As I browsed my shelves for a book for today’s post I had absolutely no idea what I was looking for. I just kind of stared blankely at it until something popped out. That something was one of the best books I’ve ever read, and one of the books I really think everyone should take the time to absorb, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi (yes it’s a Holocaust book, yes it will be sad, but it is an amazing memoir told by someone who really has something to say and it’s actually beautiful).
I read this book for an honors History project in my freshman year of high school and I absolutely loved it. I bought a copy and wrote all over it because that’s what I do with books I read for school (some may call it blasphemy, but I truly believe there is a lot of value in notetaking, and I keep every book I write in for future perusing (came in handy today)) (there are too many parenthetical comments in this post), and though I loved pretty much all of the book (it destroyed me for a bit, but in the good, strengthening kind of way and Primo Levi is an amazing writer) there was one line, one word, really, that stuck in my brain. Part of my honors assignment was to create art based on the book I read, and I ended up using the quote I’m using today in my art (I was going to use the piece I did for the graphic in today’s post but then realized that I’d been staring at my books for so long that it was dark out and I do not have the technology to take blog-quality pictures with non-natural lighting – maybe I’ll put an edit at the bottom with the piece once I’ve had time to photograph it in the light but no promises).
I think I’ve sufficiently built up the suspense to show you my graphic (I just bought a fancy new computer with all kinds of graphic capabilities but I have not yet figured out how to use them effectively so we’re still at my usual standard of graphic, but look forward to some things made with actual photoshop (!) and maybe even electronically drawn because I can theoretically do that though I must say drawing with a stylus is very different that with pencil/charcoal/pen on paper).
This quote can be found in chapter 4 of Survival in Auschwitz, which is titled Ka-Be, and it is said in the context of Primo Levi describing the conditions and prisoners in the Auschwitz (for lack of a better word that isn’t in German) medical ward. It’s devastatingly sad, but I’ve gotten something from that sentence that is unique. I’ve long had a love of words in other languages that don’t translate to a single English word, and “heimweh” definitely fits that category, but there’s something else in this word that just . . . Fits. I don’t quite know how to explain it, and everyone will take their own meaning from any quote they see, but I’ve always considered this quote hopeful. (Many people are doing a double take, but stay with me for a moment.) After much thought I’ve decided that the reason that this one word and the concept behind it are so comforting is that it reminds me that humans are capable of so much, even in the worst and darkest of times. The Holocaust was arguably the worst event in documented history, and certainly fits my definition of hell. Having established that these men, living dismal conditions and housed in a place specifically designed to break down their will and fight and their humanity itself, are actually in hell (or purgatory or whatever you want to call it), I find it so astonishing that they are able to feel and express and discuss such a complex feeling. In dismal conditions people can still convey feelings I’ve never been able to explain in my language (another point is that I have experienced heimweh extensively and could never figure out how to explain it as a child so maybe I’m just reassured that others share my emotions, but I really don’t think that’s the whole size of it). I think the existence of this word speaks volumes about the human will, no, determination, to survive, and that’s something that I got from the entire of Survival in Auschwitz. This word, and by extension this phrase, gives me such faith in humanity, and in a world where I can log into my Facebook page and see reports of two murders and one instance of torture by people my own (teen)age without scrolling down that’s something one can really use. So while I know this post is making some of you angry and some of you sad, I would encourage you to hold on to it and think. Survival in Auschwitz was so painful to read, and I hurt for days after finishing it, but it’s one of those rare occurrences that I can use to define my life so far as “before” and “after.” I hope that with this post I have given just one person a feeling similar to mine, because this book and quote were truly important in shaping who I am.
That got a little soapboxy, but as you’ve probably gathered I have very strong opinions on this topic. Thanks for hanging in there, and I really do encourage you to read Survival in Auschwitz. By the way, the text in the graphic is superimposed on a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp that I got here.
Have a happy Sunday and I hope I haven’t depressed you too thoroughly,
I was recently mopping my floors and staring at my bookshelf (because what else would you do while cleaning) and realized that I haven’t actually reviewed all the books on my favorites shelf. I’m not talking my mental “favorites” shelf, which is about a gagillion books long, but the physical shelf where I put my favorite books. Being a book blogger and moreover a book lover, I have my own unique system for organizing my books (mostly so I can find my way to whichever book I want in the vast ocean of literary works I own). It involves a single shelf dedicated to my favorite books in order of preference and merit (but also organized by author because I can’t not organize my books by author), excluding dystopian series because then it wouldn’t fit on a single bookshelf. Anyway, I decided that this would never do and that I’d better review these books quick. Also, I saw a chance to make a graphic. I like that (though I’m not very good at it).
Here is a picture of said bookshelf, but look, it’s mysteriously blurred out (insert chance to make a graphic here).
Can you guess which book I’m reviewing today? The one in focus, perhaps?
I’m going to forgo my usual header because there’s no use to giving these books a rating. This review is for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I don’t EVER talk about this book in public and try to avoid the subject because I love this book so much (as does most of the reading world). It ended up on Tally’s Three Books I Cannot Review list (coming up later this week) and I, similarly, have avoided reviewing it for various mental health reasons. Maybe this is bad for our readers because we don’t review those books we love the most (a lot of the books you’ll read about being on my favorites shelf I haven’t previously reviewed for this reason), so I’m going to attempt to review them here, but give me some slack on these reviews because these will be the hardest books for me to talk about publicly. Maybe I’ll devote a later post (I haven’t written the Tuesday post for next week yet so maybe you’ll see it then) to why we (I) refuse to talk about some books, but for now we’ll focus on this book in particular.
My favorite John Green book is Paper Towns, but The Fault in Our Stars is the first book on my favorites shelf because it hit me so hard in the emotional stomach that I just felt it deserved that first place spot. Because it got that first place spot, the next four books on my shelf are also by John Green because as previously mentioned I can’t bear to break up an author in my organization system (you should see my Scott Westerfeld section). First, a (hopefully spoiler free) summary:
Hazel Grace Lancaster has lived on borrowed time for a great part of her life, thanks to miracle cancer-slowing drug Phalanxifor. There is no knowledge as to when this time will run out, but Hazel has accepted that and would be pretty okay with staying home and watching America’s Next Top Model for the rest of her undetermined lifetime. In spite of Hazel’s wishes, her mom insists that she attend Cancer Kid Support Group, which Hazel thinks is kind of ridiculous.
Then Hazel meets the least ridiculous thing about support group: Augustus Waters. Extreme fan of metaphor and drama, Augustus attempts to sweep the usually unsweepable Hazel off her feet, and in the process gets swept off of his one foot at least several times. The result is everyone lying on the floor, in every array of emotion possible.
When I say everyone lying on the floor I mean that metaphorically but also quite literally in that I was lying in a sort of puddle-heap hybrid by the end of this book. It (metaphorically) killed me emotionally, though a tiny bit of that might’ve been because I read TFiOS in one sitting starting at like eight o’ clock the night I bought it so I was sitting there having my feelings ripped out at approximately five a.m., but it was also a really emotionally difficult (but great!) book. Everyone (meaning one person) I’ve ever talked to about it also says they suffered a mental breakdown while and after reading the last chapters, and that is in agreement with every online discussion of the book I’ve ever read.
I don’t want to say too much more about TFiOS because I don’t want to risk ANY spoilers, but just know that it really is really truly really worth a read. It didn’t make it to the tippy top of the NY Times bestseller list for no reason.
The author, John Green, does other things besides write books, including running a vlog with his brother, Hank, and generally building and sustaining an awesome online community that has been helping to decrease worldsuck (aka do good things for the world) for years, as well as providing a ton of fuel for intelligent discussion (we like that here at Bookmarks) and the increasing of knowledge. You should go check him out.
Can you guess which book I’m reviewing next? (Here’s a hint: it’s the one not blurred out all the way.)
Happy Tuesday and hope you’re warm,
Many of you may remember my wave of enthusiasm as I read the Possession books, Possession, Surrender, and Abandon. Well, on the same night during which I reviewed Abandon, I also wrote a spoiler-ridden review to get some of my . . . Emotional blockages out of the way. During a recent laptop overhaul I discovered this review that I had intended to post at some point, and decided that the time is now. There will be spoilers. You probably won’t get it if you haven’t read the book. You might not get it even if you have read the book. I hope this gives you a little bit of insight into how my brain actually works, as there’s quite the difference between the reviews I usually post and the initial spasm I experience after finishing a book. I hope you enjoy it despite or because of those reasons. Here, in its entirety, is my spoiler review, sans edits since my original brain splat.
Though I really loved Possession and Surrender, there was something about Abandon that made it so perfect I couldn’t breath while I was finishing it. It wasn’t even that late at night when I was reading, so I can’t blame exhaustion for my overemotional breakdown like I can with most of the books I’ve lost it over. I was sitting there, nine thirty at night, huddled in a corner even though it was 85 degrees in the dark, and I couldn’t believe what’d just happened. This happened three times, with building intensity.
First, Laurel fell. I had to read everything from both Zenn and Jag’s point of view several times because I could not comprehend what had just happened. When I did get the basics (Vi’s mom just fell off a hoverboard, everybody freeze and decide that since she knew the risks it’s okay she died), I thought for a few minutes that Zenn had killed her. I felt relief, because I was ready for Zenn to freaking commit to a side already. I also felt despair, because a. Vi had lost her mother and b. Thane had lost his wife without really reconciling with her like I’d hoped he would. Also c. d. e. and f., but that’s more detail than I need to get into.
Then, Thane sacrificed himself for the good of the Resistance. That was the way for him to die. It was perfect and beautiful and so, so tragic. My jaw actually dropped, which I’ve been noticing happening for a long time, but haven’t noticed often. It dropped lower than it’d ever dropped, I do believe. The emotional cascade nearly made me stop reading. But I kept on.
And then Zenn happened. I was literally, really, truly, curled in a ball, dripping tears onto the pages of my pristine copy of Abandoned. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to care. I had expected Vi to be the one to go, and I was going to be flat out enraged if she dropped off. I was so surprised. I, again, couldn’t figure out what had happened. I hadn’t even thought to mentally prepare for Zenn dying. I had expected to be left with the opposing points of the love triangle, a bitter old lady with a thousand cats still wondering what would have happened if Vi had survived. Instead I was a blob of person-mush, falling apart for someone I had barely tolerated for most of the book. Me and Zenn had some problems, to say the least. But everything, and I do mean everything was redeemed with his last italicized thoughts, and I am still trying to deal with his death. I don’t think I’ve fully accepted it yet.
I am now forcing myself to move past the deaths, and focus on some of the other things, the thing I’m focusing on being the plot. I read all three books in a few days, really back to back, so the plot is kind of a flowing line through the whole story span (not really plot arc. There are a ton of those within the story span. It’s very confusing), but I ran into a bit of a hitch in my flawless reading plan when I was about ¾ of the way through Abandon. It corresponded with the weather taking a turn for the hot, I do believe, but I went to bed late one night and when I woke up didn’t feel the need to read my book for like eight hours, which was a lot for me. It was a good thing for me personally, actually, I did a ton of classwork and worked out in the time I spent away from my book, but I did lose a little bit of that fluidity with the plot line. I went back later in the day and nearly died from plot angst, though, so I apparently didn’t lose all of my memory.
There wasn’t one event that drove me away from the book, but about 105% of the reason was because of Zenn’s narration, I do believe. I got really tired of him and Saffediene and Vi and all that suck, because two love triangles is just too much for a book to handle. I got tired of him worrying about which side to pick, as I’d already mentioned. He needed to just commit, to a side, to a girl, to an ally (the thought of him leaving Jag again was also not attractive to me). I needed to get out of his head for a while, I think. I started back on with a Jag chapter, and I think that was really good for me because I regained my faith in Elana Johnson’s (awesome) writing expertise and remembered that I really loved everyone except for Zenn.
Hope that was entertaining if not educational,
Today it’s my turn to take the proverbial wheel and run Line Catchers for the week. In case you missed Tally’s post last week, Line Catchers is where we pick a quote from wherever catches our eye, make it pretty (though Tally’s much better at that than I am) and post it with a quick little explanation/analysis. We post them on Sundays and they’re pretty awesome (or they will be when we have a larger sample set).
My Line Catcher for the day is a quote I find both comforting and scary, but overall I think it’s a pretty peaceful phrase.
Since hearing this quote for the first time on the internet I’ve learned that it comes from the movie “Men In Black” which I haven’t actually seen, which I know is probably bad because I might be taking this quote WAY out of context, but I’m going to risk it because I really love this thought.
I’d mostly like to focus on the first two lines and the last line, because I think there are many other things we’re going to discover in our time than the rest of the quote limits this idea to. In fact, I’ve made a second version that may be even more out of context, but I’m really trying to illustrate my point.
I’m one of those nerds who adores science and I’m pretty up on current scientifically accepted facts (I’ve got that the earth goes round the sun and that humans weren’t actually gorillas, but shared a common ancestor, and so on), so I would expect to be completely terrified by the though of something huge the entire human race has missed, but I also really love scientific discovery and how we aren’t done learning about our universe or those beyond, how there are still mysteries all around us. And I think this quote, though I’m pretty sure it’s from a dude trying to explain to someone else that there are alien squid things hanging out all over the planet (or something like that), explains how the things we accept as cold fact may be completely off base. And though the thought is unsettling, I like it.
As we come back from our break it seems like everyone’s unveiling new features (have you heard about Line Catchers?), and I’m not one to argue. With this, I bring you Flashback! It’s basically exactly what you’d expect from the name: I head back to the middle readers and review a book I loved back when I read absome lighter topics (because nobody wants to hear me review The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest again (although there’s a fascinating biography of Stieg Larsson written by his lifepartner Eva Gabrielsson that I’d kind of like to reivew)). It could take off, it could sink dismally, but I think I’ll give it a try. My first flashback: Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
Oh, and did I forget to mention the fun part? I’m not allowed to read any synopses, selections from the book, reviews, blurbs, etcetera for the first half of the review. The only thing I get to look at is the cover. Then I do my research (aka I read all or part of the book) and we see how bad my memory is.
I read Double Identity in fifth grade, and I really loved it. A lot. A few years ago I was at a bookstore and saw it used (I’ve mentioned previously that I have a habit of collecting books I liked when I was little *cough*theres’s a reason I have storage underneath my bed *cough*) and it’s been living in my house ever since. I reread it a while back, but it’s still been about three years since I last had a refresher.
[SPOILERS] but not necessarily correct spoilers:
As far as I can remember, main character Whoseit (no I don’t remember her name… Brittany? Elizabeth? Hailey?) has lived a life full of normalcy. Sure, her parents are weird and overprotective, but everyone’s are, and sure, they’re kinda stuck in the past, but that’s no reason to worry, right? Whoseit has a thing for peach flavored instant oatmeal (a surprisingly important part of the book), and really loves swimming.
One day nearing her twelfth (is it? Or sixteenth? I don’t know) birthday, Whoseit’s mom loses her mind. Her dad whisks away his wife and daughter in a car where he got the electric window controls switched out for the roller kind (also important), and leaves Whoseit in the hands of an aunt and adultish cousin (Jordan?) who are pretty weird. They treat Whoseit like someone very fragile and spend a lot of time looking like they’ve seen a ghost. As Whoseit settles in at her new home (by the way, where are her parents? She tries not to think about that), she realizes that it’s not just her eccentric family members. The whole town turns pale and wobbly when Whoseit enters the scene (she’s basically the antiKesha, the party always stops when she walks in), but nobody explains anything to her. As she realizes more and more that there’s something big she hasn’t been let in on, papa Whoseit sends a perplexing package full of cash and identification papers (I think).
(About here is where things go fuzzy for me, so hold on to your hats) It soon comes out that Whoseit is her parent’s second draft at raising children. The first was killed in a car crash around her twelfth (we’re going with twelfth) birthday and, get this, Whoseit is that girl’s clone. As hard as the parents tried to replicate exactly Whoseit 1.0’s childhood and upbringing, they kept getting overprotective of their daughter (they knew what was going to happen next, and sometimes they didn’t want that thing to happen), and ended up with, in Whoseit 2.0’s opinion, an inferior second choice.
After that discovery things sort of blew up and there was an evil scientist running around trying to catch Whoseit and figure out how to clone people but everything worked out well and Whoseit made it past the date of Whoseit 1.0’s death, which meant she was finally living her own life. The end. Good book.
Major apologies to anyone I might’ve offended with that one (really though, sorry). Let’s see how well I did.
First off, main character’s name is Bethany, not Whoseit. Secondly, it’s Bethany’s thirteenth birthday, not twelfth (though I was surprisingly close). Third, I was pretty close to getting Bethany 1.0’s name, Elizabeth, but I kind of thought both girls had the same name. But still. I was close. The evil scientist I remembered was actually someone who’d paid Bethany’s dad to clone him, then got caught embezzling from his science company and put in jail, so Bethany’s dad just cloned Elizabeth. The dude just wanted to know what happened to his clone. Cousin’s name: Joss, not Jordan. Indeed, Bethany’s father does send her an envelope full of cash and birth certificates, which kind of tips her off that there’s a little more to the story than she expected. All in all though, I did better than I had expected.
Quite honestly, rereading Double Identity was not what I’d hoped, but I guess that’s to be expected. I’ve grown a lot as a reader and a person (not to mention I’ve spent countless hours analyzing plotlines and symbols and all that literary stuff so I’m a little bit of a snob where I wasn’t when I was still in elementary school). It was kind of a blast from the past, which I find worthwhile. Also, Double Identity was a pretty solid middle reader. I’d give it 3/5 stars.
As many of you know I really like Jessica Therrien and her work. I’ve previously reviewed Oppression, the first book in her Children of the Gods series, and we did a great author interview in celebration of her new (though not so new at the time of this review because I’ve had this post on my computer for the past month and a half and just hadn’t uploaded it in all that time. Also it took me like a month to get to reading it after I got the book) book Uprising. I’ve finally finished the highly anticipated novel, and, as usual, I have some things to say. First, a no-spoilers summary:
Elyse and William are still in hiding, both as a couple and as a race. The Descendants, a group of partial gods living amongst the humans of the world, are still constantly working to conceal their secret while hoping to avoid the wrath of the Descendant big brother, the Council. Elyse and William are personal interests of the violent and powerful Christoph, member and leader of the Council and intent on the possession of their heretofore nonexistent child, the new oracle of the century. As lovers Elyse and William try desperately to prevent the conception of their child, are they as safe as their protector would have them believe?
I really liked this book for the first 72% (I know the numbers because Jessica Therrien and publishers generously reduced the price for a while and I bought it on my kindle), and then there was a plot twist I very much disagree with. I will not detail it here, but it wasn’t so much “oh no cruel fictional world” and more “wow that was a trope destined to make the rest of this novel worse and predictable.” And it did make things, in my opinion, worse, but there was still some unpredictability, which I am very much grateful about. Jessica Therrien pulled through with the writing and [SPOILER] having been recently pregnant with her first child, provided one of the most accurate pregnancies I’ve seen written in paranormal YA in a long time (Twilight, I’m looking at you) [END SPOILER].
All in all, a solid followup to a phenomenal first.
It’s been a while since I made a list, and after coming home today under a bit of a grey cloud to find myself craving not one of my go-to reads but a book I haven’t read in several years, I realized that a worthwhile list would be books to remove a bad mood. I’ve posted a sort of sister post to this where I talked about particular lines from several books I consider stress relievers. Today I’ll be expanding that list in a different way, listing off several books that I love not for their familiarity, but for their ability to dissolve a bad mood.
1. Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars by Daniel Pinkwater
2. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
3. What I Call Life by Jill Wolfson
4. Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White
5. Obama’s Blackberry by Kasper Hauser and James Reichmuth
Hoping you’re enjoying de-stressing with some reading time this Tuesday afternoon,