Saturday, January 25, 2014

"You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice" - What I've Read This Christmas

So I managed to squeeze in several books beyond my uni reading over the Christmas holiday. This is largely because I now have a Kindle. At the rate I've been reading I kind of feel a bit like it's turned me into more of a consumer with all of its instant demand and gratification, but at the same time it's got me reading for enjoyment again. So this is not the end for me and books - I could not imagine not owning some of those most special to me - The Fountainhead, Perks of Being a Wallflower etc. in book form. The Kindle's just been a useful way of catching up on things I half-intended to read but might never have got round to.

I have very much focused on my degree, which is in its final year, over the last few months but I managed to read most of these books in a day each. They are as different as you can get. Young adult fiction (TFIOS), sports autobiography (I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic), dystopian debut (The Bone Season) and suspenseful psychoanalytic fiction (Room). Not all 'literary', eh? But all were very compelling reads and we can't let things get too stale. This blog is not an English textbook of conventional analyses. It's the things I care about analysed, which can be very literary and classic and can be pretty left-field and seemingly random. But that's me really.

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

This was recommended by one of my best friends and I'd been curious about it because of its evident popularity. But I was hesitant too, because I've read some romance and I've read some narratives which explore cancer and romance, I needed this to do... something more. I'm not usually one to read romantic fiction unless it's got other levels. I understand that John Green is someone who says things teenagers like but I can't help but feel, even though he writes well- simply and both lightly and emotionally, that he's a little over-hyped. I did find the book emotional in the end, because cancer is quite an emotional subject but I didn't really like the characters. They didn't feel fully formed normal people - they were too pretentious in some ways - even just their names! - which is okay to a degree but I couldn't engage with them enough to accommodate it. Supporting characters like Hazel's best friend were extremely thin and stereotypical. So I guess I kind of liked the book but I kind of didn't. In other words, this review might not be very helpful. I have chosen, however, some quotes and insights which I did like and which highlight the books strong points:

'You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice' Chapter 13 - with this quote the book is quite clear that you have to accept it on its own terms, which I respect. Although it charts the depression cancer patients and their families might experience it refuses to indulge it completely, often veering out into lighter territory and even offers chances to laugh at the situation, even if it's a kind of grim, sardonic humour. It's not always comfortable because the situation is serious and sensitive but I kind of admire it for sometimes making the 'funny choice'.

"Even cancer isn't a bad guy really: Cancer just wants to be alive" Chapter 18 - I liked this quote, because I hadn't really thought about it from that perspective. It's a poignant and existential reflection from a sufferer that was oddly uplifting when I read it because it took you out of the personal, human focus and into the larger picture.

"I am not a mathematician, but I know this: there are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful." Chapter 20 - this is knees-deep romance but the idea of infinities being different sizes was quite a successful romantic notion in the scheme of things and passages like this are something that John Green is really good at.

"You don't choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers." Chapter Twenty-Five - Again, it's all about the romance. But it is kind of true- you take risks with whoever you let in - and very big ones in cases like this, so you have to decide if it's worth it.

I can see why people like The Fault In Our Stars, it is compelling in it's own way and will probably make you cry and it has its moments of being 'good' but they are not consistent enough and I just couldn't quite engage with those characters - something just didn't click for me and it's hard to describe.