Mini Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 4.34.17 PMLandline, which is not the material that the new movie featuring Jenny Slate is based upon, felt like a romantic comedy film in book form. The storyline revolves around a landline that permits the main character to communicate with her spouse in a slightly mystical way that isn’t feasible otherwise. She communicates about her problems with her life, her relationship, and her general aura of lostness at her current point in life (mom, two kids, married, successful television writing career). The novel was sugary sweet and I found it to be a tad superficial with the problems of the main characters (in comparison to the other books I tend to gravitate toward anyway), almost like it skims the top of the feelings/emotions/situations I wish were explored more. However, this dosage is probably before for a lot of people — I’m just not the perfect patron.

That said, would I pick up one of Rowell’s novels when I was seeking a book that wouldn’t make me dive too deep into my own head or feel too many things? Probably. My boyfriend is convinced I’ll enjoy Fangirl, so that’ll probably be the one I give a shot next.

How to Fall in Love with Anyone by Mandy Len Catron

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 10.12.50 AMI had this book for a week and recommended it to more than 10 people before I had even finished it, which I think should be enough to convince you to add it to your To-Read list immediately! I knew about Mandy Len Catron from her 2015 viral piece in the “Modern Love” section of The New York Times. I loved the article — I forced my friends to do the first chunk of the 36 questions with each other during the first night of a trip when they all met for the first time. While Catron’s pieces for the Times are fantastic, this book is something else. It’s a better version of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and a more personal version of Moira Weigel’s Labor of Love
How to Fall in Love with Anyone details how the author has mythologized her parents’ and grandparents’ love stories and the effect that has had upon her own conceptualization and approaches to romantic love. She spends a chapter detailing the cultural scripts that Western culture passes down about love through romantic comedies or through what we’re told embodies a “good relationship”, who even “deserves” a “good relationship,” and discusses that while we’re told what the best end product is, we aren’t often taught about how to love others well. In fact, I think this book could be more aptly titled How to Love Better, in order to better convey its contents and to be more alluring than the current title. The book made me think a lot about how we could all be better to each other, if we all decided to value loving better more often. 
The author devotes multiple chapters to the love stories of her family, all situated within Appalachia, and details how the relationships allowed individuals to move beyond the circumstances they inherited. She contrasts these love stories with her own ten year relationship, which made me feel kind of queasy, simply because I identified with spending too much time in a relationship that slowly fizzled, unbeknownst to the couple, until its pulse flatlined.
Eventually the book shifts into describing the relationships Catron enters after her first big relationship, including the one detailed in her viral Modern Romance piece. This reminds me of something I made my boyfriend do on one of our first dates, where we played a question asking game that encourage medium-to-deep conversations instead of the polite, small talk that often occurs. I don’t remember the questions or the answers now, but I do remember the feeling of sharing a deeper version of myself than is traditionally expected on these early dates when I would try to present the shiniest version of myself. This book magically captures all of those feelings that I’ve felt and I loved LOVED loved reading while Catron ruminated on love. 
That was easy to do because Catron spins many pretty phrases, as you’ll see in the quotes that I’ve included at the end of my post. While I’m loaning this book out to a few friends (to underline their own favorite quotes), I’ve told them all that I want this book to be on my forever bookshelf (aka the highest honor I can bestow upon a book) so it absolutely must be returned to me.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include Catron’s latest piece for “Modern Love,” though she alludes to some of the content in the book. I’ve linked to it because I feel like it’s worth reading too. Read all of her things — each of them are special and wonderful and will sift through your mind for days. 
“I think of the four of us as subject to the same flash flood, all senselessly bailing water into our own boats in hopes the others might end up on dry land.” (p. 122)
“Our views of love — what we want from it, what we think it should feel like — are rooted in the context of our lives.” (p. 72)
“But now I understand that there are always two breakups: the public one and the private one. Both are real, but one is sensible and the other is ugly. Too ugly to share in cafés. Too ugly, I sometimes think, to even write.” (p. 134)
“I didn’t know what was real and what was scripted.” (p. 16)
“Nothing was funny, really, but we couldn’t stop laughing the manic laughter of people who know it will be a while before they hear themselves laugh again.” (p. 40)
Disclaimer: I was provided with physical and digital copies of this book for free from Simon & Schuster. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.

My 5 Favorite Books I’ve Read in 2017 (so far)

At the end of 2016, I made a post about my 5 favorite reads of the year that was a hit. Since I’m on track to read more books this year than last, I’ve decided to round up a list of my five favorite books that I read during the first half of 2017 (January through June). The books aren’t ranked in any sort of way, but they were all fantastic to me in different ways. I’ve given my favorite reads mini reviews here, along with linking to their fuller reviews too. Let me know the title of your favorite book you’ve read this year in the comments! I’m already nearly done with some new reads that I feel like will make this list in December (like Mandy Len Catron’s How to Fall in Love with Anyone and the widely adored The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas)!!

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Horseradish by Lemony Snicket

horseradishThis collection of tales and thoughts from the mind of Lemony Snicket is composed of “bitter truths you cannot avoid in this world” (p. 9). I decided to pick it up (from my local library since it’s currently out of print…) during my recent A Series of Unfortunate Events binge. It begins with a 10-page story about one character and I had assumed the rest of the book would be a series of similar vignettes, but they were actually short statements about life (at most spanning 1.5 pages). I ended up copying down so many quotes from the book that I finally started a quotes journal that will consist of all of my favorite book related quotes that I find.

While reading the collection, I noticed that one of my favorite quotes was directly lifted from The Wide Window, which I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t just finished re-reading it! As I continued, I noticed that other things were repeated quotes from A Series of Unfortunate Events. All was revealed when I finally read the inside book flap of the book, which described the collection as “a bouquet of alarming but inescapable truths from the work of Lemony Snicket, along with selections from his unpublished papers,” hence some quotes would clearly be repeats, but some would be entirely new to me. That said, I still loved rereading them and they felt revelatory, even out of context. I wish the book was still in print so that I could flip it open whenever I wanted! I’ve included some of my favorite quotes are below.

“Sometimes words are not enough.” (p. 78)

“One cannot spend forever sitting and solving the mysteries of one’s history.” (p. 141)

“Grief, a type of sadness that most often occurs when you have lost someone you love, is a sneaky thing, because it can disappear for a long time, and then pop back up when you least expect it.” (p. 112)

“Everyone disappoints everyone eventually.” (p. 26)

“Wishing, like sipping a glass of punch, or pulling aside a bearskin rug in order to access a hidden trapdoor in the floor, is merely a quiet way to spend one’s time before the candles are extinguished on one’s birthday cake.” (p. 62)

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how many people are chasing you, what you don’t read is often as important as what you do read.” (p. 71)

“She wondered if life was more than traveling from one place to another, suffering from poor emotional health and pondering the people one loves.” (p. 4)

And this quote which I plan to use with my undergraduate students before discussing a book that will encourage diverging interpretations of the text, “Entertaining a notion, like entertaining a baby cousin or entertaining a pack of hyenas, is a dangerous thing to refuse to do. if you refuse to entertain a baby cousin, the baby cousin may get bored and entertain itself by wandering off and falling down a well. if you refuse to entertain a pack of hyenas, they may become restless and entertain themselves by devouring you. but if you refuse to entertain a notion — which is just a fancy way of saying you refuse to think about a certain idea — you have to be much braver than someone who is merely facing some blood-thirsty animals, or some parents who are upset to find their little darling at the bottom of a well, because nobody knows what an idea will do when it goes off to entertain itself.” (p. 63)

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 12.09.13 PMThis was good and I’ve yet to read something by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I haven’t been impressed by or hasn’t provoked me into thinking about something slightly differently than I did before. This thin, little book is composed as a letter to a friend who was seeking advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. Adichie offers 15 suggestions, specifically linking them to Nigerian, Igbo, and western cultures, but even these specific examples are still universal. Adichie admits that these tenants may be hard to accomplish, but we must strive to embody them to create feminists in our children and in ourselves.

A few choice quotes are below:

“Be deliberate about showing her the enduring beauty and resiliences of Africans and of black people. Why? Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability, and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans.” (p. 40)

“We ask of powerful women: Is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? Question we do not ask of powerful men, which shows that our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women.” (p. 24)

“If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.” (p. 15)

“Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity.” (p. 43)

“Social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.” (p. 51)

How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 12.32.27 PMMy friend lent me this book, touting it as an advice column with Lemony Snicket realness (I’ve been in a Snicket binge recently) and it simply wasn’t that for me, nor have I ever found something that could fit that fantastic label. I had never read the advice column Ask Polly that this book is a collection of before reading this book. For me, How to Be a Person in the World is situated somewhere between my favorite advice book, Dear Sugar‘s Tiny Beautiful Things and The Best of Dear Coquette. While better than Dear Coquette, I found How to Be a Person in the World not nearly as memorable as Tiny Beautiful Things, which could be due to myriad reasons beyond the book: Maybe I’ve read too many of these advice column collections and they’ve lost their charm? Maybe it’s summer so I’m less contemplative of my head space because everything is sunny and just feels good? Maybe this was a jigsaw piece that doesn’t quite connect with my own puzzle of a heart?

That said, I underlined quotes that I enjoyed (and some are included at the end of this review) throughout reading, but none of them felt particularly revelatory and I didn’t feel “seen” when I stumbled across them. My favorite piece was the second to last entitled “Mourning Glory” about the death of a parent because of course it was. The first two quotes below are from that piece and are followed by other snazzy quotes that appear throughout the collection.

“When you lose someone very close to you, someone who makes up this essential part of your history and your future, your worldview shifts dramatically. You have a palpable feeling that everything and anything good can disappear at any time.” (p. 243)

“This is a beautiful, terrible time in your life that you’ll always remember. Don’t turn away from it. Don’t shut it down. Don’t get over it.” (p. 246)

“Being mildly depressed can fuck with your life on every level. It keeps you from feeling great at work or feeling exhilarated after a great yoga class. It turns you into someone who’s always peering into someone else’s windows, wondering why the people inside seem so passionate and happy and thrilled, wondering if they’re just simpleminded or stupid, wondering if they grew up in happier homes so they’re not damned to shuffle around in a haze of uncertainty the way that you are.” (p. 205-206)

“Letting the wrong ones show their true stripes is just as important as letting the right ones show their true strengths.” (p. 68)

“Dive into a bunch of stories about absorbing and leaning into disappointment and loss and melancholy as a way of moving through it.” (p. 116)

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich

lastgirlfriendThis was my first dive into the words of Simon Rich, despite consistently ranking the show he created (that is based on this collection), Man Seeking Woman, as one of my top five favorite TV shows. This is a collection of humorous, laugh-out-loud stories that largely revolve around heterosexual relationships from the perspective of a dorky man in his 20s/30s.

Because I knew I loved the tone of Man Seeking Woman, the absurdist comedy featured in this book was something I was familiar with and enjoyed. A lot of the storylines for the show were lifted from this collection, which makes some of the particularly absurd examples easier to visualize in my brain since I had already seen them depicted in the show.

Within the first 6 pages of the collection, I had already laughed out loud three times. The jokes I laughed the most at were New York situational humor though, so they may not be as funny to someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the city, but oof did I love them.