Jackie Collins – The Chicken Soup of Literature

For a day job, I spend my time at a youth shelter and residential program. That means I’m constantly around teenagers and all their germs. After working an extra long week, I was looking forward to five full days off. Unfortunately, some of those germies took resident in my sinuses and I came down with a nasty cold.

I was still able to have a good few days off. Over the weekend, in between naps, brunch and watching Golden Girls, I started and finished Married Lovers by Jackie Collins.

Married-Lovers-cover

Image from Google

There’s nothing I love more than reading a book full of drama. I love how Collins spin her tales of beautiful people in Hollywood – and of course, Married Lovers was a delight.

Jackie Collins is everything I want to read when I need  a break or feel sick. My day job is really hard. I spend my time with kids who have been severely neglected and abused in their short lives. They come to the organization where I work with typically no more than the clothes on their back and trunks of emotional baggage. I don’t always want to read heavy, complicated books. Sometimes I want to read a silly drama about different rich people in Hollywood.

I’ve always loved romance novels and other books similar to Jackie Collins. It’s an escape from reality. And isn’t that what reading is for? Sure, I read to educate myself, I read to change my viewpoint. I read to challenge all my bias and assumptions. But I also read to help myself fall asleep when I’m too anxious. I read when I need to give my brain a break. I read when I want to spend a good soak in my bathtub.

Having a healthy reading list is important. It’s like having a healthy diet – you can’t just eat raw vegetables all the time. There has to be room for those comfort foods – Lay’s potato chips, chicken noodle soup, layered bean dip. Jackie Collins and her expansive works fall squarely in the chicken noodle soup category of books. They’re soothing and you know you’ll feel better when you’re finished. I was able to take a mental break and give myself the time I needed to rest. Her books always totally suck me in and are so hard to put down until they’re totally finished. That’s what I needed this weekend. Married Lovers gave me time to relax and unwind, ready to go back to work this week.

So if you haven’t before – check out any or all of Jackie Collins‘ books. Her own story is incredible and her books are super fun.

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Reading for a Goal is Hard

There. I said it. Reading for a specific goal is more difficult than I imagined. When I was a fourth grader, we had to spend twenty minutes each day reading. I loved this assignment. It gave me an actual excuse to spend time with my nose in the book. I would spend what felt like hours devouring any book in my way. I would beg to go to the library in my free time and I used to walk out with bags full of chapter books.

Now I still find myself making time in my day for reading. But there’s times when I fall asleep only three pages into a chapter. I used to blow through books and now it’s taking me more time. in 2013, I graduated from college and worked a summer job as a pool manager. I got paid to spend almost all day out in the sun, reading. I read 98 books that year and ever since I’ve wanted to reach the 100 books in a year goal.

I’ll be honest, I may have already done it when I was younger. I started keeping a reading journal in 2012 as a fun way to keep track of all the books I’ve read. There’s a pretty high chance I hit the 100 books mark when I was in high school or possibly even middle school.

And now I don’t know if I’ll reach that goal. I’ve read way less than I anticipated this year. But that’s ok. 100 books will happen. Maybe this year, maybe next. I know this much – I’ll enjoy every page turn along the way.

 

 

Favorite Literary Couples

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A day for couples and candy consumption. I’ve never been so big on the holiday, but I enjoy cookies, so I’m always down for some sugar.

Today made me think about some of my favorite pairs in literature. Not just romantic pairs either. If Leslie Knope has taught us anything, we should also celebrate our friends.

galentines-day

Favorite Literary Couples

  1. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet – Most people think the best pairing in Pride and Prejudice includes Mr. Darcy. Me? Not so much. I love Jane and Lizzie – their relationship is strong and beautiful. They have each other’s back. They can both make mistakes, but they both want the other to be happy. Jane and Lizzie are awesome and I sometimes wonder if their relationship might be based on Jane Austen’s actual relationship with her sister Cassandra.

Jane and Lizzie .jpg

  1. Hermione and the Hogwart’s Library – Yes, I know, she actually ends up with Ron. But Hermione’s first real love is the Hogwart’s library. It’s there that she learns about herself while saving Harry and Ron from countless horrors and can still get her homework finished on time. The library is where Hermione turns when she’s scared, she’s happy or she just needs a place of refuge. The library is her constant companion throughout the series. Even when she’s away from Hogwarts, she still pulls from the knowledge she’s gained during all her hours spent among the books.

Hermione .jpg

  1. Bess and George – Nancy Drew’s chums are her constant investigative companions. They’re what add some spice to Nancy’s life. Without even asking, they’re always down to solve a mystery, crawl through spooky houses at night and keep Nancy safe when prowler’s show up. They’re the best and I’ve loved them since I first picked up those classic books with the yellow spine.

bess-and-george

  1. Mia Thermopolis and Michael Moscovitz- The Princess Diaries books were and still are a huge part of my life growing up. I always saw myself in Mia and had a crush on Michael. I loved their story and how I always knew they would end up together – I was just waiting for it to happen. They’re both awkward and smart and perfect for each other. I loved how Michael never made Mia be anything other than herself – even when she thought she needed to change. They had an egalitarian relationship and were a great example for 14 year old Anna.

michael-and-mia

There’s so many more great couples and groups in Literature – Frodo and Sam,Lyra Belacqua and her animal daeman, Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe and so many more. What are your favorite couples from books?

Images from Google.

Parable of the Sower

It took me much longer than usual to finish a book this size. Mostly because I felt it was too important to read quickly; I needed time, space and the ability to digest what I had read to really glean what I needed.

Parable of the Sower is one of the greatest books I have ever read. I wish I found it earlier. But certain books come to you at certain times in your life and this one had to be saved for me.

If you are at all concerned about the current state of the United States and how a Nazi is essentially President, you need to read this. If you’re not concerned about the current state of US affairs, you need to read this. If you’re just looking for your next book club book, read this. Everyone should be reading or already have read Parable.

 

cover-of-parable-of-the-sower

I don’t want to say too much about plot, because I don’t want to ruin it. But what is happening is very close to our current truth. Science Fiction can hit so close to home and this story is no different. I know that sales of 1984 have increased dramatically. But so should sales in Octavia Butler’s books. Not since I read my first Harry Potter book have I felt such kinship with a story. In my own personal canon, Parable, and I’m sure Butler’s other works, will sit up there with HP and Jhumpa Lahiri and Kawabata, always on my mind, ready to be accessed at any moment, giving me guidance, inspiration and strength.

Please read Parable of the Sower, but give yourself time and space to do so. Especially at the beginning of the story, I found myself stressed and anxious when I read, the words and warnings eerily familiar.

My main take away? Like Lauren and the other characters – we must not give up hope. We must keep walking. We must keep trying to move forward. That’s how you resist.

 

100 Books in 365 Days

Finished Books 

Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

Winter Town – Stephen Edmond

Dear Mr. Knightly – Katherine Reay

Books to Read in 2017 

Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata

Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury

On Writing: Notes of the Craft – Stephen King

Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer

Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John Le Carré

Woman at Point Zero – Nawal El Saadawi

An Academic Question – Barbara Pym

A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway

Affections – Rodrigo Hasbún

The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna

Suddenly a Knock on the Door – Etgar Keret

The Queue – Basma Abdel Aziz

Revolutionary Suicide  – Huey P. Newton

The Moving Toyshop – Edmund Crispin

 

Inauguration Day in America

Today, 44 became 45 and America officially has a new President. I’m not going to lie and say I’m happy. I’ve vacillated between sad and angry and heartbroken and overwhelmed and terrified and feeling vomit rise in my throat.

Instead of watching the mind numbing coverage and listening to a bunch of overly coiffed talking heads, I’ve decided to spend my January 20th – or as I’ve been calling it Fascist Friday – reading and preparing.

I started Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower last week and it is phenomenal. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read any of her work previously. Within a page I knew I had a new favorite author. Her words are so important. The message prophetic. I’ve actually found the book hard to read because it hits so close to home. I’m excited to read and learn from her though. Fiction is where I’ve learned the most. Books like Sower are the ones that stick with me for the long haul and keep making me think, even after I put them down.

Thank you again to Sherril Smith for her Book Club this year and for the recommendation. I’m so excited to see what other books I read over this year with her guidance.

Today, read something that makes you think. Turn off the tv. Step away from the timeline. Go outside. Remember what you hold dear and believe to be important.

 

“The books are to remind us what asses and fool we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, “Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.” Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

2017 Reading Goals

In 2016, I attempted to read 100 books. And I wasn’t able to accomplish it. 2016 was a busy year and there were times when I just didn’t have it in me to keep that reading train going.

This year though, I’ve got a plan. I want to read 100 books this year. Just because I can. And this year, I have some ways to help me reach that goal.

  1. Sherri L. Smith’s Book Club for a New Administration – I found Smith’s blog on twitter one day and saw her Book Club and I’m so excited to see what comes of it. January’s book is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This is my first Butler novel and I’m excited to check it out. I love discovering new authors and learning from their work. I think this book club will expose me to new types of books and ideas and I can’t wait. I’m also going to check out Smith’s own work at my library – her YA novels looks fantastic!
  2. Trump Syllabus 2.0 –  I found this syllabus online in the days following the presidential election. This mock college syllabus is fascinating  and contains so many books and articles that I haven’t read or even heard of. I’m someone that wants to be constantly learning and I think this syllabus will present me with books I wouldn’t have sought out on my own and make me think.
  3. My Blackwell’s Haul – Last summer, I got the chance to study at Oxford University and I loved absolutely every minute of my time there. I came home with an even larger desire to keep reading and learning and an extra suitcase full of books. I’m still compiling a complete list from Oxford and I’ve read a few of the books already, but I want to read the rest of the books I bought while there. I have a horrible habit of continually buying new books without reading the old, so I’d like to whittle down some of the unread books in my personal library.
  4. I need to read, on average 8 books per month to get to my ultimate goal. Some books will take longer than others, but I’ll be keeping this in mind along the journey.
  5. I’ll keep a running tab here, on this site, as well as in my handy reading journal. I figure having people see how many books I’ve read will help keep me reading when the siren call of Netflix beckons.
  6. Last, I’ve also decided to track how many pages of books I read in 2017. I haven’t done this before and I’m really curious to see how many pages I’ll end up with.

 

Happy Reading!

 

2016 Year in Review

2016 was a crazy year. I traveled internationally to Mexico, England, Ireland, Canada and Fiji. I completed my first year of graduate school and started my second. I earned my 200 hour yoga teacher certification. And through all this, I wrote countless papers, short stories and essays.

Last year, I wanted to read 100 books. I’ve come close before – clocking 98 in 2013. However, in 2016, I didn’t even get close. I only managed to read 32 books. I keep a journal of all the full titles I read and I’ve found it to be really fun to go back and see what I read when. I think it will be great to look back in the future and see what books I keep returning to or when I discovered new authors. Below is my month by month breakdown – what I read and when.

January 2016 -2 

Tricky Twenty-Two – Janet Evanovich 

Saving Juliet – Suzanne Selfors

February 2016 – 1

Last One Home – Debbie Macomber

March 2016 – 7

Dukes Prefer Blondes – Loretta Chase 

Drop Dead Beautiful – Jackie Collins

Goddess of Vengeance – Jackie Collins

419 – Will Ferguson

Trapline – Carl Hiaason and Bill Moltabano

The Accidental Apprentice – Vikas Swarup

Royal Wedding – Meg Cabot

April 2016 – 0

No books finished.

May 2016 – 2

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen 

June 2016 – 2

The Santangelos – Jackie Collins

Tess of the D’ubervilles – Thomas Hardy

July 2016 -3

The Diary of a Teenage Girl – Phoebe Gloeckner

Undercover – Danielle Steele

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy – Gabriella Coleman

August 2016 -3

The Essential Dykes to Look Out For – Alison Bechdel 

The Great American Whatever – Tim Federle

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

September 2016 – 2

The Constant Gardener – Jon Le Carré

The Day of the Owl – Leonardo Sciascia 

October 2016 – 2

Wicked Appetite – Janet Evanovich 

To Helvetica and Back – Paige Shelton

November 2016 – 3

Winter Stroll – Elin Hilderbrand

Dangerous Kiss – Jackie Collins

Oxford Blue – Veronica Stallwood

December 2016 -5 

When the Snow Flies – Laurie Alice Eakes

The Guise of Another – Allen Eskens

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison – Shaka Senghor

Let it Snow – Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle

One – Sarah Crossan

 

Of all these, my favorite reads included both Jane Austen novels, which I return at least once a year, if not every few years. I also really loved Shaka Senghor’s memoir. I’m looking forward to finishing the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness.

How many books did you read each year? Do you journal about your reading habits? Do you journal that list online or with pen and paper?

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

 

 

Writing My Wrongs

There are times you randomly come across a book that totally rocks your world. There are other times when someone hands you a book specifically to rock your world and other times when you seek that special book out. Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor falls into all three categories for me. I’ve had someone suggest it to me, I’ve looked for this masterpiece myself and last week, I ran across it at the library and snached it up. 

I read really really fast. Always have and always will. It’s really handy when taking standardized tests or trying to read the whole newspaper. It’s not such a handy skill when tying to savor a book. Senghor’s memoir of his 17 years  incarcerated in Michigan’s prison population is one of those books I wish I had read slower. Except that I couldn’t stop. Even when my eyes were burning and I was fighting sleep from dropping my eyelids, I kept reading. 

Senghor is honest and vulnerable – he lays everything out. There is no romanticism of his past drug dealing days. Sure, he talks about how hood he felt at the time when he was young, free, with pockets full of cash. But he adds how he felt abandoned by his mother, broken and scared. Throughout his writing, he tells his readers a story of how he grew out of that broken littl boy into a strong powerful man who understands his mistakes and is actively working to prevent others from following his path. 

Each chapter starts with a header with a location and time. He flips his reader back and forth from the streets of his Detroit neighborhood to his cell of different prisons. We move seemleasly across his life, helping him sell crack with his friends to waiting excitedly for the library cart while locked down in solitary confinement. 

Senghor doesn’t sugar coat his crimes – he honestly discusses what he has done and how he learned to move away from his violent past. He’s an incredible story teller and I loved how he was so honest with his readers. 

I would highly recommend this fantastic piece of literature. Senghor gives an amazing look into what it’s like to spend 17 years incarcerated and how the system has potential to change. I look forward to reading more of his work.