Saturday, December 22, 2012

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Another book that was recommended to me, and I don't remember by who. Fascinating, though. A quick, great read. A little younger than YA, about three sisters who live with their dad and grandma in Brooklyn in the late 1960's--their mom took off shortly after the youngest was born. The summer of 1968, the dad ships them out to Oakland to spend a month with her.

Their mom is completely uninterested in them--tells them to go to the Black Panthers summer camp down the street, tells them they can get a free breakfast there too. So they go--what else are they going to do? Delphine, the oldest, eleven going on twelve, is the leader. Vonetta is the middle sister, and Fern is the baby. Vonetta is maybe nine, Fern seven.

It's a really interesting portrait of that time and place, the sisters... I liked this book a lot. I've read others by her, but this made me think I should read more.

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin

This book was so good. So good that I said to Laurel, who recommended it to me, "Why hasn't everybody read this? Why was it published in 1971, and no one ever mentioned it to me until now? Why wasn't I told to read it in school, ever?"

I know that part of that is because it's science fiction. I haven't even been reading that much sci fi, and I've only been reading a few writers' work, but it's incredible, what I have been reading! Even the really dated stuff--and yes, a novel written in 1971, and set in 1998 through 2078, is going to be dated--is amazing. Not all sci fi is amazing, I know, but the stuff I've been reading!

Like this novel. Which I want to say transcends the fact that it's sci fi. Which might be seen as a condescending remark toward sci fi, but I mean it more to say that it's about so much more than a view of the future, so much more than spaceships and aliens. It's about relationships. I'd say relationships between people, but they aren't people. They're a lot like people, but they're aliens. Earth barely exists--as a current native says of it: “'My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first.'” The speaker is someone who left Earth for another planet, Urras, where he serves as an ambassador from Earth (now known as Terra). He was born on Urras, and Terra is virtually uninhabitable at this point, so the ambassadors on Urras (where the interplanetary council is), and those few Terrans on Hainish, one of the other two known habitable planets (Anarres and Hainish) are perhaps the majority of Terrans remaining. There are a few struggling along on Terra, but there's little sustanance left there.

Anyhow, highly recommended. I loved this book. It goes in so many important directions.

Classic Novels

I'm slowly making my way through Anna Karenina, which is incredible. I was thinking about when was the last time I read a big classic novel? I looked through the last six months of my blog, and no classics--The Martian Chronicles might be the closest thing. And that's not what I mean, though it's wonderful. I mean like Anna Karenina, big, and of another era, and the sort of book I should have read already but so often haven't. So maybe a goal will be to read a classic every six months? I've read so many damn books in the past six months--it's no hardship to fit a classic in there. Plus Anna Karenina is so good! More on it when I'm done...

Recommendations of other classics, please? Say 1940s and earlier? I especially don't seem to be well-versed in, say, the Russians. Or probably other foreign authors I'd have to read in translation. So yeah, tell me books you've really loved (no sense just posting a list of books you've heard of--I've probably heard of them too. I want recommendations, please). Thanks!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

I've loved Ray Bradbury for a long time--since at least fifth grade, when my English class got taken to the upper school library, and we were told to pick out a book of short stories to read. I chose The Stories of Ray Bradbury, which was my first exposure to, I'd guess, all of these--if I'd read any Bradbury before this collection, it was probably Fahrenheit 451, which I've loved for a long time. And yes, this collection was a strange short story collection choice for a fifth grader, and it's weird for a fifth grader to have read Fahrenheit 451, much less loved it. But I've always been a weird reader. So there you have it. Bradbury's story "A Sound of Thunder" terrified me, and still does, really. I've taught "A Sound of Thunder," "Harrison Bergeron," "All Summer in a Day" and other stories by Bradbury--he wrote so many, after all. He's widely anthologized--included in just about every literature textbook you look at!

But somehow, I never read The Martian Chronicles. So I picked up a lovely old copy last year at a thrift store, and it's been sitting on my "to read" shelf ever since--my copy is a mass market paperback originally printed in 1951 (the book was first published in May 1950), reprinted over and over through the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Maybe they kept reprinting it--but I have the 48th printing, published in 1978, so that's all I know about that.

It takes place from January 1999, when the first expedition goes to Mars from Earth, until October 2026.

I'd read parts of it before--pieces had been published as stand-alone stories. But the whole thing is magnificent. Nearly thirty years of Earth natives colonizing another planet (and written before the moon landing, before any exploration of space by Earth natives). So many different visions of what the Mars settlements will look like (conveniently, Mars' air is thin but breathable by Earth people). And the settlements look like so many different things over the years. A fascinating, amazing book. I continue to love Bradbury so much.

Monday, November 19, 2012

James Tiptree Jr. Stories: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

I finally finished the James Tiptree Jr. stories I started reading ages ago... I wrote about his/her bio on September 9, 2012, and I'd already started the stories at that point. I guess that isn't so long, really.

I'm definitely appreciating them more now than I was then. But old-school scifi still isn't--will never be--one of my favorite genres, or one I'm terribly well-schooled in. But glad I read these. Can definitely see myself rereading some of them. And I'm just so glad to know about Tiptree. The biography was so so good, and I did end up enjoying the stories. Some of them were pretty incredible.

Now back to Alex Sanchez and Neil Gaiman. That's what I've been reading lately!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Annie Get Your Gun

As I wrote last time, I recently read Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh. Not only have I been listening to early Throwing Muses incessantly since reading it (while reading it too!), but I also just watched Betty Hutton's most famous movie, Annie Get Your Gun. Apparently she got this role away from Judy Garland, who was a wreck by then.

Anyway. I really enjoyed it--though there were some really problematic "Indians", not surprisingly. The music was so fun (Irving Berlin!). I didn't realize that "There's No Business Like Show Business" was originally from this musical! The most problematic Indian song was "I'm an Indian Too", though in the movie, the "Indians" are presented pretty sympathetically, I think, and Annie has amazingly close relationships with one Indian, specifically--a Chief who adopts her.

I also loved this song.

A pretty great little movie.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lots of books lately

I've been reading a ton, but lax about posting.

But I read all the Sandman comics, which were really fun... I read the original ten, then the eleventh, and now I'm slowly making my way through the Death comics (sort of part of the Sandman series--related)--but I'm waiting for them to come in from the library, and I want to read them in order... so there's that.

I read Believers by Charles Baxter, who I continue to love love love... got his selected and new stories from the library too, looking forward to reading those, though I think I've read a lot of them already. The selected and new stories is called Gryphon, which is the title of the first Baxter story I read, in the 1986 Best American Short Stories, edited by Raymond Carver, found randomly on a shelf in my house, and probably one of the most influential volumes of my life--largely because of "Gryphon," probably, though not entirely, by any means. The Table of Contents for the 1986 BASS can be found here. Carver's intro is amazing, too. This includes many excerpts from the intro.

I also read Memory Wall, by Anthony Doerr--I talk about two of his other books here and here. Excited to read more by him.

I also read 8, by Amy Fusselman. I read her novel The Pharmacist's Mate fairly recently as well, too. I don't remember why I put them on hold at the library, how I heard of her. Not really my kind of thing--sort of pomo--but I read them both and was engaged. I don't know!

Finally, I read Rat Girl, by Kristin Hersh, which my sister loaned me ages ago. I've been a fan of Throwing Muses and Hersh's solo work for a long time--fifteen, twenty years? But I wasn't so feeling the need to read this memoir. Partly I just don't like memoirs so much. And there are so many books--a memoir by a musician ends up being low on my priority list (though I did love Patti Smith's memoir about her and Robert Mapplethorpe). But this was a good book. Kristin Hersh becomes friends at college with Betty Hutton (yeah, the Betty Hutton!), which is awesome. I love reading about how she writes songs, how they show up in her head... yeah. I liked this book.

For now, I'm back to the James Tiptree, Jr. stories, and I'm still reading this book about tomatoes, Tomatoland, which is really creepy and amazing. I have a million other books waiting to be read--library and otherwise--updates to follow, I'm sure.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Children's Hospital, by Chris Adrian

I've been reading a ton lately, and got behind on my blogging about books. So I'm just going to start fresh with the book I just finished--Chris Adrian's amazing and bizarre and 615-page The Children's Hospital. The world is suddenly buried under seven feet of water--except for a children's hospital, and the inhabitants of the hospital are suddenly the only people left living: the doctors and residents and medical students; the patients, of course, and their parents and siblings if their parents or siblings were with them in the hospital that night; the nurses; the few other random people who happened to be there: the tamale lady, a volunteer, a custodian.

This is a hospital for very sick children, so there are a lot of rare and strange diseases. However, about two hundred and fifty pages in, Jemma, one of the medical students, develops the ability to heal the children. She heals them all, leaving the adults without their roles, and the children without their illnesses, which have been their roles up until now, many of them for their whole lives.

There is an angel.

Then--okay, no spoilers. But a lot happens in this book. I was thoroughly engrossed, all the way through.

Adrian is a pediatrician, in addition to an award-winning, Iowa-graduate writer. He's also now attending Harvard's Divinity School, of course.

I really liked this interview with him, maybe especially the fact that he cut about 400 pages from The Children's Hospital (since I'm dealing with cutting my own novel down myself right now!):  In the interview, he talks a little bit about being gay--I loved reading this book by a gay writer that is not a Gay Book. Speaking of, I recently read Quarantine by Rahul Mehta, and I loved those stories too--also a book by a gay writer that isn't a Gay Book. I've read a lot of good stuff lately--I've been enjoying reading contemporary fiction written for adults, something I don't seem to do so much of.

So, put Adrian's other books on hold at the library. More on him to follow, I'm sure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

33 Snowfish, by Adam Rapp

Again, I don't know why I got this one out of the library. Someone recommended it somewhere along the way. It's pretty amazing. Published by Candlewick Press, which is really the main clue to it being not a book for adults. That, and it's about teenagers--which didn't used to mean a novel wasn't written for an adult audience.

The Library of Congress summary on the page with the publication info says: "Summary: A homeless boy, running from the police with a fifteen-year-old, drug-addicted prostitute, her boyfriend who just killed his own parents, and a baby, gets the chance to make a better life for himself."

Gregory Maguire describes it on the back cover as "a brutal poetic caw."

It's an intense, strange little book. Powerful characters, strange adventures, and somehow it really works.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

James Tiptree, Jr.; The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon--by Julie Phillips

This is a biography of Alice Sheldon, who wrote science fiction under the name James Tiptree, Junior. It's a fabulous book--I read it before reading any of James Tiptree's work, and I'm currently working my way through Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a "best of" short story collection. So far, I'm not as into the stories as I was into the biography, oddly. But the biography is a well-written book, about a fascinating woman. Sheldon (Tiptree) doesn't even start writing sci-fi until page 209 of this 396 page book. When Alice starts reading sci-fi magazines in the early 1930's, as a teenager, it's because her "uncle" Harry shares them with her when they go to their summer lodge. But "by the late 1930's, tribes of awkward, self-conscious youths--Alice's contemporaries, later Tiptree's editors and friends--were meeting in national science fiction conventions." But Alice wasn't a part of this world of conventions... "If she was going to be unconventional at all, she intended to be charismatic, discerning, and bohemian, not scruffy, opinionated, and weird." I love reading about her friendship with Ursula K. LeGuin. And about her friendship with Joanna Russ, whose work I don't know, but need to check out! I'm not much of a reader of biographies. This book is pretty great, though.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr

After reading About Grace, by Anthony Doerr, I couldn't wait to read this collection of stories. I'm excited now to read his second collection of stories. He also has a recent memoir, but I'm not nearly as excited about a memoir. So we'll see. But these stories were great. More science-based stuff, and stories set in so many different settings, so many places, and it all feels true.

Camilla, by Madeline L'Engle

As a kid, I read A Wrinkle in Time about eighty thousand times. I also read two of the four sequels, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, many times. I was given the three books by my Aunt Mary when I was maybe ten. I only just learned that in fact there was a quintet of books about the Murry family, not a trilogy. Maybe I'll read the other two--but maybe it's too late. (The other two are Many Waters and An Acceptable Time.) As it was, I was iffy about reading Camilla, which I picked up at a library book sale for a dollar. The cover is lovely. But it was a good read--published in 1951, it's the story of Camilla Dickinson, a Park Avenue, private school girl, whose best friend lives in Greenwich Village. Said best friend, Luisa Rowan, happens to have an older brother, Frank, and this book is really the story of Camilla and Frank.

Riding Freedom, by Pam Munoz Ryan

This little book has been sitting on my "books to read" shelf--honestly, bookshelf--for a long time. So long that I didn't realize it was there, though I must have known. Apparently I got it at Goodwill for .99. A good buy, E. I'll be passing this one along, for sure. So, yeah. Published in 1989. Munoz Ryan's first novel--she'd written picture books before, but nothing this sustained. And Brian Selznick illustrated it--this of course is years before Hugo, which is why I love him so much--but it's also years before he'd really made his name as an illustrator. Anyway. I guess this is a middle grade book--maybe third through sixth? I'm always terrible with that, honestly. And I could have read it as a first or second grader, but I have students who wouldn't've been ready for it till high school. But at that point, maybe if they'd had Esperanza Rising or Becoming Naomi Leon read to them... anyway. People are reading at so many different levels. And I think this book would be okay, story-wise, for a wide range of ages. It's based on a true story, apparently, about a girl who grows up in an orphanage, and runs away at age 12 and dresses like a boy so she can get work in a stable with horses. She keeps passing--apparently the person the book is based on passed his whole life. Voted, too! Loved this. A quick read--started it yesterday, and had to finish it yesterday. So I did. Stayed up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

About Grace, by Anthony Doerr

A real grown-up novel. Clocking in at 402 pages. I don't know why I checked this and a book of his stories out of the library, but I did. And I read the whole thing (haven't read the stories yet, but looking forward to them!).

This was a strange book, its own thing. I loved it, really. The story of a guy from Anchorage who, in his thirties, falls in love with a woman whose been married fifteen and a half years, to her high school sweetheart. But they start an affair, end up marrying, and have a baby. But David Winkler has a lifetime history of dreaming people's deaths, and when he dreams the death of his daughter, he leaves his wife and daughter. He goes to St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, and is there for twenty-five years, assuming his daughter died--but after twenty-five years, he realizes he doesn't know for sure, and goes off to track her down.

The last hundred pages of the book, only, are what happens when he finds out what happened to her, but it feels like more.

But the whole book has a weight to it. It's pretty great--one of the best novels I've read in a long time. I'm excited to see what else Doerr has done and does.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ten Albums

My sister and mom and I were discussing what ten albums we'd bring with us if we could only have ten forever. It's a tough question. We're interpreting it loosely--box sets count as one album, for instance. So both Em and I have the Bob Marley four-disc box set that had been our father's--"Songs of Freedom" on our lists. I'm also including a box set of old gospel that I listen to all the time: "Goodbye, Babylon." And one of the Bessie Smith box sets, probably Vol. 3 (there are five two CD box sets total). Some Sam Cooke, for sure. I've had a bunch of his compilation stuff--I'd want something with lots of the early gospel on it. Have to figure that out. Anyway, definitely Bob Dylan, "Nashville Skyline." That's five. There's so much else, of course. But that's a start. Yours?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Meeting the Master, by Elissa Wald

This is Elissa Wald's first book. The library doesn't have it. So I bought it. I blogged briefly about her second book, her first novel, here. I liked these stories a lot. This collection was a lot of fun. Pretty uneven, I thought, but as Pat Califia said in his blurb on the back, overall, it is "a well-written book of S&M fiction." Some of the stories are excellent, really solid, and some don't hold up as well. But yeah, I liked it a lot. Not really my kind of thing--S&M fiction--but a really fun read.

Elegies for the Brokenhearted, by Christie Hodges

I need to keep better track of where I get my recommendations from. I recently read Elegies for the Brokenhearted, by Christie Hodges, and I put that and another one (Hello, I Must Be Going) by her on hold at the library--for some reason--and I'll totally read the other one, because this one was really good. But where did the recommendation come from, Elissa?

Anyway. Elegies for the Brokenhearted is a novel told in five sections, each telling the story of someone in the main character's life who has died. Each section opens with the name and the dates of the deceased's birth and death. "Elegy for," their name, and the dates of their birth and death. So the book begins:

Elegy for

Mike Beaudry


"Every family had one and you were ours: the chump, the slouch, the drunk, the bum, the forever-newly-employed (I didn't need that shit, you'd say), the chain-smoking fuckup with the muscle car, an acorn brown 442 Cutlas Supreme named Michele, the love of your life..."

And it keeps going with its description of the beloved bachelor uncle, its stories about his life, what he meant to Mary Murphy, what he still means to her.

Then we meet Elwood LePoer (1971-1990), an annoying kid she went to school with. Amazing how much we learn about her through the people she knew, both those important to her and those more or less incidental.

Next up: Carson Washington (1972-1993), freshman year college roommate in 1990, Carson's "first and only year of college." She describes herself as "fat and black," which does seem to be the case. "Those first weeks of school, during which we both failed to make other friends, we fell into the habit of sitting together for hours in the cafeteria at a table by the window." Their relationship is such a freshman year college roommate relationship, handled beautifully. It's strange, and perfect.

Then James Butler (1952-1996): "at first you were nothing to me but another in a long line of strange characters I met the summer I went off in search of my sister." But as happens, he becomes something more.

And the last elegy is for her mother, Margaret Murphy Francis Adams Witherspoon (1952-2003), married five times, "born beautiful in a failing industrial city." It's about her mother, about her family--the whole book is, really--but it's also about the rest of her life.

I liked this book a lot. Interested to see what Christie Hodgen's other work is like.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Stolen Pleasures, by Gina Berriault

Just finished this collection of short stories--by a fabulous writer born in 1923, died 1999. Why hadn't I ever heard of her? Such a good writer, and fairly acclaimed during her life--at least, published widely, won a couple Pushcarts, that kind of thing. But--she should be read now, taught, anthologized, not forgotten! There are probably many writers we could say that about. Anyway. Worth reading. So good. Not complicated--I was going to say "Simple," but they aren't that. Set in an ordinary world, mostly northern California--some small town, some little city (" "), lots of San Francisco, some rural California--she talks a lot about... well, I wouldn't say she "talks a lot" about anything, really. She inhabits these characters, their lives. It's beautifully done. She had three earlier collections, and this is a selection from those stories, plus a later one never before published. I think I want to track down and read them all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I Am J, by Cris Beam

This has been in my "to read" stack for months. But it just never struck me enough. I even opened it a couple times... but eh. But then last week I opened it, and read the whole thing. It's good. Maybe about what you might expect. A little more than that. But yeah. A trans kid novel. Well done.

The Virgin of Flames, by Chris Abani

I'm doing better at reading the adult novels. This one was a little more--weird? Than I'm used to... I don't know how, quite. It's narrative, with distinct characters and even a chronology to it... but it still felt more abstract than what I'm used to. Jumpy? But I loved it, even when it felt like it was taking me a really long time to read. So much happens, and there are so many characters unlike anything I expected--anyone I expected, I suppose. It's also a super queer book, which I was not expecting at all. Excellent. "Also on the desk, in piles on the floor around the room, crammed onto too-small cases, were books. In every imaginable binding and in every state--new, battered, hardbacks, paperbacks. Black loved books and he loved to read, but sometimes he loved books more than he loved to read. And sometimes, what he loved most about books was the space they left for him between the reading and the imagining. Sometimes he lived there more than anywhere else."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman

This is a collection of short stories, new and selected, by a writer I hadn't heard of before. Though she's been in Best American, etc., none of these stories were familiar to me. Honestly, some of them were a little boring, I thought, but the last half of the book--the new stories, after the selected ones--were all pretty great. Another book that I can't remember where the recommendation came from. Another book that sat on my shelf of library books for a while before I picked it up, and then I read a couple stories, read something else, read a couple more stories... So good, though. So glad I read these. Wish there were more! I guess I could tell you something about them. Lots of doctors. Lots of Russians. Lots of children. That's something. Just read them, please.

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay

A great little--chapter book, I suppose? about an eleven-year-old. The blurb on the cover, from Karen Hesse, says, "I'm so smitten with all the McKay books!" and I can definitely see how that would happen. Saffy--Saffron--has an older sister, Caddy (short for Cadmium), and a younger brother and younger sister, Indigo and Rose. All four of them are named for colors, but Saffron is the only one whose name isn't on the color chart up on the kitchen wall. Beautifully done. Highly recommended. About family, and friendship, and family family family.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bronxwood, by Coe Booth

I checked this out from the library ages ago, and I've looked at it several times, sitting on the shelf, and been surprised that I hadn't read it yet. I read both of Coe Booth's other novels--Kendra, and Tyrell--and loved them. So why'd it take me so long to read Bronxwood? I think it might have to do with not teaching anymore right now... I didn't want to read something I knew I'd be wanting to recommend to students. However, this is a sequel to Tyrell, as it turns out, and I didn't love it nearly as much as I'd hoped to. It's really really good, but I'd keep recommending Tyrell, and say, "Bronxwood is a sequel to Tyrell, but I don't think it's nearly as good. But read it and tell me what you think." But also, nothing's really resolved in Bronxwood. It's like another chapter in Tyrell's life, but it doesn't feel like he figures anything out. Like, nothing. It's frustrating that way. I continue to love Coe Booth, and I'll read anything she writes, but I want more from her, please.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

This book was incredible. Lionel Shriver is a fabulous writer. I also was happy to discover that she's a woman--according to an interview in the back of the copy I'd gotten from the library, her given name is Margaret Anne, and when she was fifteen she started going by a tomboy name that worked for her. All right then. Anyway, this is the story of a woman's son, Kevin, who conducts a Columbine type killing. It's told as a series of letters the mother writes to her estranged husband--the boy's father--right around the boy's eighteenth birthday, the two-year anniversary of his crime. Okay spoiler: The father and the younger sister are not in the story itself, and there are references to how the mother doesn't have the daughter living with her anymore... but it isn't until the second-to-last letter (so page 350 or so of this 400 page novel) that you learn that the son killed his father and little sister that morning before he left for school, after the mother had left for work. So she goes to Kevin's school, finds out he's a mass murderer, goes home still wondering where her husband is and why he hasn't shown up yet to help her through this--then finds the bodies at her house. It's a much more violent book than I usually read. Maybe that isn't even true, actually--I read a fair number of books with violence in them. But yeah, this one takes the cake. It's a hard read. But it's so well done, so beautifully written and so thoughtful about all of this: what it would be like for a mom to be raising a son like Kevin, what it would be like for the dad, what that would do, potentially, to the parents' relationship... But yeah. So glad I'm done with this book. But so glad I read it. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tell Us We're Home, by Marina Budhos

I've been reading a ton this summer. That's what happens when you don't have much else to do. At least if you're me. I've watched a couple movies--mostly I've turned them off halfway through, so recommendations needed please! I've walked my dog a lot, which is really good for the both of us and makes us happy. I've written a lot--been working on the damn novel, I want to finish revising and get it DONE! (Ugh, that woman is wearing a lovely comfy-looking white cotton dress--with very visible striped underpants!) But so yeah, watching some movies, walking my dog, writing, reading a ton. I'm trying hard to read outside my narrowest comfort zone, the easiest books, which lately is YA fiction. So I have a non-fiction book going too (currently Jane Kenyon's A Thousand White Daffodils, which I'm loving--more on it when I finish!), some poetry (I checked Kenyon's out from the library, but I'm reading a book I got off a free shelf, I think--ddgf by adf. I don't like it so much, so I'm also sort of reading Revolution -- by -- -- which I love... and want to use if/when I teach a poetry unit again, at least to high school age students), and I'm trying hard to read more adult fiction (this is a long-term, standing goal)--I've been working my way through short stories by Edith ---, which has been great, and now that I'm done with Tell Us We're Home, I'm tackling We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, which is good and awful. More about that one when I finish it too. Anyway, but this is supposed to be about Tell Us We're Home. Tell Us We're Home is narrated by and is the story of three eighth grade girls in a wealthy little New Jersey town--but they're the daughters of nannies and housekeepers, and very aware of their different place in the world of the town. It's pretty great. Maybe that's all I have to say? It's a YA novel about being an eighth grade girl, and all the issues that come with that, but these girls are dealing with different questions than the other girls at their school, largely because their moms work for the other girls' moms. It's very interesting, and very well-handled, I think. The differences between the three girls and their own families are also really interesting and complexly handled. A nice little novel.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


A Facebook friend recently took a week off Facebook--indeed, the whole internet--and when she came back and posted about it, a friend of hers posted these two articles to the thread she'd started about taking time off. I loved them both, found them so interesting. I don't have a religious reason to do this, which is sad, perhaps. But I'm going to try it anyway. Try it once, then again probably not the next week, but within the next couple months? Both articles are about how the fourth commandment says that we should get our work done during six days, then take the seventh day off. Both women talk about all the things they don't do during the Sabbath--turning lights on or off, driving, cooking, shopping, writing... and they talk about the things they do do: spend time with children, family, friends; read; rest. Go for walks. It sounds lovely, really. And so sensible. Whether one is religious or not. And I'm not, but... yeah. There will be a follow-up post to this one, and follow-ups to that. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

I just finished Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. By Rachel Field, this book won the Newbery in 1930. I recently bought a withdrawn copy at a library sale, and finally read it. I'm interested in reading the Newbery winners I haven't read, but honestly this didn't look like the most exciting book to me, so it took me a while to get to it. But once I did, it went fast. It's pretty engrossing, though it doesn't sound like it would be: Hitty is a doll, and this book follows her through the first hundred years of her life. She starts in Maine, where she is crafted out of mountain-ash by an Old Peddler--a small piece of wood he'd brought with him from home, from Ireland, because "A piece of mountain-ash wood is a good thing to keep close at hand, for it brings luck besides having power against witchcraft and evil." But when he shows up at the Preble's doorstep, it's cold, getting toward winter, and Phoebe's father is off on a voyage at sea, so the Old Peddler ends up staying the winter with Phoebe, her mother, and Andy the hired boy, and at some point during that long winter, the Old Peddler makes the mountain-ash into a doll and gives it to Phoebe Preble. Phoebe treasures Hitty, whose name is helpfully stitched onto her camisole, so she keeps her name through the years. Anyway Phoebe treasures Hitty, but then she and her mother (and Hitty, of course!) end up going--a bit inexplicably--to sea with her father, and Phoebe has adventures in the South Seas. From there, Hitty ends up in India, the doll of a little missionary girl, and from there, she goes back to the U.S., to Philadelphia this time. Etcetera. Eventually she becomes an antique, but first she is a special doll for a lot of little girls.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Been Reading a TON Lately

This is going to be one of those make-up posts summarizing everything I've read lately, because there's too much! I finally read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I loved Wild. Lots of people have had lots to say about it, though. Perhaps eventually I'll have something to add, but for now, just read what the New York Times and Micha Hohorst had to say, okay? That seems like as good a place to start as any--a better place to start than most, really. I also read The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron, a sci-fi novel written in the early 50's and set then, too, about a couple of kids who enter a contest to build a space ship, and end up visiting a small asteroid orbiting Earth. It was pretty great for what it is, but I don't really feel the need to read the other five in the series. One was enough. Been feeling that way a lot lately, with series. Also read: Big Machine, by Victor La Valle. It was heavily praised, and it was good, but in the end it was too... strange for me? And too long, which was good to notice in light of my own overly long tome currently being revised and revised and revised. The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka. I loved this book too, actually. Amazing. I think I read her other novel years ago, but I have to track it down and read it again, and I'm hoping I didn't read it before, because then I'll get to read it for the first time!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Atlas of Remote Islands, by Judith Schalansky

This was another Lucky Day! book, which meant I had to read it before I read all the other books I had checked out, because I could renew those, after all. Except it's not the kind of book I want to just sit down and read start to finish, though I did try. And it's only three days late. But this book is awesome. I'm probably going to have to buy a copy for my classroom (when I have a classroom again!). The subtitle is Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will. It's translated from the German. Judith Schalansky was born in the German Democratic Republic, though when she was nine, it became part of Germany again, its own country no more. I spent most of my time with this book reading the introduction, and flipping back and forth between the intro and the islands mentioned in the intro. When I finally finished the introduction, I read through the whole book, the fifty islands described. I'd already read the entries for maybe half of them, some of them several times. I loved this book. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Most Excellent Year; A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park, by Steve Kluger

I just read My Most Excellent Year; A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park, by Steve Kluger. I'd put it on hold at the library ages ago, and it's been on the "to read" shelf for a while. It doesn't help that I don't remember why I put it on hold. Someone recommended it, probably on child_lit. Anyway. It was good. I could've quit reading it at several points, but didn't. I read the whole thing. I'm glad I did. Primarily the story of "brothers" T.C. and Augie's junior year of high school, it's told in a combination of instant messages (between T.C. and Augie, but also T.C.'s huge crush Alé, Augie's boyfriend Andy, and the deaf kid who over the course of the book becomes their little brother--Hucky), emails between the parents and other adults, and journal entries that are a school assignment for Augie, T.C., and Alé. There is also a fair amount of straightforward dialogue, usually narrated by one of the brothers, and maybe some other stuff too. It works. A fun, quick read (in spite of the page count!).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Second Fiddle, by Rosanne Parry

Rosanne Parry posts on the child_lit listserv I belong to, which is where I first encountered her and her work, and which is why I got Second Fiddle out of the library in the first place. As happpens, it then took me a long time to actually read it--but I did, finally, and was glad to! Written in 2011, this book is set in 1990 in Berlin, right around when the Berlin Wall fell. I remember that happening--it was a huge, talked about deal when I was in eighth grade--but it was so abstract to me. I had no sense, really, of what it signified--and in some ways, I still don't really get it. After reading Second Fiddle, I get it more, but I still have such a shaky grasp of it. Anyhow, this novel is about three twelve-year-old American army brats living in Berlin in 1990, all about to be be transferred with their families and split up--it will be Jody's fourth fresh start, and she's sick of it. But her dad's going to retire, they're going to buy a house in Texas and have that kind of life. However, first she and her two best friends are going to have an adventure. It turns out to be quite a bit more of an adventure than anticipated. I like this book a lot. About place, and friendship, and growing up, and history. Recommended.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

This book was on the Lucky Day! shelf at the library, and I'd never heard of it, but it seemed awesome--"14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales"--by some of my favorite writers: Lois Lowry! Sherman Alexie! Louis Sachar! Walter Dean Myers! So I took it home. Turns out that there are fourteen illustrations that were originally published as a picture book in 1984, just the illustrations and their mysterious captions. The book I got is those pictures, with stories to go with them. The pictures are great. Very mysterious and creepy and excellent. Google them. The stories are a lot of fun too. There could be infinite versions of this book, with different stories written about the pictures.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Room, by Emma Donoghue

Last weekend, Saturday and Sunday then Monday when I woke up insanely early, I read Room, by Emma Donoghue. I had to read it all, right away.

This is a book I'd vaguely heard about, but I picked it up rather randomly off the "Lucky Day!" shelf at the library, thinking to myself how stupid it was to check out a must-read-in-three-weeks book (Lucky Day! books can't be renewed) when I have so many at home that I've been renewing for months now (and some boughten ones... but yeah).

But this is an amazing book. Told by the five-year-old Jack, it's the story of a little boy born to a woman kidnapped and held hostage, basically as a sex slave, in a little shed in "Old Nick"'s yard. Two years into captivity (the woman is known as "Ma" throughout the book, though Jack learns and acknowledges when they get out of "Room" that she has two other names, first and last), Ma has Jack. When Jack turns five, Ma proposes an escape plan. It involves Jack acting sick, then acting dead, so Old Nick will take him out of the room. Their plan has nine steps; "We say the plan over and over to practice me of the nine. Dead, Truck, Wriggle Out, Jump, Run, Somebody, Note, Police, Blowtorch." Jack has a note hidden in his underwear, and they're going to break Ma out of Room with a blowtorch.

Except when it works, Jack misses Room. Which isn't such a surprise, really. When that's your whole world? The whole big world would be way too much, not to mention unbelievable.

I could say lots more about it, but I really think you should just read it. And I should shut up, already.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rebel Angels, by Libba Bray

Still haven't finished the book for bookclub--though bookclub was last week. I love what I've read of it, and want to read the rest, but fiction is the escape for me. So I'd put Rebel Angels, the second book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy, on hold a while ago--and when it came in, I read and read it until I was done. These books are not the best ever, in my opinion--though there are bloggers who really love YA fantasy who say otherwise--but they're totally suck-you-in fun.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Cardturner

Louis Sachar is one of the few people who could write a YA novel about bridge and get it published. But if you are the author of Holes, not to mention Sideways Stories from Wayside School, you can pretty much write about anything you want, apparently.

I just sought out interviews with Sachar about The Cardturner, and this one is good; apparently writing a novel about bridge was his editor's idea?! If you want to read more interviews, this one is good too. Anyway.

Theresa Molter and I went and heard him read from this when it came out in 2010--it was great to see him read, since he's been so important to me since I was a kid. He's definitely on the Top 100 Most Influential Writers list. Towards the beginning--#15--Holes wasn't published until 1998, and I graduated high school in 1994, so that one is a book I read as an adult, but the Sideways Schools books started--I think?--in 1978. The wikipedia entry on Sideways Schools is fascinating and worth checking out, but I couldn't really find a pub date, and the books have been reissued so many times....

Anyway. I've checked this book out of the library numerous times, and never got around to reading it until now, when I just saw it on the shelf and thought, it might be time... and it was. Was supposed to be reading my book about fonts for bookclub, but got sucked into this one and couldn't stop. And now I want to learn bridge. I love complicated card games anyway, so yeah.

But this is a strange novel, and I wonder if anyone else could've gotten it published.

But if you like Louis Sachar, and you like cards, this might be the book for you!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

I recently read A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray, which I'd put on hold after reading about it at Booking Through 365 (which I wrote about here). It was fun, and I've put the other two in the trilogy on hold at the library. I don't think I liked it as much of Emma of Booking Through 365, but I didn't expect to. Now I should be reading Just My Type for book club on Friday, and I started it and like it, but I was wanting fiction this morning so I finally started The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, & yay, it's about bridge. Among other things. More about both of those when I finish them...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More books.

Another book very much about death: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness--our main character, Conor's mom is dying of cancer. But a monster comes to help him out--not to save his mom, but to help him, as the monster puts it, heal. And the monster does help him heal. Which doesn't mean he doesn't hurt--but he starts to heal.


And I read Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral. I found this at my school library--I'd never heard anything about it, and it's a fascinating variation on the graphic novel--some drawings, lots of photos--both of the main characters, and of objects. It has blurbs on the back from Junot Díaz and Daniel Handler. And when I finished reading it, I was reading the Acknowledgements, and both of the authors thank Ben Schrank--Corral calls him "his favorite publisher" and Anthony says, in part, "A great deal of thanks also goes to Ben Schrank, a true visionary at Razorbill, for the idea in the first place..." Well, Ben Schrank was the editor who bought my first published story, at Seventeen magazine--it was published in 1996, sixteen years ago. Wow that's a long time.

Anyway. Chopsticks is an interesting book--told through IMs and images and notes and postcards and newspaper clippings and brief excerpts of conversations.

Razorbill is the publisher, an imprint of Penguin. Schrank is apparently the "President and Publisher."

I'm embarking on another independent reading project with my students, but I'm hesitant to recommend Chopsticks--it's so limited in text! But I have so many students who might actually read it, who otherwise will fake it or not turn in a project at all... So I might hand-sell it to someone, but not let someone else use it for their project... if you should be reading Jane Eyre) or at any rate something at that level of challenging), then by all means, read Chopsticks, but not for Ms. Nelson's class. Differentiation is so hard! I hope I'm getting better at it--I think I am--but man is it hard.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Harry Crews and John Green

Harry Crews died recently, and many people posted stuff about how amazing he was. I'd never read anything by him--that I remember--so I put two of the three novels the library has of his on hold. He's written eighteen novels, a lot of short stories, and many essays, including the essays reworked into his memoir, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, which was repeatedly cited as the must-read Crews book, but isn't available from my library. Powell's has it on back order, $31.25 new from the University of Georgia Press.

Anyway. I read Celebration. I already thought I probably wouldn't need to read all of Crews's books; Celebration proved the point. Well-written, bizarre, and completely entertaining beginning to end--Entertainment Weekly is quoted on the back as saying, "Crews is at his giddy, twisted best." Let's keep the quotes coming: Karen Karbo at the NYT Book Review says, "Shards of brilliance and of the gonzo wit that has made Crews's reputation as a dead-on satirist." Finally, the Charlotte Observer is quoted: "...a tribute to individuality and yes, to celebrating life."

He's a Southern Writer, so they have to quote the Charlotte Observer, perhaps.

Anyhow. I have another novel and a book of interviews on hold--thinking I won't read the novel, probably, but I'm interested to look through the interviews, and eventually I want to read the memoir.


Then I read The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. I put it on hold a while ago, not knowing anything about it except that if John Green wrote it, it'll be worth reading. Which it was--it is--but maybe I wish I'd known what it was about. Or maybe I don't. The main characters are all teens with cancer. It's beautifully done--of course, and oddly perfectly funny and strange--of course, but it's hugely about death, and that was rough at times. It's about death in a marvelous way--not religious at all, but hopeful and full of life.

I don't know what else I can say about it right now. Highly recommended, like all of his books.

And of course it's about a lot more than death. It's more about life, really.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly

This was on my "to read" list for a long time, then I got it from the library and it sat on my shelf, still on the "to read" list, for a while. Then I came across Emma's blog, Booking through 365, on which she lists her favorite books ever: 1. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy! 2. A Northern Light 3. Wintergirls 4. Paper Towns. 5. The Hunger Games. Then I saw that Emma was included in the stupid NY Times YA Lit thing. I was really needing some excellent YA around then, so I read A Northern Light right then. In fact, I quit reading The House of Mirth, and read it. (Not enough was happening in The House of Mirth, and the little that did happen, I didn't particularly care about. And I have a lot of other books on my shelf that I'm eager to read, so... read some 250 pages of The House of Mirth, that's enough. Moved on.)

This is all I want to say about the stupid NY Times "debate" about YA lit--I think Roger's post at Horn Book was a great commentary on the whole debacle. He points out that the respondents were asked, “Why have young adult books become so popular so quickly — even with not-so-young adults?” but only two of the respondents actually address the question:
Only Lev Grossman, rationally, and Joel Stein, sophomorically, addressed the topic. Grossman, a book reviewer and member of an adult book club that reads YA, understands the difference between adult books and YA but can’t seem to resist queering his pitch: “The writing is different: young adult novels tend to emphasize strong voices and clear, clean descriptive prose, whereas a lot of literary fiction is very focused on style: dense, lyrical, descriptive prose, larded with tons of carefully observed detail, which calls attention to its own virtuosity rather than ushering the reader to the next paragraph with a minimum of fuss.” Aside from the fact that he’s comparing good examples of the former with bad examples of the latter, Grossman ignores the fact that most of YA (including The Hunger Games, which is what I assume prompted this debate) is not literary fiction, it’s what we perhaps too-loosely call commercial fiction, reading as diversion, where the page-turner is king. A comparison between The Hunger Games and, oh, Mrs. Dalloway (Grossman’s example, not mine) is meaningless. If you want to compare The Hunger Games to, say, Snow Crash, or Sarah Dessen to Jodi Picoult, you might come up with points more interesting and useful.

Anyway. But I loved A Northern Light. It's historical fiction, set in 1906, and loosely based on a true story. I'd say, really, that the part of it that's about the true story is a relatively small part of the book--it's much more about our heroine coming into her own, deciding what kind of adult she's going to be, and what she's willing to do to get herself there.

I'm often so impatient with historical fiction, but this was really fun.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A letter from a black mother to her son

I really liked this.

Maybe I don't have more to say about it right now. Comments?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thankful Tuesday

I love Micha's blog, and I've loved her and her thankful Tuesdays for many years now. Today's Thankful Tuesday post made me write my own, however uninspired. But here I am, on vacation in LA, so here goes:
  • I am thankful for this time with old friends, low-key and full of scrabble and excellent food and museums.
  • I am thankful for dinner with an even older friend--Sarah Burress was my bestie in fifth and sixth grade, and as best we could figure out, we haven't seen each other since her eighteenth birthday party.
  • Yay, sun! And warmth! It's LA! Which for all its weirdnesses, is sunny and warm.
  • I am thankful for spring break--I'll go home tomorrow, and I'll still have most of a week. Granted, I have a lot of lesson planning to do in that time, but--yeah.
I am thankful for lots more stuff too--but I'm not as good at it as Micha--I'll have to keep practicing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Books I've Read Lately

I've been reading a ton, but not blogging about it--or starting posts and not finishing them and posting them, which is the same as not blogging about it, really--but lately I've read:

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward, for book club--which I really liked, though my blog post only got as far as me typing in this passage from p.255:

"I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes."

Holding Fire, by Elissa Wald--and my unfinished blog post got a little farther along:

I don't read enough adult fiction--I read so much YA--but that's partly because YA often pulls me in faster and harder. But this was a novel for adults that I loved--and not just because of the author's awesome first name. Though her name is why we're now Facebook friends (I think she friended me--we have--wait, let me check--five mutual friends).

If I hadn't liked it, I just wouldn't've posted about it. Instead I had to go to Powell's and buy her first book, because the public library doesn't have it! Ooh, and she has Mariette in Ecstasy listed as one of her favorite books on Facebook. I love that book so much. (It's on my "Fifty Favorite Books List".) Anyway.

Holding Fire has a lot of people in it, and a shifting POV, but it works.

See? I didn't really get far enough for this to be a helpful blog post about the book. But it's about firefighters in Brooklyn, and she handles place beautifully. It's also not only about firefighters in Brooklyn, though she does a great job with the characters and, like I said, with the place. Places.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, had already caught my eye, but when a student I like a lot said, "Ms. Nelson, you have to read it"--well, that moves a book way up my list. So I read it, and I did really like it, but I remember thinking, "I hope there isn't a sequel, I hope they just let this weird book and weird world stand on its own." But of course there's going to be a sequel. And in the press release, the "president and publisher" of the publishing house, Quirk Books, refers to the new book as "the second installment." Oh well. You know I'll read it.

I just finished Walter Mosley's All I Did Was Shoot My Man, which was a fabulous spring break book. I like Mosley a lot. I first read and loved Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Walking the Dog--two collections of short stories about the same characters, focusing on Socrates Fortlow, an ex-con trying to build a life now that he's served his time and he's out. I love how important place--LA, actually, though a very different LA than the one I'm visiting--is in these books, and really in all of Mosley's. All I Did Was Shoot My Man is a very recent novel, a mystery, which is what he's known for--though I've read almost all his other books, and only a few of the mysteries. I'm not so into mysteries. But it was fun. I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters, but I think that's me and not Mosley.

So there's some of the stuff I've read lately. Now I have two more choices for the rest of spring break: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, or I Am J by Cris Beam. That's what I brought with me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Scintilla Project

Hmmm. They're calling this Day 5, but anyway... here's the next day. Prompt #2: Show a part of your nature that you feel you've lost. Can you get it back? Would it be worth it?

There used to be something in me that was... I don't know. Sillier? Less grown-up? To some degree, it went when my dad died. That did shift my personality, the person I was/am. Losing him. I don't know if the silliness is something I could get back--I don't want to be that person, though. I've evolved in a lot of ways, lost a lot of things, gained others. I'm myself now. I was myself then, but now I'm 2012 me. Post-dad loss, and so many other things have changed too. This is who I am now, I miss my dad, I have my regrets, but this is who I am. I don't want to be anyone else.


I'm at the Ace Hotel, waiting for Claudia! Hanging out in the lobby, on the big couch. There's an adorable little girl on the corner of the sectional, waiting for her mom, who's quieting the baby just outside the front door. So little girl is playing with mom's cell phone, very excited about whatever it is she's doing on the phone.

She's maybe five. Her little... brother? Is an infant, maybe six months, swaddled in an awesome tan one piece plush thing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

More of the Scintilla Project

Day 6: Monday, March 19, 2012

Prompt A: Talk about your childhood bedroom. Did you share? Slam the door? Let someone in you shouldn't have? Where did you hide things?

My room that I think of as my childhood bedroom was my only bedroom for many years, but my parents split up and got back together then split up again and divorced, so that first time they split up, my dad lived in two different places so I had two different bedrooms, both of which I shared with my sister--then when they split up the second and final time, my dad bought an awesome little house (I say little, but it was so much bigger than the house I own now! which isn't to say it wasn't little) and I got the whole second floor, which was one room. I ended up moving in with my dad, and that was my room, for sure--but it wasn't my childhood room in the way the one at my mom's house was. I grew up in that room at 201 Valleyview Place. I sat way in the back of the closet and ate those little sample tubes of toothpaste. I had a pink canopy bed. I was five when we moved into that house, and I chose the pink carpet, pink bedspread, then I had to live with it. Granted, I didn't really start outgrowing it until middle school--but I did outgrow it. I became a girl who would wear pants, unlike my elementary school self, who only wore dresses--to school, on the weekends, 24/7. Pink satiny nightgowns with capped sleeves and lace trim. I think there was a period of time when the nightgowns and the pants overlapped, but nevertheless...

Where did I hide things? Honestly, I can't seem to remember. I kept a journal--a diary--but I think I trusted my family enough that I didn't hide it. Plus for many years it was the kind of diary that locked. I was sure that kept me safe.

Plus I don't think I had many secrets as a kid. Not much to hide.

What else? I was scared of what was under my bed. The monster. I was scared of that monster for a long time. I tended to enter my room and my bed at night by running down the hall and jumping into the bed, so the monster couldn't grab me. It seems to have kept me safe; I'm here to tell the tale! Of course, I also still have the piece of pencil lead in my knee from the time that I ran and leapt and there was a pencil in my bed. But the monster never got me, and the graphite hasn't killed me, and it's been--maybe 30 years? So, lesser evil, I'd say.

My bed now is raised up on bricks, because, as I mentioned, my house is tiny--so tiny that under my bed is my main storage. There isn't room for a monster under there. Maybe a tiny monster, or a really stretchy manipulative one--but let's not think about that. Just now, I'm safe. I like thinking of it that way better.

My childhood bedroom was full of books. My bedroom now is too. My whole house is full of books. My childhood house was too, but I think my own home, my grownup home, might have more. Certainly, per square foot, there are more books--but my childhood home had triple the square footage, at least. More than triple, I'm pretty sure. My house that I bought in Portland is 704 square feet. Yeah, you read that right--704 square feet. Whereas my childhood home was 2,630 square feet--God love the internets.

Enough of this.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Scintilla Project

I guess I'm caught up, unless I decide to do the weekend bonus prompts.

The Scintilla Project, Day 3

I will catch up!

Day 3: Prompt A: Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

Here I am at the coffee shop by my house, and when I came in, the baristas were playing "Spanish Eyes," old-school Madonna. I asked if it was the whole album, or just the song--one of the baristas said it was the whole album, but it was "The Immaculate Collection." I said, "But 'Spanish Eyes' isn't on 'The Immaculate Collection.'" Barista girl (who was probably in elementary school--or younger--when "The Immaculate Collection" came out) said, "Yes it is." I didn't argue it with her. The other barista turned off Madonna in the middle of the next song--I don't remember what the next song was--and maybe the first song was "La Isla Bonita," not "Spanish Eyes," and "La Isla Bonita" is on "The Immaculate Collection." Anyway the other barista switched it to "Nashville Skyline," which at this point in my life I have listened to many more times than I've listened to "Like a Prayer" (the album that "Spanish Eyes" was originally on) or "La Isla Bonita" (originally on "True Blue"--I never owned "The Immaculate Collection")--as a kid with my dad, and later when I'd outgrown Madonna (or something) but kept my love of Bob.

The first song played was "Nashville Skyline Rag," which is instrumental, but I said, "Ooh, I know all the words to this album too." Which is true of the other songs. I guess I know all the words to "Nashville Skyline Rag," too.

I'm not really completing the prompt here. Okay, here's my story: July 29, 1987, about a week after my eleventh birthday, my mom took me to the St. Paul Civic Center to see Madonna on her "Who's That Girl" tour. I'd been to a few concerts: Raffi, HARP (Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert, and Pete Seeger), Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers--but maybe this was my first concert reflecting my own grown-up musical taste. Raffi was kids' music, my hippie aunt Marti had worked for Redwood Records back in the day and had HARP connections, and Dolly is amazing, always, but me and my mom and sister went to that one in 1984 or 1985 (I couldn't find the exact date online for the Real Love Tour in Minneapolis/St. Paul--and I looked!). But I decided on my own (well, without input from my family, anyway) that I liked Madonna. Loved Madonna, even. So my mom got us tickets, and she was so disappointed when I was exhausted during the encore and wanted to leave in the middle of "Holiday," but we went. It was an incredible show.

I guess "Spanish Eyes" or "La Isla Bonita" triggered the story, even though she didn't play anything off of "Like a Prayer" at that show because the album didn't come out until 1989. In fact, here's the set list for the show, according to Wikipedia, according "to the booklet available with the show" which I owned once, but no longer. I don't have my t-shirt from the Janet Jackson "Rhythm Nation" tour either, which I'm occasionally very sad about. Not too often, but--yeah.

"Open Your Heart"
"Lucky Star"
"True Blue"
"Papa Don't Preach"
"White Heat"
"Causing a Commotion"
"The Look of Love"
"Dress You Up," "Material Girl," "Like a Virgin" (contains excerpts from "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)")
"Where's the Party"
"Live to Tell"
"Into the Groove"
"La Isla Bonita"
"Who's That Girl"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Scintilla Project, Day 2

Prompt: When did you realise you were a grown up? What did this mean for you? Shock to the system? Mourning of halcyon younger days? Or the embracing of the knowledge that you can do all the cool stuff adults do: drink wine, go on parent-free vacations, eat chocolate without reprimand?

I think being a teacher is what has made me a grown-up. I was before, in some ways--living on my own, paying my own bills, the correct age--but teaching maybe made me want to be an adult, made me realize how good it is.

In my youth, the father replied to his son, I feared it might injure the brain--no, start that over.

In my youth, I was of the Puberty Strike school of thought on growing up: it seemed like a generally bad idea, being a kid seemed like the way to go. More rebellious, for one thing, and we didn't want to forget all the stuff that matters.

But also, being a kid is rough. This is what I realized fully when I started teaching. I like the control-over-my-own-life aspect of adulthood. Of course, that's a myth, too, in some ways--you have all those responsibilities. You don't really get to go wherever you want whenever you want, and do whatever you want. No, you have to pay bills and rent and such, which require a job, which often you don't enjoy. I am so glad to have gotten to a point where I like my job, where I get to do work that I feel is meaningful, that is also so interesting and fun for me.

But I do like sometimes having a bowl of ice cream for dinner, or a banana. I like staying up late reading--though honestly, I think I did that more before I was a grown-up.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Scintilla Project

I just decided today to do "The Scintilla Project," starting late, but here goes nothing. You can read more about it here. My friend Carrie is doing it, and she inspired me--to, um, copy her. Here's her blog.

Okay. Here's the prompt archive. I need to catch up. Starting NOW!

Day 1:

Prompt A: Who are you? Come out from behind that curtain and show yourself.

I'm Elissa Marie Mogensen Nelson, 35 years old, a writer and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. That's who I am, really. And I was never behind any curtain.

I think that's it for now.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hearing Writers Read

This week, I went to two readings, back to back: Thursday night was Nikky Finney at Reed, and Friday night was Cindy Crabb at Reading Frenzy. I never go to readings anymore, hardly ever, much less two nights in a row! And I've been teaching Nikki Finney's poems as part of the poetry unit we're in right now--I told my students about the reading, told them they'd get extra credit if they came, but no one showed up. Not such a surprise--the reading was on a Thursday at 6. Also I teach in the suburbs, and the reading was at Reed, in Portland. Besides, most of my students who have cars use them to work, all the time. Wendy's, Little Caesar's, Subway, Fred Meyer's--you name it, if it can be found in a mall or strip mall, if the people who work there make minimum wage or thereabouts, my students work there. They work there after school and on the weekends, they pick up shifts all the time--and if they can't pick up shifts, they won't get put on the schedule--argh. Anyway. None of my students came, sadly. But I was so so glad I went. With Megan and Virginia, too!

Nikky Finney won the National Book Award for Poetry this year. You can listen to her amazing acceptance speech here. She has a bunch of links to watch her reading her work on her website too. Also, I showed my students a piece of this. She reads what I think of as the New Orleans poem, "Left," at 20:36. I just watched her read it with my students, but next year we'll read it too. She read it Wednesday! She also read "Cattails," which my students read (and which I can't find her reading online, so no link, sorry--but here's the text of it. The text to "Left" and a couple others are also available at

Then, Friday, I went by myself to see Cindy Crabb read. No one could go with me, so I just went. I had to. She's been an important writer in my life since I was in high school, and she's on my One Hundred Most Influential Writers list! (This post has the list that was in the first issue--I changed the list just slightly for Issue #2, I'll have to post that one. Anyway, Cindy's on both of them, and I imagine will be staying on the list--since it's influential writers, there isn't much movement.) Another writer on the list also read in Portland on Friday: Maxine Hong Kingston was reading around the corner at Powell's. But while The Woman Warrior is a very important book to me, Cindy is such a bigger influence in so many ways. She's the only zine writer on my list. I consciously chose not to include zinesters, though I still go back and forth about it. Mimi Nguyen is on the "Other Important Writers" list, and she's one I keep going back and forth about bumping up onto the most influential list (one of Mimi's current projects). But Cindy is a writer whose zine I loved in high school, and kept loving. She's still writing, and keeps growing and evolving and writing interesting stuff. It was really cool to meet her, though I didn't say any of this. I did give her the two issues of My Hundred Most Influential Writers... but didn't say anything about them, really. Like, "Hi, you're on the list."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hello, I Must Be Going, by Christie Hodgen

This book was really hard for me to read, but it was great. It was hard because it's the story of a girl whose father shoots himself. It's not told chronologically, since some of it is about after their father died--but I certainly read it as a book primarily about the daughter and her father, before he dies. However, it does move back and forth between the family's life before (the girl, Frankie; her brother, Teddy; their mom, a waitress at Friendly's; and their dad, a Vietnam vet who's an amputee) and their lives after. Frankie is nine and Teddy is six at the end of the book, which is soon before their father dies; they seem older than that, but also not--their relationship with their dad wouldn't work the same if they were older.

The last part of the book takes place in 1979 then in 1980, when their dad kills himself. The last few chapters are about the Christmas break of 1979. Frankie says,
Like most kids, Teddy and I looked forward to Christmas for all the obvious reasons. ... We also looked forward to Christmas break because it was the only time of year that our father told war stories. Something about the season always put him in a talkative mood, and for a two-week span we'd hear all about his adventures in Vietnam. We never stopped to wonder why the holidays brought this out in him. We simply looked forward to the stories the way we looked forward to the giant ham and the chocolate cake that our mother prepared each Christmas. Every year these stories were better than the last, more outrageous, more spectacular. We spent long afternoons listening to our father. The three of us huddled together in our indoor fort, which we fashioned by draping bedsheets over the kitchen table.
Over the course of the dad telling his war stories over that last Christmas break, Frankie begins to realize that they aren't all true. This is moving and painful and real over and over--it comes to a head when their dad finally says that Leonard Holmes, his buddy during the war, who is his sidekick in many of the stories, was so inept that their father had to take his gun-shooting test for him so he could go to war...
"Everyone else was running for their lives, but this kid couldn't wait. He was such a bad shot, though, he couldn't qualify. Couldn't shoot a gun to save his life. ... So I took the test instead. Our superiors were off at a distance, and I shot his gun for him so he'd qualify. ... And he went with us. Off to war. ... He got killed a few months later. I got shot trying to save him." He was speaking plainly, without the usual traces of mischief and joy. This was the shortest, strangest, most disappointing story he had ever told us.
In earlier stories, their father has talked about how Leonard Holmes was a "nice kid," and their father "eventually trained Leonard to be a competent soldier" through the use of "mind power," which is when he starts "basic training" with his kids, and when Frankie asks "Whatever happened to Leonard?" their father tells them,
"Well it just so happens that Leonard Holmes is one of the richest men in the country these days. ... And do you know why? ... Because of me ... Because of mind power. Leonard Holmes was a scared little kid when he met me, and now he's a captain of industry."
I liked this book so much. Highly recommended. Maybe I didn't like it, but it pulled me in and I think it still hasn't let me go. Hodgen nails the kids' relationship with their father, the remove of the mother, the relationship between brother and sister...the sister and brother growing up and pulling away... Beautifully done. I'm looking forward to reading her other books.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mediation Retreat

This is not about books or anything that this blog is usually about. This is about a meditation retreat I went to this weekend. Maybe the hardest thing for me was that we weren't supposed to read or write the whole time. You were supposed to be in your head. I can't remember when the last time was that I didn't read or write for nearly 48 hours (5:00 Friday until 2:00 Sunday).

I've been meditating for nearly ten years, now, I realized. I had a regular practice for a while when I was in grad school in Syracuse all those years ago--a professor of mine and his wife held a regular Sunday morning meditation session, and he invited me, knowing all the medical stuff that was going on (search this blog for "brain tumor" and you'll see what I mean). It was fabulous, one of the best things to come out of my MFA, and I'm very happy, ten years later, to be in Portland and I have a Zen temple, Heart of Wisdom, that opened last summer, six blocks from my house. I tried to be part of a few other practices in the years between, but nothing felt right. Heart of Wisdom offers open meditation three nights a week, and I'm trying to go at least once a week. They are connected with Great Vow Monastery, so this past weekend I went to a "Beginner's Mind" meditation retreat at Great Vow. The monastary is about an hour away from Portland, nearly to the Oregon coast but not quite. To get there, I just took US 30 west nearly all the way there from my job in Hillsboro, then coming home I took US 30 too, east this time, all the way to the St. John's Bridge and home that way.

Anyway. It was so hard. I realized, once I was into it, that of course it was hard--the most I'd ever meditated was for three 25 minute sessions at once, with a short break between each. This was four 25 minute sessions at a time, with a short break between each--then four more, a few hours later! Then four more, a few hours later! Plus no talking or reading or writing. Just being in your head. It was so hard and scary. And awesome. I really want to do a ten-day retreat, but I don't feel ready for that yet--I want to do another of these, the "Beginner's Mind" retreat, before I do something longer. First I want to be better at this.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Dispatcher, by Ryan David Jahn

I need to start keeping track of where I'm getting book recommendations from. Most of the YA recommendations come from the child_lit list (I've talked about the child_lit list a little bit elsewhere--here's subscribing info again)--but this one clearly wasn't from child_lit, being a novel written for adults, and I don't know where I got the recommendation. It must have been on some Top of 2011 list. So I put it on hold at the library, and by the time I picked it up, I had no idea why I'd put it on hold.

It's not the kind of book I usually read, at all. Described on the back as "a gripping, white-knuckle thriller," it's definitely a creepy book. But it's also so good, a book I just wanted to read and read until I finished it! Well-written, well-paced, totally engaging. It's the story of a man whose daughter is kidnapped at the age of seven, out of her bedroom while her parents are out at dinner and she's upstairs asleep with her fourteen-year-old brother watching TV downstairs. For years, there are no clues as to where she went, and eventually the marriage dissolves, at least in part because the mom needs closure--there is a funeral with an empty coffin--and the dad needs to not give up hope.*

Dad happens to be a police dispatcher in the small town they live in, and he's on duty when his now fourteen-year-old daughter calls 911 because she's escaped out of the basement to a pay phone on Main Street. The guy who took her catches up with her and takes her away before the police can get to her, but suddenly Ian (the dad) has talked to her, he knows she's alive and in their town.

So the case is reopened, and the dad understandable is very involved in getting his daughter back. I'd say the book is mostly from his point of view (third person, but focused in) but a significant part of it is from the daughter's POV, and Jahn does that well too.

Definitely worth reading. Creepy, and good.

*Nerd grammar note: In this case, I don't think of that as a split infinitive, but rather the infinitive form of the verb that is "not giving up hope." I don't care if you can't put the "not" into the verb itself--sometimes it belongs there!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

I am going back to YA Book Club for Adults--okay, "Adult Young Adult Book Club of Portland," which sounds very unwieldy to me. But yeah. I don't know if you can just go here to join the Facebook group or what. But anyway, I was going with Shelley for a while, then fell off & haven't gone since last summer. But I want to start going again! I like it. So this month they're reading Divergent, by Veronica Roth, and Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. Lauren Oliver wrote Delirium, which I talked about here, and I'm still reading Before I Fall and liking it a lot more than expected. But I read Divergent first, because it's due back at the library first, and I liked it a lot except then I was annoyed to realize that it's the first in a series--and it's the only one that's been written so far! I don't like waiting.

But it was fun. Dystopic, set in what used to be Chicago, the story of a society in which, at sixteen, everyone chooses to belong to one of five factions of the city, "each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent)" (quoting from the inside cover copy). Just about everyone stays with the section they grew up in, both because it's the culture they've been raised in, and because the sections are separate enough that if you leave, you won't have contact with your family or childhood friends anymore. In fact, a big motto is "Faction Before Family."

This is the story of Beatrice going through initiation into the Dauntless faction, when she grew up in Abnegation. I think Roth does a nice job of showing us the ways in which Beatrice and the other transfer initiates see the world differently because of how they grew up. We are reminded that they transferred because they didn't belong where they grew up. At one point Beatrice--Tris, once she transfers--says, as the narrator of her own story:
I feel more like myself. That is all I need: to remember who I am. And I am someone who does not let inconsequential things like boys and near-death experiences stop her.
It is, of course, a coming of age story. It's a nice one. I'm excited to read more books set in this world, even if I'm annoyed that I have to wait.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chulito, by Charles Rice-González

I recently read Chulito, because it was on that same list that We the Animals was on. I bought it at Powell's, because the public library doesn't have it. I thought maybe I'd add it to my classroom library, but the first line is "Chulito awoke with a hard-on as usual," and I've already had myself drawn to my principal's attention too much. I love my job. So I figured I wouldn't put it in my classroom library, but would give it to a few students maybe, starting with Teddy, who's read everything Alex Sanchez has written--I recently gave him Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and he didn't love it nearly as much as I did, but I figure I'll keep sending books his way. So I gave it to Teddy, and he spent some time that same class period looking at it, then gave it back to me, saying "It seemed like all the other books." I don't know which books those are, because it didn't seem like all the other books to me. I don't know. I thought it was a sweet story about Chulito coming out to himself, realizing how he feels towards a childhood friend who is out and gay and it's an issue in the neighborhood. That neighborhood being Hunts Point, in the Bronx.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

We the Animals by Justin Torres

I read about this book here, and put it (among others) on hold at the library. This list could keep me reading all year. There are so many books!

But I read We the Animals, and loved it. It's one of those short tight little books with just so much in it.

Ugh. Okay, since finishing it, I've read a bunch of other stuff, so my impressions of it are fuzzy. But I loved it, read it fast, engrossed, and am excited to read more by Torres.

It's a book about family, about three boys and their dad and their mom:
A brass-handled mirror lay on the bureau, and as soon as Ma raised it to her face, tears came and sat on her eyelids, waiting to fall. Ma could hold tears on her eyelids longer than anyone; some days she walked around like that for hours, holding them there, not letting them drop. On those days she would trace her finger over the shapes of things or hold the telephone on her lap, silent, and you had to call her name three times before she'd give you her eyes.

And towards the end, one of the brothers--our main brother, the narrator--turns out to be different. His brothers "smelled my difference--my sharp, sad, pansy scent."

Also the brothers are halfies, with a white mom and a Puerto Rican dad.

I liked this book so much. I should've written about it right away.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Anne Fadiman

I just finished Anne Fadiman's essay collection, At Large and At Small. Lovely. So nice to read "familiar essays" on a wide range of topics, and whether you care about the subject or not before you start reading, she gets you so interested. I put a biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge on hold because of her. A specific biography, but yeah. And I want to read more Charles Lamb now because of her.

Essays about ice cream, being a night owl, Procrustes (I didn't know who he was either), mail, coffee, and a bunch more. Plus none of these essays are about just one thing.

She also published Ex Libris, another collection of essays, and she edited Rereadings, seventeen essays by different writers revisiting books they love. These are both great. The first book I read by her, and the book for which she is best known, is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a really important book about culture and communication, among other things. It's on my fifty favorite books list, and I hope to teach it at some point. I do think every American should read it, and lots of people who aren't. It's one of the best books I've ever read about people trying to communicate across difference, and how hard that can be, even when everyone wants the same thing--in this case, for a sick little girl to get better.

Yay 2012, reading good books.