Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
― Paulo Coelho,
The Alchemist 

Book Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Publication Date: 1988
Genres: Adult Fiction, Philosophical
How I Found It: Recommendation
Goodreads Rating: 3.71 Stars 
My Rating:4.5 Stars

The Characters:
Santiago -Shepherd who sells his flock to go in search of his Personal Legend
The Alchemist - Mentor of Santiago
From the Publisher: 
Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever. The Alchemist is such a book. With over a million and a half copies sold around the world, The Alchemist has already established itself as a modern classic, universally admired. Paulo Coelho's charming fable, now available in English for the first time, will enchant and inspire an even wider audience of readers for generations to come. The Alchemist is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist. The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories have done, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, above all, following our dreams.
My Thoughts:
Let me preface this with saying that I have never really enjoyed a translated book. Generally, I find that things truly get lost in translation and it is impossible to get the full story when books are translated from other languages to English. Also, usually the writing gets very poor, and I can't stomach reading it. (For example, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
That being said, I loved this book. It was very simple, yes. It was a little contrived, yes. But Santiago was young and determined and fresh, and the quotes from this book are awesome. (I'm a bit of a quote whore.) Even though this book is written as more of a parable or a moralistic story, I fell for it completely. I love the idea of dropping everything that you have known in search of that one thing that you know will make you happy. Of course, in real life, people generally can't do this sort of thing, but it's pretty inspiring to read a story about someone who left behind everything that he knew in search of his true happiness. 
I wouldn't say that this is an overly optimistic book. It's pretty honest when dealing with his struggles and his doubts about the path his life has taken. There were bumps and issues along the way, but through determination, Santiago was able to find a path to lead him to where he is supposed to be. It was more determination than optimism that kept him going throughout the story. Also, this is not a religious book by any means, but it does present the idea of Fate and Destiny and the fact that, while things may seem like a stumbling block, they are really a ladder to take you to the next part of your life.
The Pros:
Quotable Quotes
Makes You Think
 The Cons:
Simple Writing Structure
Who I would recommend it to:
Someone who is struggling with their life path
Someone who needs inspiration
 Favorite Quotes: (I told y'all I loved so many of them!)
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

“When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”

 “People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.”

 “So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.”

 “I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”

"This wasn’t a strange place; it was a new one."

"When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises."

 "He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Happy Banned Books Week!

"The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame." - Oscar Wilde

Happy Banned Books Week!

My undergraduate minor is in Library Science, and (obviously) libraries hold a special place in my heart. I mean, where else can you get nearly any book you want for free? Over the past few months, I've become a tad obsessed with getting books that have been sitting on my Goodreads shelf for far too long.

One of the ideas that interested me (and terrified me) most about running a library is the idea of banned or challenged books. In the school system, forms of censorship take place daily, whether it be parents blatantly complaining about the books that is required or available to their children or if it is the librarian censoring the books that she chooses for her library.

The dilemma that faces every school librarian is the decision of whether or not to include specific books in their library. My Library Science teacher said many, many times that the American Library Association (ALA) would have "Highlights next to Playboys" if it were up to them. The ALA is the go-to for librarians who are looking for advice, but librarians obviously do not take this sentiment lightly. I've seen these handled in different ways, from high school libraries that have shelves available for only juniors and seniors to books that are only allowed to be checked out if the parent has signed off on it. These measures are to protect the librarians more than anything.

This is why ALA started celebrating Banned Books Week. This week is meant to celebrate our freedom to read books about anything we want to, as well as our freedom of speech to write books on any topic. Good books, books that get critical acclaim, books that we want the students to be reading, are not books that are soft and full of air. The books that are challenged are usually books that challenge the way we think and the way we view the world. Those are the books that push your brain and your outlook on life.

ALA published these findings between the years 2000 - 2009:

Over this recent past decade, 5,099 challenges were reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
  • 1,577 challenges due to "sexually explicit" material;
  • 1,291 challenges due to "offensive language";
  • 989 challenges due to materials deemed "unsuited to age group";
  • 619 challenged due to "violence"' and
  • 361 challenges due to "homosexuality."

These are all themes that children (especially in middle and high school) deal with on a daily basis. The amazing thing is that so many books on ALA's Frequently Challenged book list are required reading for high school students! Some of the challenges are a bit outlandish (i.e. Harry Potter and its wizardry), but others are seemingly justifiable (I mean, have you ever read The Chocolate War?). I wanted to take a moment to look at some of my favorite books that have surprisingly appeared on ALA's Frequently Challenged Book List. Consequently, I recommend reading all of these books, because they are all phenomenal. (For a complete listing, check out ALA's website.)

"An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." - Oscar Wilde

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Reasons Challenged: Language, Sexual References

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons Challenged: Illicit Substance Use, Sexual References, Suicide, Unsuited for Age Level

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Reasons Challenged: Anti-Ethnic, Anti-Family, Insensitivity, Language, Satanism, Violence

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephan Chbotsky
Reasons Challenged:  Anti-Family, Illicit Substance Use, Homosexuality, Language, Religious Viewpoint, Sexual References, Suicide, Unsuited for Age Level 

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Reasons Challenged: Satanism, Language, Violence

 The Giver by Lois Lowry
Reasons Challenged: Language, Use of Mind Control, Infanticide, Euthanasia, Violence, Sexual References

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Reasons Challenged: Illicit Substance Use, Gang Violence, Language, Slang, Family Dysfunction

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons Challenged: Rape, Violence, Language

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Reasons Challenged: Language, Anti-Government

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Reasons Challenged: Rape, Violence, Language, Unsuited for Age Level

Some of these books are classics, while others are more contemporary fiction. Nonetheless, they are all well written books, and when I was a teenager in high school, I enjoyed reading books that appealed to things that I was going through, or that my friends were going through, even if reading about them didn't seem "appropriate". Students look for books they can relate to, and if those books present real life situations in a way that helps the students deal with the problems they are having in their lives, then I say let them read.

“The burning of a book is a sad, sad sight, for even though a book is nothing but ink and paper, it feels as if the ideas contained in the book are disappearing as the pages turn to ashes and the cover and binding--which is the term for the stitching and glue that holds the pages together--blacken and curl as the flames do their wicked work. When someone is burning a book, they are showing utter contempt for all of the thinking that produced its ideas, all of the labor that went into its words and sentences, and all of the trouble that befell the author . . .”
― Lemony Snicket,
The Penultimate Peril

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

“See, there I am. I told you I lived. I told you I was.”
― Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects

Book Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publication Date: 2006 
Genres: Mystery, Suspense, Adult Fiction
How I Found It: Previously Read a Novel by the Same Author
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dear Diary

It has been two weeks since my post on my goals for self improvement, and I have to admit, I'm not doing very well. Last week, I only worked out once (ONCE!), and I had Popeyes for lunch yesterday (POPEYES!). Overall, a big thumbs down. However, I did get some things accomplished. I managed to finish my novel for book club, as well as start and finish The Alchemist. I'm thinking I might do book reviews on these two books down the road, after I have some time to gather my thoughts about them. I also started moving into my new apartment with my beautiful cousin Stephanie. I will greatly miss my own little place, but I am looking forward to a year of fun and randomness with her. Plus, we have 3 cats in the apartment, so you know things are going to get wild.

In the past few days, I have been reminiscing of sorts. Maybe it's the process of packing up my life (yet again) that makes me really look at who I was and who I have become (and am still becoming). That led me to here, this blog. It's so interesting to me how I came to do this little project. For my entire life, I've loved reading. I appreciate good literature and I love a wonderfully woven tale. However, I have never EVER seen myself as a writer. I guess that comes from reading such good literature and knowing that I will never be able to hold a candle to these authors in the way that they create visions from their brain and transform them into intricate stories.

But all of a sudden, within the last year, I've felt the need to write. Not a want, but a need. I started journaling, and that was a huge part of my recovery process from the life change that I made a year ago (re: breaking up with boyfriend, moving back to Lafayette, quitting teaching, starting graduate school, etc.). I found that after pouring my heart out on the pages, I could rest. I could sleep without worrying and, you know, function at life. When I felt things building up and getting overwhelming, I just turned to my journal to spill my guts.

When I started dating Jeromy, I found myself writing letters at various times. Sometimes it would be after an argument, sometimes it would be when I was overcome with gratitude. Either way, I found that I expressed myself best when I was writing. My brain couldn't form the words to speak, but when I put pen to paper, it all came out. When he would read these letters, he would encourage my writing, and it made me really look at my writing as a whole.

So when one of my friends and book club members, Alex Graham, started her blog (check it out, it's really kinda awesome!), I took that as inspiration to start my own writing habit. Even if it was tough, even if I felt silly, I thought I could try this out and see how it goes. Through this process, I have found myself thinking more and more deeply about certain things, like my post about Syria, or I have found myself rediscovering my true passions, like my posts about reading. Honestly, I thought this would be a lot tougher than it has turned out to be.

I love checking my activity feed to see the amounts of people that have read my blog. On some days, I've gotten as high as 30 views in a day! That may not be a lot to the experienced blogger, but I feel so fortunate and grateful that people are taking time out of their lives to read my words.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On Helping People

DISCLAIMER: I don't know much about Syria. My news watching has been pretty much limited to The Daily Show and Colbert Report, plus the occasional glance at news on Twitter. Here are a couple of articles that I came across that helped me out when trying to figure out what the hell was going on in Syria and why we, as Americans, should care. (And they are in list form, which always helps me out.) Washington Post and CNN

There's been so much news lately about Syria and the possibility of going to war with a country that most of us can't even find on the map. I'm not going to get political here, mostly because I feel like I do not know enough about the situation in Syria to accurately choose one side or another. However, I was catching up on my Daily Show with John Stewart this morning, and they interviewed Andrew Harper, who is head of the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan. (See here for the full interview.) In his interview, he stated that there have been 2 million refugees fleeing Syria into neighboring countries. Furthermore, out of those 2 million children, over 1 million are children.

ONE MILLION CHILDREN. It's unfathomable to me.

When I was a child, I had the opportunity to grow up in innocence and faith in my government and my safety. I never worried about my parents survival or if I would have something to eat and a place to sleep at night. These children have had their lives ripped away from them in a political war that doesn't really concern them at all.

This past weekend, I went to New Orleans and toured the WWII museum with my parents and Jeromy. It surprised me how much agony I went through when listening to the people tell their stories of their survival, their battles, and even their struggles at home. Stories of a mother losing both of her sons to casualties of war, wives who would never see their husbands again, husbands who struggled every day not knowing if they were going to live or die. Their struggles felt so personal to me, and the brunt force of the realities of war really struck me. Each person's story that I heard felt like it was my friend or coworker speaking to me.

And these are Americans who fought in foreign nations. It is impossible for me to envision a world where I couldn't be sure if I were going to walk on a land mine or have a bomb fall on my house. Yet this is something that these children have had to live with every day of their lives. They will never feel complete safety and innocence from the world around them. Now, if they haven't already lost family members, they have at least lost their houses, all of their possessions, and their lifestyle.

I saw someone today tweet, "Why should we care about these people?" and my first thought is that they are PEOPLE. They are human beings who are suffering in a world that they were born into and have no real hope of getting out of. Do I think we should send bombs over there to cause further destruction? Maybe not. But I do think that we need to do all that we can to help these poor children, mothers, and fathers who are struggling every day to make a new life in a country that is not their own. If the situation were reversed, I would be thankful for every bit of help that I could get.

If you would like to help, here is the link for the UN Refugee Fund and UNICEF.