blog about reviews writing

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top 5 Books of 2016

Well, 2016 has been...a year. From Harambe to Carrie Fisher, from Anton Yelchin to weird clown crazes and look at me not even mentioning the presidential election. Let's not talk about all this. Ignore it all for five minutes and talk books with me, and celebrate the literary goodness of 2016. (Or, at least, the increasingly absurdist memeage of 2016.)

I've done a top ten list in the past, but since I read just over fifty books this year, I decided it didn't make sense to include 20% of them in a top ten list. Hence, a top five list.

This one had me at "Rae Carson" and "gold rush," but it somehow managed to surpass all my expectations. I've learned this year that historical fiction makes me happy--or, at least, history with a little bit of magic. It's so different from the usual fantasy fare, with a Western feel that we rarely see, especially in YA. I like it. Let's have more. (Okay, I'm fully aware that there is more, that there is a sequel. But I haven't been able to snag a copy yet.)

I'm here for anything and everything with a multiverse theme. One universe isn't enough for me, apparently. What I really love about this series, though, is the sheer variety of settings and feels. You want sci-fi based on our world? You're covered here. Twentieth-century Russia? Also covered. Future research labs, or worlds almost like ours, but not quite? Covered. That's the beauty of multiverse novels. I'm so excited for the finale of this series, especially given how epic the first two have been. Also, these books have the best covers.

I'll admit that I didn't immediately love this one. At first, it felt slow and plodding, like Patrick Rothfuss was wandering about, unable to find the real story. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that's entirely the point. It's the story of one man, but it's the story of a man who is larger-than-life. It's not the sort of thing to be contained in an average-sized novel. No, this one is sprawling, but it works. And now I love it, especially after reading its sequel. The worldbuilding is phenomenal, and it's just plain fun to immerse yourself in it. (Plus, did you hear that it's getting a movie...and a TV show...and a video game?)

This is the first time that a poetry book has made any of my top books of the year list. Though I'm a fan of poetry, my tastes run a bit odd (my favorite happens to be a 13th-century Sufi mystic), and I had no intention of picking this up until my book club decided to read it. I read it in one sitting, entranced, and was so in love that I immediately read it again. Rupi Kaur doesn't use lyrical lines or extensive imagery, just simple words and line drawings. But these micro-poems can reach you in a way normal poetry can't. It's about love, pain, healing, and, most of all, it's about being a woman. It resonates with me even weeks after reading it, and I have no doubt I'll be reading it again.

Emily St. John Mandel came to speak at my university, and while I didn't meet her personally, I liked her enough to immediately run to the library and check out her book. In hindsight, I should have bought one and gotten it signed, and I'm a little annoyed with my past self, even though my intentions of "not spending money on yet another book" were noble. Station Eleven is a different kind of post-apocalyptic novel, one that's just as much about our current world as it is the hypothetical future world. It's less about the immediate apocalypse, and more about what happens five, ten, twenty years later when society slowly rebuilds itself. There's something deeply haunting about it--this collapse of society hits a little too close to home. And yet, you can't look away from it, either. That's what I love about this.

2016 Reading Statistics (as of 12/27/16)

Books read: 53 (up 7 from last year)
Average rating: 3.7 (same as last year)
Total pages read: 21,248 (down 6,242)
Average pages per book: 400.9 (up 36.8)
Average pages read per day: 58.7 (up 12.6)
Average number of days to read one book:6.8 (down 1.1)

I managed to read a whole seven books more than I did last year, which I'm really proud of. I don't know if I'll ever be able to hit 90 again like I did in 2013 (maybe when I'm retired?), but I'm okay with this. The difference is in the audiobooks. This summer, I started listening to audiobooks while I go for my daily runs, and it's allowed me to read so many extra books. Plus, it gives my brain something to do while I run. I highly recommend it. 

I'm looking forward to a new Patrick Ness book in 2017. And a new series from Marie Lu, and probably a bunch of other stuff I haven't heard about yet. Or maybe George R.R. Martin will emerge from his dark cave and finally write The Winds of Winter (doubtful). In the meantime, I'm starting off 2017 with a trip to Middle Earth New Zealand, and as soon as I'm back for the new semester, I'll be doing another editorial internship, plus taking new classes (including a YA writing class!). 

What were your favorite books of 2016?
post signature

Friday, November 4, 2016

6 Ways to Stay Focused While Writing

We've all done it--we sit down to a what we hope will be a long, productive writing session. Two hours later, we find that we've composed a dozen tweets, made three cups of tea, researched medieval weaponry, and terraformed Mars. Oh, and maybe we wrote 150 words.

Where did that elusive focus go? How do we get it back? How can we actually, you know, get things written? I've touched on this topic before, but since then, I've found new tricks and encountered new ideas. Here are 6 of my favorite tips:
  1. Keep a mental (or physical) "distraction log." I've used this not just for writing, but for schoolwork, as well. You know when you're chugging along on a project, and you remember some random song and feel compelling to google the lyrics? Or when your work session is spontaneously interrupted by an intense need to find out what happened to Adam Lambert, if that book you've been eyeing has gone on sale, or how to keep succulents alive? (Specificity because I've had all these googling urges in the last hour.) These distractions are never-ending, but the trick is to keep them contained. When they come, acknowledge them, but you don't have to follow them. Instead, either write them down or keep a mental list, and tell yourself you'll come back to this list when you're done with whatever you're working on. It'll keep you from wasting time while working, and when you return to the list, you'll find that some of the distractions are no longer appealing anyway. 
  2. Use certain music just for writing, and use it every time you write. Bonus points for using it only for writing music. I picked up this tip from author Emily St.-John Mandel when I heard her speak last month, and it has come in handy. If you start using the same music over and over, you eventually get your brain into a rhythm. You start the playlist, and your brain goes, "Okay, time to write." (You know me--I'm all for using classical conditioning to hack your own brain.) For suggestions, try the Focus playlist section on Spotify. I suggest this playlist or this one.
  3. Use the pomodoro technique. You've heard me talk about this before, but it's amazingly simple. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and do absolutely nothing but write for those 25 minutes. That's it. When you're done, you can take a break, but it's likely that you won't want to break your momentum, thus increasing your productivity. It's a good way to jumpstart your focus, since 25 minutes is a manageable amount of time.
  4. Physically remove the distractions. If you want to keep checking your phone, put your phone in a different room. If you write on your computer and you're always switching over to different tabs to scroll Pinterest, either disconnect from the internet or remove the computer entirely and switch to paper and pen. (Hey, you can always unplug your wifi router if you get truly desperate.) Lastly, keep a neat workspace. You won't feel inspired by a barren room, but it's hard to get things done if your workspace is full of junk, either. 
  5. Resist the temptation to research or fact-check. Yes, it's important that any facts, historical details, or real-world references in your writing are accurate. But it's not important when you're writing. If you check everything in the moment, you'll never actually get anything written. Instead, flag it and move on.
  6. Don't start a blog. Just...don't. I don't want to know how many more novels I could have written if I had never started this blog.
What's your favorite way to keep your focus?

post signature

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I Interned At A Publishing Company, And All You Got Was This Stupid Blog Post

I spent the whole summer as an intern, and I didn't get coffee for anyone. I know. I didn't blog, either, but I'm here to remedy that.

I certainly learned a lot, and had fun. And also did some boring tasks, because you can't escape that kind of thing. Publishing can be as tedious as it is rewarding. Ever wondered why the process is notoriously slow? It's because there are a million things to be checked, double-checked, and triple-checked. Fortunately, it's worth it.

Anyway, I'm here to share some of what I did all summer:
  • Proofreading. Ah, yes, hear the crowd gasp in surprise. Actually, I didn't do anywhere near as much proofreading as expected, but I still got to do it, as per the title "Sales and Editorial Intern."*  You can't publish without proofreading, though--and I'll admit that anytime someone handed me a huge stack of papers and said "Proofread this," I got a little excited.  The Chicago Manual of Style is my best friend and worst enemy.
  • Checking alts. When someone proofreads the book, someone has to enter it into the document. And then someone has to check to make sure everything was entered correctly. This is typically done by, you guessed it, the intern.
  • Epub markup. I did a LOT of this, which put quite a bit of mileage on my highlighters. When books are transferred to ebooks, publishers have the opportunity to add hyperlinks directly into the text, which is really convenient for readers. These hyperlink locations are identified through the extremely high-tech process of highlighting each possible hyperlinkable word on a paper copy. Incidentally, I feel like I've now heard the name of every single nature preschool in the world, since I've had to find links to so many.
  • Fact checking. I felt rather important whenever I did a fact check.  I felt like the last line of defense between scientific accuracy and fiction. While authors should, theoretically, get all their facts straight before the book even hits a publisher, they sometimes don't. And if they don't, some intern somewhere will take great pride in calling your bluff.
  • More fact checking, now with added quotation checking! I did fact check runthroughs specifically to make sure that the author had cited her sources correctly and catch mistakes in retyping quotes.
  • Proposal summaries. When an author sent in a book proposal, the acquisitions editor would send it to me so I could type up a summary and give my recommendation: should this project be pursued, or should they get a nice little rejection letter? I also felt rather important doing this, mostly since I had the opportunity to type my opinion on a piece of paper. As if I had the final decision, which I definitely didn't. But still. (Pro tip: I don't care about your 5-page curriculum vitae. I just want to know whether you can write a coherent sentence, or whether a dozen other people have already written your book idea.)
  • Sending out review copies. Which essentially translates to sending 160 emails all saying variations of "Look! This book has a dog in it! A cute dog! Also some important moral lessons for children. But, dog! Please say something nice about this cute dog--I mean, book!" (Dogs sell books, people.)
Me handing out review copies, probably.
  • Manuscript cleanup. In other words, the dire task of ferreting out every bit of strange formatting Microsoft Word randomly added to a document and attempting to remove it. Key word: attempt.
  • Creating a spreadsheet of all the names and addresses of every single childcare provider in New York. Seriously. Gotta send all your book catalogs somewhere, I guess.**
  • And more things, like: babysitting printers, playing Scattergories, folding things, double-checking address labels, double-checking things in general, setting up Goodreads giveaways, and so on...
Internship pro tips:
  • If you have a general question, don't wait. Ask it. That way, you won't feel stupid asking for the building's wi-fi password two months into your internship when you were too shy to ask right away. RIP, my phone's data plan.
  • Ask ALL the questions, actually. You're there to learn. If you want to know, speak up.
  • You're an adult now and can talk to other adults like real people. You mean...I'm in a position where I can call a "real adult" by her first name? I'm twenty and I've called everyone Mr. or Dr. or Professor probably since I could talk. But hey, real adults have names, too. (Does this make me a real adult? Probably not. I'll admit that I was listening to this piece of art while working at my internship today.)

  • Break up your big projects. If you're handed a huge project, try to intersperse smaller projects into your time. Trust me--it's no fun to do nothing but stare at the same manuscript for three hours. Please let your brain have a break.
  • Use the resources available to you. For example, there's probably someone at your internship who would be happy to sit down and give you feedback on your resume, or give you advice on what courses you should take next, or whatever you might need to know. (And if they freely offer their services, that's even more of a reason to take it!)
  • Have fun. Just be chill and enjoy the process. Do adult things and feel productive. 

What were you up to this summer?

*My other title was just "Publishing Intern." Or "Editorial and Production Intern." Or just "Editorial Intern." Or "The Intern," capital T. It was heavily dependent on who you asked.
**It was times like these, facing that 2,000+ item spreadsheet, that I stared down the pinnacle of human innovation and came to the conclusion that we've come too far as a species and should revert back to 1800. Preferably with more women's suffrage and less disease, but definitely no spreadsheets. In the words of Douglas Adams, "On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons."
post signature

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hey, I'm Still Alive and Doing Things

Well, here I am, halfway through college, and I figured I'd post an update.  I feel like I'm no closer to being a real adult, and yet here I am with half a Communications & Journalism degree, most of an English degree, and a bit of a psychology minor just for fun.

During the school year, I've been up to basically the same things as usual.  Writing approximately 18,000 papers and maybe some journaling on the side, with the occasional bit of creative writing shoved somewhere in there.  Okay, maybe 18,000 papers is an exaggeration, but at one point I had five papers due in one week.  I was taking four classes.  How does that work?  Then again, I was getting away with naming my papers things like "Is Dumbledore Really Gay?," "Dragons, Socialists, and Children," and "Women STEMming Out."  Pros of being an English major: you get away with that kind of thing.

I've also been working as a writing tutor (because I don't have enough writing in my life).  And in February, I started writing for the online blog The Odyssey.  If you want to keep up with my weekly articles, you can follow me here!

I'll be spending the summer interning for a publishing company that works with materials for early childhood educators.  I'm also working the Interlibrary Loan department of my college's library, so I'll be around books all summer long.  In the fall, I'll start work as the Web Manager for this cool website.  It's a completely new thing for me, running a website like that, but I took a web design class this spring and absolutely loved it.  I guess all that blogging HTML and CSS got me somewhere.  Take note, kids--the random blog you start on a whim in ninth grade may actually get you somewhere.  Maybe I should overhaul the design of this bad boy sometime.  Hmm...  In the meantime, I designed this and this, which are freely available on the internet now.

Over the past year of classes, I've learned a few things about writing, and editing, and what I do/don't want to do.  I've taken a journalistic editing class and a more academic editing class; I'm very much not a journalism person.  Though I did learn how to crank out edits at basically lightspeed, which is nice.  But I feel more...technological...than the academic editing crowd.  As in, I'm the one in all the class debates going "DIGITIZE IT.  DIGITIZE EVERYTHING.  DIGITIZE ALL THE THINGS."  But hey, I'm also a blogger and an avid ebook supporter.

I also learned that I'm not a short story writer.  I like the format, but I'm a novelist at heart.  I just can't explore all I want to explore in a short story--I feel like my worldbuilding and character development is cut short.  I'm also not a literary writer.  I love that format, too, and I like to dabble in it, but I'm a genre writer and lover.  Give me my YA fantasy any day.  I can't see myself writing literary fiction for the rest of my life, but I would love to write genre stuff.  I guess I'm not into the classical highbrow writer thing.  (Also, I want to make a reasonable amount of money so that I can eat.)

In more personal news, I'll be living on my college campus for the summer, which will be exciting (I'm living with a chemist, which is always an interesting experience). I just celebrated a one-year anniversary with my boyfriend, and we went to see a live performance of The Book of Mormon (a wonderfully bizarre experience; highly recommended unless you're taking children) and ran a half marathon (also not recommended for children).

I also plan to actually read books this summer.  My reading this spring has been, well, pathetic, but I already have a stack of books to read and I'm ready to plow through them.  I've also gotten into playing Civilization V, which is 100% the fault of Gamer Boyfriend, so I'll be taking over the world a few times.  (I'm Low-Key Kylo Ren on Steam, if you're interested.  Because my sense of humor has not changed since 2012, apparently.)

I'd also really like to start writing a new novel.  Nothing is definite yet, but I have a few ideas... I'll also be revising Untitled Icarus Novel, which still hasn't gotten the revision it deserves.  Or a title, for that matter.

Well, that's me right now.  What are you up to for the summer, or in general?  Any thoughts on what genre direction I should take for my next book?
post signature

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On Accessibility of Art, or Why My Writing Class Needs to Get Over Itself

I took a class last semester on short story writing.  I loved the writing itself, but the discussion was challenging for me.  There were so many times when I just wanted to look people straight in the eye and say, "Get over yourself."

Because, you see, the class I took was on literary fiction, as basically all college creative writing classes are.  And that's fine.  There is a place for literary fiction just as there is a place for commercial fiction, and zombie fiction, and romance fiction, and fiction about dogs who are abducted by aliens.  But I have taken two "literary" writing classes now, and they do not seem to agree.  Alternately, they think that literary fiction has a place, and that place is above all other fiction.
Comic by Tom Gauld,

I hit my breaking point last semester when one of my classmates was giving constructive criticism about some subtle symbolism in another classmate's story.  He started throwing around the term "the average reader" like this was not him.  Like he was somehow above the average reader.  To my dismay, many of my other classmates nodded along with him.

Who is missing the point here?  Has this particular writing community really gotten so pretentious that they feel they have somehow evolved beyond their mortal forms and become transcendent, cosmic beings of All That Is GOOD Literature, with "good" determined by--you guessed it--themselves?  Or am I alone in my frustration?  Am I just the "average reader" somehow sneaking into highbrow literary communities?  Is the high horse getting taller, or am I getting smaller?

I believe that art should be accessible to people.  Call me a radical if you will.  But I don't see how burying your meaning under layers of symbolism or subtext, even to the point of all but the "right" audience missing it, makes your art any better.  Is there merit in this?  Absolutely.  I love puzzling out hidden meanings in fiction, and how the writer wove layers of subtext together to create wholly new themes.  There are so many fascinating things that can happen in this type of work, and it's super cool.  What I don't understand is how that devalues art that doesn't do this, art whose meaning doesn't require a miscroscope and an overworked grad student to puzzle out.  Is art that is meant to be nothing more than pretty, nothing more than entertaining, no longer valuable?  What if (*gasp*) a piece is both entertaining and subtly meaningful?  What then?

This could bring me into a discussion of subjectivity vs. objectivity: How do we objectively measure the quality of art?  Can we do such a thing?  This is another discussion for another time, and certainly a discussion I'm willing to have.  For now, though, I will say this: I do not think "art" is a thing, an object.  "Art" is a way of looking at something.  Think about it this way: we describe certain sounds as music, and others as noise.  In reality, they're all vibrations hitting our eardrums.  All writing is simply different combinations of letters, which are nothing but arbitrary markings roughly correlated to sounds.  While I'm not saying that every piece of writing, therefore, is art, I'm saying that our definitions of art are actually much more arbitrary than we think.

As a writer and lover of so-called non-literary fiction (and, God forbid, young adult fiction), I think we need to build a better bridge between the two worlds.  We need to recognize that art and entertainment are not mutually exclusive.  We need to bring back the notion that things can be enjoyable simply for the sake of it, while recognizing that your style of writing doesn't make you more or less of a writer.  We need to destroy the idea that writers need to write to a level above "the average reader" in order to have their work considered True Literature.

There are so many other things I could discuss branching out from this.  What is "literature"?  I could toss out the phrase "literary canon" and we'll be here debating what should (or shouldn't) be included until Leonardo DiCaprio wins an Oscar.  The place of YA in the literary/genre fiction dichotomy (but is it a dichotomy? because I don't think it's that simple), and the quality of YA in general.  The "quality" of fiction in general, and how we determine it.  Why not include genre fiction in the general consensus of high quality fiction?  What should we do with genre fiction with a literary style, or literary fiction with a genre twist?  (And don't even get me started on graphic novels.)  What is "good" literature?  What are we even doing here at all?

But I won't discuss them now.  I'll leave you with what I'd already written, because I'd like to start a discussion/dialogue about this.  What are your thoughts/opinions/comments/concerns?  Have you had similar experiences?

I feel like I need to include a "not all" disclaimer in this.  I love literary fiction.  I love genre fiction, especially YA.  My point isn't to bash literary fiction, nor is it to protest on the street corner with a sign reading, "Genre fiction is the only fiction!"  I'm not here for that.  I'm just here to ask why we can't reconcile these two--both worthwhile and valuable--worlds of fiction.
post signature

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Top Music of 2015

You got the Top Ten Books of 2015 post last it's time for the music edition.  I read fewer books in 2015 than in previous years, but I accumulated/hoarded/bought/adopted more music than ever before.  And probably half of it was Fall Out Boy--or at least, it seems.

I organized my top picks into three categories: top albums of the year, both ones that came out in 2015 and older albums I hadn't discovered until this year; my favorite songs that came out in 2015; and my favorite older songs that I found this year.

Top 5 Albums Released/Discovered in 2015
5. Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters and Men (2015)
After being slightly disappointed by a series of second albums, Of Monsters and Men finally pulled through and gave me something just as good as their first.  If not better.  It's ethereal yet upbeat, earthy yet mystical.
4. Smoke + Mirrors by Imagine Dragons (2015)
It's no Night Visions.  I'm not sure Imagine Dragons can ever do better than that.  It took me a long time to warm up to this second album, but it spent the year slowly working its way into me.  It's lighter than Night Visions, but still has that same Imagine Dragons innovation. 
3. 1989 by Taylor Swift (2014)
I became a huge Taylor Swift fan this year.  (The new stuff, at least.)  I'm not even sorry.  She has completely reinvented herself, and it has paid off.  Some tracks are "meh" for me (I've never been a fan of "How You Get The Girl") but when Taylor gets going, she steals the show.
2. American Beauty / American Psycho by Fall Out Boy (2015)
This album was my first introduction to Fall Out Boy.  I would have never expected myself to be a Fall Out Boy fan, but given last year's foray into My Chemical Romance, I guess it was only natural.  The awesome part about this album is that each song has a completely different style, yet they all fit together with a unified album sound.
1. Folie a Deux by Fall Out Boy (2008)
As if AB/AP wasn't good enough, I discovered the hidden gem of Fall Out Boy albums.  It's more punk-rock and less pop-punk than their other albums, but the grittier sound suits them.  It's telling intriguing stories, messing with its own structure, and referencing itself left and right.

Top 10 Songs Discovered in 2015 (released earlier)
10. "Wonderland" by Taylor Swift (1989, 2014)
9. "I Miss You" by blink-182 (blink-182, 2003)
8. "The (Shipped) Gold Standard" by Fall Out Boy (Folie a Deux, 2008)
7. "What A Catch, Donnie" by Fall Out Boy (Folie a Deux, 2008)
6. "Antichrist" by The 1975 (The 1975, 2014)
5. "Fake Your Death" by My Chemical Romance (May Death Never Stop You, 2014)
4. "CASTLE OF GLASS" by Linkin Park (LIVING THINGS 2012)
3. "Style" by Taylor Swift (1989, 2014)
2. "Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes" by Fall Out Boy (Folie a Deux, 2008)
1. "Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet" by Fall Out Boy (Folie a Deux, 2008)

Top 10 Songs Released in 2015
10. "Army of One" by Coldplay (A Head Full of Dreams)
9. "Roman Holiday" by Halsey (BADLANDS)
8. "Renegades" by X Ambassadors (VHS)
7. "Dream" by Imagine Dragons (Smoke + Mirrors)
6. "Crystals" by Of Monsters and Men (Beneath the Skin)
5. "Summer" by Imagine Dragons (Smoke + Mirrors)
4. "Empire" by Of Monsters and Men (Beneath the Skin)
3. "Jet Pack Blues" by Fall Out Boy (American Beauty / American Psycho)
2. "Shots" by Imagine Dragons (Smoke + Mirrors)
1. "The Kids Aren't Alright" by Fall Out Boy (American Beauty / American Psycho)

Honorable mentions for both: "Irresistible" by Fall Out Boy, "Polaroid" by Imagine Dragons, "20 Dollar Nose Bleed" by Fall Out Boy, "Take Me to Church" by Hozier, "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift, "Save Rock and Roll" by Fall Out Boy feat. Elton John, "Just One Yesterday" by Fall Out Boy, "Goodnight Moon" by Go Radio, "Summertime" by My Chemical Romance, "Implicit Demand For Proof" by Twenty One Pilots

TL;DR; I just really, really like Fall Out Boy, guys.

In addition to digital music, I also saw Imagine Dragons live this summer.  (Yes, I also saw them last year.  Your point?)  Halsey opened for them, and while I didn't care at the time, I'm now really excited that I got to see her, especially before her debut album.  And Imagine Dragons themselves were amazing, of course.  Though I still think I liked the Into the Night tour a little better.

Here's to another year of amazing music!

I leave you with my favorite music video of 2015:

What was your favorite music of 2015? 
post signature
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...