The Hate U Give

When I discovered The Hate U Give during its release last year, I thought to myself, “This book is going to resonate with readers and become very popular.” After 85 weeks on the NYT Bestseller List, millions of copies sold, and a movie adaptation released in theatres this week, it has become more than popular; it’s mainstream. Why? Because there are so many people around the world (and not just teens) who, like the book’s narrator, are experiencing varying forms of a political awakening.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a story of many stories. It’s a story about 16-year old Starr Carter struggling to exist between two worlds: her predominantly black neighbourhood of Garden Heights and the predominantly white suburban prep school she attends. It’s a story of her childhood best friend Khalil being brutally shot by a police officer unarmed. It’s a story of grief. It’s a story about systemic injustice. It’s a story about the realities of racism in America that persists today. It’s a story about finding your voice. And it’s a story about a community that struggles to come together against these injustices while trying to restrain their fury towards each other.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Its subject is timely, complex, and rendering. I loved how much the book focused on Starr and her family. Unlike many YA books where parents are either dead or absentee, Starr’s parents and extended family were not only consistently present but fleshed out. We not only know Momma and Daddy, but Starr’s older half-brother Seven, Uncle Carlos, Nana, and her younger brother Sekani. All of these relationships are dynamic and create a fully imagined community. Sure, Starr has a boyfriend and friends from school, but they stand on the periphery in the story. In the darkest and most tragic of circumstances, Starr’s loving family not only supported her, but empowered her too.

While this book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement it unapologetically tackles the question of what racism looks like in America today. Many may suggest that racism is a term of the past but this book argues otherwise. Racism may not have public lynchings or signs that segregate white Americans from African Americans like it was under the laws of Jim Crow, but the segregation that separates Starr’s communities allows the persistence of endemic oppression of African Americans to continue. Racism can look like Starr’s dad being ordered to lay down with his hands behind his back for having a loud conversation with his next-door neighbour Mr. Lewis. Or it can be more invisible such as Hailey unfollowing Starr’s Tumblr account because she didn’t want to see “gross images” of Emmett Till on her dashboard. While this book doesn’t attempt to solve the problem of racism (that’s way too big a task) it does paint a complex picture of what racism looks like in America in 2017. Its picture has heavy strokes of blatant racism, tones of invisible racism, white privilege, systemic oppression, and even reverse-racism in the background.

While this book has a tragic beginning, it ends on an impassioned and empowering note. As Starr is politically awakened, she is empowered to use her voice to stand up for her community. In these perilous times we live in, Starr sets a great example of becoming an advocate even when the system always fails you. And that’s why in the Parthenon of young adult literature, Starr will continue to shine on and off the page.

— Eleni Z.

Why NANOWRIMO?

Have you ever had a story idea that’s been floating around in your head but you didn’t have the time to write it? Well look no further. November is just around the corner, which means you are just in time to finally get that novel out from your head and onto the page. How? NANOWRIMO.

NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month. On July 21st 1999, NANOWRIMO was launched by a group of freelance writers in the San Francisco Bay area who sought to find a solution for finishing the first draft of their novels. Their solution? Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. In the following years, NANOWRIMO has become a global writing event where thousands of writers from around the world use this month to write the stories they’ve wanted to tell. No experience required.

Now, I signed up for NANOWRIMO for the first-time last November and I didn’t “win”. Reaching 50,000 words for the projects I was working on was very unlikely since I was attempting to write short stories. For most, winning NANOWRIMO isn’t about reaching that word count. Winning NANOWRIMO means dedicating yourself to write a story no matter how many words you end of producing. Whether you finish or not does not determine if you win. Daring to commit and try to write for the month is a win in itself.

So why NANOWRIMO? You may argue that you don’t have the time. You may be overwhelmed with the prospect of writing 50,000 words. You may have never written a creative piece in your life and don’t know where to start. But I’ll tell you where to start. Create your account and declare your writing project. You not only can track your progress with your account throughout and beyond the month of November, but you will be joining a community of writers from near and far that you can lean on and learn from. The Kitchener-Waterloo region has its own chapter with liaisons that plan events throughout the month. You can access the Google calendar by joining the chapter with your account. In fact, WPL has a series of writing programs this October and November that writers can look to during NANOWRIMO.

NANOWRIMO is a challenge. There will be days where you’re flying high and days where you will get stuck. Its stern deadline will help you put words on a page for a story you otherwise wouldn’t have written. Yet it’s a challenge that helps us learn about who we are and what we care about through the storyteller in all of us.

Dare to try? Check out nanowrimo.org and the WPL’s programs for writers and aspiring writers to explore the writer in all of us.

— Eleni Z.

Book vs. Movie

Can a movie be better than the book? The Case of Ready Player One

With adaptations now common in the film world, readers have been proven time and time again that a movie adaptation can never be as good as the book. It’s a notion that had good reason. Books have more time to develop storylines, characters, and a world. Books invite readers on a personal journey with the characters and whatever they imagine is the true story. I’ve been a proponent of agreeing that books are ‘better’ than movies over the years, but I’ve started to question if this notion should be absolute. Can a movie be better than the book? In some cases, I think that yes, yes it can.

After my friend’s encouragement, I read the book Ready Player One by Ernst Cline. Now, I must preface that I’m not the target audience for this book. I didn’t grow up in the 80s, I’m not well versed in fan culture, and I’m not a teenage boy. As Cline described, this book is, “… a love letter to geek culture.” That letter certainly is not addressed to me. Regardless, I read the story for the adventure.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set in the year 2044 where reality is a really ugly place. Eighteen-year-old Wade Watts finds an escape in the virtual utopia called the OASIS. When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, the late OASIS creator dedicates his entire will and inheritance to whoever can pass three very difficult tasks that will lead to uncovering an Easter egg. A global mad hunt ensues to find this egg, a lottery ticket, that is concealed in the virtual world.

I finished the book and didn’t quite understand the hype for it. One of the main reasons I didn’t care for the book was the writing style. For the first 100 pages, Wade tells the reader how everything works in the world. There is no room for the reader to uncover the clues along with Wade, as he breaks down every detail and feeds it to you. Where’s the adventure in that? Beyond the 80s references, the story was a fairy tale treasure hunt where plot conveniences, flat characters, and wish fulfillment didn’t add up to a great story that was promised.

Despite my problems with the book, I went to see the movie. I had faith that Steven Spielberg’s direction would make for a fun movie, and I was interested to see how he handled the more problematic aspects of the book. I went with the friend who initially recommended the book, and we both came to the same conclusion when we left the theatre together. The movie was better than the book.

How could that be? The book was rich with allusions and world building details. It was a love letter to geek culture. How is it that both the person who liked the book and didn’t like the book come to the same conclusion?

I have a theory why. This book dealt with virtual reality, an inherently visual concept. What better platform is there to showcase a virtual reality story than a movie where there are not only words on a page (the script), but music, sound, and grand visuals that dazzle us. It brought the story to life in a way that didn’t translate in the book for me. It was easier to show us the world as Wade walked through each scene and all the details in the book existed around him. Beyond that, Spielberg has a deep understanding of what stands as the epitome of geek culture: The Eater Egg. Everything thematically and narratively revolves around this. It gave a focus and coherence to the narrative that wasn’t present in the book. Not only could someone who understood all of the 80s references like my friend enjoy it, but someone who didn’t like me. Additionally, the secondary characters are given more agency in the movie, which led this tale to be the action-packed adventure that I had wanted the book to be.

It now makes me wonder about the nature of adaptations. Can they not only bring a beloved book to life, but a story that is more suited for the screen? While everyone can have a preferred platform in which stories are told, I can no longer say whether a book is better than a movie. Instead, the question I ask myself is: does this story work better as a book or movie?  With Ready Player One, I believe it’s a story that is perfect for the screen.

Are there any stories that you’ve encountered that work better as a movie than they did as the book? Decide for yourself if Ready Player One is a better suited for a book or movie by checking them out from WPL collection.

— Eleni Z.

Conquering Writer’s Block

A Guide to Canada’s Literary Festivals in Southwestern Ontario

Writing is hard. Whether you’re writing a short story, poem, or even a personal letter, it’s easy to find yourself uninspired, stuck, or at a loss for words. What’s a writer to do?

One of the more common pieces of advice would be to go out in the world and find inspiration. It can come from the most unlikely of places, but that requires lots of waiting and patience. Any form of waiting won’t help you put more words on the page, so I want to suggest an alternative.

Nothing incites the buzzing of creativity and inspiration quite like being surrounded by fellow writers talking about the craft. Fortunately, Canada’s literary scene is buzzing with a variety of festivals all over the country but especially in our own backyard. These festivals are a great place to hone your craft, meet new people, and hear prominent voices share their advice and writing experiences.

Here is just a sample of the literary festivals coming up this fall in Southwestern Ontario:

1. Eden Mills Writers Festival
Located in Eden Mills, this festival highlights author readings from a mix of Canada’s finest writers and emerging talents.
When: Sept 7-9 2018

2. The Word on the Street
Located in Toronto, this festival is a celebration of reading and writing from Canadian authors while featuring a marketplace of Canadian books and magazines.
When: Sept 23, 2018

3. Kingston Writer’s Fest
This festival features readings, conversations, and performances that aims to foster literacy and creative writing skills for people of all ages.
When: Sept 26-30 2018

4. Stratford Writers Festival
Set in Stratford, this festival brings hundreds of readers and writers together to participate in panels discussions, educational workshops, and literary lunches.
When: Oct 12-22 2018

5. BookFest Windsor
Taking place in Windsor, writers and readers come together with a book fair that includes panels, discussions, readings, and meet-and-greets with authors.
When: Oct 17-21 2018

6. Toronto International Festival of Authors
This festival features Canadian and International authors with interviews, panel discussions, readings, and other interactive presentations.
When: Oct 18-28 2018

7. Appetite for Words Festival
This festival, a partnership between the Stratford Writers Festival and the Stratford Chefs School, features authors who have written about food in their novels.
When: Oct 25-28 2018

8. TNQ’s Wild Writer’s Festival
Located in our very own backyard, the Wild Writer’s Festival is run by The New Quarterly Magazine and brings writers and readers together through panel discussions, workshops, and a relaxed literary brunch.
When: Nov 2-4 2018

Instead of waiting for a mood change, take the initiative to surround yourself with fellow creatives. If you want to learn more about these festivals, follow the links on this list. I’ll leave you with a quote from Louis L’Amour that hopefully inspires any project you may be working on.

“Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Happy writing!

— Eleni Z.

Back to Reading

A List of Classics You May Have Missed from your Childhood

Ever since I finished my formal education, September has been an odd month. Gone are the days that September connotated a new beginning with new timetables, assignments, and renewed optimism. Now that I’m out of school, I find myself with plenty of free time after work, time that I can finally devote to reading what I want to read rather than what I need to study. It’s liberating, but it can be a bit overwhelming. When I try to determine what I feel like reading, I am left asking myself: Where do I start?

I did what any diligent bookworm would do. I went on Goodreads and consulted my TBR (To Be Read) list. I saw books of all genres from fiction to non-fiction, mystery to historical fiction, but what I noticed at the beginning of my list were children’s books. And then I remembered why I started this TBR list in the first place. I wanted to record a list of children’s classics that I missed during my childhood. Some titles included Inkheart, Maniac Magee, Julie of the Wolves, and Stuart Little. The list was long, and I thought to myself, why not start with these books?

There’s something to be said for reading a children’s story as an adult. Children’s stories can remind us of our youthful wonder, a freeness to experience the fullness of our vulnerability and innocence while asking life’s greatest questions. It’s never too late to read a children’s book. It shouldn’t be taboo either.

WPL’s children’s collection offers a variety of old and new favourites to revisit or discover. Here are a few books that I’ve revisited and enjoyed as an adult recently:

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Twelve-year-old Jonas is living in a seemingly ideal world until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memories. During his training, he begins to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community. Lowry has continued this series with three other books: Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son.

2. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
After Cole’s anger erupts into violence, he agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative that is based on the Native American Circle of Justice to avoid going to juvenile prison. Cole is sent to a remote Alaskan island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life. This gripping and graphic survival story offers a poignant testimony to the power of pain that can destroy and may also heal.

3. Holes by Louis Sacchar
What begins as a family curse becomes an inevitability for Stanley Yelnats the Fourth as he is unjustly sent to Camp Green Lake where the Warden makes boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging a five-foot-wide by five-foot-deep hole. Holes is a deceptively complex mystery that questions fate, luck, and redemption all while being rolled into a multi-generational fairy tale.

4. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
When 10-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles upon the Tuck family’s secret, she learns that drinking from a magic spring could doom or bless her with eternal life. The Tuck family takes Winnie away for a couple days to explain why living forever is less a blessing then it may seem. This slim novel packed with vivid imagery will leave you asking: would you want to live forever?

5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
This thirteen-book series follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in the aftermath of their parent’s death in a fire. The Baudelaire’s are placed in the care of Count Olaf, a relative, who orchestrates numerous disasters that they must flee from. While the books offer a dark and mysterious tone, they are both clever and full of literary allusions, dark humour, and sarcastic storytelling that would be an excellent revisit or introduction for adults.

There are countless more classic children’s books that can be enjoyed by readers of any age. Are there any books from your childhood that you always wanted to read but never got around to? Check out the WPL Catalogue and/or the shelves at your local branch. You’ll never know what magical wonder you may find.

— Eleni Z.

Catching #FerranteFever

As long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve never had a favourite author. Sure, I’ve loved a variety of books and book series and even went on to study literature in university, but any time someone asked me who my favourite author was, I’d draw a blank. There were too many stories to read, and I never found an author’s biography I wanted to read from start to finish.

Until now.

You may have heard of this author. Her name is Elena Ferrante, and she is the pseudonymous Italian novelist most notable for a four-volume series beginning with My Brilliant Friend. It is a rich and intense story of two friends, Elena and Lila, who grow up in a working-class neighbourhood in Naples after the second world war. The subsequent volumes The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child continue their story from childhood to maturity while witnessing a city and country that is transforming in ways that transform their friendship.

Ever since I caught #FerranteFever, I’ve wondered what makes Ferrante different from all of the other authors I’ve read.  I’ve discovered that falling in love with a book requires a special kinship with its author. The author knows nothing about you, and yet you feel like your most intimate self is understood. That is precisely how I feel when reading Ferrante’s books. The intimate self that I understood in My Brilliant Friend is shown through the interdependence of Elena and Lila’s friendship. Not only does Elena, the narrator, tell us how interdependent she is to Lila, but we simultaneously see how this interdependence is rendered. There lies the truth about the complex and contradictory emotional nature of female friendships.

Make no mistake, these books are addicting. Once I turned the first page, I was lost, and was practically unreachable in our world. I didn’t want to stop. By the third volume, I smartened up and cleared my schedule for a few days to ensure I had no distractions that would take me away from the book. There’s something about Ferrante’s writing that involves you with the action of the story, and I felt affected by Elena and Lila’s experiences.

My Brilliant Friend has been translated and published in 48 countries making it a literary phenomenon. It has become so popular that HBO is partnering with an Italian film company to adapt the 4-volume story into a 32-episode series. It is set to premier at the Venice Film Festival this month, and the first season will premiere on HBO in October. I’ve never been so excited for an adaptation, subtitles and all!

I highly implore everyone to lose and find themselves in Ferrante’s novels. It’s a turbulent and affecting experience that leaves you with a satisfying ache of finishing a story you don’t want to leave, yet you can’t stop thinking about. But if you’re like me, you may just find your new favourite author.

— Eleni Z.