let’s talk about damaging books

Like all thirteen-year-olds, I loved Twilight. I thought Bella and Edward were the be-all-end-all of love stories. I read those books ferociously and argued with anyone who tried to tell me they weren’t the next great American series.

Then I got older.

Aside from the fact that the books are written so poorly a monkey could’ve made them, they’re hurtful to the young girls who read them. And I’m not being sexist (marched for women’s rights and everything in January), it’s just statistics. Young girls picked up those books faster than a new LipSmackers lip gloss. Overwhelmingly, these were young girls going through a difficult and confusing time in their lives, looking for something to escape into and idealize. I know several people who, as they’ve grown, have realized just how much these books messed them up.

The character of Bella. She’s blank. I’ve heard it often said that the reason so many girls loved her character was because she didn’t have one. She was this amorphous blob that any young girl could put her own personality onto Bella and feel understood. Here’s why that’s a problem: you start to think you’re her.

As a twelve-year-old, I was feeling weird and shy, generally of the “look at me and I’ll spontaneously explode” variety. I didn’t think I was particularly pretty or funny, although I had some moments, and I loved to read. I had brown hair, brown eyes, pale skin, you know the drill. Bella not only looked like my physically, but she acted like me. Nervous, uncomfortable with attention, she’s every preteen girl. Not only that, but everyone wants to date her and be her friend. She comes to a new school and in a matter of days has three boys falling over her, and that’s not including Edward or JACOB.

I’m sure Stephanie Meyer didn’t mean for this to happen, but she included Bella’s weight in her description.

The problem here is that when you’re specifically writing to younger girls, you have to be careful what you include. For instance, that horrific mess of a book, Beautiful Disaster, shows a textbook abusive relationship as something to yearn for. Although Meyers does the same thing, she also creates damaging beauty expectations for girls.

For instance, I and at least one other person I know started dieting to reach the weight of 110 pounds—Bella’s weight. Because if we could look like her, people would want to be our friends, too…right? Boys would want to date us, we’d be popular and universally liked. As a preteen, that feels like the most important thing; being accepted. At a time when your limbs feel like rubber and your face looks like an angry over-heated bagel, someone giving the perception that a certain character with very specific body measurements sticks in your head. I would have made myself grow to five foot four, if it were possible. Alas, I’d have to stick with not eating to get the goal Bella weight.

Now, let’s get into that abusive relationship.

It’s played off like he’s just protecting her, and of course he has to! How is she supposed to deal with rogue vampires and werewolves? It calls for extreme measures.

Like removing parts from her car so she can’t see her friend. Or WATCHING HER SLEEP by breaking into her home for months before they’ve even had a real conversation. It’s downright disturbing. It’s the stuff you see in thriller films, where the love interest is secretly a freaking psycho.

But, young me thought this was the epitome of love. That was what I was searching for in everyday life. The impression those books and characters made on me was so strong, it was actually damaging to my development. I was withdrawn and moody because that was how Bella was, and apparently people liked that. I was starving myself to get to what I thought was the perfect weight. I was completely changing my personality to fit what I thought people wanted, getting my cues from Twilight.

I think authors often forget the affect literature can have on the audience, especially the unintended audience. But, at the same time, I’m really not sure how they’re supposed to consider that. At what point does it become censorship, or a limitation of freedom of the press? Where is the line between protecting kids and smothering them? How are they supposed to account for a very young girl taking too much out of a book? And does the blame lay entirely with the author, who simply wrote a story, or does it lay with the culture in general? I’m inclined to lean towards the latter.

book subscription boxes: Book of the Month

Can I just say, I’ve rarely seen such a gorgeous book? I got my first book subscription box book, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and it’s glorious. The front cover has these lovely green and blue pastels with reds and oranges in the center illustration. That’s a high quality hardback, right there. And it has BOTM printed on the front cover in a very subtle, classy symbol. The same is on the spine, and on the back is printed “I Heart BOTM” with “February 2017” in smaller letters bellow it. It just feels crisp and new.

Once you take off the dust cover, you have a hardback with the Book of the Month colors, and, again, BOTM printed in the bottom right corner. Honestly, it looks so nice. “February 2017” is reprinted, as well. Basically, this book is everything you love about hardbacks with some special nuances thrown in for nostalgia sake. I’m definitely keeping this book, and it’ll always be fun to look at it and remember where it came from. It’s almost like a bit of my own history, as who I was when I ordered it, read it, etc. comes back to me when I look at the book (yes, it rhymes).

Image result for pachinko book of the month

Book of the Month is a really simple service. Through a link of an affiliate, I was able to get my first book for just $5.00. You may remember me saying this already, but I’m honestly just so excited to have received such a beautiful copy of a book for so little. To be honest, I’m very relieved not to get the little doo-dads and trinkets that come with a lot of other book boxes, mostly because I’m not interested in them. They’ll sit on my desk and gather dust until I throw them out—and you’re paying more for them! Book of the Month just sends the book and a personalized bookmark with a message from one of the selectors. Let’s be real, I’m here for the books and nothing else!

Image result for pachinko book of the month

Image from: http://modernmrsdarcy.com/book-month-club-review/

I’m pretty sure part of the reason they can send such beautiful books for such a low price is specifically because they don’t mess around with nick knacks. I fully appreciate this. I’m a pretty simple person with simple tastes, and Book of the Month really reflected that. I paid for lovely book, got it, and am 100 pages into reading it. Hint: it’s absolutely spectacular.

The selectors are definitely skilled, because Pachinko is a wonderful book. The story telling is great, and there’s a very nice balance between dialogue and description—not an easy task for a writer. Lee’s characters are honestly good people doing their best, working with what is presented to them. The family aspect of the book is key; children do wrong, but the family stays close. They stay loved.

I can’t wait to see what happens next, as the new family is off to Japan for the next section of the story. I enjoyed this book box with all my nerdy, bibliophilic heart!

Next up: Bookishly’s Tea and Coffee Club

self-care for those who suck at it

Having lived with severe depression for about eight years, I can tell you a lot of things about the disease. It’s debilitating, it’s hopeless, yada yada yada. Chances are, you already know what depression makes you feel and do. Or, more accurately, what it doesn’t let you do. There have been times when I’ve gone days without showering, simply because the effort of getting up and standing for ten minutes seemed overwhelming.

I also have a very good friend who frequently has depressive episodes that keep her from eating properly, taking care of herself, and doing well in school. It is from my own experience I am sharing some tips about how to help a friend with depression, or help yourself. Depression makes you feel inhuman, and self-care can actually help to put you in a better mind frame. It won’t fix anything, but it will remind you that you are a living, breathing human who deserves some care.

This stuff seems stupidly simple to people who aren’t going through a mental illness, but it’s often the difference for me between a three-day episode and a two-week one.

  1. Shower

I cannot emphasize enough how much better I feel once I’ve showered. As I’ve already said, my episodes usually leave me without energy to feed myself, much less take care of my body. This is not something I can manage in the middle of an episode, though. It’s something I do towards the end to help pull me out of it. It’s very symbolic, washing away the past, starting new. You also just forget how nice it is to feel like a human being, with clean hair, shaved legs, and the scent of body wash on your skin.

With showering comes a lot of other self-care things, such as moisturizing your skin, maybe using a face mask. I’ve recently started using the L’Oreal Pure Clay masks, and they make me feel like I’m washing away all the shit from my episode. It’s just helpful to me to have a physical representation of my mental state.

Whenever my friend (let’s call her Allison) tells me she’s trying to yank herself out of an episode, I remind her to just go and take a shower. If it doesn’t help her actually feel better, it at least helps her present a solid face to the outside world. It’s bad enough your head doesn’t feel like it works, you don’t need the rest of the world to be asking you questions constantly about it.

  1. Environment

One of the other things I make sure to do when I’m towards the end of an episode and looking to shorten it as much as I can is fix up my environment. As unpleasant as this sounds, my room always ends up with a very stale smell after an episode, mostly because I keep my door and windows closed and rarely leave my room (also, the not-showering thing. So gross). A really easy thing I do for this problem is light some candles. If I can, I open the blinds to let some natural light in. Depression makes you feel like there’s no point to anything, but if you can manage to go through some of the motions, it’s almost like you trick your brain into following suit. Right now, my favorite candle is an older Bath & Bodyworks one from the fall (it’s not in season so it was on SALE. It’s the little things that get you excited). It smells glorious while not being too overwhelming, perfect for fake-airing out my room when windows seem like too much.

If I have any energy towards the end, I pick myself up and just clean up my room a little. It helps focus my brain when nothing else will. In case you don’t know, depression often puts a kind of filter over everything. It’s like when you’re tired and you can’t seem to think straight, except it’s all the time. When I’ve gotten some energy, I just try putting my clothes away, or taking dishes to the kitchen and cleaning them. I’ll throw some pictures of friends on the wall to make my room seem less like that of a mental patient in an asylum. You know, the normal things.

  1. Do something you enjoy in little pieces

For instance, I pick up one of my favorite books and just read a few pages. Reading has always been something of an escape for me, as well as for thousands of other people. There’s something so comforting about being between the pages of Harry Potter, where I know everything will work out in the end. Another favorite is The Night Circus, which I’ve definitely noticed before.

If I’m lucky, I’ll get completely absorbed in the story and be able to almost take myself out of my depression, even from fifteen minutes. It doesn’t last very long, but it’s a welcome relief from the nothingness.

Books have always been able to excite some kind of passion in me, whether it’s the nostalgia of Potter or the newness of other fantasy books.

It goes without saying that these things don’t work for me every time. Depression specifically makes you lose interest in the things you love, or things that normally make you feel better. And, I’ve noticed that the above really only work for me at the tail end of an episode. At the heart of it, depression knocks me on my ass and even reaching for a book is completely impossible.

That said, I try to do anything possible to make sure the episode doesn’t last too long. Luckily, my medication has been able to lessen the severity and length of episodes, but I still need a little help. That’s where this list comes in. It’s just some stuff that reminds me I’m a living person who, often, is able to enjoy things.

books i’ll be re-reading

As I talk to other people who love books and get more involved in the book community, I notice that there are a lot of book that I’ve read, but not appreciated. You know the feeling, when you read a book six years ago and you’re pretty sure there’s a reason everyone loved it, but you failed to catch the hype. Maybe you were too young (I often was) or maybe you were just distracted. Regardless, I want to give these books another chance to influence me.

I know for a fact that getting through this list will take me forever. It’s kind of exhausting to be an English major and do all the reading for classes and then pick up a book and read during your free time. I love reading, but once I’ve done all of my reading for my homework, I often just want to turn off my brain.

In an attempt to really enjoy these books as I reread them, I will take my time. Here’s the list!

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is one of those novels that is extremely well known for how important and meaningful its quotes are. And yet, somehow, when I read it in eighth grade, it failed to make an impression on me. I know for a fact I read it cover to cover, but I also know I took long pauses in between, saw reading the book as a chore, and generally was in a terrible mood for all of that year. This might have influenced my opinion on the book.

I want to love it. I love Wuthering Heights to distraction, and though I know they’re very different books, they’re beloved for a reason. I’ve read some quotes online from this book, but somehow I don’t even recognize them. This is one book I’m very sure I will enjoy so much more upon re-reading.

  1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

This is a book I know I enjoyed at the time, but I have zero memory of what happens (besides the end). I read it in school for class, so it was a segmented reading process, as we’d read fifty pages for class, have a discussion, and then read fifty more. I’d lose my enthusiasm and it was hard to keep the plot line in my head. If I read it again

  1. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I absolutely love this movie, but I read the book in sixth grade and I have no memory of what happened. Judging from the book, there was a lot of subtle humor that I missed. This is a cultural classic, it is an immensely beloved book. As someone who strongly believes in reading the book first, I’m pretty angry that the movie has stuck with me far more than the book. I had to read it for summer reading before middle school (a LONG time ago), so I think that had something to do with my lack of memories, but I want to reread this book so I can properly appreciate it!

book review: Scandalous Women

While Heathrow Airport in London, waiting to board my flight back to the States after several amazing months travelling and studying in Europe, I found myself in the worst situation known to reader-kind.

I had nothing to read.

Thankfully, there was a shop with books only a few feet away. My plane was delayed and I needed a distraction. Into the shop I went.

Among all the bestsellers and YouTuber books was a section about history. As I’d just spent three months going to historical sites, I was drawn to this section for a few more moments of history before I returned to the US. On the shelf was a book that caught my eye: Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women. Bingo.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon’s short, historical book was very enjoyable. Firstly, it was about some pretty badass women, which I will absolutely always enjoy. Joan of Ark, Cleopatra, Calamity Jane, and Ida B. Wells are only a small selection of the historical figures covered.

Second, it told the truth about these ladies. Cleopatra got the reveal she deserved. After centuries of old men turning her into a sex symbol, she got the credit she was due as a statesman and leader of her country. The woman was willing to do anything to keep Egypt independent, and she succeeded for quite a period of time. This is in comparison to countless other countries that fell to Rome quite early on. And then she was erased by men who were threatened by her. Ask anyone who Cleopatra was, and they’ll reply that she was the lover of Mark Antony. Ask them about her skills as a leader, and you’ll often come up with nothing.

Can you tell I’m a fan of Cleopatra?

Finally, the book was short. The stories were nicely condensed. Despite only being less than 300 pages long and covering over thirty fascinating women, Mahon is able to make each story easily readable and quick.

That said, the ratio of white women to women of color in the book is a little staggering. The section that features the most women of colors, “Amorous Artists”, is very near the end Even the section called “Warrior Queens” has only Cleopatra listed, when in fact there are countless queens around the world who could have been used.

The issue with this lack of diversity is not only that there are people whose stories are missing, but also that the stories begin to sound…similar….after a while. Most of the women were born into poverty, found love and fortune, then lost it and ended up alone and desolate. There are only so many stories I can hear about the same situation in one single book. Asian and African women are completely missing. I attribute that to a lack of intense research, as it cannot be hard to find pioneering women who stand out from history in either of those continents. I feel like the book missed an opportunity to talk about women who aren’t quite as well-known in the West, but notorious in other geographic regions. I would be insanely interested in reading something like that.

Scandalous Women is an interesting work. It covers so many periods and countries (in the West, mostly). The book is great on many accounts, but I did begin to feel the stories were repeating themselves. In addition, the writing style wasn’t that sophisticated (I’m a firm believed that slang doesn’t belong in anything not written in first person). But, I would definitely read another book by Elizabeth Mahon, especially since I think time will help her writing style grow and improve. The more you write, the better it gets. Simple as that.

I also really appreciate that she picked a topic that many people dismiss. These are women that actually had immense power and influence, and they are often pushed aside for the male figures, or to extol their sex appeal. This was a refreshing change.

the interview.

I have a real interview scheduled for tomorrow. In person. Live people. I’m driving over four hours to get home so I can do it on Wednesday. During my phone screening, the woman asked if I wanted to interview for two other positions, as well. She said I seemed far too qualified for the first and that the other two might fit me better. Then, crazy lady, she asked if that was “alright?”

Of. Freaking. Course.

Did she expect me to say no? “No, thank you, but I’d only like to have one single chance at a job after you’ve pretty much told me you won’t hire me for it because I have too much experience”. Could you imagine?

And that’s the other thing. This may be the first time in my life that someone has said I have “too much” previous experience to do anything. I’m usually stuck convincing someone that I can do the job while learning on-the-go. Or that I can even learn the job.

I was ecstatic when she told me there were other openings where I would fit. I’ve sent in over thirty applications for jobs and internships, hoping to the damn skies that they’ll at least interview me over the phone. And in the span of about ten minutes, this woman offers me the chance to personally convince her I have skills. I find that once I can meet someone in person, I’m very good at turning it into a done deal. The worst situation is if the company only wants my resume, no cover letter or personal statement. My skills don’t translate into only a few words. I need time, I need to convey my tone of voice to the person.

The fact that she even had to ask me if I was okay with interviewing for other positions within the company really makes me think I’ve tricked her. “Yes, I am a skilled human. You want me.” I’m crafty like that. I’m just hoping I can convince one out of three to give me a chance once they read through that resume and say “…I’ve seen better”. Maybe Better didn’t apply for these jobs? Maybe Better already has a job and is going to go ahead and give me this one so I don’t wake up at 5:30am stressing?

Basically, yes, you can sign me up to interview for more positions.

Until then, please enjoy this humorous stock photo I found that oddly depicts me:

Image result for interview stock image

Portugal.

The sun is out with a brisk wind and I keep thinking of Portugal. I was there for all of two days while I was abroad and each day was full of sunlight and warmth. It was an amazing feeling. I was travelling from England and I had a few extra days without class Flights to Faro were €9.99. Being something of an opportunist, there was no way I was going to pass that up. I’m so happy I took that trip.

First of all, Faro is not a tourist city. Everyone and everything is local, and no one is trying to cheat you. The city itself isn’t crowded or congested, but there are people going about their everyday lives.

It isn’t on the sea, but there’s a small marina so that you can smell the freshness in the air. It smells like heaven. The sun beats down on you and it feels like summer. It was 65 degrees when I went there, and I soaked it all up. I sat by an old church in the sunlight and wrote in my travel journal.

Faro is so peaceful. There are cars and buses and whatnot, but when you walk even a little further away the place goes silent. All you hear are the birds and rustling winds in the trees. There are mini parks all over, so it’s not hard to feel like you’re not in a city at all. There’s even a park with peacocks roaming around it, as though they were just meant to sit with humans.

The shops aren’t spectacular, but that just adds a little something to the city. Instead of searching for souvenirs, you look around. I don’t want to sound like one of those hippies who doesn’t think we should have cell phones, but it is very relaxing to almost forget that world exists.

I spent a lot of time laying on a bench like a homeless person (or a whale) feeling the sun on my face. Coming from England, I hadn’t gotten a lot of sun for a few months. I appreciated every day that fell on me.

I didn’t have time to do any of the site-seeing—I was there for only one full day. But my hostel had beautiful reed blinds and light coming from all directions. I didn’t get to see the famous Bone Chapel, but I got to explore a new city. My feet were on brand new ground. Everything was beautiful. I miss it. If I could go back to any of the wonderful countries I saw, I’d go back to Portugal.