books, reading

The Great American Read: Part 2

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Welcome back to Part 2 of this discussion! Continuing with the alphabetical list where I left off…

Remember, these are only the books on The Great American Read that I’ve already read. The entire list has 100 selections, and the master can be found through PBS.com.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (2010, school)

I’d never heard of this book until it was an assignment for a college course. Apparently it’s been considered a children’s classic for years. Who knew? (In my defense, I was a rather limited-interest youth, and if it didn’t fall into my immediate areas of passion, I just wasn’t on the lookout for it.) Anyway, I wouldn’t call it a classic, and I hated it. Dystopian isn’t my favorite genre, but I think certain stories/authors craft a good dystopian without getting too dismal and despairing. But along with the intense lack of humanity in The Giver, there is never any REASON given for why the society ended up so twisted and authoritarian. And in a culture ruled by technology and regulations, the concept of one person being able to transmit all the memories of an ENTIRE species and history, apparently by osmosis, is RIDICULOUS. I couldn’t get beyond the inherent flaws in the premise to see any value in the story.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2015?, personal)

Okay, Gone Girl is twisted, and twisty, and in some ways it sucks you in and you feel compelled to find out what really happened and how it’s going to end. But it also leaves you with a definite sense of unease, and it reminded me of why I usually avoid reading thrillers.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1995?, school)

Yes, this novel is not light-hearted or a fun read. Is it important? Yes. The Great Depression is an era too many people are already forgetting or passing over in history class. We can’t do that. Steinbeck paints a bleak, realistic, and sympathetic picture of these farmers and the period they lived in.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1996?, 2004?, school)

Yes, once again, I was assigned the same title twice, in different courses! It’s definitely not among my favorites of Mr. Dickens. I do understand that it has valuable lessons in terms of not being too quick to trust people, or not getting swept off your feet by a beautiful but truly awful woman (or man). There are powerful hints in there about the problem with wealth covering up mental illness and people trying to buy happiness. Again, it’s an important sort of tale, just not one I’ll volunteer to ingest.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1996?, school)

In many ways, The Great Gatsby could be called the modern Great Expectations. Gatsby is a self-made man, hoping to win the heart of a physically stunning but horribly selfish and conceited woman. This is a hard book to read, too, not because of the subject matter, but because so many of the characters are downright unlikable, and you can’t even root for Gatsby because he wants in with these massive jerks. You’ll never find me picking this one up again.

Harry Potter by JK Rowling (2000-2011, personal)

This is one of the few on the list I wholeheartedly concur with, and already recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read the series. White Fang and I are excited to start it with Muffin one day. I’m even going to invest in the new illustrated series before he’s old enough (and yes, partly because White Fang and I want to drool over them first). I could wax poetic about HP for a whiiiiile, so I’ll spare you in this moment, so that we can get through the rest of this post within a timely manner…

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2012?, personal)

I did not like this story at all. It should have no place on the platform of the discussion about race. I was horrified by the way the black maids were treated, even in the era of Jim Crow rules. And the narrator was incredibly irresponsible, treating these women as if they were a sideshow, costing them their jobs, and then swanning off to New York for a big job as a journalist. I rarely advocate destroying books, but this one…I’m sorely tempted.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (2003, 2007, 2015, personal)

Okay, so I’ve read this a lot — what’s it to ya? It’s one of the sci-fi greats. And as a rule, I am not a sci-fi fan. Adams’ clever humor and brilliant and subtle insights into human behavior make for an excellent space adventure. It’s also a title I already yell at everyone to read it. Multiple times. And then start using the quotes in your everyday life. Every day.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2011, personal)

The reason I picked this one up was because all my co-workers at the time literally shoved it at me and declared, “Start reading!” As previously stated, I don’t really do dystopia, so I wasn’t going to read this of my own accord. I really, really wish I’d stuck to my guns. Book 1 was riveting, actually funny in places, then had a twist that was just SO UNFAIR I wanted to tear out the remaining pages and write my own ending. (For those of you who are wondering, it’s the fact that Peeta lost his leg after all Katniss did to save it, and the one-time exception about a pair of Tributes from the same District getting to win being a trick.) I skipped book 2 (to this day I’ve only seen the movie), finished book 3, and then proceeded to writhe in anguish and curse the author’s career. Yup, it was that brutal. I couldn’t stand Katniss well before the end of book 3, and honestly, I don’t recommend this series to anyone.

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (2007?, personal)

I didn’t even make it to the end of the first book in this series. It feels so trite, so patronizing, and paints a very, very narrow worldview of who’s deserving of God’s mercy. Sorry, folks, but I just don’t buy it. I know that puts me at odds with many evangelicals nationwide, but I have a more liberal view of end-of-the-world theories than the writers of these novels. And I’m allowed to be of the opinion that they’re not good fiction, Christian or otherwise.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1989?, personal)

Like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this was a classic I chose to read at a young age. Again, I’m really not sure why, as I wasn’t big on historical fiction, and I didn’t understand probably 70% of the content. I came to appreciate this story much more as an adult, after I knew about what it was like to be a middle-class women during the Civil War.

Looking for Alaska by John Green (2013?, personal)

Some of my students (the older ones) were reading John Green novels, and I wanted to see what all the hype was. I grabbed Looking for Alaska off the library shelf randomly. I didn’t like it one bit. It’s condescending towards teenagers who actually like and respect their parents, who don’t spend their free time getting drunk and having sex, and suicide and instalove are glamorized. I truly feel anything by John Green should be nowhere near a list of 100 books recommended to everybody.

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (2005?, personal)

Confession: I watched the movies first. No one throw things. I did allow myself to get talked into reading the books afterwards. But, moment of absolute truth here, seeing the films first was vital to my understanding and enjoying the story. Professor Tolkien’s writing style is meandering, wordy, and by turns enchanting and frustrating. It took me months to get through each volume, because of the pages and pages were not much happens, and poems and songs in invented languages were randomly thrown in, like, in the middle of a fight scene or something. It was very hard for me to follow or get into that style. While I am glad I read the trilogy, I don’t think I will again. Sorry, fans.

All right, that’s it for this time! Moving on to Part 3 next!

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books, reading

The Great American Read: Part 1

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Recently I mentioned The Great American Read (TGAR), and how part of the Summer Reading Challenge my local library is hosting this year involves encouraging patrons to see how many of the list they can check off. When I downloaded the master list, I was pleased (and surprised) to find I’ve already read 35 of the selections. Some of the others I’ve heard of but not read, never heard of, have no intention of ever reading, or may attempt one day. But in the next few posts, we’re going to be focusing on the ones I have completed.

Books on the List I Have Read (as well as approximately in which year, and for school or by personal choice):

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1988?, personal)

This was one of the few classics I remember hanging around in my childhood that I actually read. Or had read to me. Honestly, I’m a little fuzzy on the details. I do know it was finished at least twice, because I recall enough of the plot and characters to confirm certain things which would’ve only come from more than a quick bedtime read. Anyway, I’m truly not sure why I wanted to pick this one, as a child who was much more into fantasy than historical fiction. I didn’t even realize how important Mark Twain was to the country at that point. And there was a lot about the dialect and time period I didn’t understand, so it was hard to follow stuff like why Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint the fence for him. (Since I was living in a town/era when painting a fence was an utterly alien concept, or the fact it was actually an arduous chore.) I did get that Tom had a massive crush on Becky Thatcher, and that people felt she deserved better than that silly boy (but again, I never grasped why the townspeople all thought that of him).

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1987?, personal)

This I volunteered to read, and happily re-read several times. I loved the characters (especially Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the March Hare, and Dinah). I’ve seen a few of the movie and TV adaptations, and enjoyed most of them. My favorite was the Syfy modern version; Alice and Hatter were adorable together.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2010?, personal)

This title came recommended by one of my Early Childhood professors. She thought it was a unique storytelling style, about a very important topic (WW II), from the unusual POV of a German citizen during the time period. I agreed. It was a bit hard to get into the author’s rambling, at times nearly neurotransmitter-misfiring style, but I found the story very precious, and cried so much at the end.

Charlotte’s Web by EB White (1989?, school)

First introduced to me in third or fourth grade, I believe, via whichever teacher was insistent we students read it, carrying on the tradition, Charlotte’s Web is a title that changed for me as I grew up. At first, I was so taken with poor Wilbur’s plight, and Charlotte’s doting, motherly ways — but I think that’s how the author sucks innocent children in, to destroy their hearts later. Yes, I am aware livestock on farms become food all the time — and since I’m not a vegetarian, I’m part of that, and I accept it. This isn’t a novel I’d recommend for children anymore. I really feel there are other works that humanize animal motivations and feelings in an engaging and entertaining way without deviously pushing an agenda.

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The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (1990, 2007-08, personal)

loved the old BBC movies of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a kid, and really enjoyed the book the first time around. White Fang truly liked the whole series, but most of the books I just found dull and dragging. White Fang’s faves were Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (2005, school)

I liked this book a lot more than I expected to. I’d seen the movie, and wasn’t that impressed, and slightly terrified. I knew the story covered the harsh realities of domestic violence, and the high rate of abuse against women in the post-Civil-War black community. (If I remember correctly, it’s set in the early 20th century.) But the novel has layers upon layers of deep insight, into not just the abuse, but also what it may mean to be a woman, at different times in society and different cultures, how women can change their circumstances, or how circumstances may fight against them, and how sisterhood (not necessarily blood) can bring an abused woman out of darkness. It’s quite an interesting, controversial, and important tale.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2009, personal)

I cried and raged by page 30 of this novel. I was SO upset by the obvious ignorance and prejudice shown against the autistic narrator. I skimmed a big chunk of the middle, and was so distraught by the end I honestly don’t even remember what happened in the resolution. I don’t recommend this title as an autism rep read. Not at all. It’s just so sad and agonizing.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2008?, personal)

I had to see what all the fuss was about. The novel itself is wordy, there are too many subplots, and I really prefer the movie version. If you do your research, you’ll find NONE of the conspiracy theory offered in the book is new; Dan Brown drew on old theories or legends that had been around for centuries. Is any of it true? Some of it, yes — for example, the Knights Templar were long believed to have found an artifact or relic from the Temple of Solomon that was considered lost to history, and that the Catholic Church at the time would have seen it as very threatening to their hold on world affairs. (Many Popes back in the Middle Ages were not nice fellows.) Is there absolute proof that Jesus of Nazareth was married to Mary Magdalene and they had children? Not a stitch. Does it make for an awesome story? Totally. Even as a Christian, I honestly thought the idea of there being living descendants of such an influential historical figure (not bringing  religious beliefs or discussions into it at all), that may actually have the ability to, say, perform miracles in a modern, secular world, was quite beautiful. Just for the record, though, I don’t think the Priory of Scion really exists, or ever did.

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Dune by Frank Herbert (2004?, personal)

I was kind of forced. I never made it through the entire tome. I’ve seen the whole movie (which took about 3 days to watch, and approximately 3 years off my life). Sorry, any fans, but this is not for me at all.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1995?, 2005?, school)

Yes, I’ve actually had to read this for English classes twice. I understood it more the second time around, but didn’t like it more. I feel SO bad for the “monster,” and Dr. Frankenstein needs to be sacrificed to medical science. Give me the Mel Brooks version any day.

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (2017, personal)

I watched 3 or 4 episodes of the show and wanted to die. I could not stand the INTENSE profanity, violence, and explicit sexual content (especially the misogny). (And Boromir — ahem, Sean Bean — gets killed off in season 1! Is there no justice?!) But my social media feed kept picking up ravings (in a good way) about the series, so I checked book 1 out of the library. I was impressed. Martin is a true wordsmith in his early works — the story draws you in, setting and characters come alive, the danger feels too real, the emotions of Ned Stark and the Khaleesi Daenerys and Tyrion Lancaster are SO palpable. The last chapter literally brought me to tears. Martin’s world in text is compelling, perilous, and very unfair, but I understood the bloodshed and the mistreatment of women so much more as a historical/cultural reference, and not necessarily something the author agreed with or condoned. I’ve decided not to finish the series (at least not now), but I’m not ashamed of having read the original novel that launched an epic fantasy empire.

And there we have it for now! Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3!

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blogging, books

“You Have To Read This”

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How many times have we all heard that? How many times have we said it (shouted it?) to someone else?

How many times have we followed the directive and been enthralled? How often have we followed the directive, and felt let down?

Recently, I joined the adult book club at my local library. If you’re thinking this doesn’t sound like me, you’d be right. And I joined the local writers’ group (not necessarily published, just writing) as well! What is wrong with this moth?! Well, as much as I don’t seek out socialization, and can only handle small doses of being around other people I hardly know, there are reasons I went head-on into this.

Reason 1: While I love my online writing/reading community, they are not always available to share thoughts, since we all live in different time zones and have varying in-person schedules. However, it meant that I realized I need to branch out in this area. And I do live within walking distance of the library, and the events there are held pretty regularly.

Reason 2: If I never go stray from YA fantasy, eventually I will run out of new books to devour. This is not a good thing for the creative soul. We need to refresh what we take in, not just crazily produce. So, I figured it would be good for me to branch out in this regard as well.

April is National Poetry Month (at least in America), so the librarian had a local poet come in and speak to the book club group.

Poetry and I have a complicated relationship; I understand poetry, but I don’t always like it. Poems that really explore the existential crisis of man are really not my thing. So, of course, this speaker was a writer of the latter. Oh, well. She was a very interesting speaker, with a very interesting style.

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A Tale of Two Book Clubs

Above are her books (I believe they’re all on Amazon); “Traveling Through Glass” is the poetry collection. Lisa Harris has quite a lyrical style, and her plots and characters definitely focus on the existential stuff (which, again, isn’t much for me, but that’s just me). She researches a bunch on fading cultures (for example, the way Native Americans have become a minority) and world religions for her stories.

I have to say, though, that I honestly felt bad for many of the ladies in the book club, because they weren’t really fans of poetry, and some of them were struggling with the topic. I do agree that poetry can be challenging. My favorites are certainly the ones that tell a story, simply in verse (“The Highwayman”), or seem so straightforward on the surface (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”) that the reader often doesn’t feel the need to dig deeper. (At least, I didn’t.) So, while I freely admit to sitting in the corner and not contributing to that conversation one iota, at least I was there, present, and taking in something I normally don’t.

Then we all received the selection for the next meeting: “A Piece of the World” (APOTW) by Christina Baker Kline. Never heard of the author, had no clue what the work might be about. Off to a great start on expanding the horizons.

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The tricky bit about book clubs is that you might get a real dud. This novel really irritated me. It’s supposed to be basically historical fiction, but I felt the author took waaaaay too many liberties, and I didn’t know enough about the real people in question (the artist Andrew Wyeth and the human subjects he painted) to be sure of how much was inspired by true events, and how much was the author going wild with “poetic license.” And I couldn’t get past that.

If was writing a historical fiction, I’d set it in a real place and time period, but with completely invented characters. I’d be too afraid of getting it far too wrong. After all, when you’re writing about real people who once walked this Earth, had real feelings and perspectives, family and friends who cared about how they were seen, it feels insensitive to get away too much from the biographical material.

The librarian even admitted APOTW wasn’t her first choice; her first choice got taken by another club, and she suddenly wouldn’t have had something for us to read last month. Luckily, this month that choice was once again available, so it’s our title for the June meeting.

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I love the idea of “The Dead Beat” (TDB). It’s not morbid, it’s simply a study of part of our culture. We do write obituaries for people who have just died; humans have done this, in one form or another, for centuries. These days, it’s mostly for the public record, and to let people know this individual is no longer with us. It’s a kindness. But, like so many other aspects of our society, when something has become so functional that it’s plain boring now, somebody wondered how we can spruce it up.

Hence, writing obituaries have become a literary art form. And while this niche does require a certain type of personality, I hardly view this interest as dangerously divergent or an unhealthy obsession. We’re all going to die one day; so, why not make the most of recounting our lives for those still breathing? Why not share our joys, heartaches, our triumphs, and struggles? As dull and mundane as most of us feel our existences are, I can guarantee we’ve all done something others would find amazing.

The Great American Read

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I saw the clip about this on PBS (one of the few channels I still watch). The Great American Read (TGAR) is a list of 100 books, determined by compiling data of consistently referred fiction titles within the last several years. Not just the classics, or the stuff on high school English curriculums. (or example, both Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are on this list.

This summer, our library is encouraging patrons to tackle TGAR and see if they can check off a few of the boxes. Yesterday I downloaded the master list and checked off my own boxes. It turns out I’ve already read 35 of the 100.

Many interesting thoughts get brought up by viewing the entire list. Like, why are there so many British authors on here? (JK Rowling, Charles Dickens, Douglas Adams, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and more.) When the word “American” is in the name of the challenge itself? Maybe it shows that even the natives feel traditional “American” literature is in some way lacking?

Also, just how did they (whoever “they” are) determine what made the list and what didn’t? Is it purely stats of bestsellers? Why are “children’s” works like The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter thrown in with Fifty Shades of Grey and Outlander? (No, I’m not kidding.) Some of the included are definitely controversial — such as Fifty Shades and Outlander, but also Twilight, Game of Thrones, and The Da Vinci Code. I’m not opening the floor to that topic (right now); I’m just pondering the apparent dichotomy.

There are also plenty of titles you’d expect to see — Gone With The Wind, The Call of the Wild, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You can find the whole list online; it’s quite a diverse and intriguing selection.

And I am proud to say I’ve read 35 of them. Especially since most of those 35 I enjoyed, and agree with the concept of yelling at the whole country to read them.

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blogging, reading

Maintaining the Balance: Tackling That TBR Without Losing Your Bookdragon Marbles

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It really sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just don’t let your TBR get out of control. After all, reading novels is something we choose to do, and it’s not as if we’re being forced to add every single title we ever hear of to our I-want-to-read-this-one-day list. (Except you are when it comes to my books. Everyone must read my books.)

However, every week, there’s someone on Goodreads or Twitter, in their blog or writing platform, discussing how behind they are on their TBR. And when I think around 40 (what I currently have either on GR or on a scrap of paper somewhere) seems like a lot to buy/borrow and read within the next several months, there comes up a Tweet or a post that informs us all someone just culled 100-1,000 books from their want-to-read shelf.

So, here are some suggestions from this moth, who manages to regularly keep the numbers down. Because life is short, and I like to give advice, and trust me, you all need to take my advice (whether you know it yet or not).

(And, I really need to get a post out, to remind all of you I’m still alive, and this seems as good a topic as any. Brutal honesty wins out today, I guess…)

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Don’t worry about reading all the books “everybody else” is raving about. Between all the genres I just don’t try anymore and my limited funds, I couldn’t acquire every single title of note from 2018, or 2017, even if I wanted to. So I’ve given up attempting to even recall all of them. I do make note of the impending releases by authors I’ve enjoyed in the past, and titles in YA and fantasy (my favorites) that just sound great. Buuuut…

Don’t hesitate to edit the list. If you come across a bunch of ARC reviews from bloggers whose tastes generally fall right in with yours, saying that a certain hyped selection is really not doing it for them, listen to that, and seriously re-consider purchasing or requesting it. Or if you (as I recently did) get the book in question (maybe you didn’t cancel that pending library hold in time), get a few pages in (I usually give it through the first chapter), and your overall feeling ranges from “meh” to “what the heck?”, have no shame in setting that title aside.

Don’t impulse-order. Whether you may face book-buying remorse when that 10-title order from the internet shows up on your doorstop, or you’re trying to carry 10 hardcovers up the hill from your local library (yup, that’d be me) in snow, sleet and hail, more does not equal better. Focus on the releases you know you can’t live without that season. Like the newest Maggie Stiefvater. Or the latest Volume in The Order of the Twelve Tribes

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Know why you’re really choosing to read what you’re reading. Are you picking up a novel you’re actually dreading, but feel that if you pass on it, you’ll be “left out of the loop” on social media? Or can you not wait to open that cover because you just know a rush of emotions and fun and character development are coming your way? Yes, discovering new authors can be awesome. But there’s a lot to be said for sticking with the tried and true. For example, I learned in my youth that I honestly don’t care for murder mysteries, horror, romance, or most of the classics. So, it benefits me now (since it appears a few more days get chopped from my personal calendar every year since I turned 35) to not spend extra hours every month on books I just know aren’t my thing.

Reading is not a competition. Yes, it’s a good idea to encourage yourself to finish a selection in a timely manner. It shows self-discipline and being principled, and I come from a household where we keep saying “one day” and then one day never arrives on certain things. So once I start a book, I like to finish it within a week. (Re-reads are the exception to this rule.) However, don’t compare yourself to other readers. If it takes you a month to complete a really long book or one that gives you trouble because of vocabulary or time period or whatever, so be it.

Set reasonable limits. If you’re on Goodreads (actually, I should say when) and are realizing you can’t even remember why you added a particular title, delete it. If you saw a movie version of a novel and didn’t care much for the story, delete it. If there’s a book on your list that was added in 2015 and you still haven’t gotten around to it… You get the idea. Also, when it comes to “the 100 books everyone should read” and similar things, don’t get sucked into it. Seriously. Life is too short.

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Take advantage of the library. The library is great because of the free factor, and the no-guilt return if you didn’t like a book. Also, think of the space you saved on your shelves for the future releases you have to have (like all the forthcoming Beaumont and Beasley tales by Kyle Robert Shultz). Plus, investigating a book at the library, with your hands and opening the cover and examining the font size and how many pages there are — maybe even reading the first page — can really help you make up your mind. Sometimes online browsing just doesn’t cut it.

Forget about ARCs. Unless it’s the biggest release of your year, and your soul will shrivel into a useless husk without an advanced copy. Truly, people get fixed on the rush of frantically clicking the button on Netgalley, and then being approved for the latest “next Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Percy Jackson”. And then many times, the hype falls flatter than a skydiving pancake, and bookworms are found sobbing into their carpet until you have to build them a boat and rescue all the animals, two by two. Ain’t worth it, folks.

So, now that you’re all scratching your heads and saying, “Thanks a bunch, Daley, I basically can’t add anything to my TBR by an unfamiliar author, or that I won’t get around to reading within 29 days, or that didn’t come from the library,” relax, grasshoppers. Here’s what I suggest for keeping your list to a reasonable length, and not getting stressed out by attempting to get to the end of it before you’re 98 years old and can’t read small fonts or recall where you left the book…

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Do invest in reading a lot of reviews — good and bad — about new titles that may interest you. Take a few hours every month and devote it to finding positive and negative reviews of the same book. This could assist in making up your mind faster and possibly without spending money on a selection that you end up not caring for.

Buddy read anticipated releases. This can certainly help narrow down your choices for a particular week or month. It will reduce your TBR and achieve it pretty quickly.

Remember that above all, reading for fun is supposed to be just that — fun. So many of us became book bloggers in the first place because we love the world of story and the written word, and want to share that joy with others of the same vein. Pressuring ourselves to meet requirements that actually aren’t required won’t make us feel good; so let’s do away with them.

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self-publishing, writing

In Which I Explain My Recent Radio Silence

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Good morning! So, I’m aware that I haven’t been around much lately, and I’ve hinted at reasons why, but here are some more in-depth reasons. And, me being me, I shall beg apologies.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with trying to get together Volume 3 so that it can be ready to publish well before the Realm Makers conference in mid-July. The in-depth reason is two-fold. One: As I was starting to edit, I discovered a massive plot hole about 16% of the way in, and my response was thusly:

“SONOFAFLAMINGBISCUITWHYDOTHESETHINGSALWAYSHAPPENTOMEWHENI’MONADEADLINETHISCAN’TBERIGHTISLAVEDOVERTHISIT’SNOTFAAAAAAIIIIRRRRRR!!!!!!”

Yes, I’m being quite honest. Sadly.

Anyway, after eating some ice cream and watching some Grey’s Anatomy, I got my big-girl pants on and began to tackle Volume 3 — the “final” draft — from the start, as if it were just another rewrite. Which is what it has become. And, guess what? I’m actually enjoying it again.

So, here I am, with a very set deadline breathing down my neck, and I am simply writing as much as I can — creatively, not time-wise — every day. And, thanks to my family and other things needing some of my time, there have been days when I get about 4 paragraphs down before that spark has slipped away for a bit. But all of this is okay. It really is, I’m truly not being snarky. There was a lot of stuff in my notes that I wasn’t going to use until the next book in the series — after already bumping it from Volume 2 — but I’m including it now, and it’s making me pretty excited for readers’ reactions. And that is all good.

Two: I’m feeling my creative spark get worn out rather quickly these days. I need to seriously recharge it with more movies and reading and music (which I often set aside for periods while editing). Last night I chose not to go online, not to read, in favor of watching Thor: Ragnarok, which was an excellent decision.

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The other in-depth reasons I’m not making bullet-train progress on my impending release are: my health, technology issues, and broadening my horizons.

My health is doing pretty well these days (much better than I was a few months ago), but so far the medication I’m trying for the endometriosis isn’t really working, so I still have to put up with some fatigue and lack of appetite or nausea. It means there are times when I literally don’t have the energy to think comprehensively about my plot or adjectives or phrasing. And there’s not much I can do about that at the moment, except take it with a grain of salt and keep going later.

Until very recently, we were down to one computer in my house, and it was getting ridiculous, since there were 3 of us trying to use it pretty much all the time. So, we got a new, additional computer. Then — the original computer died. And it has not been repaired yet, since the shop we brought it to is, for no apparent reason, dragging its feet and not communicating about what’s taking so long. So, we are, at present, still dealing with up to 3 people attempting to use one computer. I made it clear from the start, when I’m working on getting a new release ready, I need to have first crack at all things PC and internet-related (I regularly forget to look things up during the drafting process, and then remember while editing that I didn’t fact-check a certain reference or the spelling of a last name). But sometimes I get major pushback about this (it seems the words “deadline” and “conference” don’t have the same meaning to people who aren’t me). Anyway, this is another in-depth reason (I’m going to patent that phrase) that this whole editing thing is dragging a bit.

And then there are the additional activities I’m involving myself in at the local library. Is this absolutely necessary? No, and you’d think an indie author, a parent, an autist, already strapped for time wouldn’t consider them twice. However. In taking stock of my sales this winter (another brutally honest moment here), I saw that it would be helpful if I could expand my reach as an author. So I went to the library to look at the monthly calendar and get an idea for what networking was possible (without being annoying). I found there’s a writer’s group that meets every month, and people that belong to it have been asking the librarians questions about self-publishing. So it occurred to me that this might be a good place to show my face on a regular basis. *hides under bed and prays for strength to socialize*

Plus, I’d already let myself get roped into (okay, not really — I didn’t actually fight against it) the adult book club, which is still good because I’ve found I really only read one type of book anymore, and that can be stifling for the creative soul. Going out of my comfort zone to try new genres and styles will probably be very good for me.

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On top of all this, the end of the school year is approaching, and that means I will have very little time in June for anything other than routine notification-checking and blog-posting. Besides, I need to have Volume 3 finished for a) Realm Makers, duh, b) so I can work more on How To Be A Savage, and c) I promised White Fang we’d start on our joint Super Secret Project this summer. And there’s a writer’s conference much closer to my home that I want to attend the week after RM, so it’d be nice to have more WIP stuff to bring to that as well.

All of these factors combined mean that, although in the past I’ve hated to do it and often felt guilty, I know that I have to disappear for short periods right now. I’m not officially going on hiatus (I’ve tried that before and failed miserably), but I won’t beat myself up if it’s been a whole week since I posted anything new on the blog, or if my tweets are limited to a quip by White Fang every 24 hours. We’ll all have to deal.

No one is bugging me or complaining that I’m not around, and for that, I thank everyone. This writer’s life isn’t always sparkles and fun-shine. It requires serious strapping yourself down to work and quit fooling around on social media or with rearranging your closet more than some of us want to admit.

Anyway, please do continue to visit my archives, and browse my tweets and Goodreads reviews. And I swear I shall soon have bigger news about the results of all my current endeavors.

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children's fiction, Parenting, reading

Mini-Reviews: The Picture Books Edition!

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So, last week while I was attending the Thirty Million Words discussion session, it occurred to me that picture books are not something we see a lot of in book blogging. Other age groups and genres are covered up the yingyang, but for whatever reason, picture books aren’t. And since these are the first things most of our children will read, I think reviewing more of these titles and forming a list of recommendations would be helpful (especially for all the parent bloggers out there — she says while wrangling a 3-year-old who can’t accept that eating the last Fig Newton in the bag means they are all gone).

Muffin is enrolled in a program called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, and that’s just what it says on the tin: Muffin’s currently up around 600. I worked out that if we read at least 3 new books a week for the next year, we should make it. So I read to him every night. We’ve come across some real gems, and some not so much.

Here’s a smattering of what we’ve accomplished so far this year:

My Little Fox   (5 stars)

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This book gets 10/10 for gorgeous illustrations, a sweet, simple, flowing story, and an absolutely beautiful message about a parent’s love. (It even gets a resounding endorsement from Muffin: “I like that one.”)

I’ve Loved You Since Forever   (4 stars)

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20/10 for the breathtaking artwork in this one. It’s a moving tribute to a long-waited-for child. The lyrical prose may be a tad difficult for younger children to follow (it’s entirely metaphorical).

Mother Earth and Her Children   (3.5 stars)

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This is subtitled “A Quilted Fairytale” and it surely is. The artwork is portrayed in quilting style, and while I couldn’t tell if real fabric was used for the paintings or photography, the look holds true, and is quite impressive. The prose follows the change of seasons (though I wouldn’t call it a fairytale).

At The Same Moment Around The World   (4 stars)

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Okay, this is just plain cool. It goes all around the globe, spotlighting an incredible array of countries and cultures and time zones. TOP of the list for introducing kids to diversity in an appropriate and engaging way.

A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant and Yak and Dove   (3 stars)

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These I’d actually call graphic novels for youngest readers. The storytelling style is similar to comics, even if the art method is nowhere near. There are 3 short tales, all pertaining to the main characters, in each of these titles.

Footprints in the Snow and Big Bad Bubble   (2 stars)

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Just because a picture book is a picture book does not mean they’re appropriate for children or quality literature. We tend to think of everything aimed at small humans as fun and cute and wholesome. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Footprints in the Snow gets a low rating from me due to its nonsensical plot. (Even 6-year-olds appreciate something that makes sense). And Big Bad Bubble gets a thumbs-down for its rather dubious method of encouraging kids to dispell their fears. (I’m not sure I can even explain that one. You may just have to read it for yourself.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day   (1.5 stars)

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Sorry to end on such a disappointment, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles this time round. This book gets a few points for taking a scenario of having a mom and kid at home while the dad is still at work, and the kid misses her dad and doesn’t really like the fact her mom is working from home, so the kid has to find a way to amuse herself. However, the language used by the child narrator to describe her feelings would NEVER be the thoughts of an actual elementary student. The narrator appears about age 8-10, and the vocabulary and thought structure the writer uses are WAY beyond the cognitive ability of a 9 or 10-year-old, especially regarding emotional processing.

From there, it only gets worse. The kid wanders off, alone, in the woods — isn’t that just dangerous? Where the hell was the mother for that part? And the kid drops her handheld gaming device into a pond… And therefore has to find a non-evil-electronics way of staying occupied. This one-sided-moral-lesson-as-plot-device move made my blood boil. Oh, yeah, a young kid can stroll off into the deep, dark woods, in the rain, all by herself — buy GOD FORBID she play video games! And while, yes, there are other things to do in life, and being outside is valuable, too, the way the author presented that view was simply deplorable. It was particularly shocking to see that 1960s perspective in a book that was published in 2017!

And there we have it for this time! See you on the flipside, moths!

 

Children's Health, family, Parenting

Thirty Million Words

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So, a few months ago, I was asked to participate in a library discussion group concentrating on the non-fiction title, “Thirty Million Words,” which is a combination research-report/hopes for the future book covering a long-term study conducted by Dana Suskind, MD, who was an audiologist and a surgeon of cochlear implants (those devices that are inserted directly into deaf ears to produce hearing). Anyway, what all of that long-winded introductory sentence means is this — The librarian knows that I have special needs kids (including speech difficulties), and thought that I’d be interested in the topic of how language builds the brains of children.

And, yes, I was, and am. Since I finished my degree in Early Childhood Education, I’ve been very aware of and into this sort of research. Granted, now that I’m out of the preschool classroom, I don’t keep up on these studies as much as I would like to. Reading this book was a very good way to get back into it.

“Thirty Million Words” is about so much more than how language development affects a child’s future academic and social performance. It’s about critically examining the gap between economic classes when it comes to educational achievement, the vast differences between the self-esteem and personal success of children who were “talked to” enough (as opposed to those who apparently weren’t), what that actually means, how ideally every child would obtain it, and what this research means for our society as a whole.

It’s fascinating. Terrifying. Amazing. Inspiring. Intimidating. I’ve never read a non-fiction book on this topic with this amount of weight before. Most of my textbooks for ECE were either the history of education (with very little about how to potentially grow and advance it for the 21st century), or psychological studies about child development, which is all well and good, but goes only so far when you’re trying to get into the mind and the heart. Suskind didn’t simply repeat what we’ve been hearing on the news for 30 years — that children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will most likely struggle more in academics — she looked at possible ways to change that.

 

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The early chapters are heavy on the “technical” stuff — jargon, other studies in this field, Suskind’s own background in audiology and how some of her patients’ results influenced her to learn more about language and the growing brain. In the middle of the book, she begins to really discuss the problems our current culture is facing as a result of being deficient in a particular type of linguistics — families engaging in routine conversation just for the sake of bonding. And this is where the immediate consequences of this decline in America truly starts to hit home.

As I read, I realized that she was saying something quite contradictory to what the modern era has been striving towards: Technology is not going to help our society evolve, it’s going to make it crash and burn. What she found was that more and more parents are tuned in more to their screens, especially handheld devices, in their children’s presence, and are relying on “educational TV” or “learning apps” to teach their kids things we’ve been teaching via human interaction for millienia.

In the 20th century, we used technological advances to enhance our communication; the telephone could relay important information that before would’ve taken days or even weeks to reach someone via letter. Television was to become informed and entertained; we watched the news, and learned things about our world that we’d never imagined; classic books from all genres were made into movies, accessible to tons of people of all ages for the first time, sharing archetypal stories that had already been passed down over generations.

Nowadays, we are using our technology to hide from other humans. Evidently, even our own children.

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(This is the children’s area at my local library, by the way.)

Suskind discovered that children who were raised in homes where screen time (for both adults and youth) was limited, and physical interaction encouraged — beyond “eat your dinner,” “brush your teeth,” “good night” — regardless of whether their family earned 100,000 dollars a year or 15,000, made significant advancements in academics, personal success, and were likely to consider themselves capable, confident individuals.

Yes, it goes that far. It just isn’t talking to — not at — our kids. It’s what we say and how we say it.

Before I had Muffin, I made a habit of trying to read and watch faith-based self-help. Not the cheesy type that makes us all groan and roll our eyes, because the pastors in question are wearing expensive clothes and have gigantic smiles with perfect teeth, and their idea of “suffering” is their dog refusing to hold still for grooming. No, I greatly preferred the practical, will-actually-make-an-impact, Biblical-principled. Joyce Meyer and Max Lucado are still my favorites. And they have both been quoted as saying: Words have power.

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Meyer and Lucado got it absolutely right: No matter what “the world” may tell us (“shrug it off,” “don’t take it to heart,” “they don’t really mean it”) — words can hurt. Or words can build us up, increase our joy, our determination, our feelings of worth and purpose. It’s been in the Bible for thousands of years. How many passages are dedicated to showing us how God feels about His creation by verbal explanation?: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, wise, comfort, Father. I am the Life, Living Water. Come to me, lay down your burdens. The 23rd Pslam is one of the most well-known Bible passages in the world because of its incredibly beautiful and affirming word imagery.

Now science is reinforcing that.

And even as an autist, I can attest to the value of face-to-face human interaction.

I love reading to my kids. Well, these days it’s just Muffin. White Fang gave up being read to pretty much as soon as he was able to silently read himself. And I do strive to have meaningful conversations with my boys — beyond instructions and a blase` “how was your day?” Yes, even Muffin and I can have meaningful conversations. (Anyone who dares to claim there is no such thing with a preschooler, I’ll meet you out back with my nunchucks.)

My goal in all of this is not simply to make sure they’re doing well in school. It’s not even because I love them and want to know they’re happy. Well, yes, of course that, duh. But my ultimate endeavor in carrying on continual discourse with my children is to help them become more. To ensure that they develop a strong sense of self-worth, that they know I — the authority figure, the unreachable “old person” who might “not understand” — do value what’s important to them.

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By doing so, I am helping to make these fledging little humans into whole people.

This really is how we’ll evolve as a society. As individuals, as a culture.

Everybody who works with kids needs to read this book. Not just teachers, but social workers, school administration, bus drivers, janitors, recess monitors. Pediatric nurses and speech therapists and day care staff. Not just parents — grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult cousins, babysitters. Librarians, library volunteers. The folks who give kids swim and art and music lessons, run sports teams and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Just, everybody.

So we can start to make the future our children deserve.

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