Things We Have in Common, Like Hating Duke

It’s that time of year again, when the entirety of my attention turns to college basketball and the never-actually-dormant UK fan in me comes bursting forth to the front and center of my life: March Madness. I love March Madness: it’s one of my absolute favorite times of the year. I love the ups and downs, the last second buzzer beaters, the Cinderella stories. I love watching my team defy or live up to the expectations (depending on where the expectations lie). I love brackets that get busted.  I love an underdog story. And I love it when Duke loses.

The second round of the NCAA Tournament wrapped up on Sunday night, and in the final game, Duke lost. This might not seem important to some of you, but if that’s the case, it’s likely you didn’t grow up in Kentucky or North Carolina (…or perhaps a select few other states, but those two are the big ones). Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.

Friend-of-the-blog Sarah is a UNC fan. She comes by it honestly, as she actually went to UNC Chapel Hill, whereas I was just born into my love of the UK Wildcats. Initially, I thought this might be a hindrance to our friendship but was willing to try to make it work. When you’re friends with a whole lotta nerds, you take sports fans where you can get ’em (though I maintain that being a sports fan is just being a nerd about sports). Then, when I was helping move her and also-friend-of-the-blog Jason into their last apartment, I stumbled upon this book:

With that, I knew our friendship was cemented. Now objectively, I know that hate on a real visceral level really isn’t okay. But I hate — like, really hate — Duke. Now I don’t know anyone who loves college basketball who feels ambivalent about the Blue Devils (and let’s be honest: very few of those feelings are of a positive nature). Maybe there are people out there who would disagree on that, but I don’t know them. And then there’s probably a portion of people reading this who have no idea what I’m talking about. Feel free to stop reading now, or continue in a sports-talk-induced haze, if you dare.

As a Kentucky fan, I can trace my hatred for Duke back to 1992 (okay, so, technically I don’t actually remember the East Regional Final of 1992, but I know that’s where my hatred of Duke started). It’s mostly Christian Laettner’s fault. He’s the one who scored a lucky, overtime, buzzer beater shot that dashed Kentucky’s chances at glory, in a year that was supposed to be our year. The UK team  that season was called the Unforgettables, known for the four Kentucky-native seniors who had been with the team through a two-year probation from the tournament, punishment for an old teammate’s mistakes. Those guys stuck it out, waited to get their shot at the title. And then at the last second, Laettner took it all away with a shot he shouldn’t even have been able to take (having committed a foul that should have had him ejected from the game earlier in the second half). That stupid last-ditch effort gets played over and over again every March, in every montage, on every channel. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Now I’m not alone in my antipathy toward Laettner. He’s one of the most reviled players in college basketball history; ESPN even made a documentary about it. And he’s got company.  Duke’s an easy team to hate, the spoiled rich kids of college basketball, and every season there’s one who seems more annoying and entitled than the rest. When I was in high school it was JJ Redick. This year, it’s Grayson Allen.  Notice how Duke has its own category in this info-bracket from the now-defunct Grantland :

So this year, as I readied myself for another month of March Madness, I was sad to see that Duke was a likely favorite to win the whole tournament. They were ranked #2, and the East Region, historically the toughest quadrant of the bracket, was the weakest it had been in years. By all appearances, they had a pretty straight shot to the Final Four if they just kept being f***ing Duke. They wouldn’t even need to try that hard. I organized a bracket pool this year, so I took mine very seriously — weighing records and stats instead of just which teams I like, watching as many games as possible. I’m in it to win it. And so I reluctantly placed Duke in the Final Four, hoping I could get at least some money out of it in the end.

So imagine my (pleasant) surprise when the SEC’s own South Carolina, to whom I hadn’t given much credit, held on to oust the Blue Devils from the tournament this past Sunday night.  And my favorite part of Duke losing? The camaraderie between all the basketball fans on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, regardless of affiliation. I saw UNC and South Carolina fans celebrating side by side. I was reminded that this website exists. It was beautiful to see that no matter how much Louisville and UK fans fight about their respective teams, we can all agree that “Duke is unequivocally the worst” (direct quote from noted University of Louisville fan, Zelda). A Duke loss is a powerful thing. It can turn enemies into friends. It can unite the Carolinas.

 

So if by some act of the March Madness gods UNC and UK  play each other in the South Regional Final, no matter how uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing watching that game will be for Sarah and me, I love that we can at least find solace in the fact that Duke can’t win the 2017 NCAA Tournament. I guess what I’m saying is that in these trying times, when nothing else makes sense, we should focus on the things we have common, the things that bring us together — like hating Duke.

Six Badass Southern Women You Should Know About

March is Women’s History month here in the United States (and also the UK and Australia), and while we believe that any day is a good day to celebrate women and their accomplishments, we will happily take this opportunity to turn the well-deserved spotlight on some badass, brilliant ladies. These six were trailblazers in their fields, which range from athletics to advocacy, TV to torah. They are brave, they are fierce, and they all hail from below the Mason-Dixon line.

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Wilma Rudolph (Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee): Rudolph was a premie, entering the world as the 20th of 22 siblings and weighing a mere 4.2 pounds. At 4, she suffered a bout of infantile paralysis, which left her with a twisted leg and foot, forced to wear a brace. By the age of 12, she had also contracted polio and scarlet fever, battling back every time. The odds were undeniably stacked against her. But in 1953, while playing on her high school’s basketball team, she was spotted by Tennessee State track and field coach Ed Temple, and everything changed. Temple coached Rudolph, who joined TSU’s summer program and ran with the Tigerbelles for two years. At 16, she went to the Olympics for the first time, bringing home a bronze medal for the 4×100 relay. And four years later, at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, she took gold in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and the 4×100 relay, making her the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics. She was hailed as “the fastest woman in history,” and her homecoming parade and banquet were the first fully integrated municipal events in her hometown of Clarksville’s history.

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Mae Jemison (Decatur, Alabama): Jemison may have grown up in Chicago, but her first three years were spent in the Deep South. The daughter of a maintenance supervisor and an elementary school teacher, Jemison loved science from an early age. She loved nature and dinosaurs and stars and space, watching the shuttle launches on TV with her classmates. But something bothered her: “At the time of the Apollo airing, everybody was thrilled about space, but I remember being irritated that there were no women astronauts. People tried to explain that to me, and I did not buy it.” Jemison fell in love with dance, went to Stanford, served in Peace Corps, watched Sally Ride shatter that annoying glass ceiling. And in 1987, she was accepted into NASA’s Space Program, one of 15 applicants chosen from a pool of over 2,000. She served as Mission Specialist on STS-47, from September 12 to 20, 1992, making her the first African-American woman in space. With her, she took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; a photo of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to fly an airplane; and a few small pieces of West African art, to symbolize that space belongs to all nations. Now retired, she’s a professor-at-large at Cornell and a tireless advocate for science education, especially for young girls and minority students.

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Penny Ann Early (Kentucky): Early earns her place on this list for two famous firsts. Number one: In 1968, she became the first licensed female jockey in the United States. She entered three races at Scout’s and my hometown race track, Churchill Downs, but her male peers were so incensed that they boycotted, refusing to ride with a girl. But Early wasn’t done. Hearing about the controversy, the now defunct Kentucky Colonels basketball team decided to sign Early — all 5’3” of her. Coach Gene Rhodes was less than amused by the stunt and protested to management, claiming he would not let her play (to be fair, Early hadn’t so much as picked up a basketball in her life). But on November 27, 1968, in a game against the Los Angeles Stars, Early got her moment. Clad in a mini skirt and a turtleneck with the number 3 on it (representing the three races she’d been prevented from riding), Early subbed in and inbounded the ball to Bobby Rascoe, who immediately called a timeout. Early was subbed right back out, her basketball career amounting to mere seconds, but it still made her the first — and, so far, only — woman to play on a professional men’s basketball team.

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Mia Hamm (Selma, Alabama): Hamm moved around as a kid, bouncing base to base as an Air Force brat. At one such base, in Florence, Italy, she was first introduced to soccer. Hamm had been born with a club foot and wore corrective shoes as a toddler, but she immediately took to the sport and quickly excelled. As a student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, she led the women’s soccer team to four NCAA championships; of the 95 games she played on the team, they lost only one. But the truth is by the time she got to UNC, Hamm had already made a name for herself as a soccer star. She joined the U.S. women’s national team at just 15, the youngest player ever to do so. In 1991, she played in the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup — at 19, again, the youngest member of the squad. She scored the game-winning goal in their first match. She scored again in their second. And in front of 63,000 spectators, she and her teammates beat Norway 2-1 to become the first ever women’s world champions. Hamm would go on to lead the U.S. to another World Cup victory in 1999, as well as two Olympic gold medals. She was twice named the women’s FIFA World Player of the Year, was one of two women on FIFA’s list of the 125 best living players, and until 2013 she held the record for the most career goals ever scored by a soccer player, of any gender.

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Paula Ackerman (Pensacola, Florida): Born and raised in Pensacola, Ackerman moved to Meridian, Mississippi, in 1922 with her 15 month-old son and her husband, a rabbi. The family was active in the Reform Judaism movement, and Ackerman taught confirmation classes at their congregation, Temple Beth Israel, and would fill in for her husband when he was sick or out of town. Then in 1951, when he died, the congregation asked her to take his place. She accepted, making her the first acting female rabbi in the United States. Although she was never officially ordained (that wouldn’t happen for a woman until 1972), she led the synagogue until 1953; even when the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations rescinded his permission for a woman to assume such a role, the congregation insisted on keeping he. At the time, when asked about her appointment, Ackerman wrote to a friend, “I also know how revolutionary the idea is—therefore it seems to be a challenge that I pray I can meet. If I can just plant a seed for the Jewish woman’s larger participation—if perhaps it will open a way for women students to train for congregational leadership—then my life would have some meaning.”

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Laverne Cox (Mobile, Alabama): You may know her from “Orange is the New Black,” from “The Mindy Project” or “Doubt.” You may know her from the wisdom she drops on Twitter or the love she spreads on Instagram with the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful. Cox grew up in Alabama, bullied and harassed throughout her youth because she did not fit in. At 11, she even attempted suicide. But, luckily, things got better. After graduating from Marymount Manhattan College with a degree in acting and working as a drag queen at a Lower East Side restaurant, Cox entered the public scene when she was cast in Jenji Kohan’s Netflix blockbuster as Sophia Burset — a hairdresser serving time for credit card fraud. Both Cox and her character are transgender women; in 2014, she was nominated for an Emmy for her performance, a first for an openly trans actor. But it’s her advocacy off screen that truly earns her a spot on this list. Her role on OITNB gave her a platform, and boy has she used it: to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, for trans awareness, for women’s rights, for intersectionality, for suicide prevention — just to name a few. She takes her position as a role model, especially for trans youth, very seriously, telling them that things get better and that self-love can be a radical act.

IMAGES VIA: KNOW SOUTHERN HISTORY, WIKIPEDIA, TRIVIAHAPPY, MIA HAMM FOUNDATION, JEWISH CURRENTS, WFMT

Early Spring 2017 Playlist: Rise Up

We’re nearly two months into the new America, and here’s where we start to feel that lull, that loss of hope and will power and the siren’s song urging us to bury our heads back in the sand where it’s safe. The deluge of bad news, injustice, and outrage is constant and overwhelming, each day bringing fresh reasons to set our hair on fire. And so we have to constantly remind ourselves not to let this become the status quo. We have to repeat, over and over, that “This. Is. Not. Normal.” We have to sign petitions, make signs, set up monthly donations, sit through our lunches making phone calls to our representatives, and endeavor to keep the truth present in our lives.

So for this playlist, we wanted to gather the songs that make us feel a renewed sense of purpose. They make us want to wave our banner for truth and justice higher, to march and write and sing out, and to make them hear us, goddamnit.

These are songs to remind us to stand proud and strong. They remind us of what America actually is, what it can be, and what we need to fight for in order to make it that way. We’ve drawn from across genres and decades, from indie to platinum and everything in between. It’s not perfect or complete by any means, but we hope it inspires you to get up and go out into the world to fight for change and freedom and justice, with no regrets. We’re in this together.

As always, you can listen along here, on YouTube, or on Spotify (given certain copyright restrictions/limited availability of some songs, however, this month in particular we recommend you listen here).

All the Fixin’s: Jambalaya

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all! On this fattest of Tuesdays, we turn our attention to the bayou, where Zelda’s roots lie, and an all-Cajun edition of All the Fixin’s. This week, Zelda — ably assisted by her sous-chef, Scout — tackled one of her family’s favorites, particularly at this festive time of year. Jambalaya is, like many of Zelda’s favorite foods, a rice-based dish, involving some combination of meats and vegetables and a whole lot of spice. The meat can range from chicken and pork to seafood and game, while the vegetables typically include the “holy trinity” of Cajun cuisine — onions, celery, and green bell peppers — plus other goodies. Like most traditionally rural cuisine, it’s a dish that’s ripe for improvisation; whatever ingredients you had on hand, in whatever quantities you could scrape together, all went into the pot.

Jambalayas fall into two camps, Creole and Cajun, with the former including tomatoes while the latter does not. Zelda’s family traditionally makes the Creole variety, and her mama’s go-to recipe hails from the very cookbook on which her half of this series is based. With the holiday approaching and a twinge of homesickness creeping in, she decided to set aside a day for herself, her fancy new pot (thanks, Mom and Dad!), and Paul Prudhomme.

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Chicken and Seafood Jambalaya (based on Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen)

Ingredients

2 whole bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (This is a reduction from the recipe’s original 1 1/2, suggested by Zelda’s mama, and even so it results in a mighty spicy jambalaya! So if you can’t handle your heat, stick to 3/4 teaspoon or less.)

1 1/2 teaspoons oregano (dried)

1 1/4 teaspoons white pepper

1 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon thyme (dried)

2 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil (Paul calls for “chicken fat or pork lard or beef fat,” but if you don’t have any handy, we found canola oil works just fine.)

2/3 cup chopped ham, about 3 oz (Here Paul suggests you use tasso, a Cajun meat made of cured and smoked pork shoulder. His proposed substitute is any smoked ham, preferably Cure 81. After visiting three grocery stores and failing to find either of those, Zelda tapped into her grandmother’s roots and went with Virginia ham, cut in a thick 3 oz slice by the woman at the Whole Foods deli counter. It did the trick!)

1/2 cup chopped andouille smoked sausage, about 3 oz (Paul says you can also use “any other good pure smoked pork sausage such as Polish sausage or kielbasa,” but if Zelda’s Crown Heights grocery store can carry andouille, we believe your local grocer can too.)

1 1/2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

1 green bell pepper, chopped (The recipe calls for 3/4 cup, which amounted to about half a pepper, but it won’t hurt your jambalaya to just chop and toss the whole thing in. Waste not and whatnot.)

1/2 cup chicken, cut into bite-size pieces, about 3 oz (We found two chicken thighs did the trick.)

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic, about two cloves

4 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped (We used one can of diced tomatoes. Unless you have lots of time on your hands and deep love of chopping, we suggest you do the same.)

3/4 cup canned tomato sauce

2 cups seafood stock

1/2 cup chopped green onions (also known as scallions)

2 cups uncooked rice, preferably converted (The ideal here is Uncle Ben’s, who seem to be, if not the only, then at least the most prolific conveyors of “converted” rice. And while the recipe calls for 2 cups, you can just dump the whole box in.)

1 1/2 dozen peeled medium shrimp, about 1/2 pound

1 1/2 dozen oysters in their liquor, about 10 oz (Try as she might — and she really did try, to the tune of three grocery stores spread across two boroughs — Zelda could not find these suckers. The closest she came was Whole Foods, which offered individual oysters, unshucked, for $1.75 a pop. Now Zelda loves oysters, and she really did want to stick as closely as possible to the original on this, her first foray into jambalaya land. But ain’t nobody got $30 to spend on that, not to mention the time and equipment to self-shuck. So she decided to call it a day and double the amount of shrimp instead. Problem solved.)

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Directions

Combine the spices in a small bowl, mix well, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Sauté the ham and andouille until crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. (Note: If you do not have a dutch oven, or another pot+lid that can go in the oven, you can do all of your sautéing and mixing in a saucepan and then transfer to an oven-safe dish later on.)

Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the pan bottom well.

Add the chicken. Raise the heat to high and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the seasoning mix and the minced garlic. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the pan bottom, until well-combined and fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and cook until the chicken is tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently.

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Add the tomato sauce. Cook 7 minutes, stirring fairly often. (How is this different from stirring frequently? Your guess is as good as ours!)

Stir in the seafood stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Then add the green onions and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Add the rice, shrimp, and oysters if you have them. Stir until well-combined and remove from the heat. Put the lid on your dutch oven or other pot. If using a saucepan, transfer the entire mixture to a casserole or other oven-safe dish and cover with a lid or snug aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes, until the rice is tender but still a little bit crunchy.

Remove the bay leaves and enjoy!

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In terms of results, this might be our most successful cooking venture to date. It tasted just like Zelda’s mama makes it, bursting with a symphony of flavor and packing a hefty kick of spice. In fact, we were so overwhelmed with our feelings of culinary triumph and flavorful bliss that we forgot to take the customary photo of “individual portion in bowl.” Instead, please enjoy this approximation of our jambalaya reactions:

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Jambalaya is a lot of work. It requires time and effort and patience. Sometimes it can get a little messy. But like most things, it is more enjoyable when made with those you love. There’s room for everything, and everyone, in the jambalaya pot. And when it all comes together, sometimes in the most unlikely of combinations, the result can be a thing of beauty.

And it tastes really damn good, too.

The Old Fashioned Way

We all have that one drink: the cocktail standard that we order when we’re feeling fancy, and we want a little more than Blank & Blank. I’m talking about the go-to when you’re dressed up for the night, and you want to feel like your drink made as much effort as you did to be standing in this bar wearing your new bomb-ass boots. For me, that cocktail is the Old Fashioned. And if I want to class up my personal joint (and I am assured that the bartender has time), I order what I consider to be the most classic of bourbon cocktails.

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If it’s not the most classic, it is probably the oldest, or at least the oldest to be given the name “cocktail.” The term cocktail can be traced as far back as 1806, and in the strictest version of the the term it means a drink that is composed of any spirit, sugar, water, and bitters…so if you know the recipe, you can see how the Old Fashioned would be one of the oldest. But in case you don’t know, this is the Scout (and generally) accepted recipe:

Put some sugar (1 cube, a bar spoon full, or some simple) at the bottom of the glass, add two healthy dashes of bitters, and stir or muddle, depending on your sugar type. Add a couple ice cubes and a healthy serving of bourbon (rye is acceptable if bourbon for some reason is unavailable). Stir to combine. Finish with the essence of an orange peel (twist it above the glass to release all those good oils and rub it around the rim) and garnish with said orange peel.

Note: Some people will tell you there should be a cherry in there; those people, in my personal opinion, are wrong. God forbid someone muddles said cherry, and bless their hearts if it was a maraschino. Now I realize I may not be in the majority here; said people include the apparent namers of the cocktail, and a certain hometown establishment for Zelda and me, The Pendennis Club (Maybe if they let more women in, they’d get it right…but I digress. More on them later.). You do you, I guess: Just keep all cherries away from my old fashioned’s, please.


The name “Old Fashioned” probably initially referred to all drinks made in this spirit-sugar-water-bitters style. The term came into prominence in the late nineteenth century and referred mostly to drinks made in “an old fashioned style,” as opposed to with newfangled liqueurs and the like. There were old fashioned cocktails made with gin and whiskey and brandy (see: a gin version mentioned in 1862’s Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks). But the whiskey and bourbon versions gained more and more popularity as the nineteenth century turned into the 20th, and were soon cemented as The-with-a-capital-T Old Fashioned.

The official story is that the cocktail we know today as the Old Fashioned was invented in the 1880’s at Louisville’s own aforementioned Pendennis Club, by a bartender and whiskey magnate called James Pepper. He invented the drink and mixed the very first one in Louisville, and he later brought it up to New York’s City’s Waldorf-Astoria, where it really made its name (The old fashioned apparently has a similar life trajectory to Zelda’s and mine, fancy that).

In 1885, George Kappeler published Modern American Drinks, which included the recipe for The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail: “Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.” And essentially, that was that. The recipe has been slightly modified back and forth since then, but has stayed relatively close to the original.

In the 1930’s, the orange peel and cherry garnish were introduced, instigating turmoil among drinkers over what actually makes the perfect old fashioned. But you know you’ve got a good bartender when they ask “How do you like your old fashioned” after you order. Whether you stick to the traditional four-ingredient base, or add some orange zest, or take yours with brandy like they do in Wisconsin, or I suppose even if you muddle yours with a maraschino cherry (*sigh*), the old fashioned, in some way, shape, or form — is here to stay.

The great thing about a classic cocktail is that there’s endless potential to put a new spin on it, and bars these days continue to seize the opportunity, making them with agave or sorghum or whatever they can find. We are, as they say, in the age of the craft cocktail, and you can be sure that the Old Fashioned is in no danger of becoming what its name might suggest. But if you’re making me one? Please, no cherries.

Sources: Thrillist–The History of the Old Fashioned; The Mix–The History of the Cocktail

Required Reading, Volume Nine: Love Stories

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! I know this holiday can be controversial, whether you’re aggressively single and feeling lonely, or in a relationship and resentful of the capitalist complex that compels you to drop wads of cash on flowers, chocolate, stuffed animals, and more on an arbitrary February day. But personally, despite my usual status among the perpetually single, I love it. And I’ll tell you why.

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. But while traditionally that love is directed at a romantic partner, a boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse or lover, I choose to use this day to celebrate all of the love in my life, particularly for the family members and friends who we maybe don’t tell we love them as often as we should. Just because you’re not involved with anybody in a non-platonic way does not mean you don’t have beloveds in your life, and this day can be a day to honor that…and to eat massive amounts of chocolate.

In the Heart Day spirit, this month’s Required Reading is a compilation of love stories (most of them in the traditional, Big L sense). From classics to newcomers, young adult to experimental, non-fiction to graphic novels and everything in between, these are some of my favorite books about what it means to love and be loved.

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Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: A classic for a reason. Whether it’s your first or fifth or fiftieth time reading it, you can’t help but get swept away by Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth and their tempestuous path to love. The movies are great, the web series delightful, but nothing beats this masterpiece in its original form.

“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.”

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The History of Love, Nicole Krauss: I’ve mentioned this book in a post before, and with good reason. It is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read; I’ve recommended it to countless friends and bought it for birthdays and Christmases and just because. It tells the story of romantic love, yes, but also of the love between parent and child, brother and sister, friend and friend in a multi-layered narrative that spans continents and decades.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”

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The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman: The most accurate portrayal I’ve found in literature of what it’s like to date in New York in your 20s. If you are a twenty-something, or you were once a twenty-something, you will find characters and misadventures here that you recognize.

“Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You’re sizing people up to see if they’re worth your time and attention, and they’re doing the same to you. It’s meritocracy applied to personal life, but there’s no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact – to keep from becoming cold and callous – and we hope that at the end of it we wind up happier than our grandparents, who didn’t spend this vast period of their lives, these prime years, so thoroughly alone, coldly and explicitly anatomized again and again.”

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Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro: Warning: Read this one with a box of Kleenex. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up together, students at a strange boarding school called Hailsham. But what starts as a seemingly typical love triangle quickly devolves into something much darker as the trio discover their history and grapple with their inescapable reality. Like the best of Ishiguro’s work, it will devastate you, enlighten you, and make you reexamine your humanity.

“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us.”

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The Shipping News, Annie Proulx: A quiet love story set among the cliffs and crashing waves of Newfoundland, this novel sneaks up on you. Quoyle is a man who has grown accustomed to being overlooked, scathed into submission by his unstable, unfaithful wife. When she dies in a car crash (having abandoned Quoyle and their two children to run off with one of her lovers), he moves the small family back to his family’s ancestral home where they all set about the task of learning to love and be loved. The colorful cast of village characters will amuse you, the descriptions of the desolate landscape will dazzle you, but it is the love story at the book’s core that will creep quietly into your heart and sit there long after you’ve turned the last page.

“We’re all strange inside. We learn how to disguise our differences as we grow up.” (I also love “One of the tragedies of real life is that there is no background music.”)

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Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed: The best book I’ve found yet that teaches you how to love and be loved. Strayed is gentle but firm, kind but unflinchingly honest. This is another favorite one of mine to give friends or family members as a gift; there is something in it for everyone. My only regret is that there isn’t a way to bring the real Strayed with me everywhere as my fairy godmother and advice dispenser to guide me through life’s ups and downs.

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

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The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: This star-crossed tale about two young illusionists is positively enchanting, much like Le Cirque des Rêves where it takes place. Celia and Marco have been trained their whole lives to compete against each other in a magical duel (which, unbeknownst to them, only one magician can survive). But when they meet, their connection is instantaneous, passionate, and spell-binding. And the book is as enchanting as the illusions they weave, spinning whole worlds from paper and will.

“Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case.”

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The Lover’s Dictionary, David Levithan: Brilliant and beautiful and sad, this slim volume, as the title suggests, tells the story of a relationship in dictionary entries. Each definition treads the line between prose and poetry, and as the words pile up a picture of a romance (and, spoiler alert, its demise) gradually emerges. It is a deceptively fast read the first time through, but deserves many a revisit (and as a bonus, Levithan continues to write new entries on his Twitter).

“The key to a successful relationship isn’t just in the words, it’s in the choice of punctuation. When you’re in love with someone, a well-placed question mark can be the difference between bliss and disaster, and a deeply respected period or a cleverly inserted ellipsis can prevent all kinds of exclamations.”

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Why We Broke Up, Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman: Not all love stories last forever. Min and Ed’s is ending, right now. As she writes him a break-up letter to accompany the box she will drop at his house, filled with the detritus of a relationship, she goes through the objects one by one, weaving a tale of first love that will take you right back to adolescence. Maira Kalman’s gorgeous illustrations add another dimension to this intimate, sweet, honest portrait of first love.

“Ed, it was everything, those nights on the phone, everything we said until late became later and then later and very late and finally to go to bed with my ear warm and worn and red from holding the phone close close close so as not to miss a word of what it was, because who cared how tired I was in the humdrum slave drive of our days without each other. I’d ruin any day, all my days, for those long nights with you, and I did. But that’s why right there it was doomed. We couldn’t only have the magic nights buzzing through the wires. We had to have the days, too, the bright impatient days spoiling everything with their unavoidable schedules, their mandatory times that don’t overlap, their loyal friends who don’t get along, the unforgiven travesties torn from the wall no matter what promises are uttered past midnight, and that’s why we broke up.”

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Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell: Speaking of first love, this is another utterly wonderful, not the least bit sappy book about a first romance. To the outside world, Eleanor and Park are an unlikely pair, but these misfits discover that their weird and quirky pieces fit together like a perfect puzzle. That’s not to say that everything is hearts and roses — Eleanor’s home life in particular adds a dark element to their love story — but they love each other, as much as they can, for as long as they can, and they don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks about it. This book is sweet and will give you all the warm fuzzy butterflies of a delicious 16 year-old crush…but you might want to keep some tissues handy, just sayin’.

“You saved my life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always.”

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This Modern Love, Will Darbyshire: Yes, this is yet another YouTuber book, this one courtesy of angsty British charmer Will Darbyshire. But unlike his peers, whose books tend to fall into the memoir/humor category, Darbyshire follows in the tradition of Post Secret with a crowd-sourced compilation covering all things love. Over the course of six months, he posed various questions to his viewers — What would you say to your ex, without judgement? How has technology affected your relationship, either positively or negatively? What single word sums up your love life, your partner, or someone you like? — and then distilled the responses into this book. The letters range from funny to reflective, sarcastic to sincere, and together form a portrait of what it looks like to navigate love in the 21st century.

“Dear —, You are like that one piece of artwork in an art gallery that people spend a little longer admiring. Rosa, UK.”

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Soppy, Philippa Rice: And last but not least, now for something completely different, a graphic novel! British artist Rice documents the everyday life of herself and her boyfriend, a parade of small, everyday moments that add up to intimacy and love. It’s sweet but, despite the title, not saccharinely so. Rice doesn’t shy away from the fights or inconveniences of sharing your life with another person, and the portrait she paints is a complete one, true to the quiet reality of true love.

On Representation in Pop Culture

It’s been a rough couple of weeks here in the United States. I’m scared; most people that I come into daily contact with are too. And we have every reason to be. We’re living in the backstory of a dystopian novel right now. And in these frightening times, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and privilege and personhood. I’m lucky: I’m a white woman in a liberal city, and I come from a solid upper-middle/lower-upper-class economic background. I’ve got parents who will support me if things get rough. I’ll be okay because of who I am. I wish everyone could have that feeling.

It’s hard for me to talk about our political atmosphere without getting overwhelmed with anxiety. There are a million things wrong right now, and the sheer depth and breadth of them all is overwhelming. I’m not going to be able to break them all down and figure out how to combat all of them, but I’m going to try my best to do as much as I can. I’m going to write postcards and call my senators and do something every week that maybe helps our collective souls. One step at a time. And because dialogue is important, and one has a responsibility to use whatever size platform one possesses, I want to use this week’s post to talk about media and representation and why it matters.

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As I said, in many ways, I’m very lucky. I get to look at magazine covers and billboards and see faces like mine generally doing okay. I’m lucky enough to see people who look like me on television, in movies, described in books. These characters have jobs and families, experience love and happiness and adventures. I’m grateful for that. But not everyone is so lucky. One of the things that Zelda and I often grapple with on this blog is the feeling that our views are too insular. We’re two white girls with very similar upbringings, offering one viewpoint on the South and New York and our lives. And that’s hard for us. We want to bring in other voices, to highlight them and their stories as much as we can, and while we try, we don’t always succeed. Even looking back at our list of our favorite Southern movies from a couple weeks ago, there’s not a ton of diversity there. We know we need to do better. All media needs to do better. If we only tell a single story, how are we supposed to understand the struggles of others?

People of every walk of life deserve to see versions of themselves illuminated. It helps them accept who they are and stops the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. And on the flip side, one of the best ways to cultivate empathy is to hear human stories about people of different backgrounds or different identities from your own. It helps you to imagine others complexly, to understand the things that bring us together and celebrate the things that set us apart. And while clearly I don’t have it as tough as some people, I can speak from personal experience when I say that representation is really important. Here’s why: I am bisexual. I came out to my small group of friends a little over a year ago, and to a lot of my family…just now, in the previous sentence.

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I come from a place where being queer wasn’t maligned, but it was heavily stereotyped. Certain people “looked gay” or “acted gay.” There wasn’t such a thing as a queer spectrum; identities were either homosexual or heterosexual, and bisexuality was for girls in a “rebellious” phase or for people who just weren’t ready to be “fully” gay yet. That kind of environment is still the case for many people. And these biases  proved really hard for me to get over, especially the idea that being bi was like some sort of sexual purgatory you were in until you “picked a side.” I didn’t learn about the Kinsey scale until college, and even then I wasn’t totally comfortable with claiming my pretty central place on it. There was a lot of socialized thinking that having a “girl crush” was a totally straight thing to have — and maybe for some people it was. But not for me. Slowly, I acknowledged my identity internally near the end of college. It would take years after that before I was able to come to terms with it publicly.

I was able to come out when I did because I was in an environment that made me feel safe, surrounded a strong support system. But the journey to that point, and since then, as I became comfortable telling people and owning my identity, was also thanks in large part to positive representation — specifically two characters: Clarke Griffin of The 100 and Darryl Whitefeather of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. These two are not by any means the first bisexual characters to grace television screens — far from it — but they were the first two that I was able to really connect with. They were the first, on shows that I watched, whose bisexuality was depicted as just another facet of their personality, not the be-all-end-all of who they were. It wasn’t overly sexualized; it wasn’t portrayed as a phase. It was brought up simply for what it was: attraction to two genders. It wasn’t the one thing that defined them, but it also wasn’t insignificant. It was a part of their story the same way it was a part of mine.

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My first encounter with bisexuality in the media was not as nuanced. The O.C. brought me the character of Alex Kelly, played by Olivia Wilde, back in 2004. Alex was great because she introduced me to the fact that there was such a thing as bisexuality. But a lot of her arc, and of Wilde’s performance, was hyper-sexualized. She didn’t have much of a personality outside of being a significant other to both Seth and Marissa, and with Marissa in particular her character seemed to exist as an object for rebellion and a method for Marissa to shock her mother, rather than as a three-dimensional human being with whom Marissa shared an intimate connection.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I was still a long way off from exploring this aspect of myself, so I wasn’t really looking for representations of this part of me. But as I went on, I continued to encounter bi characters that were similarly oversexualized, or even more so. The media made it seem like being bisexual meant you had to have a lot of threesomes, which just isn’t true. You can be bisexual and have threesomes, just like you can be heterosexual or homosexual or queer and have threesomes. But you can also be bisexual and not have any sex. You can only date one gender and still be attracted to two. Each person’s sexuality — bi or otherwise — is as unique and diverse as people themselves. But until recently, it seemed like all the bi characters I saw on tv and in films were one-dimensional sex fiends. And that started to hurt.

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Now Clarke and Darryl are far from the only bisexual television characters nowadays (which is awesome), and they’re far from perfect. They’re both white, which is not exactly groundbreaking, and they both come from relatively privileged backgrounds. But nevertheless, they’re the ones I connected with. I identified with them because they’re rounded, interesting characters whose identity is not rooted solely in their bisexuality. Clarke’s got other things on her mind besides relationships, having to save the world multiple times and all. But sometimes she wants comfort or companionship or a little fun, and she can get it from men or women. And while there are periods  of the show where she is in an exclusive relationship with a woman, that does not invalidate her bisexuality. Then there’s Darryl, who is wonderfully unafraid to claim his newly discovered identity — sometimes in song. His sexuality-discovery arc is one of the most genuine things I’ve seen on television.

I am so grateful to live in a time where Clarke and Darryl are on TV, and network TV at that. But the world needs so much more. We need more Clarke’s and more Darryl’s. We need more Annalise Keatings, more Magnuses, more Korras and Asamis. We need more queer characters and trans characters and characters who fall all along the spectrum. And representation is not just about gender or sexuality. We need more characters of color, more Kamala Khan’s and Miles Morales’s. We need Nyota Uhura’s and Zoe Washburne’s and Toshiko Sato’s. We need Jane Villanueva’s and Jessica Huang’s. Cassian Andor’s and Bhodi Rook’s. We need more movies like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, shows like Atlanta and Master of None. We need to let actors of color play characters whose central trait isn’t their race. We need to stop white-washing Asian characters. We need John Cho as a romantic lead, as an action lead, as a period drama lead, as…you know what, you can make John Cho the lead of anything, please and thank you.

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It is 2017, and with the world more diverse than ever, we need to acknowledge that the straight, cis, white Protestant is not the default person. So in this season of resolutions, let’s all try to expand our views of others. Let’s read and watch and listen to and elevate stories that aren’t our own. Let’s strive to see people as complex beings. The more diverse our media becomes, the better we can build empathy for the people in the world who aren’t like us — whatever “us” may be — so that we may understand the struggles of others and stand next to them on the frontlines of resistance. Let us build the modern canon so that it actually looks like the world today. The best thing about world building is that your world can be free from the socio-economic-political-racial-sexual-etc. divides of reality. You can make your own rules. And what comes out can be beautiful.

Pics via: LoquaciousLiterature; Fox; The CW; Hypable