Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy International Literacy Day!

Hello Furious Readers and Happy International Literacy Day.

For those unfamiliar with it, International Literacy Day was started by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and first celebrated in 1966. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally.

This year's International Literacy Day is focused on Literacy and Sustainable Development. Literacy is one of the biggest tools we have to help promote economic growth, social development and environmental integration. And this is why it's so important to promote and nurture healthy reading habits in people of all age groups across the world.

It's through literacy that we empower people to improve their lives. Literacy gives emerging nations the ability to overcome some of the most difficult hurdles they face. Studies have shown high illiteracy correlate to things like crime, the spread of curable diseases, and childhood mortality rates. It's helping develop and improve literacy programs around the world that we can address some of the underlying issues affecting so many.

This is one of the many reasons promoting literacy is a big part of Read Furiously's mission statement. We believe strongly in the power of reading, and the positive impact it can have on people's lives. And on days like this, it's important to take a moment and reflect on what can be done not just on a local level but globally as well.

As part of our efforts, Read Furiously supports several charitable organizations working to help fight illiteracy. They were chosen not only because of the great work we've seen them do in our own communities, but also because of the work they've done globally to help empower people through reading. But the fight against illiteracy is a complex and wide reaching issue, and it's up to all of us to do our parts to help.

You can find out more about the amazing organizations we support here, along with some simple ways you can get involved in the cause.

And for more statistics on the impact of illiteracy, be sure to check out this great infographic from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why I Read Books That Make Me Sad

I'm having a tough week so far...and it's my own doing.  I have a light workload this week, summer days are still long and warm with endless possibilities and I chose - ON MY OWN - to read two books (at the same time) that are both horribly sad and graphic.

To echo my mother, "Why would you do that to yourself?"

I teach classes on trauma and war, so one could argue that I gravitate toward sad material.  However, on my days off, I try my best to find something lighthearted.  So why these two books, why this week, why keep reading?

The books in question were Your Fathers, Where Are They?  And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers and The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson.  Different subject matter, but the same loss of breath and sinking dread every time I turn the page.

With this breathless feeling still in my lungs, this is why you should read books that make you sad:

To begin, Your Fathers, Where Are They?  And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?  is written entirely in dialogue - right away, this is a brilliant choice for the tried-and-true novel genre.  Dave Eggers is no stranger to having people call him a literary genius, but this is the novel in which his ingenuity should be celebrated.  Eggers is not the first writer to compose a narrative entirely out of dialogue (just ask my students, who groan every time I bring up Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"), but I feel he is part of the small percentage to get the pacing just right.  Setting and plot are easy when it is narrative, but imagine crafting characterization, setting, plot, and theme out of speech patterns and the rhythm of conversation.   Our antagonist (and protagonist by default) is Thomas who wakes up his "friend" Kev the astronaut after he just kidnapped him and chained him to a post in an abandoned military base.  Thomas explains calmly to Kev that, based on their history that he HOPES Kev remembers, he has a few questions for the astronaut.  Just like that, we have become Kev - stuck in Thomas's dialogue loop and frantically trying to find a way out in case things get "too real."  Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for Kev, I didn't want to leave and instead allowed Thomas to continue his line of questioning, even grimacing as he collects a few more "pieces" (word used very loosely) of information to weave together a narrative that I was no longer privy to as the novel continues.  I read nervously, I read with one eye, I read as my tomato sauce began to bubble and almost burn (practically ruining Sunday dinner).  I texted my best friend Andrea and told her to pick this up immediately.  I put it down and paced around the room. Thomas made me sick, but so did the responses that he was getting.  I was passing judgement of everyone, including myself.  Finally, I put the book down on Sunday and told myself I will not pick it up until Tuesday morning.  It was difficult, but I kept my promise and I finished it breathless and nauseous in my office that morning.  Now that it is sitting on my desk, I suggest you give yourself two days to read this as well.  Do not be manic like Thomas - allow yourself the dignity of a breather.

Between Eggers, I picked up The Daylight Gate.   Unlike Your Fathers/the Prophets, I was well aware of Winterson's subject matter and unlike Eggers, I was a bit more familiar with Winterson's work.  I knew this would be a tough read, but Jeanette Winterson's words always make it worthwhile.  This woman is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest writers we have today.  In college, I had taken a few women and gender studies courses on witchcraft and the witch trials, so I already understood what I was getting into.  The Daylight Gate tells the tale of Alice Nutter and the Pendle Hill witches - which is a story I know all too well from my classes as student and as professor.  This novel dances in and out of the veil between reality and imagination, superstition and magick, the masculine abuse of power by those in charge and the feminine struggle to not let this abuse cause more destruction.  The Daylight Gate is horribly graphic, extremely devastating, and must be read by everyone who doesn't know the true story of the witch trials.  The witch trials are more than an Arthur Miller play, they are more than the horror movies we pay money to see every summer, and they are more than faceless women that no one cared about or forgot about today.  Winterson takes this unspeakable tragedy and reprehensible violence against women (and a few men) and gives it a voice through her main character, Alice Nutter.  Alice Nutter is a heroine I can be proud of and a victim that I am still mourning after I finished the novel.  Thanks to this book, Alice and the rest of the Pendle witches have not died in vain.  I am so grateful to Winterson for having the courage to venture into the dark, diseased, and despicable side of humanity.  I would like to think that I am that brave as a writer and reader, but I know her writing puts me to shame.  As I tell my students whenever we discuss the Holocaust, we need to make ourselves uncomfortable so we cannot forget.  The Daylight Gate is an eloquent example of this unsettling moment of remembrance.

Furious Readers, I encourage you to seek out books that offer to take you out of your comfort zone.  Always know that, as the reader, you hold the power to stop reading if it doesn't feel right (and I've done that with many books as well...I like to think that I was not ready for their message just yet).

However, if you can keep reading, please do.   The reward will stay with you long after the book has been returned to the shelf.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Breath - A note from your Editor

This past week we kicked off something new here at Read Furiously. It's something big, something awesome, a brand new ongoing project we're all incredibly excited about. It's called the One 'n Done series, a collection of short works by some of the most talented writers you'll be seeing all over the place in the not too distant future. It'll feature everything from short stories to novellas, one-act play to comic one-shorts, poetry collections to works of non-fiction. The series has some of the best storytelling out there, tailored specifically for those Furious Readers who might not have as many hours to read as they'd like... but still want something worth their time.

Now when breaking ground on a project this big it's important to lead with your strongest hand, and let me tell you, we certainly have. The first volume was just released this past week and we're not holding anything back. It's called Breath by S. Atzeni, and I had the pleasure of acting as editor on the title. Not only does that mean I got to be one of the first people to read the story, it also means I get the honor of introducing it to the world.

Surprisingly though, I'm at a little bit of a loss for how to do it. Breath isn't a story you can easily explain in a few simple sentences. Breath a story you have to experience to be fully appreciated. I could tell you how beautiful the prose is, or how wonderfully Atzeni uses magical realism to craft a very moving story. But that doesn't really do it justice. You have to dive in for yourself and read lines like: "She wanted to “yell” or to “cry out,” but she was afraid it would take too much work (she also didn’t have the time). So she chose to “scream,” riding purely on instinct, but reveling in the psychological implications." to truly feel the impact. You have to get lost in the beauty of Atzeni's writing to understand just how amazing the story is. It floats back and forth in time, pulling you into a world so eloquently constructed you become completely immersed in the characters and their struggles. It becomes real.

Even after the final page Breath will stay with you, coming in waves, moments will replay themselves over in your head and new layers to the story will be revealed. Having read the story dozens of times now, even I still feel as though I've only scratched the surface of what this it has to offer. And perhaps that's the real magic of Breath, for as moving a story as it is, the impression it can leave is even more powerful.

So while I may have struggled doing justice to the story, I still encourage everyone our there to pick up a copy and experience Breath for themselves.

You can pick up a digital copy here:
Continue Reading...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thank you, World Book Night

This morning I had very sad and unfortunate news waiting for me in my inbox: World Book Night U.S. will be suspending their operations.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with World Book Night, it is a program in which people can apply to be "givers" and hand out 20 copies of a book (chosen from a list provided by publishers to World Book Night) to non-readers on a particular night in April. The point of this program is to be part of group that hands out millions of books, for free, all in one night. Did I mention this program is free to the giver? If a giver's application is accepted, all one has to do is show up at an appointed "drop-off" location (whether it is your friendly neighborhood Barnes and Noble or a local library) and pick up a box of twenty FREE books to hand out. Again, did I mention this was an opportunity to hand out FREE books for FREE at NO COST to the giver?

I suppose this is where programs like World Book Night U.S. go "wrong." Since the program has to depend on the kindness of publishers and donations from others, the costs got to be too much for this wonderful program and they had to say goodbye to the program.

Why this program? Why should World Book Night U.S., which gives back to so many people, suffer due to lack of funds? Is it a self-fulfilled prophecy that when the going gets tough, we have to cut all arts, music, and reading programs? All of these questions are rhetorical, for I never expect an answer in time like this. However, I do have a question that could be answered: Now what?

In honor of what this program did for us, in only three short years, I ask all of you, our furious readers, to continue what World Book Night U.S. started. I have something taking shape in the back of my mind for Read Furiously, but that will come later. One day, in April (maybe around the 21-24, which is the usual World Book Night festivities), take some time to give a book in this program's memory. In honor of the authors and their publishers who participated, the booksellers and librarians who helped organize the book drop-offs, the people at World Book Night and World Book Night U.S. (who, by the way, are working for FREE throughout the summer to complete the vision of this year's World Book Night) who worked hard to create this experience for all of us, and - naturally - to the readers who were passionate enough to send books and to the readers who benefited from this act of kindness. Give a book to someone and wish them a happy World Book Night. Give a book to someone and say, "I hope you enjoy this." Perhaps that someone will pass the book along to another person. Or perhaps this person will remember this kindness and pass along another book to someone else.

The key, furious readers, is to celebrate reading which is what World Book Night did. On behalf of furious readers everywhere, thank you World Book Night U.S. for your work, your passion, and your FREE books.

If you are interested in viewing the World Book Night mission, you can visit them here

In the meantime, happy summer reading season! As always, I am reading well, reading often, and reading furiously and wish you same.
Continue Reading...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Reading Weekly Series - June (Part 2)

Furious Readers, my sincere apologies for not posting this sooner.  It seems we followed our own advice and got caught reading (don't you love when that happens?).  More on those reading experiences later this summer, but let us get back to the matter at hand -  our summer weekly series.  Luckily, you get two posts this week!

Graduation is approaching (or for many of you, it has already happened), so we decided to suggest great reading for those who have just finished high school, or for those who are feeling nostalgic this week.

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman & Congratulations, by the way:  Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders

Okay, I'm cheating, but both of these selections are great graduation speeches by great writers.  Now you COULD find these pieces on YouTube, but you would be doing yourself a visual disservice if you didn't read the speeches thoughtfully designed and printed for your enjoyment.  Both books are short, but the length does not diminish the inspiration behind it. We've heard the commencement speeches, we've all reread All the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss, and my generation was responsible for taking Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)" as gospel truth.  So why not continue the tradition?  High school graduate or not, allow yourself to be moved by these words and to be captivated by the artwork in both of these texts.

Make Good Art is another Neil Gaiman gem (honestly, is there anything this guy can't do?).  

Congratulations, by the way is an interesting look at commencement speeches, which is George Saunders taking on a more non-conventional approach to graduation advice:  be kinder and celebrate this kindness.  

Paper Towns by John Green

For many people, June means one thing - Graduation. The final days of your high school or college career slowly drawing to a close. It's not only the end of an intellectual journey that's taken over a decade to complete, it's also the the end to a big chapter in our lives, one of the most formative ones in many ways. So to all those out there donning their caps and gowns, and preparing to start the next great chapter in their lives, my recommendation this week is Paper Towns by John Green. 

While many people are still reeling from The Fault in our Stars movie, based on Green's latest book of the same name, which hit theaters last week. Paper Towns seemed a much more fitting choice this time around. The book follows the senior year of Quentin "Q" Jacobsen, the narrator of our story, who is the unexpected accomplice to a night of elaborate prank based revenge, orchestrated by his next door neighbor, Margo Roth Speigelman. But after Margo goes missing the next day, Q is left to try and piece together what might have happened to her and, more importantly, just who this girl really is and why she picked him to share in her final night of mischief.

Along the way, Paper Towns does an amazing job of capturing life on the verge of change, and how we can struggle with it. The book offers a really interesting perspective on how difficult it can be to look back and figure out where we are going, but also how important it is that we do just that. Our memories are unreliable mechanisms for reflection because they are biased by our perceptions. And sometimes the stories we hold to aren't as accurate as we may believe. But if we can take a step back and really make sense of these stories for what they are, it'll help us make so much more sense of the chapters yet to come.
Continue Reading...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summer Reading Weekly Series - June

As June arrives, the summer is just beginning and so should your summer reading habits. Dip your toe into the water and wait for the temperature to get just right - these titles will help you take the plunge into the summer reading pool.

This week's selections:

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Last week, for the second time, we got to watch David Sedaris perform at Princeton's McCarter Theater.  So my first summer book pick is an easy one: I want to encourage anyone who has never read David Sedaris's work to pick up one of his many hilarious, and thought-provoking, collection of essays where Sedaris explores his own hang-ups, his family's hang-ups, and the often shallow motivations for all human behavior.  Most of the time these collections are just Sedaris sharing his cruel, obsessive, endearing, and (very) relatable look at life.  To make this reading experience even better, you get to read work from an unbelievable talent.

When I was in high school, my friend Andrea and I attended a writer's workshop in our school library.  The leader of the workshop was none other than Megan McCafferty (her mother was our Home Economics teacher) and I was so nervous and proud that she would take time out of her Jessica Darling series to teach us how to be a writer - like her!  She asked us to read a short story written by David Sedaris, an author we had never heard of at the time.  It was a piece from Naked, and - no hyperbolic language intended here - it changed our lives.  I didn't know a person could write this way - so honest about his life and his thoughts and make it into a larger-than-life prose.  I didn't know that a writer could use humor in this way.  My love affair for David Sedaris's work began that day and shows no sign of slowing down (my students love him - I'm always assigning his essays for them to read, but their favorites are "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and "Jesus Shaves"). The proudest day of my writing life: after reading my own work at a student reading series, someone came up to me and said, "You remind me of my favorite author David Sedaris."

I know I suggested all of his work, but it IS summer, so I highly recommend Me Talk Pretty One Day.  This collection focuses on his childhood and also his failed attempt to learn French after he and his partner make the decision to move to France.  This particular collection is not only laugh-out-loud funny (if anyone catches you, just say that you are reading David Sedaris, and they will understand), but an emotionally rewarding read as well.  Reading this book is the same as catching up with a very weird, yet honest, best friend.  However, sometimes you wish his best friend wouldn't be so honest.  Because it can get weird.  And funny.  

My one warning: if you read this in public, be prepared to make new friends.  

Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

When putting together a summer reading list, it seems like an off choice to include a book where each chapter is a different story about how the main character might have died at various stages in his life. Yet, to overlook Daytripper would be doing your reading list a huge disservice. 

Taking place throughout Moon and Ba's native Brazil, the book captures the beauty of the country in a way that feels both familiar and magical at the same time. And even those who have never gotten a chance to experience the country (myself for example), will still find themselves feeling nostalgic and yearning to lay out under the sun on the beaches of Salvador or walk the streets of San Paulo under the moonlight.

Still though, with all this in mind, I recommend this book for an entirely different reason. I recommend it because Father's Day is only a few days away, and at its heart, Daytripper is a story about a father and a son, of their legacies and what each can hope to learn from the other. It's an earnest look at the characters relationship that hits right to the heart. I actually remember doing a signing once around the time the book came out, I was talking with one of the other creators, and he admitted, having just become a father for the first time, bawling uncontrollably by the end because he was so moved. So for all the fathers and sons out there celebrating this weekend, consider taking a trip south of the equator to celebrate the special bond you share.
Continue Reading...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why We Still Need Summer Reading

Happy Summer, Furious Readers!  We have so much planned for the summer and the months that will follow, but reading is always our first goal for the summer.

I've always loved the idea of summer reading lists - as you all know, I think it is important for anyone, from students to adults to lifelong learners, to read daily.  However, there is something about the potential of a summer reading list:  getting to those books you've wanted to read, but never having the time during those cold winter months.  And now, the summer is stretched out before you...and the possibilities are endless.   This sounds wonderful, but it can also be very overwhelming which is why I look to summer reading lists to help me out.

This summer, Read Furiously would like to introduce you to two books a week in the hopes that you will add them to your summer reading list.  Of course, you can find great titles always posted to our blog, but these titles are chosen specifically for each summer month.  As Furious Readers, you know that each book contains a small world of personality and (like a good mix tape) these personalities need to be read in perfect timing.

If you haven't had a summer reading list since high school, make one this summer!  Explore your local library, those books you haven't read on your bookcases, or even ask a friend or two.  You don't have to read all of the books on your summer reading list, but even a good book or two (or three or four) will make your summer that much sweeter.

The directions are simple:  Grab some ice cold lemonade/sweet tea and a piece of shortbread from the cookie jar.  Kick back in your lounge chair/beach chair/beach towel/picnic blanket.  Open your book, and begin the summer.  Finish book. Repeat.

I'm excited to share our book choices for the summer months.  As always: read well, read often, and read furiously.

Here's to summer!

Continue Reading...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Looking Back at the The Rosemont Book Festival

The Read Furiously table, complete with Furious Reader's tea, our books, and the I, Read Furiously Charity bracelets.
I'm not the first one to say this and I surely won't be the last, but writing can be a very solitary endeavor. We sit alone with our notebooks or laptops and fill pages upon pages with stories. We create these worlds from our imaginations all the while the real one continues on without us.

But that's exactly why it's so great to have events like the Rosemont Book Festival. They're the moments that remind us, as solitary an act as writing can be, reading is anything but.

This past weekend Read Furiously was lucky enough to have a table at the festival, and there amidst the picturesque campus of Rosemont College, we were reminded just how easily reading brings us all together. It was one of those moments that took us away from our keyboards and we let us share in the collective joy of the written word. We spent hours with people, talking and laughing over the shared experience of a good (and even a bad) book. We got to connect with other creators whose passion for the medium rivaled our own. It was an all together inspiring weekend that helped energize us for the next marathon of days and weeks spent writing.

So to the Book Club members, the Publishing majors, the volunteers, the faculty members, the creators, the anime fans, and all the Furious Readers we had the privilege of meeting, we want to say thank you. A large part of our mission with Read Furiously is to promote a love of reading and a healthy relationship with books. The Rosemont Book Festival was a shining example of the good that come from it, just how easily reading can turn strangers into friends. And it reminded us why those solitary hours spent writing are so important. It's because they aren't solitary at all.

Till next time, Rosemont, we hope you all continue to Read Friously. We'll see you soon.

The view from our table. Rosemont is pretty much
a mini version of Hogwarts.

Continue Reading...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Adiós, Maestro

I feel as though any words I write about the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will seem cheap compared to the brilliant writers who have been writing, posting, and offering their thoughts regarding this great mind.

I will not do the "internet familiarity" thing and speak as though I know him.  This is another way to cheapen Marquez's work.  Instead, I want to take a moment and thank Gabriel Garcia Marquez for teaching me to take creativity to another level.

My first Marquez novel was One Hundred Years of Solitude.  This was my first experience with magical realism, although I felt I had already been living it.  To me, as a seventeen-year-old aspiring writer, there was one way to write about magic:  fantasy novels (I consumed them as a teen - I think Mercedes Lackey and Patricia C. Wrede helped me navigate the first two years of high school).   I didn't think one could juxtapose magical elements into a "traditional" piece of fiction.  Marquez had handed me a gift.  A very pretty gift, wrapped in phoenix feathers, sprinkled with fairy dust, and delivered in a basket on my front porch, probably from the Easter bunny, or some reading fairy who knew I needed this novel (reaffirming my theory that books show up when you need them most).

After One Hundred Years of Solitude came Love in the Time of Cholera, next Chronicle of a Death Foretold...years later I became an English professor and began to assign "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  My students think I'm crazy, but they always leave class excited, as though they discovered some sort of literary treasure. And they did, in a way - Marquez just provided the map.

My obsession with surrealism and magical realism grew with Francesa Lia Block's novels, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (BEST opening line ever: "A screaming comes across the sky"), Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, and Don DeLillo.  Even when I read Jorge Luis Borge, I thought of Marquez and my first experience with magical realism.  The stories one could tell, the stories one could read - and it all came down to imagination.  REAL imagination - the kind they try to remove from you in your early years.  It is one thing to be imaginative; this is the purpose for innovation. But it's another to consider what trees would say if they talked or to imagine Mack Trucks as dragons (I said this once to a friend and she told me that was a "bit odd" and shouldn't repeat that).  It was okay to be weird, as long as one was brave enough to stand behind your words.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez was that brave, and he taught me to be that brave.

Like other literary greats, Marquez was good for sound bites, but for those who read his books, they became a battle cry.

Señor Marquez, thank you for your imagination.  Thank you for teaching us to think beyond the mundane.  And thank you for inspiring the rest of us.  Que tu biblioteca en el cielo se llena de libros.
Continue Reading...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Sometimes, Furious Readers, it seems as though Mr. Bueller couldn't have been more right. As hours slip by unnoticed, and the days just don't feel as long as they once were, it can sometimes be hard to keep pace with all the books on our shelves. Some days the only thing we can make time for is something with a little more brevity. But rest assured we need never sacrifice quality for length. There are some works out there that can do just as much in twenty pages as others can do hundreds. 

So for those of you looking to find a quick read, we are going to be putting together a few posts just for you, filled with short stories and novellas worth taking a little literary detour to enjoy.

I'm up first, and here are my selections:

Ursula by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba
Clocking in at just 72 pages, this graphic novel could easily be read in a single lunch break, and what better time to do it. Ursula is a contemporary fairy tale filled with romance and magic. The perfect escape from the office break room. And though it's one of the twin's first graphic novels, you can easily see why they've grown to become such popular artists within the contemporary comic scene.

Six to Eight Black Men by David Sedaris
There are countless David Sedaris stories that could have made it on this list, all of them hilarious, none of them needing more than an hour to read. But there's something about Six to Eight Black Men that makes it stand out from the rest of his work. The way Sedaris captures the American abroad, fish out of water, mentality is as endearing as it is absurd.

The Mire by Becky Cloonan
Since it's only 24 pages, The Mire, like most comics, is the type of story you can pick up and read in no time flat. But The Mire is also the type of book you could spend hours flipping through, getting lost in the artwork.  The second in a trilogy of stand alone comics written, illustrated, and self-published by Cloonan, each one comes highly recommended. In fact the followup, Demeter, was just nominated for an Eisner award for best single issue. So that should speak to the quality of Cloonan's work on these comics.

EPICAC by Kurt Vonnegut
A story of unrequited love the likes of which only Vonnegut could tell. EPICAC is equal parts heartwarming and tragic. The story of a computer tasked with writing poetry to help one of his technicians win the heart of a co-worker only to fall in love himself. Like most of Vonnegut's work, this is a modern day parable that strikes at some really heavy themes using some rather atypical tropes.

Nicholas Was... by Neil Gaiman
Nicholas Was... is part of Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors collection, and truthfully there are a lot of stories in the book that could have made the list. Even within the introduction he tells an incredibly haunting love story about a young married couple. But for all the great choices we have, if you're going for brevity you can't go wrong with a story like this. And as it's only 100 words, I won't say much more, to avoid spoilers.

Brave and the Bold #33 by J. Michael Straczynski
To fully appreciate the impact this single issue of Brave and the Bold can have, it's important to understand its context. And for those out there familiar with The Killing Joke by Allan Moore, Brave and the Bold 33 will be a punch in the gut like you wouldn't believe. Starting out as just a fun Superheroin's night on the town, it becomes a heartbreaking look at how even the strongest among us can feel weak in the wake of unavoidable tragedy.

Americca by Aimee Bender
For anyone unfamiliar with Bender's work, Americca is a perfect example of what makes her such a great writer. It tells the story of a family being reversed robbed by unknown forces, and how they deal with random items appearing in their house with no explanation whatsoever. Bender's writing has a great carefree quality to it, while tackling a lot of really interesting themes.

The Last Musketeer by Jason
Jason has been using his distinctive brand of anthropomorphic storytelling to bend genres for over a decade. Along the way he's created some really memorable graphic novellas. The Last Musketeer takes the classic Alexander Dumas story and mixes in a healthy dosing of aliens and robots.

The Skylight Room by O Henry
O Henry wrote somewhere around 600 short stories which makes it kinda hard to pick a favorite. So instead I picked one of his lesser known stories that I thought really embodied all the things I liked about his work. The Skylight Room isn't New York City at its best, but O Henry still makes you want to be a part of it and join everyone else on that stoop before turning in for the night. And his signature twist ending in this story offers just enough optimism to assure you things are going to be okay.

Deplayed Replays by Liz Prince
The followup to her award winning Will You Still Love me if I Wet the Bed, Liz Prince's Delayed Replays reads like a dysfunctional newspaper comic strip in the best way possible. It captures the intimacy and absurdity of life in your twenties, those moments that are easily relatable (even if, in some cases, we won't always admit to them).
Continue Reading...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Finding Time to Read Furiously

When I was a kid, my favorite activity was reading.  Maybe that's an understatement - my favorite activity was reading everything in my path.  Books, TV Guides (especially TV Guides, I really miss them), newspapers, Avon books, street name it, I read it.  I read as though I couldn't get the words into my brain fast enough. My mother would send me to clean up my room and she would catch me, two hours later, in a pile of stuff on the floor reading a book that I found under the bed.  Although I come from a family who reads, it drove my mother crazy.  But I couldn't stop; I always needed more books to read:  The Egypt Game, the Goosebump series, Judy Blume, The Babysitters Club series, Tuck Everlasting, A Book of Mermaids, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, etc. We never had a lot of money, so my saving grace was the library.  I would take out so many books that we created a designated library tote bag.  I was proud of that tote bag - I insisted on carrying it myself, all the while thinking about where these books were going to take me.

Fast forward to high school and I was still reading everything I could get my hands on.  I fell into a group of friends who loved reading as much as I did; soon, we were in a book club that consisted of us eating lunch in the school library and reading silently (occasionally, someone would pause and read a line aloud to the rest of the group - quietly, of course). Together we discovered, among others,  Francesa Lia Block, David Sedaris, the Jessica Darling series (Megan McCafferty's mother was our home economics teacher!) and Perks of Being a Wallflower.  

Going to college was terrifying - my biggest fear was I could not decide what books to bring with me (oddly enough, one of my students is transferring to another college next year.  It's far from home and she needs to live on campus.  She sat in my office and kept asking, "But which ones do I bring?  How do I choose?"  In the next beat she says, "Well I have to take Perks."  Some things never change, thankfully.  Don't worry - we made a tentative list of books, which I'm sure she will change in the coming months.  I know I did.).  Another fear had been that I wouldn't find a roommate who loved books as much as me.  Luckily, I brought the right amount of books and my roommates loved to read.  Some of my happiest memories are all of us lying about our one bedroom apartment (for five girls) and reading.  The patio door would be open, a breeze would be blowing in, and we would be sprawled like cats reading our books and magazines.  As I began to try my hand at film, my reading experience expanded to screenplays and graphic novels.  One of my favorite writing professors, Dan Pope (author of In The Cherry Tree) was known to hand out books to students.  When he stopped teaching, he continued to send his previous students boxes of books to read (I mean, a BOX of books, super heavy and super worth carrying up the many flights of stairs to my apartment...I still have every single one).

Today I still consider myself to be a furious reader (for all the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons).  However, my furious reading comes in waves - some days I am too tired from reading student papers to even think about picking up a novel.  Other days I want to binge-watch a new show on Netflix.  What had been so easy for me as a child, a teen, and a college student has now become another bullet point on my list of things to do.

But that's the problem, isn't it?  It is on the list, but it isn't a priority on the list.  Most of the time I'm thinking about what else needs to be done - laundry, dishes, student conferences, oh Lord, did I forget a paper somewhere, preparing for a conference presentation, visiting family, which job do I need to go to today? - while I'm reading.  Can I consider this to be *me* time? Am I allowed to take this moment to celebrate reading furiously?  

According to our current cultural norms, absolutely not.  We need to keep moving, we need to keep constructing the City upon the Hill.  And that city does not need more books.  My favorite lie to tell myself is that I will read furiously when I have time.  Guess what, my furious readers?  We will NEVER have time to read unless we make the time to read.  And why not?  It's just as important as going to the gym or making ourselves a healthy meal.  Reading is food to the soul; it tames the mind and enlightens the spirit.  Don't we feel that way after a good walk or a good meal?  We are told that children should read twenty minutes a day, yet we never think about how many minutes an adult should read every day.   I think the twenty minute rule should continue to apply, even as we enter our busy labyrinth of adulthood.  

I still read a lot (between 75-100 books a year), but I want to make reading a priority.  A real priority.  Twenty minutes a day is  good start;  I'll still allow the amazing days of binge-reading, but I won't wait for them to present themselves.  Twenty minutes is doable and it can be done every single day. It's time for a revolution - grab a book, take a seat, and begin to read.  It may not be as simple as it used to be, but it is still worthwhile.  

Twenty minutes.  Each day. Seven days a week.  Four weeks a month.  Twelve months a year.  Every year.  

Go forth and read furiously.>
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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Black Madonna by Louisa Ermelino

"Thank God for America, the women on the stoop said.  In the old country, it would have turned out different."  -- The Black Madonna, Louisa Ermelino

Let's face it - Italian Americans have a terrible representation in popular culture.  Most of the time, Italian Americans are viewed as hyper-religious, ignorant, loud maniacs who spend most of their time trying to kill the person who disrespected them.  As someone who grew up in northern New Jersey, this stereotype is hard to shake.  But I am grateful to Louisa Ermelino for her portrayal of Italians and Italian Americans in her novel The Black Madonna.  Following the stories of a group of women that live in an apartment building on Spring Street in New York's Little Italy, Ermelino mixes historical events from the 40's and 60's, magical realism, and Old World superstition-meets-New World mythos.  All of the narratives focus around one central talisman:  the Black Madonna. [A Black Madonna is a Marian statue in which the Blessed Mother is depicted with dark skin; the belief is this type of statue originated from an ancient goddess cult, but later turned into a symbol for Christianity.]  Obviously, this illustrates the Black Madonna as having old magic combined with Catholic belief.  Following this definition, all of Ermelino's characters are different forms of Black Madonnas.

The story begins with the birth of Jumbo, Antoinette's very large baby boy.  Jumbo's size is Antoinette's claim to fame in Little Italy and she uses Jumbo's size as a symbol of her great parenting skills and excellent family lineage.  Jumbo's five older sisters are equally impressed by the great gift that is Jumbo and he spends his life growing up with six women fussing over him.  Teresa is a single mother, but refuses to admit it (once the reader discovers the truth, you do feel sorry for Teresa and her denial - a bit). She spends most of her time worrying over her son, Nicky, who fell out of a four-story window and is told that he cannot walk again (but he does which prompts Teresa to call it a "miracle").  The last in the trio is the maiden named Magdalena whose sex appeal makes her a siren to the rest of the women.  They worry over their own sons and husbands falling victim to Magdalena's charms, which turns out to be valid since Magdalena prays to the Black Madonna to make any man fall in love with her (as with most gypsy wishes, Magdalena's prayers tend to backfire).  

The characters' lives intersect with each other's, but it is what goes on in their homes that makes the story so interesting.  The Black Madonnas take center stage, which creates an element of magical realism intertwined with heavy doses of Catholicism and maternal duty.  Each woman is her own worst enemy - whether it is a source of pride, envy, fear, or guilt that keeps her trapped in her Old World ways.  But the source of light, the hope for the New World, takes the shape of talisman of alternative magic.

Ermelino knows how to write a scene.  Even when she isn't mentioned, the Black Madonna's power is on every page; keeping her in the front of the narrative, which is where her loyal followers keep her for their most important life events.  While the book is illustrated heavily within Italian culture, the true meaning of the story is quintessentially American:  the hope for future generations and the fear for what is left behind.  The women are the triple goddess of feminist theory:  Antoinette, the Crone, who has devoted her entire life to creating it and nurturing it (the story of Jumbo's birth reads like a story out of mythology); Teresa, the Mother, who struggles to make a world for Nicky even as he struggles to have a normal life; and Magdalena, the Maiden, whose sexuality frightens, infuriates, and intimidates the "good" Italian women in the neighborhood.  As the quote above suggests, America is another goddess in the mix - she is watching over these women, with a little help from the Black Madonna.

Every "coming to America" story addresses the diaspora of a group and their struggles to make sense of the Old World within the context of the New World.  The women are purely Old World with their superstitions, feminine roles, and social scripts that center around family, duty, and survival.  Their children, as with any child of an immigrant parent, are born of the New World - they want the new American dream of fame and fortune and they see their mothers as silly old women praying with their rosaries and cursing in another language.  The conflict between the two worlds embeds itself on every page, in every sentence, and in every character's narrative.

As for the Black Madonna...well, she sees all, doesn't she?  ; )

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Happy Birthday!
This is swell -
It's the good doctor's birthday.
As far as I can tell.

Grab a seat,
Grab a book,
Take a treat
Sit in a nook!

Happy Birthday!
Time for fun -
Suess is good
For Everyone

-Samantha Atzeni
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Ten Couples in Literature Worth Talking About (An Obligitory Valentine's Day Post)

Earlier today I Googled "Great Literary Couples" to see what might turn up, and I wasn't in the least bit surprised in the results. A lot of Jane Austen. Like a lot. I have a little bit of a problem with this, and rather than spend time going into all the reasons why that is, I thought it might be better to focus instead on Great Literary Couples worth talking about.

So in honor of Valentine's Day, I took a poll here at the Read Furiously Offices and compiled the list of Literary Couples We Love. Presented to you in no real order.

Hazel and Augustus (The Fault in our Stars)

Though I'm sure most of the world has read this book already, I won't go into spoilers because this book is too good to ever spoil. And with the movie soon coming out, it's worth noting this is a couple that people are going to be talking about a lot.

Lois and Clark (Any Superman comic worth reading)

Though DC Comics NEW 52 might not currently think so, there probably isn't a more important relationship in all of comics than Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane. I could go on for a while about all the reasons (and maybe one day I'll do a post dedicated entirely to that), but for now we can just say that Superman wouldn't be the legend he is (both in the comic and the real world) without Lois Lane.

David Sedaris and Hugh Hamrick (Pretty much any of David Sedaris' books)

This is the only couple on the list that isn't fictional, but they're still worth including because when reading Sedaris' work and the way he talks about their relationship, it's hard not to long for a partner like Hugh.

Katherine and Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)

The relationship that inspired a million YA novels. They're not the most uplifting of couples out there, but the impact they've had is undeniable.

Scott and Ramona (The Scott Pilgrim Series)

For a relationship based on fighting off a girl's evil ex-boyfriends, it was probably one of the more realistic ones in comics

Charlie and Sam (Perks of Being a Wallflower)

So yes, I'm going to steal a quote from the movie for this one, but I think it perfectly sums up what's so great about Charlie and Sam:
I know who you are, Sam. I know I'm quiet... and, and I should speak more. But if you knew the things that were in my head most of the time, you'd know what I really meant. How, how much we're alike and, and how we've been through things... and you're not small. You're beautiful.

Tristran and Yvaine (Stardust)

It's a story of finding the one you love right under your nose. It's a story of loving someone so much that initially they annoy the hell out of you.  It's Neil Gaiman. 'Nuff said.

Dirk and Duck (The Weetzie Bat Series)

And Dirk got his Duck. In the magical world of LA, there's probably nothing more magical tan the relationship between Duck and Dirk.

Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy (Bridget Jones' Diary)

Yes, I'm ending our list with two characters who are directly based off of Jane Austen characters, yet Helen Fielding manages to take these characters and breath life into them, make them endearing enough that you can overlook their inspiration. Plus, what woman doesn't like to be told someone likes them just the way they are.
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

We should love an ending... But we don't

Thinking in terms of structure, the ending should be considered one of the best parts of a story. It's the payoff, the moment when all the strife and conflict our characters have had to endured finally comes to a head. We get to see the people they've become, the new versions of themselves crafted by the events they undertook. From the moment we begin a book, it's what everything is leading to, and really we should be excited when that moment finally arrives. Yet often times it's the moment many of us dread.

I speak from personal experience on this, of course. It took me two years before I worked up enough nerve to finish reading Y: The Last Man. And volumes eleven and twelve of DMZ are so far down on my reading pile, it'd be an actual chore just to get them out. Even though I'm very much looking forward to reading them, I'm just not ready for the final story from the war-zone that is New York City to be told. So instead, every time I go to pick up a new book to read, I'll opt for something where the stakes aren't as high as finality.

This isn't a phenomenon specific to book series either. How many other furious readers out there have gotten so wrapped up in a book they've felt the need to set it aside with just a few chapters left, let it sit there on their night stand, and come up with excuse after excuse to never finish it. Sometimes we may even purchase books we're so excited to read we don't start for fear of when we'll finish it (note Boxers and Saints and King City on the pile as well, I want/don't want to read them so badly).

There's an anxiety that comes with the end of a book, worrying whether the author will drop the ball on an ending and leave you disappointed. There are so many things that could go wrong with an ending (Let's be honest, there's nothing worse than when the writer throws in a poorly executed Deus Ex Machina just to tie things up). That chance the characters won't get the happy ending you think they deserve. Or even if they do, the knowledge that you'll be saying goodbye to these people you've let into your life once you turn the final page. It can be like watching your best friend pull away, knowing it's the last time you'll ever see them.

We want to go on these journeys with these characters, and never want them to end. It's why there will likely never be a final issue of Superman, or a last Babysitters Club book, or why - even after Doyle finished his last Sherlock Holmes story - his exploits continue to be told by countless other authors, even today. 

These are stories we connect with, characters we adopt into our lives. It's not something for which you can necessarily be blamed. After all, if the story doesn't end, then at least there's the potential for more. And sometimes that can be better than reaching the bittersweet parting we encounter upon the last page of a story.

Yet really all we're doing is denying ourselves the pleasure that comes from closure. A story isn't a story without an ending, even if it's only the point we exit the narrative. But when we do this, all we're doing is creating an artificial end that will never offer any of the closure we want. We have potential, potential that the story will go on, that there is so much more for the characters to do.  But that's all it will ever be, and it will never be the same as the real ending (good or bad). 

So in celebration of endings, I set out this week to uncover those last two volumes of DMZ and finally finish the story of Matty Roth and the Free States. And I'm inviting the rest of you furious readers out there to join in and finally finish that book you've been putting off for far too long.
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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reading Resolutions - Will 2014 be your year?

As January reaches its closing date, my mind keeps wandering to the New Year's resolutions that aren't going to see February.  Remember how simple our resolutions were on December 31st?  We wanted to eat better, have more experiences, take more vacation days, exercise more, save more money...and now the cold weather and the start of the new year make those resolutions more daunting.

To this I say - take heart, furious readers!  You CAN meet your resolutions and you can succeed in 2014.  You can get your "more."  But may I suggest just ONE more resolution to add to your list?

Buzzfeed (one of my favorite cultural information sites) offers a great New Year's Reading Resolution checklist.  If you can't complete all of them, here are a few that you should try to do in 2014:

#1 "Read a a classic novel" - this reading resolution is one of the hardest to do.  We all know that we should read a "classic novel," but what exactly counts as a classic novel? The OED defines "classic" as a period of time labeled as the "most outstanding" of its kind.  Just the definition sounds intimidating - especially to readers who don't make it a habit of reading classics (since this is a part of my job, I forget that classics are considered "homework" to the mainstream culture).  Most classics are blamed for being too boring or too outdated, but reading a classic work can be rewarding and inspiring - as well as a historical experience.  The learning experience from reading a classic cannot be compared to anything else. Some of my favorites:  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte; 1984 by George Orwell; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; Dracula by Bram Stoker; and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.  Once you work your way through the mainstream classics, you can discover the lesser-known works by these authors or attempt to read those classics that everyone claims to read, but can barely make it through Ulysses (the famous James Joyce masterpiece - this is not a terrible book - in fact it is fascinating and exciting - but beware the reader that claims Ulysses is his/her favorite book.  Chances are that person is lying), War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy), Foucault's Pendulum (Umberto Eco - this is so worth the read), Nightwood (Djuna Barnes), or The Waste Land (T.S. Eliot). If these oldies are too much to start, then try a contemporary classic such as Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five) or Toni Morrison (Beloved, Jazz, Song of Solomon).

#7 "Shop at your local independent bookstore" - Shopping locally is great no matter where you go, but frequenting a local bookstore allows you to form a friendship with the owner.  My favorite part of my week is going to my booktrader, and I've enjoyed every recommendation that she's given me.  One day we were discussing whether or not we liked a particular series, and she said passionately, "If you don't love this book as much as I do, I will refund your money."  I love that!  And she was right - I did love the book as much as she did.  I was honored that she took a chance on me.

#11 "Set a book reading goal" - I read once that Stephen King reads 100 books a year.  I've read a memoir where the author read a book every day for a year.  With everything I have to do, I don't always reach my book goal, but I usually read between 50-75 novels a year.  If you're new to the reading goal idea, pick five to ten books that you've been meaning to read and work through that list.  Even if you don't reach your goal, your reading time was never wasted.

#13 "Get the non-reader in your life to start reading" - Every year I like to participate in World Book Night, which promises to spread "the love of reading, person to person."  If your application is accepted, you have the opportunity to pass out books to non-readers.  But even without World Book Night, you can celebrate this gesture by sharing something from your bookshelf.  Over the weekend, a friend of mine confessed that she needed to read more so I brought her a Willa Cather novel that I enjoyed.  I love Cather, but I didn't need this novel anymore - it deserved to have a new home.  She was so excited, even though she confessed that it may collect dust at first.  : )  I told her what I tell all non-readers, "When you are meant to read it, you will."  Reading isn't about pressuring someone or making yourself seem better than others  - it is about spreading joy and knowledge, which should be available to everyone.  Sometimes a person doesn't read regularly because he/she doesn't know where to start - it is up to the furious readers to serve as guides for their new journey.

Continue to read furiously in 2014!  Eleven more months to go!

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