Category Archives: Books

Going Back in Time with Midnight Sun

The first time I heard of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was when I was a teen and life’s biggest issues were completing my homework and playing with friends. Twilight soon became an integral part of my life along with Harry Potter, and I still prefer the latter. However, I was drawn to the absurd yet compelling love story between Edward and Bella, for it gave me a sense of what romance was supposed to look like; something that was still relatively unexplored in Harry Potter, as it was never the central theme in the adventure and prophecy-centric series.

Now, nearly a decade later, Midnight Sun, finally hit our shelves. A retelling of Twilight from the perspective of Edward Cullen, the book was slated to be released in 2009 but was shelved when the first twelve chapters were leaked, and Meyer put it on indefinite hold until it was finished and ready for the world.

Amazon.com: Midnight Sun (9780316707046): Meyer, Stephenie: Books

Reading Midnight Sun was a nostalgic experience as I was transported back to when I had first begun reading Twilight. However, 23-year-old me was left relatively unimpressed by the novel —nearly twice the size of the original — for my idea of romance has evolved in the last few years. What once appealed to me as a young child now emerged as problematic and unhealthy. 

Moreover, the plot does not offer anything new to the storyline or Edward’s motives. The additional dialogue and scenes only serve to feed Edward’s obsession with Bella which also is less compelling than in the predecessor. 

That’s not to say that Meyer has not attempted to address some of Edward’s questionable behavior, which had become a controversial topic over the years. In one such attempt regarding Edward watching Bella sleep at night, she writes, “I was repulsed by myself as I watched her toss again. How was I any better than any sick peeping tom? I wasn’t any better. I was much, much worse.” Although a good effort on Meyer’s part, it still doesn’t detract from the fact that stalking should not be romanticized. 

In my opinion, the only fascinating and redeeming feature of this novel is that there are more interactions with the other vampire characters who are immensely multifaceted in their own right, especially Rosalie. Even though we got a peek into Rosalie’s life in the third book Eclipse, her exchanges with Edward in Midnight Sun give a better insight into the flawed complexity and guilt of her character, adding a new layer of her jealousy toward Bella who has everything she wants but cannot have. One can’t help but root for Rosalie in this situation (something I never imagined I would do)! 

In summation, Midnight Sun is a read meant for the die-hard fans who will surely enjoy seeing their favorite characters back in action. For me, it was a journey through time and how I have changed as a person and as a reader. 

Amala Reddie

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Feasting on Red, White and Royal Blue

In 2019, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue took the world by storm. The novel, which received praise and accolades across the globe, not only provided a perfect breezy rom-com by subverting tropes but also gave readers an endearing LGBTQ couple and highlighted several sociopolitical issues. 

The plot revolves around Alexander, son of the President of the United States, and Henry, the Prince of Wales,  who start off as nemeses and end up having to fake a friendship after a scandal at a Royal Wedding. The quintessential twist arrives when both start to fall for each other. Appearing at first as a run-of-the-mill romance, the story unfolds to be so much more. 

9781250316776_p0_v6_s1200x630Set in 2016, in an alternate reality where Ellen Claremont from Texas becomes the first female President of the United States, the story presents a “what could have been” setting that stands in stark contrast to the existing political climate. Through the pairing of the son of the “most powerful person in the world” with the son of the “most powerful Royal in the world”, McQuiston aptly delineates the power struggle and expectations from the two institutions (the White House and the Royal Establishment), the rigmarole of the press, and societal pressure that transcends all territorial boundaries. 

Even the romance doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of conforming to society standards and coming out on your own terms. This conflict is beautifully underlined in the email and text messages exchanged between Alex and Henry. In one such email, Alex remarks to Henry, “thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. I kinda wish people still wrote like that. History, huh? Bet we could make some.” On the forefront, these emails have a humorous banter-like tone, but as the story progresses, they unearth the heartache and the emotional intensity of their feelings. 

While there are a few unrealistic elements, the earnest and poignant writing prevents it from becoming a saccharine read. And given the current climate, this book feels like a breath of fresh air and reminds us that love is indeed love. 

 

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Seeking Comfort in Sally Rooney’s Normal People

A common theme of quarantine is loneliness, whether it be physical or mental. We are living in an unprecedented time in which many of us are experiencing variations of the same feeling. Waking up to the same environment every day is deeply disheartening and has left a lot of us feeling unmotivated and uninspired. It is difficult feeling fulfilled when there is nowhere to go. Many people are relying on art to transport them or make them feel a semblance of community. 

An author that embodies this sense of loneliness while still managing to create a world so different from the one people are currently facing is Sally Rooney. The television adaptation of her most recent novel, Normal People, was released at the end of April. As the Hulu show gains more and more popularity, the novel does as well. Despite bookstores closing due to COVID-19, Nielsen BookScan reported the love story as the current highest selling novel. It remained on The New York Times Best Sellers list for eight weeks. 

imagesNormal People is a story that contains the best of both worlds; Sally Rooney takes the reader through multiple European countries, assigning each place with different tones. The story opens with the two main characters, Marianne and Connell, stuck in the bleakness of Sligo, only to transition to the energetic and youthful nature of Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney takes the reader to Marianne’s villa in Italy, eating strawberries in her backyard, to her snowy semester abroad in Sweden. Despite Rooney’s ability to transport the reader to multiple countries in the comfort of their own home, she layers the novel with a theme of loneliness, something that indeed resonates with those in quarantine. As Rooney states in her novel, “Life is the thing you bring with you inside your own head”(208). 

Normal People by Sally Rooney is where adventure and culture intersect with the feeling of mental and physical isolation. The exploration of utter loneliness combined with the desolate portrait of Sligo will touch readers—especially in the current climate—in a way they never have before. 

 

Kelsey Allen

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Marie Kondo in the Time of COVID-19

Over the last few years, mindfulness literature has been a growing subsection of the self-help nonfiction genre. What began as a response to a growing anxiety within America has suddenly come to a head with Covid-19, a crisis just as mental as it is economic. 

Amidst this with fortuitously good timing, Marie Kondo, known for her previous New York Times Best-Selling work, the life-changing magic of tidying up, has released a new book titled, Joy at Work, co-written with Scott Sonenshein. Kondo is a Japanese writer focused on the mindfulness and philosophical elements of decluttering one’s home life. Her books, fittingly published in stark white binding with red cover lettering, are beautiful hard-cover volumes that give practical and simple advice to working on the core of one’s home life. At the center of this approach is the idea to sort through items by category based on if they “spark joy” in your life. Her sophomore book is titled Spark Joy, and functions as an illustrated companion work to her first book. Her stance on reducing one’s possessions is refreshing in a time when we are physically unable to go out and spend money.

Kondo’s newest work is particularly applicable now that many Americans are working from home. The bedroom writing desk has been suddenly thrust into the position of full-time workstation. The home is neither physically nor emotionally designed to function as a universal space for all aspects of our lives. We can see this effect in the collective longing for external  work and social spaces. 

Joy at Work takes the same approach of mindfulness and decluttering that was so critical to finding joy and peace within a home, and applies it to the office for the purpose of maintaining focus and productivity, a task made all the more difficult by the tumultuousness of the present. Mindfulness works like Kondo’s are critical to maintaining a sense of momentum and poise in a time of crisis.

Kondo has unintentionally cued into a Covid-19 zeitgeist of craving in the American public. Much like how Nintendo soothed the youth of America’s need for control and plasticity with their recent Animal Crossing release, Kondo has done the same for the sudden shift in the American work life. If there was ever a time for self-help books to bring about overwhelming positive change in the face of adversity, it is now.

 

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Renewed Relevance for the Forgotten War Memoir Written By the Father of NYC Ballet

In 1946, Lincoln Kirstein co-founded the New York City Ballet. However, lesser known then his contributions to the performing arts is his poetic memoir published in 1964 about serving in the US Army during the Second World War. Rhymes of a PFC is a tragically long-out-of-print collection of prose dealing with the stresses of combat, sexuality in the army, and existentialism under the constant threat of death. Now that we are the homefront of a biological struggle happening worldwide, Kirstein’s poems gain renewed relevance for their power and solidarity.

The book is split into sections reflecting the different theaters of war. Each section pays tribute to quiet moments so often left out of newsreels and documentaries. Instead of bullets and shrapnel, Kirstein chronicles the emotional struggles going on behind closed doors–battles not just with the enemy, but between allies and individuals. The complex and surprising nature of these issues can be seen in Kirstein’s reflection of the dynamic between American and British soldiers in regard to married women, which leaves the reader as burned-out as the cuckolded British Tommy. “Bert grasps the situation–/ After five long years,/ Young Bertie in a Yankee’s arms–/ And bursts into tears.// Bert will not try to kill him/ As the corporal thinks he might:/ He’s had his fill of fighting;/ He wants no fight” (50-51).

However, not all of the poems display animosity. There are several that reflect on the collective misery and desire for comfort among soldiers. Many of these sections have homosexual undertones that add a unique character to Kirstein’s poetic voice. In the poem, “Junior,” Kirstein chronicles the quiet tension of a transatlantic crossing. “Then Junior, through our nightmare, came stalking quick but dead;/ As I absorbed his fright from him, the mist on his shaved head/ Stood out like sweat. His two wild paws in helpless animal fright/ Trapped me in the clamp of love to nurse him through this night.// He was in peril. So was I. Be with us to the end/ Where every selfish soldier is rationed half a friend” (61).

Kristein writes wonderfully clever prose that outlines the entire conflict in Europe. The dreamlike quality of episodic poetic rhyme contrasts with visions of Atlantic Convoys, Uboats, and occupied Europe in the darkest days of the conflict. Now, in the biological world war against Covid-19, each of us is a soldier cooped up in a perpetual battle against infection. I’m sure many Americans are feeling the emotional strain of this war, and the economic strain of a wartime economy. In this regard, Kirstein’s recollection of quiet warfare is particularly enchanting and relevant.

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https://www.amazon.com/Rhymes-More-PFC-Lincoln-Kirstein/dp/B000I8UDGU

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Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker: A Literary Take of the Legend and Language of the Apocalypse

In 1980, Pennsylvania-born writer Russell Hoban was living in London when he wrote his fourth novel, Riddley Walker. The book is a piece of science fiction which takes place in the south-east of England, several millennia after a mysterious apocalyptic event. As the news of today paints a picture that looks increasingly like something out of one of these pieces of pessimistic fiction, reading books like Hoban’s can be oddly relaxing, as we find delight in beautiful passages of a bleak world, one rich with legend and language.

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The first page of Riddley Walker confronts the reader with the fact that the book isn’t written in English, or at least, not an English that we today recognize. The narrative is told from the first-person perspective of the titular character, Riddley. Hobban wrote the book as if a man living millennia after the end of the world was speaking to the reader in his native dialect. To accomplish this, Hobban created a changed and degraded version of English. We experience firsthand how Riddley and his people have reinterpreted lost signs and signifiers. The end of the world legend is called “the Eusa story,” referring to the EU and USA. The light of what is presumably a nuclear blast has been personified in stories as “the Littl Shyning Man.” Canterbury has become Cambry, and the once-popular Punch and Judy puppet show is now a form of public announcement, which tells the story of the world to its people and warns about the dangers of technology.

Books like Riddley Walker remind us of the creative powers of literature to imagine a more colorful vision of a dark future. The concept of apocalypse in Riddley Walker is not just dangerous and strange in a Hobbesian sense, but also wonderfully literary. For us as readers experiencing the growing nihilism as a result of climate change and the invisible dangers of the Coronavirus, consider reading this forgotten classic of British-American literature. According to Hoban, the apocalypse is, after all, literary. 

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Soviet Literature in the Post-Soviet World: The Writing of Chinghiz Aitmatov

              To any student of classic Russian literature, it often feels as though Russian literary canon stopped after the transition to the Soviet era. However, there are many great Soviet literary works which exist in undeserved obscurity. Chingiz Aitmatov’s The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years is just as important as Western novels, like Orwell’s 1984, in reflecting the contemporary political and social climate while also illuminating surprising insights on today’s world.

           Aitmatov’s story is set at a railway junction on the steppe in Kazakhstan. Like a Soviet As I Lay Dying, the plot is centered around a journey for a burial. The story is told from the perspective of a railway worker named Burannyi Yedigei, who is remembering his life with his late friend Kazangap, while he walks with the funeral procession to an ancient desert cemetery. He remembers the Soviet period and the clashes between agents of the regime and the local politics of the region. These external forces intertwine with his own personal struggle of love and friendship on the crucible of the steppe. Yedigei’s narrative is intercut with scenes from a jointly run space station between the Soviets and the USA, which has been contacted by beings from another galaxy. Rockets launch to investigate from a site not far from Yedigei’s junction, and the rockets’ fires are visible in the sky.  

           The story includes elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and ancient Kazak legend. The broad temporal and thematic expanse reflects the diversity of the Soviet Union east of Moscow, as well as the political climate and its effects far from Western Europe. Aitmatov is prophetic in his writing regarding political authoritarianism, isolationism, and cultural memory regarding today’s relations between the East and the West.200px-ChingizAitmatov_TheDayLastsMoreThanAHundredYears

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_Lasts_More_Than_a_Hundred_Years

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An Independence Day Best-Seller

91HDSbQeLxLWith the Fourth of July just around the corner, there could not have been a better time for Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Jon Meacham, and celebrated country music star Tim McGraw to release their book, Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation. Originally published on June 11, 2019 the novel reached the New York Times Best Seller list last week– just in time for Independence Day. Though a seemingly unlikely pair, real life Nashville neighbors Meacham and McGraw worked together to unpack both well-known and abstract music that has shaped the United States. Meacham speaks of the historical significance behind certain songs from the American Revolution to modern day, and McGraw focuses on the singers and composers themselves. By touching on the lives of figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan, while including songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” and “Born in the U.S.A,” both authors shed light on the cultural and political impact music has had on the United States over time. In a note to the reader at the start of the book, the authors state how they

“hope that The Songs of America is the opening, not the closing, act in a conversation about the nation’s diversity and complexity. For that’s among the reasons we undertook the project: to inspire Americans to think more widely and more deeply about the country Abraham Lincoln called ‘the last best hope of earth.”

 Hopefully, this book will not only spark your Fourth of July reading, but push you to consider the history of our nation, how our story has evolved, and the ways in which we want to compose our future.

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Curling: The Forgotten Sport

This year, South Korea hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics in the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. Over a hundred events were hosted, which included curling, skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating. Germany and Norway were tied with the most gold medals won, which was fourteen. Norway, however, was the country with the most medals accumulated, with a total of thirty-nine. People are more apt to think about how much the tickets are (some can reach up to $600) instead of what stories derive from the events. Such stories come from one fairly new sport: curling.

Curling: An Illustrated History by David B. Smith is one of the first novels about the Olympic sport. This novel was published in 1981 and gave a full history of the sport. Curling was not added to the official program until the 1998 Nagano games. Some critics say that this book has done little to improve the quality of descriptive curling history; however, Smith recounts historical events that involve curling that no other author has achieved. Smith, a Scottish curler, had won three gold medals and various other trophies for curling. Unfortunately, he stopped competing in 2007 and recently passed away in 2015.

A more modern approach to curling is the novel Throwing Rocks at Houses: My Life in and Out of Curling by Colleen Jones. This novel steers away from the boring strategies and techniques and focuses on the author’s mental and physical journey. Jones is from Nova Scotia and is proud to be a Canadian curler. She overcomes a life-threatening disease and lives to tell her tale of self-determination. She has also published another book, Curling Secrets (2007), which focuses more on how a player becomes adept at curling.

Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks by Andrea Brokaw is a perfect YA novel that encompasses loyalty, romance, and confidence. Readers who do not know a thing about curling will still enjoy this fiction novel. It follows the story of Darcy Bennet, a seventeen-year-old who dreams of becoming an Olympic curler.

If curling doesn’t sound appealing or looks too odd, there is a novel for beginners called Curling for Dummies. It explains the rules, how the players work together, and why it’s so fun. There has to be something to this sport since it has been played since late-medieval Scotland!

 

-Laura Rodgers, Intern

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Exit West – Best Novel of 2017?

With 2017 up and gone, publications sent out their list for top novels of the year. A few titles, however, overlapped with other similar articles. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, for example, was displayed on the websites of Time, Goodreads, the Guardian, Esquire, and various other articles for one of the best books of 2017.

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Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani writer who has been on the rise since his fiction novel Moth Smoke (2000). He earned a dual citizenship for Pakistan and the United Kingdom in 2006. His second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, was published in 2007 and quickly rose to the New York Times Best Seller list. It sold over a million copies across the world.

Hamid uses his novels to touch on real world issues, which is why his writing is appealing internationally. Exit West focuses on the love of two migrants who start in a city encased in civil war, and flee using magical doors. There is a section about London that shows the true light of the theme of refugee problems. The two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, are forced to live in a ghetto called “Dark London” with barely any food or electricity. This is a parallel to how many refugees are forced to live in sub-par conditions. 

The people of the foreign cities wish for them and others to return where they came from. Hamid brings civil war up close to the reader and how it affects relationships of all kinds.

Exit West is dangerously close to the real world. Donald Trump wrote the executive order restricting immigrants and halting refugee relocation last January. In June, the U.N Refugee Agency stated the world’s displaced population had reached 65.5 million. Australia and several European countries began forcibly deporting refugees.

Now, in 2018, the Global Compact is attempting to draw on world powers to help refugees. The United States withdrew from the group, however, and the outlook for assistance is foggy. Exit West mingles true world problems with aspects of fantasy, and is truly a must-read for the past year of fiction.

 

-Laura Rodgers, Intern

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