Monthly Archives: February 2012

A fifteen-year-old’s perspective on Perspectives in American Literature

So, Andrew is taking Perspectives in American Literature this semester–and already they’ve been reading like gangbusters. Well, if gangbusters read, that is. More accurately, they’ve been reading like high school sophomores in Perspectives in American Literature.

Here’s his take so far:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Once I figured out it’s one of those books without a plot, I kind of liked it.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Everyone in class is complaining about this, but I’m enjoying it.

He really liked reading the play format and said he could see the whole story in his head. Then he wanted to know, since he’s enjoying Perspectives in American Lit so much, if he has a “literary mind.”

I told him he might. He just might.


Filed under Books, Getting Schooled, Kids, Reading

In which I reach for humiliation

I’m over at The Long and the Short of It review site today, in the Young Adult/Middle Grade section as the guest blogger. My topic?

Forget the Stars, Reach for the Humiliation

Which would make an awesome title for a memoir. For now, it’s the title of a blog post. Click through to read if you’re so inclined.

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Filed under Writing, YA

Fifty/Fifty check in: week 6 and 7

I missed week six’s Fifty/Fifty check in, so here’s two for one, both week six and week seven recap.

Still no movies. And now that we’ve added selling Girl Scout cookies to the schedule, I’m not sure when I actually will watch another movie. However, I’m not giving up on that part of the challenge. It’s just … delayed.


State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

This book has been described as a female version of Heart of Darkness–and I can see that. I don’t think I liked this one as much as I liked Bel Canto. However, I do love Ann Patchett’s writing, so this was well worth my while.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Unlike many readers, I already knew a great deal about the deportations and the forced labor camps of the Stalin years. (One of the side effects of majoring in Russian.) That didn’t make it any less powerful. I would highly recommend this one to young adult readers, especially those interested in this part of history.

The prose is spare by lyrical and the story and the history is presented in a way that’s very accessible. Last year, Andrew tackled One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and while he found it very interesting, there were events I had to explain to him. I don’t think younger readers will have that problem with this book.

Rita Book #4

Rita Book #5

And that’s it. Once I’m through with the Rita books, I’ll be able to talk about everything I’m reading.

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Filed under 50/50, Books, Reading, RWA, YA

100 years of Girl Scouting is keeping me busy

100 years of Girl Scouting can keep you pretty busy. So can epic Girl Scout cookie sales. And we’re doing both this month and next. As part of all this, we’re working on the Girl Scout Way badge, since we can knock out three requirements at the big anniversary celebration at the Mall of America (oh, my word, this looks to be like barely contained chaos).

The indoor amusement park will be open early–and just for the Girl Scouts. Is Kyra excited about this? Yes, yes she is.

Today at our meeting we learned about the woman who started it all Juliette Gordon Low:

You can view Part Two and Part Three as well. It’s a nicely done biography of her that runs a little more than thirty minutes total. Even though I was a Girl Scout for twelve years, I’m not really sure I knew much of Juliette’s story. It’s really quite fascinating.

Afterward we watched this, the girls made up a play about the first Girl Scout meeting. Even though I didn’t actually attend the first Girl Scout meeting, I think I’m safe in saying that the one the girls presented in no way resembled what actually happened.

And now it’s time to go sell some cookies … want a Thin Mint?

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Filed under Kids, Video, Volunteering

Fifty/Fifty check in: week 5

Week 5 Fifty/Fifty check in! Welcome to February!

I’m still experiencing the books vs. movies conundrum. I don’t think this is going to change until I finish the Rita reading. Then maybe I’ll double up on movies in March and April to catch up.

So all I have this week is books. No surprise there. I always have books.


250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig

This is not writing advice for the faint of heart. Trust me on this. When something is described as:

… a booze-soaked, profanity-brined, Zen-lacquered look at the craft and art of writing, one list of “25 Things” at a time.

One should not complain when it actually is (looking at you, one-star reviews). I read this book a bit at a time over the past two weeks or so, every morning, while I drank my Gatorade after exercising. Some people read devotionals in the morning. I chose this. Not sure what that says about me. Probably nothing flattering.

Rita Book #3

Finished this one yesterday afternoon while Kyra played with all the cleaning supplies (the mop got married to the broom–I think). Started Book #4 last night.


Wait! I do have something else this week, although it’s not a book or a movie. My mom and I went to see Ragtime at the Park Square Theatre today! It was incredible. The Park Square has really been on fire this season.


Filed under 50/50, Books, Reading, RWA

Review: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

First book in my War Through the Generations WWI reading challenge. I really enjoyed this book and it was a great way to kick off the challenge. If you’re interested in the war, in particular from the British perspective, and also enjoy personal histories, this may be the book for you.

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild (Summary from Amazon):

World War I stands as one of history’s most senseless spasms of carnage, defying rational explanation. In a riveting, suspenseful narrative with haunting echoes for our own time, Adam Hochschild brings it to life as never before.

He focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war’s critics, alongside its generals and heroes. Thrown in jail for their opposition to the war were Britain’s leading investigative journalist, a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and an editor who, behind bars, published a newspaper for his fellow inmates on toilet paper.

These critics were sometimes intimately connected to their enemy hawks: one of Britain’s most prominent women pacifist campaigners had a brother who was commander in chief on the Western Front. Two well-known sisters split so bitterly over the war that they ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other.

To the author’s credit, Adam Hochschild really does try to explain World War I, or at least, explain why it started. To do that, he takes us back beyond the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, into England, Europe, and the world several years before that event.

We see the British in the Sudan and get a comprehensive look at the Boer War. We meet the pairs we’ll follow from the war’s start to past its end, such as Field Marshall John French and his sister (and activist/suffragette) Charlotte Despard.   Despite the fact he was Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force and she was an outspoken opponent of the war, the two remained on good terms throughout the war. In fact, Charlotte seemed to have a soft spot for her younger brother, whom she called Jack. It was only later, over the question of Irish independence, that their relationship finally shattered.

There’s a good reason this book has been nominated for a 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award. While I’ve read other books on World War I, and even listened to more than one lecture series on the subject, this is the first time I really got a comprehensive picture of the entire war.

True, the focus is on Britain. However, Hochschild gives the reader enough of the big picture, both in the war and what’s happening in other countries, that the pieces all come together. The technique he uses–giving us the overview and then drilling down and showing us the individual lives of the pairs he follows in the narrative–is both effective and riveting reading.


Filed under Books, Reading, War Through The Generations

Put it away (or how Angry Birds can help your writing)

So, I found this article via Wired the other day:

How Do We Identify Good Ideas?

And it has so many amazing things that apply to writing (and really, any creative endeavor) that I wanted to highlighted here (in case you missed it).

Here’s the gist:

A new study led by Simone Ritter of the Radboud University in the Netherlands sheds some light on this mystery. In the first experiment, 112 university students were given two minutes to come up with creative ideas that might alleviate a mundane problem: improving the experience of waiting in line at a cash register. The subjects were then divided into two groups: Half of them went straight to work, while the others were first instructed to perform an unrelated task for two minutes. (They played a silly little videogame.) The purpose of this delay was to give the unconscious a chance to percolate, to let that subterranean supercomputer invent new concepts for the supermarket queue.

The outcome? Those who’d been distracted were twice as good at picking out their truly innovative ideas.

The article also quotes Zadie Smith. And the quote is so full of all kinds of wonderful, I need to share it here as well:

When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second — put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal — but even three months will do…. You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions.

This is my go-to writing advice. What do you do with a finished draft? Put it away. No, really. Do not look at it. Do not think about it. Mind you, hardly anyone ever follows this advice. In fact, it took me years to follow it myself. Now? It’s like my religion.

My drafting process goes a little something like this:

  • Workup/draft like crazy until I reach the end of the draft (this is important–get to the end)
  • Put it away for 4 – 6 weeks, at least
  • Do another draft.
  • Continue the process until it’s ready for someone else to read.

Sometimes I take something out too soon. How do I know this? Because it literally hurts my eyes and ears to read it. I loathe every. single. word. If I’m feeling the hate, I put it away until … well, I don’t feel the hate.

What to do in the meantime? Well, you could:

  • Write another novel (no, really, I’m serious about this)
  • Write a short story
  • Write an article for a trade magazine
  • Blog
  • Take a class in some form of writing you’ve never tried
  • Read

The list is endless. You don’t have to stop writing. The goal is to stop picking at your novel like it’s a scab on your knee.

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Filed under Reading & Writing, Writing