Politics and Woe; Ardor and Action


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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2016 Challenge: 40 New Places In My 40th Year


“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!


From Page to Screen: A Review of The Giver Movie

The Giver Book and Movie

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?

Best Books of 2013 and Books to Read in 2014

Best of 2013

Listen carefully… Do you hear that…? It’s the sound of pages turning.

I have a love/hate relationship with the “Best Of” Books lists that come out this time of year. I love that I get to see the literary year in review, but I hate that there are so many books I somehow missed during the course of the year. I love it when one or two of my personal favorites ends up on the lists, but I hate that so many of the “Best” authors are the same names we see every year… Often men, often writing about middle-aged male concerns. This year I was very pleased to see a bit of a shift away from that trend. This year I saw a lot of new authors on the “Best Of” lists, and a lot of women authors. Hooray!

Of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and share my own lists. So if you will indulge me (and please keep in mind that one or two on these lists are from 2012, but because I read them in 2013 I’m including them here)…

My “Best Of” List

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Other Notables

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

You can see where my head was for much of the year–ALL of my “Best Of” list are written by women, and more than half of my “Notables” list. Was there not much great fiction by men this year, or was I simply in a place in my life where I was more attracted to the writing of women? I’m not sure. But as you can see from the paragraphs below, I intend to do some research into the matter…

A side-effect of the “Best Books Lists” time of year is that they serve to remind me of all the great books I haven‘t gotten around to reading. Inevitably (and purposefully, I’m sure) a large portion of the “Best Books of 2013” lists become the beginning of my “TBR in 2014” list.

Bkwurm’s To Be Read in 2014 (in no particular order)*

  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle
  • Z, A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker
  • Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers
  • Drinking With Men: A Memoir by Rosie Schaap
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I’m sure there are plenty of other GREAT books from 2013 that I’ve missed. Please comment and let me know what other books I should add to my list. What were YOUR favorites of 2013? Let’s all get reading!


*If you need some ideas for your own TBR list, my list above was influenced by:

How To Spot A Book Lover

Book Lovers are dangerous people. Avid readers are like rabid creatures—we can’t see straight (usually because we have a book in front of our faces), we can’t walk straight (same reason), and we often drool or foam at the mouth (when a Really Good Part overpowers our swallow reflex). Luckily, keeping away from the book-toting-crazy-eyes should be easy… as long as you know what to look for.

It’s not difficult to spot a book lover, we avid readers give ourselves away in so many ways:

You can find us at parties perusing the bookshelves instead of hanging with the crowd.

Our go-to conversation starter is “So, what are you reading?” 

We bring books with us to the bank and supermarket (anywhere we might have to wait in line).

We don’t think of trees as beautiful things to photograph, draw, or even climb… they’re merely another place to sit and read for a spell. 

We don’t just walk, we biblioambulate.

We NEVER have enough bookshelves.

We wear T-shirts that say things like “Call me Ishmael”.

Keep in mind that Book Lovers are VERY DANGEROUS CREATURES. Be warned! Should you spot a Book Lover, generally the safest thing to do is to put as much distance between them and yourself as possible.


For today, and for today only, because it is National Book Lovers Day, should you come across a Book Lover, you should go up to them, ask them what they’re reading, ask if they can recommend any books for you to read, and watch their faces light up with joy. You will have made their day.

Happy Book Lovers Day!!

The LA Times Festival Of Books Is My Coachella

Every year I look forward to the LA Times Festival of Books with something close to breathless anticipation. I’m on Ticketmaster the hour panel tickets become available, I agonize over who to see, which day to go, and which booths to visit first. Every year, whichever luckless friend has accompanied me is dragged from booth to booth, event to event until we’re hot, footsore, under-hydrated and over-stimulated. (Is it a coincidence that no friend has ever gone to the LATFOB with me twice? I think not.)

You know you’re on the USC campus when…

This year the festival had an added level of excitement because I was going as the Reading Rainbow Mom, and live-tweeting the experience to Reading Rainbow Twitter fans. In retrospect, I’m not sure this was as much of an event for the RR audience as I had hoped it might be, but it was—without question—a growth experience for me. This year, instead of roaming the campus with my mouth agape (as I admittedly have done in the past) I felt I had purpose.

For someone who is usually shy, this weekend I made myself say hi to people. I introduced myself to vendors and took photos for our Twitter fans; I listened to the speakers not only for myself but for the entire RR Twitter fan base.  What would interest RR kids? What questions might parents have? What quotes could I share that would speak to them? What authors or wares would they appreciate most?

Being at the festival as the RR Mom made me brave, it’s as simple as that.
I went right up to authors at whom I would normally gape in awe from afar and struck up conversations. I know this marks me (accurately) as a total fan-girl-geek, but… I talked to authors and they talked back to me! <swoon!>
The moral of the story is that when you take a risk and fully engage in a thing the experience will be richer because of it.

And now to the authors, because we all know that while you may indulge a few paragraphs about myself, it’s really about the authors.

Margaret Atwood signed my book!!

First and foremost—Margaret Atwood! Meeting Ms. Atwood was a dream come true. She has been one of my most beloved and admired authors since I first read The Handmaid’s Tale at age 15. I was able to get tickets to see Ms. Atwood in conversation with Michael Silverblatt, and she was, not at all surprisingly, utterly eloquent. She was a perfect mixture of thoughtful, humorous, political, and reflective. Here are some of my favorite quotes gleaned from the conversation:

On how technology is impacting readers: “Reading is not diminishing, but if you’re looking for it in traditional places you may not find it.”

On becoming a storyteller: “I spent a good deal of my youth amusing young children. I had a business in high school running a puppet show.”

On classic fairy tales: “One of my favorite books as a child was the collected Grimm’s Fairy Tales… a [combination of] cannibalism and suspense.”

On unexpurgated books: “Some kids can handle it, like my bloodthirsty brother and I, but my sister didn’t want it, she wanted the 12 Dancing Princesses and the like.”

On being a reader: “It’s important to know what story you’re in. You might think you’re in Cinderella, but you might actually be in The Robber Bridegroom and barely escape with your life.”

On writing about sex: “I came from a family of scientists. We didn’t talk about people-sex very much, but frog-sex [was fair game]… It was a household in which the Thanksgiving turkey was dissected and labeled right there at the table.”

On character: “A person who is a paragon of virtue, who never does anything wrong and achieves everything they set out to do is unreal… Total perfection is very hard to achieve, even for Greek Gods, as we know.”

And my very favorite quote: “Fiction writers are better placed to learn the truth because we’re licensed fabricators.”

Tom Angleberger signing one of his books for a fan.

Later in the day I attended a panel discussion called Children’s Books: Words, Wit and Pics; featuring Tom Angleberger (author/illustrator of the Origami Yoda books), Annie Barrow (author of the Ivy & Bean series), Suzanne Selfors and Dan Santat (author and illustrator, respectively, of The Imaginary Veterinary series). This panel of children’s book authors was wonderful and engaging! They were knowledgeable, but funny and self-deprecating; and they enthralled grown-ups and children alike as they shared their experiences struggling and working their way to where they are today.

On doing what you love and working hard: “Chasing my passion has paid off in spades… I’ll never get tired of it, I always love drawing. We’re good at what we do because we do it A LOT. Art is like riding a bike, if you just ride that bike more than anyone else, you’re going to be better at it.” –Dan Santat

“I know it sounds cliché, but if this is your passion, you have to fight for it.” –Suzanne Selfors

Annie Barrows with Ivy & Bean.

On how they get ideas: “When my daughter was young we read the Magic Treehouse series, we read Junie B. Jones, we read everything, we ran out of things to read by the time she was seven! That’s how Ivy & Bean came about.” -Annie Barrows

“If I were a kid again, I wouldn’t want to read about regular old dogs and cats, I’d want to read about a vet treating DRAGONS and such!” –Suzanne Selfors

On being a nerd: “All my life I’ve been a big Dungeons & Dragons nerd. That’s how I got my drawing skills, from copying the monster manual.” –Dan Santat

“I hope that both boys and girls are reading my books, I write my books for nerds of every kind!” –Tom Angleberger

At the end of the day I stopped at the Children’s Stage to see Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen talk about their new book The Dark. (Tom Angleberger sat next to me and chatted a bit… giddy nerd moment!) My kids were a bit too old and a bit too young when A Series of Unfortunate Events came out, so I never read them, but Klassen and Snicket (represented by Mr. Daniel Handler) were so funny that I am now inspired to read the books just for myself. Mr. Handler began by addressing the audience of children in a slow, pause-filled, scary movie narrator voice: “I know you all… were abducted from your homes… and dragged out here… in the searing heat… to this field… where who knows how many people are buried… or how recently.” He introduced the book by saying “Mr. Snicket and Mr. Klassen have collaborated… much the way you might collaborate with your friends… to rob a bank… or kidnap a child…” The two went on to give a very disparate slide show, and a live reading/illustrating of their new book. Needless to say, the entire audience was rolling in the aisles by the time they finished.

The talented & charming Brian McMullen.

I was also lucky enough to run into a couple authors while walking around the festival between panels. I found Brian McMullen at the McSweeney’s booth (always my first stop—and sometimes my last as well—so great is my love for their products). McMullen is the co-author of Hang Glider & Mud Mask, the newest book of the McSweeney’s children’s line; and in true McSweeney’s fashion this is no simple book… It’s a mobius strip of a story, meant to be read from either end, and that reads in a continuous loop, with the end of one side leading directly to the beginning of the other. Brian was eminently charming, signed my book AND gave me a discount. Could I love the McSweeney’s people more? I think not.

I caught Loren Long, bestselling author of the Otis books, as well as the book Of Thee I Sing with President Obama, at the end of one of his signing periods. He spoke with me for a while and graciously posed for a picture with his newest book. A gentleman through and through!

Loren Long with his beautiful new book.

And so, with tired feet but a renewed spirit (and full notebook) I left the festival. I’m already looking forward to next year. My husband (who used to work in the video game business and frequented their expos) once accompanied me to the LATFOB and said this of it, “It’s just like E3, but smarter conversation and fewer strobe lights.”

I’ll gladly do without the strobe lights in exchange for truly excellent conversation. Thank you LA Times Festival of Books.

In Which I Become a Mom Again! (In An Unexpected Way…)

 Oh boy do I have an announcement to make… After a long love-affair (on my side), and a recent whirlwind courtship, I have become a part of the AMAZING Reading Rainbow family by becoming… THE READING RAINBOW MOM!

<Give me a moment while I dance and squeal with glee!>

For as long as I can remember I have loved reading, and I’ve always loved sharing that love of reading with anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. In fact, I consider it a point of pride to be able to find the perfect “gateway book” for someone who thinks they aren’t a book person. Eight years ago I took this literary pushing to the next level when I started Rediscovering the Classics, a project wherein I introduce adults to compelling classics in an appealing way. For example, I would never introduce a reader to Dickens by giving her A Tale of Two Cities, as so many schools do. I would start her with the ever-lovable David Copperfield instead. Likewise, I think readers should have a chance to fall in love with Steinbeck through Cannery Row before they are subjected to masterful—but inarguably dense and depressing—Grapes of Wrath.

After a few years of teaching classics to adults I began teaching classics through drama to my daughters’ elementary school classes. The kids engage with challenging literature such as Hamlet or The Iliad not as revered and sacred texts, but by playacting and performing the stories through age-appropriate script adaptations.

Through these activities (and this blog) I have happily shared my love of great literature with my own small community and circle of friends for many years.

Now I am pleased to announce that I have been given the opportunity to share my love of reading once more—and with a much larger audience! Earlier this week I had my debut as The Reading Rainbow Mom, a title I embrace with great joy and excitement! If you don’t know about Reading Rainbow, their mission is to inspire a love of reading in children, and connect them to the world they live in through quality literature. We are a match made in heaven!!

As the Reading Rainbow Mom I will be writing regularly for their blog, as well as posting to their Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel; and generally doing what moms do—sharing ideas, stories, advice, laughter, tears, and most of all… a love of books and readers of all ages. I hope that my Banquet of Books readers (especially those with kids) will come over to the Reading Rainbow blog, Twitter, or Facebook page and check out some of our wonderful writing and resources. (And if you have kids, or even just interact with someone else’s kids, I highly recommend you check out the app—it’s free to download and try.)

I just started this week, and so far I am honored, excited, and a little bit overwhelmed. But most of all I am just so happy to be able to do the thing that I feel is the most enjoyable and important thing in the world… helping kids LOVE to read! Now, I expect that some of my observations over at Reading Rainbow will spill into my musing on this blog as well, and in order to better facilitate that I will be adding a new category to my list: For Parents and Kids. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to change the format or subject of Banquet of Books, but I wanted to give myself the option to branch out a bit, I hope you will enjoy the result.

There is a saying that if you follow your bliss then everything else will fall into place. Books are my bliss, and I can never seem to escape them. Fortunately, I would never want to. I look forward to sharing this new part of my journey with my faithful readers, and with new readers of all ages.

Happy Reading!