Friday, March 30, 2012

The Internet is Distracting! (This post brought to you by Captain Obvious)

The Internet is distracting!!!

Thank you, Captain Obvious. Now that you have stated the obvious, what exactly am I going to do about it?

The problem, you see, is multi-faceted. The Internet is distracting, but also necessary. I need to check my email, edit my group paper/project in Google Docs, look up sources and articles etc. online, read the news and the weather, make the occasional appearance on Facebook so that my friends don't think I've forgotten them, etc. I spend at least an hour a day on checking my email and other necessary -- often school-related -- Internet tasks.

What I don't need to do is get into pointless arguments with bigots in the comments section of YouTube, spend forever on Pinterest, tweet 24/7, debate the merits and flaws of Communism and religion with people I only know via Facebook, defend against stereotypical/cruel/bigoted comments directed at social groups I may or may not belong to, or spend hours on Goodreads analyzing some random novel I liked. Also cat video marathons. You may laugh, but you know you're guilty of this too -- you watch JUST ONE VIDEO of a cat doing something adorable and it's like you need another hit of cuteness. At least I don't browse reddit or 4chan.

Usually I don't worry about my Internet use, but I had a sudden realization earlier today. It was occasioned by a Facebook discussion where a friend of a friend of an acquaintance commented: "Jesus's teachings: let's camp out in the desert and eat bugs and talk about how good we are rather than doing anything to actually combat violence." Seeing that, I chuckled and almost commented: "Lol that's John the Baptist actually" before I realized that a) they wouldn't get the joke, and b) they wouldn't care.

That actually really bothered me for a little while, until I realized that I shouldn't care what random people on the Internet think. I KNOW. Huge revelation, right? :P If this person wants to spread misinformation, nothing I can say will change that. Similarly, if YouTube-comment-bigots want to rant about how feminism and interracial marriage are destroying the world (examples of all the word-vomit out there on YouTube), then a comment from a random person won't exactly change their worldview. Hell, I don't even know them. Why do I bother?

This gets back to a personal problem, er I mean characteristic, of mine. I have a capricious tendency to play devil's advocate to almost anything,* because I believe that if you can't defend your views against the counterargument, then maybe you should rethink your views. Or at least, how you defend them. I can do this because I recognize that debate and discussion are not the place and time for emotion and personal investment. In other words: attack on my argument does not = attack on my person. Therefore, I might want to prove you wrong because I disagree, but it's not personal. Gay marriage destroys family values? Evidence please. Jesus was the ancient Middle East version of Thoreau? Ok, please explain. And kudos to you if you can convince me you're right.**

However, most of the Internet is not the place for reasonable discourse. This is why Goodreads is such a Laura-trap, and a place where I waste a huge amount of my time. On Goodreads, you are encouraged to have reasoned discussion and analysis of books. I, as you may have figured out, am a sucker for that kind of thing. It's also nice to find somewhere on the Internet where people are expressing their opinions without devolving into finger-pointing, name-calling, or grammatically nonsensical paragraphs.

So what can I do to cut down on my Internet time?

1. I shall avoid Goodreads discussion pages. I've already been doing that for a while; usually I just add, rate, and review books. And since I'm only reading one book for pleasure right now, I can safely cut all time on the site until I actually, you know, have time for it.

2. I shall not friend or talk to people on Facebook who I don't know in real life. There is one exception to this rule; I am going to ignore the rest.

3. I hereby give myself the power to not give a fuck! This is actually extremely difficult because I tend to care a LOT. However. The Internet is not the time and place to care, beyond signing petitions. (But if I meet racist bigots in real life, I make no promises.)

4. I shall henceforth ignore the comment section of YouTube/other sites. This will both save me a lot of spoilers and preserve my faith in humanity.

5. I shall not cultivate a new Internet addiction after Pinterest.

6. If I don't have anything interesting or revelatory to tweet, I shall not tweet.

7. Twitter time shall become an exercise in multitasking. By which I don't mean keeping Twitter and Facebook open at the same time; I mean working on a paper and tweeting on the side.

8. I shall begin a to-do list of things that cannot be accomplished on the Internet. And then do them. And then go on the Internet.

9. I shall subscribe by email only to the blogs/newsletters/groups whose posts I am 100% sure I will actually read. I also have some email subscriptions I almost never read; I shall unsubscribe to those.

10. I am not obligated to comment on every blogpost I read (although I try to do this for most of them, as a matter of courtesy if not always actual interest). Luckily, I'm helped in this by WordPress's extremely irritating login and Blogger's almost-as-irritating word verification. Dammit, WordPress, sometimes you just want to comment as "Anonymous" even if your email already belongs to a WordPress account. And Blogger, not even humans can read those word verifications. Thus, more bloggers are disabling them altogether. Congratulations -- in your attempt to block spam, you've actually achieved the opposite effect. It's easier to delete spam comments than read those squiggly words.

*I should just be a lawyer.
**Because that's kind of hard to do.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

If you Liked The Hunger Games, Read These

Before I recommend anything, first allow me to geek out a bit.

I saw The Hunger Games movie at the midnight premiere, and let me just say, it was fantastic. It's the kind of book that is very well suited to be made into a movie -- suspenseful, action-packed, with lots of great character stuff going on as well. I was gasping, laughing, wincing, flailing, and at one point honest-to-God crying (along with everyone else in the theater). The acting was spot-on, the costumes induced extreme envy, and the script (which Suzanne Collins, a screenwriter, worked on) was great. I may be alone in this, but I thought the jerky camera techniques were very effective in showing emotion and atmosphere.

Favorite character: Cinna, although I also loved Rue.

Kiss rating: epic but not overdone.

Seneca's beard rating: F/ING EPIC. My awe was such that I was completely distracted by The Beard of Awesome. " it real? Psst. Psst, Katherine!! Look at his beard!!!" "I can see his beard, shut up!!"

*Ahem* Moving on with the review...

Poetic justice: a little too heavy-handed.

Speaking of poetic justice, Cato: He made me sad towards the end. I was really annoyed with him in the beginning, mainly because the actor looked almost exactly like the actor playing Peeta and I kept getting them mixed up.

Speaking of heavy-handed, implications for the modern world: I find it ironic how obsessed people are with a movie about excessive voyeurism and love for cinematic violence. Suzanne Collins, you have made your point quite effectively. Also, there were some really grim references to American history. I was wincing at the police shield-and-club riot control -- especially when they sprayed water on the rioters from District 11, most of whom were African-American. And then we have rebellions, mushroom clouds, propaganda videos, glorification of the military, and the extreme poverty of District 12 which is a sad reality for parts of the real-life, present-day US. Most of this I liked. However -- and this might have been just me -- did the decadence of the Capitol give off a vibe of anti-LGBT? I'm probably reading way too much into it, but it was enough that it made me uncomfortable.

"Ship"/Opinion on the "love triangle": I got the impression from fans that Peeta was this perfect guy, and I was happy to see that he wasn't. He was flawed, just like Katniss, and that made him more likeable than if he'd been this goody-two-shoes baker boy destined to be with Katniss. Also, the "love triangle" as of this book/movie doesn't really exist, because Katniss and Gale weren't exactly a "thing." And neither are Peeta and Katniss, outside the Hunger Games. 

If you liked The Hunger Games, there are many similar books out there -- dystopian, survival stories, war stories, revolution stories, competition and game stories. Here are a few suggestions. In the interest of keeping it short, I'll limit it to three:

The Quillan Games by D.J. MacHale is basically The Hunger Games before there was a Hunger Games. The premise: Quillan is a world controlled by a giant corporate monopoly, Blok. (Like Wal-Mart gone evil. Oh wait...) Bobby Pendragon becomes trapped in the Quillan Games, a kind of twisted Olympics run by Blok where people bet on different Challengers. The games and betting statistics are televised to the population. The poverty on Quillan is so extreme that people bet things like a quarter's rent, food, or their job. If they lose and can't pay the price, Blok sends them to the nuclear dump, where they spend the rest of their short lives cleaning up radioactive waste. Bobby meets an underground organization that uses him to spearhead a revolution -- in defiance of Blok, people stop betting on the games.

Review/recommend: Like The Hunger Games, this is a first-person narrative about games in a dystopian world. There's even a shade of a love triangle -- but like The Hunger Games, it's not played up very much. Unlike The Hunger Games, however, The Quillan Games is not the first book of its series. Enough backstory is given so that you could probably read The Quillan Games without having read the previous books, if you're quick on the uptake. Without giving away any spoilers, I would also venture to say that's it's even darker than The Hunger Games. It's a bit of a send-up to 1984, and, well, you know how that one turned out...

Review/recommend: I recommend this one chiefly because of the survival story aspect, which was a large part of The Hunger Games. The commentary on government is another huge part of it -- the entire book is an allegory for society. Also, Cato and his gang remind me of a certain character and his followers from Lord of the Flies. While The Hunger Games is an every-man-for-himself fight to the death, Lord of the Flies tackles a different challenge: getting everyone to work together to survive. It's very dark, there's lots of psychological scarring, and some favorite characters die -- just like in The Hunger Games! Yay!

Happy reading, and if you haven't seen The Hunger Games movie I highly recommend it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Read: Hush

Title: Hush
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Genre: Historical fiction, young adult

What it's about: Irish princess Melkorka is a young woman with dreams. She is the first daughter of the king and she loves stories, especially tales of warrior princesses. Her dreams are shattered when she and her younger sister are kidnapped by Vikings and sold into slavery, to live amongst people her culture considers to be less than human. To survive, she must change everything she is and everything she knows. In defiance of her captors, Melkorka takes a vow of silence. She might not be a warrior princess, but she finds an inner strength and power in her silence.

Why I recommend it: Hush is based on a true story about an Irish princess who was kidnapped by slavers. Donna Jo Napoli is not afraid to be bleak; Hush is a tough book in many ways because of the brutality of Melkorka's situation. Slavery, rape, abuse, and fear all feature prominently, but they are all handled tastefully.

For me, the best part of the book was Melkorka's character development. She starts out as a naive, sheltered, and privileged girl and becomes a very strong woman. The story also doesn't resort to the princess-with-a-sword type, which is really a superficial way of making a female character look "strong" without any actual development. Melkorka is strong in a more profound way. Through her silence, she forms bonds with her fellow prisoners, inspires a superstitious fascination in her captors, and captivates the man who buys her. She manipulates him into improving her life, but the book doesn't employ a Stockholm Syndrome "romance." She is a true survivor.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 2, 2012

21 Minus Blog Tour Launch!

Hello and welcome to the 21 Minus blog tour! Are you excited? Good. You should be. :)

21 Minus, hosted by Anna Waggener, aims to showcase writers 21 and under. With that in mind, I present my interview of 15-year-old writer and blogger Nick Hight   from New Zealand. He doesn't know who interviewed him yet, and I don't know who interviewed me. That's part of how you win the contest -- but more details on the rules after the interview.

Interview with teen writer Nick Hight:

1. Why did you decide to start a blog?
Because someone I know -- who’s not even one of my mates -- told me I should. Seriously, that’s the only reason. She said I should give it a go, and I thought, why not? At the time, I didn’t intend to meet other writers online or post about writing or anything like that at all -- it was just a way for me to rant to the world.

2. What is your favorite book or movie and why?
This is a tough one, because I have a whole heap of favourite books and movies. Can I list a couple? I admire the scope of Tolkien’s imagination in The Lord of the Rings, the absolute suspense in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the story of Eragon by Christopher Paolini. They’re all really my favourite, but all for very different reasons.

3. Who's your favorite character -- from any book or movie -- and why do you like them?
He’s from a TV show, rather than a book, but I have to go with Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Without a doubt. Yes, it’s a kids’ show, but Zuko has a depth of character that just astounds me. I like him because his character arcs dramatically. He’s so set on his father restoring his honour at the beginning; by the end, he’s been able to restore his own honour.

4. How and where do you put yourself into your writing and your characters?
Mainly through the way my characters act and react, and the events that they experience. Story is a metaphor for life, so with every action, reaction and event I express my view of the world. It's like me personally saying to the reader: "Look at this. This is how I believe people in real life act. This is what I believe life to be like." So, the majority of my self-expression comes from what happens inside the world of my story.

5. What are your plans for the future? Do you intend to keep writing seriously?
Of course! I wouldn't be serious about it if I intended to stop! The dream is to write full-time, but on my journey there I'd love to go to university and study English, travel, possibly teach, and possibly get an internship at an literary agency. The options are many. But I'm shooting for full-time writing above and beyond anything else.

6. Cat or dog person? ;)
Well, I'd like to say I'm a dog person, although I've never had one as I pet. I've got a cat, but a think dogs are a lot more fun.

7. If you had to describe your WIP in one word, what would it be?
"Awakening." If you interpret that in every sense of the word, I guarantee that whatever you come up with will feature heavily in the novel. So much so that this might end up becoming the name of the series.

Thanks Nick for the great interview! Head on over to his blog to read his interview of another participant. And now for the contest rules:

- Participants and readers are entered into a drawing for a list of prizes, found here. There are some really great ones -- including a signed ARC of Anna's soon-to-be-released novel!

- You get additional entries in the drawing for tweeting, reblogging, posting about, and otherwise promoting the blog tour.

- You'll notice Nick described his WIP as "awakening." Every blogger has been asked the same question, and responded with their own one-word answer. Your goal is to read each interview, collect each answer, and email the list to Anna (anna[at] This earns you more entries in the drawing.

- Finally, I encourage you to read and comment on every interview! This won't get you any more points (at least I don't think so), but that's not the point. Not the point? Get it? OK, never mind...

EDIT: For a complete list of all participants and the official contest rules and entry form, go here!

Review: Style by Chelsea Cameron

A book I read was good, and I want to share it with you all via a review! :) I'm reading more of Chelsea Cameron's stuff, and this...