Monday, May 27, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (May 28)

The Top Ten Tuesday meme originates from The Broke and The Bookish. Check it out and consider taking part too!

This meme is a weekly top-ten list category. I'll try my best to follow this weekly, so yeah! Keep checking back, and make sure to go to The Broke and The Bookish where this awesome idea is from!

May 28
Freebie: I'm going to do last week's topic, which I missed:
Top Ten Favourite Book Covers of Books I've Read
*Pics all from goodreads
  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - I guess this doesn't quite qualify yet, as I haven't read it as of today, but it is the very next book I am reading, and I just bought it tonight!!! This cover is a prime example of how graphic design can make a nearly perfect cover. (A.k.a. Dear publishers, stop with the overused photos, especially those of pretty girls, usually in dresses.). I love the simplicity of it, how the colours and fonts and basic shapes convey the message and are unbelievably intriguing. One word to describe this cover: magic. Nearly perfection :)

  2. A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass - (The one with the orange and the cat with the colourful title inside) A common theme, as seen above, is simplicity and graphic design. I love these kind of covers that take so much care of simple things like the font and colour, and use basically just that to convey an unbelievably strong and hooking message. The cover of A Mango-Shaped Space uses a symbolic, important element of the book (the cat, Mango) to highlight the title, and the use of colour is attractive and carries a strong connection to the story (Mia's Synesthesia).                                                                                   
  3. Stargirl and 
  4. Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli - These covers are true artistry. They both take graphic design to the next level by visually conveying the title in a meaningful, theme-appropriate way. The use of the star over the girl, and the addition of "Love," in the sequel creates an insanely effective, simplistic design, that gets the message across, and in a minimalistic way, which I believe really fits Stargirl's character and her down-to-earth, pure ways.                            
  5. Shine by Lauren Myracle - Ahhhhh! I love it so much! It is so beautiful and highlights the story in a very deep, symbolic way. I love holding this book in my hands and admiring the beauty of the discrete yet effective cover. Beautiful to both those unfamiliar to the story and those already having lived the story beautiful cover to cover.                                           
  6. Life as We Knew It and                                                                              
  7. The Dead and the Gone and 
  8. This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer - There's something just crazily intriguing about the connection between these three covers. They all use the key part to the story (the huge, close moon) to form a trilogy of covers and to then build upon that by visually showcasing the specifics to the tone of each novel and other important elements. Seems like a lot of background thought went into these covers. Yay for thinking :P
  9. And so many other books that I've missed and now I feel bad about missing
  10. And so many books that I have yet to read!!!
Now put a smile on your face, pour a cup of tea, and enjoy a book :)

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Hope you enjoyed and will continue to enjoy this post, my blog, and life :)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The House of the Scorpion: Narrative Structure

In the novel we've been studying, The House of the Scorpion, a prominent element that deserves discussion is the narrative structure. I say this because a lot of debate and discussion occurred over the way Farmer communicated her story, including the pacing and the fury-provoking ending. So! Presenting... a post on the narrative structure of The House of the Scorpion.

From the very first page on, Farmer slowly introduces an array of elements that build up, and later on, she connects back to these ideas and continues to give the reader a fuller and fuller story throughout the book. To aid in this build up, an element of mystery is visible at different parts, and I was very engaged by how the author made you form questions, then discretely revealed answers and pieces to the puzzle, meanwhile making you ask even more questions! Many of these questions, such as "How do eejits become what they are?" end up being integral parts of the plot. In my opinion, that is the perfect formatting of a narrative, as the story is then intriguing and keeps you hooked consistently, minimizing the occurrence of weak points.

However, Farmer definitely had strong points, especially when concerning the development of the narrative. Throughout the novel, important information and growth of the plot often occurs in intense chunks. In most books, this would bug me, but in The House of the Scorpion, Farmer used these large sections to provide depth and deeper understanding in interesting ways. Examples include when Tam Lin takes Matt to the oasis, when Matt gets the Opium book, when Matt finds MacGregor's clone, and when he discovers the eejit pens. These moments were sections I looked forward to, and they made me feel like I was taking a giant step toward solving the puzzle.

Matt brings a peculiar element to the flow of the narrative, as when he isn't talking, the pace is drastically changed. When he regained his voice on page 73, a large shift occurred in the speed that things were communicated to the reader, as things became a two-way conversation rather than the one-way that was going on before that. This change was both unique to the novel and very affective in twisting up the narrative structure to keep it engaging and non-repetitive.

Probably my favourite part of the narrative structure was foreshadowing. I could easily give Farmer the title for best foreshadow-er! Throughout The House of the Scorpion, she develops elements that start out as mere hints and specks, but then piece together and we come to realize that these things mean a lot more. An example is when we were casually introduced to the idea that Matt wasn't meant to exist for long: “The doctor once told Rosa that clones went to pieces when they got older. What did that mean? Did they actually fall apart (Farmer 71).” This lets us join in on Matt’s confusion and questioning, while letting us make inferences and want to read on! The ready is hooked! Foreshadowing is also present in smaller cases, such as discovering that the teacher is an eejit, etc. Like the previous elements I have discussed, foreshadowing kept me captivated and was a large reason for giving this book 5 stars!

Last but not least, I would like to fittingly give this post an abrupt ending by saying that the death of practically everyone wasn't revealed until page 375, and the book ended on page 380...

Monday, May 13, 2013

The House of the Scorpion: Connections to Real World Issues

Although it may at first appear as a futuristic, dystopian, mere piece of fiction, The House of the Scorpion is abundant in deep connections to our world today, and many flaws that are occurring even in the present. Many of these are glorified in The House of the Scorpion, and in this post, I'll be connecting elements of the book to a real world issue!

Searching below the surface of the setting, deep corruption can be found. A substantial element of this corruption in The House of the Scorpion relates to the Aztlan/USA border, which turned into Opium. Illegal immigration is the main subject at hand, as that was what was occurring: people were trying to illegally cross from Aztlan (formerly Mexico) to the USA, and the other way too. Similar is an issue faced today: the Mexico/USA border. Many people from the south wish for a better life, and attempt to cross over into the USA illegally.

In both cases, the task is risky and the morals behind it are quite fragile. A quote that strongly sums up motives and mentality behind the present day situation is "When a relatively poor country whose jobs pay little shares a long border with a rich one whose jobs pay much better, many of those in Country A will migrate to Country B -- even if it means they must pay large fees to criminal smugglers, risk death in crossing, do dirty and unpleasant work and endure the constant danger of being arrested and evicted (Chapman).". After thoroughly analyzing that statement, it can be connected back to The House of the Scorpion. Both the present day and the novel contain the same reality: these people are willing to do anything, including hiring smugglers/coyotes ("A man who takes people over the border. You pay him and he helps you (Farmer 142).") and risking the not-so-rare penalties associated with both crossing over and attempting to make a life in the new country.

Taking a look at the other side of the story, similarities can also be found in those who penalize and persecute the illegal immigrants. In the story, El Patron goes all out to find the darkest criminals to form the Farm Patrol, and he will stop at nothing to maintain control over Opium. In today's world, the USA government puts tremendous effort into trying to minimize the illegal immigration. According to one source, the government spends 10 times more on controlling the border than it did in 1993 (Chapman)! However, a major difference is that the USA brings ethics into the picture, whereas El Patron had ruthless standards and practices.

The physical similarities and differences are clear, but the real connections are deeper. To see this, you have to look at the people, and who they are before and after their actions. In The House of the Scorpion, those trying to cross the border illegally end up eejits. They completely lose their true self and become just a shell of a body, like we hear about Rosa “Now she was merely a shadow with the life sucked out of her (Farmer 147).”. In the case of today’s illegal immigrants, mainly those who attempt to come over to the USA from Mexico, they are either sent back or otherwise persecuted, or subject to an undocumented life where they are not accepted for their true identity.

Is being without a true identity really that much better than completely losing who you are? Or is it all the same in the end? Not accepted for who you are, misunderstood, unjustly treated, labeled as someone else. In the future or in the present, it seems the fate of these people is the same.

Main source:

(Note: background info and knowledge was received from various other articles and webpages. The one above was the provider of the specific facts and statistics I used.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The House of the Scorpion: Film Study

So! In class we just finished watching a movie called "Gattaca". The purpose was to analyze it in comparison to the novel we've been studying, The House of the Scorpion. Furthermore, we were supposed to look at the protagonist from each, and compare their character and their role in the story. In The House of the Scorpion, the protagonist is Matt, who is a clone. In Gattaca, the protagonist is Vincent, who is essentially a naturally born person using the identity of someone else to achieve his goal.

If you want more info, check out these synopsis's of The House of the Scorpion and Gattaca.

In analyzing Matt and Vincent, to me the most prominent element is their acceptance in society, or rather, the lack of such inclusion. Both are brought into this world in ways that are a minority in their society. Similarly, both of the protagonists had no control over the situation they were put into. In both cases, their "abnormal" birth was the decision of others, and yet they were the ones paying the price. Along with this comes one of the largest differences between the two: Matt is ostracized for being genetically created, and Vincent is ostracized for not being genetically created. This relates to the setting the two characters are in, and how it affects them.
Something I found interesting is that both "worlds" were very sic-fi and high-tech, and yet genetic creation was only accepted in one of the two stories. Throughout the novel, the sci-fi setting in comparison to the acceptance of genetic modification was able to hint at morals, values, and twist around the relationships between Matt/Vincent and the other characters. This played a large role in how isolated the characters were, as Matt's isolation from reality is quite an opposite to Vincent's role in "normal" life.
Along with this comes another difference. Matt never physically changed into something or someone different, and he remained a clone, and was challenged with having to accept that. Vincent, however, took a seemingly more active role and modified who he was to try and physically abolish what differentiated him from the majority, to forcefully gain the acceptance and equality that both characters wanted.
Passion, on the other hand, was something the two did share. In Matt's case, Maria, as well as Celia and Tam Lin, drove him to do certain things and make certain choices, and Vincent's relation with Irene was quite similar. Vincent's determination to get to space could also be connected back to Matt's goal of restoring morality. Although these motives had similar outcomes, the way the characters achieve things varied drastically. In my opinion, this is largely due to the fact that Matt is young and quite unaware of reality for most of the story, whereas Vincent is a mature man thoroughly integrated into society. A clear example of Matt's case is "Another picture showed a man holding a bullfrog between two slices of bread. RIBBIT ON RYE! the caption said. Matt didn't know what a ribbit was, but Celia laughed every time she looked at it (Farmer 8).". However, in the end both characters seem to experience similar moments and decisions, maybe not physically, but emotionally and mentally.
As the audience (reader/viewer), the determination, boldness, risk-taking nature, and deep thinking is obvious when either character faces a crossroad or a challenge. In terms of deep thinking and emotional intensity, a sentence that really proved this for me about Matt was "Matt wished desperately that he could get over things that fast. Whenever he was hurt of angry or sad, the feelings stuck their claws into him until they were ready to let go (Farmer 66).". In the end, I think it is not the two characters' lack of acceptance in society that connects them. Rather, I believe it is how they faced this, which includes both their actions and reactions. Though they physically may differ, their hearts beat quite the same.

The House of the Scorpion: Setting 2

Continued from The House of the Scorpion: Setting 1

In my opinion, the most affective, creative use of setting was the garden and oasis and the metaphoric meanings both had. Throughout Matt's life a the Big House, we receive insight into his hopes and wishes, and this is done when Farmer uses metaphors that incorporate the colour and beauty of the garden. Similarly, there are "oasis's" throughout the novel, including the literal oasis, as well as more discrete instances such as the music room, where Matt is able to find beauty and hope.

One element that I wasn't astounded by was the rate of the setting development, which I found lagged behind the rest of the story, as I often had images formed that were later proved wrong, and that can be very confusing and even frustrating for the reader. An example is on page 136, the first time we learn that the marble mansion has red tile roofs. That bit of extra info really screwed up my visualizations since it came so late.

Bringing it all together, I believe Farmer tied the setting into the rest of the novel in a very affective way. The setting gradually strengthened to connect to the narrative and support the plot, theme, and characters, eventually becoming central to the novel. Setting supporting a character is visible in this sentence "Through a narrow gap he could see a green lawn and bright pink flowers, but only enough to make (Matt) want more (Farmer 38)." and "It was so bright and cheerful, it raised his spirits in spite of Rosa's dire threats (Farmer 53).".

Overall, Farmer's choices about setting created a vivid novel that was able to fulfill what the reader needs and wants, and also to add that extra "wow". She embraced foreign ideas, and carefully intertwined them with relatable concepts to sculpt a perfect fictional world.

The House of the Scorpion: Setting 1

In analyzing setting, I believe there are two main aspects to be explored: the way the setting is shared and developed, and the setting itself.

Even before the first chapter, the character cast, family tree, and chapter index gave insight into the what and when of the setting, as well as some where. Since the family tree and cast are blanketed with gruesome stories of death, corruption, and power, a hint at the general tone of the "what" is given. Moving on to the first chapter, it is quickly seen that the novel's setting is very technological and sci-fi, as we observe the growth of clones in weird labs "In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of life so tiny Eduardo could see them only under a microscope. He studied them anxiously in the darkened room. Water bubbled through tubes that snaked around warm, humid walls. Air was sucked into growth chambers. A dull, red light shone on the faces of the workers as they watched their own arrays of little glass dishes. Each one contained a drop of life (Farmer 2)." This sci-fi aspect is developed throughout the novel, as Farmer makes it clear that eejits, clones, experimentation, and transplants are vital parts of the society.

Another aspect of the general "what" is corruption and intense hierarchy. Like medieval times, people on the bottom worked endlessly and got no reward, and the lazy brats on the top received the power and wealth. Throughout the book, strange twists are put on the hierarchy, such as the ranking of drug farmers "There were senators and famous actors, general and world-renowned doctors, a few ex-presidents, and a half a dozen dictators from places Matt had heard about on TV. There was even a faded-looking princess. And of course there were the other Farmers. The Farmers were the real aristocrats here. They ruled the drug empire that formed the border between the United States and Aztlan (Farmer 98).". The true strength of money and power is continuously a focus, and is highlighted in many ways, such as "He's a United States senator, so his opinion is worth more (Farmer 10)." and "El Patron wanted his (clone) to grow up like a real boy. He's so rich, he can break any law he wants (Farmer 26).". These aspects of the setting provide a strong basis to the narrative by forming an intense, dark tone.

Continued in The House of the Scorpion: Setting 2