Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: fifty-two days through forty-seven days before

Fifty-two days before it happens, Miles finds different ways to enjoy the Thanksgiving break with Alaska, and some of that involves getting in trouble. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Looking For Alaska.

fifty-two days before

All of the drinking I did in high school (and good lord, there was a lot of it) was done almost entirely in private. I straddled the line between drinking to be accepted, and ashamed to let anyone know how bad my addiction was, mostly choosing to hide the fact that it happened at all. Because of this, I didn’t really have the same discovery that Miles does here. Well…okay, I don’t mean that I did not dig strawberry wine out of the ground. I’m just saying it wasn’t a social thing for me to drink. Maybe I would have been a social drinker if I had drank alcohol for the first time after digging out of the ground like buried treasure. Shit, why aren’t there more treasure hunts in my life?

I said last week that I like when things are nice between Miles and Alaska, and I still think that some of Green’s best writing is in these passages. I adore the scene where Alaska reads aloud from Cat’s Cradle to Miles:

As promised in the list, she brought a Kurt Vonnegut book, Cat’s Cradle, and she read aloud to me, her soft voice mingling with the frogs’ croaking and the grasshoppers landing softly around us. I did not hear her words so much as the cadence of her voice. She’d obviously read the book many times before, and so she read flawlessly and confidently, and I could hear her smile in the reading of it, and the sound of that smile made me think that maybe I would like novels better if Alaska Young read them to me.

I love these three sentences, and it’s fantastic how much Green is able to convey is so little words. It’s true that you can hear a smile in someone’s voice, but I’m even more drawn to the experience of admiring a person’s cadence. I don’t think I’ve ever articulated it, but the way a person talks can be attractive to me. It’s not necessarily what they’re saying or what words they use, but how that is processed into speech.

So this environment that Green describes feels very real to me, and it’s why I believe so very much that it feels perfect to Miles, that there’s something so beautiful about it that it only feels natural to turn to Alaska and confess how he feels. Personally, “love” is a bit too strong for me; I’m the type to wait a long time before saying it. But I also know that some situations just feel right to say it, even if one is not totally sure they feel that way.

Still, I must admit that I am surprised that this is happening so early. Well, to be fair, I don’t know what this is. Did Miles and Alaska make out? Did she not want him to ruin the moment of them simply staring at each other? Green cuts the chapter off before sharing this with us, and it’s simply left to our imagination.

fifty-one days before

There was something fun about staying behind at school during Thanksgiving Break my freshman year of college, and the vacancy of the normally-thriving campus was enthralling. It constantly felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, that I’d been let in on some great secret and that secret was visible all around me.

Miles and Alaska start off this small vacation of theirs with a bit of snooping. Initially, Alaska’s planning revenge; what better time to enact it while everyone’s away for the holidays? And running through all of this is a new energy; whatever happened the night before seems to have revitalized both characters in a way that I’ve not seen from them before. I don’t think they did anything very serious, but it’s hard to ignore that they’re both simply having a good time with one another. On top of that, it seems the Eagle is nowhere in sight, so with the freedom from his all-seeing eye, the two of them enjoy what they can.

forty-nine days before

Well, that joy isn’t without a bit of inappropriate behavior. As someone who had their dorm room broken into, searched, and had personal items taken, I can’t say that I find Alaska’s and Miles’s porn hunt to be all that entertaining. The two are in a good place with one another, but that doesn’t really excuse what they do here: sneak about campus and rummage through the personal items of other dorms.

I do admit to being fascinating by what they discovered, but that’s mostly due to the fact that it feels so very realistic to me. That first year of college, when I lived in the dorms, we all gradually began to come to know the people we were living with or our friends were living with. And college attracted some strange people. One of my friends roomed with an honest-to-god drug dealer; another was roommates with a scrawny kid from Northern California who had a bunch of samurai swords on his walls and he only seemed to watch movies where lots and lots of people were gutted or had their limbs hacked off. (In hindsight, how the fuck was he allowed to have swords on his walls??? I was in a different building from all my friends, and we weren’t allowed thumbtacks. But swords are totally okay???)

And this is not to say I’m not weird (I AM) or that I wasn’t involved in some poorly-thought-out shenanigans and mischievous adventures. (I was. Even better? Almost none of them were at my school. My friends and I would go troll my twin brother’s school instead, and it was lovely because there was pretty much no way we could have ever gotten in trouble.) I certainly had a lot of fun testing the boundaries of what I could get away with. Though I was very familiar with that notion; for two years prior to my freshman year, I had been living on my own, estranged from my parents. That sort of freedom is immensely tempting, especially when your upbringing is so ridiculously strict. So I understand why this is here, and I’m not criticizing John Green for writing this in his book; it’s something I’m familiar with myself.

That being said…damn, the porn scene is just fucking awkward. And it should be, and I’m glad it’s portrayed that way, but I’m beginning to feel increasingly bizarre about how Alaska reacts to situations, specifically when John Green is writing about her “feminist” outbreaks. It’s nice to have a character who is so outspoken about these sort of things, but…well, I guess I don’t know how to articulate what I’m feeling for once. It’s just that sometimes when Alaska is saying these sort of things, it feels forced. It’s not that they’re uncharacteristic things for her to say, though; I think it’s been established that it’s part of who she is. She calls out the people around her for the shitty behavior that she observes. It’s more of what Green chooses to have her say that bothers me, but I still don’t know exactly what it is about it that rubs me the wrong way. AM I ALONE IN THIS I DON’T EVEN KNOW.

forty-seven days before

Well, my affection for the Colonel just grew a whole lot.

As I’ve said many times before, I grew up poor. And John Green absolutely nails so many things about that experience, from the almost ingrained hatred of rich people (especially those that flaunt it about), to the way one is apprehensive about having people over, to the pride that can come from knowing your parents or parent managed to get you through it all anyway.

Most important of all, though, is that Green doesn’t use the text or the characters to poke fun at any of this, and that sort of basic respect is surprisingly absent from most depictions of poor people. It reminds me of the first time we saw the Burrow in Harry Potter, how Rowling used that sense of poverty to instead inspire a sense of wonder about the Weasley household. While there’s certainly a lot that’s familiar to me about the Martin household, it’s that joy of Miss Martin–ahem, I mean DOLORES–that makes me love this all so much.

God, this is just my favorite thing so far in all of Looking For Alaska. It’s nice to be able to gush without shame like this, especially since I’m so used to whining or yelling about shitty depictions of poverty.

When Alaska asked her what she did for work, she smiled and said, “I’m a culnary engineeyer. That’s a short-order cook at the Waffle House to y’all.”

“Best Waffle House in Alabama.” The Colonel smiled, and then I realized, he wasn’t embarrassed of his mom at all. He was just scared that we would act like condescending boarding-school snobs.

I LOVE IT. I know exactly what this feels like, and this fear is such a real goddamn thing for people who are poor.

forty-six days before

god john green are you trying to make me sob right now

And Dolores? She was grateful that her phone was back on, that her boy was home, that Alaska helped her cook and that I had kept the Colonel out of her hair, that her job was steady and her coworkers were nice, that she had a place to sleep and a boy who loved her.

Dolores Martin is the best character in this book.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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26 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Looking For Alaska’: fifty-two days through forty-seven days before

  1. Ryan Lohner says:

    I'm pretty sure this is the first characters you've come across who's named Delores since Umbridge. That makes for a fun contrast.

  2. Noybusiness says:

    After the Plan stuff I was afraid something happened to you!

    What's going to happen with that?

  3. Elexus Calcearius says:

    I really love Dolores. She's so kind and loving. I just wish that name hadn't been permanently ruined for me. *shudders at images of pink kittens*

    This section really did a lot to set up the Colonel. Sometimes his hate could seem kind of blind, but it really puts his actions in perspective, which I love. It also shows how genuine good friends you have, that they don't point it out…..not that I thought they would. In all honesty, I don't think I've ever had someone called a friend who would be so shitty to insult you for family income, but I guess those people must exist.

    ALSO; Actual swords? Were they, like, actually sharp? I mean, wow. Cooler than posters, that's all I can say.

    I also thought the searching the room seemed deeply creepy and unethical, and I love all the little quirks they find. That said, I think almost everyone is weird on some level. We've all got some little thing that we keep to ourself- its not necessarily bad, we'd just be embarrassed. And because no one else ever show's their weird quirks, we think we're alone in it.

    • Stephanie says:

      Dolores was ruined for me when I took Latin. It translates to pain or grief. I always assume that all characters embody that when they have the name.

      • Noybusiness says:

        But it's also a name of the Virgin Mary ('cause of her grief as seen in the Pieta).

      • pennylane27 says:

        It means exactly that in Spanish. I don't know why anyone would ever name their daughter that.

      • Neet says:

        It makes me think of the Swinburne poem "Dolores", which is indeed about the Lady of Pain:

        O lips full of lust and of laughter,
        Curled snakes that are fed from my breast,
        Bite hard, lest remembrance come after
        And press with new lips where you pressed.

  4. Bumbledoor says:

    Alaska is always interesting. I feel the same sort of strangeness about her “feminism,” but then I remember how gosh darn awkward I was about my own feminist “outbursts” when I was in high school. There was a strange sort of playacting to some of thing I would say and do in those days. Sometimes everything felt forced, and other times I felt safe behind a glamour that I’d created for myself using big words and philosophical/quasi-political jargon. I think Alaska is going through a process of creating herself, but maybe I’m just trying to find something behind Mile’s idealisation of her.

    • flootzavut says:

      Just IMO, but this rings true for me.

      Rfcrpvnyyl tvira gur genhzn jvgu ure zbgure'f qrngu, vg srryf gb zr yvxr ure BGG crefbanyvgl naq ernpgvbaf gb guvatf vf n frys cebgrpgvba guvat, gbb. Vs fur vf ybhq naq obeqreyvar boabkvbhf, ab bar jvyy frr gung va gur zvqfg bs gung fur'f npghnyyl n fpnerq 8 lrne byq jub fnj ure zbz qvr.

      My reaction to genhzngvfvat things is very different, and I really couldn't be more different from Alaska in many ways, but in a strange kind of way I really understand and identify with how I perceive her to be underneath.

      This poem I wrote… well I don't know, because maybe I'm not like Alaska at all, but let's just say the more I see of Alaska the more I *feel like* I understand her (assuming I've not totally misread what John Green intended her to be like, and this is as close as I can work out to WHY I feel I "get" her:

  5. MeasuringInLove says:

    The reading scene makes me melt every freaking time at its adorableness. The intimacy of that scene juxtaposed to the awkward porn scene makes it really powerful.

    DOLORES MARTIN YOU ARE THE MOST PRECIOUS HUMAN BEING EVER. And that one paragraph made me cry like an infant.

  6. settlingforhistory says:

    I really like how Miles' feelings develope from rather superfisial addoration to liking her intelligence, her voice to simply enjoying her company. It's also nice how he wants to meet her family in order to understand her better, like it happend with the Colonel.

    About Alaskas femenism: I thought it feels a bit forced,but maybe she is simply trying to be the counterpart to the Colonel' macho attitude. She is after all the only woman in this strange group and it's like she has to reminde herself and the others of that sometimes.

  7. SkittlesNKittens says:

    Is anyone else getting increasingly paranoid about what the "before" event will be? The days count down, the tone stays more or less light, I DON'T THINK IT REFERS TO A PRANK ANYMORE. I'm getting increasingly anxious that this levity and gentle friendship-building is going to result in tragedy. Personally, my bets are on Hyde dying, or Alaska getting pregnant and having to deal with it, or The Colonel getting kicked out of school, or something LARGE AND ALARMING that makes the characters reconsider their world views. Because this book is just too pleasant for a YA novel right now. After the HG, HP, and The Book Thief, I am SO NERVOUS.

  8. @GalFawkes says:

    "I’m beginning to feel increasingly bizarre about how Alaska reacts to situations, specifically when John Green is writing about her “feminist” outbreaks. It’s nice to have a character who is so outspoken about these sort of things, but…well, I guess I don’t know how to articulate what I’m feeling for once. It’s just that sometimes when Alaska is saying these sort of things, it feels forced. It’s not that they’re uncharacteristic things for her to say, though; I think it’s been established that it’s part of who she is. She calls out the people around her for the shitty behavior that she observes. It’s more of what Green chooses to have her say that bothers me, but I still don’t know exactly what it is about it that rubs me the wrong way. AM I ALONE IN THIS I DON’T EVEN KNOW."

    THIS RIGHT HERE was what I had the feeling my irritation with Alaska would build up to. At the end of the day, for all that John Green writes Alaska to say feminist-y things, he's still failed to be feminist in the way that matters the most, which is having females exist OUTSIDE the male gaze. Who gives a shit that she said porn objectifies women? Miles still fixates way too much for my comfort on her T&A.

    • Stephanie says:

      See, I always took that as Alaska failing to be a feminist in the way that it matters. I go to an all-girls high school, and I know plenty of girls that act just like Alaska in that respect, and I think that it's pretty common in teenage girls that are trying to find themselves and their places in the world.

      Or maybe I'm overestimating John, and I just know a lot of fake people.

  9. Becky_J_ says:

    I have a roommate who would TOTALLY say something about how much money my family made…. she once said, in my house with my parents present, "Well, I guess that's just the way you were raised." And it was NOT A COMPLIMENT. She also told my other roommate, who has a little money but doesn't flaunt it, "Wow, you really ARE one of those trust-fund children, aren't you?" Needless to say, I would NOT invite her to dinner at the Colonel's house. Cause she would get PUNCHED in the face.

    I love Thanksgiving at the Colonel's house…. it shows just perfectly how you can either think you have nothing and be thankful for nothing or you can know have nothing but your family and your happiness and be thankful for so much. It's our choice, and Dolores shows that so beautifully.

    I agree with the post above me, the tone isn't changing AT ALL as we inch near to the Event. We have learned in the books we read that NOTHING GOOD EVER COMES WHEN WE ARE ALL WARM AND FUZZY AND HAPPY. I suspect John Green is FUCKING WITH US.

    • flootzavut says:

      I recall having a conversation with my roommate in my first year at uni. We were going to the train station to buy tickets home, and she was saying she didn't understand why the fact that ours was the last year to have guaranteed grants for higher education was a big problem, because hey, we don't really need them do we? I said, well I do, and I suspect so-and-so and such-and-such do. She gave me a strange look, clearly didn't believe me, I forget exactly how the next bit of the conversation went but it ended with me saying her family was better off than mine, and asking how much her father earned. I never did find out, but she asked me how much MINE earned, and I said Oh, about £18,000 (about $28,000) – this was a little over a decade ago, and fair enough, we were by no means rich but to me that was pretty damn reasonable and I knew plenty of people who were much less well off than we were. Her face! Honestly, her jaw LITERALLY dropped, and her expression basically said, as clear as if she had actually said it aloud, "But how can anyone *survive* on that little?!?!?" It was frikkin' HILARIOUS.

      • Becky_J_ says:

        These people really do crack me up…. either that or they make me want to go on a murderous rampage. My roommate is under the impression that she is poor, but she's actually not…. at a university where the average debt is $18,000, she says "I just don't understand how people can't pay for college. You don't see me having to take out student loans!" Um. Hello, that would be because your parents pay for everything. Let me show you MY student loans, which run about $20,000. Yeah, there are absolutely worse off people than my family, 100%. But she seems to not be aware of circumstances in which people don't have spare money. My other roommate, her family is pretty well off, but you would never know it, because she has to work just as hard as I do to put herself through college, because her family doesn't believe in handing everything to her. The nerve of my roommate to tell her that she is somehow a snob because her family has money is so…so… GUH. IT'S SO RUDE.

        • flootzavut says:

          Yes, I can identify with both extremes!

          I am so fortunate, because if everything else in my life were the same (parents' earnings, health since uni, et cetera) but we lived in America and had to pay for all of it or I had gone to uni after they abolished grants, I would either have 1) not gone to uni at all or 2) be in unbelievable pits of debt which I wouldn't be able to pay. Simple as. And I don't smoke, didn't drink a lot, didn't rack up many bills beyond the necessary and didn't spend a lot on eating out or similar. I just didn't have that much money!

          I remember another friend who fell into the same income bracket as me telling me that a mutual friend on the same course had said to him (because they were both working at the same coffee house and finals were looming) that would just have to bite the bullet and get student loans. And Marc was like… um… I already took out student loans!

          To be fair Caroline, my first year roomie, never claimed or implied that she was poor. She just didn't realise that others actually were comparatively poor.

          I wasn't even the poorest of the people I was at college with. One of my friends mum's was a single mum on benefit because of a loooooooong term battle with cancer, and Jonathan himself had incredibly poor health so doing a lot of work on top of lectures etc was totally out of the question (one week in my first year his lung collapsed (again!) and he had to be taken to hospital only to have an extreme allergic reaction to the painkillers… he almost made me feel healthy and I was fighting CFS the entire time I was at uni!)

  10. Cassidy says:

    You forgot to mention my favorite quote from the book! "If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane." I think it's wonderful in many different ways, and so do a lot of other people. There's a whole tumblr dedicated to this quote…

  11. orangerhymes says:

    This section of the book was just incredible.

  12. fandomphd says:

    This is only because of my upbringing but my kneejerk reaction to Alaska and Pudge at Colonel's house is to be outraged that they slept on the bed. They should have insisted that Miss Martin sleep on the bed instead!

  13. I wouldn't mind having blue hair.
    Also, drizzle and hurricane. We're all a part of the water cycle.

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