Book Recs for Your Summer Holiday

One of my favorite parts of packing for any trip is the books. I am the definition of a book overpacker. For six day trip to Montauk, three books seemed in order. But then I bought three more books while there and had to lug them all home. For my upcoming two week trip to California, is six books too much? It’s the longest part of my packing process as I like to weigh how the subject matter will fit into the mood of my trip. For Montauk, I was feeling particularly creatively drained and so loved taking along books like “Big Magic” and the “Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” as a little pick me up. And after the enormous amount of birthday book generosity my family sent my way, this upcoming trip to California, I’ve got A LOT of choices to choose from.

But should you be scavenging to figure out what to take as your carry-on companion, here are a few I recently finished that might just be up your alley.

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan – If you’re a fan of unique narrative structures, this book is one for your bedside table. Not wanting to give a lot away, “All We Shall Know” is set from the perspective of a woman whose life completely changes after getting pregnant from a secret, and illegal, affair. What makes this novel great is the realistic, flawed character of the narrator, whose past secrets and present actions collide as she attempts to become a better person. I ordered it after hearing one of my favorite Booktubers Ariel Bissett rave about this tiny novel for months and after starting it, I couldn’t put it down.

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How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – A famed journalist in the UK, Caitlin Moran’s feminist memoir is chalk full of advice on how to grow into yourself, understand and embrace your body, and make decisions that aren’t easy but right for you. Moran uses her tell-tale wit and humor to discuss topics of obesity, love, marriage at a young age, periods, birth, abortion, and the experience of being the only woman at the table. If this seems up your alley, “Eat Sweat Play,” “Dear Sugar,” and “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding” are also great feminist pep talks.

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“The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” by Sarah Knight – If you feel like your life could use a little bit of a tune up and a hint of emotional decluttering, this book is a fun and super helpful guide for discovering where and who you want to give energy towards. It’s worth it for the worksheets alone. I’m also excited to read Knight’s other little book “How to Get Your Sh*t Together.”

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Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert – This book was the pep talk I needed at the exact moment I read it. A must for anyone pursuing a creative endeavor, “Big Magic” is Gilbert’s musings on motivation, passion and how to stay open to inspiration. Gilbert uses her own life as a canvas to show that it’s only when you’re taking care of yourself, pursing curiosity, and enjoying a project that great things will happen. Also mentioned in this book, which I read after, was Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder.” Set in the Amazon rainforest, an Indian American doctor from Missouri goes on the hunt for her lost coworker and a famed doctor working on a game changing fertility drug. The book is like a well-tuned clock, moving beautifully between the action and the interior life of the narrator. But in true Patchett fashion, what shines most in this novel is the complexity and depth of the many characters whose actions cause the reader to ask: What would I have done in this situation?

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Any book recommendations you have in mind? I have a couple more here if needed and am almost done with “Lincoln in the Bardo” which everyone has been raving about. Will return with a full review soon!

Happy reading,

C

 

Book Club: My January Reads

I think we can probably all agree that this past week has been a heavy one. Each night after work I’ve felt capable of few things other than curling up with the kittens in order to recharge. Right now, little acts of self-care have been crucial in maintaining my hope and fire to fight back against the injustices being imposed against Americans and immigrants around the world. For me, that has been putting my phone away at night, writing cards to my loved ones, or watching an episode of “Call the Midwife.” I’ve binge watched A LOT of Estée Lalonde’s lifestyle videos and gotten in deep with the Disneyland vlogging community (Disney bounding, it’s the big new thing). But mostly, I’ve been reading as much as possible, even if just for a 15 minute before bed. Below are my HELL YES reads from January as well as some recommendations if your TBR list is looking a little light.

“Missoula” by Jon Krakauer. I’ll yell it from the rooftops if need be, but this is book is something everyone should read! Known for his nonfiction novels “Into Thin Air” and “Under the Banner of Heaven,” Krakauer spends two years investigating the growing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses by looking at the experiences of five different survivors from Missoula, Montana. His novel shines a much needed light on the mishandling of rape cases and drives home the reality that survivors are often the ones blamed from the assaults inflicted against them. For all readers, this book shows how sexual assault can affect every aspect of a survivor’s life and the good vs. bad effect an ally’s language can have on a survivor’s healing.

PS. Sidenote. This week I launched Voices, my story project working to empower survivor narratives about sexual violence. HUZZAH! This has been four years in the making so it’s both exciting and nerve wracking. If you’re curious what it is or how to get involved, please follow these links.

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“Giant Days” by John Allison and Whitney Cogar. Now three episodes in, “Giant Days” follows the misadventures of a group of college misfit floormates — mainly Daisy, Susan, and Esther. I don’t laugh out loud at books often but this one has left me in stitches. Each of the characters is just so earnest, awkward, and relatable making this a great read for new and veteran comic readers alike. It’s battling my heart for #1 comic but might be pulling into the lead.

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“Bloom” by Estée Lalonde. As you may or may not know, I watch close to 500 YouTube videos a week as a part of my job. Yes, my real-life-pays-me-benefits job. So when it comes to my spare time, I’m very picky about what creators make the cut. It’s become a bit of a running joke that literally every YouTuber has a book, and I’ll be honest, most are nothing to write home about. But then there is the occasional gem that rises to the surface and for me, that is Lalonde’s lifestyle guide “Bloom.” In this memoir, Lalonde writes about her battles with depression, anxiety, and her decision to move across the world to be with her great love. It talks about how YouTube went from being a passion to a full-time career, and most importantly, it provides inspiration for readers about spaces and energies. Her letter to London and chapters on self-care had me organizing my space and hanging frames that same day. I finished the book in 24 hours and have been excited to share it with friends.

Very similar to this book “Hey Natalie Jean” which I wrote about a couple years ago.

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And my most recent read, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. This book received a ton of buzz last year after winning the National Book Award and I am here to say it’s all true. The novel follows the journey of Cora, a slave who escapes from a plantation in Georgia using the Underground Railroad. With each state presenting a different experience and “future,” Cora witnesses first hand how the travesties of slavery are sewn so intrinsically into the tapestry of America. This novel is heartbreaking and chilling as its incidents of racial violence and injustice are ones we continue to see in modern society. But it’s Cora as a character, who is beautifully captured in the chapter Cesar, who gives heart and hope to this novel. This year, do yourself a favor and read this book.

Book Club: ‘Nimona’, ‘Improbability of Love’ and more

Books, books, books – is there anything else worth talking about amongst the humidity and back sweat sweeping through Brooklyn? I’ve been trying to cut back on buying books this year and while I’ve been pretty good at sticking to my word, tonight I splurged and now have “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” and “Every Girl Can” on their way to Google. If you have any recommendations, please send them this way, but until then, these are some of my recent recs for your summer TBR list.

A Definite Read

The Improbability of Love – For the past six months almost every BookTuber I follow has been raving about this novel set amongst the galleries of London’s art scene. The story is told from six intersecting narratives that begin to collide after an aspiring chef, Annie, buys a mysterious painting from a pawn shop. As you might guess, the painting is a super famous work of art that is being hunted by a series of people determined to keep the piece’s history a secret. The story could have easily become just another art chase ala “The DaVinci Code,” but due to Hannah Rothschild’s clever use of the painting as one of the narrators and the story’s surprise plot twists, I couldn’t put this down. Favorite book of the summer, hands down. If “Improbability of Love” is very your style, also consider “Modern Lovers” and “The Portable Veblen.”

Nimona – Beautifully illustrated and written, this dark comedy of a “villain” and his shapeshifting sidekick Nimona is a sweet story of the power of friendship overcoming the tragedy of the past. Nimona is a snarky, sassy sidekick whose enthusiasm for destruction and villainy comes to a head when the secrets of her past come into question. If you liked “Lumberjanes” (my favorite comic also by this same author) and “Through the Woods,” this book will be a light, quick, and enjoyable read for you.

Beautiful Ruins – People have been losing their minds over “Beautiful Ruins” for the past two years and finally, with summer hot on my heels, it felt like the right time to read it. The story takes place in the differing worlds of the Italian coast in 1962 and present day Hollywood as an almost love affair comes back to transform the lives of five different people. While I don’t quite agree with NPR review that it is “a literary miracle” (cue eye roll), this was one of my favorite books I have read this year.

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The Meh List

Are You My Mother? 

This is the second graphic novel from Alison Bechdel, author of “Fun Home,” that revolves around her complicated, misunderstood relationship with her mother. Unlike “Fun Home,” Bechdel is writing about a parent who is still living which leads to the text to use most psychological research than personal experience to propel the story. Despite my best efforts to not compare it to “Fun Home,” “Are You My Mother?” left me wanting a story as rich and reflective as Bechdel’s previous work. While I am glad I read it, I am still at a loss as to who exactly I would recommend this book to.

And finally, The Mystery of Mercy Close. While I am the biggest fan of Marian Keyes – she’s one of the few authors I’ve read everything they’ve written – I did not enjoy this novel at all. The story dragged on without much purpose and suddenly wrapped up in the end without any clues to help the reader figure out the mystery on their own.

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For all my book thoughts, should you be able to handle them, here is my ever growing column

Book Club: 5 Books, 1 Review

This review originally started as just a few thoughts on “Americanah” but as time passed, and the pile of finished books grew larger on my desk, it evolved into the mammoth of literary tangents you see below. From personal memoirs – “A Body, Undone;” “All I Know Now” – to novels outside the realms of reality – “Oryx and Crake,” “Through the Woods” – this hodge podge of literature is a mix of books I enjoyed, books I wouldn’t take on a second date, and some I insist you buy for everyone you know.

A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain

In 2003, English professor Christina Crosby was paralyzed in a bike accident at the age of 50. Just released in March, Crosby’s memoir is an unexpected vehicle of hope. But not in a corny way. Crosby is a very realistic, trustworthy narrator that invites reader in to her often painful acceptance of her new life of dependency. The novel travels between Crosby’s present relationship with her mangled body and her reflections on her body growing up, her tomboy tendencies, her affinity for movement, religion, and her sexuality. It is also an examination how by age 50, she and her brother were both confined to a wheel chair – her due to her accident, him due to a long fought battle with MS. A beautiful book, it left me most inspired by Crosby’s relationship with her partner whose actions and words continued to reaffirm Crosby’s existence even when Crosby was unable to articulate that for herself. If you enjoyed “Wild” or “Me Before You,” this is a great  for novel for you.

Through The Woods

This graphic novel was on my to-be read list for quite some time before I finally took the plunge and it was every bit as beautifully illustrated and eerily haunting as I had hoped. Reminiscent of “Beautiful Darkness,” “Through the Woods” is a collection of four horror stories each connected by the theme of a supernatural darkness taking over and controlling a human. If you’re big on graphic novels or enjoyed books such as “Her Fearful Symmetry” and “Jane Eyre,” “Through the Woods” is right up your alley.

All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up Gracefully

A bit of background. Carrie Hope Fletcher is an actress, former “Les Mis” star, and currently touring in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” But aside from her writing, performing, and general awesomeness, Fletcher is also one of the most well-known YouTube vloggers in the U.K. – and my favorite creators of all time.

Fletcher started on YouTube in 2011 as a way to express her creativity in between waiting to hear back from auditions. She quickly became known as a big sister to her audience of “Hopefuls” and over the years has talked candidly in videos about relationships, bullying, body confidence, being cheated on, finding love, performing, growing up, mental health, and everything in between. Last year, her blog got turned into a book that – though meant for a high school audience and not really myself – still struck me with its authenticity and desire to help. Written in the structure of a play, Fletcher’s guide to growing up includes thoughts on bullying, staying safe online, sexual health, friendship and learning to be comfortable in your own skin. And if you have a minute, a few of my favorite of her videos: “She Used to Mine” cover, Utterly Brilliant You, The One When I Live Alone, Dear Tom and Gi, and “A Whole Lot of History” Saying Goodbye to “Les Mis.”

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Americanah

The book that started this entire review two months ago. I thought of letting this GIF just be my review because despite thinking about it frequently, I continue to feel at a lose for how to best describe my “Americanah” experience. Thus far I have: Thoughtprovoking, moving, dense, eye opening, and thought shifting.

Named one of the top ten books of 2014 by the New York Times, the novel follows the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young lovers growing up in Nigeria that find their lives suddenly traveling in opposite directions: A Masters program in the United States and the undocumented underground of London. Adichie’s characters pop off the page as she uses them and their relationship to ferry readers through discussions of race, racism, immigration, discrimination, sex, interracial relationships, being from Africa vs. being African American, and the crumbling of the American dream. This book felt like a full literary meal that made me more thoughtful about privilege and allyship by the end. Just do yourself a favor and read it, then find my roommate M for some deep “Americanah” talks. She’s the “Americanah” sherpa if there ever was one.

Oryx and Crake

My best friend Joe gave me this book as a birthday present about three years ago, and on the plane to Taiwan, I started reading it in anticipation of visiting him and being able to – I assumed – squeal about this post-apocalyptic book. But alas, there was no squealing. I’m not a fan of this book. (I’M SORRY JOE!) The first of the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood, “Oryx and Crake” is told from the perspective of Snowman, a man who survived the human-induced apocalypse and is overtime, is being turned into a God figure by a tribe of perfect human-like experiments. The story begins with these mystery: Who is Crake? Why is Snowman so in love with Oryx? How did they make this world? Is Snowman the last human on earth?

If science fiction, specifically post-apocalyptic narratives, are your jam, this book would be a great addition to your subway journeys. But for me, like my experiences with “Catcher in the Rye,” the narrator truly bothered me. Snowman’s perspective, his way of speaking; I began to feel only the smallest amount of kinship towards him in the last 50 pages and then then the book was over. Well, you’ll just have to see. Will I read the rest of the series? I might, mostly because I trust Joe’s opinions so highly that I’m thinking I must have missed something.

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11 novels down, 19 more to go before the end of the year. Any suggestions, please send them this way! My book piles haven’t yet reached the ceiling so there is totally room for more.

For more of my recs and reviews, click here!

Book Club: ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Me Before You’

 

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^^ Dreams. ^^

In the past month, I’ve started six different books and only until recently, had the decency to start finishing them. It’s like I have no literary manners at all. One book was a hardback I didn’t want to haul around on the train, another just kept whispering in my ear to start it before I finished anything else, and finally I started reading for my first book club. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am now the proud member of the GenText book club with all the sweet souls I facilitated in my GenSex workshop last year. I can’t take credit for the name although I’m pretty obsessed with it. And finally being in a book club. I feel like 58-year-old Carly is smiling down on me right now.

But back to the books. I’ve made a pact with myself that I will finish the 50+ unread books in my Brooklyn bedroom by April 2017 (this isn’t counting any of the ones in LA). A lofty goal, yes, but I can’t keep starring at my unread books and know I’ve let them down. I love to read which also means I also love to buy books. And while I don’t doubt my floor will soon collapse from the weight of my bookshelves, I know I can’t just keep buying books by the truck load and factoring in time to read them. I mean my Amazon wishlist is five pages deep of just books so I think this should give us a clear picture of the kind of person we’re dealing with here.

 

But novels I have had the pleasure of spending time with:

“Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes. You know those books that make you want to abandon all responsibilities and just sit and read until they’re done? This is that kind of book. On the train to D.C., with my parents sitting in front of me and the wifi down in our car so I couldn’t curate, I instead got to read and read and read to my heart’s content.

This novel could have quickly taken a turn towards Nicholas Sparks’ land but proved itself to be one of the most beautifully tragic romances I’ve ever read. It has a way of pulling you close and holding you tight.

The novel follows Louisa Clark – a girl content with her tiny, predictable life in her tiny English town. Or so she thinks. After losing her job at a coffee shop, Louisa takes a job as a caregiver to Will, a former investment banker paralyzed after being hit by a bike in the rain. Will is snarky about Louisa’s crazy clothes, her endless chatter and enthusiasm. But as time moves forward and the two are on the cusp of friendship (romantic friendship), Louisa realizes why she’s actually been hired and despite her care for Will, has to decide if she’s comfortable being fully responsible for saving someone’s life.

Their love story is complicated by Lou’s uninvolved boyfriend, the right to live, multi-dimensional characters, trauma as a survivor of sexual assault, the pressures to support your family, and the fear of diving into the unknown. I adored this book and the chemistry of Will and Lou. I think the New York Times review says it best, “When I finished this novel, I didn’t want to review it: I wanted to reread it. . . . an affair to remember.” Prepare to cry but also be inspired to really live life. As Will writes, “You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it.”

See the movie trailer here before it comes out in June.

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Second on my list is “Brooklyn” — also a novel turned movie. The book follows Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who moves to America to pursue work and opportunities her small Irish town could never offer. At first desperately homesick, Eilis enrolls in night classes and her Brooklyn life before meeting Tony, a Brooklyn native and Italian plumber who slowly wins her heart. But just as she finds her American footing, Eilis must return to Ireland following a family tragedy and in turn, sees what her life would be if she had stayed.

More than half of the novel is focused solely on Eilis’ personal growth and her adjustment in America which as a reader, was a bit hard to stay enthusiastic about. The story begins to pick up when she interacts with others, especially in her triangle between Tony and Jim – a boy she meets upon her return to Ireland. But I think it was the ending that didn’t sit well with me. As a reader, we follow Eilis’ journey from wall flower to independent adult. We root for her finding her own life and celebrate her accomplishment when she finally does. But in the end, her final decision between Tony and Jim feels like it’s made out of a panic instead of her own desire to be with one or the other. The book wasn’t my favorite and might be one of the few instances when the movie might be better than the book.