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


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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!

Friday, February 10, 2017

My 2017 Planner, My Journal, and a Stationery Haul! : Planner-ed Out Perfect, Part Six

My "Planner-ed Out Perfect" series is not sponsored by any company or product... despite the fact that I desperately wish it was. Alas, I just geek out about all this stuff for free.

The start of a new year, means the start of a new planner, and we're already more than a month in!

One of my favorite presents to open on Christmas morning, for the past three years running, has consistently been the newest iteration of my beloved planner. Investing in a quality personal agenda has been one of the greatest changes to my organizational habits throughout my collegiate career, and it's not going away now that I've graduated!

As you've seen in past posts in my "Planner-ed Out Perfect" series, I've been pretty picky about my paper planners for a while now.

From the hectic scheduling of my Junior year, to the serendipitous discovery of my planner-soulmate, from how I love to decorate its many pages, to whether my planner love connection held up for a second year, and even to how the new ways people are planning out their day with creative bullet journals has impacted my personal organization, I seriously just can't stop talking about this topic.

And, of course, 2017 is sure to be no different! 


My Third Year with the Day Designer


Clearly, I've got a bit of a theme going, here.

Like I said before, once again, I've started off the new year with an old favorite: the Day Designer by Whitney English, purchased for this year from the Flagship Collection in the pattern "Palm." Not only does it follow the same format as its predecessors - including the organizational elements, monthly calendars and goal setting workpages that I've always loved - but the cover fits in perfectly with my "Word of the Year" for 2017: Growth!

In fact, you can find leaves, flowers, fronds, and branches all across my stationery for the year, including doodled inside the front page of my journal. Whenever I get a few minutes to sit and sketch - like when I'm pondering over what tasks to fill in my to-do list for the day with -  I google lists of flower symbology through the online Farmer's Almanac, and use the corresponding image searches to help inspire some relaxed scribbles.

So not only is this year's planner a valued piece of my personal daily stationery, but it also fits perfectly into the ways that I'm developing my action plan for the year. Sometimes aesthetics and functionality just perfectly intersect, you know?


New Year, New Stickers


Funny enough, these are only the stickers I received for Christmas. Since then, I've gotten two Etsy orders and a few random bits from Joann's... but now that everything is busted out of its shiny packaging, I'd feel bad retaking the picture!

Naturally, if you give a girl a new planner... she's going to ask for some stickers to decorate it with.

My Christmas stationery haul also included these fantastic choices from Scrapbook.com, which I've been using a little more sparingly than you're probably used to me doing in past years. Due to the fact that I'm now a recent graduate, living at home with my family, and trying to figure out the next couple of steps to getting a career started, my schedule is a lot less jam-packed than it used to be when I was still in school, and so, too, have the decorations in my planner been pared down.

However, that doesn't mean I'm not using stickers or washi anymore; I'm just being a lot more selective about how and when I use them... especially because they're so, so pretty, and I'm trying to make them last a little longer this time!



New Obsession: Redbubble 


Never before have I been so absolutely able to express my interests in sticker form. I can't wait for my Beauty and the Beast, Disneyland, and D&D dice stickers to arrive!

And speaking of stickers, I recently embarked upon an obsession only a little under two weeks ago that has completely changed the sticker game for me.

It all started when I was watching random bullet journaling videos on YouTube - probably one of my most frequent platform searches, right next to "street food," "thrift haul," and "soldier coming home family surprise" - and I saw a girl with a "300 Fox Way" sticker on her journal (which is, of course, a reference to one of my favorite YA book series of all time, The Raven Cycle, from Maggie Stiefvater).

Immediately, I was overcome with the  urge to figure out where she had gotten it. After scouring through both Etsy and Society6, I was beginning to lose hope... until a random link sent me to Redbubble, where I was able to find the exact same sticker, no problem!

If you don't know, Redbubble is a graphic designer-oriented online marketplace, which happens to be a hub for the nerds of the world to purchase non-official, but totally-awesome, merchandise related to some of their favorite things. Plus, fun fact: if you buy 6 "small-sized" stickers in one purchase, they are all automatically discounted 50%, which means that my first order of stickers was only a little over $10.

I say "first," because, well, it took less than 24 hours after my original purchase arrived, that I set out to order a second set of 6. (It should be arriving right on time for Valentine's Day!)



More Journal than Bullet Journal

Of course, I've got more personal paperwork to my name than just a planner, too. As you've heard before, I've kept a journal since I was about 12 years old, and the habit is still going strong... it's just taken on a little bit of a different format in the past year or so!

After finding journaling contentment with my psuedo-bullet journal over the summer, I was curious to see how the format would carry through to the new year. So, instead of my regular composition notebook covered in crawling print letters, I invested, once again, in a solid, large sketchbook from Pentalic, in which I can doodle and paint, as well as still provide plenty of room for personal ramblings as need be.

I'm doing a lot less actual journaling than I would have hoped, but I'm still super happy with the elements of a bullet journal system that I did integrate, including pages with favorite quotes, "Month on a Page" spreads, habit trackers, and seasonal bookshelf doodles.


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My Favorite Shops and What I'm Hoping to Purchase Next


So I've already told you that another round of Redbubble stickers are on their way, but those aren't the only goodies I've got my eye on!

  • Another recent obsession of mine has been Mochi Things, a kawaii stationery store based out of beautiful Seattle, Washington. I stumbled upon this gem when searching for a monthly planner my sister Delaney could use for the year, and quickly grew enamored with its abundant supply of cuteness, and quick shipping times. The next big thing I've got my eye on from this store: leaf sticky notes, to fit the theme started by my planner and journal! 
  • As you can probably tell from the sample pages of my journal, I'm also pretty deep in love with my Tombow markers, which my parents got me for my birthday this past October. After featuring them a couple of times on my Snapchat Stories, it turned out that my friends like them as much as I do: two of them ended up buying the same packs I have! While the pens themselves are pretty pricey, I can't help but wish I had access to the sheer color options of this beautiful 18-pen pastel pack.





As you all know, I'm always happy to share my planner passion. You can find all of the posts in my "Planner-ed Out Perfect" series collected under a new tab on my top menu, under the tab "Just Planner Things"


Have any of your planner habits changed with 2017? How do you keep track of your busy schedule? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Snow Child: A Review

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Truth time: I've honestly been saving up this book for a while now, in the hopes that if I waited long enough, I could read it when it was actually snowing outside! What a perfectly planned #bookstagram moment, amirite? Unfortunately, Washington hadn't seen much snow yet, and I got tired of waiting. 

Lo and behold, yesterday night, we got like five inches of frosty goodness, and now I'm writing this blogpost while my younger siblings are home from school, kicking myself that I couldn't have waited just a little longer, but totally loving the fact that the topic is still Insta-relevant! 

The forecast is still calling for a few scattered snow showers for the rest of the day, too, so there's still plenty of hope to fit in other frost-worthy reads. But, for now, here's The Snow Child! 

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, follows the lives of fifty-something homesteaders Jack and Mabel, attempting to start life afresh in the snowy expanses of the Alaska wilderness in the 1920s. Disheartened by the difficulties of starting a farm, and dismayed by the ever-increasing and lonely darkness that seems to cloud their lives with the onset of bleak winter, they start to lose hope. However, everything changes when one snowy night, the couple decides to build a little snow child in their backyard.

Blending magical realism with the lush and dynamic Alaskan landscape, this book really does a great job with evoking a spirit of connectivity and responsibility in the relationship between people and nature. In truth, while it may be a retelling of the original "The Snow Child," reveling in the magical realism of its Russian fairy tale origins, the true magic comes through in the captivating images of its wintry Alaskan setting. 

And, of course, as someone who lives for lifestyle descriptions, I had to focus on the food, too. What they ate, in particular, was integral to the setting, as it needed to illustrate the starkness of their surroundings while reorienting Mabel's role as a caregiver, as well as creating a definite measuring point for how well the little family was getting along: times of scarcity were reflected in unseasoned moose steaks and old potatoes, while times of plenty, in fresh vegetables plucked from a field, or berries foraged from the surrounding forest. Times of initiative were found in feeding flour to sourdough starters, while times of sharing were tins of homemade jam and swigs of raspberry moonshine right from the bottle. 

It honestly made me want to take up homesteading, until I remembered that it's not the turn of the 20th Century anymore, and that I like having access to grocery stores (and -without spoiling the novel- better healthcare). But the food sounded so entrancingly homegrown, sustainable, welcome and worth sharing... and the world around them so dynamic, blooming, and inviting. Beautiful, complete imagery of the nature through which our homesteaders hoped to carve a life, reminded me of Jean Craighead George's My Side of the Mountain, in the way that the trees and rocks and animals surrounding the story seemed to be a main character all in its own right. 

Speaking of the main characters... they annoyed me. As in, almost all of them. Mabel was defeatist and overly clingy, Jack was obtuse and uncommunicative in the worst ways of the stereotypes of grizzly mountain men, and Faina - our mystery blonde child of the woods, the frosty figure brought about by the magical transformation of their snow child (or so they think) that Mabel and Jack take under their wings - was a little too otherworldly to convincingly portray a young girl. 

In truth, Faina was less of a full character, and more of a plot point: she wasn't so much a real person, as a touchstone for multiple other members of the book. While the story went to significant lengths to diverge in narrator, giving voice to Jack, Mabel, and Garret - the young son of neighbors who help our couple establish themselves - the voice of Faina is left as deliberately ambiguous as possible, not even including full quotation marks when she speaks, but blending the sound of her voice as directly into the story as possible so as to make it indefinite. As a result, she served more as object than human: child, wife, fairy tale come to life, spirit of the woods and one with nature, but never truly herself. 

In this way, it was a little unorthodox of a fairy tale retelling. Typically, adaptations of that sort involve the re-framing of the narrative from the main character's point of view, but to have the orientation of the story essentially involving the erasure of the person-hood of its primary magical feature made it a little difficult to read. Especially the grammatical functions of positioning Faina as a pseudo-person.

Still, this allowed for the greater development of the magical realism the story was aiming for. The many conflicting narratives of how Faina came to be, and be found, and whether she truly was a lost little girl or a force of nature all in her own right, allowed for the sense of ambiguity that allowed her to fill all descriptions, instead of resolutely settling her in just one. She could be a little girl, because that's what Jack saw her as; she could be a fairy tale figure, because that's what Mabel saw her as. Their accounts couldn't fully conflict if she was never fully defined, in a sort of Schrodinger's paradox that allowed the story to move forward.

Final Verdict: While the main characters could get a little irritating, they weren't the dynamic focus point of this bewitchingly mystical tale. A solid adaptation of a well-known short story, this retelling finds its true magic in evoking the beautiful wilds of Alaska. 




What is your favorite snowy day memory? What book setting has made you want to travel?  Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Unique Comic Book Recs

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

If I had to choose just one change in my reading habits of the past year as being the most significant, the intensity and regularity with which I started to read comic books would probably be the most dynamic shift.

Today's theme - talking about favorite kinds of graphically-oriented books, be they picture books or graphic novels - gives me plenty of room to shout out some of my favorites. Oriented into categories that I think fit them best, I hope you'll give at least a few of these a try, and do a little bit to read outside your comfort zone, just like I did!



Girl Power (and Girls with Powers!) 

Naturally, one of the most traditional standbys of the comic book format is a good ol' superhero tale. Thanks to plenty of recent additions to the comic book lineup, that men's club is seeing a lot more diversity, and it's spent no time branching out into the fantasy and sci fi genres, too! Here are some of my favorite picks for super-powered supergirls, whether they use those powers to protect the U.S.A., England, or some other realm entirely. 

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1. Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
You've definitely heard of her before: Marvel doesn't just turn over one of their most trusty super-titles to a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City without the world hearing about it. As it turns out, Kamala Khan is one of the most engaging, relatable heroes the superhero superfranchise has turned out in years! There's never a wrong time to get acquainted with one of the comic industry's most timely heroines, but after the chaos of the #MuslimBan this past week, I know I'm not the only one who's been thinking of her. 

2.  Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery, Kurtis J. Wiebe
One of my other big personal-growth type moves of the past year? Joining a kickass Dungeons and Dragons group. This comics series illustrates some of the best parts of kicking it with an all-girl party, inappropriate references and rando hilarity included.

3. The Wicked and the Divine: The Faust Act, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Coles
This is it, you guys: where my weird childhood obsession with international theology came in handy, and I was able to spot all the allusions in this amazing contemporary fantasy pick, where the powers and personalities of famous gods and goddesses are personified in the bodies of everyday people just about every century, turning them into world-famous pop singers, and causing them to die out after only two years. It's amazing. 



Out of their Element

The comic book's unique stylistic formatting allows for plenty of variety... and these titles take them to the extreme! Whether it's a subversion of typical story standards, or deliberately changing the conventional theming, these unique picks will help broaden your understanding of not just the genre, by the ways plenty have already broken with tradition, and out of their neat paneled boxes.

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4. Common Grounds, Troy Hickman
Sure, there are plenty of coffee stores out there, but none with this kind of clientele: instead of following superheroes as they fight the good fight, or charting the take downs of supervillians who deserve what they get, this comics series details what it's like to get coffee with them, instead. (I reviewed this one over two years ago, in 2015!)

5. Hark, a Vagrant!, Kate Beaton
I've praised Beaton before, and I'm more than happy to do it again. This fearless feminist comic artist makes allusions to grand works of literature and obscure historical figures as the features for her particular brand of humor, and I just can't get enough of it.

6. Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology, Sfe R. Monster
I know, I know: I've talked plenty about this book recently, too. But I can't help myself! Fantasy and Science Fiction are cool, and Diversity and Inclusion are cool, and everything about this collection is so cool is deserves all the "TTT" spots and capital letters, okay?

7. The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, Mike Carey
This book can typically be found on recc lists for fans of Harry Potter, primarily due to its main character. Tom Taylor is the son of a famous novelist, used as inspiration for a best-selling series of a wizarding boy who saves the world. However, similarities end there: this gorey and suspenseful story follows along as Taylor is lead on a search through the locations in literary classics, dodging death threats from mysterious, magical forces, in the hopes of finding out the truth in all the fantasy. 



Girls Who Can (and Will) Kick Your Teeth In

Remember all that girl power I mentioned earlier? They're not the only ones taking on a world that's out to get them... only others don't quite pack the same kind of super-artillery. Sometimes, all a girl needs is guts, gusto, and her own particular brand of ingenuity. (And, of course, it's always better to bring a friend along for the ride, too.)

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8. I Hate Fairyland: Madly Ever After, Skottie Young
It's a classic children's story: a youngster gets transported to a magical land, follows a hero's quest, saves the day, and is safely transported back home, having learned a little bit about themselves along the way. However, all Gert has learned is that she hates it in Fairyland... and after 34 years of fruitless questing, there's a lot she's willing to do to break herself out.

9. Lumberjanes
Secret adventures, daring challenges, three-eyed foxes, rabid Boy Scouts, and more, await the intrepid campers at this summer stay, but it's nothing that Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley aren't prepared for. Fans of Gravity Falls should definitely pick up a copy!

10. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, Tony Cliff
If all I could do was say three phrases, I would choose: "the 1800s," "a flying boat," and "if Indiana Jones and Captain Jack Sparrow raised a baby girl together." Intrigued yet? Here's one English rose who isn't content to spend her days in a garden. (And the sequel's even better!)


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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

News and Things: January Favorites

Wow, that was fast. The first month of 2017 is almost over!

Resolutions are holding tough... for the most part. Checking Twitter to see what's going on in the world has become a dangerous game of Jack in the Box, where Jack is all too happy to punch me right in the heart. I've read a good set of books that I'm happy to have read, and I'm re-evaluating places where my Bookish Resolution might need a little readjustment.

Besides all that, there's been a lot of News. There's been a lot of Things. So, even though they're not all exactly bookish, I'm going to tell you about the articles, videos, food, podcasts, and more, that have grabbed my attention this month, in the first installment of a new monthly format called "News and Things"!

1. Seattle is well-known as a sort of nerd mecca, but even we residents couldn't have predicted its  place in the saga of the rising popularity of bookish bars. (Shout-out to Little Oddfellows, inside of Elliot Bay Book Company!)

2. A term I learned throughout my diversity credits in college: "food desert," existing in areas where low-income families have little to no access to purchasing healthy or unprocessed food. A term I learned this month: "book desert," where low-income areas have little to no access to purchasing printed literary resources, like bookstores. The Bronx is now one of them.

3. Here's a geographical breakdown of the most popular fiction, nonfiction, and children's books requested from libraries in 2016! What does your city like to read?

4. As a self-described "glossy girl" who once had seven magazine subscriptions going at once, you can bet that I signed up as soon as I heard about Eye Level, a new online "literary lifestyle" magazine.

5. You might have guessed from one of my more recent blog posts that I'm pretty worried about the current political climate, especially our new President's disinterest in reading material (but more on that in #8). This editorial from Vanity Fair's Hive discusses how the words the President uses themselves not only obfuscate meaning and subvert truth, but they actually damage the language. 

6. This structural breakdown by The Nerdwriter on YouTube - analyzing how gifted comedian Louis C. K. builds a joke - kept me enthralled the whole time. From the expert placement of emphasis to the formalized importance of comedic beats, this guy's got it all down to a science.

7. "Henry David Thoreau was the original hipster minimalist": come for the truly amazing title, stay for the interesting commentary on contemporary obsessions with anti-materialism, like Marie Kondo books and tiny homes. (Originally found via Beth at Fuelled by Fiction!)

8. Like I mentioned before, our new President is definitely not a fan of - or friend to - books. Literary Hub took it upon itself to launch an informal investigation as to whether he can even read at all. 

9. And so, of course, has Samantha Bee. If anything, my most frequently-watched YouTube video of this past month was actually from December, when she skillfully mocked Trump's partiality for deliberately provocative speculation, with "A Total Real, 100% Valid Theory" about how he can't actually read. 

10. Are you partial to any famous first lines from literature? How about views of the night sky? Here's a brilliant way to marry those two interests: star maps constructed from the sentence diagrams of iconic initial lines from books like Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, called "Literary Constellations," from artist Nick Rougeux. 



1. I'm a simple girl with simple tastes, and Trader Joe's Balela is simply my favorite fix for snacks, meals, and random fridge drive-bys. It's chickpeas, black beans, red onions, and tomatoes, and I could probably learn how to make it myself, but why bother when they make it so simple?

2. All praise the reality TV gods: The Bachelor is finally back on Monday nights. I was converted to the show after a four-year stint in my beloved sorority, and have had the pleasure of wooing my parents over to the rose-tinted side now that I'm back home. Besides, there's never been a better reason to hate-watch, being that I really freaking despise Nick Viall. (And Corinne.)

3. After the demise of the original Tarte "Lights, Camera, Splashes!" waterproof mascara formula a while ago - RIP - I've been left going through a steady rotation of alternatives. The only constant? The Urban Decay "Subversion" mascara primer: it not only helps lengthen and strengthen individual lashes, but it helps prevent flake-off, too!

4. Thanks to a New Year's Resolution and having almost nothing else to do on my weekday afternoons, you can find me hitting the treadmill multiple times a week nowadays. It's getting easier to convince myself to work out, by downloading several TED Talks through their free app before each trip. By measuring out my times in Talks, I can clock in between 45 minutes to an hour, and learn a few new things along the way!

5. On the days I can't make it to the gym, I grab my headphones, and make my way out the door with Grace Helbig's Not Too Deep. Each hour-long episode follows Grace's casual conversations with famous Internet personas - like Pentatonix superstars Superfruit - and they're the perfect length for a nice, long walk.

6. The word "probiotic" sounds weirdly intimidating, which is why when I initially proposed starting a short cleanse to ring in the new year, I avoided everything with that word in the title. Still, Good Belly's smiling plastic face on the top of their PlusShot juice shots won me over.

7. It turns out that once you get over your irrational fear of your family's gigantic blender, anything is possible! Especially if you love smoothies. These Jamba Juice smoothie packs make having a delicious smoothie easier than ever!

8. I'm a devotee of most Seattle fan favorites - see also: Rachel's Ginger Beer, Ellenos Greek yogurt - but my favorite has got to be Seattle Chocolate's "jcoco" brand. Not only does it taste good - with unexpected and usual flavors sourced from all over the world - but it does good, too: every product purchased helps donate a serving of food to someone in need! (My beautiful cousin works for the parent company, so there's always plenty at my house.)

9. Due to the increasingly strained and chaotic relationship between the current government and its citizens, there's really no one I'd rather have at my side than a Brooding YA Hero. This satirical Twitter account - ran by YA author Carrie Ann DiRisio - has kept me in stitches for the past year, but now that we're officially entering dystopia status, his tweets have gotten a little more serious:
That's the sort of thing I really hope kids are reading these days.



What are some of the News and Things you've enjoyed yourself this month? Do you like any of the ones included here? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Feed : A Review (+ a Library Challenge!)

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It's funny to see just how much this blog has changed in the 6+ years I've been writing it... for instance, for the first couple of years, it was exclusively book reviews of the fiction I was reading, but now, I haven't posted an individual, in-depth review of a "made-up" book since last year! 

To be perfectly honest, there's no book I would rather have as my first serious take on critical fiction reading for 2017, especially because this socially-aware science fiction literary hit seems a little uncomfortably prescient for the coming years.

And fair warning: it's a bit of a long one. 

I was taken as soon as I saw the cheerful signage on display near the "Recent Releases" caddy in the YA section of my local library. "... Do you believe in love at first line?" 

To be fair, I'm crazy about these kinds of challenges, in general. They rarely go my way - both my "Blind Date with a Book" choices so far have ended up being DNFs - but the sheer novelty of being forced to step out of your comfort zone is too enticing of a challenge to ignore.

I chose this sentence because it seemed whimsical enough: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." Unfortunately, as soon as I opened the newspaper wrapping, my heart sunk.

M.T. Anderson's Feed. I had never heard of it before, but it had won a National Book Award. The cover seemed very 2000s, with bright orange-and-teal coloring and an off-putting bald head, superimposed with lines of text in a cheesy font. I considered simply sticking the book back in my library bag to return on my next excursion... but then again, Mama didn't raise no quitter. I knew I had to give the book its chance. 

Unfortunately, it wasn't an easy go, at first. The book starts off so Jetsons-type science fiction that it completely threw me off. I mean, they go to the moon on vacation, and take part in zero-gravity dance parties. They have hover-cars and live in bubble-surrounded suburbs. The government is no longer willing to pay for public education, so corporations do it instead, raising children to point and buy since birth, and babies themselves are manufactured in hygienic conceptionariums in front of their parents, because having birth "freestyle" isn't doable anymore because the effect of all the ambient radiation. 

Wait, what? 

Once the book hits its stride, it becomes obvious that this particular space romp is way more Black Mirror than Futurama. While you're tempted to initially write off the plot as some kind of "Teenz in Space 3000" - complete with hip lunar lingo and fashion trends that update multiple times a day - it all comes crashing down, literally, when a hacker at a lunar club infiltrates the teens' feeds - the mental brain implants that connect them with the world, in the same way our cell phones do - damaging their hardware, and sending them into medical quarantine.

Here's the thing: the book isn't about them realizing the errors of their way of life, then rebelling and overthrowing the damaging American corporation-based government, like most contemporary YA would see them do. It's them learning to live and attempt to move on after being forcibly separated with the tech they depend on for not only entertainment, but commerce, news, and essentially, life capital.

This division - particularly for our narrator, Titus, and the odd-girl-out Violet - forces them to confront the shallowness of the world they live in, but not necessarily in a way that prompts them to reject it. This event is a disruption in a seemingly idyllic life, that serves as a sledgehammer to the narrow screens of filtration that keep all the strange and uncomfortable parts of that life out.

It  especially throws into sharp relief the lengths people will go to, to distract themselves when the situation gets too horrifying and dangerous to ignore. Instead of fighting back and rallying against the destruction around them, Titus and his friends are content to spend their time analyzing reality television, buying into the newest trends, and moving on from the uncomfortable memories of their attack. While Violet is growing increasingly more aware of the troubles they face - like the lesions sprouting out across everyone's skin for no reason - Titus' parents reward him for his bravery in overcoming the lunar incident by buying him a new car.

Despite the ambivalence of the teenagers, the book isn't anti-Millenial, either. The world isn't dying from Instagram overload; the problems they face are due to previously existing constructs, like a failing governmental system that doesn't take accountability, over-integration of corporate interests into the lifestyles of the general public - especially in areas like Education and Healthcare - and a widening disregard for our relationships with not just foreign interests, but our own low-income populations, as well.

(Hmm... this dystopian world is starting to sound a little familiar.)

I'm almost glad that the book is more focused on the world around them than the teens themselves, because the world-building in this novel is truly the exceptional part. The feed is an extension of your brain, and instead of taking drugs, you download malware - for a price - from European entities to short you out, instead. As you walk through the mall, you are bombarded with advertisements and alluring promises of coolness from each of the stores you walk past. Entertainment has degenerated into familiar plot structures with more and more outlandish elements that get rotated out, alongside their overused, simplistic dialogue and characters. Press is virtually nonexistent, and the only stories anyone knows how to tell are "a sentence long." 

My personal favorite image - and one that has stuck with me since finishing the book about two weeks ago - was the idea of factory farms growing to the extreme: instead of mass manufacturing cows for beef, they cut out the middleman - middlecow? - and manufacture tissue instead, directly across mile-long fields of sanitized, plastic-wrapped farmland. Terrifyingly, errors in the genetic coding used to clone this tissue show up in the form of eyes, bones, and even hearts, generated across the clear expanses of living muscle. 

In fact, the world was such a vividly-drawn and startlingly realistic one, that I wanted to include lots of quotes for verification, but would have put half the book in one blog post. For instance, in one section, Andersen describes the ways how the corporate interests integrated into the feed work, narrowing social experience to a small segment of identifiable and replicable viewpoints, dictating the whole national culture, that so completely encompassed the ways social media ad algorithms work on Facebook, that I had to put the book down and walk away. 

In some cases, the cultural connections are so completely on target, that the black humor is somehow tinged even darker. For instance, one day, Titus and Violet arrive to meet their friends, when they see them all covered in bloody, torn clothing. As they express their distress, their group laughs at their surprise: "Riot Gear" is the newest, hottest trend! I mean, it's all over the feed. One girl, Quendy, even happily models her new clogs, dubbed the "Stonewall" style, but expresses disappointment in their fit: these women's shoes seem to be sized for men.

Once I read that section, I think my eyebrows climbed all the way up into my hairline. It's a bold joke to make. However, it also draws a startling comparison to the Urban Outfitters scandal of Fall 2014, when the trendy retailer's catalog offered a hole-ridden Kent State sweatshirt, covered in daubs of red fabric dye that gave the appearance of sprays of blood. The "vintage"-style $129 sweatshirt was deemed too uncomfortably reminiscent of the 1970 Kent State Massacre, and was ultimately pulled from stores. (Soon after, it gained a lowbrow collector's status on websites like eBay.)

All of these somewhat uncomfortably realistic portrayals of culture, corporate interests, and the American way of life, give greater context to my favorite part of discovering this novel: I was right about its 2000-era status. In fact, this book - with its expert portrayals of social media, personal tech, ad algorithms, and strangely familiar idea of what the end of the world looks like - was written almost 15 years ago, in 2002.


Final Verdict: This book instilled in me the kind of sci-fi nerd love I haven't felt since I read Rodman Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe for the first time in middle school. It's early-2000s status only amplifies its dystopian message, and it's connections to contemporary culture make it  enthralling. I get the feeling that it's a great time to be consuming apocalyptic science fiction.



What's your favorite dystopian science fiction pick? Would you ever read a book like Feed... or would you prefer to stick to the nightly news, instead? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Reading and Leading, Part Two: Inauguration Day, Laura Bush, and Recommended Reading


As you might remember if you follow this blog regularly, the day after the Election, I wrote a post about the important role of Arts and Education in American Politics. 

In the face of such a divisive and unhappy outcome - which left many of my peers and fellow Americans disheartened as to the future of such programs - I had wanted to share my personal thoughts and reflections on how the virtues of empathy and community are communicated through the varied and multi-dimensional perspectives of Art, as well as how they are bolstered and validated through Education. I thought that no one would disagree that America could use more empathy and community, nor that the platforms we have through public schooling should reflect the identities and histories of the American public, rather than the privileged few.

Unfortunately, in the face of the past two months, I've been forced to reconsider that statement.

This past election cycle was tarnished with the rise of "fake news," resulting in the loss of public trust in unbiased journalism, which didn't go away, even after the results were finalized. Even such pantheons of objective reporting - like CNN - fell prey to attacks from the President himself, as he blamed them for publishing unflattering rumors (something they did not do). Additionally, occuring mere hours after the Inauguration, the official White House website had removed all of its pages on Climate Change, Healthcare, Civil Rights, and LGBT platforms, in the likelihood that they will only be reinstalled after they have been heavily revised... or might not be republished at all.

Between our new President's promise to eliminate funding to nationally-enabled platforms - such as PBS, which provides public access children's programming that promotes literacy, science, and math skills - as well as the blind, stumbling wreckage of an embarrassing hearing for his new pick for Secretary of Education, it seems more increasingly that Public Literacy is somehow becoming a partisan issue.

In particular, Trump's strange relationship with the written word sets a confusing and dangerous precedent for the entirety of his term. As I've said before, Arts and Education have direct ties to developing empathy and exploring the viewpoints of people outside your social circle... his inability to even read a news report or security detail does not bode well, and his seeming disregard for other forms of reading, borders on the ludicrous.

For instance, in a recent interview with Axios, just this past week, he was unable to recommend any of the books in his office to the interviewers, resulting in this viral interview tweet, liked by over 17,000 people, and shared by over 10,000:

The CNN book to which he is referring - about his successful bid for the presidency - is an especially confusing pick, based on his adamant proclamations of them being "fake news" earlier this month.



Obama Promoted Literacy through Leadership


Like many Americans, it's going to be very difficult for me to give up on the President we've had for the past 8 years, not only because I think he's a sterling-class political figurehead with a track record that would make any democratically-minded republic proud. He's always been very upfront about his deep regard for the Arts.

President Barack Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia shop for books at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)Through shared recommended reading lists about the titles he's taken on vacation, to the numerous photos of bookstore visits and elementary school readings across his presidency, Obama is regarded to have been one of the most reading-friendly presidents we've ever had. He credits books with serving as a source of inspiration and comfort during tumultuous times in office, and his fervent endorsement of diverse authors, such as Colson Whitehead, Junot Diaz, and Liu Cixin, resulted in greater exposure for such voices in the literary sphere. The types of books he reads - memoirs and nonfiction, to science fiction and popular literature - are markedly different from those typically extolled by those who have held his office previously.

This recognition has not gone unnoticed. Powell's Books - the secondhand book superstore out of Portland, Oregon, which charts as one of my favorite places in the whole world - even took it upon themselves to gather up a cache of recommended reads for our outgoing and incoming Presidents, as a means of opening them up to new viewpoints... and offering some sage advice. The books sent to both Obama and Trump reflected the relationships both figureheads have not just with literature itself, but with the ways the American public views such ties.

It reminds me of a quote an English professor of mine was fond of, spoken by civil rights era novelist, playwright, poet, and writer, James Baldwin:
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
Obama's era will be, in part, defined by his relationship with the books and authors he supported. and this remains a reflection of his connection to the ideals and aspirations of the American public he lead, and read alongside.



Literacy as a Non-Partisan Issue


The truth is, I've been enormously lucky: for all of my conscious years, when I've been aware of politics and the ways it shapes the society around me, there have been leaders in the White House, who truly love books. Even before Obama's push to make the practice more popular with D.C. elite than ever before, there was another prominent political figure who proved how important it was that America pick up a book.

First Lady Laura Bush used to have a "Get Caught Reading" poster that hung in our elementary school library. Every Thursday in the fourth grade, our class made the sojourn after recess to the second-floor, did battle over who got to take home the most recent round of Newbery Medal winners that week, and when we left, we passed by this poster, hanging on a wall by the doors.

In my young and easily-biased mind, I liked her because she had brown hair, like me. As our librarian told us, she was a public school teacher and a librarian, too, which endeared me to her immediately, as I still consider those to be two of the most interesting titles a person could ever hold (only slightly less interesting than First Lady itself, which, at the time, I envisaged as "Temporary Queen of America.")

Like President Obama, Laura Bush's favorite books were frequently topics of discussion during her time in the White House, with lists of her recommendations making headlines on a national basis. Her favorite children's books, specifically, are still preserved through archival on the White House website. When she wasn't staging fundraising efforts for causes such as HIV/AIDS research or malaria prevention, her primary public causes were oriented around literacy efforts. In 1995, she - alongside Librarian of Congress James H. Billington (who retired just this past New Year's Day) - even founded the National Book Festival, which Barack and Michelle Obama served as honorary chairmen of during their own time in office. 

(Such partnership has been a frequent factor of our outgoing First Lady's schedule, as the two match up for benefit events regularly, and consider themselves good friends.)

First Lady Laura Bush's efforts to increase public participation in literacy programs was, in part, initialized by the time her mother-in-law spent in office, as well. First Lady Barbara Bush campaigned for greater family literacy throughout her time as a public figure - prompted in part by her son Neil's dyslexia - and focused on the proponents of both child and adult illiteracy. She formed the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which focused on developing reading skills that would help lead to more holistic book-friendly homes. 

It almost seems like there's some kind of presidential book club, too. This Instagram from George Bush's official account, from 2014, is still one of my favorite acts of non-partisan friendship between presidents.

Of course, it isn't that books only became popular for people in the presidency starting with the Bush family, either. In 2014, Buzzfeed contributor Dave Odegard published a collection of quotes from each president on their favorite books, and their selections lend interesting historical context to the value placed on nationalism, literary merit, and quite often, religion.

President Trump has gone on record in several interviews, stating that his favorite book is All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. However, he also claims that his book, The Art of the Deal, is one of the best-selling business books of all time, which is actually not true at all. (You also might recall that the ghostwriter Trump worked with on that project later questioned our new president's mental health.) So any recommendations from that quarter might need to be regarded with a degree of skepticism... something we've not necessarily had to question before.

(On the other hand, Mike Pence's favorite book is the same as that of past President George W. Bush: The Holy Bible. Like Laura Bush, his wife, Karen Pence, was an elementary school educator before her political promotion, and worked as such for over 25 years.)



Books I'll Be Reading (and Re-Reading) in the Next Four Years


I take solace in the fact that America's history is liberal - women's suffrage, civil rights, and most recently, marriage equality, are a testament to that - and that it's clear that the eyes of both American citizens and world leaders are watching its figureheads now more than ever.

And, of course, I still believe books are one of our best guards against oppression. New York Times bestselling author Jamie Ford - author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, advocate for Asian American representation, and Seattle fan favorite - thinks so, too.
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However, past President Lyndon B. Johnson might have said it best:
"Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance." 
So, when listening to Bruno Mars' complete 24K Magic album wasn't enough to shake me out of Inauguration Day nausea, I turned to Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Originally published in 1951, and reissued in 2010, the book focuses on the rise of national, religious, and social revolutions, across the world. I'm hopeful that it will lend a little more insight into how such a significant portion of the country altered their own standards of morality and bipartisanship, to put on those red hats.

However, that's also just a starting point. Here are just a couple of books I'm going to try and read - or reread - in the next four years, divided up by the issues I feel they best speak to.


Congressional Economics 


11814478Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress - and a Plan to Stop It, by Lawrence Lessig

One of my favorite Political Science classes at the University of Washington utilized this book as a starting point for conversations on not just how much our government spends, but where, exactly, that money comes from.

Involving chapter breakdowns on both the political Right and Left, this is a solid bipartisan read for those invested in just how much Congress has the power to control... and the money they're paid to do it.





Intersectionality and Empathy in Education 


47304The Freedom Writers Diary, by Erin Grutwell and the Freedom Writers

This New York Times bestselling memoir from 2009 describes the frustrations of a new teacher taking on an "unteachable" classroom in California, who utilizes The Diary of Anne Frank as a means of opening her class to discourse on racism and intolerance. Encouraging her students to record their realities in journals of their own, all of the teenagers involved with the program eventually graduated high school and went on to pursue collegiate degrees.

If books are a means of understanding empathy, then journals are a means of understanding self, and reading the realities of these "at risk" students, and how their lives were changed through their education, will probably be a lot more edifying than cringing through Betsy DeVos' hearing an eighth time.

(Trump supporters: It was also made into a very popular movie, starring Hillary Swank, so you can always just watch it, too. And don't worry, Meryl Streep isn't in it.)


Environmental Stewardship and Ecological Responsibility


Image result for silent springSilent Spring, Rachel Carson

Originally published in serial format in 1962, Silent Spring was a monumental effort in convincing America to care about the way they treated their environment; most notably, documenting the effects of pesticide DDT on wildlife that eventually lead to widespread reform, and the resurgence of my favorite animal, the Peregrine Falcon.

Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill 

Another pick from my time spent in Political Science classes at UW, this slim package of environmental consciousness packs a mean punch, in the form of approachable lessons in how our actions impact the longevity of our natural resources.


PR Politics and Free Press 


12183728Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman

In the aftermath of an election that saw internet hoaxers dominate social media feeds - and in the midst of political accusations that prominent sources of news have a responsibility to support their president, rather than keep him to task - a little clarification on the ways national news shapes social agendas, and vice versa, is more than necessary.

(This one's a movie, too!)





The Developing Context of Women's Rights 


25814394All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, Rebecca Traister

Probably one of the most highly-touted nonfiction reads of the past year, this exploration of the political role of unmarried women in recent history argues that they, and the social issues they champion - including birth control, and closing the wage gap - are nothing new. In fact, single women have been present throughout our nation's history, bolstering social causes such as the temperance movement, the abolition of slavery, and more!

As Planned Parenthood soars into the spotlight again, at odds with Trump and Pence's aggressive stances on abortion, this look at the realities of solo female identity in the United States could not be more timely.


Religion and Ideals of Discipleship within American Politics


The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis

27405142While you might consider this particular best-seller an odd choice for a list of this nature - whether due to the separation of church and state, or the distinction of most Christians as typically voting Republican - the truth is, it's because I'm Catholic, and there's never been such a litany of reasons to be a Catholic that disagrees with Trump: appreciation for our own Pope Francis included. 

In fact, Papa Francisco is actually a huge fan of Bernie Sanders, to the point of even inviting him to speak at the Vatican this past April, and the subjects of poverty and citizen stewardship are interests they both share. In addition, in just the time since Donald Trump was officially elected, various national Catholic organizations - including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops - have petitioned Trump to alter his plans for immigration, encourage a more ecologically sound stance on the realities of climate change, and, yes, rethink the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.


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Reminder of the Fact that We Live in a Beautiful, Beautiful Place


State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey

In times like these, when the days are so gray you can't help but focus on what's Red and what's Blue, it's still important to remember that our republic was founded on principles of inclusivity, which really means everybody... yes, even those whose electorates have questionable decision-making skills.

At the end of the day, it all started out with "We the People," and that's what this collection of essays from 50 prominent authors from across the nation helps illustrate. Serving as love letters to the states they call home, authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, S.E. Hinton, Anthony Bourdain and Dave Eggers pen send-ups to the communities they come from, which might remind you to take pause from your panic-breathing and angry-shouting to recall how amazing the country we love still has the potential to be, when at its best.




Of course, I'm not the only one turning to reading in this tumultuous time. The New York Times also brought together a few titles to help understand the political, social, and cultural forces behind Trump's win. 



What reads would you recommend for people looking for accessible political commentary? Let me know, in the comments below!