SING, UNBURIED, SING

This family drama was true southern prose full of spirits and stories and spells. Sin and family and forgiveness. No one dies quite like a southerner, taking their specific cooking and unique lineage, leaving us our heritage and pockets full of stories to embellish for many generations to come.

“…. sorrow is food, swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

This was a book with a strong second half. I appreciated the lyrical writing and ghostly references only a southerner could fully appreciate.

THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett

I was glad to finally be able to sit down with this Book of the Month feature and all-around popular Bookstagram book, The Vanishing Half.

The concept intrigued me. Stella and Desiree are twins and both born light-skinned Black. Both of them wanting to escape the confines of their small town and to live a fuller life experience, they run away to New Orleans. But one twin, Stella, after easily passing as White, decides to leave her twin and join a race that was not quite her own, but one in which she had fewer limitations. Even Stella’s husband is unaware of her true racial identity.

Negroes always love our home towns even though we’re always from the worst places. Only White folks got the freedom to hate home.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, this interwoven, generational story captured my imagination with thoughts of ‘what if it were me‘ as well as ‘how could she do that?!‘ indignations. Just what the author, Brit Bennett, was aiming for, I’m predicting. What decisions lead us to live lives filled with secrets? Are they our decisions that determine that trajectory or are they the decisions made long before we are born? What masks do we each carry daily?

THE VANISHING HALF was an engaging story that explored racism, abuse, wealth and poverty as well as familial relationships and the ongoing dichotomy of mother-daughter relationships. How do we determine and define ‘family’? While provocative and a page-turner, VANISHING seemed to wrap up quickly and ended fairly abruptly and open-ended.

Perhaps I always think this, however, about characters I’ve invested in…

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

I miss Castle.

I realize this isn’t something I need to hide (anymore.) But you have to understand, I started this secret habit back before it was cool.

I was a full-fledged adult with full-fledged middle school and high school children when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants first came out. I hid in my bedroom and read every book. I was deeply invested in each character.

Hi. My name is Greta. I love to read memoirs and crime and history and fiction and non-fiction and……YA. Yes, I read young adult novels.

(Once a trend becomes acceptable and popular, it’s hard to break the habit of hiding your secrets!)

The main character in this YA book is Castle Cranshawl (aka: ‘Ghost’.) The narrative is from his own perspective as a middle schooler from a low income home. Sort of by accident, he finds himself learning a new sport: running track. What started as a competition between two students ended with an Olympic coach immediately recognizing Castle’s natural talent as a runner. As a reader, you are instantly on Jamal’s side and cheering for his new passion. If I could sit in the bleachers at one of his events, I would!

GHOST, by Jason Reynolds (a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature), draws you in quickly to Castle’s world while also addressing subjects like social inequality, an abusive parent, bullying, a hard-working mom, mentoring and what it’s like to be a Black kid from public housing learning to trust adults and even harder, his fellow track competitors. Sure – he’s got natural talent as a runner. But will his anger trip him up?

I wholeheartedly recommend this for your young reader. It’s uplifting and told from a first person’s perspective. Great conversation starters for your kids or students.

But I warn you, you’ll miss Castle, too, once the book is through. Lucky for us, however, GHOST is the first in a Track Series of 4 books.

Castle loves sunflower seeds. Readers will love Castle.

THE LOVE U GIVE

 

I spent the day reading THE HATE U GIVE. I would like to say it’s eerily ironic that the storyline is so similar to what’s going on in our world today, but it’s not ironic, is it? It’s the same horrific story, repeated over and over again.

This is a powerfully strong book that thankfully is listed as a young adult novel (warning for very young readers, the language is strong.) It should be required reading in all high schools and then reread as an adult. Thank you, Angie Thomas, for filling part of the darkness with truth.

So many things stood out in this book. The main character, Starr, is present during an illegal police shooting. She knows the truth and it forever changes her life as well as the people in her life. One sentence in particular challenged my own thinking as I watch the news:

“Khalil is a suspected drug dealer and unfortunately, the word ‘drug dealer’ will always be louder than ‘suspected’.”

So many people have read this 2017 bestseller but if you haven’t, move it up your list. It needs to be read. And now is the perfect time to challenge your thinking about racial injustice. “Racism isn’t about black versus white; it is about a lack of equal opportunities.”

An underlying element of this story stoked my long-held envy of the intricately knit together group of neighbors, family and friends of the black community. They truly embrace ‘it takes a village’ as they band together and march forward to a better future. We should all learn from their example.

I am left challenged and moved and encouraged and saddened by this book. Written in 2017, it is as relevant as this morning’s newspaper. Thank you thank you thank you, Angie Thomas, for bravely using your voice. #thuglife

My May Book of the Month selections

I look forward to my Book of the Month selections every month – the excitement never fails. I’m glad they have added a non-fiction section to the selections. I have found a few favorites from that section including one this month, THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE by Erik Larson, about Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister during The Blitz as Churchill teaches the British people how to be fearless in the face of danger. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents and once-secret intelligence reports, Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year as told through Churchill as well as his close family and advisors.

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I also selected (what I’m sure will be) a controversial book by Sue Monk Kidd called THE BOOK OF LONGINGS. It’s a novel supposing Christ married a rebellious and ambitious girl named Ana. The book summary left me with so many questions I had to get it to see what Kidd’s approach might be.

And lastly, (to offset the other two heftier books), I picked BEACH READ by Emily Henry. I certainly didn’t pick the book because of it’s cute cover. I mean…who would ever do that?! *raises hand* It’s a story about two writers living in neighboring beach houses. One writer is a rom com writer, the other is known for killing half his cast in dark, death cult ways. So they make a bet to force them out of their creative ruts: they’ll switch places. The dark writer will write a happy rom com and the happily-ever-after will go on interviews with cult survivors and write a book accordingly.

Three totally different books which will fit perfectly with my varying reading moods! 

The Sierra Mountains are getting snow today which means we are getting the outlying rain. And it’s chilly! That’s okay though. I have new books to delve into and a new kimono robe arriving in the mail.

 Now where did I put those bon bons???

 

Ode to the DNF

As readers, we’ve all experienced the mental pros and cons list we automatically go to when facing a potential DNF (Do No Finish.) It took me quite a few years into adulthood before I would actually NOT finish a book. Finally I reached the point when I realized my time and comfort level was worth more than my commitment to finish a book I wasn’t enjoying or was about topics that made me uneasy. Even still, it takes quite a bit for me to lay a book aside. Many times it’s the pure curiosity of wondering how it ends that keeps my plowing through. 

This book is a Potential DNF as I haven’t 100% made up my mind yet about it. You can see where my book tab is. I’m not quite halfway through. I’ve enjoyed the topic (although a little overdone in the past few years, it feels like. Girl spy during one of the early wars.) I liked this character and it’s based on a real person. 

But it came to a dramatic stop recently when an event in the book was more than I could swallow. It was rough. At the very least, I needed to step away from the book for a bit. I’ve read two light-hearted books since putting a pause on this one. Maybe those lighter reads will buoy me enough to step back into the dark world that this book is currently in. 

The book jumps from present to past so I’m wondering if I just skip to the next section (Part Three), if I’ll be able to catch up on the things I skipped over. The looming question, however, is will I become engrossed in it again only to have another zinger of a plot twist creep up as gross and disturbing as the one I just read??

I’ve been hesitant to use the word ‘triggering’ because I’m not sure the exact definition of it. Does it apply only if it has actually happened to you? As a mom, I am VERY sensitive to things happening to children, even mental anguish. I definitely didn’t used to be that way. I loved reading crazy, scary books as a teen. But I watched the movie Sophie’s Choice when my firstborn was 9 months old and I spent the rest of the evening sitting by his crib and crying. Seriously!, it broke me. So children being hurt – mentally or physically – is a real trigger for me. And that’s where I am in this book. I’m sure many of you have read this and it was no big deal. (The book comes out at the end of month.) But that’s the deal, right? What is triggering for one person is totally fine for another. (And if you have read this book, I’m sure you can probably guess what event stopped me dead in my tracks…)

It’s raining this week in California. Like, a lot. The days are dreary and overcast and that’s to say nothing of the whole Covid-19 situation overtaking our thoughts and moods. So for now, I’m going to stick with other books and hope I don’t forget too much of what I’ve read so far in this book. Maybe I’ll come back to it later (because it really WAS an interesting book.) Just not right now.

What items make you set down a book and not come back? What makes you say, ‘Nope!’? I’d really love to hear your experiences and what trends you see in your own reading life that make you stop and walk away.

 

Sidenote: I have purposefully not mentioned the name of the book or the author’s name, even though you can plainly see it in the picture. I don’t want any search engines to find the title and it get a bad review. I’m not giving it a bad review. Just because something bothers me, doesn’t mean it’s not a good book for anyone. In fact, it’s been an interesting and engaging book. I just need a little space from it for now. Or until it becomes a DNF.

EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG by Gabriel Bump

(Book Release date: February 4, 2020)⠀
Thank you, Algonquin Books for the honor of reading this debut novel.

As a white Midwesterner, I must say I felt a little voyeuristic peering into the world of a South Side Chicago teen as he navigated his way through life. ⠀

As I read EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG, I was repeatedly struck with how much mental fortitude can be cemented at a very early age. For some, strength and bravery are developed through strong family encouragement and societal achievements. For others, it is forged from repeated loss and boldly overcoming overwhelming obstacles.⠀

Often the media portrays life on the South Side of Chicago as either gang warfare or Michelle Obama. But where is the in-between? The place most urban Americans live? Author, Gabriel Bump takes us on a journey through the eyes of an everyday urban family living in a challenging neighborhood. He wanted his South Side readers to recognize themselves in his fictional (but true to life) story.⠀

The tempo of EVERYWHERE YOU DON’T BELONG moves at a fast clip. It’s a reading style that takes a second to get used to. But once you’re in the rhythm, good luck putting the book down. There are abrupt but brief jumps to the future weaved throughout the telling of this story of one young black man who can’t quite find his place in the world. Death and abandonment are reoccurring themes in this generational story. The sheer determination to do better boils underneath all the chaos.⠀

The time-period is predominantly during the Obama administration (a proud moment for any Chicagoan.) Change is promised but does the everyday black American see it? The main character is searching for the place where he belongs. It isn’t the civil-rights activism of his grandmother’s time but it also doesn’t seem to be in a college classroom either. He calls to question all of our individual stories of belongingness.⠀

Mixed with humor and racial integrity, EVERYWHERE will make you think, will awaken you to societies and cultures vastly different than your own, and will ultimately ask you how you find your own place in our world.⠀

This is a strong debut novel written from a place of knowing, believing and surviving.⠀

WHISKEY WHEN WE’RE DRY by John Larison

UH-OH!! I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just finished reading Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison and it might be the best book I read in 2020 – and it’s only January 13!

This book was storytelling at its lyrical best. WHISKEY was a gripping read – Midwestern true grit with a southern lit style prose. Each description, painted magnificently on the big, open skies of the 1800’s Plains.⠀

Orphaned in 1885, Jessilyn finds herself alone. Having learned sharpshooting from her father on their cattle farm, she sets out to find the only other family member she knows, her older brother, Noah, who left home years before and was now an outlaw on the run. Knowing the limitations and boundaries she would encounter as a female, Jess cut her hair, bound her body and rode into the outside world under the guise of a young man.⠀

The adventures and circumstances that ensue develop Jess’s strong character and resolve but do very little to answer the questions about her past. Her mother died during Jessilyn’s birth and her stoic father died suddenly, just as she was becoming a young woman.

“What started the war, pa?”⠀
“Stories, Jess. Stories. We tell ourselves the wrong stories.”

It was not difficult to make the parallel to much of what we listen to on the nightly news. Or experience in our own relationships. What wrong stories are we repeating? What wrong stories are being passed down, generation to generation? Culture to culture?

Her father taught her many things during her young life, not the least of which was to shoot a gun with precision. There was no way of knowing how well that would serve her in the years to come.

For many years Jess maintained her male identity. She developed friendships with other guys but never revealed her true story. Confiding only one time to an old lady her true past: “It was such a relief to hear this in the air outside, rather than echoing endlessly within.”

This is a coming of age story as well as a story of familial reflection and connection common to us all. Thank you, Anne Bogel, for your recommendation. This expansively beautiful story will ride with me for a while.

My 2020 Unread Book Project

It seems every year I go through the same mental tennis match: ‘Do you REALLY want to set resolutions and goals for January 1? They’re always fraught with so much pressure.’ There is something about a goal set on a random Tuesday that holds more promise of completion for me.

That said, I have decided to participate in a bookstagram challenge for 2020. It’s simply to read more of the books you already have on hand.

While the premise of this challenge originally seemed like a very good idea, I began to see it as something a little more meaningful. As with each new year, I want to make strides in personal growth, namely by reducing the amount of things that activate my tendencies toward addictive behavior. As with many bookish people, it is hard to resist the newest, latest, greatest, trendiest new book on the market. I’m as bad as the next person about falling into that trap, thereby ignoring all of the wonderful books that are sitting right next to my reading chair, waiting to be picked up.

Of course this applies to many areas of my life. I thoroughly enjoy Instagram. The other bookish and plant-loving people I have connected with over there has meant a great deal to me. Some of them becoming authentic online friends. But Facebook? Not so much anymore. I often find myself frustrated and spending an endless amount of time scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through stuff I’m not even really paying attention to. And so for 2020, I am going to attempt to give up Facebook – an unnecessary amount of time that pulls at my addictive behavior.

Lord help me, I am certainly not saying social media is bad. I love it for its many little pleasures and inspiration. But my relationship with Facebook has changed drastically over the years and I think it’s time that we attempt to go our separate ways. The now trendy phrase, Does this bring me joy?, is something I’m asking myself about many of my habits as I head into a new year. A new decade!

This project is being spearheaded by Whitney of The Unread Shelf. She has challenged us to take a good look at our unread books on our own bookshelves and select specific ones that we would like to read in the upcoming year. These won’t necessarily be the only books we read in 2020, but they are books on which we’ve put a higher priority.

I felt a connection with this unread project and asked myself why does this excite me? Why does this make sense to me? I think it’s because using what I already have and what I already own seems to be stepping away from the addiction of needing to have the very latest thing people are talking about. I have a wealth of depth sitting untapped in my very own space. So I think the challenge to read my own unread books will serve a dual purpose. If not more.

What I am not committing to, however, is not buying any books in 2020. (I’m not a masochist. -ha!) But I am going to set some personal goals of reading a certain number of unread books before I can even think about buying a new book (or even reserving books at the library – a.k.a.: new-to-me books.)

In many areas of my life, I am looking forward to discovering what I already have.

I selected each of these books for a particular reason:

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas
Truth: (gulp) I was one of those obnoxious people who, while in grad school…back in the room where the textbooks are…picked up this book and added it to my class textbooks even though it wasn’t on the list or even from a class I was taking. (aaaack!) I know, I know. Every professor hates it when students do this. They’ve ordered the correct amount of books needed for their class and suddenly they don’t have enough books to go around. It was me! I’m willing to come out about it now. (But can you blame me?!) Doesn’t the tagline sound fascinating?? How has the trajectory of women’s lives been affected by what we see in movies, tv or (and especially) in commercials? This book has been on my bookshelf for FAR too long.

…And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Oh my word…I am completely intimidated by this book. I need to overcome my fear of its size.

One of my best and dearest friends, Jenny, threw her very book-loving daughter, Katie, a book party when she turned 16 years old. It was the greatest idea. Each attendee (adults and kids) brought a book that has been significant to them as a gift for Katie. Can you even imagine?! At the end of the party she had a huge pile of books. (Can I get a party like that at my age??)

Anyway, this was one of the books. Here’s a section from the Amazon description of it: about a group of women in the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio who begin a woman’s literary club, which evolves through the years into a significant community service organization in the town. The novel, which looks at the club as it changes throughout the years, spans decades in the lives of the women involved in the club, between 1868 and 1932.

I mean. It sounds fantastic, right? I need to conquer it. Maybe I’ll break it up over the course of the year. Hmmm…

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I very much enjoy early American history. I am a bit jealous of well-known author, Goodwin, for her concentrated expertise on Abraham Lincoln. Wouldn’t it be incredible to be an expert about one particular subject?

One of the monthly challenges that Whitney has laid out for us is to read an unread book we own that was gifted to us by someone. This book fits that bill. My father went to see Goodwin last year and sent me a signed copy of this book. So this year it goes into my must-reads for the year.

Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts
Again, early American history and also – it’s Cokie Roberts.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
This book represents a specific challenge for me. When I was a teenage reader, I loved to read scary books. Amityville Horror and Flowers in the Attic for example. But then adulthood and parenthood TOTALLY changed that and I became a bigtime chicken! -ha. And yet, every time I pick up a ‘scary’ (to me) book like The Girl in the Train – I absolutely love it! I flip the pages faster and faster and love the raised heartbeat of a (somewhat) scary novel. I need to force myself to read them more often. So this Book of the Month novel I’ve had for almost a year needs to be tackled in 2020! You can do scary things, Greta!!

Mariana by Monica Dickens
I have a number of Persephone Classics books on my shelves and yes, mostly, because they have absolutely beautiful covers! Maybe I ought to give them a try as an actual book???

From the Amazon blurb: Monica Dickens, the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, published Mariana in 1940 when she was only twenty-four years old. A bestseller in its time, Mariana is the often-comical story of a typical English girl growing up in the 1930s.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
Again, this has been on my shelves since grad school (but yes, this was an actual required book for one of my classes.) As with many required reading books, you quickly blow through them, looking for whatever you need to accomplish for the class assignment. I’d like to go back and actually read this classic.

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen
It’s a weird subject but one I’ve found interesting in the past. The basis of the book is that the practice of ‘calling out witches’ during the Salem Witch Trials (and so many more!) in many ways defined how it is we see women in society. Subjugated and easily manipulated. How much of a deficit did this cause in the fight for women’s rights?

The last block of books are some of the best books written about Writing and Creativity. I look at them and wonder how much I could learn from these great masters of storytelling and prose:

Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
On Writing by Stephen King

I’m not going to lie, it seems like a daunting task. But it’s daunting because these books are so important to me. I will count this reading year successful if I can incorporate these Unreads into the other books that come my way in 2020. As always, the biggest goal: to read more, expand my mind, increase my vocabulary and always, always have a little more fun in the towns and situations I’ll find myself in through the pages of a well-crafted book.

HARRY’S TREES by Jon Cohen

What a fantastic book. It hooked me quickly and kept me on the line the whole way through. What a beautiful celebration of books and nature and great love. ⠀

⠀”To every story we bring the story of ourselves.”⠀

This book celebrated the freedom of forgiveness. The adventure of reading. The beauty of nature. The cost of holding on to self-perpetuated ‘truths’. The ripples of redemption. And as with every good story, it contained an enchanting touch of magic.⠀

“Get a book. Reading solves most things or at least assuages the heart.”⠀

I would highly recommend Harry’s Trees.

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

I’m excited to dive into my Book of the Month selection for November. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes looks like one of those burrowed-into-the-couch, throw-blankets-on, what-time-is-it-anyway, just-one-more-chapter type of read.⠀

Here’s a brief overview:⠀

Alice Wright marries in order to leave her life in England and moves to Kentucky during the American depression era. She quickly realizes this small town was much too claustrophobic for her liking so she jumps at the chance to join a new traveling library team of women, established by Eleanor Roosevelt. A personality potpourri of five women soon learn their own strength and independence as well as their dependence on each other as they confront gender restrictions and relationship difficulties. They are committed to the task at hand: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts and ideas that will forever change their lives.⠀

Team of women – library books – Eleanor Roosevelt – traveling the countryside – female friendships ⠀

*breaks into song* – ‘…these are a few of my favorite things!’

The best part is that it is based on a true story. The description hooked me and I can’t wait to dig right in. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres so I know we’ll get along just grand. ⠀

Have you read this book or are you reading it now? Is it on your TBR list? Tell me your thoughts below. Let’s discover this epic story together.⠀