Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books and Plays I Had to Read for School

Top Ten Tuesday is a fabulous feature hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This Tuesday, we were given a freebie and could pick whatever topic we wanted. So I decided to compile a list of the best books and plays I had to read for school. I considered books from elementary school to high school.

Night by Elie Wiesel
Read in 9th grade

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Read in 5th grade

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Read in 9th grade

1984 by George Orwell
Read in 12th grade

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read in 11th grade

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Read in 10th grade

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Read in 10th grade

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Read in 11th grade

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Read in 11th grade


Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Read in 12th grade

Okay, so I only included one play, but I honestly just didn't read that many that really grabbed me. I am especially partial to the books in the top five; they had the biggest effect on me. Did you have to read any of these for school? Did you like/dislike any of them? Feel free to leave your list in the comments so I can take a look!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Realism, Romaticism, and Interpretations

Realism and romanticism - two different approaches to literature with their own individual quirks and perks. Of course, each reader has his or her own preference for one of the other or enjoys combinations of both. I fall into the latter category. I have a place in my heart for approaches, although I imagine I probably do have standards for each whether I realize it or not. However, I'm aware that I tend to read way more romanticized novels because they can be so magically fictionalized. "Unrealistic." My imagination is rather far-fetched, so just about any story will do as long as it's well-crafted and meets my standards for literature.
But lately, I've been noticing some things and have come to a few realizations. I think that someone's set preference can easily affect their opinions of a novel - I'm not just talking about if they don't like something, I'm talking about the why. But no one really talks about that.
Allow me to explain. I liked Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series even though there were quite a few that hated it. Like I said though, this discussion is all about the why. When people would talk about why they didn't like it, it oftentimes resulted in a full-blown discussion about how Bella was a weak character with an unnatural, unhealthy need to cling to her boyfriend. They spoke of anti-feminism scattered throughout the novel. I was utterly confused for a while (literally YEARS) because all the reasons they gave for disliking Bella sounded like reasons I would give for not liking a character.

So, this begged the question, why didn't I see what others saw in her even though the qualities they saw sounded awful to me? It took me such a long time to figure it out... But them BAM: Epiphany! I began thinking about New Moon, which probably made people the most irritated since it consisted of Bella feeling completely miserable over Edward leaving. And I understood something: If I read New Moon and took it all as realism, I would've thrown that book out of the window. But I didn't. I took it all as heavy romanticism. Why was Bella so miserable when Edward left? In the eyes of a realist, it was because all Bella wasn't independent and relied on her boyfriend in the worst way possible. In my romanticized eyes, it was like a fairytale where true love bound them together. The reason Bella was ever so drawn to Edward was because that magical concept of fate, where if you fight it, you're going to lose. It wasn't that she was independent because of a character flaw, it was because of that romanticized sense of fate.
Is it unrealistic? Yes. Stupid? Probably. But it's romanticism, and I think if people took it as lighthearted as possible, the way we took Cinderella when we were five, then more people would've liked it. I'm not saying that people have to be romanticists to any extent, I'm just saying people would have to in order to enjoy that particular series.

What someone takes from a book can be completely different from what someone else takes from it - this goes for realists, romanticists, and everything in between. I always use Cinderella for this example. Many view Cinderella's story as anti-feminist, that she relied on a man to "save" her, or whatever. My question is: How in God's name did the prince save her? If anything, the fairy godmother did. Still, one could argue that she relied on the prince for happiness, but once again, I think people give the prince too much credit. Marrying a prince wasn't the point; getting out of her horrible life situation was. But that's just my interpretation out of the millions of ways it could be interpreted. If we focus on the fairy godmother, Cinderella's theme could be "belief in a higher power can benefit your life." If we focus on how her social status shifts, it could be "if you live a hard life, there's light at the end of the tunnel." There doesn't always have to be one right answer when it comes to literature, and sometimes I think people forget about that. Sometimes, things are debatable. It all depends on the mindset of the reader.

But what do you think? How did you perceive characters like Bella Swan and Cinderella?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Classics: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

In a time period where women were financially screwed over, ladies had to hope to marry a rich man in order to attain any sense of security. This unfortunate circumstance led many to only consider wealth when finding a husband, but Elizabeth Bennett will have no part in that; she wants to marry for love. All the while, her mother is trying to shove Elizabeth and her sisters into the arms of rich men and embarrasses the family with her obvious, ill-mannered attempts. But that doesn't stop Mr. Darcy, one of the wealthiest men around, from gaining affection for Elizabeth. But Elizabeth doesn't love him... Not yet anyway.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is like the godmother of classic novels. It's the classic story that just about everyone who likes to read praises unabashedly. Unfortunately, I deviated from this standard. That's right - I wasn't crazy about Pride and Prejudice - for your own sake, do not throw rotten food at your computer screen right now amid your intense frustration. But I honestly wanted to love this book like everyone else does; I imagine all the praise I've heard about it made me set the bar ridiculously high. Hence, this has to be one of my biggest book disappointments... perhaps THE biggest book disappointment in my reading life thus far.
I can pinpoint exactly why I didn't like this novel as much as I wanted to: The lightheartedness. It's been said that Charlotte Bronte wasn't fond of Jane Austen because she found her work dispassionate; I knew that much going into this read. Usually, when I hear criticism of books, by the time I'm finished I'll think something along the lines of "Oh, I see where they got that from, but it didn't bother me." But in this case, I completely agree with Bronte, and consequently, this lighthearted love story continuously made me think of Jane Eyre (which is one of my favorite books of all time) and compare the two. Jane Eyre is such an incredibly emotional novel; Jane and Rochester's relationship was so vivid and real to me, which is one of several reasons why I loved that novel so much... This wasn't the case for Darcy and Elizabeth. They hardly had a relationship in my eyes, and they barely made it known to the other how they really felt. Even when Rochester was set to marry another, I could tell that he was partial to Jane, but in Pride and Prejudice, actual declarations of love just seemed so passive and unfeeling. Emotion is what drives me as both a reader and a writer, so I couldn't get into this. I couldn't feel.

The lightheartedness of Pride and Prejudice could be seen as an asset in other areas, for it's quite humorous. Elizabeth's mother is absolutely mental; sometimes I laughed as I read her melodramatic dialogue. Mr. Collins, Lydia, and Mary were also quite whimsical - especially when contrasted with Mr. Bennett (I found him to be one of the most normal characters). These characters made me smile, I'll admit that, and Charlotte absolutely frustrated me, as I imagine Lizzy was frustrated... It's just not enough for me. I wanted more than a smile or two here and there.

I really don't have anything else to say about it, and that makes me sad. Pride and Prejudice is told in such a proper manner that I couldn't connect with it at all. I wanted to love Mr. Darcy, I wanted to admire Elizabeth... But I couldn't. Because I didn't feel anything.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

La Gárgola | Chevelle

About a month ago, the American rock trio Chevelle has released a new album entitled La Gárgola, which is filled with cool guitar riffs that put a bit of a heavier spin on their music.

Throughout the years, I've heard some of Chevelle's singles on the radio and enjoyed them, but I've never been able to really get into their music until the summer of 2012 when I saw them live during the Carnival of Madness Tour. I was so impressed by the music and how well they performed that I went out and bought a few of their CDs, and I've been hooked ever since. While I must say that I love this band overall, sometimes their albums will only have a few songs I really get into while nothing else truly jumps out at me. This is kind of the case for La Gárgola. I've talked about this scenario quite a few times on this blog, where an album isn't bad at all, it just isn't grabbing me the way I'd hoped. But, a lot of these songs needed time to grow on me.

"Ouija Board" kicks the album off with a series of creepy bells that perfectly suit the creepy album art before diving into the full sound. We're one track in and this album has already caught my attention for being noticeably heavier than their recent material. The energy's high and the lyrics are abstract as hell (a common characteristic of Chevelle songs). There a few parts of the vocal line that especially catch my attention (in terms of both the lyrics and melodies themselves). Pete declares "Self explore your egoism" in both verses, but the last two ear-catching lines of the chorus display a major volume change: "Right or wrong if the world explodes / Well you and I are one."

As much as I enjoyed "Ouija Board," a couple of other songs made me just as enthused. "An Island" is easily one of my favorites from La Gárgola; the verses are incredibly catchy with the synthy guitar line, but it's still true to the album's heavy style. Pete Loeffler's vocals are able to suit the peculiar sound as he's able to fluctuate between higher, smoother notes and lower, rougher notes. But "Choking Game" also serves as one of the best songs of La Gárgola... Honestly, the more I listen to it, the more I like it. The vocals are especially nice in this track; they're so smooth with so many longer notes. In some way I can't put my finger on, this song reminds me of This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In), which happens to be my favorite Chevelle album.

"Hunter Eats Hunter" has great opening riffs with an intriguing chord progression, which is amplified in the chorus. Its bridge is especially heavy due to the pounding guitars and Pete's screaming ability. But "The Damned" has more cool, dangerous guitar riffs and a darker feel in the verses, and while the two songs aren't immediate favorites, they've managed to grow on me with each listen. The same may be happening with "Under the Knife" and its crazy, heavy feel.

Unfortunately, not to many other songs could really jump at me, but the other tracks do have a certain quality to them that would prevent me from skipping over them if I just needed some background music do listen to while cleaning or something. This is the case for "One Ocean" and "Twinge," which serve as the slower tracks, and they're more atmospheric than the rest of the album.

So, La Gárgola isn't bad at all. Not every song caught my attention right away, but honestly, they're all growing on me to some degree. It's an album that may need a little time to really be able to appreciate. The type of intriguing lyrics that make this band seem particularly intelligent are ever-present as usual, and of course, the Chevelle trait of ending lots of songs with guitar feedback also took precedence on this album. I think fans will be quite happy overall, and despite not loving it quite as intensely as I'd hoped, I'm relatively content too.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Albums I've Listened to Most... It Physically Shows

I've always preferred buying physical copies of albums instead of downloading them. Much like with my book OCD, I've got some album OCD as well. I want my CDs to be in fabulous condition, not only because it looks prettier, but because I love them. But unfortunately, when I really, really love a CD, it gets played a lot. Which means it gets more 'love marks.'
Granted, I have quite a few favorite albums, but there are four albums I own that have noticeably gotten beat up over the years. From this, I think it's relatively safe to assume that I have listened to these albums the most. And I'm not surprised; these are some of my favorite albums by my favorite bands.

Fallen by Evanescence
Released in 2003
Owned for 8 years
Damage: Love marks on the disc... Is the lyric booklet supposed to feel this worn?

This is without a doubt the most important album I received, so important to the point that I even remember which specific seat in which specific Burger King I sat in after my dad bought it for me. I initially wanted it for their hit single "Bring Me to Life," but I fell in love with each and every song; I'd never heard music like this before. Amy Lee's voice was so different compared to all the pop singers I was usually listening to, and I loved it. But Fallen didn't just introduce me to Evanescence, my favorite band, but I also discovered a lot of other bands and artists I love because of it, from rock bands like Breaking Benjamin, to symphonic metal bands like Within Temptation, to electronic phenomena Bjork... Almost all of my favorite artists were discovered through Evanescence, starting with Fallen. I listened to it over and over again; it never got old.

The Open Door by Evanescence
Released in 2006
Owned for 7 and a half years
Damage: The digipack is really beat up; the edges are all bent. Love marks are on the back of the disc.
The follow-up to Fallen. Just after I discovered the awesomeness of Evanescence in 2005,  I had plenty of time to fangirl when I heard the news that a brand new album was on the way. This is the first time I got ridiculously excited over a new release. I bought it the day it came out, and once again, I'd never heard anything like this (and still haven't - The Open Door is very unique). The Open Door added more fuel to my fandom as I wore out its wimpy little digipack.
The Heart of Everything by Within Temptation
Released in 2007
Owned for 7 years
Damage: Since these songs have a lot of lyrics to them, I was always taking out the lyrics booklet... Which resulted in a minor disaster: One corner is chunking off and the cover is whitening from moving it in and out so much. A few love marks on the disc.
This is the first album I bought by my other all-time favorite band, Within Temptation. I bought it for the song "Stand My Ground" (got the weird American edition that included this single, which was originally on The Silent Force) after hearing it in the Blood and Chocolate trailer and TV spots. It was fate, I tell you! The Heart of Everything was my first symphonic metal album. Of course, the epic blend of metal/rock and classical music mesmerized me, but I was also extremely impressed by Sharon den Adel's angelic voice - especially on those higher notes. While I repeatedly listened to this masterpiece, I also used it to help me strengthen my high notes. Sharon has had a huge influence on me; who knows what would've happened if I didn't purchase The Heart of Everything and listened to it as much as I did.
Dark Passion Play by Nightwish
Released in 2007
Owned for 6 years
Damage: Same lyric booklet problems as The Heart of Everything, but not nearly as extreme.
Anette Olzon got a lot of hate in general, but even more so for this album than Imaginaerum. Obviously, I loved it; I only listened to it about 40,000 times. Dark Passion Play has a lot of different vibes to it; sometimes it was exotic, sometimes heavy, calm, bombastic, and even soulful. Either way, the energy was high throughout and the music was complex yet catchy, giving it an addictive edge. Anette's voice really blended with the sound and did a good job of conveying the many emotions of Dark Passion Play.

Which albums have you noticeably listened to most? Do you like any of the albums I listed? Let me know.