1. I decided there was an extra day in between Wednesday and Thursday. On this mythical day, I would be able to finish reading The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl by Virginia Hamilton and then move quickly onto Robin McKinley’s Beauty in time for class on Thursday afternoon.
Let’s put it this way: that day did not occur.
2. I entered Week 8 of the Couch to 5K program… 28 minutes of straight running, no breaks.
I’ve been building up to these “long runs” now, I guess, since Week 5. 20 minutes, 22 minutes, 25 minutes…
but somehow, I haven’t yet increased my distance whatsoever.
I am learning to run farther and farther… while my body learns to run slower and slower.
(And the weather outside gets colder and colder. Gross.)
3. I ate very little other than rice+beans+cheese+salsa because I did a terrible job buying groceries and have lost all will to cook.
Good thing it’s delicious!
4. I forgot to wear deodorant on 3 out of 5 days.
6. I still do not have a Halloween costume.
7. I am going to attend an author event this evening in Cambridge.
Chris Van Allsburg will be doing a little gig to promote the publication of this awesome new book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.
Van Allsburg published this bizarre picturebook – The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - that basically had no linear storyline, a bunch of creepy black and white illustrations, and not much else. Completely baffling as far as picturebooks go. But now, a bunch of kidlit authors have assembled in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to write short stories based on each spread.
And these are not just your average kidlit authors. We are talking:
- Sherman Alexie
- M.T. Anderson
- Walter Dean Myers
- Louis Sachar
- Lemony Snicket
- Gregory Maguire
- Stephen King
One such author will also be in attendance at tonight’s event: Lois Lowry.
Came in like a lion, went out like… Harry Potter.
This is woefully overdue. I hope I remember any single thing about any of these books. Please don’t fault me for fudging weird details.
1. The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
This was one of my “trapped on a plane” books! But what a great book to be trapped on a plane with! I really enjoyed this book for three reasons. Reason #1: Eustace Conway – “The Last American Man” – is damn interesting. He kept hundreds of turtles in his backyard as a child. He left home at 17 and lived in a teepee while he put himself through college. He rode horseback across the United States with his brother. Much like my affection toward Unlikely Memoirs, I also like Unlikely Biographies… even though these two imaginary genres have kind of an inverse relationship. Unlikely Memoirs are normal people writing their life stories in interesting ways : Unlikely Biographies are profiles of people who are relatively normal (read: not famous), but have fascinating lives nonetheless.
I am getting confused.
Anyway. Reason #2: Gilbert’s biography walks the line between capturing Eustaces’s cool, fascinating-ness and showing the dirty-underbelly that make humans HUMAN. The book spends a lot of time commenting on the effect Eustace has on others – he’s incredibly charismatic – but Gilbert also talks about his character flaws that keep him from getting everything he wants. For this reason (and other more obvious ones), this book reminds me of John Krakauer’s Into the Wild – which is a high compliment!
Reason #3: Say what you will about Gilbert’s writing tone – I know it rubs people the wrong way – but I absolutely eat it up. Reading this book is like your best friend telling you about this amazing person they met. There’s an intimacy and definite passion in her writing. She could probably write about dirty socks and I’d want to read it. But to each his own!
National Book Award Finalist 2002
2. That Summer by Sarah Dessen
The first on my endeavor to Re-read Every Sarah Dessen Book in order. I’ve actually read this one at least twice, so I’m more familiar with it than others.
Everyone (myself included) talks about how reading one Sarah Dessen book is like reading Every Other Sarah Dessen book. Her books do have a similar aesthetic, often follow a particular narrative structure (messed up girl meets boy, boy helps girl not be so messed up), and share locations and characters. True true true. But re-reading these older titles, I am suprised by how non-romancey they are, or at least how the “heart-throb” love interests take a backseat to other stuff going on in the foreground of the novel.
This book, Dessen’s first, doesn’t even HAVE a love interest, really. The narrator, Haven, is a bit preoccupied with her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, but never in an actual romantic capacity. This story is all about Haven’s relationship with her older sister, and both sister’s reactions to a parental divorce. There’s a kind of spooky side plot about a local girl who became famous as a model but who had a mental breakdown and had to move home, too. A lot more than just boy-meets-girl.
3. Carrots ‘N’ Cake by Tina Haupert
I generally like books by bloggers. I don’t know what this means about my literary tastes, but I really do enjoy the “blogging” writing style, whatever that is. I like seeing how the writer’s personal style changes when confronted with a longer form of prose.
I whipped through Dooce’s It Sucked and then I Cried over one Christmas break, loved Girl’s Gone Child‘s Rockabye as a First Book After the Semester’s Over, savored Orangette‘s A Homemade Life while vacationing in DC, and am slowly giggling my way through Pioneer Woman‘s awfully silly Black Heels to Tractor Wheels.
However, I am not sure that Haupert’s blogging “personality” really translates well to book form. It could be that she keeps a food/fitness blog and not a personal blog, but I was disappointed in the lack of narrative in her book. It’s a fine book – well written and a lot of interesting content – but what it boils down to in the end is really basic fitness information aimed at those who are just embarking upon fitness journeys. No eye opening info, for me anyway, and not enough narrative content to keep me interested.
I will still continue to enjoy Haupert’s blog, but I just don’t think I’m the right reader for this particular book.
4. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin
I told you about how when I visit my parents, I can always count on an unexpected book to grab my attention, usually from its abandoned position on a coffee table? Never a book that another family member is reading, of course. That would be mean!
Anyway, there is a second book phenomenon that I almost forgot about when I was at home in May: my mother’s occasional influx of Advanced Reading Copies! Yay librarians!
This was an ARC written by an author who wrote two other books I’ve enjoyed – Elsewhere, a book about the afterlife, and Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, a book about what would happen if your memory from age 11-17 and what you would think about yourself.
All These Things I’ve Done, however, is a dystopia.
Big suprise, right?
I am about dystopia-d out, but I brought this all the way from Michigan to Boston so I thought I might at least try to read it. The dsytopian premise was interesting – class/power structures had gotten out of hand in America, and the government has stepped in to regulate, but of course have regulated some other stuff too, like declaring a prohibition on coffee and chocolate. The narrator, Anya, is a part of a mafia family that owns an overseas chocolate factory, but her parents have both died and left her and her two siblings in the care of their dying grandmother. Anya is kind of on the fence about her family – she loves them with fierce loyalty, but at the same time, their illegal doings eventually got her father killed – but she is managing to care for her siblings without involving herself with them too much. Things become more complicated when she is accused of poisoning her ex-boyfriend with a bar of tainted chocolate. And of course, things become even MORE complicated when she falls in love with the new kid in town – the District Attorney’s son.
There was some horrible cliffhanger in anticipation of a trilogy. I have completely repressed it from my mind, apparently. Which also could speak to my overall opinion of the book: it was a fine book, but had some annoying patterns. I didn’t really buy Anya’s switch from hating Win to conducting a torrid affair. I thought that her attitude throughout the book was kind of haughty and not particularly endearing. And can we write some more standalone books, people? Not everything needs to be a trilogy. And not every author needs to write a dystopia.
I am awfully testy.
5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
I think that I could read this book every year for the rest of my life and be happy. This year, I read it at just the best time: June, when the farmer’s market is about to open, when you can finally spend some time outdoors, when you can actually start eating fresh, local produce instead of dreaming about it.
The first time I read this book, it was February in Michigan. Don’t do that.
For those who are behind the times, this is a book about feeding your family with locally (and often personally) grown food as a way of life. It is one of my favorite books because it is exactly the kind of life I wish I had. I would like nothing better than to become Barbara Kingsolver, ASAP.
Also, can I plug the audio recording of this book for a moment? Read by the author. It makes for a personal, lovely, listening experience.
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
So, I got this notion about re-reading all the Harry Potter books in anticipation of the movie.
Spoiler alert: I haven’t seen the movie yet. (whuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuups)
Anyway, I have read this first volume the most – probably four times now – and I am always shocked to remember exactly how much it reads like standard juvenile fiction. New kid comes to a new school, finds adventure, happy ending!
Never a bad read, but always feels like grunt-work to get through to the longer novels.
Side story: in an attempt to acquire the most random, unmatched collection of this series, I bought a copy of this book for 50 cents at a thrift shop.
What I didn’t notice – my copy ended on page 179.
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
The action picks up! Harry’s second year of school, and things get a bit more interesting, thematically and plotwise. I like how Rowling introduces the idea that Harry being a celebrity at school doesn’t necessarily mean he is well-liked. I also liked how Tom Riddle’s back story become relevant to the story.
Again, Adventure —>Dumbledore spends way too many pages telling Harry what everything meant about what just happened to him —> Gryffindor Wins The House Cup!
I don’t even remember if they actually did win the cup that year, but they might as well have. Happy Endings all around.
I also liked the orchestra of musical saws at the ghost party.
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
I am not really up on my HP research, but I would be willing to wager that this is the book where Rowling was like, “Hey, I think I’m really onto something here. Let’s turn this into something epic.”
The time turning plot really annoys me because I think the book/movie is going to be over BUT THEN IT’S NOT. wtf.
I did, however, cry when Harry sees himself and thinks its his father.
That is just so sad.
8 books read in June
(Oh, not too shabby.)
You were a treat.
I read a lot. I read a lot of books I really enjoyed. I read a lot of books that I really enjoyed and then wanted to read more.
All around, a fun month for reading!
1. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
My last “on-syllabus” book of the semester, but also the first “on-syllabus” book of my grad school career that had me completely at hello. Maybe there are books you read that make you want to give the book a hug, or maybe, a smart, mature book might leave you wanting to marry a book, but this book made me want to eat it. And it would taste like candy.
Actually, that’s a fairly accurate description of many of the books I read in May!
But anyway, the story begins with Amy’s family dissolving. Her father died in an accident, her twin brother was shipped off to rehab, and her mother decided to take a new job in Connecticut, leaving Amy behind in California while they sell one house and buy another. When it comes time for Amy to join her mother, it also seems like a great way for Amy’s mother to be rejoined with the red Jeep she left behind.
One problem: Amy doesn’t drive. Enter romantic interest: Roger. An old family friend finishing his first year of college and spending the summer with his father in Pennsylvania, Roger needs a ride and Amy has a car that needs driving. Amy’s mother has their route calculated and hotel reservations made along the way… but of course, what kind of book would it be if Amy and Roger didn’t decide to take off on their own?
Hijinks, emotional arcs, likable side-characters, make-overs, road trip playlists, local food indulgences, and tortured flirtation ensue.
2. Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
This is one of those quintessentially “YA” Young Adult book. One of the original Printz Honors, I feel like this book could be voted Most Likely To Show Up On Your Children’t Lit Course Syllabus. I, therefore, have read it three or four times before, and at least once when I was an actual teenager.
If you are one of the two people on this planet who have not read this novel, it is quite good, I think, and here’s what you need to know:
John’s parents are divorced. He lives with his mom and takes the train into Boston to visit his Dad’s bachelor pad on the weekends. His father ignores him and goes on dates, his mother weeps about her divorce and doesn’t show John any affection. John has one friend who is kind of a loser and spends too much time representing a heteronormative, nerdy kind of teenaged lifestyle.
John’s life sucks, so why not recreate yourself a little? John writes a zine (aww…. how nineties is that!!) under the name “Gio,” and gets the attention of another zine-writer, Marisol, who lives in Cambridge. Marisol is gorgeous, challenging, mercurial, and a lesbian. Of course, John/Gio falls in love.
The whole “girl falls in love with gay best friend” is almost a narrative trope at this point, but I can’t say I’ve heard of a story about the reverse other than this one!
2000 Printz Honor
3. Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi
I picked up this book for two reasons.
Reason #1: I used to watch Ally McBeal in high school, and I remember clearly all of the hype about the show’s actresses, including Portia de Rossi. Supposedly, the environment on the set was toxic: Calista Flockhart was clearly a too-skinny freak of nature and the show dressed her to accentuate her thinness, so the rest of the female cast felt like they needed to be gaunt to compete. I hoped that de Rossi’s memoir would be an insider account of what was going on there, in the cast of an only moderately successful television show, that seemed to formally usher in the stick-figure-body aesthetic of the late 90s and early 00s.
Reason #2: I heard it was actually a decent read, not obviously ghost-written or trashy.
I was right about #2, for sure. The back cover has blurbs from Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeanette Walls, and Augusten Burroughs for goodness sake! This is not your average celebrity memoir!
I didn’t find what I was expecting with #1, but what I found was equally interesting. This book really is not a Hollywood tell-all but a memoir. De Rossi describes her childhood in Australia, her career as a model that segued into acting, and her struggle to identify (inwardly and outwardly) as a homosexual woman.
By the time she made it onto the cast of Ally, she was already heavily into disordered eating, habits that developed when she was a young, aspiring model that her peers and parents seemed to approve of (or at least look the other way from). Hanging out with Calista Flockhart and Courtney Thorne-Smith and Lucy Liu didn’t drive de Rossi to anorexia, but the pressure of being a working actress in LA, with frequent costume fittings and sample-sized clothing, and with the means to over-exercise and seek professional help from a nutritionist, it was easier for de Rossi’s already present disorder to escalate quickly.
She barely mentions her female costars in this book, but she so clearly portrays this kind of pandemic Hollywood attitude toward women’s weight and appearance that it is easy to imagine that Flockhart and Thorne-Smith and Liu could have easily had similar personal experiences that kept them losing weight during the show’s filming… and contributing to whatever effect that had on women watching their show from home.
Anywaaaaay, super interesting read that I breezed through in an afternoon. I found myself very invested in de Rossi’s life and career and worried for her health, and I was glad to know that in Real Life, she was doing okay.
And yes, I’ve been watching Ally McBeal reruns on Netflix. It’s kind of like Grey’s Anatomy with lawyers!
4. Made for You and Me by Caitlin Shetterly
I picked this up from one of my favorite places to hear about quirky new books: NPR’s weekly “What We’re Reading” report.
And while I was reading it, I realized that when it comes to narrative non-fiction, I have a really big soft-spot for books like Shetterly’s.
I think I might call them “Memoirs by normal-ish people who have done little noteworthy other than craft their particular life experience into an interesting story.”
And this is why I don’t get mad when 20-somethings write memoirs. For me, a memoir isn’ about the destination, it’s about the journey! If you can take me on a journey, I love you.
Anyway. I loved this book. The journey Shetterly takes you on is one from New England to Los Angeles and back again. Caitlin gets married and she and her husband decide to pursue their lifelong dream of moving to LA and living as working artistic-people. However, the move is neither cheap nor smooth (as very few moves tend to be), and their savings is pretty much shot… just in time for the Great Recession to swing in to eliminate the middle-class day jobs the two were hoping to acquire to pay the rent, and for Caitlin to get pregnant…. and if that weren’t enough, she develops hyperemesis gravidarum and can’t walk across the living room much less find a job or work.
So the thirty-something couple and their new baby end up moving back to Maine… and moving in with Catilin’s mother. But that’s not really the point. The point is that Shetterly takes you on this very American journey of hope, pursuit of happiness, and the nuclear family… when she fails, you can see how thousands of other American families can so easily fail even when they are doing everything right… but also that we are all kind of in this economic rollercoaster ride together.
Her story could be anybody’s story, but in a good way.
5. Bumped by Megan McCafferty
My awesome roommate pre-ordered this book for me for my birthday in March! This is one of my favorite methods for gift receiving – I would gladly forgo a gift on my actual day of birth in exchange for an Amazon delivery on pub day! It’s a little like Christmas!
I had mixed but generally positive feelings about Bumped, which is McCafferty’s first “straight” YA novel, as well as a departure into the oh-so-trendy world of futuristic dystopia.
The dystopian premise: every adult gets a disease that renders them sterile. All procreation lies on the shoulders of the teenage demographic… so of course, the whole system becomes heavily monetized, with babies being purchased, adoptions and surrogacy brokered by the powerful and rich, and the more fertile you are, the cooler, most popular, and closer to celebrity you become!
I didn’t have any problems with the story itself. The premise was interesting with lots of surprising and thought provoking details, and the main plot clever and snappy (two twins, separated at birth, meeting for the first time: one who lives in a private, religious cult that favors traditional attitudes toward procreating such as “marriage” and “don’t sell your baby,” the other a popular overachieving girl with a contract to bear a child for a high-powered couple as soon as they find a suitable sperm donor).
But I am, sadly, getting a little bored/overwhelmed with the poor, beat-int0-the-ground dystopia.
Similarly, the recent influx of built-in-trilogies. Can’t we just write longer books instead of spreading out the goods intentionally?
I’ll be excited to read book 2, though, whenever it comes out…
6. What Happened To Goodbye by Sarah Dessen
What to say about a Sarah Dessen book that hasn’t already been said?
Janssen wrote a pretty solid review a few months ago. I stand by everything she says about this novel and the whole “Sarah Dessen” aesthetic.
There’s just something comforting about her novels. Everything you want out of this book, you will get. So while some people might find her novels formulaic, I delight in finding out exactly how she plays with the formula with each successive book, and how her knack for creating likable, three-dimensional characters and rich settings (although they are always suburban?!? who can do that?), make me, the reader, seduced into her novels.
Another win for Ms. Dessen.
An aside for fellow Dessenophiles: this is the THIRD book that Jason has appeared in as a significant minor character… what is it about that boy? Do you think Sarah Dessen has a soft spot for the old nerd? Do you think he’s having some kind of multi-book storyline that will end up with him as a love interest two or three books down the road? I’m so obsessed with this…
7. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
Okay, at this point in my summer-break reading, I’m not even pretending to be a literary-type person.
This is chick lit! It’s been turned into a RomCom! It’s got a lot of silliness and betrayal and sex and consumerism!
I liked it.
This is probably like saying “I like eating Krispy Kreme donuts.” Of course you like eating Krispy Kreme donuts! They are deep fried in fat and covered in sugar! Your body was made to like eating Krispy Kreme donuts!
I ate a book donut in May and it was good. I put the sequel on hold. I was a little disheartened that the book ended with the protagonist kind of “falling into” the resolution of her love-triangle, but all in all I thought the conclusion was an interesting way to end the novel. Is it too much to ask for a female romantic protagonist who isn’t either A) totally confident and outgoing and take charge or B) completely mousy and ineffective and doesn’t DO anything?
I guess I can’t eat a bunch of donuts and expect them to be better than… something that’s not just a donut.
8. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Do you ever get into a reading mood? When you just want to read a certain type of book or books about a certain topic or maybe the same book over and over again?
Maybe it’s just me.
But I hope you like books about running, because that’s what I’m in the mood for.
That being said, I really liked this book for many reasons other than the fact that it is a book about running. The author is a well-known writer of fiction in Japan, so he can craft a sentence for sure. And I loved the Not-Western-ness of some of his attitudes and of his writing style in general. Refreshing.
But above all, this is one of those kind of meandering, philosophical books that has you reaching for a pen and paper to jot down quotes that say something so perfectly, something you never thought anyone else ever thought about except for you.
For example, this quote that has nothing to do with writing but everything to do with life (and maybe YA fiction):
Sixteen is an intensely troublesome age. You worry about little things, can’t pinpoint where you are in any objective way, become really proficient at strange, pointless skills, and are held in thrall by inexplicable complexes. As you get older, though, through trial and error you learn to get what you need, and throw out what should be discarded. And you start to recognize (or be resigned to the fact) that since your faults and deficiencies are well night infinite, you’d best figure out your good points and learn to get by with what you have.”
Good stuff. The book is structured as short essay-type pieces that revolve around Murakami’s experiences a long distance runner, but yeah, it’s not all about running. Don’t worry. Try it anyway.
9. Hush by Eishes Chayil
Okay. I am pounding out a whole system of weird reading philosophies here, but bear with me. Along with reading moods, I think people have “hot topics” that they just can’t resist. Ever. Sometimes, the topics just come to you: my mother has read more books about mountain climbers than 95% of the population, but very rarely chooses to read a book just because it’s about mountain climbers. She reads them because somebody recommended the book or because it’s about something entirely other than climbing mountains but somehow is also about climbing mountains, et cetera.
Anyway. One of my hot topics for reading/documentaries/Dateline specials?
Secluded religious communities that hold onto traditional ways of life in spite of all the 21st century America happening around them.
So, basically, stories about fundamentalist Mormons, the Amish,
and Orthodox Jews!
Hush is an intense young adult novel about life for young girls in extremely Orthodox communities. The kind of child abuse that occurs in this novel is by no means unique or even prevalent to this religious community, but the religious beliefs regarding women, sex, marriage, and the pressure placed upon a family unit to be godly, to be pious, to be normal, creates a kind of strange environment in which severe child abuse gets swept under the rug. Young victims are ignored or silenced and perpetrators are never confronted and can continue to abuse other children.
It’s a vicious cycle. This book is not only an “insider’s look” at a religious community that still thrives today, slightly outside the focus of the average American, but also calls attention to this systemic problem and calls for action to be made within the communities themselves.
2011 William C. Morris Award Finalist
10. My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
File this one under “Trying to Read Those Children’s/YA Books Everyone Has Already Assumed I’ve Read.”
Also file this one under “Weird Books That I Don’t Quite Appreciate Because I’m A Modern Reader With Modern Expectations.”
This is Zindel’s “problem novel” about abortion. I read it a few weeks ago but don’t remember much about it other than the fact that female low-self esteem was usually followed by this random older guy appearing to take the offending (and desperate) girl out on a date… where they found this guy and decided he was worth speaking to was a mystery to me: his character is basically Generic Offensive Asshole.
I guess when you are feeling down, this is what you get, ladies. A Generic Offensive Asshole to punish you for making bad decisions.
11. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
See: Reading Mood… but also see: Reading Candy! This book was awesome and I ate it right up in like, two days.
This book is…
- One part Intro to Ultramarathons. Running 50 to 100 mile races might not seem like the most interesting topic for a book, but it certainly attracts a very interesting breed of person and McDougall does a great job of capturing the many interesting characters who have found and excelled at the sport. (Spoiler: they are all kind of crazy)
- One part History of People. Running, McDougall posits, is an innately human thing to do. He gathers the data and research on primitive running cultures and examines how they run, why they run, what they eat, how they live, and talks about how those choices keep them free from injury and able to maintain superior athletic performance. I now want to run around barefoot all the time and eat chia seeds.
- One part Epic Adventure. McDougall does a story on the notoriously elusive and skilled runners, the Tarahumara. In digging into the jungles of Mexico to find them, he meets a random crazy ultramarathoning white dude who has earned the Tarahumara respect… and who also wants to bring some of America’s best ultramarathoners down to the jungle to have an epic 50 mile race. Somehow McDougall and this Crazy Guy convince some of those crazy characters to travel down into Mexico (while avoiding food poisoning, falling off cliffs, and Mexican drug cartels) and compete against the Tarahumara.
They pull it off in the end, but the path to get there is pretty ridiculous.
I really just want to buy this book for people. I don’t know why, but I do.
12. Bossypants by Tina Fey
I read this book from start to finish last Wednesday while I sat in various airports for various lengths of time!
I’m not sure I have much to say about it, though. This book is getting a lot of good press and for good reason. Everyone wants Tina Fey to be their best friend, and here she is, telling you about her life and making you laugh.
My favorite part is when she writes about 30 Rock, and how she wanted to write a really popular, accessible sitcom that would make a lot of money… but for some reason, 30 Rock just wouldn’t have it. It just became weirder and weirder.
That just makes me smile.
13. Good Eggs by Phoebe Potts
When I was planning out books to bring with me for my trip to Michigan, I had this feeling that I would find at least one good book lying around my house. Probably a book I hadn’t heard of, or maybe one I’d been meaning to read that would just appear on a kitchen counter…
This was that book! And it was really good!
Remember how I like “Memoirs by normal-ish people who have done little noteworthy other than craft their particular life experience into an interesting story?” Here’s another one! AND it’s a graphic novel!! Best day ever!!!
This actually did kind of remind me of Made for You and Me, but in reverse. Where Caitlin is an artistic New England girl struggling to find a place in the world after she gets married and becomes unexpectedly pregnant, Pheobe Potts is an artistic New England girl struggling to find a place in the world after she gets married and becomes unexpectedly infertile.
I’m glad I spotted this book hiding on the bottom level of the end table sitting next to the chair in my parents’ family room.
13 books read in May
(you overachiever, you!)
Those Books I Should Really Get Around to Reading
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Books By Authors coming to Summer Institute
The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Sarah Dessen Books I Want to Re-read
That Summer by Sarah Dessen
Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen
Adult Non-fiction Titles
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
Bossypants by Tina Fey
The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
That New YA Everyone’s Talking About That I Didn’t Have Time to Read
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Now that I Have an iPod… Some Audio Books
Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
The Pigman and Me by Paul Zindel
Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt
Research for my final paper for my Realistic Young Adult Fiction has led me to reading some books and articles about Sweet Valley High.
(Please do not ask me how this is relevant to my research. File this one under “Things Jessica Does When She Thinks She Is Getting Work Done But Really Is Not.”)
In an article for The Believer called, entertainingly enough, “The Training Bras of Literature,” Amy Benfer makes a number of smart comments about the stuff going on with Francine’s Pascal’s eternally Blonde, Long-legged, Perfect Size 6 (or 4, depending on your edition), Perennially-tanned, Aquamarine-eyed, Indentically-twinned heroines. One smart comment calls attention to the increasingly inane and perpetually detailed character descriptions found throughout the series. Although Jessica and Elizabeth get the most royal treatment, Pascal makes sure that you, the reader, AT LEAST know the exact hair and eye color of every side character who the twins happen to encounter.
Benfer writes of the blond-sisters infinite descriptors:
“It goes without saying that it’s a catalog meant to cause immediate panic in anyone who does not fit the ideal. I distinctly remember running through a checklist of how closely I resembled the perfect teenage girl, based on the Wakefields. Blond? No. Five-six? No. Long legs? No. Long eyelashes? Fuck! No – not even that. The best I could come up with as a small, thin, pale, land-locked brunette was that my eyes were blue. (And large!)”
Oh, Mass Media, always trying to drag a girl down.
After reading stuff all morning about SVH, I’d already began to consider the “Popularity Envy” so rampant in young adult literature and comparing it to my own high school experience. I’ve always questioned the existence or significance of high school popularity – I knew which kids in my high school had money, had parties, had friends, but I never felt there was any kind of social hierarchy keeping me from speaking to them, and I never felt an acute need to infiltrate their cliques.
But then again, the more I read about Jessica and Elizabeth, the more I realized that I think they are different than me, and in the same ways that I thought the innocuous “popular” kids at my high school were different than me. I certainly wasn’t invited to any parties, I couldn’t afford all their fancy clothes and tanning beds and haircuts and makeup, and I didn’t have an “in” with any of the hotter male specimens in my age group (most of which have since gained 20-30 pounds… thank you, Facebook, for cheering me up!).
Basically, I would never be blond, tan, and squeezing into a size six would be possible but not practical enough for everyday practice.
I will never be hot enough/rich enough/blond enough to be in the elite.
Young Benfer found a temporary assuage to her wounded self-esteem, one which made me laugh out loud:
“I consoled myself by deciding that in the world of Sweet Valley High, I would be described as a petite, porcelain-skinned brunette with striking blue eyes. Maybe I’d be the literary editor of the school newspaper or something and hook up with a band member, like the lead singer of the Droids.”
Perhaps my subconscious is wrong – I’m not any less-stunning, less-deserving of any Wakefield Twins. It’s not possible that a high school could be populated entirely, 100% by super-model-esque teenagers; it was all about the perspective.
Maybe I just need Francine Pascal to write me.
Right now, I feel like I look like a beleaguered, unkempt graduate student who has bags under her eyes, a crick in her neck, and thinks that legging-jeans, flip-flops, and a man’s sweatshirt qualifies as an “outfit.”
But under the flattering California light of Pascal’s literary paintbrush, maybe I could be…
Surrounded by books and papers, Jessica peered out over her studious glasses and gave a tired smile to the student – a hunky sandy-haired, blue-eyed graduate student from a neighboring university – who approached the Reference Desk. She was long-legged, dressed casual-chic in a pair of tight jeans and a striped sweater, her long dark hair gathered in a sloppy bun. She looked back, a bit distraught to leave her research, but nevertheless guided the sandy-haired hunk to the proper call-number and taught him everything he needed to know about the Dewey Decimal system with obvious pleasure, happy to be of service.”
I need to get back to work.
And thus, with the passing of the month of April, so passes the end of the Reading Semester.
I still have a paper due next week (let’s not talk about that QUITE yet), but the Required Reading segment of the year has ended for now.
May and June will be spent in reading repose.
(Except for the impossibly-Type-A part of me that already has books that COULD end up on July’s syllabus showing up on the library’s hold shelf. Oy.)
For those of you keeping track at home, my semester’s syllabus prescribed 61 books this semester:
1. The Heart is Not A Size by Beth Kephart
This book was alright, but just alright. It’s the story of two best friends – one steadfast and plain, one flighty and fashionable – who take a summer service trip to Juarez, Mexico. The Flighty Fashionable friend is anorexic, natch, and the steadfast and plain one has to find a way to help her after a confrontation throws a wrench in their friendship.
I’m sure it was a fine book, a nice, quiet read, but it’s hard for nice, quiet stories to stand out when you are reading 2-4 books a week for extended periods of time.
On another note, I realized weeks after reading this that I met Ms. Kephart, briefly, at the YA authors “speed dating” event at ALA last summer! She was perfectly nice and I made a (apparently forgotten) note to pick up one of her books.
2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I really love this book. I have read it SO many times (Maybe 6 times? It only got my hands on it in late 2007, so this is kind of a lot), but each and every time I sink into it like an over-stuffed couch. With pillows. And I basically never want it to end.
Such a favorite of mine. Love love love Frankie.
2009 Printz Honor, 2008 National Book Award Finalist, 2008 Cybils Winner – Young Adult Fiction
3. Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan
I had some problems with this book, but overall, it was an enjoyable read.
Okay, commence light-spoilers:
The plot of the novel revolves around one young protagonist, Blake who is in a pseudo-love triangle with his lovely girlfriend, Shannon, and this girl in his photography class, Marissa.
So it’s like, “duh, Blake and Marissa are probably going to hook-up” the entire book. Whatever. There are no new stories in the world, I can handle a little predictability.
1) The novel also hinges on this depiction of Blake-as-Miserable-Nerd who JUST found the beginnings of love with Shannon, and he’s so happy to finally have a girlfriend. So how am I supposed to believe that this kid who can’t even figure out how to talk about maybe losing mutual-virginities with Shannon – the girl who already adores him – can suddenly Lothario his way into bed with Marissa? And then, afterwards, he lounges around in the nude taking sexy photographs of her?
That is just way too slick.
2)…. and WHAT THE HELL! WHO TAKES NAKED PICTURES OF THEIR SORDID AFFAIR WITHOUT EXPECTING TO GET CAUGHT?
When I got to that part, I literally threw the book down. I didn’t want to read the rest because it was just going to be painful and awkward and obviously end very, very poorly.
Other than book-throwing, I suppose it was alright.
2010 William C. Morris Award Winner
4. Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles
I liked this book a lot when I read it the first time, and it even made my Best YA Fiction Reads of 2009.
Everything I said it that previous review still holds true. Refer accordingly.
5. Going Bovine by Libba Bray
I was a little miffed when most of my classmates were either neutral or negative about this book.
I read it last summer and while I enjoyed it, I also walked away with the feeling that there was a LOT going on in the book that I couldn’t possibly grasp in one reading.
My classmates read this as “Libba Bray, you need a better editor,” aka “This book was about 200 pages too long.”
Well, phooey on them.
For those of you who haven’t read it, the story is fairly unbelievable – teenage boy contracts Mad Cow, is approached by an angel in his hospital room who tells him he has to find a time-traveling mad scientist who needs to save the world AND, conveniently, can cure him. Commence epic road trip/hallucination/Don Quixote retelling.
I liked the epic feel of this heavy, lengthy novel. I haven’t read Don Quixote but it reminded me a lot of a childhood favorite of mine, Gulliver’s Travels, with visits to strange “societies,” road blocks, and heavy satire. And I didn’t think the novel READ long – Bray’s writing here is light, quick-moving, banter-y…
Phooey on you naysayers! I bet you all liked Jellicoe Road, too.
2010 Printz Winner
6. Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers
I liked this book more than I thought I would.
Which is how all raving book review start, right?
Anyway, the book has two interwoven storylines. Here’s the quick-and-dirty:
Jacob is seventeen and visiting Amsterdam for the first time, on his own, in order to meet the woman – Geertrui – who saved his grandfather’s life in WWII and visit his grandfather’s grave. On the way, he befriends Geertrui’s grandson, deals with his fictional-love-affair with Anne Frank – one of Amsterdam’s most famous residents – and questions his sexuality.
The other story is Geertrui’s: she writes the story of her own teenage girlhood, during which WWII fighting ravaged her home village, killed her parents, and drove her from her home. During this time, though, Jacob’s grandfather – a wounded British soldier – fell under her care, and they fell in love in the short time before his death.
I wasn’t a fan of Jacob’s seemingly random, destination-less jaunts around Amsterdam, and Geertrui’s story started out a tid-bit historical for my personal tastes, but in the end, I was satisfied by how the stories worked together and felt that the novel had DONE something, had GONE somewhere by the end of the book.
This reading experience is probably a metaphor for Jacob’s own journey to Discover A Stable, Adult Identity, but I’m going to save those academic-y proclamations for my one-final-paper, thanks.
2003 Printz Winner
7. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
I may or may not have started an in-class uprising about this book.
You see, I read it when it won the Printz in 2009…. started it, read the middle, finished it, and said “eh.”
(Actually, I said FRANKIE GOT ROBBED! But anyway…)
A lot of people really liked this books. Blog people. People in my program who read widely, read for quality, and generally have good taste. Friends of mine without a lot of literary pretension. People on the Printz committee. So while I wasn’t looking forward to re-reading a book that I really didn’t like the first time around, I was hoping that a re-read would be all I needed.
Nope. Still didn’t like it.
This probably warrants a longer post, but the evidence:
1) Needlessly confusing, especially names of characters. Too many! Ack!
2) I didn’t give two rips about the narrator, the annoyingly moody Taylor Markham (and I am really not easily annoyed by narrators)
3) Major plot-line (territory wars between boarding school students, military school students, and townies) that was pretty dumb and didn’t really end up mattering at all.
4) Jokes that just weren’t funny
5) Side characters that served no purpose
6) Side plot about a rampant serial killer that ended with “Oh, they found out who he was. He was a postman. Moving on!”
Okay, I’m stopping myself. I just really couldn’t get into this.
Oh, and FRANKIE GOT ROBBED!!!!
2009 Printz Winner, 2008 Cybils Finalist – Young Adult Fiction
8. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
And now, moving on to a Printz committee that knew what they were doing.
This is an awesome graphic novel with three stories:
Story #1 is a piece of Chinese mythology about the Monkey King who tries to become a God by mastering kung-fu and kicking a lot of immortal butt.
Story #2 is about a Chinese-American kid who moved to the suburbs and tries to fit in with his White Bread Classmates and Teachers who think he can’t speak English.
Story #3 is an imaginary, incredibly racist television sitcom about a White Bread Teenager’s boisterously Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee.
Somehow, these stories become a single story. It is a completely awe-inspiring ending.
2007 Printz Winner, 2006 National Book Award Finalist, 2006 Best Books for YA Top 10
9. Hold Still by Nina LaCour
The last session of my YA class (which I will attend later today) will focus on “New Voices in YA,” so I’m assuming the four novels we read for class were cherry-picked for their Newness and their Promising-ness.
And, true to form, this was one of the few books that I read this semester that I REALLY, unabashedly enjoyed.
Like 4 out of 5 books read for class this year, this is a book about a tragedy. Caitlin’s best friend, Ingrid, kills herself after silently battling with depression. Caitlin is blindsided, but suddenly regretful of her every life choice and unable to move past her complicity as Best Friend. The book follows Caitlin around as she learns to relate to other people – even if they might disappear on her, even though she might wrong them – and find a stable place to be again.
It’s all about grief and recovery, which sound kind of boring, but the writing and the honest tone made the book so, so readable. I’ll be keeping my eye out for LaCour’s next move, for sure.
2010 William C. Morris Award Finalist
10. The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees
Don’t let the scary tattoo-cover fool you…
this is just your run-of-the-mill YA Book For Boys.
Quite similar to Flash Burnout, actually.
Both books feature Tension Between Brothers – specifically, Awkward Younger Brothers and Cool Older Brothers.
Both books have strangely romance-centric plots… all roads lead to the High School Dance?
But in case you forgot this was a Book for Boys, The Brothers Torres has a lot of foul humor!
I’m fine with foul humor, I just prefer Jokes That Are Actually Funny.
And after reading Jellicoe Road and this one, I’m beginning to think that Jokes That Aren’t Funny are the BIGGEST deal-breaker with me and a book.
I can read a lot of mediocre/crappy novels and find SOMETHING redeeming in them, but try crack a joke that feels forced? I’m done.
What can I say – I’m a woman of strange aesthetics.
10 books read in April
(right on pace)
Me: Ugh! The bus driver almost didn’t let me off at my stop again!
Him: Why not?
Me: I pushed the thingy but she didn’t open the back-back door, just the regular back door, so I had to like, barrel up there and shove my way out.
Him: Did the driver make you pay in the front but enter through the back door, and then while you were walking to the back door, did the bus driver drive away?
Me: Um. No?
Him: Oh. Then you probably had a good bus ride.
Me: You need to stop reading so much children’s literature. It’s warping your brain….
Me: …. also, shut up.
Boyfriend’s Latest Read:
Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose
You can read my review here
Two Mondays, two Tuesdays
Pick 4 to 5 young adult books and present them to the class as a booktalk. Make a snazzy flier to accompany. Must have a theme!
Write 6-7 pages on any topic of young adult literature that interests you. Yowza.
Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Looking for Alaska by John Green
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Hold Still by Nina LaCour
The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Scrawl by Mark Schulman
until this semester is officially
I. I like my apartment and I get to stay for another year
Here is a picture of some of my apartment.
Isn’t it nice?
And by “nice”, I mean “full of my stuff”?
II. My syllabus
As much as I miss being able to read whatever I want…
I also like having to read books.
As long as they are good.
I feel like when I am done with grad school,
I should recruit Children’s Lit people to write me up a syllabus every quarter,
IV. Weather for Running
The only running-related pictures I have
are of my littlest sister
because she runs a lot.
(She’s the one in the middle)
V. This Boy
He makes me quite happy.
(That picture was taken
5 years ago)