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!

New Year, New TBR

I am waving a white flag of surrender, admitting defeat, giving up. I had an uber-ambitious list of reading resolutions in 2014 and I did not complete it. However, I did manage to cross off 8 of the 12, meaning it’s by far my most successful set of resolutions I’ve ever attempted. Here’s a last look back at what I wanted to read last year:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular 
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Not bad, right? Granted, I could have done more. But by the time the leaves started changing colors I realized I was left with the most challenging selections. I was running short on both time and desire to actually put in the work required to complete my list. And it definitely felt like work. As someone who was once forced to read a bunch of books against my will (aka required summer reading in school) I didn’t want to resent reading, and that’s what it started to feel like: resentment.

With that in mind I’d like to tell you what my plan will be this year: nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I will be reading. I’m not a monster! I just won’t be planning it out ahead of time. Instead of a list of reading resolutions, I want to show you some of the books I missed out on last year that I hope to read this year. But I’m not going to lose any sleep if I don’t read them all!

Carol’s 2015 TBR (To Be Read):

textsTexts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Synopsis: Hilariously imagined text conversations–the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange–from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield
Why I want to read it: A book that fictionalizes electronic communication between some of my most beloved literary characters, from Sherlock Holmes to Nancy Drew. How could I skip this one?


steampunkThe Steampunk User’s Manual
by Jeff VanderMeer and Desirina Boskovich
Synopsis: A conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator.
Why I want to read it: Steampunk! I just started getting into reading steampunk fiction in 2014, and I’d like to learn more about the subculture before I attend Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) in March.

 

jackabyJackaby by William Ritter
Synopsis: Newly arrived in 1892 New England, Abigail Rook becomes assistant to R.F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with the ability to see supernatural beings, and she helps him delve into a case of serial murder which, Jackaby is convinced, is due to a nonhuman creature.
Why I want to read it: While I hope hope hope (!) the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviners will be out in 2015, I’d like to read Jackaby to tide me over, since it sounds like it might be a literary kindred spirit.

 

batmanBatman ’66 Vol. 1 by Jeff Parker
Synopsis: DC Comics re-imagines the classic Batman TV series in comics form for the first time! These all-new stories portray The Caped Crusader, The Boy Wonder and their fiendish rogues gallery just the way viewers remember them.
Why I want to read it: My favorite Batman was always Adam West, and I am obsessed with that campy portrayal of the Dark Knight in all forms, including this new comic series. It’ll also help get me in the mood for ECCC, where I’m sure to encounter at least a few amateur caped crusaders from the Pacific Northwest.

dont touchDon’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
Synopsis: 16-year-old Caddie struggles with OCD, anxiety, and a powerful fear of touching another person’s skin, which threatens her dreams of being an actress–until the boy playing Hamlet opposite her Ophelia gives her a reason to overcome her fears.
Why I want to read it: Um, did you read that synopsis? Swoon!

Regardless of whether or not I read all or any of these appealing books in 2015 the fact remains there are some great books out there. What’s in your TBR?