Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell

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One book that I’ve found easy to lend to anybody (ok, let’s be honest, any girl, but not that that’s a bad thing) in the last few years has been ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Rowell. It’s hard to explain what I liked so much about it, but it worked. The dialogue was zippy, It made me feel nostalgic for the late 90s, when email was still the best way to communicate and people wrote essays to each other. I don’t know the last time I wrote an essay length email that wasn’t work related. Well, I wrote superlong group emails from South America but I don’t really count those. When email was in vogue everybody complained that they were taking the place of letters. Now social networks and chats have taken the place of emails. You know that if Attachments took place in the present day it would be on a work based communicator. ‘This application is NOT to be used for personal communication!’ And it wouldn’t work as well.

Last month I went looking for a book as a present for a friend’s birthday. As she is a new mother I figured I’d try to look for something light but easy to read, snappy. I’ve complained about the lack of decent bookshops in Gibraltar before. I came across one I hadn’t noticed before and hoped there was some promise, but unfortunately it was hopeless. So I went to Casemates and the small selection of books upstairs. There I saw about 5 copies of Fangirl. Which made me happy, but since the girl whose birthday it was doesn’t even have a facebook account I thought reading a book about somebody who writes fanfiction might seem a bit weird to her. Or at least I’d prefer to read it first before giving it to her and there wasn’t time for that. If I’d seen a copy of Attachments I’d have snapped it up without hesitation. Also I really wanted to read this myself. I really wanted to read it myself. That was the main reason and I couldn’t justify buying two copies or contemplate buying it without the possibility of reading it straight away. So in the end I broke my bookbuying rule and bought a copy for myself and ‘Finding Colin Firth’ for my friend.

I’ve been disappointed by following the ‘this was written by the same author, therefore should be good’ train before, but this thankfully wasn’t one of them. I finished it in a day. Sometimes I wish I took longer with books I’m enjoying rather than just speeding through them, but I can always go back and reread, either in full of in part. I’ve done that a few times with Attachments which I still think I like better, but even so.

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Cath is a shy 18 year old about to start college, the same college as her twin sister Wren. She assumes that they will be sharing a room, but Wren thinks it’s time for them to break the cord. Cath has always found solace in writing fan fiction online and finds it easier to stay in her room updating her ‘Simon Snow’ novel rather than making friends or even talking to her roommate.

As I commuted to university in the first two years I didn’t have some of the immediate issues of Cath. I didn’t live in dorms and have to be away from my parents. I wasn’t really worried about college at all. I was 17 years old, happy to be finished secondary school and looking to embark on all the adventures that college would provide ‘Anne of the Island’ style. I did enjoy college, well except for my final year, but I think I expected too much. All through secondary school I was looking forward to college. Nothing could live up to that build up. Also, having to run for the last train/bus any time I was out did not help the ‘college experience’. It’s not an issue for somebody more sociable as there are always plenty of couches to be slept on, but sometimes asking seems too much. I don’t think I can ever be a completely spontaneous person, but even the ‘planned spontaneity’  I’ve developed over the years was not yet born.

 

At times I’ve been in an internet bubble so I felt an affinity with Cath, even if I’ve never read or written fan fiction. I do get how you can be invested in the lives of fictional characters and become unhappy with the direction an author takes so much so that you want to take matters into your own hands. It just isn’t something I’ve done, at least except in my head.

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Is it really bad to say that I skipped the fan fic excerpts in this book? Well not so much skipped as skimmed. I did note at some stage that her descriptions were obviously being influenced by what is going on in her life, but I just wasn’t very interested in the fan fiction except as a plot device. Simon Snow was obviously based on Harry Potter and while I’m sure I’ll read the last two books eventually I haven’t got round to it yet. I did see all the films except the last one, I think I just lost interest in the end. My Viennese roommate introduced me to the books back in 2002, as I’d heard of them but wasn’t caught up in the hype. I read all four that Spring, then only had a year to wait for the next one, which I read every waking non working moment, even on my walk from Cabra to Grand Canal Dock and back. I don’t think there was any particular reason why I didn’t read the next one. I can see that it came out the summer I bought my house, just before I went on my Russian adventure. At the time I felt I couldn’t afford the holiday but I’d already bought the flights so decided I’d just do it on the cheap. And maybe this meant not buying full price books, especially when somebody else was bound to have a copy to lend later on. I can never understand people paying full price for Dan Brown or 50 Shades of Grey when they will turn up en masse in a second hand bookshop a few months later.

So maybe I’ve missed something there, but when I was reading the ‘Simon Snow’ excerpts I wanted more description of what was going on between Cath and her ‘boyfriend’ and looked forward to the interjection every few paragraphs.

But really that was only a minor point.

I suppose this might be just an Irish/American cultural difference, but I can’t imagine anybody in their late teens/early twenties calling somebody their boyfriend if they don’t even kiss each other. I get that Cath is fragile and does not even feel ready and has some issues she needs to work through, but it just seems weird for me to describe somebody as her boyfriend or that she’s dating  somebody for months without anything more than a kiss on the cheek.

Also while reading the Simon Snow sections I found it difficult to immerse myself when the Hogwarts equivalent is called Watford. I’ve never been there but in my mind Watford is a very nondescript, possibly industrial suburb of London and the base of a company I used to work for. I could be wrong but I always see it as being similar to Slough, where ‘The Office’ was based.      

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At first when I read about Cath’s reluctance to go to the dining hall I felt it was a bit silly, I never had any issues going to the dining hall on my own in college. But then I did remember the time before starting my job at the Posthotel in Mittenwald the summer after 1st year. I didn’t eat anything before my first morning as I’d only brought Swiss Francs to get the train from Zurich and my Deutschmarks were in traveller’s cheques; not much use at the weekend. I was never so happy as when we stopped working one hour in , in order to have breakfast. My meals were included but I didn’t know the times and was too shy to ask. So I suppose I can’t really comment.

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Love Library: Well we didn’t have a library called that but the Lecky Library was called Club Lecky, because it was often a bit of a meeting point and people were not too concerned about noise levels. If you wanted serious study you went somewhere else. But I guess the real ‘Love Library’ would be the stacks, or it seems like it should be. I went there to read novels which were not needed by anybody but had been received because of the copyright and were held there temporarily before being moved offsite.

My own favourite library was the beautiful 1937 reading room, now renamed the ‘postgraduate reading room’, not for lowly undergrads any more!

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Cath receives a call from her high school boyfriend Abel and knows it means news. I don’t know why, but I never really got into the habit of just calling people for a chat. I think that might be one reason why I’m not very good at the long distance friendship thing. I don’t Skype people often enough. The invention of the text message came as a blessing to me. So I tend to assume that when somebody calls out of the blue, not a prearranged Skype session, that something big has happened. Somebody has got engaged, pregnant……or died.

Regarding writing on a laptop or writing longhand. It’s great to have Word to be able to organise your thoughts and what you have written before but I’m not able to bang out my thoughts and keep going. As Dave Gorman said in his googlewhack adventure, it’s really difficult to concentrate on writing when you have access to three billion pages of the internet.

So even though it takes longer, I prefer to write out my thoughts in some internet free zone and type them up when I got the chance.

Plus, how can you trust technology? Sure, I could lose my notebook, or it could burn, but in the same way, maybe one day my computer will crash, WordPress will decide to delete this site, gmail will fall to the wayside, hey I’ve had an excite/campus/oxygen account in the past. All gone! Or you save something on a format such as a floppy disk or a CD and then realise that you have no way to access these any more.

In a similar way with a Kindle you don’t own your books, you can’t lend to any friends. And I have hardly printed any photos since I went digital at the late time of 2007. a lot of my photos are stored on my bust up laptop. I really hope some genius can access them somehow.

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‘To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one’. I’d say that was true of me growing up, it’s just that it was not fantasy worlds I wanted to live in, but Prince Edward Island or the prairie, not quite fictional, but the world of the books. Cath tells her creative writing professor that she would find it two difficult to write her own fantasy world from scratch.

‘Most writers don’t. We write about the worlds we already know’

I mentioned previously that I admired the writer of Game of Thrones for the universe he has created but I wouldn’t ever have the desire to create anything of the sort myself. Some great writers manage to write about things that are so distant to them and some are great even while they only write the familiar. Personally I always find it strange when a foreigner writes a book set in Ireland or with an Irish lead character, something is always off. Unless that writer has lived a long time in Ireland. For the same reason (and talking hypothetically here) while I’d like to send my hypothetical characters to Belarus for example, I don’t think I could ever write a Belarusian except as a supporting character. I have plenty of friends there but I only spent a year in Minsk and could never dream of being really able to get inside the soul of a Belarusian. One friend was a little bit insulted by what I’d written in the ‘Egg in my Soup’ post. I can only imagine the outrage if I tried to pawn off….but then again I did have an idea at some stage, set in Crimea, with no Irish people….but it was a children’s book and I think children are still not as clearly shaped by their nation.  Also I was planning my (hypothetical) research trip there, this doesn’t seem very likely now. Well we’ll see, I may change my mind some time and regret posting this.

I’ve just been to a talk by Javier Cercas, now if ever there is somebody who can use what he knows as a starting point and twist it in directions most wouldn’t consider, where you try to figure out at what point fact morphs into fiction.

So I won’t go any further into the plot because I’d rather leave it to any of you to enjoy for yourselves.

In case I haven’t made it clear I was so happy to be reading about characters you usually don’t come across in books except as sidekicks? I’d happily recommend this one to anyone even if they are as far from these types as I can imagine. If people like to read they’ll read good books none of that matters.

I think my favourite scene is the ‘are you rooting for me’ one. Perfect rom com movieness.

I loved reading this now, but I think I would have loved to read this or something similar as a teenager starting out in adult life, it might have helped a little with the message I’m still learning in my mid-30s. It’s ok to be yourself. You don’t have to fit into the norm. That doesn’t mean that who you are stays in one place and you really do have to move outside your comfort zone regularly if you want to grow, but don’t aim to just be society’s norm.

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Postscript

So since writing the above we were talking about our forthcoming move back to Dublin and all the things we would have to take and some things we might leave. I mentioned my old laptop and that I’d like to get somebody to look at it and see if they could salvage all the old photos on it.

Guilty looks.

‘Ummm, I think I dumped that last year.’

WHAT!!!!!!???

Words were exchanged, to say the least. All our South America photos! Just gone!

Thank God for picasa and facebook; at least I have some decent middling quality versions. I know you’re supposed to backup but….ok, I didn’t. So yeah, I’m an internet addict with old fashioned technophobia. I’ll have to be more careful in the future. And maybe it’s about time I started printing photos regularly. And maybe it’s about time I invest in a physical wedding album.

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