Reading Round-Up: Early 2018

Lately I’ve been reading a ton and not writing at all. Oops. Rather than do individual posts for the MANY books I’ve recently finished, I figured it was time for another reading round up.

The Good

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I grew up watching the 1980s adaptation of Anne of Green Gables all the time as a kid as it’s my mom’s favorite movie(s). When Anne with an E came out, I devoured it. Yet, I never actually read the books. When I saw an edition of the series with the most BEAUTIFUL covers from the indie bookstore I go to, I had to snap them up. I’ve only done the first book so far, but I love it so much. I’ll write a better post on the entire series later with pics of the covers, but I just needed to gush a bit. Oh Anne, how I love and relate to you.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Click image for source.

You may remember my loving post on Every Heart a Doorway from a few months ago, or you can check it out now. I finally got around to reading the sort-of-sequel, sort-of-prequel Down Among the Sticks and Bones. In this installment we get a closer look at the twins sisters Jack and Jill who were pretty major players in Every Heart a Doorway. Constrained by the rigid roles their parents put them in–Jacqueline forced to be a polite, pretty princess and Jillian stuck being a rough-and-tumble tomboy–the two find their door at age twelve. In the morbid and dangerous realm of The Moors, they are able to switch roles and live the lives they always envied in their twin.

Things I love in this book: LESBIAN ROMANCE!!!, neat-o observations of gender constructs/social roles, interesting look at how you can love your family but not really like them and how that can play out when the stakes are high, tense parent-child relationships, vampires that are actually dangerous (no more Twilight-syndrom, please and thank you. Vamps can be dangerous every once and a while), and so much more. Seriously, pick up this series. Continue reading

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Let’s talk about death, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things in the death industry! Let’s talk about death!

Image from Goodreads. Click for link.

We’re all going to die. And no, I’m not being hyperbolic or melodramatic. Everyone dies at some point. However, our culture puts a certain level of taboo on death, dying, and anything that has to do with the care of a body once it is no longer alive. I’ve always found that a bit ridiculous. Maybe it was my early introduction to death and corpses or maybe it’s my bizarre interest in death rituals, but a lot of how we deal with death in contemporary society seems pretty fucked up to me. Continue reading

Review: The Female of the Species

Content warning for discussion of rape, sexual assault, and murder.

click image for source

They say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but that couldn’t be truer than with The Female of the Species. The cover is bright green and has a variety of animals displayed, making it appear to be a light-heart-ed contemporary YA novel that has something to do with animals. It is not.

Don’t trust the published blurb that describes the plot of this book either. It makes The Female of the Species out to be a modern murder mystery. With a first line of “This is how I kill someone,” I can see how some people got a bit confused, but this isn’t some novel riding the true crime wave going through our culture right now.

So what is The Female of the Species? I’d say the best way to describe it is as a pointed look at sexual assault and rape, the effects that trauma has on not only the victim, but an entire community, and how one of the strongest bonds between women is often the fear of becoming a potential victim. Heavy stuff for a book with such a bright cover. Continue reading

Every Heart a Doorway: Wayward Children Book 1

Image from Goodreads. Click for Source.

Sometimes a book is gifted to you and it turns out to be exactly what you needed. I ended up with a copy of Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire after a Christmas party with friends. My old roommate, Ella, bought it for me after reading it in her YA for Adults book club. I had never heard of it before, but now I’m obsessed with the series. Continue reading

Depression Hits Hard Today

I, dear internet, am feeling feeling fragile today.

It’s 2:00 in the afternoon as I write this, and all I’ve consumed is a banana, some crackers, and two cups of coffee. My appetite is gone, and even if I forced myself to eat, everything would taste bland and have trouble going down. Ice cream was even brought out and deemed unappetizing.

My mind can’t maintain it’s focus on anything. Not sewing. Not reading. Not gaming. Nothing. All I want to do is lie down and stare at the wall.

A deep need to cry is felt, but something is blocking my tear’s escape. It’s not sadness I feel, but hollowness. Emptiness.

I know I’ll be okay, and I just need to ride this out, but damn depression sure doesn’t pull its punches.

Reading in Review: 2017

I thought it would be fun to wrap up the year by looking at and analyzing what I read on a scale larger than the singular book reviews I tend to do. All in all, I read 42 books. It wasn’t quite my book-a-week goal, but considering I wrote a seventy-page thesis, applied to graduate schools and assistantships, graduated, and have been job hunting, I’d say the number is pretty damn respectable.

I think it is critical to consume diverse media. As expected from the word itself, diversity can look like a lot of different things. In particular, I want to look at the types of books I’m reading and who’s writing them. So here we go:

Book Type

Fiction: 27 books

YA: 13

Literary Fiction: 7

Short Story: 2

Hard to Categorize: 5

Nonfiction:14

Memoir: 6

Biography: 1

History: 3

Essays/Essay Collections: 2

Instructional: 2

Poetry: 1

Author’s Gender*

Women: 32

Men: 10

Multiple Authors/Mixed Gender: All books with multiple authors

ended up being by groups of men

Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming: none ūüė•

Race/Nationality*

Authors of Color: 10*

Further Breakdown: African American (3); Native/Indigenous (2); Chinese-Canadian (1); Pakistani (1); Latinx (1); Palestinian (1); Lebanese (1)

White Authors/Generally American/European: 32

Now let’s reflect:¬†Overall, I read mostly fiction, but my nonfiction consumption has been growing over the past few years. I never thought I would be into nonfiction, but lately I’ve been wanting to learn everything, and what better way than by reading? Plus, I’m really loving memoirs as of late. I think I’d like to get my fiction-to-nonfiction ration balanced out a bit more, but fiction is just as important and should not be skimped on either! I read a shockingly low amount of poetry this year, with only one collection completed. That must be rectified going forward. I doubt it will ever consume as much of my attention as fiction or nonfiction, but I do want to delve deeper into it. I also, surprisingly, did not read any plays/scripts this year. Maybe I’ll finally get around to reading some Shakespeare that isn’t a tragedy this year.

I overwhelmingly read female authors, and I’m totally okay with that. I read once that men fail to read female authors while women read male and female authors at about an even rate. I found this horrific because that means that female authors are getting the shaft while male authors are being read by everyone. Obviously that study was a long time ago and very cis-centric, but it’s still fascinating to me. I should look up some recent trends about that, because I’m a curious person.

That original article surmised that men find it difficult to relate to female protagonists while women are more adaptable. Is that really what’s going on? Who knows. Though, maybe if men read more female authors, we wouldn’t be having the painful sexual harassment discussions we’ve been having lately.

I didn’t read enough authors of color. Usually I take a class that really focuses on either transnational authors or American authors of color. I didn’t my last semester, so my numbers are a bit lower than I think they must have been the year prior, though I didn’t look into it so I can’t be sure.¬† I want to make a more conscience effort to read books by people who don’t look like me. It’s important, especially in today’s political climate here in the states. I think fiction is one of the best ways to try and understand what its like to be someone who isn’t you. We’ve always needed that extra empathy, but I think the divisiveness that has always existed in this country is screaming at us even louder than it has in the recent past.

This list is also not wholly accurate. I know that several identities are often lumped in with “White Americans or Europeans” nowadays. For example, I know there are several Jewish authors that I’ve read this year that live in America or Europe. I did not include that in the breakdown because I did all of this analysis all at once and long after reading most of my books. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to go through and start looking up the identities of authors I read months ago. If I included and identity as a subsection, I didn’t want to count one author and miss another with that same identity that I had read.

In the future, I’m planning on making a spreadsheet that I can update as I read the books. Then I can also really easily have the statistics and charts to go along with it. It will be more manageable for me to go in-depth if I do it as I go rather than all at once at the end. I’m a nerd, so I like that sort of thing. I think it will be fascinating to track how my reading changes and evolves over the years.

Do you make any kind of conscious decisions about who you read? Or do you just pick up what looks good, reading where your mood takes you? (Which is totally fine, btw) Have you ever tracked your reading like this? If so, tell me all about it!

 

*I tried my best to reasonably assume the gender identity of authors and hunt down the race and/or nationality of authors. I hope I did them justice, and any misunderstanding of their identity is an honest mistake for which I apologize. I also did not dig deeper and go into further less-visible identities, such as sexuality or a heritage that is less at the forefront of¬†an author’s public persona/super-duper easy to find. I plan on doing better in the future so I can better represent who I read.

 

Why I Started Quilting at 22

Quilting is not a hobby associated with youth. Rather, when one imagines a quilter they often picture a someone closer to retirement than their college graduation. So just why do I now spend my weekends at a quilt class or volunteering at the quilt museum rather than brunching with my friends as so many millennials are known to do? Well, dear friends, there are reasons aplenty.

My Mother

My mother has always been a sewer (sewist?). Growing up she made her own clothes rather than buying them. She made suits for her brothers in exchange for her first car. All of my Halloween costumes growing up were homemade–no store bought allowed. She even crafted the bridesmaids dresses for my sisters wedding! But that love of sewing was never passed on to me or my sister. She tried and tried, but we were stubborn. Whenever I sat down to try sewing a shirt or dress, it always led to frustration. The needle would break. I’d run out of thread. I cut the pattern wrong. Oh how I detested sewing. But a few years ago, my mom started quilting. While there are obviously many similarities between the two crafts, they really are completely different games in so many ways. After my childhood hatred for sewing, I had no plans on following in my¬† mother’s footsteps at the time, but I adored helping her pick out patterns and fabric. She made me a beautiful quilt that I use every night.

My Hometown’s Resources

While my hometown is small, coming in at around 5,000 people in the last census, we are mighty when it comes to quilting. The famed Marianne Fons of Fons and Porter¬†lives here. We have multiple stores that sell quilter’s cotton and other tools of the trade. We’ve got a quilt guild that has made and donated thousands of quilts to a local children’s hospital’s NICU, makes Quilts of Valor for veterans, and puts on a quilt show every year to show off what they’ve made. Recently an entire museum focused on quilts opened up on our town square.¬†We were even featured in the Iowa issue of Quiltfolk–a serial¬†focused on different states and communities of quilters.

On top of all of that, the quilters here love to teach others. A few teach in their homes, which is how my mom decided to learn. Our quilt store also holds a class almost every month, which is how I’m learning. It’s really handy to learn quilting from a professional quilter who also designs and sells his own patterns (yes his–a male quilter manages the quilt store I go to). Between him and the ladies who take his classes, I’ve learned tons of tips and tricks that I wouldn’t have gotten just from reading a book or quilting on my own. If I do say so myself, it’s helped me get pretty darn good at quilting in just a short amount of time.¬†

My Mental Health

It’s no secret that I’m not happy with where I’m at in my life right now. My plans were thrown into chaos a few months ago when I decided to put off grad-school and focus on paying off my current student debt before accruing any more. It was the right decision for me, but it was and is still hard. So now I’m job hunting. While job hunting is always difficult, the highs and lows are exacerbated by my depression and anxiety. After a few months of submitting applications and rarely leaving my house, I knew I needed something else to focus on. Since my mom already had all the tools needed and I was so well positioned to learn, I figured I might as well give quilting a go.

Honestly, having these projects has kept me from falling into pits of despair or having frequent anxiety attacks. You see, I tend to be a bit obsessive about things, both my hobbies and my anxieties. It was getting too in my head about this whole job thing. Books and video games, while great distractions, weren’t doing enough for me. I needed something constructive in my life.¬†Quilting fit that description for me.Being able to set goals and achieve them in one area of my life makes it easier to live with so much uncertainty of my job hunt. Plus, being able to wrap up in a blanket is very soothing when you’re anxious.¬†

The craft has done wonders for my mental health, and I’m not alone. There are lots of articles¬†(like this one) about how crafting (which quilting would be included in) helps your brain. Long story short, it increases your dopamine levels, and dopamine helps you feel relaxed. Crafting also helps fight the effects of aging on the brain. Though I don’t have to worry about that quite yet, it’s fascinating how the activity influences your brain.¬†

 

Now, if only I could find more millennials interested in quilting so that my community didn’t consist almost solely of women more than twice my age. Don’t get me wrong, I love those ladies, but I crave being able to share this craft with people closer to my own age too.

Post Graduation Feelings of Failure

I was excited to graduate from college. I’d put in a ton of work and had earned about every form of honors possible. I received university honors for keeping up a high GPA, taking special honors classes, and doing experiential learning. I earned honors in BOTH of my majors by writing an honors thesis that was over seventy pages long. And I was awarded entrance into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s most prestigious honors society due to all the work I’ve done. I felt great; a little sad to leave my friends, but ultimately excited for my future. And then it all fell to shit.

Initially I was all set up to go to grad school this fall. I was planning on attending the #1 school in the country for library science to work on earning masters. Unfortunately I didn’t get funding despite being assured¬†that I most likely would¬†when I accepted my admission (the whole reason I accepted at the time). I applied for so many assistance-ships, but I got nothing. And with tuition + cost of living = over $50,000 a year, I simply couldn’t afford not to have funding. So after a lot of crying, I decided to put off furthering my formal education.

The decision was hard, but I by no means regret it. Getting $100,000+ in debt for a job that really doesn’t pay all that much just didn’t seem like a good idea. On top of that, the current administration is trying abolish the public service loan forgiveness program and hoping to change how taxes work around academic tuition, so it’s about to get even more expensive to get a masters or PhD.

With that decision, I joined all the other college graduates trying to find full-time employment…only I’m a few months later to the party than they were. In theory, I feel like I’m a great hire. I clearly learn well, and I’ve been working since I was sixteen. Plus I’m personable, dedicated, and creative.

I wasn’t surprised to get my first few job application rejections. Rarely do people¬† find their first professional job right away. But as the months have gone on and my (metaphorical) stack of rejection emails has grown taller, I’m losing heart. I know, I know–this all takes time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to be continually turned down for jobs. The sting is even stronger when the posting didn’t require any experience or even a college degree. It’s hard every time not to ask, “what’s wrong with me?”

Logically I know it’s not just about me. You and the employer have to mesh. Maybe someone else just has more experience. Maybe the timing isn’t right. Who knows? It could be anything on an endless list of reasons. I know that. But, friends, I’m tired. I’m so ready to be done job hunting. I’m ready to leave my temp-job where I answer phones all day and get yelled at about things I can’t change. I’m excited for my minimum student loan payments not to take half of my month’s income anymore. I want certainty.

All of this rejection and uncertainty has often led me to feel like a total failure; like going to college, working, and all the extra things I did weren’t worth it. Again, I know that’s not true, but those evil little monsters in my head sure do try hard to make me believe it. For someone who was so successful and ambitious in the world of academia, not being able to translate my skills and experience into the professional realm is bringing a lot of internalized shame that I need to deal with.

In the mean time, I’m working on reevaluating what I want my¬† life to look like–what I need in my life to be happy and what is a bit more flexible. Maybe I need to be a bit more creative in my job search. Maybe I shouldn’t limit myself to my rural state of Iowa. I don’t know, but I’m ready to know what’s next.

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne

When it comes to Dragon Age, Bioware’s fantasy RPG franchise, I’m a bit, well…obsessed. I’m late to the fandom, having only started playing the games about 8 months ago, but I have immersed myself in the world Bioware has created. Thedas is full of political intrigue, religious conflict, thrilling battles, and steamy romance. I’ve gone on to spend hundreds (I’m not even exaggerating) of hours playing the three Dragon Age games available. Thankfully the canon consists of more than simply the video games. The creators have published novels, comic books, and even some movies.

Today I want to look at the novels.¬† So far five have been published, three of which are written by David Gaider, one of the lead developers for the franchise. I’ve only finished the first two, The Stolen Throne and The Calling. These two books are the prequels to the first game, Dragon Age:Origins.¬† I got a little rambley, so we will just start with The Stolen Throne for today. Continue reading

Q&A With Your Friendly Neighborhood Ace

I’m doing a Q&A with questions I’ve either been asked or assumed people wanted to ask about my sexuality. So read on!

Wait, what is Asexuality?

Asexuality is a sexuality…sort of…basically it’s an umbrella term for those of us that experience sexuality a bit differently than most of the population. The prefix a- negates the word that follows it; making a-sexual mean basically non-sexual. I know, I know, it’s weird to define yourself with the negation of something else but, hey, we do the same with atheists. Since it’s a non-normative sexuality, the existence of the term really highlights the diversity in what people experience.

Generally speaking, those of us that identify as asexual (or ace for short) don’t really have the same sexual urges or desires as other people have. We (mostly) don’t look at someone and think “I like that. I want to touch that.” However, asexuality, just like any other sexuality, exists on a spectrum. Some people are completely against the idea of sex and want nothing to do with it. Some people may not have their own interest, but will have sex to please their partners. Some experience sexual attraction, but only after having an incredibly deep emotional connection to others. It’s complicated and everyone who relates to it has the right to use the term if they find it helpful, no matter what others say.

So it’s like celibacy, right?

No. Celibacy is the choice, often for religious reasons, to abstain from sex. Asexuality is a sexuality, like heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, etc. As such, it is not a choice. It just is. While some ace identifying people may also choose to not have sex, there are also many reasons someone under the ace umbrella would have sex.

Are you going to be single forever?

Maybe, maybe not. Some asexual people date, get married, etc. Some don’t. I don’t know what I want from my life right now.

Were you abused or assaulted? Are you just afraid of sex?

Okay, first of all, that is a very personal question that you shouldn’t just casually ask someone when the topic of sexuality comes up. It’s happened to me a few times, and it always takes me aback. Don’t ask about someone’s potential trauma. If they want to talk about it, they will bring it up.

And now on to the actual answer: just like people from any sexuality, some people have experienced sexual trauma. It may even be the source of their sexual identity. That is totally fine and valid. However, many people who identify as ace have had no sexual trauma. We just aren’t that into it. It can come from fear, but it doesn’t have to. Either way is valid and people with any background should feel comfortable using the label if they want to.

But seriously, don’t ask this. If someone had experienced sexual trauma in the past, or maybe even someone nearby, it could trigger them. Not cool buddy. Not cool.

Maybe you’re just not doing it right. Want my help?

Oh yes. I’ve gotten this one. From a friend’s boyfriend actually. No thank you. I would not like your help. We don’t need to have sex to help me determine whether or not I’m actually asexual.

Why identify as ace at all?

This is something I’ve even asked myself. Since asexuality inherently doesn’t really involve others (usually), many people question whether they should use the term or “come out” as ace. Obviously that’s a very personal choice and no one should feel pressured one way or the other.

Realizing that asexuality existed came as a huge relief to me. For a while, I just thought I was a late bloomer. Then I thought I was broken. Now I know I’m ace. I’m still figuring out my romantic attraction and what I want from life, but the term and community has been highly¬† beneficial to me. That’s why I identify as ace. Others may have other reasons.

Will you be ace forever?

Yes? No? Maybe? IDK? All answers are acceptable. Sexuality is fluid, y’all. I assumed I was straight until the knowledge of asexuality came into my life. I’ve had a crush on people of more than one gender. But right now, I highly doubt I will identify as anything other than asexual. Even if I choose to have sex later, I still don’t have the same level of sexual attraction that my friends seem to have.

What’s with all the cake memes?

Who knows? If you search the ace tag on tumblr, you’ll find lots of jokes and memes. The most common is the cake meme. I think it has to do with the joke that many ace identifying people find more pleasure in the idea of eating cake than in having sex. I’m more of a brownie person myself. Mmmm brownies. (Mostly I just wanted to end on a lighter note.)

 

So that’s all for now folks! I hope you’ve found this PSA and Q&A informative and enjoyable. Wanna (respectfully) ask something else about asexuality? Hit me up in the comments. Either way, I’m sure I’ll be posting about ace-related topics more on from now. There’s already a few percolating in the back of my mind.