Emerging Bookworms

The silence that descended on the house is deafening.  It truly is the most terrifying sound for young mothers because you just know the children are up to something or, worse yet, in trouble.  As this is not the first time I have lost my children in my house (yeah, I was surprised I could lose them in the house, too), I have a system.  I run around the downstairs, checking the bathrooms, the locks on the doors, and the corners as I call the boys.  I race then upstairs to the master suite to make sure they are not in my make-up and jewelry, not in the bathroom, or suffocating in one of the dry cleaner bags my husband refuses to throw out.  I run down the hallway to check the other bathroom and the guestroom, and I find them in the corner of the nursery, the one you can’t see from a quick glance as you run by, quietly flipping through the books.  They look up to give me the look that I can only imagine Jesus gave his parents when they found Him in the Temple.  “Where’d you think I’d be?”   Um, right here, of course, not drowning in a toilet, not running down the street naked, not coloring the walls with my various shades of eyeliner, not ordering new toys online with my credit card.  You both would be sitting nicely, not trying to wrestle, reading the nursery books.


It’s a shock to me to have both boys so interested in books, and I live with the constant worry, one of many, that one day they will decide it was all a phase.  My brothers and I despised reading as young children, and only I developed a strong desire to read in my pre-teens.  But I think life would be much easier for the child, the parents, and the teachers, if the child enjoys reading.  I have done everything I could to foster this love.  When I was four months pregnant with Evan, I would sit and read picture books out loud, believing that he was swimming around learning about fairy tales and warrior women before he even took his first breath.  Before every naptime and bedtime, we read a book, sometimes two.  Then there are the wonderful moments when they bring me a book to read instead of watching TV.


We have books every where in the house.  Not only do I have an ever growing library in the office (and no, I don’t plan on downsizing that any time soon), both boys have a book case, which are ever expanding as well.  Of course, I do not recommend letting your child just pick a book at the bookstore because Evan always picks the most expensive and then doesn’t want to read it when he gets home.  (Why are there $20 picture books?  Really?)  Then downstairs in the family room is a large basket filled with the more stimulating educational books, which would just make story time twice as long if I kept them upstairs.  (Let me touch it.  Let me see it.  Where’s the purple flower?  Is it there?  No.  Is it here?  Is it in this general direction?  Evan, you know that’s not a flower; it’s a sheep.  Now stop being silly; you were suppose to be a sleep an hour ago.)  But these are the ones that Sean pulls out and hands me, saying “peeeaaase.”  If they are the feel and touch and Mommy is trying just to entertain him while she is talking on the phone or perhaps vainly trying to watch the news or even Oprah, he pushes the book harder in my hand to let me know that he knows there is more to the book than touching, there’s an actual story with words Mommy is suppose to be saying. 


In hopes to cure Evan’s fear of my appetizing nature to whales, I checked out a couple of whale books.  And bless my soul, the boy took to them, asking to be read the books several times a day.  Not only am I please that he wants to read so much, I am excited that he has chosen a subject that I can be interested and excited about too.  Not to mention, I can share my own knowledge on the subject.  I have visions of Sea World and whale watching museums and trips.


Last night after assuring Evan for the third time that he did not have spider web sheets but dinosaur sheets, I went downstairs, only to hear the pitter-patter of little feet running into the hall as soon as I took my first step off the stairs.  Great.  I wait to listen for the tiny “Mommy,” which will be followed by “can I have some water please” or “my bed’s too hot.”  Instead I heard, “WOW!  Look at this!”  I went upstairs to find Evan lying on his stomach in the hall, using the light to look at the whale book.


“Look, Mommy!  That’s a blue whale!  That’s baleen!  That’s so cool!  Do you know how whales eat?  They open their mouths like this!  And swallow fish!  Isn’t that cool?”


Instead of showing my excitement, I place my Supernanny face on and told Evan it was time for bed and to put the book away for tomorrow.


This morning I was woken by Sean making a different “aaahh” noise.  As I entered the room, he saw me and pointed to the floor of the nursery, repeating over and over “Uh-oh, peeeaaaase!”  So I picked him up, and he squirmed out of my arms to the floor, where he raced over to the books.  Picking one up, he said “peeeeaaase!” and handed it to me.  It was a Halloween book were one could raise the mask and spy a different baby Looney Tunes character.  I sat down; Sean sat down next to me, scooting closer than the five inches his seating action caused him.  When I finish reading the book, Sean forced it back into my hand, saying “peeeaaase!”  When I finished reading it again, he handed back the book, saying “peeeaaase!”  When I finished it yet again, he handed back the book and said “peeeaaase!”  After the sixth time, when I couldn’t hear my own voice over the sound of my stomach, I kissed Sean on the head and ran before I could succumb to the magic word of “peeeaaase.”


When I was in high school, my mom forbade me to read anything outside the assigned reading material, as my A’s were starting to drop to  (hold on your hats, folks) to B-‘s.  Of course, it didn’t help that I was in trouble for reading in class instead of paying attention to the teacher.  But now I wonder as I check on Evan’s nap, who is reading yet another whale book, that maybe I created a monster.  Well, I guess it’s better than video games. 

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Books I LOVE and Don’t Care if Anyone Else Does

Books I LOVE and Don’t Care if Anyone Else Does

(Or you can have my copy of these books when I’m cold and six feet under, if I don’t have them buried with me.)


Sometimes I think books-I-love lists are more about showcasing the books we should read.  This list is just books I love and why, and I won’t expect you to read them because they just might not be your style.  We all have guilty pleasures of reading.  If my best friend and I need a laugh, we read a Cosmo, snickering over the sex obsessed lines.  If I’m tired of read long complicated adult books, I pick up a teen fiction book.  (Careful, some of these can be quite complicated and obsessive.)  If I want something to cheer me up (especially in that first trimester), I go to my trusted stand bys on this list.  So what are your absolute favorites?  Are they Harlequins or cheap mysteries or stand by classics?


In no particular order, the books I love and read over and over:


The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I swear I can’t read any other Arthurian literature because Bradley did such a great job.  She humanized all the characters.  You can’t help but love Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar.  At the end you realize they did the best they could, and humans just have a way of hurting each other and messing everything up.  The writing is superb.  I read this in high school at the snickers of my swim teammates, who couldn’t believe I would read a book so thick that wasn’t assigned.  Jocks.  I have read it several more times and made the mistake of lending it out twice.  I’m on my third copy.


I Was a Teenage Fairy by Francesca Lia Block.  Reading this book changed my whole outlook on writing.  It’s a teenage fiction book that I picked up because I only had a day or two left of winter break.  Block writes fiction like she writes poetry.  The first page she compares Los Angeles to a model and the San Fernando Valley as L.A.’s teenybopper little sister, a theme that is carried on through out the book.  I would place Block closer to magical realism than fantasy, but alas, we live in the U.S.


The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block.  I love Block so much that I’m giving her two spaces.  She rewrites some fairy tales, and the book is beautiful.  Again like poetry.  Snow White stays with the seven dwarfs because who loves a girl better her fathers who raised her and know her or some prince who got a hard on by seeing her sleeping?  Sleeping Beauty is a drug addict, hiding from child abuse and forced to throw off the habit through love.  The wolf from Little Red Riding Hood is an abusive stepdad, who Red is running away from to Grandma’s house.  All the stories are great revisions, and I love the retelling, wondering if I could do just as well.


The Garden by Elsie V. Aidinoff.  Yet another teen book (told you this list was filled with guilty pleasures.).  I was actually editing my own version of the tale of the Garden of Eden when I read this book; I abandoned it because Aidinoff did such a great job.  She takes a deeper look on the concept of the Fall Up (for those who don’t know, many biblical scholars point out that the fall out of Eden was actually beneficial so we could CHOOSE Grace, not just be born in it.)  The writing is beautiful, and the relationship between Eve and the Serpent is complex and wise. 


Tithe by Holly Black (might as well keep all the teen books together).  You might know Block through her more famous books The Spiderwick Chronicles.   This and her other books on the topic (Valiant and Ironside) are written like traditional faerie tales with the darkness and violence that accompanies them.  Block plays with the dark and the light, the fear and the strength.  It sings to the days of teenage angst with magic. 


Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (and the rest of the saga).  It finally became clear to me that I should one day write teen books as well as adult fiction, so when I heard about Twilight, I thought it would be good research, and I loved L.J. Smith when I was a teen.  So my best friend (who is a teen youth church leader) decided to read them as well, and we were hook, calling each other every night with where are you, call me when you finish the chapter, oh my god can you believe that.  All the books are an absolute page turner, and I can be giddy about young love too.  I loved the characters and the writing style.


Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (and the rest of the saga, especially Kushiel’s Chosen and Kushiel’s Avatar).  Let’s just say that after I finished the first book, I paced the house for a half an hour before I grabbed my keys to race to the nearest book store before it closed to buy the rest of the series.  Carey writes beautifully, creating a complex, wondrous world that rivals Tolkien’s.   The only reasons this book is classified as fantasy are because there are other religions with gods interacting at times and all of earth’s best civilizations are alive and well.  The religion Carey creates makes me want to convert.  Her characters are human, beautiful, and awe-inspiring.  I could read these books a million times and not be bored.  I love Phèdre!  In the end, the books focus on the strength and beauty of love.  Warning: a lot of explicit sex scenes, some very dark ones too.


Rhapsody By Elizabeth Haydon (and the rest of the saga, especially the first trilogy).  Sometimes I think writers over extend their characters in too many books, like Carey, Haydon writes so well that you don’t want it to end.  I remember thinking damn I only have a hundred pages too go.  This is true fantasy with magic, swords, and even a type of elf.  Haydon illustrates how hope and friendship comes from the most interesting places. You fall in love with the main characters, especially Rhapsody who is so sweet and optimistic, you might believe she’s naïve.   Like most of the books on this list, the main characters are reluctant heroes, just trying to do what’s right. 


Kiss My Tiara by Susan Jane Gilman.  I have bought a dozen copies of this book and given away everyone.  I love this book.  An answer to The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, Gilman doesn’t believe we need yet another how to trap a man book, but a book of advice for being a woman, given to her by her chocolate cake eating, gin drinking grandma.  Advice like if you can’t order desert, you can’t ask for a raise and use your p.m.s. to write and complain to elected officials.  Admitting that third generation feminism is looking narcissistic, but only because advertisers have taken it over, Gilman works to reclaim feminism and what it means to be a woman.  She’s freakin’ hilarious. 


So there we have it, my top books.  Please let me know if you do your own list, I would love to read it!


Becoming a Reader

Before I start a “Books I Absolutely Love and Don’t Give a Crap if Anyone Else Does” list, I just want to let every one know what kind of reader I am and to give hope to parents that don’t have readers.


As a kid, I hated reading.  HAT-ED it!  It was a constant struggle for my mom to motivate my brothers and me.  During the summer, we had to read a half an hour a day along with a couple of workbook pages.  My mom would go to the library with us, pulling books off the shelves, trying to sell us on the back cover summary or the picture on the front.  “This is about princesses.  Faemom, you like princesses.  Brother, you’ll like this one; it’s about bears” And so on. 


One of the reasons I hated reading was I didn’t read very fast.  I read slowly and still do compared to my friends and old classmates.  It took me forever to read a book when I was young.  My mom finally admitted that she believed I had some sort of learning disorder as a kid, but she felt she could handle it and help me along.  Which might be why we had a love-hate relationship throughout most of my school years, cumulating to a head during the night before the weekly spelling test.  My mom turned out to be right; she found a way to make me a better reader and student.  Luckily I was blessed with a crazy retention rate, so once I slowly read something; it was pretty much lodged in my brain.


My sixth grade year I discovered reading.  I read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  I followed that up with The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatly Snyder.  I was hooked.  Why didn’t anyone tell me that books could be good?  I read Little Women in the branches of an apple tree.  I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare about half a dozen times.  I gobbled up Greek mythology, reading both The Iliad and The Odyssey, before high school.  I read scores of Madeleine L’Engle’s books.  I learned about fantasy and science fiction books.   When I learned I didn’t have to rely on the boring school library devoid of any books for preteen girls other than The Babysitter’s Club for book reports, I nearly shouted for glee.


I read constantly, abandoning my cousins and brothers to tackle football at my Grandma’s house to read in the living room.  My reading got so bad that in high school my mom actually punished me by taking away my reading privileges for a semester, due to my sliding grades.  One of my best family vacation memories was reading every day in the back of the camper all the way from Arizona to Virginia, but my mom has always believed that I did it out of teenage angst for not wanting to be with the family.  The worst thing about college, aside from the home sickness and stalking, was that I had to put away my books to do all the reading for classes.  But on breaks I would race to the library the very day I got off the plane.


I believe reading is for everyone; they just have to find the right book.  My baby brother doesn’t read, but as soon as he told me about a book he was interested in, I dragged him to the nearest book store and bought it for me.  He still says that it’s the only book he’s finished reading since high school.  (So any one has any suggestions for a guy who loves sports but hates biographies?)  My mom is a reader and reads those trashy romance novels.  Did I say trashy?  I meant HISTORICAL romance novels.  Hell, she found my birth name in one.  But she did test out of freshman English when she went back to college, and she knows a surprising amount of period history and customs.  I can’t make fun because I love fantasy books and a good vampire books.  Nothing of real value for a serious English student.  Oh, well.  So when the next post comes up, you can read what I absolutely love, and I’ll try to keep it fewer than fifty.  I know I’m not that interesting.


And as for my boys, right now they love reading.  I buy them books all the time, hoping to keep them engaged in books.  I figure we have a fighting chance because both my husband and I love to read.  Here’s hoping.