Some Stuff

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Best wishes, always.

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January Reading Recap

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I am blatantly stealing this idea from The Perks of Being a Bookworm, but I’ve been negligent of my poor blog this week (in which nobody is surprised ever, I’m basically the less funny American version of Nat from communitychannel, who gets comments like, “Nat, you’re like an alcoholic father, as soon as we get used to you being around you leave us again”), and I want to regularly update y’all on the books I read this year. Also, one of my resolutions is to review books, which I haven’t properly done yet.

The Vicar of Wakefield

 The Vicar of Wakefield is a book about a vicar (obviously) and his family, and their various misfortunes. The Vicar is very self-assured in his own righteousness and that of his family, and ironically this confidence in virtue that they don’t actually have leads them into many pitfalls—some hilarious and some cringeworthy. The Vicar is sometimes compared with Job from the Bible, a concept at which I laughed probably too much. The Vicar is in no way like Job, patiently enduring the evils in his life for love of God. I’m sure the Vicar thinks of himself as a kind of Job, but most of the evils in his life are his own fault. That being said, he is well-meaning; once he actually attains humility and, after falling so far, finally has a firm grasp on the virtues he’s always thought himself to have, his life picks up. It’s also admirable how he wants the best for his family and loves them unconditionally, even if he is too foolish to do what’s best for them at times.

In all honesty, I did not enjoy this book. I had to read it for school and it reminded me excessively of Emma in so many respects, but almost worse in that its plot was dull for a good 70% of the book and every character was unbearable and unlikeable and impossible to empathize with. I just wanted to be done. At the same time, I can see the merits of the book, and the discussion that followed it was interesting. I rated it two stars, allowing myself to dislike it.

The Beautiful and Damned

Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, stars Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert, a couple who scorn nearly every other human being alive and yet are miserable themselves. Their romance is built completely upside-down and this book recounts the story of their explosive and disastrous marriage. Fitzgerald writes masterfully, somehow making two completely horrible and unlikeable people relatable and forcing you to care about them. I was stunned and how much I empathized with Gloria, even though I agreed with her on nothing and was often disgusted by her and how cruel she could be. Anthony doesn’t even have redeeming qualities of meaning well, but you somehow care an awful amount about him too (even though you also spend the whole book wanting to kill him). Unlike Gatsby, where the inevitable train wreck of a conclusion comes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise (even though you vaguely expected it), you can feel this train wreck building for the entirety of The Beautiful and Damned, but the unbelievably powerful conclusion still manages to completely slam you in the chest and knock you senseless.

Man. Fitzgerald. Flawless.

I loved this book, unsurprisingly. I love Fitzgerald, I would love him for his writing alone, as I’ve said before, but this story was so moving and such an absolute tragedy that I was blown away. Four stars.

Heaven to Betsy & Betsy in Spite of Herself

This definitely isn’t my usual speed of book—in fact, I was basically in the process of picking up The Brothers Karamazov when my friend Sophie ordered me to drop everything and read this series. Of course, I’ve only read the first two so far, but I am planning on finishing it this year. This book is actually two books in one, following Betsy Ray’s freshman and sophomore year in high school and her ensuing adventures. In Heaven to Betsy, Betsy starts high school and deals with the average teenage dramas (making and breaking friendships, balancing school and fun, and boys) without being trite or preachy or overdone. Betsy in Spite of Herself is a classic example of being true to oneself. It seems self-evident, but so many young girls still struggle with pressures to conform and are invariably unhappy with their inability to be comfortable in their own skin.

Although this book is set in the early 1900s, Betsy’s problems, dreams, and experiences are all incredibly relatable. She doesn’t feel stuffy and old-fashioned; she feels like your literary best friend, going through the same things you are and offering you companionship along the way. Sophie told me these books are an essential part of growing up, and I think they are—it makes me wish I had read them at the age of Betsy and Tacy, because reading them now just means I relate to Betsy’s older sister more than anyone else. (“I’m off to see the great world!”) I loved these books, I definitely recommend them to any girl in high school, even if you’re a senior, they’re honestly good for the soul.

I’m currently reading a couple books right now (check my Goodreads widget in the sidebar), and I hope to have them all finished by the end of February. I have two flights in the next week, so that should give me plenty of reading time.

Thanks for reading, and best wishes!
Hero

Some 2014 Blogging Goals

Howdy, howdy, guys! So, the fact of the matter is that while active this blog may once again be, regular it is not. To try and amend this, and to push myself to do new things and take blogging more seriously this year, I’ve come up with some blogging goals this year. These goals are hopefully not only going to improve the quality of this blog (I’ve been dumping a lot of filler on y’all recently, for which I apologize), but also—hopefully—the quality of my life in general. The things I’m challenging myself to write about and do will get me moving on things I’ve always wanted to do but never gotten around to; you guys are here to hold me accountable.

First Blogging Goal: Blog Regularly

From now on, posts should be up regularly on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays (if possible—some Sundays I’m just completely swamped). That should at be at least two posts a week, and you are more than welcome to hassle me about it if I’m late or don’t live up to that.

Second Blogging Goal: Start Some Series

Is that the plural of series? I think so. ‘Serieses’ seems very off. (Future English major over here, watch out.) Anyway, I have a couple of ideas for some post series, and I’d like to start them this month or next and continue them over the year.

Monthly Resolutions. I already do these sometimes, but I’d like to make them a regular thing. They help me build good habits and just in general do better stuff. (Descriptive today, aren’t I.) Basically, I’ve been feeling in need of making changes in my life, and these resolution posts help me do that in small steps.

I Do Go Outside, I Promise. Almost like thoughts from places posts, in a way. Basically, to challenge me to go out and do interesting things and then tell you guys about it. Mostly so people quit thinking I never go outside, which is only, like… vaguely true. *coughs* No, but seriously, I do some fun stuff and I want to talk about it, because I think it’s good to be introspective and thoughtful about normal goings-on. 

My Shelf & My Stand. Basically the general idea for this one is a lazy-man post where I just throw up one of the pieces I’m currently playing in music (therefore attempting to broaden the classical music awareness of all 68 of my followers) and some thoughts on what I’m currently reading. However, I think I’m going to sort of smear ‘my stand’ and expand it to include things that I am not playing on my cello—maybe I’ll change the title to My Shelf, My Stand, & My Spotify. I don’t know. Thoughts? I just keep discovering new music that I love and some of it is ultra-popular and some of it isn’t and sometimes I like to pretend you guys care enough to listen to me go on tangents about stuff I enjoy, regardless. Anyway.

Ordinary Heroisms. This is almost a subset of the monthly resolutions but you know, upon further reflection, not really. Ordinary Heroisms is just going to be a list of things I did over the week that I’m proud of myself for doing. It could be anything from taking a bike ride to cooking dinner to reading instead of sitting on youtube for an hour to acing a Latin quiz (ha, that’ll be the day). The objective is to remind me of all the good things I do and challenge me to do more (so I don’t have constant crises about how I’m lazy and terrible and all that jazz). I want to turn it into a link-up type of post, so those of you with blogs can share your Ordinary Heroisms of the week, or just put them in the comments if you’re personally blogless 🙂

Third Blogging Goal: Write Book Reviews. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but last year I kept up pretty regular updates on my book challenge over on the page specifically dedicated to it. One of my goals this year is to review every book I read, and if they’re of a good length, I will be posting them on the blog. (Even if they’re short, they’ll still go up on the blog, just over on the 40 Books Challenge page.) I even have one up right now—I bet you didn’t know that! Anyway, in summary, I’ll be reviewing every book of the year, and it will either come up here on the main blog feed, or I will update you guys as to when I have a short little review just on the challenge specific page.

Fourth Blogging Goal: Making Dinner Posts? This probably should have gone under my series goal, but there’s a little more explanation to it that I’d like to get into. So, as I get older, I get busier and more and more absent-minded. I find that I’m less conscious of what I’m putting into my body (well, I always have been, but in a junk food sort of way)—or of eating at all. More often than not I forget to have regular meals, and when I do have something to eat, it’s usually pretty bad for me. Since the summer of 2013, I have lost nine pounds out of sheer neglect of nutrition. That’s really scary to me. So one of my goals for the New Year (and yes, it’s an overused goal, but in my case it’s very serious to keep up) is to really pay attention to my health: exercising, going to bed earlier, and eating regularly and well. To motivate myself to do this, I’m going to try and cook dinner at least one a week, and sometimes make sort of a bonus post out of it. Now, like I said, the objective of this is to give me a reason to make dinner even if I don’t feel like I want to. However, if photographing the process and making posts about dinner slow me down or make it a pain to cook (i.e. discourage me from doing it), I probably won’t continue the posts. It’s basically just a trial run for now, to inspire me to make things I want to show off (healthy, yummy things), and maybe to inspire y’all as well, since I think we could all do to eat a little better. 

Well, that’s it for me tonight. I’m off to go hang out with my family and read a little F. Scott Fitzgerald. See you Sunday!

Best wishes,
Hero

I Am Allowed to Dislike Books

The year is almost over and I am one book away from having read forty this year—and I think I’m going to make it. I was thinking back over my books of 2013, because one of my friends said it was funny that according to my goodreads profile, I’ve never read a book I didn’t like. (This isn’t true, of course, I’ve read plenty of books I hated—one particularly stands out to me: it was basically this retelling of Dick Whittington and his cat, interspersed with random bits about a boy who couldn’t read. I can’t remember the title, but I think it won a Newberry. Ten year old me was less than impressed.) (Ooh, found it. Thanks, Google.)

Thinking it over, it’s true—I haven’t rated any book less than 3 stars all year, even though there were a few I honestly didn’t like. The most recent of these was Emma, by Jane Austen. I really didn’t enjoy it at all, but after I finished it, I struggled to find merit so I could rate it more highly. It’s a Jane Austen novel—and I love Austen! But I didn’t love this. All the characters were annoying—but it had a good message! Sort of? I disliked it, but I couldn’t admit it to myself, so I marked it three stars and tried to explain all the good things about the book whenever I was asked instead of just admitting I didn’t like it.

All of this reminds me of this video I watched last night.

Carrie says something about not getting out of the book what the author put in. It really stuck with me, because why am I unable to say that I dislike a book? Is it because I know how hard the author worked and am desperate to find merit? Is it because it’s supposed to be a good book?

I realized that just because I dislike a book doesn’t mean it’s not good or that the author isn’t a good writer. Literature is so subjective, and what does my opinion matter to anyone? And generally I dislike books not because of the writing, but just because that particular book didn’t speak to me. (Though sometimes it’s because of the writing, let’s be honest.)

In the spirit of being honest, I’m not going to be afraid to say I dislike a book any more. I went through and gave two stars to the books of this year I didn’t like. I’m resetting my 50 Books Challenge page to prepare for next year (though forty is my 2014 goal), and I’m going to tell the truth of what I thought of a book. I’m going to allow myself to dislike books, knowing full well that I much more frequently fall desperately in love with them, so I shouldn’t worry anyway.

Are y’all doing a reading challenge next year? If so, what’s your goal? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

Best wishes,
Hero

Football, Fitzgerald, & Superiority

I did something new today. Today, on September 21st, I actually paid attention to and cared about a football match.

Note that by football, I don’t mean football…

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…but football.

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Liverpool played Southampton (and lost, annoyingly), and I had the BBC sports page up on my computer and the app running on my iPod and I actually paid attention and I followed the game and I found that I actually cared about it. This is weird for me, because I’m literally the least athletic person of all time and have never been able to pay attention to matches and games and competitions… I swam competitively for three years and while I enjoyed swimming itself, I could never really get into the competition and watching other people swim is, let’s be honest, one of the most boring things of all time. I couldn’t really understand the appeal to watching a bunch of grown sweaty men run all over a field; and I still can’t explain it besides to say that it was actually sort of fun to force myself to care.

I wouldn’t have put myself into the disposition to care if it hadn’t been for a friend of mine talking about the match, but I found that once I put myself into the mindset of “I’m going to pay attention and care” instead of “ugh, sports are idiotic and lowbrow”, I actually enjoyed myself. It made me start thinking about how lately I’ve been developing sort of a superiority complex, and how maybe the reason I’ve been grumpier and enjoying things less is because I’ve been in the predisposition to not enjoy them.

I haven’t read any random Young Adult books for a while because I’m finding classic literature more worthwhile; which is fine in and of itself that I prefer a certain type of literature—the problem arises when I start thinking YA is poorly written and inferior because it’s not “classic literature”. I mean, there’s a lot of YA section trash these days, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still good YA literature. Sure, it’s not Dickens or Brontë or F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it’s still well written and still fun to read. (Look at The Fault in Our Stars, for instance.) I feel like sometimes I get so hung up on the classics that I forget that they were popular novels in their day, and that dismissing popular novels for being popular makes me some sort of ridiculous hipster and makes it so I can’t enjoy them.

I find myself being dismissive of music in Mass because it’s not Gregorian chant/in Latin/written by St. Thomas Aquinas—so I don’t sing it! The stupidity of this dawned on me when I saw an obviously very traditional family (chapel veils, the whole nine yards) sitting in front of me, singing along to the happy-go-lucky, hippy-Catholic music that irked me so much. I realized that just because I’m slanted traditionally doesn’t mean other things are inferior, and that Jesus would much prefer it if I actually sang to Him instead of judging everyone else to be lesser for singing music I didn’t like. I do the same thing with pop music, too. Okay, Miley Cyrus is really gross right now, and there can be/is a lot of garbage in popular music; but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with enjoying it! I’m not say that objectively Beethoven or Bach isn’t better than One Direction (because it definitely is), I’m saying that it’s wrong of me to judge others on a personal preference. Why can’t I just let go and have fun when ‘Call Me Maybe’ comes on the radio, even though I know I enjoy myself if I sing along and dance like an idiot? Because I’m embarrassed that I know the words, I know it’s “bad music”, so I make myself uptight and rigid and end up being cranky and not having any fun, and getting irritated with my friends for “actually liking this stuff.”

I recently finished This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the main character, Amory, always sees his relationships like a mirror: he loves people who are like him. He sees himself in other people, and that’s what he loves about them. While it’s great to have friends with similar interests, that is not what friendship or love is. I don’t want to become like Amory. I don’t want to be unable to be friends with people who think philosophy is dumb or reject people on the basis of the fact that they can’t listen to classical music and instead prefer hip-hop.

Maybe that’s why I made myself care about the football match today. To care about something else for the sake of another person… Or maybe to realize that just because something isn’t the highest or most intellectual pursuit, it doesn’t mean it’s worthless or something to dismiss. (The ancient Athenians believed that perfection of the body through sport and gymnastics was just as important as mental perfection, after all. 😉 )

But really what I’m saying is that I need to stop being superior. I need to stop being a snob; being a snob takes the fun out of life and I’ve been experiencing that really concretely recently. I’m proud of myself in that I’m empathetic and try my best to understand people—but when I judge their interests and tastes (or lack of interest in my interests or tastes), I’m dismissing them unfairly… I’m not understanding, I’m not being empathetic: I’m being Amory Blaine, who finally stopped being an egotist, but never stopped being miserable.

Best wishes,
Hero