Alternate Reality, Actual Reality?

jennifer government

Jennifer Government is a dystopian novel set in an alternate reality where most nations are controlled by for-profit corporate entities and there is limited government political power.

I read this when I was about 14 or 15 — it was on sale at Walden’s in the mall. The book wasn’t exactly groundbreaking or of “that high of quality.” And I don’t remember ever detail of the story, except this concept where schools and students were sponsored by different companies; like the McDonald’s School where students wore uniforms in the colors of the company.

So, I am deeply fascinated when I see articles like these:

How Target is infiltrating public schools to build customers for life

Google wants to save our schools — and hooks a new generation of users

How McDonald’s and corporate america are bringing internet access to rural america

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Page by Paige

Page by Paige

Laura Lee Gulledge came up on my radar because of her recent release of the Will & Whit. My enjoyment of that graphic novel compelled me to go back read her first work.

Semi-autobiographical, Page by Paige follows Paige Turner on her family’s move to living in the big city beyond her hometown. Paige makes sense of her vibrant new surrounds through her own sketchbook. The feelings are honest and Gulledge’s storytelling is hopeful as Paige interacts with her peers and parents.

Unfortunately I did not enjoy her earlier work as much as her most recent. I can see from reading Page by Paige though how her storytelling and artistic style has matured and polished. This is a great read for younger young adult as life is constantly changing in the biggest or smallest of ways.

Thumbs: 1 out of 2

Sister Mother Husband Dog: (etc.)

sister

“Every choice makes some things in life more possible and some things less — remember upsides and downsides?”

I was driving into work the day when I heard that Nora Ephron had passed away. I heard the report on Morning Edition just as I was driving over the Constitution Bridge in Lock Haven. The sunlight was golden and I hope that her loved ones, though in a stage of mourning, breathed a sigh of relief that Norawas no longer in pain. I was familiar with Ephron from the excerpts of her books that I read while shelving and some articles. It wouldn’t be until this past year that I would watch Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally. After Nora’s passing, I spent my meal breaks from the box office away reading her books in a park in Mill Hall. I would lay down on a bench and dive into Nora’s commentary about journalism, show business, and life, in general. Somehow I found away to stopped reading and return to the box office after each break.

Delia Ephron’s style is similar to her older sisters, but in some way more raw and honest. At least with Sister Mother Husband Dog: (etc.) Delia is honest with her sister’s passing and her own feelings of grief and death. This collections of essays focuses on the time since Nora’s death, and includes stories about their mother and father’s as well. Each story takes a different tone and reflects her relationship with the individual, Nora’s being the most poignant; not because of her fame, but their relationship. To lose a sibling can be like losing a limb. They were with each other through their parents’ tumultuous relationship and their own tumultuous marriages and adulthoods. With reading this, I reflected on my relationships with my younger sisters and how much life we still all have to live. Delia wrote:

“W.H. Auden, who understands everything about the human condition, begins a poem about the loss of his lover with “Stop all the clocks.” Yes, stop them for the people I love. For my sister. It would be the decent thing to do. But the clocks keep ticking, insulting our grief, forcing us into new realities, cheering us up, making us laugh, taunting us with the possibility of forgetting, zapping us with the pain of remembering.”

This quote struck me because I can’t fathom a life without either of my sisters (my only-childness lasted for the approx. 14 months between my older younger sister and I), or any of my loved ones, but life will go on and we need to be considerate of balancing our own grief with living in the new face of that reality. With that sentiment, I enjoyed this excerpt as well: “Now it’s fall and Honey no longer chews her paw. The doctor cured her. Sun Golds, the most perfect tomatoes in the world, are finished for the season and no longer for sale in the Union Square Greenmarket. Pumpkins are everywhere. It’s cool out. I’m wearing my leather jacket.” Life goes on.

Delia balances the anchor stories with essays of commentary about ordering presents online, her dogs, and Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean in” — which was perhaps my favorite essay of the book. She starts the essay with identifying her favorite bakeries and pastries, but manages to deftly navigate into commentary about Sandberg’s definition of “having it all.” She writes: “To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all– is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up”, reminding readers that it is up to us to define how we want to be happy and that no one else can unless we let them. This essay a testament to Delia’s writing; her way of starting with the mundane or self-important, then hooking with fresh thoughts on something much bigger than a chocolate chip cookies. Other must-read excerpts are Your Order Has Been Shipped and Why I Can’t Write About My Mother.

I was attracted to Delia’s novel from her sister’s reputation, but stayed for the writer’s own narrative style. Sister Mother Husband Dog: (etc.) is themed with death, but serves as a reminder to live ours lives as we want to.  I will be laying down on more park benches to work through Delia’s bibliography as soon as the weather warms up.

Thumbs: 2 out of 2

Humans of New York and Super Graphic

honycomic

I’ll make this quick, like these books were in a manner of speaking. They are coffee table books in the sense that they do not follow a narrative and intend to engage readers with visual images. I enjoyed both of these books in that sense.

Brandon Stanton, the photographer and mastermind of the project, updates the blog frequently with pictures of the individuals and their stories that make-up New York City. Started in the summer of 2010, Stanton’s project is a stunningly emotionally trip through the five boroughs. With each picture in the book and on the blog, Stanton will typically add an excerpt of the subject’s response to a question he posed. The questions vary, and the responses often add depth to the individual’s image. Sometimes, the images will be accompanied by Stanton’s own commentary or no words at all. Young and old. Wealthy and impoverished. Tan, Caucasian, Blue, and Green; Stanton accomplishes his goal of a “photographic census” vividly. I found this book from my following of the Humans of New York (HONY) blog on Tumblr. I was a little disappointed to not see some of my favorite images and stories included in the bound edition, but either way, the stories and the people still exist.

riley
“Come be in my picture, Riley.”

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe was lighter than the former text, but not without moments of reality. In the age where infographics are included in news articles and reports, Tim Leong took them to another level by visually depicting the comic book industry literally and metaphorically in infographics. Utilizing the raw data and facts of comic books and their characters and traits across publishers, Leong engages the reader to think and laugh along with him using a new medium that he bends to be relevant to the data. There are bar graphs that look at cosplay participation at comic book conventions and scatter plots that look at industry professionals’ baseball team line-ups. The topics range in seriousness from Stan’s Lee Nicknames for fellow Marvel staff members (a Venn Diagram in the categories that the names fall under) and the Oppression and Rebellion in Persepolis (as it relates to the protagonist’s coming of age.) One of my favorites was the confusing and well-spun web of The Many Affiliations of the Marvel Universe.

venn

Thumbs: 1 out of 2

French Words of Wisdom

French Words of Wisdom

In September I started reviewing books for Library Journal – specifically Home Economics books for the Science & Technology division. The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer and Martha Rose Shulman will be published in December 2013. An excerpt from my review:

Accompanying the recipes are attractive photographs, as well as tips and asides that offer a wealth of information, such as knowing when a pastry is done, understanding why a particular ingredient is used, and learning the history behind a dish. Pfeiffer and Shulman demystify classic recipes and empower readers to tackle the art of French pastry making.

A Year of Mornings

Mornings

A beautiful, visually-engaging coffee table book that takes the viewer into the intimate moments of each of the authors’ mornings over the course of a year in A Year of Mornings. Maria Alexandra Vettese (MAV) and Stephanie Congdon Barnes (SCB) both live in Portland – that is, one lives in Portland, Maine (MAV)  and the other lives in Portland, Oregon (SCB). With similar appreciations and aesthetics, MAV and SCB jointly update their blog 3191 Miles Apart, allowing us peeks into their lives in the same city on opposite coasts. A Year of Mornings is a physical representation of their photo-log of their lives and the world around them.

A Year of Mornings is an unusual addition to add to my books read, simply by the virtue that one does not read this book but view and absorb the images. SCB and MAV do an excellent job of taking us on the visual journey of their lives over the year that is documented.

Thumbs: 2 out of 2

Eleanor & Park

Image

This book took the young adult/library reader’s advisory world by storm this past winter. All the librarians and bloggers out there were reading. Being at the point of midterms when it was most popular, I thought I could write off Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park until the summer. But John Green’s review in The New York Times convinced me to make it a spring break priority read. Green’s review, like others’, was vague and mysterious. They emphasize that the story is nothing that we’ve ever seen before, but seem to not go into detail about how it is so different. This is intentional. Like love its self, Eleanor & Park leaves you speechless and unable to accurately, wholly describe how it makes you feel the way you feel about it.

The year is 1986. Alan Moore’s Watchmen has just hit newsstands and The Cure is blasting on cassette players; Facebook and the Internet is years from being developed and mainstreamed. Eleanor and Park couldn’t be any different. Whereas Park is the “passably popular” half-Korean, half-Caucasian boy-next-door, Eleanor is the “big”, red-headed new girl in Omaha, Nebraska. Park comes from a stable household — Dad’s a Vietnam vet who met Park’s Mom during the war. Eleanor’s family (if it can be called that) life is a patchwork of abuse and dysfunctionality after the divorce of her parents and the recent marriage between her mother and monstrous stepfather.

The relationship of Eleanor and Park doesn’t begin romantically – initially Park loathes her sitting next to him the bus, and she’s not very fond of him either. They find common ground though as she reads the X-Men over Park’s shoulder on their daily, silent school bus rides together. Their relationship plays out over the course Moore’s Watchmen — which Rowell deftly uses as both references and literary device to convey the greatest theme of the book, and of life.

Told in alternating chapters about the title characters, Rowell’s writing is balanced with perspective. She weaves in relevant references to late 1980s musical mixtapes and (most importantly) comic books that never feels dated or trying to hard. Rowell depicts race relations, socio-economic constraints, peer abuse, and love as they would be in reality. At times, I thought that the “love” component was expressed heavy-handily between Eleanor and Park. But then I paused, and reflected back on what it was like to be a teenager.

Ah, to be a stupid teenager – to be so sure and confident in everything and to know nothing.

Eleanor and Park know a little more about life (especially E) by the end. I’ll always remember finishing Eleanor & Park on the tarmac of the O’Hara airport, aboard my flight to San Francisco for Spring Break. The sun was warm, but Illinois in March was also very cold. I read the ending several times. I savored the perfect and imperfect conclusion. As Moore’s Dr. Manhattan concluded at the end of Watchmen “Nothing ever ends”.

Thumbs: 2 out of 2

Do you remember your first love?

Summer Reading 2013

Vampires

Books I want to read (or finish reading…) this summer:

– Vampires in the Lemon Grove – Karen Russell

– A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

– The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

– The Night Circus – Erin Morgentsten

– The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

– THE MARRIAGE PLOT – Jeffrey Eugenides (IHATEEVERYTHING;ESPECIALLYTHISBOOK)

– Reading Lolita in Tehran* – Azar Nafisi

– This is How You Lose Her and Drown – Junot Diaz

– Battleborn – Claire Vaye Watkins

– Ronin – Frank Miller (sorry, jared)

– Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard

– Bone – Jeff Smith

High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

The Moon and More – Sarah Dessen

The Madness Underneath – Maureen Johnson

It’s not a very inspired list, and I’m sure more will catch my eye (ideally nonfiction and memoirs), but I am excited for classes to end on Wednesday and have time to read for fun again. I also have a stack of ARCs from Penguin to try…

* I should have resolved to do this a long time ago…I read so many papers about it this book this semester; I’d like to read all the books that I’ve read papers about.

What are you reading this summer? 

Found : The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items From Around The World

Found

Inspired by listening to the Too Beautiful To Live podcast featuring Davy Rothbart and reading his other book My Heart is an Idiot, I picked up Found at the library.

Found: The Best, Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items From Around The World is exactly what the title says it is. The book contains the notes, birthday cards, to-do lists, ticket stubs, and napkin confessionals picked up by people who are not the owners of them. FOUND is a magazine that Rothbart was inspired to compile after finding the “Mario Note” on the windshield of his car in 2000. He mentioned in the TBTL interview that, when he started the project that submissions came in droves. There is a universal intrigue in finding things. Pennies on the ground…ticket stubs…notes on windshields…In fact, I have a few notes and bookmarks that I’ve found in returned library books over the years.

In finding things, there is a sense of hope and mystery. The book of FOUND is a little messy and disorganized to keep up with, but what do you expect from a novelized version of a magazine put together with scissors and scotch tape?

Thumbs: 1 out of 2.