"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.
I read this for my book club -- wasn't particularly interested in it going in, so not surprised it only earned three stars from me.
It's a one-day-long love story type of thing, all happening on the day before the female lead is set to be deported. Putting aside the fact that whirlwind, "instant" love stories don't do much for me, this book required a HUGE suspension of disbelief when it came to how much happened in this one day. Like, I don't know about you, but I get 24 hours in my days. These guys seemed to get like 85. The main characters were well-drawn and their relationship is something I maybe could have gotten behind if it had been more of a slow burn. And yeah, I get that teenagers feel epic love for someone they potentially just met, but I'm not a teenager anymore so I don't have to get behind it.
I did like the insight into the experiences of Korean and Jamaican immigrants. All the perspective hopping into minor characters' heads felt a little too artsy-fartsy for my tastes, like this book really wanted to be an indie film.
Well written and a good pick if you like this sort of thing, but it just wasn't for me.
This happened to comply with my Year of Expanded Reading goal to read books by non-white and/or non-American authors. Nicola Yoon is a Jamaican-American author married to a Korean American, which shows how she could portray both perspectives with so much nuance and insight.
Like many of you, I am self-isolating. As a freelancer and stay-at-home mom, my work life has not shifted dramatically, and the major adjustment I’ve had to make is not being able to take my son to storytimes, playgroups, and other kid-friendly activities to stimulate him (read: tire him out) and give me the opportunity to get out of the house and see, sometimes even talk to, other adults.
My husband’s job is also secure, as he supplies a product for an essential industry (agriculture) and is able to work from home. So all three of us are holed up together on this, day 17. (For me, the break between when social distancing started and when normal life ended was not as cut-and-dry as for others. I never got sent home from work. Instead, I mark it from the week literally every activity I took my son to got cancelled.)
I have read — and agree — that writing during this time is important, although similar to when I am not in isolation, finding time and space to do so proves to be difficult. All the same challenges of trying to parent a toddler and find space for writing that existed in my “normal” life are just as overwhelming in isolation. Perhaps moreso, since my son sleeps fewer hours now, often leaving me to catch up on my sleep during his naps and robbing me of the one chance I used to take for jotting a few words down during the day. I have heard from other writers who feel guilty about having all the time in the world to write, but not feeling motivated to do so.
I like to believe that if circumstances were different, I would be productive during this time. But that might not be true. I know that in times of stress or transition in the past, I have had trouble working on writing projects and instead have tended to just journal a lot until I had cleared enough brain space to return to fiction.
I have tried not to dwell too much on all the things I COULD be accomplishing right now if the pandemic had hit at a different point in my life — namely, before I had kids. I have tried not to spend too much time imagining how my life right now would be “easier” if my son were older and more self-sufficient. The truth is, we all face our own unique challenges during this time. Those who live alone with the most freedom in their isolation also face the most crippling loneliness. Those with older children are often trying to juggle working from home with homeschooling, an untenable situation as both are full-time jobs. And then there are those who have young kids like mine at home, kids who are not self-sufficient, who are ALSO trying to work from home, which is a situation I can’t even imagine trying to attempt. I know from experience that even if you are working from home, you NEED childcare. The only reason I am able to write this at all is because my husband and I have agreed to take turns with my son in the mornings before he starts work, and today he’s on childcare duty. (Even with that, it’s taken me three days to complete this post.)The kinetic sand my son received for Christmas from an aunt is proving useful now.
If this had struck while I was single, my anxiety would have been astronomical. Now, I have the calming influence of my husband’s presence as well as a million day-to-day concerns (what are we going to eat? how will I keep my son occupied today? how can I get caught up on the laundry? what should I prioritize workwise the next time the babysitter comes?) that keep any “bigger picture” anxiety at bay (is this the end of the world?!?). The “ideal time” seems to be after my marriage but before I became a mom, so I would have companionship but also more discretionary time. But if that were the case, I would have been working full-time and all this discretionary time I keep imagining probably would not have been in as much abundance as I think. So, there’s no changing any of it; I am where I am, luckier than most, and trying to practice daily gratitude in the midst of such uncertainty.
I have heard other readers talk about which books come to mind for them during this time. Many of us have not lived through the Great Depression, major world wars, or other events that have dramatically and abruptly changed our day-to-day lives. So we think about the way we have experienced these things vicariously through the books we’ve read. The two books that keep coming to mind for me are the Life as We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. In both instances, the change occurs for very different reasons. In the former, an asteroid hits the moon, disrupting weather and other climatic patterns; I don’t think I need to tell you the disruption Anne’s family experienced. But both are written as detailed journals from isolation, with the young protagonists and their families trying their best to establish a sense of normalcy and optimism in isolating, dire circumstances.
I feel a kinship with these girls right now; and they also remind me both how lucky we still are and how bad things can get. Be grateful, but also be smart and be prepared. But never at the expense of kindness.
If you haven’t read these books, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether they would be cathartic or just a little “too real” during these times. No judgment if you’re opting for escapist literature instead! (I’m personally just working through my Year of Expanded Reading as I would have in the absence of a pandemic.)
I want to reiterate that whatever you are doing to cope during this time of uncertainty, even if it is not “productive” is FINE. Binge-reading, binge-watching, binge-podcasting, sleeping till noon, video-chatting for hours, baking too many cookies. These are unusual times and perhaps what our brains need most is a break. If you are in a position to give it that, don’t feel guilty.
But if you ARE looking for ways to engage that are not as passive as reading or watching, here are some of the things I can suggest (also known as, the list of things I fantasize about doing with my time.)
Let me know what other enrichment opportunities you may have discovered during social distancing. I know this list barely scratches the surface.
I’ve been using my writing time lately to meet some grant and contest deadlines, so I got behind on posting this interview I did for New Moon Girls with Sofiya Pasternack, author of Anya and the Dragon.
One thing I love about doing these interviews is that they always contain great nuggets of writing wisdom. My favorite bit of Sofiya’s interview came when one of New Moon Girls’ members asked her how she kept herself motivated to write. Her response was not what I expected, which I loved.
“Motivation is kind of a dirty word in our house. Motivation won’t really get you places because you can run out of motivation. So around here, the word is ‘discipline.’ … I mean, I’m not motivated to get out of bed in the morning, especially when it’s cold and snowing outside and my bedroom is cold and I don’t want to get up because I’m warm and comfy … but my discipline kicks in, and it says, ‘Get up,’ and it takes the blankets off and it pushes me out of bed. Discipline requires practice, and you really hold yourself accountable.”
Here’s hoping you are finding the motivation and/or discipline you need to keep writing in these strange times.
Melissa wrote Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Teens and Tweens. She is also a columnist for The Writer magazine.
I read Melissa’s book in November, and its focus on diversity was a great “prologue” to get me in the mood for my Year of Expanded Reading.
I had SO much fun flagging all the books I want to read from Melissa’s booklist, and taking out a red colored pencil to make notes in the margins of my copy.
If you’re interested in other author interviews I’ve done for the Luna’s Reading Corner podcast, you can find them here. All of them contain great kernels of writing wisdom.
About a year and a half ago, I listened to an episode of Writing Excuses called “Reading Outside the Box” in which Mary Robinette Kowal gave the following “homework” to listeners (paraphrased):
Look at your bookshelf. Determine the type of author you tend to read. Then spend a whole year reading books that don’t fit that type.
So, for example, if you’re mostly reading male authors, for a year you read female authors. If you’re mostly reading white authors, for a year you read authors of color, etc.
I didn’t have to look at my bookshelves to know that I read a lot of white women. A fair amount of white men, too. And mostly Americans.
I immediately wanted to dive into this “homework”/challenge, but I didn’t feel like I was at a place where I could commit a whole year. My son had just turned one, and I was still grappling with this whole “motherhood” thing. My reading (and thoughts) that year were still scattered. I had enough to keep track of in my life. But I knew I would return to this challenge eventually, “maybe when he’s three,” I wrote in my journal.
He is two and a half now, and I’m going to embark on this project for 2020. I’m calling it “My Year of Expanded Reading.”
During my Year of Expanded Reading, I plan to primarily read non-White and/or non-American writers. We moved last January, so when I unpacked my books, I separated out all the books I had that fit the criteria for this challenge and put them on a separate bookshelf. That will be my “go-to” bookshelf after the new year when it’s time to choose a book.
The reason for doing this for a whole year is to really challenge your assumptions about how storytelling is meant to unfold. To expand your horizons. This as an important practice for anyone so that we can stretch our understanding and compassion, but for writers it’s even more crucial not to get stuck within the same old assumptions (and then unwittingly perpetuate them.)
I am both nervous and excited about this project. I hope to blog more about it here as it unfolds.
The Marshall Area Fine Arts Council (MAFAC) recently opened/rebranded Books on Third, a gift shop that sells awesome artwork, jewelry, and BOOKS by local and regional authors. I was honored to be one of the authors invited to attend the grand opening. I went through the store’s stock of my book, Rumpled, at the event and got to leave a new stack for the store’s inventory. As a stay-at-home mom who fits all my writing into nooks and crannies (mostly journaling and book reviews since those forms cope most easily with the interruptions of a toddler waking from his nap), it’s always so reaffirming to spend some time immersed in my “writing self.” Thank you, MAFAC, for granting me the opportunity to be seen as a writer first for a couple hours last week!
As my husband drove me to work the Monday after his father died, I said, “I wish we had a Speaker for the Dead for your dad.”
He said, “I was thinking the exact same thing.”
In Orson Scott Card’s novel of the same name, the second in the Ender’s saga, a Speaker for the Dead is a person whose job is to carefully, compassionately, and objectively examine the life of someone who has passed away, reconstructing an honest picture of the deceased that is shared at the funeral. The Speaker is a professional and an outsider, not someone who knew the deceased in life. The idea is that the Speaker may be able to find beauty and meaning in ways that those closest to the dead may not be able to and to find compassion even for those who may not have led exemplary lives. [As a side note, Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead would have his work cut out for him attempting to make sense of OSC’s early fiction’s messages of inclusivity and his later vitriol against the GLBT community, which is explored thoughtfully by the fine gentlemen of Overdue if you’re interested in hearing more.]
It’s been over 10 years since I read Speaker, so I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but what I do remember is that in the book Ender had to wrestle to find compassion and meaning in the life of a man that, to most of the world, looked like an abusive no-account.
As we reflected on my father-in-law’s life, collecting stories for the minister and for the obituary, I longed for someone who could make sense of a complicated life that had ended, and the complicated ripples that remained in the lives of his children, his siblings, and the others who were close to him.
Following an unspoken rule that we do not speak ill of the dead, his children shared stories and happy memories of their father’s hard work, compassion, generous nature, sense of humor, and resourcefulness. Choosing “The Good Samaritan” as the Gospel reading for the funeral, they talked about how he could never turn away anyone who needed help, often allowing people who were down on their luck to live in his home when they might have ended up on the street otherwise. After one glowing story from his daughter, his ex-wife commented, “I don’t remember your father that way, but I’m glad that you do.”
And therein lies the truth, that a single man can be so many different things to different people, and so many different things even to one person. Every beautiful story and memory told about him was true. But what was also true was the unspoken or the tactfully avoided, the vices that were no small part of the man’s life, that in fact loomed large enough to cost him his long marriage to a good woman and the mother of his children.
How nice if someone else could come in and make sense of it all.
But while our shared literary reference provided us some comfort and a shorthand language in which to communicate about my father-in-law’s life and death in the midst of a hellish, heartbreaking week, we knew that no Speaker was available to take this burden from his family’s shoulders.
At a meeting with our pastor, my husband talked openly about some of his father’s shortcomings. The pastor said diplomatically, “I won’t mention any of that.”
The beauty of a Speaker for the Dead, though, is that he WOULD have mentioned that, the good and the bad, and somehow made it all okay, all beautiful, all a piece of one rich and complex and completed life.
After the eulogy, the pastor invited those gathered to share stories about my husband’s father. Not surprisingly, a case of Midwestern shyness kept a room full of boisterous, story-rich family and friends silent.
The pastor pressed on. “One word to describe him,” he suggested.
“Hardworking,” my husband said.
“Generous,” said someone else.
“Determined,” said another.
A smattering of complimentary adjectives and agreements followed, until his sister blurted out, “Ornery!” Amidst the knowing laughter, his daughter muttered, “Stubborn.”
The pastor said, “Ah, now the truth comes out!”
Of course, the truth was in the hearts of those gathered all along. And while no one person alone could find a way to articulate the sometimes muddled tapestry that had been the man’s life the way that a Speaker for the Dead might have done, a room full of those who loved and knew him best turned out to be pretty adequate Speakers after all.
So, I stopped posting reviews here after #70 last year. I did manage to read 100 books in 2017, but getting them reviewed, let alone posting the reviews in two places, proved to be too much for me. I knew that "something would have to give" when I became a mom in July, but it's still hard to actually make those choices and decide what to let go.
I am not letting go of this blog, but I will no longer cross-post all my Goodreads reviews here. You can still read them on my Goodreads page, of course.
Although I am writing less about books these days, I am still pursuing various book-ish projects. They include --
I am also working on a "book adjacent" project, which is listening to all 150 albums on NPR's women's music canon. The reason I consider this to be a book-adjacent project is because a) I am getting most of these albums from my local library and b) I am listening to a lot more music these days because my son is more content on drives with music than audiobooks. I am sad to have fewer audiobooks in this season of my life, but I am excited to start exploring music again, and to, you know, have a baby.
The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood by Belle Boggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
More than just a memoir on infertility, this is a collection of essays through which the author uses her own infertility journey to examine the ethical, political, biological, and even literary issues surrounding difficulty conceiving.
I appreciated this approach, even though I found the author's personal story to be the most compelling; I often wanted to find out more than she disclosed. For example, she mentioned low progesterone and that "multiple issues" contributed to her infertility, but she never went into further specifics than that. Perhaps a lay reader would not be interested in all the gory details, but as someone who tried for almost two years before conceiving my son, I am familiar with the jargon and the various potential issues and was hungry (voyeuristically, perhaps) to know specifics.
My favorite essay by far was "Imaginary Children," which examines both the way we imagine yet-to-be-born children of our own and the way that literature has grappled with the subject of infertility, particularly the play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," which made a lasting impact on me long before I was even thinking of having children or how I would cope if I was unable to do so.
"Paying for It" made me re-examine my views on whether insurance should cover infertility treatment. Although previously on the fence about it ("It would be nice, but are children really a 'right'?"), she convinced me that because it is a medical issue, insurance should pay to treat it just as they would any other health complication.
Boggs' writing is thoughtful and thought-provoking, her prose effortless, the details she chooses to include and her reflections on them meaningful and vivid. My primary complaint is that many of the essays felt as though they ended too abruptly -- in almost every case I was left wanting more.
View all my reviews
In this book, the central conflict arises from two ponies wanting the same pumpkin from a pumpkin patch. Rather than fight over it, they go all Minnesota nice and are like, "No, no, YOU take it, I insist!!" Only in MLP would the tension derive from both parties being too generous! Don't worry -- it all works out in the end.
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.
When I was a kid, my mom used to cry every time she read this book to us. I remember being squished into the Lay-Z-Boy recliner with her and my younger sister, enjoying the rhythm of the story and the coziness, but feeling awkward about the tears. When I was a teenager, I attended a retreat in which one of the leaders read this book as part of her presentation. I bawled. I knew then that I would be hopeless if I ever had to read this book aloud.
I got a copy of the book as a gift from my mom when I was pregnant. I told her I already knew I would be "hopeless" if I attempted to read it aloud and I joked that I wouldn't read it to my son until I had "practiced" reading it myself out loud for two weeks and was sure I could get through it without crying. But I have been "systematically" reading him the many children's books I received as gifts, and this one came up next on the shelf just days after I had proclaimed that I wouldn't read it aloud without sufficient preparation. So, I forged ahead.
I thought I was feeling strong the day I chose to begin reading it, but, nope. I was crying on the very first page. (It should be noted at this point that my son was only a little over a month old, so he was too young to feel awkward about mommy crying during story time. Maybe by the time he's old enough to notice I will have pulled it together.)
I did notice something upon my adult reading of the book that I'd never noticed before, and that is that the son has a rainbow mug next to his kitchen sink. I wonder if he is gay. We never see his baby's mother, and he is an older father (there is gray in his hair), which would be in line with the arduous years many gay men have to put in before they are able to adopt, probably even worse in the 1980s when this was published.
This interpretation lends a new poignancy to the story about unconditional love, at a time when many queer youth are still afraid to come out to their parents.
This led me to search online to see whether others had similar theories about the son's backstory, and I didn't find much. Instead, I saw how divisive this book apparently is, with half its readers adoring it as a story of unconditional love, the other half decrying it as "creepy" and comparing the mother to a "stalker."
I fall into the first camp. I was like, "Come on, the extreme lengths she goes to are a METAPHOR for the extreme love all parents feel for their children. Children's books are all about exaggeration -- they aren't meant to be taken LITERALLY."
Except I am just the kind of person who will pick apart children's media for imparting unrealistic or "creepy" messages ... which made me realize that there is absolutely NO way I can be objective about this book. Too much nostalgia, and too much love is wound up in my own memories of it, and my interpretation.
So this isn't so much a review as an explanation of my lack of objectivity -- and also an intention to impart that very same lack of objectivity to my own child(ren) by reading this to them when they, too, are too young to see it as anything but a book about love and cementing that interpretation evermore.
THERE ARE SO MANY FLAPS IN THIS BOOK!!
I probably should have saved opening them all until my son was old enough to open them for the first time on his own, but come on, that would be MONTHS from now. Plus, now it will be much easier for his little hands to open the flaps since I have already "broken them in." ;)
I like that this farm family seems to be mixed race. It's weird that characters are introduced by name without ever clarifying their role in the family, though. (Sister? Cousin? Stepson?)