Monday, February 19, 2018

TTT: Series I Just Might Quit


With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: Books I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

Something about that feels a bit too hostile to me, so instead I'm going to adapt it to "series I never got around to finishing" and ask for your input on which ones I should go back to, and which ones I can let go in good conscience. 

1. Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman 
Wendy read: 1/3
After seeing him speak and devoting two posts to the experience, I am feeling like I should go back and read the rest of this series. 

2. Grishaverse trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Wendy read: 1/3
I was not impressed with book one. But the Six of Crows duology, set in the same world, are among my all time favorites. So maybe I should try again?

3. Daughter of Smoke & Bone series by Laini Taylor
Wendy read: 2/3.5
I liked the first book. I loved the second book. I got bored partway through the third book and quit. Then I read the companion novella and was charmed. Plus, I adored Strange the Dreamer. Maybe I just needed a break before continuing?

4. Chief Inspector Armande Gamache series by Louise Penny
Wendy read:  5/12 and counting
I do like mystery series. But this one just kind of lost its luster.

5. Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
Wendy read: 1/3
I just got around to reading the first book in this series in December. I liked it. I didn't love it. Keep going or nah?

6. Fly By Night series by Frances Hardinge
Wendy read 1/2
I don't remember much about the first book, which is why I haven't picked up the next one. But I know I liked it. And I know Hardinge has a pretty good reputation, even though I haven't read any of her other works either.

7. Tales Dark and Grimm series by Adam Gidwitz
Wendy read: 2/3
This is what happens when I start reading a series before it's done. I read the first two, then by the time the third one came out, I'd just...moved on. I have it in my classroom library. It would be easy enough to finish up the series. I just don't know how much of a priority it is.

8. Immortal Beloved series by Cate Tiernan
Wendy read: 2/3
Fun fact: I had no idea what this was when I saw it on my "series" shelf on Goodreads. But after reading my comments and the description, I was all, "Oh yeah, those were pretty fun!" Maybe I should wrap it up.

9. Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley
Wendy read: 10/14
Another detective series. I totally have a good reason for taking a long hiatus on this. The author ended a book with what appeared to be the death of the protagonist, then took six years before writing the next book. I just realized last month that there are MORE now.

10. Legend series by Marie Lu
Wendy read: 2/3+
It's maybe not a good sign that I thought I'd only read the first book in this series, but now see I went on to the second and didn't like it as much. 

Overall, I tend to read a lot of YA fantasy and adult mystery series, which definitely is reflected here. I'm also noticing this list is 70% female and 80% white, which makes me feel more like continuing with the last two on the list, as I believe in consciously reading authors of color (since clearly, I don't do it unconsciously). 

Are there any of these you think I should definitely get back to? Any I can take off my "maybe" list without guilt or regret?







An Evening With Neal Shusterman


I promised I'd get into more details about how the Shusterman event went, so here we go!

I arrived at Powell's around 6:30 for the 7:00 event, and who should be walking in just ahead of me but Mr. Shusterman and his--whoever it is that accompanies authors to these things. So he ended up holding the door for me, and yes, I grinned at him like a maniac.

They had their larger audience area set up, and four rows were already filled, so I got me a spot in the fifth row and figure out what books were available for my fellow Cybils judges. Sadly, there were no copies of Scythe to be had, but in addition to plenty of copies of Thunderhead, Powell's had a cart full of his other works, both new and used. I love that they do that, and I thought hard about getting Unwind and/or Challenger Deep, but since I already have both, I restrained myself. 

I got these beauties for my co-judges.

As a warm-up Sarah from Novel Novice came out and gave free posters to everyone who was in costume. There were about a half dozen young women in robes of various colors, which was pretty cool. I had actually considered wearing a shirt I have with a giant cowl neck, and had decided it might look like I was trying to be Scythe-y. I guess I should have just embraced it. Or maybe it's not cool for adult readers of YA to get into cosplay? Hm.

Then she ran a trivia contest. I could have answered every question, but was mindful of not being greedy or obnoxious. Still, when she asked how Rowan referred to himself in regards to his family, my hand shot up so I could say "lettuce" before she'd even given us the multiple choice options. The poster was a two sided one featuring the covers of each book on one side, so when there seemed to be widespread hesitation over the question about how many times of year the Scythes hold an enclave, I held up three fingers and explained that I would like to be able to show BOTH covers in my classroom. She let me take another poster with my answer.

-------------------------------------------------

Then it was time for the author to speak, and Sara's first question was a winner. She asked about his inspiration for the Arc of the Scythe series, and he told her that he has the official answer, which he believed until quite recently to be the truth, and that he has the real answer. So of course we were all agog to hear more.

He explained that he had written Unwind before Hunger Games came out--they were fairly simultaneous in publication. So he'd written this dystopia right as dystopia became a huge Thing in YA publishing, and he wondered what it would be like to create a Utopia. What would it look like, to have a world in which the problems really have been solved? What would the implications be? He realized that a world without illness or even death would need people to end lives intentionally, and that anyone who wanted such a job would have to be disqualified from ever having it. He was talking about how he thought of Scythes as people who would end lives with dignity and care, with respect and support, and I thought of the beautiful dance of the nurses disconnecting my mom's life support and preparing her for death. 

So, he went on, it was from this interesting thought experiment, borne from looking at what was going on in publishing, that he got the idea and started writing, and so he told people each time he was asked. Then sometime recently, instead of asking where he got the idea for Scythe, someone asked him what was going on in his life when he started writing Scythe.

He said he had to pass the question on down the panel he was sitting on, because it hit him hard to realize what the answer was. His mom had gotten ill, and then died. Peacefully, with her son and her husband holding her hand, after receiving tender palliative care from hospice until she was ready to go. And for all the pain of losing someone, he knew that this was perhaps the best way to go. And that is where Scythe REALLY came from.

Yes, I was crying by this point.  Unobtrusively, at least.

Dystopia
Utopia--or is it?



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Later--I think during audience Q&A--someone asked about the origin story of the Skinjacker series. Everlost is the first Shusterman I ever read, and I liked it, but didn't go on from there. I've had several students get really into it though. He said he was watching some cheesy TV re-enactment of a supposed near-death experience, and the actor was dashing down a tunnel towards the light, and he turned to whomever was in the room with him and said, "What if she trips over her own feet? You know SOMEBODY does from time to time." He played around with that joke for awhile, and came up with the first chapter of Everlost, in which a head-on collision causes two kids to die at the same time, which in turn causes them to crash into each other inside the tunnel towards the light, which in turn bumps them into some sort of limbo instead. Then he put the chapter away for years, because he didn't know what he had to say about purgatory. Later, it came to him that his ghosts would only be able to connect to the real world through places that had been well loved, but no longer existed. Once he decided his ghosts would go to the Twin Towers, he was re-energized for the writing of the series.



-------------------------------------------------

A few smaller details stand out in my memory. When asked about his writing process, Shusterman said that he concentrates on his work best when he is not at home, so he spends a lot of time on writing retreats. Speaking as someone who can stay a lot more focused when I work on this blog at the library than when I work on it on my couch, I could totally empathize with this. He talked about the experience of co-writing with his sons, and his plan to co-write with his daughters as well. He gave us a bad news/good news tidbit: the movie version of Unwind fell through, but it's being picked up as a TV show, which given the scope of that series sounds much better to me anyway. Also, the movie deal for Scythe involves him as the screenwriter. There was more (why he almost didn't write the unwinding scene in Unwind, the science developments behind several of his plots, etc.), but I'll stop now. 

He was an excellent speaker, thoughtful and interesting. I've been thinking a lot in the past week about our idolization of authors, but I am very comfortable recommending you go see him if he speaks anywhere near you.

At the end, I waited patiently for my turn, brought up my huge stack of books, explained why I wanted him to sign for other people, and got to shake his hand. He'd just heard about the Cybils award and knew what I was talking about, which was helpful, since I wasn't super articulate in the moment. Since I'd forgotten my camera, I didn't take a picture, but here is how he signed our books. You can see that Instagram is not my thing. 




Sunday, February 18, 2018

Author Event: Neal Shusterman

I was going to lead this off with a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, but then I started to worry about copyright infringement.

So I will tell you the gist, which hopefully will not be reminiscent of a five year old telling you about a movie, or anyone ever telling you about their dream.

Calvin is vociferously complaining about something being unfair. His dad tells him life isn't fair. To which Calvin replies, "But why isn't it ever unfair in my FAVOR?" 

I have loved this crack since I first saw it in the newspaper (remember those?) back in the 1980s. But as I get older, I also start to look for those moments when life IS unfair in my favor. I mean, besides the white privilege stuff, which is a whole 'nother conversation.  But sometimes things just line up right, and not through any hard work or other deservingness on your part. Case in point:

About ten days ago, I was in Powell's Books picking up an order I'd placed. I happened to notice a sign that said Neal Shusterman would be there on Feb. 15. I realized that it was an evening I would actually be able to go.

Around the same time, I was finishing up the last few books I was reading as a round 2 CYBILS judge in YA speculative fiction. One on our list was Scythe, which I'd read a year earlier, but had been saving to re-read after giving all the other contestants a fair chance.

I re-read Scythe, loved it even more than I'd loved it the first time, and waited to see what the committee thought. We all loved it. It won.

CYBILS made their announcements on Feb. 14, a couple of days after the big industry awards come out (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc.). That meant that it was okay for me on Feb. 15 to be talking about Scythe being our winner.

And that is how I ended up shaking hands with Neal Shusterman and congratulating him on his win on behalf of our committee, and how he ended up signing books to us with thanks for the CYBILS honor.

Of course, since life is not always fair in our favor, I also forgot my phone at home and have no pictures of the event. You win some, you lose some, as my dad (and, most likely, yours too) always said.

TOMORROW I will actually tell you about the event itself, which was very cool. Highlights to look forward to include:

  • How Wendy slayed it (get it?) on the trivia contest
  • The official story about where he got the idea for the Arc of the Scythe series, and the real story, which he only realized recently
  • The irreverent joke that became the seed of the Skinjacker series
  • What Shusterman said about movie/TV adaptations of his works
  • How Shusterman's writing process is JUST LIKE MINE (I jest)
  • and possibly some thoughts on being one of the adults at a YA author event, unless I decide that's a separate post

Saturday, February 17, 2018

10 Reasons, In No Particular Order, Why My Reading Retreat Was The Best Thing Ever*

*or at least the best thing in a very long time.

1. The policy on these retreats is that the guests do no housework type stuff. Like, if you get up to clear your plate, you're told, "Sit down, we've got it."

2. When I got there, I walked into a conversation about words and phrases we'd misunderstood, having worked them out from the context of books rather than in real life. Things like "nonplussed" and "butter wouldn't melt in her mouth." Which reminds me, I keep trying to figure out what a "shit-eating grin" is. Is that, like grossed out, which I would be if I had to eat shit? Or is it sycophantic, like you're gobbling up what you know is BS?  Or what? This is what I consider quality conversation.

3. Bottomless coffee and bottomless wine. I have a sweatshirt that says "Coffee Till Cocktails" and Beth, the organizer, wore one that said "Coffee Days" on the front and "Whiskey Nights" on the back. But we mostly drank wine. And coffee.

4. The books we read and discussed included one fantasy, one contemporary, and one memoir. I'd read one of them before (The Glass Castle) but hadn't even heard of the other two (The Steel Seraglio and This is Where I Leave You). I loved the variety.






5. I've lived in Oregon most of my life, and have spent many a weekend at the coast. It is very rare for me to get to stay in beachfront property. The expense just doesn't make sense. So to spend four days in a house where not just the sound, but the sight of the waves is omnipresent feels like a luxury, while also feeling like some basic need is being met.




6. Our book discussions were SO. MUCH. FUN. I am just an English class nerd at heart, and I loved being asked interesting questions about the book, and the way we'd flip through our copies to find quotes that supported our thinking. The discussion leader was great, and my fellow book lovers had excellent responses and questions. Time flew.



7. French toast casserole.

8. There were about ten of us there. Some had little kids, some had big kids, some had grown kids, some had no kids. Most of the women who had kids had at least one kid by adoption. There are specific struggles to raising kids who have lost their first family, compounded by the various physical, intellectual, and emotional barriers our different kids also deal with. A lot of this is really hard to talk about with people who haven't walked the same path. It is an enormous relief to talk about with people who get it.

9. A book lovers' group, almost by definition, is going to include many introverts. So if I snuck off for a few hours to be alone, I didn't worry that anyone would feel offended, or think I was unhappy, or anything like that. There was an ebb and flow to our social interactions that felt really comfortable, no matter how chatty or quiet I felt like being at any given moment.


10. Penny.






(Also, you should probably read Beth's blog. It is hilarious and serious and quite, quite wonderful.)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I'm an Official Guest!

Today I have a guest post up on a website called "The YA Literature, Media, and Culture Research Network." I stumbled across them a bit ago, and enjoyed their academic take on YA. They expressed interest in reaching across the aisle, as it were, to more pop culture enthusiasts, so I submitted my take on what is and what should be the canon for YA lit.  Check it out and leave me (and them) some love!

Canon in YA

What works would you put on the YA canon?
What does "canon" mean to you in this context?

Not this kind of canon.

Nor this kind.

This one isn't even spelled the same!

And you'll only get this if you've visited the Oregon coast.

Okay, I'm done now. Promise.



Monday, February 5, 2018

TTT: The Ancient TBR


With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: Books That Have Been On My TBR the Longest and I Still Haven’t Read

Ouch. I feel like these topics lately have been a little too on the nose for me. I am really bad about not reading books from my TBR, especially the ones I put on when I first joined Goodreads back in 2008.  As a matter of fact, I'm sure the ten oldest items on my TBR all date from that summer.  Let's check, shall we?


Yes, that's 12 books, because that's how they show up on Goodreads, okay? I am pleasantly surprised, because it turns out that these books were added to my to-read list from November, 2008 (five months after I joined Goodreads) through April of 2011. This doesn't mean I've been burning through my deepest TBR titles, but it does mean that I did a decent clean-out about six months ago, eliminating titles that I either accepted I would never read, OR that I didn't need to keep on the list, because, for example, I KNOW that I haven't read David Copperfield, and I'm not likely to forget it exists. 

Maniac Magee is a MG classic, but it hits that time period between when I was a MG reader and when I was a MG teacher. So I'm afraid it will just be kind of dated, without having the nostalgia pull of books I read as a kid. But Spinelli is pretty awesome, so I still think I should read it.

Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States is by Bill Bryson, and I love me some Bill Bryson. When I read Summer 1929 I realized that it is okay to read sections of nonfiction without finishing it, and that may be the permission I need to give myself to tackle this one too.

Promised Land: 13 Books that Changed America is a book about books, which of course is an awesome thing, and it's by a guy I took 20th century lit from in college. I've read and enjoyed some of his other work. I'm already seeing a pattern in these books, which is that I strongly suspect I would enjoy them, but they are serious, nonfiction, and/or lengthy. I guess I'm kind of a lightweight.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith is by Anne Lamott. Like what I said about Bryson, I've loved other books by her, but need to get motivated to take this on.

Waltzing the Cat is by Pam Houston, whom I was really fond of reading in my twenties. She's way more of a badass than I ever was (or, needless to say, will be), what with her river rafting and weakness for cowboys, but I still liked to pretend I could relate to her, or at least that the lessons she hewed from her mistakes were ones I could benefit from as well.

A Crack in the Edge of the World is actually a book my husband told me about. He doesn't read fiction, or novel-length nonfiction, but he was a geology major, and a book about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 sounded interesting to him. So...I put it in on my TBR? To be fair, this kind of micro-history is one of my favorite types of nonfiction.

Shadow Tag. Another book by an author I have read and enjoyed, and, let's face it, an author I feel like I should be better read in. There are so few Native American authors I've read--Erdrich, Alexie, Gansworth, Least Heat Moon. Part of me thinks I should seek out other voices, but part of me thinks that Erdrich is a major American novelist, and it would behoove me to check out more of her work.

Twilight Robbery is--wow!--a light-hearted YA fantasy!  Why haven't I read it? I suspect it's because I really enjoyed the first book in the series, but don't remember much about it, leaving me with the age-old "fake it, or re-read" conundrum to solve.

At Home: A Short History of a Private Life is another Bill Bryson book, one I added in the midst of a bunch of research around home building. I think I read a chapter or two once and didn't get into it, but I might be thinking of a Michael Pollan book.

A Heart For Any Fate is a westward expansion novel, which is a genre I was majorly into as a kid, and still enjoy from time to time. This one is a prize winner. I should read it.

The Namesake sounds good. I read Lahiri's book of short stories shortly before adding this book to my TBR, so I must have been somewhat impressed with it. 

The third volume of Persepolis, like Twilight Robbery, is one I am only avoiding because it's been so long since I read its predecessors. I liked them a lot, being much of an age but very much not of a similar background as the author. I might even have this in my classroom library. 

The lesson I learned from this week's topic is that I have lofty expectations for my own reading, but more often than not, read the easy stuff instead. I am sure I would enjoy all of these books (that's why they're still on the list), but I am not going to guarantee that I'll read any of them any time soon. 










Thursday, February 1, 2018

I Will Survive: What's Saving My Life This February

Welcome to February, and the annual "What's Saving My Life" post, linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcy.

I'll be honest: my two previous entries in this link-up are my #1 and #5 most viewed posts of all time. Clearly Anne has a larger readership than I do. She also has done a great job in choosing a topic for her readers to share with each other. What DOES make life work? Most of us are dealing with first world problems for the most part, but there are mental and physical health struggles that drag even the most enchanted life down. Plus, you know, life. And winter. It's not always easy.

So then, what IS saving my life this cold and dreary season?

1. Beth Woolsey. Not only is her blog a delight, and a hoot, and a steady voice of reason, but her retreats are the most luxurious bit of self care I've found in a long time. Space to not be a caretaker for others. Delicious food. Beautiful beach views. Delightful, warm company. Wine and laughter and books and writing.

2. The Winemaker's wine. Not because of the wine drinking itself, delicious though it is, but because of his generosity with this very, very good wine. He recently heard an interview on NPR in which sociologists explained a study that proved money CAN buy happiness. The twist is that when they gave people money to spend on themselves, it had no effect on their baseline happiness level. But when they gave people money to spend on others, it DID increase their overall happiness. This helped confirm a vague feeling he'd had, that giving away his wine brings him more happiness than he'd get from selling it. The part he likes is making it and sharing it. Jumping through legal hoops and marketing and budgeting--not so fun. I was able to bring a couple of cases to the reading retreat to share. He brings some to give away each time he plays bridge. The attitude of generosity feels so healthy and peaceful.

3. BuJo. I know, I know, it's so 2017. But I started a bullet journal last February, with no idea if I'd stick with it, and a full year later, I'm still at it. It is a great system for someone who is better at ideas than follow-through, because it allows me to be flexible yet organized. I count on my weeklies, my brain dumps, and the chance to play and be creative.

4. Retin-A. I developed rosacea nearly ten years ago, and have not had great success with treatments. Then last spring, with the adoption of my bullet journal, I tried tracking the habit of putting my medicinal cream on daily, as I am supposed to do. It never seemed very effective to me, so I'd just use it a few times a week.  Well. It turns out that after putting it on every single day for a solid month, my face looked smooth and normal. If I miss more than a couple of days, I start to get red and bumpy again, but knowing that it actually does work if I'm faithful about it helps me stay consistent. (It helps that it's a 20 second addition to my day.)

5. Classroom with windows. It's my second year in this room. Seven of the eight previous years I'd been in an interior room. I've known for years that having windows in my room increases my job satisfaction and my core mood immensely.

6. Menu planning. For some reason, after 15 years of marriage, we started sitting down on Sundays (or when it comes up--see my above comment about not being great at following structures) and coming up with what we want to cook that week. Then The Winemaker does the grocery shopping, and we are set for several days. This greatly cuts down the number of nights we get fast food or scavenge for cup-o-noodles for dinner. He's even found a food blog he likes, and has developed some new family favorites.

7. The public library. This is always and forever on my list of lifesavers. Books, of course. Also audiobooks for my commute, and audiobooks for my students. Events for the kids, events for me. Their amazingly cheap coffee stand that serves good coffee, and where they always give you 20+ donut holes when you give them $1.50 for 15 donuts. Booksales, the maker's studio, and the Library of Things. My library is my home away from home.

8. My sisters. I just don't know what I'd do without them. That is all.

9. My daughter's fifth grade teacher. She'd struggled last year with a teacher she felt didn't like her, and the year before she had a teacher who didn't seem to really like teaching. She was losing her zest for school. This year, her teacher has lit a fire in her, a passion for learning, for pushing herself, for doing her best work, for exploring the world, for taking a stand for good, for being an informed citizen and a doer of good deeds. I am so glad.

10. Singing between classes. My school neighbor is a math teacher who is exactly my age. Our school plays 2 minutes of music between classes. The two of us like to belt out whatever song is being played while we stand outside our doors on hall duty. We both know lyrics to most of the songs they play (since the guy who chooses the music is also our age), we both can hold a tune despite not having great voices, and we both love seeing the range of expressions, from horror to delight, on faces of the students walking by. One of our favorites, complete with dance moves, is I Will Survive.

What is saving YOUR life this month?