Friday, February 19, 2016

Weekend Reads

Every so often I find myself in a reading drought, where I don't want to read the things that I normally want to read – no contemporary novels, no fantasy, nothing even fiction... I just want to read interesting, thought-provoking things where I can learn something without committing to a 300-page journey that requires the suspension of disbelief or the exercise of my imagination. Most of the time, my craving results in obsessively reading the news, magazine articles, and occasionally the self-help listicle (but all of those listicles tend to blend together after a while), so I thought I might start sharing some of my favorite reads, since I spend so much of my downtime on Medium and Pocket and all those other websites/apps anyway.

Inside Harvey Levin's TMZ

Found via Danielle Binks! Such a fascinating world we live in, where celebrity secrets are a commodity, and their comings and goings are written about by people who are essentially real beat reporters. There's a lot of fluff in those stories, but there's also an incredible power in being the first to document something that sets the pop culture wheels in motion – or to even be the media outlet that pushes pop culture in a certain direction. (See: Paris Hilton bringing some random girl named Kim to a nightclub in LA. And TMZ being the first to capture it. Oh, and by the way, Kim's last name is Kardashian.)

The behind-the-scenes look at TMZ is totally compelling. It's a game of people using people to get ahead – except here, the terms are almost mutually agreed upon. The average person might think celebrity gossip is trashy and despicable, a tasteless violation of privacy, but the reality (as far as TMZ is concerned) is that there's an intricate dance involved in validating information and toeing the line between destroying a person and propping them up. It's more than mindless chatter. There's strategy and relationship management and creativity and, yeah, maybe Harvey Levin is a complete dick, but he's also really bright and really resourceful, and I kind of have to admire him for that.

What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage

(click to read)

Appropriate read for Valentine's Day. I can't really speak too much about this particular article – love is one of those things that I have very complicated, personal views on – so I'll just leave you with these passages that I really like & that offer some kind of paradigm shift:

"Someone is dying in their own bed, and someone’s spouse is sitting at the bedside, holding the dying person’s hand, and also handling all kinds of unspeakable things that people who aren’t drowning in gigantic piles of cash sometimes have to handle all by themselves. To me, that’s romance. Romance is surviving and then not surviving anymore, without being ashamed of any of it.

"[A]t some point, let’s be honest, death supplies the suspense. How long can this glorious thing last? your eyes sometimes seem to ask each other. You, for one, really hope this lasts a whole hell of a lot longer. You savor the repetitive, deliciously mundane rhythms of survival, and you want to keep surviving. You want to muddle through the messiness of life together as long as you possibly can. That is the summit. Savor it. That is the very definition of romance."

Was Dr. Asperger A Nazi? The Question Still Haunts Autism

(click to read)

This one ties back to my post a few weeks ago about All the Light We Cannot See. It really gets at one of the questions I perpetually struggle with: How do we decide if someone is "good" or "bad"? What lens are we using, and how can we be sure that that's the right one? After all, we're inherently biased and limited by our own experiences – most of us probably lack the foresight and ability to understand the long game strategy, or even just the bigger picture. I especially appreciate this sentiment: The controversy also gets to the heart of the difficulty of accurately judging the behavior of people living under brutal regimes, particularly decades after the fact.

This Is How Paris Hilton Fooled the Entire United States of America

(click to read)

Speaking of Paris Hilton... This is an article I read a few weeks ago and posted as an afterthought on my other/new blog – which, by the way, I've almost officially given up on. Anyway, I thought this was a really intriguing story about the personas we build – the way we play ourselves to play others. It's similar to that TMZ article above, in that there's people who manipulate circumstances to get ahead, but the manipulation isn't bad, in and of itself. People expect one thing, and you give it to them, and they get what they want, and you get ahead. And it isn't just Paris Hilton either – think about all the celebrities who you shake your head at – their ridiculous outfits, the stunts they pull, the relationships they get into... and consider that maybe some, if not all, of those actions, outfits, stunts, relationships are actually planned and carefully thought through. Is your mind blown yet?

What do you think about these reads? Are there any articles you've been reading lately that are of interest? I've been wanting to start a non-book book club – I guess it'd just be an article club a la Joanna Goddard – where you'd pick a few articles and read them and talk about them with people... Does anyone else think this would be fun??!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Songs That Would Make Great Stories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Music is one of those things that's hard for me to talk about with other people – not because I don't want to – it's more that I sometimes just don't have the words and then I just end up fumbling for the right thing to say and it turns into a novel.

Sometimes a song, like a book, is nothing to you until and unless it reaches you at exactly the right moment, and then it transforms into this bigger thing that's just intangible – it becomes bigger than the moment alone, which is why when you listen to it three years later, you still get transported back to the memories you had and the feelings you felt and maybe even the life stage you were in. (It's also why – for me, at least – songs can sometimes feel tainted when you hear them in a car commercial or at the mall… It's like, how can this sacred thing be tossed around in such an ordinary, casual way??)

So that's part of the reason why this week's Top Ten Tuesday list is challenging for me… 10 songs I wish were books? Are we talking about songs that are the foundation for a scene in a book? Or for a character? Or for a complete story or vibe? Because some songs are for the smaller moments, and others really are enough to launch a thousand ships that could carry the threads of a story in a hundred different directions. You see my dilemma. We'll see how this goes.

1. Salted Wound by Sia
Okay, (another) one of my problems is that maybe 80% of the time, the songs I love are already associated with a book or character – either in my head, or officially. Like Salted Wound. This one is from the Fifty Shades of Grey film soundtrack. I've never read that book, but I watched two-thirds of the movie and… kind of liked it? And I love this song because I love, love, love Sia, who seems to understand the human condition so acutely. And because Salted Wound is so clearly about a character who pretends to be one thing but is really another. And I will never say no to books with complex characters!

2. Broken Piano by Frank Turner
I love Frank Turner. Love. Him. One of England's great singer-songwriters. Broken Piano is a great, raw, powerful song with a savage beat. (So great that I'm including it twice. The album version and a live version.) I feel like it would be kindred spirits with books like Wolf by Wolf or Wild Awake – books that have their own savage beat poetry.

3. Wanderlust by Frank Turner
When this album came out, I must have listened to Wanderlust a couple hundred times at least. It really shook me to the bones because I kept imagining some kind of cowboy-esque figure, a boy who doesn't stay, a boy who lives for adventure, for independence, for freedom – who somehow finds himself in love but unable (or unwilling) to stay. I'M ALREADY SAD JUST THINKING ABOUT IT.

4. Handcuffs by Brand New
This song is 1000% for the complex villains. I feel like a lot of Brand New's music (and Jesse Lacey's lyrics) lean that way in general. Dark, with a pinch of self-loathing. The words sometimes feel stark and crude, but the melodies have a strange haunting beauty of their own. See also: Jesus Christ.

5. Runaway by Matt Corby
Matt Corby is one of the great musical loves of my life. He represents a really interesting and emotionally important time in my life, and this song is equally interesting and emotionally charged. I imagine it to be about a girl who plays games, who says all the right things without meaning them, who is something between a masterpiece – wild and beautiful and reckless and free – and a real piece of work. (Look at that wordplay! Maybe I should be the one to write this book.) If you look at the lyrics objectively, it almost feels a little like a guy suffering from Nice Guy™ syndrome – how dare you put me in the Friend Zone, how dare you not want to be with me, etc. etc. – but the music is so pretty and so layered and complex that it feels less petty and more… I don't know. Sad and wistful, maybe. I could see this song being the basis for an epic love story about two people who are total trainwrecks, who fall madly in love and it doesn't end well. (Or maybe it does. Because as much as I love angst, I'm a sucker for the happy ending, too.)

6. Do What You Have to Do by Sarah McLachlan
This is one of my weirder musical obsessions, but I went through a solid 2 year period where I listened to this song on repeat for HOURS. I don't even know. It was just so filled with yearning and sadness and regret, and I think those things make for interesting characters and stories – I mean, just imagine a story about a man who wants to be with someone but has been burned one too many times and knows that he should move on but can't and instead just settles for getting through the day intact while being steeped in self-loathing. RIGHT?! Or maybe he's separated from what he really wants due to circumstance – like duty and responsibility, or societal expectations, and he's struggling with what his heart wants and what his head tells him is right. SO MANY POSSIBILITIES.

7. You Are the Moon by The Hush Sound
Literally the only song I've EVER liked by the Hush Sound. It feels like a dark love song, and I feel like that concept could be applied to a story – a dark love story, whatever that looks like…

8. We Walk by The Ting Tings
Trying to change up the pace here because I'm realizing that I have morose, depressing taste in music. Does anyone remember this band?! I like that the melody feels a little bit off-kilter and the beat is so full of energy. I could see this song transposed into a character's thought process as they're coming to grips with a realization that turns their world upside down.

9. Wedding Song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It took me a long time to get around to listening to and loving the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. My sister recommended them to me for AGES before I caved – I just never thought I'd be a fan – they were always a little too edgy, too post-punk for my tastes. (I still sort of feel that way, although I have consistently LOVED all of their acoustic stuff.) Anyway, Wedding Song feels like great music for a turning point, like the perfect backdrop to a crush that develops into something else. It's the song that plays on late night aimless drives, when you start to see someone in a new light.

10. Signal Fire by Snow Patrol
One of my favorite, favorite songs. What I really love about this song, as far as storytelling is concerned, is that it sounds like a story, with the way it ebbs and flows – and it doesn't feel time- or genre-bound. It could be a story that takes place in ancient history, and it could just as easily happen in outer space a hundred years in the future. To me, it's a song and a story about love and safety and two people who depend on each other and how they keep it together in the face of external factors that threaten to tear them apart.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Note to Self (from Melina Marchetta – Part 2)

I saved this little snippet from an old interview with Melina Marchetta, goddess of everything. It's so old that the link to the source doesn't even exist anymore. In the interview, MM talks a little bit about character origins and development. Fun little bit of trivia if you've read and loved Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son, but also just good to keep in mind – that characters can come up out of seemingly nowhere.

"What I also appreciate about Francesca is that it introduced me to Tom Mackee, another favourite. He was included in the first draft as the bully; someone who was not going to be important. But I taught boys that year who began as bullies or were perceived to be and they really surprised me by the end of the year. The developing of Tom as a character got caught up in all of that. I always think he was a bit of a sneaky little bastard hiding in a part of my creative head waiting for the right moment five years later to spring out and demand a novel of his own." – Melina Marchetta

Thursday, February 4, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

After I finished reading the most magnificent, beautiful, thrilling, dazzling, wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning book called All the Light We Cannot See, it got me wondering about a lot of things that I can't seem to shake...

1. The way we pass judgment on people.

The way we decide if someone is "good" or "bad," and whether or not they are redeemable. The way we hold people accountable. How do we decide who the Von Rumpels and Claude Levittes of the world are? And the Werner Pfennigs and the Frank Volkheimers? How do we decide whose decisions are justified, whose motivations are strong enough to counterbalance all the bad that they create, whose backstories rationalize their actions & where they end up?

Anthony Doerr, the author of the book, paints Werner and Volkheimer in the most fascinating light. Werner, the small boy, instrumental to the German war effort, but still just a boy, one who buttons his coat all the way to the top and pulls his sleeves down over his fingers when it's cold. Volkheimer, the giant, the one all the boys look up to – who will shoot a man in the back of his head but whose entire expression changes when he listens to classical music.

Every so often there's something in the news about former Nazi supporters being found out and tried as war criminals. I bury myself in the comments as the debate rages on: Does justice even matter at this point? Should people be held accountable for what they did 60 years ago when they were young, impressionable teenagers? Can war crimes ever be forgiven? For some people, it's black and white. And for others, it's more complicated. I'm not sure what I believe, but I do know that within a single human being, there is the capacity to be both very good and very bad. And maybe certain things in our lives push us toward a proclivity for one or the other.

2. The reality of war & the impossibility of happy endings.

When people get taken to labor camps and prison camps, they probably won't come back. And yet, one still hopes... (Maybe I am an optimist after all.) I spend so much of my life hoping for miracles, for impossibilities, for torn apart families to find each other again, for there to be a switch that makes everything better. I'm not prepared for books that mix magical realism with reality, it messes with my brain.

3. The way we trivialize the past.

We're so careless with history, the people who have lived and died. Like they're just facts in a textbook, even though they changed lives. The self-immolating monk. Emmett Till. The Vietnam War. All of these things I learned in school, reduced to grainy pictures in a history book that I never read, that was filled with doodles from all the students of years past. Historic sites are filled with tourists who say cheese as they snap their selfies. Candy wrappers strewn about military forts where men and boys gave their lives. A Buddhist saying: Nothing is sacred.

4. Courage, manifested by everyday heroes.

"When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?"

I don't know, I don't know. I just want to leave these few lines here and let them germinate because it seems so natural, live your life, do what must be done, but it's still so easy to bury your head in the sand and pretend like nothing's the matter. Marie-Laure kept her head up, but it took Werner longer, and maybe it takes other people such a long time as well – so how do we learn to live our lives like we have no choice, to do what must be done, even when we're scared? What are the stakes and how do we make them matter so that we don't let our days fall away?

5. The world, which spins on and on and on.

The Sea of Flames is a blue diamond that took eons to form and has existed for eons after. It has lived through dynasties, the rise and fall of empires, endless numbers of births, deaths, and continues to live through all of these things, even as people's entire worlds come to an end.

Bombings, a new state of emergency, viruses spread. Pop culture icons die, one right after another, in the span of seven days, and the world keeps spinning on. Just headlines on the news' front page. Tomorrow the headlines will change. Maybe there will be more bombings, maybe the viruses will continue to spread, but the tides still rise and fall, Earth still spins on its axis, stars explode and die out and it takes a thousand light-years for us to even notice.

I love these books that make me question my life and my world and my society and the way we move forward in time. It's like staring up into the sky at night, away from all the lights, and you're swallowed by the vast expanse of space and you feel both big and small, important and alive but just the owner of a life that will be lived and gone in the blink of an eye.