Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Themes" do not make your book great literature

When I was on the plane from Israel, I watched the movie, In Time. For those of you who don't know, the movie is about a world where time is currency, and where there is a huge gap between the rich (who live for thousands of years) and the poor (who are lucky if they manage to live beyond their mid-twenties.) While I didn't have the highest expectations for this movie, it had an interesting premise, and I figured that it would at least give me an hour or two of light entertainment.

And, well... I guess it's a good thing I kept my expectations low. While it tried to disguise itself as an original story, the movie itself was about as cliche as you could get. Sure, the movie had big "themes," but these served as nothing more than an excuse for the plot to go from Point A to Point B. Let's start with the theme of "the rich oppress the poor." Yes, the rich did oppress the poor. This means that the rich are inherently evil, which gives the protagonist an excuse to pick up a gun and fight them. And as for the "just because you live a long time, doesn't mean you're really 'alive'" theme? Makes sense, but it's too bad that Hollywood's definition of "living life to the fullest" involves little more than fast cars and sex.

Then there's a hundred other problems. The protagonist's perspective seemed, well, too current. Also, why is a man with a Hispanic last name like "Salas" played by Justin Timberlake? And if this character spent his whole life living in the ghetto, how did he learn to drive a car? Also, they keep on mentioning the protagonist's father as if he were somehow important, but we never actually learn anything about him. And the love interest? She's your typical dissatisfied princess: "1. I am rich and pretty, but my life is so boooring and I want something more. 2. Gets dragged into the hero's mission and then turns into a helpless little whiner. 3. Realizes the hero is Teh Hawtness and joins his cause, finding several excuses to make out with him in the process."

This movie is the perfect examples of how great themes are not sufficient for great story-telling. So to all those people who point to the "themes" in Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games and insist that these books must be taught in schools (and especially to authors like Terry Goodkind, a man who throws a hissy fit every time you refer to his books as "fantasy"): You're not looking deep enough. Every book has themes. And every movie, with the possible exception of most pornography, has themes.

But great literature is about more than just themes. Listening to Richard Rahl preach about objectivism isn't any more of an artistic experience than watching Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried run around looking bad-ass. No, great literature is about using the medium--the written word--to it's ultimate potential. It's about careful word choice and experimentation. It's about originality.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The New Adult Project: "Wanderlove," by Kirsten Hubbard (AKA, long, heartfelt post about Yael's travel experiences)

Goodreads Summary:

It all begins with a stupid question:

Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

Kirsten Hubbard lends her artistry to this ultimate backpacker novel, weaving her drawings into the text. Her career as a travel writer and her experiences as a real-life vagabond backpacking Central America are deeply seeded in this inspiring story.


I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of this book from Goodreads (thanks, Kirsten!), and although I finished it weeks ago, I have been procrastinating on writing this review. I could, of course, blame it on busy-ness, but that would only be half-true. The real reason for the delay is that I wasn't sure how I felt about this book.

I knew it was a good book of course. Kirsten Hubbard uses real details to paint a picture of all the places Bria visits, the characters are well-developed, and I never once questioned the romance. But there was something about the Wanderlove that bothered me. And it took me a while to realize what that was.

I don't like Bria.

The main focus of this book is Bria's journey to become more worldly, more spontaneous, and more independent. While she certainly grows and develops into that person, it's very difficult for me to forgive her previous incarnation: she's naive, insecure, and far, far too dependent. She starts off dependent on her (ex-) boyfriend, who belittles her as an artist, disrespects her as a person, and obviously sees her as nothing more than someone who can fawn over him. She wants to break away from that identity, but doesn't know how, so she seeks out a three-week guided tour that will help her evolve into a "global vagabond" -- and very quickly learns that this isn't the solution. But even the boldness of her decision to break away from the group is only a partial step towards independence; she remains dependent on the guidance of Starling and Rowan, and it isn't until the very end of the trip that she finally makes real decisions for herself.

I'm not saying that I spent the entire book scoffing at Bria. The opposite actually--I related to her. Far too well. And that's exactly what made me uncomfortable.

Warning: tl;dr ahead (Sorry, but I there's no way I can discuss my feelings about this book without bringing in my own travel experiences.)

[Short version: Travel. Introspection. Study Abroad. Personal insecurities. Also, go read Wanderlove.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Confession

Dear Internet,

You are destroying my life.

Let me rephrase that: I'm letting you destroy my life.

And you know what? I'm not okay with that. And I think it's about time we got our relationship back under control.



I know I'm not alone in saying that I spend far too much time online, but in the last year, it's become less of an avenue for pointless entertainment and more of a compulsion. On Sunday night, I spent hours clicking from page to page, growing progressively more tired and bored with myself. I wasn't entertained, I wasn't interested in most of what I was reading, but I kept clicking around in the hopes that that would change.

It didn't.

The internet used to be a place where I could express myself, an easy way to socialize, and of course, the source of epic snark and elusive nuggets of writing advice. But alas, over the last few months, I've realized that discussions and "advice" posts are growing more and more repetitive, that half the blogs I've subscribed to don't even interest me, and that I don't even have the focus to express myself on my own blog most of the time. Moreover, I waste hours that I could spend reading or writing or actually doing RL stuff.

It's not that I need to stay off the internet. It's that I need to get my internet life under control.

1. I will not spend hours on the internet unless I am actually doing something I want to do, like blogging, or watching Buffy, or engaging in an actual discussion. I will not waste my time "fishing for entertainment."

2. While the number of blogs I've subscribed to is not overwhelming, it's high enough that some of the blogs I can't distinguish from all the others. As of the end of this week, I will identify all of those blogs I don't care about and unsuscribe from them.

3. My new priorities, in order: 1. lab, 2. Princeton Review, 3. family, 4. friends and/or activities, 5. bills, chores, errands, etc., 6. medical school applications (this will pop up to #1 or #2 in June), 7. reading/writing. The internet is below all of these.

4. I will update this blog at least twice a week. This includes reviewing all books within two weeks of finishing them.

5. I hate Twitter. I hate the format. I hate having to scroll through hundreds of posts that are completely meaningless to me just to find one that's interesting. That's not saying I won't use it, but I won't log on to Twitter expecting to actually have a conversation.

6. I will not turn on the computer when I'm at home unless I have a particular activity in mind. Home is where the internet binges happen. Instead, I will spend more time in cafes when I need to get stuff done.


I don't mean offense to any of you guys, since I like some of you a lot, but over the last year, I have developed a serious addiction to the internet, and now that I have real responsibilities, I can't afford to continue like this. I promise to keep reading and commenting on the blog posts of people I like, but at this stage, I can't make social networking a priority.

With that said, there are a lot of posts I mean to catch up on, (including an Israel post and my long-overdue review of Wanderlove), and I will get to them. Just not today, since I have to teach a class in an hour.

Also, a request? Can at least one of you comment on this post? (Yes, I do realize the irony of this request.) Blogger made some changes, so I want to test the comment system. (It doesn't have to be a real comment. "ajsdsafdasd" is fine. Just no Viagra ads, please.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Back from Israel

Hi everyone! I got back from Israel on Friday.

My brother's house is currently undergoing a series of home repairs, meaning that I will spend the next week in a friend's dorm room. Unfortunately, the concept of "WiFi" doesn't exist in Newark, so you probably won't hear much from me in the next week.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Out of the Country

I will be visiting family in Israel between today and April 13, so you probably won't hear from me for awhile.

I'll come back with pictures...umm, hopefully. (Hopefully on the pictures, not on the coming back. Although I do intend to make it back alive.)
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