I gave up my smartphone contract the other day and I'm only too glad I did. Wait, this is the library blog - what am I doing writing an opinion piece about cellphone carriers here? Library patrons come to me on a weekly, sometimes daily basis with questions about their smartphones. These little devices we carry around in our pockets and purses like so much loose change represent some of the greatest advancements in computing, telecommunications, and miniaturization technologies ever.
When I was in school, we often had to memorize and recite a poem to the class. Some of these poems have stuck with me even as an adult, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I can remember one. Memorizing poetry is like a game - you challenge yourself to master the poet’s words and rhythm. Once you do, you are likely to remember it for a long time. One of my kids memorized this short poem from the collection and recited it at dinner the other night when we were having peas:
I eat my peas with honey
I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
Yes, we all tried our peas with honey after this...and they do taste funny.
Mary Ann Hoberman, Children’s Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, chose 123 poems to make up Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart because they are “memorable,” which she points out, has two meanings: “easy to remember” and “worth remembering.” Some are short, like the pea poem above, and some are longer challenges, like Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. There are poems about beasts, families, food, nature, and more. There are poems from famous writers (Roald Dahl), favorite poets (Shel Silverstein), and some I had never heard of. Emberley’s pictures are lively and colorful and make the entire book a pleasure to browse.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón completely understands what it means to be seduced by a book--to get lost in a plot and feel overwhelmed by perfectly-formed words and phrases. Perhaps that is what allows him to describe--and replicate--that experience in his own novel, The Shadow of the Wind.
The Shadow of the Wind opens in Barcelona in 1945. Daniel Sempere’s father is about to introduce him to a mysterious and labyrinthine place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. In the Cemetery, the young boy is taught some very important things about the lives of books: “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
No one can see women of a certain age. We--I am of a certain age--are nothing but the ghosts of our former selves. We have a contentious relationship with mirrors just like Snow White’s stepmother. We fight aging with Botox, HRT, calcium, and even anti-depressants. Clover Hobart in Calling Invisible Women has contemplated figurative invisibility, but one fall day she becomes literally invisible.
After thinking she has had a breakdown or a stroke, Clover becomes proactive and explores the possibilities of invisibility. This novel has laugh-out-loud moments, is well-plotted, has great characters, and has thoughtful ideas about women and aging.
In the world of manga, Ryoko Kiyama is an ideal character. His eyes turn into pulsating hearts when he sees the object of his affection, sadness creates literal storm clouds overhead, and he is an expert at combating giant lizards and robots without getting injured. After accidentally falling through an “interdimensional cross-rip,” however, Ryoko’s ordinary behavior suddenly becomes freakish and bizarre. Ryoko has accidentally fallen into Western comics, a place populated by American teenagers who struggle to understand and tolerate such a strange visitor.
In Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Found, Jonah Skidmore feels like an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy. His family consists of a slightly annoying but smart younger sister named Katherine and a mom and dad who love him unconditionally. Jonah is adopted and has known this fact for a while but it’s never been a big deal for him because his parents have always been open about it to him. Life definitely feels normal for Jonah. That is, until the mysterious letter arrives--the letter that contains just six words: YOU ARE ONE OF THE MISSING. The letter does not contain a signature or a return address. Who sent it? Where did it come from? What does it mean?
“I’ll be happy when…I win the lottery. Snag my dream job. Lose that last ten pounds.” Does that sound familiar? Marci Shimoff in Happy for No Reason points out the flaws in this type of thinking and presents practical advice for living a life of happiness, regardless of your circumstances. Shimoff herself thought she had achieved the American Dream as a successful, published author married to a loving husband and living in a beautiful home. But she, too, felt something was missing from her life. Through her research and her interviews of the “Happy 100,” Shimoff discovers that happiness is derived from within and offers the following seven steps to creating your own happiness:
1. Take Ownership of Your Happiness
2. Don’t Believe Everything You Think
3. Let Love Lead
4. Make Your Cells Happy
5. Plug Yourself Into Spirit
6. Live a Life Inspired by Purpose
7. Cultivate Nourishing Relationships
So, why should you read this book now that I’ve given away Shimoff’s seven steps? Because although these steps are the basics of Shimoff’s plan, her explanations and advice are well worth reading, to the point where I wanted to dog-ear the book’s pages (as it was a library book, I did not). Even the new-age concept of the Law of Attraction had me thinking “what if it is true?” and “what do I have to lose?”
Halfway through this spring, during a week of practically living out of our minivan and eating dinners on the run due to a parade of soccer games, drama rehearsals, and tae kwon do practices, I said to myself, “Enough. I want to get off this ride!” I picked up Putting Family First: Successful Strategies for Reclaiming Family Life in a Hurry-Up World, by William Doherty and Barbara Carlson, and devoured it in the next 2 days. Doherty and Carlson first trace the evolution of the overscheduling of today's kids and then provide concrete steps for reclaiming family time. I found myself nodding along to almost every chapter and came away with some great suggestions for how to streamline our outside commitments and reconnect as a family.
Doherty points out there are positive reasons why kids are busier today - like more opportunities to choose from - but also several that are negative, like more intense sports schedules, fear that children will be left behind if they don’t engage from an early age, and parental guilt due to long work schedules. Whatever the reasons, Doherty stresses that the end result is that “the adult world of hypercompetition and marketplace values has invaded the family.” What to do about it? The first step is to slow down and reconnect over family meals, optimally four times a week or more. The second is to reclaim bedtime as a soothing ritual. And the third step is to look critically at the schedule, cut back on outside obligations, and find time to “hang out as a family.”
In Christine Hinwood’s The Returning, the war between the Uplanders and the Downlanders is over. But everyone in the village of Kayforl is still struggling with the after effects. Cam returns home from the fighting maimed and struggles to make a new life for himself. But his betrothal to Graceful Fenister is broken off by her father.
The Café Book program is a thriving partnership between the Central Rappahannock Regional Library and area schools. As we close our fourteenth year of encouraging middle school students to enjoy reading, the Library is pleased and honored that support for Cafe Book has recently been expressed through a generous donation from the Carver family in memory of their mother Ruth---middle school librarian, literacy advocate, and lover of reading. One of our staff members, Sheryl Sinche, shares these reminiscences.