life update

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.

 

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2014: A Recap

I don’t think it’s even necessary to say that 2014 has been really, really good to me. Some of my wildest dreams came true this year and I am immensely happy and grateful for what was easily the best year of my life. Here’s a quick recap of the best things that happened to me in 2014.

  1. I went to the Sundance Film Festival. Really, this blog post could end after this first thing on this list, because Sundance was undoubtedly the most life-changing thing I experienced this year. I loved every moment of it (even when I got sick and lost my voice for a few days). Nothing can ever really live up to the experience of Sundance and watching awesome movies with the actors and directors and producers and creators in the room. Sundance, I can’t wait to see you again soon. Thanks for the best 10 days I’ve ever spent.
  2. I graduated from college and decided what I want to do with my life. This May, I graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Popular Culture Studies (plus a second major in French and a minor in Performing Arts Administration). I adore WKU, so much, in fact, that I’m now one semester into a two-year English literature Master’s program at WKU. It’s very strange to know that I have a degree that qualifies me to do things. For the foreseeable future, though, I’ll still be in school; my career plan sees me finishing a Master’s and hopefully doctorate in the coming years so I can become a professor at a university. My post-graduation plans certainly didn’t going according to Plan A (or Plan B or Plan C, for that matter), but I’ve learned so much in the last year, both in school and about my own passions. I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store.
  3. I started living with one of my best friends. I’ve been fortunate that I lived with three of my closest friends during my four years as an undergrad, so it’s pretty lucky that I’m continuing that tradition as a grad student as well. Ryan and I have known each other for about 17 years (I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that), so living together is quite normal. To answer the question I’ve been asked many times, no, we aren’t dating/married/engaged/expecting any kind of lifelong commitment, but we are essentially the same person and have nearly lived together for the past few years because of how much time we spend together, so it just makes sense that our cohabitation is finally official.
  4. I had two more wonderful trips to New York. In case this is still unclear to you, I’m rather skilled at going to New York and meeting famous people. 2014 brought about two of these trips, once in May and once just recently in December. Between these trips, I once again met a number of celebrities and managed to reconnect with friends in the process. It’s a pretty perfect way to spend a few days, if I do say so myself.
  5. I read and watched lots and lots of great things. I’ve already posted my “year in review” blogs about my favorite reading and watching projects this year, so consult those if you’re looking for recommendations. I’m ending 2014 having read 91 books, watched 145 new (to me) movies, and 23 completed TV series. If I had all the time in the world, I’d be doing these things nonstop. Considering I’m a full-time student with a graduate assistantship that keeps me plenty busy, I’m quite content with my progress this year. I can only hope 2015 will be this good to me.

New York in December: The Magic Continues

One week ago, I returned from my most recent journey to New York. If you’re a Facebook friend or Instagram follower, you’ve probably already seen that I (once again) had an immensely successful adventure. It’s been a very long time since I’ve visited the city in winter, and it was my first time there with my friend and roommate, Ryan, so there was IMG_0770plenty of newness and excitement to enjoy. Here’s a quick(ish) rundown of all our shenanigans.

Monday, 12/15 — We arrived in Times Square Monday afternoon to leave our luggage with our friend Kaitlynn who was kind enough to let us stay with her during our trip. Monday was mostly spent wandering the area a bit, and we happened to walk past Rumer Willis on the street (not that that’s very exciting, but it happened). We had some unfortunate timing outside “The Late Show with David Letterman” and missed Emma Stone going in and leaving later, so that was a bit of a bummer. That night, we went back to Kaitlynn’s apartment in Queens and had some very enjoyable pizza.

Tuesday, 12/16 — Ryan and I left Kaitlynn’s and headed into Central Park for a while to enjoy the scenery. Since we knew Anna Kendrick was the guest on “The Late Show” Tuesday night and we’d seen how the stage door worked there the day before, we decided to make another attempt at it. On our walk, we bypassed Sting, who was carrying a guitar and looking very Sting-esque.

Our second day at “The Late Show” was much more successful, I’m happy to say. There was a small crowd gathered in the designated area across the street from the stage door, and we ended up standing with a a group of people calling themselves “graphers” who basically stalk celebrities to get signatures they can sell online. I’ve dealt with these people before (especially at Sundance), but I IMG_0815became weirdly interested in listening to them all talk. I smell a pop culture research paper! (Just kidding. I think.)

Anyway, we were also joined by an old woman with an insane voice who Ryan got stuck talking to. When Anna Kendrick’s car pulled up, she got out and posed for the paparazzi at the stage door for a while, during which time the woman next to Ryan screamed bloody murder. Ryan said she sounded like Anna was her long lost daughter. You’d have thought so. She did a lot of “ANNA! CROSS THE STREET!” and then screamed some profanities because a car momentarily blocked her view. Good news: Anna did cross the street and quickly signed a few things and came up to me. I asked if we could get a picture of the three of us, she grabbed my phone, and said, “oh, the three of us?!” and quickly snapped four photos on my phone before running back across the street. As you can tell from our photo, we’re basically a trio of friendship. The crazy woman came over to us after and when she learned that we’d gotten pictures, yelled some more profanities and walked away (#welcometonewyork).

After that thrilling moment, we decided to stalk outside the It’s Only a Play stage door since the show has a wonderful cast. We made a few nice friends there, and luckily saw every member of the cast enter, apart from Megan Mullally. Matthew Broderick came first and appeared generally wary of us all, like we might attack at any moment. Nathan Lane was next, and was rather scary and mean and I kind of tried to sink into the wall when he walked up. F. Murray Abraham dropped out of the sky, apparently, but was very nice to take a photo with someone and smiled in a way that was surprising to me. Stockard Channing drove up in a fancy car and has a fancy lady who escorts her fancy dog through the stage door. Rupert Grint also appeared out of nowhere and snuck in quickly, though I’m happy to have stood so close to him, if only for a moment. Here are some photos of the whole experience.

IMG_0819 IMG_0822 IMG_0824 IMG_0837

To kill time, we went to Rockefeller Center where we could eat and sit down for a while, and apparently had really great timing because we walked through 30 Rock behind Brian Williams after finishing the news, so that was fun. We also made an effort at the  Cabaret stage door, but the show ended earlier than we’d thought and it was rainy, IMG_0933so things didn’t work out so well. Oddly enough, we also walked past Sting again, in basically the exact same place as we’d seen him earlier that day, so that was weird. Then we got to spend a bit of time with some of our other cool friends who are fancy and live in New York, so it was a happy night, despite the rain and somewhat failed attempt at Cabaret. 

Wednesday, 12/17 — It’s safe to say that Wednesday was most exciting because it was finally the day when we had some real plans for our lives. Since we had tickets to Cabaret that night, we decided to make the most of our stage door experience at the matinees in the afternoon. We walked past Cabaret first, but were told that Emma Stone and Alan Cumming had already gone in, so we went back to It’s Only a Play in the hopes that we could be more successful. Though we didn’t get any pictures, we did see Stockard Channing and Rupert Grint go in again, and I felt special because no one really seemed to realize who Rupert was (he was very incognito and covered his hair). There’s no proof, unfortunately, but I’d like to think we had a moment.

Then we were able to meet another of our friends for lunch, which was both a good way to catch up and a good way to pass our time since we didn’t really have plans for the day. By the time we were finished, we went back to the stage door at The Elephant Man, which I desperately want to see, but it couldn’t happen. Time was back on our side, though; we got there just as the stage door barricades were being set up in Schubert Alley and immediately staked our claim on a spot. After a short wait, Bradley Cooper camIMG_0888e out to sign autographs and take pictures. He had a very long battle with the zipper of his jacket that was rather entertaining to witness, and when he got to the people next to us, he had to ask a bodyguard for a new Sharpie and I laughed and looked into my eyes and smirked (I assume this counts as a proposal; wedding invitations to follow soon). WE HAD A MOMENT. When I asked for a picture of the three of us, he took my phone and took one photo, which didn’t exactly turn out so well, but hey, life happens. I’m actually pretty proud of our lame picture, and since it has Bradley Cooper in it, it’s still pretty important to my life.

That evening, we met up with Kaitlynn for a bit before going in to Cabaret. Unfortunately, Ryan and I weren’t able to sit together during the show, but we also got our tickets for $25 each, so it’s worth it. After having recently watched the movie (and not loving it), I was hoping to take more from the show, which I absolutely did. The stage production is both funnier and more tragic, ironically enough. Alan Cumming is fantastic, and I was so happy that Emma Stone was wonderful as well. It was well worth our money and time.

After the show, Ryan and I had a game plan made for our final attempt at the stage door. We got there as quickly as possible, and thankfully got a good spot without much fuss. Some of the supporting cast members came out and sIMG_0909igned, and in our wait for the stars, we watched Christie Brinkley and her daughter, Alexa Joel, talk with the guy at the stage door about going backstage. In case you’re wondering, Christie Brinkley is every bit as beautiful as you’d imagine, and based on her behavior, super nice as well.

Not long after, Emma Stone finally came out. Her body guards said she had somewhere to go so she wouldn’t be taking pictures with fans, but she signed for everyone. When she got to us, I congratulated her on her Golden Globe and SAG nominations and said that we loved Birdman, before I remembered to add that we also really loved Cabaret. She seemed genuinely thankful and gracious, and was very quiet and sweet as she made her way down the line.

Alan Cumming was equally kind and quiet (and very Scottish). I told him this was an IMG_0845iconic performance (to which he responded, “oh, bless you”), and he laughed and thanked Ryan when he said how much we love Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. We got to meet a few more of the supporting actors in the play before heading back to Kaitlynn’s apartment feeling quite successful.

Thursday, 12/18 — Thursday was our last day in New York, and I’m always kind of bad at knowing how to spend my final hours in the city. I knew I wanted to visit Taylor Swift’s apartment in Tribeca (because I’m a creepy stalker lady), so we made our way in that direction in search of a tall blonde with a cat and hopefully some good pizza for lunch. We weren’t entirely successful, but I did take a picture on steps outside Taylor’s apartment in true stalker fashion before we wandered around a bit. To combat the cold and our hunger, we settled on a quiet Italian restaurant for our last meal. Here are a few other pictures of our Tribeca adventure.

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We also visited a cute little bookshop before heading back to Times Square to say goodbye (and thank you!) to Kaitlynn. We must have timed things just right, because on our ride back, we ended up on the subway with Jane Krakowski, which was an exciting surprise. She caught Ryan and I looking at her and gave us a kind smile. After saying our goodbyes, we got back to Kaitlynn’s just in time to meet the car that took us to the airport. Overall, it was another wonderful few days spent in New York. Thanks to Ryan, Kaitlynn, Jana, Trip, Drew, and all our new celebrity friends for the perfect time!

How to Enjoy Pop Culture in the Summertime: An Autobiography

Since I seem to be a perpetual student, the summers in my life have always carried the promise of relaxation and calm, the perfect antidote to the hectic school year. This summer is especially empty for two primary reasons: 1. most of my close friends are either moving to start their professional careers or internships, and 2. I, on the other hand, have just graduated from college and have plans to begin grad school and and a grad assistantship in the fall. Since my commitments don’t require anything of my until late-August, I’m basically just coasting through life right now. Having lots of free time is both a blessing and a burden, so I thought I might fill some of it up talking about my recent and/or current pop culture endeavors to say what’s been keeping me busy.

TV — Last summer I completed an embarrassing number of TV viewing projects, and since I was taking an online class and writing my honors thesis, I was plenty busy on my own. Since I’m a free agent this summer, I’m expecting even more from myself. I’m currently about 10 episodes into the fifth season of Gossip Girl, a project I started during my final week of classes. It certainly isn’t the greatest show ever, but it provides me entertainment. My mom and I also sped through the entirety of The Comeback last week, partially to prepare for the show’s return this fall after having been canceled in 2005. Since then, we started working on The Sopranos, but we’ve only watched the pilot, so no major progress there. And I’ve already decided that once I’m finished with Gossip Girl (of which I have fewer than thirty episodes left to watch), I’m going to continue my progress on Seinfeld and Cheers (in that order) so I can hopefully knock at least one of them out before I head back to school this fall.

Movies — Summer blockbusters aside, I love having the free time to attempt to clean out my list of movies on Netflix and HBOGO. Thanks to On Demand, the process of watching HBO is becoming much easier. Just yesterday I watched The East and The Purge, both of which I’d been interested it for a while. As far as my theater-going experiences, I’ve seen The Fault in Our Stars (twice), 22 Jump Street, and Jersey Boys. Since my goal for 2014 is to watch 125 new movies, I’m still 9 movies ahead of schedule, and I hope to continue to build my head start throughout the summer.

Books — Summer reading is something I look forward to year-round, and in the four weeks since I graduated, I’ve already completed eight books and I’m making good progress on the ninth. Some of my favorites so far have been The Maze Runner, Of Mice and Men, andFangirl. I just ordered my copy of The Silkworm, and I’m really looking forward to reading that soon. Right now I’m working on The Marriage Plotwhich I find fairly exhausting, but I’m trying to power through. Next on my reading agenda is Gone Girlwhich I read in 2012, but I want to refresh my memory before the film adaptation comes out this fall.

So, back to all this “work” I’ve been doing. On tonight’s agenda: enjoy some time to myself, hopefully crossing another movie off the list, and finishing another chapter of The Marriage Plot. Summer, you’re too good to me.