Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Empowering Reads

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks us to share ten favorite books from our favorite genre. Usually I would say that my favorite genre is classic literature, but lately I’ve been going through a bit of a tough patch with some personal things and have been trying to immerse myself in books that are empowering and inspiring to read. There’s nothing like a good book to get you amped and excited!

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde

This collection of essays was gifted to me by one of my friends that I met at Oxford and I am so grateful that it was. I remember reading this book in a parking lot waiting for an appointment and actually tearing up because Lorde’s words are just so moving and powerful.

“We have the power those who came before us have given us, to move beyond the place where they were standing. We have the trees, and water, and sun, and our children. Malcolm X does not live in the dry texts of his words as we read them; he lives in the energy we generate and use to move along the visions we share with him. We are making the future as well as bonding to survive the enormous pressures of the present, and that is what it means to be a part of history.”

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

This little book is like a breath of fresh air. There are so many little nuggets of truth here, ones that deeply resonate with me as things that should come as a given in life but are often hidden and distorted by society. Such as: “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

As someone soon entering law school, I found this book to be a really interesting insight into the challenges women face in male dominated spheres like law, government, and politics. This memoir is also just inspiring in and of itself: Hillary has gone through so much in her life, much of it under the harsh, unforgiving, scrutinizing gaze of the American public. While she has certainly made mistakes along the way, she has also experienced a lot of turmoil in her life that was out of her control. Some may say that this book is sad because she ultimately did not achieve her goal of becoming president of the United States, and that is true; however, I think it’s also really empowering because she is still here fighting for what she believes in and telling her story in this memoir, despite the public failure that she recently endured.

“For a candidate, a leader, or anyone, really, the question is not “Are you flawed?” It’s “What do you do about your flaws?” Do you learn from your mistakes so you can do and be better in the future? Or do you reject the hard work of self-improvement and instead tear others down so you can assert they’re as bad or worse than you are?”

Girl Up by Laura Bates

Although this book may have been written with a younger audience in mind (around high school age, it seems) I still think it’s so worth a read at any age! Like Adichie’s book, Girl Up emphasizes some ideas that should be common sense but that are often obscured by gender inequality in politics and society today. Plus, this book has such fun and colorful graphics!

The Truth About Style by Stacy London

Stacy London has been an icon in my life since I was a kid and would watch What Not to Wear every day at lunchtime when I was home for the summer. This memoir is both personal and universal in a way, with London offering wisdom that can be taken and applied to so many different situations. Not only is it empowering from a fashion standpoint, but it is also empowering from a lifestyle standpoint. London discusses everything from relationships to body image to aging, so there really is something for everyone here.

“A whole life can go by being too busy and waiting for “when.” Living in the future means barely existing in the present. If you can’t enjoy things now, when will you magically develop the tools to enjoy things in the future?”

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

As someone who adores hiking, I was really excited to read about someone’s adventures on a trail that I know very little about. But this memoir is so much more than simply an account of one woman’s trek along the Pacific Crest Trail; rather, it’s an emotional story of Strayed’s journey through loss, grief, and a sense of purposelessness.

“I made it the mantra of those days; when I paused before yet another series of switchbacks or skidded down knee-jarring slopes, when patches of flesh peeled off my feet along with my socks, when I lay alone and lonely in my tent at night I asked, often out loud: Who is tougher than me?

The answer was always the same, and even when I knew absolutely there was no way on this earth that it was true, I said it anyway: No one.”

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Sometimes it’s empowering to remember that even those people we admire don’t have it all figured out one hundred percent of the time. Kaling is open and honest in this essay collection, discussing her childhood and the tumultuous road she took to get where she is today. Besides, it’s downright hilarious!

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelley DeWees

What’s better than a book about books? I love this book because it makes you look at British literature and writers in a different light. Sometimes when learning about the Western canon in classes it can be easy to forget that literary fame has a lot to do with circumstances and privilege. In some ways, it’s arbitrary chance that we read the books we read today. However, there is a sense of empowerment that comes from reading about these remarkable women who wrote despite their unfortunate circumstances and the traumatic hardships that they endured. It’s also a great source of reading inspiration: so many new texts to explore!

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Although some people criticize this book for not being as feminist as people make it out to be, I think it’s nevertheless an important starting point and a lovely little source of empowerment. Women can do anything we put our minds to, and we deserve the opportunity to have a room of our own to do it in!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Ahh, such a classic! I adore Matilda, even though I just read it for the first time a few years ago and don’t have the childhood nostalgia towards it that many bookworms have. Even just thinking about Matilda’s strength, perseverance, optimism, and kindness makes me feel empowered to go seize the day!

What books empower you? What do you think of the books I’ve mentioned? What’s your favorite genre? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

 

Yours,

HOLLY

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Feminist Fridays

Feminist Fridays: NOT JUST JANE by Shelley DeWees

It’s Friday, folks! You know what that means: another installment of Feminist Fridays, in which I discuss books, media, and topics relating to feminism. Today I’m showcasing a book that I read about a year ago called Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees. This book was actually sent to me for review, and I agreed to review it as soon as I read the subtitle: “Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature.” Sign me up!

I could go on and on about why I enjoyed Not Just Jane immensely; however, I already wrote and posted a book review that does just that. As I wrote in my initial review of this book:

Not Just Jane offers so much more than a mere summary of these writers’ texts; instead, DeWees provides a comprehensive view of the lives of these incredible women in order to help explain their rise to (albeit temporary) success. She discusses both their familial and romantic relationships, their struggles with poverty, mental illness, and overcoming the stigma surrounding women writers at the time. Several of them turned to writing as a last resort, a way to financially support themselves in troubling times of financial need. Though many were not respected by their peers, a few of these talented women climbed the ranks of the social ladder and worked their way into impressive literary circles. For instance, who would have known that Catherine Crowe rivaled Charlotte Bronte in social prowess, was betrayed by Charles Dickens, and influenced much of Edgar Allan Poe’s work? DeWees shows us these women as human beings first and foremost before delving into their literary lives on the page.

Rather than discuss this book in general, I would like to dive deeper into an important topic that DeWees specifically raises: our inability to separate women’s lives from their work. Back in the Victorian Era, women writers were constantly associated with whatever “scandals” or controversies happened in their personal lives. DeWees emphasizes how readers often knew about changes in the marital status, mental health, living situations, etc. of women writers, which inevitably influenced how readers perceived what they read. Anything that had a negative connotation in Victorian society– affairs, mental health problems, losing money– would ultimately impact the success of their work, for better or worse.

However, this phenomenon did not end in the Victorian Era and it does not solely apply to women writers. We can see this obsession with the personal lives of women in all kinds of spotlights, from politics to music to the red carpet. It seems as though we still have different criteria or standards when it comes to judging the work of women versus the work of men. An obvious example is the music of Taylor Swift (which I discussed in last week’s Feminist Friday post!), which listeners are always trying to decode for details regarding who she was dating, how the relationship went, and why it ended. Swift is often criticized for putting so much of her personal life into her music– yet those specific details are what many fans love to hate. Why don’t we place this much emphasis on the romantic lives of male artists in association with their music?

This gendered emphasis might not seem all that significant in the moment, but over time and on a grand scale it can have a serious impact. In an article for The New York Times titled “How the Myth of the Artistic Genius Excuses the Abuse of Women,” Amanda Hess exposes the problem with the way people have made a distinct separation between men and their artistic work. When it comes to recent abuse allegations by numerous men in Hollywood, supporters have been quick to push for continued separation between the two spheres; however, critics have finally declared that enough is enough.

This idea of assessing an artist’s work in light of his biography is, to some critics, blasphemous. Roman Polanski’s 2009 arrest inspired a New York Times round table on whether we ought to “separate the work of artists from the artists themselves, despite evidence of reprehensible or even criminal behavior.” It stands as a useful artifact of the prevailing attitude on the question in the early 21st century. The screenwriter and critic Jay Parini wrote, “Being an artist has absolutely nothing — nothing — to do with one’s personal behavior.” Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies scholar at Duke University, put it this way: “Let the art stand for itself, and these men stand in judgment, and never the twain shall meet.”

If we associate women’s work with their personal lives, then we should certainly hold men to the same standard. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the Victorians.

If you’re interested in learning more about these topics in a Victorian context, then I would highly recommend checking out Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees.

Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems in Non-fiction

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic celebrates books that are under-rated, under-discussed, and under-appreciated in specific genres. I’ve chosen a genre that I think fits this as well: non-fiction. There are so many amazing non-fiction books out there, yet so many readers (myself included!) tend to gravitate away from this misunderstood genre. In an effort to try to convince myself and others to read more from this genre, here are ten hidden gems of non-fiction!

 

Do you have a favorite non-fiction book? Have any recommendations? What do you think of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,
HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Covers that Scream Spring

Happy Tuesday!! Now that May is officially here I think it’s safe to say that spring is here to stay as well (at least until summer rolls around!). Since this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is a cover design freebie, I though I would share with you all my Top Ten Covers that Scream Spring. Who doesn’t love a colorful, happy, vibrant cover to brighten their day?

1. Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees

I love the mix of bright blue and pink on this cover. You can’t see it from this angle, but the spine is also fluorescent pink as well. This color scheme makes me think of blooming flowers like the ones in this photo (which was taken in the garden at my home last summer). I always associate flowers with the coming of spring.

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This gorgeous cover design makes me think of warm weather in general, so it’s perfect for both spring and summer.  I love the bold pops of orange, teal, and pink as well as the different shades of green blended together to create the background. The bird and the snake also remind me of the way animals seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere in springtime.

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This Penguin English Library edition of P&P highlights flora and fauna, two things closely associated with springtime. The colors are vaguely muted, like the way spring can be viewed as a subtler, paler, muted version of summer with its hesitantly hot days and newly blossoming buds.

4. Emma by Jane Austen

The Penguin Threads edition of Emma immediately makes me think of Easter eggs and the colors surrounding this springy holiday. I especially love the polka dots in the background and the way her hair is a mix of many different colors. Easter has always been a marker of springtime for me, so it’s no surprise that this cover design would be included in this list.

5. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Green is closely associated with spring in my mind, which is why this overwhelmingly green cover always reminds me of this lush season. I also first read Willa Cather in the springtime (spring semester of my freshman year of college), so perhaps that has something to do with why I tend to link her with this time of year.

6. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg

What screams spring more than a lawn of freshly cut green grass? Even though this book takes place during the summer, I can’t help but be reminded of spring whenever I look at the cover.

7. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

This is another novel that takes place during the summertime, yet its cover is much more reminiscent of spring to me. It makes me think of the feeling of waking up in the morning and realizing that the birds have finally begun to chirp again.

8. When We Collided by Emery Lord

I love how colorful, fun, and creative this cover is. Even though this novel can be emotional and intense at times, I think this cover does a great job at capturing Vivi’s lively and vibrant spirit. Definitely how I feel on a warm spring day! (Also, do these colors remind anyone else of Easter eggs?)

9. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

I can’t help but add yet another beautiful Penguin English Library edition to this list. I chose this cover for its bright greens and muted blues, both of which I associate with coloring Easter eggs. (Can you tell that I’m quite a big fan of Easter eggs?) The novel itself also carries a feeling of spring, as characters find new beginnings and experiences that gradually help them grow.

10. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Even though this cover isn’t colorful, it still screams spring with its cute little bees and simplicity. These poems are also all about endings and new beginnings, both of which take place in the springtime. (Honestly, this beautiful cover can work for any season!)

What book covers remind you of spring? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Bookish

On Separating Women from their Work | Discussion

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Today I’m here to talk about a thought-provoking topic that I’ve been pondering a lot in recent weeks: the correlation between women and their literary work. Should the success of a women’s work be tied to her personal reputation in society? From an even broader angle, should the personal reputations of authors in general impact how successful their work sells or is perceived by readers?

Shelley DeWees hits on this topic a lot from a gendered perspective in her book Not Just Jane, an in-depth look at seven women writers who have not received nearly enough credit for their important influence on British literature. In her chapter on writer Mary Robinson, DeWees writes:

“Here is our line of demarcation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women, and thus ‘good’ and ‘bad’ books– in much the same way that, in the previous century, when chaste royalist women writers like Katherine Philips were held above more daring ones such as Aphra Behn, critics were unrelenting in their inability (or refusal) to separate an author’s literary merit from her sex.”

In other words, the details of a women’s personal relationships and sex life was imperative in determining the sales of her work. Centuries ago, a “sexually deviant” women could hardly have hoped to sell much of anything in terms of poetry, stories, or novels. But what about their personal lives changed the actual text of their work? (Answer: NOTHING). Despite the fact that absolutely no tangible changes occurred in the text of their novels or poetry, sales plummeted as the general public began to perceive certain women as immoral, improper, or uncivilized. In this context, I believe that there is no reason to connect the personal lives of women with their work. What importance does a women’s marriage, family, or alleged affair have on their work? More importantly, I believe that texts should not be denounced strictly due to the fact that the author is a women. 

However, the argument can also be made that supporting the work of an author is showing indirect support for his or her actions. In other words, money talks. Personally, I think it largely depends on what the specific “scandal” or situation regarding the author in question is. For example, I wouldn’t think twice about purchasing a book by an author who recently went through a terrible divorce. On the other hand, I would certainly hesitate before buying a book written by an openly homophobic, racist, sexist, or offensive writer.

But can we pick and choose scenarios like this? Who has the right to decide the circumstances under which an author’s personal life can and should influence the success of his or her work? Should we separate authors from their work?

I would love to hear what you have to say about this topic. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books, Received for Review

NOT JUST JANE by Shelley DeWees | Review

*** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. **

28925229-2“In Not Just Jane, Shelley DeWees weaves history, biography, and critical analysis into a rip-roaring narrative of the nation’s fabulous, yet mostly forgotten, female literary heritage. As the country, and women’s roles within it, evolved, so did the publishing industry, driving legions of ladies to pick up their pens and hit the parchment. Focusing on the creative contributions and personal stories of seven astonishing women, among them pioneers of detective fiction and the modern fantasy novel, DeWees assembles a riveting, intimate, and ruthlessly unromanticized portrait of female life—and the literary landscape—during this era. In doing so, she comes closer to understanding how a society could forget so many of these women, who all enjoyed success, critical acclaim, and a fair amount of notoriety during their time, and realizes why, now more than ever, it’s vital that we remember.

Rediscover Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.”

~ Goodreads.com 

DeWees does exactly what I think modern literary scholarship and research should do: uncover and highlight little known texts and writers while putting a new twist on old favorites. She does this expertly, writing with charm and wit about several women writers have been overshadowed by Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and other popular authors.

Not Just Jane offers so much more than a mere summary of these writers’ texts; instead, DeWees provides a comprehensive view of the lives of these incredible women in order to help explain their rise to (albeit temporary) success. She discusses both their familial and romantic relationships, their struggles with poverty, mental illness, and overcoming the stigma surrounding women writers at the time. Several of them turned to writing as a last resort, a way to financially support themselves in troubling times of financial need. Though many were not respected by their peers, a few of these talented women climbed the ranks of the social ladder and worked their way into impressive literary circles. For instance, who would have known that Catherine Crowe rivaled Charlotte Bronte in social prowess, was betrayed by Charles Dickens, and influenced much of Edgar Allan Poe’s work? DeWees shows us these women as human beings first and foremost before delving into their literary lives on the page.

fullsizerenderThis book also has an excellent layout and organization that contributes to the effectiveness of DeWees’ delivery. Though each chapter is dedicated to a different writer, they are all connected into a cohesive collection through smooth transitions and common threads. In this way Not Just Jane can be picked up and put down at the reader’s leisure without suffering from a lack of continuity. With that being said, my favorite aspects of this book are the themes interwoven throughout the chapters. All of these women challenged traditional gender roles in some way and faced obstacles and adversity on their road to publishing their works. Not only did were they looked down upon for entering the male-dominated world of literature, but their personal reputations often dictated the success of their work. When a scandalous affair erupted, the secrets of a marriage were uncovered, or a women’s “true” persona was exposed, these revelations ultimately had a huge influence on book sales. I think the inability to separate women’s reputations and personal lives from their work is one of the most fascinating topics discussed in this book, in part because it is also relevant in modern society.

Overall, Not Just Jane is a must-read for readers interested in British literature, the role of women throughout history, and expanding their literary horizons. While reading this book I scribbled down countless titles of interesting works to check out in the future and gained a greater appreciation for those writers whom we hear very little about in both literature classes and mainstream media nowadays. If only more writers would follow in DeWees‘ footsteps and conduct such valuable literary detective work!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, especially to someone interested in writers such as Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, etc.

Thanks so much to Harper Perennial for the review copy!

Have you read this book or any texts by the writers DeWees mentions? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Monthly Wrap-Up

NOVEMBER 2016 | Wrap-Up

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One of my favorite months has come to a close, only to see the beginning of my favorite time of the year: the holiday season! But before we break out the Christmas lights and put up the tree (oops! Too late…) it’s time for my November 2016 Monthly Wrap-Up. Here’s what I’ve been up to this past month:
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In November I read a total of 9 books:

  1. Queda la Noche by Soledad Puértolas
  2. Growth and Structure of the English Language by Otto Jespersen
  3. A Lexicon of Terror by Marguerite Feitlowitz
  4. The World of Mexican Migrants: The Rock and the Hard Place by Judith Adler Hellman
  5. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North & Erica Henderson
  6. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It’s True by Ryan North & Erica Henderson
  7. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North & Erica Henderson
  8. meXicana Encounters: The Making of Social Identities on the Borderlands by Rosa Linda Fregoso
  9. Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees

23732096-2In a surprising turn of events, my favorite book of the month is actually the fantastic comic book series The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. One of my best friends let me borrow her copies to read and I instantly fell in love with Doreen, Nancy, and all of their crazy adventures. I can’t wait to read the newest installments!!

November was a surprisingly great reading month for me– the best reading month I’ve had since the beginning of the semester, in fact. It has felt so nice to finally read books for fun instead of solely for my coursework.

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As per usual, this past month has been really busy! Though there were certainly a few downs, November was fortunately filled with mostly ups.

One of the highlights of November was going to my first ever Comic Con with one of my best friends. We went to the Rhode Island Comic Con because it’s only a train ride away from my college and we had a BLAST. I dressed up as a female Spock from Star Trek and she dressed up as an adorable Mary Poppins. Stay tuned for a full post about this fun-filled day!

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What I do when I'm not reading 🖖

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Also, I celebrated my 20th birthday!! Usually birthdays don’t make me feel any older, but for some reason this one has left me feeling more and more like an actual adult. I’ve started my third decade of life, which is just… weird! I’m no longer a “teenager” by definition, which is a moment that felt so far off in the future until it suddenly arrived a few weeks ago. Even though I couldn’t be home for my birthday I still had a great time at college with my wonderful friends, and I’m so grateful to be surrounded by such thoughtful, supportive people. ❤

Unfortunately, there was an enormous low of the month: My family had to make the decision to put down Melody, the dog that we have had since I was in kindergarten. I honestly can’t remember life without her. She was more than a dog to me: she was a friend, someone I could always rely on to be there when I was feeling down or blue. She had been struggling with her health for some time now (she was almost 17 years old when she passed), but it was still a shock to hear that she was no longer with us. It was strange to come home for Thanksgiving break and walk in the house without seeing her greet me at the door, barking wildly like she always did. I’ll miss her dearly; I already do.

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Then came Thanksgiving to cheer me up, as it always does. I love the amazing food and quality time with family– not to mention the Christmas decorating after dinner is finished! In preparation for Christmas, my mom and I always go see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform live when they come to our area the weekend after Thanksgiving. This was my eighth consecutive year seeing them perform, and it still never gets old!

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Their music is a mix of Christmas classics and “rock opera”– it’s kind of hard to explain, so if you’re interested I suggest looking up some of their music and giving it a listen. They’re absolutely amazing live and never fail to make me excited for Christmas. Bring on the holiday season!

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

Here are a few fun posts from the blogging community:

How was your November? What fun things did you do? What’s your favorite food to eat at Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Buy ASAP with a Gift Card

Foodie Facts About Me-4Happy Tuesday! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is one that I’m sure is near and dear to every bookworm’s heart: buying books! Although I make a conscious effort to restrain from buying too many books, there are quite a few that I would love to have on my shelves. If I were given a gift card, these are the Top Ten Books I’d Buy ASAP. 

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What books would you buy with a gift card? What do you think of the ones on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY