2016 Year End Wrap Up

2016 Year End Wrap Up

  • 70 books read
  • 42 Books by women
  • 38 Books by men
  • 13 Books by POC ( I did not do well here. I also am making some assumptions from author photos.)
  • 7 Books by LGBTQ identified folks (this one is kind of hard since I don’t always know if an author is LGBTQ unless they have said so.)
  • 23 Audiobooks
  • 8 Graphic novels

3 Favorite Fiction
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist – Sunil Yapa
The Girls – Emma Cline
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

3 Favorite Non-Fiction
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City – Matthew Desmond
Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman –  Lindy West
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen – Jazz Jennings

Author discovered this year who I will go back and read all of their books: Megan Abbott

Book that made me cry on a plane: Mosquitoland – David Arnold

Book about mental health that I thought depicted depression better than most books: The Memory of Light – Francisco X. Stork (I also met him at BookCon and he was incredibly kind and awesome to talk to.)

Book that I was shocked I liked so much: Tiny Pretty Things – Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Highlight of my bookish life: Meeting Ann M. Martin with tears in my eyes because as a kid I never dreamed I’d ever meet her.

I’m not setting any specific goals in 2017 aside from my arbitrary 50 books read. Feel free to leave a comment with book recommendations for me this year. I always love a good cult or commune in fiction!

Reading Young Adult as an… Adult

GloryOBrienIn celebration of I Read YA week:

I don’t feel old in my mid-30s, but I have aged out of being able to call myself the target audience of young and also new adult. During my time as a teen in the 90s, the young adult genre was only an inkling of what it has become in recent years. In the past, I read a lot of coming of age novels, which were mostly male authored with male lead characters. A few of my favorites as a teen were Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Skipped Parts by Tim Sandlin and Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne. I was desperate to grasp onto any fictional character who could validate the  mess happening in my brain in my fight to deal with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. I was dealing with thoughts and feelings that I didn’t feel safe divulging to judgemental and gossipy friends, so I turned to fictional friends as an alternative.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve obtained a more trustworthy circle and learned more about the best ways to keep my mental illness in check, some of my old fictional friends aren’t the best to go back to. Just like most toxic relationships, it’s best to cut the cord. So long Holden Caulfield. You have a spot in my heart for holding my hand through junior year, but we’re over. The genre of young adult fiction has exploded in recent years. With that, we’ve seen a slow but growing uptick in diverse authors and thus characters. Where I had to settle for literary friends at one time, I can now seek out heroines and heroes for which I don’t have to compromise. If a character is a misogynist, I can toss them aside and not fret that I may not find someone in another novel with values closer to my own.

To this day, I have to focus on recovery from the traumas and mental illness symptoms I had in my younger years. In addition, my mental illnesses are those that require constant work and treatment in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. What I have found in many current YA titles are characters who are dealing with these same symptoms. These characters are facing traumas that I faced. Not realizing others shared these experiences, I have taken to voraciously reading these novels in adulthood. I have hurts from that time in my life which still need to heal. Recently I read The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork and was absolutely blown away by the way in which he crafted the experience of depression through the main character, Vicky Cruz. Her depression had an air of guilt engulfing it. She questioned why she had suicidal ideations when she came from an upper middle class background. She could see other people had a more marginalized position in society and didn’t understand why depression could exist in her. This was something I struggled with from external sources in my teens. I was thus able to let go of the hurt I still carried from people who asked me why I was depressed when I had what appeared to be a comfortable life.

I find that the gap in my mental health treatment is slowly being closed by meeting new characters in YA fiction. Whether it’s the inspiration to continue working for the betterment of society despite PTSD from Katniss Everdeen, or persevering to fight the bad in our world when having trouble fitting in to a certain societal mold from Tris Prior. When given a fictional character that mirrors our own struggles, we can take cues in how we might heal from the past or conquer the future.

My Life With Harriet

It was in 4th grade when I first read Harriet the Spy. If I recall that long ago, my mother encouraged me in picking it out from the Trumpet Book Club or Scholastic Book Fair that I was so lucky to have access to in elementary school. My mom, who wasn’t much of a reader in adulthood, still ensured that I was surrounded by plenty of reading materials. Since it was originally published in 1964, my mom had fond memories of Harriet the Spy as a kid. She felt that it would be beneficial if I created my own.11927448_10153605462999803_4000456873288842970_o

I remember dragging my copy of Harriet the Spy around as a kid: on road trips, in the bathroom, to school, to the baby-sitter’s, wherever I might have even five minutes to take in a few pages. At that age a nearly 300 page book was slightly intimidating. Even now I don’t take in too many novels much longer. But with Harriet, I just wanted to get as close to her as possible. In 4th and 5th grade I remember being very confused at the new group dynamics that were taking place in the classroom. Cliques began to form, other kids were on the outskirts or beginning puberty and acting in ways I thought at the time were wackadoo. I was beginning to question my Catholic upbringing and was regularly reprimanded for my ponderings in CCD class (Catholic Sunday school held on Tuesday nights).  Harriet was also curious about why people did what they do and why they think a certain way. I felt a kinship in questioning life with Harriet. She kept me company even when she was waterlogged (whoops bathtub!) and spine cracked.

Recently, I re-engaged with Harriet with a close read. As we are all worried that our childhood favorites won’t hold up in adulthood (a reason I haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye in over 15 years) I went into my reading with slight trepidation. Would I find Harriet a total uncaring brat? In my brain was a scene from the movie adaptation of Michelle Trachtenburg (pre-Dawn Summers) screeching at the top of her lungs. As soon as I hit the passage where Harriet is ignoring the morning Bible reading at school choosing to write instead, “Ole Golly says there is as many ways to live as there are people on the earth and I shouldn’t go ‘round with blinders but should see every way I can,” I knew I was welcoming Harriet right into my heart all over again.  At 35 this is still how I try to live my life. Is that inherent? Was it instilled through my friendship with fictional Harriet? Did she confirm what I had always had in me and I see her as someone to refer to when feeling like I’m sometimes living more as an observer rather than participant of society?
I couldn’t relate to the fact that Harriet had a nanny and lived in an upscale part of New York City, but the connection was there. I wasn’t about to laser off the tattoo I had gotten at age 19 from one of the original illustrations in the book. I had gotten my tattoo of Harriet while going through a trying time in my mental health battle with my anxiety causing disassociation and I still felt secure in that decision to keep her with me. “Is everybody a different person when they are with someone else?” Harriet ponders. It’s only recently I am starting to be able answer these types questions, even then without complete certainty. I am so grateful to have a book to continuously go back to throughout my life and can come out of each reading with even more questions but also more answers than each previous visit.