Summer reading standards: reflections

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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K. Rowling)

Cormoran Strike is a struggling private detective who is hired to solve the death of supermodel Lula Landry – a death that has officially been ruled a suicide, but her grieving brother is convinced she was murdered. It was a bit slow to get into, but once Strike realizes that Landry may have not committed suicide after all, you can’t put it down.

Rating: 4 stars

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The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

In February 2014, I saw The Vagina Monologues performed for the first time at my school. As I was reading these hilarious, empowering, devastating monologues three years later, I was transported back to sitting next to my then-roommate in a packed Jesse Hall watching women dressed in red moan in pseudo-arousal a la When Harry Met Sally and scream about their pissed-off vaginas. The standout line: “I want to taste the fish. That’s why I ordered it.”

Rating: 4 stars

carrie

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Published just two months before her untimely death, Carrie Fisher recounts her experiences making the first Star Wars film and entering the realm of fame, but what dominates the book is her affair with co-star Harrison Ford. This was the first book I’ve read by Fisher, who writes with whip-smart wit that often had me scoffing and laughing out loud.

Rating: 3 stars

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Room by Emma Donoghue

I saw the movie at a little indie theater in CoMo last January and cried snot the entire time. Now I finally read the book and cried just as much (if not more). I devoured Room in less than three days, something I haven’t done to a book in years, and I believe everyone should give this a read at least once.

Rating: 5 stars

helter skelter

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi

I had more than a few nightmares reading this (including one particularly strange dream that my boyfriend invited his “good friend Charlie” over to dinner) but it was one of the most riveting books I’ve read in a long, long time. I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t believe it was nonfiction. The story of how Charles Manson built his “Family” and maintained such a strong, Christ-like influence over each of its members is astonishing, bizarre and terrifying.

Rating: 5 stars

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Strangeland by Tracey Emin

Emin is one of the most well-known artists from the Young British Artists of the ’90s, and my personal favorite ever since I learned about her and saw her piece “My Bed” last summer. Like much of her workStrangeland offered brief glimpses into moments of her life. It was written simply and sparsely, no-nonsense and never deviated with unnecessary details of each scene. It offered an interesting look into her life and psyche, but did lag as much as it engrossed.

Rating: 3 stars

Links to read instead of watching football

Because Mizzou is playing and I’m a bad alumna.

NPR’s “A Shot And A Book: How To Read In Bars”: A charming read about a man who reads to write about what he read in the hopes others may also read what he read, and why bars are the best location for said reading. Follow that?

Vox’s “The essential Stephen King: a crash course in the best from America’s horror master”: From the same author of the essay I’ve discussed earlier, this reads like a Stephen King syllabus. King has been widely covered lately, with It currently in its opening weekend and several adaptations in the works, and I’m all about it.

NYT’s “Harvey and Irma, Married 75 years, Marvel at the Storms Bearing Their Names”: How the Times managed to make hurricanes Harvey and Irma heartwarming I will never know. Also, this article answered a longtime question of mine – how the heck are hurricanes named, anyway?

Indiewire’s “Stephen King’s It: 6 Most Important Differences Between the Film and Stephen King’s Book: It is my favorite Stephen King book. So, naturally, I saw the movie opening night. While there were a few places where the movie was a bit clunky, overall I thought it was a success. It was so much fun, even though I will 100 percent rant to you about how Henry Bowers should not have died.

Indiewire’s “The 50 Best 2010’s Movie Posters (So Far)”: I will order all of these for my walls.

The Cut’s “Raise Your Hand If You’re Scared of Taylor Swift”: I’m very vocal about my distaste for T Swizzle. Her playing the victim, her “squad”, her using feminism only when it is convenient for her, her “Famous” fiasco against Kim and Kanye … the list goes on. This article made me laugh with maniacal glee.

Hi, hey there, hello, I worked 30 hours this week

I love to work. I love being productive. Being out of school for nearly two months with no job related to my degree is killing me, but I am forever thankful of my job in retail that keeps me busy (bet nobody has ever said that before, huh?).

Even so, 30 hours a week standing, lifting furniture and dealing with more-than-a-little-cranky customers takes its toll. Mostly in the form of necessary beer consumption, sore legs and taking three and a half hour naps between shifts. And when you throw in a freelance project I’ve been working on, this week has been exhausting.

Self-care is something I tend to neglect, especially in the face of a busy schedule. But after this week, I have found it necessary. Here are some easy ways I kept myself sane the last few days, sans-fancy candle-lit bath:

Yoga: Back in the day (aka junior year) I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. for sunrise yoga at the Mizzou Rec twice a week. Now that I’ve graduated and, sadly, can no longer enjoy the Rec’s classes, my mat has stayed rolled up in a box of clothes. Until yesterday, that is, when I finally practiced solo (with help from Youtube).

Going out for food: Getting brunch/lunch/dinner with someone is one of my favorite things to do. Maybe it’s because I’m just too lazy to cook, but hey, it always makes me feel better.

READ: Find a hammock, couch, coffee shop or just get in bed and spend hours with a book. Though I can’t exactly say my current read is particularly calming (Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry), it’s definitely a much-needed escape from my reality.

See a movie: Baby Driver is so much fun. Holy cow.

‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ and hello to what I’ve been waiting for my entire life

One of my earliest memories is from when I was two or three years old, sitting in front of my TV watching The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh surrounded by my kittens appropriately named Pooh Bear and Tigger. I have an E. H. Shepard illustration of Pooh tattooed on my right shoulder. Last week, I made my boyfriend watch Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin with me. I cried when I met Pooh at Disneyland. As I type this, I am sitting on my Winnie the Pooh pillow pet. You get the picture. I’m a Pooh person.

So you can imagine my excitement now that the first trailer for Goodbye Christopher Robin was finally released today (and my agony of knowing I won’t be able to see this film for four more months).

I am fully ready to see this movie every week it is in theaters and sob. My friends jokingly say that my catchphrase of sorts is *gentle gasps about Winnie the Pooh*, and today it’s *heaving sobs about Winnie the Pooh*. To quote the bear himself: “Today, I should say, is a good day for being Pooh [or, in this case, a Pooh fan].”

Though the books and Disney cartoons were made with children as the target audience, I have always advocated that the stories of Pooh and his pals can’t be fully appreciated and understood until you’ve grown up. The stories teach empathy, kindness, embracing your individuality, self-confidence and the importance of forming lasting friendships. As we grow older and leave parts of childhood behind us, we should never forget Pooh.

And now, after movies and TV shows and picture book adaptations of A. A. Milne’s novels, there is finally a Pooh story coming that’s made for adults.

Starring my love Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie and Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag glory, Goodbye Christopher Robin is looking to follow in the footsteps of Finding Neverland and be a strong Oscar contender.

(Now the question is: do you think Disney’s upcoming live-action Winnie the Pooh will be any good? I’m concerned).

Summer reading standards

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Like most kids, I always looked forward to summer – going to the pool, sleeping in late and, above all, being able to read without the hindrance of homework.

I would spend the days of summer vacation sitting inside and devouring book after book. My mother would sometimes ground me from reading and urge me to “get off that couch and go play outside; you need the exercise and fresh air.” In the summer between third and fourth grade, I read 13,053 pages and placed first in my elementary school’s summer reading challenge.

As I’ve grown older and schoolwork has become more and more demanding during the year, my time spent reading for pleasure has dwindled to a sad trickle. But I’m working to, hopefully, change that this summer.

Granted, since I just graduated from college not even a month ago, I have time to catch up on my always-growing bookshelf for the foreseeable future (especially since I’m unemployed. Please, somebody, hire me). But to get back into the swing of things, I’m pushing myself to read as many books as I can before August. The list to conquer (so far):

  • The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
  • Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

‘Other People are not Medicine’ and Other Things I Learned from ‘Yes Please’

I love to read. “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card” is basically my life motto. Over spring break, instead of doing productive things like work on my city issues story for my news writing class or catch up on The Aeneid for my classical Rome class, I devoured Amy Poehler’s book, “Yes Please.” All women should read “Yes Please.” All humans should read “Yes Please.” This is what I learned from “Yes Please.”

1. Other people are not medicine.

The pages of “Yes Please” are filled with words of Amy Poehler wisdom. The book is divided into three sections — “Say whatever you want,” “Do whatever you like,” and “Be whoever you are.” Chapters are also sometimes divided by two-page spreads of big bolded words. “Other people are not medicine.” “Everybody is scared most of the time.” “Symmetry is pleasing but not as sexy. Einstein is cool but Picasso knows what I’m talking about.” As soon as I get back to my apartment, I’m writing these on sticky notes and posting them all over my room. I’m serious.

For more specific examples of the wise words of Amy Poehler, read this.

2. New York is wonderful but also seems terrifying. And sometimes you will live under meth heads and mice will crawl up your apartment’s stove.

3. Be nice to people. But also be strict when you need to be.

I am very much a people-pleaser. And a pushover. If you ask me to do something, even if it inconveniences me greatly and you are perfectly capable of doing it on your own or getting by without it even being done in the first place, there is a good chance I will still do that thing. I need to be more like Amy Poehler and firmly say “No!” It’s not being mean (I mean, Amy Poehler seems like the nicest person in the world and if she can do it then I can, too).

Ex. No! I will not use my printer to print this nine-page, bolded-font packet for you. Ink is expensive, fool. You have a print quota on campus. Use it. Geez.

4. Love your friends

5. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend

“You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”

“Remember, your career is a bad boyfriend. It likes it when you don’t depend on it. It will reward you every time you don’t act needy. It will chase you if you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you. If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.”

6. Time travel is real. (Read the book, the woman has proof).

yes please

“I feel infinite.”

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you because she says you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.

Perks cover

I read Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” when I was 15, the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I skimmed through it in a couple of days, thought Charlie was “weird” for crying so much, gave it a three star rating on Goodreads, and moved on. As years passed, I noticed people would mention how much they loved the book, while I was too busy with my nose stuck in Richelle Mead’s “Vampire Academy” series and other YA supernatural romances (Team Edward or gtfo). I wondered what the big deal was about “Perks.” Sure, I had thought it was alright, but I didn’t see the book as anything too special.

Then, in 2012, it was made into a movie. I was excited to see it (after all, the perfect Emma Watson was starring as Sam) and I even volunteered to review it for my high school newspaper. I drove all the way to the giant AMC in Olathe (the only movie theater near me showing the indie flick) and saw it with my mom. By this point, I had pretty much forgotten everything about the book, so I came into the movie fairly oblivious.

Perks

I fell in love with the movie. I fell in love with Emma Watson’s Sam, with Ezra Miller’s Patrick, and, especially, with Logan Lerman’s Charlie. I was crying by the time it was over, and I saw it two more times in theaters with my friends. The story was beautiful and relatable and so damn truthful. It’s one of my favorite movies, only behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I bought the book shortly after seeing the film, but it wasn’t until this past week that I picked it back up.

Reading “Perks” as a 19-year-old college student is much different than reading it as a 15-year-old girl.

Everyone can relate to Charlie. Everyone, at one point or another, feels like a wallflower. We all think something is wrong with us but don’t know what, we all long for a place to belong, we all feel “both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

Like Charlie, I have often felt like a silent observer, standing in the corner watching everyone interact and wondering about their lives. Like Charlie, I have spent time completely without friends, and even when I was surrounded by friends I’ve felt apart from them. Different. Like an outsider.

When I read “Perks” the first time, I didn’t get it, you know? I was 15. I was still in high school, I hadn’t gone through any particularly life changing experiences. I hadn’t lost friends, I hadn’t made too many stupid decisions, I hadn’t had a boyfriend or even my first kiss. I was just a kid who spent all of her time at home reading and watching TV. I was innocent and oblivious and ignorant about the world.

At 19, I’ve lost friends. I’ve had relationships and had those relationships end. I’ve been completely out of my element. I’ve had to make all new friends and find my place to belong in college. I’ve watched my older friends leave for college before me, while I stayed behind to finish my last year of high school. I’ve had nights with my friends where I’ve felt infinite and alive and felt like I was really there. 

When I finished “Perks” today, I got it.

I have never, in all my years of devouring books, annotated. I don’t circle things, I don’t underline, I don’t write my own thoughts between the margins. But with “Perks,” there were lines I read over and over, and I just had to mark them.

When Bill warns Charlie, “Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”

When Charlie reminisces about past experiences, “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not so sad.”

When Charlie watches some kids sledding down a hill, completely elated, “I think it would be great if sledding was always enough, but it isn’t.”

When Bill tells Charlie, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

When Charlie observes, “Things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

And, of course, the beautiful untitled poem that Charlie reads to his friends at the Christmas party, all about the loss of innocence. (which I, admittedly, read through multiple times and cried).

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” is honest. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and passionate. It’s a story about growing up and discovering love and sex and drugs and friendship and yourself. It’s universal and timeless and…everything. It’s about taking action and “participating” in life, and not just sitting on the sidelines. Charlie and his friends go through what we all go through as we grow up and figure out who we want to be. It’s about, as Charlie says in the novel’s closing pages, “It’s okay to feel things. And be who you are about them.” It’s about that one song, that one night, on that one drive, where you felt infinite.

Love Always,

Charlie

Continue reading ““I feel infinite.””

Good Book, Bad Movie: Top 5 Worst Book-to-Movie Adaptations

This past weekend I went to the movie theater. No, I did not see “The Lego Movie,” which has taken the world by storm these last couple of days. (97% on Rotten Tomatoes? Can it really be that good? I think I’ll wait until it’s on Redbox). Instead, I  saw “Vampire Academy.”

“But Claudia, why would you do that?” you might be wondering. “‘Vampire Academy?’ It looks awful! Horrendous! ‘Twilight’ minus the sparkling!” And yeah, it pretty much was. I wrote a review of it for my movie column, which you can read here.

As explained in my column, I decided to see “Vampire Academy” simply because I owed it to my 14 year-old self. I went through a phase where I obsessed over teen paranormal romance novels, as every young girl does. And one of my very favorite book series was Richelle Mead’s vampire romance. I loved everything about it- Rose’s snark, Lissa and Christian’s unconventional relationship, and don’t even get me started on Dimitri; I was in love with that hunky Russian guardian. “Vampire Academy” was a quality series. And as with many book-to-movie adaptations, the film fell flat on its face.

So in honor of Hollywood’s latest fail to adapt a popular book series, I’ve decided to take a walk down memory lane and remember all the books that I love and the movies that completely crushed them into the ground.

1. “Eragon” (20th Century Fox, 2006)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Every time I think of “Eragon,” I feel so sorry for little sixth-grade Claudia. In the course of the school year I devoured Christopher Paolini’s first two novels (the only ones that were published at the time), “Eragon” and “Eldest,” and I thought they were absolutely brilliant. Fantasy, romance, adventure, mystery, battles, dragons, magic- what more could you ask for from a story? When the movie finally came to theaters, I was shaking with excitement. I went to the theater with my dad, all giddy and bouncing in anticipation…and then my hopes and dreams were destroyed.

It was god-awful. The acting was horrendous, the story was watered down almost beyond recognition, and Hollywood almost killed off Saphira and barely mentioned Angela. No. No no no. A part of my childhood died that day. And to make things worse, I didn’t have the emotional strength to express my dissatisfaction over the film, thus my parents assumed that I liked it and ended up giving it to me on DVD as a present. So now I own it. And every time I see it sitting among my other DVDs as I’m searching for a movie to watch, I vomit in my mouth a little.

2. “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” (Universal Studios, 2009)

Universal Pictures
Universal Studios

I found Darren Shan’s “Cirque Du Freak” series almost accidentally. I remember I was at Borders, glancing over the shelves, when the first book, “A Living Nightmare,” caught my eye. I opened it, sat down, and read the preface. That’s all it took- I was hooked. After that day, I read the 12-book series in record time. It captivated me- “Cirque Du Freak” was unique, unpredictable, void of all clichés. I loved it so much that I even wrote fan fiction and made slideshows of fan art in my spare time. (Sixth-grade Claudia had a lot of spare time, okay?)

When I learned it was going to be made into a movie, I was thrilled. But, as with “Eragon,” I was only to be disappointed. Let’s be real- this movie was doomed for failure the moment that John C. Reilly was cast to play the sexy, mysterious, bad ass vampire Larten Crepsley (my favorite character of the series). To be honest, I can’t remember much of the movie, which is probably for the best. I remember a train wreck of the plot being completely changed and awful acting, but no specifics. I have successfully pushed the traumatic experience out of my mind, and I am perfectly okay with that.

I don't even know what's going on here. Why, Hollywood? WHY?
I don’t even know what’s going on here. Why, Hollywood? WHY?

3. “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (20th Century Fox, 2010)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Oh Logan Lerman, where did you go wrong? You can do so much better! Where is the charmingly awkward Charlie from “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” that we all fell in love with?

To be fair, Logan Lerman is probably the best thing about this adaptation of Rick Riordan’s popular children’s series. The acting was blah, there were changes to the plot that I had strong feelings against, etc. It just didn’t do it for me, okay? I also had a hard time adjusting to Annabeth’s hair being brown.

"ANNABETH IS A BLONDE! A BLONDE!" -me, internally.
“ANNABETH IS A BLONDE! A BLONDE!” -me, internally.

But seriously, how hard is it to dye your hair? And why is she finally blonde in the sequel, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters?” I must not have been the only one who freaked out over this seemingly-infinitesimal detail. (It’s a big deal, guys).

4. “The Golden Compass” (New Line Cinema, 2007)

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

With a cast including Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Ian McKellan, and Sam Elliott, “The Golden Compass” should have been a hell of a lot better than it was. Yes, the animation is pretty impressive. Yes, Philip Pullman’s fantasy story of a parallel universe is nothing short of stellar. But “The Golden Compass” ended up as one big train wreck.

What went wrong? Well, it could be the fact that the big-name actors get remarkably little screen time compared to the “star,” Dakota Blue Richards, who portrays (or, tries to portray) Lyra. It was pitiful to watch the poor girl. The Catholics got upset because it was “anti-Catholic.” If they were going to get upset, it should have been because it was an utter piece of crap. And it ended on what is quite possibly the most boring cliffhanger (Lyra looking out to the horizon, urging her enemies to “just try to stop us”) for a sequel that will never be made.

5. “The City of Ember” (20th Century Fox, 2008)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

“The City of Ember” wasn’t awful. It was just simply extremely forgettable.

Nothing was “wrong” with it, per say. I am a huge Saoirse Ronan fan (“Hanna,” “The Lovely Bones,” “Atonement,”) and Billy Murray, who plays the mayor of Ember, can do no wrong. The reason I have included “The City Of Ember” on this list is simple: it did not even come close to doing the novel justice.

Jeanne DuPrau’s story is phenomenal. I read “The City of Ember” multiple times throughout elementary school, and I will always associate the story with my childhood. The film adaptation just fell flat. It was fine, but nothing that impressive. Eh.

P.S., what’s up with the giant moths and moles, Hollywood? DO NOT ADD THINGS TO SOMETHING THAT IS ALREADY PERFECT!

My return to reading

Despite my complaints about the past five weeks of Winter Break being a complete and utter snooze-fest of boredom (I return to CoMo in six days, huzzah!), there have been some perks. I got to spend quality time with my mother/BFF, I have finally finished (almost) Breaking Bad, I got to see all of my old friends from high school and, finally, I have finally had the time to read for pleasure.

Growing up I have always been an avid book worm. In early elementary school I devoured books such as The Magic Treehouse series and R. L. Stein’s Goosebumps before graduating to Harry Potter and the Warriors series by Erin Hunter (I mean, what fifth-grade girl wouldn’t love a seemingly never ending book series where all the main characters are cats?) I always had a book tucked under my arm. During my soccer games I would sit on the sidelines and read until my coach put me in. The summer before third and fourth grade I won my school’s “1,000 page reading challenge,” the second time with over 13,000 pages read in three short months. I would spend so much time sitting on the couch reading that my mom would sometimes take my books away from me and force me to go play outside like a normal child. In middle school I discovered Stephen King, who to this day is still my favorite author. I read Pet Sematary, then Salem’s Lot, then The Shining and Christine, and I was captivated.

Over the years, my love for reading hasn’t dwindled but the amount of books I’ve read has been on a steady decline. It just comes down to time. In high school I always had something assigned for Advanced English and then IB English classes. Shakespeare, Plath, McCarthy, Twain, Krakauer, Bradbury, Atwood. Some I loved, some I despised. But between assignments it was difficult to find the time and energy to read purely for pleasure. I’d maybe get a book in during breaks, but it was only over the summer where I would return to reading because I wanted to, not because my grade depended on it.

In college I have even less time for pleasure reading. I have classes and homework and articles to write for the newspaper, but the main reason comes down to the fact that all of your friends live right down the hall from you. All of first semester my mentality was, “why would I want to sit in my room alone and read when I could be hanging out with the Hatch 5 family until four in the morning?”

The great thing about winter break is it has reminded me that sitting in bed alone with a book is actually a great way to spend your evening. These past few weeks I finally finished the spectacular Under the Dome by Stephen King (which I began in July and only read about 100 to 150 pages of during the four months of first semester). I also began and finished Lucky, a memoir by Alice Sebold.

To motivate myself to keep my New Years resolution to read a little every day, I have constructed a list of books I want to read over the course of the upcoming year. It’s a bit ambitious, but I like a challenge.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

On top of these newbies, I also want to reread all of the Harry Potter books before 2014 comes to a close. I haven’t read any of them since 2007, when The Deathly Hallows came out, and I want to see what reading them as an adult is like.

And so begins 2014: The Year of the Great Book Odyssey. Wish me luck.