Paper Towns

Books I Read in 2015

I’ve been a bit all over the place with my reading the last two years. In 2013, I set a goal of reading 40 books and beat it, and in 2014, I seriously surpassed my goal of reading 52 books by reading 91 (my numbers have been greatly bolstered by reading plays, in case you were wondering).

Since I’m in an English Literature graduate program, I obviously do plenty of reading, but I think I went back to my goal of 50 books in 2015. Though this number might be a bit low based on 2014’s results, I stay plenty busy with my school reading and don’t always have lots of time for recreational reading. I ended up exceeding that goal by reading 69 books in 2015, an achievement I’m pretty proud of. Here’s my full list of reading from 2015–for reference, the titles listed in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. Live From New York, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
  3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan
  4. Looking for Alaska, John Green
  5. Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  6. It’s Only A Play, Terrence McNally
  7. Brother to Dragons, Robert Penn Warren
  8. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
  9. Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman
  10. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, William Inge
  11. Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge
  12. Bus Stop, William Inge
  13. The Basic Eight, Daniel Handler
  14. Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
  15. My Ideal Bookshelf, Jane Mount and Thessaly la Force
  16. Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines
  17. Wait for You, J. Lynn
  18. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  19. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris
  20. In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  21. Child of God, Cormac McCarthy
  22. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  23. Love, Rosie, Cecelia Ahern
  24. Airships, Barry Hannah
  25. Crimes of the Heart, Beth Henley
  26. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  27. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  28. Joe, Larry Brown
  29. Wolf Whistle, Lewis Nordan
  30. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  31. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  32. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
  33. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
  34. Angels in America Part One: Millennium ApproachesTony Kushner
  35. Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, Tony Kushner
  36. The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
  37. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling
  38. Quidditch Through the Ages, J.K. Rowling
  39. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  40. Paper Towns, John Green
  41. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  42. Shame, Salman Rushdie
  43. Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  44. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  45. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
  46. Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri
  47. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  48. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  49. Dragonfly in AmberDiana Gabaldon
  50. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  51. Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih
  52. Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Césaire
  53. Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  54. After the Fall, Arthur Miller
  55. Murder in Retrospect, Agatha Christie
  56. Divine Comedy Vol. II: Purgatorio, Dante Alighieri
  57. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner
  58. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington
  59. Divine Comedy Vol. III: Paradiso, Dante Alighieri
  60. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn
  61. Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
  62. The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone
  63. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  64. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  65. Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
  66. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  67. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  68. The Cripple of Inishmaan, Martin McDonagh
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Reading and Watching: My Summer Activities

It’s been about a month since my last all inclusive post about what pop culture I’m enjoying these days, so let me grace you with an abbreviated version of my current interests.

Movies — Mom and I are still going strong with our VHS viewing schedule this summer (though we haven’t watched anything in a few days, but I’m assuming we’ll start back tonight). We’ve covered more than half of the movies on the shelf, so I’m feeling good about our progress. In theaters, we’ve only seen four movies this summer: Spy, Inside Out, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Trainwreck. They’ve all been worthwhile experiences, though, so I can hardly ask for anything more.

Books — A few days ago I finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, which was my biggest reading goal of the summer, so that felt like quite an accomplishment. After finishing that, I did a quick reread of John Green’s Paper Towns since the movie is coming out this week (you can read my comments on the book here). Now that the beginning of my semester is looming closer, I’ve started some of my school reading with Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, which I’m really enjoying so far. It’s satisfying to head back into academic territory without it feeling like a burden. Though I haven’t picked it up in more than a week, I’ve read just under half of the second book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber. I made myself leave it alone until I finished The Grapes of Wrath because I’d been spending too much time on it, and since then I’ve been concentrated on other things, and keep forgetting to go back (I realize this is a silly problem to complain about). The fact that it’s there for me to read is making me happy enough at this point, so I’ll eventually reward myself for completing my school reading by heading back to something I chose for my own reading pleasure.

TV — As per usual, this is the area where I’m really succeeding these days. Summer TV can be a big bore, but I’ve got several things on my plate this year that are keeping me happy. I’m keeping up with Teen Wolf and True Detective, both of which are shows I’d watched previous to this summer. Here’s hoping True Detective ends on a strong note. I felt like it was totally overhyped the first time around, so I’m glad the rest of the world is starting to see that in season two. I’m also still watching Hannibal, which has had a fairly lame season in my opinion, but the last episode and the preview for the final three are giving me hope it’ll end strong. Side note: I cannot STAND the recasting of Mason Verger for this season (so last week’s episode was pretty satisfying for me). In my mind, he was some weird version of Jim Carrey’s The Grinch, so good riddance.

As for new summer shows, I’m totally obsessed with Lifetime’s UnREAL after I marathoned the first six episodes last Monday. It’s just the right amount of funny, campy, silly and crazy, and the performances by Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer are wonderful. Plus it stars a member of the Harry Potter cast, so I have to love it. I’m also really enjoying MTV’s Scream, another crazy campy show that’s thoroughly entertaining. My roommate and I watched all four of the Scream movies fairly recently, and the show has enough of over-the-top quality that makes the movies so fun that it’s totally worth watching. And the pop culture references are top notch, so good job, people.

Finally, I’m still making good progress with streaming Frasier, undoubtedly my biggest undertaking of 2015. With long shows like this, I often watch something else to break it up a bit, but I haven’t started anything else yet, so we’ll see what happens there. I started season one on June 3, and as of today, I’m on episode 17 of season 5, so I think that’s pretty good progress. I wasn’t sure I’d finish the whole show before the end of 2015, but that prospect is looking brighter now.

John Green’s Paper Towns and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

In honor of this week’s release of the film adaptation of John Green’s book, I decided the reward myself with a reread of Paper Towns before committing to academic reading as the semester’s beginning looms closer and closer. As it turns out, the experience has given me plenty to think about in reference to my master’s thesis project, so it was really a win-win situation.

Let’s back up a bit. I’m not sure if I’ve written about my MA thesis topic on my blog, so here’s a crash course: I’m writing about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in independent film (click the link for a quick virtual journey to Wikipedia if you don’t know the term). I read recently that John Green said he wrote Paper Towns to debunk the MPDG trope, so I was intrigued to read the book with that idea in mind.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is the book’s MPDG in question, at least in the eyes of her life-long neighbor and the book’s narrator, Quentin Jacobsen. Quentin has been hopelessly in love with Margo since childhood, so when she sneaks into his room late one night and recruits him for an evening of escapades around their hometown, he hopes that there’s a chance of romance. Until Margo vanishes the next day, that is.

Here’s the thing about John Green trying to dismantle any perceptions we have of MPDGs: I don’t think a MPDG is necessarily a bad thing for a character to be. When the term’s creator, Nathan Rabin, first mentioned it in a review of the movie Elizabethtown in 2007 (a movie that is, coincidentally, named for my hometown), he criticized the trope as representative of a specific type of male fantasy, one whose two-dimensional existence works only to help a male character have some personal revelation, and then her purpose has been served. By his definition, MPDGs are “bad,” and I whole heartedly agree that this is a false, fantastical representation of what a female can and should be on screen (if you’re looking for a good example of this, I’d point to Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, a movie I find rather repulsive).

But this version of the MPDG, in my opinion, is only the basis of the character. It is a foundational archetype, one who can exist in this capacity only, or one who can grow in complexity and depth. This second version (one I’ve been loosely calling the “MPDG 2.0” in early drafts of my thesis work) is the one I’m most interested in, because she is more than a stereotype, though she can certainly embody many of the same basic characteristics.

This is where I see Margo Roth Spiegelman fitting in. Early in the novel, Quentin sees Margo as he chooses to see her; not as a real human girl, but as a projected fantasy that he’s imagined for years. It’s only Margo’s disappearance that makes Quentin start to realize everyone has a different perception of the Margo they know. She is much more than Quentin’s imaginings ever allowed.

It becomes most clear at the book’s conclusion what Green is trying to say about MPDGs when Quentin comes to realize how “dangerous” and “treacherous” it is to think of a person as an idea. Margo sees the same thing in herself, saying she’s a “paper girl” who everyone loves because they can mold her into a different person for their own pleasure. We realize that Margo is more than Quentin imagined, because she is human and exists as something more than the fantastical daydreams of those around her.

So, after lots of thoughts that I hope are somewhat sensical, I have to say this: I think Margo is a MPDG, but she’s a good one. On the surface she’s seemingly perfect and daring and exciting, at least in Quentin’s eyes. In reality, though, she’s human, flawed and insecure like the rest of us. For this fact I thank John Green. If he keeps creating characters like Margo, a pixie grounded in reality, then I’d say young readers are in safe hands.

2013 Reading List — 6 books down

Because I’ve made some good progress on my reading goal for the year, I decided to do an update and write mini reviews of the books I’ve read thus far. Here we go!

Paper Towns

1. Paper Towns, by John Green
I officially adore John Green and everything he writes, but this wasn’t my favorite of his books. This was the third of his that I’ve read (after The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska), and I really expected to love it, but I didn’t think it quite lived up to those two. However, it was still certainly better than most other YA lit, so I would recommend it whole-heartedly.

Little Women

2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Obviously this is a well-known book, but it was my first time reading it. I love the story, but there are a few things in the plot that I wish were different (eg. WHY must Amy and Laurie get married? He’s meant to be with Jo. That’s all I ask). I’m not Amy’s biggest fan in general, though, so I guess this frustration was always going to exist. These qualms aside, it’s a great, classic book, and definitely worth a read.

The Shining

3. The Shining, by Stephen King
As I believe I mentioned in a previous post, I’m a major Friends fan. So, since there’s an episode in which Joey and Rachel exchange their favorite books (Joey’s is The Shining, Rachel’s is Little Women), I decided to read these to back-to-back as an homage to my favorite show and in the hope that I might experience some great insight from reading them together. Not so much, but it was very fun to read. I was already familiar with the story from the movie, but the book added a much deeper level of character development and overall creepiness that makes it completely worth reading.

An Abundance of Katherines

4. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
I continued my John Green journey with another of his older novels, which was, in my opinion, a better alternative to Paper Towns. This story was much more comedic that some of his others, but it still features quirky characters on a quest. Another job-well-done by Mr. Green.

Hog's Head Conversations

5. Hog’s Head Conversations
As part of my college curriculum, I’m starting a long-term research project on the Harry Potter series, and this was the first essay collection I finished reading for my research. Though only a few of the essays refer directly to my topic, they were all very interesting and worth reading if you’re a Potterhead. Featured subject included: Dumbledore’s homosexuality, the epitaphs in Deathly Hallows, and the literary legitimacy of the series.

Top of the Rock

6. Top of the Rock, by Warren Littlefield
Top of the Rock is essentially a collaborative history of the Must See TV era at NBC, told through interview snippets from NBC executives, writers, directors, and stars of the late 1980s into the early 2000s. Overall, it was a very interesting story to read as it’s full of insight into the world of entertainment and features great information from some of my favorite actors of the time (thanks for the tears, Matt LeBlanc). However, the book left a bit of a bad taste as the final chapter is essentially a 20-page rant session about how terrible NBC (and all TV) is currently; it read to me like a group of whiney, bitter children rather than very accomplished professionals. Not to mention the fact that I think there are still plenty of great shows on TV, but I felt like that last chapter should have been written and put in a drawer somewhere to get closure, not the conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable book.

Six books down, 34 to go!