Talking to Strangers (About Books) Part 2

Greetings, intrepid readers! In my last post I talked about all the amazing things happening for bookworms on social media. I highlighted three different platforms (Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy) and detailed the top 5 types of conversations you’re likely to have among fellow readers on those apps. Today I’m going to review some of the stellar books I’ve read as a result of these conversations with strangers. All of these books were outside of my typical fluffy/frivolous reading repertoire and I never would have picked them up had I not seen in-depth reviews and quotes from readers on bookish social media. I should add these are listed in the order I read them. And some of these were partially reviewed in my post last month about the 24 in 48 Readathon.

rupi kaur milk and honey by carol on litsy
Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
It seemed like everyone who hadn’t read this book when it came out late last year was picking it up for the first time in April for National Poetry Month. I typically don’t read much poetry but I made an exception for this title. In her first book of poetry, Rupi Kaur takes us deep into her life with extremely personal poems about her childhood, past boyfriends, and learning to heal after trauma and breakups. It’s a quick read, but one that is extremely frank and open about what she’s gone through in her life. Even with all of the personal details, most women will find themselves somewhere in this book. I do love how it ends on an uplifting note, as if to say this too shall pass and I am stronger now for having gone through all of this. I also like the “everywoman” appeal of the poems as they invite each woman to look back on her relationships, her period, how she got through extremely trying times and came through stronger, though hurting.

lindy west shrill by carol on litsy
Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I am apparently the only person who had not heard of Lindy West before this book, and even so I got to it too late to see her at a reading in Seattle as she was traveling around the country on her book tour this spring. I regret not having her on my radar until now, but I have been forever changed by reading her book Shrill. Not only does Lindy tackle major topics like feminism, abortion, and rape culture, she is the number one poster child for squashing fat-shaming and having positive body acceptance. During her book I found myself questioning my own attitude towards my body, and asking myself why I let others’ opinions of what they think I should wear and what they think is appropriate or not for my body type affect what I purchase and what I wear. The day after finishing Shrill I wore a dressy pair of shorts to work. People saw my knees and I didn’t die!

roxane gay bad feminist by carol on litsy
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Reading Roxane Gay is a lot like talking with your most level-headed friend. Even if the subject matter is one that evokes strong feelings, she keeps her cool and tries to discuss these important things with you in a calm, clear manner. In Bad Feminist Roxane Gay manages to cover everything from pop culture to rape to feminism to a career in academia. She doesn’t talk down to us, but rather goes out of her way to lay out the inequalities, the injustices, the annoyances, and the facts in a matter-of-fact and yet empathetic way. There is a definite juxtaposition of mixing very serious topics with lighter ones. I was extremely fascinated reading about her time as a competitive Scrabble player. First of all, I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. But I realize that to do anything competitively there is a suggestion that your skills stand above the average person. To play Scrabble competitively implies an intellect and strength of character that few posses. Such is the case with Roxane Gay. She is smart. She is funny. She is working on a book called Hunger that I can’t wait to get my hands on, and I get the feeling I will always react with grabby hands when someone mentions a new release by her.

claudia rankine citzen an american lyric by carol on litsy
Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Every time something horrible, unjust, and tragic happens in this world, the bookish social media clusters swarm together in shared empathy, seeking understanding  to try and make sense of the senseless. Such was the case with Citizen. I want to live in a world where this book isn’t necessary–but the sad and disgusting truth is this book is very much-needed. There are many put-yourself-in-this-situation passages that are written in the second person. The use of the second person is clever and intentional in a book that tries to expose life in a racist country. Because as much as we would like to think we have evolved past racism, bigotry, and inequality, we have not. As a country, we still have so far to go it’s heartbreaking. But that’s why books like this are here for you, and why I recommend everyone read it. Everyone. Bookish social media declared this required reading for every American citizen and I wholeheartedly agree.

rebecca solnit men explain things to me by carol on litsy
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Once again my bookish social media connections raved about a book, calling it necessary reading, and once again I picked up the gauntlet. And while this book isn’t just about mansplaining–a term the author has mixed feelings about–it definitely is about the disenfranchised and the cultural missteps that need to be corrected if we are ever going to improve our communities.The passages that really stood out to me involved having a voice and being heard. Historically it has been disgustingly easy for the group in power to silence anyone else whose opinions, thoughts, feelings, or civil liberties would infringe upon the leading group’s power. But the more that people band together to share one voice–civil rights, women’s suffrage, feminism, exposing racism in one’s community–the harder it is to ignore the message.

These relatively short books packed a mighty literary punch. While I wouldn’t have sought them out on my own, I am so glad my bookish comrades urged me on. Not only was I reading out of my fluffy comfort zone, I was seeing the world through some very different perspectives. You’ll notice these books were strong on themes of racism and sexism, feminist to the core. I’m currently falling down a rabbit hole of such, with book recommendations based on these books spiraling out from my TBR pile.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with race and racism include Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with sexism and feminism include Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, and He’s a Stud, She’s a Slug and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know also by Jessica Valenti.

Hopefully you’ve not only gained some new titles to add to your TBR pile but also seen what good can come from social media. I’ve rarely encountered a troll on Goodreads, Litsy, or the #bookstagram portion of Instagram. It’s kind of like a book nerd’s utopia. We’re definitely living in the golden age of reading. Seize the day and your smartphone and join the reading revolution!

Talking to Strangers (About Books) Part 1

I know I’ve said this before but here it is again: we are living in the golden age of reading. Never before (at least in my lifetime) has it been so cool to be caught reading. It’s not unheard of to encounter people walking around town sporting vintage Vonnegut T-shirts or Jane Austen cell phone cases. Literary tattoos are plastered all over social media; chances are you know someone with at least one. We have Kindles and tablets and ebooks and downloadable audiobooks and so many ways to read a book without having an actual book in hand. Instagram has a whole community dedicated to books and readers known as #bookstagram, celebrities like Emma Watson have their own Goodreads book clubs that gets thousands of people across the world reading the same book at the same time, a new app for readers called Litsy has recently gone viral, and it seems like anyone with something to say about books has a blog–us included!

So it’s no wonder that I have been spending a lot of time lately on bookish social media. I manage some of the library accounts but most of my time on these platforms is when I’m acting as a private citizen. Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy are populated with passionate readers who love to talk about their favorite topic: books! Today I’ll be talking about some of the different types of conversations/experiences one can expect to have on bookish social media.

when harry met carol on litsy
Conversation #1: OMGZ THIS BOOK IS AH-MAY-ZING!
These are straight-up unadulterated fangirl or fanboy posts. Often initiated because of the acquisition of a long-awaited book, or one currently hot and trending. Sometimes it’s even more special, a rare first edition of a classic work of literature. People posting these photos have so much enthusiasm for what they’re talking about that their excitement practically makes the screen vibrate. Often it doesn’t take long for someone to reach out to the poster and let them know how they also have that book, or how they also want to read it so badly they just can’t hardly wait any longer. The bonds made over these posts can result in actual friendships.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram and Litsy

mindy kaling pin on instagram by bildungsromans
Conversation #2: Look at this incredible cute/useful/rare bookish accessory I acquired!
Most often populating your feed during book/library/comic conventions, these posts can spark instant jealousy–but in a good way. With the rare exception, the bookish communities lurking on these social networks tend to be a welcoming bunch with nary a troll among them. So when I say jealousy, I mean in the kind of supportive way you’d expect from the nicest person you know. And often the person replying just wants to know where he/she can acquire similar because they love it so much. Much like a bargain hunter, bookish people love to show off their newest prizes and are happy to share the shop/convention where they got such a rad thing.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Instagram and Litsy

harry potter morsmordre bookflip by bildungsromans on instagram
Conversation #3: Photo challenges.
If you use photo-centric apps you are probably familiar with photo block. It’s like writer’s block but for ideas on what to photograph. When you feel like there’s nothing new going on in your reading life to post about, you can always jump in with one of the many photo challenges floating around. Usually run by book bloggers, these challenges are meant to give inspiration and also to bring people together. Each day there is a different photo prompt, sometimes based around a central theme for the month, like Harry Potter. By following the hashtag associated with the photo challenge, you can see what everyone else is doing. I have connected with some majorly creative people through photo challenges, though I do find that if I take a month to do a photo challenge I will skip the next month. I can only take so much structure. I blame my Bohemian ancestry!
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Instagram and Litsy

a review by carol of headstrong on litsy
Conversation #4: Sharing actual quotes and illustrations from the book as I’m reading it.
What’s better than happening upon a truly insightful, inspiring, hilarious, or thought-provoking quote while reading? Sharing it instantly with strangers! You might be amazed at how many strangers you’ll connect with by sharing these quotes. I have witnessed spontaneous book clubs sprout up, and reading buddies unify. A reading buddy is someone who reads the same book as someone else at roughly the same time, like a two-person book club. Usually these are planned, but there’s something truly beautiful when you see two people connect halfway through reading the same book and then finish it out together. It can also be very satisfying to get validation from other people when you get to a particularly frustrating or profound part of a story. Even better when you have a differing opinion and opposing voices discuss it. Remember how I said nary a troll lives in the bookish part of social media? I meant it, and here’s where the proof lies.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram, Litsy

giant days post on litsy by carol
Conversation #5: If you like that book, you will love these other 10.
How many of you have ever gotten a book recommendation from a librarian? A friend? A dentist? I have received great suggestions from all three, but it seems especially magical when this recommendation comes from someone I’ve never met and probably never will meet. In conversation #4 I talked about connecting over a book that someone is currently reading and continuously posting about as he/she goes along. Conversation #5 is often the result. You just discovered this way cool read? Here are a bunch of others by the same author/in the same genre/in the same weird literary niche. Not only will this help you travel down the particular reading rabbit hole you’d stumbled across, it will often get you to read outside your comfort zone or discover authors you’d never have found if you had been left to your own devices.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram, Litsy

And that brings us to book discoveries as a result of bookish social media. Unfortunately I’ve run out of space, so this will continue with Part 2. Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion!

Jackaby or Waiting for Sequels

Well, shoot. You deserve an explanation for what you are about to read. I want you to know, dear reader, that I did not plan this. When I wrote my last post about how I wanted to approach my reading this year and featured some book titles that were of particular interest, I did not intend on reading one immediately afterward. So please do not hold me to this pace, as there is a very tempting cookbook I just spotted that is begging for the blogging treatment.

jackabyYou see, shortly after the last post was published, I found myself with some free time and a shiny new copy of Jackaby by William Ritter. R.F. Jackaby is a paranormal investigator living in New England in 1892. He’s quite smart and extremely observant, though his insight isn’t always appreciated by the local constabulary. While he goes through life helping those who need it and solving mysteries of a supernatural nature, he isn’t able to keep an assistant very long. In fact, the person who stays with him the longest is Douglas, though the reason he stays is because of an unfortunate magical accident that left him transformed into a duck. While this may sound like something out of Discword, I promise you it’s very different.

Soon Jackaby finds himself with yet another new assistant. Abigail Rook is still a teenager but is already a world adventurer, constantly traveling to new and exciting locales, though ending up on Jackaby’s doorstep was a potentially dangerous combination of a lot of bad luck and calculated risk. She’s out of money and needs both a job and a safe place to live. Jackaby solves both problems, as long as she doesn’t mind living with Douglas the duck and Jenny, a ghost who lives in the den.

This book focuses on how Abigail assists Jackaby in his investigation into a serial killer who they believe is inhuman. But what really grabbed my attention is the process Abigail goes through as she starts to realize that everything she thought she knew is wrong, and that there is a lot of crazy you-know-what going on right under her nose. The magical world is very real, and as Abigail learns more she also teaches Jackaby the benefits of real detective work: taking notes, interviewing witnesses, and generally staying out of the way of the police.

Jackaby himself is an odd combination of personality traits. He’s charming and witty like Doctor Who, but he’s also socially unaware like Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on Sherlock Holmes. Though I catch flack from my friends for not being a Whovian, I am fully versed in BC’s Sherlockian nonsense and I am desperate for new Sherlock episodes.

But even more than that, Jackaby helped delay my years-long craving for the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviners. I’ve read that the long-awaited sequel will be out this summer, but that’s a story I’ve heard in years past. However, those who loved The Diviners like I did will appreciate not just the supernatural aspect of Jackaby but also how fast-paced the story was.

IMG_20150203_183711I read Jackaby in two days, and got my husband to read it shortly afterward. Now we’re both craving the sequel. Which, I guess in the scheme of things, is a problem you want to have. I’m having a difficult time turning the book back in to the library, as I reported recently on Instagram and it became one of my most loved images. I can’t blame ’em. Jackaby goes with every outfit and reading taste. So what are you waiting for?