Thursday, March 24, 2016

Reading Slumps and Busy Schedules

When I graduated college, the economy was beginning to crash. It wasn't a good time for any graduate looking for a job. There were hiring freezes and people were hopeless--including me. I had no sense of direction and I didn't know what to do. Up until my last semester in college I hadn't really thought of what came after. I had grown up being told, "if you get a bachelor's, you'll be set" and I foolishly expected as much. What I didn't expect was a lack of jobs or did I consider my lack of job experience.

Adding to that, my parents moved out of New York during my senior year of college. In New York I had an established relationship with the libraries in the area, people knew me, and that could have provided the little hook I needed to land a job post-school. But now that we were in Pennsylvania, I knew no one. Worse, we were living in the coal mining region where the biggest employer was Walmart. I hadn't the faintest idea what I would do.


Here's the deal with getting your undergraduate degree: half of your time will be spent taking classes that are general requirements and have nothing to do with your major. I hated it. I hadn't gone to college to waste my time learning about fractions or learning a foreign language at a speed I could not handle. And yet, that was part of the deal. So I stuck it out, did my general requirements, then spent the later years of my college career focusing on English (which was my concentration). I loved it, I loved the focus on books and essay writing. Finally, I had gotten to a place where I was studying what I had set out to study.

When I was faced with unemployment and a questionable future, I considered graduate school. I would be able to avoid my loans for awhile, study English more intensely, and hopefully come out of it both more desirable to employers but also with the economy back on track. I researched and researched and realized that graduate school wasn't quite in the cards for me just yet. Financially, mentally, it wasn't a right fit.

Skip forward six years and I was feeling quite good about myself. Despite working full time, I had completed a copyediting certification course without shedding too many tears. The dream of going to graduate school and focusing on English was still there and finally, after a lot of deep thoughts and soul searching, I felt I was in the right place in my life to do it. Mentally, financially, I was ready.

So I applied and I got in. I was thrilled. I had gone with my heart and applied to study both English and Creative Writing -- my two loves. In the summer of 2015, I began class and that's when thing became a little sticky.


Work had become a monster. While I was working 40 hours a week--a very normal amount of work--I was extremely busy at work. Every day I was swamped in documents to review and edit. The number kept increasing and my energy was simultaneously decreasing. All the while, I was taking one class at a time. After work, I'd drive home and begin my schoolwork. When I was done with classwork, I often didn't have a lot of free time and when I did, I barely had enough brain cells to rub together to concentrate on a book.

Throw in family emergencies and the likes, and I was falling apart. Mentally, physically, I was exhausted. I've always been a perfectionist and after having a less than stellar GPA during my undergraduate years (I might have enjoyed the college lifestyle a little too much), I was determined to prove myself with graduate school. I would get A's if it killed me. But you can only do so much before it becomes a complete drain and you're left feeling like a zombie.

Through all of this, the number of books I read began to steadily drop. Quickly, I was reading less and less. Every few weeks, I would finally finish a book and realize my blog was sitting dormant. The reviews I had were beginning to publish and no new posts were being developed. I knew I'd run out of material but I couldn't bring myself to sit down and write reviews. I was exhausted. I was desperate for sleep. I needed a break.

Skip to March. I completed my third graduate school class with flying colors and I took a mental health break. For one term -- a total of 12 weeks -- I was free of school work. The first week, I slept. The second week, I still slept, but when I managed to wake up I began to read. By the third week, I was starting to read more regularly and feel a little more like myself.


I've discovered that reading is often a form of therapy for me. When I read, I mentally check out. Suddenly I'm not stressed about work anymore, I'm not worrying about finances, commuting, or school. If I can't read, it will often reflect my mental state. Not reading = anxious and too busy. I can only be "too busy" for so long before I begin to mentally and physically shut down.

Now that I've gotten the majority of my very sleepy days out of the way, I've begun to rediscover my love for books and really get back in tune with everything. Reading is my way of knitting myself back together. I didn't realize how exhausted I was by the overload of work, family medical issues, and school until I began reading each evening. I began having a clearer thought process and dreams -- I started to write again.

It's pretty bad when you're so overwhelmed that you can't write creatively while you're going to school for Creative Writing. But I'm coming to have a better appreciation for a lazy evening and the power of breaks.

My next graduate school class doesn't begin until mid-May, but I'm clearing out the cobwebs in my head as we move in that direction of the beginning class date. I'm also reasoning with myself that not reading during school is okay and not to stress so badly if I make barely any progress in books. I've also come to realize that I can only take three classes back to back before requiring a break. It's just needed and it's okay to step back for a bit.

So this blog may be a little less frequent in terms of publications and that's ok. Better to have material I've enjoyed writing than to force out dry content.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Breadcrumbs

As winter begins to come closer to its final curtain call, this may be the perfect book to read, or you may hate it for the simple fact that you're reading about more snow. I tend to adore books out of season--winter readings in warm weather and summer stories during the coldest days--but that's just me. I read this at the very start of winter, October into November to be specific, and I desired to wrap myself in warm blankets and watch snow fly. It's that type of book, so be prepared, your head will be full of snowflakes.

Breadcrumbs is geared toward independent readers who may just be getting comfortable with longer chapter books; however, it can be enjoyed by people of any age. I certainly enjoyed it and long have passed the days of my first chapter books. When I was little, my mother often read Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales to me. All of theses stories hold a very special place in my heart. The Snow Queen, what Breadcrumbs is based on, was a winter's tale made all the more special when I began reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Snow Queens were extremely interesting and this was all before Frozen made them cool (ha!).

Nonetheless, we're given a beautiful chapter book for kids and pre-teens which takes the story of The Snow Queen and makes it a present day tale. I really enjoyed this book, particularly because it deals with a lot of heavier topics, yet gently so that it's not overdoing it or appearing preachy.

Hazel, our friendly main character, is dealing with a slew of issues at home. Her father has left and is set to marry someone else and Hazel is struggling to understand the change. She's introverted and prefers her own little world. Having few friends, she keeps Jack--her neighbor and best friend--close to her. Hazel also is a breath of fresh air in the literary world. She's adopted from India and doesn't quite fit into the Scandinavian-looking population of Minnesota. So here we have a girl who is a little awkward, a little out of place, a child that was adopted and doesn't quite visibly fit in with her surroundings, but she has the love of her best friend and mother which matters so, so much.

I love Hazel, I fell for her completely. She's a fantastic character and I feel that I would love to have a child with her personality.

Beside the dealings of adoption and divorce we have Jack who, while having both parents at home, has a mother who is suffering from depression. Depression is often something you'll see in YA novels but it affects adults and thereby children as well. My father went through a bout of depression when I was a little younger than Jack and I understand how that can affect a child. It's pleasing to see it presented in an independent reader book.

So we have these two kids who are dealing with a lot of shit that's going on in their lives. They easily depend on each other and with the main focus being on Hazel, we know how much she depends on her friendship with Jack. However, there's magic afoot and when Jack has a piece of glass lodged into his eye from a magic, broken mirror, things start to grow strange.

Jack has a new attitude, one that completely ignores Hazel, and soon after he's drawn away from the comforts of home and into the cold world of the Snow Queen. Hazel, confused by Jack's change of heart and concerned for him, begins to follow his trail and enters another world that's hidden in a nearby wood.

In this world, she is introduced to multiple creatures and people who have small references to various children's fairy tales. She's left uncertain of who she should trust. People who appear willing to help and with decent soles end up being as much of monsters as the actual monsters. Hazel travels alone but bravely continues to make her way to the Snow Queen's kingdom.

This story is one that so focuses on the mind and emotions. I really enjoyed that aspect and feel it's so worthwhile to discuss the heart and mind of children who are approaching puberty. There is such a wild amount of emotions, feelings, and thoughts during those charged years and this novel handles them all with such grace. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

During one of my grad school classes we were required to read St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. The short story, mind you, not this book. I've read this particular author before, specifically Vampires in the Lemon Grove, which I really enjoyed and Swamplandia, which I had some issues with.

So I was a little mixed going into the short story. I loved her short stories before, so I was assuming I would like this as well, but what if it ended up leaving a sour note in my mouth? But I loved it, truly. The short story (St. Lucy's) is so wonderfully odd and interesting as we focus on girls who behave like dogs but are slowly, awkwardly, trained to be the humans they are. The awkward language and phrases the characters use as they try to verbalize thoughts and feelings were so perfect--executed with the odd phrasing of a person learning English--and it was entirely unique.

After reading the short story I considered what else I could do. One thing came to mind: buy the book. It took quite a bit for me to get through the short stories. I would work on each story then take a few days break while dealing with other work. They were all unique and different from one another, but I feel that, while Vampires in the Lemon Grove dealt with a lot more adults and end-of-life ideas, this was much more focused on youth. 

I think St. Lucy's is still my favorite, but I really enjoyed the other short stories.

This made me consider the other books I've read by the author and why Swamplandia sat so poorly with me. Swamplandia was a great book and wonderfully odd, it sucked you into this world that you found yourself hard to leave, but I feel there was useless violence that wasn't necessary and that really perturbed me. When it comes to her short stories, they're still portraying those wonderfully odd, quirky ideas but with the lack of pointless violence. Still creepy at times, maybe a little uncomfortable, but nothing is dragged out.

Needless to say, I think I enjoyed St. Lucy's more than even Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I also enjoy that all of her book covers really seem to reflect one another with the same style.