March 2018: Books & Music

The month of March was filled with contemporary rereads and new releases for me. I had a particular blast revisiting some of my favorite YA reads from the past couple of years (with Fangirl being the life of the party). In total, I read and reviewed ten books:

Current Listens:

I finally caved in and created a Spotify this month and have been listening on repeat to The Walters and Lola Marsh. The latter, in particular, rocked my world this month. Be sure to give a listen below and comment some of your own favorite songs!

Library Picks:

Hagar-- bookspoilsHagar by Yochi Brandes. I picked this one up from my local library, and words cannot capture how utterly fantastic the first half is. I was completely swept up in the characters’ thigh-knit community created by the author. All the more, when a later love evolved between Hagar and a certain bookish someone. Their interactions held me beyond breathless; its magnitude called to mind The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.

So when a storyline developed in the second half that left the characters caricatures of their former selves, I felt wholly devastated. Only one question roared in mind: Is it really that hard to ask for a happy relationship to unfold between two people – two Jewish people – and to stay that way forevermore, without tragedy hitting them…

Since the book has yet to be translated into English, as the author’s following books have, I’ve held off on writing a full review and instead opted to vent in this post. (Also because I’m still mad at the aforementioned.)  Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

That was my March wrap-up, thank you for reading!

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Personality Tests & Modern Feminism in Choose Your Own Disaster by Dana Schwartz

It’s known by now that I’m a fan of memoirs, given that I’m easily swept up in the juicy secrets of someone’s thoughts and secrets without having to reciprocate; it’s bliss for my nosy self.

With this new release part-memoir, part-VERY long personality test, Choose Your Own Disaster is a manifesto about the millennial experience and modern feminism and how the easy advice of “you can be anything you want!” is actually pretty fucking difficult when there are so many possible versions of yourself it seems like you could be. Dana has no idea who she is, but at least she knows she’s a Carrie, a Ravenclaw, a Raphael, a Belle, a former emo kid, a Twitter addict, and a millennial just trying her best.

This memoir-ish book was a) entertaining b) morally questionable and c) utterly vulnerable when covering such topics as:

  • eating disorders, bulimia, and binge-eating.
  • the creation of @GuyInYourMFA. And the story behind the profile picture:

You are definitely, and almost assuredly illegally, using his picture (you had done a Google image search for “guy in hat” and gone with the best candidate). You apologize, profusely, and that afternoon you bring a slouchy hat you own to meet your friend Simon in the library, the same library where you took your Introduction to Fiction class, and you ask him to stand there, against the shelves, and you take a hundred pictures of him with your cell phone and replace the picture of the stranger by that afternoon.

  • tinder dating while on her Eurotrip and meeting a genuinely nice guy.

You and Rory will stay in touch, and you’ll flirt and text and email your writing back and forth for months, a year, after you meet. Once, you will sing and play the guitar over Skype while he accompanies you on glockenspiel and secretly you’ll imagine a version of your story in which you and Rory end up together. You’ll imagine loving him, and you like how it fits. But you only talk in words on a screen anymore, and then, one day, both of you will meet someone else and fall in love for real and will have to tell the other person, a stranger across the ocean who you were never actually dating, that you’re actually with someone else now. Whatever flame you two had, whatever nonrelationship, will be quietly folded and put away in the linen closet.

  • celebrity sightings and her internship at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
  • titles like, Are You an Introvert or Just a Lazy Asshole?”.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55But my reading experience encountered some minor hindrances when it came to the series of men in this book…

Firstly, I couldn’t help but hear the uncanny resemblance Dana Schwartz’s writing voice bore to Esther’s from the TV series Alone Together (probably because they’re both New York millennial Jewish girls). In particular, those moments when Dana’s hanging on to a guy who’s giving her the clear ‘He’s just not that into you’ signals (which she herself notes more than once).

I appreciated when Dana focused more on chronicling her personal life, instead of wasting time on the men in her life that ditched her or vice versa, like a broken record. (I have to admit, though, that I felt delicious victory at putting together the identity of a certain established writer she was keen on that ended up ghosting her…) It threw me off with the overtly sexual details that I truly don’t care enough to spend pages on pages. I mean, there’s this lawyer dude that I skipped reading (because he came off as the biggest creep), but he was still written about for over twenty pages…

If nothing else, the aforementioned made for a comical line in her acknowledgments:

To all of the men I’ve slept with, thank you for giving me what I needed in that moment, for making me feel special or wanted or loved. And if you hurt me, thank you for helping me to learn while I was young. Hope you bought this book full price just to see if I wrote about you.

Oh, what last lines…

On another note: I couldn’t shake off my annoyance when it came to the constant excuses for her bad calls by comparing herself to problematic fictional women. It just brings home the point that fiction shapes your viewpoint, in particular, when she tries to brush off flirting and sleeping with a married man by using these women from TV shows that cheated (Carrie Bradshaw, Rory Gilmore, Olivia Pope). Everything about this screams midlife-crisis-with-precocious-college-kid.

If I’d gotten a more individual take on Dana Schwartz as a person – not Dana Schwartz in a relationship – I would’ve grown to appreciate this memorable take on memoirs that more.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: June 19th, 2018

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Angst, Love, Texts, and Tattoos in Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

When I read through the excerpt for Emergency Contact back in February, I had a slight inkling indicating it would be well worth the wait. I was hooked, in particular, when I highlighted the opening line that really gets those of us living in the more warmer areas: When it came to perspiration, Penny had a problem. Not that she stank of BO or anything. It’s that from March to around October she was invariably damp. 

I do have to say, though, that upon starting the full book and realizing the aforementioned excerpt wasn’t from the first chapter was quite disappointing for me… I definitely had to rearrange my expectations for the following, as the shared excerpt is set way down the road from the opening storyline.

While readjusting, I also became agonizingly aware of how much time we spent on the many, many arbitrary scenes before Penny finally heads off to college: buying a new iPhone, arguing with her mother for flirting at the Apple store, packing up and heading on her drive to the University of Texas at Austin, actually arriving on campus, entering her shared dorm room, going into the bathroom, rearranging her toiletry bag… SO MANY DETAILS that I shouldn’t have to know; pages upon pages of description make my mind wander. In my eyes, all the aforementioned could have been summarized in a couple of pages, instead of dedicating four whole chapters to it.

There’s literally a scene at House Coffee that starts from Sam’s viewpoint, where Penny enters with her roommate and her roommate’s best friend, and then follows up exactly where we left off in Penny’s following chapter… Like, silent-scream having time jumps of over an hour is allowed…But I’m glad I pushed through the longish introduction (low-key because I had already prepared the header image for my review out of excitement and wasn’t gonna let it go to waste) because what unfolds is a coming-of-age tale that chronicles the intersecting lives of Penny Lee and Sam Becker, both not to be trifled with.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

But it’s the precise commentary invoked in this book that made me want to stick around. Penny’s character had the best lines, as well.

  • Sam is the essence of the tweet that goes “when i see a skinny white boy that looks like he hasn’t slept in years,” courtesy of Penny’s many favorable descriptions for his looks:

“Sam could have been in a band. A dreamy, brooding band. Penny thought cigarettes were pointless and smelled awful, but she imagined that Sam smoked and that he looked cool doing it.”

And this priceless line: “Sam had resting bitch face until he laughed.” 

Also, her appreciation for his many tattoos (sixteen in all) was beyond infectious: “Sam had somehow found the Perfect Shirt with the Perfect Collar, which was stretched out just enough to create this enticing peekaboo effect.”

I was practically craning my neck to get a better look.

  • Things only went up from here when Penny gets some much-needed characterization by introducing her love of writing. Similar to Fangirl, we get to sit in on her Fiction-Writing course, and it was fascinating through the various topics discussed. Her professor, J.A., really channeled in this quote:

“Penny had been writing all the time, for years now. She’d never stopped even if she showed no one. Stories, lists of ideas, and strange chunks of amusing dialogue that came to her while she ignored whatever else was going on in her actual life. She knew she was decent. Only she wanted more.”

  • The impeccable humor in here takes it to a whole other level. The messages exchanged between Sam and Penny that had me stifling a laugh more than once. Including the most memorable from Sam’s POV after he shoots Penny a mirror selfie, debating if he’s overdressed:

(His responses are on the right)

Emergency Contact 1-- bookspoils“Yah”

This is that more comical when you know the insider’s scoop on Penny’s stance with nudes (shudders @Mark) and her spot-on “Calm down,” poking fun at Sam’s earlier use of it, and him lightening the air by making a jab at his earlier panic attack. They’re catching feelings as they text, and I’m nothing if not here for it.

“It wasn’t a romance; it was too perfect for that. With texts there were only the words and none of the awkwardness. They could get to know each other completely and get comfortable before they had to do anything unnecessarily overwhelming like look at each other’s eyeballs with their eyeballs.”

And I nearly CHOKED on this conversation between Uncle Sam and Jude:

“The thing is,” she continued, “I’m also very perceptive. And I get now why you guys did what you did. Speaking of which, you’re both so lucky you have unlimited texting. You know she couldn’t even pee without taking her phone into the bathroom? I could hear her laughing in there.”
Jude smiled then.
“News flash,” she said. “At some point, your girlfriend might have been taking a dump while you were flirting with her.”

This book is TOO REAL.

  • On another note: Sam and Penny getting caught up in one another was entrancing and intoxicating to witness.

“Sam wanted to tell Penny everything. He wanted a record of his thoughts and feelings and stories to exist with her. Like a time capsule for this strange period of his life. With her, he felt less lonely. He hadn’t even realized he was lonely. He hadn’t let himself.”

  • More notable observations:

“Penny never looked the way she thought she did in her head, like how your recorded voice sounds positively vile when you hear it out loud.”

“Wow,” he said. “Sometimes talking to you is like accidentally clicking on a pop-up with autoplay video.”

Celeste’s (aka Penny’s mom) take on the signs of love:

“I know I love someone when I can’t remember what they look like in any real way. I can never seem to recall whether they’re handsome or ugly or if other people think they’re cute. All I know is that when I’m not with them and I think about them, where their face should be is this big cloud of good feelings and affection.”

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Although I did have minor hindrances to my reading experience, overall I’d conclude by saying that Emergency Contact features a realistic story that has emotional depth and ends on a hopeful note. (But I’m mad at myself for thinking the last chapter wasn’t the last and being once again shocked at seeing Acknowledgments at the head of the page…)

Lastly, I couldn’t have listened to a more fitting song than the one below, since Penny and Sam coincidentally share the same pair of beat-up black sneakers.

If you’re not sleepin’ with me, then I’ll get no sleep at all.

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Emergency Contactjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!