Southern literature

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.

 

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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.

 

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.

Book #29: Wolf Whistle, by Lewis Nordan

Guys, all my reading assignments for the semester are officially DONE! Of course, I still have a big paper and a final to take, but this feels like an important step.

I ended the semester on an… odd note. Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle takes on a fictionalized version of Emmett Till’s lynching and somehow makes it funny. The book is about a lot of things, and the wrongful murder of a young black boy is only one of them. Readers can also look forward to fires and fourth grade field trips and prejudice galore!

I still need to some to wrap my mind around the book overall. There are lots of little swerves along the way, so it’s kind of difficult to say how I felt about it. If nothing else, I think it’s a good thing to end the semester with a book that’s left me thinking.

Book #28: Joe, by Larry Brown

It’s Sunday morning, marking the last week of the semester before finals. Basically, that just means we’re all tired and lacking the necessary motivation to power through, but I’m doing my best.

Last week, I finished Larry Brown’s Joe, the penultimate reading assignment in my Southern lit class. It’s a dark, gritty novel — the story revolves around a group of shady characters in Mississippi just trying to survive. The titular character is a complicated one; as readers, it’s difficult to know how good a guy Joe really is, though we want to believe in him.

The book was also adapted into a film in 2013 starring Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan. I’ve only made it through about half the movie (I’ll finish it soon), but I’m not really buying Cage in the role. Something about his voice doesn’t work with a Southern accent for me.

Now I’m about halfway through our final reading assignment: Lewis Nordan’s strange and darkly comic Wolf Whistle. Here’s hoping we’ll end the semester on a high note.

Book #27: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

Dear spring semester, could you please just hurry up and end?

I only feel this way sometimes. Or maybe about half the time. After this week, I have 2 more weeks of class and then finals, and I’ve started to reach my capacity on being able to care about school work. The chance to freely watch TV and movies and read books of my choosing is so tempting that I’m struggling to ignore them. My will power is at an all-time low, and I need to do something about it.

On the upside, I’ve had some good assigned reading to keep me somewhat focused. I just finished John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, a truly strange book that I had to read for Southern lit. It’s a satirical novel, one that focuses on the polarizing Ignatius J. Reilly and a cast of loosely connected characters.

This book is full of laugh-out-loud moments. As repulsive as Ignatius is, he’s pretty funny, especially in his complete disregard of social etiquette. The book runs a bit longer than I found necessary, but this really just contributes to its overall absurdity. If you’re a fan of comedy, you’re bound to be a fan of this book.

Now, among the many papers I must write, I’m down to my final two reading assignments for the semester: Larry Brown’s Joe and Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle. Here’s to ending on a strong note.

Thoughts and Things

It’s officially that time of the semester when things get crazy. That reality might be especially true for grad students: in the coming weeks, I’ve got 5 books to read, 3 major papers to write, and final exams to take. Somehow, though, I’m feeling pretty good about it all (believe it or not, writing this post isn’t just a way to postpone my homework).

In fact, things have been exceptionally good lately. Sure, sometimes I wish I didn’t have to go to work or school, but I’m feeling fulfilled and challenged in all kinds of wonderful ways.

Here are some things that are bringing me joy these days. No surprise, but many of these things are pop culture-related.

  • Watching “Empire” has been a joy. My roommate and I still have 4 episodes left, but we’re obsessed. Who wouldn’t love Cookie Lyon?
  • As of Saturday, “Outlander” is back in my life and I am so very happy about it. It’s safe to say that the books will find their way onto my summer reading list.
  • I’ve got a great thesis advisor and a project I’m really excited and passionate about. I’ve barely started the work, but I’m feeling ready and motivated toward progress.
  • I got to watch Dreamgirls today and it was pretty invigorating.
  • My assigned school reading has provided me with a wonderfully diverse group of books I may have never approached on my own. I sped my way through Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart for the second time over the weekend, and I’m now close to completing Maxine Hong Kingston’s harrowing The Woman Warrior. Up next: John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. 
  • I get to write research papers on topics I care about and feel confident I can talk about for 20 pages. This is kind of lame, but it’s a relief.
  • Rewatching “Lost” has been a little treasure in my life. Why is this show so much smarter than me?
  • I’m joining my dad and stepmom in New York next month! Hopefully I’ll also get a chance to visit a few friends during my visit.
  • I’m in a writing workshop course that’s challenged me to write personal pieces, something I haven’t really done since high school (apart from keeping this blog, of course). It’s been a bit scary, but I think I might actually make a habit of it.
  • In June, my mom and I will be traveling to Austin, TX to attend the ATX TV Festival! I bought our tickets when the “Gilmore Girls” reunion panel was announced last fall, but as they continue to make announcements of the programming, I get more and more excited for the adventure.
  • I’m almost halfway done with grad school! What is happening?!
  • I spent a lovely, relaxing, spiritually-fulfilling Easter weekend at home with family and friends. I’m so thankful for my fourth anniversary as a Catholic, and attending Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday was the perfect source of inspiration for the coming weeks.

And now, for my biggest news. Last year about this time, I was finishing my undergraduate days and preparing to start grad school, hoping for an assistantship with the English program in which I am enrolled.Things didn’t work out as planned, but I ended up with another assistantship that’s been a gratifying experience.

Things are still improving. I’ve been offered an assistantship in the English department, which will not only provide better funding toward my education, but also give me the chance to teach two introductory English courses next spring! Getting to start my dream job a little early is both exciting and terrifying.

And now for the icing on the cake. As you probably know, I attended the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, an experience that has absolutely affected my life (in the most positive way). I’ve planned on returning to Sundance in 2016, particularly because it directly relates to my master’s thesis topic, and after I didn’t receive a fellowship that would provide partial funding for the excursion, I’ve been thinking about how I’ll budget to pay for the trip.

Now comes the good news: to make a long story short, I’ve been asked to serve as a teaching assistant for the 2016 Sundance course, so I’ll serve in a somewhat advisory capacity for the students attending. In exchange, all my expenses will be covered. I repeat: I am going to Sundance FOR FREE. I expect this is an opportunity that will never arise again, but it’s one that’s made me wake up with a smile on my face every day.

So if you’ve read this or if you’ve been in my life recently, I just want to say thanks. I feel incredibly blessed and grateful for this life. If you’re feeling sad or stressed or bummed out, please let me know what I can do to return the favor. I’m in an especially “spread the love” kind of mood and the moment, and I want everyone in my life to feel as content as I do at this moment.

XOXO,

Gossip Girl