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Category Archives: Adult

Stepping back in time

After a short long weekend away from home where we were able to travel back in time and breath in the history of a long ago time while enjoying what it is in 2017, it got me thinking about the books that make me want to travel to a specific time or place.

  1. Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck uses the Fitzgerald’s specifically Zelda and her private nurse, Anna to bring readers to the 1930s using a main character whose husband is MIA from the war, a young daughter who died, and her new charge, the unstable Zelda Fitzgerald to bring the Jazz Age to life.
  2. Mary Coin by Silver is a haunting, heartbreaking, and lyrically romantic interpretation of the subject of Migrant Mother, the photographer, and a possible relative focusing on the Great Depressions far-reaching effects.
  3. Garden of Stones by Littlefield uses the same concept as Silver with the comparison of different generations in one story and how they all persevered. In this story it focuses on a woman’s survival at all costs during the Japanese internment.
  4. Into the Wild by Krakauer takes us to the wilds of Alaska and leaves us to wonder, what was Chris really thinking?
  5. Mudbound by Jordan shows us the dead-end life that Laura is feeling she’s living after relocating to the Mississippi Delta in 1946. The intricacy of relationships romantic and otherwise bring this story to life.

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All of these are adult titles whose authors have a particular penchant for historical fiction or in Krakauer’s case, writing nonfiction with a bevy of research and purpose, that provide readers with an experience. The kind of experience I had sitting for brunch with a pomegranate mimosa and eggs benedict  in the oldest tavern in the United States that opened its doors in 1697 and where the Colonial Legislature would meet. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen to the creaking of the wood floors and feel the bustle of life that long ago. I’m guessing it would be far noisier and smokier and sans white linens.

 

Hop, skip, and jump

I love when books give me a taste of something I didn’t know before and leads me to other things; one thing should always lead to another, just like thinking about chocolate almost always leads to peanut butter or reading one book by a gifted author (hi, Ruta!) always leads to reading everything she publishes.

In fact, I blogged about my discovery of “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne after reading A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. I adore authors like Sarah Cross who revitalize fairy tales. I picked up Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast after delighting in Ericka Robuck’s Hemingway’s Girl. Even though I disliked the new The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle, I read Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem “Goblin Market” (adored it!) And though I still haven’t read Shakespeare’s play “A Winter’s Tale” which inspired E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I look forward to it soon.

Switching gears from books that lead to other books, what about books that lead to field trips? I anticipate an on-site tour of the Albany Shaker site after reading Ann Sayers’ book “Their Name Is Wicks…”: One Family’s Journey through Shaker History.

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Living in a state like New York, and upstate no less, provides rich history lessons everywhere we turn, so I took the opportunity to dive into the world of the Shakers. And it didn’t hurt that I know the author and went to the book launch at the Shaker Heritage Site. You can see my post published yesterday after finishing the book that day. But it brought life to these people and this location.

I remember joining a book group that read the beautiful All The Light We Cannot See by Doerr and having the very real conversation about going on a field trip to France as I’m sure most book groups who read it thought about doing too.

So, what books have you read that ultimately led you to another book or embarking on an adventure? Likewise, have there been books that completely transported you to another time and place providing the cheapest vacation money can buy?

 
 

Reclaiming Conversation

In January 2017, I read Sherry Turkle’s 2015 book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age and I find myself referencing it frequently in my own conversations with others. So I wanted to share it in the context of this week’s #edublogsclub challenge prompt around digital citizenship. My stance aligns similarly to Turkle’s in that she isn’t anti-technology, she’s pro-conversation.

ReclaimingConversationYes, we need to have digital citizenship lessons, but we have forgotten to continue the lessons on personal citizenship because of and ignorant of our digital lives. We believe we know people because we are connected with them on social media. We believe we are better than or worse than people because of what we see on their feeds. We compare ourselves to Photoshopped images in advertising. We reserve the right to demean others either because we are behind a screen or because we think it is our right. Turkle shares a few stories that I can only compare to why teenagers are less likely to get their drivers license. We have scared them with advertisements, statistics, and more. And the same thing is true in real life. We have scared teenagers into speaking less because they see what happens when people say the wrong thing. The instant screenshot or video immortalizes a misstep. For whatever reason, Turkle’s example of a teenage boy who ignored a phone call from a college recruiter so he could email him instead later was explained by the boy as a fear of saying the wrong thing over the phone. He shared that a phone conversation is too quick for him to think about what he wants to say and the fear of saying the wrong thing drives him to email instead because he can think as he types.

How many of us have seen or engaged in inflammatory Twitter conversations? How many have posted a rant on Facebook? We know things can get out of hand quickly but it’s coupled with the positive use of social media as demonstrated in the Middle East and North Africa during Arab Spring in which youth were protesting their governments and convening for the cause. In this case, the instant spread of information was beneficial.

So it’s the quickness of the digital age that means that we must still empower everyone’s voice outside of their digital presence and how they are IRL. How should we prepare to ask the right question to the customer service representative over the phone? How can people guide conversations deeper when most everyone wants a shallow conversation they can maneuver in and out of because what’s on the their phone is more important?

These are the gems that Turkle shares and truly made me think about how I am and how I want to raise my kids and how I want to teach my students. I want to reflect on Turkle’s lens through Thoreau’s thoughts on the subject in which he said his cabin had three chairs: one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.

We need to remember how to be by ourselves and know ourselves before we know others, we also need friendship, the real kind not the followers kind, and we also need to know how to interact in groups. Turkle’s book was for me the kind of book that comes at the right time and has left an impact on me. While the last third of the book was recycled lessons, the first two thirds of the book provided enough material to think on that I must have used an entire pad of Post-its. It should give anyone thinking about digital citizenship thinking not only about the digital side, but also the personal side.

 
 

The art of the booktalk

This post originally appeared on the Books Blog for the Times Union

The art of the booktalk. When a friend asks you about the book you’re reading or you’re sharing a recent fabulous read, how do you approach it? Do you ask a question? Perhaps have a pre-planned teaser or maybe you’d rather share an overview. Sometimes I’m so blinded by the emotion of absolutely loving a book that I clutch the book to my chest and whisper I love this book and then just hope that someone will take my word for it. Luckily I’ve got some street cred with this approach.

2017-03-30 15.40.02-1But, I was thinking about the art of the booktalk after spending two days in classrooms talking to tenth graders about choosing a classic book to read for their fourth quarter project. I had a lot of ground to cover and not all of the books I had read. Yet that is nothing new because I booktalk frequently on topics that I may only know slightly and I am a firm believer that you can booktalk a book you haven’t read. I organized the books into categories that helped channel the number that I was talking about and then prepared my cheat sheet (things like publication date, title characters, main ideas, themes or topics, or a relevant current topic that paired nicely). And while this is necessary, I generally don’t use it as much as occasionally reference it since Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

It’s there if I need it, but the preparation solidifies my approach and then I don’t actually need it. Especially when I capitalize on others in the room who may have loved one of the books and ask them to share. When I talk about a book I may ask a hypothetical question or have a one-liner that intrigues someone, saying little more. And I learn from others. I facilitate a book group of local school librarians and everyone has a slightly different approach, all valuable in their own way. There are some I could listen to all day myself, admiring their vocabulary and word choice. I aspire to be better after each delivery and rework it until I hit booktalk gold. We only get better with practice.

So not only am I constantly honing my booktalking skills based on my audience, I also realized I have a lot of classic literature to read (or reread to refresh my memory). Maybe I can make this a monthly post to review a classic book as a way to kickstart this exploration. Which would you start with?

 

Chain Mail 2.0

Yesterday I was tagged in a Facebook chain message. My first response, like any chain snail mail or email from years past was to ignore it, but this one was about books, so how could I resist?

The purpose was to quickly share, without too much thought, ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Here were my ten (with a brief explanation of why):

1. Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck is a beautiful piece of literature that seamlessly weaves real characters and intersecting them with everyday people. The juxtaposition between Edna St. Vincent Millay and Laura Kelley is brooding with layers of passion and sacrifice that touches me deeply.
2. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly focuses on Mattie who wants to better herself and she does it by learning new words and seeking knowledge. This is the motto of my life.
3. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton moves me on an elemental and mystical level. It’s the deep-seated family history and Ava’s final moments with Nathaniel Sorrows that absolutely transformed me.
4. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is a modern version of The Awakening. A woman and her sacrifice, passion, and dreams dead-ended in their muck-covered Mudbound farm.
5. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez. Where do I begin with this soul-ripping, earth-shattering darkness that throws your emotions around like a rag doll? Naomi, Naomi, Naomi. Pain, passion, a quest for comfort and love.
6. Guardian by Julius Lester begins with “There are times when a tree can no longer withstand the pain inflicted on it, and the wind will take pity on that tree and topple it over in a mighty storm. All the other trees who witnessed the evil look down upon the fallen tree with envy. They pray for the day when a wind will end their suffering. I pray for the day when God will end mine.” There is nothing more to do than to read and follow the pain. One of the most uniquely beautiful opening paragraphs.
7. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a contemporary classic about a girl finding her voice when it has been silenced by rape. There have been many iterations, both well-done and not-so-much, but this one takes the cake with a simple but clear message that YA readers need so desperately. And regardless of what most think, the movie was spot-on and truly showecased the mood of the book for me.
8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was one of the first books that I literally photocopied pages from to keep and reread. The transcendental nature of a narrator talking from haven was unique and sad and then having read Sebold’s memoir Lucky, it all came together.
9. A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman makes me want to know more and be better. Ackerman’s knack for beautiful writing and a well-researched focus feeds my need to focus on the beauty and gratitude of nature (in the form of our five senses).
10. What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World by Taylor Mali is a force for those in education. Having been able to see him a small, eclectic bar/performing arts establishment was invigorating and his ingenuity and talent for spoken word pours from him. And though his observations are spot on and the book is a testament to that, it can only be best experienced with the ear. I’m linking my favorite here: “I’ll Fight You For the Library”.

As you can see, the books that speak to me tend to be ones where characters are experiences the darker side of emotions but are trying to chase passions regardless. There is a reason my tattoo is what it is and why I feel these books on an elemental level.

Please share yours whether it’s on social media or in the comments. Not that I need more to add to be to-be read pile, but, that’s what book sharing is all about.

 

Six sensational books I enjoyed… because they’re similar to others I’ve enjoyed

How’s that for a mouthful of a title? Recently I’ve been on a tear reading both in traditional and e-book formats digesting as much as I can while enjoying the summer sun, the pool, the quiet of everyone else being in bed. And of course with the pace at which I read, it’s inevitable that I’d compare books to each other. So here are a few recent reads that I enjoyed in part due to their similarity to others (that you should also read if you haven’t). 26LettersArranged

  1. The Girls by Cline similar to an all-time favorite of mine The Virgin Suicides by Eugenides
    • The almost indifferent narration of Evie’s life with “the girls” on a cult compound conjuring the Manson family is eerily similar to the Lisbon sisters. Both also include an opportunity for readers to step off the pedal of emotion: in The Girls, Evie’s time with the girls are flashbacks while the present life she leads is reflected off of a stoned son of a former boyfriend and his girlfriend while the neighborhood boys look on from the Lisbon household drawing conclusions about them based on what they see.
    • Memorable character: There’s a reason I named my first dog Lux because I wanted to be reminded of the most memorable sister (for me) of the Lisbon girls. The one that was the most daring, she wanted with a passion.
  2. Every Falling Star by Lee similar to A Long Way Gone by Beah
    • I just posted about Lee’s book and it’s similarities to the narrative of a boy soldier from Sudan as first-person stories about their trials in working toward freedom, though Every Falling Star is a rarer look as he’s defected from North Korea.
  3. Last Seen Leaving by Roehrig similar to Wink Poppy Midnight by Tucholke 
    • There’s a glut of self-discovery that happens in both. Flynn is confused about his newly ex-girlfriend’s disappearance as much as Midnight is confused about Poppy’s actions especially when Midnight’s attentions turned to Wink. Everyone needs to admit things they don’t want to admit about themselves and others and this is hard. This struggle is tangible in both stories where the characters are the sole focus and the mysteries that surround them are secondary. A lovely look at human behavior.
  4. Lucky Penny by Hirsh similar to the Lumberjanes series by an array of authors including Stevenson
    • There’s so much girl empowerment in both. Penny’s luck has run out and she’s been fired from her job and lost her apartment, but resourceful Penny moves into her friend’s storage unit, lands a laundromat gig, and falls in love with the boy at the gym where she needs a cheap (or free) membership to shower.This is all helped along by powerfully graphic images as with the girls from the camp for hardcore lady types.  Penny is willing to kick butt too when she needs, along with a vivid imagination and a sense of humor.
    • Memorable Scene: When Penny is standing in her hamburger underwear doing her wash at the laundromat where she works when her young boss walks in.
  5. Bubonic Panic When Plague Invaded America by Jarrow similar to her first in the series Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed the Way We Eat 
    • Informational texts like these making learning science so accessible, but it also makes us appreciate how far science has come and makes us wonder what the future holds, too. There’s a systematic approach to her stories that showcase the advancement of medicine through the tribulations of disease (at times annihilating whole villages and half of a city’s population). But it’s the slow and measured way that scientists explore and test their theories that always provides the breakthrough.
    • Memorable quote: Spoken by the Frenchman Alexandre Yersin in the 1880s, “To ask for money for treating the sick is a bit like telling them, ‘Your money or your life,” which is why he stuck to working in a lab rather than taking on a private practice.
  6. Awkward by Chmakova similar to Drama by Telgemeier
    • Another pair of graphic novels, the innocence of middle school and figuring out where you fit it is hard business. Both deal with being members of clubs, too. The battle rages in Awkward between the art club and science club while Callie is a member of the drama club in Telgemeier’s story. Both artfully demonstrate the crazy world of middle school from weird teachers and those that drink the tears of students to those who are discovering their sexuality, interests, and abilities. We all remember those days.
 

Survival at all costs

EveryFallingStarThis needs to be a purchase for every library from middle school through high school and that every adult should read as well when it comes out in September. A narrative of how a boy survived and escape North Korea. Written by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland, Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea is a harrowing account of Sungju’s time in North Korea and the journey to South Korea as a defector. In line with any child soldier narrative from African countries especially Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, accounts of growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China, Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down about Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, or in recent fictional reads like The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan that describe child exploitation, Lee expresses himself in a genuine and heartfelt manner so that anyone can understand the pain and suffering that exists at the hands of the North Korean government. It’s the ease of his writing that make this a book for any age and no age. The need for these narratives is overwhelming.

Memorable Character: Obviously Lee himself closely followed by his friend and confidante and fellow ‘gang’ member Young-bum. Lee is naive at the beginning, believing that his family who lives comfortably is heading to a vacation spot, when instead their family has been ostracized and sent away. From here, all bets are off and both Lee’s father and mother flee. With Lee having to defend himself and unable to protect the homestead, he forms a gang of kotjebi, whose sole purpose is to watch out for each other and survive through any means necessary. It gets downright ugly. And while hope seems lost, my favorite quote deals with this very thing…

Memorable Quote: “‘To live on the streets means we have nothing left,’ I finally said, then stopped. So many thoughts were moving fast inside my mind, I couldn’t catch just one. ‘Our families-our pasts- feel like they never existed,’ I began again. ‘We’re little more than animals now. At least that’s what the merchants say about us, and the other kotjebi, too. The government once called us the kings and queens of the nation… Everyone has abandoned us. Everything has been taken away from us, except hope. You taught me that we can only give hope away. No one can take it. And you also taught me that hope is what makes us human. That, and love. It’s time to let you go,’ I ended.

Memorable Scene: It will be no secret from the beginnings of the book that the gang of boys that Lee moves with suffer from two deaths, but who of the two is the mystery until they happen. It’s the second that is the most heartbreaking and will bring the most hard-hearted to tears. I will not spoil it, but it is Lee’s reality and a poignant example of the loss of any innocence that remained (though I would question any based on Lee’s story).

Readers are advised to be sure to order multiple copies of this culturally diverse story from a time period not so far in the past but in a place that holds so much mystery. Nothing that Lee write is gratuitous, allowing a range and variety of readers to access his admired story both for having the courage to tell it and to survive it.