Mirror, Mirror: Favorites in Non-Fiction

During the summer, my mother would take my brother and I to the library every single week. We were voracious readers no matter the time of year, but there is something especially magical about summer reading. The long days spent by the pool, the family vacations, the school-free hours–they all begged to have a book or two or three.

Some of my favorite books were discovered on these weekly outings. I would take novel after novel lovingly off their dusty shelves and ask, “Mom? Can I get this one too?”

Never one to discourage reading, Mom always said yes. In fact, she only had one library rule: we had to check out at least one fiction book, and one non-fiction book.

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I loved books, but I hated this rule. In my mind, non-fiction was boring. It had no creativity, no soul. Non-fiction books were textbooks on steroids. If it wasn’t about animals or mythology, I probably wasn’t interested–which is a shame, because I was interested in a lot of things. It was just that those things weren’t usually presented to me in an engaging way.

Or so I thought.

I’m happy to say that I’ve discovered some wonderful non-fiction books since the summers of my childhood. Some were discovered at the library. Others were found while I was working particularly long shifts at the bookstore. I listened to a few of them during long Atlanta commutes. And I love them all dearly. If fiction allows us to see ourselves and our world through another lens, non-fiction allows us to take a good, long look in the mirror.

Read about some of my all-time favorites, and be sure to tell me about your own!

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Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy M.D.  

Now, I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I was drawn to Black Man in a White Coat immediately. The title struck me, as did the photograph emblazoned on the cover.

Dr. Tweedy begins his story during his first year of medical school, where he often studies diseases that are “more common in blacks than in whites.” From there, he examines America’s healthcare system and his own biases, and tells his patients’ stories. I read this within a few days, but is not necessarily an easy read; justice and medicine are so closely intertwined, and each chapter pulls at your heartstrings. It’s certainly a wake-up call, but it’s one that we all desperately need.

Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

This may be slightly sacrilegious, but there are a few religious leaders I think of as bros.

Pope Francis, for instance, is a bro. I would call Mother Teresa a bro. Jesus is most definitely a bro. And Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is totally a bro. Not in God’s Name is a beautifully written book that reminds us that the Abrahamic faiths are siblings. Unfortunately, we have often resorted to violence to fight with our siblings. Rabbi Sacks analyzes our shared stories, pointing out common mistakes we make when we read religious texts. I already knew that at their core, the Abrahamic faiths do not condone violence–but Rabbi Sacks makes a case for why they don’t, and it is completely fascinating.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee

Same-sex marriage is finally legal throughout the U.S, but we have a long way to go–especially within the church. It’s no secret that sexuality and religion have butted heads throughout history; in recent years, many religious organizations have taken official positions on LGBTQ-related issues. In all the noise, we often forget that there are many, many LGBTQ people who are also part of the church.

This is more than theological disagreement. This hurts real people, and it hurts the church, and it hurts the God that Christians claim to serve.

Enter Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network. In his book, he writes about his struggle between faith and sexuality–and proves that there is a much better solution than conversion therapy or the common plea to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’

I can’t recommend this book enough. No matter your faith (or lack thereof), this is an important story to hear.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

The only thing you need to know about Yes, Please is that Amy Poehler is a goddess and everything she does is perfect.

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Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean by Jackson Galaxy with Joel Derfner

I purchased Cat Daddy because I was looking for a new audiobook. Originally, my audibook app recommended A Dog’s Purpose, which I was this close to buying until I realized that I would probably end up sobbing in my car every day. But then  remembered that Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist from the show My Cat From Hell, had written a book about cats! It was the perfect solution: I would still have a book about animals, but I could learn about cat behavior instead of getting punched in the feels.

Spoiler alert: I got punched in the feels. And I cried.

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Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Another excellent read for my fellow Christians–or anyone who has felt ever felt burned out by church and religion, really (I’m willing to bet that’s most of us).

Rachel Held Evans reminded me that faith, doubt, and anger are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they co-exist more often than we would like to believe, and it’s completely normal. It’s human. 

“The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.”

-Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday combines a bit of church history and culture with Evans’s own insights. It had been on my to-read list for a while, and I finally read it after snagging the digital version for two dollars. I don’t know if I have ever highlighted so many quotes in my entire life. I promise you won’t be disappointed (her blog is worth a visit, too!).

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney

This is the book I wish I had as a teen. I didn’t have my first boyfriend until my last year of college; before that, I just thought something was wrong with me. Naturally, I saw myself in these stories–and how could I not? The author and I even have the same name! Never Have I Ever is a wonderful reminder that romance is different for everyone. You don’t have to have your first kiss at thirteen or your first significant other at sixteen. You don’t even have to ever kiss anyone if you don’t want to. You just have to be you. Happy endings are for everyone, after all.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

Even though I’m not a mother, I can relate to almost every chapter in this book.  You see, Glennon and I are kindred spirits: we are afraid of inviting people over; we hate all the same chores; we live with people who are obsessed with dental hygiene. And I can most definitely see myself asking my future daughter to push her doll stroller across the carpet to create lines that made it look like I vacuumed. I laughed so hard at these stories, but I was also moved by Glennon’s thoughts on life, faith, and love.

I’ve already bought the audio version of her newest memoir, Love Warriorand at this point, Glennon feels like a close friend. That’s why I’m calling her Glennon. We’re on a first-name basis and everything.

“… a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
― George R.R. Martin

For more book recs, feel free to add me on Goodreads! Talking about books is my favorite thing (after actually reading books, of course.).

What are some of your favorite non-fiction books? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter

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3 Financial Attitudes You Need to Adopt After Getting Engaged to Keep Your Sanity

This article was originally published as a guest post on Britt & The Benjamins, but Brittney has kindly allowed me to post on Quills and Crystals as well. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section. I’d love to hear about your own wedding planning experience–or what you imagine it will be like! 

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On a scale of Pinterest-perfect centerpieces to spontaneous courthouse elopements, my wedding plans always fell somewhere in between (messy chalkboard art, perhaps). The closest I’ve ever had to a “dream wedding” was during a family trip to Disney World, where we spotted a bride and groom head towards their happily ever-after in a horse-drawn carriage. My jaw dropped. “I want to get married here,” I announced. I mean, why wouldn’t I get married at Disney World?

Of course, that was when I was about twelve years old—way before I knew how much weddings actually cost. Fast-forward ten years or so, and I didn’t know much other than the fact that I wanted an affordable wedding that was beautiful, but not too big or fancy. I scrapped the Disney idea (but if you managed to pull off a Disney World wedding, I. WANT. PICTURES.) and scoffed at the idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding.

And that was before I got engaged. Initially, my fiancé, Drew, and I had a goal of spending no more than $10,000. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is around $30,000, so I felt pretty frugal in comparison.

I still think a $30,000 wedding seems a little extravagant, but after booking our vendors, I’m more understanding of how couples reach that point. I know now that some venues require that you use their own caterer—which means no bargain hunting for charming buffet dinners. You may want to invite all of your friends and family, which—surprise!—will cost more. You might have to travel just to get to your own wedding. And don’t forget about those deposits. And dress alterations. And postage.

Lesson learned: it’s very easy to spend more than you anticipated. We’ve had a lot of conversations about money—about wedding budgets, yes, but also in the context of our marriage—and I’ve had to adjust my financial philosophies accordingly. Here are three ideas I’m trying to put into practice before our big day.

  1. Decide what to prioritize. Before Drew and I even started looking at venues or vendors, we came up with a list of wedding must-haves. For instance, we both want incredible food and an open bar, but neither of us have particularly strong feelings about floral arrangements—so, we’re splurging on food and going the DIY-route for bouquets. Be equally upfront about who you want to invite. While I love the idea of a small, intimate ceremony, it ain’t gonna happen: my family is ginormous and incredibly tight-knit. Cutting out cousins, aunts, and uncles is simply not an option; cutting out favors or decor, however, definitely is.
  2. Don’t focus on the differences between your salaries. I’m a writer who has done my fair share of job hopping; Drew has had the same job in IT for several years. I realized long ago that writers don’t usually become millionaires, and I knew that I needed a steady source of income before I cranked out a bestseller (or anything, really, but I’m trying to be optimistic). What I didn’t know is how strange it would be to discuss finances with my fiancé, who might always earn more money than I will. Have an open discussion about your financial situation, but don’t let the numbers paralyze you. Remember: you are a team. No matter how you decide to combine finances—if at all—your ultimate goal is to have a better, more beautiful life together.
  3. Learn how to accept help—financial or otherwise. Full disclaimer: Drew and I are coming from quite a bit of privilege, and we are insanely lucky to have family and friends who are willing to help with wedding expenses and planning. For some (like me), money and pride go hand-in-hand. Generosity may be difficult to swallow if you are striving for independence; while independence is not a bad thing, this can be an opportunity to learn from people who are chipping in or offering advice. If your parents are able to pay for your wedding, how did they manage to save that much money? Even if you are paying for your wedding, there are a lot of people who are probably willing to give you advice. Ask questions about budgets, planning a honeymoon, and everyday married life. Listen to them. You’ll feel less alone, and you’ll be relieved when you learn you weren’t the only one who didn’t know dress fitting appointments were a thing.

Our wedding is still months away, and the thought of so much to purchase and plan can get overwhelming, to say the least. But I’ve realized that at the end of the day, our engagement is a time to celebrate. And better yet, we’ll soon be living our own fairy tale. No carriage required.

Rethinking Animal Advocacy

Like many young girls, I used to dream of being a veterinarian. Then, of course, I learned that vet school required far too much math, science, and handling blood–none of which I consider my strong suits. I later realized I wanted to be a writer, but I still love animals and often wish that our house could become a sort of animal sanctuary.

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Not that we could responsibly care for so many animals. Drew and I are already the proud parents of Constable Chubs. She’s been a part of our family for over a year, and even though I may act like an overbearing mother (“Constable Chubs, you are so cute. You are a literal angel. GOD HAD THE BEST DAY WHEN HE MADE YOU!”), I cannot imagine life without our sweet feline friend. Our roommate, Kate, also has a cat named Sam. He and the Constable usually get along, but I don’t think they would be too thrilled to share their food with another cat.

I’m lucky to be with someone who understands my soft spot for animals. For instance, we have a strict no-kill policy when it comes to spiders, but Drew and I are both extremely afraid of spiders….so releasing them back into the wild is always a very dramatic process (BUT IT’S WORTH IT. Live your life, little spider. Just…please don’t come back inside, okay?).

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
― A.A. Milne

A few months after I moved to Atlanta, Drew and I started volunteering at a local animal shelter. It was wonderful, but like many wonderful things, it soon fell out of our weekly routine. Once I found a steady job and a regular schedule, I started volunteering at another shelter.

Even though I love all animals, I signed up to work with cats. I have more experience with kitties, and I (usually) know what to do if a cat gets frightened or stressed. I didn’t want to work  at the front desk or provide adoption counseling, either–I’ve had enough of customer service jobs, and didn’t want my introvert self to get burnt out from something that was supposed to be fun.

Of course, that’s where I went wrong. Caring for animals definitely relates to caring for people, but it goes far beyond adoption fees or customer service. The goal of any shelter should be to find permanent homes for each and every animal; with that kind responsibility, how could we not extend our love anyone who passes by?

After all, I know how my pets have changed my life. I want everyone to have that chance: the children who visit and read to the cats; the mom who is trying to decide which cat to bring home; the couple who has too many pets but wanted to say hello. Adopting an animal is a win-win situation for everyone–you get a friend, and an animal finds a home.

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There are a lot of awful things in the world that we cannot change. But maybe we can learn to care for a lost puppy, or save a spider from being crushed. Peace starts with empathy; empathy starts with us. If we can learn to take care of tiny creatures, how much better will we be able to take care of each other?

Has an animal ever changed your life for the better? How have animals helped you become more compassionate towards people? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments! 

 

Change the World, One Step at a Time

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For every tragedy or major political event, I spend hours reading the news. Headlines and Twitter threads become my bedtime story; my heart breaks for people I will never meet, and they become my prayer.

And so often, that’s where it ends. I whisper kind words and send happy thoughts out into the universe, and then they are oh-so conveniently forgotten. Our paths split as soon as they meet on my wishful spiritual plane, because the world is too damn big, and there is nothing I can do.
If there is anything I have learned in the past year, it is that I have bought into a horrible lie: that, in order to help others, I need to do something drastic. Growing up, I heard stories of environmentalists and imagined what it would be like to handcuff myself to a tree. Now, I see people going on strike or going on hunger strikes. They’re running for office or becoming billionaires and donating every penny (okay, that’s basically just Bill Gates and J.K Rowling. But you get my point).

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

-Anne Frank

If you’re watching the news and feeling a bit discouraged, take heart. The fact that you feel this way means that you care, and there can never be a surplus of love in the world. Politics are important, of course, but our own circle is an excellent place to start. Here are a few activism-inspired habits that I’ve been putting into practice–and some tips you can use, too!

Practice self-care. Too often, the concept of self-care gets watered down to coloring books and taking a bubble bath. While there is nothing inherently wrong with bubble baths or coloring, we all need to consider what truly restores our souls. If you are burnt out, stressed, or feeling scatter-brained, you probably won’t have the energy for anything other than watching Netflix. Remember the basics: do the dishes, eat a good meal, stay hydrated; then, take a day just for yourself. You deserve it.

Be kind. Be kind to your cashier. Be kind to your barista. Be kind to the homeless man you pass on the street. Be kind to the receptionist. Be kind to your neighbor. It’s not that hard. Really.

Speak up! Contact your Senators and House Representatives–calling their office only takes a few minutes, and every phone call is tallied. If you are like me and absolutely hate calling strangers, websites like 5 Calls  provide scripts you can follow. You can also download Countable to learn more about various issues and send your reps a message.

Share informative and encouraging posts on social media. Whether you get caught in a heated debate or realize you’ve spent hours reading news articles, it’s easy to get stuck in the black hole of despair that is social media–but the Internet can still be a force for good. Share posts from a variety of (accurate) sources, and say something inspiring to go along with it.

Read. Aside from the all the fascinating things you’ll learn, reading can reduce stress and make you more empathetic. If you’re already a bibliophile, change up your reading habits: support indie authors or add more diverse books to your reading list.

Speaking of which…support artists! Writers, painters, photographers, musicians, filmmakers–they all make the world a more beautiful place, and they all need to eat. Check out Patreon and consider donating to an artist you admire. If you are unable to donate, spread the word. Share their posts on social media. If you love their work, TELL THEM! It will make their day, and your support will help them share their work with the world.

Start using apps and browser extensions that make a positive impact. Put all those hours online to good use! Install Tabs for a Cause to donate money to various organizations; ditch Google (gasp) and plant trees with Ecosia. If you’re an obsessive Amazon user, try AmazonSmile.  See? The world’s looking brighter already.

Adopt an animal. If you’ve been looking for a four-legged friend, visit your local shelter. There are millions of homeless animals in the United States alone; you are bound to fall in love with at least one, right?

Be generous. If you are financially able, donate money to your favorite organizations or non-profits. If you are on a tight budget, give your time instead; most non-profits have  volunteer programs. Find something you are passionate about–it doesn’t have to feel like work in order to be helpful!

Listen. Until we listen to someone else’s story, we will only ever see the world through one lens: our own. No one just decides what they are going to believe, and no one magically  becomes woke. It’s a process, and open dialogue can go a long way.

Pray. I know not everyone shares my beliefs, but I have found that just saying my intentions out loud can work wonders. Change starts with us, after all.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of good deeds, but for me, they have become a manageable starting point. Together, I think we can accomplish just about anything.

How do you incorporate activism and kindness into your life? Tell me on Twitter or leave a comment! 

March On, Sisters

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This post was inspired by Samantha Chaffin’s blog post about the Women’s March in LA. The title is not meant to exclude the wonderful men or gender non-conforming people who attended marches, and I love each and every one of you who showed up to support the cause.

November 8, 2016: 

Election Day. It’s finally here, and it feels like Christmas Eve and finals week all at once. Something exciting is happening, for sure–but I also know that things could go horribly, horribly wrong.

I wear the only political shirt I own, which is emblazoned with a donkey, an elephant, and a cat. The donkey and the elephant have no votes; the cat, however, is rewarded with a confident check mark.

I voted early, but I make the now-obligatory social media to encourage others to do the same. I listen to NPR and say a prayer for my country.

Please, God. Just let America truly be a country for all of us. 

November 9, 2016: 

I wake up early. My alarm still hasn’t gone off, and there is an anxious ache in my chest. With a forced sort of hope, I look over at Drew and say, “I hope Hillary pulled through.”

“I already checked. She lost.”

I immediately reach for my phone and open my CNN app. The first story is bright and bold and impossible: PRESIDENT ELECT DONALD TRUMP. 

It doesn’t feel real, but it is. It is so, so, real, and I close my eyes and try to forget–but of course, it’s all I can think about.

January 20, 2017:

I’m driving to work, and for the first time in weeks, I don’t feel like listening to NPR. Instead, I listen the Hamilton cast recording. I sing along–badly, loudly, happily–as I sit in traffic.

I’m just like my country/ I’m young scrappy and hungry/ and I am not throwing away my shot

But we’ll never be truly free/Until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me

When you’re living on your knees, you rise up/ Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up/ Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up

Thirty minutes later, I take the exit that leads downtown. There’s an explicit anti-Trump banner hanging from the bridge; it’s painted with sloppy red and black spray paint and for the first time that day, Donald Trump’s presidency becomes real.

I think of the rise of dystopian young adult novels. Perhaps we romanticized them too much. Perhaps we dismissed them too soon.

I take a deep breath, and I keep driving.

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January 21, 2017: 

I can’t stay off Facebook.

But it isn’t because I am left shocked and helpless by the news. It’s because there are so many people in Washington, D.C, marching for social justice.

And it doesn’t stop there.

There are people in London. Melbourne. Los Angeles. Chicago. St. Louis. They’re holding up signs that say things like ‘THE FUTURE IS FEMALE’ and ‘WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS.’

In Atlanta, it’s raining. We planned to march, but it doesn’t look good: the forecast includes severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch.

Drew can’t decide if he should go. “I just don’t want to be there if there is lightning,” he says. He tells me he feels guilty.

“I don’t want you to feel unsafe or uncomfortable,” I tell him. I understand completely–normally, I’m terrified of thunderstorms. “I just feel like I have to go.”

And I do. I feel it deep in my bones. That’s what Jesus did, isn’t it? Stand with the people who were ostracized and oppressed? Besides, I’m tired of feeling so helpless. I want to march. I want to remember why we have to keep fighting for what is right.

I’m finishing getting ready when Drew comes charging through our room.

“I changed my mind,” he says as he pulls on his shoes. “I’m coming.”

I squeal with excitement as he grabs a backpack and stuffs it with umbrellas and jackets.

“Should we stop somewhere and grab ponchos?” I ask.

“Nah. We aren’t wimps.”

I laugh, and after a quick lunch, we head out the door.

 

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We arrive to the march around two o’clock. I love Atlanta more and more each day, but this is by far the most amazing sight in the entire city.

There are hundreds and hundreds of people, holding signs and wearing shirts in support of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the Affordable Care Act, and the environment. People ask to take pictures of my shirt. I ask to take pictures of signs. I want to hug everyone and tell them how good and inspiring they are, but I figure that would be a little weird. By some miracle, the rain has stopped and the sun is starting to peek through the clouds.

“We’ve been blessed!” Drew says. He’s making a joke, but I think there’s some truth to it.

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Little by little, the crowd begins to move. We’re heading for the Capital building, about two miles from our starting point at the Civil Rights Museum. Soon, the crowd begins to chant:

“BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS!”

“LOVE, NOT HATE, MAKES AMERICA GREAT!”

“PEOPLE UNITED–WE’LL NEVER BE DIVIDED.”

I look around. I love this place. I love these people. And despite everything, I have so much hope.

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During his campaign, Trump promised to make America great. I never believed him. We can’t change the fact that Donald Trump is president, but we can damn sure keep him accountable.

Today was only the beginning. March on, sisters.

The march in Atlanta was a peaceful and incredibly positive experience. Thank you to everyone who organized the marches across the world, and thank you to anyone who offered support in any way. If you have any questions about my political beliefs, the march or the reasons behind it, feel free to contact me. 

Don’t Read Rita Skeeter (or, Beware of Fake News)

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I am not a journalist, but I have always loved newspapers.

How could I not? After all, I had learned about newspapers from one of my favorite people in the entire world: my father. Every morning, without fail, Dad would drink his cup of coffee and read the paper. He’d stop reading to give me a good morning hug and help me make breakfast, but the paper was always there. I thought that one day, I might have the same routine.

As I grew older, Dad saved news articles he thought I would find interesting–usually from the Arts & Culture section, or articles that mentioned my high school or someone I knew. When the papers started re-printing Calvin and Hobbes, every member of my family made sure they read that day’s comic. Newspapers were a constant joy, even if the actual news was not.

But high school has a way of making even the most optimistic adolescents (me) a little skeptical. I believed that the media–especially television news stations–hardly ever covered positive stories, and focused instead on violence and shock value. In my advanced literature class, we watched Wag the Dog, a weirdly intriguing film in which the government uses the media to fake an entire war. I developed a habit of consuming media with a grain of salt–but we all have our biases, and admittedly, that grain of salt often changes size.

Much of that has changed.

It seemed to happen slowly–at first. My dad told me that the local paper was getting shorter and shorter, and started reading papers like the New York Times on his tablet. I went to college and met countless aspiring journalists. I graduated college, and the aspiring journalists became real, grown-up journalists. News started trending on social media and I could read important stories almost immediately. Memes were cited as sources. I started listening to NPR every morning.

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Then, 2016 happened. The election happened. Fake news became the biggest news.

A few weeks ago, I read that many journalists had received death threats over the course of the election season.

I thought of the journalists I knew, and my heart broke.

I knew journalism was changing. I never knew that journalists–my friends–could be threatened for doing their job and stating facts.

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In my state of anger and confusion, I turned to social media and asked if any journalist friends would be willing to share their thoughts. Fortunately, my good friend Ben was gracious enough to respond and contribute his thoughts on the current state of political journalism.

And he knows his shit. Just look at those glasses.

Ben has truly experienced Atlanta. #worldofcoke #atlantaadventures

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In all seriousness, Ben is my go-to journalism expert. In college, he studied journalism and political science; now, he works in Washington, D.C. Needless to say, I trust his judgement. If you are concerned about today’s journalism, please read and consider Ben’s point of view.

Read Ben’s article below (posted with permission)or read the original post here.

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Journalism in the era of fake news

“I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press.”

President-elect Donald Trump made this statement Wednesday during his first press conference in 168 days.

Since holding his last televised question and answer session with reporters, our new national leader has hired and fired key advisors, met with several world leaders and been accused of sexual assault. He was also elected president in a campaign that shattered not only most people’s preconceived notions about politics, but also about the vitally important profession of journalism.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Political journalism in the United States is often called the fourth branch of government or the “fourth estate.” Journalists are meant to be an important conduit for citizens to learn about the actions of their representatives and to hold office-holders accountable by challenging their assertions.

Yours truly (right) interviewing presidential candidate Rand Paul and Trump cabinet appointee Mick Mulvaney.

Journalism is an incredibly powerful tool. It is often called the first draft of history, but it often ends up shaping history as well.

“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
– William Randolph Hearst, 1897

We are fortunate that thanks to the wisdom of the founding fathers, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects journalists. Many countries, such as Russia, don’t have a free press. One of my professors in college was arrested for teaching an investigative journalism workshop in Russia, and described the fear he saw in Russians eyes when he just discussed the idea of a free press.

“Do you think, for Christ’s sake, that The New York Times is worried about all the legal niceties? Those sons of bitches are killing me. They’re using any means. We’re going to use any means.”
– Richard Nixon, 1971

Politicians and the press have always had a love-hate relationship. The media allowed them to get their message out but also criticized them frequently. However, beginning with the resignation of Richard Nixon after The Washington Post and other media outlets exposed his illegal behavior during the Watergate scandal, the relationship has soured a great deal.

Which brings us to the present day.

Our next president has perhaps the most complex relationship with the press in American history since Thomas Jefferson.

“As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1806

“I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”
– Donald Trump to CNN’s Jim Acosta, 2017

Trump has pushed to change libel laws to punish the press for coverage he does not like, encouraged mobs at his rallies to heckle and berate female reporters, and fomented distrust of major media outlets while peddling insane conspiracy theories with no basis in reality.

The Committee to Protect Journalists last year declared Trump an “unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.”

But Trump is also a master manipulator of the media and may be the most interviewed candidate of all time. Even as a lowly college student, I sat in on one of his press conferences and stuck my mic in his face after a presidential primary debate.

Part of the reason the American people sided with Trump over the press in this election is that the media has become increasingly polarized and partisan. Partisan political newspapers have existed since America’s founding, but never has division and mistrust of “the media” been so high.

I saw it first-hand covering this presidential campaign.

Yours truly (right) interviewing presidential campaign Rick Santorum after the Republican primary debate in Charleston.

I was yelled at by an angry Trump supporter at a rally in South Carolina in September 2015. “The news people are trying to shut everything down, with the lies they tell,” he said to me. “I’m fed up with the news people.” At that same rally, Trump pointed to the riser where I was sitting with my fellow reporters. “Those are some dishonest people, folks,” he said as they began booing us loudly.

My credentials from the Democratic convention.

I also covered the Democratic convention, where angry Bernie Sanders delegates stormed the media center, overwhelming police. They were furious at what they saw as media collusion that helped Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination, and they weren’t entirely wrong — the interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee recently resigned from a commentator role at CNN after it was revealed she gave Clinton the questions to a primary debate in advance.

Is it any wonder, then, that a recent Gallup poll found that only 32% of the public trust the press?

“Fox News gives you both sides of every story. The president’s side and the vice president’s side.”
– Stephen Colbert, 2006

Opinion and analysis is being blended with hard reporting. Talking head pundits shout at each other all night on partisan cable channels. Websites, blogs and social media mean people can read an endless supply of “news” that caters to their preconceived notions. Facebook is awash in false news stories.

But hope is not lost.

There are a few simple steps you can take to be a more informed media consumer and to support responsible journalism in the era of “fake news.”

  1. Understand that all news sources have a point of view. Just because Fox News is conservative and MSNBC is liberal, it doesn’t make them wrong on the facts. Sometimes they are — and it’s important to recognize the difference between a fact (i.e. the earth is round) and an opinion (i.e. climate change doesn’t exist)
  2. Support your local newspaper/TV newscast/Radio station by subscribing or tuning in.
  3. Support local public journalism such as NPR and PBS affiliates.
  4. If you can, donate to organizations like the ACLU, ProPublica or the John S. and James L. Knight foundation that work to help journalists.
  5. Watch/listen to/read sources with a different point of view than your own. If you are liberal, read The Wall Street Journal. If you are conservative, read The New York Times. Huffington Post, meet Daily Caller. Etc.
  6. DON’T TRUST ANY NEWS ARTICLES POSTED ON FACEBOOK UNLESS THEY ARE IN THE GOOD AREAS ON THIS CHART.

Bad journalism certainly contributed to Trump’s victory in this campaign.

Good journalism will help keep Trump accountable to the American people over the next few years and help to diffuse some of the partisan and ideological tension our country is feeling right now.

Please make sure you know the difference.

Reading List: Dumbledore’s Army Read-A-Thon

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I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. I’m not sure if that philosophy is due to my previous failings or some deeply rooted cynicism, but every year is the same: while everyone toasts to the new year and announces their goals, I stay silent. If I say anything at all, it’s more of a hypothetical musing than an actual commitment…and if it’s been a particularly awful year, I look forward to better days.

But if there is one goal I have for 2017, it is to read more books. I fell short of my reading goal this year, and I’ve been re-evaluating what (and when) I choose to read. I have a horrible habit of buying books faster than I read them and adding more and more to my to-read list; even if I lose interest in the story, I become more determined than ever to finish the damn book. Because if I don’t finish it, I’ve just wasted my time! Right?

As you have probably guessed, that stubbornness only results in reading less. And there is so much to read and so much to learn.

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Words have power. That is a truth that I have never, ever disputed. Books entertain and comfort and educate, and it’s all part of an incredible magic that constantly amazes me.

To kick off 2017, I am participating in a read-a-thon that focuses on diverse books, appropriately titled Dumbeldore’s Army Read-A-Thon. If stories help us empathize with others, then diverse books are yet another a tool we can use to make our world a little kinder.

There are seven read-a-thon prompts, all based on spells from the Harry Potter world. Take a look at my reading list, and feel free to recommend some of your favorite diverse books in the comments!

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Expecto Patronum: Read a diverse book featuring an issue of personal significance to you or a loved one.

For the first prompt, I chose an old favorite: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. While this novel features various issues, the two that are closest to my heart are mental health and LGBTQ rights. Charlie has his own struggle with mental health, and one of his best friends is gay–and it is a story that is still all-too familiar and important.

Expelliarmus: Disarm your own prejudices. Read a diverse book featuring a marginalized group you don’t often read about.

I consider myself fairly well-educated in terms of LGBTQ rights, but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I’ve never read a book about someone who is trans or gender-nonconforming, and so I’ve chosen Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. It’s about a gender fluid teen, and I’m looking forward to learning and reading more about gender fluidity than what I’ve seen on Tumblr.

Protego: Protect those narratives and keep them true. Read an #OwnVoices book for this prompt.

Diverse books are important, but we must also strive to read stories about marginalized groups written by marginalized groups. #OwnVoices is a movement that supports authors and their stories. For this prompt, I’ll also be diving into some fantasy with Serpentine by Cindy Pon.

Reducto: Smash that glass ceiling. Read a book that empowers women from all different walks of life.

ALL THE FEMINISM. There are so many options, but I decided to go with Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I loved reading essays in my gender studies classes in college, and I can’t wait to read about the author’s thoughts on today’s feminist culture.

Impedimenta: Read a diverse book that’s been left unread on your TBR for far too long!

I picked up a copy of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ages ago, but it’s been sitting on my shelves gathering dust–so it’s the perfect book for this prompt! Woodson tells her childhood story through poetry, and I have a feeling it will become one of my favorites.

Stupefy: Read a diverse book that has stunned the Internet with all its well-deserved hype.

I haven’t been as involved with the book community on Tumblr or Instagram as I have in the past, so this one took a lot of Google searching…but I finally settled on When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. This book has stellar Goodreads reviews and features characters with diverse, intersectional identies. And hey, more magic!

Lumos: Read a diverse book that was recommended by one of your fellow book bloggers.

I turned to Twitter and asked for  recommendations. The lovely ladies at Black Chick Lit suggested two titles, one of which was Another Brookyln by Jacqueline Woodson (yes, another one!). I probably would have never found this book if it weren’t for Black Chick Lit, and I am so grateful for their input.

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Only two days until the #DAReadathon begins! If you’re interested in joining, visit Read at Midnight‘s blog to sign up (and hit me up if you are a fellow Hufflepuff!). Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to an ink-stained 2017 that shines with love and compassion. ❤️