BookRiot: A Business Book

Ah, so tomorrow is my eighth wedding anniversary.  Before I married my husband, my longest relationship was three and a half years long, and it rather astounds me that we have had nine years together now as a couple and I’m still okay with that.  No overflowing resentments or desperate scramblings to separate myself from this person, no  discontent that I can’t put my finger on until it all crashes.  I mean, no one can guarantee that any relationship will last forever, I didn’t see the crash coming that I just mentioned, but I’m hoping that since I’m significantly older now that I possibly have learned something from that.  Maybe. I could really be jinxing myself here.  Anyway.  Happy 8 years to us.

So this is the last post before Scary Reads starts so I’ll really be drying it out here with talking about business books. I understand why nonfiction tends to be more popular than fiction, where people may see fiction as more of a waste of time than books that help us more overtly think about how to be better at what we do and how we do it.  And I guess weight loss books are pretty popular too but I can honestly say I’ve never picked one up.   When I’m feeling a little too meaty I make more dates with the treadmill and cut down on alcohol.   Usually works.

These could be a challenge because while they were both good, I didn’t want to think about work during the down time I was reading them.  And they were good for me, and it was good for me to think about how I want to form my reluctant leadership of my clinic.

A Business Book

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Creativity, Inc:  Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull

Pixar movies’ founder and leader, Ed, writes about how Pixar got started and navigating the business and creative challenges in the team to come out with the awesome movies that are Pixar films.  He talks about merging with Disney and the attitudes needed by leaders and staff to have the best possible creative outcome.

Both of the books I read for this post emphasize wanting to be actionable.  I have read plenty of  books about business or how to do things that are mostly fluff, repetitive chapters, and inspirational talk instead of actionable ways to think about how to be a leader.  This book and the one I review after this try to make their advice more actionable and grounded and they succeed at it.

Ed talks about how attitudes, especially fear of failure and mistakes, have crippled his company in the past from being able to reach levels of genius and creativity.  He encourages people to make mistakes and learn instead of trying make ourselves mistakes proof.  I agree with this.  You learn a lot of the rules when learning to help others but sometimes you don’t really embrace those rules until you mess up with them, don’t do them right.  Then you learn sometimes from what happens after that more than you do about being aware of rules and being able to spew them out.

The other major take away for me from the  book is people having psychological safety at work to be creative and not worry about people thinking they are silly or stupid and not taking feedback on the idea personally.  Feeling free to sit down with people and get down to brass tacks without worrying about being personally judged or what people will think of your ideas opens doorways to new levels of creativity and being.  As a leader I am working on psychological safety in a big way with my team so people don’t feel like islands in a hallway full of therapists and healers.  It’s helpful to me to think about how this can be created.  And this was a read down.  I had had it in my audiobook list FOREVER and I could finally knock this one out.

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Dare to Lead, Brene Brown

Dr. Brown talks about her research on vulnerability and communication in the workplace to unlock one’s greatest potential as a leader.  She encourages leaders to stay curious, ask the right questions, and focus on getting it right rather than being right.  It’s about having empathy and nurturing the person rather than focusing on outcomes at the expense of the person. She gives examples about how her ideas can be put into place and stories about how things go when vulnerability and communication aren’t done the right way.  If you’ve listened to her TED talks, this book felt similar.

I mean, everyone loves Brene, and I don’t think I could truly read business books without finally cracking into her work.  She’s down to earth and human, tries to make things actionable, relatable, entertaining and engaging.  It made me think about, along with Creativity Inc, how to make a psychologically safe space for my staff to really be able to function at their best and have models of how to be a leader but how also to be human and allow others to be human.  It also overlapped in that it talked about nurturing the whole person as a leader and work/life balance, rather than being outcomes driven.  These books went hand in hand in many ways, one being focused on the trial and error at Pixar and Disney to see what made the best outcomes, more like an n of 1 study, and the other focused on research actually done with leaders.  And I chose one because I had it on my list forever and the second because I knew I needed to sample Brene Brown’s work, see what the cutting edge research is in being a leader, seeing as I am one at this point. Whether it was what I set out to do or not.  And I was pleased that the things I value as a leader are supported by research as the right things to value.

So it will be time to post on the fall reads.  I have ONE category left, and that is the poetry books.  I wonder how long it will take me to do those, as I am sneaking in some 2018 books I really shouldn’t have missed out on too and I like them better.  But the most dreaded good for me slogs have been slogged and it’s still not October.

Next year’s reading plans are also taking shape!

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Magical School, Part II

I held off writing this post until after I actually handed my child off to the school bus driver this week and saw everyone’s back to school pics on Facebook. All the inevitable crazy that I had somehow forgotten is back.

It crashed down so fast.  As soon as my second week off in August was over I realized that it was back to craziness and you know how time just ignites when one gets the busy-ness of adjusting to another new routine.  My kid is off the football field and back on the soccer field and he’s bringing home an agenda this year with homework copied into it off the board?  What?  I was chewing my nails about his kindergarten adjustment ten minutes ago, I swear.

I think part of the reason the summer flew was because I have been busy with new responsibilities at work, and the new stress made me more likely to read more diverting, wish fulfillment reads.  The Psychologist in me sees a correlation between work stress and diverting books, so here I am with plenty of magic and supernatural books posts rolling into fall.

There is one little piece of my diversion reads that needs to be mentioned as well, and that is the introduction of Audible Originals. There were months when it started when nothing good was available for grabs until they started putting in some Molly Harper, and then my BFF told me that if Molly Harper is being served, my snooty reader butt should come to the table.

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Changeling, Molly Harper

A girl, Sarah, living in a world divided by classes based on having magical powers or not finds herself unexpectedly magical.  This leads to her being hoisted into the magical upper crust, with more privilege but also more danger, power, and intrigue. Visibility for a girl who enjoyed life behind the scenes more than she thought she did when she was there.  Complicated by the fact that she becomes a pawn of her mistress and forced to live a lie while also being revealed as having special power than oh, only one magical person every 150 years or so finds they have. Lots of stakes and she uncovers a nefarious plot against her that she must overcome.  As well as navigating the usual complex upper crust social structure.

I’m not sure why I had to read this many magic schools books to realize that the characters in these are coming of age, their lives completely changing while at the same time the assumptions of the world they are living in are also changing and crashing down around them.  Sarah (renamed Cassandra) discovers changes in the magical world, starts of a revolution that are being hushed up while she is joining with those sorts of loyal friends you find as a teen (if you’re lucky) to save herself. This was engrossing and diverting, just what I needed. There was some rags to riches wish fulfillment in there, but I’m getting too old to really wish for more riches than I have, because in books, they always come with a cost.  And for me, any way to get more money in my life right now would come at a cost to my relationships, so, no. Cost in my real life too. I was good enough to finish up some other reading first when it came out as an Original and I have managed to resist bumping Fledgling up the list thus far.  But good move to Audible on adding Molly Harper books to their Originals selection every month. 

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Etiquette and Espionage, Gail Carriger

Sophronia, the youngest girl of nine in a well to do family, is recruited into what she initially believes is a finishing school for young ladies…which it is, but finishing means finishing a high stakes mission, not only finishing a young lady to be married off into society.  The point of her education, delivered in an airship floating above the sea, is to give her the skills to be an agent that moves around undetected in high class circles under the guise of someone’s lovely, aristocratic wife. Not only is she becoming a lady and a killing machine, she is also assuring that a coveted prototype doesn’t get into the wrong hands.  She makes lifelong friends of all strata as she goes on missions and learns a better curtsy.

Also, how could this not be a fun coming of age book?  I didn’t anticipate it to be steampunk with a touch of supernatural, either.  I thought it would hold to the classic idea of 1800s finishing school, not have interesting conveyances and werewolf and vampire characters.  It added some fun without diverting from the idea of a creative finishing school. I liked that there was a place for Sophronia in a world that, if it truly held to history, would reject her tomboyish ways.  I have had to resist keeping going in the series in order to be able to accomplish my reading goals.

This has also made me think about the number of older stories I have read:  ME Braddon, Wilkie Collins, Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, Hardy, Radcliffe, etc, that were written in a time when women’s lives were boring and circumscribed.  They were mostly powerless pawns. These revisionist books remind me of the realities of women back then, where one that likes to climb trees and make friends with servants would have to ignore those parts of her if she was going to survive in her world.  It makes me sad for the women whose crazy restrictive clothing really didn’t restrict their lives of social calls and needlework. I mean, even in the old school classic stories, often the women would have to move out of their role somewhat in order to spice up the plot, but those women who were a little more spicy and interesting were certainly less marriageable.  Or if they were marriageable it was usually to men who just wanted to extinguish the light inside them. Ugh. These YA fun, magical, steampunk books make me grateful for my life in this day and age. I don’t think I would have moved well within the confines of an earlier time. A real one, not one floating around in an airship or with magical powers that come with serious responsibility.

Next week is probably some BookRiot before we launch totally into the fall/scary reads.  It will only be mid-September, after all.  Even though it’s already kind of cold and pumpkin spice is taking over.  And why do I need a light for my laptop now when I get up in the morning to write if I’m not working out?

The year is wrapping up, my friends.

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Magical School, Part I

Ah, Labor Day weekend.   I’d like the pumpkin spice to stay off my beach!   I was aware of the pumpkin switchover on Aug 19 and I wasn’t happy about it.

School always starts in public school in New York after Labor Day, so I might be at the beach this weekend but I’ll still be loading my kid on the bus on Wednesday.  Not holding a pumpkin coffee because I’m not ready.

In honor of returning to school this week in my neck of the woods, I’m posting on books set in school.  And not just any school:  Magical school.

I think I would still love the idea of magic schools even if I hadn’t read through Harry Potter twice already.  I love school, and magic lends itself well to academia. There are old practitioners, theories, kids coming into their powers and discovering who they are.  There is something cozy about lectures as it gets cold, hours of study time as the darkness closes in early, and then the freedom at the end of an academic year as the warm weather and light start. And the genuine satisfaction from learning.  Yeah, nerd, but I’m still cool.

Other than being in school with superpowers, these books both had good character arcs.

It should surprise no one that I read the following books when I needed a diversion this summer from the difficult topics from my challenge reading.   

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Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

A PI with a twin sister who inherited magical powers that she did not is hired to investigate a murder at the very school for magical children where her sister teaches.  The sisters share the trauma of their mother’s death but they are distant from one another when connection would have helped them both through the trauma. The PI struggles with connection to anyone on any kind of ongoing basis and coming to solve the murder offers the sisters a second chance.

As suggested in my synopsis, this book was more about sisters than it was about magic.  Magic created the rift between them and the insecurity the PI feels at walking among the magical without being magical herself.  You can just feel her growth as a character from isolated and insecure into someone more connected and just more alive, leaving some of her own darkness behind in the process.  This was one of those books with astute observations of human nature and events, darkness and isolation that can grow in our souls. The twist is appreciable. Even though it was heavy in some of its themes, it was diverting, a lovely debut novel.  

I accidentally pre-ordered this but decided it was predestined and didn’t cancel the order. And I want to keep up on newer books that interest me, as I still haven’t read Washington Black, Children of Blood and Bone, There There, and The Power from last year when I was frantically noveling.  And then when it came in, I diverged from Ayiti to absorb this instead to take a break from the intensity. I regret nothing.

 

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School for Psychics, K.C.Archer

A young adult who is lost in her personal life is recruited to attend a school for psychics, where she learns her origins (she is adopted) and uncovers a plot between two rivaling groups of psychics.

This is less school-y than Magic for Liars.  It is about attending school, but it is more of an adult novel than it is YA.  It’s sexual themes as well as the ages of the characters, some of them already having had professional jobs.  It felt YA at times because it had to do with schools of characters discovering their abilities, but it wandered away from the school part and into the practical uses of these talents.  It was like, yea, there’s school, but also students are called in to work on crimes and real world things before they have graduated. They are thrown into the concerns and machinations of the government and the adult world rather than merely tensions and a plot that is entirely based on school.

Also, the main character is working on deep seated trust issues, and I felt that the author does this well.  There is a high stakes plot, but like in Magic for Liars, it is about connection and deciding to work as a team rather than being an independent operator as part of the protagonist’s change.  The only part of the character creation that was not consistent was the fact that she had supportive parents and always had. Usually her level of distrust and inability to work as a team in the beginning comes from a more difficult childhood than she appears to have had.  Both when she was with her biological parents and after, it appears that she was pretty well supported emotionally. That she wouldn’t develop trust issues because she was pretty safe. She was adopted, and this can create trust issues, but it doesn’t always when done right. However, this book is clearly a setup for a series, so maybe we will learn more of the protagonist’s darkness as it goes.

This one came into my life as an audible deal of the day.  These magic books just find their way to me. It reminds me of the novel I am trying to get into the world myself, the one that I wrote.  It doesn’t have the same adult themes, but it deals with discovering nefarious plots not immediately evident.  And hopefully because the character arc is awesome!

Stay tuned for the second week of school books just to get us (me) in the academic/fall mood.   Because I need it!  I like peppermint more as a seasonal flavor but I will submit to the pumpkin once a season or so, just to remember that once upon a time I liked fall.

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BookRiot: #ownvoices in Oceania

I can’t believe it’s already August.  I feel like I blinked at my child’s Field Day in the middle of June and I arrived here.  It’s been wonderful, of course, just seems like all the weeks of plans I made will be over way too soon.  Another summer I’m trying to make awesome for my kid gone.

It’s back to BookRiot reads, and although I feel I’m moving along at a good clip, I also get worried about fitting them all in with the seasonal reads to complete my year of probably more reading than I needed to do.

.  And cheating with diversion reads.  Cheating!  That’s really the problem.

And my own whiteness forcing me to look up the definitions of Oceania.

An Ownvoices Book Set in Oceania:

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Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree, Albert Wendt

This is a collection of shorts written about the realities of traditional island life.  He wrote longer, more epic type stories as well, but I thought a collection of shorts might give me a wider taste of the region than a story focused on one family.

The writing was simple and without flourish, even though the style does change in some stories based on who is narrating.  The stories take place in a land of patriarchy and poverty, where men and their silly whims seem to rule where women only exist in their relationship to men.  Women need to be virgins and then stay home to bear children.  Women are nags and crazy if they get in the way of what men want to do.  They talk about boys becoming men by standing up, girls become women just by having sex.

The story I read most compulsively, and because I only could get it in paper form on the football field during practice, was Pint Sized Devil on a Thoroughbred, which is about a small man who is orphaned and grows up to be a classic con artist. He uses people and indulges in every imaginable and available sin and is still a hero in the eyes of his enabling family that he uses terribly through his short time on Earth.  I don’t know why it was compelling, but maybe it was because it was a character study that brought out my understanding of the culture at large.  Also The Cross of Soot stood out to me, too, a story of a boy interacting with adult male prisoners and it being a coming of age of sorts.  But mostly they were flat characters chasing after their ids.

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The Whale Rider, Whiti Ihimaera

This is a story about how a culture will go on in a changing world:  there is no male heir, but a female heir, to the Maori tribe, which is unheard of.  She has to prove herself in a way no male ever has in order to save her tribe, using her gift of communing with whales.

This was only a three hour listen, done easily in my commute to Albany on my week off to take my child to robotics camp, but it had so much more depth and color than Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree.  It had the same feeling of rigid patriarchy, but there was so much more to the women.  This is about not only a woman as a sign of changing times, but also about the environment signaling changes.  Both books were about cultures in Oceania making their way into the modern world, but I felt so much more actually changed in this book, in a good way, in these stories.  I, and anyone else reading this would, root for the little girl who is pining for the love of her great grandfather and destined to rule.  BookRiot recommended this one so I know it counted, and it was a great story.  Easier to get through and digest.  Softer on the feels and sensibilities than Flying Fox.

It’s also a movie I haven’t seen.  I’ve seen barely any adult movies since like grad school.

As usual, I’m grateful to BookRiot for pressing my horizons.  Even though Flying Fox was a press at times to get through.  And I almost counted it in shorts, but then I got caught up in the shorts I was already doing, and there wasn’t room for that sort of cheating.

August will be completely BookRiot, so stay tuned for how I get through the challenges.

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The Final Summer of Shorts

It’s the final week of shorts and already the last week of July.

It’s been an awesome July, watching my son play football unexpectedly well (my kid is good at sports but last year he wasn’t ready to run the ball until the last game), soaking up the greenery of the world at this time of year, and the week I took off to take my son to robotics camp where I got a ton of reading done and pushed myself to get back into some sort of writing.  It has been a challenge with all the changes at work and the busy of summer to focus on creative things, but the week off with some time to myself seemed to help.

As far as shorts are concerned, this of course was a rabbit hole.  So many collections to read and explore and admire. I could have done two months plus of shorts with what I had in my collection still, but I wanted to be sure I got through the BookRiot books for this year, too.   I spent my reading time doing both during my rides back and forth to Albany and my pillaging a library out there while he was at camp.

There was a Starbucks trip but the books were better at the library.

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Trigger Warning:  Short Fictions and Disturbances,  Neil Gaiman

A collection of short works by Neil, a few were poetry,  a few were like fairy tales, a few were the typical short stories/science fiction/fantasy some with characters borrowed from other places. I thankfully listened to the forward in which he talks about how this collection hangs rather loosely together and where they are from.  The title of Trigger Warning is to suggest that these pieces are united by hopefully getting the reader to feel about the works presented.   He talks about trigger warnings on things on the internet now and his wanting people to read about things that will make them think and feel, stir them up a bit, learn from them, even if the experience is intense.  I have seen others have conflicting views on trigger warnings, believing them to not be valuable things.  I probably am mixed, there is enough trauma in this world to give people the warning that they can avoid encountering something that makes them feel triggered or unsafe.  It can be a way of rebuilding a sense of safety.

You’d think the writings would be a little more provocative with that kind of title, and the stories are good, and thought provoking, and like the blurb promises, “talks about who we are behind the mask”, but they aren’t over the top or super edgy.  This is only my third work I have read by Gaiman but it seems to be in keeping with his other works, thought provoking, interesting, but not too edgy.  Things wouldn’t have made as much sense without the forward, however, I am in a bit of a slump about being confident in my writing and he talks about all the commissions and accolades the collected works have gotten.  Not that I ever thought I would be Neil Gaiman, but it was a pretty strong reminder that I was not put on this earth to be Neil.

I liked his fairy tale like stories the best, like the layers he added to the Sleeper and the Spindle, and the stories where there are murderous plots afoot.  I keep thinking about the story were a dwarf is led to a cave of treasures and what he finds there. It was difficult having him narrate the entire book in terms of keeping track of the beginning and ends of stories.  In Memory Wall there were different narrators for different stories and the end of one story was announced and the beginning of another, which was helpful.  It got confusing especially in Calendar of Tales, which would have been even more confusing without the forward, due to them being shorts.  Not that Gaiman cannot do a lovely job of narrating stories in his British accent and emphasis in all the places that he intended.  He absolutely can do that.  And he didn’t have the weird ending to stories like Oyeyemi where I felt left in the lurch, like I was still missing something.  Neil Gaiman is an artist and I need to read American Gods and his other stuff. T.B.R.

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Tenth of December, George Saunders

A collection of true to life stories that are hilarious but still manage to say important things, grab and move a reader.

I loved Lincoln in the Bardo, but I felt that that book would not have been accessible in the book format, more over audio, so that is a part of the reason I got this lovey on audio.  It’s definitely not like Lincoln in the Bardo, but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant.  I have seen in advertised all over my bookish life but I had no idea how laugh out loud funny this would be along with it’s poignancy.  I was driving my kid to robotics camp an hour away and laughing out loud.  I have seen in the reviews that it’s hilarious, but I don’t always see the hilarity that other readers see, but this time I did.  Wow.  It was all at once sad, poignant, funny, and moving.  He captured the streams of consciousness that can be heartbreaking as well as just who we are as humans in our every day lives.

Probably my favorite story is the one where the young man who has helicopter parents and a healthy case of tourettes has to make a decision about doing the right thing in a scary situation.  The way the child thinks is funny but the conflict he comes across in the narrative is also very real.  I think it’s a common conflict of teens after years of being told what to do, when all of a sudden they are placed in situations where they need to start acting on their own and what that transition is about, especially when they are in a world that does not allow them autonomy. And that was just the opener, the rest of the stories tumbling  out in their surprising hilarity after.

It wasn’t, as one Amazon reviewer put it, typical New Yorker fiction about white rich people and angst. All of these were very real.  And I can’t say enough about how funny they were too.  I was surprised by the humor that he could put into genuine, real situations.

I am tagging this post also as audio masterpieces because the author narration significantly added to the experience of both of these books.

Two excellent collections of shorts to take in, to finish off the eight I did for this blog series.

Back to BookRiot for August!  The year is already growing short!

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Summer of Shorts: Literary Shorts

My emotional brain compels me to make puns about featuring short fiction for a month but my logical brain encourages against bad puns on my blog.  Bad puns anywhere, in fact.

I took time off work this month to take my son to a robotics camp an hour away and I should really be writing, and I am pushing myself on some projects, but reading while knitting/crafting/playing mindless games has great appeal to me, so also happens more than it really should.  So in reading there is progress.  I’m sure I’ve talked before about that being so much easier on the emotions.

I also want to give myself kudos for keeping up writing more this summer, as usually my summer is too busy to feel like I have the brain space to create and move forward with my writing.  I’m trying to do that this summer and so far I have felt that success has been limited.  A lot of anxiety about getting myself back in the groove and not taking the fact that no one I have submitted anything to has gotten back to me in MONTHS to mean anything about pressing on with this…I can’t let that spirit me away from creation.  I won’t be able to come up with new and exciting things without turning on the faucet on a regular basis. It’s been a tad brutal on the feels, really.

Having reading projects for my blog can save my neurotic writerly soul.

For these two books I chose to review more literary and less supernatural/genre/magical realism type of stories.  Feeling that I was sometimes on the edge of grasping the stories was getting tiring.  I wanted a literary break from all the weird magical stuff I can get my readerly self into.

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Runaway, Alice Munro

A collection of short fictions featuring more mundane topics of lifespan issues and relationships, mostly love, all set in Canada.

I have wanted to read Alice Munro forever but for some reason I was concerned it would not be as arresting as it ended up being.  I was wading around for a few weeks in more diverting stories and I wasn’t sure how much magic she could make out of the mundane.  And I mean, like, literary magic:  beautiful writings, astute observations on the world, interesting turnout of plots.  I don’t mean secret powers, fantasy worlds and supernatural happenings that characters take for granted.  I got the audio of the book, even though I have had a hardcover copy for years, as an assist with this if needed.

Runaway, the title story, absolutely reeled me in.  The moody husband and the disappearing goat and the wife who isn’t sure how much more she can take.  I wanted more of Munro’s economical writing for complex human stories after that.  She can be both logical and unexpected at the same time, and I really admire that level of artistry.  I have seen criticism that she is too neat, but first of all I needed some neatness over the way that the stories in the previous post had ended, but I also felt that not everything was all tied up at the end.  One character doesn’t understand an unexpected estrangement, another doesn’t really say why she doesn’t want to marry a particular boy who has taken her into his family.

I liked that Munro mostly wrote about intelligent women that didn’t easily fit in anywhere, ones who were made unpopular by following their passions and being who they were, but who also were capable of falling in love with men.  They tried not to sell out and tried to be who they were.  I can get behind that, even though my own environment was more forgiving/accepting of my weird interests and intense personality.  There were two women, one in the first and one in the last stories that were more conforming in their relationships to men, a little more frivolous and selfish, but they stood out to me against the backdrop of the other intellectual and at times frumpy women.  I ate these stories up and admired them.  Wanting to capture her ability to make unexpected happenings still in logical stories.  I’m reading with a writerly eye here.

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Memory Wall, Anthony Doerr

A collection of stories all with the common thread of memory:  losing memories, keeping them, stringing threads of memories between generations to pull back people we have lost.

My writerly reading craves Anthony Doerr.  After I read All the Light You Cannot See I began immediately collecting his other works, and I have reviewed his other collection of shorts, The Shell Collector, on here.  He never disappoints with his beautiful writing, metaphors with apt and vivid words, his knowledge of natural history and then his juxtaposition of all of it.  The touch of luminosity he adds to the every day stories. His knowledge of different times and lands and people.  I admit I had stalled out after the first story, Memory Wall, which was beautiful and complex, that I read because I want to write like him, but my brain wasn’t going along with it.  I picked it back up as a part of my July of shorts, knowing I could trust that he would caress me with literary words.

I have to say that the last story, Afterworld, blew me away.  I couldn’t get the book away from my face. An epileptic orphan who escapes the Holocaust is dying at the end of her life under the ministrations of an adult grandson.  The epilepsy, and the other girls int he orphanage and the encroaching doom of the camps and then her being saved (sorry not sorry spoiler on that), her survivor’s guilt, all gorgeously layered and slipping between times to put this narrative together.  Just wow.  I can’t say enough and it’s difficult to even describe the magic in this story.  I have always loved his writing and he continues to surprise me.

Interesting that for weeks I was dabbling in distraction and now I wanted the comfort of something literary.  Something that enchanted regular days by seeing them through a writer’s different set of eyes.

Next week is the last week of shorts posts!  Stay tuned!

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Summer of Shorts 2: The Bloody Chamber and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Week Two in my summer of shorts.  Have I mentioned my deep and abiding love of summer?

I spent this week off, taking my son to a local camp programming robots to ease up the Mom guilt of working year round and my son asking me why I do that, and my honest response of not being able to be home all day every day and be happy.  My middle ground is taking more time off in the summer to be with him and do things with him.  I’m trying to paste together an excellent childhood for him, which would be impossible if I didn’t go to work most of the 18 years that he is with me.

I work with kids and I know that most of the memories they reference when asked what their favorite memories are are the small things.  A time when a parent showed up to something.  Day trips, sports games.  But I still want to do the most I can with the time I have.   Maybe this has amplified with the crazy developmental strides I have seen in my son this year.  Right now he’s cutting his own nails without my asking or prompting him.

But the shorts I am talking about today don’t have much to do with my pervasive mom guilt.  I enjoyed them more than the two books I reviewed in last week’s post, and they had both been long time TBR hangers, which is partly the purpose of dedicating a month of summer reading to short forms.

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The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter

This is a series of re-imagined fairy tales with a decidedly Gothic and romantic/sexual spin on them.  Carter also adds a significant dash of horror in there. I can see how fairy tales are a blank slate of sorts, a skeleton plot on which to project any theme desired, spin it in any sort of way.

I like fairytale retellings, and I love a Gothic feminist spin. The tone was set by the first story, Bluebeard, which unspooled a terrible and beautiful, enchanting Gothic tale. I only listened to this on audio and it would have been helpful to have it in print form, because sometimes I didn’t know if a story had changed into a different story or the same one from another perspective/narrator.  It would have been good to check where one ended and another began in a few instances.  Sometimes the beasts felt like they overlapped.

The narration was haunting, the retelling and the new spins enchanting.  Themes of inequality between the sexes and the precarious way women had to live in those times were pervasive in the narratives.  Lots of blood in many forms:  death, first menses, virginity/sexuality.   Transporting and for how long it’s been waiting for me to devour it, it was worth the long range eyeball.

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What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi

A collection of tales, some that felt with a tinge of supernatural/magical realism to me (never a bad thing with me unless involving weird sexuality) all having a key involved.  The key isn’t to the same thing every time, and the key is often the entrance to another layer of story rather than the end/resolution to the story.  Keys are mentioned in the blurb but I actually had not read the blurb and I went back to it after about halfway through, maybe not even that far, noticing yet another key while listening to the narration of stories.

I feel vindicated in that other Goodreads reviewers mentioned that these tales are weird, disorienting, and would need a second pass over to collect all the bits.  It is truly a writer whose stories do that much to a reader, turn us upside down and wonder if we had missed something.  They would end abruptly too, and I would go back to my kindle version to be sure the story actually ended and another one had started.  Of course the narrators were different but often I was like wait did that one from before truly resolve enough to be considered done?   Other readers commented that the ends of the stories lacked an umph or a satisfaction for them, too, wondering if they had missed something.

Probably the story that resonated the most with me was Presence.  I don’t know if it is because the main characters are psychologists and one works with children and I could relate more in this aspect. Initially I bristled at the main character being a Psychologist but also on her third marriage and in her own treatment.  It’s not that we don’t need treatment, it just initially made me wonder why she was a little dysfunctional and in a healing profession, until Oyeyemi goes into her past as an adopted child, as well as her husband being an adopted childhood friend, and all the issues that come with that.  But then they test out a method he is using to help grieving people that ends up being haunting, weird, and capitalizing on connections that she had been missing from her life. Like I said, all the stories are a little disorienting and this one was not different, but it was also heartbreaking.

I have seen calls for submissions that want work reminiscent of Oyeyemi, and I don’t know if I have it in me as a writer to extend myself so loosely into the world like she can do. White Is For Witching was lovely but loose as well.  I do my monthly short story with the writing group I love but I haven’t been able to creep out to such dimensions.  I think I need to read more Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, both of whose works I have sitting on my Kindle.

Summer of shorts continues into next week.  I think I could be taking more risks with my own writing of shorts.  It probably means I need to be writing more.  Isn’t that always the solution?  The hidden answer to everything?

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