Productivity is Hard

Well, I haven’t done some booktalking or reviewing on here because I thought I would catch up on some other stuff…and then I also failed to do said other stuff. I’ve learned some things about productivity, though, even if I’m not great at implementing them…

  1. Be at desk if needed. This basically set me behind most of May. I cleaned up my desk after a week or two of being back, but after or before a long shift at work this was not really where I wanted to spend my time. Unfortunately, it’s really where I need to be when writing certain scenes, especially if I have notes on paper or am using other resources.
  2. To-do lists…everywhere. I need to use my Passion Planner less now that my days are less structured, so I’ve taken to keeping to-do lists on my phone and computer, mostly with Evernote because it syncs between the two. I have big goals and miscellaneous at the top, and then I’ve broken it down into writing, blogging, and reading. Sometimes I also need to do plans for specific days. Checking off tasks just makes me more focused and like I have accomplished something, especially if the tasks are not the biggest (like writing/blogging/reading), because I do have other goals.
  3. Sometimes planning needs to also be on paper. I’ve been planning on journaling my writing projects for a while now, and I’ve finally begun with this current novel because I’ve had notes now for over a year that I really need to consolidate and narrow down, without deleting what I already have on Scrivner. I’m not sure that makes sense to you, but it’s how my brain is working right now–plus, there is less direction. So I’ve designated pages to plots, subplots, characters, and themes, and will be filling them out when I need to figure out what to write next.
  4. Writing sessions can’t be quick. I need time to immerse myself in the story and focus on what needs to come next. Sometimes, it also helps if I’m alone (see #1).
  5. Figure out sleep schedule/routine. Last school year I kind of developed a bad habit of staying in bed too late, attached to fragments of dream, and this has carried over to the summer. I’m working on it, but I also need to take advantage of the fact I do work better at night because it’s what I’m used to. So on nights I’m not working until midnight, I’m starting to take some time upstairs to write at my desk before bed.
  6. Staying off phone if not productive. Of course. This is something I’ve always struggled with, but I’ve accepted it’s still productive if I’m interacting with others on Twitter or Instagram rather than just scrolling. That’s part of growing my blog and “author brand” or whatever. Still, I need to limit it and not get distracted. I should probably get in a habit of using the Forest app again.
  7. Keeping myself accountable. Right now, I’m making a thread on Twitter where I update my word count when I write, hopefully finishing the draft by the end of the summer. In the past I’ve used trackers like Pacemaker, but since my schedule is different from day to day I find less pressure in this, and so I’ll probably be less likely to give up.

What I’ve been enjoying lately

I read Dear Martin (review/discussion coming soon) and short story collection The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 (really for my own writing research not planning to discuss much on here). I’m currently reading Six of Crows (finally!) and I’ve also been working through some issues of Ms. Marvel (so good!).

I’m continuing my marathon of Brooklyn 99 which I LOVE so much still, and I think I’ve gotten my family into it. I just watched the episodes where Rosa comes out to the squad and her family and my heart is so full. I’ve also been catching up on podcasts and I’m hoping to try an audiobook soon but we’ll see.

Hopefully see you soon with some sort of booktalk/review!



2017 Reading Wrap-Up, Favorites, and 2018 Plans

I’m behind because I was busy doing the 2017 TV and music wrap-ups (and also I left out The People vs. O.J. Simpson on the TV one! oh no!), but finally, here’s my 2017 reading results, my favorites from the year, and 2018 plans!

The Stats

According to Goodreads, I read a total of 67 books, although that isn’t completely accurate as I explained here…basically, some of the books I counted I read most but not all of for school, but I definitely read enough articles and short stories that wasn’t counted that I figure it’s good enough. Anyway, here is where you can find my Goodreads’ “Year in Books” thing.

  • A total of 29 books/plays/graphic novels I read were for school, although 1 novel and 1 short story collection I chose to read I also used for school projects. Also, I read 1 play because I’m going to be the props master for a production of it next semester!
  • 4 of the books I read were either ARCs or copies sent for review. (Kaleidoscope Song, Kid Authors, Echo After Echo, and 27 Hours.)

Here’s a breakdown of the types of books I read out of those 67

  • 28 novels (fiction)
  • 13 nonfiction books
  • 1 short story (I read more, but this was “The Canterville Ghost” which was long-ish and I marked it on Goodreads)
  • 2 novels-in-verse
  • 9 graphic novels/memoirs
  • 4 short story collections
  • 6 plays
  • 4 epic poems/epics/epic romances

Compared with last year, it looks like I definitely read more diversely (and more–last year I counted 55 books). I read over 4 times the number of nonfiction and over 4 times the amount of graphic novels/texts. I actually read a couple of novels-in-verse (though one was for class). I didn’t read as many plays but I did read more epics, and that’s mostly because of class assignments, frankly. I also, as I had planned, read more African-American literature after I had found myself gravitating toward non-racial diversity in books and deciding that was the demographic I wanted to learn more about. Granted, my school assignments helped a lot with that, too. (Shoutout to a professor who was not only an amazing teacher and lecturer, but made a required survey class be almost exclusively by and/or about POC and queer people.)

Favorites/Books That Have Stuck With Me

These are in the order I read them (more or less), not ranked. Reading so many different types of books makes them really hard to compare against each other! Links to reviews where applicable (some are to come).

  • Rereads of The Great Gatsby and My Antonia, which I still really do love for, sometimes, intensely personal reasons.
  • The Attention Merchants (Tim Wu)
  • Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin)
  • Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)
  • The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead, who I also got to see speak and he was so funny and inspiring!)
  • The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
  • Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli)
  • The March trilogy (John Lewis, et al)
  • Lost in the Funhouse (John Barth)…I liked this probably the least of all of these but it was definitely memorable.
  • We Are the Ants (Shaun David Hutchinson)
  • The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
  • Star-Crossed (Barbara Dee)
  • Ms. Marvel vol. 1 and 2 (G. Willow Wilson, et al)
  • Angels in America (Tony Kushner)
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Braced (Alyson Gerber)
  • They Both Die at the End (Adam Silvera)
  • Kaleidoscope Song (Fox Benwell)
  • Echo After Echo (Amy Rose Capetta)
  • “The Canterville Ghost” (Oscar Wilde)
  • Paradise Lost (John Milton)…admittedly I enjoyed thinking/talking about this more than actually reading it!
  • The Book of Dust (Philip Pullman)
  • The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night (Jen Campbell)
  • Turtles All the Way Down (John Green)
  • You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (Rachel Lynn Solomon)

I’m noticing a pattern…while I did enjoy a lot of books I read for class, most aren’t up here! I think part of it was the speed at which I had to read them, often on top of other books I was already reading. I didn’t get to fully live inside of them. Similarly, books I read outside of class that were heavy (especially Beloved) I feel like I would have enjoyed more had I read in a more rigorous manner. The books that didn’t make a list that I still gave high ratings to might not be personally my favorite (yet), but I will absolutely recommend them to peers and students where applicable.

Also, this is REALLY LONG and I tried to cut it down but it just seemed rather unfair. I read a lot of great books! And they were all great in different ways.

2018 Plans

  • I am using THIS CHART from Book Riot (in addition to Goodreads) to keep track of my reading. It not only keeps track of titles, when you read it, how long it took you, etc, but stats like if the author/character/both are POC and/or LGBTQ, if it’s #ownvoices, in translation, gender of author, type of book, genre, etc. I’m really excited! It will also make posts like these WAY easier and keep me more conscious of the demographics of what I’m reading.
  • Related to that, I’m going to try to complete some of the tasks from Book Riot’s READ HARDER challenge.
  • I noticed I read a lot of YA this year, and while they were mostly great, I want to read the literary fiction I own, too, because I miss that type of story. Related to that, I will continue to be very selective about review copies/Netgalley because I have a lot of backlist to catch up on and limited time.
  • Read more sci-fi/fantasy! I used to love the genre and while I’m not the biggest fan of it outside of middle grade (ah, nostalgia), short stories, and TV and movies, I’ve got some I’ve heard great things about.


What are your goals this year?

Teaching Shakespeare: Best Play to Start?

I’ve been thinking about Shakespeare a lot recently–I’ve been getting into theater, I saw Something Rotten and read Twelfth Night this summer, I’m getting deeper into learning to teach English, and now my brother’s in high school and will be reading Romeo and Juliet this year.

When I heard that last item, I was a little disappointed…I saw a production of it my freshman year of high school, and there’s certainly a lot of dramatic momentum and memorable words, but it’s gained a bit of unfair stigma as a trivial, quick love story between teenagers (which is basically societal reflection on teenage relationships and the romance genre anyway). I’m worried my brother wouldn’t enjoy it as much as, say, Macbeth.

So this prompted me to reflect and I’d like to share my experience with Shakespeare in school and open up the discussion to those who have read more than me. Please comment!

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (freshman year): This was a great introduction. It’s wacky, fun to act out, a good exercise in keeping characters straight, and we got to say “ass” a lot and act out a play within a play.
  • Much Ado About Nothing (sophomore year): We watched the movie of this first (the 90s one), which definitely helped when we read it. This we were less concerned with the language and everything, anyway. Less wacky, but still fun?
  • Macbeth (senior year): On the serious side, here’s a lot of blood and murder and witches and dramatic tension and irony. Captivating and fun to act out.

I also had a good although not immersive experience (because I spent less time on it) with Twelfth Night this summer–definitely another fun, wacky one, and its use of gender can certainly open up discussions, engagement, and inclusivity in general.

What has been your experiences with Shakespeare in school? What plays engaged you and with what activities?


My Goodreads Challenge is Inaccurate, and That’s Okay

I set a Goodreads goal this year to read 60 books. In 2014 and 2015, I had a goal of 50 and exceeded it by a few, so last year it was truly a challenge, by not an unreachable one. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it because when I went to college my reading dropped off because I wasn’t spending too much time alone and I didn’t have to read many books for class (mostly short stories). This year I’m trying for 60 again and so far I’m a 40–2/3 of the way through, and 7 books ahead. And I haven’t finished a book in the past week. So what happened?

The short answer: school. My spring semester, unlike my fall one, I had to read a lot for class and many of it was books. On my Goodreads challenge, I have counted the following from my classes:

  • 7 novels, 2 nonfiction books, and 2 graphic memoirs for my literature classes
  • 2 books I read that were my choice but were wholly or partially written about for class (that’s Difficult Women and The Hate U Give)
  • 6 nonfiction books and more academic “textbooks” I had to read all or some of for other classes

Yes, you read that–“all or some of.” I counted books that I read most but not all of the chapters in it, so I didn’t read it all. BUT there’s also a lot that I read that couldn’t be counted on Goodreads–short stories, poems, articles, chapters from other books…I figure that makes up for the portions of “read” books I didn’t actually read.

And this has reminded me of something I need to remember: it isn’t all about what “counts.” I haven’t read many stories and poems in literary journals (online or print) because they don’t “count,” for instance, and that doesn’t help my writing goals. It also means I’m less likely to read longer or more difficult books and more likely to read shorter and quicker stories (though I confess that this time I picked up graphic novels and comics not for that reason).

Goodreads and its challenges are incredibly useful to me keeping track of things, but it isn’t everything, and I’m glad I’ve recognized that.

How do you use your Goodreads challenge or keep track of your reading?

LGBTQ Kidlit, Schools, and Me

I meant to publish this in April, but then I chickened out because suddenly there was so much to cover from the news that was related to this topic. So here it is, because Pride Month seemed like a good time to post it.

star crossedI’m writing this because I can’t stop thinking about this article and everything it has awakened or reawakened in me. On Thursday [March 23], Nerdy Book Club published this guest post, which I highly recommend reading for context and general importance. In the chance you didn’t bother and still aren’t reconsidering that decision, basically: Barbara Dee, author of Star-Crossed, a cute new middle grade book about an eighth grader developing a crush on a girl and discovering her bisexuality, was invited to talk to middle schoolers but was then asked by a teacher to not talk about the actual subject of the book because of worries it was [insert quotes], despite the fact it’s recommended for the age range and has had endorsements from prominent MG writers.

This affected me more than I initially realized, because never once was I surprised by this. It affected me because this–and Dee’s comment as how, as a former teacher, she understood this one’s reasoning–is exactly what I’ve been afraid of.

(I have since ordered Star-Crossed because I didn’t realize it had been released and plan to read and talk about it soon-ish, which really means this summer, because clearly I am very occupied with school.)

I am bisexual, maybe pansexual–at this point, they both seem to mean “attracted to more than one gender” and I use the former because it’s more understood by the wider public, I think (not that there aren’t a lot of misconceptions), and I’m not entirely sure how many genders I’m attracted to. “Queer” is also a general term that feels right. My sexuality is a fluid continuum–boys to girls, the romantic to the sexual and everywhere in between are options for my attractions and relationships.

I am also lucky. I wasn’t raised in a religious or socially conservative context. In fact, I figure my parents are okay enough with my sexuality that I haven’t bothered to tell them yet, because it just hasn’t come up (I’m single, not looking for a relationship right now, and am definitely not known for chatting about crushes or the attractiveness of celebrities). Heck, the only wedding I’ve actually been to was between two men. I first came out to my ex-boyfriend (after telling him about a dream I had involving a girl, leading to this revelation) almost a year and a half ago, and his response was basically “Oh, I thought I knew that already.” My friends haven’t had any problem with it. I go to a very LGBTQ-friendly school nested in a community where many local shops have pride flags displayed in their windows. I have several close bi and gay friends who have helped me feel more confident. I’m not prominent enough on the Internet that I don’t get nasty comments. I’m white and cis female, the demographic whose bi members are the least likely to commit suicide.

Then things happen that shake me out of that, reminding me that even though I can marry a girl now and get the same legal status and benefits, queer kids are far from safe and secure. The stories from some of my friends about their coming out experiences with family, exes, and/or community and school break my heart. There’s the recent YouTube “mature content”controversy, which then became them demonitizing videos on LGBTQ topics as “not advertiser friendly.” Misunderstandings about trans people are leading to “bathroom bills,” potentially even at the federal level in the future if it goes to the Supreme Court sometime.

And then there’s this.

Because if there’s one thing that does keep me up at night about my sexuality, it’s how it might intersect with my future job as an English teacher.

This post, which I am extremely proud of, may even disappear in the future because of that.

I don’t know who I’m going to fall in love with and I refuse to exclusively date men because of my fears–even though, yes, the odds that I’ll meet potential straight/bi cis male suitors are higher than queer women or anyone else under the trans umbrella, based on demographic data. It shouldn’t matter, of course, but don’t teachers’ personal lives always creep into the classroom? It’s such a normality of teachers referencing their children (especially) or other personal experiences that may bring up a partner. Sometimes students just ask questions, because they’re kids and they’re curious–I remember an awkward time in eighth grade where a student asked our teacher, clearly just trying to be friendly, if she had any kids. The clearest indication that a teacher was probably not straight was if they never talked about their personal lives and didn’t display pictures of partners or children. Many states don’t have explicit sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination policies.

I don’t think that it’s relevant to announce my sexual orientation in the  classroom without context as much as I haven’t found a relative context to mention it in front of my parents. But I’m going to be myself, and these things can come up in classes with curious students, and especially in an English classroom, where we’re confronted with identity and gender and history with every text.

And it goes beyond that as an English teacher. The ALA list of banned and challenged books has a pattern from the last few years: many involve gay or trans characters, with that listed as part of the reasoning behind the challenge. In 2015, elementary school teacher Omar Currie (who also happens to be openly gay) and the assistant principal of a North Carolina school resigned basically from parent complaints over reading the picture book King and King (about what you think it is) to the class after he witnessed the bullying of a boy rooted in homophobia. One of the things they told him was that it would have been okay in a more liberal area, but this particular community needed time to be ready. The thing is, though, there are still LGBTQ students there. And I hope that being a Midwestern teacher instead of fleeing to a more liberal area can allow me to foster understanding of other perspectives through literature. And yet, sometimes there’s a price to pay.

I refuse to not recommend good books that have LGBTQ characters to students who would enjoy or even need them. I refuse to not reprimand students who bully or use epithets targeting perceived gender or sexuality differences, just like I won’t allow any other forms of bullying and harassment. (The statistics of LGBT-related bullying and their long-term damaging effects are appalling, and these students are often at a higher risk of suicide.) I refuse to silence myself from any casual mentions of a girlfriend or ex-partner that wouldn’t be unusual for a straight teacher to say. I want to explore various aspects of analyzing literature, various theories, and encourage students to relate to stories personally–and for some works, that includes queer theory, LGBT history, and relating to the sexual or romantic ambiguity/orientation/relationships or gender identity of characters. I refuse to speak about abstract ideas often found in literature like love, relationships, and gender as cis-, allo-, and heteronormative.

And I refuse to stop exploring LGBTQ characters in my own middle grade and YA writing. I will not be dishonest when answering questions in interviews or Q&As or on Twitter or wherever else people ask authors about inspiration and characters and “meaning” of a work. I refuse to hide in either of my careers.

We talk a lot about the importance of representation in the media, especially with fictional characters–but real-life representation is also important. Role models, both the high-profile and the personal. And teachers have been some of my biggest role models, influencing my own desire to teach. I was fortunate enough in high school to be able to talk to one of my teachers who also had experience with anxiety and OCD during a time I was struggling with those same things. It’s one of the most amazing things to realize that people you admire, people who are successful, still share or shared your struggles. It’s human, it’s reality. And it has the potential to save lives.

That’s why we need books like Star-Crossed. That’s why authors like Barbara Dee should be able to speak about their books at schools where students are reading them and are in the target age range just as they would if the book was about anything else. And that’s why I continue to write as my characters and my stories come to me, and why I will not shut myself in the closet as a teacher. When risk of suicide and other psychological trauma is so high, I have the duty to protect my younger LGBT siblings.

Some Links:

Pride Month Plans and Thoughts (TBR + More)

I admit, Pride Month totally snuck up on me, and I didn’t make the connection between June, reading queer books,  blogging, and general pride. At first, I was like, “Oh, I’ve been reading a lot of queer books in May and was planning to get to some print books I have on hand [which are pretty straight as far as I know] so I don’t feel guilty about them taking up space.” But ah, screw it.

There’s been a discussion going on around Twitter about how a lot of book bloggers will highlight LGBTQ books during June and ONLY in June, which is part of why I was tempted to not push this too hard because I read it year round, and again, I’ve got books on hand I want to finish so I’m not dragging them back with me to college. But then I got caught up in it all…so this happened. I did set one rule: The books I all own already (mostly on Kindle). As a result, I’m kind of limited; unfortunately I don’t have too much by way of aro, ace, and trans (nonbinary especially) rep, which I would love to learn more about. I certainly want to read and support those books and authors sometime soon, but right now I need to stick to my financial goals of using what I buy so I don’t get into bad book buying habits (and I would rather purchase these to support the authors). Meanwhile I’ll do my best to boost those voices on Twitter and here.


  • Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee: Bisexual girl in a middle grade book, with a Shakespeare play! I was super excited for this one (it came out in March) because middle grade is one of my writing interests.
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker: A classic overlapping with my African American Lit goals, I believe this features a black lesbian main character. Plus, Alice Walker’s such an important figure to get to know–and I’ll finally be able to let myself listen to the musical!
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo: About a trans girl written by a trans woman. Nothing more needs to be said.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (if I get to it): This is an ensemble fantasy and I’ve heard great things since it was published, and I believe it has a queer couple? Or at least a queer character. Some of my friends have also picked this up recently so I want to join in the chatter.

Additionally if I have some room in the month (and they’re not checked out), I might pick up Shaun David Hutchinson’s latest book (At the Edge of the Universe) and Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy.


  • A personal post from me that I meant to post a while ago but chickened out…it’s about LGBT books and schools, naturally
  • My favorite musicals with LGBT characters and themes!
  • Reviews/discussions of the above, hopefully. And also We Are the Ants, which I just finished reading and has a gay MC.
  • To be released LGBT books I want to read, or those I want to read in general
  • I’ll probably repost my Grasshopper Jungle post (perhaps revising it a little) from my old blog, because it sometimes gets listed as an LGBT book because of the main character’s bisexuality, but I didn’t find it great representation and also super sexist. (Also it’s going to be a movie soon by a major director…great.)
  • And I’ve got to catch up on a few post from my African-American reading and others.

Other Media?

I’ll be honest, with working and all of the above (plus my own writing), I’m not sure how much movies and TV I’m going to fit in. I’m trying to keep up on three current shows right now–Doctor Who, Class, and The Handmaid’s Tale, so those are my main priority (all of which do have gay characters, so…). I’m also finishing up Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 2 and I’ve started Master of None…which also have bi and gay characters. (Is this a result of my TV tastes or how inclusive TV has gotten?) And I’m trying to make the most of my Hulu subscription by watching Battlestar Galactica ASAP, though I haven’t gotten too far (thanks, bad wifi).

That said, I’d love to watch some movies or documentaries…if anyone has any recommendations? Nothing popped out from my Netflix queue, though maybe they’ll add some during the month.

So what are your plans for this month?


Why I Prefer Analysis to Criticism

I’ve been struggling getting back into blogging, I’ll be honest. There are a few posts that feel like a big deal to me because they’re more personal, so I’m avoiding those. Meanwhile, I’ve certainly read a lot of books, but I don’t feel compelled to review them. As I talked about before, I have been reading more, and I can’t keep up if I’m going to review everything. Also, I don’t think that’s what I want to do, because I haven’t read anything that I have strong opinions on that are purely from a critical standpoint. Ideally, I’d come up with some discussions, like how Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda treats coming out, or The Underground Railroad blends historical events throughout America. But those take a lot of time that not only takes away from some other projects but also feels a bit like homework all over again–much as I enjoy that kind of writing–while I’m on summer break. I mean, they’re practically essays.

So that brings me to something I’ve been realizing in my reading and writing habits: I quite prefer analysis to criticism.

Well, I do like criticism that’s centered around representation and the societal implications of stories/characters. I think it’s important and I often learn something. But in terms of character development, story structure, plot, style, whatever else–I often find I don’t have much to say unless I really liked something or really didn’t like something else. The craft elements sometimes feel like a checklist of aspects to evaluate, and I think that’s overall not what I’m the most interested in and get out of reading. Instead, I’ll draw more on connections to my own life and world or what I learned or thought about and how the text accomplishes that. Or the more traditional essay-like topics I mentioned above, but again, those take WORK.

Often when reading for class, I tend not to form many opinions. Some works stand out above others, but overall I think I’m more interested in seeing how certain ideas were accomplished. For instance, I love postmodernism, which can sometimes be fun to read and sometimes tiring, but as I look at it closer and see how the author is challenging the status quo and storytelling and society, it means so much more to me.

Maybe some of that just comes with taking (and loving) a lot of English classes and planning to be an English teacher. But I’m also very interested in personal relationships to media. How myself and others connect to certain characters and storylines, what it means to them, how it has helped us define ourselves. All of that is often fascinating, and often what stories are ultimately for. Without a personal connection, I can look at something and say “well, that was a very well-done story,” but it doesn’t mean much to me. (This is probably why I end up loving things that are a little too ambitious and messy but have fantastic characters and ideas.)

So for me, Personal Analysis > Literary Analysis > Traditional Criticism, I suppose. What about you?

13 Reasons Why & Prestige TV: Who’s the audience?

The following discusses graphic depictions of rape and suicide, including methods and details of the latter.

I’ve avoided writing a post about 13 Reasons Why because there are SO MANY THINGS that can be said, so many that have covered it, and every time I think about it too much I kind of combust into a ball of frustration. But alas, with the ridiculous yet unfortunately unsurprising news that it’s coming back for a second season (I was glad they were using TV to adapt books, but with the renewal of this and The Handmaid’s Tale, my trust has been betrayed), I thought I’d give it a shot.

So, since I’m fascinated by the evolution of TV, I read Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised near the end of last year (and failed to blog about it), which covers the early 2000s rise of prestige TV and the changing landscape of television. And, well, I’d been running out of things to watch so I’ve actually been watching (American) shows from this century now–Mad Men, Legion, and Battlestar Galactica, to name a few. I also took a class this past semester about the intersection of business and the cultural industries, and we talked a lot about the changes in TV. Prestige TV has been on my brain, as well as on my newsfeeds and podcasts.

Because of that, 13 Reasons Why was suddenly everywhere. The TV critics I followed were covering it, which kind of surprised me because they usually don’t bother with teen TV shows. Of course, 13RW is a Netflix property–that at least gives it a status as “might as well watch” in many circles (though A Series of Unfortunate Events–which was SO GOOD, by the way, and very postmodern and smart–didn’t drum up as much critic-talk). I should note I’d been aware of the book, as I was a teen when it was popular, but never picked it up because my only real interest in it came from wanting to read YA staples, and I was skeptical of the concept of having concrete “reasons” to commit suicide.

darn poster
Poster says “Based on the bestselling mystery” and seems to place her in an enigmatic position very unlike “girl who committed suicide” should.

Prestige TV is kind of an arbitrary monkier. It’s usually for those shows produced with an eye on the critics rather than the commercial, and as such doesn’t cave as much to advertisers and is more likely to be found on subscription services or some cable channels–usually, HBO, FX, AMC, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, Amazon, Starz. It tends to take more narrative and content risks to challenge the audiences and show critics TV isn’t dumb and inferior to film like you used to think it was. A lot of these series are about white male antiheros and aimed toward the middle class white male demographic to boot–though they’ve been diversifying more recently. And because of the aforementioned outlets–particularly subscription services, which don’t rely on advertisers–these shows tend to tackle more mature themes and show more sex and violence. 13 Reasons Why certainly capture critiques, contained a lot of f-bombs and graphic content, and seemed to be marketed as a dark mystery/thriller.

Meanwhile, there’s young adult (YA) literature, the age market category that the novel 13 Reasons Why belongs to, and for good reason; “issue novels” and novels that contain and/or address various identities and struggles are common in YA. YA gets a bad rap, often seen as “silly vampire novels” or “dystopian novels” or love stories, which not only is a) part of our problem of looking down upon all things teenage girl, and b) completely discounts the range within YA, especially recently. (The 13 Reasons Why cast and crew has fallen into this trap, too.)  From someone who’s actively followed the YA community from the perspectives of a reader, teacher, and writer, I’ll certainly say that it’s not just teens who love YA, and hopefully good books are enjoyable to adults as well. But most authors I’ve read about or listened to keep their target audience in mind–not in a didactic way, but as in “I wish I had this book as a teen and I want to help teens understand themselves and the world in some way.” And, regardless of how it was executed (and I’m rather skeptical of it), 13 Reasons Why’s subject matter fits right in to that.

The dissonance? The Netflix adaptation carries a TV-MA rating, likely due to language and the graphic portrayal of rape and suicide in late episodes. That’s pretty consistent with prestige TV. But it’s also targeted at teenagers, with kids as young as 12 watching it–and while I’ll be the first to admit teens can watch above the recommended age level, one has to wonder if this is really for teens why it isn’t rated TV-14. The MA rating also makes it harder for it to be screened in teen spaces like schools, which seems so contradictory to the defense that this is a good show to be a “conversation starter.” Unfortunately, not all teens have trustworthy and knowledgeable adults in their lives to discuss this with.

The graphic sexual assault and suicide scenes (and the show’s overall revenge theme) have drawn criticism from mental health professionals who are concerned about is impact on suicidal teens and suicide contagion, prompting Netflix to recently add more specific trigger warnings. This is all within good reason–the concept of triggers originates from the mental health world, after all, and for those suffering trauma from sexual assault or experiencing thoughts of self harm or suicide, graphic scenes (especially without warning) can have a very adverse affect upon mental health. One of the show’s writers, Nick Sheff, explained in an op-ed why he fought to include the suicide scene: he once heard a woman explain the complications that resaulted from her suicide attempt (via pill-taking), the memory of which saved him later when he considered taking his own life. With all respect to Mr. Sheff, he’s not really comparing apples to apples: a suicide attempt is very different from showing a successful (for lack of a better term) suicide. And interestingly, in the book 13 Reasons Why, Hannah doesn’t slit her wrists and bleed out as shown in the show–she overdosed on pills. Why change that aspect if not to show something more graphic from an outside perspective?

Of course, the graphic scenes have also been well-received by critics for its artistic value, once again highlighting that dissonance between the critics’ value of graphic TV and its supposed target audience. (But, also, does all socially important content need to be graphic to be effective? I wonder sometimes.)

So, considering its viewer-unfriendliness to the suicidal and sexual assault surviors, is 13 Reasons Why really meant for the audience it claims to help: suffering teenagers who should reach out for help?

Or is it more for the “mainstream,” focused instead on the bullying issue and how you should be nice to people?

(Or may its storyline suggest that suicide can serve as successful revenge?)

The answer is, of course, varied upon the individual. I just think all of this should be considered, and it brings up some interesting commentary on where we sit with TV today.

One final note: I’ve been troubled by some of the discussions I’ve seen about whether the show shows that suicide is the right “choice” or not, the idea of people to blame and reasons why for committing suicide, and a recurring screencap/quote/gif I see that seems to suggest that Clay could have saved Hannah’s life if he’d told her he loved her. All of these seem to treat suicidal individuals as completely rational beings, which is contrary to how depression, trauma, and mental illness in general works. It’s no one’s fault, and every time I see the comment of “how could someone watch this and think suicide is the right choice?” I can’t help but feel they’re really saying it’s a choice and placing blame upon the suicidal for a decision they can’t possibly comprehend, and that isn’t helping. As humans, we like for things to make sense, but not all of our brains work the same way. You can tell someone you love them, but that doesn’t mean their brain will believe you. It isn’t your fault and it isn’t their fault.

Of course, 13 Reasons Why apparently never talks about mental health, whether it’s depression or PTSD (common in rape survivors). That’s a topic I’m not going to go into now, but let me just say that I don’t want to see this show (or the book, if it has the same omissions) referred to as “tackling mental health topics” or on a list of stories about mental health or suicide. It should not be the show/book about suicide, nevermind mental health.

And a couple sidenotes…

  • Naturally, the show became memefied (with even Netflix taking part), including as a promposal. I’ve found this extremely unsettling considering the cassette tapes represent a suicide notes with details of bullying and rape. That is not funny.
  • Brian Yorkey adapted the series, and I knew him previously as the book and lyric writer (with Tom Kitt composing) of Next to Normal (a Pulitzer Prize winner) and If/Then, two of my favorite musicals. Researching 13RW has made me reconsider Next to Normal a little bit, which is also about mental illness–although much more explicitly, focusing on a bipolar woman and her family. Apparently, the duo started it as a critique of mental health treatments of bipolar disorder (mostly electroshock therapy), which could be very frustrating if research with actual and various bipolar women was not conducted. However, I think the final version is much more concerned with the effect on the family and her relationship to them that it avoids these problems to have a lot of heart. Here’s the awesome Tony Awards performance, if you’re curious.
  • This article about teens’ experience was also worth listening to, although of course, your mileage may vary.

How College Has Made Me a Better Reader

So, I’m 100% back now since I’ve finished my first year of college and have three and a half months of summer stretching before me. I’ve got posts I’ve been meaning to finish for a while now, but it seemed silly to ignore how college life has changed me and my reading. So here I am.

A quick note: I don’t mean this post to be about how college makes everyone/most people better readers, or how you should go to college to be a better reader. This is very particular to my own habits and studies.

I’ve always needed a “currently reading” book to take around with me to waiting rooms and school since I can remember. There were times when I was very much into reading, and other times (like some of middle school) where I struggled to find stories that interested me. This meant that when I grew tired of a story, I would often skim or perhaps daydream while turning pages until it was over and I could move onto the next thing–very much a bad habit that means I’ve “read” many books I don’t remember much about. (Admittedly, there are books I’ve read properly that I don’t remember much about either, but that happens when you read a lot of different stories.)

My first semester of college, I didn’t read too much, honestly. It wasn’t that I had a lot of homework to do, but the homework I did have rarely involed reading–at least, not books. I read quite a few poems, short stories,a couple plays, and I did read a wriiting advice book for class. The main culprit was that I was suddenly surrounded by people all the time (I was fortunate to have a great floor), and reading is quite an alone activity. And after my rigid high school devotion to school work and getting through a book a week (even if that meant I skimmed some I wasn’t that in to, as I mentioned earlier), I did not want to be alone in my room very much.

Second semester was quite a different story. In my first semester, my classes were kind of all over the place–a creative writing class, a literary analysis skills class, a cognitive science class (the most traditional one), a speech class, and a technology in education class. I really only had to write one paper and take 2 tests that were multiple-choice, knowledge-based (both for cognitive science), not counting short stories I wrote and the literature tests that were basically just “answer basic questions and analyze this.” Everything else was a project or speech. Second semester, though? I had two literature classes, two education classes, a fun class about cultural industries, and creative writing, (well, and also yoga) and I read 17 books (plus many poems, short stories, journal articles, chapters scanned to PDFs…etc) and wrote probably around 15 papers. It’s hard to keep count on that last one.

You get the idea. I was either reading a book, reading something I’d printed, reading a PDF, or typing in a Word document. In one of my classes (20th and 21st century literature with a literary history focus…it was my favorite), we read 9 books, which turned out to be a book a week during most of the course.

But when you fit in my other classes, “a book a week” usually means reading a book in a weekend, or 100 pages in an afternoon, etc. That might not seem unusual to some of you, but for me, I struggle with “marathoning” books (or TV shows sometimes, for that matter). Part of it might be my troubles focusing on one thing at a time, but a larger part is that “reading a book over a week” has just been a part of my life since elementary school. Sure, there were some exceptions, but in those times sometimes I’d run into my old enemy, skimming, because I was more concerned about how fast I was reading than anything. With school, I can’t do that, of course. I wouldn’t say I annotated elaborately, but I kept a pencil in hand and underlined frequently. (Plus, it helped that the aforementioned class was a survey course, so we didn’t do close readings of everything.) Nevertheless, I learned how to read a large amount in a relatively short period of time without (thanks to the flexibility of college schedules) thinking more about the time than the words.

Another thing I learned was variety. I was a varied reader–at least in fiction–before college, but I was always aware of the difference I was making. I avoided nonfiction because I’d always thought of it as textbooks, gradually warming to essays and memoirs. I’d tried my hand at a few comics and graphic novels, mostly Doctor Who and Buffy spinoffs, but found I didn’t appreciate the art and got the characters confused because I was so used to reading words. So I mostly stuck with novels, and even then, when I was starting something that was “literary” or “a classic” in my leisure time, I approached it with the mindset that it was going to be somehow harder. This meant I spent less time on it, which led to–you guessed it–some skimming. Or at least, seeing the words and turning the pages while my mind is on something else because I’ve lost the thread of the story.

(The one exception to this was Donald Bartheleme’s “See the Moon?” which I got a whopping one question right on the quiz we had. This meant meant it was dropped from my final grade, and admittedly I thought we didn’t have a quiz that day and I have trouble remembering the names of characters in short stories and they made up most of the answers. Still, as much as I say I love postmodernism–and at this point I very much believe I do–it does require a different sort of reading technique, one that takes format and historical context and so on into account. I came to an epiphany in my discussion section that made it make sense to me and later wrote a paper on it I’m quite proud of.)

But this past semester I read 2 graphic novels and 2 nonfiction books. The rest were modern classics, more or less…and I approached them all the same. There wasn’t a switch that said, “Okay, I’m choosing to read something more difficult now.” It also probably helped that I began the semester with The Great Gatsby and Willa Cather’s My Antonia (as well as Native Son, which is one ofthe most straightforwardly-written novels I’ve read), two books I read back in 9th grade that made me love modern classics and literary fiction because of their complexities of relationships. (Weirdly, I had to read these two back-to-back in my two literature classes, though naturally I only read them once because I didn’t see the point in rereading just a month later on stories I know so well.

So while I struggled to fit in Nimona, The Name of the Wind, The Underground Railroad, and The Hate U Give around my class readings (and out of those, Nimona  and Underground Railroad were the only ones I finished completely while in school, not over a break, and Nimona‘s a graphic novel…), I very much think I’ve gained valuable reading skills. I mean, I came home and in a little over 24 hours finished off The Hate U Give (I’d say 30-40%?) and read the reamining 80% of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. And I didn’t feel like I was missing out by being absorbed in one thing or not allowing myself to “live in” the story for an entire week (only to want to just be over, probably). Then I casually picked up a nonfiction book about language on my Kindle and have no trouble (hopefully) reading that at about the same time I read the YA book I just picked up for the library (where I also picked up 2 graphic novels). I don’t feel like I need to stop because of my own superimposed rules about reading speeds.

My TBR list might actually shrink this year? Well, I don’t want to get my hopes up. And if it does, it’s probably because I’m going to be reaching for more graphic novels, plays, and poetry collections.

African-American Literature Wrap-Up #1.5: Giovanni’s Room + Moonlight

I’m calling this one #1.5 because a) the book features white characters but James Baldwin is addressing a different aspect of his identity, namely homosexuality, and b) Moonlight is a film. Nevertheless, considering they’re both written by black gay men, this seemed like the perfect pairing for a post (and it happened that I was finishing up Giovanni’s Room the same weekend that I saw Moonlight).

Giovanni’s Room

giovanniThis book. It’s a new favorite, because the writing was lovely and captured so many conflicting feelings.

I suppose it’s the brief story of David, an American in Paris (much like how Baldwin exiled himself to Europe), and his love affair with Italian expat Giovanni. Except it’s told from the point-of-view of a present-day David, post-relationship, guity over Giovanni’s impending guillotine fate and engaged to a woman named Hella. This book was published in 1956 and has a very intimate (albeit more emotionally than anything) gay sex scene on page 6. James Baldwin literally changed publishers because his old one was like “hey, we thought you were a Harlem Renaissance writer–this is going to alienate your African-American fanbase!” Which, yes, all the characters are white and are in Europe, but there were gay African-Americans, too. (Though unfortunately they’re not as represented–why was part of why Moonlight was so important.)

It doesn’t have the happy ending so rarely afforded to LGBT characters (though David doesn’t die, either), but it’s not a punishment–it’s a statement about society. David’s so caught up in the 1950s American world of suburban family conformity, homosexuality as mental illness and a crime (the Lavendar Scare) that he can’t commit himself to Giovanni or accept his sexuality. This perspective also means that he has internalized prejudices and occasionally makes homophobic comments–including some really awful transphobic ones, as a head’s-up if you’re particularly affected by that.

Sidenote: I also appreciated that Hella, though not as prominent as some of the other characters, was vivid in herself. There’s this part near the end where David’s hugging her but knows he isn’t in love with her (as much as he wishes he could be to make his life easier) and I got so darn emotional because I’ve been there, I’ve been on the receiving end of that hug.

If you’re looking for older LGBT literature, you can’t miss this. And if you like James Baldwin’s writing but haven’t read this yet, check it out. Now I’ve got to read some other Baldwin because I love his writing style.


moonlightCan we talk about this without talking about the Oscars? Maybe, but look, I’m still really upset that I was so tired and annoyed Moonlight didn’t win Best Director that I shut off the TV after they said “La La Land” for Best Picture. Then I was staying up much later than expected trying to understand what had happened through Twitter and upset that I missed it. I knew Warren Beatty looked confused when he looked in the envelope! And all the online clips seem to cut off after the Oscar was handed to Moonlight so I haven’t seen whatever speeches were given, unfortunately.

Okay, got that out of my system. As I mentioned above, I thought this should have won Best Director (though in retrospect, the decision looks more like a consolation prize for La La Land, I guess). That’s because this film is SO MUCH about the visual experience. It’s all about putting you in the head of the main character (Chiron, called Little, Chiron, and Black in the three acts of the film, respectively), whether that’s extreme shaky-cam as he runs away from bullies, stone silence during tense moments, or water bobbing over camera as he’s learning to swim. It’s really hard to watch in parts, while other segments are touching or fraught with sexual tension or pain. (I haven’t seen La La Land yet, but from what I know about it there’s at least one easy case to be made for this as Best Picture, and that’s because the former borrows a lot of techniques from old Hollywood films as an homage while this tries to do something unique at every turn.)

There were also so many little details that weren’t called attention to but, nevertheless, the camera lingered long enough for you to understand, like Black’s license plate in the final act, or the  crown on his dashboard that draws a parallel between him and another important character. (Best Supporting Actor winner) Mahershala Ali’s character is missing in the second act, and only a passing line will tell you why, though you can understand how that happened to him.

I know I’m not telling much of the plot here, but this isn’t about plot, necessarily–it’s the experience. See it. Feel all of the things.