I looooove to read. It's probably my most favourite thing to do in the entire world. What I don't like to do is read long book reviews. Hence, I'm keeping things short, hopefully just to whet your appetite. Here are a few of my favourite books that I read this summer.
The Favourite Sister
By Jessica Knowles
Do you watch reality shows like the Bachelor and the Housewives franchise? I don’t, but I did really enjoy this book that uses the genre as its backdrop. Two sisters star in the reality show Goal Diggers about young, rich New York business women. And shockingly, just because they’re successful, doesn’t mean they aren’t backstabbing. When one sister winds up dead, the rest of the cast members seem to have more motives than Manolos. But which of these crazy characters actually gone and done it? A deliciously soapy thriller, with pop culture references aplenty, I gleefully devoured these pages. The perfect beach read.
I also loved Knowles’s first book, The Luckiest Girl Alive, where once again, things aren’t what they seem. And if you like fictionalized reality shows, check out Unreal.
Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng
In Everything I Never Told You, a daughter’s death causes a family to unravel. (Not a spoiler alert, you learn of the death in the first chapter.) Oh wow, what a downer, who wants to read that?! Yeah, it is kind of heavy but what I found really interesting was the subject of family and secrecy. We are reminded that you can never truly know or understand another person and their experiences, even if you live side by side. Ok, well that's another depressing thought. But I love Ng’s work because it’s very well written while also immensely readable.
Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng
In her follow-up to Everything, Ng again sets her story in the 1970, this time in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where the author grew up. Once again exploring the themes of family and secrecy, Little Fires also looks at the meaning of motherhood and the lengths some mothers go to protect their children. The story centres around the Richardsons, a traditional suburban family - mom, dad, and three kids - who are not as stereotypical as they first appear. And when a single mom and her daughter move into an apartment the Richardsons rent out, things go topsy turvy. A lot of the subject matter feels very ripped from the headlines, as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
Reese Witherspoon and Kerri Washington are set to star in an eight-episode TV version for Hulu. Can’t wait!
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
By Bryn Greenwood
This is one stayed with me long after I finished the last page. Bryn Greenwood tells the story of eight-year-old Wavy, whose parents are meth dealers and crazy to boot. When her little brother comes along, it’s clear to Wavy that she’s the only one adult enough to take care of him.
She soon befriends a young man named Kellen, who also happens to be one of her father’s heavies. And while he’s hardly perfect, he’s the only support she has in her very messed up world. The story follows their relationship for well over a decade. I don’t want to spoilt it but I’ll just say that at times, it's uncomfortable to read. Or is it? The book asks big questions about family and love and all the ugly and wonderful things they can entail.
I've been doing improv for a few years now. And by doing, I mean taking classes and doing performances at Blind Tiger Comedy. The photo above is from one such class. As you can see, my classmates and I are beyond hilarious.
I initially signed up for classes to hone my improvisational skills for TV work. I've also found it extremely helpful when I go to auditions. But I've come to realize that improv has valuable lessons to impart not just for on-camera work, but also for life in general. It's helped me in meetings, pitches, and in any social situation where I don't know many people.
Here's why I think anyone can benefit from enrolling in a class or two.
1. Be Average. One of my early teachers, Veena Sood, stressed the importance of being average, which sounds pretty counter-intuitive for most of us. What she means is stop trying so hard. When you are constantly focused on being your best, questioning whether everything you do is good enough, you spend a lot of time in your head. Whether you’re acting, giving a presentation or making small talk at a dinner party, stop trying to be smart, funny, charming, etc. Take the pressure off yourself and just be average.
2. Think on your Feet. A lot of improv involves acting out scenarios with no time to prepare. Be an astronaut, pretend you’re looking for buried treasure, perform brain surgery. You don’t get 10 minutes to figure out what to say or do. You have to make it up as you go along. It’s great practice for thinking on your feet and again, not over-thinking things.
3. Don’t block. In improv, you are encouraged to say YES. When your scene partner says, “Let’s go into the woods and pick flowers,” you don’t say, “No, I don’t want to.” By saying no, you’re blocking the idea and forcing your scene partner to come up with yet another suggestion. By saying yes, you keep things flowing and moving forward. In life there are plenty of valid places for a “no,” but saying yes opens you up to new experiences and can take you in unforeseen directions.
4. Analyze your Status. Playing with "status" is an improv trick, which helps you build and define the character you're playing. Low status people tend to fidget, giggle, and avoid eye contact. They also try to contract their bodies, taking up as little space as possible. Think Woody Allen. High status people take up more space, they hold eye contact and move about less. Think Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife.
Playing improv games involving status is a valuable acting exercise as body language goes a long way in defining a character. In real life, we are often low status in some situations and high in others. There’s no one right way to be. But I came to realize that the aw-shucks low status attitude while often charming, can also be grating. The composure of high status can seem confident and controlled, but also cold. The exercises made me evaluate my own body language and low/high status proclivities.
5. Be Silly. When you’re making stuff up on the fly, lots of silliness comes out. Improv is “disposable theatre” so it will not live on to haunt you. (Though I have come home from many a performance and thought, "why did I say X and not Y!" But in a class-type setting, no one cares if you say something stupid. (And trust me, you likely will.) It's so fun, so freeing to just let loose, and allow your creativity and spontaneity to percolate. You get to play again, something we adults often don’t have a chance to do.
Considering taking a class? Do it! You're guaranteed to learn some new skills that will help you in work and in play.