Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reading Now...

Zuzu and I just wrapped up Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, and I think that our next chapter book is going to be Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, though I'm also considering A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I think Zuzu felt the same kinship to Ramona that I felt as a kid, and I hope she rereads the Ramona books as often as I did.

Recently, she has been into reading some of our kids poetry books. Most of them are collections from various authors, but one of her favorite poems is an excerpt from The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash.

Something that drives me crazy about kids books is when they are written to rhyme but the poetry is bad or off meter and painful to read. Ogden Nash's poetry is fantastic--he uses some made up words ("realio, trulio" and forces some funny rhymes "gyrate" rhymes with "pirate" in one poem), but it's always fun to read out loud. We liked Isabel so much that I ordered the full book (used, as it seems to be out of print) and did the same with another Ogden Nash book, The Tale of Custard the Dragon. I think Zuzu finds the poems so satisfying because they are not the Disney-fication of adventure. Isabel cuts off the head of a giant and Custard eats an entire pirate, head to wooden leg. It's a violent form of justice, but so is most preschoolers' vision of justice, right?

I recently finished listening to the audiobook The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. It's historical fiction about Edith Wharton, and I found it fascinating. I've taught Age of Innocence by Wharton before, but I haven't read much else that she's written (aside from Ethan Frome) and this book has me eager to read The House of Mirth, so that's on my list for the summer. Before that, though, I'm reading a nonfictional biography of Wharton, so currently I'm about a hundred pages into No Gifts from Chance by Wharton scholar Shari Benstock (published in 1994). One thing that's interesting to me is that The Age of Desire focuses heavily on the relationship between Edith Wharton and the woman who served as her governess when she was young and later as her secretary and travel companion, Anna Bahlmann. The biography (so far) has not suggested that Anna Bahlmann had a significant influence on Wharton, so I was curious about why Fields would expand/invent that relationship so much. It turns out that she just felt since Anna was part of Wharton's life for so long, Fields just felt certain they must have had a more important relationship than biographers had suggested. While she was writing The Age of Desire (published in 2012), a collection of letters written from Edith to Anna was discovered, and Fields contacted the scholar editing them for publication and was able to read them and use them to help confirm what she had suspected about their lifelong friendship. (Hmmm... maybe I need to add that published collection of letters to my Edith Wharton summer reading list.)

I'm also reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. I'd heard about this book a few years ago--it explores the hyped up femininity of girly-girl pink princess culture--but it recently came back into focus for me when I heard a bit of an NPR interview with Orenstein about her new book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. (Oh, how that book could have changed Edith Wharton's life!) Girls & Sex is on my to-read list as well, but given that we are smack dab in the middle of princess mania around here, Cinderella Ate My Daughter felt like required reading for this summer.

My book club has decided on Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a local St. Louis writer) for the July meeting, and I'm super stoked about that. Additionally, I plan to read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (it was a book club pick before I joined, and was highly recommended by those who read it).

I am also looking forward to reading The After Party by Anton Disclafani. I need to get up to Subterranean Books and see if I can still pick up a signed copy. I really wanted to see Anton when she was in St. Louis on her book release tour last week, but had a conflict I couldn't reschedule. Anton was in the MFA program at Wash U when I was in the PhD program, so we were acquainted there. Although we did not know each other well, she reached out to me after Eliza died and sent me multiple notes and cards in the first couple of years, remembering Eliza on her birthday and extending her sympathy. I can't express how touched I was by that kindness, and even if I hadn't been completely taken in by The Yonahlossee Riding Club for Girls (though I was), I'd still buy everything she ever writes because I think she's a fantastic person as well as a compelling writer.

I'm also going to check out Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet. She's Stephen King's daughter-in-law and evidently writes some pretty creepy thrillers (I imagine them all discussing them around the dinner table and wish that I'd be invited over). Weirdly, I've never read a lot of Stephen King. I can remember in middle school one of my friends was reading It and I thought the clown on the cover was SO SCARY looking and I was curious about it (but also scared!) and my English teacher told me there are enough other good books in the world that I didn't need to be reading Stephen King right now. My parents had a few Stephen King paperbacks on the upstairs bookcase, but I remember my mom telling me that my dad was freaked out after reading Pet Cemetery, and I think that I decided any book that scared my dad was going to be WAY too scary for me. I do really like Stephen King's book On Writing, and after hearing a brief interview with his son on NPR this morning (not the one married to Kelly Braffet), I'm curious to read more of the whole family.

My tolerance for scary stuff varies these days--I liked In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, which is definitely a thriller, but I couldn't get through Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (whose other books I've enjoyed) because the premise is a woman (well, first a baby and a little girl) dying and coming back in other lives. So context is crucial for me! (Basically: all children and any animals to whom I get emotionally attached need to to remain alive, and right now World War II trauma is off the table). Josie and Jack appears to be a creepy, incestuous thriller (which makes me think of Flowers in the Attic, which I read while babysitting one summer and was so horrified and enthralled, I basically let the kid do whatever he wanted to I could get through the book (hmmm... Note that babysitting style becomes parenting style...).

My other literary read on order is Lady Susan by Jane Austen. It's the unfinished novel on which the new movie Love and Friendship is based. I can't wait to see the movie (it's babysitter worthy as far as I'm concerned!).

As I think about this reading list, I'm trying to imagine how much reading I'll get done while away from home. We are doing a fair amount of traveling this summer--at least the girls and I are (yay for the academic schedule!). We'll spend a week at my parents', a little over a week in California visiting friends and family, and another week in Branson near Table Rock Lake with my parents. Vacations with the girls definitely limit the amount of reading I get done, but I'm trying to plan what books to take and how to pack them. I had an ancient Kindle (it's more than five years old and it was the kind with the screen that doesn't glow) but it doesn't work or hold a charge anymore. I could use the kindle app on my phone, which allows me to check out electronic texts through the library (both audio and e-books) but my phone is not one with a huge screen. Or I could just take the actual books like the old-school person I really am...

I actually have nothing against reading on an electronic device, but for me personally, my recall and memory of a text is SO MUCH better if I read it on paper. It's like the process of holding the book and seeing the specific font just helps me remember the plot and characters and everything. Often, when I think back about specific moments in the text, or particular passages that were moving, I picture exactly where they were on the page and how many pages into the book. The books I read on a screen all blur together. On the other hand, audio books stand out because the different voices reading them make them memorable. Is that weird? I feel like it must be that way for everyone, but maybe it's just me.

(Speaking of which, I never got through Year of Wonders, though I thought it was well-written and interesting, because of the unease I felt knowing that the book was building up to the point where her sons die of the plague, and because the voice of the actor narrating it kind of grated on me.)

Any recommended reading for the summer that I should add to my list? Anyone else feeling conflicted about Princess culture? (I say this as I plan a Frozen themed birthday party...) Anyone else think it's normal to pack a few paperbacks in one's suitcase instead of downloading them to a screen?


  1. Definitely not weird to pack some paperbacks - says the lady who has never read an eBook. And I agree about the audio book voices - the other day I was thinking about the book Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and I realized I was hearing the narrator's voice while thinking about certain events. I'm positive I retained more details because of his voice.

    Great post with great suggestions. But I could read book-ish posts all day long.

  2. Just finished Eligible! I have actually never read Austen though I remember when trying to come up with a name for Bowie, you saying that any of the Bennett sisters would work! It was a bit hard for me to read "Lydia" on so many pages and in general I am more of a nonfiction fan but it was a fun read.

    Also I have a Nook and never use it. I am sure the kindle is better than the Nook while is the least user friendly technology ever but I really do also enjoy holding a physical book. Even though it makes packing a pain in the ass.

    I read Cinderlla Ate my Daughter long ago but thought it was good!

    1. I've been listening to Everything I Never Told You. Don't read it. The daughter's name is Lydia and the book is sad. Avoid!!!

  3. I am currently reading A Little Princess with my daughter. It's not going great. The language is old fashioned. I read a page and then have to translate it, so it's taking us a while. My daughter hates to read (which offends me) and I'm really trying to turn that around by reading with her. You know, showing her how much I love to read and pointing out especially magical parts in especially magical books. Not sure if this one is doing it, even though it's gorgeous. I hope you'll let us know how it goes for you.
    Personally, I am VERY against words on a screen. I don't know how anyone can read a book that way. Or why they would want to. It's more convenient but does that really matter when you give up EVERYTHING else? ;)

  4. I love the concreteness, I think, of a book, vs the screen. I haven't read many books on screens, but Lord knows I have no problem remembering and differentiating between blogs, so maybe I'd remember books on screen OK? I have a girlfriend who says there have been studies done showing that the flickering screen - flickering so many times per minute you can't even see it - disrupts our memories and recall? But I haven't seen those studies, soooo... Idk. Now I'm curious to read a fictional book on screen and see if I recall it less effectively then blogs or news stories. Like, would the knowledge that I was reading fiction affect how I filed it away, when clearly reading blogs sticks? Am I even making sense at this point?

    Anyway. I'm just thrilled you came out with more books you're reading! I'm reading the book about habits - opener vs finisher, etc - and loving it. I'm also slowly working my way through my library's Margaret Atwood collection. Just finished two of her short story collections, and loved them.

    I read a lot of Stephen King in my late teens / early twenties. The Stand is still one of my favorites. IT is truly terrifying. Pet Sematary is not just scary, but small children die. :'( I really enjoyed his Four Seasons (I think) collection of novellas. The stories that the movies Stand By Me and I think Shawshank Redemption were both in there. Kind of light horror, but not weak in terms of writing or story telling.

    My 13 year old son just finished Lord of the Flies. Mind blown. And we've been watching Lost. The way things tie in, including Sawyer saying, ".. It's Lord of the Flies...!" has been freaking brilliant in nailing home the value of classic literature and relating to the wider world. We're on a book of his choice / book of my choice rotation right now. He's just starting Watership Down. Can't wait to talk about that one with him. My 15 year old daughter is reading through Jane Austen, and loving it, hallelujah. I hadn't heard about the new movie - now I'm so excited!!

    OK. Sorry. Your book posts never disappoint!!

  5. There are some studies now that show recall really is better with physical books because of having that physical map of the book. I occasionally get into using my Kindle for the convenience, but I always end up returning to physical books.

    I just finished "The Lowland," and I could not put it down. Such a haunting book. If you're a Jhumpa Lahiri fan, I highly recommend it.

    As for the princess culture, I was always careful to stir clear of girly stuff. This worked for a while. When Eleanor was in preschool, she liked to play with dolls, trains, and dinosaurs. She did go through a princess phase for about a year when "Frozen" came out. That seems to have waned, and now she is interested in science and reads any book she can get her hands on. In general, I find that my friends who spend a lot of time on hair and makeup tend to have daughters who are more into that stuff. I think kids will go through phases regardless of how you raise them, but they model a lot of our behaviors.

  6. Do you think that Zuzu is enthralled with princess stuff because of her personality? Or do you think it would be different if she had an older brother? When did her interest in that form? Mary definitely has gender stereotype moments (she loves her dolls and mothers then and Finn never did), but doesn't seem to care for princess stuff and I wonder if it's because she's just not really exposed to it or too young, or just doesn't really care.

    Anywhoo. . . .I'm starting the Divergent series finally. I would love to listen to some books, but Finn reminds me all the time "I don't like the talking!"

    1. I don't think my kids know that the radio in the car plays more than "talking"--it's always NPR or books. I only put music on at home.

      Divergent series was ok, but not as good as Hunger Games.

  7. I'm saving this post to read this weekend, too much good stuff.

    Just finishing up your friend's book, Race, Place, and Suburban Policing - light stuff for nighttime reading! Thanks for the introduction tho.

    Princess stuff, hmmm. That's a tricky one. F loved Frozen for a bit, but she's over it. It was a quick phase, E had no princess interest, but mostly because we just didn't have the stuff, and she barely ever watched TV or movies. F watches more now than E, but she'll take pirates or super heros over princesses. She's into dressing in suits and ties these days!

    And I'm really reluctant to go to Disney World, which makes me a Scrooge parent. Harry Potter world looks fun, but I think we'll save our pennies for a trip to London. My friend went to the HP set / park there and loved it. I could dig that for sure.

    Your frozen party will be fun, I doubt it will permanently damage her!!! ;) she'll be less likely to go to therapy over it - F asked me for a frozen party and I made a her a sno-cone party. She caught on, but I'm a stubborn one!

  8. I've actually been on an e-book run for the simple reasons that I won't incur any late fees because it automatically returns at the end of the checkout period AND I don't have the weight and bulk of it when traveling (backpack too full of kid stuff) AND the only time I seem to be able to read is when napping with a child in bed or holding a napping child. Much, much easier to swipe a finger along a screen that's propped on my leg or the chair's arm than hold a book and try to turn the page.
    But I prefer a real book with pages. If I had my druthers. Right now, convenience seems to be the only way I get to read anything.
    As I was reading this post eventually all I could think was WHEN does she have the time and energy to read all this stuff?!? So many of them pique my interest. Will add them to a list and hope I get to even one or two this year.
    That said, I have been trying to get through Dying To Be Me by Anita Moorjani. Might even have to buy it.
    Thanks for keeping the posts coming - always love to read them.

  9. I love hearing about what other people are reading, and your book-related posts never disappoint. :) I adore my paper books -- case in point: I managed to squeeze three full-sized and one smaller sized IKEA bookcases into our new condo, and they are full to overflowing (plus two Rubbermaid bins full of more books that I have no idea what to do with). And that's AFTER getting rid of cartons & cartons full of books, too. I have a Kobo ereader, and it's great for travel (particularly given airline baggage weight restrictions) or commuting or tucking into my purse for when I'm waiting for appointments. But it's not the same. ;) "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" has long been in my to-read pile. Right now I am reading "All the Single Ladies" by Rebecca Traister, which is fascinating stuff. I'm almost done & debating what I should read next. I certainly don't lack for choices...! ;)

  10. I don't normally comment here, but I wanted to tell you that I love your blog. Your book recommendations are awesome. When your girls get older, you might consider starting a Mother Daughter book club. We started one when my daughter was in second grade. Its really been awesome to watch these girls mature and the discussions are always so awesome. We have a blog that I try to keep updated with each monthly meeting. (you might recognize the background. LOL).

  11. I'm a huge Austen fan and I thought Eligible was fantastic. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. I'm on a bit of a Austen re-imagined kick right now and am enjoying a new version of Sense & Sensibility.

    Are you an Anna Quindlen fan? I really enjoyed Miller's Valley. And My Name is Lucy Barton was so good.

  12. Listening to BJ Novak's One More Thing that I got at the library and love it! It's a great commute listen. Short stories, very funny. I also just added the princess book to my library queue! Very intrigued to read it, thanks!