Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott

At first I thought I had made a mistake listening to Little Women on audio book (published by AudioGo) rather than reading it, but now I am glad I went ahead with listening to the book rather than reading a physical copy. I am not sure I would have made it past the first handful of chapters. By the end of the book, which I have come to realize is only the first volume originally published in 1868, I finally felt an attachment to the characters. The Good Wives, the second volume (1869) and not titled by Alcott, wasn’t included in this edition even though they have traditionally been combined since 1880. I am disappointed in the lack of volume 2 because I was finally starting to like the characters and, like others who demanded more, wanted to know what would happen to our protagonists. Therefore, I hope to read the second half of the story eventually. I will continue to write this ramble, and count it as my reading, because the novel is Alcott’s completed book before she was encouraged to write more about the sisters.

The story follows the four March sisters: Margaret (Meg), Josephine (Jo), Elizabeth (Beth), and Amy. It takes place over a year from Christmas to Christmas. The girls’ father is out helping with the Civil War and their Mom is at home raising them. I selected this book for the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge for a character with the same name as me, Amy. Amy is an artist and strong-willed. I liked that about her. However, she was also a brat and burned another character’s collection of writings out of vengeance. I did not like that. I mostly found her whiny and annoying, which disappointed me as we share the same name. I hope she improves as she ages in volume 2!

I will praise this book for two major themes: 1. Girls can be independent and 2. The love of family is strong. Their Mom, Marmee, encourages the girls to be confident, marry for love and not for money (if they even want to be married at all), and be self-reliant. For a book written in the 1860s, I am so glad Little Women became a phenomenon. How many young ladies have been influenced by these characters to go out and achieve their dreams? The love of family, blood related or not, is also a major theme I liked. The March sisters, while very sheltered, are deeply loved. Their Mom never fails to care for them, regardless of their transgressions, and regularly encourages the young ladies to be good and moral citizens. Marmee’s unconditional love is what we all hope for in a mother. Humans simply want to be loved and trust that our families will be there to have our back in all of our choices in life. I am extremely blessed with a Mom and Dad who encourage me in every opportunity that I pursue. I can relate to the March sisters in that regard. If anything has held me back, it has been my own lack of confidence. I understand others may not have been as lucky and I hope they found other family or friends to surround them.

While I related to the characters toward the end, I had such a hard time connecting with them at the beginning. The Mom and girls were too perfect, regularly referencing The Pilgrim’s Progress, and doing this or that in the most Christian and upright way. The novel felt overly preachy, like a run-on sermon. It did not help that the voice actress was doing different voices for each character, which made all the girls sound like spoiled brats, yet “perfect little angels.” Not sure how that works, but it is how I feel. The changing voices annoyed me. Another complaint I have is that, despite some character development, nothing much seemed to happen over the course of the year until two family members fell sick. My favorite scenes tended to be when Jo read the newspaper or they would put on “performances.” It reminded me of the playtime scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird or The Bridge to Terabithia. I really enjoyed those scenes!

In reflection, this coming of age novel was actually fun even if it won’t ever make my top 5 favorite novels. When listening to the last handful of chapters, I realized I actually cared what happened to these young ladies. I wondered if Meg would agree to marry, if Jo would continue to write, if Beth would sing and play the piano professionally, or if Amy would continue to improve her art skills. After reading a summary of the second volume’s plot, I am actually quite excited about Amy’s portion of the story and look forward to reading how that will play out in Alcott’s own words.

Rocket

Rocket Comic

Cover of Rocket, Issue 1 (2017)

After going to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 this week, I was inspired to check out the new solo series of Rocket Raccoon! This series, Rocket, is written by Al Ewing and drawn by Adam Gorham. Rocket appears on his own after he messes up something big on Earth, or at least that is the brief explanation we receive. While he’s at a bar his old girlfriend appears. She begs him for help and he warily accepts. Rocket gathers a team together to pull off an enormous, impossible heist. We have to wait till issue two to get the conclusion of it. I’m not complaining, as it was a well timed cliffhanger. I enjoy how the story jumps right into the action, setting up just enough to get an understanding of the planet he’s on and who Rocket is as a character.

I picked up this new series mostly because I was impressed with Rocket’s character in the Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 movie. Rocket had much more screen time and they developed his character on a much deeper level than the first movie. After the first Guardians movie, I had already fallen in love with Groot (I absolutely adore him as Baby Groot in the second film), but Rocket seemed plain and uninteresting. After getting more history behind his character, I thought, “A rocket comic might actually be fun.” I was not disappointed with this first issue and plan to continue collecting this series. Apparently the first story arc will be 5 issues long. I think it will pair nicely with the Baby Groot series that I will be collecting in late May. I will not be getting Guardians of the Galaxy comics of them as a team with Star Lord, Gamora, and Drax though. I have found after the many times I have tried to collect team comics, I just can’t get into them on a month to month basis. I find the comics that focus on a single character much more interesting and fun to read. That doesn’t mean I don’t like team-ups, I just don’t seem to like comics that focus on an entire team. For example, I picked up X-Men Gold and Champions recently.  While I like the ideas behind the stories, I seem to want more of specific characters rather than the whole team. Those might be series I’d pick up from a public library to read in the future.

Rocket is a heist comic that is hilarious and fun. It is not meant to be taken seriously, but rather as a comedy with some oddball protagonists. Oddballs tend to be my favorite.

The Extra Key

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I am excited to say I finally completed The Extra Key by Kevin Polman. I started it shortly before my best friend’s wedding in March and it got put on the back burner, unfortunately. Considering the overall plot and ending of the story I think it would have been timelier to have completed it before her wedding. Live and learn.

I was excited to purchase this book at one of the author’s readings in the Summer of 2016. Full disclosure, Kevin Polman was one of my high school teachers. He taught Chemistry and my A&P class. He was a great teacher and I learned a lot. I will admit he intimidated me a bit, but that’s not a bad thing. I felt like he challenged me to be a better and more independent student.

Now for the part y’all actually care about: the ramble review. The Extra Key is a slice of life story about a man, Corey, who loses his wife in a terrible car accident. Corey wallows in depression for a while, but then discovers letters from his late wife. In those letters she encourages him to move on. A shy man wary of doing anything outside his comfort zone, he is also greeted by little “talking” dogs that help him on his journey to recovery. Throughout his recovery he touches on various issues that many of us deal with: death, work environments, weight gain/loss, and low self-esteem. Through the protagonist tackling each problem, the audience may also feel compelled to reflect on their own problems and evaluate how they are handling each issue they come across.

I loved the prologue to this novel. In a letter from a woman named Sarah, she reminds Corey of the importance of having an extra key or the importance of asking others for help when it gets to be too much. “…many would rather jump off the ledge than ask for help. In the same way that humans are ashamed to admit that they might need an extra key for their car because it implies that they are capable of making a mistake, they might also be ashamed to admit that they need to have on hand the loving care and advice of other people to deal with certain types of problems. Unfortunately, the love key is the one extra key that humans have the most trouble asking for, acquiring, and using, even when it is fully accessible.” (p. 7). I related a longer quote than I normally would, however, that whole segment seems to perfectly sum up the theme and tone of the novel. Corey, as one who has lost his whole world, needs to remember how to love again. It is necessary for him to rely on others who love him and want what is best for him. There are many times when he expresses being alone or lonely, but the author clearly illustrates that there are people around him who are willing to be there for Corey at a moment’s notice. He is never completely alone.

Overall, it was a solid book and story and I highly recommend reading Kevin Polman’s first published novel. He has a collection of short stories and an illustrated book available for purchase as well, but I have not had an opportunity to check those out yet. For the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge, which seems less likely I will complete (unless I don’t worry about the categories and count all the hundreds of comic books I’ll read), I will make this my “Book published in the last year” check box, since my copy was published June 14, 2016. Feel free to check out Kevin Polman‘s blog on WordPress too! Personally, I enjoy his updates.

A Land Called Tarot

I began this blog one year ago! While I may not have been as consistent as I had hoped, I am still proud that I have at least maintained it! I hope you enjoy my coming reviews and writings!

Cover of a land called tarot

Cover (first published February 2017)

 

A Land Called Tarot by Gael Bertrand

Can you really read a book with no words? I think you can, if the illustrations are done well enough demonstrate the overall theme and plot and characters of the story. To illustrate my point, A Land Called Tarot is a fantasy story told in a comic book format with no dialogue. There are a few fantasy language words between segments and there are roman numerals that correspond with tarot cards. If I had been more familiar with the names of the cards and their association with the roman numerals, I would have had a better understanding about where the story was headed as the numbers were presented. For example, the first roman numeral given is XVI. This is 16, which is named The Tower. The hero travels to [spoiler] a tower! While I am glad I did not bother trying to interrupt the flow of my reading to connect the roman numerals to a name that would show me where our hero was headed, it will be fun to re-read with this knowledge in stow and piece the story together a bit more clearly.

I really enjoyed the flow of the plot. I will admit there were times I was a bit confused as to what was happening, but I came up with my own explanation and moved on. A story with no words requires the reader to develop their own understanding of the plot along with the artist. One of the reasons I purchased this book was because I thought I may be able to read it in a different way each time. I was correct. While I may understand more about the author’s intent as I study the roman numerals, nothing is stopping me from creating a narrative with the pictures in my own way—like reading a picture book to a child and ignoring the text the author provides.

After completing part one, my first thought was that I was reading video game cut scenes. I enjoy watching my fiancé and my former college roommate play video games. A Land Called Tarot seemed to have a similar pacing. Each quest seemed contained, yet connected. This is a positive thing, as I feel it allows for the wordless story to be a little better understood.

I would recommend taking a look at this graphic novel and really delving into the pictures. It is definitely worth seeing how good illustrations do not require text to tell a beautiful story. I am excited to know that an author/illustrator has successfully developed a story without the use of dialogue or words in general. It really demonstrates the power of visual art.

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XVI (photo credit: Bertrand, A Land called Tarot)

Update

While I have failed to write any reviews in the past couple of months, my life has not been devoid of reading and writing. For national poetry month, April, I have been writing a poem a day. These poems include free form, haiku, and others.

I also participated in a prayer writing class at my church during Lent. That was a neat experience. I learned a lot about the structure of prayers and how each style works for the situation that it is needed. My favorites were collects, which are short prayers dedicated to a specific theme. The theme permeates the poem and is great to use as an opening prayer for a service, or simply as a short prayer alone.

Here is one of the first ones I wrote for the class:

Come Holy Spirit,

You are the everlasting fire upon our shoulders. Purify us from our negativity and our sins, so that we may live more fully in the warmth of your love.

Thanks be to God, the Refiner of our souls. Amen.

The basic form of a collect is: address to God (a name), characteristic (who He is), petition (request), result (“so that” something happens only He can accomplish), doxology (conclusion using another name along same lines as address).

Example of a poem I wrote in April:

Dreamer!

Where are you going?

How far will you stray?

I’ll be here, waiting.

/

Dreamer!

Don’t stray too far now.

You’re all I have left.

I am here, waiting.

/

Dreamer!

You have now left me.

Have you traveled far?

I’m still here, waiting.

I hope to start back with some book and comic reviews in May!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up

By Marie Kondo

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I listened to an audiobook version

I debated waiting to write this ramble until after I had tried out the KonMari method, or at least a modified form that fits my style. But since I thought I would start in early April, I figured I would at least gather my thoughts on the book first. The KonMari method allows its participants to create a home filled with only the items they love. In a way, it feels similar to the minimalist living that I have heard so much about lately.

Before diving in, I will give my mom a shout out for all she has taught me about organizing, planning, cleaning, etc. I realized I knew quite a few of the “tricks of the trade” already thanks to my mom’s dedication and example.

The KonMari Method of Decluttering

With the KonMari method you do all your decluttering at once. At first, this terrified me. How am I supposed to declutter my entire house in one day?! However, Kondo doesn’t expect that to happen. She means you tackle everything in as short of a timeframe as possible. There are only two steps to the process and you absolutely must do them in order.

Step 1: Discard (donate, throw away, get rid of in some form or fashion)

Step 2: Decide where to keep or store things

Kondo said it is essential that you don’t consider where you might keep an object while you are decluttering. The point is to only keep those items that bring you joy. In turn you must respect and thank those items you are discarding. No one has ever had trouble finding space for the remaining items after this process, so there is no need to consider its place in your house until you have finished decluttering.

The KonMari method requires you to think of your objects in categories, rather than cleaning room by room. A room by room method causes problems because most people keep the same item in more than one room for convenience sake. This category method intrigues me. I like the idea of knowing that everything I own in a specific category is in a central location before I assess what I should and should not donate or throw away.

The categories are:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (Miscellaneous items)
  5. Sentimental items

Kondo does not tell you what you should or should not keep. In fact, she declares that her clients have the final decision on what they should do with their own belongings. The only way to effectively declutter, and not rebound, is to hone your own decision-making skills and understand what brings you joy personally. Something may bring joy to one person, but be absolutely pointless to another. There is no standard there. Therefore, the best way to declutter is to gather everything up step by step in the categories as listed in order. Clothes are the easiest. There is often less sentimental value associated with them and it is a great way to practice honing your decision-making skills, which will be needed in the later categories.

Before You Start

Before beginning the decluttering process, Kondo says we must answer these questions:

  1. What do you want your life to look like post-clutter?
  2. Why do you want it to be that way?

During the process, for each and every item you hold you must examine and ask yourself: does this item bring me joy? Your goal in the decluttering process is deciding what to keep, not what to get rid of. That is a very important distinction. If you decide it does not bring you joy anymore, you must thank the item for its role in your life and be willing to part from it clean, like a breakup gone right. When she says each item, she means each item. You must touch every single item you own during this process, no exceptions. This will probably mean touching thousands of items over the course of the project, but that is a good thing. When done this way, you can be confident you are not making mistakes and you will know exactly what you own.

After Effects

Decluttering the home declutters the mind. It is through decluttering that we are able to not only organize our living space, but we also have a clearer mind with less distractions, such as “I should clean this space instead of thinking about actual issues I am dealing with right now.” Kondo points out that people often use cleaning as a distraction to keep them from focusing on their next test, big project, or life event. Through the KonMari method we are only surrounded by items and things we love, so we don’t have that excuse anymore and are able to more fully focus on living our lives to the fullest. Kondo states that this method allows people to gain self-confidence in their own decision making skills in general and allows people to move forward with their lives.

Kondo argues through decluttering we will also be able to change our life both inside and outside the home. She says that at the core people do not really change, but the way our passions are manifested may change over time. As people consider what objects in their home truly bring them joy, they in turn realize what brings them joy in life. People have switched their careers and been so much happier because, through decluttering, they rediscovered their passion that had been buried under all the mess. An example she used was a young employee for a corporation (I don’t remember her details) went through the KonMari method with Kondo. After she had finished, she realized the only books she had left were on social work. She recognized that had actually been her passion all along, but she was so busy with everything else that she hadn’t noticed. After a year or two, she had been able to become a social worker and is much happier. This situation will not happen to everyone, nor is it a sure-fire way for fixing our lives, but it helps us think and gain confidence in our ability to make big life-changing decisions ourselves.

Organizing

Kondo also gives tips on organizing and setting up the home post-decluttering. I will not go into too much detail at this time, I may make it a post in the future, but one thing that stuck out to me was emptying my purse when I get home for work. There must be a reserved place for the contents while I am at the house, but it gives the purse a chance to rest and allows for me to know exactly what I did that day. It also allows for less confusion when switching purses, as I am fully familiar with the contents at all times. The most important take-away for organizing is that we must respect our belongings by being grateful for their service to us and know that everything has its place and it must be returned to that place for rest when our need for the item that day is done.

Conclusion

I am interested in this process mostly to have a better grasp of what I own. I also like the idea of it helping with processing what brings me joy in life. Why own a bunch of items that you don’t like? It just sits there unused and unwanted. It reminds me of Toy Story 3, when Andy gives his toys to the girl who loves them and plays with them again. While Kondo regularly talks about discarding this, throwing away that, she really emphasizes the need to respect what we own and focus on the positives of the objects that we do want and/or need.

Criticism

I sometimes did not like her attitude and she also boasted a lot. Granted, she has been extremely successful, but constantly being reminded about how great her method is was not enjoyable. Also, she seemed harsh on what she thinks should be thrown out. I know she’s trying to challenge her clients to really get to the meat of their items, but sometimes she came across as rude. Though I would not say she was ever judgmental. To the contrary, she was very respectful of all her example clients and their idiosyncrasies. Lastly, I believe she does not own an animal. If I am wrong, I will be surprised. She never addressed what to do about litter boxes or anything related to toys or other pet supplies. I would have liked to hear her thoughts on how to keep tidy with a pet.

Final note: This book is part of my 26 book 2017 reading challenge as my “non-fiction” book.

VLAD

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The fifth novel for my 26 Book 2017 Reading Challenge has probably been my most disappointing so far. I read/listened via audiobook to Vlad by Carlos Fuentes, a short novel originally written in Spanish. I had such high hopes for the novel. Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is one of my favorite books due to the grotesque descriptions that are almost beautiful. I was under the impression that this short novel was meant to be a follow-up to the Dracula legend. The basic plot is Yves Navarro and his wife, Asunción, help a new gentleman, Vladimir Radu, set up a home in Mexico City.

While the novel was well written, had vivid descriptions, and caused a deep uncomfortableness to set in at just the right moments, it felt lacking in something. Maybe I expected it to be a retelling of the Dracula story in Mexico City and it really wasn’t? The story focused on Navarro and his relationship with his wife. They had lost a son to the sea. Navarro said they need to move forward and live on. However, Asunción would have drained the sea to discover a body. She never fully recovered from their son’s death. Their individual decisions at the end of the novel echo how well they were or were not able to survive following their son’s disappearance. They had a daughter too. She ended up being an important part of the novel and a foil to the short lived life of their son, but you hardly see her until the little girl until the end. Since the book is from Navarro’s POV, the lack of discussion of his daughter demonstrates that Navarro did not really pay attention to her until he desired to rescue her from the vampire’s clutches. He discussed his wife throughout the novel, but mostly when describing their sex life in great detail. She seemed to be merely an object of his life otherwise consumed by work. Work was the most important thing to Navarro and he had done much to make sure he succeeded in his job as a lawyer.

Overall, it was an intriguing and grotesque story. If you enjoy reading magical realism novels by Latin American authors you would enjoy it. His writing style matches many of the short stories I read in my Spanish classes in college. Latin American storytelling tradition has a beautiful way of incorporating magical realism into its stories, which is probably why I had expected so much from Vlad.