An Adult Look Back on Children’s Books and Why I Resonated With Them…Really.

  1. One of my favorites was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. It House ust celebrated its 75th Of course I didn’t read it when it first hit the market in 1942, I enjoyed it during its 30th Anniversary. I no longer have the original hard copy, but I did buy it for my daughter when she was young, so I still have a copy. I liked this book because I live in New York City, and the book showed the effects of urbanization on a place that was once pastoral.  At the age of 5, I didn’t know that’s why I liked it. I just liked the fact that the little house find a new happy home after years of neglect.

Perhaps, for me, it was more about relatability. Was I happy where I was? Was I looking for a new place to reside? These are the things I think of 45 years later.

  1. Another favorite was Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. This one is celebrating its 78th year of existence. Again, didn’t read this one until the early 1970s. I liked this book because here is a little girl who is full of mischief but nevertheless well liked and cared for. And who can forget the clever rhyme scheme.

It was nice to see that although Madeline was a little big much for her caretaker, she was taken care of when it was needed, and not begrudgingly.  She was treated so well, that the rest of the girls wanted to also have their appendix (appendices?} removed. Now, I’m not saying my mother would not have taken care of me. Not at all. Of course she would have.  I just got a fuzzy feeling when I see other children, especially ones who are not at home, being cared for and loved. I bought this book (hardcover) for my son when he was small.

  1. The Snowy Day and Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats were two books that I read around the same time. They were both written in the early 1960s, so they were not that old when I got my hands on them. And why did I like them? Well the protagonist was African-American, something that was woefully missing in children’s books in the early 1970s.

I just really liked seeing someone that looked like me in a book. There is no deep hidden psychological reason, just the obvious.  Yes, I bought these for my son when he was small.

An Honorable Mention: This one popped up while I was looking on Amazon.I had all but forgotten about it.

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Maybelle the Cable Car also by Virginia Lee Burton. I hadn’t thought about this book since I was a child.  I didn’t even buy it for my children.  What I like about Virginia Lee Burton’s books is that they are urban.  She draws subways, cable cars, apartment buildings and just other very urban scenery.  What I really liked about this book is the drawing encircled the text.  Most picture books of the time had a picture and then under or above were the words.  This book had the text in varying places throughout the entire book.

Being in New York City in the 60s/70s I never rode a cable car; however, it isn’t much different than a city bus and that is how I related to it.

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Book Reviews #2

EDGARTitle: There is a River: The Story of Edgar Cayce (1945)
Author: Thomas Joseph Sugrue

Genre: Biography

I have been a fan of Edgar Cayce for many years.  I read a biography entitled Edgar Cayce: An American Prophet (2000) by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick many years ago.  But this book proceeds that book by almost 60 years.

Thomas Sugrue (1907-1953) was a skeptical journalist who lived with the Cayce’s for a while. During this time, he completed this book. His access to the information was first hand.

The book takes the reader through Cayce’s life from childhood until death. It is obvious to see where Sugrue left off because it seemed to go from a country walk with Edgar to a hastily written section about his later life and death.

Though that was no doubt added later. As well as case studies that are at the end of this book.  Those didn’t interest me although I looked at a few.

I would have given this book 4 out of 5 stars if it weren’t for the addendums. 

I enjoyed the more recent biography by Kirkpatrick better.

Neither of these books are for the mere curious, one would have to have a deep interest in Edgar Cayce and his works.

 

CitTitle: Citizen: An American Lyric
Author: Claudia Rankine
Genre: Poetry/Prose/Art

This was a ‘school read’.  I read poetry books occasionally.  This one was different, as it isn’t the type of poetry book I’m used to. This had poetry, prose poetry, artwork within.  Some of it was autobiographical, other stuff was commentary.

It is hard for me to say if I loved it or not. I didn’t mind it. I did find some interesting quotes by Rankine and other authors who she quoted.

She wrote stuff like:

“The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.”

“Its motion activates its darkness. The pickup truck is a condition of darkness in motion.”

How I wish I could write stuff this breathtaking.

This book is about racism in American against African-Americans. But what Rankine is showing are the subtle ways that it occurs.  Sometimes she does go there…goes to the brutality of it, but often it is that whisper of racism that even the black person doesn’t see unless the look really hard.

Some of the pictures of the artwork were moving, some I just didn’t get. I enjoyed the book overall. Different that anything I’ve read in the past.

It also was a stage play at some point. That was probably very interesting.

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An Unfinished Essay about Unfinished Essays

It boggles my mind why someone like Roxanne Gay can seem to write and publish so many essays, yet I can’t finish one. She must endlessly think about interesting things in general.

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It isn’t because I don’t read, I do. I read a lot of non-fiction as well. I watch TV programs, news, biographies, NOVA, BBC, you name it. But yet, when I sit down to write something the mind becomes constipated.

Maybe I just don’t have deep thoughts?

No that’s not it.

Actually I find myself thinking about all kinds of things, but how to write about them?

I start writing about something and then I say, “Ah this is no good!” and leave it alone. Sometimes I go back to it if there is something that gnaws at me. I have a ton of unfinished essays, but why?

I lack confidence. That is what Roxanne Gay ha
s that I don’t. She knows what she has to say is something others want to hear. She is unapologetic about it. It’s not that I am not unapologetic about what I have to say but I question if I really want to go down that particular sewer drain. I mean, I can write an entire book of essays about my mother.

I know one only gets confidence by writing, so that is what I must do. I must write the essays and I must finish them, and then I must submit them (get rejected) submit them again, and continue ad nauseam until….voilà…one is published.

 

 

 

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My Thoughts on 2 Fiction Novels

Title: Young Jane Young
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: Fiction

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College intern Aviva Grossman has an illicit affair with a congressman.  However this story isn’t

1) Just a story about a young woman and an older married man’s indiscretions.
2) Told from solely Aviva’s point of view or the congressman’s point of view,

The five parts of this novel are told through different points of view, and they are told in different ways which gives the novel added interest.

Part I – Bubbe Meise – This is a first person POV told by Rachel, the mother of Aviva Grossman.

Part II – Wherever You Go, There You Are – This is a first person POV told by Jane Young.

Part III – Thirteen, or a Few Interesting Facts About Maine – This is in an epistolary fashion through email. Jane Young’s daughter, Ruby has a Pen Pal named Fatima in Indonesia whom she corresponds with. Through these emails, we learn a lot about who her mother (Jane) really is.

Part IV – Angel in the House – This is a first person POV told by Embeth (the congressman’s wife).

Part V – Choose – This is a second person POV told by Aviva Grossman. It is also in an epistolary form (diary entries).

I enjoy stories that are told through different lenses. Sometimes third person Omniscient (even close third) can get boring.  I like to see what people are thinking about a situation and what is going on in their lives while this situation is going on.  Even though as the book progresses, we know ‘what’s up’, it is interesting to see, Ruby for instance, trying to piece it together.

Usually second person POV drives me nuts, but here (Part V) it is done so deftly, that it reads as if it were you.

 

Title: The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Genre: Fiction

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Sometimes I pick up a book, not knowing what to expect. I read the synopsis and it sou

nded mildly interesting. There are books that I read that stay with me long after, this will be one of them.

The point of view switches between Astrid and Noa in alternating chapters. Astrid atrapeze artist from a German circus family and Noa, a young Danish woman who was kicked out of her home because of an unexpected pregnancy become the unlikeliest of friends.  Two woman that lose everything, find each other.

I know it sounds hokey, but it is a really really good story. I stuck with it and by the end, I needed a tissue.

I haven’t read much Historical Fiction this year. This one takes place during WWII in Germany and it has all the bells & whistles of a book set in that time without being cliché.

And to read about circus folk.  I am always shying away from it, but when I do finally pick up a book with this theme, I thoroughly enjoy it.

 

These posts will be for my reading journal for my MFA program. They will come periodically.

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Most Interesting Books Read Jan – Jun 2017

My reading was all over the place this year. I read current and I read classic. I had no theme, genre or author binge (I usually do). These are some of the books I read in the first half of 2017. These are not necessarily my 5 star books, but they were the interesting ones. No spoilers or synopsis. Just my thoughts on the books.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge – By Thomas Hardy (5 Stars)

This novel was read for school, although it would have been something I chose for myself. I’ve seen the BBC production of this so the story wasn’t foreign to me. It was one of those books that I would get around to reading one day.

Talk about scandal and nonstop ‘monkey wrenches’. This is far from a boring dry classic. I needed a drink when I finished this one. The BBC production didn’t do the novel justice.

 

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1984 – By George Orwell (5 Stars)

I might be the only adult that wasn’t assigned this book in high school. Years ago I attempted to read it, but the copy of the book I own has type smaller than baby ants, so that wasn’t happening. After the 2016 Presidential election, it charted again. I was curious as to why…I’ve heard things.

What took me so long? This was a fantastic work of dystopian fiction. Creepy in its foresight. After I read it, I understood why people became re-interested in this particular dystopian novel.

 

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Never Let Me Go – By Kazuo Ishiguro (4 Stars)

Another assigned read. I’ve seen the title on book lists but ignored it. I can honestly say that this book was ‘different’. I often read books and things have me think, but this book had me thinking deeply. I thought a lot about society, race, gender, age, discrimination, and a whole lot of other things no one wants to really think about, but should.

 

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Crime and Punishment – By Fyodor Dostoyevsky (3 Stars)

Yes people, I got to it. I read the whole thing too. Not my first Russian, but the first one in years. It wasn’t as challenging as I thought and it is another book that makes you think about society and morals. Don’t worry, this didn’t become a theme. My brain can only handle so much deepness.

Out of the 42 books I’ve read from January – June, these 4 were the most important reads for me. The second half of my reading year is shaping up to be very interesting indeed. What I read when I’m left to my own devices!!!

 

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I Don’t Need a Man for That!

I’ve always told my now 18 year old daughter that she should not count on anyone else’s help and always have a plan B. Many people may think this sounds anti-social but in reality, it is survival.

She has a good head on her shoulders, and she already figured this out (or maybe listened to me when I said it before). I try to prepare her for the fact that she may have to do things on her own when she is an older adult.  One of these things recently fell on my lap.

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A baby bat found its way into my bedroom one night. I live in a New York City apartment so you can imagine my surprise. I could not have screamed any louder. I ran into my daughter’s room an

d needed to figure out what to do. Luckily she had her phone, because in my panic, I left mine on my nightstand in said room.

At 1:30am it is hard to find anyone to help you with a stray bat in New York City. Eventually 4 police officers came to my apartment and attempted to coax the bat out. No luck. Of course I wanted them all to stay and protect me from the big bad baby bat, but they had better things to do, so they left.

After only 3 hours sleep, I secured my room and went to work.  I called Animal Control. Bats are not their specialty, but they have to try…right? The dispatcher took my information and said someone would call me 1 hour before they came.  I told them I’d be home around 6pm, but I may get their earlier, so they can call earlier. 

I know bats are nocturnal, so I thought they’d come later rather than earlier.

No one called, no one came.

I had to spend another tense night in the apartment.  I got a lot of info from my Facebook friends and other friends.  I tried the only option that I really had and that was to leave the windows open and hope it flies out.  Mother Nature was cooperative at well and kept the rain at bay and the temperature down. I hope the bat got cold and hungry and found his way out.  I haven’t seen it or heard it, so here is to hoping.

If I had to physically tackle it alone, I would have. There was no one else to count on. This is not the first time I had to tackle vermin on my own, but never a flying one.

I called Animal Control and the dispatcher said that someone called me around 8pm. Really? Where was I? Oh yeah, I was glued to my phone waiting for a call. So we are lying now?

Me: I’ll have to take care of it myself, obviously

Dispatch: So you want to cancel the home visit?

Me: Why not? Not like anyone is ever going to come. I’ll take care of it myself.

Dispatch:  By….

Yes, I hung up.

Yes the bat freaks me out, but there is no one I can depend on outside of myself. My daughter lives with me, so I have to think of her safety as well.

When you have this mindset, it is amazing what one can do. I will never buy it when a woman says, “But I need a man for….”

If it ain’t for procreation, ya don’t need him!!!

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That MFA Look

 

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When I tell people I am getting my Masters they smile and asked “What in?”

I smile back and say, “An MFA in Creative Writing.” Then they looked confused.

“What will you do with that?”

“I can teach if I want to, but I got the degree for me. I’ve always wanted it, and so I did it.”

These people know I’m not a youngster. I have a well-paying job that I don’t hate. I’m not trying to climb that corporate ladder at this stage in life. I’m enjoying life.

At some point, I may teach, but at the moment I’m concentrating on learning how to write as well as I can.

There are so many books on the market that are beyond bad. It is not because the idea is not worth reading, but the story is poorly written.

The phenomenon of self-publishing (made easy) has saturated the market with mediocre and sometimes inadequately written books. I am far from a book snob, I don’t go for the erudite. I just like a good story well written.

I read the Grisham’s and the King’s. I don’t read Fifty Shades’. I don’t read Twilight’s. I read genre fiction and sometimes they are very good. I’ve even read some really good self-published works.

Perhaps because I’m a writer the slow cringe creeps up my spine when I start to read bad writing in book form. No one is perfect and even some of our beloved authors have put out some stinkers, but the stinkers are usually well written, just poorly executed.

At the Writer’s Digest Conference, one of the speakers put up on the screen a story written by one of her students. It was awful. Not a criticism. Lord knows some of my earlier works could feed a large bonfire. But this person was a student, she was in learning mode. I get irritated when this writing is put between a glossy cover and sold to the masses.

There are some people who think writing is easy. Perhaps to some, it does come naturally and a good editor can fix things like grammar and continuity mistakes. As for myself, it isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally.

Writing is hard work. I’ve heard that writing cannot be taught, I’ve heard it can. What can be taught is writing well. Part of that education encompasses reading. But reading widely, in and out of your genre, and reading often, constantly, endlessly. Read what the current literary leaders are writing. Read what the lauded dead authors wrote.

Some will vehemently disagree, but sometimes the truth stings. Don’t expect to write well, if you can’t bother to pick up a book.

 

 

 

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