October 2017 Wrap Up

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I’ve decided that I’m going to make my wrap ups way more robust. Yes, I’ll be highlighting my reads, but something else I want to do is also highlight great articles I’ve read around the Internet and maybe a few updates from my life. There are so many other great things that happen over a month and I just want to share that with you!

First, let’s talk about the weather because no small talk doesn’t have some amount of weather conversation. It was really hot in October and when you’re trying to get in the cold weather mood, the last thing you want to do is wear shorts. However, we all persevered and November is already starting off with some nice chill feels.

We start off the month with an article written by Jeremy Lin and his recent hair choices. If you’ve got a moment to read an article written by a basketball player, I would suggest doing so. While Jeremy Lin isn’t the most profound writer, he does speak more about cultural appropriation, being Asian, and always keeping in mind the culture you’re choosing from.

One thing I know for sure was that October reads were on fire with a new one from John Green, a prequel to Practical Magic, and some thrillers. Because what kind of October is it without some spooky reads?

The Ardent Biblio asked me to write up my favorite from the month, so I’m going to skip my review of them here and just point you to what I did read. Check it out!

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Last month, Celeste Ng released her book Little Fires Everywhere and the Internet broke with how many people loved this book. I even loved this book! But I was able to find a dissenting voice amongst all the likes and Owl’s Little Library review of Little Fires Everywhere will switch your perspective just a little bit.

Which brings me to the post I wrote about how not all POC writers need to write about the struggles of being themselves. I spoke with a friend that didn’t want to feel the obligation of writing about being Chinese American and I thought it was a great point. POC writers shouldn’t feel pigeonholed to writing about being themselves. Many of the conversations I had with bookish friends felt it was important to share these stories. Where do you stand on the issue?

However, that post did bring up some issues with my writing. I made an early resolution to write better than I am doing. So, I did what I do best, I did some research.

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I dug up this amazing article from Joan Didion on why she writes. Written in 1976, she discusses her process for writing; how she took the observations she made in reality and answered the rhetorical questions brought up in her mind. It reminded me how I used to write. When I was little, I would be able to write and create beautifully. Now I’m trying to find if it’s as easy to get back on this bicycle. Here’s a great quote:

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a,“bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.

I also just watched the Joan Didion documentary on Netflix. While my post on my thoughts there won’t be up until tomorrow, I did want to mention that it was a deeply moving story and it’s way more substantial than just her losses. I honestly am so enamored by her right now I can’t think straight!

Not to shamelessly plug my own work, but I wrote a piece for Bookriot on 5 ways to cope during a book buying ban. Please don’t get caught up on the “addict” language. I see how I messed up there and I won’t do it again. Here is where I mention again that I’m working to improve my writing.

We end the month with Kevin Spacey’s allegations and coming out. Everyone on the Internet is up-in-arms about this one especially since it touches on the LGBTQ community. Me? Well, I think it’s bad form to save yourself by coming out of the closet. Uncool, Kevin Spacey. Uncool.

 

 

 

 

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

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When I was a little girl, I believed I had the gift of magic. I would stare deeply at branches on trees willing them to sway with the power of the wind. Sometimes I would get lucky and other times I wouldn’t be. The days where I couldn’t move the branches was because I wasn’t concentrating hard enough.

I believed that the energy you put out in the world will come back to you. I believe in Spirits and beauty and the power of magic existing in everything and everyone.

Everyone has a little magic in them and in The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, you follow along with Frances, Jet, and Vincent as they discover the magic within themselves.

This is the prequel to the well-loved Practical Magic. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but I have seen the movie. One of the major themes throughout the movie was about falling in love and the curse that lives within the Owens family. If you don’t know what that is, it’s that any Owens woman who was to fall in love their lover would be subject to a terrible death.

I loved how steeped this story is in reality. It was more of a celebration of the pagan religion than it is about fighting against good and evil. There’s no big shows of magical powers and you don’t see things like forces of evil come and take over the Earth. The magic is subtle and beautiful and the world Alice Hoffman creates here is something similar to the world I live in.

The way Alice Hoffman included parts of US history including the Vietnam War played so well against the story of these siblings learning more about the magic within themselves. There’s skepticism and frustration and lots of love. It’s not an Owens’ party if no one is falling in love.

Magic is meant to be this coinciding with nature. From what I believed, I believe that magic is always keeping an eye out on everyone. It knows your deepest desires and it listens to spells like God listens to prayers. If you believe truly and wholeheartedly, then you’ll see the magic in your life.

Because I’d already seen Practical Magic and I knew about the curse on the Owens family, I felt like I spent some of my time playing a game called “which guy is going to die.” I waited for the sound of the deathwatch beetle to crawl across the pages letting me know that someone loves another person way too much.

But it seems like the love portrayed in the book is much deeper than any regular love. It can be persuaded and manipulated and carefully avoided. Love as much as you can and never stop loving, is even what they believe. They know the consequences to this kind of love and perhaps the curse isn’t that their loves will die but they’re cursed to lose love time and time again.

 

I almost felt the tears welling for Jet and her lover, for Frances and her lover, and for Vincent and his lover. Each loved so well and so carelessly that they couldn’t avoid the consequences of their actions. It made me want to hold my husband a little closer and hope that he stays alive a little longer. I couldn’t live a life without him, but this doesn’t seem to be the issue with the Owens.

Gosh, this book was beautiful. It was well-written and well-conceived and while I thought parts of the story dragged a little, I still wouldn’t have stopped reading. I wanted to find out more about these siblings and their loves and how they became the witches they are today. Magic lives in everything and everyone and with a little bit of love, you can see what magic does.

I received The Rules of Magic from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review. My review and thoughts are my own and not influenced by the publisher or author.

OwlCrate October 2017 Unboxing

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I took a little break from OwlCrate and all of my subscription boxes because, frankly, I wasn’t impressed with the books I was receiving. However, for some reason, I decided to go back to OwlCrate and pick up the latest box.

This month’s theme was Find Me in the Forest and the entire box is filled with some great goodies all themed around the woods. I love the forest and I love hiking. My favorite thing has got to be sitting silently while the forest gets used to us being there and begins to come back to life. You can hear the birds chirping and woodland creatures appearing out of  nowhere. Ever since I moved to New Jersey, I’ve been seeing way more deer than I ever anticipated seeing in my life. It’s so beautiful to watch a family of deer walk by and eating roughage along the way. I always scare them off, but for the brief moment I see them it feels like seeing magic.

And I think that’s the theme for this month. Magic in the woods. Or at least that’s what I like to think. I’ll post what was in the box after the jump to avoid any spoilers!

Continue reading “OwlCrate October 2017 Unboxing”

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I honestly am so happy that a book like this exists. Shortly after being told I had OCD, I tried to search the book world for fiction stories featuring characters with similar traits. I was a little surprised to find out that the world’s exposure to OCD was only As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson and some documentaries of folks with such debilitating compulsions that they rarely leave the house.

My mother told me that when I was in kindergarten class, I would wash my hands after using a single color in finger painting. The teacher thought it was adorable that I would dip my finger in the paint, brush it across the paper, then get up to go wash my hands. Was it because even at that age I didn’t want to blend my colors too much or was there something more insidious going on?

I never liked getting my face painted. I don’t like touching things with my bare hands. I hate bugs of all kinds even butterflies and lady bugs. I can’t stand when strangers touch me. I can’t walk on grass barefoot. I’m the only person who knows how to clean my house.

And I thought these were all quirks. That everyone thinks about the microbial germs crawling across the surface of a subway pole. That everyone knew if you touched a smelly homeless person, you would get whatever disease that they had that made their feet and ankles balloon up. I believed everyone thought about the dust mites that crawled across your skin and carpet.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with OCD that I realized these thoughts weren’t thoughts everyone had. This isn’t “normal” and most people think about them briefly and then move on with their life.

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN starts with the sudden disappearance of a local billionaire. In attempts to try and win the reward for more information, Aza and her best friend Daisy start to look for clues that could help them score some big money. After all, it was Aza’s friend, Davis, who’s father disappeared suddenly.

Aza was just your average girl who seemed for the most part just living her life. She went to school. She had a pretty solid family life despite her father’s death. However, what you find out and realize is that her mind is a swirling jungle of thoughts and worse case scenarios and worries that she didn’t need to worry about.

I thought this book was going to be about a group of kids who were looking for a missing billionaire. You’d believe that too if you read the inside cover. I thought this would be The Goonies of the 21st century with a little twist, that the main character would have OCD. I thought this would be some manic version of Sherlock Holmes.

It most definitely wasn’t.

While you’re led to believe this is some rag tag team of teenagers looking for their friend’s dad, TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN is not about that. The story is truly about Aza. The use of the first person point of view in this context lends a hand to shape the story. You read what Aza thinks about in her head. You see her running through her thoughts. You find her battling herself and reminding herself that it’s not real. Her thoughts aren’t real and that her OCD is battling out against her.

I guess the idea of having a story about a billionaire gone missing also lends itself to the power of OCD. One minute you’re trying to find a missing person and have a grand adventure with your friends. The next you’re having an all out anxiety attack and spiraling downward toward oblivion.

For Aza, everything is a battle. Trying to maintain her friendships while her brain tells her to go and do something else. Trying to keep her mother from worrying too much as she picks on a scab that’s been trying to heal. Trying to be in love with a boy she’s known for a long part of her life without freaking out about kissing him.

There were so many examples of how debilitating OCD can be. I loved that John Green gave examples of how the thoughts can be so evasive that you forget you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone. You spend a lot of time pushing to be present and speaking directly with the person in front of you.

It did feel like the whole looking for a billionaire part was an afterthought that was wrapped up in the last ten pages of the book. I wish there was a little bit more there and spread more evenly throughout the book.

While it would have been really cute to see the four kids running around trying to find a missing billionaire and get some answers to the choices he made, I get that this book is to be more about exposure and understanding when it comes to OCD.

For those who do have OCD, you’ve found a friend in a book that knows exactly what you’re going through. Although, I would be careful because there are some triggering thoughts. I needed to step away for an evening even with only a few pages left. The thoughts it triggered in my head were too overpowering for me at times.

And for those who don’t have OCD, you get some idea of how our brains work daily but I would keep in mind that everyone struggles from any mental health issue in different ways. I feel I have a firmer grip on the thoughts my brain tells me, so I’m able to snap back to reality much quicker than Aza. I know that my condition could be so much worse, so I’m grateful that it’s manageable.

I would strongly recommend approaching this with an open mind. This book is good, but I can imagine someone who doesn’t have OCD getting really annoyed by the characters and their mindset. It’s really hard not to want to shake Aza and say “snap out of it,” but this is how it is. You’re doing whatever life thing that you’re normally doing and then, something triggers you and you’re spiraling down.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

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Oh brother, this one is a doozy. I’ve read countless reviews from other people who read this book and all I saw was that they cried at the end. So many raves and happy thoughts. about this book and it’s so awesome to see everyone feel so good about it. So many awards that they don’t even fit on the cover. The title is so freaking long and completely unassuming that you actually think this book is about two philosophers from different periods of time that get together and actually discover the secrets of the universe.

But let me tell you how I felt.

It

was

AWESOME.

Reading this book was like reading about royalty. You’ve heard so many good things about it that you can’t help but to want to read it and this book really doesn’t disappoint.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a story about friendship. Aristotle is a 15-year-old kid with no friends. It wasn’t until he decides to take swimming lessons that he meets Dante, another boy with no friends. You know what happens when two people who have no friends. They become friends.

Aristotle is a little bit of a loner with a snarky bite and some experiences in his life that he can’t seem to shake. Dante is more care free and what I like to call a “butterfly chaser” which I use to describe bohemian and free spirited and not weighed down by society. They’re the likely opposites of each other, but as the saying goes opposites attract.

I don’t think I recall making a best friend the way Aristotle and Dante befriended each other. I’ve been the loner type and maybe a little more on the Aristotle side than the Dante side. I’ve always wanted a best friend and I found one in my partner. I guess that it’s commonplace to find a comfort in a friend that not only wants to be your friend, but loves you on a completely other level.

I honestly thought this would be one of those books where Aristotle and Dante fall in love in the beginning of the novel and you struggle to see them come to terms with their sexuality and with the people around them. But no, it’s not.

It’s a book about friendship and the kind of friendship that leaves a lasting impression on you. It’s about what you do for someone you love, be it a painful experience or a fun one. You’re with someone that makes you happy. For Aristotle and Dante, there’s just the added bonus of loving each other.

Aristotle and Dante both undergo a series of events that help shape their friendship and what they mean to each other. Dante is artistic and poetic while Aristotle is cynical and pessimistic. Their clashing personalities really bring a sense that while they may not see eye to eye on everything, human beings are able to transition to a place where you’re not finding a friend, but you’re finding a life partner. It doesn’t have to be overly romantic and life isn’t that way anyway, but regardless of romance it was still beautiful to behold.

I clutched this book close to my chest after I was finished reading. I couldn’t believe that this book was created and I couldn’t believe it took me so long to experience it.

You can find a copy of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on Amazon.

I’m on Booktube now!

Hey everyone!

This is more of a PSA than it is a post about anything. I’m here to tell you that I’m now on Youtube/Booktube!

That’s right, you get to hear me rant and rave about authors and books IRL or as IRL as I can be without being in front of you. I don’t know, I was thinking about some of the stuff I talk about here and how it impassions me. I found myself talking to myself a lot these days and I wanted to share those thoughts in front of a camera.

My first video isn’t much more than an introduction of who I am. I plan on posting a new video every week, but that cadence may change depending on how much I can get done. Remember, I work a full time job all day long so all of this is happening on the weekends and at night.

I hope you enjoy this first video and I’ll probably have another video up in a few days. Let me know what you like and what you’d like to see. I’m taking questions, comments, suggestions, and anything to make this a fun and creative place to share reads without any judgment.

I hope you enjoy!

Little Fires Everywhere to Celeste Ng

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I know this review is a long time coming. I’ve been mulling over this book for the past couple of weeks. I don’t know how to describe my feelings for this book, but I know they are good. I just don’t know how to explain it the best way possible. I’m going to at least try.

I don’t know where to start with this book. There were stories within stories and some of them I wanted to know more about and there were others that I could have done without. There were stories that randomly popped up and ones you followed throughout the book.

Have you ever been the new person in town? I’ve never been new and when I’m new, I’m already assimilated to the town the best that I can. However, some towns are just too small and too friendly that if you’re slightly different you may be facing some serious backlash.

In Little Fires Everywhere, you follow Mia and Pearl as they arrive in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It’s considered one of the most idyllic towns in the suburbs of Ohio and we all know that with idyllic towns there’s always something hiding under the surface.

This was my official first book by Celeste Ng. I’ve tried reading books by her in the past, but I had some trouble with them. Mostly because of the I’m really bad when it comes to death and dying and her first book was all about that.

Little Fires Everywhere feels like a combination of stories. It’s almost like watching a play where all the characters are important and all of them have a background that needs to be discussed and discovered to help with outlining the bigger theme of the book; the sacrifices mothers go through.

I’m not sure if it was Celeste Ng’s intention to make a book about being a mother, but it happens to be that way. And for some reason I’ve been reading a lot of books about mothers and what they do for their children. Perhaps it’s a sign that I should call mine?

But the story is a culmination of different stories. Themes covered from sex as a teenager, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, surrogacy, sacrifice, suffering, struggle, all the words that start with the letter S. Honestly, I thought the book could be longer since there was so much covered.

So Mia and Pearl arrive in this town and you’re curious as to where they came from. What made them move here? Why did they decide on Shaker Heights? All these questions kind of rise up while you read the book. The further you read, the more you find out.

However, I think the most important part of the book and probably the catalyst for everyone’s secrets revealed is when a young couple tries to adopt an abandoned Asian baby. Without giving too much away, the birth mother realizes too late that she didn’t want to give the baby away and the couple who wanted to adopt her was already in love with the baby. You can imagine the tension between the two families and what will happen next.

What’s interesting is that Celeste Ng takes on every major character in this book and starts to unpack their lives. It’s expertly laid out throughout the novel so that with every chapter that goes by, you learn a little bit more. Perhaps it’s more like watching a serial TV show than a play where each episode shares with you more about the people involved.

But the amazing part is how everything is sort of attached to the lives they chose, the decisions they made, and the actions that took their lives and changed who they are and why they did what they did.

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving it away. I will say that if you’re a mom and you know the struggles and sacrifices you’ve made for yourself and for your children, then this will be a good book for you. And if you’re a person without kids, you might wonder what your mom went through in order to let you grow up in a good and loving home.

I received this copy of the book at BookCon. You can find Little Fires Everywhere on Amazon.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

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When I was a little girl, I used to have these amazing dreams about this guy. I would first fly through the air around my childhood home and watch the sun set orange and red across the lawn. I would finally land and sit down on our front stoop.

Suddenly, he would walk over to me. He’s always wearing an oversized sweater and well cut jeans. His smile made me melt and his dark hair was always in his eyes. Because it’s a dream, there’s always some strange quirks about what you see. For example, he was an alien from another planet.

I don’t remember all the details now that I’m older but I do recall that we would kiss under the street light before he headed back up to his home planet.

While the details of the dream are a little hazy, for some reason, I’ve never forgotten that dream and that dream boy and I think fondly about that time when I was a kid.

Have you ever had that dream before where it was so amazing and so memorable that even as an adult you can’t get it out of your head?

In Dreamology by Lucy Keating, you get to experience the same feelings for the main character Alice, who has been dreaming about her dream boy since she was a kid. All she knows is that the dreams were vivid and ended when she woke up. It was a surprise to her when she began school in a new city and found her dream boy in reality.

Of course, Max isn’t who he was in the dreams. In fact he appears to be rude, indecisive, and already in a relationships. You can see how a girl who has been in love with her dream boy for so long could be disappointed by the real thing. I mean, I would never want to meet my dream boy in real life worried about the same results.

From this point on, the story begins to get a little weirder as their dreams start to bleed into reality. They visit this dream lab to get it fixed and it’s something out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where the main characters’ brains have been altered to allow for their dreams to meld together and then have their dreams become a reality.

I love books like this sometimes. The premise is pretty simple, the story is easy to read and follow along and you finish reading it in a few days. You get to feel that rush of love when you first fall for someone. It makes you feel good and sometimes you need a little bit of sugar in your life.

But I think what I love most about this novel is how they chase each other and their dreams. If I dreamed of my dream boy every single night, I would be worried that one day he would just disappear. It’s kind of the same here. What if Alice woke up and never dreamed of Max again? Would she be okay with the real Max or would it never be the same again?

You can find Dreamology on Amazon.

Banned Books Week: Be Proud to be Banned

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Today, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite authors: Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison’s work to me has been these haunting tales of loneliness, sacrifice, desperation, and turmoil. Set during some of the most difficult times for black Americans, Toni Morrison has this incredible way of making you feel and understand what it must have been like for black and African American people. You’re transported there and you gain more consciousness.

And obviously, her works have been banned or challenged.

I absolutely love banned books week. I think it’s because I’m a perpetual questioner of the rules of engagement. I always have to test things out for myself and go against what the popular thinking is. I blame my mother, who has been subversive my entire life.

But I love banned books week and I love checking out all the books that have now been banned. Can you imagine in 2017 books are still being banned because they have themes like homosexuality, teenage girls getting pregnant, drug abuse, mental illness, and…magic?!

I’ve been going through the list of books and there are so many favorite authors where everything they write is banned or challenged. Toni Morrison happens to be one of them where most of her books have been challenged or banned in some way.

I thought to myself what must authors think to see every single book they’ve written is challenged or banned?

In my mind, I hope it’s a state of pride. I imagine them puffing their chest and standing very tall knowing that they challenge something for people. They make adults uncomfortable. Their books are deemed inappropriate even if they’re written for children. And not just one book. All of their books.

Authors like JK Rowling who’s books were deemed too magical and magic is some form of satanism so that’s bad. John Green’s books are also banned or challenged too. It’s probably all those kids dying of cancer and falling in love in the final days of their lives. Who knows?

It must give them a sense of pride to know their books challenge the way people think.

And if they aren’t proud, they should be. We’re creating a world where what we say can influence what other people think. It’s a massive form of power and while not every book needs to hone that power in, those who have been judged and misunderstood should continue to do what they do.

Keep pushing the envelope and talking about those taboo topics people are so keen on sweeping under the rug. It’s important to the kids in the world and the adults who are interested to know that someone is speaking up.

Be proud of your work! Be proud to be banned or challenging. Continue to challenge the social norms of this country or your country and hopefully we’ll be all proud to say they’re not longer challenged or banned books.

Welcome to Banned Books Week!

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Happy Banned Books Week and it’s going to be a good one.

This year’s theme is “the freedom to read,” which feels oddly relevant given that everyone has been talking about. Censorship is always around us telling us what to do and what to think and how to say things. It’s the faceless folks that tell us that something is too edgy and pushes the envelope. It’s the inability to discern for yourself if something is good or bad for you. It’s the fodder for amazing books that make you think for yourself and that’s a wonderful feeling (as long as you can cope with the anxiety).

On Instagram each day this week, I’ll be posting a book that’s been consistently banned or challenged in the past. While I’ll be highlighting one book, they’re representative of the many books in that genre that undergo scrutiny everyday. I know that the people who make these decisions aren’t doing it to harm young readers. In fact, they would argue that they are protecting them from it.

The choice for children to stay children, but sometimes you have to understand that children grow up. When they grow up without exposure to these banned and challenged books, then they face a world where it isn’t friendly and it isn’t kind and what they think could possibly be more dangerous than helpful.

Of course, I come prepared with an infograph from the American Library Association website on who these big whigs tend to be:

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Freedom should be celebrated. We do it every year in July where we remember our fore fathers who came to this country to free themselves from the censorship and persecution. We can pray to whatever God we want, but we can’t read books? Bit of a double standard.

So let’s celebrate our freedom to read! We’re one of many countries that allow it, but I do want to remind people that that’s not the case for a lot of people and still a concern for us as a country. So let’s ring those bells of freedom and get to reading.

If you’d like to participate in Banned Books Week with me, here’s some ways you can easily join in!

1. Read and share a banned book

While for some people this is easy as pie, for others it might not be that easy. It could be because their families don’t like it when you read these kinds of books or it could be because you don’t know what books are on the banned books list.

If you’d like to read a book that’s been banned or challenged in the past, check out this comprehensive list of books provided by the American Library Association.

The most important part about this one is to share those reads. If you learn anything from the book you choose or if it opens your eyes in ways you didn’t think it would, then share that love! Books aren’t meant to be stuck on a shelf and kept to yourself. They’re like living and breathing animals that need to let go and available for someone else. Don’t let what you’ve learned only stick with you.

2. Donate to ACLU or to ALA

While you may not be a reader, reading is considered one of the many freedoms protected by our first amendment. If you believe that we should have the freedom to read or even the freedom of speech, then donate whatever you can to the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU is doing everything they can to ensure that we, as a people, continue to speak freely, practice religion without any issues, and always always read books that may make you look at your world a little bit differently.

If you’re not into civil liberties, then perhaps you’ll be into reading books. The American Library Association is also always taking donations to help with keeping libraries across America open. If you ever complained that you don’t have enough money for books, then obviously you haven’t been to a library. Free books! All you need is a plastic laminated card.

3. Share with the bookish community

I emphasized this once, but I’ll emphasize this again. We should all be sharing our love of books with each other. It’s so important to share especially when it’s considered a community. Don’t be afraid to read your books and don’t be afraid to talk about them.

I hope that we’re loving and open enough to accept anyone and their beliefs. The only way our community will be able to make a difference is to share these reads and be empathetic to those who don’t want to read them and hope that they will.

Don’t keep your books locked up on a bookshelf. These may be yours, but the written words are for everyone. Buy another copy of your favorite banned book and leave it on the train or in the park. Donate your old copies of banned books to the local library. Books are physical copies of an amazing journey and you can always take that journey again. Let’s let someone else walk down that path for the first time.