my life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading and Watching in 2017

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

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


Books

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

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

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

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


Movies

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

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

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


Television

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I can’t wait.

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

Managing entertainment with a full-time job

Hello, long lost blogging world. Apologies for my absence (not that I assume anyone noticed).

Life has been odd lately, mostly because I’m a person who goes to work every day and teaches people and isn’t a student anymore. These are new things and they’re nice things, but they’re also still a little strange.

One thing that definitely hasn’t changed in my life, though, is my constant pursuit to watch and read as much as I possibly can in a day. So, to catch you up on my latest reading and viewing ventures, here’s a quick recap of my life lately.

Books — A few weeks ago, I reached my 2016 goal of reading 52 books, so now, I’m free to enjoy my reading just a bit more. I still have three other reading goals to accomplish: read Arthur Miller’s collected plays, read something by Jane Austen, and read something by Charles Dickens. Thankfully, I’m 5 plays away (out of 18) from checking Miller off the list, and I’m about 1/3 of the way through Sense and Sensibility. Progress! Otherwise, my roommate and I have been enjoying more read-aloud projects (we’ve done a 700+ page collection of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry and Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto so far), and I’ve read both Amy Schumer’s and Jessi Klein’s comedy memoirs in recent weeks.

Movies — I’ve been in a bit of a movie slump lately, mostly because my attentions have been taken up by watching all kinds of TV. Recent viewing experiences have included The Light Between Oceans and Fruitvale Station, both of which were tear-inducing in very different ways. I’m also planning to watch Straight Outta Compton today. Otherwise, I’m doing my best to keep up with all the film festival coverage and anxiously awaiting the release of La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

TV — This is the area where I’ve been shining my brightest lately. After finishing Felicity a week or two ago, I’ve wandered through lots of viewing. I finally finished rewatching Game of Thrones, including the most recent season, I rewatched most of Rome with my mom, I sped through Netflix’s The Get Down and Amazon’s One Mississippi, and my roommate and I have just started Stranger Things. My current solo TV project is Sex and the City, which I’m slightly embarrassed to say I started watching last Tuesday, and I’m already halfway through season 4. Turns out not having homework means I have a slight struggle making myself turn the TV off.

And in exciting TV news, the Emmy awards are tonight! Here’s hoping for lots of Game of Thrones victories and unexpected wins.

What are you watching and reading these days? I’m always open to suggestions. 🙂

2016 Reading List #56: Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

I’ve been a terrible blogger of late, but sometimes that’s what happens when you’re a grown up with full-time employment. My lack of posting has no reflection on my consumption of pop culture, though—I’ve been reading and watching things like a pro.

And speaking of reading… Bel Canto was the second shared reading project my roommate and I have embarked upon since the school year started. We decided to read it together over the summer, and it turned out to be a lovely shared experience.

Bel Canto takes place in an unnamed South American country, where a diverse group of people have gathered for a swanky birthday celebration at the home of the vice president, only to have the party overtaken by terrorists in search of the country’s president. Despite the set-up, Bel Canto is a book with minimal violence, and the story is much more about overcoming differences than fighting with enemies.

I had a few issues with bits of the content and characterization, but the story is largely a compassionate one that pulls you in and breaks your heart by the end. I’d definitely recommend it for a quiet/sweet/sad reading experience.

And just a quick, fun tidbit: apparently my roommate and I are influential tastemakers (though we’d always assumed this anyway) because two days after we began reading, the film adaptation of Bel Canto was announced, and it’s set to star Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe, and Demián Bichir. With a cast that good, here’s hoping for a satisfying movie.

2016 Reading List #51: Bayou Folk, by Kate Chopin

Because Kate Chopin is just one of the coolest ladies in literature, I jumped right into Bayou Folk, one of her two published short stories collections, just after I finished At Fault a few weeks ago. Though I read two other books and started a third in the time I was reading Bayou Folk, that doesn’t reflect on my feelings about the work. Once again, Chopin is a joy to read.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy Bayou Folk quite as much as I have Chopin’s novels, but that’s probably true of most short story collections. I really loved some, others were fine. I was interested to realize though, that Chopin operates in a way that mirrors what Faulkner is famous for—carrying characters and locations through several different works to create an interconnected network for her writing. It’s fun to jump into a world of familiar names and places and see where the new story takes you.

And since finishing Bayou Folk, I only have one book left to complete my 2016 goal! Look for a post on completing my reading goal soon.

 

2016 Reading List #50: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night, by James Runcie

Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night was probably one of the most disappointing reading projects I’ve yet had in 2016.

After falling in love with Grantchester, the TV adaptation of the book series, earlier this summer, I was excited to read the books that inspired the show. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, the first book in the series, was a fun read that closely aligned with the series. After season 1, though, it’s clear the TV show took its own approach, borrowing only sparingly from the books, and I’m sad to say I’m much happier with the direction of the adaptation than the original.

I found many of Runcie’s stories to be underwhelming and sometimes boring. Runcie has a tendency to go into unnecessary detail about insignificant plot points (I don’t care at all about the rules of cricket, but there was an 8-page section devoted to this topic), so I often lost interest and tuned out from time to time. There’s also a pretty gigantic change in the love story from page to screen, and I much prefer what the TV series is doing with this storyline.

Though I already have a copy of the third book in the series, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to it. I’m sad to have spent money (and time) on a series I’m likely to give up, but I’ll find more intriguing ways to spend my time reading.