The Fault in Our Stars: Revisited.

From the open love letters i have composed so frequently to the writings rendered by John Green, it is no secret i am a fervent member of his cult of nerdfighters follower of his philosophies. My admiration from him stems from both his body of work as one half of the vlogbrothers with his hilarious and vivacious brother, Hank Green, and more deeply from his written artistry manifested in his novels. My favorite was, until recently, Looking for Alaska.*

In January, i had the beautiful opportunity to see John and Hank speak as part of the tour for the release of John’s latest book, The Fault in Our Stars. John said then – and has reiterated in many of his videos – that this was the book he had been writing for us for over ten years. His use of the phrase “writing for you” alone already was enough to fill me with unbridled anticipation to read it; knowing he had, in fact, written it for us made me beside myself. Having read almost everything he’d published prior to this, i knew that such longevity spent with his words must have made a masterpiece of them.

It did.

When i reflected on meeting John here, on Wandering Writes, i devoted my energy to thinking about the meaning of meeting your heroes. John Green is, in every sense of the word, what i believe to be a contemporary philosopher. He is utterly human in his admitted flaws and yet afflicted with the imperial sense of cosmic chaos and meaning indelible to those of Great Minds. I said then, and i think it bears repeating, that i don’t mean to idealize him (i think he would be genuinely worried to hear someone call him perfect) but i do believe he is an incredible voice in a generation in need of incredible leaders. Meeting him was humbling and human.

All this, before i had even so much as cracked open the spine of the book for which the tour had been commenced. In a multitude of facets, i am profoundly grateful for this; i was a blubbering, molasses-on-my-tongue fool enough having only read his previous works. Reading the culmination of his genius thus far was riveting enough to have reduced me to an absolute puddle in such circumstances.

Without betraying anything key to the plot or characters, i will say this: The Fault in Our Stars broke me down and patched me up in the way childhood once felt. The complexity of human existence amidst the disillusionment that comes with growing older seemed to, bizarrely, crumble while my hands were wrapped about the cover and my attention engulfed in the story. Reading the story, i simply was. Infinity was tangible. Then, of course, i finished the book and all the uprooting-to-my-core emotions suspended for the sake of being able to see the words on the page came pouring out. My stomach, i realized, had been clenched in a knot so tight i hardly breathed the whole book through. It was as if, for those twenty-four hours i spent in various curled-up positions engrossed in the book, i was no one. A human swept up in a story.

And then, with the closing of the last page, reality hit, and so did the beauty and destruction of the story. I know this sounds like the stuff of creative writing professorial nightmares – phrases plagued with sweeping statements that would make even Nathanial Hawthorne cower in vocabular fear – but i am being as genuine as i can be. This book went from being a work of art – a lie telling the truth – to lived reality. The truth unveiled consumed me.

I didn’t write up my reflections here, for i wanted to hold on to them for a while. Let the swirl of whisked-up sadness and truth and cosmic chaos brood. I’m still not done processing (i don’t think anyone really ever can be) and even these very words are only hands run along the top of the water. They aren’t plunged in, enveloped.

Such an experience belongs to the reader. And while my own torrents of comprehension are still in need of hashing out, i don’t think i want to do that all here. Not for lack of love for you, but rather because i want to give you the gift of reading the book yourself, making your own claims and dissensions and celebrations. For this reason, on the official first birthday of Wandering Writes (this approaching Saturday, the 25th) the last prize to be given away will be nothing other than a signed copy of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars:

This is not, of course, the copy that he himself personalized for me; it is unread by myself and waiting for someone to drink in its wisdom and folly. May it find a loving home with you, whomever you may be.

For today and tomorrow, though, the giveaway will continue to be nine “nerdy and i know it” postcards (with the bonus tenth one from my globetrotting collection!). Rules and such are here!

Comment Question: What book fills you with inexplicable zeal or passion or longing?

Yesterday’s Winner: Kenzie for tweeting the link to the blog! Congrats, Kenzie! (sorry for the delay! The internet on campus went down last night!)

current jam: “permafrost” laurena segura

best thing in my life right now: the mountain goats.

*If these names are ringing in empty ears (that is to say, you have no freaking clue what i’m talking about) might i direct you to this video. Welcome. DFTBA.

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: a Review.

It’s no secret i am a voracious consumer of Young Adult fiction. I have yet to start what surely will be the brilliant The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but this is only because i have been utterly enthralled and consumed by another YA novel for the past three days. When not running around Manhattan, i have been glued to my recently acquired copy of Libba Bray’s most recent masterful work: Beauty Queens.

I’ve been a fan of Bray’s writing ever since i checked out A Great and Terrible Beauty from the local library some five years ago; she is fresh, manipulates a story with ease, and has one of the most wry and clever senses of humor i’ve yet encountered. Having read a smidget of the review for this book on Spark, i knew it promised to be a book of equal calibar to her other works, if not completely different in its setting and style (A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in Victorian England, as i recall).

Beauty Queens is unlike anything i’ve ever read; in its concept, it is nothing unique, and yet it somehow manages to achieve exception both through the quirky narration style and Bray’s masterfully interwoven social commentary. The book begins with an enormous, devastating plane crash: the contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant have fallen on an unknown island somewhere south of Florida. Hell breaks loose, as the collection of the surviving teen girls try to survive the unruly and unimaginable jungle they have found themselves in. Peppered with hilarious footnotes written by ‘The Corporation,’ the apparent official sponsor of the book (by which Bray is making a pretty snarky commentary on product placement and the cult of the celebrity) and rich character development, the book stands incomparable to most other YA i’ve read.

Unmistakably, the premise reeks of Lord of the Flies; and while the fact that the characters are stranded on an island with no adults to supervise certainly lends credibility to the parallel, the commentary Bray is making on humanity is far different from that of William Golding’s (in my humble opinion). To begin with, the characters are women – and women who embody a spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities, races, and religions. These women may at first appear to be nothing but vapid products of a consumerist beauty aesthetic impossible to achieve, but as the tale weaves on we learn that not all is as it seems with the pageant wannabees.

In this, Bray has created a beautiful (pun intended) portrait of the expectations forced on men and women in today’s media.  Through hysterical allusions to contemporary pop culture icons like Larry King and Sarah Palin, Bray has created a not-so-alternate universe from our own. She handles such ideas with charm and humor, but simultaneously manages to give space to the gravity of what she is speaking about. Hair removal creams can become explosives, gender lines and expectations are blurred, and no sex ed program will ever be thought of as a scapegoat for “loose women” in her saga. Oh, and pirates. As if feminist theory told in a stranded-island form was not enticing enough!

I adored this work; i recommend it to anyone and everyone to read, be you a teenage girl seeking for some supremely well executed feminist theory or an intellectualist wishing for a more creative vessel by which to consider the implications of the reality TV-like quality governmental elections seem to have taken on.

current jam: ‘heard them stirring’ fleet foxes.

best thing in my life right now: books books books.

Lamb: A Book Review

Ladies and gentlemen and variations thereupon, we pause in our thirty days of photographic challenge now for a book review!

First, an update: I have, since my disastrous realization, stopped reading the abridged copy of War and Peace. Never fear, for I’m now on my seventh book of the summer so far and Gann has managed not only to find me an unabridged, Maude translation to bring, but it is on its way! Journey mercies for Gann and the book.

Meanwhile, the gap in reading gave space for me to eagerly consume one of Thera’s literary recommendations….

A review of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

It’s a rare but delightful occurrence when, at the conclusion of a book, one is filled with a desire to simply sit, letting the story soak deep into your bones. Lamb is absolutely one of those books- much like Holden Caulfield declares in another one of my favorite books, The Catcher in the Rye, you know you’ve read a marvelous book when all you want to do is pick up the phone and call the author. The riotous, fictional account of Jesus of Nazareth’s childhood narrated by none other than his Gospel-forgotten best friend, Levi who is called Biff, was nonstop action, hilarity, and surprisingly sound theology.

In the four Gospels of the Christian New Testament, only two account for the birth of Christ, and only one gives readers a story of Jesus’ life between his birth and beginning of his ministry at the age of thirty. In lieu of this gap, Christopher Moore creates a hilarious tale filling the hole- a tale that involves Jesus learning Kung-Fu from Buddhists in China, teaching yoga to elephants in India, and learning from an Ethiopian wizard about Confucius and the Tao. Every adventure is layered with hilarious witticisms, the invention of sarcasm, and sneaky references to Biblical teachings and stories. Biff is everything Christ is not, a horny teenage boy with a penchant for getting himself into divine mischief- but even Moore’s depiction of the young Christ is believably human and deliriously funny. I literally chuckled, giggled, and otherwise roared with laughter the entire book through.

It is also clear that Moore did his research for every faith portrayed in the book; most of the teachings are accurate to their various sacred texts, and, perhaps most importantly, Moore treats every faith with equal respect and honor. This is no bashing of Religion, but rather ah homage slathered in wit to all divine prophets. As a Religion student I certainly feel that I was getting the most of all the wry references and droll liturgical word plays layered in every chapter (and we’re not just talking Christianity, as Christ was Jewish and, in this tale, encounters prophets and teachers of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese philosophies).  But even if you have no academic (or otherwise faith-based background) in the teachings of these faiths this book is still a riot and I highly recommend to anyone. Yes, it’s abundant in foul language, liberal treatment of the works of Jesus of Nazareth, and perhaps offensive material if you’re of a more orthodox mind. But Moore himself says, if your faith is shattered or moved by a work of clever fiction, perhaps you have some more praying to do. If, however, you’re looking for a compelling, sharp-witted, intelligent, and delightful read this book comes highly recommended from this here liturginerd.