Literary Event: ASU Undergraduate Writers Showcase

The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing will be hosting their fourth annual ASU Undergraduate Writers Showcase on November 19, 2020. Join fellow ASU faculty and students as they support emerging voices in the undergraduate writing community.

Six talented writers will be sharing their work at the live reading. You can view their bios and learn more about them here. This event is a great opportunity to show your support for ASU’s undergraduate writing community and discover impressive contemporary voices.

The event will take place over Zoom and is free to attend. The reading will be open to the public but “seats” are limited, so be sure to reserve a spot through the link provided below.

For more information, or to reserve your spot, click here. We look forward to seeing you there!


Location: Zoom
Date: November 19, 2020
Time: 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Book Review

A House is a Body by Shruti Swamy

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 201
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

A House is a Body is a bold and provocative collection of short stories from emerging author Shruti Swamy. Her collection contains twelve short stories that are set in India and the United States. Each one is an intimate dive into the human experience. Her narratives redefine the genre of domestic fiction, focusing on the tension of relationships and the inevitable isolation of being human. Swamy doesn’t hold back any punches. She navigates the challenging circumstances of birth and death, love and loss, betrayal and redemption as if she’s been writing for a lifetime. Swamy’s ability to craft authentic domestic turmoil within such a small space on the page is both impressive and unsettling.

Thoughts

I was beyond excited to pick up my copy of A House is a Body. I discovered Swamy’s collection on a list of exciting books to anticipate in 2020 and was intrigued by the description of her writing as a marriage between the realistic and the fantastic. I couldn’t wait to experience what promised to be a literary uprooting of the domestic. Her stories did not disappoint—each narrative was more compelling than the last, pulling me through the entire collection in a matter of hours.

One of my favorite stories in the collection is titled “The Siege.” The story is told from the point of view of a young queen who is married to a selfish and violent king attempting to steal the wife of another man. The circumstances are dramatic and devastating, yet I still had so much fun reading a story that was placed in a setting with royalty and wars fought over romance. Swamy’s depiction of the setting was fantastic—within just twenty pages she was able to build a world with complex characters and conflict. This story is a can’t miss for anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre.

Another one of my favorites was titled “Wedding Season.” This story takes on a very different tone from the one in “The Siege.” The story is centered on two young women, Teja and Al, who travel from the United States to India for Teja’s counsin’s wedding. The young women are forced to hide the romantic nature of their relationship for fear of being ridiculed for their sexuality. Swamy’s narration manages to be beautiful despite the tragic circumstances. The stark contrast between the beauty of India and the tension of the lovers’ secret makes the story captivating. This is definitely a story for the modern world. I was impressed by how Swamy addressed the subjects of sexuality and identity with such boldness. Her story left me trying to decide if the ending should be considered happy or sad. What I am sure about is that it’s worth reading to decide for yourself.

It’s not often that I find a collection of short stories where I can say I enjoyed every story, but I can confidently say I enjoyed every story in A House is a Body! I would recommend this collection to readers who enjoy strong female characters and the uneasiness of the mundane. In other words, if you like “The Yellow Wallpaper” or “The Story of an Hour,” Swamy is the contemporary voice you’ve been waiting for. This collection is an impressive and promising start to a young author’s career, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Shruti Swamy.


Thank you to Changing Hands for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Top 5 Subreddits for Book-lovers

Reddit is one of the most popular social media sites in the world because it provides a platform for almost anyone to talk about almost anything. There are subreddits for nearly every mainstream or niche hobby a person could think of—so yes, there are many, many great subreddits for book-lovers. Whatever book related advice, discussion, or personal anecdote you want to discover or share with others, Reddit has a platform for you. I’ve found many great subreddits during my time there. I’m going to share my five favorites, but by all means, feel free to dig into the hundreds of book-related communities Reddit has to offer to find the ones that are best for you!


r/suggestmeabook—This subreddit is essentially what you would expect: a community where you can ask for books suggestions. I’ve used a lot of websites and read many blog posts to find book suggestions in the past. Those were great sources for me when I had a vague idea of what I was looking for. I could read lists about the best new books of the year or best books about a certain topic or time period on blogs much like this one and discover some truly great reads. However, if you have a specific idea of what you’re looking to read next and you’re struggling to find it on a more general platform, r/suggestmeabook is the place to go. If you want “a book set in space with a strong female protagonist, a happy ending and an equally well-written sequel” or “a book with talking animals that isn’t written for children and also includes a healthy family dynamic” or even “a book based on a true story that I can read in a day and will make me cry by the end,” the members of this subreddit will find those books for you. There have been times where the requests are so specific I don’t think anyone could possibly suggest a book that fits all of the criteria, but they do. Every time. Try it out and I promise you won’t be disappointed.


r/shortscarystories— I cannot express how happy I was to discover this subreddit. It is a great subreddit which I encourage you to check out and it is r/shortscarystories is amazing for those of us who enjoy a well written scary story. This subreddit provides a platform for writers of any experience level to share their original scary stories. These stories must be longer than two sentences, but under 500 words, making them the perfect length to read on a lunch break, while waiting in line, or before going to bed (if you’re brave enough). I enjoy this subreddit because it’s a way for me to read stories I otherwise never would. Although they may not all be literary journal worthy, these stories are fun and a great way to fit in some reading time during a busy day.


r/bookshelf—This is yet another subreddit I’m grateful to have discovered. Members of this community post aesthetically pleasing pictures of their bookshelves daily. I love scrolling through new posts and seeing the effort people have put into arranging their shelves or seeing the new additions they’ve made to their collections. These posts range from pictures of expensive vintage collections, to single shelves of brightly colored spines and twinkling lights. Everyone can enjoy the diversity of the reading community through these posts and celebrate each other’s passion for reading. This subreddit is an all-around feel-good community of people sharing what they enjoy so that others can enjoy it, too. What’s not to love?


r/bookclub—Have you ever wanted to start a book club but you can’t get it off the ground? r/bookclub is a great solution to this problem. I enjoy this subreddit because it allows thousands of people to come together and share their thoughts about books. However, I also spend a lot of time in the comment sections of this subreddit because it’s a great place to find users who want to start niche book clubs. Many members will suggest starting book clubs for a certain series they’ve been wanting to read or a book club about a certain social topic they feel is important. r/bookclub is a great place to start when looking for a book club that fits your specific interests, or even for getting your own book club idea off the ground.


r/writingadvice—Although this subreddit is geared towards writers more than readers, there’s a place for all book-lovers in this community. As a writer, I enjoy posting short excerpts of my work to get feedback from other writers. However, even those who love reading but don’t post their own writing are invaluable to this subreddit. As a reader, you can read many great stories from amateur writers and give them your feedback. The perspective of a reader is valuable in the process of making revisions. The r/writingadvice community welcomes anyone who has a passion for good writing regardless of whether you are writing it yourself or just enjoying the work of your peers.

Book Review

Horse Crazy by Sarah Maslin Nir

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Memoir/Nonfiction
Pages: 291
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Horse Crazy is an exciting look into the world of horse lovers. In this tribute to these free-spirited animals, Nir explains her deep love for horses and how they have shaped her life, and the lives of many people across the globe. From Nir’s Jewish upbringing under the care of emotionally distant parents to her world travels as a journalist, Nir describes the way horses allowed her to feel accepted. She uses this book as an opportunity to express just how much animals impact our lives. Although the narrative is built around her personal experiences, Nir also explores the importance of horses in other cultures by acknowledging the different beliefs and practices surrounding horses in communities around the world. Ultimately, Nir shows her readers the way animals help us connect despite our differences.

Thoughts

Horse Crazy impressed me with its ability to simultaneously teach and entertain me. Nir’s experience as a journalist really shines through in this work. I was surprised to find myself feeling as if Nir had let me into a secret world—both in her personal experience as the child of a Holocaust survivor and the tight-knit world of horse lovers. Her blend of personal narratives and informational advocacy for the humane treatment of animals made the book consistently engaging. Horse Crazy was the perfect summer read. I would recommend this book to anyone who is an animal lover or who is looking for a lighthearted read.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased reviews.

Happiness Under Cover

In times of uncertainty and stress, I’ve always found myself with my nose in a book. But somehow, amidst the stress of working remotely and social distancing from the people I love the most, I found myself pushing away reading. Of course I would do some mild reading in my free time, but I couldn’t focus on the stories or get involved with the narrative the way I used to. Seeing my lack of motivation, a friend shared a podcast with me about how the objects around us can make us happy. I learned that the colors, shapes, and physical spaces we surround ourselves with have much more to do with our happiness than I ever imagined. Being the determined book lover I am, I decided to take this new knowledge to my bookshelf. Out of the nearly one hundred books I own but have not yet read, I selected the three with the covers that made me feel happiest. My hope was that seeing these covers would help me get involved with the story and give myself an escape from other daily stresses. The three books I discovered were The Nix by Nathan Hill, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, and Untamed by Glennon Doyle. These authors did not disappoint.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

With its bold, colorful font and homage to 1960’s “hippie” culture, the cover of The Nix called to me. I’m certainly glad it did. Within the pages of The Nix, I found an important story about a son’s re-connection with the mother who abandoned him. But, more importantly, I found characters I could relate to. Nathan Hill’s characters are the definition of flawed: they are selfish, lazy, untruthful and somehow they are exactly what I need at a time when I am distanced from the people I love. Within these flawed characters, I found people I could relate to and cheer on through their troubles. Reading The Nix was an oddly similar experience to listening to that one friend who always seems to have drama despite their good heart. I wanted to give Hill’s characters advice and became so wrapped up in their lives I forgot I was reading a seven hundred page novel. I would recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a realistic story about love and redemption.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

The cover of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth appealed to me with its simple beauty. This was not my first time enjoying Patchett’s work, so I wasn’t surprised to find the novel engaging and heartfelt. As always, Patchett’s characters are realistic and the plot felt important. However, I did have a tougher time getting through the work compared to some of her other novels; it almost felt like Commonwealth was written to be consumed slowly. There were many moments when tension between characters made me want to take a break in my reading to give myself and them a moment to breath. Although the work was slow paced, it did give me much of the same comfort as Hill’s novel, that comfort being knowledge that I am not alone in my inevitable human flaws.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle felt like a simultaneous breath of fresh air and a much needed slap in the face. Doyle is most famous for her work as a blogger and her memoir Love Warrior. I picked up Glennon Doyle’s newest memoir, Untamed, a few weeks after it came out in March 2020. I haven’t read Doyle’s other popular works, but this one had interested me because it supposedly told the story of her marriage to retired soccer star Abby Wambach. As an avid soccer fan, I was compelled to purchase the memoir, but it had been quickly forgotten on my bookshelf. Forgotten, that is, until I searched for the happiest covers I owned and found Untamed with it’s collage of glittery paint. Under this bold cover, I found Doyle’s voice summing up the lessons I had already been teaching myself through the other two novels I read; we all have setbacks, but they will not stop us. Although her memoir is aimed at women, it seems to apply to anyone who has experienced a disruption in their life they weren’t sure they would overcome. In a time where nearly every person in the world is experiencing a disruption of their normal lifestyle, Doyle’s words feel vital. Untamed was a memorable read that I am still contemplating even as I write about it.

Thoughts

Everyone has been warned not to judge books by their covers, but if it might bring you happiness, then why not? I’ve never been the type of reader to select a book at random. I usually have a list of which books I will be reading next based on recommendations, new releases and reviews I read about them. Defying this usual routine felt liberating in a way that allowed me to enjoy the novels for what they were instead of what I expected them to be. Who knows, I might even make it a habit to read a book every once in a while simply because looking at it makes me happy.

Book Review

Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan

Publisher: HarperCollins 
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Pages: 429 
Format: Paperback 
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Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summary

Stephen P. Kiernan’s Universe of Two is a time machine back to the year 1943. The story takes place in the United States as the country is at war with the allied forces in World War II. Unlike many World War II novels, Universe of Two doesn’t follow the story of a soldier or officer fighting in the war. Instead, it focuses on the connection between two civilians who play just as significant a part in the war efforts as any man in battle.

Brenda Dubie is a spoiled nineteen-year-old girl who spends her time working at her family’s music shop and dating every soldier she can find who is home on leave. Her life changes when she meets a young mathematician named Charlie Fish who is at work doing calculations for the US government. As the pair build a romantic connection, Charlie is pulled deeper into the war efforts, eventually finding himself in New Mexico working as a vital piece of the Manhattan Project. His role in the project to create the atomic bomb riddles Charlie with guilt. Brenda, who pushes him so hard to pursue his work, shares the heavy moral burden Charlie faces when she finally realizes the consequences of his work. The pair are faced with the difficult task of trying to love each other while making up for the horrible destruction they helped to create.

Thoughts

What impressed me most about Universe of Two was the way it didn’t try to romanticize either war or love. Although it is a historical romance, the novel was utterly realistic about the moral challenges faced by its characters. The chapters alternate between Brenda’s narration and a omniscient narrator reporting on Charlie’s top-secret work. As a reader, I felt a deep frustration at how naïve Brenda was to the severity of Charlie’s situation. Kiernan was able to play with my emotions, drawing me into the story as if it were a train wreck that I could not look away from. Universe of Two is anything but the stereotypical romance novel—it is an honest look at the ways a relationship can be tested and morals overlooked in pursuit of victory. I would recommend Kiernan’s novel to anyone who relishes in the feeling of a bittersweet ending.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Literary Event: Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems

The Kennedy Center Artist-In-Residence, Mo Willems, welcomes readers, writers, artists, and creative people everywhere to join him for Lunch Doodles. This fun series is being hosted online by The Kennedy Center daily at 1:00 pm Eastern Time. In these sessions, Willems uses his doodles to teach artists of all levels how to get creative with written and visual art. Each day, Willems is providing new inspiration and fun ideas to keep our creative sides busy while we keep our bodies healthy.

Don’t worry if you can’t be there for the 1:00 pm live stream, each session is recorded and can be found on The Kennedy Center website or on YouTube for free streaming! Go join Willems on his journey to spread the joy of art in its simplest form: doodling.

For more information about this series, click here.


Location: Hosted Online by The Kennedy Center 

Time: 1:00 pm ET *Sessions are recorded and can be found for free on The Kennedy Center website or YouTube

Book Review

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 291
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary

Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake follows two generations of Bengali immigrants as they make a life for themselves in America. The Ganguli family, consisting of Ashima (mother), Ashoke (father), Gogol (son) and Sonia (daughter), paint a representation of how Indian American families cope with cultural divides and intimacy across generations. 

The novel begins with a young Ashima and Ashoke as they move from Calcutta, India to America. Ashoke is a young college student at MIT trying to prove himself among his peers. Ashima is a mother who is frightened of the unfamiliar world she finds herself in. Their children, Gogol and Sonia, are the focal point of much of the novel. As they grow up, the children are faced with pressure to conform to either American or Indian culture. Eventually, as they become adults, Gogol and Sonia learn how to coexist with these social pressures. The children create their own families and self identities. Ashima and Ashoke find a way to accept the lives their children create for themselves.

Thoughts

 What most impressed me most about The Namesake was how invested I became in the story of this fictional family. Lahiri is gifted at crafting intimate moments between characters. The novel begins in a moment of discomfort as Ashima gives birth to her son in an unfamiliar hospital in an unfamiliar country. It’s clear from the first narrative moment that Lahiri is not afraid to show pain and raw emotion in her work. This trend continues throughout the novel as the children grow up and begin exploring their American culture. Every moment of tension, sadness, and joy could be felt through the page. By the end, I felt that I knew each of the characters personally and had been on a journey of self-exploration with them.

Turning the final page of The Namesake was a sad moment for me. I felt like I was abandoning the characters halfway through their journey. Even though I had read about two whole generations of the family, I wanted to continue on with them and see what new challenges life would present them. The Namesake is a beautifully written novel that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys emotional, character driven writing, or, just a good cry. Jhumpa Lahiri is a talented author whose other books are definitely on my 2020 Reading List.