Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

In the first half of the novel, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer feeds the reader a wide variety of emotions as a child deals with internal grief and pain. The book centers on Oskar, a nine-year-old who fights to find closure after his dad was killed during 9/11

Using a mix of unique first-person perspectives, the author is able to convey the suffering of three different people. The main narrator as well as character, Oskar Schell, leads the novel with the innocence of a child dealing with grief. Oskar’s lack of understanding and naivety throws other characters for a loop as they are confronted with their pain and loss. Oskar scours San Francisco in search of a Mr./Mrs. Black who may inform him of the purpose of a secret key Oskar had found in his deceased father’s drawer. His upfront conversations with other characters reveal grief hidden in the past uprooted by his blatant inquires. Additionally, diaries and letters were written by Oskar’s two grandparents that demonstrate the challenge of moving on from loss and starting anew. Throughout the novel, dated memos and diary entries inform the reader of past loss as they immigrate to America after the bombing of Dresden, Germany in World War 2. Emotional logs tell the tale of orphans immigrating to New York as they remorse memories of their fallen family members. Their perspectives strengthen the atmosphere as they look back at their life choices and explain their regret to their grandchild. Along with Oskar’s innocence and search for closure, their testimonies contribute to the depressing mood of the novel.

 

However, while the viewpoints make for a grief-stricken attitude, Oskar’s imagination leaves the reader in awe. While they may have an underlying remorseful tone, Oskar’s made up inventions summarize his brilliance and creativity. Some of his productions have included musical teakettles that mimic a loved one’s voice, synchronized heartbeat bracelets that match with a soulmate, and a birdseed shirt that would allow people to float to the Earth via hungry birds. All of these inventions contribute to his overall identity as he relies on his imagination more. Overall, I look forward to reading the second half and continuing the narrative of the Schells.

 

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Part 3 and 4 of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The struggle for power continues as William repeatedly attempts to disrupt and end construction of Tom’s cathedral. In addition to this, new characters and plots are introduced and developed:

Tom remarries after his wife dies from giving birth. His new wife, Ellen, has a son from a previous relationship named Jack. Tom’s son from his earlier marriage is named Alfred. A rivalry forms between the two when they both would like to marry Aliena after working on the cathedral together. Again, Follett’s use of characterization effectively creates a clear sense of which character is the protagonist and which the an antagonist. This is shown when Aliena, already established as a “good” character, favors Jack. Although Jack may be less authoritative than Alfred, his kindness and sensitivity fits the needs of Aliena when having the duty of supporting her brother. Also, Follett chooses to victimize Jack in several instances, one being when he gets into a fight with Alfred regarding his deceased father. Throughout the fight, Alfred is described in an inferior way, such as when Follet says, “Jack’s forehead smashed into his mouth. Jack was two or three inches shorter and a lot lighter,” and “Jack got out of the way and stood watching, feeling stunned and helpless.” (566). This victimization and focus on Jack allows the reader to sympathize with him, further developing him as the protagonist.

A theme that was prevalent in these sections was the importance of having hope. The protagonists consistently face conflicts that leave them in a poor state with almost nothing to do. Many of these troubles are not resolved (and I am expecting them to be in the next couple of sections), but the characters still have a positive outlook, making sure to find ways in which they can compromise, adapt, and ideally succeed.

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The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Starting out like a journal, this story is told by the narrator himself, Holden Caulfield who is a sixteen year old junior who has just been expelled for academic failure from a school called Pencey Prep. He is an intelligent, sensitive and yet jaded character who is trying to protect himself from the disappointment of the adult world. Holden’s character as well as how he acted towards his own situation really captivated me. He used a lot of alienation as a form of protection. He advertised his own uniqueness and used his isolation as proof that he is better than everyone else around him and therefore above interacting with them when the truth was interacting with others just overwhelmed him.

I found it interesting that Holden has yet to actually address his own feelings in the first half of this book. He also never tries to find the source of his troubles. For example, instead of confessing to his family that he was expelled from another school, he decides to stay in New York until he has to return to his family.

The way Holden interacts with other characters is really something to read about. He silently gauges their moods and if he’s bored, he’ll provoke or poke at them for fun. The way he is a black and white yet gray character makes me really have to think about him.

I have not read about a character like this before so I find it interesting. Though the pace of the first half seems a bit unorganized and too slow or too fast at times, I feel like that is really adding onto the charm of this story so far. I hope something more exciting happens in the second half of the story.

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David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

I decided to read another novel by Malcolm Gladwell for my independent reading book because the first one that I read was a totally new type of book to me, and I loved it. The first half of David and Goliath strongly resembles Outliers in its structure. David and Goliath uses the same scientific procedure that Gladwell used to make all of his other books successful. First, he states a hypothesis about a group or situation, such as the face off between David and Goliath. Next, he proves the hypothesis by citing numerous studies and engaging anecdotal evidence that he uniquely analyzes. This systematic writing style is effective because the reader knows that they will receive a quality, informative story each time they pick up a Gladwell novel. Another unique aspect about Gladwell stories is that he writes as if he personally knows every subject that he references. Just like the cover of the book, Gladwell’s writing style is simple yet sophisticated. One final thing that I enjoyed about Gladwell’s writing style was his use of a multitude of footnotes. The footnotes help to elaborate on a topic or study without distracting the reader from the argument at hand.
One argument that I found especially compelling was a warning about the highest tier colleges. “Sacks was taking organic chemistry at an extraordinarily competitive and academically rigorous university. If you were to rank all the students in the world who are taking organic chemistry, Sacks would probably be in the 99th percentile. But the problem was, Sacks wasn’t comparing herself to all the students in the world taking Organic Chemistry. She was comparing herself to her fellow students at Brown. She was a Little Fish in one of the deepest and most competitive ponds in the country – and the experience of comparing herself to all the other brilliant fish shattered her confidence” (Gladwell 77). Gladwell makes an interesting point here that I have experienced many times in my academic career. For example, when I was in a math class last year with the smartest people in my grade it was more difficult to keep up and score well on tests because I wasn’t as confident about my math skills as I am in my math class now. My math class this year is made up of mostly sophomores and juniors who aren’t nearly as skilled mathematicians as everyone from last year was, which makes me feel a lot smarter. At least for me, that confidence translates into success, because I am doing much better in math this year than last. The following quote sums up why you might want to think twice before enrolling in the most prestigious university: “The overwhelming majority of Hartwick All-Stars get what they want and end up as engineers or biologists. Meanwhile, the Harvard Dregs – who go to the far more prestigious school – are so demoralized by their experience that many of them drop out of science entirely and transfer to some non-science major. The Harvard Dregs are Little Fish in a Very Big and Scary Pond. The Hartwick All-Stars are Big Fish in a Very Welcoming Small Pond. What matters, in determining the likelihood of getting a science degree, is not just how smart you are. It’s how smart you feel relative to the other people in your classroom” (Gladwell 84).
Gladwell also shares a controversial opinion of his on affirmative action: “Affirmative action is practiced most aggressively in law schools, where black students are routinely offered positions in schools one tier higher than they would otherwise be able to attend. The result? According to the law professor Richard Sander, more than half of all African-American law students in the United States – 51.6 percent – are in the bottom 10 percent of their law school class and almost three-quarters fall in the bottom 20 percent” (Gladwell 92). Rather than helping disadvantaged students, affirmative action appears to be hurting them (at least in his opinion/ this instance). Similar to the story of Caroline Sacks, students who learn in a highly competitive school can become demoralized and frustrated by everyone around them who is able to grasp the material much quicker than they are able to. I am not as naive towards a highly touted college after reading this section.
I ran out of clichés to end these blogs with so I’ll just remind anyone who is reading this that David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is very informative.

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6 Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly Part 1 Kyle T

 

The Six Sacred Stones follows the adventures of  a small team of close friends as they out maneuver treacherous traps in the tombs of ancient civilizations and powerful greedy bad guys in another action packed but stereotypical novel.  The action starts immediately of course with Jack (the main Indiana Jones like character) and his adopted daughter Lily’s (a 12 year old who can magically read an ancient language) house gets seiged by the Chinese Army. Predictably they miraculously escaped without a scratch. Mean while Jacks friend who goes by the code name Wizard is also attacked on an archaeological mission although Wizard is not so lucky and is captured. The most evident strength of this author is without a doubt is his ability to maintain constant action. However because of this most aspects that would usually make a book good like character development or anything that requires a real conversation between two people is left out. In my opinion this takes a lot out of the book as it’s just like watching a movie that just has cool explosions. In a few brief pages the team is assembled but their a few suspicious members who might have a different motive than saving the world. As the plot unfolds the characters realize they have to find some ancient stones and place them at historic places  around the world. I admire the authors ability to tie in almost every “stone” item in history, as the team starts with gaining knowledge from stonehenge they chase stones like the philosopher’s stone, the tablet with the ten commandments

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Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard: 1/2

Red Queen so far has been a book that has covered many different genres: fantasy, humor, suspense, and thriller. I believe that the combination of many genres creates characters that are relatable, helping to advance the overall quality of the novel. The book follows the story of Mare Barrow, a peasant-born Red who lives under the Silvers with god-like powers that rule the country. Her fate leads her to the royal palace, where in front of the king, she discovers that she has a Silver ability, despite not being a Silver herself. The struggle for the oppressed Reds has been a story of survival that I have immensely enjoyed following.

One of the things that Mare struggles with in her new life filled with fear is that she is changing. Her morals have been stripped away from her and pushed aside. Surviving is more important to her at this point, and even just glimpsing a small amount of power, she feels that, “A few hours of silk and royalty have already changed me” (112). Throughout the first half of the novel, Mare’s stubbornness is highlighted.

There is an uncanny amount of thoughts in Mare’s mind that she does not say out loud, and one of the more sarcastic ones is “How thoughtful. He’s given me a kind jailer” (90). Growing up in the lower class has taught her to hold her tongue and to think before she speaks. Many of the thoughts that she has would definitely get her killed in certain situations, but she is silent. This silence symbolizes that the lower class Reds do not have a say in their well being, but when Mare (the Red Queen) gains a voice in the kingdom, people rally behind her. This creates unrest within the Silver communities, even though they supposedly hold all of the power over the rebels.

Aveyard’s ability to create suspense is represented by the other characters, especially the royal family. They are the only ones who know her secret, and they could just one day choose to reveal it to the world, or to just kill her. They have all of the power to crush the rebellion, but they haven’t acted yet. I find it interesting that the same quotes are repeated. Three stand out to me, which are “Anybody can betray anyone”, “Rise, rise as red as the dawn”, and “Strength and power”. The first quote is certainly foreshadowing, and I can’t wait to see who betrays who. Meanwhile, the second quote is describing the Red Guard, which are the rebels. The repetition may point to the fact that they may try to overthrow the Silvers, and the “dawn” may be the beginning of a new age for the country. However, with all of the power the Silvers have, political as well as supernatural, it seems like the Red Guard may be doomed. “Strength and power” is the motto for the Silvers, but I predict that the power they have may be limited somehow by the end of the novel.

I have to say that I am very excited for the conclusion of the novel. Aveyard’s writing style has captivated me and I am sure that the second half will fulfill my high expectations.

 

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“Brain on Fire” by Susannah Cahalan

So far, “Brain on Fire,” has been unlike any book I have ever read. It is a memoir that tells the story of a terrifying experience in the life of Susannah Cahalan. One day, Susannah became paranoid, confused, and angry for seemingly no reason. Her brain seemed to stop working. Little did she know, her symptoms would escalate and eventually place her in a hospital bed. Her terrific memoir has so far been an interesting and exciting read, and I have been unable to put the book down.

Susannah is a journalist for the New York Post, so it is understandable that her memoir is written so well. So far, she has done a great job of narrating her own story while also teaching the reader about the brain, body, and her rare symptoms. Not only have I been entranced by her personal experience, but I have also found myself extremely interested in what I have learned. For anyone who is interested in psychology or the medical field, I greatly recommend this book.

The author’s impressive writing style has kept me turning pages throughout the whole first half of the memoir. Her use of foreshadowing especially has captivated me and encouraged me to keep reading. For example, after initially explaining her strange symptoms and habits, she ends the chapter with: “The doctors don’t actually know how it began for me. What’s clear is that if that man had sneezed on you, you’d most likely just get a cold. For me, it flipped my universe upside down and very nearly sent me to an asylum for life” (Cahalan 9). Susannah includes interesting foreshadowing like this all throughout her writing. It is effective in keeping the reader engaged. Also, I enjoyed Susannah’s inclusion of “you.” I have become so used to formal literature that it is nice to read a more personal form of writing.

Overall, Susannah’s incorporation of her personal story and interesting information has kept me on the edge of my seat. Paired with her foreshadowing, “Brain on Fire” has been impossible to put down. I am excited to continue the book, as I am almost sure it will be just as good or better than the first half.

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