Raise Your Hand if You Need the Last Word.

montoya“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Over lunch the other day, a few of my girlfriends and I mused over how we grew up on The Princess Bride.  I mean literally like an after school snack. A drug of choice for hip 90s girls who knew we’d grow up and really want to be more like Robin Wright on House of Cards, but for a little while, we could love Wesley and his sexy bandit costume.  There were two movies that I obsessively watched as a child, Grease and Princess Bride.  I feel like between these two movies PLUS Clarissa Explains It All, I can be discovered.  This may or may not be true for most girls, we shall see in the comments section, but I think a lot of girls found themselves binge-watching The Princess Bride because it wasn’t your normal “princess story.”  Sure, she had to be saved several times from Humperdinck, but Princess Buttercup was no pansy.  What I love most about this movie is that it convinced me that there’s such a thing as a final word.

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I have sought that final word to the point of damage a few times.  I’ll argue until the height of high-pitched yelling.  There’s a moment when I say something despicable that I know can’t be taken back, but I still release it into the world like it’s a clattering truth.  I never remove myself from arguments.  I have a hard time walking away.  And even when someone is trying to give me the hint that there’s no place for me in their life, I pursue them until the ache grows softer and I, too, can let go.

It’s a downfall for sure.  I’m no hero.

shrill-lindy-west-magnumBut with that all said, I think Lindy West’s first book is doing just what I’ve done my whole life, just what Inigo Montoya does with every man who even narrowly looks like his father’s killer.  It’s what a lot of feminists do when they realize that maybe they’re being heard (the sound) but they’re not being listened to (the meaning).  They keep going. Shrill, West’s memoir really encapsulates this idea that silence isn’t golden, it’s boxy and the only way out of it, is to keep on talking.

hqdefaultI knew this book was going to pack a punch when in the beginning she lists out every “Fat Female Role Model” that existed for her as a child.  Characters like the Queen of Hearts, Mrs. Trunchbull, Lady Cluck, Mrs. Piggy, and Ursula were the most prominent according to my notebook. I listened to this on audiobook, so I had to pause to write down little tidbits I wanted to remember forever.  In Chapter 2, she says, “There is not a thin woman inside me awaiting excavation.  I am one piece.”  With this quote I began to realize that we were going to witness every bit of Lindy West, whether she thought it appropriate to show or not, she was nothing but transparent and relatable for the entire book.

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This image is from Lindy West’s article in Jezebel “How to Make a Rape Joke”

(If you don’t know who Lindy West is, she came for Tosh.0 in Jezebel with a piece called “How to Make a Rape Joke.” And she rocks).  She has been trashed by internet trolls, even one impersonating her deceased father, and she married a man who in her words is “conventionally attractive” who plays the trumpet.  The reason why I say her book is a final word of sorts is that it gives all of the baggage (and I don’t mean this as a negative) to the stories that everyone else construed about her.  These stories created by trolls, comedy show hosts, feminist bloggers, newspapers and magazines, and her blog were in some ways all fabricated.  While I blog my life blood into everything I write at Books & Bowels and Almost an Independent Clause, that doesn’t mean I owe every single one of my followers a pound of flesh.

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Internet Troll image from Kotaku

But in the eyes of the public, Lindy West did.  She was trolled, tattered, and left on the defense over really important issues like fat shaming, rape jokes, abortions, periods, and privilege.  At one point, during the comedy chapters, she says something like, I can easily name 20 white male comics, but … “Name 20 female comics.  Name 20 black comics.  Name 20 gay comics.”  Early in the book, she writes so unabashedly about her abortion when she was dating a guy that she loved, but didn’t quite like very much, that I heard every woman who walked the women’s march sigh in relief.  It wasn’t some grotesque tale like the biblical posters of “baby waste” will have you think, it was a real woman’s life trial, true to each hard step.  She even at this point in her life (what I would argue is probably a low point for some women) thought about her privilege, about the way it was so easy for the owner of the Abortion Clinic to let her pay later.

“Privilege means it’s easy for white women to do each other favors.”

I’m not going to lie, I found the chapters rehashing her experience of Tosh.0 kind of boring, but I knew they needed to be said.  I’m not going to put words in Lindy West’s mouth (like everyone else has done before me), but I get the need to have one last say, to make sure people understand your point, to make one even when all corners are trying to silence you. For me, what she said had value, is valuable, and should be repeated even if the “shrill” is deafening.  Especially in today’s political climate.

“We live in a culture that actively tries to shrink the definition of sexual assault.  That casts stalking behaviors as romance.  Blames the victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhood…Convicts in less than 5% of allegations that go to trial” (Chapter 13).

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Lindy West, Fierce AF at KUOW.org

I loved this book because it didn’t ask for anything.  You know how sometimes you read memoirs and you can feel that the writer is asking for pity, or asking for understanding, or even just asking for love and adoration? This wasn’t like that.  This was just a girl, standing in front of a really bookish crowd (with a pack of Lena Dunham’s behind her) telling a few truths about life.  She wasn’t asking for you to understand why your fat joke is sorry, why rape jokes aren’t funny in any contexts, why free speech isn’t necessarily free, or why feminist voices matter, she was just telling you an experience in a life of a human being.

If we could find more writers that do this, our world might open up a little.  Internet trolls might apologize more and Lindy West may have a twitter full of quips that crack a girl up while she’s at a boring desk job.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but if Lindy West keeps publishing, we just might. I liked Slate’s review here.

Because Everyone is Reading Rebecca Solnit.

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This is totes me on a day when I just couldn’t take anymore news.

I’ve crowned this year, “Year of Essays.”  And while I’d also really like to dedicate some time to the Outlander series and the free audiobooks I got when I cheated the system and got Audible for only as long as it took me to choose four free books — I may have stolen BJ’s too — approximately four minutes and thirty-seven seconds, I still want to read more nonfiction in the form of the essay.  I want to finally unpack Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, and Annie Proulx from my shelf. Basically, I want to read more women who fought back.  I’ve read A LOT of memoir and can swallow a short story in a sitting, but the form that always eludes me is the essay.  Maybe because I’ve tried to write several about the same ex-boyfriend? And maybe because I’m not sure how to know when to stop writing an essay?

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-9-24-29-pmI think it’s only fair then that I start with Rebecca Solnit.  She is the new age queen of the nonfiction essay. You may have seen her book Men Explain Things to Me all over Subways and feminist Instagram posts.  Her latest Hope in the Dark is on my reading list for this year so that I can try to make it through a Washington Post Twitter feed without crying in the morning before I’ve even had coffee.  However, I started with A Field Guide to Getting Lost. If you follow me on Instagram (@bookishcassie, shameless plug) then you know that I’ve felt very lost lately.

I actually think I’m losing brain matter, teaching kept me sharp. And I’ve always loved the poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art.”  During my worst year in college, the frustration came out in the form of locking my keys in my car.  Even once overnight, while running in the rain, I lost my keys to a dead engine. I cried to the last triple A guy, on the twelfth time.  You read that right, 12 incidents in a year of losing my mind long enough to leave my keys enclosed somewhere I wasn’t. In the beginning of our relationship, BJ was constantly losing things, or leaving them somewhere and forgetting them until just the right moment of overtime when we were walking out the door.  He doesn’t do this anymore, but I remember it being a test for me, I thought.  The little things we can handle due to love.

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Reading last week. It took me 10 days to read this book which is long for me. 

And I imagine these scenes of oddly connected things is what leads an essay.  At the deconstruction of an essay, if demolished, it would be these strange miscellaneous tools and objects that we’ve weaved together, not like a loom, but like shaking-hand crochet, to make meaning.  I think, at least, this is what Rebecca Solnit is doing in A Field Guide to Getting Lost.  There were moments where it worked for me so hard that I was furiously underlining passages and moments where this read more like a text book than a thoughtful process of braiding moments.

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Saturday trying to finish it, not even close. 

In the beginning she loiters over the idea of distance and the color of distance, blue.  We walk through mountains, towards an island on a dry lake, and through paintings — the amusement of painters in flight. This idea that distance and going towards it is a way of getting lost guides the reader through Solnit’s dreams from her childhood home.  Memories from this place haunt her dreams although she left the place in her late teens. There’s the distance between men and gold, the distance of extinct animals who both come back and remain undone.  This long-form essay is both a love letter to the distance of the desert and to a home that we can’t go back to.  All of these geographically lost things given new homes on the page. What we can know, what we pretend to know, and how our previous knowledge fills in gaps that we shouldn’t fill in is all also a part of this.  It’s our minds mixed with our place if I could describe it in the weakest terms.

“I survived not the outside world, but the inside one” (90).

I know this just sounds like some weird gak of nonsense, but it was beautiful at times.  There were moments where I could have licked the words to hold them in and moments where I was falling asleep reading.  I didn’t understand the ending on the Gold Rush trails, it all felt very boring-Oregan-Trail to me, but I think the message stands firm.  One must get lost to know oneself.  I’m sure some philosopher has said that well before me and in better form. We all do have something to find after all, right?

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Image from the Women’s March Raleigh, the rest of my images are on AlmostanIndependentClause.com

There were moments too when I was like “YAS, GIRL” because what she was saying was so true to what we’re currently living.  If you wake up devastated to the news you read, then you are feeling somewhat lost in a place that no longer looks like the home we’ve built as a nation.

“In these terms, even nostalgia and homesickness are privileges not granted to everyone” (123).

If you don’t read that quote thinking about refugees that have been further displaced by new “Executive Orders,” then you need to pick up a newspaper, or phone a friend.

“Such moments seem to mean that you have surrendered to the story being told and are following the story line rather than trying to tell it yourself, your puny voice interrupting and arguing with fate, nature, the gods” (134).

This, the time we finally decide to stand, against any odd.

“Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map’s information is what’s left out, the unmapped and unmappable. One of those in-depth local or state atlases that map ethnicity and education and principal crops and percentage foreign-born makes it clear that any place can be mapped infinite ways, that maps are deeply selective” (160).

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Today when Fro and I finally finished this one. 

I’d be lying if I believed that where you were born didn’t immediately dictate about fifty-percent of your life choices.  As a privileged American woman, I face the idea of sliding into complacency and believing I’m owed what I’m given.  The other option is realizing my own privilege and trying to narrow those gaps by fighting side by side, and listening to those who are faced with far less than I. I think Solnit finds that deep connection to geography, to home, to the memories that we apply to every landscape we press feet to. I think Dr. Seuss and the mantra “Oh the Places You Go” would be the child version of this idea.

I can’t argue that this is a perfect book by any means.  But the ideas in it, the way they’re imperfectly balanced against and for one another made this such a meaningful read.  I will read the rest of Solnit this year and I will eat each word like a delicacy because I know not everyone, and especially not all girls are given that right.

And words are everyone’s right.

 

“There Are Great Holes in Your Newspapers. Nobody Sees Them. God Sees Them”

Because I need a few more days to mull over what I’m going to say about the new President on this blog, I thought I could review one of my already favorite books of the year.

News25817493 of the World by Paulette Jiles was a quiet simmer, a rustle, a murmur. I hadn’t read anything about it other than it was a finalist for the National Book Award and that there were 73 people on the library waiting list before me.  That’s an accurate portrayal, not a fudged number.  I can tell now, why, and why it has such a catastrophically high Goodreads score.  Usually, even my favorite books tap out at 3.2, maybe 3.4 if there’s an influx of smart, beautiful readers, but typically all books stay average, even the good ones.  (I don’t have any stats on this, this is just sheer user interpretation).

Right now, News of the World has a 4.23 star score on Goodreads. I’m going to make the argument that it’s all about the characters (and then the setting, and then the pacing, and then the softness, in that order).  There’s two main characters and then a handful of townspeople that we meet as they travel through Texas.  The two main characters are Cho-Henna and Kep-Dun.  Captain Kidd is a former military messenger and Johanna is a girl who was captured by the Kiowa Tribe at a young age and only knows that life.  However, at the beginning of the book, Kidd accepts guardianship of returning her to what’s left of her family (an aunt and uncle) and thus the book begins.

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Map of Civil War Sites in Texas (Fort Tours)

The entirety of this book is their journey on just a few roads. Kidd is stopping in towns to read the news from local and international papers, a former print shop owner, he likes to create fairytales of far-off places in the minds of Texans, and while doing that he teaches Cho-Henna a few “house rules” without changing who she is at the core.  I fell in love with both of these characters.  By the end of the book, I could actually hear the peep of Cho-Henna’s voice saying “Kep-Dun” from behind a flour barrel, or underneath a blanket.

She was so quiet, almost silent, and yet the sound of her stays with me.  It wasn’t the voice of the character that was so moving in this book, it was the subtle sounds of everyday life that she made.  The way she patted the captains arm, or handed him dimes to be used as bullets, or ripped the lace from her skirt.  Those sounds that create a live-action movie in the reader’s heads.  I knew that countryside while I was riding, and although we had to listen for the sounds of danger, it was so easy being with Captain Kidd and Johanna just a little while longer.  I feel the same soft spot for Johanna that Kidd grows in this story.

And although we know from the beginning that this will end tied with a bow, I don’t fault Jiles for the conclusion being that neat.  This was a feel-good story from the very beginning.  I eased through the way Captain Kidd treated Johanna like she didn’t need to be anyone but herself in order to get along in the world.  He could only teach her this through his own ways of being in the world, just a visitor, always in motion, and always with a message.  At one point, he thinks the following:

“Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news.  Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed” (121).

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BFG and Dreams

I think this was just the most perfect instance of how life is made.  Whether we’re Captain Jeffrey Kidd making life after the Civil War, or we’re a child with two visions of the world that collide and collapse at random.  I’ve harped about this idea of purpose for the last several months.  I’m a pray-er, I don’t know what you guys believe, or what religious doctrine you follow, if any, but I like to send open words out into the air and hope someone is catching them (kind of like The BFG and dreams).

For a long while, every time I prayed about being a teacher, I got a solidified answer as to why I needed to keep doing it.  Even in my most desperate, cry on the side of the bed as I slide down the post, moments.  Where a whole tissue box wasn’t enough, and neither was the constant heaving, I got a sign the next day, or a word, or a moment.  When I decided to quit teaching, those signs that I was holding like small weapons against any stray ideas, went dark.  I couldn’t find anything telling me to “just keep swimming.”  I was carrying a message, but I didn’t think it was the right one anymore.

I’ve had a lot of nights where I manically mindmap my purpose.  Where I talk to myself about podcasts, and blogging, and editing, and reading, and making life. Not making a living, but just making life. I’ve tried to find goals and make them into something.  Truth be told, I’m lost as hell. But with all of that, I’m also in a moment of creation.

“To go through our first creation is a turning of the soul we hope toward the light, out of the animal world.  God be with us.  To go through another tears all the making of the first creation and sometimes it falls to bits” (56).

bigstock_failure_grunge_text_3728194-1In situations like this there’s that constant nag of failure.  It creates a lot of fear.  And that’s what wasn’t in this book.  Neither character was tied to a certain message, a certain town or person or purpose.  Both were just between living.  Sure, their road had an end.  Captain Kidd had a goal and a $50 gold coin to show for it.  He had a mission for Johanna that wasn’t of her choosing, but was still a mission they both partook.  And so maybe, it’s corny, but maybe it’s true – it’s about the journey.  I know this book was.

This was one of those moments where I hit the just right book at the just right time.  So what if the goal isn’t clear? So what if we’re reinventing all the time? If people know us as a chameleon or a lover of adventure or just someone that can’t stay focused? So what? Make life.  Make it with people who don’t have to speak because the thud of their feet in the hallway and the click of a radio button and the morning voices of Mike & Mike  are the only reconciliation you need. (Thanks, Beej).  This is true for these two characters and I would argue that it’s true for most of us.  If we gave up speaking, we would still make love with sounds.  If we lost our voices, we would still show pity, embarrassment, joy with the soft strokes of being human.

28119237News of the World is that subtle reminder that we all need.  I highly recommend this read because it will seriously melt your heart.  In many book clubs they’re recommending it be paired with Tribe by Sebastian Junger. I’m going to try to get my hands on a copy of that next.  Get both from the library and dog-ear every page you love for the next person.  Leave that muted symbol, imagine the rubbed sound of crisped page against their thumb.

True Life: #bookstagram

There’s some odd wonderings that have come from the world of #bookstagram.  You know the world: lots of latte art, white comforters, plaid scarves, unfinished oak tables, quote pillows, and fat mugs.

At least that’s if you’re not one of those #bookstagrammers who sets up a whole scene with Christmas lights in the right season, or plastic fall leaves, all the things you wouldn’t grab if your house was on fire. Most of these people awe me daily with the way they present their books and their tiny details.  I wonder what percentage of them become decorators, architects, designers, or other creative pursuits.

#Bookstagram is extreme.  Your success doesn’t amount to how much you read, or even how much you blog, but really who notices and why.  It’s the same with most careers, the more important people you know, the better your network.

So, here’s a list for an episode of MTV’s True Life: I’m a #bookstagram(mer).  Or just a general list of what’s trending and what’s successful in the #bookish world to date.

BYOB (Be your own barista) OR you live within .2 miles of a fancy coffee shop that costs you approximately $34 a week:

*If you hover over the images, it will show you who to follow.

I love latte art like the next gal.  And I’m totally guilty of making my latte cocky with too many selfies, but when you have a great barista, and your latte looks like a rose’s cheek, then you can’t help yourself.  However, I also work everyday and although I just recently changed jobs to one where I could go sit in a cafe during my lunch break, (which I’m totally going to do because my jealousy of this latte art is at a high level), I understand if the average #bookstagrammer can’t manage this trend. Here’s a helpful coffeetube.

The mystery of the white comforter / white corner / white table (A Nancy Drew collectible):

White walls used to be for the insane, but who says #bookstagram isn’t crazy? I live in fear of accidentally (and totally) buying a white comforter for these shots only to spill immense amounts of coffee (and let’s be honest cheese) on it. I’m clearly the only one.

You need a window. Get a window. TO THE WINDOW, TO THE WALL:

Natural light goes a LONG way in the Bookstagram world, you know, window to the soul and all that.

Say it with a view:

Everyone has to vacay … not this crowd.  Stop on the beach and hold up a book.  In the snowy mountains skiing, no problem, a book fits perfectly in that inner, inner, deep layer of your third sweater in.

Hoard Trinkets:

I would just make a plain and total mess of this, but @foldedpagesdistillery knocks it out of the park every. single. time.

Color Coordinate: 

Guilty as charged.

Open Up a Little:

We have to prove we’re actually reading somehow, don’t we?

Bookstagram is a cheeky business.  Newcomers are coming on daily and they may have better light in their house, bigger windows, a cheaper coffee house than F.R.I.E.N.D.S (and that one was pretty much free while Jen was there). There are big names in the game like @igreads and people who have gotten jobs at publishing houses because they’re book-famous.  Gain 40k followers, get your dream job.  We live in a strange world folks, but #bookstagram is always there to make you question your lifestyle choices and how too few books you’re reading for that inevitable Goodreads Challenge.

I need to start a new hashtag like #bookoff for when I just want to post a picture of the Beej without any books (or cats).  But you can’t. Bookstagram doesn’t rest, and neither should you.

No Goodreads Goal? BIG PROBLEM.

I get jealous sometimes of the people who can just steam through YA fiction all year, blog every two days, and create this center of magic.

I am not that person.

And this year without a Goodreads goal, I was even more of a flailer. This is me December of last year:

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See how I’m SO not held down that my hair is blowing straight in the wind?

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Knock Knock even made a fancy pro/con list.

I’ll take Flounder-er’s throughout history for 200, Alex. Because that’s what I was this year.  Unlike Book Stacks Amber, I didn’t just lower my goal, I got rid of that sucker altogether for a year. I took the advice of countless blogging sages who have come before me like Jessica Pryde at Book Riot and Broke By Books.  Surlymuse got into my head a little bit too and like any good working gal, I made a pro / con list. Countless ex-boyfriends have been through this routine and someone could have just saved me if they said, “If you have to even write pro / con about a boy on a piece of notebook paper, he’s not worth your time.” However, I take the Ben Stiller approach (in Along Came Polly) and like to know exactly what I’m getting into, with both books and boys.

The list had more cons because I wanted it to and so I didn’t write in a goal this year. Surlymuse called the way Goodreads tracks books is, “some kind of perverse commodity” and I felt that too.  For too long, I had avoided books over five-hundred pages because I wouldn’t keep up with my Goodreads goal in the long run. And Goodreads is such a gem for telling you how far behind you are every year.  In 2015, I got seven books behind and felt like I was turning circles at sea. I turned to short children’s books to fill the gap, or poetry chapbooks, or even just those one-off story collections from Vintage American that Goodreads totally counts as a full book.  I’m also a Goodreads librarian so I can add those short, sad, totally not books to Goodreads as if they were.

Is this abusing my power or are there people like me out there?

Whatever short, probably not as fulfilling as long drawn-out works, I could find would be on the list. They just fit so well into my Goodreads goal catchup list. It’s worth it if you can just maintain the goal.

The goal would say, “How could you only read three books in September when you know you must read five to even be in the running?” WHERE IS YOUR MOTIVATION, SOLDIER.

And I gave that all up.

blog250113-michelleAnd what happened was sort of disastrous. Without a goal, I was flying solo. I was a Beyonce without Destiny’s Child, at least I felt that way in the beginning, until I was Michelle without Destiny’s Child.

But now I have the gift of looking back on my reading this year and it is a sad, sad state of affairs.  I’m not even sure I can do a Top 10 books list (or 5 if you’re stingy) because I read so few books, that were so random, that I can’t even equate them within the same lists. There are months under my “Read in 2016” where I had to write something like “I did not read a single book this month (because I’m a heathen).” That was a statement written in fear of leaving a whole month blank.

ywmqvkfsMostly, I can sum up my reading this year in one statement: I read what I had to teach to my AP Literature kids. Which, thank goodness for my own choosing, wasn’t just the Western Canon. Towards the end of the year, I hit up some #diversebooks hashtags on Twitter and found that I had actually read a lot of literature, and nonfiction about the African American experience. I think subconsciously as an educator, and consciously as a human, I wanted to be both less ignorant and more thoughtful. My best friend is a mixed white and black man and I wanted to really understand when he told me to “use my privilege.” I needed to understand my current world a little bit better, but … I think I would have still done that with a Goodreads Challenge. I think I would have done more of it and been better at it actually.

Instead, this year, I read a lot of half books. If you asked me how many books I didn’t finish, but I got to a juicy part, I could tell you it’s over one hundred.  There were too many book piles on the floor next to my bed, in the currently reading bookshelf, the to be read bookshelf, and the bookshelf in the home library.  Plus, I took frequent trips to the library and we live within two miles of a used bookstore.  It’s all unhealthy actually.  So, this all led me to finishing hardly anything.  I was a snacker of books. I grazed and got too full and moved on before even the finale of anything. If I read the whole thing it’s because I had to or I was drawn to.

22822858I was flailing. I still am flailing. I started This Little Life and talked to my friend Sage about reading it together and then after one Book List with the first book of calamity leek as an undiscovered gem, I immediately switched back to reading that. I haven’t touched it since the plane to Iceland. I’ll pick it up like no time has passed like I’ve done all stinking year.

So for the sake of sanity, and for an anchor, I’m going back to the Goodreads Challenge this year. I’m just giving in and admitting that as a Capricorn gone Sagittarius, sticking to Capricorn (Thanks, NASA), I need a goal to keep me driving, but to also keep me on the damn road.  No tangents, no veering, no “OU, Squirrel” moments for my reading schedule next year. I will be pushed once again by the man, that is Amazon Goodreads.

What are ya’ll’s plans for the Goodreads goals?

(I just wanted to use ya’ll’s in a sentence … twice).  Will you keep them and be held down or will you let go and float in space and see what happens to your reading happens.   I would love to hear from you (no, seriously, lack of comments gives me anxiety).

If you need some more goals, check out this year’s reading challenge: Book Better

There’s a Goodreads group: Book Better and a Twitter: #bookbetter2017. Details on the Book Better Challenge Page.

When Discussing Diverse Books: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

twitter1Guys, Twitter is kind of a terrifying, brilliant, and secret place.  Sometimes, I sit there wondering if this is the only place most people have a voice, even journalists in today’s political and economical climate. In just the ten days where I transitioned from a full-on teacher Twitter account to one for bookish and Cassie things I’ve watched the following: people harassed for days over one ill-worded (or even just ill-timed) tweet.  Authors berated for being pro-Trump. I’ll be honest, in my personal life, I had no clue that Trump would be elected because I had literally not one single person in my circles that would ever vote for that man.  Like last female on the planet shiz. However, I’ve been a little horrified.

Here are the things I know:

*People lash out because of their collective memory on injustice that their background (whatever that may be) has faced due to abuse, bigotry and ignorance across time and space.

shame-gif-1465520937*While shame and guilt are very real feelings, sometimes that isn’t the way that sways people to  see another side. Particularly when you’re going all Game of Thrones walk of shame on them.  Getting a posse of others like you to gang up on this Twitter person and tweet abuse and harassment towards them probably only makes them believe further in their own bigotry.

*We do not have enough diversity in books to justify quieting any voice that speaks out for diversity in books.

*Some of the comments on writing diverse books really rub me the wrong way.  Things like, “I don’t think white people should write about other races at all, keep your mediocre hands off of that literature.”  With the same person tweeting things earlier in the day like, “if your world in your book is full of only white characters then your book is in a bubble that doesn’t exist.” (That last one I definitely agree with, but both of these tweets cannot exist in the same book).

All of this has made me do some serious soul searching.

homegoing_custom-09de3d52d3ab0cf5400e68fb358d53da9c78afe6-s400-c85I pride myself on reading diverse books. A lot of the times because I want to learn, but more importantly because I want to listen.  In fact, I listed my favorite authors out for a student the other day and every single one was a woman + Junot Diaz. I also try really hard to not just read bestsellers (or books graciously and eloquently thrown down our throats by the NY Times Best Seller’s List or Kirkus Reviews).  I’m not saying this because I have something to prove in my small corner of the internet. On the contrary, it’s because I’m about to review the book Homegoing by 27-year-old Yaa Gyasi from a white female perspective, probably really close to what the world has come to know as white feminist perspective.

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If I ever sound like this, CALL ME OUT. 

See the following for a clearer definition of white feminism: Tilda Swinton’s emails, Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift and her adult cheer squad, and all of the Huffington Post tags.

I’m owning it because I have to in order to write about diverse literature.  In every solid academic research paper, the author must spell out their limitations, and this one is mine. I come from a place of white feminist baggage. That’s what I’m carrying to your table, and what I’ll try to leave behind as I grow in perspective and curiosity.


I’m not going to lie, halfway through this book I tweeted the following:

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I feel bad for this tweet. It sucks. No one liked it, and they shouldn’t have. (And I actually think I got the wrong publisher too, to top it off. Sorry, Alfred A. Knopf).  At the 48% mark  (thanks, Kindle for always making me feel great about my reading speed) I just didn’t get it.  I didn’t get the magic of what Gyasi was doing here.  Twisting two family trees, coppicing.

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I’m obsessed with the UK cover. 

Now there were times in the novel when I got lost. When I left it for two days and came back to the middle telling of a new character’s story and I would have to read a few pages to know where we stood in time and place, but taking two families from African diaspora all the way through the millennium is a feat that I’ve never seen before in literature. And for that I will forever be in awe of Gyasi’s breakthrough in an art that doesn’t always adapt easy to change.  Maybe this is why so many avid readers had troubles with this book though.

The plot did move very slowly and although we knew the person intimately who came before the character we would read about next, I’m not sure the connection was enough to sustain a reader who needed action.  Akua brought the action, so did H and Ness, but characters with gritty stories came at strange moments.  A reader on Twitter said he believed the book should have been split into three parts and not two.  He never responded to me when I asked where he would have broken the third part, but it did have me curious.  If we read this book and immediately have questions about structure, does that mean that Gyasi didn’t perfect her rhythm here?

5e0190c717c99df3c8a4b610e72b19c1I’m not sure how I feel. This multigenerational history of the world through the eyes of African American families moved me almost to tears at times, but there were other times when the characters just weren’t real enough for me, and these moments alternated regularly.  The raw moments, in Ghana, Willie in Harlem, H imprisoned and sold into mining, and “the Crazy Woman” all made for characters that “lived inside me” as Marjorie learns from her teacher in one of the final chapters.  But other characters didn’t come alive until I knew what they bred or brought into the world in later chapters. I almost needed their children to open my heart towards them.  That came a little frustrating when I just wanted to continue with one of the family lines, but had to read the alternating. I also had to look at the family tree a lot, which made reading on a Kindle difficult.

(Still, thank you so much for the arc, Alfred A. Knopf).

I do understand that to span 300 years in 300 pages is not an easy task, and there’s very few moments to take a breath, but I still sit here not one hundred percent sold. One of the things I did love was all the beautiful, beautiful language moments.

“That night, lying next to Edward in his room, Yaw listened as his best friend told him that he had explained to the girl that you could not inherit a scar. Now, nearing his fiftieth birthday, Yaw no longer knew if he believed this was true.”

And all of the commentary on society that was subtle but powerful:

“The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad,” this thing “white” and this thing “black,” was an impulse that Effie did not understand.  In her village, everything was everything.  Everything bore the weight of everything else.”

“That I should live to hear my own daughter speak like this.  You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you.  Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

“This is the problem of history.  We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves.  We must rely upon the words of others.”

“Forgiveness was an act done after the fact, a piece of the bad deed’s future.  And, if you point the people’s eye to the future, they might not see what is being done to hurt them in the present.”

And my personal favorite:

“She stopped walking.  For all they knew, they were standing on top of what used to be a coal mine, a grave for all the black convicts who had been conscripted to work there.  It was one thing to research something, another thing entirely to have lived it.  To have felt it.  How could he explain to Marjorie that what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it, not apart of it, but inside of it.”

I feel like I’ve been a little hard on this book because it is truly a literary first for me.  I recommend it to everyone who needs diverse literature, who wants to support a debut author, and who is interested in structuring writing in new and profound ways for their readers.

The List: Bookish Edition

If you’ve been following for a while you know that every year I do a Bookish Christmas List.  This year, I’m a tad late, but for all of your procrastinating shoppers, I have the list for all the book lovers, cat ladies, school teachers, and hipsters in your life.

For the Gilmore Girl in all of us:

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  1. “Gilmore Girls Helvetica” T-Shirt (multiple colors) | $31.95 @ Red Bubble
  2. “Mama Kim” Sticker | $2.40 (buy 6, get 50% off) @ Red Bubble
  3. Rory Enamel Lapel Pin | $13.00 @sweetandlovely
  4. Luke’s Mug Vinyl Logo Decal | $18.00 @ The Party Palette
  5. The Rory Reading List | $19.47 @ Neighbourly Love

For those Witty (W)itches in Our Life:

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  1. Okay Ladies, Now Let’s Get Information T-Shirt (multiple colors) | $27.65 @ Red Bubble
  2. Be Pretty Driftwood | $34.00 @ Peacelovedriftwood  on Etsy
  3. Ceramic Coffee Mug with Quote | $13.95+ @ Vitazi Designs on Etsy
  4. Olde Book Messenger Bag | $34.99 @ Think Geek
  5. Olde Book Pillow Cases | $14.99 @ Think Geek
  6. Banned Book Match Set | $8 @ Tiger Tree (How very Fahrenheit 451 of them, har har).
  7. Nancy Drew Pillows (these are my fav) | $24 @ The Sleuth Shop
  8. Internet Grammar Is Ruining Everything | $16+ @ Kathy Weller Art on Etsy
  9. Bibliophile Girl Scout Patch | $7 @ Storied Threads on Etsy

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  1. Lit Cap | $2.40 @ Red Bubble
  2. 52 Lists for Happiness | $16.99 @ Modclot
  3. Narnia Coloring Book | $15.99 @ Think Geek
  4. Disney Princesses: a Magical Pop-Up World | $65 @ Amazon by Matthew Reinhart
  5. Diagonal Alley Coat | $139.99 @ Modcloth

For the Editor in All of Us (that we want to murder):

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  1. Talks with the Editor Letterpress | $15 @ RD1Vintage on Etsy
  2. Books & Eyeglasses Earrings | $20 @ Uncommon Goods
  3. Whom T-Shirt | $25 @ GrammaticalArt on Etsy
  4. Seven Year Pen | $8.95 @ Seltzer Goods (they even have one dedicated to cat ladies.  CALLING ALL OF YOUUUUUU).
  5. Vintage Oak Desk Set | $32 @ InglenookMarket on Etsy
  6. Hand Engraved Compass Necklaces | $140 @ Uncommon Goods

Feministing:

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  1. Feminist Enamel Pin | $10 @ Stationerybicycles on Etsy
  2. Working Women: The New Pinup Collection | $12.95 @ Chronicle Books
  3. Shattered Glass Ceiling Necklace | $68 @ Uncommon Goods
  4. Parks & Rec Pawnee Poste | $11.99+ @ Genuine Design Co on Etsy
  5. The Future is Female T-Shirt | $14.90+ @ DesignDepot123
  6. Frida Kahlo Paper Dolls | $9.95 @ Chronicle Books

Teachers of all Kinds:

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  1. Staple Free Staplers | $16 (set of two) @ Uncommon Goods
  2. Scratch Map | $26-$40 @ Uncommon Goods
  3. Blue Book Personalized Pillow | $36 @ Uncommon Goods
  4. Microbiology Wax Seal | $29.95 @ CognitiveSurplus on Etsy
  5. Sometimes I Go Off on a Tangent T-Shirt | $25+ @Boredwalk on Etsy
  6. Moon Phases Notebook | $5.14 @Newtonandtheapple on Etsy

And Dudes:

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  1. Tesla Circuit Building Kit | $100 @ Uncommon Goods
  2. 3d Printed Bowtie | $32.70 @ 3different on Etsy
  3. Iron Coin of the Faceless Man | $14 @ ShirePostMint on Etsy
  4. The Hydra Smart Bottle | $59.99 @ Think Geek
  5. Build on Brick Mug | $2.99-11.99 @ Think Geek
  6. Medieval Knight Hoodie | $49.99 @ Think Geek

I know it’s pretty close to Christmas and you’ll need expedited shipping.  I hope I made it a little easier on ya for finding your bibliopiles the best presents.

This is Uncomfortable.

516p2sfbk-l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Sometimes writing makes you really uncomfortable, and not in the Lolita sort of way because that’s more of a revulsion. And not uncomfortable like the boy on the subway who’s too busy manspreading to notice that you need room to lean your chin on your elbow to read.  No, uncomfortable in the way that perfection seems just a little more real, a little more visceral and in your face. And that’s terrifying because we really don’t want everything to be perfect, do we? That’s how I thought about Warsan Shire’s new poetry collection, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth.

I never thought I would have to add manspreading to my personal dictionary, but here we are. Uncomfortable.

712b2cjwcqslI think it made me uncomfortable because for the last five years I’ve come to understand my privilege as a white woman in America. While sometimes I still find the heat rising when I read tweets blaming the white population as a collective whole, and I want to respond immediately with “don’t lump me in with those people.” Or I find myself huffing over side comments my best friend Seth makes about “using my privilege.” Like wearing “I’m with Her” t-shirts, stickering my computer with Red Bubble social justice and having my students discuss race, gender, and class with every text or task makes up for a smooth series of injustices caused by this country. Injustices that I can’t even see because I’m blinded by the grocery list of privilege that I carry.

This is what Warsan Shire brings us to in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, this idea of perfection. That perfection that I’m second closest to as a white woman in America, I stared it down a little harder with Shire.  Not only does she make us look at our own womanhood and the experiences we live because of it, but also at the blemishes of the world that we ask to be both hidden and forgiven from.

“Her body is a flooding home. / We are afraid. We want to know / what the water will take away from us, / what the earth will claim as its own.”

tumblr_nvd32lvceo1qzghgbo1_500Just the other day I was listening to the local radio show and the host Erica was asking to be shielded from the actual news because “all it is is murder.”  And why do we want to be shielded from this? I would argue that it’s not because we can’t deal with the fact that humanity is a cruel beast, but that we don’t want that news to interfere with our beautiful lives, our perfect lives.  We want ignorance is bliss. We don’t want the effect.   And this is what Seth is always arguing on Facebook.  When people argued that she wished people wouldn’t block highways for #blacklivesmatter Seth told everyone who agreed that they just don’t get it. It isn’t about safety anymore, it’s about the impact on someone’s everyday. The “This is Water” that David Foster Wallace was talking about. An interruption so huge that it makes us look.

“We stare at the small television in the corner of the room / I think of all the images she must carry in her body, / now the memory hardens into a tumor” (30).

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Warsan Shire for The New Yorker

This is the same with Warsan Shire.  The refugee crisis does not impact me directly… ever? And that’s why I haven’t given to one charity in support of refugees. When it doesn’t impact my day, I’m in my own water, my selfish needs trump anything happening thousands of miles away. Instead I ask myself will it really ever get into the hands of the people that need it? Or I say I’m doing my part by working in high poverty schools like that’s some sort of penance for the lives that crossed seas and land and didn’t make it. Just one stop short. Like that’s a penance for anything really.  (It’s not. People should stop saying that like it makes them a Saint).  I might, one life ago, have used this book as a reason to say that I’m informing myself of the problem. I’m facing our world in all it’s hot breath, commotion, scars, but I can’t even say that with a straight face anymore.

“Your daughter is ugly / She knows loss intimately, carries whole cities in her body” (31).

729be0294f86d3d9fd9946238d5a39feIt’s pretty uncomfortable right, facing those leftovers within us? There are people carrying anthems instead of extra shoes.  People who know no other language but the one of disaster.  Children who have never had a home because their home is a back on a road. I found this collection so moving because it stared back. It asked me “and what have you done lately?” It spoke, “and your perfection for this?”

“I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue, or another language” (24).

Colin Kaepernick, Eric ReidAnd we’re upset over a man in a jersey kneeling.  Just think about it. If you can stare it down without putting your face to your knees, then congratulations, you’ve compartmentalized it all.  Satisfaction over human life. Tragedy of war. Look the other way. Turn your cheek. All those little white lies we tell ourselves.

And then there’s womanhood. When the social studies teacher next door to me discusses how great all his girls are in class and it’s really the boys that we’re all failing, shouldn’t we blame society a little?  Could it be that we taught girls to sit pretty, be quiet, work hard to get ahead, keep your sexuality as secret as your faith. Do not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. (Matthew 6.3).  Do not trade words for parts of your bodies. This is all told to us from an early age and Warsan Shire turns that on its head too.  I’m not going to lie I was really uncomfortable with all the sexual references in this collection.  As much as I preach “Girls Rule the World,” I still can’t shake the belief that being a good girl means a certain level of modesty.  And I’m the first to say we shouldn’t add drama as women, we should support each other, but when Kylie comes up in her underwear everyday on Snapchat, I sit in the fog of judgment, like the good little girl that I am… (… sucks).

“Her body is one long sigh.”

cfa966b056ebe73961faf13b3ce3f7c1There were a lot of tongues in this collection. And not the Biblical kind. The erotic kind. Sometimes it felt like an invasion of privacy. The way we always say, “I just like to keep some things private” when we start a new relationship and our Mom is asking all kinds of questions about his family, and his upbringing and what he wore. I found the poems about refugees, home, culture, and heritage more moving than the erotic poems, but that’s not to say that these didn’t also impact my level of restlessness.

“Why did you not warn her, / hold he like a rotting boat and tell her that men will not love her / if she is covered in continents, / if her teeth are small colonies, / if her stomach is an island / if he thighs are borders. What man wants to lie down / and watch the world born / in his bedroom?” (31).

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Image from Tumblr. If you know who made it, please let me know so I can give them credit. 

I think this is an important collection for any woman in our current times, from any cultural background. We need to check ourselves. And not just sometimes, but all the time. I remember when I got “Poverty Training” for my old county’s teaching professional development and I came to the idea that even the ways that department stores are laid out are made for the middle class.  The way our current world is structured and maintained is for the middle class. I think it’s high time for us to think about this too in terms of culture, in terms of race, in terms of gender.

If in my whole life, I spend more time uncomfortable than comfortable, then I must be making more rights than wrongs. How uncomfortable are you willing to be?


 

Because That Mom Wants to Ban TKAM

Books are challenged all the time.  The political state of America is just (and always) getting hotter.  In a time where we need books more than ever, particularly books that foster discussion of racial barriers, gender barriers, and sexuality barriers, a school system has decided to ban two books that illuminated (and still do) the American experience.  And I would put “in the South” after that last sentence but I feel like that doesn’t take into account all the reverberations from Southern attitudes and culture on the rest of our nation, and really, the world.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I can think of several reasons to not teach To Kill a Mockingbird.  The one I most often use is that while this book is a true “coming of age” tale, that doesn’t mean it was written that way.  The narrator of this novel is an old woman looking back on her childhood. It’s not written from the child, or high school perspective, it’s written from the perspective of a woman who has lived a whole life and is flipping to which scrap book page story she will tell.  Although I don’t love teaching this book to students (not true, I loved it one year), would I ever ban this book from a classroom or institution of literacy, hell no.

To Kill a Mockingbird is arguably one of the most important books written about the South.  There’s an idyllic father, a neighborhood of interesting people, and a family built on the moral code of a saint.  (See: Go Set a Watchman for what I believe is more of the truth).  This part of the book is set against the part of the book that contains the trial of Tom Robinson and a look into not only the class system of the novel but the racial prejudice of the community. Tom Robinson, likewise, is a family man, idyllic in his own way, but due to lack of means (thanks to the community he lives in and the history of the US) lives in a community of people who hate him. One could argue, and I will, that this festering belief has sparked where we are today with #blacklivesmatter because black people are damn tired of being hated (in action AND words).

Love this poster for Banned Book Week from ALA

Love this poster for Banned Book Week from ALA

The problem I have with banning this book is the reasoning behind the parent’s wishes. She says her son “struggled to read the racist language,” furthermore, “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” And finally, “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

I could seriously give her some slurs right now, but we all know that solves nothing.

The problem with the mentality of this mother, and her son because he’s learning this wacked-out belief system, is that if we don’t give students the space to learn the context and scope of these words then they will always see them as “those that shall not be said.” I don’t want kids going around calling other kids n-words, but I also don’t want students to understand the implications behind language like this.

The belief, and I’m not sorry at all for this Donald Trump, but that words FUCKING matter.  And they are much larger than “curse words.” Words that appear in this book have connotations that could have potentially changed throughout times, that certain groups of people own and certain groups of people can never respect, words that have not only historical meaning, but meaning to our current world as well because the full mouth of their history has carried through to today.

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And the problem with our society is that instead of talking about, instead of asking @shishirose her definition, we push it under the rug, for the seven hundredth time and hope our little Chris or Patrick or Jean keeps that word to the confines of his own house, or his own friend group, or just keeps it locked away silent in his brain somewhere never to be used. We say it’s okay “as long as you don’t say it to those people, or we say “it’s never okay, it’s a dirty word, don’t say it.”  But if a child never gets educated on the context, the scope, and let’s not forget the HUMANS that this word has shaped, refined, developed, and trampled, then what is the point in any conversation ever? What are you protecting them from … life?

This isn’t life, people. This isn’t how we educate students on how to have a conversation. How to speak not to, but with people who are different from them so that they don’t end up with one token “different” friend because they’re too scared to love anyone who doesn’t agree with them, have the same upbringing as them, or understand the connotation of the words the same way they do.

You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

I’ve been reading the book You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent.  In the very beginning after the introduction, she discusses her growing up and having to choose a side because biracial wasn’t accepted (I’m not sure if I should have said that sentence in the past. You know how America loves its binaries).  She came to call herself a “mutt” in between figuring out who wanted what side of her.  Nugent goes through the realization that if she just discusses her white side she can get a job, a better paying job. But at what cost? She says, “My identity comes from how I feel.” and “We have to speak, in all our different voices, to tell our unique stories.  I will always tell mine” (30).  This is what I mean about words.  When we start banning books.  Wait, when we start banning words. Then, what else are we banning?

Words come with culture too. And the way we use them waves our beliefs in the air (like we just don’t care).  To ban a book is like banning a historical moment, blipping out that time period for your child.  To ban a book is like a blacking over, smudging out a whole culture of people who have come to either own that word, be known by that word, or despise that word because of the historical or societal weight it carries. To ban a book for a word is leaving out a narrative that could have educated your child on how to live in a world, a world in our “current political climate” and navigate it so that instead of hurting other people, they love them. With their words, because what else do they have?

 

Children’s Books That I’m Going to Write Because of Election Results

In the shock stage of grief that I am in, I don’t have an eloquent way of stating my feelings. What I do know what to speak is books and lists. So … in an effort to put something forth in a meaningful way, here is a list of all the children’s books I would like to write now that we have unfortunate election results.

  1. Grey Matter: It would star a little brain named Carl and his pineapple best friend named Smother and be a book that talks about all the other factors that hum around opposites with the moral that “Almost nothing is black or white.” (Words would also fall into grey matter. Sorry, Trump).

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-5-37-59-pm2. Tuesday’s with Morrie: (Children’s edition). And it would include mostly the quote to the right as the moral. And Morrie would be the cutest old man who wore sweater vests and hunched over a little when he walked.

Glass Slippers

Glass Slippers

3. Hillary’s Glass Ceiling which would be composed of patterned pantsuits, Hillary rappelling the Washington monument (because let’s be honest, the children could look back at this book and study the phallic symbols when they’re in English 101), and glass slippers. I’m not really sure how the slippers come in, but I feel like they fit.

Pantsuits

Pantsuits

4.  Blaze(r).  This one would be illustrated by Maira Kalman and Rachel Maddow would write it.  It’s a superhero comic about a women in a fierce patterned pantsuit (similar to Mrs. Frizzle) that takes on the world for girls everywhere. (And there would obviously be villains).  Bernie Sanders would also totally be in the spin-off comics as part of the super squad. His superhero name would be Suspanders.

5. Construct: would be a children’s book about building different architecture and would at some point become a metaphor for systemic issues in our society.  This one might now be a children’s book, but an adult book that has pictures.

6. Biggertry: which would be all about being the bigger person.  It would totally  be about a boy named Glee.  It would kind of be inspired by the poem “Guidelines”  and how a reaction to bigotry can change the bigot’s perspective.

7. Fences: This would be a book full of metaphors about breaking down walls.  This one is the most formed in my mind, it would have two neighbors and be a hodge podge of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” and “The Interlopers” by Saki, and a mashup of quotes from this election talking about Trumps BIG PLAN to build a wall. (Hmph).  It would also be part grammar (about how paragraphs are just sections of a text that have fences around them).  The book would probably be two sets of neighbors.  I’m actually inspired by my neighbor who finished off our fence out of the goodness of her own heart and didn’t even tell us she was doing it. PS. She’s a Muslim. I feel like this is an important part for you to know if you’re full of judgment right now. (If you are, I hope you can shit it all out later).

Donald Trump Mouth Cartoon / Scranton Times Tribune / Artist: John Cole

Donald Trump Mouth Cartoon / Scranton Times Tribune

8. The Man Behind the Mouth: Obviously, this would have a guy with a comb over and a red tie on the cover.  (Not naming names).  And he would say all kinds of ridiculously terrible things and people would correct him, maybe correct is the wrong word, but they would kindly and respectfully rephrase his points and give him reasons to change them. And the crowds correcting him would get bigger and bigger until he no longer fit on the page.  And then on the very last page, they would all hug. (This one’s my secret favorite).

Let me know your titles and ideas.