Monday, January 6, 2014

The 106 1/3 Books I Read In 2013!


I reached my nondescript goal of reading over 100 books in 2013! 
Now before you scroll down and say with a scoff or a sneer, "But, Alyse, 47 of those are picture books," let me share Jordan Sonnenblick's writing advice, found in the Q&A section of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie:

"Read a ton. And don't just read one genre or format; read everything. The only way to figure out how to use the nuts and bolts of this thing called storytelling is to examine a lot of these complicated machines called books." 

This is not just great writer advice (which I still hope to be someday); it is also excellent librarian advice. 2013 marked my first full year as a certified information scientist (read: librarian). Although I didn't find a full-time job, I worked three long-term subbing positions in three different high schools, gathered and shared experiences along the way, and all the while had at least one book ready and waiting with a bookmark. The best part about being an [unemployed] librarian: Reading counts as professional development! 

I could go on and on about the other librarian-related experiences I had this year (I MET LOIS LOWRY!), but I'll save those for another time, as this post is going to be long enough with the book list. Like last year, I will share reviews (copied from Goodreads) of some my favorites from this year.

As for this new year we've just begun? I'm kicking off 2014 by refocusing my reading efforts on some adult literature (a.k.a. books I've been longingly staring at on my book shelf but putting off for the sake of keeping up with the ever-growing YA genre) and more non-fiction. Here's a photo of what I intend to be my initial (and quite ambitious-might-take-all-year) stack (and my turtle, Ninja).


2013 List

Fiction

1) Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

2) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  I have a tendency to rebel against reading books that every book club on the planet is reading, however I've learned there's usually a reasoning behind it--the books are really good. Took me years to finally read The Kite Runner and The Help, for instance. Both wonderful. 

I'm rating Gone Girl 5 stars because I couldn't put it down, and I can't tell you the last time I've had that experience with a book (yes, I realize this is also the first adult book I've read in over a year). It'll totally screw with your head (as a lot of relationships do in real life) and keep you guessing and feeling betrayed, yet hopeful from cover to cover. 

3) Room by Emma Donnahuge

4) The Great Gatsby (audio) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

5) Where'd You Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple

Is it a crime that I am a newly-ordained librarian and I fully admit to judging books by their covers? Probably. However, that is the exact reason I chose to read this novel: I love(d) the cover.
Add in a librarian friend's recommendation that she thinks I'd love the story because of its epistolary format (which is masterful, in my opinion, I must add), and voila! Jumped to the top of my to-read list.

Throw in consistently-outstanding character development, an enviable back-story, a missing-persons mystery, as well as facts and journeys to Antarctica, a magical place you don't tend to hear a whole lot about, and you've got yourself a prize-winning, 5-star novel.

One of my favorite lines in the book happened to be a parenthetical statement: "This is why you must love life: one day you're offering up your social security number to the Russia Mafia; two weeks later you're using the word calve as a verb."

I mean, right?
The interweaving points of view, the humor, and the quirky characters inspired me to start writing again. Thank you, Maria Semple. I can't wait to read your debut novel, "This One is Mine."

I will end this review with another underlined quote, a P.S. if you will:
"My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I'm going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I'm about to kick the shit out of life." 

6) The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure 
I heard about this title at a Book Buzz event a few days before attending ALA and was so excited when I saw one of the publisher's booths at ALA giving away free ARC copies of it. It was recommended to people who like Ken Follett but enjoy reading about the WWII era.
When I excitedly asked if I could take one of the copies, the woman said, "Don't start it at 10pm like I did!" She was right. Although I enjoyed "Pillars of the Earth" by Follett, it was for way different reasons. I didn't have a hard time putting it down. In fact, I was often bored with the lengthy architectural descriptions of churches.
This book is nothing like that. The short chapters and the non-stop, bite-your-nails drama, made it hard to stop reading this, as I read it with constant battling feelings of hope, fear, love, hate, dread and awe.
"The Paris Architect" is about Lucien, a renowned architect in Paris, who is asked to build hiding places for Jews on the run from the Nazis. As he becomes more and more involved, his reasoning for agreeing to continue creating these hideaways changes when the situation becomes deeply personal.
The descriptions of the Gestapo torturing people for information made me squirm, and as with everything I've read and listened to about this time in history, I found myself once again flabbergasted that any of this really happened.
Historical fiction at its finest. I'd love to know if there was a real-life team like this back then who risked their lives to save their neighbors and outwit the Gestapo.
The back of the book sums this book up well: "The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we'll go to make things right."

7) Night Circus (audio) by Erin Morgenstern
8) Defending Jacob (audio) by William Landay
9) The Casual Vacancy (audio) by J.K. Rowling
10) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

11) Life of Pi (audio) by Yann Martel

Seemed to be the perfect audio accompaniment for a solo road trip. Phenomenal storytelling-- Religion vs. personal philosophies, vegetarianism vs. cannibalism, survival vs. escape, animals vs. people--this book was way more than I ever thought it would be.

Non-Fiction

12) Guns by Stephen King (Kindle essay)

It's not even worth me writing a review because if anyone follows me on Twitter (@LibrarianForYou), you'll see that I "highlighted" and "shared" more quotes from this essay than I have from any full-length novel I've ever read. So all I have to say (for now, while a blog post is drafting itself in my head) is Thank You, Mr. King. I hope everyone reads this and finally gets it. 

13) Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Here's what you need to know, bottom line: Factory Farms Are The Devil.
I admit I probably have an unnatural affinity with the animal kingdom, but you don't have to even like animals to comprehend that what factory farms do to them is cruel and unnatural punishment and torture. Even the author, who I saw speak on this topic at the Chicago Humanities Festival last month, admitted his case for vegetarianism is not out of a love for animals but out of standing on moral ground against factory farming. He said, "It's unspeakably cruel. One doesn't have to love animals. I don't love animals. You don't have to love a pig to disagree that a pregnant pig..." I'll save you the gory details.

It took me almost an entire year to fully read this book, and that was after owning it and staring at it on my bookshelf for about 3 years without opening it. I knew that this book would be a game changer (even though I've resisted most meat from my diet for the past 7 years already), and now that I've finally finished it--after being on the verge of crying or vomiting on every single page--I can honestly say, I don't know how, being the animal lover I am, I can morally continue to eat them.
I could write an extremely long-winded anecdotal review of this book, but I'm constructing a blog post about it instead (and will post the link here once it's finished).

Read it. And weep.

14) Point Your Face at This by Demetri Martin
15) The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

16) 911: The Book of Help by Michael Cart (editor)

I read the intro to this book when I found it at the ISLMA conference last fall. It took almost a year for me to pick it up again and actually read it. The timing intentional, it's hard not for me to reflect on the difference between 9/10/01 and 9/11/01 around this time of year.

Edited by Michael Cart, this book is broken up into four sections, titled: Healing, Searching For History, Asking Why? Why? Why? and Reacting and Recovering. Renowned writers, such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Paterson, and Sharon Creech [among many more], all contributed a poem, short story, or essay about 9/11 and its impact.

This book was therapeutic in a sense because I felt like a lot of the contributing authors and I shared a mutual understanding of what happened and how important it is to form that into words that can help us grieve, make sense of, and deal with something that seemed completely incomprehensible.

Here are some stand-out sentences I underlined along the way...

"Art takes the pain and chaos of our broken world and transforms it into something that brings forth life." ~Katherine Paterson

"You can see it all on the news, but when you stand on the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, when you hear the roar of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway under your feet, when you look up at the Manhattan skyline and realize that the towers are really, really gone--then you know how much they took." ~Joan Bauer

"When I think about the events of September 11, I'm torn between wanting to say nothing because no words can be enough--and wanting to describe everything that is still worth living for." ~Kyoko Mori

"Even as I grieve the loss of our oasis, I want to welcome the opportunity to belong to the rest of the world...suffering create [a bond] between people past and present, here and there, and all over the world." ~Kyoko Mori

"USE WORDS. It is the most helpful thing I have learned in my life. We find words, we select and arrange them, to help shape our experiences of things. Whether we write them down for ourselves or send them into the air as connective lifelines between us, they help us live, and breathe, and see...if people who are angry, or frustrated, could use words instead of violence, how would our world be different?" ~Naomi Shihab Nye

17) The Woman Who Wasn't There by Robin Gaby Fisher

18) With Their Eyes by Annie Thoms (play)

In preparation for speaking to high school students during Teen Read Week about what it was like to be a teenager in NYC during 9/11, I wanted to not just talk about my own experiences but recommend books for them to read more about that point of view if interested.

I read this cover to cover during a good chunk of a weekend commute to MI. It brought back a lot of memories, a few of which I hadn't thought about in a really long time.

This book is actually the script for a play performed by Stuyvesant students in February, 2002, based on transcripts of interviews the student actors recorded of other students and staff after the entire school population was temporarily displaced as the school was transformed into a triage unit.

Some people don't like the fact that these transcripts include all the "uhs" "likes" and "umms," but I think for what it exists to document, it's a perfect way to do so.

I liked the "staging notes" at the end. Really helped me visualize the production in all it's power with simplicity. I've never had a desire to direct a play until I read this.

19) Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (audio)

It was refreshing to listen to an audiobook that made me chuckle as I drove on my long commute, walked the streets of Chicago, and cleaned my kitchen. Mindy is super easy to relate to, and I enjoyed listening to her narrate her own text.
Her love of comedy as a pre-teen/young adult was so in tune with how I was at that age (memorizing and acting out SNL skits, idolizing comedians, going on about the brilliance of Conan O'Brien etc.) that I found myself wondering how I never made it onto The Office as Kelly Kapoor's BFF.
She described her "Amy Poehler moment" much like I describe mine. Kelly got invited out to drinks with the cast. Amy and I shared Paris Hilton-is-the-worst-host-ever musings in a quick elevator ride at 30 Rock. Same thing, right?
I also enjoyed her list of 11 Favorite Moments In Comedy, most of which would also be on my own.
Her observational insights about men, how no one has a nailed-down definition of "hooking up," and what it's like to "still be a nanny" while desperately wanting to contribute to the world of art and comedy really made me want to say, "You totally get it, Mindy!"

20) Nubs by Major Brian Dennis

21) Tarra & Bella by Carol Buckley

Young Adult

22) Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

23) The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I really enjoyed the "found" poems that begin and/or end chapters in this book. Those alone could have provided an intriguing peek into Lennie and Bailey's sisterhood, but Nelson did a great job of expanding on the poems by creating a whole novel of the Walker family in imaginary Clover, CA. Having a sister myself, I felt an immediate connection to the book because I can't imagine the world without her (spoiler alert: the older sister dies suddenly in the first chapter). I also read and loved Wuthering Heights when I was the same age as Lennie, and I think Catherine and Heathcliff have always camped out in the back of my brain. I enjoyed the quirky characters and memorable dialogue, and a line from page 152--"Each time a person dies, a library burns."--inspired a personal writing project as soon as I read it, while riding the blue line el train. 

24) re-read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I just re-read this as an adult after I saw that a YA book club I randomly heard about was going to be discussing it. Still awesome. It's not the kind of book where you can't put it down because it's so engaging, but it's a quick read, full of adventure and great lessons ("...he'd certainly never realized how much he could do in so short a time."), awesome wordplay ("I'm the Whether Man...it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.") and illustrations (by Jules Feiffer). It was memorable enough that I remember reading and loving it when I was in fifth grade. As someone pointed out last night at the book club, this text is way more complex than a lot of the YA material being written today.

25) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
26) Looking For Alaska by John Green (audio)
27) Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (audio)
28) Paper Towns by John Green

29) The Future of Us by Jay Asher

Remember a world with disposable cameras, YM quizzes, Looney Tunes, papasan chairs, beepers, Boys II Men, Discman, and screensavers made of pipes and brick mazes? Most importantly, remember those life-altering AOL discs with 100 hours of FREE INTERNET (just read my diary--I got grounded every other day for using up all the hours)?? Welcome to 1996! Emma and Josh, next door neighbors and best friends, get their first AOL disc in the mail and it turns their life upside-down because not only is it their first glimpse into the World Wide Web, but something called Facebook pops up and suddenly they're seeing profiles about themselves 15 years in the future.
"At some point in the future, *we* created it. I don't know exactly what it is, but it looks like interconnected websites where people show their photos and wrote about everything going on in their lives, like whether they found a parking spot or what they ate for breakfast."
"Why does it say she has three hundred and twenty friends? Who has that many friends?"
"Why would anyone say this stuff about themselves on the Internet? It's crazy!".
The chapters switch off between Emma and Josh's perspectives, and both of them try to alter their present lives to affect their futures based off what they see on their profiles. Drama ensues.

The book is full of funny quotes about our current tehnologically-drowning world as well:
"What's a blog?"
"What's an iPad?"
"What the hell happened to Pluto?"
after Emma sees her future Facebook status as, "Netflix + Glee = my life" she narrates, "I have no idea what I'm talking about, but if Netflix plus Glee equals my life, I'm hoping those are good things."

And of course, I had to chuckle at Emma's interaction with the librarian after asking if the library had any phone books available. "It's amazing, isn't it? The resources we have available today. You can plan your whole future right here."

Took a long hiatus from this book, when I was just past the middle, but for good reason...to get it autographed by the author when he spoke at my alma mater, Fremd HS, for Writers Week a few months ago (Thanks, Mr. Anderson!). Despite the hiatus, I read this book very quickly both before and after. I am a total sucker for 90s nostalgia, but I couldn't quite rate this 5 stars because I feel like no teens in this day and age (just call me Grandma) will have any connection to the AOL discs, and much less a world without Facebook.

30) Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (audio)

31) The Diviners by Libba Bray (audio)

Imagine you're around a campfire and someone starts telling you a ghost story about a creepy demon named Naughty John. Now picture driving 100 miles each day and listening to a well-versed narrator tell you the 18-hour extended version full of life and death and memorable characters, as well as plenty of creepy moments to make your heart race at times.
Libba Bray's commentary about the historical portions of her story (Fitter Families for Future Firesides, KKK, Chinese Exclusion Act, Pillar of Fire Church) in her author's note at the end provided an added chill: "Often, the monsters we create in our imagination are not nearly as frightening as the monstrous acts perpetuated by ordinary human beings in the aim of one cause or another."

32) Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (audio)
33) See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles
34) Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (audio)

35) Every Day by David Levithan

"Normal people don't have to decide what's worth remembering. You are given a hierarchy, recurring characters, the help of repetition, of anticipation, the firm hold of a long history. But I have to decide the importance of each and every memory...the only way I am going to see them again is if I conjure them in my mind...People take love's continuity for granted, just as they take their body's continuity for granted. They don't realize that the best thing about love is its regular presence." ~A, Day 5997

A is an ungendered person who embodies a new person's body every morning and detaches from them every midnight while asleep, only to wake up as yet another new person. A doesn't know any different, nor does it affect his/her life much until he meets Rhiannon while embodying her boyfriend Justin one day. This changes everything, and the book revolves around A's desire to keep Rhiannon in his/her life. As the reader, we get a glimpse of 40 of these days.

I think I built up the concept of this book too much in my head. I liked it, but for a reason I can't quite put my finger on, not wholeheartedly enough for it to be a favorite. What I did love about it, though, was the subtext behind having a main character who doesn't have a defined gender, which brings about important questions about love, whether that love be between two girls, a boy and girl, two boys, or girl who identifies as a boy and is in love with a girl.

The way these relationships are written about I would think (and hope) would make people question their own constructs of what it means to really love someone for who they are as a person. And for that reason, because it's a work of fiction (which, more so than non-fiction, the news, the media, and religion, a lot of times allows readers to imagine the world around them in a more positive framework), I think everyone should read this to start imagining what it would be like to live as someone else. You might reconsider how you approach people who think and act and love differently than you.

"And once again I think about how people use the devil as an alias for the things they fear...But I see no sin in a kiss. I only see sin in the condemnation." ~A combined quote from pages 142 & 223

I know this review is already full of quotes, but I also thought it was worth sharing what David Levithan wrote on the cover page when I met him at ALA 2013: "To Alyse-- Live every day in wonder." 

36) Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

37) Miss Peregrine's Home of Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (audio)

I was drawn to this book because of the cover photo, the title font, and the title. Don't judge a book by its cover? This librarian disagrees. Sue me.

I enjoyed this mystical tale of wonder, time loops, and an abundance of descriptively delightful characters and creatures, who the narrator of the audio version did a fantastic job of giving voices to.

I have a physical copy of this book on hold at the library because although I really liked the audio format, I think seeing the photos included in the story will enhance it all the more. 

38) Cut by Patricia McCormick (audio)
39) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audio)
40) Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

41) Hate List by Jennifer Brown
I started reading this book, and the next day there was yet another school shooting in the news in Colorado. And I had several family members grimly inform me that the student was seeking out the librarian. And once again, like Columbine, the library was the scene of the crime. And I am currently sitting at the circulation desk of a high school library the morning after finishing this book in bed.

I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book because "Columbine" by Dave Cullen, a factual account from all different perspectives of that tragic and nauseating event, was so well-written and well-researched (and if you haven't read it yet--check it out immediately), that I didn't think I'd want to spend time reading a fictional account of a school shooting.

I was wrong. This is Jennifer Brown's debut novel and is masterly written for young adults. Valerie, the girlfriend of a boy named Nick who shoots up their school, narrates the story, which covers the day of and the aftermath when she returns to school months later. Already an outcast and nicknamed "Sister Death" before the shooting, now no one really knows how to handle her presence. Is she a hero? Was she in on it? Certain things trigger Valerie to recall happier times with Nick, the loveable boyfriend she knew, which Brown seamlessly weaves into the story, as though we're right there in Valerie's brain as she flashes between past and present.

This is a tremendous story about how we really need to "see what's really there" (as her expert psychiatrist, Dr. Hieler, advises), forgiveness, the immense toll these tragedies take on everyone involved, and what it means to mend and do our best to move forward.

42) An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
(This is the book I read a third of in April and didn’t pick back up and finish until the calendar had already turned to 2014.)

Children-Middle School Books

43) Gossamer by Lois Lowry
44) re-read Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

45) The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine easily became one of my favorite characters when I read the original book a few years ago in my Children's Lit class. The Talented Clementine is its sequel, and I loved it just as much.

This time Clementine is worried that she has no talents and therefore can't possibly take part in her school's "Talent-Palooza." She tries to keep up with her orderly, perfect-dressing, talent-ful friend Margaret, and also continues to be overprotective of her younger brother, who she still refers to as various vegetables (since she's named after a fruit). In the end, she becomes one of the most instrumental parts of the show and learns a great lesson that she is "one of a kind!"

With lines like, "She [the school nurse] always looks bored, as if she's just killing time until a really good disease hits the school," and "The Ritz is the fanciest restaurant in Boston. It is very expensive, probably because it costs a lot to make all those crackers," you'll surely love this quirky, sassy 8-year-old as well.

46) Clementine’s Letter by Sara Pennypacker

47) Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

"It's sort of tragic that we can't remember the earliest of the early years. I feel as if these memories could be the key to the whole 'Who am I?' question." (page 15)

This is another ARC I received for free at ALA (and got signed by the author!) after hearing high praise--"The 'Wonder' of 2013"--at the Harold Washington Book Buzz event a day prior.

It's hard not to love Willow and the way she interacts with all living people and creatures, be it a Vietnamese family, her guidance counselor, a taxi driver, hummingbirds, and every array of plant life that can feasibly grow in Bakersfield, California.

This book, narrated by all of the aforementioned characters, covers tragedy, grief, cultural differences, science, and family (albeit unconventional).

Definitely teared up at the end. As all the reviews I'm sure are already stating, I think this will be a great read for middle school-aged students, especially those dealing with the feeling of being lost in the shuffle. And, really, haven't we all felt that way one time or another? Willow and her growing fan club will help you feel otherwise. Guaranteed.

As a P.S.- Had a neat occurrence on p 152 when Willow makes reference to "the classic book where two kids run away from home and go to hide in a museum in New York City," as I had just finished re-reading "The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" for the first time as an adult right before starting this book. I feel like Willow would have appreciated that.
Also on that same page she tells us that "books = comfort." I wholeheartedly agree.

48) When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (audio)
49) re-read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

 Poetry

50) October Mourning by Leslea Newman

I've had this book on my "to-read" list since I heard Michael Cart talk about it at the ISLMA conference last October. When I saw Mr. Anderson rated it 5 stars a few days ago, it shot to the top of my to-read list. I checked out a copy from the library this morning and finished reading it in less than an hour.

Everyone should read this book of poetry, which, as a collection, is called a "song for Matthew Shepard," the 21-year-old college student who was kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead tied to a fence in rural Montana in October, 1998 all because he was gay. These poems, which are each written from a different point of view (including the moon, the fence, the killers, the cops, etc.), are incredibly moving, nauseating, and powerful.
Newman uses a variety of poetic forms and includes an explanation of those forms in the back of the book, in addition to a list of relevant resources.

I have a lot more to say about how meaningful these poems are, but I'm going to save those thoughts for a blog post, so for now I will leave you with a paragraph taken from the author's Afterword:

"I have tried my hardest to imagine the last hours of Matthew Shepard's life before he lost consciousness. It is impossible to fathom the raw fear he surely felt as he begged for his life. As a poet, I know it's part of my job to use my imagination. It's part of my job as a human being, too. Because only if each of us imagines that what happened to Matthew Shepard could happen to any one of us will we be motivated to do something. And something must be done."

Longer review on blog: http://alyseliebovich.blogspot.com/2013/08/october-mourning-song-for-matthew.html

51) The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle
52) Cinnamon Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera
53) Sold by Patricia McCormick

Graphic Novels

54) Drama by Raina Telgemeier 

55) Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies

A story of hope. Made me feel so grateful that, although my mom had lung cancer, she never had to go through radiation (or chemo). Loved the illustrations and that this book was picked up by medical professionals to better understand how patients and their loved ones feel during the entire cancer "process." Fies's mom wrote the afterword, which really added to the real-ness of what everyone went through, especially since she was the patient (and survivor). I loved her last paragraph: "Cherish rest, laughter, friends and prayers. Trust in yourself and make a peace treaty with your High Power. Have a Hero to never let go of and help you through terrifying nights. Take frequent baths to get ride of the scent of toxins. Watch a lot of comedies. Keep your mind and hands busy. Then just breathe for as long as you can, knowing others are helping to hold you up."

56) Electric Girl, Volume 1 by Michael Brennan
57) Mother Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier
58) A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirached
59) Wilson by Daniel Clowes  
60) Primates by Jim Ottaviani
61) 9/11, Vol. 1: Artists Respond

62) Building Stories by Chris Ware

Disclaimer: Think twice about reading if you have a general tendency to get depressed by the redundancy of everyday life, especially by anything listed below.

This box contains:
Relationship disintegration
Marriage regret
Giving up on your own dreams
Pet loss due to forgetfulness due to having a human child replacement
Bees
Spending most of your 20s making sure someone else's life is running smoothly instead of your own

I bought this as a gift to both myself and my boyfriend for Valentine's Day earlier this year. I thought it would be a unique activity to explore this box full of stories, in 14 different pieces (newspaper, pamphlet, game board, etc), together, like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" for grown-ups. The box has been sitting upright on top of our low-rider bookshelves all year, like a piece of 3D art.
I finally took it down and ended up binge-reading all of the pieces by myself over the past two days because I wanted to finish it before the end of the year. And now that I'm finished and truthfully kind of depressed from the material (a few of the scenarios hit a little too close to home), I'm glad we didn't indulge in this together. In fact, I'd venture to say it was probably the worst Valentine's Day gift I've ever given.

But. I am not rating it on its potential as a V-day gift, and with that aside, I loved the concept and design, and despite how depressed I felt while doing so, I did enjoy piecing this woman's life together. I chose where to start and where to continue at random. Interesting that you can either read it chronologically (is that possible? I'm not sure.) or you end up having the added heaviness of foresight and hindsight as you plow your way through.

For a way better and more comprehensive review, including thoughts on the significance of the words "building" and "stories," please read Gary Anderson's review on his follow-worthy blog, "What's Not Wrong?": http://whatsnotwrong.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/review-building-stories-by-chris-ware/

 63) Abelard by Renaud Dillies

Picture Books

64) This is Not My Hat by John Klassen
65) Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
66) No T Rex in the Library by Tony Buzzeo
67) I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
68) Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
69) Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue
70) I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes
71) September Roses by Jeanette Winter
72) Under the Big Sky by Trevor Romain
73) The Right Number of Elephants by Jeff Sheppard
74) The Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy
75) Elmer by David McKee
76) 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter
77) Tuesday by David Wiesner
78) Thank You, World by Alice B. McGinty
79) Pingo by Brandon Mull
80) re-read Imogen's Antlers by David Small
81) Moosetache by Margie Palatini
82) Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora
83) Miss Spider's Tea Party by David Kirk
84) Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo by William Joyce
85) Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow by Gary Golio
86) Bugs! by David T. Greenberg
87) Big Anthony by Tomie dePaola
88) Pickles to Pittsburgh by Judi Barrett
89) Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
90) Tiger Who Wore White Gloves by Gwendolyn Brooks
91) The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch
92) Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
93) The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
94) Verdi by Janell Cannon
95) If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano
96) A Long Way Away by Frank Viva
97) The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
98) Big Appetites by Christopher Boffoli
99) Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd (get it?)
100) Abe Lincoln's Dream by Lane Smith
101) Goodnight Keith Moon by Bruce Worden
102) Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds
103) Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
104) Blackout by John Rocco
105) Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell
106) Aziz the Storyteller by VI Hughes
107) Matzo Ball Moon by Lesléa Newman

What books did you love in 2013? What books should we steer clear of reading? Any reading goals for the new year?  

Friday, January 3, 2014

World Book Night!

Before I rave about how amazing World Book Night is, please note that the applications to be a 2014 Book Giver are due by this Sunday, January 5th!
Here is the link for More Information and the APPLICATION.

Now on to my musings...

Two years ago, in World Book Night's inaugural year, I applied to be a Book Giver but didn't make the cut. I don't remember my 3rd choice (but it was probably Hunger Games, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or The Book Thief), but my first two were:

1) The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
2) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
(both 5-star favorites, must read if you haven't already)

Last year I eagerly applied again, saying in the short-answer questions that, if chosen, I would give away my 20 books in Wicker Park, and that I wanted to participate because I had officially just become a librarian and wanted to spread the love of reading to neighbors I have never met before, who may have less access to free reading materials.

My top 3 choices:
1) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
2) Bossypants by Tina Fey
3) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
(also all 5-star favorites)

This time I got accepted AND got my #1 pick! The next step was choosing a pick-up location. There were limited places in Chicago, so I chose Barrington, since at the time I was commuting to Crystal Lake and could easily swing by there on my way home. Plus, the Barrington Public Library happens to be the backdrop of my earliest memories of being an avid reader and probably the initial seed planted that eventually led to me becoming a librarian 25 years later.

A few days later I received a confirmation of my pick-up location, which just said Barrington Public Library...can you guess where this is going? When I arrived at BPL on pick-up day, I got several confused looks from the librarians behind the circulation desk when I excitedly said I was there to pick up my World Book Night box. Turns out there's a Barrington in New Hampshire, and my books were 1,000 miles away. After a few e-mails back and forth with Amy, their library director, she said they often get holds requests from both Illinois and Rhode Island and offered to mail me my box. The awesome thing about librarians: They're always there to lend a helping hand and to help solve problems. So here's a public shout-out to Amy in NH! She sent me the box, I sent her a thank-you note with a check to reimburse the shipping cost, and I was back in business just in time to participate on April 23.

Except I was sick. And it was raining in Chicago.
A week later, it was bright and sunny, I was over the bug, and I was ready to finally distribute 20 copies of Phantom Tollbooth to other people enjoying the neighborhood. I proudly stuck my "I am a Book Giver" sticker to my shirt and gave one to my friend and fellow librarian, Stephanie, who offered to accompany me.



I felt uncomfortable at first because I realized people probably thought I was trying to pass out religious material (and, let's be honest, I'd be pretending to look the other way too if the roles were reversed), so instead of approaching people on the street and asking if they'd like a free book, I changed my approach to, "This is one of the best children's books, and it's celebrating its 50th anniversary! Want one for free??" We gave one to a pilot, one to a new mom, two to college students, four to a group of elderly women, one to a couple, one to a girl eating lunch in the park, a guy selling fruit, a few train passengers, a few people waiting for the bus, and a man with a dog. Some people were hesitant at first, mostly not believing that there wasn't a catch to the book being free of charge.
I sure hope they all find the book as magical and clever as I did, both at ages 10 and 30.

Me: "I wish I had an endless supply of free books to give away to people!"
Stephanie: "But you do...You work in a library!"


And that, friends, is the summation of why World Book Night and libraries are equally awesome!
Spread the literature love, and become a Book Giver!


Here are some of the portraits I took of the happy new book owners.
Click here to view the full album on Flickr.



At the bus stop on Damen at Milwaukee

At the same bus stop. Notice the previous man in the background is already reading!

Fruit stand on Damen outside the Blue Line station




Last copy went to a man and his dog! I'd like to think he read him the story :-)


My 2014 Top 3, you ask? 
1) Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
2) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
3) Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This Is What I Remember

Standing on Fifth Avenue.
The girl next to me sobbing into a cell phone.
"He’s in there and people are just standing here taking pictures!"
And I kept shooting.

Talking to Jenny on the phone.
The Pentagon exploding on my TV screen.
"We’re at war! I don’t want to hang up with you!"
And I hung up the phone.

Anticipating a love letter.
The emptiness of my mailbox.

Returning a VHS to Hollywood Video.
Staring at face masks on the way.
"Am I the one in a movie?"
But I also can’t breathe.

Jumping over a puddle the night before.
Giggling while wondering out loud,
"What would happen if lightning struck a skyscraper?"
But an airplane?

No. An airplane never crossed my mind.

Friday, August 23, 2013

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman

http://www.teenliteraturenetwork.org/dept/videogallery/files/2012/10/bk_october_200.jpg 

This book of poetry had been on my list to read since last October when I heard Michael Cart speak briefly about it, with tears in his eyes, during his Best of 2012: 60 books in 60 minutes book talk at the ISLMA conference. When I saw more recently that a highly-regarded teacher-friend of mine, Gary Anderson, rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, calling it a "masterpiece," I immediately requested it from my local library.
While walking back to my apartment (I live virtually right across from the local branch, which is super convenient), I turned a corner quickly and literally ran into a guy who resembled Matthew Shepard so much that after apologizing I had to do a double-take to see if I was imagining this person. He had blonde-ish hair that fell at an angle across his face, and he was remarkably pale. He smiled shyly, also said "Sorry," and continued on his way.
This encounter alone haunted me, and I felt compelled to sit down as soon as I walked in the door and read all 68 poems in a very short amount of time. 

In short: Everyone should read this book of poetry, which as a collection is called "A Song for Matthew Shepard," the 21-year-old college student who was kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead tied to a fence in rural Montana in October, 1998 all because he was gay. These poems, which are each written from a different point of view (including the moon, the fence, a deer, the killers, the cops, etc.), are incredibly moving, nauseating, and powerful. 
Lesléa Newman, who was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for Gay Awareness Week at the same university Shepard attended only a week after his brutal murder, uses a variety of poetic forms and includes an explanation of those forms in the back of the book, in addition to a list of relevant resources. She now works closely with the Matthew Shepard Foundation. For more information, visit their website: http://www.matthewshepard.org/ 

And please watch and listen to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's song, "Same Love."

If you have some extra time, here are some further, more personal thoughts on the subject.

When I was about 13 or 14, during the early years of AOL, I remember chatting with a guy friend who I'd known since preschool. I don't remember how it came up, but he decided to "come out" to me over an instant message. I remember being surprised but mostly just curious. I asked him who else knew. And I asked him if he thought he'd get made fun of just because he happened to like boys. I don't remember the specifics of the conversation, except for this detail: He told me he didn't like how often he heard the offensive word "fag." I admitted to him that I called my little sister that all the time and had no idea that it was such a bad word; it was just the current trendy insult. I vowed to never utter the word again.
A few years later Matthew Shepard's murder made national headline, being labeled as a hate crime. I thought back to the conversation I had with my friend and how he had felt uncomfortable and scared to let anyone know his "secret identity."

In high school I had a handful of friends who were gay, which I imagine wasn't the easiest label to deal with amidst the homogenous, A&F-wearing suburbanites. Early on in my senior year (2000), one of our fellow classmates, also a member of the glorified football team, made and wore a homophobic t-shirt to school, while pretending to talk in a lisp all day. I believe the culprit was one of the same boys who had walked behind me several times in those same halls pretending to sneeze but saying "a-jew."

(I thought of this when I read the poem on page 51 called "The Frat Boys." A fraternity at Colorado State University sponsored a Wizard of Oz-themed float in their homecoming parade with a scarecrow that had "I'M GAY" spraypainted on it. Matthew Shepard was discovered by a runner, who at first stated he thought Shepard was a scarecrow tied to the fence, on October 7. This appalling act took place a few blocks from the hospital where Matthew laid in a coma on October 10, only two days before he succumbed to his injuries.)
When I was asked to speak on "Character" at the National Honor Society inductions, I mentioned this in my speech. I didn't mention his name because that wasn't the point. The point was to draw attention to the fact that something needed to change at that school because there was no excuse for acting that way toward fellow classmates (or anyone for that matter). 
Afterward, a friend of mine approached me in the auditorium and said how much he liked my speech but that he had to correct me on something; I used the term "sexual preference," and I learned then that the correct term to use was "sexual orientation." This is not something that people choose, they're born this way (cue Lady Gaga). I was embarrassed. Here I was trying to make a statement and stand up for my friends, and I probably came across just as ignorant because of my lack of thoughtful word choice. But I never forgot that moment and have taken it upon myself to correct people whenever I hear someone refer to homosexuality as a choice or a preference. (Lyrics from above video, "Same Love," The right wing conservatives think it's a decision/And you can be cured with some treatment and religion/Man-made rewiring of a predisposition/Playing God/America the brave still fears what we don't know/And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten/But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago/I don't know

Soon after I gave that speech the homophobic guy (the one who made the t-shirt) and I happened to be at the same party one night. Even though I had refrained from mentioning him by name, I only called out his actions, he was beyond pissed. More than a decade later I don't recall exactly what he screamed at me through gritted teeth, but I can picture his reddening face as he grabbed a nearby bar stool, flipped it over, and started swinging at me in a drunken rage. He didn't succeed in hitting me, and it was over almost as soon as it started, thanks to intervening bystanders.

Something had to be done. My guidance counselor at the time mentioned that he and a few other staff members and concerned students were looking into starting a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and asked if I'd want to help. I eagerly agreed. There wasn't a lot of time before I graduated to make much of a difference, and although the group survived under various aliases over the years, I found out today that it apparently was never officially recognized by the school nor the district. The good news: This is the first year, under a more general all-encompassing alias, that it is finally--12 years later--being granted official club status. It took entirely too long in my opinion, however I'm still proud to have been part of the initial group that helped pave the way for some reality bubble-bursting. Also, I really like the direction its evolved, which is "celebrating the human experience and issues of acceptance for all members of the community." Perfect.

Moving on to college... 

I arrived back home via Amtrak after my first year as a student at New York University (where, by the way, being a gay guy was the norm) to find my dad and my best friend, Abbi, waiting for me at Union Station. When Abbi and I were alone, she confided that while she was waiting with my dad he asked her, "Is Lyse a lesbian?" She laughed and replied, "No...she's not a lesbian. What made you think that?" His only reasoning, or at least the only reason he told Abbi, was that I didn't have a boyfriend in high school. The natural assumption being: she must like girls then. Abbi told him that was a ridiculous conclusion, that hardly any of our close friends had boyfriends in high school. 
Then he said something to her that meant the world to me: "...because I wouldn't care if she was [a lesbian]. I just want her to be happy." If my dad, who is notorious for belting "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof at any given moment and who views the world through a formulaic lens, can be so unconditional with his love, anyone can muster the same.

When I was 28...

I went on a roadtrip with my friend, Dana, and we ended up at a line-dancing saloon in Nashville on our first night. Just in time for a hula-hoop contest. I won second place. When I returned to our table, some men standing nearby congratulated me. I smiled and thanked them. One of those men, a few minutes later, started laughing with his buddy and called out: "HOMO!" Horrified, I turned to face them to make sure I'd heard right, and sure enough they were watching the one guy on the floor, out of a sea of hip-twisting females, doing a swell job of keeping his hoop a-twirlin'. Again, the man beside me called out something at the boy on the dance floor using the word "homo" all the while cracking up with his friend.
I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me. Can you please stop yelling the word 'homo'?"
He looked at me, startled. "What makes you think it's appropriate to use that kind of language directed towards another human being?" I continued.
He genuinely seemed like he had no idea that yelling "homo" at someone was an offensive act. "Well he's obviously a homo because men shouldn't be that good at hula-hooping," he explained. 
"Ok, first of all, can you please stop using that word?" I went on to explain to him that it doesn't matter whether he's gay or not, it's inappropriate to yell that word because not only might you offend him, you never know who you're offending within earshot. He glanced at Dana, probably assuming that she and I were "homos" as well, but then surprised me by sincerely apologizing, saying he wouldn't do that again. 

If you haven't yet read October Mourning, I encourage you to check out a copy from your local library. Share it with friends and family. And if you're a teacher, recommend it to students.
To borrow Gary's description: It's masterful.

I will leave you with some strung together pieces of the poet's Afterword:

"...the phrase I can't imagine repeated itself over and over in my mind. So many people I'd spoken to in the last twenty-four hours had said the same thing: I can't imagine. And yet we must imagine, because the truth is, what happened to Matthew Shepard and his family could happen to any one of us...I have tried my hardest to imagine the last hours of Matthew Shepard's life before he lost consciousness. It is impossible to fathom the raw fear he surely felt as he begged for his life. As a poet, I know it's part of my job to use my imagination. It's part of my job as a human being, too. Because only if each of us imagines that what happened to Matthew Shepard could happen to any one of us will we be motivated to do something. And something must be done...To quote John Lennon: Imagine." 


And remember...

(patch purchased at the Mynabirds merch booth at Empty Bottle, October, 2012)