Books I read this week: July week 1

I’ve been watching Sherlock with my parents in the evenings this last week, so I haven’t been getting in as much reading time as usual. But I did finish In Our Timeby Ernest Hemingway.

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I’ve written at length about Hemingway before on this blog- about how originally I didn’t want to read him because he wrote about things I didn’t care about (hunting, bull fighting, war). Reading through this collection of stories, I thought about that again- about how I am so NOT a girl that Hemingway would admire, I’m not tough, I don’t like to fish or drink- but how much I appreciate his writing for making me care about things that I don’t care about. I deplore bull fighting, but Hemingway’s descriptions put me right in the center of it and make me invested. His descriptions of fishing don’t make me want to go out and fish, but with his precise sentences I find myself caring about whether Nick catches the trout.  This collection is short but has a lot in it, about war, about death, about love, about being alone, about bull fighting and horse racing; and the throughline of all of it is the need to grapple with life, to face it head on, whatever it brings.

There’s a line from The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry that I included in the last post- “Every word the right one and exactly where it should be. That’s basically the highest compliment I can give.” This is the highest compliment I can give as well- this is when a book sings to me, when every word is exactly, precisely right. Hemingway does it, Evelyn Waugh does it, Fitzgerald does it. There is no other way that their books could be, because every word is perfect. Hemingway does it in such a sparse way that it’s magical- the images that he can evoke with so little words are unbelievable.

They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning. In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.

That’s the only book I finished this week, though I started A Personal Matterby Kenzaburo Oe last night.

The girls and I have finished some fun books in our before bed reading lately, which I thought I’d share.

Pi in the Skyby Wendy Mass is absolutely wonderful. Mass is the author of The Candymakers, which we love so much, and Pi in the Sky is just as great. Joss is the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. His whole family (as well as all of the inhabitants of The Realms) are in charge of ensuring the flow and existence of the universe and everything in it. Everyone has an important job except for Joss, who just has to deliver the pies that hold the gravity that help in the creation of new suns. It’s a job anyone could do. Or is it?

When someone on one of the planets accidentally sees into The Realms, drastic measures have to be taken, which result in Joss’ best friend disappearing from the fabric of time and an Earth girl named Annika appearing in The Realms. She and Joss are going to have to create a solar system to fix things, but neither of them knows how to do that…

In the middle of this book, Tiny sat up and bellowed gleefully, “This is SCIENCE!” and it is. There is so much information packed into this book, about how planets and suns are made, about solar systems and Carl Sagan and wormholes and all sorts of things. It’s done in such a way that either kids will get it or it will slip over their heads, but they won’t feel like they’re missing anything. It will challenge thinking and imagination, and hopefully get them looking upward into the night sky.

I wasn’t really sure when I should read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to the girls- I wasn’t sure how they would do with Edmund and events with Aslan- but one night I found myself opening it and starting. I hadn’t read it since I was little, and I was transported back to my childhood self as I read about Lucy visiting Mr. Tumnus the faun.  As I suspected, the girls were really not fans of Edmund (he is a little jerk for most of the book) but my reader momma heart was full when Zoe said, “I don’t like Edmund at all. But I have to trust him because I didn’t like Phillip [from The Candymakers] either, and he turned out to be a good guy.” Oh, books are a wonder, aren’t they?

For anyone who doesn’t know this book, it is the story of 4 siblings who find a magical world through the back of a wardrobe. A villain has control of the world, and they must work with the good creatures to over through her regime. It a wonderful, wonderful story.

We read strategically, so that we could get through the dramatic elements all in one go. I actually was quite surprised by the brevity of Aslan’s main section (trying not to spoil for anyone who hasn’t read it). It is lovely and wonderful however, and with some prompting, the girls made the allegorical connections.

The Secret Zooby Bryan Chick is the book we are currently reading. A little girl notices something escaping the zoo next to her home, and then goes missing. Her brother and his two friends investigate, discovering stranger and stranger things about the zoo. The girls are having a great time with this one, and get mad every night when we have to stop reading.

 

We are also doing imagination games each night before bed from Put Your Mother on the Ceiling. My mom did these games with us when I was growing up, and when I ran across the book at her house I thought it would be fun to do with the girls. It actually has worked out really well, because the girls love the games (imagine a penguin. Give him a blue hat. Change the hat to a green hat. Make the penguin the size of an elephant.) but they are also practicing skills that I can then have them use when they complain to me at bedtime that they can’t stop thinking about zombies or whatever scary thing it is that night. (I have no idea how they even know about zombies.) Anyway, it’s a fun book and easy to use.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. What are you reading?

 

Books I read this week: June weeks 3 and 4

These are the books I’ve read in the last two weeks.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Clubby Genevieve Valentine was pretty much custom made for me. It’s an adaptation of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses, set during the 1920s. A man desperately wants a son and heir, such that his wife gets pregnant 12 (or more) times and disappointingly gives birth to 12 daughters. Each daughter is consigned to live upstairs in the mansion, never to be seen by the father except on rare occasions, and then, only the eldest daughters. When the mother dies, the daughters are basically held captive as their father refuses to let them leave the house, ostensibly for their own safety, but really because he is ashamed of them. The girls pass the time by learning to dance, and when the second eldest decides to run away, the eldest, Jo, does the only thing she can think of. She takes the oldest of the girls and sneaks out of the house to go dancing. Every night following, for 8 years, the girls sneak out to speakeasies and nightclubs to dance. Eventually the father decides that they all need to be married off, and what happens after that is fascinating. The characters are gorgeously written, the aura of the 20s realistically portrayed, while at the same time there is a distinct feeling of fairy tale glitter. There is no magic in the story, just a gorgeous story of the intense love that sisters can have for each other. I highly highly recommend this one.

I love the opening line of the book so much, ” By 1927 there were twelve girls who danced all night and never gave names, but by then the men had given up asking and called them all Princess.

Hattie and Mattie, when they’re dancing with each other, feel they’re the only ones who matter, the only two girls in the world at all. Hattie and Mattie, when they’re not dancing, still feel that way, despite themselves.”

” Still, the crowd seemed to hang back from the stairs, waiting for them to burst into song or pull out revolvers or throw their shoes at the unsuspecting.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peaceby Sarah Mackenzie is a short little wonder of a book. It’s less than 100 pages, but it’s so hopeful and inspiring. The whole idea of the book is that if we “let go and let God” as they say (she doesn’t use that phrase in the book), that homeschooling can be far less stressful than it has the potential to be. She’s all about working hard, but letting God guide what you’re doing when it comes to homeschool, and trusting that he will make up where you lack.

“We choose anxiety as our guide, instead of humbly submitting to God and letting Him guide us.

“God doesn’t call us to this work and then turn away to tend to other, more important matters. He promises to stay with us, to lead us, to carry us. He assures us that if we rely on Him alone, then He will provide us all that we need. What that means on a practical level is that we have to stop fretting over every little detail. We need to stop comparing. We’ve got to drop the self-inflicted view that we are the be-all-end-all of whether the education we are offering our children is going to be as successful as we hope it is. After all, our job is not to be successful- success itself is entirely beside the point. It’s faithfulness that He wants. God is good! He isn’t going to let us pour our hearts out for our children only to be left choking on the dust of our mistakes.

The Quickby  Lauren Owen is an interesting book. Although the reviews claim a “shocking twist”, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything at all by saying that it’s a pretty standard vampire story. Anyone who doesn’t see the vampire angle coming from pretty much the first page hasn’t read very many vampire books. That being said, I think everyone who loves Twilight should read this book, because this is real, solid, well done vampire goodness.

The story centers around a young woman, Charlotte, who goes to London to find her brother James when he goes missing. She discovers the secrets of the Aegolius Club and meets a couple who study and hunt vampires, and it’s a good gothic romp. The point of view changes multiple times through the book, giving insight into various vampires in different walks of life (the dead), as well as the living (the quick of the title) who surround them.

Paige shook his head. “We weren’t friendly. We disapproved of each other.  (What an odd idea, James thought later, when Paige had gone to bed. To disapprove of one’s father, as if he were simply another person about whom one might be allowed to have an opinion.)

The Grand Budapest Hotel: The Illustrated Screenplayby Wes Anderson is, as is probably obvious, the screenplay of the movie. I highly enjoyed the movie, and enjoyed reading through the screenplay. I love Wes Anderson and his dialogue.

The movie, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the story of the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and what happens after the death of one of his beloved patrons. There are robberies and murders and pastries and it’s a wonderful ride.

Let’s make a solemn blood-pact. We’ll contact the black-market and liquidate “Boy with Apple” by the end of the week, then leave the country and lay low somewhere along the Maltese Riviera until the troubles blow over and we resume our posts. In exchange for your help, your loyalty, and your services as my personal valet, I pledge to you: one-point-five percent of the net sales price.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikryby Gabrielle Zavin is absolutely gorgeous. Oh, I love this book. It’s the story of A.J. Fikry, widower and bookstore owner, and how his life is changed when a 2 year old girl is left in his store for him to care for when her mother commits suicide. It’s all about books and people who love books and bookstores and words and all of the things that make my heart sing. I really don’t know that I can do this book justice, I just think you should read it.

A.J. apologizes but he is not sorry. Who are these people who think a book comes with a guarantee that they will like it?

“Every word the right one and exactly where it should be. That’s basically the highest compliment I can give.”

The words you can’t find, you borrow. We need to read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)by Mindy Kaling really surprised me. I love Mindy Kaling, and I expected the book to be witty and good, what I didn’t expect was to come away from it thinking that I would be giving it to my girls to read when they’re in high school. She has a great number of wise things to say about being a smart kid with particular interests in high school, and how her experiences shaped her into who she is now. She wasn’t ever a popular kid, but was a highly intelligent and observant one. Her insights into the world are funny and awesome. Below are her thoughts about the fact that the song Jack and Diane was subconsciously memorized by everyone who has ever heard it. And then another funny observation.

I wish there was a song called “Nguyen and Ari”, a little ditty about a hardworking Vietnamese girl who helps her parents with the franchised Holiday Inn they run, and does homework in the lobby, and Ari, a hardworking Jewish boy who does volunteer work at his grandmother’s old-age home, and they meet after school at Princeton Review. They help each other study for the SAT’s and different AP courses, and then, after months of studying, and mountains of flashcards, they kiss chastely upon hearing the news that they both got into their top college choices. This is a song teens need to inadvertently memorize.

I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.

The month’s total is 10 books consisting of 3180 pages. I’m in the middle of a book about teaching mindfulness, and I want to start a novel, but time has been in short supply since I’ve been rewatching Sherlock with my Dad. Sometimes Cumberbund Bandersnatch takes precedence.

What are you reading?

Books I read this week: June weeks 1 and 2

These are the books I’ve read in the last two weeks. Apparently there was a span of days where I didn’t read anything- I’m not quite sure what happened on those days.


The Night Gardenerby Jonathan Auxier is an interesting little black diamond of a book. Auxier’s first novel, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes was hands down, one of my favorite books of last year (and it’s only $1.99 right now! Go get it!) – it was magical and glowy and utterly compelling. This book, which is totally separate from Peter Nimble, is equally magical and compelling, but where Peter Nimble was glowy and hope filled, The Night Gardener is dark and dangerous. Peter Nimble is a book to be read in summer, The Night Gardener is definitely a fall book, and in fact, it was inspired by Something Wicked This Way Comes.

It’s the story of two siblings who are on their own, who have found work in an old mansion outside the edge of town. But when they get there, the woman of the house tries to send them away, and there is a giant, spooky tree that seems to be growing into the side of the house. If they had any other option, they’d leave, but the brother is ill, and with missing parents they need a place to call home. So they stay, and slowly begin to discover the secrets of the tree, the dark man- a shadowy, tall figure who creeps into the house at night, and exactly what is making the members of the family so ill. They also learn the difference between stories and lies, and the dangers of getting exactly what you want.

It’s a middle grade book, and definitely spooky. I won’t be reading it to the girls any time soon, but it’s enjoyable.

Hearing this sound, Molly wanted nothing more than to bury her head under the covers and plug her ears. But her parents had raised her differently: Ma and Da believed that if you suspected a monster was hiding under your bed, you should get down on your hands and knees and find out for certain. And if you were lucky enough to discover one down there- fangs dripping, eyes glowing red- you should be quick to offer him a blanket and a bowl of warm milk so he wouldn’t catch a chill.

Funny things, wishes. You can’t hold ‘em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world.


I’d heard really good things about Just Kidsby Patti Smith for quite a while, and so, even though I didn’t really know much about Patti Smith, I chose it as one of my Christmas books. Every single one of those things I heard was correct. Just Kids is Patti’s autobiography, but it’s also the autobiography of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the famous photographer. They met when she was barely an adult (as was he)- when, as the title suggests, they were both just kids. They were both trying to make it as artists in New York, and when they met they forged a love and friendship that would last for their whole life.

A little bit of a tangent here- one of my friends from high school, someone I acted in plays with (he was Charlie Brown and I was Linus in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown) just won a Tony for his portrayal of the Genie in Aladdin. I’m thrilled for him, and as I think about all of it, and remember that at one point, that was my dream, I realize that if I had pursued that dream and followed the same trajectory, I would only be achieving that dream now- 20 years after I started working for it. 20 years. In my high school brain, I would go to New York, land a part in a play, and take the world by storm. Right to the top. But that’s not how these things happen. And that’s not how it happened for Patti and Robert. They worked and worked and worked and worked and it took them a long time to figure out what direction they wanted to go- and once they did, it took a long time to develop the skills and the body of work to be noticed and make it big.

Patti’s account of their life together is warm and honest and genuine. I love her writing voice, it feels like sitting down with an old friend. Her book is a window into bohemian life in the 60s and 70s, and lots of people make appearances without any of them seeming like name dropping. She talks about chatting with Jimi Hendrix in a stairwell, or realizing that her recent paramour is actually Sam Shepard.  As Patti and Robert’s relationship transitions from lovers to friends to a deep support to each other, they are always soulmates. Theirs is a beautiful story and a beautiful love.

I was both scattered and stymied, surrounded by unfinished songs and abandoned poems. I would go as far as I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations. And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple. When you hit a wall, just kick it in.


My brother brought American Elsewhereby Robert Jackson Bennett to my attention, because he read a review about it which compared it to Twin Peaks. He knows I love Twin Peaks, so he sent the recommendation along. I’m grateful for that, but I have to say straight away that it really bears very very little connection to Twin Peaks at all. If it reminds me of anything, it’s the preview for the new series Wayward Pines (so much so that I thought for a bit that maybe the series was based on the book- but it’s not), that episode of X-Files with the homeowners association, and Fringe. It really really reminded me of Fringe. Not in a copying kind of way, just a lot of similar weirdness and common themes.

Anyway, the book is about Mona, an ex-cop who discovers upon the death of her father that her mother owned a property in Wink, New Mexico that Mona has 11 days to claim before the will is defunct. So Mona heads out to find Wink, which is harder than it sounds, because it doesn’t show up on any maps.  Mona figures out that this is because it’s a town that was built to support a secret government lab, and when she gets to the town she finds an insular community that appears to be perfect. Pretty soon the cracks begin to show, and she starts being drawn into the questions that no one asks- why it’s so dangerous to be outside at night, why no one goes into the forest, why some people “aren’t allowed” to die, and how those same people are being murdered. She also works her way into the question of who her mother was, and why she brutally killed herself years before.

It’s a strange book, eerie and atmospheric. The town is Twilight Zone odd, with some of the elements that come into play decidedly more Lovecraftian than anything else. It’s also fairy long, coming in at over 600 pages, and I don’t know that all of those pages were necessary. Contrary to other reviews I’ve read, the revelations that come toward the middle of the book were not unexpected, and I saw one of the major game changers coming from the very beginning. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable- I just think if you’ve read a certain kind of book (or watched Fringe) you’re going to know what you’re getting into. But it was a bit too long, I think.

But the characters were interesting, the ideas compelling, and the descriptions of indescribable things were really quite well done.

This far from the city lights the stars seem even closer than before. It makes him uncomfortable, or perhaps it is the ionized taste that seems to hover in the air around the top of the mesa. It is a Wrong place. Not the Wrongest, God knows that’s so, but still deeply Wrong.

Next I’m starting The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses set in the 1920s. Be still my heart.

What are you reading?

Some thoughts on paying attention to what your kids read

Judy Blume recently spoke at the Hay Festival, and one of the things she said was that parents need to be less worried about what their kids are reading. I’ve been thinking about her comments for a little while now and need to write out my thoughts to figure out what I actually think.

She said,

A lot of people worry much too much about what their children are reading,”

“A lot of people will want to control everything in their children’s lives, or everything in other people’s children’s lives.

“If a child picks up a book and reads something she has a question about, if she can go to her parents, great.

“Or else they will read right over it. It won’t mean a thing.

“They are very good, I think, at monitoring what makes them feel uncomfortable. If something makes them feel uncomfortable they will put it down.

Now, I like Judy Blume alright, and the way this is phrased it sounds like something might have been cut out- I don’t have the original reference- but I think she’s missing something huge here. In the situation of a child reading something questionable (usually sexual, if we’re using Judy Blume’s books as the reference point), the two options that she lays out are, 1. The child asks their parents about it or 2. It goes over their heads. It would be nice if those were the only two options, but I can tell you from experience that they’re not.

I started reading at a very young age. By the time I was in kindergarten, I was inhaling books faster than my mom could keep track of them. I would literally come home from the library once a week with as many books as I could carry, and by the time I was in 2nd or 3rd grade I was reading long books far faster than my mom could have read them if she wanted to pre-read them. I’ve always read far above my grade level, and some of the time that meant that I was reading things that I had no context for even though I could understand words.

I don’t remember talking to my parents about the books I was reading, not because I felt uncomfortable doing so, but because I just went through them so quickly, and because they were my space. Books weren’t things I really talked about with other people. Imaginative play at recess or with my siblings might have been inspired by the books I read, but I didn’t really discuss them.  So when, in  4th or 5th grade, when I was 8 or 9, I got a book from the school library that was an anthology about unicorns, and one of the stories included some very odd descriptions of humans doing things with centaurs, I tried to sort out what was happening on my own. I hadn’t had sex-ed at that point, so I could only try to envision what was being described and guess at why it was happening. It didn’t cross my mind to ask my parents, and it definitely didn’t go over my head- it just kind of nestled into a place in the back of my mind. (A couple of years ago I tracked down a copy of the book to see if I could possibly be remembering correctly what it was I thought I’d read, and it was even more graphic than I’d remembered. How this book was in an elementary school library I will never know.)

In 6th grade I was reading adult (not “adult”) fantasy novels that included adult situations- one in particular included a rape that occurred “off screen” as it were, and as a result the character went catatonic. Again, I only vaguely understood what had occurred, I knew that she had been incredibly damaged, but I was unclear on details. In other books, people were frequenting brothels or were otherwise in adult situations. And again, it didn’t cross my mind to ask. It didn’t go over my head. It just went in the little cove of unexplained, slightly odd things in my head. And contrary to Judy Blume’s assertions, I didn’t put it down. It didn’t cross my mind to put it down.

In 7th grade, I was reading V.C. Andrews and her particular brand of wrongness.  Her books are the epitome of uncomfortable. I learned more about sex from those books that I did from the weird videos they showed us in biology, and that is highly problematic, because even if you loved V.C. Andrews, you have to admit that her books are seriously messed up.

My point is, it would be lovely if every time a kid stumbled upon something that they didn’t understand in a book they asked their parents. But I think it’s the case that especially with highly proficient readers, they’re not going to. I’m not judging my own parents at all, they are wonderful and would have answered any questions I brought to them. They just didn’t know what was in the books I was reading, and that’s my point. They were extremely attentive and aware parents, and they didn’t know. Taking my own experience and combining it with my knowledge of my own girls and their similar tendency not to talk about what they’re reading unless I instigate the discussion, I am VERY particular about what books they have access to. I don’t pre-read everything, but there are plenty of ways to check out a book before a kid reads it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying, “I think you need to wait a little while to read this one”, and I don’t think that’s censoring.  Because I know that there are far more options than either asking questions or letting it go over their heads.

That being said, my girls are only almost 6 and 8. And the things that I think are appropriate for them to read about are completely different than I will judge appropriate when they are older. I recently read this article by Sherman Alexie, Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood, and as far as teenagers are concerned, I absolutely agree that they need to be able to read about things that challenge them. He talks about books written for teenagers about rape and abuse, or poverty or harassment or any other number of problems that teenagers face. He says,

 But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

A friend of mine with a teenage daughter was telling me about her reading Attack on Titan, an extremely gory Japanese comic. I flinched (I couldn’t make it through more than one episode of the show), but then I remembered back to my high school years, when I read the most horrible, terrifying horror books I could get my hands on.  I don’t think I was unusual in that, my friends read them too. Being a high schooler is horrible a lot of the time, and sometimes it’s nice (in a weird way) to know that there are more horrible things. But even then, I think parents need to know what’s in those books. There’s a huge difference between a teenager reading a book like Speak that SPOILER deals with sexual assault, and a book that has graphic sex scenes just to have them. In the one case, parents need to be able to sit down and talk to their teen about the issues being dealt with in the books they’re reading. In the second instance, they need to be able to sit down and talk to them about why that kind of book might not be the best reading choice. Either way, they need to be able to TALK ABOUT THEM.

So, I guess my point (and to quote Ellen, “I do have one”) is this. Just because a kid can technically read a book doesn’t mean that they’re going to understand it all of it. And just because they don’t understand it doesn’t mean it will go over their head or that they will volunteer that they don’t get it.

So I am very aware of what my kids are reading and I talk to them about it. I ask them questions. I let them ask me questions. Since they’re young,  I make informed choices about what books they read. When they’re teenagers, I’ll be discussing their reading choices with them- both the content of the books and the choosing process itself.  To that end, right now if I decide a book isn’t appropriate for them I tell them why. I talk to them about the books that I read. I let them know that it’s ok to not finish a book, to put it down if it doesn’t appeal to them or if something in it sets off their conscience. I read WITH them. I’m working on teaching them how to ask questions of the books that they’re reading. To question the main character and their perspective, and the author and their intentions. I’m trying to teach them to be safe, because not every book in the world is going to be good for them.

And within the books that are appropriate for their age, I let them read far and wide, about things that interest them, things that challenge them, things that make them feel and think. It’s so fun to watch that process, because our reading choices really do reveal our interests and feelings and thoughts, and what’s more fascinating to see than that?

More random thoughts

I’m totally tempted to read the book Things We Set On Fire by Deborah Reed simply because I love the title.

I would love to be stuck in an elevator with Sally Field. I think she’d have lots of great stories to tell. If nothing else, I bet she’d be game to re-enact scenes from Soapdish with me while we wait for rescue.

I am legitimately saddened to hear that Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffen are getting divorced.

I am even more saddened to hear about Tracey Morgan being in intensive care after a car accident. I totally let B read it on the internet this morning because I didn’t be the one to share the bad news. He can’t die. He has to go out in some ridiculous manner- like getting eaten by a shark when he’s 97.

I am always (ALWAYS) weirded out by the thought that the song Rosanna is about Rosanna Arquette. She just doesn’t strike me as someone that would induce such throes of passion that they would require a song. Am I wrong? (Although I just read on Wikipedia that it wasn’t actually about her, but that she was coincidentally dating the keyboard player at the time and had the same name. That seems like a big coincidence.) You have to watch the video for it though- I’d never seen it before, and it’s got a crazy Grease vibe.

B knows me so well. He got back from CA with presents for me- a box of nuts and chews Sees candy, an issue of O magazine, and the Elle with the Angelina Jolie on the cover. US magazines are so expensive here. I always forget and think- oh, they’re about $7, $7 is a lot for a magazine, but I could splurge… and then I get to the bookstore and they’re closer to $15 and I just can’t do it. If you ever want to send me something special from the states, just send me magazines. :) (But not Vanity Fair- I have a iPad subscription to that. It’s my favorite magazine.)

Like I said in my last post, I got released from my calling at church yesterday. I don’t have a new one yet, but Relief Society president and early morning seminary teacher are no longer possibilities. (I’m a little relieved on both of those counts, honestly.)

We watched The Grand Budapest Hotel a couple nights ago, and it was marvelous. It had a titch more swearing in it that I would have liked, but it’s so utterly beautiful. I just want to watch it over and over again, just to see the set pieces. I wonder if there’s a book of pictures from the movie… and there is not. That’s a shame. I loved the moment when M. Gustave suggests the blood pact- it’s such a quintessential Wes Anderson moment. It could be in any single one of his other movies- most likely said by the character played by Owen Wilson (but not always).

Last night we watched the most recent episode of Penny Dreadful. Am I alone in feeling that they’re going to pull the Phantom of the Opera into the mix? I keep getting that vibe from Caliban in the theater. And my goodness if little Billie Piper doesn’t play thrilled and excited more gorgeously than anyone ever. No wonder she was the perfect companion for the reintroduction of the Doctor. I’m hoping her character can hold on for a little while longer, but I forsee a worrisome future for her.

It’s supposed to rain all week, but is not raining at the moment, so I’m rushing to get all of the laundry washed and hung up to dry that I can before it starts. Here’s hoping it all dries in time!

The girls are painting with watercolors, and I’m going to join them in a minute. I’ve been watching classes on Skillshare and feel like experimenting.

Since it’s our first official day of summer vacation we’re going out to the bookstore this afternoon (it doesn’t open until 11) to load up on books for our rainy week. I’m reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and she has, hands down, one of the best writing voices I’ve ever read. I just want to read and read and read.

Time to go paint!

 

 

Random thoughts

It’s raining. It’s been constantly for the last two days. The rainy season has begun. I don’t mind it- it’s not raining enough to prevent us from going out if we have to- and it’s been lovely to fall asleep to the sound of rain at night.

School is over! Yesterday was our last day, and we are all excited to have no plans next week. We will play with friends and watch movies and generally lounge about.

Bruce gets home today (in about 1/2 hr!) from a week in CA. We’re all super excited to see him. I’m excited to watch last week’s Penny Dreadful with him.

Hulu Plus has the audition episodes of So You Think You Can Dance (hooray!) and I love this audition piece so much.

For those who don’t know the show, the guy who starts dancing with her in the middle is the winner from last year. I love that he apparently just couldn’t help himself- that he saw a kindred spirit and just had to go. And  they danced together so beautifully. He gave her a huge gift in not only giving her the opportunity to show partnering skills, but also in creating a gorgeous, memorable moment with her that will endear her to the audience.

I watched a lot of TV while B was gone (I need noise in the house at night), including Sing Your Face Off ( a BRILLIANT idea for a competition show, executed hilariously), lots of old episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks (I need my Noel Fielding fix), and random movies. One was The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, which is insane and absurd and may be my new favorite movie. I highly, highly recommend, but only if you’re willing to completely suspend disbelief and go on an awesome ride. (A main element of the story is a pterodactyl flying loose through early 1900′s Paris. So, you know.)

I also watched Mr. Nobody, which was really fascinating. It’s not one that I would go out of my way to recommend (I don’t feel badly that I watched it without B, which I do feel about Adele), but parts of it keep popping up in my mind in the days since. It’s a quantum timeline type story; one that shows the results of choices splitting off and the stories that result. It’s visually beautiful- the cinematography and the actors are gorgeous. It has a dream like quality to it, and the knowledge that if something goes wrong different choices can be made for a different outcome takes away a level of stress from watching it. But that doesn’t take away from the emotional impact of some of the stories. The life where Nemo (the main character) is married to a woman who is clinically depressed is utterly heartbreaking- perhaps because you realize that no choices that Nemo can make will help the situation. Anyway, if you find yourself with nothing to watch, either of those movies would be a good use of your time.

I’m getting released from my calling at church tomorrow. (In our church, we are asked to fulfill different assignments. I have been serving as a counselor to the president of the women’s organization, and I’ve been in charge of planning activities for the women in our congregation.)  The president is moving, so the whole presidency is getting released, and I have no idea where they’re going to put me next. A couple of the options are pretty intimidating, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Time to go meet B at the station! Woohoo!

Books I read this week: May week 4

I read Becoming Your Spouse’s Better Half: Why Differences Make a Marriage Great by Rick Johnson for book club, and I’m kind of torn about it. It makes some really good points about the differences between men and women- differences that I believe to be real. And those sections are really interesting and very helpful. But the more specific he gets the more he loses me, because the generalizations he makes seem to be based on he and his wife, rather than women and men as a whole. When you make generalizations like “Women enjoy “nesting” and making sure that their family’s needs are taken care of (like laundry, dinner, etc)”, then it’s a natural step to say, “Women like to do those things, so they get to do them and men don’t have to, isn’t that convenient”, when it’s not true that all women enjoy them, or even if they do, that those responsibilities shouldn’t be shared.  He also neglected other variations in personality type- he seemed to imply that all women are extroverts while all men are introverts, or that women are intuitive thinkers while men are logical (F and J on the Meyers Briggs Test). That being said, I think it can always be helpful to see that people think about things in different ways, so I don’t regret reading it.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those books that I’ve always felt vaguely guilty that I hadn’t read. It wasn’t until I’d finished it that I realized that I had utterly confused it with Howard’s End by E.M. Forster. (Howard’s End is actually the one I feel guilty about not having read, so reading this one did nothing to fix that.)   I blame this solidly on the fact that the movie versions of both have Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in them.

Anyway, It is an utterly gorgeous book. Though the book is set after WW2, much of the action is in flashbacks to the period in between the wars in a country house in England. The butler of a manor house is taking his first vacation ever, and as he travels through the countryside he thinks back on his life in service. He ruminates on the quality of dignity, a virtue to which he has aspired throughout his career. His interactions with the head housekeeper are at the center of his thoughts, and he comes to some major realizations through the course of his ponderings. Thematically it reminds me of Gosford Park, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. The idea of abnegating one’s one life and desires, as was expected of those in service, is so fascinating and sad to me.  This is one of those books that is so infused with tiny details about the time period that you come away having learned so much without even realizing it.  The voice is so fully realized that slipping into it is calming and lovely.  I highly recommend it.

The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstances tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when, and only when, he wills to do so, and this will invariably be when he is entirely alone.

Zuleika Dobson: Or, An Oxford Love Story by Max Beerbohm is insane, and I love it. Set at Oxford, it is a farcical tale of the utter havoc wreaked at the university when Zuleika Dobson, professional (though mediocre) magician and utter beauty descends for a week. Zuleika’s beauty and charisma is such that anyone who sees her falls in love with her instantly, and Beerbohm doesn’t skimp in the ridiculousness of this extreme. Zuleika is amused but unmoved by the effect she has on men; it isn’t until she meets a young duke who has devoted himself to aestheticism and celibacy that she loses her heart, purely because he will not love her in return. But then he does fall in love with her, so she falls out of love with him, so he decides to kill himself to prove his love and every other student decides to as well, and the book just gets insane. Besides Zuleika’s magic tricks there is strange magic at work, pearls change color to reflect the love or loss of love of their wearer, birds foretell death.  Beerbohm was a friend of Oscar Wilde and it shows- it is impeccably written, every word is perfection. Sometimes the word choices were simply breathtaking.  It reminds me of Evelyn Waugh, one of my absolute favorite authors, and that really is one of the highest compliments I can give.

The moon, like a gardenia in the night’s button-hole- but no! Why should a writer never be able to mention the moon without likening her to something else- usually something to which she bears not the faintest resemblance?.. The moon, looking like nothing whatsoever but herself, was engaged in her old and futile endeavor to mark the hours correctly on the sun-dial at the centre of the lawn. Never, except one, late one night in the eighteenth century, when the toper who was Sub-Warden had spent an hour in trying to set his watch here, had she received the slightest encouragement. Still she wanly persisted.

That makes nine books in May and 2220 pages. That’s the smallest page count so far this year, which I attribute to my focus being mainly on getting school ready and that I’m still in the middle of both The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, both of which are insanely long. So there are pages that have been read but not counted.

Right now I’m reading The Night Gardenerby Jonathan Auxier (who wrote Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, after which I will immediately purchase ANYTHING he writes), and it is spooky and atmospheric and lovely. I’m halfway through and have to finish so it doesn’t creep me out tonight like it did last night. I’ll review it next week.

What are you reading?

Paying for homeschool

Brandy asked in a comment about funding for homeschooling, so I shall tell you what I know.  (If you are considering homeschooling, please do your research on what the current situation is in your state. The things I’m saying were true in CA in 2012. I can’t speak for anywhere else.)

In California, money is allocated from state taxes for each child that attends public school. Private schools do not receive funding from the state, and they don’t have some of the same oversights from the state (I think. I’m not sure because I didn’t look so much into the private school option.)

When you choose to homeschool in CA, you can either affiliate yourself with a charter school or declare yourself a private school. If you declare yourself a private school (by filing an affidavit) you forfeit the money allocated to your child from the state. You also then are responsible for keeping all records about your child’s education and documenting their progress in relation to the state standards. The extent to which people do this varies quite a bit, I’m sure.

We chose to affiliate ourselves with a public charter school geared for homeschoolers. We registered Z with them and she was enrolled in their school, and as such,  they claimed the money allocated to her by the state. They managed those funds, but I was able to choose specifically what it was spent on- I would tell them what curriculum or supplies or classes we wanted to use the money for, and they would facilitate that. Because the money was connected with the school, we either used up the supplies or gave the non-consumable items back when we moved or Z leveled out of them. Anything that I knew we would want to keep, like the blocks for the Math-U-See curriculum, I bought myself.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll add in that through the charter school, we were assigned an accredited teacher who met with us every 30 days and went over Z’s work and counseled me in any thing I needed. She was the one who placed the orders for curriculum etc, and who tracked and documented Z’s progress. If Z had been old enough for standardized testing, that would have been done through the school as well at a testing facility.

Now, in Japan, we have no funding. We have no anything, because they don’t really pay attention to what we’re doing, which is a blessing because we don’t have to conform to any Japanese standards or regulations. Any cost associated with school  is paid by us. I try to minimize costs, but it’s not cheap. This year both girls leveled into new Math-U-See books ($30 each) and each have a new spelling book ($30 each). The curriculum I bought for geography, music, and art totaled $40. The science book we’re using was $10, and the books and sticker activity books we’re using for Shakespeare probably came to around $50.  I had the other curriculum books already, or we opted out of using a book (for writing, for example). We also spent around $100 for a subscription to Discovery Education Streaming Video Plus, because that service is amazing and we use it all the time. We have a $20 subscription to Facts First, a website where the girls practice their timed math facts. We have subscriptions to both the Reading Rainbow and Epic! apps so the girls have access to lots of books.  We pay for the girls’ weekly Japanese lesson, and if they start any new classes next year (they’re thinking about aikido), there will be that cost. There’s also any costs associated with paper, pencils, art supplies, binders, printer ink, etc. It’s not cheap, but it’s their education, so it is what it is.

I’m sure there are people who make more expensive choices, and people who spend almost nothing. There are definitely ways to do both of those.  There are very expensive curriculum that exist. There are also lots of less expensive curriculum that add up if you get a lot of them. Libraries are a gift to homeschoolers, and you can save so much money by visiting your library on a regular basis. That’s not an option for us, so we have to work around that. If you have the time and inclination, you can create your own lesson plans and curriculum for any topic, saving yourself money but costing yourself time. It’s all a balancing act.

Hopefully that all made sense, let me know if you have any other questions!

 

Flying Butler Academy

School is almost done for this year (1 more week!) and then we go to California for the summer. Since I didn’t want to have to plan next year’s school while we were on vacation, I’ve spent the last month or so getting all of our plans hashed out, and I’m almost done, so I thought I’d share.

We had to wade through a lot of whining this year about school (the girls seriously don’t know how easy they have it-), and the girls love the idea of academies and such (though they don’t want to actually go to one), so I told them that I wanted them to work together to come up with a name for what we would call school next year. I wanted it to be something kind of silly and fun so that they could reframe school in their minds as something they enjoyed. They brainstormed a bunch of ideas and finally settled on Flying Butler Academy, which is based on a family joke. So next year we convene Flying Butler Academy. Z will be starting 3rd grade and Tiny will be in 1st.

You know how some mom bloggers have a word for the year that symbolizes their hopes and aspirations? If we had one for school next year, it would be binders. I’m totally kidding, but I’m not. We are abounding in binders.  We’re using a number of curriculum next year that are very hands on, with lots of worksheets and pages to do that require me printing them out or copying them so that there is one for each girl. Instead of rushing to get things printed out the day we need them, I decided to do it all ahead of time. And to keep everything organized, I pulled out the binders.

IMG_4022In previous years, I’ve kept all of one subject in one place, which meant going to a bunch of different places to get what we needed for any one day. This year I decided to organize by month and week instead. Each binder (starting with red and going through the rainbow) is two months, and has divider tabs for each week (8 tabs per binder). Then I took each subject and put in its lesson plan followed by a clear sleeve that contains all of the worksheets that go with that week.

IMG_4021

 

Any subject that doesn’t need something printed out, like math or spelling which have their own books, are noted on a page at the beginning of the week. That way I can open to the week we’re on and see what the plan is for each week.

IMG_4023The form in the picture isn’t completely filled out because that’s the next step I need to get done.  But the goal is to have everything we need for the week in one place. The math and spelling books will go right next to this binder, along with the teacher books for grammar and life skills.

The only way that I could split everything up like this is to know what we were doing each week (which I HAVE to know, or I get completely overwhelmed and feel lost).  That’s where my beloved spreadsheet comes into play.

IMG_4024The far left column has the school year split into weeks. The top row has each subject that we’re doing, with a notation of how many days a week we will do that subject. Once I figured out what curriculum we were using for each subject, I simply figured out how much we would do in a week. Math is an everyday subject, so the girls do 5 worksheets. Science is twice a week, so we do one main experiment on one  day, with a follow up experiment on the other day. On the whole, this part isn’t hard, it’s just time consuming to type everything in. The girls each get their own tab with their own spreadsheet so that I can note where things are different. A lot of what we do they do together, but things like math and handwriting differ, and having it all on one screen gets to be too much.

We’re continuing with Math-U-See for both girls next year, it seems to work really well for both of them. We’re also starting Spell-U-See, which will be new for us, but I’m hoping it will also be a good fit. We’re picking First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind back up for grammar, and using a program my mom gave me called Proud to be Polite for life skills, along with Million Dollar Machine which is a health curriculum. We’ll go through Proud to be Polite and then go to Million Dollar Machine.  We’re doing a year long study of the countries of the world from confessionsofahomeschooler.com, as well as a composer and artist study curriculum from her. We’ll do a country a week and a composer and artist a month, respectively. (She has one of her year long artist studies for free download here, if you need such a thing you should grab it!)  We’re also doing a Shakespeare study that I created myself, that will cover 8 plays, and is heavy on the things I value in his plays. (Don’t fall in love and kill yourself when you’re 13! Don’t get over dramatic about love! Listen to the witty fools!)   For science we’re doing chemistry, using the book Adventures with Atoms and Molecules. The girls will also be learning about the different types of writing one can do (descriptive, narrative, informative, creative, persuasive, etc) and practicing those. And they’ll have Japanese once a week.

It sounds like a lot when I write it all out. Thank goodness it’s all neatly organized into my magic binders of doom. The girls will have their own binders too, to keep all of their work straight and to allow them to look back over it if they want to. They get to do a bunch of fun things like color in flags and make little books about animal habitats, so I’m hoping that they will use them for reference when they’re done.

So that’s that. I’m hoping that it will make for an enjoyable year for everyone, and a relaxing summer of not thinking about it. (For the record, I’m totally being a mean mom and making the girls do math every day over the summer so they don’t lose their progress. But that’s the only “school” we’re doing over the summer. They both read like fiends, so that will happen even if I don’t say anything about it, and we’ll have access to a library, so they’ll be in heaven.)

 

 

 

 

Books I read this week: May weeks 2-3

I haven’t been reading a lot the last couple of weeks because I’ve been neck deep in getting school sorted out for next year- getting curriculum plans created and printed out and worksheets printed… let’s just say I’m using a lot of printer ink and leave it at that. But I have read a couple of books, so here goes.

Scandal: A Manualby George Rush and Joanna Molloy is the memoir of married gossip columnists. They’ve worked in gossip for the last 15 years, and have seen it transform from gossip columns in newspapers, that had to be meticulously fact checked to the 24 hour rush to get new content on the web that exists now. There’s some really interesting anecdotes here, about stories they broke, stories they buried (usually in the interest of someone’s kids), stories that got snagged from under them. They have interesting and informed opinions on gossip bloggers like Perez Hilton, and reading the book made me more appreciative of gossip bloggers who THINK and make social commentary, like Lainey at Laineygossip.com.

But we were, in our way, enforcers of old-fashioned decency. Gossip columns- and tabliods in general- are built on upholding threatened values, like fidelity and transparency.

The Serpent of Veniceby Christopher Moore is a joy. It’s a follow up to his novel Fool, which is the story of King Lear from the fool Pocket’s perspective. In this one, Pocket has been sent to Venice to speak against the crusades, and there he stumbles and tumbles around the plots of Othello, Merchant of Venice, and The Cask of Amontillado. And there may be a sea serpent. I adore Moore’s books, but I most enjoy them when he’s playing with established stories or histories (Fool, Sacre Bleu), because it’s just so fun to see how he ties all of the story points together. It’s like watching someone juggling chainsaws that are on fire. Sometimes you just have to gasp and clap. (I have literally done that reading his books.)  He is also one of the absolute best at creative cursing, which I know will take this book off the table for some people, but it’s something I highly appreciate. Most of the time, cursing is a lazy way out, but he makes an art of it. Here are some of my favorites pieces, without cursing.

 ‘A strumpet is not a musical instrument, my Lord.’

‘Salting the earth of all decorum, are we then?’

‘If words were wealth,’ sighed the Moor. ‘A king among kings you would be, but now you are only small, damp, and loud. ‘

‘You–you–you–you–’  ‘Run along, love, it appears that Papa’s been stricken with an apoplexy of the second person.’

 

Bellweather Rhapsodyby Kate Racculia is magnificent. I was drawn to it when the synopsis said it had elements of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee, and while those kinds of sum ups can be misleading, this one was pretty much on the money. It’s one of those books that could have gone horribly wrong- it could have skewed twee (two of the characters are twins named Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker), or corny (the plot revolves around a hotel where a bride shoots her husband and then hangs herself on their wedding day, and then 15 years later, during a statewide band/choral conference a young girl hangs herself in the same room and then the body disappears. Alice and the woman who was a young girl at the time of the first deaths and who has returned to exorcise her demons are the only people who believe something happened and band together to solve it), but every piece goes together to go incredibly, gorgeously right.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but it was not what I got.  Each time I thought I had a handle on what was going on and where the book was going it threw a curve at me and went down a different hallway- again and again, taking the story to a deeper and deeper psychological and emotional place. Every twist, every “OH! THAT’S what’s really going on!” moment (and there was at least one “OH, CRAP! NO!” moment) felt entirely earned and established.

The book is an insightful meditation on the impact of music; the descriptions of people experiencing music- listening to it and playing it- are dead on and some of the best I’ve ever read. It is a devastating look at the aftermath of violence, on those who perpetrate it as well as those who witness it. And it’s an accurate and piercing expression of the different places our dreams take us and how we construct our identities.

The setting of the Bellwater Hotel is stunning- I get incredibly inspired by old buildings, and I could vividly see this one as I read. The characters are distinct and sometimes uncomfortably clear, there is no fudging around the sharp edges of what life has done to some of them. One of the characters is downright terrifying without becoming a caricature, which is exactly what she has to be for the book to work.

It’s hands down one of the best books I’ve read all year.

 They aren’t picked on, as far as Natalie can tell, but they aren’t exactly the king and queen of the prom, and if they didn’t have each other, she suspects they’d be horribly lonely. Natalie remembers too well how it feels to be talented and seventeen.

He worshiped and found peace, at the age of seventeen, the only way he knew how; in the temple of Beethoven and Debussey, of David Bowie and Led Zepplin. They filled his secret heart and made it less afraid.

Alice wonders if anyone has ever tended to Jill, in any way, and if her intelligent ferocity is what happens when a girl has to teach herself how to be human.

I’m still reading The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (and will be into eternity), and just finished a story that completely gutted me. You know when you read something that so utterly reflects a part of you that you want to deny, and reading about it makes you feel both relieved that you’re not the only one, but also dismayed to see it in the light of day? That was this story. Incredibly, incredibly good.

What are you reading right now?