January 2019 Reading Wrap

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I didn’t really set any official goals for 2019 beyond writing as much as I can, but I’ve been thinking about my reading life and what I want it to look like. So much of what I read and how I read has changed in the last few years, especially since i started writing seriously a year ago. I used to burn through multiple books at a time and always had a book in hand or an audiobook in my ears. I set goals for how many books to read, increasing that number every year to challenge myself, and I’d try to read a certain number of classics or books about certain topics.

But now my reading revolves around my writing. I’m slow and picky and have a hard time with audiobooks because I want to study the language. I pick books that I think will inspire or teach me, searching for authors that explore similar topics to what I write about or will inspire me with their gorgeous prose. And I always read with a pen in hand and take things really slow.

I guess my reading goal for 2019 is to spend a lot of time reading, but to ignore numbers or challenges or the many many books I’m curious about but just can’t seem to keep up with. Of course I want to find joy in my reading, but I also want to be inspired. I want to learn. I want to grow. If that takes more time and means I finish less books, that’s alright by me.

So, without further ado, here are the books I read this month.

PURE: INSIDE THE EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT THAT SHAMED A GENERATION OF YOUNG WOMEN AND HOW I BROKE FREE - LINDA KAY KLEIN

hauntingly relatable, dispiriting, but too surface level.

I picked this book as research for my writing, but also to witness women’s upbringings that are parallel to my own. Klein explores the Evangelical purity movement and how it impacted women and their futures, self-esteem, and relationship with God. She sits down with women to ask them about their experiences as young women in a patriarchal culture that believed women were temptresses who needed to be sexually pure in order to be worthy of God and future husbands. The stories these women told were heartbreaking and a little too relatable.

But unfortunately the writing suffers. Klein begins with personal experiences, but fails to disconnect herself when she investigates further through interviews and surface-level research. She basically transcribes the interviews, including her own comments and related experiences, where they met up, what they ordered, and how they caught up on their pasts together; most interviewees were old friends or friends of friends.

However, some of the interviews hit me hard. I related to the women's experiences of struggling with purity after being married and how that impacts your own self-esteem. There were many women that suffered through faith crises and subsequently left but suffered through the trauma of trying to function afterward when your entire belief system no longer makes sense. She gave me some great terms for my own experience and helped me to see it wasn't exclusive to my faith or experience. If she writes another book on a similar subject, I hope that's it.

A COMPLICATED KINDNESS - MIRIAM TOEWS

inspiring, clever, and funny, yet sorrowful and crushing.

I’ve been obsessed with Miriam Toews since reading Women Talking in November. I was told this earlier novel explored similar themes in a more contemporary way and so I went out and got myself a copy. It didn’t disappoint. Toews wrote a beautiful and poignant tale of family and the unique ways we sacrifice for and love them, despite differences and disagreements and complete confusion about one another. Though slow and brooding, I never grew bored of main character Nomi’s descriptions of her town, her family, the life she’s grown so bored of, or the vague but cherished dream of leaving. From the very beginning, she fills you with questions then gives you the background and clues to come up with your own answers as she ponders her own.

Toews’ writing, in terms of characters, pacing, plot, imagery, and humor, is such an inspiration to me. She speaks volumes about patriarchy, religion, family, and loyalty yet always provides room for grace and forgiveness. I particularly loved and learned from the way she interweaves flashback with present tense, illustrating the huge change in main character Nomi’s disposition and beliefs after her mother and sister both leave her, her father, and their Mennonite community.

EDUCATED - TARA WESTOVER

gripping and horrifying, but gracious and uplifting.

I finally read the buzziest book of 2018, the one EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER recommended I read. Though it took me a while to give in, I’m glad I didn’t read it until this month. I’m not usually one for memoirs as, in my (probably wrong) opinion, they often come across as indulgent or directionless. Educated was neither. From the beginning, Westover speaks purposefully and eloquently of her experiences growing up on a mountain range in Idaho, raised by a paranoid and exacting father and a subservient mom. Though Westover grew up Mormon, the religion I, too, was raised in, she made it clear that her parents rendering of the religion was exaggerated and extreme. I did not relate as much to her conservative Christian upbringing as I expected.

But it didn’t detract from the power of this book and the complete hold it had on me. Through the help of family, friends, and her detailed journals, Westover recalls events from her childhood with gracious eyes, never casting blame or hate on family members that abused her mentally, emotionally, and physically. Some of my favorite moments (and ones I related to in small measure) were when she examined her own opinions and beliefs in her youth, the way she held so tight to everything her dad told her and how those teachings influenced her actions and judgements of others. She does not blame him for this, but rather looks back on herself with fresh and forgiving eyes, looking at herself the way roommates, kids at church, teachers, professors, family, and friends may have looked at her. She managed to imbue so much feeling into each experience and reflection, yet never steers into rage, recrimination, or crippling regret.

Another aspect of the book I loved was how she owned up to not fully remembering details, particularly those from long ago or ones clouded by extreme emotion. I’ve wondering how memoirists can confidently relay events so vividly without conceding their memories might be flawed or hazy, so I found Westover’s candidness about her storytelling very refreshing. That being said, I don’t doubt what happened to her or that this is the way she remembered things. I gave me a lot to think about in terms of the stories we tell about our lives and what people might remember differently. She tells her story in the only way she knows how.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

BOOKS I PURCHASED THIS MONTH:

I was doing so well at not buying too many books for a while. I should’ve known that moving back to Utah would be bad for my to-be-read stacks. When we lived here before, I collected many gems I found for incredibly low prices at the wonderful thrift stores around here. Four months back and I’ve already gotten back in the habit of regularly perusing the books at my local thrift stores and my collection is slowly and steadily growing. I’m trying to practice a certain level of self-control, only buying books already on my wishlist or ones I know I’ll read very soon. But those $2 or less price tags are oh-so-tempting.

TALENT- JULIET LAPIDOS
This was my first preorder of the month for 2019, part research for my novel that features a main character with a similar problem, but it also looked like a fun and light read.

BRIGHT DEAD THINGS - ADA LIMON
I need more poetry in my life and I’ve been staring at a poem of Limon’s for much too long that I cut from the pages of a New Yorker magazine and pinned to my bulletin board. It’s about time I bought her collection and I am LOVING it so far.

A LITTLE LIFE - HANYA YANAGIHARA
This one has been calling to me for much too long, but I’ve been too afraid to take it home from a bookstore because it’s quite the beast I worry I don’t have the time to invest in it. Seeing it at the thrift store was the perfect excuse to finally take it home. Now hopefully it doesn’t haunt me for too long on my TBR shelf.

DEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS - JULIE SCHUMACHER
I’ve been in the mood for a quick, fun novel that will still tickle my writer brain and this looked like just the ticket. I bought it on a whim but I think I’m going to read it as soon as I finish Talent.

GOLD FAME CITRUS - CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS
This is a book I see floating around on more obscure “best of” lists and have had on my wishlist for too long, so I jumped when I saw it while thrifting.

EDUCATED - TARA WESTOVER
I listened to this one on audiobook but wanted a hard copy, so I kept my eye out at the thrift stores, knowing it would turn up eventually. And it did. Huzzah!

GILEAD - MARILYNNE ROBINSON
I need more religious-centered novels and have heard great things about this one.

BELOVED - TONI MORRISON
I preordered her new collection of essays and figured it’s time to read her novels. I am a bit embarrassed I haven’t read any of her fiction yet.

JANE EYRE - CHARLOTTE BRONTE
in the lovely Modern Library Classics edition that I’d like to start collecting. Don’t you dare shame me for having not read it yet. I always thought I’d read all the classics in college so I put them off, but, oops, I dropped out years ago.

See any you love here? What should I read right away?

The Best Books I Read in 2018

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2018 was a whirlwind year of reading for me. I tried to look at my shelves and figure out my favorite books of the year and picked out a few, but thought I’d check my list of what I read in 2018 to be sure I didn’t miss anything. And holy smokes! Books I thought I must have read a year or two ago were on that list. Some books had that timeless feel, like I knew them in a past life and they’ve been on my mind for so long- even if I only read them a month or two ago.

I read 90 books and liked the majority of them. According to Goodreads, I had a generous 4 star average, possible because I decided I would stop reading books I didn’t love. No more obligatory book club reads, no more finishing a book I started but dreaded continuing. That meant a lot more time for books I loved.

I had many 5 star reads, but I narrowed my 2018 favorites down to the ones that I still think about, underlined much of, recommended to anyone and everyone, influenced my writing, changed the way I looked at the world, blew me away with their writing, or made me feel deeply. So here they are!

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz: Stories by Lara Williams
Such a clever, clever book. Every time I picked it up, I put it down feeling inspired to write. Williams writes with wit and subtle humor and isn’t afraid to push boundaries with her style.

Back Talk: Stories by Danielle Lazarin
I rave endlessly about this book and have recommended it often. This collection beautifully depicts everyday women, from teens to mothers and in between. Many of them harbor a quiet fury and I’m amazed at the way Lazarin can illustrate relatable but complicated feelings. She gave me quite the annotating workout.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I now see why everyone kept recommending I read this book. Lamott filled me with so much joy and gratitude that I get the opportunity to write, but also reminded me not to let my ego get the best of me. I appreciated her wisdom on everything from writer’s block to writing as vengeance. This book was the perfect kick in the butt for my writing.

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book more delightfully clever or sharp-witted as this book. Underneath its hilarious characters and plot lies more serious and relatable themes of dysfunctional families, how we cope with our pasts, and how on earth we develop healthy relationships in the future. I had to take this one slow to savor each and every sentence.

Not That Bad: Essays edited by Roxane Gay
Probably the roughest read of the year. This collection of essays details personal histories and thoughts on sexual abuse of all shapes and sizes, written by women and men of all different backgrounds. The writing is incredible. I intended to take it slow, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It’s not a happy book, but it’s a book everyone needs to read in order to see the problem and do something about it.

How To Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
The perfect book to finish 2018 with. Chee’s essays on writing gave me a bit of an existential crisis, making me wonder why on earth I think I can be a writer (I’ll never be as good as him), but also built me up and encouraged me. All of his essays are powerful and wise and poetic. He’s definitely a writer to learn from.

Self-Help: Stories by Lorrie Moore
I found a new queen this year and know I’ll be reading a lot more of Moore this year. What a killer short story writer. All hail the queen of second person.

Kiss Me Someone: Stories by Karen Shepherd
Danielle Lazarin recommended this collection to me and now I’ll read anything Lazarin recommends. Most of the pages are covered in underlines. These are the kinds of stories I wish I could write, and boy have I tried since then. I recommended most of these stories at some point in my writing group and still think of them and return to them often.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
If you’re looking for a delightfully happy novel that is still full of depth and emotion and writing that will blow you away, here’s the book for you. In my post-read obsession with this book, I found an interview with Greer where he says he challenged himself to write something so rare: a book about happiness. He pulled it off beautifully.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
I think I can say this was my favorite book of the year. I couldn’t wait for it to release and when it did, I devoured it and every interview, article, review, and essay about it. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a personal, profound experience reading a novel before. So much resonated with me and I practically journalled all over this book.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews
I think I found the formula for a book I’ll love. Women writer + women characters + religious themes + unique form. Toews tells the story of a group of abused women in a Mennonite colony as they struggle to decide whether to fight, flee, or do nothing, leading to discussions about their place and power in their community as mothers, daughters, and sisters. An amazing powerful book, perfect for the times.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Once again, another book about women and religion with writing that inspired me. I also loved Quatro’s collection of short stories which led me to this book which I adored. It gave me so much to think about.

You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
I tore through this collection, laughing and underlining across each page, and by the time I put it down Sittenfeld had become a new favorite writer. She’s so clever and funny, yet manages to write relatable and incredibly real characters that I felt certain I’d met somewhere.

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
This is one book this year that made me want to write a novel. Gabel is a wonderful storyteller who knows how to create characters that come to life and sit with you for a long time. She also revived my love for classical music and gave me a kick in the pants to start playing piano regularly again.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
This was the first book I read in 2018 and set the bar high for the rest of the year. I often find myself thinking about this book and it’s premise: how do you live when you know when you’ll die? I fell in love with each of these characters and Benjamin set my emotions on high.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Speaking of books that made me emotional, I can’t think of a book that made me cry more. Not even Harry Potter got me as attached to it’s characters or more emotionally invested in their lives. This book taught me a lot, not only about the AIDS crisis, but about writing and creating characters you want to follow through to the end. It also didn’t hurt that much of the book takes place in Paris; we had just returned from our trip and I was already itching to go back.

I’m not much for setting specific goals, but I would like to slow down my reading this year- take my time to study and annotate. I’d also like to read more as research for my own writing, but also want to make sure I read plenty of women of color and non-binary authors. Oh and have fun, I can’t forget that!

February 2018 Reading Wrap

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What an incredible month of reading! I whined about not having enough five-star reads in January and this month I found five five-star reads, some of which made it to my favorites list. With the exception of the one, each book perfectly suited what I needed at that moment. So many of them inspired my own writing in a month when I really needed some motivation to keep fighting the fight in the hope my work can be half as good someday!

Back Talk - Danielle Lazarin
At this point in time, I can confidently say Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin is my favorite collection of short stories. She has beautifully depicted everyday women, from teens to mothers and in between, dealing with the complexities of relationships, desire, and emotion. A number of them harbor a quiet fury and I'm simply amazed at the way Lazarin can illustrate such relatable but complicated feelings. Empathetic yet honest, these stories are for and about women and the quiet, powerful moments of our lives.
★★★★★

The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie
What an utterly delightful and highly underrated book. You could call this a romantic comedy, but with so much cleverness and sharp wit underscoring a funny tale that masks more serious and relatable themes of dysfunctional families, how we cope with our pasts, and how on earth we develop healthy relationships in the future. I initially checked this book out from the library but had to buy my own copy after reading only three pages because I was itching to underline all over the place. McKenzie's writing is so sharp, so playful, so insightful that I had to slow down and savor every sentence. I truly loved this book and know I will return to it again and again, both to enjoy these characters and their story as well as to learn from her craft.
★★★★★

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
What a beautiful, witty, thoughtful, heartbreaking book. From the start, I was hooked and curious about Janie's life thanks to all of the comical gossiping townsfolk. Hurston tells her story with heart, humor, and gorgeous imagery. I grew so attached to this main character and cheered her on as she tried to find herself and happiness as a black woman in the south in the 1930s. This certainly won't be the last time I join Janie on her path to self-discovery. I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Ruby Dee who made it feel like an entire theater production. Regardless, this is an incredible book that everyone should read.
★★★★★

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi
This gorgeous, haunting, poetic debut explores identity, spirituality, mental health, survival, and the body in such a stylistically unique and profound way that will stick with me for a long time. The audiobook was beautifully performed by Akwaeke Emezi herself which I couldn't stop listening to after I began. I feel this is one of those instances where the audiobook enhances the reading experience. 
★★★★★

A Selfie As Big As The Ritz - Lara Williams
What a clever, clever book. Throughout this month I've struggled a bit with my writing yet every time I picked up this book I felt so inspired. Williams writes with such wit and subtle humor and isn't afraid to push boundaries. I found many of these rather short stories to be relatable as they're mostly centered around millennial women just trying to find themselves and their way in the world amidst dating, heartbreak, crumbling dream, and unreachable expectations. But these stories aren't as depressing as I'm making them sound, I promise. They are just so clever and I know I'll be turning back to this book again and again when I need some quick inspiration or jolt of courage to break the rules a bit.
★★★★★

This Will Be My Undoing - Morgan Jerkins
I'm just going to leave this quote here and say that you should read this blindingly honest yet powerfully tender book of essays. "One-sided feminism is dead. This book is not about all women, but it is meant for all women, and men, and those who do not adhere to the gender binary. It is for you. You. Our blackness doesn't distance us from other women; however it does distinguish us, and this requires further understanding. At the same time, my story is not a one-size-fits-all take about black womanhood. This is not your resolution but the continuation of your education, or maybe the beginning. We deserve to be the center; our expansive stories are worthy of being magnified for all their ugliness, beauty, mundaneness, and grandeur. I will not baby you. Instead, I will force you to keep your eyes on me and, in turn, us, and see the seams of everyday life that you have been privileged to ignore but that have wrecked us."
★★★★☆

Pachinko - Min Jin Lee
I love historical fiction for the way it can teach about events and encourage empathy for groups of people across time. I learned so much from this book about the relationship between Japan and Korea as well as the struggles of Koreans living in Japan from WWII to the present day. But I think I'm in the minority for not loving this book. In general, epics aren't my favorite (I mean, I'm a short story lover), but this book received so much acclaim I couldn't resist giving it a go. I liked it and see why others have raved about it, but I didn't love it as much as I wanted to. Such large periods of time passed throughout this book with characters appearing and disappearing that I had a hard time getting attached to anyone. The writing often felt clinical and detached to pack in all of the necessary information and huge events were often snuck in at the end of chapters, making it feel rushed or used for shock factor. I felt that maybe if more care had been given to depict these big events, I might have been more attached to these characters. But Like I said, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, especially to those who love historical fiction and epics.
★★★☆☆

The Assistants - Camille Perri
Sometimes you need a good, light girly novel to help you forget a bad day and this book is exactly what the doctor ordered. You know what I'm talking about. An adorable love interest, funny and borderline-obnoxious friendships, loads of pop culture references, heavily veiled feminism, a ridiculous plot we've all fantasized about, and tidy, happy endings. If this book isn't made into a fun romantic comedy starring someone like Reese Witherspoon or whoever the latest romcom ladies are, it will be quite the waste. Next time you need a quick weekend pick-me-up read that will make you smile and forget your problems for just a second (or give you ideas about embezzling enough money to solve all of your problems), pick this one up.
★★★☆☆

Force of Nature - Jane Harper
I got hooked on this sequel to well-done Australian mystery. I managed to read most of this during Olympic commercial breaks, something I'm not usually good at. While at times cliche and predictable with some details that were a little too convenient, I enjoyed this followup. I love how she created settings that act as dark characters; intense, spooky, and integral to the story. While I didn't like it as much as the Dry and the allure of Aaron Falk faded some, I do look forward to more of her work and I'm interested to see what setting she'll use next.
★★★☆☆

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance - Elna Baker
I first heard Elna Baker on This American Life where she shared a story about being Mormon and single and overweight in NYC. Despite admitting to being a pathological liar, her stories were painfully honest and so relatable, particularly her struggles with her faith and trying to navigate two different worlds, neither of which feel fully hers. She hit every emotion on the spectrum for me and the reading experience felt as cathartic as a good long talk and cry with a close friend. At times the writing wasn't fabulous, some of her statements problematic, and jokes sometimes felt flat, but I really enjoyed this book and had a completely unexpected reading experience.
★★★☆☆

No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July
I uh... did not like this collection. This is one of those rare moments where I can easily separate the writing from the stories and say the writing was great, maybe even excellent, but I disliked the characters and narrative. And it made me sad that her possibly excellent writing was used on stories I never want to read again. At first, I enjoyed her unusual imagination and way with words, but each story continued to feature depressing, lonely women with strange sexual fantasies. It almost felt like she tried to write as many stories under this theme that she could. It didn't feel empowering or thoughtful. It just felt sad and weird. I craved some variety and eventually the moments where I paused in amazement at her clever imagery just made me depressed that I could not like this book. I should say that maybe had I read each one as individual pieces without tying together her other work, I may have enjoyed her stories more. 
★★☆☆☆

January 2018 Reading Wrap

January 2018 Books

I built up quite a stack for my January reads! I didn't read a whole lot in November or December so I think I was trying to make up for it by starting off 2018 with a bang. Unfortunately I'm a little depressed that I didn't LOVE most of these books. I liked all of them, none getting less than three sars, but I wanted more five star reads that would leave me with a major book hangover. But I'm looking forward to February as I've already started a few fabulous book and there's a number of upcoming releases I'm really looking forward to. In the meantime, here are the rankings!

The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin
I don't use the word lightly when I say this book was spell-binding. I could tell you that I loved this book because the way Benjamin unpacked the themes of family, religion, and destiny really hit home for me at this particular point in my life, but honestly, this is a stunning novel that I would love ten years from now. Benjamin carefully explores four sibling's thoughts and choices throughout their lives after a mysterious woman reveals to each of them the date of their death. Despite each character living wildly different lives and infuriating me on many occasions, I found I could relate to and learn from each one of them. I cried on multiple occasions, underlined many profundities, and suffered from a major book hangover once I finally put it down. 
★★★★★

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter - Sue Monk Kidd
A beautiful, courageously personal, lovingly researched book about one woman's faith struggle and feminist awakening. It took four months of reading, studying, underlining, and journaling for me to finish. I am so glad she shared such intimated detail about her faith struggle so I could learn from her experiences and feel less alone in my own. I've passed this book onto Josh, but I keep stealing it back to look over my notes or reflect on a passage. I know I'll keep coming back to this book for a long time. I'll just tease you with this beautiful quote that I think perfectly summarizes this book: "The only way I have ever understood, broken free, emerged, healed, forgiven, flourished, and grown powerful is by asking the hardest questions and then living into the answers through opening up to my own terror and transmuting it into creativity."
★★★★☆

The Animators - Kayla Rae Whitaker
I went into this book fairly blind, trusting in recommendations from authors and bookstagrammers, only knowing it was about two friends working in the male-dominated animation industry. Immediately I fell for these two women, despite their flaws and sometimes dysfunctional relationship, and couldn't wait to get to know them better. But somewhere along the way, the story started to fall flat for me. It simultaneously felt like too much yet not enough. Twists and turns ensued and I just wished we were back in NYC watching two friends navigate their careers and social lives. That being said, I couldn't stop thinking about this book and loved Whitaker's vibe. I often related to main character Sharon and regularly marveled at the way she put feelings I know so well into words. I look forward to reading more books by Whitaker and won't ever look at animation the same ever again.
★★★★☆

Nasty Women - Edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding
When I first saw Nasty Women I thought it might be up my alley, but after reading Nicole Chung's included "All-American" essay on Longreads, I know I had to get my hands on a copy of the book. These all-female writers kept me busy as I read, underlining all over the place and regularly stopping to discuss with Josh. While not every writer wowed me and I didn't necessarily agree with every point made, I loved how inclusive these editors were, even including two essays on a similar subject but with wildly different opinions. It's books like these that help me become a better intersectional feminist by showing me different perspectives and issues I've never had to deal with so I can speak up and help.
★★★★☆

Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert
I first read this book two years ago, when I first started dreaming up an ice cream business while also trying to find my place as a graphic designer. Even in that awkward place in my life, I found a lot of inspiration from this short book about creativity. I loved the way Gilbert turned inspiration into an actual being you need to nurture and work with. Now as I pursue creative writing, it felt like a good time to revisit a book on conquering your fears to pursue your passions. Firstly, I'm amazed at how vividly I remember most of this book after two years. Secondly, it feels like a whole new reading experience when I have a totally different project to focus on. I love how applicable her advice is to all sorts of pursuits. Like many self-help/inspirational books, this has its share of fluff, repetition, and cheese, but Gilbert offers her own experiences and a lovely new perspective that turns the usual advice upside-down. It's a fun and quick read for anyone who needs a kick in the pants to pursue those creative passions that bring them joy.
★★★★☆

I'm Fine And Other Lies - Whitney Cummings
I received this from Putnam Books and was admittedly wary to read it- I don't normally love self-help books or celebrity memoirs, not to mention I didn't previously know who Whitney Cummings was. But I began reading and found the audiobook at my library to listen to on our 24-hour road trip and I enjoyed myself! Listening to Whitney (we're already on a first-name basis) was like chatting with an experienced, hilarious friend who shares a wealth of helpful and not overly self-assured advice. Not every chapter, anecdote, or tidbit of advice wowed me, but I had fun and enjoyed Whitney's perspective.
★★★☆☆

Turtles All The Way Down - John Green
I should preface by saying I don't typically read YA and when I do, I'm rarely super impressed. It's just not my favorite genre. But I'd heard good things about John Green's latest and was particularly intrigued by the themes of mental illness. So I grabbed a library copy and jumped in! I really enjoyed Green's depiction of compulsive thoughts and struggling with mental health, as well as how he portrayed its effects on Aza's relationships. I honestly would've loved a book just about that. What I didn't enjoy was the unnecessary mystery and over the top philosophizing of these few teenagers. Their language and seemingly endless knowledge about authors, astronomy, art, medicine, diseases, poetry, and more at the age of seventeen felt incredibly inauthentic to me. Overall it was an enjoyable enough read and one I'd recommend to Green's target audience, but not necessarily to everyone as a whole.
★★★☆☆

They Both Die At The End - Adam Silvera
Again, YA is not my jam so don't let this discourage you too much if you are a fan of YA. Thanks to a system called Death-Cast that can somehow accurately predict the date everyone dies, two random boys in NYC receive a call at midnight informing them that sometime in the next twenty-four hours they will die. Left with only that information, we watch as they come to terms with their sentence and live out their last day. I really enjoyed the concept of this book, but i wish it had been explored a little more as it left me with so many questions and thinking of loopholes in the story. I occasionally found myself bored or confused by the decisions these characters made and more than once I was incredibly annoyed by their personalities. But Silvera had me emotionally invested to the point that I may have shed a tear or two at the end, despite the title's very clear warning.
★★★☆☆

Getting Off - Erica Garza
When I first read the prologue of this memoir of sex and porn addiction, I was hesitant to continue. I felt blinded by the sheer rawness of it all, how she bares all without apology. I knew it would not be an easy or comfortable read and that it would challenge me. But then she said this: "Sometimes I wonder- if there had been more research and more discussion about sexual addition in women, would I have changed my behavior? Had there been more available examples of vulnerable, open, honest, women sharing their journeys, would I have been more willing to embrace the possibility that I wasn't alone and unfixable?"
I can't imagine how hard it must have been to write so candidly about something so rarely talked about, an addiction rooted in shame and loneliness. An addiction that's largely seen as a man's problem (and, lately, a man's excuse for violence and inappropriate behavior towards women). Garza is an excellent storyteller that kept me hooked and feeling for her, relating to her. I especially loved how she peppered her story with facts and surveys about sex and porn addictions so I learned more about the problem at large. It was, in fact, a very rough read, but I'm glad Garza shared her story so I could learn from her. 
Thanks to Simon Books for sending me a copy of this book.
★★★☆☆

Delicate Edible Birds - Lauren Groff
I've read some stories by Groff in the past and didn't love them, but she's so well-loved and respected in the literary community, I thought for sure I just needed to give her a proper chance and read her collection. But I still think I'm missing something. I absolutely loved the first story in the collection, "Lucky Chow Fun" and really gained a lot from it. But most others fell flat for me. Often I found myself bored until some big moment in the middle and then I'd get bored again. I just think hers is not my style. That being said, I always learn a lot for my own craft when reading short stories so I don't regret this read at all! And I'm still willing to give her another shot as I've heard great things about "Fates and Furies" and the literary world is already buzzing about her book to be published later this year.
★★★☆☆

The Disaster Artist - Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
We saw The Room for the first time a few months ago while we were in Austin and become OBSESSED. Over the next few days, we couldn't stop quoting it or scrolling through the IMDB reading the facts about the production. It is truly the most bizarre movie I have ever seen. I mean, how did a movie as awful as that even make it onto the big screen?! This book certainly answered all of my burning questions. Hilarious but heartfelt and filled with raw humanity, actor Greg Sestero tells about his friendship with producer/director/writer Tommy Wiseau and dishes the behind-the-scenes details of creating The Room. Sometimes the writing felt over the top, repetitive, or bogged down with needless detail, but it was entertaining and did the job of explaining how such a movie came into existence. I do recommend James Franco's "The Disaster Artist" for a condensed look, but if you want to know ALL the mind-boggling details, pick up this book.
★★★☆☆

Top Ten Books of 2017

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What a year of reading! I've never read so many books before and I loved so many of them, but it was surprisingly easy to narrow down my favorites. As I went through my list, I kept saying "Yep! That's an all-time favorite" and miraculously ended up with ten 2017 reads that also happen to be on my favorites list. I wouldn't be surprised if I reread each and every one of these books this year. Also. These are all written by women, half of them by women of color! You go girls!

Goodbye Vitamin - Rachel Khong
I loved everything about this book, from the characters to the themes to the humor. The way she used California as another character in the book made me extremely homesick. 

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I love Adichie so much, but this is my favorite thing I've read of hers so far (which is saying a lot because I love everything I've read by her).

Lucky Boy - Shanthi Sekaran
This is another case of a writer that made me homesick with descriptions of California, but the story of these two women and the son between them hit me so hard. It's a stunning novel.

Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
What a beautiful, tragic, sweeping novel that I wish everyone would read. I was particularly fond of the short story across generations style. I may reread it soon.

Man V. Nature - Diane Cook
I generally take my time when reading short story collections, breaking them up story by story and digesting slowly. But I couldn't do that with this. I was hooked. And loved it. I wish I could write the way Cook does.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky - Lesley Nneka Arimah
I've already reread a number of stories in this collection and count a few of hers as my all-time favorite short stories, particularly the titular story. Just whoa.

Hum If You Don't Know The Words - Bianca Marais
I listened to this one and was literally taking any excuse to keep listening to this heartbreaking and heartwarming story. Seriously. I took lunch breaks out in my car with the audio going so I could keep listening.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
I didn't read this classic until this past year just before binging the entire Hulu series. So amazing and it's really opened my eyes up to how much I love feminist dystopian novels.

Glass Houses - Louise Penny
I'm fairly certain that as long as Louise Penny keeps publishing one book a year, she will always be in my top books of the year. 

Braving The Wilderness - Brene Brown
This is a case of a book that found me at the exact moment I needed it and one I know I'll need again. I'm pretty sure I've felt that way about each of her books.

I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of any of these books and give them a read! Hopefully you'll love them as much as I did.

November 2017 Reading Wrap

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Considering I managed to read many short stories and did a lot of writing in November, I'm amazed I managed to read this many books. With Christmas coming and some unexpected big expenses, I had to cut my book budget so, for the first time, I took advantage of my local library. I love being able to reserve books online and browse through their selection and not have to stress about money! Pretty sweet things, those libraries. I'm sorry I didn't appreciate them fully before.

Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling

Josh only read the first Harry Potter way back when he was a kid, so we've been slowly going through the Jim Dale audiobooks for his enjoyment and it's so much fun! We'll be doing a lot of driving for the holidays and as we go about shopping, so it's a fun way to enjoy the drives. I love how much Josh is enjoying himself and after we read each book, we watch the movie and he gets so into all the little details. Sharing a world you love with someone you love is a lot of fun. It seems I always end up reading Harry Potter around Christmastime and it just feels so cozy.
★★★★★

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller
A friend from the bookstore recommended this to customers and since I had a childhood obsession with Greek mythology, I had to give it a go! I'm so glad I did. This book took me right back to that childhood fascination and I was immediately hooked on this complex love story amidst a long and bitter war. Though this is fiction, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus felt incredibly real and human, with jealousies and egos and disagreements amidst passionate love and deep friendship. If you're looking for a good escape read or listen, I highly recommend The Song of Achilles. 
★★★★☆

The Power - Naomi Alderman
I'd been anticipating this dystopian fiction ever since it made the Bailey's Prize list and I snatched it up as soon as I could (thanks Book of the Month!). Alderman fed into why I love dystopian novels as she turns everything we know upside down and lets us imagine a different future where, in this case, women have all the power after they learn to harness the physical electric energy within them. I didn't realize how much patriarchy was ingrained in me as I tried to imagine men relying so heavily on their female counterparts and women rising to the extremes that give them control over men's bodies. Unfortunately I didn't love it as much as I wanted to, as the narrative style felt a little jumbled and much of it contrived. I struggled with the middle section, but tore through the first and last sections and finished with quite the increased heart rate. It's an intense, fast-paced book that gives you a lot to think about!
★★★★☆

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
For the entire summer, I felt like I saw this book all over and people were recommending it up the wazoo. So I assumed it was a light summer read. It was not. Think "A Man Called Ove" but much darker. I don't think I thought it was as funny as others thought it was. Yes, there were moments I laughed, but once secrets were revealed, I felt a bit blindsided and couldn't find the humor anymore. BUT. I shouldn't judge books based on my preconceived notions. Honeyman sheds some light on tougher subjects and gives us a glimpse into the people around us who may not act the way we want or be as kind as we expect. I enjoyed this book and would recommend the audiobook for the fun accents with a talented performer. Well done, just be prepared.
★★★★☆

A Kind of Freedom - Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
I'm rather surprised I haven't heard more about this book. Spanning three generations, "A Kind of Freedom" gives readers a glimpse of the ongoing effects of Jim Crow on one family in New Orleans. Each sharing their own unique story, the experiences of Evelyn, her daughter Jackie, and grandson T.C. broke my heart and taught me so much about issues I'll never face. If you enjoyed Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" and survived her never-ending cycle of building up and tearing down your home, you will likely appreciate Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's debut. I look forward to her work in the future!
★★★★☆

Asking For It - Louise O'Neill
This book is quite literally the stuff of my nightmares and one of the scariest books I've read. I knew it would be rough going in. I didn't select this book for entertainment, I read it for education. And in a way, this was one of the most educational books I've read about rrape becaues it really challenged me. Main character Emma is not a sympathetic character. She's a mean girl, shallow, vain and beautiful, who wants to prove her beauty by getting attention from men. And she doesn't stick up for or believe a friend who was sexually assaulted. So when Emma gets raped herself, it's hard to put yourself in her shoes and be on her side. O'Neill does not make this story easy for you to swallow. There are no neat and tidy happy endings (as there never are for victims of rape). She doesn't sugarcoat it. She's an amazing author for bravely penning this story and I'm grateful she's bringing these issues into light. Read at your own risk. It's rough.
★★★★☆

New People - Danzy Senna
I don't know any other author that gives me as complicated emotions as Danzy Senna. Last year I read her collection of short stories "You Are Free" and while I enjoyed her prose and social commentary, I found many of the characters completely detestable. But I'd heard good things about "New People" so I decided to give it a go! And once again, I was hooked and laughing at the snarky social commentary, but absolutely hating the characters and screaming at their decisions (which made it oddly fun?). I'd say I hated this book, but I kept picking it up after deciding I was done and I feel so strongly about it so... If you read it, let's discuss these crazy people.
★★★☆☆