Monday, May 19, 2014

Books, Lies, and Memories

My to-read pile is big. Really big. Big like it starts on the dining room table and extends to several 2-3 foot tall stacks in the guest room and continues in several small stacks tucked neatly under my bed and that doesn't even cover the four cases of books that line an entire wall of my bedroom...big. Plus books on my Kindle. Plus Net Galley titles...BIG.

So it's unusual that I read a book almost immediately after it's published. Really unusual. And I don't generally interrupt one book (or two) to start reading another. But I did, for reasons that probably won't make sense and really are more like a feeling than a legitimate set of reasons. A contributing factor was #liarsliveread on Twitter this weekend and wanting to read before someone spoiled it for me--both literally and figuratively.  So I read.

I interrupted Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (I'm almost done and I'm really sorry I didn't read it sooner because it's really goed), and I've also been listening to Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (also really good though I find myself wishing I was reading it on paper because some books are just better that way, and I think this is one of them). Anyway. I interrupted both those books, which I'm just now realizing as I type are both books--in one way or another--about death, or at least about what we do when the people we love die.

It's strange, is it not, how certain topics seem to pop up in our lives all at once in seemingly unrelated ways? It has been ten years and some weeks since I moved into my home, previously my grandparents' home, purchased in the wake of my grandmother's death, and I find that I am still grieving and still learning to live without her. She was my grandmother--I was an adult, and lucky to have had her in my life as long as I did--but I still find there are times, these ten years later, when I miss her so desperately. Oh, sure, it's better than it was at first. Way better. But still. Living in the house that was hers, sometimes, is a blessing and a curse. For many reasons. Before it was hers (so long before), it was my great-grandparents, and (I think) my great-great-grandparents before that. I've been told it's haunted, though whether or not that's true...well, I suppose when a house has been in the family as long as this house has been in mine, it just feels like home. Is that the scent of my great-grandmother's lavender soap because there are remnants still tucked in the bathroom cupboards, or is it an apparition? It's hard to know. And if there are ghosts, well...they're also family.

And of course, living in a home that holds so many memories also means living in a home that holds so much...stuff. Soon after moving in, my daughter fell ill and I spent countless hours up in the attic while she lay in her bed at the bottom of the attic stairs and slept away the bronchitis and pneumonia. In addition to bags and boxes of cards and letters dating back as far as the 19th century, one of the very old plastic bags I found (the kind made when plastic bags were new) was carefully labeled ODD SOCKS-WOOL-NEED TO BE DARNED. And that is exactly what it contained. Why do we so carefully label and preserve things that no longer have any practical use? What value--sentimental or otherwise--have old, odd socks with holes in them? Or, for that matter, Christmas cards from 1953?

But I digress. I interrupted all I was reading to pick up E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. And I'm told that I should lie about this book, but I find I cannot. Instead, I submit that forgiveness--both giving and receiving it--is one of the most difficult things we can ever do. And so, rather than beg your forgiveness, I must beg your pardon and suggest that you act quickly and read this book. Immediately. NOW.

What are you still doing here? There is a book waiting to be read. It's by E. Lockhart and it's called We Were Liars. Go get it. And start lying.

Monday, May 5, 2014

There are books I love, then there is this:



I am not even entirely sure where to begin, except to say that sometimes there are books we love, and sometimes there are books that speak to our very souls. This book, happily, is both. Because those of us who love books--I don't just mean those of us who have lots of books, or read voraciously, but those of us who actually feel deep emotional attachments to books--well, this one's for us.

Only it's also a story about a man, and a girl, and a woman, and a bookstore. See that baby in a basket on top of a pile of books? She's the girl. And like another girl, who not so long ago (though longer now than she likes to admit) stayed up all night with a pile of books and a flashlight hiding under her bedcovers, the girl in this story is raised in a world filled with books. The girl's mother, in a very unhappy moment, writes "I want her to grow up to be a reader. I want her to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those kinds of things." (49) Happily, she does.

One could almost argue that the books--oh, isn't this true in all of our lives?--the stories themselves become part of the supporting cast.

A.J. Fikry is a man who loves books. And so he is a bookseller. A bookseller who loves very particular books. In his own words, "I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn't be--basically, gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful--nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and --I imagine this goes without saying--vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to...Above all...I find slim literary memoirs about little  old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter how many copies you promise I'll sell on Mother's Day." (13-14)

If you read those words, and you think that you could love A.J. Fikry...you will. And if you don't, you might love the girl who at three years old approaches a book by smelling it. (She finds that most books smell like Daddy's soap, the grass, the sea, the kitchen table, and cheese.) And if none of that sells you, maybe you'll fall for the idea that when two people are in love, all they really want is this:

...When I read a book, I want you to be reading it at the same time. I want to know what you would think of it. I want you to be mine. I can promise you books and conversation and my heart...

And if that doesn't speak to your soul...well, then this book is probably not for you. And I'm sorry for that, because you are missing something absolutely wonderful. And I don't just mean this one book. I mean all of them.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Time to Talk Books (Again)

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

Oh, I don't need to tell you faithful followers of this blog (all three of you) that I have been remiss in my blogging. Very, very, very remiss. (I also probably don't need to tell you that the above excerpt if from Lewiss Carroll's poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter," the full text of which can be found here.) Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

So I'm kicking off my return to blogging with a visual summary of this year's books I've read. (It's 2014 now, btw. It has been a really long time since I've blogged about books.)

I am reminded of how I came to title this blog "Books under the Blanket"--because throughout my childhood, my mother would catch me with a book and a flashlight, hiding under the covers of my bed long after I should have gone to sleep. Although the books I read no longer require a flashlight--in part because I'm old enough now to stay up as late as I want reading, and in part because the reading might now be an ebook or an audiobook--I still have that same passion for books and reading that was a hallmark of my childhood. Thanks to the internet, I've found others who share that passion, and even better: I now am able to share that passion with students, many of whom love books. How lucky am I?

(Oops! Missing from the graphic below is the cover of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line: An Original Veronica Mars Mystery by Rob Thomas. In addition to being a reader, I am a total marshmallow.)

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Grim Wait

I can't say anything about Gina Damico's debut novel Croak until I say this: I hope the sequel is available SOON.

OK, OK, I'm not actually certain there will be a sequel. But I am certain that I hope so.

Lex has a practically perfect family, but that hasn't stopped her from becoming a juvenile delinquent. She rages out of control until her nearly-forgotten Uncle Mort insists he spend the summer on his "farm." Only, it's not a farm. Uncle Mort is the Mayor of Croak, a small town full of grim reapers, and he's recruited Lex to be a Junior grim.

Excitement ensues when a serial killer--erm, this is going to get confusing. Suffice it to say, there are a series of mysterious deaths. Also, love. But don't worry, it's not too mushy. And there are a lot of funny parts. And dead presidents. (No, not money. Actual dead presidents.) And Edgar Allan Poe. (Also dead.)

I'm not sure that I'll put this book in my 8th grade library, but I will surely be giving a copy to my 16-year-old daughter. Like her, the book is smart and snarky all in one. I think she'll really CROAK for it. Heheh.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Absolutely WONDERSTRUCK

My great-grandmother, who was later the original owner of my home, left our small village of Oxford to attend the New York Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Manhattan. Her great-aunt, Charlotte Lewis Currier, was the wife of Enoch Henry Currier, the school's principal and a "prominent and progressive man" of the late 19th and early 20th century. The Curriers provided my great-grandmother with a sense of stability she did not have at home, and she was the seeing and hearing companion of...well, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Brian Selznick left me Wonderstruck with his latest novel of the same name. Rose (who was a girl in 1927, by which point my great-grandmother had long been a mother raising her children in what is now my home) is a girl who escapes her father's strict rules in Hoboken and finds her way to her brother Walter in New York City. Ben (who is a boy in 1977 and has recently become both deaf and orphaned in unrelated accidents near his home on Gunflint Lake) is a boy who escapes his family and finds his way to--he hopes--his father Daniel in New York City. Both stories come unforgettably together in this beautifully illustrated tale.

Oh, I have so much more to say about this wonderful book. But first I need to begin my cabinet of wonders. I'm starting with the 1964 New York World's Fair Salt and Pepper Set. I found them in the attic not long after I moved into this old home...they're meant to look like buildings...

A Double Day

Today I did something very unusual: I left school shortly after dismissal (OK, an hour after dismissal) rather than my usual 6:00 departure...so I could hurry home and read. I started Meg Cabot's Abandon, a sort of retelling of the myth of Persephone and Hades (with a sprinkle of The Inferno for luck), last night and couldn't wait to finish it! Which, of course, I did...and was so excited about it that I couldn't possibly go to right to sleep when I was done. (Oh please, Meg Cabot, hurry with the sequel! I can't wait!)

So rather than lie in bed imaging all that will come to pass between Pierce and John Hayden now that she's (sort of) safe from the Furies (which obviously won't last long), I decided to browse NetGalley for a little light reading.

Which was clearly a mistake, because that was three hours ago, and I've just finished Jenny Valentine's brilliant thriller Double. What a book! Imagine a dark and murderous retelling of The Prince and the Pauper. Creepy, frightening, and un-put-down-able. Yikes. A completely satisfying thriller, but I recommend beginning it (a) when you have a few hours to finish it in one go, because you really won't be able to stop, and (b) BEFORE 10:00 on a school night.

I don't suppose I'll be giving anything away if I say that I was surprised not to learn that Mr. Artemis and Mr. Hathaway were the same person. That's not a complaint, really, just an observation. (By the time you know who either of them is, you'll be assuming the same thing, I imagine.)

So two good books in one great evening. Now if only I can make it through tomorrow without falling asleep in class...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

This Is a Journey...

Blake Nelson's Recovery Road is nothing if not a journey. Although (theoretically) named for the street on which Spring Meadow, Maddie's rehab, is located, it is surely the story of Maddie's journey through recovery.

The story begins at Spring Meadow, where Maddie has been sent at age 16 to face her drug and alcohol addiction. When her best friend Trish is released, Maddie meets a new friend, Stewart. Then Maddie is released, too, and has to face her past as "Mad Dog Maddie" when she returns to high school.

Oh, this is such a powerful book. I picked it up because there was a lot of buzz that it could win the Printz award this year, and I hope it does. It is such an honest and important story, and one that is all too often true. There are a lot of Maddies in the world, and even more Trishes and Stewarts. They don't need this book--it is their story--but all the rest of us do. Empathy and understanding often begins in the pages of a book. This is a good place to start.