Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Non-fiction (and a stream of music)

I'm going to take a break from the strain of writing that has been coming out lately--i.e. not much about kids or kid-like matters!  Now there's a novel approach...!

Instead, it's the epitome of the type of morning that I thoroughly enjoy.  Beautiful sunny weather.  Cool, not humid with the windows/doors open.  Quiet.  Some music (I do love me some Pandora--Bruce Springsteen to kick off the day anyone?).  A place to spew forth ideas.  Keurig coffee maker.  And 2 books that are competing for my attention.  I haven't read a book simply for pleasure since Spring Break, about 2 months ago.  This has to be one of the heights of irony for the majority of English teachers; aren't we the ones who are supposed to crave reading?  Not many of us actually do much of it, I think.  Pity!

(Now it's Taylor Swift, one of my secret likes in Music!)

But the focus of this morning's posting: non-fiction.  (By the way, has anyone ever noticed that I utilize the spectrum of punctuation marks?  They're an absolute necessity, I've come to realize, to convey my stream of thought.  It's too bad they're so thoroughly abused by general writing because they actually take some thought about how to be used correctly.  Believe me; I have student writing samples to prove it.) 

(Today is heavy on the parenthetical thoughts, apparently.  We're up to Colbie Caillat now.  It took me an entire song to write that previous paragraph, which, look at it--1 sentence and some rambling.  If I were my teacher, wouldn't I object to that as a paragraph?  Absolutely not!  It's all about the tone and focus of the writing.  It works for me here, right?)

Digression aside, non-fiction.  I was talking to the spouse this morning (I'm enjoying this ability to have real adult conversations right now before the next bean comes and puts the kibosh on that for a while again.) about how I've come to realize that I often find myself reaching for non-fiction, editorial writing rather than fiction anymore.  That last book that I read prior to this week, the Spring Break one?  Non-fiction and fantastic--The Soloist by Steve Lopez.  I'm a definite fan of Anne Lamott and her writing about writing.  (Keith Urban now, a good one.  Am I the only one who finds him an odd coupling with Nicole Kidman?)  In fact, one of the first things that attracted me to the church we're members at when we first began attending nearly 7 years ago was that the pastor oft quoted Anne Lamott.  Granted, I was probably the only one in the congregation who understood who she was, and granted that pastor is no longer with our congregation, but still it was like some divine sign: "You belong here!"  My favorite part to read in the Indy Star besides the Food section on Fridays (and it seems like whenever our paper isn't delivered, which happens once in a while, it's Fridays...spite) is the sports columnist, Bob Kravitz.  Seriously, I even read this guy when he talks about open-wheel racing and the Pacers, neither of which I really follow.  But it makes for good Jeopardy information should there ever be a topic solely dedicated to "Sports closely tied to Central Indiana." 

I enjoy the slightly sarcastic, snarky, tongue-in-cheek, subtle intelligence humor that non-fiction editorial writing brings to the table.  You know how when you're a kid, you often go for kid's food choices (probably because adults think that kids only want certain things...seriously, my kid loves her veggie burgers and roasted broccoli and has never had a hot dog in her life) but discover that this kind of food, while sometimes satisfying is actually not that nourishing for you?  (Carly Rae Jepson...I think we're going to skip her.  Stupid advertisement, the only downfall of Pandora.  At least they're short.  Coldplay.  Satisfying!)  I shun Aunt Jemima in favor of real, grade-A maple syrup now.  Yeah, the good stuff is pricey, but it also actually has some good anti-oxidant properties to it.  I'm willing to pay a little more to savor a good hunk of parmigiano-reggiano rather than solely relying on the green plastic cylinder of Kraft parmesan, though that has a place in my fridge as well.  Likewise, if I'm going to be able to enjoy something to read just for fun, I'm going to make those time calories count and spend my precious minute allotment on the good stuff.  It might require a little more thinking (you know, it costs more), but that's just worth it for me right now. 

I sat through 2 graduation ceremonies in the last week, and one of the speakers referenced Anna Quindlen, whose name I'd heard of but whose writing I'd never approached before.  Fast-forward one day to a trip to the library with the intent of actually getting something for me to read rather than just loading up my card with Curious George and Rainbow Fish books.  When you're out of practice looking for books to read just because, I find that it's actually something of a daunting task that takes a bit of time to do, one that I can't do while also watching and controlling a 3-year old.  (Death Cab for Cutie--a group that I only listen to on Pandora but has it's moments of okay-ness.)  Since I had the spouse with me as well, we were able to tag-team and each take some time for our own personal browsing.  I quickly came across a new Anna Quindlen memoir in the new book/2-week check-out section, so hey, why not?  She used to write a column for the New York Times, and this is just a collection of thoughts strung together that seems to basically be about being a woman.  Granted, she's quite a bit older than me, which translates to "roughly my mom's age," but this one seemed to have some promise with things that appealed to me.  If nothing else, it's short and should be a quick read.  I'm only about 37 pages in to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, but so far so good.  The promise of some good editorial writing are being upheld.  I don't find her style as clear as I'd like all of the time, and her vocabulary has twice challenged me (ergo, not a read that the average person is likely to enjoy...heaven forbid someone draws on the vast wealth of the English language and use words that aren't always "easy" and "good").  I like it.  I recommend it.  I don't always agree with it but really only in a mildly challenging kind of way, like "You've lived longer, so I'll take your word for it, but I don't really find myself in the same stereotype that you're proposing I should be in at this point in my life" kind of way.  But most of the time, yep, agreed.  There is something to be said for one day finding waking up (Oasis, but again, one of the only good ones that hasn't been over-played ad nauseum) and finding that you're at the place in your life where you have lots of cake because you have lots of candles.  Good things happen as we age, too!  And I also like the general tone of her memoir that essentially focuses, at least so far, on the positives of this aging process for women rather than regrets and longing for youth.  Frankly, there are lots of things that I'm looking forward to having someday that will only happen with aging--enjoying sleeping in on a weekend morning; leisurely drinking some coffee while reading the paper without having the play short order cook with cereal and fried eggs (guess what the tyke had this morning for breakfast?); spending more mornings like this, looking to downsize to a cute, cottage-y style house rather than upgrading to a house twice the size of what we currently have; going on a date with the boy without working around a babysitting schedule.  (U2--more often enjoyed than not)  But there are also career things that I'm looking to be done with at the point in my life when the previously mentioned list will also likely be in place: not being a slave to homework on weekends; not having to constantly make up new lesson plans because my schedule will be stable; having experience with lots of things. 

And now a quick shout-out to the other book that is drawing me in, one that I'm undoubtedly going to open up as soon as I get off of this technological beastie.  (Daughtry, usually not, but I don't feel like changing it right now since, like Oasis, it's not an over-played one right now.)  Gone with the Wind!  I haven't worked my way through this one for at least 10 years, probably closer to 12 or 13.  If you look back at the decade I've just gone through, that makes sense.  It takes some time dedication to attack a 1,000 page book just because, and strangely enough, I feel like I have some of that right now what with late-night feedings and baby cuddling coming up.  Three summers ago was the absolutely best stretch of pleasure reading that I've had in my 20s.  I'm hoping that I get back to some of that this summer, though it will undoubtedly be different now that we have the toddler, too.  (Wow, Daughtry was short.  Lifehouse now.  Yep, a keeper in my playlist.)  My goal whenever I read GwtW is to average 100 pages a day and work through the book in a respectable amount of time, a week and a half.  This is probably my 4th time reading this one, and this strategy worked for me in the past, but given that I haven't read this since I think I was in my late teens, there's a definite difference between "then" and the reality of "now."  But still, 2 days in and I've kept to my pace.  With little bean due any day, this undoubtedly will not continue, but I'm enjoying what it is right now.  And, it's a LOT of fun for me to read this one right now after going through an undergrad and graduate degree with a focus in literature; I very much enjoy the thought process behind unpacking a worthy text.  Now that I'm done with literature classes (hopefully not forever, but definitely for the foreseeable future), I'm not sure how well my skills will last, like language retention.  (Fuel, nope.  Skip.  Another dumb advertisement, argh.  OneRepublic.  Okay, now that works.)  But I'm reading through Margaret Mitchell's (only) classic, and I'm making all sorts of cool connections, which undoubtedly aren't that original, but are more depth-tual than surface reading, which to me, the literaturist, is all about what "good reading" is.  It does help that I know the story, so I see some of the cool things that Mitchell is doing in her work--Tara really mimics Scarlett in a lot of ways, the irony of how Scarlett thinks and acts at the beginning, her fixation on Ashley as doomed from the beginning, the thematic textuality of Ashley's letters and thoughts about war and the South, and so on.  Good stuff!  Satisfying, beautifully orchestrated and richly described, vivid and inter-connected.  All that a good read should be in "me own mind" (copping a bit of Gerald O'Hara's Irish brogue). 

On on that thought, I'll end this with Etta James and "At Last."  This post is dedicated to my students of years gone by who have asked me about what kind of music I listen to; you tell me.  How would you describe this mix of randomness?  I listen to what I like and I read what I like.  Sometimes, I even listen to what I like while I read what I like to read.  It's a decadent pleasure that I don't allow myself nearly often enough. 

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