Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012

**Also not pictured (I was too lazy to add them when I finished reading them after I made the collages):
-Cancer Ward by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn
-Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton
-My Ideal Bookshelf edited by Thessaly La Force

When I first starting compiling all of these images of the covers of the books I read, I could hardly believe I read this many books this year. That's fifty-two in a year! One book per week, just about. I had made an overly ambitious goal to read 100 books, but life gets in the way, and so does the simple pleasure of reading a book slowly to take it in :) But fifty-two isn't bad, and here they all are, the good, the bad, and the slightly inappropriate.

Of all of these books, I was somehow able to pick out my Top 5 Favorite Books Read This Year. In no particular order:

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This book moved me in so many ways. It was an assigned book for a YA class I took this past semester and it took me two weeks to read because I forced myself to slow down and enjoy every page. Told from the point of view of Death, it is the story of a small town in Nazi, Germany. Leisel Meminger has been sent to live with Hans Hubermann, a painter by trade and an accordionist by night, and Rosa Hubermann, an uptight woman who does the laundry for the wealthy. Leisel struggles to fit in with her new family and the neighborhood kids, all while trying to dodge kisses from Rudy Steiner. Her situation clenches even further when Hans agrees to hide a young Jewish boxer in the basement, and she falls in love with reading - a difficult love to have when money doesn't allow her to buy books... Death tells us her story in a way you wouldn't expect Death to - with compassion and sorrow. I could talk about this book for years. I saw the play adaptation at the Steppenwolf, and was lucky enough to meet Markus at a Q&A about the book in October and have him sign my copy. I even got it for my mother for Christmas. 

2. The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. People might be rolling out of this one. It's considered a guilty pleasure among many, and no, it is not up there in the ranks as a Great American Classic. BUT, Susann was so brilliant at creating memorable characters. I read it months ago, and Neely O'Hara still gets under my skin, I want to reach out and save the beautiful model Jennifer North, and the failure that was Anne Welles and Lyon Burke's relationship still makes my heart sad. Reading about the rise and fall of these three women in the valley of the 'dolls' kept me hooked on every page and I ate. it. up. Lately I've been half-joking that my next tattoo on my book-related-half-sleeve in progress will be a broken heart that says 'Lyon' in it. Since he really did crush me. I got this book for my sister for Christmas so she would understand my wounded heart.

3. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Damn, I loved this book. Olympia is living in an apartment building just a floor away from her unknowing daughter, Miranda. Her daughter is about to fix one of her cosmetic flaws with a plastic surgery, and Olympia wants to save her. Thinking about her daughter's bodily quirk leads her to writer her own family history so her daughter can see where she comes from - a family of circus freaks. Olympia was created by her parents through much drug use and experimentation while she was in the womb, and so were her brothers and sisters. There are her prodigal piano playing twin sisters, and her brother, Arturo, also known as Aqua Boy, whose fame rises to a level high enough to gain cult status. Olympia is the least freaky of them all, yet freaky enough to stand out in society. Dunn did a great job at combining the present-day story with Olympia and Miranda, and the tragic back story of her circus freak family. 

4. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I've mentioned before how much this book got to me. Hazel is a 16 year old thyroid-cancer patient who meets Augustus at a cancer patient support group that she was forced to go to. Both are drawn together through disease, but bond over their love of books - particularly Hazel's favorite, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. The ending haunts both Hazel and Augustus since it ends in mid-sentence, and they make it their goal to meet Van Houten and get the answer of what happens before it's too late for both of them. It was interesting to see John Green write in a female's point of view, and it was believable and heartbreaking (in a good way.) 

5. Party Monster by James St. James. Here's where everyone stops trusting this blog. This one was chosen simply because it was entertaining. I saw the movie with Macaulay Caulkin and Seth Green years ago, and the book was FINALLY available in the library so I snatched it up. James St. James was one of the founding fathers of the Club Kid scene in the early 90's in New York City. He was also in a love-hate relationship with his sometimes-best friend, the leader of it all Michael Alig. It was a time of an insane amount of drugs, partying, costumes, and escapism that ended with a murder. James St. James keeps nothing secret, admitting openly to his drug use, the incredibly young party-goers, and all of his knowledge of the murder. St. James tells the story very much in the present. It doesn't read as a reflection, and the storytelling and descriptions are vivid and keeps you gasping with disbelief. I recommend watching the movie, the documentary also titled Party Monster, and YouTubing 'Club Kids on Phil Donahue.' 

These books weren't chosen because they've won tons of awards (though some of them have), or because they are America's favorites. I chose them because they entertained me and they're the kinds of books I would recommend to my friends. Each have beautiful and memorable characters, great storytelling, and a way of keeping the reader hooked - which I think is pretty important. 

Happy New Year, readers! Thank you to everyone who has followed and read my blog so far. I've made a couple of resolutions to dedicate more time to reading and keeping up with this website and I'm excited to see what the future holds.

What were the favorite books you've read this year? Also, if you have any questions or comments about the books I've pictured above, feel free to comment! I'd love to discuss them, as they were each good (sometimes not so good) in their own way!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Was She Pretty?

After spending a whole month dedicated to the mammoth-sized Cancer Ward, I wanted to read something very easy and simple. Something that didn't take up a lot of brain power. I can't even bring myself to blog about it yet. I had seen Was She Pretty? on some Goodreads list on one of my late night binges, and on several blogs. The title is pretty universal. Leanne Shapton wrote and illustrated the book after finding herself incredibly curious about the exes of her lovers. This sparked a series of interviews with friends, friends of friends, and family about their exes and the exes of their exes. The result of this was often one-lined series of stories and line drawings about ex-lovers.

One of my favorites:

I think it's somewhere we've all been - driven insane with curiosity about the men and women that came before us. This book was insightful, thoughtful, and also thought-provoking and surprisingly with minimal hostility. 

Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton was the perfect book to move onto after Cancer Ward and I devoured it in just one evening before flipping back through it to my favorite passages and handing it off to my roommate. 

Have any of your exes had interesting quirks? What about your exes exes?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Featured Reader: Joanna Goddard

When I was first dreaming up this blog, one of my main goals was to bring readers together. I am always incredibly curious about what people are reading, where they read, and how they read. I'm that weirdo on the train craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the cover someone is reading across from me. It's my way to break the ice with strangers. I wanted to use this blog partially as a fun place to share the reading habits of others, since I am sure there are people out there just as curious as I am.

I am so excited about my first Featured Reader, Joanna Goddard from A Cup of Jo. I have been a reader of her fantastic lifestyle blog for quite some time now, and I thoroughly enjoy her style and design tips, recipe sharing, love of New York City, gift guides around the holidays, and her advice and insight on raising her adorable toddler, Toby. Joanna also has a great taste in books - particularly cookbooks and memoirs, which made me certain she would be a great start to the Featured Reader segment of The Lit Girl. Joanna was kind enough to answer some of my questions, so here we go!

What are you currently reading?
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which is a beautiful and funny book about writing. After I had a baby, I read her hilarious, real and heartwarming book Operating Instructions about her first year with her newborn son, and I've since been a devoted fan of hers.

Have you always been a reader? If so, what is your earliest reading memory? If not, what turned you into a believer?
My parents read to us a TON when we were little, and when I was in elementary school I would lie behind our living room sofa (between the wall and the sofa!) and read books. It felt like a secret hiding spot. Although once I left a glass of apple juice there, and my mom got me in trouble when she found it, all moldy and gross.

What genre of books tend to be your favorite?
I love literary fiction, memoirs and graphic novels. 

Where do you do most of your reading? What about that place makes it best for reading books?

One of my favorite things in the world is reading books in bed. It's so cozy, and my husband sometimes will finish reading the last few paragraphs of a chapter out loud if I get too sleepy to keep my eyes open. (He's a keeper:)

Has having your (totally adorable) son, Toby, affected your reading habits? How have you adjusted reading time as a mom?
I read a little less now because I spent so much time playing with him. But I still sneak in reading time at night. His 7:30pm bedtime is key!

Do you read to Toby? Does he love story time?

Toby is forever asking me if we can sit on the pillows and read "a bunch a books." We love reading together, and favorites include Along a Long Road, Knuffle Bunny Free and Dragons Love Tacos. He also loves all books about cars and trucks, naturally.

What are three of your most favorite books?

The History of Love, Epilogue and Peter Pan are at the tippy top of the list. The Glass Castle was also great. And anything by Roald Dahl.

Lastly, the holidays are coming up, and I think you're pretty much a pro on gift guides :) What is one of your favorite books to gift?

Cookbooks are always a huge hit. My friend Jenny Rosenstrach wrote the book Dinner: A Love Story, which is part cookbook, part memoir. She actually has a little diary, where she's written down every single dinner she's had since 1998! So she knows her stuff and is full of funny stories.
Joanna also shared this gorgeous picture of her book shelf. Don't you love how all of the books are color coordinated, and the great little figures that adorn each shelf?

Thank you so much for sharing, Joanna! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Goodreads Anonymous?

Hi, my name is Courtney, and I'm addicted to Goodreads. (Hi Courtney!)

Last night, as I was scrolling through maybe one of the best things to happen to social media, I realized I have a problem. I was sitting next to my boyfriend on the couch, but after several minutes he was long forgotten. My eyes were suctioned to my computer screen. On my Safari browser, I had over eighty tabs open. I wish I was joking. Each tab was filled with a new list to browse through, or a book to check out and add to my 'to-read' list. Yes, that's the number of books on my list up there. SEVEN HUNDRED. And growing every day.

That's the crazy addicting thing about Goodreads. It started with me looking for books similar to my favorite memoir, A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown. It lead me to lists about Troubled Youth, Drug Addiction, Best Memoirs Ever, etc. So of course, I start opening all of these tabs of lists, and then these lists are filled with at least a hundred books, so I start opening more tabs with books that look interesting, and before I know it, three hours of my evening is gone. This website is like a black hole.

Boyfriend says, "maybe you should limit yourself to only looking at ten books a day." I laughed out loud right in his face. Does he know who I am? Doesn't he see that I currently have over eighty tabs open on my computer, each one bringing me a new book to add to my incredibly sized 'to-read' list? It's pretty flooring/overwhelming to think of how many books there are in the world for me to read at any given time. This year I've read forty-seven books (forty-eight if I can finish Cancer Ward).

700 divided by 48 = 14.58. That means it would take me FOURTEEN AND A HALF YEARS to read all of the books that are currently on my list of books to read, if I continue to read at this pace. That's not even counting all of the books that I have on my book shelf that I haven't input into my account. That's not even counting all of the pretty covers at the library/book stores that I have yet to even pick up and recognize the name of. That's not even counting biographies of interesting people I'm bound to want to read some day. I'm sweating just thinking about it.

If there is not a Goodreads anonymous group out there, dammit, I'll start one. I know I need it. Or, I can just peacefully sign my life away to books and reading, which doesn't sound too bad either.

Anyone have a Goodreads account? Add me! You can click on the Goodreads widget on the side and it should take you somewhere near my profile.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Am I F@#&ing DONE yet?

I've reached that point that happens, often, in Russian literature. That point of desperation. That point of I-WANT-TO-THROW-YOU-AGAINST-THE-WALL-I-HATE-YOU-SO-MUCH. That point of no return because at this point, you've read 250 pages of very extended prose, so you might as well read 250 pages more. Do you see my bookmark there? It's not even HALF way through. According to Goodreads, I am only 38% finished. I've been reading this book for weeks, which is very abnormal for me. I can usually burn through a book in a week, but this one has been dragging me through the mud behind a truck. It was even in my first post which was a month ago, I've been reading it that long.

My love letter still stands. I'm proud of myself for making it this far, and I still feel pretty smart for being able to follow patronymics and the histories of each person that seems to step foot into the Cancer Ward. But, to be honest, I miss reading things that are not this book.

I know there's a pay off at some point. I'm getting excited for the end. Perhaps with my Christmas break that will be here starting Thursday, it will be time to go on reading binges and finish this book.

Am I crazy for continuing to push on through? I feel like once I'm this far in a book I CANNOT give up. Have you ever given up on a book?

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Brilliant Quote.

Recently, I stumbled upon this blog in which Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, sent a novel to the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, every two weeks. Each used, often-paperback novel was sent with a letter in which Martel explains why he chose the novel and what is to be gained from each. In one particular letter, about the book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, the opening paragraph caught my eye and all I could think was - YES!

"The great thing about reading books is that it makes us better than cats. Cats are said to have nine lives. What is that compared to the girl, boy, man, woman who reads books? A book read is a life added to one’s own. So it takes only nine books to make cats look at you with envy." 

Very clever and very true. 

I love how every book he sent the Prime Minister was used, just to show that even though the book is worn and old, the message and meaning is still the same. 

If you were to send a book to a country leader, or even just a friend, which one would it be and why?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Today, on my list of things to be thankful for, amongst my friends, family, education, and job, was books! How could we not be thankful for books? They teach us so many things. They're our escape on hard days. Books entertain us. And if nothing else, they are very beautiful. Be thankful that your favorite book exists. Be thankful that you have been taught so many things by reading books. Oh, and eat lots of turkey, tofurkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. I'm personally excited most for pumpkin pie.

Have a great holiday, fellow book nerds!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Who would you vote for?

Entertainment Weekly is doing their annual 'Entertainers of the Year' list. These days, it seems like 'books' are lost as a form of entertainment in all of the latest TV shows, music, and movies. So it's awesome that there's an option to vote for our favorite author of the year.

After reading The Fault in Our Stars, a novel that hit very close to home and made me cry like a baby, my vote goes to John Green. I've also heard tons of awesome reviews about Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, and after reading her first novel Sharp Objects in a class a couple semesters ago, I wouldn't doubt that it's just as great. And, of course, who doesn't love Junot Diaz and J.K. Rowling?  

Who would you vote for? 

(You can vote if you're interested HERE)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Open Letter to Russian Literature

Dear Russian Literature,

This must be weird for you. I know that you typically don't get a lot of fan mail. It's very rare that I come across someone that actually enjoys your company, which is why I was a little surprised to see the above flier at school. Better than sex? I'm not sure about that, but I have a very weird confession for you that I just have to get out there: I think you're fun. I like you.

I hope that it doesn't embarrass you for me to splash my newly embraced love affair with you all across the internet. I hope this isn't too soon to admit this either, for I'm not very familiar with your type. You're the mysterious type, the one that's incredibly intimidating but still alluring. Because of this, you tend to put a lot of people off. Everyone always talks about how 'dense' you are, and how hard you are to follow, but there are a few reasons why I really enjoy you. I know a list isn't very formal, but it's the only way I can use to put my feelings down.

1. You contain exclamation points!!!!! This is typically a huge no-no in contemporary literature! In my writing classes, it is frowned upon to use anything other than periods or question marks to end a sentence! I'm not sure why! All of these exclamation points add a certain excitement to the narration! A certain zest to actions and sometimes expository details!

2. You make me feel smarter. After tackling only a third of Crime and Punishment, I felt like I could write eighty pages on chemical reactions (is that a thing? I actually know nothing about it. See what you do to me?). Even though reading through your pages takes a little bit more time than reading anything else, it comes with a HUGE pay off. I feel so triumphant! I know you don't hear that often, but it's just fun to navigate your wordy pages.

3. It's fun to imagine your authors as very old men with very gray, pointed beards. Maybe this isn't a real reason to love you, but it makes the exclamation points even more entertaining :)

4. You can be quite melodramatic. Yes! There's drama! But sometimes it's a little over the top. This could also be because of the exclamation points. Right now, in Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a doctor of sorts is trying to figure out to keep her lead nurse Olympiada from going to a seminar for ten days. This conflict seems pretty small, but it's been going on for several pages now. There are also several paragraphs dedicated to a shortage of cleaning rags. But I love it! It's possible you didn't mean for it to be silly, but it makes for an entertaining read. It's okay, Russian Lit, I'm pretty melodramatic, too.

This may not seem like a lot of reasons, but four reasons are better than zero. And I'm sure a majority of people have zero reasons to love you, so be grateful, okay? Plus, there are several other, smaller reasons to love you, such as your word choices, and the history behind writing you. People are actually EXILED in you. It may be just me, but I feel like being exiled is something reserved only for movies, and I only imagine people sitting in deserts.

I better wrap this up. You're probably tired of reading me prattle on, and I'm getting rather tired. Keep being you, Russian Lit.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Welcome to The Lit Girl!

Hello, everyone!

I have been waiting for DAYS to launch The Lit Girl, and I'm so excited that the day is finally here. For as long as I can remember, I've loved reading. The first book I remember being able to read through was a tiny little book about an earth worm. That was in kindergarden. As I've grown up, my love for books, reading, and writing has only gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

What's there to love about books? The look of them, the smell of them, the stories within them, the stories behind them, the sometimes-crazy sometimes-boring authors that have written them, the comfort of feeling a worn paperback in your hands, the coziness that comes with curling up with your latest book pickup and a cup of coffee. I think the question with the shortest answer would be, "what's NOT to love about books?" and the answer would be, "nothing."

I decided to start this blog because of this immense love I have for reading and sharing what I'm reading. I think everyone has certain friends they go to for certain things. You've got a friend that knows of the best place to get cupcakes in town. You've got a friend who knows where to get the best cocktails. I've become the friend that my friends come to for book recommendations. I read just about anything. Fiction, non-fiction, short stories, the classics, memoir, biography, young adult, etc, and I've always got a recommendation at the ready.

What you'll find here at The Lit Girl is reviews of books I've been reading, interviews with authors and fellow readers, recommendations, and other Book Lover Friendly Posts. So please, bookmark me, and feel free to comment and join in on the discussion. I'd love for this blog to be just one tiny spot in the huge community of book nerds like me to join together and talk about our common appreciation of the written word.

Current Read: Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Monday, November 5, 2012

Coming Soon!

The Lit Girl will be officially launching November 10, 2012! Keep this blog bookmarked for loads of book reviews, lit-industry news, reader-friendly posts, and author & reader interviews.

I'm so excited to share my love of books and reading with you, and I hope for this blog to add to the huge community of readers and writers out there who are passionate about the written word and continue working to keep reading awesome.

See you soon!