Thursday, January 12, 2017

December Favorites

The holiday season is typically jolly but winter tends have a negative effect on my mood. So far, this winter has been especially cold, dark, and snowy, and it has me wishing I never have to leave the comfort of my bed again. In December I wanted to fill my time with entertainment that captivated me and made me forget all about the weather. Luckily that was pretty easy to find.

Podcasts, podcasts and more podcasts. I've been on a huge podcast kick since last month. Mostly Gilmore Guys, Ladies Who Lunch, WTF with Marc Maron, Anna Faris is Unqualified, and The Nerdist. I can't get enough.

Jane the Virgin. I started watching this show at the beginning of December and sped right through the first two seasons. Jane the Virgin is an hour long dramedy that mimics a telenovela. Although things can get a little crazy and over the top, it does not shy away from real life issues. I had heard nothing but good things since the show originally aired and it did not disappoint. If you haven't seen Jane yet, go watch it. Right Now. And no, I'm not caught up with any of season 3 so no spoilers.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In the past I've mentioned my mom's long term obsession with Star Wars and the family memories I have growing up with the films. When Rogue One came out this year my mom and I were both busy and we weren't able to see the film opening night. Honestly I wasn't even sure I wanted to see the film in theaters, but when my brother mentioned going to see it as a family my mom guilt tripped me into going along. Thankfully Rogue One was spectacular. Now I can't believe I almost missed it.

Bluetooth Speaker. I got a Bose portable mini speaker for Christmas and have been loving it. I now have mini surround sound while watching Netflix on my laptop.

Troye Sivan's Blue Neighborhood album. This album came out in 2015 but I only listened to the entire album for the first time last month. All the music on Blue Neighborhood feels dreamy and youthful in a way that reminds me of summer time or warm vacations. There is something comforting and nostalgic about Troye's music that took me from dancing to total relaxation and back again.

Kindred by Octavia Butler - Best book of December if not the whole year. Kindred is a modern classic that was originally published in 1979. The novel follows Dana, an African American woman living in the 1970's, who travels back in time to meet her ancestors. This story took off right from page one and had me hooked the entire time. It's a sit on the edge of your seat, stay up until 3 AM, give you all the feels kind of book. I read Kindred for January's book club meeting and I can't wait to discuss these characters with the group.

My last favorite of December,
Holiday spirit and Christmas traditions. The holiday season is usually filled with warmth and cheeriness, but this year seemed more merry than usual. I was amazed with the number of people who made a point of telling me "Happy Holidays," "Merry Christmas," or "Happy New Year" while I was at work. Each time someone said something nice it brought a smile to my face. It's the little things that make that time of year special. One of my favorite holiday traditions over the last four or five years has been watching the movie White Christmas at the State Theater with my friend Sandy. Now I get to experience one of my favorite classics with one of my favorite friends. Christmas traditions and all the lovely holiday decorations also made this year special. My family made new traditions by spending Christmas day at my parent's house instead of my Grandparent's like we've done ever since I can remember. The change was different but the day was just as fun! My dad and I even made a new egg casserole dish in addition to our traditional Christmas breakfast.

December wasn't too bad in the end. Thankfully I had plenty of help getting me through. I'll probably be enjoying some of these favorites throughout January as well!

- S

Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Year, New Book Challenge

Now that the new year has begun, it's time to set new reading goals for 2017. Since I enjoyed the Around the Year in 52 Books challenge last year, I decided to give it another go. I like the idea of reading one book a week and the prompts help diversify my reading habits. Once again I tried to choose books that were currently on my shelf or easily available through the library.

1. A book from the Goodreads Choice Awards 2016 (link) - Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
2. A book with at least 2 perspectives (multiple points of view) - The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
3. A book you meant to read in 2016 - Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
4. A title that doesn't contain the letter "E" - NW by Zadie Smith
5. A historical fiction - Atonement by Ian McEwan
6. A book being released as a movie in 2017 - IT by Stephen King
7. A book with an animal on the cover or in the title - A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
8. A book written by a person of color - Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
9. A book in the middle of your To Be Read list - Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
10. A dual-timeline novel - The Secret History by Donna Tartt
11. A category from another challenge : A book you loved as a child (from the Popsugar reading challenge) - The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
12. A book based on a myth - Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
13. A book recommended by one of your favorite authors - A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (recommended by John Green)
14. A book with a strong female character - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
15. A book written or set in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland) - Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
16. A mystery - The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
17. A book with illustrations - Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen
18. A really long book (600+ pages) - Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
19. A New York Times best-seller - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
20. A book that you've owned for a while but haven't gotten around to reading - Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
21. A book that is a continuation of a book you've already read - City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare
22. A book by an author you haven't read before - Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
23. A book from the BBC's "The Big Read" list (link) - Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
24. A book written by at least 2 authors - Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
25. A book about a famous historical figure - Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (currently reading)
26. An adventure book - The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
27. A book by one of your favorite authors - M Train by Patti Smith
28. A non-fiction book - Chronicles: Vol 1 by Bob Dylan
29. A book published outside the 4 major publishing houses (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre) - The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney
30. A book from Goodreads Top 100 YA books (link) - I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
31. A book from a sub-genre of your favorite genre - Lit by Mary Karr (memoirs about substance abuse)
32. A book with a long title (5+ words, excluding subtitle) - A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
33. A magical realism novel - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
34. A book set in or by an author from the Southern Hemisphere - The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
35. A book where one of the main characters is royalty - The Princess Bride by William Goldman
36. A Hugo Award winner or nominee (link) - Saga, Vol 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
37. A book you choose randomly - I'm leaving this one open for now
38. A novel inspired by a work of classic literature - On Beauty by Zadie Smith
39. An epistolary fiction - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
40. A book published in 2017 - Things We Lost In the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
41. A book with an unreliable narrator - Rebecca by Daphane du Maurier
42. A best book of the 21st Century (so far) - The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
43. A book with a chilling atmosphere (scary, unsettling, cold) - We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
44. A recommendation from "What Should I Read Next" (link) - I'll probably decide on this book a little later in the year
45. A book with a one-word title - Beloved by Toni Morrison
46. A time travel novel - Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
47. A past suggestion that didn't win (link) : A book about traveling, can be fiction or non-fiction - Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
48. A banned book - 1984 by George Orwell (currently reading)
49. A book from someone else's bookshelf - A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
50. A Penguin Modern Classic - To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
51. A collection (e.g. essays, short stories, poetry, plays) - The Tenth of December by George Saunders (currently reading)
52. A book set in a fictional location - Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Like last year's challenge, these books are subject to change at any time. I'll try to check in every once in a while with updates, but this list provides a starting off point. Happy reading!

Do you participate in any reading challenges? If so, which ones?


Monday, January 2, 2017

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

Despite what some people might say, 2016 was a pretty good year. My brother got married and my parents remodeled their kitchen. I read more books than ever before and fell back in love with fashion. My car broke down, but I survived without a replacement. Gilmore Girls came back and I watch it with one of my best friends (and coffee). I spent way too much time watching TV shows on the couch with my mom and wasted time trying to fill in crossword puzzles with my dad. Nothing happened, and yet everything happened.

This past year did not bring me wealth, love, or success in the traditional sense, but it did bring growth. I have changed as a person over the last twelve months. My life has become fuller and my horizons broader. I'm more confident in myself and I can't wait to see what 2017 brings!

2016 Highlight Reel

I spent lots of quality time with my family this year and I wouldn't trade that for the world. I hope your 2016 was as enjoyable as mine. May your coming year be full of love and joy!!

- S

Friday, December 30, 2016

52 Book Challenge Wrap Up

When I started the Around the World in 52 books challenge at the beginning of the year, I never thought I'd actually read all 52 books. Surprisingly, I came much closer to completing this challenge than I ever expected. Out of the 92 books I've read in 2016, I found books to fit 47 individual challenges. None of the books are used more than once, and I'm currently reading books for three of the uncompleted challenges. 

This final list looks different than the one in my original, or even my mid-year, post. I decided it was more important to see how many challenges I could accomplish than it was to be true to the original list. For me, reading has never been about forcing myself to read specific books within a certain time frame, unless it was school related. Since this entire endeavor was only for personal gain, I tried hard to keep this challenge fun while also using it to expand on the variety of books I read throughout 2016. If my counting is correct, 33 of the books listed below were named in the original post. Some books have been moved around, while others were simply replaced.

1. A book you meant to read in 2015, but didn't -- The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan *
2. A book set in a different continent -- I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak*
3. A book from the Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 (winner or nominated) -- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins *
4. A book by an author you discovered in 2015 -- The Dumb House by John Burnside*
5. A book with a title beginning with the 1st letter of your name --  Shrill by Lindy West*
6. The highest rated on your TBR -- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay*
7. A book about books -- The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Forde*
8. A classic book with less than 200 pages -- Candide by Voltaire*
9. A book that was mentioned in another book -- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee*
10. A book by an author you feel you should have read by now -- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll*
11. A book from the Rory Gilmore challenge -- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath*
12. A childhood classic -- The BFG by Roald Dahl*
13. Reader’s Choice -- Just Kids by Patty Smith*
14. A book with one of the five W’s -or H in the title (Who/What/Where/When/Why/How) -- Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling*
15. A book set in the past (more than 100 years ago) -- Persuasion by Jane Austen*
16. A book from the top 100 mystery novels -- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie*
17. A book with a beautiful cover -- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Vintage Classics Bronte Series edition)*
18. A book on a summer/beach reading list -- Bridget Jone's Diary by Helen Fielding*
19. A non-fiction book -- Sex Object by Jessica Valenti*
20. A book with a first name in the title -- Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery*
21. A book from the Goodreads Recommendations page -- Fifth Avenue, 5 AM; Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson (currently reading)
22. The first book in a new to you series -- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments series)*
23. The next book in a series you are reading -- Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon*
24. A "between the numbers" book of a series (0.5, 1,5, 2.5, etc.) -- Four by Veronica Roth *
25. A book whose main character is in a profession that interests you -- The Art Forger by Barbara A. Shapiro*
26. A book everyone is talking about -- The Girls by Emma Cline*
27. A book with a beautiful title (in your own opinion) -- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi*
28. A biography, autobiography, or memoir -- Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein*
29. A book by an author who writes under more than one name -- Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling*
30. A fairytale from a culture other than your own -- Angela Carter's Book of Fairytales
31. A work of young adult fiction -- Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins*
32. A historical fiction book -- Voyager by Diana Gabaldon*
33. The 16th book on your TBR -- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon*
34. A book about mental illness -- Brain on Fire by Susannah Calahan*
35. An award winning book -- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates*
36. An identity book - a book about a different culture, religion or sexual orientation -- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz*
37. A book that you've seen the movie of but haven't read -- Silver Linings Playlist by Matthew Quick*
38. A book about an anti hero -- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess*
39. A previous suggestion that did not make it into the list -- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead* (Read an Oprah Book Club book)
40. A novella from your favorite genre -- Animal Farm by George Orwell*
41. A book about a major world event (fiction or non-fiction) -- Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (currently reading)
42. A top 100 fantasy novel -- The Princess Bride by William Goldman
43. A book about a thing that goes bump in the night -- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness*
44. A book you're embarrassed to read in public -- City of Glass by Cassandra Clare* (I wouldn't really say I'm ashamed of reading much in public but trying to describe this series to my family made me question myself)
45. A book related to a hobby or passion you have -- Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter*
46. A crime story -- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote*
47. A book with a type of food/drink in the title -- Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur*
48. A dystopia -- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro*
49. A book with a great opening line -- 1984 by George Orwell (currently reading)
50. A book originally written in a language other than English -- Blindness by José Saramago*
51. A short story from a well-known author -- The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury*
52. A book published in 2016 -- The Yoga of Max's Discontent by Karan Bajaj*

All finished books are marked with *

The books on this list range from classics, new releases, translated fiction, non-fiction, children's books, YA novels, and historical romances. They're written by a mixture of authors spanning cultures, continents, times, genders, and races. 2016 has brought me some of my new favorite books written by truly brilliant authors and I can't wait to see what 2017 brings!


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Lists Are For Kids?

This is the first year I've gone without making a proper Christmas list. Ever since I was a small child I've made Christmas lists of epic proportion. Lists that were long, and detailed, and contained enough present ideas for five or more Christmases combined.

I'm no Dudley Dursley; I never expected my parents to buy me every present on the list, but I was particular. As the years go by the list has gone through several changes, from American Girl dolls and Barbies, to dance accessories and Pottery Barn Teen decor, to clothes and Apple products galore. When my parents started asking me last month what I wanted for Christmas this year, I completely blanked. For the first time ever I realized there was nothing I wanted that they could actually give me.

All the items I could think of this year were either too much for a Christmas gift, or just plain impossible. A spare $10,000 to help pay off my student loans faster. A trip to Scotland for my mom and I (or the whole family). A new car. Tickets to Hamilton: An American Musical. A significant other to love and spend Christmas with next year.

Maybe some people have the luxury of asking for, and receiving, a car for Christmas, but I know my parents can't afford a gift like that. Besides, what I really want is to be working a job that makes me enough money to afford my own car and gives me the ability to buy a new computer before this one gives out. I want financial freedom. I want my own tiny house. Unfortunately these aren't items for a Christmas list, more like Life wish list.

So I don't really want or need anything for Christmas this year, except maybe a couple pairs of socks. Is this what happens to everyone as they get older? Does this mean I'm officially an adult?

Have a very Merry Christmas and joyful holiday season!

- S

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Bell Jar

"I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." - Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)

I tried reading Sylvia Plath's iconic novel back in high school, but gave up after fifty or sixty pages. The Bell Jar is often praised for Plath's progressive representation of feminism, and I always hoped to give the book another try. I've had this copy of The Bell Jar sitting on my shelf for a few years now, so I was excited to finally pick it up this month.

If you had asked me before why I'd given up on the novel back in high school, I would have told you the book was too sad for my taste. The truth is, the story just hit too close to home. In fact, I'm glad I waited until I was older to try again.

Now Plath's words don't trigger sadness as much as they trigger a sense of kinship, normalcy, and hope. I know it's a cliché to love Sylvia Plath, maybe that's another reason why I stopped reading her book in high school, but there's a reason so many women (and men) love her work. She spoke a language people can understand and connect to. Her writing would have seemed revolutionary when the book was first published, as it shed light on the feelings of discontent and uncertainty that often accompany the standards society sets for women.

Although women's rights have greatly increased in America over the last 60 years, we are still fighting against gender stereotypes today. Women are often held to a double standard when it comes to sex, and many women are forced to give up jobs due to lack of affordable child care and unpaid maternity leave. For these reasons, The Bell Jar is considered a modern classic and remians relevant today.