Thursday, December 3, 2015

Literary Gift Guide - 2015

For the third year running, I'm here to provide you with some pretty great holiday/solstice/new year gifts for your favorite reader, writer, and literary enthusiast. Don't forget to check out 2013's and 2014's lists, too!

Write Like a Motherfucker mug ($15)
I love Cheryl Strayed. "Write Like a Motherfucker" has been one of the most well-known and well-loved quotes from her advice column on The Rumpus, Dear Sugar. Buy this mug. Buy this poster. Buy the book that they created from Dear Sugar columns, and then buy the book that spawned from that book. Trust me.

A Litographs t-shirt ($34)
I bought one of these t-shirts (the Leaves of Grass one, to be more specific) for a gift recently and it is not
only well-crafted and a great conversation starter, but it is also one of the softest t-shirts ever. Choose from 150+ styles (new ones are added often), as well as totes, posters, and even temporary tattoos!

Paddywax's Library candle collection ($15-21)
Paddywax sells a variety of candles, but my favorites come from their Library collection. They sell 2.5-ounce tin candles as well as 6.5-ounce votives. All of their Library candles are literary-themed, so you may find yourself with an Edgar Allan Poe candle (scented with Cardamom, Absinthe & Sandalwood) or a John Steinbeck candle (scented with Smoked Birch & Amber). Perfect to pair with your favorite classic book.

Flying Dog beer ($9-12 for a six-pack)
This beer - brewed in Frederick, Maryland - has strong ties to Hunter S. Thompson. Their motto, "Good People Drink Good Beer" is a direct quote from Thompson, all of their artwork is done by Ralph Steadman (Thompson’s illustrator), and legend has it that Thompson was good friends with the brewers. And not to mention, their beer is really very good. (If you can't get your hands on Flying Dog, check out any number of literary-inspired brews.)

Cute bookends (varies)
For those that haven't fully made the switch to ebooks, buy them a thoughtful, silly, stylish, or interesting bookend. You can start out with a $13 H&M "Books I Haven't Read" bookend, go mid-range with a $65 pair of bicycle bookends from Uncommon Goods, or go all out with $165 whale bookends from designer Jonathan Adler. I'm sure the recipient will love whatever you get them!

Happy holidays to you & yours, and merry reading!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Person: Cheryl Strayed

Last night, I was lucky enough to attend an event in DC at which Emily Yoffe (fka Dear Prudence) was in conversation with Cheryl Strayed (aka Dear Sugar, in print and podcast). Cheryl became one of my absolute favorite authors when I read Wild, and then permanently secured her place in my heart and on my bookshelf with Tiny Beautiful Things. I have seen her speak once before at the AWP conference in 2013, when she was in conversation with Augusten Burroughs.

Cheryl Strayed is currently on tour to promote her newest book, Brave Enough (of which we all got a free copy, with our ticket). Brave Enough, as described on her website, is "a collection of quotes--drawn from the wide range of her writings--that capture her wisdom, courage, and outspoken humor." Cheryl has written and spoken about how important quotes are to her; she has carried them around with her - physically, emotionally, mentally - for her entire life. On her Pacific Crest Trail hike that was chronicled in Wild, she left a quote of personal importance in each of the visitors logs as she trekked. Her publishers decided that - after her amazing advice column and subsequent book, Dear Sugar and Tiny Beautiful Things, respectively - people would love a compliation of some of her best quotes. They were right.

Last night, the Sixth & I synagogue was sold out. People packed the venue to see, hear, and meet these two well-known advice columnists. Sixth & I encouraged the audience to live-tweet the event (I never miss a chance to live-tweet an exciting event). I have compiled a few of my (and others') tweets for you to peruse. I feel like Cheryl would appreciate my quoting her.

I did get to meet Cheryl at the end of the event; she had a very structured book signing and I waited almost an hour to see her. Even after signing countless books and meeting countless earnest faces, she was still sweet and caring. With heartfelt warmth, she showed my friend and me a photo of her and her daughter as we talked. She seems like such a kind soul, and I hope I'll get the chance to meet her again. For now, I'll be burying my head in Brave Enough, and likely rereading her other books as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

In Person: Zadie Smith

Growing up in suburban and rural areas, I never really got the chance to go see popular authors read their work. I didn't even know that was really a thing until I moved out of the Midwest. I've decided to start chronicling the amazing readings that I have attended in hopes that my readers (reader? I know there is at least one of you out there) can feel connected to the aliveness that is literature.

This week, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore hosted Zadie Smith. Admission was open to the public and free. After reading - and loving - Zadie's first novel, White Teeth, and her collection of essays, Changing My Mind, I had to stop by. I brought two books with me for her to sign - White Teeth and On Beauty - and even bought a third (NW) while I was there.

Zadie Smith is a charming, kind, and witty person. She read two chapters from her new novel, Swing, Time, written from a first-person perspective of growing up mixed race and finding oneself through friendship, relationships, academia, family. Maybe it was the intriguing story, maybe it was her smooth accent, maybe it was the giddiness of seeing Zadie Smith read live, but I was completely enamored. The book is set to release next fall and I will be first in line to pick it up.

I met Zadie after the reading. There was a line of at least 50 people buying books from Ivy Bookshop, talking about Zadie's work, and nervously giggling. Of course, I ended up in the back of the line, only a handful of people behind me. With two friends in tow, I kept wondering how many books I could ask her to sign and what to say to this person who is just a person but also a literary giant. When I finally reached the front of the line, I didn't even get a chance to say all of the obligatory "I love your work" ramblings, because Zadie immediately asked me about my tattoo. To be more exact, she began to read the Latin off of my chest piece and made a quick joke about the placement. We talked about my tattoo, I asked her to sign all three (ALL THREE) of the books I brought with me, and then she took a photo with my friends and me. She was even more welcoming than I expected.

Meeting, speaking with, and listening to a renowned author like Zadie Smith has prompted me to be more appreciative of the humanity that goes into writing strong pieces of work. Her writing and its impact on the reader is possibly best described through her first novel, White Teeth: “Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.”

Next up: Cheryl Strayed, Nov 18

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review: Ruby by Cynthia Bond

I have a distinct memory of the first time I read Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. The progressive themes, the colorful imagery, the sculpted language. I remember being in love with the characters and understanding their struggles, triumphs, and pain. Cynthia Bond's Ruby, an Oprah's Book Club 2.0 pick and NYT Best Seller, allowed me to have similar feelings and step back into that moment with Hurston that I never thought I'd have again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sleater-Kinney's & Broad City's Favorite Books

NPR hosted one of the best interviews that I've seen in recent times this week: the women of Broad City (Ilana Galzer and Abbi Jacobson) interviewed the women of Sleater-Kinney (Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss). During this 1+ hour interview, these five people talk about everything from SNL to feminism to how an album gets remastered. I was completed wrapped up in the interview, especially when they started talking about their favorite recent books. Check these out and start reading like Broad City and Sleater-Kinney!

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The First Bad Man: A Novel by Miranda July
Carrie Brownstein describes this novel as "amazing," and mentions it before any other book on this list, which means that I need to buy it immediately. The way she discusses it, it sounds like she has read other Miranda July books, which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest, since July is a known feminist and artist. Buy it at Strand Bookstore for $25.00.

The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel by Michel Faber
Carrie also talks about this novel being one of her recent favorites, and she's in good company as this Faber novel has won multiple awards and recognitions since its release in October 2014. Pick it up at Powell's for $23.00.

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon is a good friend of Sleater-Kinney, so when Carrie brings up this memoir, everyone "ooh"s. Janet Weiss says, "I'm afraid to read it. I love [Kim Gordon] so much, I'm kind of afraid," but Carrie abates her worry, telling her that it is "awesome." Corin Tucker says that Gordon is "so badass, all the way." Girl in a Band will be released on February 24, 2015, but you can preorder it from Harper-Collins for $27.99.

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Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York and Watch Me: A Memoir, both by Anjelica Huston
Corin begins by saying that she is totally into Anjelica Huston's first memoir, calling it "so great," and "fascinating." Janet chimes in with, "What a woman!" At the time of the interview, Corin says she'd only read the first one "so far," so I'm putting both on this list, since it seems that she isn't far from reading the second one. You can buy them both from Amazon for $33.29.

The Goldfinch: A Novel by Donna Tartt
Despite not remembering the name of this novel right away, Abbi Jacobson cites this Pulitzer Prize-winner as her current read. Get the hardcover here for $18.00.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
A new favorite in the feminist community, Bad Feminist is mentioned as one of Abbi's recent reads. She calls it "great," and Carrie concurs, stating that she "gave it to a lot of people" recently. Buy it from Harper-Collins for $15.99.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Abbi lists this book and Ilana Glazer agrees, offering a "hot tip," if you're interested in reading it: "Poehler's book on audiobook! It's like, y'know, you just walk around like ha ha ha! Yes! Yes!" Listen to the audiobook from Audible for $24.49.

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The Fire Next Time and The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin
Carrie brings these books up later in the interview: "Any time I feel dark in my own life or just in the world, I can read his books and he's just a constant source of inspiration for me." What a stunning endorsement. You can buy both from Amazon for $20.14.

Just Kids by Patti Smith
While the book itself isn't mentioned in this interview, there is much talk of Patti Smith, since all of the women on stage idolize her. This memoir is a great read and will give you a glimpse into Smith's life in the 60s and 70s. Buy it from Harper-Collins for $16.00.

And, in case you were wondering, order every single one of these books from Amazon today for $170.94. So now, get out there, pick up these books, and start reading! You never know when you'll run into Carrie Brownstein and need to break the ice.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Literary Gift Guide - 2014

Happy winter solstice, holidays, etc! Last year, I had a great time curating a holiday gift guide, so I figured I would make another for this year. Enjoy & if you have any additional suggestions, leave them in the comments!

Zine subscription program by Pioneers Press ($25 - 100)
This is a great gift for your favorite DIY'er. Pioneers Press has quickly become one of my favorite zine producers, and with this subscription program, you get new zines every two weeks, delivered directly to your mailbox. And with titles like, "The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin' Sad" and "Quitter: Good Luck Not Dying," you know you're in good hands.

Olde Book Pillow by ThinkGeek (on sale for $9.99)
A pillow designed to look like a book! You can choose from The Nutcracker, Peter Pan, and a Christmas Carol, each with a quote on the back of the pillow. (They also sell Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, and Treasure Island for $17.99 each or $49.99 for all three.)

Sainted Writers ($10)
These awesome candles are made to look like the traditional Virgin Mary candles, but with your favorite writers. Brilliant, I say.

 Literary Calendar by ObviousState ($18)
ObviousState is a designer with a literary lean, and the items that they make are gorgeous. The end-of-year holidays are the perfect time to buy yourself or someone else a new calendar, so this makes the perfect gift for so many reasons.

Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried ($19.99)
This is a book of photos of dishes from literary works. If you can follow along with that, you'll have to agree that it is pretty amazing. Take a look and have your mind blown.

Craftgasm ($1 - 18)
Find wonderful literary treats in this etsy shop run by one of my favorite DC people to follow on Twitter. She turns tons of great things into stationary and greeting cards - old library cards, maps, and even some cute quotes ("I give a fuck about an Oxford Comma," for instance. Take that Vampire Weekend).

Happy holidays to you & yours!

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Top Ten Influential Books

I was recently "tagged" on Facebook by a friend to create a list of 10 books that have left a lasting impression on me. After posting it on Facebook, I figured that I'd really enjoy sharing it with the world, so here is my list of books, listed in no particular order:

1. Matilda by Roald Dahl - This was the first book that I realized you can be a book-lover and still be a hero. Matilda changed my life in no small way.
2. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry - One of the first books to introduce me to the Holocaust. The characters were so relatable to me at the time, and it put into perspective the terrible things that had happened.
3. Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - If you've read this, you'll understand why this is on the list. It is so poignant, so thoughtful, so powerful. I've given this book as a gift to many people because I believe everyone should read it.
4. White Oleander by Janet Fitch - This book is so messed up in a beautiful way. I went through a long period of time where this was the only book I really loved.
5. The MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood - I had a hard time choosing one Margaret Atwood book (I suggest reading as much as you possibly can from her). This trilogy was engaging and meant a lot to me. I thank Martine a million times over for recommending it.
6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - I was living in Kansas when I read this and good god, how terrifying. This book is so insightful and engaging, I can't say enough about it. 

7. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling - I grew up with Harry Potter (we were about the same age as the books progressed). I learned so much about everything through those books and can talk forever and ever about their impact on me and my generation.
8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - I had a difficult time deciding if this book or her poems influenced me more. Either way, Sylvia Plath reached into the darkest part of my heart, at a time that I really needed to know that I could feel dark. A lot of people "grow out of her," but her writing still affects me now.
9. The World has Changed by Alice Walker - This is a book of compilations of Alice Walker's essays and interviews throughout her life. Alice Walker is practically a god to me.
10. Good Without God by Greg Epstein - Maybe not the best-written book, but it is such an important read for someone like me, an atheist questioning how I can still give back to my community and still be a "good person" without religion.

I'd love to hear about your top 10 books as well, so feel free to comment!