What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve run into a bunch of good books lately, and re-read some others that I wanted to share with you, so pull up a chair because it’s a short stack of books but a longer-than-usual post.

In the Professional Reading category, I was impressed with Just Write: Here’s How, by Walter Dean Myers, the award-winning author of dozens of books, many of them about (and for) at risk-kids. Just Write‘s written for middle- and high-schoolers but has good points for any writer coping with revision, plus it’s a good story about how Myers and Ross Workman, who first wrote a fan letter to Myers when he was in a young teen, came to co-author Kick. I learned as much from that narrative as I did from the rest of the book. Makes me wish I had a young teen of my own to hand this off to. Donate a copy to your school or public library if it doesn’t already have it.

In the Porch Book/Just for Fun category, I enjoyed very much Courtship & Curses, by Marissa Doyle, a brand-new YA historical novel “with a touch of magic” set during the last days of Napoleon.

It’s not a particularly short book, but I gobbled it up in one glorious day, one of the few times this summer I’ve had a chance to just sit and read. (Sorry, Marissa: I know how long it took you to write the book and it seems wrong, somehow, to snarf up all that work at once, but I just didn’t want to put it down. Also, um, I had a freelance project to revise and it was much more pleasant reading your book than buckling down and actually working.)

Although C&C is a sort-of prequel to Marissa’s other historical-with-a-touch-of-magic books, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone and I recommend it highly, especially if this sounds like the sort of thing you wouldn’t dream of reading because you are sooo above historical novels/romance/fantasy. It’s just the thing to take your mind off your troubles if you’re dealing with sick children, aged parents, appliance meltdowns, or carpenter ants under the eaves. [Disclosure: I “know” Marissa from the Verla Kay Blueboards, where she’s a volunteer administrator.]

Another just-published book by another Blueboarder is The Voice of Thunder, a novel for the middle grades by Mirka M.G. Breen. It’s based on her experience as a child in Israel during the 1967 war with Egypt. A book about children caught in war is never an easy read for me, especially when the characters seem so real, so I was impressed with how skillfully Mirka balanced the immediate danger that the main characters experience with an age-appropriate exploration of the roots of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and what war does to the characters of the people involved. It is an impressive feat, especially at the middle-school reading level.

I almost put off reading The Voice of Thunder because I’d recently finished another novel about children caught on the hinges of history, a young adult novel by Ruth Sepetys entitled Between Shades of Gray¹ which is set in Lithuania in 1941 as Stalin begins destroying the nation and the main character’s family. However, Mirka’s book, being for the middle grades, was less grim than I feared. I’m definitely going to put off In the Shadow of the Banyan, though. It’s about Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge and I need a couple more Courtship & Curses kind of books before I tackle something like that.

And then we come to the Books by Friends IRL² category.

In the Poetry By Friends subcategory, we have Whole Cloth, an illustrated poem cycle by Ronnie Hess of Madison, WI, and New York City. Whole Cloth reflects on emigration, family roots, and what it might have felt like to move from the sub-Carpathian Rus’ to America more than a hundred years ago. You can read one of the poems here.

The book would be a treasured gift for anyone whose ancestors came from Western or Central Europe–especially Central Europe–and knows only fragments of their story, because the poems and the old family photos fill in the gaps. Ronnie’s also the author of Eat Right in France (includes recipes!), which you can read about here.

Just about every published writer in southeastern Wisconsin has been through a Redbird workshop at some time in his or her career. Redbird is a writers’ center founded by Judy Bridges in the 1990s; a couple of years ago she turned over the workshop part of Redbird to Kim Suhr (who had been facilitating Redbird’s Young Writers summer programs) to focus on writing the book everybody’d been nagging her to write. The book became Shut Up & Write! after her no-excuses workshop of the same name. SU&W works both as a stand-alone motivator and as part of her workshop. More info here.

Redbird brought Amy Jenkins into my life when I facilitated a workshop back in the day, and I’ve had the privilege of watching Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting grow from a handful of writing exercises to a few stand-alone essays published in literary magazines to a thesis for her MFA at Bennington and now…a book!

Every Natural Fact chronicles a series of field trips through Wisconsin’s forests, shores, and other natural areas by Amy and her then-middle-school-age son Dylan, a companion sometimes reluctant, sometimes more enthusiastic than Amy. Actually, it was published in 2010 but because I’d read so much of in draft form, I just got around to reading it all-put-together with a cover that looks eerily like her son Dylan used to look back in the day.

[Another Disclosure: I might just be mentioned in the Acknowledgments section of some of the above books–alas, not the one by Walter Dean Myers.]

Speaking of acknowledgments: Older Son was home for a few days this month and pulled out The Lonely Planet Guidebook to Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan to show us his name in the Acknowledgments of that book. Well done, Older Son!³

What have you been reading lately?


¹Focus, people. Between Shades of Gray = good book to read. 50 Shades of Grey = haven’t read it, don’t intend to. It’s all about how you spell the color.

²In Real Life. I hope it won’t be too long before I meet my online friends in IRL.

³He ran into the author in an English-language bookshop during his 2011 Let’s-Teach-English-in-Georgia adventure (that would be the Georgia that’s north of Turkey, not the one that’s north of Florida).

© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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14 Responses to What I’ve Been Reading

  1. Sue Knopf says:

    Nitpicking. The U.S. Georgia is more like southwest of the Carolinas. Every Natural Fact sounds like a great book–I’ll look for it.


  2. Mike Starr says:

    I’m probably one of the few local writers who hasn’t been through a Redbird workshop (yet). I really need to see what offerings are coming and see if any of them grab me.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been on a reading binge… spending as much time as possible on the screened-in patio with a book and a cup of coffee.

    I just finished “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” by Robert K. Massie for my book club. Excellent book… I’m glad the decider for the current selection chose it.

    I also stumbled across “Handling Sin” by Michael Malone on one of my regular trips to the book section of the local Goodwill store. A delightfully humorous road-trip novel that brought to mind “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”. Highly recommended.

    The rest of my reading over the past few weeks has been mostly science fiction out of the local library’s collection, most of it enjoyable reading but nothing great.

    I’ve been keeping track of what I’ve read with Shelfari… http://www.shelfari.com/mike_starr


  3. Marcia says:

    My reading has derailed lately — and this may be a first for me. Between writing and teaching and conference-talk-planning, I’m finding most of my evenings gobbled up. That said, I AM enjoying A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly right now. And next up is Code Name Verity. But having just TWO novels on my TBR pile is pretty unheard of.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      I’m whittling away at my TBR pile and it’s down to two books I think I ought to read, but since they’ve been there for a couple of years, I’m guessing it’s time to de-accession them.


  4. vijaya says:

    Oh, I know how sinful it seems to gobble up a book when it took the author far more time (and perhaps blood, sweat, tears) but that’s high praise for C&C and Marissa.

    How lovely to see a manuscript turn into a book with a spine! And congratulations to both you and your son for being in the acknowledgments. I read absolutely every single page of books I love, and it’s interesting to see a name you recognize.

    Recently I carpooled with the woman who was the source for all the bee-keeping facts in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.

    My reading pile is growing … Mirka’s book is on the list, but right now I’m in research mode and almost everything I’m reading is NF. Really liked Ruta’s book, and I don’t blame you for waiting on the Khmer Rouge book … just thinking about it makes me ill.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      What fun to carpool with Source Material, Vijaya! I’m trying to imagine how that came up in conversation — did you disclose that you’re a writer, and then she said this writer contacted her to find out about bees…?


  5. I’ve read Mirka’s book already (loved it!) But these others are new to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  6. Judy Bridges says:

    Great recommendations, Anne. I’m proud to see Shut Up & Write! included, also impressed with that slick transition from SU to Amy Jenkins’ Every Natural Fact. It’s especially cool since you were instrumental in bringing both books to life. Wishing you well. Always admire your work.


  7. vijaya says:

    The lady is an artist/writer and a beekeeper and so the talk naturally turned to books about bees … it’s always great to carpool to a conference. I’m new in SC so don’t know a lot of people, but I put out a request for carpool/hotel room sharer and the Lord delivered.


  8. Thanks for the mention Anne. It’s wonderful to see Every Natural Fact in such good company. And speaking of bees and bee books(Vijaya), one of my faves: Wolves and Honey: A Hidden History of the Natural World, by Susan Brind Morrow


  9. vijaya says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Amy (and thanks Anne for alerting me).


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