Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me, reading about Coates's life is like looking through a window into another world. It's horrifying, heartbreaking, and eye-opening to hear that a life of constant fear can be the norm, that waking up and thinking, "maybe today is the day the world kills me," can be a daily occurance. It's hard to review this book because I can't analyze it, or pick it apart and say what I liked least or most. Coates has a perspective that is unique from my own, and it's important to listen to voices such as his, so those of us with privilege don't dwell in a rose-colored world and ignore what doesn't affect us personally. What happens to people of color, or anyone who is different, DOES affect us all, because we are all human above all else and share this world with one another.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Pointe

Pointe Pointe by Brandy Colbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


This has been such a hard book to read, but it's also really important. Teens need to have books that talk about hard subjects like rape and eating disorders and body dysmorphia and PTSD because they need to know they are not alone, that they are not the only one to ever feel this way. They need to hear a character being told that just because you love someone doesn't mean they're not raping you. That 13 is too young to consent to sex, especially if they are older than you, whether it be 18 or 26. They need to know that they have done NOTHING wrong. I hope that message is conveyed through every word of this book.

My heart breaks for Theo, who has lived with the guilt of her secrets for so many years, so desperately afraid people won't love her if they knew the truth. Because of course, from her perspective, the people she loves the most all leave her - Trent/Chris, Donovan (even if it wasn't by choice), Hosea. There are so many times I want to yell at Theo, shake her, hug her, tell her that she deserves better. She deserves more than being someone's secret, she deserves someone who not only makes her feel special, but is proud of her, and treats her like the center of the universe.

The guys in this book are for the most part, very self-centered and frustrating. You have Hosea, who claims he thinks Theo is "perfect" and "special," but not enough to love her, not enough to choose her. Just enough to use her and shame her and break her. Maybe he had real feelings for her, but it wasn't enough, and it wasn't fair of him to put Theo in that position. Here is Klein, who constantly harasses Theo, is practically a stalker, and in the end is so put out that Theo doesn't want him that he's convinced he's in the right to expose her secrets, no matter whom it hurts. Even Theo's friend Phil is frustating at times. Watching her and telling on her to her parents was a good thing, he was trying to get her help. But when his primary reaction to hearing how his FRIEND Hosea treated Theo was annoyance that he was in the dark about it? Talk about self-centered.

Chris/Trent isn't even worth talking about. He is a pedophile and a rapist and he makes me sick. His lawyer is disgusting as well. The best part of this book is him going to jail.

There were a few exceptions to the annoying men in this book. There's poor, sweet Donovan. We don't know exactly what Donovan has been through because he can't talk about it, not even to Theo. I'm glad that Theo eventually got to see him, and could see that he needed her to speak for him both, but I just wish that could have happened earlier. I can only imagine what he went through, and the time it will take to hear from that.

Theo's dad and mom were great, as well. They have clearly been doing their best in a TOUGH situation. They obviously love Theo and are doing whatever they can to help her, but how do you help someone who is determined to deceive you? They listen to her when she talks, and tell they love her. Sometimes that's all they can do.

The women in Theo's life are excellent. Marisa, her ballet teacher, is such a constant source of support and encouragement, and I was relieved to see that continue after the trial, which I guessed it would. Ruthie, Theo's fellow dancer, had always been competition in some ways, but she knows the strenuous work that goes into ballet, and when she opens up to Theo herself, she allows Theo to open up as well. Ruthie supports her, is clear and honest with her, and is there for her, without trying to coerce her into doing or saying anything she doesn't want to. Sara-Kate is also a good, supportive friend to Theo, even if she does disapprove of what she's doing with Hosea. At least it's for a good reason, though - she wants better for Theo. And she doesn't rub it in her face when it goes exactly as she expected. Their continued friendship is so important for Theo's recovery.

In the end, we are left with this: don't be afraid to speak up if you are uncomfortable in an situation, if something doesn't feel right. Don't just listen to the words people tell you, but judge them by their actions: "Words don't mean anything without actions to back them up." You are special, you are loved, and you deserve the best. Don't settle for less.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great book of essays that focus on not just feminist issues, but also those of race and privilege. As Gay writes, the term "feminist" seems to carry a lot of pressure, and it can be uncomfortable to assume. Accept the idea that no one is perfect, we are human and messy, and you can't expect your feminism to be perfect, either. You just need to try and do whatever you can to effect the change you want to see in the world. I'm trying to be better and do better, and part of that is educating myself by reading books written by smart, intelligent women of color.

I enjoyed hearing the details of Gay's life and experiences - both what it's like to be a black, female college professor in the middle of nowhere, and how one ends up a desperate, loneliness-induced competitive scrabble player. (Who knew there were so many fragile egos in the Scrabble community?) Her reaction to the angry Scrabble-playing man (hold as still as possible and hope the situation diffuses) is so real and true. How many times in your life have you held your breath and hoped nothing happened, because you didn't know how a volatile person was going to react? By the way, if you are doing that regularly, that is not a healthy relationship.

Perhaps my favorite essay was the one entitled "How to Be Friends With Another Woman." These are the BEST guidelines. "Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive." They might be sometimes, but these are not defining characteristics of female friendships. "If you feel like it's hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren't the problem. Maybe it's just you." If you are writing off female friendships because you don't want drama in your life, then you are missing out! Not all friendships have drama, and your life is not the plot of a TV show or book. I loved this particular advice, and I'm happy and lucky to say, I have friends like this: "Surround yourself with women you can get sloppy drunk with who won't draw stupid things on your face if you pass out, and who will help you puke if you over celebrate, and who will also tell you if you get sloppy drunk too much, or behave badly when you are sloppy drunk." <3 my BFFs.

A good chunk of these essays are about specific pieces of media and their place in our culture as a whole: how they shape the way we see things like gender, sexuality, and race; what they say about their creators; and what things they got "right" or "wrong." What sort of unfair standards are TV shows like "Girls" being subjected to, simply because they are created by and starring women? Yes, it's a show that (supposedly: I've never seen it) expresses just one point of view on girlhood, and ignores issues like race, but SO many shows and moves are the same. Communities are insular, and we all have a tendency to write what we know and watch what we know. Maybe "Girls" is held to higher standard because it was labeled as "groundbreaking," but you can't discount the fact that women are being judged more harshly. The same is true for recent books written by female CEOs: critics say that their advice isn't applicable to the working class woman, struggling to make ends meet. But on the flip side, you don't see people complaining that business and like books written by male CEOs are applicable to the working class man.

I loved the essay on Sweet Valley High. Like Gay, I was a kid with my head in books, and those characters were my friends, regardless of our commonalities (or lack there of). I did read Sweet Valley High, and Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley University, and the more recent Sweet Valley Confidential, but my true jam when I was a kid was the Babysitters Club. My habits were similar to Gay's - I lived for new books in the series, and would run into Waldenbooks at the mall, hoping for a new one, especially if it was a Super Special. My life was a constant internal debate - am I a Kristy? A Mary Ann? I knew I wasn't cool enough to be a Stacey, or chill enough to be a Dawn, or quirky enough to be a Claudia, so those were my main options, and I had to fit somewhere, right? "Books are often far more than just books." Some stories are universal - a girl is a girl, wherever she grew up. By the way, Gay's analysis of Sweet Valley Confidential was SPOT ON. It is terrible - "the exquisite badness," Gay calls it - but it will at least entertain you if you loved that series.

I've created quite a list of books I want to read based on Gay's essays (and some I absolutely don't). At the top of my list is the duo of "Green Girl" by Kate Zambreno and "Play It As It Lays" by Joan Didion, to analyze the journey a woman in of the cult of beauty and the idea of gender as a performance. I also have on my list "Heroines" also by Kate Zambreno.

Next up is a series of books featuring unlikeable women. Characters need to have flaws to be more human and more interesting, but for some reason, unlikeability isn't tolerated in female characters as it is in male. Readers tend to think, "I would never be friends with this woman," but is that the point of the book? Unlikeable women "aren't pretending; they can't and won't pretend to be someone they're not. They accept the consequences of their actions, and those consequences become stories worth reading." Of the books Gay mentions in this segment, the only one I've read so far is "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn, and the rest are new to me: "Treasure Island!!!" by Sara Levine; "You Take It From Here" by Pamela Ribon; "Dare Me" by Megan Abbott; "Magnificence" by Lydia Millet; "Battleborn" by Claire Vaye Watkins; "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Messed. Interestingly enough, these are all by female authors.

The genre "Women's Fiction" itself is sexist - non-genre fiction written by men is simply called "Literary Fiction." The genres are indication of a bigger problem in the literary world and in our culture as a whole: women will read books by and about men, but men won't read books about women. When did men become the measure? When did "women" become a slur? We can't make male readership become the goal. Female writers who try to distance them self from the term "women's fiction" are as bad as women who rejoice when a man declares she's "not like other girls," whatever that means. This needs to be the focus: "How men as readers, critics, and editors can start to bear the responsibility for becoming better, broader readers."

The hardest essay to read was Gay's rape story. It's so horrific, and so sad, and makes me want to punch things. Those f-ing boys. Those f-ing classmates of hers, calling her a slut. There are people out there that say young adult books shouldn't be violent or dark or upsetting, but teens need dark books because they go through dark things in their lives. As Gay mentions, some of them might one day be the girl in the woods, and they will need a book there to let them know that they're not alone and that what happens of them was not OK. Tying in the Hunger Games, yes these kids in those books go through horrific things, but sometimes that is what happens in real life. In a way, things could've been worse: there's very little sex in the Hunger Games books, and can you imagine if some of that sort of injustice was taking place in District 12? Oddly, it's only in the capital that we get wind that there might be abuse and assault going on,from Finnick, former District 4 champion. "It gets better" has become popular cry of encouragement, but you can't say it gets better without demonstrating what it takes to get better.

The other essay that made me angry was the one about rape humor. Not all jokes are created equal - you can go too far, too soon. I don't know much about Daniel Tosh or his show, Tosh.0, but encouraging men to take and post videos of themselves touching women softly on their stomach is so intrusive and offensive, I'm not even sure how it could be considered humor. If it is, it can only be Frattish humor, rape humor, misogynist humor. Rape humor reminds women they are not quite equal. Women are called "sensitive" or "feminist" (in a bad way). Yes, humor is subjective, but is it THAT subjective? Rape jokes are never funny. "We are free to speak as we choose without fear of prosecution or persecution, but we are not free to speak as we choose without consequence." As Gay says about men like Daniel Tosh, "They have conscience. Sometimes saying what others are afraid or unwilling to say is just being an asshole." It's definitely hard to stand up and speak up when you hear something you're not comfortable with, but it's something we absolutely need to learn to do. "We remain silent because silence is easier...When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us." Men want what they want, and our society caters to them. "It's hard to be told to lighten up, because if you lighten up any more, you're going to float the fuck away." It becomes a case of trickle-down misogyny.

Another essay is an analysis of fairy tales, and how women are forced to do all the work to obtain their happily ever after, in which they sometimes still aren't the center of their own stories. See also Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray: "Ana's sexual awakening is a convenient vehicle for the awakening of Christian's humanity."

A set of further essays examines several popular books and movies ostensibly showcasing the black experience, with various degrees of success. There's the best seller and blockbuster "The Help", which I remember liking it, but I also don't know better. I actually just went back and changed my review on Goodreads, and I'm a little embarrassed I connected with it so much in the first place. More evidence that I need to read more books by POC to expand my perspective and get out of my privilege. There's Django Unchained - "not about a Black man reclaiming his freedom, but about a white man working through his own racial demons and white guilt." I'm not a fan of Tarantino myself, and Gay gives me a reason now. The more things change, the more things stay the same. In addition to these, Gay discusses 12 Years a Slave, a slew of Tyler Perry movies, Fruitvale Station, Red Tails, and Orange is the New Black.

Overall, I really enjoyed this series of essays. I know that I am a feminist, but I also feel better about saying that out loud, because I'm trying to be lenient to myself and others and let go of my perfectionist nature. I can like what I like, even if it is expected of me as a woman, or normative or silly, and that's ok. I can be a feminist without being the best feminist. I don't even have to be a good one. But I'm trying, and I hope that counts for something. I'll keep listening and learning.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

March: Book Three

March: Book Three March: Book Three by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, just as the first two volumes, is absolutely essential reading. This is not just our history, it informs our present day in very real ways. This last volume highlights all the marches in Selma, which directly led passing to the 1965 Voting Right Act. It details all the atrocities of violence perpetrated not only against those working for a fair future, but also against innocent children. More than that, it highlights those who fought so hard for equal rights. There are those who became voices and leaders in the movement. I'm ashamed to say I had never heard of Fannie Lou Hamer before, and now I want to track down everything there is to know about her.

And then there are those who were murdered in the name of anger and fear and bigotry, those who gave their lives fighting for what they knew was right. It is only right to end this review honoring their memories. Say their names: Denise McNair. Addie Mae Collins. Carole Robertson. Cynthia Wesley. Virgil Lamar. Johnny Robinson. Mickey Schwerner. Andy Goodman. James Chaney. Jimmie Lee Jackson. James Reeb. Viola Liuzzo. Malcolm X. Martin Luther King, Jr. And all the nameless, faceless others we don't know of.

It was frustrating to watch Lyndon B Johnson sabotage the equality efforts because they didn't fit into his current plan. Of course, he eventually pushed forth the Voting Rights Act, and he seemed like a generally decent guy, but it just goes to show that even decent people can do indecent things if they feel like their lives or plans are being threatened. That definitely doesn't excuse his actions, but it might go a little ways in explaining them.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

March: Book Two

March: Book Two March: Book Two by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even more powerful and moving than the first book. The freedom rides, the protests, the arrests, the time spent in jail - it all reminds me of something out of the New Testament. I'm sure Lewis would appreciate the comparison to the early Christians. I knew embarrassingly little about the history of the freedom rides and the marches, and the amount of violence perpetrated on those involved was truly shocking. The most frustrating was the violence supported and endorsed by the police, the local government, and in some cases, the federal government. The determination of the riders, protestors, and marchers is truly something to behold - they fought (figuratively, peacefully) for every inch of progress, and weren't going to slow down no matter how many times it would have been reasonable and understandable to do so. Sometimes this all seems like ancient history, but we keep being reminded of how little some things have changed, which is truly heartbreaking. Leaders like Lewis continue to be vital.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

March: Book One

March: Book One March: Book One by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating, inspiring, and humbling. I cannot recommend this book more highly - it is a must-read, bringing history to life in vivid detail. John Lewis is a hero - he has been striving his whole life for justice, for a world of peace. We need voices like his even more than ever today, to fight against the bigotry and racism that continues to threaten our culture and our lives. As he describes his training in nonviolent protest from Jim Lawson, Lewis says, "The hardest part to learn -- to truly understand, deep in your heart -- was how to find love for your attacker." Even though it feels like we haven't come very far in the last 60 years, I can only imagine how much worse it would be without the tireless sacrifice, work, and influence of Lewis, Dr. King, and their colleagues.

In addition to the amazing source material, the writing, pacing, style, and art of this book is masterful, and conveys both the energy and tone of the time period.

I am lucky to have a lot of privilege in my life, and I'm trying to do my best to acknowledge that and educate myself, both on our country's history and on what I can do today to help affect change.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Wanderers

The Wanderers The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


For some reason, this is a hard one to review. Maybe because I'm still not sure what *actually* happened in this book, or because the narrators changed every few pages? Maybe because it's character-driven instead of being plot-driven? Despite the fact that this story is built around a mission to Mars, the primary focus of each person's inner narrative is relationship: that between a parent and a child, and that between two people in general. There is also a focus on the idea of one's true self - how do your find yourself? What is actually true about you, and who gets to decide that?

Helen and Mireille have a complicated relationship, one that has in many ways been shaped by Helen's deceased husband, who was Mireille's primary caregiver until his death. Helen and her husband's relationship itself was very complicated - it sounds like Helen was desperate for companionship, but found herself lacking, and she found the one person who said he loved her, despite all the flaws he consistently pointed out. Going into their marriage, Helen knew her husband wanted a child, and that is the main reason Mireille was born in the first place. I think she was surprised to find how much she loved the baby, and wanted to spend time with her, but soon enough, her husband established himself as The Parent, and Helen was left to follow her plan of becoming an astronaut. Mireille grew up living with her father's version of her mother, and always felt like her mother didn't love her enough. She felt continually overshadowed by her mother's achievements, and worried that at the end of her life, the only special thing about her would be that she's her mother's daughter, so she jumps into that role with gusto, performing it to the best of her abilities.

Where Helen lacked emotion, Mireille had an overabundance of it, and her father encouraged that in her. When you're constantly performing, though, it's hard to know who you are, and harder still for anyone to know the real you. Throughout this book, Helen and Mireille go through parallel journeys of self-discovery, symbolized by each of them cutting off their hair, or the weight of the past that has held them back. Helen has a near-death experience on "Mars" and comes out of it a suddenly much more open person. She's less focused on keeping her cool and flipping her emotions to the positive, and more about finding out what is true about herself. Mireille also has an awakening of sorts - maybe it's find a job she truly enjoys, maybe it's the forced distance from her mom giving her a new perspective. I loved what she said, though, about deciding to stop blaming her mom: "At a certain point, you probably had to stop thinking about what your mother did or didn't do to you, and start thinking about what you did or didn't do to your mother."

Sergei and his son Dmitri's relationship was also complicated, but mostly because of lack of communication. Sergei has lived his life trying to be the opposite of his own father, who bullied him and called him names, and drove his sister into an anger-fueled life separate from the rest of their family. His goal as a father has always been to be a kind, loving role-model to his boys. From Dmitri's perspective, though, he himself was never that special, never as deserving of love as his father or his prodigy brother. His defining characteristic seems to be "beautiful," and even though he suspects he might be gay, he isn't willing to admit it because he doesn't want the only thing interesting about him to be his sexuality. I don't blame him for that. What Dmitri doesn't realize, though, is that his father loves him, no matter what, and all he wants is to be loved in return. It's not complicated.

Yoshi and Madoka's relationship is perhaps the most intriguing. Yoshi obviously loves Madoka a lot, while Madoka seems oddly cold and aloof from their relationship. One of Madoka's issues is that she doesn't know who she is, and she's doesn't know how to figure that out. She doesn't think Yoshi really loves the true her because she doesn't think he really sees the real her, but she doesn't have proof that's not true, so she just continues to go along with it, ad infinitum. At one point, Madoka says "...aren't we all pretending to be who we really are?" And that really seems to be the case, both for Madoka specifically and the real of the characters as a whole. Her reasons for not wanting to be a mom are born in the fact that she doesn't need another thing to remind herself of her lack of importance in the world.

Through their separation, and his exposure to Helen's transformation, Yoshi himself comes to realize some big, true things about his relationship with Madoka. He has always loved her so much that he was almost in awe of her - she was his whole world, his personal planet. The problem, he comes to realize, is that he loved a dream, a version of Madoka he had built in his head, so much that he hadn't seen any other part of her, or truly gotten to know her. In his final letter to her, he asks,"Would you rather I love you incorrectly forever, or correctly but potentially less?" I'm pretty sure we all know Madoka's answer to that: see me and love me correctly, even if it's less.

So, I have to guess that the big debate of this novel is: Did they actually go to Mars? Was the whole "training" plan a scheme of sorts to try and keep the pressure off the astronauts and their families and possible failure off the media radar, if anything happened? The first thing that clued me in that something might be out of order was when the astronauts woke up puking and disoriented, and couldn't figure out how they could have staged such a thing. And of course, you have Sergei's few seconds of SIM failure on "Mars" during the dust devil - what did he really see? Was it an isolation-fueled hallucination? I'm sure there is evidence on either side (I haven't looked yet), but I'm definitely on Team Mars. It's so much money and time to waste to do a training like that, and it just didn't really make sense in the first place. Part of me wishes the author would have told us specifically what happened at the end of the book - we don't even know if the astronauts survived the "landing" or not! But most of me realizes that this book wasn't about space travel in the first place. Like Helen said early on, "...What is true does not always feel like what is true."


Here are some other lines from the book I specifically enjoyed:

Helen

"If you try to jab your fingers all stiff through cornstarch and water you'll encounter a solid. But if you sink and melt your hands on the surface, you'll move right through it. So that's what you gotta do. You gotta tell your hands to sink and melt. Sink and melt."

"Also, when she has an "emotion" she should take a moment to "flip it." I really don't want to have to deal with poop right now needs to become I'm glad that all I have to deal with right now is a little poop."

"It's another reason why you had to be so careful with grief. It was like an impact crater, its surface always larger than the thing that created it."


Sergei

"I know that the only thing that matters with parent and child is how much parent loves child. Child does not have to love you back. But this can only be borne by truly strong people. I am too weak not to care if you love me."


Yoshi

"Trusting a person and knowing a person were not the same things. It was necessary that Helen and Sergei trust him completely. It was not necessary that they know him to the same extent."

"Yoshi does not ask for much, he merely wants to be where he should be, where he belongs, which is something you can know by orienting yourself to what is around you, and making yourself a part of it."

"They rotate around a barycenter between them. Looking only at one piece of each other." (Pluto and Charon)


Madoka

"That probably sounds horrible," Mireille says. "I mean, my using it. Like I'm cashing in on an emotion that isn't mine." Madoka thinks. It doesn't sound horrible to her, but possibly she's not the right person to judge this. "How is the emotion not yours?" she asks. "If it makes you sad?"

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Monday, February 5, 2018

February: Black History Month


Here is the bulk of my February reading list! I started Bad Feminist on audio a few days ago, and I'm loving it so far. 

This month's focus is Black History month, and I have a few others in addition to these that the bookstore didn't have. There are also a few books I'll probably be reading month that don't fit the theme (one for book club, one I'm finishing from January), but I'm really going to try to stick to my plan this month. This is definitely an ambitious list, so hopefully I can make it through them all!

1. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
3. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
4. March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
5. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
6. Pointe by Brandy Colbert
7. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
8. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
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9. The Wanderers by Meg Howrey (started in January, currently reading)


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Reading Wrap-Up


I finished my 11th book of the month late tonight, yay! I'm happy with the number of books I was able to read this month, and I'm ahead of pace on my goal of 75 for the year.  Next month, my POC authors number will be higher - I have a bunch of books picked out in honor of Black History Month!

I just started using Litsy this month, so if you are on there, give me a follow, and I'll follow you back! My user name is RachLovesTV.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So beautiful and thoughtful and heart wrenching. The author has a unique perspective of being both surgeon and patient, of being the one who does versus the one to whom things are done. To be suddenly put in a situation where you no longer have agency would be frustrating. How can you make plans when you don't even know how long you have left? If you only live one day at a time, what are you supposed to do with that day?

But he sees the other side of that, too: you never know where you are on the prognosis probability curve. When I heard him say the statistics about glioblastoma survival rates, I couldn't stop crying. I literally sat in my parked car, sobbing. But if you focus only on the numbers like that, you forget the most important thing: life is what you make of it, every day. You need to leave room for hope, both as a patient and as a doctor.

He is brutally honest about the stages he went through, almost the opposite of what is considered the "normal" cycle: initial acceptance, then depression, bargaining, anger, and eventually denial. Not everything was logical and calm and measured. But when he could take a step back, he was focused and driven, just as much in his writing as he ever was in his schooling, research, and surgical training. He was meant to make a difference, and he did so in every way he could, until the end.

I couldn't possibly have read this book outside the sphere I am in, and cancer has hit my family hard. This book wrecked me emotionally so many times, but surprisingly it was in a good, cathartic way. These were words I needed to hear, and the perfect person to deliver them.

I loved the epilogue from Paul's wife, Lucy, who provides some measure of closure to Paul's journey, as well as her own thoughts on their life together. What she says above love holds so much value - the love doesn't decrease once someone is gone, it just continues in unexpected ways. "It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I'm still taking part in the life we created together... my love goes on—lives on—in a way I'd never expected."

This book has made an indelible impression on me, and I will continue to re-read it for years to come. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"This kind of illness can either bring you together or it can tear you apart."

"I was neither angry nor scared. It simply was."

"This is not the end... Or even the beginning of the end. This is just the end of the beginning."

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Monday, January 29, 2018

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really like the concept of this book, and the writing itself and imagery is really beautiful at times. I enjoyed reading it for the most part. There are a few things that keep me from loving this book wholeheartedly and wanting to continue with the series immediately.

I really dislike how the book is structured, with the bulk of the story being told to a Chronicler, flashback-style. It feels like they are trying to build the suspense and mystery around Kvothe but all it does is confuse me and pull me out of the story itself. There's also still so much further to go until we get to the "present" time and it feels like this is moving at a snail's pace. I was really surprised when the book ended with no closure to any of the storylines. I get that it's part one in a series, but books need to stand on their own, as well, especially the first book in a series. This book came out 10 years ago, yet my friend tells me only 2 of the books have been published and there's no telling when the third will be released? Talk about frustrating!

The other main issue I had was with the female characters. They all seem to exist only in their relation to their male counterparts, as if they were created solely to be props in the hero's life. Kvothe's friend/object of love/obsession, Denna, seems to be particularly some kind of unobtainable prize. She's indescribable, not because she's particularly beautiful but because she has a special quality that draws one to her, like a moth to a flame. Men can't resist her, but women hate her, because all women are jealous of more popular females, of course. She's mysterious and floats in and out of people's lives either on a whim or because she needs to for survival (the reason seems to vary).

Of course, we can tell that deep down, Denna actually loves our hero Kvothe, as do many other of the females that Kvothe encounters. Kvothe heroically saves Fela from a fire, and she (and her beautiful body that she sometimes presses against him) would do anything for him now, including illegal things that would get her expelled. Devi the moneylender breaks her own rules and allows him to borrow a crazy amount of money and pay it back days later with no interest, and also gets upset when he doesn't come to see her just to hang out. Auri the underground dweller will talk only to Kvothe, and after months of slowly getting to know him, is willing to share her most secret findings. Of course, none of these women interact with one another. We only ever see them in relation to Kvothe, which on the one hand makes sense - the story is told from his perspective, so he wouldn't know if they had been hanging out or talking. On the other hand, he could at least observe women having relationships with one another, and conversations about something that doesn't involve Kvothe himself. The only time I recall two women talking to one another is when Kvothe takes the healer to check on Auri, and that's an interaction that is highly supervised and directed by Kvothe.

I'll probably continue the series eventually, so I can see what happens to the characters and enjoy the writing, but I'm probably going to wait until the series is finished, so I'm not left hanging for an unknown amount of time.

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

My Best Friend's Exorcism

My Best Friend's Exorcism My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A story about true, deep friendship, one that can stand the test of time and the powers of evil, and also about an exorcism, one that was fueled not by the power of God and all his saints, but by the powers of friendship, love, memories, and the little things that tie us to one another.

I spent much of this book cringing in horror because I felt so bad for Abby. She was always a true friend to Gretchen, and she seemed to be getting the short end of every stick - accused of drug dealing, lying, stealing, breaking and entering, kidnapping, cruelty to animals, and more, it didn't seem like there was anything that was going to save her.

In the end, her perseverance to their friendship paid off, and it was great to see Gretchen fighting to maintain their friendship after everything, when their parents wanted to keep them apart. I loved the way they became friends, and I loved how close they were.

I also appreciated, though, that we got a small glimpse in their later years, and I think the way their friendship evolved over time is very true to life - you still keep up, but it becomes much less frequent, where daily phone calls turn to voicemails turn to texts turn to emails turn to facebook likes. But when something big happens, you are there in a second, and it's like no time has passed at all. "...although those inches may add up to miles, sometimes those miles were only inches after all." I love that Gretchen was the one there for Abby at the end, taking care of her. Things weren't perfect ever, but the point was that they tried.

It was interesting, the ways that the demon had an impact on those around it - it claimed it was trying to make people happy, but really it was finding a way tear them down using the things they wanted the most - for Margaret, it was her diet; for Glee, it was her crush on the teacher; for Abby, it was her very friendship with Gretchen.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 6: Who Run The World? Squirrels by Ryan North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me start off by saying that The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of my very favorite comics and a fantastic character. If you haven't read any of them yet, pick up the first volume at your local bookseller or library and get reading!

Squirrel Girl never fails to entertain, but I have to admit that Melissa Morbeck and her army of brain controlled animals haven't been my favorite villains. The best part about that extended storyline was Chef Bear and Alfredo the Chicken falling in love, haha.

I did enjoy the last issue that featured Chipmunk Hunk, Koi Boi, and Brain Drain bonding over beating the bad guys (and fake good guys) and becoming friends.

There were a few good quotes I really liked from this volume. Tony tweets at Doreen, "Don't feel bad that you trusted someone. That's what you DO, Squirrel Girl. What are you gonna do, not trust anyone? That's a horrible way to live your life. And it's not you." One of the best things about Squirrel Girl is that, as much as she's about busting nuts and taking names, she's also about supporting and helping people, even villains, find their path in life. There are no strangers, only friends she hasn't met yet. That's who she is.

I also love what Brain says to the boys in their discussion about friendships. "Friends don't need to hang out all the time. While some do, one must not conclude that all friends necessarily behave in the same manner. Interpersonal relationships are as unique as the people within them, and all that matters is that when friends do hang out, they make it count." This is SO true. As much as I love seeing my friends, I don't feel like we are any less friends if we aren't hanging out frequently. I treasure the time we get to spend together, but I also treasure the time I get to spend alone, reading, or watching TV, or just staring into space. Every friendship is different, so you shouldn't be disappointed if your friendships look different than the ones you see on TV, or in Facebook, or in any other place.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Talking as Fast as I Can

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls by Lauren Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of the Gilmore Girls since the show was first on air, so I knew I was going to have to read this one eventually. And by read, I mean listen to in my car, because who wouldn't want Lauren Graham to read her own book to you??

I loved hearing about Lauren's beginnings in the theater (of course Slap that Bass is about a fish), about her experiences as an actor, about her dating history and falling in love with her partner, Peter. Her foray into writing was really fascinating, and I appreciated her going into detail about the egg-timer method for writing - I wonder if there's a way to translate that into other areas of your life. I'm not a writer, but I could see that type of mindfulness and gauging success by time spent instead of amount of product being really useful.

The only section of the book that seemed out of place and irrelevant was the section on health and fitness in LA. There didn't seem to be anything special tying Lauren to those stories, and they seemed more like a "this would be a funny thing to add" section than something that actually mattered to Lauren. Maybe they were necessary for the page count, but they didn't seem important to the book.

What I loved the most was the behind-the-scenes notes and memories from the sets of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, as well as a peek into her set diary from there recent Netflix reboot of Gilmore Girls. To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the Year in the Life episodes that I had seen. Yes, you are reading that correctly. I watched the first 2 episodes of the reboot the week they came out, and was so disappointed in them (Rory, I'm looking at you) that until I started listening to this book, I had never watched the last 2 episodes. When I got to the part in the book where Lauren talks about filming them, I paused the audiobook and finally watched them. I'm glad I finally did - I don't know if it's because my expectations were so low this time, but the final 2 episodes are so much better than the first. I was delighted by all the cameos, the musical made me laugh out loud (despite the fact it was way too long), and I finally got to find out those final 4 words (to which I went, "huh??" And immediately texted all my friends). The part that made me cry the most was when Lorelei called her mom to tell her about her 13th birthday, when she'd had a terrible day and her dad found her at the mall and took her to the movies and then covered for her with her mom. That part in the audiobook also had me crying - Ed Herrmann was such a loving presence on the show as Richard, and his absence was very much felt, and I agree that monologue was a fitting tribute to both the character and the actor.

Back to those last 4 words of the show, I know a lot of people weren't just disappointed in them, but angered by them. For me, though, I'm kind of excited by them, because like Lauren, they sound like a cliffhanger to me. Maybe, just maybe, that means in 10-15 years we'll get another set of episodes.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 6: Imperial Phase, Part 2

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 6: Imperial Phase, Part 2 The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 6: Imperial Phase, Part 2 by Kieron Gillen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WARNING: You should really only be reading this review if you have already read the previous volumes of this comic. This review WILL contain SPOILERS.

Once again, SO much going on. This one is going to need a re-read for sure. Once again, we have revelations on Ananke that I never would have expected. So, is Ananke not exactly one god-person, but the spirit of the gods who keep the Great Darkness at bay, who can transfer to another god-body if necessary? And now she has taken over Minerva's body? Definitely makes me want to go back and read volume 5, now that we know Minerva has essentially been Ananke since the old Ananke's destruction. Definitely makes Minerva's hatred of Persephone make more sense.

I think I'll always be on Persephone's side of things, because I've been so attached to Laura from the beginning. Everyone sees her as the Destroyer, and it's secretly how she sees herself, and why she has hurt and pushed everyone but Sakhmet away - she blames herself for her family's deaths because she said she would give anything to become a god. I still wonder why Ananke chose to turn her - the kill her immediately and have another head for her sacrifice table? Unknown. Ultimately I just want her to be happy, but I'm not even sure that's possible at this point.

Cassandra and the Norns have been trying to help solve the mystery of the machine, but she grew too trusting of Woden, and in the end, that screwed both her and Dionysus, who was so sure he could save and help everyone that he dug himself a physical hole he couldn't get out of. I was surprised to hear he had fallen romantically for the Norns, but it makes sense - they both had the same goals, to help people and stop the useless death. He was such a kindhearted person, it's sad to see him go this way.

I am less sad about Amaterasu - that girl was pretty full of herself and self-centered. She was sure that she'd be able to convince or coerce Sakhmet into giving herself up, and that false pride was her downfall. I'm not saying she deserved to die, but I just don't care as much as I do for Dionysus or Inanna.

As for Woden, is he even really a god then? Seems like his son Jon, aka Mimir, is actually the one of the pantheon, and he's been channeling his powers to use him and help Ananke, in order to gain his own power. Makes a little sense, in that Woden hasn't actually been able to perform himself ever. I wonder what the goal is now. And where actually is Jon? Is he still alive somewhere or does he exist only in the machine?

Sakhmet is such a sad, messed up, crazy character. Becoming a god was the last thing she needed with all the rage she had bottled up inside at her family, specifically her father. It seemed like she and Persephone were able to become close because they both felt like they didn't deserve any better. Or at least Persephone didn't. Sakhmet seemed to be fine with who she was, and maybe revelled in the fact that Persephone was "the Destroyer." In the end, she definitely had to be taken out. Too bad Ananke-in-Minerva's body wasn't skilled enough to sever her head clearly.

As for Baal, he seems to be the only truthful, upstanding member of the Pantheon. I'm hoping he can make it through this conflict, but that doesn't seem likely. And I can't help but hope for a Baal-Persephone reunion, because I still think they make each other better, when they are their best selves.

Of course, I have to mention the severed heads on pedestals. What exactly is needed to defeat the Great Darkness? Are the heads just hanging around, waiting for the 4th so there can be a big ritual? And do those heads still contain the consciousnesses of Luci, Inanna, and Tara? I really, really hope so, because I would love to see a Luci-Persephone reunion (of sorts), as well as an Inanna-Baal one.

Once again, I can't wait for the next volume! This time, the suspense is even more intense, so I might actually need to get some single issues. Eek! I know I say this every time, but maybe I'll actually do it this time, haha!

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Monday, January 15, 2018

SLAM! Vol. 1

SLAM! Vol. 1 SLAM! Vol. 1 by Pamela Ribon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a comic about roller derby, but more than that, it's about friendship, and what happens when things on your life pull you away from your friends. It's hard to maintain closeness when you're not spending as much time together physically, but that's when you need to hero your communication the most open, and not become jealous or feel like you're being replaced by new friends.

Side note: When I was checking in to see when the next volume would be out, I noticed that there weren't any single issues available past #4, the last in this volume. I did some google-research and discovered this statement: "Issues 5, 6, 7, and 8 have all been cancelled by the publisher, Boom! Studios, with the promise that they will return at some date." Yikes! And that was almost a year ago! I'll cross my fingers that we'll see more of this comic, because it has such potential. For now, this can still stand alone as a great volume, even if the comic doesn't continue.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Artemis

Artemis Artemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Weir's first book, the Martian, because it felt so true to life despite being set on Mars. His second book feels much more like fiction, and though it was entertaining, I had a harder time connecting with the characters and their life-and-death trials.

Jazz was a hard nut to crack - she's very emotionally guarded, for good reason we find out. I was rooting for her the whole time, and I loved her inventiveness and quick wits, but she kept making terrible decisions!

Jazz's relationship with Dale is really confusing - when we first meet him, he seems very antagonistic towards her, mocking her for not passing her EVA exam, but we're supposed to believe he's actually deeply apologetic for betraying her and trying to get back in her good graces? That feels false to me. He should have been more sympathetic to her in that first meeting, regardless of how she spoke to him. Also, I don't think Jazz owes him any forgiveness. Regardless of whether her boyfriend would have figured out he was gay (or bi) eventually and left her, the two closest people in her life lied to her and cheated on her with each other. Forgiveness for something as heinous as that needs to be earned. Maybe saving Jazz's life is a step in the right direction, but her reservations make sense to me.

Svoboda (which means freedom in russian, by the way) is an interesting character - we don't actually know much about him, other than he is super smart and awkward around women, which they take pains to point out all the time. I wish we could have gotten to know more about him and less about his reusable condom invention, which seemed to exist just so Jazz having sex could be brought into the conversation every chance they got.

Speaking of Jazz's sex life, with all the times she mentioned how hot Rudy was, I totally thought they were setting the two of them up to work together and start dating. Why else would his looks and body be the focus so many times? Alas, they are not meant to be.

The part I cried during was Jazz and her dad's conversation at the end when she's finally repaid him for all the damage she'd caused to him. He was deeply touched, despite his disapproval of the source of her income, and I loved that it gave him the opportunity to open up to her about his own childhood, and to tell her how proud he was of her. I wish we could have learned more about her mother other than "she left when I was a baby on earth," and I wonder what ramifications growing up without a mother had on Jazz.

All in all, this was an entertaining book, despite some problematic areas, and if there was to be a sequel, I would read it with pleasure.

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Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 READING GOALS + RETURN TO BLOGGING

Hello, world. I doubt there are many out there that still have my blog on their list, since I haven't updated it since 2011. The truth is, I went through a phase of life where instead of escaping into books, I was escaping into TVs and movies, and I didn't want to analyze or document things, I just wanted to enjoy them. I was still reading here and there, but nothing like I once used to. I'm sure a lot of that had to do with the death of my friend back in 2011, but it was a hard time, regardless of the reasons.

Today I start re-populating the last 7 years onto my blog, using my reviews from Goodreads and backdating the posts, to give you a look at some of the stuff I've been reading in my "off season." Over the past few years, I've slowly started reading more again, and last year, I felt almost back up to speed again, reading 80 books.

I've been enjoying reading, and I don't want to burn myself out, so I've set some attainable goals for this year, and I'm looking forward to reading new things and stretching myself to try new books.  Most of the reviews I post on here will be cross-posted on Goodreads, but I'll hoping to do some more blogging as I go, as well as updates on different challenges I'm participating in.

2018 GOALS:

1. Read 75 books.


2. Complete Book Riot's READ HARDER challenge.

This list of 25 book prompts is there to help stretch my comfort zone, and I'm looking forward to checking this off this list. I'll post more about the challenge later on.

3. Complete the A to Z challenge.

One of my reading friends posted this one, and it looked really fun! Read 2 books for every letter of the alphabet - one list of authors (by last name) A to Z, and one list of book titles A to Z. Theoretically, you could complete this challenge with only 26 books, but wouldn't that be quite the puzzle! I'm going to allow myself to double up and count books I read on both lists, to expedite the process. Hopefully I won't hit December and be scrounging around for books to fit in X, Q, and Z!

4. Work on the 20/19/20 challenge.

This is another challenge I saw a friend post about and immediately wanted to try. This one is actually a multi-year challenge. The goal is to read one book published for each year from 1920 to 2019. I've allowed myself to go back and count books I've read since 2009, when I started using Goodreads to track my reading, and so far, I have 60/100 books read for this one. I have until 2019 to finish, though, so 40 more books in the next two years definitely sounds manageable!

5. Incorporate Monthly themes into my reading.

To focus some of my reading and expand my choices, I'm going to spend certain months focusing on various themes. February is Black History Month, so I'll be primarily books by black authors. March is the big Canada Reads debates, so I'm going to try to read all 5 nominated books, as well as others by Canadian authors. In April, baseball season begins, so I'm going to finally read some of the baseball-related books that have been on my TBR shelves for years. I also want to spend a month reading feminist books (both fiction and nonfiction), books in translation, and maybe spend October reading creepy or horror books.

6. Read one every month: Cancer, Non-fiction, Book club picks

One of the ways I'm hoping to incorporate certain books into my reading plan is by reading one of each type per month. Cancer has effected my family quite a bit, so I'm planning on reading one book with cancer themes every month, whether it be a memoir, fiction, or something else. I also want to read more non-fiction in general this year, so I'm planning on reading at least 1 non-fiction book per month. I also belong to at least 4 book clubs - one that meets with my friends in real life, one for my Ravenclaw Tower, one for the Chilton Running Club, and one for the Unspoiled Podcast. It's not realistic that I read every book club pick every month, and still keep up with my monthly themes, but I'm going to try and fit as many in as I can, while prioritizing my IRL book club because they know where I live and can track me down and yell at me. :)