Another World

Even with Ye Olde Blogge's age and infirmity in this ongoing internet revolution, people and companies still send me books, either in a corporate sort of way, or a "Hey, my friend wrote this, do you want to write about it?" sort of way. All of these suggestions I view with great skepticism, as suits my perverse and contrary nature. "Oh, you have a book you think I'll like? Then I won't like it very much, will I?" seems to be my gut response.

However, I like to believe (or at least, hope) that beneath my hard-shell exterior lurks an open mind. And maybe it's even true? Because guess what, everyone: my friend recommended that I read this book, and it is kind of amazing:

AmericanStreet_wBlurb

It's a young adult book (I guess? Maybe?) and the most important and central thing I can say about it is that it did that thing where it brought me to another world so I could see it and feel lit and believe it. The basic setup is way too of-the-moment: A mother and daughter come from Haiti, the daughter makes it through customs since she was born in the US, the mother is detained by immigration, the daughter goes on alone to live with her aunt and cousins in Detroit.

The author, blessedly, doesn't skate over the complexity here, and no one is a saint—or even a full-on sinner. Instead, we meet characters who are complex and torn and troubled, and we end up having to see the world from their point of view.

Caveats: The story gets caught up in itself, if that makes sense: too focused on what will happen next rather than the people. The symbolism can be heavy-handed. And I am not particularly fond of the interwoven chapters in each character's voice device. But? These are quibbles: the book is well worth reading, and it pulled at me in some essential way. Read it, give it to a reader, expand your world.

Reading and Learning

A few bloggy things:

1) Chestnut is going to be posting reviews here soon, so that's something to look forward to. She is, as are so many 15-year-olds, a merciless critic, uncompromising and astute.

2) What even is this blog? Well, I've been asking myself that very question. And one of the things it is came from talking to my mother just now about managing our frustration and horror at the current political situation, who said "You have to find somewhere—for me it's the zoo [where she volunteers]—when I walked in today, my blood pressure and tension just dropped." I think for me that place has always been reading, and I am going to redouble my efforts to find books that take me to another place, so I can lose—at least for a while—this constant sense of frustration and anxiety.

Reading to me is in some ways an escape, but it's also a return, really, to a place where the things I believe in live, where I can grapple and question and experience big questions of morality and responsibility and everything that is giving me such stress these days. Oh how I love it.

Here's something I read recently:

Before-He-Finds-Her-cover

Full disclosure: I found out about this because my agent (shh, we're trying not to jinx anything) represents this writer, and as part of my self-serving due diligence, during which I read a lot of novels, I read this. So I am somewhat biased. But—it was terrific, gripping and dark and funny. I love a civilian type detective.

I will try to pass along any books I read that give me (kids books too, keep 'em coming!), for one blessed moment, relief from myself and the ongoing anxiety the threat of fascism has thrust me into. Do the same, my readers, and we can all help each other along, through this. Because that's how we're going to get through this: together. And reading.

Straight Talk about Deep Pain and Fear

Well, apparently I have come to the place where politics and children's books and all sorts of books meet, and it is in the wake of this election. And I might was well start with A Wrinkle in Time, because it's the book that makes the most sense right now.

I give you:

With the last vestige of consciousness she jerked her mind and body. Hate was nothing that IT didn’t have. IT knew all about hate….
“Mrs Whatsit hates you,” Charles Wallace said.
And that was where IT made ITs fatal mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, “Mrs Whatsit loves me; that’s what she told me, that she loves me,” suddenly she knew.
She knew!
Love.
That was what she had that IT did not have.
She had Mrs Whatsit’s love, and her father’s, and her mother’s, and the real Charles Wallace’s love, and the twins’, and Aunt Beast’s.
And she had her love for them.

See, here's the thing. There are going to be a lot of ways to get out of this dark place—there have to be.

There is action, and for that I give you my local city councilman, Brad Lander and his exhortation to us all.

There is also, there has to be, reading, because that is how I make sense of the world, and heal from the world, and maybe (please forgive me if I'm going to mush here) try to heal the world as well. Here are books that make sense to me in this time of fear and sorrow, books that talk about what matters in the deepest possible sense, and show us a way out.

Read Aloud Picture Books for the Tiny
Horton Hears a Hoo
The Snowy Day
Amos and Boris

Early Readers
Frog and Toad—any of them
Henry and Mudge—any of them
Sid and Sam

Kids Read on Their Own
Life of John Muir
The Diamond in the Window
A Wrinkle in Time

To Read Aloud to Your Kids and Try Not to Cry
Harry Potter
A Wrinkle in Time (yes, here too)
The Chronicles of Narnia

Read for Yourself
Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

So, I've tried to think of love and thought and fire and consolation, and I know I haven't even half hit it. So: help me. Can you put your ideas in the comments (or somewhere)? Books to get us and our kids through this, books to remind us of who we are (beyond just what we see), books to remind us of what's possible, books like Meg Wallace would have read.

Food, Children’s Books, and Does Anyone Have Any Yellow Cake?

I'm trying to remember how I got here. Part of it was—sob!—no doubt due to the news that Mary Berry is following suit with Mel and Sue and The Great British Bake-Off is no more.

And then I was thinking about Adopted Jane, in which a 12-year-old orphan is asked to visit two different families over one summer, and then has to choose which one to stay with. And (it could have been just me) but a large part of the experience seemed to revolve around the different foods at each home. With the lonely widow, she had a yellow cake mixed up in a bowl! And a floating island! With the farm-friendly family, she had biscuits and fried chicken!

And then theres the sausages Lucy has with Mr. Tumnus, as part of the very lovely tea. Or the hamper full of food that the beavers pack. Or, dear god, the Turkish delight!

I guess it's not just children's books, I mean Hemingway and his onion sandwiches are very compelling. But I feel like there is a particular and special connection children's books have with food, and I am not sure why that is. It's not just the candy, right—not all Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Surely adults love food just as much. And yet…. For some reason right now it is making me both hungry and wistful.

Do you have a favorite children's book meal? I keep thinking of the box of chocolates in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the one that's tied up with the wide lavender ribbon. And if I could only taste that yellow cake, I feel sure I would know why Jane chose her.

Weird Intersections

Once upon a time, in a bedroom far, far away, I was a different person. This person that I once was thought about being in the wilderness a lot, and about hiking, and about how it would be to live there.

And then everything changed.

And then everything changed again.

And then I had children (note: "change" is not a strong enough word for that, er, transformation).

And then one of the children, Chestnut, became 15 and had her own, different obsession with the wilderness. As a result of which she ended up reading this book, and then it all came back to me in a rush.

Woodswoman

That is the cover this book had when I read it, and I remember the feel of it—matte and papery—and all the specific scenes. Such a strange and immediate work it is, so very compelling. My niece saw it and read it too, with the same immediate powerful draw.

What is it about this book? I do not know. I only know that it's there, and that I am now intersecting with my kids in whole new and strange ways, which I find excellent. Also, if there is a person in your life yearning for the wilderness, this is what you should hand them.