Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Hunger Games


Because I had to.

The Hunger Games (as if you haven’t heard of it), Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic triumph, was turned into a movie released this past Friday. If you don’t know the plot, go out and buy it immediately. (Unless you have a problem with moderately graphic teen violence, in which case you should get over that so you can go out and buy it.)

What? Literary merit? A young adult novel turned blockbuster? What about that love triangle I saw on the cover of J-14?

If it’s that popular, there’s gotta be something. Here that something has a braid, a bow, and serious people issues. Katniss Everdeen is one of the strongest YA protagonists I’ve ever encountered.

Her goals aren’t particularly noble, there’s no forced idealism. All she wants is to survive the book. She isn’t interested in overturning the system, she just wants to get back home (malnourished and washed out as it may be). Which is, of course, what we all want. Whether the arena is high school, unemployment, a fight to the death for the nation’s entertainment, whatever, we just want to make it out. The moral, uh, shifts she goes through become understandable, even relatable.

I maintain that the strength of the character in the novel lies in our forced first person perspective- which meant that I had some problems with the film. It was amazing, don’t get me wrong. I thought they did a wonderful job bringing the characters and world to life. But it was jarring to find myself in the role of the victimizer (a Capitol citizen watching the games) rather than the victim (Katniss). It provided a disturbing new perspective, and I’m not sure it’s one I enjoyed. Appreciated, yes, liked, well… The other strength of the book lay in its shock value. I’m sure it was surprising and entertaining for new viewers, but some of us devotees found that it all fell a bit short.

No one really likes book to film adaptations. That said, this is as good as it gets.

See what my friend John says about the film here.


Here we are now, entertain us


Any one who’s spent any length of time with me (or read my “What I’m Currently Reading” lists) will know that I have a um, weakness, for young adult literature. Inspired by an absolutely horrific pile of essays from my twelfth graders this weekend, I dove happily back into my youth. The result, in no particular order-

Suzie’s Top Five Teen Authors

(… for girls.)

To clarify- this is not a list based on literary merit, but rather a combination of the amount of enjoyment I got out of them, and the amount of enjoyment I believe the average fifteen year old girl would get out of them.

1.  Meaghan McCaffrey– The Smart One. Author of the Jessica Darling series, introduced to me by Kate (who you can also blame for this blog). Probably the best teen series I can think of- it’s a blast following JD from sophmore year of high school to her young pro years. The only drawback is the raging liberal agenda, she says, writing to you from the bluest of the blue states. It can grate a little, although if you’re getting to the political state of your teenage years (or are just out of college and bored) it works. Definitely for older teens.

2.  Sarah Dessen– has a soft, melancholy vibe that can be a little irritating if you’re out of both your teenage years and your sad corner (I think I left my black nail polish there, can you grab it for me?). However, Someone Like You is freakin’ brilliant. The events could easily fall into melodrama, but Dessen paints an understated portrait of what love is and isn’t. More importantly, she leaves you with a sense that this isn’t the end of the road- a rarity in a genre targeted towards people who’re the center of the universe (I really like this genre). It was turned into a horrific movie starring Mandy Moore, but don’t let that throw you.

3. Robin Benway– Reading Robin Benway’s books (particularly her debut novel Audrey, Wait!) is like drinking Pepsi at your best friend’s house after school- unpretentious, surprisingly hilarious, memory making- I’ve taken this metaphor as far as it’s gonna go- better stop – caught in- dashes—– Anyway. The lady’s got class and talent, and she’s ridiculously fun. Audrey, Wait! follows a particularly chill character through a particularly unchill time in her life (paparazzi!), and we’re lucky enough to enjoy the ride. The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June isn’t quite as strong, but I love to see an author move out of her comfort zone.

4. Sarra Manning– apparently moved into writing grown-up books for a few years after being disgusted by the dystopian/vampire/generally angry teen books flooding the market. I read one of her grown-up books. I didn’t like it.  I do, however, love her YA stuff, in particular Guitar Girl. Her characters are decidedly human, if supernaturally talented. There’s not a lot of learning and growing to do with these books, but there’s a heck of a lot of rom com, and her newest book appears to be in the same vein. Read when you want to feel optimistic (or to cheer up after Sarah Dessen).

5. Suzanne Collins– the woman wrote The Hunger Games and so wins a spot on this list forever. Katniss Everdeen is the greatest female protagonist of the 21st century (so far). She’s also written a delightful series for younger readers, but deliciously smart and compelling Hunger Games Trilogy is what she’ll be remembered for. Read them.

That’s all. Like, happy reading!

Currently on my shelf: Elder Barsanuphius, The Choice (so ashamed), Black Mass.

We few, we happy few


I LOVE this place.

Last weekend I participated in the Wellesley College Shakepeare Society’s annual 24 Hour Shakespeare Marathon. The event started as a one-off in 2004 (the spring before I got there) and was picked up again in 2009 (the spring after I graduated). So this weekend was my first time participating. The goal is to read everything Shakespeare ever wrote in one house, in 24 hours. This includes disputed plays like Edward III. I got to read my darling Histories, including Henry VI part iii, and the Chorus in Henry V.

It was…

We band of sisters!

A blast.

Access The Complete Works any time at MIT’s Shakespeare website.

From My Youth…


Last month during school vacation, I did the staging for the Eastern American Diocese Youth Choir’s first (and hopefully not last) formal concert with readings from the Old and New Testaments, St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal sermon, Doctor Zhivago, Fathers and Sons, and The Idiot. I haven’t read the above three books, but they’re on my mental list (The Idiot most of all). It was wonderful to be able to combine some of my absolute favorite things- my craft (theater), music, great literature, and church. What could be better? A bout with the Noro virus marred the weekend somewhat, but I was delighted to be a part of it.

Watch my favorite portion of the concert here, Weelkes’ When David Heard:

Things I’m Currently Reading- March Edition


I’ve been grading papers almost every day for the last few weeks, so this list is a bit thin. Alas! Time to step it up.

Daily spiritual reading-

  1. – Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, Victor Afanasiev
  2.  The Bible. (Sometimes? Usually via

Pleasure reading-

  1. – Unsticky, Sarra Manning (am contemplating stopping)
  2. Our Lady of Pain, Elena Forbes
  3. – Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan


  1. Black Mass, Dick Lehr

Books I that have been on hold, but want to finish-

  1. -With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, Elder Paisios
  2. -The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Dr. Li Zhisui

Just finished-

  1. – Courage to Pray, Met. Anthony Bloom
  2. – The Gurus, The Young Man, and Elder Paisios, Dionysios Tatsis (reread)
  3. – The Woman in Black, Susan Hill
  4. -You’re the One That I Don’t Want, Alexandra Potter
  5. Cleaving, Julie Powell
  6. Don’t Shoot, David Kennedy
  7. Fist Stick Knife Gun, Geoffrey Canada

Stopped because they were so awful-

1. We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

Next up-

  1. – A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (in honor of Women’s History Month!)
  2. – A new, enjoyable spiritual reading book (something with a narrative- recommendations, please?)
  3. – Spiritual Struggle, Elder Paisios
  4. Beauty for Ashes: The Spiritual Transformation of a Modern Greek Community, Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett

More on The Woman in Black


Since one post just wasn’t enough!

While typing my previous entry, I checked out The Woman in Black IMDB page *. IMDB includes a list of memorable quotes from the film, the first of which was:

Jennet: I will never forgive.

(Put that on a mug and sell it.)

Sheer unoriginality aside, something about that quote REALLY bothered me. As I left school yesterday, I tried to figure out exactly what it was. And I think I did. More importantly, I think it led me to the secret of the Woman in Black, and why she still terrifies me.

A few things to know about the Woman (in the novel). She never speaks. We don’t learn her name until we’re at least 2/3 of the way through. Once we learn it, we only refer to her by her full name, and only two or three times at the most- otherwise she remains the Woman in Black. We hear her name when we hear her life’s story. Then- in the final, terrible, moment of retribution the narrator refers to “seeing the ghost of Jennet Humfrye”.

And that, dear readers, is what IMDB doesn’t get. “Jennet” is gone. A person has the ability to change, repent. Susan Hill slowly reveals that what we are dealing with is not a person.

So why is this book so scary? I propose that Hill captured something real about the spiritual world- reminding us that this life we have now is our time to  bend, to forgive, or else we’ll spend eternity in anger and pain.

Happy Lent?


* Someday I’ll type on my home computer again.

A Good Reminder


In honor of Valentine’s Day (and as a reward to myself fo reaching a personal goal) I bought a copy of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black* from one of my other favorite book stores**. The stage version has been running in the West End for 23.5 years now, nothing to sneeze at. Supposedly, it’s one of the most terrifying experiences you can have in the live theater. I’ve been dying to get my hands on the script for a while, but it’s fairly difficult to find. As I point out to my students often enough, plays are meant to be heard. So why not experience the story as it’s meant to be? Read the novel if you’re going to read, see the play if you want to hear it aloud. I shelled out $14.00 to Porter Square Books and looked forward to an exciting train ride home, followed by vigil for the Feast of Our Lord’s Circumcision.

By the time I finished the book, it was half way through vigil, and I needed a hug from my mom before I could leave the house. Returning home that night, I hid the book under a pile of clothes and prayed harder than I have in quite a while. Nearly a month later I’m still trying to shake it. Talk about the power of imagination!

I’m still trying to sort out exactly what it was that set me off. It’s incredibly well structured (only around 200 pages!). The characters are likable (or not) enough. There was some sort of catharsis at the end (oh, the end! Even if you see it coming it is awful, awful, awful).

After careful consideration (preceded by a gut feeling), I think a good deal of it has to do with the quality of the villain. She doesn’t say anything, a common enough trope. There’s a relatively long lead up to the big reveal (who IS she?), but that’s not the crux of it. The best I can come up with is this: When we first hear the woman in black described in detail, Hill manages to capture something absolutely evil, even (perhaps) demonic. Her account of the woman’s appearance manages to convey despair, malevolence, hatred, and pride.

(I’ve chosen to refrain from posting the quote because it still kind of wigs me out.)

I think it’s perhaps the final element that makes the woman unique. It’s not the hatred- it’s the absolute certainty of being right in her hatred that moves me.

What makes a book terrifying? Is a book good if it’s terrifying? Can a book be good if it’s terrifying? Why would you want to scare yourself?

Any way, read at your own peril. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

*This browser is lame.–Edition/dp/0307745317/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331237270&sr=1-1

** Still lame! Gah!