A note: unfortunately, because of school sucking up my time and dictating what books I read, I haven’t been able to do some of the other minority month-specific celebrations. That said, I work toward discussing and reading diverse books all year long, which brings me to the second point:
This is not going to be very strict. The only one I’m definitely going to read is Ivy Aberdeen, because I have a physical copy and it’s my top priority to read those this summer so I don’t have to move them back to college with me. Accordingly, I’ve added a section of “possibly,” some of which are related, some of which aren’t. And if I end up picking up something like Persuasion because I feel like it, so be it.
These are books that I already own that are LGBTQ related, with priority given to physical copies. Of course, this is more than I’ll realistically read in the month, so who knows.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake: A cute f/f middle grade ! Yay!
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro: I think I’m going to break my book-buying habit and get this, like, right after I finish this post. I can’t help it. I have to read about student activism and the school system and intersectionality.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore: I loved Wild Beauty and just got this, so I’m excited to read it!
How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake: I’ve heard so many good things! Including it will break my heart, apparently.
Release by Patrick Ness: Another release (…no pun intended) from last year I haven’t gotten around to yet.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by MacKenzie Lee: Ditto. I’m not as interested in reading this as I originally was, but several of my IRL friends have read it and I look forward to talk to them about it because there just aren’t that many times we read the same books. And I have the ebook anyway.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: And ditto. It won the Printz, too! And it’s short!
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki: I checked this graphic novel out from the library and it seems like the perfect summer read.
Ms. Marvel vol. 4+: I’m continuing to check these out from the library and read them because I LOVE Kamala!
The People’s History of the American Empire by Howard Zinn: An impromptu graphic novel pick from the library, this is a graphic novel version of Zinn’s famous A People’s History of the United States. I’m sure I’ll learn something!
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: I want to get back into audiobooks and this seems perfect, as it’s only about 2 hours (I believe it’s a novel in verse). Though I do eventually want a physical copy for my classroom.
Other audiobooks I’m looking at: Neil Patrick Harris Choose Your Own Autobiography and Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son, because I want to learn more about these two actors (who have been in two of my favorite musicals) and audiobook seems like the perfect format.
Plus, my original plans for this summer: A Long Day’s Journey into Night, Hamlet, 100 Years of Solitude, The Bell Jar, An Ideal Husband…
Whew! We’ll see what I get through. What are your reading goals for this month?
This is probably a cliche, but I really love Macbeth. I’ve only read it and seen some of the Patrick Stewart adaptation in school, but it’s certainly one of my favorite Shakespeares from what I’ve read so far and one of my favorite dramatic/tragic plays. I just love how the the dramatic irony that makes you feel that impending sense of doom and how the darkness is personified by supernatural occurrences. And witches!
VANILLA CAKE: A light read
I can’t say I read a lot of books that are completely or mostly “light”–I like my hard-hitting subjects and emotion–but one of my favorites that certainly fits is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its series! I’m aware this isn’t for everyone and it’s certainly light on plot, but not only does it have a lot of iconic phrases, but much of the humor comes from wacky situations and images that result from the precise placement of words (it was originally a radio series, after all–great example of word-level humor).
RED VELVET: A book that gave you mixed emotions
I’ve got to go with a book I read this year: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I’d heard for years about how AMAZING this was and I bought it on Kindle when it was on sale, and then I met someone who never stops talking about it because it’s his favorite book. So I finally read it, and…I didn’t love it. There were certainly things I liked about it, but I had conflicting feelings about the characters (many were not very memorable to me), and there was something missing in the plot and world that would have kept me reading. I did really love the ending, though. I hope I can get back into fantasy one day…this just wasn’t the book to do it.
CHEESECAKE: A book you would recommend to anyone
I always worry about recommending books, especially ones I love, because I know everyone has different tastes. That said, I think I’m going to go with the play of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I’m sure not anyone wants to read a play, but it’s got both great one-liners and situational comedy to make for an entertaining–and quick–read. Also, the main reason I chose this was because it’s one of my favorite books I read for class AND everyone (seniors in high school) also seemed to really like it, which is pretty rare to see. (It’s also likely I’ll be trying to teach it in the future!)
COFFEE CAKE: A book you started but never finished
I don’t DNF very often, and if I do it’s sometimes a case of “I have this out from the library but don’t want to read it right now so I might as well return it and read it some other time,” but one I did DNF recently (like, 2-3 years ago) was Angelfall by Susan Ee. I thought this was going to be a quick ebook read, but it really wasn’t, and I found myself not enjoying it as much as everyone else seemed to be. Something about the main character and the angel character I didn’t enjoy, and I realized post-apocalyptic writing is probably
CARROT CAKE: A book with great writing
I just finished reading Beloved by Toni Morrison, and while I loved her turns of phrases in The Bluest Eye, I gained even more appreciation for her writing in Beloved. It’s a tough book to follow, but I’m amazed at how Morrison weaves in many perspectives, supernatural forces, and flashbacks, jumping from one to another effortlessly. She alters the writing style based on the character or situation, and it’s also a great story to boot.
TIRAMISU: A book that left you wanting more
To Kill a Mockingbird, hands down. I was expecting more of a reflection on Jem’s emotional fallout as a result of the ending. It was also really disappointing that (SOME SPOILERS, if you care) the white lawyer and sheriff were like “so, one of these two white people killed a man, but that guy was most definitely bad, so let’s just let them off the hook” without a hint of self-awareness that this was a result of the hasty judgement and incarceration of a black man…between that and Jem, the ending raised so many questions for me and not a bit of resolution. This also kind of ties into my frustration about how this book is so often taught in schools, much more than books by African-Americans, and if you’re going to pick one book about racism to teach…you should probably choose one actually written by a black person. Teaching this feels like a nostalgia-tinged way to please everyone.
CUPCAKES: A series with 4+ books
I’ll be honest: I’m not very good at reading series right now, especially ones that are longer than trilogies! Harry Potter is a bit too obvious (though, plotting-wise, one of the best IMO), and I already talked about Hitchhiker’s (“a trilogy in five parts”), so I’m choosing something that I haven’t finished but is absolutely a recent favorite: the Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente! Starting with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making his is not only a cute and fun middle grade series, but it’s a love letter to fairytales and kidlit with plenty of satire and real-world comparisons that makes it great for older readers, too. I confess I’ve only read the first 2 but need to finish it
FRUIT CAKE: A book that wasn’t what you anticipated
I want to choose a positive one for this, so I’ve got to go with one of my all-time favorites: The Great Gatsby. I had to read this my freshman year of high school (and recently reread it in college–appreciate the writing even more now) and in the beginning and based on the back synopsis, I assumed it would be a traditional love story. So when I got to Chapter 7 and (SPOILERS, obviously) everything goes DOWN and it all blows up in his face, I was riveted. I was at a point in my life where I was starting to realize relationships weren’t simple, people were complicated, and the image you have of others is often not who they actually are.
I haven’t been blogging too much about books because, well, I confess I haven’t read a book outside of class at all this year quite yet! I have, however, read A LOT of books for class, and so while I haven’t read any yet on my list of Africa-American novels, I HAVE read books for class that fit into that category. And since I’m learning a lot of the historical context surrounding these works, I’ve got quite a bit to say that’s, IMO, more interesting than a standard review (which is why I don’t usually review books I read for school, or classics in general).
Plus, I also watched the documentary 13th, and it only seems appropriate to talk about that here as well.
Native Son by Richard Wright
Recently in development for a film, Richard Wright’s Native Son has been a successful installment in African-American literature since its publication and selection for the Book of the Month Club in 1940. It’s the story of Bigger Thomas, an African-American youth who, essentially, accidentally kills a white girl and everything points back to the institutionalized racism that put him in this position. A tense cover-up and hide-out from the police follows, laced with commentary about racist yellow journalism and the communist movement, and then there’s the famous lengthy trial where it’s about something bigger than Bigger. (That’s actually almost a direct quote, I think.)
Native Son can be frustrating in a couple of ways. One, you’d think the institutional problems it discusses wouldn’t be as relevant 70 years later, but sadly they are. As much as the last part of the book turns into an essay sometimes, it’s definitely an in-depth exploration and a worthy perspective to read; I definitely feel like I learned something. Secondly–and I admit this is a lot due to the essay prompt I had to write for it and Wright’s comments on Zora Neale Hurston, which I’ll talk about below–the writing style tends to use the same words over and over again (fear, hot, cold, taut, etc) and leave little question to what these motifs mean. I don’t mind its tendency to hammer its point home; I wonder if white readers (or editors/publishers, for that matter) in the 1940s would have given it much of a chance if it didn’t explain (telling, not showing) exactly what and why Bigger was feeling. For me, it made the reading and analyzing of it a little frustrating, and the pace could be bumpy at times with digressions. Nevertheless, I’m giving historical context the better of the doubt here, and this is definitely worth reading, especially if you’re interested in the social realism tradition of African-American literature.
Quicksand by Nella Larson
Nella Larson was a Harlem Renaissance writer who was mixed-race, which led her to feel like she didn’t fit into black or white communities, and the same is true of her protagonist Helga Crane in Quicksand. She’s a teacher in a Booker T. Washington-style school with a lot of pressure to be the best (oh man did I relate to that from my charter high school days, minus the racial elements) who decides she’ll be happier if she leaves, so she does. But visiting her uncle doesn’t quite work out and she struggles to get a job, so she eventually moves to Harlem. It’s fine for a while, but then she feels like she doesn’t quite fit into the black community, so she takes an opportunity to visit her mother’s family in Copenhagen where she thinks there won’t be a constant discussion of the “race problem.” This is okay for a while, but she’s constantly fetishized that she yearns to return back to America. This cycle does end, and I won’t spoil it, but it’s…not particularly fun.
Naturally, Quicksand can be frustrating and disappointing, and that’s entirely the point. She’s trapped in-between and…well, slowly sinking downward like she’s stuck in quicksand. I learned quite a lot about biracial life in this particular time and place–which, let’s be honest, isn’t something we tend to think about with black history. I also liked Larson’s writing–it’s simplistic but gives Helga a strong voice within third-person narrative–and appreciated how Helga was not necessarily “likable.”
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I never read Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, but I know it’s commonly read in high schools across the country. It was surprising to me, then, to learn about its history. Zora Neale Hurston and her work didn’t achieve much acclaim and recognition in her life, and we can more or less credit Alice Walker (The Color Purple) for rediscovering her work in the 1970s. I read this after Quicksand in a different class than I read Native Son in, but Richard Wright came up because he (as well as contemporary Alain Locke) criticized Their Eyes Were Watching God when it came out–comparing it to racist characitures found in minestral shows, comparing her “sentimentality” to African-American poet Phillis Wheatley, and saying “her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought.” Woah, right?
In defense of Wright, he and Locke were part of the movement within African-American literature at the time to “uplift the race,” which focused on writing social realism (which is what it sounds like–realist literature with a social purpose) often focusing on representations of middle and upper-class African-Americans in literature. In other words, they didn’t think Hurston’s focus on the black “folk” (working-class) in America were helpful. The thing is 1) Hurston’s writing very much from her perspective as an anthropologist and folklorist, so she captures very real dialect and lifestyles and also has some uniquely beautiful writing and 2) there is social commentary. It may not be as on-the-nose as Native Son, but the core of this novel as about taking matters into one’s hands to find happiness, which leads Janie to multiple marriages to find fulfilling love and feel like an equal to her partner. I can’t help but feel Wright and Locke missed these feminist themes to claim there was no social commentary, which is just frustrating.
So that’s the context I read Their Eyes Were Watching God in, and I can’t separate that context from the novel and how I retroactively felt about Native Son. Such happens when one is studying literature sometimes. Nevertheless, Hurston’s writing is lovely and Janie’s journey poignant and inspiring. The story leads to this climax that I didn’t expect, and then a slow-burn sad things happens, and then an even bigger climax I really was not expecting.
During this time I read these books, I also watched Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th on Netflix on a whim. I don’t voluntarily watch many documentaries and my interest in this came from DuVernay directing the new Wrinkle in Time adaptation (which I am so! excited! for!) and its critical buzz surrounding Oscar season. After hearing what it was about, I knew I’d learn something from it.
Saying this doc is about the prison-industrial complex or the rise of Black Lives Matter doesn’t cover the amazing breadth this 100-minute documentary has, though. Nor is it about the 13th amendment–it focuses instead on a specific, surprising clause and how that has eerily continued throughout history. I’m not going to give much away because I think you should WATCH THIS, but the connections it makes between language and media (topical rap songs provide transitions, for instance, and Birth of a Nation also plays a terrifying role) and the politics of Nixon through Clinton in particular are mind-blowing. As much as I thought I knew about this topic and history, I definitely did not see the full picture, and that’s what this film succeeds in. It made me realize how important the big picture is, and I felt more confident in standing up for that when a conversation gets focused on micro-details that miss the point of a controversy.
Yeah, I know, I’m late to the party. But I didn’t grow up with Disney (at least, not the princess variety–I loved Winnie-the-Pooh and Pixar movies) and when this came out, my brother was a bit too old and our family’s animated movie-watching had slowed. So when it aired on Freeform recently, we DVR’d it to watch.
A couple of disclaimers: 1) I had read the whole Wikipedia summary back when it was super popular and it was impossible to escape references to it, so I was in no way expecting to be surprised; 2) I had seen the first 20 minutes or so a couple of weeks ago when my roommate and a friend were trying to escape the impending dread of finals, but then I left to go study.
Also, In the last six months or so, I’ve actually become acquainted with the main cast members of Frozen without realizing it at first. Though I first knew of Idina Menzel from the popularity of this and “Let it Go,” I became familiar with her work from RENT when that movie/music/show changed my life in June, and more recently, If/Then (which has some really catchy and beautiful music). Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying the heck out of The Good Place, starring Kristin Bell (even though I was aware of Veronica Mars previously, I still haven’t seen it). And I’ve been watching Santino Fontana (Hans) as Greg on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (which I’ve just started getting into) and listening to Jonathan Groff (Kristoff) on the Hamilton and Spring Awakening albums. Oh, and Alan Tudyk aka Wash from Firefly plays the Duke.
I Storifyed my immediate, rather trivial responses to the movie here. What follows are more in-depth points that I tried to explain. Generally, I really liked it, though it just doesn’t happen to be a favorite (yet).
Elsa was my favorite character and aspect of this movie. I love her so much. I think her story is wide enough for many interpretations, but for me, I could see many parallels between her journey and mental health. “Conceal, don’t feel” rang powerfully, because those of us who struggle with anxiety or depression or something else feel the pressure to conform, to not feel perpetually sad and dragging everyone down, to not panic at trivial things and make everyone worry. And yet, that only leaves it all bottled up in shame. Elsa is also very worried about hurting Anna and others around her, which is also relatable. Importantly, she’s sympathetic from the beginning, never really demonized as the villain.
I wish there was more of her, honestly. After the film ended, I realized there wasn’t a big climactic song at the end (the last song is “Fixer Upper”), and part of me wishes Elsa had sung something to frozen Anna, or just something. “Let It Go” is iconic, but that doesn’t reflect her evolution within the film. Okay, look, maybe I really just wanted more of Idina Menzel’s voice.
The snow and ice are gorgeous, but I do have a couple of nits to pick with the animation. Yes, Elsa and Anna have the same face as their mother and Rapunzel from Tangled (and maybe Moana as well?), but also at Elsa’s coronation party, many of the guests look like the exact same people. One particular female figure stood out to me as the exact same in different dresses, over and over. I tend not to be one to care too much about this, but when Pixar’s over there putting so much thought into their creative process and animation, it kind of bugs me.
But my main pet peeve with the animation occurs during some of the songs: there are a few instances, especially with E and A vowels, where the mouths of the characters are too narrow and horizontal to produce the sound heard. This is because they often sing and smile at the same time which, yes, is possible but starts to seem increasingly absurd and I suppose I had the same experience as watching lip-syncing. Yes, I know it’s animated. Yes, unfortunately this is the extent of the video we can find of the original recording performances. Yes, the intense reaction I had to this might be rather silly. I admit it mostly comes from my background of trying to get everything “right” in choir with little confidence while being picked on in middle school, but look, you don’t always smile while you sing. You don’t always have to look “pretty.” In fact, smiling while singing long, open notes is not going to produce a good, mature sound. You have to open your mouth really wide for that, which might not meet conventional beauty standards or seem enunciated enough for animation. Sigh.
Frozen is often touted as breaking the “Disney formula,” because (spoilers) the “act of true love” is between the sisters rather than lovers, and the point that “you can’t marry a man you just met” is made (though I wish Elsa and Kristoff offered more of a reasoning behind why this was a good idea, rather than just repeating it). Anna and Kristoff get a sweet moment at the end, but not a definite “happily ever after.” So yes, in this regard, Frozen does subvert that aspect of the Disney formula and makes an important point in doing so, and I liked that.
But I do want to note that doesn’t mean Frozen entirely breaks the mold (not that everyone who made this observation meant that). There are songs, chase scenes that defy the laws of physics, cute anthropomorphic characters to expand Disney’s merchandising (mostly Olaf; Sven is basically a dog and doesn’t talk), the main characters are princess and queen. These aren’t bad things necessarily, it’s just very Disney (…says the girl who hasn’t seen most classic Disney princess films), and I admit part of me wanted to get away from Olaf to see what Elsa was up to. It also would be nice to see a deviation from the princess/royalty role at some point, because so many different stories could be told in animation. But, hey, this was loosely inspired by The Snow Queen, very much within the fairytale source material Disney usually pulls from. (This criticism is perhaps more suited to Moana, which has a character based upon mythology but then chose to focus on a girl who also happens to be the equivalent to a princess…)
Bonus: Idina Menzel Appreciation
(From If/Then, whose soundtrack has been perpetually stuck in my head recently because it’s so catchy, impactful, and has a ridiculously talented cast. This performance is a bit edited for TV for profanity and spoilers.)
Write 2,000 words this week (since I rarely track my wordcount except for specific events, I actually slack quite a bit. This seems like a good goal to start out with.)
Finish/read at least 2 Orwell essays
Read See You at Harry’s
I was…somewhat successful. I didn’t get to the Orwell essays, but I did read See You at Harry’s as well as George by Alex Gino, so I think I read more pages overall.
As for writing…I really only wrote about 500 words, because I only concentrated on it for brief times on two days. This week ended up being a little crazier than I thought it would be; I ran several errands and when I was computer, I was preoccupied with college things, as I found out my dorm/LLC assignment and created a group chat where we all excitedly met each other and talked about classes, so of course I had to go look over all the possible schedules again. The point? I’m not going to beat myself up about it, but I need to devote time to it.
So, this week: definitely more writing. I have college orientation that takes up most of 2 days, but I still really want to try to hit 2,000 words if I can…
As for reading, I’m still in a bit of a strange pattern. I really want to make headway on the Orwell essays, and I think I’m going to start/continue listening to the audiobook of The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, which I had abandoned because I was reading a little too much at once. Plus, I have more opportunities to listen to audiobooks now. I’m also considering starting A Clockwork Orange soon.
I’ve acquired some books and a new Kindle recently, so I thought I would share!
Persuasion by Jane Austen: I’ve been meaning to read more Austen and I’ve heard such great things about this one. I got the Penguin Deluxe Edition because it seemed both thorough and pretty, and while it is an even nicer product than I expected (it had deckled edges and French flaps), there aren’t footnotes…though there is an introduction.
And now for the ebooks, which were all bought on deals:
George by Alex Gino:This is still $2.99, by the way! This has been a really breakout middle grade debut about a fourth-grade trans girl and I’ve been meaning to read it but wasn’t sure what format to read it in. Ultimately, this deal means I’ll read it sooner rather than later…and I actually started reading it and I’m enjoying it! (Actually, because it’s so short, I’m almost a quarter of the way in.)
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber: This has been on my list because Jen Campbell on YouTube loves it so much, and I’ve been wanting to read more contemporary literary fiction. So when I saw the deal, I couldn’t ignore it. It’s about a man who travels to another planet (I think) as a missionary, so it sounds like there should be plenty of interesting discussions in there.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld: This was a deal as well, and while this wasn’t one of the YA series I was most interested in, I do love history and I do particularly love World War One (and everything that led up to it).So upon reading the summary again, I decided I’ll definitely give it a shot for the historical references!
Another week. This one’s a busy one for me–I’m graduating from high school, have a bunch of senior things going on, which might be fun but also exhausting. I’m very ready to graduate and enter a new phase in my life, at this point.
Despite all of this, I also don’t have much to do at school, so plenty of time to read! I still have to finish The Handmaid’s Tale, because this weekend ended up busier than I thought, but I’m enjoying the writing so much that I don’t want to rush it.
After that, I think I want to move onto A Clockwork Orange, because apparently I’m into literary dystopia right now, and I’ve had that one in my possession for a while. Although, my copy of Some Kind of Happiness (see my Waiting on Wednesday post here) should hopefully arrive around its release date on Tuesday, and I will definitely be devouring it!
I’d like to get my post about Madeliene L’Engle’s Austen Family series up this Friday, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen…oh well. But I’ve got thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale, so it isn’t all bad!
With everything else going on, writing has taken a bit of a backseat. I’m starting to move away from the project I just started back to the one I almost finished before I realized I wanted to restructure the plot…there’s a lot of work to do on that one, and I haven’t decided what I want to keep, or if I should bother jettisoning some of my ideas yet. But I’m thinking that with the extra time I’ll have in the summer, I’ll be able to give it the focus it deserves. It’s definitely the story where my heart is right now. I’m excited for everything ahead.