Sunday, January 29, 2012

BLOGGING LOOKING FOR ALASKA, pt. 6: Vancouver! Vancouver!

Last time, I mean, not much happened. What do you want from me? This book is about feelings and shit. I’ve got the previous entries in the sidebar now, if you’re still playing catch up.

“110 Days Before”

Y’all are noting that we’re counting down to something, right? Sorry for not pointing that out before. But you got it right? You get it.

In the Old Man’s class, Miles half-listens to a lecture about the Buddhist notion of interconnectedness and half-allows his attention to wander out the window. He looks at the distant trees “clothing the hill” and sorta gets what Siddhartha was talking about. “I couldn’t see the trees for the forest,” he says. Oh. Sometimes I feel like this guy  is just setting up bowling pins to knock them down for no other reason than to show us he can. DO YOU WANT A MEDAL, MILES?

But the Old Man catches him zoning out and immediately boots him from class. Yeah, for some people their connection to Those Teachers is inextricably linked to the way Those Teachers brutally punished them. Fucking sadists, man. (My father is an English teacher--I had him in the 8th grade. The former students who talk the most frequently and fondly about him for years afterward are inevitably the ones he gives the most shit to. Usually because they’re fairly smart troublemakers who appreciate, in a way, being steered in the proper direction. As for me, I was the Good Kid who was so mortified to ever be disciplined that I still resent the teachers who dared do so over a decade ago. Different strokes!) And Miles is probably about to go have some meaningful bummer time but Alaska stands up, tells the Old Man that his policies are “bullshit,” and follows Miles out. Rock.

She tells Miles they’re going to look for four leaf clovers until class is over. MPDG, emphasis on the P. But while Alaska examines a clover patch, our narrator just examines her tits. Oh, and occasionally her “long, dirty fingernails.” I get that it’s supposed to be like another adorable fact about her, but how long and dirty are we talking?
And Alaska notes where Miles is looking, and doesn’t seem totally repulsed by his leering eyes (MPDG, emphasis on the SLUT). Class ends and The Colonel and Takumi show up and they all decide to go to “the smoking hole.” No, it’s not a gay bar, it’s a place where everyone goes to smoke. On page 41, Green describes the area, and I wrote something in the margins apparently indicating that this was a pretty good description of a natural setting. Now, I can’t figure out what I liked.* He just talks about trees. And then they smoke some cigarettes. 

(*But here's a great description of a place, from DFW's "Up, Simba.")

I keep wanting to say something more about the smoking, but I guess I just like how willfully transgressive it seems to be? There’s never a particular REASON for anyone to smoke--for Alaska it becomes indicative of her self-destructive impulses, but that symbolism doesn’t really extend to Chip and Miles (And Takumi doesn’t smoke. In a way that indicates his status as only like, a nominal member of the quickly-forming Alaska-Miles-Chip gang. His status is also indicated by the fact that he’s not written about very much!)--but it’s mentioned all the time. I’d like to think it’s less the nostalgia-tripping y’all have complained about in the past and more of a “fuck you” to prudish PTA types who freak out over the smoking or sex or swearing (or anti-Christian magic or whatever) being exposed to children instead of A. extending the benefit of the doubt to their own damned children and B. concerning themselves with more than the surface-level content of any given book or movie.

(I recently watched both the American and Swedish film adaptations of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Not only is the American version superior in terms of basic storytelling, it’s also superior in that it’s almost totally unflinching about smoking, nudity, and both consensual and non-consensual sex. Moreso than the Swedes, even. MORESO THAN THE SWEDES! That so rarely happens that you have to appreciate whenever it does. Whether you liked the movie or not, it did not give A SINGLE FUCK about upsetting people with delicate sensibilities (and that unflinching attitude just got the movie banned in India). And what is ironic is that a lot of those prudish, easily offended types we’re talking about just LOVE procedural shows like CSI and NCIS and Criminal Minds and however many dozens of others, which all give the impression of being transgressive, or are just transgressive in very strategic callow ways. Sorry, I hate procedural shows so much!)

Takumi starts talking about the girl who got expelled, and Alaska silences him with a pretty good one-liner. “You gotta stop stealing other people’s problems and get some of your own,” she says. BOOM. See how that is just a good line and not a clever inversion of a stock phrase that gives the illusion of depth through wordplay*? I like this one. But now I’m picturing Alaska as Tom Waits, sort of.

(*Not that I’m not guilty of the same shit, but whatever this is a BLOG.)   

And then she makes another pass at Miles, telling him he’s “adorable” and then quickly mentioning her boyfriend again. Almost as if she’s waiting for someone to give her verbal permission to cheat. Go ahead, Alaska! And then Takumi raps. Go away, Takumi!

“Right here, by the river, you want me to kick it? / If you smoke was a Popsicle, I’d surely lick it / My rhymin’ is old school, sort of like the ancient Romans / The Colonel’s beats is sad like Arther Miller’s Willy Loman”

OK, as a teenager I did a lot of lame shit, including rapping. And yeah, there’s a mortifying realism to reading the wack rhymes that John Green lays down here (and props to him for including the slashes to indicate line breaks) but still, OY GEVALT. I read this part (and a future, extended rap battle that goes on much, much longer) while straining my neck away from the page, trying to get away from it, somehow. I love me some Death of a Salesman references, though. 

(I once wrote like ten pages of a sitcom about a family of Scientologists--L. Ron Hubbard comes back from the dead to visit his ex-girlfriend, finds out he fathered her first son and decides to move into the basement. Also they have a maid who is a ghost. And there was a running joke about everyone earnestly asking a Church employee named Bill Loman if he was related to Willy Loman from the play. Yeah, that sitcom would never have made it to air.)

And then Alaska reaches the apex of Manic Pixie Dreaminess. Only 44 pages in! That must be a record (Holy shit, we’re only 44 pages in? Don’t worry, we’ll speed up when we get to the middle of the book. There will not be any deep analysis of the pranks, I can tell you right now.)

Alaska finished her cigarette and flicked it into the river. 
“Why do you smoke so damn fast?” I asked.
She looked at me and smiled widely, and such a wide smile on her narrow face might have looked goofy were it not for the unimpeachably elegant green in her eyes. She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”

I rest my manic, pixie case.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


So I forgot to mention earlier that the first time I heard about this book (and, I think, John Green) was when I made a video about (mostly fake) last words.
When I posted it, the huge number of “John Green did this already” comments poured in, and actually kind of pissed me off? Because first of all, no he didn’t! Well, I guess if by “this” they meant “vlogging,” then well, that part is true. Also he did this. WHATEVER, dude doesn't have a monopoly on famous last words. Except he sort of does.

Anyway last time, Miles survived an assassination attempt. You guys thought this was going to be a realistic coming-of-age-story, right? Well, it is, except for that part. Seriously, that’s an outlier. And in the comments last time some of you went after the level of realism (or lack thereof) we’ve encountered so far. TO WIT:

“Since John basically wrote down everything that happened to him, a lot of the book feels anachronistic. No one would tolerate this level of very-public and easily-caught hazing, nor would there be this much smoking (although maybe my high school was just too suburban). There's just some things which happen in the book that feel very 80s high school-ish, not very early 2000s.”-Katie Of Pluto

“In fact almost the whole book seems to be a nostalgia-trip, with a very passive acceptance of events- I mean seriously, the reason Miles gave for transferring was pretty pathetic, and the characteristics required to transfer on such weak reasons never really show through during the book. But whatever!!!”-Xocolatl

First of all: I think you guys are maybe buying in a little too much to the idea that this book is WORD FOR WORD John Green’s life. From what I have read, that is more myth than reality. I mean, for one thing Miles seems to be an only child, and it kind of feels like Green’s brother is a big part of his life am I right? (Also high school in the 80s, Katie? I think you’re aging the man a little too much.)

Second of all: I agree with you all about the modernity-dissonance,* but I also remind you: shit takes place in ALABAMA. Now, I have never BEEN to Alabama, but still I guarantee you they’re maxing out at '96 down there right now.

(*I feel like most forms of narrative media took a few years to catch up to the growth of technology in the aughts. Like, 2005-2010 was the era in which movies mostly hoped you would forget that smart phones existed. They were still producing scripts that had been written ten years ago, you know? I remember Jason Reitman saying that they deliberately set Juno in a world without cell phones, basically because it was just easier. OK, haha. And now movies/TV have caught up, but they’re almost a little too proud of it. Or the product-placement money from Apple is just TOO GOOD to turn down.)

SO. In the following pages Chip and Alaska discover what happened (they thought it was going to be an innocent, non-duct-taped dunk in the lake) and are outraged, but their solution is to play a prank. Maybe my (intense) fear of water is coloring my reaction here, but that does not seem like a proportional response. If I were Chip, I would ask Miles to ID one of the guys and then I would shoot him in the kneecaps. Incidentally if there’s ever a movie version of LFA I’d want Chip to be played by Jeremy Renner’s character from The Town, somehow. Anyway, our narrator resolves to sleep fully clothed from now on (but not with like, a life vest?) which is one of those things that you think will pay off later but just doesn’t. It’s just emotional scar window-dressing.

“126 Days Before”

The next morning, The Colonel discovers that the guys who nabbed Miles also urinated in his (The Colonel’s) shoes. “Well, now it’s war,” he says. It wasn’t war before? With the attempted murdering? Anyway, Miles goes blithely to class and recalls the school’s handbook, which defined the dress code as “casual modesty,” which is obviously my new band-name. He notes with seeming disdain the way girls interpret this to mean “half asleep in cotton pajama shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.” Uh, that's fucking hot! (Also, the half-asleep critique is rich coming from a guy who set his alarm for 8 minutes before class started.)

Alaska is in his French class (in France, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is called Le Royal With Manic Pixie Cheese) but she doesn’t even look at him. Not that that stops our hero from obsessing over her half-smirk, as if she’d “mastered the right half of the Mona Lisa’s inimitable smile.” So like, Mona Lisa after a stroke. Sorry. Miles’s first few classes are pretty hard, so he’s relieved to head to a World Religion class, which he assumes will be a walk in the park, or church I guess. TWIST: It’s A DIFFICULT CLASS AS WELL!

We meet “The Old Man,” who is an old man, who teaches the class. And he is one of Those Teachers. We have all had Those Teachers, the ones who impact your life and education in a truly captial-s Significant sort of way; I’ve had lots of those teachers. I’ve had so many of Those Teachers, at this point, that Miles’s discovery that school can be interesting is actually sort of insulting! But anyway. The Old Man says things like “You may be smart, but I have been smart longer,” and also stuff like this:

“What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what will become of us when we are no longer? In short: What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it?”

Miles thinks of the labyrinth, duh, and then the Old Man becomes a vessel through which John Green can drop various FACTZ on us. Like so:

I’d never been religious, but he told us that religion is important whether or not WE believed in one, in the same way that historical events are important whether or not you personally lived through them.

Well, THAT’s tenuous. And then Miles tells us about how much he hates discussion classes and other activities, and how much he prefers just being LECTURED AT. I don’t always disagree, but still it’s like one step forward, two steps back in terms of creating a positive attitude about education over here, eh? ANYWAY Miles goes home and takes a nap, and is woken up by Alaska, who disses our new favorite teacher and then tells him that he needs to toughen up (and this is after she’s learned about how attempted murder-y the attack on Miles was). Talk about one step forward and two (or like four or five at this point) steps back!

"122 Days Before"

Miles comes home from classes and finds The Colonel hunched over and ironing board, freaking out because he has a date with his girlfriend and her parents (fun date!) and his only dress shirt is badly wrinkled. The Colonel relates asking Alaska for help and being told “you’re not going to impose the patriarchal paradigm on me!” It’s unclear why exactly the the iron doesn’t do any good--Miles asks if you’re just supposed to press it against the shirt and yeah, you are--but it doesn’t, so the two of them smoke in the bathroom with the shower on, hoping to smoke/steam the shirt into shape instead. That fails too, and we meet the Colonel’s girlfriend, who is pretty and is wearing a blue sundress and looks like a “bitchy” movie star. I like a book that can mention the patriarchal paradigm on one page and call someone a bitch on the next. Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic here! I want to stand up for the word “bitch.” It’s a great word! And a good magazine. And a decent song.

Sara gets angry about The Colonel’s wrinkled shirt and he tells her he doesn’t want to go anywhere with her, and she storms out and he screams. Real talk: this is not an unfamiliar high school experience for me. And a few minutes later, when Sara calls the pay phone outside and Chip is ready for the phone call, like it has happened before, I was like I FEEL U BRO. But I am also at this point/age where I am like enjoy that drama, kid! Remember when everything was so heightened and like, you FELT things? Yeah, me neither.

And then The Colonel comes back into the dorm and pulls a gallon of milk from the minifridge, which he explains is actually “five parts milk and one part vodka.”

“I call it ambrosia. Drink of the gods. You can barely smell the vodka in the milk, so the Eagle can’t catch me unless he actually takes a sip.”

Hahaha worth it? That sounds like the most disgusting thing ever, and this is coming from a guy who mixed ginger brandy with PBR a few weeks ago. Anyway a litte ways into his phlegmy ambrosia haze, Chip explains that Sara and the other rich kids think he (the Colonel) is the one who ratted out Alaska’s roommate last year. Hence the pissing in the shoes and the attempted murdering (and the date with her parents?). God, am I the only one worried that someone's going to slip piano wire around Miles’s neck in the next chapter? What the fuck is this place?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BLOGGING LOOKING FOR ALASKA, pt. 4: Get My Swan Costume Ready

Hey gang, how's this going for you, so far? What do you want to hear more about? Less about? Let me know! Also let other people know about this series. New voices are always welcome in the comments. Previously: The Same Amount Of Ice

“128 Days Before”

Pudge and Alaska sit on a swing by the lake and smoke and talk. He notes her “electric-blue-painted toes,” and I wrote “MPDG” in the margins for the first of many times. Manic Pixie Dream Girl, for the unititiated, is a term coined by AV Club writer Nathan Rabin (the fact that Rabin coined the term is a big point of pride for the AV Club. Rightly so, I suppose, but they never let a reference to the term pass by without noting its origin) in response to Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown; MPDGs are “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” We definitely have the makings for that, but we’ll see where it goes; Alaska could end up a meta-MPDG, or MMPDG,* like Clementine from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind--Wikipedia’s (far too short) entry on MPDGs notes her rejoinder to Joel that “Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive.” Of course, one of the major complaints about MPDGs is that they are essentially static characters, and ESOTSM makes a kind of argument that everybody is static, including Clementine. And ultimately I’ll make the argument that Miles ends up being his own MPDG, if someone reminds me to.

(*Another notable coinage: The “Manic Trixie Nightmare Girl,” coined by Dan Kois w/r/t Kristen Stewart in the great little flick Welcome To The Rileys, which is on Netflix Instant now, FY Information.)

But as it stands, Alaska is very MPDG, emphasis on the P and G right now. She’s just referenced Simon Bolivar’s last words: “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” And Pudge asks the clear question: “What’s the labyrinth?” Or wait, did Simon Bolivar die in a literal maze? Was it a Tri-Wizard cup kinda deal?

Her mouth close enough to me that I could feel her breath warmer than the air, she said, “That’s the mystery, isn’t it? Is the labyrinth living or dying?”

Life’s infinite mysteries? CHECK. And then for a dose of quirk, we learn about Alaska’s “life library.” In her dorm are these stacks of books--it’s extreme enough that Miles thinks they might all fall on her and kill her (crushed by books! That would be a great way to go in a novel full of literary references)--and she tells him she’s read about a third of them so far, and wants to read them all before she dies (doing life-math here...she only plans to live to be 48 or so? Pending interesting new releases, I suppose. Pending Interesting New Releases would be a great memoir title if you were a slutty librarian, by the way). “But there is so much to do,” she says. “Cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on.”

(Alaska is not unlike the revisionist version of Alice Cullen I inserted into the Twilight books. Naturally, I like her a lot.)

Alaska tells Miles that he reminds her of The Colonel/Chip when they started school together, that back then he was smart but hadn’t “done much living.” You seem to have our narrator’s (and Nathan Rabin’s number, Al.) She and Chip became a kind of prank team, I guess, like Improv Everywhere but less annoying, as Miles relates to us thusly:

So Chip became the Colonel--the military-style planner of their pranks, and Alaska was ever Alaska, the larger-than-life creative force behind them.

Haven’t you ever heard of SHOW DON’T TELL, Pudge? I guess he wouldn’t have heard of that unless they were someone’s last words. Holy shit, those would be such baller last words! “Show, don’t tell.” And then you just die. I might have to use that.

And then Alaska is even vaguely flirty with our man, mentioning that he’s cuter than Chip. “But I didn’t even just say that, because I love my boyfriend.” Aw, hell. I like Pudge, and I can see where this is going already, and so I want to tell him to stay away, but I also know that if I were in his place I wouldn’t, so I can’t. Also, it’s a book and he’s a fictional character so there’s really no way for me to communicate with him.

Alaska and Miles start heading back to the dorms, and then she asks him he ever gets “creeped out” when walking alone at night, “and even though it’s silly and embarrassing you just want to run home?” Oh man, Alaska is Tumblr in human form! That shit would have like 60,000 notes.

“127 days before”

The next morning, Miles interrogates Chip about Alaska. She’s from a place called Vine Station, which sounds like a level from Donkey Kong Country, and her boyfriend plays bass, which means Pudge is definitely fucked. Bassists get all the crazypussy (see Vicious, Sid). Chip tells him that Alaska is a whackjob anyway, and that he should aim for one of the other girls. And then we learn about the bufriedos. A bufriedo is not an ethnic slur, which was my first thought, but rather a deep fried burrito. Taco Bell must have something like that, right? Because now I want one. Pudge describes having a “culinary orgasm” upon his first bite (that was kind of a premature culinary orgasm, kid. Work on your stamina) and shares his opinion that EVERYTHING is better fried (and with bacon probably, right? Alaska is Tumblr and Pudge is Reddit. Chip is 4Chan).

Pudge then meets one of our only other significant characters, Takumi. What does Takumi look like, you ask? He’s “Japanese” and “thin.” Got it? Good. Hahaha. And then we learn about Alaska’s absent roommate, who got kicked out of school in a blaze of glory, violating three of the school’s expellable offenses at once: genital touching (ha!), drinking, and doing drugs. It’s what The Colonel calls “The Trifecta” and what I call Monday, but the issue seems to be that no one can figure out how she got caught. Takumi is worried there’s a rat. I’m kind of impressed that there’s a social continuity between years of school at this place, by the way; when I came back from summer vacation I could usually barely remember my friends’ names.

Anyway, the guys at the lunch table can barely muster any sympathy for Alaska’s roommate and even less for her boyfriend, the other half of that genital-touching equation. He was a “Weekday Warrior,” you see, and there’s that unbreachable class divide we (sort of) heard about earlier. Now, generally this is something I agree with--eat the rich, etc.--but my and the Colonel’s class prejudices are tested when it is mentioned that Chip’s girlfriend is ALSO a Weekday Warrior. So what’s the deal, guy? You hate them, but not enough to not fuck them? Actually I guess that makes sense.

So we haven’t met the rest of the student body, really, or developed much of a picture of what life is like at Culver Creek, yet. We don’t even KNOW these Weekend Warriors we are supposed to hate, you know? And then we we do meet them, and they are, as it turns out, murderers. Seriously: That night, a couple of goons burst into our narrator’s room, and The Colonel just sort of passively lets them pull Miles out of bed and walk him outside in his underwear. They bring him down to the lake, duct-tape his arms, legs, and mouth, and then hurl him into the water before he can speak a word of protest or even really understand what is happening.

Uh, what? I am not much of a fighter, but I can tell you that I would never let something like this happen to me. I would find within me the strength of ten men, and I would END those motherfuckers right there by the lake. That (alleged) douchebag swan who hangs out by the lake would have a hell of a meal; it would be very final-scene-of-Let-The-Right-One-In out there. 

But if SOMEHOW they overpowered me (again, there’s no way that would happen, even out of shape as I am right now) the point where I was submerged and duct-taped would be the point at which I gave up and just DIED. I can barely swim with my appendages free! But Miles somehow relaxes enough to float to the surface (this is usually where I go wrong) and gradually wriggles himself to shore. In the YA books I’m used to, this would be the part where Miles wonders if maybe there’s something DIFFERENT about him. But instead he goes to Alaska’s room and she’s a total bitch for some reason and he goes to bed angry and confused and feeling like everyone hates him. Remember how we said Bella wasn’t relatable? Well, there’s such a thing as too relatable, maybe.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Some Possible New Twilight Films

Earlier this week, Lionsgate purchased Summit Entertainment for something like 400 million fucking dollars. The sale has been in the works for a while, and apparently Summit was trying to ram it through before the Twilight Gravy Train arrived at the station for the last time this November. BUT! Lionsgate apparently has no intention of hanging up the conductor's cap, so to speak--in fact they are laying down brand new track! Sorry, sometimes I cling to metaphors that I shouldn't really have pursued in the first place. But the point is, there could be more Twilight movies! Or a TV show! But the likeliest scenario, as many have predicted, is a bunch of spinoffs and direct-to-DVD bullshit, somehow branded as a Twilight (think National Lampoon) product. Here, therefore, are some suggestions for potential new Twilight movies, with casting and distribution strategies suggested where appropriate.

TWILIGHT PRESENTS: Alpha Beta Omega House

Rosalie Hale's little sister Jenny (Amber Heard) and the rest of the girls from the all-vampire sorority Alpha Beta Omega get into some raunchy hijinks while trying to organize the annual blood drive. Featuring cameo appearances by Eugene Levy and Ashley Greene. Straight-to-DVD, No Rating, 28 minutes. Directed by Shia Lebeouf.


Set in a tumultuous border town in the mid-nineteenth century (NOTE: this is an alternate, JJ Abramsesque timeline), this story follows cowboy/vampire Jasper Whitlock (Taylor Kitsch) who breaks away from the Cullen Gang, a ruthless group of murderers and thieves who all but run the dusty streets of Fork City. But when his former best friend Edward (Guy Pearce) murders a local woman (Michelle Williams), he agrees to join forces with her scrappy daughter Renesmee (Hailee Steinfeld) to extract bloody revenge. Directed (with marked restraint) by Kelly Reichhardt. Limited theatrical release, rated PG-13, 90 minutes.


Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) learns that "being undead doesn't mean you can't live" from the unlikeliest of sources: a domestic abuse survivor who is dying from cancer (Valerie Bertinelli). Lifetime Original film, Rated M for mature themes, 2 hours (with commercials). Directed by Martin Sheen.


100 years after the events of Breaking Dawn pt. 2, Bella Swan (Jena Malone) has ascended to Queen of the Vampires and rules Volterra with an iron fist. With the help, of course, of her right-hand woman Alice Cullen (Janet Montgomery) and consigliere Stringer Bell (Idris Elba). Forbidden to see her boyfriend, Bella's daughter Renesmee (Elle Fanning) plots against her mother. But when their position of power brings Bella, Alice and Stringer up against a coven of vampires that reminds Bella of her own former vampire family, she has a crisis of confidence. Ultimately she embraces her dark side and has Jacob Black murdered (the final scenes of this film are a direct homage to Godfather part 2). 190 minutes, rated NC-17 for excessive sexual content. Unreleased due to lawsuits from Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Idris Elba. Directed by Zachary Little.


After realizing that human semen contains trace amounts of blood, Alice Cullen (Sasha Grey) discovers that she can survive off of it as long as she performs oral sex on a man every two hours. Also starring Jason Statham as himself. Released as a series of web shorts on the Revision 3 Network in association with AVN. 50 episodes between three and twenty minutes long. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.

I am ready to take meet with Lionsgate execs whenever is best for them. Y'all got any suggestions or general thoughts on this development?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

BLOGGING LOOKING FOR ALASKA, pt. 3: The Same Amount Of Ice

Last time we met The Colonel. Today, we meet The Eagle, The Swan, and Alaska. I assume sooner or later we will meet someone with like, a normal human name? Otherwise in my head I fear I’m going to start seeing this story acted out by puppets, like Avenue Q or some shit.  

“One Hundred Twenty-Eight Days Before”

After Miles and the Colonel/have their meet-nude-cute, the Colonel walks out the dorm door and leaves it open. We learn after a while that this is his gruff way of inviting Miles along on his errands. And when he closes a door, well, figure out the metaphor yourself.

Miles helps him pull his stuff from storage--you can store your stuff at this bitch?--and continues, natch, to complain about the heat. Ugh. So, I guess we should talk about the furniture, right? Because there’s a lot of detail regarding Chip and Miles’s decorating choices, which in theory makes it easier to picture the place. But does that like, matter? Is that a priority for you when you read things?

I’ve been thinking about why I personally get so bored when novels launch into physical descriptions of places, especially nature (oy, nature), and my theory right now is that when I read a novel, I put the characters into buildings and places that I already have a mental map for. It’s the Inception thing, basically: you construct your imagination around the hard data in your head. So I don’t need to read three paragraphs laying everything out for me--I already know. Miles’s dorm and bathroom is my old dorm and bathroom. His parents’ house, for some reason, was a combination of my childhood frenemy Billy’s house (I think it was the description of snacks his mother had laid out) and my uncle’s house in Florida (the bookshelf). The lake he will soon walk to is a pond at St. Anselm College, where my friend Brian’s dad works (we threw a folding chair into the middle of it one time). And so on.

John Green, as it turns out, went to a boarding school not unlike this one,* and so he’s doing more or less the same thing I am doing--projecting his imagination into the architecture of his memory or whatever (I would have none of those phrases at the ready were it not for C. Nolan. Remember when we all knew nothing about Inception except that it was a thriller “Set within the architecture of the mind”? And we were all just like “Put the bong down, buddy”) but from the other end. If I were just leisure reading Looking For Alaska, the truth is I would probably mentally skim over his physical descriptions, subbing mine for his. But now that I am recapping, I’m thinking about these passages more than usual, and I’m forced to mix his vision with my own. So this really IS some Inception shit.**

(*Okay, EXACTLY like this one (minor spoilers) thanks for the tip, Yaara!)

(**And it’s also kind of just the way reading is for most people, I guess, but I’ve never put it into words, you know? It feels more significant than it probably is. Reading is so magical, you guys!)

Chip’s got a couch that he found on the street (from the Allston furniture store, as we said in Boston)--Miles describes it as “30 percent baby blue faux leather and 70 percent exposed foam.” Yeah, I can picture that (INCEPTIONNNN*). He then takes Miles’s trunk, positions it in front of the couch and spells out COFFEE TABLE on it with tape. At first I was like, “huh?” but then I realized that was exactly the kind of incomprehensible, whimsical thing I’d have done in high school. (One time my brother stabbed a knife into our bedroom wall like 200 times and then glued a skateboard deck over it. Nobody knows why.) 

(*I am writing right now in a papasan chair, which means essentially that I’m in a stress position out of the Army Field Manual. And now I can’t get that damn couch out of my head. I need a couch!)

And then Chip sets up a class consciousness theme that kind of hangs (somewhat haphazardly) over the whole book. He tells our narrator that the student body is divided in two. The “weekday warriors” who board during the week and then go home to their wealthy families on the weekends, and the regular poor folk like himself. Chip is the 99%, in other words. He then unceremoniously bestows Miles with his own nickname (Sadly, not “The Lieutenant”): Pudge.

“Pudge,” the Colonel said. “Because you’re skinny. It’s called irony, Pudge. Heard of it?”

Oy. Okay, so he’s Pudge now. And then Chip says it’s time to go buy cigarettes from Alaska. OK! Our heroes go LOOKING FOR ALASKA and find her down the hall (that was easy), where she has a solo dorm. The girl who was supposed to live with her got kicked out, and that seems like it warrants a story but Miles doesn’t really care/hear words anymore because suddenly he’s staring at “the hottest girl in all of human history” in cutoff jeans and a peach tank top. Yeah, I can picture that.

Alaska rambles through a story about a boy who grabbed her boob over the summer while Miles surveys her landscape. Look her in the eyes, bro! Then she mentions having a boyfriend. GUHHH I hate this guy already! I’m in your corner, Miles (I’m a great wingman, you guys). Anyway, Alaska: she’s “petite (but God, curvy)” (again bro, look in her eyes!) and she sells cigarettes and she says things like “Who’s the guy not laughing at my very funny story?” I’m getting the Manic Pixie Dream Girl vibe SO HARD already; this is exciting! I like my women like I like my coffee: fucked up and dangerous. 

Alaska tells them she’ll meet them at the lake in a few minutes, so Miles and Chip walk there and smoke. Our nonsmoker narrator’s attitude is to do as the Romans do, so to speak, and even though I don’t necessarily condone smoking I very much do condone the corruption of innocents. So I think I’m on board with this. Go ahead and smoke, kids! It’s very cool, especially when girls do it. And soon Alaska shows up and starts magnificently doing just that, but in the meantime Chip introduces Miles to two potential adversaries: The Eagle and The Swan. Birds are not your friend in Culver Creek, it seems, but only one of those is a literal bird. The Eagle is The Colonel’s nickname for the school’s Principal (it’s important to note that “Alaska” is not, in fact, a nickname) and he is apparently not one of those cool educators who is OK with smoking and drinking (and who likes Arcade Fire and fucks students). Pudge learns, and raises concern about, the fact that they’re smoking within sight of said Eagle’s house, who presumably has Eagle-like vision, but the Colonel says the rules don’t really kick in until classes start. And that even then, he shouldn’t worry too much: 

“The school doesn’t want your parents to think you became a fuckup here any more than YOU want your parents to think you’re a fuckup.” He blew a thin stream of smoke forcefully toward the lake. I had to admit: He looked cool doing it. 

Let us note the fact that people swear in this book, as people do, and that is great. They even smoke and swear simultaneously, with no apparent regard for the precious virginal sensibilities of teens. Yay!

Chip also stresses the importance of never ratting anyone out, no matter what. Omerta keeps the aforementioned discipline ecosystem going, I guess. Fun fact: Tony Sirico, who played Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos, took the role under the condition that his character never become a rat, ever. Another fun fact: Sirico was reportedly a member of the Columbo crime family in the sixties and seventies and was arrested twenty-eight times. A third fun fact: he has played both mobsters and police officers in different commercials for Denny’s! A less fun fact: he donated $1,200 to Giuliani’s presidential campaign in 2008. Anyway, the Swan is a literal swan, who hangs out in the lake and is apparently an asshole. So.

And then Chip wanders off and Alaska shows up. She and Pudge start talking last words, as that is clearly a better icebreaker than “how 'bout this heat?”, and she asks him if he knows Simon Bolivar’s. He doesn’t, and she pulls a book out of her backpack.

And then she lit a cigarette and sucked on it so hard for so long that I thought the entire thing might burn off in one drag. She exhaled and read to me:

“‘He’--that’s Simon Bolivar--’was shaken by the overwhelming revelation that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at that moment reaching the finish line. The rest was darkness. “Damn it,” he sighed. “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”’”

First of all: PUNCTUATIONCEPTION. Second of all: awesome. Third of all: I’m kind of too distracted thinking about sucking hard and long on something to fully process all that labyrinth shit. Miles’s brain is working in a similar way. He pauses the action to tell us about how foxy Alaska is, how the “burning cherry of the cigarette washed her face in pale red light.” How her eyes, even in the dark, are “fierce emeralds.” OK, but that is not how men talk. And then he notes her “breasts straining against her tight tank top” yearning to be free. We’re getting closer to how men talk. How’s her face, incidentally? Not that that’s a dealbreaker.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


So I forgot last time to thank MagentaBitch, who actually sent me a BRAND NEW copy of Looking For Alaska when I asked on Tumblr if I could borrow someone's old copy. MB: I have since scribbled all over the book you bought me and will return it to you when we're finished here. Thank you. Also: I like your screen name.

Last time, we met our narrator, who was leaving for boarding school. Today: boarding school. I know it doesn't seem like there's a lot of plot here, but learn to appreciate it. Remember Hunger Games? Oy. (Part 1: Carajo, Un Balazo.)

“One hundred twenty-eight day before”

Miles’s parents bring him to Culver Creek Preparatory School (“preparatory” is a vaguely unsettling adjective, to me) in Alabama, and his first reaction to the place is that it’s fucking hot. In fact, that is more or less his first dozen reactions. The sun burns him in a way that makes him “genuinely fear hellfire” (is that why Alabamans are so nutty Right wing?) and he discovers, to his horror, that his new dorm has no air conditioning.

When I first toured the campus of La Salle University, the college I attended for a year before transferring to Boston, the dorms I saw were wood-paneled, poorly equipped hell-holes. It was mid-July and they literally looked and felt like saunas. But I accepted my fate, as a series of financial aid fuckups and other admissions-related disasters had left me with no other choice. Luckily for me, a few weeks later I was recruited into La Salle’s Honors program (I kind of applied under-the-radar so it took them a while to realize I was a genius) which got me access to their posh, brand-new honors dorms. And that was great until I showed off my new digs to my friend Chris, who was relegated to the sauna-dorms. He brought another friend, who was also named Chris, and for the record they were both black. “So this is how white people live,” Other Chris observed, when I turned on the AC. Anyway.

Miles’s dorm is the regular, barren kind, and his parents help him unpack and then leave and he feels like he should feel more sadness at their departure (I totally get that, but the good news is my parents and his parents understand it, too). And he begins the awkward process of assimilating himself into a new culture. He’s starting at this school junior year, which is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I made exactly ONE new friend during my junior year of high school, and while he’s been my friend ever since it was a thousand times more awkward than any other friendship cultivation I’d ever experienced. I felt like I had to ask him out on a date or something, you know? Miles takes a chair outside and looks at girls’ butts (probably) and hopes someone will talk to him so he can make a witty joke (about how hot it is. Jeez Miles, punch up your act a little. I bet this guy has five minutes on airline food, you know what I mean?).

Later he meets his roommate. The kid rolls in while Miles is getting out of the shower (another thing they have at this place is a bathroom/shower in every dorm, which is another thing we had, sorry Other Chris), which is less vaguely homoerotic and more intended to evoke the awkward forced-intimacy of dorm living. My old roommate and I didn’t have much of an issue with accidental nudity and the like but it’s definitely an anxiety that you have going into such a situation. And you figure, John Green’s intended audience only knows the anxiety and not the reality. (Caveat: I had a girlfriend with an apartment off-campus, so I spent most of my accidentally and deliberately naked times there, so maybe I can’t speak from experience. Feel free to share stories in the comments!) His name is Chip, which I always thought of as a nickname, but apparently that is his real name because his nickname is "The Colonel." Pretty good nickname.

And we immediately start to build a mental picture of this kid, who is short and stocky and swaggers around the room and breezily blows off the fact that his parents aren’t helping him move in. Huh.

And there’s a bunch of rapid historocultural references peppered in for more or less no reason; atmospherics, I suppose: Before Chip shows up, Miles thinks of John F. Kennedy’s boarding school experiences, and then upon seeing his (Miles's) lousy new shower (picture basically that scene from Lost In Translation) concludes that JFK’s facilities were probably better, and that maybe they had air conditioning. Later, when Chip hears our narrator’s name is “Miles” he asks, “As in, ‘to go before I sleep?’” No Chip, as in Miles the fucking name. But perhaps the Robert Frost/Kennedy semiconnection is deliberate. And even if it isn’t, let’s pretend it is; the former was the latter’s favorite poet, after all, and he spoke at Kennedy’s inauguration.

Funny story: Frost intended to read a new poem he’d written specifically for the occasion, titled “Dedication,” but the glare on the podium was such that he could not read the pages in front of him. So he pulled a poem out of his ass, basically, and “Dedication” only recently came to light.

I don’t know why it took so long, but perhaps everybody forgot about Frost even BEING THERE because of the other thing that happened at the inauguration: Kennedy’s speech. You know the one. It had a lot of killer lines:

  • "Let every nation know... that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
  • The world is very very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life."
  • "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

And then of course, the big one: Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country. What’s funny is that we generally think of Second Inaugurals as the famous ones. FDR’s “fear itself,” Lincoln’s “With malice toward none.” Kennedy never got a chance, but I’m sure his would have been a doozy. His last words, by the way? “No, you certainly can’t.” It was in response to the Governor of Texas noting that you couldn’t say the people of Dallas didn’t love their President. And then Lee Harvey Oswald begged to differ.

I like Bobby Kennedy’s last words better: “Is everyone else all right?” Wow, huh? Doesn’t that just fill you with, I don’t know, happysadness? There’s probably a word in German for the feeling.

A New Yorker piece* from a few years ago notes how weird it is that Kennedy and Frost were alive at the same time. Kennedy, after all, is symbolic of everything modern about America, and Robert Frost wrote poems about kids accidentally chopping their hands off on farms. Frost is Dick Whitman, and Kennedy is Don Draper. And Kennedy outlived Frost, but just barely. He spoke at Amherst College at a ceremony honoring the recently-dead poet in October 1963, and you can hear or read the transcript of his speech here. If you’ve never heard JFK talk about art, you really ought to.

(*That piece on Kennedy’s inauguration mentions a few pieces of writing on the subject of Presidential Inaugurations in general. There’s apparently a Franzen essay on GWB in from 2001 that I’ll have to check out. But I also dug this quote, from Robert Lowell’s poem about Dwight Eisenhower’s rise to power in 1953:

Ice, ice. Our wheels no longer move.
Look, the fixed stars, all just alike
as lack-land atoms, split apart,
and the Republic summons Ike,
the mausoleum in her heart.)

Anyway, The Colonel. He sees a map Miles hung on the wall and then starts rattling off the names of every country, nonchalantly mentioning after a few dozen that he’s memorized them all. And  you gotta figure you rarely have the change to showcase a party trick like that one, so we’ll forgive him for this (kinda douche-y) outburst. And I get it, I mean, when you meet new people it’s hard to resist the urge to forcibly define yourself. LOOK AT ME/ LOOK AT THESE THREE IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT ME AND FILTER ALL OTHER IMPRESSIONS ABOUT ME THROUGH THEM PLEASE, you want to scream. The first few weeks of college are emphatically like that (don’t think for a second that I didn’t LOVE the fact that, as noted earlier, I had two black friends*) but it goes on forever. I remember at my last job, a guy told me on his third day “I’m the office asshole.” Oh, you are? He clearly wanted that reputation, for whatever reason, and I guess he succeeded because I don’t think he made it to day five. Anyway, The Colonel wants to be a guy who is called The Colonel and who memorizes stuff and who also wants to be all of these things:

  1. A guy who wants to read long books
  2. A guy whose father used to beat him with books, which forced him to only own like, Goosebumps volumes or something lest padre do more damage
  3. A guy who smokes, perhaps understandably
  4. A guy who is poor, and who attends “the Creek” on a full scholarship
  5. A guy who throws all of his clothes, socks and all, unsorted into his drawers

That last one is less something he is deliberately projecting and more something that Miles obsesses over as he watches him unpack. And then The Colonel asks him what his gimmick is, what his Twitter tagline is, essentially, and Miles tells him about Henrik Ibsen’s last words. Ibsen is a rad guy, and if you don’t know him stop reading this blog and go read “A Doll’s House” and “Ghosts” right now. I’ll wait. That advice should really extend to Miles, who knows nothing of Ibsen except that as he lay dying, he overheard his nurse tell a guest that he was feeling better. “On the contrary,” he said, and then died. That’s fine, but the last lines of “Ghosts” are wayyy better.

(*With whom I lost touch basically less than a week later. I mean, I was in the Honors dorm. Do you really think I’d associate with a non-Honors students? Ha!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

BLOGGING LOOKING FOR ALASKA, pt. 1: Carajo, Un Balazo!

I think we need to calibrate our expectations here. Looking For Alaska is not a high-concept thriller. It does not take place in the future; no one is murdered for sport. Also: there are no werewolves, vampires, or half-human half-vampire hybrids. It is not a "paranormal romance," unless you think Manic Pixie Dream Girls qualify as paranormal creatures.

Looking For Alaska* is a story about like, people. And love, and loss, and grief. And smoking. It’s mostly about smoking.

(*Ways in which this series of blog posts will be different from the others:
  1. Before writing a word of this, I read Looking For Alaska from beginning to end (it was one of those thing that started involuntarily but became by design). Truth be told, I can probably write better on this subject if I know it well--Blogging The Hunger Games being a case against doing it the other way. That said, I am going to be mindful of spoilers--just the one, really--and would ask you to do the same in the comments. For now.
  2. John Green is a very different sort of author than our old friend Stephenie Meyer. He has an, I would say, extreme Internet presence (as I write this he has literally been streaming himself live on the Internet for something like five hours) and is therefore much more of a knowable entity. We do not know how (or maybe why) Stephenie Meyer’s brain works (sure, there are interviews, but interviews are bullshit), but Green is someone we can hear from (we can like, see him work in real time). And most of you probably know and understand him better than I do; though  I am increasingly a fan of his work, I have literally seen less than a dozen of his videos and have only read one article about him (about his Thoughts From Places series). That will change, though! I am going to periodically watch Vlog Brothers videos (for those who don’t know, John Green’s primary YouTube channel rolls 900 fucking videos deep) and burrow a little deeper into Nerdfighterdom (Nerdfighters being the name for fans of the Vlog Brothers--and being a fan is more of a spiritual thing than you’d think). If there are VlogBrothers videos out there that pertain to specific sections of Looking For Alaska, shoot me an email or give me a heads-up in the comments, yeah? Thanks.
  3. Despite my lack of serious knowledge about John Green, he is not very separated from me like, as a human. My long-time friend and current neighbor Jory Caron is friendly with Green. Several other people that I sort of know know him, sort of. And once I made a video gently parodying his particular, peculiar delivery style and either he or his brother Hank watched said video, as evidenced by this comment (I was proud at the time and am now kind of mortified). In other words, as Jory put it, on the Kevin Bacon-like scale I am one or less than one degree from John Green. I don’t know exactly what that disclosure has to do with anything, exactly, but reading this book FEELS different, in an authorial intent sort of way, than does reading any other book. The author is a real, vivid person, which is something I have not really experienced unless you count the experience of reading my grandmother’s self-published memoir, How To Be Hot At Sixty.
  4. Also, maybe most importantly: I really, truly liked this book. My enthusiasm for Twilight was heavily, morbidly qualified and my enthusiasm for The Hunger Games was nonexistent, so the tone of these blog posts will probably be different.)
OK. Let’s do this. Clear eyes, full packs of cigarettes, can’t lose!

“136 Days Before”

Here we meet our narrator, Miles Standoffish. Just kidding, his last name is Halter, but anyway he is in the middle of a doomed going-away party for himself, which his parents have thrown, as he is soon to be off to boarding school. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, he explains, unless you count he “ragtag bunch of drama people and English geeks” ( he talking about us?) he sits with “by social necessity in the cavernous cafeteria” of his school. And he knows they won’t come.

Miles clearly ate his Narration Wheaties this morning, right? Cavernous cafeteria! And this is pretty much the pace at which we proceed from here on out. Miles is a clever kid, and one of the first things I wrote in the margins of this book was "Maybe too clever by half?" because much as I appreciate the lively writing there are times when you just want him to RELAX. I mean, two guests finally arrive, and Miles notes that while he was never one for small talk his mother "could talk small for hours." So far so fun. A line or two later this happens when one of Miles's "guests" is talking about the relative success of a play she was in that summer.

"I guess it was," Marie said. "A lot of people came, I guess." Marie was the sort of person to guess a lot.

SIT DOWN, Miles. No, it's fine, but I worry he is going to strain himself, you know? Marie et al filter out, and Miles sits with his parents on the couch and feels pity for them that he has no friends. "I wasn't disappointed," he says. "My expectations were met."

So we have a sense of what kind of guy Miles is all ready: He's a loser but in kind of a noble way. I mean, clearly he'd like to have friends, but that desire is neither particularly pathetic nor spelled out too clearly by Green (two facts which are related. This book is welcoming me into its loving arms, is it doing the same for you? I've been lost in the desert for so long! Spitting teeth into my hand!).

Anyway, his mother asks if his lack of social success is why he wants to leave (Florida, by the way). Surely that is part of it (we also learn that his father attended the same boarding school Miles is headed to)(also, I mean, Florida! Why wouldn’t you want to leave?) but our narrator gets up and grabs a book from his father's office, a biography of Francois Rabelais, and reads them a quote. Rabelais's dying words were, "I go to seek a Great Perhaps," and while I wonder how he indicated the way those last words should be capitalized, there's no arguing that they’re pretty good last words, and Miles finds them inspiring.

I looked up Rabelais on Wikipedia, as one is wont to do, and learned that he was a humorist whose work is still shocking to many today because of his double-entendres. Being a person very interested in the double-entendre (both the literary term and the sex position) I found a few translations of his work. Here's a quote from "Gargantua and Pantagruel" (available here). It turns out his double-entendres are more like 1.5 entendres (I've emphasized a few things):

This little lecher was always groping his nurses and governesses... handling them very rudely in jumbling and tumbling them to keep them going; for he had already begun to exercise the tools, and put his codpiece in practice. Which codpiece, or braguette, his governesses did every day deck up and adorn with fair nosegays, curious rubies, sweet flowers, and fine silken tufts, and very pleasantly would pass their time in taking you know what between their fingers, and dandling it, till it did revive and creep up to the bulk and stiffness of a suppository...Then did they burst out in laughing, when they saw it lift up its ears, as if the sport had liked them. One of them would call it her little dille, her staff of love...Another, her peen, her jolly kyle, her bableret...another again, her branch of coral, her female adamant...her jewel for ladies. And some of the other women would give it these names,—my bunguetee, my stopple too, my bush-rusher, my gallant wimble, my pretty little honey lusty pretty rogue, and so forth. It belongs to me, said one. It is mine, said the other. What, quoth a third, shall I have no share in it? By my faith, I will cut it then. Ha, to cut it, said the other, would hurt him. Madam, do you cut little children's things?

HOLY SHIT, right? So what I am getting at is when Rabelais said he was going to seek a great perhaps, he was probably referring to shoving something up his butt. But Miles is seeking something a little more noble, and that is fine too.