Monday, October 17, 2011

10 years, 5 years, the future is still to come.

This month is a milestone, or at least something I note, of sorts. 

The Abilene High School class of 2001 had its 10 year reunion this past weekend. Rather than fly home to reminisce about glory days over high school football then dinner and pints the next day, I took a gamble that the Texas Rangers would make the World Series again. It would be nice to get back home and chat with some folks about yesteryear, but I feel the gamble is worth it. 

While I actually graduated in May 2001 from Abilene High School I did move to North Carolina the first week of October in 2006 after graduating from college in May. While the girl and dream I came here with didn't work out I truly believe I have emerged with such an abundant amount of blessings it is ridiculous, even in the wake of the heartbreak which follows telling the girl you dated for five years you don't love her anymore. 

You see, it would be simple to just put up a status saying " ... wishes he could have gone to his 10 year high school reunion but man has he grown in the decade since. And he's been in NC for five years now? WOW!" But this would simply put a decade into two brief sentences most of the FB world will look over if they don't have me hidden already. 

While it often seemed to crawl I must say the past ten years have flown by, or at least it is seems like yesterday I got my first computer with - get this - fast dial-up internet all of my own, headed off to junior college and first met some band named Cross Canadian Ragweed. I found music that changed me and meant something, friendships that didn't and made other friends who became family. I went to class often enough, didn't apply myself nearly as hard as I should have (which is one of the few things in life I regret), drank a few beers at the Ponderosa Dancehall and listened to amazing Texas country music (think country-rock/Americana stuff) and shot at a lot of dove with my padre and assorted male role-models. I received an education, earned a degree and made some lifelong friends, helped by some silly website I didn't to join called Facebook. I found Potter, re-discovered or dove hard into Star Wars, got lost in L O S T, drank a Bradarita, discovered my geekiness and watched the University of Texas win it's first national championship in my lifetime. I began writing for a newspaper, first out of an interest in motorsports and then music. 

None of this, I think, really compared to the life I found after college when I moved north of Charlotte. And while the Carriage Club Apartments are still hard to turn near because of the memories held there, the life I found after the breakup, in my church and with the friends I have made has maybe been the greatest part of my life yet. 

It boggles my mind to think I am "assistant youth minister" at St. Therese. Sure I always went to Mass but I still think, "Whoa!" Was spring 2007 really that long ago when I invited the high schoolers to a screening of the Invisible Children documentary? I find myself constantly in awe of what I do there. The people who have become my family and the teens I have worked with are some of the greatest blessings I could ever hope to discover, not to exclude the family of friends I have made outside of church too.  

I have loved, been heartbroken and felt the hope of finding love once again. I found a true honest-to-goodness full-time professional job as a newspaper reporter, and lost it because of poor management decisions. Liverpool FC became a passion and the Texas Rangers made it to the World Series, which I was able to attend and experience. This alone was one of the greatest days of my life. And I get to go again! I gained weight from the stress and sedentary lifestyle and now have shed it since July to probably match what I weighed in college. Death and sickness arrived too often, enough to where a random phone call from madre made me immediately ask what was wrong. Tears were shed and there were quite a few funerals I was unable to attend. But they are Home and I remember them here. Some songs will always be hard to listen to. 

What I lack in money or a career I more than make up in blessings and friends. And I am ready to take care of that career part thanks to those same friends'-who-are-becoming-family encouragement. 

And so I will soon be 30 years old. It's a little of a JD from Scrubs meets Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother feeling.

Life is happening and it is exciting yet terrifying at the same time to think of the age mark, especailly since I don't feel 29.  I have felt compelled to create The 30 List, a to-do list of sorts to work on before approximately 4 am CST on June 29. Some I will be able to do and some I won't, but it's a realistic goal I will post later. 

There is much to be done and even more I don't even about that know will happen. I know one thing. It is going to be one heck of an experience. 

"Cause everyday the world is made
A chance to change, But I feel the same
And I wonder
Why would I wait till I die to come alive?
I'm ready now
I'm not waiting for the afterlife"
- Jon Foreman/Switchfoot "Afterlife"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thank you, Jo (or: The final thoughts of a high-functioning Potter aficionado)

'Whether it's by page or screen, Hogwarts will always welcome you home." - Jo Rowling

(Minor spoiler alert: Photo of Neville near the bottom)

Dear Jo, 

Thank you. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your story. Thank you for Harry.

In it I - we - are lost in an excitement that always presents itself each time we open "Philosopher's Stone" to start a re-read of the series. An excitement that takes us on a joyride of emotions as we turn the page and find friendships, heartarche, pain and sorrow, the bliss of a Quidditch victory for Gryffindor and the first kiss of a beloved character.

We lose ourselves in laughter at the twin's antics or another backfired spell of Ron's in "Chamber of Secrets." At the same time, we shed tears of pain and sorrow and suffer as a beloved character dies a tragic death; as Harry suffers on the written page. 

We even get a whole new genre of music out of this book series ... and some of it is really brilliant!

Ministry of Magic is great wrock

Throughout we learn lessons about doing right rather than what is easier. That what someone does is greater than what they were born. The importance of friendships and love. That sometimes there is something bigger than just you that needs to be stood up for. And that carrying your wand in your backpocket risks the loss of a buttock. 

But the story has been told already, it was finished in 2007. 

In the films, however, the world is brought to life before our eyes. So much so that we critique and nitpick the most finite of details, characterizations and plot points to where it stands in comparison to the written word of canon. 

We are able to see Quidditch played in real life and match it to what we always envisioned in our imagination. We see Sirius Black before our eyes, the Marauders Map used, owl post, the Ministry of Magic and most amazingly itself, Hogwarts.

Seriously, who doesn't want to play Quidditch?

I came into the story late, but I am grateful that I came into it at all. 

If it were not for my younger sister's interest and working the book release for "Half-Blood Prince," I may not have decided to read six books in a fortnight simply "to see what the big deal is." I had seen the first three movies on DVD so I may have found an interest later in 2006 when "Goblet of Fire" came to theaters.

My saster and I being awesome. 
But I did read the books in a fortnight. And then I read them all over again. Three times that fall. 

I admit it is easy for me to come across as "that guy" really into Harry Potter, especially with the ease of posting to Facebook. We all are into things. Some can tell you about an engine or a tree. I can tell you about a book and TV show, amongst many other things. I don't like to feel mis-represented. It would be easy to just say, "Haters gonna hate" and move on, but that would still leave odd thoughts of my own self for the outsider. Let me just state that yes, I am a fan of the Harry Potter series. I feel lucky to have experienced this story in my life as I also experienced the greatness of of L O S T and, later, Scrubs. Yes, I love Star Wars, but these three things impacted my 20-somethings like noneother. I learned much from them and grew with their aid. In them I found a wonderful story that grabbed my imagination and heart. 

I also found friendship outside that matched the friendships within, simply because of a new social website and an idea to create a group within it for Potter fans at my college. I never imagined the friendships I developed with four others (plus a lovely girl named Larkin afterwards but through them) would carry me so far, even if one has faded outright. And then there were other friendships, much later, that were discovered because of this simple interest in Harry Potter. Geekdom in Potterness can bring people together and create friendships out of the spark of a common interest, and it is a wonderful thing to have experienced. 

Friends, in my fat Elvis years.
The films have always been a love-hate relationship in some regards. As I mentioned, they create on film what only existed in our imaginations. Sometimes it is a perfect creation and others, well, others can drive you mad with changes to the plot or characters.

There has always been a foreboding finality with the movies still in production after book 7's release. And, after two hours and five minutes later there is left only bittersweet finality at the end of an era. 

Bloggy blog on Part One:

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" was great. My heartcage was warm right where I wanted it to be the most impacted (Chapter 34: The Forest Again). I feel the outstanding acting found in part one was just the same in this one, as it should be. The Second Battle of Hogwarts was as I always envisioned it, as was so much more of this book put on the silver screen. 

It would be wrong of me to nitpick this film, and its prior penultimate edition, to kingcome come and not like it. Because with all the changes made to it they marks were perfectly met where they needed to be met at the most important times. This truly was a character driven film balanced with an epic battle film. There could be one, or the other, which meets the marks and risks the other faltering. That is not the case here. It is truly the perfect way to mark the end of an era. 

The music of composer Alexandre Desplat was excellent yet again. I am eager to listen to it on the OST in fact. The bits where the only sound was that of the film itself without the addition of a slow piece in the background shows great decision making on both Desplat and the filmmakers. Often music is filled in to fit a void but in this motion picture the lack of sound during key points was brilliant. The silence was the most noise that could be met to fit the scene. 

Everything David Heyman and David Baron have helped build for the past decade into an eight film saga of The Boy Who Lived concluded in the most perfect way possible. Sure there were major changes and tweaks, but it was wonderful and in the case of the "Deathly Hallows" films, the changes fit. 

(Funny story: I nearly hit publish with it reading "an eight part film sage of The Bot Who Lived)

I admit, this could be the honeymoon stage of a bittersweet ending to something very dear to me. But I think I will always feel this way about the final movies. 

It has been an outright pleasure watching the Trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow up on screen and as actors. I am sincerely grateful they and the rest of the cast devoted their youth to the creation of true movie magic and I bid them all best wishes in their future endeavors. This won't be the last we hear from some of this cast. 

Friends forever, both on screen and off. 

Hombre finally gets his moment! 

And so, I must close. 

I am truly grateful for this saga and what it has done for me in my life. I am but one of many whose lives have been touched by Harry James Potter and his friends. I will always remember and cherish what I have taken away and in turn, I shall use those lessons in life. 

Thank you Jo, for everything. You truly are a hero of mine, who has overcome quite difficult obstacles to enlighten the minds and hearts of the world via the written word. 

Let me close not in my own words but yet again, with the words so perfectly crafted by Jo. 

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
- Dumbledore

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Songs That Made 2010 '010

Music plays an important part in my life, and in many others. 

2010 saw me run the gamut in genres. However, there seems to be a central theme throughout. Some sort of peaceful hope and awareness while searching for deeper meaning or purpose. Here are my top-five songs (and in some cases albums) of '010, in no particular order. 

"Something Beautiful" Needtobreathe from "The Outsiders" 

"I know that I'm in reach
I am down on my knees
And waiting for
Something beautiful"

Honestly, until I wrote this just now I thought it was "I am all out of memories." Now this makes the song even better! Time to sit down and read lyrics again like back in the day. Either way, this entire album is perfect. From the banjo kicking off a loud "The Outsiders" with the chorus belted out from the pit of your vocal regions to the resulting the outro segueing into "Valley of Tomorrow" you are set up for an excellent disk. There are a few albums that start off with such a sound progression but fail to keep that vibe and energy balanced correctly throughout the whole album. "The Outsiders" does though, amazingly.

There is steadfast hope to restart in "Valley of Tomorrow" ("I pulled a .38 out of my bleeding heart/I killed my selfishness for bringing me this far/This far away from you") and the optimism to be blessed with helpful gifts in "These Hard Times" ("It's clear enough to me/The ugliness I see/Is evidence of who I need").

Much of Needtobreathe has a religious tone to it but it is written in such a way to work even on a secular level. But it is that undertone that really reaches out to me now that I have finally given this band a shot after two years of keeping them on the reserve squad. Thanks to Susie, Mike, Michelle and Todd Fing Palmer.

Plus, you can't help but like a band with a lead singer named Bear. Right?

"The Saltwater Room" Owl City from "Ocean Eyes"

"Time together is just ever quite enough 
When you and I are alone, I’ve never felt so at home 
What will it take to make or break this hint of love? 
Only time, only time"

First, I must add this album was released in June 2009. I didn't discover Owl City in depth until after listening to "Fireflies" with the youth group on the drive home from snowboarding. But once I got ahold of the rest of Adam Young's album I never looked back. I have listened to this album at least once a week since the start of the year probably and each time is just as wonderful as the first. Heck, it is one of my rare "Listen to while going to sleep" albums too.

Much like Needtobreathe, it is hard to highlight a single song. "Fireflies" was all over the radio and is clever and great. Nothing wrong with a popular song being good. "Vanilla Twilight," "On The Wing" and the 2:14 long brief "Meteor Shower" are but only a few mentions. The whole album is excellent and in my mind's eye perfect, even if some of the songs were on Young's previous album.

But while the lyrics from "On The Wing" wish at something maybe we all have had ("Alone, awake and thinking of the weekend we were in love") it is "The Saltwater Room" that I have always started with. There is something outstanding about this particular song; be it hopeful love, Young managing to rhyme introvert and overcoat, the beautiful duet with Breanne Duren, or the melody.

"So tell me darling, do you wish we'd fall in love?
All the time."

"Alive Again" Matt Maher from "Alive Again"

"You called and You shouted
broke through my deafness
now I’m breathing in
and breathing out
I’m alive again!"

There are a few times in my life where real spiritual renewal/refocus has happened: possibly my Confirmation retreat in high school, definitely living my Cursillo in college and then going to the Steubenville youth conference this past summer with my high school youth group kids. The music at Steuby - especially during Adoration & Benediction - is what did the most for me withMatt Maher was our musical minister all weekend with the help of the lovely Audrey Assad and Ike Ndolo. I had never heard of Maher before but it took about five minutes to think, "This guy is good." Come to find out that little ditty "Grace Is Enough" made popular by Chris Tomlin was his song.

So much music was played over the weekend but "Alive Again" from his (then) just released second major label album "Alive Again" made me fall in love. Because that is what that renewal or recharging is all about, being alive again. Sometimes one just needs to stop and listen to what is being whispered in a shout in order to refocus. While I have never been far off the path (what can I say, I'm a Gryffindor) this song always seems to hammer it home for me once again. It and another, more epic, song on the disk.

The whole album, once again, is wonderful. "Hold Us Together" lifts you up and "Love Comes Down" is another favorite. But it is "Christ Is Risen" that still not only takes me back to Adoration that Saturday night with thousands of youth but means so much to me from a friendship formed since while sitting on the tailgate of my truck listening to the song.

"Kings and Queens" 30 Seconds to Mars from "This Is War"

"We were the kings and queens of promise
We were the victims of ourselves
Maybe the children of a lesser god
Between Heaven and hell, Heaven and hell."

Again, another album that came out in 2009 (December though, so can't fault that) but has made it down the 12 month stretch. Quite a few epic songs on this album and it's totally a buyer, but "Kings and Queens" is a favorite. Maybe because it's the lead single but moreso because it's just great. The song itself is not cut and dry as I see it, as it really is diving into a deep matter. Some research provides that Jared Leto read a book in South Africa and wrote the first part of the before a flight back to the States and completed it upon touchdown. The book "ended up being a good metaphor" for world events over the year recording he said. Either way I have liked this song since I first heard it and I continue to ponder over what it could really mean often. To me, on a basic level maybe, it's just man succumbing to being man and not the mankind it needs to be.

"I May Lose Everything" Ministry of Magic from "Onward and Upward

"And I may lose everything
But you never had it, had it
Where once I felt nothing
Now I feel sorry"

Yeah yeah. I'm a geek. I'm ok with it though.

A few years ago I was listening to Pottercast or Mugglecast and first heard about "wizard rock." I began listening to Harry and the Potters. Sometime in 2009 (I believe) I heard about the Ministry of Magic on Pottercast. YouTube was a great help checking them out but iTunes gift cards on Christmas '09 let me delve into the band's discography. It really is some great music on both a lyrical side and musical side. To me the Ministry of Magic is Owl City meets One Republic. There are simply to many songs from MoM to chose to highlight, though most would agree "Accio Love" would probably be the one to start with. "Lovegood," "Snape vs Snape," "The Bravest Man I've Ever Known," "The Hero," "I Heart Weasleys," "A Phoenix Lament" and "Meet Me On Diagon Alley" are but a few favorites.

The band's fourth album (not including the acoustic EP "Acoustiatus") released earlier in December is chalk full of great songs like "Lily" and "This Town" but I really love "Don't Leave." It's basically the first part of "Deathly Hallows" where the Trio is on the lam and Ron decides to split. But it is so new I don't feel I can say it is in my top-five for the year, unfortunately, though I am sure it could make the cut next winter.

No, I will have to roll with "I May Lose Everything." A song from Harry and Voldemort's point-of-view at that moment where Voldemort has taken over Harry at the end of "Order of the Phoenix" during his battle with Dumbledore. It's just amazing and the vocals are top notch.

And honestly, if Rush and Zeppelin can sing songs about Lord of the Rings then why can't some talented individuals sing songs about Harry Potter?

Honorable Mentions:

"Good Morning Charlie" by The Oceanic Six (L O S T music from MoM and The Remus Lupins members)

"Our God" by Chris Tomlin

"Golden State" by Delta Spirit

"Letters From the Sky" by Civil Twilight

"Airplanes Part Two" B.O.B. feat. Hayley Williams and Eminem

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Beer, A Movie and a Blog v2.2 "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One"

(Now also seen at

The text I sent out after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One” around 2:30 a.m. Friday morning said, “Followed the book pretty well. Acting was top notch. Cinematography was excellent.”

The first half of the final book to Jo Rowling's epic tale not only met my expectations but pulverized them to tiny bits even Hermoine would have a problem putting back together, and that's something.


The film begins with the Warner Bros logo falling apart and a horcrux crying out from the darkness until Minister of Magic Rufas Scrimgeour’s eyes appear close up as he begins to speak He assures the wizarding world their Ministry will remain strong in the face of the dark and dire times being faced. The tone of the film further is more fully set next as each of the Trio individually prepares for what’s next: Harry packing his things and bidding the Dursley's farewell; Ron outside the Burrow gazing into the distance and unknown future and the real emotional kicker, Hermione erasing her very own existence from her parent’s memory and home. Her seeing herself disappear out of family photographs stunned me.

Only then does the now iconic "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One" logo show as Snape arrives at Malfoy Manner to attend a meeting of Death Eaters and Voldemort.

The rest of the two hours and twenty six minute (I believe) long film was pure cinematic perfection. FINALLY we got our Harry Potter movie that stands as an outstanding testament to its source material.

From the set designs of the Ministry of Magic and the Lovegood's home to the on-site locations used at the Trio camped across Great Britain, Director David Yates and his crew presented us a film that sprang forth to life a visual representation of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in a way I never dreamed could actually happen.

What was even more greatly captured were the human elements of this tale, especially the emotional weight each of the Trio carries and the manner in which they deal with it. The biggest testament to this is how the horcrux wears the most on Ron as it eventually drives him to leave Harry and Hermione and later fights against him as he attempts to destroy it with the sword of Gryffindor. Seriously ... that horcrux-projected kiss between Harry and Hermione was absolutely amazing. Plus, side boob!

All of this was aided by Alexandre Desplat’s score, which did not detract from scenes but added an extra emotional element throughout the film. His music breathes even more life into the film.

I must offer the deepest praise for the added dance scene between Harry and Hermione after Ron leaves, for it was nothing short of a completely brilliant idea from Mr. Yates. It was a beautiful moment captured and carried the film past the point of Ron's departure and to the next segment of "What next?" as one friend simply decides to comfort his beat friend after everything has fallen apart. The melody made the scene perfect but the words of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds even hit home, as the song "O Children" to me on a very basic level is about the growing up of children, which the trio was doing. It was the end of that innocence and beginning of adulthood.

Also, production designer Stuart Craig’s idea to enlist animator Ben Hibon for the “Tale of the Three Brothers" was a great and unique idea. Plus, Ron adding that, “Mum always said midnight” and Hermione’s stare back was straight from the text and excited me to hear as that is something that used to be easily cut from the script it seems.

And I called it ... the point in which the film would simply go to the credit and leave us waiting eight months to find the story.  It wasn't after Harry buries Dobby the Muggle way, with a shovel and no magic and decides Hallows of horcruxes, but I was close! But wait,  it continues ... and sets up the mood of the next film as Voldemort desecrats Dumbledores tomb to steal the Elder Wand.

Sure, there were changes made but the changes made to the book canon did not detract from what book-fans know about the series as the past has. Hell, several changes and additional scenes added to films breadth of greatness as it built character relations with each other (Ron and Harry talking outside the Burrow) or a character’s own self (Hermione Obliviating her parent's memory). When was the last time you saw a Potter film and didn’t say “If only they had done this?!” within the first five minutes of leaving the theater? It used to be "The films stand on their own right away from the book," but this time.

A film, however, is nothing without the cast. And this cast - from our old friends in the Order of the Phoenix and Hogwarts, to new introductions - was absolutely outstanding. While the others deserve recognition I want to focus just on the Trio.

Maybe it's because we are not at Hogwarts but to me this felt so much like a character film and less like a fantasy film. The locations used only set up wonderful shots and scenes but it was the trio of Dan, Rupert and Emma that brought these characters to life as they grew - both apart, together and individual maturity - in a way we have never seen them filmed. This film would not have worked in not for them, each of whom has taken on other roles in recent years. Roles I can’t help but think helped their portrayals.

Rupert Grint has been allowed to take Ron Weasley from a goofy-faced-side-kick in the first few movies (mostly due to Klose writing I argue) to a best friend who has his own emotions, talents and issues to sort out that are not just what Harry has to deal with. He has been given dialogue and substance Mr. Kloves tended to take away, opting instead for Hermione to speak more. Rupert Grint's eyes in this scene really were mad with rage as he was ready to kill or seriously injure the two Death Eaters who attacked them in London after the escape from the wedding. His emotions continue to weigh him down after the Trio steal the locket and up until that very point when he walks away from them. “You’re parents are dead!” Shivers. His return and battle with a horcrux was just epic.

Emma Watson shined throughout the film whether it be as Hermione bid goodbye to her parents, take over as a well planned command after the attack at the wedding or even in dealing with a moody Ron in the Forest versus her brainpower working to figure out the horcruxes. I must mention her being tortured too. I felt there was so much power in her painful screams and pleading sobs at the hands of Bellatrix LeStrange. Or maybe it's just the act of Hermione in outright pain and terror.

Finally, there is Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. He can flat out act and it is quite apparent after this film. All the work he has done - on stage in "Equis" and on film in “December Boys” and “My Boy Jack” - outside of Potter has set him up to take the character to the next and final level of the journey. Daniel Radcliffe simply is Harry. He has taken command and is ready to set out and destroy some Horcruxes. You feel his stress of the situation at hand as things unravel at different moments. There has always been comedy with Ron but Dan's slight comedic side when needed really adds a bit to the character. It reminds me they still are kids out there doing what the can to fight Voldemort but even moreso, the comedy in the film gives a pause of the dire straights being faced. In the end, though, it is his maturity as a wizard and the determination he has accepted upon himself to defeat Voldemort and this is what Dan displays.

When it comes down to it, this film is simply the perfect Harry Potter movie. The changes made do not take away from what is probably the most faithful adaptation of Jo Rowling’s saga yet, though the first two very well could be in terms of quotes lifted from the text.  This is the film I have waited to see for five years now while others have waited a decade. This story and world of Harry Potter given as the utmost capable visual representation one can give it. And just think ... we have the whole second half of the book to come in July.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Beer A Book and a Blog v1.2 - "Paper Towns" by John Green

I just finished reading John Green's "Paper Towns" and I am still digesting it. To be completely honest I do not really know where to start or even finish with my thoughts on such a great book.

I originally picked it up because John and his brother Hank are known as the Vlog Brothers ( on YouTube. I first heard of them when Hank sang "Accio Deathly Hallows" in 2007 for John. Then I heard from the Pottercasters and others his books were reallllly good too. John, not Hank. And they invented being Nerdfighters. 
As Green's agent says via telephone in his video (link below) promoting the book, "It's the funniest serious mystery novel ever written about love and Walk Whitman."

This truly does summarize this book, yet it does not.
A few stanzas from Whitman's "Song Of Myself" are used as clues at one point in the novel yet the entire poem becomes studied and analyzed throughout the book. This actually made me interested in reading it, though poetry often is hard for me to sit and ponder on. Either way, I will read it eventually.
But on to “Paper Towns.”

                         The Author (@realjohngreen) and his (paperback) book. 

First you meet a nine-year-old Quentin and Margo in the prologue. They discover a body in their Orlando neighborhood park while playing. Each has a different reaction to finding the deceased Robert Joyner, who shot himself. Margo is taken in by the mystery and detective work she does as to “why” (by asking around) and then adding her on theory as to why the man would kill himself.
“Margo always loved mysteries. And in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one.” 
And thus comes the bulk of the book, in three parts. 
Part One “The Strings” finds Quentin as a high-school senior near the end of the school year. He and Margo have grown distant though they remain neighbors. He is the geek or non-popular guy and she is hot-stuff on campus. Quentin (or Q as he goes by mostly) hangs out with a lot of band people - though he himself isn’t in band - which includes his best friends Ben and Radar. Ben and Quentin have been friends since fifth grade and along the way picked up Marcus. Marcus, however, goes by Radar because - outside of the fact that he is black - as a younger lad he resembled the M*A*S*H* character. Oh, his parents own the world’s largest collection of black Santas too. Ben himself has a nickname, but one given for reasons outside of his approval as a sophomore. Poor guy has one kidney infection ... 
Anyways, this is the crew. Quentin doesn’t believe in prom, Radar has a girlfriend and thus a date and Ben has the car they all ride around in, when it starts. 
Late one night Margo bursts into Quentin’s window late one night dressed as a ninja and the two use his mother’s minivan for an evening of personal payback on those who wronged her. There are hidden fish, surprise photographs and escapades like breaking into Sea-World into the late hours of a random school night. 
And thus comes the mystery side of the novel. Because Margo simply disappears. 
Part Two “The Grass” explores how friends, former friends, parents and the student body deal and react to Margo's departure. It also more importantly explores how Quentin (and his friends) search for Margo following clues including but not limited to Woody Guthrie and Walt Whitman to figure out where she went.
Part Three “The Vessel” should remain spoiler free and deals with maters once the clues are figured out. The dialogue alone in Part Three is worth reading the book.  For instance, Ben has to pee. A lot. And has to on a road trip and only has a beer bottle available.
But Radar feels differently. “If you don’t throw that shit out the window right now, I’m ending our eleven-year-friendship,” he says. 
“It’s not shit,” I say. “It’s pee.”
“Out,” he says. And so I litter. In the side-view mirror, I can see the bottle hit the asphalt and burst open like a water balloon. Radar sees it, too.
“Oh my God,” Radar says. “I hope that’s like one of those traumatic events that is so damaging to my psyche that I just forget it ever happened.
At the same time deep points are made during this road trip. 
“The thing about That Guy Is a Gigolo (a game the characters invent),” Radar says, “I Mean, the thing about it as a game, is that in the end it reveals a lot more about the person doing the imagining than it does about the person being imagined.” 
Throughout “Paper Towns” there is theme exploring the "idea" of who Margo is to each character, but mostly Q.  had of Margo. The idea of who she was and what people thought she was. Q likes his idea of Margo but realizes he does not know her really at all. He begins to know the real her, or at least figure out some of who she was, as the book progresses via introspection and clues, especially as he reads more than the few lines of "Song of Myself" left as a clue. Yet he still does not know her.
I quite enjoyed the characters because to me they really are believable.  The last few years have been spent reading books about an orphaned wizard who bears the mantle of responsibility to defeat a dark wizard; a human who falls in love with a sparkly vampire but is loved by an Indian who shapeshifts into a wolf; two characters known simple as the Man and the Boy in a post-Apocalyptic America walking down a road; a murdered girl watching her family and friends’ lives change after her murder or even a zombie-love-quest book. “Paper Towns” is a believable tale with developed characters that are not out-of-the-ordinary. 
We have a main character who really finds himself while searching for another; best friends whose traits, mannerisms and quirks as friends are realized by Q and then settled upon and finally a girl who hid her true self from everyone and that she was “the flimsy-foldable person” to the world, not everyone else. 
By the end of the book I was pondering about the idea's of people I know. There will be a girl I am interested in but to me I am infatuated, interested or crushing on the "idea" of her rather than the her herself. Why? Because I don't know the real her. Maybe that's why I like the Dave Matthews Band song "Idea Of You" so much, because I identify. I like the “idea” of her before I know the real her. I suppose that’s where you learn if you like the real her though. 
But, like Ben says late in the book, “People are different when you can smell them and see them up close, you know?” 
And thus leads to the conclusion of the book, which - as spoilerfree as I can say it - I liked  and understood it. One line makes me know how it ends.  It made sense and fit rather well. Again, believable rather than fantastic. 
I too shall participate in self-photography with "Paper Towns" as others have. 

I honestly plan on reading “Paper Towns” again so I can pull more from it because I honestly did feel as if it is more than just a mystery novel. There are some lessons I can take away from it that I will only learn when I slow down my pace and take the book in as you would Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” 
What those lessons are I am eager to realize, but I really hope to think about “Paper Towns” and moreso, being paper myself. 
I just hope John Green doesn’t think this is all rubbish writing, I just really want to ponder about it all more. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Beer A Book and a Blog v1.2 - "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

Since I knew the basic premise of the story, the opening chapters of Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones" were hard to read.


The novel centers around a 14-year-old New England girl who is raped and killed and watches her loved ones lives play out from heaven. As if that alone is not enough to make the reader uneasy, the novel begins with the foreboding opening lines, "My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

I was hooked from the start, eager to learn how this was going to play out. I settled in reading Susie had a poet's quote in her junior high yearbook photograph so it would mark her as literary, that he was in the Chess Club and Chem Club and her favorite teacher taught biology. 

I realized the plot defining moment of the novel would literally happen at the beginning of the book when I turned to page two and read halfway down, "But on December 6, 1973, it was snowing, and I took a shortcut through the cornfield back from the junior high" 

As I read the rest of the first chapter intently as Susie was coerced towards the site of her rape and murder I felt uneasy yet hoped it would not happen. That she wouldn't follow, that she wouldn't continue, that she would get away. But it's not just a coercion and murder. This takes place while you learn more about Susie's past and also her family's future after the murder. It was really interesting to go from present to past to future time here while reading a book in the past-tense. 

I felt the chapter was written so as to prevent a sensory overload while reading the opening pages full of a young girl's impending doom. To show you a little of what was going on but also pull back so you get a picture of who this girl is. To form an emotional connection perhaps with her or to at the very least show who she is, slightly. 

Still, it was horribly hard to read the opening chapter. It bothered me because it hurt to read that happening to Susie, especially since I visually picture scenes in a book. 

We go on to learn not only how Susie is affected by her own murder but also her family, friends and even strangers or acquaintances who later come more into the fold. It's about how one life can touch many. How one life can change another's path and lead it towards someone else's. 

Everyone deals with the pain differently.  Some relationships are tested and torn apart while others are formed and defined from the tragedy. All of this while a murder mystery takes place with the reader knowing all the clues. 

I liked the idea of Susie's Heaven where she has a roommate, a counselor to help in the adjustment and how she watches the people on Earth live out their grief, their hope, their love and their lives. I found it important to picture her within the scenes on Earth rather than just as a narrator too. 

This is a reallllly short review of the novel but I wanted to get it down and return the book to the library - overdue - and I apologize for any brief or vagueness within. 

Regardless, I do recommend the book. It is a heavy read emotionally at times yet one that makes you think and appreciate some things while hoping for others,  all while seeing how lives are impacted by the death of a 14-year-old girl.