Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2018

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks us to share the top ten authors we read for the first time in 2018. Largely due to all the books I had to read for my coursework, I was lucky enough to have been introduced to a plethora of brilliant writers this past year. As I made this list I was thrilled to see that so many of them are women of color–who also wrote some of my favorite book of 2018. 

What authors did you read for the first time in 2018? What do you think of the ones on my list? Any recommendations of books by them that I should read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I Read in 2018

Happy New Year!! I know this was technically last week’s topic, but shhh! I’m going to do it anyways because I didn’t get a chance to do it yet. I ended up reading way more books than I expected to in 2018, so picking just ten was actually pretty difficult. In the order that I read them, they are:

1. Girl Up by Laura Bates

This is one of the first books I read in 2018 and I can’t think of a better way to start a reading year off right. Although I think this book is technically geared toward young women in their teens, I think it is an important and valuable read for women at any age. In addition to the witty, intelligent writing in this book, the graphics are also fantastic in and of themselves.

2. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

I distinctly remember listening to Hillary narrate the audio book version of What Happened and I’ve found myself thinking about it frequently since then, even all these months later. Politics aside, Hillary offers some fascinating food for thought regarding being a woman in  the professional work sphere as well as what it’s like to suddenly have your private life become a public spectacle.

3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Another great audio book listen of 2018! Although it took a while to get through, I really enjoyed reading story that sparked the amazing musical that I was lucky enough to see performed on the West End while in London. It’s always interesting to note the differences between page and performance; however, I think experiencing both in this case gave me a greater appreciation for each!

4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

After taking an entire term solely on Virginia Woolf while at Oxford, I think A Room of One’s Own is the one that has made me think the most. So many aspects of this book are still applicable today–or at least the sentiment behind her words is still relevant today–and I found solace in the fact that even one of the most brilliant minds I have ever read something by struggled with these sorts of issues.

5. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

This novel was everywhere in 2018, and for good reason: it is beautiful, lyrical, and captivatingly emotional. I remember visiting several bookshops in Amsterdam over my spring break and being overjoyed to see displays of this novel in many of them. Something about its story is so universally human.

6. Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera

Ahh, the novel that sparked my honors thesis! I feel such gratitude towards this novel for making me think about literature, feminism, and individual independence in ways that I never had before. If you want a challenging, eye-opening, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking read then I highly, highly recommend picking this one up!

7. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Nervous Conditions is another vital novel in terms of my honors thesis and such a formative reading experience regarding thinking about the importance of multiplicity in stories and experiences. Learning that this novel is actually the first in a trilogy written over the course of decades was just icing on the cake!

8. The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Jurassic Park has been one of my favorite movies and books for a long time, so you can imagine how surprised and ecstatic I was when I stumbled upon this novel in the Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford. I had had no idea that the modern story was inspired by this early novel–and what a novel it is!

9. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read this essay at a time when its message was exactly what I needed to hear. I love how bold, direct, assertive, and confident Adichie is in this text. I think I’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of the most empowering things I have ever read.

10. The Human Stain by Philip Roth

Surprising to see a Roth book on this list after how much I complained about my Philip Roth senior seminar this semester? Honestly, so am I. I came to appreciate Roth as a writer, and the way he writes about identity in this novel really made me think.

What are the top ten books you read in 2019? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Women Writers I’d Love to Meet

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share a list of ten authors we would love to meet. In the past, I’ve found that the lists I’ve made like this tend to be fairly male-dominated; instead, this week I’d like to focus on ten women writers that I would love to have a conversation with.

What women writers would you love to meet? What do you think of the writers on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall 2018 TBR

Happy Tuesday!! As per usual, it’s time for the seasonal TBR topic! Since the fall semester is now in full swing and I have to divide my reading between what I’m assigned for class and what is on my bookshelf from home, I’m going to do the same with this list. Here are the books I have to read and am hoping to read this fall. 

What books are you hoping to read this fall? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

They say that timing is everything, and reading is no exception. Sometimes you read a book and acknowledge that you probably would have enjoyed it more if you had read it when you were older or younger, in a different mood, or at a different time of year. However, sometimes you read a book at the precise moment you need its advice most. This ideal timing recently happened to me when I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s tiny book Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. I finished reading it in one sitting before going to bed one night and immediately wanted to start reading it all over again. It’s safe to say that this is the best feminist text I’ve read in a while.

Dear Ijeawele is a modified version of a letter Adichie sent to a friend after this new mother asked Adichie how to raise her daughter to be a feminist. What a question! It’s one that many people likely ask themselves but few endeavor to answer directly and comprehensively, especially through writing. How do you raise a feminist in a culture that is often at odds with gender equality, intersectionality, and acceptance? I do not have kids nor have I ever raised one; however, I would venture to say that Adichie does a pretty good job of answering this question.

What I love about Adichie’s writing is that it is direct, to the point, and unabashedly honest. Nothing is sugar-coated or brushed over. For instance, she blatantly describes the difference between how men often act after they get a divorce and how women often act after they get a divorce. She describes how women will support each other by saying things along the lines of “You’re going to be okay,” while men will say things like “You could do better than her anyways.” Notice the difference? The former focuses on individual progress and development, whereas the latter denounces the ex-wife as inferior or not good enough. This is a bold statement to make on Adichie’s part—it doesn’t exactly portray men in a favorable light—but she doesn’t shy away from incorporating it into her argument.

This book doesn’t just advise the reader on how to raise a feminist; rather, Adichie’s text also reminds the reader how to be a feminist. In a sea of books, films, and songs emphasizing romantic love as a heightened ideal, it’s nice to be reminded that marriage doesn’t have to be one’s first and foremost priority all the time. It’s also nice to be reminded that marriage isn’t the only path for women to walk on, despite what the media might otherwise proclaim. Adichie lauds women who are passionate about their careers and underscores the importance of normalizing women holding leadership positions and being successful in the workplace. I read this at a time when such a reminder was incredibly helpful and comforting, particularly as my final year of college begins.

If you’re searching for a powerful, quick, witty feminist read, then look no further than Dear Ijeawele. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether you’re raising a feminist or just hoping to be one.

Click here to check out other Feminist Friday posts!

What are your thoughts on Dear Ijeawele? Have any other feminist texts you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

AUGUST 2018 | Wrap-Up

What a month August was! I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like August is a month of transition. Perhaps this feeling has been instilled in me from decades of back-to-school prep, but it nevertheless rings true every year. Here’s what I’ve been up to this past month:

In August I read a total of 3 books:

  1. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli
  3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions definitely wins the Favorite Book of the Month award from me in August. This text is incredibly empowering and thought-provoking and I would highly recommend it!

I wasn’t able to read much this month, but I’m still happy with what I did manage to read considering all that I was busy with otherwise. Hopefully I can squeak in some extra reading besides what’s required of me during this semester.

+ MOVIE: I actually didn’t watch any movies in the month of August. *gasp!* I was so busy trying to wrap everything up at home before moving back to campus for the start of the semester that my movie list went unwatched. However, I did listen to several great podcasts, including one of my new favorites: S-Town. Would highly recommend!

+ MUSIC: Lately I’ve been listening to Brockhampton, which has been an interesting time. The playlist I listened to on my commute during my last week of summer was a mix of rap and Disney songs, which pretty much sums up what a transition point in the year I’m in.

+ FOOD: Definitely burritos from the local place near my home in New Hampshire. I always make sure to go there a few times each summer before I have to leave for school.

+ PLACE: Ah, isn’t this the ultimate question this month? Moving back to Wheaton after an entire year away has been a strange and lovely experience, and I’m happy to say that the suite I now share with my friends has quickly become a favorite place this month.

What a month! August encompassed the last couple weeks of my summer as well as my move back to Wheaton after an entire year of being away. It’s been strange and overwhelming to be back in such a familiar place where I don’t know most of the students anymore, since most of the people I was close to outside of my class year have graduated. So many aspects of Wheaton are the same, yet many are so different that it makes me feel like a freshman again in some instances. At first I was taken aback, but fortunately I adjusted fairly quickly with the help of friends. The mountains of work have already begun to pile up, so there hasn’t been much time to wallow.

Mary Lyon Hall at Wheaton College, MA.

Also, can we just take a second to talk about how I’m a senior. I still can’t believe that this is my last year at Wheaton. Where has the time gone? It feels even shorter since I studied abroad, as though there should somehow be an extra year to make up for the one I didn’t experience here. However, part of me does feel ready to complete this year and take on a new path. I have a feeling that this year will be filled with the unexpected!

 Here are some notable posts from my blog this past month:

Here are some posts that I loved reading this month:

How was your month of August? What was the best book you read? Did you do anything really fun or exciting? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Best 10 of 2018 {So Far}

Happy Tuesday!! Can you believe that we’re already over half way through 2018 already?! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share the best 10 books we’ve read so far in 2018. I’ve already read far more than I expected to this year–mostly due to my sprawling required reading lists at Oxford–so I have plenty of books to choose from. Picking only ten won’t be easy!

Here’s to another six months of lovely reading days and great books! ❤

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I was thrilled that part of my postcolonial literature tutorial during my last term at Oxford was reading and writing about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Fifteen years after the publication of her debut novel Purple Hibiscus in 2003, Adichie continues to make headlines today. Not only is she known as a renowned Nigerian novelist, but she has also made great viral strides with her TED talks “The Danger of a Single Story” (2009) and “We Should All Be Feminists” (2012). Adichie’s popular success in the public eye has thus had major implications for her most recent novel Americanah, published in 2013. Today I’d like to discuss Adichie’s role as a public feminist figure as opposed to how we would stereotypically categorize an academic.

Image from the Washington Post.

After the critical successes of her first two novels Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), alongside the publication of her short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck in 2009, Adichie began to step further and further into the popular spotlight through publicly giving TED talks. Part of her “We Should All Be Feminists” TED talk was also used in Beyonce’s 2013 single “***Flawless,” immediately thrusting Adichie into a wider, more varied audience than those who attend TEDx conferences or judge literary prizes. Adichie’s dual role as both novelist and public figure allows her the agency and opportunity to advocate for her own work and ideas without relying on the voices of literary critics for praise.

Perhaps Americanah has also achieved great popular success due to the close alignment between Adichie’s values as a public figure and those promulgated by the novel. In “The Danger of a Single Story,” Adichie explains how reading African literature helped her realize that “people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature” and therefore “I started to write about things I recognized” (Single Story). Years later, Americanah becomes a direct reflection of these words, even honing in on African women’s hair from the very beginning of the novel when Ifemelu wonders “why there was no place where she could braid her hair” in Princeton (Adichie 4). Ifemelu does not mirror the characters Adichie describes reading as a child, who were all “white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples”; instead, she has delivered her promise of branching beyond that single story promulgated by the Western literary canon (Single Story).

Likewise, in “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie laments that “because I’m female, I’m expected to aspire to marriage; I’m expected to make life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important” (Feminists). This disdain for women’s dependence on men for their personal identities and sense of self-worth is greatly emphasized in Americanah through Ifemelu’s increased agency. At the end of the novel, it is clear that Ifemelu has taken control of her own life on her own terms, remarking that “still, she was at peace: to be home, to be writing her blog, to have discovered Lagos again. She had, finally, spun herself fully into being” (Adichie 475). It is only after she creates this identity for herself that she finally allows Obinze, her past lover, to come into her house, thereby putting herself before the prospect of finding a partner. Adichie consistently values feminism and diverse representation both within and beyond her texts, becoming a reliable figure in the public eye. Her novel is therefore seen and read in this empowering context.

I highly recommend watching Adichie’s TEDtalks as well as reading her latest novel Americanah. Adichie is both a masterful novelist and public speaker, and the messages she delivers are certainly ones worth hearing.

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

What are your thoughts on Adichie? Have you read any of her books? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

APRIL 2018 | Wrap-Up

T.S. Eliot famously wrote in The Waste Land that “April is the cruelest month.” Fortunately, this particular month of April has been remarkably kind to me! Between traveling, spending time with friends, starting a new term, and planning for some exciting days to come, this past month was filled with moments that I know I won’t soon forget. Here’s what I was up to in April:

In April I read a total of 12 books:

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. All That She Can See by Carrie Hope Fletcher
  3. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
  4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  5. Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka
  6. Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera
  7. Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo
  8. The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid
  9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery 
  10. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
  11. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling
  12. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf {yup: second time this year!}

I read a lot of fantastic books this month (shout out to my Oxford required reading list) but I think my favorite is probably the very first one I read: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This novel is so well written and really uproots you and plants you in the United States at the time before Obama’s first presidential election. As a book blogger, I adored the fact that Ifemelu ran a blog about race in America as an outsider as well as all of the issues and delights that came along with it. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

+ MOVIE: Definitely, definitely, definitely The Sound of Music. Up until early April I was one of the seemingly few people left on Earth who had never seen this iconic musical film, so you can imagine how confusing my life must have been before due to all of the reference I never fully understood. Well, I’m happy to say that this problem has finally been resolved, and I LOVED it. My friend and I watched it in preparation for the Sound of Music bus tour we went on while traveling through Salzburg on our break and I honestly still can’t believe it took me over two decades to finally see it. How have I lived???

The back of our Sound of Music tour bus in Salzburg, Austria.

{Also shoutout to Marvel’s Infinity War as an honorable mention. I went to the midnight screening of it (my first one ever) and it was a WILD time.}

+ MUSIC: I’m tempted to say the Sound of Music soundtrack, simply because it’s SO. DARN. CATCHY. However, in the interest of not repeating myself a million times, I think I’m going to go with an artist I was recently introduced to by one of my friend’s before we saw her perform live in London: Dodie. She has a lot of music up on her Youtube channel and she’s also released a few EPs, which are lovely. A few of my favorite songs are “When,” “6/10,” and “Party Tattoos.” Definitely check her music out if you haven’t already!

+ FOOD: Literally anything that is not granola bars, Lays and Pringles chips, fruit, and packets of oatmeal. This was basically all I ate while traveling with my friend for two weeks because I didn’t want to order anything in other languages due to my nut allergy, and now real food with substance tastes AMAZING. Actual protein! Meals that are cooked in a kitchen! Food that isn’t classified as a snack! What a life!

+ PLACE: I had the incredible opportunity to travel to many different European cities in April, so there are a lot of amazing places for me to choose from! However, I think the place I loved the most was Austria, particularly because I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful! We stayed in Vienna for several days and then spent some time in Salzburg and Mondsee for the Sound of Music bus tour and all of those places were just gorgeous. I would absolutely go back some day!

Wow, so much to say! The first half of April was one of the most incredible experiences of my life: traveling to five European cities in two weeks! The trip began by visiting my friend who is studying in Edinburgh this semester, and then from there we went to Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, and Salzburg. I don’t even know where to begin talking about this amazing experience! We went to so many places, from countless museums and parks to the Dutch amusement park Efteling, the East Side Gallery, the apartments of Beethoven and Mozart, actual sites used in the Sound of Music film, and more. I’ve been back in Oxford for weeks now and I still can’t believe I actually went to all of those places!

To be honest, before coming to Oxford I never, ever, ever thought I would go on such an adventure. Not only does my nut allergy make traveling quite difficult and stressful, but I’ve always been a bit of a homebody and have preferred to do things well within the bounds of my comfort zone. However, I am so, so SO glad I took advantage of the opportunity to travel while I’m already in England because it ended up being one of the most fun, exciting, eye-opening things I’ve ever done.

I’m in the process of writing MANY posts about all of my traveling adventures, so stay tuned for them over the course of the next few weeks!

So much Harry Potter graffiti in the bathroom at the Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh!
Amsterdam is so. pretty.
Loved all the tulips out in Amsterdam!
Efteling is so fun but also SO WEIRD.
Found the American flag at the East Side Gallery.
We were so lucky with the weather on this trip, and Berlin was no exception!
BEETHOVEN LIVED HERE?!?!
Anyone recognize this from the “I Have Confidence” number?
Casually visited the church where Maria gets married in Sound of Music (!!!)

I arrived back in Oxford at the beginning of 0th week, and then Trinity term started right up with work, work, and more work. It’s so strange thinking that I’m already well into my third and final term here at Oxford. I know that I’m going to miss this place immensely when I go back home to the States in June– cue the nostalgia already!

 Here are some notable posts from my blog this past month:

Here are some posts that I loved reading this month:

How was your month of April? What was the best book you read? Did you do anything really fun or exciting? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring 2018 TBR

Happy Tuesday!! It’s that time of year again: bring out the spring 2018 TBR lists! Every season I set a TBR list and then completely forget about it by the time I have to create another one for the next season… when will this vicious cycle end? (Not anytime soon!) Since I now have my reading lists for next term to start working on I have quite a bit of reading to do over the next few weeks. Based on a mix of assigned reading and random books I’ve meaning to read for ages, here are ten books I’m hoping to read this spring: 

What books do you want to read this spring? What do you think about the books that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY