Thursday, September 27, 2018

Children in Fiction (or some fall favorites)

Maybe because it's fall, maybe because my kids have gone back to school, but for some reason or another I think of this season as a great time to read books about children. 

...or watch movies about children.  I will be singing this song all day now.

I'm not talking about the YA and middle-grade novels that I pick up randomly throughout the year.  In the fall I'm looking for an adult fiction novel that tells the story of a child or is told from the perspective of a child.  Either will do. 

When I read middle grade or YA I'm thinking about the messages that are intended for a pre-teen/teen audience.  Themes of independence, standing up for something when the odds are against you, and finding community are primarily on display in these books.  Often, the protagonist is compared and contrasted with their peers or called on to save the day. All things that are important parts of teenage development.

But, when I pick up a book that is intended for adults but is about children I find different messages that help me in my everyday interactions with kids.  Reading fiction like this can be as informative as a well-researched non-fiction parenting book.  The children in these books are seen in the context of the world at large and in relation to adults. 

Some things I learn in this type of fiction:  
Adults misunderstand kids.  Kids want to participate in things of deep meaning but often are discredited and don't have a voice.  Children are dynamic in these works--not all good or all bad, but multidimensional with real fears and frustrations and a great capacity for love.  Kids are smart and thoughtful in their actions.  Adults would do better to pay attention a little more closely to the things kids do and say. All things that can help me as I relate to my four children and their friends.  

file under: things I can learn from kids

Here's my list for quality reads about kids written for adults:

Hum If You Don't Know The Words
Based in South Africa...a child deals with horrible trauma in hopeful and realistic ways

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A young girl growing up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression

Ginny Moon
A foster child with autism is trying to fit into a new family while longing for her birth family

The Home for Unwanted Girls
An up-close look at orphanages turned psychiatric hospitals through the eyes of a child

To Kill a Mockingbird (duh)
Scout, a young girl growing up in Alabama, is confronted with injustice and racism

The Glass Castle
A memoir about growing up in poverty but not knowing it

Peace Like a River
Swede and Rueben, a sister and brother, need faith to make an epic journey through the badlands

The Flavia DeLuce series
A precocious, but not annoying, 11-year-old solves mysteries thanks to an interest in chemistry and the macabre

Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Eva (abandoned by her mom) is raised by her dad to love food, a love that influences her whole life

The Impossible Fortress
It's the '80's and Billy is determined to steal a copy of Playboy with Vanna White

News of the World
Johanna is traveling across Texas with a Civil War captain bent on delivering her to her family after she was abducted by Native Americans

Sing Unburied Sing
Jojo is trying to grow up as he watches the imperfect examples of adulthood around him in rural (really rural) Mississippi

Before We Were Yours

Based on real events, the book tells the story of a group of children that were stolen and put into orphanages and then sold to new families

As I was writing this list I kept thinking, "yes, yes, that's a great fall book, yes."  

What do you like to read in the fall?  Anything missing from my list that you would add?

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Challenging Challenge after all

It seemed like last year every website devoted to books put out a reading challenge.  In January these feel exciting and new.  But now that it's September...well, it's kind of uncomfortable to check in on my progress.  

I didn't bite at every challenge I saw, but Goodreads always draws me in.  They only ask for a number:  how many books will you read this year?  Innocent enough.  At the end of the year, they provide you with a lovely infographic.  In years past, I've accomplished my reading goal and then some so this year I decided to be ambitious.  

75.  75 books in a year.  More than a book a week.  I was excited, sitting on the couch by my fire.  Of course I could read that many books!  It would be easy!

Now, it's September and I'm not in a good place.  

I'm 9 books behind where I should be to keep pace for completing my goal.  And I obsessively check to see when that number will go up--oh, wait, it just did.  10 behind now.  Great.  #notgreat

I've noticed that instead of making me feel good about reading, this year I'm viewing my reading life in unhealthy ways.  

44 books is pretty good for a busy mom of four.  This year I've read more "grown-up" books than in the past.  

Right now I'm "bogged down" by beautiful literature:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Nobody's Fool, and The Count of Monte Cristo.  All of them are over 500 pages and I've wanted to read all of them for years.  Instead of celebrating that I'm checking off these excellent novels, I'm frantically thinking about how I can cram in 10 books in the next two weeks.  

kids, leave mommy alone.

Quantity over quality does not seem like good math for the books I chose to read.

Is this a sign I need to rethink my dedication to an arbitrary reading challenge or an opportunity to be creatively strategic about my reading (new blog idea: October, the month of YA and mass market crime novels).  

When I get down to the heart of it, I know finishing my three big books will make me so happy.  I definitely love setting goals and accomplishing them but in this area of my life, I'm wondering if a revised goal wouldn't be wiser.  

The year is not over yet, so it remains to be seen if reading 75 books is possible or a pipe dream.  

Do you participate in challenges or avoid them in favor of a more organic reading schedule?  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Immigrant Novels

One of my absolute favorite things about reading is that it takes you to a new world.  This is not news to anyone who cracks open a novel with even a little anticipation, but it's always pure magic.  I can lead many lives all at once: imagining being a train with a murderer, sitting in a tiny dingy school in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, or traveling all over the world on an epic birthday trip.  

Lately, I've been enjoying books that expose me to the immigrant experience.  I am not an immigrant but am the descendant of immigrants and the wife of an immigrant.  It's not something I have first-hand knowledge about but because so many people I love have lived through an immigration, I want to understand it better: enter books.  

Stories that detail what it's like to move to a new country, where you may or may not be welcome, make the reader more empathetic.  It happens subtly and without guilt.  Reading about the first trip to a grocery store where you don't understand the packaging and process or how a kid who gets bullied and still manages to find friends gives my imagination the spark it needs to really consider what it's like to be on the outside of a culture.  Using my brain like this is good.

Just because these books are important, doesn't mean that they can't also be captivating and well written.  There is something about traveling to a foreign land, whether it's America, the moon, or exploring the New World that is just appealing to the human sense of adventure.  There is a desire to know what is in the world outside of us.  At least there is in me.  

If an author can tell a story of immigration that makes the unknown seem adventurous, then I am all in.  My least favorite kinds of immigrant stories are the ones that overtly tell you "this was difficult" and don't convey the little details that are so challenging. 

feelings are v. important 

Here are some of my favorite immigrant stories:
Exit West (of course)

Here are some that I want to read:
Americanah (I know, I know, I should have read this by now)

Have you read a novel that highlights the immigrant experience?  Can you add to my list?  Please?

Monday, September 17, 2018

New Policies

It's September--that glorious time of year when the children go back to school.  

We limped through the last two weeks of summer.  Trying to have fun and enjoy the free time but also knowing we needed routine in a bad way and were growing sick of each other.  

Some of my friends feel sad when a new season starts but I find myself excited at the beginning of something different: the start of school, Christmas, New Year, Spring, the end of school.  The optimism in my heart overflows as I envision myself rising to the new occasion with renewed purpose.  

August wasn't too bad overall: the laundry got caught up a few times, we did lots of fun activities, and I even read six books--the most I've read in a month for a while.  

After Labor Day, the kids loaded onto their buses.  This was it.  My moment to be super productive.  My time to get it all done.  Six books, lolz, I'd read 10 this month!  


The new schedule has us all exhausted by the end of the day.  Having exhausted kids come home means I have to be on my parenting A game until bedtime.  The month is half over and I have read only two books so far.

Somehow it seems the hours evaporate each day.  Walk the dog, pick up a few things scattered around the house, get food for dinner, take the kids to all the places, and the day is done.  I don't think this is unusual.  

actual footage of me driving carpool

But, I'm determined to be intentional with my time.  I don't like having to catch up work before bed or the feeling that a huge clock is ticking loudly somewhere.  So I'm implementing some new policies around my house.

We will be going to bed earlier.  Teenagers like to stay up late, but it's not good for them and not good for their parents.  My goal is to be in bed by 9 and asleep by 9:30.  I know this won't happen every night, but it's a good thing to shoot for.  
goodnight sir!

Speaking of flexibility, I wrote up a loose schedule in my bullet journal for my days at home.  This will serve as a guideline to keep me focused.  If I have to go out, I can adjust it, but I need a framework to build my days on or else I'll just keep feeling like I can never get it all done while running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  How can you be an effective mother if you don't have your head?

In order to limit the hours I have to use for cleaning each day, we will highlight putting things away after they are used.  I'm so guilty of getting mad at my kids for this when I do it just as much.  The trash can is so far away...I'll put my shoes away later...this stack of books can hang out here for now.  And then what would have taken 30 seconds becomes a full afternoon clean up.  

new and improved mommy

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Marie Kondo suggests that you keep your home simplified so it is easier to tidy.  This has resonated with me.  Instead of having three kinds of tee shirt drawers, just have one.  If I have overcomplicated systems cleaning becomes problematic.  So I will be simplifying the pantry, the basement, and my closet.  

Finally, I'm going to write down things I'm grateful for every day.  This makes me so much happier.  It's proven by science that daily gratitude improves your general outlook and health, but sometimes I get so busy that even jotting down a few lines about how well the kids behaved at a restaurant or the green field I drove past seems like an unbearable chore.  As part of my writing time each day I will take a minute to note the good things I can see in my life.  Because, really, there are so many.

i am thankful for this gif

Ok, so that's my action plan for September.  What's working for you lately?  

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Reading Recap: August Edition

I did it ya'll!  I set out to read 6 books this month and I did it!  Is there anything better than the feeling of accomplishing a goal when it seems like the whole world  (your children) want to sabotage you?  No, there is not.

Here are my six:

The Home for Unwanted Girls
"To calm herself, she tries to remember the stories her father used to tell her to help her fall asleep.  One of his favorite aphorisms comes into her mind and she can almost hear his voice, as if he's speaking to her now.  He who plants a seed plants life."

My book club read this and we were surprised by how much we liked it.  The ending seemed rushed to most of us, but overall, the story of a young woman who is forced to give up her child made us all feel things.  It was plot driven and told in the alternating perspectives of the mother and daughter.

Vile Bodies
"'It's just exactly like being inside a cocktail shaker,' said Miles Malpractice.'"

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present a two-star book.  This is rare for me.  I wrote about it here if you're interested.  It was interesting and I'm glad I read it but the whole time I was reading I wanted to throw the book out the window.

"Still, he has to admit that yellow, the color used for warnings and caution, suits her." 

And just like that, we're back to four-star books...phew, what a relief!  This was so good that I couldn't wait to talk about it until my reading recap so here is my Sunburn post.  Best read on the beach, but if you have a hankering for something dark and noir any time of year, this should be top of the list.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
"It is completely unimportant.  That is why it is so interesting."

I love a good Agatha Christie and have a particular fondness for Hercule Poirot.  This is always listed as one of the top Poirot mysteries and I snagged it on audible when it was discounted.  This turned out to be great timing because I had a ton of laundry to do and I was happily locked in that little room folding a mountain of clothing and wondering how Ackroyd could have been murdered.  There was a big twist at the end which had me yelling at my phone.

Do you do that?  When I'm listening to an audiobook and there is a surprise turn in the plot I always talk about it to the narrator.  I'm sure this is totally normal behavior.

Bury Your Dead
"I'm sorry.  I was wrong.  I need help.  I don't know."  

I am a huge Louise Penny fangirl.  I am reading through her Inspector Gamache series and it is a delight.  But this book, wow, it was like she hit her stride.  There was so much quality historical content, the characters were excellent and I was so happy to see them again, and the storyline kept me on the edge of my seat.  

It is my firm belief that everyone should find a series that suits them.  Coming back to the same world, the same people it just makes you feel at home.  And I can't wait to go back to Three Pines.
this was literally me every day of grades 5-12 #introvert


"What does one ever ask an author except: 'How?' And the answer, as Less well knows, is obvious: 'Beats me!'"

My husband has a project to read all the Pulitzer winners.  I think he's almost up-to-date.  So each year, when the winner is announced, I run off to the bookstore and present him with a copy of the book.  The 2018 winner was Less.  

I've read a few Pulitzer winners and they usually don't strike my fancy.  They can be dark and depressing and heavy and obtuse.  I love literary fiction, but it seems like the Pulitzer committee sometimes takes itself too seriously.  Anyway, Less is not like that.  

Less is about Arthur Less, a gay man who is about to turn 50.  He lives in a world of writers and decides to embark on a trip to celebrate his birthday and also avoid an awkward situation at a wedding.  

It was funny.  There were some deep truths about life and aging.  The wordplay was at once humorous and then suddenly poignant.  It was a great book to end summer vacation.  

Six books with a variety of star ratings, but all of them worth the time.  I am happy.

What did you read in August?  Anything you're excited to read in September?  Spoiler alert: I won't be reading six books in September.