BookRiot: Poetry

Christmas was lovely in my home and I’m hoping it was in yours.  My son liked his gifts enough to forget about YouTube for awhile and that’s my standard for success. No small feat for my kid to be interested in things.  Dude didn’t even want to go to the movies on his birthday.

But I’ve always disliked the limbo week of after Christmas until it’s time to resume normal life. My staying home this week with my son has been successful but disorienting.  I’m eating Christmas candy waiting for my husband to bring me my coffee and listening to jazz music as I write this with epic amounts of laundry going.  My boss hasn’t texted about work at all as a courtesy to me but of course I’m wondering what lies in wait for me Monday morning.

Anyway, I can’t leave one last BookRiot category hanging, which I very nearly did this year.  I didn’t read two poetry books.  I have plenty of poetry books but they are older than five years, or they printed much older stuff. Everything else I did two of.  Maybe to make up for this and because it’s the last post of the decade I could toss on my reading specs for the year at the end.

A Collection of Poetry Published since 2014:

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A Collection of Nightmares, Christina Sng

These poems are not your mother’s nature imagery.  They are sci fi and horror stories written in the arresting form of poetry.

Poetry was my thing for awhile and when I could swim out of the angsty stuff inevitable for my age I put out some decent stuff.  I had the bug back then:  I wrote enough to want to write, to create a compulsion for myself, and it’s in all that work that the good stuff comes out.  When your neurons have been trained to see the world that way that they start to give you good stuff.   But it wasn’t this kind of poetry.  I enjoyed how these were small fictions of their own, not just commentary on nature or a subject.  Not that I don’t have mad love for Mary Oliver and how she does it, or Charles Bukowski even, but I liked this way of telling vivid and surprising tales in the form of poetry.

I participated in a poetry writing challenge this year and it was timely in opening my eyes to using poetry like this as well.

My father writes poetry and has poetry books and I have memories of him reading them and as I got older, sharing them with me. I loved my ninth grade poetry project where I got to select poems that meant something to me and share my own.  One of my favorite memories as a kid was digging through his books with him to find something good that made me look super smart and like, in the know.  Look like I had some really deep insight to being a ninth grader in a small rural high school in the nineties who was in love for the first time.  And I had the coolest poetry books in my house.

But these poems were different, interesting, surprising.  They were not the poems I cut my teeth on. I had no idea she was such a celebrated poet and I’m glad I found something new and I’m glad I found her.  I could see myself writing like her to share my own plot bunnies.

I can’t ignore that this is the last Sunday of the decade, which calls for something in the way of a year in review.  It might be a book or two short as I am engaged in vacation style binge reading and I write my blogs ahead of time, but you get the idea:

Books:  106 out of my goal of 80

Pages: approximately 30,000

Shortest:  Ghost of a Chance by Angie Fox

Longest:  Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

ALL of BookRiot, even though I did two books for all of them save poetry.

I have found joy in two particular aspects:  one, getting through books I have had forever but have not gotten to, whether they fit a category or not, and another in binge reading lighter things.  Both of which I am going to talk about in more detail in my January posts.

But reading was awesome this year, with getting BookRiot done, as well as books I have been meaning to read, and books that gave me another world to live in when I needed it.

I didn’t do badly getting writing done, and with my one successful story publication, I consider it even a good year for that.  I have my novel revised and I’m in the awful querying process which slowed down when the end of the year got busy which I intend to get going again when things are slower in January.  And of course I plan on participation in my fourth year of 12 short stories.  Because that keeps me going and thinking.

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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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BookRiot: A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

As I’m writing this my husband has the pellet stove on for the first time this season. I will try not to spend all the it’s-getting-colder-season complaining that it’s getting colder.  But it’s not even October!

In a more positive spin on it’s-not-even-October (lots-of-hypens on today’s post, yes?) I have now completed 22 of the 24 BookRiot tasks reading two books per category!  As much as I try not to shuffle the less appealing reads to the end of the year, it happens.  My excuse is that during my least favorite months of the year, January and February, I absolutely need the diversion of interesting books. Preferably whilst crafting.

A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

Ugh, I don’t hate nonfiction, I just don’t always get into it the way I can get swept away by fiction.  I like hearing multiple perspectives on a story, as I have said before, and learning how things came to be in the world, events explained, but I just don’t seek it out in the same way that I do fiction.  Probably because my job is a lot of puzzle assembly and I enjoy it but on my free time I usually want something a little different. To mix it up.

So I really dragged my feet on getting this one done.  I could have dragged them harder.  Much harder. But in the interest of full disclosure, a lot of scary reads were done before I started muddling through this category.

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The Dinosaur Artist:  Art, Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy,  Paige Williams

Eric Prokopi, an obsessive and life long fossil hunter, brings an entire dinosaur skeleton to auction in NYC.  A dinosaur native to Mongolia. People start asking questions as to how such a prize is no longer in its home country and Prokopi starts watching things fall apart.

Okay, so a three sentence synopsis of a 432 page book might not feel like I’m giving it an entirely fair shake.  And of course, being nonfiction, there are numerous threads to follow as this narrative, this story of a full T. Bataar showing up at a NYC auction for sale.  Perspectives of fossil collectors versus academics and striking a balance between them and their political agendas. The story of how Eric Prokopi came to be and who he is as a person and his life moving ahead as a family as well as a fossil hunter.  And natural history sprinkled in there with some history and sociology, all the things I can easily get behind, pet interests I’ll never have the space in my life to pursue. I guess the ability to dabble could be the draw of nonfiction for most people.

I was drawn in enough to google pictures of all the major players.  I usually don’t get to books as recent as this one, especially not nonfiction, published last year, with dates in history where I was muddling around my own corner of the world.   He’s not that much older than I am. Despite this being a significant deviation of my usual reading habits I found myself enjoying it. There is always a human interest story behind how crimes happen, and this one is about passion and the thrill of the hunt.  I can appreciate a man chasing his passion, even if it gets a little too far ahead of him. All of us passionate people have a tendency to get in over our heads.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, Lee Israel

In this memoir turned true crime story, Leonora Israel, a writer in dire straits, turns to forging letters of famous people to dealers as well as forging letters to trade with real ones in order to sell them and make a living.

So, let me say, when I was poking around in the available books for this, I didn’t think I was going to read about a forger.  Like I mentioned in my review of The Dinosaur Artist, I like nonfiction that gives me a chance to dabble in my interests.  Forgery of authentic literary items didn’t sound appealing or align with my interests.  I ended up choosing this one because it’s short, and I kinda didn’t want to work for it like I did The Dinosaur Artist, and because it was recommended as funny. It was both of those things, at less than three hours a listen and because it is written by the person who was sharp enough to make passable forgeries of the brilliance of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, among others, it is pretty funny.  It did help with getting through this category when I had been considering The Feather Thief, another story about people wanting to possess invaluable natural history items, but I kept selecting other things to read next.  

This is brilliant and it is funny, but the narrator is not and does not become likeable at any point.  You can see where the forgery started out of being driven to desperation, so I had some empathy for the situation (flies), but I felt that she could have just done a few to get money and then changed to something more reputable.  If one is doing enough research to write passable false letters, why not write historical fiction? I know she was writing in a time where you couldn’t build your own self publishing empire after flopping in traditional publishing, but she easily could have made something reputable about the research and legwork she was already putting in.  She struggles with alcoholism and while she’s open about the mistakes that she makes while drinking, but if you’re looking for someone to change as a result of their mistakes I’m not sure this is your book. I know it’s a movie now and I’ll be interested to see if there’s a little more character change instead of just satiric wit.

I didn’t like the title and initially it seemed at such odds with the tone of the memoir, but no fears:  it makes sense when you get there. I wonder if the movie will make her more likeable.

Two posts left for September and it remains to be seen how soon I’m starting the scaries.  They’re read, but there’s the question of how well I will motivate myself to finish business books, which, even though they do appeal to my Psychologist side, that remains to be answered. One is read. Almost. There.

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BookRiot: #OwnVoices from Mexico or Central America

Ugh, the last weekend in August!  I just can’t!

The last four months of the year are upon us.  In seventeen weeks, I need to meet my reading and blogging goals, and do my monthly poems and short stories, and gear up for the start of the school year and the madness that ensues.  Madness!

This is the second of the #ownvoices category from BookRiot. As with Oceania, it was deceptively difficult to find writers who were Mexican and Central American, rather than just Latin American.  I peeked to see if my Isabel Allende backlist would count for this but I don’t believe she does count.   I suppose that’s why it was chosen for a category:  a region underrepresented/overlooked in writing.

An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America:

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House of Broken Angels, Luis Alberto Urrea

A 70 year old patriarch of a large Mexican American family, Big Angel, is hosting a giant birthday party for himself as he dies of cancer in his San Diego home.  Along the way, his mother dies, forcing two family gatherings, and the stories of the family members, in the book.  Like they always do, these major life events pull the family together.

This is everything you would expect from a family saga of immigration, the interwoven webs and the divides between the young and the old divided by cultures as well as by age and experience.  It was funny and poignant and sad, eye opening for us who have never had a family straddling two cultures.  Things changing through time as well as the things that stay the same.  I especially liked that Big Angel was able to save the family one last time in the end.  I thought that that was cool after the story mostly talks about his relinquishing his health and usefulness in the world.  I liked that there were still ways he was highly relevant to his family.  But no spoilers here.  Still cool.  Of course BookRiot would recommend it.

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The She Devil in the Mirror, Horatio Castellanos Moya

An upper class woman in San Salvador is trying to figure out her best friend’s murder in one sided, first person dialogue.  She becomes increasingly frenzied and paranoid as the short narrative spins itself out to its conclusion, revealing her as an unreliable narrator.

So the blurb states that it is Kafka-esque and profound, which it is, but I’m glad this wasn’t a long piece because I’m not sure for how much longer I could have stood the narrator.  Everyone seemed to be having sex with everyone else, even though this was her best friend who had passed, there was nevertheless some man trading going on and lots of commentary on such.   She was privileged, selfish and irritating.  She never had anything better to think about than everyone else’s business, which can make her interesting in moderate doses. It did give some insight into politics in San Salvador more than just the poor little rich girl thing, which is the same across cultures.  It’s still valuable, just ended at the right time.

September will be at least partly other posts than BookRiot.  All I have left are a book of nonviolent true crime, a business book, and a book of poetry published since 2014.  But the theme that has held together some of my diversion reads fit for September, so there is where they shall be posted.   And I can post on them while I’m finishing BookRiot.

I’m really doing too many things is the problem.   But I guess I’m the one responsible for that and there are worse problems to have.

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BookRiot: A Comic by an LGBTQIA creator

Harvesting the garden bounty is a little consolation for the mornings not being as bright and the sky tucking away into darkness more closely to my bedtime.  But the world still tilts and we are keeping track of the summer weekends we have left to make the most of them.  I realized I only have a week left of summer camp lunches to put together because I am doing my second week of Ward Off Mom Guilt vacation with my son this summer and we are going to visit my sister, which he has been BEGGING to do for, like, 8 months.  I hope the trip is everything that he has been hoping that it will be.  If it isn’t I’m going to blame Strong Museum of Play for running ads all the way out here and reminding him that we haven’t done that in way too long.

So, more graphics this week, as I binged the graphics with better library access during my other week of warding off the mom guilt for putting my kid in camp for most of the summer.  I didn’t try to get fancy with this one and wander outside BookRiot’s recommendations.  As I said at the end of my previous post, I didn’t want to be poking into my author’s proclivities in order to see if they fit the category or not.

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Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

A collection of five dark, nightmarish shorts that have the ability to keep you up at night, all with illustrations on every page.  It was haunting and diverting and I was carried away from my library chair tucked in the stacks reading it for a rainy afternoon.

It has been a month now about since I read it two stories particularly stand out. Two that were longer where she had more of a chance to develop the plot line.  I’m all about flashes and super shorts, they are absolutely their own art form, but the ones I liked best of hers were the longer ones, and some of the reviews I see agreed.  It must have been an amazing amount of work to illustrate five scary stories like that, pictures spread across 200 plus pages.  Three might have been better?  I loved it though.  It would have scared the crap out of me as a teenager.  If I had a a teen to give it to I would due to the excellent macabre feelings it invokes.  A teenager who would read it multiple times as their creepy diversion reading at the end of a long day of reading what everyone else wants them to read.

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Goldie Vance, Vol 1, Hope Larsen

An amateur sleuth gets into tangles at the luxury resort she is working at and finds a promising love match along the way in this first volume of comics.

I read this during a morning in bed.  Those reading mornings don’t happen much in the bustle of summer, they are more a winter thing for me, and usually at the end of the year when it’s a BookRiot demand for something graphic and its a last minute cram in.  This was fun, I can see where graphics have their pull.  Lots of plot lines spun out and Goldie has an assertive, impulsive, get yourself into trouble kind of personality that should make her a fun character to read over a series.  She’s likeable and she does stupid things and has an enemy out of the girls whose father employs her, so perfect right?  Not all the characters are white, Goldie’s parents aren’t together and the love interest is same sex, which is nicely becoming more of a thing.  So a kid who might not be a strong reader who picks this up may have more in common with her than in other comic characters.

I will begrudgingly admit that the graphic requirement for these challenges is becoming significantly less onerous as I get into it more.  Not that I will become a graphic reader for myself.  I don’t see that.

I have one more BookRiot post next week to finish out (!) my August of challenge posts.  The fall I will be a little diverted because my diversion reads piled on and I have been able to categorize them into posts with some seasonal themes to them.  I can think of at least three more posts I have in my head to get out in the fall months, buy me time to do the last three categories of BookRiot as well as obligatory seasonal reads as the year ends in the blink of an eye.  Because you all know it will.

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BookRiot: Manga

That picture is not me.

Memes are coming out on social media that once August comes, the New Year is rapidly following on its heels.   I hate being able to agree now with that feeling, with my son’s birthday and Halloween lumped together, but the wheels of time spin faster with every year.  Now that I’m about to have a second grader, I’m wondering where that summer went two years ago when I was anticipating my son’s transition into kindergarten and public school.

It’s only the second Sunday in August and I have some fall season reads done and noted in a file for when I'[m ready to post on them.  I cheat on my challenge books with scary reads sometimes with the justification that I can post on them later.

I used to love fall but I seem to get sad now when pumpkin spice comes out.

In anticipation of how fast the year wraps up and the other reads I do for that, August has to be packed with BookRiot.  And this time I did not hold off on the least favorite reads until after the Christmas reads were finished:  manga and comics.

It didn’t hurt that the library I crashed at for a week had a great selection of both that made this super easy.

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Black Jack Vol 2, Osamu Tezuka

This series features a genius doctor performing medical feats and miracles while having rejected holding a medical license in Japan.

I did this book in two hours on a library patio while occasionally reading in the wrong direction on a beautiful sunny day, so reading my least favorite category wasn’t terrible.  And it wasn’t a celebrity memoir, so there is that.  I tried to learn about Japanese culture and what might be so appealing about this series, as it looks very popular in Japan, as I read this.  This doctor is selfish and charges through the nose for what he does, feeling against the collective nature of Japanese society as I understand it.  Maybe that is a bit of wish fulfillment for people raised to consider others before themselves and go with the flow?  I don’t want to speak too far from my experience here, but I’m wondering if his being contrary to the general values makes him appealing.  The stories show that he has a huge and caring heart but he always dips back into his darker nature:  extortion and selfishness and being a loner.   And I mistakenly didn’t read the first one so I don’t know what the story is with that child/wife thing he has living at home that he takes care of?   That part got creepy because she is clearly emotionally a child but then acts like a jealous wife, a weird adult/child mixup that isn’t appealing.

I was interested enough in the stories, and it was a series of stories rather than one big plot line, good twists to keep you going, and you always know he’s going to beat the system and wonder how he will do it while also usually exposing ingrained societal flaws.  Entertainment and I tried to understand that culture while I was reading their popular material.

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Manga Shakespeare: Hamlet by Richard Appignanesi and Emma Vieceli

This is a straight up adaptation of Hamlet.  No changed names or details or having it in another setting or time.

So this helped the play be more accessible, but it was not the window into another culture that I was hoping it was going to be.  It just was…Hamlet.  I hadn’t done the play before, and now I better understand the references…made in my own culture.  Ha.  It wasn’t even in the Japanese direction for reading books.  So I guess in a basic way it captures the letter of the category, but not the spirit of such.  I’m glad there is a more accessible version, although I don’t think Shakespeare was ever intended to be in the white literary canon for the ages.  I don’t think that he ever intended for a woman over 400 years later to have read at least five of them that I can think of as I’m writing this.  But here we are.   I just was hoping something had been done differently with it, but also it said Manga on it, and BookRiot hadn’t recommended it specifically (like they had Black Jack) so I wanted to be sure that it fit.  And it’s my second manga for the category.   It happened, now I’ve posted, and there will be other posts this month about finishing my double dip reading challenge to follow up as I dread the cold weather coming.

Next week I’ll tackle the comic by an LGBT writer.  And I totally used what they recommended, because I hate poking around in Author bios to see if they are gay.  Feels voyeuristic.  I’ll try to enjoy these beautiful warm and green weeks.

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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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Books Written about the Prison Experience

It’s the last weekend of June and it’s been an insane month of changes for me.  I am going to be taking new responsibilities at work and saying goodbye to my first boss in my adulthood career.  I have spent eleven years under his leadership and moving forward will have to figure out my own leadership dilemmas without his counsel.  Like any relationship, it had its ups and downs, but he was part of my becoming an adult in the world of adults.  I had internships and practica and jobs before the one I have now, of course, but I was always sheltered as a student or one with low responsibility.  I still have a way to go, though, in my emotional development as an adult.  Goals for myself to be the best I can be at what I do and to not compromise myself in the process.

Also, my birthday just went by and I really want to enjoy my 40’s.  I am giving myself two years for the emotional growth I need to enjoy that decade, the one that research shows that adults enjoy the most when looking back at their lives.  I’d really like to stop caring about things that don’t need my emotional energy.

It’s no surprise that after my life and the reads I’m reviewing here I went to the safety of some diversion reads.  All the actualization and growth in my life is a privilege in itself.  These books are about the transformative experience of doing time in prison.  I’m grateful that my growth experiences have not had to involve incarceration, whether from a poor choice or being gravely disadvantaged.   Like, I’ll miss my boss, but my life is and always has been a delightful array of choices and will continue to be so.

And I diverted a tiny bit from the category because they were supposed to be written in prison but they are about prison experiences, likely composed after the fact.  So I cheated a little.  I don’t think either of these were actually written in prison.  Sometimes I think that if I went to prison I’d do a lot of writing, but I think I’m assuming my privilege would extend into a situation where it would fall painfully short.

A Book Written In Prison

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The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Anthony Ray Hinton and Laura Love Hardin

A black man in 1980’s Alabama is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.  He is eventually exonerated, but not without a grueling number of years of surviving and trying to clear his name from his extremely disadvantaged standpoint.

This was as riveting as it could be depressing.  Ray Hinton wasn’t born with much but he was likable, just trying to make it in the world before he was imprisoned, and then when he comes out of his emotional dark place to make the best of his situation and survive.  He was impoverished and loyal to his family, and got through it out of others’ undying loyalty to him, both family and when he finally found a lawyer that could get him out.  How he got tossed onto death row without the usually precursors of trauma and abuse and how he was stuck there and what he discovered about the world and about himself were all a compelling journey.  One that I was grateful to experience from the outside.

Stories about inequality, privileges, and resilience have a place in our culture and it’s no surprise to me that Oprah has featured this book.  Bad things still happen to people in this country on the basis of race, and people still hang in there in terrible situations that make most other people’s lives look pretty okay.  I’m feeling pretty white here over my sadness over a change in leadership at my work and what it means to me, the fact I have a career that I can take as far as I want.

The other prison book I read is Prison with Privilege.  Nothing like Hinton’s soul crushing years on Death Row in the Deep South, smelling other people dying and waiting for his turn.

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Orange Is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

The title sums it up and it’s a Netflix series, so I can keep this short: Piper ran a suitcase of drug money during a less focused time in her life and had to spend 15 months in Danbury Correctional Facility when the people she worked for ratted her out when the ring was busted.

Hilariously I binge watched Season One of the Netflix series in the winter of 2013, when I had a year old baby and a husband watching football in another room.  I didn’t then appreciate the intersection of these facts to create the rare opportunity for binge watching such an adult program.  It was one of those where I could keep going once I got started but I had to be willing to face some of the cringe worthy intensity that makes the show as appealing as it is, and then I would get hooked.  I can’t do this one episode at a time.  I won’t push through the whole thing.  I can only binge it.

Since I saw the show I was going to read the book.  I knew it was dramatized for Netflix, but most of the elements I remember from Season One are in the book, just to a lesser degree of drama.  The show made me petrified of going to prison and I became paranoid for a few weeks that somehow I’d get framed into such a situation.  The book didn’t make it seem exactly appealing, but slightly less traumatizing, until she is transferred to another correctional facility to testify in court.

I’m not well versed in books written about prison experiences, but I am willing to bet that this particular book brings an element of privilege that most others don’t.  She is white, she is well educated and well loved, something she knows sets her apart from the population.  She talks about how her advantages get her through it and how she learns to use her connections to others better, rather than doing it all on her own.  Ray Hinton’s connections also get him through his harrowing experience.  Our connections and the meanings we assign to experiences are what helps us to survive.

She talks about this but I don’t think she looks down on the other prisoners. The show also tells more about the backgrounds of the prisoners to help people understand how women end up in Danbury.  The struggles that lead them there. I always feel that the world could do with more empathy and I get behind any form of entertainment that helps to grow it, especially for the disadvantaged.

So good, but so difficult.  Hopefully next week starts a new chapter of summer posts.  I’m probably reading too much.  I’m trying to keep the joy in my writing but probably avoiding it a little with my reading.

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Not typical: Two Books about the Neurodiverse

I have to say that in June, I believe myself to be living in one of the loveliest places on Earth.  Everything is lush and green, birdsong trilling through the trees, fish jumping, ducks and geese on the water with new babies.  Everything is teeming with beauty.

Usually I slow down on my posting at this time of year and while I am trying not to this year, I see where I get busy with traveling to where it gets to be difficult.  Not to read, really, because audiobooks make car rides beautiful things (and walks, and crafting time), but sometimes to make sure a post gets in on time.  On top of the fact that lately, after this post and the next one, all I have wanted are diverting reads.  It’s a privilege to even have diverting reads, to even be able to take breaks from the realities I read about.  I’ll say that straight out.  Today’s post involves two books of walking around in someone else’s shoes.

A Book by or About Someone who Identifies as Neurodiverse:

 

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The Reason I Jump:  The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida

A young boy with autism is able to answer questions that others pose to him about what it is like to be autistic and why he does what he does.  It’s not long and is a basic Q&A, but that does not detract from the enormous value of this book.  The preface is by a parent whose own child is also locked in this puzzling and overwhelming world and he also speaks to the magic and value of getting a chance to hear what it is like to be neurodiverse, for the world to be processed in ways that are difficult for us to imagine.  When developing an intervention we always want to know, as best we can, what causes something, what makes someone act the way they do in order to see what else we can do to either manage or sidestep it altogether.

Even though it is short, I didn’t do this straight through.  I had to take breaks.  It’s a nightmare trying to imagine from my relatively neurotypical perspective what it is like to always have so much to process and deal with all the time and feel ill equipped to do so.  Feeling that it takes a long time to do what is asked because my brain has not gotten there yet to figure out and do what is needed.  I mean, this is why it’s a challenge on the list.  Because it’s not easy, and it will make me slow down more when intervening with someone who is on the spectrum.  Rarely are valuable lessons easy to learn.

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A Mango Shaped Space, Wendy Mass

A middle school aged girl discovers that her ability to assign colors and shapes to tastes and sounds is actually a diagnosis (synesthesia) while struggling also with the loss of her grandfather and the changing world and life of being in middle school.

I deliberately chose for my second read a book that was not just autism.  There are many ways to be autistic and there are many ways to not quite process the world the same as others, and I have read books with autism in them for other challenges.  I have wondered about synesthesia since we talked about it in graduate school and have always felt I had a tiny bit of it myself, assigning colors to things like months, days of the week, and numbers.  Like, I have always thought of the number 4 as a pale pink.  It’s faded away some since my brain has had more to do than visualize numbers and words, but that would make sense with how the brain prunes back extra connections that it isn’t using.

I loved this book.  It was about being different and finding your place in the world with a neurological condition, but it was also about the normal issues of grief and loss, first crushes and other constantly changing relationships with peers.  I read through this one pretty fast.  It was still normal enough for me to get carried along by the plot.  It was enough about normal life I think for a child in the intended audience to read it and get something out of it.  It’s also a great book, a little less intense to digest.  Intensity isn’t bad but I have been finding lately that tempering it can be helpful when I am chugging through reading a writing goals.

Speaking of goals, I finally chose a number, 80, for my Goodreads Challenge.  Mostly because Goodreads will provide a spot where I can easily check my book progress this year.  I try not to  make my reading so much about progress, but I do.   June ends next week (with my birthday, of course) and as of this posting I have read 17 of the 24 categories, my added bonus of two books per category.  With, of course, the manga and comics pushed off to the end.  And I am doing something other than challenges for July but I actually found at least one book that fits that.  But I say I’m mostly on track, mostly because although I only have 14 challenge books left in 6 months, I also take time for scary reads and sometimes Christmas reads, which cuts into the challenge reads time.  And I have been reading some books lately just because I want to.  Getting seriously crazy up in here, right?

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BookRiot: Books with under 100 reviews

I have begun the intimidating slog of manuscript submission.  It threatens to eat me alive.

But only threatens.  I need to use that balanced self talk that I try to instill into the inner voices of the kids I treat.  Acceptance of my book in a press in a traditionally published way will not make or break my life satisfaction.  I feel confident that someone out there might show some interest, and if they don’t, I can decide from there.  I can’t hand over my well-being by thinking that it is solely based on my success in this venture.

Additionally I have other projects on deck that doesn’t squash the fun out of writing and I am keeping those alive to stay energized and moving toward the prize.  I don’t know why everything I want in my life is always so much work.

Also I’m writing this post on the deck of my she shed and the same jumping spider has just turned up for the third time. I wonder what the attraction is.

I want to share my writing journey on this blog, but it also fits into the BookRiot category I have read into for the post, which is books that were published before Jan 1 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.  I’m glad BookRiot was charitable here because it was harder to come across ones with fewer than 100 ratings. I was able to use books that I already had for this one, double bonus.

It fits in because it makes me think about how much all writers share the dream of being well-known after all the time and effort that it takes to hammer out a manuscript and then you never know how it will go in the world.  If it will mean anything to anyone nearly as much as it meant to you.  And books without ratings are not bad books.  They just haven’t found their people.  Or they only apply to a small group of people.

A Book Published Before Jan 1 2019 with Fewer than 100 Reviews on GoodReads:

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Triple Love Score, Brandi Megan Granett

Published 2016

Number of Reviews as of May 2019: 38

A quiet poetry professor has spent her life waiting for a childhood companion who disappeared from her life inexplicably years before, only to have him show back up and want to make amends and move forward as a couple with her.  There is the usual corrections of the misunderstandings, which is central to the second chance at love trope.  She is figuring out what to do with her life in all sorts of ways, with her hobby of posting poetry in a Scrabble format online and with her best friend having to get married all of a sudden to a boyfriend that she has had for ten years, and a romance along the way for her that proves not to be what it seemed at the outset.

This book definitely reminded me of the uncertainty and the seemingly endless possibilities and as thus, still unanswered questions that one can still have at that age.  I, too, pursued academics at that point in my life, everything else being pushed aside in the meantime.  I had my romances but nothing that was heading for permanence, and I still wondered if something important to me in my past could come back around and be my happily ever after (and I am certainly okay with the fact that that’s not how it happened for me).  I think it’s a sign of good writing when you can empathize to that degree with a character, and that the situations presented in the story are meaningful to readers.  I cared about the protagonist Miranda and understood her choices, even when her friends did not. This is a sweet, easy romance with tension but not so much that it’s hard to press on (see two previous posts if you want books on that).

My only issue with it is that I felt that the story spent way too much time on some parts, especially when she travels to be at her friend’s last minute wedding.  I know that is the chance that the lovers have to get reacquainted as their adult selves and feel if they are enough of the same people where it would still work, but I felt like that was a lot of the book.  There were parts that got slow, but I could just have been reading too much intense stuff lately and I have become a needy reader where I am not happy unless I am constantly jerked around emotionally by the story or the plights of the characters.  I forget that some books are just easier to read and meant to be more diverting.

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The Astronomer, Lawrence Goldstone

Published 2010

Number of Reviews as of May 2019: 56

It’s the world of sixteenth century Paris and a theology student is asked to uncover the secret that is threatening Catholocism to be granted legitimacy.  He is confronted with his own religious doubts and Copernicus’ scandalous discovery of the sun, not the Earth, being the center of the universe.

This is fictionalized history but nonetheless based on fact.  It takes your attention to get into and to follow.  I enjoyed it, as I enjoy historical fiction and the way it helps me better understand the events of different time periods, but I can see where others might find it a struggle.  I can see where it may have been slow to garner reviews. I have read most of Phillippa Gregory’s amazing Tudor novels so it was fascinating to see other parts of Europe in that period of time, how the Inquisition and mayhem played out in France.  Henry VIII was mentioned anecdotally, as he was making his own religious reforms at the time and making choices that affected the other rulers at that time. Also, this explained a little better why the heliocentric model was so threatening to Catholicism.

My readers know me by now and my love for the history of white people.

Both of these were good and likely a tremendous amount of work.  I’m hoping that both authors feel satisfied with their successes on getting a good book out there.  As I hope I will be in that sort of a space in my life.

Maybe by the next post, which should be on self published authors which coincidentally will also be my 200th!! post, I will have figured out my post frequency for the summer.  I already think I know I’m doing something different for July this year, other than my BookRiot smash up.  But you’ll have to wait with baited breath to see what it is.

Also I’m not sure I finished eating my jellybeans, all I know is that they have vanished.

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