Recommendations, Please

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

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

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

This is where you come in.

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

I need recommendations.

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

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

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

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



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.












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.



Since We Can’t All Just Get Boxes of Books | A Very Merry Bookish Christmas

It’s the Very Merry Bookish Christmastime Again (and all other holidays celebrated at this point in the year).  If you want to get something special, for a nerd word on your list, check out the following items, categorized in random ways. Happy Shopping, word birds.

For the Classy Book Lover:


  1. Book Lover’s Chocolate @ Bridge Brands Chocolate, $19.99. BUY IT HERE.
  2. Penguin Drop Caps @ Penguin, Price Varies. BUY THEM HERE.
  3. Reader’s Table @ Brookstone, SALE $59.99. BUY IT HERE.
  4. Vintage Book of the Month Club @ Etsy: The Lonely Book Junkie, $170. BUY IT HERE.
  5. Library Embosser @ Horchow, $26.00. BUY IT HERE.
  6. Enchanted Library Candle @ Etsy: Form & Flux, $15.00. BUY IT HERE.
  7. Personalized Library Sign @ Etsy: Sweet Peony Press, $24.00. BUY IT HERE.
  8. Anything in the Cynthia Rowley for Staples Collection, Price Varies. BUY IT HERE.
  9. Grammar Teacups @ Etsy: Venue Decor, $32.00. BUY IT HERE.

For the Traveler Book Lover:


  1. Shakespearian Insult Bandages @ Mcphee, $5.95. BUY IT HERE.
  2. Steampunk Flask @ Entertainment Earth, $29.99. BUY IT HERE.
  3. Book on Book @ Buddy Tools. BUY IT HERE.
  4. Book Lover Matches @ Etsy: DippyLuLu, $22.00. BUY IT HERE.
  5. Book Tent @ Field Candy, $295.00 (LB). BUY IT HERE.
  6. Book Wrapped Pencils @ Etsy: Bouncing Ball Creation, $10.00. BUY THEM HERE.
  7. Assorted Library Card Set @ Paper Goods, $8.00. BUY IT HERE.
  8. Book Map Original Open Edition @ Dorothy, (LB)25.00. BUY IT HERE.
  9. Book Decals for Stairs @ Etsy: VIP Decals, $12.00. BUY THEM HERE.

For the Techie Book Lover:


  1. Periodic Table of World Literature @ Amazon, Out of Stock. BUY IT HERE.
  2. PosterText Poster @ Postertext, $29.95. BUY IT HERE.
  3. Book Lamp @ Lililite, (LB)$129. BUY IT HERE.
  4. Book Shaped Light @ Studio Mei Boom, (LB) 89.00 BUY IT HERE.
  5. Bookbook For Macbook Air @ Twelve South, $79.00. BUY IT HERE.
  6. Old Book Messenger Bag @ Thinkgeek, SALE $34.99. BUY IT HERE.
  7. La Sardinia Camera @ Thinkgeek, $199.99. BUY IT HERE.
  8. Captain America Steering Wheel Cover @ Etsy: Joy Ride Covers, $12.50 BUY IT HERE.
  9. Gear Bookends Personalized @ Etsy: Graphic Space Wood, $55.00. BUY IT HERE.

Gifts I Would Buy My Geeky Boyfriend:


  1. Edgar Allen Poe Socks @ Out of Print Clothing, $10. BUY THEM HERE.
  2. Olde Book Pillow @ Think Geek, $24.99. BUY IT HERE.
  3. Hogwarts Lounge Pants @ Think Geek, $24.99. BUY THEM HERE.
  4. Game of Thrones Banners @ Think Geek, $19.99. BUY THEM HERE.
  5. Doctor Who Bookends @ Think Geek, $79.99. BUY THEM HERE.
  6. Hobbit Map of Middle Earth @ Think Geek, $39.99. BUY IT HERE.
  7. Ministry of Magic Toilet Decal @ Etsy: Word Factory Design, $5.95+. BUY IT HERE.
  8. Nightmare Before Christmas Vinyl Wall Clock @ Etsy: High5Design, $50.00 BUY IT HERE.
  9. Pulp Fiction Movie Poster @ Etsy: Encore Design Studios, $9.95+. BUY IT HERE.

For The Whatever Type of Bookish I Am:


  1. Fold Over Clutch of Ancient Jerusalem @ Etsy: Efratul, $26.00. BUY IT HERE.
  2. The Book Was Better Tee @ Etsy: Yoma Wear, $15.00. BUY IT HERE.
  3. Felt Book Corner @ Etsy: Inspirational Gecko, $8.94. BUY IT HERE.
  4. Poetry Tights @ Etsy: Coline Design, $24.90+. BUY THEM HERE.
  5. Library Due Date Scarf @ Etsy: Cyberoptix, $44.00. BUY IT HERE.
  6. Alice in Wonderland Wall Decal @ Etsy: Mirshkastudio, $7.00+ BUY IT HERE.
  7. Stacked Book Necklace @ Etsy: My Mini Munchie, $18.00 BUY IT HERE.
  8. Custom Made Wooden Book Rack @ Etsy: Agustav, $110.00. BUY IT HERE.
  9. Women’s Cat Sweater @ Etsy: Xenotees, $39.99. BUY IT HERE.

Pre-Reading: Look at the Synonyms of Dark.

When I was younger, say nine, before ever watching crime television or probably ever experiencing 24 hour news as more than just background noise in my life, I would go to bed with the entire set of covers over myself, sometimes even the pillow over my head.  I had four night lights, one was an angel.  I had the story from my mother that houses with street lights never get robbed or forced over with intruders because they are too scared of the light.  That stick pole of light was a deterrent to the bad in the world.  Bad had many synonyms and many meanings.  I imaged the villain climbing the large green recycling can to get to the roof to climb through my painted-shut second story window (my father is not delicate with a brush).  I imagined a tree climbing villain, unmasked in his vanity, tiptoeing across a thin branch and knocking lightly before entering.  I, of course, would never let him in.IMG_7528

All of this happened in the dark.

I am still feet itching, clammy palmed, pinched shut eye, afraid of the dark. Occasionally I will do things to conquer it which is really little more than entering it.  Ghost tours in Williamsburg, trying to shower with only a night light in the morning to let myself adjust, keeping only one night light on in another room at night, not having to turn the porch light on every night so I can save the energy of the world.  In winter, at my old house, I had almost a comfortable relationship with the dark when I was able to sit in the living room with the blinds open to the pitch-black porch.  It was like looking through slivers of blackness, but not the whole (damn) thing.  Just enough room for peeping eyes. Even this would scare me so much that I would turn off the only television in the house and head to my room to find other things to do in the artificial light of bedroom fan.

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

I’ve never related this to my spirituality in anyway.  However, reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark, I realize that I have unconsciously submitted to thinking that the light is better than the dark.  The light is the goodness, the dark is not.  This is an archetype in literature that I have read since someone had to read to me.  And now that it has been pointed out to me, I realize that it is absolutely not true.  Even last night as I heard the hum of zombies (from my boyfriend marathoning The Walking Dead) while reading the book, I had to make my boyfriend close the sliding glass door and turn the rain (but mostly the darkness) off.  I couldn’t handle the thought of zombies and the thought of darkness.

Not only that, but this idea has also caused hate towards other people.  Race is a social construct based on lightness vs. darkness.  Healing is “white magic” and Harry Potter is banned in some counties because of “black magic.” In 1984, one of my first YA dystopian novels, the people who control and force Newspeak are “of the dark,” and the main character and his posse plan to meet somewhere “where there is no longer darkness.”  Not only that, but there is very little proof that street lights, or artificial lighting has decreased crime rates.

I didn’t buy this book for any of that.

I bought it because I thought it was a blind woman’s perspective on how she walks in the dark.  I read three words of the blurb and thought, “how interesting it might be to be blind,” but I certainly don’t wish it on myself.  What a got was an analysis of spirituality and revival by using the dark.

Cinderella // Brothers Grimm

Cinderella // Brothers Grimm

It opens with children.  It opens with commentary on how parents bring very little darkness into children’s life unless it can be conquered.  The original stories of the Brothers Grimm aren’t often read at Bedtime, particularly the one where Cinderella’s sisters get their eyes poked out by crows.  I don’t know about you, but knowing the adult I am today, I probably would of liked this version.

My parents live by the idea that Easter is a time of white lilies and sunshine, and my mother, incredibly, is a woman of pure light.  I associate this with her goodness.  Barbara Brown Taylor introduced me to the idea that Jesus rose in darkness.  Jesus became a man again in darkness.  Jesus was in the hole of a cave, covered over by a stone so no light could peak(and peek) in.  He was revived in the dark, the same way we are when we rest in the evenings.

She introduced me to the phases of the moon and how the moon, just as important as the sun, rises and falls, the same way a heroine must.  The moon, often said to be a female.

Taylor also hit a concept that I often say to my students, but don’t live in.  The idea that all characters have some dark and some light. A serial killer still has a mother that mourns his boy bowl cuts and school braces photos.  A saint still wishes that of another person to trip in the street.  There are dark emotions, but the world makes it a point to crush those, put time limits on them, and accept only a shallow amount of these emotions, as if when the dam is broken there will be no way to keep the flood of shadow away.

One of the main things that tip people toward garden-variety depression, she says, is a ‘low tolerance for sadness.’  It is the inability to bear dark emotions that causes many of our most significant problems, in other words, and not the emotions themselves.  When we cannot tolerate the dark, we try all kinds of artificial lights, including but not limited to drugs, alcohol, shopping, shallow sex, and hours in front of the television set or computer (78). 

I make this sound like a how-to live in the dark book though.  That’s not it at all.  This book took an emotional toll on me.  Everything I had previously believed about pitch-black darkness just wasn’t true.  And I had this epiphany just before accidentally picking out this book.  I was walking my dog at 5 am, a time when I can assure you that only the dog and I exist in the world, and I looked up in the middle of the street and saw the stitch of stars, and they weren’t soft – they were loud.  They were the loudest thing in that time of morning.  And I just wanted to stand there and listen to them while Tucker sniffed the grass and the sounds of the world hadn’t started, and the only real thing I could hear was my breath, hot in the air, and the stars, making a catastrophe.

That’s why this book was a moment. It was a moment for me when things changed in my life, or are changing. I am inspired by the story of the man, Lusseyran, in Taylor’s book, who became blind at a young age and realized how much more power he had over his own sight when he had lost the actual sense.


Lusseyran, smoking @ l’aveungle clairvoyant

Taylor says, “There is so much more visual information available to most of us than we really want to see that we close our eyes to think, to kiss, or to listen” (92).  Lusseyran says only a few pages later, “With practice, he learned to attend so carefully to the world around him that he confounded his friends by describing things he could not see.  He could tell trees apart by the sounds of their shadows.  He could tell how tall or wide a wall was by the pressure it exerted on his body.  ‘The oak, the poplar, the nut tree have their own specific levels of sound,’ he wrote by way of explanation” (104).  Taylor talks about looking at a table and knowing its story by feeling the grooves of the marks left on it, the way it stands or leans, the gloss, the feel of the wood, all done in darkness.

I’ve never had this experience because I haven’t had to walk in darkness.  I can always, in a first would country, turn on a light, unless I’m forced into natural disaster where then darkness is a thing we call the cable company about and complain that we are not able to keep our milk cold.  I look for the right light for Instagram photos and filter more brightness into my life that way as well.  I expect flashlights to widen their circle and shine. I rely on night lights to sleep still and snooze carefully.

This is not a lesson in self-help.  This is a lesson in humanity.  It’s what it means to see that you’ve missed a whole half of the world when you were looking clearly, and glaringly into the other half.  It might be possible that I’ve spent too much of this quarter of life in the light and it’s time that I camped in the wilderness, kissed against bare winter trees in the evenings, and had more conversations with the man that I love when we can listen to our hearts in the dark because the noise has lessened and that is the only bright thing left in the room.
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Flyleaf of "B (If I should have a daughter)

Dot to Dot [An Illustrated Poem by Sarah Kay]

Sarah Kay, Author

Sarah Kay, Author

Sarah Kay is her own genre. She has managed and created her own label and makes it practically impossible for anyone to now synonymously associate slam poetry and protest poetry.  In most Youtube slam sensations, a person creates a swell and soft tide of screaming, then whispering, both to keep the audience on their toes and to magnify the experience of emotions.

Sarah Kay talks with her hands. Sarah Kay Mona Lisa smiles every other line.  Sarah Kay is the girl next door of spoken word and has held stages grander than a coffee shop stool and louder than a bar brawl, but Sarah Kay rarely has to yell. This is probably why she was invited to TED to perform “B (If I should have a daughter)” her poem for her unborn daughter.

"B (If I should have a daughter) by Sarah Kay

“B (If I should have a daughter) by Sarah Kay

If you’re a girl, you might have imagined this, just maybe… about … seven thousand times.

At some point when you were seven and holding a plastic American Girl Doll in your arms, her hair perfectly braided and sewn in, you thought, “this here, this is my daughter, I shall push her in a stroller and take tea with her across the table.” As you aged, the fantasy became more real. In high school, after you saw a cute boy’s smile, you imagined the hybrid of your and his offspring in a scrapbook (think: Kate Hudson a la How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days). Maybe in college, you met someone who you suspected to be “the one” but you didn’t know if you believed in those sorts of things and you started imagining him not as a boyfriend, but as a father.  What kind would he be? Was he good with your niece? Can he handle a dog licking his face? Does he stank-face you when you say how cute a little girl’s outfit is? How does he show his love for his mother?

Flyleaf of "B (If I should have a daughter)

Flyleaf of “B (If I should have a daughter)

These are all imagined things, but sometimes these fantasies become so real in women’s heads that they have to write them down.  I have friends that have written letters to these children.  I have made her names known to my current boyfriend and my mother.  This might be a girl’s M.O.

Sarah Kay wrote “B” as a poem to be spoken. And then Sophia Janowitz made it a story on the page.

The book is an atlas of girlhood.  It’s the landscape of a woman’s imagination of what she can produce from her body and make into something new (not that children are craft projects).  It’s called “B” for the very first line, “If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she’s going to call me Point B. Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.”

Illustrated by Sophia Janowitz

Illustrated by Sophia Janowitz

I feel this exact way about my own mother.  She is my Point B. At one time in my life I lived the farthest I could possibly live away from her, almost four flights, countless layovers, six high blood pressure pills, and thirty-two hours at the minimum, away from her and she was still my Point B. I always knew the way back to her, she was a connect the dots of my life and this poem by Sarah Kay is that finished picture written down.

It’s all beautiful, but not always pretty.  Sarah Kay is raw with her audience.  She knows the daughter will be hit “hard, / in the face,” but tells the daughter that this is the only way she will know how much her lungs love the taste of air.  She talks about unfixable hurt, wider than poetry can solve.  The encouragement is in lines like, “Because no matter how wide you stretch your / fingers, your hands will always be too small to / catch all the pain you want to heal.”

She hits boys; the advantage of the bad boy and the one who needs to be saved, both different in their own way. The power of chocolate. The luxury of rain. The pinhole of a microscope for the expanse of the human mind. Shirelle’s lyrics that my Mom and I used to sing locked in the car in a car wash because I was deathly afraid and only Motown successfully let fear collapse.  (This was just a strange connection between Sarah Kay’s upbringing and my own).  Disappointment in people, in weather, in bruises, in pain. The authority of gratitude.

Little Bird Connect the Dots

Little Bird Connect the Dots

My favorite line:

“You will put the star in starting over and over.”  Last week, in a comment on my homesickness, Claire said, “Life is a series of attaching and letting go,” the very point of the beauty in these lines.

This poem turned printed story has a lot of word play (land minds / mind lands) and a lot of lessons without being forceful.

“Baby, / I’ll tell her, / remember your mama is a worker, and your papa / is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands / and big eyes who never stops asking for more.”

The illustrations are simple and brilliant like a kids crayon drawing when it’s complete, rain boots toward puddles, kites, hot tea, frumpish little girl bows.

I think this small diddy is the perfect fit in your pocket, to remind you your alive, to keep your thoughts in the future for just a few minutes, when the present is a task that’s not yet completed.

To hear the poem by Sarah Kay before purchasing the perfect partner in bench warming, click here.


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Weekly Literary Find

I don’t know about you, but I shop on Etsy ALL. THE. TIME.  I definitely can’t afford to ship myself furniture, but I love getting little keepsakes, trinkets, and especially journals on Etsy from artisans that have put hard work, independence, and usually recycled love into their creations.  I’ve always been an antique shopper.  I like to peruse flea markets and dig through the boxes of women’s costume jewelry, or rusted iron work.  The atmosphere has a certain smell of curled brown photographs, and cardboard.  I just love the vibe that comes off of previously owned, or particularly created goods.  And that’s why Etsy is the perfect online shop for vintage and enterprising girls.

When I came across Creative Daffodil’s Etsy shop, I was gleeful that one of her shop sections was titled “Ode to Literature.” Can it get more perfect?  Her simplistic art takes on double meaning when you’ve read the work of literature, and you know the symbolism behind her creation.  I think the literary prints are gorgeous, but really I just want to wear most of the book designs on my person.  It would be so cool (and by cool I mean totally corny) to walk into school donning the shirt of the book that my students were reading.  It would also just be cool (and by cool I still mean totally corny) to shop the mall wearing my favorite literary work.  Plus, the designs are so universal and androgynous. My boyfriend (whose birthday is in two days) was in love with the Poe shirt, where I immediately wanted the Tolstoy, Wells, Twain and Flaubert.

Here are a few of my favorite prints that are also available to wear here.

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I really like how Mylene’s art presents the author and the author’s work with equal importance.  I think sometimes shopping for literary gifts, the gift represents the work, but leaves little mention of the author.  And where do people go to find books? The bookstore.  And how are bookstores organized? Usually (typically) by genre, and then by author.  So, if you’re trying to literally be a walking advertisement for a book, the ad should show the author’s name and give due where it needs to be given.

I also really appreciate (as an English teacher) that Mylene chose to put a shape of the country each author was from. She’s promoting literature, and a global conversation with each of her prints.   Hopefully soon I will be able to purchase my very own Whitman shirt from Creative Daffodil.  If you don’t know what to buy for that bookish friend, or that neighbor with their very own library, Creative Daffodil is where to crack grins, and books.  Swoon, Whitman. My main American spirit squeeze.

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I like to think that books (like relationships) come to people at specific times.  And sometimes when you pick up a book you’re just not ready for it.  Sometimes it’s the perfect pairing of life drama and book plot.  Most of the time though, the ones that truly move us, push us forward with reading momentum, are books that were supposed to be put in our hands.  A bit of book fate, if you will.  (Humor me).  This list is those books.  I can remember when most of them came to me (not thieves in the night or anything), and I can place myself at the scene of the crhyme. (Is the corniness too far yet or should I keep going).  Below is the list of books that made me a book lover. You can just look at the list, steal a few recommendations. After that, I’ve strategically placed (for your CLEAR reading pleasure) how these books found me and what was happening in my life at the time.  Maybe we will have similar “plot twists” in our life and you can use one of these books to be changed. Let’s hope so. Please share with me any recommendations paired with life situations in the comments.  I haven’t yet made my September TBR and I need a few books.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.24.38 AM1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

This is actually the only book on the list that I don’t remember why I was reading it.  I believe I just liked the cover. Never in my life have I used google translate more. Or just google. To figure out all the ins and outs of the Dominican Republic’s political climate.  Oscar is also the narrator of the century, he’s completely endearing and wonderfully romantic (in the old fashioned literary sense, kind of like Manny on Modern Family).

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.25.13 AM2. God-Shaped Hole – Tiffanie DeBartolo

Holy tissue boxes, batman.  Just prepare yourself for this one.  DeBartolo was the first author that I actively stalked on social media.  I found her website.  I might have emailed her a few times.  I fangirled all over her Twitter account.  I was in a place in my life where I just wanted to be noticed.  I believe I read this sophomore year of college where I was in the intense heat of a creative writing program at NCSU and people were willing to metaphorically bleed out their best friends from five minutes before.  It was terrifying, overwhelming, and kept me on a teetering balance of critical and warm for the entire year (probably mostly critical).  Because when you critique in writing workshop it just floods into other parts of your life.  Thank goodness for my roommate, Christine, who loved me beyond this and still does.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.26.04 AM3. Eating Fire – Margaret Atwood

This is a collection of some Margaret Atwood poetry books.  She does write poetry. It is disturbing and thoughtful and everything you think it would be for Atwood.  This was the same time as God-Shaped Hole.  I was required to choose a poetry collection to use for my end of semester broadside and we were given a list and of course the professor said “You can choose off of this list, but I must approve it.” If you give me the option to be different, I’m going to choose the path less taken (which is truly probably the path everyone takes).  So, I read the entire dense collection.  I highlighted. I wanted to eat my own hands. I wrote little notes to myself that I hung on my bathroom mirror to remind me that my writing wasn’t good enough (I’m one of those self-loathers).  It was hard, but here I am, a better and more disturbed person thanks to Atwood.  She also taught me so much about American Lit that I can use in the classroom because she has a very distinct idea of what Americans and Canadians view differently about the wilderness.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.26.55 AM4. Head Off & Split – Nikki Finney

I teach her every single year to my students.  I think this is when I realized (I was a late bloomer) that poetry can be political.  Again, I was in college.  I had no idea that people could write with such anger and such hope at the same time.  I had no idea how large the divide was becoming of categorized people (i.e. black/white, happy/sad, today/tomorrow).

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.27.30 AM5. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

I don’t know. End of high school. I hadn’t read anything required of me except some of Gatsby (Sparknotes was still a viable thing then).  I didn’t like reading.  I had lost that profound sense of personhood that I somehow had in middle school (even after a terrible haircut and a backseat of the movie theater boyfriend).  This found me. I can’t even explain it.  Jane was what I was feeling, but she was in a different moment in time.  I realized that life is just a pattern of history.  And Jane was like me in another life.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.28.30 AM6. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

I was on Bald Head Island. This island is seriously so rich that they don’t even really drive cars, just golf carts and if they want to go ANYWHERE other than a very small grocery store, they have to ride  a ferry (or take their own boats).  It’s a wonderful place to visit and biking around it is one of my fondest memories.  However, the juxtaposition between Vietnam War memories and Bald Head Island was too great for me.  As soon as they kill the baby hippo, I was done.  I was a bit of a tear-jerk all week after that.  This book is so moving and as a woman who’s always circling the histories of war but never really allowed into the gory bits, this took me where I needed to go in order to better understand America’s war history and just the point of war and the aftermath of war.  It is a work of fiction, but it is a truth as well.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.29.13 AM7. Bee Season – Myla Goldberg

Weird. As. Hell. which is what I am.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.29.53 AM8. The BFG – Roald Dahl

This book is my favorite book in the entire universe.  I would have The BFG tattooed on my forearm right now if my father wouldn’t have a heart attack at the sight of it. I have my fifth grade copy (with highlights and notes to myself in my larger than life handwriting) and it’s everything to me.  If there was a fire, my copy of this book would definitely be searched for (leading me to die from smoke inhalation).  In tenth grade, I wrote a screen play of it, 100 pages, maybe the hardest assignment I was ever asked to do.  I adore this book.  It’s been with me through generations of hurt and happiness and I just want to cuddle it right now after typing this.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.30.34 AM9. Columbine – Dave Cullen

“She said yes” was given to me as a child.  It’s about the girl named Cassie who told one of the shooters that she believed in God before he shot her in the head.  At the time Columbine came out, investigators had recently found that she probably wasn’t the one in the library who said it and another student did.  I was also going through a religious null (still kind of finding my way) and so I read this to figure out the whole story.  It’s an unbelievable book.  Seriously, unbelievable.  And it taught me that nonfiction can be just as moving as fiction.  I still believe in that girl named Cassie who died kneeling under a library table.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.31.17 AM10. Lark & Termite – Jayne Anne Phillips

I fly through books. I often don’t remember what the plots are or the main characters names a few months after finishing.  If I pick the book up again then I will remember it suddenly, but usually it’s lost on me (because I hate rereading books).  This book has stayed with me. The characters, the plot, the moments of silence. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it while I was reading it, but when it was finished, I was moved to tears and change.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.31.55 AM11. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Foer

This was my first introduction to Foer.  I had read his wife, Nicole Krauss, but not him.
This is a story of September 11th.
This made me want to read every single detail of that day.
This pushed me to read further.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.32.36 AM12. The Arrival – Shaun Tan

I found Shaun Tan when I lived in Australia.  I also found a library card and graphic novels.  I left for Australia the summer after I graduated from college.  I was definitely in a reading slump.  I hadn’t really read anything beyond what was required of me in class.  However, I walked to the library almost every day in Australia.  I worked in a college bookstore and a tea shop so I was often inundated with people reading. Seeing what they were reading, and having discussions about literature, led me back to the library, my second home.  That library was a safe haven for me in a time where my life was placed in a box (literally I lived in a room with my then boyfriend) and because I had no idea what my next step was even though I thought I had it all planned out. Shaun Tan is magic, everything he illustrates I own.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.35.28 AM13. An Empty Spoon – Sunny Decker

My Mom found this one for me at a consignment store.  It’s the book that actually led me into taking teaching classes and deciding that it was something I might want to do.  I was working at a teen center and I felt like I just had an epiphany.  My Mom has been there for every key moment of my life.  She can see the moments on my face even.  This was one of those where she just knew that I needed a little push I think.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.33.42 AM14. The Essential Etheridge Knight – Etheridge Knight

Or in other words when I learned the following things:

  1. People who go to jail are not idiots.
  2. Poetry can be raw inside the edges.
  3. Cuss words should only be used with severe meaning.
  4. Anyone can be a poet. And anyone can be good.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.34.24 AM15. Forth a Raven – Christina Davis

I just love this poetry collection.  It’s beautiful. I wasn’t reading poetry and this reminded me that I must.

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August TBR

I thought maybe if I shared my complete August TBR, I’d actually get around to reading each one. I am going to push myself to reach my Goodreads goal (even though I believe less and less in the Goodreads reading challenge each year – that is for a whole other blog though). Really, can a sister just read literary magazines for the rest of the year and call it a day? It’s a shame that I can’t count short stories or spending four hours on the Poetry Foundation website. Poetry meandering on the interwebs should really count as a book. Oh well. Goodreads is a master manipulator so I will bow down and finish my challenge.

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