely.  The personalized writing advice I received from Eggers at a signing when I told him I wanted to be a writer definitely only added to my love of this book.

Just Kids by Patti Smith - I read Patti Smith's memoir about living as a starving artist in New York in the late sixties and early seventies before really knowing anything about her music or career, and fell in love with it so much that I quickly developed an unhealthy obsession with her music and art.  (I even skipped my poetry night class one night to see her in concert, using my grocery money to buy the ticket, which is so Patti Smith in and of itself that I can't even handle it.)  This novel is beautifully written and illustrates perfectly and honestly what it means to be an artist.  I love this book because it allows those of us who have dreamed of the starving artist lifestyle to live vicariously through Patti Smith's.  I'm not exaggerating when I say is one of my all-time favorite books.

Read on,

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Summer According to Instagram

It's almost the end of July and I haven't had the chance to post here nearly as much as I had hoped.  But this behavior wasn't born out of laziness; it's been a busy summer of concerts, shopping, parties, and, of course, reading.  Here are a few of my favorite moments so far, in all their filtered glory.

1 // Wayyy back in June, I took home seven books for under $30 from Printer's Row Lit Fest.  I've only had a chance to start The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, and even though at 100ish pages in I'm having trouble keeping myself invested in the characters, I'm determined to finish it and as many other books from my Printer's Row loot as I can before the end of the summer.
2 // Even though I'm not a sports fan, it was exciting taking part in the Chicago madness following the Blackhawks' victory, and I could not get over the adorable helmets on the Chicago Art Institute lions.
3 // In a fit of artistic inspiration, and craving a fresh look for my bulletin board to start off the summer, I decided to collage an ode to Chicago out of cut-up city maps.
4 // I've seen few things more picturesque than the view from the high-rise apartment where I spent the 4th of July, watching countless firework shows take place all across the skyline as soon as the sun began to set.
5 // With most people away from school for the summer, I've found dozens of cozy outdoor reading nooks around my quiet campus.
6 // My favorite Creative Writing buddy Izzy and I had to buy these matching word nerd rings, if only just to use them as an excuse to model our attempts at nail art.
7 // I was hanging out at a friend's apartment when I noticed her copy of Breathless, one of my all-time favorite French films.  When she offered me a second copy of the DVD that she had received as a gift, I freaked out.  I'm sensing a Godard movie marathon in my future.
8 // Finally, this past weekend I had the chance to volunteer at Pitchfork on behalf of the organization I intern for.  The whole festival was a blast, but MIA was easily my favorite performance.

Summer in Chicago is seriously the best.  Follow more of my adventures on Instagram @elizabethshere.

Happy summer,

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Coraline Generation, or The Book That Made Me Want to Write

A few nights ago I met one of my greatest role models.

I have been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing since first reading Coraline when I was ten years old.  My memories of growing up with this book still play like a montage in my head—I remember how I was running errands with my aunt, wandered into a children’s bookstore, and was handed Coraline by a salesperson after I told her I wanted something scary to read; reading the book in a matter of hours that afternoon; my aunt buying tickets for us to hear Neil Gaiman speak during his Coraline book tour a few weeks later, and after the Q&A, eating stale Altoids and reading brochures on summer creative writing classes to pass the time as I waited for an hour and forty five minutes to get my copy signed; reading the book at least five more times over the next few years, throwing it in my backpack before school, and dropping it in the muddy puddles on floor of the bus, the stains of which are still visible on the pages of my warn, battered, beaten copy.

Coraline is a badass.  In the story, she travels through a mysterious door in her family’s new flat and meets her Other Mother, a woman with black buttons for eyes who wants to raise Coraline as her own.  Coraline escapes, but after the Other Mother kidnaps Coraline’s real parents in order to lure her back, she returns to her alternate universe to rescue her parents.  Coraline dreams of being an explorer; she scavenges through overgrown gardens and abandoned theatres, is stalked by rat circuses and left to spend the night in a closet haunted by the spirits of the Other Mother’s former victims, and outsmarts every monster by the end of the book.  What ultimately made me fall in love with the book was its message that children are capable of more than they’re given credit for; even just the fact that the story is so scary compared to other children’s books proves that stories don’t need to be dumbed down for children.  Reading it, I felt like I was being taken seriously, like I was being treated like an adult, which at ten years old, is all a child really wants.

I read everything I could find by Neil Gaiman over the next several years.  But even as I grew up, I always came back to Coraline, and everything it had taught me about the power of books.  I began taking creative writing classes, and decided I wanted to learn the craft of fiction writing for myself, so I could someday create art that I hoped would affect readers in the same way Coraline had affected me.  So when I saw that Neil Gaiman would be doing his final tour for his newest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, in Chicago at the Music Box Theater on July 9th, nearly ten years after I’d met him in Minneapolis, I knew I had to go.

I was counting down the days until the signing, when I saw an interview with Neil Gaiman online titled The Book That Made Me Want to Write.  In it, he begins talking about a signing recently held in Cambridge, and says, “I found myself meeting a lot of really really nice young ladies… who were incredibly keen to see me.  And they were, you know, 19-21 years old… and I realized that this was the Coraline generation.”  When I saw this video, I almost screamed.  Not only are there other girls out there who have been affected by Coraline in the same way as myself, Neil Gaiman is aware of these girls.  The thought of a “Coraline generation” is inspired, it proves the affect a really good book can have on a child, even years into the future.

The reading at The Music Box was perfect, as expected, but the most memorable part of the night for me was when I made it to the front of the line to have my book signed.

I had brought my beat-up copy of Coraline and showed it to Neil Gaiman, explaining that I’d met him about ten years ago.  “I’m studying creative writing now,” I told him, “and I consider this the book that made me want to write.”

He reached out and took my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you for telling me that.”  Then, glancing at the rat drawing he’d made ten years ago, sketched a second rat in my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  “There,” he said, “now this is the only copy of Ocean with a Coraline rat.”

There are dozens of people I admire and would love to meet, and this isn’t the first time I’ve pledged my admiration in shaking, broken sentences to an author at a signing.  But as I was leaving the Music Box that night, I realized that there was no other author who had had the same lifelong impact on me as Neil Gaiman.  I will always be a part of the Coraline generation.

These are only some of the Neil Gaiman books I own; back in Minnesota, I have Good Omens, Sandman Volumes I and II, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, The Wolves in the Walls, Fragile Things, and two books on the making of Mirrormask.

Read On,