Why I Read the End First

True confession: I skimmed the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows almost as soon as I opened the book.

I often read the end of a novel first. I know you’re thinking I’m insane – why would I want to spoil great stories for myself?? The answer is simple (and a cliche): it’s more about the journey than the destination. Once I’m invested in story,  I have an overwhelming urge to find out RIGHT NOW if my characters meet the end I’ve planned out for them in my head.

I don’t spoil everything for myself. I always read a significant portion of the novel (or series) before skimming the last few pages — this way I connect to the characters and the plot. If that connection isn’t there, then I’m not invested in the book and while I’ll probably still read the rest of the novel, I won’t bother putting the effort in to think about and analyze the story as I’m reading. If I do make a connection with the characters or the storyline, I want to know the end so that I can better understand the story as I read it. Why does a character make the decisions he or she does? Does it follow a pattern? Are the pieces of rising action building toward something meaningful? Why did the author add that little detail? This probably sounds ridiculous to you, but I really do think these things as I read. If a character does something unexpected, I want to understand why they make that decision and if I know how the story ends, I can better understand the character’s choices. For me, seeing how the story and characters develop is more important than the element of surprise that comes with a twist at the end of the story.

(I sound like such an English teacher right now)

It’s not just books I spoil for myself; I spoil television shows and movies too. IMDB and Wikipedia are my best and worst friends. Sometimes, when I start watching a show on Netflix and really like it, I’ll read up about the best episodes and they skip ahead to watch those – especially if there’s a budding relationship between two characters. This can be really frustrating for my husband, because he never wants to know what happens, and I’m always trying to jump ahead.

As you can imagine, this habit of mine drives my friends and family crazy. Because I care so little about surprise endings, I sometimes inadvertently spoil the end of a novel for a friend. This happens less these days, and because people have gotten really upset with me in the past, I’m much more careful now.  Here’s a blanket apology  if I’ve ever spoiled a book or t.v. show for you: I really am sorry to have ruined the surprise (I am so bad at surprises).

What do you think? Am I committing the worst book-reading sin of all time? Or are you a fellow human spoiler alert?

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I Own the Most Books From

Top Ten Tuesday is a link up hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme is “Ten Authors I Own The Most Books From”. I feel like this could get embarrassing, but here we go:

  1. Tamora Pierce (12): several YA fantasy series written in the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s; I read these as a child and they are responsible for my love of fantasy.
  2. J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter series (10, including two copies of book 4, as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages)
  3. John Green (6): contemporary-YA mega-superstar-author-extraordinaire. But seriously, I love his books.
  4. Maud Hart Lovelace (6): I grew up reading and rereading and re-rereading the Betsy-Tacy series, and these books have become something of a security blanket for me. I return to them when I need to read something comfortable, cathartic, and familiar.
  5. Megan McCafferty (5): I wish Jessica Darling was my best friend.
  6. George R.R. Martin (4): while I own the first four Game of Thrones books, I have only read through the third — I just couldn’t get into the fourth and gave up.
  7. Jane Austen (4): original chick-lit; I went though a phase in high school and bought these, but Pride and Prejudice is the only one I’ve read more than once and really love.
  8. Barbara Kingsolver (3): Prodigal Summer is my favorite, but I also own The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees
  9. the Dear America series (technically each novel is by a different author, but I own at least 20 of these from my childhood, so I’m counting them.) This series began my love for historical fiction.
  10. Ann M. Martin, The Babysitter’s Club (I’m including this one even though I don’t actually own all my Babysitter’s Club books anymore.) This series was my First Great Book Obsession, and I think I owned nearly every single one – easily over 100. Thanks Mom and Dad for funding the madness!
  11. BONUS: Shakespeare (because I own his collected works), but let’s be honest here, I’m not reading Shakespeare in my free time, aaaaand I bought this for my Shakespeare courses in college. I’m not sure it counts.

As I compiled this list, I realized that the majority of the books on this list were purchased when I was in grade school and high school – a.k.a. when my parents bought most of my books. I didn’t realize how much I’ve slowed my book-buying habit, because it honestly still seems like I buy a lot of books, and they’re kind of taking over all the horizontal spaces in my home. But, I guess I rely on the library much more than I realized these days!

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I Want With Me on a Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is a link up hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme is “Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island”. So, without further ado, and based solely on my own arbitrary opinions, ten characters I would love to spend some more time with (in no particular order):

  1. Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter series): come on, you know Luna would at least be good for entertainment. 🙂
  2. Jessica Darling (Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty): Jessica is super creative and witty; she would be fun to talk to.
  3. Zuzana and Mik (Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor): these two are HILARIOUS. They provide so much comic relief to a very serious trilogy; hopefully they would do the same on a deserted island.
  4. Alanna (Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce): Alanna is a badass female knight, which makes this choice mostly practical; she can protect me from danger and hunt for our food.
  5. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird): I would just love to pick Atticus’ brain.
  6. Chris McCandless (Into the Wild): There’s a lot I want to ask Chris, and he too would be good for conversation. I wouldn’t let him gather our food though… 😉
  7. Katniss (Hunger Games): more practical reasons such as protection and food.
  8. John Green (author, not character, I’m bending the rules here): He seems like a smart and funny guy, he could probably keep my brain sharp on a deserted island by teaching me about history or quizzing me on classic literature.
  9. ….I’m out of ideas.

Interestingly, I find myself drawn to quirky secondary characters, rather than main characters of novels. Secondary characters often have more laughter and life; they aren’t burdened the way main characters so often are. But, I think that is a topic for another post.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

 

Dreams of Gods and MonstersGenre: young adult fantasy

My rating: 4.5/5

Life lesson: Love conquers all. (but first there might be war, death, and maybe even resurrection!)

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(This review is really vague, because I couldn’t figure out a way to write without spoilers.) Dreams of Gods and Monsters is the final installment in Laini Taylor’s truly epic fantasy trilogy. The word “epic” gets thrown around a lot lately, but Taylor’s novels deserve the adjective; she creates these beautiful and complex worlds full of fantastical creaturest, but it’s her way with words that elevates these novels far, far above other YA fantasy series. Here are a few of my favorite snippets from Gods and Monsters:

“And for the third time in his life, Akiva felt within himself the chrysalis of fire and clarity — an instant, an then the world changes. As if a muting skin were peeled back, all was laid before him: steady and crisp-edged, gleaming and still…Akiva was poised inside a moment” (118). 

“Here was no storm, no fury. There was some new quiet in her, but it didn’t shrink or wilt her. Rather, it seemed to enlarge her. She was no mere weapon as she was trained to be, but a woman in full command of her power, unbowed and unbroken, an that was a dangerous thing” (503).

The premise of this trilogy is based on an improbable love between two warring species: a chimera (a.k.a. monster) named Karou (female) and an angel named Akiva (male). Karou is the primary narrator of this story, and it’s wonderful to see her become confident in her self and her abilities throughout the trilogy. Karou and Akiva’s love spans universes and time periods, and oh man, do they suffer for it. Taylor does a really great job of showing how much the two care about each other without being either too explicit or too sappy.

This, like the other novels in the trilogy, isn’t really a happy novel, but it is very satisfying. I knocked off a half star because I think Taylor tried to get a little too epic. She introduces a new species of angels, and then gives them a new language; it’s a lot of make sense of in one novel. It seems like she’s setting up a spinoff series, because the ending is very open.

If you like fantasy or novels with a strong female narrator, you should give this trilogy a shot, the first novel is called Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

bonesofparis

Genre: adult historical fiction, mystery

My rating: 2.5/5

Life lesson: Avoid artists.

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This novel opens well, with Bennett Grey (a secondary character) receiving a mysterious envelope with photographs of terrified women inside. Maybe “well” is the wrong word for that — it opens with a good hook might be a better way to phrase it. But, unfortunately, the pace of the rest of the novel is really awful.

Harris Stuyvesant is a detective hired to find a missing young woman, Pip Crosby, in 1920’s Paris. The setting is a character of its own in this novel; the 1920’s was the heart of both the Modernist and Surrealist movements and Paris was the cultural and creative epicenter. Artists and writers such as Man Ray, Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Cole Porter make frequent cameos (or more) throughout the novel. I personally enjoyed these references, but that’s probably because I teach both Hemingway and Fitzgerald and therefore have a  lot of prior knowledge about Modernism and Surrealism. But, if you don’t know much about either of those movements, you might find yourself a bit lost with the details. The primary focus is on Surrealist art, and I’ll let King explain what that means in her novel:

“Planned art was a sham, film with plot a travesty. The goal of art was to reflect dream back to reality, and vice versa — to explore the ways in which death and pleasure were one, as were ugliness and beauty, the animal and the divine. Art was improvisation an irrationality, based in the wisdom of the unconscious self, and any true artist must declare his mind open to impulse, repudiating the tyranny of structure, of planning, of thought itself. Dreams were truth. Accident was purpose; unconscious expression was the greatest form art could take” (101).

That excerpt is pretty typical of this story’s writing style, so if that makes you want to read more, pick this book up. The “bones” in the title refer to how a small subset of Surrealist artists obsessed over how a body in death is art.

I liked the characters well enough, although Harris seemed a little underdeveloped, and like I said in an earlier paragraph, I really enjoyed the setting and the Surrealist/Modernist cameos. What I didn’t like was the pacing. The plot was interesting, but there were probably 200 unnecessary pages in the middle that draaaggged on. The resolution and “bad guy” were easy to guess, and there wasn’t much of a twist to keep me engaged and surprised toward the end.

I’m giving it a 2.5. I originally had it a three, but while writing this review I realized there was more I didn’t like about this novel than I did like. Alas, onto the next!

To Read in July

I’m going to be honest, summer is a great time to be a teacher. Since I don’t have any children or other part time jobs, I have a lot of free time in the summer (this blog was born out of that free time), and my to-read list grows exponentially. Here’s what I’m planning to read in July:

julyTBR

 

1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: this one got a lot of hype; hopefully it lives up to it.

2. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: also a lot of hype, and I discovered last night that the cover glows in the dark, how cool is that?!

3. Sold by Patricia McCormick: I picked this one up on a whim at the bookstore with my birthday money, and was intrigued by the synopsis. It’s also a National Book Award finalist.

4. The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones: another whim, this time at the library. Might be silly, might be awesome.

5. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor: the finale of her Smoke and Bone trilogy. I’ve LOVED the first two, so I’m really excited to finish the story.

6. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon: yet another library whim.

7. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (not pictured because it’s on my Kindle)

I also went a little request crazy at the library, and I currently have 20 active requests…so…some of the above to-read list might be pushed back based on when my holds come in. Shaping up to be a great month of reading!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Classics

I’m trying out a link up today from The Broke and the Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday! Today’s theme is Top Ten Classics. So, without further ado, and based solely on my own arbitrary opinions, my top ten classic novels:

(oh, and I’m counting backwards, because anticipation is fun!)

10. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickins: I read this one my freshman year of high school, and it has stuck with me ever since. My English teacher at the time managed to make this sweeping tale of love, heroism, and political treachery hundreds of years in the past feel current and easy to connect with.

9. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Again, I read this in high school (12th grade Brit Lit this time) and a wonderful teacher made the difficult text come alive. This one is not for the faint of heart, because translating it can be laborious, but those who attempt it will be rewarded with detailed and crazy characters. And lots of dirty jokes.

8. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: I know, I know, another text you need to translate?! But who doesn’t love a good love story mixed with sword fights and poison?! (wait, it sounds like I’m talking about The Princess Bride…hmm…)

7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: The language in this novel is beautiful, and it’s absolutely wasted on my 10th grade students. I’ve read this one many times, and it made my list because I discover something new in each reading; a new metaphor, a deeper connection to the callous nature of modern society.

6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: I didn’t read this one until I had to teach it two years ago, and I quickly fell in love. Sylvia Plath’s life story is heartbreaking, and The Bell Jar isn’t much more uplifting; however, every teenage girl should be required to read this so they can understand the roots of the feminist awakening in the 1960’s and realize how hard women had to work to make it a reality.

5. The Road  by Cormac McCarthy: okay, okay, this one is a “modern” classic (remember, my own arbitrary criteria here), and one that you need to read a few times, if you can stomach it, in order to really appreciate the full beauty in the setting and the subtly connected plot.

4. Romantic (capital “R”) poetry: I hated poetry my whole life, as an avid reader, and as English major, even as an English teacher, until I taught the Romantics this past school year. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman write about everyday topics that can easily be connected to modern day, and they require little translation on first read. However, if you take the time to reread slowly, there are so many subtleties and briefs turns of phrase that might make you laugh out loud, or contemplate you place in the universe (I’m thinking of “I heard a fly buzz” and “Leaves of Grass,” respectively).

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby is trendy right now–the high school I teach at just had a Gatsby-themed prom–but, the novel itself stands the test of time. Again, beautiful language.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: a well-written soap opera, what’s not to like? But seriously, I read this one over and over and over as a teenager, and I wished Lizzie Bennett could be my best friend.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: another novel wasted on my 10th graders. So much has been said and written about TKAM, so I’ll just leave it at this : I’ve read this book 25 times, easily, and every.single.time. I find something I didn’t notice on previous readings. Any novel that can offer a fresh perspective with each reread deserves all the credit this novel has been given.

There you have it! What do you think? Do you agree with my choices or think I’m crazy — no one in their right mind would read Chaucer willingly! 🙂