September Book Reviews

Once again another month has flown by far too quickly. But I did manage to get my hands on these books, which I’d been hearing so much excitement about.

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SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE

by Jean Kwok

In a word, this was beautiful. The kind of extenuating circumstance like in this book is my jam, and I loved how Kwok made the emotions come to life. I don’t really like stories that wouldn’t exist if the characters would all just communicate with each other, but I think this one was successful despite that.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

by Sally Rooney

Now a book that really doesn’t have good communication from its characters is this one. I found it very hard to be convinced of these people, and while the underlying psychology of the book was interesting, I wish I could have reached through and knocked some sense into the characters. The pacing of the book was also strange, as we would basically just get pockets of their lives, only at the point where they become reacquainted with each other, over and over again. Eh, wasn’t too impressed with this.

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MOSTLY DEAD THINGS

by Kristen Arnett

This book was macabre and wacky, and on normal circumstances I would never have even picked it up. But Arnett made the characters so interesting and real that despite the very strange scenario, I really couldn’t wait to see what happened on the next page.

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COSTALEGRE

by Courtney Maum

I actually quite enjoyed this book! It’s a little vignette into the life of the daughter of an artist, as they escape war in Europe by traveling to Mexico. All the characters were so charming and strange, and the way Maum describes the landscape and their lives is beautiful. I loved this one!

Notes that have no Date

Some of these memories are quite happy ones, like the little momentos that Matt has given me throughout our years. Because there are so many, each item or event molds into each other and becomes just a hodgepodge of nearly nine years of being together. But one of the joys has been getting these little spontaneous notes, that are given on any regular day. It reminds me that every day I have is pretty wonderful because I am living it with someone who understands me.

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Honeybear

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I received this little teddy bear in 2002 from my first grade teacher. I am pretty sure it was because I was moving to Anchorage, Alaska, and it was a parting gift from her. At the time I thought it was so cute, it was so tiny and I loved that its legs could bend so I could display him either standing, leaning against the bookshelf, or sitting down, back resting against a Boxcar Children book. There’s a few things I remember about first grade, I think once we raced turtles or frogs or something like that in the parking lot that was blocked off from the road to be used as a playground during the day. I got my hand slapped with a ruler because I said a boy had a cute baby picture and was making fun of him for it (although I think that was kindergarten). I had my first boyfriend, ironically a boy named Matthew (I’m now married to a Matthew), and he was in second grade, can you believe it? That was also when I snuck my stuffed animal cat into school and had her hiding in my desk, but then Philip who sat behind me snitched and the teacher took her away from me. She said I could have it back Friday. Thursday night I had to go to the emergency room because I had pneumonia. Then my mom had to get my kitty from the teacher and I like to think the teacher felt very bad. I remember laying in the hospital bed throwing up—but that may be because my mom told me I had done it.

That makes me me wonder how many memories I only have because someone told me about them. Does that make them any less valid as memories? I see who I am today reflected in those times, so is it good or bad that I potentially am who I am because of a lie? I guess the heart of it is whether or not memories are objective. Which, they are clearly not. Or maybe the heart of it is whether or not subjective memories are inherently bad. Maybe that makes documentation even more important. If I didn’t have that photograph of myself at the kindergarten recital, would I have even known how excited I had been to perform in front of everyone? Or I may never have known how nice it felt to receive a gift from my teacher, something she didn’t have to do for me.

While I certainly still have earlier memories, this was the first object that I looked at and thought, “Huh, maybe I want to start collecting more of these kinds of things.” From first grade—I’m not quite sure what had gotten into me but there I was, holding the first item I would save forever.

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July and August Book Reviews

July I decided to take a break from social media, so instead I tried to spend my time reading a lot more. It ended up being great because our August was incredibly busy and I ended up not reading as much as I could. So everything evened out! Here’s some quick reviews of the books I read in July and August.

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The Gifts We Keep

by Katie Grindeland

I was very intrigued by this book as it was published by the Multnomah County Library as part of a new program they are doing. This was the first book they put out. I enjoyed it for the most part, I thought the structure was interesting and lended itself well to everyone’s perspectives. I wish there was a bit more difference between each character’s voice—sometimes I would find myself forgetting which character was even speaking because the POV was arguably the same no matter which section we were on. It felt very much like a first novel which isn’t necessarily good or bad. I tend to not enjoy first person POV books for this kind of reason, although I’m one to talk because my novel I’m writing is of course in 1st POV! But all in all I think the story was really compelling, I enjoyed all the characters, and it was told in a very interesting way.

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Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World

by Sabina Berman

Well, in a word, this was brilliant. It’s the story of a girl who is autistic, who goes on to become very successful in the fishing/agriculture industry, while also considering environmental and moral impacts of killing animals for food. It was really poignant and beautiful and not at all what I expected when I picked it up (I try to go in knowing nothing about a book). This is definitely one that I will be purchasing for my bookshelf to read again. Absolutely beautiful.

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I’ll Give You the Sun

by Jandy Nelson

As a ‘young adult’ I tended to devour the Eragon series and any book by Ted Dekker, so romance sort of novels weren’t really my taste. But I do appreciate the themes of this book and how they were presented with the characters. I could have done without the more saucy parts of the book but then again, maybe if I had been exposed to the normalcy of sex I wouldn’t have turned out as awkward as I am now (lol). The entirety of the story was very sweet, and I see why it has received so much praise.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing

by Jesmyn Ward

I loved this one, it has road trips, memories, and ghosts all while exploring what family and race means. I only wish we had gotten to know the characters even deeper, I feel like in a lot of ways Ward just brushed the surface of all the ideas in the book. But I absolutely loved it!

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Girls who Looked Under Rocks

by Jeannine Atkins

This was a quick children’s book so I’m not sure if it even really counts as one of my books for the month, but I’m including it anyways. I picked it because I was obsessed with rocks as a kid so it pertained to my interests, haha. Wish it was an adult book, and one that included women of other cultures as well (instead of just rich white women who were naturalists out of privilege).

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The Buddha in the Attic

by Julie Otsuka

Wow, this was a work of art. Physically it was a very quick and easy read, emotionally it was tough and really heart wrenching and I feel like I learned so much from reading it. I picked it up randomly as a recommended book from the library and I don’t regret it.

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A Particular Kind of Black Man

by Tope Folarin

Another really beautiful book, I absolutely flew through this one. It talks about the struggles of being an immigrant and the racism that so many people experience in America. This novel also plays on the concept of memory and how our memories shape us as humans.

So many beautiful stories. I’ve officially past my new year’s resolution to read twenty four books and it feels so nice to get back into reading for pleasure after that post-grad English major slump I think so many of us get into. You can check out my goodreads also for more regularly updated reading!

why

This Friday I photographed a wedding and at the same time a few states away, my childhood friend had a funeral for her dad who was killed tragically. He was the one who baptized me when I was a kid. She has been my longest friend. I cried during the ceremony because I saw the love of two families come together, and because I knew one was saying goodbye forever. It was a strange, sobering juxtaposition. I am bad at expressing my emotions in person, but writing is where I feel most myself. But even now the words fail me and I’m left a little lost.

I find myself questioning why we even bother to exist in this finite reality where people die and mental illness is real and yet we are denied and no one really knows what we are doing and sometimes your best isn’t good enough. And sometimes your worst makes some things unfixable … and yet this life has forgiveness where it feels like there can’t be any, and laughter and sunlight and animals to pet and good food to eat and sometimes something leaves us in awe, being so thankful we get to experience anything at all.

Sometimes life is senseless and chaotic. Sometimes it becomes too much. But its blessing and its curse is that it will continue on. Maybe those who die continue one too. Is there anything to even say to grief? It’s not fair, and I wish it could all be taken back despite the lessons or hidden opportunities that are there, even though I know they are there.

These past few years I feel like death has been lurking around every corner, and always where it shouldn’t have happened (should it ever happen?). What do we learn from death? That something new always grows from it, which sometimes we don’t want to admit. But we deserve to mourn too. You should never deny yourself your own feelings.

Life makes us cry when we see two people in love, and makes us cry when something tragic happens and the people we love most are taken away from us.

My heart absolutely breaks … I wish I could turn back time or I just wish there was no hurt in the world. I think of all the children in concentration camps and my heart breaks. I think of my friend and her family and my heart breaks for all of the pain they are experiencing. I wish all the sickness and pain could go away. See? The words do fucking nothing, they fail me, and we still have to live through all this pain. Why does anyone live when this is what life gives us? I guess so that we can watch people fall in love and see babies dancing and gaze upon the stars. Hard to imagine that all this pain is worth that, when the pain feels like it will never go away.

I cried a lot during that wedding from all the love and sadness and anger I felt. But one thing the officiant said I found really poignant. We so want to be seen in this world, for someone to know and understand us, and sometimes we are lucky enough to find a person that will bear witness to us, to say “I see you, and I will stand with you.”

I’m crying out “why didn’t you stop it from happening?” and “they didn’t deserve it!” But really only the word “why” feels close enough to describe how much my heart hurts. We might not ever be able to answer “why”, but at least it can help us say, “I see you, and I hurt with you, and I love you.”

Inside Joy’s House

It was a pinpointedly hot summer morning. Dragonflies rested together on shaded fence posts, the leaves glittering light onto their wings. My mom had just opened the blinds in my room. Her neck and shoulder cradled the landline. 

“It’s Joy,” as she nudged me to turn to her, “she wants you to come over.”

I had on only my bathing suit and shorts when I looked both ways and then sauntered across the road. The ditch looked a lot deeper than it did from a car. I briefly considered walking the long way, looking right to the long winding edge of the road that lead to her neighborhood’s gate, or this ditch, that conveniently had a hole in the fence somewhere on the other side right across the street to my house.

I ran down, trying to keep caught up with my feet, into the brush. Ivy and vines and tall fluorescent green leaves canopied all around me. My tennis shoes depressed into the soggy ground. Blackberry thorns scratched against my kneecaps and ankles. Sometimes I wish I could go back to this day now. It was so hot and at the time I thought I was dying but for some reason I continually return back to it. The ravine was cool, the leaves like outstretched arms, cradling me in the earth. I was in a jungle, the leaves bounced in Oklahoma wind but it wasn’t dry and dusty, it practically glistened. Bumble bees came out and lady bugs cleaned their legs and the leaves again glittered against their wings. 

The chain link fence loomed above me. I could climb it but I was scared someone would see it from the road; I couldn’t bear to get caught breaking in. Couldn’t give up the secret. And anyways Joy said that the hole was somewhere close by ... 

It was a little divot in the fence, where the chain had become unattached from the ground. You could see the vines had simply torn it away, like the metal thorns had punctured the vine and it defended itself, pushed it back. I knelt down and carefully pulled at the fence. It bent freely and I squatted down, got my hair caught on it, and wedged through to the other side.

I ran then, back up the ravine and ricocheted into a neighborhood street. Joy’s house was a couple blocks down the road. Act casual now. 

I made it to her house. She let me in and showed me her room.

“Look under my desk!” She said. I knelt down and there was a tiny opening with light spilling through.

“Crawl under it!” She said. I did as she instructed. Getting down on all fours, the desk canopied over me and on the other side was a little room with a slanted ceiling—that’s where the stairs on the other side were—a little pillow and blankets, markers strewn across the floor. Joy crawled in after me.

“It’s my secret room. You should draw something on the wall.”

I forget what I drew, but I was amazed she was even allowed to do it. I probably wrote something dumb like Lauren was here!! but then drew little flowers and tried to be as artistic as possible. How odd that we have to somehow prove we were in a place, like marking our territory. Or just showing that we were able to cross the threshold and make it to the other side. The tiny room was quickly engulfed in sharpie fumes so we plugged our noses with tissues and finished the drawings, crawling back out as fast as possible and then spending the rest of the afternoon planning our summer adventures.

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I think about that secret tunnel and secret room a lot, and I wonder who lives there now, and if those places still exist. Does the sharpie smell of Lauren was here!! still tang the air? Or is she dissipated? With only the sounds of crumbling walls still reverberating somewhere in the universe. But it heard me running there, running over the surface of planet Earth, and somewhere now my feet touching the grass and ground echos against some asteroid or space dust. I’m terrified of that strange something we don’t know after we cross the threshold, and maybe no one will remember Lauren was here!! But if I’m heard maybe that’s enough.

It’s a cool summer afternoon.

I’m laying in the grass and I feel small, it looms over me almost like a forest tunnel. Blades waving high overhead. And I turn my head and it is a deep and never-ending spaghetti maze of every shade of green, and there are tiny ants and beetles and slow moving slugs traveling every highway overpass. I heard once that there are more living organisms in one square foot of grass than there are humans on the entire earth. Or maybe it was an acre? Or a mile? Either way, even though I’m covering so many of them, their backs against my back, I still feel so small. Spiders or grass tickle my legs and the dirt is cold and cleansing between my toes and fingers.

I pick up a bunch of it. The dirt wedges underneath my fingernails—and I let it go on my stomach, letting each gradual sprinkle down individually. My stomach rises and falls. The outer edges of the dirt hill avalanche down, back to earth.

There is the tiniest hint of a mystery raindrop, with blue peeking through the dapples above me. I can’t see the cloud but I know it must be there. It has to be, right? I felt it!

I breathe in and breathe out again.

Where is death’s sting? It’s right here in my sternum, contracting my chest. I feel like I am way too big for my body, maybe too big for this universe, certainly too small to handle this pain.

Once when I was little I heard that men’s brains were like waffles and women’s were like spaghetti. Compartmentalization or trailblazing. I feel like my brain is just in piles and knots, and my timeline keeps looping back on itself.

I am five. I’m eating chicken and waffles and you would think that the flavor wouldn’t make sense, but it does, a mother hen on a bed of hay—do they even get hay nowadays?—wandering in fear if the darkness will overtake her, so she keeps driving and pushing towards that greener pasture, just one more bend, just one more and then the light will split open and spill upon everything and then all the shadows will wash away. And then she’ll fly away, oh glory.

And yet, why does the pain taste so good? I look back and forward and it’s everywhere—sometimes I’m convinced I could make it go away if I forgot hard enough, but I’m afraid I don’t actually want that. It’s the forgetting that terrifies me.

The rain is starting to fall harder now. Maybe it’s God trying to bury me, but I watch as the beetles continue. Some hide for a moment, some dodge in between drops, and some ignore it, ploughing on through anyways. Now which one of them has the spaghetti brain? And which one has the chicken and waffles? And do any consider why they’re dependent?

I trust that the earth will keep its back against my back, us bracing together.

Fall, 2018.

The cold brush of fall is fully here now, and there’s a wind too. When you think that there’s no movement and only then you’ll feel warmth from the sun, that’s when you know. Maybe I should stop moving too, maybe then I’ll know what my blood flows like again.

How long has it been now? I’ve been trying to avoid all forms of time—averting my gaze when I see a storage unit company blasting the date, temperature, and a quote that they hope will make me forget all of our terrible little lives; or going into a gas station and hearing the latest terrible news that none of us have any control over;

or even just this damn changing of seasons, I could count with that—how many seasons has it been? What exact color was that leaf? Had the first rain come yet? I like seasons better though, they pass more slowly. It doesn’t seem as frantic as counting each second. Oh I’m still in fall, I can still relish in this for months if I really wanted to.

You need to live in a good place that has all four seasons. I can’t imagine living in the arctic where in the winter the snow is hard and in the summer it turns to sponge. Their season is nonexistent, so they have to go back to counting each rotation of the sun, each day, as it comes back less and less frequently, until finally there’s no movement.

 

Does anyone know what phase the moon is in now, speaking of which? Once when I was younger I tried to get into it, tried so desperately to be spiritual, to be connected to everything. But then I learned that everything dies and that terrified me. I never remembered to look up at the moon or pull my cards though, for fear that they would tell me ‘why bother your time is coming anyways’. I wonder what the moon thinks, trying to caress the ocean but being thousands of miles away from her.

What if one day, slowly of course so that it wasn’t actually in one day—but the moon is slow and old so one day for us may feel like only a second for her—what if one day humans destroyed everything beyond repair. The temperatures would rise, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, all because of us, and then suddenly the ocean would rise up to finally kiss the moon.

Would the ocean spill over the earth? Would the moon be bathed in her waters? What if those politicians and businessmen were really just trying to bring them together, the most ironic savior of us all. When I drown, I hope I become consumed by the moon.

June Book Reviews

Happy July my friends! I’m spending this month off of social media which is terrifying and I no longer know what to do with my time, but if it means I’m getting these reviews out in a reasonable manner, then I guess something good is happening. I’ve also gotten a bit obsessed with Goodreads as well. I think we should make that the new social media.

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Radicalized

This book is comprised of four short stories that you could imagine appearing in a Black Mirror episode. A good concept in theory, the execution was a bit too on the nose for my taste. I think a visual sort of format would be a better fit for the stories, but I did enjoy them. The actual writing, while I think the subject matter is super important (and struck a little too close to home for my liking, hah), I wish it had been presented more subtly (when you literally have a character called the American Eagle, I tend to lose my suspension of disbelief). But if you are interested in socialism, political and moral issues, and generally want to be more informed, I think this is a pretty good fictional supplement to those topics, and one that’s easily digestible.

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Harriet the Spy

I love this book and I am partial because I grew up reading it. But when I was a kid, I didn’t realize the lesson of the book and instead just tried to mimic Harriet the Spy, complete with my own notebook and spy route. So maybe as a child this book was not a success, haha, but also I had an obsession with spies so maybe nothing could have stopped me. Either way it was a delight to read again after all these years, and I think anyone would still find this book charming. This was totally a feel good read for me, and I can’t wait for the next time I get to open its pages again.

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In West Mills

I found myself wondering if this story was written scarcely because it is indented to be a pop fiction book, or because it wanted to be subtle in its subject matter—the concepts of racism, classism, sexism were touched ever so slightly that I wondered if it was because the characters were ignorant, or if they knew exactly and realized there was nothing that could be done. They had to resign to their fate simply because of the time period they were in. What I’m trying to say is that it’s so subtle, I don’t know which way I’m supposed to go. The New York Times named him one of the four writers to watch this summer and mentioned there wasn’t much research done for the setting, which I do feel like the book lacked. But this is probably because I am a maximalist when it comes to writing and reading. I wanted more of a Faulkner feel to the book and felt there was a lot of missed characterization when we jumped to only climactic moments in the characters’ lives—I felt less connected to them even when I found myself really wanting to learn more about them. But maybe that is also part of the point. Sometimes we can’t know everything. Sometimes our past never gets uncovered, and sometimes we don’t ever get to see more than just the snapshot of even people we think we are closest to. This is definitely a book to pick up and read.

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we were witches

This was my favorite book of the month. It is also incredibly obvious with it's subject matter, but what else can you expect from a book published by the Feminist Press? If overt, almost book-bashing feminism isn’t your cup of tea, you may not like this book. But I was thoroughly delighted by how surprised I was by the language, the story, and the presentation. This book presents its subject matter in a few really fun ways that I hadn’t considered for novel writing, and it’s always fun to read something so unexpected. The plot itself is also really beautiful and heartbreaking. I loved all the characters, I loved the setting. Other than the too-obvious feminism at times, it’s a very smart book. And even the overtness is smart in certain places. Really just a delight.

April and May Book Reviews

Hello again my friends! It’s been quite a while. We spent most of our month of April prepping for our Australia and New Zealand trip, and then of course we adventured around for the majority of May. So I definitely didn’t read as much as I had hoped, but such is life. I had a pretty good excuse. 

For a bit of backstory, I have been reading through the book Light the Dark, in which different authors share aspects of the writing process. As a supplement to that (or perhaps the other way around), when I read a chapter from a particular author, I read one of their books.

This time around I picked up Stephen King’s The Shining, which honestly was a long, mucky process to get through. In retrospect from my own observation and also from people I’ve chatted with, this may not have been the best of his books to start out reading, but it’s what I picked so there wasn’t any going back. I can see how it was acclaimed in its day, but now with my oversaturation of the horror genre, it was predictable and dragged on far too long in its descriptions and backstory. With that being said, I did love the characterization of Jack and how he organically evolved into being overtaken by the hotel.

The shining (har har I’m so sorry) aspect of the book to me was how King portrayed the voices that Danny could hear—this shows how the written language can really turn into a work of art. (As a side note, I also enjoyed this because in my own book I’m working on, I am exploring a similar concept. So it was neat to see another author’s take on the formatting, albeit a bit annoying because I thought I had come up with the idea myself and yet here is one of the most well known authors of our time already doing it. So it goes.)

Would I recommend this book? Eh, since I probably will never have a desire to read it again, probably not. But I do want to read a few more of his works to add them to my reading repertoire.

 When I went to New Zealand for the first time, it was 2015 and I was going with a group of students and a couple professors from my university right after school ended for the summer. To keep a long story short, it had been my dream to visit since I was in 7th grade, and I absolutely fell in love with everything about New Zealand, the people, the land, the culture. I learned so much about myself and about what it means to be a human living on the earth, and I will always be grateful for that experience. During the middle of summer we had a reunion party at the professor’s house, and while there, she gave me me The Bone People by Keri Hulme. I raced through reading it, desperate to consume anything related to New Zealand after returning to the states. So for this second trip, I was excitedly curious to read it again while actually in the country and read it a bit more deliberately.

This novel is by far one of my all-time favorites. I know I tend to be a bit hyperbolic in my excitement about things, but honestly, this book is everything I aspire to be as a writer. It’s beautiful, tragically poetic, and is woven together with mysticism of the land and our intrinsic connection to one another as humans. In short, I love this book. I never know how much to give away when it comes to these reviews, but for this I won’t say anything else. This book is a masterpiece and if you have any sense about you, you will check it out from the library, purchase it immediately, whatever you can to get your hands on this book. You won’t regret it.

And now that we are gearing up for June, I cannot wait to dive back into reading regularly. There have been so many summer books coming out, I can practically smell the summer air, taste that cold iced coffee, all while soaking in the sun sitting on my porch surrounded by stacks of worlds. Aaah, the dream.

Reviews For March

This month I’ve been working though a personal school program I wrote for myself, and one of the books I’m reading is Light the Dark, edited by Joe Fassler. Each chapter is written by a different writer about some different aspect or inspiration of writing. So while I read through the author’s chapter, I also read one of their books, and all the books I read through this month are from this ‘class’. 

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The particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

This book was just okay for me. At first I didn’t like it, and then I loved it, but then the twist at the end I didn’t really enjoy at all. I think the climax was either just a bit too convoluted for me to really take seriously, or it wasn’t described as well as I had hoped because when I read through the twist the first time, even though I did read it correctly I wasn’t sure if I actually had. It was a pretty okay book, I think it had some good moments and the premise is interesting, but I just wish it had been executed differently.

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the absolutely true diary of a part-time indian

I absolutely adored this book by Sherman Alexie. Super easy read (it’s probably a middle school book), but has really good themes of what it means to be a Native American and the dichotomy of having to live two different lives. I have been wanting to educate myself more on this, especially as I become more aware of the Native American issues (and well, the mere fact that basically all white people are living on stolen land), but I guess that’s a different post. This book was very poignant but in a way that anyone can understand. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m excited to read more of Alexie’s work.

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the joy luck club

Well, this is one of those books that I’m going to ask for for Christmas because it needs to be in my personal collection. Amy Tan is absolutely brilliant. She gives us the story of four Chinese women and their daughters, and similar to Alexie’s book, looks at the dichotomy of living in two different worlds. In a word, it was magical. I cannot wait for when I get to read it again.

PS I also read through her children’s book based on this novel, and it was also so beautiful! The illustrations were mesmerizing.

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And that’s what I read through for March! I have some other things I’m working through with various degrees of completion, but these are the books I properly completed. Happy April, everyone!

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Rituals of the Body

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I grew up not being allowed to dye my hair. It was the school’s policy that we couldn’t have unnatural hair colors—the specific colors that I wanted of course. Thankfully for my parents, that caused me to never ask for it. I knew either way when I moved out, I would do it. There were a lot of things I was wanting to do in my life, the first and utmost importance was dying my hair. I needed to say ‘please notice me!’

The week after I stepped foot into my first college dorm, I already had colored stripes. Then a week later it all was purple. Then bright blonde. Then pink. Then lilac. And green and orange and blue and red. It’s back to brown for now but ideas are churning for the next color combination.

There are other things I am still trying to do in my life, like figuring out how to move my body like a normal human, not looking at it like such a foreign object, and really trying to understand what it means to have my face. Peering into the mirror, I see my face, my nose—I clothespin open one eye and then the other and try to make the wackiest faces I can. I smile. Usually pick out a spice that no one bothered to mention to me. And then I try to make the most sultry face I can. (Can you even imagine such a face from me?)

I try to look at it objectively, like a scientist weighing pros and cons. Okay that nose is crooked, that forehead is far too large, the eyes bug out a bit, but the eyebrows are pretty good now that it’s in style, the mouth is nice. Lips? A little chapped but surely she’s working towards getting buttery smooth lips like in those ads. (I bought $30 lip cream that a YouTuber recommended but I constantly forget to put on.)  I like to think I don’t care if I’m pretty or ugly; I just want to know which one to get it all over with.

One of the things you have to be mindful of with dyed hair is that the dye will wash out. It will truly pour out of your head and you’ll panic because what if there isn’t any color left? If you aren’t careful, there will be blue all over your curtain, stringy red ghosts of loose hair on the walls, and purple round stains from hair ties. Your nails become discolored but that’s the cost for delayed adolescent rebellion. To alleviate the aftermath, even though my deposit for this apartment has long been spent, I’ve started taking my showers in a new way.

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I first turn on the water and let it run. It tumbles out of the faucet. My cat pounces into the bathtub, slipping, and sticks his ears underneath the waterfall and then scampers off in fear, like it’s the first time he’s gotten wet.  When the water is warm, I undress, get on my hands and knees on the chipping porcelain, and stick my head under that water. It’s painful, I’m straining my neck and often need to rest, or come up for air.

Then back into child’s pose, into my bowing position. It feels like I’m praying towards Mecca, or washing the feet of Jesus, only it’s my own hair, I’m washing myself. My eyes burn with a stray splash of shampoo, but then relief comes when I can put conditioner on. Because then I can sit and let it soak in. I close my eyes tightly, and brace myself to turn on the showerhead.

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There is a split second when it’s all silent. The waterfall is gone and a drip quietly slides down into the pipe. I tense. And then sitting there in the dim light, it starts to rain. It’s shockingly cold when it first hits my back, but I always try to smile.

I used to do this as a child, and would sit in the shower for hours, closing my eyes, feeling the warm rain. And now I do it again, in child’s pose, asking my body for forgiveness for all these years of feeling shameful for it, for not taking care of it, for feeling uncomfortable with it surrounding me. 

I think about people’s bodies a lot, and how we are all standing inside them. I think about baby trees growing inside of larger trees and how one day my skin will look like their skin. I can track my time on this earth through the skin on my body—this gray hair came after I graduated college, I got this tattoo after my professor died, this scar came from my adventurous months in the kitchen and maybe I should get back into that. I used to be scared of death, terrified of growing old. But I’m trying not to be, because I’m starting to understand what a blessing it is to be adorned by time.

To collect time throughout your whole life and be able to show its collection on your body—like so much dew on the grass in morning. I want to be cleansed by time. 

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These photographs were made last year. I really felt some need to document my hair washing. I loved them, I wanted to share them because I was proud of them, I’m the most proud of these pieces out of any recently, and yet there’s that hesitation because it shows my body. Why am I ashamed? What’s to hide? My body is going to return to the earth one day and then only the trees will care about it then (as if trees caring about your body is a bad thing, but you know what I mean). I came out of the womb like this. I grew on the earth in this body. I love this body because it lets me walk and explore. I trust this body and God who gives it breath. Every breath is an act of trust in my body, and in myself, and my rituals try to remind me of that. So I’m sharing this finally. 

And so I still dye my hair, and decorate myself, and wear clothes that make me feel proud of the person I am inside this space. I try notice my body now, and see all the things I can do with it. I can write and read and breathe and jump around when I’m excited, and curl back into the fetal position when I’m hopeless. There are still some things I want to do in my life. Dying my hair is one of them. And bowing down is another. 

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Reviews for February

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Hi friends!

Didn’t think I would actually have this problem, but I’m apparently reading so much I forgot about the reviews and have plowed through a few other books for the month of February. I still want to talk about them, so here’s some quick mini reviews on the books I reach for February! If it’s any wonder, I really really enjoyed all of these books.


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The Brain that Changes Itself; Norman Doidge, M.D.

This book you guys. Every person needs to read this book. It’s so good. This book follows the history and stories of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire itself so that humans are able to do new things physically and mentally.

I really believe in the power of our minds, of intuition and positive thinking. I also believe in science, and try to use both as much as possible when forming my beliefs. So you could say I had almost a spiritual experience reading this book, seeing all the science and studies that backed up things I felt to be true myself. Granted, the ability to actually change your brain is a lot of hard work, a lot of reinforcement and constantly working towards whatever change you want to make. There is a period of plateauing, and periods of supposedly no growth, but after continuing to promote whatever it is you want to change (I’m talking about months and months of training yourself), you can physically change your brain. I highly encourage everyone to read it, especially if you want to change something about yourself and your habits. I’ve already seen a difference myself.

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A Manual For Cleaning Women; Lucia Berlin

This is a compilation of short stories of American Life, of mining camps, of living in Chile. Most of the stories are very autobiographical and those ones I found to be the most interesting. It was almost like reading little vignettes of the much larger story of her life. If you like Raymond Carver, I think you will like Lucia Berlin as well (although Carver will always hold a very particular special place in my heart that I don’t think anyone else can replace). My only real critique is that while the stories that were not from her perspective were still good (there were a couple from a male character’s pov), they felt a little out of place in the context of the book itself. I wish they had been left out or replaced with a couple other stories from her life.

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Wildwood; Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. It’s a children’s fantasy book, along the same vein of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (without as much allegory), and it is rich and beautiful. It’s not the most literary text by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was really fun to read a story based in Portland as well, and now I feel like the magic that’s in the story has seeped into the magic that is Portland and the woods that we live in. Highly recommend this one!

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A Year Off; Alexandra and David Brown

I read through this book in two days. I laughed, I cried, and I probably dreamed way too much. This book was about the journey of Alexandra and David, who decided to spend a year traveling the world. Ugh talk about ultimate goals! The book was so easy to read, and yet it was full of some really good advice and beautiful stories (and photographs!) from their trip. They even broke down how much the trip cost, how much they spent in each location, and gave some awesome instructions, tips, and lessons that they learned. (Spoiler, they spent $37,000 for the year. I’ll happily accept venmo or paypal! ;)) The only thing I was bummed about was that they didn’t really mention how they saved that money (other than David already having most of it saved up, and them both selling a couple of their larger items, like their cars, to pay for the trip). And being someone who has zero money all the time, I almost wish they had mentioned more of that portion of their planning, but I suppose there are other books out there on how to save money. Reading the book did come at a perfect time though—Matt and I are taking our first international trip together in about two months, and learned some important travel information that I wouldn’t have known otherwise (ie. International Drivers Permit and Travelers Visa—some info I would have needed to have prior to stepping foot in the country, haha). Okay but anyways, needless to say I adored this book. And I probably shouldn’t have read it because now I’m constantly dreaming of traveling the world (then again, it’s not like I wasn’t doing that constantly beforehand anyways!).

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And that’s it! That’s the books I read for February!

I’m quite pleased with myself because I didn’t want to set too high of a goal for this year (my resolution is to read 24 books), and I’m moving through it pretty quickly. Maybe other people feel this way, but after university I pretty much stopped reading. I guess after reading for 16 years of my life (English major problems, hah), I needed a break. But over the past couple years I’ve been slowly trying to get back into it (aka get less addicted to my phone and more addicted to reading again), and I think I’m just about to tip the scales.

Anyways, rambling on again. I hope you consider picking up these books, I highly recommend them all!
If you are reading anything good, I’d love to hear about it!

A review of The Alchemist

Okay I know this website is incredibly haphazard right now. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t use it for a long time and then you’re also trying to explore new things … and, well, this is the place that feels most natural to put these things. For 2019 one of my goals is to read 30 books. I also want to start writing book reviews, because 1. I never get to talk about books, 2. it will be a good way to keep me on my goal, and 3. I just want to practice writing something that I’ve had never interacted with previously.

So here we go, my very first book review ever, a review of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

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Long story short, I absolutely adored this one. It’s a bit obvious in its metaphor, sure, and reads very much like a children’s book, but sometimes the deepest human truths are best explained simply. The story follows Santiago, a shepherd who has a dream about a treasure—his personal legend—and sets out on a grand adventure to fulfill it. What I found especially comforting about the book was the idea of connectedness between all living things through all time; how when we listen with our hearts we learn the language by which all living things speak, and through understanding this language, we learn the soul of God—and we learn that we are a part of God’s soul. And that time truly is nonlinear, that there are rare moments we can tap into the collective unconscious of all living history and use it to guide us through this life.

For maybe about three years now I’ve been thinking about this concept, the connectivity of everything in the universe, how creation communicates with and mimics the beauty of God, and how humans are also a part of that too. I often feel I’m pretty alone in my beliefs because they are a strange mix of Christianity, Buddhism, and Socialism (and nonlinear time) and I, so far, haven’t known anyone else to really quite believe what I believe. But reading a book that pretty beautifully portrays my own worldview, and one that is so highly acclaimed, is really warming.

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Yeah, don’t really have much to say negatively about this book. It’s so delightful and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it, but also I think it came to me at the perfect time in my life. This will be one of those books that I read over and over again for the rest of my life. I highly recommend that everyone read this book. It’s a very easy read—I finished it in two days—and I think there is something in it that every person can take and apply to their own journey. To finish off, I just wanted to share a couple of my favorite passages:

‘Hunches,’ his mother used to call them. The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there.
— page 76-77
‘Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.’
— page 134

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