A Beginner’s Book Club

Hello, readers.

Once again, it’s been almost a year (to the day!) since I’ve posted anything. I’m sure y’all are tired of hearing that I’m going to get better about blogging, so I won’t say it again and we can just pick everything back up like old friends.

As the most vocal, but by no means avid, reader among my friends, I frequently get asked questions like: “I’m looking for a new book, do you have any suggestions?” or “I just finished reading this book, what should I read next?” As much as I LOVE these questions–I feel so much pressure answering them! When I recommend a book to someone, I feel like I’m recommending one of my (hypothetical) children for a job. I want to make sure the book is something the person will love or at the very least something that will make them think differently. I welcome criticism about the books I recommend, but at the same time feel hurt and–yes, I’ll say it–offended! when someone says they didn’t like the book.

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My very large to-read list.

Surprisingly, this happened most often when I recommended books I hadn’t even read yet. I started telling people to read books on my to-read list so that someone could tell me first hand how it was, and when they came back with a less-than-spectacular opinion, I felt my heart break a little inside. I would immediately get defensive and say, “Ok, well, I’ll just have to read it for myself and decide.” And of course, as any book lover knows, it’s almost impossible to get to everything on your to-read list–especially when you are told that books on your to-read list aren’t worth reading.

I also found myself recommending the same books to different people without really considering the person just because I wanted to have someone to talk to about the book. A few years ago, ANYONE could ask me what book they should read next and I would immediately reply with fervor, “Have you read The Circle? You should read The Circle; it will change your life.” I just really wanted to talk to someone about this book! (By the way, have you read The Circle? You really should; it will change your life!)

So, to help combat my feelings of guilt and anger about my book recommendations, a few months ago I decided to start a small, all-online book club with some of my close friends and family. I didn’t really know how to start or what I was doing or if anyone would even be interested, but I bit the bullet and took a shot.

Book clubs are AWESOME. We’ve only had one meeting, and have only read 2 books together, but it has really changed the way I approach reading, reviewing, and recommending books. For a geek like me, it feels like I’m back in high school or college and I love that. It encourages me to approach the book from a more critical and analytical mindset because I know I’m going to be discussing it with a group of smart women (right now it is just women) with different viewpoints, mindsets, and life experiences. I read deeper and I feel deeper about what I’m reading.

I must say, doing all-online isn’t the best. The members live all over Texas and a few live out of state, so at the moment it is the most convenient way to meet up. But there is something to be said about a face-to-face coffee talk. Hopefully one day we can get there!

FullSizeRender-1The first book we read was Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. I saw it on a few must-read lists for 2017, and after my boss read it for her book club and enjoyed it, I knew it would be great first book for us. It centers on the trial of an African-American labor and delivery nurse who is charged with a serious crime after treating a neo-Nazi’s child (I know, too relevant). It deals with racism, both the obvious and not-so obvious kind, and makes you question your own actions and ideas. Book Scootin’ Boogie (or club) really enjoyed it and it led to an intelligent and meaningful discussion. I highly recommend it, especially amid today’s political climate.

FullSizeRender-2The second book we read was Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost. I had the pleasure of meeting and briefly working with Jill Santopolo for our book publishing week during the Columbia Publishing Course back in 2015. When I heard she was publishing a new book, it immediately went on my to-read list! It centers on the love story between Lucy and Gabe who met as seniors at Columbia University on September 11, 2001. We haven’t had a chance to discuss this book yet, but it was a great summer read and was nearly impossible to put down once I started reading it. Love, lust, loss–what more could you want in a summer book?

We haven’t officially chosen our next club book yet, but I have a few ideas in the works. If anyone is looking for a great way to meet people or a fun way to get through their to-read list, I highly recommended starting or joining a book club. The wine is a nice perk, too. 😉

Happy reading!

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The Books that Built this Blog

Hello, dear readers. It’s been a while.

Many of my friends on various social media sites have been doing the “10 Book Challenge”–a challenge I have been both dreading and patiently waiting for. Ever since I have started to see these posts on Facebook and such, I’ve been really thinking about the 10 books I would choose that have really shaped me as an individual. I’ve been afraid that I would be asked to do the challenge before I was ready and I would make the (terrible!) mistake of missing a book. But, alas, I find myself ready to compile the list, but with no challenge to accept. So, I thought I would take it upon myself to do the challenge anyway.

So here they are: The 10 books that have shaped me as a reader, a student, and a person.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas-Clement Clarke Moore:

I know this seems like an unusual book (or poem, as it were) to be on a list like this, but I truly believe that without this poem, I never would have become as in love with literature as I am. Not only is it about Christmas (who doesn’t love Christmas!?) but when I look back on my childhood, this is the first book I ever remember reading to myself. According to my parents, I had the entire thing memorized by the time I was four and would turn the pages at the right time without really looking at the book at all. This poem made me love to read; I loved the pictures the words painted in my head (the famous “visions of sugar plums dancing” comes to mind). While there isn’t much to this poem, it made a lasting impression on me in my formative years and I have never forgotten it.


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore-
William Joyce:
Although another children’s book, I found this while perusing in Barnes & Noble about two years ago and it quickly became one of my favorites.Lessmore The story of Morris Lessmore and his flying books has become my story–I, too, am amazed at the wonderful places books can take you and truly believe that life is better with books in them. The story is happy, beautiful, and touching and delivers a deep message in such simple terms, it’s hard not to fall in love with this book. Anyone who loves to read would identify with Mr. Morris Lessmore and his wonderful flying books.

The Kingdom Keepers Series-Ridley Pearson:

Anyone who knows me knows that I love everything Disney. So when I stumbled on the first book in this series and realized it was about a group of kids who get to fight the Disney villains in the Disney parks at night, I was sold. While everyone else my age was navigating their way through Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I was busy making sure Maleficent and the Evil Queen didn’t takeover the Disney parks with Finn and the rest of the Keepers. The last book came out this summer and I am unashamed to say that I saw the series through to the end. This series let me hold onto my childhood for much longer than I thought I would be able to and taught me that imagination, hard work, and creativity can solve almost anything.

mockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee:

What top ten booklist would be complete with this masterpiece? This novel taught me more about racial inequality and injustice than any history book ever could. Lee’s ability to articulate deep and complicated problems–rape, racial inequality, injustice, loss of innocence, child abuse, domestic violence–through the voice of nine-year-old Scout still amazes me. This novel showed me that, as unfair and wrong as it is, ignorance and intolerance are sometimes the victors. This shattered my optimistic world view and is what made me start thinking critically about the society we live in. Why was this your only book, Harper Lee. WHY?

The Necessary Shakespeare-David Bevington:

When I was in high school, I didn’t really have an opinion on the Bard. I read him when I had to, didn’t particularly like or dislike him, and had a vague idea of his impact on English literature. And then I took my college Shakespeare class. My. Mind. Was. Blown. I fell head over heels in love with him (much like Gwyneth Paltrow, but I digress). I have always been a lover of words and wordplay and puns, so I was always told Shakespeare would be right up my alley, but I never truly appreciated any of Shakespeare’s work until I had this collection of almost everything the Bard every wrote. I could probably write a whole post just on my top ten Shakespeare works, but for now I will just recommend Sonnet 43. Wordplay, metaphor, imagery–beautiful. (Side note: The fourth edition has changed the cover from a painting of the Bard to a dashing image of Joseph Fiennes from Shakespeare in Love. The English major in me says “NO,” but the fangirl in me says “Ohhh yeeeeahh.”)

brooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn-Betty Smith:

I read this book during a family vacation to Colorado the summer before my freshman year of high school.   I have an incredibly vivid memory of driving through the mountains of Colorado while reading the diary section of the novel and bursting into tears (“Mama found my diary and made me change every ‘drunk’ to ‘sick'”).The semi-autobiographical work is written with simplicity, honesty, and innocence. Frances’s story of perseverance and hardship is heartwarming and tragic. Although it was published in 1943, the themes and story are all too relevant today. I don’t know if it’s because I was a young, naive, coming of age teenage girl who didn’t quite fit in when I read it or because this book is truly a masterpiece, but this book has left a lasting impression on me.

Wuthering Heights-Emily Bronte:

I was probably the only person in my high school English class who loved this book. I mean REALLY LOVED this book. I will admit, I did have trouble following the characters (Catherine, Cathy, Linton, Mr. Linton, etc.), but this love story touched me. Maybe it’s because I’m a product of the Disney fairy-tale era, but it was comforting (and jarring) to read a story of lovers who don’t have a happy ending, but at the same time had a love that endured forever. The imagery and language in this novel only makes the story more beautiful.

gatsbyThe Great Gatsby-F. Scott Fitzgerald:

Like Wuthering Heights, this novel changed my view of love. I spend the entire story wanting Daisy and Gatsby to be together knowing that it is impossible. Fitzgerald does an astounding job of creating the colorful and decadent world that Gatsby built for Daisy while making it painfully clear that the world will be destroyed. The complicated nature of love and money is portrayed brilliantly and I sympathize more with Gatsby every time I turn the page. The eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg have been an imprint on my mind ever since I finished the book the first time, and I sometimes find myself standing next to Jay on the dock, yearning after a green light of my own.

A Thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini:

I don’t think I cried so much over a book in my entire life. I read this novel in a two days–I was captivated by the story, the characters, and Hosseini’s language. Before reading this novel, I knew nothing of Afghan culture or society, and while I still don’t know very much, this novel gave me a deeper understanding of the culture–something I probably couldn’t get from any of the history books in the U.S. Hosseini’s ability to give every character a voice of their own is amazing. I immediately wanted to talk to someone about this book when I finished it, but no one I knew had read it. I hounded my mom for two weeks, and when she finally finished it and came to my room with tears in her eyes, I cried again.

Notes-from-a-tilt-a-whirlNotes from the Tilt-a-Whirl-N.D. Wilson:

This is the first and only book I have ever finished and immediately turned back to page one and read again. I was deeply moved and inspired by this book (as made obvious by the number of quotes I posted on Facebook while reading it). Notes has shaped my faith in ways that I cannot even put into words. I’ve come to appreciate the little miracles that happen every day and I am overcome with the amount of love and grace that God bestows on me. There isn’t a single Bible verse in the whole book-but it doesn’t need one. For fear of doing the book a grand injustice, I will simply leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “But why would any Christian claim that God has stopped talking? Did he speak the world into existence? Does matter exist apart from him? Is it still here? Are you still here? Then He is still speaking.”

So that’s it. The ten books that have influenced me the most. What are yours?

Happy reading.

Lost in a Disney World

Another school year has come and gone which means I get to spend another 3 months catching up on my personal reading list! Even though I haven’t blogged since the first week of May, I’ve already been able to cross two books off of my list–both of which made me want to go back Disney World (OK, let’s be honest, I always want to be in Disney World). Anyway, I’ve finished Walt Disney: The Triumph of American Imagination by Neal Gabler and the final installment of Ridley Pearson’s The Kingdom Keepers series.

Gabler’s biography won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography in 2006 and has received much praise as the definitive biography on Walt Disney. I actually started this book back in December when I went to Disney World for Christmas vacation, but time ran away from me and I wasn’t able to finish the 800-page monster until May. It was well worth the time it took to read it. Rather than just documenting the hard facts and figures of Disney’s life, Gabler probes into Disney’s psyche and attempts to show the reader the darker side of Walt Disney without completely damaging the image of “Uncle Walt” people know and love. Although the chronology is a bit jumpy at times, the formula of the book shows how Disney’s mind worked–he was constantly working on multiple projects and was always thinking about future films and ideas. Disney was a perfectionist and spent much of his career attempting to reach the perfection he achieved in Snow White and always falling short.IMG_1261

As a Disney fanatic, I was afraid Gabler was going to damage my vision of Uncle Walt–Disney was known for his short temper and at times downright cruelty to his employees. Instead, I came to understand why Disney acted this way and found a deeper appreciation for his vision and creativity. I don’t usually cry at the end of biographies–especially if the subject has already died. This book was so well written, however, that I was in tears when I turned the last page. I highly recommend Walt Disney: The Triumph of American Imagination to all Disney fans or anyone interested in the Walt Disney company.

Pearson’s The Kingdom Keepers VII: The Insider is the last installment in the series–one that I have been reading since middle school. I was anxious to see if the Keepers would finally defeat the Overtakers and bring the Disney magic back into the parks. I had my qualms about this book from the beginning, however. Pearson let fans help write parts of the book through an online contest, so I was worried that the quality of writing and the plot would get lost. Most of the time the transition from Pearson to fan worked well, but it was hard to ignore some sections with strained metaphors and over-dramatic prose. Then again, this is a book written for people much younger than me, so I really can’t be too critical.

I’d like to say that the plot saved the book from being disappointing, but sadly, I can’t. Maybe it’s because I built this book up too much. Maybe it’s because I knew exactly how I wanted it to end. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading this series for so long I was sad to see it end. Whatever it was, I wasn’t happy. Questions were left unanswered, riddles were left unsolved and relationships were left undefined. It almost felt like Pearson copped out on his readers–he didn’t want to give us the ending we wanted but then was afraid he would make us angry by letting the bad guys win. It made for a confusing and highly disappointing ending. One that made reading the series almost pointless.

But then again, reading is never pointless.

Next up:

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Thanks for reading!

 

The Power to Create

The final assignment for my Media, Culture, and Technology class was to create a digital story that chronicled my interaction with a technology of my choice. A small description of my project can be found here. By documenting how I reacted to the various books I read this semester, I came to understand how technology as a whole affects my life and discovered what makes me so addicted to technology.

I’ve been a literature lover my entire life. I read whatever I can get my hands on and I have always had a tendency to become too emotionally attached to the books I read. I laugh and cry with the characters and when I turn the last page of the book, I often look up in shock as I realize that everyone else in this world were going about their normal lives. It wasn’t until taking this class, and doing this project, that I realized how much I actually depended on these books.

Most people my age are becoming more and more dependent (some would say addicted) to more modern technologies like the internet, social media, and video games (Sura, 2012; Herzfeld, 2011; Mandell, 2007; Parker-Pope, 2010; Fader, 2013). Since I am not “addicted” to any of these things (my parents may disagree) I chose to analyze my relationship through a medium that has had a dramatic impact on my life. I started this semester with 30 required readings for my various classes.

My stack of books this semester.

My stack of books this semester.

Starting with book number 12, Dave Egger’s The Circle, I kept tabs on how I engaged with the literature. I read a wide variety of books–non-fiction, classic literature, short stories–but my reaction to all of them before this project was the same. I became so engrossed in the worlds of the books that, at times, I was actually living vicariously through the fictional characters.

Once I started to really pay attention to how I reacted to these books, however, I read less and less until eventually, I wasn’t reading at all. Before this semester, there were only two books I didn’t finish throughout my entire student career. Now, there are four books I never even started and two more books I didn’t finish. I was so afraid of immersing myself too deep in these narratives that I chose to not engage them at all. For the first time in my life, I was afraid to read. This made me nervous, negative, and overall less productive in all other areas of my life because I was forced to face the reality of the real world without any means of escape or comfort.

As Sura suggests in her Huffington Post article “Technology Addiction” (2012), it is the very notion of escaping, of separating ourselves from everyone else that causes most people to become “addicted” to technology. Although I was moody and unhappy in those few days I went without books, I did notice that I was spending much more time with people in the real world. I was enhancing real relationships rather than wishing I was friends with characters in a book. As some critics suggest, our growing dependence on technology is making our real world relationships suffer (Rheingold, 2012; Sura, 2012) and until I did this project I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on in the real world while I created worlds of my own through my books.

It was this epiphany that gave me the answer to the “what makes technology so addictive?” question. When I read a book, I can create hundreds of different worlds without ever leaving the comfort of my dorm room. Movie watchers do the same thing as they sit in the theater eating popcorn. Gamers do it when they sit on the couch and play their favorite game for hours on end. This is what makes technology so amazing–the idea that we can be whoever and wherever we want whenever we want. All of these technologies allow users to become completely immersed in worlds they help create–making technology not only addictive, but the modern drug of choice.

Works cited:

Sura (2010). “Addicted to Technology.” The Huffington Post. Web.

Herzfeld, Ronit (2011). “Unplug and Recharge: Are You Living in a Techno-Daze?” The Huffington Post. Web.

Mandell, Jonathan (2007). “Are Gadgets, and the Internet, Actually Addictive?” CNN.com. Web.

Parker-Pope, Tara (2010). “An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness.” The New York Times. Web.

Fader, Jonathan (2013). “Are You Addicted to Your Phone? Change Technology Addiction.” Psychology Today. Web.

Rheingold, Howard (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Print.

Children and Technology

For a book written in 1977, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game has remained astoundingly relevant. While this wasn’t my first time reading the book (it was assigned reading my freshman year of high school) I can definitely say that the issues it raised were more clear to me reading it again seven years later.

wraltechwire.com

wraltechwire.com

Many of the issues Card touches on went right over my 14-year-old head: manipulation of children through technology, mass genocide of an entire species, the underlying tension regarding the Cold War, just to name a few. This isn’t to say that any of those ideas are relevant to today’s society, but I think one could make the argument we are approaching the first. Many studies have been conducted on the effects technology has on children, though no definitive evidence has suggested that technology is harmful to children (Plowman, McPake, and Stephen, 2008). However, it is clear that technology provides a different method of “playtime” for children. While many children, as Plowman, McPake, and Stephen suggest, combine multimedia technologies with more traditional toys, this is becoming the anomaly particularly in the U.S. I can say from personal experience that is is becoming more and more difficult to find a child who doesn’t know how to work an iPad or computer than one who doesn’t.

In Ender’s Game, children were taught military tactics and constantly manipulated through video-game like simulations that were adaptable to the mind of the child controlling them. While I am not suggesting that children are being manipulated in this way today, some of the technologies we have do adapt to the person using them. As more and more children grow up using these technologies everyday from a very young age, it is possible that concepts like the ones in Ender’s Game will become things of the present as opposed to predictions of the future.

Maybe it’s the fact that this class has taught me to be more skeptical of technology and to be more mindful of my media use, but the children of Ender’s Game are not the type of children I want to see in this world. For a book written almost 40 years ago, Ender’s Game touches on some very important ethical and technological issues that are still pertinent today, especially since Ender’s Game has long been positioned as a young adult book. Are children destined to become six-year-olds with 30-year-old minds just because they use technology? I certainly hope not.

Works Cited:

Plowman, Lydia, Joanna McPake, and Christine Stephen (2008). “The Technologization of Childhood? Young Children and Technology in the Home.” Children and Society 24. 63-74.

Technology Over Democracy?

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

As I have mentioned in a couple of my previous blog posts, I recently read Dave Egger’s (2013) The Circle and it has really effected the way I interact with technology. The story takes place sometime in the (near?) future and revolves around a giant multi-media company called The Circle. The company has over 10,000 employees and prides itself on having a “campus” so perfect that none of the employees should ever have to leave. Rather than just being a place of work, The Circle becomes a place to live (they have on-site dorms), a place to eat (the commissary hosts a different famous chef every night), and even a place to play (there are sports leagues and clubs of every kind). As Mae, the main character describes, “It’s heaven” (1).

Courtest of busyteacher.wordpress.com

Courtesy of busyteacher.wordpress.com

At least, in the beginning it is. Mae soon realizes that her work and social are meant to be so completely intertwined at The Circle, that it becomes difficult to tell when she is working and when she is just having fun on social media. By the end of the novel, The Circle has instated the motto “Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is Theft” and has developed a program known as “Demoxie” that will essentially take over democracy by forcing everyone to participate in the voting and political process (303). In a weird turn of events (complete with a plot twist!) Mae is forced to examine the implications of this total takeover and must decide if technological advances are more important than ethics.

Clearly one of the biggest issues in this novel is whether or not a media company (or any corporation for that matter) has the right to force the democratic process on people. By requiring everyone to vote, and punishing those who don’t, democracy no longer becomes about freedom and choice. Coupled with the fact that the results are known immediately and shown to the public, private opinions give way to peer pressure and people may not be willing to voice their real opinions if they are in the minority.

That is a scary world to live in.

Despite all of the amazing technological advances and deeply rooted interconnectedness of virtually everyone on the planet, everyone is constantly being watched by hundreds (thousands?) of people at a time, including Big Brother. To make matters worse, anything that is inside The Circle’s network, which would be everything, can never be deleted. When we discussed this book in class, we talked about Foucault’s panopticon and how this idea affects behavior. If you were constantly being watched by thousands of people, would you really be acting normal or would you be on your best behavior? That is exactly what The Circle hoped to accomplish—everyone being on his or her best behavior.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The society depicted in The Circle is frightening, but what is even more frightening is how close ours may be to getting there. If nothing else, The Circle asks the question: Will we be able to recognize when advanced technology is going too far and will we be willing to do something about if it does?

Internet Misconceptions

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

Image courtesy of: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71t84%2BG2v6L.jpg

This semester I am taking a class called “Media, Culture, and Technology” where we are analyzing how media and technology affect or are affected by our culture (who knew?). One of the required readings is Misunderstanding the Internet by James Curran, Natalie Fenton, and Des Freedman (CFF). When I started the first chapter of this book, I was skeptical that I would learn anything I didn’t already have minor knowledge about. I just finished the second chapter, and I already feel inclined to revoke my statement. Not only have I learned some valuable information about how the internet operates in our society, some of the assumptions I had about the internet have been proven false.

The second chapter, “Rethinking Internet History,” explores many of the common misconceptions that surround the internet’s growth and development. One topic it touches on was the prediction in the 1990s “that the global diffusion of the internet would assist the march to democracy” (49). I have always casually nodded my head in agreement with this statement. Free speech, sharing of ideas, intercultural communication, and all in a public sphere that can’t possibly be regulated or controlled—why would anyone think the internet wouldn’t expand democracy? Unfortunately, as CFF point out, this “thesis proved to be overblown” for several reasons (49).

The first is reason CFF mention is that “democracy is only one source of governmental legitimacy” (49). In other words, democracy is not the only way to effectively and adequately govern a country. Dictatorship is also not the only authoritarian regime. There are multiple methods to instilling an authoritarian government and they are used all over the world. CFF mention just a few: nationalism, God’s will, and economic growth (49). The idea that the internet could curtail all of these methods is slightly unrealistic, especially when coupled with the next reason Curran, Fenton, and Freedman point out.

This theory “mistakenly assumes that the internet is uncontrollable” (50). This is not only true for dictatorship or communists countries, but ANY country. Just look at the recent debates about net neutrality and internet freedom in the U.S. over the past few weeks. Forbes, CNN, and The New York Times have all touched on this issue. The New York Times even suggests that net neutrality is “the most important issue facing the internet, since, well, the internet.” This only proves that even in a democratic nation, controlling the internet is a big issue and one that cannot be ignored. This is particularly true when it is a government agency trying to control it. CFF point out that numerous governments “have sought to make the internet a propaganda tool” (50). Basically, the internet is anything but uncontrollable.

I’ve always considered myself an optimist and promoter of democracy and all that comes with it, but I have been grossly naïve in believing that the internet was a successful and feasible way of achieving that. I’m sure that this book will only continue to make me reassess many of the assumptions about the internet’s capabilities and will help me become a smarter and wiser internet user.