Almost 5 years ago, Estelle & Magan met at a wedding — where M was the photographer and E was a bridesmaid for her best friend's big day. We talked about books for under five minutes, and a friendship was born.
Since then, we’ve shared our love of books, Zac Efron, and shopping on this blog, changed jobs, had babies, moved, visited DC and Disney World together, and constantly stayed connected -- despite the miles between us. RBR has been the our own version of a coffee date, our way to mark the time before we can hang out and gab in person again. Thanks for spending time with us. xoxo
There’s this scene in the first season of Dawson’s Creek. Joey Potter, “the too-tall girl from the wrong side of the creek”, enters a stage behind a line of girls who are smiling with their teeth and wearing sequin-y dresses. Joey’s dress is sleek and simple. Her hair, which normally sits on her shoulders and behind her ears, is swept up in a bun. She’s wearing brown lipstick and instead of smiling big, she does the side smile. It’s a little shy, a little serious, and a little like “what the heck am I really doing up here”. With the fluttery plinks of music in the background, Joey walks on that stage among a crowd of people who are undoubtably judging her but, in the back of the room, her best friend adjusts a camera. He even nudges the camera guy out of the way to truly focus. Because after years of friendship awe falls across his face. Could this be? Is this the Joey Potter he always knew? Suddenly, everything has changed.
This moment solidifies so many of the reasons I connected with this show since its premiere in 1998. I was in 8th grade. I might not have been in love with my best friend or being raised by my older sister in a home where nothing came easy. But I was a girl who preferred the background over centerstage, who chose a book over running around outside every time. Someone who wanted to be accepted by her friends and applauded for working so hard all the time. Someone on the cusp of being discovered in one way or another.
Because the show just happened to run from 8th grade until the May I graduated high school, it feels so much a part of my blossoming, a constant when everything felt so fragile and confusing. I was a pretty well-behaved kid who listened to her parents but when it came to TV, I was not much for boundaries. When news of the Dawson’s Creek premiere started to hit papers, my mom was pretty adamant about me not watching. TOO MUCH SEX AND BIG WORDS. But I snuck watched it anyway and never turned back. (My mom eventually got over this. In fact, after all these years, it’s surprising to me that my 90210/Vampire Diaries loving mother never got into the show herself.)
When life got overwhelming with friends, band practice, after-school jobs, and boys, at least I had my Tuesday or Wednesday night to sit around with these characters and completely unwind. It was my time. I closed the door, sat crosslegged on my fringe rug (until my parents put down wood floors in my junior year of high school), sipped from a can of soda and let myself be thrown into the lives of four people who I practically grew up with. I probably didn’t think much about it then but the show introduced me to teenagers dealing with mental illness, coming out for the first time, slut shaming, and struggling so much to feel settled in the decisions they made and the love they were feeling.
To rev up for this post, I rewatched a few episodes of the show this past weekend and there’s another Joey scene that really got me. She’s sitting in Pacey’s car, after a surprising and surreal weekend and she announces maybe she’s not meant to find happiness. “I’m 16-years old and in my entire life there have been two people who know me!” I’m 30 so it’s ironic to hear her say “entire” in regards to 16 years on this planet. She’s so scared the weekend she had is some indication that she’s doomed forever. I can totally sit here and comment on how dramatic she sounds (it will be okay, Joey!) but isn’t this how we all felt back then? Like when the hell will my real life begin? When will everything fall into place?
Over six years, Dawson’s Creek managed to scramble the pieces of these characters in such a way that we saw no combination could be permanent. Anything could change at any moment (even if you’re enjoying an ice cream cone and singing along to a James Taylor copycat in your car) and that doubt that seems larger than life when you are a kid dissipates. Not because you’re suddenly mega-confident in a perfect, grown-up life but because there are truly less moments to share this kind of honesty. And maybe, just maybe, age welcomes a bit more faith and the understanding that one solid step forward means there are plenty of shaky ones in between.
Now that I’m the owner of so much wisdom (har har har), I wish I could tell the girl who rewound (yes, rewound) the pageant episode of Dawson’s Creek to rewatch time and time again that her yearning to feel brave, protected, and accepted is going to pop up frequently. That she might still think Dawson and Joey belonged together in the beginning, but she’s also open to what feels right and knows it’s okay to change her mind. She’d be really confused about Tom Cruise marrying Katie Holmes, but not surprised that Joshua Jackson remains devilishly good-looking and is still acting (even if she doesn’t watch any of his shows). And that in the age of Jimmy Fallon (“who?” says 14-year old me) there’s always the opportunity for a reunion.
Because true love never, ever dies. (Even if the soundtrack changes.)
Big thanks to Rachel for asking me to be a part of this appreciation week!
One other thing to be thankful for when it comes to the creek: her friendship. We met over a shared love of the show, both ran our own fansites, and found out we were from the same town. The rest is history!
Months and months before her birthday, one of my long-time best friends (ironically a non-reader) knew she wanted to see the Goosebumps movie as part of the festivities for her big 3-1. All the cool kids were reading R.L. Stine’s books back in the day. Including us.
The movie was actually a lot better than I thought. It was well-written and had a great mix of sweet and scary. Though, I sure hope no one thinks R.L. Stine is some sort of recluse sitting around his house with a daughter he never lets see the light of day but, all in all, I got a kick out of the recognizing book details from way, way back.
After reading this article by reporter Brian Stelter about his late-90s Goosebumps fansite, I was reminded of a little project I embarked on with the aforementioned birthday girl and another one of our besties (who was also sharing popcorn with us this weekend). In our fifth grade class, our computer time was limited to a CD-Rom of the encyclopedia. I don’t even think I had an AOL username at that point (my dad was really strict about screen time). We weren’t constantly being fed information. We had to find it in teen magazines and newspapers and the actual news. As a kid, I loved reading the newspaper — unsurprisingly, the Arts and Entertainment section. Who knows what it was that inspired me to head my own newspaper back then with my two friends as co-editors, but I did. We shared upcoming movies, there was an advice column, we created themed word searches, and even included addresses to write to our favorite celebrities. It’s funny now to think about the book news we reported on. Without checking websites (and before the term ‘blogger’ even existed), my friends and I used to call Scholastic for the upcoming titles of our beloved Babysitters Club and Goosebumps books. They were always gracious and gave them to us. Even then, it felt special to be “in the know” and be the source sharing the great news with our friends.
It’s crazy how little pieces of our childhood factor into the adults we become, isn’t it?
Books remain a constant in my life. My work. My play. My escape. My relief. My fun. The fandom I felt when reading Stine’s and Ann M. Martin’s books has continued to stick with me until now, whether it’s reading voraciously or sharing my recommendations with some kind of “crowd.” (My favorite thing to do was switch off with a Babysitters Club book and then a Goosebumps. Even then, I was strategic about my palette cleansers!)
So I guess the Goosebumps movie did what it was supposed to do. It made me remember and realize fandom never goes away — it just takes on different forms as a person grows and as the world advances. I wonder how many 30-somethings went home from the movies this weekend and bought some used Goosebumps books. (I bought 4.)
What creeps me out? Sometimes the dark? My parent’s basement. The OUIJA board. Ghosts (oh, I totally think they are real.) Pigeons (one flew into my face today). BLOOD. (When I was little, I once told my aunt I wanted to be a nurse and she was like YOU HAVE TO LIKE BLOOD, YA KNOW.) Mannequins. It’s true! Their faces can be so blank. I’m sure I have more items to add to this strange list but I’ll let you mull these over for now.
My plans to see Goosebumps in the movies this weekend totally inspired this post’s direction. I couldn’t think of anything I’d read lately that creeped me out so why not go back in time and talk about those. While R.L. Stine’s series was no Babysitters Club in my world, I was pretty addicted to these stories for awhile (my whole class was). My favorite will always be Ghost Beach. (I wonder if it’ll be mentioned in this new flick.)
But BEFORE that, I was loving Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. One of my friends at the time had copies at home and I remember reading the stories over and over again. The ones in our library were never available because this book was so dang popular. I’m actually surprised (or should I be) that these books are banned in some schools. Unless my imagination is playing games with me, I remember our teachers reading these outloud to us. Did you know there’s a documentary being made about the series?
Another fun little memory from my childhood was the big “grown up” 5th grade trip to Washington, D.C. I bought a book of ghost stories at one of the monument gift shops (was it Jefferson?) and my roommates and I stayed up so late reading them, totally freaking ourselves out. I was so exhausted the next night I was SURE the Abe Lincoln monument was blinking at me. For some unknown reason, I gave the book away but I recently bought my own: Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories. I need to dig this one out.
So while you’re sitting in a dark room with a Pumpkin Apple candle burning, I’m recommending Saranac’s OctoberFest (NY) for another kind of “spirit”. It’s your basic German lager and goes down well with pizza or all the candy you’re attempting to hoard for the big trick or treating day. It’s uncomplicated and cozy, and a great beer for the brew rookies out there.
Enjoy the fall weekend, dears! (Someone remind me to watch Hocus Pocus!)
Recently I found myself having a conversation with someone about how thankful I am for my husband, Dustyn. He broadens our daughter, Everett’s, horizons in ways I never thought possible — he shows her and teaches her things that don’t come naturally to me. He’s giving her something different that I couldn’t or wouldn’t think to. It dawned on me while I was talking to this friend that not everyone has both parents to influence parts of their personality, interests, and being. That seems like such a simple realization, but it really struck me.
Nearly 25,000,000 children in the United States live in a single-parent family according to Kids Count Data Center. Those children represent 26% of those living in our country, which means nearly one in four people reading this post likely come from a single-parent home. Divorce and death are something I’ve felt very far-removed from because I didn’t personally know many people my age who were living through this. But that’s all changed in the last few months; I’ve had four friends get divorced, three of which had children. I now see how gray some areas are and how everything isn’t so easily black and white. A few factors that separate families include abuse, death, military deployment, or the parents were never wed before having children and parted ways.
According to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health, “The most common type of single-parent family is one that consists of a mother and her biological children. In 2002, 16.5 million or 23 percent of all children were living with their single mother. This group included 48 percent of all African-American children, 16 percent of all non-Hispanic white children, 13 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander children, and 25 percent of children of Hispanic origin. However, these numbers do not give a true picture of household organization, because 11 percent of all children were actually living in homes where their mother was sharing a home with an adult to whom she was not married. This group includes 14 percent of white children, 6 percent of African-American children, 11 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, and 12 percent of Hispanic children.”
So where does that leave us in our quest for more diverse books? Are one in three of the books you’re reading inclusive of a single-parent family? Let’s take a look at some books that have incorporated this really well…
I’d like to note that it was a bit more difficult to find single-father books to share, which made me curious about the rise of single-fathers. According to Pew Social Trends, nearly one quarter of single-parent families are run by a single-dad and the number has been steadily climbing over the years.
• • •
What books have you read that include examples of single-parent families? What would you like to read more of regarding families?
Yesterday was the first day of fall and I actually had to bring a jacket for my early morning walk to the subway. Two weeks ago, I thought sweating through my dresses was going to be a constant in my life because whoa, I did that a lot this summer. (Gross but true.) Needless to say, I’m so looking forward to cozy sweaters, hot lattes, and breaking in a new pair of boots.
Despite the heat, it was a really good – somewhat odd? – summer. My husband obsessed with studying for the bar (as he should have been). I visited a friend in her Gilmore Girls-esque Massachusetts town, got to hang out with M in Texas(!!), and returned to Savannah for a trip with no set alarms and a lot more sweating because, oh right, it was 110 degrees. (Not kidding.) There were some new bars to sample with our trusty beer passport, and, like I had wanted to, gave away/sold/donated at least fifty books that have been cluttering my apartment. I worked out almost every day (thanks to Cassie for keeping me on track!) and cooked with zucchini so much. Lots of fun, sun, spirits, and organizing!
And, of course, reading. I meant to have this post ready for the actual first day of autumn but as you know, the Muppets take precedent in my household. (Did you watch? I really, really enjoyed it and can’t wait for more!) I’m going to share 15 of my top reads from over the summer, but first, a few stats…
From Memorial Day (May 26) until the last full day of summer (September 22), I read 59 books. (Eee!)
14 of 59 were books I owned or were gifted
8 of 59 were borrowed from the library
12 of 59 were published before 2014.
12 of 59 were romance novels.
I only bought 4 physical books the entire summer. (Three of these were in the last week.)
I sound like a broken record but because of tech issues we are a little late this month with the Dive Into Diversity challenge. Oops. But here we are and just a few months left in the year! I can’t believe it. I’ve decided to go in a whole new direction with today’s check-in post because I was inspired (motivated? annoyed?) by a recent read of mine that falls in the romance category.
I read quite a bit of romance and I’ll sadly admit that the number of diverse characters I’ve come across is slim. (See: a lesbian/WOC supporting character in Victoria Dahl’s Flirting with Disaster and Liberty in Lisa Kleypas’ Sugar Daddy who is half Mexican.) This is why I was so excited when I found out an Asian American woman would be taking centerstage in the next volume of a series I’ve been reading. My expectations didn’t go beyond: it’s nice to know there’s more ethnicity reflected in this town than I imagined. But my excitement quickly turned to discomfort when I realized there was absolutely no nuance to her character. She was tiny and had black hair. She worked as a manicurist and then a nurse. She was over-protective of her son, and so proud she didn’t want to let anyone into her business. It was like the author had taken a list of Asian stereotypes and manifested a one-dimensional character with zero spark. She was so connected to her culture yet never questioned how her and her son were the only non-whites living in their town? The introduction of this character — through welcomed with open arms by everyone — made it glaringly obvious to this reader just how depthless this population was.
I was disappointed.
Readers are smart, and a seasoned one is going to be able to tell when the extra legwork has taken place, especially when it means researching a culture enough that it doesn’t pop off the page like a stereotype but instead is a respectful representation. Case in point: Not an ethnicity example but this weekend I read Katherine Locke’s Finding Center and stopped in the middle (for just a second), turned to my husband and said, you could totally tell how much research this author did on people with disabilities and the details of how a prosthetic would work for a dancer.
“Seeing someone who looks like you reflected in the pages of a book as a fully rendered, three-dimensional character can be powerful and transformational,” said Bobbi Dumas in this NPR blog post from 2014.
YES. YES. YES.
For more than the year I’ve been doing this challenge (and probably since the birth of Rather Be Reading), I’ve worked to make sure my reading is full of eclectic characters from all types of backgrounds. In addition to that, I try to seek out authors who are underrepresented. Awareness comes at different times for everyone but I think in the past few weeks and with the annoyance of the above reading adventure, I’ve undoubtably committed myself to seeking out books in this genre that smartly put me in touch with main characters – and authors – from all walks of life.