Books Clubs: My Summer Reads

I have been on a massive book kick recently. And rather than buying a ton of new books (I won’t lie, there are like 60+ in my apartment that I still need to read), I’ve been binge watching BookTube videos about book reviews. Yes, I am that person who is watching stationary haul videos in their entirety.

(Should this also sound up your alley too, my favorite channels include Jen Campbell, Ariel Bissett, Jean Bookish Thoughts, Books and Quills, Peruse Project, and Sophie Carlon.)

This year I set a goal of reading 27 books in a year — not including comic books or kids books — and am really proud to say I’m nearly there! And it’s only August! This summer I’ve been making reading more of a priority throughout the day. The time away from computer screen, immersed in someone else’s imagination, has become both energizing and relaxing. At times I feel a bit guilty for ignoring my long to do list of actual responsibilities and instead, curling up in my brown leather chair and reading the hours away. But I’m learning to be a bit more selfish. I’m thinking of trying to read 40 books next year? And do a 24 hour reading marathon just for fun? I saw all the BookTubers doing it and any excuse to read with cats is fine by me. But enough blabbing, onto the books!

Due to the amount of books coupled together here, I’m going to try and keep my thoughts brief. Well as brief as possible because book talks are the funniest conversations to have. Am I right?

If you’re a fan of Meg Cabot or the “Bridget Jones Diaries” series, “Sofia Khan is NOT Obliged” will be right up your alley. Set in modern day London, Khan is a Muslim hijabi juggling writing a Muslim dating book while trying to find love herself. As you’d expect, her quest doesn’t go exactly as expected, but what drives this novel is the supporting characters who bring out Sofia’s cheekiness. It’s the perfect quick, fun summer read that you can still follow after a couple margaritas on the beach.

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If you love reading the blog Cup of Jo or religiously follow the Instagrams of artists Mari Andrew and Cindy Mangomini, then Susan Branch’s “A Fine Romance” is about to capture your heart. Susan Branch is a very famous artistic author who publishes personal journals and cookbooks full of anecdotes and hand drawn illustrations. In this book, Branch documents her two month dream trip across the English countryside with her husband. I was so enamored with this book. It was beautiful, fun, heartfelt, and as a reader, left me inspired to better appreciate life’s delicious little moments. For a friend who loves to travel or if you’re just in need of a literary pick-me up, I highly recommend this memoir.

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By now you’ve probably heard about George Saunder’s “Lincoln in the Bardo.” It’s been the talk of BookTube and was just nominated for the Man Booker Prize. If you’re a fan of “March” or innovative historical fiction, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is going to be your book of the year. The novel is set during the Civil War and follows the death of Willie Lincoln. The narrative alternates between reality and the purgatory in which Willie is stuck within. Willie encounters hundreds of souls trying to right their past sins and is being urged along by a handful of ghosts concerned about his delayed state between life and death. For the chapters on Lincoln and the “real world,” Saunders uses real newspaper clips to describe Lincoln’s 24 hours after Willie’s death. While not a perfect novel, it’s an extraordinary piece of work I greatly enjoyed spending time within.

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“The Interview” is a graphic novel by Manuele Fior set in 2048, Italy. The story follows two characters who believe they can communicate with aliens during a time when humans have completely lost personal contact with one another. Drawn entirely in black and white, this novel is a beautiful look at what it talks to stay connected to those around you, and why technology isn’t the best answer to everything.

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If you’re a fan of unconventional narratives and characters, these two novels might be your next great subway companions. Both left me thinking about them long after I’d turned the last page and questioning what I inherently expect of main characters.

In John Burnside’s “A Summer of Drowning,” 18-year-old Liv lives with her reclusive artistic mother in the Arctic Circle. When two boys drown in one summer, Liv begins to question the world in which she’s grown up –caught between her reality and the myths that drive the island. Creepy and very introspective, the power of this novel is that it feels like something is always just around the corner, even though most of the action is internal.

In this way, the novel had a very similar feel to “A Separation.” Both Liv and “A Separation’s” narrator — whom is never named or described — are the reader’s only eyes and ears for the entire story. We hear their assumptions — mostly unconfirmed — and watch how in many ways they’re unchanged from start to finish. In “A Separation,” the narrator goes to find her faithless husband who has gone missing in Greece. The pair have been secretly separated for months and upon agreeing to bring him home, rather than confront her in-laws, the narrator uncovers more than she anticipated chasing her husband’s ghost. I was a fan of both books but believe they’re for a very specific reader. They’re dense, unique takes on the “summer novel” genre, but the pursuit is worth the reward. If you enjoyed “Beautiful Ruins” or “The Vacationers,” I think you’d really like these as well. Must pair with a large ice tea for best reading results.

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And lastly, my favorite of the pack, “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. As we all know, I’m a very big Ann Patchett fan (see here and here). I’m currently reading her writing memoir “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” and so enjoying being inside the mind of a writer. In “State of Wonder,” one of her six fiction novels, readers follow Dr. Marina Singh, a 40-year-old scientist sent to South America to bring back the results of her department’s rogue doctor and the next great fertility drug. Marina is the department’s second choice, but after her laboratory partner is killed in the jungle, Marina volunteers to take his place. From the first 100 pages, you are rooting for Marina in a way that doesn’t negate her faults. She’s impatient, unconnected to others, tormented by nightmares, but as time passes, she begins to open herself up to the possibility that she may want more than a quiet, tiny life. And the ending, THE ENDING! It’s the best part of this adventure. Marina’s story is as emotional and personally fulfilling as it is adventurous, and will leave you questioning, what would you sacrifice do to save the life of someone you love? And when it comes to science vs. nature, who really wins in the end?

 

72 Hours in Nashville

^^ Let it be known that it was my mum’s request that we visit Nudie’s Bar! This dive bar did not disappoint with its live music, red ales, and tri tip quesadillas. ^^

Lately I’ve been trying to make more of a concerted effort to break from routine. To plan trips that take more than five minutes to organize and possibly involve a plane, train, automobile, and cat sitter. Sometimes life in the city can feel so unnecessarily draining and between running (literally!) errands around the city, working full-time, freelancing, and still trying to (kind of) be a social human being, I lose sight of planning trips in the future. Sometimes I just look at my bucket list and think… damn, this is a lot.

So when my parents asked if I wanted to join them during the first portion of their Tennessee adventure, I thought what better time to flex my new habit than now! We all met at the Nashville airport where I got to pick them up at their gate, and off we went to eat our body weight in BBQ-ed meats and hash brown casserole for the next 72 hours.

I’ve always been really curious about the lifestyle of Nashville after accidentally getting hooked on the soap opera-ish show “Nashville.” Turns out, much like “Sex and the City,” the show didn’t prepare me in any way for my visit — though it did teach me that you should never keep papers identifying the real father of your daughter in a box in your closet. And that Connie Britton is defying all the rules of aging.

During our first day, we ran all around the city, but not before consuming about 1700 calories at Cracker Barrel. I hate to admit it, but we ate there three times during our three day vacation because you cannot deny the deliciousness of those homemade biscuits. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and then hopped on a bus to tour Studio B — the most famous recording studio in Nashville. If you have the time and the means, this tour is absolutely amazing.

I couldn’t help but get a little chill walking through the recording studios where Dolly Parton, Elvis, the Everly Brothers, and hundreds more made history. The studio is tiny and personal, and with each recording having been done live, the talent of these “A-list” musicians and country artists is so abundantly clear.

I’ve never been a huge country music lover. But listening to the works of so many aspiring and talented artists — not only at the museum but on Honky Tonk row — I love how the genre has become a melting pot of blue grass, jazz, gospel, rock, and even hints of pop. It’s such a fusion but still carries such old school messages of courtship, heartbreak, and love.

Also a lot of references to fishing which, having fished my entire life, is a very unromantic sport. I think of it like I think of building Ikea furniture, it will either make or break your relationship, but there is absolutely nothing in between.

^^ Downtown Nashville from the Cumberland River Bridge. ^^

After listening to an amazing rock band at Nudie’s and walking the couple downtown blocks, my family indulged me and visited author Ann Patchett’s bookstore. As a book nerd, this was the coolest! Patchett is not only phenomenal author (she wrote “Bel Canto” and “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage”) but believed so much in the communities that form around local, home run bookstores that she opened her own in the height of Barnes & Noble and Amazon taking over. It’s a really quiet, sweet place full of handwritten book recommendations, a shop dog, and has a calendar stock full of author events. Should this sound up your bibliophilic alley, I HIGHLY recommend it.

^^ My dad was taking in the beauty of the Jackson’s smokehouse. ^^

On our second and last day, we decided to ignore the humidity and head to the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s house. In these situations, my dad has an especially good knack for giving me the giggles. The quieter the museum, usually the worst they get, and this trip was no exception. If only there hadn’t been a sign sharing all the things President Jackson was the first president to do (Ex. Get his photograph taken, ride a train) then maybe my dad and I wouldn’t have started a 45 minute joke marathon. That and finding out President Jackson preferred to be called General Jackson by his family. Just saying, Pop Pop Jackson rolls right off the tongue. Then we filled ourselves with brisket tacos before cleaning up for the Grand Ole Opry. There were six acts before Chris Young came on and moms from around the country starting throwing their bras on stage. My family and I were blown away by how good he was and endeared by his awkward stories and nervousness.

Despite its brevity, this trip was perfect. July was a bit of a rough one for me, and getting to take an adventure with my family in a new place left me lighter and more content. I mean not physically, obviously, I ate mac and cheese or a potato of some type with literally every single meal. I’ve since downloaded a bit of country music and am enjoying wading through the pools of love and devotion. It’s even inspired an article I’m pitching right now.

Nashville you were a blast, thank you for filling our ears with music and stomachs with all the delicious food. Until next time!

^^ On the way to the airport in, yes, Batman Detective comic book pants. HEYO! ^^

California Dreamin’

^^ This has been my favorite restaurant since I was four and even after living in Brooklyn where good food is everywhere, Grand Panda can still hold its own. ^^

Somehow its already been a month since I was in California and I’m now just getting around to sorting out my photos. It’s mostly come down to “photos with people” and “photos of pine trees” because whenever we’re in June Lake, I feel the need to document every single tree. In another life perhaps I was a tree portrait photographer and the aftereffects of that profession are now trickling into my life today.

This trip home was one of the longest I’ve had in a while (15 days!) and it was broken down into a lot of mini trips. One thing I no longer take for granted in Valencia is just how easy it is to do everything. Doing laundry doesn’t require carrying a giant Ikea bag down the street and hoping you’re not dropping your bras along the sidewalk. Everything is just a little slower and my goals are a little smaller. Go to yoga, get a breakfast burrito from Dinks, eat it on the porch with my dad.

Since my dad retired a few years ago, one of the sweetest parts for me has been getting to spend time just the two of us. On weekday mornings, my mum bids us farewell to go teach the children and my dad and I sit on the porch and read with our caffeinated beverage of choice. Somedays, he’ll go shopping with me if I need new clothes or we’ll take a hike or go to Costco. Then wait for my mum to come home so we can plan the rest of our day together. They aren’t big adventures, but they’ve become really meaningful moments to me.

After a couple days of working and visiting with family and friends, my parents and I packed up the truck and set out sights on our favorite place, June Lake (previously fawned over here and here). For some reason during this trip I had the worst jetlag. I didn’t get on west coast time until the day before I left for New York so my family was extra patient with my car naps and me kicking them out of the cabin living room at 9pm so I could pull out my sofa bed and fall asleep.

But in the ascent from Bishop into the Sierras, even still there is no feeling quite like it. It’s like the world gets quieter and all the problems and stresses of normal life start to make their exits from my mental space. The highway is completely lined with trees and scattered among the forests are cabins that have been there for 20+ years, always bidding their hellos as we pass on the way to fish. June Lake can often feel like nothing has changed, but this trip, we definitely enjoyed the new brewery and Hawaiian food truck that grace the downtown. I use downtown loosely since there is one main street that has no stoplight.

It was a super quick four day escape but we made the most of it — or what the weather would allow us to do. There were definitely debates about if we should continue fishing in a tiny metal boat during a lightening storm or if there were actually any fish in Gull Lake, as the only thing I caught was the world’s ugliest blue gull. This trip to California was a really busy one between still working full-time and trying to see everyone before the jetlag would set in. So this time to June felt extra special being able to log out of everything and just enjoy hikes (birthday resolution complete!) and homemade dinners with my parents. No laptop, no deadlines, and lots of books, obviously.

Then back home I headed into the completely opposite environment of VidCon. I think my boss describes it best, “VidCon is something you only need to experience once to understand it.” And as this is my fourth time going, it can be a lot. But the best part, hands down, was getting to see this handsome bear who treated me to a night at Disneyland because he’s a gentlemen.

^^ This was taken after I spent the morning trying to find wifi (thanks Downtown Disney) and hadn’t slept. Clearly. I look like I’ve been hit by a truck compared to a glorious Churro. ^^

I don’t normally take a lot of pictures when I hang out with Churro because his always come out better anyway. But this IS the latest masterpiece of him after I tried to tell him the importance of owning the Marnie the Dog app. Clearly I made my point.

^^ Love, love, love. This was right before the woman in front of us started screaming, “I don’t like this!” and we were still in the station. ^^

A long post for a long trip, thank you for indulging me. While it started with the worst plane trip of all time (thanks drunk guy), it was so memorable and wonderful to see everyone I love so much. So a big thank you to everyone who made time to see me, to plan our dinners super early so I wouldn’t fall asleep, and tolerated all the texts I kept accidentally sending at 6am. Thanks to the post office people for not judging the amount of books I was sending to Brooklyn and thank you to my family for giving me the best gift of all, home cooked meals. It’s the best gift you could give anyone who lives on their own.

Cheers until December California! I’ll see you and In-n-out before we know it.

PS. “Stranger Things” season 2 trailer is out and OH BOY, I cannot wait.

Damn You Writer’s Rut

I believe myself to be in a bit of a writer’s rut and let me tell you, there are many things I can handle with grace and poise, but a writer’s rut is not one. When the writer’s rut starts to seep in from the edges, I’m like that crazy old woman who grabs her cats and yells at the sky, “What the hell am I supposed to do now?! This is it. THIS IS THE END!”

Neither my neighbors nor cats appreciate it.

In my opinion, writing inspiration is a mixture of hard work and perseverance. I rarely sit down and feel like the words just magically flow from my finger tips. Actually, I don’t know if that has ever happened. The majority of time, I’m just sitting at my desk, listening to the serenades of Billie Holiday, and hoping anything I’m putting down is coherent. To me, the most important thing about that is setting up the routine of writing and showing up to do it multiple times a week. That way, when I’m feeling particularly lack luster or overwhelmed by the enormity of my to do list, I can hopefully push through the initial wall of procrastination and get my articles or pitch letters written.

But this past month, I’ve just found myself in a bit of a rut. I’m excited to write so many ideas, but feel on where to start or even if anywhere will take them. I’ll put aside entire nights to write and in the end, come out having watched too many of useless YouTube videos and completely frustrated with myself.

So this post is more of an inquiry into what you do when you’re in a creative rut? Should I start taking the Ernest Hemingway approach and move to an island with only my cats and all the pens I’ve stolen from YouTube? Should I buy a typewriter so I can’t keep editing each line before I’ve had a chance to write the entire piece? Should I delete Instagram, my procrastination enabler?

At the moment, I’m viewing this time as the period in which I’m meant to consume, rather than create, art and writing. I’m taking more time to read, try new bakeries in my neighborhood, visit exhibits around the city, sweat all over my yoga mat, write letters to friends, and dare I say it, go to bed at a decent hour. I’ve also had many dance parties to Whitney’s “Dance With Somebody” around the house.

In looking at it a bit positively, this rut has given me time to rewire my desire to do everything at once. While I love to be ambitious and try all types of pitches and articles, my standards for what I can get done in a week — while also working full-time — aren’t realistic. So how do I remedy a desire to keep growing as a writer with the need to find a more balanced existence? I’m currently on the hunt for some answers and until I get to the bottom of it, at least I have three seasons of “Doctor Blake’s Mysteries” to keep me company.

^^ Also, my favorite video this week. Sorry mum, it has some “language” as you would say. ^^

And Summer Begins in NYC

The best — and I admit, sometimes, hardest thing — about living in a place like New York City is there are always a million things to do. Museums, theaters, food, pubs, mermaid parades — my bucket list since moving here has only continued to multiple like a pack of rabbits. So today, in the hopes of escaping jet lag once and for all, I set my sites on abandoning any form of normal routine and visiting the Cloisters instead.

If you’re like me and didn’t know anything about the Cloisters until this year (or perhaps even this moment), the Cloisters is a branch of the MET Museum that houses Medieval European art. Located on a 4-acre park (Tryon Park) in Washington Heights, the Cloisters resemble a medieval church and are filled with art, architecture, and artifacts made between the 1100s to the 1400s. It’s pretty incredible and to really get in the mood, I took a friend’s advice and hummed the “Game of Thrones” theme song while walking up the drive.

Unlike the black hole that is the MET Museum, the Cloisters don’t take long to get through, and with benches surrounding the courtyards and balconies, it’s a brilliant place to bring a book/sketch pad and enjoy the views. My two biggest takeaways: One, the incredible amount of detail that went into everything from unicorn tapestries to amber-carved chess boards. As all of these pieces were considered offerings to God, it’s the level of detail and care craftsmen put into their work that allowed them to stay so well preserved all these years later. Two, medieval religious artwork is intense. It takes little imagination to understand why people living during this period were so concerned (obsessed?) with escaping eternal damnation. With few people in Medieval congregating being able to read, this artwork served as a connection to understanding religious stories and instilling (or intimidating) messages of right or wrong. There is a lot of fire and brimstone, and the enormous statues of saints even made me feel a little intimidated. But all in all, this escape to the Cloisters made me feel like I wasn’t even in New York City anymore. And the best part, it’s totally accessibly by subway!

^^ Found this little lady across from Lincoln Center waiting to take her bows. ^^

I decided to make an entire day of it and instead of taking the subway all the way home, hopped off at 59th street and made my way to my favorite tea parlor, Alice’s Tea Cup. I then took my scone and tea to Central Park and ended up stumbling upon Strawberry Fields where I watched people sing along to the musical troubadour who calls this specific spot his own.

I’ve been in need of a long meandering New York walk lately. The kind of walk where you walk for so long that you go between thinking about everything to thinking about absolutely nothing. So off my backpack and I went from Central Park down to 14th Street where I caught the subway home just as the first thunder clap sounded and people began realizing it wasn’t A/C fluid sprinkling from above.

^^ Life in my neighborhood has been pretty beautiful lately. I mean a double rainbow right outside my door?! WHAT! ^^

I still constantly pinch myself that I live in New York. I mean, sitting eating a scone at Strawberry Fields? Going to the MET twice in four days? It’s such a neat balance to go between having a new adventure, absorbing the life of the city, and then coming home to my own little sanctuary within all the chaos. It’s days like today that help me reset my compass a bit, and come home excited to write. They are often the days I am most thankful for.

PS. Here is a picture of Fitz because I’ve taken about 162 in the last six days since coming home from California.