Angels in America

Books I Read in 2015

I’ve been a bit all over the place with my reading the last two years. In 2013, I set a goal of reading 40 books and beat it, and in 2014, I seriously surpassed my goal of reading 52 books by reading 91 (my numbers have been greatly bolstered by reading plays, in case you were wondering).

Since I’m in an English Literature graduate program, I obviously do plenty of reading, but I think I went back to my goal of 50 books in 2015. Though this number might be a bit low based on 2014’s results, I stay plenty busy with my school reading and don’t always have lots of time for recreational reading. I ended up exceeding that goal by reading 69 books in 2015, an achievement I’m pretty proud of. Here’s my full list of reading from 2015–for reference, the titles listed in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. Live From New York, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
  3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan
  4. Looking for Alaska, John Green
  5. Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  6. It’s Only A Play, Terrence McNally
  7. Brother to Dragons, Robert Penn Warren
  8. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
  9. Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman
  10. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, William Inge
  11. Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge
  12. Bus Stop, William Inge
  13. The Basic Eight, Daniel Handler
  14. Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
  15. My Ideal Bookshelf, Jane Mount and Thessaly la Force
  16. Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines
  17. Wait for You, J. Lynn
  18. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  19. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris
  20. In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  21. Child of God, Cormac McCarthy
  22. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  23. Love, Rosie, Cecelia Ahern
  24. Airships, Barry Hannah
  25. Crimes of the Heart, Beth Henley
  26. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  27. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  28. Joe, Larry Brown
  29. Wolf Whistle, Lewis Nordan
  30. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  31. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  32. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
  33. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
  34. Angels in America Part One: Millennium ApproachesTony Kushner
  35. Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, Tony Kushner
  36. The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
  37. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling
  38. Quidditch Through the Ages, J.K. Rowling
  39. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  40. Paper Towns, John Green
  41. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  42. Shame, Salman Rushdie
  43. Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  44. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  45. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
  46. Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri
  47. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  48. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  49. Dragonfly in AmberDiana Gabaldon
  50. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  51. Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih
  52. Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Césaire
  53. Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  54. After the Fall, Arthur Miller
  55. Murder in Retrospect, Agatha Christie
  56. Divine Comedy Vol. II: Purgatorio, Dante Alighieri
  57. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner
  58. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington
  59. Divine Comedy Vol. III: Paradiso, Dante Alighieri
  60. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn
  61. Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
  62. The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone
  63. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  64. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  65. Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
  66. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  67. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  68. The Cripple of Inishmaan, Martin McDonagh

TV Shows I Watched in 2015

I’m a bit of a champion at television-watching, so my TV list is usually rather impressive, especially at the end of the year. I don’t really set numeric goals of how many shows I hope to watch, but here’s my general list of things I wanted to watch in 2015.

Some members of my original list have been pushed to 2016, and I have two on-going projects that I’ll be finishing early in 2016 (those are the shows listed in bold). Here’s a look at what I watched this year.

  1. The Affair (1 season, 10 episodes)
  2. Angels in America (miniseries, 6 episodes)
  3. Bloodline (1 season, 13 episodes)
  4. Broadchurch, season 2 (1 season, 8 episodes)
  5. The Casual Vacancy (miniseries, 3 episodes)
  6. Catastrophe (1 season, 6 episodes)
  7. Empire (1 season, 12 episodes)
  8. The Fall, season 2 (1 season, 6 episodes)
  9. Frasier (11 seasons, 264 episodes)
  10. Game of Thrones (watched season 1 – season 5, episode 5)
  11. Inside Amy Schumer (2 seasons, 20 episodes)
  12. The Jinx (miniseries, 6 episodes)
  13. Jessica Jones (1 season, 13 episodes)
  14. John Adams (miniseries, 7 episodes)
  15. Lost (6 seasons, 120 episodes)
  16. Luther (3 seasons, 14 episodes)
  17. My So-Called Life (1 season, 19 episodes)
  18. The Office (U.K.) (2 seasons, 14 episodes)
  19. The O.C. (watched season 1 – season 3, episode 14)
  20. Olive Kitteridge (miniseries, 4 episodes)
  21. Outlander (1 season, 16 episodes)
  22. Rectify (3 seasons, 22 episodes) 
  23. Teen Wolf (4 seasons, 60 episodes)
  24. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (1 season, 13 episodes)
  25. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (1 season, 8 episodes)
  26. Wolf Hall (miniseries, 6 episodes)

After all this, I watched a grand total of 26 series and miniseries in 2015 and 764 episodes this year (though this doesn’t count any of the shows I watched live, so these numbers are a bit low).

Here’s to much more great TV in 2016!

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Favorite Books of 2015

2015 has been an especially successful reading year for me. I didn’t really read anything I didn’t like, and, as I’m always on the quest to read more, I’m happy with the fact that I finished 66 books this year (though I may have one or two more done before the year ends).

To commemorate this year of reading, here are my favorite reading endeavors of 2015, arranged in alphabetical order by title. I’ve also listed a few Honorable Mentions at the bottom because I just like books a lot.

What were your favorite books you read this year?

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'ConnorI first encountered Flannery O’Connor in high school and fell in love with her stories “A Good Man in Hard to Find” and “Good Country People,” both of which I’ve revisited again and again. So when I had to read seven of O’Connor’s stories for a Southern Literature class last spring, I decided, having bought her entire collection of short stories, to continue working through the book throughout the year. O’Connor is famous for her grotesque and darkly comic stories, a theme that is seen again and again in her works. For more on my favorite stories from the collection, check out my review of the book I wrote upon finishing it in June.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner

IMG_1804My interest in The Diary of a Teenage Girl was sparked by the rave reviews for the film adaptation that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, largely because it fits well with the research I’m doing for my master’s thesis project. After seeing the film in August and loving its sincere and honest tone, I bought myself the semi-autobiographical, semi-graphic novel that inspired the movie. Phoebe Gloeckner does a wonderful job of capturing the voice of Minnie in her work (a voice that she took from her own teenage diary entries). I found the book charming, troubling, and fascinating–a work that clearly aligns with Judy Blume’s famously honest portrayals of young women. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a true treat (you can read my full review here).

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

IMG_1836I really didn’t expect to enjoy Doctor Sleep as much as I did, but boy did it surprise me. It can be expected that reading a Stephen King novel will be an entertaining experience, but I didn’t expect to become so invested in these characters. Though Doctor Sleep is the follow up to The Shining, this is a very different story: adult Dan Torrance becomes involved with protecting a young girl who shares his “shining” capabilities. I love when “pop fiction” is more than just a pleasant way to pass the time, and Doctor Sleep certainly delivers in this fun, creepy, and entertaining book (full review here).

Dracula, Bram Stoker

DraculaDracula was one of my longest-lasting reading projects of 2015 because my roommate and I decided to take on the task of reading the book together, an experience we both enjoyed thoroughly. I’d been plenty familiar with the story before (because who isn’t?), but it was a much more rewarding experience to read the source material, especially when it’s made all-the-more enjoyable by reading with your best friend. As it turns out, a shared reading experience full of laughs is the perfect antidote to a stressful semester of grad school, and one we’ll certainly be repeating (full review here).

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

IMG_1505The Grapes of Wrath has long-been on my reading list, but I finally took the journey this summer, a choice that only made me wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner. The best part of reading John Steinbeck’s classic was that I got to read my grandfather’s 1950s copy of the book full of his annotations–The Grapes of Wrath was the subject of his thesis while in seminary (note the feature picture). Though my grandfather died when I was three-years-old, reading his words alongside Steinbeck’s gave me the bittersweet experience of feeling just a bit closer to him (full review here).

The Grownup, Gillian Flynn

Grownup

Gillian Flynn doesn’t disappoint. The Grownup is a very quick read–it is a short story, after all–but it rings true to Flynn’s other disturbingly entertaining works. If you loved Gone Girl as much as the rest of the world, set  aside an hour to give this a read. Only down side: you’ll finish reading it and feel slightly disappointed that it hasn’t turned into a full length novel.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the BaskervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles was a particularly fun read because it kept me entertained during my cozy snow week last spring (oh, the joy of having an entire week just to stay inside and read). I fell in love with BBC’s Sherlock during my 2013-2014 winter break but hadn’t ever read any of Doyle’s stories, so I was very happy to see that his writing is just as fun as the show (full review here).

In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume

In the Unlikely EventAs you might have guessed from what I wrote about The Diary of a Teenage Girl, I’m a Judy Blume fan, so her release of a new novel this year was a special treat for me. In the Unlikely Event is technically an adult novel, but the majority of the story is about a fifteen-year-old girl, so it often feels like Blume’s classic young adult novels. Set in the 1950s, the book has the same mid-century feel that makes Mad Men so fun to watch, and the characters and so endearing that you’re immediately drawn into the story. If you’re looking for an easy read with a lot of heart, In the Unlikely Event is a great way to spend your time (full review here).

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You was a perfect (if not emotionally draining) way to spend my Thanksgiving break. With the knowledge that a film adaptation of this book arrives in theaters next spring starring the adorable likes of Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Lewis, I had a feeling this would be the kind of sweet book I’d enjoy. This is definitely true, but don’t expect a very happy ending–but I don’t want to say any more about it. Me Before You is the perfect kind of bittersweet romantic book, and great for a quiet weekend at home where you can ugly-cry when things get sad (full review here).

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

On Chesil BeachAnd speaking of bittersweet romance… Ian McEwan is the indisputable king of the genre (if you’re familiar with Atonement, you’ll know what I’m talking about). On Chesil Beach tells the story of an awkward and shy couple on their wedding night. It’s a short novel that, apart from flashbacks, stays entirely in the moment of one evening. It’s the kind of book that will make you want to yell at the characters, but you can’t stop yourself from reading on. This book can be read in an afternoon, but it’s the type of story that will stick with you long after (full review here).

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

outlanderI first met Outlander through the TV adaptation of the book series, but after deciding I could no longer wait for the show to keep me up-to-date, I embarked on the journey of reading the series. Gabaldon writes hefty books (in the realm of 800+ pages), but the story is fun and thankfully has kept my interest in these characters satisfied. I’ve also read Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the series, and if I don’t get the third for Christmas, I’ll be buying it for myself soon. While Outlander is a romantic story at heart, history and science are also hugely essential. So thanks, Diana–I feel like your books are slowly making me a bit smarter (full review here).

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

white-teethI just might have saved the best for last. White Teeth was conveniently both on my personal reading list and required reading for a class this fall, so I was happy to read it this summer. I really had no idea how much I’d enjoy it. Zadie Smith is a fabulous Dickensian writer; she writes developed characters that make up an incredibly diverse and vast ensemble, but manages to make you feel as if you know them each individually. Her prose is beautiful slow-building, and I don’t know whether to bow to her or hate her for having written White Teeth at the age of 24 (which just so happens to be my current age). White Teeth is a truly rewarding experience (full review here).

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And, as promised, here are some Honorable Mentions for my other favorites this year (listed alphabetically by title):

  • Angels in America, Tony Kushner
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  • Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  • The Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  • Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  • Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

You can find my full list of the books I read in 2015 here and explore the rest of the blog for longer reviews of these works.

 

Angels in America

Books #34 and 35: Angels in America, by Tony Kushner

Just minutes ago, I finished reading Part Two of Tony Kushner’s epic drama, Angels in America. I’m not quite sure how to feel about it, mostly because I don’t know if I even understood all of it.

Angels in America is pretty safely known as one of the must-reads in gay and lesbian literature, with good reason. Kushner takes on AIDS-riddled New York in a mythic way. The play follows the lives of several interrelated characters, two of whom are diagnosed with the disease, while the others suffer its fallout.

At this point, I think the biggest struggle I’m having is due to the fact that I’ve just read the play, not seen it. You can’t deny that plays are written to be watched, so that’s what I need to do. I’ve added the HBO miniseries adaptation of the play to my “to watch” list, and I imagine I’ll move on that soon so I can see how the visual production works

Though my thoughts overall are a bit muddled, I can say a few things with certainty. This play is absolutely essential reading for lovers of drama, or really anyone looking to understand more about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. I was discussing this with my mom the other day, but I still don’t really know how to articulate it: reading about or seeing representations of AIDS always hits me harder than other illness, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s something to do with the helplessness and despair, and the politically and socially charged nature of the disease. It taps an emotion in me that I don’t quite understand. Needless to say, I’ll be thinking on this one for some time.

June Entertainment: Binge-watching at its finest

It finally feels like summer is in full swing, and what a wonderful feeling it is.

Though my first year of grad school ended over a month ago (how is that even possible?), it took until last week for me to really feel like summer had set in. Between travels to New York and Texas and finishing up my job, I wasn’t able to decompress from the semester for a while, so I’m very glad to feel the freedom sinking in.

For me, this independence means finding as much time as I possibly can for entertainment purposes. What’s the point of having a degree in Pop Culture Studies if not to shirk all responsibilities to watch a movie, right?

Of course, I’ve still got academia to contend with this summer: I’m trying to spend a little time every day working on my Master’s thesis project, and at some point I’m going to sit down and try to really figure out the PhD programs I’m most interested in. That is a pretty ridiculous thought, but it’s reality.

In my leisure time, though, I’m still making room for plenty of pop culture goodness. Here’s an update on my reading and viewing ventures of late.

Books — Sometime in the last week or two I realized I’d only finished one book since the end of my semester, which put me into a bit of an irrational panic. Since then, I’ve done my best to kick into high gear and get some reading done, especially since I know I’ll be returning to some school-related reading soon enough. I’ve now worked through four more works: Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient ExpressJesse Andrews’s Me and Earl and the Dying GirlJudy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches (click the links for my reviews of these works). I’m moving onto Part Two of Angels in America today (look for my review of both parts soon), and I’m making myself read at least one Flannery O’Connor short story per day so I can finish her collected works that I started reading in March. Once I’ve finished Angels in America, I’m moving on to my primary reading goal for the summer: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

TV — The drought of good summer TV is both a curse and a blessing; the fact that there’s so little to watch in real time means there’s a greater opportunity for bingeing on the shows I’ve been waiting to watch for some time. Last week I finished watching the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adamswhich was beautifully acted and produced. During our (very) long car ride to and from Austin, TX, I got started on my loftiest TV goal for 2015: FrasierI’m not sure I can expect to finish all 263 episodes before the end of the year, but I’ve just started season 3, so I think I’m at least making good progress.

Yesterday, my mom and I finished season 1 of Netflix’s Bloodline, a dark and twisty drama about an insanely dysfunctional family in the Florida Keys. The cast is an all-star ensemble, but the acting from Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn is particularly superb. Here’s hoping these two are recognized when the Emmy nominations are announced next month.

Since finishing Bloodline, which we started one weekend while I was still in school, we’re finally ready to make progress on two shows that have been patiently waiting on our DVR for some time now. First up is season two of Broadchurch, which we started last night. I have high hopes for another good season. After Broadchurch, we have the PBS miniseries Wolf Hall to enjoy, which I also imagine will be a nominated show come Emmy time.

As far as current TV goes, I loved (or maybe hated, based on all those deaths) season 5 of Game of Thrones just as much as the rest of the world, and I think season 4 of Veep was the show’s best yet. I’m looking forward to the premiere of season two of True Detective this weekend, but I was very underwhelmed by the first season, so I’m trying to keep my expectations low (but this cast is making me very happy, so it’s kind of hard). The only other current shows I’m watching are Hannibal and Wayward Pines, which I’m intrigued by. I got bored with Wayward Pines after a few episodes, but last week’s revelation reinvigorated my interest. As for Hannibal, it’s still as strange as ever, but totally worth watching.

Movies — Much like my reading for the summer, I found myself feeling behind on my movie-watching earlier this week, but I’m quickly remedying that fact. Mom and I saw Spy on Monday, and I’m hoping we’ll go see Inside Out soon. The only Best Picture nominee I didn’t see in time for the Oscars this year was American Sniper, mostly because the political controversy around it made me decide to abstain. We finally watched it Wednesday night and were completely underwhelmed and surprised it garnered such acclaim. I love Bradley Cooper and think he’s terrifically talented, but there’s no way he deserved another Oscar nomination over David Oyelowo’s performance in Selma. So that was a pretty big disappointment.

My fun movie news, though, is that my mom and I have established a little movie series of our own that we’re very excited about (maybe we’re easily enthused, but oh well). We still have a collection of VHS tapes, many of which are well known movies that I’ve never seen. Yesterday, we picked out 20 that we need to watch and made a bowl with numbered slips of paper, so our goal is to draw one out every day and watch the according movie. After reminding ourselves how a VCR works, we started last night with Robert Redford’s 1992 film, A River Runs Through It, a movie I’m happy to have now seen and crossed off our list.

Now I’m off to make more progress in my quest to read and watch all the things. Happy weekend!