Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Review: Feed by MT Anderson (part 2)

Feed by M.T. Anderson
Review by Jez Layman

The future looks pretty good--flying cars, colonies on the moon, more technology--everything we've been promised. But things are never as they seem. Titus is a college student in this time, spending his spring break on the Moon with some of his friends. There he meets a great girl named Violet at a club. Unfortunately a crazy activist chose the same club for his demonstration and Titus, Violet, and everyone else receives a virus from him. This virus doesn't just crash their home computer--it affects the people themselves. The Feed is a device implanted into everyone in this future, keeping them constantly connected to the digital world they live in for most of their lives. The virus can be fixed--for most of them--and after some time in a hospital without a feed connection, the teens are released without a problem. Except for Violet. Now Titus has to deal with Violet's condition, and the way she sees the world. To Titus the future is exactly as it should be, to Violet, it's a dystopia. It gives us a chance to wonder if maybe we can move so far ahead and we loose sight of who we are--or do we continue becoming more of what we already are?

Feed by MT Anderson is written wonderfully, the best part being the way the Feed is shown through the text. At points in the narration the Feed breaks in and sends you pop-up ads and news headlines. You really begin to get a feel for how the world is for someone living with the Feed. Another thing Anderson does well is represent characters in a way that we relate to them. Whether we side with Titus or Violet, it is not hard to find someone in this book we understand. The speech and actions of the teens--especially Titus and his other friends--are very realistic. The most interesting part about this book, in this reviewer's opinion, is the moral issues brought up about technology and change for the sake of change. It can be a hard-hitting book that challenges the mind, or it can be a book that touches the heart. Either way, it will have an impact on the reader. Part teenage love story, part biting satire, this book is a great read for everyone.

Related links: My favorite quotes from Feed
My original review of Feed by MT Anderson

Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

In John Green's new book, Paper Towns, Margo Roth Spiegelman did eleven outrageous things in one night. She righted wrongs, and wronged a few rights, and brought Quentin “Q” Jacobsen along for the adventure. In Q’s eyes Margo was, in a word, awesome. For sixteen years Q lived next door to Margo, and for sixteen years, he had been in love with her. After all, she was the only living legend to ever live next door to him, and was the only one to recruit him in the middle of the night to go on an adventure. It was the best and longest day of Q’s life. The next day, Margo disappeared.
Margo Roth Spiegelman had been known to run away before, but she had always come back home. This time, it didn't seem likely that she would return. But before she ran away this time, she left something for Q: a clue. He begins following clue after clue, desperate to find Margo again and bring her back home. He enlists his two best friends, Ben and Radar, to help him, but after awhile the chances of the clues leading somewhere begin to dwindle. Some of the group wonder if Margo really wants to be found, or if she even can be found. Quentin, however, can't let go and continues the mission to find Margo, but along the way, he also begins to find himself.
The author, John Green, is well-known in the world--mostly for his YouTube correspondence videos with his brother, Hank--but also for his award-winning books for teens. In his few books Green has created some of the most memorable, lovable, and realistic characters in teen literature. One of the best things about Paper Towns was reading the funny interactions between Q, Ben, and Radar. These conversations make the characters believable--they talk and act like regular teenage boys, and the dynamics of their friendship are rarely exemplified so well in teen literature. Even with three guys as the main characters, Green is careful not to make the book gender-specific, so that it can be enjoyed by all. Additionally, the plot was well done and interesting, with very few dull moments, but rather kept the story flowing in a way that makes the reader want to keep going. The story itself is a cathartic roller-coaster, with its ups and downs along the way, with events ranging from a hilarious road trip with great characters, to melancholy reflections of the world and the loss of a friend.
Overall, Paper Towns is well-written and keeps the reader interested with its adventure, mystery, and witty characters. This new book is a great read for teens and adults.

Related links: My favorite quotes from Paper Towns and Let it Snow

On Lauren Myracle, Reviews, & NaNoWriMo

I've recently created a new group on Facebook: TEAM MYRACLE. This is a response to the feud between John Green and Maureen Johnson over the book they co-wrote with Lauren Myracle. Lauren has taken an inspiring position of neutrality in the matter and I believe we should all follow her example!

(and yes, Lauren herself is a member)

Two reviews going up in a moment, Paper Towns by John Green & Feed by MT Anderson. You may remember that I have reviewed Feed before, but I decided to do one for my school's newspaper and wrote a new one! I included a few points from the old one, but for the most part it is brand new!
I am very behind on my NaNo right now. I missed two days worth of writing because of my massive school projects. I have a persuasive speech due on Friday, which I have had to do surveys & an audience analysis for. My English project has taken over my life with its bibliography & electronic notes. Thesis is due on Friday, but I really need to finish these notes first! PR project is actually going along well because I have such a great group (for the most part anyway). Religion required a 7 page paper on Judaism from me, and soon another 3 pages on our Christianity readings. School is insane, it really is.
But I am confident that I can catch up--I did once already, so I can surely do it again!
P.S. for any fans of American Girl or Abigail Breslin or cute movies or movies about the Depression--go watch Kit Kittredge! I saw it for the first time last night and LOVED it. Abigail Breslin, Zach Mills, & Max Thieriot were all amazing as usual and the plot was interesting and the movie was cute and--oh just go watch it already!

Friday, November 07, 2008

NaNo Advice: End of Week 1

Good Ways to Boost Your Word Count and Keep Yourself Writing

I've learned a few tricks along the way from my own NaNo experiences (from this year as well as 06) and from other competitors ranging from first timers to old hats. I thought I'd take a little break from writing to share these with you. (btw, this is not me avoiding actual writing. This is me coping with my ADD in a positive way.)

+ Add a lot of defining words. "He said" "She said" may not always be necessary, but put them in there, an extra two words per piece of dialogue are a great way to add to your word count.

Take that a step farther. "She said, sounding offended." or "He told her with unquestionable certainty upon his face." Add as much as you want without sounding too wordy!

Of course, if you don't mind wordy, by all means, get that word count up! If the count is what matters, take a lesson from Dickens & write up a storm! Sentences that take up a full page? No problem!

+ Another great way to add to your word count is to include quotes. You don't have to wrack your brains trying to think of something new to type! Find a quote that works with your story and roll with it! John Green used "Song of Myself" at least fifty times in his NYT Best Seller "Paper Towns" and writers like Cornelia Funke, Ann Brashares, & Jasper Fforde begin every chapter with an applicable quote! There's no shame in borrowing words to raise your count.

Right now my own characters are quoting Shakespeare's famous lines from "As You Like It": "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts." The best part? It fits my story perfectly. In fact, it has greatly inspired me and helps convey my theme of acting & masks in high school even more than I could alone!

+ Word wars. Timed, themed word wars with a friend. These work best through some form of instant messenger, and hey, there's one built into Facebook if you wish to use it! I personally stick primarily to MSN, so if you want to war with me through that (I still have friends on my list from NaNo in 2006 I warred with daily), leave a comment here and I can send you my contact info.

This is a great way to boost your count quickly and might give you some new inspiration for how to deal with a section if you choose to use the theme (you need not, you can just continue writing for the wars). If you have teenaged characters like I do, any theme can fit what they're talking about. Just today in the lunch room with my friends we talked about the origins of "saved by the bell" and ended the period by singing "Gaston" from Beauty & the Beast. Nothing is really far out of the realm for us college students, and the same goes for many other age groups so long as you have a good group of friends to chat with! It's okay if your dialogue is ridiculous. Sometimes it even makes the characters more believable.

+ A tip to keep going and keep up with your word counts (though admittedly I am behind because of a late start, but catching up quickly) is to set up a goal/reward system with yourself. This is what has worked best for me this past week. Prior to NaNo's kickoff this year my internet was down for almost a full week. I generally watch my favorite television programs online, so I had missed a few episodes. I would tell myself "Okay Jez, write 1000 words and you can watch Grey's. Then after you write another 1000 words, you can watch Private Practice." I even made the amount of words relate to the amount of time I'd spend not writing when I was enjoying the reward part. 1000 words for 1 hour of television. 500 words for a half hour. Or I'd get to a certain milestone before I could write up a new blog post (such as this one, I just finished chapter 10 & went over 9000 words).

+ If you're going to procrastinate, find a way to make it work to your advantage. I can honestly check Facebook every half hour or so with a clear conscience because my characters spend so much of their lives in the digital world. A fair amount of my novel consists of wall posts, instant messages, and SMS texts. So, by seeing what everyone else is doing on Facebook, I'm really researching how my characters should talk, what kinds of typos they should make, and how they'll spend their time.

When I spent ten minutes reading Michael Wesch's blog post on a look back at his famous YouTube video, A Vision of Students Today, I was gathering a teacher's perspective on how children learn today, and how the school system limits learning. One of Delilah's favorite teachers, her choir director Mrs. Rembrandt, agrees with Wesch and I was able to use his ideas to my advantage, and make them fit the story.

With a little creativity any time-waster can be used in your novel. Maybe your character likes to avoid homework by playing fifty games of Tetris just like you do. Figure it out. Make it work. I could tell you not to procrastinate at all, but that would be stupid and hypocritical for me to do. You are a writer, you are going to procrastinate. It's part of who we are. So instead of avoiding the "meaningless" ways of procrastination, make it work for you!

+ And try a program like Word Counter if you're on a Mac, or an online widget for PCs to keep track of how far you are in your novel. If you see that you are 79% of where you need to be for the day (that's where I am now, I'm behind, remember?) it seems a lot less farther away than if you were to take out the calculator & figure out that you have another 2456 words to go until you're back on track for the month. Plus it's cool to watch it update in Word Counter, it makes me feel more accomplished for those 100 little words I wrote than if I had only barely increased my word count for the day.

+ Most importantly, don't give up. So you're 2456 words behind, so what? That's exactly where I am, and I'm not letting it bother me. There are 23 more days in the month. That's just 107 extra words a day, that's nothing! You can catch up in no time at all! It's only week 1, you've still got time. Don't give up now, just keep going and even if you don't win, you can come close. Then when NaNo09 rolls around, you'll know you can get to 40,000 words and 50,000 won't seem so scary. That's what I'm doing. In 2006 I made it to 25,000 words before my computer crashed. I knew that I could have made it that year, and because I made it at least halfway that year before I was cut off due to technical difficulties, I know that I can make it this year. And I think if you really try, you can too.

I leave you now with two quotes that I hope shall inspire you, or at the very least, you can use them in your novel about someone writing during NaNoWriMo (hey, it happens).

If writers stopped writing about what happened to them, then there would be a lot of empty pages.
Elaine Liner, We Got Naked, Now What, SXSW 2006

Please write again soon. Though my own life is filled with activity, letters encourage momentary escape into others lives and I come back to my own with greater contentment.
Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, 'A Woman of Independent Means'

Other helpful links: Maureen Johnson (accomplished writer of 6 YA books!) tells you how to survive NaNoWriMo. Involves lots of pretty pictures from old movies & witty observations.
Professor Michael Wesch's blog on Revisiting "A Vision of Students Today", which I mentioned above & used in my own novel.
The Quotation Page's Quotes of the Day. You can use these or use this site to search for quotes that pertain to your plot.

(Now, if I could write this whole blog post, a full 1448 words in twenty minutes, surely you can write 50,000 words in a whole month)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day!

I'd be a bad blogger if I didn't post about Election Day, especially since this is the first time I've voted. I didn't register in time for the last elections or primaries, but I was on top of it for the big presidential election! This was also the first time my younger sister could vote, having turned 18 only a month ago.

My dad stopped by my house and picked me up earlier this morning around 10:30 and we went off to the polls. There was no line at all. And I didn't need to show identification, just sign my name so they could match my signature. And I had my voting card & license all ready for them to check! Oh well.

I took my ballot, filled in the circles like it were a scantron, and then fed it into the machine. I was #152 of Precinct 16 in Will County. I think my dad is the only person to care about this number, but whatever.

I'm wearing my sticker with pride.

If you haven't voted yet today, and are registered, here's why you should vote:
1. You get a sticker. Everyone loves free stickers!
2. You can give the stub to your child or a neighbor's child so they can get extra credit in school. Or if you're in my PR class, you can bring it in to get extra credit for yourself
3. Starbucks will give you a free coffee if you show some proof you voted
4. Ben & Jerry's will give you free ice cream
5. If you don't, you have to deal with people saying "If you don't vote, you can't complain" for the next 4 years
6. It's a chance to be part of history without having to put forth much effort! You need not die in battle! You can be a part of history simply by voting!
7. It's the right thing to do.

Here's something else fun for all you voters, iTunes put up the Charlie Brown shorts of Linus for President for free.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Encouraging Reading, Part 2

My younger brother Joe just read Small Steps by Louis Sachar in less than a day. I just loaned him A Wrinkle in Time by Madeliene L'Engle, which I've been re-reading lately. I figure he'll finish before I get a chance to read it again (NaNo takes time!) so I let him have it tonight.

My brother never really was a reader, but suddenly he can't seem to get enough of books. He'll read a book every now & again, but they're usually for school. A great motivator for him though, is to see his friends read a book, or to convince him that it's the "cool" thing to do. (And btw, reading is cool)

Another great way is to find a book that he really loves, and this is usually the hardest part. His class is currently reading Holes in school, and he finished far before the class did because he liked it so much. This was only a few days before I went to see Louis Sachar at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL with my mum, so we brought him along. He seemed to really get into it and we bought him his own copy of Holes which he got signed. In his presentation Sachar mentioned Small Steps, which I had always seen around, but never knew the story of. Joe really wanted to read it, but we were already buying so much that night, we passed on it. The next week I bought one of the signed copies Anderson's had from the event. Then a few days after that my mom caught Joe reading my sister's copy of House by Ted Dekker, which she thought was too scary. To keep him from reading that, I presented my new, shiny copy of Small Steps, which he immediately devoured.

So, this just adds to my theory that all you need to do to get a child hooked on books, is to find that one right book for them. Holes is one I like to suggest, as is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (this one looks daunting, but it's half pictures & flip book! Kids love that). The other night a mother saw me looking through the children's books at the Sachar event and asked me to recommend a book for her daughter, and after talking to the woman I suggested The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by EL Konigsburg.

I think the problem is that most people don't pay attention to a child's unique interests enough to be able to pick out the right book. They'll suggest something new, or a best-seller, or maybe something they loved as a child. And sometimes these work, but some children are really stubborn and they need that exact right book for them, not for you. So talk to your child, find out what they want to read. My children's literature professor last year said that she's sometimes annoyed with the fact that all her son wants to read are Pokemon novelizations, but that she'd rather him read those than read nothing at all. If it gets them started reading, I agree with her. If they find something they love to read, they won't find books so boring or scary, and maybe they'll pick up another. And another. And another.

Just listening to your child is probably the best you can do in any situation, in my opinion anyway. I don't think parents always do that.

...Okay. Back to my NaNo, I promise. (I've written about 1700 words today so far)

NaNo08: Day 3

It's day 3, with 1722 words, and I've just found a new toy. But it's actually going to help me with my NaNoWriMo challenge!

See, I'm working on my new MacBook this year, and I didn't have a good way to count words. I did a quick Google search & came up with a neat little application called "Word Counter" by Super Magnus. I just downloaded it & I'm having a lot of fun with it. I can type my novel up in Word Counter (and back up in TextEdit) and it will count my words as I go along & displays them at the bottom of the screen. I set mine to update every 15 seconds so I wouldn't keep hitting "count" and loose time. And this way it shows me how far I have to go, and how far I've come. It's a great motivator!

Another thing I like is that it has a progress tracker where you can put in a goal of how many words you want & I'll update with a little progress bar & a percentage. Right now I'm at a measly 3%, but I'm looking to fix that tonight. And tomorrow is my day off, no school, no work (my only day off all week), so I should be able to get quite a lot done then!

Also, I set up a reward system for myself. For every thousand words I'll allow myself to watch one of the episodes of my favorite shows I've missed this week when my internet was down. As soon as I finish this section here, I get to watch Wolverine & the X-Men, a new cartoon I love (I'm a big comic geek, X-Men especially). And I'll still have Private Practice, Grey's Anatomy, & The Office to tempt me!

I'll update later with my word count at the end of the day. We'll see how far I can get in the next 6.5 hours!

NaNo: Day 2

I am so far behind on my NaNo. I have gotten some done, but that's only what I wrote in the first 20 minutes of day 1 before my computer's battery died, and what I wrote in my notebook on train rides to & from Chicago (I wish I had a picture to add to my "where to write" series). I have reasons for why I'm so far behind & why I haven't posted.

Why I'm behind: On Saturday I worked from 6:30-14:15, then I went directly to the train station. I met up with my good friend Karina there, who is from Missouri & was only in town for the one day. I hadn't seen her in 15 months, so it was fantastic to see her again! Then she had to leave, so I met up with two of my other friends who were coincidentally in the city on the same day. It worked out really well. We had to wait in line for 2 hours for pizza, but it was good pizza. Then we went to Navy Pier where I rode the big Ferris wheel for the first time (that particular one that is). Then the train ride home. One of them, my best friend Jen, stayed the night here so my mom wasn't so nervous about me taking the late train home by myself. In the morning we had to go to this strange church as part of my field trip requirement for my religion class. And she was here all day long. I did get a tiny bit of writing done in that time, but not much. Mostly I typed up what I had written on the train...and then I made my computer read it back to me. I didn't know it could do that. I had a little too much fun with that function. It's like the YouTube audio preview, but better!

Why I haven't posted: I can't remember if I mentioned this or not, but I've not had internet access for the majority of the week. And I was busy, as I said in the above explanation/excuse. But I'm posting now.

My review of Paper Towns will probably be up tomorrow, since it was in the school newspaper already (I like to wait until it's published). Until then, enjoy Lizz's awesome review of it in video form. And then you can watch the rest of the video wherein she interviews NerdFighters about what salad ingredient they would be. I'm the one who makes the very dorky comment about lettuce. The one right before me is Jen, and two after me is my sister Kayla.


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