Life, love, literature

"Books fall open, you fall in"

To the place I belong

WelcomeToNewJerseySignTonight a train will roll though the hills and valleys of Maryland, make a stop to say good evening to Philly and creak over bridges dotting Delaware. And then I’ll be home. Back to New Jersey — the place where I took my first steps, said my first words, read my first book.

Home is this idea we take with us everywhere. It could be a place; most often it is. Or it could be people; family and friends. Home could be a ballpark or college football stadium.

I’ve had many homes in my short 26 years. New Jersey. Penn State University. Galway, Ireland. Washington, D.C.

But New Jersey was my first home. My family and childhood friends my first loves. The streets of the Garden State my first adventure.

I guess that’s why every time I step aboard that train I want it to travel faster. I want time to speed up until I am home in my childhood bed. To where the people who know me better than I know myself wait.

Boxes are starting to be packed in that brick house on a shady street behind a baseball field. My parents are moving away in a year. To somewhere warm and new. And I want that for them. But, New Jersey will still always be home.

If I ever get lost in the years to come, I will take myself there and I will be found.

Becoming an ESOL tutor

In the summer of 2abcde009 I found myself living in Naples, Florida. I was there as an intern on the copy desk at The Naples Daily News. Mere weeks before I had returned from a semester abroad in Ireland. I found myself trading the rainbows and rolling green fields for sandy beaches and foam-tipped waves.

However, copy editors’ hours are not always the kindest, and I found myself working from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday-Saturday for the whole summer. Having the days to myself were nice, but after a while I needed something to fill up the afternoons. After searching for volunteer opportunities in the newspaper where I worked, I found a listing asking for help at the local literacy council. I went in a spoke with Ingrid, the young woman working behind the desk at the council’s office. She told me I was not going to be in Naples long enough to become a tutor, but they still needed someone to help organize their library and monitor the computer lab on Saturday mornings.

For the next three months I created an Excel spreadsheet detailing the 500+ books in their library and spent Saturday mornings from 10-2 helping ESL students use the council’s computer lab.

And I knew from the day I walked through the council’s doors that I wanted to teach ESL. And now I have my chance.

After 16 1/2 hours of tutor training through the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia,  I have been certified as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tutor. My student is a 36-year-old woman from Thailand who lives in Virginia with her husband. Both work at Thai restaurants. She speaks very little English, but seems enthusiastic to learn. I hope am I able to help her learn the language and make her life in America easier.

It’s a bit daunting, to be honest. I’ve never taught anyone English before, let alone anything else. Where do I start? How will I get through the language barrier? The training classes I feel have prepared me well, but it’s a whole different ballpark when you’re actually sitting down with someone for the first time. All I can do is find out why my student wants to speak English and help her learn what to say in day-to-day situations including traveling through the city, shopping and going to the bank. Reading and writing will wait until she has a better grasp of comprehension, speaking and pronunciation. I was pleased to learn she knows her ABCs and can write her own name.

I have to remember that small steps are the greatest successes when teaching someone a new language.

Writing bug

I have a new job, and in this new job (which I am enjoying greatly) I get to write. I haven’t written on a daily basis since college ended four years ago. And now that I am writing more in my worklife, the desire to write outside of that has also grown.

On Sunday I meet with my ESOL (English Speaker of Other Languages) student for the first time. And I think that has also pushed me to want to write more. To write about the experience. To write to remember the beauty in the English language and impart that beauty to my student. I’m excited about this adventure. I am nervous. My student is a young woman from Thailand; someone who has come to our country and left all the she knew behind to live a better life here in the U.S. I know I would not be so brave.

I look forward to the day when she can tell me about the decision to come here, and about all the she has left behind in the name of freedom and chance.

So stick with this blog if you’d like to read about those experiences, about books and about all the random musings of a city-living twentysomething.

I Was Made for Sunny Days

 

Haven’t updated in a while. Life’s been busy lately, mostly in very good ways.

But I wanted to write about something that’s been on my mind today. Actually, two someones who equal a band. My favorite band. Deb Talan and Steven Tannen make up The Weepies, an indie pop-folk duo. I discovered The Weepies sometime in college, around 2007-2008. I fell in love with them. With their sad songs, their happy songs, their incredible lyrics and the overall hopeful and happy message they send out into the world with their music.

Then something devastating happened: Early this year Deb was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. It was a blow to me. I kept waiting for a new album for them to drop and then came this news. Cancer’s the worst, isn’t it? Doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are. Everyone knows someone who has had cancer — some have survived and some haven’t. It’s a scary thing, something none of us can control.

But it doesn’t surprise me that Deb and Steve (who have three young boys) are taking this challenge in stride. Deb is in chemo, but despite it all, they are keeping their fans informed of her progress and it shows that they are trying their hardest to stay positive. I can’t help but think that they are fighting this with all the hope and love that they fill their music with.

I sent a tweet earlier today about listening to them and having Deb in my thoughts, and they so kindly replied saying she is doing well and they are hopeful she’ll be out of the woods soon.

I don’t know Deb or Steve, and it’s hard to put into words what their music means to me, but it means a lot. I turn to The Weepies on sunny days and rainy days. On the days when the sun shines and everything is going right, and on the days when it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. I hope they are back to making music very soon, and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Get well soon, Deb.

Bookish memories of days long past

I always say I have a poor long-term memory. I don’t really know how memory works and if that statement is true or I am just exaggerating. But, anyway, I don’t always remember much of my childhood or memories of “firsts.”

But for the sake of trying to preserve some of what I do remember (before it eventually decides to snuggle up in the part of my brain I don’t know how to access), here are some bookish memories of my youth.

Barnes and Noble:

I love libraries. Oh I do, I do. But I don’t have an excess of memories of visiting them when I was a young ‘un.  I know I used them. I do recall the library from my middle school, maybe elementary school as well. But our town library was small and then moved to a new location and wasn’t as good. The selection wasn’t excellent (that I recall) and it wasn’t incredibly welcoming. It’s also possible I didn’t go much because my parents both worked long hours and we just weren’t able to get to the library when it was open. But my parents did take us to Barnes and Noble. All. The. Time. And I remember spending hours in the YA section, reading the back covers of every book and stacking a large pile of them in my arms. I would then meet my mom and dad at the front of the store at a set time, and then I’d have to put some of the books back. I think I was usually allowed three. And often I would have to get at least one that was literary fiction and not fantasy or romance. I think this is why I still love B&N so much to this day.

Reading with my dad:

Both of my parents read to me when I was little. I don’t really remember most of it happening, but it happened. I do, however, know that my dad read me both Danny and the Dinosaur and The Butterfly Jar dozens of times. The Butterfly Jar is a poetry book for kids by Jeff Moss, and I remember clearly that I ADORED the poem “The Cuddlies.” I have no idea why I liked that particular poem so much, but I made my dad read it to me again and again. And I still have my old, yellowing copy of Danny and the Dinosaur in my room at my parents house —  which we bought from the library, proving we must have at least gone to book sales there.

Reading what my mom told me to read (sometimes):

She had me read Gone With the Wind in freshman or sophomore year of high school. I don’t remember if I liked it. I read The Borrowers on her recommendation as well as many of Louisa May Alcott’s books. She was even the one who gave me the first Harry Potter — mostly because someone gave it to her to read and she does not like fantasy but knew I would love it. My mom and dad still buy me books and give me ones they read and enjoyed.

My sixth grade English teacher reading us a chapter or two of Holes as a reward:

Her name is slipping my mind … sigh. But every day she would save the last 15 minutes of class to read to us, and it was wonderful — the book, getting out of our desks and sitting around her on the floor. Laughing when something funny happened and gasping when something exciting happened. Sharing it all together.

What are some of your favorite bookish memories?

Review: ‘An Untamed State’ by Roxane Gay

A powerful, heartbreaking book that I could not put down, Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State is not to be missed.

Gay tells the story of Mireille, a young woman who returns to Haiti with her husband and son to visit her family only to be kidnapped and tortured. The kidnappers request a ransom for her return, her father refuses and Mireille is left to the whims of her captors. She must struggle to survive when all she wants to do is not feel anymore, not think of her previous life and the fairy tale she shared with her husband and son.

An Untamed State asks: When you lose everything you are and everything you were, is it possible to find your way back to yourself?

Mireille’s story is hard to read and yet so powerful that you can’t turn away from it. An astonishing debut novel and one that is going to generate a ton of buzz in 2014.

Take the guilty of guilty pleasure reading

I have read Fifty Shades of Grey. All three of them. And I enjoyed them. Was the writing good? Nope. Was the plot wonderful and creative? Nope. Were the characters complex and interesting? Not at all. And yet, for the few hours I read each one, I was entertained. And, to me, that’s one of the reasons I read. I also read to learn, to understand others better, to see the world differently, to get lost somewhere magical and strange. And I feel guilty about none of it.

Constantly as a book blogger, avid reader and social media director for a book review website I see people shaming what others read. Nicholas Sparks’ fans get the hate. Shades of Grey fans get mocked. Twilight fans, too. I read all of Stephanie Meyer’s books. I didn’t love them all. (I actually threw New Moon across the room. I don’t ever throw books, because they have feelings, too. But I just couldn’t with Bella anymore.)

I won’t mock or judge people based on what they read. I may become concerned if you call Shades of Grey great literature (and will probably plead with you to read Little Women or To Kill A Mockingbird or something.) But, really, who I am to judge anyone for anything they like? Love what you love, without regret or remorse or embarrassment. I still like manga, and I don’t mind saying it.

Don’t feel guilty about that steamy romance read, that 300-page thriller or the young adult book read way past your days of high school and homework. Reading is for everyone, no matter their interests.

 

Books that bring on the weeping

I always say that I love a good cry. And it’s true. I cry at a lot of things. Online videos, books, TV shows, movies and the occasional commercial.

But there’s no cry better than a book reading cry. The kind where you know you can’t read it in public because snot and freaking out other people. The sort of cry that makes wet spots on the pages as you move to turn them (always preferable to get books with the potential for waterworks in paperback for this reason.)

Sometimes a book make you cry because a character you love dies. Sometimes it makes you cry because it relates so closely to something you’ve been through, or something you yearn for. And sometimes you cry because it’s sad. Period. Occasionally I’ll pick up a book because I know it will make me cry, and I am just in need of a cathartic sob.

The other day The Guardian posted an article asking people to tell them what books make them cry.

A few books that brought on the waterworks for me include: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (which should make most people at least she a tear, unless they are made of steel), Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner.

There have been many more, but those are the ones that popped into my head when I saw The Guardian article.

What books turn you into a sob monster?

The dance of Time and Distance

I wish I could go back there. Just for a day, or a few sunlit hours. Back to high school hallways and campus cafés. We were all together then, laughing too loud. We knew all the words the bands played in the basements of bars, shoes sticky from the beer painted floors.

But Time and Distance, they have to have their say.

I saw a picture of you today. You looked different. Older maybe. Or more mature. Or maybe you just cut your hair differently. Maybe. The small changes are the creation of Time’s hands. I didn’t see that coming, but there it was. You’ve changed. And I wouldn’t know it because of that culprit Time. Yes we text and email and talk and Skype. But that only closes the Distance temporarily. That doesn’t show me those little changes of Time.

I heard a song today that reminded me of you. When was the last time we talked, friend? Well not even talked, no. Maybe an email or a text message a few months ago. A birthday wish or a Merry Christmas. A few short words to see how you were, what Life is handing you these days. But that song. The second it came on you were there. I hadn’t heard it in years, but it was full of you in every word and note. Now I recall those days. The ones Time has blurred. And Distance makes it harder to know you. Do you hear a song, and think of me?

It’s something they forget to tell you about. Oh, you know Time and Distance are there. They lead you on new adventures, of course. They bring you to the friends and crushes and loves. But they take you from those people, too. And then later they come out of nowhere, and make you miss so fiercely being able to see those people every day.

You know those friends now by 26 letters formed in emails to tell you how they’ve been. But those letters and words and paragraphs don’t tell you how they’ve changed.

And there’s phone calls — a voice separated by miles. And video chat — a fuzzy screen that doesn’t allow you to see them clearly, or touch their hand, notice the sparkle of their eyes.

Time and Distance know we need them though, as much as we despise them. For what are lives that only ever see one season and know one song? We must keep moving and growing and learning, and thus we must fall apart from those that taught us how to move and how to grow and how to learn.

All we can hope is that through the time and distance we somehow stay us enough to never lose each other completely. To carve out the time and cross the distance to be together — if just for one day, or a few sunlit hours.

Review: ‘The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland’ by Catherynne M. Valente

Whimsical. Charming. Beautiful.

Those are the words I would choose to describe Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It’s a book targeted for young adults, but a truly enchanting read for people of any age. The story starts with 12-year-old September in her home of Omaha, Neb., wishing for some excitement and adventure. Soon after she is whisked away by the Green Wind and Leopard of Little Breezes to a magical place called Fairyland. Once there she must make her own way, for the Green Wind cannot enter Fairyland with her. She befriends a Wyvern (a dragon-like creature) named A-Through-L, who’s father is a library, and not long after a marid named Saturday. Then September finds herself face-t0-face with an evil Marquess who rules the land.

September must use her smarts, courage and, most of all, heart, to make her way through a land both kind and unforgiving in order to save her friends and the magical beings who call Fairyland home.

Valente weaves well known fairy tale tropes with a darker edginess and wit, and in doing so creates an adventure not to be missed.

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