Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review : Below Stairs

Image result for below stairs cover
Shoutout to all the librarians of the world, whose expertly-crafted displays entice even the most introverted of bookworms, who sure as heck aren't brave enough to ask you for a direct recommendation. Such a makeup was how I got my hands on this memoir, this past February! 

Margaret Powell’s iconic memoir Below Stairs provides a fascinating first-hand account of the back staircases and cramped servants’ quarters of the English elite, in the space between the two World Wars. Her vivid portraits of past employers, and powerful hindsight commentary applied to her unique experiences, have inspired the likes of quintessential British programming, such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. 

This fiesty writer rose not just through the ranks of household staff in her places of employment, but also from her class position, in order to become a vibrant, humorous memoirist. I especially loved her determined spirit and incensed perspectives on both past and contemporary (at the time) expectations of working women. She focuses on both the disparity of social classes and the power complexities of being a young woman in a working environment with a seasoned eye that still comes across as quite modern for her time.

Her origins and evolution provide an intriguing background to the changing modernist dynamics of that time period: having been raised in relative poverty, to waiting on aristocracy, to interacting with artists and the elite, and then going back to poverty and charity reliance once she left the workforce again after she got married, still comes across as a saga. The deliberate points she makes to illuminate various facets of these struggles raises important questions about the relationship and interactions between social classes, even nowadays!

In one memorable section of the memoirs, she even calls herself a feminist by name. Raised in the time of the suffragettes and having written the book itself in the midst of the tumultuous sixties, this struck me as particularly valid. If there’s anyone who warrants that title, it’s those of her stripes, quietly (and not-so-quietly) struggling for those rights at a time where such behavior was unthinkable. Being that we can barely convince today’s Hollywood darlings and pop stars to own up to those kinds of titles that women like Powell worked so hard to bestow, the ownership of the phrase seemed particularly poignant. 

One particularly moving emotional moment – which occurred fairly early on in these memoirs – was that of Agnes, the parlourmaid, at Margaret’s first place of work. While questions about abortion are still carried on today, in even the highest courts of our country and others, the fact that this has been such a documented turmoil on behalf of womenkind for such a long time also lends the memoir a significant amount of feminist credence. When women were widely without protection or options, and men met little to no consequence, this kind of issue could ruin the lives of those with the least security, and hearing about Agnes’ silent suffering and subsequent dismissal were hard to read about, especially in 2017.

Same with the descriptions of Powell’s experiences with poverty, and the expected subservience of the poorer classes on multiple levels – such as demonstrating semi-fealty to community “charity” groups - despite the fact that either she or her husband was regularly working. Deliberate social constructs that kept both her and her sons from pursuing higher education were especially annoying to read about, because anyone could see that this girl was smart, and observant. Empathy should always remain at the root of charity and community, and these examples were perfect illustrations as to why: demonstrated suffering shouldn't serve as a requirement to being poor. 

(As Charlie Chaplin said, "Judge a man not by how he treats his equals but by how he treats his inferiors." No one escapes this book without Powell bestowing some well-deserved karmic payback.) 

Due to the unique nature of these perspectives - as well as the incredibly humorous, interesting anecdotes peppered throughout the work - I would love to read more about the interactions between servants and their employers during this time period. They really did know everything that was going on in a household, even things that their employers were working hard to keep hidden! 

Final Verdict: Below Stairs is invaluable reading for not just fans of the period piece or British writing, but those looking for uncommon perspectives on feminism and social equality.

Are you a fan of shows like Downton Abbey? What's your favorite period memoir? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Moonlighting: Daffodil Festival 2017

Another April has come and (nearly) past, and the daffodils that sprung up so valiantly in our front yard, are sleepily bowing their heads for another year's rest. Which means, we've wrapped up another Spring spent with the Daffodil Festival!

I've written on my love of the Festival and it's frequent space in my writing life before, but beyond the occasional chaperone gig, and regular attendance of major Daffodil events, I've stayed out of its greater operations... until this year. I was not only asked to continue my regular reporting, but also, serve as one of fives judges who decide the Festival Queen from among the pool of 23 Princesses, as well as contribute to a major Daffodil special edition of the Tacoma Weekly with a series of articles, too.

And as if that wasn't enough, the Festival schedule had been revised this year, to concentrate activity in a two-week period with both the Coronation and the Parade, so my pool of time for Daffodil was really a three-week intensive period. Not to mention the fact that all of this was happening at the same time as my family was preparing for a Spring Break trip to Oregon, which was falling in the exact middle of the major Daffodil dates.

Let me break it down for you:

The actual turnaround time was only a few days between each event... I was writing the Daffodil special edition articles the same week I was attending regular judging events, and the day after Coronation, my family left for Oregon, where I had to finish both those articles, as well as my Coronation correspondence, within the first two days of vacation.

That week, in my absence, that special edition and front pager came out, and the morning after we returned to Tacoma, I was out at 9AM with my Mom, cheering on the Festival from the sidewalk of Pacific Ave in Downtown Tacoma. Two days later, my Parade coverage was due to the Weekly, too.

(And two days after that, the primary draft for my portion of the UW Research Team I'm involved with was due, too. You know that saying, about how 'When it rains, it pours' and that saying, 'April showers bring May flowers'? I think we should really just condense that to 'It rains a lot in April - in more ways than one - so bring a poncho and some rain boots and strap in.')

I didn't want my family to stress out on my behalf - especially because at the point where I was starting to feel the crunch, we were only a few days out from embarking on our long-awaited vacation - so I actually didn't tell them what I'd done until that first Weekly issue itself had already come out. The only person who was in on the secret was my amazing baby (ie, fifteen-year-old) brother, who I had caved to in a fit of self-imposed panic, and who dutifully guarded my weird behavior the entire time until everything was published.

But enough about the blood, sweat, and flowers it took to get us here. Here, in the order of their publication, are all of the Daffodil Tacoma Weekly coverage that I contributed to this Festival season: 

from the front page of the Thursday, April 6th edition - Daffodil Festival Crowns Queen Marin Sasaki

from the Daffodil special edition section: 

from the front page of the Thursday, April 13th editionDaffodil Festival Grand Floral Parade

And, for the first time in my so-far-brief writing career, I actually received two pieces of fan mail!

The first bit of correspondence was forwarded on to me by the editor of the Weekly who serves as my primary contact, and was a well-written postcard addressed to the publication, containing a few brief paragraphs about why they loved the special issue, and how - going off the bylines - I was the person to thank for it. The second came courtesy of a late-night Facebook message from the vice principal of my middle school, who said she was impressed by the number of articles I wrote.

I'm not trying to toot my own horn by mentioning these things or anything... it was just that, after spending so much time not only generating the concepts and content for those articles, but putting them all together in such a high stress period, as well as not informing anyone around me of what the heck I was doing, it was nice to get that extra bit of kudos.

But, of course, no one could have loved it better than my Festival family. The outpouring of admiration and support I got from them in the wake of my articles running in the Weekly was so unexpected and stupendous, and even friends from other Festivals - like Seattle's Seafair Commodores - made me feel very loved and appreciated through their reactions, too. I am so incredibly blessed to come from such a tight-knit and loving community... they make it so easy to write about our events, because all I'm really doing is bragging about the cool stuff my cool friends are up to! 

Does your hometown have any special traditions or festivals of their own? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Things that Will Instantly Make Me Want to Read a Book

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Leave it to me to do two Top Ten Tuesday lists in the month of January alone, and then not touch any topics until three months later! Of course, a theme this alluring gave me more than enough reasons to jump back into the game.

Reflecting on my "Top Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want to Pick Up a Book" made me meditate on some of my favorite bookish themes, sub-sub-genres, cliches, and characters... and honestly, kind of made want to pick up some of them again!

So, here are ten perfectly great reasons why a book might launch to the front of my TBR pile, and some examples of titles that have made the leap before. (Got any that you think might fit my bill? Make sure to leave your recommendation in a comment!)

1. The name "Jennifer Egan"
It's no secret that I've long been obsessed with the unique perspectives of popular postmodern author and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Egan, but her work rarely follows the same pattern. That means that when I pick her titles up based on author status alone, I'm taking a serious chance that I'll like the book at all, but for her, I'm more than willing to make the leap.

2. High Feminist Fantasy
What started as an early adolescent fixation on the many (many, many) works of Tamora Pierce, has manifested itself in adulthood with a preoccupation with books like Erika Johansen's The Queen of the Tearling and Naomi Novik's Uprooted. I'm more than happy to dive into any old high fantasy... but if it's helmed by a fearless female, it's moving to the top of my TBR.

3. Jaw-Droppingly Beautiful Covers
Book bloggers have long been known for dutifully ignoring that age-old adage, "don't judge a book by it's cover," but sometimes, that drives itself to extremes. Anything with interesting patterns, vibrant colors, cool fonts, or intricate detailing, will automatically catch my interest. See: Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed or Renee Ahdieh's The Wrath and the Dawn.

4. Books About Books
The only way bookworms can increase in bookishness is by making sure the books they're reading are also written about books. Case in point are titles like Celia Blue Johnson's Odd Type Writers, which details the strange tendencies of famous authors, or Samantha Ellis' How to Be a Heroine, a memoir charted by way of the iconic heroines who have shaped her life.

5. Not-So-SuperHeroes
The only thing better than a hero? A hero-with-issues. A hero-with-demons. A hero-with-enemies-within-and-without. Anything with a compelling, troubled vanquisher fighting near the front means that complex characters will most likely be found elsewhere in its pages, and serves as a decent measure of narrative intricacy. Interpersonal politics abound where there are grey heroes, and I love it.

6. Set in the PNW
Yeah, I'm from Washington. I love our trees, mountains, coastline, and quirky indie spirit, married to the glittering metal towers and bustling sea travelers of the tech and port industries. And, of course, authors have found it to be rife with the paranormal, which is also a quick way to catch my attention. (I mean, this is why I read the Twilight books in the first place, y'all.)

7. Meta-Secrets and Cult Followings
With everything from codes wound into the words, to multi-media scavenger hunts leading to deeper colonies of conspiracy theorists abounding online, I love getting obsessed with the same things others have been obsessed with before me. From Alex Hirsch's Journal Three from the world of Gravity Falls, to House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, if there are greater machinations lurking deeper than the heart of your work, I'm desperate to find them.

8. "Victoria Schwab" 
My most recent - yet no less passionate - author idol, Victoria Schwab (aka, V. E. Schwab) writes so compellingly that I've been tempted to return paperback purchases to the bookstore for hardcover (tbh, I'm still debating it, especially with the Gathering of Shadows series). I've still got more than half a year left in my Resolution to prevent me from doing so, but the good news is, I also still have Vicious in my stack, to tide me over until 2018.

9. Antiquated and Prestigious (Fictional, Often Magical) Schools 
Surprise, surprise: the kid who had a life-alteringly awful public school experience in her childhood always daydreamed of living far away in a mysterious boarding school, complete with the prerequisite plaid skirts, close companions to go adventuring with, and tons of secrets twisted into the tendrils of ivy growing over our red-brick turrets. Even now that I've graduated college, I'm still likely to reach for books that feature this classic trope, including Lev Grossman's The Magicians, or even Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle. 

10. Folklore, Epic, and Mythology Retellings
I mean, it's a classic, and out of this list, the one I think I'm most likely to see on other blogger lists, as well. While I've kind of grown out of the fractured-contemporary-fairy-tale proclivities of my YA reading, there is still plenty of room left on my shelves for fresh updates on epic adventures and world mythos. I've most recently cried actual tears over Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, and have been collecting news stories about the new adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods on my desktop.

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: The Empathy Exams

Despite the hectic nature of these past few weeks - what with my Daffodil judgeship and newspaper coverage, my UW research team, and juggling responsibilities in household full of other busy people - I was granted a brief respite by way of my younger siblings' Spring Break, and a week-long trip to Oregon. 

Once I had finally gotten work squared away, I had the chance to really get down to some relaxing reading, and try to play catch-up with my Goodreads goal! Which meant picking easy, fun reads, and... lol, no. 

I dove into an exploratory collection of literary essays about how we communicate human pain. 

From gang turf tours and prison visits, to medicalized experiences of personal pain, to the cross-media interpretation of documentary subjects and reality-TV struggles, no lens of human interaction and suffering is beyond the scope of Leslie Jamison. This extraordinary selection of essays finds its grounding in life experiences of its author - in its inception, Jamison's work as a paid medical actor, testing wannabe practitioners on their ability to compassionately treat patients; hence the title, The Empathy Exams - and bolsters conversations pertaining to not just the topic of pain or how it is felt, but how it is communicated so to be felt in others. 

A New York Times Best Seller and Winner of the Graywolf Press Prize for Nonfiction, you're prepared for the tone of Jamison's essays before you've cracked the spine: with dense diction and winding theoretical language, she takes the tone of an academic, even when exploring her own personal experiences and feelings.

As a result, her tone is a little self-aggrandizing in parts, which is enough to drive any reader up the wall. Whenever anyone discusses the subject of their own pain, it's bound to get a little trying after twenty pages, especially when, due to the nature of the book itself, the discussion is an exploration - which can easily transmute into reveling, or in the author's own words, "wallowing" - and its subject, someone whose personal nature is lost in the inflection of personality: she gets wrapped up less in the pain itself, but in the fact that it's hers.

However, in a way, the somewhat alienating tone might just be one of the most central points to Jamison's work, as the performance of pain was a strong underlying current throughout the collection.

Particularly in chapters about Jamison getting assaulted during a mugging in Nicaragua, or in the interpretations of documentary subjects in the series of films about the West Memphis Three, it isn't just about her understanding of others' pain, but at the degrees at which it could be experienced and demonstrated. 

In some depictions, this takes the form of her comprehension of the scope of her own personal pain, like in the opening chapter, in which she discusses both an abortion and heart surgery that took place within the space of two months, and how she subconsciously chose to share that individualized struggle with others; particularly, her family and boyfriend. In others, the distance between human contact is mediated by a television screen, translating experience into feeling through other forms of stylistic, performative choices, like music and coverage.

The chapters involving her travels - primarily to Central and South America - are particularly interesting, as they explore not just translation of pain or struggle across language, art, and culture, but additionally, the absolute unknowable components that gets lost in the translation. She exorcises her own guilt about the ability to "visit" empathy by travel - you leave the deadly, stuffy mine, the dangerous, gang-ridden neighborhood, the poverty-stricken village, but too many don't have that luxury - and how this temporary sense of commiseration grows greater self-impressions of empathy, without direct demonstration of insertion or effort.

The collection deliberately doesn't pit one group against another - even in essays that clearly demonstrate a sense of class division or disenfranchisement - because to do so would involve the inflection of empathy into only one side of the argument: we don't just need Team A to be empathizing with Team B for the benefit of Team B's goals, or to place Team B on equal footing for the time being, we need them to be compassionate towards each other all the time. Even when tackling taboo subjects, like abortion, incarceration, poverty, and female pain, the reader is drawn to connect with Jamison's subject not on the grounds of political lines, but because of genuine human connection.

In fact, that absence of judgement was one of the most compelling arguments for the necessity of empathy. It was reserving judgement about someone else's reality - medical reality, judicial reality - whether the components that made it up were real or not: the pain itself was not imaginary, and it was demanding to be felt. You might not feel the symptoms yourself, but you could identify with the result.

Naturally, the range of subjects around the status of empathy explored in this collection are too numerous to all tackle in one review, so let me just give a few a brief shoutout: Jamison speaks eloquently on the subjects of the fetishization of pain, discusses negative space pain, explores the condemnation of pain performance, observes the commodification of pain for entertainment and why audiences seek that secondhand empathy, as well as discusses the literary values of aspects of empathy, like over-sentimentality and "authentic" emotion.

Some of my favorite subjects had to do with completely separate conversations, from interactions with a support system for Morgellon's disease sufferers - a medical complication that is not officially recognized by the medical community, but still acutely felt by its victims - to the lengthy final chapter, a discussion on the difficult relationship the female gender has with pain, from glamorizing female suffering - be it through childbirth, eating disorders, rape and assault, or mental trauma - to the iconic "The Girl Who Cried Pain" medical bias study, to the lengths female artists go to draw closer to or distance themselves from figures of pain (like Sylvia Plath, Frida Kahlo, etc).

As a result, Jamison undoubtedly sets herself as one of these such figures, a personification of the multi-faceted nature of how we translate the suffering of our neighbors into our own.

Final Verdict: The Empathy Exams are essential reading for anyone seeking to meditate on the status of human nature as a conduit for compassion. Despite the author's sometimes self-important tone, she attempts to communicate movingly the importance of empathetic response, and after all, isn't the point of empathy to try and understand?

What is your favorite essay collection? Would you ever read a book like The Empathy Exams? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

News and Things: March Favorites

Okay, okay... I realize this is coming to you all a little late. And I realize I haven't gotten the chance to update the blog in almost two weeks. However, lemme give you a really good excuse: I have been a busy, busy girl!

For starters, as I may have mentioned before, I've had the distinct pleasure of being a part of a UW Research Team project as an alumni, exploring how we communicate usability design in classroom settings, with the intention of publishing the article in a technology-oriented journal. Our rough drafts for the preliminary part of our article was due earlier this week, and it was a mad dash to get things finalized in a way that I liked.

I've also been absolutely stoked for the last week of March or so, to be a part of the Judging Panel for this year's Queen Coronation for the Daffodil Festival. Not only has it been a ton of fun for me to see another side of this organization that I love so much, but I've gotten the chance to know this year's participants fairly well (at the cost of an insane amount of sleep, sure... but it's worth it).

Additionally, I have been continuing my time as a Special News Correspondent for the Tacoma Weekly, and reporting on notable Daffodil events, like, say, the very Coronation for which I was judging. Oh, and there's going to be a special commemorative issue this year, where Daffodil is taking over the entire B section in anticipation of the Parade, so you'll be seeing my byline splashed all over those pages, too!

So in case you've been wondering why I couldn't muster up the motivation to write out a blog post or two, it's because I've been writing over 18 single-spaced pages of material for other important writing projects I'm working on. IN THE PAST WEEK AND A HALF.

But enough of me complaining.

I'm in Oregon now, for the Spring Break of my younger siblings, and Tacoma is far behind us for the next week. March is over, and you probably know the drill: there's been a lot of News. And there's been a lot of Things. So it's time for News and Things!

My teenage siblings recently threw me for a loop when they showed me how they write papers - here's a hint: it involves direct voice-to-text software and several layers of email - so this write-up by the Washington Post, on how today's kids are being raised with technological voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, was of special interest to me.

As I've moved back home and had to cope with greater distances between myself and some of my best friends, I've been feeling pretty alone out here in Tacoma. As it turns out, I'm not the only one: in fact, millenials are getting lonelier... and The Financial Diet has the breakdown. 

We often think of publishing being one of the more diverse hiring fields - due to the kinds of many different kinds of stories that get published - but Publishing Weekly's Industry Salary Survey of 2016 proves that we still have a ways to go.

I've been a vocal supporter of journaling for nearly my whole life, so I was pleased to see one of my favorite YouTubers, Lavendaire, discussing her own #journaljunkiehabits.

Okay, so it's not exactly news, but Out of Print Clothing has finally started selling pins! I'm desperate to add a few to my button-bedecked library bag... especially the library stamp and card set. 

'90s America's unofficial favorite teacher, William Daniels - aka, Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World - published a memoir, called There I Go AgainBrooklyn Magazine gives us some of the highlights of Daniels' epic career... like that time he met Lin Manuel Miranda.

Ever wondered what the technical aspects behind staging the battle at Helm's Deep were? Nerdwriter put together this analytical love letter to one of the greatest fantasy battle scenes in cinematic history. 

And in recent headlines that make you look like you're chewing on a lemon news... the New York Times charts the rise of alt-righters who love Jane Austen. 

I've been a huge fan of Practical Folks' Drunk Disney segments for years now... but my sister and I have recently grown enamored with their Game of Thrones themed "Power Hour" segments, hosted by Cersei Lannister and Petyr Balish, to hilarious effect. Remember, power is power!

After years of begging, I finally convinced my game-crazy teenage brother to watch one of my favorite webseries: The Guild! Because the episodes are so short - and they're all strung together, easy to watch, on Netflix - he's already finished with Season 3. In his words: "Poor, crazy Codex."

It's always a weird feeling when one of your favorite skincare products grows up... I haven't repurchased The Body Shop's Tea Tree Foaming Cleanser since my Junior year of college, because it literally lasts forever, which is why I was quite surprised to see how it now is kind of packaged like a dude's product. Regardless, it still works great!

Wrong directions from my mother last month resulted in me showing up to pick her up from the bus about an hour early... luckily, there's a Trader Joes only about ten minutes away from the transit center! My despondent shelf-browsing resulted in picking up an old favorite again: Toblerone chocolate bars. Because nothing helps you forget you're sitting in a rainy parking lot with a bag of soggy groceries and a half an hour more to kill quite like a Toblerone.

When I'm don't feel like having a full lunch, I like to reach for Trader Joes' sliced organic apples and selection of sliced tapas cheeses. Both are require zero prep, and make for an excellent pairing together, but you can always build them out to a bigger, ploughman's style lunch if needed.

Good news, everyone: The Voice is finally back on television! However, last season, I became a Sundance Head superfan early on, and there's no one who's really catching my attention. Who are you already rooting for?

And did you really think I'd be closing out this post without mentioning the new Beauty and the Beast??? I know that it's drummed up a lot of polarizing reactions from fans, but I've got to tell you... I loved Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, I loved the new music and their variations on the old ones, and I had so much fun crying through it the first time, that I went back two days later to see it again with friends, and cried all over them too!

A bit of a personal favorite: my sister Delaney was on Spring Break for about two weeks of March! She blew us off for a weekend to hang out with a friend in San Diego - where she tried In and Out for the first time - but having her home was definitely a lot of fun.

What have been some of your favorite news headlines and products this month? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Best Books for a Boy? : My Weird Struggle with Recommending Books to my Teenage Brother

My younger brother and I have always liked being called the "bookends" of our sibling set: we do cap off on both ends, as the oldest and youngest of the bunch, but we're also arguably the two siblings who happen to read the most.

My brother's love of reading has only ramped up as he's gotten older, most recently soaring through J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series - as well as The Hobbit - in only a matter of months, a feat I was never quite able to accomplish (Way too much epic poetry!). We share the same love of fantasy stories and action-packed reads, and it's been fun to pass on books from my own shelves for his perusal.

However, this new side of his personal hobbies has been getting a little harder to navigate as he's entered his teen years. At 15 years old, he's officially a high schooler, and any book I lend him is sure to be finished by the end of the week. I'm running out of titles I think he would like, not because I don't have plenty of books already stacked on my own shelves... but because there seems to be a distinct difference in the ways boys are catered to by the publishing industry, versus how girls are treated.

My brother and I are such similar people, and have similar tastes... so why is it so difficult to find books in common? 

the start of the struggle: the YA section of the library

Recently, for International Women's Day, my younger sister read an article headline to the family, about how an Ohio bookstore flipped all of the spines for male writers on their fiction room shelves, in order to display the female ones more prominently.

In response, I joked that if it had been done with the whole store, "the YA section would look like business as normal." My Dad laughed, but at the same time, it's a real observation: the Young Adult section in particular seems to have more representation for female storytellers than any other.

(This is also an arguable reason as to why so many people are willing to write it off as insubstantial reading, and why Fantasy and Science Fiction awards have such a struggle reflecting popular YA in their winning categories, but this is also not the point of this post.)

Image result for scott westerfeld peeps
That means that unfortunately, the male authors in YA are both scarce, and well-tread. Like I said, my brother has already gotten through Tolkien; he also ran through the complete Percy Jackson series when he was still in middle school, but hasn't been interested in pursuing any of Rick Riordan's other work. My recommendation for Scott Westerfeld's work seems to be faring well, for now... though I do kind of regret starting him out with the Midnighters series, rather than something like Peeps or So Yesterday.

Besides, when it comes to genres outside of fantasy or paranormal, I feel completely at a loss. For instance, I have no idea if he likes contemporary, because I feel like he's had so little acquaintance with it that he wouldn't have a great idea of it already. Additionally, there's very few male-helmed or male-narrated contemporary stories...I think he'd like Simon Versus the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and maybe something from Adi Alsaid, but even then, I can't be sure if he even has a tolerance for romance at all. I certainly don't!

Which brings up another point: it also doesn't help that I'm leery to recommend books or series that I myself don't like... which takes up quite a bit of real estate in the YA section. Back in his middle school years, I couldn't help but grimace when I saw him reading James Dashner's The Maze Runner series, because I personally didn't think it was particularly interesting or suspenseful, and wouldn't you know it? He didn't quite like that series either.

factoring in female protagonists

I remember a kid in my freshman year of high school, who caught me reading Tamora Pierce's fantasy novels under my desk in Geometry class. He told me how much he enjoyed them, too... which - Tamora Pierce being a total YA Fantasy legend, notable for her distinctively progressive and almost exclusively female heroines - I thought was a little unexpected. I asked if he'd read any of her newest, but he confessed, he hadn't felt like reading any of her books in a while. "I don't read a lot of books with girls in them." 

Obviously, he's not the only one. In fact, you'd probably be hard-pressed to find a boy in high school willingly pull a YA novel out of their backpack and admit to reading it just for fun... let alone one with a female heroine.

Image result for my side of the mountainWhen it comes to my brother, our mom doesn't like it when he reads books with female protagonists, either, whether she means to express this or not. In her attempts to monitor or judge his reading material - especially when I offer it - she'll frequently remark on whether a book looks "too girly," while also expressing interest in getting him to read more masculine books, like Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain. 

The problem is, the inability or lack of interest in reading female protagonists is a significant contributory reason to why boys might stop reading altogether. 

It's no educational secret that boys' brains develop slower than girls' do, especially in relationship to verbal-linked learning - be it literature, or other languages - and when it comes to reading in particular, it might be jarring to make the jump from books commonly shelved in the Beginning Reader section to Adult fiction, without making some kind of foray in Young Adult (and that's also why Fantasy is such a common bastion for young male readers, too).

But here's the problem: while girls adapt at a young age to empathize with and relate to male characters - because most characters reflected in their media, be it television, movies, video games, and yes, even children's books, are male - boys are specifically discouraged from seeking out media starring girls. YA is a very niche market that overturns that gender imbalance, leaning pretty heavily in the opposite direction.

And the large rate of female protagonists and authors in literature - especially that which is written for YA authors - comes down to a factor of consumerism: Publishing is a profit-driven system, that caters to its greatest consumers. Unfortunately, that means that if boys aren't reading, then books won't get published that were written for boys, which, in turn, means less boys will read those books, as well. Unfortunately, this all marginalizes a significant segment of an educational audience... and does nothing to bridge that gender gap.

So not only does it make it difficult to recommend that many male YA authors or main characters to my younger brother, but it makes it more important that I recommend female authors to him, as well. Even so, I still felt like I had to double check with my other younger sister before recommending Dianne Wynn Jones' Howl's Moving Castle and House of Many Ways, because I just couldn't be sure.

education and empathy

You don't need to give me another reason to talk about the connection between greater literacy and emotional intelligence (I've been talking about it on the blog most recently in discussion with the greater political climate, here and here). Reading gives us the ability to experience viewpoints greater than our own, and people who read regularly, demonstrate greater levels of empathy for others. They have experience putting themselves in others' shoes, because they do it so often in book form. 

Like I mentioned in the earlier section, girls do this rather well, adapting easily to male narrators or main characters in books, far easier than boys do to females. This means that it's not just boys falling behind in reading, it's causing them to fall behind in emotional development, as well. In a culture where social causes for women are constantly framed as "imagine it was your wife/mother/sister..." instead of relating to women as fellow human beings, I can't help but sense that it's more important than ever that boys should stay reading, especially when it comes to reading female authors and relating to female characters. 

Image result for the hunger games bookUnfortunately, the typical reading material marketing towards boys is primarily denoted by the inclusion of action and violence - well, and low-brow humor (think Captain Underpants) - which rarely translate effectively into popular publishing trends, with rare exceptions, like Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games series, deftly maneuvering the gap between male and female readers. That's why many educational experts chalk up video games for the difference: they offer compelling storyline and enrapturing action like books do, but it integrates the user into the experience differently and more directly than, say, a book does.

However, there's already been enough investigation into what values regular video game use promotes in boys, as well. (And besides: girls are just as likely to be playing video games as boys are.) 

So not only are there few selections for teenage boys to transition into easily in YA, and few opportunities for them to easily see themselves depicted in it, but the inability of men to read and empathize with female characters also has a detrimental effect on their emotional ability, too. It's not just that reading is vital for intellectual growth, but compassion, and those needs are not reflected in a critical transition stage of reading material.

I don't want my brother to grow up with such a stifling viewpoint of popular literature, but I also want to make sure that the books I recommend him are ones he'll actually enjoy, and that people won't think it's strange for him to be reading. I want them to stretch his imagination and give him not just a form of enjoyment and escapism, but a directive of new understanding and exploration... but I also don't want him to get made fun of for it.

but there's hope!

It really is a gender issue: a widely remarked-upon 2005 NEA study by Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky described the difference in the reading habits of boys and girls as having grown so distinctive, that it might even be used as "a marker of gender identity." Summed up: if you read, you're a girl. If you don't, you're a boy.

For that reason, convincing a boy to pick up a book is already difficult enough, especially by the time they reach high school. Socialization of anti-reading behavior is tough and peer-regulated, and I hate the idea of anyone getting bullied for trying to read... especially my brother. Thankfully, there are new organizations seeking to overturn this common cultural conception.

Like Jon Scieszka's Guys Read, an online movement to get boys reading again. Jon explores parts of the reasons why guys might stop reading, that educators and publishers overlook, including how encouraging the reading of literature goes against socialized male patterns of suppressing emotional exploration, and how boys are more likely to have fewer positive male role models for education and literacy. 

Unfortunately, the tastes listed on his website run a little younger than my brother, but it's inspiring to see that this is an issue that is getting plenty of attention elsewhere, and can help initiate some conversations about casual reading within our family!

Image result for locke lamora book
Additionally, librarian and blogger Beth over at Fueled by Fiction responded to a request of mine for a list of readalikes to my brother's fantasy favorites, recommending several classic and YA works to choose from to help inspire his genre fixation. Some of the picks on the list are titles I was hoping to grab for myself soon - such as Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, as well as Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series - which makes it all the better, because I know it's something my baby bro and I can share! 

So, while I'm still treading lightly where he is concerned, he continues to plow through his own bookshelves with high confidence. Reading anything and everything seems to be his current game plan, as it helps him narrow down what he likes and doesn't like. Meanwhile, my younger sister, Delaney, and I continue to carefully push books his direction that might push his own boundaries a little - from Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, to Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows, to Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events - in the hopes that something will really strike his interest.

Clearly this is a topic that warrants a lot more discussion, but for now, I'm just really happy he's still reading.

What kinds of books would you recommend to my brother? Have you had any frustration with this gender difference in publishing? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Power Your Happy

Image result for power your happy book
In the past couple of weeks, I've been feeling a little uninspired by my stacks of reading material. Ever since making it through February having read only one (!!!) book, I've been stuck in a serious slump, that was only recently remedied by way of a trip to the local library. Thankfully, it was there where I found this: a perky career-growth-meets-life-coach account of a life lovingly lived, written by a web superstar. 

Lisa Sugar is no stranger to the pressures of having her words read by thousands of people: that's exactly how she grew her celebrity and lifestyle website, PopSugar, into an Internet phenomenon, multimedia powerhouse, and marketing mecca, with numerous sub-channels and purchasing projects backing its clout. In her book, Power Your Happy, the advice and information she shares with her readers every day is transformed, into a personal account of a career and life defined by optimism, and always looking forward for the next biggest and brightest thing. 

Power Your Happy is a cheerful mix of career biography and inspirational guide, complete with advice on such topics as work/life balance, building your own team, and discovering work that inspires you. Lisa Sugar has lived a charmed life, and she knows it, and it's the bubbly voice that has attracted so many people to her website, PopSugar, over the years that makes this book good to read. 

At first, it was a little frustrating, in the way that many overly-cheerful inspirational guides are: it refuses to bow to the idea that life is harder for some than others, and in Lisa, this was only more apparent. Despite early struggles with reading, she comes from a well-off Jewish East Coast family, was a George Washington University graduate, who immediately scored jobs in New York out of college, met her future husband when she was 17 and stayed with him ever since, has three beautiful daughters, and started her own website and company when she was living in San Francisco. The most tragic moment of her life was when one of her dogs died. 

So that rankled me a bit. It definitely got a bit frustrating when she would give advice about going on dates and building a relationship, when she's been together with her guy since she was literally fresh out of high school. Or how she touts the importance of healthy body image and exercise, when she also readily admits she was born with a genetically-gifted petite frame and addictive fondness for athletics, leading her to have never dealt with body issues until after she had given birth to her second child.

However, despite these criticisms - which definitely come with a dose of "damn, how can a person be so lucky?" while also acknowledging Lisa's strengths and serious smarts - the book's powerful sense of kindness, optimism, and gratitude were really too endearing to stay frustrated with for too long. As someone who was raised on the life-changing power of Disney Princesses, I get it: attitude is everything, smiles are addictive, and life is too short to listen to people who say otherwise. And that really was the takeaway theme from the book: be happy. 

And, of course, power that happy yourself!

My favorite part of this book, on the whole, was Sugar's adept career insight and informationHaving skillfully navigated several career areas before landing her own brand of entrepreneurial genius - which has since blossomed into a lifestyle brand empire, complete with its own ties to fashion and beauty commerce - I knew she would dispense vital advice for constructing a career... but I wasn't quite prepared for how skillfully she implemented those elements into her daily life, as well. 

From discussing how to build a team in an office environment, to how to construct your own set of personal cheerleaders, from emphasizing the importance of leaving work a little early to renew yourself, to touting the idea that it's not taking work home if it's something you really enjoy, what really stood out to me the most about Sugar's passion for a life fully lived was definitely not just her work practices, but how these translate into other parts of her day, when she's not at the office. 

Stars added to obscure the library stickers on the outside from view!

And speaking of working at home, one element I particularly loved about the book were the mini-questionnaires at the end of each chapter, which reminded me of something between a self-interview and a magazine quizlet. These guiding questions were perfectly placed for self-reflection in the midst of all of this reading about someone else's life, and gave you opportunities to connect to what she was preaching, while also making room for those kinds of practices in your own day-to-day. As you can see from the above picture, I wasted no time in jotting down my favorite responses in a page of my bullet journal! 

In total, did I enjoy reading this book? Absolutely! It takes less than a day to read, and you can probably make it in one sitting, even while writing down journal responses, as I'd recommend you'd do. 

And if there was a question of Lisa ever writing a second book, I'd have to say, I'd probably pick up that one, as well. However, as my favorite elements - by far - leaned more towards Sugar's concrete advice, rather than her own personal components, I'd want it to focus more on self-development and goal setting, rather than a biography. 

Final Verdict: While her advice sometimes sticks to the overly sunny side of the street, Lisa Sugar's lifestyle guide is powerful not for its biographical aspects, but in her sage managerial and personal advice. A great read for not just those looking to up their career game, but also anyone interested in behind-the-scenes looks at what makes Internet brands work!

(PS: Not included in this blog post: a joke about taking a shot every time Lisa mentions SoulCycle. You would seriously die of alcohol poisoning.)

Do you like to read PopSugar? What's your favorite career-oriented nonfiction? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2017 Resolution Check-In, Month Three : Bookish Retail Therapy, and Being Happy with What I've Got

So, it's March. The third month of the year. Like the truly dedicated - or truly crazy - I'm still hanging tough on my Reading Resolutions  for 2017. That means I've officially gone a little over two months out of the year, without buying any books.

To some, that might not seem so impressive... as you might remember, I've taken on this particular challenge before, as a Resolution for 2015, so it's something I know I can do. And being that it's focused around a negative act, instead of initiating a new habit, you'd probably think things might be a lot easier; for instance, it shouldn't be too difficult to stop going into bookstores, or browsing the paperback aisle at Fred Meyer, based on the sheer fact that you can easily avoid both of those environments.

However, it's 2017 now, not 2015, and

things are a little different.

As it turns out, there are elements of my lifestyle and environment that I didn't anticipate initiating such different feelings towards this particular enterprise. Even if I had, I don't know what I could have done differently to prepare for the change.

For instance, one of the reasons I gave up buying books back then, was because I was just busy. I was knee-deep in one of the most challenging academic years of my life, was tasked with both Panhellenic Executive Board and active sorority member duties year-round, and was also figuring out how to live in Seattle on my own for the first time that summer. Needless to say, I had a lot going on.

But like I said... my lifestyle has changed since then.

As an unemployed graduate who is still trying to figure things out in the adult world, I've got a lot more time on my hands. Having a less crowded schedule has forced me to confront some of my reading habits - especially in the face of things like recent crippling slumps - and attempts at generating more of my own personal writing. With all this freedom, it's gotten a lot harder to focus on things that aren't just reading and writing, and with that, I've had to confront a couple of truths about why it is that I bought so many books last year, and that I chose to take on this Resolution again in the first place.

cheaper than therapy... or is it?

Buying books is my favorite brand of retail therapy, because it's easy to do, and I know enough about how to keep it relatively cheap that it doesn't stress me out too much. In addition, it's the kind of thing my parents always encouraged me to do growing up, so I've never felt like there was a better reason to avoid buying a book, rather than buying it... until I started to give myself one.

And it's not just buying books, too, but also, borrowing them: after the success of my speed-dating round of books recently, I've already got my next couple of titles to-be-read set up, and I'm making my way through Lev Grossman's The Magicians as we speak. However, despite having not just the next five books in my schedule lined up, but still plenty of books on my shelves that I'm still incredibly interested in, I've had to convince myself three times this week, to avoid visiting the library and picking up a few more titles.

Why is that?

empty to-do lists and misplaced "productivity"

The compulsion to keep bringing more and more titles my way strikes me as a kind of misplaced sense of productivity: it's always good to bring more titles into my hands, because I'm going to read them all eventually, right? At least I'm doing something.

The problem is, planning on reading a book is not the same as actually reading that book, just like planning on losing a few pounds is not the same on actually dropping a dress size. It feels like success, because now you have more, and you're excited about having more, but what's actually happened is that you're giving yourself more reasons not to actually tackle the stack of books you're trying to take out in the first place.

The especially guilt-inducing thing about going to the library, is actually the complete lack of guilt. Because libraries are a free public good - thank God! - my going there doesn't actually cost me money, and if anything, the walk to it ensures I get a little time to breathe in some fresh air in my day. So while I can try to reduce my book-intake-therapy habits by attempting to shift that focus into a different sphere - getting new stickers from Amazon, or going thrift-shopping for new sweaters, for example - those definitely consume money, and if I took part in those hobbies as much as I'd like to, I'd be making a dent in my savings that I still feel like I really can't chance right now.

so... how do I fix this?

In my eyes, there's only one course of action for exercising these particular "productivity"-oriented demons of mine: actually reading the books I already have. Two months is definitely not enough time to decide to modify a Resolution, especially one I've made it through before, and I know that the problem lies not with the books I already own, but with me not giving them adequate attention. If I really am so desperate to be productive in these endeavors, then I can't misdirect my attention to easily-procured new reading material.

Maybe my attention should be more directed into revitalizing reading as a relaxing habit, rather than one done for Goodreads goals, or making it seem like I've done more with my day than I actually have. For instance, my mom was watching me clean my room the other day, and asked how many books I've actually made it through this year, and I turned red with embarrassment when I had to answer, "Only six." Clearly, the resolution to my problems is not to be found in making them more numerous, but instead, making progress in the traditional sense.

Adding more books to my TBR pile was never an effective long-term solution, it was just a short-term solution that made me feel like I was accomplishing more with my reading habits. I'm not going to remedy those problems by continuing them in a different form, and I'm no less a bookworm for not buying books or going to the library.

I didn't think minimalism was going to play such a starring role in my bookish habits this year, but if I really want to get serious about being happy with what I have right now - at least, for the rest of the year - I'm going to need to focus more on how to make the practice of reading more fulfilling and rejuvenating in itself, rather than the practice of purchasing books, instead.

the money matters

So, I'm a little bit of a hypocrite: in the time since I originally drafted this blog post, I definitely went to the library... and Ulta... and World Market, TJ Maxx, and Costco. And even Barnes and Noble!

However, the things I lent out or bought weren't just impulse buys to make me feel better or more productive; they were purchases I'd been considering for a while, and they have all already gotten use in the short time since I've procured them.

When I went to the library, I checked out four books, and instead of simply gathering up all the new titles that I'd been eyeing, I thought critically about why I was reaching for those books in particular. For instance, cook books and self-help books are not typically purchases I'm likely to make, because I read them too quickly, and they cost a lot of money for minimal use. I don't love having costs accrued for short-term reads, which is why I get them through the library instead, and keep the benefits of having a new cookbook full of ideas, without having to pay upwards of $25 for them.

The purchases from Barnes and Noble were a couple of my favorite magazines, selected after helping my younger brother weigh his own fantasy YA selections. The Ulta, TJ Maxx, Costco, and World Market shopping bags yielded a face mask and a new lip color, a new notebook and stationery set, on top of a pile of snack food. It reflects the developing format of my self-care retail therapy... and it seems to me to be a lot more cost-effective than an ever-growing pile of books! 

So, while I'm still spending money on things that make me feel better, their shape is changing. If I dedicate more of this particular branch of my financials into more meaningful, self-care-oriented spending - and if I let myself get to the library every once in a while, to choose a few short-read books that I wouldn't be spending money on anyways - then the mindfulness with which I approach my spending and reading habits has already shown the benefits of giving up buying books for the year!

How are your reading resolutions going so far this year? Got any advice for a bookworm trying to be content with the titles they've got (at least for the time being)? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

News and Things: February Favorites

Every time I try to think about how quickly February went by, I have to remind myself it's only 28 days long. Then again, I feel like a lot happened, too!

On the career front, I was asked to join a research team by a past professor of mine, and am talking with an organization I worked with in high school on whether I want a temporary position there. On the personal front, I celebrated my sister's birthday, and added some cool new items to my wardrobe after a very successful day of thrifting. I went to World Market for the first time - game changer! - and loved the drama from every single awards show this season. I finally went to the doctor and figured out that I have had a sinus infection since about December that just has never gotten cleared up, and now I'm stuck on a regimen of choking down the biggest antibiotics I've ever seen twice a day.

So, you know, this month has been a fairly decent one to me.

And, of course - just like last month - there's been a lot of News. There's been a lot of Things. Which means, of course, that it's time to recap them all in my still-relatively-new monthly segment, "News and Things"!

1. Kind of from the end of last month, but still jaw-dropping enough that it's worth a read today: the secret, weird lives of ultra-rich doomsday-preppers. AKA, how the 1% is preparing to watch the world burn!

2. In your favorite "Why is this a thing?" and "Why does it make so happy this is a thing?" news, Internet sensation erotica author Chuck Tingle rides again... this time, for the ACLU! (Will you be adding it to your TBR?)

3. It's not just fake news that provides the divide between how Red and Blue voters use Facebook, which is why the Wall Street Journal generated this side-by-side comparison of two feeds, in order to show just how large that divide has grown, and what kind of topics show the most difference.

4. In the book-bloggosphere, it's easy to get caught up in things like read-a-thons, Goodreads Challenges, and all-too-large TBR piles... to the point where sometimes, you just kind of forget that there's other ways to read, too. One of my all-time favorite fashion and lifestyle bloggers - Emily from Cupcakes and Cashmere - posted about her own relaxed reading philosophies.

5. As someone who chronically spends significant amounts of time by herself, at home, from about 8am to 5pm, this satirical bit from The New Yorker totally slayed me.

6. Back on the topic of news literacy, here's how Seattle librarians are leading the charge to raise a generation of information-minded kids, in pursuit of knowledge beyond Facebook-shared headlines.

7. In "feminist stuff you never knew you needed to read until now" news, The Hairpin describes what happened when Molly Caro May and her husband decide to give their daughter her last name, instead of his. (Here's a hint: it's not the husband who gets upset.)

8. Do the proposed arts and culture cuts to the national budget leave you steaming? Or do you feel vindicated in your own beliefs about what deserves federal funding? Either way, watch this video, about how easy it is to contribue to federally-funded platforms that provide vital arts and community support, as well as how little impact their funding actually has on federal resources.

1. I'm not a huge wall decorator, but I've recently become enamored with the letterpress postcard quotes from the talented designers of the Dead Feminists book. I have three separate, small pieces of this distinctive artwork posted up various places around my room, representing not just three inspirational women, but beautiful artwork to match their sentiment.

2. After my dedicated collegiate laptop, my Ol' Trusty Toshiba, started to look a lot worse for wear - like, only-one-bit-still-hanging-on-to-the-screen worse for wear - this past Fall, I decided I needed a new one. And yet, it still took me until February to take the plunge. Now, I couldn't be happier with my new HP Envy!

3. You know it's a thing, when even you and the Target checkout lady can't stop gabbing excitedly about the presence of these fantastic snacks in your cart! Made from only a handful of all-natural ingredients, Larabar Bites - especially in the flavors Coconut Macaroon and Cherry Chocolate - have been omnipresent in my snacking habits all month.

4. I came for the packaging, and stayed for the insanely smooth, soft results: Lano lanolin lip balm is not just a fad, you guys! Far denser and creamier than any treatment you've ever tried, this lip balm requires very little use for a whole lot of impact.

5. Everything is still awesome in the happy land of yellow figurines, with The Lego Batman Movie! I was skeptical about how the team behind the franchise would be able to follow up the unexpected genius of the first film, but this stellar sequel caught me completely by surprise, once again! Not only does this diminutive version of the caped crusader add street cred to the pantheon of Batman films, but also models emotional vulnerability and healthy communication in a way kids can understand.

6. You guys, I have a problem: I just can't stop buying new stickers from Redbubble! Each of my siblings got a sticker to match their interests this Valentine's Day, and I was shocked at how wide a selection there was to choose from for each. You really can find something for everyone there... which is why I keep finding so many things I like, too!

7. It's a head-to-head smack down of the best-of-the-best, with SyFy's Face Off special effects makeup reality competition returning for another season; this time, a battle royale between some of the best finalists across the seasons! My favorites to win are Cig and George, but then again, they were some of my favorites their own season, too.

8. It's been pretty gloomy outside, here in Washington State - hold your '90s era Rainy City jokes, please - but the weather's much better indoors: I've been obsessed with Lush's "It's Raining Men" shower gel since the second I smelled it's hint-of-honey scent. It's almost enough to make you forget the fog!

What are some of the News and Things you've been enjoying this month? Are you partial to any of the ones included here? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Vinegar Girl

After a two-week slump resulted in an innovative new attempt at sorting through a lot of books in a short amount of time, I was left with a new book selection that I hoped would break me out of a reading rut. Well, I was sort of right: I'm still having a bit of trouble sticking to a good schedule, but I ran through this fun and witty novel in less than a day! 

Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl follows the story of Kate Battista - the eldest daughter of an eccentric academic, and older sister to the flighty, boy-crazy Bunny - who feels unappreciated and out-of-place in the world around her. Her jagged edges and snappy tendencies too much for her constricting life, she finds herself faced with a crazy scheme from her father, to save his lab assistant, Pyotr, from deportation. This bestselling adaptation of the classic Shakespearean comedy The Taming of the Shrew focuses on family, and how much of yourself you're willing to give up to fit in. 

I've been following the installments in the Hogarth Shakespeare collection - modern day adaptations of the Bard's classic tales, by some of the best contemporary authors - with quite a bit of excitement, but this was the first novel in the series that I've actually been able to pick up. It's no surprise that my first instinct was to go for the one that was based on The Taming of the Shrew... while it's not one of my favorite of the plays, it has spawned some of my absolute favorite adaptations, like one of my favorite musicals of all time, Kiss Me Kate, and the classic teen movie (the adoration for which I feel is matched by the love I feel for my high school, where the movie was filmed) 10 Things I Hate About You

Despite my general dislike of the original source material, this retelling immediately made me want to revisit the play, in order to get a better handle on a good comparison. The book itself was incredibly enjoyable, lighthearted, and clever, which aren't exactly things that I remember the original to be. 

In particular, one of my favorite updates was to the novel's main character: due to its contemporary status, feminists get an upgrade in Kate, from the obdurate-turned-obedient Katherine. She is maintained as an autonomous figure with plenty of self-direction and ambition, which would please people like me, who aren't such fans of the lack of respect for those things in TTotS. Pyotr's husband-figure status has been itself tamed from the overbearing antics of Petruchio, and her father's obliviously meddlesome ways always run secondhand to Kate's own feelings. Her dependence on her father and family life is portrayed in such a way that respects the original material as well as the integrity of the character. 

If you haven't guessed, she was also my favorite character, as she is in most of such adaptations. (No, I do not know what that probably says about me.) 

The rest of the family was an interesting bunch, too, whose modern-day updates meshed fairly well with the defining characteristics of their original personas. The family still felt outlandish and mismatched without appearing at all unrealistic or unlikely, maintaining the comedy of family dynamics without deliberately ostracizing any of its members. You saw each of their individuality and incongruities, but still understood how they fit together into one family unit. 
Similarly for the rest of the novel, characterizations were innovative and fresh, making new use of old characters to progress the plot in a meaningful way, while still staying fairly true to the intentions of the old work. 

Like I said before, this novel was the winner in my round of speed dating a stack of books, and I'm glad that I read it first. It was quick, sweet, and I finished it in about a day, with a few lazy breaks in between bouts of reading. For someone trying to get back into the swing of reading, maybe at the start of a vacation, or if you don't get a lot of reading time on your hands, this might just be the perfect interim or transitional read. 

It really did end up reminding me a lot of Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible, and I think that fans of one would definitely appreciate the other! In fact, the appeal of this book strikes broad: I feel like whether you're a fan of Shakespeare or not - and particularly, a fan of Taming of the Shrew or not - you might still like this book. And if you don't? Well, it's a quick read. 

Final Verdict: Short and very sweet, this retelling makes me want to revisit the Shakespearean source material. Enjoyable and lighthearted, it would probably be a fun read for both fans of the Bard as well as those unfamiliar with his work, especially fans of feisty female main characters. 

Have you read any of the Hogarth Shakespeare collection? What is your favorite Shakespearean adaptation? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Table for One! : How to Speed Date Books

A few days ago, in the middle of the pink-and-read-hearted muddle that is Valentine's Day, I had an idea for a really good post. 

While everyone else was busy alternatively sucking face or crying into a bucket of Ben and Jerry's - what the media tells me are the only two appropriate ways to spend the holiday - I had a funny idea for a blogpost about how to plan a perfect date with a book. What kind of titles to choose and where to take them, the foods they'd pair well with and what you should go out and do afterwards... I thought it would not only be a cute take on those kinds of lifestyle blogger standbys, but it would be a  quirky way for a single lady to take on the holiday, that didn't necessarily involve a pint of Chunky Monkey.

As you can tell, that post didn't happen... mainly because my singledom in dating is only slightly less tragic than my current singledom in reading. If you look at my Goodreads profile, it currently says I'm in the middle of two different books, but the truth is, I've been in a little mini-slump for about two weeks. So, I was stuck without a bookish date on Valentine's Day. Cue the sad '90s montage music.

But wait! I might not be able to date a book... but I could definitely speed-date a few, instead!

Thankfully, the Internet - specifically, the Librarian and Educator side of Pinterest that I've come to know and love, and totally gets me - had plenty of ideas.

For some, it was called hosting a "book tasting," while for others, it involved  a round of "book musical chairs," but all gathered together under the "book speed-dating" umbrella when it came to the intentions of the activity: It was a great way to get people interested in a diverse range of titles in a short amount of time, while also providing a fun and exciting reason for them to get more involved in the process of how they chose what to read in the first place.

Naturally, I was on board.

Here's How to Do It: 

1. Gather a couple different titles... the more variety, the better! 
Spread your reading wings, and pick through as wide a range as you can gather up in your arms, without dropping anything. For me, that magic number was about 8! Picking out titles was a pretty easy step, because I organize the shelves on my TBR bookshelf by genre, anyways, so I just made a quick run-through and selected some that looked interesting. However, I didn't just automatically zoom straight to books I had been eyeing... give books that you've not given a lot of attention to a chance, as well!

2. Set a timer for between three and six minutes.
This is pretty much depending on how deep you want to go before you have to start over again. I think a four-minute amount is probably my favorite, because it allows you to read at least a couple pages into the book, and get a feel for the writing style and narrator. For me, this resulted in somewhere between 5 and 9 pages per book... and in one, it got me all the way to 15!

3. Start reading! 
By this point, you've probably taken a peek at the cover, title & author, blurb, etc... but you also have to be aware that first impressions might not always be the right ones. That's why taking a chance to read beyond the cover is important: you get a better feel for elements like writing style, character voices, and description, which will end up deciding how much you enjoy the book a lot more than how it looks on your shelf.

4. When the timer stops, put down the book, and jot a few notes about how you feel. 
For some, this might be a simple smiley face or star scribbled next to the title, while for others might benefit from a 1 - 10 rating system. For me, I allotted two single-spaced lines for writing notes, and then summarized by judging each on a "Sooner-Later" scale. Only give yourself about a minute to write, because this exercise is all about fast timing!

5. Move on to the next title! 
Start the timer again, and pick up your next tome. Keep going, even if you think you've found the book you want to read next... for me, that was book 3, out of the 8 I'd gathered! You might think you've found your bookish soul mate, but you really have no idea who might be just around the corner. Give every title in your stack a chance, and keep consistent with things like timing, and the ratings you dispense. By the time you're finished, you'll have a much better feel for the books on your shelf, and probably have a few book "dates" lined up, too!

(I know what you may be thinking: "Savannah, I don't have time for this!" or "Savannah, this is such a waste of time if you're planning on reading all of these books anyways!" But here's the deal: if you actually plan this exercise out carefully, and follow the allotted schedule of how this should proceed, you're really only taking about 45 minutes to tackle this thing, start to finish. And even though you might be planning on reading all of these titles already... life is short. Read the books you want to read. And if you don't get around to all of those titles, at least you know if you like the taste or not. )

Personal Variations and Special Tips: BuJos and Book Clubs

Listen, I get it: it's a little weird to date your books. Reading only a couple pages at a time out of each book, then moving aside, is something that would typically make my reading-cheater heart ache! But it really is a great way to get to know your shelves - and reading preferences - and there are plenty of ways to make it more interesting. 

For instance, I got a bit of an easy boost from the proximity of Valentine's Day by having flowers on hand, but also added a nice tablecloth, so that none of the crumbs from my kitchen table would get stuck in my books. Some bloggers suggested setting the mood with music in the background, while others recommended light snacks to chew on while you chewed over a new read. For someone looking to unwind after a day at work, or fill up a lazy Sunday afternoon, this might be a perfect way to relax!

While I would always recommend setting up a table or page for your bookish notes beforehand, in order to distract as little from the reading and discovery process as possible, I also think this would work especially well for people who love to use a bullet journal. Having a page in your bujo for bookish dating would not only be a cute spread idea, but would be a helpful way to keep track of your recent reads!

To be honest, this also seems like a great option for setting up book club choices. Maybe making a group trip to the library and staging your own mini-book-tasting would be a good option for those who have a hard time making good group decisions! At the very least, it would give you a few ideas for titles to pursue outside of your group's reading habits, as well.

And speaking of libraries, if you're someone like me, who checks out 11 books from the library at a time and reads about only half of that before they're due back, it might be a great way to sample, and prioritize. Same with those who love their Kindles as much as I do, and have tons of chapter samples sitting in their hard drive that never get read to the extent they deserve. This kind of a reading exercise might be a means of working through to the  titles you really want to sink your teeth into, and you can always clear out that digital storage space for the kinds of books you'd rather not.

There's plenty of fun to be had with picking a winner title, too, like taking it on a special date. For instance, I've been missing out on the ability to be independent now that I'm living back at home... taking a book on a solo restaurant date or park picnic might be a fun way to exercise that particular privilege, while also honoring the importance of reading time!

The End Result: Soon, Soon-ish, Soon-ish Later-ish, and Later

Image result for vinegar girlImage result for the magicians book

Speaking of winner, the winner of my particular Solo-Speed-Read-Dating was... Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl! This contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew made it easy to relate to the characters right off the bat, while also making all of the plot points of the original play immediately recognizable. I was a little worried that it would get a little too pretentious, due to the source material, but instead, it made me think of Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, a book I enjoyed this past year.

It wasn't the only "Soon" rating I had: I'm also really excited to start reading The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Not only is it a book I've been dying to read for a really long time, but the style of the book was funny and clever, and reminded me of the other kinds of contemporary fantasy novels I love to read. I look forward to picking it up soon.

There were also titles that I was excited about, but not the most excited about, and those got a "Soon-ish" rating from me.

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility  I  just wasn't ready to jump into right now, while Agatha Christie's Mrs. McGinty's Dead was set aside for the same reasons: I love these authors, and I would love to get back to their voices soon, but I'd rather take a little time to explore some new ones, first. Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior was added to this pile, too, because I always love a good memoir, but I'm looking for something I can spend a little more time on, instead of a first-person life story I can finish in an afternoon.

I only had one "Soon-ish, Later-ish" title, mainly because I couldn't quite decide whether it merited a place in either stack. Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life read very easily, but it still managed to pack a lot of information into the 6 pages I was able to read. That being said, there are a lot more pages in this book than that, and I'm going to need to dedicate some time to it to really enjoy it.

And, of course, there were two books placed in the "Later" column... which  isn't necessarily a bad thing!

When I first came up with this project, I was afraid I'd come across books I wasn't invested in reading at all, and I'd just be stuck with more pages crowding my bookshelf, but that wasn't the case with either of these reads: it's not that I don't want to read them ever, it's just that now isn't quite the right time.

For instance, Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map was excellent at portraying an evocative version of gritty London, but just didn't feel like the right thing to be reading... it seems much better suited to be read in the oppressively hot dog days of Summer, or the gloomy fog of Fall. Similarly, Benjamin Alire Saenz's Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was full of fabulous writing and formatting, telling a teenage boy's perspective in clipped, abbreviated verse that breezily traipses down the page... which makes me think I'll enjoy it even more if I read it on vacation, during the summer.

In the End

Of course, I could be wrong about all of these. My tastes could change, and I could alter my schedule in my TBR stack to pick up one of my later novels in the middle of March! But the thing is, I now know if I could. I have a taste for the books now, and I'm exciting to dive back into them, no matter what time that may be.

I really enjoyed this experience, and it's something that I'm definitely interested in trying again soon. In fact, due to the sheer number of books that currently occupy my TBR shelves, I think I might even want to try implementing it on a monthly basis... I know that setting up a monthly TBR is a pretty popular bookish practice, but I like the informality and wide range of speed-dating better. You might be seeing this kind of post back again soon!

Have you ever tried speed-dating a book? Do you think you'd ever try your hand at this kind of solo reading exercise? What's your favorite kind of "date" to take a good book on? Let me know, in the comments below!