Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Black and the Blue by Matthew Horace

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I work with children with physical and mental differences. The place I work at is stocked with a variety of toys. One of the toys we have are a police car that makes a siren sound whenever a button is pressed.

Almost every child that comes recognizes this vehicle. Some can say “police car!” Some, if their mental capabilities are high enough, will enact play schemes with the police car and another vehicle where the cops catch a bad guy.

This image played over and over in my mind as I read The Black and the Blue.

Matthew Horace does an excellent job of covering the topic of police brutality in America and the Black Lives Matter Movement. The Black and the Blue includes both statistics and personal accounts of both the author as well as witnesses and victims of the crimes.  Horace draws on his own law enforcement background to explain how police training and procedures are suppose to work, which highlights just how wrong (and purposeful) the actions of police are in many of these killings. Though far from surprised, I was struck at the level of systemic racism within law enforcement.  

This is a difficulty but important book to read. When I put it down, I told myself I needed to read something light and fluffy. However, I also recognize that as a privilege. Not everybody has the ability to take a break from these topics. For many people, this is life.  

Throughout the book, Horace also includes interviews with other police offices of different walks of life: white and black, male and female, gay and straight. These voices serve to show the diversity in the police forces and as a reminder that not all police are bad, but all police are working in a bad system. The book focuses on the crimes police have committed on the black community in America, but Horace also talks about some of the other systemic problems facing this community as well. He states that Black Lives Matter cannot stop at the brutality and murders committed by police. It must also work to stop the harm done by gangs and drugs as well.

The Black and the Blue ends with the author quoting a song lyric: “Everybody can do something”. After reading this book, my thoughts turned to finding ways that I too can do something about this problem. How can I help reality match the play schemes of the children I work with, where police are the good guys who defend and protect ALL communities?

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Witches by Roald Dahl

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Warning: This review contains a small spoiler for the end of the book.

September 13th was Roald Dahl day, a yearly celebration of the author’s work that takes place on his birthday. As a kid, I grew up watching James and the Giant Peach, Willy Wonka, and Matilda. I especially liked the later, since the main character was as obsessed about books as me. I remember my teachers reading the novels these three movies are based on outloud to the class, but that’s where my exposure to Dahl stopped. Since my social media feeds were blowing up last week with Roald Dahl quotes, I decided to give another one of his novels a try.

The Witches has all the things you come to expect from Dahl: child main character, bad guys (or gals, in this case), gross humor, and little touches of sweetness and wisdom stirred into the mix. The story follows Lucas, a young child who lives with his grandmother, an expert on witches. She imparts what she knows about the subject to him, namely all the physical ways to identify a witch and that their main goal is to kill children.  One day, he encounters a group of witches, including the High Witch, and has the opportunity to get rid of them…if he’s brave and smart enough.

Dahl’s writing reminds me of JK Rowling and other great children’s authors. The prose moves along quickly and smoothly and keeps you entertained. While there are poinent things said about people committing evil actions, teamwork, and the power of having a loving family, The Witches does not appear to have a hidden meaning. Dahl trusted children to be smart enough to understand the points he was making outright and didn’t try to spoon feed them a sappy “moral”.  

The witches in the book are violent creatures, and their intentions are presented outright. Though they use silly sounding words  like “squelching” to describe what they want to do with children, Lucas states outright at one point that they are plotting to kill him.  In this children’s novel, violence is depicted an aspect of the world and not hidden or downplayed. Nor are the evil things done by the witches magically reversed at the end of the story. However, through the character of Lucas’s grandmother (a badass cigar smoking grandmother, by the way) Dahl also shows that compassion and love are also present in the world. Lucas’s grandmother says several times throughout the story that she loves her grandson, no matter what he looks like. When bad things happen to him and he is afraid, Lucas draws strength from the fact that he knows his grandmother loves him. The importance of communicating unconditional love to children was not lost on this adult reader.

The story ends with the knowledge that while some of the witches were killed by Lucas’s actions, other witches still exist in the world. Lucas and his grandmother make plans to continue fighting them, driving home the point that removing evil is a slow and continuous process, but one we must keep working towards. Not a bad thing to meditate on in 2018.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. That being said, several parts felt a little dated (it was written in the 80s) and problematic.  Dahl states early on in the story that not all women are bad, but Witches are always women. The importance placed on gender (and a gender of only two sides at that) just feels odd today. More disturbing, there are several references made to women with bald heads (one of the indicators that a woman is a witch) as being unnatural and offensive. What about women undergoing chemo? What about women from cultures where it’s more common to shave their head? What about women who just…want to shave their heads? Without saying it, the novel paints the picture of women who meet traditional society standards of appearance as being “normal” or “ok” and women falling outside of this as being suspect of wanting to do harmful things.  The rest of the novel was wonderful. I could have done without this part. I don’t think the novel would have suffered with the exclusion of them.

That being said, would I let a child read this? I’d probably recommend another book with the same themes first. If the child still wanted to read the book, I’d let them, and then have a conversation about the problematic aspects afterwards.  If they are capable of understanding this book, they are capable of understanding that conversation as well.

Happy late Roald Dahl Day!      

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg

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I discovered Natalie Goldberg in high school when I read a copy of her first book, Writing Down the Bones. As a young person who wanted to write, it was freeing to read that you didn’t have to write in order to please someone or be published; all you had to do was grab a pen and paper and write. Pure and simple.

After Bones, I read three more of her books before moving onto other authors, and I stopped keeping up with her work. Recently, I stumbled across her page on Goodreads and noticed that while I had been reading elsewhere, Natalie was still writing and publishing. It’s funny how writers do that.

This 2013 book, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life and Language is a description of the writing retreat of the same name that she hosts.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t contain bottled down “do this and you will be published” trash advice, despite what the title seems to imply. In fact, early in the book Natalie states that there is no true secret of writing that works for everyone. Like most of Goldberg’s books, True Secret discusses Zen Buddhism and how the spiritual implications of both the practice of Zen and writing are interwoven for Natalie. It also covers the overarching philosophy of Sit, Walk, Write that she uses in the retreat. As I understand it, sitting and slow walking are more traditional forms of Zen meditation. Writing (specifically, the type of timed freewriting described in her works) is a form of practice developed by her. For the most part, the book doesn’t cover any ground that her previous book on writing haven’t already. If you are new to her writing, I would start with her earlier works, as I think they lay out her approach to writing in a more straightforward way–particularly Writing Down the Bones. However, True Secret was still a joy to read. Seeing the author once again tackle the same themes she describes so well was like listening to an old friend tell a story that you’ve heard numerous times before but still love the telling of it. I came away with a renewed drive to continue my own writing.

The last section of the book contains some of its best writing, particularly the chapter Gwen, an account of one of Natalie’s students who is dying of cancer. It strikes me that Natalie’s books contain chapters (each one a self contained essay, really) that are so scattered. There is a chapter about assigning chores to the retreat students, another about what it’s like to try writing at the same time in the same place every day for a week, and then a moving chapter about what it means to live fully before dying. Yet the book still forms a cohesive whole. Her books are like boxes of chocolate. Each little section  needs to hold a piece for the box to be complete, and yet each chocolate is its own individual delicacy.

Hopefully, Natalie will continue to follow her own advice of sitting, walking, and writing.  Hopefully, we will get to keep reading the books that come from this practice.

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Becoming Madeleine

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Becoming Madeline is a biography of the author Madeleine L’engle, written for middle-grade readers by her granddaughters Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy.

Like most people, I first encountered L’engle through A Wrinkle in Time. I was in the 7th or 8th grade and it was unlike anything I had read before. The small book was weird, comforting, wise, and life-affirming in a way that was at the same time both familiar and radical.

Over the next few years I devoured most of her work. Discovering L’engle during my middle and high school years had a tremendous impact on my outlook on life.

Alike and equal are not the same thing!

Your greatest faults can also be your greatest gifts!

In the end, all will be well!

When I took a trip to New York in 2007, I visited the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where L’engle worked as writer in residence for several years.

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My grandmother, a librarian, was also a fan of L’engle’s writing.  When I would buy and read a new book I’d lend it to her and we would discuss it. After she passed away, I took her copy of Bright Evening Star and found an inscription on the first page, a testament to the impact L’engle’s words had on her.

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I approached Becoming Madeleine with excitement and yet was sure that I would find nothing new here. Madeleine L’engle wrote a number of autobiographical works, so I wasn’t sure what else could be said about her life that I hadn’t already read. However, by telling L’engle’s story in chronological order, rather than through the random snippets as they are presented in her own work, allowed me to see her story in a different light. Anyone familiar with L’engle’s work knows how important time, and the order one experiences it in, can be!

Of particular fascination to me was the inclusion of Madeleine’s diary entries. Not only was it intriguing to get a look at her private writing, but it also allowed the reader see how the themes that permeated her work (time, love, God, faith, science, and the horrors of war) were at the forefront of her thinking, even at a young age, and were always evolving.

The biography stops just after the publication of a Wrinkle in Time. This was disappointing, as I would have liked to have seen how Madeleine moved through her later years. However, the book is written for middle-grade readers; therefore, the story focuses heavily on her younger years when she was the same age as the intended audience.

Voiklis and Roy have written a loving and satisfying account of a writer that has impacted many people and continues to impact more each day. If you are a long-time L’engle reader or just discovering her work, this is a book you won’t want to miss.  

 

–Sunday, February 11th, 2018

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November 4th, 2017

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Autumn continues it’s slow arrival.

Our weekends always seems to fill up in November and December. Today, we had Mark’s parents, his brother, nephew, twin nieces, and family friends along with their daughter and two grandchildren over for lunch. For all of them except his parents, it was their first time seeing our home. For about three and a half hours, our house was as full as it’s ever been. Full of laughter, conversation, and the sound of children playing. I always forget to take pictures during these things, but here’s two I did manage to take:

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Tomorrow, we’re seeing my parents for lunch in Greensboro at an Asian restaurant to celebrate mine and my mother’s birthday.

We were going to try to squeeze in a trip to the Renaissance Fair this weekend too, but this morning we had a change of heart and decided not to go. I love the Ren Fair. This will be the first year since 2009 that I would be going. It’s become a bit of a tradition for me. As sentimental as I am, having to bail on these things usually upsets me; however, I’m okay with skipping it this year. My life has gotten busy lately. Not just with work, but with all the new people in it that I’m trying to make time to see. When I think of driving to the Ren Fair-which is in Charlotte-it feels more like a chore, an obligation. I’d rather wait and go next year, when I can enjoy it.

Oh, we also took a trip to Durham today. Mark picked up the new iPhone from the Apple Store. I hung out in Barnes & Noble, bought Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradburry, and snapped this photo for the Black and White Facebook Challenge:

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I was looking at someones black and white photos today and thought “gosh, I hope nobody tags me to do this”. The universe must have heard me…because an hour later Cody tagged me. Oh well.

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October 31st, 2017

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Happy Halloween!

This is our first Halloween in our home, and I’m not sure how many trick-or-treaters we’ll have, but we’ve got a few bag of candy, just in case.

Here’s the picture of the changing leaves on the patch of trees across from the upstairs library/guest bedroom. Fall!

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The weather has stayed pleasantly chilly this week, too.

Yesterday, I wrote about 500 words on a short story. I’m hoping to finish the first draft the week.

I’m starting a new novel today. Barbary Station, a debut novel by R.E. Sterns. Several advanced readers have described it using the phrase “lesbian space pirates”. How can this not be awesome! Here’s a link, if you’re interested.

Be safe tonight, and remember to have fun!

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Posted in My Blog

October 30th, 2017

Happy Halloween eve!

Yesterday I finished Phillip Pullman’s Book of Dust volume 1. As “equal” trilogies go, it’s exactly what you would want. By the way, “equal” is Pullman’s term for the trilogy, as it is not a prequel or sequel to the original His Dark Materials books. It feels like the original books without becoming the same story. It’s a slow build, and reads very much like the first half of a three part novel rather than a full story in it’s own right. I’m already ready for the next one.

Halloween will be our three year anniversary, so Mark and I went to Brasa to celebrate and ate way too much food. But a trip to Brasa is worth a little digestion discomfort.

The leaves outside the second bedroom/library window are starting to turn orange and brown. After a long, uncomfortable southern  summer that seemed to never end, autumn is starting to emerge. It’s 7:52, and already dark, or I would take a picture. I’ll try to remember to take one tomorrow.

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October 28, 2017

Took some time today to finish working on a professional development course on sensory integration. The course has been intense. It’s part of a graduate certificate and I’ve been working on it for the past month. The content, however, has been invaluable. I’ve already used what I’ve learned from the course in evaluating and creating treatment plans for my preschool aged patients. They’ve been provided with more targeted OT services because of the knowledge I’ve gained from the course. Yay for lifelong learning!

Side note: I went to a Barns and Noble cafe to sit and work. Is there anything more intoxicating than books and coffee? Sitting there, listening to a lecture accompanied with powerpoint slides and taking online quizzes took me back to my college days, where B&N cram sessions were a constant thing.

Now, to go do something “non thinky” for a few hours…

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Our DC Vacation-Day One

Over Labor Day weekend, Mark and I took our first official vacation, excluding out-of-state trips to visit family.  Since it’s only about a four hour drive from our house, we decided to visit DC. I’d driven through the city once before and stopped for dinner, but this would be my first proper visit to the city.

 

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We were greeted with rain on our first day. It wasn’t the weather we’d hoped for since we’d planned to do a lot of walking, but we grabbed an umbrella and set off. The city was dead on Saturday with congress out of session and lots of places closed or operating on shorter holiday hours. Some of the areas we walked through were practically ghost towns–very different from a normal day in DC, I’m sure.

 

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After my first DC metro ride, where I did my best to look like a native and read a book on my phone’s Kindle app (All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, if anyone is interested) we started our day with breakfast at Open City. I had an ice coffee and one of the best omelets I’ve ever eaten. Eggs + broccoli = heaven.

 

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We took the train back to Union Station and, since it was pouring rain when we got off, headed to the closest of our planned stops: the Post Office Museum.

 

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Our next stop was the Library of Congress. We toured the exhibits, went to the balcony overlooking the main reading room to snap some pictures, and then checked off one of my bucket list items–got a LoC library card!

 

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Our cards granted us access to the reading room, where we browsed the library’s book collection. We perused several sections. I found a book listing synopses of science fiction short stories that had been accepted for magazine publication dating back as far as the 1930s. Anyone who knows me can imagine how much fun I was having by being in the belly the world’s largest collection of books.

 

It was early afternoon when I suggested, reluctantly, we leave the library and go find somewhere to eat. However, before we left, Mark had something else he wanted to share with me.

 

In the Library of Congress,with all the books as witness, Mark asked me to marry him.

 

I said yes.  

 

Tears of happiness were shed.

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Before we left the library, we stopped at the gift shop and bought souvenirs to commemorate the occasion. On the steps of the library, I took a picture of us.

 

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We had lunch at Pizzeria Paradiso.  Afterwards, we explored two nearby bookshops.

 

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Tired from all the walking, we headed back to the hotel for a nap before going to dinner at Ping Pong, a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown.

 

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We stopped for gelato at Dolcezza Gelato and walked around Chinatown before going back to the hotel room and collapsed from exhaustion.

 

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Why We Write by Meredith Maran

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Why We Write by Meredith Maran is a collection of twenty essays written by published novelist on the topic of why (and sometimes how) each author goes about the crafting fiction. Each essay is preceded by an introduction of the author and a “Vitals” bulleted list of highlights about the author (born, education, where they live, complete list of works, etc.). Each essay concludes with a “Wisdom for Writers” section, a bulleted list of take-away points the author made in his or her essay.

A portion of the proceeds of the book are given to support 826 National, a youth literacy program.

The editor pulled together a diverse collection of authors. Some of them include Sue Grafton, David Baldacci, Gish Jen, Armistead Maupin, and Terry McMillan. Not only are they diverse in gender, sexual orientation, culture, and race, but they are exist on various points of the “literary vs entertainment” spectrum of publishing. This topic comes up in a number of the essays. Some authors embrace the literary or entertainment camp to which they belong, others take the opportunity to bash the opposing side.  More than a few authors dismiss this continuum as a marketing or hegemonic device designed to pander to a certain demographic. The later essays were the most interesting.    

While the book presented a diverse collection of viewpoints, I couldn’t help but notice that certain genres were left out. There were authors from “mainstream” literature as well as the mystery and thriller genres. However, there were no authors of speculative or YA books.  Why We Write was published in 2013, during the time when these genres were rapidly gaining in both popularity and recognition as quote-unquote “serious” forms of literature. It could be that the author reached out to some of these authors and they weren’t interested or couldn’t fit a contribution into their schedules. However, I can’t help but feel that including authors from these backgrounds would further round out the book and the discussion of why individuals feel compelled to write fiction.

The twenty authors in the book state a wide array of reasons behind why they do what they do. However, one central theme crops up in each of their responses: Writing sucks, but not writing sucks worse; one never feels that a piece is completely finished, but having written is a wonderful feeling.

As someone who dabbles in writing and is always looking for more time to complete larger projects, I completely agree. And, in it’s own dark way, it is comforting to read twenty writers state that they belong in the same mental hell that is being a writing human. I think I’ll keep the book on my desk for inspiration and comfort the next time I find myself banging my head against the wall when writing gets difficult.