Life, love, literature

"Books fall open, you fall in"

Review: ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay

This little blog o’ mine isn’t the only place I have been writing reviews. Recently, I started to write some for the Washington Independent Review of Books. My first one is a review of Roxane Gay’s wonderful “Bad Feminist.” The beginning of the review is posted below, and you can check out the whole thing hereRead the rest of this entry »

International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day. 


According to UNESCO, the literacy day will be celebrated worldwide with a main global celebration in Dhaka. Also in Dhaka there will be an international conference on “Girls’ and women’s literacy and education.”

What a wonderful thing to celebrate!

There are so many people who are unable to read and write, right here in the United States. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute of Literacy, as of April 2013, 32 million adults living in the U.S. couldn’t read.


And added to that, between 1992 and 2003, the number of illiterate adults in the U.S. has barely budged.

As a country of such prestige and power, there is a severe problem if so many citizens are unable to read. This prevents those 32 million people from being able to be educated and make informed decisions when voting; to advance their careers and find jobs; and to fully take part in society.

Hopefully days like International Literacy Day can draw more attention to this problem.

We all have our weaknesses

On Friday, I was helping get out the word about The Washington Independent Review of Books, a book review and features website run by a team of book-loving volunteers. I am the social media director for the review.

While stationed at a booth set up one the bottom floor of D.C.’s awesome Politics & Prose, a woman came up to see what it was all about. I handed her a coupon that would allow 20 percent of her purchases to go to the Independent. Sadly, she had already bought a few books. Showing me her full bag, she said “I’d buy more, but I have to steel myself. It’s a weakness I give into too much.”

And I said, “we all have our weaknesses, don’t we?” She nodded, knowingly. 

I have many weaknesses, my penchant for buying books far faster than I can ever read them being one. But it’s good to know what your weaknesses are and to accept them. To change them, if they’re something that needs changing, or to just say “this is who I am, these are the weakest parts of me.” 

Accepting our weaknesses and vulnerabilities is hard, but in doing so, we may be able to better understand ourselves.

What books have stayed with you?

A challenge has been going around on Facebook. Sometimes these can be a little annoying, but this one is book-related, so I was pretty happy to be tagged for it by a coworker. Here it is below with my answers:

List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. 

1. To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
2. When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
3. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
5. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
6. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
7. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
8. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
9. The Butterfly Jar by Jeff Moss
10. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

What are yours?



unbrokenLast night I finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I’ve been slacking on reading lately, so I was really happy to pick up a book to plow through. I couldn’t put it down. It’s the true story of Louie Zamperini. An Olympian, soldier, POW, son, husband and father, Louie suffered unspeakable things during WWII. What probably hooks everyone on this book when they read it is his spirit and faith. Through horrors beyond the imagination, he never gives up. The power of the human spirit is often taken for granted. We can endure and travel through horrible things and while we may not be as whole as we once were when we reach the other side, we can survive.

When things get tough, I am going to think of Louie and his indomitable spirit. I definitely think Unbroken is worthy of all the praise it has received. Hillenbrand takes Louie’s story and treats it with all the care and truth it deserves. She doesn’t shy away from writing the hardest parts and makes sure all those who suffered alongside Louie also get their story told. I had no idea how brutally prisoners of the Japanese were treated, and Hillenbrand opened my eyes not only to Louie’s story, but to the stories of all POWs.

To the place I belong

WelcomeToNewJerseySignTonight a train will roll though the hills and valleys of Maryland, make a stop to say good evening to Philly and creak over bridges dotting Delaware. And then I’ll be home. Back to New Jersey — the place where I took my first steps, said my first words, read my first book.

Home is this idea we take with us everywhere. It could be a place; most often it is. Or it could be people; family and friends. Home could be a ballpark or college football stadium.

I’ve had many homes in my short 26 years. New Jersey. Penn State University. Galway, Ireland. Washington, D.C.

But New Jersey was my first home. My family and childhood friends my first loves. The streets of the Garden State my first adventure.

I guess that’s why every time I step aboard that train I want it to travel faster. I want time to speed up until I am home in my childhood bed. To where the people who know me better than I know myself wait.

Boxes are starting to be packed in that brick house on a shady street behind a baseball field. My parents are moving away in a year. To somewhere warm and new. And I want that for them. But, New Jersey will still always be home.

If I ever get lost in the years to come, I will take myself there and I will be found.

Becoming an ESOL tutor

In the summer of 2abcde009 I found myself living in Naples, Florida. I was there as an intern on the copy desk at The Naples Daily News. Mere weeks before I had returned from a semester abroad in Ireland. I found myself trading the rainbows and rolling green fields for sandy beaches and foam-tipped waves.

However, copy editors’ hours are not always the kindest, and I found myself working from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday-Saturday for the whole summer. Having the days to myself were nice, but after a while I needed something to fill up the afternoons. After searching for volunteer opportunities in the newspaper where I worked, I found a listing asking for help at the local literacy council. I went in a spoke with Ingrid, the young woman working behind the desk at the council’s office. She told me I was not going to be in Naples long enough to become a tutor, but they still needed someone to help organize their library and monitor the computer lab on Saturday mornings.

For the next three months I created an Excel spreadsheet detailing the 500+ books in their library and spent Saturday mornings from 10-2 helping ESL students use the council’s computer lab.

And I knew from the day I walked through the council’s doors that I wanted to teach ESL. And now I have my chance.

After 16 1/2 hours of tutor training through the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia,  I have been certified as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tutor. My student is a 36-year-old woman from Thailand who lives in Virginia with her husband. Both work at Thai restaurants. She speaks very little English, but seems enthusiastic to learn. I hope am I able to help her learn the language and make her life in America easier.

It’s a bit daunting, to be honest. I’ve never taught anyone English before, let alone anything else. Where do I start? How will I get through the language barrier? The training classes I feel have prepared me well, but it’s a whole different ballpark when you’re actually sitting down with someone for the first time. All I can do is find out why my student wants to speak English and help her learn what to say in day-to-day situations including traveling through the city, shopping and going to the bank. Reading and writing will wait until she has a better grasp of comprehension, speaking and pronunciation. I was pleased to learn she knows her ABCs and can write her own name.

I have to remember that small steps are the greatest successes when teaching someone a new language.

Writing bug

I have a new job, and in this new job (which I am enjoying greatly) I get to write. I haven’t written on a daily basis since college ended four years ago. And now that I am writing more in my worklife, the desire to write outside of that has also grown.

On Sunday I meet with my ESOL (English Speaker of Other Languages) student for the first time. And I think that has also pushed me to want to write more. To write about the experience. To write to remember the beauty in the English language and impart that beauty to my student. I’m excited about this adventure. I am nervous. My student is a young woman from Thailand; someone who has come to our country and left all the she knew behind to live a better life here in the U.S. I know I would not be so brave.

I look forward to the day when she can tell me about the decision to come here, and about all the she has left behind in the name of freedom and chance.

So stick with this blog if you’d like to read about those experiences, about books and about all the random musings of a city-living twentysomething.

I Was Made for Sunny Days


Haven’t updated in a while. Life’s been busy lately, mostly in very good ways.

But I wanted to write about something that’s been on my mind today. Actually, two someones who equal a band. My favorite band. Deb Talan and Steven Tannen make up The Weepies, an indie pop-folk duo. I discovered The Weepies sometime in college, around 2007-2008. I fell in love with them. With their sad songs, their happy songs, their incredible lyrics and the overall hopeful and happy message they send out into the world with their music.

Then something devastating happened: Early this year Deb was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. It was a blow to me. I kept waiting for a new album for them to drop and then came this news. Cancer’s the worst, isn’t it? Doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are. Everyone knows someone who has had cancer — some have survived and some haven’t. It’s a scary thing, something none of us can control.

But it doesn’t surprise me that Deb and Steve (who have three young boys) are taking this challenge in stride. Deb is in chemo, but despite it all, they are keeping their fans informed of her progress and it shows that they are trying their hardest to stay positive. I can’t help but think that they are fighting this with all the hope and love that they fill their music with.

I sent a tweet earlier today about listening to them and having Deb in my thoughts, and they so kindly replied saying she is doing well and they are hopeful she’ll be out of the woods soon.

I don’t know Deb or Steve, and it’s hard to put into words what their music means to me, but it means a lot. I turn to The Weepies on sunny days and rainy days. On the days when the sun shines and everything is going right, and on the days when it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. I hope they are back to making music very soon, and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Get well soon, Deb.

Bookish memories of days long past

I always say I have a poor long-term memory. I don’t really know how memory works and if that statement is true or I am just exaggerating. But, anyway, I don’t always remember much of my childhood or memories of “firsts.”

But for the sake of trying to preserve some of what I do remember (before it eventually decides to snuggle up in the part of my brain I don’t know how to access), here are some bookish memories of my youth.

Barnes and Noble:

I love libraries. Oh I do, I do. But I don’t have an excess of memories of visiting them when I was a young ‘un.  I know I used them. I do recall the library from my middle school, maybe elementary school as well. But our town library was small and then moved to a new location and wasn’t as good. The selection wasn’t excellent (that I recall) and it wasn’t incredibly welcoming. It’s also possible I didn’t go much because my parents both worked long hours and we just weren’t able to get to the library when it was open. But my parents did take us to Barnes and Noble. All. The. Time. And I remember spending hours in the YA section, reading the back covers of every book and stacking a large pile of them in my arms. I would then meet my mom and dad at the front of the store at a set time, and then I’d have to put some of the books back. I think I was usually allowed three. And often I would have to get at least one that was literary fiction and not fantasy or romance. I think this is why I still love B&N so much to this day.

Reading with my dad:

Both of my parents read to me when I was little. I don’t really remember most of it happening, but it happened. I do, however, know that my dad read me both Danny and the Dinosaur and The Butterfly Jar dozens of times. The Butterfly Jar is a poetry book for kids by Jeff Moss, and I remember clearly that I ADORED the poem “The Cuddlies.” I have no idea why I liked that particular poem so much, but I made my dad read it to me again and again. And I still have my old, yellowing copy of Danny and the Dinosaur in my room at my parents house —  which we bought from the library, proving we must have at least gone to book sales there.

Reading what my mom told me to read (sometimes):

She had me read Gone With the Wind in freshman or sophomore year of high school. I don’t remember if I liked it. I read The Borrowers on her recommendation as well as many of Louisa May Alcott’s books. She was even the one who gave me the first Harry Potter — mostly because someone gave it to her to read and she does not like fantasy but knew I would love it. My mom and dad still buy me books and give me ones they read and enjoyed.

My sixth grade English teacher reading us a chapter or two of Holes as a reward:

Her name is slipping my mind … sigh. But every day she would save the last 15 minutes of class to read to us, and it was wonderful — the book, getting out of our desks and sitting around her on the floor. Laughing when something funny happened and gasping when something exciting happened. Sharing it all together.

What are some of your favorite bookish memories?


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