Saturday, September 24, 2016

Judging books by their covers (again)

A long ago conversation with Amateur Reader and my sister-in-law still has me thinking about how I select books (I was attempting to link to the conversation on Wuthering Expectations here, but I am now recalling that this was an actual conversation, mulled over coffee and good food, so I'm only finding distantly related posts, like the one AR wrote about plot twists in Jane Eyre, which would probably be relevant for readers of Okay For Now except at the time of that blog post, AR hadn't yet read Jane Eyre and I couldn't remember it).

At the library in particular, I judge books by their covers.

I picked up Saving CeeCee Honeycut by Beth Hoffman because it had a hummingbird on the cover and kept it because something on the jacket suggested it was about Savannah, and it has been my Savannah summer.  If the universe is signaling to me through my book choices, it is reminding me of the very fine line there is between quirky crazy and mentally ill and that the family members can be easily scarred by both.  Despite that somber message, and a having a strong anti-discrimination pro-confident woman position, the book is mostly a light coming of age story of an adolescent girl escaping her parents and thriving among the rich women in Savannah.  M, MiL, GK and many others would enjoy it, particularly if travelling to Savannah, but its no glorious caper of a Mary Kay Andrews chick book.

I picked up The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli because dancing pancakes fits in right there with magical food, a common motif among things I read,  and I was feeling guilty that I had never noticed Eileen Spinelli as I was checking out Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli, her husband.  I was in the children's and young adult (shelved together at the local library) novels looking in the S for Okay for Now when Spinelli jumped out at me.  Jake and Lily was great.  One thing that J. Spinelli does very well is recognize that we are all the bad guy in our youth and his very likable characters make some very unkind (if normal) friendship moves.  Jake and Lily is no Stargirl, but it is pretty fabulous.  The Dancing Pancake was in verse, of sorts, and also lots of fun.  I would have no reason to compare it to Jake and Lily were Eileen and Jerry not married, so I am not going to do so now.

I picked up The Artisan's Wife by Judith Miller from the new books because I was going to mock it based on the silly cover.  But from the cover I also learned that the heroine is abandoned in Weston, West Virginia.  And since one fourth of my nuclear family was born in Weston, West Virginia (population 4,110), somehow the book was calling to me.  The Artisan's Wife is historical Christian feminist romance of some sub-genre I have never before encountered.  A very large portion of the book is devoted to work and the running of a tile works.  Another large chunk takes place at the mental hospital (an imposing building in Weston, known now (for haunted house tours) and allegedly in the 1870s according to the book as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum) [message from universe about mental illness duly noted], and the last chunk is dealing with family and prayers.  The book is good and the writing solid enough to stand up on its own merits, but as the romance is entirely without tension, I have no idea what this book would be or who would read it if it wasn't niche marketed.  [Note: there are two copies of this book among the new books at our small local library.  Either somebody is reading these books or some librarian thinks some readers are reading these books].

While looking for something else this morning, I ran back across Having It and Eating It by Sabine Durant, which I read sometime in the last year or two because Durant is now shelved where Katie Fforde used to be.  It's one of the chick lit books focusing on the messiness of relationships (I'd probably place Wife-22, The After Wife, and Bridgett Jones in this category) and, while everything is neatly resolved, it left me feeling a bit deflated.  I guess sometimes I do want plain happy marriages.

I would not have read Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers based on the cover because someone chose a really mundane quote for the back cover and Behind the Throne is described as beginning "an action-packed new series with a heroine as rebellious as HAN SOLO, as savvy as LEIA, and as skilled as REY." (emphasis not mine).  However it is good, really good, and I have my next in the series pre-ordered from Amazon. Whether or not K.B.'s sister is a dear friend (and she is), I would be recommending Behind the Throne for anyone with a passing interest in action sci-fi (the Star Wars assessment is not that far off, but seems very unlikely to prompt me to read a book) or feminist dystopias.

What are you reading?

Plant Images from Central Kansas, July 2016
They are as unrelated to these books as Desmanthus is to H.Clinton

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Not to be outdone by G.H.W. Bush

As a private citizen, I will be exercising my right to vote in a few weeks and I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
Illinois Bundle Flower in Kansas

I know you are shocked.

[I've been waking up trembling recently following dreams that I am personally responsible for DT.  I'm pretty sure a blog post from a known ecologist and educator isn't going to change a lot of minds; but George, Barbara and I are doing what we can. (From my home computer long after I should have gone to bed, in my case.)]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Losing My Sense of Humor: A Rant Followed by a Book Recommendation

I am becoming a humorless crank.

I have long maintained that my ability to find humor in things, be they sleepless nights with infants or toothpick's lodged in my husband's foot (or both), is perhaps my greatest talent.

Which means that for a lot of the summer (and it is still summer in my mind, and I've been mulling this post since late July) I have been both humorless and talentless.

But there has been so much this summer that is not funny.

It is not funny when the opening night skit of vacation Bible school features two college-aged women being completely useless on a rainforest expedition (one reading a fashion magazine and one shrieking at imagined snakes) and the narrator repeating, three times, versions of the line, "Aren't we glad we got out of there [time travelling was involved] before the professor started his boring lecture about plants again."  I'm sure if I brought it up with the youth director, he would have pointed out that one of the men in the skit was also useless and it was all in good fun . . . and he would have probably been thinking that I just supported the idea that botany professors were boring pedants.  But every kid there saw young women only being useless and heard, three times, joking or not, that learning about plants is boring and listening to professors is something to be avoided.

(Oh, speaking of not funny and church things-- do not, in my presence, sing any song with a repeated verse then motions of "thumbs up, elbows out, knees together, feet out, butt out, tongue out, head up.  Hopefully you will also stop the spread of singing like this in any situation, whether or not I am there.  I know the point behind these silly church songs is not, "Let's make fun of the way that people with cerebral palsy move,"  BUT, wait, let's look.  We just put kids into the classic "elbow flag" and possibly drooling stance of someone with cerebral palsy and now we are going to encourage them to laugh at each other because . .  people in this stance should be laughed at?  it is hilarious that some people can't control their limbs?
Oh, but it is not about my son?  You weren't making fun of the way he walks?  He looks normal when he walks anyway?
So you want kids to be able to learn that physical differences are mockable when nobody they know is being made fun of?
Or perhaps I am just being overly sensitive and nobody associates that posture and spastic movements with anything negative?  Umm. Well.  Uh, there is enough not funny in politics without me further going there.)

And lots of the not funny lasted all summer.

I cringed, (and did sorta laugh, I'll admit), when I was heard claimed that Hillary Clinton is responsible for her husband's actions while Donald Trump needs to be forgiven for his womanizing past because all Christians have sinned and we are not to judge.

I smiled about the coverage of the Democratic convention when, "the candidate's spouse looked fetching in a blue pantsuit, but doesn't have the upper arms of the current first lady," until I noticed how concerned I was about his health and what that might do for her presidency.  I never considered the health of Barbara, Hillary, Liddy, Laura, Tipper, Theresa, Cindy, Michelle, Ann, or Melania as part of their husband's candidacy, and hate having a double standard.

I laughed a lot at Ghostbusters, but found the surrounding hoop-la remarkably unfunny.

My whole family watched a great deal of the Olympics, so I could kind of laugh at headlines like, "Phelps Ties for Silver Ledecky sets new world record" and mutter my thanks to Andy Murray for alerting his interviewer that he is not the first person to win more than one Olympic tennis gold, ["I think Venus and Serena have won about four each."]

I cheered for the Mister when he corrected one of Aster's doctors when the doctor suggested (humorously??) that the Mister probably thought the doctor was r-word.  I cheered for my mother-in-law when she asked if there were any good looking boys in Dianthus's class, after he had been asked if there were any good looking girls, but couldn't help myself and went ahead and asked if there were any interesting intelligent classmates.

I guess I really thought that I was one of the feminists who could laugh at feminism. And maybe I still am. Except, it turns out, I am one of those feminists who not only upholds the radical notion that women are people, but also that they should be treated like, and spoken about, as if they are people.  I'm one of those radical educators (and dare I say Christians) who thinks that both words and actions matter. And there has a lot for me to be cranky about.

Strangely, I was in one of these there-is-nothing-funny-about-this moods when I opened, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexi, which starts out with a kid being born with excess fluid on the brain.  Oh, the hilarity of hydrocephalus. And there's nothing funny about reservation schools or alcoholics or poverty or abandoning one's people in order to pursue hope or or racism or funeral after funeral on the rez.  Yet somehow there is, because coupled with Ellen Forney's drawings, Alexi's words are funny.  Very funny.  And the situation is so NOT FUNNY.  And it is true and sad and really uncomfortable to be laughing at. Like lots of life.  Reading it helped me regain my talent*.

I hope you are surrounded by things that are joyously funny, like Dianthus and Aster claiming to swim like Le Ducky, but if you only have a enough to offer a little smirk, I hope you take that smirk and cherish it, for an interesting fate awaits you.

"Reader you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform,"
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo pg. 25

*But I'm still somewhat humorless and cranky, so I wouldn't test it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bird Books Deliberate and Accidental

I picked up The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell because it was clearly a bird book, and this year young adult bird books have transported me to many interesting places I wouldn't otherwise go (see, for instance Nightbird, Mockingbird and All the Bright Places).  Based on cover alone, The Aviary is not my sort of book.  Neo-gothic creepiness is not my thing.  But it wasn't that creepy (or Gothic) and I was amusedly transported.  And there were lots of birds.  So it falls into the "definitely recommended for me during bird year" category, along with the, "someone else should read this but I don't know who".  Ask if it might be you.

Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt, by contrast, is unreservedly recommended, and I didn't even know it had birds in it until I got it home from the library.  Schmidt's Wednesday Wars was fabulous, part of the series of YA books that convinced me that I need to read more well-written children's books (rather than poorly written adult books) and I need to read more Shakespeare so that I can understand the likes of The Wednesday Wars and The Dairy Queen.  Okay for Now is a follow-up to The Wednesday Wars, and I was not going to like it as much because 1) the main character of Okay for Now is a jerk in The Wednesday Wars (and much as I believe Amateur Reader when he suggests that shouldn't matter, it does for me) and 2) It is about Jane Eyre.

Somehow, though, Okay for Now has everything going for it. Unexpected birds for one!  Each chapter is named after a bird from an Audubon painting.  It would seem like Schmidt is trying to do too much-- coordinate every chapter with emotions visible in a bird painting, re-tell Jane Eyre, update readers on perspective drawing, preparations for the moon landing and the Yankees, and arouse our sympathies for alcoholics and their families, Vietnam vets, and middle school teachers while telling a story from the perspective of a 13 year-old jerk.  It so worked for me.  I want to go read Jane Eyre just so I can fully get Okay for Now.

"That afternoon, after our Cokes, I drew that Snowy Heron
like I was John James Audubon himself.  Except, my heron,
he was strutting out into the world like that hunter would
never, never come"  OfN, pg. 204.
Image by Audobon, Plate CCXLII
It left me a little heartbroken.  Not because I want to live in poverty in small town New York in 1968-- other books transport me to worlds where I want to stay-- this, clearly did not, but because I was reminded how much a difference teachers can make and I wonder if I'm fulfilling my potential for as many students as I could.  And because this had already been written and I could never write anything that good.  The thought is silly, but I'm left with a little achy despair when I read fabulous things.  In any case, Mom and MiL, GK and other great teachers should read Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, and I'd love to hear the perspective of a Jane Eyre fan (L, AR?).

And who is going to read Jane Eyre with me now?