Tag: literature

Apr 04

Eleanor & Park: It'll Take You Back Faster Than a Whiff of Unwashed Gym Suit.

Blogging, Family, Humor, Personal, Romance, Young Adult Fiction 64

Sup Bookworms?!

I say “sup” because that was the thing to say when I was in high school. During high school,  I absolutely refused to use the term on the grounds that contractions should use apostrophes. I also wrote song lyrics out on the backs of all the notes I passed between classes and pasted magazine photo collages of grunge rockers onto my notebooks. (A 16 year old girl is a 16 year old girl, no matter her taste in music.)

I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, Katie. We KNOW you were a cantankerous teenager. You wrote about it once, plus, you’re a blogger. An awkward adolescence is a prerequisite, right?” I swear I have a point. The point is, I just read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and it took me back to high school faster than whiff of unwashed gym suit.

eleanor & parkHere’s the deal. It’s 1986. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s on the curvy side and has wild red hair. Her first day of school, she is denied a seat on the bus by everyone (in a move of calculated cruelty that is innate to the teenage of the species) EXCEPT a half Korean kid named Park. Eleanor and Park don’t fall in love immediately. In fact, they don’t even speak. They only begin to break the ice when Park notices that Eleanor has been reading his comic books out of the corner of her eye.

Eleanor’s got a whole lot of crap going on in her home life. She and her 4 siblings live in squalor with their abusive stepfather and their once vibrant mother (who like many abused women has become a shell of her former self.) Eleanor is in no position to be starting a relationship, but as she and Park progress from friendship to hand holding, she knows she’s a goner.

THIS BOOK! It does for YA novels what Freaks and Geeks did for high school on television. My high school experience was not Gossip Girl or Friday Night Lights. My high school experience was a whirlwind of awkward encounters and intense relationships that never materialized. Where hand holding could be MAJOR. It was so refreshing to read about an imperfect heroine who wasn’t conventionally beautiful. Sure, Eleanor has her good features, but she’s not a girl who is drop-dead-gorgeous without realizing it (cough, cough, Bella Swan.) And Park? Park is a short Asian kid who experiments with guy-liner. I challenge you to find me another YA leading man who is 5’4. Even Harry Potter was tall!

No, I didn’t listen to The Cure on my walkman on the bus, mostly because I didn’t go to high school in 1986. (I listened to The Counting Crows on my discman. Very skippy, the discman.) Even though my gym suit was definitely less horrifying than Eleanor’s polyester onesie, I dreaded gym class. My junior year, I was hit in the head with EVERY SINGLE BALL we used. I only wish I were exaggerating. I was beaned with a soccer ball, basketball, volleyball, hockey puck, tennis ball, football, softball, and the absolute pinnacle of my humiliation? Badminton birdie. I wasn’t subject to intense bullying (although I still do not have good thoughts about that girl with the slicked back ponytail and sinister eyeliner who always laughed at magnetic melon…) I didn’t have a messy home life either, but this book isn’t about winning the screwed up teen experience award. This book is about capturing the essence of being 16. It’s about first love and identity crises and confusion and the occasional glimmer greatness beneath the awkward.

I chewed through this book in two days and had to let it marinate in my brain juices before I could form coherent thoughts. Katie + Eleanor & Park = Love. The soundtracks may change, but high school will always be the same. Rainbow Rowell gets that, and for that, I salute her. (Insert well timed slow clap.)

Alright bookworms. Please tell me I’m not alone here. Let’s take this opportunity to share our most horrifying gym class experiences. It’ll be like group therapy. Ready? Go!


Mar 18

Emotions: This Book Will Make You Feel Every Last One (by Anna Quindlen)

Family, Psychological, Tear Jerkers 48

Hey Bookworms,

It’s Monday, so let’s wallow in our collective case of the Mondays, shall we? I’ve got the perfect book to put you in the appropriate mood. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen will make you feel ALL THE FEELINGS.

Mary Beth Latham is a landscape designer and mother of three. She and her husband live an upper middle class life in an upper middle class suburb and have upper middle class problems. Their beautiful teenage daughter Ruby had a bout with an eating disorder, but seems to be recovering well. Though Mary Beth worries about Ruby leaving for college in a year, she’s proud of her remarkable girl. The twin boys pose a bit of a challenge, but they’re at an age when you’d expect them to be complicated. Alex is a soccer star and popular in school. His fraternal twin brother Max, on the other hand, is withdrawn and depressed. But, you know. What’s a little teen angst between twins? Nothing a little cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication can’t help with. After their experience with Ruby, the Lathams take Max’s suffering seriously.


To add to this little dramatic suburban slurry, Ruby has recently dumped her boyfriend Kiernan, which has been tough on the whole family. He’s been a fixture in their lives since he was a small child. Kiernan’s family makes the Lathams look like the Waltons, so he was extraordinary attached their “happy” family. Kiernan is heartbroken. Ruby feels guilty. Everyone is hurting. It’s a recipe for a highly rated TV drama, don’t you think?


And then… Tragedy strikes. Serious horrible nightmarish tragedy. Your heart will break. You will cry. A lot, probably. I did. Telling you what happens would ruin the book for you, and I gave up massive spoilers for Lent. I will tell you that I didn’t see it coming, and that it hit me like a punch in the gut.

This is going to sound a little masochistic, but the way this book bites into the reader… It’s a good pain. Even if it scars your psyche, a book that can make you FEEL this much is worth the read. It reminds you of how trivial every day annoyances in life can seem when you’re confronted with true unimaginable horror. I definitely recommend this book, but with the caveat that it WILL be a difficult read, emotionally. If you’re in a vulnerable place, it might be a good idea to pass on this one. At least for the time being.


In solidarity, let us all lament this Monday with our own tales of traumatic reads. What are some of your favorites, bookworms?


Feb 28

Astray by Emma Donoghue and The World's Oldest Profession

Historical Fiction 32

Cheerio, Bookworms!

There are some really awesome book bloggers out there, did you know that? Jen at The Relentless Reader was tweeting about cleaning out her bookshelves a while back and offered up her ARC of Astray by Emma Donoghue. How nice is that?! (The answer is SUPER NICE.) So anyway, I was like “Oh please pick me!” And she was like, “I don’t even think you’re a little bit crazy, I’m going to send you a book!” It was beautiful.


The last time I read Emma Donoghue, she was scaring the crap out of me in Room.  Astray was a collection of short stories. They were all historical fiction (my fave!) and based on REAL EVENTS. It was DELICIOUS. Elephants, gold miners, lesbian sculptors- there’s really something for everyone in this book!

My personal favorite was a the tale of the Victorian prostitute. She tried to keep her profession a secret from her younger brother, but being a hooker is tough to keep to yourself, even if you’re the very portrait of discretion. Unbeknownst to her, her little brother was in the know and managed to make a deal with a well established gentleman to help them out. The afterward told us who the well established gentleman was- Charles FREAKING Dickens! In celebration of this story, I thought we should listen to this highly appropriate tune from The Decemberists. It’s “A Cautionary Song.”

I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I love a good prostitution story. Let’s face it, nobody goes into the “world’s oldest profession” without an interesting set of circumstances leading them there. Plus, I think these stories help give a voice to the type of people who usually get brushed under the rug by history. Soooo… Here’s a list of historical fiction books about ladies of the night!

1. Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue. Apparently Donoghue likes her trollops. I haven’t read it yet, but everyone says it’s amazing, so obviously it’s on my short list.

2. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Elite Japanese prostitutes!

3. Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip. It’s about a Chinese house of ill repute. With the best reputation. (I steal lines from Shakespeare in Love like a boss.)

4. In The Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant. Renaissance Italian paramours!

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Why haven’t you read this yet? In the book, Fantine sells her two front teeth in an effort to avoid her fall from grace. Obviously they couldn’t do that in the musical or Fantine would have to lisp through her big song… But yeah. French whores, represent!

So, Bookworms, do you enjoy collections of short stories? How about books about prostitution? Or perhaps a song that matches a book PERFECTLY? Talk to me!


Aug 28

My Mom: A Bookworm with a Bad Memory and a Credit Card

Personal 17

My mom is a bookworm. A bookworm with a bad memory. And a credit card.

I obtained at least a third of my book collection by “shopping” in my mom’s bookshelves. She an I had an agreement. If I was able to find multiples of any given title, I got to keep the spare. It doesn’t sound like this sort of thing would happen very often, but I would routinely leave my parents’ house with a shopping bag full of extraneous books- the spoils of my mother’s overzealous bargain hunting.

My mom has been a reader for as long as I can remember. She’s on a first name basis with the librarians and always has a long list of titles she’s waiting to check out. It got to the point where they would call her if there was a new release out they thought she’d like.

As the years went by, our little Chicago suburb grew from a motley patchwork of strip malls amongst fields and farmland to a size where it could support a large bookstore. This gave my mom the flexibility to buy books as well as borrow them, all within a mile of her house. She’s also a sucker for a bargain. Remember Borders? I think my mom bought every bestseller in their 3 for the price of 2 section for years. She bought so frequently that she’d forget which ones she already had and would buy them again. This is how I came to possess such a large swath of Oprah’s Book Club selections. (I have never personally purchased anything written by Anita Shreve, though I’ve read a decent chunk of her catalog.)

I stacked the “doubles” from my mom until the pile threatened to topple. This is NOT all of them, unless my dad is reading this. Dad, this is all of them, plus a couple I threw in just to make my blog more dramatic, K?

I’m not sure my dad ever knew the extent of my mom’s dual purchasing, but he sure as heck noticed the stacks and stacks of books piled on the floor when nothing else would fit into the overstuffed bookshelves. Christmas of 2010 when my parents purchased a Kindle for me, my dad stealthily ordered a second one for my mom. This hasn’t stopped her library habit, but now she buys her books online (much to the relief of the overworked bookshelves.)

I was having a conversation with my mom the other day about how I’d started a blog. It went something like this:

ME: Yeah I started a blog about books and it’s been fun so far.

MOM: I’ve been reading it and I’m so impressed a the number of books we’ve both read! We must have similar taste!

ME: Mom. Seriously?

MOM: What?

ME: You know why right?

MOM: What are you talking about?

ME: Do you have any idea how many books I got from you because you’d purchased multiple copies of the same thing?!

MOM: Hahahahahhaahahahaha

ME: I’m not even kidding.

MOM: Well I guess it’s a good thing I have a Kindle now. They don’t let you buy the same book twice. A warning pops up saying that you’ve already downloaded that book.

ME: Sigh. You know this from more than one experience, don’t you?

MOM: Hahahahahaa! Yes!

Ladies and Gentlemen, my mom. Responsible for my love of reading, though luckily, NOT my memory.