Monday, June 8, 2015

Blindness: A Unique Perspective

As I began to read, I wondered if I would make it to the end.  There were many things that were just too familiar about this book.  It had a lot in common with both of Brian Selznick's books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.  Also, I have read a least ten young adult books about Nazi Germany, The Holocaust, and everything in between.  Yet, something made me keep reading and I think it was that both protagonists had unique perspectives.  They both had a voice that I hadn't heard before.  

When was the german youth supposed to rebel against the Hitler Youth.  With friends dying each day in front of them for not supporting the movement, at what moment could a 12 year old say, "Enough is enough."  When do we say this as adults? We don't.  We let bad things continue on no matter how many are effected, just so our place in society doesn't get upset.  

I've been listening to Ken Follett's World Without End and I just can't believe the pompousness of male monks in the Middle Ages.  I mean, let's suppose that Follett has characterized the sexist behavior correctly, but come on.  I mean, we still put people in positions of power who than believe themselves to be guided by some omniscient deity who will forgive all if only we honor him.  How can we repeatedly make so many awful decisions.  The FIFA fiasco is currently going on.  Men of power??? What can be said beside angry tirades.  These leaders think they are better than us.  They think that their wisdom leads to better decisions.  They do whatever they can to usurp democracy to become elected.  They will save the world if only they come into power.  This is the most often created personality in our world.  Our system shoots out people like this.  And it also shoots out people like Werner.  Boys who can either choose death or watching these megalomaniacs continue on to amassing as much power as they can.


Enough is enough!

How about a, "Megalomaniac Mirror Day" or something.  We could all take mirrors to work and give them to our particular megalomaniac.

Any takers?

What is it about learning?

What is it about Learning?

I guess it is obvious ... I mean people that love to read, love to learn.  Right?

Sanderson creates a simple game in the Rithmatist.  The rules are very general, who knows what the game is really all about, but immediately we want to learn more.  It's the Hogwarts' Effect or really any wizarding book that we wonder, "How does the magic work?"

It creates mystery.

"Maybe I can learn how to do this?" we think.

"Is there a guide?"

"Some way that I could do this ..."

Wow, we are funny creatures.  Not only do us readers choose to leave reality pretty often and get lost in a good book, but we want to learn the rules of those worlds.  We want to know how they work. 

Maybe this is because our on world works in such a ... to be blunt ... awful way.  I mean how many of our Senators can be paid off by big business? Do we really think that a certain class, race, or sex is superior? I mean how could we even get to that point.  

It's like a priest in the Middle Ages condemning a woman for witchcraft.  Or some ancient civilization sacrificing a virgin to appease the gods.  

We look for justice.  We look for balance and good.  If a character dedicates themselves to learning, than they should become a master and the story should give us faith that the universe responds justly and according to rules that will stand the test of time.

Just a puzzle.  That was all Sanderson presented, but curiosity was stirred.  And though this is one of his lesser novels in this fan's opinion, he still got me.  A nine pointed circle ... wow ... whatever ever could that mean?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"But you were dead."

"Death can not stop true love.  All it can do is delay it a while."

One of my biggest pet peeve's with writing these days is the overuse of character death in order for us to supposedly feel more deeply for a situation, character, or the novel as a whole.  On the other hand, one of my favorite ability of authors is to seamlessly bring a character back from the great beyond.

Death certainly brings powerful emotions into play.  





All of these things surround death and can pull characters and readers in a myriad of directions.  Authors can therefore use it purposely to create all of these situations.  We have school shootings that bring about sympathy and regret at thoughts of wasted lives and what ifs.  Deaths of young people with egregious diseases brings frustration at our inability to fight these monsters.  But how and why should death be used?

I find that if I only care for a character because they have died that the author has been unscuccessful.  Using death successfully means I need to care enough for a character or story that I believe without that character the story will lose its way.  I stopped reading The Fellowship of the Ring in seventh grade because Gandalf died and without Gandalf my seventh grade mind was simply not interested.  I probably would have stopped reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan dies, but it was being read to me, so luckily I was able to see his rebirth.  I was able to get through Rowling's deaths simply because I needed to see the septet through to its finish.  But she walks a razor's edge here with all that fail to make it to the end of both Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.

I guess authors may believe we care for characters before they kill them off, but my cynicism tells me this is not true most of the time.  Death comes to so many because the author is hoping to up the adrenaline and tear jerking hormones in our veins.  

That being said, Sanderson successfully bridges life and death with his character Firefight.  He created a pathway back from death because the story would fall apart without that character.  They were too vital to the story.  Too integrated into the fabric to be removed.  What a triumph! I love it when this happens.  I love it when as a reader I know the character isn't going to stay dead.  I love it when you read on through sheer force of will because you know there is a twist that is coming that will change all that has come before.  

These characters move mountains.  They change stories because they are the story.  They are the heroes.  They have looked death in the eyes and not faltered.  They are just too strong to be removed from the world in which they live.

Wonderful writing Brandon Sanderson! I had stopped reading Robert Jordan's story because I thought that the death of Mr. Jordan created the biggest cliffhanger in many a year, but Sanderson's masterful style needs to be explored in those last novels of the Dragon Reborn series.  

I guess Sanderson has a knack for picking up characters or entire stories that we though might be dead.

Thank you for your mastery!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I read an early review of this that called it a utopian novel.  I have been completely saturated by all the dystopians and haven't been able to read one for a couple months, but a utopian gave me pause and I decided what the heck.  And I am very grateful that I did!

I thought the writing was brilliant at times, but it was the idea that really brought me around.  I understand the value of dystopian novels, find a flaw in our society and highlight it, so that we can recognize that it exists and hopefully begin the discussion about how to make it better.  The problem is, I don't think we always get to the 'how-do-we-make-it-better' discussion.  And then we are left with readers empathizing with characters in terrible situations.  While this empathy has value, we as a society need to spend more time on constructive plans to make things better.  

We need to develop visions of our future, so that it is better than the world we inherited.  Maybe this is why our government can't move forward with anything.  They certainly know what is wrong, but nobody can figure out how to make it better.  This is about how we think.  It is easy to see the problems.  The football faithful call this 'armchair' quarterbacking.  The rest of us use the 20-20 hindsight phrase.  As a people we can critique with the best of them.

"You should of done this!"

"Why didn't you try that!"

I mean really.  We are willing to tear decisions people make apart.  Our talk shows allow us to focus on a decision someone made and then more often than not we begin our witch hunt.  I know people make stupid decisions, and I am by no means exonerating all of the bonehead decisions, there is a reason I like the 'Darwin Awards'.  But, give me a break! Like you could of dropped a robot on the surface of Mars that can do geological surveys.  We do impressive stuff as well.  Amazing stuff!

I think it is that forever entrenched news argument, that the news people still don't get.  That is, why not report good news.  News that makes us wonder what could be.  What world we could live in if we work hard to get to that understanding.  A world of utopias, not dystopias.  A world where bad ideas are accepted as unfortunate mistakes that we correct as quickly as possible and move forward.

This is somewhat idealistic.  I mean look at Fukushima.  But let's start with small things, like the bad pass your quarterback made or the wrong turn your friend made to get to the park.  People, for the most part, believe they are making good decisions.  Utopias shed the same light on society's problem, just in a more positive way.  In a utopian novel, the problems with our society have been solved, so they can be looked at in a different way.  A way in which there is a path that could lead to a solution.  

That is what we are after.  A solution.  That is why we spend so much time in school.  We are learning that it is a solution we are after, not simply highlighting what is wrong.

Great stuff Janet Edwards!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The dystopian nature of Charbonneau's writing might make you glance over the poignant theme as you sink your teeth into the more meaty aspects ... crumbling society, small town love in the face of everything, and can the world be saved.

But it is the title of the first and second novel that lead me to believe we are dealing with a writer who has pondered education and what education should and should not be about.  And that was what I ended up paying attention to and why I made this book a Community Book Discussion book at our high school.  

How high stakes have we become in our methods to find the best of the best of the best?  Because it is definitely true that only people who know how to find the curvature of a certain line should become doctors or ... excuse me.  When did we leave, "Plays nice with others" behind for these more cognitive skills.  There needs to be a balanced caring human being behind the engineer.  Why exactly did we think that playing nice with others wasn't a baseline skill that all people should have.  Lawyers that can create rules for all people need to be understanding, compassionate people.  They might not understand homosexuality or be part of a minority, but they better be able to listen to folks that belong to those groups. Whether they believe in homosexuality or not, they should at least be able to listen to someone who is trying to communicate to them that homosexuality isn't a disease or a choice or whatever other crazy notion the Defense of Marriage Act people believe.  How can you make a law when you don't understand the people whose lives would be changed by the law?

It's not that I don't like school.  I was a kid that loved all the testing because I did really well on them.  But testing with the goal of finding the best of the best is wrong.  Testing should be designed to make all students achieve more and become more of the person they want to become.  Students should try to do their personal best.  Not some state accepted 'best'.  And certainly not the 'best' that asks a student to believe their best is acceptable at the cost of their classmates happiness, let alone their classmates' lives.   

Empathy is a trait that many have left behind through the trials and tribulations of our high testing society.  Charbonneau makes that loud and clear.  Independent Study is the title of the second in the series.  It's not a flashy title, but I like that she thinks this is where education should be headed.  My favorite teacher in my life was my fifth grade teacher who was all about independent study.  Self directed learning makes a lot of sense.  I am anxious to find out what the title of the third in the series is and where she hopes to push those who are listening to her narrative on education.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This has been recommended by many teens across the country.  I hadn't read any of the recs, so I was surprised to find that it was a thriller with a science fiction setting.  While the story was fine, definitely a European style of storytelling, I was disappointed.  I thought science fiction might have fiinally landed with the current generation of teens and to find out that science was just the stage, well, I am still waiting for science fiction to make a big splash.  

Harstad certainly had the right storyline to interest teens.  So, I wonder if he had told it a different way would it have been popular? He could have explored deeper characters each with a love of science in some way.  Instead he just killed off characters and created suspense.  

What is the science fiction that will capture this generation the way space travel and robots dragged the minds of so many in the 1970s?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Upside Down and Turned Around

I am having trouble believing Benioff's book, City of Thieves.  In the first forty pages his main character, who has just been arrested by the Soviet military police, begins daydreaming about the girl he sees while being interrogated by a Soviet general.  Call me crazy, but I think your mind would be in a different place in this scenario.  

That being said, I love books that don't add up.  I mean take Narnia for instance.  When Peter challenges Miraz in Prince Caspian we all believe completely that he will be victorious.  So why not have a young man who has been caught stealing from a dead German soldier be allowed to focus on a girl instead of the cold, the hunger, or the pain that he is in.  

The sanctity of the Holocaust.  

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas goes as far as you can without being offensive.  I guess when you are doing historical fiction you really should remember how painful the time you are talking about is.  If Narnia had seen the deaths of thousands of unicorns and talking horses over one brief period where Miraz had reigned, well than that might be off limits as well.  

I don't know.  These stories do provide hope.  That is what it is all about.  Hope in the face of brutality. It is a delicate balance.  What can we think without being disrespectful? And why not add a little hope to a bleak story.  Maybe, somebody did get to have a piece of cake during the Reign of Terror.  Maybe someone did get to meet a beautiful young girl.  It is certainly a slippery slope.  Thanks for that perspective Benioff, reading the truth is a little too painful.  

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is truth.  It is cold and the prisoners are hungry.  And those two things follow the prisoners every day of there ten or twenty-five year sentences.  They count the days.  Every slow day.  Every slow minute while the cold bites into you and hunger gnaws at your stomach and sanity.  

Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops - at all

-Emily Dickinson

Sometimes flying far above the awful truth is the only way to hear it.