Fall 2018 Semester Reading List

Welcome to my semester reading list, also known as the reason why posts may be lacking throughout the next three months.  I’m actually reading some relatively interesting books for class this semester, thanks to my Young Adult Lit class, which keeps things a bit easier when I’m jumping around 3-4 books at a time.

Course: Young Adult Literature

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillion

Picking these novels apart and learning how the young adult genre has changed over the years is fascinating.  I was a huge YA reader in middle school and early high school, but gradually grew out of it around my senior year, while I applied for colleges and suffered from a serious identity crisis.  Revisiting the genre in an academic setting has been enlightening and has rekindled my love for YA, especially the older, “classic” coming-of-age stories like The Outsiders.

Course: Writing About Literature

Lying by Lauren Slater
The Marquise of O by Heinrich von Kleist
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
Textbook: Critical Theory Today by Lois Tyson

I just finished reading Lauren Slater’s Lying, and it’s absolutely phenomenal; it proposes a lot of questions and really makes you think about the blurred lines between fact and fiction, specifically regarding memoir.  No spoiler alerts, but the ending blew my mind.  We’re also reading a lot of short stories, recently Raymond Carver’s “Gazebo,” which I loved even after reading about twenty different times.  Hopefully, the rest of these reads and our class discussions will be just as interesting.

Course: Literary Criticism

Billy Budd and Other Stories by Herman Melville
Textbook: Literary Theory: An Anthology

This class will be the death of me.  How many times can one read “Billy Budd” before spontaneously combusting?

Have you read any of these?  Any interesting books on your college reading list, past or present?  Let me know!

xx,
Hannah

My Year of Rest and Relaxation // Ottessa Moshfegh

There was no escaping My Year of Rest and Relaxation this summer.  Visit any bookish website, and its iconic hot pink text and classic cover art was plastered on the front page.  Scroll through bookstagram, and Moshfegh’s name appeared in post after post.  Browse any bookshop, and it was prominently displayed on the front table.  I try to avoid over-hyped books at all costs, but I gave in for this one, and I’m glad I did.

I snatched up my copy at McNally Jackson a few weeks ago, while staying on the Upper East Side, weirdly enough just a few blocks away from where our unnamed narrator lives.  It was one of those instances where I read a book at the absolute perfect time.  Reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation in New York definitely heightened my reading experience; this book feels, in every sense, like a New York Novel, and I’m not convinced I could’ve accessed the full meaning had I not been in the very city where it takes place.


From the jacket:

Our narrator has many of the advantages in life, on the surface.  Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance.  But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents while she was in college, or the miserable way her Wall Street sometimes-boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend.  It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that very question.  Through the story of a year spent by a young woman under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs prescribed to heal people from alienation and existential ennui, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary that alienation sometimes is.  Tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts and the rewards of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.


“Sleep felt productive.  Something was getting sorted out.  I knew in my heart- this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then- that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay.  I’d be renewed, reborn.  I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories.  My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”

-Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation


My Year of Rest and Relaxation presents a very privileged yet very depressed narrator.  Unnamed, she is somewhat unlikeable in her trust-fund, Upper East Side ways, and yet she isn’t the biggest fan of herself either.  Drowning in the world after the death of her parents and the latest break-up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend Trevor, she takes self-care to the extreme by creating endless amounts of prescription drug cocktails, prescribed to her by an aloof psychologist, so that she may escape the world and sleep for a year.  This book, weird and wonderful in so many ways, touches on an abundance of topics, from mental health to inauthenticity, while focusing on the narrator’s relationships, healthy and unhealthy.  Moshfegh is a very polarizing writer but My Year of Rest and Relaxation reminded me very much of The Idiot in its tone and content, so it should come as no surprise that I loved this one as well.  Despite the cliché ending, the last page crushed my soul and left me hungry for more.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is not an “enjoyable” book, it’s not a “feel-good” book.  It’s about the ugly, depressing parts of life, the parts that make you want to hole up in your apartment and literally sleep for a year, to hide from masochistic, pretentious boyfriends and irritating, nettlesome best friends.  If anything, this book made me feel awful.  Yet, I loved every minute of it.  Suddenly, I want to devour everything Moshfegh has every written (thank God I planned ahead and bought Eileen).  Sign me up for the Ottessa Moshfegh Fan Club.

Further reading: “Ottessa Moshfegh Plays to Win” by Kaitlin Phillips, The Cut; “Ottessa Moshfegh’s Otherworldly Fiction” by Ariel Levy, The New Yorker.

Find this book on Goodreads.

Strand Book Store, New York

A New York City staple, Strand Book Store is the hot spot for all bookworms, tourists and locals alike.  Boasting eighteen miles of books, The Strand is one of the biggest bookstores in the city, and once you step inside, it feels like an entirely different world, completely free from the calamity of the streets and the stresses of everyday life.

I visited The Strand not once but twice during my visit to New York.  First, Monday afternoon, around four o’clock, when I walked over from the Flatiron District with the two interns I worked with all summer.  We browsed the front tables, recommending books to one another, and explored the Rare Book Room before delving into the stacks on our own.  (Afterwards, we got pizza, so it was basically the perfect New York afternoon.)  I found three books on the bargain carts in the fiction section and quickly snatched them up for myself- Less, Eileen, and The Art of Fielding.

I went back for round two with my family on Saturday night, after dinner, when the store was much more crowded.  I’d been to The Strand only once before, about a year ago, when I was in awe of and distracted by the sheer amount of books piled the space.  During this trip I found that I was able to get past the “oh my God I’m in The Strand” feeling and I could actually browse a bit easier, without feeling like a tourist.

Unlike other bookstores in the city, which are smaller with less-anonymous browsing, Strand Book Store is the perfect place to “get lost in the stacks,” as they say.  Visit this one if you’re looking to spend an entire afternoon browsing, in a place that feels so separate from the city.

Strand Book Store
828 Broadway
New York, New York 10003

Crudo // Olivia Laing

Crudo is the book I didn’t know I needed.  Highly experimental and introspective, the novel’s entirety is spent inside the head of forty-year-old writer Kathy, who is meant to be the persona of established American novelist Kathy Acker (1947-1997), as she faces the ever-changing world around her: her individual world, as she gets married and ends her life as a single woman, and the political world, suffering from the repercussions of Trump and Brexit.  Crudo is the kind of book you could read in one sitting and revisit time and time again without bother.


From the jacket:

Kathy is a writer.  Kathy is getting married.  It’s the summer of 2017 and the whole world is falling apart.  Fast-paced and frantic, Crudo unfolds in real time from the full-throttle perspective of a commitment-phobic artist who might be Kathy Acker.

From a Tuscan hotel for the super-rich to a Brexit-paralyzed United Kingdom, Kathy spends the first summer of her forties adjusting to the idea of a lifelong commitment.  But it’s not only Kathy who’s changing.  Fascism is on the rise, truth is dead, the planet is heating up, and Trump is tweeting the world ever-closer to nuclear war.  How do you make art, let alone a life, when one rogue tweet could end it all?


At just 130 pages, Crudo is barely a novel; it’s a steam-of-conscious sprint through one woman’s contemporary point-of-view.  As a young American, it was interesting and eye-opening to read from a British perspective on the current political climate.  Though Crudo is a work of fiction, it read very true-to-life, touching on topics like global warming, Brexit, and North Korean politics, while very much focusing on Trump and the “Fake News” era.  Sure, sometimes the commentary and the context went a bit over my head, but there were also times when Laing’s (or “Acker’s”) words just clicked, and I completely related to the message she portrayed.  Those are the moments that made this book work for me, despite my small struggle with the inaccessibility of the experimental prose.


“Everyone talked about politics all the time but no one knew what was happening.”

-Olivia Laing, Crudo


Brief, thought-provoking, and a bit bizarre, Olivia Laing’s Crudo succeeds in capturing the current social and political climate unlike any other written work today.  It’s claustrophobic with originality and teeming with voice, and perfect for fans of experimental stream-of-consciousness narratives or thought-provoking fiction that reads like nonfiction.

Thank you to W. W. Norton for my copy of Crudo by Olivia Laing.  All thoughts are my own.

Find this book on Goodreads.

New York City Book Haul

I spent a total of eight days in New York, but somehow managed to acquire nine books, which may or may not be a new record for me…  I will say that four of these were given to me by publishers, and the three I purchased at the Strand were all $7-8 each, so my bank account is happy even though my bedroom has been taken over by books.  What else is new?  As you can see, this was quite the stack to fly home with!

From Harper Business

90s Bitch by Allison Yarrow
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

From Strand Book Store

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

From Catapult

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

From McNally Jackson

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From Books Are Magic

New People by Danzy Senna

A little bit more about my adventures: On Monday, I visited the Harper Business imprint at HarperCollins and the Henry Holt & Co. imprint at Macmillan before making a trip to The Strand to get lost in the stacks.  Tuesday I met with some amazing people from St. Martin’s Press and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, both imprints at Macmillan, as well as the team at Catapult/Soft Skull Press, and attended a dinner the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.  I began Wednesday with a trip to Three Lives & Company, which was just three blocks away from my West Village apartment, and went to a work lunch at an amazing Thai restaurant.  Afterwards, I walked to SoHo’s McNally Jackson for some quality browsing time.  Thursday was very much a non-bookish day, in which I saw the Statue of Liberty and went shopping, but Friday I went down to Brooklyn for Emma Straub’s Books Are Magic, which ended up being my favorite bookshop of the trip.  The weekend was spent bopping around the city with my family before flying home Sunday night (only to begin classes the next day… yikes!).

I’ve already picked up My Year of Rest and Relaxation, because I just couldn’t wait, but what do you think I should read next?  I’d love to hear from you!

xx,
Hannah

Current Reads: August 19, 2018

Right now, I’m on an eight-hour train ride to New York, where I’ll be for the next week.  Monday-Thursday I’ll be finishing up my publishing internship, meeting with editors, agents, and other industry professionals, and wandering around the city to get a feel for that NYC lifestyle I crave so much.  Then, Friday-Sunday I’ll be spending time with my family for my cousin’s christening and sightseeing at all the popular tourist destinations.  (I’m beyond grateful the planning worked out so perfectly, though I would have loved to make two trips to the city.)

I shared my first Current Reads a month ago, when I felt I was juggling a handful of books for many different projects.  I’m sharing this one, now, with the same reasons, though this time I have the added pressure of required reading for class.  I thought I’d share my current reads with you, since, let’s be honest, I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment.

For Fun

As a mood reader, it’s always difficult to try to decide which books to bring on a trip, but I decided pretty easily on packing these titles.  First up, Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson, which I bought for the sole purpose of reading on the train.  I thought it’d be nice to travel with an essay collection, something that’s easy to dip in and out of among the hustle and bustle.

I’m also bringing along Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which has been on my nightstand since April, so it’s about time I’ve gotten around to it!  I’m always hesitant to read books that are over-hyped or popular because I’m afraid I won’t like it as much as everyone else, which is why I put Pachinko off for so long.

Last but not least, I have the latest edition of Tin House, because who doesn’t love a good literary magazine?  The Paris Review and Granta are my favorites, and I’ve never read a physical copy of Tin House, but their online content never fails to disappoint (plus, I could spend the entire ride admiring the cover art).

For Review

For the first time ever, I’m falling behind on ARCs.  I just finished Three Things About Elsie and Crudo by Olivia Laing (September 11), which were both sent to me fairly recently, and I’ve started A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua (August 14), but I have yet to read Ohio by Stephen Markley (August 21).  I’m ecstatic for all of these, but the last few weeks have been jam-packed with other responsibilities, and I’ve had to set ARCs on the back burner.  Hopefully I can finish these up in September before midterm week hits.

For Class

Classes start up again the day after I get back from the city, and while I’m sure I’ll be exhausted from my trip, I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things.  I’m taking an online music/film class, a Management class for my minor, and three English classes: Criticism, Writing About Literature, and Young Adult Literature.  The first two are pretty basic requirements, but YA Lit seems like a pretty fun elective course.  I just got the reading list a few days ago, and it contains classics like The Outsiders and The Catcher in the Rye, but also more contemporary titles like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and The Hate U Give.  Either way, I’m thrilled to get back into the semester’s routine.

For Work

After this week’s meetings, my internship is officially over!  The whole experience felt so surreal, knowing that my dream of working in publishing is actually attainable.  When it comes to working in the book industry, it’s all about who you know and what internships you’ve done, so having one internship under my belt gives me some confidence that I could actually end up having my dream job someday.  During my time at the literary agency, I read two fiction manuscripts and a handful of queries, while also working on an awards database.

What are you currently reading?

xx,
Hannah

Three Things About Elsie // Joanna Cannon

Thank you to Scribner, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for an early review copy of Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, which was published August 7, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

“There are three things you should know about Elsie.  The first thing is that she’s my best friend.  The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.  And the third thing… might take a bit more explaining.”

Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly.  As she waits to be rescued, she thinks about her friend Elsie and wonders if a terrible secret from their past is about to come to light.  If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?


When Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for the Women’s Prize, I read review after review but never gathered any intention of reading it.  Then, I decided to request it from Scribner on a complete whim because I have no self control, at least when it comes to books.  The result of my momentary weakness was a quirky, heartwarming story about growing old, being young, and the tough questions we must ask ourselves as we age.

Three Things About Elsie has a little bit of everything.  There’s a little romance, a little mystery, and a little suspense, but at its center is the sweet friendship between Florence, the main character, and Elsie, her childhood best friend.  The pair have a special relationship; they know each other better than anyone else, and I imagined them as those cute little old ladies I see while I’m out grocery shopping.  They were hysterical together, and I enjoyed reading about the unique bond they shared with one another.

Beyond Florence’s relationship with Elsie is her role as an unreliable narrator.  I have a growing admiration towards unreliable narration, so I fell in love with that aspect of Three Things About Elsie. While reading about Florence’s mishaps, I wondered if someone was actually setting her up for misfortune or if she was just losing her marbles. I believe Cannon intended for her audience to question Flo’s sanity, just like she intended for it to be a page-turning mystery.

Though I found a lot to admire with the characters of Three Things About Elsie, I found it too predictable when it came to plot, and unfortunately that ruined it for me.  The “surprise” ending was all too obvious, and something I’d assumed from the start.  I’m sure it would’ve been less predictable if I didn’t read so much, but it made me lose interest around the halfway point.  I enjoyed the quirky characters and the unreliable narration, but the awkward writing style and predictability made this one a miss for me.

Find this book on Goodreads.