Author: Christina Gibson

I am a 22-year old college student living in Idaho. I am studying creative writing and journalism, and I will graduate in April. I was married in March 2011 and my husband is studying to be a teacher. I have been vegan since I was 16 years old, and I became a vegetarian when I was 13.

Wires and Waves Reads: Garrard Conley’s Boy Erased

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It feels a bit like cheating to declare a book a favorite after only reading it once, but that is what I am going to do. Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased resonated with me on multiple levels, and I am sure that it is one I will come back to often. Conley grew up in Arkansas in a very religious Baptist family. As a teenager, his father accepted a calling as a pastor.Everyday secular activities and attitudes were considered to be of the devil, so his parents took his homosexuality particularly hard. When Conley first goes off to college, he is relieved. He can and does read all the books he wants, even sharing his favorite, The Picture of Dorian Gray, with his mother, with whom he is very close. He makes friends who know nothing about his very religious upbringing, and they do normal things like discuss literature, watch movies, and explore their campus. Most importantly, however, he can start to digest and accept his homosexuality outside of the confines of his small town and conservative family. After he is sexually assaulted and the assailant outs him to his family, he is sent to Love in Action, a conversion therapy program. It is just as terrible as you might imagine. At this center, homosexuality is compared to awful things like pedophilia and diseases like alcoholism. Conley is encouraged to blame his homosexuality on his parents or grandparents, and he is forced to give up all wordly interests, including his love of literature and writing.

Conley’s story is not just a cautionary tale of conversion therapy, although it serves this purpose well. It also explores the concept of identity as a whole and what makes up a person. We are not just our families, our religion, our friends, or our interests. All of those things are integral and intertwined in making a person, and Conley explores those themes beautifully. We are also not what people say we are, but it takes a lot of courage to dig out from under those expectations and stereotypes to become who we actually are. This does not just apply to the counselors and his family, as Conley makes it clear that faith also defines him in some ways. Conley writes so poetically that it made the hard parts even harder and the more illuminating parts even more so. I also really loved Conley’s relationship with his mother, as it shows that good people sometimes make bad decisions because they are trying to fill others’ expectations as well. I recommend this book to all the people in the world. Amen.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Wires and Waves Reads

This blog post is part of a weeklong celebration of feminism started by Kelly Jensen.

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I am a feminist because I am a human. Many people mistakenly assume that a self-declared feminist is playing the victim. I do not see myself as a victim. I am not writing to defend feminism. I am writing to tell you what feminism means to me.

Being a feminist means developing empathy for all types of people because feminism should be for and about everybody (this is a very basic generalization of the concept of intersectional feminism). I am trying to do this by reading, listening to, and sharing perspectives of people who do not look like me. I typically try to read books that meet that qualification, as I think books are one of the best ways to learn about and develop empathy for other people.

I recently read Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give, and Thomas’ protagonist, Starr Carter, embodies both badassery and real feminism (that is: “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster)). Starr is a black teenager who leads two different lives. At home in Garden Heights, she can be herself. At her private school, she must be less “ghetto”; in effect, she must act white. After witnessing a cop kill her best friend Khalil– a young, black man– Starr’s dual personalities collide as her city protests. She is afraid that publicly announcing this fact will cost her some friendships; she is also afraid of being called out for abandoning her friends and her neighborhood.

Identity struggles are nothing new, particularly for teenagers. Starr’s struggles in particular are important due to the forced way in which she must confront them, as well as their relevancy to current events. Starr has a few school friends who grow tired of her “rants” on racism. In a conversation with one particular friend, Starr says she is tired of being expected to go along with her friend’s feminist agenda while being expected to keep her mouth closed about social justice.

If your feminism does not include people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, non-binary people, people who are disabled, and people of all religions, then who is it for? I was inspired by Starr’s activism and her reconciliation of herself with the lives of all the people she loves, even, and especially, people who make mistakes. The Hate U Give was a phenomenal book, and I recommend it to everyone.

Also, the other half of this ol’ blog, Zach, created a playlist featuring music by cool ladies.


 

Words are good (Xtina Reads)

Hey, pals. It’s a little dusty around here. Actually, it’s a little smudgy. Anytime I try to get my computer out, Ben bangs on the keyboard like a sitcom character pretending to work when the boss comes by.

As always, I have been reading a lot lately. I am a little bit behind my goal, only because I have been reading more nonfiction books. The book I just read (Angela Davis’ Women, Race & Class) was the impetus for this blog post.

The world is a tumultuous and uncertain place always, but general human rights in our country seem to be dangling on a pretty thin thread as of late. People, I love you (even if I have social anxiety and hate going anywhere with people).

I think that fear drives most of the hatred certain people or groups harbor for other individuals or groups. When we get to know our neighbors, we are less likely to hate them. When we learn about another person’s struggles, they become more human and less of an abstract threat.

I am not very good at meeting people because, again, crowds of people intimidate me, but I do get to know a lot of different people at my job. I do like to read, though. I try to mostly read books written by people who do not look like me. I don’t pretend to be enlightened or anything, but the books have taught me many things. I love the books, guys. I encourage you to check out one, two, or all of the books on this list. Report back with a full book report. This can include a mixtape, a diorama, or a long-form essay.

Thank you and good night.

  1. Women, Race & Class– Angela Y. Davis
  2. Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay
  3. You Can’t Touch My Hair– Phoebe Robinson
  4. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel– Firoozeh Dumas
  5. The Underground Railroad– Colson Whitehead
  6. One Crazy Summer– Rita Williams-Garcia

Xtina’s Favorite Books of 2016

I read 42 books this year! I am pretty proud of myself, considering I took a few very busy courses and had a constantly-moving toddler to wrangle. It helped that several professors required heavy reading. Below is a list of some of my favorite books I read this year. Some were published in 2016, and some were published in 1964. I’m not an ageist.

You can read my reviews here if you feel so inclined.

The Best Book that I was obsessed with as a kid but never actually read

Harriet the Spy- Louise Fitzhugh

The Best Book I read and then subsequently could not stop thinking about

The Mothers-Brit Bennett

The Best Book I read that made me fall in platonic book-love with the author

Modern Lovers– Emma Straub

The Best Book I read about Brooklyn that was written in prose

Another Brooklyn- Jacqueline Woodson

The Best Young Adult Book

I’ll Give You the Sun-Jandy Nelson

The Best Continent and Generation-Spanning Book I read

Homegoing- Yaa Gyasi

The Best Book I read that acted as a window into a situation I know very little about

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel– Firoozeh Dumas

The Best Book I read about undocumented immigration that should be required reading for anyone who forgets that undocumented immigrants are people

Gaby, Lost and Found- Angela Cervantes

The Best Book I re-read that blew my mind again

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-J.K. Rowling

The Best Book I re-read that reminded me that perfection is not real

The Giver – Lois Lowry

The Best Book I read that surprised me in a good way

Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda– Becky Albertalli

The Best Book about Grief

The Thing about Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

Xtina’s Musics of the year 2016

I listened to a lot of Chance the Rapper this year. Like, I maybe listened to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book more than I washed my hair, which isn’t hard to beat. You get my point. Ben, my son, really loves the first song, “All We Got.” 

I started the year off listening to a lot of hip hop, but I also listened to a lot of indie rock, whatever that is.  I didn’t spend a lot of time writing about any of it, but I assure you that I was listening to music. I promise you. Anyway, I have included a list of my favorite albums and my favorite songs. I typically forgo including songs on my best songs list from artists whose albums I included on my best albums list. However, I did have to include a few Chance songs because that is really all I listened to.

Happy listening!

Best Albums:

Conor Oberst- Ruminations

Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book

Car seat Headrest- Teens of Denial

Anthony Green- Pixie Queen

Frank Ocean- Blonde

Bon Iver- 22, a million

Pinegrove-Cardinal

Solange- A Seat at the Table

Mitski-Puberty 2

Best Songs:

Mitski- Best American Girl/Happy

Drake- Pop Style

Car seat Drunk drivers/killer whales & Fill in the Blank

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam- When the Truth Is

The hotelier-Soft Animal

Kevin Devine- Instigator

A tribe called quest- We the People

Beyoncé- Sorry

Solange- Cranes in the Sky 

Chance the Rapper- All We Got 

Click here to listen

Xtina’s Favorite Albums of 2014

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Friends, I heard a ridiculous amount of good music this year, from new (to me) artists to some of my old favorites. I had the supreme blessing of seeing both Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst tour for their new albums. Jenny Lewis put out her first incredible album in years, and she really went above and beyond. St. Vincent went full-on weird with incredible results. Jack Antonoff put out a solo album. Sharon Van Etten released the most raw, heartbreaking album ever. And Taylor Swift, that high school drama student, finally made an album that I like. Thank you, TS. I’m so grateful. I heard Pianos Become the Teeth for the first time, and it fused 2005 me with 2014 me in the most pleasant way. Stacy King of Eisley put out her second solo album, and it was even better then the first. Beck put out an album that I heard for the first time while driving into the sunrise deep in the Sandia mountains, and it was a transcendent experience. And finally… Circa Survive. I have followed and loved this band since day one, and they never cease to surprise or impress me. This album was the product of extreme turmoil and strong friendships, and both are evident in the emotional carnage that is Descensus. I love music, and 2014 was a good year for it. 2015 looks especially promising, with releases from Kendrick Lamar and Modest Mouse and probably other great people. Anyway, enjoy. See you dudes later.

14. Taylor Swift- 1989
13. Bleachers- Strange Desire
12. Angel Olsen- Burn Your Fire For No Witness
11. Spoon- They Want My Soul
10. Phox- S/T
9. Jenny Lewis- The Voyager
8. Sharon Van Etten- Are We There
7. Sucre- Young and Free
6. Pianos Become the Teeth- Keep You
5. Beck- Morning Phase
4. Ryan Adams- S/T
3. St. Vincent- S/T
2. Circa Survive- Descensus
1. Conor Oberst- Upside Down Mountain

Wires & Waves Reads: Wolf in White Van

Title: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2014)

Reading level/interest age: 16+

In Wolf in White Van, Sean Phillips documents how he came to be where he is now. “Now” is purposely vague, as the novel is told backward, revealing more details as it goes. One of the first things about which readers learn is Trace Italian, the subscription-based “choose your own adventure” style game in which players must escape post-apocalyptic California and make it to a fortress, Trace Italian, in the Kansas plains. Because of the intensity of the game, players often become too attached, causing some to go too far. Lance and Carrie, two Florida teenagers, were two such players whose playing ended in disaster. Sean created Trace Italian while recovering from a tragic accident that is divulged at the end of the novel. The novel speaks to isolation, particularly teenage isolation, and the arbitrariness of death and survival.

Darnielle’s novel is articulate and quietly intense. It’s personal yet vague in its emotions. Every word feels labored over, but the result is a fluid, easy read. Sean is a difficult protagonist, but his strength is derived from his difficulties. He knows who he is and why he does the things he does, but he is also baffled by his actions and tangential thoughts. Trace Italian is a simple game, but it has the power to lure people in, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Darnielle is an incredible songwriter and, apparently, a flawless writer. I loved this book, and everything else I read feels cheap now.

Wires & Waves Reads: Rainey Royal

Title: Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis

Publisher: Soho Press (2014)

Reading level/interest age: 16+

Rainey Royal is a terrible person, but she can hardly help it. Her father Howard Royal, the famous jazz musician, treats their five-story New York City home as a waystation for his acolytes, which consist of mostly female musicians. Before her mother left for an ashram in Colorado, she was having frequent “sleepovers” with Howard and his best friend Gordy. Gordy has always been eerily attentive to Rainey’s needs and lately, he has been slipping into her room at night to give her back rubs. The whole situation causes Rainey to act out, and rightly so. She decides that the only way to gain control over her life is through her sexuality. She finds strength in making men want her. Her best friend, Tina, has her own set of problems, and Rainey can’t decide if she wants to live in ignorant bliss regarding Tina’s clarinet lessons with her father or confront her and lose the only person in whom she can completely confide. Rainey’s obsession with St. Catherine is interesting, as St. Catherine was often faced with a similar temptation, although her reaction of temperance and devotion was the polar opposite of Rainey’s.

Rainey Royal follows Rainey from her early teens to her mid-20’s, which is a relief. Rainey and her family situation are so unbearable at times that I wasn’t sure I could handle it. Landis straddles the line between oversharing and holding back, creating a tension mirrored in Rainey’s personality. The reader knows some things, but not all. Landis weaves that tension into her prose, often juxtaposing freedom with captivity or restriction. The novel was written in parts, and it feels that way, particularly toward the end. However, the fact that some chapters can stand alone does not diminish the novel’s cohesiveness.

I was convinced I hated this book during the first thirty or so pages, but somewhere along the way I became enamored. It’s frustrating and it’s uncomfortable, but it is also authentic and wrought with beauty and tension.