Books that Will Inspire You to Make a Difference in Education

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So, maybe you’ve been hearing and reading a lot about education lately, and you’re wondering why it’s such a big deal? Or maybe you already care a lot about education, but you want to learn more about all the interconnected issues involved? Or possibly you’re a teacher or education advocate and you want some books to recommend to people who come to you with those very questions?

Here are six books that will not only teach you about some of the factors affecting education today in the U.S. and internationally, but also make you want to roll up your sleeves and get to work helping improve the lives and education of all children.

 

The Bee Eater by Richard Whitmire and Radical by Michelle Rhee

A biography and a memoir, respectively, both books detail the life and work of controversial former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. From her days teaching in inner-city Baltimore with Teach for America, to her founding of education reform nonprofit Students First, Rhee’s life and career have been focused on improving public education for every child in America. Her memoir, Radical, contains a call to action to every single person who cares about the state of our nation’s schools to take the first step toward creating a better future for all children.

 

Educating All God’s Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham

Coming from a religious perspective, award-winning educator Fulgham’s book is a challenge to Christians and other people of faith to include in their core beliefs the idea that faith should lead us to urgently champion reform in public schools, especially for children in the most poverty-stricken areas.

 

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis

Yale Early Childhood Education professor Christakis’ book focuses specifically on how and what children learn in preschool, before the age of five. She examines the current state of early childhood education for the vast majority of children, explaining that the scripted lessons, prepackaged crafts, and strictly regulated time constraints are all contrary to how children learn and grow at this young age.

Using her many years of experience and research, Christakis argues that a more free-form, open-ended, and play-based approach to learning is far more appropriate for young children’s development, intellectually, physically, and emotionally. She also highlights stories of schools that are “doing it right,” conveying some much-needed hope for the future of preschool.

 

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Louv’s landmark book on the rise of nature-deficit disorder, and how it harms children, has become a modern classic of child development. It points out that before the rise of the internet and 24-hour news channels, fear for children’s safety outdoors was much lower, so most kids spent a lot of time outside. But with the advent of both highly immersive technologies targeted toward children and adults’ increasing awareness of crime in the news, children have been spending more and more of their free time indoors, and less and less time outside.

Louv’s research points to the vitality of time spent outdoors in nature to a child’s physical, emotional, and social development. Since its publication in 2005, Last Child in the Woods has inspired an international movement and hundreds of organizations that get kids outside to learn about nature, at the same time learning how to love and help conserve the environment.

 

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Through his organization, Central Asia Institute, Greg Mortenson has built over 200 schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three Cups of Tea is the story of how his very first school project came to be. Both adventure story and testament to the human spirit, the book offers a look at the vibrancy of the lives of the people Mortenson encountered on his quest to build schools for the children, especially girls, in the areas most affected by the Taliban. At times heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting, this is a book that will open your mind and heart to what can be possible when an ordinary person goes to extraordinary lengths to keep their promise.

 

Summer Reading Adventures

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Is summer reading fundamentally different from reading during any other season? I mean, not really. But there is something about reading in the summer months that just seems a little more lighthearted, or adventurous, or even magical.

Maybe it’s a residual impression from school days, when summer itself came with the promise of freedom and adventure, even if I never left my own backyard. Then later, in college, when summer meant that nothing dictated my reading choices but my own whims.

Or maybe it has something to do with the pattern of major film releases; summer is usually full of action blockbusters and superhero movies, more so than other seasons, so that could transfer over into my reading choices, too.

Whatever the reason, there are certain books and even genres or subgenres that in my mind are best read in summer. In the summer, I want a book to read that seems to fit thematically with the warm weather and long hours of daylight. A book to read on the beach or a long plane ride, or sitting out on the patio with a glass of iced tea. Often, a book that will transport me to another world, or another time, or offer a glimpse of a corner of this world most people don’t get to see.

Fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery/thriller, and historical fiction can all fit the bill. And there are also certain classics, children’s books, and nonfiction books that I’ll always associate with summer. So maybe it’s not even any particular genre or genres that I think of as “summery,” but just certain books, for whatever reason.

Here are just a few books that will always be “summer reads” to me:

 

1. Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady

When Jane Austen died in 1817, she left behind an eleven-chapter fragment of a novel, what would have been her seventh. In the 200 years since, there have been several attempts to complete it, based on the small number of clues within the text as to where the story was headed. This 1975 continuation is commonly considered the best of those attempts.

I will always think of this as a summer book, mostly for the obvious reason of its taking place, for the most part, in the summer, and in a fictional English seaside town known for its beaches. The story from the point where Austen’s original manuscript leaves off stays true to the spirit of Austen’s completed novels, with a level-headed heroine, an agreeable hero, a bit of domestic intrigue in the subplots, and lighthearted comedy and witty dialogue throughout. It’s truly a perfect beach read.

Perfect for fans of: Jane Austen, duh

 

2. The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin

I first read Cronin’s epic horror/science fiction trilogy last summer (it took the entire month of August because each of the three books is over 800 pages long), and I’ve been thinking it’s time for a re-read. Each book tells parallel stories, one an account of the first months of a viral outbreak that turns 90% of the population into scary vampire-like creatures, and the other of the struggles of human communities a century in the future, in the new world created by the outbreak.

I think of this series as a summer read not only because I first read it in the summer, but also because I think if the books were made into movies, they would be summer blockbusters for sure. The first book is actually being made into a TV series this year, which I think is probably a better medium for it than film, but the show is on FOX, so who knows how they’ll mess it up and how long it will last before it’s cancelled.

Perfect for fans of: Stephen King; Dracula; Twilight or Vampire Diaries, but you’re a grown-up now and you want vampires to be scary

 

3. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Sometimes when you’re picking out a summer read to beat the heat, you want a book that takes place in a really cold setting, like, say, the summit of Mt. Everest. Krakauer’s journalism background is put to good use in his visceral descriptions of the mountain, the base camps, the city of Kathmandu, and the cast of characters he encounters in his real-life account of one of the deadliest seasons on Everest in history. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the subject matter, Into Thin Air is so good that you just need to read it anyway. Trust me.

Perfect for fans of: Into the Wild; adventure stories; really, really good writing

 

4. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Really, any of Mary Stewart’s novels could fit the description of a great summer read. Many of her earlier books fall into a subgenre known as romantic suspense; most involve a young woman who arrives in a new place where things are not as they seem, as she quickly learns, and there may be a bit of danger and a dash of romance.

Nine Coaches Waiting was the first Stewart novel I read, and it remains my favorite. Linda Martin is a young English woman with limited means who accepts a position as a nanny for a wealthy French family in their ancestral chateau. Jane Eyre-like, she slowly discovers that the house, and the family, may be hiding some dark secrets, even as she may be feeling a bit of a romantic spark with Raoul, the oldest son of the house. But can she trust him?

Perfect for fans of: Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, but you want something a bit lighter; Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

 

5. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I don’t know if I can really adequately describe The Eyre Affair, or any of Fforde’s books. They sort of defy genre. This is going to sound super weird, but basically, picture a universe where we can actually enter the fictional worlds of books and interact with the characters, but this also means that there’s a lot of mischief and meddling and even outright crime going on in the pages of novels that isn’t supposed to be there, so enter Jurisfiction, the book police. Thursday Next is an officer for Jurisfiction, and in the first novel in the series, The Eyre Affair, she has to go in to the world of Jane Eyre to fix the plot. There’s a lot of other stuff going on too, like with time travel and alternate realities, but I can’t really explain it. You’ll just have to read the books.

Perfect for fans of: Jane Eyre and other classic literature, but only if you don’t take it too seriously; Monty Python; puns and wordplay

 

6. Tales of Magic collection by Edward Eager

Less well-known than the Chronicles of Narnia, but in a similar spirit, these seven interconnected children’s novels have all the magic and mystery of the Narnia books, but with a little more humor and from an American sensibility. The summer I was 10, I devoured these books as quickly as I could get them from my local library. I still revisit them from time to time, and almost always in the summer, to relive that childlike wonder. I think Knight’s Castle will always be my favorite, and Half Magic, Eager’s first novel, is near-iconic, but they are all fantastic.

Perfect for fans of: Harry Potter; The Chronicles of Narnia; A Series of Unfortunate Events

 

What are your favorite books to reread in the summer? Let me know in the comments, and happy reading!

Falling in Love Over Books

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This is a story about the moment I fell in love, but it begins many years ago…

1992

Like many book-loving, introverted girls whose childhoods coincided with the years of the Disney Renaissance, I always saw myself in Belle from Beauty and the Beast, only the version of myself that I thought I could only dream of being. She’s her own person, independent; she doesn’t care that the people in her village think she’s weird; she dreams of adventure out in the world; and most of all, she loves books.

There weren’t many things I knew for certain about myself when I was four, but I knew unequivocally that I loved books.

I don’t remember learning to read–according to my mother, I picked it up around the age of three or four as naturally and organically as a baby speaking her first words or taking her first steps (no doubt thanks to the example she herself set for me; there were always lots of books in the house, and I saw my mother reading all the time)–but I do remember learning how to use the library, and learning just what kind of books I liked to read. Fairy tales, adventure stories, tales of the magical and fantastical, stories featuring plucky young heroines who go on quests and break curses and find the strength to be themselves. (They might have love interests, or they might not; it didn’t matter. Romance was wonderful, but not essential.)

So when I watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time at the age of four, I was Belle, and Belle was me. And when the Beast showed Belle the castle library for the first time and told her it was hers, and she fell just a tiny bit in love with him, I fell in love a little bit, too. I didn’t fully understand, and wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but from then on I had a deep sense that my own love story would be intrinsically tied to books and reading.

2003

Belle was my icon and role model throughout my formative years. There were many times I found myself assessing circumstances and wondering what Belle would do in my shoes. Even when I got older, and would never have admitted to my middle school classmates that I was modeling my behavior and personality after a Disney Princess.

At 15, I found another kindred spirit, and discovered my favorite author, when I read Pride and Prejudice. I’m sure every Jane Austen fan has a story about reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, and mine is probably pretty unremarkable, but to me it was transformative. Just as I had seen myself, or the self I wanted to be, in Belle, Elizabeth Bennet was everything I aspired to: intelligent and witty, fiercely independent, a fellow reader and book lover, and she gets no fewer than three marriage proposals over the course of the book. (There’s something innately fascinating to a 15-year-old about a woman who receives three marriage proposals, even if two are from the same man.)

What I’ve always loved most about the love story in Pride and Prejudice is that Darcy sees and embraces all of Lizzy’s qualities, even those seen as a little odd, and he loves her all the more for them. He loves that she’s a reader, and subtly defends her against Caroline’s veiled digs at her reading habits. If I got nothing else out of Pride and Prejudice at 15, I learned that someday, far in the future, I wanted to find a man who would embrace my quirks, and see my obsession with books as an endearing quality.

2015

It was one of those gorgeous days in early October, when the sky seems to be blissfully unaware of the dark clouds and rain that will arrive within the month, when the mornings are chilly but the afternoons are like that sweet spot of summer. And one of those days that is made even more beautiful by new love.

We had been dating for about six weeks when we decided to take a day trip to Portland. He had lived there for a few years, so he knew all the best places to eat. And of course, I wanted to go to Powell’s. If you’re a book lover in the Pacific Northwest, you have to visit Powell’s at least once every couple years or so, and it had been awhile for me.

But first we spent three hours driving down, listening to ’90s pop and drinking pumpkin spice lattes. Our first stop in Portland was Blue Star Donuts (only tourists go to Voodoo; well… I guess we were technically tourists but not that kind of tourists) before a visit to the Pittock Mansion, a 1914 house-turned-history-museum, where I learned that my highest aspiration is to have a writing room in my house someday.

After lunch, it was finally time for Powell’s. As we were walking in, he turned to me to talk about the game plan: “Okay, so we’re getting all the books you want, plus whatever you think I should read.”

“Okay, so we’re getting all the books you want, plus whatever you think I should read.”

This was it. The Beast giving Belle his library. Mr. Darcy saying he likes women who read. This was that moment.

And that’s when I knew.

 

 

Photo credit: image by Usbkabel, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Every Book Mentioned on The Office

It probably isn’t the first show you’d think of when discussing “bookish” TV shows, but over the course of its nine seasons, The Office did quite a bit of literary name-dropping.

There was that episode with the Finer Things Club, which is basically an immersive, themed book club (I’d love to join, but I might not make the cut; it’s very exclusive). There was the fire alarm episode (when Ryan burned the cheesy pita), when the group discusses what books they’d bring to a desert island. And of course there are Toby’s Chad Flenderman novels (although, since those unfortunately don’t exist in our universe, they’re not on my list here, and neither is James Trickington’s guide to throwing a garden party). Plus, several of the main characters seem to be at least casual readers and talk about books from time to time.

So, inspired by the Gilmore Girls reading challenge, I decided there was no better way to spend my free time than by rewatching every single episode of The Office to note every single book ever mentioned on the show. But I quickly realized that would take far too long, so I found OfficeQuotes.net, a site that has transcriptions of every single episode, plus webisodes and deleted scenes. Check it out, it’s pretty cool.

Here is the (hopefully) complete list of every single book mentioned on The Office:

 

Season 2, Episode 4, “The Fire”

During the Jim-facilitated game of “Desert Island,” people are challenged to name the three books they could read for the rest of their lives.

  • The Bible (Angela)
  • A Purpose Driven Life (also Angela)
  • The DaVinci Code (Phyllis, to Angela’s disgust)
  • Physician’s Desk Reference (Dwight; hollowed out to store survival gear)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (also Dwight, who then changes his mind)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Dwight)

 

Season 2, Episode 18: “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

As if we weren’t all in love with Jim already, he seals the deal by bonding with Abby, Kevin’s fiancee’s daughter, over E. L. Konigsburg’s classic middle grade novel.

  • Der Struwwelpeter

This is a real book. I googled it. It’s a German children’s book of moral stories and accompanying illustrations and the title translates to “shock-headed Peter.” But, though Dwight says the book is from 1864, it was actually published in 1845.

I have to say, the literary references in this episode are deliciously obscure and totally on-point, which isn’t surprising considering it was written by the incomparable Mindy Kaling.

 

Season 3, Episode 6: “Diwali”

  • The Kama Sutra

Another Kaling episode.

 

Season 4, Episode 3: “Launch Party”

  • Green Eggs and Ham
  • Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Michael is excited to see Ryan after Ryan’s promotion to corporate, and wants to give him a copy of the Dr. Seuss classic often given as a graduation gift, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, but the store is sold out of it, so he buys Green Eggs and Ham instead.

 

Season 4, Episode 5: “Local Ad”

I don’t know if this counts because they don’t mention a specific book, but Phyllis is tasked with recruiting author Sue Grafton to appear in the local Dunder Mifflin ad the office workers are making. I include it here only because it’s one of the funniest dialogue exchanges of the entire series, in my opinion:

Phyllis: [gasps] Sue Grafton is at the Steamtown Mall. She’s doing a book signing right now.

Michael: Okay, okay, Phyllis this is what I want you to do. I want you to go down to the mall. I want you to get in line. I want you to get her to be in this commercial. This would be a huge coupe [I feel it’s important to note that he actually pronounces the “p”], people. All right? Do not take no for an answer.

Phyllis: Okay.

Andy: Does anyone actually know what Sue Grafton looks like? I mean, is she hot or-?

Creed: She’s crazy hot.

Andy: Well then maybe we should just use Angela and say she’s Sue Grafton. Would anyone notice?

Angela: That’s not happening.

 

Season 4, Episode 6: “Branch Wars”

Mindy Kaling wrote this episode, too. Are we starting to see a pattern? This is the episode with the very exclusive Finer Things Club. In the episode, we get to see four books that the club reads, as well as the themed food and decor to go with them:

  • A Room With a View (with classic English tea service)
  • The House of the Spirits (with traditional Chilean food)
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (with sushi and Japanese tea service)
  • Angela’s Ashes (with potatoes, dark beer, and newsie caps)

There’s also a fifth Finer Things Club meeting we see where Pam, Oscar, and Toby are wearing berets and eating fruit and gesticulating over a painting, but we never get to see the book cover.

 

Season 5, Episode 1: “Weight Loss”

  • Lonesome Dove

On Jim’s advice, Michael is trying to get to know Holly as friends before asking her out, and he learns that she’s read this book three times. I find this such a sweet detail, so simple, and yet it tells us so much about Holly’s character.

 

Season 5, Episode 19: “Golden Ticket”

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I don’t know if my explanation can really do this episode justice, so you should just watch it. Eventually you get to this dialogue:

Michael: [bursting into the conference room] There is no movie called Willy Wonka. It’s called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Pam: It’s actually based on a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Dwight: Pam…

Michael: I can’t… vouch for that.

 

Season 6, Episode 8*: “Double Date”

This is another reference that might not exactly count under the strictest criteria, as it doesn’t mention a specific book, but again, it is really funny. While breaking up with Pam’s mom Helene, Michael tells her, “You need somebody who– who understands your references. Who is Kafkaesque? I’ve never– I don’t know him.”

 

Season 6, Episode 12*: “Secret Santa”

  • The Kite Runner

Ryan has Toby for Secret Santa, and gives him a copy of The Kite Runner and a kite. Nice job, Ryan!

 

Season 6, Episode 19*: “Happy Hour”

  • Iacocca: An Autobiography

After Michael tells Donna about Somehow I Manage, the management book he’s writing, she recommends that he read Lee Iacocca’s classic business-focused autobiography.

*A note about episode numbers in season 6: This season featured the two-part episode “Niagara,” which is officially considered one episode, but is listed as two separate episodes if you’re looking at it on Netflix, so my episode numbers here don’t match the ones on Netflix.

 

Season 7, Episode 18: “Garage Sale”

Kelly gives up her collection of Jennifer Weiner and Helen Fielding novels in exchange for a half-used candle from Dwight, who is attempting to get the biggest prize he can through the art of the swap at the office garage sale. I kind of love that they made Kelly a reader, although from the looks of the stack of books Dwight picks up, she may not have actually read those novels.

 

Season 9, Episode 3: “Andy’s Ancestry”

  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
  • Basic French

Erin and Darryl are study buddies. Erin is trying to learn French to impress Andy’s family, and Darryl is learning some time-saving life hacks.

 

Season 9, Episode 18: “Promos”

  • 50 Shades of Grey

I can’t believe this is on this list. And that the very last book ever mentioned on The Office is 50 Shades of Grey. Sorry, guys.

 

 

So there they are, all 22 specific books mentioned on The Office, plus a few more book-related references. If I missed any, let me know!

I don’t know if we really learned anything through this, except maybe that Mindy Kaling is my hero, but I already knew that. Happy reading!

Five TED Talks to Help You Fall in Love with Reading (Again)

IMG_2325Who doesn’t love a good TED Talk? They’re usually reasonably short, endlessly fascinating, and you always feel super smart and inspired afterward, or at least I do. There are TED Talks on pretty much any topic imaginable, but the ones I like watching the most are about (no surprise here) books, literature, and language. Here are a few of my favorites.


 

1. “My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World” –Ann Morgan

A few years ago, I embarked upon a Summer of Reading Dangerously, but this is seriously hardcore. In this talk, Ann Morgan recounts how one day she was looking at her bookshelves and realized that all her books were almost exclusively written by British and North American authors, most of whom were white.

She was not OK with this (nor should be anyone), so she decided to challenge herself to read one novel, short story collection, or poetry collection from every country in the world (as recognized by the United Nations, plus Taiwan).

Morgan soon realized what a daunting task it would be to find a book from 196 different countries that had been translated into English, so she turned to the internet for help. She started a blog and in her first entry, posted an appeal to the world for suggestions. Soon support and help from all corners of the globe came flooding in, and Morgan came to realize that her story was about so much more than just her personal project:

“It’s the story of the power books have to connect us across political, geographical, cultural, social, religious divides. It’s the tale of the potential human beings have to work together.”

 

2. How Books Can Open Your Mind”–Lisa Bu

Lisa Bu’s childhood was shaped by the Chinese cultural revolution in the 1970s. When she came to the U.S. as a young adult, she delighted in reading many books that had been banned in China, including Jane Eyre and the Bible.

Her short-and-sweet talk is a celebration of the liberating and enlightening power of books. She describes how she likes to read books “in pairs” to compare ideas, and how being bilingual opens up opportunities for new connections between books, people, and cultures.

“Books have given me a magic portal to connect with people of the past and the present.”

 

3. “Designing Books Is No Laughing Matter. OK, It Is.”–Chip Kidd

Chip Kidd probably has the coolest job in the world. He designs book covers for the Knopf publishing company. He explains in his talk how a book designer’s job is to ask the question: “What do the stories look like?” The book cover is your first impression of the book, so it has to be a good one.

With laugh-out-loud humor, Kidd tells several stories about the inspiration and idea development behind a few of his famous book cover designs, including Katharine Hepburn’s memoir Me and Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. His story about how he designed the cover for Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park will make you both marvel at the genius of it and cackle at your computer screen.

As much as I love my Kindle, he also makes a good point about ebooks: the art of the book cover is lost in electronic format, which is one reason why ink-and-paper books will never really go away.

“A book cover is a distillation. It is a haiku, if you will, of the story.”

 

4. “The Danger of a Single Story”–Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Celebrated Nigerian novelist Adiche delivers this powerful and inspiring talk about the vitality of representation in literature. She tells of when she began writing stories as a child, when the only stories she had read were about British and American children, so the children she wrote about looked and acted and talked like white British or American children.

But when she discovered African literature, her whole world opened up: ”I learned that girls like me, whose skin was the color of chocolate… could also exist in literature.”

Ultimately, Adiche’s story is about not relying on a “single story,” but reading many stories to enrich and expand our views, and ensure that every child can see that people who look like them can exist in literature.

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

 

5. “Adventures in Twitter Fiction”–Andrew Fitzgerald

TwitFic? Or TwitLit? Either way, it’s a thing. Fitzgerald’s talk explores the fascinating ways people have used Twitter as a storytelling tool, format, and publishing platform.

He starts with a comparison to the days of radio–a brand new medium in the 1930s that quickly transformed the way people consumed stories. Then he gives the examples of the New Yorker Fiction Twitter account “broadcasting” a fragment of a Jennifer Egan short story every evening, 140 characters at a time, and a story by Elliott Holt called “Evidence,” told from multiple characters’ perspectives, through multiple Twitter accounts, and many more examples of fanfiction, history, and current events storytelling, all using Twitter.

It’s exciting to think that new formats and platforms can help people distribute their stories more widely, and fascinating that those very platforms can become part of the story.

“A new medium defines new formats, which then define new stories.”

 

Word Nerd Bonus: “The Joy of Lexicography”–Erin McKean

Did I say Chip Kidd had the coolest job in the world? I’ve changed my mind. Erin McKean actually has the coolest job in the world. As she delights in telling the audience, McKean is a lexicographer. You guys, she gets paid to find and study new words and basically just be an expert on dictionaries.

In her talk she gives a brief and entertaining look at the history of the dictionary in the English language, noting the many limitations of dictionaries in book-form. She argues that for our language to continue to grow and thrive, we need to look beyond what will fit on printed pages to define what words and language mean to us.

“Being in the dictionary is an artificial distinction. It doesn’t make a word more real than any other way. If you love a word it becomes real.”

In Honor of the Royal Wedding: My Favorite Royalty-Related Books

mugI was originally planning to live-blog the Royal Wedding, just like I did for William and Kate’s wedding seven years ago, but as I sit here at 3 a.m. in my sweatpants and tiara, with my tea in my Queen Elizabeth II 1977 Silver Jubilee mug that I got at a garage sale, I’m thinking more about the social and historical significance of this event than the event itself.

You see, I’ve read a lot about royalty. My typical-little-girl obsession with princesses never really went away; it just sort of evolved and deepened and acquired nuance. Royalty is fascinating, and it has evolved quite a bit as well over the centuries. Many people think it’s an outdated concept, that the world has moved beyond the need for these rich, gracious, and apolitical figureheads. But many others argue that monarchies, especially constitutional monarchies, are good for a nation’s culture and economy.

I’m intrigued by these deeper questions around the political science of modern monarchy and royal individuals, but I also still just really want to be a princess and wear a tiara.

Here are just a few of my favorite books about royalty, both real and fictional:

(Edit: as I was compiling this list and writing this post, I slowly realized that the idea of royalty represented here is pretty Euro- and Anglo-centric, which, especially considering the background of the bride today, seems like a glaring oversight. Therefore, after I finish this post, I’m going to begin to research and read about non-white, non-European royalty. Maybe I’ll even edit this list in the future to reflect what I learn!)

  • On Royalty – Jeremy Paxman

This selection seems a little on-the-nose, but I can’t ignore what may be the definitive contemporary work on the modern British Royal family, the recent history that led to its current state, and its connections to and impacts on the rest of the world. Plus it’s wickedly funny, and there’s a photo of the Queen wearing a hot pink coat on the cover, so what’s not to love?

  • Queen of Fashion – Caroline Weber

The subtitle of this book is “What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution,” but it’s really about the fashion choices she made (and that were made for her) throughout her life, and how those choices affected her nation and ultimately history. It’s such an interesting lens through which to view one of my favorite historical figures, an often misunderstood and stereotyped historical figure. The extremely powerful last chapter describes what she wore to her execution: “Though imposed by her enemies’ restrictions and her own meager resources in the Concierge, Marie Antoinette’s white outfit just may have been the most brilliant fashion statement of her entire career… Even before she reached the guillotine, this aspect of her history, her body, her being, had been erased–leaving her only white.”

  • Someday My Prince Will Come – Jerramy Fine

I see so much of myself in this memoir, it’s comical. Fine’s childhood obsession with princesses and overwhelming desire to be one mirrors my own, but she took hers waaaay farther than I would ever think of doing. She actually planned the trajectory of her life and career to put herself in the path of the “prince” she felt destined to marry to fulfill her royal destiny. (I put “prince” in quotation marks because the man Fine envisioned as her royal soul mate was Peter Phillips, who is a grandson of the Queen but technically bears no royal title. Fine even discusses this irony and laughs a little at herself in the epilogue.)

  • The Queen of the Tearling trilogy – Erika Johansen

If you’ve read anything about this trilogy on the internet, you may already know that the ending of the final book really pissed off a lot of people. I don’t want to spoil anything, though. After all, this is a royalty post, so I’ll just focus on that. The first book of this epic fantasy trilogy details princess Kelsea’s struggles to claim her throne after the death of her mother and establish herself as queen within a kingdom that’s falling apart. There are the inevitable comparisons to the Song of Ice and Fire series in discussion about the Tearling books, and I suppose that’s fair; both deal with political intrigue and violence in fantasy kingdoms. But what makes these books different is their focus on one sole protagonist and her struggle to balance political power with social justice.

  • A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver – E. L. Konigsburg

Who would have thought that Eleanor of Aquitaine, a controversial twelfth century duchess and queen, would make the perfect subject for a children’s book? I devoured this middle grade novel when I was ten, and looking back I can see that it was partly responsible for helping evolve my pretty pretty princess phase into a more in-depth interest in real-life royalty and the history behind it.

  • The Princess Diaries series – Meg Cabot

I credit Meg Cabot for my middle school fantasy of discovering that I was actually the heir to the throne of a small European principality and therefore a princess. I love that Princess Mia’s struggles are just like that of an average teenager, except she also has that whole royalty thing to deal with. The movies take a pretty stark departure from the books, but they’re still good. The second movie even has a royal wedding in it, which brings me full circle. See what I did there?

All right, folks, I have book club this morning, so I’m going to take a nap for a couple hours. Congratulations to Prince Harry! Even though it didn’t work out between us, I’m still happy for him. And Meghan is now officially my favorite princess. Ok, time for sleep. Goooojg’pWgj;hg;

 

25 Little Pick-Me-Ups that Cost Nothing*

*Ok, so a lot of these ideas involve using items that you would have had to buy at some point, but if they’re items you already have, you don’t have to spend any more money, ok? Also, I know this isn’t entirely about books, but self-care is important for everyone, as book lovers well know!

  1. Pop in a favorite DVD

When was the last time you watched your favorite movie? If it’s been a long time, pop in that disc or click on that streaming icon and rediscover why this is your fave!

  1. Have a mini dance party

Queue up a playlist on Spotify or YouTube and dance around your living room. Instant mood booster!

  1. Change your bedsheets—and make your bed!

Never underestimate the power of clean bed linens to make you feel relaxed and cozy.

  1. Have a cup of tea/coffee/cocoa

A comforting beverage to warm your heart. Or make it iced if it’s hot out!

  1. Go for a walk

Stretch those legs, get some fresh air, and explore your neighborhood.

  1. Do some yoga

There are some great tutorials on YouTube. Yoga has been proven to help people relax and de-stress!

  1. Take a bath or shower

Use that fancy body wash or bath bomb your mom gave you for your birthday. Follow up with lotion and comfy pajamas!

  1. Read an old favorite book

Do you remember what your favorite book was when you were 15? What about at ten? Five? If you can get your hands on a copy, reread it and feel like a kid again!

  1. Rearrange your furniture or decor

It’s amazing how seeing a familiar space in a new way can help you break out of a rut and find new possibilities wherever you look.

  1. Break out the art supplies

Draw, paint, sculpt, whatever. Maybe you’re not an artist, but that’s ok! Remember a couple years ago when adult coloring books were super popular? Chances are during that time, you either bought one for yourself or received one as a gift, and chances are you’ve only colored like one and a half pages in it. So pull it out, sharpen your colored pencils, and color!

  1. Write something

Write in your journal, on your blog, or on an old-fashioned typewriter. Write a poem, an essay, a short story, a letter, or a piece of a novel. Write about what you had for lunch today, or write about flying gas creatures on Jupiter. Just write!

  1. Organize a closet or room

Apparently, tidying up is supposed to be magical or something.

  1. Visit the library

Libraries aren’t just for books! You can get a library card for free at most public libraries, which will give you access to all kinds of media. You can go “shopping” for new books, movies, music, and more, all for free! Libraries are also quiet—great places to sit and read, write, draw, or just think.

  1. Listen to some soothing or inspiring music

Lay down, close your eyes, and let the music take you away.

  1. Look at photos from a vacation or special event that has good memories for you and reminisce

Good times.

  1. Cook something

If you have the ingredients, try out one of those recipes from your Pinterest board. (You don’t have to actually cook, you could just make a pb&j.)

  1. Sing

Or if you play an instrument, practice your favorite song. Even if you’re not a musician and feel you have no musical talent, just start singing. Seriously. You might feel ridiculous, but I guarantee within 30 seconds you’ll find yourself smiling!

  1. Call a friend or family member

Has it been awhile since you called your mom? Call her! Did you forget to thank your great uncle Ned for that $20 he sent you at Christmas? Call him! Did you just talk to your best friend yesterday but you’ve since had an experience that you need to talk to them about? Call them! (Of course, we all have family members that it would not be a pick-me-up to talk to. Don’t call them.)

  1. Watch or listen to a comedian

Tons of comics have albums on Spotify and Pandora, and you can always find clips and even full-length specials on YouTube. Laughing is good for you, not only emotionally, but physically as well!

  1. Look at/read aspirational photos/stories

Do you know what you want to do with your life? Do you have sort of an idea of what you want to do, but no specifics? Do you have no idea whatsoever? Do you have any goals, be they large or small? One thing that can really help inspire and motivate you is to research people whose lives and accomplishments you admire, and learn how they achieved their successes.

  1. Give yourself a manicure, pedicure or facial

Even if you don’t have fancy salon products, spending some time on primping can be very relaxing. You can find plenty of ideas online for making facial scrubs and masks from common household products. Even better if you have a steady hand with the nail polish.

  1. Sit outside and observe your surroundings

People-watching is extra fun with some coffee or frozen yogurt.

  1. Meditate or pray

Even if you’re not religious, meditation and mindfulness can help you focus your mind and heart for some much-needed perspective.

  1. Talk to a kid

Don’t be creepy about it, but if the opportunity arises, talk to a kid. Seriously. Ask them about their interests, their hopes and dreams, their ideas about life, and see how quickly your outlook improves.

  1. Give someone a hug (even if it’s yourself!)

Hugging boosts oxytocin and serotonin levels, which can boost your mood and fight feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anger. Even if there’s no one around to hug except yourself, wrap yourself in your arms and hold, then take a few deep breaths. You’re going to be fine!

Introducing PopDNA

So I haven’t posted in awhile…

Here’s one of the things I’m working on now: a podcast!

PopDNA is an exploration of pop culture through the lens of classic literature. All literature is generational. No work is ever created in a vacuum. Many of the works of pop culture we know and love can trace their roots back to the stories and themes found in classic literature. This is the premise of PopDNA. Listen to my introductory episode here.

 

 

As for the other thing I’m working on… it’s not ready yet!

The Best Books I Read in 2015

Confession time: I started but didn’t finish a lot of books this year, maybe more than I have in any other year. I have no qualms about ditching a book if I’m just not finding it engaging, but I try to give it at least 100 pages before I call it quits. Well, that happened a lot this year, and I think it may be because a few of the books I did finish were especially stellar, so many others paled in comparison. These are the books I read this year that I just couldn’t put down.

 

  • The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)

So, apparently everyone in the world read The Girl on the Train this year, but I didn’t know that when I found it while browsing the book section at Target last spring. I hadn’t even heard of it before, but I thought it sounded good. A psychological thriller/murder mystery with an unreliable narrator, that also happens to take place in England–what’s not to like? I read the whole book in two or three sittings over a couple of days and absolutely loved it. I figured out the solution to the mystery about ten pages before the protagonist did, which I think is the perfect spot. When I finished I went on Amazon to see what other readers had thought of it, and that’s when, seeing the thousands of reviews it has, I found out that it was the blockbuster novel of the summer. Looking back now, I’m glad I hadn’t heard of it before I read it, because I went into it with virtually no expectations, and in the process found one of my new favorite books.

 

  • Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)

This book was part of my self-assigned summer reading challenge and turned out to be my favorite of those five books. Rhys’s 1966 novel is a companion to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and tells the story of a character we only see briefly in the source material: the first Mrs. Rochester. Antoinette Cosway lives an idyllic, though by no means charmed, life in the early 19th Century West Indies before she is married off to the young Edward Rochester, a man she barely knows, and removed from her home to the cold and harshness of England. What I loved about this book were the spare and beautiful descriptions of the Caribbean islands and its compassionate portrayal of a woman who kind of got a raw deal in Jane Eyre. I was so engrossed in Wide Sargasso Sea that, finding myself with a spare hour in downtown Tacoma one day, and not having the book with me (shocking, I know!), I went to the Tacoma Public Library, found a copy in the stacks, and sat down and read from the place I had left off previously, finishing the book.

 

  • Landline (Rainbow Rowell)

Rowell is best known for her YA fiction books, Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, which have come to me highly recommended but I have yet to read. But if this novel for adults is any indication, I’ll love those as well. The landline of the title is a telephone that can make calls into the past. A successful 30-something TV writer whose marriage is on the rocks uses the magical phone to talk to her husband’s college-aged self in the past in an attempt to save her marriage in the present. While I was reading Landline, I kept trying to make comparisons to other books or movies, but it’s really a completely original premise. What it reminded me of most in the end, purely for thematic reasons, was It’s A Wonderful Life; it happens at Christmas time, and it’s the story of one person who, with help from a mystical or supernatural element, is trying to rediscover their purpose and make things right with the people they love most in the world.

 

  • The Selection Series (Kiera Cass)

You didn’t think I’d create a list with no YA sci-fi/romance on it, did you? I’m almost positive the original pitch for the first book in this series, The Selection, must have described it as “The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games.” (And honestly, is The Bachelor really all that different from the televised spectacle of The Hunger Games? The recent Lifetime channel series UnREAL seems to suggest it’s not. But I’m getting off topic.) The Selection shows a softer side of a dystopian future, one in which young women compete on national television for the chance to marry the prince (because the US has somehow become a monarchy called Panem–I mean, Illéa), and wear lots of beautiful dresses and eat lots of delicious food in the process. Of course, by the third book in the series (there’s a trilogy and a sequel trilogy that’s one book in right now), the story has become about so much more than the Selection. This is kind of silly, but one of my favorite things about the first trilogy is that the main protagonist is a redhead. Represent!

 

  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Winifred Watson)

I’m actually still reading this book (I’m about halfway through), and may or may not finish it before 2015 ends, but I wanted to include it here because it’s already one of my new favorites. I loved the 2008 movie starring Amy Adams and Frances McDormand, but surprisingly had never read the 1938 novel until now. It had been on my radar for awhile, but it wasn’t until a recent trip to Powell’s in Portland that I picked up a copy. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has the lightheartedness and wit of a 1930s Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant comedy film and the precise timing of 24. I don’t think I want to say too much else about it until I finish it, which I think I’ll go do right now!

 

2015 was a great reading year for me, so what about you? What were your favorite books you read this year?

~

Image source: http://inbloomconsulting.com/inbloom-in-2015/

Best Gift Ideas for Book Lovers (Besides Books, Of Course)

70-christmas-decor-with-books

It’s that time of year again, the most wonderful time of the year: it’s crunch time for Christmas shopping! If you still have a few loved ones to shop for, and they happen to be book lovers, chances are you’ve bought them lots of books in the past. But maybe this year, you want to do something different, but still get them something they will love. Lucky for you, there are all kinds of gifts that are perfect for book lovers (and that aren’t books)!

 

  • Bookmarks

An oldie but a goodie. This may seem like an obvious choice, but even for those of us readers who end up using whatever random scrap of paper we can find to hold our place in a book (or even dog-ear the pages–guilty!), bookmarks are a thoughtful and well-appreciated gift. There are options for every price range, too, from those beaded-tassel numbers we all remember from elementary school, to custom, jeweled works of art. You could even hand-make them if you’re feeling crafty.

 

  • Personal Library Kit

For anyone who knows the pain of lending a book to a friend and never getting it back, this might be a perfect (and fun) solution! Complete with stick-on card pockets and check-out cards, date stamp, and ink pad, this kit has everything a book lover needs to start their own lending library. You can also buy refills!

 

  • Bookplates

Another way to keep track of your books that’s fun and has lots of creative options.You can get fancy customized versions from sites like Etsy. I really like these ones I found on Amazon.

 

  • Reading Journal

For the reader who likes to keep track of the books they read and record their thoughts about them, the reader who would be a margin-writer if they could bring themselves to actually write in their books, but would never deface a book in that way, a reading journal is perfect. Journals come in all different variations. There are journals for recording books you intend to read, books you’ve already read, books you own, and anything else you can think of.

 

  • Reading Light

For the reader who stays up way past their bedtime!

 

  • Book-related Gear

The internet is a magical place, full of every kind book-, author-, or literature-related item you can think of. I have a Madeleine t-shirt from Out of Print Clothing, I’ve eyed some of the shirts and tote bags on Litographs, and, of course, everyone’s favorite site, Etsy, has loads of artists who make beautiful, one-of-a-kind book-related items.

 

  • Bathtub Caddy

If the book lover on your list also loves to take long, luxurious baths, this is the perfect gift. With a stand for their book so it doesn’t fall in the water and cup holder for tea or coffee–or wine!–this is the perfect accessory to help them unwind after a long day.

 

  • E-reader Case

If your book lover has an e-reader, what better gift than a spiffy new case or cover for it? Here are a few of my favorite options, available for many different devices.

 

  • E-reader

If your book lover doesn’t already have an e-reader, this is the perfect opportunity to get them one! Personally, I prefer the Kindle Paperwhite, but of course there are lots of great options. New e-readers are being developed every year and becoming more affordable and more versatile. Shop around and try to think about what would be best for your book lover’s lifestyle; would they want something they could also use as a tablet? The Kindle Fire or Nook Color might be right up their alley. Or for something super simple and user-friendly that’s purely for reading books, try the classic Kindle.

 

  • Gift Card to their Favorite Book Store

Okay, maybe this one is cheating, or a bit of a cop-out, but if your book lover is like me, they will love getting the chance to pick out their own books or book-related accessories! If your town or city has a local, independent book store, that would be a perfect gift certificate. Or, if it’s already 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve and you have nothing, go to Amazon’s or Barnes and Noble’s website and buy a printable or e-mail-able gift card. Easy!
Happy shopping, and Merry Christmas!

 

*Image credit: http://www.booknparty.com/blog