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!!!

 

Upstream by Mary Oliver

51a-llhg2xlEvery now and then I read a book that speaks directly to my soul.  It’s happened twice this year, first with My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and more recently with Upstream by Mary Oliver.  I’m immensely grateful to Ms. Oliver for writing such a truthful book and to Penguin Books for allowing me to read it prior to publication.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

Upstream blurs the line between poetry and essay in its collection of 19 impeccable essays exploring creativity, nature, and the relationship between the two.

Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else?

The book starts out describing childhood and how one grows up to be a writer. Mary Oliver shares a story about cutting class as a teenager only to go into the woods with a knapsack of books.  Books brought her comfort as did nature.  She found herself in both and built her life through books, writing, and nature.  Moving forward in time toward the present Oliver says towards the end of the book, “I don’t think I am old yet, or done with growing.”

This perspective on seeking out constant growth, the immense passion for books and writing, as well as the strong connection to nature made me feel understood by someone I have never met.  I had someone ask me the other day, “If you don’t watch TV and you rarely listen to music, what do you do?”  I answered that I read, but my answer did not quench her curiosity.  Some people do not seem to understand the fullness that can come from reading.

I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.

This book is one that must be read with a pen!  There were so many beautiful quotes in it; I added four of them to the quote book I keep on my coffee table and countless more are highlighted on my Kindle.  This is the perfect book to bring with you on a hike!  If i could recommend this book to anyone, it would be to my cousin, Cathy LaPointe Blundy because I feel she may connect with this book too.  She also is a talented poet so check out her blog!

Upstream will be released October 11th so go pre-order it from your local bookstore or library today!!!

A Truck Full of Money

download-1Out today is Tracy Kidder’s newest book, A Trunk Full of Money! I heard good things about Tracy Kidder and was excited to have the opportunity to review this book, thank you Random House!  A Trunk Full of Money is a non-fiction piece on Paul English, an entrepreneur and computer genius who although poor as a child, made a fortune when kayak.com was acquired by Priceline.  He then attempts to figure out how to manage this level of wealth and how to give some away to help others.

While incredibly good in the area of technology, Paul also has bipolar disorder and I liked how that was an honest part of the story without being the entire focus.  I also enjoyed stories from his childhood such as when he created a program that would allow him to steal his teacher’s username and password without being caught.

That said, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book.  I read books on a wide range of topics and even things not typically interesting to me, like cremation for example, can be made incredibly fascinating by the author (such as  Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty ).  This was not the case with this book.  I just didn’t care; I wasn’t interested in his business deals or his money.  Also, the story was told by Tracy Kidder so was very distanced from the author’s actual experience of what happened to him.  Obviously I knew that going into this, but the characters seemed flat and some were referenced to by their role in relation to Paul without names.  I think I was hoping for a bit more depth.  I’m bummed that I wasn’t a fan, but will have to try other Tracy Kidder books in the future.

Commonwealth

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download-2When Ann Patchett’s posts on Musing became spaced months and months apart, I knew she was up to something.  It’s hardly worth being bummed about infrequent blog posts from your favorite author when you suspect that the woman has locked herself in her house to write something much bigger and much better than a blog post.  Finally, last spring, it was announced- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett would be on sale September 13, 2016!  It’s been 6 days since its release and I’ve already read it twice- it’s that good!

Typically the first novel an author writes is the most autobiographical; instead, Ann’s first novel was about a home for unwed mothers.  I saw an interview during which Ann said she wanted to go back and write an autobiographical novel, now that she was in her 50s, and that is exactly what she did.

None of it happened and all of it’s true. -Jeanne Ray

The book starts out at a baptism party for a baby in which an unwanted guest brings gin, things get crazy, and there is a kiss between two people who should not be kissing. The story follows the baby from her baptism party until she is 52 moving seamlessly throughout time delving into the world of divorce, blending families and grown children of divorced parents.

Other reviews have described the movement of time in the novel as “fluid” which is, in fact, the best way to describe the masterpiece Ann Patchett has created.  Ann’s is just one of many novels that jump back and forth in time however the passage of time is just that in other books- jumpy.  I’ve not read another book that managed time quite so well and it was, indeed, fluid and made the novel that much more beautiful.  There are glimpses into lives at various points along the way and the reader is left to fill in the missing years on their own- a task that is quite enjoyable and effortless.

She had needed to keep something for herself.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the presence of books throughout the novel.  I’ve always loved books about books and while this was not one of those novels, there were countless books name dropped throughout the novel.  Books were often used to assist the various characters during difficult times.  There is nothing more comforting than a good book read at the right time and this message was made quite clear.

Life, Teresa knew by now, was a series of losses. It was other thing too, better things, but the losses were as solid and dependable as the earth itself.

Finally, I loved that this book talked about places familiar to me.  Part of it took place in Chicago and Evanston, both places I’ve resided in while just starting out as a special education teacher.  I cracked up as I read about where I currently live described as “the parts that aren’t Chicago” which is a common view of Illinois- Chicago and cornfields. I imagine Ann is somewhat familiar with where I live since she dated David Foster Wallace who lived not far from here although I’m not certain if he lived here while they were dating.  Regardless, it’s always a fun bonus to be able to visualize from your experience the places being written about in novels.

You can debate about your favorite Ann Patchett book all you want, perhaps you liked the plot better in another novel, but no one can argue against this being her best written novel.  Each novel is stronger than the novel before and allows her talent to be showcased at an even higher level.  I’m so grateful that this novel exists as it fills a hole that exists in literature.  So many individuals will be able to see themselves inside of this masterpiece so read it and tell me what you think!

***I own a signed copy***

Read Harder Challenge

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Ann Patchett leaves for an insanely crazy book tour tomorrow during which she will essentially live in airports and survive exclusively on grilled cheese sandwiches, as she crisscrosses the entire country, tissues and vitamins in tow, attempting to avoid the inevitable book tour head cold before finally reaching the finish line in my home state of Michigan on October 22nd and declaring her freedom- or at least that is how I picture the situation at hand.  It’s amazing what sort of hoops authors will jump through all in the name of selling books and yet, I am incredibly grateful because I will be there to meet her on October 21st in Petoskey.  Finally, I will be able to tell people that not only do I adore Ann Patchett, but that I met her!  At this point, my story is that I met her dog once… mic drop.

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While signing 1,800 copies of her new book, Ann decided to keep herself entertained by attempting Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge and later wrote about it on her store’s blog!  I too was curious if I could complete the challenge using books I read this year and actually ended up getting pretty close!

Let’s do this thing:

A horror book: The Woman In Cabin 10, Ruth Ware (Although my favorite would be The Fate of Mercy Alban, Wendy Webb)
A nonfiction book about science: Lab Girl, Hope Jahren (My favorite is Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz read in 2015)
A collection of essays: This Is a Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett (re-read in 2016 for the millionth time- well re-listened to.  The audiobook is the best!)
A book you read aloud to someone else: The Book with No Pictures, B.J. Novak (Kids LOVE this and it’s fun to read!  I use it to show the power of language and read it to my kindergarteners around Christmas when they start to view themselves as readers!)
A middle-grade novel: El Deafo, CeCe Bell
A biography (not memoir/autobiography): The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, Doris Kearns Goodwin (signed copy!)
A dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: Underground Airlines, Ben Winter
A book originally published in the decade you were born: Hollyhocks and Radishes: Mrs. Chard’s Almanac Cookbook, Bonnie Stewart Mickelson (Signed copy!)
An audiobook that has won an Audie award: State of Wonder, Ann Patchett (Signed copy and my favorite book of all time!)
A book over 500 pages long: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
A book under 100 pages: The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin
A book by or about a person who identifies as transgender: suggestions?
A book set in the Middle East: Zeitoun, Dave Eggers (Okay, okay… the story takes place mostly in the US, but it’s about racism experienced by someone of Middle Eastern background and there are a few scenes from the Middle East!)
A book by an author from Southeast Asia: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo
A book of historical fiction set before 1900: Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (signed copy!)
The first book in a series by a person of color: March, John Lewis
A non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir, Roz Chast
A book that was adapted into a movie: Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
A nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes: Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth
A book about religion: Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (met her this summer!)
A book about politics: The Residence, Kate Andersen Brower
A food memoir: Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds, Kara Richardson Whitely
A play: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
A book with a main character who has a mental illness: Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett (signed copy and I met him this summer!)

I guess I did pretty well for not officially attempting this challenge in January; I’m only missing one book!  What recommendations do you have to fill my gap?

 

Fall Challenge

With the summer reading challenge behind us, I’m setting a new goal for myself!  This fall, I’m going to strive to read books I already own.  The reason behind this is purely selfish; In October I will visit McLean and Eiken, which I hear is incredible!  In fact, it’s my favorite author’s favorite bookshop (besides her own), so I’m making room!

Right now, books I’ve read are displayed on bookshelves and books I need to read are kept in a closet, double stacked by category.

As you can see, I already have a lot of incredible books!!!  Remember, these shelves are double stacked so there are even more great books hiding behind the ones you see.  I also am a member of Parnassus Books’s First Edition Club so I have a few to read from that too.  I refuse to have my unread books pile over beyond these shelves and I want to shop in my little bookstore this October so… I’m going to start reading!

What do you plan to read this fall?

Engineering Eden

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This summer I took up hiking. I’ve been interested in exploring since the moment I was born and formally interested in hiking since I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed many years ago.  Portage Arch in Indiana is a great place for beginners because you feel like you are actually hiking and the view is breathtaking even though you actually only travel .8 miles!  Who knew such beauty lived among cornfields?

I also visited Turkey Run with my neighbor/co-worker on the eve of the first day of school.  Now THAT was hiking.  We went on a 2 mile “rugged/moderate” trail and climbed over all sorts of crazy things in the middle of a creek.  I was scared to death yet loved it ever so much more because of conquering that fear and finishing the hike.  One step at a time I made it.  The hike made me want to start visiting national parks, but until I save up I will have to read about them!

 

9780307454263Engineering Eden by Jordan Fisher Smith.  This book was given to me for review by Blogging for Books.  True crime meets a national park.  The year is 1972 and the setting is Yellowstone.  Harry Walker, tired of working on his family’s farm desires freedom and leaves town.  Without a plan of where to go he ends up camping at Yellowstone where his body is later found.  Organs appeared to have been clawed out of his body and his larynx crushed from an apparent bite.  Harry’s mourning family decides to sue the government because without Harry to help on their farm, they cannot stay in business.

This book tells the story of the court case as well as countless, more interesting, stories of human meets bear.  The book centers around the question of balance regarding people and nature.  National parks are designed to protect nature and animals, they are also a popular vacation destination.  People need to be kept safe while visiting but nature also needs to b protected from humans. In 2015, over 307 million people visited national parks and I’d expect that number is even higher in 2016, the National Park Service’s 100th birthday.  When one visits a National Park, they are not in a zoo, but in the wild with animals and frequently, with bears.

My favorite part of this book was the individual stories of attacks.  There was one particularly horrible situation involving friends camping when they saw a bear.  Everyone ran to climb up trees except for this one girl who yelled that she couldn’t run because the bear was clawing at the zipper on her tent.  Then she screamed that he was biting her arm.  A minute later she cried that her arm was gone and even told her friends she was dead.  The bear carried her away and when her friends finally got help, remains were found in her sleeping bag far away from her tent. She could not be identified as a female based on the mess that lay inside her sleeping bag.

Overall, I loved the individual stories of bear encounters, but the structure of the book was a bit confusing.  It jumped between the court case, history of the National Parks, and bear stories without any apparent logic or predictability.  I rated this book 3.5 stars, but it would have been higher if it had been organized a bit differently.  If you want some good bear stories, it’s the book for you!

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. – John Muir

Summer Favorites

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It’s official: today marks the end of the first annual summer reading challenge at my local library 😦  Earlier this spring, I asked my library if they hosted a reading contest for adults- they didn’t, but after I mentioned it they started one!  Clearly, we have the best librarian/library assistants out here in this little town!!!  Now let’s recap:

Favorite Summer Reads:

This is a Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (re-read because I love it so much!)

Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Stations of the Heart by Richard Lischer

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Met her this summer!!!)

The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (clearly a re-read although, it was my first time reading the illustrated edition!)

One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty

Black Boy by Richard Wright

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Hollyhocks and Radishes by Bonnie Stewart Mickelson and Judy Chard (The best gift ever! Signed copy!)

 

 

Other Books I Read:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (I’m uncertain of which list to put this in… summer favorite or just another book?  I would give it 4.25 stars, but I can’t stop thinking about the ending… so read it and we can chat!)

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

As I Lay Dying by William Fulkner

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Gorge by Kara Richardson Whitely

Now and Again by Charlotte Rogan (I met her!  Nicest lady! Signed copy!)

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

Missing Man by Barry Meier

A Picture Book of Louis Braille by David A. Alder

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn Jacqueline Woodson (signed copy!)

The Dream Life of Astronauts by Patrick Ryan (signed copy!)

The Bully Pulpit by Dorris Kearns Goodwin (signed copy!)

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead(signed copy!)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer

The Wander Society by Keri Smith

 

 

What were your favorite summer reads?

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 ❤