It’s that time of year. It’s cold. It’s dreary. People stopped giving you Christmas presents weeks ago. You’ve been forced to put on real clothes and go back to work, where no one is leaving prettily-wrapped homemade baked goods on your desk anymore. (What’s up with that?) You’ve just broken your first new year’s resolution, and the second one is only holding on by a thread. Plus, there’s something called “Blue Monday” looming on the horizon, which sounds like a cool new bar, but is actually just the name coined for the most depressing day of the year. As if anyone needed that added to the calendar.
In short, things are pretty gloomy.
Why not celebrate the gloom? Embrace it through art.
Last month, I posted my formula for naming a lit journal, and several of you shared your creative creations. The one that made me smile the most, however, was mine: Morose Penguin Review. I have to admit, I sort of fell in love with it. And if there’s a better publication for these gloomy late-January days, I don’t know what it is.
So here’s what I propose. Make yourself a nice cup of tea or pour yourself a double bourbon or open a five pound bag of gummy bears—whatever you indulge in, I don’t judge—and write some gloomy poetry. Because for one month (and one month only) I’m going to publish the Morose Penguin Review here on this blog.
Here are the guidelines. We’ll keep it simple.
Theme: Morose Penguins Genres: Poetry Deadline: January 31, 2018 (midnight CST) How to Submit: Send one poem (any form, maximum 30 lines) and a two-sentence bio using the contact formon my website. I will read them all and publish the best. And possibly the worst. Payment Upon Acceptance: Publication on my blog, a virtual pat on the head, and the satisfaction of knowing that you have lessened the gloom (or multiplied it, depending on your piece) of millions* of readers.
(* Actually, probably more like 100 readers.) What I’m Looking For: Poems about morose penguins that make me laugh or smile or think or go “Aww…whoa.”
I realize this is a short turn-around time, but if we wait too long, winter will be over and no one will be gloomy anymore. Plus, if you get your submissions to me by the end of January, I can publish them in February which, let’s face it, is just a slog of twenty-eight blue Mondays in a row.
That’s it. Surprise me. Wow me. Make me laugh. Try not to traumatize me too terribly. Above all, have some fun and distract yourself from all the gloom. I look forward to seeing what you send me.
A few years ago, I convinced myself that I knew my books (all 700-ish of them) so well that I could identify them merely by touch. I sat on the couch with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears while my husband brought me five books at a time. Then, keeping my eyes closed, I ran my hands over the covers, flipped the pages, felt for bookmarks, inhaled their scents, and generally absorbed their bookiness through my pores before making my guess.
I didn’t get a single one right.
This was very disappointing and also somewhat embarrassing, and the “See-you’re-crazy-I-told-you-so” smirk on my husband’s face only made matters worse. However, I still maintain that I know SOME of my books that well. He obviously just didn’t bring me the right ones.
Whether or not I know my books as well as I thought, it doesn’t take away from how much I love them. Reading is still my favorite thing to do, and I did it a lot in 2017, finishing 60 books that spanned fiction, nonfiction, YA, middle grade, adult, children’s, poetry, short stories, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, comedy, classics, graphic novels, comics, audio books, and novels in verse. Whew! I consider that a job well done.
However, dedicating the hours necessary to finish 60 books in a year does mean there are times when other areas of life are neglected.
If you called me and I didn’t answer, it’s because I was reading.
If I showed up a little late to your gathering, it’s because I was reading.
If I left the tea kettle whistling until the water boiled away, it’s because I was reading.
If I forgot to feed the dog, it’s because I was reading.
If an announcement about a delayed flight made me smile, it’s because I was reading.
If I had tears in my eyes at a coffee shop, it’s because I was reading.
If I didn’t realize a cat had crawled into my lap, it’s because I was reading.
And if I fell asleep on the couch with the light on and a bookmark stuck to my face, it’s because I was reading.
In fact, the reason why this post didn’t come out on December 31st like I planned, is because I was reading. I was determined to finish one more book before the end of the year. (And I did.)
So, the question is… WHAT was I reading?
I read a lot of things last year, and I liked most of them. Here are a few favorites. (For a full list of what I read, check out my Goodreads page.)
* The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud – An excellent end to an amazing series. Read my full review of this fifth and final book in the Lockwood & Co. series here.
* Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick – Sonnenblick has outdone himself with this novel. I didn’t think I’d ever love any of his books more than Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, but Falling Over Sideways got it just right. Just absolutely perfectly right. An excellent read for middle schoolers, parents, teachers, and anyone who loves a good story.
* The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell – I can’t express how much I loved The Madwoman Upstairs. It’s everything I wanted and needed from a summer read. Wit. Charm. Passionate book discussions. Literary scavenger hunts. Scandals. Secrets. A creepy old tower. The Brontes. This novel had it all. I listened to it on audio, read by Katie Koster, and it was fantastic. So fantastic, I bought the paper copy. Now I’m tempted to start over and read it again. So good.
* Leaf and Beak: Sonnets by Scott Wiggerman – This poetry collection sat on my shelf for too long before I finally read it. Now, I don’t know why I waited. The sonnets follow the poet on his daily walks around his Austin neighborhood and are organized by the seasons, but there is nothing trite or expected from these elegant poems. The sonnets are both vivid and subtle, allowing the reader to stroll pleasantly through the verse while also inspiring her/him to pause and reflect at regular intervals. An excellent collection.
* The Arrival by Shaun Tan – Is it possible to “read” a book with no words? If you don’t think so, then you haven’t read The Arrival. This wordless story of a man leaving his homeland for a new country communicates the immigrant experience in a beautiful, intimate way.
* Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro – I bought this book based on its adorable cover, and the inside didn’t disappoint. Still Writing is written in short essays, anecdotes, and tips. It reads easily and is a positive and encouraging take on the writing craft, while also being realistic. I took a lot of notes while reading it and put it down to write multiple times. (That’s how you know a writing book is good—it makes you WRITE.)
* Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart – Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy with bipolar disorder, are both struggling through 8th grade. Their friendship will tug at your heart. At least, it tugged at mine.
* Slasher Girls & Monster Boysedited by April Genevieve Tucholke – This anthology of teen horror stories by some of today’s best YA authors is way more gruesome and creepy and dark than I expected. I liked almost all of the stories, and several stayed with me long after I finished them, especially “In the Forest Dark and Deep” by Carrie Ryan. Thanks to that story, I’ll never be able to watch Alice in Wonderland without cringing again.
* My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – This book CRACKED. ME. UP. It’s a historical fantasy comedy romance. (Yeah, that’s a thing.) It’s like… if Game of Thrones met The Princess Bride except half the characters could turn into animals. You know what, just read it.
* (Not a favorite, but still one I want to mention) – The last book I read in 2017, the one I finished just a few hours before midnight, was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and I can’t decide what I think of it. I’m keeping my thoughts to myself for now because my book club will be discussing this classic horror novel in a couple of weeks, and I don’t want to give away all my conversation topics here, but I would love to know what others thought of it. Have you read it? Did you like it? (I promise not to steal your opinions for my book club. All clever critiques will be duly attributed during our discussion, I promise.)
So… the next question is… What will I read THIS year?
I hesitate to even post these titles because, if history is any indicator, books that I put on my “must-read” list often meet with procrastination, forgetfulness, or disappointment. But this year’s list is a winner, I can feel it. Here are ten books I definitely want to burrow into in 2018:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (I already started this one and am enjoying it so far.)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (This has been on my reading list for years. A friend gave me a beautiful purple copy for Christmas, so now I have no reason not to dive in.)
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (No, I’ve never read it. Don’t shun me. A student gave me a copy—again a gorgeous one—so I’m going to give this classic a try.)
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (My friend recommended this book. The summary sounds just as strange as the title. Wonderfully strange! I’m so excited to read it.)
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I’ve watched this author’s TED talks and read her interviews. Everything she says is eloquent and gorgeous, so I expect her book will be the same.)
Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman (This has also been on my reading list for years. It feels like time to read it.)
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford (I got this sequel to one of my favorite middle grade novels for my birthday but haven’t made time for it yet. I can’t wait to see what Milo is up to.)
Dreadnought by April Daniels (I’ve heard great things about this YA novel about a transgender superhero.)
Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey (Nova Ren Suma recommended this book during my workshop with her at Highlights. I don’t remember why anymore, but when Nova Ren Suma recommends something, you read it.)
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (A student highly recommended this book to me, and it meets my goals of reading more nonfiction and reading outside my comfort zone. Plus, the girl is brilliant, so I trust her.)
Well, there you have it. Books, books, and more books. I’d love to hear about your own reading achievements. What was your favorite read in 2017? What are your goals for 2018? And tell me what you thought of The Turn of the Screw! (It’s ok. You can be honest.)
Author’s Note: Before I begin, I would like to say that I have nothing but love and respect for the participants in this adventure. They are all kind-hearted, intelligent people, despite how they may appear in this story. You’ll have to trust me on this.
Author’s Note, Part 2: The following story really creates more questions than answers. There’s nothing I can do about that, but I apologize for it in advance.
The Tale of the Christmas Bat
This year, Hubby and I traveled to Maryland to visit his family for Christmas. We arrived at 11pm on the 22nd, hung out with his mom and brother for a bit, then went to bed. At that point, everything in his mom’s beautiful, two-story home seemed perfectly normal.
The next morning, Hubby got up before I did and went downstairs for breakfast, where his mom greeted him by saying, “I…