Hey Lou Writes

The Grey Matters


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Thank You, John Green, For Everything

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

-John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

 

Before I get to the 5 Reasons You Should Read Any John Green Book, I’ll start here…..

I recently read two John Green books:

The Fault In Our Stars 

An Abundance of Katherines 

…and not quite so recently, I read another of his:

Looking For Alaska 

I’ll start by saying something surprising, given that I’m writing a blog about the author. I didn’t love Looking For Alaska.

I liked An Abundance of Katherines.

I loved, loved, loved The Fault In Our Stars.

In fact, I just spent a few hours of my life crying, sobbing really, as I read The Fault In Our Stars. And even though I didn’t love the character Alaska in the first book I read of Green’s, I still liked it. I still related to the characters.

John Green is a classic American writer disguised as a Young Adult author that some people might not take seriously. I mean, his books are easy to read and are probably geared toward teenagers, but they always involve a greater theme, references to books that would make the most sophisticated (slash pretentious) college student who is getting an English degree proud to recognize, and truly life-changing sentences.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

-John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

Here are five good reasons to read any John Green book.

1. You will be forced to remember the people you dated in high school, and the way you remember them will probably make you laugh and wince and then, eventually, smile with nostalgia. 

In An Abundance of Katherines, there’s this guy who has dated only girls named Katherine. This (of course!) felt like a giant statement… that perhaps we all date a different version of the same person until one fine day, you finally will yourself to change and then, and only then, can you find the one you are meant to be with. This book also made me think that maybe “meant to be with” is a naive statement. I still don’t know what “meant to be” means and sometimes I feel like I don’t even know what love is. The characters in Green’s books find love in different ways, but they’re usually very quirky teenagers with a view of the world I had never considered. A lot of them have a much straighter head on their shoulders than I ever have managed in this life.

And I did remember all the past boyfriends. I did cringe, but then I remembered those old hand-holds, the kids we named at the age of fifteen, the breakups, and finally, the fun moments that made it all worth it.

Even though this is a post about John Green, a Feist lyric comes to mind

The hardest part of a broken heart isn’t the ending so much as the start.

Though it’s hard and painful, try to remember the good times; try to remember the good part of a relationship and let yourself smile with the memory, rather than cry with the end of that relationship.

AND remember… age has nothing to do with it. The feelings I felt when I was 14 are just as real (even if misguided or hormone driven) as the emotions I feel on this very day.

Also…. a thought….

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”
― John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

2. You will be humbled by the fact that there are tons of people who are smarter than you are. 

It’s hard to admit, but yes, there are thousands and thousands of people who analyze more thoroughly, who have better grammar, and who actually understand quantum physics.

“…because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.”
― John Green

3. You’ll want to create a fantastic nickname for yourself and all of your friends. 

Looking For Alaska

Miles= Pudge

Chip= The Colonel

Alaska= Alaska (but her name is so odd, it’s like a nickname)

An Abundance of Katherines

Colin= so important, that the other Colin in the book is called TOC (The Other Colin)

Hassan= Daddy

Katherine= Katherine The Great, K-1, K-19

Old People= Oldsters (not the most original, but still poignant)

The Fault In Our Stars 

This book was perhaps too serious to have awesome nicknames, but I think you get the point already.

Do you have any nicknames? Mine include Mel, Lou, Melly, Mel Bel and occasionally, Twin or just Meredith… who is my twin.

4. The hurtful truth of death, depression, illness, heartache and sorrow will cut you to the core. Get ready. 

“The marks humans leave are too often scars.”

– John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

I literally, literally, cried for probably 75% of the pages in The Fault In Our Stars. It’s about teenagers with cancer. And then, it’s about so much more than just teenagers with cancer. It’s about teenagers with hopes and dreams. Teenagers who love and want to be something great. They want to go places, read all the books, have all the conversations. They want to see, even when they have cancer in their eyes. They want to go on walks, even when their lungs cannot handle much more than a walk to the mailbox. They want to fight for a good cause, even when their last checkup confirmed cancer- everywhere.

“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt.”

– The Fault In Our Stars

How could you not cry?

Or not look outside and see that the sky is still there, you can still see the birds, take in the fresh air…

Or feel selfish for the last time you felt sorry for yourself?

A great quote from another book I read, Norwegian Wood: “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes feel sorry for themselves.” It kind of fits the situation.

5. You will laugh a lot. John Green is HILARIOUS. 

That was one of my favorite things about his writing. His characters are always saying the funniest things. The kind of I’m-actually-laughing-out-loud-as-I-read-by-myself type of writing. He’s nerdy and isn’t afraid to show it. More often than not, his protagonists are also nerdy and very smart and have the oddest friends who keep the humor pumping out of each chapter. There are always light moments amidst the dark. That’s a good reminder, too.

I will read his other books as soon as I get my hands on them.

You should start reading John Green NOW.

“My responsibility is to try to tell true stories. To me a true story is always hopeful, but never simply, uncomplicatedly happy.”

-John Green

Well said, John. Well said.

And thanks for writing.

Love, Lou

 

 

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“I’m the Scratchy Stuff On the Side of the Matchbox.”

Norwegian Wood.

It’s a Beatles song about an enigma of a girl.

“A riddle wrapped in an enigma.” – Norwegian Wood

It’s also a novel written by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

For a week, while I read this book, I was swept away into the world of Toru, a young nineteen-year-old boy, who is dealing with loss and heartache and sex and love and finding himself among people who…have problems.

But who doesn’t have problems?

This book didn’t exactly have the craziest plot twists. It didn’t keep me on the literal edge of my seat. What it did do is stir emotion inside of me that I didn’t know I had. It was a steady story, much like life – when taken a certain way- and Murakami created a novel in which the reader feels similarly to the protagonist. There were times when I felt as if my mind were his, his was mine. I wanted to see the girl from school again. I wanted to know why people had left me behind. I wanted to know why I was worth loving…. and why the passing hours of the day only grow harder to bear sometimes.

“Every once in a while she’ll get worked up and cry like that. But that’s OK. She’s letting her feelings out. The scary thing is not being able to do that. Then your feelings build up and harden and die inside. That’s when you’re in big trouble.” – Reiko

The setting is this: Toru, now a grown man, has a flashback to a girl, Naoko, he promised not to forget. The entire book is a flashback, though that’s easy to forget. In a way, isn’t all of life one big flashback? Living in the present takes guts and stamina. No one can keep it up 100% of the time.

As a young man Toru is in love with Naoko. She isn’t completely mentally stable. What the problem is exactly, isn’t known. Just like in life. And though she wonders why he cares about her… why he won’t give up… his answer is this: “So what’s wrong if there happens to be one guy in the world who enjoys trying to understand you?” 

I thought that was one of the sweetest things I’d ever read. I know I want to be understood. I’m sure you want to be understood, too. It only takes one person getting you to make life more complete. Some of us have found that one person. Some of us are still waiting. And sometimes that person comes out of nowhere, taking us completely by surprise, causing us to ask one simple question: “Where did you come from?”

Where did this book come from???? (I ask, because I love it so much and can’t believe I hadn’t already read it.)

One fictional character I’d love to get to know even better is Reiko. She’s older. She’s full of deep wrinkles. She’s been at a mental facility for years and years. She is an excellent musician. She’s wise. She’s even sexy, when it comes right down to it. She’s an incessant smoker. She is wise, so wise.Reading this book, I was most struck by the idea of “being the scratchy stuff on the side of the matchbox.”  

This is how Reiko describes herself. She knows she is an excellent teacher. She knows she can inspire people to be better versions of themselves. She might not be the flame, but she is what can allow the flame to catch.

So then I thought: “Is it better to be the scratchy stuff, or the match?”

I once wrote a blog about being your own catalyst. I’d been told that I was the scratchy stuff (in a way… of course, that exact phrase wasn’t used.) I had issues with being a catalyst for someone else rather than my own. I wanted to inspire myself. I wanted to have that kind of power. Not until reading Norwegian Wood and meeting the character Reiko did it occur to me that there needs to be both kinds of people in this world. It also hadn’t occurred to me that we can be these types of people at different times, depending on who we run into. That’s the beauty of love and friendship and relationships. We’re all constantly pushing each other to be better. Sometimes we need a shove. Sometimes we have the wherewithall and stability in our own lives to finally, finally, give someone else a nudge for a change.

After all that high and mighty talk about being my own catalyst, it took a simple question from someone else to get me to change certain aspects of my life. A question (or two) as simple as, “Do you want to leave? What do you want to get away from?” made me realize that all the signs were there — that a change was coming and I’d better be prepared. I’m thankful for this new catalyst.

But back to Toru, the young boy. He’s a sweetheart. A real genuine gentleman.

“A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do, but what he should do.” -Nagasawa, Toru’s friend

He’s even kind enough to keep around a girl who pretty much only talks about strange sexual situations, ones she imagines herself in and ones she simply considers to be interesting, and keeps drama high with ignoring and giving the silent treatment time and again (even when he deserves it), which is exactly what Midori does. While the girl he loves (Naoko) is in a place for mental instability, this girl who is unstable in other ways enters his life. Toru never mistreats anyone. He tries to stay true to his word. For a 19 year old kid, he certainly does a good job.

He’s the kind of character we don’t mind following around. The kind of guy who might lose it at any moment, yet keeps himself calm in even the worst of circumstances. Looking at him, you wouldn’t necessarily know he’s a complete wreck. Then, once again, he’s isn’t a complete wreck… he’s helping someone else get better. I loved Toru because he represented a great life lesson — that you never know what’s going through someone else’s mind. The most cool, calm and collected person could be raging inside with fear and doubt and dread. They could be a blank slate, through and through. The point is, we just never know.

You should take time to read Norwegian Wood. Be prepared for the darkness to seep in at some points. Be prepared to underline those sentences and let them soak into your soul and change you. You know how there are those quotes about “the perfect sentence?” Well, this book is full of ’em. Just take a look.

Because….

“Life is like a box of cookies.”

Bet you want to know what that means, right?

Love, Lou


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She’s Come Undone: Worth The Hype?

“I usually learn more from the situations I hate than the ones I love.” -She’s Come Undone

Unfortunately, if you were to replace “situation” with “book,” the same would not be true.

Wally Lamb stole my heart when he wrote I Know This Much Is True. I couldn’t believe such a great book even existed. I connected with it on many levels, I felt for the characters (even ones I couldn’t really relate to at all) and the story came back around in a way I didn’t expect.

She’s Come Undone did none of those things.

I know, I know. It made Oprah’s Book Club list! How could I say it was less than perfect? He brings up sensitive topics and is one of the first to have an overweight protagonist!! Melinda! WHAAAT?

I’ll explain.

First let me tell you, I love the fact that Wally Lamb went outside the box with this book. It was a page turner. Half the time. But I would never bring up this book in a conversation. I’d never talk about it passionately and tell you, “You must read this book! It’s a life changer!”

I love to tell people these things. Loooove it. It’s part of why I read: so I can share and connect and talk to others.

Not only did Wally Lamb do something original by creating a main character who was largely obese, but he also made one with almost zero redeeming qualities. Yes, Delores Price had some horrible shi*t handed to her in life. Yes, I felt awful, just awful, for what she endured. But guess what? I didn’t actually like her. Not from page one. Call me crazy, but I guess in order to truly dive into a book, the lead role needs to be filled by someone worth reading about. Delores Price bored me and I thought she was rude.

I know that the fact that she was so rude was part of her life story. But stillll.

That’s probably why I am giving this a bad review, yet millions have loved it, and (OMG) someone once told me it was “better than his other book.” Please.

I was also perplexed by something. Because, you know, in this day and age, people love to be offended. I think half the population thrives off this weird energy of negativity and want to be offended by anything and everything. I am not one of those people, this book didn’t offend me, but I wondered:

“Was anyone offended by the fact that the obese main character in this book was raped? As if all people who can’t manage their weight have been through something horrible, and that’s why?”

OR

“Were people glad that he was pointing out the fact that obese people shouldn’t be judged? Maybe they’ve had a very difficult life and even though they seem unsociable and rude and sit in the corner of every room, they’re actually great people worth getting to know.”

WHEW. That was hard to type. Because obesity is a very hard topic. Weight in general is a difficult topic for almost any person (ummm, girl, I’d say any girl), no matter what they weigh or what they actually look like.

I have known bigger woman who were the life of the party. I’ve known some who were shy. I’ve known some with the luckiest lives ever and some with terrible moments in their history.

I have also known tiny, normal sized, and any other category of women (or men) you can think of who have had these same personality traits.

EVERYONE IS JUST SOOOO DIFFERENT.

That being my disclaimer, I still couldn’t help but wonder why this book struck a chord with so many. Why did it become the big huge hit that it became?

I think it’s because whether or not Delores Price was someone we actually liked, people loved the controversial topic. Maybe some people could look past her personality and look only toward the story that was about a big girl… because that’s rarely done in literature.

I kept thinking, “Even if this was a skinny girl, I wouldn’t like her very much. I’d still feel bad for her, but yeah…. no emotion attached, Delores. Sorry.”

I honestly don’t have much else to say. In the parts where I was supposed to cry, I didn’t.

That pretty much says it all.

Have you read it? Are you mad at me, you She’s Come Undone lover???

Do you agree with me? Anyone?

Read it and let me know!

(And sorry, Wally. I really do love you.)

 

Love,

Lou

 

 


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In Dubious Battle

Steinbeck could easily be my favorite author. I’ve read Grapes of Wrath three times and have plans to read it again. My favorite short story of ALL TIME is written by him and called Johnny Bear (just google it and you can probably find a copy to read.)

JS is amazing. I can’t get over the way he captures human nature the way no other author has been able to do. He gets inside the brain of mankind and he doesn’t leave any of it out. He has a point, a message, but he rarely rants about one thing without giving “devil’s advocate” a say. How can we hate the man who’s plowing down our house? He has a family, too. Blame the bank, blame the system, the government… it’s all men, but it’s beyond men. Hate doesn’t exactly have a say when it comes to society treating some well and some poorly.

In Dubious Battle was once described to me as an intense, in-your-face, punch in the gut version of Grapes of Wrath. I’d have to say I completely agree. “Read it, Melinda, and you’ll love it,” I was told. And so I read it.

I don’t know as much as some, but I have reason to believe that the union isn’t what it once was. I’ve seen unions do things that aren’t helpful. My own husband works at Whole Foods, where there is no union, but they treat their employees SO WELL because of it. They don’t need a union. If I were to have ideals about the working man getting his due (which I DO!), I’d have to say that’s the Old Union. People with Shame On posters drive me up the wall.

Anyway.

In true John Steinbeck fashion, this book has paragraphs that I read over and over again. Not because I didn’t understand it, but because I wanted the words to soak up into me and become part of who I am. I want to remember the words. I want to repeat them, think of them, and learn more about myself in the process.

in dubious battle, book review, john steinbeck, reading, unionIn Dubious Battle is about a man, Mac, who is a member of the Party (which party, however, is never specified), and becomes the [hidden] leader of a fruit picking strike. Jim joins Mac, and in doing so, becomes more like Mac than Mac, himself.

Before Jim joins the party:

Jim looked evenly at him. “Do you ever work at a job where, when you got enough skill to get a raise in pay, you were fired and a new man put in? Did you ever work in a place where they talked about loyalty to the firm, and loyalty meant spying on the people around you? Hell, I’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Nothing except hatred,” Harry said quietly. “You’re going to be surprised when you see that you stop hating people. I don’t know why it is, but that’s what usually happens.”

Advice:

“…You can’t make a general rule of it, because sometimes it flops, but mostly a guy that tries to scare you is a guy that can be scared.”

“Do you know that ten men can lift nearly twelve times as big a load as one man can?”

“Jim, I wish I knew it. But in my little experience the end is never very different in its nature from the means. Damn it, Jim, you can only build a violent thing with violence.”

John constantly pulls me in with his words. They’re beautiful. Simple and pure and lovely.

The candle and the dawn fought each other so that together they seemed to make less light than either would have made alone.

The air was full of their apathy, and full of their discontent.

Mac, who is such a leader, teaches Jim that in order to win this strike, he can’t think of individual men. If one barn has to be burned, then so be it. It’ll be better in the end. If Mac has to make some kid’s nose bleed to prove a point, it’s not about the kid, it’s about the strike and the small steps toward progress. “Making a billboard, not a corpse,” as he puts it.

I don’t think that violence is ever a good thing. I think human beings need to defend themselves and stand up for what they believe in. I truly believe that men, like the men that John Steinbeck writes, are hard to find these days. I’ve only met a few in my time.

No matter your political party, whether you are in a union or not, or whether you come from the bank side of things, or the farm, reading any John Steinbeck novel is a good dose of reality for you. We can’t forget the wars of dignity that have raged on. We cannot let the government take over our food the way they did during Steinbeck’s time. I think, if he could write a book about it, he’d write about Monsanto and GMOs and the way that people are being poisoned by their own government. He’d possibly point out that our basic needs were being controlled. I can just hear him saying:

They’re makin’ the people sick. They are. And you know what’ll happen next? People’ll have to go to the hospitals. But they can’t afford no hospitals. Then, guess what? They owe the bank. They owe the bank because of what they fed him. Made ‘im sick, then fed him more poison while he was there. A man has a right to grow his own crop and not get sued. A man’s got a right to feed his family somethin’ real.

Those words will never be JS’s words, but I hear them all the same.

Love, Lou


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And Then I Read The Corrections and Vowed Never To Be Like…

…well…. anyone in this book, really.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen is another must read. (I’m sure I’ll do a review on a book I don’t like very soon, because all I seem to be doing these days is reading. [I’m currently in the middle of a book I’m not enjoying, but I’ll get through it, don’t you worry.])

UFFDA! Welp, since I don’t want to be like anyone in this book, I’m currently dealing with a little bit of denial. Not really, but sort of.

You see, I’m a Midwesterner. I DO consider myself from the Southwest nowadays, but when it comes down to what I call POP, or how often I say UFFDA, or the fact that I get my Minnesotan ACCENT back whenever I’m within a ten mile radius of someone with their own Minnesotan accent…you get the pictures. Once you’re from the Midwest, a part of you will always stay there. I will always have lefse in my heart (and regrettably not in my stomach.)

writing, memory, fishing, dad, vivid

just caught fish at a LAKE… yup… MN for sure ;)

So as I read The Corrections, I was constantly reminded of that random old lady down the street, that person I could have turned into, the way my life might have turned out had we stayed. (NOTE: This is in no way a statement about everyone in the Midwest being like the characters in this book, but hey, just read it, and TELL me you don’t at least see a little bit of yourself… and learn to laugh at yourself, too, please.)

As always, I feel the need not to tell you too much (as I am usually accused of doing here in the Williams household.) I will give you just enough info to convince you that this book will in some way improve your life.

“She had so much personality and so little anything else that even staring straight at her he had no idea what she really looked like.”

Because do you want to be an unhappy man, with an awful, lying and conniving wife, who ultimately blames his parents for everything that goes wrong? 

Do you want to have affair after affair with married men and women random people while you pine away at your career because you literally have nothing else in life? 

Does getting fired from the best job you can imagine sound great, especially after taking a ton of drugs and doing something very much against the rules, appeal to you?

AND…Drum roll please…. do you want to feel as if the only chance for your own personal happiness lies in having one last Christmas with your three children in town, because you suspect all might fall even further to sh*t and if it doesn’t happen now, it most certainly never will? 

Now listen. I am not one of those “Nobody can be truly happy, marriage is b.s., and the American Dream is the biggest joke, right after something baseball related (do I know anything about baseball? No. But someone who does would say something about it here.)” I’m not. I’m really happy, I swear. I think people make their own happiness based on what they choose to have in their lives, which includes people, objects, laughter and more. That is: the right people, not many objects, tons of laughter, and a lot of other factors that we decide as we wake up in the morning. 

“And if you sat at the dinner table long enough, whether in punishment or in refusal or simply in boredom, you never stopped sitting there. Some part of you sat there all your life.”

Even being a fairly positive, optimistic person, I still loved this good-and-depressing book. I was wrapped up in the drama of each individual story. I wanted the characters to fall further and further, simply to understand and learn how that could possibly happen in life and why, during the fall, it seems okay to be going down instead of up.

Enid, the mother and wife in this story, is an always judgemental, yet always feeling judged, good and “true blue,” tradition following Midwesterner. She and her husband Alfred have one of the saddest relationships I’ve ever read about, and to make matters worse, he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. All she wants is for her three children, Gary, Chip and Denise to come home for Christmas.

The fact that Gary’s wife refuses to ever step foot in her in-law’s house for a holiday again makes this difficult. So does Chip’s sketchy new job in a foreign country, where his main concern is conning the people in the US. And Denise shows interest only because, as the youngest, she feels the most obligation to at least make her father happy, if nothing else.

“The only guaranteed result of having an affair would be to add yet another disapproving woman to his life.”

This book will keep you up at night as you read about business ventures that are way over your head, heartbreaking mistakes, even more heartbreaking judgments, and ultimately… the love of a family, and how no matter how messed up every. single. person. in said family may be, there will always be a hidden reason you should love them and be grateful for them.

And you’ll immediately start feeling like the crazy you thought your parents were, they aren’t. (love you mom and dad!)

And you’ll see your marriage as one of the most functional in all the land.

And you’ll never want to travel to a foreign Eastern European country for “business.”

You might even stop trying to change everyone around you and start accepting them for who they are. You might reach over and grab your spouse’s hand, realizing that the gesture means more to some people than a million dollars. Your heart might warm, even though this is a pretty hard-core realism-induced depressing-state-of-America type book.

You’ll see the light, or it may find you within these pages.

Let me know if you read The Corrections. I’d love to hear that it affected someone the way it affected me.

Love, your truly happy, content, and Midwestern

LOU

The Corrections, book review, hey lou writes, writing

Promise!