Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

The Stack: Spring '18

The Stack: Spring '18


The last time I detailed what I'd been reading, I admitted to slacking off and only gave you guys five books over six months.

Well, this time, I've made it up to you: seven books for the last three months. (If you scroll to the bottom of the site and click the email icon, I've provided my address. You may direct all congratulations that way. Thanks in advance.)

I also included a couple of books that I started and didn't finish. This does not inherently mean you wouldn't enjoy them, but I figured the notes as to why might give you some insight if you're on the fence about either of them.

Without further ado:

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. Yes, really. Yes, I know. It's a fluff YA novel basically intended to make you cry. But hear me out! As I mentioned in a previous post, I'd hit a reading wall of sorts and this book helped me get out of it. It's by no means a deep read, but flying through something totally different was just what I needed as a sort of breather from my usual nonfiction. Also, I'll contend that any book that can make you cry over the plight of its characters has at least some merit as a written work. It means the author crafted a person who feels real, who you can empathize with! So cut TFIOS a break. Just because 14-year-olds love it doesn't mean we can't, too! Take back reading for fun 2k18!

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss. I borrowed this from a friend with zero knowledge about it, and honestly, now that I've read it, it still feels kind of impossible to describe. The convoluted story of an elderly man who wrote and (thought he) lost a book about how he loved and lost a woman, and the book's actual survival and impact on a bunch of unknowingly interconnected characters. (Did you follow that? No? Didn't think so.) Also kind of about love in general, as a concept. I will go on the record as saying the story overall is depressing as heck, BUT! It's so amazingly written that I was astonished. And that's the correct word for it. Krauss writes from the perspective of about a dozen different characters, each with a very singular voice, without losing a sort of tonal common thread. I can't imagine being able to do that. Read it for the writing.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones. I HATE THIS BOOK. The writing, okay, is beautiful. I started out thrilled with it. The words themselves are a masterpiece. However, the storyline is an exploration of an extremely layered issues, and despite starting off strong, it concludes in a total moral shrug. Like, two of the three main characters make exceedingly selfish decisions, the consequences are laid out, and then the final conclusion is basically, "Well, that's life! Everyone gets over it eventually!" I feel like the author thinks this is really artistic. I think it's lazy. Chalking it up to a worldview difference, I'm sure. Anyway, super popular right now so can’t wait for people to use this book to feel justified in self-centered decisions/resulting collateral damage!!!

The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau. After An American Marriage absolutely incensed me for a few days, I swiftly turned my back on fiction forever* and returned to nonfiction to calm myself down. I really enjoy Guillebeau's work as a whole — it's motivating and creatively inspiring — so it's no surprise that The Happiness of Pursuit was similar. Basically a book about how and why people pursue big, journey-oriented goals. Some good, practical advice and really awesome, inspirational stories. And a quick read! If you’re feeling creatively stuck, 10/10 would recommend.

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance. This book is I N C R E D I B L E. Incredible. Social science brought to life in autobiographical story. Vance tells his own story of growing up in and eventually leaving the white working class, and from that perspective, explores the poverty — material, relational, emotional and mental — of the people he came from in a way that totally transformed my understanding of it. My dad recommended it to me after a friend of his with a strikingly similar story recommended it to him. I called him not halfway into the book, shrieking about the light it shed on the situations of a handful of students I've led in youth groups over the years. I could talk of almost nothing else for days on end. It's fascinating, and heartbreaking, and just a truly singular work of journalism. It shook me, truly. Read it.

Tribe, Sebastian Junger. Another deeply interesting nonfiction book — I think it's probably best classified as psychology? Most of it focuses on how people, counterintuitively, thrive in situations of war/natural disaster/collective social distress, supporting the basic premise that humans thrive in community. It doesn't sound like a groundbreaking idea, but I think that's why the author chose such startling examples — to illustrate the point that while we think that premise is obvious, we've actually structured society in the western (and especially American) world in total opposition to it. We're incredibly isolated.
I struggled (and still do) to articulate my thoughts after reading it, but as someone who believes what I believe — a Christian, like of the original (not perfect, but not politicized) meaning — I thought it was absolutely biblical. Right? My mind went straight to Acts. And it was really, really interesting to read as someone tried to make a deeply biblical point apart from the Bible. I think that's why, though the intentions really resonated with me, I balked at some of the rather dark conclusions the author went to. Though taking a biblical idea to a dark place with good intentions is kind of people's specialty, I guess, now that I think about it. Anyway, interesting book! Super short, too, so if you're interested, I'd definitely recommend giving it a go.

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart. Let's 180 back to fiction, shall we? Another recommendation from a friend, and this one did not disappoint. Think Nancy Drew vibes, but a bit modernized, and with humor. Also, it held genuinely surprising turns! I think I wasn't expecting it because the author really runs with this kind of kitschy vibe, but maybe that's just so the actual storyline packs even more punch by contrast. It's the first in a series, and I'm not sure I'll actually continue with the others, but I was definitely satisfied by the overall experience, if that makes sense.

And to wrap things up, here's my DNF list:

Backpacked, Catherine Ryan Howard. An intended-to-be-humorous travel memoir, except the author just kept making the same joke over and over about how she's a Starbucks and beaches kind of girl, how on earth did she end up taking a backpacking trip across Central America with her adventurous best friend!!! Crazy!!! I got the point a couple chapters in and there was no need to continue. (I feel kind of bad and insecure writing this because I secretly fear writing a one-dimensional humor book one day. So hey, let's at least acknowledge that Catherine has actually published a memoir, and I have not. Props to Catherine!)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami. This is a cult classic, and for good reason. It's just that I kinda decided halfway through that I didn't care all that much what the author talked about when he talked about running.

!Fin! How about errbody else? Let me know what you've been reading lately!

*not forever

Recipe for a Good Weekend

Recipe for a Good Weekend

Zine Life

Zine Life