Over the summer, I am tutoring one of my former students.
Together, we have been reading The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, their summer reading work.
During tutoring time this week, we got into a conversation about happy endings, or “fairy tales.” They animatedly started explaining that they cannot stand that everything they read and watch has a happy ending. They noticed that in many books the parents push their child hard to succeed, the child rebels, but it all ends up okay in the end.
I asked them what the problem with that was.
They said: “Well, because that’s not what happens in real life.”
I kindly challenged them to think about why we read and watch things: often to escape and sometimes people need happy endings, when there are none in the world. They conceded but offered up the Series of Unfortunate Events as an example of entertainment that people liked, but did not have a happy ending.
Checkmate. I’ve taught you well.
At the end of the day, I agree with them. There seem to be a lot of happy endings in what we read and what we watch these days. And my student speaks the truth real life does not always have a happy ending. So, that made me think: are we setting people up for disappointment?
I say nay.
If we read to escape, to learn, to be entertained, there is a place for a happy ending. I say this without rose colored glasses. I think happy endings bring hope. We can only endure the harsh reality if we have hope that things can be better, that we can make things better.
However, trouble can ensue when the reader starts believing that fiction is reality; that happy endings will always arrive, no matter what. And, they mistake hope for certainty and naivety.
But, that does not mean that people cannot enjoy a happy ending every now and again. Right?
I had just finished Erik Larson’s new book on Winston Churchill and found myself wanting, no, needing to know more about the veritable force that was his wife Clementine. One of Goodread’s recommended books on her was Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict.
I was very excited to jump in, but to be honest, I did not love what I eventually jumped into.
The stories were interesting. I liked to see her point of view of her husband, her role in politics, and in the women’s suffrage movement. However, the story was told in first person, present. I am not the biggest fan of this form a narration and it influnced my reeading experrience.
Did I learn about her? Yes. Did I love the reading experience? Not exactly.
But if you want to read more about Clementine and you do not mind this type of narration, this may be a great read for you!
I read so much, that it is always great to add new award winners, authors, and subjects to my “Read” list. Currently, along with three of my teacher friends, I am working on a reading BIPOC authors challenge. Part of our work is our own cultural, racial, and global education. Part of our work is finding new texts to recommend and teach. Part of our work is finding new authors and choosing them purposefully. Part of our work is finding less known authors. And, part of our work is just finding great books.
These are the categories (Note: I have already done two books so far.)
I plan to post updates on the challenge and recommend some of the great new reads that I have found.
Do you have any must-reads for any of these categories? I love recommendations!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about why and what I tend to re-read. There is one book that I have been re-reading for the last 20 years.
That is a very strange thing to be typing.
The book picture above is the one that has always stuck with me: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. This epic retelling of the King Arthur legend through the point of view of his mother, his sister, and his aunt was recommended to me by a friend when I was in seventh grade. The mini-series had just come out and the book had magic, strong women, and sex in it. Needless to say, I was in.
If I ever have to pick a favorite book, I usually say this one. Is it perfect? No. Is it controversial? Oh yeah. But, I pick it not for what others would rate it, but because it is the one that I cannot stop thinking about. It is the one that reflected some of my adolescent thinking and my adolescent struggles.
Even at the time, I realized the profound effect that book had on me. I saw strong and smart women struggling for their independence against an emerging patriarchal society. Something I was noticing women in the world around me doing in the early 2000s. I saw women at the center of a religion, healing, and caring and eventually overcome by war and foreign men during a time when I was questioning the religious tenants that I was being raised by. I saw one of my favorite legends through the eyes of a misunderstood, young woman trying to find her place in her family and society, something I thought I was. And of course, in my emerging awareness of sex and hormones, I was addicted to the love stories. I realized all of this at the time. Although, I’m not sure I would have used these words.
Because of this book, I felt like I had the power to conquer anything. I became more interested in world religions and women’s history. Even though the book is fiction, I felt like I was learning that women had a role in history. And I was very into the kissing. Needless to say, I read it again the next year and my friend group passed it around. Mostly because of the kissing. Unfortunately, my mother had seen the mini-series, and told me not to read the book any more because it was “not appropriate.”
I did stop reading it, but neglected to mention that I had already read it. I bought a copy for myself like two years later and she resigned herself to the fact that I was reading it and going to continue reading it. She must have been horrified at the thought that a book with sex, strong women, and paganism was in my hands and that I was empowered by this book to be more vocal about who I was and what I believed. I was relieved. That book came to me at the exact right time.
From that point on, I have re-read the book every few years and my reactions have reflected my own experience at the time. In my teens and early twenties, I identified with the same strong, upstart characters and was still very interested in the kissing. Mostly the kissing. In my mid-late twenties, I hated those characters and was ambivalent towards much of the kissing. All the drama. No one was following any rules. The older characters were too controlling. The younger ones were too whiny. All the men were the worst, except for one, very liberal thinking one.
In my thirties, I have read it once and I find myself with much less anger and frustration towards the characters. I am more in-tune with where all the character’s emotions are coming from. I understand the tough choices the older generations must make. I understand the frustrations of the younger generations, who just want to change. I’m little over the magic and the fantastical elements, although I think they are beautifully written. I still like some of the kissing, although it seems a little uncomfortable to be doing it while lying in the grass or the hay.
This is a book that I know I will read forever. I will carry my memories of the reading experience forever. My reading experience will change and grow forever. This is a book that grows with me and I with it…even though I am not super into fantasy anymore.
Before I start, I acknowledge again that I am hard to please with mysteries and thrillers. I still read them, because even if I am not wowed, I usually find something enjoyable in the reading experience.
The Sun Down Motel was billed as an exciting and frightening ghost story. What I read was a little different.
The POVs of the book alternated between Viv in 1982 and her niece Carly in 2017. Viv disappeared in 1982 after a shift at a creepy motel and Carly arrives 35 years later to find out where she went. Listen, that mystery was interesting. Big fan over here. And I liked the mysterious Nick Harkness. I wanted more of him…just like Carly.
However, the ghost story that surrounded it didn’t seem necessary to my enjoyment or understanding of the mystery. I felt like I was looking for an explanation for the ghost appearances beyond what I was given. That one is on me. I am willing to admit it.
Again, I am hard to please. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t wowed, you may be!
From what I can tell on Goodreads, people loved this book. Any moderately exciting thriller ends up with rave reviews because people have never read anything like it. And if people are going to read, I love it! Even if I don’t necessarily get as excited about the same book.
But, listen, mystery/thriller books do not always shock or surprise me. I have read all of them. I’m almost not kidding, I have been reading mysteries and thrillers since I was six years old and I think I have encountered almost every possible incarnation of this genre.
This book started off as a very middling and unmemorable thriller. Therapist tries to reach mute, accused murderess/artist. You do not know who is telling the truth and you are always questioning character motivations. I felt like I had seen it all before. That means, for much of the book, I was saying to myself “Why do people even like this? It’s okay, but I am not even kind of shocked by any of this.”
Boy, was I wrong.
Until the end, I felt like the book moved slowly and was not the most engaging, but by the end, I changed my mind. I was finally suprised and I call that a win for me and the author.
Tropes get a bad reputation in the literary world. And I get it.
They are seen as “the easy way” out for writers and any book with these tropes cannot possibly have the same literary value as a text without them.
I even stumbled upon a checklist of tropes and how to avoid them in writing.The blog post claims that readers of YA are sick of them (and some are) and avoiding them or innovating them can help make your writing better (very true.)
As a reader who reads often reads for comfort and enjoyment, I think I like tropes. Well…some of them. They are predictable, relatable, and deliciously cringeworthy. There is something to be said for knowing how something is going to end.
My favorite tropes are “All adults are useless,” especially in a boarding school setting and “The love triangle.” As a 32 year old adult and teacher, I shouldn’t like these tropes. No one is ever in a love triangle basking the symbolism of choosing between their past and present or two sides of themselves through a romantic partner. And, I am an educator! I would never leave students unsupervised long enough for them to solve a murder. It is our job to pay attention!
What I like about these tropes is that they allow for the ultimate literary fantasies to be played out. Isn’t it wonderful to immerse yourself a world where the main character can prove their daring and intelligence, running around and solving conflict without interference from overbearing adults with no sense of fun or visible moral compass? If you are a teen, this trope reinforces the idea that you have a voice and that you can change the world. Isn’t it also wonderful to imagine that you have the choice between two great partners that represent different sides of yourself, choosing who you really want to be with and choosing who you really want to be in the process? Oh, to be young and fictional.
If all of that is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
I do hate forehead kisses and fainting to change the scene…but that is for another day.
How do you feel about tropes? Favorites? Least favorites?
A few years after its publication, I finally got around to reading What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. After reading it, I realized why it took me so long to get to it.
What If It’s Us tells, in alternating POVs, the story of the ultimate meet-cute. Ben and Arthur run into each other at a post office in New York. Ben is mailing things back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur followed him into the post office, because he thought Ben was cute…duh. Sparks fly. A flash mob starts. They lose track of each other and spend the rest of the book trying to find each other. Cute right?
I love me some teen drama, but this was almost too much drama. I felt like no one in the book had any fun ever. But that is just me! I appreciated all of the Broadway allusions and the meet-cute was super cute, but I just wasn’t a huge fan of the book in general.
Also, I wish that the book alternated fonts with POVs. Sometimes, I lost track of whose POV it was supposed to be.
Maybe I am not the target audience for it and that is okay. Check it out because it might be for you!
Once again, I picked up a book thanks to a list. This time it was a list of Queer YA Books, from Buzzfeed. So much love for Buzzfeed Lists. The premise looked great and I am a big fan of the author. I saw them speak at Book Con in 2015 and just had to devour everything they write.
In Dark and Deepest Red, McLemore deftly wove magical realism, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. The novel followed the POVs of three characters connected by family, by Romani culture, and by the dancing plague of the 1500s. Two characters were modern teens and the other, a teen from the 16th century.
I do not say this often, but I loved, loved, loved this book.
I was drawn in the magical worlds, the magical words, the culture, the history, the diversity of love.
I cried. I squealed. I sighed.
I’ll probably think about this one for awhile.
That being said, if magical realism is not your thing or if you, like some of my wonderful bookish friends, cannot get through historical fiction, this may not be your thing. But, if you are like me, and love a little magical realism with a little historical fiction, this book is for you.
I found The Hypnotist on a list…as I do….of thrillers that kept readers on the edge of their seats. While I have been reading a lot and writing a lot about “guilty pleasure” reads and YA books, I have not been reading too many mysteries. And, I love a mystery. The first chapter books I remember reading were Nancy Drews. My mother and grandmother were always reading mysteries. It’s a family thing.
Any ways, this book is un-put-down-able. In my opinion. Seldom do I find a book that can surprise me and capture my attention. I don’t want to say too much, but, the book follows Detective Joona Linna as he tries to solve the murder of a family; a murder that was witnessed by one child, who lies in a coma. He turns to a disgraced hypno-therapist to help him question the surviving boy. What results is a fast-paced and, at times, anxiety producing story.
I devoured this rather lengthy mystery/thriller in record time. It was fascinating, horrifying, and never predictable. I kept trying to solve one layer and then, another layer of another case was exposed. What a ride.