The Five Most Formative Novels I Have Read -Brent Smith

A quick look at my list could tell you a number of things about my tastes, and even tells me things I didn’t even realize until I stacked them up. What most of these novels seem to have in common are morally ambiguous protagonists. Many of them are pragmatists, but solve problems and deal with situations on the fly instead of deliberately. In Hornby’s A Long Way Down, many of the characters are fatalistic as they all meet on the roof of an infamous London flat to kill themselves. Upon spending time with each other, they find love, self worth, and bittersweet resolve understanding that the world isn’t perfect and no one would care if they died as much as no one cares that they live. All the characters in all my selected novels have similar epiphanies, and despite a jaded view of the world, become better people.  
They also all have fantastical elements, but are told through a realistic lens. In House of Leaves, Danielewski paints an alternate 1996 where a Los Angeles tattoo artist is deeply affected by a document he found in an old man’s apartment that portrays a photojournalists struggle with a house that is bigger on the inside than on the outside. The tattoo artist becomes obsessed with the work, trying to hunt down anyone who has worked on it to no avail. The document ruins his life, but not before making him a more motivated, patient person who even grows into a comfortable sexuality by the end of the novel. He learns to sever ties with his mentally ill mother despite his ability to slip into moods where he believes himself and his issues to be an extension of her. The novel itself is littered with postmodern touches such as footnotes and hastily scrawled notes as the tattoo artist tries to make sense of it all. This postmodern approach is also similar to Pynchon’s work with Crying of Lot 49 as many of the characters and events are named after real life events or conditions that mirror the characters actions. Paranoia is a common theme amongst both of them. In a somewhat disturbing revelation, one could posit that I like broken, ambiguous heroes with paranoid qualities. Another novel that realistically portrays the fantastical is Snow Crash. It follows a hacker named Hiro in a near-future America split up into city states. The nation is on the edge of an “infocalypse” where privatized corporations can directly control the population. What is perhaps most haunting is that, while written in 1993, many of the events in Snow Crash (such as privacy becoming a commodity) have and are currently occurring.
Each of these novels offers an intense view on personal internal conflicts. Many of these characters are mentally ill, but in a way that society accepts because it boils just below the surface. When following these characters for the short amount of time the reader has, it is discovered they spend a great deal of time hiding their internal flaws and dark secrets.


Adventures in Journaling: An Individual Critique of a Writing Regimen

by Chase Stanley
I’ve never had a strict writing regimen, but that isn’t to suggest that I don’t have one. It consists mainly of leisurely scribbles in one of the dozens of notebooks I keep scattered about, under my bed, in my kinky drawer (a name I gave one of my drawers that I use mainly as a place for random things that I can’t find a more proper place for), my book bag and my back pocket. This is used for convenience whenever I hear a good quote or dialogue that usually happens during my frequent eavesdropping escapades performed on unsuspecting strangers. It also comes in handy when inspiration strikes or when I need a good vent, choosing then to journal my emotions privately instead of complaining via social network.
The vast majority of material captured within the confines of these literary binds are merely scribbles and brief ideas in which I write with the hope of one day turning them into the next bestseller or the movie of the year (I’ve had my acceptance speech memorized since I could talk). But they inevitably never live to see the light of a Word document. This is one thing I do hope to change in this coming semester as I am expected to get on a much more regular and habitual writing regimen.
The journal is a good place to start, serving as a convenient place to jot down the inner workings of the brain before the brain chooses to forget. But it’s easy to tell yourself you’ll come back to it. As time lives up to its natural tendency and speeds by, the emotional significance of whatever it is you wrote inevitable becomes invalid and thus useless to the ego of the writer. To reiterate, the journal is a good place to start but one must act quickly, utilizing the contents in the formation of what could hopefully be something grand. That is what I hope the teachings of novel writing will help me with. Acting quickly and developing a momentary brain spasm into a completed work I can take pride in.
I’ve had writing regimens before, but they’ve always been passed onto me by different writing instructors and only completed out of fear of a failing grade. The habitual act of constantly writing for the mere sake of writing comes and goes, though the process of utilizing a handy journal remains. I still develop scenes, focus on imagery (though at times a bit too abstract), jot pages full of nothing but conversational dialogue and developing events that serve to transition from scene to scene. This needs to be regular though, and extend beyond the classroom and after I graduate.
By forging the habit of frequent writing, I could hopefully, in theory, make inspiration a little more regular. I could make my details pop more and transform this moderately optimistic reality into that of cynical humor (dark comedy being my preferred area of focus). It is an experiment to be conducted. 

My Refuge in Writing

Rochelle Martin

             I am a very quiet person. Ever since I was a child, I have kept my thoughts to myself. That has always been my way. Too often, my nose has been pinned to the pages of countless books. Books were my refuge when I did not care for the reality around me; with each page that I turned, I sank deeper and deeper into worlds and stories that seemed so much better than my own. One book would lead to another. Food was ignored, and so was sleep. If a book grabbed me by the throat, I would not put it down until I had finished. As a child, I was amazed by these worlds that these authors had created. I still am. Those worlds were the reason why I picked up a pencil and began making my own.
            When I talk, I don’t always know what to say and I stumble and trip over my words. Soon after I discovered a love for books, I began to write and I found that I could express myself so much better in so many ways. If I write the wrong word, I can simply cross it out and replace it. Writing as a child and a teenager soon became my refuge when I could not find the words to speak. It seemed simpler to put words to paper then to pull them from my mouth and give them sound. I began writing in notebooks where I emptied my thoughts, my fears, my hopes, and my dreams. These notebooks also filled up with stories, fragments, dreams, and my experiences and emotions. I held nothing back.
            When I write, I write as honestly as I possibly can regardless of whether I am writing fiction or not. I do not write as much as I wish I did, like most people I have plenty of room for improvement. But I try. I keep a notebook that I hand write in every so often. I do not hand write everything, but there is something about the way scrawled words in ink fill the page that appeals to me. If I am upset, I will free write until I calm down. It always works; it does not make my problems go away, but writing about makes it easier to handle.
            I do not have a set writing regimen. I am terrible at self-discipline and I am easily distracted. I love writing but I often let my emotions and insecurities as an artist get in the way. I make excuses for myself that I don’t have time for it, my idea is terrible, or that it is not worth it. When I pick up my pen sometimes I am gripped by the fear that nothing I write matters anyway, so why should I bother?
Perhaps my pessimistic self will be right and I will never get anywhere with writing. But I have to remind myself that that is not the reason why I write. I write because it is my refuge, I find solace in words when this world becomes too much. I am a writer whether I publish or not. With this class, I hope to learn discipline, to improve my writing regimen, and to see if I have what it takes to keep up.

I write because I want to, not because I need to.

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Gaoly Thao

The old fashion, paper and pen. Now as technology advances, more and more people prefer using computers for writing. I admit, it is a lot easier and quicker to write and send it to someone across the globe in a couple of minutes, but I like the feeling of using paper and pen for writing. Although, it might be a pain to rewrite it on Word document later, the feeling of the ink staining the paper excites me. Just being able to write down my own feelings into words for others to read is awesome. Maybe it’s just my artistic/creative side kicking in. I also love to draw using pencils on paper.  So that might explain it. I don’t know…

Don’t get me wrong. I do like using computers for writing, especially for academic reasons. However, if I don’t have access to a computer or my laptop, I’m screwed because I wouldn’t be able to write. So I don’t heavily rely on technology when I’m out and about. Plus, with computers, I have access to the Internet and that’s where I get nothing done because I’m too busy surfing the net. I try to set down strong morals when I write on computers. I tell myself, “No Internet until I finish the paper!” It works, but sometimes… it fails. Like when I decide to take a breather from writing. I get up, walk around, snack on junk food, and that’s when I hear the bing. Meaning I have a new e-mail.  I think, “Hey, I’m on break and it’s not gonna hurt to check my emails.” Wrong. It’s like a domino effect. Once I start checking, there’s a hyperlink in the email that takes you to a different. Then I begin to get sidetrack and end up not continuing writing until later… If I want to use my laptop for writing, I need to be in a place that has no Internet access. Or have nothing opened except the Word document. It usually works.

I just recently started to carry around a pocket notebook and I love it. Whenever I think of anything to continue my stories, I whip out my pocket notebook and jot it down. Plus, it’s great for when I want to doodle. Drawing helps give me ideas about writing and so does my interest in the Japanese culture.
I can’t always just sit down and begin writing. I usually need time and need to be in the mood to write. When I write, usually I write everything quickly and very sloppily too. I try not to stick to one sentence too long. If I stay on one sentence trying to correct it, I would get nowhere. So I write everything down and then go back in and start to correct it.
I’m more active and awake during the night than the day, so I usually start writing then.  It is not always this though. I’m not a vampire, but my sister states otherwise. I do write during the day. If I’m stuck inside a long car ride, I take out either my laptop or notebook and start writing.
Usually when I write, I have music playing in the background. I love all sorts of music, except heavy metal/screamo. Depending on what kind of music I listen to, it gives me different moods and gives me different ideas about writing. Music helps give me boost to writing.  If I listen to the same music that played when I wrote the story, I recall the story and begin to think about it more. Once I start thinking about the story, an idea come flying in and makes me want to continue writing.

Books that Changed My Life

Rianne Hall

To me, books have always been more than words. They’re adventures I could never experience on my own. They take me away from the, seemingly gargantuan, woes of making the right choices in life and place me in a world where the problems are insurmountable for everyone, except me (the main character). Sometimes, despite all odds, the books I read end up helping me with those woes without realizing it. These are only five of the books that changed my perspective of the world.

1. The Shack, by William Paul Young

I will preface the summary of this book with a statement. Yes, it is about God and Heaven and all that jazz. Regardless of whether you are religious or not, read this book. I am not a Christian myself, but this book gave me an interesting and compelling view of religion.

This book is about a man whose daughter gets kidnapped on a camping trip. She is killed by a serial killer that had been roaming the area. Police find her body in a shack in the middle of the woods, and the captor is MIA. In an emotionally overloaded state, the father decides to go spend some time in the shack where the girl was found, and there he meets the Trinity. Yes, THE Trinity. At the risk of spoiling the book, I will stop my summary there. I will say that what the father learns in this shack stays with him for the rest of his life. I mean, I know I’d really appreciate some one on one with the Big Guy.

Sounds hokey? Yes. I don’t think it is important if you believe the story or not. This book re-inspires hope in humanity, and faith in a power that no one quite understands.

2. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Let’s be blunt. A man named Shadow gets out of jail only to find his wife died giving road head to his best friend. With his life in pieces, a man named Mr. Wednesday (later identified as Odin, the Nordic God) hires Shadow as a lackey and drags him into a bouquet of traps, tricks, and a few treats. Throughout the book, you meet an assortment of gods and goddesses from all areas of the world. These gods and goddesses are dying because people have stopped believing/worshipping them, and they are determined to make a comeback. Or, Odin is. Mr. Wednesday weaves a web with strings so thin, no one sees it coming.

Also, this is soon to be a T.V. series.

As a Gaiman fanatic, I recommend any book he has written. American Gods holds a very special place on my bookshelf. Not only does this book give you a healthy dose of mythology (ALL kinds), but it also gives you an interesting perspective on how higher powers are really divided. Questions about love, loss, and death are brought to attention and are accentuated by the diminishing immortality of the main characters. Really, it’s a piece of sheer genius. Please, go enlighten yourself.

3. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Just promise me you’ll never watch the awful 1945
The Picture of Dorian Gray movie. Please?

An Oscar Wilde classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a wealthy young man who is the subject of a painter named Basil Hallward. Basil becomes infatuated with Dorian due to his beauty, and believes he Dorian is his muse. When a friend of Basil’s, named Lord Henry Wotton, comes into the picture, he suggests to Dorian that the only things worth looking for in life are pleasure and beauty. Dorian becomes enthralled with this view of the world, and dedicates his life to these achievements. He desires to stay young forever, but soon discovers these things do not occur without a hefty price.

Honestly, Oscar Wilde’s sheer wit and sarcasm are the key to this book making my list. My copy of this book is marked up with underlined quips and mind-boggling “truths”. I must admit, the story itself is a bit dry. What made me fall in love with this book is Wilde’s way of writing, and the way he shoves how he saw life in your face.

4. The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling

Alright, now hopefully you all know this story. But just in case you don’t, I’ll tell it to you, with a warning that judgements will be passed.

A boy named Harry Potter lives with his terrible Aunt and Uncle in a closet under the stairs. One day, Harry gets a letter telling him that he is a wizard and has been accepted into a magic school called Hogwarts. Little does he know that in the world of magic, he is known as “the boy who lived.” He survived an attack from the most powerful dark wizard in the world, and this man killed his parents. For seven beautifully compelling books, Harry struggles with growing up and defeating his greatest enemy, Lord Voldemort.

I grew up on this series. Harry Potter dared me to dream and imagine as much as I could. J.K. Rowling made this world incredibly real. She made me believe in magic, not only in wands and spells, but also in people. Without this book series in my life, I dare to say I would never have found writing as a career to pursue. Without this series, my imagination might have stayed dormant, and I would be writing a paper about machines used in agriculture (the trade my father wished me to pursue) instead of a blog about how much I love books.

5. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

My summary rules for Harry Potter applies to this book also. For shame.

J.R.R. Tolkien literally creates a world, word by word, right in front of your face. A hobbit, a race of little people, named Bilbo Baggins gets shipped off on an adventure by a reckless wizard named Gandalf the Grey. Accompanied by a group of dwarves, the hobbit is to be a burglar and help the dwarves get their home mountain back from a dragon.

This book, also, allowed my imagination to expand and seep into the very core of my being. But mainly, the reason why I loved this book so much, was it made me question what makes a place a home. Is it the people that surround you? The familiar land marks and knowing all the crevices of a town? Is home something we have created to make ourselves feel like we belong somewhere? Or is it, truly, just a feeling?

Books are so much more than a way to pass the time. These five books in particular gave me a different way to learn about the world around me and a perspective on how to write. I almost promise if you give these books a try, not only will you not regret it, but you just might look up from the last page to see the world in slightly different hues.

Some Old Friends

Veronica Sipe
Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine
Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
The Mediator, Meg Cabot
Given the mission to choose my five favorite books, I found my task impossible to complete. I own hundreds of books; once I have made the commitment of ownership, subdivisions of love become inconsequential. At least for me; at least consciously. Of course there are some books on my shelves that, given another chance, I would not buy again, but even factoring those out I’m left with at least a whole bookcase, not to mention those I’m always meaning to buy but haven’t found the funds or time for yet. So I had to frame this mission differently; not which books moved me the most, or which I thought about the most, because there are too many and I don’t remember the degree to which my soul shifted for each and every one. Rather, which books, when I’m sitting bored on my bed, do I reach out for, again and again, and consume voraciously?
This is Suze. She’s sassy.
That left me with the list you see here. I will admit without shame and indeed with relish that they are books for children or for young adults. Those are often the best kind, to my thinking. Where else can you find people who so and unpretentiously enjoy their own writing? Possibly many places, but I would say in the children’s section. Never should a focus on a young audience dissuade a person from enjoying a book. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “…a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.”
And so, Blogosphere, let me introduce you to my dear friends Ella, Sophie, Artemis, Coraline, and Suze. All of them, excepting our dear Artemis, are young women. They are independent, driven, and stubborn. Many of them are exceptionally talented in some way or another, from an ear for languages to a powerful magical ability to a straight up genius-level intelligence. But that’s not what I like about them. At the end of the day, I just like them as people, as children who want a bit more attention, as people who look out for the ones they love, who go after what they want with a stubborn, irrational practicality and aren’t afraid to tell you just how stupid or silly you really are if you push them.
Most of what is different about them are things that I struggle to notice. Only Suze and Ella will tell you their stories from their own mouths. Only Ella and Coraline managed to get theirs done in a single volume. Only Artemis is the antagonist of his own story. And only Coraline’s progresses in a somewhat less than linear, straightforward way. Two of their stories were penned by British authors, two by Americans, and one by an Irish man. Three take place in a world I would call ours, one in a fantasy world, and one in both.
Coraline, also sassy. See the trend?
All of these are also fantasies, in one way or another. I’d say that the Mediator is more supernatural than fantastic, but I’m sure we can all agree that that’s close enough. None of them are huge, epic, sweeping, high fantasies. I’ll tell you right now that I am not a big fan of high fantasy; I avoid Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones is proving unsuccessful at holding my attention for more than a couple hours at a time. I prefer the kind of stories represented in my list, which are close and small. Most of the action in Coraline, Artemis Fowl, and Howl’s Moving Castle occurs in a single building, amongst a fairly small main cast of not much more than ten. Ella Enchanted is a bit bigger, jumping amongst locations and characters, but each scene is close and private, and the Mediator is similar.
I admit that I’ll read almost anything. I knock on Twilight, but I’ll admit that I read it and enjoyed it while I did. I read humor, mystery, sci-fi, romance, anything that catches my eye. So when I narrowed down this list to these, the books I can read at any time, regardless of my mood (I’m a picky reader like I’m a picky eater—sometimes, I’m just not in the mood for Jane Austen), it was truly a challenge to figure out why. Why these? What is it, really, that lays me up for an entire day, like a 24-hour stomach bug, consuming one of these five books? Their more obvious similarities—their young audience, their feminist writers and characters, their fantasy settings—cannot really be the answer, because the obvious is present in many other books I own. So I don’t know. I like happy endings. I like magic. I like strong girls (and boys) who are smart and kind and stubborn, and for whom that’s enough to usher in success. It may not be what you’d call “literary,” but it does nicely for me.

A Writing Workout

By Adam Gulla

I think of writing as a workout. Eventually, I’d like to get to this point (minus some of the veins).
               Like anything in life, as we’re all aware, practice makes perfect. Learning a foreign language requires its employment every day. To keep our bodies fresh and toned, we must set aside time for exercise. As we know, the same holds true for writing. This knowledge however, does not make the process any easier. Let’s face it, there are times (maybe even a lot of times) we don’t feel like writing. We’ve got work, we’ve got homework, we’ve got relationships to manage, there’s a perfectly good TV show on to watch, or that video game we haven’t beaten. Sometimes, things just don’t click when we try to write. We want to spill our hearts out on the page, but all the words and their arrangements are too clunky, too stupid, too off the mark to be written. 
I struggle with this. 
               When inspiration isn’t battering my door down, I feel, dare I say, anxious to write. And so I’ll sit at my desk, ripping hair out between my fingers, trying to muster what spirits I can to take that bold leap and simply write.
                It’s fear that shackles me in gridlock. Fear that keeps the pen from paper or fingers from the keys. I’m so terrified of writing poor material that it oftentimes keeps me from acting.
“No more,” I finally spat in fear’s ugly face.
                To me, writing is like a workout. There are times I’m primed, motivated, ready to push the weight and make myself stronger (maybe more attractive). And there are others, where lack of mood, anxiety, and distractions make me dread going to the gym for fear of failure. What it all comes down to (inspiration pulsing through your veins or not) is simply writing. I found that if I stifle my fear and let the words fly, the resulting inscriptions are not as terrible as I thought they’d be. Of course, there are many that need immense revisions, but that’s where the fun lies.
                And here’s the thing: writing, like working out, is a matter of persistence. The very first time you start lifting weights, your strength and fitness are not their best. You don’t just start benching 500 pounds your first try (unless you’re the Hulk) or run the 100 meter dash in 9.58 seconds (unless you’re the Flash). The same holds true for writing. The more we work at it, the more we push ourselves, the better we become.
My writing workout routine:
                I try to write every single day, any opening that I get. Lately, the way my classes are arranged, I’m able to get up in the morning (8:30AM) and write an hour before I have to go to school. At this stage in my life, homework (unfortunately) has to come first, but as soon as I get that out of the way, finish the household chores, and hang out with my girlfriend, it’s back to writing. This second opportunity to write usually comes very late in the evening (11PM). This present semester I aim for 1000 words each day. There are times when I just can’t reach that. At those moments I try to squeeze out as much as I can.
                During weekends I write more vigorously if my schedule permits it. Again, homework comes first, but once it’s taken care of, I write in 1 hour to 2 hour stretches at a time, with breaks in between. I try to push a little more words over the weekend, but during that time, I tend to write slower. On a good weekend I’ll claim a word count of around 2,500.
                As for my writing pace, I have always been SLOW and METICULOUS. Think snail’s pace. No, worse—a crippled snail on the verge of passing out. I can spend up to 8 minutes deciding on ONE word. I’ll tinker with a paragraph of four lines for 20 minutes. It could take me as much as an hour and a half to write a single page. This gets to be frustrating when you look at the clock and see you’ve spent most of your day arranging what amounts to 1/8 of a short story.
                I’m trying to change this. I realize that first drafts (even 2nd and 3rddrafts) are the working grounds of a piece. I suppose my fear plays a part in all this OCD. This semester, I intend to let the words fly to the page without restraint for the first few drafts. I’ll take my time revising it after that.
                I have a little corner in my apartment with a desk, printer, bookshelf, and “The Board” on the wall in front of my face. “The Board” is a giant cork board I’ve divided into separate sections (Act #1, Act #2, Act #3). On these sections, I place designated note cards with scenes. “The Board” is reserved for my biggest projects. That is my writing space. When I sit down in my chair and turn on the lamp, it’s like I’m trading minds—the stressed college student becomes the stressed (but hopeful) writer. And when I make that switch I get lost in the craft until I reach the goals I’ve set for the day, or I look up and realize hours have passed and my back’s killing me.
                When I write, I always have the internet pulled up, Google on one tab, Merriam-Webster Dictionary on another. I also have at least one notebook on hand. I use all these resources frequently. Google to look up facts/info, Merriam-Webster for words, the notebook to scrawl, well, notes.
                I do all my pre-writing work on paper only—outlines, plot details, character sketches. I find this liberating for my mind: it feels less set in stone for me to organize it all on paper. Once all the pre-writing work is done, I move to the computer, where I crank out the words and spend endless amounts of time revising. I subscribe to the notion that a work never reaches perfection, it’s only abandoned. Still, I try to make my pieces the best I can (and get frustrated when they’re not up to my standards).
                As I mentioned, there are times when the thought of writing makes me grit my teeth and clench my fists.  The anxieties swell in my mind: This story sucks; Your writing’s terrible; Why do you waste your time? The inner critic is like a Nazi inside my head, pelting me with bullets. But with an established writing workout routine, I discipline myself to confront these grievances and write every day. This is a tremendous aid to keeping me in line. Instead of pouting on the couch, it forces me to take charge and responsibility. Frustrated as I tend to get, anxious as I may be, at least I get the writing accomplished. And in the process, add a little more weight to the bar.

"wasn’t much else for us to learn, except maybe algebra"

Alisha Layman

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee 
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Room, Emma Donoghue 

 When I first gathered this list together, I guess I didn’t really see a lot of connections; a story of Southern life and racism during the 30s, a Victorian-era story of love and independence, a futuristic thriller about government control, the tale of a young man from Afghanistan, a story of a child growing up in the confines of a single room. But the more I looked, the more I saw that they were all pretty similar. All of the novels are told by a first-person narrator. These central characters are surrounded by a fairly small cast of supporting characters. Furthermore, the central characters are all young, or at least, the novel begins while they are young; Scout begins the novel at age six, Jane is ten in the first chapter, Jack is five, Katniss is sixteen, and Amir–although the novel begins with him as an adult, looking back on his life–tells the story of how his life changed starting at age twelve.

This is my living room. Can you tell which novel is my favorite?

Because these novels begin with such young narrators, they all seem to be Bildungsroman novels. The characters are growing up, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. For example, Scout is trying to grow into a woman, Amir must learn how to grow from his past mistakes, and Jack must learn to grow up outside of Room, and the develop a normal life.

Along the way to this growth, the characters face many obstacles, such as the actual Hunger Games for Katniss.  The struggles that the characters must endure, however, aren’t always physical. For the central characters in these novels, many obstacles are internal. This is probably the reason that I really love first-person narrated novels. I am privy to the thoughts and emotions of the protagonist, rather than just her dialogue. Access to thoughts makes a more sympathetic character, and it allows me to connect with the novel a little better. The protagonists in these novels certainly go through a lot of internal struggles. As Scout is growing up, she is struggling with her gender identity, as well as her morals concerning her father’s case. Jane is torn between her independence and love. Katniss, too, is torn, but for her it’s between humanity and survival. Poor little Jack struggles with comprehending life outside of Room. Amir probably has the most internal struggles of any character I have ever read. He is wracked with guilt over not saving his best friend from being raped, so much so that he decides to accuse him of theft and have him sent away; many years later, still a victim to his guilt, he goes on a quest to redeem himself.

There seems to be one overarching theme that draws all of these books together, though. It’s something that I look for in novels, when I’m looking for something new to read. It’s not necessarily genre; I love mystery and fantasy genres, but what I really look for in novels is something that makes me feel. All of these novels really excite some strong emotions in me–pretty much, for all of these, the predominant feeling is sadness; they’re absolutely heartbreaking. I’ll admit it. Room made me sob and scream and throw the book across the room. But I still picked it back up. Because I love it when novels can do that to me.

*Post title is quoted from To Kill a Mockingbird. Seriously. Is it obvious yet that it’s my favorite?

An Overabundance of Books

by Molly Miller

The Stand, Stephen King
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy, E.L. James
Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

You said to only pick five of our favorite novels. I do not think that I can accurate depict in words how difficult this was for me. I literally sat in front of my computer trying to pick just five for probably half an hour. For me, when reading a book I either absolutely love it or I hate it. So I went with the five books that I find myself constantly going back to and rereading time after time.

When it comes to reading, my tastes have always been rather varied; however, I tend to gravitate towards books that have some sort of romance contained within them. The major plot of the story does not have to be romance, but I prefer that there be one somewhere within the novel. My seventh grade English teacher actually told me that I was probably the only one to read Stephen King’s The Stand for the love story.

One thing that the majority of these novels have in common is length. All of them except for To Kill a Mockingbird are rather long novels. I think what really draws me to these type of novels is that in order to make a novel so long there has to be a lot of description. This allows me to completely immerse myself within the story and feel like I am actually there. Since the novels were so long, not only was I able to immerse myself within it, but I was able to stay there for the period of time in which it took me to read them.

Something else that all of these books have in common is the relationship between the characters. By this I do not necessarily mean a romantic relationship, however these relationships fall under this as well. The bonds that the characters have are often times so strong and affect their everyday lives.  I love to see these developments and how they work for both the better and the worse. Some people will always stand by your side and other times those you trust will betray you in ways you cannot imagine. In The Stand Harold Lauder betrays everyone when he pretends to be on their side and then plants a bomb intent on killing the Free Zone Committee.

These novels all also seem to contain some sort of villain. Although some of them are not as obvious as Lord Voldemort, they all contain some form of villain. In my mind a villain is not always someone who is evil, but rather a character that I do not like and always seems to get in the way of how I feel the story should go. For instance in Pride and Prejudice to villain to me is Mr. Wickham, because he is deceitful and plants the seed of doubt about Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth. I really enjoy these types of novels because it shows that you can overcome obstacles in life, especially people who stand in your way.  

I want to again reiterate that these may be my favorites, my go to books, but they are in no way to only ones that I enjoy. There are not my books that I have read that I did not love. In fact my mother is constantly telling me that I have too many books, but I do not listen and keep buying more of them. I just cannot seem to get enough.

“When I look at my room, I see a girl who loves books.”

Looking for Alaska , John Green (10)
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald (6)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, JK Rowling (4)
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen (2)
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window, Lemony Snicket (6)
When listing these five books, it took no time. I looked at my personal home library and smiled, knowing exactly which ones I wanted. It was easy to pick out. I knew where they were on my book shelf and the exact number of times I’d read each book (which is included for your enjoyment). When I finally finished with my list and looked it over, I noticed something interesting. All of these books were narrated by either third person or males. This was something interesting to me. Sure, I’d read Twilight and the FSoG series, but I never really enjoyed those. Now, I’m not saying that I DON’T enjoy female narrators, but there’s something about getting inside the mind of the gender of the opposite sex and seeing, “Oh, so that’s what they would do in that situation”. Of course, this scenario doesn’t work for all those novels, but I digress.
The amount of characters range with each book, but from that, there is a set “gang” in each novel. For example, Harry Potter of course has Hermione and Ron. In Gatsby, there is Nick, his cousin and her husband, Gatsby and of course, Tom’s girl in New York. Lemony Snicket and his incessant need to ruin the Baudelaire’s. John Green normally keeps to about a number of three, but for this book, there was a quite a larger gang than normal for him. And Water for Elephants had Jacob and Marlena, oh and of course, Rosie the elephant. I think, because I am this way myself, that I like books with a smaller “gang” feel. I like to be able to see a person’s name in a story and know exactly what is going on with them, just as I do with my friends.
It’s all about relating the story to my own, if you’re noticing. 
These stories all have the struggles of friendship and love. I believe that, even a work of complete fiction, can show moral values. In Looking for Alaska, the protagonist “Pudge” meets a crazy girl named Alaska and learns about friendship and heartbreak. He learns what it’s like to be rejected by someone you supposedly love. These stories also have to deal with losing someone, which everyone has had to do. It shows the wrong ways and the right ways to deal with losing someone. In the Wide Window, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny lose their Aunt to the leeches in the lake. Hell, the whole series they learn to deal with deaths. Their parents, first and foremost. Also, these stories teach you about good vs. evil. The most obvious example is Harry vs. Lord Voldemort and the most minuscule example is Pudge vs. Death. 
The universes that are presented in these books are very vast. From Hogwarts to a little traveling circus during the depression in America. But, they all teach you something about yourself. From each and every single one of these books, I have learned more and more about myself. I have learned that love ISN’T the most important thing in the world. There’s courage and friendship. Standing up to your enemies is important, yes, but it’s even harder to stand up to your friends (God, Dumbledore is incredibly quotable. I love it.). 
I think what is MOST important about seeing these books and reading them is developing a relationship with your characters. Alaska, from Looking for Alaska, is probably the most relatable character I’ve ever read. Alaska is a girl that named herself because her parents let her. She wanted to be unique and stand out, from the time that I was a kid, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. A voice. Not to mention, Alaska had this mountain of books she wanted to read. Let’s just say that I may or may not have a mountain in my room.