Friday, July 6, 2018

March 2018 Reads and Reviews

During the last half of this past school year, I started a book club for students and this is the first read I picked.  It was not a hit with the students who joined, so together we didn't end up finishing it, but I finished it after we found a new book to read (which you'll read about later in this post).  

This book was pretty slow-paced and it took quite a bit of effort to read.  Not knowing about Gordon Parks but knowing he spent a good chunk of his life in St. Paul (where I currently live and teach), I was interested in seeing what he was known for and how he had reached that point.  But he told us this in a meandering way, so it took me a while to get through it.  

Slow moving or not, this was an interesting read.  Gordon Parks led a tough life and he had to be really resourceful in order to make ends meet and make things work.  I thought this was incredibly admirable and inspiring to read about, that no matter what happened and how low things got in his life, he kept going, he made connections, he worked his way from one opportunity and place to the next.

I give 'A Choice of Weapons':

This book kept popping up as a recommended read on GoodReads and other blogs and so when I saw that my county library had an audiobook version of this book, I jumped at the chance.

What I liked about this book is that it sheds light on immigration and what it's like to be deported.  Natasha is a Jamaican citizen, but she has never called Jamaica her home.  She doesn't know anyone there, she doesn't know the culture like her family does... she quickly feels like she's falling.  And it's all due to a dumb mistake that was made.  This is probably due to my reading habits, but I haven't read a lot of books that talk even a little bit about immigration and deportation.

What I didn't like about this book is what I call Disney Channel Movie Syndrome.  It's when a character, when considering their future endeavors, is given a choice.  In real life, they could easily take both choices, but their friends or family trick them into thinking that they can only take one choice and it's the choice they want.  This kind of happens in this book.  Daniel is an arts person but his parents have other ideas and make him feel guilty for his interests and wanting a future that follows those interests.  Then on top of that, Natasha is a hard science type of person.  Both Daniel and Natasha kind of look down on the other for their interest.  That's how it felt, anyway.  I guess I'm just tired of the arts and the sciences being pitted against each other because more often than I ever realized, they overlap.

So overall, this was an okay read.  I give 'The Sun Is Also A Star':

This read is special to me because not only did I fall head over heels for it, but a student recommended it for me and also very kindly and generously brought me a bookmark signed by the author!

I loved Dante and Ari's friendship.  I don't feel like there are enough books out there focusing on friendships between boys who are growing up and having to figure it all out.  Maybe this is just how I read, but I read this a lot about girls and women but not so much in men or boys.  It's interesting to see development in boys as they figure out who they are and what's possible for your lives.  This book deals with masculinity and what it means to be a man, particularly a man who might be attracted to other men.

I love this because Saenz shows that boys don't have to be testosterone-fueled sex machines who need to be at times violent and controlling and tough in order to be seen as worthy.  I think that's the image of manhood that too often we're sold in media (books, movies, TV shows, etc.).  It's okay to be sensitive, quiet, not a jerk... It's showing a different path to manhood that I personally feel more men and boys need to know is possible to follow.

Besides this, I love the writing style of this author.  The shorter chapters are nice (I've discovered this about myself somewhat recently... I like stories that are broken up into small chunks) and I like the conversational style.  It makes it easier to read and yet it doesn't take away from the intrigue of this story.

I love this book and I want to get a few copies for my classroom so that my future students can read it and fall in love with it too!

I give 'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe':

This book has been on my TBR for a while and it took me a while to get through it.  I'll keep this review short.

Kate Bornstein has some interesting ideas on gender and sexuality and how we should move forward as a society in this respect.  Some of her ideas are a little outdated.  I looked it up again and this book was originally published in 1994.  That's as old as I am.  Anything is bound to change in almost 25 years, so I'm definitely not faulting Kate Bornstein.  Things change.  I know there's an updated version of this book though, so I might, at some point down the line, flip through that and see what changed were made.

I think this book was meant to be a stage play.  At least some parts of it were.  This was a strange read because it felt like it was a stage play in a book.  And I don't mean I was reading a script, even though that was true at times.  But I could see the play before my eyes, the direction was so specific.  It showed different ways of looking at and thinking about gender.

This was just a strange read for me as a whole.  It's going to take a while to process.

I give 'Gender Outlaw':

I didn't know what to expect when I opened up this book.  Appropriately, it was like walking through a museum or a mausoleum... or both.  It's a place to look, not touch.  Listen, but don't say anything in return.  And that's exactly how Alison Bechdel's home was like growing up.

This book has a way of drawing you in and you don't quite feel comfortable, but you're intrigued and that's why you keep reading.  You keep reading because you have more questions than answers.

If you're looking for a light read, you won't find it in this book.  But it's an amazing look into an odd family situation and discovery of one's sexual orientation... although mostly a focus is on the odd family situation.

I give 'Fun Home':

Earlier in this post, I mentioned the first read our book club attempted to read but ultimately failed to read.  This was our second attempt at finding a good read and this is the book that ultimately got us off the ground!

The world that 'Renegades' encompasses is really intriguing.  What appealed to me and what appealed to the book club kids were the superheroes and the powers and how the villains interacted with the heroes (also called the Renegades, which is a little ironic since the word means to cause trouble... maybe this is foreshadowing?).  It kept all of our attention.

What didn't work so well in this book was the story being told from dual perspectives.  While I grew to like Adrian a little bit more as a character, I found that I really didn't care about his chapters.  I just felt like he didn't really add too much to the story other than knowing a lot about the Renegades because his dads are a couple of the big wigs in the Renegade world.  So it was hard to get over the feeling that this 500+ page book could have been about half of the length and could have just focused on the experience of Nova.

On that note, I LOVED Nova.  It's clear that a lot of work went into her.  From her complicated backstory and what happened in her childhood to her leading a double-life with the Renegades.  There are so many things that are part of her character and story that make you want to know more and feel invested in what happens to this character.

I liked a lot of things about this book and there were a number of things that were iffy about this book.  The next book is coming out in November and I think I will be reading the next book to continue the story.  It feels like things are only just getting interesting.

I give 'Renegades':

This is a read that won't lift your spirits, but I think it's such an important read.  It wrestles with stereotypes and police brutality.  While keeping a journal and writing letters to Dr. King doesn't help Justyce find any specific answers, it's his way of processing what has happened to him, to people in his neighborhood, and his friends.  Regardless of their circumstances and where they're heading in life.

It's a reminder of how powerful stereotypes can be and how that can have an impact on other people and their futures... including whether or not they have a future.  But it's not just a reminder.  It's a call to action as well, which is the most important thing that this book does and that other books like it are doing.

Here's what's powerful about fiction... fiction, good fiction at least, makes you care about people you've never met and will never meet but resemble real people with real lives.  So when bad things happen to them, your empathy is triggered.  And with an issue like police brutality, too often people realize what is happening is wrong, but they don't feel that urgency because usually it's not someone they know.  It's easy to separate ourselves from the situation when we don't have to deal with it directly.  Books like Dear Martin and The Hate U Give, among their other goals, are there to have you empathize with characters like Justyce and Starr to make you realize that this type of situation will keep happening over and over again unless we stand up and do something.

I don't mean to lecture or to belittle anyone, but it's true.  Reads like this one are important to read and spread the word about.

I give 'Dear Martin':

I watch Giovanna Fletcher's videos on YouTube and I knew that she was a writer, but this was the first book of hers I've gotten.  I think I preordered this one.

It's more aimed at adults while her others have been young adult or possibly younger reads.  I think young adult is the proper label, not having read books like Billy & Me.  But I really liked this book!

It's about Lizzy who has been dating this guy forever and instead of getting engaged like she thinks is going to happen, she gets dumped.  Then she goes on a quest to figure out who she is as a single person-- just Lizzy and not "Lizzy and [insert name of person she's dating]."  As someone who has also been with one person forever, this is something that has crossed my mind before-- who am I without my partner?  I feel very lucky to have been able to explore this within my marriage (it sounds a little backward, I know, but bear with me) and that I didn't need to go through a break-up in order to figure this out.  That's why I take time to travel solo occasionally.  And on top of that, my husband and I have some solo habits and that lets us be ourselves instead of the merged entity of us as a couple that just tends to happen when people have been together for a while.

Despite this horrible and gut-wrenching situation that Lizzy is going through, this is actually a very uplifting and empowering read.  It was funny at times and it had me shouting out as I was reading this book, which really confused my husband.

I give 'Some Kind of Wonderful':

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

February 2018 Reads and Reviews

The middle schooler I tutor was reading this, so I found a copy and read ahead to finish it.  I don't think we ended up finishing it together, but I was really glad that I got a chance to read it anyway.  There are some true gems in middle school reads, I'm discovering.

If you've read Star Girl, this has a very similar feel to it.  I happened to love Star Girl so this book was right up my alley.  The big difference is that instead of taking the perspective of an outside character observing the life of an eccentric and unique girl, we take the perspective of the eccentric and unique character.  I wish that we could have heard from StarGirl herself... but I digress.  For now.

At first Zinkoff made me cringe.  You liked him because he was an uncomfortable character, but not in an inappropriate way.  But the older he gets and the more than he grows into his own identity, the more endearing he becomes and you stop feeling so bad for him.

I loved the ending.  It really defined who Zinkoff is as a person.  In an odd way, especially because he endangered his life on accident, the situation is rather beautiful and touching.

I give 'Loser':

 It took me a few tries to get started on this book but once again, audiobooks to the rescue!

I thought it was inspiring and brave that Cheryl embarked on this journey (I hate using that word, so I'm going to try to avoid using it again, but in this case, it works).  She was at an incredibly low point in her life, maybe one of the lowest points you can go, and she decided to do a hard reset on her life by going on this trek.  That takes a lot of preparation (physically and mentally) and a lot of guts, to be frank.  Especially when you're hiking over a thousand miles of rough and drastically varied terrain.  I can't even begin to comprehend how you prepare for such a thing.  To know what to bring and pare everything down to only the barest essentials.

I think that when you decide to go on an adventure like this, you're automatically signing up to come back as a totally different person.  To slowly reinvent and rethink who you are as an individual.  And that's just something you have to accept.  I mean, when you go on a journey like this, you experience things you wouldn't normally experience in everyday life and you meet people you may never have come across if you hadn't decided to make this change.  And all of these experiences and all of these people have something that they can teach you if only you let them.  If there's anything I've learned from reading/listening to this book, it's that.

I give 'Wild':

I read this book when I first taught it to eighth graders at Breakthrough Twin Cities several years ago.  But for some reason, I didn't write a formal review of the book.  So now that I'm teaching this book to my 9th graders and will be teaching it for the foreseeable future, I'll likely be rereading this book each year.  And I'm glad, I've really grown to love this book.

Every time I read this book, I uncover something new about it.  It's like to discovering buried treasure every time.  I read the book once and I understood what was going on.  I read it again and I began to get it.  Every time I read it now, I'll get a little bit closer to "owning" it.

What's been catching my attention now has been two things: Curley's Wife and George and Lennie's relationship.  Curley's Wife I just can't bring myself to hate even though everyone in the story pushes you and urges you to do just that.  But she hasn't done anything wrong.  She is in a loveless and an abusive relationship and she just wants to make a connection with someone.  A friendly one.  She just wants to live.  But we can't even give her that.  Curley's Wife is such a fascinating character to me and I look forward to paying her more of that attention that she deserves.

George and Lennie's relationship is also interesting to think about.  On the surface, it's a relationship where one person is giving (George) and the other is doing all the taking (Lennie).  But while I was rereading the book with my students, I started paying more attention to what Lennie gives George.  It looks different than when George is giving, but Lennie is a giver too.  I'll need to read this book again to examine this a bit more closely, but I'm drawn to the friendship these two share.

I love this book and I can't wait to read it again.

I give 'Of Mice and Men':

Thank you for reading my February reviews!


Friday, June 15, 2018

January 2018 Reads and Reviews

This was my first read of 2018!  This is one that has been staring at me from the library shelf.  But lately, but "thing" has been audiobooks through the library.  When I saw that it was available through my digital library, I checked it out right away.

I think this book is meant for younger readers, but I honestly didn't care.  It just didn't make a difference.  I find books surrounding the topic of grief fascinating just because grief can look like so many different things.  It's kind of a strange thing to find fascinating, but if I'm being honest, ever since my Uncle Mark passed away several years ago, I've had this silent search for reads related to mourning, since my mourning period in that instance did not feel normal in the least.  And the relationship between Jamie and his sister is supposed to be much closer and yet there is this dissonance after her death that I just find so interesting.

I really appreciated Jamie's navigation through a family's grief of a family member.  Their group grief was another interesting thing because, for the longest time, they acted as though Jamie's sister was still alive.  For me, that was different and uncomfortable enough experience that I definitely sided with Jamie whenever there was a fight about speaking about Rose like she wasn't there.  It didn't feel like a healthy coping mechanism, but I recognize that people respond to a death, particularly a death that was close to them, in numerous ways.  So I guess this was a reminder to me that grieving takes time and it's not going to look the same from death to death.  And generally speaking, that's okay.

I give 'My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece':

If I'm honest, this book didn't really do it for me.  I was listening to this book on audiobook (my home county library has a really great digital collection, so I'm fortunate that I don't even have to go to the library to check out audiobooks!).  I liked the letter form and I appreciated that the mother showed she was there, but even while I was listening, I kept coming in and out of interest.  One might argue that that would be a good time to pause the audiobook and come back to it when I'm ready to pay attention.  If you think that, that would have been smart, but that's not what I did.  As a result, I was having a hard time figuring out why this mother would slap her daughter, which is part of the basic premise of the story.

I did appreciate the telling of what it was like to live during the civil rights movement in a more conservative home and how it's important to stand up for what you know is right and just.  That much came through to me.  But... yeah, listening to this book just fell completely flat for me.  And now that I'm writing this review months after I actually listened to this book (again, this may be enough downfall for me), I think it's telling that there's not really much that I held on too long after reading this.

Ultimately, I think this is fine if you're looking for a short read but look for something else if you're looking for a more profound read that will stick with you for a while.

I give 'Letter to my Daughter':


This book was much more up my alley.  I'm one of those people who likes to read about disorders.  Admittedly, I thought this book was about an eating disorder which is what drew me in (I know, that sounds so terrible... I genuinely do find them interesting even though they're traumatic and heartbreaking).  But this book was different and it got my attention.

Instead, this is a book about a girl named Ever who is overweight and goes through a process where her stomach is made smaller which will help her lose weight.  I think part of the reason why I latched on is that I knew someone who went through this procedure and so I understood, on a very basic level, how this was supposed to work and what the results could be after a while.  I think the author also went through this procedure and so she's writing from a place of knowledge and experience, which I was nervous about.  I think if anyone else had written about Ever's weight loss surgery, it would have come off as preachy or... I guess as giving this impression that you have to be a smaller size at all costs, even if that means going under the knife.

Skinny, the voice in Ever's head was also what caught my attention.  I think it did a nice job (for lack of a better word) of illustrating what goes through the heads of those who don't feel comfortable in their bodies, no matter what their actual size is, whether they have a diagnosed eating disorder or not.

I don't think I will buy this book to sit on my shelf, but I would consider making it available to my students in my classroom.  That being said, I'm glad that I read this book.

I give 'Skinny':

This is another read that has been sitting on my shelf shouting "Read me!  Read me!"  And I've been getting the same message from tons of other people who have read this too.

I didn't realize upon cracking the spine on this one that this is a book of narrative poetry.  That piqued my interest immediately.  I liked narrative poetry before, but this year my love of this style of story-telling has really taken off (I'm writing this long after January).  I liked hearing about the difference between living with her grandparents and her mother in two drastically different places, but it was also interesting to have a direct insight into how racism and a racist society affects people.  One of the parts that really stood out to me as I was just getting into this book was one of the times Jacqueline and her family were returning to South Carolina and they could feel the tension of crossing over the border into a place that they thought of as home but also knew they weren't accepted there.  And no one needed to say or do anything at that exact moment, but it was still something that they felt because her family knew what was coming.  I've never had to experience that.  I can go where I please, generally speaking, and I don't have to fear how other people will treat me or perceive me.  That's something I take for granted.

This was an eye-opening read.  I give 'Brown Girl Dreaming':

This is a read I've heard a ton about for years and once I realized that my public library had an audiobook available online, I decided to take a listen.  Audiobooks have been a life-saver this year and in previous years.

Thinking about this story in broader terms, there was a lot going for this book.  I don't know if I've read about someone living in an abusive living situation or someone who is on the outside looking in.  I felt drawn in out of curiosity and because I wanted to understand Eleanor.  I think she's a great character and I wanted to know more about her.  I also grew to like Park, although it took a little bit of time for me.

I didn't appreciate the racist "jokes" that this book contained, even if was meant to be banter between teenage boys.  I can't think of a situation where it's ever okay to joke like that and mess with people's identities in that way.  I'm disappointed that the author decided to include them when they could have easily been avoided altogether.  Honestly, this tainted my reading experience very early on and I wasn't sure that I was going to finish this book because I couldn't get over this piece.

By the end of the book, I did like this story.  It was a little predictable by the end, but I didn't mind too much because I could feel the loose ends in the story being tied up and I appreciated that.  I think once I finished listening to the audiobook I took the physical book that was sitting on my shelf and brought it to my classroom.  I teach 9th grade and this is more their speed rather than mine (even though I love reading YA and will likely not stop anytime soon).

I give 'Eleanor & Park':

I wish I had found this book several years ago.  Lately, I've been feeling like everything I've been reading (maybe not so much in books, but articles, etc.) has been difficult to wrap my head around and to get behind and support 100% the way I feel like I need to.  So this was a freeing read in a lot of ways.

Roxane Gay is a hilarious writer, but also incredibly insightful and thoughtful in her work.  I appreciated her sharing her intersectionality and bringing that into each of her essays.  She is relatable

I'll keep this review short because it's a book of essays and the topics are so varied as are my thoughts and feelings on each one.  Plus I think this book is worth reading a few times.  This is a book I will definitely keep on my shelf for year to come!

I give 'Bad Feminist':

Thanks for reading!  I'll be working on catching up on months of reviews, but they'll all be in this style, so your inbox won't be bombarded if you are subscribed via email.  Thanks for sticking with me!


Monday, April 9, 2018

A Review of... The Rest of my 2017 Reads!

This post is a wrap-up of the books that I read in 2017.  At this point, all reviews for 2017 have been written and from here on out, you will be seeing reviews for books I read in 2018 by month.  To begin with, I will publish these posts a week apart.  Once I catch up, those posts will be published during the last week of the given month or during the first week of the following month.  I'm excited to see how this will work!  If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it!

 Towards the end of the last year, I had the privilege of going to hear Kao Kalia Yang speak at the humanities center in St. Paul.  I had heard her speak once before when she came to my summer job (Breakthrough Twin Cities) in 2016 during out wrap-up week.  She is related to one of the students in the program, which I thought was a really neat connection.  At that point, I hadn't read anything by her by after hearing her speak and after obtaining a ticket to hear her speak again, I knew I needed to (and really wanted to) read at least one of her books.  It made sense that I start with her first.  I don't think I finished this book in time to hear her speak, but nevertheless, I was fascinated.  The woman who wrote a blurb for the front cover of Yang's book, Anne Fadiman, wrote an ethnography called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down which highlighted a Hmong family.  It was, I think, the first book I read about Hmong culture and I thought it was really fascinating and an amazing read.  But Anne herself is not Hmong.  So to hear about different experiences related to being Hmong from someone who is Hmong is truly invaluable.  Kao Kalia Yang is a wonderful speaker and when she writes, it's like a direct line to her heart.  You make an instant connection with each word she says and each feeling she describes.

Reading her book and hearing her speak is only enhanced by the fact that a number of my students are Hmong.  So I felt like I was connecting with them and building my understanding of the backgrounds their families come from.  It's heartbreaking, but I think when you know the heartbreaking things that happen to people and when you take the time to educate yourself without them having to tell you the traumas they hold or that they have because their families hold them... it makes your connection that much deeper and more meaningful.

You can easily enjoy this read whether you are connected to someone who is Hmong or not.  It's a lovely read that is, yes, at times difficult to read, but it's also a really encouraging read at times.

I give 'The Latehomecomer':

Last summer, my college did a neat thing and invited Gene Luen Yang to come and speak.  Of course, I had to go!  Excuse me as I drop another author picture shamelessly... I had read only American Born Chinese for one of my education courses.  Ultimately, it was his talk that convinced me to take the plunge and try and teach that book to my students, but I was also inspired to read his series Boxers and Saints (this review and the one below) because it was such a different project than the ones he attempted previously.  I know that I saw the book before, but the size of it was rather daunting to me, especially since I had no context for the Boxer Rebellion that took place in China.

When I started reading Boxers, I was armed with a little bit of information about the Boxer Rebellion and that was enough to get me started and push through to the end.  I think I ended up finishing Boxers in a day and then moved on to Saints.  I love how Gene Luen Yang incorporates Chinese folklore into his stories whether they're historical like these two reads or more fictional like American Born Chinese is.  I think hearing the stories of a culture is just as important to understanding a group of people as it is to learn a language, learn the customs, the history, etc.

Reading this book is an interesting experience because you get one side of the story but you know the other side is available.  I had a moral struggle about the amount of violence Little Bao was willing to inflict on others in order to obtain the outcome he was looking for because... well, I just don't think violence makes sense as a long-term solution.  But maybe I'm naive and I'm showing my lack of experience.  It was also a struggle because I tend to see religion, Christianity especially, since that's the background I come from, as an oppressive force and I have very strong feelings about people of one religion trying to convert people of other religions or no religion to their beliefs.  So it was strange to feel my heels digging in about both sides of this story.  I felt very much like I was being dragged along for the ride.  That doesn't reflect poorly on the quality of writing, just what a difficult time in history this was.

I'll talk a little more about this story in the section below because it allows me to tap into a different part of this conversation.  In the meantime, I give 'Boxers':

To continue the conversation from above, I have to say that I liked Saints better than Boxers.  Length of the story has nothing to do with it.  I liked being able to see this other side of the story that was begun in Boxers.  But this part of the story is more faith-based.  One issue that I have is that I struggle to see why anyone has religious beliefs.  I just have never understood what benefit they have.  So it's stories like this one that helps me see why other people might take a leap of faith.  Four-Girl or Vibiana was really hurting.  She had a family, but they didn't treat her like family and she struggled to have successful relationships... until she met a preacher who had come to her village.  Suddenly she began to see her life in a new light and she was meeting others and feeling a bit more comfortable with herself.  I don't think this would have occurred without the help of her faith and the connections that being a Christian afforded her.  I liked reading this and being familiar with Joan of Arc and her role in this story.  I liked being able to see a positive side of having religion and seeing what it can do for people.  I thought it was really great to hear the story of a character that you really only paid attention to twice while reading Boxers.

This was a wonderful read and a great end to the series.  The ending made me think.  I'd like to read this series again in the future and make it so that my students can read the books too.

I give 'Saints':

My first exposure to Kwame Alexander was during BookCon in New York in June 2017.  He was on a children's fiction panel.  I came to hear Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) speak, but I was just as intrigued by Mr. Alexander.  On top of participating in the panel, he was also plugging his new book Solo whenever he could (I promise it was in a funny and tasteful way rather than an annoying way-- at least that was how I took it!).  Upon returning to Minnesota, I pre-ordered the book and waited excitedly for it to be released and to arrive.  

I was surprised that this book was made up of poetry.  In the past, poetry books (not anthologies, but poems put together to tell one complete story) have been kind of hit or miss for me, but they still intrigue me to the point where I check them out from the library or in this case buy them for myself to be passed on to my classroom.  

I loved that this book was largely based around music.  I haven't experienced that with a book like this before, but it makes so much sense seeing as songs are poetry in and of themselves.  I feel like writing in a series of poems helped me see Blade in a different light.  It did something that prose writing just can't do as well.  It kind of reminded me of how Green Day has structured some of their albums in the past-- they have a specific story to tell and the entire message is sent through their completed album.  I really like that style, so I was glad to see this here, even though I don't think Mr. Alexander had Green Day specifically in mind as he was writing.  You never know though.

I also love reads that take you to new places.  In this case, it took me to Ghana.  And it was a sensitive image of Ghana.  Not one where everyone is struggling and no one knows what to do about it, but a Ghana that is struggling, yet is vibrant in its culture and works with what they have and works with others to, slowly but surely, get what they need.  I recently found out that Kwame Alexander does work in Ghana as well as a few other countries around the world to built literacy and healthcare programs.  Knowing this made me truly believe that I was seeing Ghana through someone who knows and understands Ghana.  I really appreciated that authenticity.

This story is honest and digs into those feelings that we'd sometimes rather forget we have.  I give 'Solo':

I don't know or understand how I found myself wrapped up in this world where I was burning with curiosity about this disastrous, uncomfortable, and awkward film called The Room.  This was something that my husband first became interested in and then suddenly we had this movie in our house and we were watching it together.  Every part of me was screaming "Stop watching this movie!!  It's so bad!  Why are you doing this to yourself?!"  But just like when a car accident happens, you can't help but want to look and see how things will shake out.  So suddenly I was sucked into this strange world of The Room.  And then we found out there was a movie coming out about The Room called The Disaster Artist and that it was first a book.  We have been looking for more things we could do together and we decided that reading was one such activity.  And since we were both familiar with this movie, this was a natural first couple read.

This book is hilarious.  The description says that you don't need to have seen the movie in order to appreciate this book, which I agree with.  But I also think that if you have seen The Room (rated R for VERY good reasons, I'll add), your reading of this book is enhanced.  Especially since the main character is the director and screenwriter who came up with this entire movie, you get to see what he's like and suddenly you become intrigued as to what he's like as a person outside of the camera's eye.

My favorite parts were by far the parts about the actual shooting of the film and the events that led up to it.  Reading about Tommy Wiseau's potential past wasn't as interesting to me, but nevertheless, it was still attention-grabbing.  I think it'll be hilarious now that I've read this book to see it in movie form (soon I hope!).

I read a lot of really great books at the end of 2017 and this read is no different.  I give 'The Disaster Artist':

Thanks for Reading!  Let me know what you think about this layout.  I personally quite like it.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

How I'll Be Reviewing Books From Here On Out

Hello there!

Things are changing around here on this blog... I have had the urge to blog lately, but each time I sit down to write something, I have been plagued by the procrastination of my reviews from the end of last year.  I guilt myself into thinking that I should write those reviews first before I talk about anything else that's going on in my brain.  Here's why that's not possible:

1. I'm a teacher.  My schedules are crazy and I find that I'm busy more often than not with school work.

2. Despite what I just said above, I have been reading a crazy amount this year so far.  At the time I'm writing this, I have finished 22 books.  I don't think I've ever done this before.  I don't know what's come over me.  But anyway, because I've been reading so much, I'm also digging my review writing grave.

3. I have been trying to get better about moving away from the computer when I could be doing other things out in the world.  My entire world no longer exists behind the computer screen the way it used to years ago.

Because of these reasons, I have a thought on how things are going to change in terms of writing book reviews in a way that will free my mind up and encourage me to write more on other topics on this blog.

I follow a number of BookTubers on YouTube and they are inspiring this idea.  No, I'm not going to start a YouTube channel.  I don't think I have the personality for that (not to mention that if I'm having trouble finding time to write, I'm going to have more trouble finding time to script, shoot, and edit videos about the books I'm reading... it's time-consuming in a different way).  One thing that a number of these YouTubers do though is they upload videos at the end of each month where they talk about the different books that they read during the given month.  I think this would be a great way to solve my problem with getting reviews written and posted.  I would be able to catch up on telling you about and recording the books I've been reading (because there have been some true gems lately... I want to tell you about them) and it would be a smart way to move forward.

Some of these monthly posts will be lengthy and others will be shorter, depending on how many books I am able to read in a month.  Monthly posts will also mean that I'm not cluttering up people's inboxes if they receive updates from this blog via email.  All of my work will be in one place.

I'm still working on a layout for these posts, but I wanted to write a little something just as an update for those interested and as a record for myself.

Thanks for understanding my silence.  I'm still figuring different parts of my life out that work with my teaching lifestyle.  It's forcing me to be creative about accomplishing the things that are important to me and no one else while not neglecting my other responsibilities.

Talk to you soon!  Thanks for reading.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Review of 'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation's history and current crisis.  Americans have built an empire on the idea of 'race,' a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men-- bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion.  What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?  And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates's attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.  Coates shares with his son-- and readers-- the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children's lives were taken as American plunder.  Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward."

This was a read that was talked about a lot but that also took me a while to get around to reading.  And really, it's such an important read that I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner.  

This entire book is a letter from the author to his son.  This in and of itself is interesting because that means that no one is really the target audience except for his son.  I don't know if it's meant for people like me (white, to get straight to the point) who need to understand just how fragile life is and how it's even more fragile for people of color whose lives tend to be threatened more often than my own or if it's meant for POC who know and understand.  Maybe it's a place where you understand and turn to see that someone else understands too.  Or maybe it's meant for both types of audiences.  Either way, I think it's effective.

I have been trying to read more and more about race especially from people who are forced to think about their race in a variety of contexts that I have the privilege of not thinking about.  I appreciate that Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't hold back.  I'm ready to listen and he was and still is ready to speak and so I feel like I have a better understanding about the threats that face people of color.  I'm trying to be a better ally and that understanding is crucial to doing ally work that matters.  My research is far from over though.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I can't think of a better way to get the "lay of the land," so to speak and build that understanding, even if I can't fully comprehend everything that is being said.  And that says more about me and what I've experienced.

This is what I'm left with after one read.  I think this book will require a second or even a third reading after I've done more extensive reading and built up my knowledge on this subject more.  It'll be interesting to see if I understand more after another read-through.

I can only speak to my experience, but I think this book is important for white people to read if they intend to be allies to POC.  This ought to be required reading.  I fully intend to return to this book again.

I give 'Between the World and Me':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 5, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' by J.K. Rowling (audiobook)

"The war against Voldemort is not going well: even Muggle governments are noticing.  Ron scans the obituary pages of 'The Daily Prophet' looking for familiar names.  Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.  And yet...

As in all wars, life goes on.  Sixth-year students learn to Apparate, and lose a few eyebrows in the process.  The Weasley twins expand their business.  Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love.  Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage on the multilayered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter.  Harry struggles to uncover the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, the past owner of a potions textbook he now possesses that is filled with ingenious, potentially deadly spells.  But Harry's life is suddenly changed forever when someone close to him is heinously murdered right before his eyes.

With Dumbledore's guidance, he seeks out the full, complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort, and thereby attempts to find what may be his only vulnerability."

I just love how especially towards the end of the series, J.K. Rowling changes everything.  The best part of this book by far is learning more about Voldemort.  I appreciate this because it gives humanity to the bad guy.  Instead of just fighting him because of the things he did (which of course doesn't change things), Harry and Dumbledore dig into his past.  Their goal wasn't really to figure out what happened to him, they were researching what objects or things could be his Horcruxes.  But you can't have one without the other.  We learn just how effed up of a past and of a family young Tom Riddle he had and how little control he had over his own story.  Maybe in better circumstances he could have turned things around and could have led a positive happy life in an effort to spite his family who cared so little for him... but in actuality, Tom didn't have anyone to care about him.  The orphanage didn't give a crap about him.  I'm not sure what Tom had in the way of friends or friends-as-family when he got to Hogwarts... he had no one because no one showed him he could be better than his violent tendencies.  In a way, J.K. Rowling gave us the reasons and background on just why Voldemort became the Voldemort we are so familiar with.

I don't think there is any way that the series could have ended differently or that Voldemort could have changed.  But there's a person behind all of this madness and the world wronged him from his first day of life.

This was my biggest take-away from the story.  Interestingly, it's not my favorite of the series, but I do appreciate this aspect of the series that doesn't appear anywhere else.

I'll keep it short today.  I give 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince':
Thanks for Reading!