Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Good Grief?

I've written before about the chaos that is library trips with my three kids.  My head is usually spinning as I attempt to keep track of them all in the large and busy children's section of our library.  Thankfully, my oldest is fairly adept at choosing his own books.  I end up doing the bulk of the book selection for my middle and little but am not able to do so in a leisurely fashion.

I grabbed Stinky Stern Forever because it was a short chapter book with the word "stinky" in the title.  Sold.  That was the extent of my previewing.

On Sunday, I was heading out to do a quick errand and reminded my middle guy to take a Minecraft break and start a new chapter book.  I offered up Stinky Stern Forever because I knew he would not be intimidated by the length.  Indeed, he read the whole book in less than an hour, but I returned home to some bewilderment.

My husband:  Why did you make him read that book?

The reader:  It was kind of really sad.

My oldest:  A kid died.

Oops.  I then scanned the inside cover and found this teaser:  But when school lets out and the kids begin to head home, something unexpected--and horrible--happens that will change Mrs. Fennessey's class forever.  Having neglected the inside cover, you can bet I also did not look up any reviews or summaries.  I might have discovered this plot point from a School Library Journal review on Amazon:  Pa Lia Vang doesn't like Stinky Stern, the bully of her second-grade class. But late one day, on his way home from school, he is hit by a van in full view of the child. She learns later that evening that he has died.  Had I previewed the book further, I would also have seen that those leaving reviews gave it high marks for tackling a difficult subject with sensitivity and offering a welcome degree of complexity and honesty to younger readers.  However, I still wouldn't have chosen it for my almost seven year-old.

The book made him feel sad, but it was ultimately, not a scarring experience (at least not so far).  It's okay to feel sad.  For another reader (including some others in this house), however, I think this book may have provoked anxiety, sleeplessness, and questions I'm not totally prepared to answer.  If my middle guy had been more rattled, I would have read Stinky Stern myself so that we could talk about it.  I have not done that because I don't really want to read a book about a second grader getting hit by a van.  I know horrible things happen that kids witness and must process.  I know that literature is one way to imagine the pain and confusion of a tragic event and to try to make sense of it.  I know that good and great books are often built around tough realities.  But, that's not what I was seeking when I put this book in our library bag.

So, what's the lesson here?
Authors should not write books in which children die.  Of course not.  Such books are needed, though I would prefer if they did not have a goofy kid on the cover and "stinky" in the title.

The library should put a little tombstone sticker on the side of the book.  You know, like the stickers that delineate sports books, mysteries, etc.?   Of course not, though I will say, my middle guy did ask several times, "Are you going to tell the library about this book?  I don't want other kids to be sad."

I should go online to read reviews of the books I choose for my children.  Practically speaking, I don't think this will happen, but I definitely will preview a bit more carefully going forward.  I would have found enough to give me pause had I just checked the inside cover.

I should ask our wonderful librarians to help us select books.  Definitely.  I have seen them in action.  They are great at asking about kids' interests, showing them options, and selling their favorite titles.  My middle guy and I will go that route next time we're there.

Curious about how other parents and kids choose library books?  Any tips or habits?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Quick Lit -- June

I'm participating in Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit series where you share short reviews of your recent reads.  Here's the skinny on mine ...
Ebooks and audiobooks make it difficult to get a satisfyingly complete photo of all books enjoyed.  If anyone can tell me how to get cover art images that aren't itty bitty, please do!

Do you want a short, inspirational book about the power of imagination?  
J.K. Rowling's Very Good Lives is the length of a graduation speech and would make a nice gift for such an occasion, particularly for grads who grew up on Harry Potter.  I read a library copy.  I don't feel compelled to rush out and buy one for myself, but I'd be delighted to receive one.

Do you want to rage against patriarchy?  To rethink body image and cultural standards of beauty and gender?  
Sarai Walker's Dietland was a compelling, subversive, and thought-provoking read.  Don't let the cupcake on the cover fool you.  Whether readers love or hate it, everyone will have something to say about it.  I think it would make a good book club selection.

Do you want to relax and enjoy a sweet but (mostly) satisfying story?
I read several quick but enjoyable books that fit this bill.  My favorite was Jenny Colgan's Little Beach Street Bakery (thanks Modern Mrs. Darcy for the rec).  I can't resist a "fresh start" narrative nor a cool British setting.  I also enjoyed Sarah Strohmeyer's Sleeping Beauty Proposal which I inhaled in a big gulp last weekend.  Strohmeyer's books are smart, fun reads (try also: Smart Girls Get What They Want and The Pennypinchers Club).  Other relaxing reads that I liked but don't have too much to say about are Stephanie Perkins's Anna and the French Kiss and Jennifer E. Smith's The Geography of You and Me.

Do you wish Jane Austen had written more books?
Angela Thirkell's fun and Austen-esque Coronation Summer might be for you.

Do you want to get lost in the lives of a family over the course of many years?  
I am currently listening to Early Warning, the second installment of Jane Smiley's Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga Trilogy.  The narrative moves along with glimpses of various family members from year to year.  Nothing and everything happens.  Can be slow moving, but the characters grow on you as the years go by.  I am so invested in them all now and looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.  Ann Packer's The Children's Crusade is similar, though it covers less time and fewer family members.  

Do you seek a fresh, edgy detective story that is awesome as an audiobook?
Lyndsay Faye's Timothy Wilde Trilogy provides a riveting look at the chaos, energy, and humanity of nineteenth-century New York.  I just finished listening to The Fatal Flame, the final book of the trilogy.   

Been wanting to try a graphic novel?
I enjoyed Lucy Knisley's An Age of License: A Travelogue (not novel!). I can't really relate to the tortured artist dimension of the story, but I think the graphic genre is well-suited for a travelogue.  More fun than looking at someone's vacation photos!

Want to get in touch with your spiritual side and nurture your faith?
I was blown away by the beautiful writing in Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith and wish I'd had a paper copy to mark up instead of the ebook (of course, I doubt I would have read this book had I not purchased the ebook on sale).  I am currently immersed in Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede, which is from my "I'll Thank Me Later" List.  More on this title later.

I want to know what you're reading?  Can you find me on GoodReads?  Please do.  I'm booksandcarbs.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

June Snackshots

Slices of Kerrygold Dubliner cheese (a Costco staple of ours), dried cherries (my mom gave me a box at Christmas -- I think she procures them at Meijer), and crackers (just gluten-free rice thins, but they do the job).  Stack and bite.

Whipped topping mixed with PB2 powdered peanut butter.  Eat a spoonful or add to bites of banana.   Apologies for most unattractive lighting for food photo ever.

Your snacks of choice this month?


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pillow Pride

The kiddos and I visited my hometown last week and had a chance to stop by Joseph-Beth, one of my favorite bookstores.  We did buy a few books -- Jedi Academy, El Deafo, and Brown Girl Dreaming -- and had to check out the cutesy, giftsy goods as well.  I spotted what I thought was a cool Ohio pillow on a high shelf.  Loved its vintage charm and got on my tippy toes to grab it only to discover it was a large tote bag stuffed with paper.  Good news because the tote bag was only $15.95, much less expensive than a gigantic pillow would have been.  I purchased it, cut off the handles, did some sloppy needle and velcro work, and borrowed the form of one of six very-ugly pillows that came with our family room furniture.  Voila!  I am pleased with my new pillow, sort of a poor man's version of the awesome and very expensive Cat Studio pillows I have been coveting for years.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The "I'll Thank Me Later" List

Last week, I finished Andy Miller's The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life.  With a young son at home but despite working in publishing and having a longish commute, Miller had fallen out of the habit of reading.  He draws up a twelve-book "List of Betterment", which includes books he's always meant to read and/or has pretended to have read.  These twelve books reignite his love of reading, and Miller expands the scope of his project:  reflecting on his history as a reader, reading 50 books, exploring book club membership and book blogging, and undertaking a new writing project.  Miller writes about books in a thoughtful and witty way.  I liked his reading memoir and suspect that if our reading tastes were more similar, I would have adored it.

Miller's journey in The Year of Reading Dangerously has inspired me to make my own "List of Betterment" which I have dubbed The "I'll Thank Me Later" List.  This "I'll Thank Me Later" List is comprised of books I have been meaning to read for years and which I am fairly certain I will love. 

The "I'll Thank Me Later" List
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson:  Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum was my favorite book to gift to others for years.  Anticipating another glorious reading experience, I ordered the hardcover of Life After Life soon after publication but, alas, I have yet to open it.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver:  Alright, already.  I am an Oprah fan but find myself less interested in books that are OBC choices.   I read Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer fourteen years ago and still think about coyotes and pesticides because of it.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv:  As I write this, my sons are huddled up next to each other watching YouTube videos of stampylongnose.  If you don't know who Stampy is, you may not need to read Last Child in the Woods, but I do.  Plus, two dear friends have recommended it and I spied my arborist brother-in-law reading it.

Gilead by Maryanne Robinson:  Nothing but raves about Robinson's writing from readers I really respect.  Time to test the waters with the first installment in a trilogy.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden:  In my mommyblogging days, I had some actual blog readers who sometimes made my day by leaving comments.  A mysterious (because blog-less herself and Canadian to boot), witty, and smart commenter named "Mrs. F with Four" recommended this book as one of her all-time favorites.  I promptly ordered a copy and six years later ...

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner:  When I was an English grad student, living in a garden apartment in Chicago's Lincoln Park (garden = basement and the Brown Line train ran right behind it and spewed rusty El juice upon my leased Honda), my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I walked one street over to have drinks at his colleague/mentor's home.  Several things I remember about the evening: 1) They had a wine refrigerator built into their kitchen cabinetry which, at the time, blew my mind.  2) They had no living room furniture yet so the colleague's wife was using the space to host her friends for yoga with a teacher she hired.  3)  She thought I could get a job moderating book club meetings, which I did not have the guts to attempt but, in hindsight, would have been a great if not necessarily lucrative career.  4)  Her favorite book at the time was Angle of Repose.  Fast forward a dozen plus years:  My suburban neighbor one street over has a fantastic kitchen and Angle of Repose on one of her bookshelves.  A still unread-by-me copy purchased from a Chicago Public Library book sale cart has graced my shelves for ten years.  My current kitchen lacks a wine refrigerator but is not too shabby.  Yoga pants, but no yoga.

A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary:  I read all of the Henry Huggins and most of the Ramona books to my oldest and found them even more wonderful as an adult.  I want to know about the woman who created these timeless childhood stories.  I've checked this memoir out of the library several times over the years and returned it unread.  Found a used copy at a book sale last summer so it seems like fate.

"I'll Thank Me Later" Books stacked in my Kindle...
The Green Mile by Stephen King:  Still haven't read the "horror" King books and probably won't, but after years of EW columns, 11/22/63, and Joyland, I trust King and want to read The Green Mile.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman:  This book sounds like one I would hate, but I have to remember that other books I thought I would hate -- Lonesome Dove, Ready Player One, Hunger Games, just to name a few -- were books I loved.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain:  Am I an extrovert or an introvert?  I always assumed I was the former because in my goody goody way, I thought I was supposed to be.  I suspect I am the latter and want to learn more.  The recent launch of the Quiet Revolution website has me even more intrigued.

So that's it, my "I'll Thank Me Later" List.  It's not a collection of books I think I should read but of books I suspect I will adore.  I'll check back in with progress.  I'd love to hear about what titles you'd choose for an "I'll Thank Me Later" List.