Book Recommendations: Women Authors

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’ve decided to quickly round up some of my favorite books that have been written by women. In high school, almost every book I was assigned to read ever was written by a man. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of reading about the same old, self-inserted, disenchanted white dude that has flooded literature for centuries. Let’s mix it up. Here are my suggestions.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”

This novel follows Ifemelu and Obinze and their relationship with America, Africa and each other. Very rarely does a book manage to be both educational and entertaining while telling it’s story, but Americanah does both in spades. The characters are complex and rich and beautiful and I loved every moment I got to spend with them. By the end of the book they felt like people I had known for a very long time.

Adichie writes honestly about race and the immigrant experience and it really helped me to see the world I live in from a perspective I’ll never actually get to see firsthand. Her prose is clean and inviting and I had a hard time putting this book down.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

 

This one has become frighteningly more relevant as the years have passed, which should be frightening to us all as this was written as simply speculative, near-future fiction. The United States is ruled by a Totalitarian Theocracy (that had successfully overthrown the established democracy, mind you) and now entire classes of women are being kept as vessels for childbearing and nothing else. Offred is a fascinating protagonist that I think many women can identify with, although the writing style can be off-putting to some.

Hulu is airing a mini-series based on it this year and it is devastatingly timely, so I recommend picking this up at your local bookshop and diving right in.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

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“Does it ever stop? The wanting you? Even when i’ve just left ye, I want you so much my chest feels tight and my fingers ache with wanting to touch ye again.” 

Though this is one of the most beloved romance novels of all time, do not think this will be a fluffy, sexy, little intellectual break compared to the previous books on this list. This behemoth of a book has about 900 pages filled with mystery, romance, horror and history. There’s literally something for everyone here. I felt like an expert on the history of Scotland when I was done with this book but all the learning was done without me even noticing.  I actually recommend the audiobook version of this more than I do actually reading it yourself because Davina Porter gives an excellent performance and her accents are truly incredible.

Gabaldon clearly researched like mad for this and I’ve never read anyone who writes as sensual or as achingly heartsick as she does. You’ll fall in love reading this book.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

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“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

This book grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me directly in the eyes and did not break contact until I understood exactly what it was trying to tell me. If this has never happened to you while reading a great book, I feel sorry for you and I recommend you keep reading to find that experience.  This novel explores the realities of what it’s like for Indian-Americans to feel trapped between two cultures and how they reconcile their new lives with their old lives. The Ganguli family  are at the center of this story and we see how the parents came to be together, how they struggle to raise their son in America and he struggles to come of age with immigrant parents. It’s honest, it’s heartfelt and I couldn’t put it down.

 

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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“Dear Scarlett! You aren’t helpless. Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless. God help the Yankees if they should get you.”

This sweeping, Civil War epic is much more than a romance novel. In fact, I’m utterly shocked it’s considered a romance at all. This book is about the folly of the Southern society before and during and after the Civil War and how one woman, Scarlett O’Hara managed to survive despite her gentile upbringing. It’s a funny, frustrating and tragic story. If you’re looking for a bodice-ripping, heart-aching love story, I recommend you go back and read Outlander. The romance in Gone with the Wind, while famous, is secondary to growth and development of Scarlett. I’ve never seen a protagonist quite like her. She’s silly, vapid and selfish, but her hunger for survival is ruthless and somehow all these negative attributes make her likable. You’re rooting for her, instead of against her and if you had told me I’d feel that way about her when I first started reading, I would have thought you were insane. I’ll be honest, I’m only about 60% done reading this book but the experience so far has been so incredible, I have to recommend it.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”

How could I call myself a feminist bookworm if I didn’t include The Bell Jar on a list of women authored recommendations? Sylvia Plath often gets over shadowed by her dramatic and untimely suicide but her writing really is extraordinary. This semi-autobiographical novel really does show a dark glimpse into a woman’s decent into depression. The character of Esther Greenwood is often described as a female Holden Caulfield and I really disagree. They might have some things in common but Esther is her own character and she’s vibrant and complicated in her own right. This is a sad one but it’s really at the top of it’s craft.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

If you’ve ever read the Hunger Games or watched Star Wars and loved it, you can thank Mary Shelley. At nineteen years old, Mary Shelley INVENTED science fiction with Frankenstein.  You probably think you know the story of Frankenstein, but you’re also probably wrong.  Is the real monster the man made of the bodies of corpses or the scientist who made him and abandoned him?

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

This is a quiet coming of age novel about a second-generation Irish-American girl set in Brooklyn during the early 20th century. Francie is a sweet girl but impoverished and lonely and this book follows her awkward journey to womanhood. Despite the lack of high stakes drama and action, this book has stuck with me for over a decade. It’s the kind of book that is tender and affectionate and you’ll be sad when it’s over. Honestly, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and I think you’ll love it too.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

 

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“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”

This sweet YA romance is probably my favorite Rainbow Rowell books and thus probably one of my favorite books of all time! Eleanor is an overweight, redheaded new girl in town and Park is a half-Korean, comic book nerd but the bond their form transcends both their differences and their similarities. This book touches on both poverty and race with a deft hand while also grappling with some darker, more troubling topics.  It’s set in the 80’s so you get a lot of fun pop culture references to songs and comic books. Just writing about it right now makes me want to drop everything and go read it again. It’ll charm the pants off of you.

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

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“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

Did you really think I’d make a whole list and not include the masterpiece that is the Harry Potter series? This book series changed my life. I would not be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for these books. I owe JK Rowling basically everything. This series taught me about the importance of friendship and bravery and standing up for what one believes in. This series taught me to stand up to bullies and demagogues alike. This series taught me to see magic in the world and in myself. JK Rowling wrote the first book while on government assistance and by the time the series was done she was even wealthier than the Queen of England. She’s a remarkable woman and this is a remarkable series and I’d be a fool not to recommend, you know, in case one of you just got out of a twenty year coma and missed it.

Did I miss your favorites? Let me know in the comments.

How to Deal with Stress

I absolutely hate when I go to the doctor and describe a symptom and the best they can do is suggest that I “reduce stress.” Buddy, if I knew how to do that I wouldn’t have the headaches/stomachaches/acid reflux/insomnia/whatever to begin with.  If you’ve ever been given that vague, unhelpful advice, I feel you. As someone who is currently undergoing a lot of life changes (going back to school, changing careers, going from full time to part time, yeesh I’m getting anxious just typing about it), I have been forced to learn some coping mechanisms on the fly. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and these have all worked very well for me so far and I want to share them in case you’re looking for coping mechanisms too.

 

ART

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I just got this one for Christmas. Thanks, Nana!

I started with Adult Coloring books. I sharpened up my Crayola colored pencils (all other brands are garbage, honestly) and colored in Game of Thrones characters or garden landscapes while watching TV. This escalated into me wanting to make my own drawings to color and now I like to draw as well. (I’m not great, but it’s fun anyway. Do it, you’ll see.) Any art would work: watercolors, crayons, charcoal, finger-painting… Pinterest might have some other crafting options as well to keep your hands busy.

If you’re not real keen on this kind of creative activity, maybe I could redirect you to another: music.  Listening to music is obviously one way to unwind, but if you’re wanting something next level, you should try making music. Sing. Play an instrument. Learn an instrument. I bought a ukulele a couple years ago and I’ve been teaching myself. A few chords here and there, a few strumming patterns. Sometimes I’ll just look up different tabs or chord progressions for my favorite songs and try and figure it out from there.  On the whole, I find any kind of creative endeavor to be very relaxing, no matter if I’m creating something or just participating. The world would probably be a better (and more beautiful) place if we would all just make art when we were stressed instead of a lot of the alternatives.

 

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A drawing of mine. Art trick: USE REFERENCE PHOTOS! It’s not considered cheating even though it kinda feels like it is.

 

READING

I have always loved to read, but during college I found I was hardly ever reading for pleasure. I then embarked on a reading challenge that required me to read 50 books a year. This might be ambitious for some people, but it keeps me on my toes. After doing this challenge for the past few years, I’ve learned a few things about my reading habits. I’ve found that blocking out 30 minutes to an hour of time before bed to just read a book has really helped me unwind at the end of the day. I get better sleep than I do when I just play around on my phone before bed and I find that I’m able to get through my books quicker. You can use goodreads.com to track your progress. I’ll review books on this blog occasionally throughout the year but below are some recommendations to get started.

CROSS STITCHING

Okay but HEAR ME OUT! There is nothing like stabbing something hundreds of times to relieve stress. It’s a little more involved than coloring but it requires less brain space than reading. You can find fun little patterns for free on google but you can also buy easy and interesting patterns on Etsy. You can always create your own patterns or just stitch as you go. You can get thread, needles and embroidery hoops for cheap at Michaels. If you have no idea how and don’t have a grandma who can show you the basics, YouTube, unsurprisingly, has good tutorials.

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I stitched this following a pattern I bought on Etsy from SweetPrairieSkies. Cute, right?

YOGA

Every doctor or therapist I’ve ever talked to about anxiety has always recommended yoga to me for years and I just never did it. Why would I? I’m not very athletic. (I don’t even own work-out clothes.) And besides, it’s just a bunch of new-age silliness, right? WRONG! I put on a t-shirt and a pair of leggings, pulled a mat out of the back of my closet and followed along to a video on Amazon Prime and fell in love! I’m not good at it. Heck, I’m not even sure that I’m doing it right half the time but I always feel amazing when I’m done. The combination of stretching your muscles while focusing on your breath to the tune of mystical soundscapes really does help the body (and the mind) feel relaxed. Give it a go! I just recommend taking your socks off first so you don’t slip and hurt yourself like I did the first time. If you don’t have a mat or aren’t convinced enough to try a whole video, just put on some nature sounds or something and do a basic leg stretch. Hold it longer than you think strictly necessary and take deep, purposeful breaths while doing so. It works, friends.

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What? You thought I was going to put a picture of ME doing yoga?? hahahaha

 

CUDDLING

Unlike some of the other suggestions, this one is free! You don’t need any special tools or clothes or streaming subscriptions. You just need a willing partner and they don’t even have to be romantic. Or human. Grab a pet, a child, a friend, a really squishy pillow and just cuddle the crap out of it. For additional mental health benefits, talk softly about what’s causing your stress or make each other laugh. (I’ve never managed to get my pillow or my dog to laugh, but it’s a work in progress.)

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Gaius is all about dem cuddles.

Those are some of the de-stressing activities that I’ve found helpful for me. What about you? What helps you de-stress?

 

 

New Beginnings and Other Cliches: An Introduction

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Indianapolis

I have not always loved this city. In fact, most days I’m still not sure that I do. Downtown Indianapolis, aptly nicknamed NapTown, can have a sewage-y smell that is both foul and unmistakable when in full force and it was, unfortunately, home to Mike Pence for many years. (To my knowledge these events are unrelated.) But over the years I’ve found things to love about it. Both the well-established Mass Ave and the up and coming Fountain Square area are beautiful, fun and inclusive environments within the city with lots of great restaurants, bars and art to enjoy. I do promise to write more on this later.

In the past couple years I’ve managed to find a thriving community of activists, artists and musicians, of all ages and backgrounds, who are committed to not just making Indianapolis a better place, but  to making our entire nation, our entire world a better place. Sure, Indianapolis isn’t the central hub of any political or artistic movement, but that doesn’t meant things aren’t happening here or that the people here aren’t filled to the brim with talent and imagination. There’s a lot of potential here. There’s a lot of positive energy just starting to find it’s direction here. It’s exciting.

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Fountain Square October 2016

And then there’s me. All my life, growing up in Mooresville, a mere twenty minutes southwest of the city, I couldn’t wait to get out.  I was your stereotypical creative type stuck in rural small town who just couldn’t wait to leave. And I did. I wanted more than that sleepy town had to offer.  In fact, I still want more. I don’t want to be someone who lives and dies in their home state. I don’t want to just be a traveler of the world, I want to live in it. I want to live places other than here, and maybe, eventually, that will come to pass. But I’ve very recently made a big life-changing decision that will tie me to this Midwestern city for the next handful of years and that is  why I’m starting this blog.

This weekend I begin a Transition-to-Teach program with Indiana Wesleyan University to become an English teacher. For me this was a long time coming. In high school, I always thought I’d be a teacher. I had dreams of teaching History or Music or English and I initially went to college for Music Education at Butler University. I love to sing and have always managed to find some success with it. However, during my piano midterm of first semester, the small, snobby instructor pursed her thin, prim lips at me and peered over her pointed glasses before asking, “Do you have any other interests you could pursue?” As a former theatre kid, I know how to recognize my cue when given one. I changed majors.

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Me, being a Small-Town Theatre Kid on stage circa 2007

Though I was very passionate about Education, I was also young and scared and going into disgusting amounts of debt for a Butler degree. I had also been attending some kind of meetings with other Music Ed majors where existing teachers terrified us with stories of being underpaid, under-appreciated and overworked. I was told there were hardly any teaching jobs because of the economy and at the time this was probably mostly true. So when it came time to decide my new major, I chose English because I was a great writer and left the education part off because while I thought Education was of the utmost important, didn’t I have any other interests?  I convinced myself that if I had ANY other talents or opportunities I should pursue them instead. And to make a long, boring and cliche story short: It was not worth it.

Nothing ever felt quite as important, challenging or worthwhile to me as Education did and so at long last, I am going back to school and making it happen. I’m starting this blog to document this transition and to give me a space to write about this city I’ll be devoting myself to for at least the next few years. Stay tuned. Content of questionable quality will soon follow.

ttfn,

Jordan