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as small as a world

My name is Jo; I am a twenty-something trying to learn to live a life of purpose. Or just a life, period.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 15 — Your Favorite Male Character

There are a ton of characters that I love and that are complex and interesting, but my favorite, or at least the one that sticks out the most in my memory, is Seymour Glass.

If you didn’t like Catcher in the Rye, you still might like Salinger’s other three books. They (mostly) center around the Glass family, a bunch of pretentious, intelligent New Yorkers. (Sound real likable, huh…?) But really, Seymour is my favorite. He’s the oldest of seven children, described as a “spiritual savant.” You first meet him in Franny and Zooey, then go on to learn more bits and pieces about him in Nine StoriesRaise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction is one of my favorite books of all time— with as few spoilers as possible, I’ll just say that the second half, Seymour, is a novella “written” by Seymour’s brother following his death. Buddy (Seymour’s brother) takes up the whole story trying to write a memoir/biography about Seymour’s life, struggling to put into words who his brother was. He stops and restarts and goes on tangents, and the whole thing is just a beautiful portrayal of grief and love and the unknowable nature of human beings. You leave the book feeling like you know Seymour through his brother’s eyes, fully aware that, just like Buddy, you really don’t know Seymour at all— and you feel the loss of his life and his individual nature acutely. He’s an extremely complex, sympathetic, interesting character, and he’ll make you appreciate all the people you know well, and who know you.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 14 — Book Turned Movie and Completely Desecrated

I’m not a huge proponent of hating on movies and television shows for tweaking minutiae to make a story better suited to a different medium. I think there are a lot of things you can change in a story without changing the story itself. Like all people, I like to whine when the characterization of my favorite people gets demolished (I’m looking at you, Jaime Lannister) or when my favorite scene gets cut. But I understand the changes necessitated in adapting a book for the screen, and for a wider audience. But one glaring exception did come to mind:

This is actually the only Jodi Picoult I’ve ever read, and I’m guessing it’s her most well-known. It’s a fantastic work, full of implications and complexities surrounding ethics and family and medicine. I really love this story, and I really love the ending. The way Picoult constructed the story so that the ending became inevitable was brilliant. In the movie, the ending was completely flipped on its head. I won’t say anything else because *spoilers*, so I’ll leave it at that. But anyway. So, so frustrating.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 13 — Your Favorite Writer

I didn’t even have to think about this one. Madeleine L’Engle is my favorite author:

I discovered Madeleine L’Engle by myself. I was in fifth grade, and the cover of A Wrinkle in Time caught my eye at the school library. When my dad saw me reading it, he got so excited— turns out he had a ton of L’Engle books in boxes in our basement. It was so fun that both my dad and I had discovered her books separately— and, as I found out, around the same age.

Madeleine wrote 46 books (that’s my count, at least), ranging from children’s picture books to religious nonfiction and poetry. I’ve read over 20 of them. I’m at the point where I almost feel as if I knew her personally. She has this way of weaving together science, art, spirituality, and humanity in a way that seems almost impossible. Her worlds are never small. Even the tiniest stories, like The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas, grasp at something infinite.

I love L’Engle’s writing for so many reasons. She writes about dogs like they’re people. She writes about children like they’re adults. She writes about parents like they’re people. She writes about God like he’s infinite and unfathomable (she doesn’t try to have all the answers).

There really is so much more about Madeleine’s books that I could say— I grew up reading her stories; I read A House Like a Lotus (a coming-of-age story; my favorite book of hers) when I was the same age as the narrator. I’m reading Two-Part Invention, L’Engle’s chronicle of her marriage, as I begin my own. I’ve looked to her stories for wisdom and belief for 15 years now. Her work is a huge part of who I am, and she will always, always be my favorite.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 12 — A Book That You Love But Hate at the Same Time

Ugh. This was such a hard category for me. I’ve picked this one, but I think I’m kind of fudging on my reasons:

I already got really long-winded on this photoset about how important The Millennium series is to me. You can read that if you want further details. But this is one of my favorite books of all time— I love the depiction of complicated, crazy-smart, sexual women; I love the men who respect them. I love the storyline and its complexity. I love the weirdly detailed menus of every meal every character eats… seriously. And I love the picture we get of modern-day Sweden, especially how often people are making and drinking and getting offered coffee. It’s actually a huge part of my heritage: coffee. For real.

What I hate: Not anything, really. I love every part of these books. But I hate that the violence in them is necessary. Which it is. These books would not be as powerful without the violence and injustice and exploitation that is presented— for that reason, I don’t hate it. But I hate that these books remind me of all the very real reasons I should be carrying mace around with me and taking boxing lessons. I hate how realistic this book is— I wish the world weren’t that way. I wish such horrible things didn’t happen.

But I love that Larsson, in his journalistic ways, has exposed some of that reality in the form of these crazy best-selling books— and hopefully made people more aware.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 11 — A Book That You Hated

When I was in junior high and high school, I was determined to read all the “classics.” I read this one before I was forced to read In Dubious Battle and The Pearl in school:

I hated all three. I feel justified in saying that John Steinbeck is my least favorite author. It’s not that I don’t “get” his writing— I understand the depictions of depressed America and the elusive American dream. I know why his characters seem more like beasts than people (dehumanization of the impoverished, etc.). I know why his work was and is important— but I have yet to read another author that is so unbelievably BORING. And I am of the firm belief that you can think a piece of art is important without actually liking it— this is my exhibit A.

From maggie-stiefvater's twitter. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From maggie-stiefvater's twitter. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

what about Gaza and Ferguson John? do they not deserve your respect? you're such a hypocrite, i's disgusting asked by Anonymous


I think this is a deeply flawed way of looking at the world.

Now, I have talked about Ferguson, and I’ve talked about Gaza. (In fact, I’ve been writing and talking about Israel and Palestine for more than a decade.) But there are many important problems facing the world that I haven’t talked about: I haven’t talked much about the civil war in South Sudan, or the epidemic of suicide among American military personnel, or the persecution of Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Is that okay? Is it okay for me to talk about, say, racism in football and lowering infant mortality in Ethiopia? Or must we all agree to discuss only  whatever is currently the ascendant news story? Is it disrespectful to Ferguson protesters to talk about continued political oppression in Egypt now that we are no longer reblogging images of the protests in Tahrir Square? I think this is a false choice: If you are talking about Ferguson and I am talking about Ethiopian health care, neither of us is hurting the other.

I think the challenge for activists and philanthropists online is in paying sustained attention, not over days or weeks but over years and decades. And I worry that when we turn our attention constantly from one outrage to another we end up not investing the time and work to facilitate actual change. We say “THE WORLD IS WATCHING,” and it is…until it isn’t. We’ve seen this again and again in Gaza and the West Bank. We’re seeing it in Iran. We’re seeing it in South Sudan. And we’re seeing it in the U.S., from net neutrality to Katrina recovery.

The truth is, these problems are complicated, and when the outrage passes we’re left with big and tangled and nuanced problems. I feel that too often that’s when we stop paying attention, because it gets really hard and there’s always a shiny new problem somewhere else that’s merely outrageous. I hope you’re paying attention to Ferguson in five years, anon, and I hope I am, too. I also hope I’m paying attention to child death in Ethiopia. I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.

I really don’t want to minimize the effectiveness of online activism, because I know that it works: To use a personal example, I’ve learned a TON from the LGBT+ and sexual assault survivor communities in recent years online. People on tumblr make fun of me for apologizing all the time, but I apologize all the time because I am learning all the time, and every day I’m like, “Oh, man, Current Me has realized that Previous Me was so wrong about this!”

But we can only learn when we can listen. And when you call me a hypocrite for talking about X instead of talking about Y, it makes it really hard to listen.

At times, online discourse to me feels like we just sit in a circle screaming at each other until people get their feelings hurt and withdraw from the conversation, which leaves us with ever-smaller echo chambers, until finally we’re left only with those who entirely agree with us. I don’t think that’s how the overall worldwide level of suck gets decreased.

I might be wrong, of course. I often am. But I think we have to find ways to embrace nuance and complexity online. It’s hard—very, very hard—to make the most generous, most accepting, most forgiving assumptions about others. But I also really do think it’s the best way forward.

Amen, amen, amen

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 10 — A Book That Reminds You of Home

Peace Like a River is one of those books that seemed like it found me, rather than the other way around. It was the summer of 2009 and I was about to embark on a 20+ hour bus trip to Washington, D.C. for my job. I was packing the day before and realized I had no book to bring with me. Running to the library, I spotted this one and remembered that someone at some point had recommended it to me, but I had forgotten who (I still can’t remember). I checked it out without looking at what it was about, and started reading it on the journey.

A journey it was. I was transported from from a road trip in mid-American summer heat to winter cold and snow in my home state, Minnesota. Leif Enger is from Minnesota, and it shows. He describes life there in a way that makes you really feel it, and for me, having grown up there, I was able to think: Yes. That’s my home.

That summer was extremely transformative. I was exploring a lot about who I am and what my life means; I was healing from past relationships and starting new ones (funny: I met my husband about a week before reading this book, but he wasn’t one of the [multiple] guys I was talking to at that point… *side-eyes my past self*). Those weeks of heat and change brought about a lot of spiritual discovery, raising questions and answering them; rediscovering belief. I distinctly remember sitting on a bus seat with my back against the window, reading this book and feeling so supremely transcendent that I actually looked up and gazed around the bus, trying to figure out if people could feel the same energy I felt. It all sounds pretty new-agey, which I am not, not really— but I credit this book with restoring a childlike faith in me. It reminded me of my belief that the world really is magical— in actual spiritual and mystical ways.

So yes, this book reminds me of home. Not only of my home in Minnesota, but a home that opens up in the deepest, truest parts of myself— the place my soul lives.

How come when I waste time on the internet at home, five hours goes by and I don’t even know what happened… But when I try to waste time on the internet at work to make it go by faster, I can only seem to waste five minutes? WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 9 — A Book You Thought You Wouldn’t Like But Ended Up Loving

Shiver was my first Maggie Stiefvater. I had seen the book cover floating around, and thought it looked a bit cheesy— but when I discovered it was set in Minnesota (my home state), I decided to give it a shot. At first, the story does seem kind of Twilight-esque, and I felt a tiny bit embarrassed to tell people I was reading a romance story about werewolves. I determined to dismiss it as some fluffy fun (silent apologies to Maggie)… But by the end of the book, I found myself drawn into the creativity of the story, and most of all, the realness of the characters. I wouldn’t say I ended up loving Shiver, per se, but I stuck with it and I DID end up loving the series in its entirety. The story got better with each book, and I fell in love with these three-dimensional people, truly missing them when I finished the last book— like they were (and are) my real friends. I’ve said this before, but I’ve yet to come across another author who makes her or his characters seem so incredibly real. Again— if you haven’t read Maggie, you should.

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 8 — Most Overrated Book

I apologize in advance…

Being a children’s classic and very well-loved, I was kind of surprised I hadn’t already read this book before last year. Maybe it’s because I am an adult now and don’t enjoy things in the same way children do… But I kind of doubt it. I limped through half of this book and had to stop for one reason: I HATE literal puns. And this book is basically one huge literal pun. To me, it’s incredibly unimaginative and lazy writing (also the reason I can’t read The Pilgrim’s Progress). I just want these authors to try a little subtlety… Trust me, children will still understand the meaning if you inject a few metaphors. This book has a rating of 4.21 on Goodreads— I consider that highly, highly overrated.


These two pictures from the director of the Ferguson Public Library and the library’s instagram are also worth sharing. 

Libraries are centers of information neutrality, but we’re also extremely anti-censorship— which means we’re often on the side of the underdog. The power of evil creeps in when people cover their eyes. We like to help keep people’s eyes open.

Love your library.

(via ponyxtales)

And actually I liked that scene in the film, because it was articulating something I hadn’t said but I had felt. I really liked it and I thought that it was right. I think you do feel the ghost of what could have been in that scene.J.K. Rowling 

(Source: foooolintherain, via booksandhotchocolate)

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 7 — A Book That Makes You Laugh


Really anything by David Sedaris. I started reading him in high school because I knew my mom wouldn’t approve, and he’s just freaking hilarious. It feels like cheating to make a comedian author’s books the “makes me laugh” answer, but I can’t remember laughing out loud to any other books more than his. I highly recommend reading Holidays on Ice around Christmastime— it highlights all the absurdities of the season, and will make you laugh so hard your stomach hurts.

(Source: yodiscrepo, via kattekin)

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