Book Snap #48

Title: Brother

Author: David Chariandy

Date Read: April 19, 2019

One and a half snaps.

Because life got busy, and I didn’t sit to write a reflection on this novel as soon as I should have, perhaps it isn’t getting the best review either. This is a second novel for David Chariandy, and was featured in this years’ selections for CBC’s Canada Reads.

A touching story of a family living in Scarborough in the 1990s. The teens; Michael and Vincent, face prejudice as brown boys in The Park. Vincent is shy, sensitive and over-protective of his mother; while Michael is hardened and resolved. Their over-worked mother does her best to scrape enough together to care for her teenage boys.

It is beautifully written prose and illuminates the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as immigrants.

A tragic shooting changes all of their lives irrevocably and packs the real emotional punch of the novel.

Book Snap #47

Title: On The Come Up

Author: Angie Thomas

Date Read: March 29, 2019

One and a half snaps.

Another YA novel from Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give.

Thomas creates strong voices for her central teenage characters that rap with swagger and trade in inner-city barbs. Maybe that’s what makes me old, unhip, and a little disengaged.

Although I can’t rave about how I couldn’t put this book down, because I did multiple times; I do know it has appeal for audiences much younger (and cooler) than I .

Bri is a sixteen year-old with a passion for rap. She is startled by her own success in ‘the ring’ where she battles line for line with some of the best rappers from her neighbourhood. The pressure however, is palpable– as she is constantly juxtaposed with her successful father who was on his way to success when he was murdered.

Thomas judiciously covers several plots that help her closely examine race, prejudice, and our deep desire to do the right thing– and to stay true to ourselves despite what looks easy and thrilling.

Bri sums it up in this short snap here:

We can’t have any power, either. I mean, think about it. All these people I’ve never met have way more control over my life than I’ve ever had. If some Crown hadn’t killed my dad, he’d be a big rap star and money wouldn’t be an issue. If some drug dealer hadn’t sold my mom her first hit, she could’ve gotten her degree already and would have a good job. If that cop hadn’t murdered that boy, people wouldn’t have rioted, the daycare wouldn’t have burned down, and the church wouldn’t have let Jay go.

All these folks I’ve never met became gods over my life. Now I gotta take the power back.

And Bri does take the power back with her intelligence, thoughtfulness and skill; she is a wonderfully strong and fully-developed female protagonist. Worth a read if you’re a rap-savvy high-school student!

Book Snap #46

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Date read: March 20, 2019.

Two Snaps.

Another touching and authentic novel for Young Adult readers!

Grace has a home-life that makes her desperate for graduation; and the hope that she will cast-off the burdens placed on her by a severe and intolerant step-father; and a mother with implausible standards and wild mood swings that Grace can’t predict or avoid. The bleakness of her life at home weighs her down– but she finds solace, and Gavin, at the high school theatre.

Gavin is the epitome of a modern-day knight in shining armour– he writes songs for Grace; takes her on surprising and impetuous adventures; and makes her feel protected and special. But Gavin is also controlling, jealous, and unstable. And Grace finds herself oppressed by the weight of the love he’s promised her.

Here’s a short snap of Demetrios’ writing: “Something in me is dimming, something that I already know I can’t get back. But you’re worth it. You are. I will tell myself this for several more months. And when I realize you aren’t worth it, it’ll be too late.”

Demetrios paints an unflinching picture of high school romance from both sides as Grace herself unwinds the tale trying to make sense of how it went from perfect to impossible.

Book Snap #45

Title: Mrs. Fletcher

Author: Tom Perrota

Date read: March 5, 2019.

Two Snaps.

This was a great beach read!

It was light and funny and yet probing and cutting. Newly-divorced and on her own for the first time at 46, Eve is not sure who she is anymore. Her son is off to college and she seeks an identity that might fit her properly now. She gaffs and blunders in trying to make friends and to sort out her own sexuality. Meanwhile her son also struggles with what college sends his way and the kind of man he wants to be.

Book Snap #44

Title: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Author: Phil Knight

Date read: February 13, 2019.

Two Snaps.

Quite simply, I loved this memoir.

Knight takes you chronologically from his parents’ suburban home in Oregon as a young shoe dog peddling sneakers from their living room to the pinnacle of his success as the CEO of a multi million dollar international company; and it’s not an easy ride.

As a trained track runner, Knight befriended, and ultimately hired, his college track coach who constantly tinkered with athlete’s shoes looking to get the fastest run. This partnership solidified the view that they would pursue the perfect shoe– at any cost. Indeed, there were more times than not that Nike was abysmally broke than it was successful. With a ragtag group of misfits that he trusted dearly, they worked diligently over decades to sell shoes they believed in.

He writes: “Starting my own business was the only thing that made life’s other risks—marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling—seem like sure things. But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.”

Knight is a skillful storyteller. His writing is descriptive and engaging and his life is full of wisdom, humour and sadness. Knight takes you from the boardrooms of Japan, to the factories in India, and back to Oregon; from the follies of youth; the pain of parenthood and the success of hard work. You will thoroughly enjoy the ride. Just do it.

Check out my passage study from this novel, here.

Snapshot: Why Reading Matters

Reading stories. The Paperbag Princess; his first feminist story.

“A child who reads will be a child who thinks.”

I have spent all of my adult life studying children’s literature; the effects of reading; how to help students who strive to be better readers; and overall, espousing the powerful effects that reading can have.

My own childhood was replete with books and stories: I can still hear my mother reading to me lovingly, in voices I can still recall in vivid audio in my own head. There is no single piece of furniture I have bought more frequently than a book shelf– all manners of sizes and shapes. And still, I do not have quite enough shelves to house all of the books that have meant something to me throughout my life.

Marie Kondo, the sweet, Japanese organizing guru (whom I adore because she makes me recall all of the sweet Japanese women I taught with 20 odd years ago)– would have us believe that we should only keep things that ‘spark joy.’ She’s against books that don’t continuously add value to your life; but takes care to recognize their importance: “Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values,” she says. Over the years, even I have let some books go– passed them on; donated them; made them part of the collection I loan out at school. But many of them still spark joy.

An online Twitter colleague posed the question: “When a student asks: What’s the point of reading literature… what’s your answer?” and I was so thrilled to read the responses, because they resonate deeply as to why I believe in the power of books! Here are a few:

Shelly Boyd Stephens
‏@smbpinky
Replying to @piros_grant @ncte @teacher2teacher
All literature is actually about you. Authors use themes that make us think about common human experiences. Sometimes, we can easily see ourselves in a book, sometimes it’s subtle, but they’re all actually about you.

Karl Ubelhoer
@MrU_ishere
Replying to @piros_grant @ncte @teacher2teacher
To travel the world; to explore love, loss, and greatness; to live the lives of a thousand people; to breathe life into stale lungs; to find my better self.

Meredith Johnson – #BookCampPD
‏@mjjohnson1216
Replying to @piros_grant @ncte @teacher2teacher
from @matthaig1 Reading isn’t important because it helps get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. Reading makes the world better. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Escape. Reading is love in action.

Here’s a fun Infographic on how Reading Makes You A Better Person.

So, READ. Read to your kids, read for yourself. Just READ.

A well-loved series of amazing potty humour. Never gets old.

Book Snap #43

Title: Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addicition

Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Date read: January 20, 2019

Two Snaps.

I didn’t mean to finish it in one go… but I couldn’t stop! A graphic memoir that had me riveted, engaged and in tears. A must read.

You have not read a memoir told like this. Krosoczka’s story telling is doubly powerful as you connect with the characters both through the text and his wonderful illustrations.

This book has been widely touted for YA audiences, but it is not to be dismissed as only for teens.

You will want to watch Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s TED Talk: How A Boy Became an Artist.

In his talk, Krosoczka tells his own back story and illuminates how powerful and life-changing it was to use the power of his words and drawing to tell his story. He describes some of his own first comics thusly: “…it was a story that was told with words and pictures, exactly what I do now for a living, and sometimes I let the words have the stage on their own, and sometimes I allowed the pictures to work on their own to tell the story.”

Watch the talk now:  

TED Talk: How a Boy Became an Artist

If you have young children and want some snappy choices for bedtime reads, take a look at the TED Blog, where Krosoczka recommends his favourite children’s books.

TED Blog: 10 Great Children’s Books That Will Become Classics.

If you liked Hey, Kiddo may I suggest:

Title: An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

After reading Amy Krause Rosenthal’s heart wrenching NY Times piece: You May Want to Marry My Husband, I couldn’t wait to read her Autobiography– and it did not disappoint. This memoir is told in a wholly unconventional way, and I love her for it. Where Krosoczka adds illustrations to strengthen his story– Rosenthal approaches her memoir writing with an individual organizational structure. Using the format of an encyclopedia, Rosenthal retells snippets of her autobiography in short entries from A through Z. This unique episodic approach makes for an entirely marvellous exploration of what makes us tick. She details the moments, the emotions, and the observations of contemporary life. Great fun for the bedside table.

Book Snap #42

Title: Feminasty: The Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself To Death

Author: Erin Gibson

Date read: January 20, 2019

Two Snaps.

Brash, acerbic and a little bit ‘feminasty.’ Expertly mixing social commentary, political satire and off colour jokes— can’t say I didn’t laugh out loud, and I definitely enjoyed it. Will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Mature audiences only.

I have since also found Erin’s podcast, which she co-hosts with Bryan Safi– called “Throwing Shade” where they irreverently and unabashedly discuss: women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, progressive politics and pop culture. Erin does not back down from tough topics nor abide political correctness. However, she does contribute thoughtful and poignant analysis of issues in need of discussion, just as she does in her own book. The voice in her book is so clear and laden with style, I was only reaffirmed to actually hear her speaking aloud in her podcast. Have a listen here: Throwing Shade Podcast

Snappy Passage from Feminasty:

“What the people who are so scared of #MeToo need to realize is the goal isn’t to limit sex or discourage men from doing their men stuff like MMA and long conversations about Paleo diets. #MeToo is about our complaints being heard for the first time and being taken seriously. What some see as the collective anger of a thousand wronged women, I see as the expression of frustration and hurt. #MeToo is about making sure women are not operating out of sheer terror for their own safety. It’s about telling the office clown, Chase, it isn’t cool or normal to send porn GIFs at the end of Slack convos. We’re envisioning a better world, one where Justin Timberlake won’t tweet “Here we come!! And DAMN, my wife is hot! #TIMESUP #whywewearblack,” sloppily mixing male objectification with a hashtag designed to make people aware of lopsided power dynamics. A new world where Justin Timberlake uses the hashtag #timesup and then ALSO feels shame about starring in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel. A world where Justin Timberlake refuses to do the Super Bowl halftime show WITHOUT Janet jackson. A world where Justin Timberlake is actually funny and not just a guy in a wig making funny faces.” (p.40-41).

If you liked Feminasty, may I also suggest:

Title: Difficult Women

Author: Roxane Gay

Deep, powerful writing about complex, riveting female characters. Roxane Gay’s non fiction writing is powerful and academic (read also: Bad Feminist)— her fiction is compelling and rich.

Book Snap #41

Title: French Exit

Author: Patrick DeWitt

Date read: January 19, 2019

Two Snaps.

These are some interesting characters to spend time with. The story traces a fall from grace: from the elite of the New York socialites to a strange melange of misfits in a Paris apartment nearly destitute– Frances and her son, Malcolm, are odd, witty, wise, and deeply self-destructive. A good read, for sure.

Book Snap #40

Title: House Rules

Author: Jodi Picoult

Date read: January 6, 2019

One Snap.

The last of the holiday novels. It may be a bit formulaic, a trait of Picoult’s I am not really fond of, but I think for the most part she had a good story and she certainly does offer some insight in to Asperger’s Syndrome and a family deeply impacted by it.