Top 5 Books I Read in 2016

Another year, another Top 5 list. It’s an ordinary thing to do as a new year and altogether a new reading list is underway. But I assure you there is nothing ordinary about the books I’ve singled out below. It’s because of their singular impact on me that, in turn, compelled me to pay them forward. As with last year, this list is a little more selective than my best films list (coming up shortly) and that’s because books require a little more time. Here are the top 5 books I happily dedicated my time to in 2016 and would happily do so again.

  1. Scrappy Little Nobody14-scrappy-little-nobody-w1200-h630

Up in the Air remains as one of my favorite movies of all time. So it’s with a bit of coincidence that I chose Anna Kendrick’s delightful collection of essays as my form of entertainment during my flight. At 30,000 feet, she was my row buddy, the two of us getting to know each other over complimentary snacks and drinks. I was wonderfully entertained by her charming wit and honesty, a voice she strikes pitch-perfectly (you bet your ass that pun was intended). Hollywood may be glamorous, but ol’ Kendrick isn’t afraid to point out how hideous of an institution it is. Beyond that, she traces us to her humble beginnings as a young starlet working full-time as a stage actress, then as a teenager awkwardly stumbling through her discovery years while occasionally being dwarfed by her own ambitions. The spotlight doesn’t make everything pretty; it simply shines a light on what desperately needs attention. Kendrick may not crave attention, but she’s certainly got mine.  Continue reading

My Life is a Beautiful Mess

My room is a mess. Clothes litter the floor like memories tossed away, and the books I have yet to read continue to crowd my desk. My bed remains unmade. Pillows and blankets lie crumpled and used, exactly the way I left them this morning and the day before. The blinds, too, remain shut. My way of closing out the world. Or perhaps it’s me shutting myself in. My room, my own personal cave. A tomb of forgotten ideas and broken dreams. It’s a monument of all things unfinished.

My life is a mess. I’m due to graduate college a year later than I had planned. I have stories lying dormant in my computer just waiting to get to that next draft. And I have a daughter whom I barely get to see because I’m at the mercy of her mother, my ex. On top of that, I’m in the middle of a long distance relationship. That, in itself, presents its own challenges. In a perfect world, I’d love to have graduated on time, preferably with a degree in Journalism, Biology, anything but English. I’d love to have my stories completed and ready to be sent off to publishers. And I’d cherish the opportunity to see my daughter every day, while also making my relationship work, distance not included. Everything in my life, it seems, is scattered all over the place. Or maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. Maybe they’re exactly where they need to be.

I am not a perfect person, more so like a draft of one. I keep tinkering with the little things hoping that I’ll somehow get better. We all have these expectations of ourselves. To have everything accomplished. To be, in some sense, perfect. In that pursuit, we blind ourselves from the fundamental truth of life. We will never be the best. We will never be perfect. And I feel like that’s okay. Because it gives us something to strive for, like a dream hovering in the air just inches away from our grasp. That’s not to say that it’s unattainable. It simply gives us something to chase.

There’s beauty in conflict. We just don’t see it right away. These obstacles, they’re all a part of life. We need conflict like a plant needs water. How else are we going to grow? We all have a choice: either settle into complacency or embrace conflict. Which one do you think allows us to evolve? That’s right, I’m picking number two. We learn. We gain a greater awareness of ourselves. We become. Over the course of time, we change, and conflict is simply the pathway that leads us down that avenue.

As I stand here looking at the mess I’ve made, I find myself oddly at peace. Yes, I am the one responsible. But I am also the only one who can get myself out of it. So as strange as it is to say, I am grateful to have these conflicts. They’re part of who I am. And they will determine who I’m going to be. Now, it’s true that when we overcome one hurdle, we face another. I know that as eager as I am to graduate college, I still have to face the harsh reality of finding a job, a place to live, etc. Other hurdles already in place. The point is to keep on going, to sort through the mess. After all, a messy room isn’t going to sort itself out. Neither will our own problems. We can let them pile up. Or we can manage them one at a time. That, at least, is in our control.

Of course, I don’t have all the answers. And that’s okay because I’m not perfect, nor am I striving to be. I just want to live. I don’t know what’s going to become of me further down the road. But that’s the exciting part. The uncertainties. The possibilities. That’s entirely out of my hands. I can only hold onto what I’ve got right now. My daughter. My girlfriend. My English degree. They’re more than enough to keep me going, to see me to whatever end that awaits me. For the first time in my life, I am embracing the chaos. I am finally managing the mess. Will I allow this room to get cluttered again? That remains to be seen, like an unfinished story. My life is an unfinished story. Then again, I should be grateful for that.

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On Reading

There’s nothing I love more than reading a good book. There’s something romantic and grand about it, knowing I have an entire world at my fingertips. All I have to do is turn the page and suddenly I’m in a place that the storyteller in me calls home. I consider reading to be therapeutic. A release. An escape. After all, each of us needs an escape every once in a while. These little escapes are prevalent in our everyday lives. Movies, music, video games; it’s the same basic concept. They’re stories too, only they’re digested in different ways. But why do some of us embrace one form and condemn another? I ask this because time and time again I find myself having to defend my love for reading, and I am tired of it. Continue reading