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Title: Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Notes: Book 1/50

With a New Year’s Resolution to become a better writer and to read 50 books again (third time’s the charm, right? Or is this the fourth time I’ve tried this?) it seems the time is ripe to start writing in the blog again. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Review: Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan, Neverland, and the Lost Boys. Peter Pan never wants to grow up, and Wendy, Michael, and John fly away with him to the land of mermaids and pirates and Captain Hook. Disney made it this cute fairy tale, but the real book is so much more.

First of all, maybe kids were made of sterner stuff when this was written, but this is not the watered-down Disney classic. When the lost boys get too old, Peter “thins them out.” And that’s the only reference to that ominous fact! What do you mean he “thins them out?” like….Peter kills the lost boys? Why do they age and he doesn’t? TELL ME, JM BARRIE! TELL. ME.

The story of Peter Pan is so much deeper, so much more than I expected. It is the story of childhood innocence and ruthlessness. How children crave growing up (most of them) but have this paralyzing fear of turning into something else. So they want to stop time, run away, and just live as children forever because at least they know who they are as children. Peter Pan and the Lost Boys kill pirates (seriously, they kill the pirates), save Tiger Lily from drowning, and face off against the Native Americans. But growing up? That’s really scary.

Peter Pan, as a character, is insufferable. He has the unbearable cockiness, selfishness, and single-mindedness that I’m sure is common in children. I made me want to punch him in the face. He constantly forgets who Wendy is, even though he taught her how to fly and brought her to Neverland. He thinks it’s hilarious to let the boys (John and Michael) fly to exhaustion because when they fall asleep, they drop like a stone and he has to save them at the very last moment. Everything is a game to him – nothing matters. Nothing that is, except a mother. Even  though Peter never wants to grow up, he wants a mother more than anything.

And that’s why he convinces Wendy to come to Neverland. He wants her to be his mother and tell him stories and tuck him in at night. They have this weirdly grown up relationship of a pretend mother and son, but it also has a strange undercurrent of sexual tension. She makes him take his medicine (it’s just water that she doles out with a dropper), tells stories, holds him at night when he has nightmares, but fights with Tinkerbelle over who gets to be the woman in Peter’s life. 

Eventually, (like MONTHS later) it’s time to go home and face growing up. She convinces all of the boys but Peter to come home with her and grow up. But, again (weird) Peter comes back every year if he remembers for take Wendy away for Spring Cleaning. And when Wendy gets too old, her daughter goes, and then her granddaughter goes, and on and on and on. I would never let my daughter fly away with Peter Pan. He’s obviously crazy, the pirates will actually kill you, and Tinkerbelle is a murderous bitch. Are you kidding me, Wendy?!

Bottom Line: Growing up is complicated and scary, but time marches on. There is something magical about being a child and believing in something so much that it becomes real, down to the lagoons filled with mermaids. But like everything, nothing is perfect. The mermaids try and drown you. The lagoon becomes a dangerous place at night. And the island is full of creatures that can kill you. On the flip side, growing up isn’t all bad. Sure, you lose the ability to fly and the expansive imagination of a child, but….you get bills? A job? And…wait, can I just take the flying part? 

ImageGenre: Future Dystopia (Is that all you read, Patsy? PRETTY MUCH)
Notes: Book 2/50
Review: This shit is crazy, yo. It is like the Handmaid’s Tale meets the 22nd century. This novel follows a Red. What is a Red, you ask? Let me explain. Future America has decided that prisons and housing inmates costs too much for their ballooning budget. (True. I think we spend more on prisons than schools). In an innovative and novel stroke of genius they decided to chrome (aka dye the skin of) criminals based on their class of crime and release them back into the general population to be basically shunned and harassed and beat up until their sentence has been served. Hannah is a Red. And Red is for murder.
The really freaky/futuristic part of the book isn’t really about the chroming (but chroming is definitely the most interesting) is the fact that Hannah is convicted of murder for having an abortion. Some of the more fundamental Christian state (like most of the South, Texas, and the Midwest/West) has enacted a series of Sanctity of Life laws, much like quite a few of the laws that have been kicked around in Mississippi and even Virginia. These laws decree that abortions are not only illegal, but they are murder. A fetus is a person and has all the rights and liberties of a person.
Hannah comes from a very religious, very Christian, very conservative background. Her parents have taught her that a woman is only meant to be a helpmeet to a man. Men are the unequivocal heads of households and women basically tend to the home and raise babies. So when Hannah starts and affair with her pastor, Aidan Dale, she really has no where to turn when the affair leads to her pregnancy. She would completely destroy Aidan Dale’s life if she told it was he who fathered her child and she would be held in contempt of the court until she revealed the father’s name. She elects to have an abortion and is subsequently caught and sentenced for murder.
While I enjoy the general premise of this book, it really isn’t that original. Other than the chroming, this story has been told before. Definitely taking one star off for lack of originality. However, the chroming is intensely original. Geneticists inject a virus into a criminals body thay dyes their skin a color. The color cannot wash off or be cut off or whatever else you would think to do to it. The only downside is that the virus doesn’t last forever. It only lasts a few months and requires regular injections throughout a person’s sentence. To ensure that chromes come back for their injections, they also implant a different virus that has a delayed release. When a person is overdue for a new injection, the virus causes hallucinations, a whole host of other things, and eventually death. No one can outlast the virus. People have tried. Everyone has failed.
I am also tired of reading books completely slamming religion. I feel that it is too easy. Yes, of course religion can cause a lot of problems and contradictions and oppress people. But I’m tired of reading about religion being like this evil force and only when people get out and experience the world can they truly see that their religious lives were lacking. Hannah struggles with her faith after being ostracized by her family and sees the double standards she was subjected to in her family. (i.e. it was a woman’s responsibility to remain modest and not inflame the passions of men) There are a few brief glimpses of tolerant religion, but the author didn’t explore that deeply enough. Religion and faith are complex and vary from person to person and I wish she had explored Hannah’s feelings further.
Bottom Line: This story has been told before, but it’s really interesting if you like these kind of books. The transformation of Hannah from a shy, sheltered church girl to a ragingly confident woman is particularly intriguing. It’s worth the read!

mindy kalingGenre: Nonfiction, Humor, Essays

Notes: Book 1/50.  I want to hang out with Mindy Kaling

Review: Mindy Kaling is adorable in an “I’m a (mostly) respectful daughter of Indian immigrant parents, I don’t do drugs and didn’t drink in high school, and come from a place that any awkward girl can identify.” In case you don’t know who Kaling is, she is a writer on The Office and also plays Kelly Kapoor in the show. She also writes and stars in her own show The Mindy Project. Mindy seems so refreshingly real and a welcome break from more generic celebrities who fit the mold of what America finds desirable and attractive. As sad as it is, most women who are hilariously funny find themselves behind the camera more often than in front of it if they don’t fit the standard of American beauty. You know, size 2, petite, pretty face, etc. I mean, Tina Fey had to lose like 30 pounds before she could get on television (even though Liz Lemon on 30 Rock fantasizes about food and eats like shit and should NOT be as skinny as she is, but that’s a rant for another day), but Mindy somehow snuck her way onto television without us taking a ton of notice or shouting “Hey! She’s breaking those norms!” I mean, really, she’s a pretty woman who probably fits the average American woman’s body. She’s a size 8. I’m a size 8. But compared to the twiglets in Hollywood, she probably feels like a bloated whale who is always stuck in a navy blue dress. (Which is apparently the color they dress anyone over a size 4 in because someone decided it was flattering)

This book isn’t Bossypants, but it’s a fun, quick read about someone who has been wildly successful in Hollywood as a writer and actress. Kaling makes you feel like anything is possible as long as you just keep at it. The way Kaling tells it, it took one super successful entry into the International Fringe Festival to get her noticed and get a spot as one of the writers on The Office. She embodies the American Dream because he parents immigrated from India to give their children a better life here and what immigrant parents doesn’t harbor the desire that their child will become a star in America? (Or a doctor or lawyer more likely) She provides an interesting narrative on what it means to grow up Indian in America and not quite fit into the WASP-y American ideal as a child. (The school pictures she includes in the book are priceless). However, I think Kaling barely skims the surface on what could be a deeper discussion about the lack of diversity in Hollywood or not fitting into the standard body in Hollywood. It’s not my book (obviously), and I’m sure Kaling skirted around those topics for a reason.

Bottom Line: This book is cute, funny, and light. It takes all of a day or so to read so if you’re looking for something to read on a plane or on a lazy Sunday, this is the book for you.

Happy 2013! I’ve been horribly neglectful of this blog through a series of circumstances, laziness, and a lack of new books to read. But a new year equals a new reading challenge and equals new posts! I got a new job in Maryland and left the beautiful, warm, beachy Charleston for Maryland -__- My new job frowns on me updating my blog at work, which is why there have been a curious lack of posts since October. My creative juices flow best at work, what can I say? Also, my computer at home is a piece of shit that I just need to dump at the Apple store to wipe everything clean off of the hard drive and start over.

For those of you who don’t know, for the last 3 years, I have issued myself a reading challenge. I challenge myself to read 50 books in the course of the year. I started a blog because I thought it would keep me honest while allowing me to write on a more consistent basis. The rules:

  1. Books have to be new books (not new in the sense they are new releases, but new to me). I am a notorious re-reader which screws with my count
  2. All books must be completed by December 31, 2013
  3. For the book to count, there must be a blog post associated with it

The problem? I don’t know what to read! I’m looking for recommendations/suggestions or questions. I like literary fiction (please don’t suggest I read anything along the lines of Fifty Shades of Gray), fantasy, epics (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), and humor. Actually, I like almost anything except Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight. I like my literature to have gone through some sort of editing process, sorry I’m not sorry.

So here’s to a 50 book 2013! Maybe this is the year I’ll actually finish this challenge! ..Maybe. At least I didn’t give up fried foods or bread or other ridiculous things like a few people I saw on Facebook.

Proof you can find anything on google. "Deep fried books." I accidentally typed deep fried boobs. Not safe for work.

Proof you can find anything on google. “Deep fried books.” I accidentally typed deep fried boobs at first. Not safe for work.

 

Genre: Fiction, Intrigue, Eclectic Bookstores

Notes: 26/50 Books. This is totally a book for bibliophiles.

Review: I can’t gush over this book enough.  It combines secret societies, mystery, and old dusty bookstores into one hell of a book. People who don’t love books like I do might not understand this, but books are magical.  Sloan understands the magic of books and the secret to immortality locked away in novels (not too much of a spoiler, go cry about it.)

Basically, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hr bookstore operates in San Francisco and stays open around the clock.  (What bookstore stays open 24/7? I must find one!  Although it would probably be a front for a drug or prostitution ring.) Our protagonist, Clay Jannon, works in this interesting bookstore but finds it rather odd that Mr. Penumbra doesn’t stock almost any normal books.  He stocks almost exclusively stocks books in code. Which an assortment of weird people dash into the store in varying states of disarray to buy. You see, these “believers” if you will, believe that the secret to immortality lies within the code if they can only crack it. Not like, I will write a book and live forever Shakespeare immortality, but for real I will never die immortality.  They’re a strange but mostly likeable bunch.

The true coolness of the story (that might make it feel dated in ten years unfortunately) is the marriage of old technology (books) with new technology (Google).  The union of the two different technologies shows how much literature, knowledge, and the way people receive it has changed. Technology and computers and kindle don’t replace literature, but work with it.  In the novel, Google employs their best cryptographers to crack the code in Mr. Penumbra’s books.  It remains elusive.  When I read that, it made me happy because it seemed like too much of an easy answer.  I mean, here are these people devoting their lives to cracking this code and learning as much as possible and for a computer to crack it in an afternoon is almost sacrilege. It felt to me like computers are only worth the person controlling them, they are only a tool. When I say this is a book for bibliophiles, I don’t mean people who have a stick up their butt and won’t even consider any other mediums for literature (Audiobooks, e-books, etc).  I mean people who simply enjoy the written word and a good turn of phrase.  I mean people who want to read every book in the world and dive into a novel and never come up for air.  I mean the people who’ve dreamed about escaping to Hogwarts or Narnia or the Shire. Sloan utilizes every literature medium in his story and paints a more optimistic picture for the future of books and bookstores because there will always be people searching for knowledge and the meaning of life between their pages.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.” – Robin Sloan

Bottom Line: Definitely worth the read!  One of the most interesting, best, and clever books I’ve read this year. It’s the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Notes: Book 24/50 North Korea is..interesting.

Review: I prepared myself for the book to disappoint me.  It has been hyped over the last year and every book club in America has probably read it.  (Mine is too)  But I am happy to say that Johnson did not disappoint!  I’ve never read a book set in North Korea, probably because the entire country cloaks itself in secrecy and mystery. We hear stories about work camps, starvation, and (when Kim Jong Il died recently) the adoration for their Dear Leader and his distinct pompadour.

While writing and researching this novel, Johnson actually received the opportunity to travel to Pyonyang and see North Korea for himself, which lends an air of authenticity to the narrative.  I’m sure he only heard the approved version of North Korean history and saw only approved sites but nevertheless, he stepped foot in North Korea.

This novel follows an orhpan who isn’t really an orphan named Pak Jun Do. He never knew his mother and grew up in an orphanage as his father was the orhpan master.  Consequently, he is mistaken for an orphan for the rest of his life and gets assigned to terrible duties like tunnel digging in the DMZ and kidnapping unsuspecting Japanese and South Koreans at night.  Pak’s life is ridiculous.  I mean, the trajectory his life takes from a simple misunderstanding of mistaken identity by American diplomats creates what is essentially a suspense thriller.  This novel isn’t just about North Korea and how insane and unpredictable of a place it can be, but how people can cope under extreme circumstances. It helps break the sort of cookie-cutter mold of poor people winning their circumstances and breaking free by offering a less than perfect protagonist.  Pak Jun Do kills people.  He sometimes operates under questionable morals and could probably be best categorized as opportunistic rather than an all around good guy.

Probably the best part of the book is how the communist government broadcasts Pak’s story in one chapter while in the next, we get Pak’s version.  The difference between the two is striking and helps readers understand how difficult truth is to come by in this regime. Plus, again, it offers that air of authenticity from Johnson’s painstaking research and visits to North Korea.  It feels real.

Bottom Line: The book is totally worth the hype! There are slightly graphic torture scenes which might turn some people off, but it’s the offhand way some truly awful things are mentioned that reall stuck with me after reading this book. Also, after reading this novel, I’m glad Kim Jong Il is dead.