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2017 Reading List #2: Lady Windermere’s Fan, by Oscar Wilde

The best thing about attending/working at a university where winter break is 5-6 weeks long is how much reading can get done in that time frame.

I’m doing my best to get off to a good start in 2017, and so far, I feel good about my progress.

I’m currently juggling three reading projects at once—sometimes I don’t know how to stop—but I try to balance various genres and goals when reading multiple things at once.

My mom and I are reading the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets together (which is how we first read them when I was much younger), and after finishing Swing Time yesterday, I started on another book that’s helping to cross off one of my 2017 goals: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf (I’ve never read her before, so I decided it was time to start).

But, since A Room of One’s Own can be complex and less readable that a typical novel, I decided to throw a play into the mix, which is how Lady Windermere’s Fan happened late last night.Reading two plays by Oscar Wilde is also a goal in 2017, and I’ll soon be able to cross that one off.

Lady Windermere’s Fan shows off Wilde’s characteristic witticism and is entirely enjoyable. Like many of Wilde’s plays, this one has it’s fair share of farcical elements, but it’s also a bit sweeter and sadder than something like The Importance of Being Earnest. The play takes place over 24 hours in the life of Lady Windermere, a young woman led to believe that her husband is having an affair with the new harlot in town. In truth, the relationship between her husband and the woman is more complicated, and all kinds of fun ensues during the play’s progress.

I sped through this play much quicker than I’d expected, so I’m planning to continue my Wilde reading alongside Woolf. I’ve got a collection of Wilde’s plays with three more to read, so I think I may just power through the entire thing before setting it aside.

Look for more reflection on my various reading projects in the coming days.

Happy reading!

Favorite Books of 2016

I know there are many people in the world who rarely read, which is probably one of the most depressing things to know about our society. I feel no shame in the time I spend daily reading or thinking about reading or discussing reading with my roommate.

In 2016, I read 92 books and plays, which is a personal record (I was determined to out-do my 2014 total of 91, so congratulations from me to myself). Unlike past years, I set a few goals at the beginning of the year other than reading a total of 52 books, which included reading works by specific people. By Thanksgiving, I’d accomplished all of those goals, so I’m upping the ante for 2017 (see my new reading list in a day or two if you’re curious about how nerdy/obsessive I can be).

Below, in the order I read them, is a list of my favorite books I read in 2016, followed by some honorable mentions. This list contains books both new and old, some of which have even achieved favorite status. You can consult my full 2016 reading list here.

What books did you love in 2016? Maybe I’ll add them to my shelf.


Brooklyn, Colm Toíbín

Both as a book and a film, Brooklyn has taken deep root in my soul. I adore this coming-of-age story (they tend to be my favorites anyway, but this one is especially great). The novel, which tells the story of a young Irish immigrant Eilis who moves to New York City to start a new life in the 1950s, is just as profound and beautiful as its Oscar-nominated film adaptation. This is a perfect book to enjoy on a cozy winter afternoon.

Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay

I grabbed this book at a used bookstore to help fill out my reading list for my master’s comprehensive exams in the spring and was fortunate enough to love it as a piece of literature. I quickly became obsessed with Edna St. Vincent Millay herself (this girl was crazy progressive and hip in the 1920s) and her poetry doesn’t make me feel like an idiot as most poetry does. She’s witty, hilarious, and heartbreaking in equal parts.

‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman

It’s strange that I only read ‘Night, Mother earlier this year because the story feels deeply engrained in me already. My mom has loved this play for a long time, and I finally understood why when I read it myself this spring. Norman’s play is sparse and simple but still incredibly profound. It’s impossible as a reader not to share the characters’ anxiety as the story progresses in real time toward a potential suicide. I can’t wait to share this play with my students this spring.

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m a fan of Hamilton (okay just kidding I haven’t listened to any other music in a year). Since annotating is one of my favorite pastimes, reading the annotated edition of the complete musical, accompanied by beautiful photographs and behind-the-scenes information, was a dream. Hamilton: The Revolution is a must-have for fans of the musical. Though it’s a little pricier than the Chernow biography upon which the show is based, it’s far less likely to sit untouched on your bookshelf.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

My only prior encounters with Cheryl Strayed came from seeing the film adaptation of Wild  and reading a few nonfiction essays in a writing workshop, but after my roommate loved this one and gave it to me as a graduation gift, I too fell in love. I intended to bring this as my reading material on a long drive to Nebraska over the summer, but I got so into it I breezed through the entire book before our departure. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of Strayed’s Dear Sugar letters, a column she wrote for The Rumpus. Strayed clearly answers each person with deep thought and tenderness, but she isn’t afraid to answer with honesty. Each entry makes you feel understood and valued. I have a feeling this book will be one I continue to share with friends and family.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer

After solidifying my love for Amy Schumer in 2015, I of course had to read her memoir when it was released this summer. Schumer doesn’t disappoint in this book that is equally laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly sad. Though I read this book months ago, there are still stories here that I think of and laugh about often.

The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith

The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories written by several famous authors whose sole prompt was to create a character and write a story about them. As with many short story collections, the end result is a bit of a mixed bag, but the general feeling I had was a very pleasant one. When my roommate and I read this aloud together (now one of our favorite and cutest habits), we sometimes had difficulty stopping ourselves from reading indefinitely. Though many of the stories are great, see if you can get your hands on “Magda Mandela” by Hari Kunzru. It’s a quick read and you will not be disappointed.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

I haven’t even seen A Monster Calls yet but I’m already guessing this will be the #1 tearjerker of 2017. The book tells the story of a young English boy named Conor whose mother’s cancer is continually worsening. Conor is visited nightly by a tree monster, a clear manifestation of his frustration and grief as he watches his mother fade. This is a beautiful story about love and loss. Just maybe skip the eye makeup before reading.

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

I’m very rarely a reader of mysteries, especially contemporary ones. However, once I saw the trailer for the upcoming HBO miniseries adaptation of this novel, I was too intrigued not to read it before the February air date. Who knew I’d be such a fan? The book rounds out at over 500 pages, but I couldn’t put it down in the 2 days I spent reading it. I think Moriarty does a great job of telling a dramatic story in a way that still feels authentic (something I’m a little worried about based on the footage from the miniseries). It was refreshing to see a story about women who come from various backgrounds, aren’t all about competition, and keep cattiness to a minimum. Though this was my first encounter with Moriarty, I’ve already purchased her latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, and look forward to enjoying it early next year.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

2016 was a year of Ann Patchett for me. I’d never read her previously, but my roommate and I read Bel Canto together in the fall and I became a fan. Though I generally try not to be too easily distracted by my book purchases, when I bought State of Wonder in October, I couldn’t resist starting it almost immediately. The story is clearly inspired by Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, but differs in that it follows a woman sent to retrieve her female boss from the depths of the Amazon where she’s developing a fertility drug. Though I was—and still am—frustrated by the book’s conclusion, it features beautiful writing and some great twists that make for a worthwhile read.

The Penguin Arthur Miller

In my 92 books read this year, this one feels like the biggest accomplishment. In fact, it’s one book that contains 18—this is the complete canon of Arthur Miller’s dramatic works. Miller and I go way back at this point, but before 2016, I’d only read 3 of his plays. This edition isn’t exactly an easy one to travel with—note its comparative size to my cat in the featured photo—but now it has a stately position on my bookshelf made all the more grand by the fact that I’ve read all the words in it. Miller is an undeniable master of American drama, and I loved spending so much time with him this year. If you remember, think of him on February 10—the date not only of his death, but also the anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman.

Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling

My general relationship with Mindy Kaling over the past month has gone from casual fan to actively seeking friendship (so, Mindy, if you’re reading, let’s hang out!). When I bought this book in the airport a few weeks ago, I was just looking to be mildly entertained on my journey home, but many times I was made to laugh aloud. Then I watched the entirety of The Mindy Project in just a few days, and I became even more enamored. Though it would be wrong to call Why Not Me? a page-turner, it’s still the kind of book you have a hard time putting down.


Honorable Mentions: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, At Fault by Kate Chopin, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

Favorite Movies of 2016

The year is wrapping up, which means the inevitable is happening—I’m spending my days reflecting on the best entertainment of the year. My “best of” compilation below is not a list of my favorite 2016 films, but of my favorite films I watched in 2016, meaning some have earlier release dates. Check my list (in order of when I saw them) and descriptions of each movie below. For reference, you can enjoy my full 2016 viewing list here.

What were the best films you watched in 2016?


Room (2015)

Though my initial impression of Room was not totally stellar (though I still really liked it), the more distance I had from the film, the more impressed with it I became. Brie Larson’s Oscar-winning performance as a young captive trying to raise a son and escape her confines is a must-see. The tension built in the climactic scenes is just as captivating as you find in the best thriller films. Despite having seen Room in early January, it’s a film I continue to think of regularly.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

If you’ve had any kind of significant conversation with me in 2016, I probably mentioned this film (and now apologize for being annoying). I’m proud to say I attended the second screening of this film in the world at the Sundance Film Festival and have loved it since then. Manchester by the Sea features beautiful performances from Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams dealing with grief and forgiveness. It’s a cathartic, tragic, and funny film that is sure to continue winning awards into the new year.

The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster was the last screening I attended at Sundance this year, and it’s another film that has stuck with me through 2016. Word on the Sundance rumor mill was that The Lobster is a movie you know you’ll either love or hate within the first 10 minutes, and I think that’s pretty true. This darkly comic, dystopian little weirdo of a film features Colin Farrell in the lead role in a society where single people are sent to a hotel for 45 days in which to find a soulmate. If your allotted days expire, you’re turned into the animal of your choosing and released into the wild. I find The Lobster to be equal parts hilarious and disturbing, but maybe that’s not your thing.

The Witch (2015)

The Witch is another love-it-or-hate-it type that I also happened to love in 2016. When my roommate and I saw the film with a crowd of about 20 on a Sunday afternoon, it was clear that most other audience members hated what we saw as a creepy/cool film. Who knew a blank-faced goat would be one of the best movie villains of 2016?

Swiss Army Man (2016)

After hearing the resounding WTFs about this film at Sundance, I really had no idea what to expect from Swiss Army Man. When the most common plot description is that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse, it’s hard to know if you’ll like a film. Turns out, I loved it! Minus the final 10-15 minutes, but those are thoughts for a longer discussion. Swiss Army Man is visually stunning and weird as hell, but also a movie you aren’t likely to forget.

Green Room (2016)

I didn’t know about Green Room upon watching it except that there were neo-Nazis involved and most reviews were pretty stellar. Anyhoo, I was so very pleased to see this little weirdo that adds to the growing list of great indie horror/thriller films in recent years. Watching one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances is bittersweet, but it’s great to see a group of very unlikeable characters become the people you root hardest for. Also, Patrick Stewart’s “I’m a gross American” accent is not to be missed.

Moonlight (2016)

Like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight is a film we’ll all continue to hear more about as awards season rounds out in early 2017, and deservedly so. While some say Moonlight is the absolute best film of the year, my preferences lie elsewhere, but I still see it as a profoundly moving and beautiful film. The section (since the story is told in three parts) I visit most often in my mind is the first in the film, when we see Chiron as a young boy with a mom who is just beginning to dig herself into the drugged darkness that later consumes her life. I think the main reason this sections stands out most to me is the presence of Blue, played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali. That the most stable person in young Chiron’s life is a drug dealer is heartbreaking, but I found myself wishing again and again that Blue was still there to help Chiron later on. I left the theatre feeling a bit muddled after this one, but it’s a film I’ve mentally returned to often.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

There are few things I love more than a good coming-of-age story, and The Edge of Seventeen is an instant-classic in this genre. Hailee Steinfeld shines as Nadine, a girl who (like many teenagers) feels everything vividly. Nadine is smart and kind, but also kind of dumb and ridiculous and dramatic, but all in a way that makes you feel for her because we’ve all been there. Oddly enough, this is the film on this list that probably made me most consistently emotional, likely because it tells the story that sometimes feels truest to life.

Other People (2016)

Due to an unfortunate coincidence, I missed out on attending the world premiere of Other People at Sundance in January and wasn’t able to fit it into my other viewing times during the festival. But after hearing many people say it was their favorite film during our time in Utah, I made sure to watch it as soon as I could. Other People is the rare movie that can make you laugh and cry with equal intensity, and neither emotion feels out of place in this film about a gay comedian who moves home to be with his mother in her final year of life. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon give outstanding performances in the lead roles (seriously, Golden Globes, where are their nominations?). Though the basic plot of the film might seem cliche or expected, this is one of the most honest and realistic films I’ve seen in a long time. It allows you to both laugh hard and cry hard without either emotion feeling cheap or incorrect.

La La Land (2016)

As soon as teaser trailers were released for this film, I was dying to see it. The combined force of Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Damian Chazelle was enough to get me excited about it, so the fact that it’s topped so many “best of the year” lists only made me more anxious to get myself to this film as soon as I could. Thankfully, I spent a joyous Christmas afternoon in the theatre for this one, and I wasn’t remotely disappointed. The film is beautiful visually and thematically, and Stone and Gosling give outstanding performances and performers trying to make it in Hollywood. If you aren’t charmed by this movie, you might not even be human.

Fences (2016)

When you combine August Wilson’s best work with performances by Denzel Washington (who also directed) and Viola Davis, there isn’t much to do but start handing over awards. Of course these two give stellar performances—they did win Tonys for it, after all—and, even though I’ve read Fences twice before and plan to teach it this semester, I’m still astounded by the emotional force of Wilson’s writing. Washington maintains the simplicity of a stage production in the film, which I appreciated, and the combined effect of the ensemble is what makes the film a real knockout. I would be shocked if Davis doesn’t win every award she’s eligible for this season.


Honorable Mentions: Goat (2016), Rain Man (1988), The Light Between Oceans (2016), Fruitvale Station (2013), 13th (2016), Hamilton’s America (2016), Moana (2016), Deadpool (2016)

Book #24: Airships, by Barry Hannah

My blog updates have been fairly nonexistent recently because school is controlling my life. (For reference, though, I am maintaining my viewing habits; I finished season 3 of “Lost” earlier today, I’m working my way through “Empire,” and my movie count for the year is up to 40).

Reading wise, I don’t think I’ll have any time for recreational books until school winds down for the semester, but I’ve still got plenty of assigned texts to keep me busy. I just finished reading Barry Hannah’s wacky short story collection Airships, a text we were assigned to read almost in its entirety for class, so I went ahead and finished it.

A lot of Hannah’s writing is tricky and difficult to understand, but it’s also entertaining and hilarious at times. I’m particularly fond of the very short story “Coming Close to Donna” if you’re looking for a recommendation.

This weekend I’ll be jumping ahead to my next school readings: Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. In my very sparse free moments, I’m also slowly working my way through Flannery O’Connor’s complete short stories, of which I had to read seven for class last week. That’s a project I don’t expect to finish for some time, but she’s too good to put down.

Book #13: The Basic Eight, by Daniel Handler

When I went to New York in December, my friend and traveling companion Ryan was reading The Basic Eight, and since he laugh aloud many time while reading, I became interested in reading the book for myself.

The Basic Eight is a novel by Daniel Handler, perhaps more famous for his pseudonym, Lemony Snicket, under which he wrote A Series of Unfortunate Events. This novel is more grown up that his series, but it still holds Handler’s characteristic dark comedy that makes his works so fun to read.

A glimpse at the plot: the book presents the diary of Flannery Culp, a young woman telling the story of her senior year of high school in San Francisco in an attempt to prove her innocence in the murder she’s been accused of. Though this might not exactly sound like a book of hilarity, Handler presents readers with entertaining characters and situations that make them forget the dark nature of the story (much like the general story of A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I was a bit slow in my reading, but I’m not two weeks into my semester and the work picked up quickly. Now I turn back to school reading, and I doubt I’ll have too much time to read anything on my own time, but I’ll do my best.

Book #9: Paddle Your Own Canoe, by Nick Offerman

Nine books in a month seems like a pretty good accomplishment to me.

I started reading Paddle Your Own Canoe at the same time as Robert Penn Warren’s Brother to Dragons because Warren’s book wasn’t one that was easy to stop and start, so I didn’t really expect to finish it so quickly. Then I went on to read On Chesil Beach as well, so Offerman’s book was spending some time unopened.

Unfortunately, this was partially on purpose. I had a hard time enjoying reading Paddle Your Own Canoe for very long periods of time; I often felt bored or a bit annoyed by the book and had to move on.

By the end of the book, I think I generally enjoyed it more than I didn’t, but here’s a quick breakdown of what I think worked and where I felt the book fell short.

Good things:

  • Offerman is a good writer and clearly an informed reader. I appreciated his discussion of theatre history and writers because it helped me realize that he’s a very intellectual person.
  • He clearly loves his wife. It takes a long time to get to any real chapters about Megan Mullally, but Offerman is obviously in awe of her, and it’s very sweet.
  • His growing up is quite interesting, and I appreciate that Offerman still has a lot of the sentiment of a farm boy from Illinois.
  • There were several mentions of Kentucky, so that made me feel special.
  • He loves Friday Night Lights! But really, who wouldn’t?
  • Of course, I loved all mention of anything Parks and Rec-related. I wish there had been more of it.

Not-so-good things:

  • I felt like Offerman hit a lot of the same notes over and over again, but I kind of think this is more his editor’s fault than his own. When the same anecdotes and language is used repetitively, someone should fix it.
  • On that same note, there was a LOT of time in the first half of the book devoted to Offerman’s denunciation of religion. I’m not very easily offended, but I felt like the repeated annoyances with religion were unnecessary (and again, this could have been handled better with a more scrutinizing editor). Offerman’s continuous preaching that religious people are too closed-minded and ignorant sounded a bit hypocritical, if you ask me. Thankfully, he backed off this topic later in the book.
  • Generally, though he is a good writer, some of his language felt superfluous to me. He’s got a great vocabulary, but I’d much rather read a straight-forward, simple sentence than one that is bogged down with elevated language. It just felt like overkill sometimes.

So overall, a fairly enjoyable experience, but not exactly the experience I was expecting. I’m now down to my final days of freedom before school recommences, so I’m doing my best to enjoy these last moments of guilt-free entertainment while I can.