Top Ten Tuesday: Fiction Pet Peeves

Oh, fiddlesticks…the wtf topics keep occurring over at Top Ten Tuesday, so I’m making my own today. Since I did nonfiction last week, I’ll delve into fiction today. Here goes:

Top Ten Pet Peeves in Fiction

  1. The “woman of stone.” I love kick-ass women characters, but sometimes, in the pursuit of the ultimate bad-ass gal, the author will create a woman character so devoid of emotion that she is, in many ways, psychologically a man. Just the trophe the writer seeks to avoid by making the character a woman. I think it is ok to make women characters that do kick ass and take the time to do other things, like pause and cry, for instance. Nothing wrong with that.
  2. Atypical boys = homosexuality. I love quirk, but all too often quirk (lack of sports interest, nerdiness, awkwardness around girls, etc) in male characters is imagined as a gay character. I don’t have a problem with gay characters, but I do have an issue with the perception that there is only one way to be a straight boy, and anything beyond an interest in sports and chasing girls means he must be gay. I find this a lot in YA. Ugh…stop it.
  3. Contrived diversity/tokenism. Of course in the whitest of all White settings, the main character manages to have two chatty, Black girl best friends. Like, of course. For example, in the novel Moxie, we’re talking a very small Texas town that’s nearly 98% White. How, then, does the main character happen to find the only Latina, Black, and lesbian girls in town and befriend them in the name of feminism? Beats me. This is why tokenism sucks–it appears to be ‘diverse’ on the surface, but there’s no yielding of the dominant narrative and absolutely no knowledge of a different perspective is gained. The “color” here was for the purpose of symbolism only.
  4. Rape/torture porn. I’ve written about this a lot here, so I won’t go into super detail because you already know how I feel about this, but it goes like this: we don’t need any more excessively detailed descriptions of rape, torture, violence, sexual abuse, etc. on paper. We know what these horrors are and what they do psychologically and physically to a victim. If a writer does choose to explore those subjects in a book, I feel like it should be political/critical in nature or to emphasize the development or growth of a character. Simply writing about a woman getting raped over and over does not challenge the abuser or the act, it just assents to the notion that women should be somewhere suffering for the sake of good storytelling. Not cool.
  5. Love at first sight. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m tired of YA characters finding their soulmate on the first day of school as their lab partner in bio class. They have no chemistry, but he’s “hot” and after dating only once, they’re hopelessly and endlessly in love. Bitchhhhhh….please.
  6. Change through abuse. This is kinda related to torture porn, but in a different direction. Here, the love interest from bio class is an abusive jerk whose function is to change or “soften” the strongly-willed (usually female) main character. It’s a sad and very old, sexist trope–that “change” must occur through domination, the breaking of someone’s will. Also not cool.
  7. Forgiveness, always. I love the idea of forgiveness as much as the next gal, but sometimes the person hurting you is just so plain nasty that I don’t think forgiveness is possible. And that’s ok, Dr. Phil, because not everybody deserves to be forgiven. I’ve found this kinda kumbaya, “let’s-hug-it-out-at-the-end” b.s. in a lot of books where family dysfunction is at the forefront and it sucks, because let’s face it, sometimes family members will do more fucked up things to you than a stranger. It’s ok to say no to abuse and mistreatment, even by family members.
  8. Books where the writer describes the main character’s appearance. Yep, this is still happening. I always maintain that a good book need not describe the character’s looks–if the writer is doing their job right, details on their appearance never need to be explicitly shared. You can still have a fleshed out character without going into detail about how he’s a Harry Styles clone, ma’am. LOL.
  9. Very slow action. Like, reeeaaalll slow. Like, we’re on page 50 and the main character is just now leaving the house. Molasses in the plot, snails in the dialogue. First I’ll flip ahead, then it’s a quick DNF, next.
  10. Side characters with no real purpose. We all know this: books with a evil side character whose only purpose for existing seems to be to foil the main character’s intentions. Why are they so bitchy? Well, this is never explained. I understand that the novel isn’t from their perspective, and that’s fine, but if you’re going to make a side character psychopathic in their badness, a little insight is warranted, yanno?

Ok, back to studying…

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Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction Reads

Hmm…I haven’t really been feelin any of the last 3-4 Top Ten Tuesday topics lately.  Book with my favorite color in the title? Poo. Books we’d “slay a lion” to get early? Nah…I like lions.

Anyway, I’ve decided to make up my own Top Ten Tuesday based a genre that I go to quite frequently: non-fiction. So here’s my Top Ten Favorite Non-Fiction Reads from the past 5 years or so. Enjoy!

Top Ten Nonfiction Reads

  1. Buck: A Memoir, M.K. Asante. This a very solid memoir about a young Black man’s upbringing in a middle class Philadelphia household in the 80s and 90s. His father is the very famous Molefi Asante, a scholar known for bringing Afrocentrism to the forefront of academia. Despite his well-known father, M.K. struggles with a lot of issues that don’t get talked about much, because most books written about Black life are not from a middle class perspective. Very solid, readable book.
  2. A Bestiary, Lily Hoang. This book kinda defies genre. If I could describe it, I’d give it the title of “nonfiction fiction memoir.” It’s a gathering of facts, personal stories, biographical insights, observations. Normally I hate this kinda of crazy quilt, pastiche effect (check this review) but I LOVED this book. Everything fit together perfectly.
  3. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique Morris. This book’s a part of the dissertation research I’m working on, but it’s still an enjoyable and very fact-based read. As a Black female, I think it is lamentable that I am still more likely, simply based on my race, to be incarcerated, expelled from school, or drop out of school altogether. Black girls are also 6 times more likely to be suspended from school than White girls, even though they exhibit the same behaviors. Great read.
  4. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer. This book is an eye-opener to the world of the working poor. It is not excuse making (see this review) nor is it poverty-shaming, it is just the day to day realities for people who work 40-60 hours a week and, due to the fact that we haven’t raised the minimum wage in fucking years, barely have enough to buy toilet paper. A very readable, informative book.
  5. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond. The author of this book traveled to Milwaukee and spend time with people on all sides of the low-rent housing market for year: investors, the landlords, the people who call these places home and get put out time and time again, the judges whose sole job it is to evict people, often to the streets with no other recourse. Normally I don’t care about who wins a Pulitzer Prize, but this book deserved it–hands down.
  6. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you haven’t read any of Coates’ articles on race relations in The Atlantic then you definitely should be. He is pretty much the writer right now when it comes to critical race issues and the public conversations going on around them. I was going to write a review of this book here when I read it a while back but I realized that it was so good, I literally had nothing to say. A mic-dropper.
  7. They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan, Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, & Judy Bernstein. When I included a quote from this book on this website, one of the authors (Judy Bernstein) sent me an email and offered me a copy of this book. Of course I said yes, because this book touched my heart. It’s the story of three boys, all very young (10-13 years old) and left orphaned by their families due to the civil war in Sudan. They escape the country, but cross rivers, hostile territories, deserts, endure dangerous predators, starvation. It’s a harrowing book.
  8. A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, Linda Sue Park. Another book about one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, only with a YA centered focus and contrasted with a modern story from 2008. Salva is a boy who escaped the Sudanese Civil War in 1985, Nya is a girl who walks miles to fetch water. Their stories intersect beautifully. Loved this book!
  9. There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, Alex Kotlowitz. This story takes place in the 1980’s in the Henry Horner Homes, one of Chicago’s most notoriously violent, drug and gang infested housing projects. The story centers around Pharoah and his brother Lafeyette, living with their mother and literally dodging bullets on their way to school. Even though they’ve since torn down the Horner projects, this is still a relevant read, especially if you want to understand why Chicago leads the country in gun-related violence. There is a kinda humanizing effect here to inner-city lives that I haven’t found elsewhere in nonfiction.
  10. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, Jonathan Kozol. I don’t think you can call yourself an educator if you’ve never read Kozol–he’s quite a prolific writer and his books are widely taught in teacher education courses. This book is a kind of follow-up to other books that he has written over the years about children in poverty. Some of the stories end on a positive note, some are tragic. It’s still a great book, however, by a great author.

Whew, my hand’s tired. I get fired up when writing about nonfiction, that’s all. See ya’ll later this week.

xoxo,

Kellan

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Take Place in Another Country

For this Top Ten Tuesday I had to go back in my mental filing cabinet for a moment. I try to keep my reading choices diverse–plenty of books about people of different races, ages, religions, cultures, social backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual identities, dis/abled persons. I’ve ready plenty of books ABOUT and BY people from countries outside the U.S., but how many have I read that take place IN another country, where the entire context of the narrative is outside of the U.S.?

So in order to be consistent with my interpretation of this topic, here’s the criteria I followed:

  • The book had to take place entirely in another country. America could not be a point of reference at any time (i.e., immigration to or from the U.S. was a no-no)
  • The book could not be about Americans in countries outside the U.S. (that would make it an American experience, wouldn’t it?)
  • The book could not take place in another industrialized, European influenced nation that’s kinda like the U.S. (i.e., Canada, Britain)
  • The country could not be unnamed. There are a lot of books that have foreign settings, but for whatever artistic reason, the author does not specifically name the country where the action takes place. For example, “Beasts of No Nation” is framed in this way (the setting is understood to be Africa, but the actual name of the country is never given).
  • The country could not be fictional. I love Wakanda too, but because it technically does not exist, it wouldn’t count. I know, I know… (*frowns*)
  1. Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement. Locale: Mexico. Didn’t really care for this book, but it’s a very interesting story set in the Mexican countryside about a girl who lives in fear of kidnapping by narco-traffickers.
  2. Golden Boy, Tara Sullivan. Locale: Tanzania. Very informative, well written YA story about a young boy with albinism. Due to cultural beliefs, he is shunned by his community and sought out by shamans for slaughter for his body parts’ use in special potions. There’s a good ending here, fortunately. I loved this story!
  3. Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go, Laura Rose Wagner. Locale: Haiti. Story about two cousins, raised as sisters, who lose their family in the Haitian earthquake of 2010 and work to survive the next day, and the day after that. I cried when I read this. (*sigh*)
  4. Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez. Locale: Argentina. Very macabre, but well written short stories that take place after Argentina’s “Dirty War.”
  5. Stay With Me, Adebayo Ayobami. Locale: Nigeria. An interesting novel about the life of a middle-class Nigerian couple who cannot bear children. Lots of twists and turns here, along with cultural expectations and a whole lotta drama.
  6. Lotus, Lijia Zhang. Locale: China. Novel set in modern-day China about a young woman who, rather than go home and face shame for losing her factory job, chooses a life as a sex worker. I really liked this book.
  7. Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami. Locale: Japan. Insightful set of short stories about men who, at some time or another, either could not or would not have a successful relationship with a woman. I did the audio version of this and loved it.
  8. Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea. Locale: North Korea. Great YA nonfiction book about a young boy’s life in North Korea and eventual escape to South Korea.
  9. The Vegetarian, Han Kang. Locale: South Korea. Beautiful book about a young woman’s choice to become a vegetarian. Things don’t go well for her. There’s a whole lot more to this book though, and mannnn…it’s good.
  10. The Story of a Brief Marriage, Anuk Arudpragasam. Locale: Sri Lanka. Short novel about a young man and woman’s marriage during the Sri Lankan civil war. Very excessively detailed, but it’s a great read if you’re patient enough.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can’t Believe I Read

More Top Ten Tuesday goodness.

This was a list that was fairly easy to write. Some books you get through because you have to (your grade depends on it), others you read and you wonder how you got to the end. Was it magic? Perhaps you were dreaming. Either way, you’re at the end and now it’s umm…the end.

  1. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad. NEVER, EVER read this book for pleasure! You will find yourself completely vexed, walking around at 3 am in your cold dorm room, wondering why you’re being tortured and how someone can write sentences that go on for 3 pages. Lord, I hated this book. I did finish it for class, but after that I found that I hated the teacher too. Ughhhh.
  2. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami. This is a book about a young man who has difficulty making friends. Eventually he finds a group of people that he likes to hang out with and one day, for an unknown reason, they stop speaking to him. He spends years alone, trying to figure out why he was cut off until one day, he gets an answer. I listed this book here because this is, quite literally, a novel about nothing, with such minimal action that it should be criminal. However, I read this book from cover to cover and was completely enthralled. This is the novel that eventually brought me closer to Murakami and his genius, his work is often very minimal and about the most mundane of topics, yet something in the writing compels you to read it. This man can make a damn phone book sound interesting. Not many people have that gift.
  3. It’s No Secret: From Nas Jay Z, from Seduction to Scandal, a Hip Hop Helen of Troy Tells All, Carmen Bryan. I read this on a beach in Daytona Beach, Florida. It’s hella bad and mad forgettable. Written by the ‘baby mama’ of rapper Nas, Miss Bryan gives a detailed account of her relationship with Nas, how she cheated on him with Jay Z and pretty much every other rapper that was popular in the late 90’s. At the end she’s mad because Nas won’t pay her $10k more in child support for their daughter. After reading this I wanted to wipe myself down. Yuck.
  4. True Love, Jennifer Lopez. I’m a closet J Lover, ok? Plus the pics were cool. Next…
  5. Note to Self, Connor Franta. YouTuber Connor Franta talks about his battles with depression, self-acceptance, and anxiety. It would have been cool if the whole thing didn’t come off like a long-ass, typical millenial’s Tumblr post, complete with photos. His writing so generic you wonder how it got published, but wait a minute…oh yeah, he’s a YouTube star. Blah.
  6. what purpose did i serve in your life, Marie Calloway. More hipster lit. The first book with nude photos that I skimmed.
  7. Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez. Disturbing set of short stories that it took me forever to read. There’s Satanic sacrifices, kids being beheaded, girls who set themselves on fire, haunted houses where people get tortured…and umm, that’s just the first 4 stories. There is something here, but be prepared to suffer through it to get there.
  8. The Bees, Laline Paull. I somehow got through this book and I HATE bees. I know we need them but I can’t stand their buzzing, and will high-tail it like a runaway slave whenever they’re around. How did I endure a 350 page book about a creature I don’t like? The writing, that’s how. Wow!
  9. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder. The overshare of this book is icky. I always tell people that if you want to hear about Melissa Broder’s vomit fetish, read this book (btw, I did skip that essay). Books that are meant to shock never really shock me, they just make me annoyed and want to close them. That’s it.
  10. Rape: A Love Story, Joyce Carol Oates. Book about a rape victim who’s ‘put on trial’ with the perpetrators. It’s an ok book, except the title. For those familiar with JCO though, you know that she’s a decent writer but sometimes she’s a little too extra–you just wish she would write the damn story and stop with the cringe-inducing metaphors. This is such a book.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Facts About Me

Today I decided to break from tradition a bit and post a weekly tidbit from The Broke and the Bookish’s “Top Ten Tuesday” feature. Today’s (July 12th) designation is “Ten Facts About Me,” which I shall proceed to post in no particular order:

  1. I cannot swim. No particular reason why, I just never really bothered to learn or try. Of course I’ll sit on the beach and chill, or post selfies of myself by the pool in my swim gear, but me in the water? Hell to the no.
  2. I have an obsession with owls. On my Google drive are hundreds of pics I’ve collected on the web, I also have a Pinterest board dedicated to the same. I have mugs, jewelry, figurines, and t-shirts with owls on them. I would explain this obsession with a simple response but I really can’t. I just think owls are pretty kick ass creatures.
  3. I’ve watched the movie Purple Rain about 200 times. I’ve been a Prince fan since I was a small child and I was immensely upset when I learned that he passed away. I still don’t think I’ve come to terms with Prince being gone yet. I don’t think I ever will.
  4. My first job was a gift shop clerk at a local amusement park, which has since shut down. A couple of my HS friends worked there with me in the summer of my sophomore year. If you’ve ever watched the movie Adventureland, I swear it’s the story of my life, lol.
  5. I am terrified of snakes. And spiders. Eww.
  6. I hate the smell and look of mayonnaise. Needless to say, I’ve never touched the stuff. Other foods I’ve never eaten and never will: onions, relish, tomatoes, Snickers bars.
  7. I’ve been the same height (5’2″) since 7th grade. When I used to be an 8th grade teacher, most of my students were taller than me.
  8. I am the oldest child in my family. I have 2 younger sisters.
  9. I knew I wanted to be a teacher pretty early on, around 6th grade. I knew I wanted to be a writer even earlier than that, when I was about 7 years old. Of course, I’ve ALWAYS loved reading. I always knew that my adult life would contain some combination of those three activities.
  10. I stopped eating meat completely (except for fish) when I was about 18. I stayed this way for about 2 years. Not for any particular reason, just wanted to try a different lifestyle.

Book Q & A Monday, part 5

Ahh, Spring Break! A much-deserved break from class for me. I’m gonna read all of the books I can and get you guys some reviews!

Favorite author?

Too many to name here, but I’ve always worshipped at the throne of Sylvia Plath’s awesomeness. I first came into her writing by reading a poem in my 7th grade literature class called “Spinster” and, for some reason, I recall right then and there being extremely moved by her words, like, somebody-read-my-journal kind of “moved” by it. She is the first writer whose style I can remember truly patterning myself after–trying to make sense of the rhythm of her words, her life, her thought process. The Bell Jar is still one of my favorite books. I have her collected poems, her unabridged journals. I even did my undergrad thesis on her work. She is extraordinary to me and always will be.

Author I wish people would read more?

Hmmm…Richard Lange. He’s a writer out of LA who writes a lot of noir-type crime fiction and short stories. It’s dirty, it’s violent, yet not too dirty or violent–but it’s not for the weak either. I’ve reviewed a couple of his books here and even though all of his books aren’t A+, I still love his books. I check his website, I follow him on Twitter, just to see if he’s put out something else. I will read anything he writes. Hehe.

Favorite childhood book?

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I loved that book when I was a kid, I read it to my son when he was a baby. It’s a powerful message about unconditional love.

Other classics: Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, Corduroy by Don Freeman, Miss Nelson is Missing! by James Marshall, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

 

 

 

The Why’s of a Common Place Book

Recently, I was up one night Google-ing (c’mon, you do it too) and I saw this article on ThoughtCatalog on common place books. “A common place book,” the article writes, is “a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.”

Wow. Because…well, I have been doing this for years. Even in middle school I can remember doing this: coping passages of books I liked, poems, and writing down other things I liked. Now, it actually has a name. I never called my collection of antedotes a ‘common place book.’ Matter of fact, I never called it anything, just my notebook. Inside this notebook I’d always hand write song lyrics, quotes, lists, general observations, notes, and attempts at poetry. It is not a journal/diary and I’ve never used it for that purpose–my journal is a separate thing altogether and kept in another notebook. I’ve always used moleskines for common placing because they’re inconspicuous (no one is looking over your shoulder while you’re writing in a small black book), sleek, and easily portable. The paper is high quality and doesn’t bleed through with gel pens, which is what I prefer to write with.

Down below I will show you pics of my current common place book. However, I want to make some distinctions here between a common place book and a journal/diary, because in my opinion they are not one in the same.

  1. Journals generally consist of narrative entries, may be typed, and can be kept online. Common place books are not narrative, are usually handwritten, and are not kept online.
  2. Entries are not random, but rather, placed with premeditation. A nice pen and an attempt at neat handwriting may be used, because chances are the writer will want to come back to it later.
  3. Common place books are not scrapbooks, which are usually made and created for an audience. A common place book is only for the reader, and the items inside put there for specific interest and use for the reader alone.

A couple of shots of my current common place book. I tried to pick some of my neater pages, because my cursive can be hard to read while I’m in the “moment”:

Some notes I was taking on sci-fi genres.

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A list of animal collective nouns. Why did I write this? I’m not sure.

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In this case, whole quotes copied out of a novel I was reading. This was Ethan Hawke’s “Ash Wednesday.” A very good book, btw.

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A list of albums I like for a music Tumblr I was thinking of doing. It never came to fruition.

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Some Radiohead lyrics I was too lazy to write, so I printed them out, cut and pasted them. Yup.

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Does anyone else out there have a common place book? Inquiring minds here would like to know…

[Note: It occurred to me just now that a Pinterest board is kinda the electronic equivalent of a common place book. I whole-heartedly agree with this.]