Archive for the ‘Reading & Recommendations’ Category

Books Are Ammo for Your Brain

August 20th, 2014 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Reading & Recommendations

Humans invented storytelling to explain things to others that they hadn’t experienced themselves. It’s a way of passing on information, but also inspiration and empathy. Eventually oral tradition evolved to writing. Which means, since the invention of writing, we read to understand what is different from our own experience. Reading has the power to make us feel and understand people who are radically different than we are–to encounter their stories as practically our own. When this happens, I believe it’s much, much harder to see these folks as very different from ourselves. Which makes it a lot harder to judge, or hate, or commit violence against them.

Reading can be an excellent escape into blissful ignorance (and sometimes that is necessary), but it is, at its best, an extremely powerful weapons against ignorance.

Here are a few books that have helped me understand and empathize with folks walking a very different path from mine. I’d love to hear yours.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers,  Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, Born Confused by Tajuna Desai Hidier, Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini, The Color Purple Alice Walker



My Trouble With Lists

December 4th, 2013 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Reading & Recommendations

It’s the time of year for lists. Wish lists, of course but also Best Of lists. Specifically, best BOOKS OF lists. Goodreads Choice Awards. Huffington Post Best Books of 2013. Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013. Barnes & Noble Best Books of 2013. And those lists will go on and on, as we start counting down toward ALA in January, when the medals and awards are handed out.

To be honest–I never know what to make of these lists. Meaning, I don’t know if, as a reader, I can trust them 100%. Who makes these lists, after all? Do they really include the best books, or just the ones that were most visible? Who gets to decide? If a book shows up on multiple lists, does that mean it really is that good, or does it just mean it got sent out to all the right people? Does “best” mean “most beloved by the masses,” or “most well-written”? Because, in my opinion, there is often a really big difference.

Not that I completely discount these lists, either. (Anything that has George Saunders’ Tenth of December on it for 2013 I will trust, because that book is literary genius boiled down to its purest, sparkliest form.) It’s just that the past has made me a little skeptical. (And I’m not just talking about the year “Slumdog Millionaire” won a thousand Oscars.) For example, I have a friend who, every December, polls other people for the most essential album of the year. As someone who usually just listens to compilations made by her friends, and who buys perhaps two new albums a year, I am woefully behind on what’s being released, so when the poll comes around, I usually offer up something pathetic like, “Well I heard this really nice girl named Mozella on NPR . . .” Every once in awhile, I’ll find something new that really grabs me, and feels ESSENTIAL. I’ll get excited about having something to submit to the poll. And then I’ll find out it came out in 2009.

There are lots of other people who participate in this list, however, and they have their fingers on the music pulse. When first invited to participate, I was thrilled, not just to be involved, but because I thought, “Now here‘s a group that will help me find really interesting new music.” Which was, in a way, true. I did discover a lot of new things, thanks to this poll. After a couple of years, however, (because I was paying more attention, thanks to this poll), I started feeling as though 80% of the winners list reflected what I’d already seen at the Virgin Megastore’s (back when there was a Virgin Megastore) Top Indie Picks, or Rolling Stone’s Alternative Best of the Year. Rather than being a list injected with unique personality and distinction, this felt, largely, fueled by marketing. And it’s when I started to get suspicious.

Not that all lists are the same, of course. There are several out there that will lead you to the unexpected (and, I think, high-quality, though I haven’t read near enough books on them to tell). Flavorwire’s 50 Books that Define The Past 5 Years in Literature has made me curious, due both to the number of books I’ve never heard of on it, plus the ones I have, and  Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2013 list has got some uncommonly good gems, even if there are also several of the predictables there. PW’s list is intriguing, to me, and the Children’s Book Council 2014 Teen Choice Book of the Year nominee list has some surprising inclusions too.

I’m not trying to say that reading what everyone else is reading is a bad thing, either. There’s something wonderful about participating in a community of readers, all talking about a book they love. (It’s why I lead two book clubs, and am a member of two others. It’s part of what makes my job at Little Shop of Stories so great.) It’s just that I wonder, sometimes, if we all really love these books, or if what we love is being in a group of people saying we love it? And if we’re all reading the same things, all the time, and those things are the ones mainly put in front of us thanks to good marketing (read: corporations) . . . well, that’s what starts to give me the heebejeebies.

Perhaps what I need among all these BEST OF lists is the “Hey I Read This and Thought it was Amazing,  and You Will Probably Not Come Across it Another Way so Here You Go” lists. The underdog list. The What-You’d-Find-Randomly-Grabbing-in-A-Used-Bookstore list. Which is why I’m grateful for Slate, and their “Overlooked and Underrated Books of 2013” list. Not all of them may be THE BEST, but at least they’ll help round out my library.

Of course, I know as well as you know, that all these lists are primarily like pirate code: a guide. They are other people’s opinions. Sometimes lots and lots of other people’s opinions, but still, just that.

And the only true way to decide what’s the best and what isn’t is, of course, to read and think for yourself.


The Importance of Sharing a Story

March 10th, 2011 by Terra | 1 Comment | Filed in News, Reading & Recommendations

I have been thinking a lot about reading and writing this week, after news that both Reading is Fundamental and the National Writing Project have recently fallen victim to slashes in government spending. Which is why I was really honored when my friend (and awesome illustrator, and fabulous literacy advocate) Elizabeth Dulemba asked me to participate in the “Share a Story, Shape a Future” campaign.

Elizabeth’s theme for this campaign is “How I Fell In Love with Reading,” which is an easy thing for *me* to talk about, because me and books? We were love at first sight.

Now, I know that normally these “love at first sight” romances don’t last for very long. They may be deep and passionate at first, but once you get down to the nitty gritty day-to-day stuff (like folding each other’s laundry and picking up [insert embarrassing drug store purchase here] for one another), sometimes the glow can fade.

But not me and reading. Or writing for that matter. No, we’ve had a long, in-depth relationship that has spanned three decades now, and doesn’t seem to be cooling down.

How did it start? It may have been when, on the day I came home from the hospital, my father sat down and read a book with me. Or possibly when my mom entertained my infant self by reading aloud, sometimes even the junk mail. I’m not sure exactly when my baby eyes managed to focus enough to understand what was going on, but by the age of 4 I had already been exposed to enough great books to want to tell my own stories. So I’d dictate them to my mom, who would type them into her typewriter. By kindergarten I was a four-books-under-the-pillow-at-naptime champ, and reading together before bedtime was a family Have To.

Over the last many years, my relationship with reading and writing has followed all kinds of amazing and unpredictable paths. It has brought me enormous joy, incredible frustration, and all the other intense feelings you would possibly want to have in life. Reading has been my most faithful, inspiring, exciting, fulfilling, educational, (and, yes, sometimes romantic) partner. (Which is no slight to my husband, but, I mean, he and I have only been together for five years.)

But I was lucky. I got introduced to reading when I was really little. I’ve had my entire life to develop and explore my relationship with it, which is why it’s grown to such richness. And which is why the news about NWP and RIF saddens me greatly; I think about all the kids who might not even get introduced to books, and I want to do something.

Because sometimes falling in all-consuming, life-changing love is as simple as being in the right place at the right time, right?