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. 


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! 

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! 

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?

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’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!

BBAW, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, Monthly Review

Book Bloggers Made Me Do It #BBAW


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.


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!


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.


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!


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).


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.

Austen in August, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, Monthly Review, RIP X

Pemberley and Poltergeists! #AustenInAugustRBR #RIPX

Goodbye to Austen in August!


I’m not quite sure how this has happened, but the last day of August has arrived which means Austen In August 2015 is at its end. Oh, dear!

As we move onward from this annual event, I offer a few reflections:

  • First, I think it can be said without question that this fourth annual #AustenInAugustRBR event was the most successful ever! As of this posting, there are 100 link-ups on our Mister Linky widget: the most we’ve ever had!
  • Next, I’d also submit that this year’s giveaways were insane and the guest posts incredibly creative, unique, and interesting.
  • The engagement on Twitter, in blog post comments, and on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and other social media outlets was awesome! It was so exciting to see all of you posting your Austen (and Austen-related) thoughts in various ways and across a variety of platforms. I saw photos, videos, .gif animations, written posts, and so much more.

51qbyy-TmrL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_All that being said, I am also pleased to have finished one book for the event this year, which is the Penguin Classics Clothbound edition of Jane Austen’s Love & Freindship and Other Youthful Writings.  I’ve now read all of Jane Austen’s published works, including juvenilia and unfinished pieces, at least once (most of them more than that).

Reading the juvenilia was so much fun. It was fascinating to see the young Austen flexing her muscles, as it were, and playing with the styles and conventions of her day. It is clear to see how she developed her craft. What I think I most enjoyed about the experience, though, was getting to know Jane Austen a bit more. Her brilliance truly shines through her writing, but her youthful writing also offers generous glimpses at her personality.  Having read Austen in the way that I did (first the completed novels, then the unfinished stories, then the juvenilia–so, backwards, as it were), I find I can appreciate in a unique way her skill, her practice, and her profound wit and intelligence.

Of the juvenilia, I do have a few favorites.  First, I think, is “Henry and Eliza,” which I found to be incredibly funny.  Another is “The Three Sisters,” which is an early attempt at a novel and in which, I think, we see the very early manifestations of certain iconic Austen characters, such as Mrs. Bennet, Emma, and Mr. Darcy.

“Love and Freindship,” of course, is the titular story for a reason; it is humorous, insightful, witty, and characteristic of the author who would be Austen. Another point of interest for me in this story, as well as in a few other of these early works, are hints at homosexuality. Jane Austen was much more daring than many readers give her credit for, even in her later, finished works, where she discusses a number of important themes in subtle ways. She’s more audacious and overt in these youthful writings, though, which is a pleasure because it allows us to see how knowledgeable and socially aware she really was, and how adept she became at revealing just as much as she wanted to — a craft developed through genuine talent and practice. Austen, such a lady, even includes a number of murders in these early tales!

jane-austen-coversTwo other sections I really enjoyed were “The History of England,” which is an absolute riot. Young Austen responds to some of the critical histories of her time that claim to be unbiased (Oliver Goldsmith’s The History of England for example) with a work saturated by overt opinion representing itself as pure fact. She employs characterizations of her own family, with the help of images drawn by her sister Cassandra, which adds personal intrigue and humor to the story as well, and she lambastes Queen Elizabeth I at every opportunity (with sincerity? in jest?). It’s one of the funniest and charming stories in the whole collection. In addition, the section of letters, which seem to be simply practice for creative/fictional epistolary writing, are a joy to read.

I had my doubts about reading Austen’s juvenilia, not because I thought it would be boring or without merit, but because I wondered what it could possibly add to my understanding of Austen as an author, which is best understood by reading and interpreting her finished works. The reality is, though, because Austen was always a writer, one organized her work in volumes, even the early attempts and scraps, reading these pieces adds an extraordinary amount of depth and richness to the entire experience. I could see a lot of the later novels’ themes and characters beginning to develop in these early attempts. I think it will be great fun to re-read (again) the big six works and consider all the practice Austen had put into her craft originally.

Hello to RIP X!

Image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

Image used with permission, property of Abigail Larson.

Now that Austen has concluded, I’ve decided to approach the future with much more general abandon, meaning I don’t want to plan too much of my reading. I’m still participating in The Classics Club, so I do have a “list” for that, and I’m also writing a dissertation, so I have plenty of works that I must read as part of my research. Other than these projects, however, I have little intention of participating in any other events or challenges for the foreseeable future, with one exception: RIP X!

For those who don’t know, RIP stands for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril. It’s an annual event that takes place in September and October of each year. The goal is to read books/stories or watch movies that fit into the categories of horror, thriller, suspense, gothic, mystery, etc.  This is its tenth year, but my first time participating.  I’m getting married on Halloween this year (it is our favorite holiday), so I thought — well, all the stars and such are aligning! Why not?


There are a variety of challenge levels and goals and such, but I’ll keep my plans pretty simple: read at least two books in the horror/suspense genre. If all goes well, I might add a third, so I’ll list that as an alternate.


Book One: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). This is essentially the godfather of the gothic genre. It is very short and I’ve been meaning to read it for years. It’s also an entry on my Classics Club list, so I’ll knock out a two-fer if I finish it.

Book Two: Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three (1987). I read the first in this series a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I’ve been meaning to continue on with the Dark Tower books ever since, but things get in the way. This will be a great way to get back into it.

Alternate: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson.  I love Shirley Jackson – her short story, “The Lottery,” is one of the best ever written, in my opinion, and I also absolutely loved The Haunting of Hill House. I can’t wait to read more from her, so hopefully there will be enough time for me to get to this one as well (I do plan on it, actually, but I don’t want to set the bar too high with so much else happening right now).

So, that’s it! The end to one extraordinary event and the commencement of another. I hope you all had a great time with Austen in August this year, and if you plan on participating in RIP X, let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts and reading/viewing plans.  

Book Review, Compilation Fiction, Contemporary, Contemporary American, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, Hanya Yanagihara, LGBT, Literature, Loss, Monthly Review

Thoughts: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This is the first formal review I’ve written for Roof Beam Reader in five months, when I reviewed Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven in February. As with that book, I find, this time, that I’m unable to move onto other reading until my thoughts and reactions about this one are evacuated. It’s just one of those books. This post is bound to be lengthy, so I apologize in advance for that. But, as I set out to write my thoughts on this peculiar and devastating book, I find that I must clarify my position on two points that have significantly influenced my reaction to the novel.

Two Major Issues:

First: the book has been heralded as the long-awaited “great gay novel.” This description is not only maddeningly inaccurate, it is dangerously wrong. Despite appearances, this is not a novel about gay life, about homosexuality or coming out; it is not about sexuality or sexual identity at all. This is a book about friendship and love battling to save the life of someone who is haunted by memories of pedophilia and rape, sexual and physical abuse, psychosis, emotional trauma and sadism, and who cannot escape except through self-criticism and self-harm.

While any of these terrible things could be relevant to gay life, they are also relevant to straight life. The problem is: calling this book the “great gay novel” and then expecting readers to equate homosexuality, gay identity, with child sexual abuse and pedophilia as some kind of post hoc ergo propter hoc relationship is what gay rights activists have been fighting against for so very long. Jude St. Francis does not end up in a gay relationship because he was abused, as a child and an adult, by men. Jude St. Francis is not even gay: he is sexless; no, he is de-sexed.

The comparison that these reviewers make are perhaps unconscious, but they are all the more dangerous for that (worse: a part of me wonders if this push is due to cultural realities: it’s “time” for the great gay novel, so this must be it). I prefer the description given on the book’s own inside-flap: “An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light.” Yes, that’s it, for the most part. Let’s hope later editions remain true to this description and not the disturbingly misleading ones that outside forces have attempted to place on it.

That being said, in an academic sense, calling this book a “great queer novel” makes a lot of sense. The difficulty is helping people understand the difference between a “gay” novel and a “queer” one. The book is wildly anti-heteronormative. There are some straight people in the book, major and minor, but the majority of the main characters are somehow “othered,” as are their histories and relationships. For example, one character is adopted as an adult, another is parentless; one character is bisexual, another is gay but struggles with it; one character is disabled, another seems able to change his body almost at will.

Gender and sexuality in this book are uncomplicatedly fluid: transgender issues come up, for instance, as does lesbianism and the cis-gendered. In this way, yes, call it a great queer novel. Call it a study of male friendship that refuses to be categorized. But do not call it the great gay novel, as the relationship at the heart of the story has nothing to do with sexuality: the main character is basically asexual and his eventual lover is basically heterosexual even though he ends up with another biological male. Most importantly, their love, their partnership, has far less to do with sexual identity than it does with non-sexual romantic friendship.

This is all my reaction to others’ descriptions of the book, however. There’s nothing the author or publisher have said (that I know of) which reflects such a flawed perspective on the story, and the story itself doesn’t presume to present itself that way, either.

Second: My personal experience reading this book might be far different from most, and that is because I intimately understand and relate to it. Because of the nature of this book, of Jude St. Francis’s life, and Willem’s, I can’t say any more than this. Suffice it to say, it is a deep struggle for me to separate myself from this story in order to review it objectively as a work of art. But I’m going to do my best.

Thoughts on the Book:

Essentially, this is a book about friendship. The characters are the heart and soul of this novel, especially the main character, Jude, who, despite his tragic past, is the core of the four friends’ lives. They (Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm) met as college freshman, although Jude was only 16 at the time. Each of the characters is special in some way: Willem the actor; JB the artist; Malcolm the architect; Jude the lawyer. They all struggle, at first, but each will eventually reach wild levels of success. One can imagine that they were able to achieve their successes only because of their friendship, although this is never specifically granted by the novel itself.

Outside their friendship are other characters, major and minor, some of whom arrive and remain (Jude’s adoptive parents, for instance, and his doctor) and others that serve a purpose and then disappear. There are not many women in the story, which has been a point of contention for some, but Yanagihara has already explained her reasoning for this (it’s a story about male friendship and the many varied ways that friendship can manifest itself) and I take no issue with the lack.

An interesting and admirable element, in my opinion, is the narrative voice which is at times third-person with varied relativity to one or another of the characters depending on whose story is being told at the time, and sometimes, much less frequently, in the first-person, as when a character is relaying things directly (usually in a kind of monologue, which I imagined as dictation or epistolary in nature, but could just as well be a character speaking aloud to himself). This narrative approach allows for two things: first, the mysterious, slow, painful revelation of Jude’s backstory; we the reader know as much about Jude as the other characters do, and only bits and pieces (first, hints; then, allusions; next, minor descriptions; finally, all of it) come through, in guesses made by other characters or in sections when the narrator is closely aligned with Jude himself. This can be vexingly frustrating, but it is also brilliant in its devotion to an honest portrayal of the main character. Second, it allows the reader to get closer to Jude in the same way that the characters do, to understand how this dynamic works, fails, strains, etc.

Less interesting, less creative, is the prose style. It’s surprisingly matter of fact. I haven’t read Yanagihara before, so I’m not sure what her writing style is in general, but I will say that I think it works well, here. Even though the prose and language aren’t particularly appealing, the pages still turn. There’s a balance, here, equal to the balance between the plot and narration. The raw, almost clinical style of writing is like the raw, almost clinical way that Jude lives his life. In moments of tension, the prose style will change subtly. In moments of affection, breakthrough, break down: the same. The reader gets to know Jude, as much as is possible, and begins to realize that Jude must make great effort, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to be the person he is: he is always, always inside his own head. Every thought has some level of darkness and pain attached to it; every action is planned, agonized over, debated.

This has been one of the most intellectually and emotionally challenging reads for me. The complexity of the novel’s themes is matched by the intricacy of the narrative, the cerebral construction of story edifice and story time that allows the present and the past to unravel, slowly but significantly, so that, at a certain point about 400-pages into the book, I suddenly felt like I was just a part of this group. For me, it was like the flip of a switch.

At the half-way mark, I hated this book. I wanted to give it up.  It is painful, horrifying, depressing, and almost gratuitous. It is without hope, without joy. It is, as many have said, a type of exaggerated fantastic allegory, where the evils laid upon man are as persistent, unrelenting, scarring as can possibly be, and the goodness of friendship and true love are as pure, unwavering, angelic as can possibly be. It is a fairy tale where the only happy ending for Prince Charming is the ending every fairy tale necessarily leaves out.

There’s very little that is pleasant about this book: it is not a beautiful story and it will not be a beautiful read. I can’t recommend this book. But I can’t deny its power, either.

Suggested Reading for:

  • Age Level: Adult
  • Interest: Friendship, Sturm und Drang, Child Abuse, Self-Harm, LGBTQI+, Disabilities, Nontraditional Families.

Notable Quotes/Passages:

  • “The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.” (210)
  • “It is always easier to believe what you already think than to try to change your mind.” (369)
  • “He had forgotten that to solve someone is to want to repair them: to diagnose a problem and then not try to fix that problem seemed not only neglectful but immoral.” (517)
  • “You don’t visit the lost, you visit the people who search for the lost.” (656)