statistical update

Because if you tell people what you’re doing, you have more accountability. When, oh, when will I stop being such a reading fiend and workaholic and start writing more than 500 words in one sitting?


But that’s total, not for this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo, for which I’m about 10,000 words behind. Already.

This looks good, at least:

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge
hannah has

read 93 books toward her goal of 150 books.

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in which i find my

Wished-for mentor? Hero? Creative and intellectual idol? Spiritual mother?

I just finished Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, her first collection of essays, mostly from the seventies. It struck me in so many ways that I can only begin to enumerate here, but I’ll try, because I think she deserves it, and so do I.

First, people have been telling me that I’m black (or that I’m half black) my whole life, and I did plenty of my own searching and researching and reading. I read and watched the requisite books and movies about slavery and Selma; I had the biographical sketches of women I was supposed to be inspired by; I never denied that black was part of what I was. But this book made me realize that I’ve never fully comprehended what the Civil Rights movement did or meant, and how it influenced creativity, politics, and culture in the years and decades after it. Of course I’m not an expert now, but many of the essays in this book dealt directly with the movement very soon after it happened, which I thought was interesting and enlightening. I think it will help me, as other experiences in the past four years have, find a way to incorporate a black or African American identity into my already complicated self, and to see where I fit in in that community. Just as spending Thanksgiving with my birthfamily (a matriarchal, all-female, close-knit group of well-read, educated, religious, musical; strong-willed group of black women) let new roots spring out from under me, this book has given me validation in the ways I like to be creative, and it has made me see again the value in searching for background and reflecting on the now.

I also appreciated that this collection was not so tight, at times academic, at times journalistic, at times diary-like, at times just good old creative non-fiction. Without knowing it, I think Alice Walker is who I have been trying to be all this time, who I can most closely tie my creative endeavors and aspirations to. Though I’ve only read her The Color Purple before this, I can tell I will be reading more of her, and I’m glad that I went through this collection of essays before reading more of her novels, if only because I feel now that I understand and appreciate her, and this makes me curious to read the things her mind has created. The essays in this collection make personal connections to literature and literary figures she has read, researched, and loved, just as in this blog and in much of my non-fiction writing I have found that the books I love most are those that allow me to make applications to my personal life. I appreciate many books for their literary quality, for their worthiness of being a part of a canon of American literature, for the potential they have for academic study and discussion. But those are books I respect more than love. This book, this Alice Walker, I loved.

To Zora Neale Hurston I gave her due: I studied her for a year in high school and revisited her last summer while I was studying at Rutgers. I read a biography of her this past year, and perhaps someday I will pick up her folktales or autobiography when I have time. To Toni Morrison I afford the utmost respect, but she is not someone I can hope to emulate or even delve deeply into as both a scholar and a human. She is too advanced for me to find connections, though I do greatly enjoy her work. Nikki Giovanni I always enjoy reading, but since I am not foremost a poet, we are not exactly kindred spirits. But in Walker’s collection, I (cliche, I know) found a garden–I found someone else who loves scholarship as much as creativity; who sometimes has a volatile temper; who struggles with which of her minority identities she should identify with; who loves to read; who loves to write; who loves to live. I think I’ve just found a fountain of inspiration.

adulthood’s take on childhood, or extension of immaturity?

My latest hobby is to jot down notes and ideas when I’m reading books, especially books of literary theory. I write down interesting quotes, or points I want to think about, or things I want to look up. Mostly I use my notes to ask myself lots of questions.

It strikes me that I think this is what they call “studying.” And I’ve honestly never really done it before in my life. It’s quite rewarding and interesting, and I am enjoying it. Maybe I will do decently in graduate school, then.

Anyway, my main reading at the moment is the textbook The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, and what I was thinking about is how children’s series tend to make comebacks in the guise of being for “adults”–generally those adults who grew up reading the series in the first place. There is a mirror of this in other media, like superhero movies, contemporary remakes of things like Yogi Bear and Transformers, etc., but it just so happens that there haven’t really been any films that are particularly linked to my childhood memories.

There are, however, books that are trying to capitalize on the series I read as a child. Two books I’ve read this summer, Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers and Sweet Valley Confidential, do just that. The Archie one is actually just a retrospective, but it clued me in to the fact that there are now Archie graphic novels to go with the comics, and there is also a new magazine about Archie’s adult life, and I think it’s presented as dual universes so that he can be married to both Betty and Veronica. The Sweet Valley one is a kind of high school reunion, whatever-happened-to kind of book, and in reading it I realized that I never actually read the Sweet Valley High books. I read Sweet Valley Kids and Sweet Valley Middle School (though I think that series had a different name) and then got bored with the whole thing.

My parents were forever telling me not to read crap like that. I was especially fond of the Babysitters’ Club, which they despised. And that’s another subject the textbook touches on–is there value in so-called “trash” lit for kids? Should they be allowed to read it? At this stage in my life, I do agree that those books are kind of trash, but probably not for the reasons my parents did. My parents told me I shouldn’t read them because they were written with a formula. I would say now that they were a waste of time for me to read, at least in the excess that I read them, in that, at a developmental time in my life, they were telling me that normal life was blonde, upper class, etc. So in that sense maybe it would have been good for me to read less of them and search out more “difficult” books and more books that acknowledged my identity and experience a little more.

But I think there is some value in reading “trash” series as a child, whatever your choice–Goosebumps, Babysitters’ Club, and whatever is out now, like Junie B. Jones or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. That’s because formulaic books are a good primer for life and later study or enjoyment of literature. Also, everyone, even children, needs escapist media for entertainment/winding down/mindless time. Kids can do that with Goosebumps or cartoons, just as adults do that with Dan Brown or “CSI.”

My father is forever bemoaning his freshman English students who “hate” reading and cannot understand how to function in a language arts class, and I keep telling him that high school teachers need to incorporate television series into the curriculum. Nothing teaches you the basic functions of story and plot better than a formulaic television show or horror movie. Nowhere would it be easier to get high school students to learn to point out common tropes, cliches, predictable plot turns, and stock characters than in a couple episodes of “Gossip Girl” or “America’s Next Top Model.” I think starting a year of English class with television or movies and then moving into literature would be a much better way to engage reluctant students and reluctant readers.

I digress. Is it good for me to be reading these updates? Or is it a waste of time? Sure, I could read Life With Archie in probably about ten minutes, and I could count it as my mindless entertainment quota. Epilogues are always fun. That’s why everyone keeps adding old friends to their Facebook so they can check up on them, that’s why we’re intrigued by “adult” conclusions to teen series, that’s why authors’ FAQ pages annoyingly include the “who married so-and-so” or “will you ever write another one?” questions. But I can’t decide if it’s healthy, when these books perpetuate both my parents’ idea of trash (low quality writing, formulaic plots) and mine (continues the same hegemonic ideas or presents the same cis-everything). Is this just an adult take on childhood? Or is it the extension of immaturity? I’m inclined to think the latter, because I think even adults should allow their trashy, throwaway media evolve with time just as their quality media does (i.e. my idea of silly music to listen to is still “better” than the music I thought of as awesome when I was younger; as I now pick up lit theory for pleasure, even current, literary, intelligent novels are more of a chill-out-and-relax reading choice). Then again, it makes me a better person (at least in my own eyes) if I say that it’s just a way of bringing back some of the fun of childhood, and chalk the rest of it up to capitalism and author comebacks.

the summer shortlist

Today, at least, there are 175 books on my to-read list. Since that’s a lot of books, I usually come up with a summer shortlist of the books I’m planning on reading the soonest. Some of these are books I’m just too excited for, others are books I already have out from the library and so I feel obligated to read them, some are because I feel like I need to read grown up books before I spend the next three years engrossed in children’s and YA lit, and others are just because I think they’ll be good prep for graduate school particularly because they are children’s and YA, and especially because they are “diverse,” meaning that they either feature or are written by PoC or LBGT people. I’m also on the lookout for more biracial literature, and I keep meaning to do a second post on the subject, this time about the humor approach to biracial narratives. I’ll work on that, and on more love letters to my favorite things in Tucson.

So here’s my shortlist, in no particular order, along with the main reason for moving them up to the shortlist.

American Nerd by Benjamin Nugent – An anthropological history of the nerd? Oh, yes. I’ve actually already started reading this one, so I’m sort of cheating by putting it on this list.
Seeing Stars by Diane Hammond – Because I already have it out from the library, and it looked interesting, and probably I read a review of it somewhere.
The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger – Because I already have it out from the library, but also because I really love the way she does literary speculative fiction.
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler – Again, lately I’m really interested in speculative fiction. Plus, I loved Kindred. Plus, it’s nice to know that all sci-fi and fantasy is not white.
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure – Because the second I heard about this book, I needed to read it, because I was absolutely obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child.
The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher – Because I just discovered food writing, and it’s amazing.
Food Matters by Mark Bittman – See above. Also, I have it out from the library.
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker – Got it from the library. Diversity. Literary theory I’m not yet familiar with. Can’t wait, even though Walker kind of scares me a little.
The Great Night by Chris Adrian – Retelling of Shakespeare? Yes, please.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – Because my knowledge of American history is pitiful and Palin-esque, thanks to my being a terrible student of history (I blame the crappy way it’s taught in the US, with nothing but rote memorization at the expense of actual engagement) and having bad teachers. Also, diversity points?
Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway – Because I think it’s time I read more of the authors I really enjoyed in my American lit class last summer.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – Because I’ve been meaning to read this ever since I finished Drown. Also, diversity!
Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell – Because if I take any longer to start reading that, I’ll have to read Justine again, and then I’ll never finish the Alexandria Quartet.
Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia – Because I just learned about this book, and boarding school + remembrances of Bloomability + PoC characters = I need to read.
The Pleasures of Children’s Literature by Perry Nodelman – Because the director of my MA recommended it, so I think it would be good to read it before my first semester.
Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal – I’m so curious. Plus, I got a free copy from the publisher, so I should respect that and read it.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – Because I bought it awhile ago and it looks fabulous and has gotten great reviews. And again, speculative fiction by a non-white writer is hard to find. Plus, it’s YA.

There is a link on the right to my full to-read list.

If you want to diversify your reading, you should do so, because that’s awesome. Plus, you can enter this giveaway at Diversity in YA, where Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo are doing fabulous, fabulous things for better representation in YA novels. This summer they’re holding a reading challenge. I can’t wait to join their ranks when I’ve published a novel.

my annual summer reading review

I read 42 books/plays/bound documents this summer, plus 10 stories (some with essays and criticism attached), plus a smattering of other essays, magazines, poems, etc. I will list them here with a vague detail regarding “genre” in that broad, stupid sense that I hate, which defines style and audience more than actual genre.

1. Ampersand: Stories by Rachel Richardson (literary fiction)
2. Swimming by Nicola Keegan (literary fiction)
3. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (this was a reread) (YA, literary)
4. Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace (this was a reread) (children’s, historical fiction)
5. Betsy-Tacy and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace (this was a reread) (children’s, historical fiction)
6. Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown by Henry Box Brown (memoir, history)
7. Cum Laude by Cecily von Ziegesar (general fiction)
8. Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace (this was a reread) (children’s, historical fictio)
9. Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace (this was a reread) (children’s, historical fiction)
10. Fairy Tales by e.e. cummings (children’s, fantasy)
11. Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay by Annie Proulx, Diana Ossana, and Larry McMurtry (short fiction, literary fiction, screenplay, essay)
12. “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston, “Characteristics of Negro Expression” by Zora Neale Hurston, and criticism by Cheryl Wall (the first story was a reread) (literary fiction, short fiction, essay, anthropology, criticism)
13. A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (general fiction)
14. Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill (play)
15. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (non-fiction, on writing)
16. Granta: Sex (literary fiction, short fiction)
17. Home By Now by Meg Kearney (poetry)
18. Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce (YA, fantasy)
19. How to Keep a Sketchbook by Michael Woods (non-fiction, art)
20. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (play)
21. John Hedgecoe’s Complete Guide to Photography by John Hedgecoe (non-fiction, art)
22. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (literary fiction)
23. Daisy Miller, A Study by Henry James (literary fiction)
24. “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James (literary fiction, short fiction)
25. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (literary fiction)
26. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (literary fiction, short fiction)
27. “Editha” by William Dean Howells (literary fiction, short fiction)
28. “Chickamauga” by Ambrose Bierce (literary fiction, short fiction)
29. “Petrified Man” by Eudora Welty (this was a reread) (literary fiction, short fiction)
30. “The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud (literary fiction, short fiction)
31. “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker (this was a reread) (literary fiction, short fiction)
32. “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison (this was a reread) (literary fiction, short fiction)
33. Dutchman and The Slave by Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) (play)
34. Heaven to Betsy by Maud Hart Lovelace (children’s, YA, historical fiction)
35. Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace (children’s, YA, historical fiction)
36. Other Electricities by Ander Monson (literary fiction, essay, experimental)
37. Gypsy Hearts by Robert Eversz (general fiction, thriller)
38. Waiting for Leah by Arnost Lustig (literary fiction, historical fiction)
39. Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros (literary fiction, short fiction)
40. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (YA, sci-fi)
41. Betsy and Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace (children’s, YA, historical fiction)
42. Betsy Was a Junior by Maud Hart Lovelace (children’s, YA, historical fiction)
43. Blues for a Pretty Girl: Poems by Paulette Beete (poetry)
44. Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace (children’s, YA, historical fiction)
45. Betsy’s Wedding by Maud Hart Lovelace (children’s, YA, historical fiction)
46. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (literary fiction)
47. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (general fiction, thriller)
48. The Wild Things by Dave Eggers (literary fiction)
49. Winona’s Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace (children’s, historical fiction)
50. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (non-fiction, essay)
51. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner (non-fiction, on writing, memoir)
52. The Every Boy by Dana Adam Shapiro (literary fiction)

I think this is probably my most successful summer yet, in terms of experiences, new friends, learning, and books read. The books I’ve read are the best group I’ve read in a summer in a long time, I think, because of the sheer scope and diversity–I read across genres, styles, audiences, and times. I am pleased with myself. I just wish I didn’t have to start reading for school quite yet.

My favorites would be, in no particular order, Jude the Obscure, Daisy Miller, The Hunger Games, Ampersand, On Becoming a Novelist, and Heaven to Betsy. But really, there are only a few that I think were ultimately a waste of my time. I feel like I accomplished a great deal of work this summer, academically, intellectually, creatively, and personally. It’s been really great. I just hope I can get through the semester.