March’s Reads- Why These Books?

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The March 2014 NSBCBC Reads!

This month, I decided to turn to more best-of lists to find our latest reads. All 3 of these books were selected from a mix of Goodreads reviews, Amazon best-of 2013 lists, and NPR recommendations. I’m really excited to read all 3 of these, and hope these help make the final days of winter a little easier! (I have my fingers crossed that by the time I’m on the 3rd read of the month, I’ll be able to read outside and bask in the spring sunshine.)

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Original concept by Siobhan Dowd)

For the first book, I decided to mirror the month of March and charge in like a lion—a really sad, disturbing lion. Although you will find this book in the YA section of your library, it is a complex, graphic-filled novel that is filled to the brim with emotionally heavy themes. From the reviews I saw, apparently this book will leave us devastated. Now, I know you’re thinking “devastated, huh? Sounds REALLY fun!” But I urge you to take the journey with me. The synopsis is too interesting to pass up!

The story explores the fears of loss and the unknown, and tackles “monsters both real and imagined.” The novel (originally conceptualized by writer Siobhan Dowd—whose premature death from cancer prevented her from finishing the story), follows a young boy named Connor, who is haunted by a monster that visits him every night starting at the beginning of his mother’s cancer treatments. Paired with hauntingly beautiful ink drawings, this novel brings a deeply moving experience that will help us understand how to overcome our own monsters.

And if that doesn’t sell you, read this excerpt from the New York Times:

“There’s no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it’s also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place – an imperfect one, of course – where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous story­teller and a potent piece of art.

—The New York Times

2. The Golum and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

I’ve always loved magical realism. The idea that mystical creatures could live among us regular folk has always made me smile, and in a way I have always hoped for it to be a real possibility. For example, although I’m 27, I am still holding out hope for an invitation to Hogwarts. (By the way…To the Admissions Office of Hogwarts, Seriously guys. I’m not getting any younger here.) So when I saw the synopsis of Wecker’s debut novel, I was very interested.

The story is about two mystical creatures (a golem and a jinni—and no, not Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Genie from Aladdin, although that would make for a really fun pairing) who go on a magical journey. Together, they experience the many different cultures of New York City during the turn of the century, and create a bond that defies their own cultural boundaries.

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Unfortunately the story does not follow these two, but if someone ever wanted to write that, I’d almost certainly HAVE to read it. I mean, what a dynamic duo!

3. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Shamefully, the bright colors of the cover were the initial reason I checked this book out (Props to the cover artist!). Then the synopsis drew me in a bit further.

The story follows a group of friends who meet at a creative arts camp in the summer of 1974. Throughout life, each of these people pursue their own creative passion, yet only some become successful, while others don’t. The story explores the dynamics between the group as they struggle to incorporate creativity in their lives as they grow and face life’s many challenges.

I also chose this story for my own selfish reasons. I always felt like my group of friends were particularly creative and talented (too much horn tooting?). Now that we’re in our late twenties, we are still exploring our creative sides—just some more than others. I felt like this story would be relatable, and I kinda wanted to see what happened to this creative group, perhaps out of curiosity for my own life’s path.

So there we have it! The March Reads for 2014. Make sure to post your thoughts, art work, poetry, and more to the NSBCBC Facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc); tweet us at @notsobookclub; Instagram your reading experience with the #nsbcbc hashtag; and share The Not So Book Club Book Club with your friends! The more readers, the merrier!

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

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Never Judge a Book by its Movie

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This widely repeated quote can be found all over the Internet in the form of bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, bathrobes… you name it, it exists.

Think back to your high school English class. You spend a month slowly plodding through a dense book that is filled with language you barely understand, lengthy descriptions of settings, and metaphors that fly right over your head. Perhaps it’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or maybe it’s Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Despite your best effort to find enjoyment in the experience, the book feels like work. Every night on top of your math and science homework, you have to muster up the energy to get through another 20 pages of a book you can’t really wrap your head around. But there is salvation—the prize at the end of the journey. That beautiful week where your English class becomes a movie theater and you get to spend 5 glorious days watching that book you struggled through in easy to swallow half-hour increments. Does it help you appreciate the book more? Maybe. Does it help you write a better essay for class? Almost certainly. But does the film help or hurt the experience of the book? That is the question that’s up for debate.

This month, in order to try to answer that question, the The Not So Book Club Book Club decided to tackle books that were all made into movies. Two of the books’ movies had not been released yet, while one had already dominated a past awards season. All 3 books however, sported new book covers that mirrored their movie posters and included stickers that proudly declared “Now a feature film!”

To help address the issue at hand, I decided to power read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, and immediately follow it with the movie. I wanted the book to be so fresh in my mind that I’d be able to spot the differences faster than I would in a child’s Highlights magazine. I read for 2 days straight, finishing the book at 6PM and jumped right into the film at 6:30.

And right off the bat, I was struck by how frustrated I was by the changes in the film. The settings didn’t fit the landscapes my mind painted, the characters’ accents weren’t as drawn out as I expected from the southern heat, and the music felt too playful to be properly setting up the tension that would saturate the story. Even more so, I was bothered by the fact that subtlety fell by the wayside…hard. Instead of having the audience swim around the innermost thoughts of the 3 main characters, each and every motive had to be spelled out loud and clear. I found myself shouting things like “Skeeter would have never done this out in the open!” and “Minny wouldn’t have looked that worried! She was tougher than that!” My frustration mounted so high that the second the credits started to roll, I took to the Internet to feel the affirmation of fellow angry viewers. However, I was met with mainly positive reviews. People loved it and gushed about how it deserved all the accolades it received. So why did I take it so personally?

A few days after I watched the movie, I shared my thoughts with one of my close friends. She reminded me that despite her immense love of the Harry Potter series, she refused to watch the films. She went on to say, “Harry and his friends have been with me throughout all of my formative years. They have been like a family to me, and I just know I am not ready to watch my character family be portrayed in someone else’s vision.” And I think that was the thing that got me so hot and bothered about the movie watching experience— it was someone else’s vision.

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Harry Potter 3 ways. Here is a compilation of 3 different interpretations of what Harry’s second bedroom looked like. The first is by book cover artist Mary GrandPré, the second is by cartoonist Alec Longstreth, and the third is a still shot from the feature film Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

When we read, our mind meets the author halfway. The author gives us the words to construct the scenery and situations, but our own imaginations fill in the rest of the blanks. It’s because of this personal effort we feel so attached to what we read. We concoct our own perfect vision of the book, making it almost impossible for any two individuals see that same exact thing.

We also feel deeply attached to the characters. We read their deepest thoughts and feelings, and in doing so they become a part of us. When we see it acted out, we lose something. We lose a bit of that attachment because we become a viewer instead of a participant.

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What we see of the other person’s vision via film, and what we experience through our own experience reading the book.

Now that’s not to say these movies cannot be spectacular. They’re just another person’s view of the story, and despite how close it may be to your own, it will never be the exact picture your mind painted when you read the book.

So do movies help or hurt the reading experience? I think the answer is neither. It just shows us a different interpretation of the story we read and allows us to see someone else’s vision. And despite what people say, I think it’s impossible to say if the book is always better than the film, because it’s comparing apples to oranges— two great individual things that share similarities, but can never fully act as a substitute for the other.

A Note from your NSBCBC ringleader:

Dear NSBCBCers,

I truly hope you have been enjoying the experience of reading with me as much as I have enjoyed this experience with you! Together we have become a strong community of readers and I look forward to us growing in the months to come.

Make sure to check back next Tuesday to see what March’s NSBCBC reads are going to be and make sure to spread the word about the Not So Book Club Book Club!  The more people we have participating, the better the experience will be. Post your thoughts on our facebook wall (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc), instagram your reading experience using the #nsbcbc hashtag, and follow us on Twitter at @notsobookclub.

And most importantly, enjoy your reading experience!

Tons of love!

Nina Sclafani

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You Are What You Post – How Reading Changed the Way I Look at Social Media

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A snapshot of my Facebook lookback video. 10 years of glorious social media addiction captured in a 50 second video.

This past week, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary, and like myself I’m sure you only knew this because of the flood of lookback videos that filled your newsfeed. Like everyone else, I also took my stroll down memory lane and relived my years of social media-ing. I laughed at silly pictures and smiled at the collection of status updates that chronicled the biggest moments of my adult life. All in all, it was nice to see. As a snapshot of the past ten years, I was perfectly happy with it. Nothing too embarrassing. Nothing too schmultzy. It was a pretty decent representation of my life on Internet display.

Well actually, that’s not entirely true. There are things floating around the Internet from the early 2000’s that still manage to make my face turn red. For instance, my old Livejournal. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Livejournal, it was a site that functioned as an online diary (kind of like an early version of a blog). High schoolers would use it to spill their guts about crushes, day-to-day activities, and things they found funny or frustrating. But here’s the crazy thing—it was public. You wrote your most unedited and candid thoughts so your friends could read them. Going back and reading my own, it was clear—I had no tact. It was like someone cracked open my head and spilled out every thought my adolescent brain could muster. To call these journal entries embarrassing is an understatement. And then there was Webshots, which was the first place where my friends and I could publicly post pictures. It was filled to the brim with incriminating pictures of underage drinking and questionable fashion choices. But in some kind of Internet miracle, this past November Webshots wiped their data base clean and all photos that were once posted on the site no longer exist. Don’t believe me? Google yourself. That disastrous picture of you at a party in 2005? Gone!

I was lucky enough to make my poor Internet choices on sites that lost their popularity early on, but for those whose first crack at using social media was Facebook, they weren’t so lucky. With Facebook’s Timeline, every post you’ve ever made is readily available as long as you continue to scroll. For some people, you don’t even have to scroll very far down (or not at all) to find posts that portray them in a light less flattering, and this week in particular, I saw a few posts that really flaunted that. These were posts that went viral on Facebook and highlighted one of the biggest mistakes people make when using social media—posting without a discerning eye. These were posts that said more about the people who posted then I think was ever intended.

Shake My Head Moment #1: The Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Rumor

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Headlines only! Apparently no one bothered to check the source of this faux article which circulated around Facebook following the Sochi opening ceremony.

Numerous times this absurd headline found its way onto my newsfeed, and of all the talk slamming the Sochi Olympics, this one really took the cake. The headline read, “Man Responsible for Olympic Ring Mishap Found Dead in Sochi.” People were outraged, making comments like “what a f’ed up place Russia is,” and how they were “officially NOT watching or supporting these games anymore.” However, it was clear that these people A) Only read the headline, and B) Didn’t check the source of the article. They didn’t bother to read the actual article (where they would have found ridiculous fictional quotes throughout), and they didn’t bother to google “dailycurrant.com,” because had they done so, they would have read that it’s a fictional news blog. But the post was made and the damage was done.

Shake My Head Moment #2: Miley vs. Duck Dynasty

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So…. what is being said here? Sex is bad? Praying is cool? Homophobia is a sin? Miley is bad at dancing? Free speech for some?

Then there was this gem. Right off the bat this picture made me cringe and it only got worse when I read the comment threads. The comments were a mixed bag of anti-gay rants, pro-religious messages, and a few free-speech statements here and there.

For those of you may not remember, this past year Phil Robertson of the A&E’s Duck Dynasty got in hot water for insulting the black community, and for calling homosexuality a “sin” and not “logical” in an interview he did with GQ magazine. Following the interview, A&E decided to suspend Robertson from the show in order to distance the network from his opinions. A&E received backlash for their decision, with Internet bloggers and talking heads stating this violated Robertson’s “right to free speech,” and soon after, he was allowed back on the program. Since the controversy, according to Time Magazine, Nielsen ratings show the program has been steadily losing millions of viewers week after week. (http://entertainment.time.com/2014/01/23/duck-dynasty-takes-a-ratings-dive/).

However, you would never know any of that just by looking at the picture. What the picture shows is a family praying. It doesn’t actually address the issues that plagued the family following the GQ interview. So did the person who originally created this use this photo to say that we need more religion in our media, or did they use this picture to mask Robertson’s controversial opinion by depicting him solely as a religious family man? Clearly the people re-posting and adding to the comment thread couldn’t seem to figure that out either.

So, how does this connect to the Not So Book Club Book Club?

As English students, we were taught to read with a close eye and decipher the nuances of each story and character. Like detectives, we were taught to attack a story from numerous angles, and pick the text apart in order to fully understand it. We are introduced to new ways of looking at the world with each and every text we read, and those new perspectives stay with us as we function in the real world.

When I see a headline, I think like a reader and search for a credible source. When I see a statement photograph, I pick it apart as I would with a text and figure out who created it, why they created it, and who do they represent before I publicly form an opinion on it. Books have taught me be a critical reader, and have helped me better understand the millions of messages that are thrown at me on a daily basis.

When I look at a major platform like Facebook, I think of it as a high school auditorium. For a few seconds, that status update or article I posted is center stage, standing in front of a highly critical audience of “friends.” That post speaks on behalf of me regardless if  I’m posting something to be funny or to make a serious statement about how I feel. It tells the audience “this is who I am and this is what I believe.” And as long as I  approach my social media with the keen eye of a reader, only then can I fully represent myself to the best of my abilities.

Read more, think more, and represent yourself better.

You Do You – Satisfying the Different Parts of Your Personality with Books

In the same way that people have figurative skeletons in the closet, I have skeletons on my bookshelf. These are books that I once loved but now am slightly embarrassed about. Case and point: The Twilight series (I refuse to call it a “saga.” It’s just too much!)

Let us rewind to 2008. I was in the final semesters of my teaching program at Stony Brook University, and up to my neck in serious lit and education courses. I was also involved in a wonderful but long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now husband). My life bordered on being somewhat dull. It was a life filled with poetry I didn’t relate to, and phone conversations that recapped the monotony of our daily lives apart. Because of that, I began to long for some excitement. And so, in came the Twilight books.

Just like that, I fell into an exciting world filled with vampires, and werewolves, and Washington state (oh my!). I found myself involved in lengthy conversations about who I felt should be cast as Edward, and even went as far as creating a Facebook sticker (yes, these were once a thing) that said something along the lines of “I’d rather be dating Edward” (Good God Andrew, I’m so sorry).  And for the last nail in my Twilight-obsessed coffin, I went to the book release party at Barnes and Noble for “Breaking Dawn” sporting a Twilight t-shirt!

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2008 – Here I am with my beautiful friend Alison, sippin’ on pure sugar “Edward” slushies, fully decked out in Twilight t-shirts, because that’s how you do Saturday night! No regrets!

Now, although I write this with a face that is slightly red from embarrassment, I have to be honest—at the time, those books were a lot of fun and gave me what I needed. With my boyfriend living 4 hours away and my days spent in the classroom, I craved excitement and romance, and I found that within the pages of the series.

Fast forward to 2014, although I pretend to have refined my taste in literature, I still essentially do the same thing. I feed my mind and soul what it wants. Last month, I wanted to experience what it felt like to be in outer space, so I picked up “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” by Col. Chris Hadfield. This month, I wanted to quench my yucky need for gossip, so I read “Most Talkative” by Bravo executive and host Andy Cohen. With each book, I satisfied a part of my personality that yearned for that element. (Sidenote: It’s a lot better to pick up a book and fulfill one’s need for gossip, rather than invite that sort of thing into your real life. Truth!)

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My spirit animals, Donna and Tom from Parks and Rec, reminding us all that it’s OK to “treat yo self” to what you want…. even if that treat is a book that is widely panned by critics and friends alike.

I’ve learned to accept that it’s OK to like what you like, and that you should always feel free to read what you want because 1. You’re reading (which is fantastic) and 2. You’re satisfying something that your mind is craving. Although I don’t really relate to the Twilight books anymore, there was a time that I did. They gave me what my mind needed and so I’m thankful for those books. I’m grateful for Twilight! (I never thought I’d hear myself say that… at least publicly).

And so in short, I suppose if there’s a lesson to be had, it would be that no matter what a critic says about a book you love, or no matter how bad your friends make fun of you for liking a book, you should never feel ashamed for liking what you like, because there is no better judge for a book than you.

– Nina Sclafani

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You do you! Satisfy your needs and embrace what you like!