teaching

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

When the only things in life that matter are Hamilton and Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Hello, world.

It’s March. What? I haven’t written anything very substantial here since my Sundance reflection, but I can’t believe more than a month has gone by since then. Apparently teaching and writing a thesis require more of my attention than blogging.

Speaking of those things… yes, my life these days is about scrambling through the last bits of writing on my thesis (defense is March 24 and I’m currently sitting on 101 pages, no biggie) and teaching English to two classes of college freshmen. Both are at times infuriating and exhilarating. I’m incredibly thankful for a semester that allows me two things to focus on that inspire me, but boy, do I yearn for a day to just watch TV without feeling guilty.

Thankfully, I’m enjoying a bit more free time this week with spring break. Since I pride myself on my reading and watching skills, here’s a quick update on the things I’ve been enjoying lately.

Books–Because I’ve been preparing for my oral exam that comes with defending my thesis, lots of my reading this year has just been rereading. I’ve also done a pretty significant number of plays lately. I love reading plays anyway, but I think this choice is more representative of my short attention span as I start to worry about the other things I should be doing rather than recreational reading.

As for things I’ve really liked, I completely loved reading the Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay for my oral exam. I’ve never been a poetry reader, so the fact that I enjoyed this so much feels like real character development. I also really loved reading Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Night, Mother and definitely bawled my way through the final 10 pages when I finished it yesterday morning. I have plans to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go now, which I’ve already started, but I’m having a hard time concentrating with the other things floating in my head. Hopefully I’ll make more progress soon. As of today, I’m 20 books into 2016, so I think I’m doing okay regardless.

TV–Since finishing Pushing Daisies and season two of Transparent in February, I haven’t started a new streaming show (again, too many other things to be concerned with). I’m also in a happy place with the TV that’s currently airing–I’m keeping up with Bob’s Burgers, Girls, Last Man on Earth, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Broad City, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson. The upcoming returns of Outlander, Veep, and Game of Thrones also have me ridiculously excited, so I’m hoping time moves a little quicker in April.

Movies–Starting the year at Sundance certainly helped my film-watching this year; I’ve already seen 36 new (to me) films so far. Nothing recently has been too exceptional except for The Witch, which is just so fun and weird you can’t help but enjoy it. I also rewatched Room last week after first seeing it in January and enjoyed it even more the second time. I’ve been thinking about it often since, and I think that says a lot about its quality.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m realizing that life has been pretty quiet for me lately–except when I’m blaring the Hamilton soundtrack in my car, which is often. If all goes well, I’ll be writing again in a few weeks, having finished my thesis (!!!) and enjoying the downward slope toward graduation.

See you soon!

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.