nonfiction

a-room-of-ones-own

2017 Reading List #5: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

Another of my many reading goals in 2017 was to read something by Virginia Woolf, who I’ve never approached before. Though I also own Mrs. Dalloway, I decided to start with A Room of One’s Own because it’s a short read.

The length, though, doesn’t say much about the density of the text. A Room of One’s Own is a bit complex in terms of genre because it’s a nonfiction essay, but her narrator is fictional.

Regardless of whether we’re supposed to read the book as fact or fiction, Woolf’s arguments are pointed and complicated and compelling. I’m not sure I understood all of it, but there were moments when I loved her points about the relationship between women and fiction. Woolf takes a chronological historical approach to understanding female writers and has several revelations in the process.

This is the kind of book that will take a while to process, but reading it has given me confidence that I’ll be better prepared to tackle more of Woolf in the future.

With this, another reading goal is crossed off my list in 2017. Hopefully the rest of my winter break can be equally productive.

The Things They Carried

Book #44: The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

Since I’ve finished my goal of reading three of my assigned books for the upcoming semester, I’ve got a bit more time to enjoy reading of my own choice. It’s a nice feeling, but it also leaves me with a crisis of deciding what to read next.

At the end of my spring semester I had to read the short story “The Things They Carried” that opens Tim O’Brien’s novel of the same name. I loved the story, so the book has been on my short list for things to read all summer, and now finally felt like the right time.

To be honest, I’m not sure I totally get everything from this book, largely because I’m fortunate enough to be unscathed by war. Add to that the fact that I’ve also been sick while reading this and fairly drugged on Mucinex, and you’ll realize that my views of the book aren’t necessarily totally clear. Much of O’Brien’s writing is poetic and harrowing, and I totally recommend to those interested, but I also have to say that I’ll probably need to revisit this later in life to get a clearer picture of it. It’s a book that’s bound to leave me thinking.

As for how I’m spending my last days of summer freedom: I’m still working my way through Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, which at 941 pages isn’t exactly a quick read. I’ve also had to leave it unopened periodically so I make sure I’m reading what I should be reading. Hopefully I also have time to squeeze in another play or novel or something before real life resumes. Which reminds me: is it really August already?

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

Book #36: The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor

FINALLY!

Okay, let me explain that.

I started reading Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories in March for my Southern lit class. We were only assigned seven of the stories for the class, but I’ve enjoyed O’Connor’s writing since high school and felt motivated to read all 31 stories in the collection.

Obviously, my many other academic reading assignments and leisure reading slowed down my progress in this just a bit. I had hoped early on to read one story per day, but that wasn’t always very realistic. I’ve tried that again more recently, but I realized that reading these stories before bed made me sleepy, so I was trying to read one every morning.

None of my scheduling worked out very successfully, but I still made progress little by little.  I had no real intention of finishing the book today (I still had nearly 200 pages left as of yesterday), but we’ve been blessed with some pretty amazing weather today and my mom and I ended up on the back porch for a few hours, giving me ample time to complete the final stretch.

O’Connor is a master of the short story, but I will say that reading all her stories makes it apparent that they aren’t all great. This does make it obvious which ones are particularly well done, though, so here are a few of my favorites.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” — This was the first O’Connor story I ever read, and one of her two most popular (the other being “Good Country People”). This story has a few of O’Connor’s staples: a multi-generational family, her characteristically black humor, and a shockingly dark ending. It’s one of O’Connor’s most anthologized works for a good reason.

“Good Country People” — In my academic career, I’ve been assigned this short story four times, but it remains entertaining and jarring. With character names like Joy Hulga and Manly Pointer, how could you really be disappointed?

“The Lame Shall Enter First” — This is a long story, but one that I thought moved the quickest as a reader. It tells the story of a father, Sheppard, who takes in a delinquent, intent on saving to boy from himself. There are many lessons to be learned from the characters here.

“Revelation” — A fairly obnoxious woman gets a book thrown at her in a doctor’s office and proceeds to have a mental breakdown. Fun times are had by all.

“Parker’s Back” — A man obsessed with tattoos marries an Evangelical woman who doesn’t really care about him and attempts to please her. Things get squirrelly.

With this book (finally) in my rear view, I’m ready to kick my reading of The Grapes of Wrath into high gear. I’ve already crossed the 100-page mark, but my edition of the book is just over 600, so there’s plenty to be read. Thank God for summer.

Spring Break

Don’t get too excited — this isn’t going to be a post chronicling all the exciting adventures I’ve had in my days off. Actually, my spring break has primarily been spent sitting on my bed with either a screen or book in front of my face. This, of course, is my little version of paradise.

My spring break was made a little sweeter since we got an extra two days off because Kentucky has been a haven for major snow fall in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, we had a week off school for about a foot-and-a-half of snow and ice. Last Wednesday and Thursday, we received another 21-23″ that closed the university two days early for spring break. Now it’s 60 degrees. Things have been a bit odd in the weather department, to say the least.

Since it’s been a few weeks since my last post of this sort, I thought I’d take a few minutes to do another update. Here’s what I’ve been watching and reading lately.

Books — I haven’t accomplished as much reading over break as I’d hoped, but I’ll try to remedy that in my last days off. Earlier this week I finished Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a book I’d read partially several years ago, but came back to after borrowing it from my roommate. Didion’s nonfiction is relatable and comforting, especially if you’ve recently lost a loved one.

Last night, I finished Cecelia Ahern’s Love, Rosie, previously published as Where Rainbows End. I got it as a cheap Kindle download from Amazon, and knowing it was from the same author as P.S. I Love You (which I haven’t read), I hoped it’d be a decent book. I found the writing incredibly weak and the overall story rather boring and frustrating, so that was a pretty giant waste of time, unfortunately.

Now I’m turning back to my assigned school reading. My plan is to begin reading John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces today. The book isn’t due for a few weeks, but since it’s long and, I’m assuming, fairly dense, I want to have ample time to finish it. I’ve also got some Flannery O’Connor short stories to read for classes next week, so I’ll try to get a head start on those. O’Connor is always a pleasure, so that’s something I’m excited about.

Movies — I haven’t watched much recently that’s very noteworthy, but I’m at least happy to be making progress on my intended watch list for the year. I rented two Redbox movies this week, Chasing Hearts and Men, Women & Children. The first was really lame; because Jamie Dornan is the film’s star, the distributors apparently tried to milk his Fifty Shades success, but the movie was mostly boring.

I rented Men, Women & Children because I really like Jason Reitman, but his movies have been rather off lately, especially since this was the first film he directed following the ridiculous Labor Day. The movie’s cast is good, but the story is rather melodramatic and depressing; it presents the dark side of a society controlled by technology. I was interested enough in the story to keep watching, but it’s not a film I’d watch a second time.

I also watched the film adaptation of Love, Rosie, which is thankfully far better than the book. The film’s writer and director took lots of liberties with the book’s story, and ended up producing something much more entertaining. It’s a pretty formulaic romantic comedy, but those can be fun, so I’d recommend it if you looking for something of that type.

TV — I think most of my viewing time this break has been spent on TV-bingeing. I started watching Teen Wolf on a whim just over two weeks ago, and I’m currently watching the final episode so I’ll be caught up when season five begins this summer. It isn’t a great show by any means, but it’s fun and entertaining, and I’m glad to have something to watch during the dry months of summer TV.

My mom and I also started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. We got through the first five episodes in one sitting, but haven’t returned to it yet because our timing hasn’t really worked out, but I think I’ll plan to finish it now that I’m done with Teen Wolf. Once that’s done, I’ll return to Lost, since I paused in the break between seasons two and three.

As for on-air TV, I’m SO excited that Bates Motel returned this week. It looks like things have officially gotten inappropriate this season, so that should be loads of fun. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Broad City, and Girls will all be reaching season’s end in the next week or so, so that should lighten my TV-watching load a bit (though I’m sad to see them all go). Otherwise, I’m still keeping up with Jane the Virgin, Reign, and Scandal, and I believe I’ll wait until the summer to binge on the current season of Broadchurch with my mom, so that will slowly begin building up on our DVR.

Now back to real life. Here’s to soaking up my last moments of no obligations before school and all those pesky deadlines and assignments return.

Paddle Your Own Canoe

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.

Year in Review: Top 10 Books of 2014

Lists are very important to me, so I always get really excited at the end of the year when I can revisit all the reading and TV bingeing I’ve done. That being said, here are my 10 favorite reads of 2014. Considering I hit 90 books and plays for the year just a few days ago, this wasn’t so easy to narrow down.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre was the perfect way to begin my 2014 reading. Not only did I truly love this book, I also find it personally satisfying that such an important novel was the first thing I read in the new year. It makes me feel like a real English student. It’s a lovely, beautifully written book that I highly recommend, particularly to young women.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill

Few plays in American drama are as deeply personal as Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a play based completely on O’Neill’s own family. O’Neill was basically the great savior of American drama in the early-20th century, so he should be at the top of your reading list, and so should this moving, deeply personal play.

Tea and Sympathy, Robert Anderson

I really wish I could explain why I loved this play so much, but I don’t really know why I do. I read Tea and Sympathy for a class, and though I’d never heard of it before, I absolutely loved it (though again, I don’t really have a reason why). It’s a sweet (and slightly scandalous) story of life in a boys boarding school that deals primarily with sexuality and isolation. If nothing else, the fact that it was written in the 1950s and deals with such risqué subject matter should be enough reason to intrigue you.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

I might be a bit partial toward Of Mice and Men since I saw it on Broadway in May, but I also really, really love the novella. It’s the kind of story that sticks with you, and I think it was a perfect introduction into Steinbeck’s writing. I’m looking forward to expanding my Steinbeck knowledge in 2015.

The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman

The Laramie Project is another story that sticks with you. It’s told in a documentarian style about the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. I really hope people are still aware of the story, especially because it’s an important reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of social justice in just the past decades.

Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

Though my overall experience in my Shakespeare course this fall was far from fulfilling, I’m certainly happy to have been exposed to some of Shakespeare’s best works (this is my glass-half-full approach toward this unfortunate class). I saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre in 2011, so I was very excited to read it for myself. The story is sweet and funny, and definitely one of my favorites as far as Shakespearean comedies are concerned.

Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham

Despite all the ridiculous (in my opinion) controversy that’s surrounded Dunham’s book since it was released a few months ago, it was still one of my favorite reads this year. As far as I’m concerned, Dunham’s memoir is exactly what I expected it to be, and more than anything, it makes me sad to know that she’s suffered with such anxiety in the past (but I’m also really happy she’s in a better place now).

Yes Please, Amy Poehler

It’s rare for me to read any nonfiction outside of required reading, but 2014’s surge of celebrity memoirs that I was interested in changed that fact. Amy Poehler is one of my favorite people on television, so it was of course important that I read her book. She’s just as charming and funny as you’d expect, so read it if you like her like I do.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

I’ve been generally slow on the Atonement uptake; I only watched the movie in the summer of 2013, so it seemed appropriate that I read the novel this year. I usually find British things very calming, so it was helpful to read Atonement during a busy point in my semester (but spoiler alert: this isn’t exactly a happy story).

Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

Attachments was the last book I read (though I hope to finish at least one more before the end of 2014), so I’m happy I loved it enough to put it on this list. Attachments was the third Rainbow Rowell book I read in 2014, and it’s the perfect kind of light, sweet, romantic story for ending the year on a high note.

Ending 2014 having read over 90 books is something I never expected, but I’m always happy to expand my literary knowledge. Here’s hoping 2015 is equally successful!

The Laramie Project

Book #64: The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to buy 9 different books and plays at our Half Price Books Outlet’s $1 sale. One of my purchases was The Laramie Project, a play I’ve been interested in reading for a while. After finishing The Final Solution this morning, I decided to sit down and read The Laramie Project, and the play took me no time to complete.

After three reading projects I’ve been less-than-thrilled by this month, I was very happy to sit down with this thought-provoking and emotionally-moving “moment play” that chronicles the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Since I was in first grade at the time of Shepard’s murder, I don’t remember much about the crime, except that Shepard was gay and brutally murdered. 

The Laramie Project tells Shepard’s story through a series of two hundred interviews  and journal entries over a two-year period with the people of Laramie and those who became related to the case. Though the play is a very quick read, it packs a serious punch and it certain to leave readers with lots to think about.

Shepard’s murder was a terrible,gruesome crime, but reading about what happened to him has really helped me see how far I think we’ve come in accepting the gay community. Obviously it’s still a major fight in the US, but I do think Shepard’s story is one that has sparked the movement of increasing tolerance and acceptance of minorities. I strongly recommend this play to anyone interested in learning more about Shepard’s story.