random thoughts


Since this has a much wider audience than my personal blog, I thought I’d mention it here, too. Even though this isn’t what I usually talk about here. Basically, I thought I knew where I was going to college and then got an offer that shakes it all up, and I don’t know what to do.

To sum it up: I have two options that are fantastic. Option #1 is Jacobs University, an English-speaking school in Bremen, Germany. I’d get to experience German culture, and learn a new language. It would be the cheaper of the two, and I’d have the opportunity to travel in Europe; however, the campus and course catalog don’t match what I want as well as option #2. Option #2 is Fordham University, a great school in New York City, that would be considerably more expensive. However, some of the specifics match what I want more, and I love New York. I wouldn’t have any money during my years there, though! Both offer good options after graduation. 

If you have insight/advice, please share. If you have general advice or if you’re from one of these places or know a lot about the schools or just anything. I can use all the help I can get.

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In my English class, we started out the first full day by reading an interesting excerpt of Stephen King’s On Writing. It was a few pages photocopied thirty times so we could all circle, underline, make notes, etc. (I’m not entirely sure if this is legal, but schools do it all the time). Interesting thoughts, makes me want to read more of the book, etc. Not the issue. 

The issue is the censorship. Someone had whited out all of the “offensive language” so we didn’t read it. Of course, we can all guess what goes in the blanks, but the whiting-out was far more offensive, to me, than the language. Seventeen and eighteen year olds all know those words, we hear them all the time. It’s not as if you’re spoiling our innocence by exposing us to the word “damn;” the very idea is laughable. That’s funny, but it’s also offensive, to me, to do that to someone’s writing, to deem it appropriate except for some part of it, to not give us the integrity of the whole piece of writing. Because you know what, sometimes the whole feeling of something, the whole meaning of it, can be changed by a few words. That’s not true of the excerpt of Stephen King’s book, but it’s the principle of it–removing pages, whiting out words, I find that all very distasteful and offensive. If the whole of the work isn’t good enough for you, then don’t use it in class–don’t decide it’s all okay except students can’t be exposed to some part of it. Any agreement? Dissent?

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In fourth grade in North Carolina, we have a writing test where we have to write a short story about some prompt or another. They range from boring (“Write about the best birthday you ever had.”) to bizarre (“Imagine you open your lunchbox and there’s a frog inside. What do you do?”). We spend all of third and fourth grade practicing for this test. The writing skills taught are incredibly bizarre.

We’re not supposed to use boring words. We’re supposed to be creative. For example, we are never supposed to say “bad”; instead, it’s “horrible,” “terrible,” or “awful.” “Walking” is another no-no. “Lumbering,” “striding,” and “skipping” are all preferred. We are also supposed to insert as many adjectives and adverbs as possible to make our writing descriptive. Of course, not boring adverbs and adjectives. Similes and metaphors are also used heavily. Writing the word “said” is enough to get you sent to fourth grade creative writing hell. 

For example, a sane person would write, “Carl didn’t like Susie. One day, on the playground, he said she was dumb. Then he walked over to her and hit her with his blue lunchbox. She cried.” (Not that this is an example of good writing, anyway, but you get what I mean). An obedient North Carolina fourth  grader would turn that sentence into, “A hideous, elephant-sized boy with firetruck-red hair called Carl absolutely despised the beautiful, golden-haired Susie. On a bright, sunny day, at recess on the rocky, dirty playground, he shouted evilly and loudly that she was horribly dumb. Then he, cruelly strode over to her and  angrilly hit her with is sky blue, shiny plastic lunchbox like a Power Ranger. She wept giant tears like a smelly, apple-cheeked baby.” Or something like that. Ridiculous, no?

Needless to say, if anyone actually wrote in this style and tried to publish a book, their manuscript would be laughed out of any reputable agent’s office. 

I am trying to figure out why the state feels the need to teach people to write like that. Most of us know how to read and figure out pretty quickly that it’s insane, and I can’t imagine that there are people in the department of public instruction actually believe this to be good writing. Any theories?

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No review, but I figured I should at least blog about what I read casually. 

I finished my summer reading this weekend (not as crazy as it sounds; I have second semester English, and this week is the first of the new semester), and the books assigned this year were George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I preferred Huxley’s novel, but both were decent, and relatively readable when compared to some past assigned reading. Though they both had expectedly depressing endings.  However, they are also both perfect examples, in my opinion, of books made into classics for their importance rather than their quality.

Neither book is particularly well-written. The characters are flat on the page, and the settings hardly mentioned. Brave New World in particularly could have really used a copyeditor. If we’re going on literary merit or normal people appeal, these books are far from remarkable. It’s the ideas that have made them classics, the dystopian cautionary tales about conformity and information control. While I find the ideas intriguing and important, I really didn’t think that reading the books was particularly productive. Regardless, they didn’t suck, I was able to read them without hating words, and I guess that’s an improvement over last year’s books. 

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Steph mentioned the other day that I sometimes review books crazy early, as in, months prior to the release date, and it’s true. Some of you might be wondering why, so I’m going to explain my reading/reviewing process a little.

As soon as I read books, they’re fresh in my mind, but I think through it first (I write down notes immediately and wait a few hours to a few days before writing the review), so I won’t just be caught up in my infatuation with the book (a problem I’ve had before) and I can step back and see its strengths and weaknesses (every book has them). I don’t want to wait too long, though, or I won’t remember the book or my thoughts on it quite as well. 

So why do I read books when I do? Because that’s when they catch my attention. I flip through every book that comes through my door, and they go on a “never read” stack to give away, a “read later” stack, a “read really soon” stack, or I start reading them right away, based on how interested I am. If a book catches my attention, I’ll read it; if it doesn’t, I won’t. That’s so I’m not forcing myself to read something I don’t feel like reading, because I know I won’t like a book if I feel like I have to read it.

I know that some authors/publishers prefer reviews around the release date. Others don’t mind early buzz. However, unless I am specifically told by whoever sends me the book when they’d prefer a review, I don’t know which authors/publishers fall into which category. If I’m told, “don’t review this until April,” I won’t. If I’m not, and it catches my attention in January…then I’ll read and review it in January, even though I don’t know when they want a review. I figure a good review is a good review, and I am in favor of both early buzz AND release date buzz, so I really don’t think it matters a lot (this is the time for anyone who sends me books to tell me if you don’t want early reviews!). 

So pretty much, the reason for my early reviews is that you can’t make everyone happy, and as soon as I read a book, I want to tell you all about it. I lack patience. I know, I should work on it. I hope this explains it all well enough!

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Before I get into a review, I must tell you a story about my reading of this book.

Last week, I ordered Let It Snow from Barnes and Noble. On Tuesday, I was thrilled to find it in my mailbox. Later that day, I sat down to begin reading. The characters had just entered Waffle House in the first story when a friend called, with an invitation to, you guessed it, Waffle House.

I threw deodorant, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes into my large purse, along with the book, because I planned to spend the night at her house, too. And then she picked me up, and we went to Waffle House, with me still thinking about the book.

The events of the next thirty or so hours, beginning with Waffle House and ending with a New Year’s party, allowed no time for reading. However, when I left the party, I also left my bag. Only two people were there before anyone noticed, one a good friend of mine. They opened the bag to see whose it was, pulled out a book, and my friend said, “That’s Jocelyn’s.”

Meanwhile, I was distraught. My mind was still in Let It Snow, but the book was nowhere near! I went to bed anxious.

Thursday morning, I left to meet my grandmother. We went to Target. I ran to the back, where the books are, and joy! Let It Snow was there. I grabbed the book and retreated to a shoe-trying-on bench to read.

After I read about a hundred pages, my grandmother was finally done shopping, and, since I already own the book, it would have been crazy to buy it. Sadly, I had to leave the book behind yet again, but it didn’t leave my mind.

Today (Friday), I convinced said grandmother to take me to the mall, where, yes, there is a bookstore! I convinced her to leave me in said bookstore for an hour until I finished the book, and I loved every second of it.

So you can see, my reading of this book was eventful, first interrupted by a visit to a Waffle House in Western North Carolina (and the book, incidentally, involves a Waffle House in Western North Carolina). I went to great lengths to finish this, my first completed book of 2009. And now, the review.

Let It Snow is three CHEER-filled holiday romances (to channel Maureen Johnson for a moment) by three talented authors. They all focus on different characters, but the setting is the same, and main characters in each story make appearances in the other two. The set up for all three is a blizzard on Christmas Eve that stops a train and traps people, and I believe Waffle House is also involved in all three stories (one more than the others) as well.

In the first story, by Maureen Johnson, Jubilee’s parents are crazy for the Flobie village, a collection of ceramic buildings with a holiday theme (you know what I mean). So crazy, in fact, that they get into a riot over an Elf Hotel and are arrested. As they don’t want Jubilee to spend Christmas alone, she’s put on a train to Florida, where her grandparents live…a train that stops in Western North Carolina due to the blizzard and isn’t expected to move anytime soon. Jubilee gets off and walks to a Waffle House, as do fifteen cheerleaders who are soon driving her crazy enough to leave Waffle House with a strange boy wearing plastic bags. He makes some insightful comments about her relationship with her perfectionist, always-busy boyfriend, Noah, and, well, you know what happens. Predictable, but absolutely hilarious, and I loved the characters. Maureen Johnson can always be counted on for hilarity and cheer! I loved it. I laughed out loud. In Target.

In the second story, by John Green, Keun is the cashier at the Waffle House full of cheerleaders, and when they arrive, he calls three of his friends to come oogle. Only problem is, one of these friends is a girl, and when the three of them make the eventful trek to Waffle House, two of the friends discover that their relationship is a little more complicated than they’d been previously willing to admit. I absolutely adored this story; it featured my favorite kind of absolutely crazy and hilarious adventure! Hilarious is a theme, huh?

In the third and final story, Lauren Myracle’s, Addie is in tears over her breakup with Jeb. She invited him to Starbucks (where she works) to talk things over, but he didn’t show…because, unknown to Addie, Jeb was also on the train that got stuck in the snow, and his phone broke, and he was also stranded at Waffle House. Also involved in this story is an early-morning shift at Starbucks, a teacup pig, and an epiphany of sorts for Addie. I loved this story, too (especially the teacup pig), but it was a tad less hilarious and CHEERtastic than the other two. It was awesome, just…slightly less awesome.

Between the first two stories, I can’t pick a favorite, but all three stories rock and are compulsively readable. As evidenced by my story, I had great difficulty putting this book down.  These three stories are full of CHEER and adventure and romance and hilariousness. They features characters that rock. Maureen Johnson and John Green are at their best here, which is certainly saying a lot, and Lauren Myracle’s story is nothing to scoff at, either. I highly recommend this book, at Christmastime or any other time of year.

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This year, I was on the nominating panel for the Cybils in the YA Fiction category. It was an amazing experience. I read some fantastic books, and I discussed them with some wonderful people. Discussing and debating books with intelligent people like my co-panelists makes me feel smarter, and it sharpens my brain, and I love it. It makes me really think about the merits and appeal of the books I’ve read, rather than simply, did I love it or not, which, when I’m not at my best, is what my critical skills are reduced to. I had to be on top of my game to defend books that I loved and reject books that I didn’t feel deserved a place on our short list. I had to think, and I love thinking! I love it when critical thinking is demanded of me. And I love the Cybils.  Even though the short list we came up with isn’t my personal short list, I was forced to rethink some of my choices, and to either back off or come out with stronger arguments than ever. I believe that if you can’t defend your position, you either need to rethink your position or rethink your reasoning, and the Cybils force me to do that with books. Have I mentioned how much I love that?

A shout out to my fellow panelists:

Leila Roy of  Bookshelves of Doom
Rebecca Laney of Becky’s Book Reviews
Amanda Snow of A Patchwork of Books
Trisha Murakami of The Ya Ya Yas
Kate Fall of Author2Author
Abby Johnson of Abby (the) Librarian

They all rock, and their blogs are awesome. Add them to your must-read list if you haven’t already!

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for–the finalists! Out of all the nominees, the YA fiction panel (me and those mentioned above) chose seven books that will go on to be read by the judges. The finalists are:

Check out the lists for all categories, including blurbs from the panelists about why particular books were chosen:

Easy Readers
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction MG/YA
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Poetry
Young Adult Fiction

I also wanted to mention a few favorites of mine that didn’t make our shortlist. I read a lot of great books for the Cybils, but these really stood out: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert, Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher, The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti, The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith, Good Enough by Paula Yoo, How They Met, and Other Stories by David Levithan, and Everything You Want by Barbara Shoup. I loved a lot of the books on the list, though, and many are definitely worth reading.

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