About this Site

Leslie Beslie is a personal blog of me, Leslie. I share articles and thoughts on where I live and things I like. This includes NYC, books, finances, running, music, cats, and drawing.

Other Projects: French Toast Brigade | Life & Spending 2016 Weekly Planner | College Football Daybreak Podcast

Why You Should Use Snapchat

Snapchat is a unique social media platform that relies on sharing experiences from around the world rather than building a “brand” with likes and followers. Snapchat is an app that gets the Internet. The Internet is about sharing experiences, not comments and likes. This Android & iOS app lets you share experiences with your friends. But more importantly, it curates snaps from all their users around the world and shares them with you!

Tutorials already exist online: Here, Here and Here. I mainly want to tell you why you should be using this app. And why I love it. I know that many of us old folks (over 30) think Snapchat is for teens about sexting. But that’s not true. It’s actually really great!

Unfortunately Snapchat got a bad rep in the beginning because teens used it to share nekkid pics. The initial idea of snapchat was that your pictures will self-destruct after a selected amount of time; from 1-10 seconds. But that novelty wore off and Snapchat knew exactly where they should go from there.

Before I get into details, you need to know that Snapchat Live Stories are one of the most amazing things on the Internet. Using the gps on your device, you can add your snaps (pics or video) to a Live Story near you. This can be anything from a city like New York, Dubai, Dublin, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, etc. Or an event like March Madness, Daytona 500, Election in the UK, NY Fashion Week, Dubai World Cup, etc. So then people who aren’t there, like me, can see this curated feed (curated by the Snapchat staff) of live pics and videos from the city or event. It is an incredible way to share an experience. And, like twitter, you have to be concise because you can only record 10 seconds of video.

Live Stories & Geo Tags

Snapchat uses location services on your smart device to let you add your snaps to a local Live Story. These Live Stories are actually curated by the Snapchat team. They pick the best ones and then these are shared with all Snapchat users. It is amazing! There have been Live Stories of major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Dubai, and others. There have been Live Stories of major events like the World Series, March Madness, UK Election, World Cup, and others. This is all based around your actual location. So you have to be there! You have to be at the event or in that city. It’s not a hashtag that anyone can use. Someone can’t spam into the Live Story with an unrelated photo or video. These are solely based on location. Plus, they are curated fairly well.

The Live Stories are an amazing way to really see, first-hand, other experiences around the world! And snaps are fairly mundane so it’s a really neat insight into just day-to-day life in other cities in other cultures. Then some aren’t mundane at all. Lots of people have backstage access to events and now we can see it. Unedited, 10-seconds worth. It’s pretty great.

Geo Tags are Snapchat provided embellishments that “tag” your photo/video with the location. There are thousands of these! There is a geo tag for almost every Manhattan neighborhood, for every borough, for special events, for hundreds of world cities. Even small towns have them. It adds a neat little bit of flair to your snaps. I love finding new ones.

After you have taken a photo or video, swipe to the right and you will see various filters including a clock, temperature, black and white, then also geo tags. Keep swiping to the right to cycle through them. Eventually you will get back to the beginning. You can also swipe with two fingers to use two filters at once (Android).

Here’s a collection from some of the Live Stories that were featured on Snapchat within the past 24-hours of writing this:

snapchat geo tags snapchat now this news
snapchat puppy snapchat geo tags london
snapchat live stories with events snapchat live stories in cities
snapchat live stories snapchat geo tags
snapchat with drawing snapchats live events fashun

Local Stories

Live Stories are International cities or events that anyone can see. However, Local stories are events or neighborhoods that you can only see if you are also in that city. As long as location is enabled on your smart device, the nearest local story will pop up. For me, it’s New York City. Here are some samples of what you’ll see. If you have a problem with FOMO, this may trigger it. But I actually like seeing all the cool things that are happening in the city right now. Also, it’s neat that celebrities use it because it gives a good inside look. Remember, stories only last 24-hours. So everything you see in a story happened in the last day. Having such real-time social interaction is really cool.

snapchat fire snapchat manhattan protests
snapchat sheeps meadow snapchat queens cat
snapchat broadway snapchat yankee stadium

Snapchat Basics

Unfortunately, there is a learning curve to using it because there is not an actual tutorial within the app. It’s an elitist thing I think. Young whippersnappers think they’re smarter than us old folks because they can figure it out and we can’t.

The initial screen is a camera. On the left corner is flash toggle. The right is selfie toggle. The bottom left goes to your friends. And the bottom right goes to Stories.

Push the big button one time for a photo. Or hold it down to take an up-to-10-second video. Hit the X on the top left to delete and start over.

For video you now have four options. The bottom left will toggle sound for your video. Middle saves it to your gallery (your phone). Right will add it automatically to your story. Then far right will show your list of friends to send it to. You can also send it to your story or a local story through there too.

Snapchat is unique from the other social apps because it requires engagement. In order to view a photo or watch a video, your finger has to be on the screen at all times. As soon as your finger leaves the screen, the photo/video disappears. This is for everything! So while you’re watching these amazing stories from other cities, you are actively engaging your phone. You can’t just put it down and watch. This is great. It means you can’t multi-task. Amazing!

Also, it’s important to note that you can only post photos or videos that you just took. You cannot import from a gallery like on Instagram. So no later-snaps. They are all live. This means no photo editing! (or very little? maybe i just haven’t figured that out yet). But it doesn’t matter really because your photo will only be there for a short period of time. So stop photoshopping your double-chin and embrace the reality of you! See! Snapchat is for the inner beauty of all of us.

Videos can only be 10-seconds long maximum. This may seem pointless. But the beauty of it is you can string your 10-second videos together. And they are published in the order you take them. Because no post-production posting, remember? It’s all live. So you string several 10-second videos together and, like twitter, it really makes you think about being concise and efficient.

Adding Text & Emojis

One of my favorite things about snapchat is how easy it is to add captions or even drawings to your photos and video. I am not a video editor. And with snapchat I don’t have to be!

On your photo or video, tap the screen. A box will pop up for text. Type something. Then click the screen again. It will show up with a black bar behind it. Now at the top right click the T. This will change your text to a different type. Now, click on your text. And you will see color options! Pick a new color. Then click anywhere on the screen. Now… put your finger on the text and you can move it around. You can also use two fingers to make it bigger or smaller. Or turn it sideways.

Now, click on the pencil at the top right. Pick a color. Then use your finger to draw. Some people are very very creative with this! I am not one of them. But there are many times where I want to draw on a photo. Sounds silly but it’s really neat and fun.

You can also add emojis as text and add them to your photo in fun/goofy ways. Like when I put the top hat emoji on my cat. Or pretend he is eating a piece of pizza.

Different from Other Social Media

Snapchat is very different from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. That is why it’s a bit harder to “get”. This is also why I love it. For starters, you cannot comment on someone’s snap. Though you can send them a message, either chat based or a snap. This will not be anonymous since it is linked to your username and/or phone number. Snapchat does allow you to block users, as well. You also can’t “like” snaps. Again, you have to take actual effort to send someone a message. In this way, posting on snapchat is a bit like broadcasting. It’s about engaging but in a different way. The sense of community is broader than on other platforms.

Snaps featured in the curated Stories are anonymous. As you view a story, usernames are not displayed. It’s not possible to start following someone this way. They would have to put their username on the snap (and then I doubt Snapchat will select it for the story). Also, your number of followers and number of times each snap is viewed is not public knowledge. You can see exactly who has watched your Story. You can also see if someone took a screenshot. But others can’t see this. So there is less of a need for the false community, where people will buy followers just to push up their numbers. You can see a user’s snapchat score if you are following them.

Your snapchat Score is the sum of the number of Snaps you have sent and received. It doesn’t have much to do with people viewing your Stories or following you. It’s about how often you use the app.

Self Destruction

If you’re sharing a photo, on the bottom left you can choose your self-destruction time. 1-10 seconds. Videos will play the whole way through, up to 10 seconds. Once the person views it, they cannot view it again. Except! There is a chance to do one replay a day. Photos & videos in your stories are different. They are visible for 24-hours. Then they self-destruct.

Of course, at any time, someone can take a screenshot. Snapchat cannot prevent that. However! They do alert you when someone takes a screenshot of a particular photo or video. You can’t stop it from happening though.

I know the idea of self-destructing photos that aren’t sexy photos sounds weird. But, you know what, I don’t need one million photos of my cats saved to my camera. I will take one million photos of my cats. But I don’t need to see them again. Seriously.


Okay. The self-destruction thing is kind of one-way. It cannot be viewed by anyone on your list. But! It likely will be saved on the Snapchat servers. Just like your Facebook information isn’t deleted after you delete it. Etc. That’s how things work nowadays. Information is left on servers for a period of time. They can relinquish the data to authorities if it becomes necessary. So don’t get too hasty about this.

Music I’m Listening To – May 2015

There was recently a study that people stop listening to new music at the age of 33. I stopped listening to new music when I was 23. After graduating from college my musical interests completely froze. And my passion for discovering new bands froze completely. In the past decade, there are less than a handful of bands that I’ve folded into my regular listening.

Teenager me is cringing right now. Especially since I live in NYC. And I should be at a show right this second. And I’m probably missing the-next-big-thing as I type this. Instead of going to shows, I go to bed. Some shows start at 11p! That is not my idea of a good time.

But I still love music! So recently I’ve tried to get up to date with new artists, old artists new stuff, and anything in between. With the help of various websites and Spotify, I’ve been fairly successful. My tastes have definitely broadened since I was a teenager though at the same time I’ve become incredibly picky. But if anyone has recommendations for new artists, especially Brooklyn ones, please let me know!

Here’s a few selections that I’ve been listening to lately. Lately means either the past week or the past few years.

Ground Up / Hip-Hop

I’m pretty sure I found this hip-hop group on Spotify, somehow, within the past year. Ground Up are based in Philadelphia and are trying to become successful… from the ground up. So far, it’s working out for them. Below is the first song I heard by them Got Damn. Although I’ve just found them within the past year, the song below is 5-years old. That’s where I am with music nowadays. Better late than never. Let’s Ride is another good one and that was released last year. Apparently it’s perfect for a summertime mix.

The Julie Ruin / Dance-Punk

The Julie Ruin is because Kathleen Hanna will never stop making music. And that’s fine by me. They have released one album, Run Fast in 2013. But just released a new single a few months ago. So I’m not too behind the times with this one. If you’re not familiar with the name, Kathleen Hanna fronted the band Bikini Kill in the 90’s and then Le Tigre in the 00’s. She was significantly a part of the riot grrl movement. She’s brilliant and talented. The Julie Ruin doesn’t disappoint. While not every song is a hit for me. It’s all good stuff.

Blur / Brit-Pop

Blur is back. A band I loved growing up has released a new album The Magic Whip. And it’s quite good! I have no qualms about a band going off to do side projects then getting back together. Everyone grows and changes. You don’t want to do the same exact thing for your entire life. Musicians love playing music. But their tastes change. Just like my taste of what music I listen to has changed. Of course theirs will change too. So they all took time off to just live their lives. Play in other bands. Learn more things about things. Have families. And now they took all those experiences and came together to put together a surprisingly great album. If you’re not familiar with Blur, you may remember their hit Song 2 in the late 90’s. A short track that basically was just Albarn shouting “whoo-hoo” the whole time. I’m really glad they took a break.

Refused / Hardcore

This is another band who is releasing a new album after a huge hiatus and it’s just great. Refused had a minor hit in ’98 with New Noise. At the time I liked any song where the lead singer screamed, so I instantly loved it. Unfortunately, that 1998 album, The Shape of Punk To Come, was their last. The band broke up later that year. They played their last show to a crowd of maybe one hundred people. Their last show in the US was in Virginia. It wasn’t big news when they broke up. And then no one heard from them for about a decade.

Then in 2012, they announced some tour dates. But were firm that this was not a restart of their career. They were just playing some shows. I was fortunate to see them play at Terminal 5 in April of that year. It was an absolutely amazing show. And it was great to see a band who broke up over a decade ago to a hundred people, come back and sell-out two shows at Terminal 5 in nyc. It really goes to show they were ahead of their time. And it’s nice to see them getting recognition. They recently released a single Elektra and have a new album in the works. This track does not disappoint. I can’t wait to see what else they have for us.

Life Size Maps / “Glitch-Pop”

I’ve been following this Brooklyn band for the past several years. They play here regularly and it’s enjoyable. This isn’t necessarily my favorite type of music. But I like what they do. After having various one-off tracks on the Internet, they just released their self-titled debut album last month. Here’s the first single.


I can’t talk about music in May without mentioning EUROVISION! I will do a full post on this next week. But for now, there are some great songs in the line-up this year. UK’s Electro Velvet is like a dance-pop-jazz-revival track. Australia’s Guy Sebastian is sure to win. And Denmark’s Anti Social Media brings us a song of pure pop with a positive message and it’s sooo sugary. There are also a lot of ballads this year, as usual. Italy’s Il Volo serenades us with Grand Amore (swoon!). I’m so glad these guys are automatically in the finals.

Here’s a full Eurovision Spotify playlist with most of the contestants. Take a listen! Here’s Denmark.

Must-Read Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Books

empty grocery store

Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) is one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read in a long time. Unlike most novels in this genre, the villain of the story are human beings. Much like they are today in a pre-apocalyptic world. It’s not us vs them. It’s us vs us. And humans can be really fucking scary.

The novel also explores what living in a post-apocalyptic world will be like. Not just one year after, but 20-years later. Mandel skips right over the first year+ of the breakdown of civilization. This could be interpreted as lazy writing, but I didn’t mind it. Most other apocalypse stories solely focus on these years. We don’t need another rehash of the lootings, killings, escapes, and deaths. We can assume that this will happen. Instead, we get to learn how civilization tries to restore some semblance of sanity.

Also different in this story is the cause of the end of the civilized world. Much like Stephen King’s The Stand, there is a highly contagious fast-acting flu. You can catch it by just being near someone with it. And it will kill you within 24-hours. Just a flu. Something that starts with a little coughing no big deal. This feels more realistic to me than some other plot devices. I also prefer to have something simple like a flu end the world to nothing at all. Many novels just skip right over that part.

The Stand can be a bit of a trudge to get through. Especially the second half. But the beginning is one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had reading. The killer flu, Captain Trips, starts with an innocuous cough. Then the coughing gets more fierce. And by then it’s likely you already have it. And your chances are slim to none. It is set in New York City. And that is where I was living when I read it. Do you know how many people cough on a subway train? In stores? While walking on the sidewalk? Every time someone coughed, I thought about Captain Trips and twitched a little. That is why using a realistic apocalypse device is so important.

Instead of focusing on survival, Station Eleven focuses on living. You know, what we do every day. Because there comes a point where you are surviving. All your needs are being met. But now what? There is no electricity. Little communication. No fast transportation. No running water. The flu has ran it’s course so you are no longer afraid of it. But now what? What about entertainment? The novel focuses on a traveling theater that performs for various small towns around Lake Michigan in the Mid-West.

You learn about many of the character’s though there are some main ones. And the narrative thread used to connect everyone is brilliant. This is an emotional story, not one about fighting. Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The story also spans decades so you get to watch character’s grow up. This helps the reader to feel a closeness to the main characters. Even if we never find out about certain parts of their life.

Station Eleven is a welcomed change in the post-apocalyptic genre. Reading about the human condition in a broken society is just as interesting as reading about humans surviving.

Read This If You Like: Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

post apocalyptic sci fi desert

Inverted World

Christopher Priest wrote The Prestige in 1995 and it became a movie starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in 2006. Both formats of the movie are great. But back in 1974, Priest wrote the classic sci-fi novel Inverted World. This is frequently found on Best-Of lists and is well deserved. It is one of my favorite books of all time. I hadn’t read anything like it.

The first sentence of the novel is, “I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.” This sets the tone for the new world you will be entering. And Priest’s writing style. The dystopian society he creates is openly strange. Yet many nuances are subtle to the point of going unnoticed until later on in the story.

The main character lives in a city named Earth that is on rails and needs to be continuously moved. It reminded me of A Handmaid’s Tale because the society is broken into classes. There are many rules. Many secrets. Men and women are separated. It feels very rigid. In this way, it is also similar to Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. One group of people gets more information than others. This bothers some, but not everyone.

Priest builds a world that will engulf you. Learning more and more about this strange society only makes you ask more questions. And the build-up absolutely pays off. This is one of the best endings I’ve read. Remember, it was written in 1974. So you may predict it now (I didn’t) but that doesn’t mean it was predictable in it’s time of publishing. Inverted World keeps a perfect pace, never letting the reader get too confused or frustrated. After all, dystopian secret societies are what post-apocalyptic civilization is all about.

Read This If You Like: Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.

dystopian cold

World War Z

Max Brook’s “oral history of the Zombie war”, World War Z, is a non-narrative fiction novel of various people’s experiences. This is also the first book I’ve ‘read’ as an audio-book. And I couldn’t recommend a better one. The novel is set-up in a fictional world where a Zombie war happened. And the author interviews numerous different people, in different countries, to get their understanding of it. We talk to civilians and soldiers. Some interviewees multiple times.

For the audio-book version, this was just like listening to an interview. The voice-acting was top notch featuring some big name celebrities. I will listen to anything narrated by Henry Rollins. It was easy to become absorbed in the descriptions of the war. Even though the apocalyptic event is being described in the past-tense, Brooks does a great job at making the reader feel like they’re still in it.

In an over-saturated genre, World War Z really stands out. It takes a wide range of stories from so many different people. This allows you to hear about a soldier describing “all-out war.” Thinking about facing an enemy who doesn’t need to eat or sleep. Doesn’t need any comfort. Doesn’t even need shelter. Framing a zombie battle in that way was interesting. There was a hopelessness involved; despite knowing that this person survived.

Unlike the other two novels mentioned, this one spans many regions. It’s interesting to hear how the war affected people in different parts of the world. How the first few days were interpreted differently. And how varied people’s responses were. Even though there is not one main character, other than the interviewer, I still felt emotionally close to many of the speakers.

I am not one to typically read a book on zombies. But if you’re going to read (or listen to) one, this is the one.

Read This If You Like: Non-narrative fiction. And zombies.

Weekly Recap: Station Eleven & Ex Machina Are Great

Books: Tracks, Station Eleven, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Tracks feels like the Australian version of Wild. Though I haven’t read Wild so I can’t really be a judge. It had it’s ups and downs it was very interesting. Most of the book was talking about her preparations. More talking about her preparations than the actual walk. But I think that’s just because walking is really boring. These trips always sound interesting to us as on lookers but really its just someone walking a long distance. I know nothing about Aborigine culture or the outback so that was pretty interesting and informative for me.

Station Eleven really made me think about the luxuries we have in society today. Like electricity. This doesn’t seem to get mentioned in many post apocalyptic stories. There is no electricity or running water. And children are born not knowing electricity or television programming. Crazy to think that there could be a demise to that affect. This book was not about zombies which made it feel more real. It was just about a flu. That part reminded me a lot of Captain Trips in The Stand. But there isn’t a supernatural element to this book. It also reminded me a little of The Road because it was emotional. But no zombies.

I was recommended We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves from a friend and I enjoyed it. It was a little all over the place. A mix of Gorillas in the Mist and Everything I never Told You. An interesting family study but then also really about animal rights. The writing was really good and kept me interested though. And I was pleasantly surprised by the happy ending.

not a scene from Ex Machina

Movies: Ex Machina

This is one of the best sci-fi films I have seen in a long time. Okay, I still haven’t seen Interstellar. But I did see Gravity. Though those are different movies. Ex Machina was just fantastic. It has a tiny cast but every actor performs perfectly. There are some reveals that were obvious and some that weren’t. The ending isn’t necessarily happy or sad. A little sad. But rather ambivalent actually. It also sparked a lot of conversation between my friend and I. Very much like Station Eleven, I wondered what the future would be like if it went this way. I also began to wonder if I’m a robot. How would I know?! Well, I bleed. So there’s that. But the film does a great job at getting into your head to the point where that is a real question the characters deal with.

Time Machine

Repeat Favorites: Rewatching & Rereading

Enjoying a book or movie/tv show so much that you can experience it repeatedly is the biggest compliment I can think of. It’s interesting to think of what keeps us engaged despite already knowing the story, the characters, the plot devices, and the reveal. Not all works hold this ability for repeat viewings/reads. And it’s not always because the media is necessarily good. Sometimes it just as a particular association for us.

the hobbit book versions

Winter Read: The Hobbit

For the past three years, I’ve read Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit in December. This started because I wanted to re-read the book when the first movie came out. Then I just continued it each year. Even last year when I didn’t see the last movie, I still read the book. December is a mixed month of celebrations and loneliness for me so I tend to read light-fiction for the month. The Hobbit definitely provides a comfort. Even though I know all the battles, story-lines, and characters, I still love the thrill of the conclusion. I still love Bilbo’s desire to go home and drink some tea.

The first time I read this book, I was in my late 20’s and didn’t think I’d like it. I wasn’t interested in LotR, though I had seen the movies. But I thought the books would be too much. And I wasn’t very familiar with The Hobbit. A boyfriend told me to read his copy and I ended up loving it. This is always a reminder for me to keep trying new things and branching out to new genres. I imagine this is a book I will continue to re-read and enjoy for a while.

christina applegate

Movies for Sick Days & The Holidays

I have several movies that I like to watch when I’m home sick but this is my favorite. I always go to Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead first. This is not a movie you really have to pay attention to. The premise is totally silly. Christina Applegate is hilarious/fantastic. It also has decent “real world” concepts like sitting in rush hour traffic and complaining about taxes. Also, it has my all time favorite quote, “I’m right on top of that rose!” Watching this movie is definitely comforting and I won’t feel guilty falling asleep during it. I guess at it’s heart, this is a coming of age story and I am such a sucker for those.

Then from November-January I have a whole rotation of movies I love to re-watch every year. Most are classics. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Holiday, The Cutting Edge, Love Actually, Planes Trains and Automobiles. Those are the must-watch ones. Sometimes I slip in others that I only watch every few years or so like The Family Stone. It’s not that these are the best movies by any means. But they provide a comfort in the dead of winter.

finding nemo star fish

Can’t Get Enough: Finding Nemo

Several years ago while recovering from a surgery, I spent four days going in and out of sleep. I wasn’t keeping any type of regular hours. Sometimes I could hold a conversation and sometimes I would nod right off. I didn’t have the energy to sit at a desk or stand up for even a short period of time. So laying semi-upright in bed watching tv was the only thing I could do at the time.

For some reason, I decided I really wanted to watch Finding Nemo. I would put the movie on, then doze off shortly after. A little bit later I’d wake up and watch some more of it. When it ended I would just play it again, watching different parts this time, and nodding off again and again. I’m pretty sure I had Finding Nemo playing on repeat for at least 2 days straight while I just dozed in and out.

Like the rest of these, it was a comfort. And I have this very specific association with the movie now. It’s not my favorite movie, I don’t know it by heart, but I do know that when I’m half conscious and in pain, Nemo and his friends can provide some relief.

futurama lego set

Television Favorites: Futurama & Freaks and Geeks

Serial media doesn’t always keep my attention. So liking a tv show enough to re-watch it is a big deal for me. I have only done this with two shows: Futurama and Freaks & Geeks. Although the latter is just a single season so that is easy. And Futurama is just so good. This is the only show that I can quote most of.

Freaks & Geeks is rewatchable because I can relate so much to the main character, Lindsay. I was very much like her in high school and relish in the second hand embarrassment I feel when watching her transition through the high school caste system.

What are your favorite tv shows, movies, or books to read/watch over and over? What makes them so special?

Q1 2015 Book Challenge Update

The first quarter of 2015 is behind us and I’m still powering through these book challenges. I am going for the Book Riot and Pop Sugar list separately. This means I will fulfill some categories twice. And I want to avoid duplicates. So each book will only be used for one category. This will take me longer than a year and that’s fine by me. I never want reading to become homework. I don’t have a list of “To Read” books. I just read books as I see them or hear about them. And 99% of what I read comes from the library. I am reading books other than specifically for the challenges. But they certainly are helping me broaden my general reading fare.

Here’s the challenges I’ve completed so far, with the book and author, and my subjective rating.

Book Riot Challenges

  • A book published by an indie press: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (3/5)
  • A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (2/5)
  • A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer (4/5)
  • A YA novel: The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco (3/5)
  • A sci-fi novel: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2/5)
  • An audiobook: World War Z by Max Brooks (4/5)
  • A collection of poetry: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (3/5)
  • A book that was originally published in another language: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (3/5)
  • A graphic novel, a graphic memoir, comics: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley (3/5)


My motivation for doing these challenges was to get outside my usual comfort zone of books, and I definitely did. That was the first audio book I’ve ever read and I loved it. I also rarely read poetry collections, so that was very interesting. And even the YA novel, which I was dreading, wasn’t that bad.

Pop Sugar Challenges

  • A book with more than 500 pages: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (4/5)
  • A funny book: Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet (3/5)
  • A book by a female author: Into The Go-Slow by Bridgett Davis (3/5)
  • A book with a one-word title: Thrown by Kerry Howley (3/5)
  • A nonfiction book: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (3/5)
  • A book based entirely on its cover: Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux (3/5)
  • A trilogy: The Magicians by Lev Grossman (3/5)


I was dreading reading a trilogy so I got that out of the way quickly; powering through them all as though it were one long story. It was worth it as I really enjoyed it. However, I still think I’ll typically avoid trilogies as I just don’t have the attention span. Really.

What I Bought at MoCCA Arts Fest 2015

mocca arts fest 2015 purchases and favorite artists

Every spring the Society of Illustrators hosts the MoCCA Arts Festival in NYC. I’ve been going for several years now and always come home with a wonderful selection of hand-made comics, mass published graphic novels, and original prints. It’s one of the largest smallest comics-focused arts show in the city; definitely worth checking out next year if you missed it.

This year’s was different from previous years because the venue was moved from the Armory on the east side to a multi-story gallery space on the west side in Chelsea. I didn’t like the layout or security but it was kind of a fancy pants building.

More importantly, at MoCCA Fest I bought quite a few wonderful and beautiful things from some wonderful and talented artists.

Disturbing & Scary Books That are Great

I love scary books and movies even though I tend to really get scared easily. Scary movies I can’t watch alone. But books are great because you can read them in a public space, yet still feel creeped out. I’ve never really been scared by a Stephen King book, so none of those make this list. And there is a big difference between scary & disturbing.

american psycho book by bret easton ellis

Disturbing: American Psycho

The satirical aspect of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis doesn’t make it any less disturbing. I get that it’s supposed to be repulsive. It’s supposed to make you want to feel sick. And uncomfortable. And uneasy. It’s supposed to be over the top – and it is! It certainly grossed me out several times but the writing never strays from it’s point and overall I’d consider it a great read.

This is one of the few books I remember feeling truly uncomfortable reading in a public place. It was specifically during the second sex scene and it involves…. an animal. And I’m squirming in my seat right now just thinking about it! But reading the details of this insane sexual act plus the gruesome murder following it, I truly felt uncomfortable reading this on the subway.

Here I was sitting next to people on the train, they’re like la la la going to work and I’m next to them reading about a man trapping a rat in a woman’s vagina.

But that kind of awkwardness is, in a way, reassuring. I’d question myself if I just shrugged at it. Plus, it’s pretty amazing to know an author’s words are powerful enough to make me feel such strong emotion. To describe acts so vulgar and disgusting that can still gross me out in this jaded day and age. American Psycho was written in 1991 (though it’s set in the 1980’s). And it’s disturbing factor still holds up over 20 years later. You can’t say that for too many stories (novels, movies, etc).

charles burns graphic novel black hole

Disturbing: Black Hole

Charles Burns illustrations are beautiful and fantastic and creepy as hell. The world he creates in graphic novel Black Hole is incredibly dark. His drawing style, mostly made up of blackness, only adds to that. Burns really brings out emotions in the characters, even if the story isn’t completely straight-forward. The world is confusing, just as some of the characters are emotionally confused. And it works so well.

The illustrations are never quite repulsive but they can be disturbing, which works so well for the plot. This is definitely a story that could only work as a graphic novel. And really, only by Burns.

nos4a2 by joe hill

Scary/Creepy: NOS4A2

At this point, it’s safe to say that I am in love with Joe Hill. I loved his previous novel Horns. And I really loved this one. Parts of this are a little disturbing because it has to do with a serial killer kidnapping children and his assistant doing gruesome things to women. But really the whole thing is creepy and borderline scary in some parts.

This is another book that I felt slightly odd reading on the subway but for a different reason than American Psycho. Although unfortunately both books do involve raping/killing/maiming women. Hill never gets nearly as gruesome in his descriptions and knows exactly when to end it. There was one scene in particular that was so scary/gruesome I found myself wishing I could read it through my fingers – like I do when watching scary movies. Unfortunately reading while half-covering my eyes didn’t work too well. But Hill knows his audience and just a sentence after I started getting too squeamish, the scene concluded smoothly.

What saves NOS4A2 from being disturbing is that part of it takes place in magical areas – or innerscapes as they’re described in the book. There is a supernatural aspect to the book which makes it a bit more creepy than disturbing. Plus, the atmosphere is spooky.

The book is revolved around the serial killer’s home innerscape of Christmasland. If you think about it, Christmas is really creepy! Christmas music, the lights, Santa Claus… if you take it out of context, it’s all creepy. Like, if someone were to seriously listen to Christmas music outside of the month of December, it’d be a little weird.

This atmosphere, especially of turning a holiday that is supposed to be of cheer into this entire world of fear, is just spooky the whole way through. Sure, some scenes are scary in themselves, but there is a lingering creepy tone to all of this, which just really made it a fun read.

Reading A Book Trilogy as a Really Long Novel

lord of the rings as one book

Series have always been difficult to keep my attention. Outside of The Boxcar Children or Babysitter’s Club, I couldn’t keep up with long story arcs and a rotating cast of characters. This also happens with television series. A long-winded plot just means filler episodes, disposable characters, and an often disappointing ending.

Trilogies, for books or movies, seem to be all the rage right now. And I get it. As the reader, you become attached to a character and want to learn more about them. As the publisher, you see $$$ knowing that even if the third book is poorly written it will still sell because now the audience is invested. Brilliant really.

Lord of the Rings “Trilogy”

I prefer to skip all that and stick to stand-alone books. I don’t need to continue a world or a character. One adventure is enough for me. With that said, I have read all of Lord of the Rings. Though it’s easy to see why I enjoyed those three books when I wouldn’t normally read a trilogy – LoTR is one long book.

For economic reasons, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes over the course of a year from 29 July 1954 to 20 October 1955. This was due largely to post-war paper shortages, as well as being a way to keep down the price of the book. – Wikipedia

Lord of the Rings is actually a novel, not a trilogy. It was all written at once, as part of the same story, and released with little time between each volume. As such, you really cannot read each book standalone. There are starts and ends to pieces of the adventure throughout the story, but the books were not meant to be read fragmented. There are no definitive conclusions at the end of each book. Because they were not meant to be separate books at all.

In this sense, reading these three books in a row as the novel they were meant to be wasn’t difficult. I enjoy adventure stories so it definitely kept my attention. And in parts where the politics grew a bit weary, it was quickly balanced out by learning about the amazing world Tolkien created. Like the ents, talking slowly, always in search of their lost entwives.

Reading LoTR as a novel also made the story very clear and kept me connected to the characters. After struggling with other series (The Dark Tower) and not being able to finish. I’ve realized that reading trilogies straight-through is best way for me to keep a connection to the story. So this was how I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman.

Magicians Trilogy

The Magicians

Knowing my difficulty reading series, I generally avoid them. So I was a little worried when I saw “read a trilogy” as one of the Reading Challenges that I’m currently participating in. However, the entire reason I wanted to join the challenge was to read outside my comfort zone. And I knew this would certainly be one of those times.

After hearing about the third book when it came out last year, I decided to read The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman for the reading challenge. The entire series was already written and published, so I wouldn’t have to wait around between books. Now, each part is a novel unto itself. But it is also a trilogy so they are all connected and there is an overarching plot.

I knew that the only way I could actually finish all three books would be to read them in order. I actually read these digitally on my second-hand Nook just so I would have them all queued up. As soon as I finished one, I could immediately start reading the other. Almost tricking myself that I hadn’t actually finished a book at all.

Reading an actual trilogy is different because each novel does have it’s own plot – a definitive introduction and conclusion. Sure, jumping into book two or three may be confusing as you’re not familiar with the world or previous character development, but you could still read it as a novel and feel complete.

Grossman actually did a really good job tying in past events and briefly explaining them for new readers or refreshing the memories of those who were not reading them back to back. These quick rehashes never took me out of the book and would have been just enough to bring a new reader up to speed.

If it were not for the book challenge, I wouldn’t have read any of The Magicians books simply because they are a trilogy. So the challenge is doing exactly what I wanted it to. And I am really glad I read the books because I definitely enjoyed the story. I liked it as one long story, reading the books back-to-back, with three separate smaller plot lines along the way.

Southern Reach Trilogy

But then some trilogies are written as separate books but don’t have any individual story arcs. They really are simply drawn-out versions of what could be a more concise novel. This is what Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy reminded me of. Take this all with a grain of salt because I only read the first one, Annihilation. That short 198-page novel was quite difficult to get through and I have no interest in reading the other two.

The books were all released in 2014, so clearly they were all written at the same time. Annihilation didn’t have any sort of plot or conclusion. It was almost like a periodical in that way, the beginning of a series that you need to continue to get to the conclusion. Not a novel unto it’s own.

The book’s 200-pages merely introduced the world, though vaguely, and the main character. I liked the unreliable narrator aspect. But there was no set conclusion, although the book really wasn’t long enough to justify ending so early. I probably would have read continued reading if it were a long novel because I am curious as to what happens. But… not enough to read two other books.

There is just something about breaking up the reading that seems like such a turn off to me. I’d rather it all be one connected story than fragmented out. With my positive experience of reading The Magicians I thought I had another trilogy in me, but I think I’ll stick to my single novels for now. Besides, after hearing my friend’s frustration with the Wheel of Time series when the author died while writing the final book, I think I will stay wary of uncompleted series for a while as well.

Book Reviews: The Bone Clocks, Thrown, Into the Go-Slow, Gone Away World, World War Z

Although the holidays may be over, it’s still winter. And winter means SAD. Some people turn to alcohol to deal with their depression, I turn to books. I’ve done individual reviews of books I enjoyed, here are abridged reviews of books that were just okay.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell was a did not finish

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (DNF)

I tried reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell this week but couldn’t finish it. I saw this book on a list from a trusted reading resource and put it on hold at the library. I didn’t look up what it was about or anything. I never do. I didn’t know who David Mitchell was until I saw the cover which mentioned he wrote Cloud Atlas. I know nothing about that story other than they turned it into a movie.

Anyway, I loved the first part of The Bone Clocks. The first 100 pages focus on character Holly Sykes. A sixteen year-old who runs away from home. You learn that she had “daymares” as a child, was cured, then she begins having them again. These supernatural daymares are what kept me reading, as I wanted to figure out exactly what was going on. Holly Sykes’ character seemed spot on for an angsty teenager.

Then the story moves onto another character, a college student named Hugo Lamb and this is when I started skimming. The story is very non-linear, which is fine. But I guess I need the plot to be a tiny bit more straightforward than it was. The three sections of the book jumped arbitrarily 10 years in the future each time. Then Mitchell interjects dialogue and scenes to provide an explanation of what happened in the past.

He pulls it off, it is good writing. I just didn’t like it for storytelling. At the half-way point, about 300 pages, I gave up and called this book a DNF (did not finish). I didn’t see where it was going and grew tired of waiting for the book to be interesting again. Maybe I’m missing something in his writing?

Into the Go Slow by Bridgett Davis

Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett Davis

This was an interesting fictional story, though partly based on the author’s life, about a 21 year-old girl who is processing her older sister’s death four years later. Her sister died in Nigeria, so the main character decides to travel there, on a whim, to learn more about her sister’s death. The death was due to a car accident but the sister is suspicious of this.

This is sort of a coming of age story, and the main character does grow up in the end. But, really, 21 year-olds are dumb and make dumb decisions and say dumb things. And this type of dumb behavior is really annoying to read over and over and over. It’s realistic, don’t get me wrong. Just, frustrating.

As an example, while traveling in Nigeria alone, she is almost raped at the place where she is staying. Yet, the very next day, she follows a different strange man into an unfamiliar home under the assumption a woman she knows lives there. I actually believe this is realistic behavior. It is just really frustrating to read about.

Also the main character is obsessed with her dead sister. I understand this and am sure it is realistic but… is still uncomfortable to read about. She wears her sister’s clothes, braids her hair like her sister, listens to her records, etc. It’s understandable but uncomfortable.

What did make up for the odd story was the writing. I was captivated to continue reading the entire time, even when I grew frustrated or annoyed. I can’t recommend this one but it was subject matter I don’t typically read so in that way it was interesting.

Thrown by Kerry Howley

This is a literary non-fiction story about MMA Fighters out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Howley is age 28-30 when writing this; part of the time a full-time academic. The writing is very academic, almost thesis sounding at some points. Definitely a bit too literal and over-the-top sounding. Yet, also enjoyable. Mainly because we keep waiting for a moment to happen. Why? Because Howley is waiting for this moment. Some moment, I’m not exactly sure what. Some sort of philosophy of catharsis maybe?

It never happens. But we do learn a lot about the fighters and the scene itself. I found the parts about weighing in and starving themselves rather interesting. The abuse their bodies take outside of the ring. Howley never passes judgement. But she does talk about herself a bit more than she should. At times she would think her role in these fighters’ lives was a bit bigger than it actually was. But there’s enough of a balance that it’s not too terrible.

This is a short read so I do recommend it but it’s not a casual read, even though the subject matter is.

Into the Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway (DNF)

I typically enjoy dystopian novels and really thought I would enjoy this one based on the summary. Unfortunately, I didn’t and after 200 pages, I gave up. The introduction to this story is wonderful. You get introduced to a set of very interesting characters and learn about a very interesting problem they need to solve in this very interesting world. I was hooked.

Then suddenly you’re transported back several decades to when the main character was 5 years-old and you learn about their best friend. At this point, it becomes a character study. The two friends grow up together, meet other characters, go to ninja fighting school, have a teacher, go to college, join the military, etc etc etc. Blah blah blah. The entire time I was trying to figure out what all this had to do with the very interesting beginning. And I’m sure it was related, somehow.

I wanted to fight through this part and get to the very interesting part again, but I just couldn’t. The writing style is, as a friend described it, “silly.” I thought of it as Catch-22-esque. This is definitely satire, which I usually enjoy, but in a very confusing type of way. Scenes are long-winded and nothing is clear.

I am aware that the end does tie up everything, with a twist ending even, so it works out. But there is no way I could get that far. If you like these types of books, you’ll love this. But I just couldn’t make it through.

World War Z (Audiobooks)

One of the Book Challenges I’m attempting this year is to read an audiobook. I don’t read audiobooks! Never listened to one! So I looked up recommended audiobooks. Not just books put on tape, but actual good recordings that worked well on audio. World War Z came highly recommended; though I had little interest in reading the actual book. I know what it’s about but am over zombies. Though I did watch the movies because I love dumb action movies.

Surprisingly, the audiobook was fantastic! Since the book is mainly first-person encounters told through interviews, it lended itself very well to an audiobook. There was a star-studded casting for each character. And I enjoyed hearing different voices for each character. It felt more compelling than if I had just read the book. Sure, some of the accents made me feel uncomfortable. But for the most part, everyone did a great job.

This is short – a total of 6 hours – about two days for me. I’m not sure how I feel about audiobooks in general. I kind of liked that I couldn’t see the spoiler at the bottom of the page and I didn’t know what was coming up next. But it also was more difficult for me to listen. I couldn’t just ‘read’ a page or two while standing in line like I can with an actual book. And there were definitely times that I just wasn’t paying attention and had to rewind.

I may consider trying out another audiobook if there is are any recommendations as it was a very interesting experience. I really did enjoy this version and story much more than I thought I would.