Category Archives: Books

Celebrate Your Freedom To Read

This week is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, a week each autumn where the ALA highlights the First Amendment, focuses on issues surrounding censorship of information, and celebrates our freedom to read.

It’s one of the best weeks of the year.

But this is the first year in a decade that I haven’t been in the classroom during Banned Books Week, and it’s weirding me out. I put BBW on my syllabus each Fall semester, and I design an activity for my students that is meant to inform and engage them. These are some of the flyers they created last year during an in-class group activity:


Click link below to see full flyer



Click link below to see full flyer



Click link below to see full flyer


And there are always some excellent activities at my college to celebrate BBW: panel discussions, lectures, and one year there was a mock demonstration where we marched around outside of the library with placards to “protest” censorship. Our librarians put together resources for faculty and students to bring awareness and celebrate reading, and they always do a terrific job.

The librarians made me a robot and asked me to compare Sherman (my reading robot) to the ALA's reading robot campaign.

A few years ago the librarians made me a robot and asked me to compare Sherman (my reading robot) to the ALA’s reading robot campaign.

And the freedom to read is a personal issue for me; and it’s not just because I’m an educator and a bibliophile. In 2008, just after I got hired on at MCC in a full-time, tenure track position, a student of mine objected so vehemently to a book I’d used in class that she, her mother, and their pastor tried to get the book banned. Not only did they want me to stop teaching it, but they also wanted the administrators to stop the book from ever being taught again at our college. They wanted to ban it from our classrooms and our library.

I found this shocking, and I was worried my administration might think I was too much of a trouble maker and renege their job offer. But that didn’t happen. Instead, my fantastic deans and the VP of academic and student affairs supported me at every turn, swatted the pastor away like the gadfly he was, and, of course, didn’t even consider banning the book.

The book they tried, unsuccessfully, to ban.

The book they tried, unsuccessfully, to ban.

This event opened my eyes to the uncomfortable truth that people still try to ban books. This is not a theoretical problem; this is not an old-fashioned problem. This is a problem, now. So we as educators, librarians, and champions of democracy must fight — with great big swings of our book-holding fists — every effort to stifle our freedom of expression in speech or in the press.


I got this tattoo after my personal book-banning incident. Is it saying something that this was the most painful one I’ve ever gotten?

This week I had to celebrate Banned Books Week in my own personal way, and of course I enlisted the help of my local public library.


I was so excited to see this that I took a terrible, blurry picture.

They’d wrapped up books in black paper to hide the titles and authors’ names, and then pasted the “reasons” given to challenge and/or ban that particular book. I looked over the selection and choose this one:


In my Adolescence and the Schools class this semester, we read an article about the ineffectiveness and problems of Abstinence Only Until Marriage sex education, so when I saw “sex education” on this book, my interest was piqued.

I brought my secret book home, unwrapped it, and was delighted when I saw that I’d gotten a book I haven’t read:


Although, really, I was just delighted that I got to unwrap a library book like it was a present. No, scratch that: the library book was a present.

And now I’m wearing one of my Banned Books Week t-shirts (yes, I have more than one), and I’m going to read my Sherman Alexie book this weekend and love all of the gambling and violence and offensive language that are within its pages.

So, my job for you all is to go out to your local library and get a book — any book! — and celebrate your freedom to read!



Camp Crystal Lake is Open for Visitors

It’s been a busy few weeks at Camp Crystal Lake, because Trevor, Roo, and I have been hosting overnights for some of our favorite people (to be fair, though, we have a lot of favorite people [Trevor sometimes says I’m hyperbolic and I usually tell him that he’s absolutely insane]).

In September, I asked my book club — The Ladies of Literature and Libations (because yes, it’s cool to name your book club, and yes, our name is the best name of all the names) — to make the fifty-mile trek out from Chicago to spend twenty-four hours talking about all things David Foster Wallace.

David Foster Wallace

I was ready in case we got bored.

In February the group decided to read Infinite Jest, DFW’s 1079-page novel published in 1995. I’d read IJ before, but I hadn’t had a cohort to talk about it with (it’s a lonely book, and it’s a f*cking amazing book [imho], and book babes make loneliness less lonely and f*cking amazing even more f*cking amazing), so I was really excited. We knew it would take us a while to read it, so we had a couple of check-in points in the spring and summer. Then, on September 26, 2015, seven wonderful women came to Camp Crystal Lake to get down with the Jest. And it was super fun.

I made a pie (and veggie “Whoppers” [and I provided plenty of Trial Size Dove Bars]):

Peach Pie

And I made some bookmarks:

Book Mark

And, of course, book bags…

Enfield Stencil

Enfield Totebags

I filled each with little treats, including a bandana for everyone to wear and channel DFW:

This is DFW (image:

Book Club

And this is us–so many bandanas!

We talked about breathless prose, tennis, wheelchair assassins, addiction, and end-notes; and we didn’t even scratch the surface. But it was so much fun. I’m almost certainly going to make this an annual invitation.

We had a couple weeks to breathe before this past weekend, when T. and I got a visit from Dan, Best Man Extraordinaire, and his stupendous daughter Maya.

Bestest Man

It’s painful how cute these two nerds are (Image: Tone Stockenstrom)

I hadn’t seen Dan in forever, and I hadn’t seen Maya in double forever (remember: hyperbolic). I remember when she was just a tiny booger who looked like this:

Smiling Maya

This is the first time I babysat Maya. It’s the night I almost ate a baby because of an unrelenting hunger for cuteness.

And then this:


But now, she looks like this:

Maya Picking Apples

Image: Dan Segar

She’s so grown up! And in addition to being super grown up, Maya is one of the best kids I have ever met. Over the course of the weekend, she jumped off hay-bales, picked the best apples in the orchard, and drew a dozen or more pictures that included a time machine and a fruit cocktail (and a dolphin, paperclip, the Milky Way, bubbles…).

Maya in the AirPicking Apples

She also made her appetite preferences crystal clear to Trevor; after he asked her if she was sure she didn’t want more pizza before she ate a piece of apple pie, she replied, “You don’t understand: I’m not hungry for pizza. I’m hungry for pie.”

You don’t understand, Trevor. It’s pie, for god’s sake. Get the girl a piece of pie.

Tiger Face

If you don’t feed her a piece of pie every hour, on the hour, she turns into a tiger.

She also wanted to learn to knit after she saw my basket of yarn (really, though, who could resist a giant basket of yarn? no one, that’s who); and then she told me that I was really good at knitting. She’s too young to know how wrong that is, but it’s a pretty terrific thing to say, so I let it slide.

T. took Maya and Dan down to the park while I did some work, and Dan took some gorgeous pictures:

Maya and Trevor

Image: Dan Segar

Maya and Boats

Image: Dan Segar

When they got back, we all walked down to the beach and she made some abstract sculptures in the sand. And then, as though she wasn’t already the best first grader I’d met ever, she did math homework.

Math Homework

Now, to be honest, getting her to finish said math homework turned her into Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer.


But she still got it done.

In a couple of weeks, T. and I will open our doors again for four more of our faves: Cristen and Jayson, and Juli and Matt (remember Juli and Matt?! they got married in Maine this summer! and remember Cristen? she’s a filmmaker! and remember Jayson?? he’s Tapeface!!!!!)

I’m currently preparing the house for their arrival, and I’ll share more of our spookifying with you all here, so look for that soon!

Spookifying 2015

Holding Out For a Hero(ine)

Why are the best YA heroines in fantasy books?

Katniss Everdeen, arguably the strongest female character in contemporary young adult fiction, acts: she volunteers, she sacrifices, she fights. She is such a strong character–some might say a masculine character–that NPR blogger Linda Holmes asked, What Really Makes Katniss Stand Out? Peeta, Her Movie Girlfriend.

And in YA fantasy there are others, of course. Famously, there’s Lyra Belacqua of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and a newer arrival (1998) is the interesting character Ti-Jeanne from Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, who I mention because Ti-Jeanne is not only a young woman of color but she is also a young mother, so Hopkinson has brought a really interesting heroine to the table.

Photo credit Melanie Lamaga

But in much of the contemporary literary YA fiction I’ve read recently, the young women are mired in romance, not action, and they always have the wherewithal to be eloquent and insightful. They’re supposed to be “normal” teenagers, but, frankly, normal teenagers are rarely eloquent or insightful. In fact, I’d hazard to say that they’re only eloquent or insightful 2% of the time. And that’s being generous.

Normal teenagers fumble their way through things. They aren’t quip-y or witty at every step of the way. But too often, writers of YA literary fiction, especially those books with female protagonists, write their young women this way. And it’s a mistake. Even Hazel Grace in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was just too poetic for a teenager. Yes, she was sometimes strikingly honest, and it was refreshing to read about a young woman fighting for her life in a real world instead of a post-apocalyptic one. But it wasn’t enough.

Is there too much pressure on authors to write young women as smart, as paramours of wit? Must they be so clearly, so smartly beautiful on the inside so that when the young Prince Charming comes along and realizes that they are beautiful outside as well, we readers are satisfied?

I want stronger contemporary YA heroines. I want them to screw up, to fumble, to not say perfect things. I want them to screw up and maybe, just maybe, not get the guy in the end, because that’s what happens. We usually don’t get the guy. And not getting the guy makes a better story. In fact, I don’t even want there to be a guy. But that might be too much to ask.

I want a female Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I want an awkward, uncomfortable, fractured kid who finds a place and finds himself. Herself.

Have I just not read this book, this heroine? I haven’t read every YA book out there, and I might be deficient in a number of books that feature this very young woman I’m looking for. I don’t want a Katniss. I love Katniss, but she doesn’t live in my world. I want a Perks girl. Where is she?

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, and Two of Them are ‘Trevor Power’

So, I’ve got this amazing husband. He’s smart and interesting to talk to, he makes me laugh 85% of the time we’re together, and he dances. You will probably never see this, but trust me and Roo–he’s the best dancer in the world.

He’s even better than Lane–and that’s pretty remarkable, since this British guy has some smooooooth moves. (image credit: Gifulmination via Nobody Puts Baby in a Horner)


And, when it comes to getting his picture taken, he is as elusive as a Siberian Tiger. He likes to be behind the lens rather than in front of it. And when I try to take a picture and ask him to smile, this is what I get:



And it’s his very photo elusiveness that makes this post such fun, because Trevor has recently appeared in some books. YES!

In April, just in time for his birthday, Trevor got a package from Andy Freeberg, a photographer whose book, Art Fare, had recently been published by Sojourn Books. Freeberg’s book includes images of gallerists during their down time at national and international art fairs.

Freeberg signed the book, which was lovely of him, and it was great to see Trevor in the book, in a very, very (very) characteristic pose: we can’t see his face.


Andy Freeberg.Art Fare.Cover

Andy Freeberg.Inscription

Do you see him in there? Right behind that Gregory Scott! He’s so sneaky.

And it was so much fun to see him in here, but we got a second photo book thrill just the other day when we got our copy of Jen Davis‘s new book, Eleven Years. Jen is spectacular, and the book is just beautiful. You should buy it now.


Jen Davis Eleven Years.Front

Jen Davis Eleven Years.Back


And T. showed up in the acknowledgements, with many of the Columbia College cronies!


All of the people listed are fantastic!

All of the people listed are fantastic!


So, although Trevor is like a phantom when I am taking pictures, he is famous, and not just for dancing in our living room. But Roo and I are certain that he is also famous for that.

Book Therapy

I have an issue with books: I love them. I love buying them. I love holding them. I love smelling them. If I had my way, I would surround myself in a room full of books and just sit for a couple of days and look at them. I have books that I haven’t read, but intend to; I have books that I’ve read a dozen times. I. Love. Books.

Hugging Bookshelves

And I know that although millions of other people on this planet are with me in this bibliophilia (are you one of my kind? hello!), not everyone shares this particular…preoccupation. But I was taken aback when I realized that some people were seeking out help to decorate their bookshelves. Because they had all of these empty built-ins in their new apartment or house, and they didn’t know what to do with them. Kwhat?

Empty built-ins waiting to be filled is kind of my heaven. But apparently, it is a lot of people’s opportunity to display¬† Home Goods vases and vintage desk fans. And I hate snobs; I dont want to be a snob. But I just cannot understand not having boxes and boxes of books that would find lovely, cozy homes on your empty shelves. And I get that a lot of people–most people–won’t understand that about me. It’s okay.

But my love of books and wanting to get our books into the open air is the reason I was so happy when Trevor discovered BrickBox modular shelves and ordered us enough to fill up a wall of our living room. We’ve been in our lake house for just about a year, and we’d unpacked and nested and painted and made our house a home. But we still had dozens of boxes of books that sat, lonely and sad, in our front room, because we didn’t have enough book shelves.

But then, our BrickBoxes arrived and the fun started.

From boxes of boxes...

From boxes of boxes… a single box...

…to a single box… a stack of boxes...

…to a stack of boxes… actual, honest-to-goodness bookshelves.

…to actual, honest-to-goodness bookshelves.


They’re so…empty–just waiting for books!

And let me tell you how much fun it was to fill these bad boys up with all of my friends. It took me two full days. First, I had to figure out how to start: fiction, non-fiction, first editions and rare books? Should I incorporate the first editions with their true genres, or should I keep them separate, as I had when we lived in the loft? Should I use the top right away, or wait to see if I need the extra space? (spoiler: I needed the extra space.)

I opened my boxes and just sort of stared at the books for a while.

Books in Boxes

Hello, friends

Hello, friends


I started to shelve some books, then stopped, then started again. I texted Trevor, who was fifty miles away, at work, with questions to get some input. I even asked Roo to take a look and tell me what she thought.

Okay--let's start with this plush Shakespeare doll. I'll take him out and chew on him for a while.

Okay–let’s start with this plush Shakespeare doll. I’ll take him out and chew on him for a while.


Eventually I started. I took book after book from its box to put it on a smooth, white, empty shelf. As I worked, I emptied the boxes and broke them down, and the shelves filled up.


Book Shelves


Roo wonders why I've stopped


Book Panoramic

And when I was finished, I sat down and started at the shelves, at the books. I sat there for an hour, and only really got up because Trevor got home from work.

We still have boxes of children’s and YA books, and a few boxes of miscellaneous books that hadn’t been officially shelved when we moved. But we’re almost there, and that makes me so happy.

And if you have any empty shelves that you’re considering filling up with wicker baskets and tchochkes, please, send them my way.