So long, farewell!

Hey, everyone!

We just wanted to make a formal announcement for what you’ve probably noticed already: we aren’t blogging anymore at The Side of Wonder. It was a great and fun experiment, and we loved reading new books and watching new movies so we could review them, but now it’s time for us to move on to other things. Emily is busy at work on her novel, and Clare is busy applying to graduate programs, with most of her energy applied to her new project Ampersand Literary.

We plan to leave this website up so people can still access our reviews, but there won’t be anything new here. Thanks for all the fun, though!

Best,

Clare and Emily

Introducing Ampersand Literary

Ampersand Logo_textI am very excited to introduce to you all a new endeavor! Ampersand Literary is an online review for short stories, poetry, photography, art, and so much more. You can check out our website at ampersandlit.com, and find us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram.

How did Ampersand come to be?

Both my friend Jenny and I love reading, writing, and art. We realized that while there are many personal blogs and large publication houses, there isn’t much in between. We thought there needed to be a platform for aspiring artists to publish their work, so we created one.

At Ampersand Literary, we plan to focus on the aspiring artist, providing a place for them to publish their work, but also learn from other artists, discover new styles and methods, and develop their own craft. We want Ampersand to be a positive place for artists of all kinds to grow and share their ideas.

We also want to be a place where anyone can go to find great art, whether it’s poetry to photography. So even if you aren’t an artist yourself, come check us out! We’re just getting started, but we hope to post many new and exciting things!

We’re also looking for artists, whether you’re a writer or a painter, who want to be a part of Ampersand. We need writers, poets, painters, photographers, and anyone who trades in a storytelling medium. If you’d like to contribute, you can check out our submissions page and email us at ampersandlit@gmail.com.

We look forward to hearing from you as we set out on this new adventure!

Art by Ampersand Co-Founder Jenny Kawecki.

Art by Ampersand Co-Founder Jenny Kawecki.

Brooke Fraser

brooke fraserI thought I’d write a blog post about the musical artist Brooke Fraser because I am OBSESSED with her music, particularly her album Flags. One of my friends posted her music video for the song “Something In The Water” on my Facebook and I have not stopped listening to her since.

“Something In The Water” was a very catchy and fun song. It’s lyrical, upbeat, and just a little quirky. It’s very easy to understand why this song was such a successful single. But after I bought the entire album, I realized that Brooke Fraser has so much more to offer the world than one catchy tune.

Besides songs like “Something In The Water” and “Betty”, most of Fraser’s songs are slow, but they are far from boring. Her lyrics are pure poetry, touching on so many relevant feelings and issues, from songs about failing to relationships to love healing past wounds to embracing the ups and downs of life. Fraser’s lyrics are truly messages for a contemporary audience, but without being depressing or angry or hopeless. On the contrary, even her sad songs still ring of hope.

And her music is beautiful. The ballads are some of the most incredible pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Fraser uses a variety of instruments, sounds, and styles to create each song. So even though she’s labeled as a “pop” artist, different songs sound like folks songs, or indie songs, or something not confinable to one genre.

This is definitely an artist where you don’t just buy the single on iTunes. You need to buy the whole album, listen to the whole musical experience. The music transports you, relates to you, serenades you, and encourages you. It’s truly one of the best albums I’ve heard in a while. (Since I was previously obsessed with London Grammar’s album If You Wait!)

But seriously, go check it out!

The Happiest Place On Earth

Me and Emily in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland.

Me and Emily in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.

Is Disneyland the happiest place on earth? For some people, maybe it’s simply the place of the world’s longest lines, or the priciest churro you’ll ever eat. But for most people, myself included, Disneyland truly is the most magical place on earth.

Why? Why does everyone—from toddlers to adults—love Disneyland so much? I’m sure psychologists can offer technical explanations about escapism or childhood nostalgia, but loving Disneyland isn’t part of some diagnosis. Yes, it offers an escape from an often-cumbersome reality, and it takes us back to our happy childhood memories. But it’s not cheap amusement park trick. Walt Disney didn’t design Disneyland, or any of his films, to trick us, but rather to transport us.

All of Disneyland is designed to transport you. It’s dug into the ground to block out the noise of the highways nearby. There is absolutely no trash on the ground. The employees are unusually perky. The girls playing princesses are freakishly in character. The buildings along Main Street lean inward to appear taller. It’s details like these that make the Disney experience. Perhaps there is no greater attention to detail in all the world than at Disneyland. Even as an adult you feel like you’re meeting Cinderella. You feel like you’re with Mr. Toad on his wild ride. You feel like there is no world beyond Disneyland.

Me at Snow White's Wishing Well.

Me at Snow White’s Wishing Well.

So maybe that does sound a little escapist. But we all need to escape reality sometimes. Walt Disney recognized this, and it’s why his movies and theme parks are so successful. He knew that we—children and adults—wanted to go somewhere else for a day, somewhere where magic is possible and every ending is happy.

As someone who loves to read and write, I also love the stories that go along with the rides, especially the rides in Fantasy Land. The attention to detail in these rides is amazing too. It’s also adorable to see all the little girls running around in their princess costumes. And I do love the churros. But mostly, I love being transported for a day to a land of fairy stories and magic and fun. Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because you leave all the unhappiness at the gate. Then you’re free to laugh and smile and be a prince or princess for a day.

Me and Emily meeting Ariel.

Me and Emily meeting Ariel.

Audiobooks

sinner-audioWith my brother playing college baseball in Tucson, Arizona, my family takes many long drives through the desert during baseball season. It’s about 8-9 hours from Santa Barbara to Tucson, depending on traffic, but it can feel like forever. The best way I’ve found to pass the time is by listening to an audiobook. My parents and I recently drove to Tucson for my brother’s opening weekend, so I listened to the audiobook for Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater, and it made me realize that there are few things better than a good audiobook.

I’m not discriminating between the audiobooks where a narrator reads the text word for word or a theatrical adaptation. Both can be great audiobooks. For example, the Sinner audiobooks consists of a female narrator readings Isabel’s chapters and a male narrator reading Cole’s chapters, and it’s amazing. The audiobook for The Lord of the Rings is a theatrical adaptation, not a narrator reading word for word, but a cast of actors reading scripts like a radio play.

Now, there are several standards for good audiobooks, the most important being that even if they are adapted, they are still close to the book. You obviously need a good voice for the narrator(s) or characters. Nothing kills an audiobook faster than a grating voice. But if it well done, an audiobook can be a great way to relive a book without reading a print copy.

I love audiobooks because they allow you to relive the story without the “work” of actually reading the book again. This might sound lazy or sacrilegious, but life can get busy and tired, and sometimes I want the easy way to relive a story. Plus, reliving the story via audiobook gives the story a new dimension. It’s in between reading and a film adaptation. It maintains the integrity of the written words, but adds a flare of drama to the experience.

The cast of the Neverwhere radio theater adaptation.

The cast of the Neverwhere radio theater adaptation.

Audiobooks also allow you to “read on the go”. You can listen in your car, while you exercise, or anytime you want. They’re really quite versatile. And so much fun. I love the narrators in Sinner and the actors in The Lord of the Rings. Some of my other favorite audiobooks are the theatrical adaptation of the Chronicles of Narnia books, all of them, and Neverwhere by Nail Gaiman. And if you know of other excellent audiobooks, let me know in the comments! I’d love to check them out!

The Magic of Children’s Books

Anne of Green Gables, cover art by Claire Keane.

Anne of Green Gables, cover art by Claire Keane.

Lately, I’ve come down with a severe case of literature nostalgia. I’ve had the strong desire to reread books from my childhood—from Anne of Green Gables to The Lord of the Rings. Maybe this is because I finished my “to read” list, or I’m too lazy to invest in a new book or author, or I’m killing time in between book releases in a series (*cough* The Winner’s Crime *cough* The Raven King). Or maybe I miss the quality of the characters and stories found in children’s books.

My parents always give me grief about reading children’s fiction. I’m too old, they say, and I should be reading adult books. But when I go to the adult section in the library, all I see are books by people like Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson. Not that these two men are bad authors, but I see the shelves lined with romance and crime/thriller novels, and I have absolutely no interest in those kinds of books. I have nothing against adult fiction—there are good books out there written for adults—but in general, I see a lot of generic stories.

I understand that adults are busy with jobs and families, and when they read they just want to sit down with a quick and easy read with enough drama (usually sex or spies) to keep them interested. But that isn’t what I want when I sit down with a book. I want complex characters, a story with depth and plots twists, themes and morals throughout the books. Usually, I can only find this in children’s books. How amazing are the characters in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia? How incredible is the plot in Megan Whalen Turner’s The King of Attolia?

First edition cover of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

First edition cover of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

And children’s books don’t have to shy away from the fantastic. Wizards, magic, historical time periods, talking animals, and the like are frowned upon in adult fiction, or at least regulated to the second class status of “genre fiction”. But after so many detective novels and stories of second chances at young romances, don’t readers want something new? Something different? Something that can transport the reader back to a place where anything and everything is possible. Children’s fiction does that in a way adult fiction does not. It transports readers of any age back to that mythical feeling of childhood that adventures happen and fairies are real and good triumphs over evil. I want that feeling when I read. I want to lose myself in the book, and I think children’s authors are much better at that than adult ones.

I’m not that old; I only graduated college two years ago. But I’m old enough to miss aspects of childhood; old enough to miss how easy and exciting it was to get lost in a good story. Now in the humdrum life of an adult—job, bills, chores—perhaps we as readers need that now even more than we did as children. We need to be transported to a different world for a time, even if only for two hundred pages.

To quote Meg Ryan in the movie You’ve Got Mail, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” I guess I’m missing that in my life right now, which is why I’ve decided to go on a rereading binge. It’s time to pull out some of my childhood, or even recent young adult, books and relive the stories and the feelings they gave me. So be prepared for this blog to feature a lot of old—and some new—classics!

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling