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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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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July: A Summer of Shorts

The long awaited summer blog special event is here!

I am taking a break from my usual BookRiot pound to dedicate the month of July to shorts.  I have a ton of collections of shorts, and every writer is made aware of the value of shorts in building his or her career, so I thought I would dedicate a month to getting through that part of the TBR as well as absorbing wisdom and artistry from the masters.

I have read a TON of short stories in my time where I have truly wondered what makes them great.  I bought a book from Writer’s Digest on how to write and understand what truly makes a good short story good, and it has helped understand the role of the element of surprise (and I’m not even done with it, so I’m sure there’s more to learn).  In the books I am reviewing today and through the month, these have surprised me but also pressed boundaries, made me rethink the mundane and the basic structures I have taken for granted, and gotten right in my face with issues facing society.

I can’t say I have exactly enjoyed reading them the whole way through, however.

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Ayiti, Roxane Gay

This is a collection of her shorts published in other places all centered on the idea of Haiti and being an immigrant from Haiti to the US, or straddling the two worlds.

I love Roxane Gay, and although I have not been good at really getting my Twitter game off the ground, I have unabashedly logged on to see what she has to say.  Like when she tweeted that she dates women because she loves herself and when she’s freaking out about Ryan Seacrest.  True to form, she gave this book five stars on Goodreads.  I admire her because she has a fast tongue with an intelligent argument always perched at the tip.  I admire her intelligence and her unapologetic intensity.

Due to these things I don’t know why I ever thought I’d get through Ayiti easily, other than the audio is less than three hours long.  I was like oh wow TBR anyway and under three hours! Done in a snap for my July of Shorts.  Right.  Some of the books I am posting on for the Halloweeny reads are breaks from this book.  Granted work has been an especial challenge this month with assuming a coordinator position in the absence of my boss, which might have also amplified the need for diversion, but Ayiti is tough.  Beautiful, but tough.  In your face with the issues that are integral to some people’s lives. A woman in one story, an MD no less, is kidnapped and trafficked on her honeymoon. The reality of poverty in Haiti still.  The difficulty in going for a better life and trying to fit into the world of the better life, going between being an American but going back to Haitian roots on vacations.  I know why BookRiot encourages people to read about the immigrant experience. So we don’t get too comfy in our white privilege seats.  It’s a great collection of stories, but they aren’t easy.  Don’t let the two hours fool you.

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The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, Ursula K. LeGuin

The late Ursula K. Le Guin has been hailed as a founder of speculative fiction, and this collection of shorts was no exception.  I noticed the stories in this collection are heavily influenced by cultural anthropology, feminism and Eastern philosophy, and I’m sure more things that I missed.  They are stories involving different family structures and inclusive of all sexual inclinations and make comments about ways that society could be set up differently.  The meaning of sexuality and inequality in these stories is what stood out to me most.

There is  no doubt that she has brilliant ideas brilliantly expressed.  And I have been scanning over Goodreads reviews by people with educational backgrounds in the very areas where she bores holes with her stories who are duly impressed.  But in some ways, this collection was not entirely for me.   I don’t know if I needed a more personal spin on stories, if they were too wide in scope for me or what. The stories were told from the point of views of individual characters, but I found myself disconnected at times, and very interested at other times with my thoughts stirred up.  At times I was ready for it to be done and at other times I wondered truly what it would be like to have a society where men were cosseted and put aside from the real world of women, or what it would be like to have four way marriages instead of two, or what it would be like to be in a world where children were not given clothes to wear until the age of seven.

It was a similar push pull that I experienced while reading A Wizard of Earthsea.

But for not even 20 hours of listening, these two books were a lot of time and work.  Effort.  Other books that were more escapism than facts of immigration, inequality and sexuality out there for all the thinking, crept in for consideration.

Maybe I just have a lot going on.

In other news my birthday was last week and in a glut of Amazon money I procured way more ebooks than a lady should ever admit to.  A true lady. I’m not one of those so I can safely say I think I bought 18.  In my defense some of them were for the seasons of holiday reads coming up, when shorts and BookRiot are taken care of.  Maybe there is no defense at all.  I did get a real bed for my dog though and I probably got one that was too small that I will have to exchange but I didn’t think of only myself.  Just mostly.

Shorts will continue at least through July.  I still need to read categories I have been procrastinating for BookRiot and I usually start racking up the scary reads in August to post on for the fall.

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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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BookRiot: Cozies!

I almost kind of cheated with this category.

I rang in the New Year bingeing on Her Royal Spyness books and feeling at the time that I could just count those as my cozies, and I could, technically, but it wouldn’t be getting around to something new that I had been meaning to read.  Of course I meant to read all the Royal Spyness goodness, but maybe something new to me that also deserved a chance.

I have also read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels.  Some of them are already due for a re-read.

So I did read two new cozies.  Two I already owned, because reading down the backlist is also important, especially since I want to do better with newer novels (and write all the things, and have a full time job and a son etc).  Stuff.  And both of them are set in mostly arid climates, hence this week’s picture not being some saccharine springtime one (but those are my favorite, sorry not sorry).

A Cozy Mystery:

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe, burned by marriage at a young age and finding herself free and with a bit of means from an inheritance, decides to start her own detective agency, the only one run by a woman in her home of Botswana.  This is not one mystery in this book but a series of small ones, one probably larger and more serious than the rest.  It’s a light-hearted book, even though the topics can be difficult:  adultery, pregnancy/child loss, and the disadvantaged status of women, crime, etc.  Of course you have to have those things if you are solving mysteries, and they are still cozy, not all of them involving death or murders.  It is one of those where the solutions are usually fairly simple and the detective herself goes out on a limb to test out her own theories.

I can see why people might pick up more in this lighthearted series with a smart woman at it’s helm.  Old world charm, likeable characters, diverting mysteries.  It was a fun read, and I blew right through it.

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The Bride Wore Dead, EM Kaplan

Josie Tucker, a struggling food writer, sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to a distant friend who died on her honeymoon at a health spa.

It says directly on the cover that this is an un-cozy, un-culinary mystery.  It’s cozy enough for my purposes, even though it is decidedly edgier than some of the cozies I have consumed and will continue to consume (let’s be honest with ourselves here). The protagonist, Josie Tucker, can be edgy, cynical and hard to read.  As cozies are usually centered around a hobby, she was a food writer but having gastrointestinal issues and needing to add other things to focus on.  She does get seriously hurt in this one, which makes it a little less cozy than some of them can be, although it’s common for the sleuth in these novels to come under attack themselves as they get closer to the truth.

I liked this book, but it was slow in places. At the beginning, when she is a stand in bridesmaid, we do get to know her major cast of friends, but there is a lot of talk at the wedding table and her learning that the wedding is largely attended by exes of the bride and talking about them.  I don’t know if these were intended to be red herrings, but she dies on the honeymoon, not at the actual wedding.  And when her friend comes over to take care of her when she is hungover, and a doctor visit about stomach issues that cannot be figured out, I feel these could have been pared down a little. I wanted to keep going, I was curious about all the plot threads, and I liked that the protagonist’s life gets a little more back on track at the end, instead of being the loose jumble that it is in the beginning.   Things change for the grumbly, sick and overheated woman we meet in the first few pages.

I’d recommend it, and maybe in her following books the movement is a little faster, as there isn’t as much setup involved.  I’d be willing to read further in.  I have book two, Dim Some, Dead Some.  I’m interested in how Josie will continue to move forward with her illness, and I like that she isn’t as sweet as other cozies can be. Also, this is a self pub but I am reading other self pubs rather than counting this one twice.

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The Writing Nook

Even though A Room of One’s Own was penned 90 years ago this year, there are parts of it that still ring true today.    As a married woman and a mother I bring no scandal to my family (scandal, no, grief, maybe) by being a writer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my own space and time in which to do it.  And headspace.

My husband built me a she shed more for the challenge and creativity of it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t move my happy butt in there.

Right now it’s mostly used for sleeping out in with my son on the weekends, even in the winter, because it has heat that keeps it warmer than the 40 degrees required for the sleeping bags that we use way more than I anticipated when I bought them. My husband likes to remind me that my solitary time will only increase as my son grows older,  increasing my time to enjoy the cabin.

And then he uses that to show me pictures of ATVs he wants to buy our son to play on.  Think of all the writing you can do if we get this expensive toy, honey!

I’m not the best photographer.  I got insta to help move the blog but this combined with the fact that I rarely read a physical book anymore, and I don’t get bookmail, makes me more obsessed with tiny houses and people’s dogs and nature photos.

I want to spend my time writing, not bookstagramming, at least not right now.   Although it looks fun and I’d love to cozy up to some of those book influencers when I need them.  I like especially when they post with pets.

Bearing with my bad photography, here is my beautiful space:

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Kitchen area, with microwave and mini fridge!  The lanterns are candle holders and yes that’s a small Christmas tree stashed!  I have winter woodland wonderland themed ornaments to go on it.  Coffee is made via french press and electric teakettle.  I have a lot of mugs for someone who doesn’t entertain much but I love them.  Also the tea towels get traded out for winter or spring.  The winter towels are cardinals and birds on winter trees.  These are the spring ones and they are ornamental due to my really wanting an excuse to buy bird towels at Joann’s because their spring decor line always takes my money.

Plus there is always wine handy and I have a margarita set in there that I got for my wedding but I have NEVER USED.  Damn, I spend too much time reading and writing.

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Just some knitted accessories and a teapot and the birdfeeder teapot I need to hang outside once I get another spot to hang things from the trees because birds and teapots? I love having the birds back this spring.  I missed hearing them this winter.

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My little table for two, or for writing, or dyeing yarn in a crockpot which is TOTALLY happening at some point.  Notice some books piled up on the side and there’s a spare notebook and pens because I had a pen crap out on me there one day and I had no backup and it was an unacceptable state of affairs.  It’s also where the tree goes during the relevant season.    Plus ruffly curtains.

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This is the view from the steps leading up to the loft.  Tons of natural light and you can see the deck and the fireplace.   The loft is a mess with stuffies that my son brings out with him and our sleeping bags and my lap desk.  It needs a screen door for air in the summer.

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A cozy reading spot with a quilt on it with kitties and birds that my friend made just for my space!  So I can sit and read here if I want to if I don’t feel like the table.

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The electric fireplace that saves us all winter.  And the candleholders I loved having an excuse to buy.  My pretty forest view, which is better in the summer but I didn’t want to wait to post.

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Bird detail on the stained glass window that you pass on your way up the steps to the loft.

I can update this in the summer with my summer deck accessories, as I have chairs and a garden table to hold plants.  My hubs might add a deck to the back too.   It has electricity and wifi and a fan for the summer.

A shed of my own!

I have been making progress on my writing.  I sent some projects out to be considered for publication so I need to try to put them out of my mind while I am waiting for a response from editors.  My fingers are crossed, but at least I’m doing the work.  It’s the only way stuff will happen is if I put my hat in the ring.

Did I mention I wrote a sonnet?  I wrote a dang sonnet for my 12 poems in 12 months group.  If you are a writer just looking to be more consistent and a forum for being experimental, definitely look at that site or 12 short stories.

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Donovan Reads High School Required Reading List

I thought I saw an article on Medium about what kids really should be reading in high school.  Maybe it wasn’t medium, because I can’t find the article now, but it got me thinking about what books I have read that I felt had more important messages to today’s kids than what I had to read, or even worse still, what my husband had to read when he went through high school eleven years before I did.

First, here’s a sample of what I was assigned to read in high school:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Julius Caesar

Romeo and Juliet

The Giver, Lois Lowry

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The Great Gatsby,  F.Scott Fitzgerald

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Mercifully, we were at times allowed to choose from a list, and these are some of what I chose:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Pride and Prejudice (but it honestly was beyond me then), Jane Austen

Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate,  E.L. Doctorow

Book of Daniel,  E.L. Doctorow

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Darkness Visible, William Styron

Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Also I started reading Nero Wolfe novels and Richard Brautigan, both courtesy of my father.

Lots of white people and white people perspectives, lots of heteronormative perspectives, not a lot of empathy gathering understanding from other perspectives.  I would say not a lot of addressing illness and disability, other than The Bell Jar and Darkness Visible, but I read both of those on my own steam and due to an early interest in mental health. And I think any reader of my blog sees titles that I have since revisited, the merits of which I believe I have discussed in the past and will do so again when I tackle more re reads.

Today’s world is full of everyone’s perspectives and they are all important, and I believe heading into the world with some awareness of others perspectives as well as an openness to them is the best start possible.  I found that in college it wasn’t a knowledge of the white canon that helped, it was an openness to other worlds beyond what I had experienced myself.  Which wasn’t a whole lot.

In making this list, my goals are to expose kids to many perspectives, gain empathy, appreciate complexity and develop a healthy skepticism. So what would I assign?

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Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman

There is absolutely more mental health awareness than there was when I was in school. I remember there may have been one kid who had been rumored to have spent two weeks inpatient, but I didn’t know why, and it was all very hush hush.  One kid in the 800 I attended high school with that I heard possibly went. Nowadays, kids can name multiple classmates who have gone inpatient for an acute mental health need.   They cover mental illness in health class.  Kids are more open to talking about what they go through and often let their friends know that they see me.  But this book brings into living color the reality of what a psychotic break is, and what it’s like.  I don’t know what they are like firsthand but I have studied and known/treated people who have had them.  And I believe that people growing up to work with mental health or the public or when making policy decisions.  If I ran the world, this book would be required reading.

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Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

Like I said when I reviewed this book, it’s important because it talks about those of African descent in our country in more than just the time there was slavery and those trying to escape. Racial issues in our country continue to be forefront and are based on a long history.  One that we can hopefully grow from.  I remember learning about enslavement, and the Civil War, and then Martin Luther King and protests for equal treatment, but this book brings to life what these things meant in real life to real people.  As I listed, I did read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that helped open my fifteen year old mind, but it was chosen from a list and we could not have duplicates in the class. And it was one woman’s story.  Homegoing is the story of many.  Like in the previous selection, I have not experienced these things, but I understood them better when I read this book.  It broadened my mind further, and I have had graduate classes on privilege and diversity.

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Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Likely I would do excerpts from this one, as it is well written but wordy.  I can see where it would be tedious to teenagers, and I want them to hang in there with the message this one has.  Gender issues are forefront right now, and although the hero of this story is not trans per se, but intersex, it still brings up important points on the meaning of gender.  If I had read something more recently that was about gender issues it could replace this one, but I think empathy and more understanding toward people who are not cis would be helpful.

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Dune, Frank Herbert

Okay, a white dude writing sci-fi.  I loved Dune, by the way, but I am adding it here because it is my experience that young minds who are getting into a world full of information through which they need to make informed decisions need to appreciate the complexity that comes with power and political issues.   There are always numerous facets to why something went the way it did or why it is the way it is, and young (and older minds  too I guess) tend to simplify issues and take stances based on limited views, or lacking the appreciation that their view has limitations and doesn’t mean the same to someone else who may need/want something different.

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Ghostland, An American History of Haunted Places, Colin Dickey

I love a ghost story, so why would I recommend a book that kills our fundamental American ghost stories?  Because it talks about facts and how facts have changed based on our viewpoints as Americans.  To be skeptical of stories that seem fundamental. This talks about the darker side of our collective history and sometimes ways of thinking.  The side that we don’t get tested on.  Most, if not all of the places/stories mentioned in this insightful read are stories I already knew about from TV shows and this book presented the other side to them, showing me more about who we are as people than a good scary story.  So think about why a story exists and is presented like it is.

Also, I would like kids to read one book that is super intimidating due to its length, just to learn that it isn’t as bad as it seems.  Anna Karenina was one of those that I was intimidated by, and then increasingly gratified when I was making it through and enjoying it.  I surprised myself.  And I think that’s a valuable experience in creating a lifelong reader and the beginnings of an intelligent consumer of knowledge.

I have not read Freshwater, The Power, or Born a Crime, but they might be added to a sequel on this post after I read them.  And I also have to say I think the current YA market does a great job in meeting these goals as well, all sorts of issues and perspectives communicated through stories.

I also need a moment to say how much I hated that my high school constantly chose Shakespeare for the drama requirement.  One of my friends reminded me that the class begged our junior year English teacher to do something different, hence Waiting for Godot.  Shakespeare was base entertainment.  It would be like kids in high school four hundred odd years from now having to read Fifty Shades.

Agree/disagree?

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