Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

factoring in female protagonists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

education and empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

but there's hope!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Power Your Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, of course, power that happy yourself!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

things are a little different.

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

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

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

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

cheaper than therapy... or is it?

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

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

Why is that?

empty to-do lists and misplaced "productivity"

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

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

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

so... how do I fix this?

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

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

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

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

the money matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

News and Things: February Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Vinegar Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Table for One! : How to Speed Date Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally, I was on board.

Here's How to Do It: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Variations and Special Tips: BuJos and Book Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for vinegar girlImage result for the magicians book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the End

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

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

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

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.


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!