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Book Review: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, ph.d.

If 1 in every 25 Americans is a sociopath, as this book suggests, then there must be five sociopaths in my grade alone.  My friends and I have our suspicions, but it's probably best not to tell y'all until we've concluded our investigations.   
     In all seriousness, this book was fascinating.  I learned why sociopaths thrive in Western countries, and that there are different kinds of sociopaths - some are violent, some are slick and charming, some are confrontational, some are driven by jealousy.  The writer, Martha Stout, is a clinical psychologist, and she intersperses true stories of sociopaths, probably first narrated to her by her clients, with chapters of data and reasoning, which was a great way to build the book because if a text doesn't tell me a story, I get bored (unless it's phenomenally written, of course).
     I have only two problems with the book.  One is the writing style, which is fine but not beautiful.  Understandably, the author's point …

A 'Wonderful' Interview with William Zinsser

I don't know if anybody remembers this, but months ago I reviewed a book called On Writing Well by William Zinsser.  Well, life must be even weirder than I thought, because a family friend who reads this blog is connected to Mr. Zinsser, and she sent him my review.  Last Sunday I was in bed (at 10 o'clock, because I take and treasure every chance I get to sleep) when my mom came in with the phone.  It played back a voice mail from WILLIAM ZINSSER, saying how much he liked my review.  He even gave me his number so I could call him back.       Do any of you have remember that scene from The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel gets a letter from her favorite author, inviting her to visit?  My joy at getting this call, and the invitation to return it, was equal if not greater.  I had to pace and gibber for a while before I could go back to bed.  I spent the rest of the week plotting my response, and decided that I could not waste this opportunity - I had to interview Mr. Zinsser for my …

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading this book made me remember all the thousands of reasons why I love to read.
     It is a memoir, but it could also double as Sparknotes - if Sparknotes were about 1000 times more tantalizing and thought-provoking - for classic novels such as Daisy Miller by Henry James, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and, yes, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  This makes sense because, in this memoir, author Nafisi chooses to remember a book club she created and nurtured during the early years of the Islamic Republic in Tehran, Iran, after quitting her second university job since the Revolution.  In case you didn't know - and my own knowledge of this time period was embarrassingly sparse before I read this book - Iran became a theocracy in 1979 after religious leaders overthrew and ushered out the old Shah monarchy.  Many Iranians hoped that the new government would be an improvement over the old because the Ayatollah, their new leader, promised to preserve their culture and prevent We…

Literary Tourism

I invite you to consider this a Part 2 to last week's blog post, which was inspired by my yearning to fast forward two years so that I can backpack through Southeast Asia.  But whereas in that post I listed books to enjoy in lieu of travel, in this one I will list destinations for people who enjoy books. 

1. London, England - I have heard great things about this city's bookshops.  Plus many great writers, such as John Keats, David Bowie, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens were born, inspired by, or resided here.  Plus the cold and rainy weather is ideal for reading (according to every Pinterest user ever, at least). 
2. Writers' houses-turned-museums - There are bajillions of them, but the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut sounds especially beautiful.
3. Walden Pond Reservation, Concord, Massachusetts - THIS IS THE NATURAL HAVEN IMMORTALIZED IN WALDEN BY DAVID HENRY THOREAU!  You can actually visit it! There's a replica of his shack!  You can look for the pond wh…

Book Substitutes for Travel

I have recently fallen in love with the idea of taking a gap year after I graduate from high school.  I think knowing that there is a spectacular backpacking trip to Southeast Asia at the end of the nightmarish, sleepless tunnel of high school will make it easier to endure :D  But while I am still trapped in the United States, I intend to travel vicariously through books instead.  

1. Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell - An unspontaneous, bookish 16-year-old girl (ohmigod, that's me!) is "kidnapped" by her bohemian grandmother and dragged through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.  
2. City of Beasts by Isabel Allende - The story of another uptight young person - male, in this case - whose eccentric grandmother takes him adventuring - in the Amazon, in this case.  Allende tackles environmental issues and the persecution of native peoples by Westerners, all the while describing the jungle in ethereal detail and telling a great story.
3. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oli…

Book Review: Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card

The title of this book may sound vaguely familiar to you, even if you're pretty sure you haven't read it, and that's probably because its companion, Ender's Game, was recently turned into a mediocre movie.   Neither book is anywhere near mediocre, however.  Science fiction gets a bad rep because it is often described as cheesy and solely for geeks, but Orson Scott Card's novels are good stories by any standards.  Sure, they play into some stereotypes of the genre: both books are set in the future, at an outer space Battle School where children are trained to be soldiers in an impending war with a hostile alien race.  But all of this is merely a backdrop for Card to work out the answers to his questions about war, mercy, selflessness, community, humanity, success, and genius.
Ender's Shadow is written from the perspective of Bean, previously an enigmatic secondary character in Ender's Game, which was centered around the flashier Ender Wiggin.  Both boys …

Books to Read on Weepy Sappy Days

Most people have sappy days.  Most of my friends will tell me that they have days when all they want to do is switch on Netflix and find a movie that makes them cry.  But, you know, sometimes the Internets are not working or all that blue light is making your eyes bleed.  To remedy such crises, I have created this list as an alternative for people who would like to read a book that will make them cry.  Some of them are romantic-sad, some of them are tragic-sad, some of them are beautiful-sad. And I guarantee that all of them are good as well as tear-jerking.  

1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - Whoa, whoa, wait.  Is this really a YA romance in which the girl isn't gorgeous and flawless???  Yes.  Yes it is.  You're welcome.
2. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo - An arrogant porcelain rabbit doll is lost by a little girl and learns what love is by losing love, over and over again. This is the only book I ever seriously cried over.  
3. The Book Thie…

Goals for Book-Loving Losers

For me, this time of year means nonstop action - essays, tests, cross-country practices, holidays, and rushed, chilly walks to the subway.  I like being busy, but often when I'm studying and hurrying I find myself fantasizing about the all reading I'd do if I had any spare time.  I think I would be much more educated and cultured if my teachers just shut me up in a room with a load of books, rather than expecting me to come to school.  Oh well.
     Here are my fantasy reading goals for sometime when I have more time.  (And if you happen to have a lot of time right now, why not attempt one?)

1. Read a ridiculously long book - War and Peace, or the Bible, or the entirety of that endless series about feral cat colonies, Warriors - and admit to yourself that you're mostly reading it so that you can tell people you read it.
2. Go camping/sit in a shed/climb up a tree/acquire a hermitage and read Walden.
3. Write a fan-fiction.
4. Shop at an independent book store - if you're…

My (BASIC) List of Books to Read During the Fall

It's been way to long since I posted some yammerings here!  Sorry.  School started again and things got crazy.
          I should be going to bed right now so this will have to be a short post.  I guess, since I am feeling very excited about the arrival of fall (Every time the seasons change I hyperventilate with joy! It's exhausting), I should make a list of cozy fall books.  Do you know what kind of books I mean?  Comforting, heart-melting ones.  I would not, for example, recommend The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or 1984 specifically for a list like this - the former is so ridiculous that it sort of stretches your mind out of shape like a very old T-shirt, and the latter makes you question EVERYTHING and wake up in cold sweats as you question the very nature of human nature.  Not that they are not phenomenal books; they just don't belong on this list.  Hitchhiker's Guide is OBVIOUSLY a perfect summer book and 1984 is for January, when you are fully submerge…

Book Review: Summer Homework Edition

Hey, it's Carly and Grace, typing to you from under an umbrella by the side of a pool at a house in the Hamptons.  (Not bragging at all!!)  Okay, I'll admit we don't own this house.  We're here because of the charity of a marvelous family friend, Ellen, who rented the house and invited us to stay with her.
          Aside from whacking each other with pool noodles, grilling, and running on the beach, Grace and I have been working on our summer homework, and because of this we've both ended up reading books we might not have otherwise.  So we're going to review The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Secret Life of Pronouns for you!
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan is an interesting dissection of the issues we humans face every time we enter the supermarket. As omnivores we can eat almost anything under the sun (and absolutely everything in the supermarket) it can be very difficult to know what we should be eating. Michael Pollan looks at where exactly al…

How to Read a Maya Angelou Memoir in Ten Hours

It all started with the discovery of a bookstore.  I found it because I had eaten breakfast in a cafe down the street.  I shot inside and read the first chapters of a couple of different books in a state of hyperactive delirium before focusing on a small robin's-egg-blue paperback book sitting by the cash register.  I'd heard of the book before - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - and I knew that I would have to buy it.  I read about Marguerite's (that was her given name) silk Sunday dress made out of a rich woman's worn-out gown and the three-line poem she was meant to recite to her church and the "space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil" before I paid and left. 
          I thought about the book on the bike ride home, and when I had finished yanking my broken kickstand into a supportive position with the toe of my shoe, I sat outside in the shade and started reading again.  I felt like I was holding my breath.  I…

Things I Will Be Doing INSTEAD of Reading This Week

Starting this Sunday, I will be on a volunteer trip to repair trails in the wilds of some area of the United States whose name currently escapes me.  I've done this kind of thing once before.  Basically, we start out at some kind of wilderness headquarters and hike out to a patch of trail that needs maintenance.  Then we come back five days later, dirty, reeking, and very happy to see a flush toilet.  
          There will be very little space in my monster hiking bag for frivolities such as books, so I will not be reading much this week.  This is a list of what I will be doing instead:

          1. Stuffing my monster hiking backpack with supplies, struggling to hoist it onto my shoulders, and then buckling under the weight like a sad and metaphorically charged statue, like my friend did on our last trip.    
          2.  Burying unwanted food scraps such as apple stems so that my counselors don't make me eat them.  Littering is, of course, COLOSSALLY frowned upon on …

Lessons to be Learned From the Princess Sara Crewe

Have any of you read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett?  It was the book that made me love books.  (Does every book-lover have one of those?  Do you?)  I first read it when I was very little and have spent the last two days rereading it, as I tend to do every few years.  
          But the thing that struck me about the story this time around is that the story's preteen heroine, Sara Crewe, seems to have life completely figured out.  Even when she loses both her father and her fortune and is working as a hated scullery maid at her London boarding school to pay off her debts, she never sacrifices her virtues of benevolence, hope, and grace.  Her secret is that she considers herself a princess in spirit, even when she is no longer as wealthy and privileged as one.  Sadly, I have not yet gotten my life philosophies together and lack Sara's ability to gracefully accept whatever life throws at me.  So, in order to stop feeling inferior, I have compiled a list of…

Book Review: My Greatest Challenge This Summer, It Seems, Is Deciphering The Dubliners by James Joyce

Which means, I suppose, that I'm having a nice, relaxing summer so far.  My only other challenges have consisted of soaking up sunburn and working as an intern at a writing class for little kids.  But reading The Dubliners, a famous collection of short stories set in Dublin, has proved harder than either of those.  To give you an idea of why, allow me to quote a few passages from the book:

          "'Some of these fenians and hillsiders are a bit too clever if you ask me,' said Mr. Henchy" (pg. 125).
          "'But I'm greatly afraid our friend is not nineteen carat.  Damn it, I can understand a fellow being hard up but what I can't understand is a fellow sponging'" (pg. 124).
          "'He takes th'upper hand of me whenever he sees I've a sup taken'" (120).
          "'Sure, amn't I never done at the drunken bowsy ever since he left school?'" (120).
         "'Hasn't t…

Book Review: From Rockaway by Jill Eisenstadt

Wow, it feels like forever since I've done a regular book review.  Okay.  From Rockaway was the first library sale book I finished, and I am delighted with it.  It's short but the story feels dense.  Like how restaurants know to serve you small slices of really fudgy cake.  
          The book starts with four working-class kids from Rockaway Beach - Alex, Timmy, Chowderhead, and Peg - who are coming home from prom. (I think the story is set in the 80s.')  Of the four friends, only Alex is going to college. Continuing school is so rare in this neighborhood that seeing a kid go to bartending school is enough to make the whole community extremely proud, so Alex is a celebrated oddball.  But when the friends part ways that fall, their lives, including Alex's, begin to spiral out of control.  
          The Rockaway Beach in this book is bleak, inescapable, tough, and alternately dull and horrifying. (Dull, because there is nothing to do and no money to do it with.…

Library Sale 2014... A "Haul Post"

The summer has officially begun!
          And not because classes are finally, finally over.  No.  The summer has begun because my co-blogger Grace and I went to our annual library sale this weekend!
           This tradition, in which I force Grace to take me to her country house (which was built in the 1700s'!) so we can go to the Stone Ridge Library sale, is quite central to our friendship and, furthermore, provides me with a security net of books that I can dip into at any time for the rest of the year.  It's MUUUCH cheaper than going to Barnes and Nobles every time I finish a book, that's all I can say.
          So this is a list of what I picked up this year!
1. From Rockaway by Jill Eisenstadt - Rockaway is my beach!  I spend pretty much all summer there, so I had to read this.
2. Handbook of Short Story Writing: Volume II, edited by Jean M. Fredette - If I'm going to spend all my free time writing reams of short stories, I need to know how to write them properly.

Singer-Songwriters Who Are Also Poets

I know much less about music than I do about books, but I can definitely tell you that my taste in music is influenced by my appreciation for good writing.  I especially love songs with wordplay or that take on a slightly different meaning the more you listen to them.  With this in mind, I've compiled a list of my favorite poetic singers in the hopes that they will confound and delight you, too.

1. Marina Diamandis aka Marina and the Diamonds - She's probably my favorite singer of all time.  "Mowgli's Road" is one of her most poetic and clever songs, but I was totally mystified by it for a while. It's pretty clear that she's feeling pressure to conform to what the music industry wants from her, but then there's also this weird silverware metaphor about how "the cutlery will keep on chasing me" and how the "spoons are metally mean and "the knives are bloody cold".  It took me weeks before I suddenly had a eureka moment listening…

High School Poetry and My Margaret Atwood Reading List

So, I have been a very happy camper in English class this month because we have just started the POETRY UNIT!!!! Yay!!  And what makes a sophomore English poetry unit so wonderful is that we don't even have to write poems for it.  Now, you might think that I would be upset by such a restriction, but actually I couldn't be happier with it.  After all, high school is full of kids who are full of feelings and lacking in experience. What I'm trying to say is that a poetry-WRITING unit would have resulted in a slew of terrible, TMI-inducing poems.
     (I must say that none of the above sarcasm means that I am exempt from the crummy-teenage-poetry-writing crew of America.  I just, you know, keep my poems in a file where no one will ever see them :P)
     But all of that aside, we were asked to pick a poem to memorize for this unit, and I chose "February" by Margaret Atwood.  And thus I became aware of the wonderful writing of Margaret Atwood!  She is a Canadian literary…

Review of LIT Crawl: May 2014

Hello!!!  I'm feeling very cheerful tonight, because a few hours ago I went to an event called LIT Crawl and had a wonderful time.  And since it was a literary event, I thought I'd share it with you-all.
          LIT Crawl is an event that takes place once a month in Brooklyn.  It is like a pub crawl in that many businesses (including bars) take part in it, but that is where the similarity ends, because instead of offering discounted alcohol, these businesses host free (!!) literary events all night long (or at least from 5:00 to 8:00 pm).  These events occur in three shifts so that people can fit in three different events in one night.  The events change from month to month, but they vary pretty widely.  For example, tonight I went to a performance art/poetry reading in a laundromat, in which the two performers danced on top of washing machines and discussed the voyeuristic and weirdly personal experiences one often has while doing one's laundry in a public plac…