Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Anything: A Prayer

I love when I stumble across books in good timing. Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul by Jennie Allen is one of those books. To put it briefly, the book is about Allen and her husband's realization that they were simply living lives of safety and comfort, while a whole wide world raged around them. On the day Allen and her husband felt this, they prayed "Anything," telling God they were willing to do exactly what He needed of them - anything at all. The book summary from Amazon gives a good definition of what such a prayer means: "Anything is a prayer of surrender that will spark something. A prayer that will move us to stop chasing things that just make us feel happy and start living a life that matters." 

What I enjoyed about this book was Allen's passion for her discovery and her willingness to discuss all the journey led her through and is still leading her through. Her life turned upside down and she wouldn't trade a minute of it. Adopting a child, writing books, and starting IF: Gathering, a group that equips women to live out their callings, are all things she'd never imagined doing, but is what was in store for her when she handed over her life for something bigger than herself. None of it came without cost though and she showed how the bad can work for good and how sometimes it's just a matter of faith that all will work out that gets you through.

Her book gripped me and made me realize that this is a prayer I'd like to pray and yet, I'm not sure I can. Am I really willing to pray "all in" like that? I think I am, but I also think I am still stuck in a position of wondering what I have to offer, so I'm unsure where that leaves me at times. I did enjoy her great insight though, especially this: "What no one sees about my life is that I am simply a product of years and years and countless hours of people depositing God in my life–eye to eye, in living rooms and classrooms and over coffee....I was in the back row–yes. But I was also in a season of preparation that I didn’t even realize was happening for a time I couldn’t even fathom."

I guess I am in that place more than I think. A point at which a new season of life is upon me and who knows where it will lead. And so I keep Allen's prayer and experience in the back of my mind as much as possible.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

It took me awhile to get to reading Library of Souls (aka Miss Peregrine's #3). I thought the gap between the last two and this one would hurt it, but it hasn't. It's just as good and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. And, of course, great quotes.

"To some it might've seemed callous, the way she boxed up her pain and set it aside, but I knew her well enough now to understand. She had a heart the size of France, and the lucky few whom she loved with it were loved with every square inch - but its size is dangerous, too. If she let it feel everything, she'd be wrecked." Library of Souls, by Ransom Riggs.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I am not typically a person to reread books. There are just too many titles I want to read in the first place to spend time going back to stories I already know. However, teaching literature has also shown me the benefit of rereading. Besides the very cool fact of knowing a couple literary giants inside and out, there's the way a story changes and effects me the more I look at it.

All that to say that, much like my recent post on The Catcher in the Rye, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close didn't sit well with me during my first read. Also, much like the reasoning behind Catcher, Foer's unreliable first person narration flows in a stream-of-consciousness thought process. In this case it is a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell. The story takes place a couple years post 9/11, but jumps back and forth as Oskar recalls his life and family previous to 9/11 and how his life has changed since. The hard part for me is Oskar's personality specficially. He doesn't speak straight forward, instead using language creatively, such as saying he has "heavy boots" instead of "depressed." His imagination is overactive, causing him to ask crazy questions and invent crazy things that seemingly make no sense. His social skills do not follow the norm, leading him to do things that ostracize him, although for those who really know him, it's just "Oskar." Honestly, upon first reading I thought, if I were his parent I'd want to lock him in a closet (only when he drives me crazy, for his own good, I promise).

Oskar shares narration with his grandmother and grandfather, the former currently in his life and the latter having left before Oskar's father was even born. Through each of them we see a historical (WWII) parallel experience to 9/11 - a mirror to Oskar's suffering, if not worse than his suffering. The chapters narrated by Oskar's grandparents are my favorite, the story pulls me in and I feel for the characters deeply.

Now before you decide I'm cold-hearted, not caring about a kid's loss in 9/11, let me say I'm seeing a pattern that I don't mesh well with in literature. My Honors 11 class chose Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as the novel with which to finish off our school year. That means a reread for me. At the same time, I've been rereading The Catcher in the Rye (for at least the seventh time) with my AP Lit classes. And between the two I've realized it's the stream of consciousness narration that I don't handle well. The tumbling of thoughts from the first person narrator drives me crazy, I begin to dislike a character who is meant to garner sympathy. And on Oskar's part, I feel more bad for his mother who has to deal with him! (The crazy feelings of parenting middle aged children have not left me quite yet.) As a person who thinks through so much in her life and the process thought follows in general, this was kind of a surprise. I reassure myself that I'm not a hypocrite because stream of consciousness is unbridled thought and totally different than a third person, omniscient or limited.

But also, much like rereading Catcher, my second read of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close changed my view of Oskar. Already knowing what his thought process was like, I was able to see beyond it (even appreciate it a little) and feel more deeply for him. Everything he does has absolute purpose, from his clothing, to his ideas, to his routines. To be such a unique individual and have the one person who understood you disappear forever, tragically no less...it's overwhelmingly sad. And to be the parent left, watching helplessly and maybe hopelessly, as your child struggles along with the blow to his innocence?

This much I know is true, I will have to reread all books with stream of consciousness narrators to truly see what the story is trying to say. Ugh, Holden Caulfield, what have you done to me?!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

Love this quote...it's what it means to be a writer and what it means to be someone who comes alongside others.

"It is my growing conviction that my life belongs to others just as much as it belongs to myself and that what is experienced as most unique often proves to be most solidly embedded in the common condition of being human." Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Holden Caulfield, My Literary Frenemy

My move from adolescence to adulthood was pretty hurried. There wasn't a stereotypical set of years known as "my 20's" where I explored life and figured out who I was; my first child was born three weeks before my 20th birthday and the next two came by the time I was 25. Exploring life and figuring out "who I am" started happening closer to age 30 and in a mess of chaos, as by then I had a husband, three children, a stable career backed by two degrees, a home, and unanswered dreams filling my life. Looking from my husband's experience probably puts the hurried aspect into better perspective. The year he turned 19 he graduated from high school, he got his first full time job, his first child was born, he got married, he found a new (better) full time job. From there he worked night shift for nine years, watching our small children during the day, sleeping afternoons and evenings, and heading back out to work at night. Those years we saw each other on weekends and the few minutes before he went to bed and when he got ready for work. Things have amazingly smoothed out since then, although looking back we sometimes wonder how we made it!

It's an overcoming story of sorts to be sure, the kind Americans in particular love to tell and are proud to repeat, but it's also this experience that clouds my view of Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Somehow, I made it out of high school in the late 90's, as well as through my B.S. in English Education by 2002, without reading The Catcher in the Rye. I'm still not sure how that happened, being the literary giant that the book is. But grad school (an M.Ed in English between 2006-2008) tripped me up and I ended up with Catcher as required reading twice. I was excited...until I started reading.

The Catcher in the Rye flashes back on the story of Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy with an inability to get his life together. Holden stands on the brink of adolescence and all that catapults you into adulthood, which causes him to grasp at his quickly and undeniably slipping childhood innocence. Told through his unreliable first person narration, the story flows in a stream-of-consciousness thought process, giving it a unique narration and writing style. I don't want to say too much and possibly ruin the story for anyone because it's a book that when you love it, you LOVE it. On the other hand, for those like me, it's a book that when you hate it, you HATE it.

And hate it I did. Upon first reading, I came to class with a list of reasons Holden Caulfield is a whiny baby who's life isn't worse off than anyone else's and just needs smacked around a little to set him straight. "Class" consisted only of my favorite professor, Dr. Ford, as I took YA Lit as an independent study that semester. Dr. Ford, technically retired from teaching, had read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time as a teenager and loved Holden Caulfield. She asked how I couldn't help but feel sorry for him? At that point in time my answer was along the lines of, life throws curve balls and you have to step up to the plate if you want to make it work. The "suck it up" work ethic life had demanded of me thus far. (Really, think in terms of any "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" metaphor there.) At age 26, with kids ages 6, 4, and 1 year-old, working a full time teaching job, attending grad school, and practically living as a single parent, all I could see was that whiny, not-so-poor Holden Caulfield needed a swift kick to knock some sense into him.

But time and experience has a way of smoothing our rough edges and re-presenting thoughts for reevaluation. A few years after grad school, the high school I teach at moved me from Junior High to Senior High, where I would teach American Literature...and yep, you guessed it, Holden Caulfield was waiting for me. I avoided him the first year I taught American Lit, but by second year, I pulled the book off the shelf and jumped in. I didn't like him any better, but I noticed my students did. By year three I couldn't ignore how much some students identified with Holden's teenage angst and true confusion by life. 

I've taught The Catcher in the Rye at two different points in the school year this time around. What do I think of Holden now? I can say that I do, at least, feel bad for him. He does have a valid reason for his upset. I can recall my own teenage angst and will even admit that it's possible that Holden and I would be friends had I read Catcher as a teen, before adulthood descended heavily upon me. Hitting the world of "who am I" a few years beyond my original meeting with Holden, I can look back and understand his confusion between what you feel and what the world demands. What you want and what you have to do...or do you? I see Holden through my students' eyes more often than not, using my original impressions more as a devil's advocate to see how and if they will defend him. Most usually do.

So, until next year Holden, you and I will remain as we are. Not quite friends, but no longer enemies.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bout of Books 16 Update

Bout of Books

I am happy to say that during this week's read-a-thon I found success! It's always so hit or miss, but Bout of Books 16 coincided with a particularly hard week and I escaped to my books every night. It felt wonderful.

Sunday the 8th found me in the middle of two books, Anything by Jennie Allen and That's Not English by Erin Moore. Both of these have reviews on the horizon, so I won't say much here except that they're both of the nonfiction variety. Between Sunday and Tuesday (Monday had a late, extended meeting), I finished both of them off.

Wednesday found me reading Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl by Lysa TerKeurst. I've enjoyed TerKeurst's books in the past and her contributions to Proverbs 31 Women's Ministry as well. Again the nonfiction kick. My nonfiction lately definitely has a theme...searching. I made it 60% through this book before Bout of Books officially ended yesterday. Much of it was read sitting for three hours in the comfy chair at my local B&N Friday night. I have got to do that more often!

And after passing them around to a few people, my Miss Peregrine's trilogy came back to me and I dug into the last one, Library of Souls. I was proctoring state tests and electronics are not allowed. Since all of my current grading and school work is online, that left me with only the choice of an actual book to read...darn, right? Should have it done with this week I think.

Throughout the week I also reread much of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. My Honors English 11 class chose it as the novel to finish off our school year and I have to say I am liking it more than the first time I read it years ago. Age and experience goes far toward the reread of a novel.

And it's always a good Bout of Books when you have a Twitter Chat to brighten the day. I only made it to Saturday's, but found great bookish people and conversation, as well as more people to follow. Bout of Books 16 was a success. Thanks to all who set it up and participate.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

This thing called life throws a lot of curve balls. It would be nice to get do-overs with hindsight.

"I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live...because if I were able to live my life again, I would do things differently." Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Bout of Books 16

Bout of Books

This is my official sign up post, cause it's here again, Bout of Books 16! It happens three times a year, but the spring happening of Bout of Books every year is my favorite! It's the one where I actually get a good amount of reading done. It's always fun to see people's plans for making the most of their reading time as well as the locations and snacks they prefer. The events, giveaways, and Twitter parties are fun too. And not that we need an excuse, but it helps to push aside responsibilities for the sake of a read-a-thon.

If you've never heard of Bout of Books, here's the official blurb: 

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 9th and runs through Sunday, May 15th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 16 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Hope to see you on the blogs and Twitter next week!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Begin the Week with Words: A Poem

My students and I had a discussion on poetry. I came to the conclusion that I like to read and write it, but discussing it and teaching it gets tricky. Maybe because we aren't exposed to it enough?

But there were other thoughts to our discussion. There's something about deep emotion that draws the poetry out of people. If there's anything poetic within you, a deep moment of revelation will find it! Poets exist everywhere. There are the classic (Emily Dickinson), the well known modern (my favorite Tyler Knott Gregson), and the every day people nodding hello as you walk by. At its most heartfelt, even poetry that isn't well written touches on what it is to be human.

And so, poetry it is today. I present this particular poem because I can see it in my students' faces when they think no one is looking, in the moments of earnestness, and sometimes their actions. I present this particular poem because I think others can relate, even if only in the past or in random moments. As such, I present today's #SundaySentence, with the explanation for its inspiration:

"Saw a glimpse of two friends hugging today - it was sincere and without restraint, joyful and kind of like a dance. It was sweet, beautiful even, and I had a sudden sinking feeling that I am not that person. That I am intrinsically unable to be that friend, a friend someone enjoys the presence of without a doubt."

I'm not the girl people are naturally drawn to
I'm not the girl people think of randomly
I'm not the girl whose smile invites you in
I'm not the girl whose friends flock to her
I'm not the girl who finds her personality favorable
I'm not the girl who finds herself caught up in a hug, of either sadness or joy
I am a girl of restraint, of thought
I am a girl whose smile tries, whose effort is tired
I am a girl who wishes to feel free of herself, to feel needed, and enjoyed
I am a girl who longs to be who she wants to be, not who she is.