“Looking for Alaska” by John Green

imagesI read this book in observance of Banned Book Week. According to this list posted on the American Library Association’s web site, Looking for Alaska (the 2006 winner of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature) is the #7 most challenged book of 2012 for having offensive language, being sexually explicit, and being inappropriate for the age group.

I. loved. this. book. I devoured it over the weekend (but am just now getting around to writing about it). It tells the story of Miles who goes to a boarding school his junior year. He makes fast friends with his roommate the Colonel and a girl named Alaska. When a tragedy hits the group of friends, the book explores dealing with loss, guilt, and finding a way to continue living on. It’s incredibly touching. The characters all deal with very deep issues related to dealing with tragedy and guilt that I find to be realistic and relatable. This is a hard book to write about without giving away any spoilers, so I’ll have to be vague and not go into any more detail.

It’s too bad so many people have tried to take this book off the shelves in schools and public libraries. This is a book that if my daughter came home with it, I’d be perfectly fine with it. I might even want to talk to her about the issues of loss and tragedy and see what she thinks about the way the characters deal and continue living. Sure there is explicit language and sexual situations and booze and cigarettes. The book takes place in a high school. The language is certainly nothing worse than I remember hearing in high school and neither is the talk of sex or the “sex scene.” I put quotes around that because, really, it’s not much of a scene at all. I wouldn’t be worried about this book corrupting my daughter. Hopefully I will have already talked with her about these kinds of issues and let her know where I stand and what I expect from her before she reads this book. Sure I wouldn’t be too happy if she came home with it at like age 10, but it’s a book meant for teens. This book is perfectly fine for teens. The way the book deals with loss and pain and life in general is so much more important than the language and underage drinking and should cloud all the other day-to-day scenes in the book.

Septemb-Eyre: Post 3 (chps 22-29)

Oh my. These chapters are where all the action is! Jane returns to Thornfield and she and Rochester go and get all engaged! Of course fate just can’t allow Jane to be happy. On her wedding day, she learns that Rochester is already married to a woman from Jamaica who went crazy and is the mysterious phantom living in the attic. Jane feels compelled to leave Thornfield on principle even though she still loves Rochester and he desperately wants her to be his mistress. Jane’s morals can’t allow her to stay and she leaves. Good for her. Rochester is being a bit of a rake.

There is so much to discuss in this section. Many people rush right to Bertha (the mad woman). I tried so hard to find my copy of “Madwoman in the Attic” by Gilbert and Gubar (critical essays on Victorian lit from a feminist perspective), but alas I couldn’t find it. It was introduced to me during my Brontes class in college, and really messed with my reading of Bertha. Gilbert, Gubar, and those in their camp see Bertha as an oppressed victim. She was the “other” who was forced into a marriage with a European who did not know or understand her or her culture. She was ripped away from her home and her family and locked in an attic. Thus becoming a symbol for the oppressed “other” and of course the oppressed Victorian woman or the evil of British colonization. Much has been written on this topic, and to be honest, I don’t really know if I have a horse in this race. Upon my first reading, I was firmly on Rochester’s side. On this reread, though, I’m not so sure if Rochester is really doing his best and if Bertha really needs to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. I can certainly see both sides. Bronte goes to great lengths to make her seem crazy. Her appearance and her actions do not seem to be those of a sane person. However, read from another angle, the same descriptions and actions could be seen as those of a misunderstood and desperate woman. The descriptions of her swollen features and purple skin were descriptions given by Jane, a woman who had never seen anyone who was not white before. She didn’t understand or know anything about this woman. It could have been a description made out of fear and ignorance. Bertha’s actions could also be interpreted as those of a fearful woman who is trapped in a situation she wants out of. She was taken away from her home and family and locked away into an attic. This interpretation reminds me of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The woman in that short story gradually went crazy when she was trapped in her house by her husband. She even crawled around just like Bertha did. Are Bertha’s actions those of a crazy woman or a woman trying to escape and save her life??? I guess it depends on if you believe Jane’s physical description is reliable and if you believe Rochester’s tale is credible (and let’s be honest, he’s not impressing anyone with his ethics and morality right now).

As I alluded to in my introductory post, an issue that really interests me in Jane Eyre is the issue of equality in marriage. This section is really where that issue begins to rear its head. When Rochester was playing with Jane during his awkward proposal, Jane says,

” Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, becasue I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!…And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you…it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal–as we are!”

This is pretty pretty radical. Even though she is poor and plain, she is declaring her equality with a supremely wealthy man and demanding fair treatment. Later on when Mrs. Fairfax learns of the engagement, she tells Jane, “Equality of position and fortune is often advisable in such cases; and there are twenty years of difference in your ages.” Mrs. Fairfax is pointing out the painfully obvious problem with the coupling of Jane and Rochester. Their ages is certainly the smallest of the two. The difference in their position would have made life difficult for them with Jane being so inferior. There was evidence of it immediately with Jane’s discomfort in Rochester spending money on her and later on when Bertha was revealed. Would Rochester have pressured a woman of equal social standing to stay on and be his mistress?

Despite the fact that, as Jane points out in the first quote, they are literally equal (in the eyes of God and as human beings), a truly fair and equal marriage would have been nearly impossible. Would they have been happy? We’ll never know for sure, but he would always have some degree of power over her.

Banned Book Week

This coming week is Banned Book Week. In honor of this, I’ll be reading some banned books! I’m already about halfway through John Green’s Looking for Alaska, which according to this list on the American Library Association’s (ALA) website was the #7 most frequently challenged/banned book of 2012. After I read that I think I’ll move on to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which according to this list on ALA’s website is #16 on the most frequently challenged/banned classics list.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

I finally got around to reading The Cuckoo’s Calling written by J.K. Rowling under her pen name Robert Galbraith. I kinda hate myself for reading it a bit. Why? Not because it wasn’t good (it was), not because I have a problem w51ZNiKv4bJL._SY346_ith Rowling (I don’t at all), but because I would never have read it unless it got out that Galbraith and Rowling were the same person. I kinda feel like a sheep. I would never have discovered this book on its own merits. I don’t know why Rowling chose to write under a pen name or how the truth was leaked out, but I like to think she was trying to see how her writing would be received on its own merits and qualities without her name getting in the way. But now her name is attached to this book and that is why I read it, not because it got good reviews (which was an added bonus, but if I’m honest I would have read it regardless out of curiosity unless the reviews were horrible). Oh, well. Maybe I’m over-thinking.

The book itself is really good. It’s a private eye story in which the suicide of a famous model is being reinvestigated. I never saw the end coming. There were twists and turns that I did not see coming and Strike (the PI) kept enough of his investigation close to the chest I was able to be surprised several times. If you enjoy mysteries, this one is definitely worth reading!

Septemb-Eyre Post 2: Chps 12-21

Disclaimer: I’m tired, have a tummy ache, and the tv is on…sorry if this post is a bit disjointed!

Good ol’ Jane. This second section shows her getting situated as governess at Thornfield Hall. Her life is pleasant and solitary…and then Mr. Rochester shows up. He is handsome in a dark, nontraditional sort of way. They share many conversations and Jane soon (very soon) starts falling for him. He is clearly interested in her as well, but to what extent? It seems his obligations to his class might stand between him and Jane.

When Rochester brings a party of fellow high society people to Thornfield, we meet Miss Ingram, a beautiful and self-important woman more suited to Rochester’s class standing. Jane literally draws a self portrait and a portrait of Miss Ingram and makes herself look at them whenever she starts pining for Rochester. For someone as confident and self-possessed as Jane, she really allows herself to be trod upon by Miss Ingram and the members of her set. I suppose that would be true for the times. It seems that the governess could not expect the conversations like Jane and Rochester had let alone a romantic entanglement.

The gypsy scene was a lot of fun. I remembered from my previous read that Rochester was somehow involved, but I had totally forgotten that Rochester actually WAS the gypsy (I think I thought he was hiding in the shadows watching his guests’ reactions). It was a nice treat for a reread! As the gypsy, Rochester seems to imply that Jane has happiness within her reach yet she won’t reach out for it or isn’t aware of it. Is he implying that Jane should be more assertive in a romantic relationship? That would be incredibly progressive!

The final event in this section is when Jane goes to see Mrs. Reed on her death bed. This is another scene that I did not remember very well. As the reader, you are hoping for a reconciliation and for good closure for Jane, but that is not the case. Instead, she learns that her aunt kept news of existing family (and a chance at an inheritance) from Jane for years. Also, Mrs. Reed’s final words to Jane were horrible. She never acknowledged her mistreatment of Jane. Instead, she made herself out to be the victim here, the martyr that gave of herself to care for an ungrateful, mean-spirited, evil child. I suppose this should not be surprising…it fits in with her character perfectly. However, we see a great moment of Jane’s strength, maturation, and development.

” ‘Love me, then, or hate me, as you will,’ I said at last, ‘you have my full and free forgiveness, ask now for God’s and be at peace.’

Poor, suffering woman! It was too late for her to make now the effort to change her habitual frame of mind: living, she had ever hated me–dying, she must hate me still.”

Jane seems to have learned from Helen. When Helen spoke of her creed to “clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime.” She sees her aunt as a poor, depraved woman who cannot change and cannot be truly happy. She is able to forgive her and pity her and move on with her life.

Septemb-Eyre: Post #1 (Chps 1-11)

“Holy deep thinking/philosophizing, Batman!” I had forgotten how deep and in-depth a lot of the thoughts that young Jane had. Her conversations with her friend Helen Burns were pretty deep too.

Jane begins life with the Reeds who are begrudgingly caring for her. There is mental and physical abuse. The first touch of the gothic comes into the story at the Reed’s house too. When Jane is locked in the RED ROOM (where her uncle died), she may or may not have seen a ghost and has an episode that involves swooning/fainting (how gothic!). She eventually gets sent to a school for “delinquent” girls. There she meets dear, sweet Helen.

Helen’s views often conflict with Jane’s. Her opinions on justice and self-worth are those of a much older, wiser individual, and she often challenges Jane’s own comments (often made in the heat of the moment). Jane seems to take a lot of what Helen says to heart. While she still is more fiery than Helen ever is, she seems to begin to become more content in her situation rather than plot ways to lash out or focus on the injustice of her life. I think she finds a happy medium for sure. Is it blasphemous to say Helen seems a bit too soft and submissive? Perhaps a bit too perfect? Too much of a martyr? SPOILER! SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH!!!! I suppose that’s kind of the point. Helen is the angel who is perfect yet readily accepts others’ unjust criticisms. She literally becomes a martyr whose life changes Jane and whose death truly becomes a turning point in Jane’s life.

As I alluded to in my first Septemb-Eyre post, I kind of want to focus on my read with the end in mind. Having said that, I will remember a lot of what Jane learns during her time at school in order to see how it fits in with the end. After all, not only does Jane develop intellectually at school, she also develops emotionally and (dare I say) spiritually.

Helen: “I hold another creed…it extends hope to all; it makes Eternity a rest–a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last: with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never curses me too low; I live in calm, looking to the end.” Chapter 6

Jane: “You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so; and you have no pity.” Chapter 4

Jane: “…to gain some real affection from…any other whom I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or to let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest.” Chapter 8

I’m going to keep these in mind as I read to see how they come back. It seems like these are beginnings of philosophies that will affect how adult Jane handles life and its struggles.

Also…anyone else so appalled by the young Misses Brocklehursts?? Mr. Brocklehurst said that they were always so impressed by the humility of the girls at Lowood because they all seemed in awe of their clothing as if they’d never seen anything so fine. Well of course not! Your uncle degrades them to the lowest possible state! Then when they showed up at the school all fancy with bouncy, fancy hair and clothes and Mr. Brocklehurst (in their presence) tells the teachers to cut all the girls’ hair because it is too fancy and not plain enough for  good Christian girls!?! Grrr…. If I were at Lowood I too would need a friend like Helen to keep me in check and keep me from doing something to get me expelled…

History of the English-Speaking Peoples Vol. 1 by Winston Churchill

Volume one of History of the English-Speaking Peoples is The Birth of BritainI wanted to read this book because I have always been interested in British history (particularly the monarchy) but have never really sat down and studied it. The inter-connectedness of all the monarchs, their family lines, who usurped who, who was beloved, who was hated…it’s always intrigued me. Also, ever since seeing a Wishbone episode for a book that takes place during the War of the Roses when I was like 10, I’ve always wanted to know more about that war. I figure since it’s written by Churchill and a lot of what he has written has become border-line non-fiction classics, I’m going to squeeze this book into my Classics Club challenge.

This book did not disappoint. I found myself slightly bored at some points. Churchill obviously focused on some of what he found most interesting. For example, I did not care to know what a day-in-the-life was for an Anglo-Saxon nor did I find a need for an entire chapter on the legal system of feudal Britain. I really just wanted the kings and queens. I also couldn’t help but wonder if Churchill was perhaps not the most impartial historian ever to write a book (I’ve never read a history text call a figure in history “perverted” before). That being said, I did enjoy this book a lot. It really helped me in my appreciation for Shakespeare’s histories…who would’ve thought that having an understanding of British history would help with your enjoyment of the histories?