Tag Archives: Bookish

The (Not So Brief) History of My Reading Slump

Some people say not to force books on yourself. Some people say just to switch books like you switch jeans and keep it up until you can’t unbutton it. Occasionally, one must get flippant with a book and pursue the book like an already broken-hearted woman.  A book must be wooed they say, it must be picked specifically off the shelf and breathed-in.

But some books don’t want to be chosen.

Tinder Meme @ Quick Meme

Tinder Meme @ Quick Meme

Some books just want to sit upright on the shelf, hugged-up between others of their kind like hallway high school kids. Some books come at the wrong time and expect the relationship to work.  But the characters, the characters are drowning in the reader’s boredom.  Or the book is just too long and it seems endless.  Or it’s being read on one of those new-fangled electronic books and the readers finger is tired of swiping left after all that time on Tinder and only a few stolen night minutes on the Kindle App.  Those readers argue “at least Tinder peaks,” when it takes this book I’ve been scanning a solid thirty pages just to set-up the character’s useless boyfriend.

I’ve read recommendations from bookists at Book Riot.  The problem is that I just can’t read the same book twice.  There are too many books in the world for me to eat the same salad everyday.  I’ve tried the library because at least then I have a time limit.  Last night, instead of reading my Joyce Carol Oates book, I looked at random readers on Instagram and fantasized about eating a donut.

Maybe I can’t read because I’ve been eating sugar snap peas for days.

I doubt it.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

In my last reading funk, finally, I read The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht and pushed through it like I was in combat.   That book was all folktale and family ties.  It was an adult fairytale of fiction, and I read it because frankly, I was confused. I wanted to know what the heck was happening in the multiple story lines so I read on until the myth became realized and I was stuck between adoration and jealousy that I hadn’t written the book and Tea Obreht is so young with a work of miracle under her belt.  (If anyone has any really confusing but worthwhile recommendations in the literary genre, maybe I could try those)

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 4.24.23 PMThis one is less combat and more just sadness.  I’m cramming books into my mouth like they’re chocolate chip cookies.  And I read hard for a few days, I rise and shine to the words, but seven chapters in, I’m leaving it under the bed or moving it back to the TBR shelf  because there’s another option just three down in the pile, and surely it will make me finish.  Someone needs to hold me accountable.  I need a reading coach.  And I need that coach to act like the man on Maury who takes children to jail and “scares them straight.”  Instead of push-ups, pages.  Instead of muscles, mounted plot diagrams.  Instead of squats, sentences.

Me distracting my boyfriend.

Me distracting my boyfriend.

Usually I’m up for a challenge, I work better under pressure.  This, though, this, slump of all slumps has been a few months long.  I even spent a day at a coffee shop with my boyfriend where he obsessively read Lord of the Rings to the point of laughing out loud and I sat there listening to the circle of old men across the walk from us.  It got so bad at one point that I was writing a blog of his Lord of the Rings translations (they are pretty funny so I will probably post it when he reads me more of them).  The group of grays were discussing war and women, the building blocks of old man-ness.  Instead of just letting Beej read, I interrupted him to tell him their stories.  I poked and prodded.  I interrupted his reading to force the slump his way.  Maybe it’s like a horror movie demon, you can force it off onto someone else.  (This is just pure lazy).

I hoped maybe it would rub off, but the stuckness of it is strong.

Swamplandia by Karen Russel

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

I can’t even ask for recommendations because they would just end up on the TBR under the 217 pages read of Swamplandia and the first two essays in Love and Other Ways of Dying.  I’ve been with four Cormac McCarthy books in seven days.  I’ve even highlighted lines and let them shift just under the pillow so that I don’t have to look at them anymore.

One can’t just look a book in the cover when she’s about to throw it away on some new release.

Those books left willy nilly in piles around the house.  Those books that are slightly crooked from their recent placement on the shelf.  Don’t even get started with the TBR pile that has become a Walmart bookshelf.  I keep it close to the bed just so I can grab the next, but lately, it’s just been a bite of each.

Image from HYPERBOLE AND A HALF which is AWESOME

Image from HYPERBOLE AND A HALF which is AWESOME

I can’t have my cake and eat it too.  I can’t even get to the icing.

All these left out characters.  All these unread words.

I’m beginning to think it won’t ever end.  It’s a Stephen King novel of slumpness.  A Moby Dick of slacking.  A Canterbury Tales of excuses.  A Wuthering Heights of book break-ups.  It’s a Hemingway ending. A Les Mis of cold hard truths.

I’ll try anything. I need saving.  This is my SOS.

SAVE OUR SOULS (Mine and all those characters that are only getting a short flirt and not a full on fling).


How I Came to Poetry | Volume One

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I came to poetry by accident.  I went to college as a religious studies major, hoping to be a youth minister, and wound up with a degree in English-creative writing which was dominated by poetry classes.  I came to poems unwillingly and then all at once.  I wanted to write fiction, but poetry kept coming out.  In notebooks, in the margins, in the top three-inch white space that readers always put titles, I wrote less-than-expendable words.  I wrote everything down.  I described the scars on a thigh of an ex-boyfriend, the way a Weeping Willow looks at dusk against the industrial nationality of a brick building, and I studied the way girls opened doors for a month, just trying to put into words the steps of their movements and what they mirrored in a metaphor.

Thug Notes: The host of the series is Sparky Sweets, Ph.D., portrayed by actor and comedian Greg Edwards.

I’ve been through this before, but I hated reading in high school.  I was queen of Spark Notes and a good listener.  I could figure out from the class discussion both what the teacher wanted to hear, and what the book was about.  If there had been Thug Notes, I would have watched that too, just to be positively clear.  My students now ask me what “Masque of Red Death” is about and I can’t tell them, even if it was required reading.

Zora Neale Hurston @ Creative Commons

There’s something just inherently wrong with the phrase “required reading.” And as a high school teacher I still struggle with the idea that I have to force my students into pages that they may not want to delve, places in themselves, that they are not yet ready to open.  I do it because I am passionate about words, a logophile, and if I just find the right piece, the perfect passage, it will be like a skeleton key in a leftover desk.  On Friday, I got the closest I’ve ever gotten to that passage when they read “How It Feels to be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston. I would imagine though that very few people would not be moved by that passage.  We are all paper bags, after all.

Thankfully, The Atlantic, recently thought that we should all know how writers come to their writing.  What poem volted their spirit.  What story pressed the page to their ear.  Their By Heart series tells the stories behind our favorite’s favorites.  The whole story, not some little interview clip on what EL James had to read in order to become a writer of the “sexually deviant.” (I do say that mildly).  There’s a story behind the story behind the story.  My favorite so far has been Sherman Alexie’s ‘Drop Everything and Be a Poet,’ where he discusses the poem “Elegy For The Forgotten Oldsmobile.”

Carolyn Forche @ Poetry Foundation

My creative writing students have read pieces of the series, and now they are beginning to write and find their own words behind their story.  What pieces they connect to, how they found them, what piece of broken glass the writing moved within them. I wrote with them, as I always do while they’re independently writing.  It took me back to a poem by Carolyn Forche that almost always winks out of my system until something pushes it, rushing like a hurricane, back to me.  This poem, “As Children Together” is the first time when I thought a poet was writing just to me.  I didn’t brush it off with the high school mantra, “poems are confusing and so I don’t read them.”

The poem “As Children Together” by Carolyn Forche:

AS CHILDREN TOGETHER

Carolyn Forche

Under the sloped snow
pinned all winter with Christmas
lights, we waited for your father
to whittle his soap cakes
away, finish the whisky,
your mother to carry her coffee
from room to room closing lights
cubed in the snow at our feet.
Holding each other’s
coat sleeves we slid down
the roads in our tight
black dresses, past
crystal swamps and the death
face of each dark house,
over the golden ice
of tobacco spit, the blue
quiet of ponds, with town
glowing behind the blind
white hills and a scant
snow ticking in the stars.
You hummed blanche comme 
la neige and spoke of Montreal
where a que becoise could sing,
take any man’s face
to her unfastened blouse
and wake to wine
on the bedside table.
I always believed this,
Victoria, that there might
be a way to get out.

You were ashamed of that house,
its round tins of surplus flour,
chipped beef and white beans,
relief checks and winter trips
that always ended in deer
tied stiff to the car rack,
the accordion breath of your uncles
down from the north, and what
you called the stupidity
of the Michigan French.

Your mirror grew ringed
with photos of servicemen
who had taken your breasts
in their hands, the buttons
of your blouses in their teeth,
who had given you the silk
tassles of their graduation,
jackets embroidered with dragons
from the Far East. You kept
the corks that had fired
from bottles over their beds,
their letters with each city
blackened, envelopes of hair
from their shaved heads.

I am going to have it, you said.
Flowers wrapped in paper from carts
in Montreal, a plane lifting out
of Detroit, a satin bed, a table
cluttered with bottles of scent.

So standing in a Platter of ice
outside a Catholic dance hall
you took their collars
in your fine chilled hands
and lied your age to adulthood.

I did not then have breasts of my own,
nor any letters from bootcamp
and when one of the men who had
gathered around you took my mouth
to his own there was nothing
other than the dance hall music
rising to the arms of iced trees.

I don’t know where you are now, Victoria.
They say you have children, a trailer
in the snow near our town,
and the husband you found as a girl
returned from the Far East broken
cursing holy blood at the table
where nightly a pile of white shavings
is paid from the edge of his knife.

If you read this poem, write to me.
I have been to Paris since we parted.
In fact, I went into a well.

The poem made me sit with it. I read it again and again against a dorm desk, under a bed.  I thought, surely not, surely not, this isn’t to me.

But Victoria is so my best friend in high school, or maybe she’s a little of me.  I don’t know. Here’s what I wrote in that initial twenty minutes of independent writing time that I gave my students:

I love this poem because it’s a love letter to a lost friend. I was once that girl who was trying to find myself only in the hearts of boys, the buttons of a letterman jacket, the desperation in a fist against a face to protect me, whatever could be found by climbing out my bedroom window until my father painted it shut.

I love it because it describes this small town that they’re from in a way that you can actually see them walking to the dance hall.  Once we get to the dance hall, it reminds me of the movie Grease which I watched so often when I was little that I would mouth each part along with the actors.  I so desperately wanted to be Rizzo until I realized that in the scene at the drive-in she has to take a pregnancy test because of Kinnicky and she may not even graduate high school.  I realized early in my teenage years that her life was not going to have the same outcome as my own and I needed to put my focus on being a girl like Sandy.

Which I was anyway because I had good parents. “A good foundation” is what my Mom calls it.

Being like Sandy though, it wasn’t everything either.  Anytime you’re trying to be someone else, like when Forche talks about the size of her breasts not being enough to woo soldiers, it breaks my heart because you can never win being someone else.  There is always going to a better and a lesser because in our world we categorize everything.

In this poem, Victoria hoards dating memorabilia.  Her breakup box lines the rearview of her bedroom mirror.  She so badly wants to imagine herself as someone else, someone attached, someone from the Far East, a girl that moves a smooth lock of hair between her fingers in hopes that the man will return to her.  She wanted to be wanted, and it wasn’t with quality, it was with quantity. When you feel like nothing, it doesn’t matter how large the amount of people who tell you otherwise grows, it just means you’re nothing.

This poem is an elegy to self-esteem.  There are so many wishes of escape locked in Victoria’s small dream whisperings that she wishes for, “I am going to have it, you said.”  Like any girl dreams, of things that probably won’t ever happen.  The question in the poem though is, does she know it’s not going to happen already or is she still actually believing it?  At one point in a girl’s girlhood does she realize what’s reality and what’s floating hopes?  Is there a trigger moment, or is it a series of life moments, or is it just years and years of those wishes not coming true until BAM you’re an adult and you barely graduate high school, and it takes the love of a good man to make you stay in one place, and you watch those dreams evaporate to pavement, or the American Dream, or the same thing your neighbor’s did that you swore you wouldn’t do.

And why at the end. Why do girls always marry a piece of their father?

Through all this history, the reader can see the love, and the love lost, between Victoria and Carolyn and between Victoria and life.  That’s what I love.  Never once does she have to say they were best friends, or they loved each other, she just shows it on the page in this list of childhood memories, and comparisons, and a bit of real life thrown in, down to the possible rusting trailer on a hinge.

And now, I have so much more to say.  Like how this poem feeds into my obsession with the Civil War and my relations who fought on the side of the confederacy, and one great-great-great-great who died from a gun wound to the arm.  Yet, it never mentions the Civil War, and with “Far East,” we can assume Korea or Vietnam. It goes with how I imagine war widows on their porches.  Their _________ stare at open fields for the man they love has been a reoccurring image in my own writing. (As you can see I haven’t figured out just how it looks yet).  How women either brush obscurity or virginity, sometimes both.  There are so many more words I could say about this poem, but the words you say first are almost always the clearest, aren’t they?

My favorite past time, Chapstick. @ Wikipedia Commons

In an effort to share my writing and reading journey on my blog, I’m going to make this sort of reflection a regular post so that I can map how I came to this late-twenties-book-against-heart-girlhood.  It wasn’t wearing Keds and pretending to smoke chapstick containers in the car that led me to a poem.  It was the feeling of words as closure.  Carolyn Forche will always be the one that peeled back the petals I was hidden beneath, and made sure I grew. Again.


You’re my boo (radley): Thoughts on Go Set a Watchman.

Mayella Ewell from Salon Magazine (2012)

Based on initial excitement levels, I was off the richter scale.  I got an all caps text from my best friend aying, “HARPER LEE IS GOING ROUND TWO” and I ran to the other classrooms in order to tell everyone that Scout would be grown soon and we should have a teacher book club.  Forget about what Mayella might be like as an adult.  I always imagine her adulthood in one of two ways, she’s a white trash Sula character that is both mysterious and sultry, but hog tied to her hometown (a la Toni Morrison), or she’s the opposite of her Daddy, she seeks to reconcile her wrongs rather than seek revenge for them. The question is: will she be a flower or a weed?

Image @ Pinterest

I really would like to go with flower as Mayella grew those beautiful red geraniums which remind me so much of the story  “Marigolds.”

“Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.” (17.64)

Mayella could be one of two characters in the story “Marigolds.” She could be Miss Lottie who grows beautiful marigolds in a poverty neighborhood, or she can be Lizbeth, who in a fit of teen angst rips up the marigolds for herself.

1. Will Mayella be a flower or a weed?

Law and Order SVU

This if my first question because it’s the one that most bothers me.  Here we have Atticus Finch, this supreme man in literature, who could father all my babies if he wanted to, but his moral high ground doesn’t really extend beyond Tom Robinson, his family, and the old women who live down the street.  He fights for Tom in an argument against a girl that has been raped and abused by her father for her entire life.  If Mayella were a Law and Order episode, she would have countless visits with Dr. Wong, an empathetic shoulder in Benson, and her father would certainly get the shakedown from Elliot.  Mayella would be a sympathetic aggravator because she’s a product of her environment, a child of trash who was shunned by her town and left.

Atticus fights as Tom’s lawyer and says things like, “Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself” to his daughter, but this isn’t a novel that fights for women.  He’s a great father, but the women in the neighborhood are either, old, dead, or liars.

Atticus Meme on Tumblr

Mayella could take this one of two ways.  She could do the opposite of her father and seek to reconcile his wrongs instead of avenge him, or she could become something else entirely.  A fighter, or a whiner.  A flower or a weed. I’m hoping that with her father dead she found some kind of peace in those red geraniums and bloomed into a new women, but that would be like living in a world where Harry Potter doesn’t die (oh wait, that happened).  I’m interested to see how she does in a real world, if she escapes, or if she tells them to tighten the rope.

Sarah Churchwell says it better than me in her article “Why To Kill a Mockingbird is overrated.”

2. How will Scout be a feminist in a new world?

Scout’s ham costume in the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird

Since Go Set a Watchman is based on Scout as a grown woman, I’m trying to wrap my mind around how this is going to work.  In 1930s TKAM, Scout is a bit of a mini-feminist, a child who can break up a tunnel of men holding weapons outside of a jail. There isn’t a word for what she is, but instead of putting on dresses, she puts on ham costumes and suspenders, and there’s nothing more manly than bacon, am I right?  However, if she’s a middle aged woman in this new book, I’m assuming it’s set around the 1960s/70s.

Martin Luther King Jr. with daughter Yolanda

Will Lee allude to the anti-violence campaigns of King, the fists of Malcolm X, the propaganda of Hitler? Scout will have lived through WWI, WWII and be going into Vietnam.  Is Scout a woman who protests parades for drafted soldiers, or is she the woman that kisses her soldier slowly under dimmed kitchen lights? Is there even a soldier at all, because if you’re raised by a man like Atticus, who else can compete.  Scout will have experienced hatred across a full globe; blacks who are told to act less than in America, European people who are told what is human and what is animal, and for Vietnam she will have to decide whether she believes in the men, or the fight.

1950s vacuum advertisement

This is a world of the 1950s where vacuum advertisements have women wearing aprons and sparkling white teeth.  How will Scout be able to maintain her values in a world where the word feminist hasn’t even really been tapped yet.  Today, girls believe being a feminist means having an alarm set at 8:30am everyday that says, “Be a bad bitch,” and climbing over their male counterparts in heels to get to the next higher paying job – glass slipper, more like glass ceiling – but in a world where everything is strained and chaotic, what will Scout’s voice be? Will she just follow the voice of Atticus and try still to treat everyone equally or is the world truly more complicated than that.

How will her ideals and values stand up to such world hate and how will Lee justify her behaviors in a world that held women down? In childhood Scout, we can justify it by childhood whimsy, grown women don’t get the same niceties.

These are things I need answered in this book.

3. How the hell is the narrative voice going to work?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

TKAM stars an elderly woman who is looking back on her childhood and retelling the tale.  Some of my students love the book, and others think it’s just another grandmother telling about “the struggle.”  And I’m confused about how this is all going to work because if it’s old Scout telling her childhood story in TKAM, how is this going to work for Go Set a Watchman?

In this book, will it be a first person narrative voice in the same time of the telling, but then won’t that be confusing for readers of TKAM or are we just going to ignore this small detail and keep on reading? Because if it’s the same old Scout telling a new story, will it really be as meaningful the second time around when she’s no longer wistful on childhood fancy, but instead wistful on middle aged womanhood in a time when your only option was femininity.

I’m struggling with this juxtaposition even more because sources have claimed that this book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and therefore the voice could either be the same or completely different, but it will still be wholly amateur.  Lee was a complete amateur when TKAM and while she claims writing was a struggle, I’m not sure it had a very heavy editing hand.

4. Didn’t we think this manuscript was destroyed in a house fire?

Harper Lee’s Sister, Alice, Practicing Law @ Daily Mail

Or it was flung out a window on a cold winter’s night? This is the question with all the conspiracy theories.  I grew up thinking that Harper Lee was such a badass because through all the pressure and the requests, she stayed in her hobbit hole small town and refused to write anything else.  I never thought I would see the day where she published something, especially because her sister Alice claimed that there was nothing else, the manuscript had been destroyed.

That’s why I find it really strange that all of a sudden Alice has passed away and Lee’s lawyer has found this manuscript (was it buried under hoarding tendencies, or placed in an unnamed folder, or locked in a safe this whole time, the one remaining thing that they can claim from a house fire). Just exactly, how did this come about.  Some sources claim that Lee is so old that she would sign rights to anything at this point, the woman is 88 so we have to give her a break. Other sources claim that she’s “happier than hell” that the novel is finally getting published.

Nelle Harper Lee @ Wikipedia, looking like a straight boxing b in this photo.

Nelle Harper Lee @ Wikipedia, looking like a straight boxing b in this photo.

My concern is the general well-being of an author that has ALWAYS refused to sell the text, and the fact that she wrote this before TKAM (1960s) and in today’s editing world, the publisher might take some liberties.  Now, you all know that I love Harper Collins (they’re my favorite publisher), but I also have a strong belief that writing is based on revision.  In fact, writing is revision (I say this standing on my soap box).  It’s one thing to be able to write some magnificent plot on a page, but it’s a whole other donkey to be able to take it apart, piecemeal it back together, cut and paste, organize, and create a story. Plot v. story. I’m worried that Harper Lee will have very little stake in this process and it will be in someone else’s hands in the revision.

If it is revised, edited, changed by the editors or the inner circle of Lee, how will the reader’s react, or find her within? And for Lee is this the copout that she’s looking for – if it sucks, she can claim they changed it – if it’s wonderful, then it’s hers and hers alone. I’m sure an 88 year old isn’t looking for a copout, but you get what I’m saying.

Paste Magazine wrote my favorite article on this topic.

5. What ever happens to Boo Radley?

Boo Radley Meme – SO MANY QUESTIONS

I know for a fact that we call our significant other’s “boo” because of Boo Radley.  There is no other possible explanation for this.  Boo was a shut-in with allegations of knife-weilding against him, and I think we’re all pretty sure that he murdered Bob Ewell after stalking (yes, in a sweet way with gum, pennies, and wax figurines) those children for most of a year.  He’s a side character, but in my eyes, he is the book.

Without Boo Radley, there wouldn’t be the same suspense, we wouldn’t be comforted with his presence when Scout sneaks out, or she and Jem are traveling unaccompanied through dark woods.  I wonder how Harper Lee is going to include him in this novel. Could he fall madly in love with Scout and we have this strange fan fiction moment where everyone’s dreams come true (I guess she would have to love him too then).  Or will he still be a shut-in in a town that doesn’t understand him.  Sources claim this book is a moment when Scout returns to her hometown (Macon) to visit her aging father.  If Boo still lives next door, will she see him too or will Lee just gloss over his move to somewhere else and we never get Boo back.  We never really got the after-effect of that death on his hands in TKAM. Scout, childish, grabs his hand and walks him home and that’s it. Well, what happened?  Go Set a Watchman better figure this out.

6. I worry about the impact on future readers. 

I know we won’t go out and order a class set for every school in America because it sounds like this isn’t going to be another coming-of-age story, the woman is already of-age (we read a lot of this stereotype…er…genre in high school literature), but I wonder how this will impact future readers.  Will they feel compelled to push through Go Set a Watchman or even read it before the emotional impact that is To Kill a Mockingbird.  Will this be like that time that JK Rowling tried to publish something else and no one liked it.  I’m worried that this second book could ruin the ideal of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Although it has problems, it is the pedestal of Great American Novel.  Like Harry Potter is the middle grades fantasy equivalent to a greek god.

Harper Lee, 88. Lovely. @ Huffington Post

Harper Lee was going out on a legacy that is still founded today – we still teach TKAM to 9th graders – but with this new book, I worry about the possibility that that legacy could be tainted.  I probably shouldn’t worry though, because she’s not worried with her adorably huge smile.

I can’t say for sure how I feel about this book until I’ve turned over the front cover and begun.  I must remain gracious with my expectations, but they are numbered and many.  I know Harper Lee is a bad mamba-jamba so I will live in hopes that she wouldn’t produce two million copies of something that she didn’t completely believe in.


YOLO: “You Oughta Look Out”

“…the idea of dragging souls across the landscape like cans of string” (309).

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

When my newspaper students set out to choose the top news stories of 2014 this week (as an assignment on newsworthiness and the eight factors involved) most every single pair chose the “Ebola Outbreak” as a top news story.  Without sounding painfully unsentimental, ebola has killed 4,887 approximately, and four million civilian casualties happened in the Vietnam War.  It’s all how you look at numbers, and I’m not saying that those lives didn’t matter (Ebola lives), but I am saying that it’s a wonder to me sometimes how America does math.

Part of the conversation that I believe in having is one about poverty, and the major differences and obstacles between first world countries and third world countries.  As an American teacher, I can’t really speak of the experience in the third world, but as an American teacher teaching in the highest poverty county in North Carolina, I can speak to the conditions of life for people who get very few glances of empathy and instead are pushed down by excuses.

I was thinking about these ideas (epidemics, poverty, childhood) while reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the National Book Award winning story of a post-apocalyptic world where a variation of the swine flu kills 99% of the population and leaves a band of hopeful Shakespearian symphony members, an old man in an airport running a Museum of Civilization, a young boy from Jerusalem who becomes a prophet following the light he read about as a child in a comic book, and the wifely remnants of a dead actor, hoping for some sort of epiphany that will break back a world that only returns in glimpses.

Ebola, the shoe string of death @ CDC.Gov

Nathan Burton’s design for the Dr. Eleven comic in Station Eleven is part of the Picador marketing program. @ Thought Catalog

Each main character of the story holds on to artifacts left in their hands from a life before where running water was a given not an opportunity, or finding books of poetry would send someone on a search through a used bookstore shelf rather than shuffling behind someone’s locked and empty shell of a home.  In the story, the founder of The Museum of Civilization displays things as simple as credit cards, iPhones, and passport photos – things that in the first world, we take for granted.  He puts his wishes on the idea that a man can just leave his credit card near a register if the world just happens to start up again. Kristen, who is a member of the traveling symphony, performs as Titania to relive a few moments of fallen snow on a stage in her childhood.  The only real difference now is her obsession with a dead actor and the two knives permanently drawn into her wrist.

Side note:  how perfect is Emily St. John Mandel’s name as the author of this book.  It’s almost soul-clenchingly creepy with the “Saint John” part of her name in full force between two seemingly usual names – Emily and Mandel.  I just found that a strange coincidence.

Station Eleven is brilliantly written and I’m sure no one would disagree with me, but I did have to plough through it and convince myself to pick it up again.  I do believe that it burns the stick at both ends.  This book is hoping to achieve a life-after-earth-as-we-know-it quality which can be steeped in coincidences that leave the reader feeling squeamish about how easy the stone age might be, but it also relies on the story of one man who connects four very different people at different parts of their lives.

YOLO @ brighterlife.com.pg (Creative Commons)

The book opens with this man who is playing King Lear in the stage play of Shakespeare.  I think Mandel’s use of Shakespeare is beautiful, but boarders on obsession.  Must Shakespeare be the King of Pop in literature, still? I know, I know, he created a whole language that we still use today, but I am just SO OVER that man’s wit.  I do understand the need to hold on to the old world, and what’s more old than Shakespearian ideals. Am I right? (I think Chaucer or the author of Beowulf would have some problems with this blog post. I would pay to see them battle it out).

Each character in the novel; old wives, airport survivors, Kristen, and a son, all represent this living flame in Arthur Leander.  Using Arthur, the novel is willing to do so many things to almost poke fun at our current American attitudes.  Arthur’s wives must escape paparazzi, one even that claims to have a soul for most of the story.  Authur’s friends must deal with his considerable drop in empathy once he “makes it big” as a stage actor.  And his death … all the cliches that can come from “dying too soon,” and “YOLO” come into play when the actor that everyone else on the apocalypse map stems from, dies suddenly before the flu even hits on a stage of plastic snow, under the cupped hands of the lonely.

Shakespeare @ Creative Commons Wiki

I think this is a story that won’t grow old for a really long time.  It has definite staying power with its use of famous ideals of literature, and this idea that is as old as time that the earth will one day end (or at the very least the sun will dry up – probably not the correct scientific theory language) and we will all be forced to rethink our entire use of civilization.

Jeevan is the most endearing character for this aspect of the novel.  He is the almost-savior of Arthur Leander, pumping his chapped winter hands against the famous man’s chest in an effort to find breath.  It is through this initial death that violence whispers down the novel. And Jeevan is the first: the first to push seven grocery carts through the snow to his brother’s apartment, the first to call his girlfriend to warn her, and the first (for the reader) to know how important a life in someone’s ribs stays, he is my first character of this book.  The one I most long to tell the rest of the story.  He gets misplaced in the middle, but I would like to see what he makes of the flicker of light at the end.  What regrets does that soul sing?

Station Eleven Image @ Liz & Gianna’s Blog

Finally, this book commanders the idea that people aren’t infinite, and even though my students yelled, “EBOLLAAAAAA” like they were singing about a cough drop most days last semester, it still begs the question, what really are we laughing at? Because I tell you, Flu’s are nothing to f*** with.

PS.  I thought this book was “just okay,” because as a ginger, I have no soul.


All The Books I Never Finished,

And never regretted it.

Let’s start at the beginning. God did it apparently, so it’s good enough for us.

  • I’ve been reading Swamplandia for approximately two years and seventy-three days.  I borrowed it from my cousin’s girlfriend who is just as much of a book nerd as me, so I feel kind of bad that I’m that person who doesn’t return books.

Hi, I’m Cassie and I don’t always return borrowed books.

I also have two of the three Colleen Hoover books in a series (Slammed and Point of Retreat) on my shelf from her that I have yet to read. I really should have gotten her a “Return to” label for her personal library books.

Quick flashback: This poor girl, Rachel Dennis, who must have gotten married because I can find her nowhere on social media, gave me the book The Princess Bride.  She even came to my house, before having a driver’s license, to try to get that book back.  To this day (I read it this year), it’s in my personal library with her name scrolled in high school bubble handwriting.  I feel less bad today because the book comes with its own small history, but still.

Hi, I’m Cassie and I have a long history of not returning borrowed books unless their from the library and people are going to charge me a fine.

Back to Swamplandia. How did anyone finish this book?  It was slow, and completely, unrealistically weird.  A brother who works at a hell theme park. A sister who wants to wrestle albino alligators like her mother in a bay watch suit.   A sister who believes she’s dating a dead boy who’s stuck on a tug boat.  I got through the first round of hell and doom, but as soon as the narrator met the bird man and went after her sister who could have just watched Ghost to live vicariously through, I couldn’t.  I keep the bookmark in it just in case I can finish those last hundred pages, I’m not one to give up. But…it’s been a few years.  Maybe 2015 is the year of Swamplandia.

Recommendation: Read Lauren Groff’s story “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” to get your fix of Everglade reptiles and sadness without all the kitschy things that make a book seem “unique” and “original” even though it’s just a mass production of a weird best-seller.  Groff’s story is one of the only magnificent stories in the Best American Series 2014.

  • We, The Drowned – Carsten Jensen

    I will finish We, the Drowned. It’s just massive.  It’s a steel block of book, but it will get done. I always remember the plot when I come back to it, even after months, which is a true sign of a good story.  Plus, the cover’s too beautiful not to know it when someone comes into my library and spots it and asks.  It has a 4.18 score on Goodreads which might be because so few people have actually finished it and they all loved it, or it’s just a stellar book. One won’t know until 2015.

  • Tiger Lily ruined Alias Hook for me.  If Peter Pan wasn’t such a young adult chauvinist pig in Tiger Lily and Tiger Lily wasn’t such a desperate teen heart then maybe I could have read another Peter Pan remake in the same year. However, Tiger Lily was so terrible – the best part was the dedication: For the girls with messy hair and thirsty hearts. 
  • All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doeer

    At this point I’m the only person that didn’t like and didn’t finish All The Light We Cannot See. It was on the bestseller list in our newspaper this morning even.  I just couldn’t finish it. After all the WWII books, to be infinite, authors have to write something that breaks the heart open.  This just didn’t.  I only read until the boy was at the training camp for a few months and his weak friend was bullied (and I think died).  I was really interested in the blind girl’s story and the architecture her father built into her veins as a home, but the author stayed so long on the boy and sister that I gave up.  Anyone have any reasons to push through on this one?

  • There’s no reason I shouldn’t have finished A Tale for the Time Being.  It was bad timing. I might start over.  Especially because Alena told me how much she loved it, and she’s one of my most precious recommenders.  Half the feelings we have towards books (and boys – significant others) is timing, I think.
  • Diego Draws @ Tumblr (A Rose for Emily)

    Other than Faulkner’s Emily, Miss Havisham may be my favorite character in literary history. Unfortunately, she was dragged through the ash of the Industrial Age by Ronald Frame.  I couldn’t even do it.

Why do white girls go to the bathroom in groups of odd numbers? We just can’t even.

I just can’t even.

  • I work with a literature prude.  He teaches British Lit which is perfect for him. He might be the most well-read person that I know, actually. I always return his books partly because I live in fear of his reaction if I don’t.  Plus, we have this long standing feud over who is the better Fitzgerald, Zelda or F. Scott. (It’s Zelda). He recommended Special Topics in Calamity Physics which is a book that just makes me feel like an idiot and I’m not even sure if the author researched her own research.  People on Goodreads claim it has “literary allusions” but they must be philosophical geniuses because this book is too hoity-toity for the average American girl who reads.
  • I’m a girl who loves a girl named Francine. (It’s like Madeline, I can just imagine the perfect etiquette and the way she dabs her lips gently with a cloth embroidered napkin). And her last name is Prose, which if you’re going to be a writer, your last name cannot get any more perfect than Prose. However, the remake of Bigfoot Dreams. WHY. I wouldn’t let anyone reprint a book that was terrible in the first place.  You want to reprint my book, choose one that’s good.  How about Blue Angel or Golden Grove, but Big Foot Dreams.  Open Road Integrated Media, I deplore you.  Remake books that matter, not books that are fillers for authors to keep their publishing contract with the big names. (This is also a publishing world problem).

Cormac McCarthy

I think every year readers have books that they just can’t finish.  This year was especially bad for me.  Most years, I push through the bad and just finish as many as I can, but this year I made a resolution to refuse to read bad books.  So this year, I would read a few pages and then put the book down forever.  Even Cormac McCarthy had to suffer through this with two of his books on this list.  I started a lot of books.  I probably read more pages of starters than I did finishers.  I’m not sure if this was just me being stressed with teaching and less time to really hook my claws into “good” books, or if this is a publishing epidemic.  Are they (American publishing houses) publishing less NEED and more WANT? I can’t answer that question without an insider view really, but lately I’ve felt that no books have moved me so far as to write a brilliant review since probably, The Tiger’s Wife. I want a book I can faint inside.  Did you read any books like that this year? RECOMMEND please.  I might even start one of those cute little TBR mason jars.


Newsday Tuesday

DSC_09732


Favorite Tweets:

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • gif cat writing blackboard fast: It’s like this person knows the inner me.
  • christmas baking poems with figurative language: Some hot Mom is going to recite poetry in only her apron this Christmas. OR some teacher is baking figurative language into cookies.
  • marry the beast and get that library: I’m trying.
  • stress free quotes tumblr: There’s lotion for this at Bath & Body Works.

Book News:


BYON: Build Your Own Nook (on a budget).

The door knob to my book nook glowing in books.

The door knob to my book nook glowing in books.

I have a shed in my backyard that hasn’t been gifted with my whimsy yet, but this weekend, my Mom and I added whimsy to a seemingly useless closet in my library.  AND IT WAS RELATIVELY EASY.  Unlike Wiki-how, I don’t have a set rule of instructions, but my Mom got everything we bought on sale except for a cute coffee mug shelf ($9 at Lowes) and the shelves that we used as the seating area (Target).

So, here’s a (po’ man’s) instruction manual on turning a closet into a reading nook.  Good for any age of imagination.

lampFirst, we painted the closet one solid color because it was dirty, and smelled of old coats.  And we get enough smell from used books that we don’t need someone’s pocket lint looming over our experience.  I had this creamy beige that I had left over from painting my living room so we used that.  And since there’s no light in a closet, it brought out the natural light in the room.  I painted above the shelf and the entire top of the closet, Irish Green because we got a $3 can of it at Lowes that someone had returned.  My dad found this eccectic, antique globe lantern at the thrift store.

door

Chevron wallpaper and painted door

After that, my Mom bought $14 chevron wallpaper at Target and we wallpapered the back wall for a statement as well as the bottom of the shelf that was already in the closet.   It was a sticky process, but it was a stick and re-peel, so every time we messed up we just tried, tried again.  My Mom and I don’t have passed-down patience genes so it was pretty funny to watch, I’m sur.   I recommend not getting wallpaper that’s geometric.  I would love to make another one of these in my future that has like vintage stationary/vintage parisian wallpaper.   I also painted the door using blue tape with a purple can of Valspar that was on sale for $1 and a can of pink that was on sale for $3.  I wanted to make the door really funky fresh so it felt like you were walking into a different world when you went in.  I think I was successful in that although we have like nine patterns going on.

My Mom had already picked out a cushion from Pier One ($19.98) to sit on.  We tried to design around the pillow when we were thinking of what to do.  Obviously, she let me just go insane with the door.

tree

Cheery Blossom Wall Decal ($9 @ Target)

I had the feather pillows already and we just liked the way they fit.  My Mom also picked up a pretty wall decal at Target and we put it on the wall that I would look at while I’m reading.

We put a few final touches on it, and overall it was a really awesome project to do together.  There’s a corner shelf where I can put coffee and the bookshelves (2) we bought to sit on, we turned sideways so they would fit “stuff” aka “more books.” I’ve stacked my TBR pile in there and one of my favorite elephants from my Dad.  Here is the “almost” final reading nook.

This also is an exclamation that there’s no limit to your bookishness folks.  There are no caves too damp, or clouds too light for your bookish flavor.  It can always grow.

Fro REALLY likes the nook.

Fro REALLY likes the nook.

closet2

A full view of the (almost) finished product.

 


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:


Back To School // Make You Drool

I’ve done a lot of Bookish Gift Guides over the years, but I’m going to mix it up today.  I keep getting a million Labor Day sale emails.  I can’t resist when they ask for your email for coupons, even though a few days ago I went through and unsubscribed from everything that never gets opened.  I decided that a lot of my students were graduating and learning how to function in a cubicle/closet of a dorm.  Plus, isn’t it just fun to buy school supplies? Or home office supples? Or just organization cubbies because they usually have all kinds of funky patterns and matchy-matchy themes?

So, here it is: THE BACK TO SCHOOL // MAKE YOU DROOL Gift Guide

  • SIGNAGE

Dorm rooms, home offices, and students should be surrounded by inspiration.  Inspiration these days comes from quotes, and signs on Pinterest, Etsy, and Tumblr.  When I was in high school, I printed Tumblr quotes and taped them to my mirror so I could be surrounded by goodness (or what I thought were deep quotes about people not understanding who I am). Now, scotch tape isn’t needed, nails and hammers are.

Signage from Etsy

Signage from Etsy

My favorite use of signage is this photo from Birch & Bird Vintage Home Interiors.  It’s bright and a tad Southern with the monogram M flower wheel.  And it includes my next must have – Inspiration Boards.

Birch & Bird Home Interiors

  • INSPIRATION BOARDS: 

Inspiration boards are like tangible versions of Pinterest.  Anything you find that inspires you in a magazine, a book (I’ve been known to rip pages, I know, I’m awful), postcards, receipts from movies or dinner where deep conversations were had, or just trinkets.  My inspiration board in my childhood bedroom used to have a Nazar (to ward off evil) just because I thought it was a good totem.  It can truly be anything that breathes inspiration into you.

Some of these inspiration board options are pretty expensive.  My advice is to find a flea market, a shop of stalls filled with wood pieces, a store of vintage finds, a Habitat for Humanity Resource Center, and just find something to DIY.

Inspiration Boards on Etsy

Inspiration Boards on Etsy

I have a few favorite offices with inspiration boards.  The first is from Tumblr (La-Belle-Vie).  I wish I could give credit to the actual person who owns this quaint office space, but here’s the beautiful image. This office is ALL about the inspiration board.  It makes the room, and shows that inspiration boards done right, don’t need to have expensive, luxury furniture.

Tumblr Image @ La-Belle-Vie

The next one is all about color.  It actually looks like a kitchen to me. Maybe it was a kitchen, or those spices just have something going on.  I have a shed in my backyard that I inherited from the last owner.  I would LOVE to make it into a home office, but my fear of snakes and my disgust at scratching mosquito bites until they bleed keeps me out of there.  A girl can dream though.   I think this one is all about organization and paint.

Decobiz Inspiration Office

Then, there’s “decorative clutter” on Pinterest. Wish I knew who had that adorable bench, but again, Pinterest doesn’t really cater to copyright.

“Decorative Clutter” (If this is your image, email me)

I mean, come on, guys, there’s a J.Crew bag up there. Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere, anytime.

  • DESK ORGANIZATION:

I believe desks are where writers, readers, and business professionals can really be themselves.  My creative writing teacher in high school had a taxidermy crocodile head on his desk and we never got the story behind it, but I remember that head being a reason why I really liked him as a teacher.  My dad has clay-wrinkled sculptures that I made in elementary school art and expensive pen holders from his time in management.  My desk at school has two plants: Laverne (philodendron) and Shirley (cactus wearing red flower bow).  It also has a draw-it-yourself frame so my students can let of steam by drawing when they need to.  Desks are for momentos, trinkets, and thingamabobs (thanks, Little Mermaid). If you need a little inspiration, here’s some fun.

Desk Accessories

Desk Accessories

My favorites around the internet are as follows:

This is from OCM BLOG

I just really like the hour glass (PINK HOUR GLASS YES) and the mason jar of paperclips, and the adorable white frames.  It’s just an eclectic mix of colors and pictures.

This is from DIY Enthusiasts

A lamp goes a LONG way and so do fresh flowers.  Who needs a significant other to buy them flowers, Walmart has a bin right by the door – GET YOU SOME, GIRL.

This is from Lovable Lockets

Sometimes the best place to be “girly” isn’t your closet, it’s your desk.  I love this desk design from Lovable Lockets.  It makes me feel feminine, fresh, and modern.

Now I have to go off and stare at my “study” and try to figure out how I can new & improve it into an eclectic, whimsy, genius center.  I’ll take pictures and share when I think I’ve got it where I want it.


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).


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