GIVEAWAY: Spreading the love of reading

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Pumpkins, taken at the Hancock Shaker village by Ernab – Wikimedia

So for my fall season giveaway I’d like to do something a little different.

First: tell me why you love a specific book and who you’d like to give it to as a gift. It can be an individual, a school, a child, a library.. whatever your heart desires.

Second: Tell me what books you’d like to read this season!

The winner will get a care package with some of the books they want and the person they wrote about will also get a copy of the book that they want gifted to them.

Fall Favorites

Fall is here! The leaves are changing and every business is incorporating pumpkin into every product they can (oreos? really?) and we’re all pulling on hoodies and winding those scarves around our necks when we leave the house in the morning.

Once there’s a chill in the air I’ve find myself drawn to books that are old favorites, wanting to curl up with them under a blanket with a cup of coffee or tea in the evening. I always end up picking comforting reads that cheer me like a fire on a winter night or creepy reads that prepare me for the halloween season.

  Harry Potter 4-7
I can’t help it, I love these books. Especially the fourth to the seventh. They’re funny and engaging without being heavy. They’re the hot chocolate of books; warm, sugary goodness.

  Little Women
Who doesn’t want to prepare for christmas with a little time in the March family’s world? Spending time with the March girls and their daily troubles always reminds me of family and the holidays.

  House of Leaves
Want to get in the Halloween spirit? Read House of Leaves, a book reviewed as one of the scariest ever written. Complex, creepy, dark and intricate – this book will keep you up nights just to finish the story within the story and find out what happens.

  84, Charing Cross Road
As an avid book lover, there is just something about reading two people who love books writing letters to each other across the ocean that is delightful. I love reading these letters whenever I need a bit of a lift, it’s such a great little compilation that embodies passion for the written word.

  Doctor Sleep
If you want something a bit more recent that is a good scary read, Doctor Sleep was definitely one of the creepier books I read this year. A great sequel that is a bit more complicated than The Shining, but full of dark characters and hair-raising moments.

Those are just a few of mine, if you have any suggestions of your favorite reads as our days turn chilly, I’d love to hear them!

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

“Maybe I am fated to always be alone, Tsukuru found himself thinking. People came to him, but in the end they always left. They came, seeking something, but either they couldn’t find it, or were unhappy with what they found (or else they were disappointed or angry), and then they left. One day, without warning, they vanished, with no explanation, no word of farewell. Like a silent hatchet had sliced the ties between them, ties through which warm blood still flowed, along with a quiet pulse.”

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends in high school, all of whose names had a color inside them. He always felt that he didn’t quite fit with them because his name did not, but they were close despite what he felt was his colorlessness. Four friends who did everything together, an inseparable group that seemed to be balanced perfectly between each personality. Until the day they were gone.

For no reason that he can fathom, his friends cut him off with no explanation. They don’t answer his calls, avoid him when he’s home and he doesn’t see them again for many years. From that day forward, Tazaki is lost. He seems unable to connect to other people, gaining no more close friends and engaging in no close relationships. He attends college, gets a job and moves on with his life physically in Tokyo, but his spirit is still stuck in his past. He almost doesn’t survive the loss, as their absence from his life sends him into a deep and almost irreversible depression.

Then he meets Sara. A lovely woman who attracts him and who he can actually see, possibly, spending the rest of his life with. She presses him to find out what happened, insisting that they won’t be able to move forward until he fixes his shattered past because some part of him will always be holding back. Always waiting for his friends to return.

Tazaki embarks upon trips to confront and speak with each person in his old quartet to figure out what happened and why.

And what he finds is deeply disturbing.

Murakami is as always, mystical, enthralling and personal. He delves into his characters unabashedly, showing you their strange nightmares and weird urges along with their softer inclinations and goodness. Tazaki sees himself as a boring person and much of the book feels muted because of how he describes himself, his past and his thoughts. He seems almost detached from the innermost self he lays bare for us; the same detachment he battles with in his relationships with other people. His despair in being colorless permeates his entire story and how it unfolds.

Though this wasn’t my favorite Murakami, it was definitely a worthwhile read. For those that may have struggled with 1Q84, this is completely the opposite – in length, size and design.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is a pocket-sized story packed with emotional resonance and atmospheric storytelling. Tazaki will give you hope that even those who are lost for a long time, can find their way back to who they were meant to be.

From whales to snakes – Saying goodbye

Now I know a lot happens in every person’s first car, but my second car was one that got me through many adventures in my life.  I bought this car because I got an internship at my first newspaper and when they asked me if I had a car, my response was “Sure!” (I didn’t.) So I went out and got my fit. Since then it has been through so much, I almost feel bad for it.

This car has hauled not only myself but every book (and you know, other secondary possessions like clothes) I own across the country many times. I have driven from Massachusetts to Kansas to Texas to New York to Texas (again) and then to Utah. There were times I was pretty sure it wouldn’t make it. There was audible scary creaking sounds… especially on my trip from Texas to NY, where it was packed to the edges and I was accompanied by the dormouse.

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In Texas there were many times it was made to feel inferior. Such as… every single day when it was parked next every truck in every parking lot. Despite the constant emotional assault, it shouldered on.

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And then there was the time, due to is meager power, that it couldn’t make it onto the beach like all the Texas trucks to take us to the dead whale… so we had to walk the four miles instead. And then when we finally arrived back to my poor abandoned vehicle, we climbed inside.. with whale juices on us. I’m not sure it’s ever quite smelled the same.

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And then.

Then there was the snake incident.

Two hours. In my fit. With a snake.

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(I would link you to my blog post about it but the Victoria Advocate has apparently gotten rid of the photo blog or it doesn’t work anymore. If it ever works again, it was here.)

But there were happier times too – pre and post the horrifying, life changing, nightmare inducing snake incident. You know, the incident where most people told me I should have just “burned the damn car to ashes and left it smoking there by the side of the highway.” Shudder. Sometimes at night I still wonder if something is about to slither across my shoulders again…

Anyway, happier times! Like Panda’s first full day of going everywhere with me in the car –  back in the days when he didn’t have eyes.

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And all the times I practically lived out of it for my assignments, from pumpkin patches to NASA warehouses. To tracking down plane crashes and being called out at 2am for fake fires. It’s gotten me through tornado warnings, floods and snowstorms. Like that one time I almost died driving through white out conditions on the way to a hockey game or that time I almost died when I slid through a red light on the ice or that time when I almost died in a snowstorm because my GPS stopped working at midnight on my way home from work…

Hmm, well, you can see why I got a new car to deal with snow and seasonal weather anyway.

But my fit has been wonderful. It got me, my books and even a few visitors (friends, panda, butterflies) and unwanted guests (snake. just the snake.) from point A to B with aplomb and good humor and excellent gas mileage whenever I needed it.

For that I’ll always be grateful.

Except for the snake. That shit sucked.

The Painter by Peter Heller

Moody. Atmospheric. Haunting.

“The Painter” by Peter Heller will fill you with the yearning to pick up a brush, buy a canvas and run away to Santa Fe. It will suffuse you with the sound of a brook on a clear moonlit evening and the feel of a fishing rod in your hand. It will fill you with the appreciation for natural beauty and the bottomless grief of losing the one person whom you love most. 

Jim Stegner is an artist trying to paint his way out of his past.

In the wake of the destruction of everything he ever held dear; he paints, he fishes. He doesn’t drink. He controls his anger. He loses himself in his work – and his work is amazing. Genius. Transcendent. It touches, inspires and moves people to laughter, to tears. But behind the work is a man barely holding it together. An artist, struggling to survive just being human. 

One day Jim comes upon a man beating a small helpless horse and he puts himself in danger to save it. This one act of thoughtless kindness derails his entire quiet existence. He is unable to halt the uncontrollable progression of events and his life, and art, become darker and more volatile. He walks the line between what is right and what is just, between reality and the half-world he hides in. 

Jim is violent, protective, loving and lost. He is drowning in his grief and slipping over the edge. When he surfaces into the everyday to feel, to experience, to help… he makes it harder and more complicated somehow. He mostly only manages to fuck things up. Again. 

And in every page, through every mistake or bewildering blessing, is painting. Jim creating beautiful, funny, moving, delightful, horrifying and stunning things. Fish dancing on water, birds flying on desks. Mischievous crows and thoughtful horses. Oceans filled with miraculous light and pure joy. We experience who Jim is – his struggles, his choices, his thoughts – with every stroke of his brush.  

Heller’s writing vibrates with life on every page. You smell the turpentine, hear the scratch of the palette brush, feel that cool water around your waders as you fish. But most of all, you endure every piercing emotion with Jim. 

Jim is a man who cannot let go of the one thing he ever truly loved and lost. Who makes so many mistakes for all the right, and wrong, reasons.

A man who wants a simple life and who in his heart wants to be a better person.

To love more. To hurt less.

But isn’t quite sure how to get there – or even if he can believe ‘there’ still exists. 

Unnatural Creatures selected by Neil Gaiman

A black spot appears on your tablecloth. When you look again, it’s gone. Now it’s on your wall. You blink. It’s on your ceiling. With each new appearance, it grows. It swells. It becomes a large, hideous, dark presence in your home. And then you learn – it’s hungry.

“Unnatural Creatures” is a collection of stories selected by Neil Gaiman. I picked it up while I was visiting Portland, Ore., to see a friend. Elbowing my way through the crowds at Powell’s Books to find a new read, I stumbled upon it in the staff-recommended section.

Since I was only allowing myself to buy one book (such willpower) I decided anything selected by Gaiman was worth checking out.

These fantasy stories feature dark and mystical creatures ranging from hungry black spots to professor werewolves.

In “Ozioma the Wicked” a young girl is an outcast when her town learns that she can speak to snakes. Then one day, something lowers itself down from the sky and threatens everything they hold dear. Only Ozioma can help them.

“Moveable Beast” is an adventure in which a Beast collector arrives at the Bastardville Dreamy Creamy, an ice cream store in a town that prides itself on being miserable. He comes to collect their beast, but little does he know what that beast truly is.

Larry Niven’s “The Flight of The Horse” is about a man who travels back in time to find curiosities for the modern royal family. He goes on a quest further back in history than ever before to find a horse but finds something quite startling instead.

In one of my favorite pieces of the collection, a young girl named Matilda gets off the omnibus one day at an unexpected destination. In this village, the princesses’ pet cockatoucan transforms aspects of the village with its magic laughter.

The king becomes a butcher; the prime minister becomes a child. It makes Sundays come together and Thursdays get lost. It changes time, people and places to make their village a topsy-turvy mess.

Though Matilda normally wouldn’t be able to tackle such a complicated problem, the cockatoucan accidently makes her clever. And she concocts a plan to set the village to rights.

Each piece in “Unnatural Creatures” is different and delightful. Whether the authors are writing about griffins or bicycles, the characters are unique, and the stories are imaginative.

Gaiman has assembled a charming collection of whimsical romps – whether they are dark, sweet or deadly – that any reader will enjoy.

Hyperbole and a Half; dinosaurs, cake and rainbows

“Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh is like reading about the inside of your head – all the dinosaurs, cake, rainbows and overly emotional thoughts churning around into a colorful mess that constitute your life completely unfiltered.

We try really hard to keep all those dinosaurs and rainbows under control, but in this book, they roam free. I admit, maybe this isn’t everyone’s head (if you’re scowling at me right now, I mean you), but I loved it because it is a little bit like being inside mine.

It started the day I read the dinosaur costume entry, Menace, on Brosh’s blog. It was like making a new friend. I have worn a dinosaur costume, and I, too, have felt incredibly powerful waving my claws in the air, having a tail and roaring.

The best part is people not looking at you like “why is that human roaring?” because you’re a dinosaur now – you can roar to your heart’s content. So yeah, I was hooked.

Brosh’s blog is truly great. Each entry contains humorous stories and drawings to illustrate the ridiculousness that is daily life with blatant honesty. Her book “Hyperbole and a Half” is an extension of this.

In “Hyperbole and a Half,” we experience Brosh’s battles with depression, her childhood memories, her struggles to be a better person and even a little delicious cake stealing. Her writing is brutal, comical and wholly sincere.

There are many, many reasons to read this book, but here are just a few. You should read it if:

You love dogs.

You love cake.

You love books.

You like to laugh.

You are human.

The thing is, I think a lot of us can relate to Brosh’s book. It’ll make you chuckle, sure, but it’ll also make you think.

If you’ve ever struggled with depression or felt overwhelmed by the total lack of control in your daily life, or if you’ve ever needed someone just to understand how amazingly frustrating it can be just to be a person existing in this world, you’ll relate. And I think we’ve all been there.

Brosh reminds us that we’re all human, and that, yes, life is hard. It’s hard and ridiculous and exquisite. We should be grateful just to be experiencing it every day, but most of the time, we aren’t.

We’re mostly caught up being infuriatingly human, and if we’re going to do that anyway, then we might as well laugh a little bit at ourselves, too.