Taylor Goes to White Castle

Ask my dad for his favorite restaurants, and he’d probably list off some classic chains in our area. Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Bahama Breeze. Local BBQs in Memphis. Some restaurants from his travels. But somewhere down the line, he’d say White Castle. He mentioned White Castle so much that, as a kid, the restaurant began to take on a mythical quality for me. What’s so good about White Castle anyway?

Any discussion of White Castle can’t be had without a discussion of Krystal. 

Krystal is the Southern and, according to my dad, lesser equivalent of White Castle. White Castle occupies the northern half of the United States, and Krystal occupies the South. My dad grew up with White Castle in Columbus, Ohio, and I grew up with Krystal.

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I used to volunteer as a juror at Orange County Teen Court for community service hours. I was a good student with college ambitions, so after going to the courthouse for my requisite 3 hours, my dad and I would stop by Krystal for dinner. He would order the cheeseburger sliders, and I would order the Chiks (their chicken slider) and my favorite, the chili cheese fries. These fries were mediocre in every way, from the lukewarm chili and barely melted cheese to the soggy fries and packet of salad-grade Ranch that I doused on it. It was perfect.

The area around Krystal was a little dodgy. The location (and the brand, for that matter) looked like it hadn’t been updated in decades. But it was perfect.

Some years later, I took my boyfriend to Krystal and we ordered that exact meal. I talked it up, telling him that my family loved to pick up 30+ Chiks for special occasion dinners at home, that the leftover sandwiches (of which there were always many) reheated well for lunch the next day, that the chili cheese fries were my absolute favorite, etc.

He takes a bite and remarks, probably in polite terms, that this food isn’t good. I take a bite, ponder, and find myself agreeing. Yeah, this food isn’t that good.

My chili cheese fries now seemed revolting. I had long recognized that the fries weren’t the best, but back then, the sum had been greater than their parts, and it was just a guilty pleasure anyway.

At some point during our meal, I think I tried to defend Krystal’s honor, but it was automatic, a muscle memory built up from years of practice. The magic was gone.

Enter: White Castle. I had been to a White Castle once before. On vacation with my family in 2015, I went to the location in Las Vegas, my dad eager to make a visit to one of his favorite chain restaurants even while in this wonderland city of unlimited choice.

However, I can’t remember the food.  I had a massive nosebleed at the Las Vegas White Castle. The arid climate did not agree with my Florida sensibilities, so I spent most of the meal holding wads of tissue to my face. Strangers stared.

A few years later, though, White Castle finds its way back to me. I am recently unemployed and single, living alone in a new neighborhood in Chicago. I still haven’t developed a daily routine, preferring to stay up very late, wake up very early, snack in lieu of meals, and spend hours refreshing Twitter because I can. My cat is a wonderful conversationalist.

I went to White Castle for lunch yesterday, a weekday. I live about a 20 minute’s walk from the restaurant. The first time I saw it, I did a double take. White Castle had never been a place I just happened on, so I immediately texted my parents a picture. My dad told my mom to bring some back in her suitcase when she visited soon.

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Here’s a rundown of what I ordered at White Castle:

Medium Drink ($2.19)

According to the sign on the window, White Castle had only recently acquired a Coke Freestyle machine. Surprisingly, this was more expensive than the food.

Cheese Fries ($2.19)

Classic, crispy crinkle-cut fries topped with the exact kind of nacho cheese you’d get at a fair, movie theater, or high school concession stand. It’s a good thing I dig that. Also, it’s cheap, which was the refrain that kept running through my mind as I continued my meal.

Chicken Breast with Cheese Slider ($1.79)

This is where the bargaining started. I took a bite and thought, this is okay! For the price. Good if you need cheap food. Good if you happen to be in the area and need cheap food. But it’s not as tasty as the McDonald’s McChicken, which is $1. And the barely melted American cheese slice is kind of offensive. But it’s cheap.

American Cheese Slider ($0.95)

The burger slider is the main attraction at White Castle, with its thin patty, American cheese, grilled onions, and crisp pickle. The regular slider, without the cheese, is famously only $0.77. But I don’t think you can make the argument that this is a good burger. My dad has even said that it’s “no Five Guys.” The patty was thin, bland, and soggy. It didn’t even resemble a burger, wasn’t in the same category. What’s the point?

Impossible Slider with Smoked Cheddar ($1.99)

The Impossible Slider is a new addition to the menu, having only been introduced in the past week. White Castle is the first fast food restaurant to get this vegan meat alternative, this meat that “bleeds.” It was one of the reasons why I had set out to White Castle that day. I wanted to see if it was worth the hype.

Verdict: Honestly, it’s better than the original slider. Better than the actual beef. The texture just feels meatier. Though a bit dry and bland, it has a chewiness not unlike a black bean patty. The slider also held a slice of smoked cheddar, which was a marked improvement over the American cheese.

Total: $7.98

I wouldn’t say this is good food. Upon looking at my notebook, I laughed because I had scrawled the comment “I feel greasy” at the bottom of the page right before leaving the restaurant. It’s not wholesome. There are better fast food options.

But—here it comes again—it’s cheap. Those prices are hard to beat.

And I can’t say that I didn’t feel a strong dose of nostalgia when I took my sandwiches out of their small, paper boxes, and stacked them on the tray like I was a kid.

I am a financially independent adult living more than a thousand miles from home, who cooks her own meals and takes herself out to restaurants as she pleases. I no longer need my parents to feed me. I rely on my own tastes to dictate what I eat.

But wasn’t that nice, at least a little bit? As a kid, I didn’t have a sense of shame or irony in relation to food. Food was food. I didn’t justify my enjoyment of greasy food with reasons like “it’s cheap,” “it’s my cheat day lol,” or “I deserve this.” I didn’t even have to think the meal was particularly good compared to other options. It was just there, and my parents had gotten it—for me.

I wish I could turn my brain off sometimes. I don’t want to dislike White Castle or Krystal. I don’t want to turn up my nose at them for being what they are or even make concessions like “being what they are.” Recognizing that is recognition that I’m an adult. Sometimes I don’t want that.

I’m going back to Orlando to visit my family next week, the first time since Christmas. I know my mom and dad read this blog, so I’ll go ahead and ask here: Can we go to Krystal and get some chicken sandwiches? Let’s get the chili cheese fries too. I know you don’t like them, but I do. They’re my favorite.

2018 Book Challenge: April Update

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I’m a quarter of the way through my 2018 book challenge! This year’s goal was 40, and three months in, I have read 13 books.

The past couple months have been full of scary and exciting changes. In February, I quit my full-time advertising job. I worked at an amazing company for two years and enjoyed my time there, but now I’m looking for an opportunity that’s a better fit for me long term. As poet Francois Rabelais put it, I “go to seek a Great Perhaps.” As a modern teenager would put it, YOLO.

As such, I didn’t finish any books in February. But I have read 9 since leaving, some of which have already become my favorites. I’ve gotten so book-crazy that I’ve taken to borrowing e-books from my previous beau, the Orange Country Library System, in order to circumvent the 5-hold maximum that the Chicago Public Library has so violently imposed on me.

In this interlude between jobs, I’ve also taken the time to rededicate myself to writing and literature for my own enjoyment. I’ve gotten the chance to attend readings from authors like André Aciman, Elif Batuman, Martin Amis, and Hanif Abdurraqib, and I have a lot more readings, book launches, and open mics I plan on going to in the next couple months.

Anyway, onto the reviews!


Nonfiction

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The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money by Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage

I’ve been following The Financial Diet since it was a personal Tumblr blog from Chelsea Fagan, a writer that I’d been following for years. TFD was my introduction to personal finance, and I can honestly say that it has demystified money for me. It got me used to the concepts of budgeting, paying myself first, living below my means, saving for a rainy day, cooking instead of buying takeout or prepared foods.

As I mentioned above, I quit my job without a backup and now I’m living off my savings until I find a career that’s more meaningful to me. I never would’ve been able to take that risk, to bet on myself, without the lessons I learned from this site.

As for the book, I think it’s a great primer for people who are new to personal finance concepts. In addition to learning about budgets, investing, mortgages, etc., you’ll also find guides on how to talk to your friends about money and what ingredients you can use to jump-start your kitchen. It’s witty, honest, and offers a refreshing outlook on money and living a balanced life.

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Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff 

I am a dirty, coastal-elite, fake-news, snowflake, feminazi, safe-space-loving Democrat. No one was more seduced by the promise of a tell-all book about the Trump administration than I was. I’m a serial library user but I bought this one the day it came out.

I came into this book knowing most of the major players, as I follow politics pretty closely. But even so, I was surprised at the disarray that the White House seemed to be in. Competing power centers, constant leaking, nonexistent structure, all serviced by a total lack of coherent ideology. According to the author, no one from the Trump campaign believed that they would win until they did, so I guess that’s what you get.

I will say that you should take this book with a grain of salt. The author’s accounts and portrayal of the main players have mostly have lined up with what reputable outlets have been saying for the past two years. But there’s a lot of surprising stories and quotations in here that are completely unsourced. Ivanka said X to her father behind closed doors, but according to who? Steve Bannon? It’s important to keep in mind that everyone interviewed for this book has an agenda, and while 99% of it rings true to what I’ve read about the administration, it’s hard to know from Michael Wolff’s journalism style what is fact and what is just pure sniping between political foes.

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The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

I’ve been following Cait Flanders’ blog for years, so I was excited to pick this one up. Here, Cait writes about how she got out of consumer debt, embarked on a year-long shopping ban, and embraced minimalism and mindfulness. I will warn you that this is more of a memoir than the self-help guide that the title suggests. If you’re looking for concrete advice, I recommend reading her blog instead of this book. She goes into detail about her struggles with shopping, food, and alcohol in this book, which may not be valuable to you if you’re just seeking budgeting advice.

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We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

Probably the funniest and most authentic memoir I’ve ever read. Samantha Irby is incredibly versatile, whether it’s submitting an honest application to the Bachelorette in one essay and writing about her experience spreading her deceased father’s ashes in the next. This book is pretty much perfect, in my opinion. 

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Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness by Shasta Nelson

I read this on my friend Cat’s recommendation, and man, if you are a person who has any friends at all, you should read this. There’s a lot of value to be mined from this book, particularly the author’s three pillars of friendship framework. You could argue that the concepts in this book are no-brainers, and you know, yes, I knew on an intellectual level that being vulnerable is important in building a relationship. But sometimes you need that affirmation. 

A few quotes:

  • “Relationship work is a form of exercise that we do to keep healthy.”
  • “I will take responsibility for bringing my best self to this relationship.”
  • “Positivity must outweigh negativity in a relationship 5:1.”
  • “It’s a sign of maturity to schedule time with people without needing to know if the relationship will grow or not. It’s the practice of nonattachment, trusting that we will be blessed anytime we have the privilege of sitting with humanity.”

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So Much I Want to Tell You: Letters to My Little Sister by Anna Akana 

I’m a big fan of Anna Akana’s YouTube videos, but I didn’t expect this book to get so real. This memoir covers how she coped with her sister’s suicide, abusive relationships, binge eating, professional mistakes, and struggles with Internet fame. However, it’s not all negative—she goes into detail about how she got started with comedy/YouTube and offers advice on how to pursue your own creative projects, which I found inspiring since I’ve started writing more seriously.

I haven’t read any other memoirs from YouTubers, but I highly doubt that they go as deep as this one did.

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Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need by Margot Leitman

I picked this up on a whim while at the Amazon bookstore on Southport. I can’t go to a bookstore anymore without walking out $40 poorer. Maybe I like shiny new objects. Maybe it’s the deep deprivation I feel when waiting for the Chicago Public Library to just fulfill my damn holds already.

At any rate, this book was full of advice and prompts for telling great stories. It was a nice catalyst for me in the times that I felt uninspired, silently screaming to the void, “What do I even write about?!” This book is geared more toward the layman than the aspiring comedian, so if you work in a field that concerns storytelling or just want to be a better conversationalist, I highly recommend picking this one up.


Fiction

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Chemistry by Weike Wang

What a stunning novel. I read it in a single sitting. It’s from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, a Chinese-American grad student who studies chemistry and has come to a crossroads in life. Woven into the narrative are anecdotes from her Chinese upbringing and commentary on the scientific phenomena that parallels her life as she leaves everything  behind. I typically don’t like stories that keep the reader at such a distance, but I thought this experimental, minimalist style worked.

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 The Idiot by Elif Batuman

For the first couple weeks upon finishing this book, I believed that it would actually ruin me for other books.

In The Idiot, Selin is a Harvard freshman and a Turkish immigrant who begins an email correspondence with a classmate, one that will eventually take her to the Hungarian countryside to find herself. This is a book about discovery, first love, and figuring out where you fit in life.

I recognize that some stretches of The Idiot were tedious. It’s a slow burn of a book that is sometimes painstaking in recounting Selin’s everyday life in academia and in Hungary. But so much of it was beautiful and witty and absurd that it doesn’t really matter to me. I think this book came to me at the right point in my life. It’s now one of my favorites.

The author visited Northwestern a couple months ago, and hearing her speak was so inspiring. Have you ever met someone and just been in awe of how…worldly they are? It’s knowledge, it’s thoughtfulness, it’s experience. But it’s also mysterious, a quality that defies explanation. Whatever it may be, she’s great and you should read her book.

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Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

This book had some good ideas and an interesting premise, but the storytelling itself was so abstract that I couldn’t make sense of what was going on or what anything looked like. I rushed to finish this book before I watched the movie. The movie ended up being a lot more exciting in my opinion, though I do think that the main character’s ethos (and what made her interesting) was lost in translation.

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Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

I read this book after I watched the movie and attended the author’s reading. While there was a disparity in my opinion of Annihilation (book vs. movie), I didn’t feel that way with Call Me By Your Name. The book and movie portray the same story in drastically different ways, but it feels more harmonious than anything.

The book is intensely interior, filled with descriptions of the scenery and the main character’s longing. The movie, however, is quiet and atmospheric; you come to understand the characters’ love for each other more by what they don’t say than by what they do say. This article goes into more detail about this conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers.

I found that the book did drag, especially since I already knew what would happen. In fact, when Elio was describing his love for Oliver at the very beginning of the story, I wondered where the novel could even go; it felt like the first 30 pages had already covered the entire plot from the movie. But the author’s prose is so beautiful and intoxicating that I almost feel like the plot didn’t matter, that the journey—and not the destination—was the point.

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I really wanted to love this book, but I only sort of liked it. Crazy Rich Asians is about an Asian American woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family for the first time. But what her boyfriend neglects to mention is his family’s extreme wealth—the mansions, the private planes, the endless media coverage.

This was a fun story and a departure from what I usually read. The details of this lifestyle—the fashion, the travels, the homes—are really where the book shines. But in the end, I couldn’t get over the awful dialogue and the undeveloped main characters. I waited the entire book for Rachel and Nick to develop distinctive personality traits. It never happened.

I don’t plan on finishing out the series, but I have high hopes for the movie. This story is probably better shown than told anyway.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. This is a captivating story about suburban life, with insights on motherhood, art, identity, and race. I read most of it in one sitting, staying up until 2:30 am because I had to know how it ended.

One of the plots centers around an adopted Chinese baby and the custody battle that ensues between the birth mother and the adoptive parents. When I read this on the book jacket, I thought I would know immediately which side I fell on, since I was an adopted Chinese baby myself. But I found myself as conflicted as the townspeople in the story.

I loved how complex the characters were, how they felt like fully imagined human beings. Even more impressive is how the author was able to look upon each of them with sympathy and generosity. That takes a lot of skill, and I can’t wait to read Celeste Ng’s other book.


I have a pretty hefty list of books I would still like to read this year. I want to keep exploring recent literary fiction while also filling in some huge gaps. Like, how can I say I like books when I haven’t even read Jane Austen or Vladimir Nabokov? You have my permission to shame me in the comments.

To-Read

Lastly, feel free to add me on Goodreads! Send me recommendations through whatever medium you prefer! I love hearing about the books you’re reading.

2018 Reading Challenge

2018 Reading Challenge
Taylor has
read 13 books toward
her goal of
40 books.
hide

2017 in Books

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Every New Years, I make a resolution to read more books. And in the past 3 years I’ve been doing it, I’m proud to say that I’ve met those goals each time, passing the finish line while letting my other well-intentioned resolutions fall into obscurity (I have not stepped into a gym in 2 years, and my retainer is actually disintegrating as we speak).

In 2017, I aimed to read 30 books and ended up with 32! Mostly nonfiction, with some YA and sci-fi sprinkled in. Last year’s reading spanned a wide range of topics, from institutional racism to alien adventures to the inner mechanisms of the Oval Office. I’m trying to read more widely, with an eye toward better understanding and empathizing with people different than me.

In the back half of the year, I read a lot more self-help books and memoirs than I normally do. I feel a tinge of shame for not reading stuff that’s more “serious” and intellectually challenging, but these past 6 months have been rough. Like, feeling-like-a-loser, questioning-your-entire-life, sitting-listlessly-on-the-couch-while-watching-the-best-years-of-your-life-tick-by rough. Sometimes you need to indulge in stuff that doesn’t require anything from you, and if that means reading another Marie Kondo book, then so be it.

Below I’ve listed all the books I read this year and sprinkled in some ~premium editorial commentary~. I denoted my favorite books of the year with asterisks.

Also, shout out to the Chicago Public Library for furnishing almost every book listed below. Get yourself a library card!

Fiction

Watchmen by Alan Moore *** Like many of you, I’ve seen and enjoyed the Zack Snyder adaptation of this. But holy shit, I still couldn’t put it down. I think about this novel all the time.

Life, The Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams – Weirdly disappointing. It has a lot of the same familiar beats as the previous Hitchhiker books, but not the heart or the humor.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers – Many reviewers accurately compare this to Waiting for Godot. It’s a “moment in time” kind of book about a businessman trying to close a business deal in Saudi Arabia, but to no avail. It’s also a really boring book. It had some interesting reflections on globalism, but I found myself skimming through it. It took a while for me to unpack my thoughts on this book (despite the meh-experience while reading it), and I realized that it was because Dave Eggers is a “serious” literary author, and disliking a “serious” literary book perhaps meant that I didn’t get it. I got it — I just didn’t like it.

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – First time I’d revisited Fitzgerald since high school. This book was more of a slow-burn than a sweeping narrative like Gatbsy. Fascinating characters. This has been on my list for years, and it didn’t disappoint.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick – Going to say I really enjoyed this book and its ideas, while also caveating that Phillip K. Dick is not good at ending stories. I read this book before watching Blade Runner and ended up not liking Blade Runner. Go figure.

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick – Same point as above. I haven’t seen the Amazon show though.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – I knew the plot going in, but still a very sad story.

I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin – I came into this book knowing that the characters were essentially stand-ins for both Gaby and Allison, but still loved it and thought it was so clever and relatable. Yes, it maybe suffers from the YA trope of characters being too smart for their age, but that has never bothered me (also, like, please have some faith in young people?). I loved how mental illness and LGBTQ+ identities were treated within the book.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green *** – The plot as a whole was kind of under-whelming, but I’ve never read a YA book about mental illness as good as this one. It was instantly relatable, gracious to all of its characters, and I keep thinking about this line from the very first chapter: “You think you’re the painter, but you’re the canvas.”

And We’re Off by Dana Schwartz – Whimsical, light-hearted, and familiar to anyone with a mom. The premise reminded me of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, but its self-awareness and focus on the mother/daughter relationship made it distinct enough. I got into this book because Dana is hilarious on Twitter and seems like a person I would totally be friends with.

The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – This sequel just didn’t cut it. I’ve read Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares every Christmas for like 6 years, but I didn’t think it was necessary to continue the story.

“Serious” Non-Fiction

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall – Unique story about competitive running and the Tarahumara people, but it went on for way too long and I got the sense that the author sensationalized a lot of details from historical events he wasn’t present for. Also, what’s with the entire chapter about the benefits of barefoot running?

The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Y. Moore *** – In Chicago, I live and work in very white, very yuppie neighborhoods. And every time the South Side is mentioned, someone grimaces. They say it’s not safe, they say you’ll get shot, as if the entire swath below The Loop is unilaterally a warzone. I don’t think anyone I work with goes down there. I honestly can’t say I’m better, as someone who’s only been to, like, Hyde Park and Bridgeport. This book changed the way I thought about the South Side, diving into the racial injustices that have torn some of its communities apart. The news loves to talk about the gun violence in the city, but doesn’t stop to consider the environmental factors that have contributed to such a climate. I also appreciated that this was written by a South Side native, so she was able to talk about her own experiences growing up and what activists are doing on the ground-level.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly – I watched the movie and immediately bought this book at Barnes & Noble. Engaging, though not strictly necessary if you’ve seen the film. 

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay – Super smart. Necessary for anyone who has viewed their twenties as a stage of prolonged adolescence. I say this with no judgment, because everyone is kind of a hot mess at this age, at some point.

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim – Until reading this book, I didn’t fully understand the extent to which the North Korean people were oppressed and forced into an alternate reality. And even though this is only microcosm of North Korean life (wealthy sons at a private school), I still found it fascinating and helpful in adding context to current events.

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple *** – Well-researched, engaging, and easy to follow. Non-partisan too! I think it’s necessary reading for anyone who’s interested in politics and wants a closer look behind the curtain.

How-To

The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe by Anuschka Rees *** – This is not a well-publicized fact about me, but I love reading fashion blogs, seeing people’s #OOTDs, and putting together outfits. Style is important to me and something I actively try to improve. I read this book at the beginning of 2017, and while I didn’t completely follow the workbook challenges, it actually did help me pinpoint my style and focus my spending on items that mattered. 

Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By And Get Your Financial Life Together by Erin Lowry – Great beginner’s guide for anyone who considers themselves “not good with money.” Full of practical advice on money management, loans, credit cards, etc. If you’ve found “adulting” and managing your finances to be a struggle, read this book.

Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown – Adored her previous book, but I found myself speeding through this one out of boredom.

Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin – Going to start this out by saying that yes, it may be true that Gretchen Rubin is privileged, mega-wealthy, obsessive, and all the things that anonymous Amazon reviewers say about her– but honestly, she’s the best. I took pages worth of notes from this book and found it to be a nice jolt of motivation in an otherwise-unpleasant season for me. I’ve also read The Happiness Project from her and will probably be picking up her new book, The Four Tendencies (which was inspired by ideas from this book). Also, her obsessive nature reminds me of myself, so take that for what you will.

How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer’s Secrets for Making your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing by Alison Freer – I mentioned above that I consume a lot of fashion-related content. There’s a ton of insider tips here that I’d never heard before, and I feel like that’s saying something. Also, she preaches about the enormous value of a steamer, and while I haven’t gone out and bought a steamer yet….maybe I will. 

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up kind of changed my life. How I maintain and value my possessions now, along with how I buy things, is directly a result of reading Marie Kondo’s book two years ago (more on this in a later post? Question mark?). This sequel is a nice continuation of her philosophy; if you can think of the first book as the strategy part, this is the tactics part, where you learn how to fold clothes (illustrations included), organize everything in your house, and maintain items that are useful but don’t “spark joy.” 

How to Speak Cat: A Guide to Decoding Cat Language (National Geographic) by Aline Alexander Newman and Gary Weitzman, D.V.M. – My cat sitter gave this to me. I don’t know what that says about my animal parenting skills or the state of my cat. Also, this is an actual kids’ book. 

Memoirs

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood & Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi *** – A very specific genre I am now obsessed with is graphic novel memoirs. Persepolis is stunning, insightful, heart-breaking, and inspiring. 

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick – I didn’t really expect much out of this book, but Anna Kendrick was so honest and hilarious in this. If it turns out this was ghostwritten by a random, I will be heartbroken.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco – A memoir from former deputy chief of staff to President Obama. Loved this inside look into the White House. She’s also a frequent guest on Pod Save America, in case you’re a Friend of the Pod.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay *** – I love Roxane Gay, and now I want to read all of her other books.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley – Another graphic novel memoir. Very quirky and nostalgic. At the end of each chapter, she includes an illustrated recipe. I now have an extensive list of foods I want to make.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life & Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal *** – If I had to pick my absolute favorite book of the year, it’d be Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. Full of heart-warming, sometimes mundane, anecdotes about life. I think I read this in one sitting at a coffee shop, and I left it feeling full of life and appreciation. Amy passed away from cancer in early 2017 (read her viral Modern Love essay), and I wish I’d read her books earlier so I could’ve had the chance to meet her. Her children’s books are also adorable, but you didn’t hear that from me. :)

This year, I plan on reading 40 books, which is a number I haven’t hit since I was a kid. I want to read more literary fiction and more travel memoirs. Also, I say this every year, but maybe I’ll finally get to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Lolita.

What are some of the best books you read last year? Leave your recommendations in the comments!