Friday, December 19, 2014

“When I got my library card, that’s when my life began.”

     Words are funny. Arranged in the wrong way, they can elicit negative feelings and be very hurtful, or even terribly misinterpreted, but when arranged with care, words can create beautiful feelings, sentiments, and even entire worlds between the covers of books. Learning to use words in a constructive way is an art, to say the least, a lesson that we all must learn. I’ve certainly missed words more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve said hurtful things without thinking before speaking, written words that I can’t take back, sent letters that maybe I should’ve just tucked away in the bottom drawer of my desk—I’m just as guilty as the next person. 
The more books that I’ve read over the years and the more pages that I’ve written, the more I find myself carefully considering how I choose my words. I should probably insert a disclaimer here: I’m not one to mince my words or to hold my tongue, and I’m definitely not a subtle person…at all. Sometimes, my ability and genuine need to express my truest, rawest, most blunt thoughts and feelings works to my advantage, but other times, it can get my in over my head. 
This brings me to the lessons that my hometown library have taught me. When I was about three or four years old, my mom took me to 212 North High Street to get my very own bright yellow card. I didn’t even know how to write my own name, so she signed on the line on my behalf and sent me off to fill my arms with books for the very first time. I wish that I could remember this moment more clearly, because it was definitely a defining moment in my life. Years later, I envision myself standing on my tiptoes to see the librarian check out my books, probably wearing a patterned jumper that my mom had laid out for me earlier that day. Little did I know that this day was the day that began my voracious, all-consuming love of the world of literature and everything that it has taught me over the years since I first put that yellow card in my pocket. 

In retrospect, I can’t thank my mom enough for fostering my love of reading and for letting my creative mind run wild. Our love of books and words and all things literary is a part of me that I love to share with her. As an aspiring writer, I truly believe that you must read well to write well. Because of this, I don’t believe in sticking to just one genre—young adult fiction, poetry, short story collections, the classics, everything under the sun—making the library my nirvana. 
After a semester of required readings and writing essays to submit on Moodle, I’ve very much been looking forward to winter break. In addition to catching up with old friends, spending time with my family, and eating lots of good food, breaks from school mean one thing for me: reading…a lot…for fun! Yesterday, my brother, Bill, asked if I wanted to spend the afternoon at the library with him. Of course, less than twenty four hours after arriving home, I had already been on the library website and made my list of books to check out on visit number one (yes, there are usually multiple visits!). I figured that while he filled out graduate school applications, I could scour the shelves, work on some of my own writing, and just relax and take in the ambiance—the old book smell, the hushed conversations of the librarians, the sound of computer keys clacking. 
During these two plus hours that Bill and I sat amongst the books housed in the Cortland Public Library, I realized that, although the library has since been relocated, this place had more than a little piece of my heart. I’ve written before about how distance and time has brought me to a deeper appreciation of my hometown, but yesterday, I realized how important that little yellow card has been in shaping the person that I am becoming and how much the library has taught me. The library has taught me many important life lessons: 

1.) Patience. Last summer, I requested and put holds on probably more than thirty books via the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library website. Then, I waited. I didn’t realize that the librarians would call my home phone and leave messages every single time a new book that I had requested arrived at our local branch. It became a joke in our family, “Oh, Sara, the library called for you again today,” but it was something for me to look forward to at the end of each long day spent at my internship. Usually, waiting was worth the reading!

2.) Respect. Library books belong to everyone. If you check one out, it’s your responsibility to take care of it and make sure that it stays in good condition so that others can enjoy it after you do. 

3.) Open-mindedness. Librarians are some of the wisest people that I’ve ever met. I love chatting up the people behind the front desk. Their careers are all about reading and helping others discover their love for books, so needless to say, they give the best book recommendations. They’re honest people and people that I’ve grown to really value the opinions of. I’ve had librarians tell me not to waste my time on certain books, which I definitely appreciate, since time is a precious thing, especially over breaks. I’ve also had them tell me to drop everything else I’m reading at the moment to read certain books. Again, much appreciated. They’re usually pretty spot on and I tend to listen to their advice!

4.) Silence. I like to talk…sometimes way too much. It’s something that I’ve always known about myself—I know that I have a lot to say and that I like to interact with others on a regular basis. That being said, believe it or not, I really appreciate silence. Some people don’t like silence, but I think it says more about a friendship when you can be comfortably silent with someone than when you can talk nonstop with them. I also like my time alone. The library and the books within it have taught me how to be alone and how to appreciate silence. When I’m reading, mouth may be closed, but my mind is often on full volume, filled with images, feelings, and words that captivate me.

5.) Imagination. This one doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. The world of books has definitely helped me to develop my own creativity. 

…and so much more! 

“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.”

—Henry Ward Beecher

{title quote by Rita Mae Brown}

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Interview with Caitlin Horrocks

I recently had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the lovely Caitlin Horrocks, author of the short story collection This Is Not Your City through my internship with the Bucknell Stadler Center for Poetry. Check it out here!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

There are so many books being made into movies that I want to see, which rarely happens nowadays. I’m much more of a book person (obviously), but I’m excited to see some of my new favorites hit the big screen. For starters, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I read all 336 pages of this book in just two days—it was a page-turner, hard to put down. Earlier this year, I read Strayed’s advice book, Tiny Beautiful Things, which brought me peace in so many different ways. A columnist for The Rumpist known as “Sugar,” this woman has been through it all. As a twenty-two year old divorcee, orphan, and part-time heroin user, she sets out to hike the Pacific Coast Trail from California, through Oregon, to Washington—alone. From her toenail-less feet to her hipbones rubbed raw from her backpack (lovingly referred to as “Monster”) and the fear of running out of water, Strayed tells the story in an honest way that breaks your heart and puts it back together again. 
Even though I have never been through half the tragedy that this woman has, she tells her story in a way that really inspired and intrigued me. It’s a story of defeat and also a story of empowerment. A story of losing important pieces and finding others. A story of hate and love and every emotion that makes us the beings that we are. Bonus: Reese Witherspoon is playing Strayed in the movie adaption. Check out the trailer below and read the book as soon as you can!

Friday, June 13, 2014

If I Stay & Where She Went by Gayle Forman

       Before I get around to writing about the book that I want to gush about, I feel that I have to address the fact that recently, young adult fiction is under fire. Quite honestly, I found this article to be very upsetting and uninformed. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but this felt a bit ignorant to me. The photo included with the article displayed four YA books that I really enjoyed, and one that I planned on writing about today. Luckily, one of my favorite book/YA bloggers, Kerry Winfrey, wrote a love letter to YA fiction long before all of this went down. When everyone was going back and forth with their (sometimes strongly worded) opinions, she didn’t feel the need to defend YA because she already had. I found this move to be admirable and inspiring. She knows what she enjoys and she believes in the worth of this genre, so there’s no need to join the argument that’s swept the Internet. I guess, at age twenty, maybe YA could still be considered to be “appropriate” for me, but even so, I can see myself reading this genre into my adult life. Here’s the point of this little tangent: I like young adult fiction and I’m proud of it!
Now that that’s out of the way (phew!), let’s talk about Gayle Forman’s “If I Stay” and the second book, “Where She Went”. For starters, I loved them both much more than I expected. My interest was peaked when I saw the movie trailer for the first book, which comes out August 22. I headed to the library, picked it up, and finished it in a day. The novel is told from Mia’s point of view as she has an “out of body” experience following a tragic car accident. From the hospital halls to flashbacks of growing up and family memories, she struggles with the decision of staying with her boyfriend Adam, her grandparents, and her best friend, Kim or entering into the afterlife with her mom, dad, and little brother. Forman takes readers inside the mind of a young girl who is faced with decisions bigger than she ever thought she’d have to make and who must recognize that she is not alone. Mia weighs the pros and cons of both “staying” and “leaving” throughout the course of the novel. Let’s just say that the ending had me rushing to the library to pick up the second book, “Where She Went”, which I think I liked even better than the first—and that never happens for me with follow-ups! 
“Where She Went” is told from the point of view of Adam three years after Mia’s accident. It’s hard to write about this one without giving away spoilers from the previous book, so here’s my disclaimer: SPOILERS AHEAD! Unaware that she’s actually present, Adam sits by Mia’s bedside in the hospital and makes her a promise: “If you stay, I'll do whatever you want. I'll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I'll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would be too painful, that maybe it'd be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I'd do it. I can lose you like that if I don't lose you today. I'll let you go. If you stay.” After turning his heartbreak into a platinum album, Adam finds himself still empty and confused. When he ends up alone in New York City for an evening and serendipitously running into Mia, who is a Juilliard cello student turned superstar, everything that’s been buried between them comes to the surface for a “last chance”. Needless to say, I read this entire book in a day as well. 
Both books really make you think about what you’d do in these situations and question just how far love can go. The voices of two honest young adults make Forman’s work come to life in a way that you won’t soon forget. 
Watch the trailer for "If I Stay" here!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

I posted this earlier in the week on my personal blog,!

I’m writing this because I can’t stand not to do so. In less than 24 hours and 208 pages, my life was changed. After hearing about Marina Keegan via a beauty-shop text from my mom, I bought her collection of essays and stories, The Opposite of Loneliness, on a whim before heading home for Easter on Friday afternoon. Needless to say, all it took was a four hour car ride and two cups of coffee on Saturday morning to finish the book and leave me absolutely speechless. As a young, aspiring writer, I related so deeply to Marina and feel some strange connection to her that I can’t even begin to explain.
Marina was killed in a car accident just days after graduating from Yale and after this piece, a tribute to her 2012 classmates, was published in the Yale Daily News. Everyone in the car was sober and wearing seat belts—making it the definition of a freak accident. She had a job waiting for her at the New Yorker and a play in production. As heartbreaking as her story is, Marina lives on in this post-humous collection of fiction and nonfiction essays and stories that was compiled by her mentors, teachers, parents, and friends. 

When someone passes away, I think that we sometimes have the tendency to put them on a pedestal, to sing their praises, talk about how wonderful they were, and inflate their accomplishments. That sounds harsh, but sadness leaves us no other option but to relish every bit of good that they contributed to the world. I wanted to read Marina’s book as if she was any other twenty-two year old writer, not in a “she had so much potential” sort of way. Once I started reading, I realized that she wasn’t going to allow me, or anyone for that matter, to read her work through a pitied lens. Marina’s writing is raw, yet pure. She focuses on a broad range of topics throughout the collection, yet writes in such a descriptive, detailed manner. Her work is something that confused, indecisive, bright, crazed young people can easily relate to, as can anyone who has ever been any sort of adolescent.
    Like I said, I feel like I know this girl. In an alternate universe, I think Marina and I would’ve been great friends. She reminds me a lot of myself as a writer, and based off of what I’ve read about her, as a person, too. It made me laugh when her mentor, Anne Fadiman, wrote in the introduction to the book, “As her parents and friends and I gather her work, trying to find the most recent version of every story and essay, we knew that knew that none of it was in exactly the form she would have wanted to publish. She was a demon reviser, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting even when everyone else though something was done.” I find myself struggling with finality all the time. Is anything ever truly done? I’m always looking to improve, to tweak just one last word to make the piece at hand perfect…but is perfection elusive in the world of art? Or better yet, is everything perfect even before it’s edited, flaws and all? In Marina’s case, I think untouched was exactly the way her work deserved to be read. There’s something about reading someone’s nearly unedited thoughts, their truest internal monologue, each feeling as it comes. 
"everything is so beautiful and so short."
  I’d be lying if I said that a part of me didn’t fall victim to the sadness that so many are experiencing with the loss of this magical young woman—I can only imagine the hurt that those who knew and loved her so personally must be feeling. Sure, it makes me sad to think that this will be Marina’s first and last published book and to think of “what could’ve been” for her in the future, but this girl lived. She did a lot of living and observing and passion seeking in her twenty-two years, and that makes me smile. Additionally, I was happier than I expected myself to be when I found out that The Opposite of Loneliness sold out in less than two days at Barnes and Noble…even if it was just the one on Bucknell’s teeny tiny campus.
    “Marina wouldn’t want to be remembered because she’s dead. She’d want to be remembered because she’s good,” says Fadiman. And that’s exactly what she is and will be for eternity—a good writer, a seemingly good human being, and a piece of goodness whose mark will forever be imprinted upon this place we call Earth.

Check out the piece that opens the book and was also published in the New Yorker.

Marina's reading of her poem, "Bygones" 
(which I am in love with and have watched countless times)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World by Jordan Christy

       This book has been on my “to-read” list since my freshman year of high school and I’ve owned it since the Christmas of that lie! So, I finally got around to it nearly six whole years later (!!!) and despite the slightly out of date pop culture references, which I must say were perfectly appropriate for my generation, I think my timing was perfect.
Christy’s manual for mastering the “art of living with style, class, and grace” provided a insightful, often hilarious commentary on a culture very relative to my collegiate life. From “stupid girls” to “having your cake and eating it too,” she manages to sufficiently cover speaking eloquently, choosing friends wisely, dressing to impress, accepting your body, and the value of a work ethic in under two hundred pages. 
Something I really loved about this book was that the author managed to make very strong, valid points without being preachy. Let’s face it, who wants to read a book that tears you apart simply for being a member of Generation Y? She acknowledges that we all make mistakes that are less than classy or admirable at times, but provides realistic suggestions for changing our ways and even inserts fun little recipes and quizzes throughout the book. 
While my high school freshman self might have emulated the senior girl who reviewed this book in the school newspaper (yep, it happened...I remember it clearly), I’m glad that I read it during a time at which it was more applicable and relatable to my life. Living like Audrey Hepburn is quite the aspiration, but I think I’m up to the challenge! 

“Class is not defined by our circumstances - it is our reaction to those circumstances that defines who we are.” 
Jordan Christy, How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World: The Art of Living with Style, Class, and Grace

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

      I like fairy tales and happy endings as much as anyone, but I love real stories, because life isn’t meant to be perfect. We have happy moments, we feel sadness, we experience loss. Things aren’t black and white, we don’t always find the right answers, and sometimes the voices of our hearts get lost in the chaos of the world.
Tim Tharp brings us the story of a boy and a girl whose differences yield a magical mutual attraction. Sutter, a somewhat jaded “party boy”, has done it all; drinking, dating, and breaking rules on the regular. He has no idea that waking up after a crazy night out in the yard of his classmate, Aimee, is the beginning of the journey to seeing the beauty of innocence and dreams. Together, Sutter and Aimee discover what it’s like to fall for the “wrong” person, to question the future, to compromise, and to want something that the world doesn’t seem to want you to have.
The Spectacular Now is full of deep insight, but the humor of Sutter’s first person account keeps it entertaining and makes you feel like you’re truly in the mind of his character. Sutter definitely had me laughing out loud to myself at many points while reading this book. Aimee is so different than the typical high school girl that is cast so often in young adult literature--in my opinion, she’s better. Slightly nerdy, very socially awkward, and full of butterflies and insecurities, she allows you to recall the unique path that you took through the excitingly terrifying world of high school and growing up (side note: when are we ever The actually “grown up”? I feel like I’ll be growing up forever, because there are always new things to learn...). Yet another example of a  great character is Cassidy, a popular girl who actually cares about the welfare of humankind and doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes and put her on mute. HALLELUJAH! Did We ever think there would come a day that we wouldn’t be rooting against, but that we’d actually be cheering for the pretty popular girl? Tharp really knows how to develop his characters in a way that makes your heart feel connected to them. 
It’s hard to know what to say about this book other than to highlight that it’s a must-read for teen and adult bookworms! The movie was also recently released (Shailene Woodley plays Aimee!) and looks incredible...the challenge now is to find one of the  theaters that’s lucky enough to be showing it! 

“She's different from the girls I'm used to dating. She doesn't get tired of my stories and jokes or expect me to start reading her mind. She doesn't want me to dress better or put highlights in my hair or serious up. I'm not a lifestyle accessory to her. I'm a necessity. I'm the guy that's going to crack open her cocoon. She doesn't need to change me - she needs me to change her. At least until her little butterfly wings get strong enough to fly away.”
 ― Tim TharpThe Spectacular Now