On Writing

I’m probably one of the last people on earth to read this book, and nothing I will say here will be new. However I like to get down my thoughts for posterity and if there is a chance that you write and you haven’t read this book yet, well here you go.

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference (74).

Even with all of my writerly friends telling me I have to read this, it was never high on my To Read list because I don’t believe I will ever write fiction. I just don’t want to.

A few months ago, my friend Leigh Ann told me she had an extra copy and would I like it? It showed up a few weeks ago and due to lack of space on my book shelves, it sat next to my bed.

Since I have been plowing through books this year already (seriously, as I type this it’s January 6 and I am on book #3 of the YEAR already!), I ended up grabbing it since it was handy. I’m so glad I did.

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A Lady in France {Review}

I have a friend named Jennie who wrote a book.  And then she published that book. Then we all clamored to get the book because our friend Jennie wrote it. A few of us jumped a the chance to review it before we even read it.

As soon as my copy showed up and I held it in my hands, my stomach turned over.

I love Jennie. What if I don’t love her book?

Then I told myself that I was being silly. After all, I love to read her writing on her blog, so why wouldn’t I like this?

I’ve read books written by bloggers before and to be honest, I thought it was going to read like a collection of blog posts (like the other ones did).  I was a little nervous. I didn’t think a memoir should read like a blog.

My worry was for nothing. Jennie’s book is a book, not a blog, not a collection of blog posts.

I was captivated from the very first chapter where Jennie describes her time as a study abroad student in France. The detail she uses is rich and lovely and takes you with her to each place she lived: France, Asia, Africa, New York City.  I’ve only ever been to NYC, but I feel like I’ve been to the other places now.  Or at least in my head I have been there.

Keep reading…

Bossypants {a book review}

I like Saturday Night Live.

Ok. That is not really an accurate statement.

I really really love SNL and if you play against me in the SNL Trivial Pursuit, I will hand you your booty on a platter. And I won’t be a good sport about it.

Out of all of the glorious female cast members over the past 35 years, Tina Fey is one of my favorites. I think it’s because she started out as a writer. She was only cast to do the news with Jimmy Fallon. She was head writer. She was brought back after she left to play Sarah Palin. She…well, she is weird and awkward and hilarious and I want her confidence.

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Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? {Book Review}

“The stories we surround ourselves with can either move us forward or hold us back. A word in the mind is like a pebble in the shoe: both can bring our journey to a full stop.”

Because I enjoyed her first memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, so much, I was eager to read Rhoda Janzen’s follow up, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat.

While her first book took a quirky and funny look at what it was like to go back to her parents’ Mennonite lifestyle after living a scholarly, very NOT Mennonite life for so long, this book had a more serious tone.

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Ellen Foster {book review}

Oh but I do remember when I was scared. Everything  was so wrong like somebody had knocked something loose and my family was shaking itself to death. Some wild ride broke and the one in charge strolled off at let us spin and shake and fly off the rail. And they both died tired of the wild spinning and wore out and sick. Now you tell me if that is not a fine style to die in. She sick and he drunk with the moving. They finally gave in to the motion and let the wind take them from there to there. ~Ellen Foster

The cover of Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons has a quote from Walker Percy claiming, “Ellen Foster is a southern Holden Caulfield…” That is what hooked me. A female, southern Holden?  Sold.

Other than the fact that they were both on their own throughout the novel, there really were no similarities.

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Cold Sassy Tree {book review}

Cold-Sassy-tree-225x300I think I’ve mentioned I like a story set in America that reveals a bit of history, yes?  Well I was talking to a colleague the other day about other novels we may have hanging around the high school that I could use in my American Lit class.

He pulled Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns out of his cupboard and recommended it.  After polling the lunch room, I may be the only person who has never read this book…or heard of it.

At first I didn’t know.  It was an old, ugly copy that I was given and the title was dumb.  But it was set at the turn of the 20th century in the South, and it was about a family and well, that is the combo I needed to sell me on reading it.

Like I said, the novel begins in 1906 in the small Southern town of Cold Sassy.  The narrator, a young Will Tweedy who is 14 at the start of the story, tells about his family–specifically his grandfather, E. Rucker Blakeslee the owner of Cold Sassy’s general store who marries a Miss Love Simpson just three weeks after his first wife passes.  This causes a ruckus not just in the family (Will’s mom and aunt are appalled that their father would marry before their dear mother’s body is even cold), but the town is in an uproar about how improper it all is.

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Daring Greatly

I know it wouldn’t seem like it, but if you want to feel motivated to do big and exciting new things and to take chances, you should read a book about shame.

Ok, don’t just read any book about shame.  And really, don’t read a book JUST about shame.  Read one that is about getting rid of shame and being vulnerable.

Just go read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

The book looks small.  It’s only seven chapters, but there is a lot packed into those seven chapters.  I grossly misjudged how long it would take me to read.  Not because the reading was difficult, but because there was a lot to absorb. Plus the reading was definitely engrossing, and my time to let myself be engrossed in things is in short supply as of late.

The subtitle of the book is “How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.” I do all four of those things, so I jumped on this book (plus I really love Brene Brown).

The first few chapters are devoted to Brown leading the reader through her shame research–how shame gets in the way of our letting ourselves be vulnerable.  These chapters also focus on myths of vulnerability–what being vulnerable is NOT.

The next part of the book moves into all the ways we throw up barriers so no one sees our vulnerability, while also giving strategies for how to shed that armor.

The last chapters help us apply what she has taught us to the work place and to our family life, particularly with parenting.

It’s a legitimate concern to think that a book by a PhD on “research” is going to be heady and full of jargon.  Luckily, it would be an unfounded concern.  Brown has a very conversational, easy way about her reading that makes you feel like you are having a cup of tea with a friend who just happens to be a professional shame researcher.  She shares personal stories and anecdotes from years of experience.

This book is important.  There is so much in this world telling us that we are not good enough, not skinny enough, not beautiful enough, not mom enough, etc.  We begin to believe this message and we begin to carry around shame.  Yesterday I looked at the faces of my teenage students as they walked the halls–they already carry this at their young ages.

Brown stresses how it’s ok to feel our feelings, but we need to become “shame resilient”; we need to believe we are enough.

Such a powerful message.

I found myself relating on many levels: as a mother, teacher, wife, woman, writer.  I found my purpose for why I blog written more eloquently than I could ever say it:”Shame hates having words wrapped around it,”Brown writes (67). I found myself underlining this in ink and flagging it.

Yes.  This is why I blog. This is why, even when I feel like maybe I am the only one…maybe I’m not.  Maybe if I say it, the shame will be lifted and something else…something good…can replace it.

The biggest misconception is that to be vulnerable and share your shame is weak.  That is shows that you are less. The book’s message on this is clear: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage” (37).

I encourage you to pick up this book and follow our discussion about it at BlogHer Book Club.

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I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club, however all opinions are my own.

The Chaperone {a book review}

I have been teaching American Literature (11th grade English) for over a decade, and my favorite part is teaching The Great Gatsby.

Part of that love comes from the amazing conversations, thoughts, and questions that come up as we tackle a reading that is pretty difficult for most of my students.  It’s also one that, on the surface, is hard to relate to for them.  I mean, what does a book about a bunch of rich white people and their problems have to do with them?

But the rest of my love comes from my obsession with the Moderns.  The authors of the 1920’s. America in the 1920’s and 30’s.  It is by far my favorite time period to read about/study.

I am that book nerd who reads everything by Fitzgerald and Hemingway and others just to be able to put my mind and imagination into The Jazz age and out of my reality for a little bit.

So when I saw that BlogHer was going to be doing The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty for one of its summer book club reads, I was super excited and couldn’t sign up fast enough.

As soon as I saw that it was an historical fiction about Louise Brooks I got very excited. In all of my reading about the 1920’s, Louise was one of the stars that stands out in my mind as being fascinating.  I use her and Zelda Fitzgerald as examples in my classroom, so to find a novel fictionalizing her first trip to New York was beyond thrilling for me.

The Chaperone isn’t only about Louise though.  It really centers around her fictionalized chaperone, Cora Carlisle, whom her parents hire to accompany Louise one summer to NYC as she attempts to win a coveted spot on the prestigious Denishawn dance troupe. Louise is Cora’s reason for going to NYC to search for something from her past.  Something she is sure will bring her the happiness that she feels is lacking from her life.

Of course, it is evident right from the beginning that Louis is not just going to be a simple charge for Cora.  She is rebellious and “difficult”.  In fact, it almost seems that Cora is not just being hired to take Louise for a chance of a lifetime, but to get her off her parents’–mainly her mother, Myra’s–hands.

The novel is a quick read.  At least it was for me.  Some have said the first chapter drags, but I found it to be one of the most delightful to read; it was rich with description of Cora’s surroundings in Wichita, which I found to be a necessary contrast for the later description of the fast-paced New York City.

I enjoyed how the novels chapters in the beginning alternated between the present (1922) and Cora’s childhood.  Once caught up, they alternated between Cora’s home life and her current situation and escapes with Louise in the city.

Up until Cora returned from New York, I was enjoying the full description, the interesting dialogue, and the movement of the plot. The last third of the novel, while interesting, was less “showing” and more “telling” to me.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and knowing what became of Cora, but I felt like the end was just a recitation of events that was crammed together so we could get her full life in the book rather than developed out.  True, the novel would have been incredibly long, but after such detail in the first two-thirds of the novel and the back and forth structure of the chapters, the final five chapters seemed like a biography of a fictional character.

Overall, I really liked the book and would totally recommend it as a great summer read.

Want to know what others thought?  Head on over to the BlogHer Book Club for more discussion about The Chaperone!

The Legal Stuff: I was compensated for this book review by BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions are all my own. 

The Book of Ruth {book review}

I stumbled upon The Book of Ruthin a pile of books that my best friend dropped off for me to look through. She said I could keep what I wanted to read and donate the rest.  Most I had already read, but a few were new to me so I set them aside to keep.

The Book of Ruth  was one of those “keepers”.  I held onto it for no other reason than I hadn’t read it before.  Well, truth be told, I also have a penchant for any book that has been on Oprah’s Book Club list. About 90% of the time I really enjoy the books she chooses (and the times I don’t agree, I actually really, really HATE the book.  The Corrections, anyone?  Blech).

The front of the book also had this quote from Vogue:

An American beauty this book…The narrator of Jane Hamilton’s sensational first novel is a holy lusty innocent.”

Before even opening it I knew it was in first person and from the point of view of someone who was probably a victim.

I was right.

Keep Reading…

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Read my latest post on Borderless News and Views:  Bullying: Not Just a Lesson for Kids.

 

The Weird Sisters

I did something I almost never do before reading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  I read reader reviews on GoodReads.

As usual it was a mistake.

While there were more good reviews than bad, I focused on what the people had to say in the “bad” reviews.  Because I am all obsessive like that.  Luckily these reviews didn’t sway my excitement to start reading, but I wish I hadn’t read them.  I don’t like going into a new book with other people’s opinions just like I don’t like meeting a student after hearing what other teachers have to say about him/her.

Nerd Alert:  The thing that attracted me to this book the most was the fact that it was heavily doused in Shakespeare references and quotes.  Yup, I am an English teacher through and through.  Although I don’t think you need to know really anything about Shakespeare to enjoy this book…but if you happen to know even a little about The Bard and any of his work, it will be that much more pleasurable.

One of the more annoying reader comments I saw was that “the title doesn’t fit the book.  The sisters aren’t weird.”  You don’t need a PhD in Shakespeare’s Literature to know why this comment is ignorant.  The text of the book explains this to the reader over and over.  The original “weird sisters” were the three witches from MacBeth by William Shakespeare.  And Shakespeare actually used the original Anglo-Saxon spelling “wyrd” which meant “fated” or “destined”.

The title is definitely spot-on with this definition of the word “weird”.

The novel is about three sisters in their late 20’s/early 30’s: Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia (all names taken from Shakespeare’s plays) who grew up with a father who was not just obsessed with The Bard, but was a professor of Shakespeare at the local college.

Each sister took a different path in life.  Rose, the eldest, stayed close to home after getting her PhD and became a professor of mathematics and met the man she is currently engaged to marry.  Bianca, the middle sister whom they call Bean, fled to NYC in order to escape small-town life.  And Cordelia, nicknamed Cordy, is the youngest–a free-spirit who dropped out of college and roamed the country living off whatever she could.

The common denominator that brings them all back home is that their mother has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and has to undergo chemo and radiation and a mastectomy.

But each sister is home for another reason too…each has a secret that draws them back to their Shakespeare-quoting, book-obsessed family.  A long-distant relationship, fear of change, fear of sameness, embezzlement, an unplanned pregnancy.  While they say they are there for their mother, the sisters are a bit wrapped up in their own problems as well.

Another hurdle some readers have had with this book is the point of view it is written in.  It’s first person, but it’s plural…and omniscient.  It’s as if the story is being told from all the sisters at the same time…that they are one.  I have never read a book from this sort of perspective and I loved it.  It was definitely symbolic of the fact that even though the sisters didn’t have that stereotypical closeness some literary sisters have (I’m thinking of the March sisters in Little Women), there was still a unity there.  A knowing of each other better than anyone else.

This book honestly re-sparked my need to read.

Not because I have sisters and I can relate so well, but because it was just a GOOD BOOK.

I can only imagine that having sisters enhances the reading experience much like my knowledge of Shakespeare enhanced mine.  It’s not required, but it’s nice.

I have been in sort of a funk lately only sort of enjoying the books that I’ve been reading.  I miss the feeling of having a book I look forward to all day long and then can’t put down even though I need the sleep.

This book was like that.  Yes, I had a deadline so I could do this review, but I blew that deadline out of the water.  And I am already halfway through my next book.

I loved and hated something about each character in this book.  That made them real to me.  That made the book worth reading.

Interested in the book?  Come read more reviews and check out our discussion at  BlogHer Book Club.

Note: I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

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