Reading Update #14

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SGF Reading

This is not being a good several weeks for reading. Or blogging. Sorry.

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, April 10. I am three days late with this update. As of today, I have read 32 out of 52 books — two new ones since the last update.

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Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi was not a pleasant read, but I’m glad I read it anyway (and I would read more by this author if I found more of her books). It’s a novel — or is it? the lines between fact and fiction are very blurred here — about an Egyptian woman condemned to death for killing her pimp. She is telling her life’s story to a psychologist, showing how she ended up in such a situation, and in doing so casts a light on the darkness that is a poor woman’s life in Egypt. The narrator, Firdaus, is bitter and hard and ready to die. She has learned about man’s worship of money and control, and she has learned the value of her own well-marketed sexuality — and, ultimately, how impossible it is for a woman to have any value in her society. WaPZ is ugly and raw. It’s very short, very direct. It reads so much like the transcript of someone just speaking aloud — someone with no formal education but great innate intelligence — that it’s hard to believe that it is really a work of fiction at all.

The Selection Stories: The Prince & the Guard by Kiera Cass was a nice change of pace from WaPZ. This is the 2.5 book in a highly enjoyable YA trilogy (book 3 comes out this May) and contains two novellas and a sneak peak of the finale. I won’t get into it too much, but the series itself is a bit of a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, and is excellent leisure reading for people who like their fairy tales to have a lot of gray area.

Currently Reading: I am currently reading Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Styxx, the companion novel to the book that launched my paranormal romance habit, Acheron. A word to the wise: the first halves of both books are far from romantic, and are extremely hard on the heart. Acheron and Styxx are identical twins born in a time before the fall of Atlantis — but one of them is the son of a destructive goddess, and their mortal parents reject, to varying degrees, both sons. One is sold into sexual slavery, and the other is subject to dreadful familial abuse, finally culminating in the worst sort of sexual abuse. It is heartsickening, and truly well done, because the protagonist of this book — for whom GREAT sympathy is felt — is the villain of other books in the series, and Kenyon does a marvelous job of bringing him to life. I guess I’m kind of doing my post-read review now, but fear not; the second half of the book, if it mirrors Acheron, will change pace drastically and give me something new to write about.

Looking Ahead: I’m planning to read Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts after Styxx. There are a few YA books that recently came into our library that I’d like to read as well, but I think I’m going to prioritize The False Prince because its author is coming to visit our school in a couple of weeks.

Ninety Minutes of Parenthood: An Idyll

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It is nine o’clock at night. I’d really love to be asleep or, lacking that, curling up with my book in a hot bubble bath for a few minutes. But my husband, who is blessed with the responsibility of teaching 160 twelve-year-olds about Ancient Rome in the morning, is busy preparing an activity, and my eleven-month-old son is unhappy. He’s been a little fussy all day, but now that it is time for bed he’s weepy and can’t be distracted. He is fed, dry, warm, pajamaed, but still miserable. I’ve walked him, bounced him, nursed him, read to him, but still he cries.

I’m lying with him on my bed. The door to the master bathroom is open, and the light is on. My baby keeps pulling away from me to stare at or reach toward that glowing block of light. Sometimes when he’s in a foul mood he can be mollified by presenting him to Mirror Baby, so I pick him up and step toward the bathroom.

As we cross the threshold the tears stop. I can see in the mirror that his eyes are red and swollen, but now he’s grinning. The only problem is, he’s not looking at Mirror Baby. Instead, he’s looking past the mirror to the far end of the bathroom — at what, I’m not sure.

I bounce and talk to him for a few minutes, and when it seems that the storm has passed, take a step out of the bathroom. Instantly he is sobbing again, tears flowing, writhing and reaching past me back into the bathroom. I’m mystified. I offer him music, milk — nothing. He is inconsolable.

So I step back into the bathroom. Peace descends. He smiles. And yet once again Mirror Baby is shunned in favor of… the bathtub?

I look at the tub, then at my blotchy-faced baby boy. He is smiling and babbling as he reaches with one arm toward the tub, his eyes darting between it and one of his bath toys that has fallen to the floor and been forgotten.

“It’s nine o’clock,” I tell him, in case he cares. “Do you really want a bath? This much?

And heaven forgive me, but I’m weighing my desire to make him happy with my lack of desire to set up a bath, get him ready, supervise and bathe him, and clean up afterward. Surely he doesn’t really mean it. Surely we could put this off until tomorrow after work, when I’m not so tired, when I still have my contacts in, when I’m not already dressed and ready for bed.

I try persuading him. “You’re in your pajamas. We just changed your diaper. We’d have to redo all of it. And you hate being dried off. It’s cold in here, do you really want to get all wet?”

“Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit,” he replies, beaming and waving at the shower curtain.

So much for logic.

“Just so you know,” I tell him, “if you really want a bath, you’re going to have to wait in your bed until I get it ready. And you’re not going to like that.” To prove my point, I step out of the bathroom and toward his room. He immediately stretches himself out to his full length, locks every joint in his body, and wails until he can’t catch his breath. I steel myself and deposit my opinionated baby in his crib. He is red up to the edge of his mussed blond curls; even the wet whites of his eyes are bright pink. I can hear him bawling as I pull out the baby bath, set it up in the big tub, and begin running the water. I add some bubbles and his toys, get the temperature right, and set his despised towel on the toilet. Then I take the precaution of removing my pajama pants and placing my own towel close at hand.

When I return to his room, he looks up at me with the face of the hopeful betrayed.

I smile. “Okay then. You wanted a bath; a bath it is.”

He reaches up, and I lift him from his bed. His delight is radiating off him until I stop at the foot of the bed to remove his pajamas and diaper, at which point he realizes that he has reached a new low, that nothing else in his life has ever been so cruel as this moment, that he is this close to paradise and being denied once again, and it takes me three times as long as it ought to undress him because he won’t bend his knees or stop howling.

Finally he’s naked, and I scoop him up and carry him into the bathroom as quickly as I can. The second my bare feet hit the tile, the crying stops. His face is streaked with tears, but it is the face of perfect joy. I kneel down next to the bathtub and he pulls away from me, trying — for all that he can’t yet stand or walk unsupported — to climb over the side of the tub to get in. “Hold your horses,” I scold, get a better grip on him, and lift him into the water.

He smiles, sighs, reaches down under the water to assure himself that his new favorite toy (yes, that toy) is still where he left it, then digs through the bubbles until he finds his bath book. It’s about eight plastic pages long, each with a smiling cartoon dinosaur doing various dinosaurish things, and is one of my son’s most treasured possessions. He recognizes somehow that it is upside-down and rotates it, then opens to the page with the pink pterodactyl. He leans back in the bubbles, turns a page, and coos happily. Like mother, like son: looks like I wasn’t the only one who wanted a bath and a book tonight.

After he finishes reading and I’ve scrubbed everything from the neck down, he switches the book for a cube-shaped squirt toy. This is another favorite. He submerges it between his legs, squishing it with both hands, then raises it just above the water level so that he can see where the hole is. He’ll turn the toy around and around until the hole is aligned correctly, then squirts himself in the belly with it over and over, repeating the process several times. While he is looking down, I take the opportunity to wash his hair. As I’m rinsing his hair, he looks up at the wrong moment and gets a cupful of water to the face. For a moment it looks like his enchantment with the bath has come to a rapid end, but I pat his eyes dry and he returns to his toys.

He’s all clean now, but there is still water in the tub, which means that bathtime isn’t over. His facial expression changes from glee to grim determination, and I scoot back as far as I can from the side of the tub as the Great Kicking begins. He kicks and kicks with a singleness of purpose that seems a little bizarre on his sweet baby face. The sudsy water flies, first jumping just a few inches within the baby bath, and then leaping in great two-foot-tall tsunamis out of his bath, sloshing over the side of the big tub and onto the linoleum. I keep one hand on his back (he’s really rocking now and would kick himself right over if I didn’t) while mopping up water with the other. My glasses are spotted with water; my hair is wet. Only experience and finely honed powers of anticipation keep my shirt from getting drenched, but it soon begins to feel a little damp, too.

Splash! Splash! Splash! The only thing that makes him pause is when he manages to splash himself in the face; he doesn’t like that, but it isn’t enough to dissuade him. When the water hits him between the eyes, he stops and glowers a bit at his feet, as if to tell them not to do that again, and then returns to the task at hand. The water level in the baby bath drops rapidly. Almost no bubbles remain. One of his bath toys has been completely evicted, carried away in the wake of a particularly enthusiastic kick. “Yeeeeeeee!” he yells at one point, telling the faucet who’s boss, his excited voice echoing off the tile and no doubt waking the neighbors.

I’m trying to dry off my glasses enough to see as he splashes a big one right into my face. He laughs, amply avenged for the hair-rinsing incident.

Before long, he is victorious over the bath. The water is all but gone, kicked out of the baby bath and down the drain or into the bath mat. His skin is getting chilly and his hair is plastered down against his scalp, straight as a pin for the few minutes until it dries. I get his towel into position and apologize to him preemptively; he truly hates being toweled off. He is still smiling as I lift him out of the tub and into his towel, but I’ve no sooner wrapped it around him than he is looking me in the eyes, indignant, yelling.

“It’s hard to look suitably angry when you’re wrapped in a ducky towel,” I tell him, drying him off as quickly as possible. He complains at top volume as I re-diaper him, to the point that his daddy comes upstairs to see why I’m pulling off all the baby’s toenails. By some miracle of parental tag-teaming we get him back into his pajamas as he twists and turns. I forgo brushing his hair in favor of offering him some milk, figuring that crazy hair in the morning is a price we’re all happy to pay.

The milk does the trick. My exhausted boy snuggles into the crook of my arm and drinks his fill. I shift him out of my arms and onto the bed just long enough to set the bottle down, and he immediately rolls over onto his stomach and is fast asleep. When I carry him into his room at 10:30 and lay him down in his crib, he doesn’t stir and will sleep peacefully until morning.

Yearbook 2013-14: Mischief Managed

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As of about 4 PM on April 1, the 2013-14 yearbook was complete and sent to the printers.

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Custom cover art by Meredith Fern Messinger:

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Spreads by a staff of fifteen, plus Ryan and myself:

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At the very last minute, I discovered extra space in the 8th grade section, so I ran a report of 8th graders who had no candids in the book and went on a mission. I pulled as many of them as possible from class, convinced them to do funny poses, and took their pictures. Then Ryan used his Advanced Photoshop Ninja Skills to cut them out from their backgrounds, and I stayed up until after midnight making the page on the right below. Glad I did. They’re going to like it:

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This was definitely a “building year” for yearbook, at least for me. I got off to a late start, didn’t do the best possible job acquiring staff, and really did a lot of last-minute learning on the job. Now that it is behind me, and I have some breathing room, I have SO many ideas for the future. And I just found out that we have some money to work with, so I’m excited about updating our equipment and getting some new “toys”. I want to add a signature to our book so we have some room to design instead of just cramming as much as possible into the space we have, and I think we want to buy or build some sort of green screen for cutouts. We need a telephoto zoom, too, for sporting events. I’ve started collecting ideas on a Pinterest board and am going to get all my foundations taken care of this spring, instead of next fall, so that we can hit the ground running and do an amazing job with the 2014-15 book. That said, I’m very pleased with the way this one turned out, all things considered!

Reading Update #13

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My reading update is…. I haven’t read anything since my last update. Well, I’ve read part of Woman at Point Zero, but I’m not done yet, aaaaaand I’ve misplaced the book now, so yeah. There’s that. Basically I’ve done nothing but work on yearbook for the past several days, but that is DONE LIKE DONE and so I may be able to read again, hooray!

Reading Update #12 (Very Late, Oops)

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Well, I completely forgot to post my reading update on Monday. I thought about just skipping it entirely, but how sad would that be?  Soooooo, I’m posting this one today, and will do another one in three days. Which should be riveting. But then again, pretty sure no one is coming here to read these groundbreaking book diaries. :)

Reading Update: It is Friday, March 28. Since last Monday, I’ve read four books, bringing me up to 30 out of 52.

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My most recent four are Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Can I Have a Stegosaurus Mom? Can I? Please? by Lois G. Grambling and H.B. Lewis, Lamb to the Slaughter and Other Stories by Roald Dahl, and The English American by Alison Larkin.

Briefly:

Let the Great World Spin was awesome. Read it for book club, and am so glad that it was picked, because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up on my own. Just really well written. I’d like to read more by McCann.

Can I Have a Stegosaurus is full of cool illustrations of stegosaurs doing fun things. And then it has a silly twist at the end. Yay dinosaurs!

Lamb to the Slaughter is disturbing and very good. I was a big Dahl fan as a kid, but hadn’t read much of his adult work (although I feel as though I must have read some of these before). This was very short and didn’t take much time to read.

The English American was funny and thoughtful and interesting, although it was a little disjointed at moments. Glad that Mom told me to read it — definitely enjoyable.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead: I’m reading nothing at the moment, but tonight or tomorrow I’m going to start one of the following: Woman at Point ZeroBeautiful Ruins, and/or Made in the U.S.A. I think. Or maybe I’ll read something completely different.  But these three are sitting at hand, waiting to be read.

 

Review: Odd and the Frost Giants, Ludo and the Star Horse

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Writing for children is harder than it looks, so I especially appreciate it when an adult fiction author can also write successfully for kids. Take, for instance, Neil Gaiman. He writes epic fantasy for adults, he writes lushly illustrated abecedarians — but his sweet spot, arguably, is spooky bildungsromans for the tween set (think Coraline and The Graveyard Book).

Include in that category his lesser-known 2008 book Odd and the Frost Giants.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about OatFG‘s plot; in fact, one of the things I liked best about it was its fodder for studying schema and making text-to-text connections, which is probably proof right there that you can take the English teacher out of the classroom but you can’t make her stop being a nerd.

Odd is a 12-year-old Viking boy with a crippled leg (played in my internal cinema by a more subdued Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon). His woodcutter father dies and his mother remarries, leaving Odd unsure about his place in his family or his village. Then winter refuses to pass into spring (“The cold never bothered me anyway!”) and Odd leaves home for his father’s abandoned work cottage. An act of courage and compassion puts him in league with a trio of down-on-their-luck Norse gods (you’ll have to forgive me if they were voiced by Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and especially Hopkins in my imagination) and sets him on his way from Midgard to Asgard and back again.

The title character is especially interesting. Writing sparely, in the style of an old legend, Gaiman leaves us with a lot of room to speculate on Odd’s motivations and internal dialogue. Ultimately, OatFG almost feels like an origin story; I wouldn’t be shocked to see Odd pop up as a fully-realized adult character in a future novel.

Beyond the more obvious connections, I found a book from my childhood tugging at my memory as I read OatFG. Mary Stewart — another British author with the gift of writing for multiple audiences — wrote three novels for kids, one of which is Ludo and the Star Horse (1974). There are many similarities between these two books beyond the identically formatted titles, one of which being remarkably similar discussions about the quasi-mystical art of woodcarving (IIRC; I didn’t re-read LatSH for this review), and the primary one being that the young male protagonist must leave home and travel into the realm of mythology.

Ludo is a young Bavarian boy who, on a long winter night, pursues his beloved workhorse on the path of a shooting star. They end up in the House of Sagittarius and then must travel the entire zodiac, facing tests of character along the way. Readers who love mythology, who want to know more about the symbols behind the western zodiac, or who just love a good boy-and-his-horse story will find this book fascinating and, I hope, as memorable as I did. (I imagined that it would be impossible to track down, but it looks like you can get it starting at $4 on Amazon — with updated cover art, thankfully! It’s hard to sell kids on novels with Seventies-era cover art, regardless of the quality of the book’s innards.)

Written for the upper elementary/lower middle school crowd, either or both of these books get my recommendation for the school or classroom library. Put them in the hands of young readers who are interested in mythology or just love a good, straightforward adventure story. And if you’re a fan of the adult work of Gaiman and/or Stewart, don’t miss out on these stories just because they’re written for younger readers. They’ll make for a pleasant, nostalgic afternoon’s reading.

This review has been cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.