Introduction to Audiobooks

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Summer is travel season and audiobooks keep me sane as I make countless trips to Michigan each summer through construction  and among the company of individuals who have watched a few too many “Pure Michigan” commercials.  Michigan is pretty much amazing so who can blame them!

Many people have asked me how I listen to audiobooks and share their failed experiences.  Besides making car rides more pleasant, there are two main things I like about audiobooks: first, they allow me to maximize my reading time and secondly, they make me slow down and really savor a book.  My current method of listening to audiobooks involves borrowing them in CD format from the library however Playaways are also great and Audible is always an option too.

One con regarding audiobooks is that there is a tendency for your mind to wander.  That is why the majority of the audiobooks I listen to are non-fiction and often, read by the author.  Listening to an author read their own work is very engaging and a much more intimate experience than reading on your own.  In fact, many of the audiobooks I’ll listen to repeatedly are ones read by the author.  Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell is my annual “playlist” for getting my classroom ready and gets me pumped for another year of teaching and learning!  With that said, on to my favorites!

Fiction:

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Non-fiction: 

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What are your favorite audiobooks?

Family Reunions

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There are two types of people: those who love family reunions and those who would rather clean toilets or scoop kitty litter than figure out things to say to relations they only see once a year.  I am in the first group of people.  Actually, I’m in my own group, a group of people whose favorite event all year is the family reunion. A group of people whose greatest joy in life is to chat about books, recipes, and family memories with those they can’t get enough of yet see only once a year.  It’s better than Christmas!  Perhaps I stand alone in this.

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If you want to see me in a state of pure bliss, just observe me on the second Saturday in July when our half Swedish, half French-Canadian clan gathers together in beautiful Michigan for the LaPointe reunion.  This particular group of (my mom’s) cousins I met periodically at funerals and the like as a child, but I didn’t really have any idea who they were, and certainly didn’t have much to discuss at the time with a bunch of adults.  In 2012, after years of attending reunions for the previous generation, the cousins decided to start their own reunion and so it began.  It was at that first reunion that I discovered how much I adored every single one of my mom’s cousins.

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I’ve had five visits to get to know these folks and each time I am amazed at how similar some of us are.  It’s an incredible thing to meet an individual from a different generation who instantly feels like your best friend and whom you share so much in common with.  There is an instant bond that cannot be described; it’s like seeing your soul in a mirror, the very essence of who you are.

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Saturday I arrived at the home of my cousin Molly only to be pulled into her house because she wanted to “tell me something”.  Once inside she shared that she had something for me.  She presented me with a book (I know this is already very exciting, but it gets better so hold on)!  The book was a COOKBOOK about a woman from a SMALL TOWN in Northern MICHIGAN who runs a FARM STAND and meets lots of FRIENDS.  Not only did Molly give me a book, but everything about me is in this book.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, there’s more.  The book was SIGNED by the woman who owned the farm stand!!!  There is a true talent in giving gifts and Molly has it mastered.

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Hollyhocks and Radishes is what Molly described as a “reading” cookbook.  The cookbook tells of life in a small town throughout the seasons of Northern Michigan in a series of letters between Mrs. Chard, who owned the farm stand, and the author of the book. You feel as if you are there with her the entire time you are reading, transported to the U.P. The recipes inside are old fashioned recipes and although you don’t have to try any recipes to enjoy the book, I do hope to make some.  This book is such a treat and I gave it five stars on Goodreads!

The next best thing to eating a good dinner is reading about it.

A weekend spent with family in Michigan is such a blessing, but now I return to Illinois.  Back to my home amid the soybeans and corn where the neighbors include horses and cows and the library is an oasis for dreaming.  It feels good to be back!

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The Weekend in Books

There is no better way to restore the soul than to spend the weekend reading, especially when it’s very cold and rainy outside!

63832Friday: Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

There are different books to read during different seasons; I read a lot of travel memoirs in the summer and this one was a masterpiece! Bill’s wife leaves him and he loses his job as an English professor around the same time so he decides to take off alone on a road trip around America following what he calls the “blue highways”, roads that are blue on an atlas or essentially country highways.  He avoids all expressways.  Along the way he meets a host of interesting characters and documents his conversations with them and discusses the various restaurants where he dines; he determined that the more calendars a diner has, the better the food.  Whenever I read during quiet time at the daycare, my students always excitedly ask me what is happening in my book. Unfortunately, they got a bit sick of me telling them that Bill was eating again, although I loved his descriptions of diner grub. His visit to a monastery was my favorite section of the book as he documented his conversation with a monk asking him about why he chose that lifestyle.  I have an interest in stepping into other people’s shoes and seeing how people live differently in various communities so I found it fascinating.  I think this curiosity is one reason I moved to country; I had never lived in the country before.

 

22693222Saturday: The Residence by Kate Anderson Brower

I discovered this book while browsing at Schuler Books, a bookstore from my childhood that I revisited recently due to curiosity.  One of the staff members placed a sign near it recommending the book and sharing that she could not put it down.  I thought it looked interested but highly doubted it would be difficult to put down.  Well, I started it Saturday morning while getting ready.  I read some more while I waited for my color to process at Kane and Co. (ask for Melissa), I read through lunch, and I read until 6:40pm when I finished reading the last sentence on the last page. The book was so incredibly interesting and allowed me to see life from the viewpoints of White House staff and the first family- again, my snoopy desire to see what the lives of others are like.  One of the most interesting aspects to me was the discussion of the transition between presidents.  The White House staff is grieving the loss of a family they have worked for throughout the past 4-8 years and yet have exactly six hours to move the former president out, move the new president in, and instantly start working for the new family without missing a beat.  This is a great summer read, especially with the election coming up this November.

 

77013Sunday: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

I need a redo in a few years when I have a few more difficult books under my belt. This book just made me feel really dumb.  There is so much talking about nothing that I’m not actually sure what is happening except for the fact that a family is on the way to bury their mother, but then I must have missed the part where they actually do just that. I was interested in Cora, but besides that wasn’t into it.  I’m not sure that Faulkner is my cup of tea.  I feel like I should like it, but I don’t.    This girl in particular really makes me want to like it, but I can’t at this time.

 

downloadMonday: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

After a lame reading day, I decided to read something incredible.  This is my millionth time reading this book, but my first time reading the illustrated version- worth every penny.  Despite the lame American title, this book actually contains the British text which I appreciate because there was never any need to translate it for Americans.  It adds more flavor to know that Albus Dumbledore, in fact, prefers sherbet lemons NOT lemon drops.  Considering another book is coming out this month after 9 long years without Harry, I’m going to be re-reading them and watching the movies this month until the 31st at midnight (at which time I’ll either be in line for the book or at home fast asleep waiting for the mailman to bring it the next day… I’m undecided.  The only reason I want to get it at midnight is for old time’s sake <3)!!!

Let’s hope next weekend’s weather brings a bit more sunshine❤

Traveling

One of the incredible things about living somewhere that is not your home is that you get to travel, a lot!  I have traveled home, or to Chicago, every single weekend since school got out for summer.

I went home for my birthday.

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I went home for my sister-in-law’s bachelorette party.

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I went to Chicago for Lit Fest.

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I went home for my brother’s wedding.

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I was even supposed to go to a conference this weekend in Peoria…

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All of this while working more than full-time during the week, with around 30 minutes of free time daily, meant that I got sick this summer… twice already!  I don’t do well on lack of sleep (or lack of reading time). After coming home from my brother’s wedding reception with 103 fever and spending the week sick and covered in a rash, I decided to stay in Illinois this weekend.  Instead of traveling today:

I went to the farmer’s market (for the first time all summer).

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I read two books (and ate cookies).

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I watched Nova then took a nap with my dog.

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I went to mass.

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Never has summer looked so good!  Travel is nice, but there are times when my soul craves a nice weekend in good, old central Illinois where the corn is starting to rise, temperatures break 90, and where a weekend spent reading on my deck is just what the doctor ordered!

Chicago Lit Fest 2016

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The skyscrapers rise ahead of me on the expressway coming out of the fog ahead until at last I am in the midst of them, the buildings towering over, stretching to greet me, to welcome me home. I moved to Chicago for work in 2009 frightened and lonely yet found a home there. Marilynne Robinson said that being in an unfamiliar place lets you see all things new. Her wording was much more beautiful than that, but I deeply connected with her observation. Each time I moved in my 20s, I had the opportunity to settle into a new culture, to see the world through a new set of eyes.  I view that as a wonderful gift and Chicago holds an important place in my heart- a symbol of bravery, ambition, and self-discovery.

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First in line!!!

Lit Fest was the reason for my pilgrimage today, my 5th year going. Each year I’m filled with new ideas; I could just sit and think for days in complete bliss. Sometimes I listen to authors who I’ve never heard of and whose books I have no interest in, yet the things they say touch me deeply as if all writers have an intimate connection to the very fiber of humanity.  Today I kept to a tight schedule sitting mesmerized by the wisdom of the Pulitzer Prize winning Marilynne Robinson, indulging in childhood memories with R.L. Stine, and soaking in the stories and life experiences of Adam Hasslett and Charlotte Rogan (who didn’t even start writing until age 30). Each venue allowed me to secure a front row seat. I even sat right next to R.L. Stine’s grandson and his son (Matthew) while I watched their reactions to stories about Matthew’s childhood.

Learning how to see something is a great experience in life.

Marilynne Robinson said today, “Learning how to see something is a great experience in life.”  Curving through country roads on my way out of the city after Lit Fest offered me the opportunity to view the beauty of my new community. Fields this time of year are sprinkled with soybeans and corn just beginning to reach up towards the sky, small towns stand proud each with a church at their heart, and children race around on bikes or splash through sprinklers like times gone by. Now as I sit typing, the sun dips below the trees spreading out like watercolors and I feel blessed, blessed to have somehow been called to live in this small town in Central Illinois, blessed with an incredible job and wonderful friends, and blessed to still have an entire day of weekend before me to read and write and dream. Most of all, I’m grateful to be home.

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El Deafo!

One day, I realized that I would never be able to read all the books. Why I hadn’t realized this sooner I’m not sure, but I do know that the thought upset me quite significantly. It’s a quite melancholy thought actually.  In 2014, I thus decided to be more careful about the books I selected, to read higher quality writing. In doing so, I became a literary snob. I didn’t set out with this result in mind, but once you stuff your head with high quality writing you can tell poor writing from pure genius almost instantaneously.  167 books later, I’m a quite critical reader and while I still enjoy summertime fluff, such as the book I finished yesterday- Before the Fall, it’s becoming increasingly rare for me to give a book five stars on Goodreads.

Today I finally finished a book worthy of five stars!  This is only my fourth five star review in 2016 and it goes to… EL DEAFO by Cece Bell!!! I didn’t know much about this book going into it other than that it was a middle grade graphic novel and that it was funny.  In fact, a book talk about it by a Champaign Public Library librarian describing a bathroom scene actually caused one of my 4th graders to laugh so hard he had an asthma attack which resulted in him being sent home after a nebulizer treatment did little to help the situation… Yes, the book was that funny!

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I was impressed with the artwork; you can visually see the main character Cece lose her hearing after a bout of meningitis as the speech bubbles fade and finally are empty. My grandma also lost her hearing after an illness as a child so I have a strong personal connection to this story causing me to love it even more. Cece gets a hearing aide, but the author teaches readers a great deal about life with hearing aides. She illustrates how Cece can hear, but that it sounds like gibberish regardless of volume. In one scene, Cece thinks a child tells her that her grandma likes pie when actually she has said her grandma might die. It’s through responding incorrectly that she determines what the child actually told her. The author also takes time to show social difficulties experienced by being a deaf kid and not being understood.  The fact that all the characters are rabbits, highlights how different Cece felt with her hearing aide because it’s much more visible if your ears are above your head.  The book also illustrates the many ways that the hearing can communicate with deaf/hard of hearing people in ways that are hurtful. This would be great bibliotherapy for deaf kids and those who are friends with someone who is deaf. I also think it’s a great way for kids to become more aware of the world around them and different cultures, even if they don’t personally know anyone who is deaf. Finally, this book shows both sides of the signing vs. reading lips debate and really helps illustrates the pros/cons.

It was only after finishing this book that I realized the author’s name was Cece and that this graphic novel was autobiographical. My love for this book increased astronomically when I found this out.  I can’t begin to imagine the impact Cece Bell has had on so many individuals!

Now to find my next great read <3

 

Summer Reading at the Lake

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Four hours and twenty minutes after leaving my teaching friends behind at the winery, I was home in Michigan. Summer in Michigan makes my soul feel complete- I don’t know how else to describe it. Families live outside in the summer biking, walking, running, exploring, getting ice cream; Grand Rapids, in fact, is the 6th fittest city in the United States according to Fitbit data. The best thing about Michigan is that you don’t have to walk very far to get to a lake. That means, I have lots of seasonal reading spots!

Saturday, my cousin and I celebrated my 30th birthday by heading to Saugatuck where we were near the waterfront all day shopping, dining, and discovering cold brewed coffee with chocolate milk- who knew?! I didn’t get a chance to read, but I did pick up We Were Liars from a bookshop owned by a glass artist and located at the top of a creaky set of nearly hidden stairs.

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Sunday I read, a lot. We Were Liars completed the “YA” category from my summer reading challenge at Catlin Public Library and I read most of it outside soaking it all in. I thought it was really well written for a YA novel. It was also a perfect beach read because it was about a family who spends summers together on their private island until an accident.1614334741h7rkNjOhL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

Monday, I visited my grandma and then walked to Reeds Lake with my dog to hang out and read. She loved it, I loved it, and it was a perfect day! I finished A River Runs Through It for the “Written by an Illinois Author” category of the summer reading challenge. It was recommended to me by Andy at Parnassus; never did I ever think I would read a book about fly fishing and enjoy it, but I did!

What is on your summer reading list?

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Olive Kitteridge

IMG_20111119_152318It was the fall of 2012 and I was living in an old civic center, across from a train station, where the upstairs offices had been converted into apartments and restaurants lay below.  The train station across the street allowed me easy access to Chicago and a library stood grandly in the middle of the road as an oasis for any sort of journey one might desire.  I walked to the library frequently and State of Wonder caught my eye one day.  It was actually the second book I read by Ann Patchett, the second set it South America, and I loved every moment.  I loved the plot, the strong female characters, and especially the ending!  It took me two books to fall for Ann Patchett, but fall I did and hard. I now own all her books including books she has essays in, am a member of the First Edition Book Club at the bookstore she co-owns, and have even given her dog a belly rub- see below!  I will also be purchasing a signed copy of her book newest book when it comes out this September!10450157_10102271216236372_8551159252442718937_n

Finishing a second book by a different author today caused me to realize that it takes one book to like an author, but two books to love him or her. Today I spent all day reading Olive Kitteridge, with a brief break to walk in the forest, and have officially added a new favorite author to my schema. I liked Elizabeth Strout at My Name Is Lucy Barton but love her after reading Olive.

Olive Kitteridge is actually a book of short stories, but all revolve around Olive, the high school math teacher, and the people in her Maine town. I devour a good book about New England, but what gets me about Elizabeth is her beautiful writing and her round characters.

For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy. Retired now, he still wakes early and remembers how mornings used to be his favorite, as though the world were his secret, tires rumbling softly beneath him and the light emerging through the early fog, the brief sight of the bay off to his right, then the pines, tall and slender, and almost always he rode with the window partly open because he loved the smell of the pines and the heavy salt air, and in the winter he loved the smell of the cold.

Elizabeth’s writing is on a different level.  The imagery draws me in and I have arrived. She stated in interviews how important it is to write a good sentence. To her, the way a sentence sounds is deeply connected to the story, to the emotions of the story. I guess this is why she won the Pulitzer for it!

In addition, her characters are so well developed, so human. I’ve heard people who hated the character of Olive because of her rudeness, but I couldn’t get enough of her. She reminds me of a relative of mine, very opinionated, who I deeply adore. It’s the story Incoming Tide that really caused me to love Olive because I felt like readers had the opportunity to see another side of her, to see beyond her shell.

I absolutely insist you give an Elizabeth Strout novel a try and add some more character-driven books to your shelves.

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Lab Girl

41rSfhQs1dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I never liked science in school. Not for me. Yet now as an adult it seems that some of my favorite books are about science. Lab Girl is a hybrid between memoir and popular science book about plants- specifically trees! Hope Jahren’s story was incredible. She talks about living with bipolar disorder and at becoming a scientist at a time when it was less common for women. The chapters alternate between the author describing an aspect of tree life and then applying the analogy to her own life memoir style. Lab Girl blossoms with alluring language and imagery to describe life.

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

The book takes us from her childhood through present day running Jahren Lab in Hawaii with this crazy guy named Bill. Bill may in fact be the most interesting character in the entire book. Hope meets him while in school when she sees him digging holes everywhere and convinces him to work at a lab with her because he is the best in their class. His quirkiness continues throughout the book and gave me quite a few laughs. Nothing Bill said or did could top the monkey story though. Just wait. Read it because I have no words… no words at all!

Read this and then go plant a tree!

Imagine Me Gone

c85f0b59ac0956d5f6353df145c35f3aA perfect rainy day read that draws you in with talk of summer vacation in Maine and subsequently causes you to mourn as you watch the characters over the decades to follow. This book is about mental illness and the impact it has on a family. It’s about childhood with a mentally ill parent and the adulthood that follows. If you have any experience with either, it may be a challenging and emotional read.

Imagine Me Gone tells of Margaret, an American, who falls in love with a British man and discovers that he struggles with depression when he is suddenly hospitalized. She marries him anyway and this novel follows their life together focusing mainly on their three children. The first chapter is a view of the end before whipping back to tell things from the beginning.  The writing is beautiful, really well done!

I had never understood before the invisibility of a human. How what we take to be a person is in fact a spirit we can never see.

Imagine Me Gone was released Tuesday and is the May selection of the First Edition Book Club so I have a signed copy!  I can’t wait to see what other books will come my way this year! What have been your favorite reads in 2016?

Men We Reaped

51W+KkjdiIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Black lives matter!” I used to think this statement was rather narrow in its focus within humanity and on a few occasions even replaced it with, “All lives matter” not understanding that I was completely missing the point.  A metaphor that changed my thinking goes something like this:

Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

I grew up in a community where everyone was white. In fact, in a class of 400 graduating seniors, two were black (and one of those had just come her senior year).  I was taught to love and respect all of God’s children and most of the time I did. One summer day when I was a new 7 year old, I asked my neighbor to come over to play. She asked if her friend could come over too since they were already playing together at her house. I remember her asking me, “She’s black. Is that okay?” I remember thinking that was a strange question. Why did I care if she was black?

This sort of inclusive and non-discriminatory thinking continued throughout most of my 20’s and I incorrectly assumed racism was only a part of our history. The summer before my 6th year of teaching brought me to a training in Tahoe, California where I stayed at a beautiful four-star resort with some of my co-workers (two of them black).  Many of my evenings were spent bonding in one of the many hot tubs.  We developed a friendship and I experienced racism for the first time. TWICE  in the same night we calmly and quietly joined people in one of the hot tubs only to have them leave the second we got in. We were not rowdy, drunk, or offensive in any way and yet the people left… almost instantly. It upset me that people would treat my friends that way.  I experienced people being judged by something that cannot be changed, the color of their skin.

I processed through memories of that evening for about a year moving from shock to a determination to switch my mindset.  The mindset of acceptance slowly shifted to actively anti-racist because acceptance doesn’t defeat racism. That said, I’m still determining what I can do to help. Hannah Arendt once said,

There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous. I think non-thinking is even more dangerous.

We need to push ourselves to think, question, and grow. One thing I’m focusing on is educating myself with the perspectives of others and trying to share what I learn. Last year only 6% of the books I read were written by POC.  This year, I’m at 24%.  I’m not trying to hit a certain percentage. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about purposefully moving beyond myself. It’s about listening without trying to make personal connections or getting offended- just listening. Today I finished, Men We Reaped and it was moving and difficult to read. Jesmyn Ward describes her childhood taking occasional breaks to describe men that she lost in her life. There are many injustices brought up and situations told from a different viewpoint. Stories change when the viewpoint shifts and I’m grateful for this, and other books, that allow me to see things from a different angle.  Through glasses different than my own.

What do you think are the best ways for white people to be allies?  What are books you’d recommend to me?

Lessons from Madame Chic

51fHa0gMvsL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_My grandma has next to nothing, but everything she has is quality and I’ve always tried to emulate that on my teacher budget.  I buy quality because it will last and look nice thus saving money down the road.  This is one of the many pieces of advice given in Lessons from Madame Chic that, if true, proves that my French heritage somehow found a way to shine through.

The author, Jennifer L. Scott, studied abroad in France and this book share some of her observations on the French lifestyle.  I love reading books on how other people live and thus of course loved this book too. Everything is covered from food to fashion and I was shocked by how many things I already do including listening to classical music after dinner, cultivating my mind (Coursera, reading insistently, and going on field trips even though I’m 29 years old), and living passionately!  I’m always trying to make ordinary things like reading a book feel special and I think this is an attitude prevalent in the book- living well.

Things I’m looking to improve on are not snacking, plan delicious dinners, be more active outside, evaluate my wardrobe and Goodwill things I don’t wear, and try to avoid bumming around in yoga pants the entire weekend!

This was easy to read and not anything close to quality literature, but would make for a great non-fiction beach read if you need one this summer🙂

This book fulfills the “self-improvement book” category of the 2016 Reading Challenge!

The Little Red Chairs

510g+yfHtnL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Intense! Don’t read anything about this book besides the book itself. Skip the reviews (except this one) and definitely skip the dust jacket! Light a fire, grab a throw blanket, perhaps a glass of wine, and settle in for the long haul.  Watch your world fade around you as you begin reading: on a cold, dark night a stranger appears in an Irish village…

On the 6th of April 2012, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along the 800 meters of the Sarajevo high street. One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege. Six hundred and forty-three small chairs represented the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired from the surrounding mountains.

This “read in one sitting” sort of a book and was delivered to me, signed, as the March pick for Parnassus’s First Edition Book Club!

The Fire Next Time

51Giu9lrrKL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_This is a book to read with a pen! My copy, brand new, and fresh from the mailbox now has underlining everywhere and notes filling the margins.  The language is beautiful in this book and there is a lot of wisdom to gather.  This is my first James Baldwin and I crave more!

The book consists of two letters, a short one written to a nephew and a longer one written to discuss his thoughts and feelings about race, religion, and life. This is the most beautiful description in the entire book. I cannot possibly think of a more exquisite way to word how James sees his brother and how we often see those we have watched grow up.

Other people cannot see what I see whenever I look into your father’s face for behind your father’s face as it is today are all those other faces which were his. Let him laugh and I see a cellar your father does not remember and a house he does not remember and I hear in his present laughter his laughter as a child.

Baldwin starts his letter by informing his nephew on how black people can be destroyed if they believe what some white people think about them. He discusses a hidden message telling black people to settle for mediocrity rather than striving for excellence. Baldwin believes that black people need to know their history and where they came from so that there will be “no limit to where you can go.”

…We, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.

A big take away for me that was just accepting and loving black people unconditionally is not going to get us anywhere. In order to defeat racism, we need to actively work towards equality. What does that look like though? What can I do to make an impact?

This book did not fulfill anything from my 2016 Reading Challenge, but it was worth every word!

Between the World and Me

150709_SBR_Coates-COVER.jpg.CROP.original-originalListen. My desire while reading this book was simply to hear things from someone living a different life than I am living. A different life than I will ever be able to live. To learn from another without getting defensive or trying to make connections.  We all have overcome adversity, but trying to connect our experiences to those of black individuals trying to talk about race is devaluing their story. It’s not allowing the conversation to happen that so badly needs to take place in order for healing to take place.

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his 15 year old son.  He touches on every aspect of life as he teaches his son to value his body, fight for his body.

What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and that you must find some way to live within the all of it.

Some parts were extremely hard to take in. Discussions about school were particularly difficult. As a teacher, it was hard to not react.  It was also hard not to be able to ask questions. I want to do the right thing for all children and I almost wished I could have the author next to me to privately ask genuine questions without feeling judged or labeled for asking.

This book is really well written and helped me take a few steps towards understanding.  Next up on my reading list:
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This book did not fulfill anything from my 2016 Reading Challenge, but it was worth every word!

Free Men

61puqgqr-ml-_sx340_bo1204203200_A Native American, a slave, and a white man walk into a… forest.  You thought I was going to say something else didn’t you?  Katy Simpson Smith has a PhD in history and found a source that talked about four American loyalists murdered in 1788 by the three men mentioned above.  She took the story and ran with it creating a historical fiction novel about the lives of these three individuals before and after their crime.  They are also being trailed by a French man who married a Native American and so we get his story as well.

I enjoyed this book although it was one that required a bit more concentration and I kept daydreaming today.  It was told through many different perspectives and sometimes I would forget to look at the chapter headings to see who was talking, but that was my fault.  It was very well written and the characters were anything, but flat.

This book fulfills my “First book you see in a bookstore” category of the 2016 Reading Challenge  because although I did not actually go to a bookstore to get it, it did come as my February First Edition Bookclub Book and I had not heard of it prior to it arriving in my mailbox.  It counts, right?!

***I own a signed copy of this book!***

Into the Wild

 

Inspired by Thoreau and others, Christopher McCandless got rid of almost everything he owned and went off into the wilderness of Alaska.  Into the Wild tells of Chris’s adventure and his tragic end. I loved the movie and now I wanted to read the book. Read it I did, in one sitting.  Truth be told, I love all of Jon Krakauer’s books so it was not much of a surprise to enjoy this one too.

One thing that struck me when I read the book though, was how selfish Chris acted.  The book talks about how he had a friend hold all his incoming mail and then return it to the senders a few months later so he could get a head start on his trip without his parents knowing where he was.  After not hearing from Chris in awhile, his parents went to visit him only to find that his apartment was vacant and for rent.  When his parents returned home, they all their mail had finally been sent back too.  It’s quite clear he had a strained relationship with his parents and that he despised their affluent lifestyle, but treating them in that way is very cruel. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like for them to have no idea if their son was safe or not!

Regardless of my feelings towards Chris’s actions, this was a good book and a great spring read. For some reason, I love to read hiking and outdoor sort of books this time of year!  If you want to learn more about Chris, I found this NPR story very interesting too!

This book fulfills my “book with a blue cover” category of the 2016 Reading Challenge because the cover is slightly blue and also because I decided to read it anyway!

When Breath Becomes Air

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Reading a book in one sitting by 9:40am that finishes with an ugly cry is one way to start day 2 of spring break! Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who finds out he is dying of lung cancer.  This unfinished book, left me a hot mess especially the portion about his wife laying their 8 month old daughter on him while she sang a bedtime lullaby to both of them before he passed.20160319_093740

This book fulfills the “New York Times Bestseller” category of the 2016 Reading Challenge and I do believe I need to select a more cheery book for my next read!  Twenty nine books remain in this challenge!

My Name Is Lucy Barton

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Every once in awhile, and it has been quite some time now, you find a book that touches every fiber of your being- your very soul.  This book arrived at my door, signed by the author, and with a warning from Ann Patchett herself:

I’m sending this book out with a warning: whatever it is that needs doing, do it now. I’m talking about feeding your family, walking the dog, finishing a project for work.  Don’t start reading My Name Is Lucy Barton before getting those things done. And don’t start it right before you plan to go to sleep either.  You’ll be up half the night.  This is one of those books that grabs you fast and hard, and by the time you’re ten pages in you’re not going to notice the world around you.

I heeded the warning.  I made sure to phone my mother, meal prep, and lay out clothes for the week before driving to our local coffee shop to read the entire thing, in one sitting, without leaving my seat.  Less that two hours after walking into the coffee shop, it was done.  It’s that good!

The novel, which is so beautifully written I could cry, is about Lucy Barton whose mother visits her in the hospital after complications from a minor surgery.  Lucy has a challenging relationship with her parents after growing up in a poverty stricken, neglectful household in the cornfields of Illinois and had not seen her mother in many years.  She describes her childhood by saying,

Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.

The stories they share over several days and the conversations they have, and do not have, are powerful and speak to the very essence of what it means to be human.

This is a story about a mother loving her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly.

I wanted to write all over this book, underline phrases, write my story in the margins, scribble all over and yet refrained; it is a signed first edition after all.  I simply can’t even tell you more about this, but please get a copy of My Name is Lucy Barton and tell me what you think!

This book fulfills the “book that is published in 2016” category of the 2016 Reading Challenge!

***I own a signed copy of this book!***

Half of a Yellow Sun

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9781400095209Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the incredible story of life in Nigeria during the Biafran War!  The story is told through three main narrators: Olanna, Richard, and Ugwu.  Olanna is a wealthy Igbo living with her boyfriend Odenigbo, an intellectual, who feels “Education is a priority! How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to understand exploitation?”  He is very political and throws parties in which people from the university come to discuss literature and current events.  Odenigbo is by far my favorite character!  He has a houseboy Ugwu who is from a poor, rural village and is also one of the narrators.  The minute that Ugwu moved in, Odenigbo was questioning him about his education and required him to start school immediately.  He is stuck between two worlds really, as he left all his family behind in their village living in poverty.  Finally, there is Richard who is in a relationship with Olanna’s twin sister.  He is an English writer.  The lives of these people are intertwined and the characters are very well developed.  No one is flat.  I deeply cared about all of them, some more than others. Everyone is very human and the way Chimamanda developed all the characters, switched perspectives constantly, and switched time periods constantly is incredible.  Like I said this book was very well done!

Not only are the characters incredibly strong in this novel, but I learned a bit about the Biafran War/Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) and how quickly lives can change.  As this book was historical fiction, you learn about the war through the eyes of the characters and it’s sometimes confusing to understand the whole situation when you are in the middle of it.  I read a bit on the war after finishing this book, saw which side the US supported (even though they claimed to be neutral), and realized, even more than before, how horrible war is.  There are good people on either side of a conflict and they get hurt, badly.  The portions of this book describing war are horrible to read about and yet incredibly powerful.

This book fulfills the “book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with” category for the 2016 Reading Challenge!  I have LOTS more planned for this category though, especially or Black History Month so be prepared for some reads not fulfilling categories in this challenge.  On another note, join me in this read along I’m doing! #ReadSoulLit

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