George Saunders

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2013_t100_poll_saundersPygmalion Festival– a festival in which authors such as George freaking Saunders and Anthony Marra make their way to the middle of nowhere to discuss works of absolute genius!  When I first moved to Champaign in 2013, I cried at the thought of living in the country and yet now, Champaign stands out in the distance as an urban mecca in the middle of the cornfields in which I now find myself.  The “real country” surrounds me.  A place of mice smushed in almost comical running man positions on the cement outside gas stations that sell pizza and breadsticks with nacho cheese.  A place in which an ordinary trip to the winery results in the viewing of a cat parading across the grass, mouse in mouth, as it slowly devours its prey, bones and all, amidst the shrieks of people leaping up on picnic tables as if their very lives could be saved if only their feet would avoid touching the ground.  Its theatrics were unnerving.  A place in which despite the mice and breadsticks with nacho cheese, I have found my home.  A home in which weekdays and weekends are equally loved because my heart is so full of love for my school that sometimes, it hurts.  A home in which although I live in an absolute state of bliss the entire summer, I miss my work family so incredibly much and rejoice when I am able to touch base via Facebook, summer book clubs, or random appearances at Project Kid Tech events.  There is so much to love about this place: the nature, the people, the libraries.  And so I carry on- traveling for author events, watching far too many interviews on YouTube, and sustaining my soul with the monthly book deliveries from Parnassus Books in Nashville.

Then came the day I met George Saunders.  Hearing he was coming to town, I made the thirty minute drive to the University of Illinois, book in hand, to wait outside the Colwell Playhouse at Krannert Center. I should note that I have a great deal of experience at author events, enough to almost always be first in line and secure the very best seat in the house.  I make the line, every time.  Quite a ways into my waiting time (in which I was still the lone person waiting and thus, not exactly making the line) a woman walked up asking if I was Megan.  I told her my name and then looked to the man standing to her right, GEORGE freaking SAUNDERS!  I smiled and thanked him for coming to Champaign.  He said it was no problem, shook my hand and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m George.”  I tried to remain calm and not laugh at his introduction, as if I didn’t know who he was.  Certain behaviors must be performed out of politeness rather than an actual need to know someone’s name.  George and I talked for around five minutes until the infamous ‘Megan’ arrived.  We talked about Chicago, his daughter, our love for Ann Patchett, books… It was only after he was fully inside the theatre that I let myself freak out like a crazy fan girl immediately posting on Instagram and calling my mom, because who else do you call in a moment like that?

51L+TB2lO2L._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_Finally three other people joined me in line (one of whom I became friends with for the evening) and we made our way inside the theater.  George read aloud, Nick Offerman skyped in, and George signed my copies of Tenth of December and The Braindead Megaphone all while discussing teaching and how lucky my school was to have me (I should have asked him to put that in writing- surely great evidence for the Danielson Framework).  Alas, I already owned a signed copy of Lincoln in the Bardo (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year) thanks to Cat and the other staff at Parnassus or I would have picked up that book too!  Then I returned to my little apartment in the country and spent the next week stealing chunks of time to read the two books I purchased.

I am a huge fan of books of essays, but reading the title essay from The Braindead Megaphone is certainly the best I’ve read in a long, long while.  It’s entertaining, and so true to the situation we find ourselves in.  I will not say more.  Everyone must read it immediately, this is not a drill!

Like Lincoln in the Bardo, The Tenth of December is best read in its audiobook format by the author himself.  The book is so dark and yet humor pours through making it bearable and thought provoking, poking fun at typical American life.  George Saunders is a highbrow David Sedaris– if you will.

So start with “The Braindead Megaphone” essay, today’s essential reading, and then go get yourself an audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo to savor the performance of 166 actors for tonight’s audio theatre.  That my friends, will consist of your introduction to George Saunders!

 

 

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The Heart Goes Last

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Hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes- a piece in the New York Times this weekend encapsulated my fears quite accurately and yet we push forward.  We try to find solace in books, faith, friendships, our work, and other comforts despite the new normal for the United States.  Readers often migrate towards science fiction and dystopian literature in times like these seeking company, albeit fictional, in their worry.

“We take refuge in make-believe terrors so the real ones don’t overwhelm us, freezing us in place and making it impossible for us to function in our day-to-day lives.” -Stephen King, Danse Macabre

25241635And yet, the famous Canadian author, Margaret Atwood doesn’t write science fiction as much as speculative fiction, a genre much less comforting (a fact I clearly noted when I finally got around to reading my signed copy of The Heart Goes Last two years after it was selected as a First Edition Club pick).

“Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.” -Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last starts with Stan and Charmaine trying to survive in a beat up car while gangs wander around trying to rob or rape whoever they can find.  Stan and Charmaine’s economic hardship leaves them desperate for a solution and when Charmaine hears an advertisement for a new community, they jump at the opportunity and apply for admittance.

Reading Margaret Atwood is scary.  Scary because it could happen. Scary because sometimes, it already has.

You don’t honestly believe this whole operation is being run simply to rejuvenate the rust belt and create jobs? That was the original idea, but once you’ve got a controlled population with a wall around it and no oversight, you can do anything you want. You start to see the possibilities. And some of those get profitable, very fast.

Did you get goosebumps?

Prayers to everyone everywhere, especially this weekend!  May you find shelter in all its many forms.

Manhattan Beach

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School started this week.  If you are a teacher you know what that sentence *really* means.   It means that I was in an epic state of bliss the entire week and by Friday, I crashed.  People say there is no tired like “first week of school” tired.  I say, there is no tired like “first week of school that starts with an eclipse” tired.

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Instead of resting, I filled my weekend to the brim with wieners and wine, tubing and wine, shopping, coloring parties, and other bonding activities with my cousin who was visiting me from Michigan.  It was essentially the best possible weekend, especially when we added silent reading parties to the mix!

When you are reading a book that catches hold of you and won’t let go, silent reading parties are a must- with or without company!  The book? Manhattan Beach, out October 3rd.  Thank you, Scribner for allowing me to read it 37 days early!  This is going to be one of the BIG books this fall!

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Manhattan Beach, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan, begins with the great depression and then drops readers into World War II.  Anna is twelve at the start and lives a split life- at times accompanying her father on mysterious business deals and staying at home with her mother and severely multiply impaired sister at others.  She is in absolute control of her emotions and the time spent with her father seems like an act, a show she is putting on to help her father’s image, to aid in his shady business deals.

Suddenly, we are in World War II.  Anna’s father has disappeared and she fights back by working in a factory, taking care of her sister, and trying to become the first female diver.  Ghosts from her past reemerge as she tries to connect the dots and determine what actually happened to her father.  She is the truest example of grit!

This is a book you must read this fall so pre-order it now from your local indie bookstore!

Sing, Unburied, Sing

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A restorative justice training in 2014 helped me understand the educational impact of trauma and taught me how to instruct knowing that the majority of my students at the time had high ACE scores (adverse childhood experiences).

Many teachers understand and have sympathy for students with rough home lives, but we need to move beyond feelings and act.  Students who have experienced trauma are not lazy, explosive, or defiant- they are in survival mode.  Their brain develops differently and teachers need to use trauma-informed practices in our classrooms.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is drenched in adverse childhood experiences and follows JoJo and his sister Kayla as they leave the familiarity of their grandparents’ home and dying grandmother to go on a road trip with their distant drug-addicted mother to pick up the children’s abusive father from prison.  JoJo serves a dual role as a child and as a father figure to his toddler sister, a role I’ve observed many times in real life.  He is the consistency throughout the chaos.  JoJo stole my heart and I mourned more deeply for him with each page.

The trauma present in the lives of JoJo and Kayla, while horrific, is not that unusual in our world, and is a powerful reminder to all of us who work with children.  In fact, trauma was pervasive throughout all of the generations represented in the novel.  Immerse yourself in this book, enter into the children’s lives, weep, then dry yourself off and do something because as Jeanne Ray said of another book, “None of it happened and all of it’s true.”

Out September 5th!!! Thank you Scribner for allowing me to review this book!  Now go pre-order this or, better yet, meet Jesmyn Ward in person on September 12th in Nashville!

Elizabeth Strout

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A flood permeated St. Louis on the day I was to see Elizabeth Strout.  It had been raining since Wednesday and it was now Tuesday.  The ground just couldn’t take it.  Yet nothing, not distance nor flood waters, could keep me away from a Pulitzer Prize winning author and so, I went.

18199124_10105024027275982_5080229422090543422_nGifted by my principal with a half personal day (well, it’s in our contract, but I’m still grateful), I grabbed a Teacher Appreciation Week sub, two cookies, and hit the road.  The drive was smooth, no traffic, no flooded roadways, although, when you look of to the side of the road and see a street sign looking very short in the middle of a lake you know there may be some water issues.

My first stop after passing near the colossal Gateway Arch was Left Bank Books.  I parked in the loveliest, tree lined, upscale residential area.  Gardener’s trucks lined the street along row houses with the most beautiful flowers!  There was nothing I’d love more, I decided, than to be a guest at one of those homes on a hot summer day, sipping iced tea, visiting, and people watching.

Stepping into Left Bank Books, I was greeted by Clare who I adored instantly.  I asked her what I NEEDED to read and after a brief conversation, books were selected and a pile formed at the checkout so I could continue to browse comfortably without simultaneously working on my arm strength.  Shane also helped because the absolute best part about visiting an independent bookstore is getting recommendations.  I’d like to consider myself pretty educated on new releases, and have even read many prior to publication, but each time I find my way into an independent bookstore, I leave with a stack of new discoveries.  I travel for bookstores, honestly, and each trip is like a treasure hunt in which I get the treasure, every time!

Leaving Left Bank Books I made a quick taco stop for a budget friendly dinner before continuing on to the highlight of this micro vacation, Elizabeth Strout!  I arrived at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters at 5pm, doors opened at 6pm, and so… I got in line.  Wait, that is not accurate language, I made the line!  Soon after, more women joined my line, each of them formulating a sentence or two of small talk before pulling out their purse books (a purse book is a thing!). And so there all of us were, a line of women reading, united silently in our love for Elizabeth Strout.

Finally, doors opened and I got the best seat in the entire place.  Front row, first seat (This seems to be the norm for me at author events, at least it was for Marilynne Robinson, Ann Patchett, Adam Haslett, and R.L. Stine this year. I’m also good at sneaking into events without a ticket but that is a tale for another day.  I promise I am only a rebel concerning literary matters)  The identical seat on the other side of the aisle was reserved for her husband and thus, my seat was best!

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So there I sat in a sea of middle-aged women, soaking up every ounce of Elizabeth Strout that I could for one of the most bliss filled hours of my life.  When it came time for questions, I raised my hand and asked the first question, into a microphone, with zero anxiety (I used to be much more timid in my younger  years)  I asked Elizabeth what books she brought with her while traveling or what she had read recently and loved.  Sidenote- this is a question that authors get asked at every event, this question, or some variation of it, is pretty much a guaranteed question.   She answered that she had read Moonglow by Michael Chabon and was also reading a number of biographies.  You can see a detailed list here of books she has loved and re-reads often.

The talk ended and I was third in line for signing.  She was so friendly and gave me prolonged eye contact after she finished thanking me.  Elizabeth Strout genuinely loves her readers! It was official, I now had THREE signed Pulitzer Prize winning first edition novels, owned a signed copy of every book Elizabeth Strout ever published, and had spent my 30th year of life meeting 75% of my favorite authors of all time (I still need to meet Donna Tartt, but that seems to be a bit more of a challenge)  I hurried out of there, racing home, and arrived to my apartment at midnight; it was a school night after all- the best school night ever!

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What authors have you met?

This Is How It Always Is

17991773_10104985936285632_1729343328917272185_nA good book can stretch you far beyond anywhere you thought you could reach yourself.  I picked up this book, not knowing a single thing about it, after I saw the following posted on Instagram:

Such a gorgeous and love-filled story. When I finished, I held it to my chest and didn’t want to put it down. Read immediately. Go now.

When this lady recommends a book, I listen, and so I read. I fell in love from the first page- not only with the author’s voice, but also with the family: a writer, a doctor, and their five boys. I followed the family doing life until I realized what this book was really about and then, I loved it all the more!

I think I’ll leave you here, knowing nothing more about this book than when you started- because that really is the best way to read a book, after all.  What I will say, is that I loved the messiness of this- of people doing the best they could without knowing all the answers to all the questions, as Elizabeth Strout says in My Name is Lucy Barton, “Because we all love imperfectly.”

Happy World Book Day, my friends!18076867_10104989277514782_6717138800242989198_o

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

302272cdb314cbf37d15f4eb22cd36fd_XLTo begin reading a galley of a book and fall in love instantly is one type of bliss filled experience that contains equal parts misery as it cannot even be shared with others!  Your friends don’t have access to the title until its publication day and then, even if they do run out to their nearest independent bookstore to buy it, you must wait patiently for them to read the thing- which seems to take forever.  I can’t even…

That said, I’m incredibly grateful to The Dial Press for letting me read this book prior to it’s publication and to Parnassus Books, particularly Catherine Bock, for selecting this book as the April pick for the Parnassus First Edition Club!  Not only did I get to start reading it before publication,  I now own a signed copy!!!

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley follows Loo and her dad, Samuel, as they hop from town to town, running from trouble, before finally settling in Olympus, Massachusetts- her late mother’s hometown.  Loo’s childhood is less than idyllic and the chapters alternate between the present day in Olympus and Samuel’s past- illuminating the story behind each of his twelve bullet wounds.

I enjoyed this book because the characters were fully formed and the text well written and yet there was an incredible plot launching you ahead- a rare find in literary fiction.  One review called it a “literary thriller”- I need to research that term more because that is exactly what I need more of in my life.   Had I not been traveling so much in recent weeks, I would have finished this in a day!  It’s really that good!

Now my desperate plea: if you are my friend, sign up for NetGalley so we can talk!!!  Thank you for your cooperation on this matter!

Lincoln in the Bardo

61fSQq54ToL._AA300_There are books to be read silently and those to be read aloud.  Lincoln in the Bardo is best read aloud, performed in fact by a cast of 166 narrators!

George Saunders tells the tale of Abraham Lincoln losing his son and follows him in his grief.  It takes place in a cemetery and is told primarily by ghosts.  The actual text of the book looks like you are in an internet chat room- do those even exist anymore?

I like to consider myself a good reader, but I found the text of my signed copy rather confusing to follow and was never able to “get into it”.  It felt like work the whole time.  That said, I loved the creativity of the story and knew it would work well as an audiobook or play.  I instantly requested the it from my library and I LOVED it!  It was pretty much the most entertaining audiobook ever- apart from Educating Esme or Let’s Pretend This Never Happened!  There are also big name cast members!!!  See below for Audible’s highlights:

Nick Offerman as HANS VOLLMAN
David Sedaris as ROGER BEVINS III
Carrie Brownstein as ISABELLE PERKINS
George Saunders as THE REVEREND EVERLY THOMAS
Miranda July as MRS. ELIZABETH CRAWFORD
Lena Dunham as ELISE TRAYNOR
Ben Stiller as JACK MANDERS
Julianne Moore as JANE ELLIS
Susan Sarandon as MRS. ABIGAIL BLASS
Bradley Whitford as LT. CECIL STONE
Bill Hader as EDDIE BARON
Megan Mullally as BETSY BARON
Rainn Wilson as PERCIVAL “DASH” COLLIER
Jeff Tweedy as CAPTAIN WILLIAM PRINCE
Kat Dennings as MISS TAMARA DOOLITTLE
Jeffrey Tambor as PROFESSOR EDMUND BLOOMER
Mike O’Brien as LAWRENCE T. DECROIX
Keegan-Michael Key as ELSON FARWELL
Don Cheadle as THOMAS HAVENS
and Patrick Wilson as STANLEY “PERFESSER” LIPPERT
with Kirby Heyborne as WILLIE LINCOLN,
Mary Karr as MRS. ROSE MILLAND,
and Cassandra Campbell as Your Narrator

So… if you are looking for a great audiobook to get you through some upcoming road trips, this is one that I would definitely recommend!  What are your favorite audiobooks?

Strong is the New Pretty

51pSVxVSneL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_THIS is the book that every woman needs!  Actually, it also happens to be the book every little girl needs laying around her house so that she can look at the photographs of strong girls, set goals, and dream.

I’m grateful to Workman Publishing Company for allowing me to review this book prior to publication!  Due to technical issues with my file, I ended up just having my library send me a copy after it was published and, ironically, I read it on the same day that the Donald revoked the Fair Pay order, April 4, 2017.

Kate T. Parker is a mom and photographer dedicated to allowing her two daughters to be exactly who they are.  As she shot pictures of her girls, she noticed the most powerful images were those in which her girls were being “100 percent themselves”.  She turned what she noticed into a project taking images of girls all over North America.

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The photographs are so beautiful and the quotes from the girls are incredibly wise.  I’m not used to looking towards those who are younger than I for inspiration, but that’s exactly what happened.  It was so wonderful to read about what being a “strong girl” means across a variety of experiences and ages.

Strong girls unite!

 

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

March 17, 2017, the official start of spring break and the date of my most recent pilgrimage to my favorite bookstore- Parnassus in Nashville.  Yes, the majority of my traveling revolves around bookstores, it’s true!  I prepped for weeks: making an inventory of the books I owned but had not read, purging books I no longer cared to read, attempting to read as many recommended books as was physically possible during scholastic bowl season, and gathering a mental list of the books I read recently and loved in an attempt to acquire absolutely perfect recommendations from the booksellers at Parnassus.

I do believe I acquired the perfect, personalized recommendations that I longed for!  Shortly after arriving to the store, I asked for Catherine.  Catherine Bock, an Illinois native, manages the first edition book club I subscribe to and we have been in contact periodically over the years whenever I had a question about my account or ordered books online.  The first edition club has drastically changed me as a reader and I wanted to meet the person who was indirectly responsible for changing my life (aka- evolving me into a book snob).  She was so kind and loaded me up with recommendations- some for now and some later; I adored chatting it up with her!

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Once back at the hotel, I started straight away on my spring break reading, beginning with The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel.  I LOVED it!!!  Summary: this guy walks into the woods in Maine and stays there for 27 years!  He breaks into cabins and a summer camp for food/supplies and passes time by reading.  The most frequently stolen items include batteries, junk food, and books- only the necessities, right?  Hearing how he survived, outside in Maine, for 27 years was fascinating to me and I finished this book the very next day.  Had I been home, this would have been a “read in an afternoon” sort of book but alas, sight seeing happened.

Last weekend was epic and I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to travel (and read).  I hope everyone has a wonderful spring break!  What are you reading?

Idaho

idahoThere is an epic problem associated with reading new release books- when you finish the very last word, on the very last page, after reading in a paralyzed state for hours on end, unable even to refill your water glass, and you look around frantically wanting to discuss what the heck just happened and there is literally no one else who has read it; it has only been out 11 days.  This is the situation I find myself in.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich tells the story of lives impacted by a murder- a mother killing her child.  Pieces of the story come together slowly in beautiful prose with the novel moving throughout time told from two different perspectives.

This is literary fiction through and through although masquerading, at times, as a mystery.  Attempt to discover the reasons behind the horrendous act along with the characters, but be prepared to do the work; this book is more about the emotional journey of the characters.

Whatever brought that hatchet down was not a thought or an intention. No, the hatchet caught on the inertia of a feeling already gone.

We are only 14 days into 2017, but this will be on my top ten list for the year!  Please read it and let me know what you think.  I desperately need to talk to someone!

Every Teacher a Leader

9781506326436Schools are filled with individuals whose greatest desire is to help students grow.  From the principal to teachers, custodians, nurses, secretaries, tech support- we all work together as a team towards the same goal and each member has a vital role to fulfill.  We are all equally important!  Many books are written for principals to hone their leadership skills, but very few are designed to help raise individual teachers as leaders- until now!  The book, Every Teacher a Leader by Barbara B. Levin and Lynne Schrum strives to illuminate the influence teachers have on their colleagues and help them further develop their leadership skills.

Teachers are leaders when they: advocate for students, collaborate, help new teachers, share their learning, and connect with community members.  Many teachers, myself included, thought these tasks were simply part of being a teacher and did not realize the degree that they demonstrate leadership.

After a brief introduction the book launches into a series of chapters designed to help teachers reflect on their goals, personality, and areas of growth before moving into sections that help teachers better fulfill possible tasks including: grant writing, leading professional development, and advocacy.

Being trusted to get the job done is the number one factor that defines job satisfaction.

This book didn’t offer a great deal of new information on how I could improve within my current role, but I appreciated the morning of self-reflection it brought on.  I sat with a cup of coffee on an icy Saturday, reading and considering the reasons behind the unnatural degree of love I have for my current position. I am grateful every single day for my work family.  It may have taken me six years to find my way, but I am home.

Poverty

One of the things that I love about fiction, both reading it and what I hope to do writing it, is the way it forces you to enter deeply into the spirit of others. You break out of the shelter you’re in most of the time, you are forced to enter other ways of seeing, other ways of living, other ways of being, the particular realities that other people inhabit. One of the banes of this world is how easily we reduce others to Them. The minute you get one of Them up close, suddenly your ideas don’t hold up.

The quote above is from Tobias Wolff and embodies the reason behind why I read the two books that follow.  Both books explore poverty in our world today and I read them to launch myself outside of the bubble I find myself in- to experience life from the perspective of someone else.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is literary non-fiction that follows several families living in the slums of Mumbai, India.  The slums are juxtaposed with the luxury hotels and airport on the other side of a wall and the book is difficult to read at times.  Boo discusses suicides, rat infestations, and garbage heaps using vivid, graphic descriptions. Readers discover what really happens to the money donated by charities, learn what education looks like, and find out the jobs people will do to try to make money.

That said, the book is so much more than just gruesome descriptions of slum life; Boo focused on human perspectives on life in the slums and the efforts to escape.  My favorite character was Manju, an aspiring teacher.  Only 60% of teachers had a college degree and many secretly paid a great deal of money to a principal of a school in order to secure a job.  Once a position was secured, they were absent as much as they worked and so many times going to school for children simply meant playing, eating lunch, and playing some more.  Manju really loves teaching and she starts informally subbing for her mother’s class.  Her mother views her as an overachiever and seems to think teachers only need to be in the classroom when their boss is observing.  I enjoyed seeing Manju do the right thing for kids- even when no one was watching or requiring it of her.

It’s easy to read Behind the Beautiful Forevers and have your heart broken by the individuals living in poverty, but Matthew Desmond takes the issue of poverty, drops it on your doorstep, and demands to know what you are going to do about it in his ethnography, Evicted.  Matthew follows eight families in Milwaukee as they navigate the unending cycle of evictions and homelessness.  Landlords are also included in the mix; Matthew rented a trailer to be close to the people living in the trailer park and despite countless maintenance requests, never had hot water.

Matthew helped me better understand the transient nature of some individuals and why children often move without notice.  I also saw the great strength of people who have to wake up every single day fighting for their basic needs and how hard it is for them to make progress towards their goals with compounded limitations and generational poverty intertwined into their every move.

We have a problem and we need to unite in order to fix it.  How will you help our most vulnerable?

Family Stories

20170101_085330Much of my reading consists of new release books or books not yet published and so I begin each year with a classic- thus ensuring that I get at least one into my system.  It’s a bit like eating a salad before you start your main meal.

This year, I selected Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie written in 1911, and within the first few sentences I was hooked.  Of course, is it possible to go wrong with a British children’s book?  The language was so magical and wrapped me up in blanket of warmth (except for the bit describing Tinker Bell’s appearances! Seriously?).  Despite all the adventures in Neverland, Wendy valued family most of all.  Peter Pan also went through great lengths to seek out a “mother”; deep down it was something he cared about too.  I’m with Peter, everyone needs a mother, no matter how old you are, and if not a biological mother, then at least a gray haired friend or two to help you along life’s journey.

My second book of 2017, The Excellent Lombards, Jane Hamilton, follows Mary Frances from her early elementary school years living on her family’s apple orchard through her high school years and is somewhat autobiographical.  Mary Frances has anxiety about growing up and worries about the orchard.  I felt such a strong connection to her, but it hit me the hardest when the attack on the world trade centers occurred in the plot.  The narrator talked about watching CNN all day at school, carefully analyzing her teachers’ reactions to what happened, and worrying about war. Mary Frances’s experience was exactly my own.  Overthinking everything, being dramatic, finding comfort in books were other similarities between myself and Mary Frances… traits I still have.  I even have family ties to an apple orchard although, my generation was never on the farm- but that my friends, is another story for another day!

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As we begin 2017, I hope to read to stretch my mind, hear other viewpoints, and walk in the shoes of others.  I will read to be changed and to be comforted.  Until next time, I will leave you with the words of David Kipen:

More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.

Pop Sugar’s 2016 Ultimate Reading Challenge

On January 1st I began a frenzied reading challenge!  Within a month, I had lost interest and started reading whatever I wanted.  Looking back on the list now, it appears I completed 85% of the challenge anyway.  Here is what I read!

  1. A book based on a fairy tale- The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
  2. A National Book Award winner- The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  3. A YA bestseller- Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
  4. A book you haven’t read since high school- I re-read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but I have read that MANY times since high school…
  5. A book set in your home state- Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon (for a second?)
  6. A book translated into English- The Dinner, Herman Koch
  7. A romance set in the future- …
  8. A book set in Europe- Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth
  9. A book that is under 150 pages- Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  10. A New York Times bestseller- Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
  11. A book becoming a movie this year- A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  12. A book recommended by someone you just met- When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi (does it count that I met Ann Patchett after she recommended it to me… and by me I actually mean the internet people reading her blog?)
  13. A self-improvement book- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  14. A book you can finish in a day- My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
  15. A book written by a celebrity- Where Am I Now?, Mara Wilson
  16. A political memoir- The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
  17. A book at least 100 years older than you- …
  18. A book that’s more than 600 pages- Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
  19. A book from Oprah’s book club- As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
  20. A science-fiction novel- …
  21. A book recommended by a family member- Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
  22. A graphic novel- Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, Roz Chast
  23. A book published in 2016- The Mothers, Brit Bennett
  24. A book with a protagonist who has your occupation- Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
  25. A book that takes place during summer- Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett
  26. A book and its prequel- March, John Lewis
  27. A murder mystery- The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware
  28. A book written by a comedian- …
  29. A dystopian novel- Underground Airlines, Ben Winters
  30. A book with a blue cover- The Residence, Kate Andersen Brower
  31. A book of poetry- Upstream, Mary Oliver
  32. The first book you see in a bookstore- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  33. A classic from the 20th century- Black Boy, Richard Wright
  34. A book from the library- Zeitoun, Dave Eggers
  35. An autobiography- Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
  36. A book about a road trip- Round Ireland with a Fridge, Tony Hawk
  37. A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with- Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  38. A satirical book- …
  39. A book that takes place on an island- The All of It, Jeannette Haien
  40. A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy- Penguins with People Problems, Mary Laura Phillpott

Coming soon… my favorite books of 2016!!!

March: Book One

marchbookone_softcover_lgThe past few weeks have been rough and I’m mostly just angry with myself.  I’m disappointed that I didn’t take seriously the possibility of failure.  I’m upset that I held ideals inside me without stressing action to help them come to fruition in my community.  I’m frustrated that I didn’t live out my Christian faith as much as I should have. Pope Francis says, “Let us pray to the Lord so that our walk in love never ever becomes for us an abstract love. May our love be concrete with works of mercy…” I’m so incredibly sorry; I’m ready to do the work now.

As I am writing, peaceful, unarmed water protectors in Dakota are being shot at with water cannons, concussion grenades, noise cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas. It’s painful to watch live and have absolutely no idea what to do other than pray, share, and make some phone calls in the morning.  That’s the worst part- watching people get hurt, or feeling that they’re about to get hurt, and not knowing what to do.

This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves. -Ann Patchett

John Lewis took hold of his world, put in the work, and made an impact.  Mr. Lewis recently won the National Book Award for March: Book Three, but I needed to start from the beginning.  March: Book One is a graphic novel that follows John from his childhood reading every book he could in Alabama to lunch counter sit-ins as an adult.  It was incredible to see the power from so many people gathering together, united, to do the right thing.  There was such bravery and I was very moved by the book.  It’s one of those books that stays with you and I’ll continue to think about it as I find what I can do to best help others and take a stand for what’s right!

The Mothers

28815371This is the book you want.  A book so smart, so beautiful; a book that talks about abortion not as a political issue, but as a decision that impacts the characters every moment of every day, infused into every fiber of their being.   A book with “real” characters, their messy lives, and their far from perfect decisions.

The Mothers follows three teenagers into adulthood as they deal with life- both inside and outside life.  Nadia is getting ready to go away to college at University of Michigan while dealing with her mom’s suicide and her unplanned pregnancy.  Her boyfriend, Luke is a former football star whose scholarship was rescinded because of an injury.  Finally, there is Aubrey the best friend also growing up without her mother.  This book is about decisions and the impacts those decisions have throughout a life, it’s about growing up.

Reading diversely is important and after analyzing my reading habits, has been something I’ve been working on for about a year now; there are so many incredible authors of color and I am just getting started.  That said, many books on my to be read list talk about slavery,  living in poverty, or the current role race plays in the U.S.- I wanted more.  I wanted to just pick up a book because it sounded good, regardless of the color of the author.  I wanted my reading habits to be naturally diverse, not due to effort.  Finally, I wanted the black experience to be part of what I read rather than the main focus.  Brit Bennett has done it; at 26, she has filled a void in literature!  Brit writes about middle class, Christian, black teenagers- ordinary people.  It’s not a narrative about race and yet racial issues are infused into it.  Whether you want to read diversely or just want to read one of the best books of 2016, this is the book you need.

***I own a signed copy***

 

Meeting Ann

My Bookstore edited by Ronald Rice has become my personal version of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. Some people travel for sporting events (Cubs, anyone?), I prefer to meet authors.  Years ago, I stumbled across the book after discovering Ann Patchett contributed an essay about her favorite bookstore, McLean and Eakin.  Not only is McLean and Eakin in my home state, but throughout the essay she professed her love for all things Northern Michigan.  Anyone who appreciates how beautiful Michigan is holds an extra special place in my heart.

Since reading the essay, I longed to go to McLean and Eakin.  It’s seven hours from my apartment, but only three hours from my parents’ house and could easily be a day trip taken during a time I was already visiting Michigan.  Months ago I learned that Ann was speaking there in October- on a day I was off work anyway (clearly, I work for the best school district in the WORLD who understands my passions)!  I quickly bought a ticket and booked a hotel room (complete with jetted bathtub and king size bed) for a fall weekend away to meet my favorite author, a woman I love as much for her writing as for her excellent book recommendations!

After a season of not so patient waiting, October came.  Those of you who read will understand the complete bliss I experienced to not only be in the same room as my favorite author while eating fancy hors d’Oeuvres and sipping wine, but in the front row and in the first seat!  Previously I had only met her dog, Sparky so this was a big step!  A picture with very bad lighting follows:

I arrived alone, but found plenty of other women to talk with and made friends with many classy “old ladies”, a skill I seem to have a knack for.  I was brave enough to ask a question, the generous glass of wine on a previously empty stomach may have helped, and as a result learned which books I’ll receive signed copies of from the First Edition Club between now and February.  The club is one of my greatest joys and I’m most looking forward to my signed copy of Lincoln in the Bardo this February!  Ann talked about the book she has in her head right now and even shared the title.  She answered many questions that she has discussed countless times previously, I could have answered them for her and many times I did under my breath.  I would like to publicly apologize to the woman next to me.

The event left me in an epic state of bliss the remainder of the weekend.  I found an incredible yoga studio, leisurely swam alone in my hotel pool, got excellent book recommendations from Alex Ness at McLean and Eakin, took advantage of Restaurant Week with my cousin who joined me Saturday, purchased sour cherry preserves at American Spoon, traveled the Tunnel of Trees, and visited more wineries than I am used to visiting on a single day.  To summarize, I had the most incredible weekend and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity!

Many people have a place they go to each year and never tire of, I have found my place.  Petoskey is  my love.  McLean and Eakin is my booktore.

Before I Go To Sleep

downloadThere are different books for every situation in your life.  When your sneezing increases hour by hour until by evening you realize that in fact, you do have a head cold you don’t want a book that makes you think.  You don’t desire a classic or a piece of new literary fiction or a biography, you actually want something fast paced and purely enjoyable. Before I Go To Sleep by  S.J. Watson is the perfect fall book to read in the throes of illness although, to be perfectly honest, I’m feeling much better.

Christine wakes up in a strange bed next to an older man and stumbles into the bathroom trying to figure out what happened the night before.  Looking into the mirror, she realizes that she has aged and is not the 20 something she thought she was.  Pictures taped to the bathroom mirror explain that the man in bed is Ben, her husband.  When Ben wakes up he explains to her that there was an accident and she has amnesia.  Each day she goes to bed and wakes up not recalling the events after the accident and even forgets much of life before the accident too.  This book follows her journey as she tries to piece together what happened and who she can trust.

This book was exactly what I needed today although the end wasn’t the most logical.  If you can read this without questioning how it’s possible then you may like this book!  Just go with it- it’s fiction.  That said, the author did do his research!  Now I look forward to reading Forever Today by Deborah Wearing which he referenced at the end of the book.

So that’s that!  One more book off my to be read shelf and less than two weeks until my visit to McLean  and Eakin to meet Ann Patchett!!!