A Book, An Assignment, And A Wedding

I don’t often post about homeschooling. I infrequently talk only briefly about books I’ve read. I scarcely ever write about Game of Thrones. And I almost never write blog posts concerning three completely different subjects.

But I’m going to do all of the above today, because there are multiple things I’d like to discuss and none of them are lengthy enough to justify writing individual posts. So without further ado, here they are.

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I.

I read Joseph Conrad’s classic work, Heart of Darkness, a few days ago and it. Was. Amazing. I could’ve done without the occasional half-page-long sentences and the “omg Africans are savages!” attitude, but I enjoyed the philosophical aspect of the book. The parts about foolishness and futility and false expectations? Yeah, they were brilliant.

Not bad for a book that I read purely because it was short – I’m trying to read one hundred books this year (this was my thirty-ninth) so length doesn’t matter. The copy I borrowed from the library was only one hundred and ten pages. Of course, the shortness also means that I don’t have as much to say about it, hence why I’m not writing a full review as usual.

Anyway, I highly recommend Heart of Darkness, especially if you like, well, dark books. It’s dark, but not very violent, and I haven’t encountered that kind of book before.

II.

As I wrote above, it’s not often that I post about homeschooling, and it’s even more rare for me to fangirl about it. But I have a fantastic assignment this week, so I will. My brother and I studied short stories earlier this semester, but we’ve since moved on to poetry and I am having so much fun with it.

This week, our topic is “music as poetry,” which involves analyzing the meaning of songs and identifying their poetic devices. I’m only required to do this for one song of my mom’s choosing and one of my own, but I’ve already decided to do more because it’s fun.

So far I’ve analyzed “Stop This Train” by John Mayer (meh, but my only other choice was some Eagles song and I despise the Eagles) and Coldplay’s “Atlas” from Catching Fire. I think I’ll also do Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” from The Desolation of Smaug and either “The Rains of Castamere” from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin or something from U2. And maybe some other stuff.

Aside from the John Mayer and U2 songs, this combines some of my favorite things: music, poetry, geeking out about literary devices, and – because they’re all fandom-related songs – thinking about stories.

III.

I have been waiting and waiting for the fourth season of Game of Thrones to air because IT’S FINALLY PURPLE WEDDING TIME. Well, the episode – “The Lion and the Rose” was perfect, at least the half that I saw. (I skipped the parts with Bran because he’s as dull as the cereal he’s named after.)

It was a lot more violent than I expected. I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be, I mean, this is Game of Thrones. But [spoilery name redacted]‘s death was much more graphic than what I imagined from the book, and now I actually kind of miss him because he was such a fascinating villain.

And I don’t know why I bothered to redact the spoilery stuff, because it’s probably pretty obvious who I’m talking about.

Anyway. What else? Oh, yes. House Tyrell appreciation time. Margarey looked gorgeous, but then she always does. And I’m pretty sure I know who poisoned Mr. Spoiler-Redacted, which makes me love their family even more.

And LORAS. He’s such a dork. My favorite scene was this one, starting around 4:15. I mean, really. Dude. Stop checking out / flirting with other guys at your sister’s wedding. I tried to explain the story to a friend the other day by comparing the families to Hogwarts houses and I said that House Tyrell is probably Hufflepuff – well, Loras is the most Hufflepuffian of them all.

And last but not least, you should check out Matt’s review of the episode.

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So. What’s been going on in your life? Do you agree with my thoughts about Heart of Darkness? Do you like poetry? And would you let George R.R. Martin plan your wedding?

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Review: Fangirl

fangirlThis review is spoiler-free!

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life - and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Nearly a year ago, I read the fabulous Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. The other day, I finally tried another of her books. Following are my thoughts on Fangirl.

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Its subject matter is very unique.

If I’d been thinking more clearly, I would’ve included Fangirl in last week’s list of the top ten most unique books. Evidently I wasn’t, though. Oh, well.

Anyway. I’ve never read any other book about fanfiction. I know some books basically are fanfiction – Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series is apparently glorified Harry Potter fanfiction, and Fifty Shades of Grey is a Twilight rip-off. (This never ceases to amuse me, because why would anyone want to copy Twilight?)

But I’d never read a book about someone who wrote fanfiction.

I related to Cath. A lot.

First, let me explain how I feel about fanfiction – because Cath and I are both fans, but she’s a fanfiction-fan and I’m… I don’t know what.

I never got into fanfiction. I’ve tried it. Didn’t like it. Actually, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like it as I just didn’t see the point – most of my fandoms have a ton of stories, canon stories, stories not written by fans. What’s the point in Tolkien fanfiction when the man wrote thousands of pages about Middle-earth, not just in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion but in The Children of Húrin and Unfinished Tales? Why would you read Doctor Who fanfiction, when there are seven series of New Who, twenty-six seasons of Classic Who, a movie, radio plays, and novels?

Of course, some people do like fanfiction. But I’d rather go through all of “the real thing” first.

Also, the only fanfiction I really want is Raven Cycle stuff, because I love that story and hate waiting a year for each new book. Alas, it is a tiny, neglected fandom, and I haven’t found much.

I’m more of a film score fan, really.

But broadly speaking, I am a fan. Just like Cath. And I understood her adoration of a series, her enthusiasm that usually led to people looking at her strangely. And I understood all the references.

I loved the Harry Potter references.

I’m pretty sure Simon and Baz were supposed to be Harry and Draco. Other things made me think of Dumbledore, the Marauders, et cetera.

The plot certainly took its own time in developing.

Fangirl was long – nearly four hundred and fifty pages – and the plot moved slowly. And yet, it wasn’t boring. Many chapters dealt with ordinary life: going out, attending class, blah blah blah. I liked that approach because it felt more realistic. Too many books hit all the extreme points (either highs or lows) in a character’s life, which makes for thrilling reading, but doesn’t tell me anything about an ordinary day in their life. And I want to know that. Well, Fangirl had sections where life just went on as quietly as it ever had, but there weren’t so many of those that I became bored.

I didn’t understand the resolution of Wren’s character arc.

Once in college, Cath copes by throwing herself into her writing, rarely leaving her room. Wren, on the other hand, copes by drinking. Eventually their dad finds out, tells her to stop, and – she does.

Other than that small issue, I loved Fangirl‘s ending. But the solution to Wren’s problem seemed unrealistic. OK, so most of what I know about alcoholics comes from the descriptions of Haymitch in The Hunger Games, but is it actually that easy to quit? I felt that Rowell was trying too hard for a happy ending, a perfect resolution for all her characters.

I’m pretty sure that Professor Piper was supposed to be Rainbow Rowell.

I mean, read the description of the character and then look at the author photo on the inside back cover. I’m fairly certain she wrote herself into the book, in looks at least.

Actually, I hope just in looks, because I found the professor rather unpleasant.

Levi. Levi Levi LEVI.

Levi! I adored Levi. He was kind and happy-go-lucky and I’m not doing a great job of endearing him to you, am I? That’s because I am tired and do not feel like thinking of suitable adjectives you need to read the book and see for yourself how wonderful he is.

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So, that’s what I thought about Fangirl. It’s an ode to geekery, and a wonderful one at that. Not as hipster-ish as Eleanor & Park, but I was more than OK with that. I’m glad I decided to read it.

What did you think of Fangirl? And do you write fanfiction?

Rating: 4/5

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Review: I Am Number Four

i am number fourThis review is spoiler-free!

In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now. The Nine had to separate and go into hiding.

They caught Number One in Malaysia. Number Two in England. And Number Three in Kenya. They killed them all.

I am Number Four. I am next.

I intended to post a review of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl today but I’m having difficulty in writing a coherent piece, so how about a review of I Am Number Four instead? I picked it up the other day because I’d heard neat things about it previously and it seemed to have both aliens and superheroes as characters. This review will follow a format I’ve used before, where I make a list to sort through the good and bad points of a book.

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GOOD: I really liked John as a narrator.

For whatever reason – maybe my favorite authors don’t write them well, maybe I can’t relate – I don’t find most male narrators that memorable. Percy Jackson, Bilbo Baggins, and John Watson are notable exceptions. I like male characters overall, but I’m just kind of meh about guys narrating. I guess I’d rather read about girls kicking butt.

However, I liked John and his narration. He can be a bit stereotypical at times (see my point below about Sarah) but otherwise, he’s a neat guy. Smart, honest, not afraid to show affection. I loved the father/son relationship between John and his guardian, Henri.

BAD: The romance between John and Sarah felt forced and unrealistic.

It’s possible that I’m an antisocial weirdo who doesn’t know how relationships work, so can someone explain to me if it is normal for two people to be dating within about three days of meeting one another?

I didn’t get it. John immediately fell in love with Sarah because she was hot – seriously, he was all “OMG, her blue eyes” and “wow, her blonde hair.” Like he’d never seen such eyes or hair before. There wasn’t much crush-time to speak of. The two began dating pretty much right away.

So is it just me, or is that a bit weird? I’ve had loads of crushes – I’m in the middle of about three right now, which makes for a mess of feelings – but it’s never ever been anything serious if I didn’t know the person for at least a couple months. And here John and Sarah were, saying “love” a few weeks after they met.

Basically, it felt like Pittacus Lore (what kind of name is that anyway? I bet it’s a pseudonym) thought every story needs romance so he added a cute girlfriend.

GOOD: There were aliens! Who were also superheroes! (Kind of.)

I don’t often read science fiction that includes aliens – I mostly read dystopian these days, I’m afraid. I Am Number Four was therefore a nice change from my usual selections in this regard.

I especially enjoyed the parts of the book that talked about Lorien before its invasion.

BAD: Some secondary characters, such as Mark, lacked character development or motivation.

At first, Mark is aggressive towards John. Why? Um, I’m not sure. Supposedly it’s because John is interested in Sarah, Mark’s ex-girlfriend. But they’re, well, exes. They’re over. I don’t know why Mark was so worked up over it, and I could have done without the hyper-macho “dude, I’m going to beat you up” nonsense.

And then, Mark suddenly changed his attitude. By the end of the book he was actually friends with John. It felt forced, like Pittacus Lore wanted a happy ending and didn’t mind if that didn’t fit with what he’d written earlier. I mean, John did beat up Mark pretty badly earlier. But now everything is OK?

GOOD: The book featured a lot of action and adventure.

It reminded me of the Maximum Ride series in its glory days, thanks to the characters with superpowers, realistic dialogue, and child characters who live on the run. There was a lot of tension because John never knew when his time would come, when the Mogadorian would find Number Four.

BAD: The book was too long.

I mean, I liked the action and everything, but I Am Number Four was four hundred and fifty pages long and after a while I just couldn’t see the point. Numerous sections could’ve been cut – all the lovey-dovey mush between Sarah and John, for example. Or the descriptions of training sessions that seemed identical to each other. After a while, the action-filled sections just became an excuse to blow things up.

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I Am Number Four was an interesting read. It wasn’t what I normally try, and it frustrated me as often as it delighted me. I’m not sure if I will read the sequels and I definitely won’t watch the movie but for a non-dystopian YA science fiction novel, I Am Number Four was a decent choice.

If you’ve read it, what did you think?

P.S. Thanks to this book, Divergent (Four/Tobias), and Doctor Who (Four aka the one played by Tom Baker), I am now very confused and it might be a good idea to avoid fangirling with me about Four unless you give me some context. Then I can be all, “Ah, you mean the one who transferred factions / wears the long scarf / has Loric superpowers!”

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Most Unique Books

The Broke and the Bookish is, as you might have guessed, a book-themed blog and each week they post a prompt to use for a top ten list.  This time it’s, “What are ten of the most unique books you’ve ever read?” I thought I’d take part since I haven’t in a while, and I’m counting series as well as standalone novels. Enjoy!

1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. This book is a riot. A dozen or so teenage beauty queen contestants are stranded on an island and wonder of wonders, they don’t kill each other as in Lord of the Flies. (I thought they would.) Bray has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor and I enjoyed the many sarcastic footnotes. It was one surreal read.AGAMEOFTHRONESnewHC[1]

2. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I read and love a lot of high fantasy, but this one really sticks in my mind. It has more characters than I ever thought were possible for one author to keep track of. It’s much more graphic than the other stuff I read – for example, Tolkien usually just said, “Yo, someone died” (I may be paraphrasing slightly) while Martin kills characters left and right and describes the sound of someone’s skull getting smashed in. (I still haven’t forgiven him for that death.) And although it was written for adults, the story is partially narrated by children, lending some unusual perspectives.

3. A Step From Heaven by An Na. This is a story about a Korean girl who immigrates to the United States with her family when she is very little. The cultural aspects of the novel are very interesting, but my favorite part is how the writing changes as the main character learns more about the English language. I don’t know of any other books like that.

4. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Although by no means the first dystopian books, this series is still creative, combining Roman culture (gladiators fighting to the death) with a post-apocalyptic world. The horror of the story really stood out to me, too – children killing children.

5. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Cyborgs plus aliens from the moon plus a deadly plague plus fairy tales? Oh yeah. I have no idea how Meyer even thought of this, but I congratulate her nevertheless.

6. The Kiki Strike series by Kirsten Miller. Delinquent Girl Scouts turned teen spies fight crime in New York City. Beneath the city, actually – through tunnels that make up an entire hidden city. I have no idea whether to classify it as fantasy or science fiction.

7. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson. I’ve said this before: later on, the series really went downhill. But this one didn’t overdo the weirdness, despite being about a group of genetically-engineered kids who are part human, part bird.

8. Misery by Stephen King. This is by far the most terrifying book I have ever read! Don’t make the same mistake I did, and read this at night, because it’s about a man held TheScorpioRaces[1]prisoner by a crazy lady who psychologically and physically tortures him. Eugh. This was another super-graphic book.

9. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. How many other books are there that feature mythological horses that enjoy eating humans? Yeah, I don’t know either. This book was also unique in that the main events – the Scorpio Races themselves – took place right at the end. No, I mean right at the end. Like, with less than a handful of pages to spare. It made for a lot of tension, earlier.

10. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I don’t know how one can write a children’s book set in a freaking graveyard, but Gaiman does so successfully. It was eerie and whimsical at the same time.

What are the most unique books that you’ve read?

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Spring Into A Summer Of Rereading

I plan to read many books this spring and summer. I always do. There’s The Silmarillion to begin and the Heroes of Olympus series to finish and the Maggie Stiefvater books that I haven’t already read. There’s Insurgent and Allegiant. The Maze RunnerPaper Towns. These Broken Stars. St. Mallory’s Forever. And so on and so forth.

But there are also a number of books I would like to reread. In some cases, I want to experience their awesomeness a second (or third, or fourth, or umpteenth) time. In others, I do remember liking the stories but I don’t remember the plots, so it might be like reading them for the first time (which is always fun!). Either way, much rereading lies ahead for Engie.

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

I love these books – The Return of the King is one of my top five favorites – but boy, were they hard to read. I pushed my way through page after page, enduring just as many if not more sections than I enjoyed. Overall, it’s a really awesome tale, but the first time around I was too focused on the big picture and didn’t stop to smell the roses (aka the little details).

Also, after I reread the books I’ll be in the mood for a movie marathon and the films are spectacular. Sometimes I can even pester my brother into watching with me.

(Side note: Agh, I can’t believe the third and final Hobbit movie comes out later this year. I’m not ready for There And Back Again. I won’t ever be. I’ll probably cry.)

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

070517_LightningThief_vmed_11a[1]Why? Because I consider The Lightning Thief one of the best series openers ever, in any genre, for any age group. Because I didn’t like The Sea of Monsters but maybe my perception of it has changed. Because The Titan’s Curse was my favorite in the series (thanks in part to Artemis and Zoe being adorable quasi-girlfriends). Because I don’t remember a single thing about The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian except that, well, there was a battle in the labyrinth and apparently only one Olympian.

And of course, because The Blood of Olympus – the final book in the spin-off series, Heroes of Olympus – comes out this fall and it seems only fitting to return to the original series, to brush up on my Percy Jackson fangirling.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I have never reread this series all the way through. Can you believe that?

I have reread the individual books, but not in order and not all of them. (I’ve probably reread the first, third, and seventh the most.) I get distracted easily, OK? But this time, I’m going to read them all straight through, in order, and not procrastinate – this has been a goal for the past few summers, but hasn’t been accomplished yet because newer books always call to me more.

Mostly, I’m just excited to see how J.K. Rowling drops hints early on and ties everything together so neatly later, because I remember that that was one of my favorites aspects of the books.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I realized something the other day – for as little as I remember of the sixth and seventh books, I may as well have just not read them. That’s unfortunate, so I’ll change that with a rereading. A thorough rereading, not my typical let’s-hit-all-the-high-points-i.e.-the-second-third-and-fifth.

Also, I’m curious to see how much of the Christian allegory is apparent to me now that I actually know about it. I had no idea the first time.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Why not? There’s only three books, they’re not all that long, and they’re written fairly catching-fire1[1]simplistically. I could probably get through all of them in a day, so maybe I will. Panem is at once both horrifying and fascinating – I love it. Also, I want to compare it to something else.

The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

I would like to reread her earlier series and compare it to The Hunger Games and its sequels. For example, Ripred and Solovet reminded me of Haymitch and Coin, respectively, and both series are heavily influenced by Greco-Roman mythology.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Again, another quick read. I know this story so well I scarcely need to reread it – I can tell you the minutia of practically every chapter – but I would like to anyway, for nostalgia’s sake. The book’s premise may not be comforting, but the style of writing is. It’s so familiar to me, and I’ve always admired how Lois Lowry fits words together.

Plus, rereading this will make me even more of an annoying little nerd when I see the upcoming film adaptation in August. Someone may have to restrain me from ranting in the theater and throwing popcorn at the screen.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

0062020560.01.LZZZZZZZ[1]I have three main reasons for rereading this. First, it is a very summery book. The story doesn’t take place during that season alone – it’s actually spread over four or five years – but overall that is how I remember it.

Secondly, I’m jealous of Danforth’s writing style. I love it to pieces. It’s so vivid.

Finally, it’s a very feels-y book. I read a lot of books (mostly fantasy) where characters die left and right and although Miseducation actually opens with two deaths, they don’t have much bearing on the tragic-ness of the plot. It’s sad because… because Cam is growing up as a lesbian in this really conservative small town, and told to hate who she is, and Emily Danforth why would you do this to me.

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

The first five books are utterly wonderful. The characters are complex and flawed, Colfer has a quirky sense of humor, and Artemis’ transformation from potential villain to do-gooder is perfect.

Meanwhile, I don’t remember much about the sixth and seventh books. I felt their plots were really hard to follow – paradoxes and weird timey-wimey things and whatnot. Maybe I’ll understand them better this time.

And I haven’t read the final book, The Last Guardian, yet so I need to catch up!

The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

I would just write “The Raven Cycle” here, except that seems weird because only the first two books out of four have been published. Both The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves are in my top five favorites – I can’t decide which I adore more. I love the characters, the setting (which is almost a character in itself), the writing style, the everything.

Rereading it will help me update my theories as to what happens in book three, too. Eeee, I can’t wait for the next one – it comes out a few days before my birthday so I might ask for it as a present despite having not read it yet (something I rarely do) because Stiefvater’s books are just that good. (Postscript, 4/8: Turns out I was wrong about the release date. It doesn’t come out until almost November.) I’m trusting that this one will be just as polished.

What books do you plan to reread during the next few months, or in 2014 in general?

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Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft, Wizardry, And College

thumbnailCAVRY90Y“I must visit this school of yours. It sounds more like a farce than a school.”

- All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

One time I nearly called one of my college teachers “Professor River Song” because I completely blanked on their name and River was the only professor I could think of. Oh, the perils of being a geek.

But it’s not like that was a regular occurrence. I mean, why would I associate people with Doctor Who characters? Especially when all my college professors have reminded me of various teachers from Harry Potter?

I’m not kidding. This is a thing I do. I don’t know when it started – maybe last summer – but I began thinking that so-and-so would probably be great friends with [insert Hogwarts professor here] and whatnot. It’s fun, and I am nowhere close to running out of Hogwarts professors to “cast” people as, because I haven’t had as many teachers as most students my age have: just my mom, plus six professors.

So, for no reason at all, I thought I’d describe my teachers and why they remind me of certain characters in the magical world of Harry Potter.

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I. Rubeus Hagrid

Looking back on it, I could not have asked for a better first professor than the man I will refer to as Mr. K, my Spanish 101 professor. (I’ll refer to everyone by their initials in case I write anything weird about them, which I probably will.) I took his class during the fall semester of 2012 and I wasn’t actually that nervous about attending college as a high school sophomore, but it did help that Mr. K was nice.

Mostly ordinary. Fairly laid-back. Friendly. Helpful. For all these reasons I decided he was most like Hagrid – slightly eccentric (man, he wore weird, psychedelic paisley-print shirts) but decent (I never felt like he would be annoyed if I asked him for help). There isn’t really a lot to say about him.

Except for one thing, one thing that made me giggle and decide that yes, he was definitely Hagrid. One day he did show up to class half an hour late, evidently astonished to see that only about four students (out of a class of twenty), including myself, were there. “Why did everyone leave? Isn’t class always at this time? How long has it been at that other time?!”

Well, I don’t know. Only, like, the whole semester. Anyway, it was exactly the kind of somewhat befuddled thing Hagrid would do.

II. Gilderoy Lockhart

Ms. M, my Spanish 102 professor during the spring semester of 2013, is the only one of my teachers who doesn’t easily fit the personality of one Hogwarts professor. I feel a little rude, proclaiming her to be Lockhart, because she actually was a competent teacher.

But she also had a fondness for stories. Cool stories, stories about growing up in Mexico. I certainly learned a lot about culture that semester, but that wasn’t really what I was there for. She always ended up fitting the new vocabulary at the very end of each lesson because she’d spent too much time off on some tangent.

As I said before, Ms. M wasn’t totally Lockhart. Every so often an entire half-class would pass and she would actually stay on track, teaching us about the subjunctive or whatever. But mostly, I remember a lot of tales about, “how I visited this tiny town in Mexico and learned never to confuse these two Spanish words because when I did it was really, really embarrassing.”

III. Remus Lupin

High praise, indeed. Lupin is my favorite Hogwarts professor – my favorite character in the series and one of my favorites from any book ever – and I’m very lucky to have had a teacher like him. Ms. L (can you tell I’m not basing this teacher-sorting on gender?) taught the English 101 class I attended last summer and it was awesome.

Harry says Lupin was the most competent teacher he ever had and that’s how I feel about Ms. L. She was smart, good at explaining things (good at making us laugh!), et cetera. And when I had questions about college writing programs for when I attend a university full-time, she gave me tons and tons of suggestions and ideas, even though it wasn’t her job or anything. I’m considering some of those colleges now, so that was very helpful. As with Hagrid, there really isn’t a lot to say. She just knew what she was doing.

IV. Minerva McGonagall

Ms. T, my second-favorite professor after Ms. L, taught Chemistry 111 last fall. McGonagall was described as “strict but fair” and that fits Ms. T to a, well, T. (Pun not intended. I swear. I am so sorry about that.) She taught a lot of material each day in class and assigned a lot of homework (at least it felt that way to me!) but she also made sure that we had multiple opportunities to learn the concepts – there were always extra-instruction hours, and she answered lots of questions before and after class.

So basically, she wasn’t nearly as weird as some of my other professors have been, but I would rather have a teacher who taught me a lot than one who is the subject of many amusing stories.

V. Dolores Umbridge

Yeah. Unfortunately, I have had one of those teachers. These next few paragraphs will prove very satisfying to write, won’t they?

Mr. S taught English 102, the other college class I attended last fall. He was – there is no other way to put it – an unpleasant man. Like Umbridge, he was very fond of rules. Turn in an in-class response to a reading from the textbook literally two seconds too late because you remembered at the last second to write your name at the top of it? Too bad. You failed that assignment. Thank goodness it didn’t happen to me, but I felt annoyed anyway. It’s like… dude, you couldn’t even just say, “I’ll accept it this time, but you need to be more diligent next time”?

The other thing was that Mr. S was extremely unhelpful. We spent four or five class sessions reviewing MLA style, even though we all had practice with it from a previous class or something. We barely even looked at APA, which stunk because at least half the class said they had little to no experience with it and we had a huge paper due that had to be formatted in APA style. Oh, and forget about asking him questions after class. I tried several times and it was clear it just irritated him. Whatever. It’s not like I ever have to take another class with him.

VI. Alastor Moody

Currently, I take Chemistry 112, taught by Mr. B. I suppose he is my greatest source of weird college stories to date.

He has a tendency to get really excited about whatever he’s teaching us – oxidation and reduction reactions, organic chemistry, et cetera – and start SHOUTING AT US, YELLING ABOUT THE CONCEPTS BECAUSE HE’S JUST SO EXCITED AND ALSO HE WANTS US TO KNOW THAT THIS SUBJECT IS IMPORTANT! YOU MUST HAVE CONSTANT VIGILANCE OR THIS EQUATION WILL NOT BALANCE PROPERLY!

Oh, and he has a lot of weird stories about how he spilled some chemical on himself whilst in the lab and therefore turned his skin a weird color. This reminds me of Moody’s accidents…

-~-

What sort of teachers have you had? Were there any who reminded you of Hogwarts professors? Any who were like Snape or Umbridge?

Posted in Books and Reading!, Harry Potter, Homeschooling, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Difficult Books (And How To Read Them)

You know the feeling. For weeks you’ve breezed through book after book but now you’re stuck. You’re still interested in the story, so you won’t give up, but it’s just not easy to read.

It stinks. And I feel like that right now, actually. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked was on my to-read list for ages (because retellings are awesome!) so I was disappointed to realize that I was not merrily skipping through it, as it were. Instead, I am slogging through it. (Interesting concept, just not written the way I would like.) It’s silly to be frustrated by this and yet I am because, dang it, I am a Bookworm and I should never admit that a book is difficult! I should read effortlessly!

Except, that’s not very realistic. Not every book is as easy to read as The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Hunger Games or, god help me, the James Patterson Pageturners. (Actually, forget I mentioned those. They’re a waste of time. Even very short amounts of time.) Not every book should be that easy to read. Challenges are good. How else will we learn, or expand our bookish interests?

With that in mind, what makes some books more difficult to read than others? I chose four things, listed from least to most difficult, and how I like to read them.

Length

This isn’t a common problem for me – most of the books I read are at least three hundred pages – but every so often, I do hit a roadblock. Based on the amount of time I have to read (and my interest in the story, which varies from book to book), I usually read a three-hundred-page book in two or three days.

By that logic, I should finish a thousand-page monstrosity like A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin in ten days at the most, right? Um. No. Why? Because I have never found a really long book (upwards of five hundred pages) with a fast plot. Maybe I just don’t know where to look but in my experience, it doesn’t happen. Long books have complex plots – that’s why they’re so long. And that’s why it took me a month and a half to read A Storm of Swords.

How to read super-long books: I have two methods. The first has me attempting to read the whole entire book in an afternoon, or an evening, or a day. The catch, of course, is that while I certainly have free time, I don’t typically have that much free time. And when I do I don’t use it all for reading – there are other things I love to do, like writing!

The other way involves reading part of a long book, and then reading part of another book, and then repeating the whole thing until you have finished the long book. The other book can be another long book. It can be a short book. It can be several books. Whatever. It just keeps me from becoming bored, because if I don’t do that then I end up reading the long book and nothing else for like a week. And that’s just not my thing. That’s boring. I like to be engrossed in multiple stories at once.

Vocabulary

I love vocabulary. I think I’m pretty good at the subject – I stopped studying it a long time ago because I learned all fifteen-hundred-plus words in the vocabulary book in one month. So while vocabulary doesn’t usually give me trouble, when it does, it’s very frustrating. I keep feeling like I’ll miss an important aspect of the story because I guessed that a word meant X but it actually meant Y, which puts a whole new spin on the sentence in which it appears.

William Shakespeare’s plays are a good example of this. His works aren’t difficult to read because he wrote about boring stuff. Are you kidding me? Deaths everywhere! And quite a lot of crude jokes to boot. No, his stories are difficult to read because nowadays we don’t speak like he wrote. I have never been able to read any works of Shakespeare without referring to “translations” to modern English, because I’m not familiar with the vocabulary.

But you know what? That’s not a bad thing. I’m glad I read some plays and even gladder that I finally understood what was going on because otherwise, I would’ve missed out on some awesome stories.

How to read books with difficult vocabulary: With a dictionary nearby. No, really. Yeah, it isn’t the most fun way to read – stopping frequently to look up a meaning – but otherwise you’ll be in the dark when it comes to meanings and that’s even less fun.

Pacing

Consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The individual books aren’t that long, really. All right, so they’re not two hundred pages – try adding another hundred pages to each – but they shouldn’t be as difficult to read as they are.

Well, Tolkien was many things, many wonderful things, but a pacing-genius he was not. True, some parts of the trilogy are complex, but others are quite straightforward: the Fellowship walks from point A to point B. And it takes twenty pages, because each footstep, bathroom break, and nap is recounted in great detail.

And then the sections describing battles proceed at normal speed, or even faster than that. It’s bizarre. It’s the reason I procrastinated on reading Lord of the Rings and then took a couple of months to read it. It was lovely, truly, but it is so. Freaking. Slow.

How to read slow books: Don’t read these at night or you’ll fall asleep.

No, but really. Don’t. Unless you want to fall asleep. On a slightly more serious note, what I like to do with slow-paced books is, again, alternate with other stories. Quick stories. Short stories.

Style

I encounter difficult styles of writing most often with the classics. This quality is partially related to vocabulary – flowery, over-the-top usage of words – but there’s more to it than that, I think.

Many old books have sentences that go on and on, for ages and ages, because the authors were annoying little twerps who thought they were just the greatest people on the planet and confused quality with quantity, and it’s quite difficult to read that type of writing because by the time you reach the end of the sentence you have forgotten how it originally began or what point it was supposed to lead to.

Am I right?

How to read books with overly complex, dense styles of writing: Read something drastically different at the same time to stop yourself from becoming frustrated. I don’t mean literally at the same time, you know. Duh. Unless you can do that, in which case you’re far more talented than I am. But try something else that doesn’t require you to read every sentence six times in order to work out what the author meant.

And on that note, I think tonight I’ll finish The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and continue with Wicked some other time.

And on another note, I just realized that I meant to include books with sensitive subject material because those are difficult too. But I forgot. Gah. Anyway.

What qualities do you think make books difficult? And what was the most difficult book you have ever read?

Posted in Books and Reading!, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments