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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

New Car

I knew replacing my Maxima was going to be a difficult task. Unfortunately it also had to happen quite quickly as I couldn't be without transportation for very long.

Saturday evening, the day of my accident, my brother Andrew and I started the search.

We figured out my requirements, and looked online at nearly every possible option.

During that week, we test drove the top contenders; a total of six cars.

The decision was actually very easy, because the car I settled on was clearly the best of all the cars we looked at, and one of the most affordable.

I got a 2014 Hyundai Sonata hybrid.

My original plan was to buy something two or three years old, but the dealer quickly pointed out that with the amazing sale they had going on that weekend, a brand new car was only $2,000 more than a two year old used car. For that small of a price difference, and with the added warranty I would receive, I decided to buy new.

I drove it off the lot with 15 miles on the odometer!

I'm excited to get to know this new car, but also excited that because of the great warranty, I won't have to pay for any repairs for at least 100,000 miles.

So far I like it a lot. I'm impressed with how quick it can be when I really put my foot down; and when I drive more sensibly, I love that I get over 35 mpg. It appears that I will only have to fill up on fuel about half as much as with my Maxima, so that will be nice.
It also has all the nifty features that I was hoping to find in a replacement vehicle.

I think I did pretty well with this purchase.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Iron Giant


The Iron Giant is one of the most beloved animated films of all time, yet somehow, I never got around to seeing it until recently. I'm glad I finally corrected this oversight, because it was incredible! This is seriously one of the best movies I have ever seen, and it will probably find its way onto my ever-changing top ten list.

I liked the movie so much that I immediately went online to purchase my own copy. I also decided to purchase the book it is based on.

I liked the book. It isn't as good as the movie, but it is still worth reading. It is quite a bit different though, and doesn't have the relationships or themes of the movie. Also the characters aren't really developed at all in the book, which is unfortunate.
The Iron Giant is a rare example of a film that takes a loose idea from a book, and then expands the concept to become even greater and more meaningful. Another great example of this, is Big Fish.

The thing I like best about The Iron Giant is how profound and genuinely moving it is. I'm not even sure I would classify it as a children's film, because its message is so universal.

Here are some of the great lessons it teaches:
-Things die. It's part of life. It's bad to kill, but it isn't bad to die.
-Souls don't die. The soul is in all good things, and it goes on forever.
-You are who you choose to be. Show them that you are good.

The idea that someone, or something, can learn, and grow, and improve upon themselves, is a good story that is well worth telling. But when that growth culminates with the person becoming self-sacrificing for the benefit of others, it becomes one of the most noble stories that can be told.

I absolutely love everything about The Iron Giant, and I'm giving it 5 out of 5 stars.





Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Maxima

On Saturday, September 27, I was in a car accident.

I was driving on the freeway during a heavy rain storm in my 2001 Nissan Maxima.

I hydroplaned and hit the concrete barrier.

While spinning out of control, I had some very specific thoughts.

I wondered if I was about to die.

If I survived, I was scared for how badly I was about to be injured.

When I hit the barrier, my sunglasses fell off, the car rebounded like a bumper car, spun around, and came to rest on the shoulder.

That's it. That's all that happened.

I was incredibly surprised at how mild the impact was. It was very gentle.

When I realized that I was ok and out of harm's way, I was grateful that my car handled the accident so well.

My trusted Maxima did it's job and took the full force of the impact in order to protect me.

I was lucky.



The police officer that stopped to help me said that the car wasn't leaking any fluids, and that the wheels looked undamaged, so I should be fine to drive it home. I was amazed at how well it drove after having its front end bashed in.

Unfortunately, when I took it around for repair estimates, everyone agreed that the frame was extremely damaged, and that it would cost roughly twice the value of the car to repair.

It has been determined as a "total loss".

I'm going to miss driving my Maxima. I know it wasn't the best looking car, but it had great power from its 3.0L V6; and its 5-speed manual transmission made it very quick and responsive.  I like it a lot, and it was very fun to drive.

Unfortunately it is time for the Maxima and I to part ways. It was a good car, and I enjoyed our time together.

Thanks for protecting me!



Here is a link to my post when I first purchased the car. :)

P.S. I'm also grateful for the two people who stopped to see if I was ok, and for the Highway Patrol officer who stopped to help me, and for the officer who ran a slow down procedure so that I could get my car turned around and facing the right direction.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Sighting

Recently I experienced a sighting.

Not an extra terrestrial sighting, or a paranormal sighting, or a Big Foot sighting.

It was an E-Unit sighting.

Years ago (approximately eight,) I dated this girl. We dated for two years.

When we broke up, she moved out of state and I never heard from her again.

It was hard. Really hard.


Several months ago, I was walking through a building.

Suddenly, I was face to face with this girl.

It was a little awkward.

Ok, it was a lot awkward.

I don't remember a lot about the experience, I just remember that I had no idea what to say, and that I was extremely uncomfortable.

I think I asked her how her family was about three times.


Several weeks later I ran into her again.

This time it wasn't quite as awkward.

We actually sat and talked for a while.

I even teased her about an argument we once had, because her views had obviously changed since then.

It was pleasant enough, but strange to be sitting and talking with someone who belonged in a very distant and different time of my life.

Part of me wanted to stay in that nostalgic place.

Eventually we parted ways, and that was the last time I saw her.

It was completely unexpected, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

That is all.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Yeah, I Saw the Movie. I'm Done Now.

Now that the movie of The Fault in Our Stars is out on DVD, I finally got around to seeing it.

I don't know how else to put this...it was horrendously bad. Seriously one of the worst movies I have ever seen. So bad that I may have to revise my bottom ten list to include it.

It's over two hours long, and I wanted to shut it off 12 minutes in. It's a good thing I didn't see it in theaters because I probably would have walked out.

The eye-roll factor was off the charts.

Hazel is just as obnoxious as in the book. Gus is WAY too cheesy and unrealistic, pretty darn creepy at times, and frankly sort of a doofus. He has absolutely none of the charm and charisma that he is supposed to have in the book, and Ansel Elgort isn't even that good looking.  Also, there is absolutely no chemistry between Hazel and Gus. Throughout the entire movie, I desperately wanted the two of them to stop talking.

Isaac, my favorite character in the book, was turned into a pathetic and disgusting creep. (Side note, there sure was a lot of boob-grabbing in this movie. Unnecessary.)

The few parts that I liked about the book were either changed, omitted, or ruined due to the universally terrible acting. I know some of the actors in the film are quite capable, so I'm blaming the poor direction, and terrible source material. Seriously, the direction and pacing was so bad. I looked up the director; I'd never heard of him.  Unsurprisingly, he hasn't done anything of note. This is no exception.

Oh, and it's so clever and original how they gave John Green a cameo, I was totally surprised to see him, and it just seemed so right... (In case you didn't catch it, that whole sentence was dripping with sarcasm.)
When I saw him, I kept expecting to see jump-cuts every two seconds, thankfully, there were none. At least they did that right.

Also, I really loved the addition of the unnecessary, obligatory, PG-13 allowed F-word. Way to keep it classy guys...

The first kiss in the Anne Frank house, followed by everyone clapping...still didn't work. It was just as terrible and awkward as in the book.

I was told that the parents play a larger role in the film, and are better developed. That is complete bull-crap. They were even more irrelevant and forgettable than they were in the book, and most of them came across as creepy.

I was also told that the waiter in Amsterdam steals the show.  Seriously?! He was totally bland and forgettable! He literally only has 10 brief lines (I counted), and frankly the delivery wasn't that good. Most of his ONE MINUTE of screen time (I timed it) was just him standing around in the background. His "speaking role" consisted of exactly 23 seconds of dialog. If that is stealing the show, then some people really  have low expectations.

All of the dialog in the film just further proves what a bad writer John Green is. It all sounds so unnatural and disingenuous.

I'm glad that they left out the embarrassingly bad final line from the book. The closing line they did go with was better, but still pretty bad. At least it was fitting.

The voice-over narration doesn't work and seemed really out of place and intrusive. The emails and text messages superimposed on the screen seemed odd and inconsistent with the rest of the film's style (if you can call it that.)

What was bad about the book is still bad in the movie. What was good about the book was totally absent.
Overall, the movie was just an awkward mess. Full of nonsense and garbage. I felt absolutely nothing for any of the characters.

I'm officially declaring myself done with this ridiculous story. I can't wait for it to be forgotten and fade into oblivion where it belongs.

Oh yeah...The Fault in Our Stars gets zero stars, obviously.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Top Ten: Most Influential Books

So this chain post has been going around Facebook again. List the ten books that have had the greatest influence on you, and then tag a bunch of people.
I saw these lists going around months ago, so I sat down and created one, hoping I would get tagged...but I didn't. So it sat there on my phone, waiting. I actually intended to blog about it way back then as an alternative to posting it on Facebook...but I forgot.  To be honest, I've been struggling with blogging since I am on a computer all day at work, and the last thing I want to do when I get home is get on the computer again. (Don't tell anyone, but most of the blogging I've done lately has been during down time at work.)  Anyway, someone finally tagged me in one of these posts, so at last I was able to share my list.  It reminded me that I wanted to do a blog post about it too.

So here is the list of the ten (non-religious) books that have had the greatest impact on me personally:

10. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
9. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Jean-Dominique Bauby)
8. The Hiding Place (Corrie ten Boom)
7. The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)-
6. 1984 (George Orwell)
5. How To Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
4. Marley and Me (John Grogan)
3. Anthem (Ayn Rand)
2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)-

I have made each book title above a link to my own review, so you can see more details about why I liked each one. There are a few that I haven't written full reviews about, but I created a similar list four years ago where I gave brief explanations for why I loved each book. You can read it here. It is interesting to see how the list has changed between now and then.

The only books on my new list that aren't covered in any reviews, or my old list, are 1984, and How to Win Friends and Influence People.

1984 has had a huge impact on me because it opened my eyes to a lot of scary things that actually go on in the world. It is how I learned of the term "Orwellian" now used to describe situations relating to public surveillance, censorship, and dictatorships. It made me aware of the idea of "newspeak", which we can actually see happening all around us. I'm not sure I've ever read a more prophetic novel, and that is pretty frightening. The world of 1984 is slowly converging with our own, and people need to know about these things.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the greatest helps I have found in my quest to overcome my natural shyness.  Dale Carnegie knew what he was talking about, and somehow figured out all the tricks to be likeable and charismatic, and generally successful in life. I'm glad he so willingly passed this knowledge on to the rest of us. I admit that so far in my life I have only applied a few of his suggestions, but it has had a huge impact on my life. I need to read/study this book again, and evaluate what I can work on next.

There you go! I hope you like my new list. :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

TFIOS Redux

Ok, I successfully finished reading The Fault in Our Stars for the second time.
I'll just go ahead and directly answer the big question: did I like it better the second time?
Short answer: Yes, I did; but only slightly.

I've included pretty much all of my opinions about this book, so this is going to be a pretty long and boring post, so only keep reading if you really care what I think.

My Rating

While reading the book, I tried to focus on the positive by making notes on what I liked about the book, but I was also honest in evaluating how I felt about each chapter. My evaluations resulted in a "liked", "neutral", or "didn't like" verdict for each chapter. Honestly the results kind of surprised me. Out of 25 chapters, I "liked" 11 of them, was neutral about 10, and didn't like 4.
The way I am figuring this, a liked chapter is a point, a not liked chapter is a negative point, and a neutral chapter is no point. So for me the book scores 7/25, or 28%. Adjusted to my usual 5 star rating system, that would put this at 1.4 stars, but I'll round up to 1.5 stars out of 5.
I think this new rating seems reasonable to me. Overall I would say that I didn't like the book, but this time around I didn't hate it, it just produced a kind of "meh" feeling.

(If you choose to be more generous than I am, and evaluate the book in such a way that it is not possible to go negative, where a liked chapter counts for 1 point, a neutral chapter counts for half a point, and a not liked chapter is simply 0 points, then that would result in a 16/25 score, or a 64%, or 3.2 stars out of 5. Personally I feel this is too generous and does not reflect my overall feeling towards the book.)

General Thoughts and Impressions

I really like Isaac, the support group friend with eye cancer. He was by far my favorite character. All of his dialog was really funny, and I enjoyed it whenever he was around. I realized very early that I pretty much hated it whenever Hazel and Augustus were having their own moments, but I loved it when they were each interacting with Isaac.

I also really liked both sets of parents in the book. It is a shame that they had such small roles, and weren't developed much at all, because they had some of the most genuine and moving moments in the whole story. I'm really disappointed that John Green made their parts so minimal.

The first time I read the story I didn't like Augustus. This time I liked him slightly more. Even though he has some dumb speeches, and makes a lot of obvious and pretentious observations about the world, he is still an okay guy. Yeah, I liked him this time around.

I still can't stand Hazel. She is a boring, selfish, judgmental, obnoxious teenage brat with virtually no interests or hobbies, who encourages the false expectation that girls need a boyfriend to be happy.  I wondered if she was only timid and reclusive because of her cancer, and questioned if cancer changes people. The book sort of answers this question when it talks about how grief doesn't change you, it just reveals character.  If you believe that this statement is true, then Hazel is just a terrible boring character, with or without the cancer.I don't like her one bit.

One of the best, and most genuine parts in the book, is where Augustus explains his relationship with Caroline, his previous girlfriend who died. This is one of the few times when the book actually feels honest. I really liked this part, but I couldn't help thinking that the story of Gus and Caroline is far more interesting (and far more realistic) than the story of Gus and Hazel.

I feel like the whole cigarette metaphor is really lame, and way too prevalent throughout the story. I understand that teenagers do dumb things that they think makes them deeply intellectual and philosophical, but this was too much. They kept explaining the metaphor over and over again, because nobody in the story gets it! Frankly, nobody gets it because it is a stupid metaphor that is ultimately meaningless.  Had John Green mentioned it one time, and then only had Gus put a cigarette in his mouth whenever Hazel was around, that would have been better.  That way, they wouldn't have to keep explaining it to everyone, and the idea would have been much better; almost like a private understanding between the two of them.  Or he could have just left it out entirely, that would have been fine too.

Unfortunately I really don't like the ending of the book. It feels too abrupt and cheesy to be satisfying.

Specific Things I Liked

I like the way John Green involves his fans through his YouTube channel. It really does feel like a unique community, and I can see why people would want to be a part of it.

I like how he jokes about his own books being pretentious. I'm not sure if him admitting that his books are pretentious makes me like TFIOS more, or less, but it does make me like John Green more.

I like a lot of the generally witty dialog throughout the book. Some of the life observations are clever too.

I like the line about depression being a side effect of dying. This rang true to me for some reason.

I like when it talks about questions they ask each other to covertly find out how sick they are, like if they are in school or not.

I like that Gus asks Hazel about HER story, not her cancer story.

Page 33 has a great description of the love of books.

I thought the exchange about Disney World on page 80 was quite funny.

In chapter 6 when she wakes up in pain, I felt genuine alarm. I suppose this means that this part of the story was effective.

When they talk about her not being a strong lung transplant candidate, I thought it was just the slightest, teeniest bit moving. I'm not talking tears here, I'm talking a slight fall in the countenance.

Even though much of the writing is awkward and amateurish, every once in a while he does come up with a pretty good line. The line about falling in love like you fall asleep, slowly, and then all at once, is quite lovely.

I laughed when Hazel called someone the world's douchiest douche. I might use that line someday.

I liked the line on pg 187, "If only my memory would compromise". This line felt full of deeper meaning.

I think my favorite chapter in the book is chapter 18, where Gus is sick in his car and calls Hazel for help. This was the first chapter that felt genuinely sad, and was actually somewhat moving. It's unfortunate though because it seems like this gem of a chapter was wasted. Had the rest of the book felt more genuine, and had the characters been developed better, and more likable, this could have been a truly heart-breaking chapter. Still good though. It really shows John Green's future potential.

I really like the moment between Hazel and Gus's dad at the end of chapter 19.

At the beginning of chapter 21, I'll admit that I felt the briefest wave of emotion. Not because of Hazel and Gus, but because of Hazel's parents. That is some powerful imagery, even though the moment is very brief. I also liked the moment between Hazel and her mom at the end of this chapter.

I also liked Hazel's dad at the end of chapter 22.

I like the realization about Peter VanHouton's background in chapter 23.

Hazel's parent's really shine in chapter 24.

There, I've been honest about what I liked, and what I found moving about the book. It was minimal, but there were some good things in the story.

In case you think I am a heartless person who is incapable of getting emotional while reading, here is a list of books that have made me cry actual tears, either out of joy, or sorrow:
-Marley and Me
-The Hiding Place
-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
-To Kill a Mockingbird

Not a long list, I admit, but it is a list nonetheless.

Remaining Concerns

Much of the writing is quite poor. For example, there were quite a lot of sentences and paragraphs that just didn't make any sense to me. I would read them over and over again trying to make sense of what was being said, but they just seemed incoherent.  Maybe the editor is to blame, I don't know, but it happened frequently enough that it was bothersome. It also seemed to increase in frequency towards the end of the book. Also, during much of the dialog it was difficult to identify who was speaking. Sometimes large portions of text would not be in quotations, but then a character would respond as if it was spoken dialog. I'm not sure what was going on here, but it caught me off-guard several times.

I'm legitimately surprised at how popular this book is among teens and adults with strong religious beliefs. Personally, I would never recommend this book to ANYONE purely because of the amount of profanity, and the glamorization of underage drinking, and teenage sexuality. If I were a parent, I know I wouldn't want my teens reading books like this. I actually think that its questionable content partially negates any positive impact the story might have. I'm not familiar enough with YA Lit to know if this kind of content is common, but it sure wasn't in the kinds of books I was reading as a teenager.

Here is my big hang-up with this whole John Green/TFIOS phenomenon. It feels manufactured.
The first few pages of chapter four consist entirely of Hazel (who has cancer) expressing her feelings about An Imperial Affliction, a fictitious book about a girl with cancer. She talks about her evangelical zeal for the book, and how it isn't a "cancer book" because cancer books suck, and then gives several reasons why it shouldn't be considered a "cancer book". She talks about how she worries that Gus will dismiss it for being too pretentious. She even abbreviates the title AIA in the same way that John Green's fans abbreviate his book titles. She is basically a fan girl gushing over her obsession.
If you read chapter four and are aware of the "Nerdfighter" fanclub John Green created for himself, you see many parallels between what Hazel says about AIA, and what real people are saying about TFIOS.  This gives me the distinct feeling that John Green is reinforcing his own fan culture though his book, and that he is instructing his readers on how they are supposed to respond to the story in TFIOS.
Basically he writes a book about a girl with cancer, who is obsessed with a book about a girl with cancer, in the same way that his readers are obsessed with his book about a girl with cancer.  Unsurprisingly, his readers are reacting to his book about a girl with cancer in the same way that his fictitious character reacts to her fictitious book about a girl with cancer. Confused? Is this coincidence...or manipulation?
What makes the most sense to me is that TFIOS was specifically manufactured with his Nerdfighter fan club demographic in mind. Hazel and Gus are Nerdfighters personified, AIA deliberately parallels TFIOS, and John Green is telling his readers exactly what they are supposed to think and feel about his book by having Hazel tell you what she thinks and feels about AIA. Very clever.
John Green is a smart and likable guy, and is obviously aware of his reader demographic.  He established his own online fanclub community targeted specifically to this demographic, and uses his fanclub to promote his own work. While writing his new book he constantly teased his followers with little bits of information, and invited their involvement and feedback.  By specifically marketing his new book to his fanclub, once it went on sale, he just had to sit back and watch as it instantly became a bestseller. It's either genius marketing, or scary manipulative cult tactics. Either way, it makes me wary.
By the way, I'm not the first to realize this. There are numerous articles written about this phenomena.

In Closing
Even though I liked the book better this second time around, I didn't like it enough to validate everyone's obsession with it. I feel like the story had real potential, but fell flat due to generally poor writing, and inadequately developed characters.
I still seriously question the taste, and intelligence, of anyone who is calling this one of the best books they have ever read, or giving it in excess of three stars. These people really need to get out more, and spend some time reading better books.

My last task in this exercise is to see the film, and see if it changes my mind at all.
Honestly, I'm fully expecting to like the movie better than the book, because I've heard that the characters are more likable, and that the parents are better developed. By fixing two of my biggest complaints about the book, the movie might actually succeed.

*Note: I abbreviate The Fault in Our Stars as TFIOS not because I am a fan, but simply because I am too lazy to write out the full title every other sentence.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Top Ten Beard Problems

In case you weren't aware. I've had a full beard for almost eight months now. I really like how it looks, but I'm not a huge fan of all the required beard maintenance. Grooming this thing is like trying to prune one of those little bonsai trees. I'm constantly trying to eliminate stray hairs, and keep everything even.  Over the course of my beard experience I've compiled a list of common beard problems.
Here it is, for your enjoyment:

1. The aforementioned continual grooming requirements.
2. When eating, if you get any kind of food liquid in the beard (soup is the worst), you will be smelling it all day. This might not sound so bad, if what you were eating was pretty delicious smelling, but pretty soon it takes on a smell generically reminiscent of vomit.  Often I have to wash my beard with soap and water after eating.
3. Blowing your nose is a problem. Usually have to wash the beard out after this as well.
4. Brushing your teeth is messier. Again, need to rinse the beard.
5. Speaking of rinsing the beard, they really retain water, so if you don't thoroughly dry it after a rinse, it will drip water on your shirt. Also, when dressing in the morning, if my beard is still a little damp, it leaves streaks of water on my shirt when I pull it over my head.
6. If you go out in the cold with a damp beard, your face will freeze.
7. Beard hairs get everywhere! You wipe your mouth on your napkin, and then you look down and see a few beard hairs sprinkled on your plate and food. You scratch your face, and then you find beard hairs on you shirt and desk. It's pretty gross.
8. If you are wearing a collared shirt, and you turn your head, sometimes the little beard hairs will grab your collar. This hurts. It is more common after freshly trimming the beard, which is frequent.
9. Every once in a while you get a stray mustache hair that curls up and tickles your nose. This is enough to make you want to grab the nearest pair of scissors and cut the whole thing off!
10. Lastly, most beards are pretty scratchy, and can be unpleasant when getting close to someone, like while kissing for example.

There you have it! If you ever decide to grow a beard, now you will have a heads-up on some of the issues you may encounter.


TFIOS

I've become minorly obsessed with a book, but in a strange way.
The book is The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.
This book was originally recommended to me by my brother, who loved the book.
I read it eagerly, fully expecting to also love it. We usually agree on these things.
Unfortunately, I didn't. I hated it...with a passion.
In my Goodreads review I called it "the worst novel I have ever read".
So why have I become so obsessed with it?
Well, because practically everyone else on the planet absolutely loves this book, and I am genuinely confused about how my experience can be so vastly different from the masses.
When things like this generally happen, I assume that people are stupid and have bad taste. That usually holds true with most popular movies that get scathing reviews from critics, but then are loved by the general public.
The problem is that this book is loved by people who I already know to generally have good taste. Thus my confusion.
The book has been a #1 best seller for quite some time now, and has an average 5 star rating on Amazon, with over 20,000 reviews.
I gave it 1 star.
If Goodreads had allowed it, I would have given it half a star. Maybe even no stars.
I've been sincerely trying to figure out why everyone loves this book so much, but so far no one has provided any kind of perspective that has shed any light on the issue. All I'm hearing is people saying that this is the best book they have ever read, or that it is the best book they have read it years. They talk about how beautiful it is, and how it made them cry. They talk about how much they love the characters and the dialog, and how relatable it was. I didn't get any of that...

(If you love this book and chose to read further, buckle up, because I'm going to get into my criticisms. But if you stick it out to the end, hopefully you will understand what I am trying to do.)

Here is a brief summary of my complaints:
-Amateur writing. (I felt like I was reading the poorly-developed philosophical musings of a blogger.)
-Unrealistic, overly-mature teenage characters. (I've never met teenagers who act, or talk, like that.)
-Inconsistent literary style and grammar. (He switches dialog methods seemingly at random, and uses a lot of trendy blog-style grammar.)
-Non-stop pretentious philosophizing from the main characters. (Obvious observations about life, but when you throw an existential twist on them, suddenly they are supposed to be profound.)
-Boring, repetitive, incredibly predictable and formulaic. (I kept notes on my thoughts while reading it, and I specifically predicted several major events.)
-Generally cheesy and overly-sentimental. (This made the book feel unauthentic to me, and had a distinct romance novel feel, which, let's be honest, is not great literature.)
-Cancer kids AND the holocaust worked into the same book? Talk about over-playing your emotional hand.

Literary qualms aside, the thing that ruined this book for me was how unauthentic and insincere it felt. The main characters were so thin and unbelievable, that it prevented me from forming any kind of emotional connection. Basically, I just didn't care about the characters or the story, and I couldn't wait for the it to be over.
I had a friend in high school who died of cancer just a few months after graduation, and I feel like the approach John Green takes just doesn't translate to real life. It's just emotional fantasy.

My best working theory so far is that there are two types of people when it comes to media. Those who experience things intellectually, and those who experience things emotionally. I don't think anyone is solidly in one camp or the other, everyone is mixed; but I think our acceptance of a work is primarily based on our initial reaction from whichever side we favor. For me, if something doesn't work on an intellectual level, I won't be able to form an emotional connection. For others, it seems that the intellectual aspects are validated because of the emotional response the novel generates in them.

Here are a few discussion points I've heard from people since reading the book. First, my literary qualms. Ok, so this book is written in first person perspective, and it isn't made clear if the book is supposed to be Hazel's own writings, or just her internal narration. I can see how if this were her writing, a teenager, some of the strange dialog and grammar choices might makes sense. I still don't like it, but it would at least be fitting of the context of an amateur teenage writer.
Also, many people are saying that I can't complain about the grammar because grammar is more of an art than a science, and grammar is used artistically to convey the meaning of the story. I fundamentally disagree with this statement. Writing is an art, and grammar is a tool of the art. I believe that anything you can express through writing, can be expressed using proper grammar. If you start using certain punctuation marks in ways that they were not intended, it becomes confusing, and will not endure, especially as the societal understanding of that grammar fad shifts. Furthermore, how can you ever critique, or correct, or edit a work when the spelling, style, and grammar are vapid? Yes, I know of great works of literature that are great because of words they invent, or ways they play with language and grammar, but I believe that those exceptions are rare, and self-evident, and I don't think there is anything about TFIOS that proves that it is better with unconventional grammar.
Next, the unrealistic characters. I have been informed that it is just John Green's style to have overly-mature quirky teenage characters. Ok, fine. I don't like it, it doesn't work for me, but that's his thing, so if you can relate, good for you.
I will say that even though I think John Green is a terrible writer, I like him as a person. When I first read TFIOS, I had never seen, or heard, anything else he had done. Since then I have become aware of his popular YouTube channel. Generally, I like him. I like his style, I like his personality, and I like the content he presents. I have nothing against John Green, but as an outsider looking in, it is obvious to me that the majority of his success comes from the cult-like following he has gained. His self-named nerd fighters obsessively absorb every word that comes out of his mouth, and immediately agree with everything he says or does. To them, John Green can do no wrong. Instead of thinking about things for themselves, they wonder what John Green thinks about something, watch one of his videos, and immediately adopt his opinions as their own. He has basically set himself up as the figurehead for every lonely, awkward, social outcast. He's made it cool to be uncool. This seems to be the primary reason why an otherwise mediocre writer would be catapulted to the status of bestselling author. It's basically the same as Twilight hysteria, but for nerds. I have no problem with John Green, but I do have a problem with the hundreds of thousands of obsessive followers. There is something wrong there.
Lastly, I understand that John Green's writing of TFIOS was influenced by his time as a student chaplain at a children's hospital, and from his interactions with a real girl who had cancer, named Esther Earl. While I admire and respect any effort to memorialize this girl's experience, that doesn't mean that the resulting product is worthy of the same respect. Basically, Esther Earl's story is touching and inspiring; John Green's resulting novel is not; at least not for me. I feel like he would have been better off actually writing the story of Esther Earl rather than a teenage romance novel with terminally ill cancer patients.

Ok, if you've made it this far, good job. Hopefully you don't hate me because I hate  your favorite book.
So why am I writing all of this? Like I said, I've sort of become obsessed with figuring out why people like this book. In an attempt to understand the appeal of the book, I've decided to read it for a second time. This time, before reading it, I am going to educate myself with all of the material I can find on Esther Earl, and John Green's experiences that led up to this book. I am also going to take notes while reading, but this time I am going to focus on things I like about the book. I am also going to temporarily adopt, for the purposes of this experiment, the idea that an author of YA lit can take liberties with language that I otherwise disagree with. Basically I'm trying to be more open minded about TFIOS and see where that gets me. I'll still be honest about my impressions of the book though. I'm even using my favorite book mark, as a token of good will, so to speak.
After I read the book for the second time, I am going to see the movie which was just released, which is getting extremely positive reviews.
After I do all that. I'll write a new review and see how my impressions have changed.

So that's my plan. Wish me luck.


Friday, February 14, 2014

V-Day Irony

Ok, here's a short but funny story for Valentine's Day:

So that pretty girl I met back in October and was hoping to get to know better...
The one that I requested as a friend on Facebook four months ago...
She FINALLY accepted my request today!
Yay!

Just in time for me to congratulate her on her recent engagement...

Yay!

(That last one was sarcastic.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Development of Confidence

The other day I was talking to a friend, and she gave me a pretty great compliment. I felt like I should record it here.

B and I were sitting in my car after a run to the store, and out of the blue she started telling me about a conversation she had with her roommate M at a recent activity.

She said:
M and I were sitting up on the stand and were watching as you went around talking to people.
We were like, Oh look Robby's talking to a girl...oh look, Robby's talking to another girl...oh look, now he's talking to another girl...
We talked about how you are really confident and have no problem walking up and talking to anyone.
We also agreed that you are a really good looking guy, and will probably find someone really pretty to marry.

I was really touched by her compliments, and I thanked her for her kind words.
Then I let her in on a little secret.

The truth is, the confidence she talked about...it's totally fake.
I'm actually extremely shy and introverted.
I always have been.

For over five years now, I have been living by the "fake it 'till you make it" philosophy.
Basically I have been forcing myself to be social and talk to people, even when I don't want to, even when I'm not feeling confident or sure of myself.
Even if I am scared to death, I make a conscious effort to appear calm and relaxed, and be animated in my interactions.
It doesn't always go well, my efforts are not always well received, sometimes things get awkward, but I'm learning and growing, and you know what?...Talking to people actually is easier now than it was a few years ago.
In a lot of ways what she said is true. I now have no problem going up and talking to just about anyone. I might not be totally comfortable about the idea, but I know I can do it.

This all started when I was in college and was feeling frustrated that I couldn't talk to girls that I found attractive.
One day, in an unrelated conversation, a friend of mine told me that she had noticed that confident guys usually stand square and tall, with their legs spread apart and firmly planted. When she told me this, I noticed how I was standing...kind of slouched, with my hands in my pockets, leaning heavily on one leg, with my other leg relaxed and at a casual angle.

This started a process of observation and self-analysis, where I started to mimic other things I saw confident guys doing.
I'm not an expert, and I never took notes, so I probably couldn't make a list, but I watched and I learned.

Sometimes I would hear about an event or party that I really didn't want to go to, where I knew that I wouldn't know anyone, and knew that I would feel extremely self-conscious and awkward, and I would just decided to go, not worry about anything, and call it practice. I didn't try to get any phone numbers or dates, there was no expectations or pressure, my only goal was to talk to people and practice appearing confident.

Early on I would spend a lot of time walking through crowds pretending like I had someplace I had to get to. Often I would keep pretending to drink out of a plastic cup that had long since run dry, just because I felt better having something to do with my hands and mouth while standing with a group of conversing people.

This is still a work in progress for me, but B's compliments showed me that I am slowly becoming the person I wished I could be all those years ago...and other people are noticing.

One of the interesting applications for this process is in the workplace.  I find the men who seem to have the most influence, and I watch what they do, making mental notes of body language, speech, and general behavior.
I think that this sort of thing is a really good method for personal growth. Find the top dogs and do what they do. If it works for them, maybe it can work for me too.