What I’ve Been Reading: September 2017

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. 

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

This book is a work of fiction, but it may as well be completely true, given how many young unarmed black men have been killed by police in recent years.  It’s a vitally important book and an incredibly well-written work.

First, about the writing itself: this book is so well-crafted.  Every character is ridiculously realistic.  Starr’s family dynamics are incredible, with her parents being more present — and more true to life — than any other YA book I have read (and I’ve read several with good parent characters).  Starr’s friends are complex also — they have hidden hopes and dreams that show through and they deal with their own issues.  Starr’s boyfriend is also wonderfully written.  He makes dumb teenage mistakes, but owns up to them and honestly tries to be a good person.  I cannot say enough good things about the characters here, and that should tell you all you need to know about this book.

Second, the importance of this book cannot be overestimated.  As a white woman, reading this book is about as close as I can get to truly understanding what it is to be black in today’s world.  In addition to showing the blatant unfairness and discrimination against young black men, Thomas shows how Starr filters herself around her white friends because of small, thoughtless, but still discriminatory, comments that they routinely make.  It shows overt and covert racism and how both are damaging.  But she also shows how to respectfully learn — Starr’s boyfriend is white, and when he starts hanging out with Starr’s black friends, they talk about racism and what’s okay for him to do and say and what isn’t.

I don’t care how old you are or what color or are or what books you like — this is a book you should read, because this is the world we live in.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

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You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall.

Your neighbor told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.

Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour.

Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.

You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there.

What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?

I read this book in about four hours, because I couldn’t put it down.  It was gripping.  It was was exciting.  It was horrifying.  There were twists and turns I didn’t expect at all.  The characters had secrets, as all good thriller characters must.

Many other reviews on Goodreads accuse this book of being ridiculous.  And maybe it is, but what’s a good thriller without some ridiculous twists and turns?  If crime thrillers are a type of book you enjoy, this is an excellent choice.  It’s true to the genre, the writing is solid, and it’s an entertaining way to spend a few hours.  I’d recommend this, not as something you absolutely must read, but as one I’d pass by in a bookshop and say, oh yeah, that was pretty dang good.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan–charismatic and impulsive–finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind–including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.

When I read Lahiri’s The Namesake, I knew I had to read more.  The types of books that Lahiri writes may be my favorites types of all time — books about families that span decades and follow the characters throughout the majority of their lives.  These are stories that aren’t really happy, but aren’t really sad — there are moments of despair and moments of hope.  There are characters that hate themselves and characters that rise up from impossible circumstances.  There are those that heal themselves and those that carry open wounds forever.  And you get to see how each of these people turn out, how their lives affect those that come after them.  Lahiri’s books are stories about individuals and family units, all in one.

I love stories about immigrants, especially Latino or Indian immigrants, so that was one aspect of this book that I loved.  I also loved that though the characters’ lives were wildly up and down, the book ended on a hopeful note.  I loved that the book was told from multiple perspectives — this can be hard to pull off, but Lahiri does it so elegantly that she doesn’t even need headings for the different sections — it’s easy to distinguish who she is talking about.  I loved that the ending wasn’t completely happy, either, because life isn’t completely happy.  This book is a beautiful representation of life and I wholeheartedly recommend it and anything else by her.

Covers and synopses from Goodreads

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What I’ve Been Reading: July/August 2017

While I’ve been neglecting my blog, I’ve been exploring the libraries and bookstores in my new city.  As it turns out, the libraries here fell way below my expectations, especially compared to the city where I grew up.  I jokingly-but-not wish I had visited the libraries before I moved here, but it is what it is.  And we do at least have a McKay’s, which is a giant, hugely popular book, movie, and music thrift shop — the absolute best kind of shop for browsing.  So here’s what I’ve picked up in the last couple of months.

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A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly

My mom likes to say her favorite movie genre is “based on a true story,” and mine has become the same.  Sometime this summer, we watched the movie Lion.  Saroo, born in India, got lost as a 5-year-old and lived on the streets of Calcutta for months.  He eventually ended up being adopted by an Australian family when no one could figure out where he came from.  He grew up Australian, but as an adult, remembered snippets of India, and used Google Maps to track his way back to his birth family.  The movie is an incredible, chilling rendition of this incredible, chilling true story.  Stuff like this cannot be made up; when they say the truth is stranger than fiction, this story is what they’re talking about.  Read this book; watch the movie.  This is one I won’t forget for a long time.

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Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas

Another true story/memoir/autobiography, this is the testimony of Koren, a girl who was introduced to alcohol at age 14 and didn’t look back for almost a decade.  Written during the time of her life when she realized just how much of life she was missing out on because of alcohol, it’s a detailed reflection of what could almost be considered lost years.  Koren, once she had had a taste, used alcohol to fill all the voids in her life because she didn’t know what else to do.  She drank her way through middle school, high school, and college, never quite getting physically addicted but never able to give it up.  It’s sad story, and sluggish at times because of the sheer amount of detail in it.  But Koren has a way with words.  She uses a lot of metaphor, which has drawn a lot of criticism on Goodreads, but I enjoyed her writing style because it felt graceful and genuine.  It’s obvious that Koren still has issues to work through, but don’t we all?

My final comments on this story are these: when I was glancing through the Goodreads reviews, I was appalled by the sheer amount of people who seem to hate Koren (not just her book, but Koren herself) because she was a sorority girl and because she wrote and was successful with this book so soon after she stepped away from alcohol for good.  What the crap, people?  Can’t we just let this girl help herself through her writing, through sharing her story?  The book was a New York Times best seller — it’s obvious that this is something that affects a lot of us.  Why tear down something that Koren should be proud of?

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Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

This is a story, told in reverse, of a man named Sean who shrinks from society after a horrible accident that disfigured his face.  He makes a living by creating and running an adventure game that is played through the mail.  But when two teen players experience tragedy because they attempted to recreate the game in the real world, Sean has to face the world again, and at the same time, his past.

This was a weird book to read.  Sean has a pleasant, nonchalant tone about him, but it’s obvious he hides something.  His life, and the chapters, are quiet, but things are revealed each chapter almost without the reader noticing.  As you piece together his life, and how it turned out this way, it gets more and more horrible.  And while the how behind his disfigurement is revealed, the why is much harder to grasp.  A lot of this book is implicit, but it’s obvious it deals with self-hate and depression without offering much hope or ways out.  This is one I would love to read with others in an analytical setting.

The Handm12961964aid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’ll be honest; I only read this book because none of the other books I wanted to read were available at the library, and because of the new Hulu show based on it (which I haven’t seen).  And I wasn’t really that impressed.  It was boring and hard to get into at first.  It’s a book that very obviously tries to make a point, and so it’s a little two-dimensional.  I feel like the explanation for the dystopian society was a little weak and lacking in depth.  The characters were a bit flat also.  Some of my complaints could be because the whole book is supposed to be the transcript of a recording that was made supposedly long ago.  It’s a historical document being analyzed by professors in the year 29something.  But even so, this just wasn’t anything that particularly struck me.  If you want to read about dystopia, read the Hunger Games trilogy.  They’re put together much better.

Small Admissio30827125ns by Amy Poeppel

This is the story of Kate Pearson, who finds herself thrown for a complete loop after her serious boyfriend dumps her.  She wallows in her sadness for months, but after her sister’s prodding, finally gets a job in admissions at a prestigious private school.  As she’s getting back on her feet, her friends are keeping secrets, parents are doing inane things for an acceptance at the school, and her sister is learning to let go.

This is a fluffy book, like I expected it to be.  And it was delightful.  I did have a couple complaints — a parent of a student-hopeful begins to narrate about a third of the way through the book, which threw me for a loop.  I think she should have been introduced earlier.  And near the end, I felt the story had wrapped up nicely, and then there was an incident that seemed to drag the book out a few more chapters and didn’t do a whole lot for Kate’s character arc.  But overall, this was so fun to read.  The characters were interesting and distinct, there were surprises I didn’t see coming, and it was a great story about changing your expectations for life and being okay with that.  It was definitely a few hours well spent.

All images from Goodreads.

Novels and NaNoWriMo

I follow a lot of bloggers who are also writers.  Some of them are published, and some of them aren’t.  But they all write as a passion, and that means every November, a lot of them start talking about their word count, their characters, and their plot lines.  I start seeing huge lists of writing tips and motivation on Twitter.  Things like Dory singing “Just keep writing!” fill up my social media feeds.  Every November, tons of people around the world worry and fret about whether they can write 50,000 words in one month.

That’s because November is NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month.  If you’ve never heard of it, you can read about it here.  (It’s not too late to join if you also want to participate!)

I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo (which is NaNoWriMo’s summer counterpart) the summer before I started college.  I did not make 50,000 words.  I think I wrote between 20k or 30k, which is still quite an accomplishment.  But I’m probably exaggerating.  And I haven’t participated since.

I’ve wanted to be a published author as long as I can remember.  Books and words are definitely my first love, and I used to write stories all the time.  My problem was finishing them.  So I thought NaNo would be perfect for me.  Just churn out the first draft, and the first step is done.  It seems a lot less daunting that way.

So why did I stop participating?  Well, for one, I started college.  It always seems like fall semesters are the busiest, and writing however-many words a day on top of homework and extracurriculars is just too much.  November is also when a lot of semester projects start being due, and those just take priority.

But the other reason is I’ve lost my interest in writing novels for now.  I still read them all the time, of course — I would go insane if I couldn’t read others’ stories.  I love novels with all my heart and will read them till the day I die.  But I just don’t know if I want to write one.

Obviously, I enjoy writing.  I have a blog, after all.  But lately my focus has shifted from novels to writing about other things.  My favorite posts to write are memoirs, and I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book-length one of my own someday.  I’ve though about extensively interviewing my parents and writing their story.  And, being in business school, I’m surrounded by marketing blogs and content creation ideas that center around the goal of appealing to the consumer by helping them with a problem.  I would love to have a job where I create blog posts and social media content for a company.

But novel writing is not my thing anymore.  I’m more invested in what is going on around me than I am in my own head.  I don’t get ideas for stories and characters anymore; I get ideas for blog posts and essays and research papers.  This is probably more a consequence of who I am around more than it is my ability to be creative, like I sometimes tell myself.  I think if I had been an English major I would still think like a novelist.  But I’m majoring in Marketing, and while I may someday be able to write a novel about that, right now my focus is on other things.

However, to all the WriMos out there furiously typing away, best of luck to you!  Even though I do not participate anymore, I highly respect those who do and cannot wait to read about all you are up to this November.  Who knows, maybe I’ll be reading your book one day.  And maybe, just maybe, in a year or five or ten, I’ll join you.

NaNoWriMo Is…Inspiration

Inspiration usually comes during work, not before it.

–Madeleine L’Engle

 

Over the last four days, I’ve been typing, typing, typing, and this quote has started to make so much sense.  It’s when I sit down to write, turn off the distractions, and start throwing words on the page that I get ideas.

I don’t get them instantaneously, of course.  A lot of the time, I feel like I’m rambling just to make my word count.  And that’s frustrating, because I know I might go back over my manuscript and delete half of it once it’s all done.  But that’s also the beauty of NaNoWriMo — that I can write stuff that may well be crap, but once it’s all over my ideas are finally down on the page, finally finished, and I can move on to the next step.

And right now, I truly believe I WILL finish, because when I sit down to ramble, more ideas keep coming my way.

Words Written: 6,472

Words To Go:  43,528

Camp NaNoWriMo!

I am a forgetful person.  But occasionally I remember things just in time.

Ever heard of NaNoWriMo?  It’s short for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November.  Basically, you write furiously all month until you step back from your computer and hope all those words somehow formed themselves into a coherent story.  I’ve thought about doing it, but I always seem to remember it’s happening right around the middle of November.  Plus, Novembers are busy for me.

Thankfully, there is also Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a significantly more awesome version of the regular NaNoWriMo!  It occurs in July rather than November, a still busy but less hectic month for me.  And, along with the usual word-tracking, you get to be in a virtual cabin of people who are also doing Camp NaNo.  These people can support and encourage you, ad it’s always fun to get to know other writers!

I’ve got five days until the frantic typing begins.  That gives me five days to finalize my plot and characters.  Then, it’s on to 31 days of nothing but writing, writing, writing.  My word goal is 50,000 words, which means I must write 1,612 words per day to finish on time.

Yikes.

But for now, onward!

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