Monday, August 29, 2016

TTT: Back To School

This week's top ten topic is  "Back To School Freebie -- anything "back to school" related like 10 favorite books I read in school, books I think should be required reading, Required Reading For All Fantasy Fans, required reading for every college freshman, Books to Pair With Classics or Books To Complement A History Lesson, books that would be on my classroom shelf if I were a teacher." There are so many things I could do with this!  I suspect this will be one of those weeks I love, where everyone's list is unique, so head on over to our hosts at The Broke and the Bookish to see lots of great titles and themes.  

As I said, all of the suggestions above are inspiring, but let's get real.  I was back at work last week for inservice, and this is the first week with students.  So I don't have a bunch of extra time to build a really creative list, and I have some very current, very school related things to say.

My list, then, is of the  Areas I Established in my New Classroom Library.

1.  Fantasy/Sci Fi.
2.  Suspense (mysteries, horror, supernatural)
3.  Realistic Fiction
4.  Life Stories (memoir, biography, and autobiography)
5.  General nonfiction (mostly science, technology, medicine, environment, and some how-to)
6.  War (fiction and nonfiction)
7.  History (fiction and nonfiction)
8. Sports (fiction and nonfiction)
9.  Immigration (fiction and nonfiction)
10.  Space (fiction and nonfiction) --mostly because our school is named after a space explorer
12.  Poetry, novels in verse, and short stories
13.  Graphic Novels, picture books, and illustrated books (e.g. Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
14. PG-13 
15.  Mrs. Gassaway's Heart Books (I guess that would be a good list in and of itself!)
16.  Rotating display, which currently has award winning books on it.

It's hard to know with some books where to put them.  Does Smile go with memoirs, or graphic novels?  Is Unwind sci fi or suspense?  Does a cozy mystery written for adults go on the PG-13 shelf or not?  

And can I just say how proud I am that I have enough sports related books to fill half a shelf and claim their own section?  If I only considered my own taste, Chris Crutcher and David James Duncan are the only sports-focused authors I'd include.  I also tried really hard to beef up the scary section.  

The breakdown, in case you're curious--Fantasy/Sci Fi takes up one large bookcase, with a bunch of extras stacked on top.  Two shelves are series. three are not.  Suspense takes up another bookcase, but fits onto it.  Two rows are for series here also.  Realistic Fiction took over the largest bookshelf of all, and spills over quite a bit.  Only one row of series, most of which are pretty light (Dork Diaries and Jenny Hann, mostly).  Life stories is one very full shelf on the nonfiction bookcase, which as two more shelves for the science type stuff.  War and History share two rows of shelving.  The other "topics" get about half a shelf each.  The illustrated books take up a small bookcase, as do my personal favorites.  PG-13 is currently about half of a large bookcase.  

If I get organized, I'll add some photos.  

My messed up book selection process

or "Why I have seven years worth of reading on my to-read shelf, yet pick up and read books that aren't even on it."

Last week the brilliant AJ of Read All the Things included a link to a calculator that estimates how long it will take you to get through your current TBR pile.  Basically, number of books on your list divided by how many books you read last year.

Mine says it will take me seven years.  Which is, of course, innaccurate because 1) I will be continually adding to the list and 2) I read more last year than I usually do.

And also 3) my TBR list is kind of a joke.

Here's what happens:  I'm reading a blog, or looking at Goodreads, or looking over an email from my library, and I see a book that looks interesting.  Knowing that I am a bear of very little brain, I need a way to remember this book, so I click over to Goodreads and add it to my TBR.

The next time I'm at the library, I see a book by V. E. Schwab on the shelf.  I keep hearing her name, so I grab the book, which is not on my TBR.  When I get home, I realize that the book I grabbed is the second in the series, so I order the first book (which is also not on my TBR).  When it comes in, I read both books, and I adore them so much that I grab the only other V.E. Schwab book at the library the next time I'm in.

And no, that one wasn't on my list either.

So now I've read three books that were not even on my TBR.  In the meantime, I've continued to receive information about other books, and have added books to the list.

At this point, my TBR list is over a thousand books, and the idea of going through and weeding out books is overwhelming.  (After all, I could be using that time to read!)  Also, I kind of like having this huge list of things I might want to read someday.  It's a pretty harmless form of hoarding, and I imagine it speaks to the same basic need--security.  I know I will not run out.

I HAVE made a little progress in the actual hoarding part.  Whereas for the last few years I've always had between 50 and 100 items checked out from the library at any one time--more than even I can read in three weeks, even with renewals--lately I've kept it more like between 25 and 50.  Part of this is that we no longer check out as many picture books, but part of it is me getting better about not checking out way more books that I can get to.

Things still pop up that make me lose control--just this minute I have a professional book and the sixth volume of Saga waiting on the holds shelf--but I am trying really hard to not keep bringing books in.

So I'm wondering--those of you that have six books on your TBR shelf, how do you do that?  I don't think there's a wrong approach.  I imagine that there are some personality type differences between those of us with a never-ending list and those of you whose list is more of a plan that a dream.  When you go "off-plan," does it bother you, or are you a fan of serendipity?  Has your TBR exploded since you started reading book blogs?  (Mine has.)  Share your thoughts!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday Post #13

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  It's "a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog."

Reading This Week: 3 books

I finished Stella By Starlight, Sharon M. Draper's historical fiction based on an amalgam of childhood memories of her father and her grandmother.  I highly recommend it.  Draper writes such a wide range of moving and thoughtful MG novels.  I keep her signed copy of Out Of My Mind on my personal bookshelf in my classroom.  

I flew through Vicious, by V. E. Schwab.  I just started reading her last month, and WOW.  Vicious is really different from the Darker Shade of Magic series, but just as good.  Really, really dark stuff, but she writes characters I can really get invested in.   All of her books that I've read have been under her "adult fiction" author's name, but I felt that Vicious was much more clearly not a YA title.  

I was a bit disappointed in Anne Lamott's  slim book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  If I'd never read any of her nonfiction, I would probably have been more impressed, but I didn't feel she was adding much to what she's already said.  Since she's a fucking fantastic writer, it was still worth reading, and there were a few thoughts and phrases that stopped me dead to admire them and ponder them (something I rarely do as I read, because SPEED DEMON).  I'm also noticing here how different the cover is in both design and color from the YA and MG I often read.  

Blogging this week: 3 posts

How symmetrical.

I squeezed in the Olympic Book Tag later on Sunday.  It was a lot of fun, and I included a lot of older titles.  Go check it out, if you're into that sort of thing!  I also participated in the TTT this week, listing ten books that have been on my TBR since before I started blogging.  Like, since 2008-09.  And I was so moved by Stella by Starlight that I actually wrote a review post.  Yep.  Me, the anti-review book blogger.  

Life this week:

Was all about setting up my classroom and attending inservice events.  Luckily, we were given all day Monday and Friday to work independently, which is super rare, as I recall.  Since I was moving into a new class and coping with the influx of books I've been given, I needed every minute of that time for physical work.  Two of the other days were decent, especially the three hour training on Equity, and I'm not just saying that because I'm on the committee.  The remaining day was one of those classic "Why are we hear listening to this overpaid speaker tell us things we already know?" inservice experiences that salty memes are made of.  But hey, it averaged out to a pretty productive and informative week even with that.  I got to see my niece briefly during our lunch break, as she works down the street from where we were being inserviced, so it wasn't a completely worthless day!

My AWESOME sister came out twice to help me set up the classroom, and to take each of my kids in turn out for some belated birthday shopping.  My husband also helped from home, both by being PIC with the kids all week, and making me labels to put into the new books so they don't all disappear within the first semester.  

My kids at the beach last week.

After all of that, I decided that yesterday I would actually participate in family life.  Okay, so I started by reading and falling asleep in the sunshine, but when I woke up, The Winemaker and I did some yard work, filling up the debris can with clippings and weeds.  (We are definitely the kind of people that "have to do some yard work," not the kind who "get to garden.")  I got the kids to do some chores without excessive whining or rebellion (yay me!), then I loaded them up for the pool.  We met a good friend of mine and her kids, so we got to talk while the kids swam and played in the water feature.  Then our group went out for ice cream.  Their family had to leave, but we went back for more swim time, and i joined my daughter in diving and jumping in the deep end.  

The Winemaker made us all hamburgers, the four of us played a long round of The Settlers of Catan, the kids went to bed in a fort they'd built in one of their rooms, and we watched an episode of Nikitia together.  

(Is any of this interesting to anyone?  I didn't mean to make it so "dear diary," this week.
The "Before"

The "After" (Part of it.)

The closeup.  Yes, I'm bragging.  #SoProudOfMyself

Monday, August 22, 2016

TTT: Books That Have Been on my TBR the Longest

Our friends at The Broke and the Bookish asked us to list  "Ten Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven't Read Yet."  Just for fun (and scientific purposes), I'm going to see which ten books have been lingering on my (massive) Goodreads TBR since 2008 when I first joined the site.

Any thoughts?  Recommendations?  Should I just accept that it ain't gonna happen and erase them from my shelves?  I have checked out at least three of these from the library at various times, but always wind up returning them unread.  

Stella By Starlight: Love Wins

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Published 2015 by Atheneum

320 pages, historical fiction/MG.

A beautiful book.

Set in 1932, the year my dad was born.  I was confused by this at first, thinking it was about Draper's grandmother, which didn't make sense chronologically to me, since I think she's a bit older than I am.  I finally worked out that it's fictionalized and combines her grandmother's story with her dad's.

This book deals with some really heavy topics.  There are some terrifying moments, and some sharply painful ones.  I wish the historical injustices could be seen from a distance, but they echo all too sharply today's world.  But if I were to sum up the book in a word, that word would be Love.  Stella's family and community don't have much, but they are wealthy in love.

Stella's writing attempts are sprinkled throughout the book.  At first I didn't really see the point in them, other than to possibly point out that Stella is a better writer than she thinks herself to be.  But as the book continues, you see her cross-outs change from fixing spelling mistakes to choosing more precise words, and her thoughts and topics go deeper and deeper as she matures.

The only reason I didn't give five stars is because, like all MG novels, it feels just a tad pat.  Oh, there's no false resolution made up for the Klan, and you know Stella's life won't be no crystal stair, but nothing irreplaceable is lost.  There aren't many shades of gray.  Characters are Good or Evil.  Stella embraces chores as a way to help her parents.  Her teacher always knows just what to say to her students.  The KKK leader, on the other hand, is also a wife beater.  I find this a little problematic, because it is possible to be a complete asshole without being overtly racist, and it's possible (due to upbringing) to be a generally affable person but also a racist idiot.  Demonizing the racists makes it easy for us nice white liberals to let ourselves off the hook.  A more nuanced look might let one of the black characters be a wife beater, and address more directly the white townsfolk who didn't support the KKK but didn't do anything about it other than show up after the fact with used clothing to donate to the displaced.

Then again, the more subtle issues don't need to be tackled in a MG novel.  There is already a lot going on here, and Draper handles it all beautifully.  I listened to the first half of the book on audio, and it made me think I probably shouldn't read the book aloud to my classes, because the narrator captured voices and accents far better than I could hope to.  I only switched to print because I was enjoying the book so much that I wanted find out what was going to happen faster!

4.5/5 stars

from Goodreads:
Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community - her world - is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olympic Book Tag

Are the Olympics over?  Because I just got all excited about this book tag that Shannon at It Starts At Midnight created.  I guess preparing for the Shattering Stigmas event she organized left her plenty of free time.  (Or maybe she's one of those organized, productive people.)  Anyway, AJ at Read All The Things had a fabulous list too, and I got all inspired.  Hope I'm not too late!

For whatever reason, this list skews heavily towards older books, aka backlist books.  Make of that what you will.  

The Scorpio Races.  I do NOT understand why Stiefvater's series get all the attention.  I adore this stand-alone book about racing across the sand on man-eating horses that live in the sea.  "It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die."

Going WAY back with this one: Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.  Published in 1982, this travel memoir details Least Heat-Moon's journey along the side roads and lesser traveled byways of America.  

City of Darkness, City of Light, by Marge Piercy, is set during the French Revolution.  So yes, fighting and bloodshed abound.  I haven't read any Piercy in years; I think I should remedy that.  
(Side note: when I went to enlarge the cover on Goodreads, it was all pixelated, so I tried a different edition.  It turns out that the Kindle version places the titles so that Victory's breasts are covered. Seriously?)

The Wind in the Willows.  Kenneth Graham.  E. H. Shepherd.  Ratty, Mole, "messing about in boats" and bliss.  

Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman's book inspired by his son's experience with schizophrenia, is a very interior book.  Not a lot of action, at least not in the real world.  But a lot going on, for sure.  

One Hundred Years of Solitude is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's gift to humanity, I hear.  Um, did you get a gift receipt?  Can I exchange that for something with, say, a linear storyline and characters that resemble actual people, please?

I still haven't finished Night.  And now Elie Wiesel has died, so I feel even guiltier.  And yes, the book is about 1/8 the length of books I usually zoom through in a day.  

I will never forget the experience of hitting a certain passage in David James Duncan's The Brothers K and starting to cry.  And sob.  And bawl.  I had to put the book down and lay down on my bed and cry it all out before I could keep going.  I know which passage triggered it, but I still don't know why it hit me so hard.  The book is WONDERFUL, not depressing (except in places) and is only my SECOND favorite book by this author.  I wish he were more prolific.  

Have you read Susan Juby's The Truth Commission?  Have you?  Because it only has 1,196 reviews on Goodreads, and that is a crying shame.  I read it as part of the CYBILS awards process, and it was one of my favorites of those very good books.  Normandy and her friends are hilarious and supportive and messed up and real.  Go read it.  It has an awesome cover too. And it's Canadian!  C'mon, how many more reasons do you need?!?

I might be cheating a bit here, but We All Looked Up, by Tommy Wallach, has a love triangle that doesn't end in disaster.  Well, except for that one death.  But otherwise, there's a twist put on the trope that made it much more palatable and believable for me--and granted some cute moments in a not-very-cute story.  

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork isn't your typical "summer" book--no beaches involved.  But it covers the summer when Marcelo, who appears to be on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, is forced by his businessman father to work in the mailroom at his office.   Marcelo learns more than he expected (and more than his dad bargained for), learns about true friendship, and graces one of the prettiest covers I've ever seen.

Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, starts out a bit dense, but that's because there are multiple mysteries wrapped up in the strange world of Tangerine, FL.  

So many to choose from, but the one that called to me tonight was Francis Hodgson Burnett's classic, The Secret Garden.  Mistress Mary, quite contrary, her aya and the death-filled house, the moors, Dickon, the round-cheeked maid, spoiled Colin, and of course, the garden.  Sigh.  

by Chris Crutcher, features a whole swim team.  I've been following Crutcher on FB lately, and wow, is he a great guy.  I had no idea he's nearly my parents' age--his teenaged characters ring so true to life.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sunday Post #12

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  It's "a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog."

Reading This Week: 2 books

I read a lot of 3 star books in July, but August has been ON FIRE.  (Also, super hot weather, but that's not what I meant.)

The Girl With All The Gifts is one I picked up with my birthday money.  It was WEIRD and I LOVED it.  You don't get a lot of fresh dystopias this day, but this one pulled it off.  Plus, zombies, which I've never been that interested in reading about.  They were well done.  

I read Noggin online as a free read from the Riveted site.  Hilarious.  He took this nutso set-up and went with it, all the way.  Sweet friendships, even if one was an insta-friendship, which is not much more likely than insta-love.  

Blogging this week:

Read less, blogged more.  Well, posted more.  Mostly lists though.  And I just spent a few hours doing some remodeling around here, because the reality is, colorful backgrounds make it harder for me to read, so why was I subjecting others to that?   

For the TTT I returned to Oregon, my home state.  I also shared the long version of a list of great books for teen girls I put together for a young woman I know who turned 13 this weekend. (The list would also work for teen guys and for adults, but my target audience was a specific person who's a teen girl.)  And since I've been super busy this week, I posted a bunch of pictures of what I've been up to just so you wouldn't feel sad and neglected. I also am sneaking in the Olympics Tag while it's still mildly relevant.  

I spent some time adding Goodreads shelves too; things that it's been bugging me to not be able to classify books as. Of course, I don't really want to go back in and re-shelve all the books I've already logged, but at least I can move forward with more categories.

Life this week:

Hoo boy.  Last week of summer break.  So of course, I had a 4 hour meeting with the school's Equity Team to help plan our PD presentation next week.  The first of my Booklove Foundation Grant books arrived at school, and I schlepped all 200 pounds of books down to my classroom.  I'm getting a new room this year, and there were about 35 chair/desks to move into the hall as well as various other pieces of furniture that didn't make it to their final destination over the summer.  My arms are just now starting to recover.  My sister has volunteered to come help me out with the class set-up and book organization a couple of times next week.  It's going to be hard, but so, so exciting!  I'll definitely share photos.

We went up to Mt. Hood on Thursday with another one of my sisters and took a hike in the sweltering weather.  It's a hike that I considered "easy" several years ago, but between age, weight gain, and the heat, I only did about half of it before taking the kids back to play in the river while my husband and sister completed the route.  I made a birthday cake that night, because it's too hot to bake during the day right now, and Friday the family drove to the beach for the day in honor of my husband's birthday.  I have NEVER experienced that amount of heat at the Oregon coast before.  Crazy.  I was in the ocean up to my waist a few times, which is not something I would normally do.  

Then today I spent a few hours working at the (air conditioned) library before going to the retirement party of a former colleague I'm still friends with.  It was fun to see some other former coworkers as well, although it was weird to me how many of them either have retired or are planning on this year being their last.  These are the teachers who were mid-career when I started in their district; experienced but not the Old Guard.  I guess 18 years will do that to a person.  

Non-book items from the public library that I used this week

  • Playaways to prevent back seat squabbling and misery on car trips (son's = Guardians of Ga'hoole; daughter's = Chomp, mine = Stella by Starlight)
  • A stud finder to mark where the new bathroom mirror can hang
  • A bocce ball set that we played with in the backyard one evening
  • A heart shaped cake pan for the birthday cake
  • Their computers and printer to get some work done in an environment where I focus better.
  • Their water bottle filler.
Have I mentioned how much I love my library?  Oh right, I have!  


Silent Saturday, aka Picture Dump

It looks like I missed the cut-off for a Wordless Wednesday post, and God forbid that I actually prepare something days in advance.  So here's what's been going on around here lately.


Because what better to do when the temperature hits 100 in town than to go on the first big hike in two years?  

Yes, my face is approximately the color of her shirt. It was 88 degrees on the trail. Cooler than town, but HOT for hiking.

Creek crossings.

Some of us made it all the way to Ramona Falls.  Some of us returned to the creek to play while we waited.  Let the lack of falls photos help you figure out which group I was in. (The other two hikers are my husband and my sister, if you were dying of curiosity.)


The first 200 lbs of my Booklove Foundation Grant books arrived!

But my new classroom is a complete mess! One of my other sisters is going to come help me next week, bless her heart.

I actually WON a Goodreads giveaway.  Just in case you were wondering if that was really a thing.  I am excited to read this book.