Monday, November 29, 2010

Weekend in Reading

I had a great weekend. We stayed home with the boys, opting out of long drives in molasses-like traffic. Instead we laid low, made some turkey and fixins, and tried to get out as much as possible. On Thanksgiving day we went hiking in Hurd Park with friends John, Jackson, and Mia.

Usually a walk in the woods is such a contemplative event, hearing the rustle of the fallen leaves as you push them from your path, the distant chugging of a brook, the occasional twitter of wildlife. Add in two three-year-olds, one four-year-old, and a five-year-old.

The silence is broken. Shattered, really.

Willy has one mode of communication: shouting. He's enthusiastic, I'll give him that.

At least we tired them out, and we were able to get the dogs out for some running and carousing.

Over the holiday I refrained from the work cycle, and got busy reading, relaxing, and hanging with the fam.

I've finished three books since last Wednesday, and I'm halfway through a fourth.

Here are the reviews:

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides.

Tiny synopsis: it's the 70s and the boys in this suburban Detroit neighborhood are captivated by the beautiful Lisbon sisters. Their strict parents and insularity make them the perfect subject for endless daydreaming. The boys spend their adolescence trying to understand the Lisbon sisters and the choices they make.

     I don't have to say out loud that book is depressing, do I? It's all right there in the title. There's no way it wouldn't be. I saw the movie when it came out. I wouldn't say it was my favorite film at the time, but I liked it. Much later I read Eugenides' Middlesex. What a fantastic book: an epic, sweeping tale. I love a book that follows a family through several generations (and bonus if it's an immigrant family).

Anyway, I wanted to give TVS a chance because I enjoyed Middlesex so much. It's been on my list for years, but I just haven't gotten around to it.
     It was certainly well-written, and I was surprised to see how closely the movie covered elements of the book (though sometimes with not enough context to truly understand them).

     But it was just so depressing. And a little creepy that the neighborhood boys were so obsessed with the Lisbon sisters. It's not that it wasn't good, it just wasn't my thing. I think also because I've seen the movie, there was no element of surprise.

Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Tiny synopsis: Straight-A student Kristina goes to visit her dad and goes from normal, smart, together student to total and complete meth addict.     

This book (told in verse) relates the horrors of a young girl who gets hooked on meth. At first I was turned off by the verse-- it seemed a little gimmicky and hard to follow.

I should note I am NO poet, and so maybe I'm a little biased.

I have to say, the verse grew on me over time, and though this was a 300+ page book, it was a quick read. It was almost like a modern version of Go Ask Alice.

     Recently, I was browsing Wiki and found the entry on Go Ask Alice. It was an eye-opener, because I took the book at face value and thought it was actually the diary of a girl who tried drugs and suffered the horrible consequences. It was disappointing to see that most people don't consider that to be the case now, but instead a fictionalized account written by a therapist.

     The irony is that Crank is absolutely a work of fiction, but feels like a more honest depiction of what can happen to a person who experiments with meth. Granted, my expertise in meth is limited to the information presented in one Oprah show. Still, that show followed a teenager, and her story was very similar to the protagonist in Crank. Crank seemed realistic and was a compelling read. It is so hard to read a book like this, though, and watch as Kristina makes one terrible decision after another.

The No 1 ladies detective agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Tiny synopsis: Mma Precious Ramotswe takes the inheritance her father leaves her and starts a detective agency in Botswana. She navigates life in her community all the while promoting her business and solving people's problems, or perhaps causing new ones.

Loved it. It's much more my genre than the other two books. A strong clever woman unraveling small mysteries-- it's my thing. I'd heard some buzz about these books, but in searching at the library found the first book in the series was always out. I'm in the habit of walking by this shelf and always looking, so when I went to meet my mentee at the library a few weeks ago I was happily surprised to find the book in.

The book is told as a series of vignettes, it was an interesting presentation-- a nice break from the usual: "wake up and go to sleep with the main character" routine. You get the sense of a much bigger world, with characters connected in multiple ways, but feel as if the author is only giving you a tiny glimpse into the scenes he wants you to see. I liked it. The plot was intricate without being overwhelming, the characters (even secondary ones) were drawn precisely.

I am not sure if I will immediately commit to the whole series at this point (eleven books), but I may slowly work my way through them

What about you? Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts on them?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New like?

I've been getting a little obsessed with re-tooling my blog. I have liked the last couple of template versions, but I felt it was getting jumbled and too busy. 

It's also difficult to find something unique that is not overwhelming.

So I figured out how to add tabs (go ahead, laugh if this is not a big deal to you. I am not ashamed to admit it took me at least an hour to figure out!)

I wanted to add images of insects, too because the only blogger template with bugs is this really busy and nausea-inducing dead fly background. 

It's just not me. 

I can add a giant image to the background here, but it seemed too distracting with the overlay.

So I opted for tabs, clean background, and some insect art images on the side panels. I tried to add an image to the title section, but it came out kooky.  Either below or behind my words, but not beside. If anyone knows what I'm talking about and how to fix it, do tell. 

Otherwise, let me know what you think of this... before I change it all again. :0)

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Haul is WAAAAAY over budget

I signed on to this interesting contest a few weeks ago, which I heard about from the clever Mrs. DeRaps. The idea is that you blog a list of $500 worth of books you'd love from Chronicle books. They will choose one fortunate winner to take home their list, and one commenter on the blog post will ALSO get the list. 

They're giving away $1000 worth of books. 

Not only is it a generous concept, but it is the cleverest marketing I have heard of in a while. 

At first I thought,
     Oh, cool, $500 worth of books, sign me up.

Then I thought,
     Hey, I shouldn't just pick books randomly, I should find books I'll really like. Which is not difficult.

And almost immediately I realized,
     I want to give books to everyone for Christmas, and I've just browsed so hard I've found the PERFECT thing for EVERYONE in my family.

They so have me in their back pocket now. 

Not only have I selected a list of books for myself, I've also compiled a Santa-worthy list for all the people I love the most. Not to mention that now it's black Friday, and I don't feel compelled to go anywhere for any shopping at all (full disclosure, I am not a usual Black Friday shopper anyway).

In fact, my list has grown SO GARGANTUAN that I felt it was responsible to do the math and tally the price tag. It came to a whopping $1600.

So, ummm.... I guess I got a little over-excited. 

I felt compelled to trim my list a little (those architecture books are not cheap). I also had to take a long, cold, look in the mirror and admit I would be unlikely to teach myself how to make country french, korean, chinese, and indian food all this year. I have to leave something for when I'm fifty and need a hobby, right?

I also found several of the books are currently out of stock, which was a relief, frankly, as that allowed me to cull the herd without any regrets. 

Then I got a nice little email from Chronicle saying that as a "friend" they wanted to offer me a 30% discount on anything I buy before December 5th. Ingeniously the contest ends after that date. So now I think, 
     What are the chances I actually win?


     If I want to get those gifts for my family I should go ahead and buy them now.

So I removed some of those gifts from my list, and organized everything on this handy excel sheet

I had a fun time with this contest-- and somehow, though I know I am shilling for Chronicle books now, I can't explain why I'm so happy about it!

If you want to be a part of the chronicle contest, you have to comment on the original post, that's the one the folks at Chronicle have in their system.  

Though this list is shorter it still includes:
  • a book of stereoscopic Lincoln images (resist, I dare you), 
  • the MoMa play house and family (not ashamed to say that's for me, not my kids. Check it out. It RULZ), 
  • fiction, 
  • plenty of gardening, science, and history, and 
  • a book about the night sky (with cut-outs you shine a flashlight through to see them projected on the ceiling). 

So drink the Kool-Aid: make your own list and let me know about it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Best book of November

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a question and answer it on their own blogs. 

You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

This week's question: What's the best book you read in November?

November has been a whirlwind.

A hurricane, really, of school, family, and life in general. 

I always imagine that this part of the semester will be different the next time in happens. 
Hope springs eternal. 
Then I'm literally engulfed in work. Things pick up right after midterms, grading becomes overwhelming, and just as you complete one class's 20 midterm journals, you have to jump to another class's 20 papers, and then there's another assignment to grade, back to back to back. 

Add in advising: scheduling dozens of meetings with students who may have absolutely no idea what classes they want next semester, hunting down the students who won't sign up for a meeting, making sure the seniors are on track to graduate...

Then there are the classes you keep teaching every week, despite all the added work. Trying to make your courses exciting and interesting, but also cover all the hard stuff like quantitative methods and theory that everyone complains about. While also trying to produce better thinkers, and better writers, and creative problem solvers.

Tack on the research. It has to be innovative, and it has to be publishable. Or you will lose your job. It's that simple. You send off a 40-page article you've worked on for a year only to get a 12 page revise and resubmit report (which is far better than an outright rejection, but, you know-- more work).

All of this makes my head spin, makes me wake up at 4:30,
worried about whether I'm spending enough time with my kids, 
worried that I can never read with them enough, 
or hold them enough while they are little,
worried that their milk has hormones in it, 
worried about bisphenol A and atrazine, 
worried that I haven't gotten a raise in two years.

And then I look over at the shelf. 

I see a stack of books.

Maybe they are books that I've heard about on RTW's, or through reviews on blogs. Recommendations from neighbors, friends, family, or librarians.

And I take a slice off of the day, pick up a book. I'm transported. 

I tell myself that 30 minutes less sleep is worth it. 

Just a little time, without any of the burdens of life as we know it. 

I am SO THANKFUL for books!

This month I read four good ones: 
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, 
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock,
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, and 
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray.

I recommend them all, and especially what they represented: a moment of much-needed enjoyment for a tired working mom.

Monday, November 22, 2010


This was a fun contest for me, mainly because I had the chance to ooh and aah over the Little Lark website much more than usual. Our dear friend Heidi gave James their "Ride" bicycle tee as a baby, and he wore it so many times. Now his little brother is in it, and it's holding up beautifully.

I sometimes wonder, if I had thirty of their shirts would I get tired of them? Or would I just rock out every day of the month?  This is the kind of thing I daydream about.

Selection Deets:
I created a spreadsheet using Excel, and then shuffled the entries so that they were not listed in the order they were received. I used the random number generator at to select prize winners.

Winner of the button of your choice from Little Lark (+ a super secret special surprise):

The Art Girl
Susan, and

And the BIG BIG winner of a box of Little Lark cards (design of your choice) is...

Katy Upperman!

All you need to do is let me know your preference for a design
there are horses, gnomes, robots (2), strawberries, chipmunks, fiddlehead ferns, birds, etc-- check out the little lark site for all the options. Don't forget to pick your envelope color!

Please email this info and your shipping address, to


Sunday, November 21, 2010


to win Goodies from Little Lark, like a box of your choice of letterpress cards, or their adorable buttons.

Go to the Original Post to enter!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Grinch who stole everything

We pulled out the holiday book pile a little early this year.

What can I say, now that Mike is back in school, and I'm busy as usual, we needed the passive parenting that only the Elf on a Shelf can provide. 

Is the EoaS a southern thing or a world-wide phenomenon?

The book asks you to think about how Santa manages the logistics of watching all the boys and girls in the world. Why, with an elf on a shelf in every home! A little guy/gal who you get to name, and who sits in your house, and reports to Santa on your behavior each evening. I love the practicality, and also the parenting crutch it provides. Ah, nothing like the holidays, when we can say things like: "I think Barley (our elf's name) saw you push your brother. Uh-oh, you should apologize." So nice to have a middle man to blame all the rule-keeping on.

So, along with the Elf, we started reading the Grinch last week. Willy wants to hear it every day. I love the book so, and it's a treat and a delight to read, but every day for the last week and not even Thanksgiving... I worry about our sanity.

We love to pick out fun things on the different pages:
--the tiniest Who on the page where they're all singing.
--the Whos who should be sitting down at the Who feast. One is standing on the back of a highchair!

We read "the Grinch hated Christmas" and Willy and James call out:
"No, you can't hate Christmas"

We read "the Grinch hated the Whos" and the boys shout:
"You can't hate the Whos!"

I hope reading it for the next 30-plus days doesn't make me like it any less.

It makes me think about books and the holiday season, and how much I love them (no surprise there). I am toying with the idea of only giving books for Christmas. It just seems like the right thing to do. 

It all began with the clever, no ingenious, marketing promotion from Chronicle Books. They ask you to make a list of $500 worth of books, and they'll pick one blogger, and one blog reader to receive the books. It's so clever, because it makes you peruse their site and find books you like. And then, well, they've got you.

I would like to give only books, but I have a strict rule that a gift should always and forever be about the receiver and not the giver. 

Who among us hasn't received a gift that only proves the giver doesn't know us at all. I ended a 2 1/2 year dating relationship over the gift of a pair of old speakers (and I love recycling, so it wasn't the old part). It was one of those moments in life where the veil is lifted, and you realize the person you thought you loved just doesn't know you at all. 
It's a lot of work to find the right books for everyone on the list-- a book might miss the mark where a gift basket of bath goodies would fit the bill. 

So, what do you think-- could you only give books this year? Do you only give books already?

Friday, November 19, 2010

HP:Spolier Free

We came.

We saw.

We dug it.

Loved the newest installment of the HP series.

I won't spoil anything for anyone else by going into detail here. I'll only say the true and loyal friendship, especially between Ron, Hermione, and Harry really shone through in this one. What a great group of kids.

Their friendship is something else. And that's even before you consider all that honest and caring support from family... I want to hug Mrs. Weasley every time I see her on the screen, and don't even start me on Dobby. You'll break my heart if you bring up Dobby.

Can I go out on a limb right now and mention my love for Neville? His story lines are always so endearing and sweet-- he's the nerdy, quiet, fair-minded and dilligent friend that's rarely the "star" of the show. He's barely in this one, but all it takes is a millisecond of Neville and I start to tear up. I tried to read PofA in Dutch (failed miserably), and one of the key differences I noticed was that Neville was called Marcel! Why in the world did they change his name to Marcel? I will never understand it. All the other names were the same.

Also just fell in love with Hermione all over again. From the rad purple-striped suit (WHERE can I get one?) to her unwavering support of Harry no matter what. She's such a fantastic role model. In a world where many teen stars seem (to my old eyes) really vamped up in a way that's disappointing, I love that she's s down-to-earth, smart girl who has never been all about the boys.

How can we possibly wait until next summer for the final installment?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CONTEST: One week left

Just one week left to sign on to my contest, to win letterpress cards from Little Lark, you choose the pattern.
Visit the original post to sign on.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and CONTEST

Ohh, Dairy Queen is a delightful read. It's right up there with Notes from the Teenage Underground on my go-to list for VOICE.

Tiny synopsis: DJ Schwenk does what has to be done: her older brothers have left for college, her younger brother is busy with little league, her mom is juggling two jobs, and her dad is recovering from a hip replacement. 
Someone has to milk the cows twice a day, bring in the hay and clover, and try to keep the farm running. Even if nobody ever talks about, even if nobody ever asked her to. She has to do it, or they'll all be in a worse place than they're already in. 
A family friend asks her to train Brian, the snobby quarterback for the rival team to get him in shape for football season. So she adds one more job to her long to do list. Over the summer DJ decides, just for once, to do what she wants to do. The choices she makes impact not only DJ and her family, but her whole Wisconsin town.

The synopsis is difficult-- I have such a hard time explaining it without telling the whole plot. I'm probably ruining it already. This book really transports you into DJ's head-- the voice simply shimmers on the page. DJ is charming and loveable as she tries to make sense of the world around her and how she fits into it. It's also heartbreaking, as she negotiates romance, and her family's inability to talk about ANYTHING. Yes, it's a book about a Wisconsin tomboy farmgirl who loves football, but it's also so much more.

A quote I loved from the book:
"Then I started thinking that maybe everyone in the whole world was just like a cow, and we all go along doing what we're supposed to without complaining or even really noticing, until we die. Stocking groceries and selling cars and teaching school and cashing checks and raising kids, all these jobs that people just one day start doing without even really thinking about it, walking right into their milking stall the way that heifers do after they've had their first calf and start getting milked for the first time. Until we die. And maybe that's all there is to life."

What a lovely and beautiful book-- I highly recommend it.

Also-- just about 8 days left of my contest. Visit this page to enter for little lark stationary and buttons. Please enter and spread the word!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Me in Real Life

I keep wanting to write a vlog (though I don't know how to pronouce it-- is it Vee-Log or vlog?) but I just can't get it together.

I love seeing online writing buddies in their vlogs, but the idea that I could be presentable, and have a free moment, and have something to say all at once-- seems highly unlikely these days.

So I thought I'd share some footage from my life. Here's me on the website at work (it may have to reload a few times before you see me. Hint: I'm not the robot, or the guy, or the woman in Afghanistan. I'm the other one. The one in the red jacket, with the solar panels).

And here are some photos of me and my favorite little people: 


Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy Haul- iday from Chronicle Books

I had to face the music, and update my list considering something that is critically important... 



I tallied this list, and it's just over $1600 worth of books. Yikes!  So I thought it best to organize, cull, and reform the list with a dose of much-needed REALITY.

Here's a copy of my new, trim, ready for the holidays list. Comments should still be left on THIS post.

Just in, from the blog of Mrs. DeRaps.

Chronicle books is hosting this AMAZING contest, giving away up to $500 worth of books from their site.

Post a list of Chronicle Books valued at up to $500 that you’d like to haul in, and you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to WIN your list of books! 

And, one of your readers who comments on the post will win the list too!
Last day to submit entries is December 10th!

Hmmmm.... I am sure I'm already way over $500, but here goes!

The Tulip Anthology 
The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Politics
Vincent's Colors 
The Space Between Trees  
Don't Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table  
Simple Steps Toward a Healthier Earth 
Seeing Stars: An Introduction to the Night Sky
Dan Eldon: Safari As a Way of Life 
A force for Nature
Prisoners in the Palace
Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet
52 Rainy Day Activities—Revised Edition
Super Duper Art & Craft Activity Book
Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere!  
A Long Piece of String 
Color & Count Placemats 
MoMA Modern Play House 
MoMA Lacing Shapes 
MoMA play family
Towards Zero-energy Architecture
Narrow Houses: New Directions in Efficient Design 
Farm Together Now 
The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Eastern and Central North America
The Theater of Insects
Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking 
Penny Saving Household Helper
Hoshino's Alaska
The Meaning of Trees  
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture 
Masterpuppet Theatre: The World of Shakespeare at Your Fingertips! 
Detail in Contemporary Timber Architecture  
Olive, the Other Reindeer  
Lincoln in 3-D
Christopher Walken A to Z 
Salumi: Savory Recipes and Serving Ideas for Salame, Prosciutto, and More
Tartine Bread
Fast, Fresh & Green: More Than 90 Delicious Recipes for Veggie Lovers
The Domaine Chandon Cookbook
Top Chef Quickfire Challenge Game
Quick & Easy Korean Cooking
Big Night In
Vino Argentino
Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking 
The Country Cooking of France
Field Guide to Meat
All My Friends Are Dead
Handy Dad
The Story of Snow
The Life & Love of Trees
Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook
Paper Blossoms
Pictorial Webster's Stamp Set
Pictorial Webster's Wall Cards
The Indie Rock Coloring Book
Polaroid Notes
Pictorial Webster's
Forests Eco-Keepsake Notecards
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea
Fresh from the Farmers' Market: Year-Round Recipes for the Pick of the Crop
52® Boredom Busters for Kids
The World Almanac for Kids Puzzler Deck: Early Reading, Ages 3 to 5
The New Whole Grains Cookbook
artful accessories 
artful jewelry 
Doodles at Dinner
Flip-a-Word: Crab Cab
Dinosaurs! Matching Game
Make Me a Cake!
Playtime Party Picnic
Magical Menagerie
The Chore Board
The Evil Empire
Brain Boot Camp
Secrets of Simplicity
Garden Anywhere
Large Moleskine Red Sketchbook
Large Moleskine Red Address Book

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society, Awards, and Contest!

Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Tiny synopsis: Rennie Muldoon, Kate Wetherall, Constance Contraire and Sticky Washington are each quite special in their own way. They have all passed a number of challenges posed by Mr. Benedict, and they now comprise the Mysterious Benedict Society. These children have been chosen to take part in a dangerous but important mission. They must go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, an obvious cover (c'mon it's EVIL spelled backwards) for Mr. Benedict's nemesis Ledroptha Curtain. The institute has been transmitting silent messages across airwaves that befuddle and confuse the population. Mr. Benedict fears Ledroptha Curtain is expanding his control over society-- but doesn't know how or why. The four children are the key to solving the mystery and saving the world.

WOW- this book had a ton of elements that I adored.

Friends trying to work together despite very incompatible personalities, oodles of mystery, heaps of logic puzzles and word games, and a really satisfying conclusion. 

It's the best Middle Grade book I've read, hands down-- but I am probably biased, because I'm such a puzzle nerd.

I highly recommend it.

Two great awards I'm thrilled to receive: the Supportive Blogger Award from Susan-- the feeling is mutual!

The Honest Scrap award from KT-- I love that image-- so bright and bold! Thank you!

Finally, do partake in my contest-- if you like swell cards like this one:

Visit the original link here.


RTW: Favorite Literary Cliches

Welcome to our 53rd Road Trip Wednesday!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs.

This Week's Topic:  What are your favorite literary cliches?
  Though it's overdone and the antithesis of feminism, many of the books I adore involve a girl from a family that is down on their luck...
Enter a dashing fellow with a ton of money, and 
Voila!  All your problems are solved.
Well, okay, sometimes this creates bigger and more complicated problems...
 Though it's transparent and not very girl-power-oriented, I still love a lot of books that feature this cliche.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Contest, Contest, CONTEST

Until November 22nd, enter my contest to win your choice of uh-mazing letter pressed cards from Little Lark.
Feast eyes on these (there are many more at their site).

 Five fortunate winners will win a little lark button

Visit the original POST to sign on to the contest.
You must be a follower and comment to enter. 
+1 for a follower
+1 for a tweet
+1 for a blog or sidebar shout out
+1 for a comment

Friday, November 5, 2010

Review: Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins and CONTEST

I was thrilled to win a copy of Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People from the Nancy Coffee Literary Blog in September. Due to an overwhelming workload it took me weeks to start reading. I have a colleague who is a strong advocate against the military junta in Burma (also called Myanmar, but Ms. Perkins notes that the Burmese call their country Burma). I knew a tiny bit about the issues in this country, but only a little. I loved the book.

Tiny synopsis: Chiko, a studious young boy, is conscripted into the Burmese army against his will. Accustomed to books and tutoring he is ill-prepared to deal with his new harsh life. Tu Reh is Karenni, an ethnic minority, whose village was destroyed by the Burmese army. Tu Reh now lives in a refugee camp on the Thai border. When the two meet in the jungle, each has to question the roles they play in modern-day Burma.

My synopsis does not do the book justice. I struggle to describe the book without giving a lot away.
 As I say, I knew a little about Burma/Myanmar before reading this book, but not much. I knew a military junta was in place. I knew they kept strict control of the population. I have also heard about the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the nobel-prize winning activist. I didn't really understand how ethnicity fit into the equation.

This book strikes an interesting balance between informing you about the issues of Burma and just telling a story and getting you to care about the characters. In fact, Ms. Perkins does very little in the way of describing the conflict, or going into detail about the history of the country. As befits the characters, they don't sit around describing their country's history or go into "how we got into this situation". Characters in real life don't do this. Instead, she crafts this story-- a beautiful story-- and the backdrop is what we recognize as a society devoid of choice, democracy, and freedom. It's so well done. 

Her writing is spare, not flowery, almost evocative of the bare surroundings and stilted society. I don't want to get all purple prose in describing it, so instead I'll say the way she writes the story perfectly complements the subject matter. 

So, can you tell I'm a big fan? I couldn't be more thrilled with winning the book and getting to read it! 

I am now thinking about how I can fit it into my introductory Political Science class. Last year I had the students read Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, the story of a Burundi refugee in America. The class used to be called American Government, and now it's called Power and Politics in America. It's primarily about (duh) American government, but I also like to encourage my students to think about things from another perspective. That's why I chose the Kidder book before. I wanted my students to see American society through the eyes of someone completely different. Someone escaping genocide and trying to live the American dream. 

Now I am planning to use Bamboo People in this class. I hope it will help them really understand some of the rights we take for granted.

Check out my CONTEST, to win a box of 8 cards with your choice of design from Little Lark. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly question and everyone answers it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get each blogger's unique take on the topic.

Today's Topic: If you were made supreme ruler of the publishing world, what would be your first ruling?

I don't have much for this one. I am not planning on being supreme ruler of the publishing world at any point in the future. Actually, I don't plan to be supreme ruler of ANYTHING, ever.

But, given a few seconds to think about it-- I have a few edicts to pass:

  • For agents: No tweeting/blogging about queries in a way that the sender could recognize themselves. I realize many folks think this is okay, but it feels mean-spirited to me. Who among us hasn't been a n00bie at some point. Who hasn't made a bone-headed error and then cringed later when they realized it. I think some people in the publishing world forget what that is like, and use the countless newbies and their bone-headed mistakes as cruel comedy fodder.

  • Companion legislation for writers: Writers MUST alter their work in a constructive way before sending, or re-sending it, and must be a part of a crit group or have beta-readers. IMHO, the mistakes of newbies are forgivable, IF the writer climbs the steep learning curve and does better. Doing the same dumb stuff over and over should merit penalization-- something like being prohibited from querying for 6 months.

  • Move all publication to post-recycled content, or the re-writable books described by Braungart and McDonough. I'm sure it would be easy to convince publishers to reduce their profit margins in favor of the planet. ha ha ha.

Ummm. I guess I kind of like this. I came up with more than I thought I would.
Check out the YA Highway site to see what others have in mind for their time ruling the publishing world.

Also, Do you LOVE chipmunks, horses, birds, robots, ferns or gnomes? Then sign on to my CONTEST to win letter-pressed cards from Little Lark.

Also, please note: I am a jerk.
I was kindly forwarded the Versatile blogger award weeks ago, and totally forgot to respond. It was given by Erica and Christy of you guessed it, Erica and Christy.

Because I can’t think of anything fresh to say, I’ll reference my list of seven things from when I was sent this award in June. Here is the link.

Monday, November 1, 2010

You are not your writing

I was in a couple of really good meetings last week. The kind that inspire you, making you feel like the work you do is important and exciting.

That doesn’t happen all the time in teaching.

In one meeting I was so thrilled I caught myself doodling “I LOVE IDEAS” on the side of my paper. That is pushing the boundaries of nerd-dom, even for me.

Another meeting was all about infusing writing into the curricula of all classes, taught by a really cool professor from our rhetoric and professional writing department. We all want our students to be better writers. By making them write more (in my political science class, and other classes) we hope they will accrue some knowledge about writing in general.

This professor made the point during his presentation that “you are not your writing”. He used as an illustrative story a student who turned something in, and received a harsh critique. The student approached him and apologized profusely. He was worried the professor wouldn’t “like him” anymore because he’d made a horrible grade. This professor said, “listen, YOU ARE NOT YOUR WRITING. There are plenty of students who make straight A’s, that I wouldn’t want to hang out with. There are just as many in the D-F range that I think are pretty cool people”.

That resonated with me. It made me pause, because I think we are so likely to equate ourselves with our writing. That’s the reason critiques hurt, right? That’s why rejection stings. If we didn’t associate the two, we’d be able to coldly, clinically, say “Well, thanks agent/teacher/editor/reader for that helpful insight” without ever feeling a twinge of hurt feelings.

My perspective is sort of the other side of the argument for a TED talk I watched recently in which Elizabeth Gilbert discussed genius.

Roll your eyes, okay, get it over with.

I know Elizabeth Gilbert is SO 2008.

I waited a long time to read her book. I have an instant wariness about any book that is tremendously popular. It came out in 2007, and I waited until this March to read it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover such a charming and funny writer; an insightful and interesting person. I didn’t want to like her, but I really did.

The point is, in this TED talk she discusses the idea of genius, and in essence gives all credit to “the muse”. She says if you do something and it’s an overwhelming success, you can’t take credit for it—in the same way that if you do something and it’s an epic failure, you cannot take all the blame.

I like this idea, not because I imagine I will be either enormously successful or a huge failure, but because I think YOU ARE NOT YOUR WRITING.

Yes, your writing comes from you, but I also think we all need a little distance from what we put on the page.

Maybe the distance from the shame and hurt will allow us to take that harsh critique and use it, really use it, to craft something better.

If you are an American and you don't VOTE tomorrow I will be sad, so please vote. Read my entire post about it here.

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