Things I Really Liked in 2018

As has now become my custom, this is my year in culture in review post. I’m posting it super early because I know I won’t get to read or watch stuff in the next month as I become a holiday wraith. (If you’re curious, I also wrote lists in 2017 and 2016.)

Below are things I listened to, read, or watched this year. Most were released in the last year to two years, though a few are oldies that I only just discovered. I tried to err on the side of more obscure selections, though a few popular choices slipped through. I make no pretense that this list represents the year’s “best” entertainment; it’s merely the culture I enjoyed the most in 2018.

Music:

  • Movement,” Hozier: it takes a few views to hear anything given the, um, visuals, but once you’re able to listen, the song itself is soulful, deeply felt, and dead sexy. Here’s to the full album next year!
  • Space Cowboy,” Kacey Musgraves: the title is a pun and it’s the perfect song for Dean and Vivy from Free Fall. But seriously, the entire album is gorgeous, grown up, and an absolute delight.
  • John Field, Complete Nocturnes, Elizabeth Joy Roe: I’m still years from being able to play nocturnes, but when I get there, I’ll start with Field. And maybe in a decade or two I’ll be able to pretend to play this well. It’s a lovely collection, made more special in that you don’t know it the way you do Chopin.
  • Redbone,” Childish Gambino: so I found “This is America” to be a bit glib (I know), but when it was everywhere, I dug into Gambino’s backlist and fell hard for “Redbone.” That Donald Glover has it going on.
  • Pristine,” Snail Mail: I almost, almost saw Snail Mail live this summer, and if I had, I would have properly been able to brag I knew about them first. I’ll have to settle for this instead: I love Lindsey Jordan’s voice and lyrics and I bet you will too.

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Recommendation Club: Space Race History

On social media and over email, I’ve fielded several questions about what someone should read to learn more about the space race. While writing the Fly Me to the Moon series, I’ve inhaled dozes and dozens of space histories. So for prosperity’s sake, here’s what I recommend.

A few caveats: my list is focused on the period between Sputnik and Apollo 11 (or 1957 to 1969) and on US/Soviet crewed space flight. If you’re interested in rocketry, for example, that would be a whole other list and it would start a lot sooner.

Also, I’m not a scientist or engineer. So while I’m interested in the history of technology, I prefer books pitched to a general audience.

I do have a PhD in American studies, so my bias is for new history that is intersectional, considers the economic and social factors that create institutions, and includes marginalized voices.

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Things I Really Liked in 2017

In the vein of this post from last year, here’s a list of things I really liked in 2017.

Music/Podcasts:

  • Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812, Broadway Soundtrack: while this show was on Broadway in 2016 and has since closed, I became obsessed with the soundtrack in 2017. Denee Benton’s voice is extraordinary and vulnerable, and the rest is a delightful mash up. Look for Russian themes in my upcoming work. /waggles eyebrows/
  • DAMN., Kendrick Lamar: timely, brilliant, and on constant rotation in my car.
  • Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker: full disclosure, I didn’t love it quite as much as Sprained Ankle, but I can’t stop listening to it and “Appointments” is probably my song of the year.
  • Melodrama, Lorde: I didn’t like “Green Light” on the radio, but the album is an album, and much more than the sum of its parts. Perfect for writing heartbreak.
  • LA Divine, Cold War Kids: what do you know, people still write rock songs. The Bishop Briggs cameo is a highlight; she’s going to break out soon.
  • There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light, Stars: after a few subpar albums, Stars is back, and I loved every minute.
  • Slow Burn, Leon Neyfakh/Slate: this podcast about Watergate has given me a plot bunny so large, it’s like a plot hare.

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A (Virtual) Spooky Reading

EarthBoundRetroRocket2

Binge on Books is doing a month-long Sounds Like Halloween celebration of scary stories, and I recorded myself reading the mission sequence from Earth Bound for it. It’s more suspenseful than spooky–and obviously very spoiler-y if you haven’t read the book!–but you can listen to it here.

Also, I talked to Rachel Kramer Bussel from Salon for an article on resistance romance. A lot of my favorite authors are quoted and are name checked, so it was incredibly cool to be included.

Finally, I started an author newsletter. I promise I won’t send too many of these, but if you want to keep up with my new releases and sales, you can sign up here.

Notes from the Keeper Shelf: Fangirl

Remember back when I said I was going to talk books more, and then I never did? Good times.

I wrote a lot of words in the late spring, but then the summer doldrums hit. I’m now ready for cooler weather and more sanity in the world, but in lieu of either, let’s talk about a book: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Rowell’s big breakthrough was the 1980s-set young adult romance Eleanor & Park, but without getting into the weeds, while I liked E&P, there were a number of speed-bumps for me related to the representations of poverty and Park’s mother and some of how Eleanor sees/describes Park. I haven’t reread it because I’m afraid those issues would loom even larger a second time.

Fangirl is another story. It was probably my favorite book of 2013, and it’s held up for me on countless rereads.

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American Literature, My Way

I read a piece on Lit Hub today about the view of American literature from abroad. For what it’s worth–which is not much–here’s the list of 25 titles I settled on. They’re numbered for my own count, but aren’t in any particular order. I’ve omitted Faulkner, Salinger, Kerouac, Nabokov, Twain, and Toole (all of whom appear on the Lit Hub list) because they’ve never appealed to me personally.

This is slightly edited and corrected (in other words, IMPROVED) from the Twitter version. I’m reprinting it here because it seemed like a suitable celebration of the Fourth of July.

I don’t have enough poets, and probably not enough non-fiction/biography/dramatic literature; there’s also a dearth of the nineteenth-century female novelists I love so well but whose work is both long and problematic. But it’s a list of works that speak to this national project: its high idealism, its deep and repetitive failure, and the hope we still hold, must hold, for the future.

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Notes from the Keeper Shelf: “You Were Perfectly Fine”

I miss talking about books.

It is hard to talk about books when you write them. If you’re going to review, do you have to be willing to negatively review in order to calibrate or somehow “earn” your positive ones? Will negative reviews, if you write them, hurt someone’s feelings or alienate readers? If you’re reviewing the work of someone you know (and the longer you’re around the community, the more people you will know), how do those friendships shape those reviews? What if you recommend books and people don’t like them? And besides, shouldn’t you be using the writing time you have to, you know, write?

But here’s the thing: my life as a writer began in early 2011 before I’d jotted down a word of fiction. My kids were newborn; I was breastfeeding and changing diapers continually and sleeping about 93 minutes a day. Oh, and I had a new Kindle. “I’m interested in women’s popular fiction,” I thought. (It was one of the subjects of my then in-process dissertation.) “Maybe I should read a romance.”

I literally Googled “best romances” and found lists at AAR, Smart Bitches, and Dear Author. So I started with an inspie a friend recommended (I did not like it. at all.), and then I moved onto Lord of Scoundrels. That was followed by approximately 200 more titles over the course of six months, mostly historical romances, but then contemporaries, romantic mysteries, paranormals, etc. I was hooked.

The reason I kept reading romances was not just because they were fun and sex-positive and female-centered and revisionist and amazing, but because of those (and other) blogs. It was about the discussion community around the books as much as it was about the books themselves. When I started writing, in NaNoWriMo in 2011, it was because I wanted to write a book that could be dissected by the blogs I’d come to love.

For reasons I’m not qualified to parse, the discussion sphere of romance has quieted. There are still book and review blogs of course, but the conversation seems driven by promo as much as by criticism.

With this in mind, I have many and varied writing goals for this summer, but one of them is this: I’m going to talk about books more. I’ll probably stick with things that are at least five years old and I can’t guarantee all of them will be romances in the RWA sense, but they’re books and stories I love and want to discuss. I hope you’ll join me here, and maybe explicate some of your favorites and share the links with me (hint, hint).

The first is a 1929 short story by Dorothy Parker called “You Were Perfectly Fine.” The page numbers are from The Portable Dorothy Parker; be advised I’m going to spoil it shamelessly.

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