Review: Standing Tall by C. Vivian Stringer with Laura Tucker

It’s October 31st, and in my family, that means more than just Halloween. It’s my mom’s birthday. So while I’ve spent most of October celebrating the spookiest month of the year, today I’m reserving space for something more important.

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That’s how I ended up reading Standing Tall, a choice I never would have picked for myself, simply because I’m not usually interested in sports. My mom, however, has always loved them, and she has oodles of school spirit for her alma mater, Rutgers University. Therefore, she decided to challenge me with a book close to her heart: the autobiography of C. Vivian Stringer, the head coach of Rutgers women’s basketball. As of the publication of this post, she is only three victories away from coaching her thousandth win. (“Make sure to mention that,” said Mom.)

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After reading this book, I understand more why my mom is so passionate about Rutgers basketball, and I especially see why she admires Coach Stringer so much. Coach Stringer rose from poverty, became the first in her family to graduate from college, and became one of the most respected coaches in the country, even as she has dealt with a devastating string of personal losses and difficulties. She has also been an advocate for women, and especially black women, in the athletic world.

While I self-identify as “not athletic,” I actually was co-captain of my high school fencing team, and there was a time I dedicated two hours a day, six days a week to that sport. With that in mind, I have a lot of respect for my former coach, Coach Amy Lawless, who I thought of a lot while reading this book. They’re both unmistakably coach-y. Coach Stringer tells the story of her life, but throughout the narrative, she expounds on individual anecdotes to teach lessons useful both on and off the basketball court. She describes moments where she had to be tough on her teams, but also shows herself to have a deep well of love in her heart for her players.

Having played on a team myself and done a certain amount of coaching as a captain, I can empathize with a lot of the struggles she has had that are related to her work. As she relates pushing her good players to do better, being exasperated with players who refused to put in the work, and dealing with obnoxious parents, I find that much of it consists of things I’ve heard, said, or done before. When I think of all the times my teammates tried to weasel their way out of harder drills or longer practices… oof, I’m with you, Coach Stringer, Coach Lawless, and all the coaches in the world. Building others up to work hard and do better for themselves is itself hard work!

There is also a lot in this book, though, that I cannot personally relate to and indeed can barely imagine. Coach Stringer has been dealt difficult cards in her personal life: the disability and early death of her father, the disability of her daughter, the early death of her husband, frightening near misses with both of her sons, and her own fight with breast cancer. Through all of these struggles, Coach Stringer makes no secret of the suffering she endured and how hard it was for her to handle everything. Thanks to the support of the people around her, though, she has been able to pull through, and she believes that she has endured so much so that she can be a better comfort to others.

I found this book to be genuinely inspiring. This is not a glossy, self-promoting autobiography, but rather a meaty and personal memoir that shares in order to teach. If you’re looking for a new hero, especially one who is a successful black woman, I recommend checking out Standing Tall.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: The Little Queen by Meia Geddes

At the Boston Book Festival, I couldn’t not bring home a new book! While exploring the booths, I came across a collective of self-published, independent authors. One of those authors was Meia Geddes, who struck me as kind and soft-spoken as she explained to me what the booth was about. I took a look at the books she had out, and I instantly fell in love with this book cover:

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I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it was just gorgeous and completely my aesthetic. That shade of lavender is almost exactly the same as the paint on my bedroom walls.

The Little Queen is a charming fairy tale that, as you might guess, somewhat recalls The Little Prince. It’s no copy, though–Geddes infuses the novella with its own distinct atmosphere. The little queen, who is nameless, ageless, and faceless, struggles with the idea of being a little queen and strikes out on an adventure, hoping to find someone to take her place. What she discovers is not a replacement, but rather a journey to self-actualization.

Her journeys through her kingdom lead her to meet a variety of unusual people–some of the first citizens she meets are called the book sniffer and the wall sawyer. While their occupations are specific to the point of uselessness, every person the little queen meets has a deep underlying motivation for her chosen path in life. The outwardly whimsical, but truly meaningful natures of the people of this world are reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth or The Neverending Story.

The little queen discovers herself, but another underlying theme is love. Every time she meets interesting people, they pair off and go away to live their lives together. She is never resentful or jealous of her newfound friends, but after the deaths of her parents, she is clearly lonely. This isn’t an angsty book by any means, though. After wandering for a long time, the little queen eventually finds a love of her own.

Within the pages are hidden many pearls of wisdom about dreams, writing, and living life to the fullest, told through metaphors that often have straightforward meanings, but are nonetheless quirky and offbeat in presentation.

Aside from the cover art, the same illustrator contributes similarly lovely artwork throughout the book, the design complementing the writing without getting in the way of the reader’s imagination.

My one complaint is that the ending, in which all the characters design houses together, comes across as a bit protracted (a serious flaw for a book of one hundred pages!) and purple in prose. Still, because it’s a concise novella otherwise, anyone who picks up the book will easily finish it without being disturbed by a few bloated paragraphs.

If you’re looking for a quick, pleasant read or a children’s book with timeless appeal, The Little Queen is for you.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

I picked this book as a Halloween horror read. What I got wasn’t quite what I expected. While I knew that Shirley Jackson also wrote about everyday and domestic life, her reputation for horror writing far eclipses the rest of her work. In this collection, most stories lean toward the everyday with twists that range from mysterious to creepy.

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It’s important to note that while this book is now known as The Lottery and Other Stories, it originally had a different title: The Lottery or, The Adventures of James Harris. The recurring character of James Harris is sprinkled throughout the book, and he lives a mysterious life. He is always at the peripheral of the lives of other characters, and only very loose connections allow us to form some kind of portrait of him and his life.

He is first named in the second story of the collection, “The Daemon Lover,” having jilted a young woman on their wedding day. Convinced that there is some mistake, she is determined to track him down, but never finds him. This sets the tone for his role in the collection. Whether he is truly supernatural or merely a fantastic conman is left unclear, and even the possible glimpses into his origin are opaque.

A notable aspect of Jackson’s writing is her addressing of racism. She writes of “benevolent” racism from white people who assume all black people are poor, and of neighbors who suddenly drop friends for getting too cozy with a mixed family. She depicts white middle-class “respectable” families with an unflattering eye, exposing the attitudes of those who think that not looking racist is more important than not being racist.

There is a solid mixture of short and long stories in this collection, the longest being “Elizabeth,” which begins around the halfway mark. Elizabeth is a worn-down literary agent having trouble with her business partner, and possibly the most fleshed-out character of the collection. Like many other characters we meet, she is ordinary, understandable, but not the sort of person one would call good. Her story meanders, leaving the reader with neither a positive or negative impression, only curiosity as to what will happen next. This is emblematic of Jackson’s style, which rarely calls on us to like the characters, only to be interested in their doings.

It’s understandable that this book is marketed under the name The Lottery, as the final story of the collection is her best-known short work, but the assumption that the other stories would be very much like it does a disservice to the versatility of Jackson’s writing. Personally, I’m more a reader of novels than of short stories, but I could nonetheless appreciate the quality of each story, and especially how they are curated to create a cohesive, representative body of work. I will definitely be checking out her novels, but I also wouldn’t be opposed to reading her other short story collections.

The Lottery and Other Stories is not what I would label a horror collection, although there are certainly a few horror stories tucked into it–“The Renegade” certainly threw me for a loop. More so than horror, though, it has an air of mystery and of the slightly off-kilter.

I recommend this book for anyone with an appreciation for short stories. With its balance between the normal and the abnormal, it holds something for everyone.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

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I Went to the Boston Book Festival!

This weekend was tons of fun, and I got to have some very cool Bostonian and bookish experiences! I went up to Boston on Friday for a weekend with my friend Emmaline from college. She graduated before me, so aside from a couple of brief visits, we hadn’t seen each other in over a year.

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She met me at South Station and guided me to Downtown Crossing, where she left me to my own devices, needing to get back to work. I grabbed some lunch, then walked over to Boston Common. It was still fairly green and yellow considering it’s now mid-autumn, but still gorgeous! It was my first time visiting Boston in the fall (insert Veggie Tales joke).

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After a while, I headed to King’s Chapel, where a tour was about to start. What I didn’t realize until I got there was that it was a crypt tour! Our educator, Lauren, taught us all about the history of the crypt and the bell tower, and she also told us about the work she’s doing for her master’s degree. I would write about everything we learned, but I’d rather recommend visiting in person if you can. If not, their website is here!

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When Emmaline got out of work, we had a girls’ night in, and the next morning we went to the Boston Book Festival. Our first event of the day was “Sister Resisters: A Celebration of Feminism through Romance,” a panel talk by five romance authors. I’m not an avid reader of romance, but Emmaline is, and one of her favorite authors, Sarah MacLean, was on the panel. The discussion was intriguing even as a non-romance reader, and I only wish that we didn’t have to clear out of the reserved space after an hour.

The authors stayed back to chat and sign books, and I appreciated that compared to busy single-author book events, we were able to actually converse with authors without being rushed along. Sarah MacLean was super friendly to both of us, and she gave me a free signed copy of one of her books, making me promise to give the genre a shot. In both the panel discussion and our conversation with Sarah, what struck me was the warmth and close-knit feeling of writers in the romance genre.

After that, we checked out some booths and had lunch, and we tried to get into the “Myth, Fate, and Family” talk to no avail. Madeline Miller, author of Circe, was speaking, and the crowd she drew left no seats for us. That left us with ample time to get seats at an overlapping talk we wanted to see, the “Authoritarianism” panel. I’ve been following Amy Siskind, author of The List, since around the 2016 election, and it was fascinating getting to hear her expertise in person. Another of the panelists, Tim Snyder, also impressed me with his insights.

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After checking out a few more booths, we sat down to watch the live performances. We caught most of a set by the singer Malaya, and after that came a performance called the Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy. We knew it was some sort of Shakespeare hip-hop act, but we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. It turned out that these guys were incredibly knowledgeable Shakespeare scholars, skilled rappers, and fun dudes. They didn’t act out direct scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, but rather performed songs about his life, what London was like at the time, and scholarly controversies about him. They also made a case for why Henry V is cooler than Hamlet and did a rap battle between Iago and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth won, of course.

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By the time that was over, it was getting to be evening. We ate dinner at a cafe and had another chill night in, then I took the train home the next morning. Overall, I had a blast, and it was especially nice to get to experience all of this with Emmaline. One more thing — the Boston Book Festival, aside from some keynote events that we didn’t attend, is completely free and non-ticketed. If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.

Have you ever been to a book festival? What was your experience like? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Spooky Video Games I Love for Halloween

I’m not much of a gamer, but I do have certain games that I love and come back to time and time again! Today I wanted to share some of my favorite games to play in October. I’ve picked out just four, but it’s a pretty diverse set, so it should be easy to find one you might like!

1. Hollow Knight

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For a game with a dark, moody aesthetic that isn’t actually scary, I love Hollow Knight. You’re a bug-like creature exploring the ruins of what was once a thriving bug civilization. The enemies you fight are mindless zombies, once citizens overtaken by disaster. It’s a game that takes a lot of patience and skill, but the world is huge and gorgeous, so it feels worth it when you finally defeat a boss or maneuver through a tricky piece of platforming.

2. Undertale

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If you’ve played a video game in the past three years, it would be hard to have missed the massive hype around Undertale. This is another Halloweenish game that isn’t too scary… unless you make it that way. You are a human child who has fallen into an underground world of monsters and must find your way back to the surface. It’s easy to play with a cheerful retro aesthetic, so it’s great for beginners, but be careful–your choices matter. If you haven’t played it yet, do it! It’s incredibly refreshing and creative.

3. Detention

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This is one of the only real horror games I’ve played, and it’s terrifying. You’re a student stuck alone inside a school in 1960s Taiwan that’s haunted by spirits and the undead. There are political, cultural, and religious elements that give the story a unique flair, but it can be hard to appreciate that when you’re scared out of your wits. I can only take this game in small doses.

4. Doki Doki Literature Club!

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It may look cute, but Doki Doki Literature Club! is a psychological horror game. Personally, I didn’t find it that scary, but that’s because it doesn’t tick the boxes of things that freak me out–others have said it’s one of the scariest games they’ve ever played. I think it’s a very clever deconstruction of the visual novel genre (even if Hatoful Boyfriend did it better). Do pay attention to the content warnings, though.

Have you played any of these? What are your favorite games to play in October? (Seriously… I’m on the lookout for more horror games.) Let me know in the comments!

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What’s on my Nightstand?

I’ve been letting a lot of books pile up on my shelf recently. If I won’t be getting reviews out anytime soon, I thought I could at least show everyone the books I’m constantly “getting to!” Here goes!

  1. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (halfway there, living on a prayer)
  2. The Tragedy of Mariam: The Fair Queen of Jewry by Lady Elizabeth Cary
  3. Renaissance Women Poets anthology by Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, and Aemilia Lanyer (this and the book before it are borrowed from my cousin who read them for a class)
  4. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction edited by R. V. Cassill (been lying around the house for eons)
  5. Calvin & Hobbes: En avant, tête de thon! by Bill Watterson (a gift from the same cousin)
  6. Lion Hearted by Andrew Loveridge (freebie from a Tricky Tray)
  7. The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette
  8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  9. Silas Marner and Two Short Stories by George Eliot (these last three are acquisitions from a used bookstore)

What’s on your shelf? Which books are you constantly planning to read, but never reading? Tell me in the comments!

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Quick October Book Recommendations

I’m a busy bee this weekend, but I still wanted to put up a post today! Here’s a quick rundown of books I think are great to read in October. It’s a good mix of creepy and fun, so I think there’s something for everyone here!

1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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If you love psychological horror and aren’t averse to gore, The Vegetarian will be a gourmet meal for you (ha!). Yeong-hye, an ordinary woman, starts to have intense, bloody nightmares involving meat, and to make them stop, she decides to become a vegetarian. Her traditional family don’t understand the changes in her behavior, and as Yeong-hye’s mental state deteriorates, she faces hostility rather than support from the people around her.

2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith

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Fan of the classics? Put a spooky spin on it with this fun and campy take on the text of Pride and Prejudice. It sounds like a gimmick, and it is, but it’s also extremely high quality. Confession: I read this version before actual Pride and Prejudice, and it helped me follow the story and the somewhat archaic writing style when I did read the original. It’s not a total rewrite, but rather a rework with interpolations.

3. Charlie Bone/Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo

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These were some of the first “big” books I read as an elementary schooler, back when I thought 400 pages was an absolutely colossal book. Charlie Bone is a kid who discovers an unusual ability to see into the past through photographs, and he’s packed off to school with a group of children, the Endowed, who each boast their own specific magical talents. It’s Harry Potter-esque without being a carbon copy, and I think it’s an underrated pick for kids who want “something like Harry Potter!”

4. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

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Here’s the pitch: a buddy comedy about an angel and a demon during the Apocalypse. If that idea strikes you as overly blasphemous, I wouldn’t bother picking it up, but if you have more of a sense of humor about such things, you’ll probably enjoy it. It taps into ideas both Biblical and cultural about what the Apocalypse will be like and pokes gentle fun at them. I actually learned a thing or two from it!

5. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

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You’ve already read it, right? If not, now’s the perfect time! If you have, what’s stopping you from rereading them for the third or fourth or eleventy-second time? Nothing, that’s what. Aside from being a tale of magic, Harry Potter has the best Halloween-oriented plot points in the game.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorite Halloween reads? Let me know in the comments!

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