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Favorite Fall Reads

The best reading season is inarguably fall. Summer is sometimes nice for reading outside, except that actually it’s super hot and sweaty and buggy and awful. People glorify “beach reads,” but books get all sandy and suncreen-y and warped just from being near the ocean, I guess. (Insert Danny from The Mindy Project shouting “I fear the ocean out of respect” here.) Reading in the winter is terrible because it’s constantly freezing, and if you’re wrapped in a blanket, your hands are exposed in order to hold the book. Unless you’re in possession of a Snuggie, months of suffering ensue. And spring is mostly just Winter: The Sequel.

But fall…fall is the best. It’s a mix of nice days—you can read outside and the trees are pretty!—and brisk days—you can read inside and be super comfy! Also, hot beverages make their triumphant return, and everyone knows that there is no better way to read than with a cup of coffee/tea/cocoa/cider.

Luckily, there are also a ton of books that fit perfectly with fall. Whether they take place during the season, are ideal to curl up with, or just feel cozy and atmospheric, some books just scream “autumn.” (And not just because they’re thrillers or horrors and therefore feel Halloween-y. That’s the coward’s way out of a fall recommendation list. No, we’re going genre by genre.)

Continue reading “Favorite Fall Reads”

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How I Stay Inspired as a Writer

Writer’s block—it happens to the best of us. You’re furiously typing on your laptop, running with an idea for this story you’ve been toiling over, and then… silence. No more hasty tapping on keys, no more listening to the cogs whir in your head. The quiet is deafening, but you’ve hit this wall in your head, and new ideas are trapped behind it.

It’s hard to muster up the motivation to climb over that wall or destroy it completely. When it comes to creative writing especially, it can be hard to overcome a lack of ideas. What’s going to happen next in the plot? Where will your characters go? Will your main character like classic Mozart, or the new Nicki Minaj album?

Decisions, decisions.

Writer’s block is a dream killer and a productivity suck. Instead of lying down and surrendering, however, I’ve come up with some ways to stay inspired as a creative writer that I’d like to share with you, my fellow authors.

Continue reading “How I Stay Inspired as a Writer”

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Your Guide to the 2018 National Book Award Nominees

I am a sucker for a must-read book list. A hundred-books-to-read-in-a-lifetime list? Sold. A ranking of thirty literary fiction books you just have to read before you turn thirty? You’ve got my attention. If someone just rattled off a bunch of those recently-published books that are actually just Wattpad fanfiction in a light disguise under the heading “You Have To Read These,” there’s a 75 percent chance I’d at least consider adding them to my to-read list.

That’s why the end of the year is the perfect storm for me. It’s when all of the nominees for the prestigious literary awards are announced, and each one of those lists is essentially a must-read list in and of itself. Even with the Nobel Prize for Literature not happening this year, it’s a lot to take in.

Simply put, I do not have the time to read dozens of heavy/intense/depressing/heavily stylized books right now. (Or ever.) So a brisk comb-through of the just-announced 2018 National Book Award Finalists is in order.



image from Publishers Weekly

FICTION

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

My tiny synopsis: This short story collection is an exploration of black masculinity, through nine different perspectives and moments.

Promising review excerpt: “Brinkley’s stories offer penetrating perspectives and stirring tragedies.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

Florida by Lauren Groff

My tiny synopsis: A short story collection that is all about Florida, and is about as funny and frightening as you would expect from a whole book about that hell state.

Promising review excerpt: “Groff’s skillful prose, self-awareness, and dark humor leaven the bleakness, making this a consistently rewarding collection.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

My tiny synopsis: When his mother is sent to jail, Sequoyah, a Cherokee teenager, is placed in foster care. There, he meets and bonds with Rosemary, another Native American teenager with a turbulent past.

Promising review excerpt: “Far more than a mere coming-of-age story, this is a remarkable and moving novel.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

My tiny synopsis: A story in two perspectives: the first, Yale, a museum curator just beginning to find success in 1985 Chicago, when the AIDS epidemic begins to touch everyone he knows. The second, Fiona, a woman in contemporary Paris searching for her missing daughter when she is forced to reexamine her time in the middle of the epidemic in Chicago.

Promising review excerpt: “This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

My tiny synopsis: When a woman’s best friend dies, she is unexpectedly saddled with caring for her Great Dane. The woman and the dog come to love each other SO MUCH.

Promising review excerpt: “This elegant novel explores both rich memories and day-to-day mundanity, reflecting the way that, especially in grief, the past is often more vibrant than the present.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon



 

image from Publishers Weekly

 

NONFICTION

The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation by Colin G. Calloway

My tiny synopsis: The title just about covers it: this is a nonfiction exploration of George Washington’s relationships with Native Americans. This book is 620 pages long and I’m assuming at least 20 of them are for that title alone. (Buh dum ch.)

Promising review excerpt: “George Washington’s life [is] a lens for uncovering forgotten history in this detailed account of interactions between Native and white Americans during the latter half of the 18th century.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson

My tiny synopsis: This guy David Hosack was one of four guys who were at that Hamilton-Burr duel, so if you like Hamilton this will probably interest you. Hosack was an excellent doctor and botanist, apparently, and plants are cool. 

Promising review excerpt: “History buffs and avid gardeners will find Hosack an appealing and intriguing figure who doubles as an exemplar of the qualities of a vibrant and expanding America.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

My tiny synopsis: This book is being called the successor to Nickel and Dimed, and is an examination of the class divide, financial stereotyping, and generational poverty in America.

Promising review excerpt: “Smarsh’s raw and intimate narrative exposes a country of economic inequality that ‘has failed its children.’” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey C. Stewart

My tiny synopsis: This is a biography of Alain Locke, a mentor to figures like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and the man who has been called the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Promising review excerpt: “Stewart creates a poignant portrait of a formidable yet flawed genius who navigated the cultural boundaries and barriers of his time while nurturing an enduring African-American intellectual movement.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler

My tiny synopsis: This book details the quest of corporations to gain constitutional rights, and the ways that the rights of the corporation now largely equal the rights of the individual. I imagine it makes everyone who reads it screaming mad.

Promising review excerpt: “Winkler employs an evocative, fast-paced storytelling style, making for an entertaining and enlightening book that will likely complicate the views of partisans on both sides of the issue.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon



 

image from Publishers Weekly

 

YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

My tiny synopsis: This is about a girl in Harlem who feels unheard but for her poetry, until she joins her school’s slam poetry club.

Promising review excerpt: “At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with [self-love] reigning supreme.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

My tiny synopsis: I’ve got three words for you: spy elf historian. Also, that title though.

Promising review excerpt: “[B]lends the absurd and the timely to explore commonality, long-standing conflict, and who gets to write a world’s history.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

My tiny synopsis: I specifically remember reading the synopsis of this book several months ago, saying “no, too sad,” and putting it down. Mason Buttle is an overweight boy with learning disabilities who is ruthlessly bullied, and who is being investigated in the murder of his best friend. Then apparently that wasn’t sad enough, because his other friend goes missing too. Even the synopsis overwhelms. 

Promising review excerpt: “Poignant and suspenseful, Mason’s story crystallizes an adolescent boy’s joys and fears as he comes into his own.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

My tiny synopsis: Charlie’s dad, a sharecropper, dies, and a Very Bad Dude named Cap’n Buck comes to collect money Charlie doesn’t have. He agrees to track down some fugitives in order to forgive the debt – but discovers the fugitives are really runaway slaves.

Promising review excerpt: “Written in persuasive dialect and piloted by a hero who finds the courage to do what he knows is right, Curtis’s unsparing novel pulls no punches as it illuminates an ugly chapter of American history.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

My tiny synopsis: More sadness! This is an autobiographical graphic novel detailing the author’s childhood, during which he often tried to seem normal as his family suffered from addiction.

Promising review excerpt: “This nuanced graphic memoir portrays a whole family and tells a story of finding identity among a life’s complications.” (More on Publishers Weekly ->)

Find it on Amazon

 



 

Well, this was not helpful even a little bit. Note to self: Next time you want to avoid adding a bunch of books to your to-read list, at points in your life when you can afford neither the time or the money, don’t look into potentially award-winning books.

And for the love of all that is holy, don’t also read a bunch of glowing reviews of them.

All of these books look amazing and these are only three main categories. For more information on the short-list, including the nominees in the categories of Poetry and Translated Literature (a new addition this year), click here. Keep an eye out for the announcement of the winners November 14!

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Why Classical Literature is Still #Relevant

Recently, I’ve become incredibly interested in reading more diverse literature, having just finished reading If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. After all, it’s 2018, people–about time that there’s greater representation in books, whether it’s in Young Adult fiction or in higher literature. For some other great Diverse YA recommendations, check out this post.

I’ve been intentionally branching out in an attempt to discover and read more diverse literature, whether it be regarding topics about feminism, queerness, or cultures other than mine. I feel like literature is the perfect gateway through which we can better understand human experiences apart from our own.

Yet, I still find myself grossly attached to the largely white/white male dominated realm of classical literature. I’m talking like I will fight you if you come after my baby boy Holden Caulfield grossly attached. I’m proud to say one of my favorite books of all-time is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I can also quote all of George Orwell’s 1984 in my sleep. “’If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’”

1984
From 1984

The definition of classical literature, per Encyclopedia Britannica, is “the literature of any language in a period notable for the excellence and enduring quality of its writers’ works.” Some people might argue that this means that classical literature is only from periods such as the Golden Age or the Renaissance. However, I once had an English teacher who told me that classical literature is a category for any piece of authorial work that’s relevance and excellence has endured far past its publication date. I wholeheartedly subscribe to her definition, hence why I consider works such as The Catcher in the Rye and 1984 as classical literature.

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The Catcher in the Rye makes for some great memes 

While there’s no angry mob coming after me because I tend to favor classical lit (keep those pitchforks locked up, please), I do still feel people’s scornful eyes on me when I declare my love for the novels of day’s past. How can you possibly revere those stories when they totally lack diversity? people ask me. Trust me, I understand the frustration. I myself wonder if there’s any way that classical literature can still be #relevant when the world is so different than it was back then regarding representation of minorities.

Take the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as an example. Though originally praised for its diversity in showing the struggle of blacks in the 1960s, a time of severe racial division, many nowadays claim that the novel, in light of today’s world, isn’t so diverse at all. Character Atticus Finch, who is required to defend Tom Robison in court, feels as though the only way he can win the case is if he convinces the jury ofhishonor instead of the innocence of Robinson. We learn nothing of who Robinson is as a character and are instead forced to focus on the trope of the white savior (for more on this, check out this great article by The New Republic).

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Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson in the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird

So why are we still teaching these novels, and countless others like them, to kids in schools? How are they still pertinent to our society? For one thing, the prose is excellent (that’s the writing student coming out in me). But, more importantly, for me, the answer lies in the way that classical literature acts as a time-capsule. Reading stories like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace give us a glimpse into what the world was like twenty, fifty, sometimes even hundreds of years ago. Novels, just like your history class textbooks, capture the lives of the people from our world’s past. While these people may be fictional, the environment they are a product of is very real. Just because the characters didn’t actually live doesn’t mean they can’t tell us something about the world from which they were brought to life in.

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Image Source

From these novels, we can learn not only what our world was like then, but how to better our world today. From these novels, we basically learn what not to do. Reading the actions of characters from classical literature reminds us how we must never be as small-minded as some of them. If we want to change today, maybe we should start by looking back a few chapters to the works of the popular writers of yesterday.

Classical literature is still relevant in the sense that reading it is a learning experience. While we may not support the views and sentiments expressed in the work, we may instead use such views and sentiments as a tool to teach the world how to be more inclusive and accepting.

If you’re looking to get into reading some classical literature for fun, I recommend all of the works mentioned throughout this post, as well as:

 

 

 

 

 

Art

Soundtracks Make the Best Playlists

I am terrible at making playlists. I have weird (or nonexistent) taste in music, so it’s useless to craft anything more specific than the seven-hour “songs I like” playlist that is practically the only thing in my Spotify. Also, it’s boring to me to sort songs, which is why my sole playlist still contains songs I liked in 2015. And why I spend more time skipping songs than listening to them. Luckily, there is no need for me to force myself to be better at the fine art of playlist-making, because movie soundtracks exist.

Movie soundtracks make for a better-curated, more aesthetic-y, overall more fulfilling and inventive music listening experience than any playlist you could make yourself. To prove this point, I have collected here some of my absolute favorite movie soundtracks. Click the album art for a link to the music!

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What Does “The Voice” Mean to Me?

Mondays usually are a drag, but the one thing that always kept me going was knowing that The Voice came on at 8 p.m. For me, I always found comfort in watching talented people go on stage and compete against each other using only their voices. It was and still is something that I will never be able to do. I would like to say I’ve been a fan since the very beginning when the first season premiered, but that’s not the case. I believe I really started to get into it during season 4 when country artist Danielle Bradbery took home the winning title. Ever since then, I followed the show, patiently waiting and curiously watching to see which artists will rise to the occasion and be crowned The Voice.

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The Roommate Movie Watch List

IMG_4229.jpgMy roommates and I are very different. We’re from different parts of the country; we have different majors; we’re different ages; we probably have different favorite colors and stuff. I’ll do a mini survey on that last one and get back to you.

The main things the three of us have in common are that we like movies, and we like each other. These may be so basic that they sound like what a sixth grader in beginner’s French would say in an oral exam: My name is Jacques. I like to watch movies and be with my friends. But still – they get the job done.

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Comedy Podcast Recommendations

I am a comedy nerd. By “I am” I mean “I call myself,” because literally no one else has ever called me that in the history of time outside of my own internal monologue, but still.

Maybe my favorite way to get my laughs is by listening to comedy podcasts. However, absolutely every white man between the ages of 22 and 36 has a podcast, and also finds himself hilarious, so it can be hard to know where to start.

As someone who has listened to what seems like infinite self-indulgent LA-based improv comedians speaking into a microphone: I am here to save you from that fate.

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Tattoo Tips

I’ve always imagined getting a tattoo. The thought of getting an image inked on my skin that would be there for the rest of my life seemed both terrifying and intriguing. Even though I was scared, I always told myself one day that I would get one.

After much deliberation (over a year’s worth), I finally decided that I was going to get a puzzle piece tattoo. The puzzle piece was significant to me because it represents autism. My older brother was diagnosed with autism when he was about 3 or 4 years old. Despite his disability, he was and still is a major influencer and contributor to my life, and I wanted to be able to have him represented wherever I go.

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Diverse YA Recommendations

Over the past year, I’ve become extremely passionate about diversity in books. To the point that I did both a presentation and an essay on the topic last semester. Voluntarily. In the same timeframe. For two different classes. If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is.

Luckily, this long-term temper tantrum of mine lines up pretty well with a renaissance of diversity in young adult books. So if the Renaissance featured more teens taking down governments/discovering magic/having sassy banter-y conversations – and fewer really good paintings of fruit and Jesus and stuff.

I define diversity as representations of sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, cultures, genders, mental illnesses, disabilities, and body types that are marginalized or not typically represented in popular culture.

That being said, here are some of my favorite reads from this diversity quest!

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