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.

Loud Emily, Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 28, 2014 by booksjadore

I was browsing in a bookstore with my sister-in-law Emily a few weeks ago, and I decided I had to give this book a read. I grew up hearing countless songs about women with my name (although the only one that ever seemed to have been written about me was “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria”); it instilled in me a deep love of all things name-related – ugly key chains, charm necklaces, and yes, of course, picture books.

Really, I just grabbed it as a lark, and because I wanted to tease Emily with it a bit (she’s not in the least loud, but that was neither here nor there in the moment). I didn’t expect to get teary over it. I wasn’t planning to refuse to let Emily have my copy (although as the younger “sister,” it’s my prerogative to be stubborn about silly things like that). I certainly didn’t think I would lend it to so many of my friends with baby girls to remind them of how absolutely wonderful it is to meet a woman with an unapologetically loud voice.

But I did. I’ve cried every time I’ve read it, in fact. Just at the part when her family and teacher are admonishing young Emily to keep quiet because they fear she won’t have an easy life if she speaks so loudly, and then again when she finds her first advocate in the cook, who is delighted to find “a lass who speaks up!”

There’s something about the connotation of the word “loud” that led me to believe this would be a book about the importance of learning to be quiet. It’s a garish term, a reprimand in itself. The crowd or the class or the children are too loud, and they bring to mind headaches and frustration and a complete lack of control. One of the only times we encourage people to be loud specifically (rather than boisterous or enthusiastic) is at sporting events. In almost all other circumstances, we’re more likely to associate it with ostentatious, vehement, deafening.

When I was teaching preschool, I used to spend about five minutes before we sat down for circle time – the most focused part of our day when I would need the class’ attention for fifteen minutes – leading the children in the loudest songs I could come up with. We stomped and gnashed our teeth; we screamed and clapped and laughed and were as loud as we could possibly be. At the beginning of every school year though, it was a struggle to convince the class that I really meant for them to let loose and use the biggest expressions their bodies could come up with because they had been taught by word and example that loud was bad.

In this book, the message is loud is useful. Loud is necessary. Loud is endearing to the right community, and loud is not something to change, but to count as a strength. There are too few books encouraging people, especially children, to speak up. This one manages it without stigmatizing loud’s opposite. Instead, loud is a part of something greater, a single color in a kaleidoscope of traits that are neither good nor bad. Emily is loud. It does make it a challenge for her to find the place where she fits best, but that’s true for all people, especially when they choose not to change to fit in. Finding a story that celebrates that journey is as wonderful as learning to love a little girl who is loud.

For more about Alexis O’Neill, head over here. To learn about Nancy Carpenter, go here.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 26, 2014 by booksjadore

Well, in my enthusiasm to test out my video skills in anticipation for my vacation in October, I accidentally shared a post about an absolutely amazing book that you should not wait to run out and read (Journey, by Aaron Becker. Seriously, I’ve had to pry it out of the hands of every person I lend it to). Consider it a bonus preview the rest of the world won’t get to see until I’m happily driving south! It only seems fair, considering that there are, as of this moment, 15,478 of you following Books j’adore! I am so happy to be a part of this community. I have had only the nicest experiences here with my fellow book lovers, and I’m incredibly happy to be able to share so many wonderful books with you. Even when WordPress conspires against me…

On the plus side, this is seems like a sign that I should be procrastinating on all future projects, and instead devouring a box of those sea salt and turbinado sugar chocolate almonds from Trader Joe’s!

The Cardturner, Louis Sachar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 21, 2014 by booksjadore

I picked this book up used at one of my favorite old haunts when I was visiting my family on the east coast in July. I think I noticed it because a decade ago I loved Holes (both the novel and the movie), and a decade before that, I was a fan of Sachar’s Wayside School stories, so I was already primed to try a new book by him. My husband ended up reading it first (in-laws are all fine and good, but by week two, escape – in any form, even your wife’s YA obsession – is necessary) and he loved it.

His devouring the book actually made me wary. My husband prefers novels like Cannery Row and Reamde. He’s reading The Grapes of Wrath right now. For fun. I mean, sure, I read it in high school and liked it a lot more than the rest of the class (in retrospect, I was probably the only one who read the whole thing), but I would never pick it up now, much less stay up half the night reading it.

When he’s not reading great American literature, he prefers to work his way through non-fiction like Cockpit Confidential and Traffic, and while our tastes occasionally intersect (we’re both Paulo Coehlo fans, and we’ll read any crazy book AJ Jacobs comes up with), he rarely convinces me to try his pick of the month (Flash Boys: A Wallstreet Revolt? Seriously?! It’s not happening). The one exception has been Don Quixote; we’re reading it together, although at the rate we’re going, we’ll probably be finished in about fifteen years.

So for him to grab The Cardturner and read more than a chapter without tossing it aside? I was intrigued. And wary. Then I started reading it, and I understood right away. This is a YA book, yes. But it’s also a book about playing bridge, and my husband absolutely swoons over games. He’s not picky – in the last few years, he’s picked up Mahjong, Dominion, and Quiddler with equal enthusiasm. Much like my mother, he will happily play any game at any time, even if he has to spend an hour teaching everyone else the rules, AND, even if after teaching them, he loses. He’s an incredibly good sport and has the patience to learn rule minutiae that I would probably ignore/never know about in the first place (I don’t even look at the rule books if I can help it). After reading The Cardturner, I’m actually shocked that he hasn’t asked to play bridge with me.

The amazing thing is, even though I rolled my eyes when I started the book (and occasionally had to force myself to pay attention to the longer rule sections in the story), I was genuinely excited about bridge by the end. Is that even a thing? Do people still get excited by bridge? Sachar surely is, and his passion is catching. The book was an absolute delight, and now that I’ve finished it, I find myself wishing I had a genius bridge playing uncle – or a teenage enthusiast – to get me started…

 

For more about Louis Sachar, head here.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir, Kelly Corrigan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 14, 2014 by booksjadore

The thing about mothers, I want to say, is that once the containment ends and one becomes two, you don’t always fit together so neatly. They don’t get you like you want them to, like you think they should, they could, if only they would pay closer attention. They agonize over all the wrong things, cycling through one inane idea after another: seat belts, flossing , the Golden Rule. The living mother-daughter relationship, you learn over and over again, is a constant choice between adaptation and acceptance.

The only mothers who never embarrass, harass, dismiss, discount, deceive, distort, neglect, baffle, appall, inhibit, incite, insult, or age poorly are dead mothers, perfectly contained in photographs, pressed into two dimensions like a golden autumn leaf.

That’s your consolation prize, Milly Tanner. Your mother will never be caught sunbathing in the driveway in her bra or cheapened by too much drink. She’ll never be overheard bitching to the phone company or seen slamming her bedroom door in fury. Your mother will always be perfect. (p 56)

Kelly Corrigan’s memoir about her experience as a live-in nanny for two children who had recently lost their mother is a five month journey braided beautifully into her complicated relationship with her own mother. She perfectly captures the post-college struggle – the optimism and the crushing defeats, the rude awakening of reality mingled with the unbelievable pleasure that accompanies tiny successes. Her mistakes, her passion for gobbling up life, and her totally off-base expectations for what it meant to “grow up” were all so painfully, beautifully familiar. I couldn’t help but laugh at Corrigan’s younger self because she was laughing too. She was well-aware of how naive she’d been, and yet she loved that past self, and was gentle with her.

That’s not an easy line, and yet Corrigan manages to walk it, not just for herself, but for her mother. She and her mother are not close in the way I am with my mother, or the way my mother was with my grandmother. I come from a line of women who knit very tight, who love fiercely, but who are, ultimately, as challenged by the relationship of mother and daughter as are women who find too much space there, or anger, or confusion, or disappointment.

I’m not an expert on all daughters and mothers; I only know how I love my mother, and how I perceive her love in return. I remember how selflessly she loved me through my own prideful, challenging years, and how it must have hurt to watch me, without interfering, making foolish mistakes with all the gleeful ignorance of youth. I know how protective I am of her, how I effortlessly hate people who say or do anything to undermine her, how I cling to her voice when she’s across the country and am short-tempered when she’s across the breakfast table. Then, of course, there is the desperate desire for infinite years with her because the alternative is unthinkable.

This book is a confrontation of that unthinkable place. It’s the intersection of the death of a mother with two young children and the maturation of a young woman doing her best to navigate the jagged hole left by such a death. It is the recognition of love for mothers who are less than perfect, and daughters who are unbearably judgmental, of women who flex and brush against each other in as they try to work out the knots of their frustrating love.

 

For more from Kelly Corrigan, go here.

 

 

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