Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited Might Be My Biography

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Published 2017 by HarperTeen

336 pages, contemporary.

My reviews usually tend to be more of a personal response than a summary and analysis.  This one will be EVEN MORE SO.  Fair warning.

I'd been looking forward to Becky Albertalli's latest, since I really love Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I didn't read the jacket blurb or anything, since that's how I roll when I trust an author; I want the story to surprise me.  I had seen something on Twitter in which Albertalli pointed out that Molly never tries to lose weight, and in which she talked about the terms "fat" and "overweight" and said it was #ownvoices writing.

So that was my background going in.

What I didn't expect is that I would feel like Molly was me in ways I've never seen on the page before.  NEVER. And I've read a lot of books.

I don't say this because we're both fat.  I was skinny when I was a teenager, without making any effort to be so.  Gaining 75 pounds in three years has given me new perspective on fat shaming, but putting on all this weight as an adult also protects me from some (not all) of the internalized shame.  I'm still me, my husband still fancies me, so IDGAF about the rest of the world's opinion.  Mostly.

But I relate to Molly SO HARD.  Here's the thing:
I married my first boyfriend.  He was two years behind me in high school.

Think about what that means for a minute, because I'm about to radically change that.

We met when I was 31.

(It was a big high school, and neither of us had any idea the other one existed.)

I did not have a romantic relationship until I was 31.  I don't mean "no serious boyfriends" or "no living together."  I mean I did not ever date anyone.  At all. Even a little bit.  And I felt so very much like Molly does, only I was super private about my crushes.  Because I figured either a) people wouldn't get why I liked the guy (Reid), or b) they'd think it was funny how far out of my league he was (Will).  And either way, I'd be mortified.

So that scene where they're all talking about sex and Molly feels incredibly out of it?  THAT HAPPENED.  I was in my twenties, and a bunch of friends were laughing about the craziest places where they'd had sex (meaning settings, not orifices), and I was all "please let this conversation die before it gets around the circle to me." 

And people tell you you're just "too picky," and you think--um, when have I ever had a freaking CHANCE to be picky?  And you assume there's just something inherently un-dateable about you.  But you have good friends and your family is great, so you don't let it define you or rob you of all self esteem.  And you roll your eyes at people who date jerks, or who are freaking out about being temporarily single.  Because why is it such a big deal?

And you enjoy the rush of your crushes, and you maybe do a few stupid alcohol-influenced things with guys you are not dating, because you do have hormones, after all.

And then you fall in love.  And to those who complain that this book sends the message that you aren't really okay until you're found worthy by a man, I say bullshit; that's not the message.  The message is that loving someone and being loved in return is fucking awesome.  And if you are smart enough to know you'd rather be single than settle, and you've accepted that it looks like that's the choice you're going to stick with, to find someone and fall in love is just joy. Whatever it was that you thought made you "undateable"--your weight, your weirdness, your splotchy face or braying laugh or whatever--just doesn't matter.  You don't have to be a certain way to deserve love.  You just have to find a person who loves you, and take a leap.

I think this book is absolutely lovely and lovable even if you don't relate to Molly in this way.  It honors friendship and family as much as romantic love.  It calmly includes all sorts of representation.  It has funny lines and wry observations and lets people be people.  Becky Albertalli is no one-hit wonder.  I will read whatever she writes, forever.  

5/5 stars

24th Hour of Dewey's

I'll do a proper wrap up post in a day or two, but wanted to check in with the final survey and all.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
That would be hour 13, when I came down with a stomach issue of some sort and started puking my guts out.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a reader engaged for next year?
Middle grade and graphic novels are my go-to "take a break" books.  I enjoyed reading Garvey's Choice and Ghost this time.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season?
No, although I suggest we all avoid stomach bugs and food poisoning for sure.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Fun challenges.

5. How many books did you read?
I've read five books and hope to squeeze in a graphic novel or two before it ends.

6. What were the names of the books you read?
Besides Ghost and Garvey's Choice, I read The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, The Upside of Unrequited, and the last half of The Lies of Locke Lamora.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Upside of Unrequited.

8. Which did you enjoy least?
I really did like them all, but Garvey's Choice and Girl WTLBT were less amazing than the other three.

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
Oh, I'll be reading away!  I feel like I should do more, but then again, as a reading teacher, it's actually kind of nice to just do the reading and let someone else worry about logistics and celebrations.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dewey's RAT Check-in #1

It's here!

Not many things would make me get up before 5:00 on a Saturday morning, let me tell you.  But a 5 am starting time for Dewey's means I got up at 4:40 to make coffee and boil an egg.  Now it's just past 6:00 and my coffee is cold and the sky is light.

I'm starting out with the opening survey. I don't know that I'll do every check-in, but this is a good intro.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
1. I am, as usual, reading in Oregon.

2. I am excited about my library copy of The Upside of Unrequited.  I so loved Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

3. Well, I accidentally ate my cookies a couple of days ago, but I do still have a couple of candy bars from Trader Joe's to anticipate.

4. I read.  I teach reading.  I used to hike a lot, but have become sedentary and sluggish over time.  I have two kids. I currently have the maximum 100 books checked out from the library, mostly because of a picture book project I'm working on for my classes, but also because of Read-a-Thon!

5. I will be taking my daughter to a 3 hour class in a few hours, and will spend her class time in a coffee shop.  This will be my first time taking the RAT out in public!

Back to The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I am enjoying quite a bit.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Thoughts and Links

Votes on my "what should I focus on for my portion of the Book Love grant winners' presentation at NCTE next fall" question clearly indicate a preference for what I'm calling "Low brow books to hook super reluctant readers."

And then I saw this post by teacher-author Teri Lesesne and felt even MORE sure it would be a good choice.

Which in turn reminded me that I've been keeping a stash of interesting bookish links that I should probably just share with you.

  • School Library Journal has tons of fascinating articles, including this one about six YA #ownvoices novels.
  • I found the executive director of the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators to have a good suggestion for writing "diversity" if you're a person of privilege--don't write from the POV of someone who is from another group, but do include them in your story.
  • Author Sarah Ockler puts in her two cents (well, more like a buck fifty--she has a lot to say!) on the same topic.
  • Here's a discussion about the difference between middle grade and YA novels.  It's a tricky line, especially in a middle school classroom where different kids have different levels of maturity and life experience.
  • I like the American Library Association's video about the ten most challenged books of 2016.  I really liked showing it to my classes and hearing their outrage over some of the titles being considered offensive.
  • A call for the media to cover children's lit in their literary reviews at a rate commensurate with how popular it is.
  • Some suggested trends for YA to explore, with examples.  I'd add Gabi, A Girl in Pieces to "Positive Body Representation for Girls of Color," and Pointe to "Dancing Queens," and I'd suggest the addition of "Trans and Non-binary People" to the list of characters we need to see more of.
Lots of food for thought. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why yes, I AM a National Presenter about Books in the Classroom. And YOU get to Take a Poll

Well okay, more of a co-presenter.  With two dozen others.

But still.

Last year I won one of Penny Kittle's Book Love Foundation grants for 500 books for my classroom library.  This was super exciting, as you can imagine.  The recipients, past and present, started talking about meeting up at next year's NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference, and about putting together some sort of testimonial of thanks for Penny and her foundation.

This morphed into "Wouldn't it be cool if we put on a joint presentation on the effect this grant has had in our classrooms?"

So someone fantastic organized it, and a bunch of us added our names and ideas, and last night we found out that YES we will be running a group presentation.  Each of us will have a table and a topic, and our visitors will rotate through three topics/tables of their choice.

Some of the others are presenting on book talks and on conferencing with students about their reading.  I feel no more than adequate at book talks, and I KNOW I need to work on my conferencing skills.  So I'm trying to figure out an interesting topic I can share about at my table.  Here are my ideas so far.

1.  Inviting Students into the Community of Readers
Last year I had an ongoing assignment in which students earned different amounts of points for a wide range of options, from sharing their latest book with the class to writing a review to commenting on a book blog.  I didn't do it this year in part because too many kids worked out ways to game the system, instead of choosing assignments that they were really invested in.  But other students did some great things, and I'm planning on revamping it over the summer and trying again next year.

2.  Low Brow Books to Hook Super Reluctant Readers
I have a post coming out next month on the Nerdy Book Blog about the books that are just now starting to make a few of my most resistant students actually read.  Choose Your Own Adventures.  Manga.  Scary Stories Online.  Re-reads of books we read as a class.  Audiobooks.  I've had to undo a lot of my prejudices about what "counts," and the payoff has been that kids who have always refused to read are actually starting to try.

3.  Finding and Choosing a Range of "Window" and "Door" books.
Basically, information about diverse books, plus some wisdom I've gleaned along the way about what groups have historically been underrepresented, misrepresented, or kept to a single story and how to find books that rectify that.

4. Classroom Library Organization and Record Keeping.
Pretty self explanatory, and it would definitely be an "un-conference" situation in which I share what I do, talk about what I like and don't like about my current system, and then encourage others to share their systems as well, so we can get more examples out there.

So if you were a teacher, or if you had a teacher that was going to spend some time thinking about stuff like this, which would be the most interesting topic to learn about?

Which subtopic should I present?

Inviting Students into a Community of Readers
Low-brow books to hook super reluctant readers
Finding and choosing a range of "Window" and "Mirror" books
Classroom Library Organizing and Record Keeping

Monday, April 24, 2017

TTT: Nope. No way. Not gonna read it.

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  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 them out!

The topic this week is Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly NOT Want To Read A Book 

Because I am a well mannered person, I'm going to refrain from publicly and gleefully giving examples of books that do most of these things.  Feel free to supply your own...

1.  Everyone is miserable, and then things get worse.  The end.  I'll make an exception to the rule I JUST MADE and give you examples, because I'm pretty sure you can't hurt a dead author's feelings.  Ethan Frome and Lord of the Flies will forever remain burned in my mind as terrible, horrible books because of this trope.

2.  Overtly religious books.  Or maybe I mean preachy books? Or books published by Christian publishers?  Because I will read the heck out of Anne Lamott, and I loved The Sparrow.  But those books you see on the rack at the grocery store with titles like "God's Promise"?  Those I won't touch with a ten foot pole.

3.  Novelization of movies.  Especially Disney movies. When my daughter was younger, I told her she could check them out, but I was NOT going to read them to her.  SO BORING.

4.  Horror.  No gleeful gore, no violence porn, and definitely not something that is actively trying to scare me.  I've read some pretty violent books (the examples that come to mind are all Scandinavian, interestingly) and liked them, but I don't do straight-up horror.

5.  Books that are trying to be chick lit.  I have read many good books that could be classified this way, but when they actually try to write about shopping and shoes and makeup and dating--count me out.

6.  Books that glorify things I find repugnant.  I imagine most of us are reluctant to go there, but where "there" is varies wildly from person to person.  I'll keep it bland here and just say I'm not a big fan of slavery or misogyny, especially when either or both are thinly disguised as erotica.

7.  Books about business.  Okay, I'm reaching here.  But I'm pretty sure that if there's one section of the library I've never visited, it's the 330s.

8.  Military history.  I like history.  And I like a lot of fiction set during war.  But I don't like reading step by step analyses of battles.

9.  Sequels to mediocre books.  This is kind of a new thing for me.  I used to be a pretty thorough series finisher.  But with the explosion of my TBR list, I no longer feel inclined to keep reading if a series is just okay.  I know, I know, it could get better, but I just don't want to waste time on characters and worlds and writing styles that aren't working for me.

10. Books that imply love can fix mental illness.  Do I really need to explain why these upset me?

It's Almost Read-a-Thon Time!

And I'm so excited!  (Check out the details about Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon here.)

Though my class of reluctant readers thought I was super weird when I told them about it.  "You just read?  Sounds boring!"

HA!  If only they knew.  If only I could help them find a book they don't want to put down.

Well, D. keeps telling me the new Scott Westerfeld is good, and S. is pretty dang engrossed in the Brody's Ghost omnibus I finally tracked down.

Here is what I would read this weekend if I had all the powers of concentration needed to do so:

A Gentleman in Moscow
The Upside of Unrequited
A Conjuring of Light
The Lies of Locke Lamora

But that would be a tiny bit intense, don't you think?  Plus, there's a lot of reader expectation riding on all of these, and I don't want to get too bummed out by any disappointments, nor do I want to dilute the amazingness of any of them by cramming them back-to-back with the rest.  So, realistically, we're looking at 1 or 2 of the above, and then some lighter stuff for balance.  Graphic novels, accessible poetry, middle grade fiction, novels in verse, and YA contemporaries.  Potentials for that include:

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price
Tell Me Three Things
Keesha's House
House Arrest
Giant Days 2-4

Soon I will have to go buy my Read-a-Thon snacks as well as figure out how to handle the family obligation side of my life.  I will probably take my daughter to her language class, which means I lose an hour in the car (I COULD listen to an audiobook, but I think I want to actually interact with the kid for that time).  But I can hole up in a coffee shop for 3 hours while she's there, and that will be fun.  I've never taken the Read-a-Thon public before.  

I turned down an invitation to get together with some friends and their friends to have an art evening.  Normally I'd love that, but Read-a-Thon is only twice a year!  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Grumpy Reviews: Wires and Nerve, The Hemingses of Monticello, and My Life in Black and White

Are you ready for some grumpiness?  I have read three books recently (well, read two books and gave up on the third) that just didn't do it for me.

And as much as I kind of hate to be negative--I mean, I LOVE other books by the same author--I also know that it can be both entertaining and helpful to be told why someone didn't like a book.  So I'm going there.

(Let me also say that I've read a few spectacular books lately as well, but I'll talk about those another day.)

Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer is a book I treated myself to after we took a crap-ton of books into Powell's and got a gift card in exchange.  I wanted to complete my Lunar Chronicles collection, and I loved the idea of a graphic novel, and that it would star Iko.

So this evening I sat down to read it and--blahness ensued.

The pictures are too cartoony and cute.  There's no grittiness in any of the characters, and very little glamor either.  The storyline seems desultory.  Iko herself does shine, but the other characters all feel flat and dull.

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed is one of the first books I ever put on my Goodreads "to-read" shelf.  It sounded fascinating--a history of the enslaved family that was both owned by and in later generations fathered by Thomas Jefferson.  But it also sounded pretty serious and clocks in at over 600 pages, so I decided it would be a good candidate for listening to in the car.  After all, that's how I conquered both Columbine and Pillars of the Earth.  But after a few weeks, I had to give it up.  I feel like a bit of an asshole being the white blogger lady who couldn't get invested in this book, but it was just too dense and scholarly for me.  The author analyzes and argues minute point after minute point.  This is not a work of popular history.  It's worthy and well researched and all that, but it just doesn't make for fascinating reading/listening.

My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend
This one pisses me off the longer I think about it.  I'm just going to copy and paste my reactions from Goodreads here.

This is the kind of YA book that really isn't meant for adults to read. It's goes by quickly enough that you might not notice at the time, but for all that its heart is in the right place, there's a lot of problematic nonsense involved.

The premise--a beautiful girl with a powerful best friend loses her looks in a scandalous car crash and has to reassess her sense of self--is a good one. And yet for a book that sets itself up to show how wrong it is to value someone (including yourself) for their looks, it sure is obsessed with looks.

There's the whole offensive "Annoying girl's main annoying trait is that she's fat, but then she loses weight and becomes less annoying" thing. There's the "I thought my sister was a loser because she totally does her own thing, but actually, she's so cool that she's hooking up with the super hot guy" subplot. Because of course, sister has no value for being an interesting and confident person unless it's validated by a hot guy. And of course the "I thought I was no longer worthy of the male gaze because my face is disfigured but a BETTER guy came along AFTER the accident, and anyway, I'm not actually disfigured, I just have a tiny patch on my cheek that only I would really care about, and I still have princess hair and a smokin' hot bod." 

Okay, the more I think about it, the more I'm having problems with this. I'm not saying teenagers don't obsess about things like where they sit in the cafeteria and how their mom reacts to their food choices, but why would I want to read about it?

Monday, April 17, 2017

TTT: Ten Must-Read Authors

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  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 them out!

The topic this week is Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book 

I certainly have topics*, formats**, settings***, and genres**** that I'm more likely to pick up, but I don't think any of them guarantee I'm going to read a book.  The only thing that makes a book a must read for me is if the author is one I trust completely.  So here are my top ten "I'd even read their grocery list" authors.  

I'm going to keep myself focused by only including authors who are still writing (no Dickens or Austen) and whom I've read more than just one series by (no Suzanne Collins or Marissa Meyers, even though they've both written more than that one series).  I'm also not adding any authors I've only read one book by, no matter how eager I am to read their other work (Zentner, Albertalli, etc.)  Also, I'm not saying I've read every single book by these authors, or that they've never written a book I was just "meh" about.  But they are consistent enough that I will always give them a chance, and I will probably work my way through all of their books eventually, even if I haven't yet.

Alphabetical because I can't rank them!

M. T. Anderson
I love how varied Anderson's work is.  The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is the first book I read after joining Goodreads, and it was a doozy.  Feed is very different in style and tone--from a gigantic faux journal or historical fiction to a straight forward dystopian novel. And then there's the composer's biography.  Because that fits right in.  I am eager to keep reading his work and see what else he's come up with.

Matt de la Peña
Another author who isn't afraid to try new things. One of my colleagues introduced me to Mexican Whiteboy.  I went on to read Ball Don't Lie and We Were Here , all three of which fit into the same genre category.  I Will Save You went in some new directions, and The Living/The Hunted took that world and moved it into science fiction, and then BOOM Last Stop on Market Street wins the Newbery and reveals more beauty to me each time I read it.  Plus, seeing Matt speak on an author panel made me an even bigger fan (and made me feel like I can call him Matt now).  So much heart, and so damn smart.  And his dialogue sounds like he's been eavesdropping on my students.

Neil Gaiman
I have not loved every single thing I've read by Gaiman, but I've found all of it interesting, and I always want to see what he comes up with next.  He's a Literary Figure at this point, like Twain or Hemingway.

A. S. King
I saw Amy King speak on the same panel as Matt de la Peña and was blown away by her ferocity and complete lack of (and intolerance for) bullshit.  Her best-known work, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, won a Printz award.  Her books all have varying degrees of magical realism.  I Crawl Through It was too challenging for me (though I will come back to it during some summer vacation), but I adored Everybody Sees the Ants, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, Reality Boy, and Ask the Passengers.  I'm looking forward to reading Still Life with Tornado too.

Barbara Kingsolver
I used to read books written for grown-ups too, and when I did, loved me some Kingsolver.  Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, and Animals Dreams were my introduction to her, many years ago.  I then went on to read her essay collections High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder, both of which I loved. I even read her first book, which was nonfiction, as well as some of her later fiction that branched away from her southwestern setting.  I was embarrassed to get a bit bored and put off by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I'm still game to try anything she's written.

Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin will always be my #1 writing hero.  I read the first three Wizard of Earthsea books in middle school, when they were fairly new.  I went on to read some of her adult sci fi, but I think it was when I started reading her essays in college that I really understood what a phenomenal thinker she is.  I love how she's revisited Earthsea as her own understanding has developed--at the time of her original writing, she's said, it never even occurred to her that the strong central figure didn't have to be male.  Her historical fiction is also terrific, and I love many of her poems and stories.   I was recently super excited to come across two gorgeous volumes collecting her short stories and novellas, respectively.  I bought one and am saving up for the other.

Patrick Ness
I don't quite remember how I first heard about Ness, but I know the premise of The Knife of Never Letting Go sounded interesting.  I adored all three books (and bonus stories!) in the Chaos Walking series, and when I saw another book with his name on it (More Than This), I bought it even though I hadn't heard of it yet.  I went on to get A Monster Calls and The Rest of Us Just Live Here.  All these books are different in tone and style, but all push boundaries of imagination and build empathy.  I got to meet him once and found him absolutely lovely.  He's pretty terrific on Twitter as well.  I can't imagine ever not reading something he wrote.  Like, I've never seen a single episode of Dr. Who, but I'm definitely going to try to track down the Dr. Who spinoff he writes for.

Rainbow Rowell
I liked Fangirl.  I loved Eleanor and Park. (I think which of those two you like best is a generational thing.)  Landline and Attachments were okay.  I wasn't that excited about Carry On, and then I read it, and loved it, even though it was so, so different than her other books.  I will definitely read whatever comes next.

Ruta Sepetys
I had to read Between Shades of Gray, since it's about a Latvian family that is exiled to Siberia.  I lived in Latvia for several years in the 1990s, and pretty much everyone I met had a connection to someone that had been deported during the June, 1940 Stalinist raids.  I liked it, but maybe not as much as others did, because it wasn't quite as startling to me, having heard pieces and variations of it already.  I didn't think Out of the Easy would be quite my thing, but I gave it a try because I do want to support Sepetys's work.  I thought it was fantastic.  Salt to the Sea was as well.  I can't wait to see what she does in the future.

Neal Shusterman
Neal Shusterman is pretty much god.  Everlost was interesting and creative, but I wasn't compelled to read the rest of the series.  My students, however, gobbled them up.  Then came Unwind.  WOW.  This series rivals Chaos Walking for my favorite modern sci fi series.  Challenger Deep took a completely new direction, and I read it while I was taking a class for people with family members who have major mental illnesses, so--yeah.  Powerful.  I jumped back and read one of his Antsy books and couldn't stop laughing.  Read Scythe, and while it didn't quite do to me what Unwind did, it has the same quality of raising really interesting and important questions without telling you what to think about them.

* siblings, pioneers, medieval history
** multiple pov, epistolary, double timelines, unreliable narrator, alternative history
*** the far north, Oregon, USSR/Eastern Europe
****fantasy, not super cute contemporary, mystery

Friday, April 14, 2017

Creativity, Reading Choice, and Eavesdropping on a Birthday Party

There are five 4th grade girls and one 1st grade girl sitting at my dining room table, painting.  My daughter is turning 11, and just like the past three years, she's invited some friend over to play, craft, and eat.  It's pretty simple, especially now that I've started judging the party by "Did they have fun?" instead of "Is it Pinterest-worthy?"

The first year she wanted a princess theme, and we planned several games, but all the girls wanted to do was the craft project and playing outside.  So the next year, we just got supplies for a different craft--sharpies on mugs.

Now, if you got a bunch of 40 somethings together to paint mugs, there would be much hemming and hawing, with a lot of "oh, mine is dumb" and "I don't have any good ideas."  The 8 and 9 year olds, however, just jumped right in.  They had their ideas immediately and proceeded with confidence.

So this year, we left it even looser.  We got a bunch of cheap flat "canvases" and paint and turned them loose.  Again, everyone got straight to work, and the range of ideas is stunning.  They are also encouraging each other and praising each other constantly.  They occasionally ask for advice, and their friends think about it seriously and share their thoughts.  It's beyond sweet.

They're also chatting the entire time they paint.  One girl mentioned her great-grandmother is 104, and I added that Beverly Cleary just turned 101 the other day.  Many of the girls knew her books, and that started a talk about other books.  Percy Jackson, Mysterious Benedict Society, Warrior Cats--their enthusiasm was almost as touching as their creativity and kindness.

They also talked about reading levels, which their school color codes.

"I'm orange, but I hope I'm going to be purple pretty soon."

"I'm just a white."

"I can't wait until I move up a level so I can read other books."

I'm trying to be unobtrusive about my eavesdropping, so I don't know if jumping in to say, "That's bullshit! Read what you want!" is really the right move.  Still, I'm disturbed by the juxtaposition of their natural sharing about books they love with the rigidity which I know is enforced in their classroom regarding which books they "supposed to" read.

I wonder if next year they will still feel as free to create whatever they want, or if they will start the smothering self-criticism that so many of us do around creativity.  The idea of being "good" at something or "not good enough" is poison we breathe in.  Instead of enjoying the process, we get hung up on comparing our results. I want them to read what they want, create what they love, and support each other's attempts to do new things.

I want that for all of us.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

April Six Degrees of Separation: Room (Part 2)

I've seen this on Wilde on My Side, and she pointed me to Books Are My Favorite and Best as the originator.  Basically, everyone starts with the same title each month, and then using your own personal trains of thought, lead your readers through six books, one to the next to the next.  It could be authors, covers, time of life when you read the book, or any other connection that comes up in your mind.

I missed doing this last month, what with the SOL frenzy, so I'm being completely self indulgent and doing two lists this time.  Part one was yesterday, and here's part two! 

My first list spent quite a bit of time on classic works of literature.  Today's list is more modern and fairly bleak, which seems fitting too.  

1.  Room
2. I Hunt Killers
3. The Game of Love and Death
4. Snow Falling on Cedars
5. The Merchant of Venice
6. The Haters

The starting point this month is Emma Donoghue's Room, which I read about five years ago.  
It is told from the point of view of a 6 year old boy who has lived his entire life in one room.  It becomes clear pretty quickly that he and his mom are prisoners of a man who kidnapped and raped her.

That's pretty grim, right?  I mean, besides all the rest of it, it means that the kid's biological father is a creepy kidnapping rapist.  Which makes me think of Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers series, in which the protagonist's dad is the worst serial killer of all time.  (Well, the best.  Which makes him the worst.)

I really like the black and white and red on the cover of the entire series.  It's a classic color combo, and it was also used to great effect on Martha Brockenbrough's The Game of Love and Death.  Take a look:

So cool.  I first heard of the book when Brockenbrough spoke at the Oregon Council of English Teachers conference in 2015.  She's from Washington and the book is set in 1930s Seattle,  A wealthy white boy falls for a cabaret singing, airplane flying black girl--but they are pawns in the eponymous game.  Another beautiful book about cross-racial romance in historic Washington is Snow Falling on Cedars.  

Several years ago my mother-in-law took us to a stage production of it, which was wonderful.  Even the scenes in the small fishing boats were beautifully done, which requires a complete buy-in from an audience.  I can't remember if she'd gotten us season tickets or what, but we saw an extremely avant-garde* rendition of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in the same theater around the same time.  

There was a sign outside the theater warning of male nudity and cigar smoking, which was our first sign that this was not your typical Shakespeare production.  They kept the language exactly the same, but created new action around the dialogue--gay lovers, a rape scene, and well, I don't remember where the cigars came in, but they were there.  My final connection is the loosest one yet, but I'd have to say reading The Haters gave me a similar sense of "Wow, did he just go there?  Yep, he sure did.  And now he's taking it a step further."  The humor is crude and the characters are in some ways not very likable. (I saw Jesse Andrews speak at the national convention for English teachers and he trumpeted, "Down with plot!  None of my characters learn anything!" with tongue only slightly in cheek.)

These are so much fun to put together.  I hope they are worth reading as well.  I'll be playing next month as well!

*I'm not actually sure what avant-garde means.  I'm basically using it here as a fancy word for "weird."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

April's Six Degrees of Separation: Room (Part one)

I've seen this on Wilde on My Side, and she pointed me to Books Are My Favorite and Best as the originator.  Basically, everyone starts with the same title each month, and then using your own personal trains of thought, lead your readers through six books, one to the next to the next.  It could be authors, covers, time of life when you read the book, or any other connection that comes up in your mind.

I missed doing this last month, what with the SOL frenzy, so I'm going to be completely self indulgent and do two lists this time.  Part one is today and part two will be out tomorrow.

The starting point this month is Emma Donoghue's Room, which I read about five years ago.  
A movie version came out more recently, but I didn't think I would enjoy it.  

List one:
1.  Room
2.  Emma

Room is written by someone named Emma.  Emma is, well, about someone named Emma too.  

Emma is also the favorite Austen novel of my sister, who named her daughter Emma in her honor.  My sister is also largely responsible for introducing me to mysteries when I was a kid, and one mystery author we both read faithfully is Elizabeth George.  Her most recent addition to the Inspector Lynley series is A Banquet of Consequences.

Banquets, in turn, remind me of feasts.  I've never read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, but it has been recommended to me many times over the years, and I really truly intend to read it.  Soon.  

Decades ago I wrote off all the tough-guy early and mid-century authors as not to my taste, which is one reason why I haven't read much Hemingway.  It's also why I hadn't read much Steinbeck, until I was living in Riga, Latvia and had access to a very small English language library.  With such limited options, I gave Grapes of Wrath a try, and it blew me away.  The experience of reading the first page, in which a turtle crosses the road, and being AMAZED at how fascinating he made it will always remain with me.

One of the rare English language books with a Latvian protagonist is Between Shades of Gray.  All of Sepetys's historical novels are excellent, but this one, despite taking place mainly en route to and in Siberia, is the most distinctively Latvian to me.  Nearly everyone I met had an aunt or neighbor who'd been a victim of the mass deportations in June of 1940.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

This or That: Bookish Edition

During my Slice of Life month of blogging and commenting, I read a post called "This or That," and thought--ooh, that would be fun to do a bookish version of!  It's probably been done before, but I don't think I've seen it, so if I'm ripping off your idea, give yourself credit in the comments.  Otherwise, play along in the comments and/or create your own post!

Buy new or buy used?
Either, but I'd rather buy used (or remaindered) when I can, because I'm cheap like that.  As long as the book isn't gross or stinky, I don't care if it's used.

Eat while you read or read while you eat?
There's a quote about this, but I am too lazy to look it up right now.  I prefer to eat while I read--snacking on a chocolate chip cookie or caramel while I sit on the couch with my book.  If I'm eating something messy or soupy, then I have trouble reading while I'm eating at the table.  I want both hands for the book.

Re-read old favorites or pre-order upcoming possibilities?
I didn't even know about pre-orders until a year or two ago, and it's not something I've done very often, but I HAVE pre-requested books at the library several times lately.  I re-read constantly as a kid, but now I have too much FOMO.

Read every single word or skim at times?
I'm a skimmer.  I have to force myself not to accidentally read the next page if things are tense, and I feel totally fine with skimming if I'm bored.

Happy endings or tragic?
Happy, but not too happy, you know?  Like, I don't want to feel pandered to, and I want the characters to earn their redemption or what-have-you.

Audiobooks or ebooks?
Audiobooks, though I'm not a huge fan of either.  Audiobooks go too slowly, and ebooks are hard on my eyes.  But I like that I can listen to Audiobooks while I drive.

Multiple books at once, or one at a time?
This is another one that has changed over time. Lately I seem to always have multiple books going.  First the obvious ones--the book I'm reading to a class, the book I'm reading to a kid, the book I'm listening to in the car, and my book.  But sometimes that morphs into my book at school and my book downstairs and my book upstairs and my book that I started but then got distracted.

Mostly one genre, or a little bit of everything?
A little bit of everything. Except horror.  And most Westerns, romance, and erotica.  And business books.  Okay "everything" was clearly overstating it, but I do like fantasy, sci fi, mysteries, historical fiction, memoirs, YA, picture books, classics, and some fancy-pants literature.

Lifelong obsession or later (re)discovery?
Family legend has it that I taught myself to read at age three.  I've never stopped.

Classics--yea or nay?
Yea.  I don't read as much as I used to, but I used to read a lot of Dickens, Hardy, and Austen, and a lot of my childhood favorites were classics too.

Read aloud to others or be read to?
I really like reading aloud.  I get super into it too.  I like being read to also, but it goes too slowly.

Absolute silence or background noise/music?
Whatever.  I don't need quiet, but if I start out listening to music, I tune it out pretty quickly.  Recently I was reading a book at an elementary school event in the midst of gleefully shrieking kids.

Cover on or naked?
Naked.  Covers drive me nuts.  Except occasionally lately I've come across covers with a really pleasing texture that doesn't feel like plastic to my fingers and doesn't slip around annoyingly.

Dog-ear or bookmark?
Trick question!  Neither!  Usually I just have a sense of how far into the book I was a flip through it to find my spot, or if I'm leaving for just a short time, I put the book upside down.  This is part of where being a fast reader comes into play--I am only looking for my spot a couple of times during any one book.

Movie covers or originals?
Just kidding.  Everyone knows movie covers suck.

I'm linking this up with the Discussion challenge on Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight, so go ahead and discuss your take on these choices!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

March in Review

Last month was all about the reading and not so much about the writing; this month was the opposite.

My Reading

# of books read: Ten.  TEN! That's like a normal person or something.
Best(s):  This is tough, since I had a lot of 4 star books, but nothing higher.  I'm going to to with Girl in Pieces and The Other Boy.  And not just because they both have beige covers, which is fairly unusual.


Mt. TBR progress:  Four, bringing me to 21 this year.  I've passed Pike's Peak and am near the summit of Mt. Blanc.  79 to go to reach my Everest!

Bookish Events and Happenings:

I participated in the Nerdy Book Club's #titletalk Twitter chat for the first time and came away with approximately 739 ideas about how to keep my students reading over the summer.  I've stopped buying (as many) new books for my classroom library, and INSTEAD I'm buying books to give away at the end of the year.  If I get enough, I'm going to hand a book to each of my students and say, "Here, I think you might like this."  If I don't make that goal, then I'll have massive raffles and give away books to as many kids as I can.  There are also some more sustainable systemic ideas I am going to run by my boss when I get back from spring break.  

I also fiddled some more with my Goodreads shelves, sorting through the nearly 2,000 titles on my "to-read" list and putting 155 on an "urgent" shelf and another 614 on a "maybe" shelf.  Basically, the 155 are books I actively, eagerly want to read right now.  And I blame ALL OF YOU for the fact that I actively, eagerly want to read 155 books.  The 614 are books I'd put on my to-read shelf but have no memory of what it is about them that made me do so.  The rest are books I am at least dimly aware of, but don't have that sense of urgency about.  

I found this poster my dad brought back from a trip to DC when I was in high school, and I finally put it in a cheap frame.  I hope to find a spot for it in my classroom.  Yes, that right there is a poster that spent thirty years wrapped up in a cardboard tube.  

Finally--already getting excited about my third Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon at the end of this month.  Sign up!  It's the best!  

On the Blog

You may have noticed that I participated in the Two Writing Teacher's annual daily slice-of-life challenge in March.  Unlike last year, when I posted 45 times, I pretty much ONLY participated in the challenge, and I'm excited to get back to focusing more on books and reading.  (Hey, did I just discover a way to get over a slump?  Focus on a different type of blogging for a month?)  I only missed one day all month and ended up with 32 posts total.  I included a couple of super personal posts and a few psuedo-poetry posts.  I indulged in a few posts about my kids and students, and a few posts that included mostly photos.  It really is fun to play around with different topics and formats like that.

Last year I found a few particular blogs I enjoyed and really focused on reading and commenting there.  This year I found SO MANY interesting blogs and posts and really jumped around every day.  


Today is the last day of spring break.  Sob.  But I'm enjoying what I'm doing at school, so it's not too painful to consider returning.  We didn't do any one big thing this week, but a bunch of smaller things--a movie, a trip to OMSI, haircuts, ice cream, sleepovers, crafts, Goodwill excursions, etc.  My highlight was spending the night at my sister's with my other sisters. We ate and drank a bunch, talked and laughed a bunch, did some doodling, and started sorting through the HUGE amount of art our parents left behind.  Our dad was a professional photographer, and our mom was a fabric artist.  There's a lot of things that we don't feel right discarding, but there's no value in just storing them either--and we all already have more than enough of their art for our personal use.  

I'm still really enjoying my bullet journal, and finding that between that and the SOL challenge, I'm looking for opportunities to be creative myself.  Like when my daughter and I played with Fimo dough one day:

I'm a native Oregonian, so the rain really doesn't faze me as much as it does some.  But even I am getting tired of the incessant gloom and drip, so the few bursts of spring weather we've gotten are doing me good.

Enjoy your April!  Read good books!

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!