Each time I go to the library with my daughter, I show her books. “This one’s got dogs!” “Look, a duck!” But she sits in the rocker, or chews on a train, or presses her snotting nose against the glass of a papier mache Charlotte’s Web display.
Then we’re in the picture books. She sees one, and she points, excited. Finally, I think, a book she wants. And I go to grab it…
…and it’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
“What? We own this book.”
“It’s sitting on our bookshelf.”
“I read it four times yesterday!”
She looks at me as if to say, What part of “Ehn!” don’t you understand?
I plop her on the carpet. I place the book between us, and open the first page. And for the first time since I brought her inside, she sits still.
I recently joined in with my coworkers in reading a book from the Great American Read, and began reading Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a lengthy paperback I picked up, over 500 pages, a size I’ve been avoiding for the most part with the limited reading time a needy toddler gives to me. But as I started reading it while my daughter fell asleep on my shoulder one afternoon, I turned the pages, faster and faster, and though I still have half a book to go I am chomping my way through Adichie’s book faster than I would have thought.
I look at the way Americanah is written, and I should not find it so appealing. So much narrative summary, going quickly over the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, should leaving me feeling separate, distant from the characters. Instead Adichie’s words and sentences coil around me deeper and deeper into their thoughts, their worlds, until I am enmeshed in the story of a girl who grew up poor, who moved to America and was so disheartened with the path her life was taking she shut out the person she loved the most; the story of a boy who grew up comparatively privileged but enters adulthood to find life so much harder than he thought it should have been, every dream he had suddenly unreachable. There is so much history to the she writes about, and I’m impressed by this writing that is so different from what I write, from what I thought I would want to read.
I didn’t mark a particular passage that I can quote now, and when I flip back through the pages I can’t find the one line to illustrate what I mean. It’s the whole thing, the cadence of the sentences strung together, and I am pulled deeply in before I even realize what has happened.
Here are some books my daughter has enjoyed having me read to her — and that I’ve enjoyed reading right back.
Duck and Goose Colors by Tad Hill. A cute book with the Duck and Goose characters, comparing things that are the same color. “The tip of Goose’s beak is black, like ants.” I think she likes the shortness, and the bright colors.
Babies on the Farm. A lift-the-flap book where a couple of goat kids go around meeting the other baby animals. It’s a thick board book with thick board book flaps, so she can’t easily destroy this book, and the art is very cute.
Hello, Cape Cod! by Martha Zschock. A pair of seagulls show you all the things you can do on Cape Cod. The rhyming is fun and easy to read in an upbeat voice. I also love when the seagulls are obviously in Provincetown, and you see a book store, a candy shop, and an LGBT flag.
Llama Llama Trick or Treat by Anna Dewdney. She loves baby Llama and has no sense of when holidays take place, so this book is perfect.
God Bless You, and Good Night. This was a gift for my daughter from my mother-in-law after her baptism. Sweet-looking fuzzy animals going to bed. I love how the text reinforces how much the parent loves the baby.
I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak. Speaking of reinforcing how much I love my baby, the text declares love for all parts of the baby, both fun and difficult. “I love your happy side, your sad side, your silly side, your mad side.” Plus Church’s illustrations are very sweet, and my daughter has actually leaned forward to kiss the baby on the face while I’ve been reading. (And yes, I almost died because my insides melted from the raging fire of adorable.)
As I helped set up the kid’s movie at the library recently, a boy filed in with his family, his nose in a graphic novel. Moms chatted, kids flopped on cushions, and this kid kept reading his book.
Ninety minutes later the movie ended, and we turned on the lights. When I noticed the kid again, he was standing among the other kids, book open, looking down. It was seamless, as if he’d never closed the book since I turned out the lights and hit play on the movie. And maybe he didn’t– maybe he read straight through, more interested in what he could read then what he could watch. Or maybe once one form of entertainment ended, he slipped back into the other one at hand before I could even see the transition.
I was the girl who read Animorphson my lap between lessons, who couldn’t leave the house without a book in my bag, who couldn’t handle a trip to Maine until her mother took her to a bookstore to restock. So kid, I relate.
Last weekend was Boston Book Fest. Being a free festival, and me having a Saturday with nothing planned, I drove down to amble among booths with a friend and sit on on a couple of panels.
The best one I sat through was a middle grade panel, The Power of Friendship, featuring panelists Jo Knowles, Ali Benjamin, and Paul Griffin. All three of them talked about some great things: where ideas come from, keeping your child character in danger as long as possible, and the pain of childhood. And the kids in the audience asked some dang good questions at the end.
What hit home for me was when Ali Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) brought up the idea that got stuck in her head that there was an “other world” of writers that she could never be a part of. Now she’s written a book, and is even nominated for the National Book Award. She discovered that there is no other world.
Before leaving, I grabbed a copy of Ali Benjamin’s book to have her sign. When she asked me about my interest in children’s literature, I answered: it’s what I’m trying to write. She got very excited and interested then, even when I brought up the struggle of getting my work noticed, and of comparing my progress with others. “I didn’t get my first book published until I was 40,” she said, and Jo Knowles, sitting right next her, chimed in that it had taken her 10 years before anything happened with her work.
“Trust yourself,” Ali wrote in my copy of her book, right about a quick sketch of a jellyfish. And I will, whether that means genre hopping (I think it’s time to go back to that contemporary story of mine) or tossing out something old to work on something new. I’m going to keep doing what I think is right, and maybe someday it will be.
Books can inspire you to do a lot of things: learn a new topic, go somewhere, or eat something you’ve never heard of before. Or they can just make you wish that something existed so you could actually do it.
For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, here are a few of the things books have made me want to do.
A Ring of Endless Light by Madleine L’Engle made me want to go to school for English. This is all because one person that the main character, Vicky, meets tells her that if she’s serious about her writing, she shouldn’t major in creative writing in college, but she should major in English so she can study stories. I may have been the only person I knew in middle school who knew what she was going to college for.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George made me want to live in the woods. If I could get my own peregrine falcon, even better.
Amelia’s Notebook series by Marissa Moss inspired me to fill my childhood journal with awesome doodles.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis gave my a lifelong desire to try Turkish Delight. (It didn’t work out so well.)
And, of course, Harry Potterby J.K. Rowling made me hope, hope, hope that I would be a witch. Still waiting on that owl…
Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more lists! What have books made you want to do? There are still so many other foods books made me want to try…
Here are some fun things I’ve seen around the Internet recently.
On the blog Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) author Meghan E. Bryant describes her long process of getting her picture book, Dump Truck Duck, published. That she kept at it for so long is inspiring in itself, but I find it really fantastic that she was able to get publishing deals for several books right afterward, because of the simple fact that she never stopped writing. I think about all the stories sitting in my drawer right now, waiting to be polished, and the ideas swimming in my cluttered brain waiting to be written while I query other things, and I have hope that if I can get one book published, maybe something else will start.
Women Write About Comics published an article, The Feminization of Bucky Barnes, where they parse out why the Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier character is so particularly popular among female fans. I’ve really liked that character for a while, mainly because of the angst (I’m a horrible person that likes to see my favorite characters tortured). But the writers on WWAC bring up other points, like how Bucky replaces the “girl” character, which rang true for me as far as why I feel so attached to that character. (Chicken or egg: which came first, my love of Bucky or my love of Sebastian Stan? Both evolved so closely together…)
Maggie Stiefvater drew a diagram of what her character Gansey from the Raven Boys series looks like when “His fingers lightly touched his temple and his cheekbone, and his eyes looked off at nothing”. I laughed for one full minute.
When I used to work at the used bookstore, I had a real problem — too many books! Every day new (to me) books passed through my hands, so it was inevitable that some of them never made it to the sale shelf, winding up in my house instead.
That is a time when my tsundokugot really out of hand, so that many of the books I gave away when I moved had never been cracked open by me.
But, I work at a library now. Things are better now. Right?
Well, a little better. Now when I get out of hand and bring home a huge pile of books I’ll never read, they go back to the library a couple weeks later with nothing missing from my wallet, and my shelf space still intact.
Of course, being a library, people like to give donations, these donations being piles of books they don’t want anymore. Sometimes these donations are…less than savory (Encyclopedias from 20 years ago! Worn out mass markets that reek of smoke, and sometimes cat pee!) But sometimes these donations are great. Really great. Like, books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages so maybe I should bring them home in case I get a chance to read them great.
So, maybe tsundoku’s not as bad when you work in a library. But I love books — I love to touch them and smell them and have them in my home, almost as much as I love actually reading them. So if I’m unpacking a dirty box, and something shines out at me, or if a coworker picks up a donation and presses it into my hands telling me I must read this, then you can bet I’ll put a crumpled dollar in the money drawer, stuff the book into my purse, and sneak it onto my shelf or into my pile, where it will wait for me.
This post is inspired by a comic by Debbie Tung. Check out her Tumblr, she’s really amazing!
“You’re bringing a book on a date?”
I looked up, startled. It was senior year of college, and I was in the common area shared with my three roommates, getting on my coat and packing up my purse before going out for dinner with my boyfriend. My last step — taking the paperback I’d been reading, and nestling it in beside my wallet in my old beat-up purse.
It’s never been unusual for me to have a book crammed into my bag whenever I leave the house. Dinner with the in-laws, party with friends, a half-day at work that doesn’t include a lunch break — there’s a mass market, or a full hardcover, or now a Nook or even something downloaded on my phone, ready for me to read at the first sign of five free minutes.
I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, back to Animorphs books in my backpack, back to Dr. Seuss on car trips. That paper brick right within reach is a comfort, a security blanket, ready to help me out at a moment’s notice, to pull me free from boredom, keep me company if loneliness surrounds me, to cheer me up or calm me down if depression or anxiety worm themselves into my brain.
While I don’t know too many people who insist on this practice (I was the one in my family curled up in the back corner of the minivan on road trips with nothing but a too-loud Disc-man and an R.A. Salvatore novel) but I’d never been made to feel weird about it. Until that day, in my dorm, with my friend. Though loads of my friends love to read, this friend was pretty close to last on the list of people I would have expected to question me. My fellow bookworm, the one who ALSO made time for pleasure reading during finals week, who rambled on about stories and characters with an enthusiasm so bright it blocked out the glazed expressions of everyone who was forced to listen. I looked at this person, expecting her to realize the logic behind carrying a book you would never crack open, just because you wanted it there.
And she looked back at me, confused, like I was an indecipherable nerd, like all the passages in my brain were turned around and broken.
“Uh, yeah,” I answered lamely. “Just in case.”
All my good reasons, rooted in emotion and vague-but-real feelings of comfort, became suddenly inexplicable, particularly in the face of a person who should have understood. It all seemed weird, and silly, and maybe a little bit messed up.
I’ve left home without a book before, because I was distracted or rushed, and managed to forget. But for the first time that I could think of, I consciously, purposely, removed the book from my bag, placed it on the table, and left without it.
I didn’t need the book that night. Really, it’s rarely necessary all those other times. But I’ve always liked having that backup plan, that comfort. “Because it feels like I’ve got a good friend by my side,” Debbie Tung writes in her comic. That’s exactly right, and it’s why I’ve never left a book behind since, if I can help it (it’s hard to fit a paperback in those tiny purses I use at weddings). I always keep a book in my bag, even if I wind up with a twenty-pound purse, even if someone gives me a weird look because they don’t understand.
It’s worth it, to feel secure, and to know my friends are close.
I’m still working my slow, deliberate way through Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. I still think it’s a good novel, but it gets so dense, and there are such long parts of the novel without breaks, that I have a hard time reading it for long stretches. Plus, I keep falling asleep on the couch while I’m reading the book…
I also started reading Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton. I bought the mass market at Barnes and Noble after reading the back and realizing it was a futuristic science fiction story, AND a detective murder mystery story. I really love it so far. Hamilton’s writing is accessible, and the super technological bits don’t make me go cross-eyed. I did almost roll my eyes right out of my head when he spent an entire paragraph describing how hot the main character’s wife is: “slimmer than anyone who’d had two children should reasonably expect”; “she was enticingly fit”; “the dark hair…still as lush”. Blarg. But I powered through it! And I still like the book.
A trip to the comic store got me…some comics! I picked up the first four issues of Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat by Kate Leth, because I love Kate Leth and I’ve heard good things about it. I’ve read the first issue so far, and it’s super, super cute. I do wish that super hero comics had looked like this when I was a kid.
On top of that I grabbed some issues of Zodiac Starforce, which is colored like Steven Universeand sounds like Sailor Moon. So, really, probably for me, I figured! I read issue #2 (they didn’t have #1 at the store), and it turns out yes, I was right, this comic is my kind of deal. I’ll have to find the missing issues next time I’m in a comic shop.
What are you all reading? Anything nerdy? Anything smart?
Also, I think I’m going to frequent my comic shop more often (it is right next to the grocery store, after all). Any suggestions of what I should get?