Thursday, September 27, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Several weeks ago, I listened to the audio edition of Amy Hollingsworth's The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World's Most Beloved Neighbor.  I had not really thought about Mister Rogers in years and I was really inspired by this book and the way Hollingsworth framed his show as a ministry wherein Rogers preached the Gospel without using words.  Hollingsworth had the opportunity to interview Rogers in the later years of his life and exchanged letters with him for many years.  Selections from the interviews and letters are included and really give you insight into the man outside the television screen (who was actually quite a bit like the kind, patient man on the television screen).  If your library subscribes to Hoopla, you can borrow this book for free and I recommend that you do.

Inspired by The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, I decided to track down the Mister Rogers documentary I had been hearing about.  It was showing one-day only at my local theater so I texted some friends and we met up for a 1:00pm showing of Won't You Be My Neighbor?  I loved it.  To see and hear what he was trying to accomplish with his show, his dedication to creating programming that treated children with respect, kindness, and honesty was wonderful.  As a child, I enjoyed the show and remembering feeling calm and safe while watching it.  I remember the satisfaction I felt watching Mister Rogers change into his sweater and sneakers.  I remember how transported I felt when the trolley traveled to the Land of Make Believe.  I loved when Mister Rogers went on field trips.  I loved the opening credits with the aerial view of the neighborhood.  What the documentary drove home to me was how hard Mister Rogers worked to acknowledge the fears and anxieties of children, to address current events/tough topics in ways that could be helpful, and to send the message over and over again that each child is worthy of love just as he/she is.  I was pretty much weeping by the end of it.  There were not many (or any?) dry eyes in the theater.  Even my friend who grew up in Mexico and did not have a childhood that included Mister Rogers enjoyed this documentary.  It's available now to buy on Amazon or rent/stream as well so please do check it out.

One more thing that struck about Won't You Be My Neighbor? was Fred Rogers' concern about what the long-term effects of children's television programming would be, particularly the programs centered around violence, frenzied pacing, cheap gags and jokes, and the demeaning of others.  That concern gave me pause as the bratty kids, bumbling parents, and abysmal writing on many of the shows on Disney, Nick, etc. now seem the least of our concerns with the new influences of social media, YouTube, XBox.  I'm not saying there aren't good things our kids are absorbing these days (or good things they could be absorbing), but there's just so much out there and so much we don't know about the messages they are receiving.  I need to take more ownership of what messages my kids hear most powerfully.

Going to see a documentary is one of those things that I would typically think about doing but never follow through on.  I'm so glad I tracked down the movie time, sent the text, and enjoyed this experience with others.  Bonus:  We saw Won't You Be My Neighbor? at the York Theatre in Elmhurst, IL.  If you attend an Art at York film (it's a once, sometimes twice a month series), you can show up thirty minutes early and enjoy live organ music played on an organ that rises up from the floor of the theater.  So fun!  How'd you like to have that in your neighborhood? 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

#bookstagram & #bookstagramjoy

So, I'm on Instagram, four times over actually; each of my accounts allows me to follow and connect with people who share various interests of mine.  As @booksandcarbs, I follow readers and booklovers in the #bookstagram community.  If you're on Instagram and curious, click on #bookstagram and see the many kinds of posts this hashtag inspires.

Some aspects of #bookstagram are annoying to me:
* Some users post pretty pictures of books but offer no commentary about the books.  Are you recommending it?  Do you just like the cover?  Did it just match your couch, socks, patio furniture, etc.?

* Some users post pretty pictures of books that they aren't actually reading (or even planning to read) and do this multiple times per day (Hmmm, you have several kids and a job and you've posted photos of seven different books today and five different books yesterday.  Are there more hours in your day than in mine?)  No one has asked me to be a #bookstagram detective, but I'd explore the position if asked.

* Users who have received review copies of books post photos of them.  I know that's what's expected when one accepts a review copy, but I get annoyed when I scroll through my feed and see the same book pictured over and over, often with very little text to tell me if it's a book I'd enjoy or not.

* Users who are all about numbers of followers and don't focus on creating interesting content.

There are some other aspects of #bookstagram that annoy me, but I already feel petty and nitpicky about what I've said so far.  The bottom line is that I am looking to connect with lovers of books more than with photographers and promoters of books.  

Some aspects of #bookstagram are glorious to me:
* Some users post beautiful photos of books that I've never heard of and include commentary.  Then, I have the pleasure of learning more about that book/author and tracking down a copy if I'm especially intrigued! 

* Many users talk about the books!  I love honest feedback about what they're reading paired with cool photos of the books.

* I have found a few "kindred spirits" on #bookstagram, people whose reading tastes are similar to mine and from whom I learn about books beyond the current bestseller list (not that I am against contemporary lit or bestsellers -- I read plenty of both!!).
I've had a few "happy ending" reading experiences, thanks to #bookstagram -- times when I've discovered a book and then gone on to read and enjoy it!  I'm going to try to write up some of these experiences on this blog under a new feature called #bookstagramjoy (or a cooler hashtag that hasn't come to me yet).  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Audible Monthly Credit Report Catch-Up

Long Post Alert.

It's been six months.  How have you managed without knowing how I spent my monthly credits?

March Picks
Jonathan Miles's Anatomy of a Miracle was fantastic.  I've enjoyed all of his books but this one was my favorite by miles (pun intended).  Faith, family, friendship, love, war, reality tv, neighborhoods.  It's all there and his eye for detail is noteworthy.  I really liked Tanya, the sister character.

Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead was just okay.  Some nice, interesting moments but it didn't add up to much, and I found Laura such a frustrating character.  This book does not live up to any of the Gilmore Girls comparisons posited by some reviewers/bloggers/bookstagrammers.  

April Picks
My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding -- Not one person who knows me would use the phrase "animal lover" to describe me and yet I loved this book and continue to love Clare Balding's writing.  She's honest, compassionate, funny, and positive.  She does a great job with this memoir framed around different animals in her life.  I shed a few tears.

Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion -- I'm a Meg Wolitzer fan and she gives you plenty to think about here in terms of women in the world, friendship, mentorship, power, etc.  It wasn't heavy-handed or aggressively political.  I enjoyed following the lives of Greer, Faith, Cory, and Z and cared about them.  That being said, this novel is one where the parts are greater than their sum.  Glad I listened to it, but not my favorite title of hers.  

May Pick
I think Stephen McCauley's My Ex-Life was my only (or maybe my first) pick in May.  Looking back at my Goodreads, I see that I didn't write anything about it which either means I hated it but didn't want to be mean, was feeling lazy, the book included a hot button issue of mine and I didn't want to grapple with liking/disliking a book that includes this issue, or it was just fine.  My Ex-Life was fine.  It filled the time.  I didn't not enjoy it.  Twas fine.
May Pick #2 (but chosen in June)
Using an Audible credit to purchase Elin Hilderbrand's latest is a summer ritual for me.  The Perfect Couple, her first murder mystery, was not a big departure from her usually delightful Nantucket novels.  I was worried it would be a disappointment, but it was another glorious trip to Nantucket (for everyone except the novel's Maid of Honor).
June Credits?  July?  No clue.
Okay, I'd really love to discuss Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win but I can't say I really loved it.  I did like the inside look into a campaign and the toll it takes on candidates and their families.  I thought the ending was a cop-out, and it kind of pissed me off.
A friend recommended A Polaroid Guy in a Snapchat World by David Spade.  I just cracked up.  Spade is a really funny guy, self-deprecating and seemingly honest.  I tracked down the audio version of his previous memoir after reading this one.  Need a laugh or company for a boring drive or household project?  Spade's Your (Polaroid) Guy.

July Credits?  August?  No clue.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh was a real change of pace.  Sublimely funny in a few moments.  Details and observations that feel real and familiar.  But dark, dark, dark and at the end, either devastating or kind of hopeful.  I'd love to discuss it with someone.  I listened to it late summer, but having just experienced another anniversary of 9/11, this book strikes me as even more poignant.

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin would be perfect for book clubs.  So much to discuss.  A real bubble burster in terms of what we may not know about the "good kids" we know, especially in this new(ish) age of social media.  What are we teaching our kids, especially by example?  Giffin's best book in years.  (Side note: the narrator for the male character in the book had a voice that sounded too old for the character, in my opinion.)

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan is a title I listened to very recently.  I liked the Galway setting and will check out the next installment once it's available.  This new detective series has potential.

August Credits (I think).
I really liked the The Family Tabor by Cherise Wolas, though maybe not as much as I liked Wolas's The Resurrection of Joan Ashby.   Poses good questions about negotiating life without faith and the dangers of trying to bury, discount, or otherwise deny one's past.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a book I resisted.  I don't like the title, am tiring of Southern novels with secrets, and am sometimes less tempted by books with too much buzz and multiple #bookstagram posts.  Nevertheless, I went for it and I'm glad.  Kya and her beloved marsh were easy to root for and the novel gives you a real sense of time and place as you read. 

Okay then, all caught up on Audible credits until I spend my September ones.  Apologies for the massive post.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

LFL Flashback!

I made a brief trip home over the weekend to visit my family, including a brand new nephew.  On Sunday morning, my sister and I walked two kiddos over to the elementary school that I attended for kindergarten and first grade (our parochial school didn't start until second grade back then).  I was excited to see this Little Free Library outside one of the school's entrances.  (Sidenote:  I've never paused to wonder if the Fairfield City Schools' mascot is still the Indian.  I guess it is.)  I really like how explicit the verbiage is on the side of this LFL:  Take a book or magazine, read it here, take it home, keep it or return it.  I find it much more inviting than the take a book, leave a book phrase I've seen on other LFLs.  Plus, there are homes where kids don't own many (or any) of their own books, and I like the idea that a child could find a book here and have the pleasure of keeping it at home forever if he or she loved it. 
This LFL is, not surprisingly, full of children's books, including plenty of books for beginning-to-be independent readers.  I would have loved to open it up and choose a book back when I was a first grader falling in love with reading.  I was a bus rider though so I'm not sure how much browsing time I would have had, though maybe this LFL can be visited during recess...

I was totally tickled to spy a copy of Sideways Stories from Wayside School because I have clear memories of my beloved first grade teacher Mrs. Huss reading this book aloud.  Here's hoping there are still copies inside the school!

Finally, as I do each time I spot a LFL, I paused to determine which book I would choose were I in need of a read.  I think I'd go with Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place, a true story of the Holocaust that moved me as a ninth grader.  Second choice with be The Secret Garden as a readalong with my daughter.

I hope the students of FSES are enjoying their LFL!  It makes me happy to think of it there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report -- February 2018

I am killing it with my Audible book selections in 2018.  January was excellent, and I chose two winners in February as well.  If only I had some ideas for March...

If you haven't heard about Tara Westover's Educated, you will.  If you enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy or The Glass Castle, you will enjoy Educated.  Westover was kept out of public school by her parents but was not really homeschooled either.  Her story of growing up with a (likely bipolar) doomsday prepper, strictly religious father, a midwife mother with other healing gifts, and many siblings is almost unbelievable.  Imagine never seeing a doctor.  Imagine getting yelled at for rolling up your sleeves (immodest) on a hot Idaho day.  Imagine not having a birth certificate.  Abuse, shifting rules, shifting moods, shifting alliances ... her childhood is not easy.  Her family is not conventional (understatement).  And yet, they are her family, and she loves them, which makes her journey to educate herself all the more challenging and amazing.  The first time Westover ever sits in a classroom, she's a student at Brigham Young University.  Westover's writing is honest, thoughtful, and reflective.  She's not trying to sensationalize her childhood so much as she is trying to make sense of it.  Excellent.  I want to discuss it with someone.

The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances has been on my radar for a while.  It was published last year in the UK and I somehow saw a description of it.  I've been waiting patiently for it to make its way to the USA.  This is the perfect thriller for boy moms!  A mom becomes increasingly wary of her precious son's girlfriend.  It would be a fun pick for a book club that enjoys a lighter read, though the things that happen in this book and the discussion it invites are not necessarily light.

Any ideas for my March credits?

I promise the next post will not be audiobook-related.  I was just playing catch up.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Audible Oddity -- Steam Index?!

I was searching Audible last month for titles worthy of my monthly credits and paused to consider the Julia Glass title above, which is now on my Wish List.  I've read several Julia Glass novels and thought this one sounded promising.  I was taken a bit aback though to see the "steam-o-meter" below the book's details.  I'm certainly not opposed to some steam in a novel as long as it seems organic to the story.  I am not interested in a bunch of sex scenes loosely tied together with generic characters and a weak narrative frame.  If I were looking for a "steamy read" and I would say I am seldom, if ever, specifically seeking that quality in a book (though, again, I'm not opposed if steam is part of the story), Julia Glass would not be the first author that came to mind (or even the fiftieth).  I'm curious about the introduction of the "steam-o-meter" (my term, not Audible's) in general.  The playful language suggests that the meter is supposed to be a selling tool not a warning label.  I just find it odd.

So, this morning, I decided to look up some titles that I enjoyed and that I know to be steamy (though, I did not know that going in since I did not have the steam-o-meter to consult) to check and see whether a) these books were given a steam-o-meter rating and b) what that rating was.
I read Sally Thorne's The Hating Game last summer as a library ebook.  It's a very fun, love-hate office romance story with good characters.  I would agree with the "hot damn" rating.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is a book I recommend all the time.  It's just a perfect escape.  Great premise, lovable characters, easy to read.  Again, I agree with the "sizzling" rating.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick and available now on Hoopla (a digital service offered by many libraries).  Despite the title (which I initially found off-putting), I downloaded the title for a weekend road trip.  This book is definitely steamy, but it's in the service of a larger narrative about culture, gender, and religion.  I thought it was great.  If I had to give it a steam-o-meter rating, I'd put it somewhere between "sizzling" and "hot damn."  I find it intriguing, however, that this book did not have a steam-o-meter rating.  Perhaps the title tells you what you need to know already? 

Here's what I know:
1)  Some titles available on have been given a steam-o-meter (my term) rating.
2)  For two books that I read that are steam-o-meter rated, I found the ratings to be accurate.

Here's what I don't know but would like to know:
1)  Who's idea was the steam-o-meter? 
2)  Who decides which books are given a steam-o-meter rating?
3)  Who's assigning the steam-o-meter rating?  (Admittedly, I did not dig around on website to see if these come from Audible editors, crowd-sourcing, etc.)
4)  Has Audible received any positive or negative feedback from authors whose books have received steam-o-meter ratings?
5)  Have any steam-o-meter books seen a spike or decline in sales?

As for me, I'm entertained/intrigued by the steam-o-meter feature but think I'd prefer to continue seeking out stories that sound good to me.  If they happen to have a steam factor, so be it, but I think I'd rather be surprised by that element of the story. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report -- January 2018

I couldn't have started the year better in terms of audiobooks!  I spent both of January's credits on books narrated by their authors.  Both books were inspiring, interesting, and entertaining.

I set a walking challenge for myself this year, and these two titles got me out of the house and kept me company on some cold and snowy days. 

Clare Balding's Walking Home:  My Family and Other Rambles.  Balding is a British television sports commentator and the host of Ramblings, a radio show about walking that has been running for many seasons now.  I loved her honest, humorous, insightful description of her walks, of walking, and of her friends, her family members, and the many interesting souls she has encountered through walking.  I am envious of all the amazing walking and hiking spots in the United Kingdom!  Great inspiration for my 2018 walking challenge.

The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer was also excellent!  The Office helped to get me through the early years of parenthood.  I'd get my little people to bed on Thursday nights and look forward to watching a new episode with my husband.  I had actually started re-watching the series in December so I was definitely in the mood to read Fischer's book.  (Side note:  I just watched the Jim and Pam wedding episode last week and cried real tears because I love them and because I remember how much the show meant to me during those exhausting, sometimes lonely years with three very little kids).  Anyway, Fischer is offering advice to people seeking a career in acting.  That's not me and never has or will be.  And yet, I found Fischer's book delightful and inspiring.  You will take risks.  You will fail.  Don't just wait for work -- find ways to create your own opportunities and projects.  Live a creative life.  I think someone interested in acting can finds lots of practical advice and encouragement here.  Anyone with a dream can find some inspiration here.  Fischer has a new show coming out, and I'm looking forward to checking it out.