Me Before You

Life post-Master’s degree

I graduated with my Master’s two-and-a-half weeks ago, but saying I have a Master’s degree sounds fake. I imagine it will for a while, especially since my future career prospects are still a giant question mark.

Since graduation, I’ve done a lot of applying for jobs, but I’m also basking in the very strange freedom of no impending responsibilities apart from maintaining my own existence. To celebrate graduation, my mom took us to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which was both rewarding and exhausting. We’re happy to have had the experience and to hopefully never need to do it again.

Luckily, this freedom means I have lots of time for my Very Favorite Activities: reading all the books and watching all the TV/movies I can think about. So, to celebrate my first time away from school in 19 years, a mostly successful and rewarding first semester of teaching, and writing a 114-page thesis, here’s how I’ve been spending my hours of entertainment.

Books—I feel like my reading progress should be more substantial since finishing school, but I did finish Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager, an 870-page tome that I expect will be my longest read of 2016, so that makes up for the short reading list. I’ve also knocked out Ta-Nehisi Coates’s though-provoking and beautifully written Between the World and Me, which is essentially 150 pages of reminding white people to check their privilege. We all need more of that in our lives.

As a fairly transitional reading project, I also powered through K.C. Dyer’s Finding Fraser, a light read for fans of the Outlander series. It wasn’t anything terribly enlightening or profound, but it kept me feeling occupied and pleasant for a day or two. I’m also feeling mentally cleansed to delve back into heavier hitting literature, so I’m working through two projects right now: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. It’s my first time with both of these authors, and I think my first attempt at anything Russian, so I’m hoping for rewarding experiences. Once these are done, I plan to resume my work through Arthur Miller’s collected works since I haven’t revisited those since January and Ernest Hemingway’s collected short stories. It’s such a pleasure to know I will never have a shortage of great things to read.

Movies—My movie-watching habits have been surprisingly lame these days, partially because the movies I have watched have been rewatches rather than anything new. I do intend to see Me Before You when it’s released this week, but there hasn’t been much in theaters to draw my attention—partially because the things I am interested in are only available in limited release. I recently built up my Amazon watchlist, so I’ll hopefully start making a dent in some of those films soon.

TV—It’s probably fair to say that I haven’t watched many movies lately because I’ve been busy with TV. Though most shows I watch have stopped airing for the summer, Game of Thrones, Veep, Outlander, and Inside Amy Schumer all keep me busy enough, but I’m also doing plenty of other TV viewing. I finally got to the War & Peace miniseries adaptation that aired in January and February, and I really loved it (this is a big reason why I decided to tackle Chekov). The more I see of Lily James, the more convinced I become that she’s actually made of sunshine.

I also finished the two seasons of Starz’s cult hit Party Down yesterday, though my journey through the show has been a bit strange. I watched the first 3 episodes on my Bluray player, and when I picked up on my iPad, unknowingly began with episode 4 of season 2. I got all the way through the end of season two and backtracked to the 3 episodes of season 2 I hadn’t seen before I realized the problem. I’d been wondering if I’d been paying bad attention (Where did Jane Lynch go? When did Megan Mullally get here? When did Adam Scott start dating Kristen Bell?) or if they just didn’t explain everything very overtly, so I was glad to realize it was my organizational mistake that created the confusion rather than bad viewing habits. I may have to watch it again from start to finish sometime to make up for my stupidity.

I’ve also watched half of Amazon’s Doctor Thorne, which is charming and lovely. I expect to finish it today. And I’ve started season two of Netflix’s Bloodline, but that’s a show that’s too depressing to really binge, so I expect we’ll take some time with it. I’m also expecting that Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Grantchester will be the next two projects on my list. Nothing like a period piece to momentarily take you out of a humid Kentucky summer.

What are you reading and watching these days? I’m always looking for suggestions!

2016 Reading List #12: After You, by Jojo Moyes

A couple weeks ago, I decided it seemed like the kind of day when I deserved a little treat, so I bought myself After You, the sequel to Jojo Moyes’s heartbreaker, Me Before You, which I read in November.

The fact that the film trailer for Me Before You was released around the same time certainly didn’t help–have you seen how adorable Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin will be?!–so it seemed like the only possible option to buy this novel and dive right into it after finishing my last reading project.

After You made me skeptical at first–if you don’t know how Me Before You ends, I won’t spoil it, but I was afraid this book would try to change my perception of a character I’d grown to love in the first novel.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. There are two new characters of real prominence introduced in this sequel–Sam and Lily–neither of whom I really knew how to feel about early on, but I was quite happy with them in the end. After You is really more about heroine Louisa’s journey to re-find herself after suffering a loss, and she’s just as compelling as she was the first time around.

After You also isn’t quite the tearjerker that its predecessor was, but it still has a certain bittersweet conclusion that’s bound to leave you a bit misty-eyed. This was the perfect little distraction from my lesson planning and thesis writing, and also a great way to spend a snow day. 🙂

Now I’m returning to slightly more academic pursuits–in preparation for my master’s oral exam, I’m rereading The Importance of Being Earnest, The Glass Menagerie, and Much Ado About Nothing, so look for several new posts in the coming days.

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

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.

 

And suddenly it’s December

Well, world, I have a strange announcement–I have finished my last semester of coursework for my master’s degree (and managed to pull off an unexpected feat of earning all As!). Since it’s been such a marathon, I think I’d forgotten how nice it might feel to reach this point, and now that I’ve come to it, I’m not really sure what to do with my freedom.

Sadly, the fact that I’ve been less-than-free this semester means I haven’t maintained my blog like I usually do. Now that I have the time, though, I can finally share some of the highlights of my semester.

I’ve made significant progress on my master’s thesis this semester thanks to a fantastic advisor who keeps me on track. I’m loving writing it, which means it’s only a little upsetting to know how far I still have to go before finishing it. As a reminder, I’m writing about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in indie films. If you’re wondering what those words might mean, I did a post about it this summer that you should mostly certainly check out.

I’ve also had the strangely adult experience of prepping for my very first courses as a college instructor. Next spring, I’ll have 44 students in my very own classroom in the basement of Cherry Hall, and I can’t wait for it. I loved my time shadowing a wonderful instructor this semester who helped me figure myself out along the way. It’s so strange that it’s nearly my time to stand front of a group I get to call my own.

And somehow, in the midst of the chaos, we wrangled up enough students to head back the the Sundance Film Festival next month. I’ll be going along as a TA in pursuit of hands-on research for my thesis project and hope to see some great films along the way. Sundance was the most magical experience of my life thus far, so the chance to head back and do it all again is exceptionally exciting.

Now, for those of you who know me, it comes as no surprise that I simply cannot try to explain what my life has been like lately without also telling you the things I’ve been reading and watching. Here’s a crash course in my latest pop culture feelings.

Books — This semester wasn’t exactly the best for leisurely reading, but I did manage to squeeze in a few fun projects on the way. Just last night my roommate and I finished reading Dracula together, which was a long-term, laugh-filled, wonderful experience. I also recently reread Harriet the Spy, which I hadn’t read in at least 15 years (and I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that). For those of you who haven’t read it, Harriet the Spy is pure joy, so go get your hands on a copy!

Over Thanksgiving break, I rewarded myself by reading Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, a sweet and sad romantic story that’s perfect for some hours spent in a world that isn’t your own. And as of last night, I started Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining, though since it’s a long book, I may end up doubling it with something else. We’ll see.

TV — This fall, I decided to be bold and write off several of the shows I’d previously watched, but mostly out of obligation. Turns out my viewing schedule is now much freer, which can be quite the blessing. Without a doubt, the show I’ve most looked forward to from week to week is FX’s Fargo. If you haven’t been watching, you’re crazy and need to change that habit immediately. I’m also loving Sunday nights on FOX with Bob’s Burgers and Last Man on Earth, and I’ve stuck with Empire, though the second season hasn’t nearly lived up to the first. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is another little gem of a TV show that I hope you’re all watching, and the fact that it’s paired with Jane the Virgin on Mondays on the CW makes the viewing experience all the sweeter.

As for side projects, I’ve continued to make my way through as much bingeing as I could hope for. My roommate and I watched the first season of Outlander together on DVD (which I also watched as it aired) and then, just yesterday, finished My So-Called Life together. Both of these shows are now invited to provide me with more episodes ASAP because I miss them dearly.

I also quickly worked through Jessica Jones last week and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Krysten Ritter is a gem and David Tennant is a perfect villain. What more could you want?

My longer viewing project these days is The O.C., which I’ve long been interested in but didn’t have access to until it recently became available on the CW Seed for FREE! It’s a fun, silly teen show, which is totally a guilty pleasure of mine, so I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

Now that my time is freer, I’m hoping to spend some time catching up on shows I’ve missed out on, like USA’s Mr. Robot, especially after today’s Golden Globe nominations. I also imagine my mom and I will marathon through a few things, so stay tuned for updates on that.

Movies — Sadly, I’ve been lacking in the movie-watching department lately. I hit my goal of watching 100 new (to me) movies a few months ago, but I haven’t made tons of progress past that goal. However, I’m hoping to see a few of the Oscar-bait movies before year’s end and catch up on some things I missed earlier in the year. Some recent highlights in my movie-viewing experience have been We Need to Talk About Kevinwhich is disturbing in the best kind of way, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2which was a fitting end to the saga.

So now that this life of mine is freer for leisurely reading and watching, I plan to take full advantage of it (though I’ll also be doing my fair share of academic work during these weeks off). Happy Holidays, everyone! May you enjoy your time to relax as much as I intend to enjoy mine.

Book #61: Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! There’s nothing I enjoy more than a few days at home, though I’d certainly enjoy this time a bit more if there weren’t so many papers looming over my head.

The worst part about being this close to the end of the semester is that I start to want more than anything just to watch TV and movies and read books of my own choosing. So to combat this (admittedly silly) woes, I’ve been trying to keep a reading project or two on the side just for me. It’s usually slow-going, but at least it gives me something fun to focus on. My latest project: Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, a sweet, sad romance.

I bought the book last weekend on a whim with a recently received birthday gift, and since I’ve been in the mood for a light read to reward myself for finishing the Divine Comedy, this seemed like the perfect treat. I read most of the book over two days, but it’s one you could either speed through or enjoy more slowly. To prevent the risk of spoilers, I’ll say this: the book tells the story of Louisa Clark, a young woman hired to help care for a quadriplegic man named Will. It’s a perfect book if you’re looking for a little escape from life, particularly if you like an escape that includes both romance and tears.

I’m very excited for the film adaptation of the book to come out, which stars Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Lewis (in other words, everyone will be adorable).  There’s also a recently released sequel to Me Before You, so that will definitely find its way onto my reading list in the near future.

Now, off to power through a boring paper about teaching writing. Hopefully the rest of you have more fulfilling lives than those of us stuck in academia for a few more days…