October Discussion: Delirium

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So.

Delirium.

What did you guys think?

I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into it. I don’t know if it was the pressure of knowing that you guys were waiting for me to be done, or that it took me so long to even start (because I forgot it at home when we went to Europe), or if I just didn’t like the book, but I really struggled! (Confession: I’m still not quuuuuuite done. But almost! I wanted to get this up for you guys sooner rather than later. Forgive me?)

  • One of the key things in dystopic fiction is believable world-building. Especially when something like alternative science is involved. I think Lauren Oliver did a relatively good job with this aspect of the book; the procedure made me think of a lobotomy, and I wonder if she drew inspiration from that at all. The hard part with a concept like hers, though, is that you must then account for every way that the thing you have removed touches society. For example, the whole point of music is to make us feel something. If there is outlawed music, it is because that music is designed to touch something inside of people. Why wouldn’t they simply ban music altogether then? Wouldn’t other music, even “sanitized” and approved music, be kind of like a gateway drug? For the same reason, why would they even encourage or allow friendships?
  • Along the same lines, it seems crazy to me that society would still be centered around a nuclear family. If, as was outright stated, people didn’t even feel love towards their children, wouldn’t it have made as much sense, or more, even, to have people procreate and then have the state raise all the children in some sort of segregated institution, where they could have everyone under surveillance and government control at all times?
  • Why do so many authors feel the need to assert that their main character is average? “Oh I’m so totally normal and average and nothing special and everyone is prettier than me.” Is it to make them more relatable? Because I don’t find that relatable, I mostly find it annoying. I recognize that many people feel that way (I know I have), but having it constantly shoved in my face, against much evidence to the contrary, is more frustrating than relatable.
  • I really liked the way she drew the beginnings of Lena’s relationship with Alex. It was like every time I’ve ever fallen in love, too, and seemed so real. It rarely if ever made me roll my eyes.
  • Hana was a nice foil for Lena, originally flirting with sympathizing and rebellion, but ultimately (presumably) settling for the life that was prescribed for her while Lena, who was always the one determined to follow all the rules, who was actively looking forward to being cured, ends up falling off the deep end. Nicely done.

I can’t wait to hear what you guys have to say about the book! You can participate in the discussion in the comments here, or over in the Young Adulters forum on the blog (you’ll have to sign up if you haven’t already). 🙂 Do you think you will go on to read the rest of the trilogy?

See you here in two days for the announcement of our November book selection! Have you voted yet?

October Discussion: Delirium

Paris is Always a Good Idea

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I, like many people, had wanted to go to Paris for a long, long time. But I didn’t know what to expect of it. I, like many people, had heard rumors of rampant rudeness, of terrible service and a general disregard for any fumbling attempt to speak French. I was dying to see the Eiffel Tower, but I was nervous, too. This was my first trip to a country where the official language is not English. Yes, everything I read before leaving told me that English is spoken everywhere in Paris, but what if, right before we arrived, the entire city decided that they would stop speaking English as a funny joke? Or they were all afflicted with some sort of weird disease that rendered them incapable of English speech? Seriously, I was quite anxious.

For no good reason, thankfully.

I am happy to report that, like Ms Hepburn, I truly believe now that Paris is always a good idea.

I mean, yeah, there were some aspects of the trip that were stressful. Being a naturally anxious person, I often had to talk myself into leaving the apartment each day, knowing that at some point I would be misunderstood, or feel lost, or have to switch to English and hand gestures in order to hold a conversation. Sometimes, it got tiring. But for the most part, everyone in Paris treated us wonderfully. We only experienced two instances of that legendary Parisian rudeness, and many people went out of their way to help us. One young man in a coffee shop slowed down his French instead of switching to English, using simple words and phrases combined with hand gestures and miming to help us get through the entire interaction without having to change languages. It was amazing! The city is beautiful and ancient and bursting with fascinating people and places. I can very easily picture us living there at some point, or, at the very least, going back on the regular.

I kept a journal throughout the trip, and here are a few tidbits from it:

***

There are so many people making out. Everywhere. Young people, old people, middle-aged people. Everyone is just macking on everyone all over the place. PDA-phobia is not a thing, apparently. It is both wonderfully liberating and wildly uncomfortable.

Navigating the metro was only frustrating and confusing once, and only because I was exhausted and hungry: when we were making our way from the airport to our apartment rental. The train was carnival colors: brash yellow, dramatic purple, deep blue. We passed by a dump, a burnt out (literally) car, and more graffiti than I could count.

Sacre-Coeur was packed. And gorgeous. It was nice to not be allowed to take pictures; I focused on just seeing. It increased the sense of reverence. I also lit a prayer candle and said a silent prayer for I-don’t-know-who. Everyone, maybe. Then we ate quiche on the steps in the sunshine, product of a successful trip to a boulangerie where minimal English was exchanged.

We navigated the metro like a couple of pros, spilling out onto the Place de la Madeleine in the diffuse morning sunlight. A couple of turns brought us to Laduree, a gourmet macaron shop that hurt my eyes with all its bright lights and brighter colors. The macarons were to die for, the very best I’ve ever tasted, perfectly sweet and flaky and flavorful.

At our first distant view of the Eiffel Tower, I made a sound of excitement deep in my throat and danced on the spot with glee.

We chose to climb the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. The second floor was windy as hell, with lovely views. My feet were freezing, because I am the genius who wore sandals in Paris in October. The ticket office for the lift to the top closed because there were already too many people trying to make their way up there. In true French fashion, they simply closed their doors and walked away with no explanation, leaving us to wander around in confusion until we overheard a patisserie worker explaining the situation to an absolutely irate woman. We waited for nearly an hour before realizing there were better ways we could be spending our time in Paris and leaving the way we came.

Notre Dame was a bit disappointing. Too many people, not enough reverence. The stained glass game was totally on point though.

The line snaked around the corner and just kept going, neatly braceleting the park that abuts the entrance to the catacombs. We stood in line, in the cold, for nearly two hours. Then we made our way deep below Paris, beneath the metro and the sewers, to depths I could not think about if I wanted to keep the panic at bay. Still. Deep below the city, in the dim darkness, surrounded by piles of mouldering human bones? My chest was clenched like a fist the whole time.

We bought a brioche and a financier. I made the mistake of starting with the financier. After that orgasmic, almondy delight, the perfectly serviceable brioche didn’t stand a chance.

I spent the majority of my time in the sumptuous halls of Versailles trying to find somewhere to sit down, my whole body heavy and lethargic from the evil machinations of a flu bug that I’m sure I caught in the catacombs (from the miasma of the dead?). The floor was a bit of a different perspective on all that opulence.

I wore my crazy bright leggings today and stuck out like a sore thumb amidst all the black-clad Parisians. (Seriously, no one in this city wears color.)

Street crepes – the sizzle and hiss of batter hitting the scalding surface, steam billowing into the grey air. Nutella and hot dough, slightly crispy. Perfect in the cold afternoon.

Winged Victory of Samothrace. My favorite thing in the entirety of the Louvre. A gorgeous sculpture, full of movement and detail, commanding all attention at the top of a staircase and refusing to relinquish it. She doesn’t even have a head, and still she held us all in thrall.

I was homesick and headache-y, so we stayed in one afternoon and watched Moulin Rouge! I marvelled at how beautiful Ewan McGregor is and sang along to all the songs and cried when Satine died. Then we hauled ourselves out the front door and walked the fifteen minutes down the hill to the real Moulin Rouge, its blade sticking out over a busy street with a slightly degenerate air. Tourists thronged across from it, taking photos. Two girls stood in front of me: “What does moulin mean?” “I don’t know…” So I leaned forward, between them, and said, “It means windmill.” And they both glanced at me, startled. I wanted to go inside and see if there was a jewelled elephant, but I knew there was not. Just a ticket desk, and a souvenir shop around the corner. The commodification and degeneration of another thing that lives more vividly in my head than in reality.

We walked to a patisserie in Abbesses that was purported to have the best croissants in the city. At the counter, I held up two fingers (“Deux croissants, s’il vous plait”) and handed over 2 euros. We ducked to the right of the door and pulled them out immediately. They were buttery and flaky and just a little sweet and, yeah, probably the best croissants I’ve ever had. Flakes tumbled to the ground and pigeons darted around our feet, plucking at them. I didn’t even flinch.

We walked south to a flea market in a part of town that made my skin tight with discomfort. Hawkers lined the sidewalks, aggressively pushing iPhones and men’s shirts and counterfeit Louis Vuitton purses. It swarmed with people, except in the maze of the market, where I found a little peace in the warren of tiny cubes containing ancient treasure and junk alike. In the metro station, we moved off to the side to check where we needed to go. As I pulled out my phone, the scent of what I thought was acetone suddenly scorched my throat. Immediately, my eyes began to water, and I couldn’t stop coughing. Oh. This was a sensation I recognized: pepper spray. We escaped to the platform, but my nose stung for nearly an hour after. That’s the second time that we have been secondhand pepper-sprayed in a metro station.

We waited twenty minutes in the chill dark for the Eiffel Tower light show. It was our last evening, our last chance. I cupped a chocolat chaud and scarfed a mediocre, bland soft pretzel. Bryan sipped a mulled wine that smelled like Christmas. It was freezing cold. (I spent the entire trip freezing my ass off. Next time, check the weather forecast more thoroughly. And pack socks.) At nine o’clock, the tower began to twinkle in the darkness, and everyone oohed and aahed, and shutters clicked while vendors tried to push selfie sticks and replica towers and, more intelligently, bottles of wine.

The baguette was fresh, still warm. It broke apart easily and nearly melted in my mouth, the crust crunchy, the inside fluffy and steaming. I will miss that the most.

(Find my photos of Paris here.)

(Find the post that we used to plan a lot of our trip here.)

Paris is Always a Good Idea

A Year of Secondhand Living

Over the past few years, I have been making career decisions based on interest and passions, rather than money. In terms of my happiness, it has been a great host of decisions. In terms of finances, though…well, I took a pay cut to move into child care. And then I took a pay cut to nanny. So now I am making less than half of what I was making two years ago. And suddenly, that means that some changes need to be made in the way that we live life.

I’m okay with that. I mean, I have always valued contentment and direction and purpose over having a lot of money. But, of course, our world runs on money, and having none of it isn’t really an option at this juncture. I’ve been making a conscious effort to reduce expenses: I contacted my cellphone company to see what they could do about reducing my bill (it went down $12 a month right now, and will go down another $20 at the end of my contract in 2 months), I have reverted to the envelope system for all non-necessary purchases, and I have drastically cut back on how much I eat out.

But as I was going over my own personal expenses from the past few months, I realized that there was something else that I could do. I noticed that I had made quite a few clothing purchases, which surprised me, because generally, I don’t spend much money on that. But several hundred dollars had gone towards revamping my wardrobe. And while I do not regret that in the slightest (I love my wardrobe now, and rarely have any problem picking out what I am going to wear, finding that nearly everything goes together and I am comfortable in all of it), I could have reduced those expenses quite a bit by doing one thing: buying it secondhand.

Which gave me an idea. I had read an article on Coffee + Crumbs a few months ago about how Anna Quinlan had gone a whole year without buying anything new. What if I did the same thing?

And so, a challenge was born (y’all know how much I enjoy a challenge, right?).

The terms of the challenge are simple: for one year, starting on November 1, everything I purchase will be secondhand. There are two exceptions to this rule: 1) things that cannot be purchased secondhand for whatever reason (ex. hygiene) and 2) gifts. Otherwise, everything brought into our home will have been previously owned. I believe that this will force us to re-evaluate what we actually need, as well as push us to be creative in how we obtain those objects.

I’m a little cowed by the prospect, I don’t mind telling you, especially because I will be embarking upon it right before the holiday season, and we are also hoping to get pregnant again within the next year. I thought about delaying it, but then I realized that, at any time, I could probably come up with ten reasons why it would be easier to do it some other time. So I shut those excuses in a box in the back of my head and decided to just do it.

Have you ever done anything like this? Do you have any tips or tricks for me? I would absolutely love to hear them!

A Year of Secondhand Living