Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Are You So Sad?

Why Are You So Sad?, by Jason Porter
Publisher: Plume (Penguin Group)
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Category: Fiction
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Why Are You So Sad? is a weird story, to say the least. It's the story of Raymond Champs, who is married and working as an artist for a furniture company. He is also suffering from severe depression. The story implies at one point that it isn't his first time dealing with the mental anguish the story centers around. His goal throughout the story is to prove that the human race suffers the same depression. He puts together an emotionally charged survey to collect data from his co-workers, in hopes that he can have his research funded and prove we are all slipping into a dark pit of despair. Why Are You So Sad? is told completely by Ray and consists of his thoughts alone, so the story is mostly from his mind and very little other action.

To be honest, Ray's character and his story never gripped me. Though as I read, I did find some connections between what Ray thinks and life in general. At one point Ray's boss calls him to his office for a chat. Ray spends the next moments wondering what the boss will say and do. All the ways in which the conversation could go in his favor. I realized Ray was looking for something most all of us long for - to be understood or to at least have someone try to understand us. To find that human connection. The irony here is that Ray dismisses every survey answer that doesn't line up with his expectations. Some of the answers line up with what Ray thinks, but not exactly and so he feels people are purposely trying to be difficult.

One thing I did like about this story were the one liners. Most of the good ones are outstanding metaphors, such as: "I could feel her burrowing into my heart. I didn't know if the burrowing was like a kitten cuddling up to its mother or if it was like a chigger depositing its larvae beneath the skin of my ankles." Off the wall and gross, but gets the idea across perfectly! Other one liners were quite meaningful: "She thought I was crazy. But I wasn't crazy. Being aware of a deep hurting inside all of us isn't crazy." It seems to me that people often do hold some searching for meaning or hurt as Ray says. It may be big or small and we don't usually show it, but even the answers Ray's co-workers put on their surveys prove Ray's point to some extent, even if not as extreme as Ray claims.

I feel the sign of true to life events will echo certain feelings and descriptions throughout stories, over time. Imagine how I felt to hear the echo of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby narrator Nick Carraway come from Ray Champs. In a few places Ray talks about how he feels like he is another person for a moment - he sees, hears, feels what the person does. The third time Ray speaks of this experience I recalled Nick Carraway's thoughts while he is caught up in the middle of Tom Buchanan's wild party with Tom's mistress and friends. Looking out a high rise window at the city below Nick says, "...our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without..." Wow, no wonder poor Ray is depressed. It's hard enough feeling for yourself, let alone feeling torn for all of humanity.

Which brings me to my last point...we don't know how Ray becomes so depressed. Which is fine I guess, but we also don't know how the story ends. Yes, there are two endings and it's not like Life of Pi two endings, where you can go back and gather information to see which you think is the truth. I am completely unable to say which one is the actual end. I'm glad I found at least these relate-able pieces mentioned above within the story because otherwise this story just kinda left me hanging from start to finish. Reading a few reviews, I've heard it described as a satire, which would explain my inability to grasp it. Satire typically eludes me. In that case, you can't just read my opinion, so I am including here two of my favorite bloggers' reviews on this book as well, for your further edification: Fourth Street Review and The Relentless Reader. Goodreads is also a good place to get a variety of opinions on a book like this! If you know of other reviews on this book, post them in the comments, I'd like to check them out.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Books

Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the ALA conference in Philly this past weekend. The snow on my side of Ohio/PA was horrible and Philly is a six hour drive in good weather. The snow started at 2 a.m. and went strong Saturday, not letting up almost the entire day. Come Sunday, midday was just as bad. Today is Tuesday and I haven't been to school for two days now. Monday because of snow and today it is -17 without the windchill. I am extremely disappointed, but now I am more determined than ever to attend a bookish event and meet some fellow book bloggers!

Spending the past weekend consumed by book thoughts, I've been looking over my shelves considering what I really want to read. (I am currently dragging through Middlesex. Everyone's rave reviews are what keeps me going, but it is soooo slow right now, 200 pages in.) So I thought I'd give a tour of my bookshelves.

The Interloper was my first
 personal bookshelf
The first bookshelf sits in my living room and actually has a name - The Interloper (see here for an explanation). This bookshelf holds the most books, but being homemade and sitting on carpet, it is not sturdy. Does that stop me from using it? Heck, no! My husband bolted it to the wall! That sucker isn't going anywhere. My books are organized by genre, so this shelf holds two and a half rows of Classics and two and a half rows of fiction, alphabetical order by author last name. (I actually posted awhile back when I reorganized my shelves - the nerd in me can't help it. Note, the amazing husband in the first link above, was willingly involved in this process.)

"My son's" bookshelf
Where The Interloper leaves off, the shelf in my son's room picks up. I bought this shelf to match his bedroom furniture, in the event that he can actually use it when I get a library type room just for my books. (That's a dream for another post - my own library within my house.) The top three rows are a continuation of fiction, the bottom one and a half rows contain memoirs, and half of the bottom row is double stacked (and leaking over to cover the memoirs) with Christian nonfiction.

One picture I didn't take is the shelf in my middle daughter's room. It's a disgraceful mess because, well, it's in the room of a teenager who loves knick-knacks. I only use the top two shelves of it anyway. (Although, if I could take care of those knick-knacks, I'd be able to un-double stack my other books!) One shelf is the finishing of my fiction section and the other has books I am swapping on (find me there as LuvReading79 and feel free to use me as the reference if you ever sign up). 

My bedroom bookshelf
The last shelf in my home is in my bedroom. It is the smallest shelf, mostly intended for decorations I think, but it serves nicely for my smallest genre collections: Christian fiction, books on writing, nonfiction, myth, fantasy, and sci-fi. The top shelf (which can't be seen completely because there is a decorative piece that hangs down and I cut it from the picture) has a stack of signed books I've collected over the years - a mix of genres.

And, of course, there are the books that are sitting in stacks on my dresser and bedside table...they will end up stacked in front of or on top of the rows of these shelves. I have a very small e-book collection as well. It is a complete mix of genres and many of them are galleys I've reviewed for publishers and authors.

I can't forget my classroom shelves either! I have two new shelves, which I have attempted to split between junior high and high school, although all students are welcome to choose from either shelf. I always have books signed out, especially when other teachers and I assign independent reading. These books are all books I've bought or attained myself. For the past few years, I have used to supply my classroom shelves because it comes out to an average of $3 total per book. Can't beat that price.

High School shelf with the type of YA most of
us would enjoy reading.
Jr High shelf that contains the type of YA
some of us would look back at sentimentally.

So there you have it, a complete tour of my bookshelves! I'm attempting to borrow and use the library more - to save on the funds more than the space. I can always find more space for a bookshelf. 

Do you have a crazy collection? Or are you more of an e-book/library reader?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

"When we take any of our strongly felt desires and construct our entire identity around it, we discover that we are making a part of who we are into the whole of who we are."

And to piggy back off of that thought:

"What we desire, whether noble or corrupted, is not the truest thing about us. Building our identity on the foundation of what we desire guarantees that our identity will change every time our desires change."

The Truest Thing About You, by David Lomas

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Truest Thing About You

The Truest Thing About You, by David Lomas
Publisher: David C. Cook
Publication Date: February 1, 2014
Categories: Christianity, Religion & Spirituality
Source: I received a free e-galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Who are you? Anyone answering this question will come up with a number of answers. For me, I'm a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, blogger, writer, reader, get the point. What do all of these have in common though? They come and go. And even if some are here to stay (such as mother), the role itself will change within different periods of my life. So, if so much of who I consider myself is changeable, who am I really?

David Lomas sets out to answer this question in The Truest Thing About You. He says that there are many true things about you - everything I stated above is true about who I am. But because these things are changeable and do shift in our lives, we shouldn't define ourselves by them. For example, if my whole self is wrapped up in who I am as a mother and my kids fail (which they will, because we all do), how will that make me feel or look? Apply the same logic to roles such as wife and teacher. Even as a reader - what if I end up blind one day?! (Oh God forbid!) What becomes of my identity? Lomas says this is why we are to look for the one truest thing that doesn't shift or change: our identity in Jesus.

He defines identity as "that which is identical about us in every situation. Identity. Identical." None of the roles I mentioned above are used in every situation in which I find myself, but everywhere I go and everything I do, I am a Christian trying to live a Christ-like life. Lomas uses the scriptures in Genesis that talk about Adam being made in the image of God as the basis for his point.

Lomas also gives the story of his own experience. An experience that he says was not instantaneous, but a process he had to work through. Often not knowing what was happening and sometimes fighting what he knew needed to happen, he came out on the other side aware that he is not defined by what he does, has, or desires.

I completely get this part of his book. I've experienced this. For years, much of what I thought about myself was centered in my role as teacher. I loved my job, my students, my daily work with books and writing...everything about teaching was absolutely glorified to me. I didn't realize how much until one day, three years ago, a parent unjustly complained about me and a colleague turned something I did to help into trouble - all in one day. I felt like my world crumbled. It was really hard to get over...and even now hard to explain unless someone has gone through a similar crushing feeling in a role in which they strongly identify themselves.

In the following months I felt extremely sad. I grasped at anything close to me, not knowing that I was supposed to be letting go instead. When a friend told me I was being difficult and cut me loose for a bit, it was the final nail in the coffin. Although she didn't understand what was happening in my life at the time, it was taking away that last crutch (dependency on other people) that finally caused me to let stop trying to "find myself." Over that ten month process of sorting out feelings of "who am I if I've lost (my teacher-ness, trust in co-workers, friendship, etc)?", I found myself turning to my faith for my identity. The original book I found on this topic about two years after my experience was Who do you think you are? by Mark Driscoll. I didn't finish it partly because it was too in depth for me at that point in my journey. David Lomas's book seems a little better place to start off with the topic I think. Then again, it really may depend on the writing style and depth you are looking for. I do like Driscoll's books. But at that point I needed something simple and straight forward, which Lomas's book is. I wish I had this book three years ago.

Now I am a teacher, I have my friends (including the one mentioned above), and all the other roles I've discussed, but not always and not held at my deepest level. At my deepest level I am a person striving to live a Christ-centered life because He is where everything begins and ends and will never change. That's the truest thing about me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What It Takes to Write

Hi, Jennine here! I originally started My Life in Books as a writing blog called Keep Inspired. It was a way to explore the nuances of writing and keep myself in the practice of writing (hence my URL: "living a writing life"). Although reading soon won over my limited extra time, writing is part of who I am and want to be, so the blog still serves its purpose in that way. So, when Erin Truesdale contacted me saying she had a book coming out and would I like a guest post, I thought what better topic than what it takes to write a book?! It's a topic readers can appreciate, even if they don't consider themselves writers.

Erin is also giving away two copies of her soon to be published book. Visit her on Goodreads to enter, the giveaway ends Friday, January 24, 201.

Take it away Erin.

On What It Takes To Write a Book

By Erin M. Truesdale


I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life.  For the vast majority of that time, I never knew what it took to get anything published, so writing was always put on the back burner. Each person is different, and it will take a special mix of circumstances, drive, connections, and, I can’t emphasize this enough, confidence, to get it done.  Confidence, and the ability to not take constructive criticism personally, are key to reaching your goal of writing a publishable manuscript.

In high school, I constantly had a notebook and pen in tow so I could write in every minute of my spare time.  Some of my most prized possessions are my hand-written, soap opera-like stories of epic proportions that I wrote between classes (most were based on my current hard rock front man crush at the time), because so much of my passion and youth went into writing them.  Compliments from teachers and students alike weren’t quite enough to boost my confidence to the level needed to major in English in college.

Okay, so that’s sort of a lie.  In my first year in college, my official declared major was English.  Being surrounded by so many high caliber students, I felt intimidated.  I didn’t feel like I could compete with these people who seemed like professionals to me, the shy girl from a small high school.   Plus, reality was setting in for the first time, in that I didn’t think I could make any money from writing.  Additionally, and this is something to which I think many of us can relate, I didn’t want to be ‘confined’ to what scholars thought was an appropriate style, or schematic, to which creative writing should adhere.  I couldn’t wrap my head around a professor telling me my writing was ‘bad,’ because creative writing is so subjective, how can anything creative be bad?

Over a decade later, I can now tell you: There is a purpose to literary style and format and structure.  There is, and it’ll change your writing forever.  It doesn’t confine you; it actually opens up worlds to you and organizes your thoughts in a cohesive and critical way.

But anyway, the point is this… I stopped writing.  I first changed my major to Chemistry (yeah…) and then to Ancient History.  Even if your major isn’t (or wasn’t) English, the first rule to being a writer is this: DON’T. STOP. WRITING.

It sounds simple, but it’s true, and it’s important.  If you want to be a writer, write every single day.  I don’t care if what you write is pure rubbish.  Write, write, write.  As Ray Bradbury said, “Write a short story every week.  It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”  I think he might be on to something.

The urge to write never left me, it just sort of got sidelined by life.   However, when I heard about National Novel Writing Month, I decided to give it a go.  In November of 2012, I wrote a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  Just like that!  And you know how?  I wrote every single day for 30 days, I set a word count goal for myself each day, and I held myself accountable for those goals.  And it worked.

The resulting novel wasn’t the best piece I’ve ever written, but that’s not the point.  If you don’t practice, you’ll never hone your craft.  So I kept writing, and I set more goals.  It doesn’t even have to be novel writing… short stories, screenplays, poetry, it all counts.  NaNoWriMo has a couple smaller (and, honestly, less stressful) events throughout the year, of which I took part in the spring and summer of 2013, churning out two more lengthy manuscripts.  By August of last year, I finally had a novel length manuscript I felt was good enough to have an editor look over and (crossing my fingers) pitch to publishers sometime in 2014.

So, the key is to write, even if you think everything you write is awful, and even if you feel you have a severe case of writer’s block.  Write through it.  You’ll never get rid of writer’s block by staring at a blank page and not taking action.  Put your fingers on the keys and write whatever comes to mind.  Anything at all.  That exact method is how I’ve written several short stories and most of my poetry.

Although I’ve always loved writing short stories and flash fiction, poetry is my first love.  The book I’m releasing January 28, 2014, Lifeblood: A Poetry Collection, has been over a decade in the making.  I’ve gathered up my best poems dating from 2002 to 2013 and compiled them into one volume.  I think this is great because, taken as a whole, it really is about life’s journey.  Each poem has a certain tone or subject that gives the reader a sense of what I was going through at the time, and I am certain that you’ll be able to relate to all of them in your own unique way.

For the time being, I’m self-publishing.  At first I thought this was not as commendable as snagging a deal with a ‘real’ publisher.  Not so.  As an artist, don’t you want to have total control over your product?  With self-publishing, you can.  You design the book cover and every single page of the book yourself.  It is hard, I won’t lie.  When I published my first book, I struggled for several stressful nights on formatting, especially eBook formatting.  Once you nail it, though, it’s smooth sailing from there.

It might seem daunting, or even terrifying, to publish your work and send it out to the masses to be happily ingested by some and maliciously torn apart by others, but the rewards far outweigh the negative aspects.  To hold a book in your hands that you’ve poured your heart and soul into… there is truly nothing more exciting and wonderful.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Getting Ready for ALA


Typically you'd write about an event after you attend, but I'm getting pretty excited about next weekend since it's my first bookish trip AND the first time I meet blogger friends in real life! I will write up a little something after, but you'll have to bear with my excitement at this moment too.

I'm attending the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, PA on Saturday, January 25th and Sunday, January 26th. The meeting actually begins Friday the 25th and ends Monday the 27th, but of course I have to work. I am really happy I can sneak away for the weekend portion of the meeting though. (Once again, to my hubby who never says no to my bookish pursuits, I love you.)

The other exciting part of the weekend is that I will be attending the conference with Rebecca from Love at First Book and Katie from Doing Dewey. What's better than attending a conference than attending it with people as book-crazy as you? Not much! Very excited to meet these ladies! (Check out their blogs if you haven't already.)

I don't know what I'm in for and I don't know how or what to prepare, but from the looks of the program and advice of other bloggers, there's going to be an overwhelming amount of everything to take in: publisher product giveaways, books, ARCs/galleys, author signings and speakers, etc. I've pinpointed five authors I'd like to see and have sign my books! Who are they? Well, you'll just have to wait until next week to find out ;)

Which bookish conferences/trips have you taken...or do you want to take?

Begin the Week with Words

This one speaks for itself I think...and should make us cringe.

"If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor." Voltaire 

As quoted in The Truest Thing About You, by David Lomas

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Happy Anniversary

Above August 1998, age 18. Below June 2013, age 33. Both pictures
taken on a weekend we saw Matchbox 20 - at the same amphitheater.
Today, January 15th, my husband Brandon and I have been married for 14 years. When I told him he was going to be the star of my post for today, he said, "You mean I'm not in every post?" He was joking, of course. He reads my blog...I think.

I was an avid reader long before we met, but I had just started really buying books, which were housed on a huge wooden bookshelf made by my previous boyfriend. Of course, those first few years being married we would joke about the interloping bookshelf, until one day I said, "Well you could build me one." His response, "Nah, you would just keep the old one too." How well he knows me: extra shelves = more books! The bookshelf still stands, overflowing, in our living room. He knows to me it is a home for my books and nothing more...besides we'd have to pay for another one. This one was free ;)

At the same time, my husband knows that lack of an extra bookshelf won't stop new books from entering our home. Soon the interloper shelf filled up and I bought a nice decorative shelf to match our bedroom. It's small though, so between decorations and books it took no time to fill up. When we moved to our house, I began putting my books on my daughters' shelf. However, they had their own books, so when my son was born I "bought him a shelf to match his bedroom furniture." Yes, read the quoted part as "bought another shelf to put my books on." Most people have a TV in every room of the house; I have a bookshelf in every room of my house. And they're all overflowing with my books (and my daughters', who think they should have some claim to a shelf or two. Fine). My book collection has grown exponentially faster than the number of bookshelves, but not a word from my husband about it.

I can't count the number of times he's wondered around bookstores with me. Even stood in the middle of a parking lot with me while I took a picture of a beautiful Barnes and Noble in Florida. Or the movies-made-from-books he's watched with me, sitting next to him whispering, "That's not how it was in the book." Followed by a lengthy description of "what really happened" after the movie. When my classroom bookshelf collapsed, he didn't think twice when I asked if we could buy a new one that night. In fact, he said I should get two and built them in my classroom that same night. He knew the blank space and absence of books in my classroom would bother me for days. He gets my blog posts in his email and he was my first follower.

All this to say, I can't remember a single time in the total 16 years we've been together when my husband said I couldn't buy a book (or a bookshelf for that matter), shouldn't buy a book, or was mad because I bought yet another book. Even when I chose the $100 Barnes and Noble gift card over a Visa card from our rewards program (without consulting was instinct I swear), he just shook his head with a smile.

We are opposites in every way I can think, which may seem like it wouldn't work. Yet, I was blessed with this football loving, ESPN man who has never once not supported a most important piece of me - reading and books. I love you Braise! Happy Anniversary!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jazz Age January: The Great Gatsby

NOTE: There are spoilers!!!

Jazz Age January, sponsored by Leah at Books Speak Volumes, left me with so many books and authors from which to choose. After starting a couple different books, I ended up back where I had originally started...The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I couldn't resist.

I know GG was big in 2013 with the movie remake, but I don't know that people pay attention to the story itself sometimes when they are so busy analyzing the making of the movie. So I figured I would bring my teacher perspective on this well known classic. At the heart of The Great Gatsby is the search for the American Dream. Gatsby is not the only character who has a dream, but it is his dream we watch unfold on center stage through the narration of the starstruck, naïve Nick Carraway.

Gatsby lives in the biggest mansion on Long Island's West Egg. He drives custom made cars and throws lavish parties that border on distasteful. Anyone and everyone wants their names connected to Gatsby, yet, besides the fact that money talks, no one really knows why that is or who he is. Despite being "richer than God," it becomes apparent that Gatsby is searching. He does not attend his own parties and no one seems to know from where he hails; however, among the sea of famous and wealthy, he is soon asking little ole Nick for the favor of meeting Nick's married cousin, Daisy Buchanan, at tea.

In the following sections of the story, the dream comes stumbling forth. Daisy Buchanan is Gatsby's dream and, like any dream, needs funding. He was a poor boy who met her as a soldier going off to war. They fell in love and promised to marry when he returned. However, Daisy grew up accustomed to anything money can buy. By her early 20s she herself says she has done everything and been everywhere. Life without money has bored her and yet she cannot fathom living without everything at her fingertips. Gatsby knows he cannot have her without such support...he needs a fortune fast. The best way to make a fast fortune in the Roaring 20s? Mob connections and bootlegging, of course. And just like that Gatsby sets out to "repeat the past." Nick describes Gatsby's desperate attempts to woo and marry Daisy as a way in which Gatsby "wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was."

Daisy is more than happy with a fling, but is not willing to go through the social ringer of divorce, not to mention the fact that she detests the West Egg, new money culture. She loves Gatsby for what he once represented. Through a series of unfortunate events, Gatsby ends up dead and his funeral empty of any mourners except Nick and Gatsby's father.

When I ask my students why Gatsby's dream fails, they usually tell me "because he died." On the surface this may seem sensible. So I ask them, "If I accomplish every dream I have, does that mean I'm immortal? No, I'm going to die someday regardless of accomplishing my dreams or not. So, why does Gatsby's dream fail?" This is the crux of The Great Gatsby...what is F. Scott Fitzgerald trying to tell us? Surely we know better than to say he doesn't want us to dream?!

The only thing left to do is look at the dream itself. Is Gatsby's dream logical/sensible? No. Does he allow for obstacles? No. Is his dream dependent on situations out of his control? Yes. In short, Gatsby's dream is full of impossibilities. As Nick tells him, "you can't repeat the past." You cannot force another person to follow your dream. Daisy is her own being with a life that moved on during the war years and after, when Gatsby didn't return. Nick puts his finger on it when he says, “There must have been moments...when Daisy tumbled short of his [Gatsby's] dreams -- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It [the illusion/dream] had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Gatsby was never chasing the woman he loved in all her faults and glory...he was chasing a figment of her that he had built up in his imagination. Reality crashes the pedestal upon which Daisy sits in his mind and Gatsby, faithful to his dream until the end, goes down with it. Fitzgerald is not against dreaming, but realizes the human tendency to wear rose colored glasses.

Does this seem farfetched or unlikely? Fitzgerald is in good company if you consider Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men along the same exact lines. Sometimes it's life that gets in the way and sometimes it's the dreamer him/herself. My students read all three and they accuse me of depressing them and crushing their dreams by the end of the unit. I tell them it is my pleasure to ensure their dreams are well thought out from the start. I mean what else are books good for, if not to learn from?

Have you read The Great Gatsby? If you've only seen the movie, you should read the book!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Co-hosting Spread the Love Linky Party

Spread the Love via Love at First Book

This week I am co-hosting Spread the Love Linky Party with Rebecca @LoveAtFirstBook!

Rebecca hosts a Spread the Love Linky Party every week, where bloggers can link their favorite or current posts to share with the blogosphere. So, stop by and check out Love At First Book every Sunday to link up your own post or to check out the various topics linked to her blog for the week!

Last week's most popular Linky Party post was Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books post on her 2014 TBR Challenge!
Spread the Love Linky Party via Love at First Book

This week at My Life in Books, I finished The Goldfinch and posted my review. Another (in my opinion better) review I read on the same book was from Jennifer @ Book-alicious Mama - hop over there and READ IT! Great example of how to write a precise and full review of a loooong book.

Also, I had the privilege of guest posting for Wendy @Wensend. In my post Teaching Books, I talked about some faults I see in American education and culture when it comes to teaching reading. We would love if you stopped over there and joined in the discussion.

Now it’s your turn to show off your most amazing post!
  • Rebecca and I would love it if you would grab a button and add it to your post or party page. It’s not required, but it would make me super happy and it gets the word out about the party!
  • Link up your greatest book review, bookish post, DIY, tutorial, craft project, fashion amazingness, green post, whatever is fabulous this week or before that is yours!
  • Spread even more love – Show our co-host, My Life in Books, a little love this week! Then click on the link right before yours and say something nice! It’s a great way to learn about a new blog and an amazing post that someone worked so hard on! We all love nice comments on our own blogs, so take a minute to spread the love.
  • Rebecca will share the most clicked-on post at next week’s Spread the Love Linky Party, which is a fun way to be featured.
  • By linking up, you are granting the party hosts permission to promote you and an image from your site in a featured post or on social media. Meaning, if I or anyone else thinks your post is as amazing as you think it is, we might just promote it! Which I can only see as a positive, don’t you agree?

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Begin the Week with Words


"Can't good come around sometimes through some strange back doors?"

"...sometimes you have to lose to win."

                                                         The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Guest Posting Today


Hi! Today I have the privilege of guest posting over at Wensend. Starting out the new year with a fresh set of lesson planning for my classes, I couldn't help but focus on what it's like to teach literature to high schoolers.

So for my pure, unadulterated ramblings on this topic, hop over to Wensend, read my post, and join the discussion!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Goldfinch

I didn't officially join Bout of Books this week because time is fickle during the school year. Some weeks I seem to have less time than others. However, we had two extra days off of school due to the wind chill giving us -36 temps. So, unofficially, I've been reading and joining Bout of Books on Twitter. My goal was simply to read and review The Goldfinch, which I finished and am reviewing here.

I'm having trouble thinking how to review The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. First off, the book has been highly hyped and reviewed already. Second, it's almost 800 pages...that's a whole lot of book to fit here. Third, I'm not quite sure of my opinion of it. It was a good story, but I feel I need to ruminate on it a bit more to give a better description than "good."

The hardback book itself is beautiful. The cover is, ironically or maybe purposefully, a work of art. Not just the imitation of the artwork, but the somewhat rough texture of the paper. The actual hard cover is white with the author and title in a casual black font. And the pages are as smooth as (insert something smooth here - I guarantee these pages are smoother). So smooth, the pages caught me off guard the first time I opened the book. Even knowing ahead that the storyline dealt with art, I didn't get the true feeling of art the book itself physically displays until I was well into the story.

The story deals with the life of Theodore Decker as he struggles through growing up after a tragedy takes away his most important person and places him in the hands of another who will lead him into a life he would never have known otherwise. And yet that same tragedy is what eventually leads him to anyone else good in his life as the story unfolds.

I feel Theo is a likable character. His tragedy automatically makes you sympathize with him and later, if his adult actions tick you off, you still pity him based on his tragic experience. Not that pity is a good thing or something to be envied, but Theo is quite simply lost. Nothing he does seems to have any thought and he lacks any true guidance. Even as the story moves into his adult life, he carries on as he did as a messed up teen. However, I couldn't find myself disliking him because of his continued destructive actions. I remembered the Theo that started the story and hoped that he'd end up that person I knew he had the potential to be once again.

What else is there to say? Maybe some key topics? Explosion, death, foster care, traveling across country and out of the country, bad influence, alcoholic father, runaway, PTSD, secret love, unmeaningful love, drugs, violence, fighting, art, money...there's more. Like I said, there's more story in 771 pages than I could possibly put in one review. Suffice it to say I thought it was a good story and I always wanted to see where Theo and his treasure would end up.

Is The Goldfinch on you radar for 2014? Or have you already read it? What did you think?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

I'm not sure where I read this quote this past week, but it stands well on its own and can apply to most anything. Love the use of something that would typically be negative turned around to sound good.

"Catch on fire with enthusiasm, and people will come for miles to watch you burn." John Wesley

Friday, January 3, 2014

Words as Symbols

Who can resist a word that physically represents its own meaning?
Being the most practical, no nonsense, kinda strict person I know, this
was a big to do. I think 2014 is going to be a year of big "to dos" for me!

I'm in the middle of The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt and just finished up a guest post for next week, which leaves me currently post-less in the new year here at My Life in Books. So I coasted around Google, looking for non-review book blog post ideas. I did find a really long list at Book Nympho, in case you want a back-up plan.

One of the suggested post ideas was to talk about quotes. I kinda do that with Sunday Sentence and I couldn't even wrap my head around where to start. I love a good quote so much and there are so many worthy of discussion. Yet, it made me think about words in general. What is it about just the right word (or combination of words) at the right time that speaks to you, sheds light on a subject, makes you really think?

From that thought, my mind gravitated to my recent word obsession and wordsmith. Ann Voskamp is a Christian author who has two best sellers. Her first is my favorite book of 2013, One Thousand Gifts. She also has a blog . Voskamp is one of those authors who knows how to take a topic you've heard a million times and work the words into understanding you never had. I'm sure timing and maturity play into this, but I'm a word person. This woman has a gift.

When it comes to what I've read, my memory is nothing impressive. I always remember how a book made me feel and if I liked it or not, but details become a blur pretty quickly, unless I reread it. However, Voskamp's topic stuck with me easily when I read the book the first time. Eucharisteo, Greek for thanksgiving, is her topic. The idea is that everything flows from thanksgiving...and this isn't just "Oh, I'm tankful I have (fill in the blank)." It's that and much deeper. It's about being thankful even when life is bad and everything is going wrong. From a thankful heart comes the ability to have true grace, joy, trust, etc., things that outlast a bad season of life. It's a tall order and like anything else takes intentionality. I cannot do it justice here, there is so much more said in the book.

But, like I said, I love words, especially when they go above the usual making of meaning through sentences. The Greek word eucharisteo means thanksgiving. The root word is charis, which means grace. The derivative is chara, which means joy. Literally, the words for grace and joy flow from the word for thanksgiving in the Greek. How wonderfully symbolic is this? The words physically represent their meaning! Regardless of personal beliefs, this is an example of a word lover's dream word!

Between the way the topic caught my heart and mind and the symbolism of the word itself, I knew this was something special for me. I've made it my resolution, to live in continual thanksgiving. And what better way to remember a lifelong resolution than to keep it with you permanently? Yep, I tattooed it to my shoulder.

Any New Year's Resolutions you are excited about this year?