Category Archives: Books

Literary Groundhog Day

I recently went on my post-graduation vacation, and naturally packed every new book that I had been hoarding at school in anticipation of lying by the pool and relaxing (or at least attempting to). Oddly enough, when I got to Florida the only book I had an interest in reading was one of my all time favorites. One that I had read multiple times, during different stages of my life: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.

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I first read Franny and Zooey in sixth grade, immediately after I read The Catcher in the Rye and fell in love with it. I’m not sure why the former is so much less well-known, but my guess would be that because it isn’t layered in symbolism and metaphors it doesn’t fit into schools’ curriculum. Because I was so conditioned by the education system to only think a book is “good” if there is a green light or a hunting hat that represents greater thematic concepts, I shrugged it off as simply okay, but nothing special.

I re-read the book again my senior year of high school, because I had a study hall and would often bring any book I had lying around to glimpse through if I had no homework to do. This time I loved the book, but when I read about Franny’s mental breakdown in college upon reading into too many philosophical and religious pieces, I remember thinking how utterly dramatic she was being. “I read texts about religion and philosophy all the time,” I thought, sitting at a wooden desk and surrounded by the same kids I had grown up with, “what’s the big deal?”

I cried while re-reading Franny and Zooey, for the third time, in a lounge chair only days after graduating college. The feelings I had about Holden Caulfield in sixth grade are the same feelings I have about Franny Glass now. By that I mean, the mantra replaying over and over in my head as I turned the pages was: Oh my god, I am Franny.

This experience made me wonder why I often turn to reading books I have already read in lieu of trying new ones. I think it goes deeper than simply wanting to gain a new perspective on the story after accumulating more life experiences. I think there is a sense of safety in reliving a character’s story. When I am feeling anxious, or when my life is in the midst of uncertainty, it feels pleasant to hone in on a story of which you already know the ending. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I know where Franny and Zooey does.

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Book Review: “South on Highland”

“I was fourteen the first time I tried stimulants, alone in my bedroom with the door locked and a Sex Pistols CD playing on a loop”.

Above is the opening line of Liana Maeby’s 2015 novel, South on Highland. If that doesn’t intrigue you, then we probably can’t be friends, and also you probably wouldn’t enjoy this book. However, if it does, then read on…

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The protagonist, partially based on Maeby herself, is Leila Massey, a gifted writer who begins to spiral into drug and alcohol addiction. The first part of the book describes how her casual use of Adderall in high school to get better grades eventually led to her snorting the ADHD medication daily, and ultimately to snorting cocaine regularly by her senior year of high school. The second part of the book describes her ascent to success as a screenwriter in L.A., but also her descent into serious drug addiction after she is exposed to painkillers and ultimately heroin at a disturbing drug commune in the desert. In the final portion of the book, Leila enters rehab.

Leila is a perceptive and relatable narrator who simultaneously describes her life with raw sincerity and dark humor. She is paradoxically self-aware and has no idea who she is, which is something that really resonated with me (and I’m sure most other 20-somethings). What I loved most about this novel is that Leila never feels guilty or blames herself for the many mistakes she makes. As my brilliant therapist always tells me: there is a difference between acceptance and approval. Leila’s character is a wonderful example of that axiom personified.

Bottom line: South on Highland is an inventive and heartfelt story about a woman’s search for her identity, with lots of drugs, sex, Hollywood parties, and trashed hotel rooms along the way.

Why Not Me?

When I read Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns), it was the first time since reading The Catcher in the Rye that I felt profoundly understood and connected to a book’s protagonist. Except, in the case of the former, the narrator was a real person and a woman I could look up to. Given that Kaling’s memoir was so flawless, I was apprehensive that her latest collection of essays, Why Not Me?, couldn’t possibly be as phenomenal and would ultimately disappoint me.

Well, I would like to personally apologize to Mindy Kaling for ever doubting her, because Why Not Me? blew me away.

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The personal essays tackle everything from Kaling’s body image, her relationship with B.J. Novak, her career, and just the inherent complications of being a woman. While Kaling’s first book reads more like a fluid, chronological story of Kaling’s childhood and subsequent rise to fame, the second strictly focuses on her adulthood and even features a surprising amount of advice. Most of the advice is tongue-in-cheek, as Kaling does so perfectly, but it comes from an honest and authentic place and really resonated with me. Below are some of my favorite tidbits of advice/ revelations from the book:

“The first thing you need to know is that the hair on your head is worthless. The color, the length, the thickness, everything. You will never see anyone on TV sporting their own God-given hair, unless it’s on, like, a sad miniseries about factory workers in East Germany.”

“Asking your friend to be a bridesmaid is one of the modern paradoxes: no one actually wants to do it, but everyone would be offended if you didn’t ask.”

“The problem with joining a sorority was that I was a person who wanted to make friends based on common interests. And our common interests had to be more than simply wanting to make friends.”

“My deep dark secret is that I absolutely do try to conform to normal standards of beauty. I am just not remotely successful at it.”

“Now even my coolest friends are online dating. But not me. I live in fear of my public profile being published online for everyone to see. Especially since I am such a liar. On a dating profile page, I would pretend to be a completely different person. You would see me loving live music and hiking. You basically leave the date thinking I’m an outdoorsy Stevie Nicks.”

“No matter how good you have it, it’s cool to want more.”

“Young women often approach me and excitedly tell me how much they appreciate the way I look. They like that I am not a skinny twig, because it shows that I refuse to change who I am and makes them feel like they don’t have to either. I really love that. But what they don’t know is that I’m a big fat fraud. I’m completely not at peace with how I look. I don’t wake up in the morning, look at my naked body in the mirror, and say, ‘Good morning, body. Once again, you’ve nailed it, you gorgeous imperfect thing. That wobbly patch of cellulite? A miracle. Every stretch mark? A Picasso. Holy crap, I look good! Who can I sext? Somebody else has got to see this.’”

“Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine.”

If any of the above quotes spoke to you, made you laugh, or made you feel slightly more normal, go buy Why Not Me?! It’s a super quick read that you won’t be able to put down.

A “Personal Essay Collection” Kind of Summer

This summer I have been on a streak of reading collections of personal essays by female writers. While Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham will always be my favorite, the two brilliant books I just finished likewise stole my heart.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

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Keegan’s collection differs from the others I read as it contains both personal essays and fictional stories. It is also unique in that Keegan’s collection is posthumous, as she passed away in a tragic car accident just a few days after she graduated from Yale. Keegan’s family and mentor compiled nine stories and nine essays by Keegan that subsequently became an incredibly insightful body of work.

The book’s title refers to the final essay Keegan wrote for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness”, which ruminates on life after graduation. She writes, “We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time”. She urges her peers to pursue their artistic passions in lieu of being sucked in by the corporate world. All of Keegan’s pieces eloquently touch upon relationships, death, conflict, love, and loss with a youthful, yet discerning perspective.

Every girl in her 20’s should be required to read this breathtaking collection. The Opposite of Loneliness is a tribute to Keegan’s extraordinary talent, as well as to her rare quality of being both realistic and optimistic at such a young age.

And the Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould

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This essay collection, written by a 28-year-old Emily Gould in 2010, was both a melancholy and inspirational read. Gould writes about everything from sleeping with a 14-year-old boy her senior year in high school, her abusive relationship with a frat boy in college, transferring to The New School in New York City and experimenting with women in her writing program, working at a dilapidated jazz club in the city, selling her soul to Gawker, her grandfather’s death, brooding over a failed relationship, furnishing her apartment with the help of a high-end furniture thief, and consistently smoking a lot of weed.

Reading this book was almost existential as I truly felt I was diving into Gould’s soul. Her writing is fluid and understated; a no frills outlook on the confusing and complicated lives of modern women.

My favorite essay is “A Concentration in Writing”, in which Gould describes having to write a memoir for her fiction workshop at The New School about someone being a victim. Gould really wrote a story based on her own experience of cheating on her boyfriend in college. Her boyfriend found out she was cheating because she wrote about it in a diary that she left next to her bed. When he confronted her about it, he violently pushed her to the ground and was about to slam her head into the concrete until a friend luckily intervened.

When Gould presented the story to her class for critique, another student raised her hand and asked why the narrator character had written about her infidelity in a diary, and why the diary was in a place where her boyfriend could find it.

The essay concludes with Gould responding: “That’s just the kind of thing she does”.

The Girl on the Train

If you love Gillian Flynn’s trifecta of brilliance that is Sharp Objects, Dark Places, and Gone Girl, you will be mesmerized by Paula Hawkins’ new novel, The Girl on the Train. The-Girl-on-the-Train-A-Novel-0-331x470 The narrative, set in London, is split among three perspectives of women whose lives tragically connect: Rachel, Megan, and Anna. Rachel is an alcoholic, unemployed, “girl on the train”, Megan is the seemingly perfect woman whom Rachel admires from the train, and Anna is both Megan’s neighbor and Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife. Megan’s chapters are set a year earlier than Rachel’s and Anna’s, and we come to learn that in present day Megan is missing. Similar to Dark Places, we travel from the past to the present and are gradually given clues that reveal the twists and turns leading to Megan’s disappearance.

The suspenseful novel is not just a simple mystery, but it is also a psychological thriller that explores the intricacies, vulnerabilities, and heartache of each woman with beautiful and poignant prose. Hawkins is an expert at juggling the three perspectives and time spans, and highly adept at conveying realism and raw emotion. The Girl on the Train is less refined than Gone Girl, but just as gripping. Cozy up on the couch with this book now!

The Andy Cohen Diaries

The Andy Cohen Diaries was everything I hoped it would be and more. The book is Andy’s diary (inspired by Andy Warhol’s diary), and starts Labor Day 2013 and ends Labor Day 2014. He talks about everything from his personal life, dating life, career, parties he attends, and of course his dog, Wacha.

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I loved reading about Andy’s conflicts with Housewives who are fired, and Housewives who feel they aren’t getting enough attention. Andy doesn’t always mention names, but you don’t need to be a detective to realize that Kathy Wakile and her husband are the worst. He also talks about what really goes on at Housewives reunions (there are many arguments about who gets to sit next to Andy). He also comments on his Watch What Happens Live shows, and it is fascinating to read how he thought the shows went and how he felt while filming (I tweeted something to this effect and Andy responded, which made me love him even more than I already do). My favorite part of reading Andy’s diary was reading about the wonderful relationship he has with his parents. If you have Jewish parents you will totally relate to Andy’s hilarious relationship with Evelyn and Lou. Perhaps the juiciest aspects of Andy’s diary were the detailed descriptions of his relationships with celebrities. I knew Andy had a lot of celebrity friends, but I had NO idea how many! Sarah Jessica Parker, Kelly Ripa, Jimmy Fallon, and Anderson Cooper are definitely his closest friends and appear in the diary quite often. The Seinfields, Lady Gaga, Cher, Joan Rivers, Madonna, Howard Stern, and John Mayer appear in the diary as well.

Simply put, if you love pop culture you will love The Andy Cohen Diaries.

Dark Places

After reading/ seeing Gone Girl, I was left with the empty feeling I always have after reading a great book. So, I decided to fill the void by starting one of Gillian Flynn’s other novels, Dark Places (2009). To say this book was an exceptional page-turner is an understatement.

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The novel has a similar structure to Gone Girl, in that the chapters are from different perspectives and time periods. The story is set in rural Kansas, and the protagonist, Libby Day, is the sole survivor of the “Satanic cult” massacre of her family (mother and two sisters) that occurred on January 3, 1985 at 2:00 AM. Libby was seven-years-old when she witnessed the murder of her family members, and was adamant that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben Day, killed her family. After testifying against her brother despite her young age, Ben was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In present day, Libby is reluctantly put in touch with the head of a “Kill Club” obsessed with solving infamous murders. The club begins to convince Libby that her testimony was coached, and provides evidence of Ben’s innocence. The chapters alternate between present-day Libby, and chapters starting at 8:00 AM January 2, 1985 from Ben’s perspective, and Patty Day’s (Libby and Ben’s mother) perspective. Slowly, secrets are revealed, dots are connected, numerous suspects emerge, and you are left on the edge of your seat.

Libby is an emotionally detached and manipulative victim, Patty is a struggling single mother with questionable morals, and Ben is by far the most complicated character whose chapters will leave you feeling uneasy and disturbed. Yet, you grow to love and identify with these characters and will continue to think about them long after you finish the novel. Flynn has the unique gift of creating flawed and realistic characters whose identities leap off the page.

Only start Dark Places if you have a lot of free time on your hands, because you really won’t be able to put it down.

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