It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 1/14/19

On the blog:

  • A slice about the new book club for two that my mother and I started

In reading:

January isn’t even halfway over, and I’ve already knocked out two titles on my #MustReadin2019 list and BOTH were five-star reads. Jerry Craft’s New Kid won’t be published until February, but it’s a must purchase/must read. It’s about twelve-year-old aspiring artist Jordan who wants to go to art school but who has been sent by his parents to a prestigious (and fairly white) private school instead. Craft hits all the right notes capturing what it’s like to be the new kid, and his graphic novel is all the more powerful for focusing so closely on race. Craft is exceptionally good at catching all the microaggressions that Jordan experiences–the teacher who constantly calls him by the name of one of the other Black kids, the librarian who recommends “gritty” urban realist novels to him, the classmates who assume he’s on financial aid. Jordan keeps his sense of humor through it all, makes some great new friendships, and even learns to speak up when it matters most. This is a very funny book that manages to be full of heart and keep a bit of an edge–not easy to pull off. Interspersed with Craft’s full-color story are short black-and-white examples of Jordan’s comics.

We love to hike in my family, but we are also notoriously underprepared–leaving coats at home on a day when it starts to snow, forgetting the extra bottle of water on a 95-degree day and assuming we’ll be ok without it, leaving lunch in the car because we’re only walking for thirty minutes…. and two hours later, still on the trail, we’re starving. So I’m pretty sure that Donner Dinner Party is an accurate picture of what would have happened to us if we’d been pioneers in the nineteenth century. It’s a harrowing story of bad preparation, bad advice, bad decisions, and bad luck leading to the deaths of most of the party. And those who do survive mostly do so only because they cannibalize the ones who died! Still, it’s a Nathan Hale graphic novel, so there is plenty of humor. I especially enjoy the chatter among Nathan Hale the spy, the hangman, and the British soldier that frequently interrupts the main story.

My mother and I are reading together to complete Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge this year, and the first category we tackled was historical romance written by an author of color. I don’t read much genre fiction, but I came to Tempest with an open mind. The set-up was engaging: a mail-order bride comes to Wyoming Territory to marry a widowed doctor and take care of his daughter. And I liked the first eighty pages or so, which introduced the characters and, aside from the opening gun fight, had a kind of leisurely pace that allowed for character development and interaction. But then I got to the first sex scene, and I began to struggle. The quality of Jenkins’s writing completely changes in the sex scenes. Her straightforward clear prose clogs with flowery adjectives and adverbs and so very many cliches. The rest of the book did not feel very consistent. Some of the more interesting characters more or less disappear, and action scenes that resolve too quickly take the place of character development. The setting had the potential to be really interesting, and clearly some research went into the writing of the book, but I would have liked more detail and accuracy. I did find it instructive to read the (largely very positive) reviews of this book on Goodreads and discover what readers of historical romance like so much about the book–a protagonist with agency, independence, and humor who stays in control of her destiny throughout the story, even when married.

I’ve read several TED books now, and while I love the idea of them, I don’t think they always work as well as a TED talk. A short talk tends to feel complete and fully realized. These short books, on the other hand, tend to feel more like an outline for the more in-depth book I really want to read. Like the other TED books I’ve read, A.J. Jacobs’s Thanks a Thousand is a quick read with a provocative and engaging idea at its core, but it also feels hasty and underdeveloped. Jacobs decides to embark on a gratitude project and focuses on his morning cup of coffee: he will thank a thousand people who had a hand in its production. His journey takes him to the obvious places–his local coffee shop to thank the barista, a coffee plantation in Colombia to thank the farmers–and to less obvious places–phone calls to the makers of coffee cup sleeves and lids, visits to warehouses that store coffee, and research into the history of pallets. There are some worthwhile insights on gratitude and mindfulness along the way, though I longed to pick up another book about gratitude (and another book about coffee production) afterwards to deepen my understanding and insights.

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11 thoughts on “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 1/14/19

    • The main character of New Kid is a 7th grader, but I think the book would be accessible, engaging, and appropriate for grades 5-6 for sure. I’m late to the party with Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales but really enjoying them now that I’m catching up with them.

  1. I’m very much looking forward to reading New Kid. I may have to wrangle your copy from the fingers of your #kidlit students! LOL Also, I’m giggling over your “flowery adjectives and adverbs and so very many cliches” comment on the sex scenes. Because yes, this seems to be the common experience of reading descriptive sex scenes. This reminds me of one night in college when my roommate (who was my “best friend” from elementary school) asked me if she could read a scene aloud from a romance novel she was devouring. She started reading it to me and then stopped and said, “Do you mind if we sit back-to-back? I can’t face you while I read this scene.” It makes me giggle so hard remembering those two giggly 18-year-old kids reading our secret book on a very conservative Christian university campus (HOPING no one would walk in on us and capture us reading dirty adverbs and flowery adjectives). LOL

    • Such a funny story! It’s just difficult for me to read a book where a character “purrs wantonly.” Come on. The purring is bad enough, but “wantonly” is just plain upsetting. I’m not writing off the historical romance genre as totally not for me yet, and I think I’m going to try to read something by Eloisa James (who is often recommended, and whose nonfiction book about Paris I really liked) and by Sherry Thomas, another author who comes highly recommended. Don’t know if I’ll actually get to more historical romance this year though. Might save it for next year’s Book Riot challenge, LOL. I’ll be booktalking New Kid tomorrow in Children’s Lit. We’ll see if there are any takers! It was sooo good! Seriously can’t believe I haven’t read Jerry Craft’s other books.

  2. It’s nice of you to tackle that historical romance, not for me but they are popular I know. Can’t wait to read New Kid & as for the Donner Party, I read the verse novel, To Stay Alive by Skila Brown & of course hear plenty about it here in Colorado. You’ve made it sound intriguing, though. I didn’t know there were Ted books, perhaps for some that don’t listen to them? Thanks, Elisabeth!

    • “Not for me” is my take on historical romance too, though I would like to try another at some point. I can’t remember if I read To Stay Alive or just had it out from the library forever. I need to check my Goodreads account and see. If not, I might have to read that too. We’ve taken a bunch of road trips through the areas that the poor Donner Party was traveling, and all I could think of was what a terrible idea to tackle that area in covered wagons! I wonder if the idea is that the TED books expand on the TED talk? But it doesn’t seem like enough of an expansion to justify a book.

  3. I’m passing my New Kid on to the 5th and 6th grade building. I’m thinking they might read between the lines and see the racial issues in the book than my 4th graders! I really enjoyed it, though!

  4. I think you should know that I regularly place acquisition requests at my public library based on your recommendations. Their middle-grade graphic novel collection is getting better and better.

  5. I got kind of weepy reading about your book club with your mom. My mom was also a reader. She didn’t read to us, but she told us stories at night and made us into characters in them. I wish I had thought to do this when she was still alive. I remember my mother devouring harlequin romances and my sister and I would sneak them into our room and read the ‘steamy scenes’ out loud to each other. These days I’m not interested in reading ‘steamy scenes’ from any kind of novel.
    I’ll be looking forward to reading New Kid this year, but will leave The Donner Party to others. However, I was thinking about them last night when I finished reading Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice.

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