Stuff I’m Reading: A Little Life

a little life

I think everyone goes through reading phases, and this year has been a year of reading light for me. I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotions, and I just don’t want to read anything too heavy, or anything that deals with death, mortality, aging, etc. At the beginning of the year, I truly thought I could read all of Toni Morrison’s books, but it’s September and mama’s clearly not going to get that done. Instead, I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels.

But when I finished my book, I wanted to read something that was as far away from contemporary YA as possible. So I picked up A Little Life, which Alex promised would make me cry. Every review I saw of it on Goodreads said it was amazing, but people also spoke of it like it was a horror movie…like, “Be careful, don’t read it alone, it’s going to make you sob.” I was apprehensive, but I have a long history of reading upsetting things, so I was ready.

Well. Let me tell you guys, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen with A Little Life. It was, by far, the most viscerally horrifying book I’ve ever read, but it’s also one of the best. The writing is beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made its characters feel so real. It seems like such a dumb cliche to say, “I feel like I know the characters,” but I really do feel like I know Jude, Willem, Malcolm, J.B., Harold, and Andy. Over the course of 700+ pages, they became real. The book’s about deep male friendship, which isn’t something that’s often explored honestly in fiction.

If you’ve been seeing a lot of great reviews for A Little Life and you’re thinking of picking it up, maybe do so. But maybe don’t! As much as I loved this book, I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It deals, very explicitly, with hard-to-read-about topics like childhood abuse, self-harm, and suicide. At time, I truly thought I would have to stop reading it. Before this, the most upsetting book I loved was Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, but A Little Life is about 500% more brutal than that. It’s dark, and it doesn’t really let up. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson in it, or a moral, or even really a lot of hope, other than that we, as readers, get the privilege of reading about and understanding these people’s lives, of seeing the times they’re happy even when dealing with excruciating pain.

I’m going to go back to reading something a little lighter now, but A Little Life reminded me of the value we get when we challenge ourselves to read something upsetting or difficult. It made a deep impression on me and I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time.

But if you’re not up for reading something quite so bleak (because it is bleak, and unrelenting), I have some recommendations for books I’ve read this year that are upsetting but ultimately way, way happier. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deals with some deep issues but is basically a happy ending sort of book (and it’s also very funny!). 32 Candles, which I recommend to everyone all the damn time, starts out with an abusive childhood and goes to some dark places, but is essentially a hopeful romance for John Hughes fans. And if you just want to go really light, read the latest Princess Diaries book, Royal Wedding. A++, would definitely read again.

PS: If you just want to know more about A Little Life, you can check out this interview with author Hanya Yanagihara on Late Night with Seth Meyers!

The Things That Will Happen When People Find Out You’re Writing a Book

Most people will not care. This is because they’re human beings with lives of their own that don’t revolve around you (weird). This is fine. This is, actually, vastly preferable to some of the other things that will happen, so be cool with it. Just talk about something else. Talk about anything else.

People will ask you what kind of book it is. You’ll say YA and they’ll stare blankly at you, and then you’ll remember that not everyone is involved in publishing and most normal people don’t care about genre distinctions and you’ll say, “Young adult. For teenagers. Teenage girls, mostly,” and they’ll make a noise of understanding while looking like they don’t understand, not even a little, not even at all.

People will tell you that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter on napkins. Nod politely.

“But it’s not about vampires, right?” they’ll say. Has any book been about vampires for the last five years? You don’t think so.

“I want a signed copy!” they’ll say, and that’s very nice, but your book is ebook only and you don’t even want to try to explain that so you just say sure.

People will ask “What’s it about?” and you’ll freeze. You spent months on this, almost a year, and you suddenly can’t remember even a single plot point. You should practice this, in front of a mirror or something. “It’s funny! But it’s also about anxiety. And homecoming. Oh, and The X-Files, and…” you’ll trail off, and they’ll look at you like, “This inarticulate person wrote an entire book?”

“Maybe you’ll be like J.K. Rowling!” Maybe. Maybe you’ll win the lottery. Maybe the world will end tomorrow. Maybe a lot of things will happen.

Some people will be so impressed, it will shock you. There’s no telling who these people will be, but they’ll make you feel like maybe somebody will actually read your book. This is the nicest and also vaguely disconcerting.

People will say, “You should put that in a book!” You never should. It is never something that should be in a book, whatever it is, trust me.

People will say, “That sounds like a fun hobby!” You will die a thousand deaths right there on the spot. Hobbies don’t make money you’ll say in your head but not out loud. Don’t ever say it out loud. Maybe someday you’ll say it out loud.

“What you need to do is write something like J.K. Rowling.” Something that affects our culture immeasurably, influences an entire generation of people, and makes a million dollars? You hadn’t thought of this before.

Here are some things.

Here’s what’s been on my mind lately:

Gilmore Guys, the podcast. Alex has been on my case to listen to this for months. “I don’t know why you aren’t listening to it. You’re going to love it,” he told me, multiple times. I steadfastly refused! And then I listened to it this weekend and immediately fell in deep, hard love with it. If you love Gilmore Girls, you’ll love it. If you don’t love Gilmore Girls, you’re probably not reading this blog anyway. When they sing along to the theme song, I just sit there, by myself, smiling like a maniac.

My Misfit. H. got me this instead of a Fitbit, and while I am not usually one for brand loyalty (I will not bow to ~the man~, even when that man is selling fitness trackers), I really love it. Multiple people have asked me about my watch, but it’s not a watch! It’s a Misfit! And now those people have to listen to my 10 minute schpiel about how much I love it and watch a demonstration of the app!

-Romance novels. Before this year, I never really understood the value of reading “light” books as a form of escape. I’ve always been able to read the most upsetting, most disturbing books with no problem whatsoever. But for some reason, right now, I can’t even tolerate reading anything that stresses me out. So many things in my own life are wildly out of control; I need to read something with a happy ending I can count on. Enter: romance novels. There were so many times in the past couple of months that the only thought on my mind at the end of the day has been, “I need to read about people falling in love.” It’s been really fun to start learning about a genre I don’t know too much about, and in case you haven’t noticed, I deeply enjoy immersing myself in the types of books and movies that are often directed at women and maligned because of it (see: romantic comedies, YA, T. Swift). Sometimes I feel like defending typically female entertainment pursuits is my life’s work, and I’m completely here for it.

-Other books. Okay, so it’s not all romance novels, all the time. I’m also reading Kissing in America, a really lovely, emotional book by Margo Rabb, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a bookstore event in Dayton a few weeks ago. Kissing in America is amazing and is also full of apt descriptions of anxiety/grief/etc. I’m also finally finishing up Bad Feminist–I got a bit stuck in the middle on the essays about books I haven’t read, but now I’m reading about movies/race and really enjoying it. Roxane Gay’s essays on The Help and Fifty Shades of Grey were particularly great.

-Going to book events. Did you know that I’m actually trying to leave my house lately? It’s true! I’ve been going to YA book events when I get the chance, and it’s been great. Stuff like this scares me and sometimes makes me feel like a big phony, but I’ve been really trying to a) be a better “literary citizen” (groan), b) meet other writers, and c) have more confidence in myself and my writing. On all counts, it’s hard. I really, really love meeting other writers (in general, people in the YA community are ridiculously nice and interesting), but it’s difficult to get over myself. I always assume no one will want to meet me, that they see me as a fraud or a weirdo or a small child pretending to be almost 30. What a gross attitude, me! It gets easier the more I do it, but it’s still hard. And lately, I’m just all about trying.

Thoughts: Wedding Edition

I guess livejournal-y blog posts are just what I do here now. Here are a few things that happened recently.

-H. and I were both in a wedding last Saturday. It was great. My favorite part of any wedding is the rehearsal, because I love that “everybody comes together as a team” feeling. It’s not one I get often, mostly because I’m terrible at being on a team. It’s not that I want to be terrible at it, but I often avoid working with other people on things because I’m afraid I’ll be the one to mess it up and ruin everything (this may be my low self-confidence talking). It all reminds me of how much I loved that last rehearsal before a band concert, or lining up to go on the field at halftime. All the is my hat straight?, get in line, here hold this, oh no it’s time stuff is always my favorite. The we’re all in this together of it all. Lining up behind those big double doors as the wedding music starts, the last moment before it all happens and everything changes. Hugging Cat and her dad right before I walked down the aisle, standing with my own dad and muttering, “Oh God, I hope I don’t fall,” clutching onto H’s arm before walking down the aisle Saturday to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s all good. It’s all my favorite.

-It was also my birthday on Saturday, making this probably the weirdest birthday I’ve ever had (except for when my birthday was the day after senior prom and my date got the bowling alley to announce it at midnight). I let myself relax for once and I had a few drinks and I danced a lot, and you guys, I am not a good dancer. I’m not a sober dancer because hi, anxiety, and I don’t enjoy doing things I’m terrible at in front of people. But honestly, I’m just so tired. I work 60-70 hours a week, I don’t sleep enough, and my nerves are so tight it feels like they’re going to snap. I told myself to forget about work for a few hours. I let myself get to “Good Charlotte is my jam” levels that night, which is a feeling-label I came up with after I went to bachelorette party at Put-In-Bay and, during a cover band performance of Good Charlotte’s The Anthem (a song I have no particular feelings about), I turned to Jayne and very seriously yelled, “THIS IS MY JAM!” On Saturday, every song felt like my jam. I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was when those first few seconds of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” started playing. I heard “Gangnam Style” and thought, Yes. Kesha played and I felt like I could fly.

-No songs will get people in their late 20s more excited than “Yeah” by Usher and “Hey Ya.”

-My husband’s signature song is “My Humps.” Yes, the Black Eyed Peas song. He requested it at the wedding and then rapped/sang the whole thing for us. Apologies to you if you’ve never heard your husband singing about his “lovely lady lumps” and threatening to “get you love drunk off my humps.”

-Weddings! They’re great. I know a lot of people aren’t into them anymore, but I still think they’re special. I still think there’s a value in making a promise in front of people. And I still cry, always, no matter what.

An Actual Blog Post

Remember when I used to make blog posts that had, like, an actual narrative? Those were the days. Today, let’s do something different. This is just a bunch of my thoughts. It’ll be like we’re on Livejournal (RIP all my approximately one million Livejournals).

-I bought my first smartphone a few weeks ago. Yes, it’s the year 2015 and up until now I was using what was basically a flip phone (it wasn’t, but let’s just say it was). Obviously, life is great (I can now access my Kindle books ANYWHERE), but the biggest excitement was discovering that my phone has a pedometer. For a goal-oriented obsessive weirdo like myself, this has been life-changing, probably for the worse. I wake up in the morning thinking about getting those 10,000 steps in, but let me tell you, it’s difficult to do so when you work in an office 8 hours a day and then you need to write at night. But have I been taking Merlin on extra walks and doing laps around the house while reading a book? Maybe. Maybe I have. Don’t judge me. Anyway, I figure I have a couple weeks left with this before it reduces me to frustrated tears because I have never, ever known when to quit, so I’m just enjoying it while it lasts.

-Things have been stressful lately, and since my brain has two speeds (“everything is great” vs. “we’re all going to die alone so who cares about anything”) I’ve been trying to keep things light. Don’t stop to think about anything upsetting, ever! I’m writing a book that heavily features anxiety, so you can guess how well that’s going. As a result, I’m incapable of reading anything even mildly upsetting. Lauren recommended All the Birds, Singing to me and while it’s creepy and weird and I’m really enjoying it, she did NOT mention all the grisly, graphic animal deaths it contains (or maybe she did and I blocked it out). So I’m currently in the midst of The Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts. Each book is about one of four friends who run a wedding planning business. Will they find love? Yes! And probably no sheep entrails will even be mentioned in the process. To say these are comforting is putting it mildly. If it’s past 9 pm, find me in the basement on my treadmill as I make my way through Savor the Moment (it’s about the baker) and try to get my last 2,000 steps in. I’d like to write about Nora’s books here on Welcome to Ladyville, but we’ll see if I can come up with anything to say other than “A++, distracted me from my emotions, would read again.”

-My tumblr A Year of Romantic Comedies is still truckin’ along. I love doing this project so much. This week I watched Pillow Talk and loved it.

-You know what’s great? Food. Really going out on a limb there, Kerry. One of my procratination/distraction methods of choice is cooking/baking. Lately I’ve made these chocolate donuts, this avocado/cucumber salad (thanks, Lauren!) twice, and these kale/sweet potato tacos. I’ve also been really into slushies from Sonic, but those involve no cooking. Did you know you can get Pop Rocks in your slushie, but they call them by the generic moniker “popping candy”?

Thanks for letting me livejournal at you, guys. What have you been doing/reading/eating?