Reading Through 2017

2017 is drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been. Personally, I survived my first year of law school, worked for the summer at the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and started my second year of law school. I am now halfway through law school. After exploring and discarding several possible career paths, I have decided to go into space law—as in outer space. I also published two short stories this year. “Seven Signs Your Roommate is a Vampire: With Additional Advice On Surviving Orientation If It’s More Complicated” was published in issue #68 of Andromeda Spaceways, and “Polaris in the Dark” was published in the 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology. Finally, my Seeing Eye dog, Mopsy, had to retire in May. She just became too anxious to keep guiding me safely. It was heartbreaking for me to retire Mopsy, and it’s still heartbreaking, even though she is now a healthy, happy pet with my parents. I returned to the Seeing Eye in July and was match with my second Seeing Eye dog, Neutron, and we’ve been flying around Cambridge ever since.

 

I also read a lot. I set a goal to read 50 books this year. I read 77. I did a fair amount of rereading of old favorites, especially around exam times. Favorite books are like literary comfort food.  Of the new books I read, most were fine, but they were just fine. A few were downright terrible. And some were truly exemplary. Here are my favorites:

 

Heartless by Marissa Meyer: I expected a lot from this book after Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. This book did not live up to my very high expectations, but I really did enjoy it. It’s the story of the Queen of Hearts and how she became The Queen of Hearts. The writing was great, and the world was a lot of fun, and the ending was hearbreaking and beautiful.

 

In a Glass Grimmly and The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz: I read the first book in this series, A Tale Dark and Grimm, in summer 2016, but didn’t get to the second or third books before the end of the year. So I finished the series this year. It was great. While the first book retold all the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the second book told new stories about Jack and Jill (the ones who go up the hill and fall down). Except Jack is also the same Jack from Jack and the Beanstock, so there are giants involved. The third book is a mash’?eaup of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Juniper Tree, and The Boy Who Left Home To Find Fear (which is a great title), plus a truly amazing metafictional arc. The narrator’s voice and snark reminds me a bit of Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events, which made it super fun even with all the blood and guts. Seriously I was laughing out loud throughout this whole book. So if you like retold fairy stales, snark, and can tolerate a fair amount of blood and guts, you’re sure to enjoy these books.

 

Dangerous by Shannon Hale: Space camp goes wrong and teenagers get superpowers from alien techildrenlogy and then have to save the world from an alien invasion, all with a dash of evil megalomaniacs, conniving scientists, and teenage romance. The Goodreads reviews on this book were split between those who hated it with a fiery passion and those who loved it to pieces. I’ve always liked Shannon Hale’s books, so I gave it a try. I really enjoyed it, and I would say that it is a decently good book. It was fun, fast, and action-packed. There was a little too much romance for me, and the middle of the book got kind of weird. Also the protagonist is a half-Latina girl with a disability, and though some aspects of the representation of her disability were upsetting to me, by the end of the book most of my issues resolved. On the whole, I had a lot of fun with this book. There was space and science and space and geekiness and space and fun gadgets (seriously I want Maisie’s impact boots) and did I mention space? What I particularly liked about this book was that while the stakes were high with the whole save-the-world plot, there were also very high, very personal stakes that kept the story grounded. So if you like whacky science fiction adventure with space and aliens and superpowers and romance, this book might be for you.

 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: I read this book for book club, and there was a lot to enjoy about it. The emotions were so raw and realistic, and I enjoyed the multiple perspectives on the same moments. It sort of reminded me of the World War II Italy novella I wrote for my senior honors thesis at Kenyon (the one that is still languishing in a drawer but I’ve been thinking about it). There was virtually no overlap in the subject matter between this book and my WWII Italy project; it just had a similar feel to me. Lydia, the favorite daughter of the mixed-race Lee family, is dead. I’m not spoiling anything; that’s how the book starts. The story is about how the different members of the family cope with her death and try to understand what happened to her. We also get Lydia’s point of view throughout the book. I do have to say I could only read this book in small bites because either the emotions were just too much or because I got kind of frustrated with the characters. There were definitely times when it felt like one of those sitcom episodes where if the characters would just sit down and talk about what happened, all the problems would get resolved and no one would be dead. We decided in our book club discussion that Everything I Never Told You was a very apt title, because no one was telling anybody anything. But by the end of the book, I was in tears. Also, sentence to sentence, word to word, the writing is beautiful, and I can be a sucker for that (as long as the rest of the book is good too).

 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: This book was beautiful. It’s a new adult book, about a girl going off to college with her twin sister, but her sister wants to put some space between them, her creative writing professor is crushingly disappointed that she’s writing fanfiction, and basically she has to figure out life and friends and writing her own stories. This book hit me like a punch in the gut. A fabulous, fabulous punch in the gut. But there were definitely moments when it was too real. I can totally relate to so much of it. I don’t have a twin sister, and I never actually wrote fanfiction before college (and I’ve only started, and haven’t finished, a fanfic since I went to college). But I definitely had serious social anxiety around eating in the dining hall when I first went to college and I always felt kind of out of place in the creative writing program because I generally prefer to write young adult speculative fiction rather than literary fiction, and I felt like some professors could have an unfortunate attitude towards genre fiction in the creative writing program. Also, the ideas of growing up and Harry Potter ending and everything in this book were really relatable. Basically this book is beautiful and everyone should read it.

 

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh: This is a middle grade short story collection produced by We Need Diverse Books, all about the impact that reading and learning has on kids. Each story featured a character from an underrepresented group in fiction. I really enjoyed all the stories—though some were a little younger than I like to read. They were fun and adorable and the message about reading and diversity is so important. I definitely recommend.

 

Miss Perregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs: This whole series was a wild ride, but if you’re willing to go with it, it’s a blast. When his grandfather is killed by a monster only Jacob can see, he goes on a journey to learn about his grandfather’s past and winds up travelling through time (sort of) and battling the monsters and their masters alongside his grandfather’s childhood friends (who happen to still be children). This is the best description I can give. But it makes sense in the books I swear. This has to be one of the most bizzarre series I’ve read in a while, but it was a ton of fun and once I got into it I couldn’t put it down.

 

Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery: I read Anne of Green Gables years ago when I was growing up. I have it in Braille—it’s six volumes. This summer, I reread Anne of Green Gables in preparation for watching the new Netflix show, which is quite good by the way. I really enjoyed reading about Anne’s adventures, and it all took on so much more meaning now that I’m older. And then I discovered that Anne’s adventures didn’t end with Anne of Green Gables, so I kept reading. By this point, I have actually read the first six books in the series, but in my opinion the series goes downhill after the third book. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island are definitely worth reading, though, whatever age you are.

 

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: This was another book club book. We read Behold the Dreamers  over the summer in conjunction with Lucky Boy, which I’ll talk about next. Behold the Dreamers tells the story of two families affected by the financial crisis in 2007, a family of Cameroonian immigrants struggling to get a foothold in New York and the family of the Wall Street executive they work for. The whole book is from the point of view of the immigrants, which I really love. We see the struggles of these two very different families, and even though their struggles are different, they are their struggles. This is a sad but realistic perspective on the American dream.

 

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran: This is another story about immigrants. We read Lucky Boy for book club over the summer with Behold the Dreamers. The two books actually pair really well tgr.d and I recommend reading them together. Lucky Boy also  tells the stories of two families, a young woman who immigrates to America illegally from Mexico, becomes pregnant along the way, gives birth in America, and struggles to raise her son, and a second-generation Indian couple desperate to have a child. The immigrant is detained and her child is placed in foster care with the couple, who fall in love with him and take steps to adopt him. This is an  intense look at the immigration and foster care systems in California, as well as a heartbreaking contemplation of parenthood, because there is no good ending to this story.

 

Hiroshima by John Hersey: I don’t normally read nonfiction. I do enough of that for class. But when I was at the Seeing Eye training with Neutron this summer, there was a library of hardcopy Braille books, and anyone who knows me knows that when possible, I prefer to read in hardcopy Braille. There’s nothing quite like holding an actual book in your hands. Hiroshima was one of the books in this library, and since anyone who knows me also knows I have a minor World War II obsession, one thing led to another and I read the book. I’m the first to admit that my WWII obsession is more to do with the war in Europe than the war in the Pacific, and honestly I didn’t know much about what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki except that an atomic bomb was dropped. I found the book Hiroshima, which chronicled the events in the city from the points of view of several people who lived through the bomb, to be rich in detail. Gruesome detail to be sure, but I think it is important to know these details, and I was glad I was able to read this book.

 

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh: I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would, and this was a pleasant surprise. It takes place in a fantasy world mirroring ancient Japan. The daughter of an honored samurai is on her way to marry the prince when her convoy is attacked. Assassins have been hired to kill her. There were times when the writing was a bit telly for me, and I was underwhelmed by the romantic subplot, but the book gripped me from start to finish. The characters were really intricate, and the plot was fast-paced and full of secrets and complications. I’m really looking forward to the sequel next year.

 

The Book of Ember trilogy by Jeanne DuPrau: There are technically four books in this series, but the third is a prequel and is neither necessary to underst  the books nor worth bothering with, in my opinion. The main trilogy, The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, and the Diamond of Darkhold detail the adventures of two children from Ember, an isolated city in a world of complete darkness. The generator that powers Ember is failing, and when the kids find a half-destroyed set of instructions, they go in search of a way to leave the city. These are fun and action-packed science fiction books, with a lot of adventure and some really interesting world-building. I’ve been trying to read more science ficong books this year, and these were a great start.

 

Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab: I can’t believe it took me so long to discover these books. Acsually, I can because my to read list is over 500 books long. The best that can be said about my delayed discovery is that I didn’t have to wait for the conclusion. These books were just remarkable. There are four worlds, each with a city named London, each with different amounts of magic. Only a few people can travel between the worlds, but a dark magic is threatening all the worlds. I’m doing a poor job of describing these books, but they’re really fabulous. I was gripped from start to finish, and the books have stayed with me since. I would love to go back and reread them at some point, now that I’ve finished them.

 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: This is another book club book. Half the people in book club really didn’t like this book, but I did. There are two storylines in this book: in 1939, five children are kidnapped from their family’s shantyboat on the Mississippi and taken to a brutal orphanage as part of an elaborate adoption scheme where poor children were sold to rich families from the 1920s through the 1950s; in the present day, a young lawyer comes home to care for her ill father and discovers her family’s secret connection to the past child trafficking scandal. In my opinion, the present-day story is bad, and the book would be stronger without it. But the story in the past is really gripping, and I was fascinated to learn about this episode in our own history which I had never heard of before. I would certainly recommend this book, though with the reservation that the present storyline is kind of a waste of slace.

 

Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass: Three kids meet at a camp ground and witness a total solar eclipse. Each of the kids grows and learns and changes because of the other kids. This is a really sweet, heartwarming book which is also full of space nerdiness, so all in all, perfect.

 

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan: This was another heartwarming middle grade book. When her parents are killed in a car accident, a twelve-year-old genius is taken in by a friend, and her journey dealing with her grief and aclimating to life with her surogate family changes her and all the people around her.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon: This book was slow to start but picked up and had me in tears by the end. When Christopher’s neighbor’s dog is killed, he sets out to solve the mystery and ends up uncovering many more secrets about his family along the way. I think this book ,s a thoughtful representation of someone with autism, though of course it should not be taken as indicative of the experiences of everyone on the spectrum. I was particularly impressed with the amount of agency Christopher had, and I loved his voice and character and was routing for him the whole way. A very good read.

 

The 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide edited by Sean Weaver and Corie Weaver: This is a collection of science fiction short stories for kids, all featuring diverse characters—girls, kids of different races, and kids with disabilities. Yes, my story “Polaris in the Dark” is in this anthology, but it’s really a great collection of stories. Aliens, robots, space, science, and kids having adventures fill all the pages. I read this whole book in one sitting, because I was having so much fun. Each story was like its own little gem, and I recommend this book to everyone, whatever age you are.

 

The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley: When the sisters Grimm are sent to live with the grandmother they’d believed to be dead, they discover that they are descended from the Brothers Grimm and it is their destiny to solve crimes in the community of fairytale creatures. They’ve just begun their training when their grandmother is kidnapped by a giant. This was a really fun and exciting book, and I can’t wait to get into the rest of the series.

 

The Children of the Red King books 1-5 by Jenny Nimmo: I just finished the fifth book of this series today. There are three more books, but unfortunately I won’t be able to read the next three books in the next three hours. The first book, Midnight for Charlie Bone, was another book that i own in hardcopy Braille, reread this year, and discovered there was more to the series. I have really enjoyed these books so far. They’re not perfect, certainly, but they’re a lot of fun. Charlie is one of the Children of the Red King, endowed with the ability to travel into photographs and paintings and speak to the people in the past. Because of his power, he is forced to attend Bloor’s Academy, where he discovers all sorts of sinister plots and works to make things right with his friends. I’m looking forward to diving into the rest of this series in the new year.

 

And that’s it. 2018 is just around the corner, filled with new books to read, new stories to write, and of course more law school. I’m going to try to read a hundred books next year. I need to make a dent in that to-read list, after all. I also want to get back into blogging more regularly. Neutron is nudging me with his paw because he hasn’t had a chance to say hello yet. And I want to finish the ten or so writing projects I started in 2017.

 

Happy New Year!

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New Year: New Goals

Actually, they’re mostly the same goals.

 

In 2014, I graduated from college. I was third runner-up for the Dell Award, and my first story was published. I finished drafts of two novels. I was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, and I traveled to Assisi and began my year in Italy. I applied to creative writing masters of fine arts programs for next year.

 

But now, 2014 is over, and 2015 is upon us.

 

This year, my goals are simple:

 

  1. By the time I return from Italy at the end of June, one of those aforementioned novels will be edited and ready to start submitting:

At this point, I’ve got three novels on my computer in varying states of desperately-needing-revision. So I’m going to revise. I’m going back to the small child magician novel, which I set aside before my senior year of college in order to work on my honors novel. I will definitely have this novel in submittable condition by June, possibly sooner at the rate I’m going. Maybe I’ll even get back to the honors novel too. But one thing at a time.

 

2.  I will keep this website updated on a semi-regular basis:

Really. I swear. It’s going to happen. I made myself a calendar of posts, and I always stick to my calendars.

 

3. I will actually use my Twitter account and tweet on a semiregular basis:

Last year it was Facebook. This year it’s Twitter.

 

4. I will continue writing and submitting short stories:

Pretty self-explanitory. I’m already doing it. So my goal is to continue doing it.

 

5.  I will make some decisions about what I want to do with my life:

I’ve had some experiences in the last few months that have changed my ideas about this. I’m not sure I want to get a doctorate in comparative literature anymore. I’m not even sure that being a fulltime writer is the best decision for me, even though it’s been my dream since I was little. Not that I wouldn’t be able to be productive, but I’m very close to being a full-time writer now, because I only teach in the mornings, and I feel like if all I was doing was writing, I might go insane. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep writing, because of course I do. And this also doesn’t mean that I don’t want to get an MFA in creative writing. I still want to do that, for myself and for my writing. But I need to make some decisions about what I want to do after that.

 

I have two other goals that are worth mentioning:

 

  1. To be accepted into an MFA program.

 

2.  To have another story published.

 

These are both obvious, based on what I already said. These goals are also out of my control. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take steps to accomplish them.

 

So here I come, 2015!

New Years Resolutions Take 2

Back in January, I wrote a post about my New Year’s resolutions, and now, at the beginning of September, I thought it might be a good idea to check in on how I’ve done, celebrate some successes, and renew the ones that could use some renewing.

 

1.  Post on Facebook Every Day:

 

To be entirely honest, I haven’t posted on Facebook every single day this year, but I do almost every day, and I have gotten myself into the habit of actually using Facebook like a normal person, which was the goal underlying the “post every day” bit. So I declare this resolution a success.

 

2.  Reach 200 rejection letters or get published, whichever comes first:

 

I’m not going to say exactly how many rejections I have because I don’t want to share and no one really wants to know that, but in all likelihood, I will reach 200 by the end of the calendar year.

 

On the other hand, I have made 200 a moot point. After 137 rejections, my story “The Year of Salted Skies” was named the third runner-up for the 2014 Dell Award, and after 150 rejections, my story “The Collector” was accepted for publication at Cast of Wonders! And it was published .

 

Victory!

 

3.  Blog semi-regularly:

 

So…

 

About that…

 

I could make all sorts of excuses for why I haven’t blogged—finishing my thesis and taking my honors exams, applying to graduate schools, waiting to hear from said graduate schools and from the Fulbright, graduating, preparing for a year in Italy, expanding the World War II Italy novella into a full length novel, all that important stuff. But I am not going to bemoan or attempt to excuse my lack of blogging activity. Instead, I am going to renew this resolution. 2014 is not over yet, and the new school year is about to begin. This year I will be teaching instead of learning, and this is strange and a little scary to me. Also Italy, which is awesome and must be blogged about. So I will make a new school year’s resolution to blog more. Please pester me if I don’t.

 

But, lack of blogging aside, I have to say, this has been the year! I graduated from college! I got a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Assisi, Italy! And I got published! And if I did all that—and kept my Facebook resolution—then I will get better at blogging.

 

And once I get better at blogging, maybe I’ll figure out this thing called Twitter.

New Years Resolutions

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for the last couple of weeks.

 

Who am I kidding? I’ve been meaning to blog for the last six months, but senior year was getting underway, I was writing my thesis, generally doing fun things, and I had to have my right eye removed.  Yeah, that happened.  It basically exploded.  But that’s an entirely different story.  More on that later.  I promise.

 

So I finished first semester, finished a draft of my thesis (that’s the World War II Italy novella), had surgery and recovered from said surgery, and then I made a New Years resolution to resurrect this blog and try to blog on a semi-regular basis.  I maybe set an alarm to go off on my phone once a week to remind me.

 

The reason I’ve been struggling with this post in particular is that I keep going back and forth about what tone I want to take, and the truth is, it’s not just about this blog post.

 

See, blogging is only one of my New Years resolutions.  Actually going on Facebook and not just creepily lurking is another, and I’m doing pretty well with that.  But the big one is that by the end of 2014, I will have received 200 rejection letters.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I do not want 200 rejection letters.  If I get published before I reach 200, that’s great! Never mind! Mission accomplished!

 

The point is, over the past several months, I’ve been feeling pretty down about writing and submitting new stories.  I mean, there’s only so many times you can hear that it’s so close, but no thank you, before you start to wonder.  I’m watching my friends get published, and I’m glad for them—I really am. But I’m also hearing that everyone admires me so much for trying, but really, I’d rather be admired for succeeding.  So I set a goal that I will have 200 rejections by the end of the year in order to force myself to write more and submit and keep trying, because if I stop trying because I feel like I’m failing, I will definitely have failed.

 

So I’m sitting here, and I want to say “this is the year!” I want to say this is the year that things are going to happen.  I’m going to graduate, and I’m going to get a Fulbright and go to Italy or I’m going to get into graduate school.  I’m going to get published this year, or win a competition, or maybe even get into Clarion.  I’m going to read Lord of the Rings for the first time!

 

That’s what I want to say.

 

But at the same time, I’m sitting here, and I’m thinking about what my father has said about some of my brother’s musician friends: “You keep going up and up and up, but at some point, everybody stops.  Everybody hits a peak, and they don’t go any higher than that.”

 

And I can’t help wondering, what if I’ve hit my peak? All my life, I’ve succeeded at whatever I set my mind to, but what if this is it? What if I don’t get the Fulbright or get into graduate school? What if I can’t get a job? What if I don’t ever get published and can’t succeed at writing? What then?

 

The truth is, in a little less than four months, I’m going to graduate and leave Kenyon, and I have no idea what I’m doing after that.  I don’t even know what I want to do after that.

 

And that is terrifying.

 

And I’m not sure I know how to handle it.

 

All I can do is write about it, because right now, writing is just about the only thing I’m positive I can do.

 

Maybe I feel like this because it’s 12:30 in the morning and I just read a friend’s story about a girl who feels like a failure after graduation.  Maybe I’m feeling like this because in less than two weeks, I’m going to hear whether I’ve moved onto the next level in the Fulbright application.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never not had a plan.  Probably, it’s a little of everything.

 

This is one of those things that I’m not totally sure I want to put out there on the internet, but I also think it’s something that needs to be said.  Sometimes, we don’t know what we’re doing.  Sometimes, the world just seems really big, and we’re really small, and somehow, we have to move through it without getting lost, and sometimes, we have no idea how to do that.  Sometimes, optimistic gusto is just stupid, and we need to admit that we’re afraid.

 

And at the end of the day, even though I don’t know where I’m going, I still have to move forward.  Eventually, I know I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be.  Or at least I’ll end up somewhere.

 

And until then, I’m going to put one foot in front of the other, do my homework, have fun with my friends, enjoy my last semester at Kenyon.  I’m going to go to Midnight Breakfast and try a smoothy from the KAC.  I’m going to finish revising my thesis.  I’m going to read Lord of the Rings and watch the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time.  I’m going to write stories and submit them.  I’m going to go on Facebook, and I’m going to blog.  I’m going to play Pokemon on the big screen in the science quad.

 

I’m going to take things one day at a time, and I’m going to see what happens.  Something will, and who knows? Maybe 2014 will be the year.