November, 2016

I’m happy to the report that for this first time since 2012, I won National Novel Writing Month. My total word count was 50,114.

The stats:

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I wrote literally every day. I don’t think I’ve written every single day for 30 days…ever. Some days I could only manage about 150 words, out of exhaustion or busyness, but 150 words are better than nothing and I’m really proud I was able to keep that streak. As you can see from my stats bar, I was around 5,000-15,000 words behind the target word count for almost all of the month. I think the momentum of forcing myself to write every day made me realize that I could and was going to win this no matter how behind I was.

As for my story: it’s sort of finished as a draft, but it’s also a hot mess that I think will need a complete rewrite. I’m considering rewriting it as a series of short stories, focusing on different characters, but I took the rest of last week off and plan to give it a reread this week. I woke up on December 1st still wanting to write and I can’t wait to get back to my story.

I’m proud that I was able to put my writing first this month, but between studying for the GRE in September and October and writing my story in November, I haven’t been reading as much. I’m doing a lot more non-fiction and article reading than usual, and now I’m craving a really good novel. I’m giving myself permission to relax and read as much as I please in December.

Now that I’ve caught you up with that…should we talk about the election? I know this isn’t a political blog, but I think it’s naive to see politics as something impolite to talk about when it has such a big impact on the world. My country elected a man who is arguably insane, unstable, and wildly ignorant. He’s a racist, misogynist, hateful little man and I will not call him my president. I’ve spent the month thinking about what I could do. I’m trying to have productive conversations with the people I love about how this is not normal, so that we won’t forget. Otherwise, I’m sort of at a loss. I feel powerless, because my country has elected a man who treats women like dogs, and women voted for him. We elected a man that has neo-nazis feeling victorious. I have trouble stomaching these things, but I know now is not the time to lie down in defeat.

I’m finishing up the application process for grad school to become a librarian. Going forward, we will need librarians, teachers, and writers that will promote information literacy, education, and free speech, and I plan to be one. I will continue with my life as previously scheduled, with a renewed fire beneath my feet. I will use this blog to promote reading, because books are the most valuable resource we have in fighting ignorance. The election was a wake up call that I can no longer be complacent or silent in my feminism or my belief in justice. I will encourage the women, girls, and other marginalized people in my life to never shut up, even when the backlash against our voices is strong. I hope you’ll join me.

Monthly Roundup: January 2016

I think I would like to do something a little different with monthly roundups this year, namely: listing and discussing (if I care to discuss) the stared rating I gave each book. It should be easily digested and absorbed, like a Flintstones vitamin.

Here’s what I read in January.

4979Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut – 4/5 Stars
I liked this. It was written during the Bush administration, and Vonnegut was really P.O.’d about this. Reading it was like watching old Daily Show episodes.

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Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples – 4/5 Stars
I really like Saga and I haven’t been able to put my finger entirely on the reason why, except the characters are interesting and it’s sorta feminist.

 

13590613Work by Thich Nhat Hanh – 3/5 Stars
Or: Whatever Cubicle You’re In, There You Are. This was okay. I wish I had a monk for a friend. So much of what they say is just so sweet and silly.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell – 5/5 Stars – Reviewed in detail here

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Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine – 5/5 Stars
I loved this. It’s a graphic short story collection. It is funny and sad with a calming suburban lack of pretense.

You by Caroline Kepnes – 4/5 Stars – Reviewed in detail here.

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American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang – 5/5 Stars
I liked this graphic novel a lot, too, but maybe more in an intellectual way. If I were a high school English teacher, this would be required reading.

 

 

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – 3/5 Stars
I like Aimee Bender’s short stories (like in Willful Creatures), and I wanted to love this novel, but I didn’t. It was okay. The magical realism often falls flat.

 

 

Currently reading at the time of writing: The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal, which I will probably review soon.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

“I really don’t know what I’m going to become from now on. I’m simply along for the ride to see what happens to this body and brain of mine. I’m startled that I became a writer. I don’t think I can control my life or my writing. Every other writer I know feels he is steering himself, and I don’t have that feeling. I don’t have that sort of control. I’m simply becoming.” – Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

“In the Buddhist tradition, a hungry ghost is a spirit with a big belly who is always hungry. Although their bellies have plenty of room, they can’t eat much because they only have a narrow throat, the size of a needle, so their capacity to swallow food is very small. Due to their tiny throats, they can never eat their fill; they’re never satisfied. We can use this image to describe the way people are when they are hungry for love and understanding, and yet their capacity to receive love and understanding is very small. You have to help bring the size of their throat back to normal before they can swallow the food that you offer.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Work

 

All I Do Is Win: NaNoWriMo 2015

I didn’t win. I had been planning that title for a while and I don’t know what else to call this post.

I finished November with 23,163 words of a “novel” or, let’s just say, a Piece.

In my creative writing classes in high school and college, we would always call every thing Pieces. Poetry, short stories, essays about your dad – all of it can be called a Piece. Now that I am out in the real world, stranded and alone, I prefer to call my writing the thing that it is: if it’s a poem, it’s a poem, if it’s a story, it’s a story. This here is a blog post. During my years of schooling the word Piece had taken on a sacred tint in my eyes. “Piece” meant something. A piece of your writing, like a piece of pie, was a gift you brought to your fellow writers, even if they all secretly hated you. Writing lately is more of a lonesome endeavor, but I will call this thing I wrote in November a Piece. Simply because I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a story.

The piece I wrote for NaNoWriMo was about a woman, her husband, their five year old son, and a dead body. I planned ahead of time this year, which normally I don’t bother with. I chose the Snowflake Method and worked on it all October. I had big dreams for this story. I was thinking Olive Kitteridge meets Gone Girl. It was going to be the creepy yet heartwarming tale of a small, scenic town and the dead bodies and unstable wives who reside there.

Once I started writing, I really hated my story. I hated my characters, and most of all, I hated writing so fast, because I was getting my own imagined facts mixed up. I kept forgetting what the town was called, what my main character’s mother was like, etc., and I could never go back and check because that would be against the rules of NaNoWriMo, namely the rule Write and Don’t Look Back. I kept running off the rails I had laid for myself the month before, so all my planning was for nothing.Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 10.36.56 PM

The triumphant part is that I both started and finished the month writing – I didn’t give up once it became obvious I would have trouble winning (See above: Picture me hanging my head around Day 16) . They are some days I skipped, but this year I successfully beat the syndrome that usually ruins November for me. Usually, I write all the way up until the middle of the month, have an off day, and then stop writing for the rest of the month.

I have been participating in NaNoWriMo since November 2006. I have done 10 whole NaNoWriMo projects. I spent some time yesterday reflecting on this…and realized, to my horror, that I almost always lose. It’s not something I really own up to, because every year I am so newly excited to start. But, yeah. Out of the 10 Novembers I have participated, I have only won three times. And one of those was Glee fan fiction.

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Most of 2011 was a blur.

So, why do I like participating every year? Rush writing doesn’t seem to result in any brilliance or enthusiasm from me. I guess I like the idea of working on a project in a month with a bunch of other people trying to do the same thing.

I wrote at least 20,000 more words than I wrote in October, and I feel excited to keep writing this month. That’s the most valuable part of participating – it helps me remember to make writing a daily practice. It’s not about winning or losing, or even making a specific word count. It’s simply about doing the work, and making it a priority.

Now, onwards. Let’s talk December Write Lots Please. DeWriLoPl. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of words, and my goal for this month is 5,000 words a week. The first thing I’d like to work on is rewriting my NaNoWriMo piece as a short story, because as a fiction writer I love redemptive arcs.


 

Here is what I read in November: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont (re-read), Revival by Stephen King, Little Girls by Ronald Malfi on audiobook, and The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. I’m currently in the middle of re-reading Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and the Welcome to Night Vale novel.

Expect reviews soon on two of those. It’s a surprise which.

How was your November? Did you write anything? DID YOU WIN? Or did you just read something really good? Let me know, because I could use some inspiration.

September/October 2015 Round-Up

Like I said in my last post on writing, I will be taking a hiatus in November for NaNoWriMo. Before I go I wanted to do a quick round up of what I’ve been reading.


Besides my adventures in audiobooks, September wasn’t very exciting for me reading-wise, and then two of the books I was reading bled into October. I listened to Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook on audio in September; I talk about both of them in my post about audiobooks and Scribd.

I read Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood in September and I loved it, but it still took me longer to finish than I thought it would. I am losing some steam with my Margaret Atwood project. I am going to have to extend this into 2016–I have her newest release on deck and plan to read it in November, but other than that I am okay taking an Atwood break. These novels demand to be savored. It’s probably better to give myself time and enjoy them fully.

The last book I finished in September was Lauren Oliver’s Requiem, the third and final installment of the Delirium trilogy. It was okay. I didn’t mind it. It made me decide to not force myself to slough through another YA series for a while. I think there is a theme in September’s reading–I seem to be forcing myself through books that I find okay but don’t love, or, in the case of Margaret Atwood, forcing myself through books that I like but I’m not always in the mood for.

I think I am going to have a new resolution that I should only be reading things in my free time that I really, really want to read.

I started two books in September that I really, really wanted to read but didn’t finish until after month’s end: Missoula by Jon Krakauer and A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I reviewed Missoula here. I really recommend it if you want to read a book that will make you mad? But why would you do that? What’s wrong with you?

I have some complicated feelings about Game of Thrones. For one thing, there are some really awesome female characters, but it all takes place in a really disgustingly patriarchal society where everything sucks all the time because of how patriarchal it is. This is really the first fantasy book I have read as an adult, so there is some stuff I just do not get. These people need democracy. Arya for President tbh. Anyway, I liked it enough to keep reading the series, despite how long the books are. I am watching the TV show as I go along which is helping me follow it a bit more.

I listened to Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach on audio for Halloween non-fiction reading (is there such a thing?). I loved the audiobook reader’s narration style; it was perfectly dour with a hint of laughter. Creepy in a friendly way. Otherwise, it was a pretty interesting listen about the history and current culture of body donation and the uses of dead bodies, though I felt like my attention weaved in and out. I wonder if I would have gotten more out of it in print, although it’s possible I would never have gotten around to reading it in print. I kind of want to donate my body to science now, anyway.

I tried to read A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter but I didn’t get through it. It’s a short book, so I could have forced myself to finish it, but I really wasn’t feeling the first couple chapters. It seemed to be a book about pretentious people in Paris, which is fine, but…the exact opposite of what I want to be reading books about at the moment. I’ll try again some other time, because I heard some great things about this book.

Right now I am in the middle of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont (re-reading as inspiration) and Revival by Stephen King.

That’s it for now. See you in December, and good luck to everyone participating in National Novel Writing Month.

P.S. HAPPY HALLOWEEN! I am going to be Katniss Everdeen!  🙂 Let me know if you are also dressing as a literary character.*

*pics or it didn’t happen

A Brief August Round-Up/A Less Brief Pre-Autumn Check-In/The Summer Reading Wrapeth Up

Here’s a list of what I read in August!

Delirium by Lauren Oliver – This is the first book in the Delirium trilogy. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either? I’m still looking for an underrated gem of perfect YA dystopian, but I think after I wrap this series up, I’ll call off my search– unless somebody besides a fifteen year old can vouch for a series for me. Okay, maybe I’m not the intended audience, but The Hunger Games was so awesome guys! Why can’t there be more like that? I have such a soft spot for YA, but a lot of it feels so tedious, especially dystopian, which follows a lot of formulaic plots without the benefit of interesting writing styles. This series, like the Legend series, really suffers because of how eye-rolly the main romance is. BUT, it has a seriously gutsy twist at the end of the first novel, and that is what kept me reading the second book later in the month.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – I reviewed that here, if you missed it.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver – The second book of the aforementioned Delirium trilogy has a markedly more mature narrative, and I liked that. I think it was slightly better than the first book, even, and a lot of that was because the love story in the first one had been completely altered. (No spoilers though.) For a summary of this series: basically, this is about a dystopian United States where people get a surgery on their 18th birthday that keeps them from falling in love, because in this society, love is considered the ‘disease’ that is the root of all mankind’s problems. Basically, like so many YA dystopian trilogies, it took an aspect of The Giver and just made it about a girl wanting to kiss a boy, on the lips even. I have the third and final installment on my Kindle as we speak, so I’m not exactly knocking it.

Champion by Marie Lu – I read a lot of YA last month, which I guess is why I didn’t really want to write this post. I really have a love/hate relationship with YA–so much of it is so dumb, and the Legend series by Marie Lu is no exception. That being said, while I found the second book of the series completely boring, this, the third and final book, was my favorite. But no, I don’t exactly recommend anyone read it if they’re looking for a good YA dystopian series that is not The Hunger Games or even Divergent. The problem is I don’t exactly have anything to recommend that fits that description, and that bums me out.

So, as far as my summer reading challenge goes – I have read 3 out of 4 classic novels written by women: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The only one I haven’t gotten to yet is Beloved by Toni Morrison, (inexcusable, I know) which is on my desk to be read very soon. Once I finish the Delirium trilogy, I will have completed my 2 YA series. I have absolutely not started a short story collection but you know what is lovely in Autumn? Short stories. And I read and watched a book to movie adaptation early in the summer–Olive Kitteridge. So, not too bad.

In other challenge-y news, I lowered my Goodreads challenge goal from 80 books to 70 books, because it was stressing me out too much, I wanted to read longer books without feeling rushed or guilty, and I just have quite a lot going on in my life at the moment. I also think 2016 will be the year I have no challenge at all–I think it puts too much emphasis on quantity over quality, and I know I’m going to read every single year anyway, so why do I need a challenge? Maybe my challenge in 2016 will to only read excellent books and have fun everyday all the time always.

So now it’s September. (92 degrees, but September) Which means it is almost my favorite time of the year. I am looking forward to reading a lot of Stephen King in the fall, because I like to do that and last October I wasted a lot of time on IT so I need a re-do. That, and lots of cozy warm-drinks-and-book instagram selfies, and NaNoWriMo. All very exciting things!

I also started a trial membership of Scribd, which I am using to try out audiobooks–something I’ve always actively resisted but am now trying out for reasons I will explain later. I will post a review of Scribd as soon as I’ve formed an opinion, so keep an eye out–but for the time being, please tell me about your experiences with subscription books services! (I.E. Audible, Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, Oyster…) I am interested, and the idea of paying to borrow books is still kind of weird to me because IDK, libraries exist? But, still, we will see.

Patiently Waiting for Taylor Swift to Write a Concept Album About The Handmaid’s Tale: July 2015 Round up

July, July. It was a very busy month. I saw Taylor Swift live, and I turned 24! This is the last year I will be in my early twenties, so ever since my birthday I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, thinking about how I really need to update my LinkedIn.

I didn’t read as much as I had hoped to, which is becoming a theme. Book bloggers usually love themes, but this is a theme I’m not psyched about, mostly because I am behind in both my Goodreads challenge and my summer reading challenge. Challenges are fun until you start getting behind and then it’s just another thing to wake up panting about in the middle of the night. So let’s not even talk about all that.

The first book I finished in July was This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. I took this book out from the library because I’ve been thinking about maybe potentially starting the process of applying to MLS programs this year. Maybe. Unfortunately, this book is not a great informational resource for anyone thinking about going into library or information science. Honestly, it was a little weird–it was more about the subculture of librarianship, but told from an outsider so that it felt like just a surface glance. There was a weirdly long section about how a lot of librarians play Second Life. So? I guess I didn’t find the writing very compelling, either. So I’m still looking for better resources about the field. I guess I could ask a librarian, the great bearer of resources, but I am bashful!

I also read Prodigy, the second book in the Legend series by Marie Lu. I just looked at my Goodreads list and thought to myself, “I read that?”

I even reviewed it, apparently:

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But I have very little recollection of this event.

And of course I read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, and reviewed it in time for everyone to be completely over talking about Go Set a Watchman.

After that I read The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson, which is a 2015 release I randomly picked out at the library. I was interested because I haven’t read very much new sci-fi/speculative fiction. I would categorize this as speculative fiction, even though that’s kind of a weird term–but it’s not very space-y so I refuse to call it science fiction, and I wouldn’t quite call it dystopian, because it seems very current, and the society doesn’t seem too unfamiliar or even scarier than the society we already have. It’s an interesting premise, the idea of the social uprising of groups (some would say cults) brought together by social algorithms. I think I didn’t love it because of the same reason I can’t really call it a dystopian novel. Maybe it’s because Wilson’s writing style is quite flat, so the stakes never seem quite so high. It seems like shit just hadn’t hit the fan quite enough when the narrator starts telling his story, like the story starts to start right after he stops talking. I was a little disappointed that the premise didn’t deliver some juicier plot.

Finally, this morning I finished re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I’m still super amped about it. I wish this novel was taught in schools more, honestly. It is so, so good. The Handmaid’s Tale is called speculative fiction a lot, but I like the term dystopian more for it. It is the best dystopian novel I’ve read, and I’m not even going to apologize to George Orwell for that. I could feel the anger heating up the page in this novel. It’s powerful, scathing, and perfectly paced. I’m really excited to read more of Atwood’s later work now. Her writing style gets so much more devour-able when it’s combined with an imaginative plot.

I don’t know how to wrap up this monthly round up except to say that I am planning to read about a million books in August to catch up on my reading goals. I don’t see how this plan could go wrong at all.

Some Months Are Less Exciting: June 2015 Round Up + Library Book Sale Haul

It is July and July is so summer that I am not even going to apologize that this post is late. I’m just going to be chill about it.

I actually didn’t read so much in June, or at least it didn’t feel like I did. I am currently 7 books behind in my Goodreads challenge, and screaming on the inside.

I started the month reading Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood, and it wasn’t bad. I think I need a break from Atwood at the moment, actually, even though The Handmaid’s Tale is up next and I love that novel. I am still going to try to read all of her novels this year (especially since she has a new one coming out in the fall), but I find that it takes me a little longer to get through her books, and I am in the mood for quicker reads now that it’s summer.

Bodily Harm is about a journalist recovering from breast cancer who accidentally travels to a politically dangerous island where shit starts going down. It was a definite maturation in plot than her earlier novels. As always, I love how Atwood writes female characters who are chronically unsatisfied by men. #realism

While I was reading Bodily Harm I also read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout as, you know, some light reading. I reviewed it here. Then, I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee over father’s day weekend. There’s some problematic aspects of To Kill a Mockingbird being the ‘quintessential’ racial justice novel in the U.S., but, on the other hand, Atticus is a DILF and I still love this novel. Hopefully I’ll be able to review Go Set a Watchman within the next few weeks, and I will discuss this more. I’m already annoyed by all the Atticus hand-wringing that’s happening online. Just because it takes place in the future doesn’t make it a damn sequel!

I finished out the month with Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown, which is one of the only self-help books that changed my life in real time. It helped me realize that when things feel scary or uncomfortable, that’s actually a good thing. When I want to run is when I should sit still with what’s scaring me. That’s being vulnerable and open, and it leads to everything good.

So, four books last month. I feel like I’m slacking! But, like I said, it’s summer. As for the SWBR summer reading challenge, To Kill a Mockingbird counts for the classics by women challenge.

I’m hoping July will see more books crossed off my list. Also, I went to a library book sale today, so here! A bonus haul!

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The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr / Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (this paperback was in poor shape, but I have been hankering to re-read this so I had to grab it) / The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice / Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood / American Pastoral by Philip Roth / Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times

Well, that was boring. Now I have to go read. Or watch Orange is the New Black. Either/or.