A Lesson Before Dying

Hi Crystal,

WOWOWOWOWOW this country is going crAZY right now. Election day was pretty rough ngl. Tbh it was an emotional roller-coaster for everyone, but I’m sure the panic will set in eventually.

when-you-plan-a-joke-in-your-head-but-then-it-sounds-stupid

On top of the fact that our nation is falling apart, I have a biology test tomorrow that I’m pretty worried about. Wish me luck!!

Recently, I have been reading and annotating A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. It is about a young black man named Jefferson who is falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death in the south during the 1940’s. During his trial, he is called a “hog” by the white lawyers. Hearing this, his aunt, Miss Emma, tries to convince Grant, an African American teacher in their quarter, to go and “make Jefferson a man again.”

One major theme in the book is the idea of staying to fight your fight. Grant, one of the few educated black people in the town, goes off to college basically in search of a way to escape the prejudice in the Cajun community he’s from. However, he winds up back there as a teacher, a job which he clearly isn’t too happy about. He lives a pretty depressing life, caring very little about his job, as he feels it is unnecessary and all in vain because the kids still end up in jail (like Jefferson). He always talks about running away and becoming more in life but never actually leaves. Throughout the novel, he learns to become a man while helping Jefferson become a “man” as well. He learns that as a truly educated person, he has to stay and fight the fight because that’s the only way things will get better for the African American community.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been making comments on every other line of the text or because I have to write an 800 word essay every week, but I thought this book was very slow-paced. Basically 300 pages long and with a pretty uneventful plot, the story line is a little boring sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, however, the writing is very good. It seems like every line the author writes has a purpose and a symbol. Gaines is an obviously a talented writer, clearly displayed when he can make me so frustrated when I read certain scenes that I want to bang my head against a wall.

Imma be real for a hot sec– I straight up didn’t enjoy reading the book. Something about literally NONE of the characters being likable just didn’t rest well with me. Yeah, yeah, I know all of them are supposed to be bitter about racial inequality and feeling trapped, but the whole “negativity is EVERYWHERE” mindset is just a struggle to read about. Even the main character, Grant, is a straight up self centered a**hole and doesn’t care about anyone else. Yes, the book is about growing up and becoming a “man” but it seems like 99.9999% of it is essentially just him going like “ugh i h8 this place sm!!1! i wanna run away w my still-married gf!!1! but she doesn’t want 2 leave?? WTF vivian!?!”

I dig a really good historical fiction book– it’s one of my favorite genres ever, but I can see A Lesson Before Dying being a book I remember for being kinda a pain to read. 5/10.. (not my #1 choice for a book to read for pastime, but certainly a fine book for studies)

Love,

Jeannie

 

Holiday

Dear Jeannie,

I”m so sorry for being this flaky but can I just use Election day as an excuse? The sense-making aspect of American politics has apparently decided to take a break so I feel like I should get to as well. (But really, I’ve just been swamped with project proposals, research, homework, exams etc.)

Here’s some fun links to tide you over till my next scintillating post:

http://www.staggeringbeauty.com/

http://www.sanger.dk/

Edited to add: This is a hilarious and also horrifying look into the heads of political speechwriters and the politicians they represent: http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/perfect-stump-speech/. (Click the highlighted words for super nsightful comments).

Anyway, see you on the flip side,

Crystal

The House on Mango Street

Dear Crystal,

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading and analyzing Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. I read it a while back but didn’t fully interpret the book’s deeper meanings. I’m not going to completely spoil the book in this review, (so my plot part only goes half way into the novel) but I want to show some parts of Esperanza I didn’t notice the first time.

The House on Mango Street, a novel written with a series of vignettesis narrated by a girl named Esperanza who is trying to find her identity. She lives in a home that she is ashamed off; it’s run down and cramped. She lives life with a pretty bleak outlook, if you ask me.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It mean s sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.

She goes on to say that she feels trapped, citing a story of her great-grandmother. It’s pretty powerful:

I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman… Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off… She looked out the winder her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or she was sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

Esperanza hopes that her name and other things she was born with doesn’t affect her future. She even describes herself as a “red balloon tied to an anchor.” She feels trapped and that she is destined to live a miserable life because of her family situation–she has no friends, no money, no real happiness, that is, until she befriends two girls named Rachel and Lucy, with whom she starts to open up with.

Esperanza starts to discover who she is through several “coming of age” experiences. She has more responsibilities, which include getting a job, breaking news to her younger siblings, etc.. She has few pretty creepy things happen to her. Old men kiss her and she gets sexually assaulted :/

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Esperanza learns what it means to develop an identity. It doesn’t come from your family’s past or your social class or your heritage. Esperanza was mistaken– you don’t have to reinvent yourself. Your identity is what YOU make of it. 🙂

That’s all for now,

Jeannie

Monster Culture: Seven Theses

Dear Jeannie,

Yeahhhh, school is crazyyy. I just went to this talk today and basically Time Management. The dude kept track of every single hour of his day and apparently it really helped! He dedicated an hour a day to programming side projects, which he said hands-down was the best decision he ever made. Maybe try that kind of time bookkeeping?

I didn’t finish the book I planned on reviewing so I’m just going to do a similar thing with the articles, except this one is a critical theory essay regarding monster culture. It’s an incredible read, very interesting, and as Trump would say, “I’m a big fan.” The essay by Jeffrey Cohen, called “Monster Culture: Seven Theses”, discusses why we, as a society, are so obsessed with monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla etc. etc.) and how often monsters can represent social margins and boundaries crossed. They can be effigies of everything we hate and also be the symbol of things we secretly want. One section is even called “Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire.”

Anyway, read it because it’ll definitely add a level to your writing on texts involving monsters in class (pshaw, you say, how many monster texts could there be? To which I’d respond, everything is a monster text). Let me tell you, my term paper for AP Literature after reading this essay was a big hit.

I actually found a link to the whole essay online, which, thanks internet! But also, please don’t arrest me:

http://www.englishwithtuttle.com/uploads/3/0/2/6/30266519/cohen_monster_culture__seven_theses__3-20.pdf

So anyway, read it and let me know what you think!

Love,

Crystal

some articles

Dear Crystal,

This week has been too hectic with the whole “honors” projects shenanigans. UGh. I sincerely apologize for this let-down, but this week, there will not be one of those fabulous reviews by me.

Instead, here are some cool (and not political) news articles that I found:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/nyregion/to-the-woman-who-told-my-family-to-go-back-to-china.html

Shout out to my favorite yogurt~

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2016/10/13/greek-yogurt-is-no-longer-the-trendiest-yogurt/

HAHA I lied!! Here’s one about the election:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/its-come-to-this-2016-is-the-rape-election/2016/10/13/d2a2e326-90bc-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-cards_hp-card-lifestyle%3Ahomepage%2Fcard

Love,

Jeannie

Crooked Kingdom

Dear Jeannie,

I hope you have gotten your sheets together but if you haven’t know that it will get better. (Which sounds so cliche and trite and bleh but is true! There’s always an adjustment period when you go to a new school even if you’ve been there before.)

This week I read Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, which is the second book in the “Six of Crows” duology. It would definitely make more sense to have reviewed Six of Crows first but like American politics, I too don’t believe in sense-making.

The series follows a gang of what seems to be late teenagers, in a fictional world where superpowered humans known as “grisha” exist. The gang is led by criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker (think of a much, much more violent and sociopathic Artemis Fowl), and his close cohorts, Inej who’s a spy/acrobat/Kaz’s love-interest (I say “love-interest” lightly because Kaz is so emotionally stunted), Jesper, who’s a young, sarcastic version of Deadshot, Wylan, a rich boy turned chemistry/demolitions genius, the grisha of the team, Nina, and Matthias (who is the muscle? Nina’s on again off again bf?). Essentially the two books can be boiled down to: they get into some bad situations and then have to scheme their way out. The series is almost gratuitously gritty. Every character’s backstory is steeped in trauma.  And most if not all seem to have symptoms of PTSD.

Some themes: drug addiction, life after prostitution, murder, corruption, very effed up parent child dynamics (a dad tries repeatedly to murder his kid), torture, abuse etc.

If the themes above sound like they could be a list of key words from another terrible Batman reboot, that’s because they probably could.

At this point, it’s hard to tell if Bardugo is aiming for shock value, or if she thinks the story couldn’t be told without every single bit of grit. I do have to say that while the issues are very much real issues irl, Bardugo’s world building is strong enough that the reader sees these problems as if through a thickly tinted lens. In a sense, she casts fantasy as a buffer for the reader’s trauma. Bardugo is also a rather talented writer, with a gift for character-craft and witty dialogue. Below I’ve included some quotes I found either characteristic of Bardugo’s style or just interesting tidbits in general.

“He’ll be charged with violating a contract and attempting to interfere with the market… There is no greater crime according to Kerch law. The sentences are the same as for murder. He could hang.”

And it’s not just real world trauma that she tries to recreate in her fantasy world, Bardugo also tries to recreate a lot of real world systems. She exposes capitalism by creating something that is so hyperbolic it’s like looking into a funhouse mirror and learning something new.

No mourners, no funerals. Another way of saying good luck. But it was something more. A dark wink to the fact that there would be no expensive burials for people like them, no marble markers to remember their names, no wreaths of myrtle and rose.

And:

Inej almost felt sorry for her. Dunyasha really believed she was the Lantsov heir, and maybe she was. But wasn’t that what every girl dreamed? That she’d wake and find herself a princess? Or blessed with magical powers and a grand destiny? Maybe there were people who lived those lives. Maybe this girl was one of them. But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.

So anyway, as terrible as school is, at least your parent/half the city isn’t trying to kill you (an active problem for Kaz’s entire gang).

Love,

Crystal

The Stranger

To my darling sister, Crystal,

I am still stressed.

I hope you are having a decent week! I’m so sorry for the late post. Right now, I am sitting in a corner of the library surrounded by a mind-boggling amount of math and science homework and labs that are all due tomorrow. Wish me luck!

*MAJOR SPOILERS*

I recently read the book, The Stranger by Albert Camus. The story, originally written in French, follows a man named Meursault. The book opens with him finding out that his mother died. He then goes to her funeral and expresses little to no emotion. He has a girlfriend named Marie, who he doesn’t actually love, he just likes having sex with her. Already, I’m thinking, huh, this guy is a sociopath. BUT THEN HE GOES AND KILLS A MAN FOR NO REASON. Why?? Because it was “hot” outside and he wasn’t thinking straight. Meursault is arrested and goes to court. Even in court, he doesn’t regret anything. There, they condemn him to the guillotine, and the book ends with him accepting the idea of his execution.

Here’s a favorite meme of mine to describe my thoughts:

To be honest, when I finished the 100-something paged book, I was angry. I don’t know why, but I expected The Stranger to be riveting, invigorating, and just a thrill in general to read. It was certainly not that. However, this novel is extremely deep on a philosophical standpoint. After some deep thought, I think  Meursault is the stranger after which the book is called. He feels little to no emotion about anything. Society doesn’t accept him as a functioning member of it because of his indifferent attitude about things “normal” people would usually react strongly to. Judged and misunderstood by different characters throughout the book, Mersault is perceived as a crazy freak. He is charged with murder with no mercy– he is headed straight to the guillotine (no pun intended ;)). I honestly don’t know why he would be pardoned after what he’s done, but yet again, I am part of the “judgmental” society that rejects people like Meursault.

Overall, this book is too profound for me to appreciate it to its fullest extent. But, if you are really into analyzing deep philosophical ideas like those, try The Stranger out. Otherwise, don’t step within a 5-foot radius of it.

Sincerely,

Jeannie