Tipsy Typer’s Year-End Top Ten Literary Lovelies

Books have always been my saving grace, my escape from a world gone wild. Whenever I am overwhelmed, in need of comfort or inspiration; I turn to those familiar worn pages. They are constantly changing and questioning my world view, pushing me to become a better version of myself. Books are a large part of my life, and as such, they are also one of my biggest investments. When my bookshelves started overflowing, I plunged into the realm of the ebooks (people can’t question your purchases if they cannot see them piling up in the corner of your room). Which is how I wound up with 481 books owned and unread at the beginning of 2016.

So this past year I embarked on a grand literary adventure: to start reading some of these little lovelies I have waiting for me. In 2016 I set a new personal record: 205 books read, checked off the list, coded and catalogued. Now, this was in large part due to my fascination with reading some shorter titles that are geared more towards young adults and children (surprisingly pertinent lessons can be learned from the works we abandoned as we entered adulthood), and my discovery of audiobooks to go with my long commute and a job that allows me to listen to whatever I want when it won’t interfere with my work product.

This has been a year of transition and change for me, a year of challenging myself and my own opinions, of expanding my views and opportunities. These books were an integral part of my personal journey, and so in tribute, I am going to mention a few; my top ten. Deciding the titles that would make this list was an incredibly difficult decision for me, as I had fond thoughts of most of them. But after some time debating and evaluating, I finally managed to whittle down the numbers. With that, I present to you: Tipsy Typer’s Year-End Top Ten Literary Lovelies (note: these were not all written this year, they just happened to be read by me this year). They are in no particular order, so here goes:

  1. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided.    By: Diane Guerrero
  2. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education.    By: Mychal Denzel Smith
  3. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.   By: Wes Moore
  4. I am Malala.   By: Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
  5. Wild.   By: Cheryl Strayed
  6. Kingkiller Chronicles (Book 1: The Name of the Wind. Book 2: The Wise Man’s Fear).   By: Patrick Rothfuss
  7. The Martian.   By: Andy Weir
  8. The Elephant Whisperer.   By: Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
  9. AWOL on the Appalachian Trial.   By: David Miller
  10. I Ching.   Author unknown

And then, because I really struggled with this decision, I’ve decided to include 10 honorable mentions that were so unbelievably close to being on the top list that I actually swapped a few of them out. Multiple times.

Tipsy Typer’s Just as Awesome Honorable Mentions that Probably Should Have Made the List (again, in no particular order):

  1. The Little Prince.   By: Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  2. Wishful Drinking.  By: Carrie Fisher
  3. This is Your Brain on Parasites.  By: Kathleen McAuliffe
  4. Catch Me If You Can.   By: Frank Abignale
  5. Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain.  By: Michael Paterniti
  6. American Gods.  By: Neil Gaiman
  7. The Art Forger.   By: B.A. Shapiro
  8. The Girl on the Train.  By: Paula Hawkins
  9. Ready Player One.  By: Ernest Cline
  10. Dead Mointain.   By: Donnie Eichar

Every book I have read this year has left me with something, has impacted me in some way. That’s the beauty of books; they change us in ways that we don’t always immediately recognize. And judging by the mountain of exciting pages I have in my to-be-read pile (currently numbering at 633), I believe I will have another year of memorable forays into the written word. If you get a chance to peruse any of these beauties, I know you will not walk away disappointed. So tonight I raise my glass and send a cheers out to the authors who have inspired me this year, as well as those who I know will help me navigate through 2017. I couldn’t do this lie without you. 

Tsundoku: How the Japanese have named my soul

Language is a beautifully complex creation of the human mind. Individual cultures and the languages that they speak feed and thrive off of one another. Therefore, it is not so unheard of that many of these dialects will evolve in different, though similar, directions. There is a beautiful thing when you find a word that does not easily translate into your own native tongue. Usually it is something that you deeply understand, a word that makes you go ‘aha! why don’t we have this already?’ Take ‘mamihlapinatapei,’ a Yagan word that is best described as ‘the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.’ I’m guessing this is a look that you can picture right now. And yet in the English language we have nothing simple to describe this scenario. And then there is the Yiddish word ‘shlimazl’ which roughly means a perpetually unlucky person. What about ‘jayus,’ an Indonesian word that means ‘a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.’ Personally, I am an expert in the jayus. In fact, I think that’s going to be a new staple in my vocabulary. I find the study of languages and their eccentricities and divergence to be deeply fascinating. And while I could probably go on for pages upon pages with different examples, I am going to leave you with the one that started this whole article.

You see, apart from my quickly worded jayus (I don’t know if I used that correctly, and I can’t help but wonder if there is a plural form of this), there is another word I discovered that touches me on a deeply fundamental level. Tsundoku is the Japanese word that encompasses a difficult aspect of my life. This is my chosen art form: it is the act of buying books that pile up unread on your shelves. If this were a crime, I would be serving a life sentence.

It’s not that I don’t respect the books, no, that was never the issue for me. It is that my love for them goes so deep that I cannot say no when I see something that I want. Especially when it happens to be on sale. I have always had an obsession with books, even when I was a little kid- I owned more than I was able to cram into my overflowing bookshelf. They were stacked beside, on top of, and in front of one another (and this does not include the pile usually precariously placed beside my bed). As all small children do, I eventually grew up, and a glorious thing happened. I got a job. And with a job came money. What was a young enterprising eighteen year old woman to do after buying a few stylish work outfits? Run down to Borders (oh yes, how I miss this chain- I don’t know how they could have possibly gone out of business considering I might as well have set up my direct deposit to go straight to them). Obviously, this was before I grew up enough to have a mountain of bills to chip away at. But the love for the crisp paper and dark ink has never abated. Granted, it has expanded- with limited storage space and a frustration with mounds of clutter, I have evolved into an e-book carrier on top of my vast array in my actual bookshelf. It’s a good thing too- it is much easier to stay on my fiancé’s good side when my literary loves are only taking up space on my tablet as opposed to drowning him in even more cleverly placed bookshelves.

I am not even remotely ashamed of this love of mine, I display my books proudly, I keep my myriad of reading devices beside my bed or in my purse at all times. You will never find me without something to read within my reach. But there is a bit of a flaw in my plan. You see, I can buy these little paper lovelies much faster than I can actually read them. And when I see something that I like (especially on sale, oh, may the book gods have mercy on my soul if I walk into Barnes and Noble and see the clearance section, or, even worse- a special deal on my kindle. One-click shopping was the most ingenious evil that I have ever encountered). But when I see something that I like on sale- I can’t pass it up. I am physically unable to ignore the deal. Because there is a whole new world within those pages, and who am I to deny myself- nay, my craft- the opportunity to open my soul to a new creation? So I buy it. And then it sits on my shelf. And eventually I will read it, but you don’t know if it will be in a day or three years from now.

This has been an ever growing problem. One I attempted to remedy once upon a time. My piles were growing too large, so I told myself that I would have to read ten books for every one that I bought. This lasted about a week. And then I went I into ‘book debt.’ Promising myself that I would read them eventually to make up for what I bought. Eventually I gave up completely. I even went so far as to write down my entire ‘to-read’ list. Ironically, that file corrupted and I can’t look at it anymore. Probably a good thing because I know that my input is still vastly larger than my output.

So you see, I have discovered my soul in the language of another tongue. It’s beautiful, it’s prophetic, and it’s also reminding me to start working through that list I have. I will be brutally honest- if an asteroid hit the Earth tomorrow and I were trapped in an underground bunker for the next three years, I would still have enough to keep me occupied without begging to be released onto the unlivable surface to trek my way to the nearest library.

Harry Potter is back (with a Cursed Child)

I couldn’t tell you where I first discovered the little paperback; I don’t know if a friend suggested it, or if, more likely, I spied it’s cartoonish cover on a nondescript shelf and found my interests piqued. After all- a boy with wild black hair and a lightning bolt scar sailing across the cover on a broomstick- what wasn’t to love? I don’t remember where I sat when I read the first page; as I have re-read it so many times that a multitude of images flash before me when I try to recall the moment. But I do remember the first time I read the very first words themselves, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” By the time I reached the last sentence of the first chapter, I was tempted to raise my own Capri Sun in solidarity with the wizards, chorusing ‘To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!’ I was hooked faster than you could say Quiddich. And thus was born a literary love that still captures my imagination the same way it did when I was eleven years old and desperately awaiting my own owl.

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J.K Rowling brought us a magical world full of hope, promise, curiosity and valuable life lessons. She brought to life a world of her own imaginings in such a beautiful way that even as adults, we find ourselves desperately attempting to recreate it. Don’t believe me? Look to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or what about the Hogwarts Extreme events where you can actually take part in role playing at a re-creation of the infamous school? Movies have been made to emulate it, parties are thrown in it’s wondrous themes, the internet is full to bursting with fan fictions, stores are inundated with memorabilia, cookbooks tout nearest recipes to the treats and drinks mentioned within those fluttering pages. And lets be honest- how many of us kept holding our breath waiting for an owl to deliver a very special letter, no matter what age we were? Harry Potter brought light to a dark world, it brought people together on a level that is still hard to find. And now a new generation is coming to love it.

This post was originally meant to be a book review on ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,’ in fact, the first draft was already typed out and ready to go. But I couldn’t seem to bring myself to hit that little blue ‘publish’ button. So here I am, starting over. You see, reading the newest installment of the book that inspired so much passion within my younger self brought with it a slew of emotions that I am not entirely sure I know how to process yet.

Don’t worry- there are no spoilers coming to ruin your reading, this is a safe zone; consider it Grimmauld Place. As I read the newest installment, I found myself fighting two opposing feelings. To start; I was deeply disappointed with the portrayal of my childhood heroes. There was an air of depressing adulthood hovering around them that ruined my illusions about their happily every after lives. I don’t know about you, but I like to envision that after the dust has cleared, my favorite characters will still be the strong, admirable people they had become as we delved through those pages together. In this regard, I found them lacking- but that was just my own personal opinion. I will simply leave it at that and move on. Then there was the second feeling, the one that really took root in the second half of the play: once again I was able to experience the story with fresh eyes, not knowing what would happen next. It was the same excitement I felt whenever another new release came out; the same kind that sent me to the bookstore for a grand release, begging my parents for the money to purchase my very own hard cover copy which I would immediately run off to my room to read in complete silence. I remained fully immersed in the wizarding world that felt like a home away from home until the last page. It is a rare treat to find a book that will call such feelings to a soul. I was thrilled- I liked the main characters and had a genuine interest in what would happen to them. As for the Cursed Child, there were plot holes and character inconsistencies uncharacteristic of the author that has penned so many of the stories that I love, but I kept reading because at the heart of the story the crux was the same; it was a magical remembering of a bygone era in my own life. I can forgive much because it is Harry Potter, but on the flip side of that coin, I also know that I inadvertently hold it to a higher standard simply because I know what Ms. Rowling is truly capable of.

In spite of it all, do you know what the book really showed me? It showed me how much I missed the originals, how deeply I craved to find another literary world that I could fully immerse myself in like I did once upon a time when I was a child. I was always a deep lover of books; walking away from our regular trips to the library with a stack nearly as tall as myself (and I am not a short girl). It reminded me of the joys that the written word can bring you, the opportunities that it opens up, the lessons that it teaches. I missed it. And for just a little while, I was able to have that back- even though it wasn’t exactly the same.

There is something special about an author who can bring an entire world to life, that can make so many people feel so much for a few fictional characters. When friendships broke apart, I felt the heartbreak. When relationships formed, I celebrated with my own joy. When mysteries showed themselves, I pondered their answers long into the night. When people died, I shut the book and grieved. There are still scenes that I cringe to revisit, though I know I must re-read every word. And when victory was clutched from the hands of defeat, I felt the same pride welling within myself. As I said- it takes an author with a true talent for the craft to inspire such strong emotions using only the written word.

I always wanted to be able to write like her, with the same attention to detail, the same well plotted story line, connecting all of the seemingly insignificant dots throughout the thousands of pages that make up the series. I practice and I try, hoping that some day I might create something that is only half as magical. That is what it is really all about- this world of the storyteller. We want to reach people on a deeper level, we want to speak the secrets of their souls that they didn’t think anyone else understood. We want to give people an escape from a dark world, something to hope for, something to bond over, something to draw us all a bit closer to one another. Words have power- you don’t have to recite a lengthy political article to show people a way of living that they have been blind to. You have to simply tell them a story, something profoundly entertaining, and bury your meaning deep within. They will learn something without even realizing that it is happening.

As I said, I had originally meant for this post to be a book review- proclaiming the successes of the play and the sheer downfalls that left me feeling empty. But instead, I think my time is best served reminiscing over something that I loved; something that millions of others loved too. It is easy to poke a hole in another’s work, to shine a blinding light into the plot holes, emphasizing the inconsistencies. But look at all that has been accomplished. This week an entirely new generation got to feel the same excitement that we felt as children waiting in line for our own copies of the book. We got a chance to relive that same thrill ourselves. For the first time in a long time I had the unmatched joy of cracking open to that first page and finding characters that I still cherish waiting there inside for me. In spite of the things that I may not have been a fan of- that right there is what it is all about.

And if by chance Ms. Rowling finds it in her heart to grace the world with a prequel series about the Marauders- well, that would just be icing on the cake. So tonight I raise my glass and say Cheers to Harry Potter, the boy who lived, and thank his creator for a childhood full of beautiful memories and wondrous adventures.

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Inspired Work: You Write What You Read

My advice to all writers: read voraciously. I know, it is hard to find the time when you are busy with your regular life as well as the actual act of writing- but the fastest way to hone your craft is to take in the art form of others. Don’t stop with one genre- read them all, dabble in them the way you would dabble in chocolates, leave no stone unturned. And don’t stop with just novels: there are newspapers, magazines, textbooks, blogs- so many things out in the world for us to enjoy, grab them with both hands and run with them. Find your voice by listening to the voices of others. Not only will you discover the style best suited to you, but the content of your work will be richer and more diverse for it. The ideas of others will feed your imagination. We are not islands unto ourselves, we are best when we are challenged by other beings.

Artist tend to view the world through a different lens than most, we want to pick it apart down to it’s elements in an attempt to understand it, and then piece it back together again without a crack. We watch people and events and allow our experiences to bleed over into our work giving the world a fresh perspective that only we can provide. We soak up the world; isn’t it only fitting that the words we absorb will also influence our constantly churning minds. Consciously or not, we tend to write what we read.

For example, if you immerse yourself in the world of old Victorian classics, there is a good possibility you will begin to see some flourishing descriptions wiggling into your work, with an eloquent style of speaking that could be considered slightly stiff to the modern pop culture novel. Or you may go in the opposite direction and find yourself entrenched in the most current paranormal romance, in which case you may find a touch more humor imbedded in your work, or a cruder dialect and detailed descriptions of physical activities. We tend to inadvertently use similar word choice or stylistic tendencies when we read specific types of literature over a long period of time.

When I decide to attempt working in a new genre, I like to immerse myself in it, to glean the style most suited to myself while still delving within the correct parameters for the work. Let’s take my current project for example: this is the first time I have ever tried my hand at an urban fantasy. I have read other books in this genre, and I knew the general style. But the last project I worked on was a sequel to a twisted fairy tale- which was distinctly different (that in itself found inspiration in several marathons of the tv show Once Upon a Time). So I started reading, watching and listening to everything I could get my hands on that would put me in the right frame of mind. A few of the prominent influences: the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, the Belador series by Sherrilyn Kenyon, The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, American Gods by Niel Gaiman, Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, among others. And those are just the books: I tend to watch shows and movies that fall into the same category as well.

I am addicted to learning new things, and I love when I can carry that into my writing. I am constantly trying to push the boundaries of what I know. So I make a point to read new science articles and history books. I can’t tell you how many ideas started with a tiny spark from an article that I read or a historical connection that I made. It’s exciting when you learn to tie fiction with reality in a seamless manner. I’m subscribed to several science e-mail lists and magazines, I read opinions of current events, I follow other blogs of varying subjects, I have mountains of books falling in every genre. We live in a world where virtually everything you could possibly learn is at your finger tips- a lot of it for free. Why don’t we take more advantage? Don’t feel like reading? Watch a show, a documentary, a pod cast. Listen to an audiobook (Audibles was surprisingly life changing for me). Take the time to absorb the world. You wont regret it.

The written word is a gateways into other worlds, new realities to color our own experiences and our work. Delving into the imagination of another will help you make new connections in your own. Your work will be stronger through the work of others. Strong writing is usually a reflection of strong reading. You can twist your style, play with the words to find your own unique voice. You can dabble and play, have fun with the craft and revel in the hard work of others that carry within their hearts the same literary calling as yourself. Read voraciously, open your mind to the world and the ideas it carries within. You will be better for it, your work will be stronger. Never stop learning, never stop reading.