The Perks of Being a Wallflower

July 15, 2008

by Stephen Chbosky.

Here’s how the novel starts. If such a beginning can leave you indifferent, you’re very unlike me.

August 25, 1991
Dear friend,
I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me. I didn’t enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.
I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.

Charlie is a high school freshman caught between the colliding forces of inner turmoil and outside influences. The novel tells the story of a year in his life, in the form of letters to an anonymous friend. While it was difficult, at times, to believe that such deep thoughts could have originated from a 15-year-old, that didn’t stop me from feeling and relating with the character.

One could say the novel is a testimony of the friction between two desires: to embrace life, and to run away from life. But it is discussing a lot more than that. Since I have not grown up in an American high school environment, I cannot think of this in terms of “realistic” or “non-realistic”, but it certainly opens a clear and honest window into the world of a teenager.

I find it very lucky, if not downright miraculous, that Charlie manages to find a mentor (Bill, his English teacher) and friends (Patrick and Sam), who are older than him. Bill tells him to participate and stop using thought to remove himself from life. V fubhyq yrnea fbzrguvat sebz gung…

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“A Clockwork Orange”, by Anthony Burgess

July 6, 2008

After reading 1984 nearly a year ago, I spent good hours sifting through the Google search results for “dystopia novels”. I think that’s how I got to this one, but I couldn’t be sure. Books often spend months at a time on my to-read list, and (un?)luckily I don’t keep track of who recommended what.

With its weird Russian-influenced Nadsat English, A Clockwork Orange became interesting pretty quickly. Here’s a sample paragraph:

“They viddied us just as we viddied them, and there was like a very quit kind of watching each other now. This would be real, this would be proper, this would be the nozh, the oozy, the britva, not just fisties and boots. Billyboy and his droogs stopped what they were doing, which was just getting ready to perform something on a weepy young devotchka they had there, not more than ten, she creeching away but with her platties still on.”

As you can see, even my not-enough-to-speak knowledge of Russian helped make this a lot of fun. It took me nearly half the audio book to figure out that “horrorshow” meant “хорошо” and not “horror show”. (That pun is actually used in the book, too.)

In the end, it turned out to be more of a coming-of-age story than an earnest dystopia. (Perhaps that’s why the ending caught me off-guard.) But if you asked me what other book I could compare it with, I wouldn’t have an answer, and this is enough to make it a great read.

  • Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.
  • What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?
  • It’s funny how the colours of the like real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

May 12, 2008

A genius quotation from Kate Atkinson’s book:

How can life be so sweet and so sad, all at the same time? How? Just out of my reach, there is understanding. Somewhere, just out of reach, hidden on a high shelf, under a floor board, there is a key. And what will the key open? Why, the Lost Property Cupboard, of course. The Lost Property Cupboard Theory of Life is a relatively recent development in my philosophical quest for understanding. It has come about, no doubt, because all this year, Kathleen and I have held the office of Lost Property Cupboard monitors, and every Thursday afternoon at four o’clock, we open up the Lost Property Cupboard. […] This is my Lost Property Cupboard Theory of the Afterlife: When we die, we are taken to a great Lost Property Cupboard, where all the things we have ever lost are being kept for us. Every hair grip, every button and pencil, every tooth, every earring and key, every pin (think how many there must be!), all the library books, all the cats that never came back, all the coins, all the watches which will still be keeping time for us; and perhaps, too, the other less tangible things: tempers, and patience; perhaps Patricia’s virginity would be there; religion (Kathleen has lost hers); meaning, innocence (mine); and oceans of time. […] On the lower shelf will be the dreams we forgot on waking, nestling against the days lost to melancholy thoughts. If they paid dividends, Patricia would be rich. And right down at the bottom of the cupboard, amongst the silk, and fluff, and feathers, the pencil shavings and hair swept up from hairdressers’ floors, that’s where you’ll find the lost memories. […] Then perhaps we can sign our names and take them home with us.

(4-4, ~10:00, fix it when I lay my hands on the book.)


Nineteen Minutes

February 10, 2008

What could possibly make a person walk into a school with four guns and kill ten people? You’ll give a different answer after reading this book.

I could hardly put it out of my mind after the first sentence, and probably for a lot of time after the last one. I loved the way Jodi Picoult gets inside the minds of the characters, without judging them. I also loved the way the book is structured: starting with the incident and then, like a movie, alternating between moments of time before and after. These clear-cut scenes are interspersed with short insights from Peter, which carry the most emotional charge (To anyone who cares…). If you are like me and find it hard to remember the characters’ names initially, you might find this exposition technique somewhat confusing, but I bet you’ll appreciate it in the end.

Overall this is one of the best novels I’ve read. I’m definitely going to look for more books by the author. If I could change one thing about this one though, I would cut in half the amount of text dedicated to the courtroom.

Some ideas that this book touches upon:

  • High school, like any society, is divided into two categories of people: the cool and popular (unhappy because they have to wear a mask all the time), and the uncool and unpopular (unhappy because they are lonely etc.)
  • Some people see suicide as an extreme communication device.
  • Life/society/school/democracy sucks, but it’s the best thing we’ve got so far.
  • When we’re sitting in front of the TV, we appreciate the fact that the media is able to keep us informed, but we rarely think of how the same media intrudes in the lives of those we see on the screen.
  • The fear of losing control; the desire to live within predictability, and what happens when that balance is lost.
  • What happens when someone we love does something we would never have expected (Peter — Lacy and Lewis; Josie — Alex).
  • There is no clearly-defined line between childhood and adulthood, yet the rights we give a person and the way we judge them are a function of biological age.
  • How the same thing carries different meanings to different people.
  • Do you still want the truth if it hurts?
  • Nothing we do is guaranteed to be good or bad in the long run.
  • Ultimately, revenge doesn’t change anything.
  • Life goes on. The human capacity to get over things is sometimes astounding.

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