Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Make America Read Again

Finishing a very important book while train-ing around Europe this summer, Photo credit: Jerry Oswalt III

Many people assume that because I am a librarian all I do is read all day every day. I wish. I won't go into all the roles a school librarian plays, especially a solo one exhaustively advocating for staff, but let's just say between all that, after school meetings (which, for some reason, this year seem to be in excess), supervising sports to try and subsidize my salary, and commuting over two hours a day (over 10 hours a week), there is not much awake time to read. Most of my "reading," at least during the school year, occurs through absorbing audiobooks on my commutes and keeping volumes of poetry in my bag to peruse whenever I have free minutes in Costco lines or Jiffy Lube waiting rooms. 

Imagine my disappointment when I contracted some pneumonia-like virus five days before winter break--a.k.a. Prime Reading Time--and I am STILL sick while writing this 2 days before returning to work. Jonathan Safran Foer's new novel, Here I Am, has been taunting me from the nightstand for months as my reward for making it through another semester, and I haven't even opened it (insert immense sad face) despite having saved it specifically for this luxuriously long break. I did make it halfway through Boy Erased by Garrard Conley, though, and he's coming to speak at Writers Week in February, so that's awesome.

Besides Here I Am, a few other titles high on my list to kick off 2017 include: Hold Still by Sally Mann, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer, The Dylanologists by David Kinney, and Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (another one I started and thought for sure, especially being poetry, I would have finished before the year's end).

Notable titles from 2016
Two books I had intended to read for years and unsurprisingly loved both of them: Devil in the White City and The Poisonwood Bible.
Two books I thought I wouldn't like but read (well, listened to) anyway and both, surprisingly, became favorites: The Goldfinch and Station Eleven
Two books that helped me better understand our country and its faults: Between the World and Me (racism, slavery, Black Lives Matter) and Most Dangerous (Vietnam War)
Favorite YA novels of 2016: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

Without further ado, below is the full list of 55 books I read in 2016, including two I re-read (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Dylan's memoir, Chronicles). This also includes The Raven King, the last book in Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle series, even though the audiobook deleted itself off my phone while I was on a cruise ship in August, and I have yet to actually finish the last quarter of it in print format.

Last year, I kept intending on sharing my list of 2015 books but never quite got around to it, so that list of 58 is included below as well. Bolded titles in both lists are linked to Goodreads reviews or, in the case of Half a Life, I'll Give You the Sun, and Unorthodox, to previous blog posts. Stay tuned for a post inspired by Falling that I started over the summer but for various reasons delayed finishing until this week.

Self-Portrait, July 4th

2016 Books in order of date finished

1) Perfect Example by John Porcellino (graphic novel) - 2 stars 2) Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (audiobook, non-fiction) - 3 stars 3) Echo by Pam Ryan Muñoz (YA fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars 4) The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless (memoir, audiobook) - 4 stars 5) The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida (non-fiction) - 3 stars 6) H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (memoir, audiobook) - 3 stars 7) Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (non-fiction, mostly audiobook) - 5 stars 8) Nothing by Janne Teller (YA fiction) - 3 stars 9) The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars 10) My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (graphic novel) - 4 stars 11) Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (YA fiction, audiobook) - 2 stars 12) Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (YA fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars 13) Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (memoir, audiobook) - 3 stars 14) 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars 15) Half a Life by Darin Strauss (memoir) - 4 stars 16) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (audiobook, fiction) - 3 stars 17) The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (fiction) - 2 stars 18) The Martian by Andy Weir (fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars 19) The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle (poetry) - 3 stars 20) Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins (picture book) - 4 stars 21) Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin (picture book) - 4 stars 22) All American Boys by Jason Reynolds (YA, audiobook) - 4 stars 23) My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (memoir) - 3 stars 24) First They Killed My Father by Luong Ung (memoir) - 4 stars 25) Falling by Elisha Cooper (memoir) - 5 stars 26) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (YA historical fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars 27) Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars 28) Nightbird by Alice Hoffman (YA/children’s fiction) - 3 stars 29) Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (Non-Fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars 30) The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars 31) Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (non-fiction) - 5 stars 32) The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (fiction, audiobook) - 33) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling (fiction, play) - 3 stars 34) Bastards by Mary Anna King (memior) - 3 stars 35) The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars 36) Ghosts by Reina Telgemeier (graphic novel) - 4 stars 37) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars 38) Grave Mercy by Robyn Lefevers (YA fiction, audiobook) - 2 stars 39) (re-read) Chronicles V 1 by Bob Dylan (memoir, audiobook) - 4-5 stars 40) Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (YA fiction) - 4 stars 41) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (fiction, audtiobook) - 4 stars 42) Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer (its own category) - unrated 43) (re-read) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (fiction) - 5 stars 44) The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars 45) Fake ID by Lamar Giles (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars 46) Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (YA fiction) - 5 stars 47) Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers (Childrens) - 5 stars 48) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer (fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars 49) Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (picture book) - 4 stars 50) Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion (picture book) - 4 stars 51) Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz (novel in verse) - 3 stars 52) Emmy&Oliver by Robin Benway (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars 53) Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (non-fiction, audiobook) - 3 stars 54) Today Means Amen by Sierra DeMulder (poetry) - 4 stars 55) Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars

Reading Old Man and the Sea while staring at the same sea in Cuba

2015 books in order of date finished

1) This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (graphic novel) - 3 stars
2) The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 starts
4) Blue Horses by Mary Oliver (poetry) - 4 stars
5) If I Wrote A Book About You by Stephany Aulenback (picture book) - 5 stars
6) A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver (poetry) - 4 stars
7) Reality Boy by A.S. King (YA ficition, audiobook) - 3 stars
8) Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford (picture book) - 4 stars
9) We are in a Book! by Mo Willems (picture book) - 5 stars
10) The Jacket by Kirsten Hall (picture book) - 5 stars
11) The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (picture book) - 5 stars
12) Journey by Aaron Becker (picture book) - 5 stars
13) Hug Machine by Scott Campbell (picture book) - 4 stars
14) The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (picture book) - 4 stars
15) The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
16) Dog Songs by Mary Oliver (poetry) - 5 stars
17) Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (fiction) - 4 stars
18) The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins (fiction) - 4 stars
19) Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
21) Izzy & Oscar by Allison Estes & Dan Stark (picture book) - 3 stars
22) We Were Liars  by e. lockhart (YA fiction) - 3 stars
23) Your First Word Will Be Dada by Jimmy Fallon (picture book) - 3 stars
24) Chicago Baby by Jerome Pohlen (picture book) - 4 stars
25) Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan (non-fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
28) Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon (fiction) - 3 stars 
29) Pig and Pug by Lynne Berry (picture book) - 3 stars
31) The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (YA fiction) - 3 stars
33) The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt (picture book) - 3 stars
34) Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl (YA memoir, audiobook) - 4 stars
35) The Family Romanov (YA non-fiction, audiobook) - unrated
38) Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry (picture book) - 4 stars
39) Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae (picture book) - 5 stars
40) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (YA historical fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
41) The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
42) Relish by Lucy Knisley (graphic memoir) - 5 stars
44) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (non-fiction, audiobook) - 5 stars
47)  Sketchy by Olivia Samm (YA fiction) - 2 stars
48) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (non-ficition, audiobook) - 4 stars
49) Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King (YA fiction) - unrated
50) Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (non-fiction, audiobook) - 4 stars
51) I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (non-ficition, audiobook) - 4 stars
53) Animal Farm by George Orwell (fiction, audiobook) - 2 stars
54) March by John Lewis (graphic novel, memoir) - 5 stars
55) Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Anthony (picturebook) - 3 stars
57) The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (audiobook) - 5 stars
58) The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (graphic novel) - 4 stars

Monday, April 11, 2016

Half a Life

"Martin Amis has written that we all hope, modestly enough, to get through life without being murdered. A lot more confidently, we hope to get through life without murdering anybody ourselves." - Darin Strauss, p. 127

When my friend, Katie, moved to Arizona before 6th grade, we became pen pals to replace our neighborhood explorations and sleepover parties. AOL then replaced the letters. On December 17, 1998, less than a month after I turned 16, Katie and I chatted online on the eve of our winter break and talked about me flying out there to visit for spring break a few months later. She signed off after saying her friend, who had just gotten her driver's license, had arrived to pick her up for their first joy ride. Having recently experienced the freedom of being entrusted by the state to drive alone as a teenager, I probably replied with something like, "Have fun!!! It's the BEST feeling!" A few hours later, Katie, not wearing a seatbelt, lost her life after that friend of hers lost control of the car [while driving recklessly so I heard] on a winding mountain road.

I learned of this devastating news upon returning home the following evening from my first-ever concert with friends: Q101's Twisted 5, featuring BeckCakeEverlastGarbageGoo Goo DollsSoul Coughing, and Third Eye Blind. I remember my parents were both awake waiting for me when I got home. I remember the look on their faces, as the excitement of the live alternative music drained, replaced by disbelief, when I heard the seriousness of what they said: "We need to talk to you. Katie died in a car accident last night." I remember thinking, "Katie, who?" unable to process they were talking about my friend, Katie. 

I didn't fly out to Arizona for her funeral, and I ended up not seeing anyone from her family until 6 years later when I was on a cross-country roadtrip with my friend, Shawna, and we met up with Katie's twin brother for dinner. I can't remember now if we even spoke of Katie, both of us probably overwhelmed that we were hanging out without her, both now college graduates. 

Mr. Anderson, my English teacher at the time of the accident, knew about what happened because I imagine I wrote him e-mails about my devastation and how this loss impacted my own sense of being. Interestingly enough, he is the one who recommended this book to me about a month ago as a wise response to a "good memoir" collection development query. I read most of the book while time-traveling around Cuba in the back of a 1952 Chevrolet, which existed before the invention of seatbelts. I considered the discomfort of this detail throughout the trip with the book in my lap and Katie on my mind.

The memoir is a brutally honest self-reflection, beautifully written by Darin Strauss, who unintentionally at age 18, struck and killed a female classmate who swerved her bike in front of his moving car, how he strived to "live for the two" from that point forward, and how her death continued to affect his life and relationships. 

A handful of times I've considered Katie's friend, the driver, over the years and wondered where she is now. How did she deal with the weight of responsibility that I imagine comes with killing one friend and seriously injuring another? I know every circumstance is different, but if I knew I her, I would recommend this book. 

This past week, Katie would have celebrated her 33rd birthday. Over the past few years, I reflected upon the time I realized she had been both dead and alive for the same number of years and the fact that she has now been gone longer than she was here. It's a bizarre fact to try and process. She never got her own driver's license, never graduated high school, never went to college...what now seems like an infinite list of nevers. 

“Things don't go away. They become you. There is no end, as T.S. Eliot somewhere says, but addition: the trailing consequence of further days and hours. No freedom from the past, or from the future."

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

"For awhile I thought I could un-Jew myself. Then I realized that being Jewish is not in the ritual or the action. It is in one's history. I am proud of being Jewish, because I think that's where my indomitable spirit comes from, passed down from ancestors who burned in the fires of persecution because of their blood, their faith."

Some of my fellow agnostic/atheistic Jewish colleagues suggested reading this book as a department and engaging in a group discussion for our final Professional Development day back in May (because what I do love about being Jewish is that we see the humor in life and proceed self-deprecatingly). Well, major #librarianfail on my part--I only got about 20 pages in, and when I realized I wouldn't be able to make it to the book discussion, gave up trying to read the memoir for several months...until the new school year was about to begin, and I gave myself a deadline. 

When I did finally attempt reading this memoir for a second time, I had a hard time getting very far. First of all, I found the storyline to be fairly slow-moving in the sense that I wasn't immediately engaged enough to want to open the book again. But more so than that, I compare the experience to how I felt while watching the documentary, Jesus Camp,  a documentary about children getting indoctrinated to spread the Christian word (putting that mildly) that is only 87 minutes in length but took me about four hours to complete because I paused it what seemed like every few minutes to call my best friend for her insights. I remember feeling completely exasperated and saying something like, "Is this real life??" 

As I read this book, I kept thinking about how my dad used to make my sister and me watch Fiddler on the Roof on an annual basis and suddenly had a new-found appreciation for the milestones we've evolved. I assumed this book was written by someone much older than me until I got to a page that started with: "It was the 11th day of September, 2001..." What?! Hold the phone. The author is younger than me?! Also, she lived in Brooklyn and had no idea that the towers had been hit by airplanes and subsequently collapsed until her grandfather "sinfully" bought a Wall Street Journal and borrowed a radio to listen to the news about what was happening across the river?! 

I gave up on the concept of religion after being told at 12 years old that I would go to hell if I didn't accept Jesus in my heart. This pissed me off. I became an angry, life-questioning, early-menstruating pre-teen. I stopped wearing a Jewish star necklace, and I tried never to pay less than other people so as not to encourage the "cheap" stereotype; I no longer wanted to be identified by the only religion I knew and loved. 
As I got older, less hormonal and more political, my anger subsided and was replaced by a desire to understand:
-Why do Christians think they have the answers to everything?
-Why would Christians tell non-believers/gay people that they're going to hell if they're supposed to love everyone?
-Who cares if they tell me I'm going to hell because Jews don't believe in hell's existence and therefore I can't go there because I'm Jewish?
-Also, Jesus was a long-haired Jewish hippie socialist (right?), soooo....what the heck are we all disagreeing about in the first place?

My point being that although I had given up on aligning with monotheistic religious beliefs (I lean mostly towards Buddhism if I have to choose) or this god figure that supposedly "loves everyone" but has all these exceptions to that rule, I remember how significant the mind-shift felt about 20 years ago when the Jewish congregation my family belongs to, albeit of the reformed sector, transformed all of the prayers to be inclusive of the female players of biblical times. Instead of only listing the men in prayers, they added the women, and everyone received a special insert to follow along separate from the ancient prayer book. I remember thinking, "How has recognizing women never been a thing until now?" 

(We're weaving our way back to Unorthodox now.) What killed me while reading this book--my boyfriend recounted he would hear me yell, "WHAT!" followed by the sound of a book being angrily slammed shut--is that I never had reason to be exasperated at my own religion until taking the time to read about why one young woman made the decision to leave her Hasidic roots. 
As a female librarian, who was brought up by Jewish parents who revered the education of their two daughters above all else, it was mind-boggling to read Deborah's commentary about how secretive she had to be just to get her hands on reading materials:

"His mother has told him not to let me read any more library books, as if my illicit glimpses into their pages were the cause of all our problems."

"In school, I hear hushed rumors about a Jewish library in Williamsburg, hosted once a week in someone's apartment, where you can take out two kosher, censored books, all written by Jewish authors. If I can get books from a kosher library, I won't have to hide them under my mattress."

Judaism is a matrilineal religion, meaning a child is considered Jewish so long as their mother is also Jewish. If the religion itself is being passed down through the woman, how are women treated like second-class citizens and denied the right to education and knowledge? Call me crazy, but none of this makes any sense to me. Although I didn't love the book, I applaud Deborah for taking control of her own life and bringing to light this antiquated, shall I say misogynistic, way of life. I am proud to be a progressive Jew who loves to read and inquire about the world and am even more grateful now more than ever that my parents encouraged me to be a life-long learner. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

As a high school librarian, I am probably in the minority when it comes to loving Young Adult Realistic Fiction. Meaning, I don't love the genre. There are exceptions, sure, but generally speaking my brain has a hard time relating to the (forgive me) sometimes shallow plights of teens, which are often the epicenter of such novels. I'll Give You the Sun is one of those exceptions. I started reading this on the day Congress made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states (which deserves a celebratory post all its own), appropriate given some of the story's content.  

The chapters switch off from the perspective of two twin siblings: Noah ages 13-14 and Jude at age 16. Right off the bat Noah gets bullied for being perceived as gay, which he is, but refuses to admit to anyone except his sketchpad. Jude is heterosexually promiscuous, her mom often saying, "Don't be that girl." The siblings have an inexplicable bond with each other and are both artists in their own right, striving to get admitted to a prestigious art school; however, the competition for their parents' attention and subsequent vindictive behavior toward each other creates a rift that only deepens after a family tragedy occurs. 

The focus on magic objects and superstitions, shapeshifting family dynamics and secrets that produce misplaced cruelty, coming to terms with the fact that your parents lead lives you don't know about, and loving someone who says "no one can know" were all themes that hit home, a little too nostalgically at times. 

What I love about this book is the poetic language and metaphorical images Jandy Nelson weaves seamlessly throughout the novel (something I loved about her first novel, The Sky is Everywhere, as well) and that the characters are way more evolved than a lot of realistic fiction novels on the YA spectrum. What I loved the most, though, was a repeated life motto echoed throughout: "Embrace the mystery."

Interconnectedness and the ever-present Universe Theory proving itself again and again in my own life felt akin with many of the more mysterious details of this novel that occurred while reading the story. Here are some "for instances"...

Jude has conversations with her dead grandmother, whom she claims to see and describes her fashionable outfits in great detail. The day after I started reading this book I was driving down Western Avenue when an elderly woman at a bus stop caught my eye. She was decked out in neon shades of green, but what made freak out was how remarkably she looked like my deceased grandmother, who has been gone for 15 years!

Later that week, my friend Shannon invited our friend Sean and me to a free pottery workshop. Having not played with clay since I took a 3D art class senior year of high school, I jumped at the chance to get my hands dirty (I failed miserably, just like in high school, but it nevertheless got my brain thinking in new ways, as experimenting with art is apt to do). In the book, Jude has to graduate to working with a master stone cutter because her clay sculptures keep shattering (which she blames on a ghost).

There is mention of a Ouija Board on more than one occasion, which is one of the only childhood artifacts that has consistently moved with me to and been on display in various apartments. And while reading this book, my boyfriend (that may be the first mention of him on this blog due to my embarrassing hiatus from writing regularly) and I discovered we harbored a mutual fascination with learning about the world of Tarot cards, which inspired him to buy a deck and a how-to book. 

And finally there is the theory one of the characters refers to as "split-aparts," a term apparently coined by Plato: 

“So Plato talked about these beings that used to exist that had four legs and four arms and two heads. They were totally self-contained and ecstatic and powerful. Too powerful, so Zeus cut them all in half and scattered all the halves around the world so that humans were doomed to forever look for their other half, the one who shared their very soul. Only the luckiest humans find their split-apart, you see.”

What's remarkable is that with all this talk in the news about same-sex marriage finally being recognized by law, I rediscovered and started listening to "Origin of Love" from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" on repeat. Watch the video clip below? Look familiar? (If not, refer to italicized quote above.)

Love is love. Read this book. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

World Book Night, Year 2

I was ecstatic to be selected for the second year in a row to be a Book Giver on World Book Night and to once again give away one of my favorite novels: Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. Below is my review originally posted on Goodreads:

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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."

View all my reviews

This time there was no same-name city, wrong state situation box location mix-up (see last year's post: World Book Night). I chose to pick up my box from City Lit Books, a wonderful, independent book store in neighboring Logan Square. They were so kind (both via e-mail and in person when I excitedly picked up my box) and even hosted a reception for all of the Chicago-area givers who used their store as a flagship. Unfortunately, I was out of town and missed it, but I heard it was a lot of fun with great conversation.

This year WBN had a lot of new and exciting features for Givers:
* 3 free audiobooks from audiobooks.com
* a free ebook 
* an essay contest

Below is the essay I submitted for the contest, but you get the pleasure of seeing the visual version, which includes a photo of everyone who got a copy of Bernadette, as well as a short video clip of two girls who called me a "librarian evangelist."

The Librarian Evangelist

"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."
–Maria Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette

The night before World Book Night, I inched my way towards one of the stoplights at the 6-corner intersection in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Through my windshield I watched a woman attempting to sell StreetWise magazines, a publication that supports and employs Chicago’s homeless community, to hurried passersby in front of a Starbucks. I cringed every time someone ignored her, which was every time.
Twenty-four hours later I approached the same intersection, this time on foot, with a backpack decorated with Book Giver paraphernalia and full of free copies of one of my favorite novels: Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. 

While walking down Milwaukee Avenue I gave away my first copy to a woman who couldn’t believe the book was free, then to a man walking his dog. 

The third copy went to two girls who said they were roommates and that they would share one copy so I would have more to pass out to others. 

As I crossed North Avenue, I was encouraged to see the same woman from the day before standing there with her stack of StreetWise. I regretted leaving the house without any cash but asked if she would like a free book to read. She seemed hesitant at first, but after I told her about World Book Night and insisted I wanted nothing in return, she took one, shyly smiled, and thanked me in a quiet voice.

I rounded the corner, intent on passing out some of the copies to commuters entering and exiting the Damen el station. I excitedly waved a few of them in the air, while announcing: “Free books! Take your mind off your commute!” No smiles. No eye contact. No takers. I approached a woman unlocking her bike, but she said, “I don’t have time to read! I have two 3-years olds at home!” and a man sifting through a trashcan, who replied, “I would love to read, but I can’t carry anything with me.”
This caught the attention of two girls, leaving a coffee shop next to the station, who waved me over to ask what I was doing. They each enthusiastically took a copy, asked how to become volunteers next year, and deemed me a “librarian evangelist,” after I said I was a librarian always looking for creative ways to get people excited about reading. I will continue to embrace that hilarious title with pride. 

A few steps further south on Damen I asked two more girls, who were walking together, if they would like a free book. While I was talking with them, I noticed that a group of girls inside a bar called Blue Line were watching us, curious about what was happening outside their booth’s window. Soon after, one brave soul ran out onto the blustery sidewalk, asked how she could acquire a book for herself and her friend, who was giving me the “thumbs-up” sign from inside. The best part of this interaction occurred when the girl from the bar said she needed a new book to suggest to her newly-created book club, said she would use Bernadette, and invited the other two, who had been strangers two minutes prior, to join the club! They all exchanged contact information, while I went on my merry way, eager to meet the second half of my recipients. 

            I crossed the street to stroll through Wicker Park and came across a group of teenaged boys. When I asked, “Do you guys like to read?” one of them stopped, a smile creeping across his face. He returned my high five, after I expressed my excitement that he answered “Yeah,” and didn't seem to care that his two buddies had already continued walking on without him. 

        Then I encountered a family visiting Chicago all the way from Germany. The son blushed when he said he’s “not a big reader,” and I said, “Then you’re a perfect candidate!” Eventually I convinced him to take a book, and he kindly said, “I wish you luck!” after I revealed once again that I’m a librarian and when they asked, “Where?” I said, “Nowhere yet, but I actually have an important interview tomorrow!”

            The next three books went to a woman in scrubs, a mother with her young son who said she’s trying to keep up with his impressive reading habit, and another woman, who, due to the train clamor overhead, thought I said I had written the book. I laughed and said, “I wish! But you should still read it. It’s a great, well-written story with a cast of quirky characters.”

            At a nearby bus stop I gave one to a girl coming from her yoga class, rushing to catch the approaching bus, who still happily posed for a photo. When the bus rolled up, I gave another copy to a young musician carrying a guitar, who thanked me in a British accent as he boarded the bus. 

I then stopped in a local Thai restaurant called Penny’s Noodle Shop to order carry-out for later and left knowing one of their servers now has some new reading material to indulge in during his slow shifts. 

My last book went to a couple with an adorable baby standing underneath the blue line tracks. After I described the plot of Bernadette, he joked, "Oh is this like the sequel to Gone Girl? Gone Mom?" A perfect way to end my second year as a Book Giver.

                        *           *           *

Two weeks later I crossed paths with the StreetWise seller again and said, "Hi! Did you get a chance to start the book?" She recognized me then, smiled, and quietly replied, "I haven't read a lot yet, but I like it so far!"
As a future librarian and proponent of free access to information, World Book Night satisfies that inner desire to connect with my community through literature and spread the love of reading one person at a time. I look forward to being a giver again next year for round three! 

(end of submitted essay)

For anyone counting, you may be wondering: She only mentioned 19 people! What happened to the 20th book? Congrats on being observant. The answer: My dear friend, Lindsay, who's been wanting to get back in the habit of reading, is now the proud owner of book #20, after I accidentally left it behind due to changing my mind about in what I was going to carry all of them.

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


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.


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


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
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?