Friday, August 30, 2013

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

      I like fairy tales and happy endings as much as anyone, but I love real stories, because life isn’t meant to be perfect. We have happy moments, we feel sadness, we experience loss. Things aren’t black and white, we don’t always find the right answers, and sometimes the voices of our hearts get lost in the chaos of the world.
Tim Tharp brings us the story of a boy and a girl whose differences yield a magical mutual attraction. Sutter, a somewhat jaded “party boy”, has done it all; drinking, dating, and breaking rules on the regular. He has no idea that waking up after a crazy night out in the yard of his classmate, Aimee, is the beginning of the journey to seeing the beauty of innocence and dreams. Together, Sutter and Aimee discover what it’s like to fall for the “wrong” person, to question the future, to compromise, and to want something that the world doesn’t seem to want you to have.
The Spectacular Now is full of deep insight, but the humor of Sutter’s first person account keeps it entertaining and makes you feel like you’re truly in the mind of his character. Sutter definitely had me laughing out loud to myself at many points while reading this book. Aimee is so different than the typical high school girl that is cast so often in young adult literature--in my opinion, she’s better. Slightly nerdy, very socially awkward, and full of butterflies and insecurities, she allows you to recall the unique path that you took through the excitingly terrifying world of high school and growing up (side note: when are we ever The actually “grown up”? I feel like I’ll be growing up forever, because there are always new things to learn...). Yet another example of a  great character is Cassidy, a popular girl who actually cares about the welfare of humankind and doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes and put her on mute. HALLELUJAH! Did We ever think there would come a day that we wouldn’t be rooting against, but that we’d actually be cheering for the pretty popular girl? Tharp really knows how to develop his characters in a way that makes your heart feel connected to them. 
It’s hard to know what to say about this book other than to highlight that it’s a must-read for teen and adult bookworms! The movie was also recently released (Shailene Woodley plays Aimee!) and looks incredible...the challenge now is to find one of the  theaters that’s lucky enough to be showing it! 

“She's different from the girls I'm used to dating. She doesn't get tired of my stories and jokes or expect me to start reading her mind. She doesn't want me to dress better or put highlights in my hair or serious up. I'm not a lifestyle accessory to her. I'm a necessity. I'm the guy that's going to crack open her cocoon. She doesn't need to change me - she needs me to change her. At least until her little butterfly wings get strong enough to fly away.”
 ― Tim TharpThe Spectacular Now

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

       If Albom’s word is worth anything (and the way that this book was written, I’m not doubting it’s authenticity), I’m willing to bet that Morrie Schwartz was one cool cat. I actually read this book for a class during my first semester of college. Required reading is usually dreaded, but the class itself was pretty neat, the book looked short and sweet, and I’d heard good things about it before, so I was excited to read this. Our class was a study on human virtues that had my brain on fire with thoughts and ideas all semester long. We used Tuesdays with Morrie to help spark conversation about self-pity, regrets, family, the ways of the world, emotions, money, aging, culture, forgiveness, and goodbyes--all of which Albom explores during his “lessons” with Morrie, his old college professor who is suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
I think I related to Morrie because he reminded me so much of my Uncle Charlie, who passed away due to Lou Gehrig’s disease a few years ago. The attitude and outlook on life that they both carried matched up near perfectly, which tugged at my heart, but also made me smile. In a way, it was like a man that I had never met helped to connect me to a man that I admired so much. Uncle Charlie was a retired Presbyterian pastor who lived Queens, New York, so I didn’t see him often, but we kept in touch via letter and email, until he was unable to do so. He was one of those people that made you feel better just knowing he was out there in the world somewhere, his presence was magic, and the thought of him equally as wonderful. Soooo, to say that I teared up during this book is an understatement...I pretty much bawled during the last twenty pages and tears were on reserve in easily accessible ducts during the majority of the book.
This is such a genuinely honest portrait of loving life and others wholly and Morrie teaches us to let go of mistakes and be kind to ourselves, as well. He reminds us to embrace our feelings and emotions, but to stay positive through tough times and appreciate what we have instead of dwelling on what we lack. Morrie also dances like crazy until he’s no longer able to, and to me dancing is happiness, so that’s great...seriously, the visual of this little old man dancing makes me so happy. 


If approached with an open mind and heart, this book has the potential to impart so many valuable lesson upon readers, and if it touches you as deeply as it did me, you’ll be smiling and thinking fondly of Morrie long after the last page is turned.

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” 
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

      I don’t really know where to start, except to say that I love this book dearly. I discovered it a few summers ago and have read it more than once since then. I feel like I’m caught in the awkward stage in between young adult and adult novels, and quite frankly, I may just stay there my whole life--I don’t feel the need to define my level of adultness. There definitely exist young adult novels that have lots to offer, buried among those that follow a cookie cutter storyline of typical teen angst and such. Who am I to judge amazing books them based merely on the genre that they’re classified as? Anyways, this book is something special.
Lennie Walker is a quiet, seventeen-year-old band nerd/book worm hybrid who has always lived contently in the shadow of her older sister, Bailey, who is bold, daring, and has a charming personality that naturally attracts attention. When Bailey passes away unexpectedly, Lennie discovers hidden secrets left by her sister and furthers the search that Bailey began to find their mother. During this time, Lennie also finds herself caught between Joe, the new student from Paris, whose love for music matches her own, and Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend, who shares Lennie’s sorrow. While one boy helps her remember, the other helps her forget, and she has to decide who she is without Bailey and what she wants and needs in life. 
The Sky is Everywhere is an amazing portrayal of self-discovery, learning to live your own life, and experiencing both love and loss for the first time. Also, there are so many quotes that I love from this book (I’m a very quote obsessed, so that’s a definite plus)! Nelson takes a tragic event and uses her incredibly well-developed cast of characters to creates a heartwarming piece. This book will definitely remain on my “all-time favorites” bookshelf for the rest of my life...yeah, it’s that good! 

“... if you're someone who knows the worst thing can happen at any time, aren't you also someone who knows the best thing can happen at any time too?” 
― Jandy Nelson, The Sky Is Everywhere

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein & Why I Love Dogs

      Told through the eyes of a dog named Enzo, this novel follows his owner, Denny, and his family through the ups and downs of their lives as humans. Enzo reflects on what he’s learned about the human condition and the world of reality, which can often be harsh. 
A really neat aspect of this book is the incorporation of race car driving, which is an important theme, but doesn’t feel tacky (hey, some people are really turned off by NASCAR). The bond between Denny and Enzo runs deep and true, as they have been together since Enzo was a puppy and go through the majority of daily events together, including watching racing on TV and planning Denny’s career moves. It’s also interesting how Enzo has such a strong presence in each area of Denny’s life--his career as a race car driver, his role as a husband and father, and his life as a human being. 
When a series of events shakes up their world, life for Denny and Enzo changes drastically and becomes a fight for truth and justice. Enzo’s humble perspective gives invaluable insight into the human mind, as well as the world we live in and the events we face throughout our lifetimes. Also, this book has an incredible of those “oh my gosh, that’s awesome” sort of endings that leaves your mind reeling and your heart glowing, long after you put the book down.
Anyone who has ever loved an animal or really even been part of a family will appreciate this wonderful story. I may be biased because I’m a complete dog person at heart, but dogs have a special way of making you feel unconditionally loved. They never hold grudges, seek revenge, or act selfishly. They forgive, happily give you their whole heart for their whole life, and are loyal beyond belief. Dogs are special creatures, without a doubt.
Pretty much the entire time I was reading this book, (which was about the time span of two days--it was that good!) I snuggled on the couch with my own dog, giving him lots of hugs and kisses on the top of his head, because somehow Enzo’s observations made me feel more connected to him. (see enforced snuggling below)

      You’ll definitely look at and think about pets differently after reading this book...and if you don’t have a dog of your own, I’m willing to bet that you’re going to want to add one to your family! 

“There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.” 
Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain