Category Archives: Thoughts About Books

April Giveaway Winner+8 Random Thoughts

The winner of my book giveaway is Celina Lynnette! Congrats, Celina!

Sorry, I am too tired to do the whole draw-a-name-out-of-a-hat-and-take-pictures-of-the-process thing.

That means that this post is super short and lame, and not really a proper April Blogging Challenge post. Maybe I’ll go all Emily-of-ten-years-ago and post some random thoughts.

8 Random Thoughts:

  1. Today I had a grand fight with the printer. The printer won. #secretarylife
  2. I’m reading “Franny and Zooey,” by J.D. Salinger. I wasn’t an enormous fan of “The Catcher in the Rye” (three stars), but am finding that I really enjoy his stories about the Glass family.
  3. Favorite line: “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.”
  4. I used to be appalled when I saw people compare Obama to a monkey/ape. I thought it was extremely racist. But now I see people compare Trump to a pig, even photo-shopping a pig nose onto his face. Can we just not compare our leaders to animals? Thank you.
  5. How many seasons does Oregon have? I’m quite sure we don’t have four. I think we might just have two: Summer and Wet. Thoughts?
  6. I like to read magazine articles about really innovative artsy interior design ideas, but all I can think is, “how would you even dust that?”
  7. I actually wonder the same thing when people have stuffed animal heads hanging on their walls.
  8. There is nothing like the wonderful feeling of discovering another person that loves “The Blue Castle.”
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April Book Giveaway (ABC Day 18)

Today I’m cleaning off my bookshelf and doing a little book giveaway. These books fall squarely in the camp of “I enjoyed them, but I don’t necessarily want them cluttering up my bookshelf forever, but someone else might LOVE them.”

At least, someone might love the first one. Not sure about the second. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

The first book I’m giving away is A Visit from the Good Squad, by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a fun read that’s structured in a very interesting way. It begins with a story about a kleptomaniac named Sasha who is going on a date with a guy named Alex. During their date, she mentions this weird boss she used to have named Benny.

The next story jumps back in time, and is about Benny working as a music executive. The third story jumps back in time again, and is set during the time Benny was a teenager, but it’s told from the point of view of one of Benny’s friends/bandmates.

In this way, it’s more a collection of short stories than a novel, even though it says “a novel” right there on the front cover. But there are novel-like elements. You get to the end of each story eager to read the next one, and the questions that you have at the end of some stories are usually answered in other stories. And there are themes linking it together: mostly the theme of “time” and the theme of “music,” with the idea that music, in a way, transcends time.

(If you are wondering how I can state what the themes are so clearly and succinctly, it’s because I had to read this book for a class, and we analyzed it to death. If it weren’t for that experience, I may have decided to keep this book, haha.)

One caveat: While there are no graphic sex scenes or anything, it is a secular book written for adults, and adult themes crop up occasionally.

Okay. The second books is The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith.

The Vicar of Wakefield is an odd little classic that will look pretty on your bookshelf even if you, like me, don’t end up liking the story. Also, the ending is so completely bizarre that it’s hilarious. Furthermore, if you skip the boring political rants, it turns out to be semi-interesting, and the main character/narrator has a unique voice.

(If I’m gonna be honest, there were times when I wasn’t certain if the main character was supposed to be satirical or not. Sometimes it’s hard to know, with really old stuff, if it’s satire or serious. Like, I read once that Romeo and Juliette was a satire of how stupid teenagers are when they’re in love, and if that were true I would like the play much better, but how can you tell when you know next to nothing about the intricate culture of the time it was written?)

So anyway, if you want these two books, or if you want one of them and will put up with getting the other one too, please leave a comment either on here or on Facebook saying you want to be entered into the the drawing.

Optional: You can also tell me whether or not you think Romeo and Juliette is a satire.

The giveaway will close at 11:59 pm on Tuesday, April 24. (So you’ve pretty much got a week to enter.)

Final note: You can read the April Blogging Challenge Day 17 post here on Jenny’s blog, and tomorrow your can check out the Day 19 post on Mom’s blog.

February Book Winner

The winner of my February book giveaway is…

Natasha Yoder!

Congrats, Natasha. I sent you an email.

As for the rest of you unlucky losers, worry not! I shall give away another book at the end of March.

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: Giveaway now closed.

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.

Bookweek Day 6: Some Final Thoughts

Thought 1: Well, you all have convinced me. I have, once again, started The Scarlet Pimpernel. I am currently 3 chapters in and very confused as to the exact political beliefs of the various men in the bar. But I’m powering on, regardless.


Thought 2: Hamlet just does not have the rabid fan base that The Scarlet Pimpernell does, according to the oh-so-reliable sample size that is my blog comments. So why are people always referencing Hamlet?

Thought 3: I realized, as I read the comments, that I rarely talk anymore, on my blog, about my own plans to write books. So yes, if you’re curious, now that I’m out of school that’s what I’m working on. I’m nervous about blogging about my projects because I always think, “what if I decide to scrap it and then I’ll have to explain??”

Hmm.

Thought 4: My post about diaries had me thinking: most people keep a diary at some point in their life, right? So where do all those diaries go? Do people destroy their own diaries? Shouldn’t families all have heirloom diaries?

Thought 5: This week was such fun. I should do it again sometime.

Bookweek Day 5: The exclusive club of true bookworms.

B2

When I was a kid, I noticed a lot of weird tropes in the books I read. Like, the author would say “grown-ups don’t understand X,Y, and Z,” when the book was obviously written by a grown-up. Characters would say “this is just like something that would happen in a book!” when, duh, they were in a book. And all of the main characters loved to read. All of them.

Even if they were a medieval peasant, some random priest would have trained them in the art of reading and writing.

It forms an odd kind-of a self-perpetuating cycle. Sure the kids who love to read may find a relatable character and continue to love to read, but the kids who don’t love to read aren’t going to be converted any time soon if every book they pick up is about someone who’s completely unlike them.

As a kid who struggled to read and only managed to wade through about one book for every ten my sister Amy devoured, I always felt like the bookworm club was something that belonged to her, and to those characters, but not to me.

I was reminded of this self-perpetuating cycle when I took literature and writing classes in college, and once again felt like I was standing on the outside of some exclusive club. This was the club of literary fiction. Genre fiction, you see, was for the uneducated masses. True writers had to love literary fiction.

They’d give us “fantastically brilliant” short stories to read, bizarre plotless things overstuffed with similes. “I once had a class with this author,” they’d say, or “I heard this author speak once.” But I’d never heard of those authors, nor had I ever heard of my teacher’s published works, and suddenly I’d wonder if all the literary world did was pass stories around to each other and tell each other how brilliant they were.

In the last writing class of my college career, we were learning how to write linked collections of short stories. During the term we read three examples of linked collections: Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat. A Visit from the Good Squad was the most fun to read, but in the end I had to settle for The Dew Breaker as my favorite. It explored the Haitian-American experience in the wake of the Duvalier dynasty, something I knew very little about. It also explored the concept of an unspeakably evil person deciding to become “good.” (Jesus’ Son was just a bunch of incoherent stories about a guy who drove around town listlessly and did drugs with his friends and watched people die.)

During our last class session, the teacher asked us which of the three books we’d liked best. And my jaw fell to the ground as every. single. person. said, “Jesus’ Son.”

“It was just…his way with words was amazing. I found myself underlining, like, every single sentence,” said Justin. Which was true. I know enough about writing to know that those were some gorgeous sentences about nothing.

“I agree,” said our teacher. “Honestly, a lot of Danticat’s sentences were kind-of clunky.”

Also true. But.

I’d rather live in an ugly house than in a pile of beautiful bricks, I thought but did not say.

Now, I will freely admit that that sentiment may have been my own brand of snobbery. Because if people love their beautiful bricks, what is that to me?

And yet, I firmly believe that reading is a magical form of storytelling that is accessible to all. We just have to stop telling kids that The Great Illustrated Classics aren’t worth reading because of how cringingly watered-down they are, or that they’re not true readers if they only like The Hardy Boys. 

And we have to stop telling adults that only the beautiful bricks are works of art and stories worth telling.

We have to stop excluding people from the bookworm club.