Summer Reading List

lawnchairThis month on Write Some Whatnot, we ask the question “what are you reading?” This would seem to be an easy question, but I struggle to know what to write.

Many people picture teachers, instructors, and professors spending summers reading on the beach or on a lawn chair. My lawn chair remains empty, however, as I spend time teaching summer classes, writing grants for a non-profit organization, and writing technical documentation.

A few weeks ago, I attended a writing conference in Cheyenne, and there I gathered another stack of books and added to my reading list. So, I share with you this list and hope that we will all find some time to read peacefully.

  • By Tina Ann Forkner, Rose House, Ruby Among Us, and Waking Up Joy.
  • By Laura Pritchett, Red Lightning and Stars Go Blue. She has written several other novels, but these are the two that intrigue me the most.
  • By Craig Johnson, Dry Bones, the latest installment of the Longmire Mysteries
  • By Alexandra Fuller, Leaving Before the Rains Come
  • And finally, Talk like TED by Carmine Gallo. This book will be required in my Spring 2016 Composition II courses.

Someday, I’ll ask you to read my own books, too.

Until I have time to dive into those books, for now, I’m reading grant application requirements, technical manuals, student essays, and from time-to-time, my own and friends’ writing. In the midst of this busy time, however, I do find time to do some fishing and bike riding. I only wish the summer would slow down a bit. It’s moving much too fast.

Happy Reading!
~ Keri

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” I Believe in Books”

 

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My granddaughter, who is in year six, at the primary school in her English village, participates in a Philosophy class in which the students, ten and eleven year-olds, engage in complex and difficult discussions. Recently her class was invited to hold their discussion on the stage in an auditorium filled with attendees at a Religious Education Conference held in a nearby town. (This being England and not the United States, there is no separation of church and state. Queen Elizabeth is, after all, called, among other things, “Defender of the Faith,” just as Henry the XIII was.)  These students decided on the question that they would be discussing, “Do people choose religion or does religion choose people?”  At the beginning of the discussion, the children introduced themselves and gave a small description of their own religious experiences.  My granddaughter was the first to introduce herself. She gave her name and then she said, “I have my own religion.” She stopped there and did not elucidate further.  Later in the car on the way home, her father asked her what her religion was. She answered that she believed in books, and then she went on to say that sometimes she asked characters in books to help her if she had questions about something.

Aside from the fact that she is my granddaughter, and I might be prejudiced, I actually think that this is quite profound on a number of levels. First, when children read books that have characters who get themselves out of difficult situations, or solve interesting problems, they see  examples of admirable behavior. I remember reading Little Women and thinking about a passage in which Jo asks her mother if she has ever been angry. Her mother answers that she is often angry but she has learned how to (and I am paraphrasing here) temper that anger, she has learned how to say nothing when what she has to say would be said in anger. This passage has stayed with me much of my adult life.  But we don’t need to read work as didactic as Little Women in order to learn something.  Many children have learned to be resourceful by reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and certainly Harry Potter shows us ways to grow up, even without magic wands.

My granddaughter is also participating in a far larger community than she realizes, since the Abrahamic religions that predate Islam, that is Judaism and Christianity, have both been called “People of the Book.”  Not only does this tell us that these religions have sacred texts, the Torah, the Bible, but also that participants in these religions understand that there is something important to be gained from reading, thinking about, and analyzing texts. Hermeneutics, or the analysis of text for meaning, was originally applied to sacred texts, the Bible in particular, and so what my granddaughter was saying about her religion being books really connects her to a far older tradition.  When we think about the stories in the ancient text, we think about what they teach us. What many ideas can we take away from the story of Ruth, for example, or the story of the Good Samaritan?

My granddaughter’s response reminds me again, as if I needed reminding again, that reading is critical, not only to developing analytical skill and understanding what stories have to teach us, but reading is critical  to developing empathy.  Several semesters ago, I taught three books as part of a second level writing course, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Winter in the Blood  by James Welch. I wanted to teach the two novels by Native  American writers, but I wanted my students to have some background in Native American History before they read the novels, and therefore, I assigned the Dee Brown book. At the end of the course, I asked students to describe what they had learned in the course of the semester. One student wrote that he had learned to think about his own opinions and to decide whether or not those opinions were based on fact or prejudice. I cannot think of a more important thing for a student to learn. While it is possible that this student would have learned that elsewhere, reading books that took him out of his own experience and showed him the experiences of other people, helped him become a more empathetic person.

So, I, too, believe in books.

 

What to Read…and Watch

wpid-wp-1412120806165.jpegRecommended Reading: Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

Recommended Watching: Outlander TV series on Starz

Several times in the past month I have been asked about the books I’m reading. Typically, I’m a fickle reader—having several books going at the same time to meet my mood. However, this year…yes, this entire year…I have been engrossed in the Outlander world.

Outlander, a series of novels written by Diana Gabaldon, defies classification. I wouldn’t classify the novels as “romance,” per se, but there are some erotic scenes. I also wouldn’t label them historical fiction because there’s also time travel. Readers, writers, and publishers have attempted to classify these novels for years and have failed, so I won’t rehash that here, but whether you like fantasy, romance, historical fiction, or sci-fi, you will like these books.

The series first attracted my attention simply because of the Gabaldon name. Diana Gabaldon hails from my home town: Flagstaff, Arizona. My family knew of her family: first, because of her father, Tony Gabaldon, as a state senator; second, because my eldest brother attended the same grade school; third, my sister Patricia attended a class or two with her at Northern Arizona University. Gabaldon doesn’t know this…I doubt she had much interaction with my family…but what matters is that this slight family connection introduced me to her books. I started with a beat-up copy of Outlander when I was home from college in 1995 and quickly fell in love with the characters. They jumped to life on the page, and I enjoyed the action, the strong female protagonist, the landscape, the historical accuracy, as well as Gabaldon’s style.

In fact, I love the books so much that each time a new one is announced (about every three years or so), I reread the entire series. (I also read the John Grey series.) I’m usually finished just in time for the new book to arrive. It works out perfectly. The 8th book, Written in my Own Heart’s Blood, came out in June of this year, and I began rereading the series in January. I finished the 7th book just in time for the pre-purchased 8th one to show up on my Kindle. I expected that I would finish the 8th book and then move on with my life away from Outlander, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, I’m more engrossed than ever because of the TV series.

When I saw that Outlander was being turned into a TV Series, I was a bit worried. I had a clear image of the characters, the landscape, and the events in the books. I didn’t want that demolished. One of the pleasures of reading is to imagine new worlds and people. I don’t always want these places or people to come to life on a screen. In most cases, movies created from books I’ve loved cannot compare with what I have created in my own imagination, and I am horribly disappointed. I didn’t want this to happen with Outlander, but I couldn’t stay away from the series. I had to see it for myself…see if these characters could come to life for me in a different way.

With trepidation, I watched the pilot. Just like with the books, I fell instantly in love. The characters weren’t exactly how I imagined physically, but their personalities were just right: Claire is sassy, strong, feminine, and self-conscious; Jaime is humorous, strong, masculine, and gentle. The TV series doesn’t exactly follow the books, and it works. The spirit of the books is respected, such as Claire’s strong character, but some changes had to be made for the television audience (such as the timing of some events). The show is also different enough to add excitement to keep the hardcore fans guessing. It is also different from other current popular shows.

I love seeing the characters come to life, and I love that Starz is sticking to the spirit of the books while making some sensible changes. The network is rewarded with a large following, and fans are rewarded with an early renewal for a second season.

For me, the result is complete immersion in the Outlander world. I have watched every episode at least twice, and I am rereading the first book. I enjoy following along and analyzing the differences between the books and the TV series. It’s also a way to stay connected with the characters while waiting for the next episode. The mid-season finale was this past Saturday, and I have a long time to wait for the next installment (April 2015!). Until then, I’m reading the Outlander novella The Space Between and watching some of the TV episodes over again. If I’m ever tired of the repeats, maybe I’ll be able to move on to different books by different authors. Until then, to answer your question “what are you reading,” I’m reading Diana Gabaldon.

For a complete list of her books, visit her website: http://www.dianagabaldon.com/.

What are you reading?

~ K

A Good Read: The Aviator’s Wife

Aviator's WifeIt’s approaching the end of May, and I finally finished reading a book I began in February: The Aviator’s Wife.

The cover of the book clearly states that it is a novel; however, it is historical fiction focused on Anne Marrow Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh’s wife. In this novel, we hear Anne Marrow’s voice–the story of meeting, loving, and living with THE Charles Lindbergh. Even more so if listening to the novel, which I did.

Often, I had to remind myself that it was a novel…the basic events were factual: their wedding, their flights, the kidnapping of their son, World War II, Charles Lindbergh’s death; however, the book captures the reader’s imagination so thoroughly, it’s easy to think we hear Anne Marrow Lindbergh’s inner thoughts and feelings.

Reading historical fiction often leaves me wondering how the author could write such a novel. Where is the line between fact and fiction? How does an author play with that? Perhaps it’s because I’m more of a fiction writer–it feels safer to invent a character and put that character through various events and adventures. It seems more difficult to imagine the lives of historical figures and imagine how they felt about historical events or how they navigated through their lives behind closed doors. The fact that Melanie Benjamin does this so well is not lost on me. In fact, I wonder how the Lindbergh family feels about the novel. I have not read comments from the family. Perhaps you have? Feel free to comment below!

Besides the questions about writing historical fiction, the book awakens questions about womanhood, marriage, writing, identity, among others. These questions may always go unanswered, but seeking answers is why I read.

This novel lead me to purchase two more books about Anne Marrow Lindbergh: a biography by Susan Hertog and Anne Marrow Lindbergh’s own writing Gift from the Sea. Happy reading!

~K

What?! I have to Cite it?


This weekend I traded in my writing instructor hat for a student hat. My assignment was to write a short essay on Richard Wright’s novel Native Son. “No problem,” I thought. I had read the book, taken notes, participated in the discussion, and had an idea of what I would write.

Friday night I started on it and banged out the basics in under an hour. All I had left to do was add some quotes, connect my ideas, create a Works Cited page, and then, BAM!…I’d be done.

Any time I mention to my non-writing-loving friends that I have to write a paper for a class, they roll their eyes and lament, “I hate writing papers.” I smile to myself knowing that I don’t, and I’m usually pretty good at it. Granted, I’ve had a lot of practice. I’ve also been teaching essay writing for more years than I care to admit. So, writing this essay would be a snap.

Or so I thought…

One difficult part of this assignment was the length. It had to be between 550-750 words. No more. No less. For me, this is daunting because it’s fairly short, especially when doing a literary analysis on a 396-page novel. But still, since I had written a brief summary of my points on Friday, I figured I was golden.

Sunday night, after a day of grading and then a movie break with my husband, I sat down to finish my paper.

FOUR HOURS LATER . . .

I submitted my essay.

It wasn’t so much the content that gave me the problem…it was the citations. Goodness! The last essay I wrote that required citations was in 2009 and it was for an education class. We used the American Psychology Association (APA) style manual, and I’m used to working in the Modern Language Association (MLA) style. We were only allowed to use peer-reviewed sources. This meant only reputable library databases would be accepted.

For that essay, I spent at least three weeks on it. I wasn’t taking any chances. Even working on it on and off for three weeks, I submitted it at the last minute, spending most of the time reviewing the references and APA style. It didn’t seem so bad. Most of my citations were from a library database, so once I figured it out for one document, it was the same for the rest. (Yes, I earned an A, by the way.)

So what was the problem with this short, 3-page essay, requiring MLA formatting?

Citations!

Here’s my dilemma: I use a Kindle. I love to read, but with my Kindle, I devour books, reading two or three at the same time, depending on my mood, and getting through two per week. I never did this with printed books, but I love my Kindle. Reading in bed is so much more comfortable, and with my handy-dandy case with a built-in book light, I can read without disturbing my snoring husband.

The Kindle is particularly handy for books I read for my graduate class: words are easy to look up, I can make notes & highlight passages without a pencil, and I can make the letters larger for my tired eyes. I don’t know how I lived without this before!

Reading on my Kindle is excellent, but then mid-essay I was struck with a particular problem. How do I cite my Kindle book? There aren’t page numbers–only an obscure location and a percentage number.

I had the print book as well (yes, having both versions is a bit silly…), but finding one spot in a 396-page novel with only three chapters is particularly tricky.

I searched my go-to documentation resource, Diana Hacker’s Resource and Documentation site, but the only listing close to a Kindle is an e-book. Perhaps Kindle is an e-book, but that just didn’t make sense to me.

So, I did what any modern-day college student would do: I Googled it!

I typed in “cite Kindle book,” and I found this site by Booksprung (a blog about ebooks) containing a tool to convert Kindle locations to book pages. Thank goodness for people who not only know how to do this, but who also want to do it!

Overall, then, I managed to turn in my essay with citations and learn something new! Go figure!

K