Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Teen Lit: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (There’s Still a Fangirl Deep Inside…)

Last week I finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s newest book, Carry On. I’ve talked about it before, but to recap, this novel is the fanfiction that her character Cath is writing in the wonderful wonderful book Fangirl, about her favorite series, Simon Snow. So it’s a fanfiction of a fictional story inside of a fictional story.

Following still?

The book itself was pretty good. This is supposed to be Cath’s imagining of the final novel in a series, and in a lot of ways it reads like that, as if I’ve picked up the last Harry Potter book without having ever touched the other six. Rowell does a great job of feeding enough background information that as a reader I never felt lost, and I really enjoy the unique magic system she came up with just for this book. Still, it didn’t really grab me by the ears…until about halfway through, when the really slashy/fanfiction bits come all the way to the front of the story. Then I truly stopped feeling like I was reading the last book in a series I never read — instead I’m reading a fanfiction of a series I never read. And that made it wonderful.

I used to read a lot of fanfiction, mostly from upper high school through right past college. Most of the fic was slash, which is when the fanfic writer imagines characters who don’t get together in the series pairing up, particularly male characters (at least in my reading). Fanfiction, both reading and writing it, is this way of delving way, way deep into the fandom, where you love the thing so much that when you run out of stuff to read, or characters won’t do what you desperately want them to do (like kiss), you either scour the earth for more, or you invent your own stories.

I fell out of reading fanfic, part because I felt I had enough to read on my own, and part because unless you can find an author, or at least an aggregated list, it can be exhausting to dig around for something decent (most fanfiction is written so badly, oh, so, so bad). And I also haven’t had a lot of things that I’ve been that particularly obsessed with. Some of my favorite stories, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Harry Potter, I’ve never been particularly motivated to find fanfic for, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read something new where I felt a fanfiction was absolutely necessary.

This has fed a little into my worry that there isn’t anything I’m enough of a fan of anymore (which is ridiculous, I’m a giant nerd bomb, but anxiety’s gunna do what it’s gunna do). There’s not a lot that has given me that little twinge in my gut that let’s me know my inner fangirl is shaking and flailing. Some things have given me that right level of obsession (Steven Universe, Steven Universe, Steven Universe) that makes it feel like my fangirl’s waking up from a deep slumber…and then reading Carry On basically ripped off the sheets and kicked her out of bed.

Carry On is a fun book on its own, though I probably won’t ever go back to reread it like I will with Fangirl. But I love what it is: a book written for nerds of a certain type, my type, who finally saw themselves so purely on the page with Cath’s character, who know the thrill and nerdy importance of fanfiction. And I appreciate what it did, reminding me that there is a little fangirl vibrating inside of me, just waiting to break into the highest pitched squeal you ever heard.

Thanks, Rainbow Rowell. I needed that.

My Books in 2013

Looking back on my Good Reads list, this year was pretty big for new authors that I love

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenFirst and foremost is John Green, all of whose books I’ve now read, most notably of which is The Fault in Our Stars. I didn’t fall in love with all of this books, but TFiOS is now and forever more one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever come across. I can’t stop recommending it to (or buying it for) people, and I only wish I had figured out how great it was when it first came out so I could have jumped on the bandwagon sooner. As a direct result of that, too, I’ve become a fan of his brother Hank and their YouTube pages, which help me while away all sorts of time I should be spending writing.

Speaking of books I missed the first ship on: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I mean, Jesus. The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most well-written books I’ve ever read, but man I think this is THE best book I’ve ever come across.

Then there’s Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor and Park simultaneously broke and swelled my heart about as much as TFiOS, and Fangirl gave that wonderful, well, fangirl flutter in my gut that I don’t feel as often as I once did. I still haven’t read her adult book, but it’s certainly on my list.
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
Also of note: this year, Sara Farizan, another Lesley graduate, published her first book, If You Could Be Mine, a wonderful love story. It makes me so proud to have been in the same program as her.

Not in the YA grouping: David Sedaris. How have I not read this man before? His nonfiction essays reveal a life that in most ways is very different from mine, but he still manages to write things that click and mesh with the way I see the world, that echo thoughts I’ve never said out loud because who else would possibly think that way? I’ve read almost everything he’s written, which is really depressing in its own way, since I could read his books forever. But luckily Sedaris is one of those magical readers that stand up to rereadings (or re-listenings, since I switch between his audio books and print books) so I can just go back to him again and again and again.

Boxers and Saints2013 was also a year where I started getting into different forms of reading. audiobooks became my go-to way to pass the time doing chores or driving, though I do find myself being very picky with what I listen to: it has to be something I can spend only about 80% of my brain on, and I can’t make myself listen to anything that equals more than 10 or so CDs. I’ve also discovered a new love of short stories, with Aimee Bender and George Saunders, and also J.D. Salinger and another new favorite book, Franny and Zooey.

Always there are new comics. This year I found a new favorite webcomic, Boumeries, which I’ve talked about before. I’ve also loved Gene Luen Yang’s new duet (duology? twosome?), Boxers & Saints about the Boxer Rebellion in China. Other good ones were Message to Adolf by Osamu Tezuka, Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim, and Marbles, a memoir on bipolar disorder, by Ellen Forney.

Really, I could go on and on about the books I loved this year. There are plenty I didn’t name. But those are some of the things that stuck out for me. How about you?

Teen Lit: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

So I finished Fangirl a few weeks ago, but for some reason am only just now getting around to talking about it. After reading and loving Eleanor & Park, I was suddenly inspired to look Rainbow Rowell up on Amazon, to see if she had anything else coming out. And did she.

FangirlSo, Fangirl is about Cath, a girl entering college. She’s stressed about leaving her dad, and that her twin sister suddenly wants to be separate and have a different roommate and live in a different dorm. Her own roommate is older, and a little grumpy, and she may have bitten off more than she can chew with an advanced fiction-writing course.

Now, here’s the part of the plot description that hooked me in. Cath is a fangirl, a hardcore fangirl over the Simon Snow series, which is obviously and hilariously a version of Harry Potter (I’m not going to say spoof, it’s taken far too seriously to be a spoof). Not only does she read it, and buy merchandise for it, she also write fanfiction. Slash fanfiction. In which she has the two main male characters fall in love with each other, over and over again. I had never heard of an author actually having a character that took part in this segment of fandom, that for a moment I couldn’t believe this was what the book was actually about. I was so stoked to read this book for that bit alone. What really thrilled me once I started reading it, though, is how seriously Rowell takes fanfiction as she’s telling the story. Cath has a few problems with writing fic, one being that she spends so much of her time doing it, another that she fails a Fiction assignment because she decides to hand in a new piece of fanfiction. And there are characters that point out the downside of writing fanfiction, like her professor, pointing out that Cath is using it as a way to avoid living her own life, or writing her own stories. But Rowell also does a very excellent job of having Cath explain why writing fanfiction is so important to her, why she continues to do it, how it makes her feel just better about things. And even when Cath does finally realize that she has to write her own stories, it’s not because she decided that fanfiction is something she has to push to the wayside. It’s still important, it’s just that now it’s not the only important thing.

Also, being a nerd obsessed with a book series and writing gay fanfiction isn’t the only thing about Cath. She’s got a past that’s a bit messed up, and issues with her parents and herself that make it more and more apparent why she is the way she is. These elements are just as important as the fact that she is a nerd, and it makes the story so multi-dimensional and whole that you don’t have to be a fanfic-writing geek to understand Cath and relate to her on a very basic level. Basically, it’s a real story about a real girl, who happens to write fanfiction.

There are so many things about this book I could talk about — the great characters, the truly funny dialogue (“But I like that we’re not friends!” “I do, too. I’m sorry you had to ruin that by being pathetic.”), and a plot that just pans out in a very real and satisfying way. This was great, great, great, and I love Rowell for bringing this into the world.

Book Thoughts: A Return to Harry Potter

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireAs always, I have too many books on my list to read, from a new Francesca Lia Block novel to a nonfiction book on being an introvert. But surely I also have enough time to reread the entire Harry Potter series. I’ve read the first 4 books several times, but for some reason never got around to rereading 5-7. I became inspired to get on that when we were watching the movie marathon on ABC Family and my husband asked a question I could not remember the answer to. Unacceptable! But really, all I needed was one good excuse to read these guys again.
  • Speaking of J.K. Rowling, I’ve also gotten her new book, which she wrote secretly as a dude, from the library. Now, I’m in the minority of people who really, really liked The Casual Vacancy, so I went into The Cuckoo’s Calling with I think far less trepidation than some other people I know. Unfortunately, I’m also not a real fan of crime novels, which this new one is, but I still adore her, so I’ll get this beast read. Which I really need to get on top of to beat the hold list…
  • Other reason I have to rocket through this book: Rainbow Rowell’s new book is out! I read Eleanor & Park a few months ago, and it’s only my recent discoveries of The Fault in Our Stars and The Book Thief that beat out my love for that book. Her new on, Fangirl, sounds a tad less serious, but still delightful, especially since her main character is obsessed with a series that sounds a lot like Harry Potter…
  • Back to J.K. Rowling — have you heard about her movie? While I always thought that she would go back to books if she reentered the Harry Potter world, it’s still really exciting to hear about the movie she’ll be making. Even more exciting that it won’t be something potentially series-ruining like, “Let’s see what Harry’s doing now!” I don’t know if people are skeptical about this or not, but if they are, I say, leave her alone! After Harry Potter, Rowling’s got something most writers don’t: enough money and time to do whatever she wants. Let her try different genres and modes of storytelling; even if we don’t like it, we just have to remember what her first project was, and realize that no matter what, we can forgive what comes next.