Thursday, February 7, 2013

Inside Out - "Book Review" #1

Having only just resumed the "blogging thing", I found myself at something of a loss regarding what to actually write about.  Not in the general sense, but in the specific.  Specifically, this, my first actual post. Last night's doesn't count - introductions are mandatory, it's what you write after that matters.

So here's something I was thinking about.

For my birthday, my sister bought me a box set of books by YA novelist John Green.  Perhaps this was meant to be some sort of bribe to cut down on the incessant tin whistling, but it was very much appreciated anyway as I am a big fan of his works.  I owned two of his books, Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars (three if you count his zombicorn novella), but now I owned ALL OF THEM.  Well, those works that are solely attributed to him, but that is an acceptable definition of all.  So I have begun reading the other two, An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska.

John's books all deal, to a varying extent, with loss.  Be it because of death, departure, dumpers, or the nigh-unstoppable globalization of manufacturing, it's in there somewhere.  Just as we ourselves must do when facing loss, the characters within must come to terms with this loss however they can.

However, this isn't what makes John's books interesting.  Sure, loss can be a gripping story element - it's difficult to imagine the Grapes of Wraith would have as great an impact if it hadn't been placed in the Great Depression, and it is equally difficult to imagine that Moby Dick would be as interesting a story if Captain Ahab hadn't been driven mad by his desire for revenge against the whale to whom he lost his leg.  ...When put like that, it almost sounds like they were playing poker together.  Unnecessary spoiler:  They weren't.

No, what makes them truly interesting books is the characters.  Only, not the main characters.  Be it the irreverent but likable Hassan, the troubled Alaska, or the Black-Santa-Besieged Radar, they all seem to be far more fascinating than the main character (I make an exception for Hazel, who I find holds her own the best of the narrators).  They seem to act as canvases upon whom the others paint their own stories, acting on their own only as a reaction to outside influence.  Pudge and Alaska; Colin and Hassan & Lindsey; Q and Margo. The stories are different, but this narrative framework holds true for them all.

While this may seem like a fault to some, this isn't the case.  The reason for this is not so much that the other characters ARE more fascinating than the narrators, but because that is how we often imagine others. As the narrators are only human, albeit fictional ones, they do so as well.

John Green is fond of talking about the need to imagine others complexly.   Often, when we look at others, we only see the surface things - those traits that they publicly display.  Other times, we attempt to shape them into what we think they should be, which are often reflections of ourselves.  If we assume that either of these are the total sum of who this person is, we are committing a great injustice because we fail to see them for who they truly are.  It is also unjust to ourselves, as we run the risk of comparing ourselves to something akin to an Ubermensch that we have made them into in our heads.  Colin makes this mistake when he assumes that Hassan is a sort of emotional Achilles, unaffected by anything that goes on around him (despite the dingleberries).

There probably isn't a human being on earth (at least, not one who isn't insufferably egotistical) who doesn't carry with them their own fears, insecurities, and secrets.  Some have less than others, some have more, but they all have them, and they are pieces of the puzzle that make up who they are, pieces we usually don't get to see.  If you were to ask them, and they opened up and told you, they probably wouldn't find themselves as fascinating as you do.  To them, they are just themselves.  To them, being excellent at, for example, pottery or writing or taking ideas and spinning them on their heads is just part of who they are.  In fact, they might find you more fascinating than you do.

It's all a matter of perspective - we spend our whole lives inside these little bubbles called our heads and it can be incredibly difficult to understand what is going on in the little bubbles of those around us.  It takes time and trust, both of which can be hard to obtain in sufficient measure.  Wouldn't it be helpful if sometimes to see ourselves as others do - just take our minds and turn them inside out?

~~ As you may have noticed, this isn't your typical book review (at least, not as I imagine them in my head... I haven't read all that many).  I don't have a problem with the typical format, I just personally wouldn't want to write that when I can see that there are better (aka more meaningful) things to discuss.  While it's important as a reviewer to write about what you felt while reading a book, it is equally valid to write about what you thought - either while reading or as a result thereof.  They might not be original - what I've said here has been said before, but it matters no less for it.

A lot of what I like to read doesn't lend itself to the sort of mental exercise that these books do, so there will be some more conventional reviews.  Later though, not tonight.  I think this post has gone on quite long enough, don't you?

Kevin says hello

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