Thursday, October 31, 2019

Halloween Poetry: Bats


Celebrate Halloween properly with this amazing poem, courtesy of poets.org.


Bats

unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.


by Paisley Rekdal, from The Invention of the Kaleidoscope, 2007

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review: Sheets

Brenna Thummler's world in Sheets is familiar to anyone who's been a child, or who has tried to slog through loss. Loss means change — and what's more bewildering to a child than the "real" world that changes from moment to moment? 

In Sheets, everyone encounters rules, and situations, that make no sense, like the Laws of Ghosts and clean sheets, relationships and adolescence. Everything is new.

Add to that a devastating loss.

Add to that an unreliable guide, whether involves someone who is intentionally unreliable for their own benefit, is unsuitable for the situation, or just broken.

Add to that responsibilities beyond your capabilities, and no apparent options.

What you have is a poignant, touching, and revealing graphic novel that captures the confusion and angst of growing up without those who you most trust to guide you through this ever-shifting landscape of youth.

Marjorie is the teenage adult of the family. Her father, still reeling from the death of his wife, spends most of his time sleeping or hiding in his bedroom. Owen has just started kindergarten and can't remember a time when things were different — so he understands, but doesn't.

It's up to Marjorie to keep Glatt's Laundry running and keep the family together. But how can she do that when she can barely keep herself together? Adolescence is hard enough when you have everything together, and Marjorie's loss has left a chasm out of which she has no map to navigate.


Enter Nigel Saubertuck, a charlatan who wants to build a resort in his hometown — and needs the Glatt's property to do so. He's in a tight spot, and needs things to move fast. How far will he go to close down Glatt's Laundry?

Wendell is a lonely little ghost in a town full of forgotten ghosts, who finds himself drawn to Marjorie (whose business is the perfect cover for a ghost among linens). He knows the rules of Ghost Town, and he really wants to follow them — but even the best intentions of a youthful, immature ghost can go awry. 

With a few deft strokes, Thummler shows us Marjorie's pain with her memories and current-life troubles. She captures Marjorie's desperation to not reveal her troubles, no matter how reliable the adult appears, and her natural protectiveness of her privacy and her crumbling family. Readers see Marjorie having to grow up way too soon and taking on burdens she wouldn't have had to face without the loss of the person who made her feel loved and safe and precious.

Thummler shows us the dark sides of small towns, the pain of adolescence, the cruelty of loss, and how children try to protect themselves from anything that will chip away at the tiny ledge they cling to in their whirling, confused world. The book cover captures the isolation, fragility, and abject loneliness loss brings to old and young alike. Thummler show us how children try to keep pain and confusion secret, whether it's their own or someone else's, in a world that makes no sense on the best of days.

Thummler wrote A Sheets Story, which was given away on Free Comic Book Day 2019, and announced a Sheets sequel to be published in 2020. 

This touching novel deserves a close read, and a slow and leisurely re-read. I would strongly recommend it to readers of all ages. Reading it right around Samhain feels about right, but any time of year is perfect for this tome.

Have you read it? What did you think? Leave your comments below, or send me an email with your thoughts.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Summer Reading in Review: Quantity and Quality

This summer, I read a whole lot of books. Many of them were short and sweet, quite a few were graphic novels, and most were worth the time and energy. Not all, definitely, but I found quite a few diamonds in the rough on the library and bookstore shelves.

I have great memories of reading many of the books on this list. 

I finished most of the Nickel Boys as I paced along the river's shore in a Virginia state park. No Visible Bruises took most of the summer, but I took my time due to the subject matter. I listened to The Lost Gutenberg  as I walked to and from the library under darkening skies. I wanted to savor The Testaments, but instead spent much of a blistering summer weekend in Gilead, curled up in my favorite chair. I paused How to Be a Good Creature when Tess starting showing signs of old age.

I read more titles this summer than in years past, but the total pages is probably close to my average — this summer I consumed a generous amount of juvenile fiction, picture books, and other short books. (Please note: "picture books" are not the same as "graphic novels." Which you know. But it bears repeating.)  

The list below includes a mix of print books 📖, audiobooks 🎧, e-books 📲, library loans 🤓, graphic novels 🖼, and juvenile fiction and non-fiction 👧.


  1. I Could Pee on This Too 📲
  2. Fortunately the Milk 📖👧
  3. Sorry I Barfed on Your Bed (and other heartwarming letters from Kitty) 📲
  4. Only Human 📲
  5. Rupert Can Dance 📖🤓👧
  6. Mr. Putter and Tabby Smell the Roses 📖🤓👧
  7. Sheets 📖🤓🖼
  8. The Testaments 📖
  9. Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slopes 📖🤓👧
  10. You wouldn’t want to be sick in the 16th Century 📖🤓👧
  11. No Visible Bruises 📖
  12. The Ghost Studies 📲
  13. Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page 📲👧
  14. The Nickel Boys 🎧
  15. Summer Hours at the Robbers Library 📖
  16. Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery - the graphic novel adaptation 📖🤓🖼
  17. The Someone New 📖👧
  18. The Psychology of Time Travel 📲
  19. Waking Gods 📲
  20. Behind the Scenes at the Museum 📖
  21. Never Split the Difference 🎧
  22. Vincent 📖🤓🖼
  23. The Confessions of Max Tivoli 📲
  24. The Baltimore Book of the Dead 📖🤓
  25. City of Ghosts 📲 🤓
  26. Anything is Possible 📖
  27. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach 📖🤓👧
  28. Probable Paws (Mystic Notch Book 5) 📲
  29. Severance 📖
  30. The Last Dragon 📖🤓 🖼
  31. Maneater Vol. 1 📖🤓 🖼
  32. Underground Airlines 📲
  33. Ghosted 📲 🤓
  34. The Lost Gutenberg 🎧
  35. Nine Perfect Strangers 📖
  36. Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love And What to Skip on Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits 📖🤓
  37. Storm of Locusts 📲
  38. The Lost Man 📲
  39. How to be a Good Creature 🎧
  40. Dogs of War 📖🤓🖼
  41. Where’d You Go, Bernadette 📖
  42. The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster 📲
  43. The One Hundred Nights of Hero 📖🤓🖼

I have quite a few "favorite" books this year. I can't decide between Storm of Locusts, Underground Airlines, No Visible Bruises, The Testaments, and the Themis Files books.

 What did you read this summer? Share your list in the comments below, or email me your list and I'll share it with our group.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Review: The Psychology of Time Travel

Time travel? 

Women scientists? 

Animals not harmed in the making of the book? 

The description of "the perfect book for Chris" should have been a fabulous read. Instead, Kate Mascarenhas' The Psychology of Time Travel was surprisingly dull, with undeveloped characters and confusing storylines.

First of all, there was no sense of time or place. Four women discover time travel in 1967. They could have discovered it at a farmhouse in Idaho or the French countryside for all the attention the setting received. In 1967, women had no standing in the world of science — and yet these women are not only embraced by the scientific community, but also have the power to privatize time travel to their financial benefit.

This book introduced new time-travel rules; after Avengers: Endgame, I am almost numb to the tangled ideas and brutal liberties people take with this fictional practice. It's like sparkly vampires: if you write the fiction, you invent a world in which you can hang out with yourself, or multiple versions of yourself (or do whatever with yourselves, and Mascarenhas describes plenty of whatever). There is no sense of excitement or discovery.

Readers learn a lot about the Conclave, the proprietary corporation/society created by Margaret, to benefit her world order. There are strange rules, weird law enforcement, and a most unique monetary system. That's all well and good, but what did time travel do?  It was never clear to me.

Only a few characters were memorable — and with multiple versions of time-travelers interacting with each other, it was easy to get overwhelmed. When it wasn't confusing, much of the interaction was dull. It's a workplace with strange rules.

There wasn't a "main" story. The author tried to weave a couple of stories together, but the connections are almost desperate. Odette was traumatized by a murder scene she encounters at the toy museum where she works, and decides that working as an investigator for the Conclave would give her closure. Bee dies, and her granddaughter Ruby finds out how and why from her lover Grace.

Time travel is becoming the storyline du jour, and not everyone follows the rules, or even the new rules they set up. I'm a huge fan of time travel, but after this book, I'm ready to take a break. What a shame.

Did I miss something about this book that you think makes it a great read? I'd love to know, and we can discuss: leave a comment below, or send me an email.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Surrendering The Iliad


In recent years, new translations of classic works by women translators have been hitting the shelves. That inspired me earlier this year to listen to the latest translation of The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson (and narrated by Claire Danes).

As I listened, I realized I was looking for a feminist telling of the tale. The book's forward provided the story's historical perspective and examined the role of women in this ancient society. Aaaaaand, that was it. The rest was Odysseus sexing Greek goddesses and killing lots of people — oh, and whining about how tough his life was.

As I listened, I wondered: What makes this story a classic for today? Does it stand the test of time? What about it is relevant and culturally significant today? I met some Greek gods, very interesting. I learned the background of some cultural touchstones and concepts, interesting.

When I didn't quite understand the story, I turned to the graphic novel by Greg Hines. I shared that book with my friend Melanie, who also listened to the dulcet tones of Claire Danes (and got lost once or twice along the way).

In the end, Odysseus' bloody battles and reading cultural references in the original text didn't inspire me. Although I could say I read The Odyssey, I couldn't honestly say I enjoyed it, or found it culturally relevant and inspiring.

Homer's first tome, The Iliad, also recently was translated by a woman. Caroline Alexander tackled the story about the last year of the Trojan War, so I figured I'd give it a try.

And I tried. I tried to care, I tried to understand it, and I tried to appreciate its cultural relevance to the modern Indo-European society.

Yet, my mind kept asking me why I was reading this book: Because everyone said it was a classic? What makes it a classic? And do I have to spend my time reading it?

In the end, the answer is no, I don't have to spend my time reading The Iliad. Cultural significance changes. The same people who kept The Iliad in the halls of academia also thought Lolita was culturally imperative — and that fact alone gives me permission to think outside the canon.

I may come back to it someday. I may read a chapter here and there. Never say never (except about Lolita, and I can't emphasize that enough), but if it is never, I am okay with that.

Are you in Camp Iliad? Why or why not? Leave your comments below, or email me your thoughts, and I'll share them with the rest of the group.