Stay Home and Read

While practicing social distancing by staying home, many people are reading more than they normally do, which I love! It was sad to see libraries close their doors (appropriately), but fortunately for our modern world, ebooks and audiobooks are easily accessible here (or through your local library’s website). Of course, fewer copies for a larger number of patrons means that you’ll probably need to wait a while for the most popular books. So here is a roundup of ten of my favorite older books. I checked several of the eight library systems I have access to and made sure that these books are readily available. Also, I excluded classics because most are in the public domain and available for free here (or somewhere on Google). If you haven’t already, add me on Goodreads!

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Come to the Edge by Christina Haag

Starting off with one of my favorite books of all time. This is a memoir by a woman who grew up with John F. Kennedy, Jr. before they dated seriously for five years. Her writing is incredibly eloquent, and she does an exquisite job of showing readers the complicated nature of their relationship, as well as their growth and self-discovery. I might be slightly biased because I love any story set in 1970’s New York. It always feels magical to me.

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

This is a modern literary masterpiece. An epic story with a fittingly nonepic quality (or maybe the other way around) from the points of view of two people in a marriage. It examines the many layers of relationships and solitude through flawless prose. I’m a slow reader, but this novel took me almost a year to finish because there was just so much to analyze in the details, not to mention the great emotional weight this book naturally projects. Prepare to be moved. I’m biased again because much of the story is set in New York and one of the protagonists is a playwright.

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Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

Not surprised that Love in the Time of Cholera is completely checked out everywhere, since “Love in the Time of Corona” is trending! Fortunately, everything Gabo writes is gold. I’m recommending this short novella, an elegantly written reflection on time, aging, and purpose. Márquez’s trademark magical realism brings characters and the setting to life. I found the translation stylistically perfect. Another stunning novella by Gabo that might be available through your e-library is Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

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The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

Haven’t read this one in a while, but it used to be designated my “favorite” book. These short stories capture what it’s like for a young woman to come of age in the U.S. (specifically New York… again). Some would argue that The Girls’ Guide started the “chick lit” genre, but as a low key book snob I disagree. The writing is amazing, and I found the narrator to be hilarious. I used to feel deeply connected to the main character–curious, smart, and insightful, though now I think I should revisit the book just to make sure.

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

This novel is definitely the darkest and heaviest in subject matter, but equally rewarding. It’s a haunting story about the power of love during the Chechen-Russian conflict. Made me wonder if I could survive such difficult times without losing my own sense of humanity. Captivating language and richly fleshed-out characters. Honestly, I sometimes think my long-term memory is going down the drain because there are tons of books I’ve read from which I can’t remember a single detail… But there are several unforgettable scenes from this book that I remember vividly and think about often.

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My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

The more popular Rebecca is likely always checked out from e-libraries, but if you’re looking for a similarly gothic, romantic, psychological thriller, this novel is just as gripping. A grief-stricken young man meets the beautiful, mysterious widow of his recently deceased cousin who always wears black. What could go wrong? This sometimes dreamy, other times nightmarish, Downton-Abbey-meets-Hitchcock world kept me on my toes until the end of the story.

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is one of those books that every single person should read. I can’t recall an author who better describes the struggles of being black in America in a way that readers can relate to or at least understand. Coates weaves his personal experiences into a letter to his son that attempts to explain their historical burden. Not only is the subject matter timely, but the prose is equally captivating.

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The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

I’ve read this book a few times because it’s a quick read, but it always blows me away. There are several elements of surprise, so I won’t go into the plot. Just trust me when I say that this story of love, secrets, horror, and compassion in postwar Germany is compelling. The writing (translated) is simple, yet subtly pushes the boundaries of readers’ comfort in a brilliant way.

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American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is one of my favorite authors, and you might’ve read her more popular books, Prep or Eligible. But I think this novel is just as good, if not better. Sittenfeld researched historic First Ladies to inspire the complex protagonist of this story–a FLOTUS with secrets of her own. As usual, Sittenfeld’s writing is gorgeous as she creates a tale of class, race, and fate. I’d also recommend her most recent short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, which might be available through your e-library.

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The Girls by Emma Cline

This novel lives up to the hype and the $2 million advance Cline scored as a result. In sum, a girl joins a cult similar to the Manson family, but incredibly, the sensational narrative doesn’t overwhelm the heart of the story–the protagonist’s curious, unceasing, strangely weary mind. There are so many ideas here that should’ve been difficult to carry out, but everything, from the language to the themes, feels very organic and never forced. I can’t think of a book that better portrays the endless nuances, subliminal influences, and quiet tragedy of being a young woman, both in the 70’s and today.

2017: The Year in Books

This post is a little late because I realized towards the end of last year that I hadn’t read a ton of books that were actually published in 2017 and wanted to give myself a couple weeks to catch up. Below are my 2017 picks, but NPR’s Book Concierge is also a fun source for choosing your next read. And of course, you can follow my Goodreads account, where I keep track of all the books I’m working on and review those that I finish.

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South and West is further proof that Joan Didion is one of the best writers and ethnographers of our time. This is essentially a collection of notes–observations, interviews, etc.–she took while on a road trip through the deep South and while on assignment in California in the 70’s. It is mind-boggling that even her initial thoughts on unusual topics seem perfectly crafted, and each sentence is filled with intuition and wonder, all at once. This is a very short, yet indulgent read, and I would recommend to anyone who would be honored to explore somewhere or something new with a straight up queen.

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Little Fires Everywhere follows a seemingly idyllic suburban family in the 90’s and the drama that ensues when an artist and her daughter arrive in town and everyone becomes involved in the custody battle of an adopted Chinese-American baby. This novel won the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction and has been exceedingly popular since it was published just a few months ago. I really wanted to like it because I thought Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, was incredibly powerful. But I was ultimately let down by a lack of depth, due to an overabundance of characters, heavy reliance on stereotypes and cliches, and no sense of closure at the end, which was highly unsatisfying. Still, the plot is pretty action-packed, and I enjoyed learning about Shaker Heights, an actual city in Ohio. I would recommend to anyone who is looking to be entertained by an easy-to-read story.

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is exactly what the title states–a short and sweet guide to the cosmos. In this winner of the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Science & Technology, the brilliant Neil deGrasse Tyson explains complex concepts–everything from the very, very big to the very, very small–in a way that is easy to understand for the layman. Sure, my science background from my Pre-Med days certainly helped, but I wouldn’t consider it necessary. Honestly, I’ve already forgotten a lot of the little details that were interesting at the time, but I think the main takeaway for most readers is perspective. Perfect for learning something new on Metro rides. Tyson is a charismatic narrator, but I would not recommend listening to the audio version like I did. This book is so dense with information that virtually every sentence will make you want to stop and ponder for a few seconds, which is difficult to do with an audio book. I basically had to start and stop and use 15-second rewind over and over again.

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We Are Never Meeting In Real Life made me laugh out loud in public. Comedian and Bitches Gotta Eat blogger Samantha Irby presents wildly hilarious essays about a random assortment of events in her life that are real… TOO REAL. Many of her stories are relatable in some way, and the rest will make you feel so much better about your own life. Irby writes like a millenial, with the wisdom of someone much older. (And she would probably have something delightfully, passive aggressively sassy–or just aggressively sassy–to say about my choice of wording.) The book does get fairly emotional when she discusses her difficult childhood, putting her cat (whom she calls the spawn of Satan) to sleep, and casually scattering her estranged father’s ashes while on a romantic vacation… But Irby somehow finds the humor in every situation.

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Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too might seem like a cute little graphic novel on the surface, but it is surprisingly deep and uplifting. This spiritual treat, written and illustrated by Jomny Sun of Twitter fame, follows an alien who encounters all sorts of creatures with varying personalities, as he struggles to find his place on Earth. The Little Prince in subject meets The Giving Tree in tone, expressing what it means to be human in a simple, yet incredibly effective way. Everyone should read this book!

Valentine Fancies

Due to the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, it’s become one of my favorite holidays over the years. Greeting cards, heart motifs, the color pink, candy, and other sweets all come together on this festive day, so naturally I can’t get enough. In honor of this beloved occasion, here are a few last-minute fancies to browse for a special someone (or yourself!).

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The maroon color, velvet material, and sweetheart cut of this Kimchi Blue dress make it perfect for Valentine’s Day. Can be dressed up or down, depending on shoes and jewelry. Velvet is extremely trendy this winter, but I predict that its window for popularity is very narrow, so wear it while you can!

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Is there anything better than cute, cozy socks in the winter? I am loving this J. Crew pair, with its reindeer print and wool blend. Fun and functional!

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You can expect to see more Urban Outfitters on this blog because I recently moved near one and they always seem to have great dresses on sale, including this Kimchi Blue number. Semi-sheer with a slip lining and adjustable cutout back. The ruffle-trim sleeves and floral pattern also make this a nice option for V-Day.

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Candles make excellent gifts for any occasion, especially when they’re made by Henri Bendel, the ultimate gift shop. Burns evenly, and the “Cashmere” fragrance has a hint of sweetness without overpowering the senses.

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Nothing says “I love you” like a gift that’ll help smash the patriarchy. Every woman and man should read this essay, We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, based on her famous Tedx Talk of the same name. It impeccably defines and illustrates feminism and gender issues in a way that is approachable, relatable, humorous, realistic, thought-provoking, and with brilliant prose. Only takes 30 minutes to read, but the impact is lasting. My copy has been on constant loan since I finished it.

Snow Day!

You probably know that the South is currently experiencing a winter weather crisis. While North Carolina is not yet in a state of emergency, nonstop snow, sleet, hail, and freezing rain for the past 48 hours have essentially shut down my county since yesterday.

IMG_1150My Ohio friends have probably already gone to work and class in worse conditions this year, but understand that North Carolina is much less prepared to clear icy roads, since bad weather hardly comes through here. Technically, this snow day shouldn’t affect me, since I currently work from home, but it’s been a tad difficult to be productive, knowing that almost everyone else in the city has the day off… So let’s just say I’ve been taking plenty of breaks!IMG_1153

I started reading Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, which, I’ll admit, I was inspired to read after seeing last year’s film interpretation. The story, about a child caught in the middle of a terrible divorce between two dysfunctional parents, is both fascinating and heartbreaking. Other books I’ve recently read include: Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex (winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), Veronica Roth’s Divergent (since the movie version is coming out next month), and P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins (very different from, but just as good as the Disney film).

friday-night-lightsBesides the Olympics coverage, I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights, which I only started, with low expectations, because some of my friends are obsessed, but has since proven to be a touching and sometimes thought-provoking show with some really great performances by the main characters. It’s not the best show I’ve ever seen, but, along with American Horror Story, it’s been filling my TV void that was left by last year’s ending of my favorite shows (30 RockThe OfficeBreaking Bad), and I’d recommend it (available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video).IMG_1154

Yesterday, I pulled off a hangnail (I can never help it!), and now the area is swollen and extremely sensitive. Fortunately, epsom salt is one of those amazing remedies that have endless uses. I’d never used it until I got runner’s toe (black toenails… Google it, if you dare!) from running the marathon. Basically, the entire area around my big toe was super swollen, my toenail was becoming ingrown, and it looked pretty bad and felt even worse. Before committing myself to whatever misery awaited me at the doctor’s, I decided to try epsom salt baths… Worked like a charm! After a week of regularly soaking my foot, the swelling went down, the pain disappeared, and if there’d been an infection before, it was gone. Epsom salt is a miracle cure for just about everything, and I’m sure it will restore my finger to its original condition soon.

This “Scared Straight: Liberal Arts Edition” video is the best Buzzfeed post I’ve seen in a while. It hit a little close to home, since I double-majored and double-minored in four “useless” studies, but the video is an exaggeration, and I found it to be hilarious.

IMG_1158My mom baked a delicious green tea cake, using matcha powder, and it tastes like a green tea Frappuccino from Starbucks. I’ve pretty much been eating it all day!

11648228604_e52fdb4909I recently came across cartoonist Gemma Correll’s website, and I can’t get enough! Her work is clever and funny, like that of The Oatmeal, Hyperbole and a Half, and The Perry Bible Fellowship. But her style and content, which I personally find more relatable, set her apart from other popular artists. Some of my favorites:

12361471234_7730f22d12Societal reference? Check.
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Classic literature reference? Check.

9270715122_f423c23375Pop culture reference? Check.
f23d39d1265cc81bb4f73ecd72a5782fReference to one of my all-time favorite movies? Check.

Hope everyone had a fantastic day, whether or not it was a snow day! And please keep those Southerners in dire situations in your thoughts and prayers.

My Reading Marathon

logoIn 2012, I set a goal through the Goodreads Reading Challenge to read 52 books in one year (one book per week). I was on track to complete it until I left for Georgia, after which I, naturally, wanted to spend time exploring the country and getting to know my new home. By the start of this year, I’d gotten into my routine (as much routine as is possible in a Georgian village, anyway) and decided to try again for 52 books in 2013. Well, I just (barely) finished my last book for the year and can finally cross off #70 on my 101 in 1001 list! You can see all 52 books on my challenge page, but here are ten of my favorites (alphabetically listed because I’m too indecisive to actually rank them…):

10082793Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

My favorite crime novel, much better than the classic film version, contains the usual passion, betrayal, and suspense. But the most fascinating aspect explored is guilt.

6624929The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

The title and cover remind me of Gossip Girl, but this novel, about a family who has everything and will do anything to keep it, was actually a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

420The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Written by my literary idol, this book explores life, death, and mourning in the most genuine, touching way. I learned something new on every page.

10252302Blue Nights by Joan Didion

After experiencing the two worst things that could ever happen to anyone, Didion reflects on her life and family. The writing is absolutely brilliant.

277397Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

An observant, young foster child narrates her story about living with various families in the 1970’s. This novel would be majorly depressing, were it not for the protagonist’s visible hope and determination.

8683812The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This fascinating novel imagines what it would be like to marry Ernest Hemingway and live in Europe as an expat with the Lost Generation.

11127The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I revisited all seven books for the first time since elementary school, and they’re still just as great. Since this series should apparently be read three times–in childhood, in early adulthood, and late in life–I’m two-thirds of the way done!

3636The Giver by Lois Lowry

This novel seemed highly overrated when I was a kid, but I wanted to read it before the movie came out and was pleasantly surprised.

5107The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I despised this novel in high school, but perhaps time truly has changed me because I liked it much more this time around. It’s also possible that since I wasn’t reading it for school, I could focus more on the little details that make the story so captivating.

1358673Shane by Jack Schaefer

Western literature always contains some of my favorite things–gorgeous settings, tons of horses, and manly men. This particular novel does not disappoint!

Some people can read an entire book in a matter of hours, and I saw that some Goodreads users each finished hundreds of books this year. While I love reading, I’m pretty much the world’s slowest reader, so this challenge was actually challenging for me. The secrets to my success? First of all, if you don’t have a Kindle, do yourself a favor and get one! You can buy them inexpensively now, and even if you like the feel of physical books, the convenience of carrying around an endless amount of ebooks on a single tablet can provide motivation to read much more than you usually would. I can’t describe how relieved I was to have had my Kindle during my travels, rather than an extra suitcase to carry around 40 books! I also started listening to audiobooks this year. After loading them onto my iPod, I would listen to them on my walks to and from school, as well as during mini-bus rides on Georgia’s bumpy, dirt roads, when reading without getting carsick was impossible. (I tried listening to audiobooks while training for my marathon, but they didn’t push me enough for the long distances.) Finally, I made an effort to spend less time watching TV and Facebooking and such, in order to spend more time reading. Honestly, the right books can make you forget those silly, insubstantial things that we sometimes allow too much of our lives. With that said, though, for 2014, I’ll be cutting down my challenge goal to a much less taxing 26 books. (Get a Goodreads account and be my friend, if you haven’t already!)