2017

2017 Reading List #23: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

I ordered The Hate U Give a few weeks ago about hearing about it on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I’m a sucker for good young adult literature, so when one of the commentators referred to it as one of the best YA books she’d ever read, I had high hopes I’d love it, too.

And love it I did. The Hate U Give is an intensely powerful and emotional tale of a young girl who find herself at the center of a complicated situation—she witnesses the wrongful murder of her unarmed best friend at the hands of a police officer and must decide how to proceed. Starr is a kind and lovable heroine who lives in a world of duality. She lives in a rough neighborhood where gang violence is prevalent, but attends a ritzy private school where she is one of few non-white students, and these contrasts make for some pretty complicated decisions as a sixteen-year-old.

I think a big part of what I found most impressive about Angie Thomas’s debut novel is how she so deftly incorporates so many layers in an easy-to-read, quick-moving story. Starr has to deal with lots of complicated problems, from feeling like she’s not being true enough to her roots to confusion over why her friendships feel strained. Though she’s facing testimonies and a potential trial in which she would be the key witness, Starr also struggles with normal teenage problems that make her story universal.

On a lighter note, a major part of why I loved this book was how I related to Starr in a few very specific ways, despite us not having much in common on the surface. But when Starr and her friends discuss Harry Potter, the Jonas Brothers, and High School Musical at length? I felt that we were kindred spirits (and that maybe Angie Thomas and I need to be friends).

While reading The Hate U Give, I laughed aloud many times and had tears in my eyes on many occasions, including while reading Thomas’s acknowledgements at the end of the book. Thomas does not shy away from complicated subject matters, but she also never vilifies anyone. This book should be required reading for students—just yesterday I shared it with one of my college freshman who was anxious to get her own copy—because it does an incredible job of making this issue deeply personal.

I’m so thrilled that The Hate U Give already has a film adaptation in progress and that Thomas has a contract for a second book. After this stellar debut, I’m excited to follow her career.

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2017 Reading List #22: Drums of Autumn, by Diana Gabaldon

I’ve been very absent from my little blog here for far too long, so apologies for that.

In truth, a bit part of my being M.I.A. was reading Drums of Autumn, which is no insignificant read at 880 pages. But this week I completed my journey through the book and enjoyed pretty much every second of it.

I completed Drums of Autumn in just over six weeks, which is about on par with how I’ve read the previous books in the series. I also did my best to not be distracted by other novels while in the process, though I did read a few plays and a book of poetry alongside it (to be fair, three of those plays were for my teaching obligations, so real life has to find its place among my personal reading projects).

Drums of Autumn finds Claire and Jamie Fraser in the Colonies, but it balances their storyline with coverage of their daughter, Brianna, and her beau, Roger Wakefield, in England/Scotland/Boston in the 1960s and 1970s. I won’t say too much so I don’t give it all away, but their storylines eventually merge, though not without lots of trials and complications and physical harm to Jamie (because that’s how Jamie works).

One thing I found most enjoyable about the book was how invested I felt in Brianna and Roger’s characters. I was a bit nervous knowing that Gabaldon would introduce more leading characters to rival Claire and Jamie, but Brianna and Roger are equally compelling. And, as this book finds Claire and Jamie creating new lives in North Carolina, Gabaldon also introduces several important Native American characters that I’m happy to say are complex and interesting, not just caricatures or stereotypes. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out in season 4 of the TV series.

And speaking of the show, season 3 isn’t set to air until this fall (sadly), and my biggest concern for it and future seasons is seeing more of Brianna on screen. When she joined the cast in the season 2 finale, I wasn’t blown away by her acting skills, but I have high hopes she’ll improve, especially since she grows into a leading character. Let’s hope for the best.

Since finishing Drums of Autumn on Tuesday night, I’ve felt like a newly free woman. I’m now reading Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give and really liking it so far, so I’ll be sure to post again soon. And as for my future with the Outlander series, I’ve got book 5, The Fiery Cross, waiting on my bookshelf, and I’m quite sure I’ll take that on later in 2017. For now, I’d like to move along with some shorter projects that don’t require quite the same effort.

Reading and Watching in 2017

In my Sundance reflection I posted over the weekend, I promised to catch up on my recent pop culture ventures since I’ve neglected my duties of late (full-time jobs really just hinder this whole recreational blogging thing).

So, in an effort to stay true to my word, here’s a quick glimpse at all the popular stuff I’m consuming these days. Spoiler alert: I’ve become kind of savage with things I don’t like, so you’re in for a treat.


Books

At the moment, I’m on my sixteenth book of 2017, but I doubt I’ll be finishing it any time soon. I’ve returned to the Outlander series with the fourth installment, Drums of Autumn. I’m at the 200-page mark in an 880-page saga, so who really knows when I’ll finish or what shenanigans I’m in for along the way. Thankfully, Diana Gabaldon doesn’t let me down and keeps things entertaining and unexpected, unlike many books I’ve started and stopped recently.

I’ve given up on two books so far in 2017, which generally provokes a sense of relief, while also being a big ol’ bummer. I don’t like to dislike books, especially when I spend 100 pages of effort on something I end up tossing aside. My rejected novels were Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, which I bought on a whim at a used book store, and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I didn’t have harsh feelings about The Poisonwood Bible—the same cannot be said of the former—but I just didn’t feel it going anywhere. To be fair, I started the novel and read a good chunk on my way to Sundance and didn’t really pick it up again until returning, so I was struggling to readjust. But at over 500 pages, I wasn’t feeling compelled enough to trudge through, so I put it aside. This is one I could see myself returning to in future, just not any time too soon.

Other quick reading notes: I’ve already crossed off 3 of the authors I planned to read in 2017, have made progress on 2 others, and have completed 2 other reading goals for the year. I read Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection milk and honey in about 12 seconds over the weekend and enjoyed it. I read a collection of Emily Dickinson’s works and consumed something like 700 poems in a week. I also recently read the Russian novella The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk after seeing the film adaptation at Sundance. The novella is fun, but the film is far better.

I’ve basically been reading Drums of Autumn exclusively, but fairly soon I’ll double up with something else, likely Romeo and Juliet in my goal of reading four of Shakespeare’s plays this year. I don’t want to pair Drums of Autumn with another novel, so I’ll keep the balance with other plays or short story/essay collections for a while.


Movies

I’ve seen a fairly ridiculous number of movies in 2017—forty-three, to be precise, which is just two short of the number of days in the year thus far. To be fair, I did start the year at a film festival, but I’m also just in the kind of mood that basically involves at least one movie a day.

You can read my Sundance post to hear about what I liked there, but there have been plenty of other fun things I’ve seen on my own time. Arrival was the most recent Best Picture nominee I saw (I still haven’t seen Hidden Figures or Hacksaw Ridge) and I loved it way more than expected. Other things I’ve really liked include Sing Street (2016), Grey Gardens (2009), Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Temple Grandin (2010), The Handmaiden (2016)and Fifty Shades Darker (2017). Yes, the last one is kind of embarrassing, and yes, the last two have something very specific in common, but I’m fine with that.

Here’s hoping I reach 50 films—which is 1/2 of my goal for the year—by the end of the month (but honestly, it will probably happen by the end of this week).


Television

TV has been unexpectedly complicated for me in 2017. TV tends to be my breeziest medium, but I’m having a very difficult time finding something that clicks for me this year. To be fair, I’ve still completed 7 series this year, but each of those has been under 20 episodes, so I haven’t had to really commit.

My biggest surprise was my lack of interest in The Americans, a show I started expecting I would love it and planned to catch up before the new season comes later this spring. I watched the entirety of season 1 and the premiere of season 2, and just kept finding myself underwhelmed. This is the show every critic says is totally underrated and deserves nominations it rarely receives, but nothing about it really hooked me. I kept watching in the hopes that would change, but I finally decided to stop. It was a decision accompanied by a surprising amount of turmoil, but I really haven’t thought about the show at all since, so I think I made the right decision.

I’m finally committed to a new project with Flight of the Conchords, though this show is only 22 episodes overall, so again, it’s fairly temporary. It’s silly and strange and I like it. Same goes for Moone Boy, which I watched very quickly a few weeks ago.

There is a handful of shows currently airing/soon to return that I’m keeping up with, including: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Mindy Project, Girls, Legion, and Bates Motel. It’s nice to have a few things to rely on, especially when I’m not particularly inclined elsewhere.

And speaking of my lack of interest, my roommate and I have developed an exciting and cut-throat habit of “canceling” movies and books and TV shows (aka we deem things “canceled” when we stop liking them, and they cease to exist). So The Americans? Canceled. Together we tried to start back on Penny Dreadful, having both watched the first season when it aired, but that only lasted 14 minutes before cancelation. I also canceled The Leftovers after watching 19 minutes and feeling like I never needed to return. I have a lot of random things on my TV list for the year, and I expect some of them to be canceled as well. At least I’m giving them all a shot.

Of the things I have actually watched, I would most highly recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events because it is just delightful, and I also had fun watching Chewing Gum, Looking, and Glitch in January. And seriously, Moone Boy is super sweet and charming if you’re looking for that type.


Now I’m off to go finish a movie I started this afternoon and enjoy some quality reading time. Next time I write, I fully expect to have canceled a few more things.

I can’t wait.

I went to Sundance again and it was great

I have sadly neglected my blogging duties of late, but I’m working to correct that issue by blasting through a few important bits of news concerning my current life.

Two weeks ago, I returned from my third trip to the Sundance Film Festival, and as my title might tell you, I enjoyed my time. The weather was the worst it’s been in my experience, but a few feet of snow hold no power against my will to see films and celebrities.

Without going into unnecessary detail about all parts of the trip—if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, I’m more than happy to share at another time—but I’ll fill you in on some of my favorite bits.

To begin, here’s the full list of the films I saw during our eight days:

  • Lion (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Jackie (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Dayveon
  • Lady Macbeth
  • The Discovery
  • Ingrid Goes West
  • Thoroughbred
  • Colossal
  • Lemon
  • Walking Out
  • Marjorie Prime
  • Band Aid
  • Burning Sands
  • Novitiate

So, over the course of the festival, I saw twelve films, attended three panels, and waited in a lot of lines. Below, I’ve given you some basic information about the films I most enjoyed and some other weird highlights of what happens when you go to a film festival in the mountains during some major snow. Enjoy!

The Films

First of all, I’m happy to say I had a very positive viewing experience at Sundance this year. Though I wasn’t completely blown away by any single film (like I was with Whiplash in 2014 and Manchester by the Sea in 2016), I also didn’t have any excessively negative reactions (I’m looking at you, Listen Up Philip and Wiener-Dog).

So here were my general favorites of the festival:

  • Dayveon, a realistic and quiet film about a young boy in Little Rock joining a gang. This is one to look for if you’re a fan of Moonlight.
  • Lady Macbeth, a Thomas Hardy-esque story of a young woman who marries a wealthy older man and has no qualms about using her new wealth and comfort to get exactly what she wants (featuring murder, sabotage, and a cute cat).
  • The Discovery, a film in which sci-fi and indie blend perfectly to create a world in which the Afterlife has been proven, and the national suicide rate has skyrocketed. This one will mess with all your expectations and leave your head spinning.
  • Thoroughbred, a dark comedy à la 90s classics like The Craft or Jawbreaker in which two wealthy high schoolers conspire to murder a parent. It’s all kinds of fun.
  • Lemon, a truly inexplicable film about a struggling actor and his odd life, featuring a song about matzoh balls that you will honestly never forget.
  • Band Aid, a quirky little comedy about a young married couple who decide, when counseling doesn’t help, to start a band and turn their fights into songs.

Overall, I’d say Lady Macbeth, The Discoveryand Band Aid were my real favorites. Thankfully, The Discovery makes its way to Netflix on March 31, and Lady Macbeth is set for a summer theatrical release.

Other Sundance Happenings

As I mentioned, I attended three panels during the festival, one of which provided me with a free copy of the first season of the Sundance TV drama Top of the Lake (I’m still very proud of winning this, if you can’t tell). But the real fun of Sundance for me—which I’m sure you know by now—is the people-watching, specifically since the people of Park City tend to be of the famous variety. This year, I again saw/met/stood awkwardly next to about 70 people of note. I won’t recount all of those sightings for you, but here are some of the best experiences. Check out the slideshow below for evidence.

  • I got to speak to Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” and she was wonderful.
  • I was trapped outside a bathroom and nearly lost my spot in the waitlist line because Sam Elliott was standing next to me and I was apparently a threat to his well-being.
  • I was twice in close proximity to Robert Redford.
  • Laura Dern is a beauty and has great hair.
  • Standing next to Matt Bomer is like being next to a living Ken doll, except he’s nicer and more attractive and eats apples on-the-go.
  • I watched Dianna Agron get a severe scolding from a police officer because she didn’t use a crosswalk.
  • Laura Prepon is kind of scary and looks alienesque close-up.
  • Height-related matters: Jason Segel walked past me on the street and wasn’t as tall as I’d imagined. Tim Robbins is crazy tall. And Nicholas Hoult is taller than expected. Important facts!
  • Though traffic was too bad to arrive to the Women’s March on time from a film screening, I did get to rally with the remaining marchers. It was an emotional and encouraging experience.
  • I saw Gael García Bernal more days than I didn’t see him. At least five different days. And he is incredibly beautiful, though I have no photographic evidence to prove it. He wears cute glasses and a little headband and sits very still while watching movies. Maybe I’m too involved?
  •  I was very upset I hadn’t seen Peter Dinklage and was doing my best to find him. Then, for my last two film screenings, I literally sat right behind him. I defended him from a weirdo who kept hitting him with her coat. It was very exciting.
  • I stood in a waitlist line near Ryder Strong from “Boy Meets World” and caught him talking about me to his friend. It was weird and fun.
  • I ran into Nigel Barker several times because he was just, like, around (???), and I can say there’s significant reason he was a male model.
  • And finally…on my last night of the festival, I attended a concert featuring none other than Tony winner Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame), and on his thirty-fifth birthday, no less. And he was kind enough to take a picture with me.

I’m not sure I ever really thought I’d attend the Sundance Film Festival, but to have attended 3 times as a 25-year-old is not something I take for granted. Again, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have helped me get there (multiple times) and for the festival living up to my magical memories year after year. I hope to return many more times and share it with the people I love.

Until next time, Park City…

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2017 Reading List #5: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

Another of my many reading goals in 2017 was to read something by Virginia Woolf, who I’ve never approached before. Though I also own Mrs. Dalloway, I decided to start with A Room of One’s Own because it’s a short read.

The length, though, doesn’t say much about the density of the text. A Room of One’s Own is a bit complex in terms of genre because it’s a nonfiction essay, but her narrator is fictional.

Regardless of whether we’re supposed to read the book as fact or fiction, Woolf’s arguments are pointed and complicated and compelling. I’m not sure I understood all of it, but there were moments when I loved her points about the relationship between women and fiction. Woolf takes a chronological historical approach to understanding female writers and has several revelations in the process.

This is the kind of book that will take a while to process, but reading it has given me confidence that I’ll be better prepared to tackle more of Woolf in the future.

With this, another reading goal is crossed off my list in 2017. Hopefully the rest of my winter break can be equally productive.

2017 Reading List #4: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

It’s probably silly of me to try to objectively review this book knowing my feelings about Harry Potter, but I’ll give it a fair shot.

I received the illustrated edition of Chamber of Secrets for Christmas, and, like last year, my mom and I reread it together, just as we did when first reading the books many years ago.

Again, it was perfect, and the added bonus of Jim Kay’s beautiful illustrations only makes the reading experience more enjoyable. I’m particularly fond of his detailed illustrations of  the Mandrakes and the Phoenix.

These illustrated editions of the series are the perfect way to enjoy some quality time revisiting the series that has forever changed me. Though I am starting to think I need an entire bookcase dedicated to Harry Potter books and their related texts. I guess I’ll have to continue my dreams for a home with a library…

2017 Reading List #1: Swing Time, by Zadie Smith

Happy New Year! Though we’re already 2 days into 2017, I’m still enjoying my free time of winter break and using it to soak up as much reading/viewing as possible (while balancing my time productively in preparation for a new semester, of course).

My first completed reading project is one I’d been itching to start since receiving it for my birthday—Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time. I quickly fell in love with Smith’s writing when I read White Teeth in 2015 and have been slowly accumulating her other works. Swing Time, though, is the only other novel I’ve read by her, having also read The Book of Other People, a short story collection she edited in 2016.

Though Swing Time is a hefty novel that rounds out at 453 pages, it’s quick-moving and easy to read. The story follows an unnamed narrator through her youth, growing up biracial in North London, to her young adulthood as an assistant to an international pop star. Because the story is written by Smith, it’s riddled with complex issues like friendship, identity, feminism, family, and cultural appropriation. Smith’s characteristic ability to address these topics in a true-to-life way is what makes her writing so compelling.

Though I wasn’t quite as charmed by Swing Time as I was by White Teeth—though in fairness the scope of White Teeth is much broader and more complicated—Smith undeniably deserved her place on so many of the “best of” fiction lists at the end of 2016.

Since one of my reading goals in 2017 is to read two novels by Smith, I’ll definitely read On Beauty before the year ends, and I having a feeling The Autograph Man might find its way onto my reading list too.