Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Successful Day Off

Wednesdays are my day off from babysitting. I like to take advantage of them and fit in as many fun things and activities possible.

Yesterday I started the day early, drinking coffee with my mom on the porch. At 9:30, I met my cousin Maria for a Zumba class which completely exhausted both of us and made us feel sadly out of shape.

From there, we drove to Orange to a store called Plato's closet. They buy and sell clothes and I had a suitcase full of clothes I've been wanting to try to sell for months. We dropped off the clothes and headed to the nearest Whole Foods for an early lunch which happened to be one of the yummiest lunches I've had in a while.

I take the girls I babysit to Whole Foods once a week, usually, and I tend to stick to the salad bar because there are so many options, I get overwhelmed and fall back on the familiar. This Whole Foods, though, was a bit more spread out and it was pretty empty so I didn't feel rushed to pick something. We took our time walking around, looking at the options before deciding what to get. Also, this has got be the cleanest and most well kept Whole Foods I've been to. Usually, the hot food bar and salad bar get messy and aren't correctly labeled and such but this store had so many more options than I've seen before and each section was filled and looked fresh.

I gravitated towards the hot food bar and filled my container with a little spring greens salad with walnuts and goat cheese, then I added a piece of herbed chicken along with steamed broccoli, summer squash, and zucchini. On the side, I had to add the grilled pineapple and grilled peaches (something else I've never seen at the Whole Foods closer to me) and it was all delicious! It was a bit pricey for lunch but it kept me very full for a long time and it all tasted great.

We went back to Plato's Closet and the store only took 4 out of my many, many items but they gave me $18. Not much, but better than nothing!

From there, we drove to New Canaan to visit my mom at her volunteer job at the thrift store and we ended up shopping more than we meant to! I got a cute Lilly Pulitzer dress for around $30 among other things. They have such great steals! The sale special for that day was one bag of clothes for $25!

I ended the night at the beach in Norwalk with my mom and some family, looking out at the water and listening to the ABBA tribute band that was performing. The weather was beautiful all day and night, it was perfect for an evening at the beach.

Today, I'm back to babysitting and the Westport Library and Farmers' Market are on our schedule for the day!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

MFA Stuff

A little update. As some of you may know, the day that AJ and I moved to Boston for his internship back in March, I found out that I was accepted to an MFA Creative Writing program in Boston. From the moment that I received my acceptance email, my mind has been preoccupied with MFA related thoughts: what my classes will be like, all the writing I'll be doing, and what my future will look like upon graduation. If there's an article that has the letters MFA in the title, I read it. I can't get enough.

So, a few days ago, on a whim, I checked to see if any changes had been made to my previously blank class schedule for grad school. I was oh so pleasantly surprised to find that it was no longer blank! I have a schedule! And it's a wonderful one, too. I am taking two classes (they suggested only 2 for your first semester). One is Teaching College Composition and the other is Fiction Workshop. Each class is once a week for 3 hours and 45 minutes. I have class Tuesday night and Wednesday night and that's it!

Having my schedule makes me realize how soon school will be starting and that it is very real. It's coming! And it just so happens that in the same week I got my schedule, has put out two great articles regarding books and writing.

The first is about books that you should read before starting an MFA program. It's a great article but it freaked me out—I haven't read any of the books listed! I have to get on that. Now.

The next article is also about books. These, however, are books that you should read before writing your first novel. This might not be universal for all MFA students, but one of my goals is to write a novel (at least a draft) by the completion of my degree so this is a handy list!

I love articles that suggest great books for different reasons. I hope you enjoy these, too!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Everything She Said Was Like A Secret Voice": A Book Review

I've had trouble writing this review. I've been trying for a while, probably a few weeks by now, but this is a difficult one. I think what is most difficult is the fact that I want to express how relatable the main character, Esther Greenwood, is. But at the same time, I hesitate to say that for fear of people thinking that if they relate to Esther, they must be suicidal or suffer from mental illness. That's not at all the case. 

Esther is in a transitional phase of life. She's in college but it's time for her to think about her future beyond school. She thinks about and disregards the idea of marriage. She thinks about what kind of career she would like. There's so much she wants to do and learn and know, but she feels limited and stuck. 

To be honest, I can't think of a more relatable character than Esther, especially for women who are around my age, in this day, and in this phase of life. Most people graduating college now are facing uncertainty, like Esther. The job market is not great and there aren't many opportunities. Some of us want a lot of things, but are unmotivated to go after them out of fear of failure. Some of us want to learn everything under the sun, but don't know how. 

Personally, I feel a great kinship to Esther. No, I do not have suicidal thoughts and I do not suffer from mental illness. But I am around the same age as Esther. I, too, have writing aspirations and I wonder how that will one day balance with my home life. There are many things I want to do and these desires leave me questioning whether or not I have the tools to do them. I know that Esther and I are not alone in these thoughts and feelings and for that reason, I feel that The Bell Jar is essential read for all women, no matter their age or place. 

The books starts off in quite an appealing setting. Esther has won a month long, paid internship in New York City for a well known magazine. She lives in a hotel with the other interns and gets to go for fancy lunches, attend events, and explore the city. It does not make her happy and she spends more time skipping work events and falling into deep spirals of worrisome thoughts. 

She experiences moments that are necessary in a coming of age tale and, once the internship has ended, she goes back to her hometown in suburban Massachusetts but is eager to leave again. Without anywhere to go, she resigns to a life of sleeping, writing, and worrying about the future. Her writing suffers and she wonders if that is the path she should take after all. 

As Esther's mundane, every day life continues to depress her already fragile mental health, suicidal thoughts penetrate her mind and her every moment. Plath's description of Esther's suicide attempt is haunting, difficult to read, and raw. Knowing that Plath took her own life makes the experience of reading her words on the subject even more striking and personal. 

Further, reading about Esther's time in a mental hospital is so other worldly that it's hard to believe it is the same story that started with the glamorous idea of working for a magazine in Manhattan. The turn and change in Esther's life is, after all, what makes this story truly disturbing, realistic, and saddening. 

The book ends but you get the sense that there really is not resolution. Esther suffers from mental illness and likely always will. She has to live the rest of her life coping with these issues and that is what is the most important takeaway of the entire book.

There are so many more elements to this novel that I have yet to discuss: mental illness, relevancy, feminism, and growing up. I've only given a brief summary with my opinions on this outstanding novel that will always remain relevant in our culture. I hope that everyone who has not yet picked up Plath's novel, the only novel she left for us, will do so quickly. 

I will leave you with my favorite Sylvia Plath quote: 

"Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences."

Friday, July 25, 2014

4 Years

July 25, 2010

July 25, 2011

July 25, 2012

July 25, 2013

July 25, 2014

Westport Farmers' Market

It was a warm but breezy afternoon yesterday, perfect for strolling through a farmer's market which is just what I did with my babysitting girls. Westport's spring farmer's market is located right in town near a library and with a view of the river. 

Our first stop was to the library, and we took a nice walk around the river to get there. When we got to the library, the girls were more interested in playing on the computers than looking at books, but I suppose that is more of the norm these days!

After spending about an hour in the library, we headed back to the market to grab lunch. The girls got pizzas from Skinny Pines and I got a farro and vegetable salad from The Back Forty Farm. There were so many things we wanted to try and so many stands with fresh produce and organic teas and juices, we'll have to go back to buy more!

When we finished our lunch, we grabbed some sweet pastries from The Sono Baking Company stand for the girls to take home. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Exciting Things to Come

July is almost over, but there are still a lot of things that are happening before month's end!

This Friday, the 25th, is mine and AJ's four year anniversary! I'm excited to celebrate with him and I have some fun things planned!

The following night, some of AJ's family from Peru is coming for a visit. His grandmother is coming and staying through until after our wedding. Also coming are AJ's aunt, uncle, and two younger cousins who will be here for 3 weeks. The Cabreras don't get to see their extended family very often so it's so nice when they get to visit! Every night feels like a party when everyone gets together and I'm sure this visit will be no different. AJ's aunt, uncle, and cousins that are coming are some of his family members that I haven't met yet and I'm looking forward to getting to know them!

On Sunday, AJ's sister is celebrating her 15th birthday. Her real birthday was at the beginning of the month but since more family will be in town, they were waiting to have an all out celebration! If you already read about my future mother-in-law's cakes, you'll know that the party will include a delicious cake, lots of food, and surely some dancing.

Obviously, I'm looking forward to this weekend and I hope you are too! What are your plans?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sometimes I Babysit At The Beach

I've been babysitting for close to 10 years now. I enjoy the job because I find playing with kids to be fun! There's a lot you can do with them and most of the time, it does not feel like work. I'm so lucky that I found a great family to babysit for out here, although, with them we don't call it babysitting. The girls are older, 11 and 9, and don't need a babysitter as much as a play pal and chauffeur, so we call it hanging out. Living and babysitting in a beach town has many perks and yesterday we took advantage of them!

I picked the girls up at their house to take them to breakfast at this cute little bakery on the main road in Westport. I had a delicious fruit cup and the girls got croissants, almond and chocolate. We sat at a table outside for a while and then decided it was time to go to the beach.

We set up camp near the water, covered ourselves in sun screen, and got into the water as quickly as possible. It was freezing, but the girls were brave and ducked their heads under right away and I'd been wanting to get into that salt water for a while now. We played in the water for a good chunk of time and the girls practiced their swimming before we headed back to the towels, laid in the sun, and ate our way through half a bag of baby carrots.

One of my favorite parts of this job is that the girls are so chatty and mature so we can hold long, adult conversations and I really enjoy that. They're smart girls with good, kind, and attentive parents and you can really tell how well they are being raised.

The girls got hungry after a while so we walked to the other end of the beach to the little food place that's there. It is crazy expensive, especially for beach food, but since it's the only place to buy food at the beach, they can charge whatever they want and people will buy it! The girls got fries, ate some, and decided it was time to hit the water again.

We walked all the way down the length of the beach where there were hardly any people because the tide was out and the girls could walk out far and the water was still really shallow and warm. I was on left-over french fry duty, carrying them and protecting them from seagulls. The girls walked through the water all the way back to the other end, where our towels were, and I walked along the shore line, waving at them and watching them have a blast!

I didn't even sneak one fry! We stayed at the beach as long as we could but had to be home in time for their next babysitter to take over watching them. I have so much fun with these girls and I'm glad it's my summer job for the next few weeks until school starts. The back seat of my car is now filled with sand but that's what summer is about!

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Sunday

This Sunday was a lazy one. I don't usually like to make too many plans on a Sunday but this week, I left the day completely blank! I started my Sunday like most, with a good breakfast and the Boston Globe. I always watch CBS Sunday Morning and once that I ends, I start my day.

I drove into Westport to go to Trader Joe's but got distracted and stopped at the library book sale. Surprisingly, I didn't end up buying any books, although I did carry some around to consider buying but changed my mind at the last minute. So off to Trader Joe's I went and got groceries for the week. 

AJ came over after and we had lunch together before falling asleep on the couch for a while. He's always tired from work so he slept longer and I took Bellefleur out on the deck to read for a while. It was such a beautiful day outside, not a cloud in the sky! I wish I had spent more time outside yesterday but I can make up for that today!

The day went by so fast and by dinner time I wasn't in the mood for a big meal so I enjoyed a bowl of Cheerios and blueberries. I ended the night with a long walk on the treadmill while watching Real Housewives of New Jersey, my guilty pleasure!

I hope everyone had a nice weekend and I hope you all have a happy Monday!

Currently Reading: Bellefleur

Most books are best read with a cup of coffee or hot tea. With Bellefleur, I've found that it goes best with a glass of red wine. I think this is because the book is decadent. It's full of luxurious and rich descriptions that are intriguing yet dark. This book is dark, as if every image is shrouded in clouds or a dark shadow.

Joyce Carol Oates, the author of Bellefleur, is the queen of literary gothic writing and this book is absolute proof that she is one of the greatest writers of our time.

This novel, more of a family epic, was published in 1980 but is timeless. It is 729 pages and I cannot offer you a summary of the plot. It is far to complex and is structured unlike most novels, comprised of five books and many chapters. It centers on several generations of the Bellefleur family and their enormous mansion in a mythic place called Lake Noir.

The characters are surreal, as are their actions. They are powerful, exclusive, and mysterious. The small yet distinct character traits are beyond creative: a grandfather who wanted his flesh stretched over a drum, an aunt who is never seen in the daylight, and countless other quirks. The characters are so imaginative and display qualities of magical realism that I find this book mirrors Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. There are small details offered to the reader throughout each page which seem frivolous, but all of them are built upon later and their importance is extracted.

Is is suspenseful and filled with symbolism. It's like a big, epic, literary ghost story. I was reading it in bed the other night and my cell phone vibrated on my bedside table. I was startled so badly because I was engrossed in a particularly suspenseful and frightening part.

I'm still very close to the beginning of the book, especially considering its length, so it will take me quite a while to finish but I'm not in a rush. This is a feat of human talent. I want to enjoy it and carefully read each word to get the most out of this tale. I've mentioned before that Joyce Carol Oates writes her novels out longhand and I can't imagine how a book this long could have all started with a pencil and blank piece of paper.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Night We Saw Queen

Insane, right? That's all I keep saying about the Queen + Adam Lambert concert I went to Thursday night. I can't stop talking about it!

AJ bought the tickets a few months ago and we had been wanting to see the show for a long time before that, but in the days leading up to it I was getting nervous to go. AJ and I both had to work Thursday and he would be rushing back home from Greenwich, showering, changing, and then rushing over here to meet me for the last train that would get us to Madison Square Garden on time. Happily, it worked out and AJ got here even earlier than expected so we didn't have to rush to the train!

We did, however, speed walk to Madison Square Garden from Grand Central because if you ever go to New York with AJ, you will be walking. There is no such thing as the subway to him.

We got to MSG and found our seats quickly. We had bar stool seats so we were up in the back but we had a good view of the whole stage and we had freedom to move around, dance, and get out of our seats without bothering people around us. Plus, we were five feet away from a concession stand and a bar so naturally we had to get a MSG box of popcorn and pour peanut M&Ms in it.

Of course, the music was amazing. Adam Lambert was born for this job and watching Brian May on the guitar is unreal. There were touching moments, too. Brian May sang Love of my Life and spoke about how he used to do it as a duet with Freddie Mercury and during the song they brought up footage of Freddie singing it, so it was like they were singing it together again. They also brought up video of Freddie during Bohemian Rhapsody.

There are so many Queen songs and they did a good variety of them, but as we were walking out people were complaining about some songs they had left out. But who cares? It's Queen!

After the show we rushed back to Grand Central to make the 11:30 train so we didn't have to wait until 12:30 to head home. We made it, fell asleep on the train, and woke up in time to get off at our stop. I'm so happy we got to see that concert. It was amazing and I doubt I'll see a show of such great magnitude any time soon!.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Long Week

Wow! Have I really not posted since Monday? That makes me feel bad. But the only thing to do is get back to it so here I go with a little recap of all that happened this week which kept me away from my blog.

—I decided to go with Bellefleur . It's a long, engrossing book and I'm enjoying reading it like crazy!

—I started a more regular babysitting job for the rest of the summer. I'm taking care of 2 girls, 9 and 11, who I've known for a few years now. So far we've done fun things like bake muffins and cover them with chocolate frosting and go to a place called Skyzone to jump on trampolines until we're exhausted. Their father owns a pizza place that uses all organic and locally sourced ingredients. He's kind enough to share some of his fresh produce with me, like the fennel and red onions in the photo above.

—I took my grandmother shopping to get her a grandmother of the bride dress. She's the cutest thing and I was afraid we'd never find something she'd like but we did! She looks lovely in it and I'm so happy we got to have that experience together.

—I had lunch with my cousin Maria at a cute, newish restaurant in Westport called The Granola Bar. Yes, they sell house made granola and parfaits and such. But they also have a bigger menu of breakfast items, sandwiches, salads, and sides. Their lists of teas, coffees, lattes, and smoothies is enough to make your mind go crazy with options! We'll be back because there are more items we'd like to try. The only downside is, the place is tiny and crowded and the person trying to squeeze into the table next to you will spill your salt shaker.

—Last night, AJ and I went to the Queen + Adam Lambert concert in Madison Square Garden. To say it was phenomenal is an understatement. I'm not a concert person but every single video we took from last night captures my screams and shouts of joy! Bohemian Rhapsody, sung by thousands of people in the stadium was reason enough to go. AJ and I both sang our hearts out so I want to apologize to those sitting around us. I'll write more about it tomorrow, though!

So yeah, I was a bit more busy this week than usual but I'll do my best to get back to posting frequently! I'll have more book stuff coming up this week, too. I hope everyone is having a great start to their weekend!

Monday, July 14, 2014

What to Read Next?

I finished The Bell Jar and then shortly after that I picked up and finished Trains and Lovers. Now I'm faced with the difficult but so enjoyable decision of what to read next. I'm trying to decide between Jane Eyre, Bellefleur, and The Years. I haven't read Jane Eyre in a few years and I've been wanting to read it again for a while now, but I feel like books I've never read take precedence. There's only so much time to read!

Bellefleur is by Joyce Carol Oates, an amazing writer that everyone should look into if you really want to read great work. I've had this book waiting for me since Christmas!

And The Years, by Virginia Woolf, is one I picked up at a used bookstore for a few dollars when we were in Boston and it's been on my mind since.

All three of the books are a bit long—Bellefleur is over 700 pages—and all of them are probably better suited to be read in the fall or winter rather than summer. But the last two books I read were short and quick so I think it's time I delve back into one that is going to take more time.

I'm leaning towards Bellefleur right now. What do you think? Any suggestions out there?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Dinner

In Italian families, a typical Sunday includes a family gathering and eating a pasta dinner around 1 in the afternoon. It's an older tradition but my mother grew up doing that with her extended family every Sunday of her childhood. We don't do it every week, but when we do have a Sunday dinner, we try to make it special.

Today, a few of my mother's cousins came to visit from New Jersey for dinner. My grandparents and AJ joined us, as well, of course. Mom and I have been busy the past two days preparing food and it was very much worth it!

Today was hot—it's felt so hot for the past few days—so we decided against making pasta. It's too heavy a meal on a day like this. Instead, we marinated chicken and cooked it on the grill. We had way more sides than necessary but they were delicious! There were sausage and peppers, garlic potatoes, Italian bread, three bean salad, mixed green salad tossed with oil and vinegar, and giambotta which is an Italian dish made of fresh veggies in red sauce. You can eat it hot or cold but since it's usually eaten in the summer, I like it cold! And of course, no meal is complete without red wine and sparkling water.

This is what my filled plate looked like before digging in. For dessert, my grandmother made her pineapple pie and her blueberry coffee cake. I don't have photos of those because dessert never sits long enough to have its photo taken!

I hope everyone had a nice weekend and a relaxing Sunday!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday Morning and the Times

I like to start my Saturday mornings with two of my favorite things, coffee and the New York Times Book Review. It feels like a little treat, a little ritual to begin the weekend. This morning, I woke up around 7, ate a quick breakfast, got a work out in, and then settled at the kitchen table with hot coffee and the Book Review.

Some days are better than others as far as the articles go but this morning was a pretty good one! I always have my phone nearby with my Notes open in case there's a book I want to add to the ongoing list I keep there of books I want to read.

Today I only added one book to that list. A book called Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead was reviewed by Jennifer B. McDonald. The book is about a New York ballerina who will soon be ending her career. The novel seems to focus on a number of different relationships as well as artistic need. Interestingly, the author does not have experience as a dancer but the professional world of ballet is such a small one, that in order to read good fiction about it, it sometimes needs to be written by outsiders. And I like to see how writers write about a world in which they are not experienced because it is something I hope to do.

The book is now on my list although not at the top. The review does not make it seem like a must-read but I love and miss ballet and dance in general (I danced for a good 15 years before stopping) so it might be fun and nostalgic to pick this up sometime.

How do you start your Saturday mornings?

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Quick Trip to NYC

I really don't love New York City. I used to be a bit fascinated by it before I moved to Connecticut. The first few years I lived here, AJ and I would take trips into the city to see a ballet or go to the Met for a class assignment and that was fun. But the last few times I've gone into the city, I haven't enjoyed it. In fact, it often makes me stressed and annoyed. This is probably because I don't like feeling crowded and rushed and the city is filled with fast paced people and that's ok!

There are some really great things about the city, though. The interesting food trucks and restaurants are beyond compare. There is tons to do and see. There are bookstores I could happily live in and I love the lions at the public library. Also, my sister has a cute little apartment near Grand Central so going to visit her is easy and fun.

Today, my mom and I hopped on a train in the morning, grabbed a cab outside Grand Central, and went to the Upper East Side to visit my mother's cousin, Gloria. She's lived in the same apartment in Park Ave for years and years and has a spectacular view. She's a phenomenal artist—she made our save the dates and today we worked on our wedding invitations with her! She already had quite a few made up by the time we got there so all we had to do was iron out details, play with the wording and fonts, and decide on envelopes and table cards. I'm so glad that we've been able to do this part of wedding planning with a family member. It's made it much easier and so stress free!

We ordered a slice of pizza and a salad each from a nearby Italian place and ate at Gloria's table staring out at Park Ave—all the photos are taken from her balcony. We talked about family members we haven't seen in a while and reminisced about family members that are no longer with us. I didn't meet Gloria until 2011 because our family is so huge, but I feel like I've known her forever. I'm so thankful that she has been doing all of our paper goods for the wedding because not only is it easier on us, but it has allowed me to get to know her even better!

We spent a few hours with Gloria, most of them spent chatting because we got the invitations done so quickly. We made promises to visit again soon and Mom and I were back in a taxi (getting carsick fast) to Grand Central. We luckily got an express train so the ride was faster than usual! I picked up an iced latte from Zaro's Bakery for a little treat—it made my mom nostalgic for the years when she worked in the city long ago because she got breakfast from Zaro's at Grand Central most days.

I started reading a new book, Trains and Lovers, yesterday and I read the entire ride both ways so I'm close to finishing again. Expect a post on it soon as well as a review of The Bell Jar. Tomorrow, I'm going back to New York, but to Yonkers this time, to meet with a videographer. We haven't booked one yet and time is running out!

I'm so glad it's Friday and I hope everyone's weekend is off to a great start! Any fun plans for the next few days? Do you have any opinions on New York City?

Books For Writers: An MFA in Five Books

There have been many times that I've expressed how important I think it is to get writing advice straight from a writer. And I'm about to do it again!

These five books are written by writers for writers and I think they are essentials to any writer's library. In the future I will do a post for each book individually, but for now I want to give you an overview of each. Even though I'm on my way to begin an MFA program in creative writing, I believe that these books will give any writer a good introduction to what an MFA program offers. All of these writers were or are successful and some of them have also taught in MFA programs. If you enjoy writing, are considering applying to an MFA program, or just enjoy learning from authors be sure to check out these books!

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. Out of the five books, this is the first one that I received and read. I had been eyeing it once I became obsessed with Francine Prose but I've always preferred reading fiction to nonfiction and I was unsure if I'd enjoy it as much. I got it for Christmas a few years ago and I sucked it up right away! Prose's advice, observations, and her opinions and analyses on other writers are golden. It's like hitting the advice jackpot. Not only is Prose a writer of all genres who has been successfully published many, many times, but she has taught both literature and creative writing in MFA programs. Who better to take writing advice from? Not to mention, the suggested reading list in the back of the book will inspire some serious reading. 

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. When you talk about successful authors, you cannot neglect Stephen King. This book allows readers to understand how King became a writer as he discusses his childhood and his recovery from a near fatal car accident. At times it does read as an autobiography but that's exactly what writers want to read from other writers. The tone of this book—confident, laid back, and open—leaves you feeling encouraged and as if you are partaking in a friendly conversation with King. Wouldn't that be a treat? Not only does King give out his wise words, he includes his own extensive reading list, a draft with his personal edits, and some interesting tidbits about his own life. Did you know he's in a writers-only band with Amy Tan? Me neither. 

Aspects of a Novel by E.M. Forster. One of the older books on my list, published in 1956, and reads much differently than the others. This is because the book is really a series of lectures on the different elements that form a story: story, character, plot, fantasy, prophecy, and pattern and rhythm. The writing is very clear and his suggestions are amplified and put to life with the many real examples he uses to prove his points. I include this book on the list because it is more structured and more focused on specific elements that are required for good writing. It's a bit more tangible and Forster's lectures can be put into practice using writing prompts. I also like that this is an older book because it goes to show that the art of writing will always be important and relevant. 

Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa. Just thinking about this book makes me happy and makes me want to write. I find that it is also the most uplifting and encouraging book on this list. This book is truly written in the form of letters, intended to encourage a young writer to maintain their creative desire while imparting his wisdom along the way. His insights are original and well-crafted. The book itself is rather thin so it will not take a long time to read, but you will close the book feeling satisfied and educated by a brilliant writer. Also, the length of this book will allow you to read it time and time again and I promise you that you will be driven to do just that. Do not be fooled by the word 'young' in the title. This is not meant for preteen or anything of that sort, it is meant for a writer who might be a novice or who needs encouragement. If that is you, this book will do wonders to the way you view writing. 

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. While this book is like the others in the way that it discusses prose and writing technique, it focuses more on cultivating good writing habits, reading like a writer, and getting into the psyche of a true writer. Brande claims that any writing problems are blamed on the personality of the writer. It approaches the line of being a self help book, not to improve your writing but to mentally turn yourself into writer. Brande provides exercises and examples that help her readers tap into the unconscious in order to dig deeper creatively. Another old book on this list, it is inspiring because it includes countless pieces of advice to make yourself truly believe that you are a writer. This book is perfect to round off this list. It has elements that are truly unique to Brande's approach on writing advice. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Currently Reading: The Bell Jar

Remember when I said that Ficciones was not an easy read? It's not an easy read, it is hard. I'm struggling and I'm almost ashamed to say I am setting it aside. There are so many books that I still want to read that I don't want to get bogged down by one that I just can't pull myself through. I'll pick it up again one day but for now I have moved on and oh, what a great book I have moved on to.

I feel like this book is one that all girls should read at whatever point in their lives. I'm surprised it has taken me this long to finally read but I think I am at the age where I can appreciate it more thoroughly.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath follows the path of Esther Greenwood, a Smith college student who suffers from depression and mental illness. The story begins when Esther is living in New York City and working at a magazine during the summer before her final year of college. That plot would be story enough, but Plath takes us through Esther's life when she returns home to Massachusetts for the rest of her summer during which time her mental state continues to decline.

I'm over halfway through the book at this point because it is impossible to put down. This morning I had to force myself to get out of bed, not because I was tired but because I just wanted to lay there all day and read about Esther.

The depiction of the way her brain works is clearly drawn and makes her depression understandable. Her suicide attempts are extremely detailed and almost excruciating to read, you feel for her so deeply and you want to help but there's nothing you can do! It's painful but I think it's important for people to read, especially because these scenes are written by a woman who dealt with her own depression and internal demons.

I won't go in to much more detail so that I'm not repeating myself when I write a review once I finish the novel in it's entirety, but this book is very similar to Pamela Moore's Chocolates for Breakfast so if you enjoyed that, you will enjoy book too.

Again, this is a book that many, especially female English majors, have read by the time they hit their twenties and I think that's phenomenal. This is a book that everyone should get their hands. You will find yourself in Esther if you have ever dealt with depression. If you have never had to deal with mental illness, you will be shocked and awed at this depiction of it. I think that in the world today, there is so much discussion of mental illness, that it will do every well to have a great understanding of it. Reading this novel is the perfect way to begin to grasp this issue.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Literary Links

Ever wondered what your favorite author's signature looked like? Thanks to Buzzfeed, now we know! Check out these famous authors' famous signatures. They are all far more legible than I would have imagined!

An interview with CJ Hauser about her debut novel, The From-Aways. A perfect book for summer, especially for those who vacation in a small town every year or for those who inhabit that small vacation town all year. The book focuses on friendships, family relationships, and small town qualities.

This is neither an article or anything new, but I think readers and writers alike will enjoy this link! I found my way to Marisha Pessl's website to see if she has any new books in the works (I wrote about her first novel here) and found something better! Pessl allows readers to send her questions about her writing, inspiration, and anything else you want. She posts the questions and her responses on her website. Why don't all authors do this? I love things like this!

In my opinion, nothing is better than getting advice straight from writers themselves. Here are a collection of authors doling out their best writing advice! I will definitely bookmark this for the future.

I read this review of Cristina Henriquez's newest book on Saturday in the New York Times and immediately placed is at the top of my to read list. I think it is brilliant that she is using her skills as a writer to bring a contemporary, political issue to a wider audience through a creative medium.

While wasting time at my old internship one day, I came across Emily Gould and was captivated. Her first novel is forthcoming and her wit and personality are enough to make it a bestseller. Check out this review and see if it interests you! It will definitely be a book that characterizes Millenials.

Lastly, since we already talked about the best books of the year so far, here are the books that are most anticipated for the next half of the year.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Weekend Recap

This weekend was busier than most and that has left me with no scheduled posts for this week! But no worries. This way I'll be certain to write a bit each day. Plus, the weekend was well worth it!

On Thursday evening, AJ and I headed to the facility where our reception will be held to do a tasting for the menu. We tried a huge variety of hors d'oeuvres, a pasta dish, some appetizers, three entrees, a few wines, and we ended the meal with some desserts and espressos. The food was so delicious and we went a little crazy—our waiter and the general manager kept saying, "You guys are good eaters." You put good Italian food in front of us, it will be eaten. Sorry! Anyway, we both feel confident that if everything else at our wedding goes wrong, at least the food will leave everyone full and happy.

Friday I spent the holiday with AJ and our cousins having a cook out. It was fun, a little messy and rainy, but it was the exact way I like to spend the holidays, with family.

Saturday morning, AJ and I drove to New Canaan and picked up lunch and iced coffees for ourselves and my grandmother, a thank you for watching my little dog over night. We had lunch at my grandmother's house, stole some of her fresh figs, and brought my dog, Tessi, back home. We watched a little soccer before heading to 4 o' clock mass and then came back home where AJ studied a bit and then we watched Dateline, our typical weekend night!

Sunday was a relaxing day. I had a nice, long workout on the treadmill while watching trashy TV because that's the only way to do cardio. In the evening, my mom, my godmother, AJ, and myself picked up salads and drove to the beach and ate dinner and drank wine while sitting in the sand. The waves were pretty big for the Long Island Sound because of the weekend storms and the beach was packed with people who were still enjoying the end of the holiday weekend. Having dinner at the beach is such a treat! It really makes it feel like summer and I'm going to try to keep doing it as often as possible before this beautiful season starts to fade.

Like I said, this week I'm a bit on the thin side for posts but make sure to check back! I have some posts about author interviews planned!

Happy Monday, all!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Every Fourth

July 4, 2010 was an important day for AJ and me. It was the second time that we spent time together, it was the day we first kissed, and the day we both kind of knew we wanted to be together. And as fate would have it, we've spent every July 4th together since.

The photograph on the left was taken July 4, 2010 and it is the first photo we ever took together. On the right is a photo from this past 4th, our last one together before we are married.

I've never been a huge fan of the fourth of July because I don't like crowds and I don't like the traffic that the fireworks at the beach brings. I feel like there's a lot of pressure to have the best time drinking, eating, and setting off fireworks. But this year was good. We spent the day with my cousins' house, having a cook out and avoiding the rain. We finished the night in the wine cellar, sharing a bottle of red and good stories.

Like I said, it's not my favorite holiday but I like the 4th for another reason now. It's a reminder of when AJ and I started our relationship and with each passing year I feel luckier and luckier that we did.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy 4th of July!

Happy Fourth of July! (Fireworks are hard to photograph)

I hope that your fourth is filled with fun, family, and fireworks! Once the weather shapes up around here, I'll be heading to my cousins' house with AJ for a cookout with more of our cousins! On days like this one, I feel so blessed to have such an amazing family and I feel incredible fortunate to be part of an amazing country that should be celebrated today!

Everyone, enjoy your day and make the most of it eat! Enjoy good company, eat good food, and spend time outside! 

Keep an eye out for more photos from my fourth!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Currently Reading: Ficciones

Last night I was wondering if I should write this or if I should start reading a new book for this post. But this book is one of those books that all writers and avid readers should read, according to the praise I've read and I thought that if I put it down now, I may never pick it up again. Plus, writing this post will hold me accountable for finishing the book.

I'm reading Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is a writer that highly influenced fiction writing in Latin America. He was born in Argentina but grew up traveling in Europe and lived in both Switzerland and Spain. His writing in philosophical, surreal, and over my head. In my opinion, Borges takes fiction to a new level. His fiction is about fiction.

Ficciones is a collection of short stories split into two parts; the first titled "The Garden of Forking Paths," and the second is titled "Artifices."These stories are about fictional writers, fictional books, and fictional countries or worlds that have never existed in real life but somehow Borges makes them real. The stories don't feel like stories so much as they feel like accounts of places and times that Borges and only Borges knows. And I think this is why I feel myself struggling to read these stories. I got half way through the first one, had know idea what was going on, and started over from the beginning. It felt like I was reading a new story because I had missed so much! I think this is only because I am not used to the writing style. That being said, he's a brilliant writer and has talents and an imagination that no one else will ever experience.

It may take me a little while to read this one. It's by no means a light or easy read. It requires complete focus, absolutely no distractions, and you really need to digest every single world because every word is necessary and adds to the story. This might mean flipping back a few pages every so often if feeling lost but, since one of the motifs in this book is labyrinths, I think the sensation of getting lost in the stories is intentional.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Keeping Up

No, not with the Kardashians. With myself. I'm really proud of the writing I did in June. I love looking at the listed archives and seeing my number of posts grow each day. I love that I greatly increased the number of posts I published from May to June. The number almost doubled and I'm so proud of that!

That's why I don't want to fall back in July. I want to keep up with June. It reminds me of being college. If I made Dean's List one semester, I felt that I had to make it the following semester and so on because if I didn't, it would mean that I had slacked or failed from past performances. It's not necessarily sane, but it's motivating!

So, that's my goal. To write more than the 27 posts I wrote last month while still keeping up the quality of the content. I imagine that this goal will stick as I continue this blogging journey.

What about you? Do you have any goals—blogging or otherwise—for July? I hope your July is off to a great start!

Literary Links

I love what this author has to say about writing habits. Kseniya Melnik's new book, Snow in May, is out and everyone should check it out! It's been getting great reviews which is undoubtedly due to Melnik's interesting history and literary capabilities.

These literary necklaces are so great! My favorites are T.S. Eliot's and Victor Hugo's, although Shakespeare's is based off one of my favorite quotes! Which would you wear the most?

Planning a trip by train this summer? Not only is the train a great place to write, it's the perfect place to lose yourself in a good book! Check out these books about rails and get inspired!

We're more than half way through 2014 and here are some of the best books so far! How many have you read?

Remember Diary of a Wimpy Kid? The author behind the well-known series is going to save physical books—real books—with his new take on classic bookstores!

Lastly, since it's the second day of July, check out these must read books of the month!

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Original Sex And The City: A Book Review

It was almost a month ago that I started reading The Group It does not usually take me this long to read a novel, but this one requires and deserves all the time you can give it. A well known, bestselling novel by the widely published writer, Mary McCarthy, The Group is an exceptional book that was groundbreaking in it's time and, in my opinion, still is.

As I mentioned when I previously wrote about this book, the story is centered on the lives of seven Vassar graduates in the years after their graduation. It opens with the marriage of one of the girls, Kay, and ends with a funeral—I won't disclose whose.

The writing is superb, which doesn't even need to be said when discussing a McCarthy book. It's a given. The characters all maintain specific and unique qualities but they are all realistic and personable. All of the girls go through hardships and successes. They deal with issues such as contraception, sexism, family crises, motherhood, bankruptcy, and heartbreaking relationships. McCarthy writes about these topics with depth, sympathy, and honesty. There's no sidestepping of awkward or uncomfortable situations and McCarthy allows you to experience each moment alongside the character. Rarely have a read a book that is so exceptionally truthful and realistic in regards to its characters, and that is what sets this book apart.

Because of the topics written about in this book, it was considered controversial. It was even banned in Australia. However, it did not deter sales at all. The Group landed on the bestseller list upon its publication and held its place there for two years. Further, it has inspired more current works based on the storyline, plot, and air of controversy. Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City was written as a modern adaptation of The Group and went on to have exceptional success.

Yes, this books takes time to read, but that makes it all the more recommended. Books are not meant to be run through at a high speed. They should be savored, enjoyed, and studied. Reading slowly through a book allows for reflection. You can form your thoughts and your own ideas about the characters and what they are experiencing. Who cares how long it takes you to read The Group? As long as you are enjoying it, take all the time you need.

There are a lot of characters and all of the main characters are women who come from interesting and occasionally similar backgrounds and all are equally well educated. Occasionally, it can be difficult to recall which storyline belongs to which woman but the writing style helps correct this. McCarthy dedicates about one to one and half chapters to each woman and often weaves the one or two girls into the storyline of another to keep them relevant and in your mind. Some girls have more focus on their story than others but that's ok, it would be impossible to dedicate the same amount of pages and words to each girl—it would become superfluous and the book would never end. Also, we do not get to see each girl in each year of the story. Often, we will get the story of one girl and then jump forward two years to get the story of the next girl. While it might sound confusing, it makes the reading very clear and understandable.

Some argue that this book is autobiographical, as McCarthy did graduate from Vassar in 1933, the same year as the girls in the book. She lived in New York City and was partial to communist groups after converting from Catholicism to atheism, a sentiment that can be seen by how some of the girls refer to the Church. Also, there is a very large focus on different political groups and sectors in the 30s. I had difficulty following the book at these moments simply because I do not know enough about that part of history. And this book truly is influenced by the time period in which it takes place. Everything that happens is influenced by the politics and social norms of its time. The book could not have been written any other way and it could not have been written any better. It is a masterpiece of prose and storytelling.

I recommend The Group to everyone because everyone can relate and everyone should experience a book by Mary McCarthy. I believe that it will interest women who have lived in New York City, have graduated from a private liberal arts college like Vassar, and women who have ever experienced the sensation of belonging to a well-defined group of girlfriends.

Have you ever read The Group? What did you think about the story and how it was written? If you've never read it, would you consider it?

The author, Mary McCarthy