meg says read this, Read This

Read This (Again): The Opposite of Loneliness

Screen shot 2015-11-11 at 10.08.54 AMAlright guys, one of the first posts I remember interacting with people in person the most about after having shared it here, was when I first read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. I’m going to share that originally post again, (I’ll just include it below.) But I also want to write a little about what made me want to share it. A few weekends ago, the Southern Festival of Books was held in Downtown Nashville at the Nashville Public Library and the War Memorial Auditorium. Some of my favorite authors were there, and some I have yet to read their books but I instantly wanted to after hearing their panels. The writing processes, the leaps of faith, the points of inspiration, or the internal struggles people are managing that all come through in their stories, completely fascinate me.

Yesterday, I read a quote from Tom Hanks. “God gave all of us burdens, and some of us typewriters.” Have you read more true words? He has a point. (Partially talking to myself here because there are things I’ve been neglecting to write, and the words are screaming to get out. I believe when that happens, we owe it to ourselves to write those stories, those words, even if another pair of eyes never sees them.)
Anyway, years ago I read Marina Keegan’s words for the first time, and they struck a chord so deep in me, that I feel like some of the passages settled inside and have remained there. I often think of her words. I’ll be in the midst of a great moment with friends, (the kind when you realize how wonderful it is, while it’s happening) and I’ll think back to her Opposite of Loneliness essay. There are other occasions this happens too, long car rides, or late night adventures that make it feel as if youth will never fade. Maybe it’s weird? But I don’t think so. I think it’s just the work resonating with a reader, and don’t you secretly wish that the words will resonate with someone when you write them?
So, I was attending this book festival with one of my most favorite girl friends in all the land. We met the weekend before college started, when we were both eighteen and knew immediately we were kindred spirits. Of course, in the beginning we bonded over our shortness, and Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill love, the thrill of making pina coladas in a blender, or creating ridiculous matching costumes for date functions, and how the bookshelves in our dorm rooms housed some of the same wonderful YA authors. But later on of course that friendship transcended into so much more. Good times, and not the best of times, but all things that strengthened our bond in the end. (I write all of that because Keegan’s work made me think a lot about the relationships we have in our lives, and what becomes of them.) So after attending a few author panels we went outside where there was an array of vendors – book sellers, local authors, food trucks, etc.
I paused in one tent, and I felt myself take in a sharp breath when my eyes crossed over The Opposite of Loneliness. Originally I’d checked it out from the library, and I don’t know why I didn’t own it yet. Except because obviously I was meant to find it that day. I immediately started gushing about it to my friend. I need to add because I just love the friendliness of people, and anyone who’s willing to talk to a stranger about books (because when we’re talking about books are we really strangers?) The guy next to us overheard me rambling about Big Little Lies and asked if he should get it for his girlfriend? Of course he should because it’s such a fun read and it doesn’t matter if she watched the show because reading their characters from the page is a great thing!
Anyway, back to my story….I knew I couldn’t leave without it, (and a copy of a biography on Harper Lee called I Am Scout, that I’m so excited to read.) When I went to pay for it, the man asked me if I’d heard of The Opposite of Loneliness before, or what struck my interest in it? I explained how I’d read it a few years earlier, and her words had stayed with me ever since. We locked eyes in that moment, (and not in a weird way, but in the way, where you and this person you’d never talked to five seconds earlier, had a complete understanding transpire in an instant.) He told me he felt the same way, and that’s why he knew he had to carry it in his selection. He went on to say, how unfortunate it was that she died in a car accident and we aren’t able to see what more she would have written, what she would’ve become. I swear in that moment, I had to hold back my tears in the middle of Church street. We agreed we’re lucky to have the words from her that we do. I know, it’s such a small moment but to me it meant so much all at once. I mean, it’s my favorite thing on the planet to do…encounter people you share a niche interest with, and even for a moment in time can bond over. Our conversation spread from there, as he asked what brought me to Nashville, and what area of town I was living in. He then went on to tell me about a Motown Monday music night at a spot near me, and a funk night on the weekends, and some other gems I wasn’t totally aware of yet. It was just an all in all great interaction and I felt like it deserved to be written down.
Now, if I can connect with a stranger on a Saturday over how incredible The Opposite of Loneliness is, and what a shame it is that Marina Keegan’s life ended so soon…then if you haven’t read it yet, isn’t that reason enough?
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meg says read this, Read This

Read This: Today Will Be Different

30book-blog427-v2It’s been awhile since I’ve shared a book post with you all, but I’ve been sluggish on working my way through some books right now. I never do this, but at one point, I’d actually started four different books simultaneously and was about 50 pages into each of them. (Horrible, I know.) BUT! While I was still in Florida, (and soaking up the end of those summer reads at the beach, or by the pool, or let’s face reality – in the air conditioning laid out on the floor after either one of those activities because the heat can be brutal…I finally read Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different. 

If you’ve ever asked me for a reading recommendation, regardless of your age, gender, whatever – I have probably brought up Where’d You Go Bernadette? at some point in the conversation. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. (Soon to be a movie, so if you haven’t read it yet, read it before you watch!) Maria Semple is a quirky writer, and I don’t know how else to say that. If you have a brain that transitions between about a dozen thoughts in the span of thirty seconds, and you start telling a story with about twelve tangent ideas, and can’t remember where you started? then you’d probably have an easy time getting into Maria Semple’s style. That’s not to say she writers erratically and scatterbrained, as the thought process I’m describing above. No, it’s quite the opposite actually. I think her style is wonderfully crafted. There’s just a special flare to her characters that you have to appreciate.

So, with Where’d You Go Bernadette holding such a special place in my book loving heart, I was excited to finally read Semple’s most recent novel, Today Will Be Different. Let me say, I was not disappointed. I had no idea what to expect, and I kind of went into the read that way intentionally. Unless I see a ton of hype about a particular book on Twitter, or if I’ve read the book jacket intently, I tend to try and go in pretty oblivious to synopsis and such because I hate the spoilery nature. Even if something surprising is going to happen early on, I want it to be a surprise if it was intended to be a surprise. That all being said, (wow, I’m long winded today!) I’d rather you have a similar experience if I can help it.

So, get ready to jump along for the ride in a day in the life (and chaotic mind) of Eleanor Flood, with her son Timby, husband Joe, and a slew of other intriguing characters. It’s a whirlwind of a read, covering so much ground, in such a short period of time. Career, goals, ambitions, marriage, sisterhood, family. Eleanor lives in Seattle, but she and her husband had planned to return to New York at some point. She thinks about this constantly. She thinks about everything constantly, actually – or maybe not enough, which is perhaps the problem. She’s flighty, and impulsive, but outrageously entertaining and all of her whimsical movements really do seem to run deep as you get to know her, contrary to what her behavior may lead you to believe.

Eleanor has a plan for how the day will go, all the normal things she will accomplish, but as life often goes…the day doesn’t unfold quite as planned. Follow the misadventures, and be prepared to laugh out loud because Semple’s style is splashed all over the pages again with this great read!

meg says read this, Read This

Read This: We Are Okay by Nina Lacour

It had been quite a while had been quite awhile since I’d read anything by Nina Lacour when I picked up We Are Okay. I’d seen a lot of positive feedback on Twitter, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Let me tell you, I was not prepared for the emotional journey it took me on. I read it on a hot summer day in Florida, melting by the pool. At one point, I couldn’t tell if I was sweating or crying (not kidding, it was feels like 103 that day.) This is such an emotionally stirring story.

The book begins with young college student Marin, preparing to stay in the dorms alone in NYC while her school shuts down for winter break. The groundskeeper is the only other human, close by. We don’t yet know why Marin is staying there, or who Mable who might be coming soon, is. Well, soon we learn.
This is one of those books that I think is best to read without having a whole big overview, going into it. It’s better to just let the story unfold itself sometimes.
Instead of a plot summary, I’ll share some of the basic takeaways from this story. We’re reminded that people aren’t always who we think they are, that each of us has our own demons we fight everyday, that family doesn’t have to be someone we’re related to by blood, or can connect the branches on a family tree. We’re reminded how strong the bonds of friendship can be, that sometimes, even if we’d rather shut the whole entire world out, that those bonds can be an immense link to something that will feel like it’s reviving you when you’re drowning – a life preserver of sorts.
We’re reminded that you don’t always have to disregard your entire past to move forward. It’s possible to use those experiences to shape and grow who you will become.
Marin experiences quite the personal journey of growth in this story. She begins to learn healthy ways to navigate grief, she recognizes the importance of keeping close those who truly know and love you, and she fights to get to the point where she’s not just surviving, but she’s ok.
This is not a light hearted read, by any means but I think it’s a special story. By the end, I was in tears. It’s a quick read, partially because of length, but also because the vague details near the beginning will make you want to turn the pages faster to get the full idea of everything going on. Check it out!
meg says read this, Read This

Read This: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Wow. So, it hasn’t been too long since I completely gushed over Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King. Well, of course when I got my hands on a copy of Goodbye Days, I absolutely loved it as well. Like, seriously. One of those books where you procrastinate the important thing you should be doing (in my case – packing,) because you just cannot stop reading. In this gripping novel by Zentner, we meet teenager Blade living in Nashville, TN. The story opens with Blade attending yet another one of his best friend’s funerals. That enough is a shock, right? Well, unfortunately – it’s the third funeral. Blade’s best friends Mars, Blake, and Eli were killed in a car accident while he was at work. The accident occurred when Blade was sending a text message to the friend driving, Mars. The families of Blade’s friends each respond a bit differently to the tragedy. Some of them are kind, open, and forgiving (at least in trying to console the fault he’s placed on himself,) but others are not so comforting – casting off blame, guilt, and bitterness. Blade’s parents are loving and kind but he doesn’t have very open communication with them. He’s close with his older sister, Georgia but she’s about to head off to college, so he needs to confide in someone. In comes Jesmyn, who was Eli’s girlfriend. She moved to Nashville over the summer, and had met Eli at a music camp. It’s an absolutely awful circumstance to bring two people together, but Jesmyn and Blade both need someone to talk to, someone who can at least slightly get what they’re going through. (It doesn’t help that they go to school with Eli’s twin sister who definitely blames Blade for everything.) So, not only is Blade trying to navigate the pain and guilt of suddenly losing the three closest people in his life all at once – he has a giant black legal cloud hanging over his head. Mars dad decides to pursue a criminal investigation. You’d probably be having panic attacks to if you were him, right? Well, at least Georgia talks some sense into Blade (or forces some on him basically) by taking him to her therapist, so he is at least talking to a professional. In the meantime, Blade spends time with Blake’s grandmother. She is grieving immensely as well. It makes me tear up just thinking about her scenes in the book. Blake’s mom was in no position to have a child, so when Blake was younger his grandma basically rescued him from a bad situation. Blake and his Nana were a team, that’s for sure. Blade tried to help around the house in ways that Blake used to, as if the tasks could help alleviate some of his guilt but also because he truly cared for Nana as well. On one of these days, is when Blake’s Nana proposed the idea of a “goodbye day” where she and Blade would do all the things that she wished she could’ve done with Blake on a last day together. The emotional enormity of such a situation is overwhelming even to consider. It’s just as literally heart-wrenching as it sounds, but it’s still…a journey you want to go on with him. Zentner writes this story in such a beautiful way. You experience Blade’s grief with him, and his stumbles as he tries to navigate life, writer’s block, planning college essays even though he’s devastated that his best friends don’t have those futures to look forward to anymore. This book is absolutely heart-wrenching, but also beautiful, and complicated and doesn’t that all just describe how life is, anyway? It amazes me the stories Zentner has within him to share, and the way they navigate such huge life topics that feel like they can swallow you whole. When you finish reading though, you’re not left in a pit of despair, there’s hope and there’s growth, and there’s the progression of life because you’ve gotta keep going. One of those reminders you can’t hold everything in, and it shows how art and communication, and reaching out, and sometimes just being yourself in whatever emotion you’re feeling – right in that moment, is how you keep taking baby steps forward. This is a heavy story, but a wonderful one – I highly recommend you check it out!

meg says read this, Read This

Read This: The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas’s debut novel The Hate U Give has spent  about 24 weeks on the NYT Bestsellers list. That’s not a coincidence. If you haven’t ready this story yet, you’re missing out. I suggest you settle in for the roller coaster of emotions you’re about to experience when you finally dive into this heart wrenching, powerful, giant chunk of truth you’re about to devour.

I honestly believe this is one of those books that everyone should read, a book for all ages. Don’t let the category of “young adult fiction” turn you off (though, let me just say if it does? Get over it!) It’s a punch in the gut and a squeeze in the heart, but Thomas doesn’t shy away from anything. I wholeheartedly agree with John Green’s “stunning.” Seriously. (It’s heavy for a beach read, but anything is a beach read if you bring it with you right? I was just glad to have my sunglasses to shield my ugly cry.)

Starr Carter is just a teenager hanging out at a party, catching up with old friends, when a fight breaks out and everyone scatters. She catches a ride with a childhood buddy, and next thing you know – they’re getting pulled over by a cop. There’s so much aggression and tension in the situation even though neither of the teens were doing anything wrong. The situation escalates, and next thing you know Starr is holding the lifeless body of her friend as he dies in her arms at the hands of a cop.

Thomas explores such a tumultuous terrain in the story. Starr at first doesn’t want people to know she was involved. She doesn’t want the media attention. She doesn’t want her friends at school who don’t really know the reality of her life, to judge her. She starts to question everything around her. Whether her friends actually see her for who she really is? When I say Thomas explores a variety of terrain I mean – she goes down paths that lead to questions about applying stereotypes, preassigned notions to people or their actions. Do you think about what might lead a kid to sell drugs? One who doesn’t even do drugs himself? The options people have based on their living situations, but the desire to turn their lives around. Think about the undeniable link of family and the lengths that people will go to to help each other survive, at all costs. There are a lot of things to consider here, things to think about without making snap judgements and I think Thomas leads the reader through these – gently, but with the rush of reality. The wave of emotions – fear, hope, uncertainty – you pull for these characters, you see how they get backed into corners at time and feel stuck. You understand the decisions. Then there’s also the media portrayal, odd details that are emphasized even if there’s nothing to back them up – and then all of the pertinent information that’s excluded.

We live in wild times. Countless people have lost their lives for absolutely no reason. Maybe you have your own thoughts about this before hand. I think that by allowing you to get to know characters, their backstories, their families, their aspirations, their struggles – Thomas adds a layer of compassion that hopefully opens readers’ eyes to multiple sides of a story. Hopefully it makes them consider angles they haven’t before.

The Hate U Give made me cry, but it’s probably not for all of the reasons you might think. I cried because here was the story of a girl who had lost so much, got caught in the middle of an awful situation, wanted justice for her friend, wanted those she loved to be remembered for the amazing people they were. I cried because Starr finds her voice, and Thomas makes you feel like you’re standing next to her in the street as chaos rises all around them. I cried because maybe the Carters are a fictional family, but this story is real and it’s happening around us right now. I cried because it sucks that anyone has to experience this. I cried because it’s a shame that we’re having to fight to remind people the importance of human lives. That we’re all equal. I cried because it’s 2017 and why are we still here? But we are. And it’s important not to pretend that we’re not. It’s important to understand where people who are different than you are coming from. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, despite differences in circumstance, socioeconomic status, etc. – we all have feelings, we all have friends and family, we all have more in common than different at the end of the day.
I most definitely, 1000% recommend this one. Read it, share it, talk about it. Go in with an open mind. Think about it.

The Hate U Give is now being made into a movie (with an amazing cast,) but I would definitely recommend reading the book before you watch!