That Which We Cannot See

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May is Mental Health Awareness month, and something I want to take a little bit of time to write about since this is a cause that is near and dear to me. Mental health is tricky because, in contrast to many other diseases, you can’t always tell when someone is fighting the battle against mental illness. “Mental illness” itself is a term that carries a lot of negative connotations, making it difficult for people fighting against it to talk about their struggles. There’s a definite stigma attached to it and there are a lot of people who will talk about mental illness like it’s something that’s entirely made up or done for attention. In reality, it’s a daily fight that incredibly strong people put up every single day.  Continue reading

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Frank Reads: Favorite Books of 2015

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Right off the bat, let me be clear that, while I did read a number of new releases in 2015, others were older. So when I say that this post is about my favorite books of 2015, I mean that it’s my favorite books that I read in 2015, regardless of what year they actually came out. Also I realize that this post is coming a bit late, but life got in the way.

So… books. I like ’em. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have something I was reading. I’ve heard there’s a recovery period after college, but for me that lasted only a few months while I got settled into teaching, and then I started tearing through books again (“tearing” might be a generous term for me because, as with everything I do in life, I read very slowly because I’m afraid of missing something, much like I eat very slowly because I’m afraid of choking, and I run very slowly because I suck).

Process

I use Goodreads to track everything I read, manage my TBR list (which is unmanageable at this point anyway because every time I hear about a book I want to read, I go to Goodreads and add it immediately to my “want to read” list), and set yearly goals for myself. The Goodreads reading challenges are definitely not perfect, but I’ve found that it works well for my purposes. If you wonder what books I’m in the process of reading at the moment, check out the Goodreads widget in the sidebar.

Right, then. In 2015, I made it a goal to read 19 books. I read 21, so I met 111% of my goal. Here’s my data, along with the books I read in the order that I read them in 2015:

Renee’s Year in Books

click to enlarge

I think it’s interesting that Sara Bareilles’ book was the least popular but also the highest rated. Not as many people reading it as something like Why Not Me, but I loved it. I love Sara Bareilles. Also Mindy Kaling.  Continue reading

Artists You Know Who Have Sampled David Bowie Songs

via giphy

via giphy

I was kind of surprised last week at the number of people who told me that they couldn’t name a single David Bowie song. As I mentioned in my post about Bowie’s influence, I wouldn’t consider myself a HUGE fan in that I didn’t follow everything he did very closely, but I would consider myself a fan with more than a passing interest. My point there was that David Bowie’s influence extended so far that even if it wasn’t your thing or you didn’t know anything by him, he probably influenced artists you do know.

So with a few searches on whosampled.com, I thought I’d do a follow-up post of artists you know sampling David Bowie as an example of how far his reach extended. Continue reading

Why Bowie’s Death is Important Even If You Don’t Know Anything He’s Done

By iluvrhinestones from seattle, oceania (bowie) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By iluvrhinestones from seattle, oceania (bowie) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Two of last week’s many unpleasant surprises landed with a boom on Monday morning.

  1. David Bowie has cancer.
  2. David Bowie has died of cancer.

A third surprise, just for me, at least, was how much this news upset me. I have been listening to David Bowie since high school. I know lots of his songs and I like them, but I don’t own any complete albums. I was aware of his innovation and influence, and I’ve seen the Jim Henson film Labyrinth once or twice (in which he plays Jareth, the Goblin King), but never followed his career with the closeness and fervor that a hardcore fan might. Still, the news was upsetting to me. I kept finding myself getting a little teary-eyed about it. [Author’s note: about halfway through writing this post, which took me several days, news broke of a 4th unpleasant surprise: Alan Rickman has also died. It would seem it’s a bad week to be a 69 year old British male performer with cancer that no one knows about.]

After ruminating on it for a bit, I think it’s the enormity of Bowie’s 50 year career — his accomplishments and his ability to transform himself again and again, thus allowing him to remain relevant — that I feel at his loss. Continue reading

Meta: In Which I Write About Writing to Make Sense of Things, In Order to Make Sense of Things (Or, Why Journaling is Crucial)

Over the past week or so, I’ve grown a little bit bored with my usual podcast lineup. Maybe bored isn’t the right word. It just felt a little stale, and while I was still enjoying the shows I listen to every week, I wanted some new content too. While listening to an episode of Literary Disco, I heard one of the hosts, Rider Strong (yep, that Rider Strong), mention some work that he did with another podcast, Mortified. From his description, I could tell that it was very similar to another show I’ve recently started loving called Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids (pretty self-explanatory).

The premise for both of these shows is simple: at various clubs where the events are hosted, adults get up on stage and read things that they wrote when they were kids. It ranges from really bad poetry and weird stories to middle school diary entries, notes passed in high school to AOL conversations printed years ago, and everything in between. The results are typically really humorous (and often very poignant at times). Many of the participants are also roughly my age, so a lot of the references and particular habits resonate with me (printing “important” AOL conversations in the late 90s so that you could read them again later to make sense of them? Guilty. Also my mom just recently threw away boxes of notes that I had from junior high).

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Frank Reads: Go Set a Watchman — Part 2: Reviewing the Book

photo credit: my books

photo credit: my books

In Part 1 of this post, I spent some time talking about the issues surrounding Go Set a Watchman‘s publication. In Part 2, I’m going to talk about what I actually thought of the book. So let’s get down to it, shall we? If you haven’t read the book yet and you plan to, be aware that this post will contain spoilers.

Expectations

First, having been following the story of this book’s publication since it was announced, I had an idea about what to expect. I wasn’t expecting a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, and I still maintain that it shouldn’t be read that way. I was expecting a rough draft of the book, which meant that I was also expecting it to be kind of awful, as most rough drafts are (thus the “rough” part). A few weeks before the book’s release date, it came out that in this book, Atticus Finch is a racist. I had adequate time to steel myself against that, as well. You don’t have to like it. You just have to know that it’s there so you can prepare yourself to deal with it.

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Frank Reads: Go Set a Watchman — Part 1: The Problem With Publication

Harper Lee Books

photo by me — these are my books.

If you’ve spent any time in the world (maybe watching the news or scrolling through social media updates), you have undoubtedly heard that Harper Lee, the reclusive author of one-hit-wonder (and one-hit-written, or so we thought) book To Kill a Mockingbird, had a “lost manuscript” that was recently published. You remember To Kill a Mockingbird. You probably had to read it in high school. Scout. Jem. Boo Radley. Tom Robinson. Atticus Finch. It’s a classic, and a much beloved one, at that. While TKAM isn’t really a book about race, per se, it does examine the topic in a way that is very memorable to most people who read it: Atticus Finch, upstanding southern lawyer during the Depression, defends Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman who lives on “the wrong side of the tracks.” In the end, it’s clear that Tom is innocent and the girl’s own father attacked her, but Tom is still convicted because it’s Alabama in the 1930s and that wasn’t how the world worked. It was barely, if at all, how the world worked in the early 1960s when the book was first published.

I spend a considerable amount of time on the “Bookternet” — the part of the internet that is basically just a whole bunch of book nerds reading, writing, and talking about books and publishing and all that goes along with them. When this “new” Harper Lee manuscript was first announced, it was maybe the biggest thing I’ve ever seen happen to the Bookternet, and though I’ve heard just about every review and criticism of the book in the loosest sense (second and thirdhand accounts that I only halfway pay attention to), I’ve tried to largely avoid and ignore them. This meant staying away from my favorite podcasts and websites for a while so that my opinion would be my own.

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Time is a Weird, Warped, and Frighteningly Powerful Thing

photo credit: Daniel Kulinski via photopin cc

photo credit: Daniel Kulinski via photopin cc

I’ve been staring at my hands for three days trying to figure out what’s bothering me about them.

On the surface, they just look like my hands. My short, stubby fingers. One is crooked from playing trombone in high school (I wish I were kidding… actually, no I don’t). One is crooked because I broke it playing basketball in 5th grade, before I stopped growing and everyone else got tall. The others are all mangled from when my brother wound them up in the car window as I was reaching through for more papers on my paper route one day in 8th grade. They’re all knotty from the juvenile arthritis that set in when I was 15. On my left hand I wear a Claddagh ring that my grandmother gave me the day I graduated from college. On my right, I wear a ring that I truly can’t remember where it came from. I’ve been wearing it since my junior year of high school, at least. These are my hands as I have always known them to be and they haven’t changed drastically.

And yet.

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