Summer Reading: The Good, The Bad, and The Meh

Summer is my favorite reading season.

First, I’m a teacher, which means that I have two months of unemployment(10 month employee=2 months unemployed, summers off are a myth). Instead of letting this get me down, I use my summers to recharge, relax, and read. I don’t want to brag, but there is something luxurious about spending an afternoon reading or forgetting what day of the week it is.

Secondly,  I live in the South, and summer is too hot and humid for tons of outdoor activities(except the beach and pools and the lake and camping). This means that staying inside and reading is the best option. Believe me, I finished several books in one sitting. It was delightful.

Today, I wanted share what I have been reading this summer. I promise NO SPOILERS! Just short little reviews of what I pulled off my bookshelf or bought.

The Good:

Rabbit Cake by Annie Harnett: If the cover doesn’t make you buy this book, the quirky narrator and authentic first person voice should. The novel touches on some tough topics like grief, the death of a parent/spouse, and moving on past tragedy. The narrator must learn how to deal with a sleepwalking sister  and a father who wears his deceased wife’s robe and lipstick. Funny and warm and well-written.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: In this novel, Saunders pushes the novel form into a cross between a play and stream of consciousness. The best way to describe this book would be if Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury had a baby. It would be this novel. A word of advice, this book needs to be read in print.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: Every summer, I read Faulkner. This was the most challenging novel that I read. Imagine the first 95 pages as a stream of conscious foray into the mind of a mentally challenged adult. With each new section, a new narrator begins sharing his or her experiences, and the novel ends with a broadening from 1st person POV to 3rd person POV.

 

The Bad:

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer: I received this book as part of a book swap. This book combines things I usually love: coffee, YA, and hints at Jane Austen. This was the worst book that I have read this summer. First, there is no conflict. Everything goes according to plan for the main character, and when there are minor obstacles, like a mean girl in her high school, the tension never increases. Secondly, the characters are cliche. I liked the narrator, but every character was typecast and played the part too well. Plus, this writer uses so many adjectives.

 

The Meh:

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly: I loved the premise of the book. Eclipse chasers being hunted down by someone they tried to help. I found this recommendation from The Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide 2017 .  Usually, I love Anne’s thoughtful suggestions, but this book fell flat for me. Three quarters of the way through the book, I just skimmed because the plot began feeling contrived, and the ending was too gimmicky for my taste.

What have been some of your good, bad, and meh summer reads? Tell me in the comments.

A Reader in Search of a Book Club

I’m certain that I have been a reader my whole life.

So much so, that I also became an English teacher who will enter her 10th year of teaching this fall. I’m still not sure how I have survived in the classroom THAT long, but I have. Here’s a good year 10.

2017 is my year to savor things, and over halfway through the year, I’m not doing well savoring the good things going on around me. I should look forward to my evenings when I can read, but instead I find myself wasting time and not fully living out my One Word for 2017.

But this post is about books and reading and life.  

Sometimes, life happens. I don’t always read like I want to read during the school year. I mean, my reading life goes something like this:

4:30pm: Come home and take the dogs outside for a run(they run, I don’t)

5:00pm: Think about dinner and throw open the cabinets and find something to cook(chances are it will pasta, tacos, or chicken and rice)

5:30-6:30pm-ish: Cook dinner and eat

7:00pm to 8:00pm: Brain off time or sometimes prepping for the next day school by reading what I assigned.

8:00-9:00pm: Brain off time which is usually me zoned out watching reruns of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown(makes an excellent bed time story cause I fall asleep to one of the episodes on Netflix every night) or Big Bang Theory.

9: 30pm: Bed time

Not exactly the reading life I want.

But this summer, I have had some time to think about how I use my time in the evening. Do I really need to watch reruns? No, I can quote almost all of the Big Bang Theory episodes.  What I need is to read. Actually read books that I want.

And this is why I need to find a book club.

I don’t do well if I am left to my own devices. As I typed out my school year evening schedule, I realize I have a lot of time that I waste on TV.  I need people to kick my ass into gear when it comes to reading books.

So, I’m starting my search for a book club.

I will (hopefully) put up a weekly post about the books that I have read or currently reading. Maybe, we can create a book club feel right here on this blog. Join with me as we discuss books and everything in between.

What would you want from a new book club member? Tell me in the comments.

A No Reading List Summer

Every summer since I had mine own library card, I have had a summer reading list.

Until now.  IMG_1011

Summer 2014 began, and I meant to cull together the books I wanted to read. To have some order, some purpose to what I pulled off of my bookshelves. But it’s July, and no reading list ever happened. For a moment, I panicked a bit–what if my lack of a formal reading list means that I don’t read as much? what if I get sucked into those terrible summer reality shows? what if, what if….

But most of the time, all of those what if’s really don’t come true. Unless by summer reality shows, you lump in anything on HGTV and I’m hopelessly going to watch. But I always read during the commercial break.

But not having a formal summer reading list taught me a few things about me and writing and this blogging life:

  1. Just because other bloggers have their lists doesn’t mean you need yours. Fine, I’m also hopelessly addicted to any reading list on the web–academic books, beach reads, literary fiction, sci-fi–you put a book in a list, I will peruse the list. I don’t have to follow the crowd. Most of what I like to read isn’t very beach friendly (I read a Faulkner novel for fun. Nothing about that screams beach read). Plus, summer is when I escape the well-ordered world of the classroom for a bit.
  2. Getting that GoodReads Currently Reading List under control. I admit to reading several books at one time. If you don’t believe me, there is quite an impressive Jenga-like tower next to my bed threatening to kill me in my sleep.  Right now, my currently reading list is somewhere around 7 with more being potentially added. I started all of these books with good intentions of reading them all, but oh look, another shiny new book or Kindle deal and another book on the list. Slowly, I have been finishing those books that I started and trying hard not to add too many more before I am done.
  3. Remembering why I love binge reading. This summer, I have been trying to make it a habit to read before bed rather than watch a rerun of The Big Bang Theory or the late news. Of course, TV shows have a definite end, but books have these magic chapters and you just have to read one more. Of course, it soon becomes 1am, and you finish said book knowing the next morning will require extra coffee. But there is nothing better than soft, cool sheets and a good book especially in the summer. It is the best magic in the world.

So, do you have a summer reading list? If so, share what’s on it in the comments.

10 Books a Week: Novels

On Monday, I shared my 10 books that changed my faith.

On Tuesday, I shared with you the poets who have specifically influenced my poetry.

Today, I am sharing my current favorite novels…

Be reminded that this list changes sometimes weekly, daily, or yearly.

What you may see this year could shift again….

8 out of 10 novels…I can’t remember which “safe” place I put the other 2

Without further eloquence—

10 of my favorite novels

  1. Pride and Prejudice: If you think that this book is only at the top of my list for Mr. Darcy, you are quite mistaken. Darcy is a bumbling ass, and he needs Elizabeth Bennet to temper his pride. A strong woman and strong man make this my favorite novel.
  2. Frankenstein(not pictured): I adore Mary Shelley’s work, and this book discusses the idea of God, creation, and humanity better than any other novel. It begs the question–who is truly the monster?
  3. Jane Eyre(not pictured): I put off reading Jane Eyre far too long. But thanks the urgings of my lovely, non-jerky college friend, I read it and loved it (of course, I’m still waiting for her to read #6 at my urging).
  4. Fahrenheit 451: I read this book in one day, and when Bradbury passed this year, I felt like an old friend died.  Of course, we never met. The scene discussing who is which book haunts me.
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness: I read this SciFi novel in May/June. It raises interesting questions about power and sexuality. What if we didn’t possess a specific gender until we needed to mate? How would that change our views of gender politics?
  6. The Hobbit/ Lord of the Rings: Growing up, my mother told me to read these books. I balked. Mother was right(again and again).
  7. Madame Bovary: While I am not always so insistent on whose translation to read, you MUST read the Lydia Davis translation. Unlike other translations, hers captures Flaubert’s sentence structure, nuances of language.
  8. Tess of the D’Ubervilles: I love how this book evokes so many emotions and doesn’t require a happy ending to do so. Of course, I’m not sure any of Hardy’s books really have a happy ending.
  9. The Phantom of the Opera:Not the musical, the novel captures my imagination and heart. The nuances, the characters, the beastly goodness of the Phantom, beautiful in every way.
  10. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: My senior year of undergrad, I was supposed to read Cancer Ward for a research project. But laziness and the shortness of this book overcame my lofty ambitions. It is gritty and hard, but what do you expect from a Russian novelist who spent time in the Gulag?

Honorable mentions: Dracula, A Tale of Two Cities, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Villette, Persuasion, Harry Potter Years 1-7, Gilead.

Be sure to check Sarah Bessey’s choices(from whom, this wonderful book listing venture hath come).

What novels would make you favorite novels list? Don’t worry, I won’t hold to your list if you won’t hold me to mine.

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10 Books a Week: Poetry

Yesterday, I gave y’all my 10 Books a Week that influenced my faith. Today, I’m deviating from Sarah Bessey’s Parenting books(sorry, most books written specifically about step-parenting should be ignored–the most wretched parenting advice ever) or her lovely Canadian books to read(I suppose I could do a series on books by Virginians or North Carolinians, but not today).

Today is for poetry that has influenced me–the poet writer, the beauty seeker, the truth teller.

 Ten Poets who Influence my Poetry:

  1. Geoffry Chaucer: Perhaps, this poet/writer is a bit of a shock. What NO Shakespeare? As a poet, I find Chaucer’s banter funnier and more engaging than The Bard…but what do you expect from a Medievalist?
  2. Irish Ballads and Folk Songs: In high school, my closest friends and I were in a huge Irish phase. Now, my family did come from Ireland before the Civil War which somehow cemented my need to connect to my Irish heritage. The myths are bare and lovely. The songs sad, a bit tongue in cheek at times. But then again, so am I.
  3. William Butler Yeats: Oh look, another Irish poet. I adore Yeats’ complexity, his cyclic poetic nature, his Crazy Jane poems(somewhere, I have a lovely 20 something page grad seminar paper on these poems…never to see the light of day again). I see his quirky way of seeing nature, characters, and god, and this is poetry that I want to write.
  4. Sylvia Plath: Her poetry isn’t full of fancy words, but neither is mine. I love her choice of simple, plain words to convey the image, the feeling, the moment. Her poem Mirror still haunts me.
  5. English Romantic Poets: William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge: In order to understand Yeat, I needed to read Blake. His Innocence and Experience poems probe many of the questions about faith and God that I find in myself. And in my poetry. Coleridge is merely sentimental albatross. I love his poetry, but he doesn’t play a large part in what I write.
  6. English Victorian Poets: Gerard Manly Hopkins and Christina Rossetti: Despite the overly flowery nature of Hopkins poetry(try reading The Windhover without getting your tongue tangled), I love his representations of God, God’s nature in nature…Pied Beauty represents some of the most lovely of Hopkins’s works. Then, Christina Rossetti, her poetry has some of the best representations of faith. Of course, who doesn’t adore Goblin Market?
  7. Emily Dickinson: She was the first American poet that I read and adored. Her abstractness appealed to me in way that other Americans from the 19th century just didn’t.
  8. William Carlos Williams: Simple images, plain language, image is the key. Like many, I got hung up one red wagons, ice box plums, but then I looked and read closer. The image pulses with life that Williams didn’t need so many words…just the image.
  9. T.S. Eliot: Oh look, Eliot returns again to my lists. I’m drawn to his poetry during the latter part of this life. His Ariel poems, his Four Quartets, his Hollow Men. I don’t see him so much in my poetry, but I feel his influence every time I read him. Odd as it may seem, his poetry is my go to for solace and comfort.
  10. H.D.: Another Imagist, her poetry moves and breathes and makes my head swim with its loveliest. She is the most influential when it comes to my poetry. I adore her.

Honorable mentions: William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Bishop, Dante, Ted Hughes, e.e. cummings, John Donne, Basho

 

What poets do you enjoy reading? Share in the comments.

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10 Books-a-Week: Faith

This week, my blogging friend Sarah Bessey will be sharing her bookshelves with us. And I love the idea of lists, of books, of books and lists together.

 

Yesterday, she gave her books of faith books that have moved her forward in her spiritual journey. Today, I shall share mine.

  1.  The Bible: I suppose it should be a given since it is MY primary faith text, but for years, I satisfied myself with what others said about this book. I no longer let scholars or those who can give me lengthy dissertations in Greek origins form my entire opinion. I read and search for myself, and this has changed my thinking.
  2. C.S. Lewis Til We Have Faces: The myth of Psyche and the strangling love of her sister Orual. I adore Lewis’s retelling, his emphasis on the growth of love from selfish love to a purer love.
  3. L.E. Maxwell Embraced by the CrossThe entire book focuses on the cross and its relationship to Christ, to us, to others.  Written by a Canadian(extra points from Sarah Bessery who is Canadian herself), he delves with grace into Scripture. Beautiful writing, enough said.
  4. Christine de Pizan The Treasure of the City of Ladies: I first read this book in a graduate seminar Feminist Rhetoric and Pedagogy(no, not all feminist courses deviate from faith or even the Christian faith. In fact, feminism brought me back to Jesus). Pizan wrote several conduct manuals for women, men, knights. And served on the king of France’s court. And supported her family without a husband. And did ALL of this in Medieval France. She is considered to be the world’s first professional woman writer. In this book, she guides women in how to behave. She emphasizes that women should love their husbands, their maid servants and the poor. This is the treasure of ladies. Of course, her instructions for harlots should not be missed either.
  5. C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce: After reading Love Wins, I read this book. Lewis discusses the idea of hell and purgatory that challenges how I perceive what these two places could be. I’m not sure that I would fully embrace this whole construction, but it made me think more closely about my faith in the afterlife.
  6. Rachel Held Evans Evolving in Monkey Town: When I read this book, I felt like she had written about my life except I grew up in Lynchburg, VA not Dayton, TN (another center for the religious right). She expresses beautifully the struggles of growing up fully engulfed in faith and asking questions about our faith. I can’t wait for her next book coming out in October.
  7. Anne Jackson Permission to Speak Freely: I love the whole premise of this book…what would you say in church if you could speak freely? I haven’t figured what I would say out yet, but the book is beautifully written and worth reading.
  8. Lauren Winner Girl Meets God: The first spiritual memoir that I ever read. I love Winner’s writing style, her faith. It felt like a breath of fresh air for one choking on the bitter tonic of conservative evangelicalism.
  9. T.S. Eliot Complete Poems and Plays: Of course, a poet must have a book of poetry. I love reading Eliot because I can see how his faith strengthens throughout his poetry. I adore Ash Wednesday.
  10. Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies (not pictured because I don’t own a copy. If anyone is feeling generous, I would love one): After reading Bird by Bird, I picked up Traveling Mercies. She approaches faith and Jesus from a completely opposite point of view and writes about her journey so candidly. I also have several more of her books on faith too…just waiting for the time to read them.

What books have changed your faith? Share in the comments!

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Women Writing Well

 

 

Today’s post is my first vlog attempt. Please be kind!

I mentioned several books that you may want to add to your collection. So, here are the necessary links to Amazon so you can purchase copies for yourself.

Sandra Bost’s book Massanutten Mansion

Rachel Held Evans’s book Evolving in Monkeytown

Anne Jackson’s book Permission to Speak Freely

1 Word+ 1 Word…

books in a stack (a stack of books)photo © 2007 Evan Bench | more info (via: Wylio)

I LOVE STORIES!

And I don’t mean what little old ladies call soap operas on afternoon television…

I mean books, short stories, novels…the feel of the paper in my hand, the hardcover…or just the leather cover and plastic casing of my Nook.

So….

Today is simply a reading day. I want to know what you are reading for the New Year…what books have graced your shelves as Christmas presents, books you have always wanted to read…

Question: What are YOU Reading?

For the Days I Don’t Want to Write

The write thing Project 365(2) Day 12photo © 2010 Keith Williamson | more info (via: Wylio)

I don’t want to write. I have nothing to say. My sentences are short and choppy. The words are stuck together forcefully. Each small click of the keys echoes in the emptiness. Swift fingers choose each letter with precision and muddy up the blank screen. Words fill the empty space—hollow words, shallow words, soul-less words. Do you hear the echoing whispers of the keys chanting:

I don’t want to write. I don’t WANT to write! I. Don’t. Want. To. Write!

But here I am writing.

I wish I could let you inside my thought processes as I sit down to write for this blog. Maybe, you would understand if you could see the ideologies warring against each other. Or even better, read the half written pages and pages of stories, posts, essays that I have yet to put into words. The things I don’t know how to write, how to choose the right words, and I guess I keep hoping if I wait long enough the perfect set of words will magically appear.

Magic is not in the writing process. Writing should peel away the layers of the writer’s psyche and reveal an authentic soul. She shouldn’t be hiding behind flowery rhetorical devices or keeping silent as not to offend anyone. There are days when I would rather not write anything than be authentic or transparent or honest. Because I really like the online mask that I can easily hide behind; I like painting on a smiling happy-face blog post even though its a lie; but most of all, I like easy writing. I had a professor in college warn us about writing that comes easily that writing is a heart-breaking, painful process in which our deepest parts are exposed. Certainly not easy.

Writing requires the willful removal of excessive words, distractions—editing down to the most important of words. Perhaps, I see more of a correlation between writing or more like editing and life. I do not want to say anything I have is unnecessary or could be deleted. For the past couple of days, I have been thinking about what needs to be edited from my life, what things are weighing my spirit down. Maybe, I want to write, but editing is the real issue. I need to focus on editing out the non-essentials—both in my writing and in life.

Update #AmazonFail

Amazon Kindle 2 Wireless eBook Readerphoto © 2009 goXunuReviews | more info (via: Wylio)

I am not a business person. My poor sense of the business world began when I dutifully sold wrapping paper for fundraisers, continued with a short-lived knife selling business, and ends with me going in a completely different career direction. Of course, the Girl Scout cookie sale will hopefully reinvent my business savvy—well-known product and super cute brown hair, blue eye girl asking people to buy cookies. Again, not likely, anyone will buy cookies because of my business skills. So, beware ANY business advice from me.

Having disclosed my lack of business savvy, I am updating y’all on my post #AmazonFail. Since the uproar last week over Amazon’s selling an e-book guide to pedophilia, I joined with other bloggers(read their blog posts here and here) demanding that Amazon remove this book from its e-book shelves. This was done. The official statement from Amazon lacked any real apology for this book—more legal pandering than substance, no plan for preventing another such e-book. Without a plan for preventing this mishap, it will happen again. I am hopeful that other online book retailers are also taking note of Amazon’s debacle and searching out any other e-books lurking in the shadows with a similar tenor. But rarely as a society do we learn from our mistakes. Am I surprised? No, Amazon is protecting its profits, its products, and its people. Like a child with its hand in the cookie jar, Amazon’s statement smacks of the “sorry I got caught” rather than a genuine apology.

As a boycott looms over Amazon during the Christmas season, I see the potential for independent booksellers to reap more of the holiday retail spending. While Amazon may promise cheaper books, independent booksellers have smaller inventories that I can easily browse, see their wares, and shop with relative confidence about their ethical platitudes. I can’t browse Amazon’s huge online store in its entirety, but a small bookstore browsing equals an enjoyable afternoon excursion. Perhaps, local booksellers can benefit from Amazon’s fiasco. While my shopping of Amazon was limited to graduate school readings, I do not foresee myself supporting this retailer in the future.

Question: What would it take for you to boycott Amazon or shop at Amazon again in the future? Are there any benefits from #AmazonFail?