What I Read: Bel Canto

4.5/5 pineapples

This post could easily be titled "the book that made me love reading again" or "how I got over 'Reader's Block.'" I've had a terrible time getting myself to read this summer. After suffering through The Good Lord Bird, I had a distaste for novels.

Or, I thought it was just novels. But Men Explain Things to Me didn't sit well either. Or a play. Or blogs. I barely got myself to read magazines.

But then I picked up Bel Canto, put all of my faith into it, and was completely rewarded.


Bel Canto is a novel about humanity and our inherent connections to each other. Only these things are told through a hostage situation in a small South American country. Yes, there's a love story and yes, the story moves a bit slow in the beginning. But it has to, because before I knew it the plot was tumbling and building on itself, until I realized that the characters had entered a dangerous territory they were trapped in. The slow pace meant I couldn't see it happening.

This is a book that deserves its slow pace. It demands patience, for that it what it's all about. Friendships between enemies don't happen immediately, but out of circumstances that require it. Opera is a huge theme in this book, and while I know very little about it, it's the best way to describe what happens. Every character sings a song in a language no one understands verbally yet everyone can feel internally. And when things go wrong at the climax, we don't need any words to feel the pain of the loss each and every character endures.

Ann Patchett is a master of introducing a whole cast of characters without ever letting them get confusing or lost. They all have a purpose, and I found myself caring about each and every one, not an easy feat. I wanted to watch each one make mistakes, let their guard down, because that is where the music comes from.

I forgive Bel Canto for its flaws, of which the ending is the biggest one. It's not what happened that bugged me, but how it happened. I wish Ann Patchett was more careful, crafting a finale in beautiful language like a song (necessary for a novel about opera). The rest of the book takes it time, time it needs, but then the end rushes to a conclusion we already know. If she had taken a moment to show us the scene, slowed things down, I feel as if it would have been emotionally more impactful.

And let's ignore the epilogue, shall we? It told me things I didn't want to know and didn't tell me things I did. I prefer to think it's not a part of this otherwise excellent book.

So yes, this book loses half a pineapple for the ending, for I felt a little let down after all the emotions leading to that moment. But don't let that tiny half pineapple deter you- I fell back in love with reading (and writing) after this book. This is the kind of art I live to put time into. You should too.

So I'm back, but done making promises. We'll see where my blogging takes me, even if that's nowhere. I'm just thankful for the few of you out there who read my posts no matter how far apart they are. For you, I shall always keep on writing.


What I Read: The Opposite of Loneliness

3/5 pineapplesWhat I Read: The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina Keegan intrigued me.

From the start, I noticed her in a bright yellow coat looking at me every time my friends and I found ourselves in Barnes & Noble (which is often). Finally, I opened the cover. When I found out she died just after her college graduation, I set the book back on the shelf and walked away.

At some point, Marina ended up on my Goodreads "to-read" list but I didn't think much of it until this semester. The semester of three classes, free time, and low motivation meant reading more. I gravitated towards nonfiction and short essays, easy to pick up after longer periods of time. Marina caught my eye once again. This time I obliged.

The Opposite of Loneliness documents a college writer's potential. Marina's fiction is a little weak in some places and the stories aren't as well done as, say, George Saunders. Frequently her writing reminded me of what I come across in some of my writing workshops. That talented kid, who always comes up with something the professor loves, sometimes too big for his or her own good--that's Marina. She has so much potential, and it's clear that with more training and time she could have really been a writer. A good one. (A paid one.)

What I Read: The Opposite of Loneliness

The beauty of her book is not, then, in the quality of the writing. It's in the story behind the essays and the person who wrote them. Young people have something to say, something that I feel is too often ignored by adults. Yes, the writing might not have the experience to be extraordinary. But it's still valuable and useful. Marina's nonfiction, my favorite part of the book, really says something. In each essay I can feel her passion for her words. She cares about these topics. And she wants others to know. So what if the language is a bit rough in places; Marina knew how to get people's attention.

Marina inspired me and my writing. Every time I put her book down I wanted to write something of my own, something worthwhile and helpful. I wrote this article for the school newspaper and a post for our admission blog (not yet published), both inspired by her writing. Marina's inspiration is what makes this book worth reading. Her passion and her story are what make it good.

While I'm not nearly as talented as Marina, nor as recognized, I hope I can follow her example and create a lasting impact with my writing. While it may only be a ripple and not a splash, that's more than enough for me.


Below the Line:

  • I had my very last class of junior year today. Two plays and a paper from now, I'll be a senior. Now there's a scary thought.
  • Trying to live up these last few weeks with my senior friends has been lots of fun (Cardinal's game! Weeknights at the Duck (the on-campus bar)! Stargazing at 4:30am!) but as graduation looms closer it's harder to keep the sad thoughts at bay.
  • However, I am very excited for this summer. I love spending time with my family and I love Indy. Plus I have two great internships I'm really looking forward to!
  • I'm trying a new style for my photos. What do you think?

What I Read: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

4/5 pineapples

Oh, blogger's block.

I was pumped at the beginning of this year about my blogging. I would do it more and consistently. I would have exciting new posts that would attract the attention of all my readers. I would find a style that worked for me. I would create a space that was a hobby, not a chore.

But the best laid plans...

I tried to post, I really did. But every time I started something, I didn't like it. It never had the tone or content I wanted or that I felt was worth publishing. So I was silent.

Until now.

What I Read: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore | Scribbling in the Margins blog

Last night I finished Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, a novel of books, computers, Google, twenty-somethings with 21st century jobs, and people in black robes. This book was a roller coaster, surprising me in subtle ways and changing throughout the lines in each chapter. By the time I closed the paperback, I wasn't sure what I thought--or, for that matter, what had just happened to me.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore explores the relationship between books and technology, a topic most of us dance around nowadays. I don't like to see books give way to code and digitization. A character who works at Google actually says:

"I mean, once we've got everything scanned, and cheap reading devices are ubiquitous...nobody's going to need bookstores, right?"

Um, wrong. I'm grateful when Clay, the narrator, replies with: "We'll be fine...people still like the smell of books." YES WE DO! And the rough paper between our fingers, and the satisfaction of watching the pages stack up to the left side of the books, and our thumbs catching on the fibers of paper to turn the page...

But I digress.

Mr. Penumbra makes me think about books, and I love that. Why do we read them, and what are we looking for? What do they tell us? And how much does technology matter in how we understand and use them? It's thought-provoking, and full of little lines about books and life that make me want to pinch the words right off the page and into something I wrote (yes, I know that's wrong--hush, hush, I'm not actually going to do it).

What I Read: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore | Scribbling in the Margins blog

There are times where the book would drag a little for me, or where I lost the plot/what mattered. Part of this is because I was reading it in bits and pieces every night, but part of this is because the story takes a little while to get moving. I had trouble getting into the book until at least halfway through; but once I got there, it was well worth it.

I also almost banged my head against a wall when I saw "Epilogue" printed at the top of the last chapter. NO NO NO. The book ended just fine before that; I didn't need to know how everyone lived happily ever after, and I felt like Sloan cheated me out of imagining my own futures for the characters.

All the same, a book for readers and technology-lovers alike, I really enjoyed the balance between print and screen Sloan explores in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. 

What do you think--do books have a future in a technology-based world?


Oh, and P.S.- try reading it in the dark.

What I Read: Ishmael | My Triumphant Return!

Welcome back to posts with Leeann! You might have forgotten about me, but I'm the junior who foolishly thought majoring in two reading-heavy departments wouldn't kill me. Needless to say, I was wrong. Anyway, this triumphant return is not a permanent return :(. Promising I'm back to my regular posting would just be a lie. I have large assignments due at least once a week until the end of this semester, and I know they're going to be taking a bunch of my time. But I will do my best.

BUT! Do not be grieved! In light of my busy schedule, I'm going to ask some of my friends to write some posts for you all. Coming next week: a post from future-librarian and book-reading fiend Amanda.

Now, let's get into Ishmael, or the book that will change your worldview life.

5/5 Pineapples

What I Read: Ishmael | Scribbling in the Margins blog

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn is a dialogue between a teacher and his student. Only the twist is--the teacher is a gorilla. Together the narrator and the gorilla talk through humanity's history, break down Genesis, and result in a "program" that can save humanity from certain extinction.

First of all, disclaimer: I read this for my Environmental Crisis Literature class, so a lot of how I understand this book comes from class discussion. If I start getting into any theory that doesn't make sense, just skip it. I barely understand it myself :)

It's hard to explain just what I loved about this book. It's not your typical novel and what I love about it is the course of the entire conversation (or, you know, the whole book). You have to move from start to finish in order to understand what Quinn is saying. Plus, with the promise of learning how the save the world, you must be patient and read until the very end of the novel.

Ishmael is also a very deep read, one it took class discussions and writing a paper on it for me to fully understand. You have to sit down for a period of time to read it. While it doesn't have to be read all at once, chapter by chapter is really helpful to understanding and staying on track with the conversation.

But the main reason this book is amazing is because it makes you think about how we treat nature. Yes, climate change is a current threat, and we can no longer continue to act the way we do and expect to survive. Change has to happen if the world can make it the next 100, 50, 20 years. Ishmael explains how we've reached this point and what we can do to remove ourselves from the doomed trajectory we're on.

Basically, I highly recommend anyone and everyone to read this book. Then will you definitely understand what I am talking about, and I think you'll find it well worth your time.

What books have made you think before? Any that had an impact on your actions?


Below the Line:

  • Two weeks until Fall Break!
  • I've been eating popcorn like nobody's business. Just take one look at the popcorn carcasses under my desk and you'll understand just how intense this snack love has become.
  • My Rho Gamma (Recruitment Guide) life has fully kicked in. If anyone wants me to do a post on Greek life or being a Rho Gamma, just let me know. I wasn't planning on doing anything until I can reveal my affiliation but I'd be happy to do a generic post now!
  • This is the first time I've been caught up on my schoolwork in two (three?) weeks. Hopefully I'll hang on to it, but with the two papers, discussion leader assignment, and test I have coming up, it seems unlikely.
  • Don't forget, guest post next week! Get excited!