Monthly Wrap-Up, October 2018

Hey, friends! While planning some upcoming queer YA books to review on this blog, I thought about how there are a ton of non-queer (or even non-YA) books I read that are still notable and worth sharing. I don’t want to shift the focus of my reviews, but I do want to spotlight some of those books each month and give a paragraph review about the notable parts for others who might want to read it. So without further ado, here’s a few books I read and enjoyed last month:

YA:

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green: Several of my friends have called this their favorite John Green book, and I think it’s my favorite now, too, even though it made me tear up at parts. It’s just one of those books that proves YA fiction can be just as literary and meaningful as adult fiction. And even though it has heartbreaking moments, it’s got some seriously funny scenes, too. Also, it had one of the most powerful YA fiction lines I’ve ever read: “Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: This one’s about Sam, a junior who has purely-obsessional OCD, as she discovers the Poetry Corner and her high school and makes friends who understand what it’s like to feel alone. As someone with pure-O OCD, I was really excited to find this book. Mental illness has received a lot more understanding over the past few decades, but I think there are still some misconceptions about OCD. Every Last Word felt like an authentic story about one person’s struggle with OCD without letting that define her. It has a lot of sad, vulnerable moments but is overall a hopeful book.
  • Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne: Even if you’ve never thought about the potential a sci-fi Jane Eyre would have, Brightly Burning doesn’t disappoint. It’s just as emotionally intense and enticing as the original novel, except with a slightly more sympathetic Mr. Rochester. And it ends a little more hopefully than the original, too. Which is kind of a bonus. If you’re more of a classic literature fan but are trying to venture into the YA genre, this could be a fun choice since it actually translates the original plot and characters into a futuristic setting pretty well. Also, I don’t think the author plans on making a Wuthering Heights in space next, but man do I want it a lot now.
  • A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck: A Short History follows freshman Matt Wainwright as he copes with his first unrequited crush and brings his emotional turmoil into his high school basketball court. This book was, above all, two things: sad and sweet. It’s full of unrequited love, loss, and uncertainty in the future that I think everyone feels at some point. It actually kind of reminded me of a younger teen version of Looking for Alaska in that it struggles to answer similar questions about why life can be so hard sometimes and whether there’s meaning in the pain.
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins: Reading Crank was a meaningful experience because, growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read books by Ellen Hopkins. Considering that Hopkins’ books are some of the most banned and challenged YA books in print, I’m probably not the only one. Following Kristina from her beginning as a shy, emotionally-neglected teenager into a meth addict was harrowing. It was emotionally powerful experience to read how drug addiction can take away a person’s innocence, self-control, and ability to feel happy at all, even when high. After reading it, I felt sick to my stomach, but I didn’t regret reading it. This seems like a book that could either help teens have compassion for someone with struggles different from their own or help those with drug addictions feel heard and find hope.

Miscellaneous:

  • Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard: Maybe it’s all of that The Good Place I’ve been watching lately, but I’ve felt motivated lately to study philosophy more in hopes that it will help me become a kinder person and find stronger meaning in life. This book presented some interesting thoughts, especially the idea that faith begins when you step away from reason and trust in something, even though you’re afraid. It also discusses the difference between resignation and faith, the first being sorrow when confronted with seeming hopelessness and the second being trust in the infinite despite your fears.
  • That We May Be One by Tom Christofferson: In case you’re not as familiar with Mormon culture, this one is a memoir written by a brother of one of the church’s apostles who identifies as both gay and Mormon. It was powerful to follow his journey in life as he followed his heart and drew closer to God in a way that felt right to him. Being gay and spiritual can be hard, and this felt like a book that could help queer Mormons struggling to accept their sexual orientation feel like they are loved just as they are and belong in their religion.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: One of my professors recommended that we read this one at least once in our life. It was pretty enjoyable, considering the pretty dark subject matter! I especially liked the stream-of-consciousness narrative and felt like it worked well for what he was trying to achieve. It places you firmly into each character’s mind and makes their thoughts and emotions feel distinct. For some reason, though, I think I like his short stories a lot more than I liked this novel. Probably just a personal thing.

And, just to keep up with what’s going on in my life, here are some notable things that happened this month:

  • Finally found a job! I’m starting a technical writer position at The Waterford Institute next week and am super grateful to be working for a company that promotes a love of learning.
  • Played Kingdom Hearts I and II for the middle school nostalgia factor. Currently trying to figure out if there’s a phone app that would let me play 358/2.
  • Tons and tons of thunderstorms. As I’m writing this, it’s super cloudy and stormy outside. It looks like a perfect day to curl up by a window with a cup of apple cider and a book.
  • Got to see my boyfriend perform at the opening night for Evermore, an interactive fantasy park in Northern Utah. Super proud of him for working hard to pursue what he loves and for being a very spooky zombie.
  • Spent a lot of time in Park City. The leaves are starting to change color up there and it’s really beautiful, like the personification of a pumpkin spice candle.
  • Took some time to catch up on all of my favorite podcasts while cleaning, especially Beautiful/Anonymous, Modern Love, and Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. If you guys have any podcast recommendations, by the way, I’d love to check out some new ones!

Any book recommendations for November’s book haul?

Twitter, Job Searching, and Other Mini Life Updates

Hello, friends! When I posted that The Inexplicable Logic of My Life review yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t posted a personal update in a while. So much has changed since graduating college in August that I think writing everything would devolve into a mess of rambles and exclamation points, so here are a few things going on right now in a neat bullet list form:

  • I got a Twitter—this time for real! It’s @andyjwinder, if you’re interested. Twitter is something I tried a few times in the past but I’ve heard it’s great for networking in the YA publishing world and memes, so I’m giving it another go. I’m still trying to get the hang of it but would love to connect with more awesome, literary (or meme-y) people!
  • All of the time I used to spend studying is now devoted to applying and interviewing for jobs. I never thought I’d find something more exciting and anxiety-provoking than walking to the testing center during finals week, but here we are. I just keep telling myself “this is why I got my bachelor in English, this is what I’ve been training for, it’ll be alright” and so on. And then I cry a little, just on the inside. But so far, so good and I’m feeling pretty optimistic!
  • During my last semester of college, I took a break from long-term creative writing projects to finish my senior thesis but am getting back into the swing of things and working on a new novel draft! It’s still very rough but it’s YA and features (among other things) baking competitions, a character named Rose who is a lot less delicate than her namesake, and a nice queer romance. Going for that “wholesome and uplifting” feel to counterbalance all the sad (but still beautiful) queer YA out there.
  • Last year at Pride, I wanted more than anything to have someone to share my life with and wondered if I was broken because I’d never had a partner or even a first kiss before. And this past week, I got to attend Provo Pride with my boyfriend. It’s funny how different life can become in a year. I feel lucky to know and spend time with someone as silly, thoughtful, and sweet as he is and happy that we found each other.
  • And, best for last, I finally found the music that really sparks my drive while writing fiction, and it’s folk music. On a related note, I have been listening to way too much Hozier lately.

That’s a little bit about what my life’s looking at right now. Hectic, sometimes a little less clear-cut than my life in university used to be, but overall bright!

Drafting, Drafting, Drafting

Hello there! It’s been a little while since I’ve updated this blog, particularly when it comes to personal posts. The short answer for this comes down to two words: senior year. I am determined to graduate by next summer term, which involves getting a lot of things in order: decent grades, grad school applications, trying not to make a fool of myself while taking the GRE. It can keep you busy.

But. Beyond the stress and general pressure of college life, I have also been working on an exciting project: drafting a novel! Which I’ve been holding back on for a bit until I felt ready. Not just to write larger-scale stuff again but also to write LGBTQ topics with the complexity and nuance they deserve. I know that you can’t wait until you’re “ready” to write a book because you’ll be waiting forever, though, so I’m diving in and seeing where this will take me over the next few years.

So, what can be said so far about this project? Here’s a few details:

  1. It has a queer protagonist.
  2. It’s within the low fantasy genre.
  3. It draws inspiration from a classic English novel near and dear to my heart.

Which is all I’m wont to say at the moment because drafts can change so much and I’m only at the first one. As months (to be optimistic) of edits, re-drafting, and tears change its shape, who knows what it will look like in the end? Or if it will see the light of day outside of my notebook?

Regardless of what comes of it, I’m enjoying this project so far. Whenever I’ve drafted novels in the past, I’ve only really written lighthearted stuff. It’s sort of cathartic to go a little darker, and I’m excited to see where this goes. So yes, not dead! Still writing! Pray that college doesn’t kill me!