Tag Archives: book nerd

Like Stories about Collapsing Lungs and Crocodiles?

I consider myself an optimistic pessimist. Meaning, I hope for the best, even if my thoughts don’t naturally go in that direction.

But lately, I’ve been complaining A LOT.

Sleep is a big part of keeping me on an even keel. If I am short on sleep, I act like a bad version of myself. Reading a good story also turns my mood around.

I try to read every night, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Or sometimes, I start a new book, and the story hasn’t captured my interest yet. And sometimes, I just forget to do the things that are good for me.

I have a favorite design blog, Design*Sponge. The site showcases people’s beautiful homes, but also explores art, traveling, recipes, and artists. It has also started to focus more on writing.

I ran across a post about writer Rahawa Haile yesterday. She created a site called Short Story of the Day. Her idea was to post a short story from a minority writer every day in 2015.

I enjoyed the freshness of these stories, the ability to startle. Sure there was a breakup story, but the main character also had a collapsing lung. There was another story about a girl whose mom brings home a crocodile.

These stories forced the reader to suspend belief for a moment. To live outside the realm of the every day. Reading these stories allowed me to escape myself and all my petty gripes.

Sometimes, disappearing into a world of crocodiles and collapsing lungs is just what you need.

Last night, I also attended that Dave Eggers and Marlon James book event which benefited the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute. As I mentioned last week, MOI is an after school program that helps students aged 6-18 work on their homework, focusing particularly on creative writing.

Along with Eggers and James discussing their work, three students from the program read stories. The stories were written in letter format. One was addressed to an alien, one to a dragon, and one to the sun. Each was funny and charming.

Eggers and James were fantastic, but I think everyone who attended would agree the kids stole the show.

It was another reminder of the power of a good story. A good story allows you to lose yourself in the moment, to try to absorb all the joy and possibility in the weird, little world of that story.

This week’s video is “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage.

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Book Nerd Alert! Come See Dave Eggers and Marlon James Talk Books in St. Paul

We are serious about our books here in the Twin Cities. For a woman who loves books as much as I do, that is good news.

Imagine my excitement when it was announced that Marlon James and Dave Eggers would be talking books in St. Paul. You can still buy tickets for the Thursday February 4th event here.

The event benefits the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, an after school program that helps students aged 6-18 work on their homework. The nonprofit focuses particularly on writing and gives kids the opportunity to publish their own books. According to an article in The Star Tribune, the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute is somewhat based on the “network of writing and tutoring programs that Eggers co-founded, called 826 National.”

Despite his work with 826 National, Eggers is a polarizing writer. Many people find him arrogant. He did, after all, write a book called, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I get that doesn’t come across as particularly humble.

I also understand the need for arrogance as a writer. You have to think your writing is better than the writing of most other people. You also need to have enough ego to survive the inevitable series of rejections.

So Eggers’ ego has never bothered me. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was the first Eggers book I read, and it remains one of my favorite books. And I mean favorite books ever.

I read it after losing my brother, and I found it funny and beautiful and devastating. To me, it was an honest book about what it is like to lose someone (or two someones in Eggers’ case) you love.

When you lose someone, you try to mourn and not become overwhelmed by sadness. You also need to go on living. You need to find the joyful and funny moments when you can. This is what I love about A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Eggers shows himself laughing and crying and f*cking his way through a completely devastating situation. It is messy and at times awkward. But so is life, and so too is death.

Eggers has also written other books I’ve loved. Two of his other equally compelling and devastating creative nonfiction books are Zeitoun and What Is the What. Zeitoun follows the Zeitoun family through Katrina, and What Is the What is the story of a young Sudanese refugee, one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan. The Circle is one of Eggers’ fiction works, and it is basically a modern day 1984. The book is a disturbingly, realistic scenario of how technology could change our lives and not for the better.

James just received the Man Booker Prize for his historical fiction novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. The novel is set in Jamaica and depicts the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. James lives in Minneapolis and teaches at Macalester College.

I have only just started A Brief History of Seven Killings, and I haven’t read James’ other novels. But so far, I can attest that James is an incredible writer.

So when I saw the event with Eggers and James pop up on Facebook, I knew I had to go. I don’t go to nearly as many readings as I should, but when a favorite author reads, I get there.

So if you’re around the area and a fan of these authors, I suggest you get there too. And oh yeah, it’s for a good cause. Nothing better than that for a book nerd like me.

This week’s video is “People Got A Lotta Nerve” by Neko Case.

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How to Find Beauty On a Dusty Shelf

I have a friend who always buys The Catcher in the Rye when he sees it. I mean, I like The Catcher in the Rye just fine. It’s just never been one of those books for me. But I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way about a book.

Seeing one of my favorite books sitting on the shelf alone, unpurchased stirs a feeling in me. And I’m not talking about seeing your favorite book at Barnes & Noble (although God help B&N.) I’m talking about seeing your favorite book at a thrift store, consignment shop, or any other used bookseller. I’m even talking about Half Price Books. (I love HPB.)

Every time you’re at one of these places, it’s like a treasure hunt. Sometimes you come up with nothing. Other times you score big. I love to search for the good stuff.

My mom started taking me to antique stores when I was about four, so I have long loved this type of treasure hunt. And I don’t go as much as I used to, but I like to still keep my hand in.

Last night, I stopped at a thrift store, looking for a new dress. (This place has nice clothes, like really good stuff. It is rare for me to leave empty-handed.) I decided against a chambray jumpsuit (mistake?) and went with an olive green dress.

Then I walked by the book section. I figured there was time and money for a peek. I chased some poor guy past the science/mystery section to the fiction. It isn’t a bookstore, so things are a little jumbled. I stumbled across The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It is one my favorite books. I read it first in undergrad.

I scored The God of Small Things at the thrift store for $1.04!

I scored The God of Small Things at the thrift store for $1.04!

It is set in India. The novel jumps back and forth in time and between characters, but the main conflict is how the caste system divides the characters. It is similar, but not the same, to the way race and class divide Americans. It is a beautifully, written book, but what moves me the most is the ending.

SPOILER ALERT. The lovers don’t beat the odds and end up happily ever after. At the end of the book, it flashes back to them at the start of everything, knowing they can’t survive together, but wanting it so badly anyway. Here they are defiant in their love, here they are not thinking of the future, here they are thinking only of the next time, here they are thinking only of tomorrow.

 

“He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out in the palm of his hand. She took it from him and put it in her hair.”
The God of Small Things

 

The beauty of this moment always struck me, as well as Roy’s defiance in ending the book this way. She too is refusing to give into outdated ideas about caste and who a person can love.

I saw the copy, hesitated briefly, and then added it to my stack. I have a copy at home, but I couldn’t leave this book alone on the shelf. I needed it come home with me. I wanted to make sure this beauty was passed on to someone else.

 

 

This week’s video is “Bachelorette” by Bjork. If you haven’t watched a Bjork video, I seriously recommend you check this one out. She makes some of the most delightful and astonishing videos. And weird, the videos are so beautifully weird. Oh and this lyric, “I’m a tree that grows hearts/One for each that you take.” Now that, my friends, is some beauty.

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Mistakes, We’re Going to Make Them

Wednesday was one of those days. Work. Drive home. Class. It has become routine. A once a week routine, but a routine.

But.

Construction season has started. So my 30-40 minute commute took me over an hour. I was late to class, and there was no time to sit and zone out for a minute. Class went until 9 pm, as scheduled. I generally go to bed around 10 or 11 pm.

So.

It makes for a long day. After class, I watched an episode of Game of Thrones and then bed. Hooray Hump Day!

In the meantime, James had sent me his blog to edit. He told me he was writing about perfection this week. And he did. And it is lovely. You can read it here: http://www.thepaisleyfields.com/blog/2015/6/11/make-art-not-perfection.

As I read his blog and tried not to snarl at anyone, I started thinking about my ideas on perfection.

I have called myself a perfectionist, but not in a serious way. But if I am honest, I have tendencies that could come off a little overbearing and well, like I am striving for some kind of perfect. I like cups arranged row after neat row in my cupboard. I will spend an ungodly amount of time editing one sentence. I like paint lines to be straight, shoes to be unscuffed, and vases of arrows placed carefully in a beautiful array. (If you come to my house, you would see the arrow bouquet. Just don’t touch!)

I also want to say the right thing. I want to be funny and sensitive. I want to be outraged, when outrage is needed.

It is incredibly exhausting to keep paint lines straight, shoes unscuffed, cups straight, and to always have the right words spill from your lips. It requires constant vigilance. And honestly, I can’t do it. No one can, really. Everyone makes mistakes.

As I grow older, I realize you have to let things go. I am never going to please everyone. You can’t plan the perfect anything because the sky may open up. A boat might blow its horn during your wedding ceremony. You might spill an entire paint tray down the back of your pants. (Yes. That was me.) It is all a part of being human. And these are the moments you find yourself laughing at later.

If you can’t laugh at these little accidents, you will lead a very somber life. Laughter help keeps me sane.

The next day, I was bemoaning the traffic to James via text. I sent him a string of emojis about what I was going to do if I was caught in such an ugly traffic jam again that day.

Looking at the text, I realized I had accidentally included a stack of books in my otherwise violent string of knife, gun, and bomb emojis. My text suggested that if I was caught in traffic again, I was going to try to read someone to death.

I laughed out loud. That has to be the least terrifying threat ever made, I thought. And suddenly, my day was brighter.

So this week’s song is “Flawless” by Beyonce. I reserve the right to use this song again because it is that good. Also if you haven’t heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, she is a great writer. I have Americanah sitting on my bookshelf.

***Just to be clear, I am not a road rage kind of person. Just one to sit cursing behind my wheel like everyone else. ***

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