Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beyond Her Years: The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Scribner, 2014

Five days after she graduated from Yale University magna cum laude with a job lined up at The New Yorker and a promising writing career ahead of her that had already won her numerous awards and accolades in college, 22 year old Marina Keegan was killed in a car accident. At the same time that her family and friends were mourning her loss, the world was being captivated by some of her final words. Her final essay for The Yale Daily News, "The Opposite of Loneliness," was going viral online, getting over 1 million hits in a matter of days.

It is the piece which lends its title to and kicks off this collection of stories and essays compiled by Keegan's family and former teachers. Some were written for classes in high school and college, others for the newspaper, but all act as windows into this bright young woman. In many ways, she was wise beyond her years, her works venturing into avenues and topics that I am now embarrassed to admit I scarcely thought about when I was 21 (and could/should dedicate more of my time to now at 26). Yet, she always sounds 21. A smart 21, a 21 with an impeccable vocabulary and earnest desire to paint the world in an honest light, the sort of honesty that is raw and unapologetic, occasionally tinted with rose-colored hues but only when the situation deserves it. The collection as a whole stands as a testament to this woman's potential which was already flourishing under the tutelage of some of the country's greatest professors and no doubt would have grown even stronger in time had she had more of it.

Of the nine fiction selections, most of them take on characters older than the writer herself and in a variety of situations. I was intrigued by the complications and two sides of relationships in "Cold Pastoral" and moved by the notions of love and family in "Hail, Full of Grace." Of the nine essays, "The Opposite of Loneliness" had me immediately contacting a friend of mine to declare "stop whatever you're doing right now. You have to read this." "Stability in Motion," an ode to her first car, brought back loving memories of my own first set of four wheels, the freedom, the portable home I'd made for myself. I also could empathize with her struggles in "Against the Grain," not in the sense of having Celiac disease (I don't), but in how she was both impressed and embarrassed by the lengths her mother would go to to protect her.

I highly recommend this collection to those looking to deviate from their usual reading selections. While perhaps not groundbreaking material, Keegan's style and voice is refreshing and full of possibility - something those of us who are lucky to still be here could do well to keep in mind in the days we still have.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

The Opposite of Loneliness Website

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Starr-Eyed, Becca First

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.

Story: Becca First
Author: Alex Flinn
Summary: Meghan desperately wants to be a better singer than Becca, but does she realize the price they both pay for the things they each think matters more?
Thoughts: This addition to the anthology is a sad, raw look at people who don't understand each other in a "the grass is always greener on the other side of the street" situation. I didn't have very strong feelings about either of these characters, however I was able to empathize with both of them to a degree and could understand each of their points of view.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Story Book Ending: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2014

Isla is the smartest person in her class, but feels like she only knows a few things for sure. One is that she has no idea what she wants to do with her future. The other is that she's had a hopeless crush on Josh Wasserstein for the last three years. Only after a chance encounter one summer night in Manhattan, maybe it's not so hopeless. When they return to Paris for their senior year in the fall, a romance blossoms faster than Isla ever could have hoped for, and falling in love is more wonderful and intense than she ever could have imagined. But the couple soon discovers that while their love comes easily, it also comes with challenges from their families, friends, and future plans. Will reality get in the way of Isla and Josh getting their happily ever after?

Where oh where to begin?! Stephanie Perkins delivers a heartfelt contemporary romance here that is a definite departure from her previous two books. While I live for the tension that comes with two characters coming together, this novel instead focuses on what happens next: the work of a relationship. For Isla and Josh, falling for each other is easy, but making things work is a whole other story. Perkins doesn't shy away from the challenges, instead she puts them front and center. School rules. Expectations from family and teachers. Wanting to spend all your time with that one special person, but needing to remember your friends who are just as important. It can be overwhelming, and sometimes Isla makes choices that made me cringe, but that's what growing up is all about. She's a girl with good intentions and a good head on her shoulders, so while she does make mistakes, she also learns from them, as does Josh.

Isla is a character I can see many readers identifying with. Applying to college undecided was something I have personal experience with and know how terrifying it can be. She has always played it safe, reading about adventures instead of having them herself. Josh makes her want to branch out, and yes, sometimes those risks end in disaster, but sometimes she also flies. One of my favorite things about Isla is her friendship with Kurt, her best friend since forever, and how they understand (and misunderstand) each other. The relationships with her sisters was also fantastic, especially that with little sister Hattie. Sure Isla is worried about how well does she really know Josh since they haven't really known each other that long, but she's known Hattie her entire life and finds that she doesn't know her so well, either.

And of course, there's Josh, the artist who tries to come off as indifferent and aloof, but is actually brilliant, talented, and cares far more than he ever lets on to most people. He and Isla at at their best when they are blunt and honest with each other (if not always with themselves). There's plenty to swoon about here, and I had butterflies more times than I can count while reading.

While each of Perkins's books can stand on their own, I do believe they work best if thought of as a series and read in order. Anna and the French Kiss starts things off, and I believe that Isla is most like a sequel to that one in that we meet Isla and Josh there, so you have a much stronger understanding of who they were before they were Isla-and-Josh. Timeline-wise, this novel is taking place at the same time as Lola and the Boy Next Door, but if you read this one first, there are major spoilers about the other two books.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I do have a few minor points to pick at. I absolutely loved the tension and build up especially in Anna but also present in Lola. Josh and Isla's relationship moves very fast in comparison. Part of me would have liked things to been a bit slower for the sake of wanting that build up but also just because I'm a "let's take things slow" kind of person. However, I know that for plenty of people, a relationship that jumps in full speed is realistic, perhaps more so than my notions.

All in all, I'm so sad that this collection is at an end, but I'm so happy that it's around. I know that I will enjoy rereading this whole set in the years to come. So thank you, Stephanie, for giving hopeless romantics and shy girls like me plenty of stories to fill our daydreams and making me believe that while my own happily ever after is taking his time showing up in my life, hopefully he's on his way.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Stephanie Perkins's website
Stephanie Perkins on Twitter
Stephanie Perkins on Tumblr

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Video Review - Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla is finally here, and let me tell you, she was worth the wait.

Short Story Saturday: Starry-Eyed, The Artful Dodger

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.

Story: The Artful Dodger
Author: Aimee Friedman
Summary: Ruthie's first summer at Camp Backstage is full of dramatics on stage and off.
Thoughts: A cute and heartbreaking read, but the ending felt abrupt and unresolved (which was clearly intentional, but it still didn't sit well with me). No particularly strong feelings on this quick story.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The World for Women Writers: A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Penguin, 2009 (this edition - original published in 1929)

During a recent trip to London, I was roaming the streets in need of reading material. My requirements were few: I wanted something by an English author and something small enough I could easily fit into my purse. I found just what I was looking for along with plenty of enlightenment in this edition of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

The short book is actually an essay, an expanded version of lectures Woolf gave at Cambridge University in 1928. In a stream of consciousness style that she became well known for, Woolf explores the challenges women writers were facing and famously states that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Though this text is nearly 90 years old, many of her arguments are still relevant today: the higher value put on the works of men than women, how women are expected to choose between a personal/home life and professional aspirations, how the working conditions women must endure are different from men's, and how the women of present are building themselves up on the shoulders of those who came before and while progress has been made, there is still much to be done.

I don't normally do so well with stream of consciousness texts as I find they have a tendency to be highly tangential, but this one kept me engaged. Perhaps because Woolf's writing here was not overly lyrical, I was able to follow along. It has been far too long since I've read anything like this. Not to say my usual world of YA lit doesn't make me think, but this made me think in ways I haven't since college. Like stretching muscles I'd forgotten about and neglected, this feminist and progressive essay has a feeling like it could have been written last year. There are so many fantastic quotes and nuggets of powerful thoughts in these pages, and I'm very interested in further exploring Woolf's greater body of work to see how she addresses many of the issues she raises here in her own fiction writing. I've never read anything else by her, and I am eager to change that.

If you are in the mood for something different, for something that challenges to conventions of its time as well as the present day, pick up A Room of One's Own. I'm so happy that I bought this because I can already tell this is the kind of book I can and will and should reread every few years, and that I'll no doubt get something new out of it with each reading.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Starry-Eyed, Stage Kiss

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.

Story: Stage Kiss
Author: Cynthia Hand
Summary: Jo, disheartened that at 16 she still hasn't kissed a guy, auditions for Much Ado About Nothing for a shot at a first kiss with Ryan Daughtry, only it's Eric Bradshaw she's been cast to lock lips with.
Thoughts: I LOVED this! A story that includes my favorite Shakespearean play and a solid John Green/Pizza John reference is amazing, but even without those things this was a fantastic piece. The honesty, chemistry, banter, everything. I definitely want to read more by this author and I desperately wish this were a full-length novel!