105 Ways to Give a Book

Preteen Angst

I am attracted to teen angst books. You might say that all books about teens must be about angst, it being their overriding M.O. But some books are really about angst, and I just love ’em. It must say something about my need to process my own teenage years over and over again by reading these books, but we’ll not go there.

What I Call LifeWhat I Call Life, by Jill Wolfson, drew me in with its title, which reminded me of the long-gone but excellent series My So-Called Life. And the book was... okay. The girl’s mother has an mental episode in a library (always in a library) and the girl is send to a group home until her mother can take her again. There’s an interesting cast of characters, lots of self-discovery and knitting. ’Cause knitting is the new thing, y’know.

Spitting ImageSpitting Image, by Shutta Crum, jumped off the shelf at me. Not literally, or this would be an entirely different entry. It is an interesting book about a girl growing up in poor, rural Kentucky in the early sixties. I enjoyed it and felt invested in the character. Good job, Shutta, on a nice transition from writing picture books.

Flashcards of My LifeI could have written Flashcards of My Life, but Charise Mericle Harper got there first. This book was so funny, and so true to my own experience of preteen years. It is all girls and friendships and liking boys and first kisses and embarrassing parents and all the things that go with growing up. Perfect for a middle-school girl, or for my peers wanting to relive those horrifying years with some... let’s say, perspective.

Guys Who Love to Laugh

If you read my intro, you may remember that I am thrilled when I find a truly funny book. ’Cause I love to laugh. In deference to Patton Oswalt’s bit on this topic, it would be quite disturbing to see someone laughing who didn’t love to laugh, but I do love a book that makes me Laugh Out Loud.

Having given up —again — on The Areas of My Expertise to make me outwardly chuckle, fate smiled on me by dropping this new book in my lap. Actually, the book was dropped in the return bin at the library and the cover caught my attention, but you get my drift. I started reading it Saturday night, coming out of my over-indulged, late-night, no-sleep, sucky-workday malaise to grin, then giggle, and finally LOL. I started calling bits across the room to my husband, barely able to read through my laughing. Ah, I’m With Stupid, where have you been all my life?

I'm With StupidThe full title of this book, by Gene Weingarten and Gina Barreca, is I’m With Stupid: One Woman. One Man. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up. Gene Weingarten writes a humor column for the Washington Post Magazine, and sometimes pairs up with Gina Barreca for an exchange about men and women. This book includes those columns and more. It is incredibly funny, but there are some real truths in here about men and women that make it better than just a joke book. As well as being outrageously funny, Gina Barreca is a scholar of feminism, and her intellect adds to the quality of the book.

I have one complaint. I didn’t like the last chapter because it got a little serious for the tone of the book and left me on a down rather than an up. Here’s my suggestion: Read the intro chapter, then the last chapter, and then the rest of the book. Or read the the book in order, but then immediately turn back to Chapter 4, “Men and Women are Funny, Just Not to Each Other,” to end on a high note. Nothing like going out on a high note, like... now.

For those of you who want to stay for the touchy-feely part of the post, hang on. Everyone else may go back to the preceding paragraph and leave after the word “now.”

Okay, in the last chapter the authors talk about when they are going to meet in person, which they never have done to this point. Gina is uncomfortable meeting Gene sooner then need be because she is worried how he will feel about her when he sees her and realizes that she is just average in looks and a little fat. He doesn’t care, but she doesn’t want to ruin the illusion they have of each other, the chemistry they have, with appearance. And this is the feminist scholar talking, so what hope is there for the rest of us women who worry about our appearance and our weight? Also, she talks about the nature of the man/woman friendship and how tenuous it is, which made me think about my own friendships with men and how each of those started, evolved and/or crashed and burned. So, I enjoyed this book very, very much, but it caught me off guard that it made me thoughtful about my own life and issues when I just wanted to Laugh Out Loud.

Plus, now I felt invested in these people. For the publicity of the book they did finally meet. What happened? I had to drag myself downstairs to look online, where I found Weingarten’s Post column on the topic. But at the time I was reading the book, I felt like they left me hanging, and I am a little bitter about it. Oh yes I am.

What Wine Goes With Spaghetti-O’s and Strawberry Taffy?

With my work and family, I don’t have much time all to myself, so I treasure it. I plan for it. I savor it. So, when thwarted in my attempt to have some time out on my own, I get a little moody.

The scene is set at the Einstein Bagel Bakery — who make a fine egg and spinach on panini bread — where I’m meeting a good friend. As I leave brunch on my way to a day of fun-filled bargin shopping, my purse begins to vibrate. Actually, it’s my phone that is vibrating with the intensity of the message to be conveyed — my daughter is sick and I need to pick her up from school.

She is sluggish when I bring her home, so I suggest we watch TV together, and the only thing appropriate on our TiVo-Lite (i.e., not real TiVo) is American Idol. I believe I’ve mentioned that I can only watch American Idol if I’m doing something productive; otherwise I feel kind of guilty. Not that I don’t love American Idol, and if they ever make an American Idol version for 35 and up, I’ll be standing in the rain at RFK Stadium, or the FedEx Field, or Viagra Stands or whatever they are calling it then. Anyway, after three episodes, I am in an American Idol-induced stupor and not sure how I am going to shake out of it. I want to stay close to my daughter in case she... well, hurls. Reading a book nearby her would be the obvious choice. But what to read when you’re bummed and your brain has been pummeled with the ups and downs of the singing careers of total strangers? Most people would take this approach with wine and the meal, and in that analogy, what wine goes with Spaghetti-O's and strawberry taffy?

The Areas of My ExpertiseCan’t be nonfiction, or even historical fiction. Too facty. No women overcoming hardships. No men overcoming women. It needs to be humor, definitely. And then I know: It’s time for The Areas of My Expertise.

I keep trying John Hodgman’s book, because I know it is funny. But it is so clever in its humor, that it is almost nonsensical. I have only been able to digest small amounts of this book so far, but this may be the the day. I am not sure I get the 409 — yes, 409 — individual hobo names he lists, but I admire the author’s perseverence. Most of us would have given up at 163, but not this guy. That alone merits my consideration. Though if I need more, there are articles on “Lobster-Claw v. Pigeon-Foot Deformities” and the “Nine Presidents Who Had Hooks For Hands.” I can’t wait to find out who. Can you?

The Shroud of the Thwacker

Ever since the day I did nothing but read (“Why I Never Get Anything Done”), I’ve been making more of an effort to keep the house clean. It will never be Martha Stewart tidy, but I am going for... inoffensive. Since my house was clean, I was not alarmed by the drop-by visit of my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. I did want to make a decent impression on his girlfriend, who had not seen my house before, but I wasn’t worried about it.

As they called from the road about five minutes from my house, I collected the snow clothes that had piled up in the foyer. Well, actually, I made a path through the snow clothes... but I did carry some boots downstairs, and that is when I saw it.

There is no pleasant way to say this, so let’s just get it over with: It was cat vomit. Yes, I had cleaned it up days ago but had not taken care of the rather significant stain that was now glaring at me from its position by the bookshelf. I had probably passed it a dozen times in the last few days and each time I thought, “Oh, I need to get the carpet cleaner for that.” And each time I meant to go upstairs to get said carpet cleaner, and got distracted with something else and never got back to it. Now this stain was just so very there, and it couldn’t be anything else — like an experimental rug Rorschach test — and my guests were literally at the door.

At that moment, it all came clear. My focus was sharp. Time slowed down. And I placed on top of the stain... a book. Because when you read as much as I do, no one seems to question that there would be a book just lying around in the middle of your living room. “Why, yes, I was sprawled out there in the space between the bookshelves and the piano reading that book just before you arrived.”

I think that I’ve learned something from the experience, which I why I felt I should share this story. While the messy can get away with a lot, the readers can get away with more. And you should keep carpet cleaner on both levels of your house.

Oh, the book? The Shroud of the Thwacker, by Chris Elliott. Great title, funny read — just like this entry.

Gay Penguin Love

So now that I’ve inadvertently given you a book suggestion for your husband/wife/lover (see “The Pop-Up What?”), let’s turn instead to the kiddies. I find Valentine’s Day is the one time that I can say, “I’ve put up with your crap for nine years now, so you sit your butt down and listen to a story that expresses how much I love you, missy!” Feel free to paraphrase.

So, for a Valentine gift or reading-aloud time, here are my top “love” picture books, in order from youngest (lap babies) to oldest (I don’t know... 27).

FRIEND LOVE: Never Too Little To Love, by Jeanne Willis, is a sweet book about a mouse who wants to give a kiss to his (her) friend the giraffe. The book has sturdy pages for the littlest readers.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: No Matter What, by Debi Gliori. Small presents many situations in which Large may not love her/him, but love always wins out. Larger print and simple sentences also make this book good for a beginning reader.

MOMMY LOVE: Te Amo Bebe, Little One, by Lisa Wheeler, incorporates a Latin American feel in a story of a baby growing into a toddler. The refrain will run through your head for days, not necessarily unpleasantly.

DADDY LOVE: Papa, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse, follows a Masaai father and son in the incredible landscape of Africa. Additional information about the culture is included at the end of the story.

SWEETIE LOVE: Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story, by Lisa Wheeler, is a funny story of a porcupine who can’t find somebody to love. Make up your own tune to his recurring — and unintentionally insulting — songs.

GAY PENGUIN LOVE: And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson, tells the story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who find each other and raise an adopted egg. Based on a true story, and in my opinion, a great way to introduce children to the idea of different kinds of families.

Admit it — you were just waiting to find out what the title “Gay Penguin Love” was all about, weren’t you?

The Pop-Up What?

This post couldn’t wait, and I can only hope that someone out there is reading.

I’m killing time at work today and looking over the 100 bestselling children’s books, something I do from time to time. When what do I see at on the Barnes and Noble children’s — now I said children’s — bestseller list? There at number 84 is The Pop-Up Kama Sutra: Six Paper-Engineered Variations. I am not sure which amuses me more, that The Pop-up Kama Sutra appeared on the children’s bestseller list or that there is a Pop-up Kama Sutra book in the first place. Not to mention the variations of puns and jokes on the words “pop-up” connected with the kama sutra.

In all good conscience, I alerted Barnes and Noble to the error before I thought about you, my dear readers, so if it is no longer there, I apologize. But it had to be done.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

I Still Didn’t Do My Homework

Last night I went to a PTA meeting that lasted for TWO HOURS, and thus reminded me of WHY I DON’T GO TO PTA MEETINGS! I could have been reading! Even watching American Idol would have felt more productive. Not that I don’t love American Idol, but I do feel compelled to do something else while watching the show — folding laundry, paying bills, churning butter — so I don’t feel the hours of my life quietly slipping away.

Here then, with as little work as possible, is the second half of the annotations I refered to in the entry “I Didn’t Do My Homework.” This selection is for third grade on up to middle school, but even the last ones on the list would be appropriate for younger, but advanced readers.
  1. Lowji Discovers America, by Candace Fleming
    Join Lowji as he leaves India, learns about his new home, and tries to get what he has always wanted — a pet!
  2. Fashion Kitty, by Charise Mericle Harper
    Another blah outfit? This sounds like a job for Fashion Kitty. She is saving the world one pair of capris at a time.
  3. Captain Fact: Dinosaur Adventure, by Knife
    Captain Fact can handle the dinosaurs, but you should step back when he has a FACT ATTACK. If you are not careful, you just might learn something.
  4. Goha the Wise Fool, by Denys Johnson-Davis
    Is he really a fool, or is he wiser than them all? You’ll find out in these funny stories from the Middle East.
  5. Clemency Pogue, Fairy Killer, by J.T. Petty
    Part fantasy, part dark comedy, and part Lemony Snicket, this book is sure to hold your interest. Just remember to clap if you believe in fairies.
  6. The Tail of Emily Windsnap, by Liz Kessler
    As Emily discovers the secrets of the sea, she needs to keep her biggest secret from those on land. You’ll love this fishy tail/tale.
  7. Malibu Carmie, by Leah Komaiko
    Carmie has her summer and her mom all figured out. But she finds out that there is more to her mom than she ever thought, and her summer is turning out very different than she expected.
  8. Monsoon Summer, by Mitali Perkins
    Jazz is used to her mother’s pet projects, but this one is going to take the whole family to India for the summer. She wants to stay out of her mother’s mission, but is drawn in by all that she sees around her.
  9. Sarah’s Ground, by Ann Rinaldi
    Did you know that Mount Vernon is only here for us to visit today because of the courage of an eighteen-year old girl? In this historical fiction book, Sarah stands up to generals and presidents to keep Mount Vernon safe for future generations.
Tomorrow, when the meeting hangover lifts (I also had three hours of work meetings yesterday), I’ll hit the books again. But don’t ask me to meet about them.

It’s Tough Out There Addendum

So, I’m still mulling over this “He’s just not that into you” concept, and it comes to me why, perhaps, women overanalyze men’s behavior. In our formative years, girls are more advanced in their relationship skills and have to... let’s say, help the boys along. In elementary school, a boy shows a girl that he likes her by pulling her hair. In middle school, he calls her house and hangs up when she answers. A teenage boy isn’t much better, driving by a girl’s house over and over instead of just asking her out. Girls get in the habit of analyzing boys’ behavior to figure out what they could possibly be thinking. And then — at some point — the boys become men, the paradigm changes... but the women don’t.

There you go, I’ve just solved the man/woman relationship. Discuss amongst yourselves. I’m going to tackle world peace.

It’s Tough Out There

I got this idea to read the book Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell. I had read it long ago before I started watching the HBO show Sex and the City, and now that I have seen and enjoyed the show, I thought it would be fun to go back to the book. The book is not the same as the show. The characters and situations are taken from the book, especially the earliest shows where they would have “man on the street” interview comments interpersed throughout the show. But the show changed characters around, changed their relationships to one another, and changed some of the scenarios. All and all though, an interesting companion for fans of the show.

But what I found most intriguing about this book was how it made me feel. I envied the fun, partying life of these New Yorkers while similtaneously feeling relieved that I didn’t have to participate in these dating rituals. On the personal side, I met my husband right after college, so I never had that time after school but all on my own. There are chances you can take and mistakes you can make that are impossible when another person is involved. And that is good and bad. But reading this book just made me realize how hard it is to be... out there. And led me to read the next book.

In one of the shows of Sex and the City, one of the female characters is talking with her girlfriends — and one guy — about a less than successful date. The women reassure her that she is wonderful and of course he will call her. The guy shocks everybody by saying, “It sounds like he’s just not that into you.” This statement changes the way she approaches her relationships. Imagine, not having to analyze every little thing a potential boyfriend does. If he really, really likes her, it will show.

He's Just Not That Into YouThe idea resonates so strongly, that the guy consultant on the show — from whom the episode was formulated — writes a book entitled He’s Just Not That Into You. Now, it has been a bestseller, so I’ve never seen it at my library, but now it has been out for a while, so I go to the shelf to look at it, and lo and behold, there it is. So I spend my boring, rainy Saturday at the library skim-reading this book. And I have to say it has changed how I look at interactions that I have had with men in the past. He doesn't call you back? He’s just not that into you. He doesn’t want to drive down to meet you for lunch? He’s just not that into you. He ignores you around his friends? He’s just not that into you. In fact, I have just given away the entire book. The only advice in the book is — now say it with me — he’s just not that into you. So, why don’t men just say so? Because apparently, a man would rather gnaw off his left arm than tell you this simple truth. Single women should read this book because after the tenth question and answer posed, it does start to sink in.

And men, if you would, let me hear from you. Is it true? Is it really that simple?

I Didn’t Do My Homework

I’m on the committee to select books for the public libraries’ summer reading program, and as part of the committee I need to write annotations for 15 of the books. Well, I put it off ’til the last day, and now I’m not sure I’m putting out my best work. Today I give you the preschool to grade two books’ annotations. If you live in my county, all eleven of you, you get a head start on the summer reading books. If not, you can benefit from a few of the suggestions from one of the richest counties in the country.
  1. Poems to Dream Together = Poemas Para Soñar Juntos, by Francisco X. Alarcón
    Enjoy these fun and simple poems in English and Spanish. Poemas simples y divertidos para que todos los gocen.
  2. Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains, by Barbara Knutson
    Among the wild guinea pigs of the Andes is one in particular who manages to fool the tricky fox, not once but twice!
  3. Sea Surprise, by Leo Landry
    If you think this is just another undersea adventure, you’ll be shocked as you watch a little mermaid and her shark friend help the electric eel recover his ZAP.
  4. An Undone Fairy Tale, by Ian Lendler
    Don’t turn the pages too quickly or the artist won’t have time to finish the next scene. The Princess rides on a snail and knights fight a giant pretzel in this funny, fairy tale.
  5. Sir Small and the Sea Monster, by Jane O’Connor
    This is a traditional fairy tale where the knight saves the town, riding in on his... seahorse? It is a fairy tale, but much, much smaller.
  6. Think Cool Thoughts, by Elizabeth Goodwin Perry
    It is so, so, hot in the apartment that Angel can barely stand it. But then her mother comes up with a wonderful idea that leads to a very special night.
If you have read these books and want to offer another annotation option, great. If you haven’t read these books and want to offer another annotation option, still great.