2016 Year In Review (It Sucked But I Read A Lot)

Linear time is meaningless, but in the spirit of keeping with tradition I’ve written up my book year in review. 2016 was a pretty much a unanimous choice for the “Worst Year in Recent Memory” award. Deaths of icons, civil rights violations, the election, and a lot of sports related L’s for my home state and alma mater. Frankly it all sucked. But one good thing came out of 2016 and that was my best reading year since 2013. (Oh I also graduated.) Here are some stats and fun facts about the books I read this year.

Books Read: 59/30

My goal this year was a lowball considering my dismal failure to meet my goal in 2015. Thanks to a considerable period of unemployment and way more free time than I’m used to, I was able to read at a pace I can be proud of. Granted I wasn’t reading the heaviest of materials, but I’m happy with the number of books I read this year.

Most Common Rating: 4 stars

“Good not great” seems to be the theme of my 2016 books. Looking back, I did only read a few really fantastic books this year. Sure, I enjoyed most of the books I was reading, but very few of them were really exceptional. Did I suddenly develop a terrible taste in books? Have my standards for amazing books gone up? Did 2016 just spread its mojo onto my reading list? The world may never know.

Total Pages Read: 16197

I’m pretty happy about this, especially since I read quite a few books on Kindle this year. I did read more short books than longer books, which is something I may try to remedy in 2017. But in reality, are long books really better than short books? Nah. But I did hit double figures this year when I didn’t last year, so I’m pretty happy with this year’s effort.

Longest Book Read: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, 515 pages

I was not on top of my reviewing game this year and I didn’t manage to review this excellent book. Not only was this the longest book I read this year, but one of the best. As I mentioned before, this was definitely a year of shorter books. Labyrinth comes in as the shortest “longest book read” by a good 200 pages.

Favorite Book Read: A Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

This was a pretty difficult decision. All of the 5 star books I read this year were pretty evenly matched. I read some really great non-fiction and some really quality novels as well. Ultimately I had to ask myself what book would I want to read again and A Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England won out. Luckily I actually reviewed this book on the blog! You can read my review here. Honorable mentions include: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, Queen of Fashion: What Queen Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Webber, King John by William Shakespeare, the aforementioned Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, and Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Least Favorite Book Read: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

This was a no-brainer. The sole 1 star book I read this year and generally just a garbage piece of non-fiction. I reviewed it here for your reading pleasure.

My reading goal for 2017? 50 books. I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year (my hopes are not high) and I can keep up with the reading pace I set in 2016.

Quick Reviews: I Read Too Fast to Review Consistently These Days (Part 2)

I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately. I’ve been volunteering at my local library, in the non-fiction section as it happens and I’ve picked up a few interesting titles. Here are my latest reviews.

Whip Smart: A Memoir by Melissa Febos: A memoir of a professional dominatrix. The culture of dominatrixes is interesting, but Febos is not the most talented writer I have ever read. Her attitude is condescending and I felt the book harped a bit too much on her personal issues. While the book brings up some interesting points about feminism and I enjoyed learning about the profession, I wouldn’t particularly recommend this particular book, if only for the style of the author. 3 stars

Something for the Pain: One Doctor’s Account of Life and Death in the ER by Paul Austin: I was initially interested in this memoir because the author attended my alma mater (that is so weird to type. SO WEIRD.) Apparently he didn’t spend enough time in the English building because this book was a disappointment. There wasn’t as much detail about the actual cases he took on in the ER as I would have liked, and instead included some very personal details about his life away from the hospital. (I didn’t need to know about his sex life, I really didn’t.) 2 stars

The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time And Fighting Wars by Patrick Hennessey: First of all, the author is lowkey cute. Second of all, there’s a lot of military vocabulary in this book and I was confused for a lot of it. Third of all, hegemonic masculinity runs rampant and it’s a tad bit uncomfortable for me, as a female reader. This is an interesting memoir of a soldier’s time training and fighting for the British army in the Middle East. It just didn’t really pull me in, and it only made me more fearful for the future. 3 stars

Terrorist Hunter by Anonymous: I was really interested in this memoir of a woman who went undercover in terrorist cells in the United States. I was looking forward to her perspective as a woman, originally from Iraq, on radical terrorist organizations. But all I got was a lot of fear mongering, accusations, and hatred. She is immediately suspicious of all Muslims, believes that ALL Muslim charities are fronts for Al-Qaeda, and pushes some really dangerous rhetoric. We don’t need her brand of angry witch hunts in today’s world. I’m disappointed. 2 stars

The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power, and Intrigue in an English Stately Home by Natalie Livingstone: I absolutely love the stately British aristocratic homes and their histories. I was really excited to read this account of the mistresses of Cliveden, an estate near London on the Thames. I wasn’t exactly disappointed, more underwhelmed. The information on the women itself was fascinating (who knew Nancy Astor was such an awful person?) and the book has a substantial works cited. But the way the information was presented was just a bit… meh, slightly too academic and not particularly engaging. For a more popular history, the presentation was a bit dry, but still worth a try. 3 stars

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris: Part-grammar guide and part-memoir, this book by a New Yorker copy editor had me laughing out loud. Norris’ voice comes through beautifully, even when explaining complicated grammar rules. (This post is chock full of grammar mistakes I’m sure. For that, I apologize to Ms. Norris.) I loved her stories from her desk at the New Yorker. If you have even the slightest interest in grammar I defintely recommend it. If you don’t, this probably isn’t for you. 4 stars

Quick Reviews: I Read Too Fast to Review Consistently These Days (Part 1)

I have good news and bad news readers. The good news is that after a near two year slump of only reading for academic reasons I’m back to my old pace of reading a couple of books a week- for pleasure! I honestly didn’t realize how much brain power reading took. Netflix became my primary method of entertainment in my down time, simply because I was too exhausted by school to read. Now that I’ve begun my gap year, I have plenty of brain power to read- and I’m taking advantage of it! Now for the bad news. Since I’m getting through a book or two a week these days I’m getting majorly behind on reviews. I just don’t have the time to write an extensive review of each book I’m reading! I’m going to keep trying to review books more consistently, if simply for the sake of creating content for the blog, but I don’t think it’ll be possible to write reviews for each book I read. So I guess expect more opinion pieces in the future rather than book reviews. It’s a great problem to have, I promise!

That being said, I want to keep y’all updated on what I’m reading. So here are some quick reviews of some of the books I’ve read in the past month.

Anglomania: A European Love Affair by Ian Buruma: My sister got this book for me for Christmas and I finally got to finish it quite recently. It’s a collection of vignettes about lovers (and haters) of England, their philosophies, cultures, and the rest of Europe’s relationship with the “Land of Hope and Glory.” (I have no idea if anyone actually calls England that. I just googled “nicknames for England” and that’s what popped up.) It’s a bit of a weighty read, but the author’s style is great and manages to “dumb down” some super complicated ideas for the average reader. I also loved reading about his personal experiences. 4 stars

The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees: This is an interesting concept- a fantasy re-imagining of the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Viola’s daughter Violetta and of course, Feste, travel to England, meet the young Mr. Shakespeare and embark on an adventure. Mixing Shakespearean characters, historical figures, and characters of Rees’ own devising, it’s a really interesting concept, but unfortunately poorly realized. The author really overcomplicates things and piles the cliches on a little too heavily for my taste. But major credit for really committing for the story. 3 stars

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks: While I don’t buy into a lot of the ideas presented by this famous feminist, I found a lot of the book really interesting. She’s a little dismissive of the younger generation’s approach to love (listen, I get it, we’re hella skeptical, but can you blame us?) and I find her hopes for a world motivated purely by love a little unrealistic. However, she points out that most problems in relationships come from hegemonic masculinity and the major influence of patriarchy in relationships, and it completely blew my mind. (As a history major I have come to realize that most of the world’s problems could have been avoided if hegemonic masculinity wasn’t a thing, but somehow I never connected that to love relationships.) I want to read more by bell hooks and I think this was a good start. Oh, by the way, I read this in connection with Emma Watson’s feminist book club. Obviously I enjoyed it a lot more than How to be a Woman. 3 stars

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: I haven’t seen Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” nor have I read her other book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this book. I find myself to be very similar to Kaling. We both have “anxious, argumentative” personalities, appreciate scheduled socializing, and have a tendency ti be attracted to men who resemble fictional characters. (Honestly, if you bear even the slightest resemblance to Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds, I’m probably halfway in love with you.) Her tone got a bit annoying at times, but overall I did really enjoy this book. I laughed out loud several times and I appreciated her honesty. 4 stars

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie: Y’all should know by now that I absolutely adore Agatha Christie. These books are absolutely timeless and consistently mind blowing. My love for Miss Marple is second only to my love for Poirot and I enjoyed this rendition of her exploits as much as any other. I really enjoyed the references to Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot throughout the novel, and Miss Marple is as sassy and brilliant as ever. The only reason I can’t give this one five stars is that the plot – involving a movie star as St. Mary Mead’s newest resident – just wasn’t my cup of tea. I much prefer the books with normal people rather than, as my history professor used to say, the “bright and shiny people.” 4 stars

Bossypants by Tina Fey: Another memoir by a lady of comedy. I enjoyed this one as much I did Kaling’s book. Fey is just naturally hilarious, and as a fan of 30 Rock I loved hearing about the behind the scenes happenings at the show. Other than the 30 Rock stories, I especially loved the chapter about her disastrous honeymoon which had me nearly crying with laughter. Fey also makes some really important points about feminism (ex: she mentions a workshop she attended that asked women when they first knew they were a “woman.” Most of them recalled the first time they were catcalled. Think about that.) Again, something kept me from giving this book five stars (maybe I’ve become jaded and I’m no longer able to love books as much as I used to, who knows?) but I encourage everyone to read this, fan of Tina Fey or not. 4 stars

That’s all for now. Part 2 of this series coming soon. (Yeah there are two parts- I told you I’ve been reading a lot!)

Peace, love, and books with female protagonists.

The Book Girl

PS I no longer like the title of my blog or the moniker I’ve assigned myself. Changes are in the works! If you have any ideas for a unique title for this blog, let me know!

 

Dear UNC

Dear UNC,

I grew up with you in my blood. The alma mater poured from my lips with ease from my lips from the beginning. The only thing I ever wanted in my life from the moment I understood what it was, was UNC diploma. When I didn’t get in straight out of high school I was devastated. It seemed I was the only one you didn’t want UNC, I wasn’t good enough for you. I didn’t know I would ever be good enough. I worked so hard my freshman year, in a place I didn’t want to be, aching to be in Chapel Hill. I submitted my application to transfer and I waited. It was agonizing. Six months later I got that acceptance email and I screamed. And I cried. My life changed the moment I read that email, not just for the better, but for the best.

My first semester I came excited but terrified and you gave me two amazing women. Two best friends who had the same love of you and the same ambitions as I did. The first class I ever went to, one of them was there. The other joined me for some of my first English classes. We went to every football and basketball game. We stayed up late talking and laughing, listening to music, doing a lot of homework. We shared so many meals together (our first text in our group message is “Dinner at 6:30?”) and just as many study sessions. We coined iconic phrases and inside jokes. With the mere mention of a word or phrase we will still descend into uncontrollable giggles. We were inseparable for all that time. They’re still my best friends UNC, thank you for that. I cried moving out of my dorm UNC, not from relief, like the previous year, but because I was grateful. Grateful for the fun I didn’t know college could be and the friends I didn’t know I would make.

First semester junior year, when I was settled in, I thought that I had all the friends I needed and that I hit the peak of my academic ambitions, you dumped so much in my lap I didn’t know what to do with myself. You gave me the class that inspired my honors thesis, the professor who would become my mentor, and a study group that was so much more than that. We laughed, I cried, we listened to Bruce Springsteen, and we ate tacos while studying Renaissance literature. I got one of my best friends out of that deal, and a group of people from every discipline you could imagine came together to absolutely destroy that final exam. It was magical UNC, I had never enjoyed group work before that. You know what else you gave me that semester UNC? Through a run of the mill email from the history department you gave me an internship which inspired in me a love of historic preservation that I still carry with me. You gave me a cause to fight for (like I needed another) and even better, you gave me even more friends. Two women who shared my love of history, who I spent countless hours drinking coffee with and discussing the ever important topics of boys and women in history with. The women I worked with were so supporting and encouraging, I didn’t know I could enjoy work that much.

Then UNC, you really surprised me. You dropped two new subleasers in my apartment when this time around I was sure that I had my friend group set in stone. Then, at the end of the semester, I had two new best friends out of nowhere. It shouldn’t have happened like that. It shouldn’t have taken only four months to develop deep and lasting friendships, but it did. We watched movies, drank wine, turned the heat up way too high during the winter. We laughed and cried and filled out brackets. I don’t know how many pints of ice cream, boxes of wheat thins, chicken breasts, and boxes of pasta we consumed. We had family style dinners, they became like sisters to me. We have so many memories together from just that semester I can’t even begin to recount them all. (Almost all of them also feature incidents I should not mention to the general public.) Slowly their friends became my friends too. And these women too, impacted me for the better.

I came into senior year with an apartment full of friends, a thesis to write, and a basketball team ranked preseason number one. It’s not fair that my best year was my last one UNC. It’s not fair that I was the happiest I had ever been and you made me leave. It’s not fair that I took some of my favorite classes ever during my last semester, that our football team won every game I attended, that I traveled to Houston to see our basketball team play for a national championship, I celebrated my 21st birthday, I ate a ton of buffalo dip, discovered I like gin, watched sunsets from my balcony, made a ton of trips to Cookout, rocked an iconic Halloween costume, drank a ton of coffee, saw Beyonce in concert, took a road trip to Florida to go to Universal Studios, went to Senior Bar Golf, rushed Franklin Street, and made so many more lifelong memories in the last few months I was there. And you made me leave.

UNC you have given me some of the best moments of my life, and admittedly some of the worst. But every moment has been worth all it took to get here. Standing in line for four hours in the rain and cold for a game I never even got into, sitting in the library until it closed, buried in twelfth century primary sources, sobbing on my friends’ shoulders over some problem or another, bad exam grades. Every discouraging, embarrassing, disappointing, moment was worth it. And I can’t not mention the people you didn’t give me UNC. My old friends from middle school, high school, my first year of college, my family. They loved me through every moment. They came to visit me, sat in the library with me, watched games with me, slept over in my apartment, and ate cookies with me at 2am (thank God for delivery.) My relationships with them are even stronger now and my life is bursting with people and memories who I adore and I could not be more thankful for. Now I have two degrees, lifelong friends, and enough old bluebooks to wallpaper the White House. The highest highs, the lowest lows, more than my share of embarrassing moments, you allowed all of that to happen. So this is my letter to you, UNC. Part thank you note, part love letter, part coping mechanism for saying goodbye.

As Charles Kuralt asked, “What is it that binds us to this place?” He was right in that it is not “the well, the bell or the stone walls” or anything else he mentions. It’s the people, the memories, the knowledge that I have grown into someone I never thought I would become. You’re home to me UNC. I am who I am because of you, UNC.

I love you, thank you, goodbye.

Claire Richie, Class of 2016

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It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake

I initially plucked this paperback off my to-read list as a sort of recovery book. You know, a bit of fluff to cushion the more hard hitting stuff. Not serious, not heavy, not Nobel Prize worthy, but fun to read. I had just finished a provoking bell hooks book and was seeking something that would leave me feeling rejuvenated rather than exhausted after I finished it. Believe it or not, I got that and so much more.

So the premise of the series is that Darcy, a recent divorcee and her sister Harper, find out that they’re actually witches, in this case a specific kind of witch called a Wishcrafter. Basically they can grant the wishes of other people. They then move to Enchanted Village in Salem, Massachusetts (because witch trials of course) to join their aunt Velma in the family business. Listen, I know this sounds silly, but I promise you, Blake creates such a believable world that even know it seems a little ridiculous, it’s super easy to go along with. What I really appreciated is that Blake didn’t waste a ton of time with backstory, instead letting that surface naturally as she expanded the plot. The plot, of course, being the murder of a particularly nasty member of the community. Again, usually these things are pretty simply. It’s not super hard to figure “whodunnit” so to speak in these kinds of novels, but I was actually pretty stumped up until the end. And there are several surprising twists at the end that set up some great plot points for the next few books. The whole novel is so well constructed I was honestly blown away. Maybe I’m a bit of a book snob for being so flabbergasted at how good this novel was, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that this is an extremely good piece of writing for this genre.

I was expecting your run of the mill “chick-lit” supernatural mystery, but what I got was a very good book. The concept was intriguing and complicated enough to keep me guessing, but not too convoluted. The plot kept me interested, the characters were well developed and relatable, and it was FUN. The first thing I did when I finished was request the second in the series to be put aside for me at the library. I’m genuinely excited to pursue this series! A round of applause for Heather Blake, I’m so glad I picked this series to be my book cushion. (Is “book cushion” a thing? Can I make it a thing?)

5/5 stars

(Oh, happy summer everyone! See you next week for my retrospective on my college career, did I mention I graduated?)

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

So as some of you may know, Emma Watson of Harry Potter movie fame has started a feminist book club on Goodreads called Our Shared Shelf. I was so incredibly excited to join in with one of my favorite actresses who also happens to be an amazing activist for women’s rights. I missed the first three months of books because I was so busy with school, so this month I was determined to get a jump start and read Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman.

Needless to say, I picked the wrong month to start the book club.

This is absolutely the worst book I’ve read in a long time. Moran’s prose is crude, unpolished, and at times, offensive. Reading this book made me feel like she was screaming her opinions in my face, ranting at me. I mean, I guess I can’t really talk because that’s pretty much the point of my blog, but I expect more from a published author. Not to mention she writes for a living. It’s not just her writing style that gets to me, its the content as well. I’m usually all for any kind of feminist literature, but Moran’s brand of feminism is frustrating.

Moran is the worst kind of feminist. The pretentious feminist. The kind who shames other women for being traditionally feminine. She absolutely rails against thongs, weddings, heels, purses, bikini waxing, anything that seems remotely feminine. I agree that having a standard of femininity is bogus and should be done away with, but Moran goes too far. Of course she NEVER participates in ANYTHING remotely feminine. And she is RIGHT and all other women are WRONG and they must stop IMMEDIATELY.

Or you could be a real feminist and stop persecuting for their life choices. Tear down sexist structures, fight the patriarchy, protest anti-feminist industry, but stop telling other women what to do and what to believe. Women are not at fault here. Victims of oppression cannot be blamed for their own oppression. Should women’s pants have larger, more functional pockets to eliminate the need to spend extra money on a purse? Absolutely. Should we shame women who spent money on designer handbags and tell them they are responsible for sexist structures in the fashion industry? Absolutely freaking not. This is the kind of thing that Moran writes and I’m just not for it.

So I gave this book one star. I probably could have given it two stars, because at times Moran is funny, entertaining and actually makes some good points. But I can get funny, entertaining, and good points on feminism elsewhere, without the snark, crudity, and patronizing tone. I don’t need Moran to tell me how to be a woman. I am a woman and how I choose to express myself is my choice, not her’s or anyone else’s.

1/5 stars

(Side note: The rest of the books Our Shared Shelf has read look far more appealing, and I definitely plan to keep reading the selections. I’m not going to let this deter me, and neither should anyone else. Education is our best weapon against the patriarchy, so let’s read on!)

A Bookish Day in New York

Hi readers! I just arrived back from a wonderful long weekend in New York City. I had the opportunity to visit my sister over spring break and despite the chilly weather in Manhattan I had a wonderful time. I had one day to myself in the city while my sister worked and I spent it doing some amazingly bookish things. Here are my recommendations for how to spend a book-filled day in New York City!

Start your day in the East Village by grabbing some coffee at The Bean (9th St and 1st Ave.) Okay, not strictly book related, but their coffee is fantastic and the atmosphere is really great. And they’re dog friendly, and what better way to get your day started than by petting a dog? After getting yourself a to go cup of Joe, head up a few blocks to The Strand Bookstore (12th St. and Broadway.) Y’all I spend two hours there and could have spent twice as long. They have over 18 miles of books!!! And most of them are priced at below market price. It took all of my self control to only buy three books while I was there. Even if you don’t plan to purchase anything it’s still worth it to go and look around. It’s so incredibly impressive and their displays are so aesthetically pleasing! Not to mention, they have a rare book floor which is completely open to the public. Your last stops in the East Village should be Mamoun’s Falafel (22 St. Mark’s Place) for lunch (only $3.50 for a super filling lunch!) and then Big Gay Ice Cream (7th St. near Tompkins Square Park) for a decadent cone or sundae. I promise you, they’re both worth any line you have to stand it.

For your afternoon entertainment, hop on the subway or grab a cab and head up to Midtown. Obviously New York has some of the best museums in the world, but for a bookish day, your main stop should be The Morgan Library and Museum (36th St. and Madison Ave.) Right now they have an amazing exhibition on Warhol and his involvement in illustrating books (I’m not a huge fan of Warhol and I still really enjoyed it) and the main attraction of JP Morgan’s incredible library is also there. I had serious library envy in there. Three levels of books, all beautifully bound! Not to mention Morgan’s collection of rare books, including first edition Jane Austen novels, Siegfried Sassoon’s journal, and no less than three Gutenberg Bibles. AMAZING. After the Morgan Library, make a quick trip to the New York Public Library (40th St. and 5th Ave.) The library has three levels and all are equally stunning. There are some great exhibits on the library’s history, and right now they have a great exhibit on women illustrators and engravers. Most of the actual books have been removed however, which begs the slightly philosophical question, is it still a library without any books?

As for your nightly entertainment, I of course have to recommend Broadway. I personally saw An American in Paris on my trip (which is amazing, definitely recommend!) but there are some more bookish shows on now. Something Rotten is about Shakespeare (I’m planning on seeing that one this summer on my next trip to NYC) and there are always the options of Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked, which are all based on books. After your show, definitely finish the night with dinner and drinks at The Shakespeare (off 39th St.) The restaurant is upstairs and a bar that serves a full menu downstairs. We sat downstairs and had some phenomenal food and cocktails. The mac and cheese is very good and the ricotta toast is out of this world. So good!

These are my recommendations for a fully bookish day in New York City! Have your own suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!

 

Do Academics Read for Fun?

I am very tired.

This is my last semester of college and I am very tired. I’m taking a full course load, applying for jobs, and writing a senior honors thesis. I’m in the midst of preparing for the rest of my life and the rest of my life will probably look very similar to this. I will likely be in academics, so that means classes, papers, reading, and writing are going to be what I do pretty much forever. And I’m okay with that! I’m even pretty excited about it. I mean, how many other people get to learn new things about the subjects they’re most passionate about for money? I love what I do, and as tired as I am, I love sitting down and doing research on 17th century poetry every day. Even when I’m stumped like I am right now, I couldn’t be more excited to do this for the rest of my life.

But do academics get to read for pleasure? I ask this because I haven’t read fiction not for my literature classes since this summer. I read only half of my goal of books for the year last year. Nearly every book I read last year was for my thesis or a class. As much as I love literature, I miss being able to sit down and lose myself in a book without examining every sentence for underlying themes and different meanings. I miss being able to laugh and cry at a book without thinking about the paper I have to write on it in a few weeks time. I miss being able to just sit down and read a silly, fun, piece of fiction that isn’t an American classic. I don’t want to read serious books all the time. I hate Faulkner, Fitzgerald gets boring, Nabokov gives me headaches.

Am I a traitor English majors for even thinking these things? There are people in my classes who have read everything Kierkegaard has ever written and I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes every time his name is mentioned. Sometimes I just don’t want to think when I read. I just want to get lost in the world that the author creates and forget that I have tests and responsibilities and everything else I have to think about.

Is this my life from now on? Have I chosen a path that requires all my focus and energy to be on the academic subject I’ve chosen forever? Am I doomed to be consumed by metaphors, existentialism, explications, and analysis until I retire? I chose English because I love to read. I don’t want to lose sight of the love and passion that got me to this point.

I want to be an academic, but I want to be an academic who reads for fun.

But for now I’m just very tired.

King John by William Shakespeare

I’m so excited for my last semester of college. I’m almost a month into my classes and I’m getting back to my roots. After finally finishing my GenEds last semester and dropping the minor I was no longer passionate about, I’m back to my roots. I’m taking all history and English classes and writing an honors thesis in English. The English class I’m most excited for is my War in Shakespeare’s Plays class. I’m taking it with my favorite professor, my best friend, and my favorite Shakespeare anthology. (No, it’s not this one, but the version I consider best for academic work. It’s David Bevington’s edition and I swear by it.) We’re reading works in which war is prevalent, which sadly leaves out some of my favorite plays, but it includes many of the history plays, which I’ve always been very intimidated by.

King John is the first play we read in this class and it has usurped Richard III (as always seems to happen to Richard III- haha history jokes) as my favorite history play. (Not my favorite play overall, that bounces around between King Lear – which you’ll notice is a change in opinion from when I originally reviewed the play, I’ve seen the error of my ways and now I absolutely love Lear, – Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra depending on my mood.) The wit and banter in this play is off the charts and there’s an amazing female presence in this play with the BAMF Eleanor of Aquitaine on the side of the English and her French counterpart Constance. These two women are hugely influential in the first half of the play, and honestly the work kind of suffers during the second half after they (spoilers!) both die.

Here are some highlights (and lowlights) of the play:

The plot on simplest terms: King of England wants to also be King of France, King of England may not even have a legitimate claim to the throne. Two moms yell at each other, a bunch of people die, and British history marches on.

Favorite character: Eleanor

Least favorite character: I don’t really have one? Okay, I lied. I find Hubert de Burgh massively annoying. Can you not be so moral? Like please.

Notable quote:

Bastard: Madam, I’ll follow you unto the death.

Eleanor: Nay, I would have you go before me thither.

(PS: Thinking of trying out this kind of format with all the Shakespeare plays I review this semester. If you have any feedback, leave it in the comments!)

Obviously I think very highly of King John. It’s an exceptionally well crafted play, even by Shakespeare’s standards. I’m so glad I kicked off this semester with this work!

5/5 stars

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

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Please ignore my chipped nails in the photo above and instead please focus on how great this book is.

First of all, major shoutout to my amazing sister Kelly, who got me a fantastic haul of books and other goodies from The Strand in New York. The Strand is a massive bookstore in New York City that houses eighteen miles of books. I can’t wait to visit in March, but for now I will placate myself with my bag of goodies. Kelly knows I love British history, especially the Tudor dynasty and she picked this out for me. I’m so glad she did!

Mortimer does an amazing job making history accessible for the average reader. But at the same time, the tone wasn’t at all patronizing or condescending. I have pretty extensive background knowledge in this subject and I was engaged the whole way through. Even when the information presented was something I already knew, I was still interested. Another thing that makes this book great is the variety of information Mortimer provides. This book is really a portrait of daily life in Elizabethan England and even the most seemingly insignificant detail, for example the average weight of a sheep, seems important and engaging.

The book is broken down into chapters detailing different aspects of Elizabethan life, such as hygiene, dress, etiquette and religious climate. Each chapter builds on the previous one and the book shows how the intricacies of daily life are so delicately intertwined. My personal favorite chapters are What to Eat and What to Wear.

Not only is this book informative, but it is incredibly entertaining. The author is witty and can make even repulsive subjects like Elizabethan medical practices appealing, even if it’s just a little bit. Whether you’re a history buff or not, I recommend this book as an entertaining read, and you might just learn something new.

5/5 stars