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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.

 

Book 63/100: Starlight Sailor by James Mayhew

Starlight Sailor (Fun First Steps) - James Mayhew, Jackie Morris

A beautiful book about the power of imagination. I love that there is a unicorn on almost every page, and the racial diversity in the children pictured.

Book 62/100: Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins - Emma Donoghue

So I guess I knew who Emma Donoghue was before she was "cool" (i.e., pre-ROOM), since this book has been on my shelf FOREVER ... but I didn't actually read it till after I'd read her more recent stuff. I'm generally 10-20 years behind on my TBR, though, so this is not at all unusual.

Having read her later stuff first, I can see that her writing voice is not quite as strong or refined in this collection, but the prose is still beautiful most of the time, with the exception of a few moments when it becomes vague or a little garbled. But as fairy tale retellings go, these are decent, not often changing the structure of the originals much, but casting their meaning in new light. In particular, I liked that the stories subverted the original trope common in fairy tales of women working against one another in competition, and instead presented heroines who were liberated by or in cooperation with the traditional "villains" in the story.

All of the retellings in this collection are connected, so the protagonist in one story is telling her tale to the protagonist of the previous tale. This forms a backwards running chain that I thought would somehow come full circle, but it didn't. In some cases, the revelation of who a minor character in one story was in her past made perfect sense -- in others, it felt like a stretch, and too bizarre to be meaningful (there are several instances of people being reincarnated as animals). Overall, this particular narrative device felt somewhat gimmicky, and I feel doubtful about whether Donoghue would have applied it later in her career as a more mature writer.

Book 67/100: B is for Bear by Roger Priddy

B is for Bear - Roger Priddy

This is a really sweet book about the love and feeling of completeness a special someone can bring to your life, whether a child, lover, or friend. I love that cats were generously represented in the illustrations, too! Only awarding four stars, though, due to my general discomfort with the idea that anyone is ever "incomplete" without someone else, no matter how adorably that idea is executed.

Books 59, 60, 61/100: More Baby Books!

Indestructibles: Welcome, BabyIndestructibles: Welcome, Baby by Stephan Lomp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fairly straightforward "welcome to the world, baby," book that says things like, "We're so glad you're here, we can't wait to introduce you to all our friends," etc. The illustrations are adorable and yeah, I totally cried while reading it aloud to my son.

 Indestructibles: Baby Night-NightIndestructibles: Baby Night-Night by Kate Merritt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another goodnight book, but what makes this one fun and unique is the collage art and the "labels" on everything that you can point out to Baby.

 Mama Loves You So (New Books for Newborns)Mama Loves You So by Terry Pierce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A really lovely book comparing a mother's love to beauty in the natural world, with illustrations to match each analogy.

View all my reviews

Book 58/100: How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes by Denise Topolnicki

How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes: The Complete Guide to Managing Your Money Better So You Can Spend More Time with Your Kids - Denise Topolnicki

This book probably had some good advice, but it was so dang boring that I couldn't really absorb much of it. I am frugal and I care about saving money, but Topolnicki's book goes a bit too much into the weeds of stuff that is a little too "economic" for me, like various types of retirement plans, college savings funds, etc. I just want to know how to pay my bills every month!

This book is fairly old, and because Topolnicki's advice is SO specific, it dated itself far more quickly than more general advice would. She gives SPECIFIC amounts that you can expect to pay for things like insurance, mortgages, etc., which doesn't do much good to a reader 20 years later, not to mention that price tags can vary widely from one part of the country to another. Also, it's super annoying that she assumes the stay-at-home parent is going to be the mom, even though she's upfront from the beginning about this assumption. And the fact that she just expects the husband to shoulder so much of the economic burden also rubbed me the wrong way -- there are several places where she suggests hubby get a second job so Mom can stay home, essentially depriving him of any sort of family life whatsoever. Following all the advice in this book might help your family financially, but it could be hell on your relationship.

Book 57/100: Goodnight, Goodnight, Sleepyhead by Ruth Krauss

Goodnight Goodnight Sleepyhead - Ruth Krauss, Jane Dyer

This is a fairly typical "goodnight" board book in which a child says goodnight to everything (goodnight toes, goodnight stuffed animals, etc.) before finally going to bed. Really cute illustrations.

DNF: The Author Training Manual by Nina Amir

The Author Training Manual: Develop Marketable Ideas, Craft Books That Sell, Become the Author Publishers Want, and Self-Publish Effectively - Nina Amir, James Scott Bell

After a two-year hiatus from this book, I have finally accepted what I knew long ago -- I am not going back. And having it sit half-finished has held me back from pursuing other writing exercise books for far too long. It is time to move on.

I was initially excited about this book that tackles the more "business-y" side of writing and being an author, and I read and did the exercises diligently for the first several chapters. But the questions end up being incredibly repetitive and the exercises uninspiring, until my dread of returning to it led to the long break while I coped with the fact that this "finisher" was not going to finish this book.

I guess I'll have to find some other way to train as an author.

Book 56/100: Pete the Cat - the Wheels on the Bus by James Dean

— feeling cat
Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus - James Dean

This is my first Pete the Cat book, and I know it's not representative since it's an adaptation of the Wheels on the Bus song rather than an original story. Still, it's tons of fun! The Wheels on the Bus is one of my favorite songs from childhood, and the rhythm it provides makes this a really fun readaloud (even if my month-old baby did start crying halfway through -- I'll force this book on him again when he's older.) Also, you can't really go wrong with these droll illustrations, which serve as a fun counterpoint to the actions you can do with your child at different points in the song. The illustrations seem to tell a subversive story all their own that is completely disregarded in the text -- like, why is there a lone dog riding this bus full of cats? Is he a dog on the outside but a cat on the inside? I look forward to exploring more Pete the Cat!

Book 55/100: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

I rarely give books five stars, but this one just gave me so many feels.

I already knew that Patrick Ness is an excellent writer, at least when it comes to his YA work. But this book was staggeringly beautiful, dealing with tragedy in a way that is real and raw and not full of the melodrama or romanticization that so often goes along with YA or middle-grade depictions of grief. Not only that, but Ness takes a look at the darker, messier sides of grieving that are universal and yet rarely acknowledged, something that is particularly important for kids to encounter: the scary things we think or feel when we are on the edge of losing someone we love are OK, normal, and understandable.

This book also strikes the perfect balance between fantasy and realism, allowing the reader to decide how much of it is "real" and how much Conor's own invention/coping mechanism. Aside from Conor's grandmother, the characters are not particularly fleshed out -- however, this type of characterization works in a story that can be read mostly as an allegory. And really, any book that makes me cry this much is definitely doing something right.

Book 54/100: I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes - Rose A. Lewis, Jane Dyer

A beautiful, child-friendly book about Chinese adoption written in the second-person from a mother to her daughter. Illustrations are adorable. Couldn't manage to read this one aloud without choking up a bit!

Book 53/100: Modern Romance by Anziz Ansari

Modern Romance - Aziz Ansari, Eric Klinenberg

First off, I want to tell everyone who is interested in these comedian/celebrity memoirs that they're really wasting their time if they don't listen to the audiobook versions. Hearing Ansari's inflections, the voices he did for the various "characters" (interview subjects, etc.), and the asides to the listener not present in the printed version all lead to me not wanting to experience this book any other way, missing charts be damned.

The subject of "modern romance" (how the experience of dating, coupling up, etc., has changed over time, especially with the advent of online dating) is already an interesting one, but truth be told I had already encountered most of the information compiled in this book through earlier reading. This is basically a "literature review" with some original research thrown in, and if you haven't already read a lot of the source material or other pieces that reference the source material, this book serves as a really good overview of the subject. If you are familiar with all that stuff, Ansari's "take" on it is refreshing, insightful, and funny, which makes the experience feel new even if the information isn't.

Also, I have a ton of respect for Ansari for not just writing another celebrity memoir but instead actually delving into subject matter that interests him and offering something besides stories about his childhood that is still infused with enough of his personality to give people who read it for the celebrity recognition their "fix." And yeah, he might sort of be my celebrity crush.

(BTW, if you listen to this while being coupled up, I highly recommend sharing it with your partner. The humorous approach makes it feel far less like "work" than self-help books about relationships, but the subject matter can still open up all sorts of really worthwhile discussions.)

Book 52/100: The Blue Jay's Dance - A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich

The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year - Louise Erdrich

The postpartum period after giving birth to my first son seems like the perfect time to reread Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions" -- unfortunately, I gave my copy to my best friend when she was pregnant, having no idea that my own pregnancy was so close at hand. I thought Erdrich's book might serve as a good stand in, which it did to a certain extent.

Unlike "Operating Instructions," this is not really a journal or a traditional memoir but rather a series of loosely connected essays written in the year after the birth of Erdrich's third baby. As a new mother, this format makes total sense to me -- when you are writing in snatches grabbed while Baby naps or you pawn him off on someone else for half an hour, you learn to write "small" or not write at all. While this is undoubtedly part of Erdrich's personal style, I found myself bored by how often she wrote about nature and wanted her to write more about parenting a baby, since that is what drew me to this book. And when she does write about new motherhood, her writing is beautiful, aching, and insightful, whether she is delving into postpartum depression or the travails of sleep deprivation. I always was left wanting more in these sections, as well as in the sections where she wrote about the challenges of maintaining any sort of writing practice at all with a new baby in your orbit. In these moments, I had that wonderful feeling of being fully understood, of having someone give voice to questions, feelings and experiences that I was in the midst of grappling with and not yet able to articulate.

Unfortunately, this comprised only about a third of the book. In addition to the musings on nature, stories about her cats (which I didn't mind in the least), and brief glimpses into the rest of her family life (also interesting), she includes quite a few recipes. I skimmed these because most were far too involved for me to consider making them, but I understood their inclusion because food takes on a whole new level of meaning when you are pregnant and breastfeeding, especially when it is prepared by someone you love.

Book 51/100: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Iza Trapani

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star - Iza Trapani, Jane Taylor

A riff on the popular "Twinkle Twinkle" nursery song that sends a little girl reeling after her star friend through space. Some of the illustrations are a little awkward, like the somewhat lumpy-looking horse in its stable, but others are gorgeous -- the two-page spread of the little girl swinging off the rings of Saturn make the whole book.

Book 50/100: The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

The Pout-Pout Fish book and CD storytime set - Deborah Diesen

This book has a nice rhythm and rhyming scheme that made it fun to read aloud, although its underlying message may be that you can self-medicate clinical depression with promiscuity.

Book 49/100: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne  Collins

Usually I am not a huge fan of the "child falls into another world" sub-genre of fantasy, but this one was better than most.

It took quite a while to get going -- about 25 percent of the book is spent just on worldbuilding and introducing characters and the concept of "The Underland." I got a little lost in this part, admittedly, since I was listening to it in the first days after coming home from the hospital and giving birth, so I was sleep-deprived and had trouble keeping track of characters. But it all eventually straightened itself out enough for me to enjoy the world-building, which, while not intricate, was at least unique. I liked how Collins took real-world elements and morphed them into a sort of strange, half-dream, half-nightmare type society where cockroaches and bats are big enough to ride and rats are at war with humans. Some of the characters were more developed than others, but the character of the rat Ripred is probably what bumped this from a three to a four-star book to me. That, and the fact that it was not afraid to get dark in places, that the "rescue of the father" storyline reminded me pleasantly of "A Wrinkle in Time," and its ultimate message.

It doesn't hold a candle to "The Hunger Games" trilogy, but it's a solid middle-grade offering, especially within a sub-genre that is generally not my favorite. Probably won't read the rest in the series, but wouldn't hesitate to recommend for this age group.

Book 48/100: Goodnight, South Dakota by Adam Gamble

Good Night South Dakota - Adam Gamble, Mark Jasper, Ruth  Palmer

I am of course biased, but I found this to be a fun read (although when I read it aloud to my son, my husband said it sounded like I was reading him a tourist brochure. ;)). There is no plot (a common shortcoming in board books, I am finding!) but it's fun to see the various landmarks of your state in illustrated form. The illustrations are not gorgeous, but they do the various sites justice for the most part.