Indisposable | 01

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I’ve taken to carrying disposable cameras with me wherever I go. They stir up nostalgia and hearken back to many an elementary school field trip where I ran around a historic battlefield or state capitol with a green cardboard camera in hand or days I spent at home, using an entire roll of film to snap pictures of my cat. But mostly, these days, they remind me that there are moments in my life that make me feel something so strongly that I’ve decided to remember them forever.

Disposable cameras, unlike cell phones or digital cameras, are intentional and finite. You get 25 shots, so you have to decide which moments to immortalize and which ones to let pass by. Once you do it so many times, it becomes a way of thinking even when you leave the camera at home. Taking photos this way trains you to be aware of beautiful moments where you felt so happy you could burst even if it was just a Tuesday in a small town in Alabama and nothing was going on, but you’re in a car with your two best friends and you’re laughing.

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– Lauren

Read

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Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. I read two of Joan Didion’s memoirs earlier this summer and couldn’t put them down, so when I saw Play It As It Lays, one of her fictions, on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, I had to pick it up. The novel is set in 1960s Hollywood and explores the position of women in society and mental illness, among other themes. It’s very poignantly written, and the reading experience was disturbing and affective despite the fact that the plot isn’t overly momentous or action-driven. Didion is one of my all-time favorite writers, and I highly, highly recommend this novel.

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Though I’ve only read two of his books, Herman Koch is another one of my favorite writers. I read The Dinner last summer and adored it, so I picked up Summer House with Swimming Pool to read on a recent trip to the beach. The novel follows a doctor and his family as they spend their summer vacation at the beach house of one of his clients, a famous but sleazy actor who we know from the outset will die by the narrator’s hands before the novel’s conclusion. Koch is really great at using nonlinear narratives, unreliable narrators, and unlikeable and controversial characters to create his engrossing psychological thrillers. Koch says in interviews that one of his goals in writing his novels is to be controversial, push boundaries, and make readers question societal values and judgments, and this novel definitely does all of those things. Koch plays with the idea of moral absolutism, the boundaries of sexual behaviors, misogyny, and the absurdity of fame and privilege.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. My Brilliant Friend is, hands down, my favorite read of the summer so far. Lately, I’ve been trying to read a more diverse selection of writers, including those whose works have been translated into English. My Brilliant Friend falls into this category (along with Summer House with Swimming Pool), as it was originally published in Italian. I’ve heard so many intriguing things about Elena Ferrante and her writing and was not let down my My Brilliant Friend. My Brilliant Friend is part of a series by Ferrante and tells the story of friendship between two girls, the unspoken competition within their friendship, and their struggles to feel worthwhile and follow dreams that are different than what is expected of them given the social politics of their poor Italian neighborhood. Definitely read this novel.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. In a moment of nostalgia for last summer when I studied abroad in England, I decided to read some Shakespeare so I could annotate a play or two while I drank tea and pretended I was in Oxford and not spending the summer working at home in Alabama. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is hilarious and tackles some real-life concerns under the guise of lightheartedness. It has magic, fairies, star-crossed lovers, a man with the head of a donkey, love triangles, and it reads with the ease and flow that is typical of Shakespeare’s other plays. References to this play are so pervasive in popular culture, which, combined with the merits of the play itself, makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream a must-read.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. I started reading this book back in high school and abandoned it about halfway through. An Object of Beauty is a novel based in the New York City art world and follows a recent college graduate for a period of several years as she manipulates, schemes, and uses her sexuality to get ahead in the art world. After taking several classes in art history and becoming more familiar with renowned artists, their work, and the nature of the art market, I decided to give An Object of Beauty another try. I did not love this novel. I found the characters to be flat, uninteresting, and cliche, and I thought the ending wrapped up a little too neatly for all the characters involved, but Martin, who is an art lover himself, offers some interesting opinions on the nature and value of art. My advice for you if you decide to read this book is to read it for Martin’s insights about the art market and not for the plot, which I found rather lackluster and contrived. I wouldn’t go so far as to not recommend this book, but I think it’s very much geared toward people who have a better-than-average knowledge of art and artists.

What have you read this summer?

– Lauren

Read

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The Pocketknife Bible by Anis Mojgani. The Pocketknife Bible is Mojgani’s self-illustrated memoir in verse that talks about his experiences growing up down South. It has the really mystical and swampy feeling of his poetry collections, and I highly recommend it.

Crush by Richard Siken. I knew of Richard Siken solely because of his poem “You Are Jeff,” which is one of my favorites. I had this collection in my “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads and finally picked it up when I stumbled across it at Barnes & Noble. I loved it so much that I read every poem twice. If you’re someone who wants to read poetry but is intimidated by the “classics,” check out Richard Siken. Personally, I find his work to be very beautiful, but also very accessible. And even when I have no idea what he’s talking about, I’m strangely okay with it.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I don’t think I have adequate words to describe my love for Joan Didion. I will seriously read anything that she writes. The Year of Magical Thinking is her memoir of the year following the unexpected death of her husband, and it absolutely destroyed me.

Bark by Lorrie Moore. Like Joan Didion, Lorrie Moore can do no wrong in my eyes. She writes incredible short stories, and this collection did not disappoint. Moore has this knack for writing these stories that are simultaneously the most hilarious and most devastating things I’ve ever read. And she does it all within the span of about 30 pages. From this collection, my favorite is “Paper Losses.”

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know I absolutely rave over Kristopher Jansma’s novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. When I found out he was writing another book, I preordered it on principle. The story follows a friend group of twenty-somethings after one of them is diagnosed with cancer. I’m very hesitant when it comes to books about people with cancer, because 1.) they make me sad and 2.) they’re often full of annoying tropes. But I read it anyway. It did make me sad, but I didn’t find it frustratingly contrived. I really enjoyed how it was structured and the multiple perspective narration.

What have you read recently?

– Lauren

Read | December 2015

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Novels

  1. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. When I heard Harper Lee was publishing another book, I knew I had to read it. However, as the controversy surrounding the circumstances of the book’s publication surfaced, I was unsure. After a few months of going back and forth, I ended up picking it up and read it on a recent car ride to Washington DC. It reads really quickly and is intelligently-written. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it, mainly the new characterization of Atticus which I found disappointing. Though it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, it works as a continuation of the story. In keeping with the themes from To Kill A Mockingbird, the novel deals with racial tensions during Civil Rights. But instead of centering the novel on an actual racial  altercation, the tensions lie mainly in Scout’s and Atticus’ differing ideas on the proper ways to confront racism and Civil Rights.
  2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The only Kurt Vonnegut I had read before Slaughterhouse Five were short stories from my middle school literature book. I picked up a copy of this book from a used book store, and I couldn’t put it down. It is assumed that the narrator of the story is Vonnegut himself, and the novel is his attempt to tell of his experiences of the Dresden fire-bombing. However, the story is science fiction, following Billy Pilgrim as he is abducted by aliens and learns to travel back and forth in time. Vonnegut inserts himself into the narrative at several points, making himself a character. It plays with concept of time, as well. Billy is able to travel back and forth in time, or rather, exist in many different moments at the same time. As a result, the narrative jumps forwards and backwards. It is nonlinear. Similarly, at the end of his “introduction” to Billy’s story, Vonnegut tells the readers what the first and last words of the narrative will be. In this way, he establishes time as cyclical rather than linear. In doing so, he comments on the futility of attempting to impose order, rationality, or intelligence on something like the Dresden bombings, a “massacre.”

Graphic Novels

  1. Maus Vol. 2 by Art Spiegelman. I read Maus Vol. 1 for one of my classes last semester and loved it. In it, Spiegelman tells the story of his father’s experience as a Polish Jew during World War II. Vol. 1 ends right as his father is captured, leaving the reader hanging. I had to find out what happened to him, so I ordered Vol. 2, which follows Spiegelman’s father’s life in Auschwitz and his eventual liberation. Spiegelman does a great job humanizing his father and representing an event that is unable to be truly represented. I highly recommend it.

Magazines

  1. Kinfolk Vol. 16. I buy Kinfolk on principle. Vol. 16 is the Essentials Issue. It argues against the minimalism fad by presenting the idea of essentialism. Basically, it embraces simplifying one’s life but leaving room for superfluous things that bring joy. As usual, the design of this issue is flawless. What really struck me about this issue, though, were the photographs. There are some really incredible black and white photographs in this issue that I kept flipping back to.

 

What did you read this month?

-Lauren