September 11, 2014
Sometimes I read a book that is so beautiful and perfect that I am inspired as a writer. This happened about twelve years ago with The Girl in the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. When I was finished reading it, I wanted to write again. I’d given up on writing, decided I didn’t have it in me to write an entire novel, but after reading this book, I changed my mind. I wanted to write. I had no illusions that I could write something as beautiful as The Girl in the Pearl Earring, but I wanted to try. I have tried and I’ve been mostly happy with what I accomplished. I thank Tracy Chevalier for that.
Sometimes I read a book that is so beautiful and perfect that I feel like I should just give up as a writer. I could never create anything that comes anywhere near this, and so why bother?
This happened today when I finished State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. This book is perfection. The prose is both beautiful and clear. Sentences flow like a slow river, peaceful but with purpose. Her characters are interesting and flawed and only knowable in part. The way I viewed them changed as I got to know them better, subtly, until I realized my opinion had changed at some point, but where? The story isn’t a thriller, and yet I couldn’t put it down. What would happen next? I could not guess. The ending is painful and brilliant and beautiful. The parallel stories are so clear at the end, but I never saw the ending coming. And the story isn’t over. More will happen to Marina. And yet the story is over. How she will live her life after the final page is up to her and the reader’s imagination. I don’t like this normally, but it works perfectly here.
I love this book and have already started re-reading it. If you haven’t read it, you need to. As for me continuing to write, I will. It is probably just a mood thing. My writing hasn’t been going well, so I can’t help but compare Patchett’s wonderful novel to to the garbage I’ve been penning recently.
Patience and practice, Elizabeth! Patience and practice.
August 30, 2014
Well, a new semester is right around the corner and that means I’ve been looking through the Scholastic catalogue picking the best books at the best prices for my students. This is what we will be reading this semester:
I always start with fairy tales. They’ll read “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault and “Aschenputtel” by the Grimm brothers and pick two more fairy tales to read.
Next is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. A great story!
Then we get to the part of the semester where they get some choices. They must read one book in each genre:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Rules by Cynthia Lord
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Holes by Louis Sachar
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
My students will choose two other books to read as well, based on an author and a theme.
Do you recognize some of these books and authors from when you were a child? They are worth a re-read or a read aloud to your child or grandchild.
See some titles you don’t know? Check them out!
These are wonderful books. It’s going to be a great semester!
August 24, 2014
Last month, I wrote about my family’s Little Free Library. I wanted to let you know that my neighborhood is using it! We average probably a visitor every day or so. We’ve had many donations, and I’ve been able to tell which books are the most popular (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Babysitters Club) and which books have been borrowed and kept (Divergent, Sushi for Beginners). That’s OK because that is the what the library is all about. Moving books from people to people. We’ve received many, many donations and I spend time once a week re-arranging and re-organizing the titles. This little library is a delight in my life.
But wait! What if you live in my neighborhood, and it is night, and you need a book, and you don’t have a flashlight? Our Little Free Library is open and lit:
My husband and younger son took apart one of those solar lights you can put in the ground to light a sidewalk (an example is in the ground in the photo). They then attached the solar part of the light to the roof of the library, drilled a hole in the back of the library under the roof, set the light inside the library, and voila: our Free Little Library has a solar-powered light for all your night-time book-borrowing needs.
July 21, 2014
The first Little Free Library was started in 2009 in Wisconsin. Since that time, more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries have been built.
I am happy to announce that my family has built a Little Free Library:
Our little library is near the end of our driveway (so the snow plow doesn’t knock it over in the winter). Books are available to anyone who walks by and wants to borrow one. The Little Free Library works on the honor system. Readers can borrow and return a book, or swap books.
People ask: Aren’t you worried that someone will steal the books? The answer is: a free book cannot be stolen!
My little free library is filled with books for both children and adults representing a variety of genres. My friend Sally helped paint the library and suggested the text above the door.
If you are ever in my neighborhood, stop by and borrow a book! To learn more about Little Free Libraries, visit the official website.
June 20, 2014
Are you an obsessive reader? Do you realize you need to exercise more than you do, but feel like you don’t want to give up your reading time? You don’t have to!
Here are several ideas to keep your body healthy and fit and keep your mind engaged in a good book.
The stationary bike. This is obvious. Reading and spinning. I do this about once a week during the school year—take my book with me to the YMCA, get on the bike, set up the workout, and read. After 30 minutes or so, I close my book and go shower. The exercise happens. The reading happens. I’m a happy camper. But not everyone has access to a stationary bike, so….
Walking and reading, inside. I’ve been doing this for most of my life. As a teenager, I was insecure about my weight, but wanted to spend my free time reading. This activity helped me stay healthy, feel good about myself, and not lose valuable reading time.
How: In a large room, walk in a circle while reading. Don’t have a large room? Create a “track” and walk from room to room on the same path. Have stairs? Walk up and down those stairs while reading.
Warning: If you have never walked and read at the same time, begin slowly and carefully. You need to be able to read while still being aware of your surroundings.
Am I the only one who does this? It seems so reasonable to me, but others seem to find it odd. Inside works for when the weather is bad. It is a good option for those of you too embarrassed to read and walk outdoors.
Walking and reading, outside. First of all, leave the car at home and walk places—even if you don’t take your book. But why not take your book? Combining errands and walking and reading just makes sense.
I often walk to and from work with a book in hand. A grocery store, a drug store, a movie rental place are all within a mile for me, so I walk there while reading. A thirty minute walk, with a book in hand, feels like about five minutes.
If you live in a big city, you will have lots of opportunities for walking and reading. No need to worry what others will think. Everyone else will be texting and won’t even notice that you are holding a book and not a phone.
If you live in the suburbs, you might think this option doesn’t work for you. On the contrary! Take a walk and read. I realize many suburban streets don’t have sidewalks, so you’ll need to walk on lawns or the edge of streets. I say, be that eccentric person in your neighborhood. Life is too short to pretend you aren’t different. Embrace your passion for books!
Live in the country? Wander your quiet roads with a book. Look up from time to time to greet the horses or sheep. Fresh air, exercise and a good story. This is what life is all about.
Warning: If you have never walked and read at the same time, practice inside. You need to be able to read while still being aware of your surroundings—don’t fall off a sidewalk or walk into a car!
Audiobooks? Yes, yes, yes. I know many of you are thinking: exercise while listening to a book. For those of you who listen to audiobooks, there are many exercise options. So far, audiobooks have not become a part of my life. I like to see words on a page. But for those of you who do like audiobooks, think of all the ways you can exercise and listen. Don’t limit yourself to listening to your book while driving places.
Do you have other suggestions for combining exercising and reading? Please let us know!
April 23, 2014
April 23rd is William Shakespeare’s birthday, the UNESCO International Day of the Book, the day of Miguel de Cervantes’ death and World Book Night.
To celebrate, volunteers all over the world are offering free books to reluctant readers, encouraging people to read more. I was fortunate to be chosen as a volunteer this year.
The book I distributed was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s memoir Wait Till Next Year, a story of baseball, family, and growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s.
The Stevens Point YMCA seemed like a good place to find a diverse group of people who might not be regular readers.
I was a little nervous about asking people if they liked to read, and then telling them if they did they couldn’t have a free book. It seemed tricky to me, so mostly I offered the books to everyone who walked by. I explained the purpose of World Book Night and, to my surprise, several people who loved to read gave me the book back and told me to find someone else; they also wanted to spread the love of reading to non-readers.
I hope the people who got books today, from me and from others around the world, give reading a chance. I am crazy happy to have been a part of World Book Night 2014.
My impression is that World Book Night/World Book Day was started in Spain. The Spanish website is La Noche de los Libros (I think. I don’t speak Spanish, so can’t read much of the site.)
If you know of any other countries participating and have their websites, please post in the comments below.