Books

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Why You Should Read I’m Glad My Mom Died

Trigger Warning: mentions of eating disorders and child abuse

I don’t rate memoirs. I have seen several people write this in their Goodreads reviews of this and similar memoirs. I have to agree. The point of these stories is to share one’s personal life experience with the world. This book is a heavy one, so I’m going to mention that first. I have no idea how to review this exactly, or whether or not I’m spoiling everything. But most of what I mention

Jeanette McCurdy talks about her abusive mother, her experiences as a child actor, anorexia and bulimia, and her life. Jeanette’s mother Debra was emotionally, physically, and mentally abusive to Jeanette for her entire life. It is a hard book to read, but it is worth it.


I listened to the audiobook that Jeanette reads out loud, and I am glad that I went with that route. Hearing her talk about her past experiences and traumas is sadder to read, but it feels more impactful. I saw a few reviews that said Jeanette’s book was funny. Which might surprise some people since it deals with such sensitive subjects, but it works.


The language is witty and straightforward. Phrases pack a punch and sometimes stab you in the gut. Seriously, it hurts. I enjoyed the little details she includes in her memories. You feel like you are there with her as she dives into how her childhood and young adult self felt in those moments. You get to both adult’s introspection and a child’s experiences.

Jeanette talks about her experiences with abuse and with bulimia. I read reviews that she’s pretty relatable to anyone who has struggled with either.


Jeanette never wanted to be an actress. Her mother drug her to an audition when she was young because she dreamed of being an actress herself, but her mom (Jeanette’s grandmother) wouldn’t let Debra act. She was shy, but her mom told the directors that she would get over it. Jeanette hated acting, but she had to pretend to like it to keep her mother from bursting into tears and anger.

Jeanette once told her mother that she wanted to be a writer and her mother shut that idea down. Debra also told her daughter that they would start calorie restriction together as a bonding activity when Jeanette was eleven. She was also physically abusive–she didn’t let Jeanette shower alone and regularly performed breast and vaginal exams on her to check for cancer. She was highly manipulative and emotionally abusive. Jeanette goes into detail about how she learned to memorize her mother’s every mood so that she wouldn’t upset her. Debra’s husband was also completely emotionally absent from Jeanette’s life.


Most of her time was spent acting or on set. Acting was terrible for Jeanette. She hated it ever since she was a child, and the roles she played didn’t help. Her character in iCarly was obsessed with food while Jeanette struggled with anorexia. She felt embarrassed of a character she was forced to play. She also talks about The Creator of the show and how he was abusive on set. The Creator offered Jeanette $300,000 to not say anything about what happened on set, and she refused.


She said that her friendship with Miranda Cosgrove was the one good thing that came out of Nickelodeon.


“With Miranda, it’s always been so easy. Our friendship is pure.”


I enjoyed reading those sections, because there haven’t been many happy memories up until this point. She admires Miranda for her independence and self confidence. Their friendship outlasts the show and Jeanette says that Miranda was there for her when her mom passed. When Jeanette said she wouldn’t do the iCarly reboot, she said:


“There are things more important than money. And my mental health and happiness fall under that category.”


The Creator treated all of the actors on his shows horribly both on and off set. We learn that he gave alcohol to underage actors, and when Jeanette didn’t want to drink, he said that the Victorious actors would do it. He also was responsible for a bikini photo shoot when she was 14. He also gives Jeanette an unsolicited back rub at some point. He’s beyond creepy to say in the least.


Jeanette frequently mentions how her childhood and young adult years were stolen from her. No one asks if she wants her first kiss to be on camera or if she’s okay with doing more takes until the Creator is happy. These moments that should be romantic and private are manufactured and put out for the world’s judgment. It is deeply uncomfortable to read, as are many scenes in this book. This story made me think more about the entertainment industry and how horribly it can treat the people inside of it. They really screw her over in the end.

Jeanette also talks about her relationships with men and dating. Her mother wouldn’t let her date because she wanted her to focus on her career (and she wanted to control her), but she starts dating once she gets a bit of independence from her mother and it doesn’t go well for their mother-daughter relationship to say in the least.


A large section of the book also shows us what happens after Jeanette’s mom dies. Jeanette falls apart again. Her eating disorder develops into bulimia, and she doesn’t know what to do with herself because her purpose in life up until that point had been to act and make her mother happy.

She talks about how her mother’s abuse affected her for years, and it still does. But she’s working on healing and making the life she wants for herself. She got help for bulimia and is in therapy. I’m glad that she’s listed as a writer now on the internet.


I would highly recommend reading this book. My description in no way does it justice or explains what Jeanette went through and how she began to heal. I hope that Jeanette finds peace and healing, and I’m glad her mom is no longer with us.

Books

Under One Roof Book Review is full of Terrible communication, Decent Banter, Awkward Endings, and Bachelor References

Pros

  • Good banter
  • Sweet relationship between Helena
  • Friendship between Mara and her friends was
  • Good concept- EPA environmental scientist and Corporate Oil Lawyer
  • Hooked me in
  • References to The Bachelor

Cons

  • Weird prologue returns to the ending
  • Overly clueless MC
  • Plot by communication issues
  • Seriously…their inability to communicate make me want to jump off into the abyss
  • Confusing Demisexuality representation (although the idea of rep is good)

I absolutely loved The Love Hypothesis, so I was pretty excited to read Ali Hazelwood’s new novella, Under One Roof. The book was only $2.99 on the Kindle store, so I figured why not give it a try while I wait for her next book to come out. It wasn’t a bad choice.

This book was a fun read. The dialogue was entertaining and the idea worked fairly well. I think it would have been better if Hazelwood either turned this into an entire book or if she included Liam’s POV as well. The book all takes place from Mara’s perspective, which is fine, but since this was an enemies-to-lover story, I wanted to know what Liam was thinking about Mara and the house situation. I learned about his character primarily through his facial expressions and his stoic demeanor, which isn’t the best way to understand someone.

I liked his character (maybe because I like law and lawyers and his love of video games), and I liked seeing a more reserved/quiet character in a book, but by the end, I still felt like I didn’t know him that well.

The other relationships were pretty well done. Mara’s friends Sadie and Hannah were sweet, and I liked the scenes of three amazing scientist friends talking about their relationships, work, and life stuff. They like to watch Parks and Rec and make brownies together and…Same Sadie. Same.

I enjoyed Mara’s relationship with Helena and the memories that she shares about Helena’s life. Helena felt like a real person, and I could imagine her bold personality as I read. Even though she was dead, she was much more than a plot point. You can tell Helena was a good mother-figure/mentor to her. It feels heartfelt and not too sappy. I enjoyed reading the letter that Mara wrote to her; it felt funny and real.

Mara’s relationship with her mentor, Helena, and her response to Helena’s death is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Helena was a strong-willed and unpredictable woman, and I kind of aspire to be her someday. She cheats at chess, loves Mara like a daughter, sets up her nephew with her by giving her the house, and hates cheesiness and sentimentality I feel like Helena is dropped once Mara and Liam get together, and it is a damn shame. It would have been interesting exploring their grief. Mara’s letter to Helena was one of my favorite parts of the book. I’m going to share some of my favorite parts.

Mara is someone who doesn’t quite believe in an afterlife, or is at the very least unsure about it. She says:

“Truth be told, I stopped pondering eschatological matters in high school after they got me anxious and made me break out in hives”

I feel that, can’t say I don’t ponder these things, but thinking about life after death is anxiety-inducing. There is unpredictability no matter what you believe. I never got hives, though. She also says:

“You probably just sit on a cloud all day being omniscient. Eating Triscuits. Occasionally playing the harp. You lazy bum.”

I don’t get the pervading myth that people play the harp in heaven all the time. Maybe Hazelwood took this idea from Huckleberry Finn. In the beginning of the book, Huck says that going to heaven sounds boring, because people just go around and play the harp all day. I can’t picture omniscient God would make heaven boring–at least Mara’s version sounds kind of fun. I love a good Triscuit and a lazy day. I’m not sure I’d want to know everything though. That sounds overwhelming.

I liked how Helena’s house is her safe harbor, it is a place where she feels comfortable. We never get the ending to that letter she writes.

Mara’s Relationship with Her Parents

I actually liked Mara’s character development. We learn that her parents were people that didn’t want to be parents. We get little details like that her parents saw her as too energetic, and they enrolled her in sports to keep her busy and out of their hair. This is why her relationship with Helena is so important; she acted as a mentor and cared about Mara like a daughter. Apparently Mara only talks to her parents once or twice a year, and she is the one who calls.

Helena also isn’t as close to her family either. I feel like these scenes could be expanded upon more though. I feel like I liked the idea of Mara’s character development, but it didn’t show up as much as I hoped. We never really learn more about Liam’s relationship with his family either, except that he isn’t too close with them.

Other than that, I do have some complaints. This book felt very fanficy, and while that isn’t entirely a bad thing–it feels like it was thrown together or written chapter-by-chapter. The Prologue and last scene mesh together awkwardly.

He likes you, Mara–why don’t you see this?

It bugged me how Mara is completely clueless and has no idea that Liam could possibly be attracted to her. I think Ali Hazelwood likes writing main characters who are oblivious about matters of human attraction and interaction, because Olive was the same way.

But he obviously likes her! The man looks at her awkwardly and then looks away, looks distant when she says she’s moving out, cuddles with her when she’s cold, and feels left out when she’s with another guy. She assumes that he likes his friend Emma and wants to be with her, even after he plainly tells her that he and Emma are just friends and neither is interested in each other. He thinks she’s brilliant and enjoys spending time with her.

And there is SO MUCH TENSION between them in these scenes. The man is flustered around her ALL THE TIME. She has feelings for him. How could Mara not consider, even for a minute, that Liam might like her too?

I understand a bit though. I can be oblivious about how people feel, especially if they’re quiet like Liam, but if I had a feelings for someone (like Mara did for Liam during at least half of the book), I would overanalyze every single interaction to find out whether or not my affections were returned. Mara never does this, she just assumes. But Mara is convinced that Liam is dating someone else and just wants to be friends with her.

I’d like to see a confident MC for once. Why wouldn’t he like her? Because he has muscles? She is fit too. Because he is annoyed with her? He doesn’t seem too annoyed when they become friends. I feel like she disliked him first. It could be awkward to admit feelings for your roommate, but still. Get it together. But enough complaining about roommate drama for now, lets talk about the height of romantic drama and tension–The Bachelor.

The Bachelor References

Liam and Mara watch The Bachelor, and I am all here for it. I enjoy watching The Bachelor and The Bachleorette sometimes, and I appreciated their comments on the show. Mara even runs a bachelor franchise blog. I approve. We don’t get real references though, because she talks about season 12, which is JoJo’s season, but they talk use another woman’s name. It is a shame; I wanted to know their thoughts on the real bachelorette. Is there a copyright issue? I’d hope not. It was still pretty fun though. I can relate to rooting for the bachelor/ette to end up with a contestant that they don’t end up with. They also could have talked about all those weird challenges that the producers put them up to; that would be great.

I feel like I would read a whole story of these two reacting to a real season of the bachelor, not because their banter regarding the subject was anything amazing, but I feel like it could be a fun story.

The book was marketed as “demi rep”, which basically means that one of the main characters is demisexual. According to Web MD, “Demisexual people only feel sexually attracted to someone when they have an emotional bond with that person.” The definition goes on to say,

“Demisexual people do not feel primary attraction — the attraction you feel to someone when you first meet them. They only feel secondary attraction — the type of attraction that happens after knowing someone for a while.”

I originally thought Mara might be demi, but I wasn’t sure. She has problems with guys and finding someone that she is attracted to, as many of us do demi or not, but her relationship with dating seems a bit different than other people’s.

“But even at their best, all my romantic relationships felt like work in a way Sadie and Hannah and Helena never did. In a way actual work never did. And for what? Sex? Jury’s still out on whether I even care about that.”

It was a bit confusing on that end.

I didn’t like the ending. It seemed like Hazelwood decided to throw all the ending, conversation, and dialogue that needed to be had into the middle of a sex scene. it is also kind of creepy how Liam keeps saying “is this how you wanted it?” to Mara.

Liam basically starts recreating a fantasy that he overhears Mara talking on the phone to her friends about. It is so awkward… The characters barely talk to each other beforehand. There seems to be consent… but is very confusing.

Overall this was a fun novella. I enjoyed reading it for the witty banter alone. If you like Ali Hazelwood’s writing style and humor–and if you are willing to suspend your disbelief–this novella is a solid choice. Just don’t put your expectations too high.

Have you read Under One Roof or The Love Hypothesis? Do you plan to? Let me know down in the comments below 🙂

Books

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Book Review

One of the first things I wanted to do when I got home from college was read something again. I looked at the popular Instagram books; and, because I enjoyed The Love Hypothesis, I decided to listen to the audible audiobook of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This book was written by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Three different people read this one: Alma Cuervo, Robin Miles, and Julia Whelan. I haven’t listened to an audiobook in full in a while, but I enjoyed listening to the narrators. Evelyn’s voice was strong. It fit her personality well. We also get the voice of the reporters who do stories on Evelyn.

So, what is this story even about? I would call it a fictional biography. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo tells the story of a life, and her life no means a simple one.

I’m going to be honest with you, when I picked this book up, I expected pure escapism. I expected to hear the tales of a wealthy, glamorous, larger-than-life actress. I imagined I’d enter a world like Gossip Girl. The picture in my head wasn’t entirely inaccurate, but it was also reductive. It was unexpectedly sad, though I wouldn’t say it was tragic. Well, it is a little tragic.

Note: I didn’t any research before reading, and I found out later that Reid is cishet and white (like myself). Some of the criticism online makes sense when you realize she’s writing outside her experience. I can’t say whether she portrayed a bisexual Cuban woman accurately, but Reid appears to have done some research.

Summary

We begin with Monique Grant, a reporter for Vivant magazine, who is selected to write a cover story on actress Evelyn Hugo. It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime. Evelyn refuses to give an interview to almost anyone, and for some reason, she wants Monique to listen to her life story.

Monique has a story of her own. She is a thirty-five-year old reporter who has been working for Vivant, a drama magazine for quite some time. She is always writing fluff pieces and rarely gets to write anything real. I am starting out in my career, but I understand Monique. I’d like to be a writer, but I’m not sure what I want to write yet. I’d like to write something meaningful outside of this blog, but I’m not sure what yet. Monique wrote a piece about assisted suicide that she felt passionate about, but otherwise, her job just hasn’t given her the opportunity. Journalism sounds exciting, finding a story and telling it, but not all stories are going to interest you.

Celebrity gossip is something that would bore me, and I’d imagine years in the field would grow tiring. It is all so. . . fake. But I do find myself reading articles about famous people. But I have to remind myself that even if I read every article and make the right google searches, I still won’t know everything. I cannot figure out everything about a celebrity’s life.

We won’t ever find out know the intimate details of their relationships or their deepest imperfections. Even if they go on trial or host podcasts about their personal lives, we aren’t actually there. The audience feels like they are a part of their lives. They call it a parasocial relationship I believe. I am certainly guilty of feeling like I know a youtuber or famous person.

Monique falls into this a bit, she decides to watch all of Evelyn Hugo’s movies, and she falls a bit in love with her. After reading this book, I am not sure I’m in love with Evelyn, but she certainly fascinates me.

We learn soon that Evelyn wants Monique to publish a whole book about her after Evelyn dies. That’s quite the task.

I like how Reid doesn’t just push Monique to the background. She pushes against Evelyn at times, and she is inspired by her. Monique is half-black and half-white. We learn that her father died when she was a young. Her husband, David, recently moved out of her home. She keeps ignoring his calls. Talking to Hugo makes her bolder, stronger. She makes her realize that she has to fight for what she wants.
They share similarities, the two of them. Evelyn was born Evelyn Elena Herrera. She is Cuban, but she has changed her name to get parts. She dyed her hair blonde.

I was surprised, and saddened to learn that Evelyn’s first marriage was out of desperation rather than love. She was a teenager. The men she interacts with early on are pedophiles. There is no other way to say it. There was one scene where a boy at a grocery shop grooms her and gives her candy for time with him. She is convinced as a child that she should use her body to move ahead in her career and get what she wants. These scenes aren’t explicit, but they’re pretty awful to hear about. Her father also abused her as well. Those are parts of her life that she doesn’t talk about as much. She doesn’t really deal with them or have an opportunity to heal.

She ends up in an abusive second marriage with her husband, Don, as well. Don was different at first. She married him when she was 19, she loved him and he liked for who she was or at least what she was trying to be. She views sex as a transaction until she meets Don. Then it is making love. They started dating for publicity and he was the one guy she liked.

He started hitting her after the marriage. His family was famous and he wanted to be successful like them. He kind of reminds me of toxic masculinity. The writer, Reid, is a feminist, so I imagine she wrote this way on purpose. He struggled to play the tough guy and action heroes early in his career and faced criticism. So, he decided to be super tough at home. He wanted Evelyn to settle down and have children and hurt her when she said no.

I found Don to be a disappointment, and after he leaves, we dive into the pop culture world. Evelyn is always meeting celebrities to grow her image. She gets a role in Father and Daughter.

The world of celebrities is just like you’d expect. Their lives are glamorous and luxurious and fake and petty. The relationships between these people were so petty that I felt sad. Women are expected to compete with each other for roles. She goes out to meals with other women, but they do not become close. Her relationship with Ruby was a difficult one. They were so fake to each other, but they also understood each other. I wish that they’d have become good friends.

She does make one true friend, her producer at Sunset Studios, a man named Harry who says that she is “too young” and “not his type,” and Evelyn and Harry both know that means he is gay.

Celia St. James

Evelyn meets someone new after this. She finally gets to play Jo in Little Women, and she is thrilled. But she is intimidated by her co-star, Celia St. James, who plays Beth. She worries Celia will steal the show from her. They end up getting milkshakes together. Evelyn knows the game. When someone wants to meet her in a public place, they want to take photos of them together. She has no problem using people.

I liked Celia immediately. She always plays the good girl role in movies, like Beth in Little Women. She acts naïve at first, but she is way smarter than she lets on.

Celia is an idealist. She played Beth in Little Women and won an Oscar. Method actress- she became her character. She admires Evelyn’s way of rising to the top and wants to learn from her. She admires how Evelyn manipulates the system to rise to the top. She admires how she is cunning and quick. Celia is pretty quick herself. If I were to place these two in Hogwarts Houses, Evelyn would be a Slytherin. She even sports the green dress. Celia is a Gryffindor. She is an idealist. She hopes for a better, more accepting world. She has deep principles. She generally wants to get to know Evelyn.

Evelyn and Celia fall in love. It turns out that she was the love of Evelyn’s life. We actually learn this pretty early in the story. Their love story is genuine and real, sensual and beautiful. I enjoyed the scenes where they are just talking, getting to know each other. Evelyn opens up to another person like she hasn’t before. Their masks fall with each other. Their romance begins in the 1960s, and almost no one in the industry is “out.”

They disagree on what to do, on how to be together. Evelyn tries more marriages, most of them to hide her relationship with Celia. Their relationships is rocky and difficult.

We learn that Evelyn is bisexual. Celia is a lesbian.

“I’m bisexual. Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.”

Monique mistakenly thinks that Evelyn is only attracted to women, but Evelyn calls her out. She falls in love with Don Adler and experiences attraction to men. The book touches on gay rights issues. During the Stonewall riots, they are unable to protest because doing so would distract people from the real issues. They all donate to help during the AIDS crisis, and Evelyn donates to LGBTQ+ causes her entire life.

I loved how Evelyn maintains that Celia is the love of her life. They have a soulmate energy. At one point in the book, she marries Harry, her producer, and she marries a man named John. John and Harry are in love and Celia and Evelyn are in love. They are each other’s bards. But they all develop into a family who deeply care about each other. The world that Evelyn lives in feels so fake. There are no scenes of acting, and Evelyn says that she really became an actress to prove herself. Celia is a good actress. She is a method actor, she becomes her character and seems to like the art of acting more than Evelyn.

I feel like Evelyn spent so much time trying to make it in the world that she didn’t really get to know others or herself as much as she could have. For instance, she feels out of touch with her Cuban identity. She stops speaking Spanish and dyes her hair. She does become close to a Cuban maid named Louisa, and they form a years-long bond.

Evelyn is confident in her abilities, but she still ties much of her talent to her looks and struggles a bit to see herself as a good actress.

“What good did I have other than to be beautiful.”

My favorite scenes are probably the ones between Evelyn, Celia, Harry, and John. It is the one time when she is part of a family. They are an unconventional family, and there is something beautiful about it. Harry and Evelyn end up having a baby together because they both want a child.

I wasn’t expecting a child in this story, but it works. Their daughter, Connor, is a great addition. Their relationship is entirely platonic, and it is beautiful. I loved the scenes of them together raising Connor and taking her to the park. Harry went through so much.

“But if you have to go, then go. Go if it hurts. Go if it’s time. Just go knowing you were loved, that I will never forget you, that you will live in everything Connor and I do. Go knowing I love you purely, Harry, that you were an amazing father. Go knowing I told you all my secrets. Because you were my best friend.”

You already know how many husbands she will have, so it is a bit tiring waiting until the last one comes.

I feel like the ending was a little rushed. There aren’t many scenes with her and Connor, and her daughter goes from a wild teenager to a Stanford graduate pretty quickly. I get that Blair Waldorf characters exist in real life, but it seemed like all it took was a single conversation, dinner promise, and decent father figure to set things right. I appreciate the beauty of motherhood and every scene they had together, but that plot felt incredibly rushed. I get that Evelyn would want to make her daughter look good for the story, but her plot (and her daughter dying) felt a bit cliché.

I honestly was fascinated by the idea of Evelyn’s biography. The story focused one on moments in time that Evelyn remembered and less on the everyday trials of an actress. I wish we’d seen more acting scenes, but I liked the format a lot. I liked seeing Monique’s reactions to Evelyn. I liked her subplot with David. I’m not sure about her subplot with her father though. I feel like this story didn’t need another twist.

But Evelyn was a good character. She was witty and honest; immoral and a rare example of morality in Hollywood; and she wasn’t good or necessarily bad. I found myself sympathizing with her, even after the plot twist. I liked almost all of the characters, and I disliked the men I wasn’t supposed to like. I do think she could have been written better, all the characters could have been. My biggest problem is the lack of nuance and the author’s refusal to leave the reader with any lasting questions. A reviewer on Goodreads said it better than me. On June 14th, 2020, a book reviewer and blog youtuber named Chan commented:

“she doesn’t want the reader to form their own opinions, she’s rather just hold your hand to the “point.”

I didn’t finish this book with many questions. I finished it in awe. I was captivated the entire time that I was reading. I didn’t want to stop until I knew how Evelyn’s story ended. But when I finished, I didn’t have any meaningful questions. My only one was maybe, what happens to Monique?

“she doesn’t want the reader to form their own opinions, she’s rather just hold your hand to the “point.”

I feel like some of the romantic lines were a bit dramatic, and so were Evelyn’s pieces of advice. I might have had a different experience if I read the book instead of listened to it. I didn’t remember any of the specific lines very well, but I still feel like it was good.

There was one thing I did find rather profound. Evelyn notes how she always went after what she wanted; she chased after happiness and grabbed it. Meanwhile, other people seemed to fall into happiness in life. She wonders which is better. I feel like my life has been a mix of both. I have ended up in situations and places that I didn’t choose. I was fortunate enough to know the right people at the right time. But I also go after what I want when I see it. I’m also pretty passive sometimes. I want something, but I hesitate, like Evelyn warns against. I feel like it depends on the circumstance, but I do feel like Evelyn spent so much of her life (after becoming rich and famous) trying to prove herself. In a way, it was worth it for her. She didn’t get a perfect happy ending, but she ended up with the love of her life and many joys.

I do admire how Reid takes a stance with her writing. The sexism and terrible men are called out and Evelyn wouldn’t need seven husbands if she could marry the woman she loves instead. Meanwhile, Hollywood seems to excuse anything other than being LGBTQ+. Adultery, swinging, abuse, and pretty much anything else is accepted, used for clicks, and brushed under the rug. She isn’t afraid to call out the Reagan administration and show how hard it was for LGBTQ+ people during that time. Evelyn herself reflects on what it is like to feel like a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and how she feels connected even though she is closeted and does not attend the protests.

Another thing I want to mention. Celia’s code. Celia is a sort of moral center for Evelyn, even though Evelyn fails to meet that code several times. Celia wants Evelyn to be honest with her, to remain loyal to her, and she just wants to be with the woman she loves. Evelyn’s Vegas marriage, for instance, hurt Celia. It makes you want the world to be like Celia sees it. All of Hollywood just feels so fake. It makes me never want to be famous. I wouldn’t trade lives with Evelyn Hugo for anything.

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? Let me know what you think down in the comments below!

Books, Reflections

Why You Should Start a Commonplace Book

I wrote this post the week of New Year’s 2022. It was originally one of my New Year’s resolutions. But like most New Year’s resolutions, things did not work out like I planned. I have been thinking about working on a commonplace book for a while, but I have put it off. I finally started cleaning out my room this week after I got home from college. I decided that it was time to do some spring cleaning. I am living at home after college. My room is a mess, so I decided it could be a good idea to clean it out a bit. My biggest problem is that I have a ton of books and notebooks and not much space to store them.

My closet, bookshelf, and desks are so full. I am going through college papers and notebooks. I realize that I probably shouldn’t keep them all. I don’t have the room, and I probably won’t look at them as much I imagined that I would.

But it is a bit sad to throw them away. I am afraid of forgetting everything that I learned in college. I think keeping these notebooks and books is my way of remembering. And why should I throw them away? Students pay a ridiculous amount of money to attend university and to sit in a classroom and take notes. Why should I throw these notes out? They’re worth so many paychecks.

But I save too much. I don’t have room for every single worksheet or notebook in my room. Many of them I will never look at again. I mean, there is Google. I can research Finite Math and review Chemistry, but what about the humanities? I feel like by not keeping every single note that I took in class, I am missing out. What if I forget all these writers and philosophers that I read and love?

How do I hold onto my notes without keeping every English worksheet? How do I remember the specific quotes that I underlined in my textbooks. I needed an answer to these questions. So, I decided that place where you can keep all the meaningful things you learned in one place. The commonplace book, ta da. It figures that I would find a solution to my college concerns by remembering a project I did in a philosophy class.

What is a Commonplace Book?

So, if you haven’t heard of a commonplace book, you may be very confused. I first heard of a commonplace book not from the internet, but from a philosophy professor that I had at Grove City College. The book was a project for my philosophy 101 class. All we had to do was write 45 quotes from the works we read in class in a notebook. Sounds simple enough and an easy way to get points, right?

We wrote a few quotes from every reading into the notebook. It wasn’t too hard of an assignment, and I was grateful that my professor chose this project for a few reasons. Keeping one of these books is an easy way to improve your grade in Philosophy 101, and it is also an easy way to grow a little bit wiser every day.

So, how does one create a commonplace book? And why do I plan to spend my time writing quotes that I find in old books? If that sounds boring like it did to me at first, I’ll ask you this:

Have you ever read a great quote in a book that you never wanted to forget? Have you ever read a quote that you loved not for the beauty of the words but for the message? The message was so powerful, you wanted to remember it and not just keep it as a pretty wall poster. The words you write in a commonplace book can provide guidance, wisdom, and advice for a difficult time or be read as an everyday reminder. There have been many passages that I have wished to keep with me.

For years, I did not know how to save these quotes and remember them. I have collected phrases in journals, made Pinterest boards, and saved posts I’ve loved on Instagram. I remember in high school–I loved copying my favorite scenes and quotes from books into my journal. I’ve been collecting words, sharing them, and eventually losing them my entire life.

When I started college, I took notes in class and added stars to my favorite quotes. I was an English major. I marked them down because my professor told me to and because I would likely be tested on them. But I also knew I wanted to come back to them someday. Looking back, I’ve realized that after tests and papers are done, I rarely return to those passages that meant so much to me at the time.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about what I learned or that the quotes no longer applied to my life or understanding of the world, they did. But life can be stressful and busy sometimes, and you forget to look back on the things you’ve learned.

Another problem I had with saving quotes was that I never knew how to sort them. In my philosophy class, it was pretty easy to find quotes to include in my notebook. We read many authors with words worth holding onto, looking to for guidance, and rereading over and over again. We studied the works of Plato, Dante, Aristotle, and Boethius.

Something about this guy is worth remembering, and not just his glorious beard

I can go back and read them again and learn something new every time. My professors often said that good authors are worth rereading and learning from, time and time again. My one professor mentioned that he reread Aristotle’s Ethics every year and reread Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol every Advent. I would like to try that; I haven’t yet, but I feel like you could learn quite a bit from rereading the same book every season.

And just like I plan to reread great books, I also plan on returning to these commonplace entries in the future. I do not have to reread the entire book that day with a commonplace book. I can simply look back and find quotes on the topics that I’ve been thinking about. I could Google these quotes too, but I feel like I don’t remember things as much when I Google.

I discover something magical when I look back on a quote by an amazing writer. I honestly had no idea how beautiful the writings of these authors were until I read them. They always sounded like old, boring, dead people. I kind of fell in love with the philosophers. We read about Aristotle’s definition of perfect friendship and Boethius’ words about how we can’t trust fortune or rely on external circumstances alone to make us happy. Reading them made me think of things in ways I hadn’t before.

Putting all the quotes together in a commonplace book is a great way to find those topics and return to those quotes again and again. You can flip to a page in your commonplace book and find a specific topic and author.

Commonplace books are great at helping you remember these quotes and the impact they have had on society. If we look at topics like philosophy, politics, and religion, our culture has been influenced so much by the writers of the past. We are influenced by the past more than I realized. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. included several references to philosophers of the past in his Letters from a Birmingham Jail.

I was amazed how he was able to bring together the words of other authors and connect their ideas to his. How does anyone remember so many quotes?

That is why the commonplace book is a nice shortcut. All of these quotes and phrases are kept together and organized. You don’t have to memorize every point, at least not now.

What to Include in a Commonplace Book

Commonplace books entries don’t have to be from just philosophers and academics. You can include quotes from anywhere you find inspiring, novels, poetry, the Bible, Koran, or any religious text, from a movie, tv-show, or song. Even a street sign.

You can use quotes that you’ve heard in real life too. I learn so much about the world from family, friends, professors, and acquaintances. There is something about people that makes us want to quote each other. My sorority has a group chat where we quote each other and send it to the group. Most of these quotes are super funny, random, and out of context. But they can also be wise and insightful.

In the case of the commonplace book, I always look at the context. So I do not misunderstand what the writer intended to say. Jeremiah 29:11, “for you know the plans I have for you” for example, is not meant for a 21st century reader but for the people of Israel. Shakespeare’s “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” is not nearly as deep as people think, and the term “greatness thrust upon them” is an innuendo. So be careful what you quote for inspiration.

For this book, I look for quotes that say something accurate about human nature or offer wisdom about how to live a good life.

Not all of your quotes have to be older either; they can be modern or from a song you heard last week. I would pay attention to the media you enjoy and look for things that you can learn. There are plenty of quotes that I find deep at the moment. James Arthur’s “Empty Space” has been stuck in my head for at least a month. Maybe I will put some of the lyrics in a commonplace book, or maybe not. We sometimes find genius in unexpected places.

It is good to have authors from different periods, cultures, and places. If you keep a broad scope, you will discover universal truths. You can find great wisdom from any era too. I like to keep learning about the world I live in–not just where I am.

When I read something I want to remember, it gets lost–amongst all the other ideas swimming around my brain–like all the emails I read, the things people say in real life, my homework assignments, and articles I read online. It feels like too much. I also have a million notebooks, so most of my quotes are scattered in multiple journals. Then I lose it all. So when I learned about commonplace books, I decided it was worth giving it a try.

Organization

So, how do I even organize a commonplace book?

I have heard that there are different ways to organize them, but I decided to follow the method my professor described. I find this method easier, but if you find another method that you prefer, go for it. I organize mine alphabetically by the category of a quote. I make a page or so for every letter and the first vowel of that letter.

For example, I have a page for AA and the next page is AE. I vary the number of pages for each letter depending on how many words you can make for each letter and vowel. I make up categories as I go along and put categories on the pages corresponding to the alphabet. For example, let’s say that I’m writing down a quote about humility. I would go to the page where I wrote “HU” and would add the category humility under it. All quotes that are about humility go there.

I write the quote under the category. Then I write the name of the author, the name of the work, and the page numbers under the quote. If I want to go back and read a whole section or reread the work I referenced, I can find it easily.

This is Your Commonplace book- don’t just listen to what I’m doing

You don’t have to structure your commonplace book as I did. A commonplace book is yours to write in and reference, so you should structure it a way it works for you. You could use a physical journal like I did or make a digital one on a word document. I love writing quotes down to remember them. You could even have multiple commonplace books. You could use one for quotes you like from books and another for words of wisdom. Not all quotes offer good advice, but I like them anyway and it could be fun to keep track of them.
The main reason that my professor assigned this and why I’m writing this is so that I can learn and grow in virtue and understanding. They can help me become the best version of myself. They can help me grow as a person. In our internet age, I have noticed how quickly trends fade; I want something that I can hold onto, and becoming more like people you admire isn’t the impossible task that I once imagined it was.


Patience, honor, bravery, justice, benevolence, temperance, wit (Aristotle said wit was a virtue, I approve), and other virtues improve with practice. I fall into the problem of seeing virtue as abstract rather than concrete, and sometimes I find it easy to forget my moral code or forget that these are important.


Writing them down and reading them helps me remember. I can remember what is right. I can also read sections about wealth and remember that it does not matter the most. Money is the means to an end rather than the final end. I want to learn and remember how to be a good friend and care about others around me.

You certainly don’t need a commonplace book or to study philosophy or ethics to live a moral life, but I find writing down quotes and looking at them again is a helpful tool. When I feel stuck in my thoughts or in the midst of a moral dilemma, I can look at what people say about these things. Writing in a commonplace book is a great way to remember quotes and bits of information. These people are authors who I love reading and want to keep with me.


I would highly recommend starting a commonplace book if this sounds interesting. A commonplace book is a way to cultivate wisdom, love and, appreciation for words that will last a lifetime. Making commonplacing a regular habit can be a helpful way to keep your favorite writers with you. It can motivate you to go back and reread your favorites and seek out new material. One of my worries about leaving college was forgetting how much I loved reading, especially philosophy and literature. If this sounds like something that sounds even remotely interested in, I would recommend giving it a try.


Tip: Whether you mark an entry every time as you read and discover something new, or spend seven minutes a day or three days a week commonplacing, building it into your life is the best way to ensure that it doesn’t end up under your closet. I know it has been a temptation of mine. Even if you forget about it for a while, you can always come back. There is no time limit or rules for your book.


This year, a few of my goals are to maintain a schedule to cultivate a good sleep, exercise, and eating habits; cultivate relationships and grow spiritually, and find a job after graduating in the spring. I wrote most of these goals down in January, and I’m still working on them. I also hope to grow in wisdom and learn about lives outside my own. So, commonplace book, here I go. I will not save every worksheet from Finite Math and Shakespeare, but I will keep this book with me.


I hope that I will look back and remember old entries. I wonder what I will think when I look back at the quotes I wrote down when I was younger. I’d love to write more about this in the future once I get into collecting more quotes. Have you ever heard of or tried creating a commonplace book? If you’ve started or plan to start one, I would love to hear about it and plans for this year.


What do you think about a commonplace book? Are you a fan of spring cleaning? Do you tend to hold onto everything you receive or take a minimalist approach? Let me know in the comments!

Books

Why You Should Read New Kid, A John Newbery Award-Winning Graphic Novel

Why You Should Read New Kid, A John Newbery Award-Winning Graphic Novel

Pros

  • Interesting main character
  • Cool art style
  • Good message
  • Handles serious topics well for middle schoolers
  • Well developed cast

Cons

  • Pace could be slow at times
  • It isn’t overly dramatic
  • Somewhat anticlimactic

Have you ever been the new kid? I have been a few times. It can be good and bad, but it isn’t easy at first. I remember meeting a bunch of people and having trouble keeping track of names. I switched schools twice in my life. I transfered from a public high school to a Catholic school when I was in fifth grade, and I started attending a public school in eighth grade. Both of these were my middle school years. Eighth grade was the hardest to transition to, so I can empathize with Jordan there. It takes a while to figure out where you fit in. Even after the first few months, it doesn’t always get easier. Right away, I can empathize with the protagonist, Jordan Banks who is a new seventh grader student at a prestigious private school called Riverdale Day Academy. New Kid was written by Jerry Craft.

I grew up loving to read, and I especially loved graphic novels and comic books. I heard about this book and decided to check it out and write a review. I haven’t read many of the Newbery Award Winners to be honest, I’ve probably read too few, but this one was a great choice. New Kid won the 2020 Newbery Award for the Most Distinguished Contribution of Literature for Children.

A I checked out Craft’s website and to learn more about him. Craft grew up reading comic books and wants to help other kids to experience the same thing.

“One of the most transformative things a child can cultivate is a love of reading.”

Jerry Craft

I also watched Craft’s interviews on his website; I would recommend checking them out. He talks more about his experiences with books and about the story as a whole.

I remember how I felt that way when I was younger. I loved reading as a kid–grabbing a book and jumping into a character’s life. The storytelling for New Kid was good, and I don’t read graphic novels or middle-grade fiction very often anymore, but I’m glad I checked this one out.

New Kid begins when Jordan Banks, a Black seventh-grader from Washington Heights, starts attending Riverdale Academy Day School, a prestigious private school.

This wasn’t his initial dream. Jordan loves drawing comics and wants to be an artist when he grows up. This book is semi-autobiographical, and Jerry Craft wrote New Kid partially based on his experiences growing up in Washington Heights. He wanted to be an artist ever since he was a kid, but his parents thought he couldn’t make a living from it, so they sent him to The Fieldston School. Craft went on to the School of Visual Arts for college and got a BA in Fine Arts. His story isn’t exactly the same as Jordan’s, and he was also inspired his sons, who also attend a mostly white private school.

Jordan, like Craft, dreamed of attending art school. Technically, Jordan can’t start until 9th grade, so that puts his art studies on the back burner for a bit. For now, his mother wants him to go to Riverdale because of its great reputation. Jordan isn’t too happy to start a new middle school; he’s also disappointed that, as his father points out, Riverdale Day Academy also isn’t racially diverse.

Riverdale Academy Day School is a pretty typical middle school, Many of them are also pretty wealthy, they go on ski trips and stuff like that and the students wear pink most of the time. Other than that, Jordan’s middle school is pretty typical. I’m not sure if there is a middle school that is not like middle school, at least in the US. No matter where you go, I’m not sure anyone can escape the petty social dynamics, messy cafeterias, and annoying homework assignments.

Jordan is in the middle of all this, and New Kid is primarily a story of a kid finding his place in a new school and learning more about himself and his relationship with the world around him. Jordan is wondering about who he is compared to his peers and how he can be himself in a school where he feels a pressure to conform. At Riverdale Academy, he meets students with eccentric personalities. There is Alexandra, a girl who carries a puppet around, Maury, a geeky band kid, and an obnoxious bully named Andy. Jordan also meets a couple of guys that seem pretty cool–Liam and Drew.

Although he finds friends to hang out with, life at Riverdale Day Academy is difficult. While Jordan is navigating middle school and figuring life out, he also has to deal with a series of racial microaggressions from the students and teachers around him.

For example, his friend Drew is also Black, and a White teacher frequently calls Drew the wrong name, Deandre, after another black student that was in his class before. This teacher has Drew in her class all year, but she still never makes an effort to correct and remember his name. We see Deandre later and the two kids just don’t look alike. Teachers also call Jordan by the wrong name sometimes.

They mix up his name with a boy named Maury, who plays in the band. No one tries to change, even when students outright correct them. This isn’t just a problem with students. One teacher that has been at Riverdale for fourteen years and he still called “coach Rick” by another teacher. He doesn’t coach anything and the teacher didn’t bother to notice.

Jordan also navigates relationships with friends at the predominately white Riverdale with his friendships in his Black neighborhood. In one section, Jordan describes his experiences taking the bus in Washington Heights compared to the bus on the way to Riverdale Day Academy. He is expected to look tougher on the Washington Heights bus. But on the way to Riverdale, he needs to look laid back and chill.

The story talks about issues that occur in Jordan’s day-to-day life in a way that is easy for middle schoolers to understand. It can open up conversations about race between kids, between kids and parents, and honestly with anyone. It could be a good book to read in a classroom. I wish it was something we read at that age. It is a fun read that touches on important issues that not everyone is aware of–I know I wasn’t.

The art style is also cool. The comics are funny, and Craft doesn’t use color for a few of the side scenes where Jordan explains a certain rule or idea like “A Dude Pyramid: A Guide To The Cafeteria Hierarchy” or “Jordan’s Tips For Taking the Bus.” The drawings are in the same art style overall, but they look like they came right out of Jordan’s notebook.

The relationships between Jordan and his friends were sweet and fun to watch. Jordan, Drew, and Liam, a white student, end up all becoming friends. Jordan’s parents are also very supportive. They also have conflicts and disagreements like any other parents. For example, Jordan’s parents don’t initially agree on whether or not Jordan should go to Riverdale. His father wasn’t quite sure at first, but Jordan’s mom wanted him to go.

Both of their concerns are valid. We see how Jordan’s mom thinks it is a great opportunity that he should take advantage of–Jordan got into a prestigious school and his mom wishes she’d had that opportunity at his age–while his father is worried about Jordan leaving behind his old school and friends and moving to a school where most students are White.

I also liked Jordan’s relationship with his grandfather. They go out for Chinese and talk about Jordan opens up to him about how difficult school can be sometimes, and his grandfather comforts him and tells him that it is okay to be himself.

One of the core messages is to be kind to other kids regardless of differences. Jordan ends up befriending the girl who carries a puppet around at the end. She isn’t made fun of or mocked and we learn why she carries a puppet around. Middle school is a time when lots of students are awkward and just have different interests. She could have easily been the butt of the joke the entire time, but she’s not. She’s a pretty cool kid and super nice.

Middle school is difficult and it is nice to see kids bonding regardless of popularity. I feel like this is a message we need to see more often. Especially with kids at that age. That’s not to say that the bullies all apologize and all is perfect, but Jordan and his friends treat other kids with kindness and respect.

If there are any cons for this book, I would say that the pace is a bit slow. Jordan is going through normal middle school stuff, and there isn’t a ton of drama or a high point of tension. Graphic novels usually have that moment, and it can be cool to see a big dramatic scene in ink. Since it wasn’t too long, it didn’t bother me that much that it wasn’t as dramatic. Reading this book felt like watching Jordan go through life. After all, a lot can happen in one day. His interactions with family, friends, and classmates felt real and their relationships were layered and complex and I wanted to learn more.

I think that is why, while this book is written for a middle-school audience, anyone can enjoy Jordan’s story. This book isn’t too long of a read either, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a good way to get back into reading after a slump. I know I read this during the semester and it was refreshing to see pictures and graphics after a day of classes. It is also a comic book that I feel like adults would enjoy reading. The message is good, and the book tackles issues well. I’m glad I was able to read this one, even though I’m not within the target demographic. I loved comic strips and books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, and Big Nate back in the early 2010s, but I’m not sure I would reread any of them or recommend them to most people.

New Kid was written to tell a story that Craft didn’t see growing up. Jordan and his friends go to the middle school book fair and see few stories with Black protagonists. He especially can’t find any comedies science fiction, fantasy, or just fun stories with a protagonist that looks like him. Jerry Craft had the same experience as Jordan, so he decided to write New Kid. Craft also wrote a published a sequel in 2020 called Class Act, starring Jordan’s friend Drew.

Links:

To learn more about Jerry Craft and his books, check out his website.

Have you read New Kid? If so, what did you think? Did you read many graphic novels growing up? Let me know down in the comments below.

Books

Grove City College put on A Doll’s House and I Have Opinions

A Doll’s House is available to read on Project Gutenberg’s website.

Trigger Warning: This play is primarily about a toxic marriage and emotional abuse by a husband to his wife. It includes continuous yelling that comes out of nowhere and occurs for several minutes, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse.

I recently saw A Doll’s House for the first time at Grove City College. This is a well-written play and I would highly recommend watching it. The actors at Grove City College were phenomenal and they really captured the drama and characters well. I am including spoilers for the play in my review, so if you don’t want to know, well, almost everything, I would stop reading after this paragraph.

Now, onto the review.

Before I went to see this play, I looked it up to see what it was about, and I was slightly surprised that Grove City College chose to cover a story about a Norwegian woman struggling in her marriage and a male-dominated society. Considering the ending, I was even more surprised that they chose to put it on.

The ending my college chose also is not the remade ending, but some details were changed. For example, there are no child actors in this play, likely because we are college students, and the couple’s children are only referenced. But other than that, the play is pretty much the same show that was and still is extremely controversial.

I read the director’s note, which was written by director and professor Dr. Betsy Craig, and I realized that my assumption was completely wrong. This play is more connected to Grove City College than I thought was possible. The author, Henrik Ibsen and A Doll’s House are drawn and written on the stained glass windows, among other famous intellectual figures, in Crawford auditorium. Ibsen is considered the father of modern drama, so it makes sense that he is included in this list.

I also learned by reading the director’s note that Ibsen did not intentionally write a feminist play. He was invited to a meeting with his wife for the Norwegian League for Women’s Rights, but he told them didn’t know what the women’s rights movement was even about. Craig says Ibsen said that the problem meant to address in A Doll’s House was: “True enough, it is desirable to solve the women problem, along with all others; but that has not been my whole purpose. My task has been the description of humanity.”

Typical of a man, I think, to reduce half of the populations lack of rights and ability to make important decisions for themselves into the phrase “the women problem.” But of course, his point proves that the troubles of women are universal and necessary for us to acknowledge, as members of the human race. Isben didn’t address the women’s suffrage movement, but his play this play broke barriers, nevertheless. Some audiences were outraged, and alternative endings and rewrites were required.

Ibsen perhaps unintentionally tells us the message that we need to hear. That women’s rights are the rights of the humanity. He sees Nora’s plight not just as a “woman’s problem”, that only concerns the “feminists”, but a problem that humanity as a core holds, and that problem too, should be addressed and put on center stage.

Nora’s feeling of entrapment is attributed to the patriarchy, and her concerns are validated. The play shows the brokenness of a system that desperately needs mending and it doesn’t end with complete brokenness. Dr. Craig even notes in the director’s note that the play ends on a hopeful note.

There is hope for the audience–for us to listen to Nora, Torvald, and the people around them and to empathize and understand them. There is hope for us to learn to listen to others and understand what they’re going through rather than assume.

I’ll say now that I can’t completely hate Torvald. His actions are inexcusable. He insults, objectifies, and treats his wife, Nora, terribly. His shift from anger and blame to begging for forgiveness is shocking. He is self-centered and doesn’t attempt to understand anyone around him. But no one has told him that he needs to understand anyone else. Torvald is a man with power and he feels like his wife should serve his every need.

He is part a product of a time where men and women lived in different spheres. He is allowed to diminish Nora and call her a “songbird” and “a child.” Such terms are romanticized and celebrated. Torvald is considered what is called a successful man. The culture was fine with reducing your spouse to a child and creature that exists to give you joy and music.

Money and forgery

Nora’s forgery is a dumb mistake that drives the plot. It is also a result of not educating women on finance. Nora’s decision to forge her father’s signature on a loan, and then accidentally dating it after he already died, is what drives the conflict in the story. But the problem goes deeper than that.

At the beginning of the story, Torvald berates her for not managing money well, but he doesn’t know she’s paying off a loan that saved his life. As a woman, she can’t even take out a loan without a man’s signature according to the law. She is also forced to keep this a secret, because her husband doesn’t want to take out loans. Dude, your life is at stake, let down your pride for a second…man…

The major obstacle is the patriarchal society that refuses to allow women to manage their own money. Nora is utterly unable to manage money herself, and if she could, none of this would have happened in the first place.

I want to talk about Mrs. Linde for a moment.

Mrs. Kristine Linde

Mrs. Linde is a fascinating character. I think without her, much of the message of this play could be lost. She too is a woman living in a world where women are treated as secondary.

She often tells Nora that she is older, that she has had life experience that Nora hasn’t had yet. She has worked her entire life. She never got to be a wife supported by her husband, who she married to pay to take care of her mother instead of love, and she has no family. Her husband ended up dying and leaving her a poor widow. When she returns to see Nora, it has been ten years since the two have stayed in touch.

Mrs. Linde isn’t the idealized working woman. Nora tells Mrs. Linde that must be so much better than Nora’s, but Kristine responds:

“No, indeed; I only feel my life unspeakably empty. No one to live for anymore.”

She has been doing manual work and hopes for an office job. She has few friends and family. I think it is important to note that we can’t exist on work alone, we need people, desperately, in our lives. Life is not filled by financial autonomy, although I’m sure Kristine appreciates that she will no longer have to worry about money.

But when we look at the ending, it is unclear whether or not Kristine will stay in touch with Nora. We don’t know if she has any friends to spend time with and survive her.

I suppose this leads me to wonder, does Mrs. Linde love Nils Krogstad? She initially talks with him to help distract him from Nora, and then she decides she wants to be with him because she’s loathes being alone. I can’t help but wonder if she really does want to be with him romantically. Does she, or is she terrified of feeling empty and he is there? I’m not sure.

As much as I question, I do hope they found a way to be happy together.

Dr. Rank

I’m not sure what else to say about Dr. Rank except that I feel sorry for him. I wonder what would have happened if he had lived or if Nora had fallen in love with him instead. It was sweet of him to admit that he would make sacrifices for her before he died. It shows she has options too, that Nora has options, that care for her isn’t reduced to Torvald. He also shows how unfair the world is and how in different circumstances it could be better. His story ends unfairly; Mr. Rank, a kind person, dies while Torvald lives.

II wonder about Nora’s ending. She decides to leave and start a new life, but she has no one. Her children are left behind, and she doesn’t have anyone who cares for her. I’m going to dive into the children in a bit, but I’m going to look at Nora’s speech first. One interesting thing I noticed was the religion and religious language in the play.

Religion and religious language in the play

A doll’s house touches on religion, Christianity, and relates to it as a moral system. The story interestingly takes place during Christmas. Nora also keeps a lie for three days, a notable number in the Bible. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. But, while the characters decorate the tree and dance around, there are no, at least outwardly devout, Christians in this play. Torvald accuses Nora of a lack of religion when she is leaving him, saying that she has “no religion, no morality, no sense of duty.”

Nora’s father was a Christian, but she personally never claims to follow his faith. Torvald doesn’t mention his own faith, so it is unclear whether he is a practicing Christian or not. It doesn’t seem like it. Also, Torvald is betraying his duties as a husband to love his wife as himself. So, he’s not one to talk–at all.

But he does, idiotically, use her father’s Christian faith to argue for Nora’s place in the home while doing nothing to acknowledge his own failure as a husband.

“Can you not understand your place in your own home? Have you not a reliable guide in such matters as that?—have you no religion?”

Christianity is used justify the wife’s place in the home and judge Nora’s decision to leave, but little else. Nora it seems also does not know much about religion, she says she was told things by a clergyman, but she feels little to have any personal connection to his statements.

She says that she wants to think it out for herself, when she is alone. Nora’s arguments show her reasoning out how she understands the world for herself. She is also humble, she admits that she does not understand the world fully and that she plans to learn in the future. All while she processes this, Torvald insists she doesn’t know anything and is being a child. But he’s wrong. She is growing in understanding and self-awareness. She is realizing what it means to be an adult and can make moral and ethical judgements for herself. Her husband fails to recognize his own problematic behavior and goes on to invalidate her feelings.

Nora leaves because life with him is always a life under a man’s thumb. She is being suffocated under his objectification of her. This argument erupts into the truth about Nora. That she as an individual has a complex life, a spiritual, emotional, and political life that deserves to develop and grow without just extending from the men around her.

Now, if she were a married woman without children, the story might be simpler. Marital counseling also was not common at the time, and even then, I’m not sure if her husband would agree to go.

I’ll also note that this story supports marriage as an institution, Nora says that her relationship to her husband would be “real wedlock” if he changed. The part where she leaves her children is a part I do struggle with, but it is necessary for us to remember that neither of these characters are perfect. I don’t see Nora’s decision as a call for all mothers who feel like Nora to leave their kids behind in search for financial success and independence. If there is a husband who is capable of change, marriage can be made right. But this isn’t Nora’s situation.

Nora’s Decision to Leave her Husband and Children Behind

Nora made a decision to leave a toxic marriage, and she leaves knowing that the children would be in good hands. She doesn’t not care about her kids at all.

For example, in the script, which I found on Project Gutenberg, there is a scene where Nora sees her children. Nora talks to them after they have played outside:

“How fresh and well you look! Such red cheeks like apples and roses. [The children all talk at once while she speaks to them.] Have you had great fun? That’s splendid! What, you pulled both Emmy and Bob along on the sledge? —both at once?—that was good. You are a clever boy, Ivar. Let me take her for a little, Anne. My sweet little baby doll!”

Nora clearly loves her kids, and cares about them. The play I watched didn’t include the children as characters. Either way, I don’t think that Nora wanted to leave her children.

One argument that I thought of, admittedly before I actually watched the play, was that Nora could take her children with her and leave them Torvald behind. Looking at the play now, this is not an option, considering that first, Torvald would never to allow Nora to take their children from him. Second, if Nora chose to take them with her, she would be desolate and would be putting innocent kids into poverty.

Torvald has the money and resources (and nannies) to provide for the children financially at the very least.. The situation can be awful in any case. It sounds like Nora is unlikely to return to them, but we don’t know. I’m not saying that this completely justifies her decision, but it explains her reasoning.

If she were to try to make it work with Torvald, he would have to be open to really listening to her and treat her not just an object, but a human being with feelings and emotions as complex as his own. I’m not a marriage counselor, but I’m not sure if they could have worked it out on their own. Perhaps if a real marriage counselor were available at the time perhaps they could make it work or perhaps they would separate anyway. Considering the way Torvald insults to her at the end, I am leaning toward the latter.

He never appreciates her as a person or her abilities. After all, she took a huge risk to save her life.

When Nora tells Torvald that she is leaving him, she says that there will be freedom on both sides when she leaves him. Neither have any obligation to the other. She needs to cut ties because she knows he will try to rope her back the moment he even gives her an inch. She also knows that her children will be taken care of in this house.

You could say she’s being irresponsible, that she is thinking for herself alone. I’m not sure we have to agree with her choice, and we also have to remember that Nora is a victim of emotional abuse and she is escaping a this situation and intense pressure in the only way she knows how.

I also don’t think Nora will experience self-actualization and a perfect life outside of her marriage. Mrs. Linde, after all, works for herself but has no one. Nora’s decision, while perhaps preferable, is not ideal. Nora faces isolation and the same emptiness that Mrs. Linde feels by deciding to walk away. Perhaps she will find happiness and community somewhere, but that’s not the main point of the story. Nora’s decision is objectively risky, but she still feels like she cannot make any other choice.

In a society where women are objects without rights, Nora rebels. The system crushes her and she abandons responsibility to a world that belittles and refuses her dignity as a person. In all honesty, the ending is uncomfortable, but I’m not just uncomfortable with a mother, who has been shown to love her children, leaving them indefinitely.

I’m uncomfortable with her husband’s objectification of her, and his dismissal of her individuality, growth, and personhood. I’m uncomfortable with a patriarchal society that reduces women to their physical appearance, and their purpose to serving men and their needs. I’m uncomfortable with a world that only offers men the ability to grow as individuals, provide financially for themselves, and understand the world and their place in it. I’m uncomfortable with a society that only expects them to be mothers and wives and expects them to always comply without receiving any respect.

This is an amazing play. The dialogue is great and it is full of emotional depth. Henrik Ibsen is the father of modern drama for a reason, and I’m glad I saw his work in person.

Today, the message is still relevant and it is important to remember. A Doll’s House inspires empathy, for Nora, Dr. Rank, Mrs. Kristie, and Torvald. It reminds us of the necessity understanding each other and realizing that our view of the world is not universal and that just because we are happy with the way things are doesn’t mean they are right. We understand Torvald’s position without defending him. Maybe we even see ourselves in his viewpoint, in his complacency, in his unwillingness to listen.

Perhaps most importantly, Nora express that she is not happy with the male-dominated society, her expected role in it, and the man that she’s supposed to love. I don’t expect Nora to be perfect, and I appreciate her watching the play and really listening to what she says, we give her the same right that everyone deserves, the right that her husband and society deny her. The right to make choices, to think for herself, to share a different perspective, and ultimately, the right to be human.

I think, that is why I’m glad to have seen this play and to see A Doll’s House and Henrik Ibsen on the Crawford windows.

Have you seen or read A Doll’s House? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments below!

Books

Mediations on a Play Where Nothing Happens: Waiting for Godot Review

Mediations on a Play Where Nothing Happens: Waiting for Godot Review

Important Note: This play talks about suicide and death and includes representations of slavery.

What makes it good?

  • Wit and dialogue
  • Friendship between two people who are reluctant to say they care about each other
  • Questions about the nature of truth

Reasons I struggled to get into this play

  • It is long
  • The two acts are basically the same
  • No key drama moves the plot forward
  • I’m not sure I got it the first time I read it

I’m going to talk about a play where almost nothing happens. Waiting for Godot consists of two acts and the two protagonists do almost nothing in the first act and do the same thing in the second. This long story of stasis includes theological questionings about Jesus’ crucifixion, a speech from a quiet character given for reasons unknown, slow witticisms, questions about epistemology, and reluctant friendship.

In the midst of a desert-dry plot, our attention reading or watching falls on any molecule of meaning that the dialogue offers. But going into full analysis mode misses much of the point. The action, the dialogue, the set and props also tell the story.

Remember that this is a play, and it is a long play. I remember looking over it for hours in my British Literature class and then for a second time when I wrote this review. It still baffles me to this day, so I’ll go into some parts the best I can, but there is certainly more that can be talked about.

We all go to plays because we are bored. You could also say we go to plays to be entertained or because we like to see something that makes meaning out of experience.

So, whether you are bored, want to be entertained, or are looking for a way to understand the meaning of your life, you should read and watch Waiting for Godot. You get to see people on stage who are in the same boat as you. They are waiting for something, for anything to happen.

Waiting for Godot is primarily a dialogue between the two major characters Estragon and Vladimir. I would say that the story is one of uncertain friendship. They don’t always love each other, in fact, they aren’t quite certain if they even want to spend time together. Perhaps they would do better off alone.

Vladimir and Esgragon don’t really fight, because they have the same goal. They’re waiting for Godot, they’re searching for purpose, for a task to fulfill. They are asking questions and waiting for an answer. These are universal questions and based on my reading, Waiting for Godot doesn’t answer any of them.

That doesn’t mean, that the characters are utterly inactive, though. The characters do do some fascinating things. They pick up a carrot and want a turnip. They chat about life, they walk around, and they quarrel.

Inactivity

Estragon and Vladimir spend the play waiting for Godot to arrive and tell them what to do. Godot is their purpose, the one that they should be waiting for, and the one they respect. They won’t leave until he arrives. They don’t appear ambitious or excited for Godot’s arrival. They mostly want him to come because they are bored and feel like they cannot leave without him.

But, oddly enough, they don’t question Godot himself. They don’t question this meeting that they’re having with this man. They don’t question Godot’s character or reasons for meeting. They’re just blindly obedient and trust him because he is the only available authority. Neither character decides to take the matter into their own hands.

I want to note that Godot is not to represent God. Some have interpreted Godot as God and thought that they are waiting for a God that will not come. But this isn’t a correct interpretation by the author’s own words. Beckett said, “If I meant to write God, I would write God.”

Beckett himself is agnostic, but his questions are ones that everyone asks at least a few times in their life. What do we do with our lives? What are we supposed to be doing here? How do we live in a world that seems so repetitive?

These are valid questions, but these characters aren’t great at answering them or even grappling with them well. They just expect someone else, who they barely know anything about to give them purpose in life. When I look at this play, I wonder if taking Godot out of the equation would make their lives better. Why not make a decision and take a risk to find a purpose outside of a vague authority. He hasn’t shown up in days, what is Godot going to do if they leave?

If you’re still not convinced that Godot is not God or a metaphor for God, I’d like to offer a few other points. First, Godot isn’t treated like a God, no one prays to or worships him. Godot doesn’t provide Estragon and Vladimir a way to live or even show that he cares for them or anyone else at all. Godot never reveals anything about himself to them either, he just remains a complete mystery. We don’t even know if he really exists and ultimately, Estragon and Vladimir don’t really care about him.

When a messenger boy comes and tells them Godot isn’t coming, they don’t ask much about Godot. Instead, they are concerned about the boy’s well being. They ask if the boy if Godot feeds him enough, if he’s good to the boy, if Godot beats him, and if he’s happy. Godot sounds pretty bad. He beats the boy’s brother but isn’t exactly kind to the boy.

When Vladimir asks if the boy is happy, the boy responds:

"You're not unhappy." The boy hesitates. "Do you hear me?

Yes Sir.

Well? 

I don't know, Sir

You don't know if you're unhappy or not?

No sir.

"You're as bad as myself (Silence). Where do you sleep?"

This scene is pretty bad, but it shows that above all, Vladimir cares more about another person’s well being over a vague authority figure. The play doesn’t ever hit you over the head with how great it is to love other people and be nice and everything. This scene is sweet, if rare, moment. That leads us to the question of friendship.

Friendship

Estragon and Vladimir are somewhat reluctant friends. They are joined in this goal of waiting for Godot and they seem to like each other enough to stay together. They also wonder if they should part a few times. They contrast with Pozzo and Lucky, who are in an abusive power dynamic. It is one of servant/master or slave/master, because it is unclear whether or not Lucky is able to leave the abusive Pozzo. The contrast between the respectful friendship of people figuring out life and the abusive relationship between Pozzo and Lucky is a big part of the story.

I liked how Beckett portrayed Vladimir and Estragon’s relationship. They both have different perspectives on the world. Vladimir thinks more about philosophical and theological issues, while Estragon is more concerned with the physical world. Estragon also forgets things pretty often. They balance each other out well, even if they don’t understand each other fully. I like how they both seem to like each other, but they don’t completely get why they keep coming back to each other.

Lucky’s Speech

I’m still not sure I understand this speech because it is nonsense. Lucky gives a speech that doesn’t make much sense. It says “for reasons unknown” several times and despite the rest of the words, it suggests that we don’t know why anything happens the way it does. According to Lucky, any attempt at meaning becomes nonsensical in the world we live in.

Theological Questioning

If you are looking for the part in the play where Beckett questions religion, this is it. Vladimir reflects on the story of Jesus the three thieves on the cross. He remembers how one story says that both thieves taunted Jesus, and another says there is a good thief who is saved and a mean one. The question is a bit theological. It is questioning the truth of the Bible, but it is also asking us about truth as a whole. How do we know what truth is? How can we tell the truth if two different stories are different? How can we tell what the truth is when we have different interpretations of the truth.

Sometimes we only hear one version of the truth, like some people only hear one story of the thieves on the cross and assume there is one good thief and one bad thief. I think a lot of us prefer this story to the one where both thieves are mean, so we remember it that way. In this play though, I’m not sure if people remember things according to preference or choice. It seems to be random for these guys.

Vladimir and Estragon often remember things differently and quarrel about which rendition of events is true. They cannot even remember how many days they have been waiting for Godot. They can’t tell which boy is which, even, and they remember differently than Pozzo.

Life seems more like a series of events over a long, endless span. It is our actions that confirm our existence, and that even while we wait, we cannot live without acting. I think of writing that way. I think I’d like to do something to give the impression that I exist and that I’m engaging with these stories and the world. I think that’s something we’re all looking for.

“We always find something, eh Didi, to give the impression that we exist.”

Estragon

Passing Time vs. Living

If you are a person, I’m not sure if you’ll relate completely to this story. The people in this story appear to live in an anarchic society or one run by Godot. They do not live under a capitalist society, and if they do, they at least are committing tax evasion. The life Estragon and Vladimir live is only possible because they somehow manage to drink and feed themselves in the wilderness without a job. Godot is their employer of sorts, but he doesn’t make them do anything else. They only have to wait and not work, and we don’t even know if they are being paid. He does appear to employ the boys who work for him, but that is all we know.

Therefore, the world the characters inhabit is quite unlike our own. They are able to sit and wander and do essentially nothing. There are few worries about how they will be able to afford to stay alive. They also seem decently content living in the wilderness, at least, they do not worry greatly about their ability to stay alive.

Therefore, they are allowed to be idle, and can spend much of their time just passing time, rather than trying to make a living.

The Purposeless of Waiting

Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for meaning, instruction, to be told what to do. Pozzo is not waiting for Godot, and he is a terrible, tyrannical, abusive person. He is the only one that we don’t see living under someone else’s orders.

I asked before if Estragon and Vladimir would be happier if they ignored Godot and did what they wanted. They are missing out and don’t accept all the freedom that they have. Time is being wasted as they wait for him to come. He dictates what space they stay in, how long they stay together, and their patience. The world they live in is also unjust, there are unhealthy dynamics between boss and employee, and between Pozzo and Lucky, but these relationships continue in a cycle. Life is all a cycle in this story.

Pozzo: I don’t seem to be able to . . . (long hesitation). . . to depart

Estragon: Such is life.

Estragon has a point here. This is also maybe the only point where I can empathize with Pozzo.

Vladimir: That passed the time.

Estragon: It would have passed anyway. 

Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Pause

Estragon: What do we do now?
That's the odd message of this story, that we fill our lives with random events that we might forget. In Waiting for Godot, there is no exciting moment. I'm not sure I still understand this play after all these years. Is the problem that they are waiting for a purpose instead of seeking it ourselves or looking for a better purpose, or does life is has little meaning or direction whether or not Godot was there? 

I’d like to think that perhaps they could do better if they just left Godot behind, but they don’t do that. So, we’ll never know. It frustrated me, especially while reading a play where almost nothing happens. In an odd way, I liked how this play ended without answers, because it feels like real life. Although Vladimir and Estragon have few responsibilities, I could relate to them.

Even without things to do, life without a goal or plan can feel like we’re Waiting for Godot. Sometimes life isn’t as romantic as other plays seem. Our connections with others aren’t always perfect and as humans we know that other people don’t understand and remember events the same way that we do. Our consciousness are different. This is captured through the characters of Estragon and Vladimir.

On one hand, this play makes me pessimistic. Taking action seems to be an answer to their problems. I wonder why Estragon and Vladimir keep coming back to each other. Listening to another person and hearing their perspective helps us, even if we don’t find the truth. I like Waiting For Godot for that reason.

When it comes to questions, rather than ignoring or trying to solve everything, it gives us space to ask questions and lets us question the answers and sit in uncertainty for a bit.

Have you ever read Waiting for Godot? What did you think? Did you like reading it or get annoyed with the characters? Let me know in the comments below.

Important Note: This play talks about suicide and death and includes representations of slavery.

What makes it good?

  • Wit and dialogue
  • Friendship between two people who are reluctant to say they care about each other
  • Questions about the nature of truth

Reasons I struggled to get into this play

  • It is long
  • The two acts are basically the same
  • No key drama moves the plot forward
  • I’m not sure I got it the first time I read it

I’m going to talk about a play where almost nothing happens. Waiting for Godot consists of two acts and the two protagonists do almost nothing in the first act and do the same thing in the second. This long story of stasis includes theological questionings about Jesus’ crucifixion, a speech from a quiet character given for reasons unknown, slow witticisms, questions about epistemology, and reluctant friendship.

In the midst of a desert-dry plot, our attention reading or watching falls on any molecule of meaning that the dialogue offers. But going into full analysis mode misses much of the point. The action, the dialogue, the set and props also tell the story.

Remember that this is a play, and it is a long play. I remember looking over it for hours in my British Literature class and then for a second time when I wrote this review. It still baffles me to this day, so I’ll go into some parts the best I can, but there is certainly more that can be talked about.

We all go to plays because we are bored. You could also say we go to plays to be entertained or because we like to see something that makes meaning out of experience.

So, whether you are bored, want to be entertained, or are looking for a way to understand the meaning of your life, you should read and watch Waiting for Godot. You get to see people on stage who are in the same boat as you. They are waiting for something, for anything to happen.

Waiting for Godot is primarily a dialogue between the two major characters Estragon and Vladimir. I would say that the story is one of uncertain friendship. They don’t always love each other, in fact, they aren’t quite certain if they even want to spend time together. Perhaps they would do better off alone.

Vladimir and Esgragon don’t really fight, because they have the same goal. They’re waiting for Godot, they’re searching for purpose, for a task to fulfill. They are asking questions and waiting for an answer. These are universal questions and based on my reading, Waiting for Godot doesn’t answer any of them.

That doesn’t mean, that the characters are utterly inactive, though. The characters do do some fascinating things. They pick up a carrot and want a turnip. They chat about life, they walk around, and they quarrel.

Inactivity

Estragon and Vladimir spend the play waiting for Godot to arrive and tell them what to do. Godot is their purpose, the one that they should be waiting for, and the one they respect. They won’t leave until he arrives. They don’t appear ambitious or excited for Godot’s arrival. They mostly want him to come because they are bored and feel like they cannot leave without him.

But, oddly enough, they don’t question Godot himself. They don’t question this meeting that they’re having with this man. They don’t question Godot’s character or reasons for meeting. They’re just blindly obedient and trust him because he is the only available authority. Neither character decides to take the matter into their own hands.

I want to note that Godot is not to represent God. Some have interpreted Godot as God and thought that they are waiting for a God that will not come. But this isn’t a correct interpretation by the author’s own words. Beckett said, “If I meant to write God, I would write God.”

Beckett himself is agnostic, but his questions are ones that everyone asks at least a few times in their life. What do we do with our lives? What are we supposed to be doing here? How do we live in a world that seems so repetitive?

These are valid questions, but these characters aren’t great at answering them or even grappling with them well. They just expect someone else, who they barely know anything about to give them purpose in life. When I look at this play, I wonder if taking Godot out of the equation would make their lives better. Why not make a decision and take a risk to find a purpose outside of a vague authority. He hasn’t shown up in days, what is Godot going to do if they leave?

If you’re still not convinced that Godot is not God or a metaphor for God, I’d like to offer a few other points. First, Godot isn’t treated like a God, no one prays to or worships him. Godot doesn’t provide Estragon and Vladimir a way to live or even show that he cares for them or anyone else at all. Godot never reveals anything about himself to them either, he just remains a complete mystery. We don’t even know if he really exists and ultimately, Estragon and Vladimir don’t really care about him.

When a messenger boy comes and tells them Godot isn’t coming, they don’t ask much about Godot. Instead, they are concerned about the boy’s well being. They ask if the boy if Godot feeds him enough, if he’s good to the boy, if Godot beats him, and if he’s happy. Godot sounds pretty bad. He beats the boy’s brother but isn’t exactly kind to the boy.

When Vladimir asks if the boy is happy, the boy responds:

"You're not unhappy." The boy hesitates. "Do you hear me?

Yes Sir.

Well? 

I don't know, Sir

You don't know if you're unhappy or not?

No sir.

"You're as bad as myself (Silence). Where do you sleep?"

This scene is pretty bad, but it shows that above all, Vladimir cares more about another person’s well being over a vague authority figure. The play doesn’t ever hit you over the head with how great it is to love other people and be nice and everything. This scene is sweet, if rare, moment. That leads us to the question of friendship.

Friendship

Estragon and Vladimir are somewhat reluctant friends. They are joined in this goal of waiting for Godot and they seem to like each other enough to stay together. They also wonder if they should part a few times. They contrast with Pozzo and Lucky, who are in an abusive power dynamic. It is one of servant/master or slave/master, because it is unclear whether or not Lucky is able to leave the abusive Pozzo. The contrast between the respectful friendship of people figuring out life and the abusive relationship between Pozzo and Lucky is a big part of the story.

I liked how Beckett portrayed Vladimir and Estragon’s relationship. They both have different perspectives on the world. Vladimir thinks more about philosophical and theological issues, while Estragon is more concerned with the physical world. Estragon also forgets things pretty often. They balance each other out well, even if they don’t understand each other fully. I like how they both seem to like each other, but they don’t completely get why they keep coming back to each other.

Lucky’s Speech

I’m still not sure I understand this speech because it is nonsense. Lucky gives a speech that doesn’t make much sense. It says “for reasons unknown” several times and despite the rest of the words, it suggests that we don’t know why anything happens the way it does. According to Lucky, any attempt at meaning becomes nonsensical in the world we live in.

Theological Questioning

If you are looking for the part in the play where Beckett questions religion, this is it. Vladimir reflects on the story of Jesus the three thieves on the cross. He remembers how one story says that both thieves taunted Jesus, and another says there is a good thief who is saved and a mean one. The question is a bit theological. It is questioning the truth of the Bible, but it is also asking us about truth as a whole. How do we know what truth is? How can we tell the truth if two different stories are different? How can we tell what the truth is when we have different interpretations of the truth.

Sometimes we only hear one version of the truth, like some people only hear one story of the thieves on the cross and assume there is one good thief and one bad thief. I think a lot of us prefer this story to the one where both thieves are mean, so we remember it that way. In this play though, I’m not sure if people remember things according to preference or choice. It seems to be random for these guys.

Vladimir and Estragon often remember things differently and quarrel about which rendition of events is true. They cannot even remember how many days they have been waiting for Godot. They can’t tell which boy is which, even, and they remember differently than Pozzo.

Life seems more like a series of events over a long, endless span. It is our actions that confirm our existence, and that even while we wait, we cannot live without acting. I think of writing that way. I think I’d like to do something to give the impression that I exist and that I’m engaging with these stories and the world. I think that’s something we’re all looking for.

“We always find something, eh Didi, to give the impression that we exist.”

Estragon

Passing Time vs. Living

If you are a person, I’m not sure if you’ll relate completely to this story. The people in this story appear to live in an anarchic society or one run by Godot. They do not live under a capitalist society, and if they do, they at least are committing tax evasion. The life Estragon and Vladimir live is only possible because they somehow manage to drink and feed themselves in the wilderness without a job. Godot is their employer of sorts, but he doesn’t make them do anything else. They only have to wait and not work, and we don’t even know if they are being paid. He does appear to employ the boys who work for him, but that is all we know.

Therefore, the world the characters inhabit is quite unlike our own. They are able to sit and wander and do essentially nothing. There are few worries about how they will be able to afford to stay alive. They also seem decently content living in the wilderness, at least, they do not worry greatly about their ability to stay alive.

Therefore, they are allowed to be idle, and can spend much of their time just passing time, rather than trying to make a living.

The Purposeless of Waiting

Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for meaning, instruction, to be told what to do. Pozzo is not waiting for Godot, and he is a terrible, tyrannical, abusive person. He is the only one that we don’t see living under someone else’s orders.

I asked before if Estragon and Vladimir would be happier if they ignored Godot and did what they wanted. They are missing out and don’t accept all the freedom that they have. Time is being wasted as they wait for him to come. He dictates what space they stay in, how long they stay together, and their patience. The world they live in is also unjust, there are unhealthy dynamics between boss and employee, and between Pozzo and Lucky, but these relationships continue in a cycle. Life is all a cycle in this story.

Pozzo: I don’t seem to be able to . . . (long hesitation). . . to depart

Estragon: Such is life.

Estragon has a point here. This is also maybe the only point where I can empathize with Pozzo.

Vladimir: That passed the time.

Estragon: It would have passed anyway. 

Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Pause

Estragon: What do we do now?

That’s the odd message of this story, that we fill our lives with random events that we might forget. In Waiting for Godot, there is no exciting moment. I’m not sure I still understand this play after all these years. Is the problem that they are waiting for a purpose instead of seeking it ourselves or looking for a better purpose, or does life is has little meaning or direction whether or not Godot was there?

I’d like to think that perhaps they could do better if they just left Godot behind, but they don’t do that. So, we’ll never know. It frustrated me, especially while reading a play where almost nothing happens. In an odd way, I liked how this play ended without answers, because it feels like real life. Although Vladimir and Estragon have few responsibilities, I could relate to them.

Even without things to do, life without a goal or plan can feel like we’re Waiting for Godot. Sometimes life isn’t as romantic as other plays seem. Our connections with others aren’t always perfect and as humans we know that other people don’t understand and remember events the same way that we do. Our consciousness are different. This is captured through the characters of Estragon and Vladimir.

On one hand, this play makes me pessimistic. Taking action seems to be an answer to their problems. I wonder why Estragon and Vladimir keep coming back to each other. Listening to another person and hearing their perspective helps us, even if we don’t find the truth. I like Waiting For Godot for that reason.

When it comes to questions, rather than ignoring or trying to solve everything, it gives us space to ask questions and lets us question the answers and sit in uncertainty for a bit.

Have you ever read Waiting for Godot? What did you think? Did you like reading it or get annoyed with the characters? Let me know in the comments below.

Books

How to Write a Novel Based on Fanfiction The Right Way: The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Pros

  • Witty banter, especially between Adam and Olive
  • Sweet friendships and found family
  • Likable side characters and relationships
  • Fascinating insight into life in STEM and academia
  • Well described tension and chemistry

Cons

  • Characters could have been developed better
  • The plot felt slightly convoluted at times
  • Slow at times
  • Plot is driven by communication issues
  • Her friend, Ahn, was kind of pushy about getting them together

It was a cool February day when I decided to venture to a local library to check out The Love Hypothesis. Bookstagram raved and sung in the streets about this romance. I was a little bit skeptical at first. How good could it really be? The amount of times I’ve seen this online is insane. If this book was advertised in person, it would be as widespread one of those “Where is Peter Parker” posters. But I don’t blame them. I binge read this book in a few days over break and I get it.

Summary

Olive is a brilliant PhD student who wants to be a great scientist. She has loved science since she was a kid, and that love and desire to help others keeps her going through the hours of analyzing samples and writing her findings, all for a low pay that affords her Ramen noodle dinners. There is also another reason she keeps going, a super important one, but I can’t say what it is or I’d be spoiling. Where would be the fun in that?

So, she’s a pretty typical twenty-something, figuring out her life and hanging out with her friends. She works and also partakes in pretty normal hobbies, like watching American Ninja Warrior with her roommate Malcolm and her friend Ahn when she’s got a free moment.

What Olive hasn’t done much of is dating, which is fine. She is not attracted to people very often anyway. She went out with Jeremy a few times, but she didn’t feel anything romantically. But now her friend Ahn likes him, crap. But Ahn is worried that Olive still likes Jeremy. Oh crap. Well, of course the answer to this predicament is to impulsively kiss the first man she sees. This poor man ends up being the absurdly tall, sexy-as-can-be, obnoxious Dr. Adam Carlsen.

Does this sound convoluted to you–like it could be created from fanfiction? Well, if you thought that way, you’re absolutely right. The Love Hypothesis was actually originally written as fanfiction about Rey and Kylo Ren. In this alternate universe, Kylo is a college professor and Rey is a grad student; but it was so good, that the author decided to turn it into a novel with different characters. If you’re surprised, I feel the same way. I didn’t find this out until I was halfway through.

I never noticed that Adam looks like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver and the character even have the same first name) until a friend pointed it out. Maybe I don’t get it. I never fantasized about confessing my love to Kylo Ren or of kissing him on the beach, at least, not yet. I was a mild shipper of Kylo and Rey, but I never finished the new Star Wars or cared that much. Maybe that’s why I can’t picture him in this story.

When I picture a rude dark haired professor, I would think of Severus Snape before I consider Kylo Ren. I didn’t picture Snape as I was reading though; I imagined a tall muscly runner guy. I don’t get Kylo Ren, he’s attractive I suppose, but he’s not Adam. Adam has fluffy hair and he’s tall. That feels different. But maybe Adam Driver is tall? Okay, Google says he’s 6’3. Cool.

Anyway, so back to the story. Olive has to explain the sudden kiss to Ahn, and if Adam becomes her boyfriend–problem solved. Thus, fake dating begins.

The arrangement works out for Adam because he’ll convince the college that he has no plans of leaving for another university. Apparently, he’s a brilliant hotshot science and every college wants him.

Olive is brilliant, of course. Her friends are wicked smart and kind. But don’t worry, this story includes condescending pig-heads too.

Adam and Olive’s story uses many tropes from fanfiction and romance novels, but Hazelwood makes them unique and fun. The lengths that her characters go to show that they are a couple are slightly, but also believably ridiculous, laughable, and full of piping hot sexual tension. Everyone in this story is a shipper, especially Anh. But then fake dating gets complicated when real feelings begin that they can’t ignore.

In addition to their great romance, these two are likable characters that I enjoyed getting to know better. Olive is witty and fun and Adam is grumpy and kind. Their situations are also very realistic. They don’t have a ton of time on their hands working in academia. Neither has hours to spend at coffee shops, on campus meals, and hanging on the quad. But they also attend the same functions and frequent the lab building. So, don’t worry, they aren’t too busy to fall in love.

Structure

The book is broken into chapters and each chapter has a “hypothesis” heading where Olive gives a hypothesis about her fake-dating situation. I enjoyed reading these headings. Each hypothesis is witty and silly, and it gives us a hint as to what will happen in each chapter. The chapters are not too long, and I got through them pretty quickly. The story also includes a few text messages and emails from characters, and they fit into the grad-school life. Hazelwood uses email and texting when appropriate, and it thankfully isn’t overused.

The Love Hypothesis is definitely made up of more dialogue than description. The plot moves forward through each social interaction between friends, colleges, and fake-dating partners. I wish Hazelwood had been more descriptive of the scenery, but it didn’t harm my enjoyment of the book. She is good at writing dialogue, describing body language, and writing Olive’s internal monologue.

I enjoyed the third person limited perspective that Hazelwood uses. I generally prefer first person, and I prefer write in it myself, but with this story, third person just works. We still learn about Olive’s thoughts and worries about life. Hazelwood does this by italicizing Olive’s thoughts as she reacts in the moment. I saw a few complaints that this was in third person, but I liked it that way. She often gets nervous about Adam and their relationship, so we get to hear her say funny thing like this:

“Because.” Because my throat will dry up and my brain will shut down and I will be so bad that someone from the audience will take out a crossbow and shoot me in the kneecap.

Olive at page 198

It was a bit odd that Hazelwood sometimes italicized Olive’s thoughts and sometimes she didn’t. The only reason I can guess is that she wanted emphasis for certain thoughts, but if she is a good writer (which she is) those points will stick out regardless.

Olive’s internal monologue is witty and quick. She felt pretty relatable when she describes the feeling of awkwardness and uncertainty that comes with social situations like especially dating and public speaking.

I found it fascinating how Hazelwood writes about the STEM grad school experience. All Olive’s feelings felt real, and I often felt bad for her. I’ve never been there, but when I was reading I felt like I got it. Hazelwood herself has a P.H.D. in neuroscience and you can tell. She describes both the intricacies, the insecurities, and the isolation that comes from grad school. Hazelwood also shows us the bad parts of academia: the cutthroat environment and harsh professors, the sexism, the obnoxious scientists, and the lack of funding for studies or quality equipment.

Reviewing the Romance and Rationships

Like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, this story is about two lonely people finding each other and growing in a community and understanding themselves. The story is one of found family–one of my favorite tropes. Olive’s friends Malcolm and Anh were amazing and it is fun to watch them together.

Their interactions and relationships felt realistic and silly. Her friends also had their own lives and interests that were separate from Olive. I feel like sometimes characters in these stories don’t have their own lives. I really liked Ahn, even if she was kind of annoying about pushing Olive and Adam together.

Olive and Adam were adorable. They have funny banter you’d expect to read in a coffee shop themed fanfiction. I’m telling you, this ship is the definition of the grumpy-sunshine trope. Olive is much more fun-loving, while Adam has a serious demeanor. Their interactions are filled with mutual pining and total awe of the other person’s bizarre actions. Opposites attract as they say, and these two are obviously very attracted to each other. For instance:

“You ooze moodiness”

“I do not.” He sounded indignant, which struck her as oddly endearing.

This story is definitely more of a slow-burn. While Olive and Adam do move forward in their relationship, it takes a while for them to realize what they want from each other and how the other person feels. If you’re looking for a book about characters who are all over each other right away and then have a ton of sex the entire book–you might end up a little disappointed. I personally like when there is an emotional connection and buildup before they get together. But I will admit, slow-burn romances can feel annoying, especially when they are super oblivious. In this case, I really liked how the romance was slower, especially from what we know about Olive’s character.

Demisexuality Representation

Olive isn’t very experienced in romance at the start of the story, and she hasn’t developed crushes on very many people and she didn’t date or want to date much before this story. Hazelwood shows that that is the way Olive experiences attraction, and it is normal. Olive never labels herself, but she does say she only becomes attracted to a potential partner when she trusts them and develops an emotional bond. Olive talks about this with Adam. Although Olive never names her orientation, it sounds like she is demisexual.

I relate to Olive a lot, except for the part where she develops feelings for Adam. I’m not sure I’ve gotten there yet. I think that Olive is demiromantic too. Romantic and sexual attraction are sometimes linked, but not always. From what I interpreted, she doesn’t romantically like anyone before Adam. I liked how this was a slow-burn story and they grow to appreciate each other more over time.

As for representation, I would say The Love Hypothesis is a mixed bag. On one hand, some demisexual reviewers saw themselves in Olive. But others found the representation vague and wished Olive called herself demisexual. If Hazelwood wanted to take the demisexuality and or demiromantic route with Olive, she could have been more validating.

And the representation it isn’t super positive either, Olive also wonders if there is something wrong with her and she never fully realizes that it is valid and normal to experience sexual and/or romantic attraction differently than how society and the media tells us–or to not experience sexual and romantic attraction at all. Those moments felt a bit odd and underdeveloped when I was reading them. I’m not sure Hazelwood handled demisexuality the best, but she does give it more awareness. Olive’s feelings could also be relatable to someone who didn’t date until later in life regardless of their sexuality. This story also has LGBTQ+ representation with other characters, but I can’t say anything specific without giving spoilers.

Thoughts on the Ship as a Whole

Overall, the romance was well written. A few reviewers have said that the characters are somewhat bland. I wish I’d gotten more development from them in general. They felt a bit cliché at times, but it didn’t bother me that much. The story is supposed to be fun and a lighthearted read.

The witty banter is great and the coffee shop dates were freaking adorable. Olive likes Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Adam gets black coffee, which was pretty amusing. They have so many silly moments together, and they’re just fun and you can unapologetically enjoy them. I liked how Adam got out of his shell after spending time with Olive. They’re so happy and goofy and they can be themselves together and grow together. I love them.

I also enjoyed how we got to see Olive’s career and her growing as a scientist and person. She struggles with public speaking and feels insecure, for instance, and we see her grow more confident. Hazelwood balances Olive’s science journey and romance–of course, since this is a romance novel, the romance part is given the most words, but the parts with her in grad school were given plenty of time and care. You can tell that Hazelwood has been there.

Plot/Communication Issues

So many of the problems in these characters’ lives occurred because they don’t talk to each other about anything. Olive did say that she doesn’t get close to many people because of her past and everything, but her reasoning still felt like lazy writing. People deal with things emotionally in different ways, but it is still annoys me. Communication issues are probably my least favorite trope in any romance story. Also, since we knew they liked each other, it was irritating to see either of them even considering that the other seriously had feelings for anyone else instead. The story’s pacing also felt a little slow.

How to Publish a Fanfiction-Based Novel Right

The Love Hypothesis uses and plays with many conventions that exist in fanfiction, there is the coffee shop, the “there is only one bed” trope, the grumpy-sunshine trope, etc. All of these tropes and fanfic themes could have been cringe-worthy and badly-written, but they are not. Hazelwood has a sense of humor that makes their fake-dating interactions both awkward and filled with real tension.

We obviously see that Adam cares about Olive and vice versa and they are kind to each other from the start. Olive is her own person, she doesn’t feel like an Ali Hazelwood stand-in or a complete blank slate. She is the one to begin the fake-dating relationship and she doesn’t let things just happen to her. She is a pretty active character; Adam isn’t inactive or boring either and he’s a total sweetheart. We do get to understand why both of them act the way they do.

Unlike Fifty Shades and Twilight, the couple are pretty honest with each other, as long as the conversation topic isn’t whether or not if one has a crush on the other. While Adam has a reputation for being harsh with undergraduates, he is always sweet to Olive. The two ask for consent at every turn and take the other’s feelings into account. When we see them get together, it is deeply satisfying. But then the drama heats up, so we don’t get the happily ever after for too long.

Overall Thoughts and the Ending

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun read, and it is one that kept me turning pages. The writing is witty and fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously—but all the serious issues are treated with respect and care. I loved how Hazelwood writes stories within the STEM genre. Hazelwood creates a love story from a familiar setting and it works wonderfully. I had never read a book about grad school before, and this one was funny, sweet, and well-written. I’m not sure if I’d say this book is one that you need to read before you die, but I’m personally glad that I did.

As to the ending, I personally liked it. I thought it was good, maybe they could have added more story, but I didn’t mind leaving things a bit open. I loved Malcolm’s ending and Ahn’s. Although I expected to see her interact with Jeremy more. He was just there.

Observations:

-This book contains sexual scenes/content. If you want to skip those parts, they occur on Chapter 16 and a bit of 17.

-I liked how Olive and Adam are marathon runners. That’s a cool hobby to include, even if it wasn’t necessarily part of the plot.

-People might find it unrealistic. The fake-dating trope can feel fake. If you’re looking for a more serious/plot driven story, this might not be for you. The Love Hypothesis is very relationship and romance driven and the premise isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously.

Have you read The Love Hypothesis? What did you think? Let me know down in the comments below!

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Books

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Beautiful, Honest, and Hilarious Story That Argues That Human Connection Is An Antidote to Loneliness

Trigger Warning: this book discusses self-harm, suicide, depression, and alcoholism.

Pros

  • Features a hilarious and intriguing main character
  • Eleanor keeps her individuality while learning to love others and care for their needs and her own
  • Keeps the reader hooked, even in slower plotlines
  • Lovable side characters
  • Good message of love and human connectivity
  • Well written take on introverts, trauma, mental health (depression, alcoholism), and the effects of self-isolation

CONS

  • I didn’t see many cons
  • Makeover scene: the message seemed to promote spending money for looks
  • Overemphasis on social rituals

Over the summer, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I was looking at the book as an Easter gift my mom bought for me to read at the beach. I actually started reading before I went to the beach, which is surprising. I’m an English major, so usually after finals, the last thing I want to do is stare at paper for hours and absorb words. I usually feel hesitant to read again after finals, but the cover drew me in.

My copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has an eye-catching bright blue and orange design, and it features our heroine with her arms crossed over her. She’s almost insisting to us that she is completely fine after all. I read the back and was intrigued too. What sort of character is this? Then I read that Reese Witherspoon recommended this book, so I was encouraged. I have never read a Reese Witherspoon-approved novel before, but I trust her taste. I was right to do so. 

Eleanor Oliphant is a nearly thirty-year-old woman who has never been particularly social. She works in an office, she does crossword puzzles, and she lives a rather boring life. But when I read her perspective, I found that I was not, for even a second, bored.

Getting inside Eleanor’s head was going through a funhouse, you never know what you will see next and everything you see comes out of nowhere and is intensely amusing. I hardly put the book down. Eleanor’s wit is often unintentional but fantastic.

She has no idea how funny and unusual she is because she grew up isolated from most people. After her mother went away, Eleanor was shuffled between foster homes. She never had stability or comfort and her abusive mother regularly calls her every single Wednesday to insult her. This mother is terrifying. Every phone call is emotionally abusive. I never met a woman like this and I never hope to. Eleanor did not have friends growing up either, so she is very unskilled regarding understanding and following social norms. For example, in one scene she goes to a dance. Eleanor is trying to learn how to dance and interact with people at a party, but she has never danced before.

“Free-form jigging, communal shapes in the air; Dancing was easy!…YMCA! YMCA! Arms in the air, mimicking the letters – what a marvelous idea! Who knew that dancing could be so logical? …From my limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and firstarting and Emily Bronte novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender-and faith-based youth organization?”

Eleanor on dancing

She describes the world the way someone unfamiliar with it would. Rather than being cast off as an odd recluse or weirdo, her differences make her unique and lovable. Her perspective is honest and looks at human life in ways I haven’t considered before. The social rituals that we go through make little sense on the outside, and she can see the beauty and humor in them.

Eleanor’s keen sense of humor keeps the book interesting, even though there are often scenes where not much happens. The simple experience of shopping at a grocery store is wonderful and hilarious to witness. There was also very little filler. All the scenes, big and small, impact the plot. Part of Eleanor’s journey is her goal to meet a man she has seen once in person. To Eleanor, he is intellectually fascinating, extremely handsome, and a genuine person. He is also a semi-famous musician. She is ambitious, so I will give her that.

If we look at side characters, almost everyone is equally lovely. Eleanor runs into particular trouble when she and the IT guy, Raymond, end up saving a stranger’s life together. The unexpected event leads them on an adventure that neither expected.

Raymond is such a delightful character. He is not someone Eleanor would ever choose to associate with, his wardrobe consists of graphic tees and jogging shoes, which Eleanor remarks are primarily worn by people who never set foot in a gym. He spends most weekends playing video games until dawn, and he lacks table manners. Eleanor grew up learning to imitate high society and about the importance of putting a fork in the right place at all times. They make quite the pair.

The man that they save, Sammy, is also delightful. He is a kind man who introduces them to his family. The story is one of found families. Family is foraged from love, rather than blood. Though blood and love often coexist. Raymond’s mother also makes an appearance, and she is lovely.

The novel tells us that the meaning of life and reason to live is human connection. The relationships that Eleanor develops encourage and help her when she is miserable. I found this message to be both uplifting and a little lacking.

The show also mentions human rituals as a meaningful aspect of life, and Eleanor gushes over her makeover and gets her nails done. These rituals require a deal of wealth and material success; Eleanor can easily afford to get her hair, nails, and toes done because she can afford to drop over a hundred dollars. Her experiences at the hair and nail salons felt a little romanticized. I enjoy getting my nails done and my hair cut as much as the next person, but they do not feel like the meaningful rituals that connect me and create an intimacy between myself and the people who perform them for me. If these are are a primary way to happiness, only those with the money can afford these luxuries. The novel also ignores that the people who do her hairdo work to eat and provide for themselves. They may be tired after a long day and just want to go home. It is an act of service, I suppose, but it feels a little shallow. The nail stylist does not necessarily want to interact with Eleanor or help her look good or whatever. The novel shows that the people don’t always care, but Eleanor’s romanticization makes it feel like we should agree with her.

Outside of material good, the novel does mention the beauty of nature a little. There is one particular scene where Eleanor and Raymond are walking outdoors, and they look at the beauty of the sunset. That moment is fleeting but beautiful. A case for the good in nature rather than hair products is probably preferable if we seek a moral center.

The message seems to be a humanist one. Humanism is a philosophy that affirms human importance rather than the importance of the divine. The novel does not offer religion or spirituality as a way to find meaning, grace, or purpose. Eleanor doesn’t believe, nor does anyone else.

A humanist method of seeing the world can have problems. I loved this book, but it is also interesting to pay attention to the views it promotes. Otherwise, honestly, I don’t have a lot of critiques for this book. It was well written, and the humor and scenes of connection between people were beyond beautiful.

However, there are other aspects to life than human beings: the appreciation of nature, a desire to learn about religion, and care for animals. Eleanor does get a pet cat, so she does connect with animals and a being other than humans. The cat was adorable. I was a bit skeptical at a couple of parts of the novel, though. Human connection is also not so perfect and pure at times. The novel is not open to religion or other ideas as an aid or solution, so the cure relies on humans and our ability to care for each other.

I will say the novel felt a little idealistic at times. Her coworkers, for instance, who disliked her before, throw a party for her. It feels a bit off. It was nice to see the people she works with putting her needs before their prejudices. They saw that she was struggling and were empathetic, even if she was a little odd. We must look out and care for each other. W.H. Auden says that “we must love one another or die.” That is brutal, but it is the reality of both life and this book. Without love for each other, life is simply worth living.

Look, Eleanor has her hobbies. She does her crossword puzzles and her daily rituals. Eleanor completes many tasks that the CDC would recommend for a healthy life: seeing people at work five days a week, going outside on walks, reading regularly, eating regular meals, and a well-balanced diet. Eleanor is also a professional success; she is a good employee, she works hard, and keeps her job. She doesn’t take sick days, she returns back from the weekends with her stress forgotten; she never lets her personal life affect the job. She attended university, and she keeps her brain active with puzzles…I could go on. But even if she didn’t live with trauma and depression, I don’t think Eleanor would be happy and satified with this alone. 

I think the point is that none of us should be. Gail Honeyman said of the book:

“Eleanor Oliphant isn’t me, or anyone I know [but] of course I’ve felt loneliness-everyone does.”

Gail Honeyman

The novel addresses the loneliness inside us and that everyone needs somebody. We need others and we need to be there for others when they are around and when they are alive. After all, we don’t live forever. The novel reminds us of that. I think this novel could show life as absolutely perfect if not for the fact that it ends.

The sections about death were tragic. Eleanor has no hope for an afterlife or anything beyond. It is sad, but the novel shows that death is part of life for all of us. Eleanor accepts death as a fact of life and still celebrates all the joys of living. Eleanor Oliphant’s world is filled with life. There are people on the bus and friends all around, there are parties and dancing and going to coffee with friends–those moments make life worth living for Eleanor. Her friendships and interactions with others are well-written and funny. To get on a less morbid topic, let’s talk about makeovers.

One of Eleanor’s decisions to get her crush, the musician, to like her is to get a makeover. I rarely like makeover scenes in movies, because they usually start with a protagonist who is happy with their appearance and then changes so that a love interest finds them attractive and so they can fit in with the popular kids. Eleanor’s makeover also made it seem like she had to change to be accepted by her coworkers. She keeps her sense of humor, but why does she have to get a makeover? This feels like a Disney movie. Eleanor is an adult, she shouldn’t have to change her appearance, which was nice. She took care of her appearance, so it is not like she was careless and sloppy or anything.

I also wish she’d stayed in touch with Sammy, the man whose life she saved’s family more. I would have liked to see her and Laura become friends, it seemed like a no-brainer. To pair a person who is more focused on appearances with a friend who doesn’t care at all could be entertaining. It would have been nice to have two close friends. Both could learn from each other, and Laura seemed pretty chill from what we know about her. They could learn from each other and support each other; after all, they both knew Sammy.

Otherwise, I found the novel uplifting. The message is that when you feel down and lonely, spending time with others is of great benefit. Eleanor learns this and also builds a friendship with Raymond. She doesn’t have to do life alone. She has a friend, and she also starts going to a counselor. The positive portrayal of seeking help was nice. Sometimes you need help in a professional setting as well.

It was also nice to watch Eleanor remain true to herself. She still likes crossword puzzles and has her quirky sense of humor, and no one expects or demands her to change. She also learns to accept others for who they are and to reserve judgment before knowing someone.

I cannot say enough how much I loved Raymond and their relationship. He is incredibly sweet and caring. His outgoing dorkiness and kindness are a perfect match for her blunt and nerdy eccentricity.

When I first read the description, I was expecting a romance between Eleanor and the IT guy (Raymond) to be the main plot, and I was pleasantly surprised when it was not the case. So many stories show the socially isolated and damaged characters finding a love interest that shows them how to live life to the fullest. Realistically, it is probably Eleanor needs time to work on herself and then start dating someone. Unfortunately, this is rarely true in a ton of books I see.

Like those romance covers that talk about a “bad boy” with a troubled past who finds a woman to love, and then she fixes him, and everything is okay, that is stupid. Eleanor thinks finding a guy will help her and she chases the hottest one she can find, but he is a terrible person. He also doesn’t care about a stranger he’s never met. He is a selfish idiot. I don’t get why any other results could have occurred if we look at the situation realistically. 

Confession: I have never read one of these bad-boy romance books, but I feel like I see them everywhere.

Honeyman’s decision to focus on Eleanor’s growth as a character is truly refreshing. There is a hint that something romantic might happen with them in the end, but it feels right. They have become friends first. Maybe dating could work out for them, maybe it wouldn’t, but the book gives us hope that their friendship will continue no matter what. She has a solid friendship and learns that isolation is not the answer.

Eleanor initially believes she is strong for being alone. She is independent, she doesn’t need anybody.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself.”

Eleanor

Is there a case that sometimes we need to be alone? Absolutely. Learning to enjoy quiet and solitude is an important life skill. It is a good thing to be able to spend a Friday night alone without plans and enjoy spending time by yourself. Friends sometimes have plans, and sometimes people are busy when you are free. You can learn from spending part of your day alone, but should we do this all the time? Absolutely not. After all, we do live in a community; life wasn’t meant to be lived alone. Humans are social creatures.

So, thinking of our need for others, I ask is Eleanor Completely Fine? The answer is no. No one is fine; nobody is perfectly happy alone. We all need alone time. Some need alone time more than others. That is why many introverts relate to this book; it is about being alone and how we like being alone, just not all the time. We all need other humans and to live in a community with each other. When we’re struggling, staying by ourselves isn’t always the answer.

It wasn’t the answer for Eleanor. Spending time with others gets us out of our heads, we can see how others live, how they experience life, and we can learn from them and care about them as they do for us. We need friends, and sometimes we need professional help to sort ourselves out.

Eleanor is a character who rejects using socially acceptable language. She is blunt and doesn’t think to stop and think before speaking. The word filter has probably never crossed her mind. Falsities are not Eleanor Oliphant, but she does tell one lie in particular. Eleanor is a woman with a giant vocabulary. Eleanor possesses extensive knowledge of words and language, but this one social norm cannot escape her, as it does for most of us. It is in conversation, under a burden of pain, that Eleanor grasps for one of the most overused expressions in the English language. When people ask how she is doing Eleanor Oliphant replies: “I am fine.”

If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Eleanor Oliphant

To say this broke my heart would be an understatement. I want to reach out to Eleanor and, luckily, she has someone who does, and says to her. To quote Five Seconds of Summer, Eleanor, you are not fine; you’re really not fine at all, and that is okay. You don’t have to be, right now. You are not alone.

Have you read or heard of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or have you read any novels with an odd protagonist and a human-centered message? I have a feeling there are more Eleanors to come, and I’m curious to see what they look like. There is also a movie coming out, which I am both excited and nervous about. As always, let me know down in the comments below.

Books

The Fight Against Sameness: Why The Giver is Still Relevant and How it Mirrors Plato’s Philosophy

Pros

  • Good introduction to dystopian fiction
  • Well-constructed worldbuilding
  • The pacing feels just right- it kept me hooked and I finished reading in a few days
  • The relationships felt genuine
  • It isn’t black and white
  • Affirmation of love (family, friends, romantic), showing a wide range of emotions, the beauty of nature, and individuality
  • Connects to Plato’s philosophy in an intriguing way

Cons

  • Somewhat unrealistic- I can’t picture this community existing for as long as it has in real life

Over winter break, I decided to return to a book from my youth. It brings back simpler times, times before I had to think about questions like what job should I get or what classes should I take in my final semester. Instead, the questions were more: how would I overthrow a totalitarian government? Is the reality I experience true or a product of a carefully manufactured utopian community I was born into? I miss reading and asking those questions.

Just by looking at the cover, I feel like The Giver is covering some real philosophical stuff. Trees and men with long beards remind me of wisdom. Both also remind me of Duck Dynasty, but this isn’t based on a TV show, thankfully.

It all begins with Jonas, a twelve-year-old boy who lives in a closed-off community where everything is perfect, or so it seems. It has been perfectly created so there is no fear, pain, or accidental pregnancy. Everyone lives in identical houses, food is delivered to families, everyone rides bicycles instead of cars, and a spouse is assigned to them, based on compatibility, by the Elders. They also choose their careers in the December of their twelfth year. Why do the Elders have so much power? No one knows, but they watch you and learn what will suit your talents.

If you haven’t heard of this novel or missed it on your seventh-grade syllabus, The Giver is a dystopian novel written by Lois Lowry in 1993. It is one of those stories that I vividly remember reading in middle school. I’m not sure if I finished the book back then, but I saw the movie, and the ideas sealed into my mind.

Jonas’ community sounds a little tempting, like, where can we sign up? There is no hassle or stress at picking a job, no interviews, no troubles conceiving babies, and no one has to worry about finding someone to marry. Imagine not having to worry about getting into a car crash or being late to work because of morning traffic. We also don’t have to worry about air pollution from cars. Riding bicycles everywhere sounds like a blast and great for the environment as well.

Imagine a world without pain, where all our stress could be solved by sitting around the table with our families and talking about our feelings. These parts sound nice. Jonas has a family and two good friends- an outgoing and fun-loving boy named Asher and a quiet and sweet girl named Fiona. They have fun and ride bikes together and seem to have a typical childhood. So, it isn’t too bad.

After childhood, there is work, and people get great pleasure out of their jobs because they are chosen for them by the Elders. The Elders study us and figure out what works best with our talents, so they really know what will make them happy. Jonas’ father, for example, is a nurturer. He loves taking care of babies and gets so much joy out of seeing their small faces.

But of course, this is a dystopian novel. The community has good elements, after all, it is trying to be perfect and safe, but there are also parts that make me grateful I have to apply on LinkedIn.

There are no books, TVs, video games, or even stories in Jonas’ community. People are only allowed to read rule books. This sounds like absolute misery. There is a book that tells people about their ancestors, which they can go into town and look up. Family history cannot even be compiled privately. People cannot create things of their own. It all belongs to the community. In The Giver, no one ever goes to a play or reads a novel. They just work and talk and ride bikes. It sounds pretty boring.

The stories they tell are the ones they experience in their lives, but they all seem to run together. They are all the same. Whenever Jonas’ family talks about their day at the dinner table, the story usually goes like this: a person at work or school broke the rules and it bothered them. They tell the family they made a fist out of anger and then the family reassures them by giving reasons why people would break the rules. They are told to understand the other person’s actions and let go. This happens every day. You would think that Lily would learn, but she just keeps telling the same stories day after day.

This isn’t to say that the families are terrible. The scenes with the family unit, as the book calls them, were often some of my favorite scenes to watch. Jonas’ family cares for each other deeply. I particularly enjoyed Jonas’ father. He is very kind. The family eats dinner together every night, and they make fun of the community’s rules. Not everything is robotic. They know the system is screwed, on some level. It takes forever to learn Jonas’ parents also are there for him when he is nervous about the ceremony of the twelve.

While there is no pain, there is also little joy. All emotions feel stifled and simplified. It just feels like there could be something more. The community values the precision of language. People apologize whenever they do something wrong, and the other person has to forgive them. Happiness does exist, but it is contained, labeled, and structured within what the community finds appropriate. Imagine developing a crush on a classmate, and then your parents tell you to start taking a pill every day.

I’ll talk about the positives for a minute. I enjoyed watching Jonas meet The Giver and learn about him. The scenes of them together are pleasant and well written. I feel like I’m reading a well-written answer to a writing prompt that asks the writer to describe one of the senses to someone who hasn’t experienced them. Lowry shows joy in experiencing the little things and spending time with nature and with friends and family. The relationship between Jonas and The Giver is another great part of the book.

I found it kind of weird that Lowry decided to capitalize words like “Laborers”, “The Old”, and “Ceremony.” Oh no! The Old, Laborers! What could those words possibly mean? How could society ever say their names out loud? I guess calling them “The Old” stigmatizes them, but it also doesn’t make much sense logically. It does make sense since people are generally made to work and be active participants in the community. Younger and older people are seen as unimportant. Also, calling people by their professions shows how people are sorted into a group and isolated from other professions.

I read a few GoodReads reviews, and overall, lots of people love this book. The Giver introduced me to dystopias, and I learned to love seeing characters watch the world around them unravel. It alludes to The Matrix, 1984, and Brave New World. I didn’t notice this until I got older, but they are just like the Matrix, with the pills. It is also unique enough that I wanted to keep reading. It didn’t feel too cliche and it was a great introduction for my middle-school self to question the world around me.

It made me think about what is most important in life. Sameness, keeping life contained and perfect isn’t the answer. We are not the same. A life without joy, hope, love, sadness, and pain is not a life worth living. Although life can be painful, it also can be good. While it doesn’t feel like it could happen, the book has a certain relevance that any timeless novel possesses. It stresses the importance of values and expression and it could be read ten years ago today, or fifty years from now, and someone could still learn from it. The Giver is a story about a closed-off community more than anything, and no one wonders if there is a chance to make everything better until someone starts to see how good life could be.

The story is about the fight against sameness, against the world falling under a single government, a single way of living. The characters aren’t even aware that they have another choice. It is heartbreaking when you get to the end.

If you haven’t read The Giver before, I’d recommend checking it out! It is an intriguing story and I want to learn more about Jonas and the world he lives in. There are also three more books in the trilogy, which I may check out.

Interesting things I noticed (minor spoilers below)

The structures they live in are also incredibly rigid. Families consist of a mother, father, son, and daughter. You have to go through the Elders for everything, and you can’t choose to Technically parents have to apply for children. Women named birthmothers are the ones who have all the babies. So, no one is allowed to procreate. They aren’t aware that they can have children without the government or marry someone other than who the elders assign them. Couples technically can choose not to request children from the state, and you are allowed to be single. The government will deny a spouse or children to those they deem not good enough. Even if you aren’t released, the government can still strip your rights. Jonas, our twelve-year-old protagonist, feels sorry for a character who was single and without children. As a child, he already is judgy. While singleness and childlessness are allowed, they are undesirable options rather than simply options.

The Giver gives Jonas memories about the life that people lived before the community was formed. Jonas’ first memory contains colors, and he realizes that the world as he knew it was in black and white. I’m not sure how possible this could be in real life, but it is a powerful image. As soon as Jonas discovers colors, he is fascinated by them and never wants to go back.

It is weird that twelve-year-olds basically train to be adults. These kids aren’t allowed to be adolescents. The community teaches them not to want things or have desires beyond what the state eventually grants them. Children under nine want bikes and, those under twelve might be excited to get a job, but afterward, everything is supposed to be perfect. Wouldn’t even a job that suits your talents–get boring? Why hasn’t anyone else questioned this system?

Also, the notion of The Giver seems dangerous. Why would you let one person keep all the memories of the past? Isn’t this abusive, forcing one man to bear the world’s pain at a time? It seems like it is sufficient to destroy all the memories. After all, they barely ask The Giver for advice in the first place. They are asking for a rebellion if they let one person know information that they don’t know. After all, he could simply release all the memories, hide out in the woods, and leave everyone else to process the past.

Releasing people was heartbreaking. I guess it shows our duality. Jonas’ father could be so loving towards Gabriel but he also kills a newborn. I feel like he had to know what he was doing on some level, but he didn’t see he had a choice. Dystopian novels always seem to show how easily we’ll do something we’d never do if we’re following orders. It is terrifying. It is just what they do and no one has been taught critical thinking. They don’t even think to rebel.

I kind of wish that the girl who was The Giver before Jonas was still alive. Her story broke my heart a little. She would have been so cool. Also, it would be nice to have a cool female character along with Jonas. But, oh well, plot… I suppose.

Gabriel was adorable. I loved watching him with Jonas and his father. I loved how Jonas gave Gabriel some of the memories of the past. I might have to read the next books in the series to find out what happens to him.

Relationship to Plato’s Theory of the Forms

Plato said that the objects of this world are merely shadows of the larger Forms. He theorizes that we knew of the Forms before our birth, but we have forgotten them. What are the Forms? They are a perfect, eternal version of the objects and feelings we experience in this life. I’ll give an example. Imagine looking at a sunset and thinking that it is beautiful. Plato would argue that the sunset is not perfectly beautiful, it is lacking something. He would say that looking at the sunset points us to the idea of Beauty, but somewhere, there is a form of perfect beauty. The sunset merely points us towards a perfect Beauty.

The theory of the forms also implies that we had some sort of life experience before birth. The Giver seems to allude to Plato’s Allegory of the cave, which describes a man who is chained in darkness. He is chained with other prisoners against a rock and they are watching shadows on the walls of the cave. He breaks out of the cave and starts to see the world beyond which is lit by the sun. But, before he can see the sun, he must see the world lit by the sun. Looking directly at the sun, the source of all goods would be too intense to understand. He then learns that the shadows on the walls were mere reflections of the real world. He looks at the grass lit by the sun, and the trees for example, and appreciates their beauty.

So, how does someone get out of the cave? Well, Plato believed that everyone was born ignorant and that it took a philosopher-king to teach others about the beauty of the Forms. The philosopher-king would be the one to lead the ignorant populace out of the cave and into the light.

Jonas’ Education and Plato’s Journey

Jonas goes on a similar journey to Plato’s cave. Like Plato, he realizes that everyone around him is ignorant and living in darkness. He learns that there are deeper emotions than the enjoyment he has joking with friends and family.

Jonas is a chosen one. He occasionally sees flashes of how the world is supposed to be. He sees flashes of color and is chosen to receive memories of the past world. Jonas is assigned the job as the giver. He meets with the previous giver, who passes down the memories of how life used to be.

The world of The Giver is horrifying. The current giver, an aging man is required to hold all the memories of life before all the joy and pain. So, this man isn’t the just only person to remember suffering, he has to remember the suffering of many generations that came before him. I’m not sure if the giver holds the memories of the entire human history or if it is as far back as they can remember, but the poor man must have so much emotional stress.

I don’t understand the committee. A man with this knowledge could easily just escape the community and leave the people with the memories. That is all it takes, for The Giver can wreak havoc in one night. Then he could leave the community behind and forget the painful memories he experiences. On the committee’s part, this feels pretty stupid. Luckily, the giver cares about the community, likely because he has seen pain and suffering and doesn’t want them to suffer. Jonas imagines leaving the community behind but realizes it would be a bad idea. He loves his family and friends. Oddly enough, the community relies on the giver’s empathy to sustain them.

The giver is like a philosopher-king. He slowly gives Jonas memories of life before the community began. Jonas first rides on a sled and experiences joy for the first time. The exhilaration is nothing like he has experienced before. These memories. The experience of riding sled points to a greater emotion of joy.

When Jonas first discovers colors, he is attached to the things of this world themselves rather than their greater significance. For example, he has this conversation with The Giver.

“Of course. When you receive the memories, you have the capacity to see beyond. You’ll gain wisdom, then along with colors. And lots more.”

Jonas wasn’t interested, just then, in wisdom. It was the colors that fascinated him.

He is focused more on the sensory experience of color, which is completely beautiful, but he doesn’t understand the larger significance. After years of seeing without color, his eyes are opened up to so much more. It is not bad that he doesn’t long for wisdom yet, because his attraction to colors only points him to the most important things.

The best example of this is the scene when Jonas sees a family of parents, grandparents, and children on Christmas opening gifts. He associates the feeling with warmth and comes to realize that the experience is love. Then the book hits me in the gut. He asks his parents if they love him, and they tell him that love is a generalized word. While they are proud of his achievements and enjoy his company– they do not love him. They do not know what the word means.

Emotions are not just words, they need to be felt. Most of the memories that the giver gives Jonas contain few words. Jonas rides on a sled, takes a boat ride, gets sunburn, and watches a boy die in the army. Technical, exact language can describe those experiences, but sometimes feelings need to be felt.

Jonas realizes this at a typical family dinner conversation where Lily says she is angry at another student who broke rules at the play area. Her family comforts her with words.

“But what Lily felt was not anger, Jonas realized now. Shallow impatience and exasperation, that was all Lily had felt. He knew that with certainty because now he knew what anger was. Now he had, in the memories, experienced injustice and cruelty, and he had reacted with rage that welled up so passionately inside him that the thought of discussing it calmly at the evening meal was unthinkable.”

The feelings people experience in the community are merely shadows of the feelings people are truly capable of. Plato is all over this book. The major difference is that Jonas’ world literally exists because the government wants to keep the world the same, but Plato’s Forms are abstract.

Have you read The Giver before? Have you ever returned to a book that stuck with you when you were younger? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.