February Book Giveaway

I think I’ll start doing a book giveaway every month, at least until I run out of books to give away. Starting with this book.

Beverly Cleary was a favorite author of mine growing up. Throughout the years, my Dad read pretty much all of the Ramona Quimby books to me. Cleary is one of those rare authors that truly understands how children think. But it wasn’t until I was older that I realized she wrote some young adult (YA) as well.

I don’t know about you, but YA is very hit-or-miss with me. The universal appeal of YA is that while our teenage years are certainly not the best years of our lives, they’re certainly the most vivid. So diving back into that world can be a fun diversion. But all my life I’ve had a lot of trouble finding YA books I could actually relate to, or that even remotely resembled my own teenage experience.

Then, recently, I read this annoying article in which the author confidently writes, “sex, drinking and drugs are part of a teenager’s reality. This isn’t me suggesting every teenager has sex, or drinks, or does drugs — only that it’s there. It exists for them. And some adults may bluster — ‘Bluh, bleh, muh, not my teenager!’ — to which I say, even Amish teenagers deal with this. The Amish. The Amish. So, I’m always dubious of any young adult book that doesn’t at least address one of these three in some way.”

When I read this I rolled my eyes so hard that they were sore for days. If this is what people think the reality of every teenager is, it’s no wonder I could never find YA I could actually relate to.

Anyway. All that to say, I tend to collect YA that addresses what I see as the actual universal feelings of young people. Like when you like a guy more than they like you, or when you’re angry at your mom but can’t fully pinpoint where your feelings stem from, or when things matter enormously but you can’t explain why, or when you like the idea of a guy more than the actual guy, or when you start to discover how big and interesting the world really is.

This compilation by Beverly Cleary addresses all those feelings, and more. It is such a fun read. I recently found a second copy, and decided to give it away to one of my readers.

The compilation includes three books:

Jean and Johnny

Fifteen

The Luckiest Girl

If you’re interested in some fun happy reading, comment below or on Facebook saying you’d like to be entered. You can also mention what your favorite books were as a teenager, if you wish. If you share this post on Facebook or Twitter I’ll give you an extra entry. Just mention in your comment that you shared it.

That’s all for now. Happy Reading!

ETA: I guess I forgot to set an end date for the giveaway. Oops. Giveaway ends the moment it stops being February and starts being March. So, like, about a week.

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Things that Lurk in Google Drive

My friend Janane was looking over my shoulder and laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your google drive! Mine is full of random pictures, and yours is full of random documents.”

This makes sense when you consider that she is a photographer and I am a writer. In any case, this inspired me to poke through some of the random things I’ve written and stored in google drive. Like this bit:

Stand on a stool.

Try standing on your tiptoes.

I’m sorry, I was in a meeting.

I’ll try to answer my phone next time.

Don’t worry, your arms will grow.

Try calling back when I’m not so busy.

Um, context please, Emily of the past? I don’t even remember writing this, and I have no clue what it’s supposed to mean. I think I just wrote down my exact thoughts, sans context, just for fun.

Here’s another:

I want to go somewhere else for a while:a foggy place where I can look sideways into the misty breeze, and read ancient hardback romances, and drink tea from sophisticated glass tea cups. No one will tell me what to do, or even make hints, and I will only write the things I want to write. If I get tired of having no responsibilities, I may get a very small cat. That is all.

And, a little weirder:

Sometimes when I’m lying in bed at night I think things that don’t make a lick of sense, and it makes me happy because it means I am inches from falling asleep. But this afternoon I scrolled through Twitter and thought, “I am grape.” That didn’t make any sense, obviously, but I’m not falling asleep, so what does that mean? That I’m inches from crazy?

LOL, I remember writing that one. I wasn’t falling asleep but I was experiencing a crazy amount of daytime fatigue at that point in my life.

Here’s another.

I thought that in his life everything must happen in the summer, all the colors muted, and the whole town diving into the creek, and people loving each other. I wanted to go back in time and photoshop myself in, so I could have the same memories.

And another.

“I’ll admit it,” he said. “I’m intimidated by women who make more money than me.”

I don’t know what her opinion of him was, then. She was a feminist, but not an angry one. I tiptoed through the conversation, smoothing down the corners.

And a bit of fiction for good measure.

“You see that thing that looks like a really bright star?” Roberta said. We were lying on the trampoline, snuggled into our sleeping bags, and her arm pointed up across my slice of sky like the dial on a speedometer.

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it a star?”

“No,” she said. “That’s Mars. That’s where I’m gonna live some day.”

“You’re not gonna live there!” said Cliff. “You can’t live on Mars. There’s no atmosphere.”

“I’ll wear a space suit,” said Roberta.

I tried to imagine a grown-up Roberta, wearing a long, floral skirt over her puffy space-suit pants, a prayer veiling pinned up under her helmet.

I guess I imagined her going, but not really leaving.

In the course of my poking around, I also found part of a book proposal that I’d forgotten I’d started, my graduation speech from 2008, a two page “About Me” section I wrote for this blog and then didn’t use because it sounded pretentious, the hastily-designed program for the Christmas Play I directed, and a transcribed interview with my grandpa.

Oh, and contrary to Janane’s claim, I did have some random photos as well.

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I can’t be the only one. What are some of the strangest things lurking in your Google Drive?

 

What Goes Wrong Where I Work

Of course the first comment on my last post asked me, “So, where YOU work, what is likely to go wrong?”

I should have anticipated that this question might come up. I was basically asking for it. But I still have avoided writing this blog post because in order to say what goes wrong where I work I have to first explain where I work, and my job is enough of a cobbled-together position that it’s hard to explain.

Okay. Here goes. I work at a small Christian church school, and my official job title is “secretary.” About 1/3 of my work hours are spent doing secretary work, about 1/3 of my work hours are spent teaching, and about 1/3 of my work hours are spent tutoring.

We’re an ACE school, so my “teaching” consists of helping out in the classroom once a week, as well as substitute teaching when necessary. I’m also in charge of two courses that sometimes require me to teach in the traditional sense, but are mostly writing-based, so I usually “teach” by meeting one-on-one with the students.

If you have ever been involved in a small Christian church school, I am sure you can easily envision this type of position. If not, I’m kind-of sorry if you’re still confused, but I am tired of trying to explain.

Actually, that could be thing-that-goes-wrong #1. I have a hard time explaining my job to those who have no concept of the small Christian church school.

So, thing #2, and this is probably the main one: I’m the one who hears the most about things that are going wrong, but has the least power to fix them.

The secretary is kind-of like Switzerland.

Well, except for the time I told the students not to wear t-shirts after the school Christmas Program. The school handbook said the students were to wear white button-down shirts to the Christmas Program, but I didn’t see any reason for them to wear button-down shirts under their costumes. So, thinking I was being cool and reasonable, I told them they could wear t-shirts under their costumes. But I didn’t like the idea of them wearing grubby t-shirts after the program, when everyone was eating refreshments, so I told them they could bring nicer shirts to wear afterwords. Maybe a polo or something.

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, it is totally in vogue for high school students of today to bring grubby t-shirts to Christmas Programs, just so they can change out of their fancy duds the instant the program is over. And I, the evil secretary, had just upset their plans.

That was the one time I was the center of drama. Instead, people usually complain to me when they’re upset at someone else. Which is fine. I’ll lend an empathetic ear. But it’s frustrating because there is usually very little I can actually do to help.

Okay, things that go wrong #3: I have an inconsistent schedule, but everyone else is on a very rigid schedule that I have to work around. And sometimes the people I help are on different schedules from each other.

Basically, grades 1-6 are on a completely different schedule from grades 7-12. The only time they kind-of overlap is at lunch, but even then, the older students are supposed to be finished eating and out on break by the time the younger students come out to the lunch room.

Last Monday, a friend of mine convinced me that the reason I’ve been so sick is because I don’t eat enough raw veggies. She suggested I bring salads for lunch. So, on Tuesday, I brought a salad for lunch.

It barely made a dent in my hunger.

Wednesday I brought an even bigger salad. It still didn’t fill me up.

Thursday was my day to help out in the older classroom, but I also had to tutor a 3’d grader. We made it work. But when the older classroom let out for lunch at 11:45 I was still tutoring, so I didn’t get to eat until the younger classes let out for lunch at noon.

I took out a plate and prepared my salad. It was a HUGE salad. The whole plate was heaped with kale and lettuce and parsley and avocado and beans and cheese. I began eating.

And ate.

And ate.

And ate.

The 12:15 bell rang. The younger classroom went out for break, and the older classroom came in from break. I was supposed to be back in the older classroom, doing my teacher duties, but my salad still loomed in front of me.

It took forever to chow the whole thing down. Have you ever tried eating a heaping plate of kale salad? I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, unless you like chewing and chewing for 20 minutes and not ever feeling full.

I mean, I feel healthier though I guess.

So. If you ever want to write a book about someone who had a job like mine, you can make them have a hard time explaining their job, and everyone can come to them to complain, and they can have strange scheduling conflicts that result in them not having enough time to eat their salad.

And everyone will think you know what you’re talking about.

How to sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about

So I was reading this bit of historical fiction. The author had obviously done a lot of research into the time period she was writing about. She included all the details. But I still found it almost impossible to suspend my disbelief. I had this nearly overwhelming feeling that the author didn’t know what she was talking about.

Then today I was reading this fun chatty blog post written by my cousin-in-law’s sister-in-law, who wrote about her recent wedding, saying, “Not that the months leading up to our wedding didn’t come with their fair share of trials and difficulties.. they surely did with a few things out of left field that left us baffled and bewildered.”

Neither I nor any of my siblings has ever gotten married, and it occurred to me that if I were to write a story about a wedding, everyone reading it would be able to tell that I have never experienced one, because I have no clue what sorts of things come out of left field that leave people baffled and bewildered.

I could find a copy of The Ultimate Wedding Planner and Organizer, and carefully study it. I could make my character pick out flowers, and a wedding dress, and a cake. But no matter how many details I threw in, if something didn’t go wrong, it would show my readers quite clearly that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

That got my mind churning. I have, a couple times, asked people about their jobs because I wanted to know some details for a story I was writing. From now on, I think I’ll start off with the question, “where you work, what kinds of things are likely to go wrong?”

Actually that might just be an interesting question to ask in general.

The Great Thrift Store Haul

haul

I miss making videos, so I decided to make one. This is Jenny and I chatting about our recent thrift store hauls.

Limping Through December

This year I learned one of the uncomfortable truths about post-college life: Most people don’t get a month-long vacation over the holidays.

I’m used to the terribleness that is the two weeks after Thanksgiving: Illness, dead week, finals week, giant projects you should have started on three weeks ago. But then, I’m also used to it all being over after the first week of December, giving me recuperation time amid holiday parties and shopping sprees.

Granted, in my current job as school secretary, I get a nice two-week vacation, which is more than many people can boast. But goodness me, this year it was not enough.

I got absolutely hammered with illness this year. The whole month of December I’ve been either in bed sick or just barely recovered and ready to be hit with the next onslaught of sore throat or fever or what have you. The worst of it happened in the two weeks leading up to the Christmas play at school. I’d drag myself to school, direct the play for an hour, and then go home and crawl back into bed, my quota of energy used up for the day.

And then, oh my! The play was happening in three days, and the sheep did not have sheep costumes, and the cows did not have cow costumes, and the angels did not have wings. Mom, Amy, and Jenny leaped into action. We congregated in the sewing room. I cut up old blankets that looked like animal fur. Mom sewed them together. Amy sat on the floor and cut angel wings out of foam board with a utility knife. Jenny bought a quarter yard of faux fur, came home, and fashioned it into a beard.

The play went well, all things considered. I can’t complain on that front. But the Christmas season was in full swing, and there were family gatherings and Christmas concerts and I still had to go to work until December 19, and then a friend came from out of town and then my Mom and sisters and I drove up to Seattle to watch Howl’s Moving Castle: The Musical.

Christmas Eve I had horrible insomnia. After three hours of sleep-ish, waking up every 20 minutes or so to cough, I got such horrible stomach cramping that I woke up for good. After a couple hours of pretty intense pain I threw up and felt a little better.

I went back to bed. I could hear my siblings start to get up, and I didn’t know if I should get up to or try to catch a few winks before breakfast. I went with the latter, which meant that I was woken up for breakfast during my first REM cycle of the night, which meant that I was so disoriented and miserable that I started crying for no good reason.

“No one cares if you go back to bed,” said Matt.

So I did. Not the greatest start to my Christmas. Thankfully it only took about 20 minutes of rest before my system re-set itself enough that I was okay again.

Despite being one of the most exhausting miserable Decembers to date, it has also been astoundingly magical. How often does one get the chance to write and direct a play? To see one of their favorite books get turned into a musical? To have their whole family home for Christmas? To take a trip to Seattle with their Mom and sisters, and only a few days later, to spend four days in the stunning beauty that is the southern Oregon coast?

I wanted to blog about all the magic, I really did. But all my energy went to other things. Like surviving.

Oh well.

After all, tomorrow is another year.

 

Cozy Books

“Is The Kite Runner good?” I asked Amy while perusing her bookshelf for something to read.

“Oh, you haven’t read it yet? You should read it!”

So I read it, and it fell vaguely short of my expectations. Which was somewhat of a feat, as I had very few expectations going into it. I guess I just expected to enjoy reading it more than I did.

Then I picked up A Tangled Web, by L.M. Montgomery, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Something in my soul filled up, making me feel beautiful and happy and content and thoughtful.

So then, of course, having read two books in a relatively short span of time, I had to compare them. I had to know why I preferred one over the other so strongly.

Some of the difference was actual quantifiable things that made one book better that the other. Hosseini wrote pages and pages about flat characters who only had one trait. “The sweet supportive wife.” “The kind, selfless friend.” “The evil sadistic villain.”

Montgomery, on the other hand, wrote characters that were only mentioned once in the entire book, but had distinctive and unique personalities. And she laughed when cousin Hannah from Summerside asked her if it could be true that she was going to marry “a certain young man.” Cousin Hannah would not say “a Gibson.” Her manner gave the impression that Gibsons did not really exist. They might imagine they did but they were mere emanations of the Evil One, to be resolutely disbelieved in by anyone of good principles and proper breeding. One did not speak openly of the devil. Neither did one speak of the Gibsons. 

But all technicalities of good writing aside, I discovered that an essential characteristic of the books I love, deep in my soul is coziness, abundantly present in all of Montgomery’s books, but not so much in Hosseini’s. This is also a difference I’ve noticed between British and American fantasy. Almost all my favorite fantasy writers were British, and they tended to infuse their books with coziness. Even a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings had these incredibly cozy descriptions of eating second breakfast in Bag End.

My three favorite cozy books are Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

Castle Books

Pictured is a foreign language (Portuguese?) edition of Howl’s Moving Castle, because I liked the cover art better than the English version. 

I think of them as my castle trilogy, as they all three have the word “castle” in the title. At first this seemed a grand coincidence. But later I reflected that books with “castle” in the title usually have a strong sense of place, as the castle is so present in the books that it is almost a character itself. And there is something very very cozy about books with a strong sense of place.

My friend Esta later mused that maybe it’s an introvert thing to be so drawn to cozy books, because we want this strong familiar sense of place to retreat to.

That was kind-of a round-about ramble, but all that to say I’ve been craving cozy books lately, and if you have recommendations for cozy books with a strong sense of place I would love to hear about them!

The coziest book I’ve read recently that wasn’t a re-read was Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley.