Masochistic Reading

WHY?! Why do I read things that hurt me?!

I just finished Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King and I’m SO DEPRESSED!! My Goodreads review simply stated, “this was sad 75% of the time, and I’m not about that life,” but AM I?

I am known for my commitment to intake as much WWII and Holocaust information as I can (seriously, I imagine my Nexflix documentary history has me on some sort of watch list). Now, we all know how those stories turn out; aside from the general overthrow of the Nazi party, there is very little about that time that was… uplifting. Every time I read Holocaust literature, it makes me cry. It gives me nightmares. It weighs on me as I continue living my privileged life. Nevertheless, as soon as I finish one, I anticipate which will be next. If these stories continue to break my heart, why do I continue to seek out more? In this particular case, it’s hard to explain, but it’s a matter of respect and remembrance. My life has been beautifully and blessedly persecution-free, so the least I can do is read the stories of those who have endured things beyond my comprehension in order to give respect where respect is undoubtedly due.

If you know anything about The Serpent King, you may be asking, “why are you rambling about the Holocaust?” Valid question, since Zentner’s work has nothing to do with WWII. However, similarly, it was crushingly sad for the majority of the novel. It tells the story of three high school kids living in a poor, rural area in Tennessee. It addresses difficult topics like domestic abuse, child pornography charges, being disowned by one’s own parents, depression, bullying, and the loss of a loved one. It was heavy and disheartening, and I know of at least 5 trustworthy reader friends who LOVED IT. WHY?!?!?! Why love this? Yes, I’m from the South so yes, I find the small-town characteristics to be relatable. Aside from that, nothing about this book was relatable. I wasn’t bullied or “othered” in high school, I don’t find myself swimming in a sea of racism every time I go home to southern Georgia, I didn’t endure alcoholism or abuse or extreme poverty during my childhood and I didn’t watch friends endure it. This depiction of life in the South is far more severe than my actual experiences while growing up there, so why did others from the South recommend it to me?

I think we all have our own “thing.” That something that speaks to you and calls out to your interests. Whereas Holocaust literature is something that educates me on the experiences of a certain peoples, it may be Southern Lit that educates others. Again, my privileged childhood may be the reason that I can’t find solace in this depiction that directly contradicts my own experiences, but it may parallel the experiences of others. And sadly, it may parallel the experiences of my current and/or future students. I couldn’t disconnect the experiences of the protagonists with the possibilities that my own students are enduring these horrible circumstances, which further contributed to my depressed state. This book hurt my heart; I will NOT seek out more books like it, nor will I recommend it to anyone who enjoys being happy and unburdened. The fact still stands, though, that people I trust derived joy from this text. It caused them sorrow; it made them cry; and yet they value it. Book masochism at its finest.

First of all, sorry for all the caps. The wound is still fresh. Secondly, does anyone else experience this? Are there any stories that cause you pain but you just keep coming back for more?

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Reader to Reader: We Need Your Help

I know this readerly blog-o-sphere is far-reaching; so far-reaching, in fact, that a great many of my readers live outside of America. Let me be clear: this is not a post about America’s new Prez. I truly believe that opinions are like butt holes and everyone has one, and none of them interest me.

This post is about education. We are the readers. Each of us, regardless of race or nationality, was bitten by the reading bug at some point in our pasts. THAT is what gives me hope for my own future. THAT is the reason why I am spending all my time, money, and sanity to become a teacher. Although reading The Hobbit and the Harry Potter series were the original sparks, it was the unbridled passion of my 11th grade British Lit teacher who kindled that spark into an all out reader inferno. Many of us have that teacher who inspired us, or maybe it was a parent or friend, or maybe you never needed anyone’s help. In any case, that teacher and the many passionate professors in the English Department at Valdosta State University (GO BLAZERS!!) undoubtedly changed my life. Regardless of who I would’ve been without them, I am who I am today because of them.

This brings us back around to my point: America is at risk of having Betsy DeVos appointed as Secretary of Education. Again, this has nothing to do with my politics, because that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this possible Sec. of Ed. will be in charge of American public schools without spending a single day of her life even remotely affiliated with public school. She didn’t go to one, she never taught at one, she doesn’t support them, nothing. She refuses to clearly state whether she plans to continue allocating “sufficient” (I put quotation marks because the funds public schools get will never be sufficient, but I digress) funds to public schools, meaning that a great number of low-performing schools will be at risk of lower funding or closure.

I encourage you to read up on Betsy because typing all the many many ways in which she is not qualified for this position would leave me fingerless and pointlessly irate. My request is that all of us who have been inspired by a teacher use our voices to do everything we can to preserve America’s public schools.

THIS LINK will take you to a website where you can write to your senator. Use your voice. If you do not live in the US, you can still choose the “not in the US” option and speak up. It even drafts an email for the lazy but well-intentioned among us. PLEASE, if you see the injustice in this appointed position, help us!

The last thing I’ll say about it is that I will not tolerate nasty comments. If you disagree with me, move right along. You were not forced to read this and I will not tolerate the bullying and internet trolling that causes my students to suffer every day. If you want to speak out against me, you have every right to do so… on your own blog… not mine.

Now, on a lighter note, my students are a light in my life! They are little tornadoes of enthusiasm, sass and wisdom, and I love them. I’m working my tush off to create the best lessons I can for them and I truly cannot wait for the unit I’m starting Monday! They are devouring the books I’m Book Talking in class (humble brag!) and astounding me every day with their insights. They give me hope for the future, so the least I can do is make The Lord of the Flies as thought-provoking as possible. SO EXCITED and stay tuned!

img_20170113_143804534booktalksprojects

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2016: What Would You Recommend…?

I’m seeing a lot of Year End Summary posts, and they’re really making my TBR explode with all the texts I now feel inclined to read! I thought about reviewing the best and worst reading experiences of 2016, but I feel that I need to exercise my recommendation muscles more urgently than I need to say what I liked and disliked.

I hear you asking me ,”Why?” As a future teacher, I understand that my likes and dislikes actually mean very little to teenage readers who, believe it or not, will not think I’m even moderately cool. It doesn’t matter whether I like or dislike a book; it just matters that students are exposed to as many texts as possible so that, among the masses, each kid can find something that appeals to his/her interests. One way to increase exposure to texts is through Book Talks; another way is to recommend a text based on that individual’s interests, not my own interests!

SO!! Today, we’re trying something new and I’m calling it a Challenge! My rules for myself are very simple: when recommending a book, you must do one of the following:

  • Recommend a book that you read in 2016.
  • If you know of a book that suits the reader but haven’t yet read it, hereby vow to read it in 2017.

The point is that, at least for me as a teacher, every year needs to be filled with diverse texts so that I am better equipped to make recommendations. If there is a category or type that I didn’t fulfill throughout all of 2016, that is a problem that I can easily fix in 2017! This makes me a more well-rounded member of society and a way better teacher of diverse little humans. Win-win! So, without further ado…

What Would You Recommend To:

Peter:
Age: 14.
Interests: Video games, technology, virtual reality, outer space, scifi, D&D
Books He LikedEnder’s Game, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
RecommendationReady Player One is the obvious option, although I feel like this kid would have found that one and devoured it already. I might also suggest Eragon. I, personally, didn’t care for it but it’s akin to Le Guinn’s work & gauging his reaction can help with future recommendations.

Matilda:
Age: 17.
Interests: Writing, reading, feminist culture, the arts, deep conversations about touchy issues.
Books She LikedWar and Peace, The Handmaid’s Tale, anything Jane Austen.
Recommendation: Definitely The Bell Jar. Definitely.

Alex:
Age: 21.
Interests: reading, creative writing, poetry, LGBTQ issues, social activism, gender anonymity, identity exploration, politics
Books She LikedThe Lord of the Rings Series, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Ask the Passengers
Recommendation: Alex is exploring her own identity indiviually, meaning that it is a private experience into which I do not wish to intrude. Some Assembly Required would NOT be a book that I openly recommend, but rather would introduce through book talks, making it available but not overt.

Mike:
Age: 12
Interests: Adult cartoons (not like “adult” but just cartoons for adults), comic books, graphic novels, superheroes, origin stories, action, Star Wars
Books He Liked: all Marvel & DC comics, Archie comics, Percy Jackson books
Recommendation: This kid gets a graphic novel, for sure. Unfortunately, the only one I read in 2016 was Nimona, which I loved, but feels a little too on the nose. I got a copy of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel of The Odyssey from my beautiful butterfly of a professor and I hereby add it to my list, since I’m hoping this will be the perfect segue from his existing interests into heavier mythology (always the ultimate goal!).

Taylor:
Age: 28
Interests: Series works, Scifi/Fantasy, outer space, environmental science, outdoor activities, non-fiction medical/scientific literature
Books He LikedA Game of Thrones Series, The Martian, Expanse Series, The Mechanical
Recommendation: This one is based on my husband; we’ve introduced each other to some great fandoms over the years and I think this one is next. I read Sleeping Giants this year in the midst of my X-Files mania and I think it’s right up his alley.

Adam:
Age: 17
Interests: team sports, chicks, weight lifting, writing, sports books & magazines, his yellow lab, college scholarship (sports and academics), reading
Books He Liked: Grasshopper Jungle, The Shining, Fight Club, the Dexter Series
Recommendation: My 2016 reading list was largely a product of my interests, so 2017 needs to involve a lot more of what I’m calling “dude-books.” Male protagonists, male problems, male thoughts, and the like. So far, I’m recommending Winger to this stereotypical teen and also to myself.

Katie:
Age: 14
Interests: Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, love stories, scifi/fantasy, mythical/magical creatures, magazines, writing fan fiction, pop culture
Books She Liked: The Selection Series, the Twilight Series, Cinder, the Divergent Series
Recommendation: I can fully support a bit of brain floss, but I think the best recommendation for this impressionable young woman would be SWEET. Increase independence, self-confidence, and expectations for a healthy relationship, decrease celebrity obsessions.

Daniel:
Age: 18
Interests: social and political justice activism, urban art, spoken word poetry, basketball, soccer, live music concerts
Books He LikedBooked, Between the World and Me, I am Malala,
Recommendation: Add this to my 2017 promises! Recommending All American Boys for this imaginary kid and myself!

Silas:
Age: 18
Interests: Hunting (!!), the great outdoors, fishing, baseball, adventure.
Books He Liked: The Hunger Games Series, The Maze RunnerThe Lord of the Flies
Recommendation: OBVIOUSLY!!! No, but seriously, this is based on a real former student and I made him promise to read this book and then come talk about it with me.

Lynn:
Age: 45
Interests: Gardening, animals, family time, reading, bird-watching, outdoor activities, country life
Books He Liked: The Secret Garden, A Christmas Carol, Little House on the Prairie
Recommendation: So, this one is loosely based on my mom; she always asks for recommendations and I never know what to say! We have different likes and dislikes, so I don’t think my recommendations can be trusted! I’m making her read the Harry Potter Series (obvs!), but otherwise…?? She has a gentle soul and doesn’t like for her books to cause her stress. HELP, follow readers!!

Please keep in mind that I’m making up these profiles based on my imagination embellishing actual readers in my life. I am still striving to read outside of my preferred genre so I can recommend books to those with interests different from my own, but I welcome suggestions, feedback, and others picking up this post and doing their own version. If you do so, please link back to this post so I can see your selections! When it comes to exposure to diverse texts, I can never get enough!

Don’t forget to follow me on Goodreads to make sure I uphold my promises (LindsayC-T). Happy New Year, everyone, and best of luck in your 2017 reads!

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Readerly Travel & “Into Thin Air” Review

Lots going on, blah blah blah. Moving on.

Since I’m among friends, I feel safe in assuming that we all understand the trials of picking a book for a trip or vacation. Maybe you are picking a new book and don’t want to waste valuable luggage space on a book that might end up being a dud. Perhaps you’re the type who picks a book that applies to the journey in question so that you can immerse yourself in the experience, even in your book. I encountered both of these issues on my recent trip (honeymoon, yo!). Knowing that I was journeying deep into the Canadian Rocky Mountains, I (obvs!) picked Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. My backup plan was Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, since my classmates won’t shut up about it.

Let me just say, I picked well! I started the book on the first plane and, despite my ear-popping, nauseous state, I was instantly smitten with this non-fiction account of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest. Now, to be clear, this subject holds little special significance for me except that, at the time, I was also in the mountains and I did a great deal of rock climbing in undergrad. Otherwise, Krakauer’s famed storytelling skills and the story itself were what transported me from the relative safety of 16A to incredible heights with unbelievable struggles. I have to admit that I took on this text purely because it seems like everyone else has read it and because it was relevant to my mountainous travel plans, so my expectations were as low as my ignorance was high. However, this was truly one of those “stranger than fiction” stories, where I constantly forgot that this is a non-fiction account of Krakauer’s actual horrific experience. He wrote his account of the story within a year of the disastrous events and many other survivors have questioned and outright refuted his claims. As is always the case, one person’s memory of an event can only attest to his/her experience and may contradict what others say; luckily (or perhaps very unluckily), this disaster was so unbelievable that it was highly publicized and many versions of the story exist, so this is a rabbit hole I could easily throw myself down, and I probs will. The fact remains that I was on my honeymoon in what must be one of the most beautiful places in the world and all I could think about was this book. I am not at all bitter about this distraction, since it truly enhanced my experience in the mountains and filled me with a fearsome respect for the towering crags that surrounded me day and night.

Remember that rabbit hole? Well if you’re more of a “movie over book” person (what are you even doing here?!?!), a movie was made only last year and it totally escaped my awareness until the hubby mentioned that it is currently on HBO. We watched it last night and, as is to be expected, there are a few issues but overall it is a pretty good representation of the events. If you’re only mildly curious and want to get the gist without worrying about accuracy or “the facts according to (insert survivor’s name here),” check it out! If you want all the dirty details, the the twists and turns, the exhausting facts that enhance one’s understanding of the perils, and the emotional investment (oh, and meeting an actual hero who was omitted entirely from the movie), read the book. PLZ!

I took a lot of things from this reading experience: 1) I need to get back at those rocks! Full body workout!; 2) mountains should be respected because they could go full Caradhras on you at any second; 3) I’m going to try to pair books with trips more often! Anything that can immerse me more in my vacation is well worth doing.

Oh, how did this honeymoon pic get here?!?!h

 

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ALAN is Mecca

Beautiful readerly people, life is just so much! Last week, I finished a 2 week marathon session of teaching The Odyssey to delightful 9th graders, expedited the Thanksgiving festivities with my family, and attended the ALAN conference in Atlanta (got books, met authors, lived life)… oh, and I got a dog.

First things first, let me subject you to feelings of severe jealousy based on the spoils of my Heroic Journey that was November, 2016.

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All ALAN attendees (mostly pre-service and certified teachers) get a 40 lb box of books plus a “swag bag” with more books. Additionally, most (if not all) of the authors in the books and bags are speaking at ALAN, so you have the opportunity to get all 40 lbs signed. As my friends and I quickly discovered, this is a divide and conquer task, since I got well over 40 books, so one must prioritize based on author.

I, personally, put 100% of my effort into meeting A. S. King and M. T. Anderson. You know how they say “don’t meet your heroes”? Don’t listen to them. Meet them. Meet all the wonderful, inspirational people you can, especially authors. These magical unicorns of humans have dedicated their lives to telling important stories and offering insights that are often misunderstood or misrepresented, so they have earned your spazzy fanship.

Behold:asking

As I stood (first!) in line to have books signed by Jason Reynolds, I looked upon the undoubtedly fascinating conversation between A. S. King, M. T. Anderson, and some guy. Ignore the rando and just enjoy the fact that great minds are magnetized to each other.

Speaking of Jason Reynolds…

jasonr

And M. T. Anderson…

mtanderson

It was a darned good time! I hope to be able to go in future years. And thank God teachers are paid so well that we can jet-set across the nation every November to highly anticipated and moderately expensive conferences!! OH WAIT, WE’RE NOT!

Also got another nerdy tattoo!

tat

Lastly, this is my puppers. I realize this is not book-related but you can get over it because he is adorbs and this is my blog.

groot

Have good days and I hope to be back as soon as possible!

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L: Review of Ware’s “The Woman in Cabin 10”

Life got busy; these things happen. Luckily, I found a hot minute to type up some musings, so here goes nothing.

I just want a book to be scary!! Is that too much to ask?!?! Ruth Ware’s most recent novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, was included in a list of “October Reads” and we all remember how much I obsessed over SWEET (the dust-jacket blurb comparison is uncanny), so I really just threw myself at this book in full-fledged desperation. Firstly:

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

As is often the case, I think all the hype that preceded this book’s release was a contributing factor in my semi-disappointment. But… I don’t think I’m really disappointed in the text itself. It did everything it promised. I think I have myself to blame for the fact that it just wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. Maybe I watch too many scary movies, read too many scary books? Maybe my understanding of “scary” does not align with the general public’s “scary,” so I have gypped myself out of a whole slew of typically scary books. Regardless, I didn’t consider this book to be scary even for one moment. I found it to be adequately suspenseful, but those words are not synonymous in my mind.

So, we’ve determined that the hype set it up as a good “scary” read, and I’m afraid I have to disagree, but who cares, right?! On the other hand, it was also often paralleled with The Girl on the Train and I will go right ahead and concur, good sirs! Except, in all the ways that I found The Girl on the Train to be unlikable, I found The Woman in Cabin 10 to be utterly victorious. The characters were likable!! Imagine that! We have a protagonist who is still a hot mess, no doubt, but Lo Blacklock is familiar and relatable in ways that remind the reader of herself, or at least that one friend about whom you find yourself saying “bless her heart.” Lo is the spirit animal version of every woman when she’s set aside thriving & is just worried about surviving. Thankfully, Lo’s particular circumstances are not familiar to most of us, but the novel is written in a way that makes it seem entirely plausible and personal. Readers are able to relate to Lo’s trepidation, fury, mistrust, and desperation without actually experiencing the horrible events that result in such feelings. Thank goodness!

The mystery aspects of the novel were great! I kept thinking, “wow, I just cannot wait to see how all this gets resolved” because, let me tell you, it was a tangled web she wove. No one was safe, no one could be trusted, and every moment was a potential clue. I thought the mystery itself was masterfully written, but I will say that I found many aspects to be repetitive. For instance, insomnia reared its ugly head enough times that it eventually felt like beating a dead horse. “Yes, OKAY! She’s so incredibly tired. Got it. What else?!” Similarly, there were entire swaths, paragraphs and eventually pages, that I felt were just there to take up space. I counted 18 pages towards the end that recounted Lo’s panicked thoughts that could have been summed up in one page. I noticed Ware repeating herself and rephrasing the same thoughts many times throughout the book. Maybe this was a plot device? Who am I to judge? However, I do know that my students do this in order to use up more space on a page requirement, so… that’s not out of the realm of possibility for me.

I’d love to read In a Dark, Dark Wood in order to experience more from Ware without preconceived ideas of what the novel will be. I thought The Woman in Cabin 10 was good enough for some, but just not for me.

Scarier, please!

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L: White’s “And I Darken”

I’ll cut right to the chase: I didn’t like this book. I blame myself as much as I blame the book. I heard about this one when the publisher company was book talking new and upcoming releases at my local book store. Ultimately, I was under the impression that this would be a very different book than it ended up being and, unfortunately, the version in my head was way better than the reality.

How did I get the wrong impression? Well, the book talker may have given a synopsis and, in my desire for a killer book, I misunderstood and came up with my own assumptions. On the other hand, the book talker may not have actually read the book and book talked it according to what she thought the book would be, so my assumptions matched her misleading book talk. Regardless, I was under the impression that the book would have vampiric elements; not like Twilight-style, but similar to the original vampire story, Dracula. I feel as though that assumption is totally validated when the main character is the daughter of literature’s most famous vampire, Vlad Dracul. I was dead wrong.

Let’s review the blurb:

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point

Nothing to indicate vampires in there, I agree. But still, don’t sass me about anticipating vampires in a book about Dracula. No, there was 0% vampiric activity; instead it was, honest to God, 90% feelings, which is decidedly not my jam. There was anger and resentment about being unhappy and there was anger and resentment about being happy. There were attempts to navigate the turbulent waters of sexuality, and there was crying. So much crying. Don’t get me wrong; I, too, have emotions and often enjoy seeing them reflected in my readings. But as is the case in real life, overdoing anything can result in a lack of poignancy. A smattering of emotions throughout the book would have been better than the pouring out of hearts on every page. I grew tired of it and it lost its meaning.

The other issue is that the character weren’t very likable to me. There is something to be said about feeling an emotional attachment, or maybe relating to a character. I saw nothing of myself in any of these characters and, on top of that, I did see reflections of personalities I generally find unlikable. Lada was meant to be a strong female protagonist, and sometimes she was, but other times, the character was so determined to be independent that she was often highly destructive to others and herself. Lada is not a female character that I would ever want young female readers to emulate. She had some serious self-damaging issues. The two other main characters were Lada’s brother, Radu, and their mutual friend/captor/whatever else he was, Mehmed. I didn’t like either of them, either. Radu started as a sniveling little whiny baby and grew up into a sniveling little whiny young man. He faced some issues, yes, and I gave him credit for being brave and mature when he earned it, but honestly, 75% of his presence is just self-pity and self-loathing. Now, would a troubled young man learn something from reading Radu’s story? I cannot say; I could never read from that perspective, myself. There may be some value in Radu’s story and some readers may relate to his trials and find solace. If so, AMAZING! Otherwise, I disliked him very much. Essentially, the same goes for Mehmed. He was an entitled brat who treated his friends like garbage and was so very emotional. No thanks.

This book contained constant displays of unhealthy relationships, not stopping with showing realistic depictions, but almost validating the extreme circumstances and making it seem as though the moral of the story was that love makes you miserable. Such may be the case in some instances, but it shouldn’t be lauded as the best way to love, nor the only way. Some love is mutual, respectful, unconditional. There was no such love in this story. Love did some serious damage in this book and I would hate to hand this book to a teen who is only just learning how to give and receive love, since I think it could do more to damage them than to help.

I wish I hadn’t bought this one. Usually, if I dislike a book, I can validate a purchase by making it a classroom library text, but I will need to keep a close watch on who is reading this one.

Has anyone else read it?! I’m honestly dying to know what others think and to talk with someone who liked it! Maybe I’m being too harsh? Talk to me!

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