Putting stories together

BookUnknownAmericans-400“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.  They make one story become the only story.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As I watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, The Danger of the Single Story, I could not help but think of a book I had just read, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.  This novel shares many stories.  They are all from Latin American immigrants, and they tell different stories of why and how they came to the United States.  Perhaps we think we know the immigrant story.  Perhaps this book is an opportunity to create a more complete view, to move beyond a stereotype.

Add in The Burgess Boys, Vaclav and Lena, and Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea for an even wider view.

What books opened your mind to a world beyond stereotypes?

 

January Book Pick: Handling the Truth

handlingthetruth“Memoir is a strut and a confession, a whisper in the ear, a scream.”

–Beth Kephart in Handling the Truth

I sometimes think I have a story to tell about my life, but then I’m not entirely sure I’m ready strut, scream, or, worse, confess.  If there is a book that can turn off my doubts about my story, it is Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart.  The book ranges from practical to motivational, and I finished reading it feeling like I’d received a crash course in the art of memoir.  Not to mention I had a huge reading list of all the memoirs referenced and quoted in the book.

There was so much in this book that went beyond writing, beyond memoir.  It was a book about seeking truth and love, about telling stories in a way that connects readers and writers.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in telling true stories.  Perhaps you will find your strut in its pages.

Find this book at your local library or indie bookstore.

October Book Pick: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FANGIRLA “nerd power ballad.”  I really can’t do any better explaining this book than that New York Journal of Books did with that descriptor.  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is a love story about a girl who was too busy writing fan fiction to see love in front of her face.  No, wait.  That sounds too cheesy.  I’ll stick with “nerd power ballad.”

I guess I am a little bit of a nerd still, and I related to Cath as she fumbled her way through her first love.  It reminded me of being in college.  I was not a fangirl, but I did spend a lot of time in my dorm room writing endlessly.  I couldn’t help but cheer for Cath, and I can’t help but recommend her story.

Find it at your local library or at an indie bookstore.

Miss last month’s Book Pick? Check out Flora & Ulysses

From Kissing to. . .

Through the luck of the library hold list draw I went from reading an ARC of Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan to a library copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I think I had tears in my eyes the entire time I read these books back to back.

twoboysTwo Boys Kissing a a teen novel about a couple of gay teens trying to win the world record for the longest kiss.  In the hands of David Levithan, one of my personal favorite YA writers, the story becomes about more than winning a record or about making a statement about gay rights.  He uses an unusual narrator to tell a larger story.  Our storyteller is an omniscient view from the collective voice of gay men who have passed.  They watch the characters being so open with their sexuality and speak of their experiences before being out was okay, before AIDS was a thing.  It was very powerful, and it is easily one of my favorite books of the year.

tellthewolvesimhomeThen I picked up Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the library.  I’d been waiting for the book for months, and it seemed serendipitous that it arrived in my hands when it did.  This book is set in the 1980’s, when AIDS was just beginning to be a thing.  June’s uncle whose relationship to the family is strained because he was gay has just died, and June is devastated.  She tries to understand the choices her family made.  But it’s hard to make sense of why we choose to cut off the ones we love the most when they make choices we don’t understand.

I was reminded of these words from the collective narrator of Two Boys Kissing (quoted from ARC):

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home.  So many of us had to leave.  But every single one of us wishes we hadn’t had to.  Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t had to leave the other one behind.  Every single one of us would have loved to have been loved unconditionally by our parents.”

It’s gotten better for LGBT kids, I think.  I hope.  But I know that there are still some who have to deal with families who want nothing to do with them.  It breaks my heart to think about the people I know personally who are separated from their families for reasons like this.

Stories like these make me hug my daughter tightly and promise to love her no matter what.  I hope she knows that she can make different choices than the ones I made without fear of losing us.  We will always act like her family.

Find Two Boys Kissing at your library or buy it from an indie bookstore.  Then you’ll probably want to do the same for Tell the Wolves I’m Homelibrary or indie bookstore.

A few recent reads

I don’t have the time to write something about each and every book I read.  I try to keep track in Goodreads, but I can never quite keep up.  In any case, here are a few sentences for some books I’ve read recently.

  • onceuponanorOnce Upon a Northern Night by Jean Pendziwol – I will freely admit that I have a particular weakness for winter-related picture books.  Like a good Minnesotan, I love to romanticize wintry weather for all the magic it offers.  This picture book turns the idea of winter into a lullaby.  The illustrations are striking and beautiful.  Well worth checking out.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore
  • Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan – Technically, I suppose I still have a chapter left to read on this book.  I’m reading it aloud to my daughter, and we are quite enjoying it.  There are lots of fun words to say (dinglederrydoo and hoopalala) and plenty of alliteration, wordplay, and general silliness to make a good read-aloud.  Check out the author’s web site for instructions on drawing a bunny.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.
  • matteroflifeA Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown – This graphic novel memoir of faith and fatherhood is a quick read full of real moments of life with a preschooler along with memories from Brown’s childhood.  He was raised in a religious family, but he has since moved away from his childhood faith, which makes for some awkwardness with various family members.  Brown won the Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication for his previous book Darth Vader and Son.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.

You can like this blog on Facebook for regular #Fridayreads posts.  As usual, it’s all over the map.  Some Fridays, it’s a picture book.  Other Fridays, it’s a teen novel.  Occasionally I even read books for adults. :)

My favorite books of 2013 (so far)

We’re six months into 2013, and my running favorites list has already gotten long enough to share.  Here are the seven books I’ve loved so far this year:

  • howtoHow To by Julie Morstad  – This picture book is simple and nostalgic.  It is for anyone who wants to remember what being a kid was like.  I don’t know if it will have tons of kid appeal, but the Mindy appeal is through the roof.  (All ages)
  • The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers – Anyone who has a sibling and a heart will probably at least “aww” a little at this book.  It’s an easy-to-read graphic novel, and it’ll be available in English and in Spanish in September.  (Ages 5-8)
  • The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz – The Sleepwalkers will save you from your nightmares.  They are the superheroes of your dreams, but they are training in new heroes in this graphic novel.  So we get to watch the new Sleepwalkers take on scary-weird dream stuff of the night.  It’s all about empowering kids to face their fears, and I love it.  (Ages 7-10)
  • Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler – You remember this one from last week’s post, right?  (Teen)
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – This is the book that everyone in the library world has been talking about.  It took me a while to get it from the library because there was already a long list by the time I added my name to it.  I guess I kind of thought that it wouldn’t live up to the hype since I’d heard and read so many of my colleagues gushing about it.  I was wrong.  All the hype is deserved.  I adored this book. (Teen)
  • Relish by Lucy Knisley – I must recommend this book to all of my foodie friends, if not for the delightful coming-of-age food-related memoir stuff,  then for the visual recipes throughout.  Very cool.  (Teen/Adult)
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler – This is kind of an unusual novel.  It took me a bit to get into it, but once it grabbed my attention, it kept it.  A couple of reviews have advised readers to avoid spoilers on this one, so if you are the sort who likes to be surprised, don’t research too much.  Just give it a chance.  I think you’ll be surprised.  (Teen/Adult)

What 2013 releases have you read and loved?  What are you looking forward to?

For library lovers…

houseattheendI picked up The House at the End of Hope Street with the wish to read something out of my ordinary.  In this novel, Alba is a studious young woman who is at a difficult spot in her life.  That’s when she finds a magical house at 11 Hope Street.  It’s a charming novel that will appeal to readers who don’t mind a bit of fantasy mixed with their contemporary issues, especially if you’ve got a soft spot for libraries.

“Also, she hasn’t been to the library in nearly a month and she’s starting to get withdrawal symptoms.  It’s not just books Alba craves, it’s standing inside a place that houses millions of them.  Libraries are Alba’s churches, and the university library, containing one edition of every book ever published in England, is her cathedral.”

If libraries are your churches, you might like this book.  :)

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“You are always in your skin.”

Isabel Allende is my new literary hero.  It has been years since I’ve read her books, but after listening to the Talking Volumes interview on MPR today, I want to revisit her old novels with the new vision of the author as a blunt and sassy lady–not really what I expected from a author of poetic sagas full of magical realism.

She spoke of changes.  “Every two years,” she said, “things change or you die.”  In her own life, things have changed many times over.   She was born in Chile in the 1940’s, and she grew up feeling shy and never quite fitting in.  Now she is an American citizen and a best-selling novelist.  Still, though, there is still that quiet little girl inside her somewhere no matter how far she gets from that point in her life.  “You are always in your skin,” she said.  You change, or life changes around you, but you are still you with your hopes, fears, and passions.   Just stronger and happier–hopefully.

houseofthespiritsThose magical sagas Allende wrote early in her career?  They aren’t her anymore.  She said she can’t even read The House of the Spirits now.  The worldwide bestseller that launched Isabel Allende’s career is “overdone” as she put it.  “Too baroque.”  I know how she feels.

My current journal is almost full, and in a few more pages, I’ll add it to my stack of old journals that I am afraid to look at again for fear of finding them “overdone.”  Perhaps even a bit “baroque.”  I’ve been keeping a journal since I was a teenager.  There are ups and downs of all sorts contained in those pages.  Maybe one day I’ll read through them, even the cringe-worthy teenage journals full of bad poetry, but for now they are better left in a stack gathering dust as I move on to a new book of blank pages.

I can’t help but wonder what the next two years will bring.

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Waiting for Spring

redhatLast weekend there was a collective sense of glee in the Twin Cities as we got our first taste of nice weather after months of seemingly endless winter.  We were all mischievous little bears borrowing hats with a shout, metaphorically speaking.  Of course, I always think life is like a picture book, and in this case, it’s like Red Hat by Lita Judge, in which there are no words–only sounds–to tell the story of some animals having a lot of fun at the end of winter.

We were right there with them.  No hat stealing that I saw, but the sounds of spring were in the air.  The park near our building was packed with families playing, grilling, smiling.  It felt like we lived at the park all weekend, and it was glorious.

This week has been decidedly less glorious outside, and the general glee has dulled as we debate whether we need winter boots and coats now or if spring jackets will do.  As we faced a snowy forecast on Wednesday, I tried to avoid complaining, but even my bright-side nature can only go so far against snow in May.

In the end, the snow missed us to dump record-breaking amounts to the south and east of here.  I stuck with my sneakers and spring jacket with only a slight sense of regret as I waited for my bus at 7 a.m. with a sharp wind chilling the air.  A winter coat might have been a warmer choice this morning, but I very happy to be leaving my boots in the closet.  Not exactly a “Roweeeee!” kind of happy, but I’ll take what I can get.

We just need a little more patience, and the cold, rainy, brown will turn to green, wonderful spring.  Actually that reminds me of another picture book:  And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano.  It’s a quieter book than Red Hat.  It’s more about the waiting, but the spring, when it finally arrives, is no less wonderful.

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A Thursday 3 for National Poetry Month

There was a time when I lived and breathed poetry, but somewhere along the way I seem to have lost track of it.  Here is my attempt to re-connect with a lost love: discovering new poets.

3poets

  • Space, In Chains by Laura Kasischke –  This poet landed in my inbox via the Poem-a-Day email from the Academy of American Poets, and I was intrigued enough by what I read to seek out more of her work.
  • Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability – I’ve perused much of this collection, and the poet that stands out to me is Ona Gritz (also a picture book author and columnist).  She doesn’t just write about disability.  Her work is about parenting, stories, and relationships as well as her experiences as a person with cerebral palsy.
  • Real Karaoke People by Ed Bok Lee – I believe I became aware of Lee through MPR, perhaps it was this story from Euan Kerr, and I’ve been meaning to read more of his work for some time.

Are you doing anything for National Poetry Month?  I particularly like Poem in Your Pocket Day, especially for kids.  Hennepin County Library has poetry related events all month long for local readers.

Of course, it is also Autism Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it’s a good month to challenge your preconceptions.

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