You Can Always Trust Someone with Blue Hair

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For the past month, I’ve had blue hair. And I’ve loved every minute of it

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to dye our hair. And after I was an adult, I’ve always had a job that didn’t allow me to have crazy-colored hair. Even in the summers, when teachers allegedly have loads of freedom. (I’ll let you know when I have one of those free summers with nothing to do that’s just two months of a paid vacation.)

But this summer, I’ve taken actual time to myself and I let loose. I dyed my hair blue. Okay, that’s the extent of my wildness because I don’t do so well at wild.

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When I first got my hair done, my stylist, Alexis, told me, “everybody’s going to be looking at you now.”

I both believed her and did not believe her. For one, I’m a BIG personality. It’s rare for me not to be the center of attention, because I demand attention. Admittedly, it’s a defense mechanism. If I control everybody’s attention, then I control the way they perceive and think about me. It stops them from being free to form their own opinions. I’m in control of people’s perceptions.

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But I didn’t believe that people would begin to notice me without my permission. I thought I was always in control.

Turns out that’s not the case. Apparently, people do notice you when you walk into a room with blue hair. People notice things like you only wear the color blue (guilty) and that you’re tall (apparently), and they feel obligated to comment on the things they’ve noticed. It’s one thing when it’s a kid. Kids are allowed to acknowledge their observations. But the amount of adults who share their opinions is surprising.

Remarkably, feedback on my blue hair has been really positive. People say it suits me. People say they’re jealous of it. It’s been a great conversation starter. Everybody who has ever dyed their hair has shared with me their experiences. And I love that. I love collecting people’s stories. I love how people feel instantly comfortable with me.

And my blue hair has only increased that. So what is it about blue hair that makes a difference? Maybe it’s because you’re not inconspicuous. It’s hard to hide in a crowd when you’re over 6 foot tall and have blue hair. You’re easily recognizable.

Maybe it’s because it’s a sign of individuality. People see your blue hair and think you are totally confident and secure and confident in yourself. You don’t listen to the crowd. You don’t follow the norms. You’re confident in who you are.

Maybe it’s because I just have a kind smile or something. At this point, I can’t really tell you why people have been more attracted to my blue hair thatI expected. What I can tell you is people have been.

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What I can tell you is recently, my wife and I went to a sunflower festival, where I was able to snap these beautiful photos. While we were there, I was asked to take pictures for people. One family asked if they could borrow the scissors I’d bought, because guests were welcome to harvest sunflowers to take home.

My wife and our friend who came with us overheard a woman say, “you can always trust someone with blue hair.” While I’m not sure of the truth or origin of this adage, it’s made me laugh. Whether it’s my blue hair or my smile or the confidence I’ve developed in myself since I dyed my hair blue, people trust me. And I guess there are far worse things in life than that.

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Cool June Morning Musings

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It’s a cool and breezy morning as I sit to write this post. The temperature has been in the low- to mid-90’s this week, so sitting outside has not been on the top of my to-do list. But for whatever blessed reason, today it’s in the mid-80’s and breezy And I’ll take that any day.

I’m enjoying the weather and I’ve brought with me my colored pencils (teachers love fun school supplies) and my highlighters to work on the first novel I’m teaching next school year. I’ve brought my Kindle to read some ARCs to review here. I’ve brought my headphones and my smile. It’s the perfect morning.

Now that this school year is over and I’ve had time to reflect and look back at my blog, I see that I am happiest when I am outside in the beautiful weather with a book in my hand. The problem is I’ve been working basically two full-time jobs since 2011. There hasn’t been nearly enough time for my to sit outside in the sunshine and read books.

That’s my goal for next school year. To dial it back. Read more books. Work fewer hours. I’m dropping out of some of the symphonies in which I play. As nice as the money is at Christmastime, I’m turning down some Christmas gigs. It will take some budgetary adjustments, but sometimes caring for your family is about more than just making money.

Money is the thing I struggle with the most. I will always feel I don’t have enough money. I will always fight with the fact that I became a teacher, when there are other jobs that make loads more money. (I wouldn’t happy at a single one of them, but that won’t stop me from being hard on myself about it.)

Realistically, I know I have nothing to worry about.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

Matthew 6:25-27

This verse has been quoted to me more often than I’d care to admit. But it’s only through recent prayer, reflection, and study that it’s become a message to me. I’m a slow learner sometimes, especially when it comes to self-reflection. I spend so much of my life concerned with others that I forget that I have to focus on myself from time to time

It feels selfish, doesn’t it? To take a step away from everybody and look at yourself. There’s so much pain in the world. There’s so much need and hurt and ache. And I want to fix it all. Every once in a while, though, I need that not-so-subtle reminder that if I don’t take care of myself a little bit, then I won’t be able to care for anybody else. And showing people love is one of my favorite things.

So I’m shifting my focus. Not entirely to myself, but to rediscovering the things that are most important. Taking time for my family. Taking time for myself. Spending time in The Bible and listening to the songs of nature. Returning to my roots. And focusing on being the best teacher I can possibly be. Not because success in my career is the most important thing, but because I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to teach amazing kids.

Sometimes–okay, almost always–change is good. It just doesn’t always look that way at first. Change is scary. We’re control freaks by nature. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Change means giving up some of that control to unknown factors. Things such as changing jobs give you the opportunity to reflect and react and reshape and rebuild. And today, in this cool breeze, at this shady table–sitting next to the big cardinal who just landed nearby–I’m grateful for change and for the opportunity to grow and recreate myself.

Who knew the first day of June could mean the first day of something new and exciting for me? I can’t wait to see what comes next. I’ve got great books to read, I’m 13 books ahead on my reading challenge for the year, and I’ve got two months of freedom before the next school year. That’s a recipe for opportunity if I’ve ever seen one!

Here’s what I read in May:

The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mulally Hunt
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Persall
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy by B. T. Gottfried (review here)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (a re-read for book club)
Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno (review here)

How was your May? Was it as productive? What did you read that you loved? Send me yout book recommendations! I want them all.

Also attached is my June reading playlist. This is what I’m listening to as a I read and blog.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

 

Big Thoughts in a Small Town

This past weekend, I played a concert in El Dorado, Arkansas. It’s one of my favorite symphonies to perform in. The town is charming, the symphony is talented, and the coffee shop is adorable. There’s even an independent bookstore. Seriously, what more could a guy like me want in life?

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Saturday morning, I woke up early and decided to visit downtown while it was still cool and beautiful.

I had the best time! It was lovely. People were already out walking and jogging and spending time as a family. Birds were chirping. Flowers were standing proudly. It was idyllic. Seriously. The perfect start to the morning.

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It’s freeing to have a Saturday morning to do nothing, don’t you think? It’s rare for me. I tend to schedule my life minute-by-minute, and never leave free time for walking around downtown, eating a pastry from a coffee shop, and stopping to smell the flowers. And the flowers want to be smelled. Look at them! They’re beautiful!

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This dog was so happy to have his picture taken. He posed for the camera and smiled big. He was adorable. He made me miss my puppies and realize that I never take them anywhere. I think they’d like to go visit downtown or to Starbucks to drink a puppicino with me. I think I’ll schedule some time to drive one of my puppies around like the royalty they are.

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Something I love about El Dorado is they way the community appreciates the arts. In the past year, El Dorado has seen the opening of several new musical performance venues and is awaiting the opening of an art gallery.

The Murphy Arts District is gorgeous! There’s an amphitheater (where I played a concert with Smokey Robinson) situated right in the heart of downtown. There’s the Griffin Music Hall for indoor concerts (where I played this amazing Beatles tribute show). They’ve recently remodeled the municipal auditorium into a stunning concert hall where the symphony plays most of its performances.

The historic Rialto theater is also being renovated and will reopen in the future.

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Being in El Dorado reminds me of all the reasons I love a small town. Everybody is friendly. Everybody knows each other. I love that I’m always greeted with smiles when I’m out and about in El Dorado. I love that the people at the coffee shop are always willing to stop and chat. I love that time is kind of frozen in El Dorado; it’s still-fashioned.

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I know it’s a running theme in my life because I overbook myself, but taking the time to wander around El Dorado reminded me to slow down and take time for self-care. Strolling along the streets in the early morning brought me so much joy and peace. Time with myself to just reflect and refresh myself. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

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I passed the most adorable little Farmers’ Market with six stalls. It was crowded. I was impressed at how many people came to this tiny little market. On the lawn beside the farmers’ market was a field where families were playing. Seriously, it was like something out of a TV show. It was like Stars Hollow. I was in love with it all.

After I’d walked around for a while, and worked up a good sweat, I finished the morning with a nice, cold Coke in a glass bottle. There’s nothing like it. It was the perfect morning. It was a nice way to chill out before a long day of rehearsing and performing.

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So, in the end, take time for yourself. Self care is important and necessary. Take the time to stroll around, smell the flowers, drink a Coke, and slow down.

It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Life Lessons from Ponies

This weekend, I drove to my parents’ house to see my family and to play with my ponies. Let me tell you; there is no stress reliever like playing with a pony. Maybe it’s just the country boy in me, but being out in the sunlight and in the green pastures is so relaxing.

My horse, Daisy.
Daisy is the most beautiful horse in the world. It’s undeniable.

My horse, Daisy, has been my buddy for thirteen years. She is beautiful, and she knows it. She’s a world-champion show horse who has filled my life with more joy than I can even begin to describe. I’ve spoken about Daisy in the past. But she deserves several fangirl posts about how amazing and beautiful she is. And she’d happily accept all praise; she knows exactly how amazing she is. Daisy helps me to remember to be proud of myself and my accomplishments. She knows exactly who she is and she is not afraid to let other horses knows how great she is.

I wish I had an ounce of her confidence. But I try everyday to be as secure in myself–if not as aggressive about it–as my beautiful baby girl.

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Daisy even grazes like a model

Life is about more than horses. And life is about more than books. But spending time with my horses and spending time with my books reminds me of this. I’m reminded every time I play with my horses just how beautiful and awe-inspiring nature is. I’m reminded that the world exists outside of my bubble of stress and rushing and racing and spinning. I’m reminded that my life doesn’t have to be consumed with woe and worry and hassle and hustle. I’m reminded how important it is to stop and smell the roses and absorb the world around me.

Mini horses grazing
The miniature horses are so cute in their field of flowers

The miniature horses remind me that the world is a big place, and that even my small part is important. My mother’s miniature horses are therapy animals. They spend almost every Friday at nursing homes providing therapy services to the patients there. They are funny and precious and serious about their work. They are curious and sweet and love to snuggle. They’re gifts. They’re full of spirit and energy and have love to share.

When I spend time with the miniatures, I can’t help but laugh. They’re goofy. Their little legs incite laughter. They work so hard to be as big and as impressive as Daisy (who is an unusually large horse). They are impressive in their own way. And they’re perfect.

Corey, the solid-brown paint horse
Corey walking the pasture

Corey reminds me that sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. Corey’s parents are both paint horses, which means they have white on their bodies, as well as another color (for reference: Daisy is a paint horse.) Corey was expected to be a paint horse, as well. He has all the genes to be. He had perfect breeding. But, somehow he came out solid brown, save for that small spot on his forehead.

Even though Corey didn’t come out at planned, we still love him. He’s still beautiful. He’s still perfect. He’s sweet. He loves kisses. And has the softest nose of any horse I’ve ever met. When he was a baby, his nose felt like velvet. It was so soft; I had trouble stopping once I’d started petting his nose. Corey’s a lovely reminder that the best things come in unexpected packages.

Lola, the mini horse
Lola spotted me taking pictures of her and began charging me right after this picture

Lola reminds me that we are as big and important as we make ourselves to be. Lola is the smallest horse I have ever seen. She’s hardly two feet tall at the withers. She’s beautiful and she’s ferocious. She has no concept of how tiny she is and she keeps us all entertained with just how bossy she is. She runs the pasture. She is the queen and she knows it.

Yesterday, I laid on the ground to take pictures of her from a good angle, and she charged me. It was important for her that I knew I was in her domain and under her dominion. She doesn’t let anything happen in her pasture without her permission. Because she is as big as she gives herself permission to be.

Mary the donkey stands under a tree
Mary the Donkey enjoys the cool shade

Mary the Donkey reminds me that friends come in the most unlikely people, sometimes. When Mary joined the herd, she was the odd man out. Donkeys behave differently than horses. Donkeys smell differently than horses. Donkeys make different sounds than horses. In every way, she was an outcast from the pack.

But slowly, she and Teddy (who appears later in this post) bonded and are now inseparable. They’re the most unlikely of friends, but somehow have found company in each other. It’s fun to watch them play together.

(It’s even more fun when I hear stories of Mary bellowing beside my parents’ window to wake them up in the morning.)

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The inseparable Mary and Teddy

Even Teddy, who I’m very angry at right now, has taught me much in life. Teddy reminds me that even though I’m grown, I still have much to learn. Teddy is technically an adult, as horses go. But he’s still hard-headed and stubborn. He’s still immature in his decision-making. He’s grown, but he’s got a long way to go. He’s hard-headed and clumsy and a daily reminder that we’re never done growing and improving.

Daisy getting a kiss on the snout

There is something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man
-Winston Churchill

Churchill was onto something when he commented on the power of horses. They’re amazing creatures who have taught me more more about life than any person I’ve ever met. They’re amazing, wonderful creatures. Sometimes I’m convinced that quality time with my horses is the closest I’ll ever get to heaven on earth.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

What I’m Reading Next

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The school year is wrapping up and I’m finally reclaiming my time to read as voraciously as I want to. While most of my colleagues are planning their vacations or how they’ll spend time with family, or what shows they’re going to binge on Netflix, I’ve been working on my list of summer reads.

To be fair, I’ve planned all of those other things, as well. I’ve found a cabin to rent on a lake in the middle of nowhere where I intend to read by the water and get a tan and turn off my cell phone. I’ve already planned to watch my way through The Mary Tyler Moore Show this summer. So it just came down to books.

I have a stack of books I have on my TBR and I can’t wait to tear into them. But the books I’m most excited to tear into are ARCs I’ve received that I haven’t had time to read. I can’t wait to spend my days with debut authors and brand new characters.

My next few books on my TBR (in order of release date) are:

The Handsome Girl and her Beautiful Boy by B. T. Gottfred
Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno
Sell All the Stars by Kit Frick
Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles
Things I’d Rather Do than Die 
by Christine Deriso

This is on top of the several thousand unread books in my Kindle. (Maybe it’s not that much, but it feels that way when I remember that there are so many and new books coming out every week.)

What’s on your list? What are you excited to read? Give me more recommendations!

Love,
The Plucky Reader

Pablo Neruda – A Master of Love

In continuing my observance of National Poetry Month, I revisited some of my favorite poems by Neruda. He was a master of the love poem. I’d have fallen in love with Neruda if he’d written these poems to me. Guaranteed.

Neruda’s poems are beautiful in translation, but they’re so much better in the original Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, anymore. I haven’t had someone to practice with in a long time. But I still read it pretty well and Neruda’s poems are so lovely.

I also have this wonderful edition of Neruda’s poems that prints the original text along with a really good translation. It really helped me to check my understanding. My favorite poem from this collection, however, is “Tu Risa.” I am posting the original text, alongside its translation.

“Tu Risa”

Quítame el pan, si quieres,
quítame el aire, pero
no me quites tu risa.

No me quites la rosa,
la lanza que desgranas,
el agua que de pronto
estalla en tu alegría,
la repentina ola
de plata que te nace.

Mi lucha es dura y vuelvo
con los ojos cansados
a veces de haber visto
la tierra que no cambia,
pero al entrar tu risa
sube al cielo buscándome
y abre para mi todas
las puertas de la vida.

Amor mío, en la hora
más oscura desgrana
tu risa, y si de pronto
ves que mi sangre mancha
las piedras de la calle,
ríe, porque tu risa
será para mis manos
como una espada fresca.

Junto al mar en otoño,
tu risa debe alzar
su cascada de espuma,
y en primavera, amor,
quiero tu risa como
la flor que yo esperaba,
la flor azul, la rosa
de mi patria sonora.

Ríete de la noche,
del día, de la luna,
ríete de las calles
torcidas de la isla,
ríete de este torpe
muchacho que te quiere,
pero cuando yo abro
los ojos y los cierro,
cuando mis pasos van,
cuando vuelven mis pasos,
niégame el pan, el aire,
la luz, la primavera,
pero tu risa nunca
porque me moriría.

“Your laughter”

Take my bread, if you want,
take my breath away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the spear that you shed,
the water that suddenly
explodes in your joy,
the sudden wave
of silver that is born in you.

My struggle is hard and I return
with my eyes tired
of having seen
the earth that does not change,
but when your laughter enters
it rises up to heaven looking
for me and opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the
darkest hour,
your laughter, and if suddenly
you see that my blood stains
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

By the sea in autumn,
your laughter should raise
its cascade of foam,
and in spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower that I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my sonorous homeland.

Laugh at night,
in the day, at the moon,
laugh at the
crooked streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me the bread, the air,
the light, the spring,
but never your laugh
because I would die.

Very few stanzas in poetry touch me that way this opening does. Take away my bread and my breath, but do not take away your laughter. It’s so moving. It’s so lovely. It explains what love is like. It describes an attainable love that seems so unattainable and unachievable. It’s the stuff of fairy tales.

And it seems real, at the same time.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m making no sense at all. That’s okay, too. I still love this poem so, so much.

I hope it brings you as much joy to you as it does me.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Top Ten Tuesday – Books Set in New York City

Top Ten Tuesday

Another Tuesday, another Top Ten. Today, I am dreaming (as I often do) about New York City and my imaginary life there. Years ago, before I settled into teaching in small-town Louisiana and longed for something more exciting that a mid-afternoon nap, I dreamt of moving to New York City and making my mark. I was a musician, it seemed natural to want to pack my bags up and try to make it big in the land of Broadway. Sometimes I think I could have made it, but then I remember how much I love stability and security. I like health insurance benefits and a regular paycheck.

So instead, I’ve been reduced to dreaming about what my life would be like in NYC. In my current imagining, I’m a novelist living in a brownstone in Brooklyn. I write in the mornings on my terrace, and then I wander down to The Strand bookstore and get inspired by the thousands of great books there. I write in the Jefferson Market branch of the NYPL. I attend book events. It’s a lovely dream, really.

I went to NYC in January to perform, so I won’t be returning any time, soon. Instead, I’ll have to stick to reading about New York and experiencing it through book characters’ eyes.


10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a true American classic. It’s a coming of age tale that’s heart wrenching and soul shattering. You know, that light stuff I like to read on a Sunday afternoon. It’s semi-autobiographical and that makes it even heavier, to me. Any time a book is based on a true story, I’m much more emotional about it.

I also love this book because it’s New York in a very different landscape. The face of The City has evolved a lot since it was published in the 1940s. It’s nice to have this piece of history conserving the past.

9. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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I read Invisible Man at the behest of a student. She did her senior project over Invisible Man and had too many feels to not share them with somebody else.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book whenever I started reading it, but I powered through for Mary. It was heavy. It was dark. It said important things about race and the social climate of the 30s and 40s. It isn’t completely set in New York, but a good portion of the book takes place there. In the end, I enjoyed it and was glad I read it. It’s not a reading experience that caused me to feel inspired, as many reading experiences do. It just made me feel calm and reflective.

I love books about New York because they reveal so many faces about The City. I also apparently have a thing for New York pre-1950, because three other books on this list also fall in this category.

8. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

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Honestly, this book didn’t make it on the list. Not because it’s bad, but because I really, really wanted to represent J.D. Salinger on this list because I love him so much. I prefer his short stories to Catcher in the Rye, though, so I went with Capote’s novella instead.

If you’ve not read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, go get it now. It’s a novella; it’s a short, very lovely reading experience. Holly Golightly is such a charming beast of a human being. She’s so raw and not at all the typical woman in literature, and it’s so refreshing. She’s crude and unrefined and has a complex and complicated story. And there’s something so masterful about the way Capote has written a story in which the narrator and protagonist is not actually the main character of the story.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s also has the distinct honor of having my favorite literary quote, ever.

“They’ve had the old clapyo‘-hands so many times it amounts to applause.”

7. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Surely, at this point, you’ve read this book. Or seen the movie. Or been exposed to it at some point. If not, you should go read it. It’s lovely. It’s complex. It’s a sweet little book about a sweet little boy.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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You can’t talk about books set in New York without talking about The Great Gatsby. It’s iconic. It’s quintessential. And it’s perfect. Everything matters. Every color. Look. I know this book is overtaught in public schools. But I don’t care. I love it. It’s perfect and precious and I have the fondest memories of reading it in high school.

If you want a really nice reading experience, the audiobook is performed by Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s excellent.

5. The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

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Holly Chase is a delightful read. I’ve reviewed it here, already. It was my first review for Plucky.

Holly Chase starts off in LA, but quickly transitions to NYC, where the bulk of the story takes place. And, for those of you keeping track, this book is set in modern-day New York City, so that’ll definitely have an effect on your mental picture of New York. (Will it? Maybe? It does for me, but maybe I’m alone.)

Holly Chase is a sweet read at Christmastime and makes a good Christmas Carol substitute.

4. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

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Okay, seriously? Did Roald Dahl every do anything poorly? I loved James and the Giant Peach. I loved the Tim Burton film adaptation.

Let’s face it. I kind of love all things Roald Dahl. (Except for whoever made beer from his swabbed writing chair. I’ll pass on that.)

While James and the Giant Peach goes through several settings, the eventual goal and endpoint is New York City. I love this adventure. I lost this story. I love the hope and the magic and the sparkle that Roald Dahl writes with. It’s wonderful. It’s enviable.

3. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

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This book has been raved about by podcasters and book reviewers and Oprah. And they’re all right. It’s exactly as good as they all say it is. Everything about this book is beautiful. Everything about this book is real.

Behold the Dreamers is set in 2007 just before the stock market crash. It seems crazy to me that we are far enough out from that event that there is fiction about it. I was a freshman in college; it doesn’t seem like it could possibly have been that long ago. Jende is a Cameroonian immigrant to America living in Harlem. He works hard to provide a better life for his wife, Neni, and son. As the book opens, he is hired to be a personal driver for a very wealthy and powerful executive at an invest firm. Jende is a hard worker and very proud of his work. He takes pride in supporting his family and helping Neni through school.

Just as they’re finding comfort in their lives in Harlem, the stock market crashes and their world is throw into turmoil. It’s such a wonderful story about the immigrant experience in America. Imbolo Mbue is an immigrant from Cameroon, and it’s wonderful to have a firsthand view of the American dream from an immigrant. It’s an important and timely book. And it’s lovely.

2. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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The Sun is Also a Star is also a story about immigration and the American Dream. Using two narrators in alternating chapters, The Sun is Also a Star tells the story of Natasha and Daniel. Natasha is a science-minded, no nonsense kind of girl whose family is on the brink of deportation. When the book opens, she is working to make sure that she doesn’t get deported along with her family.

Daniel, on the other hand, is the son (or maybe grandson) or immigrants. Their family owns a business and he is expected to live up to his parents’ high expectations. He’s a dreamer with an insatiable love of poetry. He’s essentially me, if I were a hot book character and not a 30-year-old nerd.

Their paths cross and for one day, Natasha and Daniel fall have the most beautiful day together. But it’s only for one day.

love compressed timeline. I love books that take place in the span of a few hours or a few days. (Don’t look to my writing for that. I need an entire school year and 180,000 words to tell a story.) I was charmed immediately by the characters and their stories. And I was charmed by the way Yoon spun together not just Natasha and Daniel’s lives, but so many other characters. It’s a subtle reminder that our actions pull strings we’ll never see. We effect people in ways we’ll never know.

1. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

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So, Rules of Civility is my Swiss Army book recommendation. I recommend it to any reader for any situation for any time in their lives.

In classic Plucky fashion, it is set in New York City in the 30s and 40s. The book opens in 1937 and focus on my a young girl with my favorite book name, ever, Katey Kontent. Katey is a Russian immigrant (seriously, I didn’t plan this, it just happened) who finds herself falling in with the social elite of Manhattan after meeting Tinker Grey. This chance meeting propels Katey and her best friend through a year of amazing opportunities and events.

The thing about this book is Katey Kontent is the most true-to-herself character I’ve ever read. She is virtuous and honest and good. She knows exactly who she is and she doesn’t allow herself to be swayed by the money or the glamor that she finds herself surrounded by. Katey discovers that almost nobody is who they seem to be in this new world. She finds that there are skeletons in everybody’s closet, but she doesn’t allow that to shake her. She is unflappable and honorable.

I’ve never loved a character as much as I love Katey Kontent. She’s a literary breath of fresh air.


Have I missed your favorite book set in the land where dreams come true? Tell me about it. I want to know everything about it. Maybe I haven’t read it, yet.

Happy reading!

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

A Very Restless Plucky

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It’s testing week! It’s testing week! And you know what that means! Actually, if you’re not a teacher, you probably have no idea. So I’ll break it down for you in a way that hopefully doesn’t sound like complaining.

It means a week of getting to school earlier than usual to sit in a room with kids you don’t teach and watch them take tests on a computer. And when I say watch them take a test, I mean that’s literally all we’re allowed to do. You may not grade papers. You may not read a book. You may not be distracted by that piece of dust that is fluttering just above that little girl’s head. You’re not allowed to daydream about sitting on the beach with something ice-cold and alcoholic in the hollowed out hull of a pineapple or coconut. I definitely didn’t do that. Definitely not. (And there was absolutely not a tiny little umbrella in my drink that I didn’t imagine. And there was definitely not a stack of books beside me that were dying to be read. That would be too much like heaven.)

It’s intense. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever endured as a teacher. But it’s intense. The hardest part is telling yourself not to the about the things you’re thinking about. You’ve all been there, right?

Testing is over for the day, but I still have a windowless classroom to teach in. All I can think about is sunlight, and birds singing, and the smell of fresh-cut grass, and all the books I want to be reading right now.

I’m not necessarily an escapist reader; I often read very heavy books that don’t make for a good escape from life. But sometimes, all I can think about is fresh air and lighthearted books.

Do you get this way? Is this my own cabin fever? I’ve been cooped inside testing for so long that I’ve forgotten what the light looks like. (And by that I mean, I posted this week’s Top Ten Tuesday from a Starbucks patio.)

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When I go home tonight, I intend to curl up with my puppies, open the windows to let the fresh air in, and read to my little heart’s content. And that’s precisely how I intend to spend the weekend, as well.

I hope a good book finds you all, and I hope you have the opportunity to escape.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Top Ten Tuesday : Books About Books and Bookstores

Top Ten Tuesday

Last week, I participated in my first Top Ten Tuesday and had so much fun, I’ve decided to come back for me! Today’s topic is the very meta topic of books about books.

I adore books about books and bookstores. I find them charming. They’re usually easy, light reads. Not always, but often. I love the ways books are used as plot devices. Seriously. I adore books about books and bookstores.

10. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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One thing starting a book blog has taught me is how to assess my reading habits. And something I’ve noticed is just how much I love historical fiction, especially anything set during WWII and The Great Depression. The Book Thief definitely checks that box for me. This story was a brilliant work of fiction. Liesel is such a strong character. The story was captivating. And what is often revered for its brilliance is the way Zusak casts Death, itself, to narrate the novel. It’s a beautiful commentary on mortality and loss and eternity.

9. Matilda by Roald Dahl

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Matilda is an often-overlooked book about books. But seriously. Books are kind of the only thing Matilda has to look forward to. Matilda’s obsession with books and reading made me connect with her very easily at a young age. Add to that Mara Wilson’s excellent performance in the movie and the fact that I will never hear “Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root without thinking about Matilda, and you’ve got my favorite childhood movie/book combo. (Which makes me think. Maybe I’ll do a Top Ten Books-turned-into-movies one day.) Great villains you love to hate. (And Mrs. Honey made my second-grade heart pitter-patter when I saw the movie the first, second, and tenth times.)

Also, it should be noted that Roald Dahl did an amazing job at explaining very complicated concepts to children through his books. He kind of deserves a special place on every top ten list, ever.

8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Marianne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

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Guernsey was a delightful book. I loved every page of it. And I didn’t expect to. I opened it and saw it was an epistle and was immediately turned off. But Anne Bogel  recommended it very highly on her podcast, What Should I Read Next, so I gave it a shot. And I’m glad I did. The characters were charming. The letters were precious. The story was interesting and deeper than I expected it to be. Despite the letters aspect of it all, I still adored this book. Seriously, though, who can hate a book about a writer writing books?

7. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

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This book jumped out at me a couple of summers ago. I spent nearly every afternoon at Barnes & Noble, sitting in the cafe and working on my first novel. (Anyone want to publish it? Bueller…. Bueller…?) It was on the table in my line of sight all summer. And it’s hard to miss. It’s bright blue. It sticks out.

I didn’t actually buy it that summer, but it went on sale on the Kindle shop pretty soon after, and that’s when I picked it up. It was an easy read about Sara, a woman who travels to Broken Wheel to meet her long-time pen pal, Amy. But when she arrives, the finds that Amy has died. Something about Broken Wheel charms Sara and she decides to stay, and against better judgment, open a little bookstore. It’s charming and lovely, and speaks to the book lover in all of us.

6. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

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This book was also recommended on the What Should I Read Next? podcast, but by a guest and not the host. This family talked about the fun, quirky world of the Thursday Next novels and they sounded so fun, I had to try it. Something about this book reminded me of that old cartoon, Animaniacs. This is a world where dodos have been resurrected and you can get sucked into a book, quite literally. Thursday Next is a detective who is used to these kinds of zany adventures. But she’s not prepared when literary characters turn up missing.

It’s nutty and well-written and fast-paced and a quick read. It’s great for a rainy afternoon on the couch with your dog and a blanket. (Seriously I just need a nap, it’s been a long day.)

5. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

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This is another book that was made into a movie, this time featuring the incomparable Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren. Inkheart tells the story of Meggie, a young girl whose father has an interesting gift. When he reads from books, he has the ability to bring book characters into our world. The problem is, the book takes three things from our world in exchange. When Meggie was two, her father read a book, called Inkheart (it’s a little inceptiony, right?) and from within the pages, he called three characters. After a confrontation with the characters, he returned to his family to discover that his wife and the family’s two cats were pulled into the book to replace the characters brought into our world.

Inkheart is the first in a really exciting trilogy for young readers. It’s captivating and action-packed and the right kinds of fantasy for me. (I’m not a huge fantasy reader.) It’s a great family read for anybody looking to read with kids. And great for classroom libraries. (I’m teaching English next year, what can I say?)

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

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Anyone who wants to tell me this isn’t a book about books can fight me. There. I’ve said it. Sectumsempra

3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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I wrote about Fangirl here and I stand by it. I’ll also note that I linked the hardback book this time because the hardback is just so beautiful. I usually prefer hardback, but in this case, I’m choosing to pretend it’s the only edition that exists.

2. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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We read this book with my book club, the one where I met my magical librarian. (Shout out to Kathy who apparently read the post about her.) I would have never picked this book for myself. I mean, the Amazon blurb sounds so boring:

When his most prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, is stolen, bookstore owner A. J. Fikry begins isolating himself from his friends, family and associates before receiving a mysterious package that compels him to remake his life.

Luckily, I gave it a chance. And I’m so glad I did. I’m so, so glad I did. A.J. Fikry tells such a charming story of a man whose life is changed and who experiences great love again, after a great loss. It’s a redemptive tale. It’s a tale about family and how family is who you love more than anything else. It’s a story about learning to belong after feeling like you don’t fit in.

It’s beautiful.

1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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Mr. Penumbra is one of those books that appeared at exactly the right moment. I read it when I needed something less intense than I normally read. It’s not one that I felt viscerally. It’s not one that made me cry or ponder my existence or wonder about the great mysteries of the universe. It was just a really good story about a bookstore. There was a mystery and nobody died. There’s a nerdy love story. There are larger-than-life characters. There are goofy roommates. It’s really a charming book with just enough action to keep the book moving, but nothing to keep you up at night.

Something about how laid back this book is, especially when I read it, following a really heavy read, made it stick in my head as the pinnacle of leisure reading. It was perfect. It was a happy little book tied up in a perfect little package with a little bow. It’s a definite must read.

 

Tell me your favorite books about books or bookstores. Apparently I’m not along in my love for them; share yours!

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Review – Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

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Today, I am sitting in a lovely little coffeeshop between a rehearsal and a performance. I think I have spent more time, collectively, in coffee shops than anywhere else in my entire life. And I’m perfectly okay with this fact.

Sitting today, I have a little time to reflect the book that I finished yesterday.

Call Me By Your Name is not a book I would describe as lovely. (Which is shocking, I know. That’s my standard adjective for a book I love.) But it was a beautiful, moving, and touching story.

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I didn’t know really anything about this book going into it. I knew that it had been recently made into a film. I knew that it was considered for a lot of awards. And that’s the extent of my knowledge. Needless to say, I was not prepared for the emotional onslaught that came as I read this book.

Call Me By Your Name is the tale of Elio, a young Italian boy whose family owns a villa where they host writers who are working on new works. The writer of this summer is a beautiful man named Oliver with whom Elio is nearly immediately smitten. Immediately, the age gap between the two is noticeable. It’s a chasm that seems insurmountable when the book opens. Elio is 17 while Oliver is 24.

The book that follows is about the relationship these two men develop. It’s not your typical romance novel, and it really is like nothing else I’ve reviewed from this blog. It is intense. It’s about the intense emotions people feel when they first discover true sexuality and infatuation. It was about lust and raw attraction.

But it was also about the 80s. And about life in the 80s. And about being gay in the 80s.

Not so spoiler alert: Oliver and Elio do get together in this book. And they must do so in secret. It is the 80s, after all, and the world was not nearly as accepting of homosexuality as it is today (which is saying a lot, considering how non-accepting some place still are.)

But so much of this novel is just awkward. I read most of this book with an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Part of it, I’m sure, is my very conservative view of sex. I am a good, southern boy after all. Sex should only be euphemized; never discussed directly. (I know. I’m bizarre. But that’s not a secret to me.)

Part of it is the apparent age gap. There is a huge difference between a 17-year-old and a 24-year-old. At those ages, seven years seems like a generation of difference, even if Elio is the most mature teenager who’s ever existed.

Elio seems to obsess over Oliver for much of the novel. For all of the novel, in fact. And I get it. I can remember being unable to shake feelings I’ve had about people. It was real, too real. I never want to relive adolescence again. (I mean, seriously, I teach teenagers every day. I never want to relive adolescence.) But Call Me By Your Name made me do so in a nearly tangible way. I could connect with Elio and understand what he was feeling.

Unfortunately, Call Me Be Your Name does not tie up in a sweet little boy. Every string is still dangling. Ever knot is undone. And that is hard for me. I want more closure than this book offers.

All this seems like a bad review, right? But no. I loved it. It made me uncomfortable. It made me queasy. But it was a great book. It was a wonderful read. It was thought-provoking. It was modern stream of consciousness and it was twisted and it was different for me.

It’s not a book that’s for everybody, but I’m definitely grateful that I read it.

Plucky’s rating?

4/5 stars

Yours,
The Plucky Reader