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. I remember the progressive themes, the colorful imagery, the sculpted language. I remember being in love with the characters and understanding their struggles, triumphs, and pain. I remember thinking 'whoa, everyone I know should read this book.' 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!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Poetry + a Cross-Country Road Trip

I will be posting a lot about this in the next couple months, but in September, I am going on a cross-country road trip from Baltimore, Maryland to Santa Cruz, California. I am going with my partner, who is a writer, so expect a lot of literary-nerd things to happen. One poem for each state that we drive through.

There is something powerful about reading pieces from poets who are either from the land that I am driving over, or have driven over the same land. I enjoy hearing others' views of the beauty, the squalor, the community, and the culture of other places, especially those that I have not visited previously.

Here are the states that I will be passing through and the poems that I have chosen to read as we drive through them:

Maryland - "Baltimore on Upper Eutaw" by Sidi J. Mahtrow
Pennsylvania - "Returning Native" by John Updike
West Virginia - "How to Get to Green Springs" by Dave Smith
Ohio - "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio" by James Wright
Indiana - "How Evolution Came to Indiana" by Philip Appleman
Illinois - "Roots" by John Pillar
Missouri - "Reflection on History in Missouri" by Constance Urdang
Kansas - "Kansas August Evening" by Jamie Lynn Heller
Colorado - "The Garden" by Susie Kerin
Wyoming - "Western Civilization" by James Galvin
Utah - "Provo" by Mark Rudman
Nevada - "Sparks, Nevada" by Cynthia Cruz
California - "The Dogs at Live Oak Beach, Santa Cruz" by Alicia Ostriker

If you have other recommendations, I would absolutely love to hear them, so please leave them in the comments.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


This year, when the BookCon released its list of featured authors, the online book world exploded with fury. White authors. Male authors. Straight authors. Cisgender authors. In some cases, all of those things in one. #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaigns kicked off on Twitter, on blogs, and throughout the book and writing communities. Even before that, though, readers and writers knew that there was a problem with diversity in the book scene.

As you may know, I facilitate a local book club and our book choices are democratically voted on by members. After looking at the books that we've read over the past two years since our inception, I realized that we read almost primarily white authors and mostly male authors.

Not only that, but looking at my own personal reading, I realized that I also read mostly white male authors! This was quite a surprising discovery, as I am an activist and advocate for LGBTQ folks, people of color, and women's rights. And now, I find that my consumption of reading material did not reflect that.

For 2014, I vowed to read only authors who fit into one or more of the following categories: non-male identified, non-cis identified, people of color, and/or queer folks. As you can see (above), the books that I have read in 2014 are fairly diverse. Not all of them fall into these categories. John Green is a cis, white, straight, male-identified author. As is Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Cline. However, as an avid reader, I have become much more aware of who I choose to read, which books I choose to buy, and how my intake as a consumer affects the marketplace, the authors that get published, and who speaks at BookCon.

I was surprised how easy it was to read books by diverse authors. It's not that only white men can write great novels, poetry, and memoirs. People of various backgrounds have many stories to tell and their stories are being written and published. Here are some tips to help you find the great wealth that is diverse books:
  • VIDA is a great resource for figuring out which publishers to support (they conduct a yearly count to determine the rate of which publishing houses and presses are publishing men versus women). 
  • Find an author that you like, and check out their influences. It is likely that if they are a diverse author, their influences are diverse as well.
  • Ask your local bookstore or library for recommendations.
  • Check out the variety of blog posts and websites posted under the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag.
Once you have found some amazing new authors to read, start reading! Ask your book club to join you. Ask your professor if they can work to assign readings written by diverse authors. Volunteer at local book events and promote diversity. Figure out your individual way to affect change.

So, with that, I challenge you to choose to read mostly (if not all) diverse books. Enjoy getting a different perspective, or gain validation on your perspective as a cultural being. Consciously choose to read diverse authors until the choices become second-nature. You, and the book community as a whole, will be better for it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Literary Tourism: Jack Kerouac's Grave

This weekend, I took a trip to beautiful New England and stopped a little on the way. My favorite stop was Jack Kerouac's grave in Lowell, MA. You may know Kerouac as one of the great Beat poets, the author of On The Road, and a rabblerouser who loved to drink and adventure.

Lowell, MA is Kerouac's hometown. He was born there in 1922 and Lowell has a lot of love for him. There are a few different websites regarding self-guided Kerouac tours through Lowell, and the city has a Kerouac Festival each October.

When I stop at literary greats' grave sites, I usually bring a piece of theirs along to read at the site. My partner read Kerouac's poem, 113th Chorus (which you can read here) and I read his poem, How to Meditate (read it here). In finding Kerouac's unassuming gravestone, I found that many other people had also recently stopped by to memorialize him. Left on his stone were twelve stones, two sticks, a blue candle (melting in the warm sun), two handwritten notes (which I did not open, out of respect), and an unlit cigarette.

Taking part in this trek created a strong connection between me and the others who have walked along Seventh Street in the Edson Cemetery, searching for the place where the body of the late, great creator of the Beat generation lies forevermore.

In the comments, tell me a time that you have visited the grave site of a literary great, and whether you left anything, read anything, and how you felt about the experience.