105 Ways to Give a Book

Guys, Start Your Engines

You wouldn’t start your exercise program by running ten miles (or so I hear). So why is it when people decide they want to start reading again, they reach for something heavy? “Now where did I put my copy of War and Peace?” If your best reading lately has been People magazine and the back covers of cereal boxes while you’re in a pre-coffee stupor, then you need to start small. Or, more accurately, short. Here are four books under 200 pages to get you started.

700 Sundays700 Sundays by Billy Crystal is an adaptation of his stage play of the same name. It’s a biography more of his family than of the actor himself. He talks about growing up in the Bronx, and about losing his father. And I say talks rather than writes because you can almost hear his voice as you read this book. There’s lots of humor, but it’s not all funny — I mean, the man lost his father. Overall, an enjoyable and quick read.

A Man Without a CountrySkip this entry if you like George W. Bush. Are they gone? Okay, here’s a book that says everything you liberal left-leaners wanted to say about the state of our nation now, but just weren’t clever enough to. After all, you’re no Kurt Vonnegut. In A Man Without a Country, you’ll read everything you thought and some things you didn’t come up with yet, but so cleverly written you’ll want to turn back to the beginning of the book and read it all over again.

On BullshitWelcome back. Now, my husband and I disagree about Harry Frankfort’s book On Bullshit. He thinks it is an intriguing philosophical discussion about what bullshit really entails. I think that the book is itself an exercise in bullshit, thus validating its own existence. At 80 pages long, you can join the discussion and say to your friends, “I just finished this book in line at the DMV.”

ShopgirlNow, Steve Martin may be a wild and crazy guy, but you wouldn’t know it reading Shopgirl. Almost nothing happens in this story, which is what makes it interesting to me. In real life you don’t meet someone because you’re driving a bus that will explode if it goes below 55 mph, and there’s this guy, and he’s really cute, and he happens to be helping you survive and save the lives of all of the other passengers. No, you meet someone, maybe it works out, maybe not. This could be called a chick book, but I won’t categorize it that way for two reasons. One, Steve Martin wrote it, and he is a man. Two, at 130 pages, you men will get incredible insight into women at a minimal reading investment. Case in point: Where the older man explains to the young girl that he is not looking for a relationship, but she interprets his statements in her own way. Explains a lot for me.

Why I Never Get Anything Done

Yesterday was the day I was going to get things done. I had canceled my trip to my mother’s house based on all of the things that I needed to do here, so it was time to actually do them.

I puttered around in the morning with small chores, but after lunch it was time to get to work. Except... the sun shining on the couch made it look like summer, and summer is my favorite season (number 47 on my “things about me” list), so really... shouldn’t I appreciate that hour or so of the sun shining on the couch by picking up a book and reading? I mean, the sun will only be shining there for so long, and I can get to work right after.

So, I picked up a book that I had ordered from the library and started to read. Now the cool thing about this book was that I had ordered it a while ago and then had it in my stack for a couple of weeks, so I had now forgotten why I had ordered it at all. And to make the experience of reading it as fresh and unprejudiced as possible, I didn’t read the inside cover as I picked it up. I just started reading.

So, I’m enjoying my book and the sun is moving slowly across the sky, as it will, until my spot on the couch is no longer in the sun, but if I hold my book a certain way, then the book is still in the sun, so it still counts and I keep reading. My children ask for dinner (a reasonable request), and I fix the quickest thing that I can think of — hot dogs, which they hate but I tell them that in every life a little hot dog must fall, even though I am sure that’s not the quote, but whatever.

I eat my hot dog very quickly and return to the couch where the sunlight has completely faded, it being evening now, but I’m more than halfway through the book now and I just don’t feel like doing the work anymore so I read and occasionally remind my youngest to keep eating because without these reminders she will be there all night but I don’t have the patience to wait at the table for her (number 71).

My husband comes home and I tell him that he has to get the kids ready for bed, because I have been with them ALL DAY even though they have been almost completely self-sufficient and I have been reading for most of the day. But, my husband, God bless him, just gets the kids ready without giving me any grief and I keep reading until I get to the last page of the book and I think to myself, I can’t believe I read the whole thing. And now I have proof positive of why I never get anything done, which should be a little sad, but mostly I think, Wow, what a great book.

The Center of Everything, by Laura Moriarty.

My Living Room Newbery/Caldecott Awards

The following is a transcript of the My Living Room Newbery/Caldecott Awards ceremony.

“Please have a seat, we’re just about ready to begin... Yes, there on the sofa. Just move that over. Put it on the pile. No, the other pile... Okay, let’s get started.”

[voice from the audience] “You’re doing a great job, President Bush!”

“I’m sorry, I think you are looking for the rally in Kansas.”

[voice from the audience] “Stupid MapQuest...”

“Bush operatives. Whatcha gonna do?

[audience laughs]

“Well, we’ve got a lot to cover and I’ve got a roast in the oven [appreciative audience chuckle], so let’s begin.

You and Me Together“After reviewing approximately one thousand picture books this year, I am announcing this year’s Living Room Caldecott Medal goes to... You and Me Together: Moms, Dads and Kids Around the World, by Barbara Kerley!

[audience applauds]

“The incredible photography and simple text combine in this book perfectly, allowing us as the readers to bring our own level of understanding to the experience. It can be read simply to a young child, used as a book for a beginning reader, or turned into a cultural learning tool for an older child using the additional information about each picture listed in the back of the book. This is a book meant to be enjoyed again and again.

“The Living Room Caldecott Honor Awards go to... The World That We Want, by Kim Michelle Toft. Picture the natural world in all its diversity, captured on silkscreen and presented for viewing and reading enjoyment. Then pick up this book, and realize that you could not even imagine it done this well. The next Honor Book Award goes to... Because of You, by B.G. Hennessy. Simple words and lovely watercolors move us through this book about how important each of us is. The last Honor Book for this year is... The Great Fuzz Frenzy, by Janet Stevens. Venture into the world underground with a group of prairie dogs and the tennis ball they’ve just found. You’ll laugh out loud.

“Let’s give all our winners a round of applause.

[audience applauds]

The Liberation of Gabriel King“Now, with far fewer books reviewed, I present the Living Room Newbery Awards. And the winner is... The Liberation of Gabriel King, by K.L. Going.

[audience applauds]

“Set in Georgia in 1976, Gabe confronts his fears with the help of his best friend Frita. As the daughter of a baptist preacher, she knows something about liberatin’. As the only black kid in her class in racist Georgia, she has her own fears to confront. Humorous and humanist and not heavy-handed, this book can teach us all.

“The Honor Award goes to The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl, by Ma Yan. What would you sacrifice for an education? Would you go hungry each week, with only one bowl of rice at lunchtime? Would you walk for six hours to get home on the weekends because you don’t have the $0.25 to get a tractor ride? That is what this girl does in rural China, in this current time, to go to school. You’ll appreciate life in a new way. The next Honor Award goes to Memories of Survival, by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, an excellent book about the Holocaust for older readers. The author’s mother couldn’t write about what happened to her, but she created amazing quilts to show her story. Her daughter writes her mother’s words and we enter a time that we should never forget. And for a lighter tale, the Honor Book Award goes to Lowji Discovers America, by Candace Fleming. As Lowji and his family move to America from India, he finds new ways to make friends and fulfill his dream of having a pet of his own. A fun book for third and fourth graders. And you.

“Let’s again give all our winners a round of applause.

[audience applauds].

“Thank you all for coming today. Remember, glasses in the sink, and please sweep up some confetti on your way out.”

Raise a Reader, Raise a Writer

I ask for a little indulgence here.

My fourth grade daughter wrote an essay for the PTA’s “Reflections” contest, and it won for her grade category at her school. This year’s theme was “I Wonder Why,” and the children who particpated tended to wonder about nature or the world around them. My daughter wrote something a little different. My husband and I have told enough people about this essay that we’ve received many requests for a copy. Thus, I post it here tonight, and we hope that as it goes on to the next level of judging, other people will find it just as... let’s say, inspirational.

Motion Activated

I wonder why automatic paper towel dispensers hate me. It all started a bit ago. We were on a car trip, and had made a pit stop at the public bathrooms. When I was done, I went to the automatic paper towel dispensers to dry my hands. I waved my hand in front of the sensor. Nothing. I did it again, and again, and again. I didn’t just wave, I did everything! Nothing. My mom walked over, waved, and got a paper towel. My sister walked over, waved, and got a paper towel. I waved, and waved, and waved. Nothing. Finally, I got fed up and grabbed a paper towel that had been hanging out of another dispenser. There was only one logical explanation. They hate me. Why?

The Pomp, The Circumstance... The Newbery/Caldecott Awards

As the champagne corks were popped, and the confetti fell, it is near certain that the murmur gently rolled through the crowd, “Why do you think they picked that book?”

Now, it may never again reach the levels of The Whipping Boy Fiasco of 1987 or the more recent My Friend Rabbit Incident of 2003, but there will always be objections to the Newbery and Caldecott selections. So, for what it is worth, here is my opinion.

Criss CrossThe Newbery medal went to Lynne Rae Perkins’ Criss Cross, a gentle, mildly humorous story about teenagers growing up in the 1960s. I wouldn’t necessarily have picked this book, but I think it is a good book and a fun read. I remember liking it, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Of the honor books, I have read Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, a picture book story of the author’s ancestors up to the present day. I highly recommend this as one of the most beautiful, most moving books I have ever read. It would be particularly wonderful in the school setting, especially for African-American history month in February.

The Hello, Goodbye WindowThe Caldecott Medal is given for achievement in art, rather than in writing. The 2006 winner is The Hello, Goodbye Window, illustrated by Chris Raschka and written by Norton Juster. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of Raschka’s art, but I can appreciate it, and when I saw this book come through our library, I did think it was something special. It is a simple, loving story about a little girl and her grandparents from a child-centered perspective.

The Caldecott honor books are all good choices. Rosa is illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Nikki Giovanni, and is an excellent children’s biography of Rosa Parks. The other honor books are Zen Shorts, Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride, and Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems.

Tomorrow, I will post my top choices for 2005 from what I read this past year. Bring your own champagne and confetti.

Guys, Get Your Freak On

If you are male and are coming to a site called MotherReader, you are truly enlightened or a close personal friend (or both). So, in honor of you, my first real post will be cross-gender books. No, you don't have to thank me personally.

FreakonomicsThe best book I read last year was Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. I plowed through this book in one sitting and immediately gave it to my husband, who plowed through it in two sittings. It is just that interesting and that easy to read. Now, I generally don’t read nonfiction books, because as I read them I find myself thinking that there is going to be a test at the end and I won’t have studied enough. But I didn’t have that feeling with this book. Steven Levitt is an economist/statistician with an interesting way of putting statistics together to discover new things in the world around us. Stephen Dubner is a writer who puts the statistics and concepts into a readable, almost storylike form. He teases you with a result or a concept and then pulls you through the statistics that make it work. In one chapter he asks us how teachers and sumo wrestlers are alike. I wanna know! Great book that deserves its rank as a bestseller.

Never Have Your Dog StuffedAlso in the nonfiction family is Alan Alda’s autobiography Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. I loved M*A*S*H as a kid and remember sneaking out of bed to watch the show from the hallway while my parents had it on. Hawkeye fascinated me. As it turns out, and as I could have suspected, there is a lot of Alan Alda in that character. His sense of humor in this book is perfect as he takes us through his early years growing up in vaudeville up to his time as a star. You’ll learn something, but there won’t be a test.

The Kite RunnerAre you ready for a little fiction? Let me point you to another deserved bestseller, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni. I won’t lie: This book is harsh. Bad things happen. However, I felt that I got a real insight into life in Afghanistan and into the current American immigrant world. Things in this book will make you cringe, but you will want to keep reading. I would have dropped the last fifty pages or made them a little less on-the-nose, but it’s still a worthy read.

Now, I have already gone off my type with all three of these books. Two nonfiction, two bestsellers, all about men by men. I’m going to have to change my introduction. Crap.

100 Things About Me

  1. I read almost compulsively.
  2. Some people think I’m funny.
  3. I am a packrat.
  4. I usually know where to find things.
  5. I don’t like having my picture taken.
  6. People’s stories intrigue me.
  7. I could probably sing professionally.
  8. I am a dedicated mother.
  9. I love to help people.
  10. I can be a good liar.
  11. I crave sweets.
  12. My current weight bothers me.
  13. I still don’t exercise enough.
  14. I’ll never, never understand how a computer works.
  15. I love cats.
  16. I don’t like dogs.
  17. But I’ve been known to make exceptions.
  18. I don’t drive in D.C. because it scares me.
  19. I hum in public places.
  20. And sometimes sing out loud.
  21. Without my glasses, I’m helpless.
  22. I would drive an hour to spend time with a friend.
  23. I hate indoor pools.
  24. I love indoor roller rinks.
  25. I cry too easily.
  26. I don’t get the point of frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  27. Or frozen garlic bread.
  28. I’m not sure who my best friend is.
  29. My family is my first priority.
  30. I have ten watches.
  31. But I am never on time.
  32. I talk on my cell phone while I’m driving.
  33. A lot.
  34. I don’t really read the newspaper.
  35. I am trying to do Sudoku, but I’m not very good.
  36. My kitchen has to be clean.
  37. But nothing else is.
  38. I love shopping.
  39. I really love a bargain.
  40. I will never own a bread machine.
  41. Or a quesadilla maker.
  42. I can’t decide whether to go to grad school.
  43. Or whether to get laser surgery on my eyes.
  44. Or what dentist to go to.
  45. Basically, I can’t make decisions.
  46. I’d like to live by the ocean.
  47. Summer is my favorite season.
  48. I get a great deal of my news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
  49. I can rollerblade fairly well.
  50. I would like to write a book.
  51. I have a terrible sense of direction.
  52. I hold up my hands to tell my left from right.
  53. I don’t use the ATM.
  54. I think I’m allergic to melons.
  55. I love New York City, but I can’t imagine living there.
  56. I can’t follow football.
  57. I’ve seen 90 of the 100 top-grossing movies.
  58. I often drive with no music whatsoever just to enjoy the silence.
  59. I can identify four different kinds of cows.
  60. Centipedes freak me out.
  61. I usually have a crush on someone.
  62. Which my husband knows.
  63. But not always.
  64. Considering I work in a library, I buy a lot of books.
  65. Most of them are used.
  66. In college, I was a psychology major.
  67. I used my major after college for one year.
  68. Unless you include counseling my crazy family.
  69. I yell at my kids too much.
  70. When I let it out, I have a funky sense of style.
  71. I am not very patient.
  72. Except at work.
  73. Stupid people drive me crazy.
  74. I have been to Europe and Canada, but not Mexico.
  75. I am a natural flirt.
  76. British accents melt me like butter.
  77. When people spell words out, I can’t follow it.
  78. I am not a morning person.
  79. If I don’t shower by noon, I won’t shower.
  80. I’ve lost the ability to truly sleep it off.
  81. Which makes for occasional tough weekends.
  82. I’ve had my heart broken.
  83. Sunrises make me sad.
  84. I still love stuffed animals.
  85. When salt spills, I throw it over my left shoulder.
  86. I wish I appreciated poetry more than I do.
  87. I have written seven poems.
  88. And two haiku.
  89. I can’t always work the DVD player.
  90. For years I drove, and loved, a VW Karmann Ghia.
  91. I wrecked it in the only car accident I ever had.
  92. In 20 years of driving, I’ve gotten one speeding ticket.
  93. Which is amazing luck.
  94. I love arts and crafts.
  95. I tend to repeat myself.
  96. I tend to repeat myself.
  97. When my alarm goes off, I snooze for nine minutes.
  98. I don’t always feel like a grown-up.
  99. I don’t share the good chocolate with anyone.
  100. I still make wishes when I blow out the candles.

Real Books for Real Readers

One of the bestselling preschool books of recent times was Walter the Farting Dog. This year the American Library Association named as one of its best books Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, a book in which Mr. Rosen talks about his despair over the death of his son. I believe that, for most of us, what we want lies somewhere between a flatulent canine and overwhelming grief.

Similarly, a 2002 bestseller — widely touted as a “good book” — was The Lovely Bones. This book was awful, preying on our worst fears and lurid fascination with rape, murder, and revenge. In the same year, we heard about Atonement, by Ian McEwan. Now, I am sure this is a great book. But if I, a dedicated and in-practice reader, can’t get through the first twenty pages, then what hope is there for everyone else? How do we find out about the books for us?

We are smart people, but are too tired from our busy lives to tackle heavy books. We don’t want to read something that is depressing to prove it is “worthy literature”; we want to be entertained and enlightened. We want good suggestions for our children, but we don’t always want to go back to the “classics.” We just want to read again, like we used to do.

Welcome. I hope I can help.

Who are you to write this?

I am a mother of two girls, ages six eight and nine eleven. For five seven years, I have had a part-time job as a children’s library assistant (a children’s librarian without the master’s degree or chance of promotion). In my job, I process the new children’s books, seeing all that our large public library gets. For adult books, I read a lot, pulling my choices from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Washington Post’s “Book World,” library patron suggestions, and books I just happen to see.

What do you like to read?

I gravitate toward books about real life, other cultures, and history. But I get ideas from so many sources. I am thrilled when I find a truly funny book. I don’t read much science fiction, mystery, or nonfiction — though I never write any of these categories off. If our sensibilities fit, I’ll have some good suggestions. If not, maybe the children’s books will resonate with you.

How do you find the time to read?

Nobody finds the time to read — they make the time to read. I do have a couple of factors in my favor, though. One, I read very quickly. I’m not talking about “speed-reading,” though I can do that also. I just read faster than most people. I have been known to read so fast I make myself a little sick. Two, I have a high tolerance for undone housework. My house can be very messy. I am not proud of that; in fact, just the opposite. But if the kids have been fed, the kitchen is clean, and we have clothes to wear, I find it hard to do the tidying and cleaning up that eats into everyone’s time. I’d rather read. Sorry, Mom, but there it is. Three, I see new books all the time, so I can’t help but read them. I work with books in front of me. Like a kid in a candy store. How can I turn away?

Why would a man visit this blog?

Many of the books I read are of interest to men or women. But I’ll make you a deal: If the entry title starts with “Guys,” you have my assurance that it’ll be okay for men. (It will be our little secret.) If you’re a dad, you may want to read something else to your kid besides Clifford the Big Red Dog... for the eleventh time. (“Get it? He’s big! And he’s red!”) Since you’re going to spend this time with your child — and you are, aren’t you? — you might as well have fun.