“There Are Great Holes in Your Newspapers. Nobody Sees Them. God Sees Them”

Because I need a few more days to mull over what I’m going to say about the new President on this blog, I thought I could review one of my already favorite books of the year.

News25817493 of the World by Paulette Jiles was a quiet simmer, a rustle, a murmur. I hadn’t read anything about it other than it was a finalist for the National Book Award and that there were 73 people on the library waiting list before me.  That’s an accurate portrayal, not a fudged number.  I can tell now, why, and why it has such a catastrophically high Goodreads score.  Usually, even my favorite books tap out at 3.2, maybe 3.4 if there’s an influx of smart, beautiful readers, but typically all books stay average, even the good ones.  (I don’t have any stats on this, this is just sheer user interpretation).

Right now, News of the World has a 4.23 star score on Goodreads. I’m going to make the argument that it’s all about the characters (and then the setting, and then the pacing, and then the softness, in that order).  There’s two main characters and then a handful of townspeople that we meet as they travel through Texas.  The two main characters are Cho-Henna and Kep-Dun.  Captain Kidd is a former military messenger and Johanna is a girl who was captured by the Kiowa Tribe at a young age and only knows that life.  However, at the beginning of the book, Kidd accepts guardianship of returning her to what’s left of her family (an aunt and uncle) and thus the book begins.

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Map of Civil War Sites in Texas (Fort Tours)

The entirety of this book is their journey on just a few roads. Kidd is stopping in towns to read the news from local and international papers, a former print shop owner, he likes to create fairytales of far-off places in the minds of Texans, and while doing that he teaches Cho-Henna a few “house rules” without changing who she is at the core.  I fell in love with both of these characters.  By the end of the book, I could actually hear the peep of Cho-Henna’s voice saying “Kep-Dun” from behind a flour barrel, or underneath a blanket.

She was so quiet, almost silent, and yet the sound of her stays with me.  It wasn’t the voice of the character that was so moving in this book, it was the subtle sounds of everyday life that she made.  The way she patted the captains arm, or handed him dimes to be used as bullets, or ripped the lace from her skirt.  Those sounds that create a live-action movie in the reader’s heads.  I knew that countryside while I was riding, and although we had to listen for the sounds of danger, it was so easy being with Captain Kidd and Johanna just a little while longer.  I feel the same soft spot for Johanna that Kidd grows in this story.

And although we know from the beginning that this will end tied with a bow, I don’t fault Jiles for the conclusion being that neat.  This was a feel-good story from the very beginning.  I eased through the way Captain Kidd treated Johanna like she didn’t need to be anyone but herself in order to get along in the world.  He could only teach her this through his own ways of being in the world, just a visitor, always in motion, and always with a message.  At one point, he thinks the following:

“Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news.  Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed” (121).

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BFG and Dreams

I think this was just the most perfect instance of how life is made.  Whether we’re Captain Jeffrey Kidd making life after the Civil War, or we’re a child with two visions of the world that collide and collapse at random.  I’ve harped about this idea of purpose for the last several months.  I’m a pray-er, I don’t know what you guys believe, or what religious doctrine you follow, if any, but I like to send open words out into the air and hope someone is catching them (kind of like The BFG and dreams).

For a long while, every time I prayed about being a teacher, I got a solidified answer as to why I needed to keep doing it.  Even in my most desperate, cry on the side of the bed as I slide down the post, moments.  Where a whole tissue box wasn’t enough, and neither was the constant heaving, I got a sign the next day, or a word, or a moment.  When I decided to quit teaching, those signs that I was holding like small weapons against any stray ideas, went dark.  I couldn’t find anything telling me to “just keep swimming.”  I was carrying a message, but I didn’t think it was the right one anymore.

I’ve had a lot of nights where I manically mindmap my purpose.  Where I talk to myself about podcasts, and blogging, and editing, and reading, and making life. Not making a living, but just making life. I’ve tried to find goals and make them into something.  Truth be told, I’m lost as hell. But with all of that, I’m also in a moment of creation.

“To go through our first creation is a turning of the soul we hope toward the light, out of the animal world.  God be with us.  To go through another tears all the making of the first creation and sometimes it falls to bits” (56).

bigstock_failure_grunge_text_3728194-1In situations like this there’s that constant nag of failure.  It creates a lot of fear.  And that’s what wasn’t in this book.  Neither character was tied to a certain message, a certain town or person or purpose.  Both were just between living.  Sure, their road had an end.  Captain Kidd had a goal and a $50 gold coin to show for it.  He had a mission for Johanna that wasn’t of her choosing, but was still a mission they both partook.  And so maybe, it’s corny, but maybe it’s true – it’s about the journey.  I know this book was.

This was one of those moments where I hit the just right book at the just right time.  So what if the goal isn’t clear? So what if we’re reinventing all the time? If people know us as a chameleon or a lover of adventure or just someone that can’t stay focused? So what? Make life.  Make it with people who don’t have to speak because the thud of their feet in the hallway and the click of a radio button and the morning voices of Mike & Mike  are the only reconciliation you need. (Thanks, Beej).  This is true for these two characters and I would argue that it’s true for most of us.  If we gave up speaking, we would still make love with sounds.  If we lost our voices, we would still show pity, embarrassment, joy with the soft strokes of being human.

28119237News of the World is that subtle reminder that we all need.  I highly recommend this read because it will seriously melt your heart.  In many book clubs they’re recommending it be paired with Tribe by Sebastian Junger. I’m going to try to get my hands on a copy of that next.  Get both from the library and dog-ear every page you love for the next person.  Leave that muted symbol, imagine the rubbed sound of crisped page against their thumb.

You’ve Reached: My Feminist Agenda

THE GREAT GATSBY, from left: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, 2013.I’ve always been on that weird middle line with feminism where I can’t jump over the fence and burn my bras because those things are DAMN expensive and sometimes kind of pretty, but I also am definitely not on the side of “all girls should sit and be pretty.” I can’t say that I’ve always been on the side of women, I’ve talked my fair share of smack and I’ve always kind of felt (and always loathed) Daisy in Great Gatsby:

“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'”

Some of my judgment: For too long we’ve lived in a world where women who play dumb and look pretty get ahead. It doesn’t matter if they’re legacy makers in every right (See: Kim Kardashian or Jessica Simpson), but the way women are still supposed to portray themselves for the public is to be just what Daisy said.  What these woman actually are, are bosses. Big men on campus, but it’s the “beautiful little fools” they play.

61w6r0fl1wl-_sx329_bo1204203200_After reading You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent, I have to agree that it isn’t my call to judge them for how or what they present, but what they can represent for feminism and girls everywhere. Nugent says “There are other words, too.  Bossy. Bitchy. Rude. Fat. Ugly. Stupid. Whore. I used these words when I had an agenda.  I was always looking for ways to frame other women in a way that made me seem better and more appealing.  I was a cool girl, not her, don’t you see?”  And for the record, I don’t just mean girls who are born biologically girls, but also the ones who decide / choose to come to the dark side as well.  You’re all girls in my Barbie World.

I loved this essay collection like it was a time-tested musical number or a Pablo Neruda ode. Nugent didn’t have to shout at us with her torch and teeth barred, instead she spoke feminism like a soft wave from a wet kayak.  One chapter would have the punch of lemoncello and the next would be a little quieter, but just as brave and equally meaningful.  Towards the end of the book she smacks the reader around with her to do lists on masturbation and porn, but in the middle, the soft stuff like female friendships (that are never, ever soft by the way) and virginity are breached.

mac-the-matte-lip-1When everyone else in a girl’s life is silent on these topics, Nugent is educated and sassy.  I tweeted multiple times about stalking her and becoming real friends.  One imagining even got very real: we were in the grocery store, knocking on cantaloupes because aren’t they one of those fruits when you just never know the ripeness?  Some people flick, some people tap, some squeeze slightly like the first time you touched Nickelodeon Gak, but Nugent and I, we are two in the same.  With full chapters on lipstick and the haven’s of bliss that are women’s restrooms in a crowded club (other than the pukers and the ones that have to hold their hair), I couldn’t get enough of Nugent’s perspective on feminism.

yourresponsetomybodyIn her world, and mine now that I can stop secretly torturing myself for “Hm”ing every time a dude makes a mild sexist joke, feminists can make mistakes.  They can disagree, but support all the same.  They can understand their bodies, their moral lines, but also accept everyone else’s bodies and moral lines. I finally get what all the tweets are talking about when they bash Teen Vogue or Cosmopolitan for “fat-shaming.” To be a feminist, it doesn’t mean you have to be pure as a saint or reeking of sex 23/7 (no one can have sex for an entire day, we’d all die a slow and maybe only half painful death).  It means that you – at the bottom of everything – you have to believe in other women, and believe they should get the same treatment as any man.

That means it’s okay to suck at that too sometimes.  It doesn’t mean you have to show a nipple once in a while and it doesn’t mean that you have to have a vagina pin on your backpack and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be angry with all the dudes in your life, because some of them are kind of cute, ya know? In Nugent’s feminism, you just have to be knowledgable and accepting.

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635891019852257512-1248180650_il_fullxfull-367509095_dltlI literally, full-on, laughed out loud at work reading this book.  And it wasn’t a cute laugh, it was one of those wide mouth laughs that has you burying your face into your elbow while people kind of stare at you. To the point where I had to almost make up a reason that something would be that funny in a book.  It was.  It totally was.  I almost cried a little bit too, but mostly I laughed.  A lot.  Nugent’s voice is like listening to your girlfriend tell you a drunken story except she’s really smart so it still sounds smart, but there’s tangents of nonsense and hilarity.

I texted my best friends paragraphs of text from this book.  We joked for a few minutes about how much she “knows” us.  This is one of those girl’s girl books. If that’s not enough to pick it up and read it, I don’t know what else to tell you.  I especially liked the chapter on losing your virginity because I think someone needed to say it.

It opens:

“I did not lose my virginity.  I know exactly where it went.  It went on top of a futon in a basement that you could enter through a sliding door.  Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a landmass that Columbus entered and then ruined.  Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a number-two pencil somebody asked to borrow during a Scantron test and never gave back.  Nobody took my virginity at all.  I had sex for the first time in a condo with a sarcastic dude whom I sort of liked.  I don’t feel like this is a sad story.

mjaxnc02zdk3ntg1ztzhogvmztdjIt’s enough to feel shame about your public smile, about the way you look in a tankini, about the amount of tortilla chips you ate for … linner. It’s enough.  It’s enough to feel shame of not living up to parental expectations of “being a good girl.”  No one needs to feel shame for the way they use their body if they wanted to.  If there were 2+ consenting adults and they chose to make moves.  My religion makes me feel some shame, I think it comes with the Catholicism though and so I accept it as part of the “Catholic guilt.”  I can’t save anyone from that because it’s a lingering sort.

What Nugent can save you from is digging holes against other women (or just people) and burying yourself.  She can save you from judging someone’s past because it doesn’t match up with their present, or judging someone period because your idea of “rightness” does not align with there idea of “learning.”

Everyone always says, “think before you speak.” Maybe instead we should be saying, SPEAK. and in equal measure LISTEN, and while you’re listening don’t judge, degrade, downgrade, take back to another dinner table and spill about with giggles. Support your fellow woman and make good decisions. When they aren’t good, own them and learn.

That’s a feminist if I ever saw one. (Except I haven’t seen her even though we could totally be best friends.  This is definitely an awkward “Call Me, Maybe” moment that I will own and learn from).

PS. I kind of also wrote about Nugent’s book here when I went on a rant in support of Planned Parenthood.

Categorizing My Book Reading: Not as boring as you’d think.

Happy New Year, everybody! Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots… just kidding. It’s more like bed, bed, bed, bed! In fact, Fro and I are writing this quick blog from the bed where breakfast was also had this morning, along with list making, and the finishing of my first book of the year, Calamity Leek.  

I’m here to talk about my bookish journey for this year. Why not start this on the very first day.  You know, goals and shit.  I’ve broken my books for the year into five categories because what better use of your time than to make unneeded lists? My plan, thanks to Claire, is to read 52 books.  And yes, I already submitted this number to the Goodreads deities and will be kicking myself in four months because I’m two books behind.

Anyway, my categories will have me reading with purpose and if I’m lucky, a little exhilaration.  I believe this is just the kick I need to never be books behind, but instead be books ahead.  Plus, I’m picking up a few audiobooks for my drives to work so those will add to my number. I feel like a middle school girl with a list of boys she’s kissed talking about “my number.”

The first category my books this year will fall under is my Word of the Year. I wrote about my journey to this word on Almost an Independent Clause. This is my “lifestyle” blog because that’s the term we’re using in the world at the moment. WAH.

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This category will consist of books that will make me want to be more TEND(ER) because that’s my word/s of the year. I already have some names and titles for this list, but would LOVE to know recommendations in the comments that I can add to it. I especially need fiction titles.

  1. Rebecca Solnit titles, I’m starting with A Field Guide to Getting Lost
  2. Please Don’t Eat the DaisesJean Kerr
  3. 20-Something, 20 EverythingChristine Hasser
  4. All things by Lynda Berry (I read Syllabus last year and it changed the way I taught).
  5. All things Anne Lamott because if anyone can make me shut up and write, it’s Anne Lamott.
  6. My Journey Through War and PeaceMelissa Bunch

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51zbbuqw2bjlI’ve been writing this blog for six years and I’ve only published one set of poems outside of it.  My big dreams of working my way through an MFA are kind of, and really terrifyingly coming to fruition this year, at least on my part.  I’ve started sitting down to write every single day, in a routine, in a notebook.  I write, then type whatever I wrote and highlight the parts that move me outside of the poem and then I go to the next day.  I haven’t quite figured out my revision process yet, but I’ve started pursuing writing daily, sometimes multiple times a day.  And I’m not talking about blog writing, but writing. Poetry and essays.  I had a good cry about all of this several times last month. It’s scary when you decide to go for your dreams, I get why so many people don’t. But this leads me to having a category on writing.

So here’s my list so far for that:

  1. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  2. Essays of E.B. White
  3.  Women Will Save the World – Carolina A Shearer
  4. The White Album – Joan Didion
  5. George Orwell’s all the things
  6. Uprooted: An Anthology
  7. Annie Dillard all the things
  8. Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation by Tom Bissel
  9. Kurt Vonnegut all the things
  10. Aldous Huxley Essays
  11. The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
  12. First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
  13. I Feel Bad About My Neck – Ephron
  14. Mary Karr all the things
  15. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Funny thing is that people have already introduced me to a lot of these books, but I have just neglected them to some dust corner of a bookshelf, or book pile near a chair in the house.  Seth has sent me First They Killed My Father and my Mom has purchased a lot of these books for me over the years.   I could write a whole blog on how and when and why people come to the books that they do, but that would be another time.

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This is where you come in lovely people of the blogging community.  My best friend Nat gives no shortness of YA reads for me, but I think it’s only right that I take a bunch of recommendations from all the readers that I love and trust, and I start damn reading them.  And I’m not talking about the books that we see everywhere, all flashy, across Instagram stories, but the ones that moved your soul.  The ones that linger or stayed with you for months afterwards. I want those.

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The Anti-library: because I own probably over 1,000 books and because like Umberto Eco, I believe it’s more valuable to own more books you’ve never read.  So, I’m dedicating my time to reading some of those.  I need to be a little more Belle on the library ladder if you know what I mean.

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Quail Ridge is my favorite. 

So, this category is the last and stems from my desperate Google search for a children’s book that I saw in Quail Ridge Books months ago. BJ was in the middle of checking out and I stepped into the children’s section for a little feel good moment and came straight to this book. It’s called (and don’t laugh because it’s ironic) Child of Books. We were going to be late for trivia if I waited in line so I took pictures of the pages and thought about that book for months.  For Christmas I got an Amazon gift card and I purchased that book in the haul because it spoke to me.  My Mom always talks about art speaking to her and that’s why she can’t buy art for my house, but that’s the way some books come calling.  I don’t make a habit of reading children’s books, although I probably should because they’re pure magic and I found 298,734 more that I wanted to read on Amazon last night while trying to find the name and title of this children’s book, but I don’t. So, there’s a splurge and a reason for this category.

Let’s be honest, guys. I can make any book fit into any of these categories, but I want to have them categorized because I need that purpose for my reading.  How do you organize your reading? Is it just based on whatever you come to in the bookstore? Or maybe you have dedicated yourself to no longer shopping for books because you’ll read exactly what’s on the shelf at home. Whatever it is, share below! I’m always flexible and you may make me change my ways.

No Goodreads Goal? BIG PROBLEM.

I get jealous sometimes of the people who can just steam through YA fiction all year, blog every two days, and create this center of magic.

I am not that person.

And this year without a Goodreads goal, I was even more of a flailer. This is me December of last year:

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See how I’m SO not held down that my hair is blowing straight in the wind?

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Knock Knock even made a fancy pro/con list.

I’ll take Flounder-er’s throughout history for 200, Alex. Because that’s what I was this year.  Unlike Book Stacks Amber, I didn’t just lower my goal, I got rid of that sucker altogether for a year. I took the advice of countless blogging sages who have come before me like Jessica Pryde at Book Riot and Broke By Books.  Surlymuse got into my head a little bit too and like any good working gal, I made a pro / con list. Countless ex-boyfriends have been through this routine and someone could have just saved me if they said, “If you have to even write pro / con about a boy on a piece of notebook paper, he’s not worth your time.” However, I take the Ben Stiller approach (in Along Came Polly) and like to know exactly what I’m getting into, with both books and boys.

The list had more cons because I wanted it to and so I didn’t write in a goal this year. Surlymuse called the way Goodreads tracks books is, “some kind of perverse commodity” and I felt that too.  For too long, I had avoided books over five-hundred pages because I wouldn’t keep up with my Goodreads goal in the long run. And Goodreads is such a gem for telling you how far behind you are every year.  In 2015, I got seven books behind and felt like I was turning circles at sea. I turned to short children’s books to fill the gap, or poetry chapbooks, or even just those one-off story collections from Vintage American that Goodreads totally counts as a full book.  I’m also a Goodreads librarian so I can add those short, sad, totally not books to Goodreads as if they were.

Is this abusing my power or are there people like me out there?

Whatever short, probably not as fulfilling as long drawn-out works, I could find would be on the list. They just fit so well into my Goodreads goal catchup list. It’s worth it if you can just maintain the goal.

The goal would say, “How could you only read three books in September when you know you must read five to even be in the running?” WHERE IS YOUR MOTIVATION, SOLDIER.

And I gave that all up.

blog250113-michelleAnd what happened was sort of disastrous. Without a goal, I was flying solo. I was a Beyonce without Destiny’s Child, at least I felt that way in the beginning, until I was Michelle without Destiny’s Child.

But now I have the gift of looking back on my reading this year and it is a sad, sad state of affairs.  I’m not even sure I can do a Top 10 books list (or 5 if you’re stingy) because I read so few books, that were so random, that I can’t even equate them within the same lists. There are months under my “Read in 2016” where I had to write something like “I did not read a single book this month (because I’m a heathen).” That was a statement written in fear of leaving a whole month blank.

ywmqvkfsMostly, I can sum up my reading this year in one statement: I read what I had to teach to my AP Literature kids. Which, thank goodness for my own choosing, wasn’t just the Western Canon. Towards the end of the year, I hit up some #diversebooks hashtags on Twitter and found that I had actually read a lot of literature, and nonfiction about the African American experience. I think subconsciously as an educator, and consciously as a human, I wanted to be both less ignorant and more thoughtful. My best friend is a mixed white and black man and I wanted to really understand when he told me to “use my privilege.” I needed to understand my current world a little bit better, but … I think I would have still done that with a Goodreads Challenge. I think I would have done more of it and been better at it actually.

Instead, this year, I read a lot of half books. If you asked me how many books I didn’t finish, but I got to a juicy part, I could tell you it’s over one hundred.  There were too many book piles on the floor next to my bed, in the currently reading bookshelf, the to be read bookshelf, and the bookshelf in the home library.  Plus, I took frequent trips to the library and we live within two miles of a used bookstore.  It’s all unhealthy actually.  So, this all led me to finishing hardly anything.  I was a snacker of books. I grazed and got too full and moved on before even the finale of anything. If I read the whole thing it’s because I had to or I was drawn to.

22822858I was flailing. I still am flailing. I started This Little Life and talked to my friend Sage about reading it together and then after one Book List with the first book of calamity leek as an undiscovered gem, I immediately switched back to reading that. I haven’t touched it since the plane to Iceland. I’ll pick it up like no time has passed like I’ve done all stinking year.

So for the sake of sanity, and for an anchor, I’m going back to the Goodreads Challenge this year. I’m just giving in and admitting that as a Capricorn gone Sagittarius, sticking to Capricorn (Thanks, NASA), I need a goal to keep me driving, but to also keep me on the damn road.  No tangents, no veering, no “OU, Squirrel” moments for my reading schedule next year. I will be pushed once again by the man, that is Amazon Goodreads.

What are ya’ll’s plans for the Goodreads goals?

(I just wanted to use ya’ll’s in a sentence … twice).  Will you keep them and be held down or will you let go and float in space and see what happens to your reading happens.   I would love to hear from you (no, seriously, lack of comments gives me anxiety).

If you need some more goals, check out this year’s reading challenge: Book Better

There’s a Goodreads group: Book Better and a Twitter: #bookbetter2017. Details on the Book Better Challenge Page.

Children’s Books That I’m Going to Write Because of Election Results

In the shock stage of grief that I am in, I don’t have an eloquent way of stating my feelings. What I do know what to speak is books and lists. So … in an effort to put something forth in a meaningful way, here is a list of all the children’s books I would like to write now that we have unfortunate election results.

  1. Grey Matter: It would star a little brain named Carl and his pineapple best friend named Smother and be a book that talks about all the other factors that hum around opposites with the moral that “Almost nothing is black or white.” (Words would also fall into grey matter. Sorry, Trump).

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-5-37-59-pm2. Tuesday’s with Morrie: (Children’s edition). And it would include mostly the quote to the right as the moral. And Morrie would be the cutest old man who wore sweater vests and hunched over a little when he walked.

Glass Slippers

Glass Slippers

3. Hillary’s Glass Ceiling which would be composed of patterned pantsuits, Hillary rappelling the Washington monument (because let’s be honest, the children could look back at this book and study the phallic symbols when they’re in English 101), and glass slippers. I’m not really sure how the slippers come in, but I feel like they fit.

Pantsuits

Pantsuits

4.  Blaze(r).  This one would be illustrated by Maira Kalman and Rachel Maddow would write it.  It’s a superhero comic about a women in a fierce patterned pantsuit (similar to Mrs. Frizzle) that takes on the world for girls everywhere. (And there would obviously be villains).  Bernie Sanders would also totally be in the spin-off comics as part of the super squad. His superhero name would be Suspanders.

5. Construct: would be a children’s book about building different architecture and would at some point become a metaphor for systemic issues in our society.  This one might now be a children’s book, but an adult book that has pictures.

6. Biggertry: which would be all about being the bigger person.  It would totally  be about a boy named Glee.  It would kind of be inspired by the poem “Guidelines”  and how a reaction to bigotry can change the bigot’s perspective.

7. Fences: This would be a book full of metaphors about breaking down walls.  This one is the most formed in my mind, it would have two neighbors and be a hodge podge of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” and “The Interlopers” by Saki, and a mashup of quotes from this election talking about Trumps BIG PLAN to build a wall. (Hmph).  It would also be part grammar (about how paragraphs are just sections of a text that have fences around them).  The book would probably be two sets of neighbors.  I’m actually inspired by my neighbor who finished off our fence out of the goodness of her own heart and didn’t even tell us she was doing it. PS. She’s a Muslim. I feel like this is an important part for you to know if you’re full of judgment right now. (If you are, I hope you can shit it all out later).

Donald Trump Mouth Cartoon / Scranton Times Tribune / Artist: John Cole

Donald Trump Mouth Cartoon / Scranton Times Tribune

8. The Man Behind the Mouth: Obviously, this would have a guy with a comb over and a red tie on the cover.  (Not naming names).  And he would say all kinds of ridiculously terrible things and people would correct him, maybe correct is the wrong word, but they would kindly and respectfully rephrase his points and give him reasons to change them. And the crowds correcting him would get bigger and bigger until he no longer fit on the page.  And then on the very last page, they would all hug. (This one’s my secret favorite).

Let me know your titles and ideas.

On why I’m deplorable due to my dislike of Fates and Furies

President Obama said it. Claire said it. (She’s up there with Obama in my book recommendation circle).  Brianna said it, too.  My own gut intuition said it.  And then the fates (or the sirens) decided, all the saints from Riverhead decided, that I would be awarded an advanced copy on that funny little shell called Instagram where I house various pictures of my dogs, my sweats, and my open pages. (@bookishcassie).

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

And now it’s sitting, dainty and prudish in its cove of the library hutch.  I would take a picture but that would really only represent the true amount of neglect that this book has seen across spring break pools, ocean sands, hotel rooms with fancy wooden stumps, suitcases, backpacks, and now the library hutch (which also regrettably hasn’t been dusted since its moved in).  This book, Fates and Furies, by one of my favorite authors, Lauren Groff.

I read her short stories with reckless abandon.  I made it through Arcadia, not really her best work but characterization was “magical at times,” as I tell my AP kids their essays need to be (not so sarcastically).  I quit Monsters at Templeton about forty pages in.   I’m pretty much a quitter if a book doesn’t grip me in some way or I don’t owe someone for the reading.  So, it’s probably safe to say, I should stick to stories by her published in The New Yorker.

Truth is though, I really wanted to like it.  I kept reading ahead because I couldn’t stand the drawl of this marriage.  All one-sided from the perspective of Lotto.  I just had to Google that name which shows how much I really got involved with this narcissistic asshole. Sure, there were things to love about Lotto, how he was always a bit half-baked like all men we meet in our twenties (can I get an amen?) And how he half expected Mathilde to just shell out her female superpowers and own that whole house until he managed to write a decent play.

This just was and wasn’t the life that I knew of anyone ever.  Like, sure, marriage sucks sometimes, and those little tabs of deception, poked through receipts of burnt out anger, and the tips of sadness, adds up and amounts to some sort of heated disgust with our partner, but I don’t know anyone who just makes up for that (and their sordid childhood of fuckedupness) to become a famous playwright.  Does this really happen? REALLY?

If this was a movie, you would see REALLY get bigger and bigger across the screen and get shouted louder and louder.

I think I made it through a few pages of Mathilde’s section because I got to the point that Lotto just kills himself.

Fates, Furies, and Tobacco in Cameron, NC.

Fates, Furies, and Tobacco in Cameron, NC.

And then I was outtie, five thoughty.  Seriously, Lotto, you’re going to put us through your griping for (at a guess) one hundred and seventy pages and then kill yourself? Am I really ruining it for anyone who was late to this show and was going to pick it up a solid year after its big bestseller list extravaganza? I couldn’t even read Mathilde’s section because I. DIDN’T. CARE.

I felt for the woman. I did. Her character gets scraped off the pavement after being known as ghostly and definitely only sexy to Lotto who cheats on her (I think, can’t really remember since May) a lot.  But then Lotto, who she’s spent so much gas on just up and kills himself.  And I gotcha, I’m supposed to make the connection to that chick from his childhood and realize that grief tanks all of us in minuscule and big picture ways, but come on.

Matilda (spelled correctly, maybe?)

Matilda (spelled correctly, maybe?)

The only Mathilde I want to know is the one who watches that large boy eat the whole chocolate cake and gets taught by Ms. Honey.

I can’t. I couldn’t. I refuse. I won’t.

I probably should though since I have such strong feelings.  I may have even fake reviewed this at some point? But that’s not really my style so I doubt it.

I’m not saying I won’t read all of Lauren Groff’s other books, because I will, probably the second they come out, but I am saying that I feel lonely on this island of deplorables that just didn’t enjoy reading Fates and Furies.  (Notice we got out of the basket though).

(And come on, the metaphorical Greek / Roman tragedies abound here). ALLUSIONS!

No, really.

No, really.

Really, all I want you to get out of this blog today is that you need to go vote. And not because I disliked a book that everyone else liked, BUT because the people who are the most deplorable are those that don’t use their democracy when there are people around the world who get no voice at all. You’re given one, a tiny one on a piece of white copy paper that goes through a scanning counter that’s approximately seventy-two years old, but you get one nonetheless.  (Shhhh. #Imwithher).

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).

“Coal-Is-Dirty.com”

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.

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.

-POP