Book Review: Landline

LandlineWell, Dear Readers, I’m less than a week from beginning the summer semester, and I only read one book (I attempted another, but had to put it down. I hate doing that, but life’s too short for bad books, ya know?).

So anyway, I don’t want to give away too much about Landline, but basically, it’s about Georgie, who is married to Neal and has two kids, and is also a career woman with a best friend/co-worker who has high expectations for her professionally. Over one Christmas, Georgie gets a huge project dropped in her lap, and decides to stay in California while her family goes to the Midwest without her.

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Introducing Best Thing Thursday!

Hello, dear readers! Since my last post, I have been doing some thinking about implementing new habits. It is seriously difficult to keep up with a goal all year long (as I found with my big birthday cards goal in 2014). I have a good friend who did a happiness jar last year, where she wrote down the best part about every day and then opened that jar at the end of the year. I thought about what a good idea that was, but also about how I would never be able to keep up with that. What I think I could do is pick the best thing from every week. And, instead of keeping all of those best things to myself in a jar at home, I wanted to share them with you! In that spirit, I’ve come up with:

Best Thing Thursday

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Book Review: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

Before I jump in to the review, I just want to take a quick second to brag: It’s my two year blog-o-versary! Thank you to everyone who reads! If you want to see my most-read posts, definitely start out with my Black Friday post, which was Freshly Pressed, then look at this one and this one.

Now on to the review:

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls

Source: Goodreads

I recently finished Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. I know, I know. I’m a late David Sedaris bandwaggoner, but I had attempted to read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim several times and just couldn’t get on board. I’m so happy I gave Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls a shot, though, because it did not disappoint.

The book contains several essays that are hilarious, zany, inexplicable, and sad. My favorite essay is about a taxidermy shop where Sedaris considers buying a murdered pygmay’s skeleton. Yeah. Let that sink in a minute.

While that essay is probably the most off the wall in the book, it does illustrate the thing I liked best about Sedaris: he is undeniably, unapologetically, quirky. You know those weird habits you have when you’re alone in your house, that you’d never admit to anyone else? Sedaris specializes in writing about stuff like that. It’s almost like the more weird the stories got, the more I identified with him. I love that in a writer.

He also loves satire, which I was on board with, but I must say that the thicker he laid on the the sarcasm, the less I liked the story. The last bit of the book is also more fictional, and Sedaris takes on other characters. I thought this was a bit confusing at first, and I have to admit I liked the first chunk of the book much better. Sedaris is at his best, in my opinion, when he’s being heartfelt.

In all, I would recommend this book to almost anyone. It’s hilarious most of the way through, and I finally overcame my David Sedaris block and had a lot of fun. What more can you ask for in a book?

Have you read any good books lately? Any plans for good summer reading? Any suggestions for what I should write about in my third year of blogging?

Some Thoughts on Beloved

Beloved

Beloved (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

I first attempted to read Beloved my sophomore year in high school. I say “attempted” because I never finished it. Before picking it up again recently, I remembered almost nothing about it, except that I found it slow and I couldn’t keep the characters straight, much less get to know them. So I put it down.

I read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Jazz in college and loved them both, so I knew that one day I would revisit Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved. But I wasn’t looking forward to it because of my experience with it when I was 15 or 16.

Predictably, 10 years makes all the difference in the world. Perhaps I’ve become the person my teenage self loathed, because this go-around, reading Beloved solidified my suspicion that my own teenage angst prevented me from accessing the empathy more experienced adults are capable of. Empathy is essential to understanding Beloved.

A major theme in Beloved included mother-daughter relationships, which I wasn’t able to understand from a mother’s point of view firsthand until recently. Morrison writes with such conviction and insight that I think the mother-daughter dynamics in the book are impossible to ignore whether you’re relating from a mother or a child’s point of view, but I will say that as a mother, this aspect of the novel just destroyed me. The book’s protagonist, Sethe, a mother, made every feeling I’ve ever had about my daughter bubble up in me. I read Part 3 (the conclusion) on Mother’s Day. I would not recommend that for my fellow mothers out there, probably.

The other major theme woven into this haunting story is identity, which Morrison skillfully points out can be lost, confused and tattered when one person is a slave to another. By the way, as you might guess if you’ve read other Morrison books, slavery is illustrated in both the historical American sense and non-traditional senses.

I went to Goodreads to remind myself exactly what Beloved was about before I started it again. In the simplest terms, Sethe is a freed slave who has lost all of her children except for one, her daughter, Denver. Toward the beginning of the book, a stranger named Beloved shows up at Sethe and Denver’s home. Beloved is a pretty ambiguous character, and most certainly not what she seems at first. There are flashbacks to Sethe’s time as a slave and her escape to freedom throughout the story, so there are essentially two plots happening at once.

As you might expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, most of the reviews on Goodreads were good, but I always like to see what people who rated books low have to say. Most people who didn’t like Beloved cite the (at times, VERY) disturbing descriptions of slavery, bestiality, infanticide and physical and sexual abuse. Yes, these things are all in this novel and they are horrifying. But I think that if you’re setting out to read Beloved, it would serve you well to remember that this novel deals primarily with slavery, and it’s important to keep in mind that this period in American history should horrify us. It’s easy to read hard facts about one group of people systematically treating another group of people as sub-human and move on, but it’s imperative to understand that we’re not realizing the weight of what happened if we just move on. I think it’s ill-informed at best to gloss over this part of history, and quite possibly dangerous. Don’t forget that slavery is not dead.

So, I would recommend Beloved to anyone interested. If you’ve never read Toni Morrison, you should know that her prose is absolutely masterful. She’s lyrical, emotional and at times dramatic, but restrained enough to never cross the line into melodrama. If you’re like me and have read Morrison before, but never Beloved, please run to your local library or bookstore immediately and pick it up. My opinion is that it’s an important work of fiction.

Bookstores Aren’t Dead!

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an independent bookstore in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just came across this article in The Atlantic about a woman who opened an independent bookstore in the age of Amazon.

While I admit to loving my Kindle and buying books from Amazon specifically to read on my digital devices, I am not about to give up my love for the (physically) printed word. And I know I’m not alone.

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For Kids Who Can’t Read Good

Zoolander

“At the Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too, we teach you that there’s more to life than just being really, really, really good looking.”

I love my local public library. And, believe me, I am definitely not just saying that because I used to work there. Living in the same general vicinity from birth through adulthood has many disadvantages, but one thing I do like about it is having great childhood memories in places like the library that I can still visit every day (even though thanks to various technological advances, it looks much different now).

One essential summer activity for me as a kid was participating in my library’s summer reading program. The way it worked was, you would go to the library, check out some books, take some special cards with places to track your reading, and go home and read! The cards had spaces to track what book you were reading, how long you read each day, and I think even spaces to record some quick thoughts on the book. The librarians would always give me extra cards to take home, because I usually left the library with a ton of books. When we would go to the library to return books and check out more, I would drop off my filled out cards and get some more. Filled out cards got placed in a drawing, and there were several drawings each summer. I won some great books this way!

Fast forward to my college years, when I was lucky enough to work at the library. Summer was pretty rough because it was so extremely busy (yeah, that thought you have in your head about libraries being peaceful and easy places to work? That’s a lie). Kids were out of school, parents were frazzled, programs were going on every day…it was chaos. Except, I loved handing kids their summer reading program cards. I loved seeing how excited they were to read. It reminded me of me, and it’s really encouraging that even though kids today have cell phones, Facebook, and Xbox 360s to keep them occupied all summer long, they still do choose to read.

Those memories of the summer reading program at the library were fresh in my mind when I visited the library website and found a special section of the program page for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, reminding parents that, “Reading is just as important for younger children, birth through age 5,” and to let them “participate in the reading program with parents, caregivers, and siblings sharing books with them”.  And then it goes on to list other activities you can do with your kids to facilitate a love for reading. There’s even a reading list for ages 0 to 2!

I am so excited to do the summer reading program with Baby I, you guys! The theme is Dream Big Read so the suggested books for the little ones are bedtime books. Perfect, because that’s my reading time with Baby I! ’ll definitely keep you updated on how it’s going. In the meantime, some of the books that we’ll try to read before summer’s end:

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I’m also listing some of the activities that the library suggests for this age group. I left out the ones that Baby I is too young to enjoy. Many of these activities, we already do together. But they are all great ideas:

  • Sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star at bedtime
  • Explore a texture book and find other textures in the house that are similar.
  • Go on an imaginary farm trip, making the sounds of all the animals you might see.
  • Hold your baby in front of a mirror — name what you see.
  • Cut shapes out of sponges and play with them in the bathtub.
  • Play peek-a-boo — enjoy laughing together with this silly game.
  • Go outside and watch the clouds on a nice day. What shapes do you see?
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow.
  • Read a book outside.
  • On a breezy day, take some ribbons or streamers outside and watch the wind move them.
  • Sing a lullaby to your baby
  • Recite a song or nursery rhyme and add some actions.
  • Babies love to hear your voice. Copy the sounds that your baby makes and listen to the sounds that they make back.
  • After reading a book, retell the story without the book.
  • Spend 10 wildly happy minutes reading to your child. Make reading together a fun and positive experience.
  • Say goodnight to all the objects in your child’s room as part of his or her nighttime ritual.
  • Look at the stars with your child. Name as many constellations as you can, or make up names for the shapes and objects you can see.

Yay summer!