Social Distance Summer Reading List

Your reading List Is Here!

Summer is here and social distancing is still encouraged, which means it is time for our sweet summer reading list (with a social distance twist) to make a comeback. 

I am a lover of literature. In fact, when I read, it can appear as if I am full on attacking the book. Brenton has described the way I read books as “gobbling” and my entire family knows not to mess with me while I’m reading. 

Summer Reading List Fun

As a kid, one of my favorite things about summer was the unlimited and uninterrupted time to read. I would check out books from the library weekly (like Matilda), read everything in the house if I ran out of library books, and for the majority of my formative years I got to go to Harry Potter midnight book releases at my local mall bookstore (which was by far my favorite event of the summer). 

I’ll stop now before this becomes a love letter to books but needless to say I think books are the most magical inanimate objects that we get to spend our time with. Being literate is a damn privilege. 

Reading Resolutions

I know a lot of you may not share my romance towards paper friends but I also know that one of the most common New Year resolutions people make is to READ MORE. 

So, since we have all this time at home, nowhere to go, and access to the world wide web I’m going to share with you my top fiction literary friends for big kids (or adults depending on how you see yourself). 

One last thing for those of you who “don’t like to read” or may not have time. Have you given audiobooks a try? I’ve got an affiliate link with audible located below. Give it a try before you write off the magic of books completely!

*Links in this post are affiliate links.

The Fiction Reading List

Harry Potter

I can’t create a book list without including my tried and true literary best friend. If I could reread one book series for the first time and relive the magic of uncovering all the details this would be it. I don’t care how old you are, if your mother told you this series is evil, or if you hate fantasy – this is a well written, fully developed, deeply rooted in our current environment series. If you have skipped out on reading the series because you “watched the movies,” YOU MISSED OUT – read them. I beg of you. 

I spent an entire summer as a pre-teen trying to figure out what would happen in the 7th book of this series and you, you lucky little unicorn, you get to read them all back to back. Enjoy! The series starts light (books 1-3), delves into the darker subjects (books 4 and 5), then takes a deep dive into the tragedies of living in a society that would rather accept the status quo than accept that evil lives among them (books 6 and 7). I revisit this series every time I need a boost in my faith in humanity. Hogwarts is my literary home away from home. The importance of choosing to live a life of love when the world feels bleak is the golden thread of this series. Dig in! 

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

Little Fires Everywhere

A custody battle, family arguments and a mystery on who started the fire. This is a modern classic packed with detail and care. A statement about the ignorance behind the idea of a post-racial world is poignant. The story takes place in the 90’s and reminds us of how far we’ve come – and how far we still have to go.

The Female Persuasion: A Novel 

Another tried and true classic of mine. I posted a blog post about this book when I read it a couple years back and I still think about the plot. Wolitzer is able to create REAL characters in all of her works and this novel is no exception. This book delves into the generational differences of the women’s rights movement and the fight that we are still embodying today. 

The characters are robust, the plot is both political and personal and this is a work of art with great importance.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

I read this masterpiece in high school and I still think about it often. The writing is lyrical, the story is so profoundly independent and the pace is steady throughout the novel. This is a peak into a life that, as a white woman in the 21st century, I could not have imagined. Books like this are why it is so crucial to read literature from BIPOC authors.

Anna Karenina

If modern literature isn’t your thing here is a Russian classic. Honestly, this is the best novel I have ever read. There’s a city mouse, country mouse like drama, failed romances and the tragedy of passionless relationships. The human experience in all forms.

Conclusion

I’ve started with some chunky reads so I’m going to leave you here for now. Leave a comment or send me a message if you would like to see more or have a non-fiction summer reading list added. 

Happy Reading!!

South and West by Joan Didion

I love Joan Didion’s writing style.

I’m going to preface this by saying non-fiction is not usually my jam unless it is a memoir written by a hilarious women (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Anna Kendrick, etc..). Reality is pretty bleak most of the time so I prefer to escape into a book that stretches my imagination and pushes me out of the normal day to day. But, I made an exception because Joan Didion is a literary goddess.

If you have not had the pleasure of reading one of Didion’s novels I’ll give you the cliff notes intro to Joan. She writes in a direct yet lyrical manner. She can make the mundane sound beautiful without removing the fact that it is still mundane. I’ll give you a little excerpt from the West section of the book:

“I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look “right” to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places.”

How gorgeous is that prose? It gives me chills and makes me feel at home at the same time.

Now that we are all caught up let’s dig into the book. South and West is a collection of journal entries from when Joan traveled to the Gulf Coast in 1970 and to San Francisco in 1976. The portion on the South is well over ⅔ of the book and it is mesmerizing. As a rebel by nature she commentates from the perspective of a baffled but genuinely curious Californian. Her commentary on the Gulf is heart wrenching, upsetting and wildly uncomfortable for me to read because there’s a level of acceptance at cultural stagnation.

What I loved about the South section was that she was able to observe the culture and people of this new geographic location while being true to herself. She does not give into the patriarchal society that constantly asks about her husband. Her husband is rarely mentioned in these notes; she aims her focus at the places they travel and conversations she overhears. At the end of South she has painted the picture that the Gulf is a tragic marshland, filled with creatures that would terrify tourists if they weren’t on display and with people who hold tightly to their status quo even if it is to their detriment.

The portion on the West is much shorter. It’s like a love letter to the state Didion called home for her formative years. Didion’s notes are speckled with self-awareness. She includes details on what her normal was as a child which juxtaposes the idyllic childhood of the South through access to cultures alone. California is painted as a place deep with history but without the same reverence behind it. Cultural trends come and go without much consideration for who they leave behind.

I absolutely loved reading through these notes for two pieces she never wrote. Her succinct tone in combination with her ability to identify the toxic symptoms of two cultures without coming off as callous is pure magic. The sections unintentionally explain America as a whole. The South is tied so deeply to their roots they are willing to sink in to the marsh with them and the West is untethered, willing to float off with the next exciting idea. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories from the view of an observer with heavy social commentary.

Have you ready any Didion? If so, what do you think of her style?

Harry Potter is Chicken Soup for my Grown Up Soul

We all talk about comfort foods but how often do we think about our other comforts – like comfort books.

For example, I love my stepfathers homemade mac n cheese even though my body cannot digest that much dairy and I immediately feel safe and powerful while holding a cup of coffee. B’s ideal comfort meal is a grilled cheese or two with just enough tomato soup for dipping.

But the older I get, the more I realize that I books make me feel just as secure as a good meal. I have books that I turn to when things just don’t feel right and I have books for when I just want to feel good. It is with a 9/10 time guarantee that on any day, that book can be one of the seven Harry Potters.

Harry Potter has been the one constant in my life. As a child I read, reread, and then rereread the books that were out and hung out on mugglenet.com to talk to other fanatics who also could not wait for the next book. My sweet angel lady of a mother drove me to the bookstore every book drop at midnight so I could take my new possession home and devour it through the night and in to the next morning. I drank in every word of J.K. Rowling’s craft.

I marveled at her ability to make the tiniest details significant later down the line. She created a world that I wanted to be real more than anything else. Harry’s world was complex; there was a lot of good, a significant amount of evil and it drilled in the importance of seeing the full picture before making a judgement on someone’s character. It introduced me to stories that were scary but still felt safe. Rowling always found a way to balance the overarching presence of evil with the joys that occur day to day. I was reminded by Dumbledore, Lupin, Ron and many others that to find joy I just had to look for love in the world. I was reminded by Hermione that being smart didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to also be brave, by Luna that being as weird as I wanted was the key to success and by Ginny that the happiest relationships are the ones you can be yourself in.

I have revisited these books more times than I can count and every time I do, I feel like I am at home. I feel safe. After finishing a Harry Potter, or the whole series for the millionth time, I am reminded that I can change the world – just like three kids at Hogwarts who were constantly at odds with evil.

So after a long day, or a bad day, or just a busy period of time; that is where you will find me. Wrapped up in blankets, laying out in the sunshine or riding in the car with my nose in a Harry Potter book, channelling my inner Hermione as I escape to a world that inspires me to find love and joy in my day to day. After all as Dumbledore said, “words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic”.

What’s you literary chicken soup? Add it to the list below:

But Really Though Reads – Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been in a  ~ sp0oKy~ fantasy reading mood lately and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are hitting the spot.

None of the Discworld books are even remotely close to horror but they scratch the itch of light and dark magic emotions that come up during autumn (aka spook season). I picked Wyrd Sisters as my introduction to Discworld on a whim. I’m under the impression that the characters overlap but it is not necessary to read the history of the planet that travels on the back of the sky turtle in order.

Wyrd Sisters is the story of three witches and how willing they are to break their own rules of magic to help their kingdom. The three witches are only a coven by definition; they have more differences in agreement than their alignment to each other. Our three leading ladies are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. Granny is the eldest witch and the least willing to participate in anything showy or fluffy. Nanny is promiscuous and life of the party. Magrat is the youngest and an idealist about the state of her coven.

The three women venture through time and space, which is much out of Granny’s comfort zone, to assist the Kingdom (personified not as individuals) in removing an awful king from power. The story is witty, hilarious and alludes to the showy witches of fairytales (Cinderella’s fairy godmother makes a cameo).

I highly recommend Wyrd Sisters to anyone who loves a magical world with a sarcastic twist. I will definitely be visiting Discworld again.  

But Really Though Reads – The Female Persuasion

I finished another book and I can’t stop thinking about it. I gobbled through Meg Wolitzer’s newest book The Female Persuasion over the last two weeks and it has left me in the strangest emotional place.

If you have not read anything by Wolitzer please do yourself a favor and pick up one of her novels now. Her stories are what I imagine we would have gotten if Sylvia Plath had access to Prozac (and her YA novel Belzhar is proof). Wolitzer creates her characters from all angles meaning that the reader gets to see them through multiple perspectives (themselves and others) in the book. Just like in reality, the character has no idea and no control over what others think of them. The feelings are raw and the strings don’t tie up neatly, but her writing encompasses the human emotional scale.

With this prior experience in Wolitzer’s worlds I picked up The Female Persuasion thinking I was prepared for the uncomfortable moments and the characters that make me squirm. I was not ready for the journey we take through Greer Kadesky and Faith Frank’s lives. Greer meets Frank when Frank speaks at Greer’s college. Wolitzer carries us lovingly through the beginning of the professional relationship between the second and third wave feminist duo. The novel touches on intersectionality, the recognition of privilege and the importance of a feminist boyfriend. Wolitzer also highlights where the animosity between second and third wave feminism stems from through anecdotes from Faith and Greer’s lives.

I’m going to stop here before I ruin the novel for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Wolitzer’s novel is filled with triumph, heartbreak, deceit, confusion, tragedy and ends on the importance of everyone using their power for good until they cannot anymore.

Have you read The Female Persuasion yet? If so, what did you think of it?

But Really Though Reads – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Maybe I’m spoiled from reading Harry Potter as a kid but it takes a special writer to get me to buy in to a fictional world. I love the world of fantasy but a magical universe has to be not only well thought out, but descriptive and vivid as well. Neil Gaiman is a master of fantasy. He is able to describe locations with enough detail to set the stage but with enough blanks to let the reader’s imagination run wild.

Neil Gaiman created a fantastical world right on the edge of reality. Well, actually he put it in the world beneath us. Neverwhere is a story about people who fall through the cracks. The novel takes place in the London Underground (literally). The characters in this story live in the subways and sewers as either invisible creatures or the people none of us want to make eye contact with on the street. The description of London underground is so realistic it has me looking in doorways and down drain pipes for a gateway to the world of forgotten people.

Our heroine is not a femme fatale – she unlocks the mysteries to the magic. The point that she is the key to everything is made painfully obvious by two things: 1. Her magical ability to unlock doors and puzzles, 2. Her name is Door.

Not only did the heroine entice me – Gaiman’s ability to make London seem magical yet identical to any major city is magical. I’ll give you a little taste of his magic.

“It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces; a city of hundreds of districts with strange names…and oddly distinct identities; a noisy, dirty, cheerful, troubled city, which fed on tourists, needed them as it despised them, in which the average speed of transportation through the city had not increased in three hundred years” 

Neverwhere has opened my eyes to the underground in my own city, the people who have slipped through the cracks. It can be a heartbreaking concept to think about (homelessness, poverty, etc) but it reminded me to keep looking for the deeper meaning in each person and interaction.

Reading about the fantastical lives of the people living in the subway told me to look for magic every doorway and reminded me that I have the key.

Please please please read this book and talk to me about it. I’m obsessed with Gaiman’s magic and the characters of London Underground.

But Really Though Reads – Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

B and I went out for a walk in SF today and we magically ended up near a bookstore. Being the bibliophile that I am we had to take a “quick look around”. My quick look turned into a $30 purchase of two books – one of which I promptly went home and read cover to cover today. The book I chose to spend my Sunday with is Sex Object by Jessica Valenti.

Funnily enough, I have put Sex Object in my Amazon shopping cart upwards of 12 times only to then decide to purchase another work of fiction or a collection of essays instead (I apologize to my past self- I don’t know what I was thinking). I have failed myself by delaying the delivery of this book into my hands – it is amazing.

Valenti doesn’t reclaim the title of sex object, but instead provides anecdotes on how she has come to accept this as part of her identity; not because of anything she has done but because society, specifically through the male gaze, has told her this about herself. Valenti provides powerful truths about being a woman in a world that hates women and she doesn’t leave room for the fluff. Sex Object is neither a fight call or a pity party, it is the truth and that is what makes it so powerful.

Valenti and I share many differences but I could relate to her in every story she told. She explained the guilt we feel as women for telling men no. How, even as a published author and feminist, she can still be made to feel small by comments by men. She explains how easy and common it is for us to not react to someone treating us poorly because we like them or their nice or we don’t want to blow up our friendships. She puts into words the emotions we are forced to carry from all the misogyny and blatantly shitty things men (or women –  anyone can be a sexist) do to women.

Thank you, Jessica Valenti for creating something that felt cathartic to read. Thank you for not forcing a silver lining into every story. It was beautiful and painful and still managed to be humorous.

If you want to buy the book I’ve included a link here.

But Really Though Reads: What Happened

I love Hillary Rodham Clinton. If you have a different opinion of her, especially a derisively negative one, I respect that but I need you to walk away from this post now.

 

Because I love and respect the woman that we would all be calling Madam President if our country hadn’t fucked that up (looking at you white women) I preordered her book months before it came out. My book arrived on Friday September 22nd, and I finished it by Sunday evening.

 

“What Happened” is more than just Hillary’s side of the story. It’s a beautifully crafted love letter to those who supported Hillary and a declaration of hope for a better tomorrow for all Americans. If Hillary can still get out of bed and do something positive with her life after being defeated by a system that was created to protect us, then the least the rest of us can do is RESIST.

 

Hillary’s book is a call to action for her supporters and all progressives. She reminds us that change takes time, effort and whole lot of hope for a better tomorrow. “What Happened” was a reminder to continue calling my representatives. I try to write a letter to my representatives 5 days a week. This may seem time consuming or excessive but I use ResistBot to fax my reps during my morning commute. Text 504-09 to join the resistance. I’ve even received letters back from my local representative.

 

In her book, Hillary also addresses the importance of not taking shit from men. She reminds us of the horrible comments and accusations she faced from her opposition. She also mentions the Bernie issue. Hillary is an intelligent woman who wanted to offer people the best possible plan that she could execute. Bernie wanted to light a fire. His fire resulted in burning the youth vote for her. Unfortunately, many of my fellow millennials did not share the same reverence for our former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. My personal opinion is that they lacked the knowledge of politics before the Obama era and didn’t understand the what the catastrophic results of a divided democratic party would be.

 

She has paved the way for another woman to reach the highest glass ceiling in the USA – and hopefully that next woman, assuming she is qualified, will shatter it.

My Favorite Things from July to Beat Summertime Sadness

Summer, as a concept, is weird when you no longer get to spend it sitting at home marathoning ANTM between hanging out with friends and working a minimum wage job. I may never get over the shock that corporations don’t take summer breaks but these are things that helped me make it through July.

TV:

British Bake-Off (Great British Baking Competition)

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THIS IS THE MOST WHOLESOME THING ON TV. I’ve always heard that the show was addicting, but I did not know that is was so NICE. I know it’s a competition but I don’t think the contestants care. After watching the three seasons available on Netflix my faith in humanity has been restored.

GLOW

I love Alison Brie. GLOW puts her over the top acting chops to the test and she delivers. She humanized the “other woman” while still remaining true to her characters narcissistic tendencies. She’s developed a character that I can’t quite hate, almost like a Marnie (from GIRLS) lite.

Books:

American Gods

Hands down, this is the best book I’ve read in a long time. While the extended version rivals Anna Karenina in length it is well worth the extra pages. The highlight of this novel is the character development of the gods. Each deity represents a small portion of the religion or belief they stem from. Beautiful novel with a spellbinding story.

Skincare:

Simple face wipes

Tried and true best friend for the summer sweaty face. I keep these in my purse to cool my face off after the gym. I also use them to take my makeup off at night when I’m too lazy to wash my face and I use them in the morning to wipe off my night cream. I know, the beauty gurus say face wipes are the anti-christ but my skin has never looked better.

Lush Dark Angels

On the days when I actually bother to take off my makeup I use Lush’s Dark Angels to clean out my ginormous pores. A little goes a long way with this and nine times out of ten I leave my sink looking dirtier than when I started but it’s magic for your face. I’ve used this product off and on for the last 6 months or so and every time I consistently use it my face improves exponentially.

Clothing:

Topshop Jamie Jeans

I am a self-proclaimed pants hater. My resentment specifically manifests on denim. Jeans are tight, uncomfortable and usually boring. To keep up with the current fashion trend of normcore, boring, plain clothing I decided I needed to buy some jeans so I went full basic and bought the ones that youtubers won’t shut up about. Topshops jeans are ridiculously comfy. They’re stretchy, they’re flattering and they come in a variety of colors and styles. I love the Jamie jeans and now wear them religiously. On a cool day the comfort level can almost pass for leggings which is a win in my book.

Workout:

Public Yoga Classes

I am an avid YWA fangirl. Youtube workouts are my shit and Adriene makes yoga make sense. Recently B and I decided it was time to take our home yogas out to a yoga studio. I found a Groupon for a local studio so naturally we went with the cheapest one. The class we took was a Hatha Flow Level 1 and we loved it. After the practice the yoga instructor complimented our practice and I’ve never seen B happier. I highly recommend supplementing your home practice with the occasional public class.

But Really Though Reads: Normal by Warren Ellis

Lately I have been reading more to write more (or at least that’s the lie I’ve been telling myself to set aside time to read more).

My most recent read was Normal by Warren Ellis. Normal is a dystopian tech-thriller. This niche category of science fiction includes works like Blade Runner and 1984.

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The succinct novel takes place in a surveillance society not too different from our own. It begins with Adam arriving to Normal Head a mental health hospital for those who have been driven insane by their jobs of “staring into the abyss”. The patients of Normal Head divide themselves by their careers from the outside world; big business paid v nonprofit workers. Adam has played both sides which makes him a slightly more reliable narrator than any other patient at Normal Head; but as the doctor at Normal Head tells Adam “Everyone here is batshit.”

Normal is puzzling, uncannily too close to our current surveillance culture and highly engaging. It has stuck with me days after finishing the novel. The paranoia is palpable from the first page and builds until the last. Every character represents a different approach to dealing with a reality that encourages paranoia, much like our current world. The smokescreen of the pro’s of the surveillance society is lifted and what is left is chilling.  

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants to knock a book out in one sitting (I read it in an evening because I could NOT put it down). It’s also great for those of us who love a good conspiracy theory or for those who still recall the uncanny feeling they got while reading Orwell’s 1984.

Leave a comment if you’ve read Normal and let me know your thoughts!

 

*SPOILER* 

 

Did anyone else get Kafka’s Metamorphosis vibes while reading this book?