Reading Resolutions

My 2014 in books was, honestly, not that great. I read 61 books, which sounds like a lot, but isn’t really. Two of my jobs (writing for HelloGiggles and writing book reviews) involve reading books, which I think means I should be reading way more. And, yeah, I work a lot and I’m busy, but so are a lot of people who manage to read way more.

Even if I consider quality over quantity, I’m not super happy with my year in reading. I read a lot of books that were just okay last year. Do you know how much I hate reading an okay book? Just about as much as I hate eating an okay meal. I know that I’m more food motivated than my dog, but I just want every meal to be a completely perfect taste experience. In the same vein, I want every book to totally knock my over. Did that happen last year? No. I did read some really great books (An Untamed State, The Girls from Corona del Mar, The Start of Me and You, Vivian Apple at the End of the World, Every Kiss a War, Strange Light, Since You’ve Been Gone, and Meaty are a few examples), but I’m struggling to remember what some of the books I read were even about. Honestly, I would rather read a terrible book than a book that’s just fine.

This year I got my first gig writing straight-up book reviews (I don’t consider the writing I do for HelloGiggles to be “reviewing” since I only write about things I like). It’s hard and fun in equal measure, but mostly it’s taught me something invaluable: a lot of books are really boring. Like, so boring. As a writer, this is both incredibly discouraging and incredibly motivating. On the one hand, what if I’m accidentally writing something really boring? But on the other hand, maybe now that I know Being Boring is the #1 book crime, maybe I can just work extra hard to avoid it.

And maybe I’m being boring right now and I should just stop. The point is, I made some reading resolutions for 2015 to hopefully ensure that my year in reading is a lot more interesting.

1. Complete the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. I’ve only read three books so far this year and I’ve already completed a few of the requirements.

2. Read every book by Toni Morrison and Ann Patchett. I figured these authors were good picks because I like both of them but I’ve only read two of their books. And neither of them have such a huge catalogue that it’s totally unrealistic.

3. Read 62 books. I read 61 last year, so basically I just want to barely outdo Past Kerry.

Will I complete all of these resolutions? Probably not! But, as of late, my motto has been “progress is better than perfection,” and I’m just excited to see how far I get.

What about you guys? Do you make reading resolutions? The first book I read this year was Americanah and it was so amazing that it gave me hope for the rest of the year. Let me know your reading resolutions and, seriously, go read Americanah right now if you haven’t.

A New Story on WhiskeyPaper!

I’m super excited to have a story, At the Roller Rink, on WhiskeyPaper today. Maybe I should be more chill about this, and say something like, “I am so humbled to have this site publish my story,” but actually I’m pretty stoked. I think Leesa Cross-Smith is the coolest and I loved her short story collection Every Kiss a War, so it’s really an honor to be on WP.

I’m sort of obsessed with the friendships of young girls at that age right before they start to be interested in boys, when they’re so close and intense that they’re almost romantic. And I’m even more obsessed with the point at which those friendships start to break down, which is when boys and sex enter the picture. There’s always one girl who crosses that line sooner, and that moment of outgrowing a friendship is like squirming in an itchy, embarrassing sweater. And then there’s the other girl, the one who’s holding on a little tighter, who doesn’t understand why things are even changing.

And also there’s rollerskating involved. An an REO Speedwagon song. I’ll love you forever if you read it!

Writing about writing

Here’s how I used to write in college:

Whenever I had a story due for workshop, I’d hole up in the library for an entire weekend. I’d leave to eat and sleep and stuff like that, but mostly I’d just stay there. Some of my favorite college memories took place in an empty library on Friday and Saturday nights (when everyone else was out partying) or on Saturday or Sunday mornings (when everyone else was hungover). Clearly I was a crazy party animal; like, tone it down, college Kerry! Don’t be so buck wild.

I liked sitting in one specific cubby because it was the one of the few where passersby couldn’t easily see what you were writing, and I’ve always hated writing where people can see me. One of my brothers, as a baby, used to hide behind the couch when he pooped, and I’ve always thought of writing kind of like that. It’s a gross process and I need to hide behind a metaphorical couch to do it. In this particular cubby, someone had scratched the words “WHEN I SAT HERE I TOUCHED MYSELF.” I ignored that and tried not to think about some strange college bro’s penis. I was mostly successful.

I’ve always been a slow writer, and my writing process has always been “Start writing one thing, write it for several hours to a day to a week before realizing what you’re ACTUALLY supposed to be writing and then write that quickly.” It’s not an efficient way to write, but it’s my ~*~style~*~ and I can’t change it, try as I might. This means I have a lot of frustrated break time and I often feel like giving up and/or reading something. So that’s what I’d do. I’d write a bit, go find a short story collection or a literary magazine and read a story, go write some more, read another story, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I loved the weekend I spent writing a story for my junior year creative writing workshop while reading every single Miranda July story at the library. This was before her short story collection came out, so her stories were spread out across various journals. I read every story the library had while trying to work out a story about how lonely and sad and directionless I felt. It came out as a story about a girl who worked for a phone sex hotline, and I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to write it if I wasn’t reading Miranda July’s fearless, weird stories about strange women and their strange desires. The story wasn’t really about anything I knew, but the feelings were, the feeling voiceless and small. It felt good to get that out, and it felt like she was holding my hand the whole time and telling me I could do it.

That’s how I wrote everything–with the whole library full of writers cheering me on and giving me hope. I could’ve written stories at my weird, raccoon-infested apartment, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

I don’t write at the library much anymore, but my writing style is still the same. I still read while I write, just hoping the writer will help me keep my head above water while I’m confused and lost and doubting myself. Even if the story or book is nothing like what I’m writing, it helps to see that other people are doing it, too. I might feel like I’m all alone, but I’m not. Not at all.

What I’ve Been Reading

Long time, no blog. I’m still among the living, but (obviously) I haven’t been posting here at Welcome to Ladyville nearly as often as I used to. I was going to write a lot of reasons why that is, but

A) No one cares, and
B) It’s basically just that I work a lot, and that sometimes the internet makes me mad.

But I’m still here, still writing for HelloGiggles and sometimes popping up other places (in fact, very very soon I’ll be able to share something else I wrote!). And, of course, I’m still reading. I promise to try to convert some of the blog posts I constantly write in my head into actual blog posts soon, but until then, here’s what I’ve been reading.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
It feels silly to even talk about this book, because if you want to read it you’ve probably read it by now. But IT IS SO GOOD. It’s funny, but it’s mostly full of advice that will make you remember you should be more of a badass at all times. Amy Poehler reminds me a lot of my friend Lauren (more about her later), who takes less shit than probably anyone I know. If Lauren doesn’t want to do something, she isn’t even going to entertain the possibility of doing it. She recently told me, “My favorite part of being an adult is not doing what I don’t want to do and saying no frequently.” And she does! It’s truly something to behold, as well as a philosophy all of us could take to heart. Anyway, we should all be more like Amy Poehler and Lauren and just not ever take shit from anyone. Remember that Amy P. quote from Tina Fey’s Bossypants? “I don’t f*cking care if you like it?” I think about that all the time. This was a really bad description of Yes, Please, but you should just read it.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
This was funny! If you read The Toast or The Hairpin, then you’re well acquainted with the Texts From series. I read somewhere that this book is still fun to read if you haven’t read the source material, but I’m going to respectfully disagree with that. I’ve read a good portion of the books covered (back when I was an English major/bored high school student), but I had no idea what was going on in the texts about the ones I hadn’t read. If you read a lot of classics but also enjoy making fun of them, this is a good read.

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe
Lauren recommended this book to me, and I trust Lauren’s book recommendations more than I trust anything from anyone else. This book is a fine entry into the genre of Sad Girl Lit, which is a designation I think I made up. I love books that spend a lot of time inside young women’s heads as they navigate truly tough or terrible experiences. This book reminded me a lot of Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, a book I was so disturbed by that I vowed to never read it again (it’s not actually that disturbing, I’m just irrationally affected by Lorrie Moore). Much like AGATS, The Girls from Corona del Mar features upsetting scenes that will HAUNT YOU. In a good way. Sort of. It also features a lot of stuff about motherhood and traumatic childbirth, which I love reading about for some reason. Lauren also interviewed Rufi Thorpe, so go read that right now.

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
This is another recommendation from Lauren. I wasn’t lying when I said I read whatever she tells me to read! This is just a Lauren appreciation blog now, sorry. This book is so weird, upsetting, and good and I still can’t stop thinking about it. You know how men often write books that highlight how our bodies are just sacks of meat? I’m thinking of Chuck Palahniuk here, and I realize you might not know what I mean, but this was supposed to be a quick roundup. I always thought I didn’t like that kind of book, but it turns out I don’t mind if it’s written by a woman! So I guess I’m just tired of reading a man’s POV of women’s bodies and sexuality. Ugly Girls gets pretty, well, ugly. It’s also wonderfully creepy and there’s a sense of dread that gets louder and louder the more you read, which is one of my favorite things in a book.

Feel free to let me know what you’re reading and I promise to be back soon!

Maybe I Should Just Burn Them All

When I was moving my boxes of books and supplies up to my new home office, I found my box of journals. I’ve kept a journal off and on through good and bad (mostly bad) since fourth grade, so it’s a pretty big box. There are notebooks of weird writing attempts from college, my 7th grade complaints about how terrible junior high was (the most terrible), stressed out and desperate post-college writing, and truly over the top dramatics from high school. A few Saturdays ago, I sat down on the floor to go through the box. I was excited because I thought I’d come across all sorts of crazy, hilarious memories and spend the whole evening laughing. I was ready to have a good laugh at Kerry of the Past’s life, while also realizing that I’ve always been a precocious yet lovable weirdo.

Instead, what I found out was that I’ve always just been super weird and depressing. If anything, I used to be even more weird and depressing. Nothing about my weirdness is quirky or cute; mostly, it’s just annoying. I am a horror, and it took reading through almost 20 years of journal entries to realize that.

Things started out with plenty of promise. On January 20th, 1996, I began my journals with a declaration of self:

“This is the first page of this diary. Hi! Here is some stuff about me:
I like to read.
I don’t like gym.”

Both statements would remain true for the entirety of my childhood (and presumably for the rest of my life). I also appreciate that I said hello. I was nothing if not polite.

Things took a turn for the weirder soon, though, when I wrote the following entry:

“Today I got a phone call from somebody that said they were my secret admirer. I hung up. I think it was just one of my friends.”

Did I get prank called in the fourth grade? I did! I’d actually mostly buried that memory, but the pink polka dotted pages of this diary brought it right back. I still remember the bitch who did that and then sneakily tried to ask me if I “got any phone calls” the next day. Smooth as always, I just said no. I was pretty much the James Bond of fourth graders. I still won’t add that girl on Facebook.

Writer’s block quickly found me, however:

“I don’t have much to write. It’s only morning. I’ll probably have something to write later. Like I was saying, just give me some time–I’ll come up with something to write.”

I get it, Young Kerry. The insistent pressure to get words on the page! Whether it’s a work deadline or a self-imposed journal deadline that you get strangely defensive about, the struggle of the writer is all too real.

My January 29th entry proved that my anxiety about completely inconsequential things was there from a young age:

“Today in school, I forgot my assignment book. It was terrible!”

How did I even deal with the stress? But it wasn’t all lost assignment books and prank calls. There were good times, too, like on February 14th:

“Valentine’s Day! The dance was cool. All my friends were there. The best Valentine’s Day of my life!”

You want to know why all my friends were there? Because we were in the fourth grade, and dances happened during the school day. They didn’t have any choice. It’s sort of impressive that it was the best Valentine’s Day of my life. Even better than third grade? Impossible.

I have a lot of affection for fourth grade Kerry. She was weird, she wrote a lot (even when she faced immense pressure from her journal), and she was steadfast in her hatred of gym. If only all of my journals had been so sweet! Things quickly took a turn for the “Oh, God no” when I got to junior high and high school. First, I talked about boys approximately 95% of the time, despite the fact that most of my male classmates were dirtbags, and not even the sexy kind of James Dean (or even James Deen) dirtbag. Just, like, the kind of guys who call people “retards” and don’t read books and DEFINITELY do not care about a girl who spends most of her time writing in her journal about how much she hates gym (that didn’t go away until I took my last gym class in freshman year of high school).

And in college? Well, let’s just say that’s where things got really bad. Frankly, my college journals were so bleak that they actually made me wonder if I was depressed at the time and just didn’t know it. Why was I always so sad? Why was I never excited about any of my classes? Why was I so hung up on that dirtbag I dated, the one I was totally in L-U-V with even though he wasn’t going to college and listened to a lot of Avenged Sevenfold and smoked and liked to drag race for fun? Oh, because I thought he was really hot? I was 18, so pretty much all we did was make out in his basement and I considered that, like, a solid relationship, but that didn’t stop me from journaling my weird little heart out about him. He was, truly and objectively, very good looking in a dirtbag sort of way. Reading through my journals prompted me to look him up on Facebook and his face is now swollen in the way of a guy who drinks too much, which he probably does. To quote a poem he has definitely never read, nothing gold can stay.

Even the parts of my journals that made me laugh also just made me sort of sad. My best friend and I used to keep lists of our “inside jokes” on the backs of my high school journals, and I was so bummed to realize that I couldn’t remember 98% of them. Some of them are so strange-sounding that I did actually laugh out loud. Behold:

-Sarah Ferguson ponders terrorism (how this could have even tangentially related to a joke, I don’t know)
-The Avril Lavigne of mental illness (again, I don’t know)
-Mr Beans and his magical early 90′s sweater (I guess our guidance counselor just wore weird sweaters?)
-Jayne’s Sam’s Club Membership (nope)
-Paul, Ringo, and George Michael (wait, this one was because one of our friends truly thought those were the members of The Beatles. I still do find that funny!)
-Spandex Hippie (?)
-Slow-hedge (??)
-Stephen Tyler (literally, just the name of the Aerosmith frontman was written on the list. ???)
-”I Can’t Spell Furnace Boy” IMs Cat (okay, this one I do understand–we made fun of this kid because he couldn’t spell furnace, which sounds mean, BUT IN RETROSPECT he was a high school boy, which is to say he was terrible, and I guess he IM’d one of my friends and that alone was funny to us? I DON’T KNOW)

Some of the items on that list were essentially just random orderings of letters that made no sense to me. Funny, but also depressing. Actually, reading my journals in general was depressing. The act of going through them ruined my entire evening by reminding me that I’ve always been an incurable, sad weirdo. I guess some things never change.

I like to read. I don’t like gym.