The Bookspired Linkup (April 2016)

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Welcome to The Bookspired Linkup! After announcing the linkup last week, I came down with some sort of illness involving fever, congestion, and general yuckiness which zapped me of the ability to write a new post for this week. So instead, I’m sharing a past post that fits The Bookspired Linkup theme: exploring how a book has inspired you. In this case, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman helped me to sort through some thoughts about fictional characters and their real-life counterparts. Check out the linked-up posts through the blue inLinkz button at the bottom of this post and add your own, or participate through the comment feature. Thanks for stopping by!

Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable, and the Nature of Good Fiction

originally published March 7, 2016

“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.”

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Last summer I read Harper Lee’s much-talked-about draft novel, Go Set a Watchman. There are varying opinions about whether or not the draft should even have been published; I don’t know the answer to that question, but I did love reading the book. Ms. Lee’s first, raw attempt at exposing the reality of racism in her world (in our world still) is fascinating, especially to a former book editor.

24817626What I appreciate most about the book, and what’s at the heart of any good book, is the truth revealed within it: all of us are far from perfect, some are seriously messed up, and most can’t get away with pretending everything’s rosy forever. Our beloved Atticus Finch is no exception to this rule.

I’ve been thinking about this lately while wrapping my head around the allegations that surfaced against longtime American entertainment icon Bill Cosby. Like many, I grew up watching The Cosby Show. I cried through the last episode, especially during Cliff and Clair’s final dance across the living room and off the TV set. At one point during my teen years I mailed a fan letter to the man himself and received an autographed picture in return. Two years ago, I took an early lunch break and hustled down the street to catch a glimpse of Bill cutting the ribbon at the opening of Ben’s Chili Bowl in Arlington, Virginia. I’d call myself a fan.

When the allegations first hit the news in 2014, my heart lurched and I hoped, of course, that none of it was true. At that time, it seemed like there was some possibility of serious misunderstanding or gross exaggeration or a pandemic of made-up stories. I had just finished packing a hospital bag, including season one of The Cosby Show, for my second baby’s birth. Shortly thereafter, as the allegations were building, I took the DVD out of the bag and put it back on the shelf.

Now, more than a year later, it seems probable that Bill Cosby did some terrible things. Setting aside the real problem – Cosby’s alleged actions and their effects on the people involved – I can’t help but wonder how to handle my relationship with Bill Cosby. Should I throw away all of my DVDs and pretend Rudi’s goldfish, the Gordon Gartrell shirt, and all of Denise’s crazy boyfriends never existed? Should I return the autographed picture? Are my good memories ruined because they never should have existed in the first place?

For me, the answers lie in separating fact from fiction, man from character. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I’m so personally disappointed, and I think it’s because in my mind, Bill Cosby was Cliff Huxtable. I transposed the character qualities (admirable father figure, standup citizen, just the right balance of smart and funny, someone you can trust) onto the actor himself. And maybe Cosby does have some or all of those qualities to some extent. But Cliff Huxtable, not Bill Cosby, was my childhood TV hero.

Back to Atticus Finch: many people have been severely disappointed by how Atticus was portrayed in Go Set A Watchmen, as a racist who barely resembles the favorite hero-Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird, and there is some resentment that this “bad Atticus” exists. My own take is that Harper Lee created two Atticus Finches: one hero and one anti-hero. One doesn’t cancel out the other. Our favorite, classic Atticus is still a fictional hero to celebrate and emulate.

Like good Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable has already been created and can’t be undone. He is still and always will be a fictional hero who loves his five kids and wife and eats giant submarine sandwiches and delivers babies. The man who played Cliff may have done some terrible things, and hopefully he will be held accountable for any and all true allegations. But Cliff Huxtable is the epitome of good comedic fiction, which exists separately from the real, much more complicated world in which it is created. It teaches us lessons, keeps us company, and makes us laugh, even if the real world is breaking our hearts. We may choose never to watch The Cosby Show again. I’m still not sure where I stand on that. But no matter what, I think we can keep our good memories.

Something New: The Bookspired Linkup

Over the past few weeks, I’ve sorted through some thoughts about this blog and what I want it to be. My tagline is Read Good Books. Do Good Things. It sounds nice, and I personally know what it means, but I’m not sure I’ve made it clear to anyone else.

Since I started blogging back in September, I’ve dabbled in a few different formats, almost always bringing books and reading into the mix. I’m glad I jumped into blogging before knowing what I was doing – I don’t think there’s any other way to do it. Until you start writing, sharing what you’ve written, and seeing how people respond to it, you’ll never know what works for you and for them.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

I have slowly figured out two things.

#1 Why I Read:

  • To learn new facts and explore ideas.
  • To enjoy a good story.
  • To accomplish something tangible. Reading a book from start to finish is satisfying. I like checking things off a list and patting myself on the back.
  • To empathize with my fellow humans.
  • To be inspired to do good things for myself and others.

People read for these and a variety of other reasons, and I think what binds readers together is that books inspire us in some way … To read more books by the same author or drop that book and find something better. To act more like the main character or less like the main character. To take up a new hobby, make new goals, or try a new recipe. We may not always stop to think about how books inspire us, but I think it’s fun to pay attention and share what we learn. Which brings me to the next thing.

#2 Why I Blog:

  • To accomplish something tangible. See above about checking things off and pats on the back.
  • To hold myself accountable for reading good books.
  • To empathize with my fellow humans.
  • To inspire people to do good things for themselves and others.
  • To connect with others and build community.

One of my favorite parts of blogging is having a platform from which I can connect with other people. I enjoy reading blogs about books, food, faith, parenting, and many other topics and interacting with other bloggers and readers. I appreciate when others encourage a sense of community, and I’d like to do the same.

So, here’s the plan. On the third Wednesday of the month (starting next Wednesday, April 20), I’ll share a new Bookspired post and announce that The Bookspired Linkup is open. Anyone can participate by linking up a recent post that explores, in some manner, how a book has inspired you. You can share about a book you’re currently reading, one you’ve read recently, or one you read a long time ago. You can directly or vaguely address the theme. It can be deep thoughts or just plain fun. If you don’t have a blog, you can still participate by leaving a comment on my post, on any participant’s post, or on social media. I’ll share some other common-sense guidelines when the linkup is open.

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In closing, here are a few of my old posts that fit The Bookspired Linkup theme.

Gathering Friends for the Long Winter

Editing the Heart

Finding Light in a Dark Book

Atticus Finch, Cliff Huxtable, and the Nature of Good Fiction

‘Til Wednesday!

 

 

 

 

The 5 Books I Finished in March

*Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays and Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit.*

March was a great month for reading. Three of the five books I read exceeded my expectations, and one of them completely knocked my socks off.  Without further ado, here are the five books I finished in March:

1. Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

My Thoughts: I heard about this young adult dystopian novel on the What Should I Read Next podcast and immediately requested it through my library. The Washington, DC setting and strong female protagonist were appealing to me. Although the writing wasn’t incredible, the storyline of a national flu epidemic and secret government intrigue held my interest. I’m glad I read this book, but I probably won’t go out of my way to read more by the author.loveisthedrug

Page Count: 352

When I Read It: February 16-March 7, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Placed a hold a the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: N/A

2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

My Thoughts: I’ve been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast for months. I love the back-and-forth banter between Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft. They are two very different people, but they seem to truly enjoy and learn from each other, and they definitely entertain their listeners. I was a bit skeptical, though, when I started reading The Happiness Project because it was such a manufactured scenario – a woman with money and privilege sets out on a mission to make herself happier. Alrighty. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the book and how many great, practical tips I picked up. Since finishing this one, I’ve started one of Rubin’s more recent books, Better Than Before. More on that one next month.

thehappinessprojectPage Count: 292

When I Read It: January 15-March 11, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.”

3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My Thoughts: This is the book that knocked my socks off. It is a beautifully written, sad, yet somehow hopeful dystopian novel. I spent a lot of time marveling at how the author even came up with the story because it is so creative and also makes so much sense; I could see most of the plot happening in a real apocalyptic scenario. I heard many people rave about the book before I picked it up at the library, and now I’ll be raving for a while. Station Eleven is the best book I’ve read so far this year and the best novel I’ve read in years.

stationelevenPage Count: 336

When I Read It: March 7-19, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “She was thinking about the way she’d always taken for granted that the world had certain people in it, either central to her days or unseen and infrequently thought of. How without any one of these people the world is a subtly but unmistakably altered place, the dial turned just one or two degrees.”

4. Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

My Thoughts: Jim Gaffigan is funny, especially when he talks about food and his family, which are the focus of this book. My husband Dave and I laughed our way through season one of The Jim Gaffigan Show last summer and are eagerly awaiting season two (coming in June). Listening to this audiobook read by the man himself was a good way to bridge the gap. The only problem was that it made me extra hungry.food.lovestory

Page Count: 340

When I Read It: March 22-25, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Downloaded the audiobook from my library and listened through the Overdrive app.

Favorite Quote: “I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath.”

5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

My Thoughts: This was a well-written, suspenseful novel about a teenage girl’s death and her family’s quest to figure out what happened to her and how to function without her. The book flashes back and forth between present and past, and we slowly learn more and more about each member of the family. It was a page turner, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected. Although the story fell a bit flat for me toward the end, I’d still highly recommend it.

everythingineverPage Count: 304

When I Read It: March 26-31, 2016

Where I Found It/How I Read It: Found it on the shelf at the library; read it the old-fashioned way.

Favorite Quote: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” (These are the first few sentences of the book, an impressive literary hook.)

 

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Two non-fiction books and three novels in March; it felt like a good balance. I’m already off to a good start with my April reading. You can friend or follow me on Goodreads for the latest updates.

Listen to This

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” – G.K. Chesterton

I recently picked up an old habit of mine: listening to audiobooks. Several years ago I headphone-159569_1280listened to them in the car all the time. I’d pick out a few at the library and breeze through them on my commutes. But when I stopped commuting, I also stopped listening to books. I’m back at it, though, and I’ve learned some new tricks that make listening to books even easier and more enjoyable.

For those who are short on time, listening to audiobooks is a great way to read because you can do it while doing something else: driving, flying, walking, running, cleaning, waiting, etc. It makes boring, tired tasks seem less boring and tired. It’s an easy way to read, although you do still need to pay attention and let it all sink in to truly experience the book. And also, it’s just plain nice to be read to; it’s a throwback to being a kid.

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I loved hearing Amy Poehler’s stories of growing up in Burlington, MA and attending my alma mater, Boston College. Go Eagles!

You can listen to audiobooks through a few different formats and devices. We used to call them books on tape when I was a kid, but now they’re books on CD, and you can listen to them in a standalone CD player, on a computer, or in your car. You can buy books on CD, but another, cheaper option (unless you rack up the late fees) is to borrow books on CD from the library. One issue about borrowing from the library is that some CDs, especially the kids’ books, are scratched. I have actually sworn off borrowing kids’ CDs from my library because every single one I’ve tried was scratched. Some libraries have an option called a Playaway, a preloaded audiobook listening device that you can borrow. I haven’t tried the Playaway yet, but it sounds promising and less prone to the scratching problem.

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Jim Gaffigan is funny.

A more hip and less frustrating way to listen is to download a file to your smart phone or tablet. You can buy electronic files of audiobooks online from a subscription service such as Audible. I did an Audible free trial earlier this year and used my free book credit to listen to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Although I enjoyed my free book and Audible seems like a great service, I can’t justify the $14.95 a month at the moment.

SO in my opinion, the best way to listen to audiobooks is to borrow electronic files from the library. If you sign up for a free Overdrive account and download the app, you can link up with your local library and borrow e-books, INCLUDING AUDIO E-BOOKS, from the library. It is amazing. There are hundreds of titles available at a time, including new bestsellers and old favorites. You can borrow a book, add it to your Overdrive app, listen to it anywhere, and then return it when you’re done – although, not to worry, the electronic files return themselves automatically on the due date if you forget. No late fees. Oh happy day!

*A trick: Play around with the speed of the audio. Depending on how fast a talker you’re dealing with, you may be able to bump up the audio speed to 1.25 times the regular speed, or maybe even faster if you have good ears. When I first heard about people doing that, I thought it was weird, but then I tried it, and it was genius.*

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I listened to this book as I drove home from dropping off my husband for a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. It made me feel a little better. *Edited to add: This makes it sound like I dropped Dave off in Afghanistan. That’s not what happened.

A Few Recommended Reads for your Listening Pleasure:

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan (read by the author)

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (read by the author)

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (read by the author)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (read by Sissy Spacek)

The Shining by Stephen King

Carrie by Stephen King

 

Apparently I like to listen to non-fiction/memoirs and super-scary horror stories. Find what YOU like and enjoy!