By upper elementary, I reached expert levels for ditching school. My parents had kids at a young age and were too busy figuring out their own lives to pay much attention to my whereabouts during the school day. They trusted the public school system to deal with me. Why else would we hire teachers, attendance clerks and truancy officers? It’s not that my parents didn’t value my education, they just had a lot going on and knew other people had their backs. I could slip them all. Only one obstacle stood between me and a day of freedom–Sid Griffin.
At the 2016 Tucson Festival of Books, Joseph Finder discussed the high-profile sources he tapped into while doing research for his novels. A co-panelist asked, “Who?” “Billionaires,” Finder responded. “Trump?” “He’s not a billionaire.” But not all Finder’s characters are billionaires. Many of them face relative financial challenges. So… what if Trump was in a Joseph Finder novel?
Back in high school, teachers provided me with the skills that helped when a book challenged my ability to pay attention. Without that influence and as a slow reader, I fell into a pattern with comfort books (easy-to-read books read primarily for relaxation). Tackling a book like Wolf Hall, with its lack of antecedents, or The Good Death, with its dense factivism, diminishes my TBR consumption from slow plow to long slog. I’m not sure why I decided to read Wolf Hall and The Good Death concurrently, but I did. I’ve always had self-punitive reading tendencies. This post is for those of us who choose to go beyond comfort books and need a refresher on tips and tricks to tackle challenging books without returning to the demoralizing practice of gutting through it.
In her book The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America, Ann Neumann challenges the idea that we must extend human life at whatever cost–financial, physical, emotional or spiritual. I came into this book the same way Neumann did. We provided the intimate work of caring for our dying fathers, the in-home care that allows zero privacy and leaves zero pride. My father may have had a “good enough” death under my roof while Neumann’s father had a “good enough” death at a hospice facility, but our journeys meandered similarly along confused pathways. However, The Good Death is not the end-of-life care examination I preconceived; it covers a great deal more territory.
Nothing uplifts this book lover’s spirits like starting my favorite festival of the year examining social justice in fictional murder mysteries! The 2016 Tucson Festival of Books panel, “The Rich Die Differently”, was stacked with intriguing authors and perhaps my favorite moderator this year, Julie Kramer. The journalist-turned-novelist asked smart questions without getting in the way of the panelists’ answers. That didn’t stop the panelists from disagreeing with the premise of the session right from the get-go.
Normally, I don’t spoil a good read by looking up reviews of books that I want to read, but in the case of Lust and Wonder: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs, I did. Not surprisingly the reviews come in two flavors–favorable and not favorable. The overwhelmingly positive reviews likely come from people who are just diving into Burroughs’ work and superfans. Those who didn’t review the new memoir kindly probably know too much about Burroughs and feel as though there’s not much mystery left. Burroughs’ similarly reviews his relationships in Lust and Wonder.
When a room of parents at a PTA meeting at a Title 1 school audibly squirmed in response to my assertion that I would drink milk on its sell-by date, the armor I wore in childhood to make my poverty less hurtful clamped down around me. Many children at that school would drink milk on its sell-by date and likely have a parent who knows how to make use of spoiled milk. While my early experiences with poverty remain near the surface, the one type of poverty-related insecurity I didn’t fear is eviction. That’s the focus of Arizona-born Matthew Desmond’s new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City.
The debate in my house about which is better, Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy or The Young Elites trilogy in progress, is more of an exercise in book chat than to make an actual determination. We share an appreciation of both, though we have preferences. My sci-fi boy likes the tech-y world depected in Legend. He read it alongside classic dystopian books, including 1984 and Brave New World. I prefer The Young Elites but not because it takes place in a classical, romantic world.
Eleanor: A Novel by Jason Gurley opens with every reader’s dream–a rainy Sunday, a steaming cup of tea and a private nook. Moving deeper, “Sometimes Eleanor [grandmother of the titular Eleanor] swore her life was being written by someone else’s hand.” Yes. I recognize this person.
I fell in love with Clare Clark’s writing the moment I broke into We That Are Left in spite of the grammatically irritating title. I wondered what she had to say about appearances that deceive and those who are titled pretending at something while we who are not titled aspire to their falsehoods. I jotted down lines and page numbers of favorite descriptions and passages. Such great writing promises a great story. In the end, I felt cheated of that great story just as the wealthy cheat at status and the poor are cheated.