Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sharing is Caring

I love when people recommend books to me. I will read pretty much anyone's first recommendation because I think reading is a worthwhile pursuit, but also because I like knowing what people enjoyed. You can lose that privilege if you recommend a bunch of crappy things to me, but at least in the beginning: Bring on the recommendations!

However, recommending books for others I find very intimidating. It's not because I am ashamed or embarrassed by what I read, but it's because I don't want to give someone a story that won't speak to them. Or that they hate. Or that I really love (mostly for fear that they will hate it or dismiss my love of it). Intimidation aside, I love the exchange of ideas and understanding that happens when we discuss and share stories. So I try to overcome my irrational dread and recommend books based on what I know of the other person.

An acquaintance at work recently asked me for a few recommendations, which led to a great discussion about books, belief systems, and then a flurry of loaning. We each brought in three books for the other to borrow, and I am very excited to read her recommendations.

I lent her Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane, and John Steinbeck's Cannery Row.

She lent me Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body, and Ian McEwan's Atonement. I'll come back and let you guys know what I thought (and if she lets me know, what she thought).

Do you enjoy lending books, taking recommendations, and/or giving recommendations? Why or why not?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sherman Alexie and My Love Affair with the Library

I love libraries. One summer, I think I was five, my aunt took her kids and my siblings and me to our local library and signed us all up for library cards. Every week that summer either my aunt or my mother would drive the five cousins to the library. It was heaven on earth. That tradition continued for many years.

When my daughter was small we attended story time at our local library--much bigger than my first local library. We went to the library almost every week. Sometimes more than that. We moved two years ago; my daughter started school; I started working again. And going to the awesome library in our new neighborhood became a more rare occasion. A few weeks ago on our way home, she asked if we could go to the library. So we did, and we're trying to make it a habit again.

Last week, I went to the library on my own, which was a nice treat. I wandered around the fiction section without feeling rushed. I picked up probably nine novels before I decided that nine novels is probably too many for the time I have. Three is a much easier number to manage. I grabbed a Judy Blume novel (turns out I had already read it, but I enjoyed the re-read) The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, which I'm currently reading, and Flight by Sherman Alexie.

Here's one of the things I love about the library: I love Sherman Alexie. I know that I love Sherman Alexie, but I sometimes forget that I want to read Sherman Alexie. Now this has less to do with Sherman Alexie and more to do with my own fleeting and flighty memory. So the library is great because I wander down an aisle, see an Alexie novel, and am reminded that I wanted to read more of his work. The library provides.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

List of 10...

There is a Facebook status that was making the rounds in my group of friends a while ago, and it's one I wish would come back. It's simple. You list 10 books that have stayed with you for whatever reason. You do it over-thinking. Then you ask, cajole, and/or order your friends to do it as well. I like it for numerous reasons: 1) I like it anytime we talk books; 2) it interests me because it isn't planned. These are supposed to be snap judgments; 3) writing my list reminded me of many wonderful people who have given me the right book at the right time; and 4) this list could change drastically due to the quick forum that is Facebook--I feel like every time I would think of ten different books. On Facebook, you simply list them, but I wanted to explain why I chose the books I did because they all made me approach reading and the world in a different and new way.

So here is my quick list turned not-so-quick with explanations:
1. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
My sister gave me Cannery Row to read when I was probably a little too young to understand its nuance. But I loved it. It filled me with feelings I had had before but had never articulated. When I was older and read it again, I realized it had helped me learn how to articulate them. After I read Cannery Row, I found The Winter of Our Discontent. I asked to borrow it, and my sister, who always knows best, told me I probably was too little. I read it anyway, or rather I read to within a page and a half of the ending and couldn't go any further. It broke me. It was too sad, too despondent. Years later I read it and loved it, but I needed those years before I could understand the beauty and hope and love that carry you to the end of that story.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What I Like in a Story

I've read so many books recently that were interesting concepts or great writing but the stories have been terrible. I have come to the realization that the books I love are the books that tell good or amusing or heartfelt stories. I'm in a book club, and our last pick was Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist. Colson Whitehead is a good writer. But man is this story boring. The whole time I read it, I thought why didn't he write an article about race? The story concerns him not at all, so why bother with it? If you aren't going to tell a good story, why tell one at all?

I understand that "good" is a relative word, but when I can't ever forget that the author, I feel like maybe the author hasn't succeeded. Which brings me to myself. As well as reading a great deal, I write. I had a great idea for a book, or so I thought. Until I realized I've been writing a great concept and looking at an issue of storytelling which fascinates me, but I'm not telling a good story. I'm focusing on the wrong things. As Stephen King would say, I need to shut the door to the world. Write my story and then invite the world back in.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


It's a divisive topic for readers--marginalia. Should you or shouldn't you? Do you like reading a book with someone else's marginalia, or does it drive you bonkers? I enjoy hearing people's stances on marginalia. It's also a good thing to know if I'm going to lend someone a book. Mostly because I love marginalia and almost all of my books are full of it. This can lead to hilarity when, for example, I give books to my students due to the fact that my marginalia is not always pg-13.

The last book I read I had borrowed from my friend, and it was great reading what she had written in the margins. It was like a discussion with her. I like re-reading with my own marginalia because I like seeing how my opinions have changed or stayed the same. In fact, I have arguments between my older and younger self in the margins of beloved stories.

What about you? Do you love or hate marginalia? 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Curtain Creek Farm

            My friend handed me a book about two weeks ago. She didn’t say anything except, “I think you’ll like the writing.” She was right. I did. I love my friends—both the book ones and the real live human ones. And I really love it when these friendships overlap. The book my real-life human friend handed me was Curtain Creek Farm by Nance van Winckel. Since my friend didn’t give me much information about the book, I didn’t have any expectations or real ideas about what I would be reading. I don’t often have this experience, but I enjoy it when it happens. It’s sometimes nice to go into a situation with no prior knowledge.

            Curtain Creek Farm is a collection of eight stories, each told by a different woman. These women live or visit Curtain Creek Farm a commune started in the sixties by a group of anarchists whose only rule is “no violence.” The narrators range in age and cover many different themes, but many of the stories focus on ideas of love, place, grief, and acceptance. Throughout the stories, the reader can see the commune grow and change. However, the focus remains on the characters. Mostly we learn about the commune by seeing how the setting affects the characters' development and interaction. 

            I enjoyed these stories immensely. They contain humor, grief, happiness, toil, loss, change, so many different things, but no apathy. These are women working to make life meaningful. They don’t always succeed—sometimes they can’t seem to find a way forward. Nevertheless, they keep trying. They learn from past mistakes. See the beauty around them. Help others. I don’t know. These stories felt rejuvenating in a way. After reading them I feel like I’ve been in the woods camping or relaxing in a bath. Participating in something soothing. These stories are not always happy. In fact, they contain their fair share of pain, but they have a contentedness about them. If you’re looking for a good and enjoyable read, I highly recommend Curtain Creek Farm.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Giovanni's Room

I'm mad at the world right now. I'm angry at all of my professors, friends, bookstore salespeople, really anyone who knows how much I love to read or has listened to what I like to read and never suggested I read James Baldwin. I mean, I get it. I know I will never be able to read everything, and professors have to pick and choose carefully, and my friends might not have read Baldwin, and I need to be my own hero. But really?! I love the early- to mid- 19th century artistic movements the best, and I only recently discovered Baldwin for myself? Not cool, World, not cool.

Okay, now that that is out of my system, let's look at Giovanni's Room. It was published in 1956 and follows the story of a young man's desperate and sad love life in Paris. Why is his love life desperate and sad you ask? Because he is gay, engaged to a woman, living with a man, and quite self-loathing. Not only is this novel tackling taboos of homosexuality, Giovanni's Room is beautiful. The language is lyrical. Baldwin creates believable characters. The plot is easy to follow, but not boring. All-in-all this novel represents great fiction.

Giovanni's Room thematically investigates loss, sexuality, culture, and the individual's response to outside stimuli. I want to explain how it took me through such a range of emotions, but I think the best way to say it is that this novel will make you feel. It will be different for each reader, but I don't think you could read this novel and not feel something--anger, hope, fear, love, joy, sadness, something. Baldwin makes you feel the absolute hopelessness and pure beauty that exist simultaneously in the world and in the act of falling in love. I really can't recommend this novel enough.

It might have taken me a long time to find my way to James Baldwin, but now that I have, I'm planning on making my way through his work. One down, eighteen to go. I can't wait!