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We’re going to call this one, “A Big F You.”

Recently, I got an email to be a part of a new reviewing website that promoted themselves as being “similar to Netgalley.”  Now, there’s a reason reviewers love Netgalley.  It’s a database of up and coming books from major publishing houses, to small publishers, to self-published authors.  It’s honestly, a beautiful thing for a reviewer because it’s like walking up to someone’s shelf and being allowed to request access to anything on that shelf.  It’s a library in shrink wrap.

I don’t always finish my Netgalley books in a timely manner and if I’m being honest, I’m a binge Netgalley user.  I don’t request a book from them for months and then when I do, I request seventeen books all published in two months time.  So, obviously, I struggle to keep up with my own reading load on top of reading the entirety of the internet to be able to better teach my students.  If you ever say something like, “she’s just a teacher,” I want you to remove yourself from this blog immediately. However, I digress.

What I hated about this email was that after looking at the website, I was under the assumption that self-published authors pay this site / publishing house / wannabe Netgalley.  Note to publishing houses: make your websites REALLY RIDICULOUSLY clear. Well, everyone, actually. On this website it said that reviewers could pay for a review of $289 for a review in 5 to 8 weeks, and for an extra $100 your review could be sent to you like an Amazon package from a Drone in 3-4 weeks.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 7.01.14 PMFirst off, when people pay for reviews, there’s this automatic expectation that that review will be positive.  For me, this eliminates the whole point in reviewing the book.  Slap five stars on that thing and call it a day. There’s no point in having an opinion when an opinion is forced down your throat.  Isn’t that why people leave the home of their parents, to open their minds and learn more about the world than just the ideas their parents instilled in them? COME ON.

The second part of this “paying for reviews” douchebaggery is that this company would be making money on my reviews. They are middle-manning book review culture.  They aren’t paying the small business blogger.  They are paying themselves, which in my book can be as heinous as witch craft and wizardry.  While this turned out to be untrue, they have “professional reviewers” review those books on various book database websites, but I’m still miffed.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 7.00.25 PMWhat exactly is a “professional reviewer” unless your some swanky old white man writing for the NY Times or some other well-established news magazine.  While yes, NY Times bestselling authors are often reviewed by the newspaper first, I know plenty of FANTASTIC reviewers that run their own outlet with crowds of followers who believe in the truth of their recommendations.  No wonder small business owners everywhere want to fight the man.  I feel a little bit like I have to defend my small section of the internet in this situation.  Don’t come to my suite and tell me you aren’t going to pay me, but you’re going to pay someone who doesn’t use “douchebaggery” as commentary on a book.

I can’t replace this mouth with someone who has a filter.

I really, really, hope that publishing is not drifting to this middle man mentality.  While I would love someone to pay me to be this person all day, I have a village to raise and innovators, entrepreneurs, and global citizens to help build.  Don’t try to finagle your way into my bliss without making it worth my while, and definitely don’t tell me at the end of the email that you plan to pay your best reviewers. How about you take a note from this teacher, “best” is not possible when you believe that everyone comes to the table with different and excellent skills, and everyone comes to the table to prove mastery in a new and engaging way, and everyone comes to the table expecting you to know their uniqueness makes them the best.

You can shove it.

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Salt Water and Leftovers

It took me almost a month to read this book. The odd part, for me as a reader at least, was that I didn’t pick up other books during my breaks on this one.  Island of a Thousand Mirrors is exceptionally hard to read.  Lovers are separated and have to watch the other turn to dust while a child stumbles in the belly of another.  Families are held together by a piece of yarn wrapped in tradition and expectations.  Culture, to the extent of the Parsley Massacre, is questioned in the burn of tires around ribs. The writing is so heartfelt, that the reader must handle each word one by one.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.09.40 PMIsland of a Thousand Mirrors is the story of the Sri Lankan Civil War.  I knew absolutely nothing about this when I began reading this book.  I even looked at the map and had no idea that Sri Lanka had ancient civilization ruins.  While my closest relationship to anything Sri Lankan was Nicki Minaj, reading this story made me want to hoard books on the island, and devour Nayomi Munaweera’s perfectly timed new novel.

So, of course, when you’re useless for knowledge, you Wikipedia (like it’s a verb).  I learned a lot of statistics about the war, but this book gave the stories of the people and one of the most eye opening moments in literature for me, when I read the inner voice of a Tamil suicide bomber.  Civil War short: the island had two deep-seeded cultures Sinhala and Tamil.  From what I’ve gathered from reading the book and doing a tidbit of research, the Tamil wanted to create an independent Tamil state (based possibly on Sinhala prejudice) and the leader of this revolution called the fighters, the Tigers.  Eventually, after twenty-five years and countless deaths, the Tamil Tigers were defeated by the Sinhala.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.15.36 PMI really liked Munaweera’s historical fiction of the Sri Lankan Civil War because it gave me both sides of the argument.  I wasn’t tied to either side of the fight because in her painful and deliberate words, I saw the desperate frustration from both cultures.  While there are two different family lines portrayed in the novel; one Sinhalese and one Tamil, both families suffered equally.  I was drawn more to the Sinhalese because the amount of story behind that family really spoke to me.  The Tamil family gave sons and daughters to the war effort and unspeakable atrocities happened to the female members of the family.  The Sinhalese family also suffered the loss of family members, and from neighborhood vigilanties no less.

I really, really, really, loved the beginning of this book.  The grandmother, who is clearly prejudice, on the Sinhalese size, fiercely protects the Tamil tenants living upstairs that have become almost inner circle to the Sinhalese.  She handles threats from the outside world.  Not only that, but the family house woman, although she never really speaks, is such a strong character. I find the most poignant writers can make characters that may not have a voice literally on the page, but have such a strong voice in the undoing of the novel.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.17.59 PMThis particularly grandmother is reminiscint of all strong grandmother figures in the lives of women outside of the US.  There’s something uniquely me about attaching to a grandmother figure.  I lost my grandmother when I was nineteen, and when I was eleven, she had a stroke that left her a ship anchored at sea with only the sound of “doe” in her mouth.  I have spent years trying to write her strength, her southern, her brick shit house onto the page, but it’s proven difficult.  My grandmother is almost too much woman for the page and Sylvia Sunethra is that dominant on a page as well.  These entire novel is built on female characters made of withered stone.  It is demandingly female, but that’s not to say that it is specific to that gender as a reader.  This book is true to the spirit of womanhood, no matter the culture, but readable.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 5.21.28 PMI feel like I’m almost doing this novel a disservice because it has been my favorite book in a very long time.  I recommend setting a month or two aside to take patience with this book, and kind of pull it apart at both ends.  It’s a difficult read and every few pages I had to stop and remind myself to take a breath.  The pain on the page can be overwhelming, but the story is worth being pigeonholed into sadness. I found so much mercy for these characters that are from such a different postal code than I am.  It’s such an important experience to read books about cultures that remove all of our pretenses and just give us hope and satisfaction.  I am emotionally drawn to Sri Lanka now and will forever scour the used bookstore for stories of this island built on history and salt water.

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Notable Quotables | From the Moleskine

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 10.22.54 AMMy brain, lately, has been almost too fried to read.  I can’t exactly follow a plot without getting distracted by something else in the room.  I’ve become an impatient reader.  In this world where everything is so instant, I find myself unwound by a book that takes time, and polite pleading.  However, I’m also reading the most perfect book to remind me of the purpose of the wait.  Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera is too beautiful.  It reminds me how hard it will be to fashion my own book after pages like this have been written.  Today, I’m going to share a quote that I think anyone who reads this blog can respect.  Later this week, my quote will devastate you.  This is both a warning and an introduction.

In this quote, the narrator has traveled to America from Sri Lanka (due to the beginning of war on the Tamil people) and she has discovered libraries.

“If La’s particular obsession was the precise moment as which blue becomes green, mine had to do with books, words, paragraphs, and the ways they fit together on a page, nestled next to each other, waiting like time bombs.  The greatest thing about America to me was the constant availability of books.  The first time I walked into an American library, bells rang and cherubs sang about my head.

I wandered about in rapture, borrowed books by the armload, and became known to the librarians.  I liked to inhabit books, devour them.  Reading seemed so similar to eating, to consumption.  I didn’t like to eat now unless there was a book open by my plate.  A habit Amma hated and shouted at me often over.  If I could get away with it, I would have written in the margins of my favorite books, drawn diagrams, arrow, and small pictorial commentaries in direct conversation or argument with the writer.  Instead, I read in the bathtub, at the dinner table, on the bus, leaving a trail of books behind me.  Amma and Thatha revered books.  They read carefully without bending pages or breaking spines, bent to kiss them if they fell on the floor.  There were aghast at what they saw as my irreverence, and I in turn could never understand the politeness with which they read” (Munaweera, 116).

Quote from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Quote from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

The moment that got me in this quote was “words…waiting like time bombs.”  I think that little phrase gets at the reason why there are so many readers, and so many readers throughout time.  The words are like a field of improvised explosive devices.  But not the kind that have murdered those who serve, but the kind that open small holes so that as Leonard Cohen so famously said, light can get in.  While I read, I’m allowed into this alternate world that I could never know otherwise.  Someone is giving me the opportunity to travel, to experience, to empathize, to add significance to things I didn’t know previous.  I love this about the world of words, the vastness of it, and the small garden plots, barren lands, and topped mountains that rise (or don’t) from this world.

Like the narrator, I am not a polite reader.  I fold pages of library books with wet thumbs.  I leave crumbs in the cracks from granola bars.  I can’t erase the coffee splotches that I spilled while I read with action.  I leave them in dusty places in my apartment and move them when I move.  The words might get wet, the pages might crease, the margins might be filled with doodles or more words.  Words on words. I try to teach my students the art of annotation and the messiness in conversation.  Every human conversation is messy, and so is every conversation made in the margins of someone else’s words.

The mess is where the light is.

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Diagon Alley Dippage

THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER

Guys, I realize I only read to book four before we went to THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER in Universal Studios so everything I’m about to say may be null and void to you.  However, I promise you that I will read all seven books when I get them from my house next weekend. BECAUSE, THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER is the most epic experience.

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Hogwarts Express

Seriously…we couldn’t even find Diagon Alley until we watched some people sneak behind a wall.  The first day, we rode the Hogwarts Express and saw Hogwarts and did a walk through.  We obviously also drank butter beer (IN EVERY FORM BECAUSE IT’S DELICIOUS). And we were talking about how much the other part of it sucks (Universal) and this part of it was so great (Islands of Adventure).  Little did we know that the next day we would find Diagon Alley and Knockturn alley and literally stand there like doofs in awe when we came through the little passage.

We. nerded. out.

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Diagon Alley Dippage

There are interactive wands. You can turn in your muggle money for goblin gallions.  There’s a dragon that breathes fire (although we could never actually catch him doing it, we just had to look at other people’s shots from Instagram). There’s butter beer which you will see mentioned about fourteen more times in this blog post.  All the buildings are so accurate.  JK Rowling had to come down to look at the plans and choose all the most precise colors and design everything exactly how she had imaged it in her mind.

We bought beanies, the boyfriend is obviously a Gryffindor and I am clearly a Slytherin.  So, naturally, the whole time all the Wizarding World Staff said, “It’s always sad when a Weasley goes bad.”  We got a (he who shall not be named) wand for my nephews birthday and the wands are so well made.  They are study and fascinating.  Truly, the Sirius wand spoke to me with all its symbols and strategy, but wands are expensive and so are real lambs wool sweaters, and Hogwarts notebooks that were made by the same people who made them for the movie and especially robes.

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“It’s always sad when a Weasley goes bad.”

All I can say is that I came home with a whole lot of magic and a new found love for the series.  The fact that one woman’s mind created that much quirk is beyond me.  Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the Wizarding World.

PS. I still think Harry Potter should have died totally in the last book.

 

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Notable Quotables from The Moleskine

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 12.06.30 PMI finished My Name is Lucy Barton in a plane ride, however, I never got to share the brilliant little trinkets found in this one.

“When my great-uncle died, we moved into the house and we had hot water and a flush toilet, though in the winter the house was very cold.  Always, I have hated being cold.  There are elements that determine paths taken, and we can seldom find them or point to them accurately, but I have sometimes thought how I would stay late at school, where it was warm, just to be warm.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 12.08.23 PMThis quote spoke to me because as a teacher, I’m constantly trying to evaluate the motives of my students.  Why would that kid answer a phone call from work in the middle of class? Why does this child where pajama bottoms every single day? How is it that seventy-five percent of my new students this semester have moved more than three times in their life? It’s a part of worrying, I guess.  This quote from Lucy Barton means a lot to me because it’s such a simple reason.  She didn’t like being cold, so she stayed late at school and was able to get the tutoring or study time she needed to be successful in high school.  What a tiny thing that I keep for granted, that my house has heat and I can turn it on with a switch.

“Still, I loved him.  He asked what we ate when I was growing up.  I did not say, “Mostly molasses on bread.” I did say, “We had baked beans a lot.” And he said, “What did you do after that, all hang around and fart?” Then I understood I would never marry him.  It’s funny how one thing can make you realize something like that.  One can be ready to give up the children one always wanted, one can be ready to withstand remarks about one’s past, or one’s clothes, but then — a tiny remark and the soul deflates and says: Oh.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 12.09.54 PMThis. is. dating.  I had so many thoughts when I read this quote back again just now.  The thought that my mother, before dating my father, dated a man who was so selfish that he didn’t buy her Christmas presents, but refused to celebrate with her so she wouldn’t know.  He did however, buy himself everything he wanted, to the point where he was a bit of a hoarder.  When my ex-boyfriend decided to buy a video game, while he was jobless, and let his mother pay for my Christmas present, I realized how much I had repeated my own mother’s past in a new way.  This quote says all of that.  Those Oh, moments.  I think it’s safe to say that those tiny moments also inflate a relationship.  My boyfriend, who homemade me a Happy Birthday banner by cutting and stringing and coloring.  This man inflates the soul, he is an Oh moment with an exclamation point.

I highlighted and scribbled so many more quotes into my notebook, but maybe I’ll save those for another time when I’m reading a book that has very little beauty and I have to question why I’m reading it.

 

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What’s Your Story? | A Review of My Name is Lucy Barton

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 11.33.38 AMThe day I met my friend Ashley, she asked me “so what’s your story?” And really she wanted the story of how my boyfriend and I met so that she could squeal and tell me how she married her husband in only four months and ten days exactly after the ring.  It is a love story that’s on going in her life.  I liked her story because she was so proud of it.  It was the story she started with.  I think everyone has this story.  The story you start with in a conversation with an almost stranger, but someone you trust, for some unknown reason, just a little bit more.  These “stories you start with” have street appeal because they’re normally emotional (Hello, Humans of New York), but they also have a stir of secret to them as well.  Sometimes you’ll add a flourish of detail on a certain part, and other times you tell it straight, just the way your truth tells it.  There may be a new joke, the fifth time you’ve told it, or something you notice in that hazy memory that never appealed to the inner eye before.

“This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true.”

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I think Elizabeth Strout’s newest book My Name is Lucy Barton is just this kind of story.  It’s the story she starts with in her middle ages.  This might be true of the “stories you start with” also, that they become different in different stages of life.  I have always started with a story of my grandmother, I wear it on my sleeve like an army medallion and I weave her into each short story, or journal poem that I write.  I’ve always started with a clothesline in fiction, or a southern breeze, or a corn field.  Something about these things brings me closer to myself.  Now, I might start with the story of my mother.  I’ve grown up, I’m not “too far” away from my Grandmother, my mother has just become the figure that starts my story.  This is also true for Lucy Barton.

My Name is Lucy Barton is just what the title says.  It is the story of a hospital visit by a woman named Lucy Barton that weaves in her childhood, her angry sister, and hay-sick brother, her mother who she hasn’t seen in years since she moved to the big city and who now sits quietly in the dark waiting for Lucy to get well.  And her father, who is oddly silent as a character but looming like a cement statue in Lucy’s story.  I think it’s also her coming into her own story, the story of her children and husband and the future that she will have after this hospital visit and with the people who cared for her with gracious nicknames like Toothache.

Image @ Skinny Artist

I think this novel is so powerful because of its tender heart.  Usually, that’s meant to be said by some older southern woman in a full hat, “oh, bless her tender heart,” but I really mean it as a compliment here.  There’s something about this novel that is so gentle that it doesn’t need to be loud. It doesn’t need to contain more action than a hospital cot.  There is no need for Strout to yell where the emphasis should be.  I love this novel because it proves that great writing can be subtle.  We can be in one room with two half-broken characters full of longing and loneliness and it doesn’t kill us, and it doesn’t create a feeling of sadness, it’s just the story of a life.  The story that Lucy starts with.

For this, I believe that My Name is Lucy Barton is a pocket watch novel.  It has all these little turnings, working together to form one person who tells her own story with grace, subtle power, and conversationally.  Lucy Barton is an old friend who you’ve just met. She’s a neighbor who you don’t pass often enough but get an afternoon with.  She recounts her life not like a diary with all of that raw emotion, but through a telescope where its reflected differently on the other side.

I know Elizabeth Strout is good.  I’ve read every book she’s written except The Burgess Boys (which is on the list), but where I was expecting another drawn out tale of a woman on exploration, this isn’t that.  She’s gotten even better this round.   This is a novel written like poetry.  Strout has tasted each word and politely dabbed it onto the page.  It can be painfully moving, but it is exact.  There is something to say about using logic to bring emotion, and here is where Strout has mastered her art.

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Notable Quotables | From the Moleskine

I’m still reading Half of a Yellow Sun because I’ve been tacking off to-do lists instead of actually reading.  I plan on finishing it today, or AT MAX tomorrow.  However, it’s so beautiful, that it’s just dragging me down in its pretty.  Thanks, Narcissuses, let me fall into the mirror, anytime.

We Were on a break! Gif @ Creative Commons

At one point, the main couple in the book has a relationship break.  Now, this isn’t like the break in F.R.I.E.N.D.S, “WE WERE ON A BREAK,” it’s a break driven by trauma and the effects of trauma on the human spirit, particularly in a love relationship.  On the break, Olanna gets a lot of advice from the women around her, and I love every bit of their advice.  So, today’s quotes come from wise women.  May every woman have one and may every woman be one – eventually or all at once, however wisdom comes, in clumps or trinkets, take it and run.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.20.46 PMFrom her Aunt: “You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man.  Do you hear me? Aunty Ifeka said, ‘You’re life belongs to you and you alone.”

Olanna to her neighbor’s question on why she loves Odenigbo: “I don’t think love has a reason,’ Olanna said.  ‘Sure it does.’ ‘I think love comes first and then the reasons follow.  When I am with him, I feel I don’t need anything else.”

Olanna’s Neighbor: “Don’t think of it as forgiving him.  See it as allowing yourself to be happy.  What will you do with the misery you have chosen? Will you eat misery?”

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 5.20.53 PMOlanna: “…and she felt as if she had been gumming back the pieces of broken chinaware only to have them shatter all over again; the pain was not in the second shattering but in the realization that trying to put them back together had been of no consequence from the beginning.”

Olanna’s Neighbor: “Look at you.  You’re the kindest person I know.  Look how beautiful you are.  Why do you need so much outside of yourself?  Why isn’t what you are enough? You’re so damned weak.”

Olanna: “…and sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off.”

Army Advertisement for Women (Creative Commons)

I think so much of this advice could be given to any woman at any point in her life.  Except maybe for the woman who wrote Lean In, because she’s snap, snap, snapping her womanhood, honey.  The best part of this advice is that it’s woman to woman, and most of these woman are of the same age group.  It’s not a mother to a daughter, although my mother has often given me this advice, or a mentor to a mentee, it’s true peer advice.  I think sometimes if women could just take advice from one another, the world would be run by women, and women who aren’t emotionally drained, damaged, dragged down, or devastated.

We Should All Be Feminists

Women to women, we can make each other strong – an army of one, if you will. That’s probably also why Adiche won The Orange Prize for this book in 2007.  The Orange Prize is a prize given to a women who writes in English, and her first book Purple Hibiscus was also shortlisted for the award.  I plan to read this book as well this year because I think Adichie is a premier writer of this generation.  Honestly, if you haven’t gotten enough empowerment from this post, just watch her Ted Talk: “We Should All Be Feminists” or buy the book that was printed shortly afterwards.  I reviewed this book in 2014 here.

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Maira Kalman and Browned Photos | A Review

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My Mom always gets a little sad when we find old black & whites at the flea market.  Sometimes, I find them quite creepy because they’re not smiling.  Does anyone know what’s up with that? I wonder if there’s some historical precedent of looking demure, quiet, or moral.  She also doesn’t like to find knit, sewn, quilted, or crocheted coverings. We both believe some grandmother has spent hard worn hours, pricking fingers or using a tight lip to pull out slip knots and excess yarn.  Let’s be honest, I know nothing about these crafty art forms, even though I do believe that pirates wore them best.

A Maira Kalman painting from Girls Standing on Lawns

A Maira Kalman painting from Girls Standing on Lawns

At one point in my college writing life I thought that if I collected enough of these old pictures – in their lockets and out – I would be able to write the stories of the people in them. The art of “judging a book by its cover.”  I think Ransom Riggs kind of stole that dream, at least in the strange fiction young adult way. Even though I only read the first in that series, I’ve found two of my favorite, favorite authors created (dare I say it) an upscale form of the flea market photo a la a  book series with MoMA.

Maira Kalamn, Daniel Handler, and MoMA have created a “unique collaboration” as the blurb says.  I found the first one, Girls Standing On Lawns, in Parker & Otis, carried it around for thirty minutes, placed it next to my feet like man’s best friend while I ate lunch, and then promptly went back to the stationary aisle where I found the second in the series collaboration, Hurry Up and Wait.  Both of these texts are fascinating just in their basic forms.

Painting by Maira Kalman in Girls Standing on Lawns

Painting by Maira Kalman in Girls Standing on Lawns

As a twentieth century woman, Girls Standing on Lawns is my favorite, but as a teacher and a person who lives by a to-do list, Hurry Up and Wait is just as good.   Girls Standing on Lawns, as a woman, is a quintessential read.  What of us have not stood on a doorstep for a prom photo, or a first day of school montage? Which of us did not leap through sprinklers on the lawn, or practice dance moves for the boy across the street before we knew those things were called “a crush,” and would be the burden of our entire existence? Which of us aren’t in a scrapbook somewhere in a lace dress? I’m not sure how many lawn photos my mother and I have taken together, and she’s taken of me, but I’d guarantee it’s more than a thousand.

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

The book is an odd mix of MoMA photos, Maira Kalman’s paintings, and Daniel Handler’s quaint but effective prose.  In a photo of a young girl, hesitant on the bricks just before shrubs, Handler writes, “Because I didn’t want to ruin my shoes, is why.” And I can just hear her little high-pitch whine to her mother, or her sweetheart who wants her in front of the brush rather than next to it.  My mother always posed me, which is exactly why I also want her to read this one.  My favorite lines, “A painting, a photograph, a sentence, a pose.  Keep track of this.  You will not remember every place you have stood.  A picture will last longer.  There will come a time when you can’t believe it’s you standing on that lawn.” This was my favorite line because I love having pictures of my relatives everywhere. I am my mother’s daughter in this way. I like my grandmother’s small cursive dating the photo of her holding a line of caught fish across her elbow.  I love that my mother wore jumpsuits with big hair back in the day and the only way I have to own these moments is through the photographs.

Image from MoMA collection and words added by Daniel Handler in the book Girls Standing on Lawns

Image from MoMA collection and words added by Daniel Handler in the book Girls Standing on Lawns

I wonder now who will look at my photos on the lawn.  What daughter of my tribe will want to know why I was all dressed up? Especially in this world of social media where we only take photos for other people’s “likes.”  I can’t tell you the last time I stood in a photo with my mother. Oh wait, yes I can, we were climbing a very unshapely log, and she climbed higher because she’s a bold woman and sometimes I am sheepish.

Maira Kalman’s paintings in each book are as wonderful as ever.  I have a small collection of all of her books on my end table in the living room and it makes me happy just to look through them.  They’re always vibrant, and they don’t ever deny the human spirit that was captured in the inspiration.  I adore that about her.  She’s also quite witty, much like Handler, and so the words in her books can make her reader laugh out loud.

Hurry Up and Wait is the story of the American Dream to me.  Here we are, rushing around, checking off our experiences, calling them “bucket lists,” when only really half the time we are waiting for the next thing, the next adventure, the bus line, the coffee at Starbucks, the television show that comes on just past our bed time.  There are blurred bikers, women walking with scowls (I’m a mean face walker so I get that), girls jumping into pools.  Alongside children get puckered on popsicles, women hailing a cab, couples sleeping on the train.  This idea that our lives are made of waiting, then standing, then rushing is so true.  Handler says things like, “I’m just standing still, and then suddenly I think I am waiting for something.  Once I’ve decided I’m waiting it’s like I’m not standing still anymore.”  Somehow, this becomes this hyper-philosophical idea in my head.

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

My favorite image comes on a page with a photo of a man hauling bags (of feed, maybe) on a cart down a street.  Handler writes, “If you had to leave right this minute forever, what would you take with you? / Just this. Just this.”

Both books are just sixty-four pages and can be read in one sitting.  Just know, you will be coming back to these.  They are forever books.  They are designed beautifully (as MoMA would of course complete) and they are brilliant in both their words and small ideas, as well as the art and times held within. These books make me look new at flea market photos.  They may be next to cheaply strung pearls, or someone’s rusted iron work, but they are important to someone too.  They have meaning and putting them with concise, simple words makes them true art, a new form, innovative and reactionary.

 

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Notable Quotables from the Moleskine

I keep a bulletjournal, that’s kind of like a MASH-UP of my whole life.  I do daily to-do lists which are less overwhelming than they sound.  I write my favorite quotes from the books I’m reading, grocery lists, recipes I find on the interwebs for crockpot goodness, goal lists and project maps.  Basically, just everything.

Something I’ve done since high school is keep a collection of quotes from the things that I’ve read. In high school, most of them wound up taped to my vanity mirror, but a lot of them were hidden on little scraps of paper from my purse (mostly receipts). Some small fragments I tuck into my wallet as a reminder.  I got one tattooed on my shoulder when I just finished college.  A few I write on envelopes to my lovely pen pals, but almost all of them end up in a journal, whichever one is dominant that day.  I used to have a tiny little notebook that I hid in a sock drawer for quotes, but then I found that I needed to carry them around on my day to day missions.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a long story just to say that I find so much power in the written word that I have to copy it down and carry it around.  Some girls carry lipstick, I carry words.  Some girls collect shoes, I collect letters put together like a math equation until they’re meaningful.  So, in an effort to blog more than book reviews, I want to share a quote every week from whatever I’m reading and kind of explain it’s meaning to me and how I think it can influence the society that I live in.

Currently, I’m reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I’m not quite sure how to summarize where I am, but there are four voices (organized by chapter) and the one that is talking/thinking in this chapter is Olanna who dates Odenigbo.  Olanna is from a wealthy family in Nigeria and Odenigbo is a college professor in Africa that very much wants to support Nigerian values, but also bring Nigeria to a culturally aware world that is not dependent on British expectations and British rules.  In this part, Odenigbo’s mother comes to visit and basically gives Olanna the “what for,” and tells her that she’s no good for her son and needs to go away.

Odenigbo: “Nkem, my mother’s entire life is in Abba.  Do you know what a small bush visage that is? Of course she will feel threatened by an educated woman living with her son. Of course you have to be a with.  That is the only way she can understand it.  The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.13.12 PMI think this quote is beyond powerful.  It blends the idea of gender roles and gender expectations with class roles and class expectations with cultural roles and cultural expectations.  It’s a big hodgepodge of influence.  In a world where women are still supposed to be the virtuous part of a working relationship, and certain religions look down on others for the “looseness” of their women, this quote outlines a generational gap as well as a cultural gap in a time of growth on this continent.  In some countries women aren’t even allowed to leave the house without a man and must have men testify in court on their side in order to defend a rape allegation, this quote shows the bias of a mother when she’s forced to reconcile with a woman who breaks the expectations. Olanna is living with her lover without the “benefit of clergy” (as my Catholic confirmation sponsor would call it).

However, this isn’t even the most commanding part of the quote.  Odenigbo manages to wrap up my feelings on poverty, and colonialism, and culture clashing, and third world vs. first world in one quick sentence.  How can people from one culture waltz in and dominate another without giving the initial culture the resources and advantages to live in this new world.  First off, what does it mean to be “civilized?” And who’s right is it to decide that? Then, when one group of people is “civilized” a la Things Fall Apart, there’s no real way to do this without playing dirty.  If someone walked up to me tomorrow and told me my whole life was a sham and I need to live a different way, I would laugh in their face and walk in my mall jeans home.

Nonetheless, colonialism has happened in our world and once it has happened, what is the role of the “conquerer” to help the “conquered” deal with the new values, new rules, new expectations.  In poverty training at my old teaching county we were taught that all department stores are marketed and made-for middle class people.  What must these stores feel like to those that are loudly rich, or those that are severely poor? How can we make a world work where everyone feels at home navigating the waves and the issues of that world, where everyone is allowed to troubleshoot?  How do we even teach this? I’m constantly asking myself this question as a teacher and I’m constantly mulling it over in my head as a human.  That’s why I find the power of these words so successful.

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And as a teacher, here are some essential questions I find relevant to this topic:

  1. How do individuals reconcile competing belief systems within a given society (e.g., moral beliefs conflicting with legal codes)?
  2. What are the politics and consequences of war, and how do these vary based on an individual or cultural perspective?
  3. How does literature reveal the values of a given culture or time period?
  4. What does it mean to be an insider or an outsider?
  5. How do decisions, actions, and consequences vary depending on the different perspectives of the people involved?
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A Book for Your Twenties | No Matter the Wreckage

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 3.35.16 PMIn your twenties your smallest decision is “what size mug do I like for my coffee?” You don’t even get into travel mugs that day because it’s so overwhelming with all the big decisions you’re supposed to be making.

I like a very round mug.  When I lift it to drink, it covers my eyes, but not my eyebrows.  A perfect ‘coming of age’ mug.

But society tells us that we should have already ‘come of age,’ right? We should be finished with college somewhere around twenty-two.  We should be looking at marriage prospects somewhere around twenty-seven, or at the cusp of graduation because one celebration sometimes just isn’t enough.  We should already be done dating boys our friends call “losers,” boys that science has proven just don’t mature as fast, or just fast enough for each of us, men that “hold us down,” according to popular television series and internet slang.  This should all be figured out.  All the math of relationships, all the financial growth, all the decisions about where we might want to settle with all the trigonometry we’ve created with this significant other who makes us question if “soul mates” are real or a Disney broken promise.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 3.36.45 PMI think poet, Sarah Kay, reaches for this idea of an unfinished product that society expects to be whole.  In No Matter the Wreckage there are poems about girlhood, relationships, family ties and expectations, letting go, not giving in, and there are even trivial poems that I found were a little meaningless, but I think they still fit into the idea of this collection.

This book spoke to me, which made it the perfect book to end the year on.  It also had me waltzing down memory lane with my own twenties journey.  I’ll be turning twenty-eight relatively soon and this book was a good reflection on where I’m coming from, and where I want to go this year.  Only two years from thirty, AH! I’m adulting, constantly, which is scary, but also kind of refreshing because I know where I’ve been successful.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 3.35.33 PMSarah Kay is a turn key with words.  She can adjust a words meaning in three lines and it seems to fit perfectly in its new home.  ”

“Only once, he let it get so close I screamed.  I had never made / that kind of sound before.  He turned, his face a prayer wheel / atop his neck, a smile so foreign I could not speak its language / like water running in reverse, he spilled himself to safety.”

There’s so many moments that are a surprise in this simple quote.  A face as a prayer wheel, a man “spilling to safety.”  A world where each of us are puddles makes a lot of sense to me with water the way it moves and freezes.  I remember seeing Da Vinci working these ideas for science in his Codex at our state art museum.  He was trying to perfect hypothesis on the way water movies, the Biblical flood stories, the reasons fossils were at the tops of mountains, how to build bridges and rigs to stop water flow and what shapes work best to move water.  These ideas somehow go together in my head.  Humans can be liquid worries, people can be cold, sometimes even frigid.  Water is the way we describe ourselves at our worst (or best, like warm), and Sarah Kay uses this idea in a completely new way.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 3.45.54 PMWhen she talks about her relationship with her brother, I can’t help but think of my own.  This man that I compete with, and adore, but truly know very little of.

“You told me once that I was just the first draft / and I’m inclined to believe you, but you / came with a lot more pieces to assemble and / Mom and Dad never got the manual.”

This quote is from her poem “Brother.” Her titles weren’t the most interesting or effective.  (We wouldn’t study them in a high school classroom).  But I think this quote references the way a lot of people feel about their siblings.  There is a forced sort of love, then a biological love, and then the way we always look at each other’s differences until someone asks about our similarities. Plus, this idea that boys are more like Legos and girls are more “easy to raise.”  My parents just had this conversation with another couple.  I think I’m more of an emotional hurricane than my brother, but I think he was “harder to raise,” as the stories of grunge t-shirts, and car crashes tend to go. Brothers are something to be put together, sisters are something that have to be kept whole(some).

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 3.42.58 PMPoetry wise, I think this collection could be just as strong if it was written as prose.  Her line breaks aren’t spectacular or broken for any particular reason.  She is popular as a spoken word poet so I’m assuming that most of these poems were meant to be spoken, but even then, I don’t think they look like poetry on the page.  The sound devices can be moving, but the stereotypical rhyme expectations are nonexistent.  The ideas and the words are stronger than the lines themselves.

In “Jellyfish” I think she pinpoints twenties on the map.

“And somewhere in between then and now / irony slipped its way into my vocabulary. / Laughter became the antidote for guilt. Sacrifice grew to be the bandaid for shame.”

Also, in “The Moves,” I think she captures the amount of change we make in our relationships in our twenties.

“Leaving is an easy art to learn.  But the / advanced steps – the pirouettes and arabesques / are difficult to master.  / This is how I disappear in pieces / This is how I leave while not moving from my seat / tho sis how I dance away.  / This is how I’m gone before you wake.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 3.49.44 PMI keep coming back to this idea in my head, but Claire once said in a comment on this blog something along the lines of “Life is a series of attaching and letting go.” I think this is the basic premise of No Matter the Wreckage. I don’t think this is the same thing as loving and losing.  I think in your twenties you make (sometimes rash) decisions of who gets to stay and who has to go.  A conversation with Kiran over breakfast the other day went something like, “I literally have no friends with drama anymore.”  I don’t think this is because we’ve matured, even though that’s true, I think it’s that I just rid myself of the people who still held onto things that hurt them over and over, or who made decisions that were blatantly terrible for their humanity, or who just cared enough to complain over and over about the same thing.  I think we’ve all found the baskets to put our eggs and I’m thankful for the people who either stayed, or who I worked to keep, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t let go of quite a few along the way.

And this is okay.

It’s 2016 and this is okay.

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 3.37.33 PMAnd if you need a book to further the “okayness” inside yourself, to calm the butterflies or the train on a hillside, pick up No Matter the Wreckage.  There are poems that won’t matter and poems that will matter so much that you have to scribble them down in the ugliest handwriting to keep from crying.  Sarah Kay isn’t the most immaculate poet, she doesn’t need a spot in the canon, but if you find her at just the right time, she’ll put her finger on that burning red button inside you and give you the strength to press down.

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INFORMATION:

Buy the book here.
Sarah Kay’s Poems on Tumblr here.
Sarah Kay Tweets.
Sarah Kay Official Website.