The Lover’s Dictionary

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.

Rarely am I ever so lucky to read two books worth raving about in a row. I read this one in forty-five minutes. Now, I’m a fast reader— I read upwards of a page a minute. But this was FAST. I felt like I was hurtling inexorably towards something as I was reading it. Like the book had something to tell me and I knew the answer to everything I ever wanted to know was in there. I read and read and read, and when the last page came, I stubbed my toe, and went, what happened?

Can we discuss how this is the cutest cover ever?

This is a book you will read over and over. I can tell I will. Because it’s the story of the human condition. Of us. Neither of our narrator’s have names. They have genders—male and female, but their gender often becomes fused and mixed-up in my mind. This is a book that must be taken in all at once. There’s no easy resting point and why would you want to? You can pick the book up at any page and read any damn way you please. Levithan alphabetized the entries, creating a non-linear story. And thus the book demands to be read as a whole, not in parts, or over a period of time. It’s like a wall of emotions and feeling coming at you. And you want it. You want it to drown in it.

I hate David Levithan for taking the best idea for a book ever and selling it. And doing it well. Basically, the abridged version of the inspiration for the story comes from a tradition he has. He always writes stories for Valentine’s day. But one year, he couldn’t. So he went to the dictionary and selected some words at random to make a story from. And The Lover’s Dictionary was born.

From The Lover’s Dictionary:

ineffable,adj.

These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

This isn’t the type of book I would have ordinarily picked up on my own. Kids + Cancer = Too sad for life. Generally, I don’t read books that make me unduly sad and/or cry. Life is sad enough without my favorite things making me sad, too. But this is one book I’m so glad I decided to embrace.

I’ve never read John Green before. I read a handful of pages of An Abundance of Katherines, but didn’t like it much so I stopped. I’m sensing that I’ll try and read that book again, soon. Maybe I was too young for John Green before. Or not ready. Or something.

I’ve just finished this book and I can’t quit crying. I’m not sure if I’m crying from sadness, from happiness, or from the beauty of the book itself. This is the pinnacle of what young adult literature should be. Beautiful, relatable, and moving. This is why I write- to teach kids that there are still things worth reading in the world and more of them are being written everyday.

Kudos to John Green for sneaking in poetry and philosophy into a young adult novel. But also for writing a book so perfect in every way. There are not enough stars for this book. Maybe all the stars in the sky would be enough. But maybe not.

There isn’t much else I can say without destroying the perfection of the novel, but there is this.

Hazel and Augustus are just two kids with cancer trying to make sense of a messy world. Theirs is a beautiful romance, made even more beautiful by the cancer cloud that hangs over them, threatening each and every moment of their bliss. But isn’t that what all our lives are? Beautiful moments tempered with the notion that it could all end at any moment, blown away like ash in the wind.

As Augustus says, “My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations”.

New Books

Went to down to Pennywise books in Pacific Beach today and traded some old books for these. Some of these authors I’ve read before and others I have not. Have you read any of these?

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Chromosome 6 by Robin Cook

Subterranean by James Rollins

Baudolino by Umberto Eco

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic Flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

This is an extraordinary video.It’s an Oscar-nominated short film for book lovers and those who have ever been captured by the magic of books. I sort of wish I was Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad, yet she is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Meanwhile Sethe’s house has long been troubled by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Sethe works at beating back the past, but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly in her memory and in the lives of those around her. When a mysterious teenage girl arrives, calling herself Beloved, Sethe’s terrible secret explodes into the present.

Somehow I got to my last year as an undergrad without ever reading or being assigned to read this book. The only other Toni Morrison book I’ve read is The Bluest Eye, a book I neither enjoyed nor understood. Despite this being a well-praised novel, I just wasn’t excited to read it.

Flash-forward to a few days ago: Sat down to read this, with my pacing schedule all figured out (~60 pages a day to finish in five days) and didn’t want to stop reading. This book is music. It’s poetry. It’s something that transcends pure fiction. It’s experimental fiction before experimental fiction was cool.

This book is just what it says it is: a story about haunting. Whether it’s literal, metaphoric, or symbolic haunting, this book is brimming with ghosts. And not nice quiet ghosts either. Ghosts who demand that their voices be heard, ghosts that once shut up in a room, ooze out of every nook and cranny.

I was assigned to read this book for class. In our class we’ve been discussing “haunted” texts and Freud’s theory of the uncanny, among other things. For those of you who don’t spend the better part of your time reading Freud from every which way, we can define the uncanny thus: something that is familiar and yet, isn’t. The uncanny is definitely rooted in Freud’s “mirror stage”-the moment when an infant looks into a mirror and recognizes its reflection as itself and yet, not itself.

Uncanny moments abound in Beloved. Between ghosts who refuse to rest and the dead who come back to life, we are confronted with a host of uncanny characters. The story of the title character, Beloved, forces Morrison’s cast of characters to live and breathe within the realm of the uncanny. Beloved who is the same, yet different, whose very existence in the novel transcends the station in life of a simple character. Beloved is part of the story and yet outside it. She possesses a power that no one else does, a power that eventually devours those she holds dear.

For someone who wouldn’t consider herself a Toni Morrison fan, Beloved was astounding. Difficult and occluded at times, yes, but on the whole, overwhelming brilliant. The prose sings, rippling and falling in the key of the uncanny.

From the close of the novel, I leave you with this passage. (It has been vetted for spoilers and has come up clean.)

There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind-wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.

Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed. In the place where long grass opens, the girl who waited to be loved and cry shame erupts into her separate parts, to make it easy for the chewing laughter to swallow her all away.

The Devil’s Highway

The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

So many illegal immigrants die in the desert Southwest of the U.S. that only notorious catastrophes make headlines. Urrea reconstructs one such incident in the Sonoran Desert, the ordeal of sun and thirst of two dozen men in May 2001, half of whom suffered excruciating deaths. They came from Vera Cruz; their so-called guide came from Guadalajara. Jesus Lopez Ramos was no master of orienteering, however, just an expendable bottom-feeder in the border’s human-smuggling racket. Tracing their lives and the routes to the border, Urrea adopts a slangy, surreal style in which the desert landscape shimmers and distorts, while in desiccated border settlements criminals, officials, and vigilantes patrol for human cargo such as the men from Vera Cruz. The imaginative license Urrea takes, paralleling the laconic facts of the case that he incorporates into his narrative, produces a powerful, almost diabolical impression of the disaster and the exploitative conditions at the border. Urrea shows immigration policy on the human level.

I first picked up the book because it was on the reading list for a class I wanted to take. On the first day, the professor said we wouldn’t have time for this and another book so we could return them. But I was already looking forward to reading them, so I kept them.

I don’t want this post to dissolve into a discussion about immigration, legal or illegal, nor do I want to discuss my thoughts on the US-Mexico controversy. I have opinions and things to say about that, but I won’t. This is a book blog, not a forum on immigration.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that it was the least non-fictional sounding non-fiction book I’ve ever read. What I mean by that is that it wasn’t dry in the least. Well, the desert was dry, but not Urrea’s writing. It reminds me very much of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, in which a true story is reconstructed and rendered with all of the loving care and details that are normally the province of fiction narratives. I couldn’t stop reading this book, as much for the horror these men endured as for the phenomenal construction of the work. Urrea is a gifted writer and his fiction doesn’t disappoint either (So far, I’ve read the Hummingbird’s Daughter).

I shared this book with my father, who also enjoyed it. This isn’t a novel for people who want a happy ending. It isn’t a novel for people with weak stomachs, constitutions, or minds. Upon completion of the novel, however arduous it was to get through the material, you are left with such a complete sense of what is going on in this US-Mexico immigration “crisis” that one is immediately compelled to seek out more works/information. Residing in San Diego, just north of the border, immigration issues are never far from my mind.

Whatever your stance on the issues, Urrea’s work is notable in that it brings everything down to a human level, transporting us through means of compassion, and understanding of what can be said, in some respects, to constitute a humanitarian crisis.

The Long-Awaited Video Production of Afterhours

A few weeks ago, my friend and I (Steve at A Few Big Steps ) performed my play, Afterhours, at a casual OpenMic night. The links to the play (split into three parts) are below. Credit goes to Nazrul Kazi for the video work (videos are on his Youtube account). Also a big thanks to Pial for giving us a place to read 🙂

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.

Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.

I’ve yet to meet someone who read this book and didn’t absolutely love it. The language is beautiful, imaginative, and sweeping. It is the pinnacle of achievement of magical realism.

I’ll admit to harboring a very large soft spot for works of Spanish origin, in translation (see my Author Spotlight on Carlos Ruiz Zafon or my post on Blindness). It’s not a secret and I’ll admit to it in a heartbeat. That said, I can’t exactly what it is that draws me in. At the risk of sounding cliched and generalizing, in all my reading I have discovered that in the translated works of regions of the worlds, there exists in each a flavor of the region. It’s something that’s hard to articulate and even harder to pin down. What is it that makes Chinese literature feel different from Spanish or French or Russian literature? I have no answer for that, other than I would posit that potentially communities of people are connected by more than just language and locality- they are connected by something intangible, but no less real, something that binds them irrevocably to their people.

Anyway, back to the book at hand. The work is thick and rich like a good stew; like a stew, it takes a while to come into its full flavor. It must be enjoyed slowly, with measured sips. Do not expect to be in control while reading- the magic and singularity of Garcia-Marquez’s Macondo will draw you in and hold you fast, attempting to drown you beneath the sweet-sounding prose. It is a drowning yes, but what a sweet drowning it is.

I read this book over a period of weeks last year, only reading before bed. I think this is a book best enjoyed that way, when the day is done, when the night is dark and deep, and when the book may welcome you in with the warm embrace of a dreamer, wrapping and unfolding you until you drift off into a sleep colored by beauty.

This is one of a number of books that make me wish I were fluent in Spanish. I’m told its exquisite in its native language. Of that, I have no doubt. It’s exquisite in translation so how could it be otherwise? Whatever your means, Spanish, English, whathaveyou, I encourage you to find a copy of this book and drink deep of the well Garcia-Marquez.

Author Spotlight: John Connolly

My first Connolly book was The Book of Lost Things. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was intrigued by the summary on the back which reads thus:

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

I wholly enjoyed this novel. It’s a story for kids and then it’s not-it’s more gruesome than you would expect. I also enjoyed the take on fairy tales that aren’t all happiness and rainbows. Connolly projects a world that is decaying and being overcome with darkness. Within the pages, we recognize bits and pieces of the stories we learned as children, but they are not as we expect.

Connolly’s prose has the right degree of enchantment to it. He is a lovely writer who compels us to keep turning the page, to follow the type into this magnificent world he’s creating.

The next Connolly books I read were definitely for children and young adults. The Gates and the sequel, The Infernals. These books explore the story of an English boy, Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, as they attempt to prevent the encroachment of evil into our world, fighting the minions and emissaries of The Great Malevolence.

While the first Connolly book was sort of ambiguous as to its audience (part of the dedication page reads, “For in every adult dwells the child that was, and in every child the adult that will be”) and the latter two books clearly aimed at children, they are still wildly entertaining. Connolly employs the art of nuance to lasso his adult readers; the books are full of references and subtleties that children will simply pass over.

Connolly does have a dedicated adult following; I have one of those books, The Lovers, sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. While I can’t comment on his style in those books, if my previous three Connolly excursions have proved anything it’s that he’s an author worth picking up.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

The Gates at Vishy the Knight

The Gates and The Infernals at Bookhimdanno

The Infernals at My Shelf Confessions

The Book of Lost Things at Blog at Bree

The Book of Lost Things at Chasing Greener Days

Shoutout for UCSD

I’d like to take a moment to talk about a few student-run/affiliated publications that are near and dear to my heart.

The first is Mania Magazine, a student-run magazine of student art at UCSD. Not only have I been a sometime contributor over the years, but so have quite a few of my friends. It’s wonderful to have a place to foster new voices and new art. My very good friend, Steve, is editor at Mania right now (his personal blog is here ). Check out some of the previous issues of Mania, which are now online for your reading pleasure.

Scumble Literary Journal just went up recently (their very first issue is online!). Scumble has its roots with the thriving community that comes out to Blabbermouth Nites, now held monthly at the Loft. If you’re local, check out the Facebook page here for more information.

Finally, I work on Alchemy, a new journal of translation at UCSD. We’re busily working on getting our first issue online (though we don’t quite have the website together yet). We accept submissions through alchemythejournal@gmail.com. For now, our Facebook page is here .

Sorry for what amounted to a link dump. But I’m actually not sorry. Just giving love to a great community and to those who love me in return ❤

Newest Additions

Super excited about my newest additions.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

I Wrote This For You by Anonymous

The first one has such an awesome concept. Apparently, Levithan constructed a love story based around words he randomly picked from the dictionary and then alphabetized them so the narrative itself is out of order. This is a recent award winner, receiving the Alex Award, which is an award for adult books that appeal to teens.

For the second, I’ve been a long time follower of the site, I Wrote This For You . If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s heartbreaking, beautiful, and sad. This book is a collection of entries from the site, all posted by anonymous. Don’t miss it.

 

Novels and Films: Not an Either/Or

The ago old debate for bibliophiles and cinephiles and lay-people alike is a question not unlike the chicken and the egg paradox: which do you prefer, the novel or the film? It is a question that has inspired a war with no end in sight. One must necessarily be less awesome than the other. Bibliophiles throw their hat in with the novel and cinephiles, I suppose, root for the film.

I’m purposing an idea that might be a tad radical: Novels and films aren’t comparable. They simply aren’t. They’re different mediums with different rules. Novels and films are more complementary than they are rivals.

As a film studies student and movie-goer, I’ve found reading the novel/short-story upon which the film is based enriches my enjoyment of the film. I enjoy seeing what the director does with the latent material, what they choose to include and what they leave out. What it comes down to is that they’re boiling down many hours of material into a 2 hour easily digested film. And this is a good thing.

The BBC made Pride and Prejudice into a mini-series with a run time of 300 minutes. 300 minutes= 5 hours. I have seen part of this miniseries, but never the whole thing. I frankly prefer the Keira Knightley version. Yes, go ahead and spit on me. The main problem with this is that Pride and Prejudice isn’t a horrendously long book to begin with (George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you). So what it boils down to is a complete and total re-hash of the book. That’s it. And what would I rather do in those five hours? Read the novel.

Since I brought it up, let’s move to Martin’s HBO mini-series. I read the first novel and I recently started watching the first season of the mini-series. In the case of Martin, I would argue that this novel is best served by a mini-series. Each one is somewhere around one thousand pages each- that’s a lot of material to condense into a two hour film. And what is more, the story is so complex since we’re constantly moving in and out of storylines that it would be a complete and utter failure as anything, but a miniseries. Even so, the miniseries isn’t just a rehash of the novel. Cuts occur, creative liberties are taken, etc. But this makes sense. I see little point to sitting down to something that is an utterly faithful copy of the novel. You took the time to read the book…why do you need to take the time to sit on your ass and do it again, albeit in a less intellectually-stimulating fashion?

I realize I’ve been talking mainly about mini-series, but my true objective is to deal with film. Fair enough. Let’s start with an example of something that is too faithful to its novel origins. Twilight. The first one. I can’t bring myself to sit through any of the others. I was vaguely interested in seeing the fourth one, but the trailer just killed me and I couldn’t do it. The main problem with the movie, to my mind, is that it’s too faithful. Now, how can that be a bad thing? How can you end up with a worse film than the novel if you just copy the novel? The problem with being so faithful is that you end up conflating the mediums. The dialogues in Twilight, while passable on the page, sounds utterly ridiculous and comical coming out of the mouths of real people.

Harry Potter, while yet another pop culture phenomenon, is a series that got it right. While many people were mad about things they skipped/left out, I think what we were left with in each film was the purest escence of what the story is about. Rowling has seven hundred or so pages in each book to roll around in the wonderful world of Hogwarts. And we love her for it. But that it also why they built a theme park. So we don’t have to watch seven hundred pages worth of material.

In the end, what happens between films and novels is an attempt to create something that is the same, but different. And that is more than okay.