Night

Dear Crystal,

Sorry for the late post. I had been in the middle of a paper for Global History, and I didn’t think people wanted to read a review on books about Confucius’ life and teachings. But I’m here now, and that’s all that matters! I recently read Night by Elie Wiesel. Many of my favorite books are realistic fiction about WWII, like The Book Thief,  All the Light We Cannot See, Sarah’s Key, and etc., however, Night is a work of non-fiction that struck me just like these other books written by renowned writers.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Night is written almost like a work of fiction; it has symbolism on every page. As the title suggests, the symbol of nighttime and darkness recurs.  It delves into the idea of horrifying and traumatic events such as the Holocaust forcing people to betray people that they love. We often times hear of heart-warming stories like a mother giving up her life to save her child, but the reality is that many people were turned into animals and dehumanized the Jews. It was each man to themselves in those concentration camps. The Nazis turned ordinary people into the barely living dead.

Nobody asked anyone for help. One died because one had to. No point in making trouble.

Wiesel displays the harsh reality of the emotional and physical torture people had to endure. People wished for death to save them. Sons were betraying fathers, letting them die and some hoping that it would to ease their burden. The strongest of the strong giving up at last. People being stripped of their faith. Here’s is one of the many passages that were extremely powerful:

[My father’s] last word had been my name. He called out to me and I had not answered. I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!…

Wiesel had been loyal to the end; he lived with his father in mind until even he, who was one of the emotionally strongest, could not bear it anymore. The Holocaust and the Germans killed him inwardly.

Occasionally, we would pass through German towns. Usually, very early in the moring. German laborers were going to work. They would stop and look at us without surprise. One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs. The worker wached the spectabcle with great interest.

Wiesel spent his life trying to make people aware of the dangers of indifference. A famous quote of his is, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

I’m gonna be honest, this book had me sitting in my room on a Saturday night next to an empty tissue box bawling my eyes out. 100% recommend if you like crying.

But all jokes aside, Night’s lessons for humanity is more valuable than gold. It is truly eye opening and devastating. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself. I beg you to pick this classic up if you haven’t already- I guarantee that it is 1000x better than my very limited description.

Love,

Jeannie

A River Runs Through It

river

Dear Jeannie,

Hai…so this review is like two weeks overdue…oops? My only excuse is that school has got me shook and I am just trying to survive my never-ending p-sets and exams :))))).

My life right now:

The book I read (actually you know the part that says “and other stories” haha yeah, I didn’t read the other stories, so from now on “entire book”, “book”, “whole book” etc. refers only to the eponymous story) is called “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean. Honestly I don’t even remember why I picked it up but if I had known the entire fricking thing was about fly fishing I definitely would not have done so, which would have been my loss.

Literally. Fishing.

Also to my continued amazement, this book got made into a movie starring Brad Pitt??!? first of all, Brad, why. Was this before Ocean’s 11? Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Were you still figuring out your life? Second of all, how did this book about fly fishing get a movie and Artemis Fowl didn’t??

Alright. I’ll admit he works it as a fisherman.

The titular pseudo-memoir novella (this is some strong creative nonfiction!!!) centers around a narrator (Norman), his brother, Paul, fly fishing/nature/alcohol (so many people are drunk, getting drunk and/or on their way to a drink) and only very occasionally the background cast of characters that is his family.

The late Norman Maclean, who moonlighted(? Moonlit?) as a professor of English Literature at the University of Chicago, is very, very good at writing. This entire book is an exercise in every English teacher’s favorite game of ‘good writers can write interestingly about any subject! Here’s a leaf. You have twenty minutes. Go.’

Maclean turns the (to me at least) incredibly dull subject of fly fishing into merely a canvas on which he majestically paints a story about two brothers, and also a substory of a man and his father. In fact the central character is the definitely-alcoholic-lives-life-too-fast-too-loud-and-too-much Paul (aka Brad Pitt).

Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as “our brother’s keepers,” possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting of instincts. It will not let us go.

and

Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.

lastly

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

By the end, I was half convinced that I ought to try fly fishing in order to access some of that transcendental experience Maclean seems to draw with every cast. But then I realized what makes a transcendental experience is not that particular experience, it’s not the leaf that catalyzes a beautiful poem or essay or creative nonfiction piece, it’s the writer’s inner feelings and thoughts and wishes spilled onto paper like blood.

And so I was content to go back to my completely sedentary lifestyle.

Love,

Crystal

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