Month: April 2014

25 Apr 2014

a marathon

I watched the 118th Boston Marathon from high above the finish line. It was an offer I had last year as well but did not take. We sat in a bar in Brookline instead, camped out around mile 22 with a bunch of day-drinkers listening to loud music and cheering on the second wave of marathoners.

We left in the afternoon. Between leaving the bar and making it home, it was clear something was very wrong. Twitter said there was an explosion, smoke. Cashiers at the grocery said a bomb. Amputations. My parents were calling. My friends were calling. Then our cell phone signal went out for a while.

We were far enough away. We were walking in the right direction. Heading home, not to the finish line.

I am not a sports person. Sports have always been what daddy watches all weekend when I want to watch cartoons, or what gym teachers force upon me, trading mild humiliation for passing grades. Sports in general feel like a weird, corporate-sponsored, steroid-ridden Gladiator match.

Marathons, though. Marathons are different. I watch the Boston marathon and all of my recessed sports-related emotions let loose. A bunch of semi-crazy people are just running beyond human desire, need, or comprehension, but I might as well be watching My Team win the Superbowl (or insert some other more relevant sports metaphor here.)

It’s been four years now, but I am still running. I am an ambivalent runner. A reluctant runner. An inconsistent, slow, occasionally sidelined by aches and pains and illness and general-life-exhaustion runner. It’s so minor-league compared to a marathoner – much less a Boston marathoner – but having engaged in the act regularly for a number of years gives me just enough perspective to be completely floored by the act of marathoning. It is time consuming and damn difficult to train for 26.2, yes, but it’s also something you choose, for whatever twisted reason, it’s a personal thing. Every runner that crosses the finish line, and even those that don’t. They choose to show up and give everything they have inside of them. 36,000 people made this choice, or a million small choices, and yeah, that makes me cry. Every time.

I am glad that the choices of 36,000 outweighed the choices of a few in 2013, and thankful for the many police and security folks who made 2014 safer, and for those who were injured I am so glad you are still here and I hope you are getting better. There are some things about city life that I loathe and some things I like, but coming out with the rest of the city and the world to cheer on the Boston Marathon every year is what brings me to my metaphorical, emotional knees. It’s the ritual, the celebration, the community, the city. My city. It was beautiful up there and I can’t wait until next year.

16 Apr 2014

what to listen to next

I am entering yet another season of required reading – my to-be-read queue of real-live-print books is stacked high and will remain so for a few months. My fun-reading will be reserved for the humble audiobook.

Not complaining. I have a deep and well-documented love of audiobooks. But I will admit… now that season four of GoT has returned, it’s taking a concerted effort not to fall back into that audio trap. I don’t need to spend the rest of my summer listening to the same 90 discs of audio I ALREADY LISTENED TO TWICE LAST YEAR. Ahem.

In defense, I have glutted my phone with new audiobooks to entice me. Remember my favorite free audio source, Overdrive? Well, there’s a new guy in town named Hoopla – his checkout procedures are more streamlined and his catalog is always available (simultaneous downloads = no checked out items, no holds lists, and the joy of instant gratification). The app interface is… um… maddeningly awful, but that hasn’t stopped me from expending all of my 10 downloads each month.

Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish…. is… not… a book I would think I would like. It had a moment of surging popularity at my library when it came out, but I just do not think novels in rhyming verse are really my thing. Novels for grown-ups, anyway. However, I heard a Rakoff story recently in an old episode of This American Life and I just thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. And it made me sad because Mr. Rakoff has died and this was his last work. And also, if I want to avoid falling into the GoT trap, I need to remind myself of the pleasures of Relatively Short Books – and this one is only TWO PARTS. Two parts. Two. TWO! I could listen to two part WHILE sleeping.

… or I could stick sliiiightly closer to my wheelhouse and stretch the limits of my attention span with a few lengthier YA titles. Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals was on my radar but not my TBR list – I haven’t ready any of her books since I had an ARC of Golden in the long ago dark ages. I liked Golden well enough, but Barnes’s books always feel a little… ah… plot-hook-heavy for my personal tastes. But I saw this on Overdrive and thought to myself “Hey, you know what’s probably pretty good on audio? Plot-hook-heavy books.” Or, I could try a Printz honor that’s been on my TBR list for awhile. I read Terry Pratchett’s Nation in grad school and unexpectedly kind of loved it, so Dodger has been on my radar for quite some time. It feels so great to f-i-n-a-l-l-y read a book you’ve been meaning to read for a long, long time – audio is a great way to make that happen.

A month ago I made up a short list of Overdrive books that The Boy might like to listen to. Out of all of my suggestions, he picked The Bluest Eye – a book that I thought was brilliant and loved on audio, but, in retrospect, is the complete opposite of a book that The Boy would like. This is why I am sometimes awful at reader’s advisory, folks. Anyway, we’ve been talking about the book while he listens and it reminded me that I haven’t tried to shove a classic novel down my throat lately. I read My Ántonia in college, but I have little recollection of what the story was actually about. I started listening to this one on Hoopla for a minute last week and thought the available narrator was pretty good. Now all I will have to do is subject myself to the horror that is Hoopla. I can’t really get into it now – I may break out in hives. It’s new. It’s technology. It’s new technology. Things will iron out, eventually, and in my relentless-endless-lifelong pursuit of a good listen, I will keep trying.

11 Apr 2014

reading wishlist: summer 2014

Hey, you know what is both fun and interesting? Talking about the weather!

I jest. I jest with tears in my eyes, tears of hostility, confusion, and disbelief. It has been such a ridiculous long winter. My apartment actually had heat this year, and we’ve had weather in the 50s this week…but I’m in some kind of freaky state of seasonal denial. It can’t be nice yet. What’s going on. How will I dress myself? Will I get sweaty? Can I wear my Bean boots? Surely as soon as I decide I like the weather then it will snow again. Even in July. Nothing is sacred.

This is all to say: I’m getting buzz on these books with summer month pub dates and I cannot yet admit to myself that summer will actually arrive. These books will never exist.

That is where I am at this year. In April. Help me.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

I have trouble with sequels and series. As in, I rarely read Book 1 before Book 2 is published. Or read Book 2 before Book 3 is published. Perpetually behind. Also see: everything I ever watch on television.

It took me over a year to get around to reading The Diviners, but I read it! I READ IT!! Well, I listened to it, if you want to get technical. Anyway, I feel as though I should read the sequel just because of the principle. I mean, the book was good, too, but I’ve always heeded the pull of Principle at least as often as the pull of Good Book.

Although I will admit that I am a shameless Judge-A-Book-By-It’s-Cover-Girl, and am therefore a little miffed about the cover redesign. As I am about most cover redesigns. Whyyyyyyyyyy must you change covers mid-series WHYYYYYY this is everything wrong with the world I promise.

Abroad by Katie Crouch

This is a book for adults, but oh-boy did the description tickle all of my reading fancies. Teen protagonist? Yes. Set in Italy? Yes. A group of creepy girls who “turn  quaint fantasies into an erotic and dangerous rush through the darkest realms of friendship and love?” Oh yes. A comparison to The Secret History? Well now you’re just going overboard, flap-copy writer. I’m officially going to read this book, you can lay off the Jessica-bait.

Words and their Meanings by Kate Bassett

This is a much longer post for a much longer day, but I am struggling with this little niche-genre I so love that is Contemporary Young Adult Realism. Every book that I should love, I don’t. I’m perpetually underwhelmed. I’m guessing that I am reading the wrong books – I am trying to like books that fit into some plot or character mold that I admire in other writers, but that just aren’t up to snuff craft-wise. Conundrum. Anyway, I’m trying to branch out a little and read some more lesser known/first time authors – books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own. I heard Kate Bassett interviewed on Sara Zarr’s This Creative Life podcast and added Words and Their Meanings , her 2014 debut, to my TBR list. Bonus: set in Michigan!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

A new Jacqueline Woodson. No elaboration necessary.

Okay, fine. I will elaborate, with exclamation points. New!! Jacqueline! Woodson! Poems! Autobiographical poems! Middle grade! Amazing!! Wow!!! Will Read!

Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Ms. Haydu wrote a book called OCD Love Story that I really want to read. In fact, it’s sitting right over there, in my Leaning Tower of Library Books. I can’t tell you how many times I have renewed it because I would be embarrassed. But I want to read it! I do! I have ever since I heard Ms. Haydu on my other favorite podcast, Narrative Breakdown.
Since I am officially beginning a season of Required Reading, I’m not sure that OCD Love Story is going to happen… buuuuuttt I will have an opening for a Treadmill Book soon, and from the peek I’ve taken at her 2014 book – Life by Committee – I think I might skip right ahead to Book #2

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

I adore Raina Telgemeier. I consider her a Patron Saint of Middle School Girls. A sequel/companion to her graphic memoir – Smile – makes me, uh, smile.

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

I have neglected to tell you how addicted I am to Lev Grossman’s Magicians series. Apologies. It’s a recent obsession, started right at the end of 2013. I have been sitting on a mega-long Magicians post, but I’m having trouble deciphering my own fangirl-ish ravings. This is also why I waited until the last week of December to write about Game of Thrones, and yes, these two loves are somewhat related.

Anywaaaaaaay is there anything better than coming into a series when the first two books have already been published AND the final installment is due within months? Not much! Super excited about this one.

What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn

Interwoven storylines with multiple narrators. American teens at boarding school in England. The 1960s.

I mean, it’s no Series Finale Where Magical Teenagers Go to Magical College, but this one sounds pretty good, too.


Too bad none of these books will be published because there’s a big snowstorm headed right to Boston as we speak. I am lying. I am not lying. I have no idea what is going on somebody please send sunglasses, iced coffee, and flip-flops.


03 Apr 2014

Hollywood vs. The Giver


So it seems my favorite childhood book is finally (finally!) becoming a movie. I certainly cannot let this occasion pass without comment. (Comments which are loaded with spoilers, btw)

I have notoriously complicated feelings about Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It is a book that holds a special place in my heart and memory, a book I have probably read a dozen times.

As an self-respecting Professional Book Person, I acknowledge that shedding some of my own precious feelings about books is an essential part of the job. I am used to complicated book feelings. I get less riled up when the media misrepresents children’s and YA lit. I take movie adaptations with a huge grain of salt, and I am pretty good at considering the two as separate pieces of art.

But The Giver movie? I don’t know if I can approach this adaptation with my Professional Book Person tricks. Grad school may have given this book a beat-down, but within My Own Personal Canon, it holds up to multiple re-readings, to close scrutiny. I can’t pry The Giver all the way from my psyche, so I’m not sure I am going to be able to watch this movie as a separate entity or without considering what the movie should have been or could have been.

I feel like I’m beating around the bush, so here’s a thesis statement: I am concerned this movie will not do the book justice whatsoever. Yes, most of my concern comes from aforementioned young reading experiences and personal feelings. But some of them are not.

First and foremost… are they really filming this entirely in color? I hold onto a thread of hope that maybe the trailer is a trick, that the filmmakers wanted to save the black and white transition for the theatrical release,  for maximum impact. It seems like a bit of a hokey point to get hung up on, but it’s such an obvious move that to abandon it seems portentous. Every person I’ve ever talked to about The Giver as a movie – from my first reading in 1995 to my most recent re-read in 2008 – suggests it. Jonas’s gradual shift to seeing colors is a major turning point in the novel and such an important part of what separates Jonas’s community from our own. Such a smart plot device… and just so obviously cinematic.

I am starting to feel like a disgruntled Harry Potter fan. “But Hogwarts didn’t look like that in my imagination. The Great Hall was so much greater and Ron looked like this and Hermione wasn’t like that and…” But a work like Rowling’s – or any other high-concept kid’s book that ends up on the big screen – has so many fantastical possibilities that there is no way any interpretation will match up with the text, will stand up to your vision. The Giver is a more manageable beast, and despite its relative lack of Harry Potter-level opulence, seems almost more reliant on visuals. The shift from utopia to dystopia is slow – right in line with Jonas’s brainwashed twelve-year-old perspective. Lowry creates such a comforting utopia – it’s just like our world, but without the doubt, uncertainty, pain that sit with us even as children. The utopia is powerful and Jonas’s slow education even more so.

When I watch this trailer, I don’t feel comforted for one second. The sets and costumes are aggressively “sci fi.” The interior shots show oversized boxy homes filled with that affected, Jetson-esque furniture that is supposed to look futuristic. Instead of slowly injecting discomfort into an otherwise familiar setting, the aesthetics of the film skip right to the dystopia, which, to me, is a much bigger violation than a red apple.

Maybe I’ve just read the book too many damn times – my brain permanently imprinted with 20-year-old images. But I am worried that a great book that could have been a great movie has been Hollywood-ized to death. The world needs another teen sci-fi-adventure-romance, so why not The Giver? If I can make myself see the movie, I will have to work hard to keep my cool, keep that non-psycho Professional Book Person hat on tight and try not to have a conniption.

Or, more likely, I will wait until a trusted children’s-lit friend watches it. If they report back negatively, I will never watch it and pretend it doesn’t exist. The Utopia Of Your Favorite Childhood Book. I can hold onto that one.