Salutations January-February 2019

Hey, hey it’s my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

And it is happy. My sweetheart will take me out for a special dinner this evening (and is even now buying a few new wines for me to try. I know this man!) I brought my friends a chance to get Come Back free today, just like I used to take cupcakes to share with my class in first grade. I’m hoping I’ll get enough new readers to make Come Back’s number of reviews match my age. You do the math.Come Back 60 Reviews

I’ve biked, done yoga, and danced enough so my Apple watch activity rings are well on their way to being closed. And this morning I wrapped up this week’s grading chores for the three online courses I teach. Which means I have a lull this afternoon!

Woo-hoo! A lull!  This means I’m in what I think of as my teaching groove. The semester is underway, and my big push to give early feedback to clarify expectations is winding down. That means the ball’s in their court now – to do with the feedback what they will. The rest of the semester, I’ll get to focus more on content than format, on substance more than on how they express that substance. I hope.

Teaching online where so much of the work must be written has shown me just how much my students struggle with writing. Clarity, grammar, effective sentences – complete but not run-on, please – and brief, bite-sized paragraphs – is it too much to ask? Often it seems to be, and it makes me crazy. But I digress – and lose the ah-yes feeling of my lull, the quiet of no immediately urgent tasks screaming to be done.  Tomorrow, I’ll start next week’s grading chores, but today…

I could grab an hour to revise another chapter of Home Place as I was able to do last week. I’m pleased with my progress so far – about 1/4 through the first set of revisions. There will be many decisions to be made for the remaining 3/4 of the book and three or four more rounds of revisions. But it’s possible I may be on track for my hoped for publication target of 2020. I’m telling myself that my characters need their rest while I mull the challenges of their upcoming activities.

So here I am, tackling the task that often seems to sink to the bottom of my list – even though I have much to report on the reading front. My guy requests a list of books – and wines – for any gift-giving holidays, and boy does he deliver. I always hedge to say I don’t expect to receive everything on my list. And he generally ignores my hedge.  He’s a good guy, my guy!

The Christmas haul was hefty and the early part of our year was ripe for hibernation. So let me share the bounty of my reading thus far in 2019.

Picoult

How can you start better than Jodi Picoult? Like all her work, this was a gripper and tackled the hugely controversial topic of abortion. As always Jodi was fair in her representation of women in various circumstances – the providers, the vocal protesters, those desperate enough to brave the gauntlet of those protesters, and others whose desperation had led to years of family secrets and/or violence. While she probably did not cause any in my book club to change our diversely held opinions, she did broaden our perspectives. Powerful!

 

If I had a complaint about Spark, it was that we don’t learn how the survivors of violence Roberts Shelter in Placeheal – or don’t – from that trauma. But I found that part of the story in Nora Roberts’ Shelter in Place. This had the usual romantic underpinnings and crazy-ass killer than Nora often includes in her stories. But the healing – the messiness and the differing paths survivors of a mass shooting took – that was the crux of the story for me. As were her usual mix of characters I’d find fun to hang out with.

 

KingsolverYou don’t read Barbara Kingsolver if you don’t want to think.  And as usual, she offers lots to think about in this dual story based around a crumbling house in New Jersey.  The contemporary family who lives there struggles with financial disparity and elder and grandson care they never anticipated. The historical residents faced up against Darwin-resistors akin to today’s climate-deniers. Sprinkle in a passion for science and women’s rights, and you’ve got quite a book. I wouldn’t call Unsheltered an easy read, but it certainly is thought-provoking!

JonesAn American Marriage is another story that plopped me in a place I didn’t expect. I found this story shocking, or more accurately, I became shocked at the ignorance my privilege allows me. One of my book clubs had a riveting conversation about the book, and the other will in April. So to avoid any potential spoilers, I’ll only say that Tayari Jones gave us a powerfully important story that will stick with me for a very long time.

 

Blood and BoneAfter so much thinking, Roberts’ second in her newest fantasy trilogy was a terrific diversion. Two Nora books in one Christmas was a treat. This one deviates a tad from her usual focus on romance. No sex at all! The promise of lusty loving to come was tangible, though, so that third volume due later this year will likely sizzle. Meanwhile, I’d still like to hang out with many of these characters (but am glad to keep the ones we love to hate between the covers of the hardback!)

 

WestoverOur book club’s pick for February was Tara Westover’s remarkable memoir Educated. This story was nothing like I expected it to be – a child who never attended school, who didn’t know one might read a textbook when she found herself a freshman in college, but who achieved remarkable academic achievements in spite of her family of crazies. Certifiable and often violent crazies who still wield their influence in the Idaho mountains. But as Westover says in what I thought was the best line in the book, “We are all of us more complicated than the roles we are assigned in the stories other people tell.”

And finally, I’m about halfway through the last of my Christmas haul, The Lilac Girls. That and Charles Frazier’s Varina are next in line. See my reactions to them and to our Rochester Reads book American War, when next I find a lull ideal for blogging. What are you reading this month?

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