Category Archives: books

Positivity Day 2: Books

I am writing these posts in no particular order, in case someone was wondering why today’s post comes before one about my daughter, or any of the other important people in my life.  Although, if I’m going to be honest, books are as important to me as many of the people I know, and much more important to me than some.  Anne Lamott wrote, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you,” and that pretty much perfectly fits me.

And it always has.  My parents say I have loved books since I was tiny, memorizing them and “reading” them aloud to other people, and demanding that books be read to me by the hour.  I devour books.  My husband complains that my collection takes up a disproportionate amount of space on our shelves, and he’s right–three of our four bookshelves are almost totally taken up by my books, and that’s not counting the boxes in the attic, those still in storage at my parents’, or the ones I have sold to make room for new ones.  I read and re-read and am constantly on the lookout for new things.  My husband teases me about the giant bags I carry, because books are also like a security blanket for me, and I always have at least one in my bag, tucked in right beside my notebook.  You never know when you are going to have a few seconds to fly through a couple of paragraphs–waiting in line, stopped at stoplights, during stupid commericals.  My books ensure that I am never bored.

Despite my constant hunger for new books, I have become more selective about the ones I’ll buy.  Even on Amazon, books are expensive now (and I thought my Baby-Sitters Club books were expensive at $3.95 when I was a kid–ha!), and I am unwilling to spend the money unless I’m sure the book will be good.  So I tend to collect authors–Silas House, Joshilyn Jackson, and Pat Conroy are a few fiction writers on my mind right now.

Fiction has traditionally been my favorite, but I’m also finding a lot of nonfiction capturing my imagination lately.  I read quite a bit of travel writing, biography, and Christian inspiration, but mostly it’s books about writing and teaching–or both together.  Don’t Quit Your Day Job is a collection of essays I’ve been reading as quickly as I can.  It’s about writers and the jobs they had before becoming full-time writers (it has essays by Pat Conroy, Joshilyn Jackson, and Silas House!), and is absolutely beautiful, with essays both touching and hilarious.  It’s been keeping me good company while I’m sick, and too tired and weak to move off the couch. For teaching books, I like Tom Romano, Ralph Fletcher, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Donald Murray (the link is to the NWP’s tribute to him) and too many others to name.

I could go on all day about books and authors I love and who have touched me and changed me, and I’ve tried to start keeping up with them on my goodreads page.  They are my long-time companions and friends, and I have no idea who I would be without them.

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Reading about vampires

This week I have not written like I usually do.  I have not watered my flowers as often as is normal.  I have not really exercised.  I have not willingly gotten up from the couch, even to go to bed. 

Why?  Because I am obsessed with Stephanie Meyer’s books.  I finished Twilight and tricked Joe into stopping by Target so I could pick up the other three books in the series.  I have been devouring them ever since.  It’s really crazy to me, because I’m not into fantasy literature.  I’ve avoided the books for a long time because the idea of vampires and humans having a relationship was ludicrous to me.  And I have to admit, the books have some of that element.  I’ve been entertaining Joe for the past couple of nights by summarizing whatever part I happen to be reading.  It sounds ridiculous when you say it aloud.  A vampire and a human?  A vampire, human, and a werewolf?  Imprinting on each other?  It’s hilarious.

But the books offer a really tender and passionate love story too, which is probably the main reason that I like them so much.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, because pretty much since I graduated from high school, I have shunned romance novels at all costs.  But these stories are different.  It’s hard to explain the attraction.  This series should be the opposite of everything I like to read.  Instead, I’m already having trouble imagining what on EARTH I’m going to read when I’m going to read when I’m done.

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More good reading

I’ve spent a lot of my day re-reading Clay’s Quilt, by Silas House.  Joe read this book in the spring and raved about it.  We do this to each other all the time–one of us finds a book that just blows us away, so we bug the other to read it too, just to have someone to discuss it with.  Joe is usually a lot more good-natured about this than I am.  I generally resent having to put down whatever I’m doing to read something I’m not interested in, and I give him a lot of evil looks and heavy sighs. 

So I didn’t have a really good attitude when I started the book, but by the end, somehow a shift had occurred.  Silas House became one of my favorite authors.  He’s a Kentucky writer with an amazing ability to present his home in the best possible way.  When I read his books, I get lost in the poetic language.  His writing captures the langour and heat of the South but steers clear of the stereotypes.  I hate when you watch a movie set in the South and the actors can’t manage the accent, so they just talk like they are dim-witted.  House’s dialect perfectly captures the way I hear people speaking at church or at the grocery, and, if I’m honest, probably the way I speak too.  But his characters are so richly drawn and passionate, so real and deep–I don’t see how you could read these books and still subscribe to Hollywood’s generalizations that we’re all stupid down here.

Another reason I love his books is the way he writes about women. House is one of the few male writers who writes about the relationships between women with insight and sensitivity. His first three books deal with several generations of the same family, and he eloquently illustrates the complexity of emotions between sisters. His characters are easy to relate to–I love when, in my favorite book, The Coal Tattoo, Anneth tells El that sisters don’t make up; they just go back to the way things were.  It’s so true!  I also appreciate the way he doesn’t gloss over the mistakes that people make or the hard choices women often have to make.  His characters feel like people I grew up with–neighbors, family, friends.

I always kind of feel like his books should come with a soundtrack.  Silas House used to write for No Depression, the fantastic alt country magazine that is out of business now.  Music is so important to his characters–one of the reasons I love reading these books is rediscovering what they are listening to.  In Clay’s Quilt, it is noted that you can tell a lot about a person by what they listen to.  I scroll through the jumbled lists on my iPod and wonder what on earth you could tell about me by my musical selections–probably that I am a very confused person.  But I like the way the music he chose reflects the desires of his characters’ hearts.

I’m looking forward to his new book, set to come out in 2009.  Until then, I’ll be reading the old ones over again–I seem to connect in new ways every time.  Silas House is one of those people I wish I knew, although if I knew him, I’d probably be too shy to talk to him.  So he’s one of those people I wish Joe knew, and then I could find out about him through Joe and never have to embarrass myself by being awkward and uncomfortable.  In any case, you definitely need to read his books.

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Literature Concerns

Over the past year, I have been reading a variety of young adult books, hoping to find more options that my students would be interested in.  In doing so, I have started reading blogs written by some of the authors I like.  Today, while reading one of these blogs, written by an author I have very much admired, I was really taken aback by a rant against classic literature in the classroom and insinuating that the teachers who use it are responsible for making students hate reading.

I’ll admit I’m a classic literature nerd.  I love Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, and yes, even Great Expectations.  I think everyone should read these books, and not because they are “good for you” or even because they have been traditionally taught at certain grade levels.  These authors are amazing, and they offer things that readers can’t get anywhere else.  Some of these books are not easy to read, but I see that as a good thing.  If people only read things that are easy to understand, they never stretch their minds and grow.  Students need a challenge, and they need to learn to look at things from different points of view. 

I think there’s a misunderstanding about classic literature–too many people perceive it as boring and out of date, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  The books are so very relevant.  I’ve had so many students who were pleasantly surprised when they got into a particular novel that they thought would be dull, and they were fascinated by it.  The classics definitely belong in the classrooms.  But that doesn’t mean that those are the only types of books students should read, or that there isn’t much to learn from other types of novels too.  I love young adult literature–I have spent most of my day today rereading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Maybe it’s silly, but it’s a lot of fun to read, and that’s important.  I love discussing all types of books with my students.  And there are so many other genres students are interested in–anime, sci fi, etc. 

All students operate on different reading levels too.  That’s okay with me–education is not a competition.  People have to learn at their own rate.  One of the things I love about teaching is differentiation, trying to find a way to reach each student on his/her own level.  It’s not always easy, or even possible, but it’s part of my job.  No matter how fun or relevant to real life a book is, there is no one book or genre that is going to reach all students.  They need a variety, ideally covering ALL genres. 

Reading problems are huge in schools today, and there’s no easy solution.  I’ve thought about this so much over the past year that I’m not sure what I’ve written even makes sense, or expresses exactly what I think about the issue.  I guess what bugged me the most about reading this blog is that while we search for a solution, we’re all supposed to be on the same side here.  I don’t understand people who rant against classic literature, or YA literature, or any other kind.  They are all important.  People just need to READ.

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Summer Reading: Joshilyn Jackson

Two years ago, my husband and I planned a trip to Pensacola.  I was dying for the beach, and I convinced him it was a good idea by letting him route our trip through Alabama and Mississippi so we could hit some music museums he wanted to see, and of course, our favorite place: Oxford, Mississippi.  A day or so before we left, I headed to Barnes and Noble to pick out some beach reads. Cosmo, definitely, and I needed a new book.  I didn’t have a lot of requirements for the book; it just had to look interesting and like a decent escape.  I did not want to sit on the beach reading Wuthering Heights.

I guess it took me a while to sort through every book in the store, because finally Joe came up to me holding a copy of Gods in Alabama, by Joshilyn Jackson.  I’d never heard of it, but (proof of how ready he was to go home) he pointed out that Glamour had given it a good review on the back, comparing it to Steel Magnolias.  Sounded perfect for a beach read, and I’m a sucker for southern fiction anyway.

It was better than I could have imagined, so much more interesting than the chick lit I had been looking for.  From the first sentence: “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniels, high school quarterbacks, trucks…” I was lost in the world of Arlene Fleet.  I was never quite sure I really wanted to be friends with her–her sweet cousin Clarice sounded like a much safer bet–but I was instantly immersed in the mystery and familiarity of her life.  I knew people like Arlene, with just enough craziness to make them lovable.  A novel about the the complexities and secrets among women in families, Gods in Alabama sucked me in, and I couldn’t escape.  I didn’t want to.  I spent the entire trip down to Pensacola reading hilarious bits out loud to my husband and trying to explain to him why I just couldn’t put this book down.  I think he regretted suggesting it.

Ultimately, it’s a story about which secrets are worth keeping, and what exactly you would be willing to do for the people you love.  It was so powerful, endearing, and captivating that I had a hard time paying attention to the beach I’d waited months to visit.  Growing up in Kentucky, I could completely relate to the setting Joshilyn Jackson created and to her description of southern culture, but you don’t have to be southern to relate to this book, or any of her subsequent novels: Between, Georgia, and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.  If you’re looking for something wonderful to read this summer, definitely check out Joshilyn Jackson.

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