Sunday, September 3, 2017

50 Books #3

Long time no see. Even though I haven't posted in a while, I haven't stopped reading. So I just wanted to let you know what I've been reading! This is a continuation of my reading list that I started way back in 2007. Here are books 101 to 150, which I read between 2013 to 2017:

101. Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
102. The Dark Secret (Wings of Fire #4) by Tui T. Sutherland
103. Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers
104. The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire #5) by Tui T. Sutherland
105. Palace of Stone (Princess Academy #2) by Shannon Hale
106. Pivot Point by Kasie West
107. A Dark Inheritance by Chris D’Lacey
108. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
109. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
110. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
111. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
112. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
113. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
114. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
115. Othello by William Shakespeare
116. The Mayfair Moon by J. A. Redmerski
117. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
118. Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool by Jody Lamb
119. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
120. Moon Rising (Wings of Fire #6) by Tui T. Sutherland
121. All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter
122. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
123. Smile by Raina Telgemeier
124. The Demon’s Watch by Conrad Mason
125. Forest Born (The Books of Bayern #4) by Shannon Hale
126. Cleopatra in Space #1: Target Practice by Mike Maihack
127. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
128. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
129. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
130. See How They Run (Embassy Row #2) by Ally Carter
131. Winter Turning (Wings of Fire #7) by Tui T. Sutherland
132. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
133. The Selection by Kiera Cass
134. The Siren by Kiera Cass
135. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
136. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
137. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
138. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
139. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
140. These Happy Golden Years (Little House on the Prairie #8) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
141. The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events #8) by Lemony Snicket
142. Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
143. Take the Key and Lock Her Up (Embassy Row #3) by Ally Carter
144. Escaping Peril (Wings of Fire #8) by Tui T. Sutherland
145. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
146. The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy #1)
147. Defy (Defy #1) by Sara B. Larson
148. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
149. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
150. The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy #3) by Shannon Hale

-Top 5 (in no particular order): A Raisin in the Sun, Destiny of the Republic, Unbroken, The Golem and the Jinni, Hattie Big Sky (Honorable mentions: A Monster Calls, The Winner’s Curse, The Forgotten Sisters)

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Play Is the Thing

I just finished reading Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Honestly I wouldn’t have read it except that I had to for my job as a proofreader. (Right now I’m reading a literature book, which gives me all sorts of English class flashbacks.)

I’d never read A Raisin in the Sun before and have never seen a production or film adaptation. I was familiar with the play by title only. When I started reading it, I had the foreboding feeling and expectation that this play was going to be depressing, as so much of the literature in English classes tends to be. Those feelings didn’t change as I got deeper into the play. In many ways, A Raisin in the Sun is reminiscent of Death of a Salesman, and we all know how that one turned out.

So I was glad to discover that A Raisin in the Sun does NOT have a tragic ending but a triumphant, redeeming one. I loved it because the ending totally surprised me while also seeming inevitable, which is one of the most perfect things any author can do for a reader. It was poetic; it was wonderful. I was practically giddy after I read it, considering my initial misgivings about the play. Reading A Raisin in the Sun-and enjoying it-reminded me how satisfying reading a good play can be. It’s been a while since I read a play, so perhaps I’d forgotten. It’s an interesting, unique genre and one I’ve never taken the time to really reflect upon before.

In my play-reading experience, I’ve loved happy endings and sad endings, comedies and tragedies. Like I said before, several aspects of A Raisin in the Sun and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman are quite similar. But their outcomes also make them polar opposites. Despite its tragic ending, I love Death of a Salesman; in fact, it’s one of my favorites. This, coupled with my fortuitous discovery of A Raisin in the Sun, is evidence to me that my appreciation for either play goes beyond a desire for a happy or sad ending. In another example, Taming of the Shrew is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays-but so is Othello, and I love it just as much. Like Miller’s and Hansberry’s plays, I believe Taming of the Shrew and Othello are comparable works with similar themes but opposite outcomes: Taming of the Shrew shows a marriage that becomes strong despite it being severely tested, while Othello shows the destruction of a marriage through deceit and jealousy.

Other plays I’ve read and enjoyed include Our Town by Thornton Wilder; The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams; and another Arthur Miller play, The Crucible. Each of these plays I’ve read several times. In the cases of Our Town and The Crucible, I’ve also had the chance to see them performed onstage in college productions. On the other hand, two plays I did not particularly like are Romeo & Juliet and Oedipus Rex. To be clear, it's not that I don't think they're well written. I’m sure you could spend hours telling me how technically brilliant they are, or how timeless and universal their stories are, and I would not dispute it. You’re right. But there is another, more fundamental reason for my dislike. Moreover, I believe why I don’t like them is directly related to why I love other plays. And this, in turn, will further explain why I think plays as a genre are important.

I’ve read several other plays (including many by Shakespeare, of course) but the ones I’ve mentioned thus far are the ones that have had the most impact on my play-reading experience, for better or worse. Now that you understand where I’m coming from, let me tell you what I know about plays because of that experience.

To understand the essential difference between plays and other genres, I think you need to ponder the significance of another word closely associated with plays: drama. Why is play-acting referred to as drama? Precisely because that’s exactly what it is. Plays are meant to be performed. Unlike, say, adapting a book for a film adaptation, where a lot can be lost in translation when it goes from book to script and then to screen, a play is written with the specific intent to be seen and not just read, with the advantages and limitations of the stage in mind. I find this focuses the storytelling more on action rather than description. Showing, not telling. And because plays are performed onstage, you see the action in the moment in a way that not even film can capture, like witnessing life as it’s happening even if it is scripted. But drama, by its very nature, also involves conflict, which implies a choice. By the end of the play, someone is going to have to make a vital decision that affects everything. Plays are not just long, drawn-out conversations even though they are composed primarily of dialogue. Action + conflict = drama.

Unfortunately, the strengths of plays are also their weaknesses because if you’re a reader first and not a performer who is used to thinking in terms of stage directions and sets and the nuances of dialogue and actions, it can be difficult to read plays. That’s why it’s important to see them performed if possible. But when you can’t see a play (which tends to be most of the time), what can you get out of a play by simply reading it? For me, watching plays helps me understand the action, i.e., the first part of drama. Reading plays, on the other hand, helps deepen one’s understanding of the conflict of a play, which is why it can be a helpful exercise even if you’ve seen the play before. It gives you a chance to study the meat of the material instead of only seeing it performed once, where you might miss something.

Knowing this, I hope I can now at least begin to explain why I like some plays but not others.

I think part of the reason I am so against Romeo & Juliet is that I spent a lot of my early years (long before I was even old enough to read literature as complex as Shakespeare) under the impression that Romeo and Juliet were the epitome of the romantic couple. Indeed, to this day, when people speak of great literary romances, Romeo & Juliet is probably somewhere at the top of the list. But it is my opinion that this is a complete misconception. It really disturbs me that Romeo & Juliet is considered a great love story because to me it isn't the ultimate love story-it's a story about how hate destroyed everything good, including true love. Furthermore, Romeo and Juliet played the pitiful victims in their own story, marred not by Fate but by their inability to take control of their situation. Instead of being a beacon in a world of hate, they let circumstances control them until it destroyed them. I feel like when they died, they didn't just kill themselves but also love itself. I had no sympathy for anybody in that play, and there’s no real drama in that. (Go ahead and drop off the face of the Earth. What do I care?) Oedipus Rex? Same deal. In both stories, there is nothing and nobody redeemable in them, and no one realizes anything until it's too late. They may speak true to life on some level (i.e., the miserable part), particularly as warnings against hate and hubris, but why would I want to waste my time on stories that tell me people are idiots and life is hopeless?

And don't think I'm just griping about this because Romeo & Juliet and Oedipus Rex aren't "happy" plays. Believe me, if Oedipus Rex were nothing but sunshine and rainbows, I'd still hate it. If Romeo & Juliet was indeed the ideal romance that everyone makes it out to be, with all the sappiness and sentiment that implies, I'd still have essentially the same problems with it. Ignoring all the bad stuff for the sake of keeping a story "happy" is untruthful, but so are stories that are basically saying: We're all doomed and there's nothing you can do about it.

By comparison, I think the element that keeps Death of a Salesman from being a completely miserable play is Willy Loman’s son Biff. I think it’s quite clear where Willy is heading from the very beginning. I think his fate is ingrained in his character. It’s Biff who has the epiphany at the end, not Willy. Ask yourself what might’ve happened if Arthur Miller’s play had focused on Biff: Would it have ended with redemption instead? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about. You do sympathize with Willy somewhat despite knowing he’s on a downward spiral. It’s painful to watch, but you feel sorry for him nonetheless because you identify with his aching desire to succeed, to live up to something, to matter in life. But it's not enough to save him. It's Biff who's saved in the end; he is the glimpse of redemption before we witness Willy’s demise. Biff might still make it, and he tried to save Willy too. For a second, we may have even believed that Willy would be saved, given the desperate hope we can sense deep inside him, but, as we know, Biff can only save himself. It’s these little bits of hope that make failures tragic instead of miserable. So much potential, gone.

If plays are fundamentally composed of a choice, inherent in the play’s conflict, then naturally I will gravitate toward plays that I believe execute that choice well. The best plays are the ones you can imagine going either way; it’s just a matter of what the characters are going to choose. To have drama, there must be conflict, and to have conflict you must believe, wholeheartedly, that the outcome of the play can end well OR end badly. And that’s like holding up a mirror to life, isn’t it?

Which makes my attraction to plays like A Raisin in the Sun versus Death of a Salesman or Taming of the Shrew versus Othello quite interesting because it speaks to the exact theory I’ve been trying to explain. If in fact the greatest plays make it possible to go in either direction, then these examples prove it to be so. It’s kind of like, if you decided to switch it up and rewrite A Raisin in the Sun with a tragic ending (or Death of Salesman with a happy one), A Raisin in the Sun would morph into Death of Salesman, and vice versa. Same with Taming of the Shrew and Othello. You wouldn’t be able to do that with plays that don’t have strong enough material; but these plays are so good that you can contemplate a different ending without changing the essence of the story because the different choice is already built inside each play’s conflict individually. You follow a character on a journey, witness the big and seemingly small decisions they’re making, until you’re left at a crossroads. At that point, you still want to be wondering if he’s going to turn left or if he’s going to turn right. That’s drama. And the genius of EACH of these plays is that they give you pieces of both options before deciding, once and for all, which direction to take. It doesn't really matter what they ultimately decide (i.e., whether the play ends happily or tragically), but I have to believe the decision and its consequences.

And so it goes. With each play I admire, I like it because it reflects the drama of life. The substance of a well written play can be as complex in its conflict as we often face in real-life dilemmas and decisions, and I’m grateful for that because it makes me think, perhaps before I’m faced with a crucial decision in reality. Whether it’s John Proctor’s powerful transformation in The Crucible, which seems to be tragic AND redemptive at the same time; the nostalgic but bittersweet depiction of life in Our Town, which is unique in how it makes you ponder life's big questions about life, death, and the passing of time; or the dashed hopes of the Wingfields, who were so close to finding a way out of their small life, in The Glass Menagerie, every good play leaves me feeling like I have a big decision to make-happiness or misery? But also thanks to plays, I feel like I have a clearer idea of what exactly those choices are.

Thanks for sticking with me for a long and rambling post.
Shannon

Saturday, March 8, 2014

“Did You Even Read It?”

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

--Sir Francis Bacon

When someone criticizes a book, someone else will usually fire back with “Well, did you even read it?” This is a valid point; however, the hard truth is, no one has the time to read every book ever written. As such, it does become necessary to evaluate a book to some degree before reading it. How do you go about this?

Readers rarely have to delve into a book blind these days with the multitude of reviews, rumors, synopses, excerpts, spoilers, author interviews, and other details out there. It is not that hard to find out information about a book before you attempt to read it, especially in the Internet age. You don’t have an excuse to be ignorant.

But, you've got to admit that those people who ask “Did you even read it?" have a point. If you judge a book without reading it, or have read only parts of it, you are at a disadvantage. You are making judgment calls from an uninformed (or less informed) standpoint. Even if you have read all the reviews, synopses, spoilers, excerpts and other information available, if you have not read the actual book, it's harder to take your opinion seriously.

But you can still have valid reasons for choosing not to read or finish a book. In that case, I think there is wisdom in the saying "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Let me elaborate. I'm NOT saying don't take a stand for what you value. On the contrary. But wouldn't it be a better use of your energy to promote the good books instead of burning (literally and figuratively) the bad books?

Think about it. If you read a good book, talk about it. Tell your friends. SHOUT it to the rooftops. Spread the word. You've read the book, so you hopefully know what you're talking about. Therefore, people might listen. But what’s the use in ranting about a book you haven’t read? When you refuse to read a book, you don't know much, if anything, about it. That much is true, and trust me, the other side is always going to shoot back with that argument. And they're always going to be right.

And then there are those people who have read the book and still have reasons for disliking it. To which I say, learn from the experience and be brief. The "don't say anything" wisdom still applies here in that you're still better off talking about the good books instead of the bad ones. Should you really call attention to a book you don’t want people to read? Isn’t that counterproductive? Besides, if all you have to say about a book is to criticize it, then after a while, all it does is make you sound bitter, hurtful, and mean. So be brief, let it go, and move on.

Whether you've read a book or not, I think it is generally unwise, and ultimately ineffective, to single out a specific book as if it were wholly responsible for the breakdown of the arts and society. Because no matter how bad a book is perceived to be, it couldn't possibly be responsible for ALL the world's problems. A legitimately bad book is a symptom of a disease, but not the root of the problem.

For me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” does NOT mean stay silent about problems and grievances, such as objectionable material in books and the literature we teach in schools. Over time I’ve learned that the true meaning behind this principle is that the more time you spend complaining about the bad is time you’ve neglected to spend talking about the good.

You don't like bad language? Fine. Say you don't like it. Not a fan of explicit sexual content or violence? OK. Speak up. But don't waste your breath on something you know little about, like the books you never finished. Instead let your positive choices and experiences do the talking, and let your objections be. Sometimes silence can speak volumes, and what you don't read will be an example in itself. Be clear about what your standards are, then make choices consistent with those standards. That's how you make your stand.

Keep in mind that books, like the people who write them, are not perfect. A book is bound to have both its good and its bad points. How do you navigate shelves full of imperfect books written by imperfect people? Well, I would say it's not that much different from navigating an imperfect world full of imperfect people. Reading books is like making friends.

I find it’s helpful to judge a book by its strengths first before you go pointing fingers at its weaknesses. Perhaps it’s not very well written. Perhaps it’s just plain boring. Perhaps it’s a little difficult to read. But ask yourself, “Is it worth my time?” Sometimes you can learn something valuable about books, stories, writing, and life from books you may not particularly admire, and sometimes that alone is motivation enough to finish a book. You may realize that there are aspects of a book that you do like, even if you didn’t like it overall. Take what good you can away from the experience.

There may be some unfortunate cases where a book shouldn’t be finished. I can forgive bad (i.e., poorly executed) writing. I cannot, however, forgive bad (i.e., malicious or degrading) content. Even well written books can be guilty of bad content. I stand by my original advice to stay informed. This, in turn, will lessen the chances of wasting time on unfinishable books. But sometimes, despite all the research, glowing reviews, and honest effort, a book isn’t worth finishing for objectionable reasons. Put the book down. Walk away. Even bad reading experiences teach you something. It will help you make better decisions in the future. Perhaps I’m treading on dangerous ground here; censorship is a whole other issue, subject to endless debate. But I do believe choosing books is, at its heart, a moral choice.

Search for the good. Promote the good. Speak briefly and clearly about the bad. I would also add, you need to train your mind to look for the good because if you don't, eventually your thinking will become distorted. Eventually the bad is all you see, and that’s an awful way to live. With people, if all you do is point out how you're better than them and how inferior they are, eventually you won't have any friends. So it is with books. A life without books is an empty life.

Look, I know I’m just talking about books here, and that what I choose to read next, in the scheme of things, seems rather trivial. But choice matters, and maybe all I’m trying to say is that the principle behind small decisions is the same as it is for big ones. And I know there are times when complaints and protest are valid, but if you let said complaints put you in a miserable mindset, eventually they will consume you. Don’t just point out the problem; search for, promote-and become-the solution.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

50 More Books

If you recall, I once mentioned that, years ago, I started keeping track of the books I'm reading. And I still am. (Goodreads has been a big help in this respect.) I've already commented on the first 50 books in that list, which I read from 2007 to 2010. (See books 1 through 50 here.) Well, now I'm up to 100 books. See books 51 to 100 below.

Books Read 2011–2013 (51–100)

51. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
52. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
53. The Awakening (Vampire Diaries #1) by L. J. Smith
54. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler
55. The Struggle (Vampire Diaries #2) by L. J. Smith
56. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
57. The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1) by Kazu Kibuishi
58. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
59. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins
60. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins
61. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins
62. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
63. Austenland (Austenland #1) by Shannon Hale
64. The Vampire Stalker by Allison van Diepen
65. River Secrets (Books of Bayern #3) by Shannon Hale
66. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
67. Freak, the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
68. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
69. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls #1) by Ally Carter
70. Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth
71. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
72. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1)
73. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
74. Silas Marner by George Eliot
75. Midnight in Austenland (Austenland #2) by Shannon Hale
76. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
77. The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
78. The Wishing Spell (Land of Stories #1) by Chris Colfer
79. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
80. The Prestige by Christopher Priest
81. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
82. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
83. City of Bones (Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare
84. Emma by Jane Austen
85. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
86. Priceless by Robert K. Wittman
87. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
88. City of Ashes (Mortal Instruments #2) by Cassandra Clare
89. Insurgent (Divergent #2) by Veronica Roth
90. The Great Fire by Jim Murphy
91. Still Me by Christopher Reeve
92. Nothing Is Impossible by Christopher Reeve
93. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (Gallagher Girls #2) by Ally Carter
94. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
95. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
96. Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth
97. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
98. The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire #1) by Tui T. Sutherland
99. The Lost Heir (Wings of Fire #2) by Tui T. Sutherland
100. The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire #3) by Tui T. Sutherland

NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:

-I'm reading faster. It took me only three years instead of four to get through this group of 50 books.

-Book series is becoming a dominant trend in the book world. On this list alone, there is Hunger Games, Divergent, Mortal Instruments, Books of Bayern, Austenland, Gallagher Girls, Wings of Fire, Vampire Diaries, Percy Jackson, and Land of Stories. I think I'll try and steer away from this a little to try and get more variety in my reading.

-For some reason, it seems I've been obsessed with Jane Austen: I've reread two of Austen's novels (Sense and Sensibility and Emma) and read a few Austen-inspired books, Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom and Prejudice and Shannon Hale's Austenland books.

-Yep. Vampire books. Mindless fun that's a remnant of my Twilight phase. But seriously, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is actually pretty good. However, if you're thinking of checking out The Vampire Diaries, I'd stick with the TV show.

-I think I should read more nonfiction. I've enjoyed all the nonfiction in this list (e.g., Still Me, Priceless, River of Doubt, The Great Fire, The Last Lecture, Walt Disney), and yet I never seem to read as much nonfiction versus fiction.

Funny the things you notice about yourself from just a list of titles. Like I said before, it's nothing much. Just a list. But it's still cool to think that I've now read 100 books.

Keep reading,
Shannon Jones

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thankful

This is just to say that I'm thankful for books. But you already knew that. Nevertheless, since we've now entered November, the month of Thanksgiving, what better time to express my gratitude? However, instead of stating the obvious reasons why I'm grateful for books: story, humanity, poetry, imagination, education, blah, blah, blah, I thought I'd spend some time pointing out the small, yet significant, things that foster my love for reading.

I'm grateful for words. I'm not referring to an author's eloquent turn of phrase or the beauty of a metaphor or someone's enviable grasp of vocabulary, although these are all great things. I'm talking about WORDS—simple, ordinary, everyday words. Does it ever occur to you what a miracle it is that words even exist, much less the ability to string them together into coherent sentences?

I'm grateful that I still have my eyesight. Sometimes it occurs to me that this may not always be the case, either because of accident, injury, time, or age, and you know, it's kinda scary. Eyesight is really rather fragile, if you think about it. It could be gone in an instant. If you've ever seen the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough At Last," you pretty much know my feelings on the subject.

I'm grateful that my To Read pile is always growing and always longer than I can possibly keep up with. My never-ending reading list is evidence of two important things: 1.) Books worth reading are still being written; and 2.) I still love reading. Wouldn't it be sad if you literally ran out of books to read? Yeah. But it would be even sadder if I simply stopped reading, and consequently, stopped adding to my To Read list, when there are so many books out there. As bummed and overwhelmed as I am to think that I'll probably never catch up, it's probably a good thing that I won't.

But most of all, I'm grateful for the ability to read. It may seem like a mundane, ordinary, utilitarian task at times, but not everybody can do it, you know. Reading is a talent. Did you ever think of that? I mean, did you ever consider all the things reading enables you to do? It's practically a superpower! Go ahead. Feel special. But reading is also a gift. It's a good thing you can read that stop sign or that instruction manual, that text or that e-mail. But don't waste that gift. Read a book. And be thankful.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Friend

I just finished reading Christopher Reeve's autobiography, Still Me, as well as Reeve's other book, Nothing Is Impossible (a shorter book, which to me reads like a supplement to Still Me).

I'm usually skeptical about biographies because I'm never sure how "true" they are even if the writer is the person himself. Because a person can have a completely different idea of himself than the people around him. And other people tend to judge a person based on appearance, background, beliefs, personality, etc., but do they really understand who that person is?

The thing that convinced me to read Still Me was finding a Superman IV video interview of Christopher Reeve from 1987. (See here.) As I was watching, I realized something: This was the first time I'd seen Reeve just talking, just being himself, at a time when he was still healthy and whole. For the longest time, all I pictured of Reeve was either him as Superman or him in a wheelchair. Either way, it's especially hard to see the real person underneath. Though I liked and admired him for his achievements as a superhero both on- and offscreen, I always wondered if my perception of him was true.

it wasn't until I saw Christopher Reeve for myself, beyond his reputation or his image, that I felt like I could trust his autobiography-because I felt like I could trust him. The interview was brief, but it nevertheless gave me a glimpse of Christopher Reeve the person. I found this particular interview to be honest, straightforward, and interesting, which is also the impression I got from his book.

Trust is key. If you want me to read a biography, I better be able to trust the author, whether he's talking about himself or someone else.

For me, biographies differ from history novels because history seems more open to interpretation. This is what happened. This is what we learned. And yes, we could get into the whole debate about how history is biased, skewed, and distorted depending on who's writing the history books, but let's not, OK? All I'm saying is, history is meant to be analyzed, studied, examined and re-examined. Otherwise, how would we learn from it? So, of course, there's going to be many points of view, and each perspective is going to contribute something different. The same may be true of biographies to a certain extent, but still, learning about events is different from getting to know a person.

There's a line from Superman: The Movie that perhaps best illustrates my point. After Superman (i.e., the man himself, Christopher Reeve) rescues Lois when she falls from the helicopter, Lois asks, "Who are you?" His answer? "A friend." I believe that reading a good biography is (or should be) like making a friend. Like saying hello. Like sitting down and having an in-depth conversation. Human beings aren't events to be analyzed. They are defined by relationships. And even if you're reading about someone who's dead and gone, there is still the possibility of human connection.

The funny thing about biographies, to me, is that they often reveal more about the biographers than they do about their subjects. I believe that oftentimes how a person is perceived says more about the observer than the person being judged. But this makes autobiographies like Still Me doubly interesting. I think I learned more about Christopher Reeve by "reading between the lines" of his story and how he wrote about events than by what had happened in his life.

And what a reader takes away from a biography says a lot about the reader too, depending on what you learn from it and how you feel about it. When we pick up a biography, we're basically asking the same question Lois Lane did: Who are you? The book is the answer. This is why I'm so picky about biographies. I'm not so concerned about THE truth as I am that every relationship I establish with another human being, even if just through a book, be as true as possible. I want an honest answer to that essential question. Because the friends I make are my choice, and I don't choose them lightly. Perhaps all this hair-splitting about history vs biography was just to say: Choose your friends wisely.



Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Couple of Photos

This is a photo of my "To Read" list, taken in January 2013. I've since finished City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.



Books included in this photo:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
Pegasus by Robin McKinley
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Forest Born by Shannon Hale
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This is My Ideal Bookshelf. (Maybe you've heard of it? Check it out here. I love what these people have done with the concept.) If I had to narrow down my book collection to my essentials, I guess this would be it. These are novels I could live on for a lifetime.



Books in this photo:

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Giver by Lois Lowry

Keep reading,
Shannon