Wednesday, March 11, 2015

T5W: Books That Made You Think

Oh man, I studied English in university, so choosing books for this week’s topic was both incredibly easy but also insanely hard. Thinking about books is kind of what I do. A lot of these are repeats, from my last Top 5 Wednesday post actually, so sorry about that, but these books have really made me think about literature in a way I hadn’t beforehand.

  1. Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach edited by Michael McKeon.  I really loved this book, because it has so many excerpts from all kinds of literary theorists. It’s the text that really introduced me to literary theory as a whole and that, in itself, completely changed the way how I thought about and interacted with other books. This anthology contained some of the most complex things I’ve ever read and it really helped me step up my pretentious English major game.
  2. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide by Lois Tyson. Okay, fine. This is another theory book, but unlike Theory of the Novel, this one was more of a Sparknotes primer on theory, rather than a collection of actual theatrical works. It was a really nice breakdown and foundation for a lot of theatrical schools of thought like Marxism and structuralism and deconstructionism and feminist theory and LGBTQ theory, and while the ideas behind the words were complex and thought-provoking, the words themselves were actually incredibly easy to understand.
  3. The Good Solider by Ford Madox Ford. I also talked about this in my last post, but oh goodness, The Good Soldier is such a short book, but it really packed a punch for me. I’m super drawn in my Ford’s style, and the multiple perspectives and the the unreliability of narration were absolutely my favorite focal aspects when writing papers. I did an insane amount of research for my paper on this book, and still think about it a whole bunch.
  4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I actually didn’t read The Catcher in the Rye until pretty late (my last semester at university), but I really wished I had read it earlier (or, at least, taken the class I read it for earlier). I read it alongside Critical Theory Today and other theoretical texts and was instructed to analyze it through various ideological lenses. Doing so many close readings of the same text was something I had never done before then, and it really helped me really puzzle things together and think about them more fully.
  5. Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Even though I had taken a comics class at university and was pushed super hard to think about them (theory was a big component in that class too), Sandman was one of the first comic series that I read outside of that academic setting (aka, it was one of the first comics I read that I wasn’t assigned). We had read some pretty out there stuff for my comics class (a lot of that reading list could also be included here easily), but Sandman was the series that really cemented my love for comics and how I wanted to continue reading and thinking about them outside of a class setting.
I feel like this is a list where I can go on and on forever about basically every book I’ve ever read, and I definitely don’t think I’m the only one. What are some of the books that really stuck with you and made you think?

The Goodreads group for T5W (as well as the topics and the book bloggers and booktubers who participate) can be found here.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


In honor of International Women's Day, I decided to write a letter to my younger self inspired by the #DearMe initiative on YouTube. Of course, it ended up a lot longer than I expected, but thanks for reading. Happy International Women's Day!

Dear Teenage Amanda,

I want you to know something: life isn't perfect.

You haven’t moved to New York (I know you’ve been wanting that for a long time). You don’t work in publishing. You still don’t understand how to relationship. Your parents end up getting divorced (you actually handled this pretty well, all things considered). You’ve lost a lot of things: from trivial things, like bobby pins and pens (so many pens), to more substantial ones, like best friends and relatives.

But here’s the thing: you’re in a good place right now.

I don’t necessarily mean that physically — you still spend a lot of time dreaming about New York life and you’re hoping to start moving towards that dream soon — but mentally. You’ll still have stumbling points; your base level of anxiety never seems to leave you, and you’ve perfected your self-depreciating sense of humor, but you have a pretty okay handle on things. You’re pretty okay.

You'll go off to college thinking that you’ll meet new people who’ll replace your high school friends (the ones you, I’m very ashamed to say, sort of abandoned your senior year in order to hang out with another group, who only accepted you on the surface). But while you’ll meet some pretty awesome people (who you still keep in touch with), you’ll come to realize how special your home friend group is during breaks from school and especially after you graduate from college. They sort of become your cornerstone; you don’t have to pretend to be something that you aren’t with them. They'll accept that you’re still changing and will continue to change. They accept you. It's pretty cool.

Speaking of friends, you’ll also get caught up in this crazy thing called fandom. While it’s kind of exhausting at times (and you’ll encounter jerks who want to put a damper on your excitement just because you’re a girl), you’ll also end up with some pretty awesome friends from all over. Embrace them — they’re good people.

You end up changing a lot in college. You prefer skirts and dresses and tights and cardigans now (even though you still nerd it up with a fandom tee). You paint your nails and wear makeup. You have a slightly worrying obsession with red lipsticks. You like wearing shoes with high heels. You took the plunge and got bangs (it was a good look for you!), but you’ll come to realize you like a short, above your shoulders style best (this is a recent development, who knows what your next style will be). You’re still toying with the idea of getting a tattoo.

You’ll change a lot on the inside, too. You still love reading, but you’ll come to prefer comics more (you’ll also develop an insane affinity for Captain America). You mainly read books digitally — it’s totally all right. Social media will become very important to you. Your love for bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Killers stays as strong as ever,  but you’ll also grow to be more accepting in your musical tastes and end up loving Taylor Swift and BeyoncĂ© too. I know it’s kind of crazy to think about now, but your love for Doctor Who and Joss Whedon will end up waning, but don’t worry, you’ll find new things to grow to love, and you’ll always have Gilmore Girls. You’ll also finally learn how to crochet and knit and sew (and you’ll stockpile patterns and fabric and yarn like crazy and you have a little side business making cute things for people). You drink your coffee black with sugar but take your tea with sugar and soy milk. You’ve discovered tons of new and tasty foods. You enjoy baking (cookies, mostly), and you’re really into soccer. Your favorite painting is Edvard Munch's The Scream.

You still cry at books and movies and holiday-themed commercials. You’re still absolutely confounded by guys and flirting. You still stay up way too late sometimes, just for the hell of it. Your sweet tooth never lessens. You have your good days and your off days. You’ve come to accept that there is no such thing as a perfect person.

This realization isn’t as depressing as you think it’ll be. There’s not a pinnacle point of perfection, so you can always aim to become better. You’ll find this intangibility comforting. You’re a constant work-in-progress. You’re still working out how to be a better friend, daughter, sister — a better person. You’ll still make mistakes, and that's okay — own up to them, and accept the fact that, sometimes, the blame really does lie on you. Apologizing isn’t the same as backing down — it doesn’t mean you’re being walked over — it doesn’t mean you’re weak. There so many interpretations, and you’ll learn how to piece them together to help you gain a larger perspective about the the world.

Despite your insistence that you won’t ever take theory-heavy English classes, you’ll end up taking two near the relative end of your time at university (by the way, you graduate a semester late — it’s fine; don’t worry about it). These classes end up being two of your favorites. The first one will expand your thoughts about literature in so many mind-bendingly cool ways, and the second one will open your eyes in so many other important ways. It’ll introduce you to deconstructionist theory and feminist theory and LGBTQ theory and intersectionality, and I can’t stress to you how important you will find all these things to be.

You’ll learn the importance of female friendships. The importance of building other women up, instead of making everything into a weird sort of competition, where the only winner is a society that treats all women poorly. If there’s anything you could have learned earlier, I wish it were this. Value your female friends; value your femininity; value your voice and your agency as a female. Seek out good representations of women in the media. Don’t shame other women. You don't have to tear other women down in order to build yourself up. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, especially with guys and especially with your guy friends. You’re always going to have to work on this, but please please please, don’t back down.

You still have a lot of things you would like to improve about yourself and about the world. That’s fine. Embrace change, but don’t get yourself down when things aren’t progressing as fast as you would like them to. Keep up with your friends. Don’t stress yourself out too much. Sometimes, all you’ll need to do is cool down for a bit and unwind with a cup of tea and a book or something to watch.

Most importantly: keep doing you. You've already been doing a pretty amazing job.

Best wishes,

Amanda, aged 23

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

T5W: Books You'd Save in a Fire

This week’s topic was really interesting for me because I mostly read books digitally and I’m currently in the process of slimming down my physical bookshelf because, even though I do have some pretty nice signed editions and some really gorgeous covers, I'm not overly attached to my physical book collection. As a result, this week’s list is composed of primarily school books, which are jammed pack with sticky notes and (sometimes indecipherable) marginalia.
  1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I read Mrs. Dalloway three times throughout university, each time with a focus on something different. I used the same edition for all my classes, so you can see some pretty distinct changes in how my analysis of the text evolved from my freshman year through my senior year (one of the most notable changes is that I stopped using highlighters). It’s a pretty neat process to track.
  2. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. The Good Soldier was one of the last books I wrote a paper about at university, and I did so much extra research that the pages are absolutely overwhelmed with sticky notes and flags, underlined passages, and notes. I ended up being super proud of this paper, and it’s pretty nice to have a tangible object to show how much work I put into it.
  3. The Norton Shakespeare edited by Stephen Greenblatt. I originally received this anthology as a birthday present from one of my friends who knew about my love for Shakespeare. I haven’t talked to him much since we’ve gone off to university, but he wrote a very nice note to me in the cover, and I’ve used this anthology in almost every Shakespeare class I took (the one exception being the semester I studied abroad).
  4. Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach edited by Michael McKeon. Wow. Okay, this is a bit of a pretentious pick, but my history of the theory of the novel class turned out to be one of my favorites, and it really helped me expand my way of viewing and interpreting literature. We didn’t end up reading everything from the book in that class, but the passages we did read are heavily underlined and annotated and are ones that I often think about.
  5. Harry Potter series. This one is a major cheat because not only do I mean my original copies of the seven books, I also mean the UK editions of the series that my grandmother bought me and the UK and Italian editions I have of Beedle the Bard. But it’s Harry Potter, okay? You’re allowed to cheat for Harry Potter.
I feel like so many book bloggers and booktubers focus a lot about their physical collection (at least considerably more than I do), so what are the five books would you save in a fire?

The Goodreads group for T5W (as well as the topics and the book bloggers and booktubers who participate) can be found here.