Trying something new and different…

okay, not that different.  But I read somewhere that individuals looking for a job should blog about their desired industry.  Mine?  Theater!  And maybe film & television one day.  So in addition to my book review posts, I’m also going to try and write about theater and films.

(**SPOILERS**)  I just got finished watching Chronicle (2012, Directed by Josh Trank, Screenplay by Max Landis).  Unfortunately, I’m a bit disappointed.  I’m really looking forward to the day when the black character doesn’t always die first.  I loved the beginning of the film; it was dark, but funny.  I also like that they never find out what the hell happened to them down in the cave and that they didn’t just turn into “superheroes”, but the second half felt sloppy and the characters were lacking the requisite development for a well-written screenplay.

Verdict: Not as good as I had hoped.

This past week I had the opportunity to see Great Lakes Theater’s rendition of Romeo and Juliet, set in “a war-torn city just recovering from the first World War” (GLT website).  Great Lakes Theater always presents high quality shows, and Romeo and Juliet did not disappoint.  My favorite elements of the show:

1.  Mercutio, played by J. Todd Adams.  He brought out innuendo in lines I had never noticed before, and his interpretation of the character was excellent.

2.  The big sword fight between Mercutio and Tybalt was amaaazing.  I’ve never seen any stage fight so elaborately and elegantly choreographed.

Verdict:  Go see it if you can!  It’s on the long side (2 hours, 40 min), but it’s worth it.  (And I’m not usually a big Shakespeare fan, just as a frame of reference for you.)


Anyone have any movie/theater suggestions for me to go see?

Classic opening lines…


My personal favorites?  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (“All this happened, more or less.”) and Matilda by Roald Dahl (“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”)

More feminist YA

1.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I finally finished!  I ended up really liking this book, despite how long it took me to get into the story.  I don’t think the book really picks up until the character Max Vanderburg appears (over 100 pages in).  The novel is set in Nazi Germany, which I knew going into it, but damn, it was dark and depressing.  I mean, Death personified is the narrator.  The best part of the novel is the relationships Liesel (the book thief, herself) has with the other characters, and I actually really enjoyed reading from Death’s perspective.

Verdict:  Totally worth the pain that comes with reading it.  I would not recommend this book for people who do not enjoy writing that is on the experimental side.  Honestly, I found the book to be quite ‘Brecht-ian’ (yeah, literary reference!).  Death tells you what’s going to happen, and often interjects thoughts and observations in the middle of the story, pushing the reader to think and preventing her from getting swept up into mindless entertainment.  This book is hard to read, but not quite as hard as watching a Brecht play.

2.   Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

I wasn’t crazy about this.  I like how it was written (almost like an epic poem), but the subject wasn’t my favorite.  For those of you who know me, one guess.  It’s about teen motherhood.  For those of you who don’t know me, don’t get me wrong- I certainly don’t look down on anyone who’s had children at an early age… I’m just not a baby person.  The story just didn’t resonate with me, but maybe it might for you?

Verdict:  Meh.

I am currently reading Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger.

BitchMedia’s Feminist YA Book List

I’ve decided to read everything on it that I haven’t read before, which is quite a bit.  I will review as many as possible!  I’m starting at the bottom and working my way up.  Here’s the link, if you’re interested:

1.  When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright

If I ever have kids, I will keep this book in mind for them to read.  I know it’s strange but, I really like that nothing much at all happens in the story; Wright gives us a narrator going through really normal day-to-day life events, from dealing with her parents’ separation, going to church for the first time, and realizing how much she enjoys singing.  Her story is compelling because any young girl can relate to feeling out of place, lacking confidence in her ability and realizing her parents aren’t perfect, but the added layer that Lahni is a black girl adopted by white people, going to a school where she’s one of about four black people in the whole place, really makes the book.

Wright reveals the insidious nature of racism and ignorance (that yes, still exists!) in our society as well as the difficulties and resulting emotions that come with having an interracial family.  (You know that moment where the saleslady doesn’t get that you and your parent are related, that the daughter your mom/dad is talking about is, in fact, you, even though you’re skin tones don’t match… yeah, Wright totally captures that moment in the book).  I love both that the topic is explored at all and that the writing doesn’t pass judgment on these moments, that they’re just described honestly.  For me, it makes Lahni’s story and my connection to it so much more powerful.

Being a story about a young black woman, I also appreciate Wright’s ability to evade stereotype.  The stereotypes about black people, especially black women, pervade our society and popular culture.  From the angry black woman, to the sexual deviant, to ‘Mammy’, to the ‘Magic Negro’, and the list goes on, Lahni Schuler is just an 8th grade girl trying to live her life, learn how sing and adjust to her parents’ divorce.  I could say more, but I’ll stop here.  Questions?  Bring it on!

VERDICT: Oh, you didn’t get a sense of how I feel about this book yet?  Read it!  And if you know any middle school girls, encourage them to read it!  It’s sweet, and it takes on relevant, interesting life issues, and it’s all about faith (in God, in purpose, in yourself, in love, whatever), a topic very close to my heart and something we all need more of.

2.  The House You Pass On the Way by Jacqueline Woodson

Another book about an interracial family; Staggerlee, the protagonist, struggles with being biracial and gay in a tiny Southern town.  I liked it, but it wasn’t outstanding for me.  There were some touching moments that speak to growing up, starting to come out and dealing with crappy people.  I am a huge fan of the well-executed open ending, but this one felt a little abrupt.  Honestly, I’m not really sure how I feel about this book… so I apologize for the non-committal review!

VERDICT: It’s really short, so go ahead and read it.  Someone else tell me what to think!

I also read Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (B-) and Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (C).  If you’d like me to expand, ask and I shall try.  I’m still working on The Book Thief.

Review: Thrity Umrigar’s latest novel

“… these three women gave me something.  A sense of belonging in the world, but more than that.  A sense that the world belonged to me.  Do you understand?  A belief that it was my world- our world.  To shape it, as we wanted.  That we never had to settle for things as they were, you know?”

- Thrity Umrigar, The World We Found

I read Umrigar’s new novel after having returned from a visit to my alma mater, Smith College, and my dear friends still in the area.  Her words completely encapsulate exactly how I feel about the amazing and inspiring people from Smith that I am so privileged to call my friends.

Now for the review part!  I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy lately, so I needed a dose of ‘reality’ in my life.  Umrigar portrays four different Indian women and the characters and events that make up their lives.  I’ve always enjoyed her writing, especially because she immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult (like my dad) and she settled in Cleveland, OH (like my family).  Umrigar has an incredible talent for weaving captivating stories about ordinary people, like you or me.  She relies on themes to which anyone and everyone can relate: friendship, love, death, family, aging, and the list goes on.  The World We Found does not disappoint: rich, developed characters, moving storylines, and a little peak into India and its culture(s).

VERDICT:  Read it, for sure.  I think I’ve decided I like The World We Found most out of everything she’s written.  [Also, the novel delves into issues of class, gender, sexual orientation and religion in India, for those of you who are interested in such things.]

Poetry for your Valentine

Here’s a poem to offset all that mushy-gushy, greeting card, sticky sweet love balladry that plagues this time of year.  Cheers to celebrating every part of your love, skipping past metaphor and secondhand expressions, getting down to the raw, ugly core of a person and loving them anyway.  (And shocking!  It’s by Rita Dove.)
1.  “Heart to Heart”
by Rita Dove
It’s neither red / nor sweet. / It doesn’t melt / or turn over, / break or harden, / so it can’t feel / pain, / yearning, / regret.
It doesn’t have / a tip to spin on, / it isn’t even / shapely— / just a thick clutch / of muscle, / lopsided, / mute. Still, / I feel it inside / its cage sounding / a dull tattoo: / I want, I want— / but I can’t open it: / there’s no key. / I can’t wear it / on my sleeve, / or tell you from / the bottom of it / how I feel. / Here, / it’s all yours, now— / but you’ll have / to take me, / too.
For the daydreamer.  Can be interpreted in a sweet or sexy way, but either way, it’s a poem of longing.
2.  “My Sweet Old Etcetera”
by e.e. cummings
my sweet old etcetera / aunt lucy during the recent
war could and what / is more did tell you just / what everybody was fighting
for, / my sister / isabel created hundreds / (and / hundreds) of socks not to / mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers
etcetera wristers etcetera, my / mother hoped that
i would die etcetera / bravely of course my father used / to become hoarse talking about how it was / a privilege and if only he / could meanwhile my
self etcetera lay quietly / in the deep mud et
cetera / (dreaming / et / cetera, of / Your smile / eyes knees and of your Etcetera)
And for those who want to get straight-up raunchy (Emily Dickinson style).
3.  “Come Slowly”
by Emily Dickinson
Come slowly – Eden!
Lips unused to Thee –
Bashful – sip thy Jessamines –
As the fainting Bee –
Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums –
Counts his nectars –
Enters – and is lost in Balms.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Circus, ghosts, and yet another dystopia…

More book reviews!  Let me know what you think, or if you need more convincing on any of them.

[Note: For anyone who doesn't know me, I'd like to address my review style.  I tend to like everything in one way or another; I swear I can think critically AND criticize... I just don't see the need very often.  I'm trying to focus my verdicts so that you might be able to tell whether or not you might like to give the book a try, but know that I'll most often be pointing to the positive!  Also know that I'll be honest if I think something thoroughly sucks- see my post about Swamplandia!.]

1.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Yes, I am predisposed to like this book; written by a fellow Smith grad, The Night Circus lived up to my expectations (and honestly far exceeded them).

After having read a few reader reviews, I love the book even more.  The things that people hated about this book are what made me like it, but these fools helped me put it into words.  One reader complained that there is no pure action- the book jacket says that there is a fierce competition between two young magicians, and the reader felt the description was a “lie”.  If that reader could actually read and understand words, she would also have seen the description continue to say “a remarkable battle of imagination and will”, and maybe she would have appreciated the beauty of the story.  This person is stupid, and didn’t get it.  Instead of death, destruction, or viciousness, the magicians (Celia and Marco) use their gifts for creation and challenge each other to be innovative and passionate.

As for the reader that simultaneously complained the vocabulary was too simple but the plot was too complicated and confusing, you’re crazy.  I don’t even know what to say to that.

VERDICT:  This book is fantastic.  I can’t wait to read it again.  It’s long, there’s a lot of ‘description’, there are no bloody battle scenes, and I love it.

2.  Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

As my mother would say, I like freaky, dark stories about ghosts and witches and other weird things.  This novel is definitely that.  The main character, Cas, is a lot like Dean Winchester, but still in high school, with a white witch for a mom and no little brother.  Definitely a creepy read.  I couldn’t predict everything that happened either, which was a nice change.  After reading so many books and seeing so many movies, especially in the science fiction and fantasy genre, I can sometimes tell how a story will go from the first chapter/five minutes.

VERDICT:  Go for it!  Especially if you like ghost stories and unpredictability.  The author is a total hipster, which I dig for the most part, but it may rub you the wrong way sometimes if you don’t.

3.  Divergent by Veronica Roth

Yet another novel about a future dystopian society, this one set in Chicago.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed Roth’s first work… it’s just that all these books and movies about crazy futures are getting me a little antsy and worried.  I am seriously feeling the need to learn how to hunt and gather and all that shit, you know what I’m sayin’?

Roth’s protagonist is a brave (one might even say… dauntless) young lady learning how to kick ass and (supposedly) protect the city.  Cool concept, interesting characters and a pretty great female lead.

VERDICT: Read it!  It’s a quick read, and if you like it, you can look forward to the next installment coming in May of this year.

Happy Black History Month!

In honor of Black History Month, I would like to recommend two works by black women writers.  If you haven’t read these already, you should!

1.  American Smooth by Rita Dove

My favorite collection of poetry since I first read it as a fifteen year old high school sophomore.  One of my favorite things about Dove’s writing is its accessibility.  Good poetry is so often ignored and underrated because no one can understand the pretentious, incomprehensible junk that masquerades as poetry.  But don’t worry about that here- you’ll be able to appreciate the beauty and brilliance of Dove’s writing without needing a PhD in literature.

(Note: Dove was the youngest and first African American to be appointed Poet Laureate of the United States.)

2.  Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Maud Martha is the only piece of fiction Brooks ever wrote; as you probably know, she’s primarily celebrated as a poet.  However, her lyrical writing style and poet brain clearly shine through the novel and resulted in a fascinating, stirring read.  Race, class and gender issues abound in this novel; the protagonist, Maud Martha, of course!, is a sensitive and lovely character making her way through life in Chicago in the 1920s-1940s.  Her experiences as a black woman portrayed through Brooks’ remarkable writing make for an incredibly moving piece of fiction.  “To be cherished was the dearest wish of the heart of Maud Martha Brown,” (2) and cherish her you will.

There are countless other fantastic works by black women writers, but these two are clearly my favorites.  I encourage you to read them or any works by black writers in celebration of this month.

Also, here’s a link to lots of photos, videos and other fun things:

Happy reading!

A Few Book Reviews…

If you’re interested in my opinion.  I find myself reading like a fiend now that I’m out of school.  I was reading like a fiend in school, but now I’m doing it by choice!

These will be short and sweet!

1.  Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  (***Spoiler Alert***)

VERDICT: Don’t bother.  While Russell has clearly mastered the English language and writes beautifully, her capability for narrative is nonexistent.  The novel is set in the swamps of Florida, the characters are an alligator wrestling family that runs their own theme park.  The book jacket presented incredible promise for a charming, eccentric read… nope.  Not only do they give up the alligator park and their swamp lives due to financial difficulty, the young female protagonist is sexually assaulted and never tells anyone about it.  Russell essentially sends two messages: 1. People on the margins of society are better off trying to fit in with the mainstream, if possible, and 2. Young women may try to have adventure and be strong and contribute in a meaningful way, but they don’t actually have a voice.

2.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

More positive this time!

VERDICT: Okay, I know I am like the last person on earth to have read this book, but I was #257 in the library holds queue.  Obviously I don’t need to tell you it’s great.

Finally, a heroine that’s cynical, smart, a survivor, and more concerned with taking care of herself and her family than boys.  Thank you, Suzanne Collins.  The premise, as everyone already knows, is fascinating and socially interesting, so all I can say is I am so grateful for a kick-ass girl protagonist (especially since the series has become so popular).

3.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Babery

VERDICT:  Fantastic!  This novel was personally recommended to me by a former teacher.  If you think of yourself as a secret intellectual, or if you find yourself unappreciated and underrated by those that think very highly of themselves, and/or if you enjoy philosophy and discussing art and music, I think you’ll like this book.

I adored the characters, especially Renee Michel, the poor concierge at an upscale Parisian apartment building.  Ugly, a widow, and secretly smarter than all the hoity-toity residents with whom she deals, Renee is utterly charming and her story is lovely.  I was in tears at the end.

Note: It did take me awhile to get into the book- it sat in my bag for quite a few weeks, and I would read a chapter or two (they’re very short) every once in awhile… until it finally sucked me in.

More soon!  Let me know what you thought if you’ve read any of these books :-)

On Being Liberal (In Suburban Ohio)

To say the least, I was never particularly interested in politics before college.  I certainly wasn’t as gung-ho about politics and public affairs as some of my peers at Smith, but I had the chance to develop opinions, explore new ideas and discover where exactly my political loyalties lie.  Clearly I am a liberal (you read it in the title!).  I believe in equal pay for equal work, higher taxes on capital gains/investment income, public programs, and (GASP!) the right for any two people to be intimate and/or get married if they damn well please.

Surprisingly enough to my predominantly liberal Smith classmates, not everyone feels the same way.  And shock of all shocks to everyone in my almost completely conservative family, I really am a liberal (and will always be, despite all efforts to persuade me otherwise).  Note that I don’t equate liberal with being a Democrat or conservative with being a Republican.  While the two pairs can be synonymous, sometimes they are not.

Now that I’m living at home in Ohio, and especially with a presidential election coming up, I am witnessing the effects of politics on a much more daily basis.  For example, I watched the State of the Union address last week and really connected with a lot of what the President had to say.  I thought he sounded quite reasonable.  Of course I anticipated the barrage of negativity from the media, but I also heard these sentiments at home.  Based on their comments it was as if we had heard two different speeches.  I was honestly dumbfounded.  I know my family and I disagree, but I just can’t quite fathom how people I care about have such divergent beliefs as myself, which prompts a few questions:

1.  Where the hell did I come from?

2.  Why am I the only person in my Ohio family that feels so differently about fundamentally everything?

3.  Will my opinions ever be taken seriously, or will it always be a matter of “you’ll understand when you’re older and a tax-payer”?

To clarify, I know plenty of liberal comrades in both Cleveland and Akron… the suburbs are just a different story.  Perhaps our differences have to do with my sharp awareness of how race and gender play into politics (being a bi-racial woman) or the background I have navigating and understanding class issues (key themes in both my education and employment at Smith).

When I was at school, I remember feeling a hunger for hearing different opinions and beliefs, and now that I’m here, I feel like freaking Sisyphus.  Don’t get me wrong- I believe in discussion and healthy, friendly arguments; that’s what our country is all about.  It just seems to me as if there’s no middle.  How are we ever going to find common ground?  And does that even matter?  Is that just the nature of democracy?

Like I said, I’m certainly not claiming any knowledge or insight into politics and government, but I find myself asking these questions now that I live in a place where “liberal” is as dirty a word as “f*ck”.

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