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My 2017 Newbery Picks

11 Apr

If I were in charge of picking Newbery Honor books for 2017, I would have chosen the following five books. Look, the ones chosen were nice, but these ones. These ones were a cool breath of air in the midst of a neverending Arizona summer. Stick-your-head-in-the-ice-cream- freezer-at-Ralphs-on-a-120-degree-day kind of refreshing.

I loved them all dearly. Was it a spectacular year for children’s books or what?

1. The Best Man by Richard Peck

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The children’s librarian in charge of the New York Public Library’s Best Books For Kids List said this was her favorite children’s book in 2016 and she immediately started reading it again after she finished. That was enough recommendation for me, and I, too, found myself mesmerized by this story of family, ultimately. I love when children’s literature writes really loving, supportive, complex, human, wonderful families. So often in middle grade or young adult literature families are absent or dumb, but this family was solid and warm and caring. I need to read it again.

2. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

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If you have ever been a teacher, or know someone who is a teacher or wanted to be a teacher you should read this book. If you haven’t ever been a teacher and don’t know someone who is a teacher and have never wanted to be a teacher I still recommend it completely. I guess I recommend all of these completely so that isn’t exactly the best measure.

3. It Ain’t So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

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Very…real. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was based on the author’s experiences growing up Iranian in Newport Beach in the 1970s during the Iranian hostage crisis. It’s the universal middle school story of being uncomfortable in your own skin, with the backdrop of political and social turmoil. NYPL named it as one of their most recommended books of last year after I had already come to this conclusion so I felt 1) validated 2) ahead of the times, which are my two best feelings.

4. All Rise For the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

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Perry grew up in a minimum security prison and is removed from this home by a well-meaning member of the community to go into foster care. Heart freaking warming and breaking and feeling. I tweeted this out to Rainbow Rowell as a recommendation, that’s how strongly I felt! (She was not even asking for recommendations!)

5. Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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Jason Reynolds is The Man. He is able to capture characters and experiences so well and Ghost just might be my favorite thing he’s written. It’s the story of a young boy on a track team. There’s more to it, obviously, but it begins there. A young, scared, cocky, kid on a track team.

Hallelujah Anyway

9 Apr

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Last night I dreamt of Manderley.

Of my own Manderleys, I should say. Last night I dreamt of some of the most painful times of my life. They swirled back and forth, the hurts that live inside me and come alive when my body rests.

I woke up exhausted.

Anne Lamott says of her father’s death,

I’m not positive we ever got over it, in the way that the world assured us we would, and hoped we would, although with these badly broken psychic legs, we learned to dance again, to hike again, with limps and weird orthopedic shoes.

I put on my weird orthopedic shoes and went for a limping walk. That’s the solution to just about everything. Drink some water. Go on a walk.

Remember no feeling is final.

Malibu is bubbling and bursting and blooming these days. I reminded myself of the good things I have. Of this perfect town I live in. Of the man I love–my funny, kind, favorite human. Of flirting flowers and powerful stories and afternoons off. Of a body strong enough to go on walks, of an ocean breeze and a spring sun.

One has to be done with the pretense of being just fine, unscarred, perfectly self-sufficient. No one is.*

I caught up on my podcasts and made myself a meal. A meal with meat and fruit and a side of homemade guacamole. A meal while Dear Sugar played in the background.

I took out my trash.

The ancient Chinese had a practice of embellishing the cracked part of valued possessions with gold leaf, which says: We dishonor it if we pretend that it hadn’t gotten broken. It says: We value this enough to repair it. So it is not denial or a cover-up. It is the opposite, an adornment of the break with gold leaf, which draws the cracks into greater prominence. The gold leaf becomes part of its beauty. Somehow the aesthetic of its having been cracked but still being here, brought back not to baseline but restored, brings increase.

I put on my most comfortable dress and opened up my laptop to finish reading my friend’s book. She has a book deal with HarperCollins, this friend. These words will be published one day. They will be bound and sent to bookstores and libraries everywhere. Her words, her world, her story, once in her head alone—they will enter the world.

I’m mentioned in it.

That is so un-American. Most of the time we throw it out, cover it up with a doily, or patch the crack so we can still sell the item. This other way is to save our valuables with our own hands, to pass on to our children, nieces, and nephews Auntie’s chipped Inuit carving. Uncle Will’s journals. And if they toss Uncle Will’s journals, rich in memories and minutiae of this family’s story? That’s on them. Not our fault, for once. (Reason enough to get out the gold leaf.) We are invited to be part of creation, like planting shade trees for children whose parents were born last week.

As the sun hangs heavy in the sky I yawn and curl up for a nap. It’s my favorite time of day to be still and drift away for the moment.

The sky turns gold around me.

It’s a dreamless sleep.

 

 

*Quotes from Anne Lamott’s newest book Hallelujah Anyway

Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Our Teenage Diaries

25 Feb

I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word. To-day, wrapped in the complacent armour of approaching middle age, the infinitesimal pricks of day by day brush one but lightly and are soon forgotten, but then–how a careless word would linger, becoming a fiery stigma, and how a look, a glance over a shoulder, branded themselves as things eternal. A denial heralded the thrice crowing of a cock, and an insincerity was like the kiss of Judas. The adult mind can lie with untroubled conscience and a gay composure, but in those days even a small deception scoured the tongue, lashing one against the stake itself.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

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In Carrie Fisher’s final book The Princess Diarist, she includes exercpts from the diary she kept in 1976 while filming Star Wars. It’s almost exclusively about Harrison Ford.

Carrie and Harrison had a three-month affair on set when Carrie was 19.

It was intense.

In many ways these passages are my favorite thing she’s ever written.

Oh sure, Carrie is an excellent writer and everything I’ve read of hers is smart, but it’s also polished. It’s edited. It’s thought-out knowing an audience will read it.

Her diary, on the other hand, is simply the hurt of a teenage girl in way too deep with an emotionally unavailable man. Also known as All Of Our Teenage Diaries. She says, “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.”

And then, forty years later, she chose to publish it.

Here are some of my favorite bits:

One could never call me a quitter

I take something right and see it

Through until it’s wrong

Auctioning myself off to the lowest bidder

Going once, going twice

Gone

Sold to the man for the price of disdain

Some are sold for a song

I don’t rate a refrain

I knew right away that he was a find

He knew that you  had to be cruel to be kind

Given this, he was the kindest man I’d ever met

Back came my sense of worthlessness

And my long lost pangs of regret

I was my old self again, lost and confused

Reunited with that old feeling

Of being misunderstood and misused

Sold to the man for the price of disdain

All of this would be interesting

If it weren’t so mundane.

I was sitting by myself the other night doing the usual things one does when spending time alone with ourselves. You know, making mountains out of molehills, hiking up to the top  of the mountains, having a Hostess Twinkie and then throwing myself off the mountain.

I gave you far more credit than you were actually due

You see I thought I was only seeing half the man

But that was all there was to you

I can’t focus on the good things. There are good things going on all around me, but I don’t trust them, I can’t make use of them, don’t have the time for them; I’m too preoccupied with my precious panic.It seems to be demanding almost all of my attention. My own personal private collection of panic.

I’ve got to stop fooling around with all these human beings and fall in love with a chair. It would have everything that the immediate situation has to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional and intellectual feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience and less response. The less the merrier.

Chairs. They’re always there when you need them and while their staying implies total devotion they still manage to remain aloof, noncommittal and insensitive. Immovable and loyal. Reliable and consoling. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.

It’s very dangerous to have someone like you, because one day he’ll find that you are not the person he thought you were. He’ll end up someday having only one thing in common with you and that’ll be a shared sense of contempt and disgust for you. Of course you knew all along how foolish and worthless you were, you just hoped that if you crouched down behind yourself enough he wouldn’t see it. But one day when your guard is off-duty you see him see. You both catch you at yourself. Catch you behaving. And then you’re lost. No. You were lost all along.

I started with snacking on the inaccessibility of random silent jerks and seem to have arrived at making a full meal of it. Now I’ve had more than enough. I want the check. Waiter?

Call his indifference mystery

Call his arrogance intellect

All you’ve got to lose is your heart

And a little self-respect

I suspect that no matter what happens I will allow it to hurt me. Eat away at my insides, as it were–as it will be. As it always has been. Why am I so accessible? Why do I give myself to people who will always and should always remain strangers? I have always relied on the cruelty of strangers and I must stop it now. I am a fool. I need a vacation from myself. I’m not very good at it lately.

I can’t think about it anymore. It makes my head hurt. My mind works overtime trying to rationalize it, categorize, it, define it until it no longer means anything.Put it into words–you can’t feel words. I think that if I could give a name to what I feel it would go away. Find the word that describes the feeling and say it over and over until it’s merely a sound.

It’s a shame it’s not Mark–it could’ve been. It should’ve been. It might’ve meant something. Maybe not much, but certainly more.

We often assume that when the surface offers so little the depth must be unfathomable. Whatever is inaccessible must be worthwhile.

During the long stretches of silence one can study him, eventually filling him in to suit one’s likes or dislikes. (The satisfaction of one’s fantasy.)  I have filled him in to be unobtainable, disinterested, attractive and bored with my company. My ideal mate. Someone to endure, never to enjoy. I am totally at his mercy. ..I am frightened of the power I have given him over me and how he will almost certainly abuse it, merely by not being fully aware he has it.

I call people sometimes hoping not only that they’ll verify the fact that I’m alive but that they’ll also, however indirectly, convince me that being alive is an appropriate state for me to be in. Because sometimes I don’t think it’s such a bright idea. Is it worth the trouble it takes trying to live life so that someday you get something worthwhile out of it, instead of it almost always taking worthwhile things out of you?

But after all was said and almost done

I was playing for keeps and he was playing for fun

Trying relentlessly to make you love me, but I don’t want the love–I quite prefer the quest for it. The challenge. I am always disappointed with someone who loves me–how perfect can he be if he can’t see through me?

Here I am again

Making the same mistake

Instead of learning my lesson

I just establish a new record to break

I do not want to take part in my life. It can just go on without me; I’m not giving it any help. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to talk to it, I don’t want it anywhere near me. It takes too much energy. I refuse to be a part of it. If you have a life, even if you get used to it ruining your sleep, spoiling your fun, requiring your somewhat undivided attention, what overwhelming relief one must feel when it finally skips town.

I wish I could go away somewhere but the only problem with that is that I’d have to go, too.

Hope, According to the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

15 Feb

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I’ve talked about the struggle for hope and peace in the current world climate on this blog. I’ve talked about it so, so minimally to how I’ve thought about it. I worry that therapy for the rest of my life will focus on how to cope with these times, how to forgive so, so many people.

Oh I’m bad at forgiving.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, however, they know. Well, I suppose they know most everything–they are calm, centered, peaceful people. But they especially know this. The Dalai Lama is a refugee in exile from his own country. Desmond Tutu lived through the South African apartheid. These men know on a level I never will.

And so I turn to them.

Every morning I wake up and read a chapter in The Book of Joy, the book the two of them contributed to. This morning’s reading was so powerful, so timely that I thought maybe it would take years off of my therapy forgiveness if I could just grasp it, just internalize it. I started to compose texts to all my friends full of quotes and thoughts when I realized other people might want this insight too. I might need to reread this insight every day.

So here we are.

Some insight:

Desmond Tutu on difficult world times

What can you do to help change that situation? You might now be able to do a great deal, but start where you are and do what you can where you are. And yes, be appalled. It would be awful if we looked on all of that horrendousness and we said, ah, it doesn’t really matter. It’s so wonderful that we can be distressed. That’s part of the greatness of who we are–that you are distressed about someone who is not family in any conventional way. And yet you feel distressed, equally. It’s incredible just how compassionate and generous people cane.

Desmond Tutu on the world getting better

Yes, we do have setbacks, but you must keep everything in perspective. The world is getting better. Think about the rights of women or how slavery was considered morally justified a few hundred years ago. It takes time. We are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human.

Also related

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” Theodore Parker

The Dalai Lama on empathy and forgiveness 

During my meditation, I actually visualized some of those Chinese local authorities and did one of our practices, called tangled, literally meaning ‘giving and taking.’ I tried to take on their fear, anger, suspicion, and to give them my love, my forgiveness. Of course, this would have nonphysical effect on the ground. It would not change the situation. But you see, mentally it was very, very helpful to keep a calm mind. It was a good opportunity to practice forgiveness and compassion. So I think that every person has the same sort of opportunity, this same capacity.

(I need this I need this I need this.)

Desmond Tutu on the nobility of people

It is also good to recognize–speaking from our struggle against apartheid–how incredibly noble people are. You know human beings are basically good. You know that’s where we have to start. That everything else is an aberration. Anything that swerves away from that is the exception–even when now and again they can be very frustrating. People are remarkably, remarkably, remarkably good, incredible in their generosity.

The Dalai Lama on watching the news

When we look at the news, we must keep this more holistic view. Yes, this or that terrible thing has happened. No doubt, there are very negative things, but at the same time there are many more positive things happening in our world. We musth ave a sense of proportion and a wider perspective. Then we will not feel despair when we see these sad things.

Desmond Tutu on optimism v. hope

Hope is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial indelible to become pessimism when the circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper…I say to people that I’m not an optimist, because that, in a sense is something that depends on feelings more than actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings button the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper, and very, very close to unshakable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head. It’s all in here.

Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak. Resignation and cynicism easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hpe. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that , in time, the storm will pass.

To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that , in time, the storm will pass.

xo

Kristan Higgins And Romance Novels

14 Feb

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The very long, very hot summer I lived in Arizona, I interned for a women’s website. Every morning as part of the internship, I scrolled through news for the day, reading articles and seeing how things were done. One day I came across an article about a romance writer named Kristan Higgins.

Here, I found it for you.

Look at me, providing props and links and things!

The article discussed Kristan’s latest book and how she loves to write “strong female characters.” Remember when that was a catchphrase? Before we all moved on to just saying “human beings?” I don’t know if we’re there yet, but I hope we are. I think we’re getting there.

Well, actually 2016…

NO, JILL. FOCUS.

I was intrigued enough by the article that I checked out the book. I swallowed it whole and then made it a mission to read every single Kristan Higgins book available in the city of Tempe. At the time, she had published about a dozen romance novels, all with very similar themes. The lead was “strong” and had her career and life together–except for her love life! She lived in a tiny New England town (often her hometown). She loved animals, particularly dogs. Lots of local flavor and charm. Humor! Awkwardness! Love! Always love, with a handsome, flawed, wonderful, wonderful man.

I was hooked.

Kristan’s first-ever book was set in the town on Cape Cod where Rob’s family has a home. I found out that Kristan’s family also has a home there.

It was a sign!

Kristan’s favorite book of all time is Gone with the Wind. In fact, that’s a whole plot for one of her characters, this love of romance and Scarlett O’Hara.

Another sign!

I gobbled Kristan’s books up and then started reading her back blogs. That’s when you know it’s serious, when I’m 2009 deep reading about her firefighter husband. For of course Kristan married a firefighter (McIrish) and lives in her Connecticut hometown, a town with a great ice cream stand.

For of course.

Eventually I got through everything Kristan had offered the world and put her next book on preorder. I then decided I should email her.

I had never done something like this, reach out to an author I love. Write a goopy fan letter telling them they had changed my world and oh hi, you can write back but only if you want giggle giggle. But this was big. Kristan had brought some air conditioning into a very oppressively overheated time in my life and I wanted to truly thank her.

And so I wrote a goopy fan letter.

Giggle giggle.

She responded!

Within a week!

She responded within a week and said, “So great to hear from another woman ruined by Rhett Butler!”

I knew then what I had always known. Kristan was a soul mate, one of the true good people on this oppressively overheated earth. She and I, if only we lived in the same town, would be best friends. We’d shop for shoes and talk writing and in some other universe she was living a version of my life.

The version of my life had I been born in Connecticut. Had I married that firefighter (I never met.)

I still pre-order Kristan’s books every six months. She produces two a year like clockwork and when they show up in my Amazon Prime box I smile a bit and clear the night.

Kristan is Arizona’s air conditioned gift to me.

I’ll take her.

I Am, I Am, I Am. Still.

18 Jan

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I thought I would swim out until I was too tired to swim back. As I paddled on, my heartbeat boomed like a dull motor in my ears.

I am I am I am.

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Behind the coffin and the flowers and the face of the minister and the faces of the mourners, I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys.

There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow, and the peculiar, yellowish soil of our locality seal the wound in the whiteness, and yet another snowfall erase the traces of newness in Joan’s grave.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.

I am, I am, I am.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

 

My hands smell of warm tar. I want to go back to the house and up to the bathroom and scrub and scrub, with the harsh soap and the pumice, to get every trace of this smell off my skin. The smell makes me feel sick.

But also I am hungry. This is monstrous, but nevertheless it’s true. Death makes me hungry. Maybe it’s because I’ve been emptied or maybe it’s the body’s way of seeing to it that I remain alive, continue to repeat its bedrock prayer: I am, I am. I am, still.

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

 

 

I searched the internet to read articles about Plath’s influence on Atwood, particularly this specific idea–the prayer of our heart and our bodies, the prayer of being alive as “I am, I am, I am.”

I haven’t found anything.

There is simply no way these specific words were a coincidence, though. Plath is too well-known, this phrase her battle cry. Atwood is too smart, her words too carefully chosen.

This was one woman nodding to another, through the pages of important literature.

I once ran into a girl at Kinkos with an “I am I am I am” tattoo and it took all I had not to propose best friendship. I own an “I am I am I am” necklace. The phrase hangs in my bathroom.

These particular six words mean a lot to me and so, in the dark hours of the night as I finished The Handmaid’s Tale and read this paragraph I gasped.

I am alive.

Just like Plath and Atwood, like Esther and Offred.

I am I am I am.

 

And to that I add a new word,

Still.

The Best Books of 2016

1 Jan

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The Five Stars

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinthi

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of  the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Stitches by Anne Lamott

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

The Neapolitan Novels 2-4 by Elena Ferrante

 

The Four Stars

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Bettyville by George Hodgkin

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Best Man by Richard Peck

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

 

The Ones I’ve been Thinking About Ever Since

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Shrill by Lindy West

American Housewives by Helen Ellis

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

 

The Ones I Read in a Day

 

The Earth, my Butt and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

The Bunker Diary (*Warning this is an extremely intense book)by Kevin Brooks

I Woke Up Dead At the Mall by Judy Sheehan

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

Graphic Novels You Oughta Know

24 Oct

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In this, the Year of our Lord 2016, I, Jillian Denning, got into graphic novels.

We never thought this day would come. We, the collective we, the people who care so deeply about my reading habits. (Me.)

I don’t know why I hadn’t read a graphic novel before this year. I had just kind of dismissed the genre as superhero comics I didn’t care much about and sexual manga storylines I really didn’t care much about.

And guess what? I read some superhero comics and didn’t care for them after all, just as I suspected!

This was, after all, the year of the graphic novel.

I tried every genre.

I read the classics. Sandman. Watchmen. I tried popular ones and standalone novels and series and super heroines and and and.

And I’m here to tell you that I really love graphic novels.

And I think you will too.

And, and, and.

Here’s where you should start. If you have taste like me.

(Which I assume you do, or that you’re related to me if you read this blog.) (Hi mom!)

1. El Deafo by Cece Bell

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The first graphic novel I read, recommended by the lovely Bailey. It’s a graphic novel memoir, which turns out is my peanut butter and jelly. Based on her childhood, Cece Bell talks about growing up hearing impaired and what it was like having a phonic ear. Something about graphic novel memoirs really hits home. Being able to draw your feelings adds a level that I really, really like.

2. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

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The ultimate in the graphic novel memoir. Roz Chast draws for the New Yorker and this book was nominated for the National Book Award. I LOVED it and I have so little in common with Roz, who is caring for her aging parents. I am not a middle-aged cartoonist and my parents aren’t hoarders and yet I was HERE. You will be too.

3. Maus by Art Spiegelman

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A classic in the graphic novel genre, it tells the story of Art Spiegleman’s father’s experience during the Holocaust. Maybe you read it in school? I hear people read it in school.

4. Here by Richard McGuire

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An interesting one because there are practically no words, just pictures of this one room in this one house throughout time. It jumps to the past, future and present and explores how humans remain constant. How we lose things and gain things, fall in love and have our hearts broken and we are all the same, at the end. We are all human.

5. Smile (and Sisters) by Raina Telgemeier

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Raina is a complete master of graphic novels and everything I’ve read of hers is flawless. Read Smile, you, you, anyone of all ages. Yes you. It’s the story of her dental work in middle school and you will relate and yes, it’s another graphic novel memoir.

6. Anything by Lucy Knisley

Someone called Lucy the Lena Dunham of comics. Is that because they are similar ages and write about themselves? Probably. I didn’t particularly find their humor or selves all that similar, but I did and do love Lucy.

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She writes little travelogues and bits about her life. She loves Harry Potter (and made this incredible graphic SumHarry which I’m getting printed for my wall.) I also have a crush on her husband and their relationship. I liked her Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride best, I think. I just like her, really.

7. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

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A sweet Newbery Honor book (see, graphic novels are all the buzz) about a girl who takes up Roller Derby right when she’s losing her best friend. I hope it’s a series. I hope it’s a movie. I hope you hope this too.

8. Fun Home by Alison Bechel

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From the creator of the Bechdel test herself! Now a Tony-nominated Broadway musical! But really, Fun Home is kind of THE book in the graphic novel memoir genre. She’s cited by my dear Lucy Knisley many times. It wasn’t my favorite I read, but it deserves a place here, because what if it’s your favorite and I deprived you of that?

9. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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A National Book Award finalist and favorite on YA lists, American Born Chinese tells three interlacing stories about what it’s like to be a Chinese American. There’s this twist that made me go whoa and probably will make you go whoa whoa too.

Comics!

Also comics!

Let’s talk about comics. No exclamation.

The difference between graphic novels and comics is that comics are serialized and come out regularly. Sometimes they are then combined into graphic novels you can pick up. But Superman? That’s a comic. A graphic novel memoir? That’s a…graphic novel.

Anyway. I am a person now who follows two comics. I read the editions and wonder what will happen and when I can get the next one. I am invested in characters and plotlines and part of me worries. Like what if this goes on forever? How long can I follow? Is this a til-death-do-us-part thing?

The musings of anxious comic reader.

1. Saga by Brian Vaughan

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Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. A sweeping love story against the backdrop of an intergalactic war with so many twists sometimes I wonder what the brain (Brian Vaughaun) behind this all is like. It’s also one of those banned books that we celebrated a few weeks ago, so get on that.

2. Giant Days by John Allison

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The story of three best friends in their first year college in the UK. I’m a sucker for female friendship stories and England so this was bound to get me excited, but it’s also witty and charming and fun. Let us not underestimate fun.

And now, I’ll leave you with a picture from Lucy Knisley’s Relish and the hope that you’ll join me on this graphic novel journey of mine.

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Mmmmm

Jeanette Winterson

13 Apr

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Jeanette Winterson is…

Poetic.  Thoughtful.  Sly.

I’ve been trying to come up with words for her, this author so unlike any other I’ve read.  She’s brutally honest.  That’s one thing.  She says without hesitation, “There are people who could never commit a murder.  I am not one of those people.  It is better to know it.  Better to know who you are and what lies in you, what you could do, might do, under extreme provocation.”

Just says it.  In nonfiction.

Most of us cover up our ugly parts with the slightest gauze of fiction.  We tiptoe around ourselves and our realities.  Not Jeanette.

She also doesn’t follow any form.  She talks about how she doesn’t outline or try for conventional structures in her writing.  That doesn’t work for her.  She just writes as she writes, whatever that may be.  Sometimes that leads to long stretches where I can’t remember who she’s talking about and if it’s worth reading, and then sometimes BOOM.  10 pages of poetry all at once.  I’m struggling to take it all in, write it all down, wondering what just happened.

Jeanette is unpredictable.  Striving.  Yearning? Are those the same?  She had such a twisted childhood that she’s spent the majority of her life trying to untangle it all.  Trying to figure out what happiness might mean in general, what happiness might mean to her.

I suppose therein lies her relatability.  Most of us didn’t grow up with the mother from Carrie, but all of us have scars and triumphs and hopes and dreams and good and bad from our childhoods.  All of us continue to be affected by our pasts, shaped and molded and stronger.

Jeanette had THE past.  She grew up with an unstable, cruel, fanatical mother.  She writes about it with honesty and clarity and a lot of hurt, still.  A lot of wondering.

Jeanette couldn’t help the cards she was dealt.  She couldn’t help the mother who adopted her or the circumstances of her childhood.  She could help her future.  She could help what she did with it.

And what she did with it was write.

I’ve now read several things but Jeanette, but Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is her best.  It’s not hiding behind that gauze, it’s simply telling the truth.

 

Some quotes for you.

A whole honey bunches of oats quotes for you:

 

On Love  

Love. The difficult word. Where everything starts, where we always return. Love. Love’s lack. The possibility of love.

Listen, we are human beings.  Listen, we are inclined to love.  Love is there, but we need to be taught how.  We want to stand upright, we want to walk, but someone needs to hold our hand and balance us a bit and guide us a bit, and scoop us up when we fall.Listen, we fall.  Love is there but we have to learn it–and its shapes and its possibilities.  I taught myself to stand on my own two feet, but I could not teach myself how to love.We have a capacity for language.  We have a capacity for love.  We need other people to release those capacities.

It is never too late to learn to love. But it is frightening.

Why is the measure for love loss?

On life and living

Living with life is very hard.  Mostly we do our best to stifle life–to be tame or to be wanton.  To be tranquilized or raging.  Extremes have the same effect; they insulate us from the intensity of life. And extremes–whether of dullness or fury–successfully prevent feeling. It takes courage to feel the feeling–and not trade it on the feelings-exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person. I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.

 

On doing/not doing the sensible thing

I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small.  For the life-changing things, you must risk it. And here is the shock–when you risk it, when you do the right thing, when you arrive at the borders of common sense and cross into unknown territory, leaving behind you all the familiar smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy. You are unhappy. Things get worse. It is a time of mourning. Loss. Fear. We bullet ourselves through with questions.  And then we feel shot and wounded. And then all the cowards come out and say, “See, I told you so.” In fact, they told you nothing.

 On poetry

Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines.  What they heal is the rupture reality makes on imagination.  I had been damaged and a very important part of me had been destroyed–that was my reality, the facts of my life; but on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel, and as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.

When people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that if shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy.  A tough life needs a tough language–and that is what poetry is.  That is what literature offers–a language powerful enough to say how it is.  It isn’t a hiding place.  It is a finding place.

 On second, and third, and fourth chances

I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning, never stops.  The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.

On happiness

I am short, so I like the little guy/underdog stories, but they are not straightforwardly about one size versus another.  Think about, say, Jack and the Beanstalk, which is basically a big ugly stupid giant and a smart little Jack who is fast on his feet.  OK, but the unstable element is the beanstalk, which starts as a bean and grows into a huge tree-like thing that Jack climbs to reach the castle.  This bridge between two worlds is unpredictable and very surprising.  And later, when the giant tries to climb after Jack, the beanstalk has to be chopped down pronto.  This suggests to me that the pursuit of happiness, which we may as well call life, is full of surprising temporary elements–we get somewhere we couldn’t go otherwise and we profit from the trip, but we can’t stay there, it isn’t our world, and we shouldn’t let that world come crashing down into the one we can inhabit.  The beanstalk has to be chopped down.  But the large-scale riches from the ‘other world’ can be brought into ours, just as Jack makes off with the singing harp and the golden hen. Whatever we ‘win’ will accommodate itself to our size and form–just as the miniature princesses and the frog princes all assume the true form necessary for their coming life, and ours. Size does matter.

As I try and understand how life works–and why some people cope better than others with adversity– I come back to something to do with saying yes to life, which is love of life, however inadequate and love for the self, however found.  Not in the me-first way that is the opposite of life and love, but with a salmon-like determination to swim upstream, however choppy upstream is, because this is your stream…Which brings me back to happiness, and a quick look at the word. Our primary meaning now is the feeling of pleasure and contentment; a buzz, a destinies, the tummy upwards feel of good and right and relaxed and alive…you know…But earlier meanings build in the hap–in Middle English, that is ‘happy’, in Old English, ‘gehapp’–the chance or fortune, good or bad, that falls to you.  Hap is your lot in life, the hand you are given to play. How you meet your ‘hap’ will determine whether or not you can be ‘happy.’ What the Americans, in their constitution, call ‘the right to the pursuit of happiness’ (please note, not ‘the right to happiness’), is the right to swim upstream, salmon-wise.

Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not at all the same as being happy–which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine.

If the sun is shining, stand in it– yes, yes, yes.  Happy times are great, but happy times pass–they have to–because time passes.

What you are pursuing is meaning–a meaningful life.  There’s the hap–the fate, the draw that is yours, and it isn’t fixed, but changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use–that’s going to take a lot of energy.  There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realize being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else’s terms.

The pursuit isn’t all or nothing –it’s all AND nothing.  Like all Quest Stories.

 

March Books 4 U My Lovers

20 Mar

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More books!

Always more books!

For when you want to read something in one giant gulp, something that will change how you think about death and change how you think about living

Slash

When you want to fall in love with a married philosopher neurosurgeon writer

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

(It has 5 stars on Amazon with over 1,800 reviews.  This is not an accident.)

When you want to write quote after quote after freaking quote about happiness down, to read a memoir that addresses so much of the meaty stuff of life.  When you want to know what it’s like to grow up with the mother from Carrie.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Speaking of!

Carrie! 

I’m shin-deep in the Stephen King audiobook world, and I tell you what.  This one was the first one that I would drive around just to listen to.  This was the first one I had to read, HAD TO KNOW.  Ooh I liked this one.

It’s interesting to me when someone’s first book is the book I like best.  Like Nick Hornby.  Is the first book the most raw? Most truthful?  Is that the story they wanted to tell most?

For laughter, relatability, and more laughter:

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

PS: You can be my friend on Goodreads, if you think our relationship is at that point.  I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but oh gosh.  Yes. I’ve never felt this way before.