Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Poets I’m So Excited to Read

You think you’ve read a lot of poetry for your degree and from whenever you’ve picked up a random collection…. and then you start reading established poets talk about poetry and you realize that the scratch you thought you’d made has in fact left no visible mark at all. Some of these poets I’ve known about for a long time, some I’ve recently discovered, but they’re all poets I’m hoping to spend more time with in the near future!

Mary Oliver

I bought her book on writing metrical poetry, but except for the odd poem here or there, I’ve never read her poetry! Born in 1935, she recently passed in 2019. Her work mostly deals with nature (which may explain why I’ve never gravitated towards it before).

Ada Limón

Host of the Slowdown Podcast I talked about last week, I first heard about Limón when I was reading Natalie Diaz’s work, Postcolonial Love Poem (which is fantastic, by the way) because they are friends and write letters to each other. Limón’s poems are more personal and often written in free verse–she might be a good poet to start with because I bet your public library has one of her collections!

Gwendolyn Brooks

Won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize, the first Black author to do so, and all around she was an extremely technically accomplished poet who wrote about things that were important to her and the Black community at large. Her poetry is firmly rooted in the world. I bought her collection on a trip into the City, so I really have no excuse not to jump into her work.

Jorge Luis Borges

I haven’t read nearly as much Borges as I would like to in any genre, but I definitely haven’t delved into his poetry. I found a copy of his selected poems in a used bookstore with the original Spanish and the translations. My Spanish is not nearly good enough to understand them fully in the original, but having them there to just read aloud and listen to the music is going to be really helpful. Many of the same themes he deals with in his fictions and essays (the nature of time for example) are in his poetry as well.

Basho

Easily the earliest poet on this list–Basho was a master of haiku in 17th century Japan. I learned about him while reading up on Japan, and I want to explore more of his work. The wonderful thing about haiku is that it’s short but it gives you plenty to think about. You can read a few with your morning coffee and let the images swirl around all day.

Danez Smith

Smith is a poetry slam veteran, so that means voice and rhythm are at the forefront of their work. I’ve heard wonderful things about their collection, Homie, and I can’t wait to read it!

Langston Hughes

Harlem Renaissance poet extraordinaire, I’ve only read of few of his poems from Poem a Day and in anthology–I’ve got some major time to spend with this poet. Although he wasn’t always well received in his own time by critics, he sought to portray the working class community really honestly with all its joys and sorrows.

Nikki Giovanni

I just learned about Giovanni during a poetry group meeting. Her poem served as inspiration for the evening’s writing prompt. The poem was so playful and energetic, and I can’t wait to read more.

Carol Ann Duffy

This Scottish poet is really well known for her love poems and her feminist stance. She writes poems with really strong voice.

Frederico García Lorca

Lorca was a 20th century Spanish poet who used images of Spanish culture to explore ideas of love and tragedy. He’s also known for his use of magical realism and incorporating folklore.

Do any of these poets catch your eye? Have you read them? Is there a poet you’ve recently discovered? Let me know in the comments!

April Showers Bring May Roundups

A page from my sketchbook.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

We got our first Covid shots! And our second Covid shots! Two steps closer to quasi-normal life! I’m very excited about it (if you couldn’t tell). It took almost two weeks to get an appointment and we’d been checking every day and then all of a sudden appointments! It was really exciting, and it’s really helped relieve my anxiety.

I finished my masters degree! I am now officially an MLIS holder, which is really exciting. Now that I’m done with school I’m starting to think about what it is that I really want to do. And it’s been fun to get to take the time to read a little more!

I also started keeping a daily sketchbook at the end of March and I am so enamored with it. Who needs a journal when you can do a daily sketch? I’m actually going to enjoy looking back on this. I got to the end of my first sketchbook and was so paranoid about not having enough pages that I ended up ordering 4 sketchbooks. So now I have too many sketchbooks, but I know I’ll use them up…eventually.

Books Read

My top 3 books for each month have green outlines, so you can skip straight to the best ones!

April

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda This is a story about two mothers who never meet but share a daughter. One is forced to give her daughter up to give her a better life, one is her adopted mother who can’t have biological children. The book considers the families we choose and how our culture is invariably intertwined with those decisions.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson If you are interested in gaining insight into systemic racism in the United States, you need to read this book. Wilkerson compares the caste system in the United States to caste systems in India and in Nazi Germany in order to gain insight into the way that race works to divide us. Besides having important insights, Wilkerson is also an incredible writer and the book is a pleasure to read even though its subject matter is quite difficult.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa After being hired as a housekeeper, a woman and her young son develop a friendship with an aging math professor who is slowly losing his memory after an accident. Unable to form new memories (his memory erases after 88 minutes), the three of them form their connection through the power and magic of numbers. Recommended for anyone who needs a reminder about the power of connecting with other people.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal This YA duology is perfect if you like a little romance with your adventure. The characters are standard YA fare (a lot of focus on a journey of self-discovery without a lot of insight), but they are all interestingly flawed. My favorite part of this series is the worldbuilding. Faizal constructs a magical, well-realized world that doesn’t rely on western tropes and is so interesting and much more dynamic than the characters themselves–I loved spending time there through these books.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende This is historical fiction at its best with a complex and intriguing heroine that won’t take no for answer. Eliza travels from her native Chile to California during the Gold Rush to follow the young man who stole her heart and finds herself along the way. I’m a huge fan of Allende’s writing and the way she weaves relationships and stories together.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu Told as a screenplay, this short experimental screenplay plays with the idea of how we all play roles, but specifically focuses on the Chinese American community and the various roles and stereotypes that are forced on and lived by Chinatown residents. I found it extremely clever.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala I’m not sure you can describe a murder mystery as “cozy,” but if you can, this chatty mystery filled with food (recipes included) and family definitely fits that description. A great read if you need something a little less serious in your life.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge A fictional story about one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, the book follows her daughter, Libertie, as she figures out what she really wants out of life and how to use her voice. The book has a really nice ebb and flow to it. If you’re looking for some historical fiction with a little botany and travel thrown in, look no further.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace by Lucy Worsley This nonfiction book examines life in England’s Georgian court in the 18th century through the eyes of different individuals connected to the court, both high and low. Worsley presents a rounded and complex view of life at court, and introduces Kensington palace during its high point, before it was used by Queen Victoria or Princess Diana.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett The Vanishing Half was one of my favorite books last year, so I was eager to read The Mothers. Bennett’s writing is a little less immediate in this one (due to the framing device she uses), which took me out of the story a little. Like her newer novel, it does follow the characters over a long time span, and I really like how Bennett really lets events stew so the consequences can deepen over time. A smart young woman dealing with grief over her mother’s death gets involved with the preacher’s son, and their decisions will have consequences far into their adult lives.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré I’m probably biased in favor of books that talk about the importance of education, but I found this book to be beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. Adunni is 14 years old and her life is filled with hardship. She is young and naïve, and without any power or education she is at the whim of the adults around her who are trying to subdue and manipulate her. But Adunni refuses to be quiet or submissive. She’s always asking questions and working towards a better life. Her courage and spirit will win you over.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez I really wanted to like this YA fantasy novel set in South America, but it fell flat by pretty much every standard. It was predictable and the protagonist was perhaps the least interesting character in the book. The writing was only okay, and to top it all off, it was a political novel with its political center totally missing. The world wasn’t rich–all in all this is one to skip in my opinion.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Little by Edward Carey What do wax sculptures and the French revolution have in common? You’ll have to read the novel and find out. Featuring a spunky, underestimated main character, Marie aka Little, is the apprentice who outdoes the master. The illustrations in the book add a lot, but it is Marie’s observant nature and voice that carry the narrative from Sweden to Paris, from Paris to Versailles and back again.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor A Black gay masters student in biology in a predominantly white East coast town, Wallace has become adept at code switching and hiding his feelings, but over the course of a single weekend a series of events breaks down the walls he’s built for himself. This book has beautiful language, but I found the subject matter to be really difficult–sort of like if The Color Purple was set in the middle of a laboratory. It made me cry.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie Some books are so of your time that you can’t imagine them being written at any other point in history, and this is one of those books. It is dense, layered, and moves through some of the biggest questions of our time debating the nature of truth, identity, and goodness. It’s kind of like a modern update of The Great Gatsby, since it follows an outsider, a young aspiring screenwriter, who inserts himself into the story of his rich, pretentious, probably criminal neighbors. It’s a novel with more questions than answers, but all the questions are fascinating.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert I’ve been more drawn to romance novels recently because I have needed a bit of a break from more serious literary fiction. And this book was the perfect remedy! This a great (and sexy) romantic comedy. I’m so glad that this is part of a series because the Brown sisters are amazing! They have so much love for each other and make each other better. Chloe has fibromyalgia and both she and her love interest exhibit so much personal growth over the course of this book. This book was like a warm hug.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Elisabeth’s Lists: A Life Between the Lines by Lulah Ellender After being given her grandmother’s book of lists compiled between the 1930s and the 1950s, Ellender follows the trail of the grandmother she never knew through her and her husband’s diplomatic postings. It’s a meditation on the nature of lists and our need to organize our lives, to get to know the people we love, and to come to terms with our grief. I ordered this book from the UK, since I haven’t seen it in bookstores here, but it’s worth picking up!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Movies Watched

In April and May I spent a lot of time either re-watching movies or catching up with shows or finishing up projects for school and thus not watching anything. I’m hoping that in June I can get back to really crossing movies off of my list!

Moxie (2021) A total feel-good movie–as radical 90s feminism gets adapted in Gen Z. Plus Amy Pohler is in it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Howards End (1992) Oh this movie was so slow. And pretty depressing. Not even Emma Thompson could save this movie for me.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Wolfwalkers (2020) I subscribed to Apple TV for a week just to watch this movie, since it was nominated for the animated Oscar this year. I wasn’t super impressed by Soul, so I wanted to see the competition, and this movie was really beautiful with a 2D animation style and a great story. But it is only streaming on Apple’s service, which is really annoying.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) This was so cute it was hard to handle. I loved how playful and silly it was. If you don’t normally watch animated movies, and you like sci-fi, I would really recommend this movie. It’s such a great family film.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021) I’d read the Joy Luck Club when I was younger and loved it and the movie, but I didn’t know how closely it resembled Tan’s life. Her books seem to be drawn really closely from her life. I always think documentaries about writers and artists are interesting because they help capture how they see the world and how their work is connected to their lives.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What was the best thing you read/watched in April or May? Have your summer reading list set yet? What are you looking forward to this month? Let me know in the comments!

My Top 10 Reads of 2020

This year I read 150 books, and though it was a bit of a mixed bag with plenty of books I didn’t finish and lots of reading for classes, there were still a number of great books. In fact there were well over 30 books this year that I unreservedly loved, and narrowing it down to 10 was a bit of a challenge, but (somehow) I managed to do it because a top 30 favorite books of the year list is a little too much, even for me.

2020 was a strange year for reading. Although I read more than I have done in many years, it came in strange bursts and droughts. I found a lot of great comfort reading, in the form of romances and magical books. The great thing about fantasy and historical fiction is that it takes you somewhere else, but I think the best of these books are imbued not just with escapism but with a mindfulness that’s as full of the real issues of the world as it is with the otherworldly. For me, reading is a journey into empathy, imagination, and hope rather than an escape. My 10 favorite books differ quite a bit in terms of genre, but they all explore how we come to be where we are and who we are and they don’t hide the fact that this process is a struggle whether against society, the self, or the supernatural.

My 10 favorites, in reverse order of reading (most recent first):

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab This book has everything: deals with the devil, a feisty protagonist, twists and turns…I couldn’t stop reading it. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded to seize the day. In other words, everyone. I think this is a widely enjoyable book.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks Historical fiction at its finest–the kind that connects you to the past and shows you that the past is still with us, even when it’s hard to see. Recommended for: Anyone who likes historical fiction or books.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett More great historical fiction. This book tells the story of two sisters who make very different choices and lead very different lives. Recommended for: Anyone who’s looking for a family saga.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik I have read quite a bit of Novik’s work at this point, and really enjoy her writing. Her characters are really strong and have believable voices. Although I still prefer Uprooted, this book has even more strong female voices in it, and I love how she spins together threads from so many different fairytales and folklore. Recommended for: Anyone who’s tired of how many fantasy books are about dudes.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Even though the title gives away the fate of the main character, this book doesn’t get less heartbreaking, poignant, or beautiful. Recommended for: Anyone who needs to be reminded of the power of community (for both good and bad).

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood I couldn’t put this short story collection down. I really like Atwood’s command over her sentences and structures and the worlds she spins. One of these stories does relate to her novel The Robber Bride, but I don’t think you need to have read that to enjoy the stories. That said, that book is well worth reading as well. Recommended for: Anyone who wants their narrative in rapid, witty bursts.

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel Over the holiday, my brother and I had an interesting conversation about the ethical dilemma of parenting a transgender child and what that would mean, which is what this book explores in a humanizing and life-affirming way. Recommended for: Anyone intrigued by this conversation.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston Okay so this one is pure escapist fantasy. But it’s the pure escapist fantasy I needed. The gay romance is hot, romantic, and so sweet, and I love the exploration of this alternate universe. Recommended for: Anyone who needs a reminder about the joys and sorrows of first love. And some escapist romance.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow Speaking of alternate universes, what if there were doors hanging around, waiting to be discovered that could take you to other worlds? Recommended for: Anyone who would open the door.

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter A short, image-packed, coming-of-age novel that is the stuff of my dark fairy tale dreams. Recommended for: Anyone who likes their stories a little darker.

Have you read any of these or are you interested in reading any of these? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

End of 2020 Roundup: December 6 – January 2

My gingerbread house – modeled off of a 1920s movie theater.

Welcome to the weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week (or so) I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

Finishing the semester came with a profound sense of relief, but as we prepared for the holidays, my Nana got sick with Covid, leading to a very strange holiday season. Luckily her health is much improved now, but it was a very scary December. It was very quiet at our house, but we still managed to do plenty of baking–including a round of gingerbread houses. Then we packed up and came home after the new year. It’s nice to be back, but I do miss being so close to everyone.

Books Read

2020 by the numbers:

  • 150 books read
  • 100 written by women
  • 9 books with numbers in the title
  • 14 books with one word titles
  • 1 thriller
  • 1 novella
  • 2 graphic novels
  • 3 children’s books
  • 6 memoir
  • 4 poetry
  • 7 romance
  • 7 short story books
  • 14 contemporary fiction
  • 15 books for school/papers
  • 17 historical fiction
  • 19 literary fiction/classics
  • 20 speculative fiction (horror/sci fi/fantasy)
  • 34 nonfiction

The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny This was a book recommended by one of Paul’s coworkers, and he read it years ago, but I finally got around to reading it after I was done with classes. This is a historical fiction book about a real explorer in the 1800s, and it deals a lot with the idea that we all experience life at our own pace and that this pace lets different kinds of abilities shine. Definitely an interesting read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman I didn’t read this in time to include it in my paper, but it was still interesting enough to finish. This book talks about 8 major flavors of American cuisine: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, Sriracha, garlic, MSG, and soy sauce. By emphasizing the role of spices in American cuisine, Lohman tells a story of intermixing flavors and cultures in the United States. She also includes a number of recipes.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory I enjoyed this romance novel (although it did stretch credulity a bit) featuring an older protagonist. I think that romance novels often seem to think that after 30 or so people don’t have a romantic life anymore, so it was refreshing to have a romance novel where the protagonist was in her 50s with a grown up daughter in a committed relationship. A fun holiday escape.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson This children’s book has been on my TBR for a long time because I really liked the illustrations. This book is fun because the pictures and the illustrations don’t always match, creating an interesting commentary on how our perspectives influence our perceptions.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain I’ve largely avoided books about the Holocaust this year because the tragedy has been a bit hard to bear in light of the tragedies that are happening all around us. However, I am glad that I picked up this lovely, quiet novel set around that time period, which revolves around the friendship between two boys and their families. There is a lot to unravel in this book, and it ebbs and flows beautifully. Still pretty sad though, but definitely not as sad as it could have been, so I guess that’s something.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

At Briarwood School for Girls by Michael Knight Based (very loosely) on the true story of Disney’s attempts to create a historical theme park, the story revolves less around a particular character and more around the Briarwood boarding school and its inhabitants (including its ghosts). I don’t know why I found this book a little nostalgic, since it definitely did not reflect my own experiences, but I did. Maybe because it was set in the 90s?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd I don’t tend to read a lot of books that could be considered religious, but Sue Monk Kidd is a great author, and I was really intrigued by a book written from the point of view of Jesus’s wife. This book manages to be both respectful and feminist, which is a feat. I like that it concentrates on the humanity of these characters, their virtues and flaws, as well as the power that comes from expressing yourself. If you’re interested in historical fiction, I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Changeless by Gail Carriger The comedy of manners in this series is just too much fun.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart This is more of a reference book, but I still read it cover to cover because it was so fascinating. So many interesting facts to learn! We sometimes conflate “natural” with good for you, but this book might make you reconsider that association.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins Thrillers are not normally my thing, but who can resist a Jane Eyre retelling? I certainly can’t. This one has a few twists and some really great, complex characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Dharma of the Princess Bride: What the Coolest Fairy Tale of Our Time Can Teach Us About Buddhism and Relationships by Ethan Nichtern Although I’m not a Buddhist, I have always been fascinated by this religion and its philosophies. It’s so rich and complex. Pair that with one of my favorite films and it was bound to be a good match. This book gave me plenty to think about, and it was funny and good-natured.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Blameless by Gail Carriger The third book in this supernatural steampunk series continues to be a fun escape. Plus I really like the narrator for the audiobooks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg An epistolary novel told mostly through diary entries and interviews about the life of an interesting woman who owned a movie theater and opened it up to the homeless during the great depression. I loved the rich, complex characters and the way different stories about her unfolded through both her own words and the interviews.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Heartless by Gail Carriger Book number 4, still good fun.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Movies Watched

After I finished classes this term, there was a lot more time to watch movies. Mom and I tried to catch up on some movies we’d missed the past year(s).

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) I’d never seen this movie before, and while I don’t think it made top billing in my favorite Christmas movies of all time, it definitely beats out It’s a Wonderful Life. Natalie Wood is pretty adorable in this film about the real Santa Claus. Streaming on Disney+.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Emma (2020) Emma is my favorite Jane Austen book, and I love Austen adaptations, so I was really eager to see this film, but for some reason hadn’t gotten around to it. It was really fun to watch it with Mom, and we had fun comparing it the to Gwyneth Paltrow version. This version is sharper, full of angles where the other version is much softer and gentler. I like both of them for different reasons. This film has great costuming, casting, and delivers a lot of commentary on the novel which is sometimes lost in the manners of the books. One interesting decision made by the director is to heighten the drama of each individual look by lingering on it longer and giving each expression more drama which has the effect of bringing home the significance of these looks to the characters and how they’re being interpreted and misinterpreted. Streaming on HBO Max.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Behind the Curve (2018) Paul has become really interested in the Flat Earth movement recently because it’s so inexplicable and illogical. It really is quite fascinating how, if the world doesn’t fit someone’s ideology, they’re willing to remake the whole world in the image of that ideology rather than changing their mind. It was an interesting look down the conspiracy rabbit hole. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Eurovision (2020) I had planned on skipping this one (since the trailer didn’t make it look all that great), but Mom said that this movie was really cute and she’d seen it several times, so we watched it together. And I had to admit that she was absolutely right. This film is absurd, but it’s also really sweet and a great break from the harsh realities of, well, reality. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WW84 (2020) Oh lord this movie. I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s bizarre, it perpetuates negative concepts about women (which is kind of bs, since it’s a WONDER WOMAN film), it has nothing really interesting or even humorous to say, and did I mention it makes no sense? The only thing that redeems this movie even the tiniest bit are Diana’s costumes, which are very pretty. Streaming on HBO Max.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) We wanted to watch the new film, and we’d never seen the sequel. I still really like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but this film was just 10 shades of bizarre.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Soul (2020) So this was not my favorite Pixar film, but it was still pretty enjoyable and I really liked the music. I thought it was a little too monotheistic for my taste, and it was a wee bit morbid, but it was still quite fun and I really enjoyed watching it with my family. Streaming on Disney+.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Death to 2020 (2020) My brother had us all watch this mockumentary about this year, and I have to admit I had kind of forgotten (or blocked out) all the things that had happened this year. It was both hilarious and cathartic. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Little Chaos (2014) Set in the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV, Kate Winslet plays Madame de Barra a landscape designer who is hired to design one part of the gardens at Versailles. This is a lovely costume drama with a great cast including Alan Rickman and Stanley Tucci. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb (2020) As a kid, I was fascinated by ancient Egypt and even though I fell out of love with the idea of being an archaeologist (spending a day outside, overheated, digging in the dirt cured me of that), I am still in love with all things ancient Egypt, and I was really interested to watch this documentary. This film focuses on a single season in the burial grounds of Saqqara being excavated by an Egyptian team. And I won’t spoil it, but they found so much cool stuff! Oh, Egypt. You never cease to amaze me. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I hope that your New Year is filled with health and peace and time for reflection.

When You Need a Good Book: Readers’ Advisory

In my reference class this semester we’ve been talking about how to find books for patrons in need of a new great read. The holidays are fast approaching and maybe you’re planning on getting a book for yourself or for someone else this holiday season. Need a good recommendation? You can drop a comment on this blog post, and I’ll give you personalized book recommendations!

Let me know:

  • Is this book for you or someone else?
  • What’s something you/your recipient has read recently and enjoyed?
  • Are you looking for something similar or a little different?

Feel free to share as much detail as you’d like. You can also let me know if you’d prefer a new release or something you’ll be able to find in paperback or used.

Here are my favorite online retailers:

  1. You’re local bookstore! Check your local bookstore’s website and see if they’re offering pick-up or if they’ll ship directly to you. Many will be happy to order a book specially for you.
  2. If you can’t get to the local bookstore, try Bookshop.org. They give 30% of book sales directly to local bookstores. You can search for your local bookstore and make sure that they are supported.
  3. For used books: thriftbooks.com. I love that I can search for exactly the books I want or need and choose their condition. Shipping tends to be quick.
  4. For pretty UK covers: Book Depository. If average book covers leave you underwhelmed, try this seller. They offer free shipping on all orders. Order by December 9th for delivery by Christmas.

Thoughts on the Princess Diaries Series, 11 Years Later

This has been a strange year for reading. There are times when I’ve devoured books, and other times where I don’t read anything (except required reading) for weeks. I wanted to reread a series, more for comfort than anything else, and I decided to pick something other than the Harry Potter books, which I reread often. It had been a long time since I’d read the Princess Diaries series, and that’s what I picked.

At the beginning of the Bay Area lockdown, it was pretty difficult to get your hands on a physical library book, which left eLibrary options like ebooks and audiobooks. I decided to listen to the audiobooks, since I’ve only ever listened to the first 2 or 3, which are narrated by Anne Hathaway. The remainder of the series is narrated by Clea Lewis, who is not quite as engaging as Hathaway, but who nevertheless manages to capture some of the breathless charm of Mia’s voice.

If you haven’t read the book(s) or seen the films, here’s the summary: Mia Thermopolis is a normal (white, upper middle class) girl, growing up in Manhattan. She has regular problems like being terrible at algebra and generally not liking her appearance. She cares about the environment and her cat. Her mom is an artist and her friend has her own local public access TV show. One day, her dad tells her that he has cancer and can no longer have kids, making her, his illegitimate daughter, heir to the throne of a small European principality, Genovia. Shenanigans ensue. For 10 books. Basically there’s some major romance and the quest that Mia goes on to find where she belongs and what her purpose is beyond being a princess.

I think these books are still the light and frothy entertainment they were meant to be. The problem is that, unlike when I was 14, I no longer have any desire to be a princess. I also find Mia a little….self-centered. I didn’t feel that way as a teenager. Instead I felt that her problems were as big as mine (or bigger), and I definitely identified with her struggles with anxiety and depression (I still feel like this is the highlight of the series). However, I think that her very narrow world view keeps her from being a really empathetic character, which in turn diminishes my sympathy for her. She’s also frustrating. I have very little patience for her lack of awareness and the way she jumps to mind-boggling conclusions without seeking evidence or using any kind of reasoning. Of course, I feel that way about a book I’m reading right now that was written for adults, so maybe this is just a frustration with this character type. I prefer characters who are more introspective, logical, and self-aware. Otherwise, they venture very quickly into poor-me/why-me territory or are just totally beaten down, and that’s just not that fun.

However, I like that Mia struggles between her principles and her lived experience. This is totally relatable, and it forces Mia to grapple with her privilege–something I wish the series did more. In Princess Diaries IV 1/2: Project Princess, Mia volunteers with a Habitat for Humanity type of program to build houses for a family in a rural area. Never having experienced a wooded, forest environment, Mia romanticizes this experience before she goes since she loves the environment. She learns that this love does not extend to bugs, and not having clean drinking water, and sleeping on the ground. In a real way Mia is forced to experience something very different from the privileged environments that she grows up in and challenges her assumptions about the people who live there. I wish more of the series forced Mia out of her comfort zone.

Although Mia is a fairly liberal and progressive character, you can definitely tell that this series was written more than 10 years ago and that conversations have progressed around ideas of feminism (Mia is a feminist but has basically zero awareness of intersectional issues) and climate change. Whereas Mia is worried about whales and polar bears, today I am worried not only about widespread extinction but also massive forced migration from rising sea levels, food insecurity, massive climate events like fires and hurricanes, the evils of plastic and our lack of real recycling–generally the prevention of a Wall-E level planet destruction. I also feel like Mia mostly helps the environment by donating money rather than on the ground activism, but maybe this is an unfair feeling because she does try to make policy decisions that help the environment and uses her celebrity to talk about these issues.

Reading this series was deeply nostalgic for me, but I have to admit one of my biggest takeaways was how glad I am not to be a teenager any longer. I do not miss how overwhelming all my problems felt. What I’ve come to appreciate about reading is that we (hopefully) come across books when we need them and that not every book stands up to a new phase of life. And that’s okay. Even if one of my favorite teen authors is no longer my favorite author–it doesn’t mean that the experience of reading those books as a teen has been diminished. It’s not that the books have changed or were less good than I thought they were, it’s just that I’m a different person now than I was when I first read them. Honestly, that’s probably a good thing.

Have you reread a book recently? Do you feel the same way about it now that you did the first time? Let me know about your rereading experiences/your thoughts on the Princess Diaries in the comments!

Weekly Roundup October 4 – October 10

Welcome to the weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

I don’t normally get very personal on this blog–I like to focus more on what I’m doing than how I’m feeling. But my family has just gotten news this week that my Dad needs major surgery. His prognosis is really good, but it’s still scary any time people need surgery. My anxiety level is basically through the roof (it’s always pretty high to be perfectly honest). But he’s going to have the surgery and get much better, and I’m really grateful that we know what the problem is and how it can be solved.

Books Read

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury I do really like Bradbury’s work (especially his short stories), but his books are really focused on male experiences and suggest that women are somehow not thinkers in the same way men are–that they are more content because they are more connected to the world. I think this combined with a lack of complex female characters makes his writing a little hard for me to connect with. I did however think that this book makes great October reading when the dark carnival arrives in this small town right before Halloween. A little bit of horror and magic never goes amiss in my opinion.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America by Jessamyn Neuhaus As the title suggests, this book looks at cooking and why and how it has historically been gendered. After reading a lot of academic writing in the past month, I really appreciated how approachable this book was. It was really pleasurable to just read, which is my favorite kind of academic writing. I also think that this book filled a gap in scholarship by focusing on how cooking was gendered by examining how cookbooks were marketed towards men, and what those cookbooks were saying about how men and women were different kinds of cooks.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Movies Watched

Not much in the way of movies this week

East Side Sushi (2015) A young Mexican American woman dreams of becoming a chef but life’s immediate needs are getting in the way. In search of something new, she interviews for a job in a sushi restaurant. This is feel good film at its finest–and like my favorite feel good films it involves cultural exchange and lovely shots of food. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Links/Articles

Please know that I’m not paid for my opinions about anything. I just like to share things that strike me as interesting, useful, or engaging.

Have you gotten your ballot yet? Make sure you vote, and vote early! As motivation, here’s the most adorable get out the vote video from my favorite yoga teacher, Adrienne Mishler starring her blue heeler, Benji.

I thought this article about diversity and cultural appropriation in children’s books by Katie Yee in the LA Review of Books was really well written and I like how it avoids easy answers.

How was your week? Let me know in the comments!

Tri-Weekly Roundup August 30 – September 19

Can you spot the praying mantis?

Welcome to the weekly roundup on Ink in the Archives! Every week I will share what I’ve been up to and interested in and ask you to fill me in on your week too.

Eventful Events and Happening Happenings

My partner and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary with sushi and an evening of watching Lucifer on Netflix. Who says we don’t know how to have a good time? My wonderful partner bought me an espresso machine to celebrate and we have been having so much fun learning how to use it.

Plus we are so excited that my sister-in-law came down to visit us (which is the reason that this post didn’t go up last week like it was supposed to)! It was so lovely to have her. Of course, with COVID and the terrible air quality, we were pretty limited on what we could go and do, but it was still lovely. We went to the Full House house, got a cake from b. Patisserie, and then walked up to the edge of the Presidio. I hope next time she comes everything will be open and we can take her to the Haight, Castro, and Mission.

This weekend it’s Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year. I had a really hard time deciding whether to make challah or apple cake, but I finally settled on apple cake. I made it from an old recipe I found in a Jewish community cookbook from the late 50s. It was layered and was almost like an apple lasagna. I love adapting old recipes.

On the very sad side of things, you’ve probably hear that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87 after a long battle with cancer. She was my absolute hero, and I have to admit I cried while reading her NY Times obituary.

Books Read

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost One of my best friends told me this book really resonated with her and I had to read it because I would see so much of her in it. She’s not wrong, since, like the author, she’s a international affairs major who loves to jump into travel with both feet. This book is hilarious–travel writing that will make you laugh and gasp. He has some horrific experiences on a small island in the Pacific, but he also learns and grows and adapts, which is fun to read about. Recommended for: anyone who likes travel narratives, funny books, or knows an international affairs major.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell I found this book to be really refreshing. Odell talks about how doing nothing, allowing yourself time to think, process, and observe, becomes a radical act in a society that’s designed to keep you as busy, productive, and distracted as possible. She argues that this time for reflection is necessary for sustained action. She draws her conclusions from humanities sources, the arts in particular, and writes about her own experiences as well. While it doesn’t suggest certain strategies or prescribe certain actions, reading it becomes a meditative experience in itself. Recommended for: anyone who needs a break.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester I honestly feel like the title sums up this book pretty well and still manages not to give some of the juiciest bits away. A relatively short but fascinating look at 1800s life and how mental illness and scholarship are often closely related. Recommended for: anyone interested in the Victorian era, people who like dictionaries.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Movies Watched

You can probably tell by this list that I’m desperately trying to shorten my Netflix queue. I swear sometimes it takes longer to go through it than it does to watch something on it.

Carrie Pilby (2016) I don’t know why I waited so long to watch this movie. It is utterly adorable. Carrie is unbelievably bright (having graduated college at 18), but she’s also incredibly lonely and isolated. With the help of therapist Nathan Lane (who I loved in this), she overcomes a past trauma and moves on with her life. This is a book adaptation, but I’d never heard of the book. I may have to pick it up though because I really liked this film. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Polka King (2018) I should start off by saying that I love Jack Black and his earnest hilarity. This movie is not hilarious despite an abundance of some very fun and funny actors. It is earnest and rather sweet and an interesting look at how people who want to do good things sometimes get caught up in a mixture of enthusiasm and naivete to do some very bad things. Like run a Ponzi scheme. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Luka Chuppi (2019) A fun Bollywood farce where things go so, so wrong before the ultimately happy ending. Comical misunderstandings about a couple’s marital status (or lack thereof) threaten to disrupt two very traditional households in India. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Candy Jar (2018) The smartest kids in school hate each other? That probably means they’re perfect for each other. A relatively clever high school comedy about two star debaters with moms who hate each other that explores the pressure to achieve. Netflix original.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

No Kiss List (2015) It’s hard to say what the worst part of this film: the acting, the music, the writing, the subject matter, the cinematography, the directing…I don’t think there’s anything good about this movie. I watched it with my sister in law to have something to make fun of, but it was even worse than we could have predicted. Streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Parasite (2019) I was really hesitant to watch this movie because the title has horror movie written all over it and I do not watch horror movies. I was sure that this movie, academy award winner though it was, was going to involve bugs. Or deadly diseases. And I don’t need that in my life. However, my sister-in-law swore to me that this wasn’t the case and that we needed to watch it with her. So we did. And she was right. Though there are horrific moments in this film, the parasites are all of the human variety. This film has so many interesting things to say about wealth disparity and though its set in South Korea, it reflects United States culture as well. The movie builds really slowly and is just gorgeously put together. I am really glad she convinced me to watch it. Streaming on Hulu.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Links/Articles

Please know that I’m not paid for my opinions about anything. I just like to share things that strike me as interesting, useful, or engaging.

Chi Luu examines the linguistic elements of memes in this really interesting article on JSTOR that relates the meme to the evolution of language online.

Need a reading recommendation? Check out this list of 9 Black women authored books in translation from Words without Borders.

Did you know that Monopoly was supposed to teach people how negative capitalism can be? Eula Bliss writes about the game’s origins.

I just picked up this beautiful deck of tarot cards based on fairy tales and folklore by California based designer Yoshi Yoshitani. Also available on Amazon.

How are you doing? What are you reading/watching? Let me know in the comments!

A Friend’s Reading Challenge: 10 Books in a Week

One of my best friends is an avid reader and often reads voraciously in a very short period. She took a few days off of work with the goal to read 10 books. This sounded like fun, so I thought I’d join her in trying to read 10 books before my classes started a few weeks ago. Well, I failed the challenge by only making it to 9 books. But that’s still enough to merit a blog post, so onward!

Stats:

  • Books read: 9
  • Fiction: 7
  • Nonfiction: 2
  • Genres: Historical fiction, fantasy, biography, classic, contemporary fiction, literary fiction, memoir, romance
  • Total number of pages: 2,889
  • Audiobooks: 3
  • Ebooks: 1
  • Actual books: 4

Here are the books I read for this challenge, in the order I read them.

  1. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride I love historical fiction that encounters important people and events almost by happenstance, and that’s what happens when young Henry is freed from slavery to (forcibly) join John Brown’s fight for abolition. As a girl. Along the way he meets Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The book is irreverent, and its satire is complex. But it is often moving and hopeful as it deals with powerful themes of identity, faith, survival, and race.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

2. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly When fantasy novels feature young protagonists, that often means that they’re using the fantasy world to process some kind of trauma that they’re experiencing in real life. That’s definitely what happens here as David mourns his mother and finds another world that is even darker than he could have imagined. This book sort of reminded me of a cross between Labyrinth and Narnia. I wish the book hadn’t been quite so human-centric though and been more interested in the other side of monsters. I felt some of the conclusions it drew were a little easy, but I think it has really interesting themes of sacrifice and a fun, slightly gruesome quest. Side note: The cover of this book is so gorgeous.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

3. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster I saw the film version with Helena Bonham Carter and Maggie Smith before I read the book. I have to confess I thought the movie was rather stale (and I hate the way they did the hair and costuming), but the book was so much fun. I found it to be quite funny and eager to make fun of all the ridiculous characters. Plus the protagonist actually learns something. And gets the guy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

4. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh When someone writes a memoir about their experience, there’s less suspense about the outcome because even though they engaged in risky behavior x they lived long enough to tell about it. The author is not a likable person, but she’s kind of deliciously terrible and her standards for her own behavior are so far removed from mine that I found her fascinating. Her journey to sleep (as much as possible) for a year is bizarre and privileged, but ultimately I think she does learn about why it’s worth being awake.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

5. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman Before I read this book, the previous book I had read that was set in Los Angeles was Patrisse Khan Cullor’s book, When They Call You a Terrorist. It’s hard to imagine that these two different versions of LA exist side by side every day–the white, middle-class privilege on the one hand and the poor, Black experience of racism could not be more different. It was a startling contrast that really resonated with me as I read this otherwise kind of fluffy book. It’s protagonist, Nina, is so similar to me in her love of organization and reading and her anxiety… she’s kind of an amplified but eerily familiar version of myself. Sometimes you just need more romance in your life.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

6. The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne Though I’m not sure I loved everything about this biography, I did love the way it was organized around objects in Austen’s life and the significance that they had to her and as objects that can be used to describe the time period and give more insight to the way she would have lived.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

7. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi This book was so good. It was my Book of the Month choice from the five that were available in August, and I really loved the way it dealt with identity, family, and love. It was sad of course, following the investigation of Vivek Oji’s death in order to explain what was so extraordinary about their life.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

8. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik Female driven fantasy? Yes, please. On the surface this is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, but beneath that it follows three strong women making their way in very different classes and life situations as they use their wit to protect their families, further their fortunes, and generally kick ass and save the day.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

9. A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler It’s been a long time since a book made me cry, but this one did. I won’t give away the ending, but this story about race in a neighborhood that considers itself to be colorblind will move you. It is tragic and feels all too familiar for the times we’re in.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Have you read any of these books? Did any catch your eye? Let me know in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday: 5 Books I Didn’t Really Like, But I’m Still Glad I Read

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by That Artsy Reader Girl.

It has been a long time since I’ve written. Since that time I’ve spent 3 weeks in Taiwan and 10 days in Paris. I’ve got travel posts coming, but I thought today I’d start with a book post.

This week’s prompt is about books that you didn’t really like but you’re still glad you read. I feel like this can be applied to lots of things I read in college, but I included only one college book to make it feel a little less like a required reading list.

So here are five books I’m glad I read even though I didn’t really like them, in no particular order:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 

My friend and I read this at about the same time, in an effort to get through some of the classics that had been on our shelves and our lists for years. I actually ended up enjoying this book (sort of), but the beginning was touch and go for me. I’m glad I stuck it out because I think it’s an interesting and influential piece of fiction that shows that being an abolitionist did not mean that a person was not prejudiced. Stowe paints a sympathetic portrait of her characters but still indulges in comments that I consider to be racist. I do, however, think that the character of Uncle Tom has been twisted throughout the ages. I don’t think he’s nearly as obsequious as he’s made out to be in references. His resistance is quiet, but it’s clearly there. Anyway, this book is worth reading just for a better understanding of that time period and parts of our cultural heritage.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This is another book my friend and I read together. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it (and I didn’t), but I stuck it out so that I could check it off my list. It’s not that it’s a bad book. It’s actually a really interesting look at mental illness and how sometimes the systems that are supposed to make people feel better just end up contributing to the problem. But I don’t love Kesey’s writing style, and I thought the book was not nearly as good as another book that I’d been avoiding from about the same time period, Catch-22, which was far more enjoyable and interesting.

Ulysses by James Joyce

This is the college one. I picked this one over some of the other books I read in college because it’s just over the top unlikable. And over the top in many regards. But reading it (and finding ways to interact with it) felt like a huge accomplishment. It’s one of those books that I have a really early memory of–I found my grandfather’s copy of the book and thought it was like The Odyssey. Two paragraphs told me I was wrong (though not totally because this book follows The Odyssey in many ways), and I didn’t think of the book again until I took a James Joyce class in college. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. But it didn’t seem right to graduate with an English degree without this modernist on my transcript. It would have been like not taking a Shakespeare class.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

I’m not going to say that this book wasn’t good because it was. It’s a well-written story about Native Americans and colonization.  The characters are engaging and well-drawn. My real problem with this book is that I don’t like survival/wilderness stories. If you liked the film The Revenant or other works in that line, you’ll really like this book. Even though I wasn’t a major fan, I’m glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone. I try to read every book club book (unless I’ve already read it), whether or not it’s something I would pick out on my own.

Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I picked this book out for one of the wedding favors (post on that later), and I read it to make sure it was good before giving it away. Well….I didn’t really love it. The story itself is creepy and interesting, as James’s only ghost story, but the wordiness of it (sentences that never, ever end, kind of like this one here) was just too much and it destroyed all the suspense for me. Probably no one would have felt that way when the book came out, but Poe is much better at the creepy story. So I’m glad I read this book because I wouldn’t have wanted to give it to someone as a gift when I didn’t enjoy it. Especially as the potential recipient isn’t used to reading Victorian era novels.

 

Over to you–have you read a book that you’re glad you read even though your enjoyment of it was minimal? Have you read any of these books? Is your opinion of them different? Let me know in the comments.