Politics and Woe; Ardor and Action

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At the March for Justice in Ventura, CA. Photo by Jenni Buchanan

These next few years will be an opportunity for some of us to rise up and become leaders, revolutionaries, and heroes.

I’m an optimist and a dreamer, the kind who puts presents under the tree in Santa’s name for my kids, but still somewhere deep down believes that this magical symbol of goodwill and charity actually exists out there. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that up until the very last minute, I truly believed something would happen to prevent the inauguration last Friday.

It didn’t. And now the hard work of learning to live in this new and inconceivable reality begins.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it’s better to say that now the hard work of changing this new and inconceivable reality begins.

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24 Hours of Reading! Dewey’s #Readathon

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5am

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon officially begins, and I am still sleeping. My plans to get up early were derailed by one of my kids keeping me up talking until 12:30 last night. No matter. I’ll stay up longer at the end of day.

7:30am

The Readathon finally begins for me! I start with an audiobook of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk as I get dressed, make coffee, drive one kid to her volunteer location, and grocery shop for readerly snacks and beverages. I’ve had this book on my TBR list for a while and I am not let down. The first 3 chapters are moving and beautiful. I tear up when she talks about her dad and laugh out loud when she remembers secretly praying the the Egyptian god Horus because he has the head of a hawk. Delightful.

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Writing Down the Moon: Journal Prompts for the (August) Corn Moon

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About the Corn Moon

New Moon: Aug 2
First Quarter: Aug 10
Full Moon: Aug 18
Third Quarter: Aug 25
Dark Moon: Aug 31

Sun Sign: Leo

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I’ve heard it said that those born under the sun sign Leo are Drama Kings/Queens, but having a Leo child has taught me that it’s not so much about drama as it is about ENTHUSIASM; enthusiasm paired with extreme sociability. Leo energy is strong and vital, it’s full of optimism and excitement, and the desire to reach out and share this wonderful life-force with others.

This is the kind of high-energy you can expect from the August Corn Moon. Don’t fight it, take advantage of it. Take advantage of the momentum of the moon to get started on that project you’ve been thinking about. Invite some friends over for a get-together, say yes to the social invitations you receive this month. You may be yearning to make connections… Go out and do it! Just be careful not to exhaust yourself.

During this moon cycle the energy of the earth is that of fullness and completion. The grain crops are mature and almost ready for harvest. In agrarian cultures this is the beginning of the harvest season. It is a time of gratitude and reward for the hard labor put in during the spring and early summer.

This is a good time to: Be social, make contracts, interact with others in any setting, trust your wisdom and make decisions with confidence.

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2016 Challenge: 40 New Places In My 40th Year

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“I dwell in possibility…” -Emily Dickinson

Less than a week ago I turned 40. I have some mixed feelings about this. If you ask me how old I am my brain starts at 26 and I have to wind my way up through numbers until I reach the right one. I’m always a bit surprised how high it’s gotten. On the other hand, 4 is my lucky number, so I can only predict my 40s will be amazing. (Especially 44–watch out!)

The big question I had going into this birthday was how to properly celebrate this milestone year and kick off the new decade in the manner it deserved. Fast cars and hot young men (typical midlife crisis reactions) just aren’t my style. So I did some soul-searching about exactly what I wanted to bring into my life.

I think as we get older we tend to feel like we’ve seen almost everything. We start to feel that the world is a known entity. No longer is there a new adventure waiting for us at the beginning of every day. We have our routine, we fall into a rut, and we tell ourselves we like it, that it’s security.

What I want for my 40th year is to bring discovery and wonder to my life. I want to go outside of my known world, and feel once again that something new and exciting might be waiting around every corner! As Emily Dickinson put it best, I want to “dwell in possibility.” Not just metaphorically, but literally.

To that end, I gave myself the challenge of visiting 40 new places during my 40th year. These new places could be as extreme as going to a new state or (should I win the lottery) a new country, or as simple as eating exotic food at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. The only rule is that these new places should have the possibility for discovery and wonder. A new hamburger joint doesn’t count, an authentic Ethiopian restaurant does.

I’ve already started making a list of potential places, but I’m hoping many will crop up (in true “dwell in possibility” fashion) spur of the moment. Books, nature, and food have always been the first things to make me feel young and filled with wonder, so I hope to go on a good number of those types of adventures throughout the year.

40 new places in 52 weeks. I’ll be back to tell you all about it!

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History In Her Words: A Year of Reading Women’s Voices

 

 

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It’s September, time again for a new year of reading for my Rediscovering the Classics book group! Our theme this year is History In Her Words: Women’s Voices, and we have a great syllabus. We take a journey back in time and look at some of the major events and eras of history through women’s eyes and writing. The books are in chronological order taking us from Ancient Greece to the modern era, and with stories from all over the world. We dip into drama, memoir, non-fiction, and novels. (Note: The very first book, the play Medea by Euripides, is not by a woman, but it does tell a very compelling woman’s story, so I included it as our BCE selection.)

Happy Reading!

A Divider

History In Her Words: Women’s Voices
Rediscovering the Classics, 2015-2016

September 25: Medea by Euripides (dramatic play, 431 BCE)

October 9 and 23: Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman (non-fiction history, p. 2004, covers middle ages through modern era)

November 6 and 20: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill (fiction, p. 1854)

December 4: Beloved by Toni Morrison (fiction, p. 1987, covers civil war era and after)

December 18: *Holiday Party and Book Exchange!* Bring food & a gently used book to exchange. To Discuss: Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman, “The Joy of Sesquipedalians,” “Never Do That to a Book,” “Words on a Flyleaf,” “My Ancestral Castles,” “Secondhand Prose” (essays, p. 1998)

January 8: Little Women, Part 1 by Louisa May Alcott (fiction, p. 1868)

January 22: Little Women, Part 2, “Good Wives”  by Louisa May Alcott (fiction, p. 1869)

February 12 and 26: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (fiction, p. 1982, covers 1910 to 1970s)

March 11 and 25: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (fiction, p. 1989, covers WWII to 1980s)

April 8 and 22: Résistance, A Woman’s Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France by Agnès Humbert (memoir, p. 1946, 2004)

May 13: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel memoir, p. 2001, translation 2003, covers 1980 to 1994)

May 27: Persepolis, ALSO Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (memoir, p. 2003)

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“A word after a word after a word is power.” -Margaret Atwood

The Perfect Summer Reading: Long-Form Journalism!

PrintedWordLivesEvery summer my Rediscovering the Classics book group chooses something off-the-beaten path to relax with for our summer session. One summer we read poetry, another summer it was short stories, and this summer we’ve chosen something that may be the most exciting yet: long-form journalism!

I spent the weekend doing research into some of the history of long-form journalism (also sometimes known as immersive, literary, or “slow” journalism) and from the very first I was hooked. This syllabus promises a fun summer of learning new things, becoming more acquainted with the world, listening to writers talk about their work (thank you Longform Podcast!), and most of all–reading great writing!

Below is our “syllabus” for the summer. I hope all my readers out there will give long-form journalism a try this summer. Read by yourself, follow along with us, and join the conversation in the comments, or over at the Rediscovering the Classics Facebook page.

Happy Reading!

A Divider

Rediscovering the Classics Summer 2015 Syllabus
Long-form Journalism

To Start With – A History of Longform Journalism: http://bit.ly/1MzW3ZY

June 12
Arts and Entertainment – The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie. On the trail of two women who changed American music, then vanished by John Jeremiah Sullivan: http://nyti.ms/1T5M8Q8

Celebrity Profile – Pearl Jam: Five Against the World by Cameron Crowe: http://rol.st/1FK1i3s
(Songs- Rearviewmirror: https://youtu.be/U6lCVgE6xnM, Black: https://youtu.be/cs-XZ_dN4Hc
Further Listening/Watching: How Pearl Jam Stayed Alive, Cameron Crowe & Kelly Curtis interviewed on NPR: http://n.pr/1KP8KyX; Pearl Jam 20 Documentary–not free, sorry: http://amzn.to/1KP8TSW)

June 26

Investigative Journalism – Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly: http://bit.ly/1KjltM9
(Further Reading – Nellie Bly short biography: http://bit.ly/1HVHrjo)
(Ten Days in a Madhouse movie trailer/website: http://www.10daysinamadhouse.com)

Investigative Journalism – The Apostate (Scientology Expose) by Lawrence Wright: http://nyr.kr/1KVAPHL
(Further Listening – Lawrence Wright Longform Podcast: http://bit.ly/1dpL3lD)

July 10

Business – The Price of Nice Nails by Sarah Maslin Nir: http://nyti.ms/1IwgYhN
(Further Listening Sarah Maslin Nir Longform Podcast: http://bit.ly/1Iwh6On)
(Further Reading: Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers: http://nyti.ms/1BTcxWA)

Culture – The Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck: http://bit.ly/1MzVYpd

July 24

Culture & Sociology – Monkey Day Care by Michelle Dean: http://bit.ly/1MzXyat

Crime – A Very Dangerous Boy by Amy Wallace: http://gqm.ag/1AZy0lK
(Further Listening – Amy Wallace Longform Podcast: http://bit.ly/1eXl06s)

August 14

Sports – Heroes for Sale by Brin-Jonathan Butler: http://bit.ly/1FDxk1Y
(Further Listening – Brin-Jonathan Butler Longform Podcast: http://bit.ly/1InYXiV)
(Further Watching – The Greatest Fight There Never Was documentary film (14 minutes): http://bit.ly/1Hgnp7c)

Science & Technology – The Body Electric by Ferris Jabr: http://bit.ly/1HgnzeQ

August 28

Culture and Sociology – Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Crime – Is It A Crime Now To Be Poor? by Barbara Ehrenreich: http://nyti.ms/1FDPjWi
(Further Watching – Bill Moyers interviews Barbara Ehrenreich: http://to.pbs.org/1IoNfEP)

Politics – Let’s Be Real by Wesley Morris: http://bit.ly/1AZWgEa
(Further Listening – Wesley Morris Longform Podcast: http://bit.ly/1dXcFzo)
(Further Watching – Let’s Be Cops movie trailer: https://youtu.be/ExciLtpHp74)

Book Review: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency

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The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

In a Nutshell

A deductive genius lacking empathy or social skills and a loyal, intuitive confidant team up to solve crimes in early 19th century London. Sound familiar? It’s a Sherlock/Watson style adventure with a historical, girl-power twist!

The Whole Enchilada

When 11 year old Ada and 14 year old Mary (historical figures Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley) are thrown together to share a tutor (Percy Bysshe Shelley) they could hardly be more different, but they soon learn that they share a curiosity about the world and a love of knowledge that binds them together as fast friends… and eventually as co-conspirators! Bored with the constraints of being female in the early 1800s, they decide to open a secret detective agency, where their curiosity and bravery get them into more than a few scrapes–which their intelligence and complimentary differences may or may not be enough to get them out of!

As a lover of history, literature, and strong female characters I was immediately drawn to the premise of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, but once I started reading it was Jordan Stratford’s writing and characters that made me love this book. Stratford doesn’t pander to his young audience, instead he challenges them with historically relevant ideas and language–not so much that a young reader would be frustrated, but enough to make a reader stretch her mind and stray a little bit out of her comfort zone. After finishing this book I couldn’t wait to give it to my own 10 year old daughter to read.

Since she started reading it, my daughter hasn’t been able to put it down. She loves Ada and Mary because they’re adventurous and smart. She says, “Ada is my favorite because she’s not totally likable, she’s kind of rude, but she doesn’t mean to be. I like that I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that Ada and Mary talk about things I’ve never heard of and do things I don’t expect.”

There has been a lot of talk recently about the dearth of strong female characters in literature and the media, and what that may have to do with the lack of women in STEM careers. No single book is going to fix this; but young Ada and Mary, along with their friends and cohorts, are an excellent beginning. Furthermore, there are a number of excellent “extras” available on the website, http://www.wollstonecraftagency.com, including games, educational materials, and an upcoming short story about Mary and Ada. I highly recommend this book not just for young girls, but for young readers of any gender who are adventurous and curious about the world around them.

I was lucky enough to interview the author of this fantastic series, Jordan Stratford, in my capacity as the Reading Rainbow Mom. We talked about his inspiration for the series, getting feedback from his own 9 year old daughter, and his feelings about the amazing Kickstarter campaign that made the series possible. Click here to read the interview on the Reading Rainbow Blog.

From Page to Screen: A Review of The Giver Movie

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I’ve found that there’s a trick to seeing film adaptations of favorite books: 1 part nostalgic love, 3 parts willful ignorance. That’s how I went into the new movie adaptation of The Giver, one of my favorite books from childhood.

Anyone who chose to take on adapting The Giver for the big screen was going to have a tough road ahead of them. First of all, this book is beloved. Second, the reason it is beloved is because it is a nearly perfect gem of a book. The language is plain but beautiful, and utterly appropriate. The story is concise, but lovingly told. There are no slow parts, no boring parts, no extraneous parts. Every detail included is necessary, and every necessary detail is included.

That being said, let me get something out there right now–the movie is not the book. In fact, it departs significantly from the book. In the movie Jonas is far more angsty than he is in the book. Romance plays a more significant role. The secondary characters in the movie do things they never would have even considered in the book. Asher has a completely different assignment. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) is a more overtly menacing character, very “big brother”, which I never found to be the case when I read the book. And the biggest hurdle of all; let’s face it, these actors are nowhere near age 12.

The Giver Characters

If you go into the movie hoping for a direct page-to-screen translation of the book you will be disappointed. There’s no getting around it. If you’re a purist, avoid the movie altogether.

However, if you go in as I mentioned above, with 1 part nostalgic love for the story, and 3 parts willful ignorance, you will find this movie very enjoyable. By “willful ignorance” I mean let go of your attachment to the details. When you first read the book you had no expectations. You were probably somewhere between the ages of 9-15. Try to experience this movie as you first experienced the book–as a child on the cusp of abstract and moral philosophical thinking.

Do I think the movie is brilliant? No. But the story is solid, the themes are thought-provoking, the art direction and cinematography are stunning, and the acting is (with one or two exceptions, admittedly) well-done. Most importantly, the “translation” from book to screen is loving and reverent. It’s clear that (director) Phillip Noyce, and (writers) Michael Mitnick & Robert B. Weide wanted to do justice to the original story. A boring movie would not have done justice to the book that has served as a quickening of the super-ego for so many of us; but a boring movie is, I fear, exactly what we may have gotten out of a direct page-to-screen translation.

You may not agree with me. I believe a movie based on a book should be a translation, not a direct transfer. I like to see the producer or director’s fingerprints in the end result. I am, after all, the person whose least favorite of all the Harry Potter movies is the first, because it’s too much like the book, as if the story went straight from J.K. Rowling’s head onto the celluloid. If I wanted the book in its pure form I would read the book. The Giver movie gives me the translation–the fingerprints–I like so much.

If you don’t take my word for the quality of The Giver movie, maybe you’ll take the word of my 9 year old daughter, who saw the movie with me and who is a passionate fan of the book. She said, “I actually liked it! I didn’t think I would, I was afraid it would be bad. But I really liked it! I liked the story, and when Jonas started seeing color I felt like I was seeing color for the first time too. I think we should own this one.”

From the mouths of babes.

The Year of Women (Authors)! #ReadWomen2014

Votes for Women

2014 is the Year of Women! Well, it’s the year of the women authors, anyway. And it’s about time! Women authors dominated the “Best of 2013” lists, and from the looks of things we have plenty more to look forward to in 2014.

According to a recent article in TIME Magazine, “Women read more books than men do… the 76% of American adults who read a book in 2013 — in e-book, audio or print formats — could be broken down to 82% of women and a mere 69% of men.” In spite of this, the major media outlets still publish far more reviews of books by male authors than female authors. The Guardian reported that “New York Review of Books, for example, in 2012 16% of reviewers were women, with 22% of the books reviewed written by women. A similar investigation in the Guardian found that the UK is no better: in March 2013, 8.7% of books reviewed in the London Review of Books were by women, rising to 26.1% in the New Statesmen, and 34.1% in the Guardian.”

Well, this year that changes—We hope. It all started with Joanna Walsh, a writer and illustrator who vowed to read only women in 2014, and designed New Year’s cards (bookmarks) to go along with her vow. Walsh’s bookmarks listed women writers on the backs, which she said she hoped might inspire recipients “if not vow to read women exclusively, look up some of the writers I’ve drawn on the front or listed on the back.” Many news outlets have followed Joanna’s lead by either vowing to read/review only (or at least more) women authors this year, or by publishing their own lists of women writers to read in 2014.

Not one to be left behind, I have my own list of women authors to read. In fact, my syllabus for this year’s Rediscovering the Classics reading group focused on an exploration of genre, featuring solely women authors. Here are the books our literary group has vowed to read this year:

  • An Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • My Life in France by Julia CHild
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy
  • The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Furthermore, while I did not set out to purposefully read only women last year or this year, my list of Best Books of 2013 was all women, and my reading list thus far for 2014 has included Donna Tartt, Karen Joy Fowler, Jo Baker, Brenna Yovanoff, and Lisa O’Donnell. My TBR list includes many, many more fantastic women authors.

So how about YOU? Will you participate in the #ReadWomen2014 movement? As Daniel E. Pritchard writes in The Critical Flame, “nothing will change if people do not act morally within their sphere of control.” Do you plan to read for equality, or will you simply further the status quo? There are SO many funny, serious, adventurous, thrilling, forthright, satirical, political, etc. women authors out there, that there is absolutely no excuse for ANY person’s reading list to not be at least 50/50 men/women. No excuse, that is, except laziness or sexism.

What’s on YOUR reading list?