“the notebook” has destroyed real love.

I am about to say something that could very well get me killed. It could cause intense displays of anger, complete and utter withdrawal of support towards me, and, quite frankly, ruin my reputation. I have learned, however, that if you want to share your opinion you have to be ready for the backlash and this one is important enough to reap what I sow and then some:

I hate The Notebook.

I hate it. I hate the idea of it, I hate the execution of it, I hate it. I’ve been taught in my life that hate is a very strong word, reserved only for those people or things that truly deserve it, and oh, does The Notebook ever deserve it.

Before you go shutting your laptop in fury or yelling obscenities, I ask that you hear me out on this one. I also ask that you understand that The Notebook is a really great example of something that exists in many other works, as well, so unfortunately in this case it has become a bit of a martyr for the cause.

The thing about it, and any other Nicholas Sparks novel-to-movie adaptation, is how confidently and unabashedly it manipulates those viewing it. If Sparks could have feasibly added a few more disease-riddled characters and a dying animal or two, I’m sure he would have. It is like it is trying to take those tender heartstrings and not just play with them but shred them to pieces.

I have a problem with that. I have a problem with it in that my emotions are not someone else’s to manipulate. I am okay with being made to feel all the feelings – rarely do I read a book and not feel something – but I don’t want it to be obvious. I certainly don’t want it to be a ploy. And I definitely do not want it to be done through a completely unhealthy, unrealistic, and abusive relationship that everyone now holds up as the pinnacle of true love.

Has anyone ever stopped and taken a good hard look at the never-ending love of Noah and Allie? Do you understand how fucked up their example of true romance really is?

They fight all the time. Oh, but they always make up so it’s okay if it’s yelling, screaming, tearing their faces off sort of fighting – in the end, love wins everything! They break up, go on to live separate lives for awhile. But, no, wait! There he is, Noah the hero, buying the house and fixing it up and ensuring that Allie sees it. Then they fight in the rain, they make love, and basically everything is set in stone. Throw in some snooty parents who will just never understand and a few more tense moments of near-abusive arguments and you’ve got yourself a love story. Oh, and don’t forget the Alzheimer’s and the patient daily storytelling of Noah to the woman he’s always loved.

I want to vomit in my mouth.

There is nothing healthy or normal about this relationship. There is nothing to be coveted except, possibly, the determination and resilience they display despite their unhealthy displays of affection. If Allie or Norah were a friend of mine I’d definitely be all, “Look, I know it’s love, but you gotta get out of this one, man – it’s no good at the core.”

As I said, The Notebook is just an overarching symbol of something that has become prevalent throughout novels and movies in the last fifteen years or so. We heard it first when Renee felt completed by Tom and it’s spiraled down from there. Mr. Sparks has made a name for himself in the novel/movie realm of this emotionally manipulative, strangely unhealthy love story (A Walk to Remember, The Last Song, The Lucky One) but he’s not alone in it. Now we’re adding BDSM-based love stories to the mix and getting ourselves all worked up thinking that non-consensual, unhealthy sexual relationships CAN end in true love!

Great.

I’m not knocking arguing with your partner. I’m not knocking the couple that breaks up and gets back together. And I’m not knocking the two people who decide to saunter in to their local sex shop to see about a ball gag. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things and every couple has their own way of making it through the ups and downs of love. What I’m knocking, what I have a serious problem with, are the examples being set by these books and films for women (and men) that show completely off-the-rails displays of misguided affection and we are made to believe that’s what love looks like. And suddenly you are hearing your friend tell you there was just no “passion”, in or out of the bedroom, because he never yelled at her. Or there wasn’t a “spark” because she never raised a hand to him. Or there just wasn’t “chemistry” because she refused to progress beyond what you think is vanilla even though you agreed to use a safe word.

There is a time and a place for overwrought, emotional love stories. To some, they are an escape into a world they have never been a part of. But they are becoming beacons of light, hopeful symbols of what awaits us when we finally fall in love. This has to stop. It will be a hard, lonely lesson to learn when you see that Noah and Allie aren’t real and if you love like they love it will hurt more than you ever wanted. It won’t feel great when you realize that falling in love is hard work, even when finding the person is easy, and every day you learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. And it will be gravely disappointing when it dawns on you that acting like you are the subject of the next, not-so-great Sparks novel will result in many a destructive break up.

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

Title: Strange Bodies
Author: Marcel Theroux
Originally published: 2013
This is a bottom shelf book.

strange-bodiesPicked up based on a vast number of glowing reviews, Strange Bodies was a whim purchase done with trust in others. It sounded unique and strange, both of which I highly enjoy in novels. I’m strange, the world is strange – strange is very good. Sometimes, however, it does not get executed greatly and strange quickly becomes quite awful. You sit, reading page after page, hoping you’re wrong, hoping the storyline will right itself, and upon every flip of the paper you find yourself disappointed.

Marcel Theroux tried, I suppose. There was an attempt to link science fiction, literature, and thrilling plotline, one that almost succeeded but in the end fell short. Questions of consciousness, identity, and death arise with promise of deeper conversations being had but they never seem to reach the desired level of seriousness. It felt forced, contrived, and absolutely ridiculous.

I had high hopes for a book that promised a “literary thriller” that were dashed quite quickly. I could never get into it and was never all too interested in what Theroux had to say. The characters were overwrought and boring. The use of the device of a story within a story plus the addition of excerpts from the psychiatrist’s notes made for muddled, messy storytelling. I found it all so unappealing that it felt physically difficult to get through each page.

If you decide to look up the book and check out reviews you will find them all to be extremely positive. Perhaps I missed something, perhaps they did. Or perhaps Strange Bodies is just not my type of book. What it comes down to is that I could not stand this novel, would not recommend it, and would never lend it out in fear of the angry diatribe that would be coming my way once the receiver had finished the book.

a restrospect of my writing career.

I have documented my life in journals for as long as I can remember. Whenever I come across one of these gems from years ago I end up sitting and reading it through, cover to cover, having an extremely good laugh. I’ll never forget finding my kindergarten journal which contained such interesting tidbits as, “Today I used a magnet” and “Once I had a horse”. I never had a horse but I’m sure I had used a magnet by that point in my life.

Today while organizing the bookshelf I found a journal I was keeping from what looks like grade two until grade five. I did not religiously write in this, since there are maybe forty entries for three years of my life but the contents of these entries are brilliant. Ten year old me had no idea what she was creating but if I could go back I would tell her that while she thinks she is writing very serious, heartfelt entries she is actually constructing comedic gold.

Here I will share with you some of my favourites (complete with any spelling and grammar mistakes) and will attempt to give back-story when possible. I hope you see the wonder in these that I do.

March 30, 1997

“I like Easter. Easter came early this year usally it comes in April but this year it came at the end of March. We always get to go on an Easter egg hunt in our house and we always have tons of chocolate left over. I guess that’s all I have to say about Easter.”

If you were ever wondering about the history, importance, and wonderful family time that is Easter.

April 24, 1997

“After the grade three testing and Mrs. Pahwa told us we would be starting insects again the girls moaned. I felt like saying “Hey girls! Insects aren’t gross, boring or anything like that. You have to sort of get into the subject before you can say like they’re boring or somthing!”

If only I had looked back through my notebooks when deciding what to do with my life, clearly I was meant to be an entymologist.

April 27, 1997

“On Friday we got the tape Bacstreet boys. Heres a part of It: You’re the one for me you’re by extisy.”

This was extremely important to document, so important that I couldn’t even take the time to look up the spelling of ecstasy.

October 20, 1997

“I wrote a note to Holly asking if she had a Boyfriend. She wrote me back saying she didn’t. We were where Holly wrote her notes and Danielle read the note and started to laugh and said that’s practilly what she wrote. They wouldn’t let me read what she wrote, so when I was packing up Holly’s letter, I was looking for the letter Danielle wrote, then I found it. It said: Dear Holly, Are you going to tell Jeff you like him? Write back! From Danielle

Holly lied to me!”

This shows a few very important things:
1. I have always been a snoop and think everything is my business. This is shameful but also highly convenient.
2. I have no idea what I’m talking about here. Where were we writing these letters? Why did we have particular places where we wrote them? Who is Jeff?
3. I had no clue what it meant to have a boyfriend.

January 27, 1998

“Even is such a whiner! I can’t believe I even liked him! Once he started crying because he got beaten by a grade three in times tables around the world. Isn’t that pathetic! … But now a girl in my class named Stacee-Ann likes Evan. I know this because Stacee told Jessica, who told Evan, who told Scott, who told me and Neel. Boys can be really dum sometimes!”

Young Caitlin had no time for whiny bitches, okay? Also she really paid attention to the gossip mill. I totally am a Nosy Nancy. Also, young Caitlin: learn to spell “dumb” before you call people “dumb”… Glass houses and all.

February 12, 1998

“I like doing art. So far, my favourite type of art is Post impressonism and pop art. I think Pop art is the best though.”

Some things never change.

“I dream I’m part of my favourite band HANSON. Other times, I dream I volunteer at an Animal Rescue Station, and have LOTS of pets. It is fun to dream to me, for others, it’s wimpy.”

What?

September 27, 1998

This one you just have to see to understand:

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May 28, 1999

Graeme, a boy in my class likes me soooooo much! It is a bit flattering for someone to hug you everyday and tell you you’re beautiful. The thing is, I like him back. I know that that is not a bad thing, but, the bad thing is, he knows! Actually, everybody knows. They are always asking stupid questions like “has Graeme ‘screwed’ you yet? I hate that!”

Exemplifying my lack of desire for others to know my true feelings and also that at some point that year I learned how to put quotation marks within a quotation.

June 3, 1999

“Graeme proposed to me today. It was actually pretty sweet. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said … YES!! I can’t believe I actually said yes!”

As Billy Joel once said, “Everyone said they were crazy, Brenda you know that you’re much too lazy and Eddy can never afford to live that kind of life.’

June 9, 1999

“I’m going to tell the people I know that have internet to go on it. Then we can talk over the internet instead. Maybe I’ll tell Graeme to go on it. Then I don’t have to spend an hour holding the phone to my ear.”

This is regarding a Hanson chatroom my friend showed me. If only I knew then how the internet can destroy perfectly good relationships.

December 12, 2000

“As you can tell from the last couple of pages*, I now hate Oddy. He asks me too many personal things and it gets really annoying sometimes. He doesn’t understand.

But after someone new now! His name is Nathaniel Underhill, and he is SO hot! He’s a bit taller than me, has blonde hair and either blue or brown eyes**. He is really funny and nice, too. He sat beside me in typing and stood beside me in the class photo. Oh how hot he is!”

*The last couple of pages had “I hate Oddy scrawled across them in maniacal writing

**True love means not even noticing eye colour, you see.

To finish this post off, I will leave you with some beautiful drawings also contained in the journal. They are symbols of my clearly budding “Pop art” career.

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Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell

Title: Books v. Cigarettes
Author: George Orwell
Originally published: 1946
This is a top shelf book.

4064936I find George Orwell’s works fantastic for a variety of reasons from his simple yet intelligent prose to his dominating yet calming voice. What I usually find most fascinating about him, however, is how much his pieces still resonate today. I’m not only talking about 1984 (although that clearly relates to the world we live in today) but his other stories and essays, as well. Books v. Cigarettes is a collection of six essays ranging in topics from his early schooling days to censorship to the book reviewer to a comparison of how much more expensive reading is than other hobbies.

In a world where the bookstore is becoming out of date and people seem unwilling to spend the money on literature anymore, or even read at all, the title essay is something that particularly resonated with me. It is likely that his findings that most people spend much less on books than they do on other items such as cigarettes or alcohol would still be true today yet, just as it were seventy years ago, people still balk at the cost of a book. Anyone who has an interest in reading and the book industry would find this piece of great interest as well.

Beyond his ability to seemingly see into the future, it is worth reading this volume for his masterful writing. He writes so succinctly and beautifully, never misusing a word or creating a clumsy sentence. It feels so perfectly revised and fluid, with each piece possessing its own personality and emotion without being out of place alongside the others. He is intelligent and well-researched, unafraid to show it, but does so without being condescending towards the reader. While Orwell assumes you will know what he is talking about he also provides enough background knowledge that you can understand his point without having to take up your own research project if you don’t wish to.

Simply as an example of perfected writing style, this collection of essays is worth picking up. If you ever need to see how a great author crafts a sentence, then a paragraph, then brings it all together into one coherent piece, pick up anything by Orwell. I highly recommend these works, though, for their thought-provoking subject matter, humour, insight, emotion, and honesty.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Title: Ethan Frome
Author: Edith Wharton
Originally published: 1911
This is a top shelf book.

ethan_fromeI love a good unhappy ending. It takes guts for someone to write a story that builds you up with all the hope in the world over one hundred pages then tear it away from you in only a few. An author who is conscious of the fact that she is going to make you believe in love, in destiny, in the power of attraction over reality and then slap you in the face with it anyways is impressive in her resolve. Edith Wharton did for me in Ethan Frome what she could not do in The House of Mirth which was make me feel deeply and somehow feel content with the horrible unhappiness of everything I just bore witness to.

A story of a fictional New England town called Starkfield where title character Ethan Frome calls home with his sickly wife, Zeena, it captures the struggle of small town life with little money to spare quite beautifully. She writes her characters so beautifully that you are aware of how old the Fromes appear due to the harshness of their cold life together, both due to the winters and a lack of love, despite the fact that they are actually quite young. When Zeena’s cousin Mattie Silver comes to live at the home as a hired girl and changes Ethan completely when she is around, you feel as if you are reading about an entirely different man during those exchanges. It is this change Mattie creates in Ethan that is the catalyst for all subsequent events.

We have all read and seen the story of the ill-fated lovers. We have been depressed by them and haunted by them. There is something about two people in love who never quite get to be that can be aching. But what is special about Ethan Frome is that there is never a line crossed. All encounters and desire is transmitted through a slight blush, a batted eyelash, or a one-second-too-long touch. The beauty of this story lies in the fact that almost never are you led to actually believe anything good will come of it but somehow you think it anyway.

Wharton weaves a tale of suspicion, jealousy, lies, and betrayal that is not melodramatic or sickeningly sweet. It is surprising and heartbreaking, but simply so. The characters are true to themselves and each other, never faltering in their resolve and always understanding what must happen despite any desires they might have. There is something refreshing in reading a story that had the opportunity to spin out of control but the author chose not to. Instead, she decided to let the reader imagine what could have happened instead.

Do not delve into this one looking for happiness or excitement. Do not go looking for a love story or a sweet tale of people who wanted each other but were simply not destined to be. It is not happy and it does not leave you feeling uplifted but it is brilliant, well-written, and creative in the way the characters’ lives play out. The only criticism I have is the unnecessary device used by Wharton of the visitor to Starkfield being the narrator of the story of Ethan based on accounts he was given by other neighbours. The only reason this was needed was to give us an idea of what Ethan looks like now, years later than the rest of the novel, but still feels slightly contrived. The rest of the book, however, is so fantastic it is an easy thing to look over.

The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre

Title: The Age of Reason
Author: Jean-Paul Sartre
Originally Published: 1945
This is a top shelf book.

book cover - The age of reason, by Jean-Paul SartrePerhaps if I decided to become a philosopher I would be an existentialist. Many of the philosophical texts I read and have interest in are existential in nature, delving deeply into issues of freedom, self, and how one fits into the world. I’m not sure what that says about me but I do know that The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre did not disappoint my needs.

In this novel, the first in the trilogy The Roads to Freedom, Sartre focuses on freedom – what is is, how to find it, how to keep it, and if it makes one happy. The main character Mathieu is a professor of philosophy who is obsessed with maintaining his freedom despite a pregnant mistress of seven years and the approach of World War II. He spends most of the text on the hunt for money needed for an abortion but takes a break to flirt, fall in love, stab himself in the hand, steal from a woman presumed dead but isn’t quite, and generally question everything going on around him.

Mathieu is not highly likeable, to say the least, but the other characters are not either. A friend of Mathieu’s who is suicidal, a student of Mathieu’s who is terrified of growing older, the student’s sister who Mathieu is taken by but is also taking her medical entrance exams which she is doomed to fail, and an older entertainer who is in love with the student.

It is difficult to write a novel that is enjoyable to read when none of the characters are people you would like to know. Sartre not only succeeds in making you want to learn more about these people, he draws you into their world despite yourself and forces you to think about what they are looking for. Each of them are realizing that life is a limitation, the barriers it puts in front of us such as work, school, and life take away any chance for freedom. You wiggle through their storylines, wondering what will become of such a sad group of people seemingly going nowhere, until near to the very end when they all have a choice to make.

It is a brilliant piece of existential literature, showing how freedom and the right to do as you wish are more difficult than it initially seems. A perfect example of what must be sacrificed to truly be who you want to be, where you want to be, and to have no obligation to answer to anyone, The Age of Reason will make you think, will ask questions of you, and will create more confusion than it will clear up. But it does it in a way that doesn’t annoy you – it simply leaves you feeling as if you may not be as free as you initially thought.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Title: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Originally published: 1945

This is a top shelf book.

Animal-Farm-Cover-by-TheFool432-16cerxbA parable, a fable, an allegory – whatever you want to call it, Animal Farm has a strong message. I believe that most schools force students to read this one too early, failing to give them the basis of knowledge to grasp what is truly being said and understanding the real-life players in communism the animals are mirroring, and if you once hated it I suggest coming back to it. It is worth looking at with fresh eyes.

George Orwell excels at showing his reader what is wrong with the world they are living in with simple, strong language. He is not verbose or condescending, he does not go on at length when the point can be given quickly, and this makes for a simple read through otherwise complicated territory. Many authors would fail at creating a short fictional account of communism, from its optimistic creation to its terrible reality, but Orwell does it masterfully, spinning a tale that is so entertaining and well-written you hardly realize you’re reading about history.

Orwell weaves small moments of foreshadowing into the larger message of a paragraph, sometimes a simple five words that you would miss the ominous nature of if you were simply skimming through. These tiny snapshots of the future are enough to get your guard up from the first three pages and it stays up as he carries you through the rest of the tale. You are taken on a ride that is maddening – especially when reading it almost seventy years after being written and understanding how strongly he was warning society while simply saying, “This is how it is” – but it is wonderfully written and does not leave you feeling abandoned with your emotions.

An interest in history and politics would cause the reading of Animal Farm to be more pleasurable than it would be otherwise. This being one of the reasons I believe this book should wait until later on in school years than it currently does (at least in Ontario school systems), I do suggest, as I said earlier, to read it again if you read it once and hated it. Perhaps you will feel that Orwell is simplifying the growth of communism and the harm it created, but that is not so: he has taken the notable moments in its history and created a powerful fable around them. There was no need to complicate it, it was right in front of our faces.