Category Archives: Culture Connoisseur

Culture Connoisseur: My World Poetry Day Selection

A few poetry books from my shelves.

Pitchfork has this video series called Over/Under: in an episode, an artist or band gets a random set of subjects and things. They then have to say whether that subject or thing is overrated or underrated, with a little bit of explanation about why they feel that way. If I had my own episode of that video series and the subject was “reading poetry,” I’d say it’s deeply, deeply underrated. I’m an avid fiction and non-fiction reader, but I often find poetry to be much more compelling when it comes to presenting an idea or figuring out emotions.

Most people shy away from it because it seems like too much of a brain workout, but I guarantee you’ll feel much better about yourself and your skills the more often you do it — just like a physical workout. I promise that there are poems out there that you’ll like, despite the poems you were forced to read in high school and hated. I also promise that in the poems you think are too esoteric, like Shakespearian sonnets or long epics, you’ll find some aspect of relatability. The more poetry you read, the more you’ll figure out who and what you like.

In honor of World Poetry Day, I’d like to share a few poems that I constantly return to or think about — even though my days of studying poetry in a classroom are behind me. Every time I reread these, I find new facets of emotional fortitude. I think you will too.


Alice Walker‘s “Be Nobody’s Darling”

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
To madness
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools.

Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
They said.

But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.


Nikki Giovanni‘s “What It Is”

if it’s a trail we can hike it
if it has two wheels we can bike it

if it’s an allergy we can sneeze it
if it’s a pimple we can squeeze it

if it’s dew it “covers Dixie”
if it’s Tinker Bell it’s a pixie

if it’s a breeze it can blow us
if it’s the sun it can know us

if it’s a song we can sing it
if it flies we can wing it

if it’s soda pop then it’s drinkable
it might be X-Rated by that’s unthinkable

if it’s a boat we can sail it
if it’s a letter we can mail it

if it’s a star we can let it shine
if it’s the moon it can make you mine

if it’s grass we can rake it
if it’s free why not take it

if it’s a tide it can ebb
if it’s a spider it can web

if it’s chocolate we can dip it
if it’s a golf ball we can chip it

if it’s gum we can chew it
I hope it’s love so we can do it


Edna St. Vincent Millay‘s “Witch Wife”
She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.


Maya Angelou‘s “Phenomenal Woman”
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Dorothy Parker‘s “Interview”
The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints …
So far, I’ve had no complaints.

What are your favorite poems? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Culture Connoisseur: My Los Angeles To-Do List

LA, as seen from the Getty Center.

LA, as seen from the Getty Center.

I have a long, long list of things I want to do in Los Angeles that I’m constantly adding to: restaurants I want to eat at, events I’m interested in and neighborhoods I want to visit. I’m so lucky to have access to a place with such a vibrant culture and storied history, and I’m determined to make the most of it. Here are the top items on my LA to-do list.

1. Grab a donut at Mr Holmes Bakehouse.

This Highland Park outpost of a San Francisco-based bakery just opened up a few weeks ago, and every Snapchat and Instagram story I’ve seen features a line out the door and trays upon trays of cruffins and donuts. Since the Metro Gold Line now extends out my direction, it would be fun to make a day trip out of stopping in Highland Park and jumping back on to go to The Last Bookstore in downtown. Also, their “I got baked in Los Angeles” sign is genius.

2. Have brunch at Commissary.

I follow a lot of LA-based creatives on Instagram, and they always seem to be at Commissary — a restaurant inside the Line Hotel that looks like a greenhouse. I first found out about Commissary when I was working for a food media company in Santa Monica last year, and mentions of the food would pop up a lot. They have a baller Sunday brunch that might be in order for the next celebration — prime rib, bottomless mimosas and made-to-order entrees.

3. Get a drink at Block Party.

Here’s another spot that I found out about through social media — Block Party. This is another Highland Park establishment, and I really want to take my friends here for a LA night out. Next time we go to Jon and Vinnys, I say we skip the beer and head to Block Party instead. I can’t wait to try the Highland punch snow cone and the Michelada with a watermelon paleta.

4. Experience Clifton’s Cafeteria.

I’m planning to cram a lot into my short holiday break in December, and Clifton’s Cafeteria is on that itinerary. This historic cafeteria reopened last year after five years of renovations, and at its height in the 20th century was serving 15,000 diners every day. The idea of going to a five-story cafeteria to have lunch in the 1950s is mind-boggling when you think about the hold fast food has on our eating culture in 2016, and I want to be able to say that I’ve experienced lunch at Clifton’s.

5. Visit the Watts Towers.

As someone who has visited most of the big art museums in LA, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited the Watts Towers. An Italian construction worker named Simon Rodia built them in his spare time over 33 years, and in every photo I’ve seen of the towers they look magnificent. The project has an incredible history, and one that’s a testament to the importance of preserving public art. The towers remind me of another labor of love that’s just in my backyard.

6. Watch a movie at Hollywood Forever.

Cinespia puts on outdoor movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and every time I think about going the plan always falls through because of double-booking. There are a couple of things that make Cinespia special: they make a big event out of the screening with photo booths, DJs and special appearances by people involved in the movie. I was hoping to catch a Halloween flick to make the experience extra spooky, but unfortunately didn’t get to it this year. I want to assemble a big group of friends, a few picnic baskets and make a weekend night out of it.

7. See a LA Philharmonic performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

 

I’ve never seen a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA, but I’m a big Gustavo Dudamel fan. This winter, I’m definitely getting tickets to a December LA Philharmonic performance so my grandmother and I can see them in a different venue than we’re used to. The building is just so gorgeous, and it would be fun to get a little dressed up for an afternoon at the concert hall.

8. Stroll through the Venice Canals.

I worked on the West Side for six months, and unfortunately never really got to appreciate my proximity to the cool things to do there. One of the places I still really want to visit is the Venice Canals. These canals also have a really awesome history, and it would be fun to go and see the Christmas Parade.

Do you have anywhere in LA you really want to visit? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Culture Connoisseur: Smorgasburg LA

The 48 hours of Saturday and Sunday are the most precious of the entire week. You only have 48 hours to cram in everything you need to do: laundry, running errands and catching up on much-needed sleep. It’s only fair that you devote at least a few of those hours to fun. If you live in or near Los Angeles, you should devote them to Smorgasburg LA.

Smorgasburg started out as an offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea Market a few years ago. It was originally just a way for local food vendors to get in on the weekend flea market crowd, and it became its own very big thing. It still runs from April to November, and hosts some of the most important names in New York food.

This summer, the same team decided to bring the event to Los Angeles. It’s held every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Alameda Produce Market, which is just outside of the Fashion District. In addition to a beer garden and food stalls, some of which only come out for food festival events, there are vendors selling clothing, housewares and other lifestyle products.

One of the first things I noticed were these colorful umbrellas. A+ aesthetic choice.

One of the first things I noticed were these colorful umbrellas. A+ aesthetic choice.

Back in July, my friends (Adrian, Czarina, Klarize and Alan) and I braved a hot day to check out what Smorgasburg LA had going on. It’s relatively easy to get there from the 10 Freeway, if you know where to turn in to park — the garage across the way has free parking for the first two hours.

We got there around lunchtime, so we were immediately interested in getting a sandwich or taco. We chose crab sandwiches from Summer Crab. It’s best to take a quick tour of the entire festival first: you can scope out your drink and dessert choices, and you get a better feel of all of your options. Never pick the first vendor you see.

This is the Trap Queen: soft shell crab with chili sauce. Served with a side of cassava chips.

This is the Trap Queen: soft shell crab with chili sauce. Served with a side of cassava chips.

After hanging out under a much-needed umbrella and wandering past a tent that sold art prints (I have to stay away from those or I’ll buy the whole store), we scoped out the ice cream. Smorgasburg LA in general is really big on celebrating the food holidays the Sundays happen to coincide with. We went on National Ice Cream Day, so a bunch of LA ice cream shops came out with their trucks. It was a good choice on a hot day, but I definitely want to go again when it’s not so crowded for the hype of a food holiday. The upside was that I tried Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream for the first time and loved it.

 

Sweet cream and Intelligentsia black cat espresso.

Sweet cream and Intelligentsia black cat espresso.

My last item of the day was a cup of strawberry lemonade. Earlier in the day, I had seen an event-goer carrying what looked like the most refreshing cup of fruity goodness. Czarina and I finally tracked down the vendor that was selling it and immediately bought two cups. 12/10, still thinking about that lemonade.

Yooooooooooo.

Yooooooooooo.

My favorite thing about Smorgasburg LA is that you have a bunch of food options in one place — you get a real slice of LA food culture without having to trek all over. Events like these are a good barometer for what people want out of cultural experiences. To me, Smorgasburg’s rise is saying that the people of LA want somewhere to hang, enjoy the outdoors and eat good food. And it’s easy to get a taco from a truck in downtown, a donut from the West Side and an acai bowl from a popup and not feel all that guilty about driving and wait times. There are only so many hours in a weekend, after all.

Have you been to Smorgasburg LA/NYC, or know of something similar? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Culture Connoisseur: What I Read In Print

One of my favorite feelings comes about like this — I arrive home after a long day at work, look through the pile of mail on the dining room table and see a new issue of a magazine addressed to me. I love the accessibility that the Internet gives me when it comes to reading a variety of publications, but nothing beats the feeling of holding a print magazine in my hands. It makes the reading experience seem weightier: a team of people like myself made it happen, and I’m about to delve deep into it. A magazine issue is also a piece of art, as it makes a statement about what’s important in the world we’re living in today. I honor that.

I’ve subscribed to different publications over the years, but I have favorites that I return to over and over again. Here are six of them.

The New Yorker.

When I was a junior in college, I attended a lecture where the speaker recommended that we read The New Yorker. I went home, purchased a 2-year print subscription and never looked back.

Getting this magazine every week has exposed me to the best of the best culture writing that’s out there. I often link to articles in my Link Parties because they are, without fail, thought-provoking and unique. Some of my recent favorite reads include a story about Donald Trump’s supporters, the Bouvier affair and a Nora Ephron essay.  I don’t read every single article anymore, but I pencil in time every Sunday afternoon to peruse the week’s issue. This magazine has indelibly changed my perspective, and pushes me to be a better writer and a better critic. I hope it never ever ever goes out of print.

Vogue.

As a teenager, I was so obsessed with fashion and haute couture that you could point out a piece of clothing and I could list off all of the details of who made it and what collection it came from. Every few months, my grandma would give me a stack of Vogue. I would pore over and rip out ads and editorials that I would tack up on the wall.

I don’t have time anymore to follow fashion week coverage, but I always make time to read Vogue. Many people discount women’s magazines as less-than journalism, which is really silly. Vogue is the barometer for women’s style, and serves as both a historical and cultural source of information about what we wear, what we buy and where we go. The organization does have a long way to go on its diversity in its editorials and coverage, but it’s moving in the right direction. The clothes the features talk about are often not accessible to most people, but the Devil Wears Prada point is real and salient. It’s a magazine I await every month.

The California Sunday Magazine.

My other grandma gets the newspaper, and in one Sunday edition this magazine was tucked into it. She gave me the copy, which I really enjoyed flipping through. Fast forward to this past spring, when I attended a Pop-Up Magazine event. They’re made by the same people, and I took advantage of a subscription deal — I’m so glad I did.

The California Sunday Magazine is a general interest magazine that features exceptional investigative reporting. If you like reading about a variety of subjects, you’ll like California Sunday Magazine. As a writer, I consider every issue a crash course in writing technique and brainstorming. The editorial staff chooses such interesting subjects, and I have yet to be disappointed. I have loved reading about the paramedics who live on the Texas-Mexico border, a Fort Bragg manhunt and women in the computer science field.

Condé Nast Traveler. 

Condé Nast Traveler is a new addition to my monthly print subscriptions, but I instantly fell in love with it. The caveat with this magazine is that everything the editors feature is wildly expensive and inaccessible. It’s so out-of-reach that it’s comical.

Regardless, it’s a fun dream session — I now want to vacation like Giorgio Armani and escape to remote islands off the coast of Washington. I also get a thrill out of the layout and design. If you love fonts and genius photo layouts, Condé Nast Traveler is your magazine. I also love that it’s a little bigger than the standard-sized magazine, which gives the text and photos room to breathe. That kind of material choice can make a huge difference, which is something the digital often can’t do.

 

New York Magazine.

I often read New York Magazine‘s online content, which is where I get most of my general news from. The writing is always smart. I like getting the magazine sent to my house so that I can spend some extra time reading the cover stories or longreads, which often turn up on this blog.

The Atlantic.

I also read a lot of The Atlantic on the computer, but I kinda like reading the print magazine more. With the constant refresh of online media, it’s easy for the fun features or sidebars to get lost in the ether. I also like telling myself that I only have a few more pages to read rather than gauging how much more scrolling I have to do. Reading online is wonderful and has turned me on to so many new publications and ideas, but I will always choose print over digital. Every time.

What magazines or newspapers do you subscribe to, or want to subscribe to? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Culture Connoisseur: My Perfect Day in Los Angeles

Even though I’m really from a suburb about an hour outside of Los Angeles proper, I consider myself an Angeleno. My weekend plans often include a trek to the city, in search of good food and a new cultural experience that I can’t get in the bedroom community I live in. There’s also something thrilling knowing that some of my favorite actors and writers have walked the same streets and been in the same places, and partaking in some of the cultural traditions that the city prides itself on. LA’s pace and vibes inspire me to be more creative, and I start to feel antsy when it’s been too long since my last trip.

In a recent daydream, I thought about what I would spend a whole day doing in LA — regardless of money, time and mileage. I still have a long list of places I want to go to and eat at, but I have spots I return to constantly and some new favorites. Traffic (both foot and auto) and parking would thwart the plan if I tried to make it happen, but a girl can dream. Here’s what my perfect day in LA would look like, from beginning to end.

Start with a quick trip to Echo Park to visit Shout and About. I love this little stationery store so, so much. I usually go here looking for gifts for the ladies in my life, and always come out with something for myself. I’d definitely pick up Compartes chocolate (which has next-level packaging), a few enamel pins for my growing collection and pretty cards.

Hop on the 101 and cruise some surface streets to have brunch at Republique. This restaurant had been on my to-visit list for a long time, and I recently visited with my squad on a pretty Saturday morning. It’s pricy, but it’s 1000 percent worth it for both how good the food is and the atmosphere. It feels like I’m back in Paris, which is always a wonderful feeling. I’d get the breakfast plate with eggs, potatoes, slab bacon and a crunchy baguette.

Drive around the corner to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This is my happy place, and I feel lucky that I can visit so often. It’s easy to spend a few hours here, wandering from gallery to gallery. My new favorite thing to do here is enjoy a drink on the museum’s outdoor patio bar.

Go to the Westside to pick up coffee from Philz and sandwiches from Ike’s Place. Philz has a really good mint mojito iced coffee, but the last few times I’ve been I’ve really enjoyed the gingersnap iced coffee. It’s a pretty busy coffee shop, so I’d find an outside bench to sit, sip and enjoy the Santa Monica sea breeze. After coffee, I’d go north to Westwood to get a sandwich to go at Ike’s Place. This is the holy grail of sandwich places, and if you’re local and haven’t been there before you need to go ASAP. I always get the Stephan Jenkins, which has turkey, provolone, pesto and grilled tomatoes. And always, always, always get the dutch crunch bread.

Take the 405 back to the 101 to go to a Hollywood Bowl concert. This place is magical on a summer evening, and they have the best classical music concerts. I’m excited to go for the first time this summer in the next few weeks. Here’s also where the Ike’s sandwiches come in — picnicking in your seat with a cold beer or glass of wine would be the best prelude to a night of music. It would be the perfect cap to a perfect day in my favorite city.

What would you do for a perfect day in Los Angeles, or your own city? Tell me in the comments.

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Culture Connoisseur: The Broad Museum

You can't miss it.

You can’t miss it.

Way back in December, I reserved two tickets to the newly-opened Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles. At the time, the earliest tickets I could get were for a mid-morning Sunday in March. The Broad opened to much fanfare. I knew how hard it was to get the timed tickets the museum preferred its visitors to reserve, so I settled for a reservation on a mid-morning Sunday in March. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know I love art, so you can probably understand my curiosity about a new museum opening in my proximity.

Two weekends ago, I took my grandmother — who I get my love of art from — to downtown Los Angeles, where the Broad has a new shiny building that looks like a square honeycomb. I was already familiar with Ely and Edyth Broad, as they’ve contributed to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other philanthropic causes in the city. The Broads have amassed thousands of contemporary art pieces, and decided to reinvigorate the city’s art scene by establishing a new museum and making their private collection public.

I've got to hand it to the Broads -- they commissioned some incredible architecture.

I’ve got to hand it to the Broads — they commissioned some incredible architecture.

Overall, I was impressed with both the Broad’s architecture and collection. The galleries are on the first and third floors accessible by escalator and elevator, and the museum offices and vault are on the second floor. As you descend back to the first floor to exit you see the vault from internal windows. I thought that was a great design decision, making the vault as important as the work on display. My grandmother and I agreed that the honeycombed structure was a great decision for bringing in natural light and making the museum seem even bigger. My favorite pieces were works from Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and El Anatsui. I also loved the Takashi Murakami mural, a John Baldessari painting and this Cy Twombly piece.

Barbara Kruger.

Barbara Kruger.

People from all walks of life were there to see what this trendy museum had to show, which made me glad that the free admission allowed visitors to see the art. While there, I spotted James Goldstein in the first-floor gallery, a millionaire who recently donated his very famous house to LACMA. If that’s not a good example of how the Broad has permeated several LA socioeconomic levels, I don’t know what is.

What I found most interesting about the Broad, however, was the behavior of the other visitors. I can’t tell you how many young people I saw with DSLR cameras, taking pictures of themselves and their friends surrounded by sculptures and standing in front of paintings. There’s an entire protocol for the line to the Infinity Mirrored Room installation, and it was so long that I decided to skip it. At the time, I was particularly annoyed — I was there to see and experience the art, not for a photo shoot and not for people who were doing it all for the Instagram. I’m guilty of snapping a few photos when I go to a museum, which the photos on this post make clear. But bringing camera equipment seems to suggest that you planned the outing as a photo op to show everyone you had been somewhere, and I wondered whether or not those people actually remembered anything about the Broad’s collection once they left the building.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s just a reflection of the contemporary museum-going experience. The museum’s location, architecture and art is inherently populist, and the hype of the new drives people to want to go and say they experienced it first. (For the most part, if something is free in LA, people will go to it and if something that will make for a pretty photo is free in LA, young people will go to it.) While this isn’t a primary motive, the Broads want you to interact with the art in that way because you posting photos on your social media accounts gives the museum free publicity. Photos of the Infinity Mirrored Room are pretty, but they also cement the Broad’s name as the place to go for the pretty Instagram photo.

I’m not saying any of this is a good or bad thing — if you like to go to this kind of space and wish to have your experience in this way, more power to you. I’m also not really here to judge about the ways in which other people experience the world. It’s just an observation about the current ways in which we interact with each other and the art in the museum space, and how that affects our interpretation of the art inside those museums. I’m excited to see what the Broad has in store for the future, and how the Broads will go about acquiring new pieces to add to the collection.

Some Cy Twomblys.

Cy Twomblys.

If you decide to go to the Broad, plan far in advance and get reserved tickets. If you go on a weekend without a ticket, you’ll have to stand in a long line that wraps around the building. For my fellow museum-goers who like quiet spaces, prepare yourself for large crowds in the galleries.

Have you visited the Broad? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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Culture Connoisseur: The Best Books I Read in 2015

All the books.

All the books.

In 2015, I read a respectable 41 books. While I attribute part of the 41 to being a literature student, I read most of the 41 in the last six months post-graduation. I told myself that I would work on filling in the gaps of my literature education and catching up with recent releases, and my list just keeps growing and growing. It’s the only to-do list I enjoy adding items to. I know you’re probably tired of the December deluge of Best Of lists, but I’m not going to restrict myself to 2015 releases for this list. We should all be reading the older stuff in addition to the new, but time is arbitrary and this is my blog. Here are the best books I read in 2015, complete with specific recommendations for what to read next — some of which I also read this year.

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

This is just required reading for all humans everywhere. Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about his experiences of growing up and being black in the United States, framed as a letter to his adolescent son: “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” I’ve spent a lot of this year reading and talking about race, and I’ve been making a more conscious effort to read books written by women and people of culture. It was fitting that I closed out the year with this book. Coates writes beautiful prose, and is one of the most insightful authors I’ve read in a long time. This is probably the best book I read all year, and I highly, highly recommend it. If you like it, try If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

I waited almost two months to get this through interlibrary loan from my local library (Current students, take advantage of all of your university library resources) and it was entirely worth it. I love this collection of essays a lot and I think everyone should read them, especially college students who are interested in race, sexuality and culture. There were a lot of people on Goodreads who criticized the hell out of this, but they’re just haters. Roxane Gay is a national treasure and we should protect her at all costs. If you like it, you’ll appreciate Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

This summer, I sat down to try and read this novel for the third time. Both times I tried to read it, I only got a few chapters in before getting distracted with something else. I finally did it, and in only two days.  I love the 2007 film version of this novel, but you have to read this to fully appreciate the nuances of the films. Some of the lines in this novel sent me reeling because of their romanticism, but in a good way. In reading P&P, I got a better understanding of this novel as social criticism rather than just a romance novel. If you haven’t read it before and want to, I highly suggest getting a copy that has really good footnotes: I had the Longman Cultural Edition version. And when you’re done, read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. (And for the record, I prefer Mr. Darcy over Mr. Rochester any day.)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

This. Novel. Is. Incredible. There are two halves to this book, which at its foundation is about a marriage: the first half is about the husband’s perspective, while the second half is about the wife’s. The two things that I loved about this book the most was that it continually surprised me in the best ways, and that Mathilde Satterwhite became one of my favorite female characters of all time. Barack Obama cosigned the love for this novel, so with my and his recommendation you know you have to read it. Make it #1 on your 2016 reading list. And if you love it, read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Fates and Furies is not particularly a thriller, but if you appreciate Mathilde you’ll appreciate Lisbeth Salander.)

The White Album by Joan Didion.

I’ve always felt a kindred spirit in Joan Didion, so it wasn’t surprising that I loved this collection of essays. She’s one of my main writing inspirations, so I’m slowly reading her work and savoring every word. I would try and pick a favorite essay, but it’s too hard because I loved every one. I intensely admire her writing about California, and find that a lot of what she wrote in the 1960s is still incredibly relevant. When you’re done, start right in on another collection of her essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine.

Reading this book of poetry was a highlight of my college career. Much like Between The World And Me, this is an intensely emotional book about being black in the U.S., and discusses concepts like language and microaggression, as well as analysis of the prejudice and violence inflicted against black people. If you’re interested in educating yourself about the language we use to talk about race and body politics (as you should be), this is a good introductory book that will give you priceless knowledge. I read this book in two classes I took concurrently, and was lucky enough that she visited Cal Poly Pomona to read some selections and explain her stories. To hear her talk about this was an incredible opportunity that I’m glad I took advantage of. After you’re done, read Zone One by Colson Whitehead.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein.

This has to be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Carrie Brownstein talks about her life growing up, starting / being in Sleater-Kinney and trying to find a sense of family and belonging. She doesn’t talk about Portlandia, but this book isn’t really about that. Carrie Brownstein is an incredible writer, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to interviews for this book. If you read this and like it, I suggest Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.

One night in the springtime, I woke up at about 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to watch the Salinger documentary on Netflix. This brought on a mini-obsession where I read two of his short story collections and some of his New Yorker essays, all of which are world-class examples of how to write. Franny and Zooey is about two members of the Glass family and a discomfort with inauthenticity. People know J.D. Salinger for The Catcher in the Rye more so than his other work, but I think his short stories are much better. After you read this, read his Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

My dad had a copy of this book for the longest time, and in sixth grade I tried to read it on my own and had absolutely no idea what was going on beyond Europe and bullfights but finished it anyway. Eleven years later, I enjoyed it so much more — a story about a dude just trying to figure his life out. Now I really know why Hemingway was celebrated as the voice of the Lost Generation. And of course, the Gertrude Stein epigraph sold me immediately. If you like it, read A Farewell to Arms — another Hemingway I read in 2015.

Honorable Mentions: Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, Underworld by Don DeLillo, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore and Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien.

What did you read this year? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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