Tag Archives: books

Ending the Year With a Bit of a Rant

I will spend time today wrapping up my LibraryThing thread for 2023. I am part of a group that sets a goal of reading 75 books each year and sharing that reading and more with the group. Many of us, especially those on the mostly-retired end of the spectrum and old enough to be past the “guilty pleasure” syndrome so we read what the heck we want, read many more than 75 books. I will top out at 170 this year with about 40 audio books included in that number.

So, here’s my rant: scrolling social media (tell me again why I do that??), I happened upon a book guy speaking out strongly against setting quantitative goals for the new year. It meant you weren’t reading deeply or well, obviously skipping blissfully along on a diet of cozy mysteries and celebrity memoirs, and, in his mind, that was wrong. You were supposed to read the way he read, savoring every word, digging into every nuance, connecting with the author in deeply meaningful ways. Otherwise, could you really call yourself a reader?

I had the same visceral reaction to his remarks as I did when the William & Mary undergrad in the course I was teaching reacted with disgust at my professed joy in reading the Twilight series. But, rather than listing my bona fides the way I did with her, I will simply say this: you be you. Read whatever and however you want. Feel free to use your platform to tell us how much you get out of it. Feel free to even encourage us to try it. Feel free to ask us to share our experiences. You might be surprised with what you learn. But, please, stop short at judging us and our reading preferences and styles based on your experiences.

It is a practice that can be applied in many area of our lives. Share your experiences and the lessons you’ve learned that you think could help others. Then, stop, right at the cliff’s edge of “if you don’t do what I suggest, then you are bad/wrong/dumb.”

Seasonal Work

With the coming of cooler weather and shorter days, my creative work changes. While I do some crafting in the spring and summer, I spend most of my time in the garden and the kitchen, growing, harvesting and preserving food. Now, we are enjoying the fruits of that labor, and there is time to settle into my studio for crafting. While book and card making are my newest endeavors, I have crocheted for most of my life, learning at the side of my paternal grandmother. It is my main thread craft. I signed up for a monthly crochet kit. The projects use different stitches and yarns but are limited enough in scope to be completed in a month. I look forward to the kit each month. Last weekend, in an effort to clear some works in progress (often known as WIP), I pulled out the sewing machine to finish up a bag kit that has been lurking around for awhile. Sewing is not my strength but they turned out pretty well. A few pictures for your enjoyment including a crocheted shawl and baskets as well as the bags.

October 2023 Crafts

I forgot to mention the Legos! I’ve been almost done with the bookshop for a very long time and am excited to announce it is completed! Now I can move on to the succulents. I also have a Ugears hurdy gurdy model to put together. I gave my father one for a clock and he enjoyed it so much, he bought a few more. I think it will be a good project to work on between Christmas and New Years.

Lego Bookshop

One of the pleasures of semi-retirement is being able to prioritize these creative efforts. I’ve always made time for hobbies but only after everything else. This week, I signed on for a cartonnage, or box making, workshop. I made band boxes out of posterboard, wallpaper and newspaper when I was a teenage and am looking forward to explore another area of paperwork. This workshop is provided by Claudia Squio. We are creating a fabric-covered box with an offset hinged lid that will be big enough to hold an album. I will be diving in immediately after pressing publish.

My hope for you is time to create.

It’s Been a Minute

Teaching online and face to face as well as developing a new seven-week course that starts next week has been keeping me busy. A bit of stress has been keeping me distracted. Both added up to a bit of writer’s block.

It may seem silly to talk about stress when you are semi-retired and living a simple life like I am, but it still happens. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news to you young people out there who are looking forward to all that stress-free living the retirement communities promise. Sure, they fix your plumbing but can they keep you from saying yes to a project without asking enough questions?

I have been, for the past 18 months, volunteering for a local project that has become a time and energy suck without making any progress. It is time to walk away. Actually , it WAS time to walk away in June, but I hate giving up so gave it a bit more time and effort. Hence, the stress. I am still conflicted as I respect the vision and the work of the organization. But, I’ve done as much for them as I can and need to pivot to other priorities.

One priority is to build my bookmaking skills. I participated in a second Vintage Page Designs challenge last week, learning to create a Coptic Stitch Gratitude Journal. I am pretty happy with how mine turned out.

I also created two other books: a hardcover Coptic stitch book from a kit that has been lurking around and a Washi tape journal via Vintage Page Designs.

Ali Manning, owner of Vintage Page Designs, hosts a private Handmade Book Club, and I accepted her recent invitation after being on the waiting list for awhile. The club holds a variety of events, provides access to a large library of tutorials, and gives general information about bookmaking including information for starting your own business.

I’m not sure I am ready to start a business, but I already have a stack of six completed books and plans to tackle a hardcover journal next. I’m going to have to do something with them make beyond gifting, I think. I have also been making greeting cards, and they are starting to pile up. Finally, I have a tub of completed crochet projects along with the usual works in progress and plans for future projects. At the least, a business would be an excuse to buy more stash for these various hobbies.

And, let’s not talk about the books that seem to be piling up all around me. I have *always* wanted to own a bookstore and I just might be able to do that.

As I daydream away, enjoy a few pictures of recent books and cards:

Washi Tape Journal

Blue Book

Coptic Binding

The More Things Change

In 1979, I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, and I had the scoop of my young journalistic career. Through a source that may or may not have been my mother, a library aide at the elementary school, I found out that books were being quietly removed from the shelves when parents complained without following the division procedures that required a public review. The division library supervisor agreed to be interviewed and provided a strong quote about how much she abhorred this kind of censorship. Just a few days from publishing when she called us at home and asked to have the quote removed. I was angry and disappointed but ended up doing what she requested. The article still ran and may have led to change. But I learned a lesson about power and politics.

Now, power and politics are publicly flaunting censorship, using the law to ban books, emptying the shelves of books by authors from Mary Wollstonecraft to Ruby Bridges with a special focus on those that feature LGBTQ+ characters and issues. Burning books has always been a favorite of fascists and fanatics, fearing the freedom that comes from access to the world of knowledge. In this case, it continues the eradication campaign being carried out by those who are threatened by the mere existence of people with different lives and ideas.

When I taught middle school, I had an extensive and diverse classroom library that supported my reading workshops , and I wonder how many of those books would pass muster, especially when it seems that one complaint can lead to removals for everyone, even if the complainer does not have children in the schools and admits to not having read the whole book. Some of the families that aren’t usually included in the “family-friendly” policies are beginning to push back.

At least, in our web-based world, banning books is much more challenging as we can access virtual shelves. Wollstonecraft along with most of the banned classics can be found at Project Gutenberg. The Internet Archive includes books and lots of other media.* Brooklyn Public Library has been offering library cards for teens across the country to access their banned books. Public libraries offer extensive access to digital resources, providing a level of anonymity for people who may not want to go to the checkout desk at their local branch.

This is all very concerning, frightening really, as these fanatical conservatives seem to be holding lots of cards (read state legislatures and the Supreme Court) right now. This video from Clara via Fifty Shades of Whey is a horrifying summary of the past few months. With all the noise and news and silly stuff, it can be easy to lose the plot of what is happening. Watch and weep and then get started on the work.

*Including an extensive Grateful Dead archive, a band that was often “banned” including after an infamous concert at The College of William and Mary in 1978.

Distracted by Books

IMG_0122I have written about my own love for reading and described my implementation of middle school reading workshops. Those workshops were designed to give my students the same experiences with books that fueled my own love of reading: choosing what I wanted to read and making reading a priority in my day.

Two recent blog entries show that my values continue in contemporary classrooms. Former high school teacher Julia Franks describes making a change in her AP English classroom when she moved away from communal reading and analysis of the classics to choosing their own reading. Her practice arose from her belief that readers make better citizens as they are able to construct more sophisticated narratives around events in the world around them:

As a nation, too, we need these narratives. Election results end in an upset, and we spend a whole lot of time trying to answer the question why? Or a man walks into a church and opens fire on the congregation. We as a country respond by trying to make a narrative: cause, effect, cause, effect. When we can’t do it, we feel adrift, even despairing. And yes, we’re tempted to oversimplify the story. But the more practice we have at story-making, the more we’re able to construct a nuanced national story.

Given the option of reading the books on the syllabus or reading twice as many books from a list of 300 titles, all students chose the latter and, by the end of the year, had read nearly twice as many pages as mandated on the original plan. And those AP exam scores that seem to dictate the analysis that eats up so much class time? They did not suffer at all.

Franks concludes:

We have to offer more choice, and we have to set actual time aside in the school day for reading.  (Maybe fewer hours, say, discussing Hamlet?) In this moment in American culture, we need reader-citizens more than ever. Because of that, English departments have the opportunity to be especially relevant in civic life. Some of them are already taking up that challenge.

Middle school teacher and founder of The Global Read Aloud, Pernille Ripp, describes her own “horror” when, at the beginning of the year, her students reported how little they enjoyed reading. She was determined to change that and she did it with books:

Books, and plenty of them.  Books that were accessible through audio and text.  Books that were not there to push them in a certain direction.  That were not forced on them.  Picture books for the days where chapter books seemed to be too much work.  Free verse for those who had lost their connection with the magic of reading.  Graphic novels meant to teach, entice, and enthrall.  Everywhere they looked there were books and the books called to them.  Without judgment.  Without restriction.  Without one path to being a reader.

And time:

We also took time.  Ten minutes every day to read.  To find books.  To have conversations about the texts we chose.  To find something worthy of our time, that we perhaps would want to read later as well.  Ten minutes that were the expectation coupled with the idea that one should only read good books, not waste our time on books that would make us dislike reading more.  To abandon when needed, to book shop when desired.

The two priorities: the ability to choose your own books and the time to read them.

This message has also been part of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, the book I am reading right now. Sara Lindqvist is a reader who uses books to change a small, dying Iowa town. As she organizes the books in her shop, she put “every unreadable book she could find” on a shelf. These mostly included the award winners that everyone talked about but never read. Sara had tried to by systematic about reading these classics:

She had thrown herself into one ambitious reading project after another, but things had rarely gone according to plan. It was boring to think of books as something you should read just because others had, and besides, she was much too easily distracted. There were far too many books out there to stick to any kind of theme.

Lots of the teachers I follow on Twitter are busy planning their summer reading. I applaud their desire to dive into professional reading, and I have a few of those books on my own list. But, I also would encourage them to let themselves be distracted and see where it leads.