World Book Night 2014 recap and essay

On April 23rd I participated in World Book Night. With thousands of other book lovers, I was part of a group that gave out over 500,000 books in one day. This was not limited to librarians, and I encourage you to get involved next year if talking to strangers is your thing! Below is my ssay for the WBN book-giver essay contest.(I could win 2 round trip airline tickets!!)

I gave out the very funny book Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I urge you to pick up this (audio)book ASAP. The narrator has the perfect voice for this story.

My World Book Night Experience

Against all laws of physics and medicine, every drop of blood in my veins rushed through my pounding heart, up my neck, and into my head. There isn’t enough room in here! cried my brain, thumping. Oh I’m burning red! screamed my face, flushed. Like the protagonist Bernadette Fox in Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, I was having a panic attack.

No. No, April. Calm down. You are giving someone a free book. You cannot get arrested for this. 

For some unknown reason, “Can I get arrested for this?” has always been the barometer with which I judge many of my potential actions. Despite never being arrested, I always stop short of yelling at other drivers, I rarely confront poorly-behaved strangers, and I always triple-check my reusable grocery bags…just in case a police officer is nearby and is feeling particularly cuff-happy.

When I got over my completely irrational fear of being arrested for giving out a free book – which, I found out the next week, nearly happened to a teen in Meridian, Idaho – I tentatively fingered the first book in the box and coaxed it out. I sat down on a bench in the women’s locker room of my gym and said to a woman tying the laces on her cycling shoes, “Can I bother you for a sec? I have a book here about a woman whose severe agoraphobia leads her to run away from her own family to Antarctica. It’s the funniest book I read in 2013 and would love to give you a copy. For free. It’s World Book Night, after all.”

My experience on World Book Night 2014 was equal parts rewarding and terrifying (as my aforementioned momentary panic attack revealed). Despite being the librarian who greets every single patron who walks (or runs) into the Teen Center, who smiles at everyone I pass en route to refill my peacock-feather adorned water bottle halfway across the building, I can freeze when confronted with an unknown scenario. I am the fainting goat of the social world; freezing, falling over, unable to move. Just for a moment.

At least, that’s what I do inside. On the outside, I am composed and speak calmly (okay, a bit excitedly, if I’m being honest). This is what I did in the gym, at Kohl’s, at McDonald’s, and at the gas station. I started out the day with trepidation, slowly grew more comfortable, and eventually turned darn near excited to give out my book. By the time I scraped the twentieth book out of the box, I was begging for more copies to magically appear. No, no, I’m not done telling strangers about this book! I’m not done meeting new people and giving them an opportunity to become a reader again!

I am amazed at how quickly my panic turned to thrill on World Book Night. How chatting with twenty people about their reading habits, about WBN, and about a book I truly enjoyed reading became the highlight of my week. How stepping out of my social comfort zone turned into a lesson in confidence. How similar I was to Bernadette, the agoraphobic heroine of the very book I was tasked with giving out. Yet how similar I became to her socially adept daughter Bee.

Perhaps the book was more than the funniest book I read in 2013. Perhaps it was also the most personal.
 

review: Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

I grew up in Southern Maryland. We Marylanders are specific with our location because Maryland is quite a diverse state in terms of weather, attractions, and personality type. For example, Southern Maryland is located where the Chesapeake Bay and Patuxent River converge and is known for crabs, the Pax River Naval Air Station, and a country lifestyle with chain restaurants and high-end living in Solomon’s Island. The Eastern Shore is nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and is known for colleges and parties at the beach; Northern Maryland has more art and history gems than you’d think; and Western Maryland gets feet of snow when Southern Maryland gets a drop of rain. For a small state, we are quite unique, and I truly love going home to visit my parents because I get to experience its natural beauty.

One thing that I never did get comfortable with while living there was the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. I lived only 17 miles from the reactor whose “two pressurized light water reactor units produce more than 1,700 megawatts of electricity, which power more than 1 million homes.” Sounds powerful, eh? That’s what I thought. I vividly remember being in 8th grade, laying on my parents bed, talking to my boyfriend Eddie. We were both watching the news, and they were showing night raids in (I believe) Kosovo. We both commented on our proximity to the nuclear power plant. I had similar conversations two years later after 9/11. The combination of being 60 miles from Washington, DC and having a nuclear reactor in our back yard did not make for very settling thoughts. But as far as I know, terrorists have left Calvert Cliffs alone, as have natural disasters. Whew!

But the residents of Rocky Flats, Colorado – and surrounding neighborhoods – were not.

Are not.

full body

Kristen Iversen’s memoir and expose Full Body Burden: growing up in the nuclear shadows of Rocky Flats follows the bleak brief history of Rocky Flats – a nuclear weapons facility that created plutonium triggers for bombs. Between 1953 through the 1992, 70,000 triggers were created, but not all of the plutonium was out into the triggers. Instead, thousands of pounds of the highly dangerous element were lost – Materials Unaccounted For is the term used by employees, management, and the Department of Energy – and found in the air ducts of the plant, and in the soil, water, and bodies of animals and HUMAN BEINGS located around Rocky Flats.

Allow me to reiterate: thousands of pounds of a radioactive element – one of the key elements found in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki – was wafting through the air around Boulder and Denver, Colorado. Animals burrowed it into the ground and ingested it. Humans breathed it in, and ate the animals that ingested it. They also drank the water it settled into.

And the Department of Justice, Department of Energy, Dow Chemical and Rockwell International lied about it. They withheld information, lied, sealed scientific findings, and otherwise refused to tell the public the truth about the plutonium in and around Rocky Flats. Cancer diagnoses and deaths were recorded in absurdly high rates, and scientists and doctors all around the world agree that plutonium was (and is) the cause.

This book terrified me. Not just the plutonium itself, but because of the lies that were created by the people we are supposed to trust to make the best decisions for us. The number of government agents and judges that lied, omitted facts, or sealed truths in top secret envelopes are all to blame for the deaths that occurred after the first whistleblowers told their stories. The Department of Energy, Dow Chemical, and Rockwell International are to blame for the shady and hurried practices that led to the insufficient handling of the deadly element. So many people are to blame, yet so many people will never ever seen reparations for their suffering.

Read this book. It skips a lot between the years, and is sometimes confusing with all of the names and dates, but it will make you more aware of what nuclear energy is really capable of – and the sacrifice we are making when we support it.

Recommended for:
Those interested in history and science will “enjoy” this novel. (You can’t/shouldn’t enjoy a novel that calls the government out for allowing Big Business to poison their citizens…) Anyone who needs to be energized (no pun intended). This book will anger you, hopefully into action.

Read-alikes:
Plutopia: nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great Soviet and American plutonium disasters by Kate Brown – a professor at University of Maryland Baltimore Campus – “provides the first definitive account of the great plutonium disasters of the United States and the Soviet Union”.   

 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot because it also combine history and science in a remarkable way.

review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

tkam

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the top selling books of all time, and for good reason.* It is poetic in language, sincere in theme, and impeccable in delivery. It is one of the best that I have ever read, if not the best. Just as I read Gone with the Wind about four times throughout high school (I was entranced with Scarlett O’Hara’s gumption and later, her strength), TKAM fascinated me for its poignant portrayal of one of my country’s darkest eras.

The Jim Crow Era lasted from after the Civil War/Reconstruction (1877) clear through to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. That’s right, folks…nearly 100 years was spent pushing black Americans into corners, making them use back doors and separate water fountains, and in general not treating them like human beings. In TKAM Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white woman, and despite overwhelming evidence against that accusation, he is found guilty and sent to prison. He attempts to flee the prison and is shot dead by a guard. A towns person later says of Tom’s attempt,

You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you, that Robinson boy was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line the veneer’s mighty thin. Nigger always comes out in ’em.

That kind of blanket statement that criticized the entire race was commonplace during that era, even among the most educated people. In fact, many Christians were known for preaching about the uncleanliness of blacks, a matter that simply was not grounded in any Biblical fact whatsoever. Dill, best friend of Scout (the precocious narrator) recognizes the unfair treatment during the trail of Tom. Crying, he said to Scout and a white landowner and black sympathizer,

The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an’ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered…It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ’em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that—it just makes me sick.

The book was set in the 1930s, but published in 1961 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It (pleasantly) surprises me that a white woman from Alabama would pen a book that didn’t just turn the heads of Civil Rights leaders, the Pulitzer Prize committee, educators, and the entire country – it gave them all whiplash. It was picked up by international publishers and translated into more than 40 languages. People felt drawn to the sad truth coming from the South. Most importantly, from within the South.

While blacks may have equal rights today, make no mistake that no one is granted equal treatment. Women make less in salaries than their male counterparts. Migrant (largely Hispanic) farm workers are underpaid and mistreated. Gays are not permitted to marry in most states. We are not equal. We continue to mistreat and to be mistreated. We are better than we were in the 1930s and the 1960s, but we are still so behind on the matter of equality. Read To Kill a Mockingbird to realize how far we have come. Read it again to realize how far we haven’t.

*Interesting facts: Harper Lee earns over $9,000 a day in royalties. TKAM continues to sell 750,000 to 1 million copies each year.

review: Kisses from Katie: a story of relentless love and redemption by Katie Davis

kisses from

Kisses from Katie: a story of relentless love and redemption by Katie Davis with Beth Clark is a moving memoir about a twenty-something’s experience working with children in rural Uganda. Katie, a middle-class white girl from Nashville, Tennessee was in high school when she first felt called to serve God in a unique way. When information about serving an orphanage in Uganda came across her computer, she couldn’t stop thinking of going there. Her parents relented and let her go over Christmas break during her senior year of high school. From her first day at the orphanage, she was enamored with the spirit of the children, the need of the community, and of her heart’s desire to stay.

I quit college; I quiet cute designer clothes and my yellow convertible; I quit my boyfriend. I no longer have all the things the world says are important….I cannot fathom being happier. Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully.

Katie credits her faith in God as the driving force behind her intense desire to stay in Uganda past those two weeks. Upon graduating from high school, she forewent the college life she had anticipated, and instead returned to Uganda to serve for one year at the orphanage. She picked chiggers out of children’s skin, nursed babies back to health, bathed and prepared food for the wards, but most importantly, she fell in love with them.

Katie is still there, seven years later. She has adopted 14 girls, all of whom live with her in a large rented home that sometimes has power and running water, but always has happiness, laughter, and love. Throughout the book she describes challenges she saw families face, such as sickness, hunger, and no money to send their children to school. After their basic needs were met, Katie saw to it that hundreds of children could attend school. She started a charity called Amazima Ministries that raises money to support and send Ugandan children to school.

I knew I could not change the village or the country of Uganda, but educated children could.

Katie is passionate and free with her love, but she is also pragmatic. She works hard to raise funds necessary for the education of the hundreds of children in her village. But sometimes things go wrong, and she has to endure the pain of being helpless. Helpless that is, except for the power of prayer.

I still have to sit with the Father in my sadness and brokenness over all the hurt in this world. Sometimes I still have to cry to Him and ask Him why innocent children must suffer and beg Him to move people to action.

Her faith in God and her ability to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is remarkable. She sees her behavior something she must do, instead of a selfless sacrifice that so many Westerners would never consider making.

People who want to make a difference get frustrated along the way. But if they have a particularly stressful day, they don’t qut. They keep going….They don’t do anything to call attention to themselves, they simply pay attention to the everyday needs of others, even if it’s only one person. They bring change in ways most people will never read about or applaud. And because of the way these world-changers are wired, they wouldn’t think of living their lives any other way.

Katie will probably never return to the United States. She will raise her daughters in Uganda, and when they are grown women doing remarkable things, she will adopt more orphaned girls and teach them to love and praise God, and to study hard, and to dream. I wonder if Katie realizes that she has become a version of her idol, Mother Teresa.

I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for one person.

Recommended for:
Young men or women who may be struggling with the decisions they must make regarding their future. Some teens just don’t know what they should be aspiring towards, or what God has planned for them. This memoir will remind them that their lives are not their own, but the Lord’s, and that He will guide them if only they open their hearts to Him and His plan.

Read-alikes:
Life Without Limitations: inspiration for a ridiculously good lifby Nick Vujicic, the true-story of a man born with arms or legs, and how he turned that disability into a life that inspires thousands.

Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. John 9:3. Disease is certainly not a sin. And poverty is not a sin; it is a condition, a circumstance that allows God’s work to be displayed.

Adoption is wonderful and beautiful and the greatest blessing I have ever experienced. Adoption is also difficult and painful. Adoption is a beautiful picture of redemption. It is the Gospel in my living room….Adoption is a redemptive response to tragedy in this broken world.

A new way to follow me

I discovered Bloglovin‘ recently, and have quickly become quite in love with this website/email service/iPad app. Instead of getting a couple dozen emails in my inbox every day from my favorite blogs, I add blogs to my Bloglovin’ feed and get a daily email with all of the posts that were published that day.

If you are at all like me and adore blogs, but drown in all those emails, sign up for Bloglovin’.

That being said…
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

review: Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

scar

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos is the story of Harry – an oft-bullied teen who face is covered in scars following an unfortunate lightning incident. I’ll let you read the book to get those details…

Harry’s best friend Johnny is the popular, smart, handsome one. He’s not sure why they are really friends, but Harry goes along with it, if for no other reason than Johnny is the lead singer in their band, The Scar Boys – a nod to Harry’s face, and a pretty rad name for a band. The Scar Boys – who just so happen to have a gorgeous chick rocking out with them – go on the road to see if they have what it takes to go all the way. What happens on that trip, and most importantly, what happens to Harry, is life-changing.

I read an advanced copy of this while I was flying home from Las Vegas last summer, and was immediately drawn in. Harry carried his horrific childhood with him, even though he tried his best not to. When his time to shine arrived, his reaction stunned me.

This book comes out tomorrow, and I suggest you pick it up. And read Len’s essay here. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a drink with, and discuss life – not on an existential level, but life stories.

Recommended for: 
I think teen boys will connect to the raw emotions and words. Adult men will appreciate the musical influences, and might even re-live their own former rock band days.

Read-alikes: 
A.S. King books are quite similar to this one because the characters have been dealt a bad hand and they have to figure out if they are going to let the negative overtake them, or if they will over the negativity.

review: Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

shineShine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer is the story of Sunny, her Nobel prize-winning husband Maxon, and their son Bubber. Except for Maxon’s fame – thanks to the international prize and his current stint as a scientist -turned-astrunaut attempting to populate the Moon with robots – their life is normal. Sunny has the same fears as any woman in her shoes: Will Maxon return from space? Will Bubber live a productive life, despite his diagnosis of Autism? Will she ever be anything more than her community’s social organizer? Will her dying mother tell her the truth about her father’s identity? Okay, so maybe she isn’t completely average, but her anxieties over the future of her unborn daughter cause her to erupt – removing a part of her identity that she thought normalized her, despite all her oddities.

Sunny’s sudden resolution to be a better woman makes readers cheer and squirm. She takes back her son’s free will – medication be damned – and the result rejuvinates her.

Sunny thought, Wow, this is my little boy. This is him, he laughs hysterically. She felt exhilarated. What else could he do?

Maxon left Earth without resolving the most recent spat between him and Sunny, and he fears returning to Earth with no one to greet him. Of all the uncertainty and sadness that plagued his life, his life with Sunny was the one true shining element.

Maxon in the rocket could remember that energy between them, that way he felt electrified by her as all his switches turned on. All life is binary. On and off. There is no middle setting. Alive or dead. Kissing or not kissing….There are a thousand tiny yes and no decisions that make up every movement, but they are all just that: yes and no….For Maxon, standing with his arms around Sunny, kissing her for the first time for real, it was then on. It never turned off again in his whole life. It was a switch that was duct-taped to one side with a sign beside it that said DO NOT TOUCH.

My copy of Shine Shine Shine has more dog-earred pages and Post-It note flags than nearly any other book I read in 2013. Netzer turned otherwise typical internal monologues of questions, fears, and thoughts into a beautiful composition of thoughts. I usually enjoy dialogue-heavy novels, but this novel accomplished more with one character’s thoughts than it did during the moments of conversation.

Recommended for:
I recommended this to my colleague Linda whose reading lists range from popular fiction to the abscure poetry. She adored this novel, which validated my ability recommend books well.

Read-alikes:
We Are Water by Wally Lamb and & Sons by David Gilbert are appropriate follow-ups to Shine Shine Shine because they are stories of normal people doing normal things, but with extraordinary and odd thrown in at just the right time.