Monday, June 30, 2014

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.  Horrifying, because when the kids' boredom festers, they turn to amusements such as Death Kegs and endless drinking/pot.)  Timmy, Chowderhead, and Peg really seem to have no choices and no future.  However, it seems that one (usually) good thing about living in Rockaway is the people - everyone has known everyone else all their lives, which Alex comes to miss in college.  The bonds between Alex, Peg, Timmy, and Chowderhead, as well as the stupid things they do together, feel very powerful and somehow fleeting to me.  I kind of hope that Eisenstadt based this book on her own teenager-hood.  
          Apart from the story itself, what I noticed most about this book was the writer's unusual choice of metaphors and similes throughout the book.  She compares feelings to very commonplace, ordinary things, which is something that most writers don't dare to do, for fear of sounding un-intellectual.   For example, it sounds fancier to compare friendship to "an interdependent golden chain"  than to say "All [Alex] can do is hug Peg, and as she does she lets a mosquito suck blood from her wrist" (189).  
          However, I like the latter description much better.  
          - Carly 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

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.
3. The Best American Short Stories 1992, edited by Robert Stone - Same as above.  The best way to learn to write, besides actually writing, is to read!
4. Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going - I've heard of this book, and the title is great, so why not?
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Well, I've already posted about my love of magical realism, and Marquez has a special place in the Magical Realism Hall of Fame, so I was very happy to find this book.  (Just kidding, there is no such Hall.  But there should be.)
6. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez - I saw this book as a hardcover in Barnes and Nobles, but it was probably twenty dollars at the time.  So I bided my time and got it for two dollars instead.  I am an unabashed cheapskate!!!!
7. Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet - Looks weird and creepy, so it's bound to be just my cup of tea.
8. The Plague by Albert Camus - I do love my existentialists.  I read The Stranger, another one of his books, earlier this year.
9. Dubliners by James Joyce - It was Bloomsday quite recently, which got me thinking that I have never read anything by James Joyce.  This is one of his most famous books.
10. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden - This one weighs about a million pounds but it looks so good.  Here is a quote from the blurb: "In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl's virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as an illusion."
11. The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui by Gill Hale - I intend to shui-ify my house immediately!
12. The Territory of Men: A Memoir by Joelle Fraser - I picked this up because it is about a daughter of hippies growing up in the sixties', a decade that fascinates me.  I'm reading it now, and so far it has not disappointed.  It certainly doesn't romanticize the decade - I'd say that the writer is lucky to be alive and in decent mental health! - and yet there is something beautiful in the writing and in the openness and freedom of her mother's lifestyle.  
          Remember to read this summer.  And also to eat ice cream at odd hours of the day.  And to surf.  And to install central cooling.  
          - Carly

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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 to this one line, "There's a fork in the road, I choose the unchosen", and the whole thing clicked.  But I'm not going to explain the whole song to you!  Go listen to it yourself :P
2. Regina Spektor - Jeez, she has such beautiful voice, and her lyrics are so fascinating.  One of my favorite songs by her is called "Samson," as in Samson of the Bible, whose strength was a gift from God that would never fail him unless he cut his hair.  Eventually he lost his strength when his lover, Delilah, cut his hair and betrayed him.  In this song Spektor says that she cut Samson's hair, but instead of feeling betrayed, he said that she'd "done alright."  Is this song about betrayal?  Is it about being vulnerable in love?
3. The Arctic Monkeys - Almost all of their songs are about sex, but they are really creative about it - "Was it a Mecca Dabber or a betting pencil?", for example...
4. The Orwells - Similar subject matter to the Arctic Monkeys', and the same skill in communicating it.  Their most clever song title is probably "Southern Comfort"  :P
5.  Florence + the Machine - The first time I heard it, "Cosmic Love" truly had me sitting at my keyboard forgetting to breathe.  The galactic background gong drum and the boldness of saying that "the stars, the moon, they have all been blown out" by her boyfriend's departure probably did it.

And now I shall leave you all with a photo of a new bauble  It is a book necklace given to me for my 16th birthday (Hallelujah! Still no driver's license though) by my lovely family friend, Jonea.

If you guys think of any other singer-songwriters who need to be on this list, tell me in the comments!

If you're reading this,
It's so pretty :')
          - Carly

Sunday, June 1, 2014

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 goddess who has written poetry, literary criticism, essays, and novels of many genres - basically, she's not tied down to any single type of writing, which is exactly how I hope to be as a writer someday.  Discovering her has prompted me to produce a reading list composed of Margaret masterpieces that I have read so far/intend to read, so that you all might enjoy them as well!

How cute is Margaret Atwood?
I love her hat.  And her hair. And her genius.
1. "February" - I've read this one already, durr, and I can tell you it's a great poem!  It completely encapsulates how I was feeling by February of this year - namely, GET ME OUT OF HERE AND INTO SOME SUNSHINE BEFORE I SHRIVEL.  Let it be spring. Hehe.
2. The Handmaid's Tale - I read this book a few months ago without really noticing the author, and it blew my mind. It's about a future society in which women are confined, in a religious effort to perpetuate the Aryan race, to a few very specific roles, such as that of a Handmaid, whose job it is to bear the children of high-ranking men if their actual Wives are infertile (I may not be remembering that exactly).  The most sickening and terrifying part of this book is that it sounds familiar.  The conditions for women in this society, while not an exact match, remind me of those in Taliban-controlled countries.  
3. Oryx and Crake - Well, I've heard this book is amazing, so I bought it!  It is another dystopian/speculative story set in the wake of an apocalypse caused by genetically engineered crops and animals.
4. The Edible Woman - I can't wait to read this book.  Shortly after the protagonist, Marian, gets engaged, she stops being able to eat and has the most unsettling feeling that she herself is being eaten alive.  The blurb says it best: "Marina ought to feel consumed with passion, but really she just feels...consumed."
5. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing - Atwood wrote this book based on a series of lectures that she gave at the University of Cambridge.  She says that it is less of a writing guide and more a book on being a writer, but either way, I think my own writing would be the better for having read it.

          - Carly