Saturday, December 10, 2016

I read a lot. (2016 Reading Challenge Completed!)


Back on January 1st, I saw this Reading Challenge posted on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (how cool is that title?!). I had a New Year's Resolution (I generally don't do those), and I actually completed it for the first time ever. One of my favorite failed resolutions: Wear makeup (it happened for about 2 weeks, typical!).

I decided it would be fun and started a group on Facebook to share the challenge, talk about books, and to keep me accountable. I knew I'd have no problem reading 12 books in 2016 (I am a librarian, after all), but I loved the idea of reading outside of my comfort zone and reading things I otherwise wouldn't have. I'd love if you let me know about what you've been reading. I love to discuss books!

Here's what I ended up reading:

1. A book published this year: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Back in March I got to see one of my favorite Speaker/Librarians/Bloggers, Mr. Schumacher, at a Scholastic event. He spoke about Raymie, which was released in April of this year. It was about a girl named Raymie and 2 of her unlikely friends. They have adventures and learn lessons. I enjoyed it. Kate DiCamillo is always a delight (Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). When I think of Kate DiCamillo, I think of the following quote by E.B. White (author of Charlottes Web and others): "Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding." DiCamillo certainly accomplishes this. Her books are loved by children and adults, just ask Mr. Schu. 

Other books I've read this year that could fit in this category: The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

2. A book you can finish in a day: Shopgirl by Steve Martin

I love this story. I love the movie of the same name that stars Steve Martin, Claire Danes, and Jason Schwartzman. Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes) has a May/December relationship with Ray Porter (Steve Martin). They love each other, but not in the same way. Not unexpectedly, Ray ends up breaking Mirabelle's heart. Meanwhile, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a romantic acquaintance of Mirabelle's, engages in a quest for self-improvement, and grows into a person worthy of Mirabelle. My husband once asked why I like this so much, and if I somehow identify with Mirabelle's love for Ray Porter. That's not what most appeals to me about this novella or movie. It's Jeremy. Though I do love the actor, Jason Schwartzman, I love his character and how he grows up and becomes the right match for Mirabelle. Interestingly, I have the same love for Rob Fleming in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and Will Freeman of About A Boy, again by Nick Hornby. So perhaps it can be concluded I enjoy male characters who mature through the course of the work. If you'd like to psychoanalyze this admission, go ahead. But do report back, I'd be curious.

Most of the graphic novels I read could have been read in a day, but I have mentioned them elsewhere.

3. A book you've been meaning to read: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

A children's novel meant for the intermediate grades (3rd through 5th-ish). It was cute, and I'd definitely recommend it to kids, teachers, and parents. It reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl, beloved author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Another book I read this year that fits this category: Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings (blog post here)

4. A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This year I switched schools and went from an elementary school to a high school. This was a welcome change, though I certainly miss my old students, colleagues, and even the building itself. I left a piece of my heart there (corny, but metaphorically true). To prepare for my new position, I started reading Young Adult titles voraciously. I asked the librarian whose job I replaced (she retired) for recommendations, and I read several books that she suggested, though for whatever reason this is the one I decided fulfilled the Reading Challenge. High school senior Clay Jensen is "gifted" with 7 cassette tapes he soon discovers is the recorded suicide note of his classmate Hannah Baker. On these 7 tapes (13 "sides") are messages for the 13 people who she feels somehow contributed to her decision to kill herself. It's heartbreaking and a little sickening, but also the sort of book that I couldn't put down. I'm a semester in to my new role at the high school, and the kids really like this one, too.

Other books I've read this year that fits this category: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (my review here), Ghostworld by Clowes

5. A book you should have read in school: Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I don't even know where to begin. I loved, loved, LOVED this book. It's a shame I didn't actually read this in high school when I should have, though I do not think I would have appreciated it as much. If you haven't read it, it's about the Joad family trying to survive the Great Depression. They travel west to California hoping to find work, food, etc, only to discover their troubles follow them. What struck me the most about this novel is how kind the Joad family was despite everything terrible that kept happening to them. It didn't matter how hard they worked, they couldn't seem to get ahead. I found this book still relevant 75+ years after it was written.

As far as I can recall, this is the only book I remember actively avoiding in high school (and college!). Were I to have to revisit this category, I would probably pick something that "many people read in school but you somehow missed." And I'd probably go with Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut.

6. A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF: Sorcerer to the Crown by
Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown was recommended to me by my BFF. She recommended it because I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It is definitely a good read-alike, though I did not enjoy Sorcerer nearly as much as the Clarke title. Both titles are about the decline of British magic and how it returns to England. I love the fantasy genre so these were both good picks.

Also recommended to me by my BFF in 2016: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

7. A book published before you were born: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

I read Catcher in the Rye by Salinger a decade or more ago, but I was interested in his short stories. Of the nine stories I enjoyed "For Esme- with Love and Squalor" and "Teddy."I confess, I would read an analysis of the short work immediately after reading the work itself. Salinger's writing isn't always straightforward; some pieces are allegorical and some are more social commentary than an actual stories. I enjoyed this experience, though I'm unlikely to recommend the collection to anyone for pleasure reading, unless they happen to love Catcher.

8. A book that was banned at some point: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book is read by the freshman at my school. They seem to really like it. I LOVED it. It manages to be really funny and really sad. The main character, Junior, attends high school off the reservation, or "rez", and is rejected by his Native American peers. He is largely welcomed by his new high school, but he doesn't quite fit in there, either. So he's caught between home and opportunity. The book also addresses how alcoholism has affected Junior (and thereby describes the role of alcoholism within Native American communities).

9. A book you previously abandoned: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I previously abandoned this book because I started it before Christmas and didn't feel like finishing it after Christmas. So this is the book I just finished today, December 10th. I really enjoyed this one as well. The story is often retold and the moral is an obvious one: be generous/good/kind/etc while you have a chance. Dickens's writing is sometimes a little wordy, but this story was worthwhile. And who doesn't like the opportunity to reflect upon self-improvement?

I didn't read any other books that could satisfy this category, but I tried. I attempted The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien for the 3rd (!) time. I know, I know, it's a short book that kids read. I just cannot. Maybe when my own kids beg me to read it to them, sure, but even then I might pass that task along to my husband.

10. A book you own but have never read: Dead in the Family: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (#10 in a series)

I've read other Sookie Stackhouse novels. Though they are sequential it is not supremely necessary you read 1-9 before you read 10. I think I read them mostly in order over the past several years. They are fun, light reads. If you aren't familiar, the HBO series True Blood is based on these books, though after the first book and first season, they stray very far from each other. I enjoy both the TV series and the books, but as separate works. I appreciate each differently.

11. A book that intimidates you: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

There are lots of books out there that intimidate me. Ulysses by James Joyce, for example. Rather than struggle through a book, I decided to interpret this as intimidating content. The Smartest Kids in the World is by journalist Amanda Ripley, who weaves the stories of three American Exchange students with data and analyses of different education systems that are considered more successful than US schools by certain measures. It was fascinating. What I took away: we (Americans) have a different set of values that do not necessarily include success in school. Other successful education systems have become more successful (as measured by test scores) by improving teacher education: making the process more rigorous and prestigious. Imagine that. Countries that revere teachers have more successful educational outcomes. But, alas, correlation is not causation, and I think our school system (where I live, anyways) is pretty darn good.

Other books that I read in 2016 that intimidated me: Enrique's Journey: The story of a boy's dangerous odessy to to reunite with his mother by Sonia Nazario and I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai

Reflecting upon these 3 books, one could draw the conclusion that I am largely intimidated by nonfiction (probably not untrue).

12. A book you've already read at least once: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

This book just makes me happy. It is an autobiographical work by Raina Telgemeier. She has to have painful dental and orthodontia work as an adolescent, and the story centers around these experiences. Telgemeier is about my age, so it spoke to me (New Kids on the Block Tickets and Caboodles, anyone?). I do have to say kids/preteens/teens LOVE this book, so it's not just people who are 35ish. Telgemeier captures adolescence so perfectly. This is also one of the first graphic novels I read that made me want to read more graphic novels. I highly recommend this book to nearly anyone.

Other books I read this year that fit this category: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (I wrote about it here) and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

So I read at least 12 books that fit these 12 categories and mentioned a few more titles I read in 2016. I actually read more than what I listed here, for work, book clubs, etc. I thought about listing them all, but that intimidated me. Plus, it would take time away from reading more. I do get asked a lot when I find the time to read, and the truth is, I read mostly in the morning while I drink my coffee (between 5 & 6 am). So I read 30 minutes to an hour a day, on average. That amounts to anywhere between 182 and 365 hours a year (I don't keep strict track), so even if it took me 10 hours to read a book (it usually doesn't), I'm on track to read at least 18 books a year. I listed 22 books here and probably read at least a dozen others. Another trick besides early morning reading: I watch less TV than I read. So I watch less than an 30 minutes of TV a day, on average. Not kidding. Sometimes I watch 90 minutes a day (think Gilmore Girls revival), and sometimes I go days without watching any. I do not read books at work, contrary to what many people think about what librarians do all day. I do read for work, but mostly academic articles, excerpts from books, literary analyses, etc. You are very unlikely to find me with a book in hand at my desk.

I don't know if I'll participate in a 2017 Reading Challenge, but I do know I will continue to read for work and for pleasure. I hope you do, too!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day

Today I wear purple for pancreatic cancer awareness day; slacktivism at its finest. Since medical research isn't my thing, I donated to the Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Network (pancan.org) and encourage you to do the same. Why, you ask? I technically had pancreatic cancer at the ripe old age of 33. It was and is a big deal in my life. I got the "good" pancreatic cancer, but it is a diagnosis that I can't forget, as it's not unheard of to show up again 5, 10, or even 15 years after curative surgery. Thankfully this is not what usually happens, but it can, so I see an oncologist regularly and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. My life is different now, and nearly two years later I acknowledge that I'm better because of that experience. At the very least, I appreciate being alive every single day in a way that I could not have fathomed before. I am one of the lucky ones who is still here to help spread awareness and hopefully garner more funds to work towards better survival rates (they're still pretty dismal, though improving). And, maybe someday, an actual cure or prevention strategy. Thank you for reading, and I wish you peace and health, today and every day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bathroom Google Searching

While I was experiencing intestinal distress/revolt, I decided to Google Search myself. It's not something I do regularly, but when stuck in the bathroom for longer than I'd have liked it seemed as good an idea as any. I came across the expected hits: where I work, library board stuff, social media sites, and this article about my cancer debacle. I unexpectedly stumbled upon this article about the death of Corin Sparks (not me!), a young man who was stabbed to death by his brother with a 2-foot Samurai Sword IN FRONT OF THEIR MOTHER. I found this absolutely crazy, and it was a not-so-gentle reminder of how lucky I am. I was not stabbed in the heart by my brother with a Samurai sword during my teenage years.

Honestly, no, I didn't really think about this in a "wow, this could happen to anyone" sense, but I was just amazed that it happened at all.

Why does this belong here on my Things Left Out blog? My answer, "Why not?" I am one letter away from sharing a name with Corin Sparks, and without that coincidence I'd never have known about this death. I immediately felt the need to write down my experience because of how weird it was, so here you go. It's now a couple of days later and I typed what I quickly penned into my notebook, as I still find it an oddity that needs to be shared.


My challenge to you: Google search yourself and see what you get. Anything weirder? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

In which I quote Wayne's World... a lot.


Confession: I love Wayne's World. In fact, I have dressed as Garth on more than one occasion (usually only for costume parties ;) ). Bohemian Rhapsody came on in the car today when I was in AURORA, home of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar. It was perfectly poetic and it prompted me to watch the video clip on YouTube, embedded here for your viewing pleasure:


If you took the time to watch the clip, note that the White Castle is the actual White Castle in Aurora, a mere minutes away from my house! 

So, what's the point of me sharing my love for a very 90's movie born out of SNL sketch comedy? First, so you get to know me a bit better. I told you what you see is what you get, and if you didn't know I can pull off a pretty good Garth, you don't really know me. Second, to remind anyone reading this about how AWESOME Wayne's World is. Lastly, to paint a picture of the comfort in the familiar as well as the comfort in the memory of a simpler time in my life.

If the preceding paragraphs don't serve as evidence for my love for Wayne's World (and Wayne's World 2), maybe this anecdote will: I quoted Wayne's World 2 in my last job interview. (Spoiler alert: I got the job, so either the appreciated my sense of humor or they had no idea I was quoting the movie.) The choice quote: "If you book them, they will come." The spirit of Jim Morrison wisely tells Wayne and Garth that's how they will get bands to play their Aurora concert, and (Spoiler alert again!) it works. Aerosmith shows up. AEROSMITH! I didn't just blurt out this quote randomly, it actually answered the interview question perfectly. It's pretty good life advice: if you set an expectation, it is much more likely to be met than if you didn't bother to set the expectation at all. At the very least, it was a better quote than Wayne's "It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine." That probably wouldn't go over very well in a job interview, nor would "We're not worthy! We're scum! We suck!" help you get a job, though it did help Wayne and Garth get away from the very awesome Alice Cooper. 



There is both comfort in the familiar and comfort in remembering simpler times. I watched Wayne's World a countless number of times in my youth, long before I had a close encounter with my mortality. Remembering the movie brings back a little piece of the unadulterated me, as does listening to Q101, and memories of an MTV with TRL and music videos and Loveline. I am so grateful to be growing older (better than the alternative!), but I am also grateful for the glimpses of the young me, the person with unlimited potential and endless possibilities, the person with a whole pancreas who had no idea what it felt like to be really, really unwell. I'd venture to guess everyone has their own version of "the good ol' days," though I have no desire to return to them. Garth doesn't need to tell me to "Live in the now!" because I make a point to do just that. Additionally, adulthood does have its perks, such as buying fancy guitars, playing hockey in the street, and headbanging to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in a car that is not owned by your parents. 

Party on! 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Why not me, revisited


Prior to the fall of 2014, I did not feel connected to Steve Jobs in any real way, besides having owned an iPod and an Apple computer or two. The doctor who was given the task of telling me about my pancreatic tumor introduced the diagnosis by telling me what it "probably" wasn't- pancreatic adenocarcinoma. So I said, "Oh, like Patrick Swayze?" Him: "Yes." Me: "Or Steve Jobs?" Him: "Wait just a minute there. Steve Jobs had a neuroendocrine tumor, which can be curable. We think you might have a neuroendocrine tumor." I absorbed the gravity of the potential diagnosis from my knowledge of Steve Jobs, a very public figure who died of pancreatic cancer relatively recently (he died in 2011). While I did not end up having the "Steve Jobs" variety of pancreatic cancer, I did have a Whipple surgery like he did. I did have "a" variety of pancreatic cancer like he did, though it wasn't the same histology (type of tumor tissue). So, I feel a bit of a connection to Steve Jobs.

I came across this Steve jobs quote the other day as I was creating the image for the Julian of Norwich quote ("All shall be well..."): "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."  I was instantly attracted to the quote itself, and then I saw to whom the quote is attributed. Steve Jobs. I had to save this one for later! So I created another image with his fantastic message. 


As I tried to make peace with my trial of an illness, I didn't wonder "Why me?" I decided to question, "Why not me?" Or I tried to, at least. "Why me?" is a pity-seeking question in my opinion. To me, "Why not me?" means that I am like everyone else. I am not more or less deserving of good or bad things. So, I got a tumor. "Why me?" is not a really productive thought to ponder, but "Why not me?" grounded me to the idea that the random and bad things that can happen are just that: random. Maybe you already see how this world view of mine relates to people being crazy enough to believe they can change the world, maybe you don't. Simply: People do make a difference. Why can't I be one of those people? I can! Why not me? Why can't you be one of those people? You can! Why not you? 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

All will be well



I'm not a regular churchgoer, though I sometimes attend a local Universal Unitarian Sunday service. I heard these wise words during the "For All Ages" part of a poetry-themed service, though the speaker changed "shall" to "will," probably to make the saying more understandable to the younger folk. The speaker said this was a poem he kept in "his back pocket." While it's not a poem, exactly, it's a good saying to have at the ready. It's a really eloquent (and poetic) way of saying, "It's going to be alright!" I now prefer Julian of Norwich's positive spin to my oft-used, back-pocketed saying, "This too shall pass." 

During my two-week-stay at the surgical telemetry suite, I communicated with my family though text and video chats. I distinctly remember typing to my husband, "This will be behind us soon." All shall be well. 13 of the 14 days I was in the hospital, I held on to the hope that this experience was but a blip, that I would soon return to normal. All would be well. On that one day, Day 10 as it were, I had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good,Very Bad Day. I blogged a bit about that day back in October 2015. On that dark day, I lost sight of the larger picture. I did not reassure myself that all shall be well. I didn't know that saying yet, so maybe that was the problem. 

How do you get through your dark days? 



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Leave your mark: part 2

"The thing I realize is that it's not what you take, it's what you leave." 
-Violet, via Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places

It's no secret that I love books. I am a librarian, after all. The past seven years I have been working with elementary school-aged children, and I have loved (almost) every minute of it. However, the time has come for me to move on to something different. I am moving to our district's high school, so my student body and thus reading material has had to change considerably. There's a lot I have to catch up on. The quote above is from Jennifer Niven's book All the Bright Places. If you read this post about making your mark, you know my approach to this goal has changed since my illness. Making my mark is about what I leave, not in the "when I leave this world" sense, but in the "what can I do today to make the world a better place" sense. 

For me, this quest to make the world a better place includes my quest to become a better human. Professionally, I constantly work on improving my craft and bettering my students' educational experiences. Personally, I strive for self improvement. As my career progresses in time and in responsibility/success, the line between my professional self and my personal self not only becomes blurred, but it is starting to disappear entirely. In other words, I present myself honestly and consistently across the different "categories" of my life. What you see is what you get. My colleagues, fellow library trustees, social club friends, etc., all know the same person that my family knows: ME. 

I'm pretty sure I was the same way before surgery, but I was perhaps a bit more guarded than I am now. I'm honestly not sure. I'm the now me, as I ever am (as we all ever are). As time moves me further away from my illness, surgery, and recovery, I reflect less on how this experience has changed me, which is evident by my lack of writing on this particular blog. I spend more time reflecting on how to do better, how to be a better human. If you'll stay with me, I'll continue to write about my quest. Not as a documentation of the things that I do that I perceive as "good," but as a challenge to myself to "put my money where my mouth is." This week I've been all about reading inspirational quotes, so look forward to that- hardy har har. 

And now, one of the most confusing quotes from one of my favorite pieces, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland: 

"'Be what you would seem to be’–or if you’d like it put more simply–‘Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'" -The Duchess