Sharing the Love of Books

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There was a time when I had a whole roomful of books.  Shelves lined every wall, and they were packed with books.  I looked at my bookshelves, and I saw success.  It was what I thought I always wanted.  What book lover wouldn’t?

It took a while, but eventually I realized something.  Or perhaps something shifted for me.  I’m not sure.  In any case, I realized that I don’t get much from having books.  I do get lots of pleasure or happiness or fulfillment from sharing them, so I decided to share more than I kept.  I guess I’m more of a librarian at heart than I thought I was.  :)

My home is no longer a repository for books.  It’s a way station.  They may stay here for a bit, but then they are passed along to a friend or left in a Little Free Library.  Now when I look at my bookshelves (not a roomful anymore–just one bookcase in the dining room), I see possibilities.  I see connections.

Today I was an official World Book Night giver.  I pledged to give away a stack of books to light or non-readers along with thousands of others across the country who want to “spread the love of reading person to person.”  It was neat to see people’s skepticism (free? where’s the catch?) melt away as they realized that this was just a book for the love of it.

There’s nothing like an evening of giving away books to remind you that life is pretty great.  If you have the opportunity to be a World Book Night Giver next year, I highly recommend the experience.

A weekend of solitude

Call me an introvert if you must–you wouldn’t be wrong–but I have to admit that there are few things better than a weekend to myself.  It’s been a busy couple of months (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts), and I was more than happy to spend a couple of days re-charging from all the goings on of late while my husband and daughter traveled for the weekend.

I decided to avoid planning too much, to just do whatever I felt like doing at the moment.  It felt like the height of luxury.  I highly recommend the experience if you have the opportunity.

My weekend consisted of books, art, and writing.  Here are some highlights:

  • 20140406-184336.jpgLive-tweeting my reading of Dangerous by Shannon Hale with the hashtag #dwoh (or Dangerous with one hand).  It is the only novel I recall reading with a main character with a congenital limb deficiency, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.  Shannon Hale has some interesting things to say about why she chose to write a character who is differently abled, among other things, in this essay.
  • Exploring the meditative quality of writing with Karen Hering, author of Writing to Wake the Soul, at a Sacred Salon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  The Sacred exhibit and the Salon were wonderfully inspiring, and I recommend both experiences to anyone interested in meditation or Buddhist ideas.  I’ve mentioned my interested in meditation here and here.
  • Turning up the volume on my latest musical obsession: Catbath.  What says spring more than opening the windows and playing the music a little bit louder?

How would you spend a weekend to yourself with no obligations?

An Evening at Torch

Live music doesn’t have to be about huge arenas and screaming fans or late nights at crowded rock clubs.  Sometimes it’s about connection.   I recently had the pleasure of attending an event at Torch, a new performing arts space in Minneapolis that puts the audience-artist connection at the forefront of the experience.  It’s a great space with a strong vision, and I am excited to see what’s next there.

I caught the final date in the Raw Deal concert series that ran on Sunday evenings in December and January.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect at Torch, but I couldn’t help but smile when I walked in to find friendly faces and the smell of brownies baking.  “Homespun” is the way it is described on the web site, and I think that describes it well.  Torch has a homespun feel to it in the most complimentary way possible.  This is a venue where you introduce yourself to your fellow audience members and you talk about what brought you there.  It’s a venue where you can, not only meet the artist, but also have a conversation with them.  When the show started, we all paid attention.

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Hannah von der Hoff performed first.  Her bluesy style radiated warmth and fit perfectly with the setting.  There was no set list.  The audience drew the song names from a couple of hats, which kept things conversational and open.

Matt Latterell closed the night with songs that told stories.  His album Life on Land has been in regular rotation on the playlist at our house for a while, and my husband and I were happy to have the opportunity to see him perform in a venue like  this one.

Humanism, perspective, and being a joiner

More people are leaving churches these days than are joining them.  There has been a fair amount of media speculation on “the rise of the nones.”  I’ve followed it all with some curiosity as a “none” myself.  Little did I realize when the study was published in late 2012 that I would be trading in my non-affiliation for a church membership just one year later.

The first Sunday of 2013 I decided to try a new church.  It was a bit of a whim.  I was interested in exploring my options, and a new year seemed like the right time to test drive a new Sunday morning routine at the nearest Unitarian-Universalist society.  It was nice.  The sermon was about new beginnings, and it incorporated a guided meditation mini-session, which I thought was pretty cool.  But it didn’t stick.

Six months into the year, whimsy struck again.  I found myself sitting in the last pew back at that same Unitarian-Universalist church listening to a sermon about change–about life as a series of changes.  After a moment of silence, the congregation stood to sing a haunting melody in four parts.  The words “Who are we? Where are we going? Life is a mystery” seemed so light they could float.  It was really quite beautiful, and I decided in that moment that I was going to be back the next week.

duckrabbitSince then I’ve hardly missed a Sunday.  The sermons have addressed all sorts of topics from climate change and other social justice themes to various aspects of humanism.  I always leave feeling inspired.    “No two Sundays are alike,” the minister says almost every Sunday.  While that statement may stay the same, he’s right about the larger point. It’s always something new on Sunday mornings. This past week, for example, the children were invited to the front for a story, which was projected for the rest of us to enjoy as well.  They read Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and talked about how we disagree with people when we see things differently.  Do you see a duck?  Or a rabbit?  It could be either, and you don’t get an answer in the book any more than you do in a lot of real life situations.  You only have your perspective–unless, of course, you can listen to the people around you and consider their perspectives.

Have I really found a church that shares humanist values, embraces questions rather than answers, and uses picture books during the service as a learning opportunity for all ages?  I’m in.  I’m officially a Unitarian-Universalist.

Of course, regardless of my religious affiliation or lack thereof, the only thing I’ll be preaching about here is books.  Duck! Rabbit! is a good one for sure.  Highly recommended for families who are all about life’s journey with all its mystery.

Find Duck! Rabbit! at your local library or buy it at an indie bookstore.  Check out my For Secular Families page for more posts about children’s books supporting humanist values.

Slowing Down & Looking Closely

“Let’s all slow down,” I said as I introduced one of my favorite picture books  in a recent presentation to a group of librarians and teachers.  I always seem to have a weakness for picture books that focus on little things.  Simplicity.  Patience.  Observation.

I suppose I wish my life were simpler and that I were more patient and observant.

I was reminded of how much I value slowness and observation as I listened to a recent episode of Pratfalls of Parenting in which visual artist Karen Kasel spoke of the role that slowing down played in her life and art–having kids forced her to slow down.  Now that her kids are school-aged, she wants to share the idea of slowing down and looking closely with them.  How do you convince a kid that slowness and patience are worth it when you have to compete with tech and all the other distractions we have?

I don’t know.  But I know that I would start with a few good picture books.

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  • How To by Julie Morstad is one of my favorite picture books of the year for its look at the everyday beauty that we often overlook.
  • If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano is another good one for reorienting your perspective to the small joys.
  • Little Bird by Germano Zullo reminds us to cherish small things.

And for you?  Once you’ve let the picture books settle a bit, stop by the Hidden in Plain View exhibit–currently at the Minneapolis Central Library through October 26th–for several perspectives on everyday beauty from local photographers.  The exhibit is quiet and thoughtful.  The photographs contain people and places we’ve probably seen-but-not-seen a million times.  Here is your chance to stop, to remind yourself that there is much to see if we take the time to look.

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Books, art, music.  These are my touchstones.  When I need to reorient my perspective to my values, I turn to these things.  How do you recharge?  What reminds you to live your values?

Twenty years ago

inuteroTwenty years ago I might as well have been living in a bunker without access to the outside world for all I knew about music or pop culture. Don’t get me wrong. My family owned a television and lived a generally normal life. We just weren’t tuned in to some things. Mostly I think that was a good thing. But occasionally I find that there are gaps. For example, I would not have recognized a Beatles song until I was an adult.  Not kidding.

This weekend I found another gap: Nirvana.  I’d always told myself that I was too young. I was only a young teen in the early 90′s after all, but the crowd at the Uptown Cheapo store for the In Utero tribute on Saturday afternoon wasn’t any older than me. Actually many were younger.  The musicians on stage spoke of memories of Cheapo, Nirvana, and being a teenager, and I found myself considering my gaps.  So I missed it the first time around.  This is clearly something worth going back for.

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HighTV covering Nirvana at Cheapo

When it comes to books, I live in the future.  The nature of my job means I’m reading books before they are released.  My desk is stacked with 2014 titles right now, and it’s hard to look back to a previous publishing season to a title I didn’t get around to last year, or even earlier.  If I miss something, I’ve missed it.  Or so it seems sometimes.

I feel like I should conclude with something profound about balance, but I think I’ll just turn on some music.

Maybe I should start listening to The Current’s Teenage Kicks occasionally?  I’ll catch up with the rest of you eventually.

Monday Morning Music with Falcon Arrow

falconarrowMy partner and I don’t agree on everything. But we do agree on post-rock. Friday night we were out together without the five year-old for the first time a what felt like a long time, but it wasn’t really a date night. His band was playing that night and celebrating the release of a split EP, so he was busy with last minute details for the show and networking–the life of a local rock star is a glamorous one–while I enjoyed the music.

Falcon Arrow, a local post-rock duo, opened the show. They have been around for a couple of years, but they were new to me. And I loved it. When I re-connected with Chad later in the evening, he had procured a Falcon Arrow CD. It seems we still have something in common, after all. :)

Check out Falcon Arrow on Bandcamp for their latest. Here’s a video from the album:

Stories from Camp

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Earlier this week, I sat at the Wood Tick table at Camp Read-a-Lot.  Fortunately, there were no actual wood ticks.  Just teachers, librarians, and books.  Lots of books.  I started the morning by standing up in front of everyone and talking about books.  I made sure to wiggle my toes and listen for background sounds to calm my nerves as a friend had suggested.  I hope it worked.  It was all a bit of a blur, to be honest.

The real memorable Camp moments were later when William Alexander took the stage.  Here is a writer who knows what stories can do.  He spoke of the contradictory way people perceive fantastic fiction–it’s silly or foolish, but it’s also dangerous.  Not unlike the way comic books or video games are often perceived.  As a culture, we keep fighting over fiction without taking into account that we are wired for storytelling.  We need stories–foolish and serious.  Kids, especially, need stories of all sorts as they work out the intricacies of their worlds.

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At this point in the presentation, I was live tweeting as quickly as I could.  Eventually I stopped trying to tweet it all, but not before he thanked librarians and teachers for perpetuating the love of reading aloud.  He said, “Read aloud always. Learn what delicious language tastes like.”

I have to admit, I haven’t read Goblin Secrets.  Even after it won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, I didn’t give it a chance.  Frankly, it’s rare that I pick up a fantasy novel.  But I have been won over.  In this PW interview Alexander said, “The thing about all stories, really, but especially about fantasy, is that they have the potential to throw our basic assumptions about ourselves into question.”  Perhaps it’s time I gave the genre another chance.

Free Art Fridays

A zine hiding at the Minneapolis Central Library last week.

A zine hiding at the Minneapolis Central Library last week.

Art is everywhere.  I say that all the time, but on Fridays, that’s actually a little more true because there are people in the Twin Cities hiding art in unexpected places for you to find.  I’ve done it the last couple of Fridays with my zine about becoming a mother, Will There Be Smoking?.  You can join too as a hider or a seeker.  Read more about it in this article from the Pioneer Press:

Here’s how it works: Artists are invited to create a small piece of work, hide it somewhere in the Twin Cities, then on Friday, post photo clues on Facebook and/or Twitter. The finder is asked to post or tweet a photo to let the group know the art has found a good home.

Of course, not all of the art is found by group members. A random passer-by could just as easily snag a piece, adding to the mystery.

“There’s some joy thinking about who discovers it and thinking about where to hide it,” Wang said.

There’s a Facebook group and a hashtag to use.  Keep your eyes open.  The whole city is a potential hiding place for some little treasure.  If that isn’t a happy thought for today, I don’t know what is.  :)

On the last day of spring break…

I’m typing next to my living room windows.  It is sunny outside, and there is a steady stream of bike and pedestrian traffic providing me with a soundtrack of conversational snippets as people pass.  It has been spring for weeks, but on a day like today, it feels like spring.

My five-year-old has already brought out her bicycle and played at the park today, and we’ve indulged her whims perhaps more than usual because she has only just returned from a week’s stay at her grandparents’.  A week is a long time to be away from your little one.  Although, I swear she doesn’t seem as little today as she did a week ago when my parents drove away with her.  Did she grow so much in six days?  She did lose another tooth while she was gone.  Perhaps that’s the difference I’m sensing.

I had big plans for those six days, and I only crossed about half of the items off my to-do list.  I always have such big dreams for my kid-free days, like the freedom of not having a little one trailing after me wherever I go (or arranging for her to follow someone else around for a while) will make anything possible.  In the end, though, it’s the little things that make me that happiest.  For example, I spent one evening lounging around reading while my husband was at band practice.  I was able to finish a whole book in an evening.  That used to be a common practice for me, but these days it’s pretty rare.

sigurrosIt wasn’t all small stuff this time though.  There were a couple of big events I was very happy I was able to attend.  The first was Sigur Ros at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, and I do not feel like I am over-hyping the event by saying that it would be on my top ten concerts in 2013 list, if I were to make one.  It was my second time seeing them live, and it was just as amazing as it was back in 2005 at the State Theatre–though I will say that the theater seating was more comfortable than the general admission floor at the Roy Wilkins even if it does make me feel every bit of my age to admit that.  There are some photos and thoughts on the show here, and video a friend took from the show here for those that are interested.  Photos and video can’t really do justice to the experience though.  I wholeheartedly recommend seeing Sigur Ros live if you can.

The second big event for my kid-free week was a chance to give back to my community.  Mikey Max Heals the World is an annual birthday charity event that features local music and supports local causes.  This year the lineup featured some of my friends’ bands, and the charities were organizations I was very happy to support.  My personal highlight was Fort Wilson Riot, who have been featured on this blog several times before.  It had been way too long since I had seen them live.  They have been touring an awful lot in the past year.  Great for them, not so great for me.  In any case, they played a great set of their indie-pop awesomeness.

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I have yet to hear the final total of money raised for the charities, but there was a great turnout.  It is one show that I don’t mind when the audience gets a bit crowded.  I’ll endure a bit of crowding for the knowledge that we’re all there supporting organizations like the Neighborhood Involvement Program (provides health services for the uninsured), Perspectives (supports at-risk families trying to break the cycle of poverty), and the Chicago Avenue Project (a theater mentoring program).

Life gets back to normal tomorrow.  Fewer nights out, more time at the park.  That’s okay too.  There’s plenty of time to read while my girl bikes circles around me.  Maybe I’ll get through this book club pick yet…

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I might not make it out to all the shows that some of my childless (childfree?) friends do, but I can’t help but think it’s a good life.  :)