Diversity of Gender

I live in the binary. Basically, I tend to categorize things into two piles. Things I like and things I do not like. Good things and bad things. Smart people and dumb people. Women and Men. Democrat or Republican.

To some extent, I think it’s human nature to put a label on something. Labeling allows our brain to categorize and better sort information to pull at a later time when we might need it. There’s been a big movement in the mainstream visibility of trans* individuals, largely due to Caitlyn Jenner and her fame. However, people who identify as gender non-conforming or gender fluid have not gotten as much public attention. I’ve been really interested in looking at how fiction approaches this topic, and this weekend I read Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin as my first foray into these types of books.

Symptoms of Being Human is the story of Riley Cavanaugh, the child of a California congressman. Riley is gender fluid, some days feeling masculine, other days feeling feminine, and other days feel a bit of both. Riley is struggling with these confusing feelings while also trying to survive high school and being thrown into the spotlight through her father’s public service. This book is the story of a teenager just trying to figure out which way is up.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Working with college students and known some individuals on both a personal and professional level who have struggle with their gender identity, I wasn’t exactly new to the topic. However, Garvin writes this story with such sincerity that I felt a little of what Riley was feeling while navigating the world. As you read along with Riley’s struggles and online blogging (!!!) life, you get a glimpse into how hard it really is to try to live up to others’ expectations.

Although there are many things that I could highlight in this book, I want to talk about this concept of the binary and categorization. A couple of chapters into the book, Riley misgenders a classmate. When I first read the scene, I was kind of horrified. Riley spent the first couple of chapters trying not to spiral out of control as people referred to Riley as “it” and other completely inappropriate pronouns/names. And then Riley is (although not to the same extend) passing on binary judgement of others. I stopped reading at this point, because I was attending a conference and had to go to some sessions. As I reflected on what I had read and discussed the book a little with some of my colleagues, I hoped that Garvin would spend more time addressing Riley’s own use of the binary.

When I returned to the book, I found that Garvin did just that. Riley reflected on using the binary to describe Bec, who later turns into a love interest, and comments on how prevalent the need to categorize is in our society. This is the point I want to drive home. Sometimes what is right is not what is easy. And it’s really easy to try to put others into convenient predetermined boxes. I think this book helps the reader recognize the danger of categorizing people. It’s something I have to actively work at not doing, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Until Next Time World…

February Wrap-Up & March Reading

For the past two weeks I’ve basically been doing nothing…

So this blog post is long overdue. I’ve been in sort of a rut lately. Work has been busy as we interview and pick staffs for next year. I recently went to Wisconsin for a week to recruit people to work at my University. It’s been a good time for conversations about politics, privilege, and religion – my favorite topics. But consequently, it’s been a bad time for books. March was supposed to be my re-read month, but I’m moving it to April. So hopefully my birthday month can be filled with some of my favorite authors and books!

In February I read 14 books, which is about a third less than I read in January. However, I’m still ahead of my reading goal for the year – so I’m happy.

  1. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
  2. Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King
  3. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
  4. The Anatomical Shape of A Heart by Jenn Bennett
  5. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
  6. The Audacity of Hope by Barrack Obama
  7. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  8. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
  9. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
  10. Yes Please by Amy Poehler**
  11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  13. Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen
  14. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Per usual, my top five are highlighted in red. The ** will mean that it is better to listen to this book as an audiobook!

Until Next Time World…


The hype monster strikes again…

Passenger is the much anticipated release of Alexandra Bracken’s new trilogy. It’s a time travel fantasy novel that takes place in many countries during many different centuries. Being new to the blogging world, I thought I’d try to read a newly released book with everyone else to stay current. There seem to be people who LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. And others who are completely bored by it. I think I fell somewhere in the middle. On Goodreads I gave this book a meh-worthy 2.5 stars.

The story of passenger is focused around two teenagers, Henrietta (Etta) and Nicholas. Etta was born in modern times, while Nicholas was born during the American revolution. Bracken lets us know two things off the bat about Nicholas. 1.) He’s black,the child of a slave and her white owner. 2.) He’s a pirate, a member of a low socioeconomic class. Etta is classical musician, but other than her ability to time travel (HELLO. The point of the book.) we don’t know a lot else. There are a number of things about this book that are problematic as far as literature goes…some of the writing, some of the story narrative, and the minimal and confusing world building to name a few. However, you know me (or at least you should be beginning to have an inkling), I want to talk about some of the smaller motifs within the book.

As this is a time travel novel, I thought that Bracken did a good job of applying cultural relevance to the cities and time periods our main characters found themselves. Although good portion of the book was spent in Nicholas’s native time, she did not spend as much time describing some of the social customs and tensions that were relevant during the American revolution. She did, however, provide some insight into Nicholas’s internal struggle of being attached to a powerful family, while maintaining the status of a second class citizen. Both Nicholas’s race and bastardization were presented as central to his character and Bracken showed how they affected his self-confidence off the boat in colonial society. I appreciated that Bracken tried to tie in race and socioeconomic status into her fantasy story. Young adults need to read stories about people who are different from the norm, and Bracken sets a good foundation for this to be expanded on in subsequent books.

As Etta and Nicholas moved through the time periods as the book progressed, I found that the cultural context of the various cities and time periods improved greatly. Bracken reached her stride when the two reach Damascus. The characterization of the city, its culture, and its people was good and thorough. I found myself really into the setting and story line. It is because of this ending that I think I will continue on with the series, even though I didn’t love it. I’d recommend this book for anyone who is interested in time travel and fantastical elements of stories. There’s also a “pirate” angle that could be interesting to some people. Overall, I was happy about this series beginning to tackle some real world problems related to identity.

Until Next Time World…

First & Then

First & Then by Emma Mills was supposed to be my first video blog post. As you can see, this is not a vlog. I guess I’m a little too camera shy. When I was reading this book, I enjoyed it so much because it reminded me of a cheesy romantic comedy. I think in the book world we can sometimes be a little snobby toward the overused tropes and over the top lovey-dovey romance outside of the romance genre. I’m calling BS on that. Romantic comedies sell really well, and so do books that have elements of romance. If they did help a book sell, then authors would stop adding romance to stories! I thought it would be cool to share my thoughts about this book through a visual medium, but you’re stuck with just my old writing. When I eventually work up the courage to post a video blog, I’ll be sure to keep them short and simple, like my reviews.

First & Then is about a high school girl, Devon Tennyson, who is trying to figure out her not-so-distant life after high school. Mills brings an interesting cast of characters to help Devon sort through her senior year concerns and worries. Foster is her recently abandoned younger cousin. Cas is her male best friend, on whom she is obviously crushing. And where would this book be without the superstar jock (jerk) athlete Ezra. Let me tell you, this book was cute. It was definitely romcom material cute.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the amount of character development the author was able to go into without it seeming too forced. Cas was by far the least developed character, and as a reader I was a little confused as to why Devon even liked him. Ezra, was a great character. I felt he was developed pretty well, and generally had high school boy emotions. Sometimes I find that authors write HS boys like they’re heaven descended on earth. They are not. Not even the good ones. So I appreciate what Mills did with  Ezra.

Although the character development is good, I think the plot had a little too many points. This book touches on so many different topics – from drug use to anger management to coming-of-age-isms. Mills was trying to do a lot. I think in attempts to tie everything up into a cute bow, some of these points were lost or brushed over. This would be the one issue that I had with the book. I think that it should have had about 60 more pages to further expand on some of those plot points and make the ending feel less flat.

I think that anyone who wants a cute, fast read should consider picking up this YA book. It left me with warm fuzzies.

Until Next Time World…


Life, Love, & Romance?

I have a love-hate relationship with Aziz Ansari, and he doesn’t even know it yet. 

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari is a book about dating and romance in modern society. It hit bookstores last year and flew off the shelves, even winning a Goodreads Choice award for best non-fiction. This book had been several years in the making, and Aziz has some hilarious stand up on the modern dating scene. It was pretty obvious that I was going to have to read this book.

And well…I did. I finished the book in December, and it left something to be desired. I’ve waited to write a review on this book, because I wanted to be able to better articulate my thoughts around it. I’ll start off with the things that I really enjoyed about the book.

  1. It really is non-fiction. This book is well researched. It gives the reader lots of recommended reading if they’re interested in exploring a topic more. Ansari did a great job of intimately tying sociology into his take on romance today.
  2. It gives a brief history of romance. When I went into this book, I thought that it would be solely about dating. Again, Ansari surprised me by talking about how the history of romance and how we chose our partners has been revolutionized in the technological age, accompanied by the ability to travel.

With the good, often comes the bad…

  1. Why was it printed in color? This is a petty point. I know it’s a petty point, but it still bothered me. The publishers (editors? Ansari?) chose to print this book in some kind of weird color format that only emphasizes shades of blue. It didn’t make the graphs easier to read, and I kept wishing they had just printed it in black and white.
  2. The jokes Ansari tries to insert inside of statistical data are bad. It’s not that they’re just not funny; they’re actually really bad and ill placed. Whenever I read an interesting fact, Ansari came stomping into the end of the paragraph with some weird comment that had no relation to anything. He often inserted motifs from his own life, most surrounding yelp and brunch, in order to attempt to connect to the reader. I don’t have famous Hollywood friends, and I can’t afford to spend ridiculous amounts of money on lavish meals. So instead of making me connect with Ansari through this data, it made me wish someone else had written the book without the “funny” commentary.
  3. 75% of the book was fairly common knowledge. I have read other books on dating/romance in today’s society. I love to read the statistics that OkCupid produces every year and how their CEO analyzes the data. So, I can understand if someone who has zero exposure to any of this might find this book new and revolutionary.  However, I was bored. A lot of the theories present have been written about many times by many people. Even though it’s a short, quick read – I felt like it dragged on, making similar points in different chapters.

Although I was not a fan of this book, several of my friends really enjoyed it. I haven’t been on the dating scene in a while and Ansari does give some useful advice for those people who are still on the prowl. Overall, if the topic appeals to you – it won’t hurt to read this book.

Until Next Time World…

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is the much anticipated “sequel” from the To Kill A Mockingbird author so widely read in American literature classes in high school. When it was released last year, I was excited to see where the characters that were so beloved in To Kill A Mockingbird would go. Since I  am always a little late to the game (and I also have a Goodreads TBR of over 300 books), I didn’t get a chance to read it until this year.

If you don’t know about this novel, it was the “first draft” of To Kill A Mockingbird. Supposedly, when Harper Lee turned it into the publisher it was rejected and the current TKAM was created. TKAM focuses on race relations in Alabama during the height of the Jim Crow era. For many, this book has provided hope for race relations in the US and is a classic example of socially conscious literature. Go Set A Watchman has a different message, and it’s not presented in a nice, neat package.

Before I get too far into my analysis of the book, I have to start off by saying that I LOVE this book. Part of why I love it stems from it’s release several decades after TKAM. It’s essentially the continuation of a conversation on race relations and morality. Go Set a Watchman is the story of a twenty-something Jean Louise “Scout” Finch who is returning to Alabama for a mini-vacation from her New York reporter life. She’s returning home to an aging Atticus and a childhood love interest.

The main conflict in this novel is that Atticus, Scout’s beloved moral father, is involved with a suspect group of prominent white men who want to restrict the opportunities of Blacks in the county. When this is revealed Scout calls into question her entire childhood and moral upbringing, and she is forced to reconcile what happens when someone you love holds different beliefs than you share. She goes and visits her Black caregiver, Calpurnia, in attempts to gain some perspective about her childhood, but is only turned away with more questions than answers.

Before I read this book, I kept seeing negative reviews from TKAM fans. I think that the reason so many people dislike this book is because there is no clear resolution. We don’t ever get insight on Atticus’s motives. There’s no resolution with Calpurnia that is either positive or negative. We don’t know what happens with Scout and her potential love interest. It’s a little too much like real life. What makes this book special to me is knowing that it painted a more realistic picture of racism. A lot of times prejudice is placed in a vacuum. People are all good or people are all evil. I think this theme is more evident in Go Set a Watchman than it was in To Kill A Mockingbird. As I followed Scout’s narrative and emotional reactions to what she was witnessing and feeling, I could completely understand the frustration and hurt that one feels when they think they are being betrayed by a loved one. I don’t think there are enough books that touch on the delicacy of these emotions, especially within a political context (HELLO, STATE’S RIGHTS).

I think this message is important, and it is necessary in today’s racial/political climate. It’s possible to raise children to be more morally sound than we are, and it’s also important to understand that most people’s beliefs cannot easily be summarized. This book is short; so if you’re a fan of TKAM or interested in socially conscious literature, I’d check out this book.

The Opposite of Loneliness

I’m not so sure that there’s a “right” time to read a book. However, if there is I definitely read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan at the right time. The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of fiction and non-fiction essays written by Marina Keegan during her undergraduate years at Yale. Five days after her graduate, she was killed in a car accident on her way to celebrate with her family and boyfriend. In an effort to honor Marina’s legacy, her parents and professors selected several of her essays for compilation, resulting in this book. “The Opposite of Loneliness” is the title of an essay that went viral after her death in 2012.

I went into this book with a lot of preconceived judgments. Although I understand that everyone at Yale is so much smarter and more motivated that I am, I just don’t believe that. There’s so much privilege and prestige that is unnecessarily given to the ivy leagues, that I find myself proceeding with caution whenever I realize someone has studied at one of them. Secondly, in the times of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and so many others – how is society really praising their lives? Where are their books, their musings, their writings? Terrible I know, but I can’t help but see the privilege that Marina’s parents were able to publish her works into a novel. Despite these notions, I still requested the book through inter-library loan. I received the book just a few days before I found out that one of my friends and classmates from college had died just a few days before his 28th birthday. Having recently moved back to New England, I had lost contact with a lot of my friends and classmates through my move to the Midwest. As I work my way around the states, I find myself catching up on the old times and remembering why these people were a part of my life to begin with…but there isn’t enough time for everyone.

As I read the first couple of essays in Marina’s collection, I was skeptical, disliked several, and overall felt unimpressed. Then I attended the wake and services for my college friend. Throughout the services I kept thinking about his parents. Being an only child myself (as he was), I couldn’t even begin to imagine the grief that they felt nor would continue to feel after he was laid to rest. Upon returning home, I found myself locked outside of my apartment (thanks work!) with ample time to finish the book. As I read the rest of Marina’s essays (her non-fiction voice, being MUCH stronger than her fiction voice), I thought about Marina and my friend and wept for them. Two incredibly intelligent people, whose time was cut too short on this earth.

As far as The Opposite of Loneliness is concerned, Marina was an excellent writer. I think she would be upset to find some of these clearly unfinished essays in this book, but there’s no doubt that she had a sound literary voice. I particularly think that she might have had a knack for investigative non-fiction, particularly in the time of Making a Murderer and Serial. By the end of the book, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of the appreciation that her parents and professors had about her talent during her short time on earth. And honestly, if publishing these essays gave her parents any solace at all – I’d pay to give them just a little bit more.


Until Next Time World…

Good Kings, Bad Kings

This is the perfect title of Susan Nussbaum’s book about a state-run facility for disabled youth. Good Kings Bad Kings is a poignant story told from several view points of the kids and adults that are affiliated with the facility. As I write this from snowy New England, I immediately thought of her book full of kids who need a wheelchair to be mobile. On the campus where I work and live there is moderate, but mostly poor snow removal. Because of this there was a snow day and all classes were cancelled. However, those students who needed to eat breakfast at the dining hall this morning were out of luck. At 4PM the walkways are sort of better, and wheelchairs can probably navigate the paths that have been left by the snow plows.

Reading diversely is something that I’ve seen a lot around the internet book community. Diversity in general is something that is championed in my field, and I fall right on board with the ideas of these two communities. The increase in books, specifically for young adults, regarding mental illness and disease have been welcome and praised for the last several years. Authors, actors, and other celebrities have been actively working to reduce the stigma of mental illness, especially those as common as depression and anxiety.

Although I often engaged in conversations about mental illness, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender fluidity, ableism still seems to be a term that stumps many. Hell, google chrome doesn’t even recognize it as a word! Nussbaum was paralyzed in her twenties, confined to a wheelchair for almost 40 years now. A notable playwright and activist in Chicago’s disability rights movement, Nussbaum had a lot of personal experience to pull from while crafting the world of Good Kings Bad Kings.

The first thing you’ll notice about the book is that each character has their own voice. I mean that quite literally. Some of the characters don’t speak English fluently. They all possess a different level of mastery regarding the English language. Some of them sound formal, while others use “street” language. If you’re someone who has a hard time understanding non-standard English, then you’ll have a hard time with this book. I think that you should get over that and give it a try anyway. Besides focuses on the rights of the disabled and the stories of children confined to a wheelchair, Nussbaum explores how intersectionality is very relevant and important.

Intersectionality, for those of you who do not know, focuses on the intersections of our identity. For example – I am a woman, but I am also Black, American, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and college-educated. All of these factors play into how I present myself to the world, even if I am most concerned about being a woman. Nussbaum creates characters who are disabled, but also have extremely varied socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and education levels. I believe that this focus on those intersections, helps Nussbaum create real, dynamic characters that make the story more enjoyable.

Good Kings Bad Kings is a fairly quick read at 320 pages. The vignettes of each character, composed as chapters, are often funny and insightful. There’s a mini-love story and a cause that the students champion as they learn that they are worthy and do have a voice. I think that this book sheds a lot of light on things we often forget – underfunded state facilities, the move to privatize state systems, activism, and life with a disability. If you’re looking to diversify your reading, this is a pretty book to start.

Until Next Time World…

Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Oh my goodness. I absolutely adored this book. There are a lot of political and social issues that fit perfectly within the context of Becky Albertalli’s story. Being a gay teenager in the South, being outted as a gay teenager, the dangers of social media, internet relationships, etc. I could go on for a long time about any of these issues, but today I want to focus on the book. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is a young adult novel set in Georgia about a 16-year old named Simon who has been put in a precarious situation. Emails between Simon and a mysterious male student know as “Blue” fall into the hands of his classmate who uses the emails to get Simon to help him with his love life. Continue reading “Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda”

Racism has no context.

Pretty recently I “rediscovered” Lupe Fiasco. By rediscovered, I mean he came up on shuffle while I was listening to my iPod. He’s a rapper that is pretty well known for the political undertones in his lyrics. The title of this post comes from his song “All Black Everything” which is a narrative about what the US might look like if slavery had never existed. As a black woman, I cannot remove my race from the experiences that I have in life; so I think that the song is pretty fun to think about. Unfortunately, racism has a lot of context in our world today, unlike the imaginary world Lupe Fiasco creates in his song.

I should preference by this post by saying that I am not the most well read on black politics or black thought in general. There are some great bloggers out there that devote all of their time to issues of racism and race relations in the US. (I will also create a page on this blog that links to some of these bloggers.) However, I think that talking about racism and thinking about racism are valuable uses of one’s times. I recently read (and tweeted about) Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book Between the World and Me. It’s critically acclaimed and has been a hot topic in both my worlds – higher education and the book community.

Continue reading “Racism has no context.”