Dirty Pretty Things / Michael Faudet

Synopsis: “Dirty Pretty Things is the much anticipated book by Michael Faudet. His whimsical and often erotic writing has already captured the hearts and minds of literally thousands of readers from around the world. He paints vivid pictures with intricate words and explores the compelling themes of love, loss, relationships and sex. All beautifully captured in poetry, prose, quotes and little short stories.”


Review: I really, really, really wanted to like this book.

As a lover of poetry and expression, I am all for being able to express yourself in anyway you choose. And in poetry especially, I don’t think that anyone should be able to tell anyone else that their poetry isn’t “good” because the work is often subjective and personal.

However, with this being a book review, I am going to have to make judgements about this poetry. And unfortunately, it’s not my cup of tea.

This book was advertised as “exploring the compelling themes of love, loss, relationships and sex” (from Goodreads) which it did, but I think the way it examined those topics was juvenile at most points. The word “fuck” was present in around 75% of the poems, while other fairly vulgar words like “pussy”, “cock”, and phrases like “dusty pink nipples” were also repeated throughout. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with those words and that they shouldn’t be used, but I do think that there are many other words that Faudet could have used instead to give the scenes more imagery and the language more beautiful. It seemed like he was just putting erotic and provocative language together, but not really saying anything of value.

Overall, I had extremely high expectations for this book and they were not met, so I will give this a two star rating.

Rating: twostar

This Is How You Lose Her / Junot Díaz

Synopsis: “On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that ‘the half-life of love is forever.'”


Review: I don’t have much to say about this book, and not in a bad way.

I think Juno Díaz really knows what he’s doing with his craft in creating characters like Yunior and following them throughout certain points in their lives. Every character in this collection was full of life, the descriptions were beautiful, and I was intrigued by Yunior’s inner-most thoughts while he was dealing with everything going on around him.

A good portion of the vocabulary and some names and things were in Spanish, along with slang terms and ideas that I had never heard of before. I think this book excels at mixing the culture of the Dominican Republic and the United States, which is something that isn’t seen very often.

Rating: threestar

Hello 2017

2016 was a roller coaster of a year. We lost not only a multitude of amazing and talented celebrities including David Bowie, Harper Lee, and Alan Rickman, but we also lost many others during the Pulse nightclub shooting and the destruction of Syria. Even though these things are completely heartbreaking and terrible, I don’t want to forget all of the good things that happened in 2016 as well. Because of the ALS ice bucket challenge a LOT more money has been donated and they’re closer to finding a cure, Hillary Clinton became the first woman ever to clinch a major-party endorsement for POTUS, and (even though the construction is allowed to continue) they cannot build the Dakota Access Pipeline in one area of North Dakota where a Native American tribe currently lives.

I know that the bad seems to outweigh the good, but progress is made slowly.

As for me, I am taking matters into my own hands to make sure I have the best 2017 I can have. After years of only half-heartedly committing to any type of resolution (except quitting smoking, so glad I cut that out) I felt that I really needed to focus my energies into becoming a better “me.” So, without further ado, here is my list of 2017 New Year’s Resolutions.

♦ Read (at least) 35 books.

During 2016, I think I read a total of 22 books? (I honestly didn’t keep track the way I should have). This year, I’m using the Goodreads challenge to make sure I log the books when I read them. I really want to read more books this year than I did last year because I felt like I didn’t really put aside any time for me to just be with myself and really submerge into my books, and also because I want to write some more reviews on them for this blog.

♦ Keep a morning + nighttime routine.

I am the worst with keeping routines up. I always forget to put in my retainer, or wash my makeup off, or floss at night (I know it’s super gross). I want to get myself into a good routine because it’ll not only be better for my skin and my teeth, but going through that routine every day will eventually let my body know that it’s either time to wake up, or time to get ready for bed.

♦ Work out more.

Okay, so this one’s pretty obvious for everyone. Summer time is only a mere six months away and everyone wants to look good in their swim suits, right? Well, yes and no. Of course I want to look strong and toned in my bikinis, but that’s not why this is on my resolutions list. As many of you don’t know, I have a small heart condition in which the valve between my heart’s upper chamber and the lower chamber doesn’t close properly, sometimes causing blood to be pumped backwards. It’s very common and very mild, so it doesn’t affect my day-to-day life. I also have a condition known as POTS: Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. With this condition, when I stand up the volume of blood flow that occurs is extremely low, causing many symptoms including lightheadedness, fainting, and rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue, inability to exercise, anxiety, or blurred vision. This is the real killer for me. Every time I’ve gone to workout I’ve gotten anxious, my heart beats extremely fast and I get very dizzy. I’m hoping that this is something that I can beat this year because it’s held me back from so much.

♦ Eat cleaner.

This ties in a little bit with the exercising above, but not too much. I’ve decided to try vegetarianism. Part of the reason I want to do it comes from the compassionate / animal care side, while the other part stems from my health. I’m taking this in baby steps, and I bought a really great cookbook off Amazon called The $5 a Meal College Vegetarian Cookbook: Good, Cheap Vegetarian Recipes for When You Need to Eat (Everything Books)” and it’s amazing. I love this cookbook because it’s not overly fancy, but it does have some interesting recipes that require a little more than just your average lunch.

♦ Embrace minimalism.

Lastly, minimalism. I’ve been in love with the minimalistic art style every since I could remember. With having this on my resolutions list, I want to not only use that style for my own home decor and aesthetics but also embrace the ideas that come along with minimalism. Using less, donating things I don’t need, detaching myself from inanimate objects (like my phone). I’m not going to completely throw all my material possessions away and only wear like three shirts or anything like that, but I’d like to get into the idea of “freeing myself” from these possessions.

 

 

TBR / Winter 2016 – 2017

Since I have a few weeks before classes start up again, I figured I would get a jump on some of the books I’ve been dying to read. Here they are, formally put together into a Winter TBR.

**And yes I know The Goldfinch is in my Autumn TBR but I’m only about 130 pages in, so I’m including it in this one too**


The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt17333223.jpg

Synopsis: It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz

13503109.jpgSynopsis: On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sàenz

Synopsis: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. 12000020When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

All The Bright Places, Jennifer Niven

Synopsis: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might 18460392kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

Who Can Live Off It?

Minimum Wage Jobs and the People Who Work Them

 

There I stood: a sixteen year old girl behind a cash register, brown apron and visor to match, starting my first job. The smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the store as I looked at the racks of sugary donuts behind me. I was optimistic, excited, and confident in my skills after watching the few required hours of video training. The videos helped me learn the ways of the register and the coffee machines, but I was left confused and speechless when a customer went out of his way to tell me our donuts were always “disgusting and stale.”

Fast food, restaurants, bars, gas stations, retailers–I’ve worked in them all. In my five years of being a worker, all of my jobs have been part-time, minimum wage. When I first started I was making $7.25 an hour, and I thought it was amazing. It gave me enough money to start a savings account while still having some left over to go to the mall with my friends. But I know that’s not the case for everyone.

Minimum wage started in the United States through President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 at just 25 cents per hour to make sure that the people working were making enough money to live on. The highest it has ever been was when it was just under two dollars in 1968 ($8.54 in current dollars). The minimum wage doesn’t rise with the inflation of our money, so fortunately, many presidents have increased it slightly over the years to bring it to the $7.25 it is currently. However, that $7.25 still isn’t enough for most workers.

No one can live off minimum wage anymore. The most hours per week a part-time employee making minimum wage can work is 30, which means that if the federal minimum wage is $7.25, the most these workers can get paid is $217.50. If we take that $217.50 and assume the employee works exactly 30 hours every week for the entire year without missing any shifts, they will make exactly $11,341.08 per year, which is still under the United States’ poverty level of $11,880 for just one person–never mind if they are raising a family. And that’s even before taxes get taken out of each paycheck.

When FDR worked with Congress to pass the minimum wage bill almost eighty years ago, his goal was for every working citizen in the country to make enough money to live comfortably. In 1938 the night before he signed the Fair Labor Standards Act that created the federal minimum wage, in his Fireside Chat he said, “Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, who has been turning his employees over to the Government relief rolls in order to preserve his company’s undistributed reserves, tell you – using his stockholders’ money to pay the postage for his personal opinions — tell you that a wage of $11.00 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”

Many states actually have their own minimum wage. Twenty-nine out of our fifty states have set their minimum wages higher than the federal, and a few of the states have actually set their wages lower. A lot of this has to do with each state’s living wages and taxes. I live in Connecticut for example, and the Public Act 14-1 states that our minimum wage will rise to “not less than ten dollars and ten cents per hour” by January 1, 2017. Even some of the bigger cities in the States have created their own wages like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, who plan to raise their minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. 

Now that I’m in my twenties, I have to spend my paychecks a little differently than when I was sixteen. Some of it still goes into my savings, but that’s after I pay my rent, my utilities bills, my credit card bills, buy groceries, etc. I’m still working a part-time minimum wage job, and I’m finding it harder and harder to have any substantial “leftover” money that I can tuck away in my savings–but I’m still lucky. There are people who are paying everything I am plus however much having a family costs. The groceries, the utilities–almost everything they have to pay for will be at least two or three times the amount of what I pay.

Minimum wage jobs were made for entry-level employees to work their way up to either promotions within their company or getting a better paying job. Because of this, the adults who end up working minimum wage jobs are stigmatized. “Some customers think you’re stupid because you’re behind the counter, but I have an education,” said Dre Finley in an interview with CNN. Finley is a twenty-four year old with an associates degree who works at an Arby’s in Florida, earning the minimum wage. A lot of people think that minimum wage jobs are only for those who haven’t gotten degrees, but with the average minimum wage worker being 35 years old, it’s not an issue of education but one of opportunity.

The large number of people getting trapped in entry-level jobs is at least partly the fault of the overall economy,” said Ben Casselman in his article for fivethirtyeight.com. Since there was a decrease in jobs, people took minimum wage jobs that they were overqualified for and ended up not being able to advance to a better paying job like they would have in better economic times. These workers end up stuck in a job that pays them well below the poverty limit with very little chance for career advancement.

And these jobs aren’t easy. More times than not your schedule is constantly changing. One week you might work twenty-six hours, and the next you might only work eight. Because of this, the paychecks are never consistent, which is extremely inconvenient considering you never really know how much money you’ll be making until the week of. The hours are not the greatest, either. You could either get a really good shift, like a normal nine to five, or you could work a closing shift where you don’t get out until eleven at night. At the job I have currently, every six weeks or so some of the employees (including me) work a few consecutive overnight shifts from nine at night to six in the morning called “floor sets” where we completely rebuilt and rearrange the entire store to put out new product.

If that wasn’t enough, most of the time the customers are extremely rude. That first incident was only the beginning of many more just like it. Whether the register was running too slowly, I couldn’t take their expired coupon, or they were just having a bad day, some people find it easy to just blame the person behind the counter.

Right now, there are people who cannot afford to feed their families even though they are working forty hours a week, and that is unacceptable. During the State of the Union address in 2015, President Obama said, “Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages…and to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”

From 1938 to 2015, it seems like we have only moved forward in our fight for decent paying wages in the United States. President Elect Donald Trump seems to have mixed opinions on how he believes the minimum wage should be handled. He’s been quoted saying that he believes the wage was too high back in 2015, but this past year he’s said that it should go up, whether that be through raising the federal wage or having the individual states decide themselves what their wages should be.

With about 20.6 million people getting paid near minimum wage, this issue is extremely prevalent. Trump and Congress cannot waver on a decision to raise the minimum wage–there are people who can’t afford it.

Where’s the Native American Superman?

 

A Look at Diversity in Books, and Why There Seems to be None

 

Often, the fiction sections of libraries and bookstores are absent of books written with a diverse main character. Memoirs and other nonfiction works that are written by people of color, people with disabilities, people of the LGBT+ community, etc., are great for teens to read because they show real life experiences of someone they can look up to. However, fiction books create new worlds with heroic characters, and if these characters aren’t relatable to the readers, they won’t read them.

Books are important, especially for adolescents and young adults because they contain characters that the readers identify with and look up to. However, they aren’t going to be able to identify with a character that doesn’t truly represent them. Being able to see that someone similar to you achieve or do something is empowering, but if a Chinese girl only sees and reads about white characters, she might not be able to associate herself with them as she could if the main character was also Chinese.

 

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fault in our Stars, Divergent, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter: All these books are extremely popular, and their main characters are all white. “Where’s the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss?” Matt de la Peña, author of six young adult novels including Mexican WhiteBoy and The Living, said during his CNN interview with Ashley Strickland. In fantasy and science fiction novels, the main character is almost always the hero, and the fact that strong and heroic protagonists are almost only being written in one race, however unintentionally, gives the impression that all heroes are that one race.

There are many different organizations and online groups who are pushing for diverse authors and novels to be published. Rich in Color, WNDB, and DiYA are just a few, all focused on different aspects of the readers and writers. Rich in Color dedicates themselves to writers and characters who are of color or from the First / Native Nations, We Need Diverse Books focuses on finding diverse characters in children’s books, and Diversity in YA obviously looks at young adult novels. Having a place where readers can find novels written by and / or starring diverse protagonists is extremely beneficial, especially since many bookstores and libraries don’t have an official section exclusively for diverse books in their stores, including Barnes and Noble.

Barnes and Noble is one of the most popular chain of bookstores in the United States with a total of six hundred and forty stores, selling everything from adult thriller novels to children’s alphabet books. Unfortunately, they don’t have a section in their store (or on their website) where you can browse just the diverse books. A quick Amazon search of young adult novels with minority protagonists brings you a good selection of books, but it’s still not the same as walking right into the store and getting what you wanted. This means that if you want to buy a book with an African American protagonist for an African American teen you’re going to either have to try to find one to order online, or you’ll have to search all of the fiction shelves in the store. Having to tell which books will have diverse characters in them just based on the cover is not an easy task—they can be misleading.

I’m not at all saying that there aren’t books out there with main characters who are people of color. However, even some of these books end up falling victim to the publisher’s commands. Creating cover images with models who do not at all portray the character is one of the ways that these publishers try to control the sales of the book. The three things that could happen to a book cover with a POC character are that the character is portrayed by a model who is white instead of the character’s race, the cover model’s race is purposefully ambiguous, or the character is just put completely in silhouette, says Annie Schutte, a blogger for YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association. “As a librarian, I actively seek out stories that feature protagonists of all races, ethnicities, sexualities, and backgrounds. But looking at the shelves, you can barely tell sometimes because the books featuring non-white characters fade into the background behind the eye catching, white faces that stare at you from so many covers.”

whitewash-liar
From Anne Schutte’s Blog Post

Some publishing companies are, and have been, getting away with white-washing covers of novels for years, and they don’t seem to be stopping. Some people could argue that since they are still publishing the novels, it doesn’t matter what the cover looks like—but I would not. If these companies continue to publish novels that have minority protagonists with white models on their covers, not only will minority readers not connect with the books the way they should, but also these companies will be showing that portraying a minority person as white is okay.

But is it all the fault of the publishers?

There are many lists online of the best novels of 2016 that include books with a diverse protagonist or books written by a minority author, however we don’t see them on the best-sellers lists. The question now is: are the publishers not publishing diverse books, or are the readers just not reading them? If the readers are consistently buying these books instead of books written by minority authors, that gives the publishers the incentive to keep publishing similar books.

Jessica Powers, an editor at Cinco Puntos Press, believes it’s not a matter of the books not selling, but how the sales are being represented. Since the best-sellers list is comprised of the sales of only a few bookstores, the list is skewed and can not be fully accurate. One of Cinco Puntos’ best selling authors, Joe Hayes, has sold over one million copies of his book to children in schools. Those sales aren’t represented in the best-sellers lists because they didn’t take place through a certain bookstore. She says, “I don’t think the problem is so much that people aren’t buying those books, the question is where are they buying those books and how can people be aware of that so that there can be an even greater transformation of publishing in the U.S.?”

And how can we make more people aware? Corporate publishing companies sticking to the status quo will continue to keep them wealthy, but that’s not their only option. Powers thinks “if mainstream publishers realized they could make money doing it, they would start publishing more. But for them to realize they can make money doing it, they have to start looking at the whole system differently and transform all of it.”