A Bookish Update #7

Finals week is… too close for comfort, unfortunately. I haven’t read that much lately, and most of what I have read has been for school and not for fun. However, I’m trying to fix that and make this week different by REMEMBERING TO MAKE TIME FOR MYSELF for little relaxing things such as curling up with a book that wasn’t assigned to me. I’ve been getting way too wrapped up in end-of-semester stress and was starting to forget the intense love for books that drew me to what I’m studying in college.

Enjoy!

Finished A Little While Ago

That would have to be Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which I read for my Black Fiction Now class. A highly inventive book that explores the effects of racism upon one’s mental state using poetry, lyric prose, and multimedia components!

I didn’t intend to read this during National Poetry Month, but I’m glad I did. We read it right before Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (which I’m not including in this post because it was a reread for me) and if you haven’t read either, I would strongly recommend that you pick up both at around the same time because Coates’ book balances out Rankine’s by taking a look at how racism affects the body.

Just Finished

I finished A Mercy by Toni Morrison on Monday! It was the first of Morrison’s books I’d ever read, although I’d been meaning to try some of her writing for quite some time, and now I’m lamenting the lack of free time I have because AHHH I WANT TO READ MORE.

My Black Fiction Now prof explained this novel as an exploration of what life in early (1690s) America was like, before slavery had become wedded to skin color. I really admired Morrison’s craft in this novel – the multiple perspectives, the speaking/writing/thinking styles of the different characters, the shifts in time, et cetera.

Currently Reading

I’ve been reading Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, which is FANTASTIC. I read her poem “All You Need Is Yourself” a few days ago as part of National Poetry Month and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to more of it. I was on a waiting list for more than a month, so I couldn’t be happier that it was finally available for me to pick up at the library. Her poems are mostly quite brief, but absolutely raw with emotion.

Reading Next

I should have finished Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad several weeks ago seeing as how it was assigned as part of the second unit in my Literary Retelling & Impersonation class and we just finished the third unit… but I didn’t have the time, oops. I really enjoyed what I did get the chance to read, though, so I’m anxious to get back to it! It’s a super short book, so it shouldn’t take me very long.

Reading Soon

After The Penelopiad, I want to read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. That book has been on my TBR for ages and I meant to have it read before the TV adaptation came out, but then SCHOOL and also LIFE interfered. I have a feeling it’s gonna be super weird to read this book in the age of Trump, ew.

Recently Added To TBR List

Some of the books I recently found and/or were recommended to me are:

  • Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager is EXACTLY my kind of thing – an illustrated history of LGBTQ+ people whose names we all should know!
  • Steph Bowe’s Night Swimming is an F/F YA novel set in Australia (!!!) and it sounds super cute!
  • I want to get my hands on Scarlet Witch, Vol. 1: Witches’ Road by James Robinson ASAP because I love that character so much and I’m really excited to read her brand-new series, the first installment of which was published just last year!
  • One of my friends recommended Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes and I think I’m going to read it even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the same author’s book Ghost World, just because that friend’s rec of Ice Haven sounded so interesting.
  • Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke is a graphic novel memoir about grief and loss… so, sounds like very similar emotional territory as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I LOVED.

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Feel free to steal this idea for your own blog, or answer the questions in the comments! Actually, PLEASE answer the questions in the comments, because I would love to know more about your reading habits! (And what is the best book you’ve read lately? Do you have any recs for me?!)

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National Poetry Month | Days 21-25

This April, I’m reading one poem per day to celebrate National Poetry Month! I asked you for recommendations, compiled a list of the most promising-sounding works, and have been having great fun with this project ever since! This is the fifth of six updates, with my thoughts about the most recent five poems I’ve read in each post. You can find my earlier posts for National Poetry Month here.

Enjoy!

4/21

Dividend of the Social Opt Out

Jennifer Moxley

I love the feeling of relief that washes over me when people cancel our plans, because it means I don’t have to psyche myself up for BEING SOCIAL. I think this poem does an excellent job of capturing just how reassuring, pleasant, and satisfying such a moment can be. #introvertlife #exhaustedcollegestudent

4/22

Pluto

Maggie Dietz

Published just last year, this super cute, sweet poem is addressed to… you guessed it, Pluto! Ahhh, this was so playful and fun to read. Now I’d really like to try my hand at writing a poem to a misunderstood object!

4/23

All You Own Is Yourself

Rupi Kaur

With finals rapidly approaching and approximately six thousand final projects due within the span of a few weeks, my stress levels are gradually rising… so I strongly appreciated this poem. I’m SO glad I read it when I did. When I made my reading list for the month I didn’t stop to think about what I would be doing each day or week, just scheduled things willy-nilly. “All You Own Is Yourself” is going to get me through the rest of this semester!

4/24

Insensibility

Wilfred Owen

Such a heartbreaking poem about WWI! I’ve really enjoyed the books I’ve read about that era of our history, but haven’t read much poetry about it so I’m now interested in exploring it further! Apparently it uses a lot of Biblical imagery, which makes me want to do some research on it when I have the time because I don’t really… like, get references to the Bible because I was raised without religion.

4/25

The God Who Loves You

Carl Dennis

Thinking about hypothetical futures takes up more of my time than I’d like to admit, so I only wish there were more of this poem! It was so bittersweet.

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Have you read any of the poems mentioned here, or any by the same authors? Do you have any recommendations for further reading for me based on these works – a sort of “if you liked that, try this” thing? And how are you celebrating National Poetry Month?

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Local College Student Parodies Fairy Tales | Read All About It!

During the first unit of my Literary Retelling & Impersonation class, we studied tales by the Brothers Grimm and I felt inspired to pick up a very old writing project of mine. We’re required to write one retelling and one impersonation per unit, so I used an idea from a story I wrote over five years ago: Writing a news story parodying a fairy tale!

Since I wrote the original story way back in middle school (eighth grade, I think), it was simultaneously cool and cringey to read it after so long and see how my writing style has changed. Plus, now that I’m actually a journalism major and am learning how to write according to the standards set forth by the AP Stylebook, I better understand the format in which the news is traditionally written and don’t have to, well, wing it nearly as much as I did the first time around.

You can read the original story, a retelling of “Cinderella” I posted in August 2012, here.

Anyway, back to the project I’m creating this semester. The retellings and impersonations written for this class are, obviously, supposed to be based on what we read in the class rather than being about just any old story. So I took all my thoughts about “Snow White,” of which we’d read several versions, and transformed it into a lengthy front-page-type article about how Snow White finally snapped and killed her evil stepmother, the Wicked Queen, by setting her on fire. (A modern update on the red-hot shoes the queen wears as she dances to death, right?)

My years-old “Cinderella” retelling, despite all its now-glaring mistakes, is still one of my favorite things I’ve written, so it was incredibly fun to return to the form.

And now I’ve turned my newspaper fairy tale parodies into my final project in this course.

In my April college update, I said I was going to write a retelling of King Lear based on the Trump and Pence families, and I do still intend to. But… I was spending way too much time brainstorming and outlining, and balked at actually writing it because I was still fumbling for ideas. AND I HAVE A DEADLINE TO PRODUCE WORK. Maybe I’ll tackle that project over the summer, or else save it for another writing workshop some other semester, because I really would love to write it someday: I think it’d be hilarious.

But I don’t have time now, and that’s OK. So instead I’ve been writing little news stories based on all sorts of fairy tales. I have stuff based on “Little Red Riding Rood” and “Fitcher’s Bird” because those were also tales we read in class, but I got permission to branch out to multiple other tales (plus some of Aesop’s Fables) as well to ensure that I hit the length requirement of ten to twelve pages.

I have singles ads, a sports section, an advice column, sections labeled “Fashion” and “Food & Drink,” and missing person notices. I’m hoping to expand to sections about crime and births/deaths/engagements/weddings. Letters to the editor would be fun, too.

I’m drawing upon “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and more. (There’s even a version of “Cinderella,” entirely unrelated to my original attempt. It’s a singles ad placed by Prince Charming.)

Some of my stories are highly influenced by Perrault or the Brothers Grimm, while others are very Disneyfied.

“A Whole New World” has been on repeat lately because it’s one of my faves and I finally hit ten pages yesterday afternoon!

I can’t wait to share snippets of this project once I’ve revised and expanded it some more, probably in two or three weeks! Working on it has reminded me just how much I love writing humor, something I haven’t really done in college because I’ve been self-conscious and tried to be more serious.

What writing projects have you been working on lately?

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National Poetry Month | Days 16-20

This April, I’m reading one poem per day to celebrate National Poetry Month! I asked you for recommendations, compiled a list of the most promising-sounding works, and have been having great fun with this project ever since! This is the fourth of six updates, with my thoughts about the most recent five poems I’ve read in each post. You can find my earlier posts for National Poetry Month here.

Enjoy!

4/16

Ugly

Warshan Shire

A beautifully written musing on war, diaspora, and heritage. Definitely a new favorite! I asked the library to buy a copy of Teaching My My Mother How To Give Birth, the book this poem is from… and they did, but their copy hasn’t arrived yet which just makes me even more anxious to read more of Shire’s poetry!

4/17

Domestic Violence

Eavan Boland

Although I read this earlier in the week and have had plenty of time to think about it, I still can’t quite put my finger on what I liked about this poem. I do know that someday I would like to try writing in this style! And that ending, wow. Just wow.

4/18

Taking Aim At A Macy’s Changing Room Mirror, I Blame Television

Marcus Wicker

Absolutely amazing commentary on race! It actually references some of the things we’ve been discussing THIS WEEK in my Black Fiction Now class. Like, if I’d read this a few months ago before learning about what, say, double consciousness is, it would have affected me differently because I would have been confused as to what the author was talking about.

4/19

My Sad Captains

Thom Gunn

I definitely have to think about this one some more, too! The writing and imagery were gorgeous, even if I didn’t totally understand what was going on at first. I had never heard of this author up until now but I know I’ll have to seek out more of his work.

4/20

The Golden Shovel

Terrance Hayes

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As I read this, it kept reminding me of “We Real Cool,” a Gwendolyn Brooks poem I have fond memories of studying in a writing workshop my freshman year. Ten minutes and some googling later, I discovered that Hayes created an entirely new form, called the Golden Shovel, with this poem: The final word of each line is taken from “We Real Cool” and his poetic experimentation has led to numerous other people creating their own versions based on other Brooks poems. EEEEE I’M SUCH AN EXCITED ENGLISH MAJOR RIGHT NOW YOU DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND.

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Have you read any of the poems mentioned here, or any by the same authors? Do you have any recommendations for further reading for me based on these works – a sort of “if you liked that, try this” thing? And how are you celebrating National Poetry Month?

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The Effects Of Racism On Mental Health As Explored In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World And Me” | AKA A Paper I Wrote For School

I promised to post more about my essays and projects and stuff this school year, so today I’m sharing a paper I wrote for my Black Fiction Now class! The assignment was to analyze one of the books we read in the second half of the course, so I chose Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the best book I read last year. (I just realized I never wrote a review of it… oops! Well, maybe I’ll get around to it one of these days. We can always hope.)

My paper topic kept changing as I got more and more ideas, so it was really interesting to write this piece because even I wasn’t sure what the end result would be! Eventually, I decided to write about how racism can both cause and exacerbate mental health problems. I’m very interested in examining how being part of a minority or marginalized group can affect your mental health in part because I have first-hand experience with that, so I thought exploring the mental health issues of a marginalized group different from my own would make for a good paper. 

Of course, since my analysis is based not on personal experience but on what I read in and understood from this book, feel free to respond to this paper in the comments as needed – calling out, clarifying, et cetera. As I said earlier, Between the World and Me was my favorite novel of 2016, so I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say about it!

“I feel the fear most acutely whenever you leave me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes to his son, Samori, on page 14 of Between the World and Me, a letter to the young man in book form. The fear Coates speaks of is “constant interrogation… confrontation with the brutality of [his] country… ghosts… the sheer terror of disembodiment” (12).

Throughout his book, Coates highlights the tremendous amount of pressure anxiety exerts upon black parents, who can never be sure if their children will come back to them unharmed. When apart from his son, Coates feels troubled about the distance between them, knowing that there is no guarantee that he will return alive and well, that his son’s body may be taken from him and from his family.

The repercussions of police brutality and racism upon the mental health of black people, such as Coates and his father and his son, linger throughout their lives.

From very young children learning to be watchful of their actions to parents whose anxiety about the safety of their children prompts them finds relief through physical violence to parents who have lost children telling others’ children to be strong, Between the World and Me illustrates the ubiquity of mental health issues caused and exacerbated by racism.

On pages 91 and 92, he gives the example of the time Samori, at age four, scampered off to play with other children during a preschool visit, causing Coates to feel that he should hold his son back only to consider what kind of message that would send to him: “…that a four-year-old child be watchful, prudent, and shrewd, that I curtail your happiness, that you submit to a loss of time.”

From a very young age, a sense of fear and watchfulness is instilled in black children out of necessity; interactions with white people, especially figures of authority, feel very scripted as a result. Since they are pressured by society to act in a certain deferential way, these children lead a very different childhood than the one experienced by white kids: “This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our smile… It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three-hour days for us.”

In Between the World and Me, Coates also charts the ways his ideas about black fatherhood were influenced by his own childhood in Baltimore. He recounts the story of how, at age six, he slipped away from his parents at a local park one day and caused them to panic. “When they found me,” he writes, “Dad did what every parent I knew would have done – he reached for his belt” (16). Coates continues,

Later, I would hear it in Dad’s voice– ‘Either I can beat him, or the police.’ Maybe that saved me. Maybe it didn’t. All I know is, the violence rose from the fear like smoke from a fire, and I cannot say whether that violence, even administered in fear and love, sounded the alarm or choked us at the exit. What I know is that fathers who slammed their teenage boys for sass would then release them to streets where their boys employed, and were subject to, the same justice. And I knew mothers who belted their girls, but the belt could not save these girls from drug dealers twice their age… We were laughing, but I know that we were afraid of those who loves us most. (16-17)

Out of an impulse to protect their children from the violence that would likely be enacted against their black bodies, these parents tried to teach them – out of “fear and love” what they could and could not do in this racist society. They did this in an attempt to instill this knowledge in their children before the police beat them, to paraphrase what Coates’ father articulated. And yet it also caused a deep hurt, which Coates puts words to on page 63 when he asks the question, “Why was it normal for my father, like all the parents I knew, to reach for his belt?”

As is shown in the excerpt above, Coates realized that no matter the intent behind those actions, they didn’t always work. The parents, despite their fear and “more anxiety than anger” could not save their children from their futures: “Not being violent enough could cost me my body. Being too violent could cost me my body” (15, 28).

The parents in the Baltimore of Coates’ youth sought a middle ground, one where their children were resilient but not too outspoken, and tried to achieve this by enacting physical violence against them to allay their fear of police brutality being enacted upon their children. If their children knew to toe the line at home, these mothers and fathers reasoned, perhaps they would be more likely to survive the violence of racism.

These parents were making the best of a bad situation and, based upon my reading of this book, I think one of the questions Coates struggles with is how to do better with his son.

At the same time, he realizes that no matter what, he too has to make sure his son understands that the rest of the world may not be so forgiving of hoodies and baggy jeans, of music played at top volume, of swagger and loud voices and impetuousness – of young men acting like young men do, in other words.

Because these young men are black, the rest of the world reads more into their appearance than there really is, transforming them, as Trayvon Martin and many others were, into “murderous juggernauts” (105).

On pages 111-114, Coates allows his son to accompany him to an interview with the mother of a slain young black man, and she tells Samori this: “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”

Coates is grateful she said this. “I have tried to say the same to you,” he writes, “and if I have not said it with the same direction and clarity, I confess that it is because I am afraid.” There are no easy answers here, but this much is clear: These young people need such words from their elders if they are to navigate life in a white supremacist world.

Coates himself takes a stab at providing an answer on pages 107 and 108 when he tells Samori that he is sorry he cannot make things okay, that there are no guarantees of safety and respect and growth in this world but that thinking through these issues will ultimately sharpen his son’s mind.

“You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels,” he writes, but adds that, “I am speaking to you as I always have – as the sober and serious man I have always wanted you to be, who does not apologize for his human feelings, who does not make excuses for his height, his long arms, his beautiful smile. You are growing into consciousness.”

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An Update On My Classes | Toni Morrison, Writing Scripts, & Midterms

Hi, everyone! Time for another update on my classes! I didn’t have the most productive weekend, since I was sick and therefore didn’t have the most effective studying sessions. Nevertheless, I’m determined to use this Monday as a catch-up day because I am busy busy busy in all my classes.

Enjoy!

Black Fiction Now

This week we’re reading Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, which should be interesting seeing as how I’ve never read any of Morrison’s books but have been meaning to. I’m like 99% sure we have one or two novels to go after that, but I can’t for the life of me remember what they are and I’m much too lazy to check the syllabus even though all my school stuff is right next to me. #collegestudentproblems

I also need to get to work on the final project of the semester, a five-to-eight page paper about one of the works of literature or concepts (or both) we’ve discussed these past few months. I’m doing my project on Moonlight since I absolutely adored that movie. Specifically, I want to take a look at how news articles about the movie’s Best Picture win at the Oscars focused just as much or more on La La Land and how that is symptomatic of the larger problem of black stories always being discussed in the context of white stories / a white audience.

Lately I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about turning this project into a blog just as I did for my research project about LGBTQ+ adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a different class last summer, but I still need to ask permission to do that. As a matter of fact, I scheduled a meeting with my professor this morning and I’m writing this post as fast as I can before I have to scurry off in five or ten minutes.

Literary Retelling and Impersonation

I’m having SO MUCH FUN with my final project for this class! I’m writing a retelling of King Lear based on the current presidential administration because as I read the play I kept noting similarities between Trump and Lear, as well as many other characters and current political figures. I decided to write it as a script, rather than in prose, because I don’t have a lot of experience with that genre and I figured it would be a challenge. My professor cracks up every time I tell her about a new idea I have and I’m loving it.

Foundations of the First Amendment

I love history but god, this class is dull. The second midterm was Thursday and I, for one, never want to hear about another Supreme Court case involving free speech rights ever again. Unfortunately, I still have to for another few weeks because we aren’t quite at the end of the semester yet. I’m hoping that the final will be more engaging, at least, because it’s a paper instead of a test. So I’ll have more time to write and think!

Writing Across Cultures

The number of reading responses due and AP Style quizzes taken is beginning to taper off in anticipation of all the work we’ll have to do for the final project, an in-depth feature story. (Plus a query letter in hopes that at least some of us can get these things published somewhere!)

I’m going to write about how the administration at my school cooperates (or, well, doesn’t cooperate) with trans students who want to socially and/or medically transition. My motivation? I have quite a few friends who have begun transitioning in the eighteen months since I started college* and have long been curious as to how easy or hard my university makes that process. Like, can they get hormones at Student Health & Wellness or are they referred out to healthcare providers in the community? Whose efforts led to the ability to change your name on official school records, introduced last year?

*Wait. Has it been that long already? How???

Principles of Reasoning: Arguments and Debate

I thought I finally understood what was going on but now I’m completely lost once again and just hoping I can squeak by with a C so that this class counts toward my math gen ed requirement! SOMEONE PLEASE HELP AHHHHH. My professor curved the midterm, turning my D into a B, so that’s good. But I’m sooo confused. Honestly, it makes me want to cry sometimes. Cannot WAIT until this course is over.

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How has your life been? Tell me one new thing you learned in school lately! Are you just as stressed and ready for the end of the semester as I am?!

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National Poetry Month | Days 11-15

This April, I’m reading one poem per day to celebrate National Poetry Month! I asked you for recommendations, compiled a list of the most promising-sounding works, and have been having great fun with this project ever since! This is the third of six updates, with my thoughts about the most recent five poems I’ve read in each post. You can find my earlier posts for National Poetry Month here.

Enjoy!

4/11

November, 1806

William Wordsworth

Such a fiercely hopeful poem! I totally read this with the present day in mind – the Trump administration and all that, you know. I faked my way through Wordsworth’s verse in Foundations of the English Major last semester and I really regretted that after reading this. I’ve been missing out!

4/12

The Legend

Garrett Hongo

Quiet. Beautiful. Sad. I think it’s about loneliness and how disconnected we can feel despite being surrounded by others. The website where I read this poem says it was written in memory of Jay Kashiwamura, a name I’ll have to look up when I have the time: I’m really curious now.

4/13

I Am Offering This Poem To You

Jimmy Santiago Baca

I’ve read a number of poems about writers and writing so far this April, but I don’t think any resonated with me quite so strongly as this one. Writing is, among so many other things, an expression of love! Oh my gosh, I need to start a collection of poems and quotes on writing as an act of love… maybe I could use of my gazillion trillion empty notebooks for that?

4/14

How To Be Perfect

Ron Padgett

This is an extremely long poem that I spent a lot of time both reading and thinking about. It’s filled with life advice… some serious, some not. I’m tempted to try writing my own version because the format was just so much fun!

4/15

Dialogue with an Artist

Matthew Sweeney

The halfway point! “Dialogue with an Artist” is such a lonely yet beautiful poem. I interpreted it through the lens of mental illness despite not knowing if that’s what it was intended to be about. That’s the great joy of reading, right? You can give everything its own meaning. I can’t get the line, “Had I not been lonely, none of my work would have happened” out of my mind.

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Have you read any of the poems mentioned here, or any by the same authors? Do you have any recommendations for further reading for me based on these works – a sort of “if you liked that, try this” thing? And how are you celebrating National Poetry Month?

P.S. Check out my latest Her Campus article: Seven Women Poets You Should Read To Celebrate National Poetry Month!

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