20 May 2019

I can’t believe one year ago, my graduate school journey came to a close. Up until that point, I was used to grinding away at page counts, struggling through readings, and spent evenings walking through the Village where nightlife mingled with students toting backpacks under the light-polluted skies of New York City.

Up until that point, I worked so hard on a project that was uniquely my own. There were no tests or final exams. No, there were only hundreds of pages to scan, proof, and perfect until I made it to May 20th—the day where my achievements were first recognized.

Last year, I shuffled into my seat at the Beacon Theater in the Upper West Side. Students stood and scanned the crowd for classmates and parents, making their way to watch the ceremony. We were all packed tightly in the orchestra seats with their parents, loved ones, partners, siblings, and cousins all cheered on the graduates when it was their chance to take the stage.

The ornate decor of the hall glistened under the spotlights, while a sea of violet gowns and hats sat patiently beneath the stage because finally, it was our turn to be hooded. I left that stage with my white and black sash tugging on my neck while I sat back down at my seat, and finally, those two years were officially over.

There was a lot that I learned from my Master’s Program, one being that it doesn’t always get you the job that you may be searching for, well may just mine didn’t pave the clearest pathway. I remember during my first year when I was an intern for Barnes and Noble Corporate. Halfway through the program, Len Riggio, executive chairman of book store chain Barnes & Noble, invited us to the executive suite on the top floor for lunch and a brief Q&A session. I sat next to his grandson, a fellow intern, who he picked on quite frequently, as we ate grilled salmon, Rizzotto salad, sauteed broccolini, and fresh-baked cookies.

Regrettably, there weren’t many business questions that crossed my mind. I wasn’t in this internship to learn how to start my own bookstore or coin the term superstore none the less, but as the Q&A came to a close, he pulled out his roster and took one last glimpse over the names. “Hannah Conwell?” I looked up in his direction as I saw all other interns turn my way, “I see you are getting a Masters in Humanities and Social Thought…What does that mean? What do you want to do?”

I felt the nerves bubbling up in my throat as he continued with, “it’s kinda like Anthropology, what more can you do with Humanities degree except teaching?” What was I going to do with this degree? 

I talked with some school colleagues and, we all had this insecurity. If we weren’t immediately going into a Ph.D. program, then what would we end up finding? Would anyone know what it was that we studied? I had a dialogue with all of my graduate school careers. “Humanities and Social though, basically put, is that I have free reign over classes at NYU, but I need to be determined enough to work my way into the classes that lead that serves as research for my thesis.” What was my thesis? Well, I analyzed literature for mental health writings and used the epistolary form as an argument as the best way to educate readers on the grieving process. From there, by exploring crime novels through an epistolary lens, my project aims to investigate the intersectionality between the two genres and their character development. My project will entail a research portion in addition to a creative project. The research is where I will dive into psychological thrillers which discuss the tumultuous crimes committed by young adults through the narration of their parents.”

All of this research was became the background for my novel––which is among the proudest project I have completed thus far in my life. I still am working on editing the manuscript and still working on getting it to a place that makes me happy. At the one year marked, I wished I would be ready to share with agents, but given the time of today, I’ve wanted to hold back on pushing too hard.

Which brings me to the point, in this year, what have I learned since graduation?  It’s HARD to get a job in something you love. Careers in New York align closer with who you know when you apply, and what you can bring to the table. My Master’s allowed me more avenues, but also limited the jobs I looked at. Working in publishing meant having a Master’s made no difference in the job I was getting, I was going to start from the bottom. Sometimes that makes me sad. That I put myself further in debt for what?

But then I remember, without this program, I wouldn’t have been in New York. I wouldn’t have found myself in the Publishing world and would be somewhere else. I wouldn’t be working with the editors of some of my favorite novels, or on the frontline of what’s to come in the book industry. If I hadn’t moved to New York, I wouldn’t have had this fresh start with some of the best new friends I have ever met. I wouldn’t have the romance I have, and I would be somewhere else in this world entirely. I don’t know what that other life would have been like, but I know I am happy where I am one year since graduation!

Film from a Rainy Day on the UWS

Today, I took the morning to focus on learning new skills, and before I head on some trips, I wanted to learn more about analog photography and my camera. Last time I shot, there was clearly an issue with light leaks, the back door coming open accidentally, or a problem with the camera. The photography man suggested I take a cheap roll out and shoot it to see if its the seal that has an issue or something else. This is the product of the test, and I think they all turned out great regardless of the little imperfections that come with shooting analog. Enjoy!

 

Little Women—Book and Movie Review

Before I get started, I must say that this blog post will contain some spoilers as talking about them is somewhat crucial for my opinion of both the book and the movie. 

I frequent the AMC on 84th street and on 68th Street quite regularly. I have a membership with the theater that allows me to see movies at a discounted rate for the month, or at least see on during the month for the same price. Because of that, I see a lot of trailers, and a lot of the same trailers while there. One that always caught my attention was Little Women with its star-studded cast and, of course, seeing myself in Jo March, played by Saoirse Ronan, as the heroine known for her writing and a quite progressive stance on women.

In the trailer, over beautiful scenes from the film, you hear the angst and pain in Ronan’s voice when she says, “Women, they have minds, and they have souls as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for, I’m just sick of it.” I watched the trailer end for the first time and immediately knew I wanted to see it the second it came out.

But then in the back of my mind, I knew it is based on the 1868 novel written by Louisa May Alcott. It was a book most everyone has seen in some capacity. There are trendy Urban Outfitters versions,  illustrated, coffee table worthy versions, paperback, hardcover, leather-bound, fabric coated, vintage, and new-age versions. Its a classic in all sense of the word, but as I scroll through Goodread and converse with other women my age, most of my cohort have marked the book “to-be-read.” Before January, I saw the book, always said I would like to read more classics, but it wasn’t until I saw the trailer did I actively go out to seek a copy of the book. In fact, the first book store I stopped in looking but it was sold out of every print they had. 

After not seeing the movie on Christmas Day, I put off seeing it until I had a copy of the book in my hands and had read it. Something I do very commonly is read the books after I have watched the movie. I’ve done that with too many good stories, although it’s rare for me to not like both of them had I seen the adaptation first, I know everyone says, “the books are always better.”

So, a friend and I vowed to read it together and go and watch the movie once we were both done. And before I get into my overall thoughts, I want to talk about my expectations that I had from the trailer and how that really did impact the way I read my copy of Little Women.

I was SO ready for this novel all about female empowerment and independence and chasing dreams and not boys, but then again, I got that, but not to the extent that I wanted.

The novel follows the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Throughout the story, they are anywhere from pre-teen to their early twenties and are doing what they can to support their family while the father is away during the war. Everyone has something that they enjoy, but I took to Jo quite quickly as she was the writer, and in many ways, I saw Alcott projecting herself within Jo’s character as I do in my own writing. Jo is proud of what she writes, she learns to write for herself and allow the money to become a bonus. She holds a complicated but platonic relationship with the neighbor, Laurie, who becomes an important character throughout. He can be a great friend at times and pushed the envelope at others, but in the back of your mind, you cheer for him and Jo’s relationship because of how it seems as though he genuinely cares.

But for the majority of the book, you experience Jo’s loss. You see how she struggles with death, and when her sisters marry, she leaves home thinking it would save her friendship, and she grapples with this concept of love and knowing women can do more than just love, and part of me wanted Jo to remain independent. Its the eye roll at the end of the trailer that has me believing Jo will be that heroine, but then she marries an advisor of her’s, “the professor,” Mr. Bhaer.

Outside of this sudden shift of my expectation, Allcott write beautiful characters to life that has you beliving these are your friends and not fictions. They exhibit a series of struggles, sacrifices, flaws, and kindness. They are characteristics all of us strive to understand and exhibit, and at the same time, their characters can be believable. There is more to the story that I can critique, but I think its also necessary to touch on how the movie impacted my opinion.

At first, I was disappointed in the book because I didn’t necessarily want Jo to end up with anyone, and part of me was knowing that that was selfish. I wanted a female character that embodied “making it on your own” and wondered if Jo settled when she married the only other man we have to know her to be intimately acquainted with—outside of the publisher.

But then you watch the movie, you see how Jo embodies that. The book’s story is posed in almost two different realities within the movie—where flashbacks and foreshadowing of the story as opposed to the chronological telling from the book. Outside of that, the ages of the men, and the fact that the professor was French and not German, there was nothing glaringly upsetting about how the story was retold in the film. In fact, I felt the movie almost made me appreciate the book a bit more.

While I was reading, I told you that for selfish reasons I wanted Jo to follow her dreams and not marry; I wanted the rouge telling of a single woman making waves in her occupation, but then you listen to the pain in Ronan’s voice and come to remember there is nothing wrong with wanting human interaction. That being lonely isn’t some flaw to the female character, and her desire for companionship doesn’t discredit her career pursuits—it in ways showcases how forming that connection can improve our mental health and benefit our work.

I also appreciate the added interaction with Jo and Mr. Dashwood, the publisher. I loved seeing how the director, writer, and producer shined a light on the publishing community. Being someone who would love to work in the contracts department, I understand how much can benefit the company versus the writer, and love how she negotiated for better pay and the copyright. I felt it was an accurate description of how the publishers know what will sell, and how the end of the book could have changed because if Louisa May did base Jo off of herself, she did not marry.

I really do appreciate that I read the book first and went to see the film, and I look forward to doing that more with other novels!

 

September Book Review

As you know from my previous post at the beginning of the month, First Impressions of ‘Uncommon Types,’ I have spent the month reading Tom Hanks’ debut novel of short stories. I want to start off by saying I am glad I did. Hanks did a great job cumulating a collection of short stories, where the characters repeated throughout the novel. At times, it was a comfort to see how the relationships between friends grew throughout various scenarios, but I found the stand-alone stories, the ones that didn’t follow any sort of preconceived relationship to be the most intriguing.

Among my favorites are, “Welcome to Mars,” “These Are the Meditations of My Heart” and “A Month on Greene Street.” Together they discuss heartbreak, relationships, and self-betterment. They are the stories that have me convinced I need a type-writer and need to rewatch a Hanks Rom-Com. The characters are beautifully constructed and left me questions about what happens next in their lives.

Although it isn’t my favorite book ever, it definitely is a read worth listening to and following along. What is better than hearing Tom Hanks get into character and talk about his passions, typewriters that is?

With September on its way out and October coming tomorrow, you may wonder what is next on my agenda?

The official book of October is The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. After sitting in the audience during her panel at Book Con, I knew I’d want to pick up the book whose cover is a work of art. Summarized by “a teenager must rescue her kidnapped mother in a dark YA debut that mixes horror and fairy story,” Hazel Wood is just enough magic and spook for the haunted days of October.

I will be releasing more thriller, horror, and spooky books for this month, but in the meantime get your hand on a copy of The Hazel Wood and read it along with me in October!

Read along with me this month, and stay tuned for the 30th of October where I unravel the ends of October’s book-of-the-month, review other books I may have read over the coming weeks, and announce November’s read!

Are We Really Listening?

Earlier this week I received, the advanced reader copy of Kate Murphy’s novel, You’re Not Listening, set to release January 7, 2020, and was immediately struck by the contents of the story. The Houston, Texas-based reporter who in the past has written for The New York Times and The Economist, shows within the first few pages just how convincing and exquisite her story-telling skills are.

What fascinates me about Murphy’s book is that even during the increasingly unavoidable loneliness of today’s digital age, she’s found a way to combat isolation. In this book, Murphy addresses the epidemic through a profoundly personal style of teaching us to be better listeners and connecting with everyone around us. In a way, she urges us to stop talking and start listening.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic, and I want to motivate my readers to get their hands on the book come the new year because I think many of us can use it as a tool for our upcoming New Year resolutions in 2020. Ever since reading the first few chapters, I have changed the way I listen to the people around me. I have become conscious of my subtle cues, and have noticed times where I really am just not listening.

I say that with sadness because no one should feel ignored, and I should know better as I have been in the situation being ignored. It’s disheartening to be on the phone with a friend and hear the radio silence behind every “mhmm” and “yeah” that they mutter out as they go through the motions and “pretend to listen.” Your confidence can be crushed when you are catching up with a friend for drinks, and they keep checking their phone in the middle of your story about what you’ve been up to since you last saw them.

As a psychology student, I have always realized how widely essential listening can be for yourself and the relationships you forge in the future, and I regret to say I’ve ever fallen short when it came to listening to everything someone said. One thing Murphy pointed out is if we are actually listening, there is no need for the subtle cues that show that we are listening. We don’t need to interject with mindless mumbles, but rather when they are done with their point, we should be able to briefly summarize what the person may have said and then add our thoughts and point of view to continue the conversation.

It could be jarring at first, but after reading that chapter of her book, you come to realize just how often you nod your head and interject in addition to how often you may lose your focus on just merely listening when you are going through the motions of proving you are “listening.”

Maybe teachers have always tried to make us good listeners. Perhaps they know what they are saying when they tell us to put our hands down until they are done speaking.

It was in middle school when I heard a teacher interject, “you aren’t listening when you have your hand up, and you’ll have more questions later because of it.” Which is wildly accurate, in school and in life outside of the classroom.

Someone may have said something, and then you replay their statement over and over in your head because you have a question about what they may have said, or you might be formulating a response and all the while you never hear the rest of their story.

There is so much we can learn from just listening, and being an active listener versus a passive listener. Although my friends had always deemed me as a great listener when it came to heading their insecurities and struggles because I would typically ask thought-provoking questions in response to their statements, I know there is more I can do to prove I am a good listener. I have Kate Murphy to thank since she was the one who reminded me just how important it is to really listen to your friends.

How many of my readers have felt ignored or lonely because they feel like there is no one out there to listen to them? Has there ever been a moment where you felt like you couldn’t be your complete, authentic self because you thought, “what’s the point in wasting my breath, they aren’t even listening?” I want you to know you aren’t alone, but that there is so much we can learn by being listeners, and the more that we can do to inspire others to listen, the more we can change the way our future develops.

International Literacy Day

“International Literacy Day, celebrated annually on 8 September, is an opportunity for Governments, civil society and stakeholders to highlight improvements in world literacy rates, and reflect on the world’s remaining literacy challenges.”– UN.org

Literacy and Multilingualism is the theme of 2019 where the UN urges the peoples of the world to express solidarity with the linguistic diversity that is present in education and the development of literacy to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The reason why today is so essential is that literacy is for everyone, everywhere. My ability to read and write allows me to have this platform to express myself. I can pick up a book and get lost in another world that is unlike my own. I can pursue a career that I enjoy as well as further my future with the enrichment of my ancestors and diverse cultures.

I couldn’t imagine a world where I lack a way to communicate with the various cohorts I keep. I love my growing library and world of knowledge I have learned through the skills of literacy, but I understand how crucial maintaining diversity in our education systems is.

I keep a copy of Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world on my coffee table to remind me how diverse languages can be and how some languages have words for feelings that the English language cannot sum up in a single phrase. I open it on occasions to familiarize myself not only with words but with emotions that I will then include in my writing.

Knowing there is a word like ‘querencia‘ which is a noun rooted in the Spanish language that means a place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are your most authentic self, means I not only am educating myself on new vocabulary from a language that was for a lot of my friends, their first language, but it’s reminding me about the places that I feel my most authentic self. 

I feel most at home with a blanket wrapped around my shoulder. I feel at home in the arms of my partner or with my toes dug into the warm sand. I feel most at home in Florida, London, Boulder, and New York City. I feel most at home with the crisp autumn air, crunching leaves, and an abundance of pumpkins.

The first time I truly felt like my authentic self, I couldn’t describe it. Still to this day when I recount my time in London, I say I “fell into what I wanted to be” “I changed into the person I felt like I have always was” because after feeling different for so long, it was great to feel the strength I always had at my core finally radiating a golden hue.

My native language isn’t going anywhere, but even if English is something many people know, that doesn’t mean we erase the languages that are so important to the histories of others. I’ve always appreciated that there is no national language of the United States because I never understood why others would say “you’re in America, speak English” to someone speaking a foreign language to their own. Irradicating someone’s culture isn’t necessary, but encouraging language diversity, education, and literacy are essential.

I urge my readers and followers to pick up a book today. I want you to read a page, a chapter, or the entire thing. I want to know what book you choose, what you learned from your moments reading, and how it made you feel.

I urge my readers to write something today for yourself. Write down your grocery list on paper, an encouraging quote on a Post-it note to place on your computer screen, or a letter to a loved one.

I want my readers and followers to take from the gift of literacy and do something positive with it today. Happy International Literacy Day!

 

First Impressions of ‘Uncommon Types’

While an autumnal spice blend and rich pumpkin scents are thrown throughout my small New York City apartment, I enjoy the pitter-patter of rain on my bedroom window, over-cast skies, and Tom Hank’s narration of his first collection of short stories, Uncommon Type: Some Stories.

Because my morning started off with Tom Hank’s recognizable cadence and meticulous character interactions, it must mean that September’s book-of-the-month read has begun. To commemorate my monthly book club, my best friend selected Uncommon Types: Some Stories as the book well will discuss at the end of the month. However, before I release my final thoughts, I felt that should I preface my first ever book review post with a first-glance into my initial impressions.

I’ve grown up with Hank’s and his witty sense of humor, eclectic characters, and oscar-worthy acting. I am always up for a Hank movie marathon and can be found quoting the movies of his I have seen an uncountable amount of time. Many of you may know that You’ve Got Mail is one of my mother’s and grandmother’s favorite movies. I grew up dreaming of autumns in New York and love that

Weirdly enough, I found myself living the plot of the film. To this day, I still remember the moment I FaceTimed my mother and flipped the camera to show a non-contextual aerial shot of a Starbucks from above. “Do you know what this is?” I asked. She replied, “You’ve Got Mail.”

“No,” I said, “that’s the Starbucks next door.” I grew up religiously watching the movie besides her, and she smiles whenever my life relates to the rom-com now. I found my current heartthrob online, I live in the UWS with him where I occasionally zip my credit card through the credit card machines at Zabar’s, but at the apex of it all I spent one summer working with the corporate team of the IRL Fox Books.

Up until the summer of 2018, the nostalgia watching the film focused around my childhood and my relationship with my mother more so than the growing pains surrounding what life used to be.

Ever since You’ve Got Mail, Toy Story, and The Polar Express entered my list of top watched movies, I wondered how he would turn out to be a writer. I still am curious to see how his love for story-telling and affinity for typewriters would mix when he channeled an inner author.

With the book being released in October of 2017, it is currently ranking at an average of 3.45 stars from 24,724 ratings  and 4,532 reviews on Good Reads; with some of the top reviews mentioning “these stories are aggressively competent and aggressively bland.” In total, Uncommon Types: Some Stories is “a collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.”

Because at the root of it, the reason I bought this book because I knew the author because he is an actor. After just completing The Road by Cormac McCarthy, national bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, I knew this story may pale in comparison. That’s okay because there is always something to appreciate from another’s writing style.

Hank’s may never win an award for his literary feats, but from the two short stories I have read, I have enjoyed them both for a lazy day spent in bed enjoying Tom Hank’s narration as I read along.

‘’Three Exhausting Weeks”: Two best friends decide to enter in a romantic relationship, but even after the first night together, readers can feel their incompatibility. Read to discover how an authoritative, busy-body creates a regime for a laid-back, home-body.

“Christmas Eve 1953”: An incredible recount of a cold Christmas Eve that harps on joy, belief in tomorrow, and the healing wounds of a past filled with physical and psychological trauma.

Both stories stay true to the movies Tom Hank’s stars in, and the humor he uses to keep readers following along. The nostalgia of typewriters remains a theme throughout both stories, which I am happy to see since I know Tom Hank’s is a fond collector.

There are still fifteen short-stories for me to dive into, and although at times the crisp short sentences and dimmed imagery can pull away from the reader’s attention, Hank’s makes up for it with a handful of beautifully crafted paragraphs to leave the readers wanting to know more about the characters he described.

Read along with me this month, and stay tuned for the 30th of September where I unravel the ends of September’s book-of-the-month, review other books I may have read over the coming weeks, and announce October’s read!


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Starting a Book Club

As a writer and aspiring author, I have found myself buying up more books than my Ikea bookshelves can handle all while calling myself a “reader.” Which I am, but I am the type of reader who rewards myself with new books, even when I have hundreds of novels left unread on my shelves, and I wasn’t reading to keep up. For a while, I obsessively bought every recommendation and new release and added them to my fast-growing collection of “want to read next” while I neglected to read.

In May, I said enough is enough, no. more. books.

Before I get ahead of myself, I was doing this to save money. I called it my ‘book hiatus,’ which is where I set the goal for myself to read 1/3 of my books before heading out and buying new ones. My bookshelf would always be accepting of Advance Reader Copies and gifts, but I am now actively trying to read what is already in my collection.

It was around the time of my hiatus that I realized I was reading a lot in the spring, but that number started to dwindle in the summer. At one point, I was reading a book a week, which sounds like a lot, but I was a fast reader and I often get sucked into a story and have a hard time putting them down. In order to maintain my habit of buying and not reading, I revamped the goal by talking to my fellow reading friends and asking if they wanted to start a book club.

My best friend is just like me, she obsessively stalks Barnes & Noble’s inventory, rewards her seven-foot-tall bookshelves with more books, and is trying to find time to catch-up with all the books she wants to read. It was back in 2016 when we first started this idea of a book-club. We were prepping for our road trip from Florida to Colorado, and I was showing her all around my home town of Naples; which included stopping in Barnes & Noble. We both, separately, found the book Virgin by Radhika Sanghani which followed a 21-year-old on a mission to deflower herself.

We both decided to pick up a copy, read it on our own time, and discuss the book when we were done. Together we sat in my living room on matching couches and turned the pages in silence. I ended up devouring the book before bed, which pushed my best friend to read it faster, and still to this day, I loved the book, and I loved discussing it with a friend.

Since then, I have picked up duplicate copies of books for us to read, in addition to us both recommending and FaceTiming one another to show our recent book haul.  Together, we decided enough is enough. No more “let save this for a book club” instead, “lets actually read this for a book club.”

Those words made me a reader again. We planned for September 1st to be the start of our monthly book club. We planned to read one book together, starting with Uncommon Types by Tom Hanks (yes, that Tom Hanks). We habitually start multiple books at a time, so we left the final weeks in August to wrap up our books of the summer. Because I had a plan, I stuck with it. Throughout the past few weeks, I finally finished A Darker Shade of Magic and City of Ghost by V. E. Schwab, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, and Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dryer.

I mention that I habitually read multiple books at one time because I would love to read more books with more people. I may have started a book club with close friends, but also entice to my readers to join along in the conversation! You may just be here for my mental-health blogs and tantalizing travel essays, but in actuality, I would love to interact with my followers, and I feel like reading is something you can do to improve your mental well-being and a book is portable enough to take on your journies.

So whether you are interested in reading Uncommon Types with us, or are wanting to discuss books with me, please comment below; if there are four full weeks in September, then you better believe that I am going to be up for at least starting four new books soon!

I think one will be Educated by Tara Westover. I am all for a memoir, and I have never had so many recommendations for a single book since I became a more mature reader. Have any of you read it? Let me know if you’ve been meaning to and want to read it with me!