Sunday, April 28, 2013

Falling for the Hype (again)

Hype in the reading world is both good and bad, as I discussed previously in my post about The Fault in Our Stars. You're always taking a chance that the book is hyped up so much that you expect so much and then are let down, when without the hype you may have actually liked the book more. But, then there are the books you might have overlooked if not for the hype, and missed out big time! I have some favorites that I never would have read if it weren't for people's incessant talking about them. (Although, I have a trend with this. Usually when I end up reading big titles because everyone's talking about them, it's way after the fact. If I hear it's a series, I wait...nothing burns me more than having to wait for the next book. Especially when you've waited, read the three books in the series and bam, oh there are three more and a three book prequel coming...cough...Cassandra Clare...cough cough.)

And then there's the convenience of being familiar with many more books than I've read because of the hype. This is helpful since I have a group of students who often stand in front of my classroom shelf asking for a recommendation. I've purchased many books from what I've heard so I can provide them with the newest and biggest reason to limit them to what I can read. I have one voracious reader who has read more books from my classroom shelf than I have. I always have to talk her into the next one on my list of Young Adult to-be-read and she always loves it. I'm about 10 for 10 now and I hadn't read any of the ones I suggested to her. I was just going off of the hype and sometimes knowledge of the author's previous work. (I do this to parents and teens at Barnes and Noble too, unsolicited usually, but I figure maybe they'll just think I work there! Which I should...)

So, overall, I have to say the hype is worth it. And my reason for this discussion? I'm heading into some hyped up books. So, on my list for the next few weeks are:

Gone Girl - by Gillian Flynn (reading now and liking it)
Looking for Alaska - by John Green (HE is the hype, more so than any one of his books)
Life After Life - by Jill McCorkle
The Storyteller - by Jodi Picoult (she hasn't been as good as usual, but I know I can believe the hype with this one)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter - by Kim Edwards (older one, but seemed everyone was reading it when it came out)
The Silver Star - by Jeannette Walls (coming out June 2013, but I have the ARC from NetGalley and plan on BEING part of the hype if it's as good as The Glass Castle)

Have you read any of these and is the hype believable? Any hyped up titles on your reading list?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Banning Belittles

Chris Crutcher and I at YSU English Festival

I spent a delightful two days this past week escorting my students to my alma mater, Youngstown State University (YSU), for the 35th annual English Festival. Students read seven books between November and April and attend the Festival, where they compete for prizes in writing and games based on the books. I attended the Festival many years as a student and this is my sixth year as a teacher bringing my own students. I love it more now than I did then. But what's not to love? A whole day surrendered to the celebration of reading, writing, books, and authors!

Especially when the authors are right on campus with you. Last year was my daughter's first time attending the Festival and while looking for a seat to eat lunch, found herself invited over by a couple of women. And wouldn't you know it, the one woman was the guest speaker and author, Laurie Halse Anderson! (Google her - she's a big deal in the YA world.) The opportunities for a book lover are endless.

On my second day at the Festival, I attended the morning sessions set aside especially for teachers, librarians, and parents. Up close and personal, I heard two marvelous authors speak. Sharon Draper not only signed my book, but sat and had a full conversation with me first. She was a humorous and touching speaker and when I finish one of her YA trilogies my students raved about, I will post about her.

But I want to talk here about the author I met for the second time, Chris Crutcher. Crutcher's books are controversial to say the least. His topics and language are off putting to many people, myself included at first, as I first read him as a sheltered seventh grader. However, if you've heard Crutcher speak or have read anything about his life's work, you would know from where his books spring. Crutcher has spent his life as a therapist. He's seen the hardest cases you can imagine; children and families dealing with situations and lives that most people couldn't even make up...and you would hope he was making them up, they are so horrific.

Crutcher admits that he himself wasn't sure if his books should be banned or not when he received harsh criticism upon the publishing of Chinese Handcuffs, a book whose main character is sexually abused her entire life by her father and then step father. (Crutcher's experts for editing this book were actually abused girls on his caseload at the time.) He received his answer when he went to speak to a school whose graduating class consisted of 4,000+ students. Speaking to approximately 1,200 students, he had quite a crowd looking for autographs afterward. But out of the corner of his eye hovered one patient seventeen-year-old student. When all others had gone twenty minutes later, she told him she had read Chinese Handcuffs and she felt like he knew her life. She didn't give her name, but told him that in 17 years she had never told another person of the abuse she had (and still) endured. He was the first. She didn't think anyone would understand because she didn't think anyone had ever suffered as extensively as she had.  She asked him what she should do now...he was a therapist in Spokane, Washington and she was in Texas. He suggested talking to whomever gave her the book, which was her English teacher.

Six months later Crutcher received two emails, from the student and the English teacher. The girl was now 18 and in counseling. She was free from her life of rampant sexual abuse. Chris Crutcher then asked us to consider a "what if?" situation. What if he hadn't written that book? That girl would have suffered on and even if she had moved away from her abuser, she could possibly suffered the rest of her life with the aftermath, not thinking or knowing to seek help. That one girl answered his doubts as to whether or not his books should be banned.

And if I had any doubts, he cleared them for me that day with one good point. When we ban books that have language or precarious situations in them, we ban the kids/people who lead those lives. We tell them no one understands and no one cares. We tell them that their bad, dirty lives are not good enough to be spoken of. We take away their chance of finding the freedom that even a simple story can bring - a story of understanding and hope. We close an open door. And I should've known this. My first meeting with Crutcher was in 2008 when I took my student Paul to the Festival to hear him speak. Paul embodies the very life for which Crutcher writes and I would give anything for Paul to have read whichever message was meant for him and maybe still be with us today. (Read Paul's story starting here and continuing Memorium 1-4 here.)

Where do you stand on book banning?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Shakespeare Saved My Life

Laura Bates

Shakespeare Saved My Life, by Laura Bates
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: April 1, 2013
Category: biography, memoir
Source: NetGalley, for review.

What reader, or maybe I should say English teacher, can resist a book about Shakespeare, let alone one that concerns him saving lives?! When I found this on NetGalley, I knew I had to take a look at it and I'm glad I did.

The memoir describes Professor Laura Bates's decade long journey educating prisoners in Indiana's maximum security prison, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. It is especially telling that the prisoners of WVCF are also in solitary confinement because they are so violent, they are considered a danger to all others. Their topic of study: Shakespeare. 

She begins by giving interested prisoners a soliloquy from the last act of Richard the Second, which is given by the overthrown king who is now in prison. The prisoners are asked what they understand from the excerpt and are allowed into the program based on their answers (due to limited room). 

The one prisoner Bates had predetermined not to work with because of his extensive record gave such an insightful answer she immediately wanted him in the group. However, Newton was so restricted he could not participate with other prisoners in any way - even if they are all locked in separate cells, communicating through the food slot in the door. And so, Bates begins meeting with the most restricted prisoner in solitary confinement on a regular basis to teach him Shakespeare. How was she to ever know Newton would teach her as much, if not more, about Shakespeare and life in general?

Bates's story takes you through Newton's journey, which also becomes hers and that of many other prisoners. A truly amazing testimony to the ways in which literature's shared humanity can touch our lives and transform us.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Perfect Reader

Saw an interesting post on! Read here for the original post, "The 42 Traits of the Perfect Reader." It is a list of things that make up or describe the perfect reader. It was written by Book Riot editor Jeff O'Neal today, April 12, 2013. Of course, I want the input of my trusted fellow readers! Listed below are the ones I fit and the one that makes me mad! So, hit the link, read them all, and tell me what doesn't belong on this list and/or what is missing?

4. The perfect reader prefers print.
5. The perfect reader likes plot but doesn’t need it.
6. The perfect reader reads every line.
8. The perfect reader did the book club reading.
10. The perfect reader is thrilled that kids are reading YA and hopes it leads them to pick up some serious literature eventually.
11. The perfect reader saw the movie and thought it had some strong points, but preferred the book.
14. The perfect reader appreciates an ambiguous ending.
17. The perfect reader doesn’t let their personal beliefs and experience interfere with their reading of a book.
19. The perfect reader can keep the Brontes straight.
20. The perfect reader doesn’t crease the spine.
21. The perfect reader reads every book they are given as gifts.
22. The perfect reader got the allusion.
24. The perfect reader doesn’t care what other people think of their reading.
26. The perfect reader cares what the author meant.
28. The perfect reader appreciates an hour-long author reading.
29. The perfect reader always looks up the word.
30. The perfect reader knows which one was proud and which one was prejudiced.
32. The perfect reader is happy to discuss the book they are reading with the person in the seat beside them.
33. The perfect reader always makes it to the end.
34. The perfect reader gets over the misogyny, homophobia, and sexism of the classics, because hey those were the times.
35. The perfect reader is beginning to think about maybe trying a graphic novel.
36. The perfect reader would never ban a book.
37. The perfect reader never reads the last chapter first just to know what happens.
38. The perfect reader actually sort of prefers the extended whaling descriptions in Moby-Dick, to be honest.

40. The perfect reader never gets a new book until they have finished all of the ones they already have.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Top Ten 2013

Received an email today that I made the 2013 Top Ten Blog for Book Lovers at Story Cartel! I have to say I am truly honored. May sound stupid, but when it comes to very public things, I don't mind being in the background. In my high school drama club I always worked stage crew or lighting, important but unseen. So, it was a big decision to put myself out there and start up this blog. And then, as all my writer blog friends talked about the importance of writing truth (that's you Betsyites), I decided to just be very honest in everything I wrote here. I started to focus more solely on books, since they are, in the words of Anna Quindlen, "the plane, and the train, and the road....the destination, and the journey....home." However, because books speak to me on a personal level, this meant I would sometimes go beyond just a review and reveal feelings and thoughts to people I've never met! (Hence the name change to My Life in Books, which it truly is.)

So thank you to everyone who nominated me, those who have read and/or commented, and the folks at Story Cartel. I post my award image to the sidebar proudly, yet humbly. I hope to learn so much more in the coming year from my books, my readers, and living a writing life.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Own Little World Explodes Part 3 of 3

Of all the books I've read about relationships and myself in relation to the world around me, three stood out. I mentioned number three of the best on the Part 2 post, Capture His Heart. In January I read Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, by Lysa TerKeurst. TerKeurst is President of Proverbs 31 Ministries and also the author of Capture His/Her Heart. I found this book when a woman at church talked about it and posted it on FB as free on Kindle.

Is it obvious what attracted me to this book besides the lack of cost? Unglued is easily a word I can use to describe myself. Being an organized, detailed person, who thinks ahead and puts much thought into everything, the littlest things will tick me off. And I don't mean, oh I'm getting mad. It's more like instant boiling anger in the form of yelling and iffy language. Yes, everyone has their moments, but mine were daily and concentrated on my husband and kids. For a long time I just did what I could because it didn't seem there was anything I could do, the raw emotion was so instantaneous.

Then I read Unglued and TerKeurst's explanations of how people's emotions work stuck with me. I have a combination of two types she discusses. With my family I am what she calls an exploder. Exploders hold nothing back. But, I knew that wasn't all of it because with friends, even if I do get mad, I don't explode on them. The other half of my personality is what TerKeurst calls stuffer. I stuff all negative emotions when dealing with friends and acquaintances and ignore them for as long as possible. Eventually a stuffer's feelings will explode, but it usually takes time. I found that I would take my stuffed feelings home and explode there. Why we take advantage of the ones we love most is beyond me.

Unglued talks about other types of people as well as the negative consequences of raw emotion that you might not see coming. It really opened my eyes and although I don't always think in time to stop myself, I realize as I begin to rant or stuff that I need to stop and think. This is absolutely progress for me - "imperfect progress" as TerKeurst would say,  but still progress.

The most recent book, my #1 which I read over Easter, is One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp. This book is a lesson in God's timing. A close friend recommended it over a year ago and I put it on my list, but never got around to it. In the midst of reading all of these books in the past months, that same friend sent me to Voskamp's blog (, which I eventually started following. By January I'd fallen in love with her writing and bought the book. For some reason it suddenly came to mind to read it over Easter break...and it was amazing. I don't know that I was ready for it over a year ago.

The entire book is centered around the idea of eucharisteo - Greek for thanksgiving, and containing word parts for grace and joy. In all things and all times - good and bad - there is thanks to be given to God. She expands upon this so much better than I can here and covers the idea of thanks across so many relevant topics, such as trust and fear. Her journey and transformation are captured beautifully and clearly. She is a hardworking wife and homeschooling mother of six, so the examples she gives of living eucharisteo through the hard parts of life were very practical to me. I get it. I can only say this is the best book of the Christian genre I've read.

That's a lot of information, lots of reading, but I think the journey has hardly begun. The books were introductions to ideas that have been in the making for two years, which I didn't realize until I starting writing about these books and rereading a journal of mine from 2011. Now, the actual practice of these lessons, is where the true journey begins.

What is your journey lately?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Expanding My Own Little World - Family Part 2 of 3

Another category I read through in my search for change was family relationships. Mainly with my kids. As my kids are hitting the teen and preteen years, my usual control no longer works. It wasn't a great relationship builder to begin with, but born of experience and survival, not to mention easy to maintain because little kids are controllable, even when they fight it, it's what they know. I wanted to learn what my kids really needed now and how I can supply those needs before a rift grows between us.

So I've read numerous books, starting with Hope for the Weary Mom, by Stacey Thacker. I had spent the end of summer of 2012 feeling fed up with parenting. I actually dropped my kids off at my mom's one day in August and told her they could not come back to me the way they were, even if it took days. The constant everything of parenting had caught up with me and I was feeling about done with it all. So what I liked about this first book is that Thacker is good at making you realize you're not alone. It was a good starting place because it helped me feel a little better and that there might be a chance for me as well. (It was also free on Kindle at the time!)

The next book I picked up was Give Them Grace, a book on parenting by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, a mother-daughter team. This book presented me with the idea of approaching my kids in love and understanding and why it will work better than my usual instant reaction. It was a step in the right direction, but I wasn't a fan of the detailed discussions they suggested for approaching certain problems with your kids. They seemed forced to me...or maybe it's just how I imagined my kids and I going about it. Didn't feel like me and I want my new approach to my kids to be heartfelt, not rote.

I more recently read a couple books ahead of publication through NetGalley. What a Son Needs a from His Mom, by Cheri Fuller, was specifically geared to what sons need to thrive. It gave practical advice (my favorite kind) over a broad range of topics. You can read my thoughts on this book further here. The second book I read was geared toward daughters: What Your Daughter Isn't Telling You, by Susie Shellenberger and Kathy Gowler. These women work(ed) at Brio Magazine, a magazine for teen girls put out by Focus on the Family. Their book focuses on the correspondence they've received over the years from teen girls. Often the girls are asking advice that should be coming from a mother, but they also express a problem or difficulty with approaching their moms. Sharing these instances along with advice on how to speak to your daughter and help her through the difficult teen years is the focus of their book. I found both of these newly released books helpful merely for their practicality and the fact that they hold nothing back.

The last relational book I read was about spouses. Capture His Heart by Lysa TerKeurst has become one of three sparkling gems in this journey. Her book divides the relationship responsibilities a wife has with her husband into categories: spiritual, emotional, sexual, vocational, intellectual, relational, and physical. Each category is discussed thoroughly, with discussion on how words and actions have negative and positive effects on your husband. The ideas TerKeurst gives for each section are easy to implicate, giving you a chance to immediately try and succeed in each category as you make it a habit. The book is not long at all and was so good I bought the companion book, Capture Her Heart, for my husband to read. He loved it as well. We recommend this set definitely.

It has been an information overload, but I think I'm ready for it at this point in time. Although I'm not always successful, I am aware and that's a big step for me. Any great life changers you've read lately?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Own Little World - Me Part 1 of 3

Do you know what it feels like to be searching for something? It's a little easier when you know for what you are searching. I have been on a search for discussion on transformation (in relationships mostly)  in the past six - seven months. And, of course, searching for me means reading! My book choices were limited to Christian authors because I wanted the advice I received to be Christ centered. A friend actually just posted a quote by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick on FB that fits well here: "...If we don't consciously live in the light of his love, the gospel will be secondary, virtually meaningless, and Jesus Christ will fade into insignificance. Our faith will become all about us, our performance, and how we think we're doing, and our transformation will be hindered." What I especially love here is that I had already written this post using the word transformation and speaking of Christ centeredness and then I saw this quote posted...what confirmation! I don't believe in coincidence! Today's post and the next two are a series of the books I've read on this journey to learn about relationships. (I say learn because that's what I started out to don't usually start a journey knowing it's even a journey, let alone where it will take you. I still don't!)

The first book I picked up is Kingdom Journeys by Seth Barnes. The title caught me and it was a couple dollars on Kindle, so I went for it. This book speaks of the literal, physical journeys many people have made on their path to follow Christ. There's something about seeing the world outside of your own that gives you a sense of the bigger picture. Since I have a husband, full time teaching job, and three busy children, it soon became apparent that an actual journey would be impossible right now. But as I read I began to think of close to home "journeys," such as volunteer work. The stories and ideas ruminated in my mind for a couple months and I knew that the right situation would come up if I waited for it.

Another book I read, along the same lines, is Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, by Jeff Goins. The title screams "Ouch!" And as it turns out, Mr. Goins has a website/blog and talks about writing and publishing quite often. I've been following him since October 2012 at . Anyway, the book forces you to take a step back and think about your life in regards to the world around you. Quite honestly, Amazon's summary does it justice, so why reinvent the wheel: "Wrecked is about the life we are afraid to live. It's about radical sacrifice and selfless service--how we find purpose in the midst of pain. It's a look at how we discover fulfillment in the least likely of places. It's about living like we mean it. It's a guide to growing up and giving your life away, helping you live in the tension between the next adventure and the daily mundane."

These were the first two books I read (the rest of my posts are grouped by topic too, but not necessarily in the order I read them). These were a starting point for reiterating that relationship with other people is important and they're worth the effort. Reminds me of the song "My Own Little World" by Matthew West.