Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Vinegar Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Table for One! : How to Speed Date Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally, I was on board.

Here's How to Do It: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Variations and Special Tips: BuJos and Book Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for vinegar girlImage result for the magicians book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the End

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

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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Third Year with the Day Designer

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

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

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

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

New Year, New Stickers

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

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

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

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

New Obsession: Redbubble 

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Journal than Bullet Journal

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Snow Child: A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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