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Sassy Peach Goes to Kindergarten: Happy 5th Birthday!

Wow! We made it! Half a decade! That's crazy talk. I said to a friend the other day how much I couldn't believe how far I've com...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What Does Consent Really Mean?

What Does Consent Really Mean? by Pete Wallis and Thalia Wallis, illustrated by Joseph Wilkinscame across my radar when I was looking for new books to read on my Kindle this fall. (With a small baby, Kindle is really the way to go for me right now.) Now that I am a mother, I am looking for ways to teach consent to my child at a young age, as it's incredibly important to me. Hence, why I picked up this graphic novel. 

What is consent? What does it mean exactly, and does it take away the fun of a sexual encounter? Do you have a right to consent in a relationship? These are the big questions explored in this short primer on what it means to give consent and why it's important. Several friends get together after school, and one brings up a rumor that the new girl was raped. This sparks a discussion about what it means to say "yes" and "no," and if that even matters. (Spoiler alert: it does.)

What I found the most fascinating about this book was the spot-on characterization of high schoolers. Now, it's been on the far side of two decades since I started high school, but looking back on what I knew then, I saw myself in these characters. In fact, even just a couple of years ago I had a conversation with a good friend about women who get roofied, and this friend even, in their 30's, expressed fault on the side of the woman. I can speak to this, as someone who has had the *wonderful* experience of being drugged (that was sarcasm, in case you didn't catch it), that it was 100%, explicitly not my fault in any way. In fact, I couldn't have been more responsible at the time of the incident. But it took me a long time to realize that it wasn't my fault because I didn't give consent. 

So yes, I saw myself and my peers in these high school kids in a graphic novel, just the way I see all adolescents in their semi-developed prefrontal cortices.  Without a full understanding of what consent is and why it matters, kids will continue to believe that as long as it hasn't happened to them, that others should have made better (or even different) choices. 

Which is what I think is the brilliance of this graphic novel. It doesn't treat teens as if they have pedantic, juvenile conversations, but rather meets them where they are. Whether it's gossiping about the new girl being promiscuous, using the word "gay" as a pejorative, or doing things sexually with a boyfriend or girlfriend they aren't comfortable with, we all can understand these things because we've been there. So when the authors turn toward defining consent (with a diverse cast of characters, mind you), it's a seamless transition from gossip to, "Hey guys, wait a second..."

I'll be buying this in hard copy and holding on to it for my own kiddo when it comes to be about that time. We have a couple of other books we are using to guide him when he's younger, and we will add this to our arsenal when he's middle school age. Talk about consent can never start too young. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Standard Deviation: A Novel


You may recall back a couple of years to when I raved about Katherine Heiny's Single, Carefree, Mellow, her book of short stories. I found it to be brilliant and enrapturing, and I formed a little bit of a writer crush on Heiny. Then she released a novel, Standard Deviation, and you guys, I am in full-blown love.

Graham and Audra have been married for some time, and they are raising their son who is on the spectrum and is currently mastering origami. Life is moving along swimmingly until the day that Audra gets it in her head that they should befriend Graham's cold and rigid ex-wife, Elspeth, who has come back into his life through no choice of his own. One glitch -- Audra was the other woman who precipitated that divorce. The several months spent finding their rhythm, wondering how to have a balance between a former love and a current one, and not killing long-term house guests welcomed by your gregarious and extroverted wife are life-changing for Graham, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

Heiny has a voice that is witty and sharp, and it comes through in this novel told from Graham's point of view. I ate the prose up because it's written in a voice that I know and understand and found deeply personal. I am not as witty as she, not even close in fact, so I am grateful to have had the chance to read and ingest this novel. I wish I had words to explain the joy that I felt reading this book, in the story itself but also in the characters. It reminded me of how I felt reading Jonathan Ames; while their writing is not a replica of one another, I felt that I was reading the thoughts of someone smarter and wittier than myself. That is an amazing read in my book.

I loved the characters in this book, from our protagonist, Graham, to his spacey and lovely younger wife Audra, to their son who was lovable and sweet and living life on the spectrum, to his friends in the origami club who were just as oddly lovable as he, to even Elspeth, whom Heiny made empathetic even though if she were someone I met in real life I might avoid talking to at the holiday party. Heiny has such respect for all of the characters she creates, from the doorman-turned-squatter to the philandering men in the book. I thought about the world of the characters for some time after closing the book, wishing I could be in their world a little bit longer. What a gift it is to finish a book and feel satisfied, yet still wanting to know more.

So, Ms. Heiny, if you ever by some long shot ever read this little post, could you please hurry with another piece soon? It's so enjoyable escaping into your work, even when my subway train is stalled. Which every New Yorker knows is the worst.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Inge & Mira

Hi!

Inge & Mira, by Marianne Fredriksson, is a short novel about the friendship between two women: Inge, a Swedish native, and Mira, a Chilean living in Sweden. I read the book in English, and I’ve never been so curious about a translation in my life.

That’s because I don’t know if I liked Inge & Mira or not. The writing is stilted and factual, with the most important details either unspoken or quickly brushed aside. The story has almost no imagery and scene setting, and the conversations start and end abruptly. It seemed affected and fake, which I found off-putting.

On page one, Inge and Mira meet in a garden center and say hello. By page three, without skipping ahead in time, they are strolling on the beach together, with no explanation as to how they’ve gone from acquaintances to friends in a few sentences. There are times when the book reads like Spark Notes. Here’s an example two complete paragraphs from the novel:

It had stopped raining. Inge sat down in front of the computer but did not manage to produce a single sensible sentence.

She went shopping.”

This structure was different for me, and there were things about it I hated. This is why I wonder how much of this style was because of the particular translation. I took the fact that I was so curious to read the original as an indication that I actually cared about the story and characters. Because despite not loving the writing style, I was truly interested in the characters.

The crux of the story is that throughout their friendship Inge learns about Mira’s past in Chile and Mira has to face the things her family went through before she fled to Sweden. The women come up against one another’s cultural norms, prejudices, expectations, and ways of thinking and speaking about important issues. The inclusion of their children into the story adds even another level to these cultural differences.

This is the part of the book that I loved, even when the writing caught me off guard. I loved that it was written from the perspective of each woman and also from the outside, because I felt that it gave me a chance to appreciate how much culture really has to do with our perspective on everything from huge life events to everyday conversation. The book made me think, and it made me feel for Mira and what her family had endured.


In the end, I found it an effort to read a book with so little imagery that moved so quickly past key points, but I think I found it difficult because I wanted to know more. And that’s because I liked it. Because of this, I might suggest giving it a try if you are quite interested in reflecting on how culture influences our friendships and perspectives. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Shame: A Brief History

One of the themes of my life recently, as in the past year, has been shame. While it's something I have absolutely experienced, and still do at times, it's been mostly about how other people in my life deal with theirs. So I saw Peter N. Stearns' Shame: A Brief History, and I knew I wanted to read it.

This historical document of shame goes all the way back in the written record to what we know about shame, from the Greek and Roman view all the way up through pre-modern and the present time. It's important to understand the background of a topic, so I was grateful for these chapters, and I was interested in the historical perspective for sure. However, I was mostly in it for the meat of the burger, which was contemporary views of shame and, if possible, answers for ways to deal with it. While my latter question wasn't answered by this book, my first one was.

There were a few points I took out of this book that I found to be on point, and the first was the decline in shame as Western society took on a more individualistic cultural identity followed by an uptick when social media came into the picture. Shame is a much more powerful tool in a collectivist society, as it is dependent upon group norms. In the United States, as we have seen more people move to a much more urban and suburban landscape, shaming as a point of punishment in general society declines. It's needs a group to serve it, such as in school, where shame still often takes hold. Social media has changed that, with a tweet having the ability to go viral in just mere minutes. That being said, this book does a great job of differentiating between guilt and shame, and how they function as separate entities. I took a great deal away from this book intellectually, and I found it to be moderately easy to read while still providing in-depth and interesting information.

This was a more historical examination of shame rather than a psychological examination, which was what I was expecting, but I found it to be an important piece to read and add to my arsenal as I go about digging deeper into what shame is in our present society (which for me is a Western, urban, young culture) from a psychological perspective. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Shitty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us

I had four baby showers. Yeah, sit on that for a second. As someone who doesn't enjoy attending others', that was a lot. They were all lovely, though, and I'm beyond grateful for how many people love us enough to want to celebrate our bundle of joy with us. My second shower was a book shower, and my dear friend Becca brought me this book, Shitty Mom (by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo, and Mary Ann Zoellner), in addition to children's books. I am amazed at how well she knows me.

Babies become children, and the fantasy of what you will be as a mother is quickly dashed when the reality of actually having a child sets in. Four moms came together to write the parenting guide to end parenting guides, being honest about what we all fear -- being a shitty mom. Get over it, y'all -- we all are, so by definition, we all can't be. From chapters on road trips and screen time to traditions such as thank you notes, this book runs the gamut of situations we all get in yet pretend to know the answers. This includes non-moms (noms) who have answers to the hardest mom questions and they usually involve heavy judgement.

This was really the best baby shower gift; I can't thank Becca enough for this lovely, hilarious book that just lit up my days. I read it before my baby came, and I read it again after. It's funny at a minimum, hilarious often, and everything completely hits on my parenting style. I'm surprised at how much my son has chilled me out as a parent (but not in other ways -- my home is arguably more picked up than ever). I find myself not caring too much about dropped pacifiers and blankets on the floor (I mean, I will wash them eventually). The ongoing joke with my friends is that I skipped my first child and am on to the second child "not caring" stage. It's probably why I loved this book so much; it encourages moms to just chill out.

It's so important to laugh when you are a parent, and especially in the early years. At least, I'm discovering that first hand as I type this. If you don't, parenthood will be long and exhausting. My son makes me laugh all the time -- he is a riot. I am grateful for books like this that take parenting lightly and have a sense of humor about it all. I don't believe that parents love playing with their kids all the time or that going to the zoo is the most fun for grown adults, so if we can all acknowledge that and have a good laugh about it, life can be slightly more enjoyable. Is it kosher to drop your sick kid off at daycare? Of course not. But sometimes moms have no choice. Do people love leaving their kids to go on business trips? Probably not. But sometimes moms have no choice. The authors finding the humor in all of these things makes me feel like I have a tribe. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Public School Choice vs. Private School Vouchers

Richard D. Kahlenberg's Public School Choice vs. Private School Vouchers has been in my arsenal for some time, but unlike many of the books that hang out on my shelf and haven't been read, this one was a re-read for me. This was part of my first Master's  of Science degree back a full decade ago, and with all of the political strife going on, I felt it was worth revisiting.

This compilation of think pieces and research on two types of educational reforms, public school choice and private school vouchers, explores what each is and what the support is for each. Published in 2003, this book is split into two topics: voucher  program myths and support for public school choice (PSC). Research on school choice and vouchers has been coming in for more than a decade, but in early 2003 it was in it's infancy, and this book explores what existed at that time for each method. Researchers who have contributed to this book include those from Harvard Law School, Columbia, and Penn State University.

It will come as no surprise to you thus far that this book is anti-vouchers and pro-PSC, which was no skin off my back as I am quite the vocal opponent to private school vouchers. I'm just a small fry though, so few people care what I think other than my own students, and I certainly don't mind that. My position is not at all surprising if you know me, my work, or have been following this blog for some time. One of my foci on anti-racist pedagogy and while I am not perfect and make mistakes as I learn to be a better teacher of teachers, I cannot in good faith support a widespread effort to continue systemic marginalization of children of color.

So now that my biases are on the table, let's get down to the actual book. It was fascinating reading this ten years out from my first read. So much has changed in terms of research on this topic, and this was a great primer to understand the historical background of this argument. Keep in mind that this book pits PSC against vouchers, so it's really a treatise on how PSC can supplant vouchers. If you are looking for anything on the virtues of public school as it currently stands, I have other resources for you. While I recognize the position of the book, I found that their breakdown of common voucher myths, such as the commonly held idea that vouchers raise student achievement or that they will promote equality, to be on point with at least the rudimentary reading I have done on the more current research.

I ate this book up this time around, and I'm glad I reread it. It's a good base of research for what the conclusion I have come to with more recent research, and I'm glad I have this book on my shelf. It's a dense read, as is anything that involves empirical research, but it's important reading for understanding where the voucher movement has come from so that you can understand where it is going. 


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fierce Kingdom: A Novel

When I checked out a different book from the library a couple of weeks ago, the algorithm suggested Gin Phillips' Fierce Kingdom, and I had read an interesting blurb about it, so I picked it up. Holy  hell, I had no idea the ride I was getting into. 

It’s just a usual day at the zoo for Joan and her 4 year old son, Lincoln. They are regulars, and Joan knows the drill — and now that it’s nearing closing time, they had better hurry toward the exit. It’s getting dark and she can’t even imagine what it would be like to get locked into the zoo overnight. As the pair nears the exit, the scene comes into view. All of the popping she has been hearing for the last few minutes reveals itself to be gunshots that have taken down people attempting to leave at closing time — and the shots are coming from a dark figure kicking down the door to a restroom. Joan grabbed Lincoln and runs for her life, back into the far reaches of the zoo. The next three hours will be a battle for her life and that of her son. 

This book was a non-stop read for me. I was completely taken and blown away by the intensity of the story, and I’ve recommended this book again and again and again since finishing it. I posted it on my Facebook page and got into a discussion with a friend from high school about it. It’s fair to say that I think this is one of the best thrillers I have read at least this year. 

Joan was an impressive character in my book; I found her to be sufficiently complicated as a person and as a woman, yet she was a strong character who deeply loved her son and whose only goal the entire story was to get him out alive. I don’t know if this story tookon new meaning because I am now a mother myself, but I can say that I understand children fairly well. This led me to understand some of Joan’s choices, such as the need to feed Lincoln before he had a meltdown. Kids understand emergencies, but they are still creatures who have needs and are learning proper ways to express those needs. Lincoln embodied this dichotomy. 

I wanted to throw up when, at one point, we realize there is an infant still left in the zoo. I can’t say much more than that because it’s an integral part of the story, but it did make my heart skip several beats with that storyline. I thought deeply about what I might do to save my own infant’s life. It’s a position I hope and pray I never have to be in. 

My heart was beating crazy fast while I read this book, and at one point on the subway I saw someone looking at me with concern, and I realized that I must have looked incredibly intense. I had a good giggle at that. I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t recommend it any more. Phillips has crafted one hell of a story, and it has stayed with me long after finishing the book. I have so many questions about loose threads (no spoilers here!), and I know I will always carry an extra snack for my son. You know, just in case. [Wink.]

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Art of Memoir

Mary Karr has always been one of my favorite memoirists, so a few years back I excitedly picked up The Art of Memoir at Book Expo. It took me a while, per usual, to pick it up, but I read it and then re-read it with aplomb. Wowza. 

Everyone thinks they can write a memoir, and sure they can. That doesn't mean everyone can write a compelling memoir. Mary Karr, one of the great memoirists at present, lays out, chapter by chapter, what makes a great memoir. She teaches this course in an MFA program and has opened up and expanded on her syllabus to let us humble lay people in on her secrets. She references great memoirs that she uses in her own teaching and provides an extensive reading list at the end of the book. I have already picked up two of her recommendations. 

It's probably no surprise that I ate this book up with my bear hands. I scoured it with a pen in hand, underlining the words of wisdom the Karr put forth about writing. The thing that I found so astounding about her work was that it was compatible with being human, not just with writing. Sure, I attempt to write things occasionally, but I'm no novelist. This book was just as much about being a person in the world with a story to tell as it was about putting that story in paper.

Karr devotes an entire chapter to dealing with those you love in your work. She has a list of 11 rules, one of which is to never assume that you know what others are thinking or feeling -- stick to the facts, ma'am. The other rule that stuck out to me was to avoid labeling people; simply describing their behavior should suffice. That stuck with me, as it felt like a stark reminder not just for memoir writing, but for life. Another chapter talks about story reversals, and in it she discusses the thing that makes a memoir, well, memorable: it's telling the tale about the things that we might forever hide, be it out of shame or embarrassment. It's these very things that are the meat of the story, and it's what makes our stories indelible. Heroes exist everywhere; real humans are what grab us.

There are other points she makes throughout this book that are so fascinating to me that I am opting to keep them to myself. If I told you all of her nuggets, then what would make you want to go read the book for yourself? It's an amazing piece of scholarship, and I will turn to it again and again.

Yeah. This one is worth owning. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What to Expect When You're Expecting

What to Expect When You're Expecting is now in it's 5th edition. You know it. Even if you have never experienced a pregnancy, you are familiar with this cover. 

I wasn't quite sure whether or not to buy the book at first; I wasn't sure how useful it would be. Not because I knew much about pregnancy -- I knew what the average woman in America knows, which is next to nothing other than a fetus grows in my uterus -- but more because some books are super useful and others just aren't. I ordered the book anyway because I figured, why the hell not?

Even bough I had abandoned this book by the end of my pregnancy for other material (you've seen some here and more is to come), this was a great resource
For those freaked out first couple of months when I was wondering what the hell we were doing. Pregnancy was not my friend, and I won't even pretend like I enjoyed it. I totally dig the outcome -- my son is fun and silly and a ton of work -- but the process of getting him here was emotionally and mentally overwhelming, and it was physically difficult in the last trimester. This book helped in the early stages to help me recognize what was normal and what wasn't. I love my information, and this gave me an arsenal to look toward. 

Hubby and I also used the WTE app and weekly videos, which were a really great way to connect once a week to hit those weekly milestones. There were a couple of times times I had to correct the TV regarding cognitive development, but for the most part it was interesting and helpful. I wouldn't, however, recommend reading the section on giving birth too soon. It absolutely freaked me out the first time I read it. I needed time to digest all of it, and I untimately found some better (and more supportive of natural birth) resources for that part of the process. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning

I can't recall what drew me to the new memoir, Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning by Claire Dederer, but something did, so I picked it up from the library recently. 

As Claire enters her midlife, she opens her old journals -- which she kept from an early age up until her marriage -- and begins reflecting on the choices she made in life and in love. From young oversexualization to her current state of marriage, from an awareness of her sexuality through being hit on by a notorious literary womanizer, Claire revisits the experiences and the memories that shaped her. 

This was such an interesting memoir, and one that I'm still thinking on. I am a different generation than Dederer, so I was sometimes shocked by her stories of being a young girl and her sexual exploits. However, her tale of the root of the problem -- sexual manipulation with a creepy friend of her mother's -- broke my heart and put two and two together for me. My heart broke for the young, scared girl who was at the mercy of her mother's whims. We could say that parents just didn't understand back then, but did they? 

The most striking chapter in this book is Dederer's letter to Roman Polanski. Society has done a very good job of covering up his sexual assault of a young girl, so much so that I found out the details of that assault in this book. Not that I couldn't look it up in the interwebs, but that when we hear about the punishment of Polanski in the media, it's about how it was a long time ago and even the victim has forgiven him. Dederer writes a missive that shows the long-ranging ramifications of the choices Polanski made in regards to a young girl who didn't deserve to be manipulated at a minimum. What we understand now is that a pre-teen isn't old enough to give consent. Dederer's words that express how deeply she was affected by this man's actions, and the parallel to her own experience, was striking and moving, like a punch in the gut. 

At some point we all have a midlife reckoning, I believe, and Dederer's is raw and honest, sometimes to the point of uncomfortability. (If that's not a word, I just made it one.) but what a beautiful and timely reckoning it is. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Be Brave Little One

I've always enjoyed children's books, but now that I have my own little one, I'm a sucker for them. Especially ones that feature a good moral of the story or encouragement. I cry. Seriously. So here we have Marianne Richmond's Be Brave Little One.

Out of all of the things I want to teach my son, bravery is up near the top. This book explores bravery in so many forms. It's not just taking chances and stepping out on a limb, it's also the willingness to try to something new, and if you stick with it, great! But if it's not for you, also be brave and walk away. Be brave in messing up and fixing things, and be brave in making friends, even with those you might not find otherwise. Bravery in perseverance and bravery in emotions are also part of the equation. In short, be brave, little one.

This was such a lovely, sweet, and moving book in its simplicity. The words don't have to be big and the sentences don't have to be long in order to pack a big punch and make this mama shed a few tears. After all, I think it's fairly universal that we all want the best for our children regardless of what that looks like. Bravery may or may not be important for everyone to instill in their children, but bravery sure is needed to get through life. This book reminded me of Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance," which makes me cry every time I hear it. (Honestly, I have to turn off the radio when it comes on.) It's a sweet and short book to read to your small child, and give as a gift to your big child, but it sure does hit home.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Hi!

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is a novel written from the point of view of a dog. If you’re thinking, “That sounds pretty cheesy,” that’s what I was thinking too. It’s also a novel about a can’t-seem-to-make-it racecar driver. If you’re thinking, “Wow I don’t care at all about racecar driving,” that what I was thinking too. But I still loved it, and I think you will too.

The book is an easy read even though the story is heart-wrenching and has some very sad moments. Overall, looking at the life of Denny the racecar driver through Enzo the dog’s eyes gives a unique perspective. Enzo is complex, and his depth doesn’t seem contrived (somehow) and is an interesting contrast to his still dog-like instincts and needs. The Art of Racing in the Rain made me think about dogs differently. Even though it was fiction, it gave me a new perspective on the value of their ability to connect emotionally.

The insights of a dog, and the creation of his sophisticated perspective, was my favorite part of the novel. If you love dogs, or have a dog, I expect this will be your favorite part too. He’s just such an interesting character, and so aware of his dog-ness and all the special abilities and inabilities that come along with it. He’s smart and observant and above being a dog in many ways, but then his instincts come through and take over in ways that can be tragic, brave, sad, or hilarious.

The underlying story, through Enzo’s eyes, was engrossing and sad. It’s heavy on the plot and not mired in details, which I enjoyed. Denny’s family life takes some heartbreaking twists and turns and is, in the end, a story of survival and perseverance. Adding the perspective of a young child and the dog’s observations of the child’s behavior added even more to the value of the book. I know a book is good when I find myself saddened or outraged on behalf of a character as if they were someone I knew, and that happened in this book with Denny.

One thing I didn’t really love was the inclusion of racing metaphors and examples all throughout the book. Enzo’s observations on racing and on races he’s watched (he loves watching TV) are peppered throughout the book and often used as metaphors. Sometimes they felt a little forced to me, but I think that’s mostly because it’s not a topic that interested me.


Overall I would recommend this book as a fast but engrossing read that helps broaden your perspective on the importance of emotional connection and support and the value of being there for the important people in life, even all you can do is listen. Or wag your tail.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate

At Book Expo this year, I only attended one panel, and that was with Mark Manson and Al Franken in conversation. It was outstanding. Al Franken was advertising his new memoir, but it was one of the most enjoyable panels I have ever been to. Franken is clearly a Senator who is here to serve the people of Minnesota, that comes through loud and clear. His memoir, Giant of the Senate, only makes that more clear. 

If you are of a certain age, you will know Al Franken as a satirist and beloved writer of Saturday Night Live. You may also remember how confused you felt when he announced his entry into politics, particularly if you are not a Minnesotan. If you are younger, you may only know him as the Democratic Senator from Minnesota. Either way, you would be right. 

Al Franken started his career very early as a comedian and has written several satirical books on politics, almost exclusively excoriating the right. One thing he hates more than anything is lying, so you can imagine how much he loves our current POTUS. In this memoir (which contains a fair share of satirical jokes), he covers his early years (albeit briefly), including those on SNL, and then he's into his entry into politics. His friend and senator, the beloved Paul Wellstone, was killed in a plane accident and his successor was, shall we say, a Republican. Having never considered politics before, Franken starts to realize that he could do the job, and he starts slowly mounting his campaign and building his political knowledge early. This memoir covers his campaign, his contentious election, and his time up to present in the US Senate. 

I was worried that at almost 400 pages that I might not get through the book, as I have an infant and it seemed like a daunting task. Have no fear -- this book was so on point, entertaining and funny, that I read it in no time. I found myself giggling out loud more than enough times, and my husband often looked at me quizzically until I read him what I was amused by. The problem with that is that the jokes are smart and require background knowledge, so I often had to back up and read him at least the previous paragraph. Franken is not funny in a one-liner way; he is incredibly intelligent and writes his jokes for those who are willing to hold on with their left and and catch the joke with their right. That's what was so great about this book. It was informative and incredibly amusing. It's hard to find that in a memoir with a tinge of satire. 

Franken also doesn't mince words in his work. He is no fan of certain coworkers (one rhymes with Ned Kruz), and he is strait up with his readers. When I saw him speak at Book Expo, I was quite impressed at his dedication to representing his constituents. Franken is a man of his word, and in our current political climate, where I find some representatives are less concerned with listening to those they represent and more concerned with revenge on the previous administration, he is the one to watch. One thing that has flabbergasted me of late is how unwilling representatives are to recognize that they are voted in by their constituents and their responsibility is to serve them; you don't have a guaranteed job just because you are a politician. Franken not only understands that, he lives by the creed. I wish he were my representative, too. 

I often donate books that I finish, but this one will be staying on my shelf. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Rapunzel

Bethan Woollvin's Rapunzel was high on my "get" list for Book Expo this year because it was such an empowering children's book. I knew that I needed to get it not just for myself, but for you all, dear readers.

We are all familiar with the traditional Rapunzel tale, but what would happen if we took away her reliance on a man (the infamous handsome prince) and just had a girl who was tired of being bossed around by the evil witch? We would have this Rapunzel, a new type of heroine who leaves the castle all the time to do her own thing and one day, when confronted by the witch who found a leaf in her hair, convinces her the wind blew it in to the castle, then leaves the tower. She cuts her hair off behind her and leaves for good, scaring witches henceforth. Now that's a strong female lead.

I was particularly drawn do this story because I want my child to see portrayals of girls that don't necessarily do things for males or because of males; I want him to see girls that are strong in their own right. Don't you think this Rapunzel is a more fun girl to hang out with? I sure do, and not just as a friend, either. I want my child to think of all people as those who make choices for themselves and don't stand by while people don't ask for their consent. Believe it or not, that's an issue in this book. The witch never asks Rapunzel if she can snip off some of her hair to sell it; she just does it without permission. It's a hell of a signal, then, when Rapunzel just whacks off all of her golden, luscious hair and walks away from it for good.

I'm excited to have this book on my son's bookshelf, and I'm looking forward to reading it and talking to him about it. It's really amazing to see old stories that don't exactly work for our family retold in ways that do. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean

Amy Dresner's memoir, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean stuck out for me as it sounded funny and honest, and we all know I love those two things. 

Amy is an addict. Although she prefers opioids, anything will do. Alcohol makes her violent, cocaine works too, and sex fills the void when she is sober from substances. She can't be alone, and she doesn't know how to cope. A 40-something woman who grew up wealthy and spoiled, she's never learned coping mechanisms for the curveballs life throws. Her seventh stint in rehab after a domestic violence incident (by her) finally forces her to deal with who she is and her choices in life. No one said it would be easy, though. 

Addiction is no joke, and it's a disease that takes the ones you love. Amy was no different. It was incredible to read her searing honesty and raw wit as she lays her soul bare in this memoir. It's tough to tel us the whole, honest truth, especially using such dark humor (my favorite), and she's doing it in writing for the public. Although I do understand that she. You are writing, it is sometimes the most cathartic thing and others reading or not it doesn't well matter. It was amazing to read her recounting of her wrongs in her own way, and to know that dealing with addiction and shame is a common experience. 

Shame is a powerful emotion that drives many of our choices as human, and Amy had every reason to be ashamed of many of her choices, even while sober.  Maybe especially when sober. Some parts elicited so much sympathy from me, and some mad respect for her ability to put it out there an own it. This included a few sexual exploits, and her embarrassment in what she was willing to do to fill the empty void inside her. I cheered for her when she finished her community service, laughed with her at the irony of having to call the graffiti removal squad, and hid my head for her when she agreed to continue sleeping with losers. We are all human, and we all have our fair share of shit. I'm thankful that Amy could lay here out there for us so others could feel not so alone. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Max and Bird

Max and Bird is the latest in Ed Vere's Max series, and I almost died when I approached the Sourcebooks booth at Book Expo and asked if they had a new Max book out this year. I love Max with my whole heart and soul, and he is by far my favorite children's series. (You can read about the other books here and here.) Mr. Vere has not let me, or you, down here.

One day, Max and Bird meet. Max is used to chasing birds, and Bird is used to being chased by cats. However, they decide to be friends -- at least until Bird can learn to fly. Together the pair embark on an adventure to teach Bird how to fly, including a visit to the library and plenty of practice. Once they are successful, Bird offers for Max to eat him, as that was the deal. Max decides he likes Bird too much to eat him, and they agree to stay friends.

I am blown away by this book, as much as I have been by Vere's previous Max books. I would rank this one my second favorite after Max the Brave. I love the simplicity of the message -- friends help friends, and don't ask for anything in return. There is another message, which is keeping your word. When Bird offers to sacrifice himself because he told Max he would, it was a sweet, if martyr-ish offer. Max's willingness to turn his new friend down on a very tasty offer was kind, but it also showed a desire for friendship over carnal desires. It is sweet, but it is also a very good message of kindness and caring for others. As per usual, the illustrations are to die for, Max is a dreamboat, and Vere has a way of reaching the deep recesses of adults' sense of humor to make this book a huge winner in terms of children's books. Or any books, for that matter. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stay With Me: A Novel

One of the big books to drop this fall, I anxiously awaited approval for an advanced copy of Ayobami Adebayo's Stay With Me. I wanted to pick up a hard copy at Book Expo, but by drop time (4pm ish) I was in so much pain and could barely walk, so I taxi'd home. I'm so grateful to have been approved for an electronic copy. 

Yejide and Akin have been married for years, and theirs is a love at first sight story. Their union, however, has not produced offspring, which in their Nigerian culture is the worst thing that could befall a marriage. Akin is forced by his family to take a second wife. When Yejide is finally with child, the hope is that it will cure all ills, but unfortunately it is the beginning of a series of events that may rip the couple apart and will have a resounding affect on the family for the rest of their lives.

This novel was by far the best I have picked up in recent months. It was beautifully written in terms of the story; the narrators shift between the couple and there was never a moment when I didn't know who was speaking. Each of their voices broke my heart in their own ways; the unbearable pain of desperately wanting a child and then losing one was difficult to read at all, but especially as my little boy sleeps in my arms while I read through the couple's pain. You learn early on that there is a secret between the couple, and as it unravels through the course of the novel, I was flabbergasted at how simple it was yet how it deeply complicated several lives, some to the point of no return. 

I was struck by how simply stunning this novel was. It was impossible to keep the characters at a distance as they will burrow themselves in your soul. As their relationship became fractured, I couldn't side with one over the other. My heart hurt for both players, and I secretly hoped for a happily ever after. I held my breath for them and I rooted for them. I only wanted their dreams to come true. You may not be able to get what you want, but you can live within the confines of this incredible piece of work and experience the joy and the sorrow Adebayo gifts you for a few hours. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Burning Girl: A Novel

I was crazy excited to get a copy of Claire Messud's newest novel, The Burning Girl, at Book Expo. I always love reading her work. 

We have all been there -- one of your oldest and dearest friends pulls away and you don't know why. Sometimes it happens to us in adulthood, but for many of us it happened in childhood. This is what Julia experiences when Cassie, her best friend, begins to find new friends and ask out new experiences early in high school. Julia doesn't understand, and she has to watch her friend slowly make decisions that will alter her life, some of which are her choice and others she is forced into. It's hard to predict what will happen to Cassie as she slips away from her old life, but one thing we can know for certain is that Julia and Cassie's friendship will never be the same -- that is, if Cassie lives to tell the tale. 

I found this novel to be fascinating, and I was particularly taken by the younger characters Messud has written about in this novel. It's hard to find well written adult novels that focus on younger characters, and Messud really hit the nail on the head with this one. Julia came across as someone I could relate to -- a young woman in the making who feels babyish and uncool compared to her former best friend, who has chosen a new crowd and a new life that not only doesn't include her, but also makes her seem infinitely cooler than Julia. I think we've all been there and we can relate to that. However, in the context of the story, I would rather be Julia. It was a starts reminder that not everything that glitters is gold. 

I was absolutely creeped out by the presence of the new man in Cassie's life. I have to be deliberately vague in this description as it is an important point in the story that you have to read for yourself. Messud has this knack for creating super creepy characters who are deceptively necessary to the story arc. It's quite incredible, and it's what, IMHO, makes her a master at her craft. The fact that I finished this book a week ago and am still unsettled by this character when thinking back on the book is an unmistakable sign of a well-crafted, full-bodied character in the story. It makes both the man and the story take on a life. So yes, I think this book is worth your eyes and your brain power this fall. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

At Book Expo this year, I happened to be at the expo early, so I grabbed an autographing ticket for Mo Willems' Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals. I am so glad I did -- it is one of the greatest gifts a new mama could have for her baby.

There is so much to see and do in this world. There are songs to sing and rides to ride and cats to watch. There as passwords to learn and there are mirrors to look into and there are families to love. Life is so big and so wide, and we are happy that you have decided to join us here. Mo Willems puts together a welcome book for babies, and what a glorious welcome it is. 

This was the first book I read my baby boy. The first time I read it through I teared up (because pregnancy), and I knew it would hold a special place in our hearts and our home. It is simple enough to read to your baby yet complicated with big ideas for the big people. The graphics are big and blocked, perfect for tiny brains making sense of the world. It has a consistent tag line and it can be argued that the book is a metaphor for life at large. The world can be a big and scary place, and sometimes it's important to have a book to break it down for you. 

It is a proper introduction to the world if I do say so myself. Welcome to the word, indeed. 

As you can see, the book is baby approved. 




Thursday, September 7, 2017

Unraveling Oliver: A Novel

Liz Nugent's Unraveling Oliver was a huge get at Book Expo this year. I was super excited to get my hands on it, and Liz Nugent was crazy nice and genuinely happy people were excited about her novel. I downed this whole book in about five hours. I couldn't put it down. 

Oliver Ryan is a famous children's book author who is beloved around the world and in his own circles. Until, that is, the night that he beats his wife into a coma. Who is Oliver Ryan? No one really seems to know. Told in multiple perspectives by those in the couple's lives, the whole picture of who this man is, what motivates him, and what his past looks like starts to come into focus. It turns out that not everyone is what they seem. 

When I tell you that I couldn't put this book down, I truly mean that. I had many things to do before the baby came, but instead I needed to keep reading to find out what the bloody hell was going on. And not just the next chapter -- I needed to gulp down the whole book or else I would lose my mind not knowing the truth. One review on the back of the advanced readers copy called this genre "grip lit," and I had never heard that term before, yet it seems to be entirely accurate for this novel. I was completely gripped and held in a stranglehold by Nugent and her characters. Their stories were astounding and honest, so real that this book blurred the lines between fiction and reality. While Oliver Ryan may not be a real , living and breathing person in Ireland, facsimiles of him exist in the world. Men who are willing to casually and callously use what opportunities come their way to walk over whomever they can. 

This novel did a truly outstanding job of creating twists and turns in the story that I didn't see coming. They were more revelatory than they were shocking, and it worked for this story, which was completely driven by the characters and their complicated, twisted involvement with one another whether they knew it or not. Whether it was coming to grips with Oliver's family or finally understanding the true betrayal of the book, there was always another shocker that was more of a slow burn than a heart-stopping sensation. It was incredible to read, and well worth the accolades coming Nugents' way when this book is released. I tore through this novel, and you will too. Just be sure you don't have to be anywhere -- you will be late. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats

Hi all! I'm back! I wasn't planning on coming back officially until October, but after the wonderful stack of books I picked up at Book Expo 2017, I would be remiss if I didn't post on the books I read that are coming out this month. 

We start with Vyvyan Evans' The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats. When I teach development courses, I usually devote one class to language development. Of course we spend a good deal of time talking about phonemic awareness and development, but I also devote some time to discussion on how and why language morphs. We talk about emoji's in terms of semantics, which is how we understand the meaning of sentences and phrases. Semantics are much easier to get in spoken word as opposed to written word, and electronic communication has made this even worse. I have argued for years that emojis allow us to insert semantics into our texting communication in order to express meaning to the recipient. That being said, when I saw that this book was on deck at Book Expo, I stalked the booth waiting for it to drop. 

I'm so glad that I did. Not only did I highlight and annotate the crap out of this book, I also sent it to my professors who teach language courses. I'll also reference it in my language lectures for my students. It's a valuable piece of writing to use in eduction, but the key to this book is that it's written for the layman. It's a book you or I can read on the couch, and wach chapter has anecdotes to support the argument as well as data that will make you stop and think. If you've been a long time follower of this blog, you know that I LOVE smart books that are accessible for the general reading population, and this fits into that category. 

I was a traditionalist early on with emoticons and emojis. I still don't believe they have. A place in professional emails, but I now use them fairly liberally in my personal communication. I've grown to see the value in them as enhancing written communication, and I've learned to embrace them. In fact, I just returned an email to a former student (he shared an article with me about the importance of reading) and ended with an emoji. I agree with Evans' estimation that emoji is not a language that can stand in and of itself -- you will have to pick up the book and read the argument yourself -- but they certainly LT are useful in terms of semantics. I love that they enhance language rather than attempt to replace it. So use emoji away, friends. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Book Thief

Hi!

I’m currently taking a break from all the nonfiction I’ve been reading lately to get back to literary fiction for a while. I decided on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak because it has always been on my to-read list. It was definitely a heavy place to start, but this is a book I can highly recommend. It’s about as far as you can get from a light and bubbly summer read, but I loved it. Although it’s a cliché statement, this is a book I actually couldn’t put down.

The Book Thief is narrated by Death. The opening section of the book, in which Death describes his encounters with “the book thief”, foreshadowing the entire novel, was my favorite part of the story. Because you know once you pick it up that The Book Thief takes place in Nazi Germany, you have that overhanging cold feeling of dramatic irony in which you know that things will continue to grow worse. Still, the subtle foreshadowing helped to set the tone for the whole book and created an air of mystery that I found compelling.

Death is a theme in almost all novels that take place in Nazi Germany, but in The Book Thief its personification helps you to feel its presence, almost like even death itself didn’t want to be involved in this level of societal evil. The novel follows a young girl named Liesel, “the book thief” because she steals books at important moments in her life, and shows the effects of Hitler’s rise to power and the subsequent war on Germany and its people through her eyes.

Unsurprisingly, it is heartbreaking. There are touching moments and terrifying moments. The book focuses on individuals and their human connections, their friendships and the emotions they feel in the face of such dread and confusion, and the ways they try to find meaning and connection in such a time. Some novels about this period in history are overdone and try to capture everything that happened, and the sheer scale of it makes it hard to process emotionally for the reader. The micro scale of The Book Thief, as well as the young age of Liesel and thus her innocent approach to processing many of the horrible and unprecedented things she sees and feels, makes the book hit home in an emotional way.

I loved the ending too, which I won’t give away here. The writing in The Book Thief is exquisite, and there are sentences you will read over two or three times just to let them sink in. It leaves you haunted and sad, which seems appropriate. It’s a long book but is worth the time it takes, and it gives real insight into the emotional perspectives of the characters. This is the first book I read about Nazi Germany that connected with me in quite this way, because I felt the sense of confusion and dread came through in a real way.

I think in today’s political climate, we are especially poised to resonate with feelings of powerlessness and to remember that we must notice the creeping changes in a political situation when it comes to rights, social norms, protections, and expectations, before they have crept too far. The Book Thief may leave you devastated and faintly queasy, but it should. It’s a beautifully written novel that deserves to be read. And if you love it as I do, I suggest that you go back once you’re done and read the opening section once more, now that you know the journey Death and Liesel have been on together.


All in all, the novel was very interesting, and I loved the ending. The novel is well written and although it is long, it is worth your time. I feel that I learned about different perspectives and ways of life, which was interesting and mind opening. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Outliers

Lately I have been wanting to read something different; although I still really enjoy reading young adult novels, I needed a break from adults trying to be teenagers! So, when Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was recommended, I decided to give it a shot.  

I remember the first time I heard about this book, I was in 6th grade and learning to play violin. We had to practice everyday for homework and sometimes little Charlotte was just too lazy. However, I still wanted to be the best in my class… I guess I was ignoring the connection between practice and improvement. Cue my dad and his lectures! He told my siblings and me that a person had to practice for 10,000 hours to master a skill. I was shocked, counting how long it would take me to get to that point. To say the least, this has stuck with me to this day (even if to my parents’ dismay I stopped playing violin).

The book itself is a pretty quick read that mainly focused on different statistics and was definitely different from what I normally read. However, I found it quite interesting! It focused on (you guessed it) the ‘outliers’ of society, meaning individuals that are the best at their profession or skill. It was written in a way where it felt like I was solving a sort of puzzle with the author as I slowly discovered circumstances that made an individual an outlier. It was also really nice to have it confirmed that experts weren’t just born geniuses and that hard work and circumstances lead to their successes. The 10,000-hours anecdote may be the most quoted part of Outliers, but the book had lots of interesting stories and analyses of the reasons behind what makes someone excel.

Although, I found it enjoyable to read, I have a few complaints about Outliers. First of all, you get the point about outliers pretty quickly. After the first few chapters/examples, I was finding myself getting easily distracted. I made it through the book and was glad I had, but the farther I read, the more tedious it became. Next, it wasn’t until someone pointed this out to me that I noticed, but the author only uses research that proves his point. I mean it is pretty obvious why any author trying to prove a point would do this. Nonetheless, I was still disappointed. Whenever someone writes an argumentative essay, anticipating the opposite opinion and trying to convince the reader of that as well, should be a goal. At least acknowledge different points of view! Otherwise, its just one sided and ones argument can that be undermined easily.  I felt like someone could easily have found a similar amount of anecdotes and research points to give different conclusions than the author.

That said, I really enjoyed learning about how different aspects of life can have such a drastic effect on the rest of your life. The book is not only intriguing and well written but it is also educational so I recommend it. The chapters are mostly separate anecdotes that don’t build on one another, so you can also read them more like magazine articles in a stand-alone way, which I might recommend for a book like this (where all the chapters sort of make the same point).

             


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte: Everything Everything

At the beginning of the summer, every advertisement had been about the movie Everything Everything coming out in theaters. Once I realized it was based on a book, I decided to read it before I saw the movie.

The book Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is a story about a girl named Madeline. Madeline has a disease that makes it unsafe for her to leave the sterile “bubble” of her home and therefore is unable to ever go outside. Because of this, the only people she has every really talked to are her mother, her nurse Carla, and Carla’s daughter Rosa, since the process for guests is lengthy. She is quite smart and loves to read, and the book is full of literary references that are admittedly a bit over-explained but are still interesting and relevant. Sometimes those references can feel forced and heavy-handed in stories, so at first I was a little hesitant, but I thought the author did a good job incorporating them and using them to shine a light on Madeline’s personality.

The real plot begins win a new boy moves in next door, and he and Madeline can’t help but start talking. This, of course, leads to a whirlwind of events and emotions between the two characters, their different home situations, and the twists and turns that happen as they build a relationship despite the limits placed on them by Madeline’s disease. I won’t give away the plot or the ending, but it does have some surprises and keeps you involved until the end.

The book was honestly pretty good. It was very cheesy and parts of it seemed a little out of place, like the fact that Madeline and her new friend communicate with IM and emails…. However! I still really enjoyed it. A lot of the book I could imagine actually happening, although there were some moments where the characters’ actions (especially the mom’s actions) didn’t really seem realistic. It captured what its like to have a new crush in high school, where all you want to do is stay up and talk and it feels like the most important thing in the world. I did feel like the characters were a little contrived and formulaic. Like the neighbor boy is dark and brooding and literally leaning against the wall in a black tee shirt, which I feel like is the start of every boy-the-girl-is-going-to-have-a-crush-on-moves-in-next-door story. Especially cringe-worthy were the extensive efforts to make them opposites-who-would-then-attract: she’s trapped inside, and he’s literally climbing the walls (because he is into parkour); she’s wearing white, and he’s wearing black; her mother is her closest friend and his father is his worst enemy, etc. I did love the cheesy dialogue in their early emails and IMs though, because it felt realistic and made you cringe the same way you would reading your journal from middle school. The writing was okay, but I did feel it was written for a younger audience and would really be best suited for middle-schoolers.


So I do recommend this book to all the hopeless romantics out there, even if it’s a little contrived. I was really glad to have read it before I saw the movie, because seeing the movie first would have given away the story and I think if I’d known the whole story first the book wouldn’t have been worth reading since it’s heavily plot-driven. The story is a fast read and enjoyable for what it is.