Thoughts About Young Adult Fiction

As someone who was already seriously hooked up on fiction well before 1997, I have never read any of the Harry Potter books. I haven’t actually read almost anything that may be classified as young adult fiction. “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mocking Bird” are the closest I ever got to the genre. By the time the Harry Potter mania took the world by storm, I wasn’t attracted to the idea at all. I have never read Tolkien, Frank Herbert, or Terry Pratchett, not to mention the “Twilight” series.

I’m not quite sure why I avoided these names over the years (except for “Twilight”, of course, you wouldn’t catch me dead anywhere near a book about vampires). I guess I was too old for stuff involving too much magic to read Harry Potter. As for the rest, I have never been too attracted to fantasy/Sci-Fi, so it simply didn’t happen.

Last year I thought I should see what the fuss is all about some of the new names in YA fiction, particularly because I got fed up with the cliche that teens fiction is not just for teens anymore. So I read the first volume of the “Hunger Games“, which I found rather interesting in its plot, but badly written. I get it the book is meant to be read by kids/teens, but the language was so simple it was borderline insulting. I managed to finish it, but couldn’t be bothered to read the next two books.

After a while, I decided to give Stephen Chbosky a try, and I’m glad I did. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was surprisingly one of the best coming of age stories I have ever read. I actually think it held its own in front of Salinger and Harper Lee. I particularly enjoyed the epistolary style, as well as the way Chbosky penned his main character, Charlie, as an introverted teenager who thinks and feels beyond his years. The book references in the text are also quite clever, and the music references bring an invisible soundtrack to the novel, creating something you can almost hear while turning the pages. This book convinced me that some of the books that appear on a YA top list are actually worth considering even if you are closer to 30 than to 16.

Tom Waits and the Rediscovery of Music

Tom Waits b/n

Tom Waits b/n (Photo credit: Barakattack)

Just like in many other aspects of my life, I have been stuck into a routine when it comes to music. I have actually listened to the same songs since forever and I haven’t had a musical revelation in years. My musical taste is a bit eclectic, but some things that never miss from my playlists are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Patti Smith, Edith Piaf and classical stuff. I like many other things, but these names have been a constant soundtrack to my life.

Last year I made perhaps the most stunning musical discovery in the form of Tom Waits. I’m actually baffled I hadn’t heard of him before, since Spotify and Last.fm seem to recommend him as similar to Cohen and Dylan all the time. This goes to show the range of my musical illiteracy.

I have indeed found many similarities between Waits’ music and the songs of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and just like them, Waits is above all a poet. His lyrics are incredibly well-crafted and convey a brutal raw emotion that lingers after the tune is over. Even though most of Waits’ songs are dark and melancholic, they don’t invite to depression and hopelessness as many of Cohen’s do, and I found myself inspired whenever I listened to them. Waits has the most perfect rugged voice I have ever heard. Even though it sometimes resembles a grater and it takes a while to get used to it, you can get really hooked to it. The only thing I don’t like about Waits is that for some reason he makes me want to get drunk most of the times.

Waits considers Charles Bukowski a major influence and some of his recurring motifs are related to loneliness, dark places, sadness, and separations. I like Bukowski, so maybe that’s why Waits got to my heart so quickly. I do not have a favourite Waits album, and I do what I do with all of my favourite artists: press play and enjoy them all. I have listened to most of his stuff on Spotify, and I think his most stunning piece is “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen), also referred to as “Waltzing Matilda” because of the chorus. The opening track on “Small Change” (1976), this song is truly haunting and it summarises perfectly what Waits is about.

The second one is about books

I’ve recently come to realise I have so much catch up to do with fiction it’s scary. To give you an idea, I have yet to read some of the most talked-about books of the last years. “The Book Thief”, “Wolf Hall”, “1Q84”, “White Teeth”, “Solar” are just some of the titles gathering dust on my Goodreads to-read shelf since forever. I have never been what you would call a mainstream reader, but the state I’m in is truly appalling.

Before I hit 20, I was mainly into classics. By the time I was 18 or so, I had read so much Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Henry James, Hugo, the Bronte Sisters, Goethe, Fitzgerald, and so on there were few good titles actually left in that area. Not to mention the “original” classics in the form of ancient Greek and Roman authors. So I decided to branch out a bit and started dipping into the 20th century literature. A whole new world opened before me and the possibilities became endless. I began devouring Marquez, Rushdie, Ishiguro, Sartre, Cunningham, Nabokov, Orwell, Bulgakov, Murakami, and the likes. Life got brutally in the way at some point and I found myself downsizing from two or three books a week to two books a month, if that.

I’m now approaching 30 at a fast pace and even though I played catch up with a number of books and remained somewhat connected to what was new and worthy of reading, I still haven’t managed to return to the two to three books per week mark. The good thing though is that there are no longer things in my life that prevent me from reading as much as I want, so I’ve decided that from now on, there is only one reason for not reading constantly, and that is pure laziness. So I am currently  in the process of brushing up my Goodreads account, which I’ve always considered a splendid idea, but never got round to actually use it. When I was younger, I always had to-read lists  somewhere on my desk and I would have killed for something like Goodreads, by the way.

And since it’s sharing time, one of the things I actually regret not doing is keeping a book log or journal of some sort over the years. There are so many books I loved, books that inspired me, books that I was jealous I wasn’t the author of, but when I think about them, I can only remember the way I felt reading them, not the actual story. This is truly frustrating for me, as I have revolved most of my life around books and I’ve got nothing to show for it. If book-blogging were a thing 15 years ago, I would have probably been on top of it. But I’m starting now. I’ll try to document the books I read in a way that will make me remember them 20 years from now. I am currently reading Alice Munro’s “Dear Life” and hopefully I’ll come up with a review in a couple of days.

The first one is the foreword, naturally

People have a constant need of feeling appreciated. It doesn’t matter how swell you’re doing in your life, you never say, “oh, I feel appreciated enough”. We always want more, we feel that every action we take, every word we say should somehow be accounted, liked, thumbed up or down, anything but ignored. Keeping to yourself is unheard of, and even the most reclusive individual feels this need tremendously. It’s an organic thing, I guess. When things are not going that well, all bets are off. Everyone feels they’re entitled to complaining and it becomes their life purpose to find victims to pour their unhappiness on. I hate these people’s behaviour with a passion.

It seems though that even if you hate something in others, it may be difficult to see the exact same when you look in the mirror. A couple of years ago I had another blog. I mostly used it to pour out my frustrations about my life at the time. It was all whining and bitching and frankly I’m glad I deleted it at some point in time. I don’t know why I feel the need to write a foreword to any new thing I start. Maybe it’s a need to justify and motivate myself and writing it down makes it kind of official. Anyhow, there will be no whining here. It’s gonna be quite difficult, because I was born over critical.  One of my goals is to start putting this to good use, so the only complains you’ll hear will be about poorly written books or bad movies. Now I’m gonna put an end to this and see if I can deal with the other major problem of my life. I never seem to be able to be constant about anything, so the next post here is certainly not a guarantee.