Books

Choose Your Own Unreliable Narrator

We’re all biased, for we are all thinking, feeling beings with opinions and experiences all our own. This means that, no matter what we write, the nature of the text will always be slightly unreliable because what is presented through the text is a projection of our understanding of reality, not reality itself.

Now you can do your best to hide your bias and hide the unreliable nature of your text, or you can embrace it and choose to present your literary vision through a set of unreliable eyes.

There are a few different varieties of unreliable narrators used in text and some great examples out there in literature.

Humbert Humbert from Lolita

Lolita, if you haven’t read it, is a book with a charming, literary, intelligent, protagonist who tells the story of his love affair with a 12-year-old girl to justify the murder of her other lover. Let that sink in for a minute. The opening lines of the book illustrate just how seductive this unreliable narrator is:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Humbert Humbert’s command of language can sometimes mask his unreliable nature, but in the book the audience he is addressing with his tale is a jury that is trying him for murder. Humbert Humbert is being charming and displaying wit to literally try and get away with murder. When it comes to unreliable narrators, Humbert Humbert is a plain old liar, or an unreliable narrator that deliberately tells a skewed version of events that take place within the story. Humbert Humbert is most certainly twisting reality to serve his purpose of avoiding a conviction.


The Narrator from Fight Club

Fight Club‘s never-named narrator isn’t unreliable by choice. You see, he suffers from insomnia and, despite everything he tries like visiting doctors or joining support groups for diseases he doesn’t actually have, he cannot sleep. This lack of sleep creates a split personality and a disconnect from what is really taking place in the story that completely catches a reader off guard.

How To Read Russian Literature

There are a ton of great books out there that you should be reading that fall under the realm of Russian lit.

Like this one.

Or this one.

There’s this one too.

Can’t forget about this one.

Oh! And this one.

Okay, I’ll stop now. I just had to get this last one in.

Many people skip out on some really awesome and well-written stories because they are put off by Russian discourse because it isn’t as easy for a reader to follow as English discourse. Even when translated, there are a few mechanics of Russian literature that can make it difficult for someone unused to reading Russian literature to follow. But I do have a few tips to make reading these classics a bit more accessible.

2015: A Moviegoers Guide to Book-Based Movies in March and April

Read the book, watch the movie, or, if you’re like me, do both? With this guide, you can figure out which option you’d like to pursue.

Out March 13th, In The Heart of The Sea

If you like the tragedy of The Titanic (not to be mistaken for the love-centered movie Titanic) and the whale in Moby-Dick, then say hello to your new favorite book. This book is based on the story of the Essex crew, a ship that was captained by George Pollard Jr. and was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820. The story of the Essex is what actually inspired Herman Melville’s whale in Moby-Dick. Author Nathaniel Philbrick reconstructs the tragedy that happened to the ship along with the ordeal of the crewmen drifting at sea for over ninety days.


Out March 20th, Insurgent

This is the second book of the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth. War is going on in Chicago between the different factions. Tris, the main character, continues her story from where it left off in Divergent. This time she is faced with a story that pulls her through the world of grief, love, politics, loyalty, identity, and forgiveness.


Out March 27th, Serena

George and Serena Pemberton are newlyweds traveling from Boston to the North Carolina mountains in 1929. There, they hope to start an empire of lumber. Serena proves herself a strong woman – both in the lumber camps and out in the wilderness, finding herself at comfort in command of crews or killing rattle-snakes. The story turns dark once Serena realizes she can’t bare children, and her husband George has fathered an illegitimate child with another woman in camp before her arrival. Ron Rash’s story isn’t necessarily a happy one about a strong woman.


Fifty Shades of Conversation

While I have yet to and probably will never see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie nor read the books that inspired it, I am happy it has been written, has become popular, has been made into a movie, and has changed what is and isn’t taboo for the public to have a conversation about.

Literature is reflective of the society it is written in and can often point out uncomfortable truths about the world around us. Is Fifty Shades of Grey literature? I don’t want to get into that debate. I know the grammar is awful and it started off as Twilight fan fiction, but I’m not the ultimate authority on what and what isn’t literature nor do I know what future generations will think is great literature from our time.

“Here we see the inspiration for the greatest novel of the 21st century – the color grey.” – Some guy 1,000 years in the future.

What I do know is that Fifty Shades of Grey has started multiple conversations throughout multiple news sources, on multiple blogs, and even on multiple people’s Facebook pages related to women’s rights, affirmative consent versus coerced consent, BDSM, capitalism, and pornography. If Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t around, would these conversations be happening in the open? Would our society be looking at these issues?

I, at first, was wary of clicking on articles related to Fifty Shades of Grey because I had no interest in the story, but when I noticed a trend of critical societal examination in the titles, I started to click on articles and I was happily surprised.

Make Reading “Diverse” Authors The Goal, Not the Challenge

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed Staff member, Alexis Nedd, published a post called “My 2015 Reading List Includes Nothing Written By White Men.” According to Nedd, “After a long time reading books written by people in publishing’s privileged majority, I want to spend a year seeking some balance in the perspectives and voices I take in.”

Are white men overrepresented in almost every aspect of the publishing industry, as Nedd states? Sure. Male authors still produce about 75 percent of the work being published. And while men make up only 26 percent of the publishing workforce, 89 percent of that workforce identifies as white.

Putting those numbers in perspective, however, also means that there is a great deal of work being published by authors who are neither white or male. Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published). If even a quarter of those books are written by diverse authors—women and men of all shapes, colors, and backgrounds—then that’s still more books than one person can hope to read in a lifetime.

It’s hard to be critical of a personal commitment, like Nedd’s, that 1) gets people reading, 2) gets people talking, and 3) points readers to books that they may not have otherwise heard of. But my own bias is this: most of the books I read every year are written by women. That isn’t because the publishing industry shoves those books at me. It’s because I gravitate towards them, and I believe that’s how most readers are. Nicole, a fellow blogger, reads graphic novels because she wants to. And Tiffany reads YA because she wants to. Entire blogs are dedicated to specific genres because those are the types of books that audience can’t get enough of.

The Truth About Star-Crossed Lovers

According to Urban Dictionary, star-crossed lovers are two people who care immensely for each other, but due to their circumstances cannot be together.

Ah, to be young and in love, right? Wrong.
(Credit: RomanceEneternal.org)

For whatever reason, “star-crossed lovers” is a term that people seem to think means a very romantic, happily-ever-after, Disney-like kind of love. I’m going to go ahead and ruin it for all those who still think that: this kind of love is depressing and dark, often characterized by betrayal, rape, suicide, or death (my definition). Not so fun, huh? Still, these types of stories will probably help you feel a lot better about your own love life.

I should warn you that there will be some book spoilers, but I think they’re pretty obvious by now.


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

If you didn’t already know, they both die in the end. It’s a story of two teenagers who rushed into a relationship, and they couldn’t tell their families because of a rivalry between them. They made a plan to fake Juliet’s death and run away together, but it went awry; Romeo killed himself because he thought Juliet really had died. When she woke up, she killed herself too. Sure, there are a lot of lovey-dovey quotes that teenagers love to use, but if they were to actually read the play in its entirety, they would see the err of their ways. It’s not a happy story, kids.


Eternal love? Nope, sorry. Let’s just go die in WWII instead.
(Credit: KatieMovieBlog.wordpress.com)

Atonement by Ian McEwan

When Robby and Cecilia finally realize they are in love with each other, everything in their lives falls to pieces. The very night of their acknowledging one another’s love, Cecilia’s sister accuses Robby of raping Cecilia’s cousin. Instead of avoiding the problem by running away with Cecilia, Robby goes to prison. After prison, he goes to the front lines of World War II, where he dies of septicemia. Fun.


Harper Lee: Watchman, the Sequel That Took 50 Years

For years, Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird had been her only published work. Yesterday that all changed. Harper Lee announced a sequel to her no-longer one hit wonder, To Kill a Mockingbird called Go Set a Watchman.

In a previous post we explored how popular Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is. When Facebook compiled a popular status update, where people listed their top 10 favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird was number one.

This is the version I remember reading in high school.

So what does this actually mean, for you, the potential reader? Well, a few things.

Why I Thought Middle School Was a Nefarious Ploy to Abandon Children in the Wild

I read a lot as a kid. As I was entering junior high school, I had already finished all of the Goosebumps series of books and moved onto R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novels.

Beyond the watered-down horror, I had also finished all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books (reading through every adventure option, of course) at my local library, along with a handful of classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Black Beauty, and a whole slew of other books.

I read, and I read a lot, and I read for fun. When I entered junior high, the horror, fantasy, adventure, and whimsy all made way for a series of books about children stranded on islands and having to survive without adults.

Sounds fun, right?

Except, why now? I would ask myself. Why would we have to read three novels in a row with survival without adults as the central theme?

Is There Such A Thing As “The Great American Novel”?

I used to joke a lot about the “great American novel,” about how I’d like to write it. This was when I was younger and still thought such a thing existed.

Growing up, I read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Catcher in the Rye without even fully understanding them, but for their greatness. The fact that we still read them at all was a testament to that. And later, in college, the reading lists in my American Lit courses grew even denser and long. I read Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz—a different sort of America I’d never seen up close.

How can one book represent all of those authors’ Americas? How can they represent my own?

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, in a recent piece called “Why Are We Obsessed With the Great American Novel?”, wrote “America isn’t one story. It’s a layered and diverse array of identities, individual and collective, forged on contradictory realities that are imbued with and denied privilege and power.” In Strayed’s opinion, the “great American novel” is a collection of stories and voices, not just one shining emblem.

The Hobbit Movies: Adaptation Gone Mad or A Work of Art?

Part 3 of The Hobbit trilogy has finally come and practically gone, and I have to admit, I didn’t go and see it.

I’m a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, I’ve read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, his translation of Beowulf, and some of his criticisms, but I just didn’t have a strong desire to watch The Hobbit‘s final installment.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” One of the best opening lines to any children’s book.

While I’m not one that hates movie adaptations if they aren’t 100% true to the book, I feel that The Hobbit films suffered from overindulgence, or, that is to say, the movies really became more about Peter Jackson’s vision than the story itself.

I did see Part 1 and Part 2 of the trilogy, and I was underwhelmed. While the visual effects were fun, the story relied far too heavily on them and, at times, felt extremely long and drawn out for no other reason than to add more digital effects.

Missy Lacock, fellow writer in this blog, is more forgiving than I am of the adaptation of The Hobbit into three movies: