Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan: A Review

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Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve read a YA novel, but this one didn’t quite sit well with me.

I mean, it was good. It was an enjoyable read. I read it quickly.

But I have one overarching problem with the book as a whole: solutions seem to be handed to the characters on a silver platter.

Obviously, not everything is sparkles and rainbows — Willow’s (nice name choice by the way) parents are killed in a car crash and her whole world is overturned. Then she has to stay with an impoverished family living in a garage while dealing with said car crash because she has no other options.

The job of an author is to throw setback after setback towards characters to force them to grow (that’s what is so fun about writing! Mwahahaha!). When we first meet Willow, she faces social challenges only a genius can face as she struggles to understand people and gain friends. And then her parents die and her world is overturned.

Okay, so that’s a lot to face. That’s a devastating, life-changing experience, and Willow does what she can to get through it.

I feel that everything after that, however, somehow works out miraculously for everyone. Everything just falls into place. They somehow stay ahead of the game without any more conflicts.

I found myself particularly hating Dell. I couldn’t figure out what Sloan’s intent was in writing this character. Dell is not a particularly smart guy, that much is clear, and not particularly hardworking, and not particularly sympathetic for a counselor. I think we’re supposed to feel bad for him. I just hated him. He’s just so lazy. Though I appreciate that Willow lights a spark of energy in him, I can’t like a guy who releases a cat onto the streets when he’s done with him.

So Dell lets Pattie and co. take over his apartment? And they get to sleep in real beds while Dell conveniently stays with a neighbor? That’s awfully generous of him.

Don’t even get me started on the ending. To say the least, it’s unrealistic to the point of disbelief.

So I may be getting a little snarky. There were certainly good points to this book, too. It’s great to see inside Willow’s mind. She’s a genius with an undefined social disorder. She’s extremely smart, but book smart — not smart when it comes to people. But she’s so genuine, with good intent, that she’s truly a good person. It’s nice to see how she reacts to everything around her in a different way than most people would.

Maybe I’m just a cynical person. If you like coming-of-age stories or stories about children overcoming handicaps, you will probably like this book. Hell, it got 4.18 stars on Goodreads. That’s pretty damn good. So if the summary strikes your fancy, please go check it out. It just wasn’t for me.

I’m a writer. Right?

It has dawned on me recently that I can really call myself a writer.

Before, writing seemed like something that only real writers did. The writers who wrote every day and had things published and had fancy agents and knew other authors and talked about literature over coffee every day.

I am a lot of things. I’m a dancer, musician, reader, observer, friend, sister and daughter. I’m a mystery to those who don’t take the time to really know me, and I like it that way. 

But a shiny stigma always shone around the term writer and in my mind I never quite fit. I’ve never published anything and I don’t exactly make a living off my writing.

However — I love writing. I’ve been writing at least a little every day at work, and it’s not my subject of choice, but it’s practice. And NaNoWriMo is my favorite part of the year. I think I get more excited for NaNo than I even do for Christmas! This coming year will be my sixth year and it cannot come soon enough. If I can work with the amazing NaNo team someday, it will be my dream job.

I’ve written 250,000 words, at the bare minimum, in the last five years. So what if I haven’t been published yet? So what if almost no one has seen my writing? So what if I think half the things I write are absolute crap?

I write and I love writing. Therefore, I’m a writer. 

So there.

I wanted to be a librarian.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When little kids are asked this question, they always say something outlandish like “cowboy” or “president” or “astronaut”. Little kids and their imaginations, right? I wish it was easier to hang on to that easy flexibility of the mind.

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a librarian.

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At least I was being practical?

Don’t get me wrong, librarians are the bomb — you’d just think I could be a little more imaginative.

(Of course, this wasn’t the only thing I wanted to be as a kid — I wanted to be a princess and a wildlife protector and a photographer and…)

But yes, I wanted to be a librarian, and some part of me still wants to be one. You get to be surrounded by books, and people who love books, all day long!

Librarians get stereotyped, but I like to think they’re some of the hippest people around. Intelligent, well-dressed, friendly; let’s face it, librarians are pretty sexy 😉

And, if your name is Marian, you get to dance and sing to your own song!

Are you a librarian? Was my kindergarten self correct in that it’s, like, the best job ever?

I’m Back!

Hello, blog world!

So, I’ll admit it’s been a while. Like, months. And that’s like infinity in blog years.

But I want to be able to have my own outlet for creativity where I talk about things that I love.

Plus the amount of books I’ve read this year is just pathetic. Usually by this time of year I’ve read at least 20 books since January, and right now, according to my Goodreads account, I’ve read six. Just SIX? What kind of sad little life am I leading?!

I’m going to revive my reading habit by starting up book reviews again. That should at least keep me accountable for reading more.

I’m about 100 pages from the end of Game of Thrones Book 1 (yes, I know GoT is all over the place right now, but whatever), and when I’m finished I’ll post a review. I hope you’ll tune in.

National Novel Writing Month

This is for the crazy people. The insane, over-enthusiastic, overly-optimistic people who really love reading or writing.

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I’m one of those people, and this is my favorite time of year: National Novel Writing Month is coming.

Every November, thousands of people join in a month-long writing escapade that is NaNoWriMo. Their goal? Write a 50,000-word-or-more novel before the month is through. That translates to about 1,667 words a day. If you reach 50,000 words or more without cheating (or, okay, with minimal cheating) then you “win” a sense of pride and accomplishment, plus a nifty certificate. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the event encourages imperfection to the opinion that having content is more important than making every word perfect the first time around. It’s a caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived, inspired month of insanity. Every year I have moments I want to quit and every year I work through it. It’s basically the best and worst thing of your life. This will be my fifth year participating and hopefully my fifth year winning.

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I’m getting excited early this year; it has come to the point where fall leaves changing color and the crisp chill in the air signal not only Halloween and Thanksgiving, but also NaNoWriMo. And yet it’s still very unlikely that I will plot my novel ahead of time. I’ve never been good at mapping it out. I like to go with the flow and let the characters surprise me.

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Out of the four novels I’ve written, including themes such as conspiracy theories, pirates and mermaids, Victorian steampunk, and a fairy tale quest, about two of them are absolute crap and two could become pretty decent novels. It’s just a matter of not saying I’m going to edit them but actually working on them. Despite that, I’m really proud of what I’ve written, even if I never end up finishing them.

Check out what has become NaNoWriMo’s anthem by YouTuber italktosnakes! It shows exactly what happens throughout the month, in musical form.

Why do people like me love this event so much? Well, have you ever said at least once in your life that you were going to write a novel someday? If you haven’t, I don’t believe you. If you have, then this is the event for you. I’ll take no excuses. November is one of the busiest months for me every year, and somehow I still succeed. Even if you’re working a full time job, or going to college and working on the side, or say you have other “more important” things to do, I still won’t take it. Drop everything and start writing. And even if you don’t reach 50,000 words, you’ve still written more than you would have, and that’s something to be proud of.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you participated in previous years? I always love hearing about NaNo experiences!

The Goodreads Debacle

For many readers who spend time online, Goodreads is a boon for keeping track of books. I started using it about four years ago, as eager as I was to get the “Books I Want to Read” list out of my head so I wouldn’t miss out on the great books out there by forgetting them. Much to my dismay I discovered that, when not limited by memory, my to-read list has 252 books on it, enough to take five years reading at a fast pace, not counting rereading or thousand-page books, and don’t even think about adding more books to the to-read list.

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Despite this fact (hey, at least I’ll never run out of good books to read) Goodreads has really been wonderful at keeping track of the books in my life. So I was more than a little surprised when, first, Amazon bought Goodreads, and when recently, Goodreads announced that they would start deleting certain reviews and bookshelves.

I’m not among the folks who instantly hated Goodreads or even among those who publicly cried out against their choices. But I was a little disappointed. For one thing, Amazon’s ownership of Goodreads makes every move part of Amazon’s statistics. Every star on a book becomes Amazon’s marketing information. And I for one would prefer to keep that information for my own personal use, not for a behemoth company. Maybe it’s the whole support-the-underdog and fear-Big-Brother bias, but I wish Goodreads could have kept to itself. Here’s hoping Goodreads can stick to its independent nature.

As for the more recent news, Goodreads recently announced that they would start being more strict about reviews and bookshelves, meaning that they will exercise the ability to delete said items. According to Goodreads, they will delete a review if it does not focus on the book, but rather the author. They write: “The reviews that have been deleted – and that we don’t think have a place on Goodreads – are reviews like “the author is an a**hole and you shouldn’t read this book because of that”. In other words, they are reviews of the author’s behavior and not relevant to the book.” Goodreads user Emma Sea brings up a good point brought up in many college literary classes: among multiple forms of literary criticism, one such form includes analyzing the author, including their history, their intentions, and how that all connects to the meaning of the book. As such, is it not a form of censorship to ban such reviews?

I have mixed feelings about calling it censorship. But the word “censorship” is a fiery word that pushes buttons, and it’s certainly getting me thinking. Some may argue that the author and their work are completely separate beings, where the relationship between the reader and a book is a new, unique relationship where author consideration is unnecessary. But it’s still an inherent part of reading culture to ask why an author included such-and-such scene, or symbolism, or weird plot point, or what made the author so twisted as to want to write about a father and son in a post-apocalyptic world on the road fighting for their lives when everything is against them (thanks a lot, Cormac McCarthy).

I agree that authors should not be harassed. That’s the golden rule, and no one should have to undergo personal criticism for a work they slaved for months or years over. But where does one draw the line between a critical reading and a personal criticism? How does Goodreads choose that line, and how will they prevent crossing it?

Personally, I’d like to see the reviews that Goodreads has deleted in order to weigh their judgment. I still have trust in Goodreads, but they’ll have to be careful. One too many slipups and they’ll be losing their users.

Book Discussion: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I’m not that into sports. The only reason I went to football games in high school was because it was the social hub of a Friday night. And while I appreciate the occasional baseball or football game, I can’t remember the last time I went to one.

So it defies logic that I would pick up a book centered entirely around baseball: The Art of FIelding by Chad Harbach.

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But sometimes the best books are the least expected. This one came to me at an important time in my life; it was in the back of my mind after seeing its recommendation by John Green, whose opinion I highly value when it comes to books. I wasn’t planning on reading it — sports! Why would I want to read a book about baseball? But then I spotted its timeless blue-and-white cover in a bookstore last summer and I thought, what the heck.

I was in a profoundly lonely point of my life at the time, somewhere I never want to go again if I can help it. While Fielding did not solve this loneliness, it instead acted as a balm that distracted me and comforted me for all of its beautiful 605 pages. It was able to do so because the characters in its pages practically make the book into a living, breathing thing. Its characters and their stories are so real that for the whole length of the book I felt as though I had a part in their life. I felt there was no way that their world was not real.

The story follows shortstop Henry Skrimshander as he goes to college to play with the Harpooners, a mediocre baseball team at the small liberal arts Westish College. Henry is a prodigy, destined to join the big leagues, but then an accident begins a descending spiral of self-doubt which effects everyone around him. The story follows other characters as well; Goodreads puts it best: “Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’ best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.”

All of these characters are intensely flawed which is what makes them incredibly real and endearing. They’re not perfect, they make mistakes, but they keep trying and never give up. I don’t know what it is about Harbach’s writing; often a fiction novel like this would not appeal to me. But there’s no denying that its pages simply sparkle.

Have you ever had a “right book right time” happy accident? What about other sports books? I’m hankering to read The Brothers K, another book centering around baseball that’s about a thousand pages.