I’m Having an Existential (Reading) Crisis: Shifting Reading Tastes

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Feelings are shifting, habits are changing, everything is basically spiraling out of control.

Okay, not really. Actually, this is a really exciting and interesting time in my reading life. For the last 4-5 years, 99% of the books I picked up to read for fun have been young adult, a.k.a. YA.  This has worked really well for me in the past–I have found books and characters I will cherish forever, that meant a lot to me at the time that I read them and really helped me through some tough stuff. Mid-2015 was when things started to change. A lot of things changed in 2015. I graduated high school, I traveled a lot, I moved into/started college (which is definitely the biggest thing on this list). I started getting exposed to different people and situations and ideas that I had never experienced before because my life as a high schooler was 1) pretty sheltered and 2) pretty not-fun. That’s not to say I haven’t had challenges since I got to college–I’ve had my fair share, I still am, and I still will. Most things are just really different now, which means I’m different, which makes sense that my reading tastes have changed drastically because reading is such a large part of my life and who I am.

This is going to sound horrible and cliché, but it’s true: in high school, I was really, really lonely and didn’t really have friends until senior year. It was tough going to a small school where everyone already knew each other once I arrived. I had a few really lonely years and the way that I dealt with that was with reading. A lot. Freshman year was when I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for the first time, and it was one of the most important experiences I think I had in high school. I want to talk more about what that series means to me in more depth another time, but basically I latched on to Katniss because she was who I wanted to be at the time. I looked up to everything about her, especially because she was the same age as I was. For about 3 years now I have worn an arrow necklace every day because of her. I can’t imagine my freshman year without that book series. It was really something that kept me going when I was very lost.

My point is that young adult books have played a very big role in my life, and a very important role. I can give countless of other examples of when a YA book impacted me in a way that is unforgettable. I will always think that YA books are valid and important because it reminds audiences of the same age  that they are valid and important. Their problems are recognized and shared, and it’s a space for them to see themselves and feel heard. This is not to say that you have to be a teen to read YA, not at all–I just happen to believe that YA is most impactful to teens and their lives. I will always grateful to the countless number of young adult novels, good and bad, that I read in the last 5 years.

One of the biggest things that I think has contributed to my change in reading tastes is why I read and what I read for. When I read The Hunger Games, I was reading because I wanted to escape something. That’s how I read for the majority of high school. I wanted to slip away from where I was, become someone else and see their world through their eyes. I wanted to be entertained, to be taken to other places and shown things that don’t exist in the world I live in. And it was great and I loved it. But I don’t read to escape anymore, and I don’t necessarily read just to be entertained anymore, either.

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I’m majoring in English at my university and I’m doing so because I love language and different ways one can use language to accomplish different things. I love words. I reading from perspectives I’ve never read from before and learning from that experience. I love reading real stories from real people. I love reading with pictures and reading without any dialogue and reading with only dialogue. There are all these new things I’m interested in when it comes to literature and new things I’m looking for when I’m picking out my next read. The 2 most recent book purchases I’ve made are Talk by Linda Rosencrantz and Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis. Talk, which I’m currently reading, is a novel told completely through dialogue without any prose and the conversations are only contextualized through the chapter titles. I’m loving it. It’s so experimental and different from anything I’ve read before and it raises so many interesting questions about how novels and literature work that I’m really excited about. Can’t and Won’t is a collection of flash fiction stories, which I’ve been really interested in writing and before I really know what I’m doing, I need to learn more about it which means reading a lot of flash fiction. These are two books I would never have bought for myself even a 6 months ago, but they are great examples of exactly what I’m interested in now and how different they are from the YA I’ve been reading for the past few years.

Looking back on the books I read in the second half of 2015, the book that really started this whole shift in reading focus was Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I talked about in Eleven Faves: The Best of 2015. It’s the real story of a young woman who was the first female to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. Cheryl’s story was so inspiring to me, so different from everything I had been reading for the last few years, that it opened something inside of me that made me realize how much I had changed and how my reading should reflect that. My reading interest shift wasn’t something I made myself do, though; it just happened after that.

I will always believe that young adult books are important because they have always been important to me and my life. I’m not saying completely goodbye to YA in any means; it’s just not my go-to category of book any more. I still think that there are great YA novels out there, but there are so many other great novels that aren’t YA that I didn’t even see as an option for me 6 months ago. I’m more openminded and curious about my reading now, and I’m excited about the giant world of literature that just opened up to me and everything there that’s waiting for me there.

Have you ever experienced a shift in reading tastes? When did it happen/what caused it? What type of book is your go-to? Do you read outside of your comfort zone often? I want to know; tell me in the comments!

xx, Emily

Eleven Faves: The Best of 2015

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On my Instagram, I posted a photo of my favorite books of 2015, but didn’t get the chance to really talk about why I loved them so much. I dug through my shelves and scrolled through my Goodreads year-in-review and settled on these 11 books and 1 comic book series.

If you’re familiar with the titles, you’ll notice that only 3 of the 11 are young adult, one is middle grade, and the rest are general fiction or non-fiction. If you’re relatively new to following my reading journey, first hello and welcome and thanks for following! Second, what’s interesting about the 3 young adult books is that usually all of the books in my reading wrap ups are young adult. There always used to be just YA, but this year I had a bit of a Reading Identity Crisis (which I’d like to talk about more in depth in another post). Basically, my reading interests have totally shifted. I realized that I no longer really want to read about kids in high school because I have graduated, I’m out of there, I’m happy and in college, and why the heck would I want to read about high school now after disliking the whole experience so much? Like really, high school was not fun. While I was a high schooler, reading about other kids in high school kind of helped. It was comforting. Not that it’s not something I can’t relate to anymore, because I did have that experience of attending high school, but it’s that since I’m not there anymore I don’t want to read about it anymore. You know what I mean?

I started to following BookTubers and Bookstagrammers who read anything but YA and I saw how much there was out there, and I found new things that I’m really interested in that don’t necessarily manifest in YA that often. Now I’m interested in graphic memoirs, short story collections, essays, general fiction, seeking out great LGBTQ+ fiction. I have all these new interest that are taking me to really interesting places and away from YA. This is not to say that I hate YA and think it’s useless–because I don’t. It was great when I needed it, and I’m sure I’ll still read a YA from time to time, but it’s not going to be my primary focus anymore.

Anyway. I meant for that to be brief, but I find my Reading Identity Crisis to be fascinating and you’ll definitely be hearing more about it in the future.

BUT, without further adieu, here are why I loved these books in 2015:

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: It feels funny to write about why this now one of my favorites of forever after that talk about YA, but oh well. This book which explored the shifting relationship between two teens that is told in a non-linear structure blew me away. Jandy Nelson created completely vibrant characters that latched onto my heart and didn’t let go. Something about her writing made me feel more emotions and feel them more intensely when I read this book than I ever had before. This book is about the preciousness of the relationships you have in your life and just the preciousness of life itself and I feel like I’m starting to sound cheesy but this book meant so much to me when I read it and still does.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed: This is the only novel on the list that I read in one day. I took this pretty covered book outside to read on my porch swing, and didn’t leave that swing until that night when I finished it. Written in the Stars is a story about a Pakastani-American girl named Naila who wants to go to college but gets forced into an arranged marriage instead. This book was gripping and interesting and heartbreaking. I previously really knew nothing about arranged marriages and though I’m sure this book doesn’t represent all marriages done this way, it’s content is incredibly thought provoking and kind of scary. It made me think about the world in ways that I hadn’t previously, and opened my eyes to feminism issues that I hadn’t thought of before because they didn’t really apply to me. This is a really though provoking and eye-opening book that shocked me in a really good way.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman: The main thing that I loved about this book was that the main character Allison decides to travel by herself after having a rough year with friends and school and some guy she met in a trip. I loved the idea of this girl who was struggling with so much taking her happiness into her own hands and doing something that she really wanted to do. I read this in early 2015 so I don’t remember a lot of details, but I remember that I felt like I could be the girl in the book who was brave enough to get on a plane and experience the world the way she wanted to (again this is getting cheesy but whatever).

George by Alex Gino: This was one of the last books I read in 2015 (or was it the last?) and it is one of the most important books I have ever read. This is a middle grade novel about a little transgender girl with the given name of George but who calls herself Melissa and refers to herself with female pronouns throughout the entire book. It was a beautiful story written in such a way that younger readers can easily understand what ‘transgender’ means and know that being trans is okay, that being yourself is okay. The best part was that it ended on a happy note and made me cry. A lot .

Vicious and A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Lumping these two together because I just want to talk about why I love V.E. Schwab. These were two incredibly science fiction/fantasy novels that sucked me right into their stories without hesitation. Schwab is great at creating extravagant and imaginative worlds and plots that you don’t question, just accept. Both of her novels pictured were so much fun to read and each has a sequel coming out in the next couple years that I will for sure be reading.

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan: This a compilation of Marina Keegan’s best short stories and essays that she wrote during her time in high school and college before she died in a car accident just days after she graduated from Yale, and days before she was to start a job at The New Yorker. Putting aside her tragic backstory, Keegan was an amazing writer. This feels almost wrong to say, but every sentence she wrote had so much life behind it. She was such an observant person, someone who knew life so well that she could capture it in such pure ways in her stories and essays. I read this because last semester I was taking a creative writing class and her stories inspired my writing for my class. I’m very grateful for the writing we did get from her, even if it was so little.

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer: This book is not for the faint of heart. EL&IC follows a young boy named Oskar (who I believe to be autistic, but is not stated in the novel) who lost his father in 9/11. He finds a key that belonged to his father and starts a journey to find what the key opens. Parts of this novel made me feel like my heart was getting ripped out of my body. It was so raw and emotional and real. The writing in this continuously made me ache. The story itself is so big and incredible but also so small, because it’s all about this young grieving kid, but the thing I remember the most about EL&IC is the way it made me feel almost everything there is to feel.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven is both an apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novel about how the world deteriorates after a disease quickly spreads and kills most of the human population and it’s genius. There are 2 different time streams: during the collapse of the world and the aftermath, and both time streams work towards each other to fill in the gaps and meet at the end. It’s both engrossing and disturbing. The way Emily St. John Mandel crafted the end of our world is so believable it had me squirming. This isn’t a horror novel, it just feels like it could happen and she writes in such a way that I though it could. The way the novel was structured was brilliant and I loved every second of this story.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: This was the first memoir I decided to read on my own, as in not for class or something. And that was a wonderful decision that has opened me up to a whole new world of literature that I never thought about before. Wild is an incredible story about Cheryl who, honestly, has had a really rough life but she made the choice to turn everything around and she started by walking the Pacific Crest Trail on her own. She was the first woman to walk it on her own and her memoir follows her experience on the trail and I just loved it. I loved how she dropped everything and everyone to do something she knew would help her find herself again. It was a selfish act–she had a job and a husband and friends, but it taught me that sometimes being selfish is okay and sometimes you have to be selfish because you’re living your life for you. Cheryl’s memoir really inspired me when I read it, and really made me feel like I could honestly do whatever I want, whenever I want, in order to make sure that I’m living a life I’m happy with and proud of. Highly recommend, especially for my lady friends out there.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: This book I read because Max from WellDoneBooks on YouTube recommends it all the time (and honestly I read a lot of these books because of him so go watch his videos), and I was really happy I picked this up. Everything I Never Told You is a novel that follows a family after one of their daughters die, and shows how each member reacts to the pain and grief that follows such a traumatic death like that. This novel explores race, love (all kinds of love), class, familial relationships all in the face of death and grief and helplessness in such a sharp and poignant manner. Every aspect of this novel was incredibly interesting and honestly painful. This exploration of a broken midwestern family is an extraordinary one that I think you should all read.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Okay, so Saga is pretty different from everything else on this list. Saga is a sci-fi comic book series that is honestly one of the best things on this planet (which is funny because it’s set in a place no where near this planet). It follows the story of a man and a woman of two different races, two races that have been at war with each other for years, and who fell in love and had a baby together. For a myriad of reasons, a myriad of different people want to kill the couple and the baby because the idea of this mix-raced child is disgusting to many. From there, the story just keeps getting more and more complicated and it’s awesome. It’s incredibly graphic, in terms of both sex and violence, so it’s really for an older crowd (like, 16+). But the different races of aliens and worlds that the couple travels to are amazing and the plot just keeps getting more and more complicated per issue while still being easy to follow and incredibly engaging. My favorite part about Saga is how it’s hard core sci-fi and a comic book series, which are both notorious for either having no substantial female characters or treating the female characters as props and less-than-human. Saga has none of that. In fact, more than just having a collection of amazing, well-rounded, flawed female characters, Saga actually brings up important gender issues and discusses them. Each time I read a new volume, Saga never ceases to blow me away. I am dying for volume 6 and if you haven’t started reading it yet, man you have to.

SO. I talked far too much about each of these and this blog post is far too long, but that’s just because I loved all these books so much. I’m really excited about this change in reading taste (something I am going to talk about more in depth soon) and all the new novels that I’m going to read in 2016.

Also, seeing as this is only my 3rd post, I have not been great at making a blogging schedule yet, but now I can officially say that I will be posting every Tuesday! There may be other posts in between on other days of the week, but you can guarantee a new BlueEyedBiblio post every Tuesday!:-)

I want to know: What were your favorite books of 2015? Did you make a new reading discovery? Have you read any of my favorites? Tell me in the comments! 

xx, Emily

These Packages Were Hard to Carry to my Res Hall: A Book Haul

For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently at college/university (either/or depending on which side of the pond you’re from) at Denison University in the Middle Of Nowhere, Ohio. The school is built on top of a hill, or on The Hill, and my trek from the mail room to the tiny room where I live is not a fun one. And it’s harder to get there when I have weird shaped and heavy packages to take with me. This post is dedicated to those packages that made the walks to my warm bed that much harder.

The majority of these I received unsolicitedly from publishers or agencies, and one bonus book appeared that I ordered weeks ago at 2AM that I completely forgot about.

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I received The Two of Us by Andy Jones just today, actually, from Simon and Schuster. I believe this is a romance between two people and they have to fight to keep their relationship alive throughout their changing lives. I’m not sure if it’s my cup of tea right now, but I can appreciate the balloon on the cover. Nice and cheery.

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These next two are from Penguin Random House, and I kind of lied because Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys was not unsolicited, I asked for that one. And I read the first 40 pages! And I liked it! But I’m in a severe reading slump, which I don’t think I’ve had since 2014, so reading has been sparse lately. But I’m super interested in her new WWII novel. I really want to read it before it comes out just so that I can say I read it before it came out, but I’m not sure that’s likely to happen. The other novel I received from Penguin Random House is Oh! You Pretty Thing by Shanna Mahin which is a novel about a young actress and the stresses of Hollywood, I believe, but it just makes me sing David Bowie.

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Another large package I got today! This one gets the award for making my walk home the hardest. These books were sent to me by the WME talent and literary agency. Among these are I Was Told There’d Be Cake: Essays by Slaone Crosley (a title I can really relate to), The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (which I already own but like this edition better than the one I have), You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman (which sounds reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream, kinda), and Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (which is gorgeous and I should read before my wife Emma Watson stars in the movie adaptation). Few. A lot to carry, a lot to type, a lot of space taking up my cupboard under the stars.

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The one book I bought! With my own hard-earned money!! I actually have no idea where the money came from and it probably was not hard-earned. This is Free Love and Other Stories by Ali Smith, which is a collection of LGBTQ+ short stories. It’s not specifically LGBTQ+ but Ali Smith is known for writing those types of character naturally, not as a one-time-speciality which is awesome. I’ve read the first story (a couple days ago and didn’t keep going, I know, it’s the reading slump, it’s hurting us all) and it was really nice. I’ve been wanting to read Ali Smith for a while and I’m pretty excited to read the rest of this.

This was a nice break from all the work I was getting done today (yeah, look at me, Miss Only-One-Class-Today-Watched-A-Movie-For-Homework), now back to the studying (that’s a lie, I’m going to get dinner with a friend).

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Were they worth carrying up a giant hill + to the 4th floor of my res hall? Let me know in the comments!

xx, Emily

Hello + Welcome to BlueEyedBiblio!

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Hey, I Have a Blog Now!

Hey! Hi!! Hello!!! Welcome to the brand new BlueEyedBiblio site! As you may or may not know, my name is Emily. I’m a 19 year old college student who has a semi-successful Instagram account called @blueeyedbiblio where I post about bookish things. And when I say semi-successful I mean my account has over 123k followers, which is a number of people that I cannot even comprehend. I’ve had my bookstagram account for just over 2 years, and now that there are so many people looking at me and what I have to say about books, I figured making a blog wouldn’t be such a bad idea. You can only say so much in a Instagram photo caption before people stop reading (because let’s be honest, no one really reads super long gram captions). So this is what BlueEyedBiblio.com is all about: it’s a place where I can talk more extensively about books I’ve read and liked and books I’m excited about. It’s also a place where I’m going to talk about things other than books because I’m a bit of a nerd (did you see my Star Wars Christmas sweater?).

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My Instagram Story

You may be wondering how the heck I have over 123,000 followers on Instagram. People ask me how I managed it in photo comments all the time, and I can never really give them the full answer that they probably want. So, here, today, I will be telling you my full Instagram story of how my little account that just liked posting pictures of books somehow got 123,000 people to follow.

To tell the full story, I’ll have to go back to the beginning. In September or October of 2013, I decided to start my Instagram account, @blueeyedbiblio. This was after months and months of on-again-off-again blogging at blueeyedbibliophile.blogspot.com. I don’t recall when I started the blog, but I remember that no one was reading my posts. I know blogging is supposed to be about the experience of writing and whatnot, but let’s be honest, when you’re putting that much effort into something and no one was showing any interest, it’s really frustrating. I started thinking of things I could do to direct more traffic through my blog because I didn’t just want to quit talking about books. Then one glorious day, I had the idea to start an Instagram account in juncture with my blog, and @blueeyedbiblio was born.

My initial idea for this Instagram account was to post photos of books and link to my blog, so that if people found the photos they would then proceed to my blog. It just so happens that I found Instagram way more fun than writing my blog because people immediately started following and liking and commenting on my Insta posts. I got instant interaction with other people who liked to read and who liked to talk about books.

By the summer of 2014 I had reached 1,000 followers just by posting what I wanted to, changing up my feed’s aesthetic a few times, commenting on other people’s photos. Reaching 1,000 followers was really cool because it wasn’t something I was ever expecting when I made my account, and knowing that there was 1,000 people out there who cared about what I had to say about books was so cool, especially since about a year in the past that number was at 0.

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Fast forward to March of 2015. I had around 6,700 followers, which was insane to me, and things were going well. I was really enjoying my bookstagram experience, I was really happy with my photos and my interactions with my followers. Then one day I got an email from someone who worked at Instagram, which was just really exciting in itself. Instagram is my favorite social media site, I use it for my bookstagram and my personal account, and it’s everything. So in the email, this Instagram employee told me that the team at Instagram (somehow?!) found my account and they loved it and they wanted to interview me for the Instagram blog. Which was so cool. Of course I said yes, and he sent over the questions about me and my account and a few days later the interview was posted on the Instagram blog.

I wasn’t just featured on Instagram’s blog, though; I was also featured on Instagram’s Instagram account which has over 131 million followers. And they all saw my photo. And that day I gained a ridiculous 35k thousands followers. Yeah, in a day. By the end of the week I had around 85k followers. A few weeks later I hit 100k, which is the craziest thing that has ever happened. I couldn’t believe then that 100,000 people wanted to hear what I had to say (and I still can’t believe it now, really). Honestly, it was a bit scary. I was nervous about posting now, since so many more people were looking at me (and if you know me irl, you know that I actually hate getting attention, so this was actually pretty scary). But I got over it by just being myself and not changing anything about the way that I post.

So, that’s the really long version of the story. I didn’t contact Instagram, I didn’t ask them to feature me. They just saw something in my account that they really liked and that they thought was worth sharing with the world, and for that I am so grateful. I have gotten to do some pretty amazing things because of my Instagram account, like write for the Seventeen magazine website a couple times, actually be in the print Seventeen mag, I got quoted in a Vogue article, I got my own Buzzfeed listicle, and even more stuff you can check out on my about page. And I’m going to be doing even more cool stuff in 2016 because of you guys, my awesome followers. So that’s my little story. I hope you’ll follow my blog and continue to help me do what I love.

xx, Emily