Tag Archives: book review

“I always remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.”

My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman @ Smithsonian Press

Everyone has favorite things.

Julie Andrews sang a whole song about hers as she floated around mountain landscapes and swung around light poles.

I think it’s important to have favorite things, and even more, it’s important to have unusual things that don’t make sense to anyone but you because you’ve added some sort of sentimentality to the object itself.  I keep my grandmother’s strainer under the sink, not because it still works, but because sometimes I bring it out just to filter my kitchen light.  It’s got a star design of holes and it reminds me of a Christmas luminary.  Every so often, I need that speckled sunshine on my kitchen floors.

Used Chairs. Maira Kalman @ The Smithsonian

Maira Kalman wrote another fabulous illustrated memoir about some of her favorite things. Things she found in museums, in the muse of her childhood, on the side of old neighborhood streets, in fancy living rooms, books, embroideries.  In every Maria Kalman book I’ve ever read (even illustrations in current YA novels), she gives me some philosophy about life that opens the doors of my soul so I can hear the singing.  This one is no different.  My Favorite Things is built like a small gift, fabric binding, smooth hardcover, and vintage decorated inside cover and endpaper.

Teacup @ Smithsonian Press by Maira Kalman

I just think she’s so unusually creative.  She has an eye for quirky elegance like listing both Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh pages in her favorite things, as well as a collection of obtuse hats.  From a man lying in the park with a pug to Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, Kalman is looking at the world through the holes of a flower petal and the telescope of history.   This book originally began as a way to showcase the new Cooper Hewitt collection for the Smithsonian Design Museum.  However, it becomes this interweaving of life story, and how life story impacts the baggage we bring with us into a museum.  I might carry a large purse, but I find art compelling when it tells me something about myself, or my world.  It’s hard for me to connect to art when it doesn’t seem to deal inherently with me.  I’m sure that’s totally egocentric, but I think I match a typical American.  Art inspires because it smoothes and then oils the gears within us.

Embroideries by Maira Kalman after her mother’s death @ The Smithsonian

I think this is something Kalman has conquered with her favorite things, and her other books.  I am always inspired, I found myself turning the page just to see if we could share a story.  This is the best part of the book, it’s both memoir and trinket collection.  She tells the story of embroidery she stitched after her mother’s death, my favorite being, “my rigid heart is tenderly unmanned.” In another moment, she photographs a spoon with engraved initials, it says, “Before there were forks, there were spoons.  The spoon can be used by a baby, by a person eating soup.  Watching a person eat soup can break your heart.”

Hats by Maira Kalman @ Smithsonian Press

She even jokes about fringes being added to Lincoln’s pall that covered his coffin.  It’s both a story about the life of a woman, and the story about history as told through the eyes of the viewer, even the late-comer who views history much after it’s happened.  She is the eyes of the museum-goer, the photographer, the backpack traveler, the person who wants to reach out and touch the gold pot on the mantle in the Biltmore House, but resists just in case it trembles.  I adore Maira Kalman and I even almost used this book as a diary.  I wanted to write on the pages that she colored.  I’ve held back to keep it pristine, but I hope someone gets that close to this book.  It’s never a blush to get intimate with a good read.


Newsday Tuesday

It’s back….in BLACK (ink).

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Favorite Tweets:

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • autograph for friends in english: Do I smell a penpal?
  • compare and contrast the hunger games venn diagram: I love that teachers google and get my blog, although I rarely put lessons up here.  I do have a teaching website, I suppose I could share it?
  • yesterday i devirginized my own story: This sounds both gut-wrenching and gut(tural)
  • thees girls make you drool.com: I feel like an eight year old googled this who isn’t ready for this stage in his own maturity.

Book News:


Story Anthologies That Don’t Suck | O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

I have to confess that I don’t subscribe to any literary magazines.

I’m a hypocritical book mongrel.

I rally for the short story form, even flash fiction if it’s done right, but then I don’t actually support the magazines that provide and establish authors that try to keep that form alive.  My only way of giving back is to read as many anthologies as I possibly can, particularly contemporary fiction anthologies.  I also try not to stick to the ones that Barnes and Noble carries because they never actually choose any weird ones.

Usually, when you read an anthology it’s because you either A. like the genre, B. you are starting your own small marathon of writing flash fiction to the early morning, or C. you want to know what the “best of” contains for that particular year, or in this case, century.  (Yes, be alarmed, someone actually believed they could put together a fair and righteous anthology of fiction for the CENTURY).  I would turn that book over in bookstores, hoping no one would buy it.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014

Anyway, also per usual when reading an anthology, not all of the stories are good.  There are few that really spark and then only because one particular line changed how you viewed the world.  Then you read everything by that author hoping to get that sick feeling again (like a woman in a bad relationship) and it’s all for naught. Those feelings come quickly, and spaz out before we can even realize what’s happened.

Westinghouse Time Capsule @ Wikipedia Commons

This is NOT the case for The O’Henry Prize Stories of 2014.  There were only two stories that I didn’t feel were up to par and the rest were brilliant.  I found myself unable to physically write down (due to hand cramping) all of the quotes that I highlighted.  And the stories are new and fresh.  They don’t center around one genre, or one betrayal from the world. They are like a little capsule that we can fling into space and hope that some extraterrestrial with a sense of compassion finds to explain this world of love gusts and expectations that don’t meet fantasies.

Or we can bury it, for the future. I’d be willing for this book to be my message to the next world along with a long composition of why they should try to recreate the dinosaur, read Emily Dickinson, and take up Twitter.

  • The collection begins with mounting tension when two boys play with a gun.  One without a mother, and one who holds secrets tighter than he can hold a fist.  I’m not sure now which is which because they both blend together as children, and only when they become adults do they realize their differences (as most of us do with our childhood friends).  My favorite thing about it is that it repeats itself multiple times, through multiple ages of childhood and adulthood.  There is a “cathedral of silence” during every year of this man-boy’s life.  He faces this silence like an open wound and it leaves him questioning who he was, and who he is now.

“Later when he tells the story to people they won’t understand.  Why didn’t he run away? His friend had  a loaded gun.  He will be repeatedly amazed at how poorly everyone remembers their childhoods, how they project their adult selves back into those bleached-out photographs, those sandals, those tiny chairs.  As if choosing, as if deciding, as if saying no were skills like tying your shoelaces or riding a bike.  Things happen to you.  If you were lucky, you got an education and weren’t abused by the man who ran the fife-a-side.  If you were very lucky you finally ended up in a place where you could say, I’m going to study accountancy … I’d like to live in a countryside … I want o spend the rest of my life with you” (“The Gun,” Mark Haddon, Granta)

  • The next story, “Talk” by Stephon Dixon (The American Reader) plays with the idea of point-of-view in a story, the inner voice that we all communicate with after we stop trying to talk to our cats for most of a lonely day. It also plays with growing old when that inner voice might be the only person that we talk to in a day’s time.  Even when you think of talking to someone, that inner voice can hold you back, be it the voice a friend or a foe.
  • Art by Sejnow @ Deviant Art (Creative Commons)

    “Valentine” by Tessa Hadley (The New Yorker) just made me never want to have a daughter.  I’m not too far away to remember what I put up with from boys in high school, but I am too far away to meet that girl and shake hands like an acquaintance.  The girl in this story doesn’t “do bad all by herself,” but “does bad” for the boy with all the wrong angles.  He’s a writer, but he’s a wanderer.  He’s a bit grunge, but he’s haughty in philosophy.  It really just tells the story of the girl before the boy, during the boy, and then plays with the idea that you can go back to the girl who was the “before” version of yourself. (Hint: You can’t).

“There was a rare blend in him of earnestness and recklessness.  And he seemed to know instinctively what to read, where to go, what music to listen to.  He was easily bored, and indifferent to anything he didn’t like” (Tessa Hadley).

  • “Petur” by Olivia Clare (Ecotone) broke my heart more than a little.  It’s a mother and son story, the son is an adult on a vacation with his mother when a volcano goes off in Poland and they are forced to live in ash.  The ash becomes symbolic for their relationship and his mother’s scattered mind as she walks through the (not wreckage) but fall, and he watches her own odd unfurling.

Sparks Royalty Free Sparks Images (Creative Commons)

“Nights after her afternoon walks, she’d sit with a field guide.  I have a bird heart, she’d say, your mother, the bird.  Precise knowledge of a fjall’s origins, or of the call each bird made, was the closest she felt she had, she said, to wisdom, because lang, because details, were important.  They were solid and finite and felt infinite” (Olivia Clare).

  • Abuse. Roadtrips. Racism. Lingering unresolved, but unpracticed feelings. Old towns. Father’s who still protected their daughters from men who drank too much and leaned too crooked over stoves thinking. Trees with names. Tradition.

“You remember your mother saying you had to learn to use the Lexicon because words were both tools and weapons and the difference between the right one and the almost-right one was like lightning and a lightning bug, and when you said the lectern was higher than you could reach she showed you the step stool hidden underneath” (“You Remember the Pin Mill,” David Bradley, Narrative).

  • “Nemecia” by Kirsten Valdez Quade will stay with me the same way the movie, “Black Swan” stays with me.  They both have similar disturbing skin scenes.  Nemecia is an almost older sister to Maria, but in the end, they become neither sister nor friend.  It’s really the story of how grief creates competition in us.

Black Swan by It’s Too Dark @ Deviant Art (Creative Commons)

“Nemecia had an air of tragedy about her, which she cultivated. She blackened her eyes with a kohl pencil” (Narrative).

  • Most disturbing story in the collection is easily “Trust” by Dylan Landis (Tin House).  I was so uncomfortable with this story.  It felt a little bit like someone giving you a creative writing prompt like “If your house burned down, what would you take.” And immediately you start to live through your house burning down, and how the flames flicker, but they don’t flicker and you realize you’ve never experienced a fire and they probably gust like a parachute.  It’s just like that except it’s a teenage robbery and I just wanted it to end (in a good way…in a good writing way).  It’s also like every Law & Order episode that you live in fear of, except this is MID-DAY and you start to realize that this could happen at anytime of day, not just when you’re sleeping (which is terrifying).
  • “Old Houses” by Allison Alsup (New Orleans Review) tells the old neighborhood folktale from the perspective of a barbecue.  It’s just creepy enough to not really affect you personally, but add an edge to your day that wasn’t there before.  It wasn’t as strong as the others in the collection, but it did stand tall.
  • My favorite story in the entire collection is “Fatherland” by Halina Duraj (Harvard Review). I think that’s because I thought it was just going to be another World War II story, but it was beyond me giving you any account of why it’s so good.

“I tried to stop my father’s words at my ears but they would not stick.  I knew they weren’t meant for me, but I was half my mother, my father had said so himself.  Like any good soldier, my father shot bullets through the air toward a target, but did not understand collateral damage” (Halina Duraj).

  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show @ Wikipedia Commons

    “West of the Known” by Chanelle Benz (The American Reader) was the story that has stuck with me beyond reading the last story in this collection days ago.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the quick moves between innocence and horror.  It’s (strangely) a Wild West story, but it doesn’t have any of that gun-slinging bullshit.  Well, it does, but it’s believable.  It ain’t no John Wayne rodeo if you know what I’m sayin’. At the end of the story, something bloody terrible happens and it’s truly believable.  I can feel the rope burns still.

“For in the high violence of joy, is there not often a desire to swear devotion? But what then? When is it ever brung off to the letter? When they come for our blood, we will not end, but ton on in an unworldly fever” (Chanelle Benz).

On second thought, maybe I like this story so much because it uses the word “brung” which I obsessively, and unconsciously used for the majority of seventh grade, while my father corrected me every single time.

  • Finding who you are in the grace of picked flowers, that’s “The Women” by William Trevow (The New Yorker).
  • Snake Handling @ Wikipedia Commons

    “Good Faith” is about snake handlers during a revival and how sometimes one person can’t change the ideals instilled in us since birth.  It’s a fantastic story, truly.  It might be one of my favorites from the collection because the ending is beyond powerful.  It’s the longest story in the collection and I wouldn’t mind if it was transformed into a novel. I would read these characters again and again.

  • Guy dates Asian girl.  They disembody one another. Life goes on.  A short summary of “The Right Imaginary Person” by Robert Anthony Siegal (Tin House).

“Parents and teachers agree to forget that children are in fact lunatics, and that what we call growing up is just learning to hide it better so nobody will lock us away” (Robert Anthony Siegal).

  • “Nero” by Louise Erdrich (The New Yorker) was just depressing.  I didn’t really fall for this story, but the dog got to me.
  • Golden Light @ Pixa Bay – Free Illustration (Creative Commons)

    The way light is fractured through a window is retold in the story “A Golden Light” by Rebecca Hirsch Garcia (The Threepenny Review).  It’s one of the rarely hopeful, but then hope-squashed stories in the collection.

  • “Fairness” by Chinelo Okparanta is a disturbing story that immediately made me worry about my students and the “salt and ice challenge.”  It should be read after reading a “Cosmopolitan” magazine or obsessing over people you don’t know on social media.  Or, just listen to some Beyonce and then read this story.  A girl is obsessed with lightening her skin based on the standards set by overseas societies. BLEH.
  • I hated “The Inheritors” by Kristen Iskandrian (Tin House).  I’d almost even skip it if reading this book again.

“I like being sad, which mystified her; I like it until I reach the nadir where sadness changes, as if chemically, to repulsion and self-loathing, making me wish that I was “capable” of “handling” things instead of turning away from them in disgust until my disgust disgusts me, and my anger at my inadequacy as a human being angers me, and all of that pure, easy, delectable sorrow gets squandered” (Kristen Iskandrian).

  • “Deep Eddy” by Michael Parker (Southwest Review) is the only flash piece in the collection.  It’s about virginity and dating and how both of these things make us question everything.

“She’d lost her flower with the first of a string of boys and she liked me only in the way girls like those boys who make them forget, temporarily, some pain I hoped was only temporary” (Michael Parker).

  • The next story was kind of sad because the girl character was the worst version of myself. It’s set in Venice (I think, but I’m questioning myself now), called  “Oh, Shenandoah” by Maura Stanton (New England Review). I often say to my boyfriend, “I just want to hug you so hard it hurts” when he does something incredibly annoying.  This chick is like me in that situation, but to the extreme. And the boy, just daydreamy and unable to understand any of her cues.
  • “Opa-locka” by Laura van den Berg (The Southern Review) is about a team of sisters who fulfill their childhood hopes by becoming personal investigators. At the time, they don’t understand their need for this odd job, eating gas station snack foods on roofs in a stake-out, but as the story progresses, the reader is clued into their past and why they might need these rooftop rendezvous, for each other and just for themselves.

This O.Henry Prize Collection is one of the best I’ve read in a long time.  Not only were most of the short stories meaningful and worth the read, but I can mostly remember each one even though I read some of them as long as a month ago.  This is a collection of stories that linger and each story gets redefined as you think of it again.  I HIGHLY recommend this book. HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY, Mountaintop.

 

 

 


“Single women and men should be able to float toward each other on the waves of lust and goodwill!”

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

The number of post-it notes I used on this book alone could cover a small dog house. Can I say this is the best adult graphic novel ever without having read every other adult graphic novel? Do I sound like my mother after she praised that really bad eighth grade haircut and told me that we would just “run to Target and get some cute clips.”  Thanks for the alliteration, Mom, but it was disastrous, for both my seventh grade high-status at the lunch table and my personal beliefs in my own self-esteem.

My choice of reading space.

My choice of reading space.

God made my mom sorta-Catholic so she could lay down the guilt via lectures, missed phone calls, and sweetness (yes, even her sweetness is guilty).  I can ONLY imagine if she was a Jewish Russian Immigrant mother from the U.S.S.R like Lena Finkle’s mother in Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich.  The world would literally be quaking. Literally. Literally. Literally. Isn’t it annoying when people say that when you know they meant it literal to begin with and it’s not a hyperbole at all? Ask yourself that. Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel  is like the story of womanhood as it pertains to the male sex, and girlhood in general.  It begs several questions: *How many friends do you have that disappear as soon as they get boyfriends? *How many of those friends become the stuck-up dark, unknown regions of their boyfriend’s body as soon as they begin dating? *How many times have you been unhappy, and unable to be yourself because you’re trying to keep the peace between you and the obnoxious invaluable boy you’re dating? *How many times has a guy smiled at you and BAM you’ve planned your 3.7892 children?

Miracles.

Miracles.

*(Longest sentence ever) How many times have you let one small miracle of a man blast your entire view of manhood and your princess experience into this other-worldly category that no one will ever be able to compete with because he was too good at ________ and all others will miserably fail in comparison and forever be the “frogs” you have to kiss because OH MY SWEET LORD, HE WALKED ME HOME IN THE RAIN AND MADE FACES AT ME IN ENGLISH 101 which I, unfortunately, got a C in because I was too busy MAKING FACES AT A BOY who would ruin my whole ideal of what it is to fall slowly.  There is no slow with these miracle men who tell you fascinating things about yourself and then become chain-smoking losers. Yep. You know who I’m talking about. *How many times have you said, “Well, it isn’t really about how he looks?” Girl, please. It is 120% about how he looks in the first moment you meet. And you have already judged the scar next to his mouth and the way one of his eyes looks a little bit smaller than the other.  And you’ve already texted your equivalent to a Seth (my best guy friend) to tell him all about him…in the bathroom.

When Anya Ulinich originally illustrated in color. From her Tumblr BLOG

*How many times have you let your past experiences with men like all of the above dictate what kind of dater you are now? *How many times have you wished for a magic barrel? And no, I don’t mean online dating here. (Even though she does that in the story on OK Cupid…which reminded me to never, ever, ever online date, ever. “Vampire of Bensonhurst,” that’s all I have to say about that one). Well, ladies, all of your (desperate, berating, disgusting, upsetting, I-dont-want-to-be-this-girl-but-I-am-this-girl, when-did-I-become-this-girl) questions have been answered by Anya Ulinich and the story of Lena Finkle. Lena Finkle is an immigrant girl living in Arizona/New York.  During the story we learn about her childhood, a very disgusting happening in an elevator, and then her teenage love, Alik, who she continues to fantasize about …until she’s 36.  She has some bad habits; sleeping around on the first date, sleeping with married men in foreign countries, being too blunt with her friends when they don’t have the same feelings towards her month-long flings as she does, but she’s SO likable.  There were moments in this book when I had to remind myself that Ulinich wasn’t telling my life story. After reading it, I progressed to have a conversation with my best friend (Seth) about which countries we were because of the following images: image 3   I wonder if everyone has dated the “tourist.”  The guy that comes and goes without giving even a half-nod towards closure.  Which makes the girl stay up until 2 a.m. because she can’t quite figure out what she did wrong.  Turns out, it’s him. But she won’t know that for 7.2 years when she forgives herself for being “that girl,” and finally moves on. image 4 Seth said, “Cassie. you are Sweden. // but we both can’t be Sweden // I’ll be Norway. boys are more exotic there.” And then he said, “You are Santorini // white pale and stunning // and surrounded by beautiful men.” And that folks, is why you keep best friends since 6th grade.

Real Conversations. Between Real Best Friends

Real Conversations. Between Real Best Friends

By the way, he’s the following: “You are Alaska where they have 37 words for snow and only one word for love because when you feel it like that it doesn’t need 700 words.” ———————————- Anyway, enough about me. This book is wonderful.  It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this endless pool of Mr. Right/Soul Mate/Marriage business.  I don’t know why there’s so much pressure on women anyway to put on that white dress and take another last name.  Lena Finkle made me feel like that was okay.  Although, she was a little desperate, a little quick, and a little uncanny at times, so am I.  I had a 30 minute conversation today about how blunt one should be with their friends.  In case you’re wondering, I’m the blunt, bitchy friend in my circle of friends so usually people only come to me with a problem when they want the truth as I see it.  (That was all about me, sorry). The graphics in this book are stunning. Most of the time I just wanted to laugh out loud at the illustrations to the side of all the words.  I think that’s what makes this graphic novel so perfect, Ulinich found the perfect genre to tell a tale of sadness, pity, and redemption because there were laughable moments due to the comic nature of the graphic novel.  (I guess they can be dark and brooding as well).  When words got too dark on the page, I could count on an illustration that made it just that little bit better.  The hope was in the hand drawn panels, faces, and bittersweet graphics.

One of my favorite pages.

Penguin had the right customer when they sent me an ARC of this one.  It’s just beautiful in all ways.  I think every woman should have to read this book just to think a little different about their friend’s experiences.  Yes, we all get annoyed with that friend who’s constantly talking about a guy that is SO NOT RIGHT for her, but that’s what friends are for, because they’re forever.  Yvonne and Eloise lift Lena up to be a better woman.  She may not always listen to their advice, and they might not even follow their advice, but they give her that little nudge she may need to see things differently.  Not only are they gem friends in this novel, but Lena’s subconscious acts as another character as well.  At one point, Lena is obsessed with a man who already broke her heart, and she becomes the graphic image of a duck.  Her subconscious picks at her, tells her inner thoughts and her “what ifs” just like that small inner voice that we all carry that whispers “stuff” when we just don’t want to hear it. Mine always says, “Told ya so,” A LOT.

Lena as Duck

Her subconscious is an integral part of the illustrations (she’s small, the same size as the duck Lena becomes), but she’s also witty and forward.  She’s what we want to say to ourselves when we should put our foot in our mouth.  I really liked that real-life aspect of this novel because it’s true.  Our inner self screams everything we would never say aloud (unless we’re the blunt friend). In a world where no one is sure of themselves, this novel could make women feel just that little bit more accessible to one another.  And that, is golden. AND AH – ANYA ULINICH HAS A TUMBLR. GO HERE NOW. 


Feminism: Getting Sticky With It.

I’m sitting here eating a handful of mini-oreos because last week my best friend and I had a sleepover and made sundaes. Leftovers are the best.

Clearly, I am not concerned about the potential poundage that could be added on from the mini-oreos, even if I did check the calorie count and how many I could eat per serving to meet the endless food intake quota that women everywhere are trying to live up to.

Is this a quality of my feminism? No.

Is this a quality of societies expectations for women? Maybe.

Does it matter if these Oreo pieces are damn good? No.

Rosie the Riveter @ Wikipedia Commons

Feminism is a touchy word these days.  Well, let’s be honest, since we got the vote, feminism has been all the rage on both sides.  I think part of the problem with the entire feminist movement is the word that we came up with to introduce ourselves. The very root “fem” became a slang word for women in 1936.  Just by opening the word with that root we’ve already eliminated the likelihood that men will feel comfortable in calling themselves by this name (That’s not the point though is it, however, men can be feminists. I’m here to break your stereotypes).  The rest of it “femini” is basically the word “feminine,” just two letters short.

Computer Engineer Barbie @ Eric Steuer (Flickr)

This brings us to a whole new argument about societal expectations of gender.  Why is the girl aisle covered in pink and the boy aisle covered in blue?  Why is Barbie so skinny (which is just a sad argument for women all together because do you know that Barbie is one of the few female toys that has offered careers for girls in male dominated areas.  Barbie went to space, people, Barbie worked for NASA.  Think about it).  With all of these already bias, already argued about, already heated ideas attached to the beginning of the word, how will it ever reign tall?

While my definition of feminism is just a person who believes in equal rights for all genders (I’m looking at you, LGBTQ), I think other people look to stereotypes for their definition.  So let’s knock a few of those out before I give this review, shall we?

Have I ever burned a bra? Nah, brah, those things are expensive.

Do I hate men? No, I have a lovely boyfriend and have had many lovely and not so lovely boyfriends.  I try not to hate anyone, but sometimes the fact that getting higher up in a company means fighting your way through an “old boys club” is not very likable.  And the people that continue to follow that system of hiring, firing, giving raises and promotions, might be on a list of people that I don’t particularly want to work for or be friends with.

What I might hate is people like this:

Yahoo screen grab

Yahoo screen grab

I would like to think that in four years, he’s had some new experiences and learned not to write the word “b*tch,” even with a star, in a feminist conversation.  However, he did make up the word “vaginamony” so I should give him credit for enhancing the English language, right? Just for your information, and his, I suppose, I believe that the best thing a woman can have is her “shit together” and I will raise my daughter with this in mind.  She can get hers, before she relies on any man to get it for her. However, if once she’s followed her dreams and she’s found a man that respects both her and her dreams, she can by all means trust and rely on him.

Hair @ Wikipedia Commons

Do I whine more than the average man? Actually, I’m on a no complaining campaign so I’m trying to rule out all forms of whining in my life.

I do shave my legs. That’s not even a question.  Sometimes I miss a spot, go ahead and judge me.  And I swam in high school, so I might grow longer than the average woman, but I still shave those suckers.

Do I respect stay-at-home moms? Being a Mom or Dad is a full time job.  If either parent wants to stay home and raise-up babies to be wonderful, open-minded, movers and shakers in society, go on with your bad self.  One of my best friends hasn’t had more than four hours of sleep since her child was born (13 months ago), please believe if I lived in that state of exhaustion, everyone would see my diva side.

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

These issues were all brought to you by We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Readers may be familiar with her book Americanah. She gave a TEDxEuston talk called “We Should All Be Feminists” on her brother’s insistence.  She says in the introduction that she “hoped to start a necessary conversation.”

Talk below:

Vintage Short turned this talk into a short essay and here we are.  It also happens to be featured on Beyonce’s self-titled album, which Adichie told Vogue that she’s sick of hearing about.

She begins the book talking about her best friend, the first person to call her a feminist which she knew immediately wasn’t a compliment.  From then on, she began attaching other things to feminism to make herself seem less radical, because with the word feminism, comes the extremism. She attached things like “Happy Feminist,” then “African Feminist,” and finally, “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men and Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels for Herself and Not For Men.”

This begs the question: why can’t a girl just wear high heels? I feel that Carrie Bradshaw would have something to say about this.

In the talk’s essay, she tells stories from throughout her life when she was considered less than to her male counterparts.  There was the classroom monitor choosing, which led her to this amazing statement:

“If we do something over and over, it becomes normal.  If we see the same thing over and over, it becomes normal.  If only boys are made class monitor, then at some point we will all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to be a boy.  If we keep seeing only men as heads of corporations, it starts to seem ‘natural’ that only men should be heads of corporations”

Beast & Princesses @ Wikipedia Commons

This is also where I really started to believe in Adichie’s argument.  Her argument wasn’t about women getting paid less than men for the same job, or women hitting a glass ceiling in major corporations, but more about the subtle inequalities.  In Nigeria, even though she paid a valet, the man she was with received the “thank you” (as she says, because of course, if she has money, it must come from the man).  When at a restaurant, the “tab” is always given to the man at the table, and usually the oldest man.  This is a huge societal factor in the ways that we see men and women.  TLC makes so much money catering to a population of women who grow up in the hopes that they will one day marry a Prince Charming.  Disney teaches girls to be damsels in distress (until recently), and the aisles in Target teach girls to like dolls so they can grow up and be mommies.  I’m not saying any of this is a problem, but these things in our society are also the things that can be used against feminism, turned against women, turned into something that they might not be.

Adichie discusses history in the best sense.  She says that when men ruled the world before, it was a world based on physical strength. Now, the world is “vastly different.”  It is based on “more intelligent, more knowledgable, more creative, more innovative” capabilities and not just physical strength.  She says, and I love this, “We have evolved.”

Math Club Image @ PBS Math Club (Creative Commons)

This is the strongest point in her argument.  I think we’ve evolved when it comes to feminism as well, but have we evolved as much as the world has evolved, I don’t know.  I’ll give a personal example. In high school, I was incredible at math.  I placed into the second calculus in college and I hadn’t even taken pre-cal or calculus in high school.  I just generally didn’t like math.  Did I not like math because no women in my family, and no women in my school, and no women in my community had ever been representations of what a women can do in science? I’m not sure.  I didn’t major in STEM, I majored in English, but I probably could have majored in something heavy in math because I was good at it.  I’m not saying that my school, or community did anything wrong, but I never saw a woman engineer until I was in college.  I never really had the knowledge that a world like that existed for me.

Suffrage Parade, NYC. 1912. @ Wikipedia Commons

I’m not angry about it.  I do get angry when I feel that women are being treated unfairly because their women.  Or women are not being valued because their women.  I won’t harp on this one, but guys, Ray Rice got a two game penalty for beating and then dragging his wife out of a hotel room, and a man that says racial slurs is expelled from the NBA and any ownership of teams (not that I disagree with that at all, because I don’t, I think he got what he deserved). The worst part, Rice’s wife…she apologized. Why do we live in a world where this is acceptable?

Why is “blaming the victim” of a rape even a concept?

I believe in raising girls that know what’s appropriate, but since when is it okay to “feel a girl up” because her skirt is short or her belly is showing.  Why is it the girl’s fault that we haven’t raised men with morals and deep respect for women?

These are things that I’m still working through. These are the things that make me angry. And Adichie told me that’s okay.

The first SlutWalk in Toronto, Ontario, April 3, 2011 @ Wikipedia Commons

“Not long ago, I wrote an article about being young and female in Lagos.  And an acquaintance told me that it was an angry article, and I should not have made it so angry.  But I was unapologetic.  Of course it was angry.  Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice.  I am angry. We should all be angry.  Anger has a long history of bringing about social change.  In addition to anger, I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.”

Like her, I am both hopeful and angry.  I am hopeful that I can live in a world where it’s okay to be feminine and a feminist.  I can live in a world where yoga pants do mean cat calls.  I can live in a world where the glass ceiling is broken and we are “movin’ on up,” like George Jefferson.  And I am hopeful that the world will not make this about another issue that isn’t relevant to equality.  And I’m really hopeful that I won’t feel the need to censor myself on my own personal blog to cater to the beliefs of other people.

On a final note: I feel less compelled to fight for feminism in my own country when teenage girls are being shot, tortured and killed just because they want to attend school or get an education for themselves.  By fighting for feminism in our country, we can hope that our voices ring true and pure to other countries, other populations, and other outlooks, where women may have so few rights that they are categorized as “property.”

Links on feminism education:

Here are some tweets from the #WomenAgainstFeminism hashtag.  Tweets are both for and against feminism as the feminists went viral using the same hashtag.

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Saudade.

Words and Their Meaning by Kate Bassett (Flux Publishing)

This book had perfect timing.

This book was too overwhelming to read in a day.

This book was too tender to feel all at once.

And yet, it wasn’t bleak, it was fervent.

It’s hard sometimes to be pushed by a book.  You don’t want to believe the heat of your own nerves.  But this book is unfathomable.  I was moved more than any book I’ve read this year and I think this book is categorized YA.  However, it’s one of those books that will sit in every section of the bookstore.  It actually aches to know that because this book was published by Flux Publishing (quickly becoming one of my new favorite publishers) it may not get a chance at large retail stores.  So, before we get into anything, here is the link to preorder this book.  Which, you must, you must. I will become fervent, the word of this review.

Grief by Edgar Bertram Mackennal (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Okay, I know right now that everyone is obsessed with the okay? okay. of The Fault In Our Stars. However, grief has other angles.  Grief isn’t a box, it has too many sides, and can’t be constructed together with engineering, or math.  It has several smells, several letters, and there is no google search that will tell you how many words for “sad” that any language has.  (If you find one, link to it). Wikipedia hasn’t even tried to tackle the “sad” arena.  The best way I can describe the characters of this book is by using the word: saudade. I wrote it on my very first pair of pink converses from 9th grade.  It’s a Portuguese word for “melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return” (Wikipedia).

COMMISSION: Coffin Set 1 by CiLiNDr0 @ Deviant Art (Google Image Creative Commons)

Anna is a girl consumed so much with grief that she practices coffin yoga.  The art of making yourself so still that death is close, breathing on your cheek.  It means holding your breath, it means stillness, it means the calmness that comes from within the closed coffin.  She thinks of the coffin as her secret keeper, where all the thoughts she doesn’t want to think can go and die.   Her grief, like everyone’s grief, is not rational.  Her family life has fallen apart.  Her sister, Bea, tracks her grief by hiding for hours in areas like the oven (Holy shit is right).  Which leads to Anna’s references to literature (Hey, Sylvia, I’m lookin’ at you girl).

“The shrinks all want to talk about coffin yoga.  They can’t fathom the way some people have no rhyme or reason to their mourning.  How maybe there are more ways to grieve than the stupid five steps outlined in their colorful pamphlets.  Next time I see my new doc, I’ll probably tell her I’m adding a no-thinking rule into coffin yoga.  She’ll ask what it might symbolize.  And I’ll glare at her ridiculous red-rimmed glasses and flowing tunic.  I’ll speak slow and clear, so she might understand there’s nothing representative about this.  My mind just needs the break.  Because: That crack in the ceiling looks like a vein” (Words and Their Meanings).

Notegraphy-Made Quote from Words and Their Meanings

Notegraphy-Made Quote from Words and Their Meanings

Anna’s grief is real.  It will break you as you read.  It would be especially hard to be her best friend, Nat, because I can’t imagine trying to build a bridge to reach her.  She’s so inside the tunnel of herself that nothing exists outside of that shadow.  She’s in the darkness so often, it’s impossible to even reach under into the “coffin” and pull on her arm.  While Anna is the main character, the other character’s are just as strong.  Nat, the best friend, has her own story of love and loss.  Gramps is a maker of machines, a fixer, an upper, (separately and together), and he folds creases into cranes with his grandchildren.  Joe is the cause of the grief, he is Anna’s Bruncle.  They share roof and cloud philosophy and then they begin to separate.  They try to hurt one another in order to save one another.  It’s a difficult relationship, and it’s even more difficult for the reader because Joe never has a voice in the novel, he is built by the characters around him that are crumbling.  The family is beautiful and broken and the best part is that you never hate one of these characters.  They are consumed with otherness and yet, they are still lovely.  It just proves, love the broken things; don’t throw the mug away without the handle, don’t laugh at the girl with the scars, hug the people who were built on a foundation of cracks.

“Our relationship still has too many blank spaces, and I’m sick of people I love being defined by stories I haven’t heard first hand” (Words and Their Meanings).

Then, there’s a boy. We all knew that was coming. However, like Frozen, he is not the answer to all of Anna’s problems. And he has his own story.  That’s the best part of this novel, each character has a distinct story that is enough to make them.  He is swoon-worthy though, as expected.  We all would have wanted to meet him in high school.

I loved this book.  I was a mountain while I read, it was that good.  In the end, I had tears in my eyes because of Anna’s own becoming.  She’s a writer, this book is full of art and lies and the dynamics of family that has been torn apart to be put back together.  It’s a story of the flower of grief that can clog our throats and trap our humanness in its roots.  The plot was so new, and so inviting.  It left me.

“I can still taste what it feels like to be sixteen and totally f#$ked up” (Words and Their Meanings). 

Holly Kuchera Leftover Camera: Canon G9 8.21mm – f3.2 – 1/60 sec (@ Flickr – Creative Commons)

It just left me. There’s no way it left me, it just left me. I sat there puzzled and immediately wanted to review it.  I can’t even explain how good this book is, what an amazing story and what an important story for teenagers and people who once were teenagers (cough, cough).  Anna is all of us.  She’s me when I cut all my Barbie’s hair at seven and they all forever wore pixie cuts.   She’s me when I taped sad Tumblr quotes to my mirror about teenagehood when I was sixteen.  She’s me when I stood in a row of bleachers tonight and prayed with over two hundred people for our county quarterback.  Grief is a thing.  It grows, it forms fists, and it listens while people beg for it to leave.  But it’s a silent killer.  And I think this book shows how grief can own someone.

Someone once said, “Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle,” and this book is the truth of that statement.  Every single person in this story has an inner self and an outer self and they’re always at odds.  I think we all live that battle a little bit, especially in a social media world where everything is how we present ourselves on the interwebs vs. who we are in real life.

Kindness Quote @ Creative Commons (Flickr – http://www.RepairLabs.com)

“We’re all made of opposites, and they often crucify us” (Words and Their Meanings).

And if we could each get closer to that small spark that makes us who we are in real life then just imagine what kind of things we could conquer.  We could be the Beyonce.  We could be the cornerstone. We could be the flashlight that alights someone stuck in their wood coffin.

This book is out September 8th from Flux Publishing.  It can be preordered now.  Be sure to comment your thoughts below or visit the Books & Bowel Movements instagram @bookishcassie to see my 15-second book review.

 


Don’t Save The Drama FO’ YO’ MOMMA.

Empire State Building (Wikipedia Commons)

This book tried to stand very tall in its own way. It was the Empire State Building of self-sabotage. And the only spot of damage control it had was the fact that Amy Bloom is the author.  Let’s be fair, the characters weren’t all wretched human beings, and it was a soap opera of WWII proportional drama.  Literally, it was set before and during WWII, and figuratively, there was just a whole bunch of she said, he said, drop your kid off on someone’s front porch, become a lesbian, be the only white man drinking whiskey sours at an all African-American jazz club, and death by fire.

No soap opera is complete without death by fire.

Veronica Lake, 1940s noir film star (Wikipedia Commons)

And these characters were anything but subdued.  It opens with Eva who is living a honky-dory lifestyle with her single mother where her father visits to “bounce her on his knee” every Sunday.  His mojo is a classic case of the other family.  Heck, before social media, we could have all had alien brothers and sisters, making the phrase “brotha from anotha motha” so outdated and unfortunately, unable to be used in the literal sense at all anymore.  What happened to the good ol’ days when Cheaters wasn’t on call and messaging was taken by a swirly cord phone in the living room with your stifling father sitting right there.  I tell ya’ folks.

Eva enjoys her blissfully ignorant life until her father’s other family has an unfortunate death and her mother leaves her and her dainty little nine-year-old suitcase on the steps of the front porch.  Eva meets her beautifully disadvantaged, indifferent, unapologetic half-sister, Iris, who does little to coddle, but a lot to teach.  Iris and Eva advance to Hollywood where Iris is THAT much more disadvantaged by her beauty.  People just don’t understand her.

If you’re a heroine, here’s where you throw the kerchief and the back of your soft, pearl hand against your forehead and sigh about luxury and first world problems.

Devastating.

All My Children Cast Members, 1972 (Wikipedia Commons)

Eva and Iris meet a make-up designer to the stars (keep in mind we’re just before WWII at this point) and he picks up the pieces of Iris’ misunderstandings.  The girls return to their hometown with their father where they all live happily ever after, causing no more drama, and eating warm bread from the oven that they have worked on while buffering their nails.

Just kidding.

Creative Commons – Tom Woodward – Flickr

Drama ensues.  More characters are added, including this witty American fellow, mistaken for German, who sweet talks his way into card games with the little sister while his wife….does other things.  This is actually the serious part of the novel where we get a glimpse into America’s missed seams during WWII.  We see this through the character, Gus (also the name of my first and only hamster who died of a mere heart attack, scared to death by the cat).  Gus is …. well, he’s the witty American fellow, who’s wifed up to a dime piece who works in the kitchen of a “new money” family in the suburbs.

At this point you have to be starting to understand the soap opera of it all.

If I could tell you about Iris’s infidelities then this twisted plot would become even more odd, but I can’t.  You must read.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (Goodreads Cover Photo)

I will tell you that there’s a pop-up psychic, a woman who brings ham to a funeral that has to be hidden, a young lesbian starlet, short glimpses into WWII paparazzi, two city hair dresses with big attitudes, a Harlem jazz singer, and Edgar (father without a conscience).

If the psychic wasn’t enough to convince you, there’s another psychic who solves murders…. in french.

I’ve certainly won you over at this point. And, I haven’t even told you the name of the book.  Lucky Us by Amy Bloom came out on August 26th, I got a magnificent review copy off of NetGalley and I think I’ll continue to talk like a 42-year-old Elizabeth Taylor for the rest of this week because it’s just too fabulous darling, I can’t live it down.

Just imagine this review was brought to you by the same campaign that brought you ICE YOURSELF by Matthew McConaughey in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

Deck yourself in expensive jewelry, creep around in costume diamonds, sass your way through with sparkle, and come out the other side having read an absurd book, with even more absurd pacing.  Truly, I’m not even going to mention the pacing because I want you to read this one.  It brings a strange new glow into the fiction world.


BOOKSTAGRAM

A lovely acquaintance, Mollie, made a bookish instagram for her editing called Molliereads (mohrediting.com).  AND it inspired me to make an instagram for bookishness and blogging and happiness and words and connecting.

Find me on Instagram @ bookishcassie

You can view my bookish life as it unfolds and we can share favorite books, book photos, and book comments together in a smaller platform.

See photos like the following:

BOOKSTAGRAM

BOOKSTAGRAM

YES. LET’S DO IT. If we can get a few followers from the blog maybe I’ll do Project 365 the Bookish Edition. That would actually be incredibly fun.  I’d have to read everyday for sure (not that I don’t, you know you have to get your before bed read on).


Corvo Azul

Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa

Who doesn’t love a Brazilian treasure hunt set partway in the sands of Copacabana, brushed through the natural Amazon forests where Araguaia freedom fighters leave their protests on the knives of military forces, and a slow drive through the sucked dry beds of New Mexico.  The coyotes come at night. The military darkens the bolded words of “SECRET” at the top of folders marked with the deaths of guerrilla fighters.  A young girl, Vanja, finds a home on the signature line of a birth certificate.  This is Adriana Lisboa’s first publication from the UK and is on sale in the US TODAY!  Get excited, people.  Don’t listen to my unhappy rantings about the missing double-fs in every word that had them like, coffee, official, suffering, but instead look at the positives. Let’s start there as this is a Tuesday filled with happiness and a globally-important young adult release called Crow Blue.

“Beautiful Little Fool” @ OnHerVanity (WordPress Blog)

I was so enamored with this book for one of the very reasons that I didn’t really enjoy it.  Like To Kill A Mockingbird, I find it hard to read young adult books (which TKAM really isn’t) that write from the perspective of the adult looking back.  It almost isn’t truly young adult because the author is no longer in the shoes that they were in and can’t really tell the story as accurately as a teenager with teenage notions.  I look back on my fourteen-year-old self, in love with a boy named B. Jones who was bad news and blues and would pick fights at football games and I think, how silly that little girl was, what “a beautiful little fool,” to make this a full out allusion day.  (Thanks, Daisy, owe ya one).  In the time I was that girl, I thought myself a funky fashionista who needed to hide things from my mother and acted as a witty damsel in distress to earn the affection of “hot” boy-faced boys.  That’s probably not true either though, as I write this my from my adult, NPR-listening, eat alone in restaurants perspective.

Translation Day @ World Accent

Books like this are sometimes hard to read, but what made this accessible for readers like me was the BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE.  I have no time to regret the point of view when I experience language as powerful and persuasive and philosophical (had to finish off the alliteration) and truly thoughtful as this.  It was like the author was in my head and putting my “Explainer” qualities into words.  And this book is a translation from Portuguese so that says a lot about both the translator,  Alison Entrekin, and the reasons behind my wishing to speak every language in the world so I could read books in their true form and their true beauty.  Just take a look at some of these quotes and more importantly thoughts on the world and thoughts on writing (clearly this writer has an artistic gift).

  • “Elegance? I wondered. No, not elegance.  Perhaps a certain mistrust of the act of walking.  Perhaps she was trying to remind us that we need to be ceremonious with the world, that this here is no joke, that this is something serious and dangerous, and that the mere act of walking on the ground bestows an unimaginable responsibility on you.”
  • “The mountains of Rio de Janeiro were laughing, deep in their intimacy of earth and stone and roots and organic matter from dead leaves and animals and dumped dead bodies: they were laughing at all that anxious human drama: people love one another, kill one another, roll boulders, and at the end of the day none of it makes much difference.  The mountains’ time is different; so are their time frames of reference.”
  • “A curious phenomenon happens when you have been away from home for too long.  Your idea of what home is – a city, a country – slowly fades like a colorful image exposed to the sun on a daily basis.  But you don’t quickly acquire another image to put in its place.  Try: act like, dress like, speak like the people around you.  Use the slang, go to the “in” places, make an effort to understand the political spaces.  Try not to be surprised every time you see people selling second-hand furniture and clothes and books from their garages (the sign on the street corner announces: garage sale), or the supermarkets offering tones of pumpkins in October and tolls for sculpting them, or corn mazes.  Pretend none of that is new to you. Do it all, act like.”

Her thoughts on the world were just so aligned with this stagnant, spongy place that I think it is.  And if we have souls, and they float when we no longer lay claim to our scarred, nicked, and stretched skin, then my soul likes this book because it believes in this world where it must try to fit in all its odd shaped and shifting glory.

There are also elements of this book that were really interesting in young adult literature.  The author didn’t dumb-down her information for a young audience, she faced dead-on history that most Americans wouldn’t know.  I had no idea that Brazil contained a guerrilla army in the 1960s and 70s.  Lisboa is almost sympathetic with the guerrilla movement in the story, but she also shows the terror in plan-lacking military force.  Using one of the main characters in Vanja’s story, Fernando, Lisboa tells the untold story of Fernando’s experience as a guerrilla who walked away and only learned the outcome of his groups’ fight after he deserted them in the forest.  He moved to Colorado and never thought of the experience again, after years of training in China, following a communist doctrine, and leaving a woman that he loved and continued to love in all the elements that she left in her daughter.  Fernando takes Vanja in and they share their stories with one another.  A young girl who is lost in a world she is forced to understand in its grandness and its hesitance in sharing it’s own story (land wise and people wise), and a man who has been lost his entire life and needs someone to call home.

I loved this book as a road trip collection.  The journey was far better than where I ended up at the end.  I trusted Fernando, both rebel and keeper of secrets and I trusted Vanja in telling the story of her country and the story of herself.  Instead of being a girl lost and forced into a bubble of a forced freedom, she becomes a girl with a story so thick with characters that she creates a map of family. Plus, there’s a boy who believes in the power of papers to create a hometown and he gets to discover it’s people, not papers that make you a citizen of the world.


39% Horror, and 18% Forced Coincidence | I never said I was a math teacher.

WARNING: spoilers and non-sequential conversation.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

It was a teacher workday today, so instead of cleaning out my desk drawers and taking down posters with inspiring thoughts “Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the poop,” I spent the day finishing The Kite Runner.  225 pages in last night I was tweeting that I’m not sure I can teach this book because I found out the major hunch of Baba and Hassan and Amir.  And then I was PISSED at Baba.  I understood the two halves of himself coming together, but in the beginning I hated him for being a parent annoyed with the fact that his child is not a mini-him, then I grew to love him and his slight hobble asking for the sweet hand of a hook-nosed girl for his son, and then, I loathed him a little more than the beginning due to the secret he took to the grave.

Apparently, The Kite Runner is a graphic novel as well.

Around 300 pages in, I had to walk down to Hawke’s room and ask her if I should keep reading and if Assef “gets his.”  I’m putting a few almost spoilers in this review because I’m assuming that I’m the last person to actually read this book.  It spent 101 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List, so someone out there had to read it and then recommend it to all of their friends. I seriously wasn’t sure in those climactic moments that Amir could take the nazi (never deserves capitalization, I don’t care if it’s a “proper” noun) that is Assef.  What a dick.  The last time someone was stoned at a sporting event for me was reading “The Lottery” in my classroom and letting my students throw paper balls at the kid who won.  (We weren’t killing trees, they had to write all their work on those papers and then de-ball them in order to turn them in.  Sometimes fun is worth the crinkle of paper from a pocket binder).  In other words, no one has ever been stoned at a sporting event…in my conscious….ever.

I felt so dang American when I read this book.  I was beyond out of my element.  I wanted to simultaneously look away in horror, fly a non-paper-cutting-kite, hug a small child, serve tea, and reanalyze France’s decision on banning burqas.  It was 70% tragedy, 100% humanity, 39% horror, and 18% forced coincidence.  I never said I was a math teacher, which is precisely why I finally read this book.  I had already heard about the first horror of the book and knew just from that-that I wouldn’t be interested in a book like this.  Who wants to read a book where their favorite character will be abused before the hundred-page mark?  It’s like getting sick at breakfast and not being able to eat for the rest of the day due to your disturbing and wretched food poisoning.  BUT, tenth grade at my school teaches The Kite Runner, so I had to trial run it.

Movie Image @ Crash Landen

Taliban @ Wikipedia Commons

As soon as I finished, I knew my students would love this book if they could get through the density of it.  My freshman really appreciated Night, I’m not sure anyone can claim they enjoyed that one, and in Of Mice and Men, I had three girls cry and a choir of tense pressure build up by the end.  Kids who claimed to hate reading told their friends “even I liked that book.” They were both wins for the academics of high school forced-reading and for humanity as a whole as my students learned what empathy truly means through the best superpower, reading. If we covered World War II in 9th grade, maybe covering the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the introduction to Americans of Taliban, and the lead-in to America’s role in a war with Afghanistan might be something golden to teach in 10th grade, especially to students who weren’t even walking when September 11th happened.

Slingshot @ Pixabay (Creative Commons)

To own our history, we must understand the history of those around us.  I’m not sure one person can ever analyze, or study all the histories of the world (obviously), but I am sure that students can understand history that directly relates to their lives and the times in which they have lived.  I am SO looking forward to teaching my students this book.  Although it was kitschy at times; the slingshot, the kite, the brotherhood, the unveiling of Assef and unbearding of Amir, it was still such an amazing book.  I found myself getting nervous in the stadium with the characters, hearing the woman in the already dug grave screaming, seeing the old man ask for coins with his one spoiled eye, carving my name in the pomegranate tree along with Hassan and Amir.

I almost cried at the death of Baba especially when Amir said, “And for the first time in his life, Baba was alone.”  I never want anyone in death to feel lonely even though they’re not bodily with their relatives. BAH.  I fell in love when Amir met Soraya because she was such an honest female character. She’s one of the best-written minor female characters that I’ve read in a long time.  Khaled Hosseini made her so likable in so few paragraphs.  I’ll admit, her husband, it took time for me to like him, but what I like about that is that I only liked him at the time he also finally liked himself completely.  It wasn’t until he had fully forgiven himself that I fully forgave him as well.  Tone and mood came together, my feelings and his matched from that naked bathtub scene to the very end.

Old Television @ D.F. Shapinsky (Creative Commons)

Just, what a great book.  What a great book for the education it makes you research, for the simple fact that sometimes it’s important to feel like an “other,” like you know nothing about the world and pitfalls of the people in that world that live nothing like you (they didn’t even have television, just imagine America in that telescope). There are few books that are both enjoyable and drive their reader to keep reading books on the same topic.  I want to learn more about literature of the Middle East and I want to start right now.  I want to load up my cart and suck the life out of this history so that I can teach as many aspects as I please next year.  This is a book that you will read through the dead heat of night this summer if you haven’t yet picked it up.

I do wonder if I will ever get at the true feelings of what it is to be an Afghani if I can’t read Farsi.  This is one of those times that that the translation can never be as good as the book in the actual language.  I will always be reading from the point of view of the “other” if I can’t learn different languages.  What a disappointing epiphany brought out my an honorable work of literature.

Catster_LetsTalk1_28

Any recommendations for literature from or about the Middle East? What did you think about The Kite Runner and other books by Khaled Hosseini (that I need to read)? If there are any teachers out there, how do you teach this book? What is your favorite lesson?  SHARE AWAY!

 


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