Because Everyone is Reading Rebecca Solnit.

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This is totes me on a day when I just couldn’t take anymore news.

I’ve crowned this year, “Year of Essays.”  And while I’d also really like to dedicate some time to the Outlander series and the free audiobooks I got when I cheated the system and got Audible for only as long as it took me to choose four free books — I may have stolen BJ’s too — approximately four minutes and thirty-seven seconds, I still want to read more nonfiction in the form of the essay.  I want to finally unpack Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, and Annie Proulx from my shelf. Basically, I want to read more women who fought back.  I’ve read A LOT of memoir and can swallow a short story in a sitting, but the form that always eludes me is the essay.  Maybe because I’ve tried to write several about the same ex-boyfriend? And maybe because I’m not sure how to know when to stop writing an essay?

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-9-24-29-pmI think it’s only fair then that I start with Rebecca Solnit.  She is the new age queen of the nonfiction essay. You may have seen her book Men Explain Things to Me all over Subways and feminist Instagram posts.  Her latest Hope in the Dark is on my reading list for this year so that I can try to make it through a Washington Post Twitter feed without crying in the morning before I’ve even had coffee.  However, I started with A Field Guide to Getting Lost. If you follow me on Instagram (@bookishcassie, shameless plug) then you know that I’ve felt very lost lately.

I actually think I’m losing brain matter, teaching kept me sharp. And I’ve always loved the poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art.”  During my worst year in college, the frustration came out in the form of locking my keys in my car.  Even once overnight, while running in the rain, I lost my keys to a dead engine. I cried to the last triple A guy, on the twelfth time.  You read that right, 12 incidents in a year of losing my mind long enough to leave my keys enclosed somewhere I wasn’t. In the beginning of our relationship, BJ was constantly losing things, or leaving them somewhere and forgetting them until just the right moment of overtime when we were walking out the door.  He doesn’t do this anymore, but I remember it being a test for me, I thought.  The little things we can handle due to love.

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Reading last week. It took me 10 days to read this book which is long for me. 

And I imagine these scenes of oddly connected things is what leads an essay.  At the deconstruction of an essay, if demolished, it would be these strange miscellaneous tools and objects that we’ve weaved together, not like a loom, but like shaking-hand crochet, to make meaning.  I think, at least, this is what Rebecca Solnit is doing in A Field Guide to Getting Lost.  There were moments where it worked for me so hard that I was furiously underlining passages and moments where this read more like a text book than a thoughtful process of braiding moments.

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Saturday trying to finish it, not even close. 

In the beginning she loiters over the idea of distance and the color of distance, blue.  We walk through mountains, towards an island on a dry lake, and through paintings — the amusement of painters in flight. This idea that distance and going towards it is a way of getting lost guides the reader through Solnit’s dreams from her childhood home.  Memories from this place haunt her dreams although she left the place in her late teens. There’s the distance between men and gold, the distance of extinct animals who both come back and remain undone.  This long-form essay is both a love letter to the distance of the desert and to a home that we can’t go back to.  All of these geographically lost things given new homes on the page. What we can know, what we pretend to know, and how our previous knowledge fills in gaps that we shouldn’t fill in is all also a part of this.  It’s our minds mixed with our place if I could describe it in the weakest terms.

“I survived not the outside world, but the inside one” (90).

I know this just sounds like some weird gak of nonsense, but it was beautiful at times.  There were moments where I could have licked the words to hold them in and moments where I was falling asleep reading.  I didn’t understand the ending on the Gold Rush trails, it all felt very boring-Oregan-Trail to me, but I think the message stands firm.  One must get lost to know oneself.  I’m sure some philosopher has said that well before me and in better form. We all do have something to find after all, right?

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Image from the Women’s March Raleigh, the rest of my images are on AlmostanIndependentClause.com

There were moments too when I was like “YAS, GIRL” because what she was saying was so true to what we’re currently living.  If you wake up devastated to the news you read, then you are feeling somewhat lost in a place that no longer looks like the home we’ve built as a nation.

“In these terms, even nostalgia and homesickness are privileges not granted to everyone” (123).

If you don’t read that quote thinking about refugees that have been further displaced by new “Executive Orders,” then you need to pick up a newspaper, or phone a friend.

“Such moments seem to mean that you have surrendered to the story being told and are following the story line rather than trying to tell it yourself, your puny voice interrupting and arguing with fate, nature, the gods” (134).

This, the time we finally decide to stand, against any odd.

“Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map’s information is what’s left out, the unmapped and unmappable. One of those in-depth local or state atlases that map ethnicity and education and principal crops and percentage foreign-born makes it clear that any place can be mapped infinite ways, that maps are deeply selective” (160).

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Today when Fro and I finally finished this one. 

I’d be lying if I believed that where you were born didn’t immediately dictate about fifty-percent of your life choices.  As a privileged American woman, I face the idea of sliding into complacency and believing I’m owed what I’m given.  The other option is realizing my own privilege and trying to narrow those gaps by fighting side by side, and listening to those who are faced with far less than I. I think Solnit finds that deep connection to geography, to home, to the memories that we apply to every landscape we press feet to. I think Dr. Seuss and the mantra “Oh the Places You Go” would be the child version of this idea.

I can’t argue that this is a perfect book by any means.  But the ideas in it, the way they’re imperfectly balanced against and for one another made this such a meaningful read.  I will read the rest of Solnit this year and I will eat each word like a delicacy because I know not everyone, and especially not all girls are given that right.

And words are everyone’s right.

 

Readathons: DiverseAThon

I suck at readathons.  I think I read harder when no one is making it a “thing” and it’s just something I know I need to do for my own mental well-being.  However, there are a few readathons that represent matters close to my human bean spirit.

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Twitter Chats: DiverseAThon

DiverseAThon is one of those very readathons. It is a readathon for celebrating diverse literature; diverse authors, diverse places, and diverse histories.  Kelly’s Rambles actually introduced me to it from her blog.  DiverseAThon has its own Twitter handle and hashtag.  They’re actually hosting a Twitter Chat tonight at 8 pm for anyone interested and they will do one everyday for the entirety of the week long readathon.  It’s always good to chat with like-minded people, especially if you’re like me and you strongly prefer spending your Sundays only talking to your animals.  My week actually consists of the nagging thought, “Is it Sunday yet?” This is the life of the homebody.

 

c2tobw-uqaipsopBecause they’re social media savvy and know that bookworms prefer various social media tools, there are Instagram prompts as well.  I won’t be participating in these, but I will gladly like all of your pictures if you choose to. All of this is up for grabs on the twitter account.

I believe whole-heartedly in supporting diverse literature.  This all stemmed from being in the classroom and realizing that there were so few books with stories that mirrored what my students went through without turning them into stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs.  I’ve said many times on this blog that I believe we need books that are windows and books that are mirrors.  Literature that we can see ourselves in is just as important as literature that transports us to new cultures and new ideas, when both of these types merge and we find ourselves at the precipice of empathy, that is just a gift.

I found that my students had obsessively read The Bluford series.  Each book was chapped and cracked open, with wrinkles of age and smudges from chip fingers holding tightly to the stories.  My students would walk to the library afterschool to get to these boxed books.  Of course I had to read them.  What I found, with fear, is that my students couldn’t find much outside of the Bluford Series.  It was its own beautiful niche, but knowing that hurts.  Where are the other books that represent my students? As the faces looking back at me in my classroom became more and more diverse (I moved to an area very close to a Lumbee Reservation), I had to search that much deeper through the glossed hardbacks in the library for books that not only reflected their stories, but wrote them thoughtfully and truthfully.  Now, Tweeters and book people like Debbie Reese, Roxanne Gay, Diverse Books, and Angie Manfredi keep me clued into literature today that is not only diverse, but accurate, meditative, and compassionate to the characters and stories within.

None of this stops because I’m out of the classroom.  I still worry that students get to the high school classroom having only read dead-white-male authors.  I still think about how often I turned to Patricia Smith when the textbooks were emptied of what I called in the classroom “literature in bubbles.”  Where all characters were able-bodied, straight, and assumed to be white.  (I’m still a little peeved with JK Rowling for just announcing one day that Dumbledore was gay without actually writing that into the literature).  I even taught world literature and was fascinated with the very few tribal stories, and aboriginal stories contained in the textbooks.  A lot of the beginning stories came from The Bible actually. Meh. In fact, I’m not sure there was one aboriginal story in the newest textbook in our book room. By year two, I had decided not to teach from the textbook at all (this involved killing a lot of trees, I’m sorry nature, until I could prove to my principal that I needed more technology).

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Pie Graph from The Rumpus / Roxanne Gay

In 2012, Roxanne Gay wrote in The Rumpus that 90% of the authors reviewed in the NY Times are white.  (There’s a pie graph in the article if you’re too lazy to actually read it).  The Guardian recently wrote that the publishing industry is dominated by white females, which definitely shows in the books published recently.  FiveThirtyEight wrote about children’s books being “still very white” and in 2015 Sunili Govinnage wrote about reading books only by minority authors for a year and found, “just how white our reading world really is.”  Govinnage gives a list of books read, if you’re interested in reading Diverse Books during the challenge, or making it a focus for this year which I highly recommend.  Vida Count has been giving us data for multiple years now on the publishing industry and its diversity. See 2015 here and look at the trends from years prior.

While I don’t think dedicating just a week of the 52 you have in a year to diverse literature is enough, I do believe it’s a start if you read mostly white-washed literature.  And I don’t mean “diverse” to only categorize race, but race, gender, sexuality, illnesses, disabilities, geography, landscape, and histories.  (I really want to put etc, but I almost feel like that’s really inconsiderate). I need to do better at reading books with characters that have different sexualities than my own.  I think I will make that a goal of this year.  Actually at the women’s march yesterday I had to explain a poster to my best friend that read, “Support all of your sisters, not just your cisters.”  Without diverse literature, I would never be able to understand and empathize with that sign.

If you’re considering participating and you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of some of my favorite diverse authors, and diverse character choices.  I would love to chat with you about any of these.

 

I am going to read the following few books during this DIVERSEATHON, particularly:

I honestly can’t believe I haven’t read In the Time of Butterflies yet, but I just haven’t.  Comment below if you have some FABULOUS recommendations of diverse books or ways you support diverse and amazing authors. I look forward to hearing about your diverse reads in the Diversathon.  Follow the readathon on Twitter, Instagram and read along with me. YAY! Let’s get “he who shall not be named” out of Simon and Schuster and get their diverse and deserving authors promoted. This is also a way to continue what you started at the Women’s March by reading and advocating for women of color, and women of differing sexualities. Make sure you post what you’re reading and write about the why. When people know you’re why, they’re more likely to invest.

“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.

Some Commentary + Ocean Vuong

Any review I generate here is not going to do this book justice. At all. Ever. If you can stand that idea, then keep reading.

23841432I know that Copper Canyon Press produces again and again significant and deeply meaningful poetry collections, but Ocean Vuong’s poetry in Night Sky With Exit Wounds is like nothing I’ve read before.  I went through some Goodreads reviews to see if everyone else thought this was fatal magic like I did, but there are some pretty critical men reviewers.  I found that kind of interesting because, like I’ve talked about in other blogs, I always wonder how much who we are when we come to a book impacts our feelings about said book.  Obviously, I have only ever read this book as a late-twenties-white-female-fan-of-beautiful-words.  No, seriously, when the guy at the desk next to me asked me what kind of books I read last week I said, “the ones with pretty words.”  I think I lost all credibility in that moment, but there’s really no other definition.  I could try to be more thoughtful with it, but what’s the use when I could be spending that time reading poetry like Ocean Vuong’s.

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This one, up here, was my favorite review.

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Notes on Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds

That’s the funny thing about reviews.  I loved this book, I wanted to eat it and share it with everyone I knew who would just “get it.”  I underlined hundreds of lines, wrote six pages of notes, was inspired to write poems about my grandfather on my mother’s side, and have post-its galore sticking neon from the pages.  I have a tender spot for poetry about heritage because in my long list of “writing territories” I write a lot, and I mean A LOT about womanhood, generations, passing down, and my grandmother.  Lately, I’ve been writing about my Dad, but my grandmother, the place that she’s buried, and what I can remember of her in the hospital after her stroke come up often on the page.

But reviews are sometimes more about the person who read the book than the actual book.  If you read them seriously, if you devolve into a book blog spiral the same way you can rabbit hole on X-factor videos, you can learn about a lot about people, specifically bookish people.  Sure, we have things in common like a lot of us prefer cats, or we drink enough coffee to not mind it black, or when we get overwhelmed we are in desperate need of pockets of quiet, but in reviewing books we are wholly ourselves.

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I also love this review…

I’ve never read a book review that didn’t have the voice of the person who wrote it.  Whether that be scene child, literature critic, NY shower curtain separated apartment dweller, or me, that girl who goes on tangents that I find a little funny, like quips.

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I thought this Google example was particularly funny.

Lately, on Twitter, I’ve been seeing people attacked for their reviews.  For all kinds of things about books, but most recently, for not liking the voice of a novel.  The reviewer used some choice language and called the book’s language “slang.”  Someone with a follower count above 500 read it and a bunch of people decided they would “educate” the blogger through harassment about their knowledge of AAVE.  (I’m really not sure AAVE is even the correct term for the colloquialism in this book because I have no idea what the book was). Whether the reviewer was correct or not, their opinion is now only solidified by the swarm of others who join in on the bullying.

When someone calls them out on it (which wasn’t me by the way, but should have been), they passive aggressively discuss how there’s a difference between being “critical” and “harassing.”  (I know, I realize by talking around it I’m being passive aggressive right now too).  The thing that bothers me the most about this is that when confronted, the Twitter mob will say things like, “I’m uncomfortable and I’m hurting by what was said so if she feels just an ounce of the my hurt as a POC, then I’m sorry, but I don’t regret it.”

previewI get that. But I also get that my Mom always told me “two wrongs don’t make a right.”  I get that literature needs diverse books (DUH).  I get that readers want books to be both mirrors and windows and that the amount of white authors, and white people on covers far out number that of any other race.  It’s actually pretty disgusting.  This makes me desperately sad. As a reader, I try to support publishers that support diversity.  I buy books about the experiences our world is facing so I can better understand how to help and when to stay quiet (shut up and listen).  I read, more than anything else, to be culturally responsible.

Thus, Ocean Vuong.  Thus, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Thus, the other side of the face of the Vietnam War.  Because war always has a face and it’s always bleeding no matter what side you’re on.  And those that win, they pronounce that win in the books of history and own not just the “win,” but the content, the stories, the shape of the culture behind that win.  This has led us to where we are today.  I don’t believe that by capturing a snip-it of a review and calling someone a racist on Twitter, and encouraging others to do the same helps people heal or understand.  I also don’t believe most people go into the world hoping that they can expose their own ignorance, their own racism, their own blatant disrespect for other human beans.  I believe people, at their core, understand like a solid 3% of what other people, like them or not, go through on a daily basis.

douchecanoeWe were all brought up to believe something. Given a life, we are able to either uphold or upend those beliefs. It is our choice whether that comes from books, or experiences, or understanding a counter culture, or holding tight to a historical wrong, or writing our way out of all of it. I think we have to remember that people aren’t choosing to be assholes (most of the time).  Now, some people, yep, full throttle douche canoes, but most people just have no understanding of your uncomfortable, your misunderstanding, your belittlement, your poor treatment.  So, to educate, recommend them a book.  Recommend them a song or its lyrics.  Point them towards the most truthful perspective of the history they don’t understand.

Hate that authors who write bisexual characters always use “likes girls and guys?” Then email them, email the publisher, write a letter, talk more openly so that people hear the right thing more often.  Hate that a chick says there could be no characters with disabilities in Lord of the Flies because that wouldn’t work? Write a new chapter on Scribd, on Live Journal, on your blog.  Make the case that Piggy wasn’t able-bodied.  Write a book with characters who live in the real world and not a bubble of it.  Talk to someone at school, at lunch, at work, in the street that isn’t able-bodied and learn their perspective.

wenger-howapoetnamedoceanmeanstofixtheenglishlanguage-1200So, here. Here is Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection.  Here is a collection of poems dedicated to a heritage, a gene pool, and a man who loves other men, and his life shone back to him in a notebook. Here is a life on a page, like every life, that’s worth reading.  And it’s beautiful.  The repetition, the word play, the imagery, I couldn’t even breathe sometimes while I was reading.

I didn’t even realize that I was holding my breath.

I’m going to link to some of his poems down here. And then I’m going to expect you to buy this book from Copper Canyon.  Once you’ve read through every page like its a track slick with grease, I want you to read each one slowly.  Then, I want to talk to you about it in the comments because I just don’t have the “stuff” to even review this one.

Because the middle-aged white guys didn’t love this book, I went through the recommendations they made in their reviews.  And I will read them (Sarah Howe and Andrew McMillian).  Because maybe it’s me that’s missing something about Vuong and in order to justify that it’s not, I’m going to read their recommendations.  At the end of the day, my life is about how well I understood, cared for, and tended to other people.  So, I’m going to do that with as much respect as I can muster.

I also have A LOT of feelings about this article, but they’re probably for a whole other blog. If in our need to rectify histories, we discount other histories that impact the histories we’re trying to protect, then what the hell?

 

True Life: #bookstagram

There’s some odd wonderings that have come from the world of #bookstagram.  You know the world: lots of latte art, white comforters, plaid scarves, unfinished oak tables, quote pillows, and fat mugs.

At least that’s if you’re not one of those #bookstagrammers who sets up a whole scene with Christmas lights in the right season, or plastic fall leaves, all the things you wouldn’t grab if your house was on fire. Most of these people awe me daily with the way they present their books and their tiny details.  I wonder what percentage of them become decorators, architects, designers, or other creative pursuits.

#Bookstagram is extreme.  Your success doesn’t amount to how much you read, or even how much you blog, but really who notices and why.  It’s the same with most careers, the more important people you know, the better your network.

So, here’s a list for an episode of MTV’s True Life: I’m a #bookstagram(mer).  Or just a general list of what’s trending and what’s successful in the #bookish world to date.

BYOB (Be your own barista) OR you live within .2 miles of a fancy coffee shop that costs you approximately $34 a week:

*If you hover over the images, it will show you who to follow.

I love latte art like the next gal.  And I’m totally guilty of making my latte cocky with too many selfies, but when you have a great barista, and your latte looks like a rose’s cheek, then you can’t help yourself.  However, I also work everyday and although I just recently changed jobs to one where I could go sit in a cafe during my lunch break, (which I’m totally going to do because my jealousy of this latte art is at a high level), I understand if the average #bookstagrammer can’t manage this trend. Here’s a helpful coffeetube.

The mystery of the white comforter / white corner / white table (A Nancy Drew collectible):

White walls used to be for the insane, but who says #bookstagram isn’t crazy? I live in fear of accidentally (and totally) buying a white comforter for these shots only to spill immense amounts of coffee (and let’s be honest cheese) on it. I’m clearly the only one.

You need a window. Get a window. TO THE WINDOW, TO THE WALL:

Natural light goes a LONG way in the Bookstagram world, you know, window to the soul and all that.

Say it with a view:

Everyone has to vacay … not this crowd.  Stop on the beach and hold up a book.  In the snowy mountains skiing, no problem, a book fits perfectly in that inner, inner, deep layer of your third sweater in.

Hoard Trinkets:

I would just make a plain and total mess of this, but @foldedpagesdistillery knocks it out of the park every. single. time.

Color Coordinate: 

Guilty as charged.

Open Up a Little:

We have to prove we’re actually reading somehow, don’t we?

Bookstagram is a cheeky business.  Newcomers are coming on daily and they may have better light in their house, bigger windows, a cheaper coffee house than F.R.I.E.N.D.S (and that one was pretty much free while Jen was there). There are big names in the game like @igreads and people who have gotten jobs at publishing houses because they’re book-famous.  Gain 40k followers, get your dream job.  We live in a strange world folks, but #bookstagram is always there to make you question your lifestyle choices and how too few books you’re reading for that inevitable Goodreads Challenge.

I need to start a new hashtag like #bookoff for when I just want to post a picture of the Beej without any books (or cats).  But you can’t. Bookstagram doesn’t rest, and neither should you.

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.

This is Uncomfortable.

516p2sfbk-l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Sometimes writing makes you really uncomfortable, and not in the Lolita sort of way because that’s more of a revulsion. And not uncomfortable like the boy on the subway who’s too busy manspreading to notice that you need room to lean your chin on your elbow to read.  No, uncomfortable in the way that perfection seems just a little more real, a little more visceral and in your face. And that’s terrifying because we really don’t want everything to be perfect, do we? That’s how I thought about Warsan Shire’s new poetry collection, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth.

I never thought I would have to add manspreading to my personal dictionary, but here we are. Uncomfortable.

712b2cjwcqslI think it made me uncomfortable because for the last five years I’ve come to understand my privilege as a white woman in America. While sometimes I still find the heat rising when I read tweets blaming the white population as a collective whole, and I want to respond immediately with “don’t lump me in with those people.” Or I find myself huffing over side comments my best friend Seth makes about “using my privilege.” Like wearing “I’m with Her” t-shirts, stickering my computer with Red Bubble social justice and having my students discuss race, gender, and class with every text or task makes up for a smooth series of injustices caused by this country. Injustices that I can’t even see because I’m blinded by the grocery list of privilege that I carry.

This is what Warsan Shire brings us to in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, this idea of perfection. That perfection that I’m second closest to as a white woman in America, I stared it down a little harder with Shire.  Not only does she make us look at our own womanhood and the experiences we live because of it, but also at the blemishes of the world that we ask to be both hidden and forgiven from.

“Her body is a flooding home. / We are afraid. We want to know / what the water will take away from us, / what the earth will claim as its own.”

tumblr_nvd32lvceo1qzghgbo1_500Just the other day I was listening to the local radio show and the host Erica was asking to be shielded from the actual news because “all it is is murder.”  And why do we want to be shielded from this? I would argue that it’s not because we can’t deal with the fact that humanity is a cruel beast, but that we don’t want that news to interfere with our beautiful lives, our perfect lives.  We want ignorance is bliss. We don’t want the effect.   And this is what Seth is always arguing on Facebook.  When people argued that she wished people wouldn’t block highways for #blacklivesmatter Seth told everyone who agreed that they just don’t get it. It isn’t about safety anymore, it’s about the impact on someone’s everyday. The “This is Water” that David Foster Wallace was talking about. An interruption so huge that it makes us look.

“We stare at the small television in the corner of the room / I think of all the images she must carry in her body, / now the memory hardens into a tumor” (30).

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Warsan Shire for The New Yorker

This is the same with Warsan Shire.  The refugee crisis does not impact me directly… ever? And that’s why I haven’t given to one charity in support of refugees. When it doesn’t impact my day, I’m in my own water, my selfish needs trump anything happening thousands of miles away. Instead I ask myself will it really ever get into the hands of the people that need it? Or I say I’m doing my part by working in high poverty schools like that’s some sort of penance for the lives that crossed seas and land and didn’t make it. Just one stop short. Like that’s a penance for anything really.  (It’s not. People should stop saying that like it makes them a Saint).  I might, one life ago, have used this book as a reason to say that I’m informing myself of the problem. I’m facing our world in all it’s hot breath, commotion, scars, but I can’t even say that with a straight face anymore.

“Your daughter is ugly / She knows loss intimately, carries whole cities in her body” (31).

729be0294f86d3d9fd9946238d5a39feIt’s pretty uncomfortable right, facing those leftovers within us? There are people carrying anthems instead of extra shoes.  People who know no other language but the one of disaster.  Children who have never had a home because their home is a back on a road. I found this collection so moving because it stared back. It asked me “and what have you done lately?” It spoke, “and your perfection for this?”

“I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue, or another language” (24).

Colin Kaepernick, Eric ReidAnd we’re upset over a man in a jersey kneeling.  Just think about it. If you can stare it down without putting your face to your knees, then congratulations, you’ve compartmentalized it all.  Satisfaction over human life. Tragedy of war. Look the other way. Turn your cheek. All those little white lies we tell ourselves.

And then there’s womanhood. When the social studies teacher next door to me discusses how great all his girls are in class and it’s really the boys that we’re all failing, shouldn’t we blame society a little?  Could it be that we taught girls to sit pretty, be quiet, work hard to get ahead, keep your sexuality as secret as your faith. Do not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. (Matthew 6.3).  Do not trade words for parts of your bodies. This is all told to us from an early age and Warsan Shire turns that on its head too.  I’m not going to lie I was really uncomfortable with all the sexual references in this collection.  As much as I preach “Girls Rule the World,” I still can’t shake the belief that being a good girl means a certain level of modesty.  And I’m the first to say we shouldn’t add drama as women, we should support each other, but when Kylie comes up in her underwear everyday on Snapchat, I sit in the fog of judgment, like the good little girl that I am… (… sucks).

“Her body is one long sigh.”

cfa966b056ebe73961faf13b3ce3f7c1There were a lot of tongues in this collection. And not the Biblical kind. The erotic kind. Sometimes it felt like an invasion of privacy. The way we always say, “I just like to keep some things private” when we start a new relationship and our Mom is asking all kinds of questions about his family, and his upbringing and what he wore. I found the poems about refugees, home, culture, and heritage more moving than the erotic poems, but that’s not to say that these didn’t also impact my level of restlessness.

“Why did you not warn her, / hold he like a rotting boat and tell her that men will not love her / if she is covered in continents, / if her teeth are small colonies, / if her stomach is an island / if he thighs are borders. What man wants to lie down / and watch the world born / in his bedroom?” (31).

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Image from Tumblr. If you know who made it, please let me know so I can give them credit. 

I think this is an important collection for any woman in our current times, from any cultural background. We need to check ourselves. And not just sometimes, but all the time. I remember when I got “Poverty Training” for my old county’s teaching professional development and I came to the idea that even the ways that department stores are laid out are made for the middle class.  The way our current world is structured and maintained is for the middle class. I think it’s high time for us to think about this too in terms of culture, in terms of race, in terms of gender.

If in my whole life, I spend more time uncomfortable than comfortable, then I must be making more rights than wrongs. How uncomfortable are you willing to be?


 

Because That Mom Wants to Ban TKAM

Books are challenged all the time.  The political state of America is just (and always) getting hotter.  In a time where we need books more than ever, particularly books that foster discussion of racial barriers, gender barriers, and sexuality barriers, a school system has decided to ban two books that illuminated (and still do) the American experience.  And I would put “in the South” after that last sentence but I feel like that doesn’t take into account all the reverberations from Southern attitudes and culture on the rest of our nation, and really, the world.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I can think of several reasons to not teach To Kill a Mockingbird.  The one I most often use is that while this book is a true “coming of age” tale, that doesn’t mean it was written that way.  The narrator of this novel is an old woman looking back on her childhood. It’s not written from the child, or high school perspective, it’s written from the perspective of a woman who has lived a whole life and is flipping to which scrap book page story she will tell.  Although I don’t love teaching this book to students (not true, I loved it one year), would I ever ban this book from a classroom or institution of literacy, hell no.

To Kill a Mockingbird is arguably one of the most important books written about the South.  There’s an idyllic father, a neighborhood of interesting people, and a family built on the moral code of a saint.  (See: Go Set a Watchman for what I believe is more of the truth).  This part of the book is set against the part of the book that contains the trial of Tom Robinson and a look into not only the class system of the novel but the racial prejudice of the community. Tom Robinson, likewise, is a family man, idyllic in his own way, but due to lack of means (thanks to the community he lives in and the history of the US) lives in a community of people who hate him. One could argue, and I will, that this festering belief has sparked where we are today with #blacklivesmatter because black people are damn tired of being hated (in action AND words).

Love this poster for Banned Book Week from ALA

Love this poster for Banned Book Week from ALA

The problem I have with banning this book is the reasoning behind the parent’s wishes. She says her son “struggled to read the racist language,” furthermore, “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” And finally, “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

I could seriously give her some slurs right now, but we all know that solves nothing.

The problem with the mentality of this mother, and her son because he’s learning this wacked-out belief system, is that if we don’t give students the space to learn the context and scope of these words then they will always see them as “those that shall not be said.” I don’t want kids going around calling other kids n-words, but I also don’t want students to understand the implications behind language like this.

The belief, and I’m not sorry at all for this Donald Trump, but that words FUCKING matter.  And they are much larger than “curse words.” Words that appear in this book have connotations that could have potentially changed throughout times, that certain groups of people own and certain groups of people can never respect, words that have not only historical meaning, but meaning to our current world as well because the full mouth of their history has carried through to today.

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And the problem with our society is that instead of talking about, instead of asking @shishirose her definition, we push it under the rug, for the seven hundredth time and hope our little Chris or Patrick or Jean keeps that word to the confines of his own house, or his own friend group, or just keeps it locked away silent in his brain somewhere never to be used. We say it’s okay “as long as you don’t say it to those people, or we say “it’s never okay, it’s a dirty word, don’t say it.”  But if a child never gets educated on the context, the scope, and let’s not forget the HUMANS that this word has shaped, refined, developed, and trampled, then what is the point in any conversation ever? What are you protecting them from … life?

This isn’t life, people. This isn’t how we educate students on how to have a conversation. How to speak not to, but with people who are different from them so that they don’t end up with one token “different” friend because they’re too scared to love anyone who doesn’t agree with them, have the same upbringing as them, or understand the connotation of the words the same way they do.

You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

I’ve been reading the book You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent.  In the very beginning after the introduction, she discusses her growing up and having to choose a side because biracial wasn’t accepted (I’m not sure if I should have said that sentence in the past. You know how America loves its binaries).  She came to call herself a “mutt” in between figuring out who wanted what side of her.  Nugent goes through the realization that if she just discusses her white side she can get a job, a better paying job. But at what cost? She says, “My identity comes from how I feel.” and “We have to speak, in all our different voices, to tell our unique stories.  I will always tell mine” (30).  This is what I mean about words.  When we start banning books.  Wait, when we start banning words. Then, what else are we banning?

Words come with culture too. And the way we use them waves our beliefs in the air (like we just don’t care).  To ban a book is like banning a historical moment, blipping out that time period for your child.  To ban a book is like a blacking over, smudging out a whole culture of people who have come to either own that word, be known by that word, or despise that word because of the historical or societal weight it carries. To ban a book for a word is leaving out a narrative that could have educated your child on how to live in a world, a world in our “current political climate” and navigate it so that instead of hurting other people, they love them. With their words, because what else do they have?