Posted in Fiction

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I would have told her that Davis and I never talked much, or even looked at each other, but it didn’t matter, because we were looking at the same sky together, which is maybe more intimate than eye contact anyway. Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.

Of the YA authors that I have read (and admittedly, I haven’ t read a lot), John Green is one of the best. As I enjoyed his novel The Fault in Our Stars so much, I looked forward to reading his latest novel Turtles All the Way Down. I wasn’t disappointed.

Turtles JG

Narrator Aza Holmes plays internet detective with her friend Daisy as she deals with her unnamed mental illness. While experts in mental illness would make a better case for exactly how well Green portrays this aspect of Aza, I will say that he easily pulls the reader into Aza’s world. The mystery that Aza and Daisy try to solve plays second to the ups and downs of the teenage characters and their relationships with friends and family- and to Aza’s illness.

In the two other Green novels I’ve read – The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines – the humor Green uses made me occasionally stop reading because I had to laugh so hard. While Turtles All the Way Down has some very funny moments, I don’t recall having to stop reading. That’s not necessarily something negative, its just different.

Green’s use of science in this story blends perfectly with all of the human emotions and reactions to things that can’t always be explained – such as human suffering. I think Green is a master at taking the lives of teenagers and showing how they fit in with the deeper meaning and bigger picture of the world and life in general.

Posted in Books in General

Anniversary post!

Today happens to be the one-year anniversary of my blog!  It’s been an incredibly fun activity and I’ve enjoyed the exchanging of ideas with other bloggers along the way and look forward to more in the coming year.  To celebrate, I thought I would post a few favorite quotations I’ve come across this year.

It rather goes without saying that Katherine drank her coffee black.  Katherines do, generally.  They like their coffee like they like their ex-boyfriends: bitter.

-From John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines

“As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”

Spoken by Miss Sook in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”

When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped.  To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand.  This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.  It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.

-The first paragraph from Jack London’s short story “In A Far Country”

Posted in Fiction

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

…he always had books.  Books are the ultimate Dumpees:  put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.

This is a favorite quote from John Green’s hilarious novel An Abundance of Katherines.  When I heard John Green speak at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County back in October, an audience member asked him if he ever thought about writing fantasy or science fiction as opposed to realistic fiction.  In his response, he used this novel to explain that not all of his novels are realistic, but what he calls “hyper-realistic” or exaggerated realism.

The premise of the novel involves Colin Singleton’s therapeutic road trip while he reels from the breakup with his most recent girlfriend, Katherine, the nineteenth girl named Katherine to break up with him.  Colin, an extremely intelligent young man, attempts to develop a mathematical theorem that can predict if and when two people in a romantic relationship will break up.  Colin and his unambitious and sarcastic Sunni Muslim friend, Hassan, head south from Chicago with no intended destination.  They end up in the small community of Gutshot, Tennessee when they pull over for a tour of the grave of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the one whose assassination started World War I.  That the Archduke would be buried in Gutshot, Tennessee is another example of exaggerated realism.

Colin’s musings on relationships in general and his relationships with the nineteen Katherines make up the majority of the novel.  One of his more memorable thoughts to me involved his dislike for coffee:

He liked the idea of coffee quite a lot – a warm drink that gave you energy and had been for centuries associated with sophisticates and intellectuals.  But coffee itself tasted to him like caffeinated stomach bile.  So he did an end-around on the unfortunate taste by drowning his java in cream, for which Katherine gently teased him that afternooon.  It rather goes without saying that Katherine drank her coffee black.  Katherines do, generally.  They like their coffee like they like their ex-boyfriends: bitter.

Throughout the novel, Green uses the technique of footnotes to give little asides to the main storyline – 87 of them to be exact.  One of the footnotes explains how Colin came up with a sentence using words that each begin with the letter of the alphabet that corresponds to the first 99 digits in the number pi.  I’d love to post it here, but it would just take up too much space.  I couldn’t decide whether this use of footnotes was annoying or funny.  Because I still can’t decide, I’m going to take that as a sign that it at least leans toward annoying.  I have to admit, though, that it perhaps is a brilliant way of presenting Colin in all of his philosophical teen angst as at least a little annoying.  Another of Colin’s quirks is his ability to quickly anagram words and phrases.  In a Q & A section at the end of the book, Green indicates that he was fascinated by the fact that the word PRESBYTERIANS could be anagrammed into BRITNEY SPEARS.

I didn’t find this novel as moving and well-crafted as Green’s more recent novel The Fault In Our Stars, but it had it’s own kind of genius – much like Colin’s.  The story reaches a climax during Colin and Hassan’s feral pig hunt with some of their Gutshot friends.  In reflecting on this experience, Colin comes up with some interesting ideas about life, love and the importance of stories:

…say I tell someone about my feral hog hunt.  Even if it’s a dumb story, telling it changes other people just the slightest little bit, just as living the story changes me.  An infinitesimal change. And that infinitesimal change ripples outward – ever smaller but everlasting.  I will get forgotten, but the stories will last.  And so we  all matter – maybe less than a lot, but always more than none.

Posted in Books in General, Libraries

Hearing John Green…

The last time I attended a literary event with Daughter, The Eldest, was in the summer of 2007 when she was eleven and we went to Barnes and Noble at midnight to get  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.  She’s now almost 17 and last night we went to hear “rock star” YA novelist John Green speak at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for the beginning of Teen Reading Awareness Week.

I read Green’s The Fault In Our Stars earlier this fall and consider it one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.  I’ve heard great things about his novels all over the blogosphere but did not realize exactly how popular he is.  He spoke for about an hour and then at 8:00 pm signed books.  He graciously said he would stay until all books were signed.  They called people by letters of the alphabet.  My daughter had M and it was just after 10:30 pm when she got her book signed.

The crowd intrigued me.  The majority of the audience consisted of teenagers with a few parents (who seemed to also be fans) scattered throughout.  I would definitely describe the teenagers as “bookish” and being bookish myself, I only say this with the best of compliments.  Green mentioned that today’s teenagers read more than past teen generations.  I would probably agree with him after last night.  After he spoke, and everyone was waiting for their letters to be called, the teenagers mingled about, formed groups, socialized – and pulled out books and read!  And it was absolutely socially acceptable!  Where were these kids when I was in high school?

Green was incredibly charasmatic and funny.  One of his topics dealt with why do people read books.  He commented that human beings are really bad at putting themselves in other people’s shoes.  Books give a glimpse into the lives of other people, give insights into how other people think, and put readers into other times and other worlds.  One idea he brought up that I’ve been mulling over ever since is his thought that the reader is just as much a part of the creative process as the author.  The way a reader’s brain processes what they read brings them into something that is bigger than themselves.  As an avid reader, I’ve had similar thoughts over the years, but have never quite been able to put them into words the way Green did.

When asked with what author would he like to collaborate, he first replied with the question “Can he be dead”?  When the audience gave him a collective “yes”, he blurted out Toni Morrison.  He quickly clarified that she was neither dead nor a “he”.

If there was a book that he would read three times in row, it would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  He mentioned Fitzgerald and Gatsby several times.  He indicated he was not good at writing fantasy or science fiction, even though he has tried.  When asked if he would write screenplays for his novels, he replied that was something at which he was not very adept, either, unlike Steven Chbosky, whose The Perks of Being a Wallflower Green complimented as a “very good book and a very good film”.

While not getting into the nitty-gritty of politics, he stressed the need for everyone to vote if they were old enough.  I was most glad for my daughter to hear his message of teenagers thinking through their life and world and figuring out how to best be a part of it.  The most political statement he made was that he didn’t like Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged or he at least did not like her conclusions to the questions she poses in her novel.  At the same time, he gave kudos to kids he knows who have read this thousand-page novel and thought through the philosophical ideas contained in it.  I haven’t read this novel, myself, but it’s on my Classics Club list.  Ultimately, Green gave a considerable amount of credit, and rightly so from my experience with my daughter and some of her friends, to the ability of teenagers today to be informed, think through problems, and come to their own conclusions.  I’m reminded of the lyrics sung by David Bowie (to whom my kids would say “who”?) in his song Changes:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Posted in Fiction, Libraries

Writ of Mandamus

Northern Kentucky One Book One Community selected local author Rick Robinson’s political thriller Writ of Mandamus as this year’s “one book”.  The libraries of Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties provide copies of the book and sponsor book related events, including discussions with the author, for interested book-lovers in and around Northern Kentucky.

To be honest, I had not heard of Robinson or his novels until the selection announcement had been made.  I don’t read many political thrillers, although occasionally I will enjoy one.  And enjoy this one, I did!

Since the plot contains the usual twists of this genre, I won’t give away any of the details; however, I will include some of the aspects of the novel that I thought put it a notch above some of the other political and legal mysteries I’ve read.

First, more than one hero weaves themselves through the plot:  Jane Kline, the no-nonsense CIA Director; Richard Thompson, US Congressman from the Fourth Congressional District of Kentucky; Sean Sullivan, an eccentric inner-city attorney with an office located in a laundromat in Covington, KY; Tiana Bolton, an up and coming young Kentucky lawyer.

Second, unlike the stereotypical politician, Richard Thompson maintains a strong marriage with his wife, Ann.  While the marriage has its share of struggles and imperfections, reading a story that involves two people realistically working at their relationship is refreshingly satisfying.

Third, the story’s setting jumps around between Ireland, Washington, D. C., and, yes, Northern Kentucky!  While a story of intrigue that takes place in Northern Kentucky may only seem special to those who live here, Robinson fascinated me with the manner in which his story pulls Kentucky into world politics.  As with The Fault In Our Stars by Indianapolis author John Green, which I recently read, its fun to read a story that takes place somewhere in which you live or used to live.  When Green references Broad Ripple or when Robinson references Main Strasse and Chez Nora, it’s exciting to think “I’ve been there”!  And, in true Kentucky fashion, racehorses and bourbon make some appearances.

Finally, Congressman Richard Thompson, professes a fondness for folk music.  This came as a pleasant surprise and gave him a characteristic unique to many politicians in this genre.  While it may have been a minor scene, for me it became a turning point in the novel and my relationship to the characters when Thompson climbed up on stage to play The Pogues’ Dirty Old Town on the mandolin with an Irish folk band in a Dublin pub.  And when I think about it, it’s not as though folk music and politics have never crossed paths in real life!

Robinson has written three other novels that I believe may include some of the same characters as Writ of Mandamus.  During this novel, several of the characters briefly refer to events that took place in Romania – and one of his other novels, would be my guess.

Robinson is making appearances at each of the four Northern Kentucky libraries at the end of October.  I’m going to try to make it to one of them.  If I do, look for a post about it.


Posted in Fiction

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

In The Fault In Our Stars, John Green skillfully maneuvers the beautiful thin line between comedy and tragedy.   I never expected a novel about teenagers with terminal cancer to be so funny.


The novel’s narrator, sixteen year-old Hazel Lancaster, is scared out of her mind even while she faces her disease head on.  She meets Augustus Waters at a cancer victim support group meeting in a church shaped like a cross.  Their little support circle is located in what Hazel and Gus refer to as the “Literal Heart of Jesus”.  The leader of the support group has difficulty with the difference between “literal” and “figurative”.

While the novel centers around Hazel and Gus, along with their friend, Isaac, I enjoyed the fact that Hazel and Gus’s parents were intricately involved in the novel.  Here, Green walks another line between portraying the parents as quirky and weird (as many parents are to teenagers) but also as caring, involved and just as courageous as their children.  Hazel’s dad seemed to be the one I related to most.  During a conversation in which he is comforting Hazel, he says:

You are amazing.  You can’t know, sweetie, because you’ve never had a baby become a brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows, but the joy you bring us is so much greater than the sadness we feel about your illness.

In a deeper conversation, he explains to Hazel:

I believe the universe wants to be noticed.  I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because universe enjoys its elegance being observed.  And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?

Hazel responds with “You are fairly smart” and her dad responds with “You are fairly good at compliments”.

As Augustus deals with his cancer, in a particularly poignant moment, Hazel describes his crying as a “sob roaring impotent like a clap of thunder unaccompanied by lightning, the terrible ferocity that amateurs in the field of suffering might mistake for weakness”.

Hazel and Gus’s romance develops as they embark on a literary quest that takes them to Amsterdam as a result of Gus’s Wish (granted by an organization that makes wishes for younger cancer victims).  Their quest becomes a metaphor for the questions they are really dealing with: the meaning of life in the face of horrible circumstances and suffering.  However, their quest is so real and funny that I didn’t take it for a metaphor until I finished the book and thought “Oh, wait, that was a metaphor.”

In determining favorite books I’ve read this year, this one will rank up there near the top.

Posted in Books in General

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall “To Be Read” List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week’s topic is books on my fall “To Be Read” list.  I have to admit that I did a decent job of getting through my summer TBR list.  I only missed one:  Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.  Guess which one is first on my fall list?  I also have an abundance of authors from Indianapolis, IN, one of the handful of cities/towns I consider home.

1.)  Bleak House by Charles Dickens:  I was less than thrilled with Hard Times so I think I’m a little hesitant to get started on this one.  My copy has a great preface by Vladamir Nabokov, though!

2.)  Armageddon In Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:  I just started this one.  So far, it’s typical Vonnegut (an Indianapolis native) – very funny.  

3.)  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green:  Another YA novel that I’ve seen all over the blogosphere.  As he’s from Indianapolis, also, I thought I’d give him a try.

4.)  Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes:  A book I read as a kid that I’ve decided to re-read.  A nostalgia read-along is being hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

5.)  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: As mentioned previously, Vonnegut is an Indianapolis native.  I’m going to re-read this one in honor of Banned Book Week at the end of September.

6.)  Awaken Your Senses by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Boorman:  Brent led a book group I attended when I lived in Indianapolis.  He has written several books about Quaker traditions that I’ve found fascinating.  I’m looking forward to reading his latest book.

7.)  The Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson:  This is another book of Robinson’s essays of which I’ve found to be very thought-provoking.

8.)  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

9.)  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

10.)  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy