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. 


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.


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.)


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!)

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.
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.


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!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Underrated Books I've Read in the Last Year

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

Well, we're officially over two weeks into the new year, and so far, things are pretty okay. I have successfully stuck to my no-buying-books promise, we've celebrated my Dad's birthday weekend, and I'm pretty sure I've spent more time at the gym than I did in all of last year in total.

Still, that doesn't mean I'm completely done with last year just yet. No matter the fact that I'm four titles into 2017, some of my fave reads of the past won't stop rattling around in my head. That's why I was so happy to see that today's "Top Ten Tuesday" theme, was about your favorite under-rated books of the past year!

PSA: Not all definitions of "under-rated" are the same. For some, it might represent books from indie publishers or forgotten releases from previous years; for others, it's just a casual list of books they'd like to see talked about more, regardless of how much they've been talked about already.

For me, under-rated reads strike a kind of middle ground: they're books that have been read by fewer than I think they deserve, books that don't have the kinds of fandoms that will readily supply them with a television show adaptation. Some are widely-advertised titles with niche audiences that I think more general readers should be willing to take a chance on, while others have target buyers that are so niche you might never even have heard of them!

Regardless, I invite you to take a chance on some of these under-rated titles. I think you might really like them!


1. Spinster, Katie Bolick
This book, at least to me, was originally marketed as some kind of rebellious, girl-power memoir of one woman's life in the singles lane while writing for various magazines in New York. But instead of a Sex in the City spinoff, this nonfiction read is more akin to a historical collection of some of the fearlessly independent females of the same profession, who the author saw as role models of sorts while making the attempt on her own. Those looking for cocktail hour exploits would probably leave disappointed, but fans of books like Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies would feel right at home.

2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black
Being that the book was written by a bestselling author, whom I happen to already adore, this was an oddball choice for this list. But it perfectly hits so many of the selling points that I long for in YA - a fiercely independent and athletic heroine who loves her family and isn't afraid to kiss as many boys as she wants, LGBT representation, convincing interweaving of contemporary and fantasy elements - that I continue to be shocked when I don't see it on such lists of recommended reads for the genre. Not only is the book super fun, but it gets so little credit for the unique points that make it so strong.

3. Kate Beaton's Step Aside, Pops and Hark, a Vagrant! comic collections
Now, it's one thing to make a comics collection. It's quite another to originally print all of your comics online. But when you also factor in that those comics are based off of content as delightfully weird and varied as obscure historical figures, fictional heroes from works of classic literature, and take-downs of flawed anti-feminist ideology, it's a whole other thing on its own.


4. The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
Once again, another fantasy read, but this one for the middle grade set... or is it? As a boy escaping a stifling family life in WWII era England makes his way through the terrifying and mysterious world of fairy tales, you question pretty quickly what age range this book is acceptable to read. Because of this, many youngsters may be cautioned not to read it, while the older sets might overlook it because of the intended audience. (My take? I read it once when I was 13, and another time when I was 22. I absolutely loved it both times.)

5. Down the Rabbit Hole, Holly Madison
Now if the gaudy pink cover didn't scare you off, the subject matter did: a former Playboy bunny reveals the far less glamorous life that really laid beyond the television screen. However, even if you're not a fan of the Girls Next Door, you'd be foolish to assume the realities of this reality star. Through her time at the mansion, not only did Holly earn herself producer roles and titles with both the show and the magazine, but she endured psychological abuse that left her swirling in the depths of depression for years. Her rise-and-fall-and-rise-again redemption tale was such a hit with my sister and I, that I even have its sequel memoir, The Vegas Diaries, on my shelf for this year.

6. One More Thing: Stories and Stories, B.J. Novak
Once again, a weird pick for an "under-rated" books list, especially because it was a New York Times bestseller when it was originally released. But here's the thing: almost no one I know has read this book (unless I was the one pushing it on them), and those who had even heard of it, passed it up for memoirs from Novak's compatriots, like Mindy Kaling's memoirs. Still, this collection of hilarious short stories does not get enough credit for revitalizing comedic writing in short form for print, at least for me.


7. Why We Write About Ourselves, edited by Meredith Maran
Probably one of the most fascinating quick reads I read this year, each chapter of this nonfiction collection of casual interviews chronicles the reading pasts and writing presents of prominent voices in the memoir genre, asking the simple question: Why do you write about yourself? What they answer gives far more clarity to a genre typically written off as self-indulgent in the best and narcissistic in the worst. Definitely worth an afternoon or two, and who knows? Maybe it will prompt you to jot down some memories of your own.

8. Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology, Sfe R. Monster
One of my last-minute books of last year, ended up being one of the first ones I thought of when compiling this list, not just because of how recently I had read it, but because of how desperate I am to talk about it with someone. This collection of brief comics involving characters of varying sexualities and genders - without a harmful binary in sight - really shows how much potential there is in a format that could still use a lot more diversity within it.

9. Shake the World, James Marshall Reilly
While checking job-hunting books out of the library after my third month of serious job hunting is starting to seem more like a self-punishing practice than a helpful one, this book was a diamond in the rough. While its cover and tagline - "It's not finding a job, it's building a life!" - were almost too cheesy to check out, the interviews and lessons contained within make it invaluable, especially for those of an artistic and entrepreneurial mindset. Through interviews with company founders to philanthropists, world travelers and homegrown heroes, this book pushes the idea that if you can't find your dream job, it's probably because you haven't created it yet. (While that still doesn't solve my college debt crisis, it's a nice thought.)

10. The Wicked and the Divine series, Kieron Gillen
Damn, what a weird way for my childhood infatuation with world cultures and religions to suddenly pay off. This series - about a pantheon of pop stars who personify ancient gods from across the world, granted power and vitality until they die after two years - was weird enough to make me a little skeptical at first, but after Volume 1, I was a true believer.

So, like I said, maybe some of these books don't qualify as "under-rated" to you. How do you decide if a book fits that kind of a profile, or whether it's just-the-right-amount-of-rated? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Voracious: Review (+ a Recipe Review, too!)

In a world where everyone and their mom has a quirky Harry Potter or Game of Thrones inspired cookbook stashed in their kitchen pantry - no shade, my fave is Downton Abbey themed - it seems that whether it's from the screen or the page, we like to imagine fictional foods better, when we can see them on our plate.

The transformational aspect of transfiguring fictional foods into the real world is the subject of plenty of blogs and YouTube channels already - including one of my faves, Nerdy Nummies with Rosanna Pansino - but not many have ventured beyond the sort of pop fiction and fantasy genres. Barring Dinah Fried's photography book Fictitious Dishes, I don't think I can think of any that tackle the subject of general literature.

But with Voracious, from Cara Nicoletti - a pastry chef and professional butcher - the principle is elevated, by bringing forth the foods from her English major-oriented palate of preferred reading material. By opting for a buffet of titles ranging from Pride and Prejudice to Strega Nona to Gone Girl,  we get not just a treat for the taste buds, but callbacks to some of your favorite reads, from contemporary titles, to childhood classics.

All, of course, are delicious.

reading it as a book

The subject of Voracious was borne from Nicoletti's popular blog of the same nature: Yummy Books. Of course the topic would flourish in the online space: there are plenty of book blogs, and food blogs, right? Who wouldn't want to read about both at the same time?

Personally, I vividly remember elementary school classroom lessons, with treats as a prize for finishing the stories we would read after we came in from recess. Molasses and Turkish Delight are probably the most memorable of said desserts, as they were ultimately determined to be worth far less than what characters had been willing to trade for them.

Nicoletti's book descriptions originate from similar ranges of personal experience: her recipes are based as much on original stories and individual viewpoints as they are on the books that reference them directly. What results is a happy marriage of both her own life lessons and the products of our favorite tales.

Some were delightfully literal. While I don't think I'll ever possess an appetite that would make pig's head seem palatable, its important ties to the narrative of William Golding's Lord of the Flies cannot be overlooked. Others were extrapolated outwards, like "Hansel and Gretel" serving as inspiration for a tasty gingerbread cake. I was vindicated Pride and Prejudice was included for the "white soup," because I had just finished reading it, as well, and had been wondering the same thing. Missing was a roasted leg of lamb, a la Roald Dahl's "Lamb for the Slaughter."

If anything, I wish that there was greater context given to the actual fictional material, instead of forcing me to Google things I was unfamiliar with.

reading it as a cookbook

But we can't just evaluate Voracious strictly as a memoir... a third of its pages are solely dedicated to detailing the recipes of the foods! So, in the pursuit of fairness, I only thought it was right to review it as a cookbook - a subject with which I am very familiar - as well.

In terms of quality of the foods themselves, we're talking high caliber cooking, which makes sense, because our author was both a butcher and a pastry chef, professionally. Both of those occupations denote specialized skill sets, which, in turn, also require specialty ingredients and more involved production schedules.  The lack of elements of recipes familiar elsewhere - such as, given substitutions for perhaps ingredients that were a little too special - surely indicates the intention that the readers would already know what might serve as suitable substitutions. Unfortunately, I wasn't so well-versed. (You'll hear about that later.)

Additionally, the book is exclusively print-oriented, with little affordances made for visual cues, save the adorable illustrations scattered throughout. Unfortunately, that means the recipes come with zero photography to speak of, so you don't really know what your food is supposed to turn out like when you're done. As many are unfamiliar with both baking and butchery, pictures could only serve to help in this aspect.

(However, I also think that more pictures would definitely tilt the book as a whole more towards cookbook than memoir, and it would definitely avert more of the words from their intended focus. Still, since pictures play a factor on her blog, it would have made sense to include them here, as well!)

Being that part of evaluating a cookbook partially relies on your ability to actually use it to construct something edible, I took on a good-looking recipe for a favorite read of mine: currant buns, in honor of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

To any and all seasoned bakers who might be reading this, feel free to laugh at my expense.

I had most of the ingredients in my pantry, but found a couple to be at a higher cooking level than I was used to baking with: bread flour, and dried currants. My quest for such specialty ingredients lead me to make a couple of really, really dumb decisions, but at the time, I left the grocery store in high spirits, believing myself all the more capable - because only adults purchase flours with dedicated uses - and that chopping up dried tart cherries might be a suitable stand-in for the still-elusive dried currants.

I realized somewhat belatedly that chopping up dried cranberries would have made a lot more sense  than cherries, but that's still only the second stupid thing I managed to do. After gazing at my
dough in utter wonder as to why it looked more like choux pastry, then waiting with bated breath for it to rise not once, but twice, which it only seemed to do in spreading outwards considerably, I turned back to my ingredients to investigate as to what was the matter with it.

In my excitement over buying bread flour, I had somehow managed to overlook the words "gluten free" stamped neatly above it. Idiot.

The result: undeniably, a sub-standard product, which occurred by no one's fault, really, other than my own. Dry, unsweetened, and English-scone-like in texture and appearance, I quickly attempted to resuscitate my failed recipe into something edible, and finally, by topping each with a thick glaze and crust of sugar, they kind of pass for morning scones, which still would have probably have tasted better with cranberries in them.

The book, however, was wonderful. 

Would you ever read a book like this one? What's your worst cookbook screw-up? Anyone care for a scone? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Resolution 2017 : Why I'm Taking Another Year Off from Buying Books

The above picture, which I posted on my Instagram - my second of 2017, hot on the trails of this year's new Day Designer purchase! - recently made a bit of a ruckus among my family and friends. You see, the stacks and stacks of books depicted in the photo, are the result of a 2016 left unchecked: this special collection is comprised of over 80+ titles, that I had purchased over the past year, and had not yet got around to reading.

Even better? The picture was actually more than a few days old. In the period between Christmas and New Year's, my mom and I crashed through a wall of boxes, bags, and hangers that represented the material history of my high school and collegiate years, in an attempt to cut out clutter (and ship the remainder off to our newly-purchased storage unit). Naturally, a significant offshoot of that was my bookshelf, which had started to bow under the pressure of double- and triple-stacked shelving, as well as the several dangerous mounds of books that had been collecting around its base.

After Marie Kondo-ing the daylights out of my entire living space, my darling IKEA bookshelf's status had been severely depleted, but only because it's stock had extended onto almost the entirety of the shelving next to it, as well as a completely separate bookshelf on the other side of the room. That third shelf, as fate would have it, is now the home of all of the books in that infamous Instagram picture... plus the several that I managed to purchase in the meantime, before the clock struck midnight!

(In between finishing up my last read of 2016 and ringing in the new year, I made time for one last library trip, a bookstore excursion, and even a few last Amazon orders before 2017 fully hit.)

So, you remember back in 2015, when I made the killer resolution to Stop Buying Books for the entirety of the year? It kicked my butt, but more importantly, it forced me to reconsider how much money my favorite habit cost me every year, and reevaluate how important it was for me to continually be procuring more reading material, when I already had so much to choose from.

Now that I'm graduated from college, looking for the perfect job, and trying to streamline my life into something that is a lot more manageable and worthy of the title of "functioning adult," obviously the whole compulsive book-purchasing thing was not going to fly anymore. One of the big words I chose to focus my 2017 around at the beginning of the year, was "curate," and buying this many titles indiscriminately, was definitely not the way to a happy and put-together book collection.

Additionally, I had begun noticing a disturbing pattern in my book-buying in the later months of the year: when going into book stores, I was having a more difficult time finding material that I actually wanted to read, that I hadn't purchased already. I would get so flustered that I'd either leave completely disheartened, without buying anything, or even worse, I'd scramble to find any titles that would rouse the slightest amount of interest, and end up buying books I wasn't entirely sure I'd be totally thrilled to own!

So, welcome back, 2015 Resolution! You have henceforth been repackaged, because, let's be real, everyone loves a good remake. I'm looking for concision and clarity, so we're taking it super minimalist: I henceforth pledge not to purchase any books for the duration of 2017!

However, true to my resolution style, I gave myself a couple of outs for procuring at least a few new titles in the coming year; for instance, like in 2015, I'll be allowing myself to purchase a few new books in celebration of my Bloggoversary when it comes up again in late July.

Still, in total, adding in the titles that are stockpiled in my Kindle, plus the ones I made as last-minute purchases on New Year's Eve, I have over 100 books currently at my disposal that I haven't been able to open the first page of yet. That's a lot to get through, so I probably shouldn't start thinking about my Bloggoversary right now.

And, of course, this Bookish Resolution isn't by any means the only one I set... it's not even the most important one, either! I lowered my Goodreads book count for 2017, in the hopes that putting less pressure on myself to rack up high numbers will invite me to explore different kinds of books, particularly pre-1900s and nonfiction titles. I'm also trying to allow for the diversification of my reading content, like newspapers, magazines, and even cookbooks, and I want to find more joy in a regular, daily reading habit, than by sinking into a series of binges and slumps that dominates my book consumption practices.

Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to believe that 2017 will be a notable year for me. As I told you already, I just finished deep-cleaning my room. I started on a new planner, and a new journal. I'm going to the gym, and trying my hand at meditation. Plus, my sister Delaney is Panhellenic President at UW, my younger siblings come home with plenty of high school drama to hash out every day, and someone is bound to give me a job sometime! There are so many things to think about even beyond books - if such a concept exists - that keeping myself from snatching up anything new shouldn't be too tricky.

At the end of the day, I want to go to sleep knowing that I filled my day with people and things that matter. I'd like to treat my bookshelves the same way! 

See any books in my stacks that you think I should get around to first? Would you ever attempt a Resolution like mine? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Beyond the Challenge: 3 Ways to Measure Bookish "Success" in 2017

At 11:30pm on New Year's Eve, only a half an hour before countdowns and fireworks and kicking 2016's butt out the door, I was huddled up in my bed. Not because I was sick, or didn't want to take part in the festivities... but because I only had a couple more pages to go before I finished up Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society, and I wanted to hit the magic number I'd been striving for the whole year: 77 titles on my Goodreads goal.

I love the Goodreads Challenge as much as the next person... it's something I put a lot of thought into every year, and an effort I applaud myself for once I've finished! However, after so many years of taking part, and giving myself bigger and better goals to meet every year, I can't help but think it might not be the best thing for my actual reading habits.

My concerns?

  • I compare my reading to other people, and feel like I come out short. (How on earth do people manage to read over 100 books a year?) 
  • I feel like the books I'm reading aren't good enough, or that I should be reading books of a higher caliber, like other people might manage to do. 
  • I don't have time to commit to things I really want to read, because I'm so crunched for time when trying to keep up with Goodreads, that bigger or more intense books get swept aside in favor of shorter books. 
  • I feel like my love of comic books and graphic novels just pads the number, and that it's not an accurate reflection of the things I could be reading from a more traditional standpoint.
  • It doesn't include other reading material, like magazines, online articles, and more, that I also spend time on, and which give me just as much - if not more! - pertinent reading information. 

It's probably that last factor that causes me the greatest amount of irritation. For instance, I did an entire Capstone project earlier this year as a senior year requirement for the University of Washington, which involved weeks of intense database research, where I read over a decade's worth of magazines from the 1920's... but that didn't factor into my reading total for Goodreads at all! Same with any of the substantial amount of  articles I was reading from the New York Times or Washington Post during Election season, which are fairly lengthy in their own right. How many "book" spots would those have taken up in my Challenge?

So, I've started brainstorming a list of ways I'm going to be altering my reading habits in the coming year, in an effort to strive for bookish achievement that isn't just a number logged into my Goodreads account.

(Don't get me wrong, I'll still be taking part! I'm just adjusting my number to account for other aspects of my habits than necessarily just judging quantity, over quality.)

size  and intensity of books you're reading

The last true monster I've read was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina back in 2012, before I started my 2-year stint as a fashion blogger for College Fashion. Because of things like Goodreads Challenges, I feel like I read more short, condensed books, because I need the numbers. I haven't read any true behemoths in a long time, despite the fact that I've been piling up plenty on my bookshelves in the interim. I've lately been having a craving to reread Homer's Odyssey and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and I've attempted to stick Flaubert's Madame Bovary into my TBR several times, but they've never really stood the test. I want to bring more classics into my life, but I don't know how.

Instead of tackling titles in one brave moment, try setting smaller, individual goals to read a certain number of classics, or books over a certain size, over the course of the year. For instance, the idea of picking up a 600 page book, or a book written before the 1800s, might seem a little daunting, especially if you're out of practice taking your time with that kind of material. Don't let yourself get overwhelmed: break your goals down into more manageable chunks, like "read 6 classics in 2017" or "read 10 books over 500 pages." Then, take it day by day, with even smaller goals, like reading 50 pages at a time, or reading for a half an hour straight. Chisel those boulders into smaller rocks, 'til all you've got is a pile of totally manageable bookish pebbles!

diversity of books and authors you're reading

Last year, Tacoma superstar Erik Hanberg spent his year focusing on female authors, after discovering - through Goodreads - that they made up only about 25% of his reading habits. It's a distinction you don't necessarily think about, until you try reading exclusively from that author set, and one he was intrigued enough by to see through for a whole year!

Let's be real: we all have the tendency to stick to familiar authors and genres, which, for me, are a whole lot of fantasy. If I branched out the subjects of books I read - especially within the realm of nonfiction, instead of regular fiction - I'd probably be prompted to put a lot more mindfulness behind my book selections. This heightened appreciation for your reading material, plus the new kinds of information you'd be gaining through reading them, would definitely have an impact on your personal reading growth over the course 2017.

So, try setting a challenge to read outside of your comfort zone. Pledge to read a book a month from a certain genre or author set - for instance, books with LGBT characters, or nonfiction involving areas of scientific study that interest you - that you wouldn't normally experience. Explore new mindsets and learn new things, by reading 12 new books a year!

the fact that you're reading a little bit every day

While I'm always able to meet my Goodreads goals, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the result of a great habit: I tend to go through periods of binges and slumps that leave me feeling a little, well, unhappy with my reading practices. While there's nothing better than curling up in bed and powering through a couple of shorter reads in one sitting, it doesn't exactly make me feel like I'm consuming important material... nor does it tend to stick with me.

I'd much rather set up a system with myself where I read as much as I can every single day, in a more dedicated time period, maybe even in a dedicated place (there's this great reading chair next to my bed that I almost never use!). Whether it was for half an hour, or two hours straight, I'd no doubt end up reading more intentionally, and probably preserve the ideas and story of what I'm actually taking in even more.

Like I said, I love Goodreads Challenges, but there are other ways to grade your own reading accomplishments than by striving to reach a high number every year. I'm combining my Challenge for 2017 with a set of more personal challenges for myself, in an effort to make reading a more conscious and enjoyable practice, rather than something that makes me overthink what has always been my favorite way to relax.

Therefore, my total number of books I'd like to read this year is totally doable - only 50 books, instead of the 75+ of the past couple of years - with the direct intention of intensifying my reading habits in other notable ways, as well.

And, let's face it, I think Cait over at Paper Fury said it best on Twitter:

I can't be the only person who thinks this way, right? Do you take part in the Goodreads Challenges? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016, At a Glance : My Year in Reading

Well, here we are, on the other side of 2016 - slightly worse the wear, but still kicking!

This post is a long time coming... mainly in that I meant to get it tackled a couple of days ago, but didn't manage to finish up my Goodreads Challenge until literally 11:30pm last night.  So, my "2016, By the Numbers" was a happy surprise to me, too, when I finally clocked out all of my page counts!

This year was a strange reading one, for me. Due to a couple of changing trends in the ways I read, my goal was reached, but left my total page count lagging a little over 6,000 behind last year's.

This difference in total reading quantity didn't have much of an effect on my rating tendencies, however: whereas last year, I rated an average of a 3.9, this year, I rated an average of a 4.2! Maybe it was the fact that I grade certain kinds of books, like comic books, on a different scale than others, or maybe it was the fact that there was a dramatic uptick in my tendencies to trade books with other people this year - Hi, Callie! - which made me more likely to rate them highly.

It really was the year of the comic book, too. Thanks to a couple of my favorite vloggers, as well as a few of my really good friends - Hi, Bernie! - I finally started giving in to the aesthetic loveliness of some of the industry's best and most popular graphic novels of 2016. A fascination with Rat Queens ran alongside a growing obsession with D&D, while Hark, a Vagrant! comic collections helped lend comedic shadow to those last few university study projects I had to finish up. In total, I read 15 comic books, graphic novels, or comic collections, and I know that the trend will continue into this year for me, as well.

One of the other big trends for this year was, unfortunately, the idea of the slump, and the quick catchup afterwards. You've already heard my woes of sinking behind in my challenge goals to the end of the year, but that's only one example of lagging behind. Some of the slumps had concrete reasoning behind them - think constructing my Capstone project this past Spring, or scrambling to complete a NaNo assignment in half the allotted time - but other had no reasoning at all, other than the fact that I simply didn't have the patience or attention span at that time. Hopefully this is a trend that remedies itself for me in the coming year.

And, of course, these slumps, trend differences, and existence of other forms of reading in my life - primarily news articles and magazines - have really caused me to rethink my Goodreads Challenge for 2017. 2016 has actually been one of my heaviest reading-oriented years yet.... my Capstone project prompted me to consume over a decade's worth of The Smart Set magazines, while my NaNo novel required constant research and revision. The election had me scouring the front pages of my favorite news websites every time I had wifi, while plenty of fun international mags at Bulldog News kept me tethered to publications like Frankie and UK Glamour. However, none of this is reflected in my reading goals... which leaves me feeling a little like I've failed.

2017 will be a year of fresh starts, old favorites, and plenty of new growth and leaves to turn over... and it's definitely going to include more changes to the ways I read, especially in how they're measured. So, happy new year, happy new reads, and may all of us find bookish success in 2017! 

How have your reading habits changed in the past year? Let me know, in the comments below!