Book Review: A Selfie as Big as The Ritz – Lara Williams

“Imagine being that lacking in wonder, aspiring to jobs in logistics or IT services, imagine never entertaining frothy careers scouting bands, imagine never picturing yourself in front of a glossy iMac. Did it make the heartbreak easier or earlier?”

As soon as I’d read those words – and on page 3, mind you – I knew I’d like this collection. I’ve had that exact thought before and there it was, on the page right in front of me.

Lara William’s A Selfie As Big as The Ritz is an interesting, introspective short story collection, which perfectly depicts the confusion of millennial life. There’s a sure, taught point of view here – the collection is well composed and ties together nicely. You never have to wonder if Williams scrambled to fill her collection. While a many of these stories have appeared in other publications, they still feel natural together, as though Williams wrote them with the intentions that they should form a collection.

The stories are comprised of first, second and third person perspectives. I really enjoyed that as it allows the stories (for me, at least), some room to breathe and to not feel as though all the protagonists were merely clones of one another.

I do have to say, though – A Selfie as Big as The Ritz isn’t for everyone. While it’s obvious that Williams is extremely talented, it’s also obvious that this collection really lends itself to be enjoyed by a particular sort of person and they seem to evoke a certain spirit of being. This is a collection, I think, that wouldn’t exist if not in this time and place; it really seems to call to mind the thoughts, fears, pains and fleeting fortunes of a specific generation – millennials. Even still, this collection feels like it’s meant for those millennials who haven’t even begun being settled.

The first story, “It Begins” resonated with me the most, but standouts also include  “Sunday’s at the Tipping Yard”, “One of Those Life Things”, “This Small Written Thing”, “Dates”, and “Treats”.

*I, of course, must divulge that I received an ARC of this collection from Flatiron Books as a Goodreads Giveaway


September #Book Haul

Here’s a look at my September book haul!

(Please excuse the shadows of the blinds. I was slightly too lazy to raise them for the photo.)

I had no idea I’d purchased so many books this month until I pulled them all together for a family photo! I typically like to add books to my library slowly as I’m running out of shelf space.

Of these, I’ve already read Brideshead Revisited, Middlemarch and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and owned copies of each – I simply wanted to own these editions too. I had to get Murder on the Orient Express after reading it.

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, Daughter of Fortune, The Likeness, Fingersmith, The God of Small Things and To The Lighthouse were all on my TBR list. A Time of Gifts was also on my TBR and it’s helping me complete one category for the BookRiot Read Harder challenge. Awakening the Heroes Within was purchased to assist me in my own writing. The Invention of Morel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard and Free Food For Millionaires were all impulse buys.

My haul may not be as large as others, but I think it’s still fairly sizeable, considering that I didn’t actually mean to purchase this many books!  Five were actually just purchased today at a lovely bookstore here in Richmond. 

On Writing

My poor, neglected writing desk at the moment

I’m am a creative writer who is terrible about being a creative writer.   

It’s almost as though I’m pathologically incapable of finishing anything. I have two novels which are languishing. One is currently at 50,000 words (I’m aiming for about 80,000-85,000) and the other is somewhere around 25,000-30,000 words. I have one completed screenplay, which is on it’s second draft and really ought to be edited again. There’s also about five or six other screenplays in various stages of completion (60 pages here, 30 pages there). And I have notebooks and Post-It notes stuffed chocker block full of ideas.

 My problem isn’t coming up with ideas. Oh no, I have tons. I’m a fairly lucid daydreamer and I often sketch the ideas for entire scenes in my head during the day. I can literally see the scenes play out – with all the dialogue, all the scene direction. All that.  My problem is the actual application – the actual writing.

I have a lovely alphabet soup of mental illnesses. Along with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I also suffer from Schizoid Personality Disorder.  And no, I haven’t diagnosed myself after researching online – these diagnosis are from an actual, true blue psychiatrist. When I received the SPD diagnosis I was relieved, even though it’s basically saying that my brain is seriously broken. But it explained so much of my life and experiences.  Life, as I’ve lived it, finally made sense. 

So, Schizoid Personality Disorder is a Cluster A personality disorder –  we’re the “oddballs” of the personality disorder spectrum. We don’t cause life strife like your Borderlines or your Narcissists. And we don’t have deep seated fears, like your Avoidants or Dependents. My disorder is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, emotional coldness, tendency towards a solitary life and secretiveness. Maladaptive dreaming can be an issue as well – we spend lots of time locked in our daydreams (this is probably why I have so many ideas for creative work and can see them so very clearly in my head). Lots of Schizoids have difficulty holding down jobs due to these factors (and others). I have no choice about working – I spent the first ten years of my life in poverty and it freaking sucks. I refuse to go back to being poor. And to make sure I don’t get back there, I went to college and I work.

College was fairly simple to deal with – I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that I’m best at being a student. Hours in a library researching and writing papers? Yes, please! That is my own little slice of heaven. I was a Cinema Studies major, which means that I studied the history, theory and criticism of film. There is very nearly nothing I take more pleasure in than ripping a movie, particularly one I’m fond of, to its thinnest, smallest pieces and trying to stick it back together again. I love discussing films with other people — I truly because that film watching – much like reading – are very, very individual pursuits. What we enjoy and how we see things will differ so much depending on our personalities, experiences, pursuits, all that. How you and I interpret, say Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will be different. There’s the official view (that of the director/writer), mine and yours. And it’s entirely possible that none of us will see it the same way. That is delicious and essentially, my crack. Right now, I am seriously bursting to discuss The Beguiled with someone. College – or at least my major and the academic side – fit very well for me.

Networking, on the other hand, was something I didn’t/couldn’t do, which I now realize was a terrible, terrible mistake, but oh well – there’s not entirely much I can do about that now.

But I find the working world difficult. I always have.  Not the actual work mind you, but the social aspect of it. The constant interpersonal contact is completely and utterly draining in ways I can’t explain as there are simply not enough words in the English language that would allow me to paint a vivid a picture as I would need. If introverts are, in general, drained by interpersonal contact and need time to re-charge, well, for me, it feels like my actual LIFE FORCE is being stolen from me when engaging socially. I need more than just a few hours to feel normal again. I can be alone for actual, literal weeks and be just fine. Not having family or friends around doesn’t make me sad. I’ve never felt homesickness – I have no actual emotional understanding of that concept. I spent months in the Czech Republic doing a study abroad and I called home 3 times – one to let my mother know I arrived, once to let her know I was taking a trip to Turkey/across Balkans during fall break (and beg for the funds for a plan ticket to Turkey) and once to let her know when my flight back to the States would arrive in New York. 

When working, I don’t even have to be talking to clients/colleagues to feel drained to death. It’s actually just knowing they’re around. Just being in the same room steals away my energy. 

It takes so much of my energy and effort to hide my innate coldness that when I get home, I simply have nothing left to give. I collapse and often, I sleep. I read as well as that doesn’t take as much effort. It is entirely possible, I think, that this is because most of the work I have done has been in industries and jobs I genuinely have no real affection for and I assume that this worsens the symptoms of my mental illnesses as I spend an awful lot of time pretending that I care about what I do. I’ve spent a few months working in a job somewhat related to an industry I love and I’ve been less drained and fogged when I’ve gotten home. But this has ended and I am going back into an industry and job I do not particularly care much for.

Writing – my screenplays or novels – take energy and effort and creativity and when I’m home, I just don’t have it. When I’m home, I’m trying to recharge myself to prepare for the next day. There were a few months in 2015 when I was not working – and I got a metric ton of writing done. Most of that 50,000 words written for one novel was written during that period. You might say, well, hey, you’re writing now and you’ve written reviews, which is true. However, this sort of writing is less difficult for me. For me, screenwriting and novels requires my brain to be firing on most cylinders.

There’s also another part of this which, I think, is rooted in a fear of failure. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from or why it’s there, but it’s there. And it’s real. I took a screenwriting class and my professor, after seeing what I came up with, suggested that once I wrote a few more scripts, that I ought to try to get an agent. Having a few scripts would show the my range. It’s been years since I received that advice and I’ve finished a grand total of one script. I’m afraid to fail. If I finish nothing, I can never actually be rejected, can I? Same thing with writing a novel. If I don’t finish one and I don’t query, no one can ever tell me I’m not good enough.

Except me. I can tell myself I’m not good enough. And I do it. Often.

This is a terrible combination of mental illnesses and doubt and it leads me to essentially not chase any dreams and to ensure that I’m dooming myself to live a life that I don’t actually want and could maybe, just maybe, pull myself out of.

I’m working on getting better. I’m trying. I’ve recently wrote a 1,000 words for my novel. Might not seem like a lot, but trust me when I say that’s more than I’ve written in months.  This week, I’ve written about 10 pages of a screenplay and have also written out 5 pages of a treatment for a screenplay. And I’ve done a bit of editing of other screenplays that I’ve started and have yet to finish. None of this is a lot of work, for most, but for me, this is Herculean.

But I know that I have to keep on working on my creative endeavors. I have to. For my happiness and my sanity, I have to.

Book Review: Running

Cara Hoffman’s Running centers on a small group (two guys, one gal) who eek out a living scamming tourists into staying at a rundown Greek hotel during the 1980s. This group, Milo, Jasper and Bridey are close and tightknit adoptive family, living in each others’ pockets, until one of their scams backfires and gets them uncomfortably close to an act of terrorism. The female, Bridey, ran to Athens to escape a dysfunctional life back in the US. Boyfriends Milo and Jasper are British expats seeking running from their own existences (one privileged and one not).

Hoffman’s writing is quite good – it’s obvious that she’s a very talented woman and she’s someone I can see myself reading again. The relationships aren’t flimsy constructs, which is important as these relationships are the pillars on the novel. Bridey, Milo and Jasper feel real and lived in.  There’s an interestingly slippery, somewhat dreamy quality to Running; you feel as though you’re sort of slipping through the words and through time. This quality is quite helpful – the action of Running shifts between the group’s existence in Athens and Bridey’s childhood in Washington state. The shifts can feel somewhat disconcerting at times and periodically, it can feel difficult to grasp the meat of a scene. The dreamy quality of the prose really benefits those structural choices – it makes it seem and feel that those shifts are more than just a structural, stylistic choice . It really does truly enhances the haunting atmosphere of the novel and allows you to get a clearer feel for the disorientation the characters themselves feel.  Her prose also never becomes overly involved – it’s restrained and allows you to focus more on what is happening and the feelings it evokes in you, the reader. Reading Hoffman’s prose does not feel like work, nor does it feel as though she’s simply attempting to show off what she’s capable of.  Considering the obvious talent and work that she’s put in, this is a high compliment to pay. Continue reading

Favorite Reads of 2017 (So Far)

Being that we have reached the halfway mark of the year, I figured I ought do a quick roundup of my favorite reads of the year. This list won’t be all literary fiction, of course (I’m not that much of a snob!) and it won’t include many of the year’s breakouts (I haven’t read them yet!) But it will be an honest and true account of what I consider to be the high points of my reading life in 2017:



  • The Leavers – Lisa Ko’s The Leavers is breathtaking look at immigration and intercultural adoption.  Polly’s a character you can’t help but feel both intense anger and intense sadness for. Her decisions cause a spiderweb of strife and pain for her son Deming, but are made in truly impossible times. As he grows up, Deming’s caught between the life he’s living with his adoptive parents and the life he ought to be living his mom. The Leavers is heartbreaking in both the worst and best of ways.


  • The Animators –  Kayla Rae Whitaker has established herself as a major young talent with her debut novel, The Animators. This story of two best friends, Sharon and Mel, who work as an animation duo, chronicles their personal and professional struggles at dawn of a new phase in their careers. The novel journeys through their pasts and how those pasts inform their current selves and their futures. The relationship between Mel and Sharon is one of my favorite recent depictions of female friendship – full, loving and prickly as hell. And Sharon’s rural background makes me recall my own. I selected this book sort of blindly via Book of the Month Club, and it’s absolutely my favorite Book of the Month Club selection.


  • A Passage to IndiaA Passage to India was my introduction to E.M. Forrester’s elegant and sumptuous prose. How I never read Forrester before is completely beyond me and I’m terribly upset with myself for not reading this amazing novel until I was 30 years old.   Forrester’s tale of cultural conflict and misunderstandings between the colonizing English and the India and Indians they colonize is ridiculously lyrical, beautiful and a genuine pleasure to read.


  • #famous – I’ve actually reviewed Jilly’s YA novel here. #famous isn’t perfect and this isn’t the sort of work filled with beautiful prose or deep thoughts. But it’s genuinely a fun, adorable read. The characters feel like the teenagers that they are actually meant to be and not some adult’s vague memory of adolescence. The dialogue was snappy and delightful and quite frankly, I need to see this on the big screen.



  • Attachments – This, I’ve always reviewed here. I love this book without any sort of hesitation. The plot circles around an IT guy, Lincoln, who falls in love with a woman, Beth, while he reads through the emails she exchanges at work with her best friend, Jen. It’s essentially a ridiculous screwball comedy in book form and how can that not be adored? Attachments leans into the ridiculousness of its premise which is what makes it so enjoyable to read. And again, Beth and Jen’s friendship is fantastic – it’s supportive and loving and not full of backstabbing bull. For me, this was a perfect read to chase a few blues away.


  • Freddy and Fredericka – I actually bought Freddy and Fredericka at a used bookstore on a whim and 90% due to the cover. Mark Helprin’s satire of the British royal family  (Freddy and Fredericka are a not-even-thinly veiled version of Charles and Diana)  is a magnificently fanciful fairy tale farce and it is amazing. Essentially, after a series of embarrassing events, Freddy and Fredericka get carted out to America to prove themselves worthy of the throne.  This book is dense, but it’s also hilarious. In some respects, the density is part of the reason I’m so fond of it – yes, it gets off to a slow start, but I found it to be like a marathon – it’s just the sort of book to be savored and read thoughtfully, rather than devoured in haste. It’s sympathetic and mocking of its protagonists and reminds you of their inherent goodness despite the situations of their lives and situations in which they find themselves. Fredericka in particular really comes into her own in the second half of the novel. The novel is both irreverent and down to earth and it’s just honestly, earnestly good.


  • The Muse – Some people haven’t felt as kindly towards Jessie Burton’s follow up to The Miniaturist but I really enjoyed The Muse. Burton is amazingly skilled at evoking the feeling of a bygone era and in The Muse, she manages to make both 1960s London and the Spanish Civil War come a life. Not only this, she tackles the tricky work of writing a black woman’s life in 1960s London. I have to love her for writing an experience that is very much not her own and for doing it so very well. Jessie Burton is basically my Literary Girl Crush.


  • Moonglow I’ve loved Michael for a very long time now. At least, it feels like a long time. I read Wonder Boys back in 2000 and I fell in love with his brain then. Whenever I read Chabon, I always feel like his characters are sitting back and regaling me with their tales. Moonglow is no different. Of course, Moonglow is a sort of a retelling his what his grandfather told him during his last weeks of life – a deathbed confession sorts. But early on, Chabon notes that part of this is fictionalized and the dreamy, sprawling feel makes it somewhat difficult to really get a handle on what parts are completely un-embellished. And yet, that is one of the things I liked best about Moonglow. The Goodreads blurb describes it as a “work of fiction non fiction”; an “autobiography in a novel described as a memoir” – this is entirely accurate and entirely wonderful.


Honorable Mentions:


  • Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • American Street  by Ibi Zoboi
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • The Secret Place by Tana French
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Book Review: American Street

Ibi Zoboi’s American Street is very nearly exactly what a YA novel should be.

The protaganist, Fabiola Toussaint, boards a plane from Haiti to the US along with her mother, planning to move to Detroit to live with family members. During a routine security check while changing planes in New York, Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration officials and Fabiola’s left to go on to Detroit alone. There, Fabiola’s left to navigate her American cousins, a romance and her attempts to secure her mother’s release.

I have no experience as an immigrant – while I did complete a Study Abroad during college, I have lived my life as a citizen and resident of the country of my birth. I can’t speak – at all – to how real to life Fabiola’s experiences actually are. But I can say that the book felt so real to me – I felt as though the events could actually happen.

Continue reading

Book Review: The People We Hate at the Wedding

Back in April (May?), I won an ARC of Grant Ginder’s The People We Hate at the Wedding as a Goodreads Giveaway. Because I am, as always, somewhat behind in my reading, I didn’t get a chance to read this until a few days ago.

If one only looks at the cover image – the headless figures of a bride and groom atop a wedding cake, you would guess that the novel centers on the a bride, a groom, and preparations for their wedding. You’d be wrong. The groom actually doesn’t figure into the story much at all –  The People We Hate at the Wedding centers around the bride, Eloise, her mother, Donna and her half-siblings Paul and Alice in the lead-up to the wedding.  


Paul and Alice have always had a particularly fraught relationship with Eloise, caused by the fact that Eloise has always lived a life of privilege, thanks to the her father’s wealth. Alice and Paul’s childhoods were far less lofty and there’s always been a wedge between them and Eloise, no matter how Eloise has worked to bridge it. Additionally, Paul has been icing Donna out of his life since his father’s death a few years prior due to her attempt to erase him from her life. He also has an iffy relationship with his boyfriend, Mark. On her end, Alice is still reeling from a tragedy which occurred five years prior and is currently carrying on an affair with Jonathan, who’s entirely unavailable to her.  Continue reading