Facing Our Monsters

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One of the many beautiful and powerful images found throughout Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls. Illustrations by Jim Kay.

Call it what you will— fate, luck, or total coincidence— this week, I was met with a story that felt like it was waiting for me to read it for the past 9 years.

As you may know from reading my blog, when I choose the NSBCBC reads, I base my book selections on reviews, interesting synopsis, recommendations from friends, and the like. However, when I finally crack open these books, I am as new to the experience as you are, so I never truly know what to expect. It is this uncertainty that highlights how amazing it is when you open a book and feel like a greater power has brought that book into your life. So by serendipity or by chance, this happened to me yesterday. Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls found its way into my life, and touched parts of my heart and soul in ways I could have never expected.

In 2005, my grandfather died from lung cancer and losing him was the most prominent and painful death I have ever experienced. He was a man that was stern, and old school, and so incredibly loving despite the fact that he seemed tough as nails. But as cancer does, it stole him from our family and robbed us of the many years we planned on living together. From his diagnosis to his final weeks, time went by in light speed. Despite the medications, changes in diet, and efforts of my incredible family to help him, the disease was so aggressive, you’d blink and in that millisecond he’d appear paler and thinner. However, for the last week of his life, it was if time had decided to cruelly slow down in order to draw out all the fears and pain of our family.

Although it has been almost 10 years, our family still feels the deep sadness of losing one of the greatest men we have ever known.

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2003 – Mohonk Mountain House. Here is my handsome grandfather, Albert Molesphini (left) with his fantastic brother John Molesphini on our amazing family vacation to the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York.

Now, when I picked up A Monster Calls, I knew the general plot. A young boy, dealing with his mother’s cancer, is visited nightly by a monster whose purpose is to help the boy face his fears. However, I didn’t automatically associate it with my grandfather’s cancer. The word “cancer” has become such a part of our vernacular that I didn’t believe this story would (or could) feel tailor-made to my own experience. But as I read, I could feel the deepest parts of my heart tighten from the pain all over again, and things I tried so desperately to suppress reemerge. I found myself transformed into the protagonist and it was me who the monster was visiting—forcing me to face my fears of death and loss all over again. But as the pages flipped by, I felt the walls I’ve built up over the past 9 years slowly break down, piece by piece, and by the end I was exhausted. With my face and shirt soaked in tears, I felt like I made my way through the last week of my grandfather’s life all over again, but came out seeing a new light—a comforting light. And with this light, I could revisit the loss, remember the love, and continue to move on.

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One of my favorite family photographs, taken around 1990 (?) in our vacation home in the Poconos. Pictured with my grandfather is my equally amazing grandmother, Faye Molesphini, and on the bottom is a cake-hypnotized me, my cousin Anthony, and my older sister Kristen.

A Monster Calls felt like therapy to me. It felt deeply personal and allowed me to reach into the darkest parts of myself and emerge a better person. And it’s this experience that only solidifies my love of books even more. Books allow us to have truly human experiences, even when we don’t feel comfortable sharing those parts of ourselves with others or when we don’t think we have the strength to get through a conversation. They can give us comfort, make us laugh, and make us cry. They can guide us, or scare us, or expose us to new worlds. And sometimes, they can find their ways into our lives, may it be by fate or chance, and help us face our own monsters when we least expect it.

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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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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.