This past week has been full of ups and downs which I haven’t even begun to process yet beyond what I finished reading, so this will be strictly a book update post. I’m still reading books on craft and rereading books that are similar to the project that I’m working on. Also, I’ve decided to try making my graphics in Adobe Express instead of Pic Collage this week. It was easier in some ways, harder in others. I still don’t know that I’m satisfied with how these graphics look. Oh, well. In the meantime, to the books!
Calling My Name by Liara Tamani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really liked this (obviously, hence the rating). It’s a coming of age told in episodic vignettes, and it really doesn’t have an overarching plot throughline except that it follows Taja from middle to high school. Tamani really explores the conflict between loving God while also bumping up against the rampant sexism and misogyny of the church (#notallchurches). My heart really ached for Taja during specific points, especially as she got closer to Andre.
The only thing I wanted that the story didn’t give me was a hint of (view spoiler). The story is told in first-person present tense, so it’s believable that Taja wouldn’t see it, but I feel like that kind of behavior doesn’t usually come out of nowhere. There’s a hint of it after the blackout in the post office, but it still didn’t quite match up to what came later.
If you’re into quiet stories about real teens dealing with real things, check this one out.
REREAD SEPT. 14, 2023
I am reading interlinked short story collections (short story cycles) as part of my sabbatical research. This book is told in episodic vignettes, so it counts.
I cannot believe I said in my original review that this book doesn’t have a plot throughline because it absolutely does. The book is about Taja and how she has an experience and understanding of God that doesn’t necessarily jibe with what she’s taught about God in church and how that understanding bumps up against the incredible double standard of purity culture once she becomes a teenager and has a serious boyfriend.
I still think it’s incredibly well written and effective, and my heart absolutely aches for Taja near the book’s end. I do wish there were a better grounding in time for each vignette because it’s unclear when exactly things are happening and/or how old she is during some of them. My earlier complaint about what I wanted last time still stands. However, I think on reread it’s better forecasted, especially because of all of the other conversations Taja has with her brother and father (or that she recaps) throughout.
But I’m still young and I haven’t gotten to the bottom of the difference between good, sweet, and saved.
She might be able to tell me the secret for thinking a different way without being afraid of going to hell.
My daddy says nobody wants to marry used goods. He says it’s like going grocery shopping and realizing someone has already taken a bite of your candy bar, a sip of your milk, a trip of your bacon. When you get to the cash register, would you want to pay? My brother says he wouldn’t pay.
Great characters, great exploration of faith, excellent invitation for empathy.
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am reading interlinked short story collections (short story cycles) as part of my sabbatical research.
Honestly, I should give this book five stars just because Reynolds describes someone’s bad singing as “a set of wind chimes in a hurricane.” I mean, seriously.
But, yes, as the title promises, this book has ten short stories–each one happening on a different block of the neighborhood the middle school students walk home on or to after school. The stories are very much about the lives of middle schoolers and how their concerns often go beyond the classroom to their families and neighborhoods, even as they are very much about the relationships they have with fellow students. There is a lot of humor here even as you get sucker punched by an unexpected bit of sadness–you know, like in real life.
My favorite thing, though, is just how unconcerned with the white gaze Reynolds is. These are stories about kids being Black, talking Black, and not once explaining Blackness to the audience. Love.
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think I’m a bit in love with these girls. They make me feel giddy. Like I haven’t a care in the world. Like I’m fearless.
Loved it. I devoured it, reading it pretty much everywhere. And while I was reading, at first, I was finding fault with plot and character things–and they all got addressed by the text. All I know is that by the end of the book, my heart just swelled with love, and all I can say, and all I will say is that I love this book.
Some reasons why I loved it:
– First of all, with a quote like the breakout one up there, I kind of have to love it. Or am at least predisposed.
– Great parents. GREAT parents. Even though Francesca’s mom is depressed and her dad is floundering because he doesn’t know quite what to do, everything in the text lets us know these are two people doing their absolute best who love their children completely. Also, how can you not love a mom who says, “People with lost personalities will suffer a great deal more than those with lost virginities”? I mean, you kind of have to, right?
– I also love that Francesca’s mom is absolutely right about the important things affecting Francesca, especially her friendships and what she needs to challenge herself.
– Yes, while this is a book about female friendship and family, it’s also a book about friendship in general. I love that the boys in Francesca’s life have just as much to do with helping her and connecting with her as the girls who make her fearless.
– The language is beautiful.
– Marchetta does this thing where she doesn’t describe everything in detail, but the impressions that she leaves tell the whole story.
– Most importantly, at the end, I was in love with the book and the characters and everything.
So, yeah, I kind of loved it.
REREAD SEPT. 19, 2023
To me you are perfect dot gif
Seriously, though, I loved this book just as much on reread. I much more appreciate the look at depression as a family illness (as in it affects the whole family, not just the person suffering). I also appreciate the choice of this being a happy family, seemingly perfect who enjoy being with each other. So often in books/media, depression is tied to dysfunction or dysfunctional families and that is not the case here. It’s brilliant, honestly, and I liked the look at stigma and how it shows up in families and can/does affect treatment options for the depressed.
Also, Francesca just wants everyone to be straight with her and stop babying her but when someone does, her response perfectly encapsulates the conflict of being a teenager:
she talks to me as if I’m an adult and I want to tell her that I’m not.
Also a fun quote that I had forgotten about and need to add to my repertoire of insults (in context, of course):
“Go away,” [the drama teacher] orders. “Rehearse the part where Lady Macbeth throws herself off the balcony.”
Also, a killing me softly line: “Well, I plan everything. I even plan my plans.” Please, just @ me next time.
So yeah, just really good stuff.
Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is divided into two sections: a discussion on craft and a discussion on the workshop. The first half is an excellent reminder that writers are writing in a tradition and that tradition is not always the canon of dead white men/literary fiction. Also! At one point he takes time to deconstruct the idea that characters DO things and not just have things happen TO them as definitely white male centric seize the day manifest destiny thinking and not the way many of the rest of us live, which I found extremely validating. He also talks about the very political ideology of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and how that ideology has shaped workshops across the country. Most importantly though, he emphasizes over and over again that craft is largely driven by the author’s audience and the tradition of that audience (for example Chinese literature is different from Japanese literature, horror is different from romance, fantasy is different from realistic lit, etc) is what determines whether craft is successful or not.
The second half gives alternate workshop strategies to the gag rule model that most of us have been trained in. A lot of these were interesting but definitely geared toward universities and graduate programs. As someone who works at a community college, my classes would be too large for many of these exercises or I would have to take elements of them to make them feasible. That said, they are valuable for rethinking the ways a workshop is run.
I read this with my ears, and the book was narrated by the author. I thought the narration was solid, but the first half worked better for me than the second half only because the second half is all of the exercises, which is less interesting to listen to. I got my copy from the library, but he said more than once that the audio book comes with a PDF of the workshop section, which would be useful. As it is, I did bookmark a few places because I found them worthwhile–something I have never done with an audiobook before.
“Craft is the history of which kind of stories have typically held power–and for whom–so it also is the history of which stories have typically been omitted. That we have certain xpectations for what a story is or should include means we also have certain expectations for what a story isn’t or shouldn’t include. […] To wield craft responsibly is to take responsibility for absence.”
“To say a work of fiction is unrelatable is to say, ‘I am not the implied audience, so I refuse to engage with the choices the author has made.'”
“Craft is not about cultural exceptions, but about cultural expectations–which means we need to understand traditions, not individual books.”
“Because craft is about expectations, unfamiliarity is one of craft’s most serious problems.”
“Writers must read much more widely and much more deeply, if we are to know enough craft to start to critique other writers fairly and to write truly for ourselves.”
All in all, this is an excellent resource, and I will be buying a copy to keep.
Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison
I made it 30% through this audiobook before deciding it was ultimately not for me. I liked the introduction but listening to the close readings didn’t really work for me, so I had to let it go.
View all my reviews
Have a great week, everyone!