A Carnival of Losses: Notes on Nearing Ninety

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People call me an old soul. I’m not sure what I think of such a label, but I do know one thing- to be in the presence of individuals with depth, wisdom, and a wide range of life experiences makes my soul sing for days. I gravitate towards people who are real, genuine, and bold- people who teach me and challenge me simply through the gift of their time. It is with them that I feel most at home, where real conversations can begin.

51rnA2NaotLA friend of mine recently discussed the importance of diversity in friendships and specifically focused on age. She shared that wisdom is real and younger people benefit from spending time with those older than themselves. In addition, older people benefit by soaking up the enthusiasm, joy, and freedom infused into the souls of young people.  I quite agree.

Don Hall’s newest book of essays, published only weeks after his death, shares beautiful insight into growing old.  He discusses feelings of invisibility, that people stop seeing, really seeing you as you age. His language throughout is beautiful as he explores lying “back in the generous comfort of solitude” and articulates the differences between loneliness and solitude. Reading his book was like sitting down with a good friend and I enjoyed every single moment.

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At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream

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What is it with Saugatuck this year?  Saugatuck, Michigan, located exactly 32 minutes from my parents’ condo, is the vacation destination of literally everyone in my Central Illinois town. Okay… there are five people going but given the population of where I live, that is a significant percentage! And also, who can blame them?

 

Not only is the entire population of my town heading to Saugatuck this summer, but upon reading the front flap of a memoir recommended to me by a friend I discovered… it took place in Saugatuck! I really feel like the universe is trying to tell me something very important, if only it would speak more clearly and specifically… and maybe with a few S.M.A.R.T goals thrown in for good measure.

51gmUp4Pb1L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_So let’s talk about the book- At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream by Wade Rouse. If you are going to read a book like this, it is essential to have the right setting so off my dog Lucie and I went- through the woods and to the river with our oversized, Pottery Barn Beach Towel in hand for a silent reading party.

Wade, inspired by his grandmother to become a modern day Thoreau, leaves city life in St. Louis for the rural life outside of Saugatuck. Now Saugatuck is beautiful, upscale, and populated (in the summer), but Wade and his boyfriend find themselves in a cabinesque dwelling in the middle of nowhere and in the dead of winter! Wade is hoping to have more time to write and fewer distractions, but his attempts to adjust to the country are absolutely hilarious making this book the second book in my life that has caused me to actually laugh out loud! I connected to his plight and found this book to be quite entertaining- the perfect read for a day at Oval Beach, if you happen to find yourself there this summer!

 

Smart Summer Reads- Non-Fiction Edition

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Want to get me inappropriately excited?  Just invite me to a silent reading party.  That actually happened today- true story!  Here are some non-fiction titles to bring along to all your summer silent reading parties (or beach trips, if those are more your style).

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Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Let’s start the summer off in a cheery manner by reading about dead people.  This book is actually hilarious, and educational, and absolutely disgusting.  Caitlin Doughty worked in a crematorium and this is your inside scoop into what goes on there.  The portion about the fluffy woman…?  Okay, just read this and then we can talk!

 

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Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Did you know that surgeries used to be done on stage, in an auditorium, without anesthesia?  Learn about the history of surgery in the most entertaining way possible by reading this book!

 

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All These Wonders by Catherine Burns

Do you enjoy listening to The Moth?  You will LOVE this book which is some of the stories you’ve heard on the podcast put into a print format that is perfect for short burst of time that you may have at airports, in cars, or at the pool this summer.

 

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Upstream by Mary Oliver

I’m not a huge reader of poetry, but this book touched my soul when I read it prior to its publication.  If you like nature, reading, or thinking deep thoughts then I hope you read this book with a pen and savor every word!  Better yet, take it outside and read it in nature.

 

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

The only book that has ever made me actually laugh out loud!  I was Jenny’s author escort at Chicago’s Lit Fest a few years ago and it was absolutely incredible to meet her and watch her go from incredibly anxious to turning the switch into performance mode for her talk.  It’s been awhile since I read this book, but how this woman survived her crazy childhood and turned into such a lovely human is beyond me.  The audiobook is an even better way to read this gem!

 

81krYWlgMTLMWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

One friend date, every week, for a year.  The same day that I met Jenny Lawson I also met Rachel and as her escort!  This book describes her 27th year when she was married, living in Chicago, and found herself without many close friends.  It’s an honest look into a struggle many women have when the natural friend making channels, such as school, are yanked away.  Rachel decides to do something about it and goes on one friend date a week for an entire year.  She meets people in all sorts of ways and it’s incredibly entertaining to read about her adventures.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a must read for me every summer and listening to the audiobook is even more enjoyable.  Follow Barbara on her journey into a year of local eating and living the rural life.  Also, the portion about turkeys?  I can’t even!

 

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The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

A man walks into the woods and lives there for 27 years.  This is the true story of the Maine hermit and how he was finally caught!

 

 

download (1)The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck

I was an odd child.  On more than one occasion, I packed a trunk with my American Girl dolls, clothes, toiletries, and put it on top of my bed to sit on like a wagon seat pretending that I was on the Oregon Trail.  I did not allow myself to play with anything that I hadn’t packed for my journey and typically lasted a day or two of washing my clothes in the backyard before I decided my game was just too much.  Well, take my childhood dream, morph it into adult style, and you will get this book!  Two men and a dog decide to follow the Oregon Trail in modern times complete with a covered wagon and a few mules.  History lessons and hilarity ensue!

 

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Theater Geek by Mickey Rapkin

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve always wished I could go to boarding school or a fancy summer camp so books that take me there put me in an epic state of bliss.  This is a behind the scenes look at Stagedoor Manor, a prestigious summer camp that Natalie Portman, Mandy Moore, and countless other famous actors attended as children.

 

 

What are you favorite non-fiction picks for summer?

Smart Summer Reads- Fiction Edition

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I’m a seasonal reader.  There are books I would love in winter that absolutely will not do in summer!  With the end of our school year approaching on Friday, I’m craving books that are light and deep.  A splash of humor could also be warranted. Seemingly impossible to meet all these demands, I assure you that it can be done.  These are the ten books you want in your beach bag this summer!

41fz9yQEMIL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale

College student. Writer. Coffee shop. Boston.  I loved this book from the first page when Lena is trying to flirt with a guy in a coffee shop and is incredibly awkward about it.  The start of the novel made me grateful to be far past my early 20s, the time of trying on various personas before finally settling into your own skin and becoming fully yourself.  The novel follows Lena through the rest of her life, almost achieving a birth to death arc.  It’s full of humor and enough literary references to fill my soul to the brim!

 

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You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is the beach read for smart people!  It’s a collection of short stories that will make you laugh and yet are relevant and true.  Curtis allows readers to glimpse into the lives of interesting people at posh parties, in taxi cabs, and at yoga studios.  It is a book of short stories for readers convinced that they hate short stories!

 

 

51lrxE5w2VL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The book that made me love Ann Patchett, a book I’ve read four times, and the first selection for my summer book club this year!  Dr. Marina Singh travels into the Amazon after hearing about the death of her fellow researcher who was trying to discover the status of a fertility drug under development by their company.  Her path crosses with Dr. Annick Swenson, a former mentor and adventures happen.  Many people hated the ending, but I found it absolutely perfect!

 

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

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.

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!

 

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

A lovely story about a family doing life the very best they know how.  I won’t tell you more, just read it!

 

 

 

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Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burnes

One summer, 14-year-old Will’s grandmother dies and three weeks later his grandfather announces that he’s getting married.  Not only is he getting married, but the woman is half his age!  Of course, the entire town starts gossiping about the marriage and the story is both hilarious and touching.

 

 

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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is a book well loved by President Obama and is one to read with a pen in hand as the language is musical and the quotes are numerous.  Gilead is a letter from an old, dying man to his young son- only seven at the time of the letter.  If you like this book, there are others in the series although any of them could also be a stand along novel- I actually read Lila first!

 

 

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A murder told in reverse.  A group of classics students at an elite, East Coast college commit a murder, but why? Every person I’ve gotten to read this book has loved it!

 

 

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The River King by Alice Hoffman

I haven’t read this novel since AP English, but I’ve always had a secret desire to attend boarding school and absolutely love any novel that takes place at one.  Along the same lines as “The Secret History”, a body is found at a prestigious boarding school and the whole town becomes involved trying to discover what happened.

 

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Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Last but not least, summer is the perfect time to re-read the Harry Potter series.  I assume this needs no further explanation 😉

 

 

 

What books do you recommend for summer?

 

 

 

 

You Think It, I’ll Say It

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I have more hobbies than the average human.  In fact, I have such a wide variety of interests that some days I amaze myself.  Allow me to illustrate: I read books, read about books, read galleys, review galleys, visit bookshops, talk about books, buy books, follow booksellers on social media, collect signed first editions, and meet authors.  I’m very well rounded.

Last December, I was stalking looking at Mary Laura Philpott’s Instagram when I came across a book coming out in April, “You Think It, I’ll Say It” by Curtis Sittenfeld.  Instantly, I requested it on Netgalley!

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When I was approved, I realized it was a book of short stories.  I do NOT like short stories.  They are not short enough to actually feel short and yet are too short for anyone else to read them.  Essentially, when you finish a short story you have no one to talk to.  It’s a very lonely experience.

This collection was drastically different.  I could not put it down!  It was exactly what I was looking for- fun and light, yet also witty and real.  It’s the perfect beach read for smart people- a collection that I could get a lot of people to love!

So there you have it, yet again I discovered another great book before the general public had a chance to read it.  End of story.  Actually, there is more…

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Not only did I read it before publication, but I had a signed first-edition in my hands THREE days before its book birthday!

On Saturday, April 21st, I made the trek down to St. Louis for the book launch.  There was the required trip to Left Bank Books, the mandatory taco stop, and of course the normal procedure of showing up two hours before the event began and getting kicked out of the library as a result.  I made friends with the absolute best people and enjoyed the event immensely.  The only downside was when I asked my question, what books have you read recently and loved, Curtis provided me with three books I had already read and thus, no real recommendations.

This event will have me in an epic state of bliss for days and all I can say is, St. Louis, I’ll be seeing you, in every lovely summer’s day, in everything that’s light and gay…  You have won my heart ❤

 

 

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!

 

 

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.