Beware the Idle March

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The month of March. My true frenemy.

For most east coasters, I think it’s fair to say that we would declare January to be our least favorite month. It’s cold, it’s full of snow, there’s no green growing, and no holiday to consume our minds. And in second place would be February—the month where all that garbage continues (Except in this month, we can decorate with hearts and celebrate love!) But alas, there is one more month that may perhaps be the sleeping giant vying for the title of crummiest month. The month that gives you hope, and then takes it away. It teases warmth and progress, and then pummels you with a wind chill of 20, all in the same week. That farty month is March and she has been playing some cruel tricks on me.

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Beware the Ides of March? More like beware the entire month. Good riddance March! (Side note: Me and one of my best friends have been sending each other warning texts about the ides every March for about 10 years. That’s some real nerd business right there.)

Now, perhaps this March is a uniquely rough one, and therefore I can’t entirely blame my negative feelings on the month. The complete lack of job interviews definitely plays a part. The hope I feel every time I send out an application to a job I feel I am perfect for, only to never hear a single word from the company. I never thought I’d find myself veer so far from my career path for this amount of time. But such is life.

So why is March taking all the heat? It comes down to this. With every hopeful application I send, there is an inevitable feeling of exhaustion that follows when the hope of the job is suddenly stripped away. March for me is the natural, physical embodiment of this feeling. The sun breaks through, followed by a frigid gust of wind, and rinse, and repeat.

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But we are just getting out of Winter! Dammit, Ned! Get your shit together!

I know this is completely affecting my ability to do what I love when it comes to this book club. For months, I have been writing about setting goals, and making room for reading in your lives. I’ve been touting that incredible feeling of accomplishment when you finish a great book, and have been pushing you all to find that same feeling. And here I am in the midst of March, not listening to my own advice. So how can I break free of that?

Well for starters, I have to be honest with myself about it. So here I am, being honest. I have allowed myself to become discouraged about the things I can’t 100% control, and in doing so have closed doors to potential opportunity, may it be with prospective jobs, or with reading. In closing those doors, I allowed myself to get sucked into the void of laziness. Sure, there absolutely are times where I can’t keep my eyes open the second I pick up a book, and there are times where I would rather receive my stories via television. (Sidenote: House of Cards and True Detective. Just do it.)  I just need to be aware of it when it’s happening and push myself to snap out of it.

We all go through this at one point or another, and March seemed to be my month. And so here are my new goals:

I have to accept the time I wasted, and try to not waste anymore.

I need to grab my book, and rediscover why I love diving into these worlds.

I need to remind myself that feeling down about a situation is never helpful.

And I need to become Spring and kick March’s ass out of this place.

So excuse me. It’s time to start kicking.

Look out March. I'm comin' for ya.

Look out March. I’m comin’ for ya.

I promise next week I’ll be back on track. Thanks for understanding.

– Nina Sclafani

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Calling All Readers! Your Help is Needed!

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If I could make a career out of making poorly produced images on my phone, I’d be a millionaire.

Five months ago when I started the Not So Book Club Book Club, I had quite a few goals in mind. First, I wanted to encourage people to read. I wanted people to find the time in their day to discover new stories because far too often I heard people say they were lucky if they read one book a year. Next, I wanted these books to inspire others to produce new art, or music, or poetry, and I wanted them to feel comfortable enough to share their work with others. And finally, I wanted to be able to confidently answer whenever I was asked “What was the last book you read?” and I wanted to be able to easily list off a ton of book recommendations to friends in search of new literature. (For a book lover, I had found myself far too often struggling to answer those two questions. However, since November, with almost 15 new books under my belt, I have conquered that obstacle.)

Although we have started to meet a few of these goals, there is still so much more to go.

Every week when I post on this blog, I know what I’m up against. I’m competing with busy personal and work schedules, gossip blogs, pop up ads, 24-hour news networks, Facebook statuses, television shows—you name it, I’m competing with it. Turns out, the attention of even an interested audience is hard to maintain.

So I was thinking, how can I get you all more involved?

I know there are many of you reading this. I see the stats on my wordpress account and I read all the lovely messages you send, but I’m still shy of reaching those initial goals. Now I’m turning to you for help. I want you to let me know what I could do to get you to participate more.

Should I base my book selection off of NSBCBC member recommendations? Should I post discussion questions on the Facebook page? Should I post pictures more? Should I toss up some original art? What would you like to see and what could I do to interest you in participating?

I have this vision that one day, the NSBCBC will be thriving, completely filled to the brim with discussions, quotes, original art work, or interesting internet-found pictures, all put there by fellow members. What can we do together to help realize this dream?

Share your recommendations right here on the wordpress, post on our Facebook wall (facebook.com/nsbcbc), tweet me at @notsobookclub, or Instagram your recommendations using the #nsbcbc hashtag.

I sincerely look forward to hearing from you all! Let’s make this Not So Book Club a real community experience!

Your NSBCBC founder,

Nina Sclafani

Facing Our Monsters

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One of the many beautiful and powerful images found throughout Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls. Illustrations by Jim Kay.

Call it what you will— fate, luck, or total coincidence— this week, I was met with a story that felt like it was waiting for me to read it for the past 9 years.

As you may know from reading my blog, when I choose the NSBCBC reads, I base my book selections on reviews, interesting synopsis, recommendations from friends, and the like. However, when I finally crack open these books, I am as new to the experience as you are, so I never truly know what to expect. It is this uncertainty that highlights how amazing it is when you open a book and feel like a greater power has brought that book into your life. So by serendipity or by chance, this happened to me yesterday. Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls found its way into my life, and touched parts of my heart and soul in ways I could have never expected.

In 2005, my grandfather died from lung cancer and losing him was the most prominent and painful death I have ever experienced. He was a man that was stern, and old school, and so incredibly loving despite the fact that he seemed tough as nails. But as cancer does, it stole him from our family and robbed us of the many years we planned on living together. From his diagnosis to his final weeks, time went by in light speed. Despite the medications, changes in diet, and efforts of my incredible family to help him, the disease was so aggressive, you’d blink and in that millisecond he’d appear paler and thinner. However, for the last week of his life, it was if time had decided to cruelly slow down in order to draw out all the fears and pain of our family.

Although it has been almost 10 years, our family still feels the deep sadness of losing one of the greatest men we have ever known.

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2003 – Mohonk Mountain House. Here is my handsome grandfather, Albert Molesphini (left) with his fantastic brother John Molesphini on our amazing family vacation to the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York.

Now, when I picked up A Monster Calls, I knew the general plot. A young boy, dealing with his mother’s cancer, is visited nightly by a monster whose purpose is to help the boy face his fears. However, I didn’t automatically associate it with my grandfather’s cancer. The word “cancer” has become such a part of our vernacular that I didn’t believe this story would (or could) feel tailor-made to my own experience. But as I read, I could feel the deepest parts of my heart tighten from the pain all over again, and things I tried so desperately to suppress reemerge. I found myself transformed into the protagonist and it was me who the monster was visiting—forcing me to face my fears of death and loss all over again. But as the pages flipped by, I felt the walls I’ve built up over the past 9 years slowly break down, piece by piece, and by the end I was exhausted. With my face and shirt soaked in tears, I felt like I made my way through the last week of my grandfather’s life all over again, but came out seeing a new light—a comforting light. And with this light, I could revisit the loss, remember the love, and continue to move on.

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One of my favorite family photographs, taken around 1990 (?) in our vacation home in the Poconos. Pictured with my grandfather is my equally amazing grandmother, Faye Molesphini, and on the bottom is a cake-hypnotized me, my cousin Anthony, and my older sister Kristen.

A Monster Calls felt like therapy to me. It felt deeply personal and allowed me to reach into the darkest parts of myself and emerge a better person. And it’s this experience that only solidifies my love of books even more. Books allow us to have truly human experiences, even when we don’t feel comfortable sharing those parts of ourselves with others or when we don’t think we have the strength to get through a conversation. They can give us comfort, make us laugh, and make us cry. They can guide us, or scare us, or expose us to new worlds. And sometimes, they can find their ways into our lives, may it be by fate or chance, and help us face our own monsters when we least expect it.

March’s Reads- Why These Books?

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The March 2014 NSBCBC Reads!

This month, I decided to turn to more best-of lists to find our latest reads. All 3 of these books were selected from a mix of Goodreads reviews, Amazon best-of 2013 lists, and NPR recommendations. I’m really excited to read all 3 of these, and hope these help make the final days of winter a little easier! (I have my fingers crossed that by the time I’m on the 3rd read of the month, I’ll be able to read outside and bask in the spring sunshine.)

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Original concept by Siobhan Dowd)

For the first book, I decided to mirror the month of March and charge in like a lion—a really sad, disturbing lion. Although you will find this book in the YA section of your library, it is a complex, graphic-filled novel that is filled to the brim with emotionally heavy themes. From the reviews I saw, apparently this book will leave us devastated. Now, I know you’re thinking “devastated, huh? Sounds REALLY fun!” But I urge you to take the journey with me. The synopsis is too interesting to pass up!

The story explores the fears of loss and the unknown, and tackles “monsters both real and imagined.” The novel (originally conceptualized by writer Siobhan Dowd—whose premature death from cancer prevented her from finishing the story), follows a young boy named Connor, who is haunted by a monster that visits him every night starting at the beginning of his mother’s cancer treatments. Paired with hauntingly beautiful ink drawings, this novel brings a deeply moving experience that will help us understand how to overcome our own monsters.

And if that doesn’t sell you, read this excerpt from the New York Times:

“There’s no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it’s also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place – an imperfect one, of course – where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous story­teller and a potent piece of art.

—The New York Times

2. The Golum and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

I’ve always loved magical realism. The idea that mystical creatures could live among us regular folk has always made me smile, and in a way I have always hoped for it to be a real possibility. For example, although I’m 27, I am still holding out hope for an invitation to Hogwarts. (By the way…To the Admissions Office of Hogwarts, Seriously guys. I’m not getting any younger here.) So when I saw the synopsis of Wecker’s debut novel, I was very interested.

The story is about two mystical creatures (a golem and a jinni—and no, not Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Genie from Aladdin, although that would make for a really fun pairing) who go on a magical journey. Together, they experience the many different cultures of New York City during the turn of the century, and create a bond that defies their own cultural boundaries.

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Unfortunately the story does not follow these two, but if someone ever wanted to write that, I’d almost certainly HAVE to read it. I mean, what a dynamic duo!

3. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Shamefully, the bright colors of the cover were the initial reason I checked this book out (Props to the cover artist!). Then the synopsis drew me in a bit further.

The story follows a group of friends who meet at a creative arts camp in the summer of 1974. Throughout life, each of these people pursue their own creative passion, yet only some become successful, while others don’t. The story explores the dynamics between the group as they struggle to incorporate creativity in their lives as they grow and face life’s many challenges.

I also chose this story for my own selfish reasons. I always felt like my group of friends were particularly creative and talented (too much horn tooting?). Now that we’re in our late twenties, we are still exploring our creative sides—just some more than others. I felt like this story would be relatable, and I kinda wanted to see what happened to this creative group, perhaps out of curiosity for my own life’s path.

So there we have it! The March Reads for 2014. Make sure to post your thoughts, art work, poetry, and more to the NSBCBC Facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc); tweet us at @notsobookclub; Instagram your reading experience with the #nsbcbc hashtag; and share The Not So Book Club Book Club with your friends! The more readers, the merrier!

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

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Never Judge a Book by its Movie

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This widely repeated quote can be found all over the Internet in the form of bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, bathrobes… you name it, it exists.

Think back to your high school English class. You spend a month slowly plodding through a dense book that is filled with language you barely understand, lengthy descriptions of settings, and metaphors that fly right over your head. Perhaps it’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or maybe it’s Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Despite your best effort to find enjoyment in the experience, the book feels like work. Every night on top of your math and science homework, you have to muster up the energy to get through another 20 pages of a book you can’t really wrap your head around. But there is salvation—the prize at the end of the journey. That beautiful week where your English class becomes a movie theater and you get to spend 5 glorious days watching that book you struggled through in easy to swallow half-hour increments. Does it help you appreciate the book more? Maybe. Does it help you write a better essay for class? Almost certainly. But does the film help or hurt the experience of the book? That is the question that’s up for debate.

This month, in order to try to answer that question, the The Not So Book Club Book Club decided to tackle books that were all made into movies. Two of the books’ movies had not been released yet, while one had already dominated a past awards season. All 3 books however, sported new book covers that mirrored their movie posters and included stickers that proudly declared “Now a feature film!”

To help address the issue at hand, I decided to power read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, and immediately follow it with the movie. I wanted the book to be so fresh in my mind that I’d be able to spot the differences faster than I would in a child’s Highlights magazine. I read for 2 days straight, finishing the book at 6PM and jumped right into the film at 6:30.

And right off the bat, I was struck by how frustrated I was by the changes in the film. The settings didn’t fit the landscapes my mind painted, the characters’ accents weren’t as drawn out as I expected from the southern heat, and the music felt too playful to be properly setting up the tension that would saturate the story. Even more so, I was bothered by the fact that subtlety fell by the wayside…hard. Instead of having the audience swim around the innermost thoughts of the 3 main characters, each and every motive had to be spelled out loud and clear. I found myself shouting things like “Skeeter would have never done this out in the open!” and “Minny wouldn’t have looked that worried! She was tougher than that!” My frustration mounted so high that the second the credits started to roll, I took to the Internet to feel the affirmation of fellow angry viewers. However, I was met with mainly positive reviews. People loved it and gushed about how it deserved all the accolades it received. So why did I take it so personally?

A few days after I watched the movie, I shared my thoughts with one of my close friends. She reminded me that despite her immense love of the Harry Potter series, she refused to watch the films. She went on to say, “Harry and his friends have been with me throughout all of my formative years. They have been like a family to me, and I just know I am not ready to watch my character family be portrayed in someone else’s vision.” And I think that was the thing that got me so hot and bothered about the movie watching experience— it was someone else’s vision.

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Harry Potter 3 ways. Here is a compilation of 3 different interpretations of what Harry’s second bedroom looked like. The first is by book cover artist Mary GrandPré, the second is by cartoonist Alec Longstreth, and the third is a still shot from the feature film Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

When we read, our mind meets the author halfway. The author gives us the words to construct the scenery and situations, but our own imaginations fill in the rest of the blanks. It’s because of this personal effort we feel so attached to what we read. We concoct our own perfect vision of the book, making it almost impossible for any two individuals see that same exact thing.

We also feel deeply attached to the characters. We read their deepest thoughts and feelings, and in doing so they become a part of us. When we see it acted out, we lose something. We lose a bit of that attachment because we become a viewer instead of a participant.

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What we see of the other person’s vision via film, and what we experience through our own experience reading the book.

Now that’s not to say these movies cannot be spectacular. They’re just another person’s view of the story, and despite how close it may be to your own, it will never be the exact picture your mind painted when you read the book.

So do movies help or hurt the reading experience? I think the answer is neither. It just shows us a different interpretation of the story we read and allows us to see someone else’s vision. And despite what people say, I think it’s impossible to say if the book is always better than the film, because it’s comparing apples to oranges— two great individual things that share similarities, but can never fully act as a substitute for the other.

A Note from your NSBCBC ringleader:

Dear NSBCBCers,

I truly hope you have been enjoying the experience of reading with me as much as I have enjoyed this experience with you! Together we have become a strong community of readers and I look forward to us growing in the months to come.

Make sure to check back next Tuesday to see what March’s NSBCBC reads are going to be and make sure to spread the word about the Not So Book Club Book Club!  The more people we have participating, the better the experience will be. Post your thoughts on our facebook wall (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc), instagram your reading experience using the #nsbcbc hashtag, and follow us on Twitter at @notsobookclub.

And most importantly, enjoy your reading experience!

Tons of love!

Nina Sclafani

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You Are What You Post – How Reading Changed the Way I Look at Social Media

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A snapshot of my Facebook lookback video. 10 years of glorious social media addiction captured in a 50 second video.

This past week, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary, and like myself I’m sure you only knew this because of the flood of lookback videos that filled your newsfeed. Like everyone else, I also took my stroll down memory lane and relived my years of social media-ing. I laughed at silly pictures and smiled at the collection of status updates that chronicled the biggest moments of my adult life. All in all, it was nice to see. As a snapshot of the past ten years, I was perfectly happy with it. Nothing too embarrassing. Nothing too schmultzy. It was a pretty decent representation of my life on Internet display.

Well actually, that’s not entirely true. There are things floating around the Internet from the early 2000’s that still manage to make my face turn red. For instance, my old Livejournal. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Livejournal, it was a site that functioned as an online diary (kind of like an early version of a blog). High schoolers would use it to spill their guts about crushes, day-to-day activities, and things they found funny or frustrating. But here’s the crazy thing—it was public. You wrote your most unedited and candid thoughts so your friends could read them. Going back and reading my own, it was clear—I had no tact. It was like someone cracked open my head and spilled out every thought my adolescent brain could muster. To call these journal entries embarrassing is an understatement. And then there was Webshots, which was the first place where my friends and I could publicly post pictures. It was filled to the brim with incriminating pictures of underage drinking and questionable fashion choices. But in some kind of Internet miracle, this past November Webshots wiped their data base clean and all photos that were once posted on the site no longer exist. Don’t believe me? Google yourself. That disastrous picture of you at a party in 2005? Gone!

I was lucky enough to make my poor Internet choices on sites that lost their popularity early on, but for those whose first crack at using social media was Facebook, they weren’t so lucky. With Facebook’s Timeline, every post you’ve ever made is readily available as long as you continue to scroll. For some people, you don’t even have to scroll very far down (or not at all) to find posts that portray them in a light less flattering, and this week in particular, I saw a few posts that really flaunted that. These were posts that went viral on Facebook and highlighted one of the biggest mistakes people make when using social media—posting without a discerning eye. These were posts that said more about the people who posted then I think was ever intended.

Shake My Head Moment #1: The Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Rumor

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Headlines only! Apparently no one bothered to check the source of this faux article which circulated around Facebook following the Sochi opening ceremony.

Numerous times this absurd headline found its way onto my newsfeed, and of all the talk slamming the Sochi Olympics, this one really took the cake. The headline read, “Man Responsible for Olympic Ring Mishap Found Dead in Sochi.” People were outraged, making comments like “what a f’ed up place Russia is,” and how they were “officially NOT watching or supporting these games anymore.” However, it was clear that these people A) Only read the headline, and B) Didn’t check the source of the article. They didn’t bother to read the actual article (where they would have found ridiculous fictional quotes throughout), and they didn’t bother to google “dailycurrant.com,” because had they done so, they would have read that it’s a fictional news blog. But the post was made and the damage was done.

Shake My Head Moment #2: Miley vs. Duck Dynasty

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So…. what is being said here? Sex is bad? Praying is cool? Homophobia is a sin? Miley is bad at dancing? Free speech for some?

Then there was this gem. Right off the bat this picture made me cringe and it only got worse when I read the comment threads. The comments were a mixed bag of anti-gay rants, pro-religious messages, and a few free-speech statements here and there.

For those of you may not remember, this past year Phil Robertson of the A&E’s Duck Dynasty got in hot water for insulting the black community, and for calling homosexuality a “sin” and not “logical” in an interview he did with GQ magazine. Following the interview, A&E decided to suspend Robertson from the show in order to distance the network from his opinions. A&E received backlash for their decision, with Internet bloggers and talking heads stating this violated Robertson’s “right to free speech,” and soon after, he was allowed back on the program. Since the controversy, according to Time Magazine, Nielsen ratings show the program has been steadily losing millions of viewers week after week. (http://entertainment.time.com/2014/01/23/duck-dynasty-takes-a-ratings-dive/).

However, you would never know any of that just by looking at the picture. What the picture shows is a family praying. It doesn’t actually address the issues that plagued the family following the GQ interview. So did the person who originally created this use this photo to say that we need more religion in our media, or did they use this picture to mask Robertson’s controversial opinion by depicting him solely as a religious family man? Clearly the people re-posting and adding to the comment thread couldn’t seem to figure that out either.

So, how does this connect to the Not So Book Club Book Club?

As English students, we were taught to read with a close eye and decipher the nuances of each story and character. Like detectives, we were taught to attack a story from numerous angles, and pick the text apart in order to fully understand it. We are introduced to new ways of looking at the world with each and every text we read, and those new perspectives stay with us as we function in the real world.

When I see a headline, I think like a reader and search for a credible source. When I see a statement photograph, I pick it apart as I would with a text and figure out who created it, why they created it, and who do they represent before I publicly form an opinion on it. Books have taught me be a critical reader, and have helped me better understand the millions of messages that are thrown at me on a daily basis.

When I look at a major platform like Facebook, I think of it as a high school auditorium. For a few seconds, that status update or article I posted is center stage, standing in front of a highly critical audience of “friends.” That post speaks on behalf of me regardless if  I’m posting something to be funny or to make a serious statement about how I feel. It tells the audience “this is who I am and this is what I believe.” And as long as I  approach my social media with the keen eye of a reader, only then can I fully represent myself to the best of my abilities.

Read more, think more, and represent yourself better.

You Do You – Satisfying the Different Parts of Your Personality with Books

In the same way that people have figurative skeletons in the closet, I have skeletons on my bookshelf. These are books that I once loved but now am slightly embarrassed about. Case and point: The Twilight series (I refuse to call it a “saga.” It’s just too much!)

Let us rewind to 2008. I was in the final semesters of my teaching program at Stony Brook University, and up to my neck in serious lit and education courses. I was also involved in a wonderful but long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now husband). My life bordered on being somewhat dull. It was a life filled with poetry I didn’t relate to, and phone conversations that recapped the monotony of our daily lives apart. Because of that, I began to long for some excitement. And so, in came the Twilight books.

Just like that, I fell into an exciting world filled with vampires, and werewolves, and Washington state (oh my!). I found myself involved in lengthy conversations about who I felt should be cast as Edward, and even went as far as creating a Facebook sticker (yes, these were once a thing) that said something along the lines of “I’d rather be dating Edward” (Good God Andrew, I’m so sorry).  And for the last nail in my Twilight-obsessed coffin, I went to the book release party at Barnes and Noble for “Breaking Dawn” sporting a Twilight t-shirt!

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2008 – Here I am with my beautiful friend Alison, sippin’ on pure sugar “Edward” slushies, fully decked out in Twilight t-shirts, because that’s how you do Saturday night! No regrets!

Now, although I write this with a face that is slightly red from embarrassment, I have to be honest—at the time, those books were a lot of fun and gave me what I needed. With my boyfriend living 4 hours away and my days spent in the classroom, I craved excitement and romance, and I found that within the pages of the series.

Fast forward to 2014, although I pretend to have refined my taste in literature, I still essentially do the same thing. I feed my mind and soul what it wants. Last month, I wanted to experience what it felt like to be in outer space, so I picked up “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” by Col. Chris Hadfield. This month, I wanted to quench my yucky need for gossip, so I read “Most Talkative” by Bravo executive and host Andy Cohen. With each book, I satisfied a part of my personality that yearned for that element. (Sidenote: It’s a lot better to pick up a book and fulfill one’s need for gossip, rather than invite that sort of thing into your real life. Truth!)

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My spirit animals, Donna and Tom from Parks and Rec, reminding us all that it’s OK to “treat yo self” to what you want…. even if that treat is a book that is widely panned by critics and friends alike.

I’ve learned to accept that it’s OK to like what you like, and that you should always feel free to read what you want because 1. You’re reading (which is fantastic) and 2. You’re satisfying something that your mind is craving. Although I don’t really relate to the Twilight books anymore, there was a time that I did. They gave me what my mind needed and so I’m thankful for those books. I’m grateful for Twilight! (I never thought I’d hear myself say that… at least publicly).

And so in short, I suppose if there’s a lesson to be had, it would be that no matter what a critic says about a book you love, or no matter how bad your friends make fun of you for liking a book, you should never feel ashamed for liking what you like, because there is no better judge for a book than you.

– Nina Sclafani

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You do you! Satisfy your needs and embrace what you like!

February’s Reads – Why These Books?

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February’s NSBCBC books! Notice a theme? They’re all books that have been turned into movies!

It’s that wonderful time again! Time to introduce the new books for the NSBCBC! Every month, I love narrowing down the choices and then unveiling the books to my Not So Book Clubbers, but as always it was a difficult decision to make.

I’ve been struggling to find ways to reach a wider audience. Sure, there are book people—people who will read just about anything because it’s their passion. And then there are the readers who stick to their preferred genres. We have the sci-fi junkies, the non fiction fanatics, the YA  lovers—the list goes on and on. (It’s like the opening scene of any high school comedy, where the new kid is introduced to the student body by their sassy new friend who refers to each group by their clique-y name.)

But the biggest challenge lies in reaching the people who just don’t like to read at all. So how could I get them to read?

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South Park perfectly captures my feelings sometimes. I feel no shame for this.

After a lot of brainstorming, I thought back to a discussion I had with a friend in which she mentioned that she was reading “The Great Gatsby.” She said the only reason she was reading it was because Baz Luhrman was turning it into a film. She went on to say that majority of the books she chose to read were because they were made into movies, and I knew she is wasn’t alone. Walk into any Barnes and Noble in search of a book that’s being turned into a movie and you’ll see a million copies ready for customers because they know it’s a hot item.

Not long after that brainstorm session, numerous friends sent me a Buzzfeed list of books that were being released as movies this year. And so, with that list being the final straw (no worries. It’s a good straw), it was decided that February would be the month of the movie.

1. “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert M. Edsel

Lately I have been feeling like I don’t know enough about world history. It was a subject I thoroughly enjoyed in school, but post high school it didn’t find its way into my life all that much. Now as an adult with an innate desire to learn, I thought this would be a perfect place to start.

The story focuses on “a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men” as they “risked their lives scouring Europe” to save incredible art that Adolf Hitler deemed “despicable.”

The film comes out on February 7, and features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Bill Murray, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchet, and John Goodman.

2. “Divergent” by Veronica Roth

The hit YA novel was recommended to me by my cousin a while back. I’ve had it sitting on my night stand waiting to be read for months. However, it was only when Kate Winslet signed on for the movie that I thought “Hey, if a smart lady like that thinks there’s something to it, I better see what all the fuss is about.” (Note: Dear cousin, I adore you and also think you are a smart lady. It’s just… you know…. Kate Winslet. She has an Oscar for goodness sake! So, my sincere apologies to you for not reading it sooner.)

The book tells the story of a teenage girl living in a futuristic society, in which she finds out she has a special mind and attracts unwanted attention by an authority that wants to have her (and others like her) destroyed.

The movie comes out March 21, and stars Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet.

3. “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

This is another book that was recommended to me by numerous people for a very long time, however I never wanted to read it until recently. Because the Oscar nominated film was released back in 2011, a lot of people have already read it. However, for those of you who are late to the party like myself, we have even more incentive to read it—it’s readily available!  Don’t believe me? Go to your library. Both book and dvd will be lining the shelves.

“The Help” (told by our aspiring writer protagonist) details the relationships between African-American house workers and their white employers during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

“The film received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress for Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, and a win for Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.”- wikipedia

Share your thoughts about the books on our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc?ref=hl), and share your reading pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #nsbcbc.

Happy reading everyone!

– Nina Sclafani

Where My Girls At? Finding Strong and Empowered Women in Media and Literature

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If only “Women” was a one syllable word.

I guess this all started for me in early December. I went on a weekend trip to Boston with my sister and decided after a day of walking miles in the cold, to stay in, relax, and spend the night reading in the hotel. Despite my best efforts not to, with my book in hand, I gave in to temptation and hopped on Facebook one last time for the night. Lo and behold, rising to the top of my newsfeed begging to be watched, was a video titled “How the Media Failed Women in 2013,” and just like that, reading took a back seat. Within the first 5 seconds I was hypnotized by what I was watching. What began as a montage of celebratory moments for women slowly gave way to the crushing onslaught of misogynistic talking heads and gag-worthy marketing campaigns. By the end, I found myself with tears in my eyes, feeling slightly embarrassed that a 3 minute video could make me so clearly see things I had passively accepted all year round. The only thing I could do was repost. So repost I did.

A few days later, Beyonce dropped her surprise self-titled album (which you know I immediately purchased the second I heard it dropped… at 7:20 AM that morning, thank you very much). And there they were again. Messages of female empowerment soulfully being sung over the beats that were making me dance wildly around my house (at what was now 8AM). Come time for the track “Flawless,” in which Beyonce used a sample from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, I was a goner. Standing on my couch waving the flag of female pride to an audience of my dog, I felt a movement was beginning, and I wanted to be a part of it.

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Sisters are doin’ it for themselves….
Disney’s latest princesses, Anna and Elsa from Frozen, continue Disney’s newest trend of allowing females to take charge and be the hero.

It all got me thinking about how females were portrayed on the shows I watch. Strong female characters like Anna Gunn’s incredible Skyler White from Breaking Bad, and Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones came to mind. Sure, both characters were flawed, but they fought against forces that were out of their control, and slowly were able to build lives for themselves (hell, one even built an army). In the movies, there was a lot to celebrate too. Disney’s Frozen is completely driven by two powerful, sarcastic, intelligent, and funny women. And spoiler alert, the prince doesn’t get to save the day in this one. The women come together, and save each other. These are the images that are coming out of the best quality work in television and film right now, and I believe it’s because this is what we are starting to finally crave.

For so long, our stories have been dominated by male heros. Superman, Batman, Thor—all of the women in these stories were mere accessories. And our Disney princess stories? Although I love them all dearly, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty literally sleep through the climaxes of their stories, as a their respective princes come to save the day! I can’t possibly be the only one who thinks it’s time for a change.

For those who have been participating in the Not So Book Club Book Club, I’m sure you’ve begun to notice that quite a few of the books were stories that were driven by powerful females. This was not done by mistake. “Blood, Bones, and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton and “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern were stories of women defying traditional gender stereotypes and not only succeeding, but becoming some of the most celebrated women in their respected fields. Eli Brown’s “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” took that a step further by making his anti-hero Hannah Mabbot the strong leader and captain of a pirate ship in which every person working for her was male! With every page I read, these characters made me feel proud to be a woman, and motivated me to further find my voice in regards to gender equality.

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From left to right: Gabrielle Hamilton, chef owner of NYC’s Prune and writer of “Blood, Bones, and Butter.” Celia Bowen, the fictional heroine and sorceress from Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.” Hannah Mabbot, Eli Brown’s female pirate and captain extraodinaire from “Cinnamon and Gunpowder.”

I have chosen to make sure that when I have a child one day, my daughter or son will hear stories like these. Their lives will be filled with stories of girls and boys (and men and women!) defying the odds and challenging the world if the world is unjust. But I can’t wait until whenever that will be to start making a difference. So I must start now by celebrating the strong female today and by defying the gender roles that have been keeping us in our little boxes for years.

I encourage you to further educate yourself about these issues, as I myself will be doing the same. Seek books and films that promote powerful women, share stories of women breaking boundaries, and support those who attempt to make positive change.

– Nina Sclafani

To see what inspired me, visit: http://therepresentationproject.org/miss-rep-videos, and http://film.missrepresentation.org/

So What Did You Do Today? A Honest Look at the Life of an Unemployed Reader

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It had to be a selfie due to my dog’s lack of picture-taking knowledge and because I’m not crazy enough (yet) to think I can pull characters out of books to do my bidding.

2013 was really working out to be a stellar year. I had a new job, a new house, a wedding on the way, and a dream honeymoon booked for Thailand. Everything was falling into place. And then at the end of August, I got dealt quite a blow. 3 weeks before my wedding, my company made major cuts to the staff and fired 10% of the employees. Just as quickly as it came, I was let go from a job that I loved.

With the wedding 3 weeks away, I didn’t have time to dwell. I focused all my energy on the upcoming nuptials and when that was done, I focused solely on the honeymoon. Throughout that time, people would ask if I was nervous about how I’d feel when life slowed down, but I would respond that I wasn’t concerned. I was too wrapped up in all the fun. However, upon my return from Thailand, I began to feel it —the isolation from the world around me. The loneliness that comes without being able to chat with coworkers and the laziness that creeps into your body when you lack structure in your day.

I would soon find myself with unkempt hair, spending entire days in pajamas. I’d look at the clock, and the hours would simultaneously fly by when I yearned to be productive, and be painfully slow while I awaited my husband’s arrival. Unfortunately, even today I am still struggling to fight this. It’s been about 4 months since the layoff, and though I’m still searching for more structure to my days, I’ve been able to turn to my books for a place of solace.

Everyday when my husband asks how my day was and what I did, I almost feel hesitant to answer. To him, the answer would be that I sat on the couch and read, and then I read while I cooked dinner, and then read in our bed while drinking coffee. To me, I traveled back in time to the 1950’s and visited Kabul, Afghanistan. I flew to Paris and interviewed an Afghani-Parisian poet just days before her death. I lived in California with a doctor and his family while he tried to justify the life he led. I cried at the sorrows I heard and laughed at the things that brought my new companions joy. I learned, felt empathy, and felt motivated, all by the characters of a book. To me, I felt as though I spent the day living with purpose. I no longer felt alone.

That is the gift of literature, and it is this magical quality that I will never stop loving about the experience of reading. When we read we become students of life. These books can transport us through time and space, and introduce us to people we would have never met otherwise. It is through them that we are given the opportunity to think and feel, and question the opinions we have. And perhaps it is this opportunity, and the ability to fully embrace it, that is the silver lining to losing what I had.