Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: The Keep

How many times do you get the chance to read a book that's just beautiful to read, and absolutely impossible to explain to people? That's this novel... 

Have you ever experienced that instantaneous kind of love with an author's voice, where you read one book, and fall in love with them so completely, that by the time you buy another book of theirs, you almost doubt your own sense of excellence, and the new book ends up sitting on the shelf for way too damn long before you dust it off, take a breath... and fall in love all over again?

Hi, I'm Savannah, and I became slightly obsessed with Egan after reading A Visit from the Goon Squad for a class my freshman year of college. One of the things that stood out to me then was her incredibly unique sense of narration and orientation within the narrative, and I was so enamored, that I recommended it to basically everyone I knew for the ensuing year.

That unique narration style continues on into The Keep: the first two parts involve two distinctly separate narrators that end up merging in a way you wouldn't expect, while the third is told from yet another perspective. It's a lot to take in, and there are some significant benefits and drawbacks to having such an interconnected organization of narrators.

I was really surprised to read some of the negative reviews that people have put on Goodreads, because I really, really enjoyed it. It was definitely a trip; which is what makes me think that their difficulties with the novel stems from a place of confusion. Egan is great with this periphery sense of plot, where almost nothing is explicitly explained, and coupling that with alternating narrators whose place in the story isn't fully comprehensive until towards the very end, it's a difficult read.

In terms of what I personally didn't like, there were some instances where that unique narration brought me out of the story quite a bit. I love how her forms of writing are so self-aware, but when they get self-conscious to the point of breaking from the actual context of the narration, it threw me for a bit of a loop. Additionally, getting attuned to both of the voices of the lead narrators was initially difficult, and the second narrator's self-awareness of writing was sometimes too obvious.

RAPID FIRE: Random Opinion Time

  • In terms of story, it was unique; in terms of morals, I'm not sure whether there really were any, but it felt like it was really trying to give me one, especially there at the end.
  • Sometimes, I felt like the relationships between characters excelled at the hands of the backstory, but I felt that the personal characterization never got as fully realized as I would have liked.
  • This is going to sound so, so weird, but I felt that the ending was too happy. Don't get me wrong, it was a pretty terrible way to leave things off for the majority of the characters in the novel - in fact, someone ends up dead! - but it still ended too... serene. I get that was probably a result of the parallelism of the narratives, but still. 

Final Verdict: Jennifer Egan has a voice I want to run around in for days, and The Keep makes for yet another perfect playground, even with its foibles.

(I'm all about Jennifer Egan. Superfan. Ooper duper fan. I'm an Jennifer-er... an Eganite. Yeah.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books to Read with a Book Club

Book clubs have always fascinated me, but I never entirely felt like I was the key audience in the situation, in the way that I thought they were something basically exclusively attended by either people who occupied the made-up realms of thirty-something-year-old women's fiction, or the more dedicated, and real, thirty-something-year-old ladies of our local library. 

However, since starting college, and as it's gotten more and more difficult to find time to meet up with some of my favorite bookish friends, I've been toying with the idea of a book club! I mean, the end of an English class shouldn't mean the end of a friendship, right? There are plenty of young women - and men! - I've met at UDub whose opinions on literary material I'd still love to hear! 

But book clubs have to be oriented around some specific reference point within the lexicons of literature... so, instead of just putting together a book list of all the books I'd like to read with my as-of-yet-undeveloped book club, here are some ideas for books within especially-oriented reading lists.

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a book-loving meme, organized by The Broke and the Bookish!

"Stranger than Fiction" Book Club

Books with contents chock full of murder, mayhem, and mischief galore, whose leading ladies and gentlemen might just be the people you pass by on the street. Yay, nonfiction!

Radioactive Boy Scout, Ken Silverstein
Princesses Behaving Badly, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
The Pirate Hunter, Richard Zacks
Devil in the White City, Erik Larson

"Lovely Lady Leadership" Book Club

As a member of not just my sorority, but Panhellenic, I've been proven time and again, I've got a lot more to learn about leadership. Why not learn from some of the best?

#girlboss, Sophia Amaruso
Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
Hard Choices, Hillary Rodham Clinton

"Females in Fantasy, YA edition" Book Club

Storm from X-Men and Kim Possible both basically raised me... it only serves to follow that I'd still be reading about cool-as-hell lady ass-kickers as a 21-year-old. Why I'm still reading YA exactly, well... shut up, I like it.

A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray
Poison, Bridget Zinn
Throne of Glass, S.J. Maas 

What's in YOUR Top Ten?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Common Grounds

I was feeling in the mood for some sumptuous graphics and vibrant storytelling this past Quarter, and in a fit of Amazon-fueled consumer greediness, I ordered three. Here's the first - and only - one I've been able to enjoy thus far; but believe me, this "Baker's Dozen" really hit the spot! 

Common Grounds, Bakers Dozen (Volume 1), by Troy Hickman, may be a little antiquated in terms of publication - it came out back in 2004 - but the concept was new to me, for sure: instead of just extolling the virtues and vices of a singular comic book character and following them through the crushing of crime in their generic metropolis city, Common Grounds takes a deeper look at what's behind the domino masks, via the coffee schedule of caped crusaders. This comic book collection of thirteen stories depicts superheroes frequenting a chain of coffee and donut establishments - called "Common Grounds" - where both crime fighters and causers alike can sit and rest for a while.

Catering to characters of all kinds, Common Grounds explores elements of the super-community you don't usually see, like the ties between heroes and civilians, heroes and villians, and heroes and themselves, as well as how and why those relationships form and develop. Long story short: CG explores why being super isn't always super. 

The inventive stories hone in on specific heroes and subsets of heroes, each different from the next, and far from any standard set before. From a super weight-loss club, to an alumnae party for a super team, the ways in which these heroes and villians gather and interact is surprisingly normal. With this many characters running together, from all walks of life, sometimes it felt like the floor got a little crowded: when you're introducing the lives and backstories of so many people, it can end up feeling like all it is is exposition.

However, the intersections of various heroes and villains were the coolest to me, and every time a familiar name came up - introduced in a previous chapter - I'd smile. And they were clever, too, and all very unique. They could be classically stylized, and with plenty of cool names and costumes, but they were all ironic and self-referential enough for the doses of humanity being put on display.

That's probably why it reminded me of a sort of grown-up The Incredibles. Kind of. It very much focused on the relationship side of things rather than any of the normal trappings of super-stories. For instance, take my first introduction to the series:

Like I said before, the book came out in 2004; however, I'd only found one of the chapters recently online, and it still is one of my favorites, after reading the rest of them. Titled "Time of Our Lives," written by Troy Hickman, and illustrated by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Marino, and Guy Major, it discusses the meeting of old archenemies in the back alley across the street from the coffee shop, but it wasn't the storyline that impressed me so much. It was the subversion of typical hero and antagonist dynamics that got me... playing into the concept of what a good or a bad person really looks like.

That's where the stories really found their strength: in those doses, sometimes liberally delivered of not moralism, but just understanding of a human concept, on a super-human scale.

Final Verdict: With compelling and unique visuals, tongue-in-cheek humor, and compelling storylines that fly beyond the expected realms of superhero comics, Common Grounds was probably one of my favorite comic books I've read in a while.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: Humans of New York

With the quarter picking up again, my schedule endeavors to overload me with to-do lists, and kill me with jog-walks between buildings on campus; however, instead of making me wish I had the ability to teleport - well, okay, maybe I do that, too - I instead find myself ruminating on the realities of the people I pass along the way to class. I'm thinking this book is to blame...  

You know what Humans of New York is. Even if you don't know it by name, it's hard to ignore the multitude of pictures you see while scrolling through your Facebook timeline, full of portrait-style confessionals, happy snapshots full of families and friend groups, or maybe even depictions of action and innovation perfectly encapsulated in one single instant that just happened to be captured on film.

The man holding the power of those images, is Brandon Stanton, and those images are the culmination of many years of pursuing excellent photography, and, in particular, the people of New York City. If a picture is worth a thousand word, this epic saga of street-side snapshots from the city that never sleeps speaks volumes on human creativity, compassion, and the lengths we go through to say, "Hello."

However, I'm not going to get caught up in how amazing the photography itself is; you can observe that just as readily, and my talents don't primarily lie in evaluating the image, either (we'll leave that to the Art Historians). Instead, I would argue the book is more than just a simple coffee table tome that might impress the neighbors.

I argue this touting the concept of how HONY speaks to the concept of web-to-reality virality, or how people get famous on the internet, and where they go from there.

Stanton - as he describes in the book's introduction - got started as a photographer traveling through cities, and publishing his work on Facebook. In fact, that's where I find most of his photos now: they're a pretty big deal among the women of my sorority, and I can't scroll through the news feed of the popular social network without seeing one. (Which is why many of the most notable pictures within the book might be ones you've seen before.)

But what is it about the content that Stanton produces that proves so appealing to virality? My hypothesis: snapshot content - easy to digest - published alongside humorous and insightful  messages from the photo's inhabitants, which appeals to the consumer, to construct their own story behind the image. The photos are easily sharable - just one *click*, no caption necessary - and easy to identify with, for people from all backgrounds and walks of life, but especially those who buy into the mystique of the country's biggest bustling metropolis.

So why a book? Why not just leave it on the web? My answer: it popularizes the world of the individual, which, collected with other simultaneous worlds, builds a more comprehensive understanding of exactly what kind of humans are populating New York. It's like a census of sentiment. No person or peoples is exempt from classification among the pictures housed within Stanton's collection: ragtag crews of kids from the Heights, contrasted against the sleek and chic of Fashion Week and Wall Street. Homeless people, artists, and homeless artists. No one is above or below in importance of the project.

Still, lets not get too introspective on what this project really is comprised of: the pictures themselves.

In terms of what they give you, individually, sometimes there is frustratingly less information presented than you'd like. That's why its important to glean as much context as you can from the photograph. Sometimes, that can be a bit of a headache.

This search for greater understanding lead to a strange confluence of the concepts of web and physical reading: I had to keep myself from wondering what the comments would say, a mental kind of "scroll down" effect. In fact, towards  the beginning of the book, I debated actually looking up the photos online, to see what other observers had noted and deemed worthy of their interaction.

(But then you really just have to think about what it would be like to encounter these people on the street: Lord knows you wouldn't be getting much more than what you're getting here, if that; or more disappointing yet, would you have even noticed them?)

Addtionally, you're inundated by colors, framing, and faces; you can't sort through the entirety of the book all in one go. There's no sitting down to read HONY; then again, that's not what its for. What it really is there for, is to provoke some kind of contemplation on the realities of the lives of those who walk the same streets you do.

Final Verdict: I feel that Humans of New York is an important project, not just for demonstrating the applications of human connection, but how that contact extends throughout formats, including both web and print.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: Wildwood

Over the Break I decided to take a breather with a bestselling kid's novel, and all I could think while I read it was, "Yup. Portland." Here's why... 

Wildwood is the first of a middle-grade fantasy series, written by Colin Meloy.

Following the travels of Prue, a young girl whose brother is mysteriously abducted from a public park by a band of crows, Wildwood journeys through the wilds of the Impassable Wilderness beyond the lines of her native Portland, to find various populations of creatures strange and scary, and some quite surprising! Joined by her school friend Curtis - much against her liking - and then separated from him by a military band of coyotes, Prue must not only save her brother, and her friend, but maybe even the woods themselves.

If the name "Colin Meloy" sounds familiar to you, you must be a fan of the Decemberists. That's because it's the same guy. That's right, the novel was written by a singer/songwriter of a folk rock indie band, while his wife - Carson Ellis - served as its illustrator (in case her work seems familiar as well, it's because she is also responsible for the thoroughly gorgeous covers of the Mysterious Benedict Society series). The combination of the two personalities is more than enough of an indicator of the kind of story you'll be reading.

Wildwood perfectly meshes those indie rock sensibilities and folksy-twee illustrations to create a story, which carries throughout exactly the tone that all the facts of that marriage would lead you to expect. Naturally, this book was a bestseller, and of course I would have seen it in every PNW Lover's guide in the past year or so. 

In terms of content, it's a fairly typical, conventional kind of story for kids, that also reflects other trends from within children's books in recent decades. The length, while longer than usual kids books, kind of reminded me of how the Harry Potter series taught us that kids have more attention than you would think. Additionally, there's quite a bit of the macabre, with frequent threats of violence, but then again, the Percy Jackson series has proven time and again, that kids have a greater understanding of brutality and death than originally found acceptable for middle grade reading material.

It also contained notable aspects, like the importance of communing with nature and keeping the wilds wild, the absolutism of tyranny and necessity of equality, the absurdity of bureaucracy, etc. All of these serve to be pretty interesting lessons for a regular kid's fantasy novel. Still, they all helped bring the boundaries of the Impassable Winderness into believable Portland territory.

(Random Observation Time: this book also reminded me of why I. Hate. Deckled. Pages. Especially unforgivable in paperback.)

Final Verdict: Wildwood is exactly what we've all come to expect from a kid's adventure-fantasy novel, including anthropomorphic animals, ancient magic, and the coming-of-age story (think The Chronicles of Narnia, or Steve Augarde's The Various). An interesting, totally and completely hipster children's adventure and fantasy, that was totally and completely written by Portlanders.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Best Planner of 2015 : Planner-ed Out Perfect, Part Two

Last time you all saw me talking about my need for a fully functional planner, I was riding off into the stationery sunset with a sturdy, reliable, black-and-boring Mead Planner that I had dug up at Target for ten dollars, and had every intention of decking out with stickers and Post-Its to my heart's content.

However, I just had one of the most intense quarters of my entire college career. Fall saw me change in the ways I write for my blog, spend more time developing my own writing, dedicate myself in a greater capacity to my studies, and earn a major role on the University of Washington's Panhellenic Executive Board.

All of these new opportunities mean a lot of cool stuff going on for the rest of the school year... but also a busier schedule. As in, a LOT busier schedule, something that would require a more extensive  and involved form of planner. So, once again, I took to the Internet, in order to find myself my ideal kind of agenda!

Some issues that came forward last time I was searching for a new planner: 

  • It had to be unique, or, in other words, not the kind of basic sorority staple touted by all the other Greek women on campus. Thus, the Lilly Pulitzer was ruled out, because it's essentially what everyone already has!
  • It had to be reasonably priced, not necessarily so that it was still affordable for a college kid, but more so that it was reasonably priced for the amount of time I was planning on using it. For instance, while the Filofax might be a little on the costly side, my planner would be something I use every day.
  • But the Filofax would still require a lot of time and effort to set up the way I'd want it, so that was still a no-go, for me. My ideal planner had to be easy to use, as well... who wants to be stressed about something that was supposed to reduce your stress?

However, that isn't all. I still had a couple more demands for my daily agenda... 

It would have to be sophisticated... not a colorful, whimsical thing, but staid and sturdy enough for me to make my own mark on it while not looking unprofessional at major meetings and events. This worked with the Mead planner, for sure, but there was also an additional problem: my lists, to-do sections, doodles, and more were cluttering up the pages to the breaking point. Which is why it would also need a more compartmentalized layout, with more room to break things down and plans things out all in one space, to better keep all the plates I have spinning in place on the same page. Additionally, this extends to other parts of the planner as well... I want room for lists, notes, a year-at-a-glance and monthly layouts, too!


My Big actually uses this planner system, as do many other busy women in my sorority, which is why I took the chance to glance through it at the University Bookstore. With many boxes, lined and unlined, ready for you to write in to-do lists and scheduling galore, there's plenty of space for every kind of list you could make in a week. On the flip side, it's way too compartmentalized, with an almost confusing amount of available paper real estate, and not enough room for daily needs, as opposed to weekly. Also, just looking at it is kind of daunting... it sure wouldn't do much to reduce my stress level.

My fave: Uncalendar Fullsize, $20.95


If the Uncalendar was confusing to me, then this planner was downright inscrutable. Incomprehensible. Impossible, even! It's plan is to make things easier for you, by whittling your life down to make time for whats most important, but I have no idea exactly how that process works. After I started to get a headache after looking at them for a little too long, I left the printouts I found on Pinterest alone, and quickly searched for something easier to understand and easier on the eyes than all those black boxes and arrows. 

My fave: Passion Academic Planner - Classic, $30.00 (preorder)


Cute, and kind of kitschy, like most of Kate Spade's other products, I know a couple girls who choose
to lug these around as well. A black and white planner, starkly organized in signature Kate Spade font, full of quips and quotes to keep you going, it's pretty simplistic, but that's kind of what you need in a planner. Still, it just had the regular weekly organization, and by the time I found these next couple of planners, I had already moved on...

My fave:  Mega Gold Dots 17-month agenda, $40.00


Honestly, I can't really talk about the merits and drawbacks of the Emily Ley Simplified Planner, without discussing the planner I really ended up falling in love with.

They're very similar, in terms of layout - with a daily view, instead of a weekly, and hour-by-hour breakdowns of the day, as well as room for taking notes on other aspects of daily living - however, my heart went to the one with more room and less hassle...


Funny enough, the planner I ended up choosing contained components in its layout that held quite similar to the way I designed my personal planner sheets to look like over the summer, with an hourly schedule on one side and plenty of room for a to-do list on the other, with additional spaces for other boxes to check off and more spaces to write in information. 

What it ended up coming down to, between the Simplified Planner and the Day Designer - being that they have a long-marked competitive streak, being that their interiors are so remarkably comparable, even down to the inspirational quote that went into the upper corner of each page - was that I felt that the Day Designer had just a more professional veneer, that the hours section had a range more tailored to what I would need, the to-do lists gave more available room, and just little special parts of the Day Designer that I really enjoyed, like sections dedicated to a daily "Top Three Tasks," "Dollars," "Dinners," "Due," and "Don't Forget," and even a box for a "Daily Gratitude" down at the bottom! 

I've been using it for four days now - two full days for the Thursday and Friday (1st and 2nd of the year), and one page for the Weekend (3rd and 4th) - and I couldn't be happier with the amount of space and organization I'm given with its layout. At first, I was a little confused as to how I was going to fill all the boxes, but honestly, I feel like it gives me a fair amount of stress relief when I see all the space I have left! 

I've also been using the "Download" section at the bottom - projected to be a kind of "brain dump" area - as a means by which I keep a sentence or two summarizing some of the main thoughts of the day. It has all the feel of keeping a journal - something I've done since the 6th grade! - but doesn't require the same kind of deliberation. It's just so much handier! 

Its cost was a little on the heavier side - about $60, including free shipping and handling at the time I ordered it - but since my planner is something I know I'll use every day, and something I now know I'll be hanging on to after I'm finished with it, it works out perfectly in my favor. 

While The Grommet - the innovations merchandiser where I purchased my Aqua Shell Day Designer - is currently restocking their stores of the product, Whitney English's Etsy shop for the Day Designer will be selling again the morning of tomorrow, Tuesday the 6th. However, if you want one that's ready to go right now, and has the added benefit of being rather exclusive, Belle and Blush has a very adorable Pink Ikat Day Designer only sold through their website, and it's currently in stock (truth: I almost bought this one!). 

So, there you have it: my new journal for 2K15! I can't wait to give it a little more use. and see how much this planner really improves my organization habits. 
How are you ringing in the new year?