Normal People by Sally Rooney

Ok, yes, I finally caved to the hoards of Glossier-wearing, Man Repeller-obsessed NYC cool girls and picked up Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel, Normal People. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy it just for the gram (but I did post a picture of it, in case you’re curious), I bought it for “research,” which is code for “Dad, I really want to visit Ireland.” Plus, when an author is called “Salinger for the Snapchat generation” I feel an obligation, as a member of said generation, to give it a chance.

When Rooney’s editor called her “Salinger for the Snapchat generation” I think they were referring to the fact that reading Salinger feels like a status symbol. It says, “See? I’m cultured. I only checked SparkNotes once during 10th grade English.” I’ve only read Nine Stories and my biggest claim to fame is that he mentioned my school by name in Catcher in the Rye. I’m not any sort of literary expert, but I think calling people phonies and posting your vacation read on Instagram is pretty much the same thing.

Here’s the best part: Rooney’s characters mock this cultural charade in their very book. When discussing book readings, protagonist Connell says, “It was culture as class performance, literature fetishized for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.” I have a feeling he and Holden would be two peas in a pod.

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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Only at Yale is it possible to ward off malevolent ghosts by reciting Horace. Such is the premise of Leigh Bardugo’s newest novel, her first foray away from Ravka, the fantasy world she created in 2012. I consider myself a Bardugo superfan. I’ve written rave reviews of everything she’s written. But, because Ninth House was such a radical departure from her norm, I was a little nervous to pick it up. Luckily, excitement overpowered me because Bardugo’s writing coincided with my life in a way that was previously impossible: I am doing college visits this summer and Yale is on my list. So, with mixed feelings, I picked Ninth House up.

If there’s one thing Bardugo has mastered it’s setting. She attended Yale in the 1990’s and her time at the school is reflected through loving descriptions of everything from the library to the cafeteria line. My favorite aspect was her biting descriptions of secret societies, which, as I discovered after a Wikipedia wormhole, are all totally real. It’s also notable that Bardugo manages to shy away from any type of “wealth porn” unlike similar novels set at other prestigious institutions. Sure, there are vibrant descriptions of the dining hall’s priceless stained glass windows, but the racist scenes of plantation life the depict is highlighted, too. This step away from glorification made Bardugo’s descriptions both more vivid and likable.

Darlington liked to say that dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

When I read for school, I annotate like crazy. My books are filled with underlines and highlights and circles and notes crammed into margins. However, I’ve never annotated a book that I’ve read for pleasure. It felt perverse, like I would tarnish the integrity of the story. But, when I read The Secret History, it felt criminal not to underline, at the very least. Some of Tartt’s sentences were too beautiful not to record. So, I treated her debut like a book I was reading in school, circling words I didn’t know and underlining important fragments. Now, my copy resembles a diary. I don’t know if I’ll keep annotating after The Secret History. Maybe I was just doing it because I finished school a week ago and hadn’t yet switched that part of my brain off. But, maybe Tartt changed how I read in a fundamental way. I hope it’s the latter.

The Secret History came out in 1992, so it’s not a new book. Furthermore, although I think it’s set in the 80’s, it has a timeless air to it. Despite this, I felt a deep connection to the story’s setting, a preppy liberal arts college, which felt eerily familiar to my equally preppy boarding school. Our dining halls are even both called Commons! I felt myself so unexpectedly nostalgic for my school that I looked it up on Google Maps street view and “walked” around campus after reading certain chapters. This quintessential New-England feeling is, in my opinion, the strongest aspect of the book.

“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.” 

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The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

tiAlthough R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”

The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.

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New Year, Same Blog (Kinda)

My Year in Review

2018 was crazy for me. For starters, I finished my first year of boarding school and started my second. In June I studied abroad in Chile, where I studied poets like Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Lately, I’ve just been studying hard in school, which starts back up in a few days.

yjyMy Favorite Books of 2018

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: Zevin’s vivid female characters- a mother, a daughter, a wife illuminate her latest novel. Both timely and timeless, Young Jane Young explores marriage, affairs, and love through vibrant female perspectives, painting a hilarious, lively portrait that is not to be missed.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali: Abdulali’s novel is a difficult work to read. She does not shy away from harsh realities, showing readers compelling stories and undeniable statistics, but ends her novel with a necessary glimmer of hope, which I intend to carry into the new year.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor: I cannot get enough of Taylor’s lush fantasy worlds. Last year, Strange the Dreamer, the predecessor to Muse of Nightmares made its way on to my best of list, so I delight in putting Taylor’s latest onto this list as well. Her clear gift for spinning stories so wildly imaginative and yet so fiercely human makes her one of my favorite authors to date.

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August Wrap Up

What I’m Up To

August was a month of relaxation for me. I’m only home for a few months every year, so I loved spending time with my family- especially by the pool. But, I’m so excited to start school next week.

Last school year, I really struggled with keeping up with my blogging schedule, so this year I’m making a change. I’ve scheduled posts to post automatically through November. In November, during Thanksgiving break, I’ll schedule posts up until winter break. I’m optimistic that this system will work fantastically, but if there’s any problems, feel free to reach out on my contact page.

pcWhat’s On My Bedside Table

Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss. Moss, a features writer at Bustle chronicles the history of 80’s and 90’s Young Adult cult classics, from Sweet Valley High to Goosebumps. Think: Everything after Forever but before Harry Potter. I’m only 100 pages in, but it’s so interesting to learn about an era of YA that I know almost nothing about. Check out my review soon and check out Paperback Crush when it hits shelves October 30.

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Vicious by V. E. Schwab

v.jpgAs soon as I saw Vicious, I knew I had to have it. See, I’ve reviewed books for eight years. But, never have I reviewed a book that started with V. It was the one of two letters (the other being J) missing from my review archive. For months, I had been trying to fill that tiny, infuriating gap, and in a second I had a solution.

I like V. E. Schwab. She consistently turns out fun, reliably predictable fantasy novels easy to read in one sitting, like This Savage SongVicious was no different.

Vicious alternates between two timelines: The first is the story of two college roommates working on their thesis projects. The second is told ten years later, one roommate in prison plotting his former friend’s death, the other roommate traveling throughout the country, doing what he thinks is good. The tension between the pair is electric as the story leads up to the question on the lips of everyone in the story: what really happened that night everything went wrong?

“The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper.

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Curating the Perfect Bookshelf

w&pFeeling at home is important wherever you are. A sanctuary to  ground you in difficult times or somewhere you can relax, away from the world around you, is vital. But, especially for students, finding that small sanctuary in an environment like a dorm can be difficult.

I find my sanctuary in books. I grew up in libraries and bookstores and my room at home has always had an overflowing bookshelf. Obviously, I can’t bring this bookshelf to school every year. But, I can bring a few books to remind me of home. The books I chose are more mementos than stories. They carry memories of the people they were gifted from or ideas that changed my life.

No matter what you chose to bring to create your home, there are a few categories that your mementos can fit in to. When using these categories, I find it easier to choose what comes with me and what stays behind. Hopefully, you’ll find some inspiration for your own packing list.

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