Friday, April 26, 2013

Welcome to the Family

I've been fairly busy this past year. Between going to graduate school and working and attempting to still have a social life, my days have been pretty full. So what possessed me to get a pet, I have no idea. But I'm now the proud owner of a leopard gecko. And because I've managed to keep him alive for an entire month—even going through a shad, which can be fairly traumatic for a young gecko—I thought it was about time to introduce Harper to the world.

He's so tiny in this picture it's unreal. He's now almost two inches bigger.

Harper is fairly young (he hatched sometime in January, although I don't know the exact date) and feisty. He's only recently stopped biting me every time I put my hand in his terrarium, and despite the fact that leo geckos are not known for their climbing skills, he loves to scale to the top of his cave and hang on for dear life. Because of his temper and sporting skills, I named him after home-run phenom and Nationals left-fielder Bryce Harper. Or perhaps I named her after the literary legend Harper Lee. The truth is, I won't know if Harper is male or female for awhile, so s/he is kind of named after both.

He's warming himself on the nightlight to digest all the food he scarfs down.

The best part about having a leo gecko is that they're so easy to take care of. I spend about five minutes in the morning adjusting humidity levels, changing water and cleaning up waste, and about five minutes in the evening feeding and gut-loading food for the next evening, with an extra five minutes every Saturday on a deeper cleaning and a quick run to the pet store once a week for food. My roommates aren't exactly excited to have a constant supply of live mealworms in the refrigerator and chirping crickets on the shelf, but they've been good sports about it.

So Harper is becoming more adventurous and getting a nice fat tail. He eats half a dozen crickets and about ten mealworms every evening and now walks up and licks my fingers, although he's still not too keen about being picked up. We're progressing in baby steps. Maybe next month he won't glare at me when I change his moss after he sheds. Then again, we have between 15 and 20 years left together, so we still have time to become friends.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Third Grad School Reading List of Second Semester

At least this list is only half a month last. Maybe the next one will even be posted on time.

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter: I absolutely love Ally Carter. Her dialogue is amazing, and her plots are so freakin' entertaining. And then there's the characters--smart, funny and sexy. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko: I loved Choldenko’s use of historical facts intermixed with artistic license. While she kept the book grounded in facts, she didn’t let the details get in the way of telling the story. I liked that Choldenko didn’t feel the need to give the detail of every movement of a character, nor did she feel the need to justify a break in a chapter or a large time span.

The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak: I don't know why I insist on reading animal books when I don't really care for them. But if you like animal books and poetry, you'll probably like this one.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: Ah, yet another children's book by Klassen that was written for adults. It's cute and amusing, but I still don't understand why it won the Caldecott.

Viva Jacquelina!: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Over the Hills and Far Away by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren: While I love these books and find them highly entertaining, it’s also an example of when an author superimposes modern views on history. Meyer jokes about Jacky’s virtue in a tong-and-cheek game with the male characters, but in reality, she would have been viewed as the worst kind of whore and tramp. While it’s humorous when viewed with modern eyes, there would have been nothing funny about Jack’s situation if she had truly lived during the Napoleonic Wars. On the positive side, I found the author’s lack of dialogue tags a very interesting choice, and there’s a really interesting flow of time with the narrator often reflecting on the immediate past but the majority of the story being told in first-person present.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver: I think I need to step away from poetry craft books for now because they're all starting to sound the same. I'm sure I would have liked this one a lot better if I hadn't read three others in the past three months.

Poetry Speaks to Children edited by Elise Paschen: This anthology is AMAZING. Reading it along with listing to the authors read their poems brought the experience to a whole new level. Robert Frost, Billy Collins, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Roald Dahl, J.R.R. Tolkien, Langston Hughes, X.J. Kennedy, Rita Dove—and that's just my favorites who read their own poems. But if I had to choose one favorite, it would be Sonia Sanchez's reading of “to P.J.” There were also a lot of poems only included in writing and not on the CD. Plus, the illustrations were just delightful. Yeah, I'm a fan.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya L. Stone, narrated by Susan Erickson: What an empowering book for young women who want to do great things. I'm kind of ashamed to say that I've never heard a lot of stories before, especially since I've spent a fairly significant time reading books about the history of space exploration. I was totally impressed with how Stone attempted to put the gender roles in a historical context rather than viewing it with modern eyes. Unfortunately, that only made the treatment of these women seem that much more barbaric and unfortunate. I also loved the poems at the end (which I found in print online) about the “Mercury 13.”

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey: This is one of those books that you stare at the last page and can't believe you just finished something so amazing. Yes, it's moving and beautiful, but the history it reflects upon made me deeply uncomfortable—in a good, growing-pains sort of why. It will made me question what I thought I knew about the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, and walked away wondering what kind of self-view we’re leaving with the next generation. As for the poetry itself, I thought I understood poetic repetition until I read this collection. Trethewey ties in the historical poems with the biographical poems with the use of a single word: phalanx. In the title poem, she moves you forward through time and place by repeating a line from the last stanza of one battle in the first stanza of the next battle. And she uses a “reverso poem” in “MYTH” as a visual reminder of internal reflection—a literal usage of this form that I have never seen before. The simplistic language is almost necessary to let the imagery that drives then narrative shine as it does in “AGAIN, THE FIELDS.” I loved the use of color and the transition in narrative from distant third to first-person as in “MISCEGENATION.” She gives new meaning to found poetry with her use of historical documents and classic literature as with “Scenes From A Documentary History of Mississippi.” I could gush about this collection all day.

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams: I haven’t read this book since I was about 12 years old, and before that, my mom must have read it to me half a dozen times. For years I insisted as dressing up as Laura for Halloween. As an adult, there are some passages that made me a little uncomfortable—the almost hateful references to Indians and how Laura is afraid everything will kill her, including a train and a pony. It’s also fascinating to see how writing styles have changed so drastically in the past 75 years. The opening of the book starts after the major drama—when half the family lies on their deathbed and Mary goes blind—and instead focuses on Laura dealing with the death of her dog. And any agent or editor today would have called Wilder out on her use of passive voice. Without a doubt, this would have been written in first person if it was being published today. Despite all that, I still love this book, and I hope that little girls will continue to enjoy it for generations to come.

Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff: A book about a girl's softball game? You'd think I'd be all over that. But I'm not a fan of multi-perspective point of view first person narration (of which there is an abundance in this book), and I have a hard time reading dialect (again, an abundance in this novel). Otherwise, it is a good book about the unifying power of baseball.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Second Grad School Reading List of Second Semester

I know that's is way a month and a half late, but life just keeps getting busier and busier, and it doesn't show signs f slowing down any time soon. Without further ado, here's my second reading list of the semester.

The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux: While this book really focuses on the basics, they also give you recommendations in you want to learn more about a specific subject. But that's also where the problem lies--the content is too general, especially if you have any kind of poetry background.

Bronzeville Boys and Girls by Gwendolyn Brooks, illustrated by Faith Ringgold: This book reminded me of home and was a great example of what makes Brooks such an amazing poet. While I don't feel it's the best sampling of her work nor the best of poetry for children, but I did love reading it.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small: This is, hands down, my new favorite picture book. I knew I was going to love it from the creative book flap alone, and the story inside didn't disappoint. With an instantly lovable main character, seamless text in illustrations, some of the best dialogue I've ever seen and a surprise ending that will leave you laughing long after you finish, this is a perfect picture book. And the mixed-media illustrations (I believe I saw felt-tipped marker, water color, crayon, paper collage and pencil), I could look at this book for hours.

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech: This was my second time reading this book, and I'd forgotten how much I'd liked it when it was first published. With a well-deserved homage to Walter Dean Myers and other great poets of our time, this book manages to be both sweet and totally boy.

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer, narrated by Nathaniel Parker: WHAT THE HECK?!!!! I wanted to hate this book because of the ending, but it's just so, well, Artemis. I am so torn by the final installment of the series that I honestly don't know how to review it without all the emotions tied into the previous books of the series. And I don't want to give away the ending, which means I can't say much about the book at all. Still one of the best MG fantasy series ever written.

The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles: It was a little odd coming back to this work after so many years of having studied it so closely during my undergrad. I’d read a version translated by W.H.D. Rouse in high school, another translation I can’t remember my freshman year, and then this same Fagles translation my sophomore year. But reading it as a writer was completely different. I didn’t have to worry about the historical content or its place in history, but instead I got to enjoy the story telling. The strangest thing happened while I was reading it—I’d put it aside to read a more modern work, and the modern voice sounded all wrong in my head. The lack of epitaphs and symbolism and divine intervention was a little disconcerting.

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski: This is a beautiful book. It's text is soft and lulling, it's illustrations flowing and dreamlike. It reminds me a bit of A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na, but it is uniquely its own.

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown: I just love clever picture books with beautifully simple illustrations. I hope these never go out of fashion.

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd: When I first heard about this book, I knew it was going to be big. And not that I've read the final version, I'm even more excited. It's gripping and sexy, dark and mysterious. This is one you won't want to miss.

Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse: While I loved the first reversion book Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse, these poems lacked the unity of perspective and clarity of tale that the original offered, though I believe Josée Masse has taken her art to a new level. I found the title poem confusing at best and "Now It's Time to Say Goodnight" self-indulgent of the author, but I very much enjoyed "Ready, Steady, Go!" and "On With the Dance." I might try my hand at a reverso poem or two, but I don't expect to have the same skill as Singer.