Untitled, Rainer Maria Rilke

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 16, 2014 by booksjadore

One more week of vacation and I’ll be back full time, but for now, enjoy one of my favorite pieces by Rilke.

Untitled

My life is not this steeply sloping hour,
in which you see me hurrying.
Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree;
I am only one of my many mouths,
and at that, the one that will be still the soonest.

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.

And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 9, 2014 by booksjadore

I’ll be back “in the office” in two weeks, but for now, please enjoy this lovely book based on a true story about chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the story is a perfect follow-up to questions from little tikes about what makes a family a family. Spoiler alert: it’s love and commitment.

For more about the authors, head here. For more about the illustrator, this way.

Journey, Aaron Becker

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 2, 2014 by booksjadore

From Sept 30 to Oct 21, I’m on a road trip across the south and I haven’t brought my computer with me. (Vacation! Hallelujah!) I don’t want to abandon you for three weeks though, so while I’m gone, I’ll be posting videos of some of my new favorite children’s books.

This week, I present Journey, an absolutely stunning wordless picture book I fell in love with this summer. When my mother refused to give me her copy, I ordered it from my local children’s bookstore, and the woman working there shared with me that Becker has a sequel coming out soon. (Update: the new book is called Quest, and I am already in love with it having seen the cover.) I’m incredibly excited to hear that. This book is my happy place, and I highly recommend that you watch the video in full screen, and then go get a copy for yourself.

For more about Aaron Becker, go run here.

You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness, Julie Klam

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 25, 2014 by booksjadore

I’ve really never considered myself a pet person. I think my parents would laugh, then shudder, to hear that because my brother and I banded together on very little as children, but one of those things was the acquisition of pets. My parents were powerless against the combination of our good behavior and camaraderie, and we always won. A pair of gerbils born after the pets in my third grade class turned out to be male and female instead of two males? Two of the meanest, most bitey rescue rabbits imaginable? A whole flock of finches saved from a college dorm? A turtle found on the side of the road during an early morning dog walk? Oh, and dogs? Of course we had dogs.

My earliest memory is actually the acquisition of the first dog my brother and I owned. He was a mutt fox terrier we got from the pound when I was three, and although I don’t know whether he came with the name Spot or I gave it to him (he was white with brown spots – I never claimed to be a genius of subtlety), I remember standing in the parking lot while my brother received enthusiastic doggy kisses.

That memory might as well have substituted itself for Spot’s entire life. I lived with him, but his love and adoration were saved exclusively for my brother and mother. He was a good dog, but he was, to me, like a roommate I never got to know very well. When he died (at quite an advanced age), I called my best friend up and found out the cat they’d had since she was tiny had died on the same day. That cat had been ornery and mean, and had loved my friend’s older sister to the exclusion of all others, but we were both still sad.

A few months later, we rescued another dog, an Airedale terrier mutt, who had been saved from an abusive home where she’d been chained beneath a porch, cut across the head with a knife, and taught to bark ferociously at men in uniform. She’d had a whole litter of puppies under there too, and even though she was big and sort of ugly (we affectionately called her Frankenstein for many years), she was a love.

By the time we got Shady Lady, my brother had left for college, and I was able to win her affection more readily. She would occasionally sleep on my bed, although the slightest noise would send her careening downstairs barking. I left to go off to school a year later though, and she became very much bonded to my parents, and then, of course, my brother, when he moved back to town. When she passed away in 2010, my parents decided to wait until after my wedding to get another dog. They didn’t want to be traveling too much while helping the new dog adjust. It was a tough year for them, and it was the first time I clearly understood that I was not a pet person. It was unbearable of my parents to live without a dog. When they rescued Willie (the beagle) in 2011, it was like a light came back on in their lives. Even though his nickname quickly evolved into Wily Willie (Google “beagles stealing food” to have some idea of what my parents willingly go through for this animal), they adore him.

That same year, I was out for a run and I came across a dog running loose in my neighborhood. It didn’t have a tag or a collar, and I had no cell phone to call for assistance. I stopped only because he seemed to think my running was a game and kept sprinting into the street – an act that earned me dirty looks from passers-by. After about fifteen minutes, a man walking his dog came by and reprimanded me for not keeping my dog on a leash. I explained to him, almost in tears, that he wasn’t my dog, that he snapped at me when I tried to get close, and that I really didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, he lived across the street and was able to get the dog into his backyard and took over all responsibilities from there.

When I called my brother, he immediately asked me why I didn’t just make a lead out of my belt. I explained to him that sweatpants don’t generally have belts, and he proceeded to give me a lecture on all the ways I could have helped that dog. My brother doesn’t understand; he’s the dog whisperer and has, on many occasions, jumped out of his car into traffic to rescue animals. He will then spend hours caring for them while searching for their owners.

I, on the other hand, barely notice that animals exist. I like them, sure, but I don’t feel that deep bond. That was part of the reason I wanted to read Klam’s memoir. I thought it might give me perspective. I wanted to better understand the pet people I came from, and she is very much like them. She’s a wonderful writer, funny and poignant, and I’ll admit I cried through about a quarter of the book. When it was finished though, I felt, if anything, more alienated from my family. Pet people are a certain kind of wonderful. They’re crazy, but it’s a warm, fuzzy crazy. Reading about it made me feel a little monstrous. How could I be so indifferent? And yet…I am. Sure, I’ll take a doggy cuddle now and then, and yes, my husband is trying to convince me that we need to adopt a cat, but honestly, if I never had another pet, it would be fine. Good, in fact, considering that my father took responsibility for just about all the pets I ever begged for (aside from the dogs, who are members of the family).

But you know, if you’re not heartless, this book is great. As for me, I’m sending my copy east to be appreciated by people far better than I later today…

For more about Julie Klam, head here.

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Bank

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 18, 2014 by booksjadore

I love that there exist books I must read in a day. It’s as freeing a feeling as diving into the ocean. I come up from a book like that sputtering, looking around at everything I’ve forgotten I need to do. The dishes are not just not done – they’re not even in the sink. They’re not even in the kitchen. The laundry hasn’t had a chance to get wrinkled in the dryer because it’s stinking up our closet. My email, which I prefer to keep as close to inbox zero as possible, suddenly balloons. I resort to scribbling down notes from phone calls or numbers for the doctor’s office on the white board on the fridge because otherwise it will be as though those conversations never happened. The book is all that matters.

I read at least a book a week, and sometimes more, so I feel comfortable saying that I read a lot. I read at the gym and when I’m waiting to pick up my husband from work. I stay up too late lying in odd angles to angle the light from his kindle onto my pages, and when I wake up sandy-eyed the next morning, I shake the cobwebs away by reading over breakfast. I’ve always been like this, obsessed, filling the empty spaces with words and stories and my own happy endings.

I do this regardless of the fact that some of those books aren’t the greatest. Not all books are created equal. But we know that, don’t we? We’re readers. If you stick with me here every week, if you’re willing to read about reading, you know this. You know that there are infinite books in the world, and some of them will make your blood sing, and some of them you’ll read every ten years like clockwork, and some you’ll donate without getting past the first chapter.

This is part of the reason why I don’t use a metric system here to talk about the books I read – four stars could mean so many things – I can’t quite wrap my brain about that kind of categorization. It’s not wrong, it’s just not me. I’m the kind of person who pets the spines on books when I have to leave them on the shelves in bookstores. I whisper to them. Don’t worry. Soon, the perfect person will be by, and they will find you and love you as you’re meant to be loved. I am overly sentimental.

When I found The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing last January, I staying with my parents. I’d come out with a couple of friends from high school. They were buried somewhere in Music History, and I was dragging a finger over all the overly stuffy fiction titles that end up in second-hand bookstores. I didn’t need a new book, so of course, I was already holding four of them, and this became the last. Girls was where I drew the line and demanded we buy and sit and have our bottle of wine (because the best bookstores serve wine and have couches where you can sprawl out with your compatriots, clutching your books and laughing over the fact that one of you owns a house now, and one is expecting a baby, and all are incandescently happy that while everything changes, this can still exist). So we did, and it snowed that night, which was perfect, and then I packed up and flew home, and it found a place beside all the orphan books I can’t bear to whisper goodbye to.

And it languished there. Many books do. I’m a raven that way, picking up more shiny titles than I have time to read. Until I do. And often, the paper and glue books I buy, the ones I grab without the benefit of Amazon’s carefully collated selection – often, they are the very best. I fell hard into this book, and the whole time, it reminded me of when I first read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. It was eight years ago, but I still remember it stitching itself into my soul like it was yesterday. It’s a funny feeling, and not entirely comfortable. Books like Girls tickle and prick at the edge between what’s right and what’s true. They remind you of the things you’ve done wrong, and the things you’ve left undone, but also of the fact that everyone does things wrong, and leaves things undone sometimes. Instead of loathing that imperfection, this book embraces the frailty that exists in all of us.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 11, 2014 by booksjadore

My senior year of college, I wrote the poem below about my second day of classes freshman year, September 11, 2001, for my thesis project. I still remember that day, as I’m sure many Americans do. I was in school in Boston, and since Logan was the airport where the planes had taken off, the sky was completely empty all day. I’d never in my life felt such a profound silence as I did when I walked across Boston Common. It was like the world had stopped turning and we were all frozen in place, just waiting.

I had new friends – acquaintances, really – who were trying desperately to get in touch with family or friends in New York. Those of us who lived on campus were mostly freshman or sophomores, and we spent the day wandering. There were no classes. No parents. No teachers. No guidance, really. I found myself in the dining hall, at one point, and it had a great big tv tuned to CNN, but there was nothing new to report, and I couldn’t stand the sound of it. I couldn’t bear the collective terror and anticipation about what might come next.

The hardest part for me that day, though, was trying to reconcile my country’s devastation with my family’s personal crisis. I was numb. So many people had died and would die that day, and in the years to follow. I didn’t know yet how frightening it would be two years later when there was talk of reinstating the draft, how I would feel paralyzed with fear, not just for myself, but for the younger siblings of friends who had just turned eighteen. I didn’t know yet about the war, and the seemingly endless violence that would spread itself across the world. I didn’t know about beheadings, or about friends coming home in flag covered caskets. I didn’t know about any of it. I was just buried under what felt like all the grief of the world, and I thought this is it. This is what it means to grow up and leave home. It is an acceptance of the burden of the terrible acts that occur, a sharing of the sadness and guilt and responsibility of wrongdoing. It is tragedy, in all its guises. It is a reaching, a striving for inner strength that may not even exist yet.

The thing about growing up though, is that there is a realization that the search for answers and comfort is never complete. Children may look to us and see the actions of confident people; it is not until they’ve grown that they realize we’re as frightened and vulnerable as we’ve always been. We just rehearse heroism on the off-chance someday that bravery will mean something. It’s an act, the steadying of the chin, the straightening of the shoulders, but it’s an important one. It’s a sign that we haven’t given up, that as human beings, no matter what private horrors we each must face, it is worth something everything to go on.

 

The second day of school

When I call home, I try not to sound
like I need her too much. I leave the TV on,
although it is impossible to comprehend
the faces that have already burned away
before cameras were trained on the men
and women who have flung themselves
from the two towers. My mother tells me

my grandmother has been admitted
to Frisbee Memorial, that she’s had
a nervous breakdown. That she locked herself
in her room for three days, and my grandfather
tried to take care of her because he couldn’t
remember how to use the phone to call for help.
It is only nine thirty. I’ve been away from home
one week and a day. A lifetime, now.

I called to hear her voice, to hear that I am not
as fragile as I know I am. She hasn’t even heard
the news. I have to tell her. And I do,
and I don’t cry. I speak the words
the television has been whispering –

the hot blue skies, the planes crashing
a hundred thousand times over as we try
to understand how this could happen –
and I don’t cry. It is not my tragedy
I’m watching unfold on the screen.

The Sheriff, Simon Fairbanks

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 4, 2014 by booksjadore

When Simon asked me if I could read his novel, I suspect he thought I would either A) say I would read it then never get around to it, or B) read it, send him a few thoughtful paragraphs and be done with it. Ha! Jokes on you Mr. Fairbanks! There’s nothing I love more than taking a red pen to the book of someone I know and then bombarding them with my “helpful” “constructive” “criticism.” (Seriously. Just ask my mother. No bond is too sacred to escape my frenetic enthusiasm for improvement.)  It’s especially satisfying when that person is also the first place winner of the collaborative novel competition, Ten to One, that I participated in over the last eighteen months.

Now, as an American, I have been brainwashed since infancy to settle for nothing less than completely crushing the competition; because I came in second behind Simon, reading The Sheriff could have provided just the balm my ego needed. It could have served as my moment of triumph – a chance to tear his writing apart and reveal my own superiority! It occurred to me, of course, as I was reading (and enjoying) his entire novel in one day, that if he turned out to be a terrible writer, that would be a real blow to the self-esteem…so it’s actually for the best that after I was finished, I was hoping he had a sequel planned. (He set it up for a sequel, and it’s cruel to set a reader up for a sequel and then not provide one Simon.)

As it happened, I did write him an email immediately upon finishing the book. Mainly, I needed to figure out why he’s so obsessed with clowns. (His character in Ten to One was a clown and the God-like figure in The Sheriff was a clown. Are they one and the same? Is there even such a thing as clowns (plural) or is there just the one clown with many faces? Does his fixation stem from a childhood obsession? Too many viewings of that episode of The Simpsons when Bart had that clown bed? Or possibly just one extremely traumatic viewing of Killer Clowns from Outer Space?) You’ll be shocked to hear that he was much more interested in my other thoughts about the book. I got zero answers to my clown inquiries. I’m sure that has has nothing to do with the fact that the clown in The Sheriff played a minor role in the story and everything to do with him belonging to a society of clowns with a strict code of secrecy. 

Personally, I find the idea of a clown with the power to turn the clouds into a refuge for tribes of magical beings fleeing the earth to be terrifying. Clowns are scary enough without fantastical powers, but I can’t argue with the results. I loved that all manner of creature could be living up above us and that, if discovered, would be part of an air-bound war between the people of earth and those flying high above. I also thought the payoff regarding the Sheriff and his deputy was ingenious, and I don’t use that word lightly (especially when it comes to my former nemesis). One of his reveals was so lovely it’s actually quite difficult for me not to spoil it. I won’t, of course. We’re very anti-spoiler here on the internet…

Essentially though, in this one book, he manages to in squeeze in clowns, misunderstood villains, comedic violence, less comedic violence that sneaks up and tears out a little piece of your heart, cheeky old folks, red headed brothers, and worthwhile spoilers. Since I will read just about anything with heroic red heads and back-talking geriatrics, I was well and truly taken. I am, however, first in line with a red pen to get my hands on a draft of the sequel. Sweet victory, I await!

 

For more about (my friend and very good sport) Simon Fairbanks, head over here.

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