Cake Flavored Book Tag!

I am participating in my first book tag! I was tagged for the Cake Flavored Book Tag by Danielle over at The Introverted Bookworm. Thank you, and you should check out her blog 🙂

CHOCOLATE CAKE: A dark book you absolutely love

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!

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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).

marvin hitchhikers

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!)

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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

toni morrison.jpgI 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

fairyland

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.

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I tag…

Bluestocking Bookworm

Cassie from Cassie’s Library

Ash from For the Love of Books

And anyone else who wants to do this tag!

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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?

Braced by Alyson Gerber

Braced by Alyson Gerber

Genre: middle grade contemporary

Release date: March 28, 2017

Publisher: Scholastic

Synopsis:

bracedThe first contemporary novel about a disorder that bends the lives of ten percent of all teenagers: scoliosis.

Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.

Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her — even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself.

Written by a debut author who wore a brace of her own, Braced is the inspiring, heartfelt story of a girl learning to manage the many curves life throws her way.

Read More »

Pride Month(ish) Wrap-Up

So I’m late to this because I’ve been working a lot. I’ve added the “ish” because the first two books here I read in May, but since they were also Pride themed I decided to include them, especially since I haven’t talked about them yet, either!

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

simon coverYes, I finally got around to this, and it was one of those books I read in just a couple of days on my Kindle. Simon is about the titular character who communicates through email with another boy known as “Blue” who goes to his high school but whose identity is unknown. This becomes discovered, however, by one of Simon’s classmates who uses the information to blackmail Simon if he doesn’t try to get this classmate together with his friend Abby. What makes it such a quick and enthralling read is that it functions as a personal mystery with a lot of cute moments.

I especially appreciated the discussion of coming out, because it’s a much more nuanced thing that it sounds like. Simon is worried his parents are going to make a bigger deal out of it than it should be. Is coming out still necessary–and should it be? Also, outing people is TERRIBLE.

I also read Albertalli’s second novel (and companion to Simon), The Upside of Unrequited, but I’m not including it as a separate entry because, as many pointed out during Pride month, that while there are many queer characters, the main characters are cis and heterosexual. I didn’t like it as much as Simon. I really appreciated the many discussions in it, though, from sexuality to anxiety (the routine of taking pills in the morning!).

We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

we are the antsThis book is by no means for everyone, but it struck a chord with me. It follows Henry, a teen who happens to be occasionally abducted by aliens who tell him the date of the end of the world but give him the option to save it if he presses a button. The thing is, he’s not sure he wants to press the button. He’s also dealing with the suicide of his boyfriend, relentless bullying at school, friendships both old and new, and his family’s various struggles.

This was a welcome antidote to all the discussion about 13 Reasons Why (which I talked about here, and which Hutchinson has talked about himself), because while it is about guilt, Henry eventually realizes there’s really no one to blame–not to mention his own Henry sees the other characters and his relationship to them as increasingly more complex. I also really appreciated the inclusion of the grandmother with Alzheimer’s, as an ailing grandmother with memory difficulties is something I’ve been going through for a while, and Ms. Faraci who was a great teacher ally.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

color purpleHere’s a classic I’ve known I need to read since the 2016 Tony Awards (this performance, wow!), and it applies to both Pride month reading as well as my African American reading goals. I’ve had it on my Kindle for a while now, but I was worried that it would be too heavy and complex reading while I was still doing my school readings. It’s true that it’s written in dialect from an under-educated woman (in the form of letters to God…well, mostly, but I won’t spoil it), but once you figure out who everyone is, it reads quite quickly. Plus, I really appreciated the writing and voice.

The Color Purple is Celie’s story as she struggles to find herself in rural Georgia in the 1930s amidst physical and sexual abuse from her father, her sister Nettie’s disappearance, and an unhappy marriage. She meets a singer, Shug Avery, who becomes more than just a friend. I shipped them SO MUCH and it’s beautiful. Also, the discussion of female sexuality was frank and included more than your typical book–even those published nowadays.

I haven’t seen the movie, directed by Spielberg and starring Oprah, but I did listen to the musical cast album and quite liked it. The OBC includes LaChanze as Celie, who I already loved from If/Then (which I talked about here), and Renee Elise Goldsberry (aka Angelica Schuyler) as Nettie.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

star crossedThis is a middle grade book about a girl discovering her bisexuality while rehearsing Romeo and Juliet for the eighth grade play with a really pretty girl. Some of the discussion surrounding this book (including a time Dee was asked not to speak of the subject matter at a school visit) sparked a very personal post about the role of LGBTQ+ books for kids and in schools, and now I’ve finally read it.

It is, indeed, adorable, and I was totally rooting for Mattie and Gemma. It’s also a love letter to Shakespeare and theater nerds, which I very much appreciated. Heck, I think I understand Romeo and Juliet better now than when I saw a production of it over 4 years ago. I also really appreciated that the teacher was a major character and portrayed positively and mechanistically…yay for English teachers! (I mean, I’m going to be one, I’m kind of biased.

I do wish the word “bisexual” was used, though, as it certainly seemed within the characters’ vocabulary. One student gets called out (by the teacher!) for using “gay” as a negative descriptor, and Mattie wonders if liking Gemma means she’s a lesbian at one point, though she late tells her friends that it doesn’t change the fact she likes guys, too–but that’s it. And that rang a bit strange. Everything else, relationship-wise (crushes are a big deal!), was perfect for the target age group.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

if i was your girl.jpgThis book is about a trans girl, Amanda, starting her life anew post-transition when she moves in with her father in a different town, and refreshingly it’s a trans book also written by a trans person. Unfortunately, major houses publish seldom few of these. Russo highlights aspects of the experience I hadn’t given as much thought to before–how, yes, awareness that one is trans and maybe “found out” occupies Amanda’s thoughts, but so does avoiding sexual harassment and other misogyny and specifically transmisogyny. And while she had gone through the ringer and continues to have some struggles, she’s allowed to be a regular teen, too, and start a happy relationship. Because even if you’re marginalized, you’re entitled to happiness in stories.

There is a major bisexual character and I’m not sure how I feel about that representation (as someone also bi). She was great for a while but then took a huge left turn. I don’t want to majorly spoil things, but there is something HUGE and terrible that happens at the end (which is why people need to stop saying this book is too happy??). And while it’s true that this horrible thing happens, and it’s good to show that not all LGB people are good trans allies, the bi character’s problem throughout the story result from her sexual attractions and desire for people, and having her being the most sexually active character was just kind of a stereotype I’m tired of? As is her being [SPOILERS] a backstabber. Especially with her being the ONLY bi character. So…alas, I’m conflicted and was a little disappointed

Angels in America by Tony Kushner

anglesinamerica-poster-09e5123a460579745d30d01cd781ea0aI’ve been reading more and more plays lately because I’m on quite the theater kick (both musical and not), so naturally Angels in America was on my list, and it was especially on my list for Pride month. (Note: I read the omnibus edition published in conjunction with HBO’s 2003 movie/miniseries. I know they were revised several times, especially Part 2, and I think I read the latest versions.)

Angels in America is one of those things that’s difficult to describe…yes, it is a two-part play that, in total, often runs close to 8 hours. It’s set in New York during the mid-80s height of the AIDS crisis. There’s Prior Walter, diagnosed and health deteriorating in the hospital, visited by his ancestors and an Angel. His lover, Louis, is terrified and leaves him. Roy Cohn, a real person (now starring in thinkpieces about how he was Trump’s lawyer), is dying from AIDS but is deeply closeted as he equates homosexuals with a lower class with no influence. Oh, and he’s haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenburg, who he sent to the electric chair. There’s Joe, a Mormon, struggling with his sexuality while his wife, Harper (my dream role; she gets some fantastic monologues), is agoraphobic and addicted to Valium. She spends quite a bit of time in a probably hallucinated Antarctica and meets Prior in one of her hallucinations and one of his dreams. And the 8 principal actors play all of the minor parts, too, adding parallels between characters and some female drag roles. So…it’s epic, it’s weird, it’s moving, and it’s funny at points. Part 2 might overstay its welcome and gets much more ephemeral, but the fact the Angels were present and spoke in verse reminded me a lot of Shakespeare and his supernatural-tinged plays (like Macbeth and The Tempest). It’s very theatrical, and that’s what I loved about it.

I’m also attending the National Theatre Live recordings in (movie) theatres. Part 1 has aired so far and it was AMAZING–like I knew the dialgoue was great from reading it, but seeing it acted out with amazing performances? Even better. Plus, there were great effects and lighting for the more magical elements, and there’s a scene between Joe/Harper and Louis/Prior that takes place simultaneously, resulting in a lot of parallels and phenomenal coordination that you don’t completely get from just reading the play. Unfortunately my theater had a sound problem (a loud feedback noise) possibly from the file itself, but they were able to fix it, though they just had to stop and start a couple of times. When there wasn’t that sound, though, I was utterly engrossed, and I’m excited to watch the second part this Thursday.

My Favorite Musicals with LGBTQ Characters and Themes

In honor of this year’s exciting Tony Awards and Pride Month, I bring you this post that kind of turned into mini-essays. But I’m not apologizing.

I’ve always loved musicals, but over the past year (thanks in part to some new friends and discovering Hamilton and Rent) I’ve gotten very much into more recent and modern musicals, most of which I haven’t been able to see. And as a result of this and some discussions in my classes this past semester, I’ve also learned a lot about the intersection of musical theater and the gay community. Yes, it’s a bit of stereotype, but there’s actually a reason for that. (This and this video do a better job of explaining than I ever could. I recommend.)

If, like me, you discovered with the Hamilton phenomenon that it’s possible to follow along to a musical–especially with sung-through ones–with a little aid from Wikipedia, then have I some recommendations for you! Note: these are all musicals I’ve listened to in their entirety (and several times more).

In order of production date:

Falsettos

falsettos flowchart

Hello, this is my current obsession. Specifically, the 2016 Broadway Revival recording. I’d been aware of the revival, but this wonderful trailer (warning: some spoilers as to the plot of Act 2?) for the upcoming fall broadcast on PBS because this was professionally filmed!! (I cannot wait to see this…the choreography and set design with them moving the blocks around looks so fun and you can’t get that from the soundtrack.)

Falsettos has a bit of complicated history…originally on Broadway in 1992, the show is actually a compilation (and edited to flow as a result) of the one-act musicals March of the Falsettos (originally off-Broadway 1981) and Falsettoland (1990). And both of THOSE musicals continued the story that began with In Trousers (1979). All three follow Marvin, a gay man and his complicated family and their relationships…as you can tell by the flow-chart poster above. Basically, at the start of Falsettos (or March of the Falsettos), which takes place in 1979, Marvin has divorced his wife Trina to be with his lover Whizzer, but wants “a tight-knit family” with the three of them and he and Trina’s 10-year-old son Jason living together. Naturally, there are problems, and Marvin’s wacky psychiatrist Mendel and Trina end up in a relationship, too. Then Act 2 (or Falsettoland) takes place two years later and centers around Jason’s bar mitzvah, the looming shadow of the AIDS crisis, and adds some new characters in the form of the lesbians from next door.

Falsettos is almost entirely sung-through, so I encourage you to listen to it. There’s a reason this (well, the original) won the Tony for Best Book–there are so many interesting themes running throughout, which become especially evident with everything set to music, and the characters are so complex and three-dimentional. Act 1 especially investigates masculinity and the gender roles of the time and–I’m willing to bet–the traditional family, and particularly a Jewish one. (I’m no expert on this, but Judiaism is a them throughout as all of the characters are Jewish and it plays a large role, from Jason’s bar mitzvah plot to the opening number “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” Yes.) “Falsettos,” after all, refers to a nontraditional, not-manly male voice range. Marvin and Trina have pretty ingrained gender roles–Marvin, navigating his new relationships, expects Whizzer to occupy traditionally feminine roles, while Trina tries to fill those roles but finds them unfulfilling if the relationship is not loving. Whizzer might have a lot of stereotypical gay man attributes–a love for style, promiscuity–but he wins at chess and racketball, and he loves baseball while Marvin hates it. Meanwhile, Jason struggles to see how his father fits into manhood and is anxious about what he’ll grow up to be like. Those fears are displayed in the show’s only real non-realistic moment, “March of the Falsettos,” a bizzare dream-like sequence where Marvin, Whizzer, and Mendel sing a falsetto blending with Jason’s pre-pubescent voice all about how masculinity and homosexuality are not necessarily opposite: “Who is man enough to march to march of the falsettos?” The first act concludes with “Father to Son,” in which Jason essentially comes out to his gay dad as straight and Marvin gives some lovely advice about embracing oneself. It’s a beautiful song that works both ways as the two accept each other.

And that’s just the first act. I haven’t thought about the second act as a whole too much, because it’s a little less upbeat (aka less fun to listen to), and I’m prepared to really take it all in during the PBS broadcast. God, I really hope they win Best Revival.

Rent

rent cast picture

And here’s the show that’s more or less responsible for this whole list, as I mentioned in the intro. Rent‘s been influential to me in various ways, including how I think about singing, performing, and telling stories on stage. (And , if possible sometime, I just really want to play Mark.) Rent is an updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème. The characters’ names and professions are updated and Americanized, and a traditional opera became a rock opera, Paris’s Latin Quarter became New York City’s East Village, and tuberculosis became AIDS. Naturally, it deals heavily with gay history and culture of a particular place, in the East Village near the end of the AIDS crisis. There’s the HIV+ couple of Collins (gay, black) and Angel (Latinx usually, gender identity hotly debated and kind of before modern terms but basically she’s a drag queen that switches between pronouns), and Maureen (clearly interpreted her as bi in the film, less blatant in the stage show, some stereotypes but her dramatics are also evident elsewhere in her career) who left Mark for Joanne (lesbian, butch, black).

Rent premiered on Broadway in 1996, the year after AIDS’ highest death toll and the first year the death toll went down due to breakthroughs in medicine. It’s also against the gentrification of the East Village (though it focuses more specifically on tent city problem) which has very much happened anyway. It quickly became a period piece–not conceived that way like Falsettos (or, rather, the second act was in 1990), as there are As such, I think there’s been some debate out there as if it’s still relevant, especially the (exaggerated, I would say, as is the whole thing is quite theatrical) attitudes toward the economy and gentrification. And while I can’t cover everything here, I found the title song “Rent” very relevant in 2016 and 2017, because it’s so much more about the landlord/rent/lifestyle problems that form a skeleton of a plot, pushing the characters together before more important problems occur and Benny (the landlord) clearly isn’t the villain.  What “Rent” (the song) is really about are the burdens and hurdles from a society that doesn’t seem to care (“strangers, landlords, lovers, your own blood cells betray”), stifling voices and artistic creativity. The opening line of “How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day?” is basically a summary of the United States since 2016, regardless of your political viewpoint. There’s a persistent call for change and looking forward–“zoom in as they burn the past to the ground and feel the heat of the future burn” and “how do you leave the past behind when it keeps finding ways to get to your heart?” speak to the overarching theme of “forget regret, or life is yours to miss” (more about that later). But there’s this frustration that leads to the angry rather than inspirational idealism of the rock score (which when it kicks in live, sounds very much like you’re at a rock concert), because the “winds of change keep ripping away.” Rent wasn’t Jonathan Larson’s chosen title–he wasn’t happy until he learned that it could also mean torn apart, which is also relevant–but it fits metaphorically to the debt owed to a society that isn’t even helping you, and that in turn speaks to some queer and otherwise marginalized experiences. It’s the frustration that birthed the ACT UP movement during the AIDS crisis and the reason capitalism and commercialism doesn’t always support artists. It’s no coincidence that metaphorical rent shows up again, as Angel and Collins refer to “renting” love because they know they both are going to die, and “I don’t own emotion, I rent” from “What You Own” (one of the greatest duets ever) because Mark and Roger struggle with creativity and being themselves. At the very least, Rent captures a particular group of people at a particular time and reflects that demographically and emotionally through music.

“La Vie Bohème” (including its concluding “B” part) is, for me, the key to understanding what Rent says about gay culture, sexuality, artists, recreational drug usage, and AIDS (and the intersections thereof). It’s essentially a celebration of the culture, filled with risquĂ© dance moves and wonderful rhymes like “to sodomy / it’s between God and me” and “to leather, to dildos, to curry vindaloo / to huevos rancheros and Maya Angelou.” There’s even a shout out to ACT UP. It’s engineered in every way to make homophobes uncomfortable. And the “B” part has some of the most telling lines–the reclamation of “to faggots, lezzies, dykes, crossdressers too” (which was performed at the Tonys in ’96!!) and “living with living with living with not dying from disease.” If Rent is a work within the postmodern school of thought, and I very much argue it is (enough fourth-wall breaking, meta aspects, and pastiche to go around), then the master narrative it is undoing is that of the AIDS crisis and those living with HIV, which was rather discriminatory and otherwise pitied. Rent repeatedly refuses to define the disease in terms of death, instead framing it in terms of continuing to live (“Another Day” is a great example of this). It refuses pity and regret (“forget regret, or life is yours to miss”), instead celebrating sexuality and enjoying love and each day, which is sure to piss off the people who think you deserve to die. And while heroin is clearly an addictive substance that’s painful to quit (the drug dealer is a real villain; he’s so creepy), nothing about Mimi (including her erotic dancer job) is stigmatized–it’s only Roger who blames himself for his past. There’s a reason the show ends on the wonderful chorus of the “no day but today” refrain (underrated line: “give in to love / or live in fear”), mixed with “I die without you” from “Without You”–death is going to happen and it’s painful when your friends go, yes, but living proudly is fulfilling and the ultimate defiance.

There’s a lot of different versions of Rent floating around, which can make getting into it potentially intimidating, and I’ve been fortunate to see all of the main ones. My recommend ranking would be: 1. The current 20th anniversary tour/a live unabridged production if possible, because it’s such an interactive experience that doesn’t quite come across anywhere else, 2. The original Broadway cast album, because I adore the cast (ft. young Idina Menzel) and it’s mostly sung-through so you’ll get it all (if you like only listening to musicals), 3. The final Broadway performance DVD (and on Youtube, frankly), because you can see the Bohemian-style industrial staging, naturalistic choreography, and it also has a great cast (RenĂ©e Elise Goldsberry!), 4. The movie with the deleted scenes of “Halloween” and the second part of “Goodbye Love” (on YouTube) inserted as they are on the soundtrack, 5. The theatrical movie, which isn’t bad and has the main beats and benefits from film techniques like montage at points (especially “Without Love”), but it does lose the metatheater aspects and those cut songs are really important in my opinion. (Additionally, I’m very skeptical of how it’s going to translate to the “live TV musical spectacular!” format next year on FOX, and the high school production is heavily censored that it misses the point and usually doesn’t adhere to the racial casting.) That said, I did originally get into it, as many do, with the original movie release. So…

Spring Awakening

spring awakening

I debated whether I should include this because the gay subplot is fairly minor, but since it is overall about the failure of sex education, I think there’s some overlap into larger issues that do affect the community. (Also, it’s good.) You may be familiar with Spring Awakening from last year’s Tony Awards, which featured the Deaf West’s revival in an amazing performance incorporating sign language. And that was a perfect language to incorporate, because Spring Awakening is all about the problems of a lack of communication and education about sex between kids and adults. The original Broadway musical, meanwhile, featured handheld mics for effect and a young Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff.

Spring Awakening is an adaptation of a play of the same name (well, in German) by Frank Wedekind from 1890. Both the play and the musical are somewhere between a cautionary tale and a giant ad for better sex education, covering puberty, desire (hetero- and homosexual), rape [this depends a bit on the production from what I understand though], suicide, incestuous abuse, abortion, masturbation, pregnancy, and I’m not even sure this is a comprehensive list. Like Rent, it’s also primarily a rock musical, which highlights that frustration toward society I talked about above. The gay parts are, from what I can tell, really just a small solo in “The Bitch of Living” and the reprise of “The World of Your Body.” But it’s placed in this larger context of kids having feelings they don’t know what to do with because it’s all taboo. It’s all about sexual oppression. And all that doubles with gay kids.

If/Then

If-poster

Let’s be honest, this is probably the least well-known, least-acclaimed, and certainly hardest to get into on this list. If/Then takes place in two different timelines as Idina Menzel’s character Elizabeth (who comes to be called Liz in one timeline and Beth in the other) moves back to New York after a divorce and decides to hang out with either her new friend and neighbor, Kate (LaChanze), or her old friend from college, Lucas (Anthony Rapp). Some songs are split between timelines, often interrupted by dialogue not on the soundtrack and the Wikipedia page doesn’t summarize it literally. (Fortunately, the libretto was put online by MTI to commemorate it being licensed and then…continues to stay there so here’s the link.) And yes, all of the songs are essentially about the same thing–making choices. But it’s catchy, okay? Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, and LaChanze in particular are amazing singers.

Kate is a lesbian in a relationship with Anne (Jenn Colella) who she marries in both realities while being funny and trying to get Elizabeth to find someone, too. But let’s be honest, the main reason why I love this is because of Lucas. Not only am I biased because it’s Anthony Rapp, who through Mark in Rent was responsible for revising some ideas I had about singing and who is going to be in the new Star Trek as the first gay character, but this is a bisexual character! Liz says near the beginning that he’s dated boy boys and girls (including her), and he continues to do that well after college. In one reality, he pines over Beth (the amazing “You Don’t Need to Love Me”), while in the other reality he dates a guy and the two eventually marry and adopt kids (“Best Worst Mistake”). He and Liz reconcile in “Some Other Me,” a beautiful song about what they might be up to in other realities, which reaches a height with Lucas’s line “I found myself a woman, or a man, and haaaad a sonnn!” And that’s just it. That’s what being bi is like. You don’t know who you’ll settle down with. And now I’ve got that feeling set to music.

What I Haven’t Listened to Yet

  • La Cage Aux Folles
  • The Color Purple: I just finished the book to this and I have just recently listened to just about all of it, but I didn’t follow along with a summary yet and I’m a little confused about how the timeline works in comparison to the book. Also, I had such a great experience with the novel that I’m not ready quite yet to see another interpretation.
  • Fun Home: Yes, yes, I know. I read the graphic novel for the first time this year, and I loved it; Bechdel’s thought processes read a lot like mine, especially with how she was always connecting things in her life to literature. But I’m just not ready to exchange that very literary experience by listening to the musical I guess, so I haven’t… (though I have heard a couple of songs)
  • A Chorus Line
  • Cabaret: A tour of this is going to be visiting my college this spring, and I’m definitely going to see it!
  • Kinky Boots: This is also going to be at my college in the fall so I think I’m going to see it then.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch: I’ve heard a couple of songs from this (“Origin of Love” is fantastic), but I haven’t listened to it all yet.

Do you guys have any recommendations?

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.

Books

  • 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.

Blog

  • 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 in a “I wish I had this book as a teen and I want to help teens understand themselves 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 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.