Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

Release date: March 7, 2017
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 224

Description (from Goodreads):

Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality—not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life—why did he leave? what did he learn?—as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

Wow, what a story! Sometimes reality really can be stranger than fiction.

Have you ever dreamed of just leaving everything behind, of disappearing? I imagine we all have feelings like that sometimes, but the urge to do so is balanced by other things. For example,  I could never imagine leaving my family behind. And to be completely honest, I don't think I could live without a computer for long. And since I burn in the sun very easily and hate mosquitoes, outdoor living probably would not make me very happy in the long run.  

I had never heard about Christopher Knight before, which is kind of surprising since it seems like his name dominated at least the US headlines for a while after his arrest. When I first heard about this book, I instantly became interested and tried to resist the urge of doing research on him because I felt like as a reader, the best thing for me would be going into this book without reading too much about its subject matter beforehand. Please note, though, that I still recommend you read this book even if you feel like you already know there is everything to know about this guy.

In late 1980s, Christopher Knight, 20 years old at the time, left his job and home in Maine and took to the woods without telling his family or friends were he was going. His family didn't hear of his for the next 27 years. Throughout the years, he became a sort of urban legend, a hermit living in the woods and a menace of the local cabin owners who constantly found that their properties have been robbed. Knight rarely stole anything of large value, but the fact that people were not able to protect their properties from a thief obviously caused anxiety. 

I had not read anything by Michael Finkel before picking this one up, but I definitely want to check out his previous work now. The way he writes about Knight is done brilliantly, in my opinion, and the way he is able to not only introduce Knight's ideas about what happened, but also of those someway influenced by Knight's actions is done gracefully and in a way that really made me think. 

Why did Knight leave everything he had behind and decide to live in the woods? What kind of punishment is fit to a man who committed over 1,000 burglaries to survive? What does Knight's decisions tell about the society and about the nature of solitude? 

Finkel paints Knight as a complicated figure. On the one hand, he is extremely intelligent and crafty, and a kind of smart that might seem indimidating; he is philosophical and probably possesses thoughts only those who have lived in solitude can possess. He also seems somewhat pure, because like he says, the opinions of others have not really affected his life since he went to the woods; he has not have had to pretend to be someone else, to play a role. He has been able to completely and fully himself. On the other hand, he seems extremely arrogant and inconsiderate, traits that probably connect to the fact that he has not interacted with other people for almost three decades. 

His actions are also complicated. The decision to leave everything behind and to willingly live in the woods of Maine is something probably not a lot of people can understand. And as we know, something that we don't understand often tends to scare us. I definitely would be intimidated around a person like Knight. I found the fact that his family did not report him missing very strange, but believe that really the only people he hurt by leaving were his family members. Obviously, others became hurt too in different ways as they became victims of robberies.

I appreciated the fact that Finkel does not attempt to represent Knight either as some sort of hermit hero or as a criminal. Rather, by using statements by Knight himself, he paints a picture of a man of multitudes. Knight was never violent and only attempted to burglarize homes that were empty. He did not steal anything of value and only stole money in very small amounts. But nevertheless, he did walk into the homes of other people and thus created feelings of unease and paranoia. Understandbly, opinions about the ways in which Knights should be punished varied, and my thoughts about it changed constantly. On one hand, I felt sympathy for Knight, one the other I had a hard time understanding his decisions. 

While I think Knight's story in itself is extremely interesting, I think the process I personally went through while making my decision about what to think about Knight was the aspect I enjoyed most as I read this book. Finkel clearly shows respect for Knight, and maybe even a degree of admiration, but never tells the reader of what to think. As mentioned, by offering multiple points of view to the situation, Finkel makes sure that the reader has the choice to make her own judgments. While in the law robbery includes "bad", when it comes to Knight I think the situation is not as black and white.

All in all, The Stranger in the Woods was an extremely interesting, thought provoking read and one that I will definitely recommend to everyone. Even if you are not usually a fan of non-fiction, I think the way this one has been written might catch your interest. 


Monday, March 27, 2017

Geekerella by Ashley Poston (Review)

Release date: April 4th, 2017
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Quirk Books
Pages: 320

Description (from Goodreads):

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

I can already say Geekerella by Ashley Poston is going to be among my top 5 books of 2017! It made me laugh, it made me cry, and most importantly, it reminded me why I love being a fangirl so damn much.

For me, and I imagine for a lot of readers out there, Geekerella will read like 320-page long love letter to fandom. It is a story about two fans, and more generally about being a fan and what fandom can bring to your life. It is incredibly romantic and relatable, it has a diverse set of characters and a lot of heart, and I think all and all, it is everything (and much more) I could ever want from a contemporary young adult novel.

Elle is the "Cinderella" of this story. Her father died when she was younger, and she is now living with her stepmother and two stepsisters. This family she has been forced to become a part of has not made her life easy, but she knows that things could be much worse -- at least she has her anonymous friends on the Starfleet forums.

The television show and the fandom at the heart of Geekerella is called Starfleet. It's a sort of Firefly-esque science fiction drama Elle was introduced to by her father, and I think the memory of watching the show with him makes it even more important for her. Starfleet was their "thing", and now that he is gone she feels responsible for keeping said "thing" alive. 

Darien has been a Starfleet fan too for years, and when the opportunity to star in a reboot movie of the show shows up, Darien is not quite sure how to react. Sure, he is really excited, but at the same time he wonders whether he can ever do justice to the fictional world and characters loved by so many. 

When Elle hears about the casting of Darien she feels furious. How can a teenage heartthrob like that be selected to such an iconic role? Sure, he is nice to look at, but that is not enough. To voice her concerns, Elle writes about the casting to her blog, thinking no one will read it anyway. Little does she know that among her numerous readers is Darien, the new star of Starfleet.

As a result of her blog post, Darien and Elle start to exchange messages. Elle, of course, has no idea who she is messaging with. I absolutely loved the messages they send for each other (it kind of reminded me of You've Got Mail, since for half of that Tom Hanks knows he is messaging with Meg Ryan) and it is an absolutely joy to read how they gradually get to know each other just through the messages they send. since this is obviously a Cinderella retelling of sorts, you kind of know what is going to happen towards the end, but that does not really matter since Poston makes the process of reaching that end so much fun to read about.

I found it extremely easy to relate to Elle and simply loved reading about her. Especially the way she gets comfort from fandom is something I find myself feeling every single day. Darien seems like such a good guy, and I would honestly pay big money to read more about him and Elle.

While the story of Elle and Darien is to die for, I want to go back to discussions about fandom, because those discussions are really the aspect that made me fall in love with this novel. The convention scenes, the discussions about the role of fandom in people's lives, and the realization that something fictional can teach you about real life are all resonated with me so much. 

I am a fan of a lot of things, and sometimes people ask me why I take something fictional so seriously. The realization Elle reaches -- that these fictional stories have taught her about love, science, etc -- is something I have realized too. And while the stories and characters are fictional, they can sometimes feel more real than the people around us.

If you are a fan of anything I think you are going to love this one! 

Geekerella is one of those books I would want to wipe from my memory JUST so I could read it again for the first time!


Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Little Update: Where I Have Been & What's To Come Next

Long time no see! I hope you are all doing great. Spring is slowly coming to Finland and I think it's time for me to update you a little bit about what has been going on and why this blog has been fairly inactive for the last few months.

So, as mentioned, maybe some of you have noticed that my blog has been fairly inactive for the first few months of this year. I love this blog and writing for it, but sometimes life just happens and there is not enough time for everything. While I hate the fact that I have neglected to update this blog, my reason for it is pretty good (at least I think it is)...

I am doing my final semester of my postgraduate education and soon I can add "Master of Arts" to my resume. My course load has been super light this semester, as it has mostly been dedicated to actually finishing up with my MA thesis, but the only course that I have had to take has been the most challenging course of my almost six years of higher education.

So what course is that you might ask? MY SWEDISH COURSE. Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, which means that in order for me to graduate I need to have at least some sort of knowledge of Swedish. Usually, people study Swedish in both middle school and high school, but since I went to an international high school, I was able to avoid taking compulsory Swedish. So it has taken me a lot of work to catch up with everything I missed in high school. 

The good thing is that the course is now over! I already passed the oral portion of the exam (the part that I was more nervous about!) and the written exam will take place next Thursday. I am feeling fairly okay about it at the moment. Usually. I always shoot for the highest grade, but with this one, I am honestly just happy as long as I pass. Anyway, you are graded either as having "a good knowledge of the language" or "a satisfying knowledge of the language", and as I judge my own capabilities of using Swedish I know my grasp of it is definitely more on the satisfactory than on the good side.

If I pass that exam during the first attempt (and I am determined to do it!) it means that the only thing I have left is to make edits to my thesis. I returned a full draft to my supervisor earlier this week and I will most likely get comments on it within the next couple of weeks. I am feeling very good about my thesis and I am happy I have scheduled it in a way that I have a lot of time to make those edits (I need to return it by the end of April). 

But enough about my studies.... 

While this blog has been inactive, I have actually been reading quite a bit! The reason why I haven't updated anything has to do with the fact that I have been too lazy/busy to write reviews for what I've read. 

While going back and reviewing stuff that you have read weeks or months before can be difficult, the fact that I have taken into writing a sort of reading journal will help me! I have caught up with a portion of the reviews I need to write, but there is still several titles that I need to cover. 

So... once I am done with that Swedish course, I am determined to get those reviews written so I can end the inactivity of this blog.

This means that there is a possibility that I will post something as early at the end of next week! You have no idea how much I am looking forward working on this blog again! 

So, I think that's it for now! If you want to have a look at what I have been reading, I have been active on Goodreads. Also, I am super active on Twitter and if you want to follow me there, you can find me from @milkamilka