Reviewing Mango Street

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street is one of those books I should have read a long time ago. Now that I’ve read it, I’m a bit salty that it was never assigned in school. This book, with less than 150 pages, is a bit like reading magic.

With chapters of short vignettes, and. Cisneros gives a glimpse into Esperanza’s life on Mango Street in Chicago. The protagonist speaks to the reader using stream of consciousness, vivid imagery, and unique characters who experience their own tragedies. Esperanza comes of age while participating in and observing life in her neighborhood, and she too faces tragedies. At times buoyant and heartbreaking, this book brings so many emotions to the surface.

I enjoyed the writing in this book as much as the stories Esperanza shares. Ms. Cisneros brings rhythm and poetry to the narrative, and I loved it!

A 5⭐️ read!

On the Come Up: A Book Review

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

I loved this book! I knew that Ms. Thomas is an amazing author when I finished The Hate You Give, but On the Come Up brings her talent and insight to another level.

As the narrator, Bri gives us a look at how a strong young woman internalizes her surroundings and all the pressures that come with her experiences and those of her family and friends. Her desire to become a rapper is just part of the journey as she finds herself.

A definite 5⭐️ read to finish up this month of reading. Now I’m even more excited to read Concrete Rose, Ms. Thomas’s newest release!

A Woman is No Man

Book Review: A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

There are some books that manage to rip your heart out, filling you with grief for the characters, and then they give you hope for the future at their conclusion.

A Woman is No Man is one of these books. Told from the viewpoint of three generations of Palestinian-American women, this book explores fate, choices, culture, and traditions. It is a book about suppression and violence, but also about faith and personal strength. From their deep-rooted desire to do the best and live up to cultural expectations, the main characters explore and challenge what it means to be a woman in two very different cultures.

This is a beautiful book, one that I finished in less than 48 hours. Deya, Isra, and Fareeda are nuanced characters who show their strengths in different ways. Etaf Rum writes in a gorgeous style, showing vulnerability and thoughtfulness on every page.

A Woman is No Man is a 5⭐️ book, one that I highly recommend.

Of Mice and Men

Book Review: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

I should have known better. I’ve heard enough pop culture references to “Of Mice and Men” that I am familiar with the story. But dang it, the ending just wrecked me. In fact, the entire book stomped on my emotions. Lennie just wants to love and George does what he can to protect him in his gruff way, but the results are just tragic. Curley and his wife are cruel, backward, and vengeful. Steinbeck crafted a story that is simple and complex and emotive, but I had a really difficult time with the racist, derogatory language and content.

I read this one as an audiobook and in written form at the same time. Listening to the audio was a unique experience because I generally don’t choose fiction for my audiobooks. Overall, I’m glad I finished it, but it was a 3⭐️ book for me. I know this is supposed to be an American classic, but it just didn’t work for me despite pulling on my emotions.

The Fire Next Time

Book Review: “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin

I really enjoyed Baldwin’s essays in “The Fire Next Time.” The powerful subject matter of racial discrimination made me hurt and think, two actions that only a truly amazing writer can impart on a reader. I must admit I knew very little about Baldwin before I picked up this book of essays, but I am challenging myself to learn through reading this year. And this book is part of that goal.

Baldwin’s writing style is so interesting as well. I could feel the fire burning as I read the words, even without much flourish of adjectives. His pace quickened as he made his points, and then it slowed when he needed to give the reader a chance to ponder the words. This is a beautiful, powerful book that describes the terrible racial divides in our country.

Party of Two? No, Thank You.

Book Review: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

I’ve slowly stopped being a fan of rom-com reads over the past decade, so I didn’t pick up Party of Two with the expectation of loving it. But, having enjoyed The Wedding Date a couple of years ago, I figured another Guillory book would be an entertaining read.

And yes, this book was entertaining. I enjoyed the character development and the will-they-or-won’t-they trope. Overall, it was a 3 ⭐️ read because I’m just not a rom-com person, I guess. However, I love the diverse characters Guillory creates and the BIPOC representation in her books.

Book Review: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

“Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated” by Alison Arngrim

I wanted to enjoy this memoir so much more than I did. Alison Arngrim will forever be engrained in American pop culture as the evil Nellie Oleson on the 1970s/1980s tv show Little House on the Prairie. But as Arngrim writes in her memoir, playing the hated, spoiled, ringlet-shaking nemesis to Laura Ingalls actually gave her the foundation to be a strong, confident woman offscreen.

With a terrible history of physical and sexual abuse in her childhood, Arngrim writes with honesty and reflection. The requisite stories from the Little House set are humorous and nostalgic. I learned things I didn’t know about the actors, but all in all, this book just didn’t pull at my emotions, despite the terrible childhood that Arngrim had. The writing just didn’t draw me in as I’d hoped, but I’m glad I read it.

3⭐️

Overcome Negative Thinking Patterns

I’m a negative thinker. From what I understand, negative thinking patterns are pretty common for people with depression and anxiety. It makes sense, really. My thought patterns feed me. I want to get healthier, so I’m working on identifying and rebutting these negative thinking patterns. Frankly, I’m struggling with it all.

Negative Thinking Patterns

According to an article on VeryWellMind.com, negative thinking patterns occur when you face a situation and cause stress. In my life, I imagine these thoughts creating sneak attacks on my brain when I’m vulnerable. These attacks have been occurring for so long that I’m actually accustomed to their warfare and no longer recognize what is false and what is truth.

For example, one negative thinking pattern (also called a cognitive distortion) that I battle is mind-reading. I might tell my husband about an event in my day. He’ll be occupied with some happening in his own day, and he might not react to me in the way that I expect him to. That leads me to think that he isn’t listening, he isn’t interested, he doesn’t care, and he clearly thinks I’m stupid.

See what I did there? In reality, if I stopped for a moment and asked myself, “What is the truth in this situation?” I would have been able to figure out that my dear, loving husband was actually just busy at the moment and would have been more than happy to talk about my day at a time that was more convenient. He’s proven this again and again. The truth is that he is kind and willing to listen at nearly any moment.

Stop. Rebut. Find the truth. It would save so much time and decrease my anxiety and stress – my husband’s too.

Another cognitive distortion is catastrophizing. This means that I assume that because X happened today, then it will happen tomorrow as well, and on and on until the world ends because X happened on October 31, 2020. In fact, the world ending will solely be caused by X happening to me on this date.

Do I sound crazy yet? I think I do. But, I’m being raw and honest here. I think catastrophic thoughts regularly. I use words like “always” and “never” to describe stressful events and interactions. I assume that because a coworker criticized my work on one project, that she hates everything I do and that I’m always going to be a target of her criticism, and she’s out to get me fired.

Again, fully acknowledging the crazy here.

When I type out these examples of my own cognitive distortions, I see how ridiculous I sound. So, I guess I need to continue to write about them. To make sense of them and understand what I’m doing when I have these thoughts. And, remember: Stop. Rebut. Find the truth.

Books from My Childhood

In follow-up to my post about five facts and five books that impacted my life, I pulled out my Laura Ingalls Wilder collection. The Little House on the Prairie books played an enormous role in my childhood. I wanted to be a writer and a teacher like Laura. My parents even took me to De Smet, South Dakota to see her house and watch a Little House performance. I relentlessly carried around the yellowed copies of these books and spent endless afternoons playing dress-up as an Ingalls girl. I know these books have come under fire in recent times, and I acknowledge the controversy. However, I credit them as being my first inspiration to start writing.

More about Little House on the Prairie and Me

Why did I love the Little House story so much? Wilder’s detailed descriptions of life on the homestead — whether in a log cabin or a sod house or a simple wooden house in town — gave me an opportunity to escape modern day life (in the 1980s) and explore the world in simpler times. Growing up in small-town Nebraska, I could relate to the prevalence of agriculture in Laura’s surroundings. Also, I was a lonely child, and the books showed me what it would be like to be part of a much bigger family with friends all around.

Also, I loved the TV show Little House on the Prairie. Watching an episode with my mom and sister is one of my first memories of television. (That and an episode of Days of Our Lives, which they watched almost religiously.) Melissa Gilbert (Laura) and Michael Landon (Pa/Charles) were my favorites, and I loved the tension that Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) brought to the show. Again, because I was raised in such a small town — I attended Grades K through 4 in a two-room schoolhouse — I could relate to the lives of the characters in Walnut Grove. While the show went beyond the books and took liberties with the storylines, it still brought a simple joy to a young girl who lived in her imagination.

Thanks for indulging this trip down memory lane for me. Do you have books from your childhood that you think upon fondly today? Why?

P.S. – The wooden stool in the picture above is also from my childhood. My older brother, who is 13 years older than me, made it for me in his wood shop class when I was itty bitty. As you can see, it has been well-loved as it’s traveled with me for nearly a lifetime.

5 Facts & 5 Books

Five is the number! Here are five random facts about me, and more importantly, five books that have inspired me in some way.

Five Facts about Me

  1. I lived in a town of 150 people from birth to 18. Yes, it was quiet. Yes, you couldn’t get away with anything as a kid because someone was always watching. Yes, I was sheltered in many ways. However, my parents insisted I grow beyond that four-square-block town and encouraged me to expand my mind and experiences.
  2. I wrote my dissertation on mental illness in the workplace. Specifically, I focused on how managers interact with employees who have/have not disclosed mental illnesses. My biggest takeaways from the research was that stigma is rampant about mental illness and that disclosure is a multi-faceted decision. I’ve seen this in my own life.
  3. I took a solo trip to Greece after my first husband and I divorced. Well, about 27 months after the divorce, actually. It took that long to get the courage to go on my first-ever solo trip. While the sites were amazing and the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I was still lonely and cannot wait to take another trip, but this time with my amazing husband.
  4. I adore elephants and dogs. To me, elephants have a quiet majesty about them. They are strong and fiercely protective of their loved ones. I love them and need to add more elephant symbols in my office. And dogs? Their loyalty and playfulness brings me joy. I could watch our dog Tuck explore our backyard all day.
  5. I am the youngest in my immediate family and amongst my cousins. So, I’m the “double” baby. As a child, this meant I was spoiled rotten and teased exponentially. Because everyone is significantly older than me, I missed out on a lot, and I don’t have much of a relationship with anyone aside from my sister and brother.

Five Books that Have Impacted My Life

I could have picked many more books to add to this list and think I’ll do another installment in a few days, but here are five books that inspired me in some way.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was a freshman in college. Being 18 and freshly out of a tiny town (see #1 above), this book was unlike anything I’d ever read. It was part of the curriculum for a first-year seminar about utopias, and I consider it to be one of the first books that led me to be an English lit major. I reread it about 3 years ago, and I still adore it.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

You know those books that you pick up 3 or 4 times and they just don’t click, but then the next time you pick it up, you’re like “Why did I stop reading it the other times?” For me, One Hundred Years of Solitude is that book. This was my introduction to magical realism, and I had a major book hangover when I finished the last page.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

This is a recent read for me, and I shouted its praises when I finished it. I don’t know that I’ve related to a protagonist so deeply in comparison to any other book I’ve read in the past three years. Nina’s love of books and her awkwardness spoke volumes to me.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

My apologies to James Joyce, but Roddy Doyle is my favorite Irish novelist. I read Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha while I was studying in Dublin, and the child protagonist is amazing. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors was my first read by Doyle, but it’s gone missing from my collection, as has A Star Called Henry. I’m very sad about this.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

What can I say about Pat Conroy? He was a genius who could transform a phrase from words on a page to magic in your mind. My high school English teacher encouraged me to read The Prince of Tides, and I am so grateful she did.

What about you? Share your facts and books!