Writing Wednesday: 2012 Book Reviews #8, 9, and 10

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A quick note: While all of these books were read in 2012, I still wanted to be able to do them just by including them in my book list, even if after the fact. My total book read for the year for 2012 was 10 books, which is not particularly hefty, but at the same time I am not ashamed. In 2012, I started working full time, and continued to make progress on my novel, so things even out in the end. 

8. A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik

This book was given to my husband and I by his mother, and while I generally read mostly fiction books by choice, I wanted to check out what my mother-in-law had wanted us to read. A Simple Act of Gratitude was a quick read, and has a very simple basis: the author decided to write a thank you note a day for a year of his life. He made this decision at a time when seemingly everything was going wrong–his career, his marriage, his finances, etc. He had no idea what was left for him to be thankful for, but one note at a time, he figured it out. Sure, this book has a bit of a corny premise, but I actually found myself drawn to John’s story, and the unflinching look he gave into his own life. While I haven’t written a thank you note a day after reading this, I certainly sit down with a blank notecard and a stamp much more often than I used to, and I can very much see the importance of even a quick, three-sentence card, not only for the person on the receiving end, but for the one penning the note.

9. Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom

After reading Away, a novel by Amy Bloom that I adored, I picked up this short story collection that T’s cousin had sent me a few years ago. It’s really too bad that this was my first time reading this collection—it sat on my shelf for a few years, and it could have been influencing my writing for all that time.

The thing I loved the most about these stories were how beautifully weird they were. They were love stories between people who shouldn’t be in love, and they were detailed, and gritty, and lovely all at the same time. I found myself oddly rooting for the woman in love with her stepson (weird, I know, but the characters were so sympathetic) and the elderly couple finally finding love in the wrong places. I know that I’ll pick this book up again for a reread in the future.

10. The Passage by Justin Cronin

This book, too, was sent to us by said cousin above (I know, she rocks) and while I think she may have intended it for T to read (like that would ever happen), I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. As some of you may know, I’m a closet science fiction/fantasy nerd, and this book fulfilled my lack of a good genre read for the year. The Passage is like Lord of the Rings meets Walking Dead—it’s the story of an epic journey, told from various perspectives and over hundreds of years, and takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States that has been overrun by a mutant virus that turns people into zombie-ish vampires (I mentioned I’m a nerd, right?). Each time I started a new chapter in the perspective of another character I felt disappointed to be leaving the previous character behind, but soon realized that I really cared about each and every character equally. I really enjoyed every aspect of this book, and after I finished (I read the final 500 pages in about a day and a half) I ran right out to Barnes and Noble to buy the second installation of the trilogy that had just been released.

On to a new year and many more books to conquer (I hope!).

Happy reading,

L. Stacks

Writing Wednesday: 2012 Book Review #7

A quick note: I know that it’s not Wednesday, and that this book was one I read in 2012 and not 2013, but I don’t want to leave any of the books from 2012 off my list! I will be posted another couple reviews on here from 2012 before moving on to my 2013 reading list.

7. Away by Amy Bloom

My good writer friend Lori gave me this book a few months back with a yellow post-it note attached that read: Your next favorite book. And as usual, Lori was spot on.

This book follows Lillian Leyb as she flees from Russia to America in the 1920s after the slaughter of her whole family in an attack against the Jewish residents in her hometown. Lillian does everything she can to survive: has an affair with her boss, squanders money, and even cheats her friends. Then, one day, she learns of a secret that forces her to embark on a journey to Alaska in the chance of finding happiness like she had once known in Russia.

I loved Lillian’s character in the book–her determination and stubbornness paired with her constant marveling over America and its people. And one of the best, most unique parts of this book was the way that Bloom, rather than never mention a character again after his or her purpose was served, would give the reader a short but complete round-up of the rest of that character’s life in a few sentences. This trick made the reader feel omnipresent in more than just the main character’s life: and made it seem like each character was more important than in other books because we could learn how their stories ended in addition to the main character.

This was a book that was a treat to read; each chapter sweeter and more rewarding than a scoop of ice cream after dinner. I would definitely recommend this if you, like me, enjoy historically set fiction with strong female characters and a bit of fancy wordplay mixed with a little experimental storytelling. Not to be specific or anything… ha!

Happy reading,

L. Stacks

Writing Wednesday: The Writer’s Snack

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, which means two things: it’s Wednesday (as in Writing Wednesday) and I’ve got my mind on side dishes, main dishes, and dessserts (aka food). And today I’ve found a way to discuss both in the same blog post.

We categorize writers by many things–genre, era, gender, location. Think of those survey courses you may have taken in college where you’d only read things written by female writers before 1900, or a class on children’s literature. Well, I recently stumbled upon these drawings by artist Wendy MacNaughton and was excited to see her categorizing famous writers by something new altogether: their eating habits (or lack thereof, as you’ll see below). Take a peek:

I think that my writing snack would be some strange combination of things, like green ginger tea and chocolate chip cookies or maybe coffee and Ritz crackers. Then again, my favorite thing to eat is seafood, so maybe my choice would involve a little surf and stiff drink.

If MacNaughton were to design a sketch for you what would your writing snack be? I’d love to hear :)

Happy writing (and snacking!),

L. Stacks

Remembering November, 2008

Whenever brisk October fades into the chill of November, I find my mind growing quiet, nostalgic and reminiscing about the woman who taught me to appreciate a musty-smelling bargain box tucked into the corner of a dim antique store. The woman who would try to mend my annoyances by patting my knee with her knobbed hand while we rode in a family-packed car. The smell of the browned leaves remind me of crunching down Main Street wearing a borrowed black dress, on my way to my grandmother’s memorial service.

It was four Novembers ago, now. It seems too long–four years is a college degree, a talking toddler, a whole different life, sometimes. And four years ago I compiled a collection of memories into a poem about my grandmother that I’m compelled to share on here today. Tonight, I’m remembering November, 2008.

A Portrait of My Grandmother
[November, 2008]

I could usually find her
listening to polka music on the fuzzy
radio in her blue kitchen.

She wore her shoes in the house, donned
a rain bonnet whenever she stepped
out-of-doors. She always
locked the back door, a spare key
not-so-hidden under the hinge.

Her kitchen was filled with mechanical
pencils, frog figurines, green gum in the pantry.
The only kind of cereal in the house
was rice puffs, only lebkuchen
cookies in their clear jar.
She brought my grandfather his dinner
on a tray, and he complimented her cooking
by saying: I’m eating it, aren’t I?

She would tape movies off of the television
for me: Annie and Babes
in Toyland. And sometimes I’d watch
Grand Ol’ Opry with her and even dance—
swinging our arms and tapping toes.
She tried to learn the Macarena at every wedding.

Her hand would grip a glass covered
in tin-foil as she walked
across the street to our house
for dinner. When I’d ask if she wanted
milk, she’d just tap the aluminum
that kept her vodka tonic
chilled, and say: I have some already.
She would only eat a half
piece of cake, but then, thirty minutes
later, she’d come back for the rest.

My grandmother’s mouth was always lipsticked
a perfect red, her knuckles large and aching.
When my grandpa died, I wondered what
their house was like when Larry King
was supposed to be on, and now that she’s gone,
I wonder if anyone will ever play the static
on the radio or dance in flat-heeled shoes with me
on her yellow linoleum.

L. Stacks

[Photo by yours truly: Madison, Wisconsin]

Writing Wednesday: 2012 Book Review #6

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Do you all remember how, a months ago, I listed off a handful of must-reads that I had never read? Books that made people exclaim any number of excitable things when I told them I had never read them?

Well the day has come for me to cross one of those books off the list: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. After my post, there were many convincing comments from friends and family rooting for Gatsby. Plus, there’s that movie coming out with one of my favorites, Leonardo DiCaprio. But in the end, I had a totally different reason for finally reading the classic: It’s one of the only books that my husband has read that I haven’t also read. (And let’s face it: it’s one of the only books my husband has read in general. And I just can’t stand for him to one-up me.)

I’m not sure what I thought the book was about initially. My husband liked to mystically say “Oh, the green lantern,” whenever anyone brought up the novel, so I think I had this fantastical idea of a book about some creepy lights and some weird guy named Gatsby. And obviously, the book is nothing of the sort. It’s, in part, a love story and in other parts, a look into wealth, class, truth, morals, and of course, life. It really was a beautiful book and I read it slowly, trying to savor each paragraph, each magical description. It’s a book that I know I will re-read.

So, what can I say? Sometimes we are all wrong in life. And in this instance—thinking that The Great Gatsby was a sensationalized book with little value—I was incorrect. What’s better is that I’m okay with that.

Happy reading,

L. Stacks

:: Crickets ::

I know that there have been crickets on the blog lately–and by lately, I mean for the last 5 months. It’s a lot harder than I ever realized to work a full-time job and keep up with a regularly scheduled blog on the side.

For some reason, I have found that I have an “all or nothing” mentality in many areas of my life. You know, like either I eat the whole box of cookies or I eat none. Or that I need to write for hours on end or else not write at all. That I need to blog three times a week, as I had promised my readers, or else not blog at all.

I know that extremist attitude is ridiculous. Judging by the encouragement I’ve received from friends and family and readers over the last 5 months, you all would rather I keep up on the blog when I can, rather than not be in touch at all. And maybe because it’s election day, and I’m weary of all the extremism lurking on every corner of the media, but I’ve decided to put an end to my self-inflicted “all or nothing” mindset. I’m clearing out the crickets, and I’ll be around to check in with book reviews when I’ve actually been able to sit down and read, updates on my writing, stories of my sister, and recaps of our adventures in Chicago and beyond.

Thank you for hanging in there and waiting for me. Happy Election Day, and goodbye to so much extremism!

XX,

L. Stacks

P.S. Photo taken (and Instagrammed) by yours truly on a trip to Iowa this summer.

Living with an “Angel”: A Few of Her Favorite Things (Part III)

[Note: This post is an installment of my Living with an "Angel" blog post series. Read more about my collection of posts about my sister with Angelman's Syndrome here. To check out all my Living with an "Angel" posts, click here. ]

You might think, judging from this Living with an “Angel” post, that since Cee only speaks in a smattering of single words and short phrases, that’s it’s hard to know how my sister feels about any number of things.

But let me tell you something: when Cee loves something, she lets it show. And so, I’m detailing some of the things my sister loves here on the blog for you all.

Warning: this post is going to be a short one. Mostly because there is no need for many words on this topic: as the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words. And while I was home over Christmas, we took my sister bowling–one of her very favorite activities. While we were at it, I took some pictures. Pictures that speak louder than any words can.

So here it is: my sister loves…. bowling!!

Look at that face! The joy. The eye contact. Her wiggly fingers. This girl loves bowling.

And I adore these pictures. Don’t you?

L. Stacks

Writing Wednesday: Must-Read Books I’ve Never Read

You know how, when you’re a writer, other writers assume that you’ve read all the “must-read” classics? They drop writers names and short story titles and character references and, since you’re a writer, you are supposed to know exactly what they are talking about. And if you don’t then, well, you’re obviously not a writer.

Well, there are plenty of must-reads that I have never read. And loads that I will never read. I really despise how many writers try to make others feel bad about what they haven’t read, so. just for fun today, I’ve compiled a list of ten examples of my own for you. Let’s just say this is the opposite of patronizing. (Which is what, matronizing?)

Must-Read Books that I’ve (GASP!) Never Read:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Anything by Mark Twain

 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott-Fitzgerald

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

And finally, I’ve never read anything by Stephen King. (!!!)

So what do you all think? Should I be ashamed to call myself a writer?

What are the “must-reads” that you’ve never picked up?

Happy (not) reading,

L. Stacks

Living with an “Angel”: A Week Off at Summer Camp

[Note: This post is an installment of my Living with an "Angel" blog post series. Read more about my collection of posts about my sister with Angelman's Syndrome here. To check out all my Living with an "Angel" posts, click here. ]

[Image Credit]

There has been a recent trend on the blogging sites to write “Things I’m Afraid To Tell You” posts–and apparently last week saw many writers spilling the beans about tough issues. Oblivious to all of that, I had written a more-confessional-than-usual Living with an “Angel” post last week and later found myself surprised that I had hit the trend even while missing the memo.

Yet again it is time for me to write about my sister for this week’s post, and I’m finding myself drawn to another part of my childhood that I’ve never told anyone about. One of my favorite things that I would spend all year looking forward to: summer camp.

Of course I loved summer camp because we got to go swimming every day, do arts and crafts, make new friends, sing around a bonfire and all that good stuff. But I also loved summer camp for a different reason entirely: it was the one week out of the year that I didn’t have to be Cee’s sister.

I don’t mean that it was a week where I didn’t have to watch my sister or play with her or clean up after her–what I mean is that it was a week where I didn’t have to tell anyone about her. I didn’t have to explain it all: the disability, the whys, the hows. I didn’t have to see blank stares while I tried to explain, while I tried to stand up for my sister somehow, to prove that she wasn’t “weird” or “dumb.” Camp was the one week that I let myself be a normal person with normal siblings–if someone asked me how many siblings I had, I would say two. And I wouldn’t mention the words “Angelman” or “seizure” or “chromosome” or “neurological.”

I still remember the first time I came home from a week at camp and realized that I hadn’t given The Explanation to a single soul while I had been gone. I felt extremely guilty. Like maybe I didn’t love my sister enough if I didn’t want to tell my new-found, week-long friends about her. But in the end, each week I went away to camp every year thereafter, I allowed myself the same freedom. (Actually, at the time, I don’t think I fully realized what I was doing.) I always felt a little guilty, and still do a little–which is why I’ve never actually voiced this little story before.

And yet, I think that little week off each summer did for me what any vacation does: gives you a chance to forget about your “real” life and be whoever you want–a beach bum, a world traveler, a surfer, a photographer. When you go on vacation and don’t check email or call home or read the newspaper you are allowing yourself a week where you can live a slightly different life so that you can appreciate your own once you’re back home.

I always loved how Cee’s face would light up when I would get picked up by my family at the end of the week. After a week without her–and without explaining her to others–I appreciated her even more when I returned. Her little smiles suddenly seemed much bigger, and I found that I could better vocalize her disability to people who asked about it. And I could better imagine what “normal” felt like after each week I was away at camp; though in the end, I wouldn’t have traded it for what my “real” was, even when it meant explaining my sister. Here I am, explaining her every Friday, so clearly I’ve grown to a greater appreciation of that part of my life since my days of bonfires and arts and crafts.

L. Stacks