Posted in Reading

A Tale of Two Books

I read all the time, but I don’t always read what everyone else is reading. My book choices bounce from classic horror to edgy YA to quiet middle grade titles to random novels with a cool cover that I saw at Half-Priced Books. I rarely read the MOST POPULAR BOOKS of the moment, those titles that are on everyone’s Goodreads page and every best seller list. If I do read them, it’s often much later, after all the hubbub has died down and I think, “Ok, let’s see what all the fuss was about.” (Often the fuss was right on. Sometimes I disagree with the fuss.)

However, last month, I read two VERY POPULAR BOOKS at the same time—one in print and one on audio—and I was shocked at how similar they were.

The books were Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Educated by Tara Westover.

On the surface, these books are quite different. Where the Crawdads Sing is a fiction novel that is part mystery, set in the 1950s and 60s. The story is about a young woman named Kya, known to locals as “the Marsh Girl,” who grows up alone after her family leaves her, creating a life for herself in an isolated hut on the North Carolina coast. Educated, on the other hand, is a memoir about the author’s life growing up in the 1980s and 90s with her radical survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. Her parents don’t believe in modern medicine and don’t even have birth certificates for their children, who, in the eyes of the government, don’t exist. Despite their obvious differences, the connections between these books were fascinating.

The biggest similarity was that both characters (I’m going to call Tara a character here even though she is a real person) were the youngest child in a large family and neither one went to school. Kya, lured by the promise of a hot lunch, went to school for one day when she was around seven years old, but when the other kids made fun of her for misspelling “dog,” she never went back. Due to her father’s intolerance of public school, Tara never set foot in a classroom until she was seventeen. However, both women were bright, quick learners and became educated through other means, each becoming an expert in their areas.

There is so much more, though, that links these two books. The richness of the setting is one. Both the marshes of the Carolina coast and the rural Idaho mountains were described so vividly, I could see them. When Kya was motoring through the lagoon in her old boat and Tara was working in the junkyard beside her father, I felt like I was there with them. Because of the Westovers’ primitive way of living, even the time periods of the books didn’t seem so far removed. Each time I heard a year mentioned in Educated, I was jolted for a moment at the reminder of how recently these things occurred.

In addition, both characters experience abuse by family members and ostracization from society. Both live in an isolated world of their own or their family’s own making. Both use home remedies to treat injuries, and both retain strong bonds to their family and place of birth despite the negative memories associated with them.

However, each subject matter is written about so differently by the authors. Westover’s concise, pragmatic prose left me breathless with its merciless betrayal of her family’s control over her and the accidents that resulted from her father’s recklessness and mental illness, while Owens’s depiction of Kya’s hardships was softer, more beautiful, blurred at the edges in ways that let the reader understand her heartache and hurt without falling into it.

In the end, I really liked both books and would give each 4.5 stars. In Where the Crawdads Sing, the .5 reduction is due to a couple of writing nitpicks. Although the language was beautiful, I got tired of the sentence fragments. And I loved the ending, but I thought more time needed to pass before the last reveal. I listened to the audio version of Educated, so I couldn’t see the sentences, but the writing seemed flawless, both effortless and precise. In that book, the .5 star reduction was due to the content itself. Tara’s life was hard to read about, and it disturbed me on so many levels. There were horrifying descriptions of injuries and cringe-worthy scenes of manipulation and abuse. The book was excellent, but I can’t say that I “enjoyed” a lot of it.

In conclusion, I strongly recommend both Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing and Westover’s Educated. The hubbub was spot on for these two. I also recommend reading them back-to-back so you too can enjoy the connections between these oddly similar books. (There were a few more similarities not mentioned here due to spoilers.) If I were you, I’d start with Educated and allow yourself to feel all the shock and frustration and horror of Tara’s childhood (while also, of course, admiring her strength and endurance and brilliance). Then let Where the Crawdads Sing be a soothing balm for your reading soul.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Poetry, Reading, Teaching, Writing

News, Updates, and a Little Havoc

Hello! Happy Summer!

It’s the end of July, which means…

1) Going outside in Austin in the afternoon = recreating the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

2) The start of the new school year is close enough that it can no longer be ignored, so I’m desperately trying to finish all the books I’ve started this summer.

3) It’s time for some summer updates.

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New Publications!

product_thumbnailThis summer, my work appeared in two new publications. You can read my humorous poem “Conquest or Coincidence” in this year’s issue of Best Austin Poetry, available at Lulu for only $1.75 + shipping. My poem, which is about the time my very fat childhood cat caught a mouse, is in good company with several poems from the talented and entertaining Diana Conces and many other gifted Texas poets.

IMG_20190710_094437535Also, I’m happy to report that my creepy flash fiction story “Window,” which was published at Havok in May, was selected for their season one anthology, Rebirth. Print and Kindle versions are both available on Amazon. The forty-eight very short stories in the collection range from scary and suspenseful to hilarious and thought-provoking. I recommend “The Devil Went Down to Costco” by Stephanie Scissom to make you laugh, “Words” by Katherine Vinson to make you think, and “If These Walls Could Talk” by J.L. Knight to give you shivers.

New Shopping Opportunities!

isla_280x280.25948040_fd2syi7nThis summer, I updated the Shop page of my blog, added new items to my Etsy store, and created a Teachers Pay Teachers page. Check them out and see if there’s something there with your name on it. (Psst! Want a super-secret coupon? From now until September 1, use the code JULYBLOG at my Etsy shop to get 15% off your purchase!)

New Cat!

Back in the fall, we quickly went from being a four-pet family to a two-pet family when my two cats, Gink and Toby, passed away within three weeks of each other. Toby was eighteen and Gink, who had been my familiar since he was a kitten, was almost twenty years old. Suffice to say, their passing left a deep chasm in my heart and my home. We still have our dog, Uno, and our other twenty-year-old cat, Gabby, and I love them both SO much, but I missed my boys. So, in May, hubby and I adopted an eighteen-year-old cat with a thyroid condition.

Everyone, meet Sneakers.

 

Somehow, this sweet, handsome, friendly, charismatic little guy spent TWELVE YEARS in a shelter in Pennsylvania. I still don’t understand how he went so long without finding his forever home, but I’m so glad his journey led him to us. (You can read more about his adoption story in this interview with Austin Pets Alive.)

Sneakers is more like a big kitten than a senior cat. He talks in his sleep and snores and plays with toys and gets the zoomies around 11pm. He eats like a pig (both in volume and manners) and tries to stick his paws in whatever we’re eating as well, whether it’s cereal or salad. He follows Gabby around the house singing to her (unfortunately, she is deaf and therefore immune to his siren call) and plays bongos on the dog’s ribs when he walks by too close. Sneakers is such a character, and we’re so happy to be his family.

Also, I’d just like to say that I never intended to adopt an older cat. All the elderly cats we’ve had in the past have been homegrown. In fact, I’d been hoping to get a kitten in the next year or so. But after adopting Sneakers, I have to say… old cats are awesome. Consider giving one a chance. Check out the available senior kitties at Austin Pets Alive or visit your city’s local shelter.

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Well, that’s what’s new with me this summer. Writing, reading, weird trinkets, cats… the usual, really. What’s new with you?

 

Posted in Poetry, Reading

Making the Most of a Mess: 5 Book Title Found Poems

If there is a book lover out there who can pack a single box of books without opening, smelling, reading, or contemplating at least one, I haven’t met them yet. Then again, there are a lot of book lovers out there I haven’t met because we all spend so much time alone reading books. Did you know that secretly I’ve considered creating a meet-up for readers where we all meet at a comfy coffee shop, spend ten minutes introducing ourselves and telling each other what we’re reading, and then just read– silently– for the next hour? I have actually considered this multiple times. But I haven’t done it because of two very specific fears.

Very Specific Fear #1: Some bored extrovert will read the ad, grab a random book, and come to the meeting, but instead of reading, they will insist on talking to us the whole time. *shudder*

Very Specific Fear #2: That person will be me.

But, as usual, I digress.

I, personally, cannot pack a box of books without opening, smelling, reading, and contemplating several, if not all, of them. That can make packing up my classroom at the end of the year a fun but slow process. This year when I boxed up my large classroom library for summer, I made even more of a mess than usual. I had four piles going: books to be packed, books to be taken home to read over the summer (I will never read all of the books I brought home), books to give away, and books to be used in book title found poems before being placed in one of the other piles.

I made these giant, messy mountains of books (and knocked them over more than once) just before STAAR testing. During STAAR testing, I stared at the books longingly, and did a little rearranging in my head. Then, after STAAR testing, while my exhausted students watched an episode of The Twilight Zone that they’d read earlier in the year as a teleplay, I happily stacked, unstacked, and restacked my books until they were in the right poetic order. Then I packed them up for summer.

Then I came home and made more poems out of the books there.

Here they are:

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I have lived a thousand years.
Ask me no questions–
I can’t keep my own secrets.
My thirteenth winter
life, the universe and everything
found things hidden,
knots in my yo-yo string.
When the sea turned to silver,
the girl I used to be
ungifted my own true name–
just my luck.
That was then, this is now.
Come with me
through the woods
where the red fern grows.
I will always write back.

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When the outsiders runaway
it looks like this–
all the broken pieces
falling into place.
Listen, slowly:
Trouble don’t last.
Breathe.

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Ack! The book THE GIRL FROM THE WELL was supposed to be in this stack after FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS, but it was left out on accident. Oops.

Once Upon a River

Seven little Australians,
children of blood and bone,
linger
five feet apart.
Imaginary girls shout,
voices in the air
negotiating with the dead.
Things fall apart,
the madwoman upstairs
falling over sideways,
the girl from the well
mapping the bones
in the lake of the woods.

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The Night Diary

Within these walls
the sky is everywhere.

Love is a mix tape;
I was told there’d be cake.

Deep dark fears
linger
sailing alone around the room.

I touch the future.
I know why the caged bird sings.
I’m nobody! Who are you?

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IMG_20190529_120302777

Prom Dates From Hell (a poem in two voices)

Dear Evan Hansen,
I am not a serial killer.

………………………………………………. How did you get this number?

Even cowgirls get the blues.
Time you let me in.

………………………………………………. I feel a little jumpy around you.

Let’s pretend this never happened.

………………………………………………. As you wish.

Good night, sleep tight.
There is no long distance now
from you to me.

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