The end of November was extremely busy, so I didn’t have time to write a Nonfiction November recap. Because of stress and reading two books with over 500 pages, November wasn’t my best month for reading in terms of total books read (only ten). I was, however, able to read six works of nonfiction including my choice from bookshelf #5, Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin.
For the past few days, I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate my feelings for James Baldwin. There’s just something about the way he writes that I love so much. Plus, I feel like my brain gets a good workout every time I read his work. He holds nothing back, and his ideas and critiques of America are still relevant and necessary.
Now for shelf #6!
On this shelf I’ve read all of the Nick Bantock books, and Waiting for Godot.
For some reason I’m being drawn to A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt. For a long time, I was fascinated by Tudor England, and I immersed myself in books about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. When I visited the Tower of London, I stood where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and it was quite surreal. I enjoyed watching The Tudors on HBO, and one of my favorite characters was Sir Thomas More. I’ve only read one play this year, so this will be good for me.
I need to keep reading and finish this year strong!
For some reason, the first thing that came to mind when I saw today’s photo challenge prompt was how much I value the autographed copies of my books, especially those with the dedication, “To Michelle.” Here are the stories behind the encounters with some of my favorite authors.
I had the opportunity to meet Sir Ken Robinson at an extremely difficult time in my life. He was the keynote speaker at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Conference and Expo (PETE&C), and I would have backed out if I didn’t want to hear him speak so badly. When it was my turn at the autograph table, I thanked him for his work and told him that my students always love his TED Talk, “Schools Kill Creativity.” He treated me like the most important person he’d ever met, had me sit beside him, and picked my brain about how I was using his work in my classes. It was a moment I’ll never forget, and it was exactly what I needed to bring me out of the funk I had been in.
In 2019, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi spoke at the Harrisburg Book Festival, so of course, I HAD to be there. He was speaking with Dr. Imani Perry, whom I had never heard of. I purchased a copy of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, to familiarize myself with her work, and I was mesmerized by the brilliance of her writing. On the day of their talk, I was set on making myself look like the biggest dork in the world. On my way into The Midtown Scholar, I walked in front of a car and almost got myself run over. I was mortified when Dr. Kendi got out. He was very nice and held the door open for me, so I guess he wasn’t judging me too harshly! Then, when I was in the signing line, I was fangirling over Dr. Perry’s writing. Dr. Kendi laughed and told me that he felt the same way the first time he read her work. They were both so gracious and wonderful to talk to.
Dan Pink and Guy Kawasaki were also keynote speakers at PETE&C. I don’t have a funny story about Dan Pink, because I didn’t have a lot of time to interact with him. Guy Kawasaki was Apple’s Chief Evangelist, and I was trying to hide all my Windows devices from him during the smaller breakout discussion after his keynote. I remember joking with him about the Borg and Star Trek, which led to what he wrote on the cover of his book.
Another highlight of my life was getting to have lunch with an astronaut at Kennedy Space Center. As soon as I told Tom Jones I was a teacher, he treated me like a total rockstar. I kept thinking, “YOU’VE BEEN TO SPACE FOUR TIMES!!!” as we were talking.
It has been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to see an author speak and then meet them. I need to work on that. As much as I appreciate interacting with authors on Zoom, I’d love to have more in person experiences. That may be a good reading goal for 2024!
Something to Declare is a collection of essays that are responses to questions Alvarez has been asked by readers over the years. She addresses her family’s involvement in the attempted overthrow of Trujillo, balancing being both Dominican and American, the writing of many of her novels, and her journey as a woman and writer. I always love reading Alvarez’s work, so this was fascinating and inspiring for me. I have been collecting writing advice for myself and my students, and I marked many passages as I was reading. In one case, Alvarez challenges what I was told by a favorite professor who always told us to write what we know. For Alvarez, writing is an exploration of what we don’t know and a way of figuring out what we need to know. She also acknowledges that our lives will always show up in our writing and that writers should never censor themselves out of fear of how those close to them will react.
“One of my theories, which may sound defensive and self-serving, is that there is no such thing as straight-up fiction. There are just levels of distance from our own life experience, the thing that drives us to write in the first place. In spite of our caution and precaution, bits of our lives will get into what we write. . . . I think that if you start censoring yourself as a novelist–this is out of bounds, that is sacrosanct–you will never write anything. My advice is to write it out, and then decide, by whatever process seems fair to you–three-o’clock-in-the-morning insomniac angst sessions with your soul, or a phone call with your best friend, or a long talk with your sister–what you’re going to do about it.”
What holds me back is worry over how those close to me will react. Reading Something to Declare has given me a bit more courage. I can write. I need to write, but what I do with what I’ve written is entirely up to me. I’m under no obligation to share everything, but if I keep all my ideas inside because of fear, I’ll never know what kind of writer I could be.
I highly recommend this for anyone who is or wants to be a writer or is a teacher of writing.
And now for more bookshelves!
I can skip shelf #3 because I’ve read everything on it. Margaret Atwood has always been among my favorite authors, so no one who knows me should be shocked by this.
Selecting a book from shelf #4 is easy because I don’t have much to choose from. I’m going to read The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution by Mariano Azuela because I need a break from nonfiction, and the only other book on this shelf I haven’t read is Margaret Atwood: The Essential Guide. I know very little about the Mexican revolution, and from what I’ve read, The Underdogs is required reading in Mexican schools. I’m looking forward to getting started.
Winter Harvest is the story of Demeter, from her birth and entrapment in her father’s stomach to the loss of her daughter, Kore (Persephone), and her attempts to find her. Papadopoulou’s writing is compelling and I was immediately drawn into the story, mostly due to Demeter’s first person narration. The characterization of Demeter and how she navigates relationships, especially with Zeus and Hera captures the petty nature of the Greek Gods so well. Papadopoulou deftly navigates the distinction between god and human, and simultaneously had me rooting for Demeter and wondering why she doesn’t see that she’s being her own worst enemy. She’s so desperate to prove that she’s not like her brothers or their sons, and yet she often mirrors their behaviors.
What I focused on most while reading, was wondering why Demeter never considers what Kore (Persephone) wants. She treats Kore like an extension of herself, always referring to her as “my girl.” In a way, Demeter is like her father by keeping her child completely under her control. I found myself wondering if the story would have turned out differently had Demeter given Kore more autonomy. The way Papadopoulou treats this part of the story brings up so many interesting things to consider regarding parent/child relationships. Not to mention the treatment of women in general.
My only criticism is due to some of the writing and/or editing at the beginning. Some of the word choices seemed a bit too 21st Century, and I had to reread some passages for clarity. This didn’t take too much away from my enjoyment of the book.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of retellings of Greek myths! It will be published on November 21, 2023.
Thank you to NetGalley and the author for providing a copy to review!
The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays by Chinua Achebe was a good choice. It was riveting, and I didn’t want to put it down. What I learned from reading it will be so valuable when I teach literary theory and Achebe’s writing this year. I’m really starting to question why we often compartmentalize authors regionally (especially where I teach), because Achebe had some fascinating essays that referenced time he spent with James Baldwin and his thoughts on some of Baldwin’s ideas. I’d love to explore themes and issues in a more global context.
Now on to the next shelf!
Once again, my choices are limited since I’ve read most of these books. My options are Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez, Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, The Anaya Reader, and Deep Rivers by José María Arguedas. I’m going to play it safe and read Something to Declare because it’s a collection of essays. I haven’t had a lot of time for reading, and reading a few pages here and there of a novel is never a good idea for me. I forget so much when I can’t read large chunks. It’s unfortunate because I’ve read many of Julia Alvarez’s books, but I’ve never read Anaya, and Something to Declare looks fascinating. I’m reading about José María Arguedas as I’m writing this and trying not to talk myself out of my decision. I’ll come back to it as soon as I have time!
I’m ready to tackle my first shelf, which poses a bit of a problem. The only books I haven’t read are ones I’m not exactly in the mood for, because they are all very serious and/or depressing. I thought about going out of order, but that would probably be too difficult to keep track of. I’m going to read The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays by Chinua Achebe, because it will be valuable, and I know I’ll learn from it. I teach Things Fall Apart and some of his short stories, so I’ll be able to use parts of it in my lessons. I’m not even sure this book belongs on this shelf. It’s a collection of essays, but it’s kind of a memoir, and I included memoir with fiction for some reason. I’ll probably rearrange at some point.
Books on this shelf I’ve read: Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Chain-Gang All Stars Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Friday Black Dante Alighieri Inferno Alaa Al Aswany The Yacoubian Building Isabel Allende The House of the Spirits Isabel Allende Portrait in Sepia Isabel Allende Zorro Julia Alvarez How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
For the past few years, I’ve been joining book clubs and participating in Twitter bookchats to help me diversify my reading. The upside is that I’ve discovered new authors, kept up with new releases, and developed friendships with other readers. The downside is that the unread books on my bookshelves have been largely ignored. For a number of reasons, I’m down to one active book club, and instead of finding more to join, I’m going to focus on reading the books I already have.
As you can see, my library is quite large. I have 1,825 books in my house, but I’ve only read 797 of them. This does not include ebooks or the books in my classroom library, which may turn into separate reading projects. My plan, which I’m sharing for accountability purposes, is to go shelf by shelf, selecting one unread book to read in place of what I’d be reading for book clubs. I’d love to be able to be at 50% by the end of the school year!
Another goal I have is to write more, so I’ll be chronicling this process and sharing more reviews of what I read.
Stay tuned for the ridiculousness that is my library!
Aside from responding to comments here and there, I’ve had to back away from this blog and what I hoped to accomplish here. What I’ve realized over the past few years is that many of my goals have been based on what I’ve felt like I should be doing instead of what I’m truly passionate about. I’ve prioritized my career over what keeps me whole, so I’ve been working on balance. Earlier this year, I promised myself that I would prioritize music, which has resulted in many opportunities and positive changes.
I’m also rethinking how I want to use this space. Am I really a craft blogger? Probably not. Do I enjoy writing patterns? Not so much. What I do love is writing, so you may see more of my random thoughts, proud moments from my classroom, and book reviews here and there.
As I reflect on how the past few years have changed me, I find myself returning to “Going Slightly Mad.” It’s one of my favorite Queen songs, and in college I joked that it was my theme song. At the time, I didn’t have the words to express what I was facing with my mental health, and the lyrics fit how I was feeling. The song is somewhere between calm and upbeat, which was how I felt pressured to be all the time, even though that’s not how I felt inside. Right now it fits because I’m focusing on facing my fear of putting myself out there. Of making significant changes in my life and taking risks. Of trusting myself and my judgment. Some of what I plan to do may seem like madness to people who’ve known me, but I can’t let that hold me back. I can’t let fear of failure or judgment keep me from achieving my goals.
I know what I want my life to look like, I have so much support from those I love, and I’m excited to get started.
I’m not good at setting New Year’s resolutions, but I love participating in challenges. Maybe it’s because most of the challenges I join are public and everyone can view my progress. Outside accountability helps me meet my goals.
Every year I challenge myself to read at least fifty books, and I use Goodreads to track that challenge. After I failed miserably by only reading fourteen books in 2014, I decided to focus my efforts and never let that happen again. Since then I’ve surpassed my goal every year, setting a record of 108 books in 2017.
This year Ravelry is starting a project challenge, which I’m pretty excited about. I’ve always been good at keeping track of the books I read, but when it comes to tracking what I create, I tend to drop the ball. Participating in this challenge should help me keep track of and document everything I make. I set my goal for twenty-four projects, since I have no idea how many things I create in a year, and two a month seems reasonable. I have a lot of projects lined up because now that the holidays are over and I have no craft shows in the near future, I can finally make things for myself and share some of my own patterns. This challenge should also help me blog more because I’ll be sharing everything here!
My first craft show didn’t go as well as I had hoped it would, but I definitely learned a lot that will help me be more successful next time.
Lesson #1: The time of year matters . . . a lot.
I will probably stick to fall and holiday craft shows from now on. People didn’t seem to be interested in buying crocheted accessories in the spring. I got so many compliments on my headbands, and the friend I was sharing a stand with received tons of compliments on his scarves and fingerless gloves, but no one bought any. Most people were walking around with lawn ornaments and other spring-esque purchases. The only things that sold well were my friend’s amugurami octopi (he sold all five!) and flax-filled heating pads. The other problem is that no one is buying gifts right now, which is probably why I overheard a lot of other crafters commenting on lower sales.
Lesson #2: It’s impossible to predict what people will like and/or buy.
I put some things out on the table that I didn’t think were that impressive, just because we had more room than we anticipated. I got some nice compliments on them, but none on some things that I thought were really cool. I think the key is to have a variety of items, and rotate them to see what sells. You never know what will end up drawing someone in.
Lesson #3: Don’t undervalue your items.
I didn’t get to wander around much, but I saw some crocheted items being sold REALLY cheap. I don’t price my items high. In fact, I’ve been told I should up my prices sometimes, but I’d never sell something at or below cost unless I was desperate to get rid of it. When I was researching craft shows and pricing, I found some great posts about this problem with some good advice on how to price items fairly and make a profit.
There are plenty more posts out there, but I’ve found these to be most helpful. I think my biggest failing was not really knowing my audience, which is going to be an issue since I’m just getting started.
Lesson #4: Don’t give up!
I think I’d be more discouraged if my goal was to make money. My motivation for doing craft shows and selling my creations is to support my yarn-related obsession, make things that make people happy, and keep my house from being overrun by everything I’ve made. This is my hobby and I never want it to feel like a job, because I’ve talked to so many people who’ve had to take a break from something they used to love for that reason. I’m to the point now that I’ve already made pretty much everything I need or want for myself (except this. I NEED THIS!), but I’m not going to stop crocheting. I just need to keep working at making my future craft show endeavors more successful. I’m the kind of person who learns best from experience, so the fact that my first craft show did not live up to my expectations is probably a good thing, because now I’ll be more focused on improving. I already have a lot of cool ideas to share!