Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Inspiration: less than 100 pages

Right away when we published the list of prompts, this one started generating questions. For this prompt, I want you to read something short: so short, in fact, that it has fewer than 100 pages. But something that's a stand-alone piece of writing, published on its own. Not part of a collection or anthology. Just a book that's not very long.

I went to the "new books" section of my library, pulled off books that were super skinny and checked the last page number. Then, if it was 100 or fewer, I read the description to see if I might enjoy it. That's how I found Fox 8 by George Saunders.

Something I noticed: lots of self-help or inspirational nonfiction are this short! Have you read any of Austin Kleon's books? All the heart eyes for his creative and art inspiration, and they fit this length.

Another approach is to look at juvenile literature. Read a picture book. Read a chapter book. Read a kids novel that's less than 100 pages. The options are ENDLESS in the kid's department!

  • I think everyone should read the pre-TV series Olivia books by Ian Falconer
  • I sometimes read the Peter H. Reynolds Creatrilogy books aloud to my adult art students
  • Dip a toe into juvenile nonfiction to learn the basics about something new without going overboard (philosophy, religion, crafts, an animal of choice)

And a few list links:

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

It's a simple mantra: Today will be different. But it's much harder to implement in real life, as the day goes on and shit just keeps happening. Life - it's never just easy, is it?

Eleanor has the best intentions, but once the school calls to say her son is sick, once she realizes she's forgotten a lunch appointment, once she catches her husband in a lie ... today may be different-like-unique, but probably not different-like-better.

That's not all, though. She's got some extended-family issues that seem to have popped up from nowhere, and it's emotional baggage she's having trouble lugging.

Overall, Eleanor is delightfully inept in a harried, scattered way (many of us relate). She's bumbling and blustering through adulthood, just trying to measure up to the other moms, to her career potential, and to her expectations for marriage.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

When the headmistress collapses dead, the students at Saint Etheldreda's School decide to keep the news under wraps so they aren't returned to their families.

This is a precocious murder-mystery book for preteens, with very little gore and a lot of innocently made bad judgment calls. It's the kind of story where a church basement strawberry social is the very epitome of the town's social scene.

But it's also a cracking good mystery full of fun characters: these seven Victorian-era British school girls cover the gamut of personality types, from the goth girl to the flirt to the science geek to the actress. You'll find from the 1890's era to modern days there isn't much difference when you gather a group of girls - you'll get sisterhood and teasing, both affection and a few tears.

How long with the crime go unnoticed? And above all, whodunnit? There are quite a few twists and turns to the plot, because it turns out the girls don't know quite as much about things as they'd thought. The gradual drama is fun, and the big reveal is a surprise in many ways.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Inspiration: Asian

Reading books about other places, cultures, and experiences is a great way to expand your horizons, even when you're stuck at home. For this prompt, we're looking at books about by Asian authors and about the cultures, people, and immigrants of Asian countries.

I went looking for an official list of countries in Asia, and my world view has been expanded to understand Russia and most of the Middle East are included in Asia. I don't know what I thought they were ...

Here are a few I've read:
A few authors and books I haven't read but would recommend anyway:
  • Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan
  • Nicola Yoon (YA)
  • Mindy Kaling (nonfiction)
  • Gene Luen Yang (graphic novels)
  • Arcady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin
And a list of lists:
My list seems heavy on Japan and China, with some India. Can you help diversify the list with some additional recommendations?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Inspiration: politics

This could be a really heavy topic, but it doesn't have to be!

You can choose nonfiction or fiction, local or international, history, current affairs or even speculative dystopian fantasy.

Pick a smaller topic than POLITICS: Choose economics, or narrow it down to a biography. Drill down to a current social topic.

Can you recommend something?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

It's the typical rock and roll story arc: youngsters form a band, tour and party, find fame, then eventually self-destruct. Always captivating, and somehow I never get tired of reading it!

This time it's fictional, but that's sooo easy to forget while reading this one. The book's written in the typical music bio style of quotes drawn from interviews with those involved. The players don't agree about what happened exactly, and we get multiple perspectives on the drama.

The Six is a 1970s group led by Billy Dunne. He recruits his brother, another pair of brothers, and a couple other musicians (including a female keyboard player), and they eventually get some notice as a straight-forward rock band. They get along, they fight, somebody has a crush on the girl.

Daisy Jones is a wild child with a killer voice and the face of an angel. She wants to be a star, but she doesn't want to sing somebody else's words. Plus, she's got major rock star "habits," even before the fame. Eventually, somebody decides The Six and Daisy should work together.

You think you know what will happen, but you can't be sure - no Wikipedia to check the stories, and there's no YouTube clips to watch because THIS IS FICTION! (Continually, I wanted to actually hear these songs!) And there are surprises along the way.

I loved this one a whole lot. It's like "A Star Is Born" mixed with the juiciest rock bios. Love, ego, drugs, and flashes of genius. Divine.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Inspiration: celebrity endorsed

The easiest way to find a good book is to ask: "Hey, what are you reading?" People love to tell you about the books they're enjoying (or hating) and celebrities are no exception.

Sometimes they're hawking their own books or promoting a friend (or sponsor), and sometimes it's legitimately because they're inspired or in love with a book and want to share. Understand the difference, and you'll be happier!

Celebrity book clubs:

Learn about what inspires your heroes: Locate the online presence for someone you idolize, and see if they discuss what they're reading and what inspires them. Or follow an author you've enjoyed reading to see what they're reading.

So what are you reading this week that was endorsed by a celebrity?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The end is nigh (or maybe not)!

An unlikely angel and an odd devil work together to stop Armageddon in this genius partnership between two of my favorite writers. I picked it up now because it's about to be released as a TV series with Gaiman at its helm.

A kid in England is actually the Antichrist, but nobody knows that. Every time he thinks about something hard enough (Atlantis, UFOs, or tunnels to China) it happens - and let's just say Adam is a real thinker.

It's very funny, and wicked smart, so I can't wait to see how they film it, since Neil's overseeing it so maybe they can't bleed the fun out of it.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Strangers meet in an airport bar and end up planning a murder. Is it just folly, or will they follow through?

Ted's a rich dude with a cheating wife and a mansion under construction. Lily is a librarian with no connection to Ted, and a plan that might help him. But wow is this twisty, and even right up to the last line there's a surprise.

I picked up this pop suspense novel because a friend said she couldn't put it down. And I have to say - I didn't see it coming, and that's not what I thought would happen. (Which is the highest praise I give - I hate it when books are super predictable!)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

Dancing through the New York drag ball scene of the 1980s, this is a heartbreaking, fantastic story of love and friendship.

A young queen in love begins the first Latino house on the circuit. But we know gay love stories of the 80s usually end badly, so she must rely on friends to be her real family. There is music and fashion, there are drugs and there are tears. There is money to be made the hard way, because there is always rent to be paid.

But don't let me depress you out of reading this, because it's wonderful. Angel and Venus and Hector and Daniel and all the rest are friends you'll be glad to have met.

Also, the 80s weren't so long ago, and we should not forget.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Armada by Ernest Cline

If we stand a chance, it will be the gamers who save us. Because maybe, just maybe, they've been training us as drone warriors through video games.

Zack lost his dad before he was a year old, and he's spent his youth a little obsessed about the same movies, music, and games his dad loved, just to feel a kinship. So on the day of the alien invasion, Zack finds he's perfectly positioned for a top spot in the real-world fighting force he's been trained on in his favorite game.

In the face of potential extermination, much about the world changes: the bonds of friendship and family are stronger, and so is the possibility of love at first sight. But is human nature what will save us, or what dooms us? We'll have to play out this game to see.

I loved Ready Player One, and this is just as good.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Inspiration: retelling

Are we running out of good ideas? Has it all been done before? In any event, today's movies, television, and books are full of derivative works: reboots, reinventions, retellings and twisted adaptations.

So this week's prompt is a retelling - and it will be even better if you're already acquainted with the original source works!

What are the most retold stories of all time? This film article says it's the logical problem-solving of Sherlock Holmes, Cinderella's rags-to-riches story and the spine-chilling horror of Dracula and Frankenstein. This article says there are only six core plots to choose, anyway.

Places to find books based on classics:

Some lists of NEW materials that fit the theme:

And if you're just looking for something in a general theme (Me Against the World, Quest, Stalker) Vulture has a break down: An encyclopedia of every literary plot, ever.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Inspiration: hyphenated author

I have to admit that some of these inspirations are easier to blog about than others - and this one is challenging!

Mostly, I'm just trying to get you to step outside your comfort zone and pick a book for a weird reason, and this one is a stupid, arbitrary piece of punctuation! Have a little fun with this one, and don't take it too seriously.

PS: It doesn't matter if the hyphen is in the first name or last name!
  • Jussi Adler-Olsen (Danish mystery, thriller)
  • William Baring-Gould (Sherlock Holmes scholar)
  • Lily Brooks-Dalton (Good Morning, Midnight)
  • Ivy Compton-Burnett (Victorian novelist, English)
  • Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn (literary fiction, Jamaican)
  • Caite Dolan-Leach (suspense, mystery)
  • Seth Grahame-Smith (classic-contemporary horror mashups)
  • Patrisse Khan-Cullors (timely activism nonfiction)
  • Chang-Rae Lee (literary fiction, Korean-American)
  • Jo-Ann Mapson (fiction about women in the American Southwest)
  • Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir)
  • Gina McMurchy-Barber (teen fiction, Canadian)
  • Lori Rader-Day (mystery, suspense)
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince)
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (French philosopher)
  • Gil Scott-Heron (poet, the "godfather" of rap)

  • Hugh Trevor-Roper (European history)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy

In an honest, funny look at his life, indy musician Jeff Tweedy opens up about his family, his career, and how his brain works. It's fascinating!

It's no secret I love a good music bio, and what separates the good from bad is honesty and introspection. Tweedy owns it here, with a self-deprecating humor that certainly entertains. He's thoughtful about his creative process without being precious about it, and he reminisces about former friendships, band breakups and makeups, and even how his marriage works.

Confession: I will read this book again, on audiobook, because Tweedy narrates it himself! (I couldn't wait, so I read it on paper first.)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson

In a follow-up to If You Come Softly, Woodson explores what a life without Miah feels like for his family, friends, and girlfriend.

It's a short book (about a hundred pages) and I'm not sure how strongly it would stand on its own if you haven't read the first book. But as a continuation of the story - as a pondering of "what comes next" I enjoyed this revisiting of the characters. Each character deals with grief in their own way, and for that exploration, it might be valuable for teens - you get to see lots of different ways to react to life's changes.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Fox 8 by George Saunders

The effect of our mass consumerism is reflected through animal allegory in this brief novella, a letter to "yumans" by an inquisitive fox.

Construction of a shopping mall disrupts life for a skulk of foxes, disrupting their entire ecosystem. In an attempt to understand and overcome, Fox 8 defies his leader and investigates this new complex.

At just 64 pages, the story is both funny and heartbreaking. It's the kind of tale that requires some afterthought, and I may be pondering it for quite some time to come.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

How do you recover your life after a youthful indiscretion makes you a pop culture punchline? Jane Young reinvents herself but finds that avoiding her past may not be the path to happiness.

In a stupid scandal with a much-older married congressman, political intern Aviva destroys her intended future. She successfully completes her college degree but finds no one will hire her, no matter how far away from her Florida past. So she changes her name, cuts ties, and moves to Maine to start a business as a wedding and events planner. Eventually, though, the past is bound to catch up with her.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, as I expected - I've loved Zevin in the past, and she's again at top form here. This could have been a fluffy light chick lit kind of book, but she gives Aviva/Jane more depth with a heart and a brain. The revelation of her past isn't a real tragedy for Jane, and how she chooses to face it down is a real 21st Century triumph.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Inspiration: graphic novel

I've enjoyed comics since I used to borrow them from the boys in junior high, but it was only once I started working in libraries that I learned about graphic novels.

Generally, graphic novels differ from serial comics and manga because they're longer, compiled in a single volume, and meant to stand alone. You know, like a book!

I have to say the graphic novel has gained serious literary cred in the last two decades. People will scoff that comics "aren't really reading" or that they're simple - and that just means they've never actually read one.

Many graphic novels are complex, thoughtful, literary, and true, real art. Some are for kids, and some are decidedly adult: you can find nonfiction, reinterpretations of classic literature, superheroes, dark fantasies, light comedy, sex ... really, just about anything you're into can be found in graphic novel form too.

One graphic novel even won a Pulitzer Prize! The nonfiction graphic novel "Maus: A Survivor's Tale - My Father Bleeds History" by Art Spiegelman is a memoir, where the author interviewed his Polish Jewish father about the Holocaust. It's also widely regarded as one of the greatest graphic novels ever written.

A few others of note:

  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel - Family, funerals, and figuring out you're gay. It even spun off a Broadway musical!
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - A memoir of girlhood in Iran.
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell - Childhood is even more awkward when you wear a giant hearing aid.
  • March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell - An autobiographical trilogy about the Civil Rights Movement.
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki - The growing-up summer that things changed.
  • Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang - A nested pair of novels set in China during the Boxer Uprising.

Since 1997, the Ignatz Award has given awards for graphic novels. See nominees and winners here.

I found a wikipedia list of award-winning graphic novels that may be useful. The comics industry and the book industry have many, many awards, but graphic novels aren't usually segregated from other content.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson

My sewing friends and fans of historical fiction will love this one - a novel based on the real-life women who sewed the gown worn by England's future Queen Elizabeth when she married in 1947.

Two women, survivors of the recent wars, become friends over their embroidery frame working in the London fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Because of their skill, the friends are chosen to work on a very special, ultra-secret dress. Their stories are contrasted with a modern Canadian woman seeking information about her recently deceased grandmother, who bequeathed her some unexplained samples of exquisite lace embroidery.

The book is very, very well done. I was captivated by the historical fiction sections, with these brave women who had survived so much. Also, there's so much of the story that's true and it's possible to lose yourself for hours researching the real fashion houses of Europe and royal sartorial history.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Inspiration: magical

I'm defining "magic" as books where charms or spells and supernatural powers are used. The kind of stuff not defined by physics and lab science. Mostly thought to be fiction, but I'll let you make up your own mind.

You've got to be able to suspend your disbelief and really fall into the book to truly enjoy a magical story. Things happen that can't happen, and that's just the way it goes. Remember when you were a kid and could do that? Try to recapture it.

Here's a list of magical stories I've personally read and enjoyed, including internal links to this blog's posts where I discussed them (if I did).

Note: I have an admitted weakness for vampires, but they're not really "magical" so I'll save that list for another day. ;) 

I also could simply recommend nearly anything by Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, but if I have to choose just one from each of them, I'll recommend:

  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman - A naive young man who vows to bring back a falling star to win a girl's love, and the profane Earthly embodiment of that star who doesn't want to be captured and held prisoner.
  • The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett - Crivens! A girl witch (and a clan of drunken, thieving, miniature warriors) tries to save her baby brother from the Queen of Fairies.
What's your favorite book of magic?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Inspiration: blue cover

The real goal of these "color cover" inspirations is to make you pick a book for some stupid, arbitrary reason - because maybe you'll stumble into something good you otherwise would have overlooked!

In that vein, I've decided to give you a list of books I've read and recommend that have blue covers, without notes. Just take my word!
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Origin by Dan Brown
  • A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
  • The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Also, a few with blue covers that are still on my personal to-be-read pile:
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
  • A Shot in the Dark by Lynne Truss
What are you reading that's blue? Ever pick up a book blind to its story or characters?

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Cherry by Nico Walker

If you're curious about the throes of drug addiction, this one's right in the middle of it. It's an ugly book - but that's not to say anything about its quality. It's just that the book deals with a terrible situation, a terrible addiction, and a terrible life.

The book's a sort of run-on rambling journal of a druggie kid who joins the Army, goes to Iraq, lives long enough to come home, then robs banks to support his heroin addiction. It's raw, bloody, and horrific. He doesn't blame anybody else (but neither does he take any blame himself). You really don't want to think that this shit happens, and is happening. But I'm sure it is.

It's a novel. Fiction. But 30 seconds with Google tells you Walker's a veteran in prison and apparently has written about what he knows. It reminds me a great deal of James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," which was originally touted as nonfiction then revealed to be a fabrication.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Little Fish by Casey Plett

When she's told her grandfather may have been "like her," a Canadian woman seeks out more information. Because that's more interesting than figuring out the now ... where Wendy and all her trans friends are living pretty close to the edge: drinking too much, partying too hard, dangerously fraying around the edges, picking up sex work for cash.

It's a bleak story, but fresh and true in an amazing way. Wendy knows things aren't great, but she can't drum up the fucks nor the cash to do much about it. Even if you don't know someone exactly like this, you know (or have been) close enough for this story to ring true. Additionally, it's an interesting look at a group of true friends in a unique situation - trans women just living their lives, figuring shit out, and supporting one another.

Inspiration: supposed to have read

I don't know about you, but even as a bookish teenager there was a certain point where my interest in "social behaviors" took precedence over whatever was being assigned for homework.

I'm admitting it - I may have missed a few assigned texts. Also, I think it's safe to say I may have missed the boat on some that I did actually read. So with this prompt, let's revisit those lists of books that SOMEBODY says EVERYBODY should have read.

If you look up a modern list of books high school grads should read, it's going to be very different from whenever it was you graduated. Today's lists are much more diverse, with better representation from countries besides the US, authors who aren't white men, and storytellers who may actually be teens themselves. These books haven't bumped other so-called classics off the list - they've merely made the lists longer and more interesting.

So go ahead and read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain if you want. But also, consider things like All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

What are you most embarassed to have never read? 

I'll confess - I intentionally skipped all the "girlie" books: Rebecca, Little Women, the Austens, the Brontes.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Love may be color blind, but she's in the minority. And twenty years since this book's publication, not much has really changed on that front.

I listened to the anniversary audiobook of this short teen novel (just three discs), and I enjoyed every minute of it. It's a story of first love - of attraction at first contact - when Ellie drops her books in the school hallway and Jeremiah helps her pick them up. They end up in class together and a friendship begins, then blossoms into a secret-but-not-secret relationship.

It's an innocent love: all studying and hanging at the park and kisses. There's a strong connection between the two and a desire for a future. But old ladies cluck at them on the New York streets because Miah is a tall black boy and Ellie is a Jewish white girl. I kept trying to figure out what's different since the book's publication, and I couldn't find much; I mean that in a good way (timeless story) and unfortunately (racism).

There's a sequel, on which I've already placed a library hold ...

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Belgian detective Hercule Poirot finds himself, by chance, in the middle of a murder investigation aboard the Orient Express on his way to London. The most interesting thing about this murder is that it occurs on a train that becomes stranded in the middle of a snow storm. The murderer remains on the train, and Mr. Poirot, a famous investigator, sets about to solve the case. With the help of a train company executive and a doctor, who both happen to be onboard, Poirot examines evidence, interviews the passengers, and discusses the possible circumstances. The trio narrow it all down to two possibilities. So who is really the killer?

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) narrates the unabridged audio version that I borrowed from the library. He is incredible. He's the best narrator I've ever heard by far, and I listen to a lot of audio books. I can't wait to listen to him tell more stories.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Inspiration: narrative nonfiction

This week in "what was Trish thinking" we're talking about narrative nonfiction books. For those who aren't usually a fan of nonfiction, this can be a way to find entry, because they read more like the novels you're used to.

And again, it's a technique used a lot in children's books: hook them with a good story, then educate 'em with the facts!

A couple of my favorites, that I personally recommend:
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt - murder and eccentricity in Savannah, Georgia.
  • The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean - rare flowers and obsession.
You can do double-duty with our list of prompts, because many memoirs are written this way:

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - a poetic memoir written for kids, about growing up in America in the 1960s-1970s.
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed - hiking and soul-searching, for the drastically unprepared.
  • Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller - a white child growing up in tumultuous Africa.
A few other non-memoir:
  • We Are A People In This World: The Lakota Sioux and the Massacre at Wounded Knee by Conger Beasley - based on oral histories of survivors.
  • Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman - the bond between brothers.
Here's an amazing list of 50 from BookRiot. 

Do you have a favorite? Tell us about it!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Alone in the North Carolina coastal marsh, abandoned by everyone, Kya Clark was fortunate to possess the gumption she needed to survive on her own from a single-digit age. Dodging the rest of humanity, save a select few who offer help in the form of trade, the young girl becomes one with nature. The locals, who catch rare glimpses when she has no choice but to enter town for necessary supplies, call her The Marsh Girl, and they deplore her.

Despite her intentions to remain unnoticed and alone, love - in different forms - finds Kya. As love often does, it blesses and curses this eccentric soul. Extremes of success and turmoil shake up Kya's world. After being the victim of a brutal assault, Kya finds herself on trial for murder in the small town where almost everyone views her as little more than trash. Her life depends on the ability of twelve jurors to put aside their prejudice and judge her fairly.

Owens's beautiful writing style is irresistible. Coupled with a fresh story, this book is impossible to put down. Whatever I could say to convince you to read it, consider it said.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The 1895 classic provides a short trip into the year 802,701, where the human race has apparently evolved into two very different creatures. Expecting to find great advancements, the time traveler spends eight days in this distant future where he is surprised to discover the severe degradation of humanity. The surface dwellers, Eloi, are small, friendly, child-like creatures who all look the same and live together in droves. They fear the nocturnal Morlocks: subterranean ape-like carnivores who surface at night to hunt for food. The time traveler, with his new Eloi friend by his side, has to face the Morlocks in their subterranean atmosphere in order to find his time machine, which they have hidden from him.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I am not a huge fan of the narrator. A good or not-so-good narrator can make all the difference when listening, and it certainly comes down to personal preference. However, I think it's always a great idea to experience the classics. Though the language and writing styles have changed in the last century, Well's story still offers a relevant caution to the future of the human race.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Inspiration: animal protagonist

Oh! This one's going to be a challenge for some of you - we're looking for books with a non-human as the main character (or one of the main characters) of the book.

There is one easy way to find these books: Look at kids books. Oftentimes tough subject matter in a children's book requires an animal protagonist. (Is it really easier to process bullying if it's done to a badger? I don't know.)  They're everywhere, but here's a few to start with:
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell - the classic, a horse's autobiography.
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques - this fantasy series features all kinds of woodland and water critters in a feudal, medieval society. 
  • Charlotte's Web by E.B. White - a pig, a spider, a friendship, all in a beloved classic.
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo - girl and super squirrel (I didn't enjoy this one, but it got tons of love from other readers)
  • Wildwood by Colin Meloy - this is my choice to read coming up. Written by the sexy, nerdy dude from the band The Decemberists and illustrated by his wife.
For those of you NOT interested in kids lit, I still have some recommendations.
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein - the story of a man and his family, as told by the dog. I ugly cried at the end. Twice.
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski - it was an Oprah book choice, and it's Hamlet with dogs. Also, it's a hefty 600 pages (I read 3/4 of it and quit, years ago).
  • The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa - one for you cat people, but I haven't read it.
  • Animal Farm by George Owell - satirical revolution on the farm.
  • Only the Animals by Ceridewen Dovey - world history short stories, as told by animals killed during human conflict (I haven't read it).
  • Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss - delightfully creepy and weird, with a talking cat
This prompt is meant to push you out of your comfort zone, into something a bit more fantastical or imaginary. So, what are you reading with an animal protagonist? Loving it, or hating it? Tell us!

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s is full of anecdotes involving his relationships and encounters with many other famous figures. The stories of his visits with Gertrude Stein are entertaining, to say the least. It's also his description of fond memories of Paris in the 20s that makes this such a great book.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Pablo Picasso are some of the talented people Hemingway had the pleasure of knowing in Paris. He describes experiences with each of these luminaries and others in his memoir. The one aspect that makes me suspect of his story is the easiness with which he judges himself, while freely pointing out the character flaws of others.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Adults by Caroline Hulse

Christmas is just loaded with emotional landmines, and it's always delightful to read about somebody else's disastrous holidays to put your own in perspective. Nobody got shot through with an arrow at mine this year - you?

A divorcing couple, their new partners, and the couple's young daughter all go away together to a fun park resort for a Christmas "weekend" that lasts five days. Somehow, everybody can see it's a bad idea and yet no one can put on the brakes to make it stop.

There are a lot of lies and half-truths floating around, but you're not going to put four adults plus one child and an imaginary bunny friend in a small chalet this long and believe they're not all coming out eventually, explosively, once the wine starts flowing.

This was a very funny book, dark and laughable with a lot of British stiff-upper-lip, polite until it hurts. You know early on somebody gets shot, but that whole story and its implications come out through police interviews that alternate between the main chapters. If you've ever endured a forced-joviality vacation at a family fun resort with children, you'll totally relate.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Night Town by Timothy Hallinan

An empty, haunted old house even Junior Bender is afraid of? I'm in.

In this, the seventh book of the series, the burglar with a heart takes a job he knows will be trouble. They pay is too high, way too high, but if he's going to make bank to help his ladylove get her kid from the ex, he's going to have to shake off the heeby-jeebies and find a stupid doll in a stinky, vacant house about to be destroyed.

But Junior's a book nerd and historian extraordinaire, so when the house gets to him he embarks on a reference and genealogy project to figure out the backstory. Meanwhile, the job's a big damn mess that's been double-booked and double-crossed, so Junior's on high alert to tails, shooters, and creeps. Which means he's not going home and instead bunking in another crazy, seedy hotel. These hotels have become a character in their own right in the series.

I really like this character, and I especially liked the Grey Gardens style history he digs up this time on the funky house and the family who built it.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Little Something Different: Fourteen Viewpoints, One Story by Sandy Hall

It's a college meet-cute, will-they-or-won't-they kind of story but what really makes it "something different" is all the outside perspectives we get on this not-quite-a-relationship.

Lea and Gabe's lives circle the same places and people. Their trajectories keep crashing into one another, and everybody sees how they're destined to be together - except the couple themselves. So we see their relationship through the gossip of the Starbucks baristas, through the matchmaking of their creative writing instructor, through the Chinese food delivery driver, and even through a squirrel (and the damn bench!) in the greenspace where they frequently sit.

It's a fluffy book. And while it's not high art, it's certainly not the worst either. Hall gets extra points for trying a unique approach in the storytelling narratives (but the bench was a bit too far, just saying). You want to cheer for these two characters to get together, and yet you see why they're hesitant or what's pushing them away. It's pretty funny how so many other people are emotionally invested in these two getting together, and it makes you wonder if someone is "shipping" your life that you don't know about!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

In the heat of the summer of 1959 in Memphis, a boy takes over his friend's paper route for one month. While delivering and collecting on the route, he learns a lot about his neighborhood, the world around him, and about himself.

This is - hands down - the best book I've read in recent history. I can't stop thinking about it. The kid (we don't learn his name until close to the end) suffers with a stutter, so he's typically afraid to speak in public, especially to strangers. But this new responsibility encourages him to try some coping mechanisms and to practice, practice, practice.

By making routine, regular trips around the neighborhood, he gets a glimpse of the day-to-day in households other than his own. He begins to understand privilege, race, and responsibility. Good and bad things happen, and when his buddy returns at month's end, our hero is a little different than he was previously. You will be too.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Nora is presented with a puzzling dilemma as the story begins: whether or not to attend a hen weekend (bachelorette party) for her estranged best friend. After being goaded to attend by and with a mutual friend, Nora learns how much can change in ten years, but also how much can stay the same. The party of six find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation at the end of a weekend of intoxication and isolation in the woods. A knock on the head prevents Nora from remembering what happened until it might be too late.

Though there are a couple good moments of hold-your-breath suspense, I found some of the more important details of the story to be illogical. I enjoyed reading about the British version of a bachelorette celebration.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, or so they say. Jeannette Walls’s memoir is an often-unbelievable account of extreme poverty and puzzling family values. The award-winning author tells her tale of growing up in a family full of dysfunction, alcoholism, destitution, and a stunning sense of pride. Frequently without the basic modern necessities like electricity, heat, and running water, the Walls children depended on discarded food and threadbare thrift store clothing for survival. Persisting on their own gumption while dodging abusive family members was the only reality known to the Walls kids.

This incredible story of survival and success despite the odds had me shaking my head in disbelief while picking my jaw up off the floor. Walls narrates the audiobook herself, and her ability to tell it in a matter-of-fact tone, and sometimes even with reverence, is mind-boggling.

This story evoked the entire range of emotions, and it is one that encourages appreciation for the most basic elements in life that are often taken for granted. I will be pondering this story for a long time to come.

Inspiration: written before you were born

Have you ever read a book older than you are? It can be an interesting experience because so much has changed about societal norms (and publishing trends) in just the last few decades.

One way to give it a try is to revisit the lists of awards I gave you last week and look up the past winners.

You can also Google "award-winning books of XXXX" (year of your choice) and see what happens.

Pick up a classic - one of those books everybody's heard of and supposedly has already read (wait, that's another inspiration prompt we'll get to later). Most of those would be from before your time.

You know how I said societal norms have changed? Often the reason books get "banned" or suggested for review is dated terminology or no longer approved behavior. Take a look at the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged books and find inspiration there.

One last idea: ask an older adult for a recommendation. See what your dad's favorite book was before you were born. Or ask your grandparents about something they loved in the past. It might also start a conversation that takes you deeper in your understanding of them!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds

If you're looking for something uplifting, this might be the book. Reynolds wrote a letter to himself in the form of a poem. What's wonderful is that his words can have an impact on us all. Whether 14 or 40, the reader who picks up this book most likely has something in life that makes her wonder if she can achieve her dreams. A young reader, like most of Reynolds fans, might be overwhelmed by all the possibilities. An older reader might be trying to remember what the dream is.

Reynolds' voice sounds young and hopeful as he tells us all to listen to our own hopeful voices. He reminds us to let hope drown out the oppressive discontent that tries to knock us down. This might be one that has to live on my shelf for to be referenced on those wicked days.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Rush of Heaven by Ema McKinley and Cheryl Ricker

Ema McKinley's life was turned upside down (literally) due to a work-related accident that left her wheelchair bound and in excruciating pain for nearly two decades. This work of inspirational non-fiction chronicles her medical journey and the miracle that cannot be explained through science.

My mother read this for a book discussion group and asked me to read it for a one-on-one discussion. Sensing her skepticism, and knowing my own, I picked it up shortly before Christmas. At first, Ema's story and connection to God made sense. Throughout the recitation, I was right there with the author as she recounted all the ways her faith helped her endure physical pain and deformities unimaginable for the majority of us. I could believe even the most seemingly far-fetched parts of the path she traveled until I got to her behavior at the very end of the story. Ms. McKinley's actions toward her loved ones and doctors after her miracle seemed puerile and manipulative, even in the face of all her grateful talk.

Inspiration: award winner

One of the fun things about reading award-winning books is that they've already been vetted for you - a committee decided it was good! You're always allowed to disagree, but at least somebody thinks it's a good book, and that's never a bad jumping-off point.

I promise that no matter what you enjoy reading, there's an award for it: literature, romance, fiction, poetry, sci-fi, teen book, kid's lit, horror, and on and on. Here are a few links to the sites for various awards:

and then I decided maybe I'd just give you the list on Wikipedia of world literary awards because this is so much fun to browse and look for inspiration!
Have you ever read an award-winning book and thought it was total crap? Tell us about it in the comments!