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.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Knife and The Fork

A lot has happened since we last spoke. I got new glasses. I baked my first cheesecake. We elected a new President and I spent more than a bit of money on Black Friday sales. Life has been a little crazy lately and my anxiety levels have me wishing it was socially acceptable to spend all day in bed, but alas, it is not.

A week ago I had a moment of insight inspired by a fork and a muffin. I bought a muffin on my way to work and as usual, I asked for a plastic knife. I find that using a knife allows me to cut the muffin into bite sized pieces while making the least amount of mess. However, when I sat down with my latte at the bookstore, what I found in the bag was a fork.

Right away I thought, "A fork! What am I going to do with a fork? This isn't going to work. What a disaster!" Then I took a moment and realized how silly I was being because of course a fork would work. Maybe it's not what I thought I was getting, or what I normally use, but eating a muffin with a fork would work just as well as a knife. I don't know who was to blame for the mix up. Maybe the lady accidentally grabbed the wrong utensil, or I may have just said fork instead of knife. Either way all that matters is that I had a working untensil and a muffin to eat.

I couldn't help but see this fork/knife debocle as a metaphor for life. In life we're not always given what we want, or what we believe we're being given. Occasionally life gives you a fork instead of a knife. Maybe the fork makes more of a mess, but it's still a useful tool for getting the muffin into your mouth. Am I getting too deep into this metaphor now?

The fork was a reminder to always look at situations with an open mind. Next time I feel stuck, I should consider looking for an unexpected solution. Of course, I'd still like to get what I want (wouldn't we all), but life rarely works how I want it to.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tire Tracks Through Autumn Leaves

The weather was in rare form this past weekend. High temperatures and sunny skies felt like a gentle nudge from mother nature, telling me to get outside before winter arrives. After spending such little time on my bike this year I had been itching for some extra motivation. Over the past couple weeks I kept telling myself to get out, even marking good riding days in my planner, but never followed through. I knew I was running out of time for outdoor rides and by November 1st I figured it was too late. So when I saw the weather forecast for this past weekend, I knew it would be my last real chance.

My dad and I managed to carve out time on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's ride was a short fifteen miles, but both of us were happy to be done by that point. I had waited too long since my last ride and my muscles felt sluggish. The views were beautiful and there were several times when I wished I could capture the scenery around me without having to stop. When I'm riding I just want to keep going and the idea of stopping to take a picture seems counterproductive. Still, riding along a path covered in yellow leaves or through a section lined with colorful trees makes me want to bottle those moments to share with everyone.

After the ride, and helping to clean up leaves at my grandpa's house, we made one last trip to The Dairy Lodge for the season. A cookie dough flurry made the perfect reward for the day's hard work!

On Sunday I felt terrible in the beginning. My whole body was sore and I had bruises from the ungraceful moment on Saturday when I fell over at one of the intersections. Thankfully after a mile or so my butt stopped hurting and my muscles warmed up. Not only did we keep a faster pace on the second day, we rode farther (twenty miles instead of fifteen), and we managed to climb a few hills on our way home.

Most of my thoughts lately have been consumed by the idea that I'm not enough. I have been overwhelmed with this feeling of failure, and I'm afraid I have been making all the wrong choices. A feeling of dissatisfaction makes me wish I were anywhere else but here. When I'm on my bike though, there's no where else I'd rather be. It's difficult to feel unsatisfied while surrounded by this beautiful place I get to call home. Deep down I know riding my bike doesn't solve any of my problems, but in those moments I no longer worry about where I am or how much money is in my bank account. All I want is to keep pushing myself forward. I climb those hills to prove to myself that I am strong enough, and when I make it to the top I have one less reason to say I am not a failure.

- S

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Going Shorter

I went to the salon last Thursday and told my stylist I wanted to go shorter, much shorter. When I cut my hair short the last time it was the most drastic change I had ever experienced with my hair. I loved that cut and I loved the ease of short hair. I have been blessed with lots of hair, but what is a blessing can also be a curse. When my hair is long it takes hours to dry and style, something that I just don't have the energy or time to do on a daily basis. So instead of enjoying long flowing locks I'm left with mostly buns and pony tails. As much as having long hair makes me feel pretty and feminine, shorter hair just works better (and it can still be feminine).

It looks a little windswept after my walk home, whoops.

I was a bad blogger on the day of my cut and forgot to take a before shot. I had about 10 inches taken off in order to donate it. Since I didn't want to go as short as my last haircut I was worried my hair wouldn't be long enough to donate, but it worked out in the end. Having shorter hair again has made me feel lighter. I know hair doesn't really change anything, but sometimes it's the biggest, most immediate change you can control (one that can always grow back). The fact that I like controlled change probably says something about me, psychologically speaking, but at least now I can wash and dry my hair in under an hour!


Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

I hope everyone had a fun filled weekend! I didn't dress up this year, but I'll make sure to celebrate the holiday with some candy.


Friday, October 21, 2016


"'You have a morbid aversion to dying. You probably resent the fact that you're at war and might get your head blown off any second.'
'I more than resent it, sir. I'm absolutely incensed.'
'You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don't like bigots, bullies, snobs or hypocrites. Subconsciously there are many people you hate.'
'Consciously, sir, consciously.' Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. 'I hate them consciously.' 'You're antagonistic to the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated or deceived. Misery depresses you. Ignorance depresses you. Persecution depresses you. Violence depresses you. Slums depresses you. Greed depresses you. Crime depresses you. Corruption depresses you. You know, it wouldn't surprise me if you're a manic-depressive!'
'Yes, sir. Perhaps I am.'
'Don't try to deny it.'
'I'm not denying it, sir,' said Yossarian, pleased with the miraculous rapport that finally existed between them. 'I agree with all you've said.'"

The above is just one example of the brilliant writing in Catch-22. I knew going into this book that Heller's writing style was a dividing factor for fans and critics of his famous first novel. Thankfully I never read this book in high school since I would have hated Heller's non-lineal narrative back then. The novel's satirical elements would have probably gone over my head when I was sixteen but it's what solidifies this book as a new favorite now. War can be a tricky subject to approach, but Heller maneuvers it with such non-glorified honesty that he makes you understand just how frustratingly powerless and horrifying it is to be caught in the middle.


Monday, October 10, 2016

One Saturday In October

My mom and I had the house all to ourselves this weekend while my dad was in Detroit. We spent most of our time binge watching the first season of Arrow, but we did managed to leave the house Saturday morning for cream cheese pastries. Our typical Saturday morning routines consist of coffee and a trip to the farmers market; my parents usually get coffee at 7/11 during their morning walk and I walk downtown for coffee. This week however, also involved breakfast at Brew and window shopping through downtown TC.

Saturday was the first chilly day of the season and I spent most of the morning wishing I had worn gloves. Luckily I did find this hat from Haystacks to help keep me warm. I purchased my denim jacket after seeing it in Estée Lalonde's recent fashion haul. I had been eyeing the jacket ever since she featured it in an OOTD on Instagram and I finally bought it two weeks ago. The sweatshirt is one that I bought this summer out in Glen Arbor. I don't typically buy tourist sweatshirts but I love the look of this one.

It was so cold Saturday morning that I had to break out my hiking boots. These boots are one of the best investments I've ever made. They're beyond comfortable and keep my feet warm and dry in all types of weather.

After our morning jaunt through town, we road out to Gallagher's Farm Market for pizza bread. I'm pretty sure my mom is addicted to that bread, at least as addicted as I am to cream cheese pastries. Then it was on home for a full afternoon of being couch potatoes. I hope your weekend was as good as mine!

- S

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Kloosterman's Take Mackinac Island

Saturday was my family's annual trip to Mackinac Island. We've been going to Mackinac since I was little, but the annual visits only started four years ago now. It's funny how my relationship with the island has changed so drastically over these past few years. My parents used to have to drag me Mackinac while I spent most of the time sulking and whining about the crowds. If you've only ever been in the island in the summer I'd highly recommend taking your next trip during the autumn months. I love seeing the fall colors and walking through the woods for hours exploring different parts of the island. There's so much life and beauty on Mackinac, but when the weather starts to cool a sense of calm begins to settle. As the tourist season winds to a close horses are shipped to the main land, fewer carriages run, and many of the stores offer sales on their left over inventory. Even used bikes sell for cheap. Whether you like hiking through nature, exploring pieces of America's history, or shopping to your heart's content, there's something for everyone on Mackinac Island.

Since the weather called for rain in the afternoon, we started the day with a hike around the island. The long hill is always first and the most painful. First up was the "Somewhere In Time" gazebo. In the last couple years we started a tradition of taking a family photo at this gazebo (see the first photo of the post). It's a fun way to document our trip each year.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I... I took the one with the rest of the weirdos.

Near the end of our trip it started raining, so we took refuge in the shops along Main Street. We stopped for a late lunch at Island Slice Pizzeria followed by a quick jaunt through The Island Bookstore. Of course I couldn't leave Mackinac without my yearly allotment of fudge. Despite the fact that Traverse City has several fudge shops, including Murdick's and Kilwins, it's never the same as getting it on the island. Overall Mackinac Island 2016 was a success, even with the rain. I'm blessed to have a family that gets along so well, and I can't wait to do it all again next year.

 - S