books

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

Christina’s Favorite Books of 2013

I read a lot this year, so it was inevitable that I read some of the best books I have ever read in my life. I’ve been reading since I was five, and I always felt like my reading peak was between the ages of eight and eleven back when I re-read the Babysitter’s Club books weekly, but I may have surpassed that landmark. I finally outshone elementary school Christina in one area.

I read somewhere around fifty books this year, and it was great. I have a pretty hard time remembering things a lot of the time, so I decided to document every book on my Goodreads account. In lieu of ranking them, I decided to create categories to highlight a few great ones.

Funniest Book

  • Bossypants by Tina Fey: This book was laugh out loud funny, but it also showed how good of a writer Tina Fey is. A lot of funny people write books that are average because their humor doesn’t translate to the page. This book is just essays about Fey’s life and they aren’t in an overly rigid chronological order, but they are funny and help you to understand Fey better as a woman and a comedian.
Best YA Novel that Crushed my Heart
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: This book was pretty heavy and realistic. Rowell is great at explaining the emotions of people you might not understand. We have all known (or not known) an Eleanor. She seems cold or distant, but she contains so many more layers than we are aware of. Rowell knows how to write a dynamic character, let me tell you.
Best Children’s Novel for People of All Ages
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart: I really tried to branch out and read more YA novels this year. This book was fun and surprising. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, so I read this pretty quickly. It’s a story about a bunch of orphans who are recruited by Mr. Benedict to take on a secret mission that will save the world. That’s all I can say. Carson Ellis, who is apparently pretty well-known in the independent music illustration scene (I made that up), illustrated this book, and her art is wonderful. It fits the precociousness of the four main characters very well.
Best Book about a Group of Friends that is Also Sad
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: This book was heart-wrenching. It follows four people from the time they meet at summer camp when they are teenagers to sometime in their fifties. The main character falls in love with two kids after they make her feel included and interesting for the first time in her life, and she remains bound by this for her whole life. This bond is strong and understandably produces a lot of drama. I empathized with every character, which made this novel particularly heavy for me.
Best Disillusioning Historical Fiction
  • Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler: I had to constantly remind myself that this was just a fictional account. F. Scott is a longtime favorite writer of mine, and this book skewed my perception of him quite a bit. It is a very illuminating account, and the word is that Fowler was as accurate as she could be. It will make a diehard Zelda fan out of you, but shouldn’t we all be? She was tough, and I admire her so much. Fowler is also just a fantastic storyteller. I hope she disillusions all my favorite authors for me.
Best Disillusioning Historical Non-Fiction (or biography)
  • Off the Road: My Years with Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg by Carolyn Cassady: I didn’t really hold many illusions about the so-called Beat generation, but I really didn’t know the extent of Neal’s relationship with Carolyn. This account may be biased since she is the one relaying it, but she is somewhat of a saint. She did so much for all of those men. She is essentially a cornerstone of the whole scene, and no one really knew it. Short version: Neal is a deadbeat, Jack is a romantic and sad idealist, and Allen is kind of a jerk (this is the short short version of Ginsberg, but that’s a story for another time). This book enabled me to see this scene from another much needed perspective.
Best Book by my Hero
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: Rowling continues to be my literary hero AND kick butt fifteen years after I read her for the first time. In her first non-Harry Potter book, she goes in a very different direction. This book is far from magical; these are all normal people, and they all kind of suck. The adults in this British town constantly screw each other over and the kids try to ignore them and be good people anyway. Krystal Weedon reminded me a lot of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor; they are both tough and seemingly cold while doing nearly heroic

Best Book about Sports that is about so much more than Sports

  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: This is another of those books where I empathized with every character. And Quentin, man. I loved how disconnected everyone seemed at the beginning juxtaposed with the final scene. A high school baseball star is recruited by a fledgling team at a Midwestern university and this recruitment has implications for the most unlikely people. Good and bad implications. And surprises. I want to read this book again and again. It crushed my heart and made me supremely happy. I wish Harbach would write a million more novels.
Best Detective Novel not by J.K. Rowling that was really by J.K. Rowling
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith: By now everyone knows that Rowling wrote this, and she killed it. Apparently she didn’t want to call attention to the novel because of her fame and, although I read this after I found out she wrote it, I would have loved it even if I didn’t know. I was dying to know what would happen next, and I made plenty of theories about the killer’s identity, all of which were wrong. Damn, Joanne. I did not see that coming. She is so good at writing four dimensional characters. Snape, anyone?
Best book I Hated Initially and Fell in Love with
  • Serena by Ron Rash: This book is about a powerful couple running a timber company/monopoly in the 1940’s. The premise sounded terribly boring to me, and I could not get into it at all for the first little bit. I just wanted to finish it. But then things started getting crazy. Serena is a wild lady, and her husband is weak and submits to her every whim. She wants to take over the world, and she will combat anyone and everyone to get there. The movie comes out this year, and I know that Jennifer Lawrence will be the perfect Serena.
Best Book that Made me Reconsider my Life and my Role in the Universe
  • Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.: This book is too sacred to discuss. I want to knock on the doors of America and force them to read it, but I want to keep it for myself. I want to be selfish with it. The story begins with the main character in the womb. Unidentified voices tell him how and when the world is going to end, and this knowledge (along with the voices) set the narrative for the rest of his life. Damn.
Best Book that Changed my Life and Made me Want to be a Better Person
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed: When Strayed was in her early 20s, her mother died of lung cancer. They were extremely close, and this event understandably turns her life upside down. She falls into an abyss of depression and extreme behavior. During this period, she finds a book in a gardening store about the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. She immediately decides to hike the entire trail despite having no backpacking experience and little hiking experience at all. She goes and the hike changes her world, and it will change yours vicariously. The hike is so physically hard that she has little time to dwell on or process her emotions, but when she does, holy cow. This book made me want to do two things: 1) hike, and 2) change my life. I believe that this is the On the Road of my twenties.
Best Book about Advice
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed: Strayed wrote an anonymous advice column for the website Rumblr for several years. When she revealed her identity, she compiled her columns into this book. I can assuredly say that Strayed is the best writer I have ever read. She is so honest and visceral and raw, but she is also incredibly poetic. She knows just what to say to make me want to change or to make me feel that somebody understands me. I think she is such a good human being, and she makes my heart grow with every word she writes.
Best book that made me want to close my computer right now
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers: This novel tells about a woman named Mae who gets a job with a company called the Circle, which is like Google on steroids. It is the equivalent of every social media website together. They believe in intellectual freedom to a scary, Utopian degree, and Mae is supremely and easily swayed by their ideas and their strength. It made me fear the negative aspects of technology more than I ever have.
Best book I read that introduced me to a musician, inspired me to create, and made me fall in love with my friends
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith: Patti Smith is my hero. She is so humble and has no idea how inspiring she is, and I love that about her. Creating is essential to survival, and she embodies that truth more than anybody. In this book, she details her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. He inspired her to be herself and to create art that mattered. She placed him on a pedestal, and he never really let her down, which is amazing. While she admired and loved him, she didn’t have any illusions about him. She didn’t always agree with everything he did, but she loved him for being an artist. She refers to him as the “artist of [her] life,” and that aptly describes their relationship, or the snippets she shares in her book. I had never listened to Patti Smith before reading this book, and I was blown away when I listened to Horses for the first time. Just Kids does not do justice to her talent, but I guess it isn’t supposed to. This book reminded me who and what I write for.
Best book based on a favorite song
  • This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann: “This Side of Brightness” is a song off Thursday’s Full Collapse, so when I saw this book of the same name at the bookstore, I had to buy it. Geoff Rickly has never let me down. McCann is so adept at weaving the past, present, and future. In this book, he weaves the story of the creation of the New York subway with present-day homeless people living in the underground tunnels. I kept wondering where the stories would converge, and it hit me like a ton a of bricks when they did.
Best Book about Families that made me want to cry
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri: This book tells the story of two brothers in India who are inseparable. Their interests and beliefs diverge as they get older, and this results in tragedy. The slightly older brother, Subhash, eventually moves to the United States to study and to separate himself from his brother, though his proves impossible. I don’t want to give anything away, but it is really heartbreaking. Ultimately, this is a story about inescapable regret.

Honorable mentions: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford, This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, The Keep by Jennifer Egan, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Room by Emma Donoghue