Tag Archives: book club

Review: Kitty Genovese by Kevin Cook

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America
by Kevin Cook

The story of the murder of Kitty Genovese is well-known by many. However, more urban legend than police blotter, the details of the story shift and change with each telling. Facts becoming murkier and then new research rising to the surface to make the waters of truth clear again.

Even folks for whom Kitty’s name was simply an answer on a Psych 101 exam can recount the basics of her demise: in the 60’s, a murderer stabbed a young woman in her 20’s over and over again as she walked home from a late night bar-shift. 38 bystanders watched from the windows of their Queens-New York apartments and did nothing to help her.

While Kevin Cook isn’t the first writer or scholar to sort through the details of Kitty’s case and posit that much of what we think we know, the story that exists within our public memory, is mostly contrived; Cook’s uncovering is so comprehensive that for me it completely changed what this murder meant in the context of life, and crime, in America.

Before reading this book I knew about the Kitty Genovese murder and the Bystander Effect. I didn’t expect it to unfold in the suspenseful manner I love when reading true-crime books. But Cook surprised me and managed to do just that. He peels back layer after layer of the crime we think we know, the assumptions we made about the urban human condition, and reveals new details at just the right moment.

The detail most often treated as fact in Genovese’s case is that 38 spectators were present while she died. Not acting, simply assuming that someone else would intervene. In fact, 38 came from the number of police interviews conducted at the scene of the crime. Not actual witnesses. Only a few folks heard Kitty’s screams and even less laid eyes on her in her final 20 minutes. The first-hand accounts of these few are revealed slowly within the book–the final encounter so heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. (It makes the whole book worth it so I won’t ruin it by revealing any details here.)

A few days after the tragic incident occurred, Winston Moseley confessed to the crime. But Moseley and Genovese aren’t the only key players Cook explores. Metro Editor of The New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal had a big part to play. After a meeting with the NYC police commissioner, Rosenthal took the 38 witness story and ran with it. And other media outlets around the world followed suit. Suddenly the crime became a viral sensation, inspiring a host of psychological and sociological studies. However, the most meaningful implication to all the publicity, in my opinion? The arrival of a 911 call system. Something that didn’t exist the night Kitty cried out for help.

Whether he knew the story would or not, Rosenthal struck a chord with Americans who were scared. Scared about the changing landscape of urban living, scared by new politics and ideas and neighbors so close who looked so different, scared because the assassination of their president was still so fresh in their minds. But he got his facts wrong. And, as a result, we all did too.

This book showed me that Kitty’s story isn’t about indifference or inaction on the part of bystanders. Quite the opposite. This true-crime tale is about our vulnerability towards stories that speak to our own preconceived notions. What each reader of Cook’s book does with this new information, is up to them.

Who should read this book – Anyone interested in true-crime, sociology, urban psychology, or how news media outlets and public consciousness interact.

Add to your list if you loved – Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (which I talked about HERE.)

Other books by Kevin Cook – Electric October, Driven, and Titanic Thompson.

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mid-week round-up

bougainvillea

What are you up to this week, folks? The weather has cooled in Miami a bit (the locals call Fall/Winter “The Winds” because it’s basically the same as the rest of the year just a bit breezier, lol.). On Saturday, in true Autumnal spirit, we saw a creepy movie at the theater and then hit up Bath and Body Works for a candle haul. I’m obsessed with their Fall scents. (Leaves is my favorite.) Hope you’re making time for your favorite Fall-tivities, too! Now, here are a few links I’ve gathered and would love to share…

“Black Jeopardy” is SNL’s best political sketch this year.

10 horror movies for your Halloween viewing pleasure.

How women created book clubs.

They took in one refugee family. But families don’t have borders.

19 tiny things you can do to make the world a (slightly) better place.

There is no such thing as “free” vaccines.

The afterlife of a ballerina.

No, Donald Trump, abortions do not happen at 9 months pregnant.

This book looks wacky and laugh-out-loud fun.

Why the art of speaking should be taught alongside math and literacy.

Secret guaranteed eight-dollar flight upgrade trick.

In Defense of “Go Set a Watchman”

Today, I’ve asked Katie to share her thoughts on Harper Lee’s newest book, “Go Set a Watchman” and explain why she’s defending this controversial follow-up to a classic. Enjoy!


 

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

scout finch

I will never forget the first time I read “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  I was in the 4th grade, which was, looking back, the most formative year of my reading career.  I read books that to this day remain some of my favorites – “The Giver”, “Walk Two Moons”, and “The Shadow Spinner.”  But most importantly, I was first introduced to my spirit animal – Scout Finch.  At the time, I had this quirky habit that ultimately led to me becoming an actress.  I would pretend with every molecule of myself that I was the protagonist of whatever story I was in the middle of (even if the character was a boy).  So for about a month when I was nine, I lived in Maycomb County, I had a brother named Jem, my father was a lawyer, and I signed every journal entry as “Scout”.

This particular book left a lasting impact on me, more so than any other story I had read as a young girl.  I remained Scout in my head long after I finished the final page. Harper Lee’s novel became my favorite book, and has remained as such.  I have reread it countless times, I have performed in the stage play (as Mayella Ewell), I have traveled to Monroeville, and it was even the subject my BFA senior project in college.  So, as you can imagine, when the news of “Go Set a Watchman” hit the mainstream media, I was more than a little excited.  I couldn’t wait to read the rest of the story.  In this installment, Scout was 26 (and being a 24 year old, this absolutely thrilled me).  Before I could even get a copy though, I was inundated with negative opinions (“What is this!! Atticus is a racist!!  MY WHOLE LIFE IS A LIE!!!”).  Now, having read it, I can honestly say that I believe it is an incredibly important part of the story.

go set a watchman

In defense of “Go Set a Watchman”:

  1. Jean Louise is the protagonist of this story.  Before we start getting our collective panties in a wad about Atticus losing his integrity, let us not forget who the hero of the story is and always has been.  Scout.  This is her story.  This is her coming of age.  This is her loss of innocence.  This is HER moment.  Throughout the entire narrative she has maintained her truth and defended what is important to her.  That is an amazing thing!!  One of the reasons I loved TKAM so much as a nine year old is because I could relate so much to Scout’s journey when she also was a nine year old.  But now I’m 24.  The world is completely different.  The same things that I stressed and worried about as a child are not the same as the things that keep me up at night now, but it is so comforting to read this book from a strong woman’s point of view.  She is still a major role model to me without having to look up to a nine year old.

  2. It teaches a lesson we all must learn in our twenties.  Which is that coming home after being away for a while is hard.  Whatever you consider “home” is not a golden, safe haven where your problems disappear.  Your parents don’t always have the answers.  Your responsibilities are still there, waiting for you to attend to them. I believe that everyone has that moment where they realize that their childhood home and the people that shaped them are not actually as idealized as we make them out to be in our heads.  It’s what we do with this new information that makes us who we are.

  3. Atticus has always been a little bit racist.  Maybe I have a skewed perception due to that time I delved so deeply into the psyche of Mayella Ewell that I will always hate Atticus just a little bit (I got something to say and then I AIN’T GONNA SAY NO MORE).  Of course, he’s very polite about it in TKAM, but it’s there.  He even jokes about relating intensely to a white supremacist senator who was involved with the klan. It is Scout, not Atticus, who ever pushes against racial or class distinctions.  Is Atticus a villain?  Absolutely not!  He’s a product of his time and place.  We as readers viewed him through the rose-tinted glasses that Scout herself was wearing, and as she matured, so did we.  His flaws were brought to light, and yet Scout was able to transcend that.

While “To Kill a Mockingbird”  will remain my favorite book, my favorite college experience, and the subject of the best paper I have ever written, I truly believe that this book is an incredibly important part of Scout’s story.  She is the hero, which makes me even more proud to have named the protagonist of MY story Harper Jean, a direct allusion to TKAM.  While I understand that sometimes it hurts deeply to see someone we have idealized for decades become someone we can no longer trust, let us not forget that the protagonist’s integrity and kindness has remained 100% intact.  I will be forever indebted to Scout Finch for teaching me the wisest lesson of them all…

 “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

The Reading Habits Tag

the reading habits tag

I definitely found reading to take first prize in “happy places” for the month of January. I’m always an avid reader but recently I’ve just found nuzzling up with my cat and a book to be a brilliant evening occurrence. So, when I stumbled upon a reading tag which I bookmarked AGES ago, I thought I’d finally fill it out.

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

My bed. I have one of those pillows with arms (boyfriend pillows?) that’s been going strong since my freshman year of college and it’s usually what I’m propped up on. I also weirdly prefer to read on the side of the bed that I don’t sleep on. I’m sure that’s not what all those articles that encourage you to only SLEEP in your bed if you want to have restful slumber actually mean but hey! Sometimes I read on the couch but I’ll get distracted easily. And I love, love, LOVE reading at the kitchen table while something cooks (or someone is cooking FOR me).

2. Bookmark or random pieces of paper?

I’m currently using a Christmas-y bookmark my mom tucked into our stockings. However, the ribbon that was on the end of it is long gone after the bookmark became an impromptu cat toy.

3. Can you stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter or certain amount of pages?

I can stop at the end of a paragraph though the end of a chapter is preferable. I also like setting a timer when I read so that I don’t have to keep looking at my phone or a clock to check and see if I should be moving on to the next activity. This allows me to unwind and just enjoy as much of the book as I can get through in that time and then I stop wherever that is.

4. Do you eat or drink whilst reading?

Yes, nibbling on a snack is great while reading and of course drinking anything I can get at a coffee shop. I don’t like to eat a full meal while reading.

5. Do you watch TV or listen to music whilst reading?

No, not by choice. If someone else has something on and I want to read, I can tune it out. Chet listens to some very calming instrumental music while he works which I don’t mind but really anything else wouldn’t be my preference. I would love to be the type of person who reads during commercial breaks but let’s be real…I don’t have cable! And Hulu commercials are pretty short.

6. One book at a time or several at once?

One book at a time. I’ve dabbled in multiples–usually going for a diversity of genres, but I had a lot less on my plate in those days. Now I prefer to tuck in to one at a time and get fully immersed before moving on to the next!

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

Either. I’ll read anywhere! Some of my favorite places to read include: airports, cars, Starbucks, parks, and any sort of waiting situation.

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Silently in my head…MOSTLY. My sister will be quick to tell you, I love the sound of my own voice…I didn’t do ELEVEN years of competitive speaking for nothing, ya know? So yes, I like reading out loud to other people. If I’m by myself and a passage is especially poignant or packed with a lot of information that I want to retain, I’ll stop and read it out loud. I’ve also volunteered at a radio reading service and loved every reading-out-loud SECOND of it. Sorry not sorry.

9. Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?

Not on purpose. Unless the book has pictures! Some of those memoirs with glossy photos smack-dab in the middle of the book should really come with spoiler alerts. Any lengthy acknowledgment section is also fair game for flipping to after the first chapter or so.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

I like my books to look well-loved. And sometimes they’re not even brand new in the first place. Haven’t you people heard of a library?

11. Do you write in your books?

Sure. I don’t usually have much cause to but I’m certainly not against it. I loved writing in books in college. Cracking open a book you wrote in years later is such a meaningful time capsule.

12. What are you currently reading?

Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Before that, Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker. Up next, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.

What are you reading these days? Have any go-to book recommendations? Please share in the comments below! ❤ 

Review: Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

lost girls

For Christmas this year, my brother and his fiancee Dawn gifted me with all the books a girl could need to get through life in a Post-Serial world. (You can see my latest book haul here.) For me, Serial spoke to my love of conspiracies, true-crime, mind-bending analysis and search engine fodder. And first up in the self-appointed “No More Serial Episodes” book-club does not disappoint on any of those counts.

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker tells the story of a serial killer still at large by delving into the lives of 5 of his victims. The disappearance of one woman, an internet prostitute, led to the discovery of four other women’s bodies, all wrapped in burlap, in the brambles along a highway just blocks from where the missing was last seen. These four, too, were prostitutes. The book dissects the trajectory of these women’s lives, the struggles that would usher in their profession of choice, details their last known whereabouts. And then showcases the heart-breaking reality of the lives they left behind, their family and friends engaged in a years long media blitzkrieg to keep their loved ones’ case alive in the hope of one day finding a notorious killer. The pain-staking care Kolker utilizes to bring these peripheral characters to light, as well as the reality that, according to a recent study, 70% of serial killer victims are prostitutes, “Lost Girls” AND this case prove that prostitution is anything but a victimless crime. While keeping up with the many story-lines within this book (there are a LOT of characters) was at times taxing, the overall themes and mystery of the case as a whole made the confusion more than worth it. Plus, there’s a handy key at the back. As the sub-title says, this case IS unsolved. So, much like Serial, there’s plenty of room for developing your own theories and plenty of conspiracies available online. So Google away! In the end, I think whether you were head over heels for Sarah Koenig’s podcast or not, “Lost Girls” will be a definite page turner for you. Especially you Law & Order loving lot!

lost girls beach

For some extended reading about this thrilling, journalistic book…

Check out these reviews by The New York Times and The Guardian.

Explore the book website.

And read about why serial killers target sex workers.

Do you love true-crime? Have any recommendations for post-Serial unsolved mystery madness? 

(Bottom photo via here.)

9 insights from Jacob Tomsky’s memoir “Heads in Beds”

headsinbeds

I am no stranger to hotel rooms. All through middle school, high school and college I participated in competitive speech and debate (and then for 3 more years I stuck around to coach it). This meant most weekends I was packing up panty hose, pajamas and pearls, hopping in a plane or a bus or a van and checking into a hotel for 2-5 day tournaments in  cities not my own. Which is why when I heard a segment on NPR about Jacob Tomsky’s book “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality” it went straight on my reading list. Did front-desk clerks really sell keys to rooms in shady “under the table” deals like a certain unnamed DOF was so sure of? How dirty ARE those sheets and were we right to check for bed bugs upon arrival? Why in Jesus’ name did those key cards stop working at the most inopportune moment?!? While Tomsky’s book covers accommodations on the more luxury end, it is certainly eye opening and titillatingly honest for any reader who has been met with the question, “Checking in?’

I thought I would share some insights from his tale. Here are nine!

On free snacks- Check into your room and empty the mini-bar into your suitcase, smoke a cigarette in the room and then call down to the front desk complaining of a strong smell of smoke. You will be switched to a new room and there will be no way of tracing those purchases to you.

On the powers of furniture polish Housekeeping frequently uses furniture polish on the mirrors to get a streak-free look. Where else does this tactic come in handy? The water glasses. Ever notice there isn’t any dish soap on a housekeeper’s cart? Yet, she is responsible for cleaning those glasses at the end of your stay.

On the oldest profession “Like milk and cereal: whores and hotels.”

On polite ways to decline help from a bellman “I can go up alone, but thanks anyways.” “No thank you, but I appreciate it.” “I think I would rather just go up alone, if that’s okay.”

On bellmen’s love of bricks (aka $100 bills) The bottom right corner of the new $100 bill features a color-shifting 100 that is slightly raised. This can be used by bellmen to convince unsuspecting desk clerks that a one-hundred dollar bill has such POWER that they can pick one out of a line up even when blind-folded…or you could use it as a neat parlour trick.

On the AAA Diamond ranking There are certain amenities a hotel must boast in order to receive the elusive fifth diamond, including; pool, full spa, TVs larger than a specified minimum in each room and long dead bolts on doors.

On booking online Booking your stay through a third party website pretty much guarantees you the worst room possible. But…

On how to get the best room regardless “Just hand over a twenty at check-in and say, Give me something nice.””

On the bottom line As a guest, politeness is key and money talks. Be kind to staff, tip who you can and who knows? You may come back to your room to discover a complimentary bottle of vino or stumble your way into a suite upgrade. Have a great stay!

hotel

Do you stay in hotels a lot? I don’t really anymore but for a good chunk of time there it felt like I lived in them. Have you read this book? Would you? I highly recommend it!

Book Club: In Pursuit of WHY it Gets Better Pt. 3

Happy Friday, Delight seekers!  I hope you all have had a fantastic week.  My sister, Beth, asked me to step in this month for the extended reading portion of her virtual book club!  As a self-professed expert and undercover anthropologist of the adolescent and teenage psyche, I jumped at the offer to put my knowledge to good use.

 Why undercover, you ask?  Well, it’s not difficult to see that I can slip into the world of teenagers very easily.  I look young. Just last weekend I was asked if I would prefer a child’s menu at a restaurant.  In one month I will begin playing a role which is a whopping 10 years my junior. I get carded every time I try to go to an R-rated movie.  Therefore, it is incredibly easy for me to slip into the pubescent mind set and see firsthand the effects it could have on an individual.  I can’t even count the number of times I got the up and down look from high school girls at the mall while shopping for an Easter dress just yesterday afternoon! Being a 23 year old woman, it didn’t affect me (“Honey, in 8 years you’ll want to wear an old man sweater, too,” my mind said with a hearty chuckle…), but imagine if I had been the 16 year old that they believed they were judging!  It could tear a girl down!  I am using this research and my own experiences to write a musical about a girl’s battle to find her true self.  And we all know that I am utterly obsessed with coming of age stories.  I believe they are one of the great human connections that bring us together as a species, because every one of us has gone through the trying time that is adolescence. Therefore, reading this book has been a (wait for it…) DELIGHT, and I would be honored to share with you some extended reading to further enhance your experience and knowledge.  Let us journey together through the cafeteria fringe…

geeks

 Let’s start with some further reading about the book and Robbins’ Quirk Theory from around the web:

An interview with Robbins on Live Science, an educational website targeted at students.

A review on the book by New York Times reviewer and Journalism professor, Jessica Bruder.

And of course, NPR has nothing but good things to say!

teenbooks

Now on to my literary bread and butter…coming of age stories that highlight personal discovery and becoming comfortable with who you truly are:

 Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

 An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

 The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides

 The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

cafeteria

Not feeling like cracking the spine of a novel?  That’s ok too:

Non-fiction:

Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman – The book that launched a thousand gifs by inspiring the CLASSIC movie, Mean Girls.  Forever one of my favorite works of cinematic genius.  Thank you, Tina Fey.

Poetry:

The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan – I read this collection of poems while I was performing Spring Awakening every night…talk about getting me in the right state of mind!  Angst!  Heartbreak! Drama!

 Plays:

Spring’s Awakening by Frank Wedekind – I could write a 30 page paper about…oh wait. I did that my senior year of high school.  Just read it and then listen to the cast recording of Spring Awakening the musical and let your inner 14 year old laugh and cry along. Because it really is just the bitch of living.

 The Metal Children by Adam Rapp

 Speech and Debate by Stephen Karam

alexandrarobbins

 And finally, Alexandra Robbins has many more books for you to read, because life actually does go on after high school!  I know which one I’m checking out of the library next:

 Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities

 The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids

 Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in your Twenties

 Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power

Happy reading, and CONGRATULATIONS!  If you’re reading this, I am proud of you.  Why?  Because you got through the trying time that is adolescence. It was probably really hard.  It probably changed how you acted and how you viewed yourself.  You probably lost friends. You probably felt some really intense and angsty things, and probably acted on them.  But you made it, and you became an incredible, ever changing human being.

-KT

Thanks so much, Katie! Wanna get involved in the Finding delight. book club? Email me: ebeth.berger@gmail.com. Let’s talk books! ❤ And tune in next week for my final review. 

Book Club: In Pursuit of WHY it Gets Better Pt. 2

This month in the Finding delight. virtual book club we’re traveling back to the world of cliques and cafeterias with the help of Alexandra Robbins’ journalistic prowess in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School. This week, I’ve found some extended watching–in the way of interviews, movies and other internet gems–to help us nail down the answer to our over-arching questions: Why do things get better once you’ve taken off that high school cap and gown? How did our own differences suddenly elevate our social experience when before they felt so demoralizing? Check out the videos and review the questions raised throughout this post…remember, we’re traveling back to high school here so there may or may not be a test. ; )

More with Alexandra Robbins

An interview with the author herself in which she discusses why cliques are so prevalent, how schools help instead of hinder the teenage social hierarchy and what parents can do to dissuade their kids from feeling like social outcasts…

What would you tell a high schooler today if they confessed they feel flawed for not fitting into the social in-crowd? 

Robbins delivers a quick PSA on why “You’ve got to be proud to be an outsider.” She rattles off a laundry list of now famous individuals who identified with the outsider label as children or young adults. Now that I’m far enough into “Geeks” to feel like I really know the youth Robbins follows for a year, I have begun to recognize the qualities in their teenage selves that really COULD set them apart as adults. In this video, Robbins talks about Taylor Swift being ostracized in middle school for her intense love of country music. Similarly, the outsiders have qualities which will no doubt put them ahead of the pack in terms of employment, relationships and all sorts of social standing metrics.

Being different makes you awesome and some day people are gonna appreciate you for who you really are.” 

What qualities do you exhibit which exemplify Robbins’ “quirk theory”? Can you think of more examples of individuals who went from outsider to success story?

And just for fun, here is Alexandra Robbins on The Colbert Report discussing another book she wrote about high schoolers–The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids.

How do you think this quest for academic success/college acceptance as end goal affects social inclusion/exclusion? 

Cinematic Renderings of the High School Experience

My top 5 favorite “High School Movies”:

1. Ferris Bueller’s Day off

2. 10 Things I Hate About You

3. The Breakfast Club

4. Mean Girls

5. crazy/beautiful

 

And if you have a lot of time on your hands just watch all of Friday Night Lights!

What do these films get right about the high school experience? What do they get wrong? What’s your favorite movie about high school? Is there a movie that shaped your own teenage experience simply because it was about teens and you watched it WHILE you were a teen? #meta 

Remembering the Past/Help the Future

In the end, this book strikes a cord with so many because we’ve all been there. While it may be easier to come out the other side and benefit from “quirk theory,” I’d like to challenge you to peek back through that tunnel at the person you were. Have an old VHS tape of a choir competition? Watch it. Did you keep a journal full of poetry and essays? Read it. Look through old photo albums, class assignments, defunct for a decade Livejournals. This little trip down Nostalgia Boulevard could hold valuable information for how you interact with struggling teenagers in the future. It’s easy to put the past behind us and just say “Yeah, high school sucks but it gets better.” But a more concrete answer can be a lot more enlightening. After my own excavation of high school artifacts I’ve found this example: Yes, it was crazy weird that I felt the need to deliver a rather dramatic monologue for a talent show Fall semester of my freshman year of high school. Considering all the popular kids treated speaking in public like a joke and were more focused on sports than spotlights, this was in-crowd suicide. Yet, fast forward four years and speaking in public would get me into college and earn me all kinds of resume boosting awards. Fast forward four more and things like job interviews and work-place negotiations feel like no big deal. With the clarity of over a decade’s removal from that example I can see the difference between me and the in-crowd, in that instance, was bravery.

And now that we’ve isolated some of the things which made us unique in high school and thought of concrete examples for “quirk theory” in our own lives, the final extended watching I would like you to do is….real life, current high schoolers. Go support some kids. As I’ve said before, the school system is doing everything it can to support exclusion by putting certain kids, groups and extracurriculars on a pedestal. Let’s strive to counteract this trend by building up the kids who are different in similar ways to our high school selves. Judge a speech tournament. Go to a play. Buy a piece of art. Donate to a gaming club. Speak at schools about your job. Coach something. Volunteer. Talk to kids about their interests. Cheer for the marching band. Got more ideas? Leave ’em below! I think we can all commit to doing one of these things this month. : ) Let’s do it! 

If you could write a letter to your high school self what would it say? If you could sit down with one group of kids and READ them your letter to yourself who would they be?

 Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal…Does that answer your question? 

~The Breakfast Club~ 

 

Book Club: In Pursuit of WHY it Gets Better Pt. 1

bfastclubquote

When Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project” came out in 2010, a series of YouTube videos directed at teenagers who were the victims of homophobic bullying, something didn’t feel right to me. Here were a bunch of stories by people who had, yes, admittedly made it through to the other side, telling our youth a common tale–painstaking childhood, turning point, and a happily ever after. What struck me as unsettling was how un-nuanced this narrative arc was…surely there was more to the story than happenstance. Did we think that little of the children watching that we could only tell them things WOULD get better but not HOW to make them better? Yet, there seems to be a common truth for all those who’ve made it through the hallowed halls of secondary education–gay, straight, or otherwise–perhaps not entirely unscathed but made it through nonetheless; it IS better on the other side. So perhaps the question isn’t “How does this happen?” but “Why?” Why do the teens who didn’t have a spot at the cool cafeteria table end up as success stories in adulthood?

In this month’s book club we are going to attempt to uncover the answer to just that. Perhaps in analyzing why the losers, geeks, and outcasts in American teen culture gain access to a more promising future, we can finally solidify the “how” in our own stories and thereby paint a more holistic picture for our struggling youths than “it just will.” To do this, we will be reading “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School” by Alexandra Robbins. No stranger to writing great non-fiction about the youth of America, Robbins notes in “Geeks” that she kept encountering kids who felt like there was something catastrophically wrong with them because they weren’t popular or they were bullied. In my experience as an educator of middle/high school students at various forensics institutes over the years, I have answered these same worries in ways probably not uncommon to those of you who have found yourselves in a role-model situation. “There’s nothing wrong with you. High school is crazy. The stuff that makes you unique now is gonna make you popular later!” and “The popular people are probably miserable too.”

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Robbins takes a more academic approach to her answer and presents “The Quirk Theory,” explaining that the passions, idiosyncrasies, interests and all the stuff that makes one considered weird as a kid are the very quirks that will turn them into cool, interesting, and successful adults. And it’s true–as adults we reward passion; children, for whatever reason, tear it down. As my peers and I settle in comfortably on “the other side,” all it takes is a quick voyeuristic scan on social media to see endless examples of this theory in practice. Oh you can build a computer in your spare time? Awesome! I bet you’re making a shit ton of money. You’re working for an NGO in Botswana? Killer! Your stories are probably super interesting. You just crocheted a whole blanket? WHUT?! The patience! The creativity! Sell that shit on Etsy, dawg! The computer geek. The dirty hippie. The shy girl who sat by herself at lunch. In a matter of years these labels become completely reframed.

Robbins’ book follows 7 high school students labeled as, “the loner, the popular bitch, the nerd, the new girl, the gamer, the weird girl, and the band geek.” Following each student for a school year, you begin to recognize these people. Maybe you see yourself or someone you knew. Peppered in between these narratives are essays on popularity, how schools make the social scene more intense and the psychology of exclusion; all of which seek to help answer our underlying question–why did everything we hated about ourselves in high school, all the things that made us different and therefore BAD, suddenly turn us into the best versions of ourselves? How in Jesus’ name did we grow-up and suddenly get cool?

In a world where we’re spending tons of money on anti-bullying campaigns and initiatives, as I begin this book, the glaring systemic problem seems to be something we’ve yet to address. By promoting certain activities over others, the school systems are basically telling kids who should be bullied and who should do the bullying. As adults, I think we can do better. This discrepancy obviously hits close to home. I was a speech dork in high school–competing for a team who split their time 50/50 between practice and fundraising. We rehearsed on the same loop upstairs that the cross-country team ran on;  as we spoke to walls, snickering runners continuously lapped us in a never-ending stampede. Would our popularity trajectories have looked differently if the school was buying US new suits instead of the swim team? Who’s to say?

In an attempt to get to the bottom of all of this, why not join in the book club fun? A book club, you ask? FUN?!? That would soooo not have been cool in high school! So celebrate your adult-self and all the nerdiness you’re now allowed. Pick up a copy of “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School” by Alexandra Robbins and let’s get weird.

(Top image via here.)

Any initial thoughts? Do you feel like you had a label in high school? What weird things about your high school self do you find gains you positive attention as an adult? What would you tell a student who is struggling with their outcast status today? Feel free to leave your answers in the comments below! And tune in each Friday!

Book Club: In Pursuit of Female Road Narratives Pt. 4

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“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed is the story of one woman on two concurrent journeys–forging a path through her own grief towards healing, acceptance and self-forgiveness as well as blazing the physical Pacific Crest Trail on an eleven-hundred mile solo hike. As mentioned before in our little virtual book club, I initially heard about this travel memoir on one of my favorite radio programs and felt reading it was of the utmost importance after stumbling upon Vanessa Veselka’s essay about the lack of female road narratives and why it matters.

For the last year or so, admittedly, I’ve been pretty obsessed with the idea of long-distance hiking, spending hours researching various trails and reading books and blogs about those who have made these trips.

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Suddenly, reading Veselka’s essay made me put 2 and 2 together–there were and ARE women out there who are going on magnificent journeys! They are walking from Georgia to Maine, from the Mexican border to the Canadian, they’re seeing our country in new ways, they are heroic and SOMETIMES–they are doing all of this ALONE. Strayed does not spend time justifying her ability or right to tell this story. She just tells it.

Whether you relate to the physical pain she endures; carrying her huge backpack lovingly nicknamed “Monster” and doctoring banged up feet from ill-fitting boots, or her emotional pain; the death of her mother and the end of her marriage–there are moments of palpable empathy throughout.

Do not let the fact that this book is so heavily touted by Oprah (it is emblazoned with her Obrah Book Club sticker/seal of approval) dissuade you. Oprah knows what’s up and this is no Nicholas Sparks feel-good novela. Instead, it is an honest depiction of a normal woman who went from “lost” to “found.”

Strayed doesn’t leave anything out when painting you a picture of herself as “lost.” Even though this depiction is far from from flattering. This candid portrait of Strayed’s miserable life reminds me of a part I played in college forensics, a woman on the road who put it very simply,

“When you’re laying face down on the ground there’s nowhere left to fall.”

Strayed hit rock bottom. There was no place left to climb but out.

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I truly believe this book is a great introductory read for anyone who is seeking out female road narratives. We’ve demonstrated over the last 3 weeks that stories like this one are hard to find. Reading it will hopefully reveal how women on their own and on the road can have a place in not only our literature but our cultural landscape, too.

In her essay, Veselka argues, “True quest is about agency.” Meaning, when we relegate women’s journeys to mistakes, escape or a plot twist only to end in tragedy, we are robbing them of just that. Instead, we need to afford women the possibility and ability to tell stories like Strayed’s.

Veselka explains, “You can go on a quest to save your father, dress like a man and get discovered upon injury, get martyred and raped, but God forbid you go out the door just to see what’s out there.” I want women to see what’s out there. I want to see what’s out there.


…So I read. I go on adventures. And I encourage you to do the same.

(Quote illustrations via here.)

Thank you so much for participating in this inaugural virtual book club on Finding Delight. I loved discussing everything with you and hope you felt just the teensiest bit inspired! I hope to do it again real soon. : )