damn good job

A word or two about the books I’ve read on my winter break and on why my mom told me that I have a good literary taste.

This is an actual real footage of my reaction to her words.

John Green, Paper Towns

Let’s make it clear, I’ve began my break with a very clear and ambitious plan & reading list and everything burnt into ashes with the moment I remembered that I always wanted to read Paper Towns. I was very surprised, in a positive way, when I saw this book in my local supermarket. Maybe the most surprising was the fact that I haven’t found the translated version in common bookstores that I go to, and yet the book was there in the shop, lying on a pile with all the literature on sale. Still, I haven’t had any spare money that day, so I quickly forgot about this title, until it struck me again on a winter morning.

Frankly speaking, I have no idea what I expected, since TFIOS broke my heart into thousand of little pieces. Paper Towns in comparison, is like a sweet return to the high school days, even though, my own experience is quite far from being a teenage boy with an extraordinary friend, who is frequently on the run from home. This is the thing I especially enjoy about YA under the pen of John Green: I clearly have no idea about the male perspective of teenagehood, but it didn’t stand as an obstacle at all while reading this novel.

I especially enjoyed the fact that whatever is in the current focus of the story, whether it’s a mystery of Margo’s disappearance or the struggles and surprises of finishing school, not a single character is left behind. From Quentin’s closest friends to his school peers and teachers – everyone has their own place and unique voice. And if what I’m saying here may sound to you, like coming from a mouth  of a Green’s writing first-time reader, which surely I am not, I guess it’s even better for the book.

About the characters, I am totally in love with Q’s parents. They are just so parentish. Even though they have such a wide professional knowledge of human behavior, they find themselves surprised by teenagers’ ideas and also make one sighting “Omg…”, like this pair was their own mom and dad (especially with their big gift for high school graduation). They are just flawless, brilliant, very loveable and clearly not-paper.

The whole idea of paper towns is being immersed into the novel in such a subtle way. I mean, even with the Margo’s so directly claiming that her hometown is very paper,  and with unwinding the mystery of what the paper towns really are. The reader can truly feel the problem and discomfort of being trapped in a society full of false delusions about themselves and the reality. Even Margo, after all, for me, turned out to be a little less romantic than Quentin’s idea of her.  All in all, while reading the book I started wondering am I not, myself, trapped in such a paper imagination of the society I’m living in, for my own fault.

Also, a big plus for including Whitman in the story. I couldn’t be more confused when I was learning about his poetry in college, but the book made me see him and his literature a little bit more clear. I am not talking only about the “Song of myself”, which is left by Margo and which Quentin tried to reread in every way possible, searching for clues,  but the whole idea of an everyman and damn Leaves of Grass, which stood for such a mystery of my 2nd year of literature course FINALLY got understandable! Woah!

And the last, but not least, fairly the best thing about this book – even though it’s a YA novel, and in my country, YA is still fairly associated with books written only for teenagers, especially teenage girls, it was fun to read as well for me as for my mom. Beginning the winter break she told me she wanted to read some very poor fantasy series, which, confronted with my highly negative opinion about the frequent use of “no.1” and “no.2” metaphors within a book, turned out to be a bad idea. Therefore I suggested her to read Paper Towns and after maybe an hour or so I found her completely dragged within the story, amused and telling my family that her daughter has such a good literary taste. Probably she claims so because I usually find some nice books for her, but, heck yeah, even my dad was positively surprised.

Sometimes I feel like my family forgot that I used to study English.

Piper Kerman, Orange Is The New Black

I really wanted to give this book to my mom to read too, but the most of my closest family members can not read in English, so I was searching for an edition in our mother tongue and it turned out to be the weirdest title twist I came across so far. I don’t say that the original title is so easily translated into every single language, but I am pretty sure it is not impossible, so why translating it into “Girls From Danbury”? As far as I remember, the book has a subtitle (or was it the second part of the title), “My Year in Womens’ Prison” – still nothing about Danbury. Though, let’s leave the title confusion for a moment, since it wasn’t the most surprising part of an adventure with this book.

The best thing is, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve already watched the tv series produced by Netflix, or you are still not sure about it. You can still enjoy the two because they are not that much alike, as one may expect. The strongest distinctive feature of the series is, in my opinion, a vibrant fate put upon Piper’s head that whatever she does it never gets much better for her. In book, frightened by the previous watched series, I was terribly scared for the main heroine to get hurt or really deep in da shit, but it turns out the prison in the book and the fellow prisoners themselves are far from scary or crazy. Ok, maybe they are quite unique but they are not at all as scary as in the series, what brings me to the following conclusion: THOR BLESS THE AUTHOR AND THE SCENARIO WRITERS EQUALLY because they did a DAMN GOOD JOB. ALL OF THEM. Each piece is a nail-eater in its own incredible way, even though they basically tell the same story, how cool is that?!

It’s one of those  one in a million situations that definitely needed the use of Caps Lock.

I would be a terrible liar by denying the fact that while reading I was constantly searching for the characters I already knew from the series. However, I must have broken free out of that thinking as soon as I accepted that what I was reading was a memoir. Damn, in contrast to the series, this story really happened!  This woman has really been to prison and she was not the only person who was sentenced, arriving at the prison door ultimately confused and terrified. I think the series is more about how we imagine the things to be there and, therefore, the book is more into how it is really there. Though, even the author herself said that what we tend to see, projected by the pop culture, is “extreme”. And that’s why I must agree with her opinion about prisons even more – I have no idea about my country’s prison politics situation, but clearly, if that’s the case with US, maybe it’s worth to reconsider the necessity of nonviolent offenders’s prison sentences. That’s why I shall finish this short thoughts’ gathering about the book with a quote from the author’s interview in Time:

That’s one of the reasons I would argue that it’s a questionable choice to spend such enormous amounts of money confining nonviolent offenders. If they could be more effectively supervised in their communities, rather than shipped off to prison, that could potentially save a lot of money for taxpayers without compromising public safety. And it’s potentially much more humane and less destructive to the community.

– Piper Kerman in Frances Romero’s “Behind the Bars: One Woman’s Year in Prison” (Time U.S., 2010)

Gottschall Jonathan, The Storytelling Animal – How Stories Make Us Human

As far as Orange is The New Black was my planned book for the break, I read  The Storytelling Animal mostly because my personal Will once said that she was looking through those books from the MOOC about writing we took earlier, and this one she found less dense with the tattle of evolutionists. Don’t mind me wrong – in this context it’s more about the literary evolutionism enthusiasts, but if you want to know more about what they are exactly crazy about, you should check this brief description here.

Whatever is the main “ghost” behind this book, I would not say it is much helpful in storytelling area. Of course, if you are interested in some theories about how does it happen that people tell stories and are attracted to them since childhood, you may find this title more than useful. However, beside some very informative and fun stories on what cats dream about and how do hormones affect our imagination, I haven’t found a relevant info.

Though, one may say, if you want a relevant info on creating stories, better read Encyclopedia Dramatica. That’s true, but as I remember, this title in the course appeared somewhere in the area of influential books, or those that are inspirational in some way. I don’t know, truly, I have not found this one inspirational, but I still claim it as a light and fun thing to read, if you are interested in telling stories and its origins.

The strongest point of this book is that, even though it’s more like a popular science reading, one can still read it like a good story. All the examples included, that illustrate exactly what does it mean to tell a good piece of story, are very colorful and tackle readers’ imagination while proceeding smoothly from one point to another. It is a great way to explain what is meant by the struggles of writers and I am foremost thankful to Gottschall for giving it a real shape. Therefore I claim it a nice book for beginning storytellers.

Though, whenever one read this book, doesn’t matter if claiming it only a pillow-reader,  a serious piece of theory or a newbies’ guide, they should always remember that the idea of stories is terribly more complicated. In fact, what I came up with after reading this title, was a very accurate but still only a surface of the whole problem. After all, I guess, with all the examples attached and the bliss of enthusiasm, the book is soaked in, it is a fair motivating checkpoint on a writing adventure.

That would be all about the books I’ve read on winter break. Don’t look at me like that. I had only a week of freedom!


2 thoughts on “damn good job

  1. Chociaż ogólnie z Gottschalla miałam lepsze wrażenia niż Ty, to muszę się zgodzić z tym, że książka teoretyczna z tego żadna. A wstęp miała jak typowa naukowa pozycja, więc w tym kontekście treść mnie trochę zdziwiła… ale podobało mi się właśnie to, że czytało się ją jak powieść. Ja bym ją polecała z tego względu, że pokazuje, jak zajebiste jest tworzenie historii – wiedza, jaki to pejn, przychodzi niestety sama 😛

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