Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Published in Bodega!

Here is how busy I've been / how much I've been neglecting this space: a whole month ago one of my stories was published in Bodega, a great little literary magazine on the Internet, and I am only getting around to sharing it with you now. (I have, of course, already shared it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but it doesn't seem real until it claims a space on the blog.) 

The story is called "Southold," and it's part of my collection-in-progress. All the stories in the collection take place in the same small town on Long Island, which is a fictionalized version of the place where I grew up and which I'm calling Bellhaven. (You can read more Bellhaven stories on my website - a few others have also been published.) 

This particular story was the last one I workshopped in my MFA, which means it was written over a year ago. I'd been revising it on and off ever since, but was never quite happy with it. I think I must have switched the POV and the tense about seven or eight times. It feels sort of sacrilegious to admit that even though this story is published, I have mixed feelings about. Sometimes I really love it, and sometimes I am mortified that it exists. I think this conflict is common among writers, and if it is not common, then feel free to lie to me. 

And any rate, I'm grateful to Bodega for loving my story enough to publish it - they're a lovely magazine, publishing just a few stories and poems on the first of each month. I highly recommend reading every issue and sending them your own work, too. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

April & May Reads

Like most intentions when it comes to this blog, I've fallen behind on my goal to chronicle what I read each month. (Though I'm mostly keeping up with Goodreads - I'm almost caught up there.) Before things get too crazy, here are the books I read in April and May. Not included: the second draft of Erica's book, which was better than all of these books combined. 

This book is a post- and also pre-apocalyptic story about a flu that wipes out 99% of human life. What's interesting about this book (as opposed to the other 19294746 apocalyptic stories out there) is that it takes place in the time before the flu and 20 years after it hits, when the worst is over and people are beginning to rebuild their lives. The twenty years in between are hinted at, and the reader knows it was a Very Bad Time, but we don't waste too much space dwelling on those days, and neither do the characters. I thought this choice, for the author, was particularly brilliant. It allows the characters to deal with conflict rather than catastrophe. Instead of seeing them react to the flu, the mayhem, the pain and confusion of those first years, when the goal of each person left is most certainly survival, we see instead the choices they're now (mostly) free to make, the ways in which they rebuild, how they create new families and new homes. I really liked this book - beautiful language, compelling story, creepy post-apocalyptic landscape, and so many thoughtful passages about what it means to be an artist and a survivor.

I'm not a huge fan of self help books but I love thinking and reading about routines and habits, and I'm always searching for ways to improve my own. So when I saw this book by Gretchen Rubin, I decided to give it a try. While I enjoyed the book, I don't think it was anything especially groundbreaking. I kept describing it as "pop psychology." While it's well researched and thoughtful, and I enjoyed the way she wove personal experiences into the narrative, I also felt as if she was building a sort of house of cards, what with all the tendencies, distinctions, and strategies. That said, while reading this book, I had probably the best week of my life, habit-wise. I woke up early, I worked out, I wrote, I ate healthy meals, I even called my mom. Clearly, this book had a good influence on me. And for those struggling with habits, it does have some great tips for improving your quality of life and being "better than before." Overall I enjoyed it, and I will definitely think about whenever I'm trying to form good habits and steer myself away from bad ones. 

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, by Courtney Maum

Richard had an affair - 7 months long, passionate, and ended not because he came to his senses and remembered he was married, but because his mistress got engaged to someone else. Then Richard's wife finds out and he must spend the rest of the book trying to win her back. It would be an understatement to say that Richard is unlikeable, especially in the first 3/4 of the book. Despite the fact that I like unlikeable characters, I felt very little pity for him and there were many moments when I hoped his wife would realize she was better off without him and move on. But, as the book progressed, Richard started to win me over. His voice remained sort of annoying and whiny, but he did mature. He accepted responsibility for his actions. He tried very hard, in many misguided ways, to make things right. And he had a sense of humor, which I appreciated. I was actually rooting for him by the end, which tells you something about how well this book was written. Besides my complicated feelings about the narrator, I really enjoyed the way this book complicates the idea and realities of marriage. By the end, it felt like a very honest, very nuanced look at love and - as Richard asks in the beginning - "how to make love last." I've seen a number of other reviewers say the ending of this book was predictable, but I disagree. It surprised me very much - not just how it ended, but how much I liked the book by the time I reached the last page.

How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, by Lydia Netzer

I loved the premise of this book. Two women have babies at the same time (on the same day!) and then raise those babies apart, so they can fall in love with one another when they're grown. The mothers try to ensure that the children - a boy, George, and a girl, Irene - share as many of the same rare books, music, and experiences as possible, so they'll feel like soul mates when they finally meet again. While the idea of taking such a scientific approach to true love is intriguing, the realities are not quite so cut and dry. When George and Irene meet, they do feel a connection, but it's not as simple as their mothers once hoped. The same goes for the book itself - while the premise is great, it falters in moments. That said, I also enjoyed huge parts of this book. Like the fact that Toledo, in this world, is the center of space exploration and study. The prose, which was sweeping and exaggerated in a really satisfying, epic way. The sex scenes, which were tender and funny and strange, all at once. This is an ambitious book filled with big ideas, and at times it felt like it was brimming over. I respected and appreciated the risks the author took, even if a few of them didn't pan out.

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters 

This was my first time reading a Sarah Waters book, and it wasn't at all what I expected - in a good way! This book takes place in 1922, in England, and is about a woman, Frances, who falls in love with her (married) lodger, Lillian. Obviously a queer romance in 1920s England is probably not going to be al rainbows and sunshine, and very bad things happen as a result of their illicit love affair. Things I liked: From dialogue to setting to descriptions, the prose especially seemed so very real and rooted in the 20s and of England in a perfectly immersive way. There were some very great sex scenes in this book which were awesome, especially compared to how buttoned up the characters and the prose were the rest of the time. Apparently, Waters is known for some crazy plot twists. I had no idea, and so there were moments when my mouth was hanging open in horror and shock at what had just happened. It didn't feel exploitative though, because the book builds in a really natural way, so the horror feels inevitable, which is a different kind of terror. Some sections dragged a bit, but overall I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to read more from Waters. 

Whew! Thanks for making it to the end of this very long book report. Now it's your turn - what are you currently reading? 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

10 Years Later

Yesterday was the ten year anniversary of this blog. I meant to commemorate the occasion in some big, splashy way. A retrospective, or a giveaway, or at least a photograph of some cupcakes. Instead, I'm a day late and kind of tired, so this will be short. 

Ten years is a long time. I think the only other things I have done for ten years or longer, consistently, are my relationship with Nathan and wanting to be a writer. Everything else - my job, the state in which I live, the people I see every day, my hobbies, my habits - has changed. And yet this blog soldiers on. 

I'm proud of having a blog this old. I mean, it's practically ancient in Internet years and it narrates almost a third of my life, for better and for worse. I used to go back and read old entries pretty often; now, I hardly ever think about them. I used to blog almost every day; now, I'm lucky if I show up once a week. I used to write openly about my feelings, how I spent my day, what I was afraid of; now, there's a lot I hold back. 

Sometimes I think about this blog and wonder why I still feel the need to come here. I spend far more time on Twitter and Instagram, and interact with people on those platforms way more than I do here. Most of the blogs I used to love have shut down or post as sporadically as I do - it seems we're all growing up and moving on, too busy to dissect our lives online, for everyone to see. But there's something about blogging that I still love and can't quite replace. I like the space I have to ramble and spread out. There's no character limit, no hashtags, no filters. I never thought blogging, of all things, would feel retro or old-fashioned, and maybe now that's part of the charm. In a world where everything is made to be created and consumed instantly, blogging takes more time. It's thoughtful, intentional. And even if I only post a few times a month, I like knowing this space is here when I need it.

Here's to the last ten years. Here's to ten more, in some form. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Very Successful Three Day Weekend

Now that I work full time, I have rediscovered the magic of three day weekends. I will admit: at first I was nervous about taking advantage of the long weekend, afraid I might be out of practice, that I would squander the gift of these days by sitting around or, worse, cleaning my house. Friends, I am happy to report that by Monday evening my heart was full, my body tired, and my hangover surprisingly slight. Here's how I managed to have the best Memorial Day weekend ever. 

Step One: Birthday Shenanigans 

Friday night was my friend Kat's birthday, so after work we headed out - and stayed out. We started at the Husk, a downtown bar with a great outdoor area, and drank beers and tequila shots until it got dark and when we got hungry. Then we headed upstairs to Yosake, a very good restaurant (where Nathan and I decided to get married, as it so happens) and stuffed ourselves silly. We ended the evening by dancing the night away at Lula's, despite the fact that Lula's is less a dance club and more a dive bar. The other patrons might have found us insufferable; I have no idea. See tequila shots. At any rate, it was a great time and the fact that I stayed up until 2AM made the weekend seem wonderfully long. 

Step Two: Pick-Your-Own Berries  

I skipped hot yoga on Saturday (see tequila shots) but did manage to rally the troops for an outing to Lewis farms for some berry picking. Our group split up as soon as we hit the fields - half of us wanted to pick strawberries, while the rest wanted blue. Luckily Nathan and I were on different teams, so we ended up with a bucket of each. So far I've been eating a ton of berries every day, but I have grand plans to make blueberry pie and a vegan strawberry shortcake with coconut whipped cream. Will I accomplish these lofty goals before the berries go bad and/or I eat them all by the handful? Only time will tell. 

 Step Three: Breakfast Taco Party 

Finally, the moment I'd been looking forward to for weeks: BREAKFAST TACO PARTY. This party is an annual tradition that my friends K and D host, and it is exactly what it sounds like - a party, celebrating the art of the breakfast taco. There was so much food that I showed up for breakfast and stayed for dinner, because you can never have too many tacos. There was also cornhole and weird fortunes and coffee spiked with bourbon. The weather was glorious and the porch was full of people I love. The best part, however, were the buckets. Buckets are a delicious mixed drink served in (clean) paint cans. The drink contains bourbon, mint, sugar, and fresh squeezed citrus. It is then adorned with many straws and passed around family style for everyone to sip. Is it sanitary? No. Does it contain enough bourbon to kill anything that might be passed on? Probably. Did anyone care? Not when buckets are at stake. 

As you can see, it was a wonderful weekend that left me feeling pretty damn grateful for my life here in Wilmington. If the last few days are any indication, it's going to be an excellent summer. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bringing Home Our Bees, Part Two

It seems the last time I wrote about our adventures in beekeeping was nearly a year ago, when we replaced our queen bee and crossed our fingers. As you may have guessed by my year-long silence on the subject, our hive didn't make it. We didn't get the queen in fast enough, or maybe she didn't take, or perhaps the hive was already too weak. At any rate, the hive was overrun with a wax moth infestation, the whole colony was lost, and we mostly blamed ourselves. Even though we'd had that hive for over two years, beekeeping has a steep learning curve. I'm fairly certain a more experienced beekeeper would have seen the trouble sooner and stepped in before things got out of hand, but alas - we were not those beekeepers. 

And so, we've been hive-less for a year. It was a lonely time. I missed the bees, our suits, the smoke. Our yard felt empty without those white boxes in the corner, the busy highway buzzing across the yard. And then, about ten days ago, we became beekeepers again. We picked up two new hives and moved them our backyard.

It wasn't exactly a seamless process. We (and by "we" I mean "Nathan") decided to try our hand at top bar hives this time, instead of the traditional white boxes. Nathan built the new hives, but it took much longer than anticipated, because he drew up the plans himself and also because that is the nature of projects - they always take at least three times longer than you think they will. So Sunday morning (Mother's Day! Long live the queen! Also Tropical Storm Ana! What a day it was!) we spent hours hammering, gluing, and drilling. I was sure we'd never finish in time, but somehow we did it. 

Of course, there was another problem we had to deal with. You see, we had ordered nucleus colonies from our local bee guy. If you're keeping Langstroth hives like most people in the USA, nucs are very easy to install. Just drop the frames of bees into your box and voila - you're done. Because we're doing top bar hives, however, we (and again, by "we" I mean "Nathan") had to trim the frames (while they were full of bees!) so they would fit in our boxes. This method of beekeeping is said to be gentler and kinder in the long run, but the installation process was a bit traumatic. Or so I heard. Unfortunately Nathan had to do this part Monday morning, alone, because I had to go to work. Oops.

At any rate, the bees made it into the hives, Nathan only got stung once, and a week later we opened them up for the first time since their move-in day to see how things were progressing. And things were looking great! The frames that the bees arrived on were still heavy with honey and brood, and the bees had already started building a lot of comb on the empty bars we'd placed along to the top - AKA, the top bars. It was actually pretty incredible to see how much progress they'd made in just a week, and made me wonder why Langstroth hives are so popular in America. Clearly, the bees know what they're doing, and even though this was my first time inspecting the bee in a top bar hive, the process felt much simpler and calmer. The bees didn't seem to mind us either, which was a nice change.

While one of the hives appears to be thriving, the other one is a tiny bit slower. Hopefully it'll catch up soon and everything will even out. In the meantime we'll keep checking on them, adding bars as needed, and doing our part to keep them comfortable.

Welcome home, bees! We missed you. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Not Quite Beachy Keen, But Close

Good news, y'all: summer is here. This is partly why I've been a terrible blogger (or at least it's my latest excuse). Every evening when the day is over, Nathan and I retreat to the back porch until it gets dark, to sit in the fading sunlight while sipping white wine. (White wine! How I've missed you!) While this has been a truly lovely routine, it doesn't leave much time for blogging, especially after working all day, writing all morning, and occasionally working out at night. A small price to pay. As we all know by this point, I love summer more than any other season, but somehow experiencing it anew each year is still such a pleasant surprise. 

To celebrate the unofficial arrival of summer, we headed to the beach this past Sunday. This wouldn't normally be a huge deal, because we live exactly seven miles from the ocean. This trip, however, was a little more interesting because instead of driving to the beach, fighting for parking, and coughing up $2.50 an hour for the meter, we drove to a marina and stepped onto a lovely little boat. 

One of our new friends just happens to be a captain who works at a marina, and he has access to the boats when he's off duty, which is pretty much the best job perk ever. We took a boat up the Intracoastal Waterway, out past Figure Eight Island, a private island accessible only by super rich people, and anchored ourselves just off Lee Island. Then we spent the whole day in the sun and surf, boogie boarding, eating Snapea Crisps, and drinking a cooler full of beer. It was pretty much perfect, despite my slight sunburn and the terror I experienced every time the boat went around a bend. Mostly, though, it was perfect. 

Other than going to the beach, life has okay. Honestly, the last two weeks have been really busy and I've felt a bit overwhelmed. This probably has something to do with the fact that school ended and now I'm actually working 40 hours a week at the marketing agency - I hadn't realized how much I cramming into those two free mornings, and I've yet to find a way to balance all the components of my life. Yes, I've been pretty good about writing first thing in the morning, but I'm only working out half the time, and cooking anything has been hit or miss. I'm hoping this is the week it all starts to click, because life is pretty good right now but I can't quite enjoy it as fully as I'd like. Once I get some semblance of a balance back, I'll be better equipped to make the most out of each moment. Until then I feel a bit like I'm treading water, waiting for my turn to use the boogie board. 

In the meantime, I need to finish this cup of coffee and go to work. If all goes well and everything falls into place, I'll visit this space again on Friday and tell you all about our new bees (!). 

Until then!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Goodbye, College. I Mean It This Time.

Last week, I submitted grades for the class I taught this past semester at UNCW, which means my short-lived career as a college instructor is officially over (at least until I'm famous). It's a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I'm glad that now I only have to focus on one job. I won't miss waking early to plan lessons, or grading papers on my lunch break, or responding to a thousand student emails asking a million questions, the answers to which are clearly stated in the syllabus. On the other hand, I will really, really, really miss teaching. 

Before coming to Wilmington, I'd never been a teacher. I'd led a few workshops about social media and given some library presentations, but this was a completely new experience. At first, I was very bad at it. I was nervous, I stuttered and fumbled, I painstakingly created lesson plans that broke my class down into five minute increments because I was terrified of finding myself in front of my class with nothing to say. Four years and twelve classes later, I'm a completely different teacher. I still get nervous, but my students don't seem to notice. (In fact, when I told them that public speaking still terrifies me, they refused to believe me until I held up my hand so they could see that it was indeed trembling.) I no longer over-plan my classes - I have a loose idea of what I want to teach, and I'm able to tailor it in the moment to the students, their mood, and their contributions. This, I think, has been the most exciting evolution of teaching - learning to create a lesson with my students, rather than plotting one out for them. 

While I didn't love teaching First Year Experience the way I loved teaching creative writing, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and so did my students. None of us were passionate about the subject matter and there were many occasions where it may have seemed like a waste of time. But we made the best of it and we had a lot of fun. I like to think I taught them something about life and college, and that they were able to think critically about who they are and what they want out of their time on earth. We asked hard questions, we dug deep, and we got really, really personal. Maybe too personal. I have a hard time holding back. 

This semester was particularly interesting because a few of my students were dealing with some big things, which they revealed to me in their weekly journal entries and in conversation. I felt privileged to be someone they could confide in, and I took the role seriously. This class in particular is supposed to help students adjust to college, to make a smooth transition from their old life to this new one. While my laid back teaching style probably wouldn't have worked in a more academic setting, it seemed to set the right tone in this one. For the first time ever, a number of my students hugged me on the last day of class. And not even for extra credit! It was humbling and lovely and even though we were standing in the same classroom, I already missed them. 

I hope that one day, I'll be back in a classroom, helping a group of students become better writers and maybe better people. Fingers crossed. Until then, I have plenty of work to keep me busy. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Oak Island Half Marathon

Oak Island Half Marathon

Just about a month ago, I ran the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon and set a new PR. (Huzzah! Still excited about that.) In fact, I was so excited and felt so good that I (along with my training buddies, Katie and Nathan) decided to immediately sign up for another half marathon in April. Once my runner's high faded and the soreness set in, I began to question the wisdom of this decision. Wasn't one half marathon enough? I already PR-ed - what did I have left to prove? Can't we just stay up late and spend Sunday morning lazily drinking coffee in our bathrobes instead of going for yet another long, slogging run? 

Needless to say, I wasn't excited about the Oak Island Half Marathon - especially once I realized I double-booked us, and that we would be driving 3.5 hours after the race to visit friends in Winston-Salem. Skipping the race wasn't an option - I'm a stickler for following through on things, and anyway, we'd already paid the registration fees. So on Saturday, April 18th, we woke up early, drank coffee, picked up Katie, and headed south to Oak Island. 

Spoiler alert: it was a really fun race and I'm so glad we ran it! 

This race was smaller than the Wrightsville Beach race, which I liked - about 1100 people signed up, the course wove through some very pretty neighborhoods, and we ran over a very long, fairly steep bridge not once, but twice. The race had a later start time - 8AM! - which I worried about, but it ended up being fine. The day was very overcast and a bit rainy, and it was easier to maintain my pace without the sun beating down on us. As we toed the start line, I told myself that this race was just for fun, no pressure. I set my PR (1:56:28) less than a month earlier, so my goal for Oak Island was to enjoy a new-to-me-race and take in the sights. Of course, once we started running that all went out the window. I wanted to finish in less than two hours, which is always my not-so-secret goal, so I found the 2:00 pace group and told myself I would hold on as long as I could, one mile at a time. 

While some of those miles felt much longer than others, I was able to hold on and even pull ahead. I ended up finishing the race in a very respectable 1:58:42, with an average pace of 9:02. Here are my splits, via my Garmin, for those of you who are into running and numbers: 

Mile 1: 9:09
Mile 2: 9:01
Mile 3: 9:02
Mile 4: 9:03
Mile 5: 8:55 (took a Gu right around here) 
Mile 6: 8:56
Mile 7: 8:57
Mile 8: 9:03
Mile 9: 9:21 (slowing down, so I took another Gu) 
Mile 10: 9:04
Mile 11: 9:06
Mile 12: 9:02
Mile 13: 8:35 (sprinting toward the end and passing tons of people!) 
Mile .1: 7:15

I'm really proud that I kept my pace so consistent (though honestly that was thanks to the pace group leader - she was awesome!) with the exception of mile 9. Thank goodness for Gu! As for my training partners, Katie finished less than a minute before me and Nathan ran a 1:49, which is awesome. Not a PR for him, but better than last month's race by a full five minutes, so he was happy. All in all, a great morning and a fun race. I'll definitely be back next year. 

In the meantime, I'm pretty much done racing for the season. I always get to the point immediately after (or, let's face it, just before a race) when I long to do something different for fitness. I want to start weight training again, but I need to figure out a new routine since the YMCA is still operating on skeleton hours after the fire earlier this year and I'm currently between yoga studios. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy a few lazy Sunday mornings drinking coffee in my bathrobe. I've earned it. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Flower Girls

Well, we did it again. I couldn't resist the siren peep of baby chicks and just like that, we doubled our flock. Hello, sweet girls. Welcome to the family.

Okay, so it wasn't quite that spontaneous. We actually discussed whether or not this was a good time to get more chickens, and came to the conclusion that yes, it most definitely is. (Hey, I didn't say it was a long discussion...) Here are the facts: I just started a new job and have no vacation time for  the first three months, so we're not taking any big trips. Our coop is very large and can easily hold up to 15 chickens, and we only have six in there right now (RIP, Alice and Georgia). And it's time to add some spring chickens to the mix, as our existing chickens are two-three years old, and egg production will eventually begin to slow. Plus: CUTE BABY CHICKS!

I consider my chickens pets (though not on the same level as the dogs, whom I consider family members) so naturally they all have names. I can tell the chickens apart, but Nathan can't, which is fine with me. It means I get to name them whatever I want. Previously, I'd been giving my chicken old-fashioned names - Hattie, Ruby, Louise, Olga, and Polly are scratching in their run as I type this. To differentiate between the two groups of chickens, the older hens will henceforth be known as the Old Ladies (due to their names, and because they are old). The new chicks will henceforth be known as the Flower Girls, and each one will be named after a bloom. I already picked out the names but I haven't yet figured out who's who - the chicks will have to let me know as they develop their personalities. (So far, only Violet has claimed her name - Daisy, Lilly, Clover, Poppy, and Iris have yet to be determined.)

Since the chicks are still brand new and all haven't grown their feathers yet, they have to live inside, under a lamp, in my office. We've also rolled the space heater in here, so it's nice and toasty. While I don't mind sharing my office, I will be excited to move them into the coop. Since the weather is getting pretty warm in Wilmington, I'm hoping they'll be able to go into a cordoned off section of the run by the first week of May. (We can't fully integrate the flock until they're full grown - chickens are pretty vicious and the Old Ladies will likely attack the Flower Girls, so I easing them into a shared space will be a slow and necessary process - more on that later!) 

All in all, this has been a pretty exciting spring, and it's only just begun! Next month we're beginning a new adventure in top bar beekeeping, our garden is beginning to gain some ground, and the weather is warming up. I hate winter so desperately and love summer so much that sometimes I forget the sweet, albeit short, spring season. This year we seem to be lingering in it, and for that I am grateful. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

March Reads

I only managed to read three books in March, and almost all of them were read in the first half of the month. This is because I started my new job half way through the month and WOW a full time job will really cut into your reading-for-pleasure time! Now that I'm settled in and used to my new schedule, I hope to get back into the habit of reading every day. I've missed giving myself that precious time.  

That said, the three books I did manage to read last month were pretty good and very different from one another. Here are my reviews (longer versions are on Goodreads, as usual!). 

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

I fell into this book and wasn't able to look up until I finished. Even then, I found myself still lost in the pages, thinking about the characters I'd grown to love, wistful that I'd reached the end and there weren't more chapters to spend with them. So, yes, I really, really, really liked this book. 

In Americanah, Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves her home country (and Obinze, her college boyfriend and her first love) to finish college in America. Obinze is supposed to follow her but after 9/11, he can't get a visa. Ifemelu has a harder time adjusting to America than she thought, becomes depressed, and cuts off contact with Obinze, even though she still loves him deeply. When the book opens, we learn that Ifemelu has just closed her very successful blog, about race in American from a Non American Black's perspective, and is returning to Nigeria - and, of course, to Obinze, with whom she hasn't spoken in 13 years. 

In a lesser writer's hands, this book would not work as well. I loved it, but there were moments where I worried that the conversations were going on too long, that some of the characters were caricatures, representatives of ideologies instead of individuals. If you don't like thinking or reading about race, then this book might bore you and also you should check your privilege, as they say. I, for one, thought the conversations were fascinating, and especially loved that Americanah looks at race in America from an outsider's perspective. Mostly, though, I cared so much about Ifemelu, was so invested in her life and relationships, and was happy to read as she talked, blogged, ate, loved, and discovered things about America and Nigeria and, of course, herself. I was anchored in this book in the best way and reading it reminded me what a powerful pleasure a great book can be. 

Mermaids in Paradise, by Lydia Millet 

In this book, Deb and Chip get married and go on a tropical honeymoon, where wild and crazy things happen. Deb is a great narrator - she's funny and sarcastic, and the whole first half of this book seems like a fun and silly romp, light hearted, with many reasons to laugh out loud. (Which I did. And I hardly ever laugh out loud while reading books!) Then they discover a pod of real, live mermaids swimming near their vacation resort, and that's when things get dark. There's a murder mystery, an evil corporation, a minor conspiracy, and a mostly-happy ending. 

And that's all I can say, due to something happening at the very end (like, in the last three pages) that would ruin everything for the reader if I even hinted at it. (In fact, I may have said too much already.) If you have read this, let's go to the comments and express our feelings there. 

Family Life, by Akhil Sharma 

For some reason, I was under the impression that this book was going to be full of "dark humor," which I love. Instead it was just really, really dark. 

In it, a family - Mom, Dad, and their two sons - moves from India to America, hoping to better their lives. Instead, shortly after their arrival, the older brother, Birju, has an accident in a swimming pool that leaves him brain damaged. The book is narrated by the younger brother, Ajay, and this is where most of the humor begins and end. Ajay is about ten when the accident happens and his voice and observations are funny, sad, strange, and often unexpected. He's not very likable, which the reader forgives because he's young and his life has taken a very bad turn. When it becomes clear that Birju will never recover, never walk or talk again, the family falls apart. Mom becomes Birju's caretaker, focusing all her energy on him and neglecting Ajay. Dad becomes an alcoholic who can't deal with the terrible way all his dreams have been crushed. And Ajay is adrift, torn between loving his brother and hating him, a sad boy who grows up to be a sad man, incapable of true happiness. 

In the end, this isn't a book about redemption or acceptance or anything even remotely resembling optimism. It doesn't have to be, of course. I don't read books because I want a happy ending or a Lifetime moment. But it's rare for a book to feel quite so devoid of hope as this one does. Even An Untamed State, arguably the most horrifying book in recent years, was more uplifting that this quiet tale of a family fallen apart. While there were lovely moments and the writing was beautiful at times, the ending felt incomplete, as if the book had been building toward something but never quite reached it.

And now, for some awesome things you can read right now, written by people that I know and love! 

Tonight the Stars Are Strung Up Like Elegies and Khepri, by Sally J. Johnson
Gorgeous and beautiful and perfect and painful - but would you expect anything less from Sally?  No, you wouldn't.

Choreography for Brief Flight, by Hannah de la Cruz Abrams
This piece is so weird in the most lovely way. I have read it six times now and it gets better each time. 

Home Sonnet, by Kathleen Jones
Shakespeare is totally jealous right now. Also: what a perfect portrait on love and relationships and anger and hope. 

Speaking in Tongues, by Kerry Headley
This essay is sharp and funny and sad and necessary. But mostly it is pure Kerry, and that's why I love it. 

Happy reading!