Book Reports: Eighth Grade

Forever_JudyBlume

Ok, so, I went to a private Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade. My favorite class was always English, and its permutations – Literature, Language Arts, etc. I could diagram a sentence in 20 seconds. My spelling was on point. My vocabulary was HUGE. (Just ask my fourth grade teacher. She gave me a low grade in Language Arts because, and I quote, “Sara often uses words she doesn’t know the meaning of.” Which is utter. Total. Complete. Bullshit. She never asked me if I knew the meaning of those words, and I was using them correctly. But I digress.)

In the eighth grade, we did book reports. One per month. We had a class period in the school library where you picked your book and then told the teacher the title. I suppose this was so you didn’t repeat books from month to month, or read a little-kid board book. (I mean, who DOES that?? Who DOESN’T want to read a book?? I didn’t get it.)

The librarian was newish to the school. She took over when Mrs. Wolff, who was the sweetest woman, retired. The new librarian’s two kids went to our school and she was pretty cool. I don’t remember her name… We’ll call her Mrs. Smith.

I browsed the paperback rack of choose-your-own-adventures, classics like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and (my favorite, but I’d already read this for a prior report) Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was getting toward the end of the hour we had allotted to pick a book.

Finally, I grabbed a Judy Blume I hadn’t read and got in line to tell the teacher which book I’d chosen. After all, I’d read tons of Judy Blume. Tales a Fourth Grade Nothing, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Blubber, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.

Here I should perhaps mention that I was not curious about bodies. Or sex. My mom explained how babies are made, sure, but I really didn’t feel the need to know any of the squishier details. We certainly  hadn’t yet watched the childbirth video that would traumatize the entire class for the next decade.

If you have never read Forever, Judy Blume’s take on teenage sexuality, well… (SPOILER ALERT) It’s about a high school girl who has sex for the first time with her boyfriend, then they break up because she meets a sexy tennis instructor and she wants to do sex with Mr. Tennis Balls, instead of the guy who calls his penis “Ralph.”

I WAS SCANDALIZED.

I was also really embarrassed.

But THIS was the book I’d chosen. And THIS was the book I would report on. I was too embarrassed to tell my teacher what had happened. I mean, it was a Catholic school. She would have TOTALLY let me pick another book on the basis that I should probably not be reading this anyway.

We filled out worksheets with open-ended questions on the book. I’ve never turned in such…blank assignment.

Q: “Write a description of the book.”

A: “Katherine is a teenager who has a relationship with Michael. They break up and she begins dating Theo.”

Q: “What was the central conflict of this book?”

A: “A girl struggles with growing pains.”

Q: “What are some of the themes?”

A: “Growing up. Relationships. Feelings.”

I got a C on the report. But I didn’t care. DID NOT CARE. Because I didn’t want to explain any further than I did. I just wanted to put this incident behind me.

A few weeks after that, I was back in the library, researching for a different assignment. I made some comment about being surprised that such a book would be in our school library. Mrs. Smith knew exactly what I was talking about. She replied, “Some authors get to be so big, their publishers let everything they write go to print.”

We had an understanding.

My dad was a big reader, and that’s where I got my love of books and reading. My mom is not much of a reader, and isn’t widely read, so they didn’t bat an eye when I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in seventh grade. (I know, I know, you’re thinking: She was outraged at Forever but didn’t know what the fuss was about Lady Chatterley? All I can say is, I am large. I contain multitudes.)

Though at the time I was shocked that a book like Forever would be in my grade school library, I think in retrospect, I’m glad we weren’t censored in that way. I was allowed to read what I wanted to, above and beyond my grade level. And sometimes I was shocked or embarrassed or I just didn’t understand the context of the literature. But I learned how to read, really read, and understand. So thanks, Mrs. Smith, and Parents of mine. For giving me free reign.

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing and Reading Year in Review

I wrote far less than I wanted to this year, but I’m giving myself a pass on that. I’ve been busy momming like a BOSS. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write at all. I finished my second manuscript, a YA alternative history fantasy, and it was chosen as an alternate in Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars.

I also started another totally different piece. It’s an urban fantasy set in a world where the veil between our world and the supernatural has dropped.  Beings from there (elves, gods, demons, etc.) and humans can come and go in each other’s worlds. I’m having a lot of fun writing it and for the first time I’m actually outlining before I write. (GASP WHAT???)

I read a few things this year but nothing that made my list of books I like to push on people, but I’m on Good Reads so you can look them up there if you like. Well, Burning Girls and Among Others were really good. They might be on the list mentioned above.

My plan for 2015 is to really buckle down and query for my alt history fantasy, finish/edit/beta test the second, and read a lot more. I’ve been lazy about reading, I confess.

 

On Writing With Babies

babybooks

This is not news to anybody.

Three months into this parenting thing and I’m chomping at the bit to get my writing schedule back on track. And also my exercise schedule. I have completely unrealistic expectations about what I should look like now that Double Trouble has arrived, and trying to carve out time for much of anything is difficult. Here are the things I’m thinking about:

It’s much easier to watch TV while feeding them than it is to, say, read a book. Because obvs I have to hold and feed two babies at the same time. Also watching TV is oddly comforting to me these days. Perhaps its the noise? I don’t know.

I have to do these things in my day: sleep, shower, fix my face and hair, eat foodstuffs, don clothes, wake/soothe/change/love on babies according to the schedule we have with them, which they do not always follow because development and also babies, go to work because that bacon isn’t going to bring itself home, hang out some with pater familias, and let the ferrets out to play.

These are things I *could* do in a day but don’t contribute to the downfall of The Things: exercise (at the gym, or in the living room), write, read, clean the house, do some laundry. On weekends I tend to take naps and make things to store in the freezer to eat during the week.*

I feel guilty for not writing, and for not exercising and sometimes for not being more aggressive with my sleep schedule – I’d rather hang out with Husband and snuggle babies. 

At the end of the day, I mostly just like to sit in the living room by myself (and ferrets) with wine and the television.

And don’t think Pater Familias isn’t helping or something. He is. And he’s in nursing school, too. He’s incredibly supportive and we are working all this stuff out pretty well, I think.

I’m not asking for answers or anything, just thinking about this. If you’re a writer with kids, you probably know from whence I come.

I have managed to read a whole entire book for this new book club I’m in which I feel great about – I’m excited to be in a book club. I’ve been in two before – one was good in terms of the books they read but there were like…40 people who may or may not show up so I never knew more than one or two people at a meeting. Plus, the person who brought me to that book club did something crappy to me and I stopped hanging out with her. 

The other book club – I only went once and the book was Middlesex (which is really good, and I recommend it often). I had highlighted it and written all these notes because I was so stoked to talk about it but then (SPOILER ALERT?) the rest of the group was like, “OH. MY. GOD. GROSS they’re brother and sister and they got married and ewwww let’s talk about stupid non-book-related stuff.” So…I did not go back.

 

*THE MOST HELPFUL THING EVER.

What I’m Reading

A friend solicited book recommendations today and I was a little embarrassed not to have much to contribute. She listed some books and authors whose work she liked and sought similar tomes – literary fiction.

I have an M.A. in English Literature and spent many, many, many years reading ONLY literary fiction. Then I met Husband and he introduced me to the wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy. Now that I’m writing fantasy, and young adult at that, that’s where my reading is concentrated.

I read so slowly that I feel compelled to keep up with YA fantasy trends instead of varying much. I’ve also gotten to a point in my life where I appreciate the escapism that fantasy books provide.

Right now, I’ve just started the fourth book in GRRM’s Song of Fire and Ice. I adored the third book, and I love the series as a whole. I’m also reading a little about twins, since mine are due in November, but I can only read so much about that subject before I get bored or overwhelmed or both.

 

Readables

I haven’t been reading a ton lately, but I’ve finished a few books I’d like to talk about.

1. The Repossession Mambo, by Eric Garcia. I really enjoyed the film based on this book. I’m not normally a fan of stylized viscera but something about Jude Law can really change a girl’s mind. The book however…a hot mess of a snooze fest. The book follows Remy (the name from the film, not the book because honestly…I can’t remember the character’s name in the book), the best bio-repo man in the biz, and his best bud Jake as they slash their way to collect various artificial organs (artiforgs). I like this kind of sci-fi – it’s just believable enough to be scary because it might come true very soon. But the book tries to create tension by continually flashing around in time to Remy’s stint in the army stationed in Africa, his various five ex-wives, and the present when he’s on the run from the other repo men. There are vague foreshadows but it really ended up being a hot  mess. I was in a hurry to let the library repossess this one from me.

2. Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, by Sophie Dahl I’m one of those people who likes to read cookbooks like novels. Though I’m not a huge Sophie Dahl fan simply because I haven’t sought out her work but from what I’d seen, she’s charming and interesting so I picked up this one from the library. It’s  part cookbook part memoir of a foodie. The recipes are easy and the stories are accessible. Reminds me of Nigella Lawson only with simpler recipes.

3. Various collage books from the library I’ve become very interested in collage and got a couple of books on the subject. I was thinking, in the back of my mind, how much can a book teach me about gluing paper together? Turns out…a  lot. I’m excited to start working with the techniques described in the books and also some of the vintage photos I have procured, including a set of colorized French nudes and a bunch of postcards from the 20’s and 30’s.

Lovely Bones: Book Review

I keep seeing previews for the film version of this book. As I had borrowed it from a friend recently, I thought I might read it and see the film. SPOILER ALERT: I will most likely talk about plot points that you might not want to know about if you haven’t read the book.

I read the whole thing in one day. Granted, it’s all I did that day, but still…I’m kind of a slow reader. So Sebold captured me for the day, which is a good sign. Let’s talk about the first 3/4 of the book. I think the way the story is told – a hybrid 1st person limited/omnicient – was really interesting and worked for the book. The rape and murder scene was tremendous, lightly written but powerful nonetheless. The characters are wonderfully whole and real for the most part, except perhaps Holly, Susie’s heavenly companion, who kind of disappears. I didn’t understand her purpose fully. Even the dog Holiday was a real presence on the page. The story completely absorbed me.

Until I got to the endish bit…  I truly expected Susie to break through and show everybody the sinkhole with the safe. I wanted vengeance. I wanted daddy to beat the snot out of Harvey and cut him up into teeny tiny pieces. Hell, forget vengeance, where was the justice? George Harvey, pedofile and murderer, dies from an icicle. In two sentences.

Can we talk about the whole “Ghost” moment when Susie and Ruth miraculously switch places? Really?? Seriously??? That set my Cheese-O-Meter off.  The thought that spirits are watching Earth, fine. Susie’s spirit touching Ruth as she flies to heaven, also fine. But spirits wriggling into live people to have sex with their middle school crushes pushes me into the realm of ridiculous.

When I realized I wasn’t going to get what I wanted from the book, it made me a little huffy. I may have slammed the book shut and the end and literally said, “Humph.” I may also have stomped into the bathroom, muttering the whole way to Husband about how the end sucked.

Why would you get the family so close to answers and then snatch away the resolution of their pain? Well, I’m sure because that’s the sleight of hand from an author – the story is not about the dead girl, it’s about how a family copes with her death. It’s about how they learn to live and love and move along. But I am a huge fan of comeuppance and George Harvey didn’t get no comeuppance. I don’t care if he died (Husband points out that he died, that’s enough comeuppance) but that I wanted him to die horribly and painfully. Repent! Atone!

Alas, I will most likely see the film anyway.  But it will be a matinee. Or maybe on-demand.

So Many Books…Only Two Eyes

     Most of my friends have a stack of books somewhere, unread, full of interesting things, waiting to be cracked. I am notorious for this now that I have discovered a half price bookstore mere minutes from my home. Everything’s half off! Or used! Why not spend $15 and get five books?

     The problem is…I read kind of slowly. Well, comparitively slowly. Husband is a superspeed reader with a crazy photographic memory. I get distracted – with the use of language, with imagining some subplot, with weather the cover art was really appropriate. But I am a confirmed bookworm, word nerd, reader and bibliophile.

     What’s on my bookshelf right now? Let’s see…

     I’m 1/8 of the way through David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System

     The Best American Non-Required Reading of 2008, a recent gift from Husband and one of my fave series

     Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl, because she’s been recommended to me and also I like food writing

     Little Flowers of Francis of Assisi, a collection of tales from the life of St. Francis of Assisi

     Interworld, by (cue angel choir) Neil Gaiman because it was $5 in hardback and I’ve never read it

     Postcards from the Edge, by Carrie Fisher – this was a $1 and I’ve never read her before

    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, which I haven’t read because I read Omnivore’s Dilemma and needed some time to digest it (no pun intended)

     The Four Agreements, recommended by my sister

     The last couple Dresden Files books are floating around here, having been devoured by Husband already

         That’s a big stack. Better get to it.