A Book & A Show

Oh this is January, and what have you done?

I think I just spliced several different concepts, songs, quotes but we’re all good with that right? Right. Happy New Year everyone! Times they are a changing and it’s 2016 in the big town baby.

Wow, my brain is just one giant pop culture machine.

So, as you may have noticed I haven’t blogged in a while. There I said it. The old me would be obsessing over this fact, but obsessing is so yesterday people (thanks Hilary Duff). Also, as part of my job I have to blog for 4-7 other entities, post to a myriad of social media accounts as a ghost writer (spooky), and type until my little fingers chap (yum), but I know, I know…I should dutifully blog for the few folks who love books, television, traveling, more books, and general craziness.

Guess what, though? This blog is for you, yes, but it’s also for me. It’s a way for me to be bonkers and discuss the things that make me happy—the same things that I think might make you happy—and so I’m not going to apologize because enough women out there have apologized for lame reasons (I’m sorry for you bumping into me. I’m sorry for serving food that’s too hot. I’m sorry for being smarter than you.) so I’ll just refrain this time.

Whew, now that that’s over with, let’s get down to biz-naz.

Everyone loves talking about goals and resolutions and new beginnings in January. Not sure if you’ve noticed that…

Normally I love digging into a good cliche and tearing it to pieces through thinly veiled sarcasm and biting apathy but this time, you guessed it, I’ll refrain. I mean what’s wrong with trying to be better? What’s wrong with trying to push yourself to learn a new language, try a new workout, stop guzzling Diet Coke (too good, though, y’all.  Just…too good), or make an online dating profile (a personal nightmare of mine).  The new year is exciting and fresh so it’s kind of a no-brainer people would grab on to it with all of their might, even if that zest only lasts a month or so. 

There was my (second?) soapbox and now on to what you really want—recommendations. Let’s start the new year off on the right foot with some quality. We get enough trash already with the internet and television (even though, when one consumes trash willingly say, by binge watching Real Housewives…that’s, like, a whole other thing) so why not try out a few things with some substance?

The Book

After finishing this book I had that thick teary glob that gets stuck in the throat and kind of hurts but also kind of reminds you you’re alive. Anyone tracking with me?

When I get the glob, I know it’s a good book.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is the real deal people. J. Ryan Stradal brings to life the food, the flair, and the people of America’s Midwest through weaving the lives of each character around the story’s protagonist—Eva Thorvald, a cooking savant.

Each character that is introduced is real and engrossing and their stories, although varied and unique, seem to somehow orbit cohesively around Eva and her cooking abilities. You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy the book, though. The way Stradal shifts from lighthearted tales of young love to deeper situations like the death of a mother or divorce will keep you guessing and prevent you from feeling complacent.  Even though, if you’re a foodie, you’ll definitely enjoy the descriptions of every type of food from new age organic concoctions to homemade butter-laden “dessert bars” passed down from generation to generation. There are even recipes in the book!  Kitchens has a whole lot of heart and exhibits deep, beautiful knowledge of the unique Midwestern culture. It’s the perfect way to begin your reading journey for the new year.

The Show

I’m a self-proclaimed Netflix fangirl. Also, I adore Parks and Rec. So when Aziz Ansari came out with his show on Netflix called Master of None, I was sold. The show chronicles Dev (played by Ansari) and his dating experiences in New York.  It’s a whole lot more than “The Bachelor: New York Edition,” though.

Firstly, it’s not total garbage.

Secondly, it’s got range.  From what happens when everyone around you starts having kids, to dealing with racism and sexism, to trying to navigate how to live with someone, Master of None strikes the perfect balance of biting commentary and farce—the writers acknowledge that millennials are self-centered and insecure while creating endearing, hilarious characters you can’t help but love. Master‘s wit is biting and the stories are memorable which is basically what everyone is looking for in a television show.

So there you have it, a couple worthwhile things that can fill up your time without making you feel like a total sloth.

 

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3 Kiddie Pool Classics or 3 Easy-to-Read Classics that Shouldn’t Scare the Pants off of You

Hey all! Today is the day you’ve been waiting for. The day I offend literati all over the inter web by comparing books that are stained with their (AND MY!) tears of adoration, to the shallow end of a pool. It’s going to be a ball. If you’ve made it this far, I assume the pitchforks aren’t quite sharpened and the torches only dully glowing, so please hear me out before things get cray.

I think reading is one of the most powerful things you can do.

I think opening a book, diving into it, feeling the feelings of the characters,and empathizing with people and situations outside of your narrow world is noble and brave.  I fall at the feet of the writers of classics.  I’m not worthy of cobbling the shoes of Austen, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, and O’Connor. Though if they asked me to cobble, cobble I would (man cobble is a fun word).  Calling one of their works a “Kiddie Pool Classic” may not confirm the respect I feel, but it might entice someone to crack open a great book, which I feel is a grand effort all the same.

A Kiddie Pool Classic is an approachable classic. It’s a read you can’t help but devour like chips and queso on a Friday night. It’s a classic that won’t make you feel like the zit faced redhead swaying alone by the punchbowl at the high school dance. I’m a ginger so I can perpetuate this stereotype.

Taking a bite (or nibble) out of the classics is an admirable goal, but sometimes their language, context, and character development (or lack thereof) is difficult to swallow and even more difficult to understand. Especially if, say, you have a full time job and barely any time to water your (dying) plants, let alone tuck in to chapter 797 of Anna Karenina.  These three Kiddie Pool Classics are by no means shallow, but they are approachable and un-put-downable (sry I’m a scholar with my made up words).  Think how great you’ll feel once you read the last page of your first Austen book and finally, finally understand what all the fuss is about.  So here are three classics I absolutely adore and recommend if you want to take a walk on the Wilde side (see what I did there?)

BeFunky Collagess

Whoops, Wilde isn’t on this list, but the joke was worth the lie. 

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

K, predictable right? It’s an American classic, one often referenced and lauded, and it’s a slim lil’ book.  The story is thick with drama, heartbreak, and love (all things I prefer with my afternoon tea). Fitzgerald’s language and glitzy then grimy 1920s setting is downright addicting. The famous characters of Daisy, Nick, and (le sigh) Jay are what will help you battle that 4 o’clock desire to mindlessly scroll through your Instagram feed, and instead tell your lazy self No, today I choose culture. Today I choose Literature with a capital L…or something like that. Gatsby contains themes of living in the past and the broken American dream, themes that are pretty stinking relevant today.  After reading Gatsby you’ll also be able to do what all great readers of literature love–snootily comparing the book to the movie. This time, you’ll be able to honestly say the book is better, because it seriously is (even though I love me some Baz Luhrmann and muh boo, Leo)

Emma, Jane Austen

I’m going to come right out and say it. If you “love” (yes, I’m putting the word in hostile quotations) Jane Austen because of her romantic words and general appreciation of the weddin’ things, then talk to the hand. That’s not my Jane…sorry.  Good ol’ Austen was a complicated broad, one that loved snark almost as much as I do.  She was a master of satire, irony, and slamming her society, which means (GASP) she actually didn’t get all googley eyed when suitors came to call. People kind of freak out when you tell them that most of the time Austen was making fun of the air heads of her society rather than gushing over just how much baby’s breath belonged on their wedding centerpieces. With this in mind, reading her works is a little more fun. The novel Emma is about the main character, Emma (see easy!) a”handsome, clever and rich” matchmaker who doesn’t need anyone or anything because homegirl has. it. togetha. Because she has money in the bank, she doesn’t see much need to marry. Instead she (badly) plays matchmaker with her friends and at times acts like a total brat who simply cannot understand how people do not totally agree with her.  The book is lively and funny and brimming with interesting characters. And it comes with the benefit of saying you’ve “read” (insert watched Kiera Knightly version) something besides Pride and Prejudice.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Ok, ok, ok, I know, a story of racism, rape, incest, and heartache isn’t exactly what you’d expect in the Kiddie Pool Classic section. The Color Purple has many moments of ugly, but that’s because we as a society experience many moments of ugly. This truth was no different in the 1930s. It’s a Kiddie Pool Classic because once you start, once you grasp Celie’s rural Georgia and get a feel for the language and her struggle, it’s damn near impossible to put down. The book is structured as an epistolary novel or a book of letters (Literary buzz words for $100, Alex.) from Celie to God. They are personal and heartbreaking and powerful.  Against all odds (abuse, bigotry, loneliness) Celie holds onto her dream of being reunited with her sister which seems to make such deep, dark moments bearable. Walker’s writing style is cutting and unapologetic, which I think we all need a little more of every now and again.

What is your favorite classic?

Why I Read YA (and you should too)

A girl walks into a bookstore and asks the clerk where she can find the newest YAL (Young Adult Literature).

Guy at the counter eyes her slowly up, then down.

Girl becomes instantly aware that she hasn’t showered for 2 days.

Guy at the book store sighs, rolls his eyes, then nods his head vaguely in an almost direction and pointedly picks up his Kafka book. Guy wordlessly continues reading.

Girl feels a blush crawling up her face then suddenly the blush changes into something else.  It becomes irritation. Then tight-lipped rage.

I was an English major, you know. Girl spits.  And Kafka’s so. freaking. dour.  

Girl leaves the bookstore and adds it to yet another place she’s going to have to avoid for the next few years.

This story about my friend perfectly illustrates the underlying disdain many avid readers (or even nonreaders) have toward YAL. In many cases, it’s a gut reaction, an instinct.  A similar reaction happens when people say they’re reading “Chic Lit,” which I have an entirely different issue with because the last time I checked there was no “Bro Lit” or “Dude Lit”–it’s just assumed to be literature.

Don’t go down that rabbit hole today, Alice.

The title Young Adult Literature is a misnomer. Yes, the books are about Young Adult experiences, but calling the works YAL assumes that only YAs are privy to reading them. This is simply not the case.

As a (kind of) grown up, I read YA because it’s a powerful reminder. It reminds me of things my job, my money, my experiences, my “adult” anxieties have eroded. I’m reminded of core truths about humanity and diversity, and, in standard YA fashion, I’m reminded of the intense passion (sometimes known as angst) I’m capable of experiencing. Yes, as a teen that passion was directed at things like pimples or Jr. High dances or Buckle jeans, but it’s funny how quickly we forget just how capable we are of feeling things. All the things.

I love it when The Washington Post agrees with me:

To simply give up on […] young adult literature as hopeless categories of fiction, fit only for the weak-minded or young and incapable of improvement, is to embrace a kind of  snobbery and rigidity about what is worthy and what is not. (Rosenberg)

Preach.

Believe me, I get it.  Many see books like Twilight or Divergent or The Hunger Games as wholly representative of the genre. Even though some of these books aren’t necessarily bad (yes, I’ve read them all), I think we shortchange the diversity present in YAL by believing YA authors are only capable of dystopian vampire romances.

If you enjoy the three books mentioned above, GREAT! I can recommend lots of otherworldly YA books that will knock your socks off. If you loathe them and find them shallow, No Problemo, there are YA books so deep and introspective, even the literati of the group won’t be able to resist them. That’s the beauty of YA, you can wade in the kiddy pool or dive head first into the deep end.

If you really give YAL a chance, you’ll find yourself immersed in a totally new, insanely unique library of books just waiting to be dusted off and devoured.

And that’s what we’re all looking for anyway, right? I good book that speaks to us.

Also, J.K. Rowling. *drops the mic and walks away*

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is just the best. He makes you feel equal parts and elated and uncomfortable which is kind of a rush.  This book is no different. Absolutely True Diary is about Arnold Spirit Jr. (aka Junior), a Spokane Indian who lives on a reservation with his family and friends. When he is given an opportunity to go off the reservation and begin attending classes at a rich, all white school (where “the only other Indian is the mascot”), he must make a huge decision–stay on the broken reservation or leave and endure being called a traitor by basically everyone he knows.

Alexie unappolegetically tackles Native American stereotypes through shoving them in your face, allowing them to come to fruition, then forcing you to see past the problems and into their origin. The book is poignant, heartbreaking, hilarious, raw, and (as expected from the mind of a 14-year old boy) kind of filthy.  It’s no wonder it’s #1 of the top 10 books challenged according to the ALA. It’s been banned and burned and blasted by conservative moms and dads, so if you love drama and pictures (yep, its filled with Junior’s drawings…his funny, awful drawings) then try it the heck out already.

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

I’ve recommended this book to a few friends and when they return the book to me and I ask if they liked it, invariably, their eyes become wide as they slowly shake their heads.

This isn’t a good book. It’s not a fun read. It’s incredibly difficult. Ironically, after reading Speak, it’s tough to articulate how it’s changed you, but it always creates an impact. The book is told from the perspective of Melinda, an outcast in her high school, disliked by her classmates for calling the cops on an end of the year party the previous summer.  Slowly, subtly she isolates herself from everyone and basically becomes a mute. The book lulls you as a reader, and you long to know why Melinda, who is obviously depressed, refuses to speak up or speak at all.  Her art class is the one reprieve from her depression, which you find out, originates from an upperclassman raping her. It’s a heartbreaking, honest work that shines a light on a dark reality that many people face and underscores a truth everyone needs to understand–things aren’t always what they seem.

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell

Gotta include a book with a ginger, people. It’s like in the handbook of earthtoginger blogging. Also, gotta write an earthtoginger handbook…

If you haven’t heard of Rainbow Rowell, then you’re welcome, because homegirl is amazing. She does a fabulous job of yanking on your heartstrings and tugging you back into the nostalgic, horrible, wonderful time in all of our lives–the time of young love (le sigh). In Eleanor & Park, Eleanor is a big-boned redhead who comes from a poor, broken home. She rides the bus and tries to avoid people since her clothes are kind of crazy, and her hair is straight up nuts. Park is a shy, half-Korean boy who loves music and comic books. The two meet and bond over rad 80s tunes (yes, this book is set in the hairspray-and-leggings-loving 80s, and yes, it’s wonderful) and share walkman listening sessions on their bus rides to school

Children, a walkman is a device from long ago. It played music from a thing called a tape which had tiny ribbons that you absolutely could not pull from their coil lest your older cousin discovered your sin and chased you down as you ran from him in terror.

The two find out that, despite their love for each other, sometimes a screwed up family, insecurities, and life get in the way and muck things up.  As Goodreads puts it, E and P are “smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.”

Oomph. My heart.

What are your favorite YA books? Why?

If you hate YAL, por qué

Image Sources:

Image 1: Alexie

Image 2: Anderson

Image 3: Rowell

4 Self-Help Books that Don’t Suck or 4 Self-Help Books You Won’t Be Embarrassed to Rate on Goodreads

The deep readers out there might be ready to disown me for making my first book post about something other than Lit-Rich-AH. Though I love a good, dense book that I can analyze the shiz out of (bye bye credibility), I feel like this post might be one that attracts a wider variety of people (yep talking to you “nonreaders”) because, let’s face it, we all need help.

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t have it all together, folks. I just don’t. I maintain that no one really does. If someone tells you they do, well, they’re lying with a capital L. Things get crazy and people get crazy, and that’s A-OK. Sometimes we find ourselves crying for absolutely no reason or diving head first into a package of Double Stuff Oreos or online shopping for Disney Channel original movies so we can just go back. Sometimes we do this because it’s a Tuesday, and sometimes we do it to numb, numb, numb.

All of these are hypothetical and relate to me in no way, of course.

So for those who could use some good ol’ fashion self improvement but feel the impulse to gag or roll their eyes at the thought of being seen on the subway or plane with a You’ve Got This! 30 Ways to Make Everything in your life THE BEST!!!!! (not a real book…?), this post is for you.

1.) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

So Brene Brown is my spirit animal, my guru, my fairy godmother, my sister from another mister.daringgreatly_final525-resized-600 She beautifully captures what every single person experiences in their lives and tries so very hard to hide–shame.

Shame, the little gremlin inside of us that tells us we aren’t good enough. Shame, the voice that tells us to just hide inside ourselves and pretend that everything is peaches and cream. Shame, the thing that separates us, makes us judge others, and basically screws everything up in a royal fashion.

This book hit me at the perfect time in my life, which basically means a time when I was in what Anne Shirley calls the “depths of despair.” I was lost, I was confused, and most of all, I was wading in a deep murky pool of slimy shame. Yuck. In Daring Greatly, Brown writes that the only way out of shame is diving head first into vulnerability. Crazy, right? She emphases the importance of vulnerability in a culture obsessed with whitewashing perfection onto everyone and everything. As a research professor who has spent a good chunk of her life studying vulnerability, courage, and shame, Brown provides an in depth look at the psychological pressures and outcomes of living with shame and avoiding vulnerability.

As a recovering perfectionist, you can imagine how deeply I needed this book and how often I revisit it. I love how she emphasizes the importance of being vulnerable and open no matter how scared, broken, jaded, or skeptical we are. It’s a book for anyone who needs to hear “you’re fine and worthy exactly where you are.”

So, yeah, basically all of us.

2.) The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, Michael A. Singer

“Billions of things are going on in this world. You can think about it all you want, but life is still going to keep on happenUntetheredSoulMech-#1.indding.”

If this book sounds hippy dippy, it’s because it’s kind of hippy dippy, but in the best way possible. The cover does have a stallion galloping across a sandy beach, presumably “untethered”, but don’t let it fool you. The book is deep. Real deep. So deep that I found myself rubbing my temples whispering “Who am I? Who am I?” again and again.

Singer discusses a thought more enticing than bottomless chips and salsa–the possibility of living free from fear, anxiety, and all those other unnecessary little demons that fill our brains and make us bonkers. He talks about the importance of understanding the “inner you” and how that “you” is divine and capable of transcending anything this life has in store. He talks about meditation and mindfulness (two things I sloppily incorporate into my life) and discusses the importance letting go. Whew, what a thought, right? His book is one I go back to when I start noticing my feelers grip tight around negativity and past mistakes. Every page is filled with wisdom and each time I read it I leave feeling a little lighter, a little more centered, and a little more inclined to don my Urban Outfitters’ flower crown.

3.) The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou

“I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

Yes, okay I get it. I get it. This is a collection of poems which is not technically in the same genre (or more accurately, the same galaxy) as a self-help book. However, the blog is mine all mine so I’m going to include it. Also, Maya Angelou should be injected into life as much as possible, so you’re welcome. For thos9780679428954_p0_v1_s260x420e who hear the word poetry and buckle, or worse, think I just don’t get it, consider this the kiddy pool of poetry. Not because Angelou’s poems aren’t deep and life-changing (they are), but because they are so damn accessible. Her poetry is like cheap therapy. Cheap, good therapy. This collection is nice and thick with her words of wisdom and deals with everything from loneliness to death to joy. If you doubt this applies to you, humor me and read “Still I Rise,” “Phenomenal Woman,” and “Refusal,” and then come talk to me. The Complete Collected Poems is filled with fabulous poems that speak to ingrained human needs and shows how connected, yet still undeniably unique, we all are.

4.) The Happiness Advantage:The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Shawn Achor

“Focusing on the good isn’t just about overcoming our inner grump to see the glass half full. It’s about opening our minds to the ideas and opportunities that will help us be more productive, effective, and successful at work and in life.”

Shawn Achor’s book is a great touchstone text for those who want to grow in their careers, and in turn, their lives. Yeah, so everyone.  The writer/positive psychologist (yep that’s a thing) is known best for lecturing at a little place called Harvard. He happiness-advantagetook it a step further and became involved in Harvard’s most famous class called Positive Psychology aka the”Happiness Course.”

Even more impressive to me, though, is the fact Achor was a featured guest on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday (and everybody said Amen).

The book disproves the notion that the harder you work, the more successful you’ll become. Or more popularly, once you’ve “arrived” then you’ll (finally) enjoy true happiness. The Happiness Advantage Cher-slapped me in the face and yelled SNAP OUT OF IT!! Achor and years of psychological studies wholeheartedly disagree with the belief that success births happiness. According to Achor “Happiness fuels success, not the other way around.” Not only does the book explore the importance of maintaining a positive outlook, but it also gives tangible examples of ways we can all experience more happiness on a daily basis (hint: gratitude is a BIG DEAL). And you know what’s fab.com? According to Achor, happiness begets success begets happiness begets success. That’s a trend I don’t mind wearing out.

What’s your favorite self-help book? Have you read any of these recommendations? If so what are your thoughts?