Tag Archives: Books

Reading for Writing

This is the third guest post for Rachel Kwon: she appeared during the Winter 2017 session with an excellent first guest post in January; and she contributed her wonderful second guest post for the Summer 2017 session. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I do!

This is a guest post from Rachel Kwon, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

 

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
—Stephen King

(Note: I’ve never read a Stephen King book.)

Stephen King Books

Kwonita is the Kween of Books

When I was a kid, our local public library had a checkout limit of 30 books. I would hit that limit almost every time, mostly with young adult series like The Baby-Sitters Club, The Boxcar Children, and Goosebumps. (Judge me not!)

I tend to think it’s a red flag if I’m considering having somebody in my life (for friendship, a relationship, or any other ‘ship) and they say they don’t read or that they don’t like reading. I firmly believe it’s true that if you say you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book.

In January of this year, I started a book club. I’ll be honest—mainly I just wanted a reason to drink a reasonable amount of wine with my friends while talking about books (and not having to be in a bar). It’s evolved into a book exchange, where each of us brings a book (or book recommendation, for the library-goers) and gives a brief synopsis and personal thoughts on the book.

Reading, and talking about reading, has been invaluable to my writing. Hearing people’s perspectives on other writers’ writing in person has really been illuminating.

At our last meeting, one of our book clubbers brought a book called Hey Ladies!, a fictional collection of emails and group text message exchanges among a group of women. She seemed kind of embarrassed to bring it, since most of the others had brought novels or serious nonfiction pieces. We did poke a little fun at her for bringing such a “popcorn” book, but ultimately I ended up taking that book home, because I wanted a fun, easy read.

I wonder if some of these people who say they don’t like reading had some experience when they were younger reading something they liked, and somebody else made fun of them, thus discouraging them from reading. That makes me sad.

My writing has evolved as my reading has. I used to read mostly fiction, and mostly things that were assigned to me, written invariably by dead white men. (Well, they weren’t dead when they wrote them, but you know what I mean.)

I also used to write mostly when I had to, for school or work, though I usually enjoyed it. In my old life, as an intern in surgical training, I had to write all the patients’ progress notes every day, often for up to 30 patients. I was probably the only resident ever who enjoyed writing those notes as much as I liked operating. As I got more senior, I would often read other progress notes and wonder what the real story was, because they were so hastily written, obviously penned by some overworked intern who could barely grasp the full picture of the patient’s journey.

Now, in my current life, I do a fair bit of editing others’ work, which is actually a pretty fun combination of reading and writing. I don’t have to face the terror of a blank page, and I can also contribute a bit of my writer’s eye and help supplement the narrative when necessary.

From reading books about kids with more interesting lives than mine, to reading frivolous books with friends, documenting the clinical stories of sick patients, editing other people’s writing, and doing some writing and reading of my own, the common threads have been the push and pull of reading and writing, and I think any writer would agree that their reading has had an impact on their writing.

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:

stop-banning-books

Click link below to see full flyer

banned-books2

fight-against-censorship

Click link below to see full flyer

fightagainstcensorship

books-are-not-scary

Click link below to see full flyer

book-banned-revision

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.

books-are-sacred-2

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.

bbw-display-clpl

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:

secret-banned-book

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:

sherman-alexie

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!

Save

Save

Door County Road Trip 2015

Last weekend was the annual Power family Door County summer vacation, and it was a hell of a good time. We organized this year’s summer trip so we could attend Grandpa Madel’s second memorial and visit with the Madel clan (read more about Grandpa and his first memorial).

Part of the memorial was a naming ceremony at the Door County Public Library in Sturgeon Bay, where Grandpa volunteered for decades. Grandpa worked with the Friends of the Library, organizing the collection of books for sale and researching prices of rare and out-of-print editions. Many of his children and grandchildren spent hours upon hours in that library basement with Grandpa, so it was the perfect place to first gather with everyone. The Friends of the Library honored Grandpa and his service by re-naming the room after him:

Grandma Madel with Doug (left), Mike (center), and Paul (right)

Grandma Madel with Doug (left), Mike (center), and Paul (right)

The reception, organized by the Friends, was thoughtful and lovely–a perfect way to memorialize Grandpa.

The whole crew (Photo Courtesy of Danielle--thanks, Danielle!)

The whole crew (Photo Courtesy of Danielle–thanks, Danielle!)

Neill, Trevor, Rachel, and Sean pose with Grandma

Neill, Trevor, Rachel, and Sean pose with Grandma

Trevor browses the collection

Trevor browses the collection

The naming ceremony and reception, though, wasn’t the only game in town lined up to honor Mel Madel. Doug organized a memorial at the Collins Learning Center, a beautiful lecture hall and teaching facility in the Crossroads at Big Creek nature preserve. The memorial was Saturday afternoon, and the day was beautiful. We ate lunch together with the Madels and assorted friends of Grandma and Grandpa, watched a touching slide show Doug had put together, and wandered around the grounds–the old school house, chapel, barn, and general store–near the learning center.

Schoolhouse

Schoolhouse Coat Room

Trevor takes the pulpit

Trevor takes the pulpit

Red Barn

Schartner

Schartner!

Before we left, we said hi to the animals in the Collins Learning Center’s exhibits:

Animal in a Tree

I can’t get out of this tree. Please get me out of this tree.

Beaver

Need a dam built? I’m your guy.

Bear

Please get Uncle Mike. I’d like to tell him ‘hello.’

Laura the Fish

That fish with the hair is suspicious. I don’t trust her.

We spent the evening with the family again, this time at the house where Paul, Jen, Ben, and Danielle were staying on Kangaroo Lake. We ate, drank, played games, talked by the bonfire, and enjoyed spending a perfect night with relatives we don’t get to see often enough. And we heard stories about Grandpa, which are always a joy to listen to.

Playing Poker

Cousins playing poker

Kangaroo Lake

And it wouldn’t have been a Power Family Door County vacation without some wandering around. We went to Moonlight Bay, just down the street from our rental house.

Looking for Frogs

Fran, Angelique, and Rachel, pointing at…

Green Frog

…one of these guys!

The creek near Moonlight Bay was hopping with frogs (yep, I did that). Sadie tried to catch some, but we weren’t prepared with a net, so we went home frog-less.

Sadie Looks for Frogs

Looking good, but lamenting the lack of a frog

Looking good, but lamenting the lack of a frog (and Neill is helping Sadie carry her satchel, which she is obviously very protective of)

And of course it really wouldn’t have been a trip to Door County without a quick stop in Grandpa’s library. It’s looking so much emptier than usual because he bequeathed so much of his collection to his children and grandchildren. But it’s still got shelves and shelves of books, and a lot of Grandpa’s personal memorabilia.

A well organized library, thanks to Uncle Mark

A well organized library, thanks to Uncle Mark

Grandpa's Ode to Mark Twain

Grandpa’s Ode to Mark Twain

Hubba, hubba

Hubba, hubba–some pin-ups from Grandpa’s war-time scrapbook

Self-portraits from Grandpa's war-time scrapbook

Snapshots from Grandpa’s war-time scrapbook

Melvin Robert Madel: War-Time Self-Portraits

Melvin Robert Madel: War-Time Self-Portraits

It was a short, but sweet trip. We realized how nice it is to see the extended Madel family, and because of that Trevor and I want to take a trip to Montana to visit Uncle Mike and Ben and his family; and while we’re at it, we’ll take trips to New York and Amsterdam, too. It’s a good thing to have family in such great parts of the world.

And of course, it was a melancholy trip. We all felt Grandpa, there in the library with us and when we hugged Grandma. And we saw him when we looked at his sister, Mildred, and his sons, especially Paul, who is the spitting image of Grandpa. But we still have the library, Grandma, Mildred, Paul, and everyone else. And that makes us very happy.

Know what else makes me happy? Amazing tiger-art that Trevor found at a shop in downtown Sturgeon Bay.

I'm 100% positive Grandpa would have liked this card Trevor spotted in a Sturgeon Bay store

I’m 100% positive Grandpa would have liked this card

And you know what else makes me happy? one a.m. dance parties with my sisters-in-law. There are thankfully no pictures of that, but please imagine it. Got it? You’re welcome.

Sunday Media

Yesterday morning, Trevor and I woke up early (early for a Saturday) to watch the Manchester United v. Tottenham match that kicked off at 6:45 a.m. CST. It was the first game of the Premiere League 2015/2016 season, and we won (although the only goal was an Spurs own-goal [the first time an own goal has kicked off the season in many many many years] so we’re not tremendously proud, and, likely, neither is poor Kyle Walker).

Manchester United Soccer Ball

Not only did I wake up to watch this game — usually for a game that early, T. will come to tell me that it’s about to start, and I’ll mumble some nonsense like “I’ll be right down” into my pillow and then go back to sleep — but I stayed awake through the whole match, not taking my usual half-time nap (from which I usually don’t wake up until hours later).

This is what usually wakes me up.

This is what usually wakes me up.

And then the match was over; it was 8:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I was awake. (!!) Trevor, because he is a productive human person on the weekends, started his vacuuming routine, and I figured I’d try to do my part in the cleaning game. I scrubbed our two bathrooms and then showered up to be ready for the day. And it was still only 11 a.m. (!!!) I didn’t even know what to do with myself.

T. and I decided to have an early lunch and then do some wandering in downtown Crystal Lake to enjoy the rest of the morning. We stopped by CL’s used book store, Buy Local Books.

Yay! We Have Books

Some of fiction we looked through yesterday

Some of the fiction we looked through yesterday

Buy Local will take your books, not for cash, but for store credit. And they’ll take almost anything as long as it’s in good condition. I have an account there but haven’t brought in any books in a while, so I used my remaining $.66 in store credit along with an additional $.68 in cold, hard cash for this little gem:

The best $.68 I've spent in a while

The best $.68 I’ve spent in a while

I am thankful to be starting school in a week, because I’ve spent much too much time lately buying books. And the stacks are starting to pile up. Last week I was in Evanston to get my hair cut by the Amazing Audrey at Art + Science, and, of course, I stopped in at Market Fresh Books, where they sell books by the pound. Yes. By the pound. If the summer wasn’t winding down soon, I’d be in some real biblio-trouble.

From Market Fresh Books in Evanston, where they sell books by the pound.

This stack of nine books rang up to about $38, and that Ephron alone is worth that much!

The pile above includes a bound galley copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Pygmy with the reviewer’s handwritten notes on the flyleaf; a first edition of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn (containing a recipe for the best bread pudding I’ve ever had); and a trade paperback of Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story.

You might remember that I recently purchased a mass market copy of this same Heinemann book during our trip to Stone Soup Books in Camden, ME. And if you’re Trevor, then you know that I also have a number of other copies of this same book, mostly first edition hard covers.

It's possible that there's a fourth copy in my office at school.

It’s possible that there’s a fourth copy in my office at school.

I have a compulsion to buy any copy of this book that I come across. Heinemann was a graduate school professor of mine, and although I had excellent professors for every class during my years at DePaul, Larry was my favorite. And Paco’s Story is a great book, so I want to own them all. My additional excuse for picking up the trade paperback at Market Fresh is that it’s a reading copy that I’d happily lend out to any of my students. So, it’s like a giveaway book, and those are good to have (that’s also why I grabbed the mass market The Color Purple; I frequently do book giveaways in my classroom during Banned Books Week [Celebrating the Freedom to Read!], and this is a perfect copy for that use).

And now it’s Sunday. Trevor and I have watched more Premiere League games, eaten a breakfast of disproportionately sized pancakes,

Pancake Breakfast

It’s like the big pancake has a smaller pancake hat on its head.

and we’re getting ready to dive into the pile of media we picked up from the library yesterday after we left the book store.

Library Haul

The Channing Tatum movie and Eraserhead are for me, as is the Scott Hawkins book (which I started but am having trouble getting into; though I heard good things about it, so I’ll keep going). At some point today, we’ll hunker down and watch some movies. And maybe take a nap. And then watch the season finale of True Detective while following the live Twitter feeds of people also watching it and reveling in its absurdly unclear dialogue and plot.

Because the carpets are vacuumed and the bathrooms are scrubbed, and the lawn is mowed (thank you for that, Trevor). So what else is a gloomy Sunday good for?

Nothing.

(except, maybe, macaroni and cheese. so, yes, we’ll probably eat some of that.)

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?

Melvin Robert Madel

Melvin Robert Madel, Trevor’s maternal grandfather, passed away two months ago, on Sunday, January 25, 2015.

Courtesy of Madel Family Photo Album

Courtesy of Madel Family Photo Album

I’m writing about Grandpa only now because this weekend we’re going up to Door County, where Grandma and Grandpa have lived for the past few decades, for his memorial service. And it’s taken me two months to write about Grandpa because, honestly, I’ve been avoiding it.

Losing someone is never easy, but losing Grandpa is…here it is: losing Grandpa sucks.

That’s not a pretty thing to say, but it is not a pretty feeling to lose Grandpa. It is an ugly, messy, tight-stomach kind of feeling. It’s not a pretty feeling, so I’m not giving it any poetry.

Grandpa, on the other hand, does inspire poetry, because he was a good man. He was a smart, funny, well-read, curious man. He liked to eat and drink, read, write, watch movies and television; he liked to chat with his children, his grand-children, and his great-grand-children.

Courtesy of Madel Family Photo Album

That’s a very young Neill (left) and Sean (right), Courtesy of Madel Family Photo Album

Grandpa taught Trevor the right way to make a martini. The night Trevor proposed to me, New Years Eve, 2006, we were sitting in Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway; they were the first people we celebrated with.

Grandpa was a collector. He collected comics, recordings, clippings, photos, stories, and books. His library is my heaven on earth. That’s not an exaggeration. It is a room on the second floor of their house; its windows face east and south, and all day the room is full of the sunlight that streams in from the giant porthole windows. When you sit in Grandpa’s library, your feet on the nubby carpet, you can hear Lake Michigan, only a few hundred feet away, the waves hitting the beach and slipping softly back over the sand. And the walls of the library are covered in shelves–rows and rows, stacks upon stacks–of books. When Grandpa learned what you liked to read, he’d send it to you (boxes full) and save it for your next visit (bags full).

Trevor's hardcover Vonnegut collection: 85% from Grandpa Madel

Trevor’s Vonnegut collection: 85% from Grandpa Madel

Here's some Wodehouse...

Here’s some Wodehouse…

...and more Wodehouse...

…and more Wodehouse…

...and in case that wasn't enough Wodehouse.

…and in case that wasn’t enough Wodehouse: 98% from Grandpa.

Trevor’s mom, Maureen, loved P.G. Wodehouse, and Grandpa used to send them to her. After she passed away in 2004, Grandpa discovered that I, too, was a fan, so he started sending them to me.

Grandpa loved to talk about his life and his interests, but he’d listen as well as you told him about your recent interest in Roald Dahl’s short fiction or your feelings about the newest Pride and Prejudice film adaptation (FYI: according to Mel, nothing compares to the ’95 PBS mini-series). He’d also sit with you in a comfortable, happy sort of quiet; and if this was happening, he might turn down his hearing aids.

Grandpa lived an exceptional life with an exceptional wife and an exceptional family. Here’s a glimpse:

Grandpa and Grandma were present in our life and we’re lucky for that.

And this post doesn’t do Grandpa justice, but it’s what I’ve got. He made us very happy.

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:

 

Fist!

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.