The Sunshine Award (a non book-review Friday post)

I have won very few things in my life. There was a story contest in the first grade and a poetry contest in the third (they must have had very few entries for that one because I’ve seen the submitted poem and it was nine ways to awful). My only award as an adult has been winning second place in the Women on Writing’s flash fiction contest this past summer (which was really exciting – I might have cried a little, then promptly gone out and spent the award money on new running shoes and chocolate).

This morning, however, I woke up to a comment from antitheftpotseat saying I was nominated for the Sunshine Award…which I assumed was either an award for friendly bloggers or vampire hunting ones…either way, I’m in!

Seriously though, thanks so much for this – I love writing this blog and I look forward to discussing more books and ideas together.

(There’s seems to be some debate among recipients as to whether we should answer the questions below and add ten of our own, or answer the questions below and expect the other bloggers nominated to answer the same ones. antipotseat answered ten and added ten, so that’s what I’ll be doing as well.)

The Questions for me:

– Who shot first: Han (I don’t care what you say, George Lucas – you lost any right to speak after making those new Star Wars monstrosities.)

– Favorite historical figure: I don’t know. Who’s the guy who invented Pixar? Does he count? If not, I’m going with President Obama. I believe we need more well-spoken, thoughtful people in the history books. 

– My passion: Just one? Books, then.

– My favorite alcoholic beverage: Santa Barbara syrah (to be enjoyed with friends and a giant plate of summer tomato bruschetta)

– The weirdest bit of trivia I know: I’m sorry, but I have no idea. I’ve been trying to think of something for the last three hours, and I’m stuck. I don’t have a trivia-oriented brain (which is especially unfortunate since I love to go to Pub Trivia Night. I am the official dead weight of any team).

– Aisle or window: Window – I’m a plane-napping champion (and certainly don’t suffer crippling anxiety when asking people to get up for me when I have to go to the bathroom four times on one flight…)

– My perception of Twilight: Team Charlie! Yes, I’ve read them. Judge away, but just know you’re jealous as hell that you haven’t written a book that teenage girls will cease texting for (unless you have, in which case, rock on).

– My favorite sport I wish I played: Roller derby. Obviously.

– My favorite place to visit: I don’t have a single favorite. Kyoto is high on the list. And Boulder. I loved living in the Netherlands. This is hard. How could I just have one? 

– My regret: Not being a kinder person. I can be very blunt, especially with my family, and I wish I remembered to bite my tongue more often.


My nominees are as follows (and yes, I realize there are only four blogs listed, but I’m a terrible citizen of the world-wide web. Most of the blogs I read are personal, written by friends about their families, and although they’re amazing, I wouldn’t want to link to them here without permission.):

These are the rules that come with the award:

– Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog
– Answer 10 questions about yourself
– Nominate 10 other fabulous bloggers
– Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated
– Share the love and link the person who nominated you

The Questions for my nominees, should they choose to accept:

– What’s your go-to book when you need to change your perspective?

– If you could have been born in any country other than your own, where would you choose?

– What do you do to pass the time on long car trips?

– If you were a baseball player and you had to pick a song for them to play when you go up to bat, what would it be?

– If you could erase the existence of one kind of technology, what would you choose?

– Do cats really have nine lives?

– What trait would you like to strive for most – truth, compassion, or justice?

– Who would you turn to in those dark hours before the dawn?

– What’s one thing on your mental bucket list you plan to do this year?

– In ten words or less, what’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (entry, the 2nd), Catherynne M Valente

My trainer and I were having a conversation today that gave me pause (this was in between wind sprints, which he claims have something to do with improving my VO2 max…I just call it Zombie Avoidance Tactics with Associated Panting…). He was asking me if I’d read The Hunger Games or the Harry Potter books, and I told him, yes, to both, and hadn’t I told him only last week that he would love The Hunger Games with all the killing and the running and the girl power (he’s writing his thesis on training young women athletes)?!

“Yes,” he said. “You did mention it, but you were disgusting and sweaty so I couldn’t take you seriously.” At least, I assume that’s what he was thinking, because to be honest, I would not trust a girl who sweats as much as I do either.

Just kidding. What he was actually saying, without saying it at all, is that he was a boy (well, a twenty-five year old male, but who are we kidding) and that boys and books have a rocky relationship, especially if said boy is also athletic and defines himself firmly in the physical realm. For all I’m scared of jumping hurdles and swinging a baseball bat in front of crowds of people who look much better in spandex than I do, my trainer is equally drawn to and afraid of books.

He wants to like them. He talks to me about them a lot, although always with a sheepish expression. He really loves to learn, but he’s most comfortable at seminars and in lectures. He seemed so hopeful today, while I was trying to hold myself in plank, inquiring whether there were lots of good books out there for guys.

“Maria,” he said, “are there lots of good books out there for guys?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I can think plenty of books you’d like.”

“Really?” I could tell from his voice that he didn’t believe me one bit.



We left it at that, but I went home disappointed that I hadn’t convinced him that books exist on every topic under, over, and through the sun. I thought of how much he would love The Hunger Games, or Into Thin Air, or Born to Run, or Ender’s Game, or Why I Fight…I could go on and on, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll come to the point that connects this conversation with my thoughts on The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

The paragraph from this book that I shared on Monday, it spoke to how heavy a heart grows from reading. The whole book weaves in and out of its own narrative to prove just that point. And even September, its twelve-year-old protagonist, understands this on a fundamental level – reading about experiences outside of our own make our lives and thoughts and dreams that much richer and more expansive. Reading allows us a landscape to play out our wildest desires and most hidden fears without relinquishing power. It’s liberating even while it bears down our hearts with the cares of the world.

Awhile back, I had the pleasure of reading Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I didn’t know anything about living on a reservation before I read it (aside from the very little we’re taught in school), but he allowed me inside his story so that a part of me could be opened to the hardships and humor of a world far removed from the one I live in. And when Micah True (aka Caballo Blanco) was found dead this past weekend, a man who I only knew from the pages of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, I felt an intensity of loss I never expected – because McDougall wrote of his friend with such frank tenderness and esteem, I too experienced a deep stillness at the news his unexpected passing.

It really doesn’t matter whether we like fiction or biographies or poetry or stories written for children – it’s a trusting of books that opens us to the rawness of loving other people, different people, hard to imagine or even like people. I love that Valente’s book uses one girl’s adventure to explore this idea in a way that most adults would instantly grasp and savor, and that children will wonder at and explore with every passing year.

In her words:

I shall tell you what Calpurnia Farthing said. “The riddle of the Ravished,” she whispered, “is that they must always go down into the black naked and lonesome. But they cannot come back up into the light alone.” (pg 132)

or, as Lev Grossman wrote, in his crushingly true fashion, at the end of The Magician King:

He was alone. The stone square was silent. He felt dizzy, and not just because he’d hit his head. It was all crashing in on him now. He’d thought he’d known what his future looked like, but he’d been mistaken. His life would be something else now. He was starting over, only he didn’t think he had the strength to start over. He didn’t know if he could stand up. (p 399)

I have heard it said many times that we come into this world alone, and that we will leave it the same way. And, you see, alone, we are all tired, broken, ignorant. We are solitary heroes in search of a story. Thank goodness, then, for friends and enemies,  for misunderstandings, adventure, and raw, heavy hearts in the process of growing up.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (entry, the 1st), Catherynne M Valente

I’m the kind of person who does quite well with a schedule. I like structure, and I’ve never asked for an extension on a deadline in my life. I cherish the feeling of completing my work early so that I can carry on with activities I enjoy more at my leisure. When I was a child, this meant I came home and finished my homework as efficiently as I could so that I would have the better part of the afternoon and evening free of obligation.

Now that I work from home and set my own schedule and have deadlines that won’t come along for months, I need this reading project to keep me focused. It’s easy to run errands and clean the house instead of working on a manuscript that isn’t due for eight months. For the blog though, I post on Mondays and Thursdays, and I like to read two books a week for it; this builds in a natural rhythm of working hours vs “I work from home so doing laundry totally counts as working” hours. It’s a practical system, and it keeps my productivity level in check.

Today though, after an unexpectedly busy weekend (and what did I even do on Friday? I have a hazy recollection of watching “Sherlock” and skyping with my best friend in New Zealand, but surely that didn’t take the whole day…), I’ve been trying to rush through The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in order to stay on schedule, and I realized how incredibly dissatisfied I was that this deadline was more important than my pleasure in the process.

(And after all, on a day like today, when I went out on a run I had expected to be perfect (the morning was glorious – blue skies and hazy mountains, with just enough of a breeze – and my legs were well-rested) and ended up torturous to the nth degree…then I made the best peanut butter banana smoothie I’ve had in ages and ended up spilling three-quarters of it all over the floor and a computer keyboard…and then I thought I could breeze through this book in time to send emails to contributing authors and make cookies for a dinner tonight and maybe even sneak in the newest episode of “In Plain Sight” while I had lunch…)

All of a sudden I just stopped. I put the book aside and forced myself to stop barreling through my check list for one mental minute. This story is all about the heartless, adventurousness of childhood. It’s about taking time to meet new people and then really listening to what they say because, well, it’s fascinating to talk with witches and wyverns and women carved out of soap. It’s about missing your mother just a little bit more than you expected when you crawled out the kitchen window and onto the back of a flying leopard. Have you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth? This story reminds me very much of it, especially in that as much as I loved reading The Phantom Tollbooth as a kid, I appreciated Norton Juster’s message much more as an adult.

So why am I treating this lovely little book like a chore to be checked off and forgotten? Why am I so obsessed with meeting deadlines I set for myself? Where do I get off treating books as anything other than the luxury they are?! Isn’t that exactly what I hated to see when I was in school? Yes!

Yes – that’s what sucked the joy of reading out so many of my classmates – there was no time to absorb the material, or to understand what an author was really hoping to do before we had to write a paper or lead a discussion. I happen to like writing papers and leading discussions about books; that’s why I do what I do. But I don’t like seeing myself take a book that was well-reviewed by three of my favorite authors and treat it with as little respect as I have.  I don’t like encouraging other readers to take books at a breakneck pace when they might be better enjoyed laying on a picnic blanket out in the sun or under the covers with a flashlight at midnight.

I promise to have so much more to say about this book on Thursday, but for now, I’ll just leave you with an image I particularly loved in the very first chapter:

The Leopard of Little Breezes yawned up and farther off from the rooftops of Omaha, Nebraska, to which September did not even wave goodbye. One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well-known that reading quickens the growth of the heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless at all. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind  took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown. (pg 4)

I have determined I would like to be Somewhat Heartless more often than I have been because it seems adventure comes more readily to those with less concern for things like terror, the unknown, and of course, unfinished checklists…


While you are waiting patiently for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (entry, the 2nd), you may want to check out Catherynne Valente’s beautiful blog at: