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I have a really hard time choosing books for trips.   What you may ask, just take one of the three books you are currently reading!  Ah, but you would be quite mistaken.  First, I am very likely (unless I just started it) to finish any of them while in the middle of the trip (or worse, halfway through a plane flight).  Second, especially on a vacation, I want to bring something new and potentially exciting.  I don’t want the same old book I’ve been reading before bed.  I want a vacation book!

So alright, I’ll bring an entirely new book.  Except well, that too leaves me open to problems.  What if, on the plane on the way there, I decide I’m not really that “into” the book I brought.  Perhaps I brought the wrong book for the mood (often a hard thing to gauge when one embarks on a journey) or maybe the book just stinks.  Then what?

Let me try this again. Clearly new books are the way to go, but I’ll need a backup.  To be safe probably two backups.  Of course if I’m going on a trip of more than a few days, one with some downtime for reading, I will likely read one book at least, so to be quite certain I’ll need three backups. 

OK got it.  Four new books. Read the rest of this entry »

[Editor’s Note: OK, we really don’t have an editor (yes, there is an argument to made that maybe we should). I just wanted to add that I’m trying like hell not to spoil this book for anyone, so if you don’t want to know what happens in this book DON’T READ AFTER THE JUMP! If you’ve read the book or don’t care to have the ending ruined, feel free to read on.]

I didn’t wait in line to buy my book at midnight this past Friday, in magical costume, with signs expressing my Potterfilia. On the other hand, I also didn’t pre-order at Amazon – because they couldn’t guarantee delivery until 7pm which would have meant a loss of too many prime reading hours. Instead I drove to my favorite independent book store and paid (gasp) full price, eschewing all the various sales and discounts. I imagined that Harry would have been proud of me standing up for the little guy.

Once I got there things went a little funny. The store’s subdued reaction to this release (maybe they were exhausted from their partying the night before?) was mirrored by my own. Though they had huge stacks of pre-orders behind the desk, there was no front window display (they had gratuitous ones for book five and six). I actually had to go into the children’s section and look for it. I did find it (one of three copies strewn upon various surfaces) but I reached for it with little excitement this time, finally fully realizing that, good or bad, this was the end.

Upon arrival home I paced from room to room, carrying it without opening it, feeling its heft and gathering the courage I didn’t know I would need. I knew once I began that I would read until I was finished. I am hard core in that respect; I would finish by Monday. Beyond small breaks to catch my breath, eat a snack or stretch my legs, I didn’t stop. Really, I couldn’t stop. The action starts on page one and doesn’t let up for 748 pages. I read it on the 15 minute ride to my parents’ house for dinner. Had I somehow found a way to walk the dog or shower and read the same time, I would have done it.

Unfortunately life did interrupt such an ambitious reading session. I’m not a kid on summer vacation who can stay up all night if I want to. Last night, after various fits and spurts and more than two hours past my normal bedtime, I finally closed the book. I sat silently for a few moments. Probing myself for any emotional injures, I realized I was left with a hollow feeling of sorrow which had nothing to do with the various deaths within the pages. Have no doubts about this -there were many deaths (two before page 80), some of them shocking, others heartbreaking and one in particular which brought tears to my eyes.

My sorrow was really for the answered questions (and yes, they are all answered).

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The ability of children’s literature to handle the “hard topics” is often underestimated.  Sometimes authors are criticised for pandering to children; they are accused of telling kids that the world is a good place where the bad guy always loses.  Embarrassingly my return to YA fiction in my adulthood was for this very reason.  Mostly it has been about nostalgic memories and a yearning for simpler stories.  As I creep farther and farther in adult society, children’s stories address a need for clear cut lines and black and white outcomes. 

If only it were that simple.  That I am misremembering is becoming increasingly clear.  Books like Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, Charlotte’s Web, and Tuck Everlasting are simple?  Clearly not.  They delve deeply into the basic questions of life: death, love, family and loss.  I’m finding that most YA fiction written today follows the example of these classics.  In fact these days authors more often come under heavy fire for treating kids as they should – as intelligent beings able to deal with complex issues.

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I must be getting old.

I don’t usually identify with the mothers in the books that I read. One reason is obvious — I’m not a mother. But I think it goes deeper than that. My friend Scotty used to say How can we have kids when we can barely take care of ourselves? Amen. Part of me still feels unprepared for life and so the thought of being responsible for another life is very scary to me.

However I do plan on being a parent one day. And I recently got a baby dog rather than an adult dog in complete moronic confidence in my nascent parenting skills. I reminded myself that I have raised two cats properly. It was going along fine until it became clear that this pup needed special support and guidance. My worst fears began coming true: I had taken the responsibility for another life, and I was screwing it up.

I worried incessantly, as is my habit. In my daily reading of Al Capone, I began to realize how much I was becoming like Moose Flannagan’s mother in her dealings with Nathalie, her autistic child. Mrs. Flannagan’s faith hung on the word of experts; she used every tactic they gave her with the hopeful optimism that this would be the one (For my part, I talked to two dog trainers and a breeder and read three books). I felt her disappointment that with every small step forward were precarious steps backward. The day I picked up the business card of an animal communicator I knew I had reached my lowest point, which fortunately for me falls far shy of Mrs. Flannagan’s deluded attempt to pass her 16 year old daughter off as a ten year old.

As I identified all over the place with this strong yet brittle woman, I began to realize that no one is prepared for parenting and raising a child (whether a two footed or four footed version). And that all my obsessive preparations will not be any help.

Which leads me to the uncomfortable conclusion that I have to learn from Mrs. Flannagan’s experience. I need to take a deep breath. And learn to trust myself.




Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading