Monday, July 14, 2014

We're Back! And Talking about What We've Been Reading

Hello Readers,
I hope you're all enjoying summer (well, at least those of you in the Northern Hemisphere!). These are definitely not "lazy, hazy days" for me. I spent much of our blogging break working on lesson plans for upcoming classes, including a children's writing camp that begins today. (If you'd like to see my summer class offerings, check out my website.)

Today I'm kicking off a series of posts in which we TeachingAuthors talk about a book we recently read or are currently reading. Thanks to the lovely Linda Baie over at TeacherDance, I know about a meme in the blogging community called "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" hosted at Teach Mentor Texts. I'm happy to have a blog post that qualifies for the roundup!

The book I'd like to discuss is John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton). Even though this bestseller has been out since 2012 and has been made into a "major motion picture," I didn't get around to reading it till this month. I might not have read it all if it hadn't been selected as one of our Anderson's Bookshop's Not for Kids Only Book Club titles for August.

I'm happy to say that even though I don't typically read or write contemporary young adult novels, I enjoyed this one. I was especially struck by two things right at the beginning:

A. The Author's Note:
In case you haven't read it (or somehow missed the page) the book includes an unusual Author's Note before Chapter One: 
Author’s Note
      This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
      Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
      I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
This note struck me for two reasons: 
  1. It reminded me of a question I'm often asked. Since my novel, Rosa, Sola, is based on events from my own childhood, readers often want to know how much of the novel "really happened." I think many who ask it are disappointed by my answer: None of it "really happened" because my life events happened to me, not to Rosa Bernardi. I don't think I could have written the story if I hadn't been able to separate myself from my character. 
  2. Green's note made me think more deeply about the nature of fiction and our purposes in reading/writing it. The note also reminded me of something I read years ago--that fiction is about Universal Truths, or "truth with a capital T." As a writer, I sometimes get so caught up in plot and craft, etc., that I can lose sight of the Truth.
If you'd like to read more about what Green meant by his Author's Note, see this page on his website.

B. That a story about cancer and death can be humorous:
From page one of The Fault in Our Stars, I was intrigued by the narrator's wit and voice. It begins:
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
I have to admit--after first reading this sentence I wasn't completely sure Hazel was being sarcastic. After all, this was a book about a girl with cancer. But it soon became apparent that cancer hadn't killed her sense of humor. That surprised me, as did other things about the book. I'm not going to risk spoiling it for those of you who haven't read the novel yet by telling you what those other things were. I'll just say that I enjoyed the book more than I expected. And, reading as a writer, I learned from it.

I wonder how many of you, our readers, have read Green's book. I'd love to know what you thought of it. And if you have any "summer reading" recommendations, do share them with us. 

Happy writing (and reading)!


Linda B said...

Hi Carmela, so happy to see your post & that you're all back! If you wish, you should add your link to the Teach Mentor Texts site so others will see it. Thanks for the mention.
Yes, I've read The Fault In Our Stars, was touched by the story, and although full of poignant moments of being ill, these teens were just like the teens I love, exuberant, jumping into life with such energy. John Green shows a story worth telling, that cancer is not everything about one's life! I'm happy you enjoyed it.

laurasalas said...

I'm always surprised when adults think all my poems are autobiographical. Making stuff up is a tricky business, especially when there's some portion of actual fact within a story or poem that is mostly made up. I'll admit I do love hearing authors talk and share that they based this character on their neighbor and this one on their 4th-grade teacher, etc. :>)

laurasalas said...

Oh--and I loved FAULT!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Linda. I was away teaching a writer's camp all morning. I've just added my link to the Roundup.
Laura, I always enjoy hearing about the people/places that inspire other authors, too. But I think there's a difference between writing from inspiration vs trying to capture "what really happened." :-)

Tara said...

This book was/is a sensation for good reasons - such a powerful story, and the characters were memorable.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for your comments, Tara. I agree about the characters--I'm still thinking about them!

Rosi said...

I LOVED TFIOS, loved the humor, the characters, the story, the writing, and was a hot mess by the time I finished it. Great book. If you are looking for something for summer, I would recommend Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It is fantastic.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Rosi. Our library has 26 copies of ORPHAN TRAIN but there are still 60 people on the waiting list for it. So it must be amazing!

GatheringBooks said...

Hi there Carmela. John Green is pretty much a hit-or-miss for me as I didn't particularly enjoy his Looking for Alaska. While I didn't read TFIOS, I watched the movie, and found myself enjoying it. I would most likely pick up the novel at one point. Thank you for sharing such a detailed review of it. :)

Carmela Martino said...

Hi Myra. I know some people loved LOOKING FOR ALASKA, but it didn't do much for me, either. Thanks for sharing your reaction to the movie version of TFIOS. I may have to break down and see it. If you read the book, I'd love to know what you think.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Carmela--I loved TFIOS and am inspired by the narrator--what a voice!

I am also inspired by the many classes you teach--I wish I lived nearer and could take them!