Blog Post, Buddhism, Monthly Review, Poetry, Teaching, writing

July, July!

Have you heard the song, “July, July!” by The Decemberists? You should.

This is the story of the road that goes to my house
And what ghosts there do remain
And all the troughs that run the length and breadth of my house
And the chickens how they rattle chicken chains
And we’ll remember this when we are old and ancient
Though the specifics might be vague
And I’ll say your camisole was sprightly light magenta
When in fact it was a nappy blueish grey
And the water rolls down the drain
The blood rolls down the drain
Oh what a lonely thing
In a blood red drain
July, July, July! it never seemed so strange

I always have two thoughts when July approaches. First: the song. It’s got a very “July” kind of vibe to it, which is appropriate. July comes just after the middle point of the month, and this song tackles the concept of memory, and how it fails us. But how much truth in memory matters? Does it matter that we remember things exactly as they happened? Or does it matter that we remember what we felt, what shaped us? The “ghosts there do remain,” indeed. Second: so many birthdays. My sister, two nephews, and some good friends all have birthdays in July. Maybe this is why I get along with Cancers so well?

Reading and Teaching

Anyhow, last month was my LGBTQ reading month and it went better than expected. I read a total of 7 books, all of them LGTBQ-themed. This month, I’ve turned my attention to poetry. I’m covering a few different approaches within this larger goal, though. For example, I’m reading two non-fiction texts on poetry and how to read and write it. I’m reading two short collections of poems by individual poets, and I’m reading one anthology. Finally, I will be reading one hybrid novel that contains poetry and is about a young poet.

As I work on my own novel, I find that I’m trying to avoid reading anything else in the genre (LGBTQ YA). I don’t want to be influenced or find myself doubting my abilities. So, instead, I’m pursuing other genres while writing, genres that are far from what I’m doing but still inspiring. I think, when I’ve finished the full draft and move on to edits and revisions, I’ll return to reading within the genre as a kind of research exercise. (“Am I doing what the genre is doing, generally, but in a way that’s unique to me?”)

I’ve become obsessed with Ocean Vuong, after reading On Earth We’re Briefly GorgeousI actually started following him on Instagram before reading any of his work, because I found his aesthetic interesting and had heard good things about him. And then reading him blew my mind to smithereens. I spent the last week reading some of his work in places like The New Yorker, as well as reading a bunch of articles about him in The New Yorker, Interview Magazine, The Paris Review, and Poet & Writer. In the interview with Poet & Writer, he commended his freshman English composition course and the community college experience with providing him a foundation experience, a welcoming and motivational environment in which to work with a diverse group of people, all of whom were there for the same reason: to improve themselves, to achieve a goal, and to fulfill a dream. It was a small but beautiful statement on the power of community college education.

All of this is to say, one of the collections on my reading list this month is Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. I’ll also be reading Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here (incidentally, I picked up a copy of John Okada’s No-No Boy recently as well, inspired by the disgusting concentration camps our government is operating, dysfunctionally, at the southern border.) I guess I’m on some kind of thematic kick for Asian-American writing.

The others on my list this month include the two I am reading right now: Thomas C. Foster’s How To Read Poetry Like a Professor and Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, edited by Timothy Liu (whose collection, Burnt Offerings, is a personal favorite). I’m half-way through both of these, and I’m really enjoying them. The anthology is particularly interesting because most of the included poets are new to me.

After the Foster, I plan to read Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook.  When I finish the anthology and two poetry collections on my list, I will be completing the month’s project with Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X.

Writing

Speaking of writing: It has been going generally well. I joined Camp NaNoWriMo this month, which is like the regular NaNoWriMo except you can adjust your goal, create cabins to collaborate with others, work on any kind of writing you want (even though it’s an off-shoot of National Novel Writing Month in November, this one is really meant to get you writing whatever you want). The social media accounts also run regular “word sprints” to encourage people to sit and write, as well as offering up a variety of prompts, e-mailed encouragement, etc. My current stats on this WIP are as follows:

  • Today’s word count: 2,945
  • July word count: 24,492
  • Total word count: 34,545
  • Chapters: 11 complete of 31 planned

I’ve been averaging about one chapter a day. I get up early in the morning and head to “my spot,” which is the same spot I used for my 100 Days Journal project. I’ve found that creating and inhabiting one’s own writing space is crucial. Yesterday, after a sleepless night (thanks, insomnia!), I couldn’t get up to write. I tried later in the day and managed only about 1,000 words (about 25-30% of normal) and that was writing additions to a scene in a previous chapter, rather than working on a new chapter. I sat there staring at the “Chapter 11” header, at 2 in the afternoon, and simply couldn’t get anything onto the page. I guess I need my routine. (Is this what they mean by “creature of habit?”)

This morning, though, I managed to get up on time (despite another sleepless night) and got the chapter done. I’m happy with this pace and progress. If I can maintain it, then I’ll have a complete draft done by the end of July and can work on revisions and edits as the new school year begins, when the opportunity for new writing is, let’s face it, not readily available. I get too tired and too burned out from lecturing, grading essays, attending meetings and trainings, etc. I do plan to keep my mornings for myself, though, but rather than working on a lot of new material, I’ll probably be revising and editing, revising and editing. I guess this means, sometime around August I’ll be looking for beta readers. How does one go about doing that, anyway? And what about finding an agent? When is that supposed to happen? How does that happen? Oh dear.

Anyway, my first book, FROM A WHISPER TO A RIOT, recently received this very thoughtful review, and I’m so grateful.

Buddhism

Part of the reason I began my 100 Days Journal project about 4 months ago is that, in addition to wanting to “force” myself into a daily writing routine, I found I had been struggling with severe depression all year. Since about January, I’ve been in a slump. It’s not unusual for me to have ups-and-downs, but this was a long one, and that “light at the end of the tunnel” we who suffer from depression come to rely on, just wasn’t showing up. Not even a little pinpoint in the distance. I didn’t know what was taking so long to come out of it at the time, but I have my thoughts now. In any case, one of the things I’ve realized is that I’ve been craving a kind of reckoning with myself and my beliefs, for lack of a better word. I’m an emotional and spiritual person, though agnostic and anti-religion. Still, I do always, always look for connections. The bigger picture. The threads that connect all of us. I’m a hopeful person, I guess, and so part of my struggle lately has been finding hope in a time that seems hopeless, perhaps not even worth hoping for. As I thought about what might help me investigate myself and find renewed purpose, I started to learn a little more about Buddhism. Here’s what I wrote on Twitter:

Do I have any practicing Buddhist friends who would be willing to point me to good places to start my reading? History, tenants, meditation, zen, beginners guides? I can look up lists online, but I’d rather have personal recommendations from people living the path. To be honest, I’m looking to connect with myself spiritually, to understand and articulate my own value system. I need a philosophy or “faith,” for lack of a better word, that is without deity, and Buddhism is the closest practice I know of, currently. At my core, I’ve a desire to be driven by kindness and generosity. I’ve seen a lot about Buddhism’s mindful approach to acting and reacting with love. That’s the sort of thing I want to get better at, particularly now when, let’s face it, there’s a revolution of hate happening. Ultimately, even Buddhism might not be for me. It’s possible that no established “religion” will be. But I’d like to learn more about it anyway.

I received some excellent and helpful suggestions, as well as inspiring and motivational comments and conversations. I also discovered that some of my Twitter connections are practicing Buddhists, though I never knew it. What a world of possibilities and revelations can open to us, if only we have the courage to ask! I’ve begun my journey with The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh. So far, it is resonating with me. His style is warm and to the point. He explains a lot of how the history of Buddhism has been corrupted or altered (inadvertently or intentionally), and then gets into the tenants and philosophies, including what they mean and how to practice them independently. I’m excited to continue learning more, and I’ll probably stick with Hanh’s texts for now, though I also hear good things about Pema Chodron. Am I a Buddhist? I don’t know. I take a lot from Christ’s teachings, too, but I cannot be Christian (ask me about that some other time). It may end up the same with Buddhism, though something about this experience so far, and the embracing of human philosophy rather than the supernatural, is appealing to me.

Take a breath, and onward.

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Monthly Review, Rainer Maria Rilke, Shaun David Hutchinson, Timothy Liu, Victor Frankl, Yevgeny Zamyatin

May 2019 In Review

My focus lately has been everywhere besides this blog, despite the fact that I have “re-branded” my website and social media presence from Roof Beam Reader to He Writes Words. It’s been a slow and confusing transition, though, which might explain why I’ve been silent/distant. That said, I do want to dip my toes back in and share a little bit about what’s been going on lately.

Reading

As of this moment, Goodreads tells me that I am “5 books ahead of schedule” in my annual reading challenge, which is pretty impressive because I usually play catch-up during the summer months. I guess I’ll probably end up going beyond my goal of 52 books this year. In the month of May, specifically, I managed to read a total of six books. I’ve been way behind on reviewing, as the desire to write formal reviews has pretty much evaporated at this point. I’m not sure why (maybe because I’m focused on other things.) Some notes on what I’ve read, though:

Timothy Liu’s Burnt Offeringsa collection of poetry by a gay Asian man, was interesting and mostly wonderful. There were a few poems that moved me deeply and many that provided food for thought. In fact, I’ve been inspired to read more poetry because of it (even picking up Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I will use to help me refresh before teaching poetry in one of my literature courses this fall). Speaking of poetry, I also read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I’ve never read any Rilke, and that might have been to my detriment in this case. While the letters to this aspiring poet were interesting, and the supplementary biographical material about Rilke’s life revealing, I was nevertheless mostly disinterested because I wasn’t interested in Rilke in the first place. I went into this one thinking it was more of an “on writing” type of book, so it didn’t do for me what I hoped it would. Still, there were plenty of nuggets for writers, especially about expectations and the personal nature of writing, as when he comments, “he could not bear to publish the things he really cared for and put forth only the least personal.” That’s something I’m struggling with a lot right now.

The Rilke was one book from my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, and another that I finished this month is Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. This one is considered the father, or uncle (?), of the dystopian literary genre, having inspired the likes of Orwell and Huxley. I can definitely understand why people think so highly of it, especially because it was written in the 1920s, pre-dystopia craze. Some of its direct influences are Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World; as a story, I don’t think it quite succeeds as those two do, however, even though Orwell seems to think more highly of the Zamyatin than he did of Brave New World. Sorry, Orwell, but I disagree! That said, the study of the battle between individualism and collectivism, the self versus the community, are really fascinatingly explored, and my favorite element is probably the antagonist-state’s attack on the imagination. Imagine living in a world where the capacity for any creative and original thought is eliminated.

I also read Philippe Besson’s Lie With Me and Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Neither of these quite lived up to my expectations, either, which makes me think I’ve either become a much more discriminating reader, lately, or I just have not been in the mood to read and have been somehow forcing myself through it. Besson’s Lie With Me is a French novel about a gay man who meets the son of his former lover and begins to reflect on his youth. The writing is beautiful but the story itself is rather sparse, and its ending is disappointing and expected. One fun surprise about it, though, was learning that it is translated by Molly Ringwald! As an ’80s kid, I couldn’t help but be thrilled by that. Man’s Search for Meaning was simply not what I thought it would be. I was expecting some kind of philosophical tome, which of course it is, but it’s really two books, the first of which is a recounting of Frankl’s life in a Jewish concentration camp during World War II. The second part is about his psychological theory of logotherapy, which is a kind of optimism, or accepting that everything that happens can be a learning opportunity and an opportunity for growth–not necessarily that it is meant to be, but that one can find the good in anything and, if finding the good, will discover that his attitude determines his happiness, even in the worst of times.

I did read one book this month that absolutely blew me away, which was Shaun David Hutchinson’s new memoir, Brave Face. I have to admit to being equal parts disturbed and jealous, because this book is in so many ways the book I would like to write or have written. We share so many experiences and opinions, which is perhaps not that strange considering we are near the same age and had a similar upbringing (though in different parts of the country.) There are some very specific experiences in his life that I, too, experienced in an almost startlingly similar way. It was strange to feel so connected to another person’s life story, especially considering how painful much of that journey was for him. It tapped into a part of me that I keep very much to myself, and it was cathartic in a way. Brave Face is an important piece in the LGBTQ+ literary puzzle, and especially as non-fiction targeting young adult audiences, which is not a substantial genre right now. I was first almost angry at how good this memoir is, but having sit with it for a while, I find that what it really did for me was to inspire me to plot my own story, and for that I’m grateful. I’m also so proud of Hutchinson for finding the courage to write this important and beautiful book.

Writing

I’ve been telling myself every single day that I would start posting more regularly here on the blog and that I would get started with this book I want to write (or essays? Or whatever?) I’ve been getting exactly that far, though: waking up and telling myself, “Okay, it’s going to happen!” Oops. On the bright side, I have been journaling regularly through my 100 Days of Journaling project. I reached day 89 today and have written 220 pages (1 1/2 journals) of, well, whatever it is. Most of the daily entries are devoted to my “brain dumping” whatever comes out. A couple of important and helpful things have come up, though, including a personal breakthrough on something I’ve been conflicted about for many, many years, as well as a clear chapter outline for the memoir I want to write. (At the moment I’m thinking of it as memoir, anyway, but I keep debating on whether I want to fictionalize it instead. See the Rilke quote above!) The practice itself has been really helpful, so I’m proud of myself for doing it every day, and for nearly 100 days already. When I finish this first 100-days, I plan to move on to another activity called the “Q&A For Writers” project, where instead of considering a writing prompt every day, I consider a question.

Teaching

May also saw the end of the spring semester. I’ve been teaching for 7 years and find that the spring semester is always, always the most difficult semester. I think this is because, in the fall term, everyone is returning refreshed from summer, there are a lot of new students with fresh and positive attitudes and excitement, and the semester is even one week shorter (because spring break technically adds* a week to the spring semester.) This was by far my best spring semester, ever, though. While classes never go perfectly, I had some really strong sections this term and some really thoughtful, motivated, interesting students to work with. I couldn’t help everybody, I never can, but I do think I reached some students, and that’s always enough. They taught me a whole lot, too, about a variety of subjects, but also about certain things in my methods that I want to reassess. I always struggle with this profession because it demands so much without providing as much (financially) in return, but these other personally rewarding experiences and moments are usually more than enough to make up for the economic struggles. I can’t imagine another career that would be as rewarding to me in this way.

I was supposed to be teaching two classes this summer, but both have been canceled. It’s our lowest enrollment in nearly two decades, apparently, and I’m wondering if this is the experience at other institutions as well? There seems to be little explanation for it, especially considering the rather consistent growth we have seen year-over-year for quite some time. Anyhow, I’ll miss teaching and I’ll definitely be missing the salary (that’s a big OUCH), but at the same time, this is the first summer I’ll have “free” (minus lesson planning and course designing/prepping for the fall) since I started teaching 7 years ago. I think I need to be grateful for this opportunity, too, and it might be rewarding in its own way, not to mention refreshing. I hope to use the bonus time to work on my own writing and see if I can draft something (or most of something) by start of fall term. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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Blog Post, Monthly Review

Month in Review: August 2016

SeptemberHappy September! 

This time of year tends to be my favorite. Even though it means the ushering in of another academic year, a busy semester bringing with it all sorts of extra commitments, last-minute meetings, unanticipated problems and such things as come with being an educator, nevertheless it also means fall is on its way. Autumn is a beautiful time of year in this part of the world — the colors, the crispness, the weather. And of course Halloween! So, I usually find myself becoming energized… this year the race toward rejuvenation is more of a slow stroll, but I do still feel a bit of that old magic returning. 

For much of August, I was pretty sick, so I did not get as much done on the blog (or anywhere else) as I would have liked. I did post some thoughts on “genius,” as well as an event sign-up for something I’m excited to host again this year. I also managed to read quite a bit in August because I was mostly immobile for a few weeks, so there wasn’t much else to do (not that I should complain about guilt-free reading opportunities!).  I have had to update my Goodreads reading goal for the year twice because I’ve gone over the number I expected to reach. 

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One item of significance is the return of THE LITERARY OTHERS reading event. This is an LGBTQ+ reading event that I’ll be hosting in October, as part of LGBT History month. You can follow that link to read more about the event, sign-up, and consider volunteering to host a giveaway or write a guest post! If you’re on Twitter, we’re using the hashtag #TheLiteraryOthers. 

Now, to recap!
Books Read in August: 1151nX2wGTFXL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (5 out of 5)
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (5 out of 5)
  • A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf (5 out of 5)
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron (5 out of 5)
  • milk and honey by Rupi Kaur (4 out of 5)
  • It by Stephen King (4 out of 5)
  • 10% Happier by Dan Harris (4 out of 5)
  • Still Side by Side by Mioki (4 out of 5)
  • Side by Side by Mioki (3 out of 5)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (3 out of 5)
  • The Wave by Morton Rhue (Todd Strasser) (3 out of 5)

Not listed are a number of comics that I read this month as well. 

Blog Posts:

That’s my month of August in a nutshell. I’m looking forward to getting more accomplished in September, including a couple of poetry project posts (up next is Ovid’s Metamorphoses). I’ll also be reaching out to the volunteers for The Literary Others to make plans and schedule posts. 

What have you been up to?  I’d love to know! 

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Monthly Review

Month in Review: July 2016

 

month-august-sparkler-8666899Yes, indeed, August is here! The eighth month of the year, which means July is somehow already gone, past, behind us. How exactly did that happen? 

August means back-to-school month, although that’s not quite accurate for me, considering I taught all summer long, too. Still, there’s something helpful about the routine of “going back to school” in the fall, and preparing for/planning the “year” ahead. There are things to do this fall, things to do next spring, and yadda yadda. 

But today is all about what happened in July, here on the blog. I’ve definitely been more active, and plan to continue on with that trend; however, I don’t plan on any kind of regular posting — when something comes up, when I feel like reviewing something or writing about a topic, I’ll do it. Otherwise, not. Isn’t that liberating!? 

One plan that is in the works, however, is the return of THE LITERARY OTHERS reading event. This is an LGBTQ+ reading event that I’ll be hosting in October, as part of LGBT History month. A sign-up post with call for volunteers will be posted here in the coming days, so please be on the lookout, and consider joining us! I’ll be looking for guest posts, author interviews, and giveaway hosts, too. 

Now, to review!

26114444Books Read in July: 9

  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (3 out of 5)
  • The Nonbeliever’s Guide to Bible Stories by C.B. Brooks (3 out of 5)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne (4 out of 5) 
  • The Last Interview and Other Conversations by Kurt Vonnegut (4 out of 5)
  • More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera (5 out of 5) 
  • Grace without God by Katherine Ozment (5 out of 5)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (5 out of 5) (re-read)
  • Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (5 out of 5)

Blog Posts:

Poetry Project Posts: 

That’s my month of July in a nutshell. I’m sorry that I didn’t get around to hosting Austen in August this year. I’ve been so busy that I completely forgot! I was asked about it just a few days ago, but of course it was much too late to plan and prepare at that point.

What have you been up to?  I’d love to know! 

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Monthly Review

Time Keeps on Slipping…Slipping…

calendarSpring Has Sprung! Erm… or, such was the first line for the last monthly check-in that I managed to publish on the blog. Good grief, where has the time gone!? It’s now July and we’re well into summer. Thoughts of Spring have come and gone in the blink of an eye.

Although I’ve been less active on the blog, I’ve kept up with my reading and have been busy with plenty of other things, too, including teaching summer courses, working on my dissertation, and preparing an academic portfolio for job searches. I’ve sent out a few applications here and there, but I’ll be getting much more serious about it in the coming months, as I continue to wrap-up work on the dissertation. I probably won’t be finishing/defending until spring semester, so graduation will likely be in May 2017, but I’m definitely on the hunt for good full-time, tenure-track teaching opportunities now.

Any-who — here’s what I’ve been up to over the last few months.

Books Read in April: 9

  • Half Lost by Sally Green (5 out of 5)
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (5 out of 5)
  • Fields of Reading: Motives for Writing by Nancy R. Comley (3 out of 5)
  • Wicked Angels by Eric Jourdan (4 out of 5)
  • Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout (4 out of 5)
  • The Bedford Reader by X.J. Kennedy (4 out of 5)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (4 out of 5)
  • Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (3 out of 5)
  • The Long Walk by Stephen King (5 out of 5)

Books Read in May: 8

  • Stranger than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk (3 out of 5)
  • The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan (4 out of 5)
  • Don’t Be Shy: Beyond Gay Fantasy by AJ Baker (5 out of 5)
  • Saga #31 – #36 by Brian K. Vaughan (4 out of 5)
  • A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (4 out of 5)
  • The Fourth Angel by John Rechy (3 out of 5)

Books Read in June: 6

Blog Posts:

Poetry Project Posts: 

Also, I had a critical essay published in a scholarly journal in May of this year, and I’ve got another under consideration now (should hear back sometime in August). I’m also preparing to submit a proposal for a book chapter. Don’t ask me where I’m finding the time or energy for all of this. Maybe this is why I’ve been so tired lately?

What have you been up to? Any amazing reading discoveries in the last month that you’d like to share?

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Blog Post, Monthly Review

Critical Linking: What’s New?

Greetings, Readers!

The last month or so has been a busy but exciting one! I’ve published a bunch of fun and (hopefully) interesting and edifying articles over at About.com’s Classic Literature site. Here are some of the highlights:

Resolved to Read the Classics: 10 Resources for the New Year!

A lot has been happening here at Roof Beam Reader, too!  For example, I’ve begun the Year of Giveaways, which we kicked-off with Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. You can read more about this monthly event by clicking here.

In addition, we wrapped-up the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge (winner to be announced on February 15th) and began the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge!  We have 210 participants this year, which is outstanding!

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BBAW, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, Monthly Review

Book Bloggers Made Me Do It #BBAW

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It’s the third day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week and we’ve got a new blog topic to discuss! Here’s what the fearless leaders came up with: Day 3 Have you ever read a book because of a book blogger? Be it a good book or bad, bloggers recommend books every day of the year. Sometimes we take their advice and it’s great! Hello every graphic novel I’ve ever read! Sometimes, it’s not so great. Damn you Like Water for Chocolate (ducks). Today, tell us all about the book or books you’ve read because of a book blogger and be sure to sure to spread the blame around.

Okay. I think I can handle this. There must be many, many books that I’ve read based solely on the recommendation (urging, pleading, threatening) of book blogger friends. But I’ll stick to just the first five that come to min.

Gone_with_the_Wind_cover

1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

II am fairly certain that I would have read this book sooner or later, but a few years ago Jillian and I and a few others started The Classics Club. I learned then (and have been reminded many times throughout the years) that Jill adores Gone With the Wind. So, I put it on my club list and got to it a year or so later. I don’t regret it! I hadn’t seen the movie, either, but after reading the book I had to compare. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the book!

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2. The Saga series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

As a kid, I was a pretty big fan of comic books. I loved the X-Men, Adam Warlock, the Avengers, and more. I got really into the Death of Superman storyline, and all the new supermen to follow. As well as the darker Batman stories, like A Death in the Family. After my teenage years, though, and after discovering “real” books, I kind of let my love of comics fall by the wayside. I think the only comics I read between the age of, oh, fourteen and twenty, was probably Marvel’s Civil War series. About a year ago, I was in the mood to revisit. I sent out a tweet about how to get back into comics/graphic novels, and the overwhelming response was to try SAGA. I did. I’m in love. I’m obsessed! I even gave the first few volumes to my comic-book-reading brother-in-law for Christmas last year.

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3. Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Years ago, I read Plath’s The Bell Jar and really enjoyed it. Or, well, “enjoy” is probably the wrong word for a book like that. But I responded to it, appreciated it. I hadn’t visited Plath again because I have never been much of a poetry reader (this has changed in the last year or so). It was my friend Amy’s love of Plath, though, coupled with my preparing for doctoral field exams in American Literature, which lead me to read Ariel. And oh my goodness. I’ve written my thoughts on it, and I’ll leave it there. I’m not sure what else to say. Thanks, Amy!

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4. Germinal by Emile Zola

Zola is someone who I had heard of but never knew anyone who had actually read him (or at least not recently or extensively). But then I met O from Behold the Stars who just raves about Zola. I took a chance and read this masterpiece, and it is just that, a masterpiece! Zola reminds me quite a bit of one of my favorite American writers, John Steinbeck, so of course I enjoyed the book. I’m looking forward to reading more (I’ve got a couple of his others on my shelves… it’ll happen).

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5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This one, like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is one of those books where I just caved into the overwhelming book blogger pressure. Yes, peer pressure exists in the book blogging world! In both cases (and, honestly, I just went with Station Eleven because it was the most recent) the book actually lived up to the hype. I recall seeing this one plastered all over Twitter and a number of blogs, to rave reviews. I’m glad I trusted my book blogging pals and took the chance, it was a super cool read. I think the next one I’ll be “pressured” into reading is The Library at Mount Char, which I bought during the hype but haven’t read, yet.  Here’s my review for Station Eleven.

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