Year in Review: 2014

Emily and I at The Green Dragon in Boston.

Emily and I at The Green Dragon in Boston.

I can’t believe another year has passed already. I’m starting to feel old, and I’m only 22 (almost 23!). Last year around this time I posted a short review of my year—exciting stuff that happened (I graduated!), books I loved, movies I saw. I thought I’d do the same thing this year because, even though nothing as exciting as graduating from college happened, I did read some amazing books and see some amazing movies.

lovelyphotoI’ll start with books. One unconventional book that I absolutely adored was Lovely: Ladies of Animation, a collaborative art book featuring personal work by Lorelay Bove, Brittney Lee, Claire Keane, Helen Cheng, Lisa Keene, and Victoria Ying. I went to their exhibit in Burbank at the Center Stage Gallery and it was amazing. I love their artwork, and anyone into art, animation, or Disney should check it out.

sinnerNovels I loved include Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys, a story about a hard working girl from the French District in New Orleans. The writing was wonderful and the characters colorful. Another colorful book was Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis, an “Arabian nights” type story set in India. Both those books are full of very different cultures, vibrant and interesting. Another book full of culture is Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse. The culture in this book is fictional, but heavily based upon Roman and Greek culture. I am incredibly excited for the next book, The Winner’s Crime. And speaking of waiting, I waited so long for Maggie Stiefvater’s Sinner, a stand alone companion novel to her Wolves of Mercy Falls series. If any of you like Maggie Stiefvater or werewolves or hot OTP couples, definitely check out this book. All of these books are incredible, and if you haven’t read them, put them on your “to read” list.

The-Theory-of-EverythingAs far as movies go, I enjoyed the adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which was not only a moving story set in World War II, but also incredibly close to the book. I also liked The Theory of Everything, the movie about Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. The acting was amazing. And I know this is not a movie, but I also loved watching ABC’s Once Upon A Time. It was a fun, fairytale adventure with lots of twists and turns and villains. I can’t wait for the next season to come to Netflix.

Me under a tunnel of books.

Me under a tunnel of books.

It is difficult, nigh impossible, to top the traveling Emily and I did last year, going to London, Oxford, and Paris. This year was not as exciting, but we did get around. We went to Boston, walked the Freedom Trail, tasted the marvels of Little Italy. On the West Coast, I also visited The Last Bookstore, one of the most famous bookstores in Los Angeles, and it was quite the experience. Emily and I are closing off the year in Chicago together, so more adventures are yet to be had!

I can’t wait to wrap up 2014 watching Lord of the Rings in Chicago with my best friend, but I’m also looking forward to 2015. Hopefully it will be an exciting year and bring about some changes. I’m still thinking about what my resolutions should be, but hopefully they are big and exciting! I hope your new year is the same.

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Book Hangovers

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One of my past book hangovers was Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races.

I am currently experiencing a book hangover.

You may be asking yourself, what is a “book hangover”? Though you may not be familiar with the term, dear reader, I can almost guarantee that you have experienced at least one of these in the past. Here are the symptoms:

  • Finishing the last page of a book and wiping away tears and/or sighing heavily.
  • Staring listlessly out the window.
  • Staring listlessly at your book shelves, knowing that you are not in the mood to read any of the books on them.
  • Staring listlessly at the shelves in your local bookstore or at amazon.com, knowing that the only book that you want to read is the sequel of the book you just read. You know, the sequel that comes out in a year.

I am sad to say that the only cure, like with any heartbreak, is time. Time and that darn sequel that the author is working so hard to finish.

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Please don’t let the stereotypical YA pretty-white-girl-in-frilly-dress book cover fool you: this book packs a serious emotional punch.

But you will move on with life, dear reader. I promise you that. Though right now it feels like part of you is in another world, and you are in a bit of a bleary-eyed daze from staying up all night to get to that last page, in a few days you will feel better. Refreshed. Willing to consider other book options. Willing to fall in love with other worlds and characters. It may not feel like it now, but that day will come, I promise.

But for me, it is not that day. Please excuse me while I stare with longing at my computer screen, waiting for news about when the sequel to Marie Rutkoski’s brilliant book The Winner’s Curse comes out. And maybe, once I’ve regained a bit of consciousness, and my ability to “even”, I will try to write a review. But that is not this day.

 

Why Jane Austen Isn’t My Favorite Author

keira-knightly-as-elizabeth-bennettOn my first date with my boyfriend, we were walking around Washington DC and books came up as a topic of conversation, as they usually do when I’m talking to someone. This was a particularly important topic for both of us, as we both admitted that we tend to get a feel for other people by what they read. Luckily we both approved of each other’s taste. But one part of that conversation went a little something like this:

Boy: So do you like Jane Austen novels?

Me: . . . I mean, yeah. I like them.

Boy: Are they not your favorite books?

Me: No.

Boy: Do you have a favorite one?

Me: Yes. Persuasion.

Boy: Not Pride and Prejudice?

Me: Nope. I like it, but it’s not my favorite.

Boy: . . . Oh. I just lost a bet with my best friend, I was sure that you would be a fan.

While the exchange was humorous, it also got me thinking about the expectations in our culture. A lot of people assume that all females worship the ground on which Jane Austen once tread, just in the way that a lot of people assume that all women love chocolate (though I, personally, am not the biggest fan). I don’t blame my boyfriend for assuming that I would be obsessed with Jane Austen based on what he knew about me at the time. Here is a little Venn diagram to show what our culture’s expectations are:

 

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Please excuse my lack of artistic ability… But you get the gist.

Because I am female, I’m expected to love Jane Austen. Because I was an English major in college, I’m expected to love Jane Austen. And as a female English major who happens to be a Christian, my idea of an ideal Saturday is supposed to be being curled up with a mug of tea and Emma. But it isn’t.

And whenever I state this in conversation, especially with other females, many people are shocked and dismayed by this fact. They try to convince me that if I reread Sense and Sensibility or watch a film adaptation of Northanger Abbey, I will grow to love Jane Austen as much as they do. Some girls get upset with me when I stand my ground and say that I’d rather not, like I’ve failed some rite of passage.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I like Jane Austen. She was a brilliant writer with a glorious sense of humor. The way that she is able to slyly describe a character in a way that ensures that you know the ins and outs of that character in just a sentence or two? It leaves me in awe every time. I respect her for her well-deserved success and admire her talent. I also wish to emulate her ability to work hard to achieve her goals. I have read all of her novels, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I watched a lot of the film adaptations at sleepovers growing up.

What I guess I’m trying to say, however, is that I would rather read Charlotte Bronte or George Eliot. This has nothing to do with Jane Austen, and everything to do with my personal preferences and tastes. There are so many books out there and so many characters to meet. I think that we all have old friends that we love to go back to visit– Little Women, Lord of the Rings, A Wrinkle in Time. For a lot of people, Jane Austen’s characters are these old friends.

But I think that we do women everywhere a disservice by trying to fit us all into one mold or trying to dictate what we all must like. So please. It is not a truth universally acknowledged that all girls’ favorite author is Jane Austen. And that’s okay.

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Though even as someone who isn’t a big Pride and Prejudice fan? The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (http://www.lizziebennet.com/) is fantastic.

The Return to True Romance

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Books like S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War helped to inspire a new wave of realistic fiction for young adults. Sadly, realistic fiction soon became boiled down into the unimaginative subgenre of ‘the problem novel’.

Over the last year, I have been sporadically writing about the history of the young adult genre in the United States. Authors have written books about teenagers for a very long time, and from Little Women to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, bookcases are filled with books dealing with teenage characters and their adventures. But since the mid-1900s, a genre about adolescents, written from the perspective of adolescents, and written for adolescents has risen to great prominence. We call this genre young adult literature. In the past year I have discussed:

After Robert Cormier’s success– and the controversy created– with The Chocolate War, realistic fiction came to the forefront of YA fiction. The Chocolate War revolutionized the genre through its stark realism and message that not every story has a happy ending. But after the daring of Robert Cormier, a much safer and formulaic branch of the genre was created called ‘the problem novel’.

Michael Cart writes, “Unfortunately, success and innovation often breed not only more success and innovation, but also pale imitation, as new techniques are turned into recycled formula, making subject (think ‘problem’) and theme the tail that wags the dog of the novel. Such is the case of… what has come to be called the problem novel”. The problems that these problem novels center around are issues such as pregnancy, sex, divorce, drugs, desertion, and death, etc. While these issues are things that many young adults struggle with, the formulaic nature of this subgenre still draws much ire from critics to this day.

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Thankfully, there were still superb fantasy writers at the time, like Susan Cooper, who worked to ground fantasy in the real world in innovative ways.

Sheila Egoff sums up the feeling of critics towards the problem novel with, “Think of it this way, and you’ll understand the problem with the problem novel: it is to young adult literature what soap opera is to legitimate drama”.

Following the rise of the problem novel, another subgenre of young adult literature emerged in the early 1980s: the romance novel. These novels were a reaction against the gritty realism that had dominated the genre for the past decade. The only problems in these novels were whether or not the female protagonist would go with Bobby or Joe to the homecoming dance. Young adult author Jane Yolan, herself the author of a myriad of fantasy novels, said that the huge popularity of these novels was “a teenager’s way of saying ‘enough.’ Teenagers have seen their adolescence taken away by graphic television shows and movies and books. The return to romance is a way to return to the mystery and beauty of love, even if it is at a superficial level”. By the 1980s, teenagers were growing weary with the dark, realistic fiction that dominated the young adult market, which was glutted with problem novels. The romance novel offered an escape from real life, and the subgenre was wildly successful.

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Robin McKinley also wrote wonderfully complex fantasy for young adults during this time– and still does!

But throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was a subgenre of young adult literature that interpreted “romance” a little bit differently, as stories that are based on legend, adventure, and the supernatural. Equally inspired by the medieval romances of Arthurian legend and the world around them, authors like Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, and Robin McKinley were writing superb fantasy novels

Susan Cooper is the Newbery Award-winning author of The Dark is Rising Sequence. Cooper based her books on Arthurian legend, as well as Celtic and Norse mythology. The story focuses on several children who are swept up into the struggle between the forces of good and evil, called the Light and the Dark. What I love about Susan Cooper’s work, and what has made her so popular with readers for decades, is the blend of fantasy and reality in her books. I actually got to meet Susan Cooper in 2013, and wrote about the experience and more about her books here.

Diana Wynne Jones is an author who is beloved and revered around the world. While she passed away in 2011, her books continue to be read and loved. Throughout the 1970s and 80s when there was an abundance of realistic fiction, Diana Wynne Jones was writing about worlds that seem very similar to our own until you squint. Magic abounds in her novels, but they are populated by people who are very realistic. The Chrestomanci series is a series of books about parallel worlds, in which the worlds diverge because of different outcomes in wars or events like the Gunpowder Plot in England. The books are loosely based around a boy named Christopher Chant who grows up to become the Chrestomanci, a person who supervises the use of magic. The books are fun, witty, delightful, and filled to the brim with magic. I would highly recommend them to anyone who enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

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Diana Wynne Jones is also a favorite of mine. And oh, how I love this British cover!

Robin McKinley also eschewed realistic fiction during this time for writing fantasy. McKinley won a Newbery Honor for her novel The Blue Sword and a Newbery Medal for her novel The Hero and the Crown. These novels are set in the same world, but in very different time periods. The Blue Sword follows a girl named Harry Crewe who has grown up in a culture similar to that of Imperial Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria. When she is sent to live at an outpost in a country much wilder and full of magic than her own, she is whisked away on an epic adventure that helps bridge the gap between her culture and that of the Hillfolk. The Hero and the Crown follows the story of a princess named Aerin, who does great deeds and is famous in Harry’s time for her work to save her homeland.

Even though the great realistic work of authors like S.E. Hinton and Robert Cormier was boiled down into derivative ‘problem’ novels, the 1970s and 80s were still a time of innovation in literature. Authors like Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, and Robin McKinley took old stories and tropes in romantic literature and wove them into new, brilliant, and beautiful stories that still capture readers’ imaginations today.

Young Adult Literature: Part 1

Young Adult Literature: Part 2

Young Adult Literature: Part 3

Young Adult Literature: Part 4

Young Adult Literature: Part 5

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If you’ve seen Hayao Miyazaki’s gorgeous film Howl’s Moving Castle, then you’ve already been exposed to some of Diana Wynne Jones’ work– the movie is based on one of her books!

Thank You, Markus Zusak

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Markus Zusak recently won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for his lasting contribution to young adult literature.

I can tell you the exact moment, at least in my mind, that Clare and I became best friends. We were sophomores in high school. I had read (and sobbed) my way through Markus Zusak’s beautiful, haunting, and lyrical The Book Thief. It was a book that was just begging to be discussed, and I desperately needed to talk to someone about the prose, the characters, the themes. And so I begged Clare to read the book. And she did. And then she called me, sobbing.

In that moment, I realized that I had found someone who feels books and stories as deeply as I do. And I realized that A.) Clare is a wonderful human being and an awesome friend, and B.) I really wanted to read every Markus Zusak book I could get my hands on.

The Book Thief, for me, is the book equivalent of a soul mate. It is a book that has stayed with me, and has changed the way that I view the world. And, as I said in a recent blog post, Markus Zusak has changed and shaped the way that I write now.

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Zusak’s The Book Thief is a must-read for everyone.

One thing that I have grown to love about Markus Zusak is his versatility. He can write a gorgeous and ambitious work like The Book Thief, which takes place in Nazi Germany and is narrated by the personification of Death.

But he can also write books like I Am the Messenger, which is set in modern day Sydney. The book is irreverent and raucously funny. It is also a book in which the characters slowly unfold and reveal hidden depths that both warm and break your heart.

Markus Zusak recently won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for a lifetime of contributing to the young adult literary genre. The Margaret A. Edwards Award is given annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) to an author who has made a lasting contribution to the genre. The award honors the author and also highlights a portion of his or her work that helps “adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world”. Other beloved authors who received the award in the past are Susan Cooper, S.E. Hinton, Walter Dean Myers, and Gary Paulsen.

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Zusak’s hilarious novel I Am the Messenger won the Printz Honor in 2006.

Markus Zusak will accept the award this summer. The award focuses on his novels The Book Thief, I Am the Messenger, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl.

If you want to celebrate Markus Zusak before then, and if you want to read more of the author’s work, I would highly recommend reading his four books that are being honored this summer. They are all incredible books, and I love them all. Happy reading, fellow reader!

And thank you, Markus Zusak, for touching the lives of so many readers and aspiring authors.

10 Books That Made Me A Better Writer

Recently, when I have been avoiding work, I have been escaping to tumblr. While there, I’ve come across multiple posts of stacks of ten books. These posts are usually titled something along the lines of, “The Top 10 Books that have Changed My Life”.

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I think these lists are so fascinating– each is tailored to an individual and his or her life experiences.

These posts got me thinking about what books I would put on my list. So I went into my bedroom and looked at all of the books that line my walls. And quickly came to the conclusion that picking 10 books was going to be way too hard. Because… Well, I have a bit of a problem. It’s a good problem, but a problem nonetheless.

I have so many books that I don’t have enough room for them in my room. Or my basement.

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I like books. A lot.

So I decided to make a different list. Instead of picking my favorite books of all time, I decided to pick 10 books that have helped me to become a better writer.

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Too much, actually. And may or may not alphabetize them.

Some of these books opened my eyes to what excellent writing is, how to craft a sentence in a way that makes the reader crave to read it aloud. Others have shown me how to create atmosphere and mood in a story through description. Others have shown me the importance of stories within a culture. Others have shown me the importance of world-building. Others have shown me how to create complex, believable characters.

If you asked me what books I would bring with me to a desert island, some of these would not be on my list– books like Little Women and Jane Eyre and A Moveable Feast and The Road would. But these are the books that, whether I was seven or twenty at the time, have proved to be invaluable textbooks for me as I work (and continue to work) to hone my craft.

The books I chose are the following, in no particular order:

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Why yes, that is a Batman action figure on my shelf.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. Watership Down by Richard Adams

3. Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline

4. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

5. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

6. Beowulf by Unknown, Awesome Anglo-Saxon Dude and translated by Howell D. Chickering, Jr.

7. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

9. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

and 10. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Clare and I have decided to write reviews of our Top 10 lists, so look for those in the future. I am so excited to write about the ten books on my list! And we would love to know… What books would be on your list?

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And yes, I keep books on my radiator, too.

Back Again: 2013 in Review

Hello, dear readers. This is my first post in such a long time that perhaps I should introduce myself again. My name is Emily, and I am one of the writers on The Side of Wonder. Or, I used to be, before life got crazy and swallowed me whole. But I am back again, and my goal is to post more regularly and give Clare a breather, as she has been ever faithful in posting since I went MIA.

I do have excuses for not posting. They may not be very good ones, but they do exist. I graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in English on December 21st. Since then I have been trying to recover after the craziest semester of my life, and have been working to acclimate to life as a post-grad.

Around New Year’s, Clare wrote an awesome year in review post. I was supposed to write one too, but, well, see the above paragraph. Earlier this week, I turned 22. As I look forward to the next year of my life, I can’t help but look back and think about just how incredibly blessed I have been. So, I suppose you can consider this my Year in Review blog post.

Here are some of my favorite memories from 2013:

1. Visiting Clare in New York City with my mother.

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My mom and me in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. Clare and I went to London.

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Clare and I got to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and so many other places in London! Which was so amazing and was also (conveniently) research for my current book.

And Paris.

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In front of the Louvre.

And Oxford. Best week of our lives? Oh, yes.

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Getting to celebrate Clare’s birthday in The Eagle and Child, Tolkien and Lewis’ favorite pub, was so much fun.

3. I started a blog with my best friend. Perhaps you have heard of it?

Some of my favorite posts from the past year:

A review of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, the story of best friends in World War II

Getting to meet Susan Cooper, the author of The Dark is Rising saga

There and Back Again: A Book Lover’s Holiday

Seeing Holly Black, Megan Whalen Turner, Margaret Atwood, and Veronica Roth at the National Book Festival

Why young adult literature is important

Meeting Neil Gaiman

4. I finished writing my first novel, Ithaca.

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Finishing a book was a life-long dream that I can now cross off my bucket list.

5. I met a Special Someone.

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Thank God, he loves to read too!

6. The Boy took me to New York City as a Christmas present.

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The Empire State Building decorated for Christmas

7. I graduated from college.

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So glad to be done!

I have had such an incredible year and I am so very blessed. In the coming year, I am looking forward to working part time at a reading and writing center, continuing to work on getting my first book published, and working on writing my second book. And also, dear reader, I will be more regular in my blog posts… I promise.

KA