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Notable Quotables | From the Moleskine

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

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

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

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

Quote from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Quote from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

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

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

The mess is where the light is.

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Diagon Alley Dippage

THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER

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

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Hogwarts Express

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

We. nerded. out.

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Diagon Alley Dippage

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Notable Quotables from The Moleskine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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

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

Image @ Skinny Artist

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

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

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

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Notable Quotables | From the Moleskine

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

We Were on a break! Gif @ Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Army Advertisement for Women (Creative Commons)

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

We Should All Be Feminists

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

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Maira Kalman and Browned Photos | A Review

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Maira Kalman & Daniel Handler & MoMA created these lovelies. Processed with VSCOcam with a5 preset

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

A Maira Kalman painting from Girls Standing on Lawns

A Maira Kalman painting from Girls Standing on Lawns

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

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

Painting by Maira Kalman in Girls Standing on Lawns

Painting by Maira Kalman in Girls Standing on Lawns

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

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

Painting from Hurry Up and Wait by Maira Kalman

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

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

 

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Notable Quotables from the Moleskine

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

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

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is okay.

It’s 2016 and this is okay.

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

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INFORMATION:

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

 

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Year in Review & #ReadingBingo for 2016

This is my last post of 2015 and it feels really odd.  It’s almost a new year and with that come some reading resolutions.  See below! Also, see if you want to participate in #readingbingo this year with me.  If you do, comment below and hashtag #readingbingo on your Instagram and Twitter.  Can’t wait to read with you guys this year.

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Reading Resolutions

Here is the “Reading Bingo” I plan on doing as one of my Reading Resolutions. Feel free to share on your blog, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, just please give me credit.

Bingo

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Knife of Never Letting Go: The Ben Stiller Movie of Young Adult Fiction

Along Came Polly with Ben Stiller (Not what I’m reviewing)

You know whenever you watch Ben Stiller movies, and Ben Stiller just gets ripped a new one over and over and over again until you just can’t handle anymore of the “dumpage” on his character?  This is true for his movies like Along Came Polly, Meet the Fockers (2-79), Meet the Parents, and other films where he’s the romantic male lead.  These movies don’t make me want to date “the nice guy,” but they do help me to imagine a real life dating scenario where my Dad has a secret panic room and he uses it to polygraph my boyfriends.

Films like these are sometimes a little too similar to young adult novels.  In fact, I think this is one of the things that separates young adult novels from true adult literary fiction.  There must be a big twist.  It must be able to adapt to a big screen, hypersensitive audience that’s used to automatic gratification in the world of social media and so they read in order to prolong the inevitable *almost* happy ending.  In adult books, if someone is getting treated horribly wrong, it’s more likely that the ending will be “satisfying,” or “complete,” but not quite dreamland happiness.  See for example: Bastards Out of Carolina, The Glass Castle, Sula, The Bone People, Loving Frank, Go Set a Watchman, God-Shaped Hole, White Oleander, Invisible Man, or any Philip Roth book.  

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness Question: Did these books all come out at the same time because I can’t imagine readers waiting for the second one with this sort of dissatisfaction in the ending?

On the contrary though, while we expect adult books to break our heart in more subtle ways, young adult books are allowed to bend the rules of epic plot twists and break our hearts in one large kerplunk, the way a giant might step on a small human heart like an elevator landing.  See: Any John Green book ever, Eleanor and Park, and the book I’m supposed to be getting to in this blog, Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, the first in the Chaos Walking Trilogy.

I didn’t like this book. I know, I’m going against the grain here, but it was pretty unrealistic, had a terrible ending, and doesn’t quite hit the questions it needed to. And let me say that I realize this is a trilogy and somewhere along the way in this three-part series, there are the golden arches of happiness and birds are singing, but in this book, it was just entirely too dramatic with little to no payoff.  This is the book version of a Ben Stiller movie.

The book begins in Prentisstown, an all male town where the men have something called “Noise.” The Noise is this endless loop of thoughts coming out of the heads of the townsmen.  Every man can hear every other man’s thoughts and although there are moments where we see men can bury secret noise under other everyday noise, there’s not much hiding what’s going on in your head in Prentisstown.  A boy named Todd is about to come of age and he would be the last boy to become a man in the town.  Without women, obviously the town is doomed to die off (which is hanging over the novel the whole time, but never really mentioned).  He has a dog named Manchee and he’s your typical, angry thirteen year old.   One day, he meets a silence (a girl) and they are forced to run to other settlements without knowing why, and the only information they have is a book written to Todd by his mother which he can’t read because books have been banned in Prentisstown.  The girl and Todd are forced to reckon with the wilderness, men of Prentisstown forming an army to find them, a tyrannical preacher, creatures of the planet called Spackles that everyone thinks went extinct during the “war,” and the rest of the population which Todd must discover as he travels across New World.

Noise on a page

Wooph, that was a lot of information.

The problem with this book is that there are very few happy moments that are not met with immediate despair.  Every time Todd, Manchee (his dog), and the silence (what we’re going to call her so that I don’t ruin anything), are forced to sprint (literally, the word used most often for their travels in the novel) across New World for WEEKS with a knapsack of food, a few human helping hands, and a knife.  Sometimes, the silence pulls these extraterrestrial, technologically unsound advantages from her backpack, but mostly that’s what they have.  I have a real problem with people who sprint for an entire novel, get beat up about every forty pages, catch fevers that put them in comas, and still are able to get up and sprint for the last one hundred pages.  The unlikeliness of this in a world of human endeavor is so far out of reach that it got pretty annoying.

Love this cover so much more.

I realize that there are those of you that will claim that this is a “fantasy novel,” or a “science fiction novel,” so anything is allowed, but that’s just unrealistic.  The power in fantasy/sci-fi novels is that they mix the realistic human spirit with the miraculous world of magic and science.  We fall for those characters because they seem so similar to us in so many ways, yet they live in these twisted worlds that are either the future imaginings of ours, or other planets all together where new triumphs of the human spirit can be found.  This is why Ender’s Game is such a powerful male young adult novel.  Ender is so, so, human for lack of better wording, and he’s still expected to face the devils of outer space in order to save his home planet.  While I believe Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the closer books I’ve found for a male young adult audience, I don’t think it knocks it out of the park.

Fan art that I can’t seem to give credit to (http://theknifeofneverlettinggo-ness.weebly.com/plot-overview.html) came from here.

I see the philosophical ideas that Ness was trying to play with.  One of my best friends plans to use this book in her seventh grade classroom to tackle those essential questions, but without the classroom guidance and discussion what young adult really thinks about those things past the adventure of the book?  Ness toys with this idea of gender roles, and gender expectations, and also with the idea of silence and the idea of noise and how they blend together and balance in our world, but I’m not sure he takes it far enough to leave those lingering questions in a child’s mind.  Why is it that girls are always called quiet and sweet? Why is it that boys are the ones expected to produce violence? (And with this, are girls even allowed to be violent?) At what point in a culture does power become the one true asset to success?  What deaths are senseless and what deaths are essential? Even better, when is death an acceptable reaction or affect to some cause? These ideas aren’t pushed enough, in this first book at least, to leave a lasting empathetic impact on the reader.  I wasn’t asking these questions until I had to study the book for this blog.

(Deviantgrace @ Tumblr) (WishfulThinking @ Tumblr) This is Todd Hewitt from Knife of Never Letting Go

Now, don’t get me wrong, the pacing of this book is meant to satisfy.  Just when the reader is like “okay, we’ve been running enough,” Ness throws in a knife fight or a battle scar.  Like I said, every forty pages or so, we have a tragedy or a power struggle.  A middle grades boy would not be able to put this book down because it’s so compact and reads like a movie script.  The pacing, however, is set up for this “big reveal,” which is a COMPLETE let down.  Every time the reader gets close, we’re interrupted by someone on horseback, or the narrator decides “it’s too ugly to hear” and so Todd just shuts off his first person narration and leaves that carrot dangling.  It was far too long for me to read a swift run in the woods to actually know what was going on.

There are two death scenes that evoke real emotion in the reader.  The dog character is a bit like the dog in Up, but he is a character in and of himself and anyone with an animal will testify to the power of his character.  There’s also a clear group of people to root for.  There is no question about who the good guys are, however, there isn’t enough information about the bad guys other than glimpses of them taking over towns (by glimpses I mean Todd looks over his shoulder for two seconds and describes in a sentence what he sees the army doing which usually involves flames).  There’s a chase FOR THE ENTIRE NOVEL.

More fan art. (@flexreads on Pinterest)

Really though, I just don’t understand how much you can put one character through until the reader just wants a hint of pleasure.  There were moments when I thought (and Todd thought) that something more was happening with Viola.  I feel like there’s some connection there to his “becoming a man” at age fourteen.  However, a thirteen year old shouldn’t really have romantic yearnings for his female sidekick, that’s not what I’m looking for from a book with a thirteen year old protagonist.  I think Ness’ aging is a little off there because I have a feeling there will be love at some point in the series.  I just am not sure this romance was appropriate for this book. 

The ending is the part that really convinced me that I don’t need to read the other two.  The ending is a true cliffhanger which gave me honest to goodness rage.  I won’t ruin it for anyone, but I said “Really?” out loud and then closed the book like I was slamming a door and settled back into the couch.  Not only could the worst possible thing happen, but it happens alongside the second worst possible thing.  It was just, ugh.

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Sometimes books like this one remind me why I read mostly adult books. I follow a lot of readers on Instagram that gram a lot of young adult books and talk about their “fangirling.”  I just can’t get into books where tragedy is the selling point, or violence.  I don’t read to be torn apart, I read to be put back together.

But really, was Aaron even human? Or is he like part Spackle and I just missed something?