I can’t breathe /

I believe we need to talk about race.

My longest friend is a mixed race, homosexual man.  This is if I reduce him to his census data. Although “mixed race” is a term we constructed to make sure the one drop rule stands.  And homosexual is a nice dot on a spectrum of sexuality that has ranges larger than four categories and connotations stronger than a dictionary term.

The rest is just unused data.

Because America designates that you must be this, or you must be this. I can’t speak for the world because I haven’t visited it, but I can speak for what I see in my country.

“You are this. You aren’t this. You can sit at the table. You may not break the bread.  You ride in this seat.  You are allowed to use this water fountain. You can participate in gender specific olympic events.  You have too much testosterone. You can be medically reconfigured into a woman. But you were a man first, always remember. You stay in the closet. You stay in your own head. You don’t speak of the police’s interactions. You mourn the loss. You side with the white man holding a gun. You believe in thugs. You don’t. You think school is a pipeline to prison.”

I could write this list for days, through tears, and still not get to some root, or meaning, or end to the categorical boxes we’ve placed ourselves in.

The Fire This Time | Jesmyn Ward

The Fire This Time | Jesmyn Ward

And this is why I took up The Fire This Time when Clint Smith wrote about its publish date on his Twitter.  I requested it from the library because I’ve studied Baldwin.  I’ve read him to students in American Literature. My gut was filled with tension at the climax of Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, and in my most intimate friendship of seventeen years we spent an evening on ice, skating around race after he posted on Facebook pictures of Oakland protests, and called out white people for their misunderstanding of why African American’s are covering highways.  And he still has not told me about his own encounter traveling west this summer with a white police officer somewhere over Kansas, maybe? I don’t even know because I am not someone he chose to talk to about it.

It could be because I grew up in Suburbia with literal picket fences in my neighborhood.  And that our high school had to bus in non-white students from downtown so that they could call themselves “diverse.” It could be that I once said something that made him feel like I could never understand the walk in his shoes and that race is not something that should enter this friendship because it could inevitably end it.

And I can’t live like that, and I don’t think he can.  I can’t be sure, but I think we’re ready for some critical conversations, and not just the two of us, but the communities we live in.  Race can be a hot burner that we avoid or it can be discussed beyond the reaches of Twitter.  So, I brought it to my classroom.

Clint Smith

Clint Smith

I read this quote in The Fire This Time, “Who I am is who I must be: a flawed human striving to live in a state of becoming.” Mitch Jackson in his essay “Composite Pops.”  When I got through the first part of The Fire this Time and was well into The Reckoning, I read Clint Smith’s poem “Queries of Unrest.” I had followed him on Twitter for some time, retweeting his educational reform tweets (@ClintSmithIII), and liking almost any reference to SLAM that he posted.  I had never read any of his poetry unless it appeared on youtube. But this poem, with its allusion to the classic children’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was where race would enter my classroom this year.

Citizen | Claudia Rankine

Citizen | Claudia Rankine

Last year, I used excerpts from Citizen by Claudia Rankine in my refugee unit and encouraged my students to buy it, but we didn’t do enough open dialogue with the book and ourselves. I find it interesting that I used a collection of writing about the black experience in America to talk about refugees due to Edwidge Danticat’s final essay “To My Daughters” in The Fire This Time where an immigration lawyer discusses the fact that “African Americans living in the United States could easily qualify as refugees.  Citing many recent cases of police brutality and killings of unarmed black men, women, and children.”

(If you’re reading this like “this girl is only seeing one side,” then you should know that I’ve read the other side too. And I’ve read the academic journals. And I’ve studied the cases enough to be at a point where I need to talk about it to be okay with the person that I hold inside this body).

Where the Sidewalk Ends | Shel Silverstein

Where the Sidewalk Ends | Shel Silverstein

This year in our first unit for perspective we did it. “Queries of Unrest.” Step by step: We analyzed “Where the Sidewalk Ends” for its lessons to children and its lesson to adults.  A lot of my students said it looked like the edge of where childhood ends. Or it looks to be a new beginning after a dark period. Or for adults, the sidewalk could end in death. Or for children, they could be forging a new path.  There were many interpretations which is the proof of the power of words, and the power of poetry, and the power of English.  We then read “Queries of Unrest.”

I just asked for meaning.  Few annotations. A little interpretation. Initial thoughts.  I didn’t need them to drown the poem. (Due to the fact that I don’t want anyone to have the ability to write my students off in this discussion, I teach in a high-poverty Title 1 school with a ton of students who are first generation college students.   That’s not to say I don’t have students who live in neighborhoods straight out of middle class America where everyone rides their bike to the pool in the summer and stays there all day until their mother’s are home to make a meal prepped with every piece of the food pyramid.  They do know the meaning of sidewalks ending though).

They gave me that.

We didn’t discuss it because they would discuss it in silent writing in a chalk talk.  The chalk talk has three pieces of chart paper and three question bubbles.  The questions are as follows:

  1. If every piece of writing is manipulation, then how is this poem doing that?
  2. What is your strongest interpretation of this poem?
  3. What does power have to do with justice and fairness?

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-26-56-amThe silent hum of markers on paper was monumental, but it wasn’t until I started getting single questions that I realized the tension was bubbling.  A white student had written “people of color” as an umbrella term to categorize everyone that isn’t white in a statement.  While this is the “politically correct” term deemed by media (who are mostly white and in power), the question should be asked that a. why do we even have a term that is for everyone not white, and b. how does the historical background of the word “color” in that phrase impact an African American.

And the answer came in the form of my students. The word color was unacceptable for some, particularly one of my more vocal students who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and I’m so proud of her for that.  Others wanted to use it as something to embrace.  At one point the idea of the phrase “I see no color,” came up, similar to “I don’t see race,” and in unison the agreement was that that’s not even possible and it disregards the great diversity of the classroom.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-10-amI’m not going to lie, it was heated.  At one point, one girl stepped towards another, using her body as a signal of disruption.  BUT it was a critical conversation.  Sometimes in society, we don’t realize that people don’t come from a place of understanding or even knowledge, they come from a place of ignorance.  And when that’s not the case, and they’re coming from a place of flat-out untruths then it is a responsibility of the other human beings (in my mind) to crack that “truth” wide open until it’s questioned.  Sometimes all we can ask is that people question their own beliefs.  Sometimes that’s a beginning.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-26-amMy students came to the conclusion that the only acceptable truth in my classroom, for “umbrella terms” is that we call everyone “people of multiple races.”  This was accepted and has been used since by all parties, even when those parties are in disagreement.

It is my belief that in the classroom, and in the street, we have to discuss things that are controversial and we have to be the cause for understanding.  I tweeted this. I believe it. And I think it can take us down a path of knowledge and not ignorance. I believe it starts with more knowledge, and thus I believe that The Fire This Time is the strongest and most powerful book I’ve read this year.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-37-amI got a copy from the library and now it is dog-earred to oblivion for the next person.  This book is strong because we are weak humans that often put blame where we like to keep it, in boxes that are tight and narrow and inescapable.  We like to look at our side of the picture without viewing the whole thing.  We like to have a perspective, and clutch it tight in our fists and never let it turn to liquid and move.

This book showed me where I’ve failed, where I’m still failing.  It showed me my own bias.  It looked in my face and told me I was wrong.  This is the same thing that happened in my classroom on Thursday and the same thing that should be happening across America until the discussion is so loud, and so filled with every form of rhetoric, and has the voices of every American.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-45-amIt is no longer valuable (and not acceptable) to sit in indifference.

I know that this isn’t “a book review.” But how do you review a collection of human truths? You can’t. You can only recommend it be the most borrowed book at the local library.  It enters classrooms. It enters conversations.  It breaks down the tight-knit boxes that we have shut so tight no air gets through / “I can’t breathe” /


Mudbound: In a Genre I Like to call “Grandma Literature”

This whole section is my story of coming to this book:

I was recommended this read by Sunday night #APLitchat teachers so it’s fitting that I finished this book over the weekend and have a keen need to address it.  Plus, big news, I’m officially out of a book slump.  I can’t say I was in a reading slump because I was constantly reading the news, articles, short stories, and anthologies, but I haven’t read a book all summer.  This, from the girl with the blog about books.

I wasn’t aware when I started the story, because who reads the author discussion at the beginning, that Hillary Jordan’s grandmother, and real life farm, Mudbound was what inspired the novel.  Everyone here today knows that I’m a sucker for grandmother literature.  Lucy Calkins advises her writers to keep a running list called “Writing Territories.” I think Ms. McClure outlines what these look like the best.  When I was still teaching at Scotland, I wrote my own writing territories to introduce the concept to my creative writing class.  This was probably two years ago, but I think they still ring true today.  I love using my grandmother’s stroke tone, the virginity of southern girls and its harness, clotheslines and Carolina red mud, widows on grand second floor terraces with handkerchiefs, and rain, too much rain, rain so caked with mud, it can no longer be known as two separate things.

This whole section is the story of this book coming to me (and hopefully you):

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Which is why I wish I wrote Mudbound.  Mudbound is the story of land and the people that reside on that land, both owned and unowned.  It is the story of a full crop season, a pair of families deeply interwoven with poisonous roots and it’s told from the multiple perspectives of the farm. I love a book where narration changes every chapter, but it’s not often that those books turn out so well, when every character given the opportunity to speak bends the influence of the one that came before.

I think the best way to describe it is by using my favorite idea from the book.  The voiced men are full of “bone-sense,” something that comes from an “older, darker place.”  They move, make decisions, and crack white like scars all in the physical sense.  They drink to soothe their mind.  They take from the body what they believe is taken from the town’s moral conscience.  They think with the turning of the land, the seeding of the crop, and the thrust of rain.  The women, however, are “head-sense,” moving with passion built on daily wear and tear desire.  Florence, my favorite character, is described as all body – a rough, tall woman, with the force of a “Delta Storm.  However, she handles the inequities with her mind and then uses those churned thoughts for the utility of her body.  She is a character that women can be proud of.

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 7.10.07 PMThis book is also one of those books that leaves the cliffhanger on the tip of every chapter.  The “if I just would have known then…” or “that’s the last time I heard his voice..” takes the reader through a slow burn.  When the great moment comes, and even when it has left the land, the anticipation of hearing the angle of every character still heightens the book through its end. Ronsel, my second favorite character gets the last word (which is significant due to the big scene. He ends with what I believe is Jordan’s great social commentary of the book:

“But to make the story come out differently I’d have to overcome so much: birth and education and oppression, fear and deformity and shame, anyone of which is enough to defeat a man” (322).


And isn’t this true when a system is built to keep the land in the hands of the generation before.  An ownership passed down like a belief.  A tenure of laws built on the justice of making a profit.  A claim and a title that cant be read.   But those other hands, calloused and bruised, glued together so they can’t sign a name, hold another, or shake on it – we’ve used those to defeat a man before he can even grip that system to tear it down.

And this is what I like best about this book.  It’s set in WWII, two of the male characters face different life circumstances at the hands of the war, but it is not a book about WWII.  It’s a book about raising an unsettled loss into a belief system that rides one side at the helplessness of another.  I think sometimes it’s hard to see that timeline and be able to look in the mirror.  While men, good and bad, were fighting Nazis, we had laws that pursued the disregard of human beings that I would argue still dilute our waters today.  Our hands weren’t clean either.

Art by Darling Christie @Deviant Art

This book is not only brilliant because of the many voices that ring true and relentless, but because of the deep history that our society tends to neglect until it’s a major motion picture that’s not nominated for any awards.  Or until a young and powerful gymnast chooses to honor her country with her hands behind her back instead of on her heart.  Or when the media feeds 24 hour news of shootings until the cases no longer affect the populace and we just call it “another one…” Maybe this book will remind us of who belong to, each other.

(Thanks, Mother Teresa).

This Blog is My Composition Book.

Syllabus by Lynda Berry

Confession: I hate composition books.  I find them hard to keep open unless you lean your elbow on them just the right way which seems incredibly awkward. The lines are almost never college rule, but wide, and it makes me feel like my handwriting is some behemoth come to mammoth the page with its dense, dark script. RAWR!  In high school, my Mom bought me the “special” comp books that had a more rad design, but the still hard cardboard front with the scientific table in the beginning.  I always wanted to be “unique,” which really just meant against everything else that was boxed.  If she did buy the marble cover, because it was ten cents at Target, and “what a deal,” I would color weird designs into the marble until they all just blended to black together.  Hey, maybe I do like a composition book.  Maybe what ruined it was that Target started carrying Green Room notebooks and I was hooked by the subtle dotted lines.

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Breakfast with Lynda Berry

Now, everyone keeps a bullet journal.

Or a planner.

Enters a challenge on Instagram.

Takes up calligraphy.

Never doodles in the margins.

Only around the top of the page or just enough next to the amount of water you drank that day.

Copies doodles from pages of Pinterest flower doodles.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

I’m not making fun of these people because I am one.  I totally google font alphabets and try to write like those talented enough to create them.  I practice fonts and get disappointed when the pen smudges, or I mess up the a in the second word, three letters in and I have to turn the page and start over.

My small human heart is full of unfinished notebooks.

And then I read Lynda Berry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.

Image from Open Culture (on Lynda Berry’s book)

In the way that I’m constantly trying to get my students to view the world in a thousand different ways, letting go of their bias (and mine) and being thoughtful global citizens, so is Lynda Berry in syllabus.  It is kind of a working syllabus for her art class that blends memory, drawing, and writing as one immovable force and that we use all three when dealing with any creative juncture.  She teaches students to to go back to childhood before our inner egos took over the page.  She draws robots, Star Wars characters, monkeys with bandanas, smoking skulls, miniatures who talk, shouting angels, all over the pages of these notes in a composition book that she then leads and leaves with her students.  She taught me that we draw the best, and the most clear, and we write the best, and the most clear, when we are forgetting completely that we are drawing or writing.  She has students draw spirals while they think about something the need to remember or watch a film.

Image from chapmancommunityoutreach.wordpress.com

Truly, she is my bow-down queen of doodling. Doodle without thinking about it.  If it ends up as a toucan in a dress with flower petal hands, let her grow.  She says we don’t know what’s there until it appears fully on the page. And that the art doesn’t care whether we’ve assigned it a title like “ugly” because it doesn’t know, it just keeps on flexing. (I wish humans could take a notion from art, brush it off, literally and figuratively).

I love how she seamlessly blends the mind with the art. She has students memorize Emily Dickinson poems, watch films on the sides of the brain, draw people using only simple shapes.  I think this is a great book on philosophy, on art, and it’s a fabulous book to use in the Language Arts classroom.  That is the debate though, isn’t it, what part of English (study) is language and what part art? Are they equal? What would that pie chart look like?

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

Lynda Berry also has a quirky little Tumblr for this class (that she currently still teachers) called The Near Sighted Monkey.  I love all the exercises for writing and drawing on here.  I plan to doodle my syllabus this year for my class.  Anyone truly interested in their own art should read this book.  It’s a book on quieting that inner critic, and returning to childhood where everything you drew, that mass of green circles, turned magically into a spinning bird before the eyes of the beholder.

Ps. the pages are chaotic and the might make you near-sighted, but it’s worth reading every little smidgen of the page.

Once Again, Opinions Needed:

Preface: I’m the English teacher who doesn’t teach novels.  I have many reasons for this, but here are the facts that I know to be true.  Most students, unless they major in some type of Literature or English degree, are not going to be expected to read many novels after high school.  Even as adults, we read our news from Twitter, we get The Skimm in our email, and we read short stories if everyone is talking about their brilliance.  Some people eat poetry, some people never see a poem unless it’s plastered on a street light at their height level. I find that I can get a lot more from my students, in a student-centered room, when I teach smaller texts. Granted, this makes it impossible to rely on the novel as a backbone and I’m constantly having to reinvent the wheel, but I don’t mind.  I’m anything but a lazy educator.

This year, I’m facing the great Advanced Placement Literature course.  This course scares me for two reasons, it gives my students college credit so it desperately needs to be on a college level and part of the exam is literally a list of novels that the students must use in order to prove a point in an essay.  They can use two of these novels in most cases.  This means that they must have, at some point, read at least two novels on this list of random.  It changes every year.  There are a few constants (there’s always at least two Shakespeare plays), but mostly the books are classics from the white man’s canon.

To sum up: this whole course goes against some fundamental beliefs I have as an educator AND I believe that it needs a SERIOUS update in order to reflect what colleges are doing with English majors, or just English 101 courses.  Don’t get me started on the problems I’ve heard from friends about English 101.  My professor had a jungle theme…literally. Everything we read was jungle based.

Here’s how I want to WRASTLE this gator. I have a list of “must-reads,” not really any classics and then I have some options.  I need your help and your votes on which should be read and discussed and applied to the world at large in this course.

Here are my MUST-READS

  1. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  2. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (this might be an “other option” but I’m feeling good about it at the moment).
  3. Hamlet – Shakespeare

Here are my OTHER OPTIONS (I will be using excerpts from some of these or can use the whole book if my arguments for it are good enough).

  1. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  2. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  3. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safron Foer
  4. The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston
  5. No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
  6. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  9. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Addams
  10. Something by Louise Erdrich
  11. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  12. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  13. Something by Hunter S. Thompson
  14. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  15. Absolom, Absolom – William Faulkner

Please, please, please let me know which of these you would fight for and why.  Some of them I have to read, or reread.  I’m currently reading In Cold Blood and then I’ll take on Absolom, Absolom.  If you know any other books that I don’t have listed that I should, OR there are books that you’re like “ABSOLUTELY, NO, NO, NO!” I need that advice too.

Recommendations, Please

I’m sure all of you have heard of #bookstagram.  Maybe you haven’t and you need to take a ride through Instagram’s latest craze.  At least it feels like a craze (maybe a revolution), but then can anything really compete with #catstagram? Just put stagram on anything you love and you’ll have the same followers as a Michael’s craft store or a Hobby Lobby if you’re of a religious breed.  Funny thing is, every Michaels that I’ve ever hoarded beads in has always been near a “bible store,” but this is the south, so there’s that.

Anyway, #bookstagram has a new community that’s not on Instagram, but this new app called “Litsy.”  The bookish account, “Crimebythebook” posted about it on her profile and I joined. It’s like a mix of Goodreads and “Bookish Instagram Community” AKA people who wear large-button sweaters, ballet flats even in the edge of winter, and have figured out how to foam milk into designs in their coffee OR they spend an absurd amount of money on fancy coffee in big white mugs every year.  Seriously, this community could fund your local coffee joint with one thud of cash.

Unfortunately, Goodreads, Litsy, Instagram, or “WhatshouldIreadnext.com” has not led me to any good choices lately.  Instagram has far too many fan girls reading the third book in a  YA series.  Goodreads can get really intense, especially if you have a big personality, with big feels about books. People can get real heated on there. Litsy is too new to really be advantageous. WhatshouldIreadnext just hasn’t really promoted the kind of read I need at the moment.

This is where you come in.

Guys, I didn’t read a book in April.  Don’t get me wrong, I read seven thousand and twenty-two essays, articles, short stories, poems, and academically, or globally relevant short form pieces to share with my students, but not one book.  Me, who has run a book blog for almost six years.  I did not read a book.

I need recommendations.

I need something that will pull me in and not let go, but not in the mystery way.  I need writing that sucks you dry.   I need a Milk & Honey feeling but in novel form (maybe no doodles of vaginas though.  My students showed me that one and it was a weird day).  I’m currently reading about the historical and cultural significance of rain and I need a little fiction on the side.  I like a touch of romance, but I don’t want to read any books that have the words “full throttle” or have pink covers with large red font in a cursive.  I like to problem solve, but I don’t want crime.  I just want something that will touch the human spirit, but hasn’t been a NY Times Best Seller.

I’m starting to think I’m asking too much, BUT here are a few of my favorite books:

  1. Lark & Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips
  2. The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston
  3. The Tsar of Love and Techno – Anthony Marra
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
  5. Hold Your Own – Kate Tempest
  6. Paint It Black – Janet Fitch
  7. Summer Sisters – Judy Blume
  8. The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld
  9. All the things by Louise Gluck
  10. All the things by Tiffanie DeBartolo

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Refurb |

As most of you know, I haven’t blogged in almost two months.  I’ve been overwhelmed with work, moving, feeding the animals that we hoard in our home (3), and keeping up with day-to-day life.  So, I’ve given myself a challenge.  To blog at least every three days for the month of June.  Even when I’m too tired, even when I’ve worked a full day and there are no words in my brain to communicate anything to the world.  Even when all I can do is review the four reality television shows I just watched on Bravo because I couldn’t do anything that contained more thought.  Teaching will be over by the tenth and I will be dedicating myself to my small nook of internet.  Looking forward to reintroducing myself to you, guys.  I hope you like the new look.


A Wishbone of a Book

Wishbone @The Blaze

Like Austin, Texas, I picked up Amber Spark’s story collection The Unfinished World thinking Let’s get weird. Full disclosure, I actually clicked that wishbone toggle on NetGalley and Norton granted my wishes.  Thank you, fairy [odd] grandfather, W.W.  The wishbone toggle is kind of a fitting romance for this book of stories, which I didn’t know had a novella, but apparently that is what the readers are saying.  It’s fitting because these stories were all a bit dreamy, a bit other sphere of imagination.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.44.03 PMOn the outset, they reminded me of A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel, a collection that I could read again and again.  This is also what I would think Miranda July would create if put out into space in a retro yellow space suit and asked to write until her fingers bled dry.  Something like this odd creation that Amber Sparks has developed.  Don’t get me wrong, I was enthralled from the beginning.  There are pages on pages of quotes from this collection hidden away in unrecognizable font in my journal.  A few of the stories I particularly loved were, “The Janitor in Space,” “The Cemetery for Lost Faces,” “The Logic of a Loaded Heart,” “For These Humans Who Cannot Fly,” “The Process of Human Decay,” and “The Fever Librarian.”

I thought each of these stories was doing something either quite new, or those made famous for their oddness had done something similar and this was a new take. For instance, “The Logic of a Loaded Heart” is a word problem.  It seamlessly blends the math of third grade, with the math of the every day world telling a narrative that makes the reader question the ifs and buts of their life, the way it looks on paper like a math resume of sorts.  It became like a “choose your own adventure” type of story, rather than a math problem, in parts, but that didn’t diminish the effect of it being thoughtful and not at all redundant. t know that Margaret Atwood has done something similar with “Happy Endings,” but who doesn’t want to be referenced in the same sentence as that woman, especially if you’re going for the oddness factor.

“The Janitor in Space,” was just sparkling new for me.  I would never think to put a janitor in space and since this is the opening story, it really set the tone for the rest of the story.  While I didn’t think this story was particularly science fiction(y) or even fantastical, as Sparks parades through these genres in the collection, I realized that she was setting me up from the jump for this sort of mystical train of thought.  It didn’t always work, but “The Janitor in Space,” definitely left me wanton.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.43.53 PM“The Fever Librarian” is an obvious choice of story for any book nerd.  The librarian that keeps all the “fevers” of the world at be, drenched in her own lust.  It was exciting to watch her downfall or her upbringing, depending on the way you read the story.  And “For These Humans Who Cannot Fly” and “The Process of Human Decay” both discuss what happens to people after death.  I thought “For These Humans Who Cannot Fly” was a tad more interesting just because it was almost written as historical fiction.

It’s about the annals of the German mortuaries where Germans (half-believed) that people might wake up from death and kept them in this windowed enclosures so if they woke up they could get up and continue with life.  I’m still honestly not sure it’s a part of history or if Amber Sparks just made it up for the fun of toying with her reader.  To be completely honest, Google had nothing for me. However, this was more interesting because the narrator is the husband who started them and his wife wanted to fly, which consumed her, and ultimately caused her death.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 3.46.32 PMMy favorite story was “The Cemetery for Lost Faces,” because it was about a brother and sister who create taxidermy art and live in a museum of their father’s strange creations and eccentricities.  Although this story was definitely not the happiest story in the collection, there was something about the relationship that I really loved.  It’s not often that writers get that brother-sister relationship right without it being trite, or too short to really grasp.  (I’m hoping that Rachel and Lotto get to that place in Fates and Furies as I read it).

The best part of this story collection was just the invention. I felt like I was reading the book I wanted to write, but also that I was reading a book by someone with a brain that just thought much differently from my own.  There were turns in the stories that I wasn’t expecting and the language was put together like a new math problem and not a memorized formula.  I love it when writers use words in ways I’ve never seen them used and Amber Sparks did not upset.

25622828While I think that the beginning stories are a lot stronger than the stories in the middle or towards the end, mostly because she asks too much from the reader for the suspension of belief.  Some of the stories were too far for me to even telescope towards.  I really wish that I could get there because I was so into Amber Sparks by the time that I got to those stories that I was a little more wounded when I didn’t like them. Man, sucks to have feelings sometimes.

Presidential Book Club [Reads Based on Candidates]

Earlier this morning, I took the Isidewith.com quiz because I thought I might use it in my classroom.  I’m not sure how to infuse it just yet into my weekly lesson plan, but I did decide on a blog idea.  In this quasi-political episode of the blog, I’m going to recommend reads based on candidates.  Next week, I will recommend reads FOR candidates because I think there’s always an alternating side to our beliefs that can be discovered through literature, and although we may not agree, we can better understand.

First up, Bernie Sanders.  If you’re feelin’ the Bern, and you find his Larry David-looking independence and firm hand on the people’s hearts an easy way to declare a vote, here’s some recommendations from me that would align with Bernie’s political stances.

Bernie Sanders:

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  1. 1984 by George Orwell: I think most people read this book in American high schools, however, if you haven’t, I think the world Sanders is in the fight against the future concocted by Orwell in this book. Thought Police, drones in windows, Big Brother, and opinions that are lost in the abyss of brains that are not allowed to remember them.
  2. The World Without Us – Alan Weisman: Weisman introduces the concept of mass extinction of humans and how the earth, the literal geographical and environmental structure of the earth would continue to thrive.  Weisman uses too many scientific studies to count to show the stamp humankind has left on the earth and gives a visual where the reader can infer how their carbon footprint influences the effect of global warming, and climate change.
  3. Teaching to Transgress – Bell Hooks: I love this woman, I love all her books, but this one especially speaks to my profession.  In Teaching to Transgress, Hooks emphasizes the power of teachers in the classroom to rub up against and break down the boundaries of sexuality, gender, race, and cultural differences.  She’s inspiring, but also practical in her approach to politics and “politically correctness” in the classroom.
  4. The American Way of Poverty – Sasha Abramsky: This book emphasizes the war on poverty in America.  It discusses economic inequality in both an emotional and political way and looks to the future possibilities of poverty in one of the richest nations in the world.

Donald Trump:

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  1. Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports – Kate O’Bierne: sexist / anti-feminist

  2. The Turner Diaries – Andrew Macdonald: Racist and White Supremacist

  3. The Doctrine of Fascism – Benito Mussoline: facsist / dictator
  4. Mein Kamph – Adolf Hitler: dictator / anti-semitic / racist

Hillary Clinton:

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  1. Lean In: Woman, Work, And The Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandburg: This book is just a wonderful look at women in leadership positions and how to have it all.  She took a lot of heat for this book, but I believe it’s a great growing tool for women with a mind of entrepreneurial spirit.
  2. The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party Revolution and Battle over American History – Jill Lepore: Lepore never writes a book that disappoints.  This book blends politics and religion and the definition of American History based on the battle between the two.  Plus, she overanalyzes Sarah Palin which just makes me giggle most of the time.
  3. The Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward: A meditation on the lives of black men in America.  Ward lost five men in her life in quick succession and this book has an emphasis on the worth of bodies in America based on race, but also asks critical questions if it’s audience on the role of race, particularly black men, in America.
  4. Negroland – Margo Jefferson: This book is especially powerful in the wake of having an African American president reach practically a full term in office (YES!).  It discusses, in memoir fashion, the lives of elite African-American families and the boundaries placed around privilege from both white people and black people.

Ted Cruz:

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(I feel like I’m clearly missing The King James Bible here).

  1. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power – Jon Meacham: This book is actually AWESOME.  Ted Cruz wants to restore the constitution so people who vote for him should probably understand the founding of that constitution.  While he wasn’t physically there to write it, he was the first enforcer of it.
  2. In The Name of Identity – Maalouf: This is a meditation on how identity is not one thing but multiple things, and that parts of our identity are on the forefront most often when we’re threatened which makes identity almost directly, in today’s world, lead to violence. (My students actually read parts of this one and loved it).
  3. Undocumented – Aviva Chomsky: A professor who discusses the role of immigration and immigration reform in America.
  4. Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel – Julia Keller: The history of Mr. Gatling and the Gatling gun. Definitely written more like fiction than nonfiction.  Mr. Cruz wants to protect the second amendment, so we should probably discuss where it began.

Feel free to comment for additions to the list.  I’m not really in the mood for a political debate, and I will do my best not to respond rudely to any of you that are #teamtrump.  As an educator of the population he would like to keep out of our country, I just have too many views on how his words impact his build it while he flies it platform.

Happy semi-political reading! Follow next week for reads you should pick up (based on my opinion) if you want to know more about the heavy hitting platforms in this years elections.  Can’t wait!

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Why I Suck at NetGalley

Creating a bio on social media is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done (I feel like this deserves #firstworldproblems).  How do you compose everything about yourself in 140 characters? Goodreads at least gives you a solid paragraph of bio.  On WordPress, I could have a whole blog dedicated to who I am, and even then, it’s like the longer the bio allowed, the harder it gets to pare down what you want to say.  In a bio of a few sentences, you choose the markers of your self-hood.  Creating a bio on a place where I get approved or rejected based on said-bio is even worse.  On Shark Tank they say to lead with the numbers, but I always lead with the cereal-obsession, or the standards of being a cat lady, or the brutal statistics of my love for wildflowers (a la Alice).

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This is one of the reasons why I suck so hard at NetGalley.  I can’t create a bio that sells me as a reputable blogger.  And let’s be honest, lately, I haven’t been.  I’ve been slacking on reviews, unable to come up with interesting blog topics, and I’m in yet another reading funk.  As a teacher, I find it hard to read when all day my brain has been actively influencing other smaller brains to work.


The best reason I suck at NetGalley though is because I hate people telling me what to read. Yes, I have the power to request the books that I want to read.  But even then, the idea that now I have to read it in order to review it for a publisher that was nice enough to grant me early access makes me avoid it all together.  This is the exact reason I still haven’t read my favorite authors newest book, Fates and Furies. (I have read every review ever though so it’s almost like I’ve read the book without all the fancy). I may also be avoiding it until I know she’s working on another book so I don’t have to wait too long to have her words again in my hand.  It’s like buying really beautiful pieces for your wardrobe and then never wearing them because you don’t want to ruin them.

I suck, because like high school, when you tell me I have to read something by a certain date I pointlessly avoid it with the power of procrastination and Catholic guilt.  NetGalley does this to me every time.  It’s not even like I read the books that have been gifted to me, I’m not reading them because if I was I would definitely be reviewing them.  I might even buy them in the store or get them from the library after I’ve had them on my NetGalley dashboard for months.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 10.06.47 PMI have a 40% review rate on NetGalley.

NetGalley recommends an 80% review rate.

This. is. sad.

Then, there’s ebooks. I love my kindle.  It’s got a cute case.  It’s easy to access.  It carries like two hundred and ninety seven books on it so when I’m traveling it’s perfect.  However, it has to be charged. I have to swipe to turn a page.  All the pages of every book look the same. Poetry gets this weird, ridiculous format.  It glows, but it doesn’t show in color and if I want color then I have to read a computer screen for most of the evening.  There’s no perfect ebook on the market and if you have one that doesn’t strain your eyes, or truly feels like a real book, then let me know because I will buy it.  The closest I’ve found is my Kindle Paperwhite.  And look, it just ain’t a real book.  It highlights yes, but then to find that page again is a three step process and I keep a book quote notebook (#BUJO) and I need easy access to everything I loved about that book.

My obsession with post-it note flags can’t be enacted on my kindle.  I can’t brush my hand along the side of the pages and feel each little mark of love.  I can’t write my own handwriting into a kindle.  There’s no annotation feature.  If I was a college student, I would be dead in the water with a Kindle.

There is no other way to read books with Netgalley.  You get an email, or you get a pdf, or you get both.  I’m a reader who needs a paper copy.  I have to want to pick up my kindle.  For your information, my kindle fell behind my bed’s side table in the beginning of December and I just picked it up and charged it because I got access (on NetGalley) to Kate Tempests new novel.


(This doesn’t mean I’ll stop sucking anytime soon though, there will just be less suck for a time.  Kind of like history). Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 4.05.13 PM

How’s your relationship with the galley? Are you able to push yourself to the 80% suggested reading rate, or do you have to take time off from Kindle ever so often. There’s too many used bookstores in the world, cheap, cheap, cheap used bookstores for me not to read a paper back that opens like a locked chest in my hand.

PS. Can I send this as a review for all those books on my shelf that I didn’t review yet? Sorry (not sorry).


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Spring | Letter A Day

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A few years ago I wrote a “Letter a Day in May” to followers and readers of the blog.  It led me to some wonderful penpals like Claire (@ Word by Word) and Muzette, who I still write to this day and she knows some of the most important thoughts in my head.  I love a good penpal and I love good gossip (the good kind as in, “tell me a good thing.”  If you want to participate in “Spring Letter A Day” starting March 1st and until I run out of people to write, fill out this simple Google Form.

In fifth grade, I was given a penpal that lived in another country.  My mother kept those crayon-written letters.  The lines were tipped downwards and the letters got bigger and then smaller like they appeared under a microscope, but I thought it was magic that I could communicate with someone so far away.  I didn’t know what longitude and latitude were but I could feel miles on the drives back and forth to Florida.  This was my first experience with a penpal.  Since, I’ve written my best friend Seth for all the years he lived in South Korea (we even have a symbol that we both own to commemorate those funky posts).  My dear, Sarah, who moved to New Zealand after her whirlwind marriage, wrote me back and forth for ages.  Bri, who follows this blog, and has one of her own, has written me from Nevada for most of last year.

So, if you think handwritten is a thing of the past, or you just wish something other than bills came out of your mailbox, sign on up.  I can’t wait to write you.

Again, Google Form here.

I look forward to single-handedly keeping the US Post Office open. (Because come on, those uniform britches have to stay on the waists of middle-aged men and out of museums for things of the past).