The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
When I was in middle school, I loved all of the Lurlene McDaniels books. You’d think reading about teenagers battling cancer would be depressing but somehow she managed to make her stories about love and life. I mention this because John Green’s book is nothing like Lurlene’s, and thus is overwhelmingly depressing. Cancer becomes as much of a character as Hazel and Augustus as you get an intimate glimpse at the life of teenage patients.
Hazel and Augustus meet at a cancer support group. They fall in love while Hazel undergoes treatment. Their whole relationship revolves around their illness, but somehow that’s okay too. Green’s story is so realistic you almost forget that he’s writing a YA novel, which is kind of the point. He doesn’t minimize the teens’ emotions, nor does he make them into an overblown soap opera. He just lets them be.
Just like Hazel and Augustus would want.
It’s no secret that I love psychology — pop or otherwise. After Professor Levine‘s abnormal psychology class I began to thing more critically about the books I had once love (Girl, Interrupted, Prozac Nation). Chief among the offenders was Sybil. A classic story of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) it sparked a craze that led the American Psychological Association to add the diagnosis to the DSM.
In Sybil Exposed Debbie Nathan looks into the science behind the book and makes some shocking discoveries. The real story of abuse may be more violent and underhanded than the story presented in Sybil. Dr. Wilbur injected Shirley (the real name of Sybil) with “truth serum” many times a week. The substance is shown to cause hallucinations, nausea, excessive sleep and is only recommended for a maximum of three doses. This drug in combination with the others Dr. Wilbur prescribed for Shirley kept her from pursuing any life independent from therapy.
Nathan presents the story from three different perspectives: Shirley, Dr. Wilbur and Flora Rheta Schreiber. By doing so she is able to create a story that parallels the fragmentation of Sybil’s creation.
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My idyllic little college got a lot of love from a pretty famous alum a few days ago and I thought I’d share it with you. John Green is the latest in a long line of creative Kenyon folks: Robert Lowell, Laura Hillenbrand, James Wright, Caleb Carr, E. L. Doctorow, Alison Janney, Paul Newman, Josh Radnor, Rutherford B. Hayes, Jim Borgman, and Bill Watterson, to name a few. Though the list itself is awe-inspiring, it’s even more shocking once you realize that Kenyon graduates a mere 450 students every spring.
Green says it best: “In short I know that nostalgia is in the business of twisting memories into lies and that there are lots of great colleges and universities but let’s face it: Kenyon is the best one.”
Full of excitement, this week has seen the gradual wind-down of senior year begin. I’m running ragged trying to get transcripts sent, Academic Infractions Board Cases heard, and grad classes registered–but I love it! Here’s what I read this week in between errands
- What Books Did People Read On the Titanic? (Bookriot): Saying I’m obsessed with the Titanic is a slight understatement. My roommate and I had the conversation that everyone has “their” tragedy and the sinking of the Titanic is definitely mine. For me it signifies the real end to everything I love about the Victorian era: new technology, W.T. Stead, billionaires, and dreams. Given all of this it’s no surprise that I jumped with joy at all of the press coverage for the centennial. This article was of utmost interest, because c’mon: books + Titanic = love.
- Is a Credit Union Your Savior From Student Loan Debt? (Forbes): Another timely article as I just had my loan exit interview here at Kenyon. With student debt rising there’s been an increased interest in how to keep the “next generation” from stumbling to financial ruin. This article is a new take on an old problem.
- Podcasts by Oxford University English Faculty (via Blackwell’s Bookshop): Okay, so this one isn’t strictly an article, but it’s a great listen all the same! One of my favorite things about being an English major is that I get to listen to great minds talk about great literature and now I can take it with me! (Bonus: these professors have British accents.)
- Tutoring Surges with Fight for Middle School Spots (NYT): Though I read this in the print edition–Kenyon graciously holds subscriptions to the NYT that are delivered to the dining hall Monday through Friday–it’s available online. It boggles my mind that competition is so tough just for middle school tests — I didn’t take a prep course for the SAT! The article reminds me a lot of the documentary Nursery University (check it out if you haven’t already).
I’ve realized that I continually mention “comps” in my blog posts without giving any explanation! I attend Kenyon College and here all seniors are required to complete a senior comprehensive project in order to receive their degree. The project is different for each major, for example drama majors perform/direct a play and take an exam while biology majors write a research paper and take an exam. For English majors like me “comps” has two parts: the paper and the exam.
The paper is a project of our own devising. It can be on any area of literature that we have taken classes in and can use any novel, whether we’ve read it for a class or not. The idea is to show the English department that we’ve learned something during our four years here. Absurdly short at nine to twelve pages, the challenge of the paper is writing all of the pertinent information concisely! For most of us this is the shortest paper we’ve written for an English class since freshman year, so it’s definitely a struggle. This part of comps was due just after winter break, at the end of January.
The examination is far more structured. We are given a reading list of several novels, plays and poets and are expected to know the works thoroughly. The works come from the three divisions within the English department: pre-1700s, 1700-1900, post-1900. For my year we have to read the following:
- Pre-1700: The Tempest (William Shakespeare), Doctor Faustus (Christopher Marlowe), All for Love (John Dryden), The Canterbury Tales: Middle English Version (Geoffrey Chaucer)
- 1700-1900: Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), The Playboy of the Western World (J.M. Synge), The Interesting Narrative Life of Olaudah Equiano
- Post-1900: Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys), Absalom, Absalom! (William Faulkner)
The poets are also chosen to spread through the time periods, though thankfully there are fewer of them. We have to read: Eavan Boland (post-1900), Emily Dickenson (1700-1900), Michael Harper (post-1900) and George Herbert (pre-1700).
The list seems daunting at best. Finding time to read all of the works is enough trouble but to read them in the detail they deserve, and that is expected, is more than a little challenging. Anything about the plot or author can be asked on the exam. We have to identify passages from the books and know what scene it is taken from and who is speaking. We have to analyze a poem in detail, for three hours. Stress about the exam doesn’t even begin to cover it!
Luckily I have a wonderful study group that has been meeting since August to go over the books. We’ve accomplished a great deal more than other English majors in our situation have at this point in the game. I keep telling myself that there are those who read the whole list over spring break and come back to campus to pass the exam, surely that means I can do it too.
My flashcards are (mostly) made. I’ve read everything (except one) book. I have three weeks to study and then I will be done with my English major!