That Golden Medal

May 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

I was reading an article online about Barnes & Noble’s ‘free book’ reading program, and one of the books mentioned was Maniac Magee.  I haven’t thought about that book in ages, but just seeing the title brought it back to my mind so vividly.  I could hear the thumping of Maniac’s shoes as he ran, feel Amanda’s anger over the desecration of her beloved books, and see that knot hanging in the middle of the town.  I was 11 when I first read Maniac Magee but I can still remember thinking as I got to the part about Cobble’s Knot, this is a great image for this book: Maniac picking apart the knot, because he’s the only one who can go between the black and white people.  I wish I could say I got all the meaning behind the story, the racism and the homelessness, but as an eleven-year-old growing up in Nanticoke, I didn’t really have much firsthand experience with those issues at all. What I do remember is the way the strong, bright prose stayed with me, the endless running away Maniac did, Amanda’s frustration, the reality of the story as it related to my own life. I hadn’t seen racism or endured homelessness, but I understood being lonely even when you were surrounded by people… I wanted to weep with Amanda over the thoughtless depredations of her younger siblings… And I knew all about dealing with bullies like Mars Bar.

So I sat at my computer last night and I remembered all the other Newbery Medal books I loved, the stories that opened up to me in the sunny and cheerful Nanticoke library.  These were the books that taught me to love words, the way they flow and how they sound; they tugged me insistently into new worlds, luring me in with that golden medal flashing on the front cover.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond: Kit and Nat and wise old Hannah Tupper, poor unloved little Prudence, the harsh Puritans and the Connecticut landscape.  I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond in two days flat, when my cousin Erica brought it down to the beach house in Longport because it was on her summer reading list. I couldn’t put it down. I can still hear Erica trying to convince me to come outside and play, and myself thinking that I just wanted to know if Kit escaped the fire, if Nat realized he loved her?  Oh, Nat.  Before Gilbert Blythe, Faramir, Mr. Darcy, or Jamie Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, there was Nat: the first male character I ever remember falling in love with.

There are so many other books I could name.  A Wrinkle In Time taught me to love fantasy, tales that swept from universes to middle-school classrooms, introducing me to misfits and close-knit families.  Number The Stars, Bridge To TerabithiaRoll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry, The Giver… I can recite their names like rosary beads slipping through my fingers, but I could never count the hours I spent lost in their worlds, learning to build my own.  The golden Newbery Medal on the front cover was like a key on a map. It whispered that I would find good strong words inside, stories worth savoring. It was a promise that was always kept.


Books and Time

December 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

Sometimes I hate books.  Even the best books, my favorite ones, the books with words and phrases that echo in my heart, that make me cry because they’re written so well.  Sometimes I hate them, and it’s only ever at times when I’m lonely.  Because no matter how well-written a book is, no matter how good the author is at capturing human emotion on a page, no matter how deeply you can immerse yourself into the world within a book, they don’t give the proper sense of time.  Even for a devoted reader like myself, it’s impossible to lose time when you read a book.  (I’m not talking about getting really into a book and then looking up and realizing you better throw your shoes and coat on because you’re going to be late for Mass because you read for 30 minutes that felt like 5.  That happens to me almost every Sunday morning.)  It’s because you can get to the end of a book.  You can see it, and feel the thinning chunk of the remaining pages between your fingers.  And even more than just the ending, it’s that time passes in a book between the turn of the page: the end of one chapter is summer and the beginning of the next is autumn.  It doesn’t work like that in real life. You don’t flip the pages of your days, saying “the trees in Pennsylvania are crimson and orange and gold” and then “the snow is drifting gently down outside my bedroom window.”  Oh, I can’t explain it well enough; I’m trying to write about why you can’t write about it!  It’s the minutes, the minutiae.  I know you can’t put them into a book; I wouldn’t want to read about them.  But you lose that sense of the long, slow passage of time.  Now, don’t stop reading just because I’m about to reference Twilight.  Because I’m about to reference Twilight.  If you’ve read the second book, New Moon, you saw the way the author tried to convey the way time dragged on for Bella after Edward left her: the pages had only the names of months on them.  November…December…January…February…March…April.  But you don’t get it.  You flip the page and think it’s a powerful image: the blankness, the single word.  But when you’re lonely in real life, the pages don’t flip.  They flow- the pages of your life- slow as molasses and not nearly as sweet.  They don’t move from month to month, but from day to day, hour to hour.  But this isn’t a critique on novel-writing, I have absolutely no leg to stand on in that regard… it’s just my thoughts about how I hate books when I’m lonely.  And I am lonely.  Even though that’s probably the most horribly selfish thing I could say: me, lonely, with so many friends and my family and my big social whirl, and the two best rats ever, and my faith.  Maybe I am just horribly selfish.

This might come as a surprise to some people, but there’s times I’m really afraid I’m becoming a bitter person.  I wrote a long post about bitterness and how it terrifies me to see it within myself, but the post ended up being really depressing and a lot more, well, bitter than I’d intended.  So it’s probably just going to stay in my Drafts folder.  This Advent season, I’ve been finding out just how thin the line is between yearning and bitterness. Between longing for something with your whole heart and being too caught up in your own sense of personal injustice.  You start with a sad resentment- an “if only”, something that seems so unfair- and end being eaten alive inside the cold and sullen maw of bitterness.  It might not seem like these emotions are closely related, but in my heart, it scares me how intertwined they are.  Actually I’m going to stop now, before I start writing the whole thing again that I just said I didn’t want to post.  I don’t want to lose my joy, but I don’t know how to hold on to it either.

Remembering Madeleine L’Engle

September 6, 2013 § 1 Comment

The world lost a brilliant author when Madeleine L’Engle died on this date in 2007. The first time I read A Wrinkle In Time, I was 11 years old and sitting in the curved branch of a tree on the library hill.  By the end of the first chapter, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I fell in love with a genre that day: with fantastic creatures living on alien planets, with cold space and dark times and the wheeling stars, with good and evil and the inherent magic in simple love.  A Wrinkle In Time was the first science fiction/fantasy book I read, and it changed the course of my literary life forever.

“A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe,” Madeleine L’Engle said in her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech.  A Wrinkle In time did that for me.  Meg did that for me.  Meg, with her frizzy hair and thick glasses, her troubles at school, and her fierce and protective love for her family.  I saw myself in her as I read the book.  That sighting is the secret to being drawn into the world within a book.

My devotion to the universes in science fiction and fantasy has only grown over the decades since I sat in the tree and went whirling through space with Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace.  I learned to love swords and potions, princes in disguise, kingdoms toppled into ruin, and dragons.  A well-told dragon is the pinnacle of a story.  I’ve visited many a foreign planet and taken more unexpected journeys than I can count, but the very first step on the road started right here on Planet Earth, in a spooky attic with a grumpy teenage girl on a dark and stormy night.

Various Thoughts As They Occur

September 19, 2012 § 3 Comments

I see to be writing well when writing in list format, so let’s not change the pattern of success.  Here’s a list:

1.  When I heard that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would be releasing a new trailer today, I jumped up and down, clapped my hands, and squealed.  This morning, I tweeted about it at least 6 times.  That’s my normal tweet total for a week.  Well, it’s past 10 AM, and the trailer is here!  Radagast the Brown rides around in a sleigh pulled by giant bunnies.  Bilbo runs out of Bag End without a pocket handkerchief.  The dwarves are ridiculous.  Smeagol and Gollum both make an appearance.  Galadriel wears a beautiful cloak and a wise expression.  Gandalf ponders and says something hopeful.  Elrond frowns and says something pessimistic.  In short, my dear readers, this will be a movie to remember.

2.  In my last post, I mentioned the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, produced by Cary Fukunaga, because I own it on DVD and love it.  It has a different timeline than most of the versions I’ve seen.  I love the way they don’t just skip or gloss over her time spent with St. John Rivers and his sisters.  Using the long, empty time she lives with them to flash back to her life with Rochester made me feel more than ever her loneliness and the depth of her sacrifice.  If you like Jane Eyre and you haven’t seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and watch it.

3.  I am so exasperated from watching political shows and seeing Sandra Fluke titled a ‘women’s rights’ activist.  That’s why I love this site: Women Speak For Themselves.  Thanks, but no thanks, Sandra Fluke.  You don’t speak for me.  Not all of us women think our ‘rights’ should include being able to take the lives of our unborn children through abortifacients while forcing someone else to pay for it.  (After all, we have access to something way cooler.)  (And that’s all.  No more quasi-politics in this post, I promise.)

4.  The Lockout.  In my mind, it’s always spelled with a capital L.  The NHL is officially in a Lockout.  If the season started today, it wouldn’t start.  I can’t prepare for my fantasy draft.  I can’t start a countdown to Pittsburgh’s opening night.  I don’t know when I’ll see Sidney Crosby on the ice again!  The only thing making this Lockout a little easier for me is the knowledge that, unlike a lot of hockey fans, I will still get to see regular live hockey at our AHL Penguins games.  The AHL will keep rolling even during the stoppage.  Who knows what names we might see playing down here?

5.  I’m taking Mervy to the vet on Friday after work.  My poor rattie is missing fur in some patches and I don’t know why.  I think he had a flea problem but I sprayed him with flea/tick medicine from Petsmart and they seemed to go away.  I’ve tried searching for information online but there’s so much out there and I’m just worried that I don’t know enough.  The worst part is, people laugh at me when they hear that I’m taking my pet rat to the vet.  It makes me want to cry.  I love my rats.  I love them just as much as you love your dog or your cat or your moronic fish (RIP, Paul and Joel).  Mervy is the sweetest rat of our four, the little guy who bumbles around the room, happily hunting for new scents and sights; he’s the rat who protected Willy and Freddy when we first got them, the rat who eats slowly and lets little kids jounce him, and has a lil’ white belly, and blunt claws so it never hurts when he climbs up and down my arms.  He sits on my leg for ages, and bruxs (like a cat’s purr) when I rub behind his ears.  I love my rats and I don’t care what people (who have often had NO experience with pet rats before ever) think of them.  So please, say a prayer to St. Francis that Merv is all right and that I won’t have to buy costly medicines for him.  Thank you!

Too Little, Too Few

September 13, 2012 § 10 Comments

There are a ton of thoughts running through my mind these past few weeks.  Ever since the move became official, I’ve felt like my brain is in overdrive.  I’ve never done this before.  I don’t know what to do first, what is more important, what’s a need and what’s just a want.  I’ve always tried to not care much about ‘things’ (other than sweaters and high heels of course) and I don’t really think I’m overburdened with worldly possessions.  That’s good though, I’m okay with that.  However, I have realized that perhaps there are a few things I could use more of; a few things of which I have way too little.  Following in the spirit of my last post, here is a short list of my stuff which falls into the “Too Little/Too Few” category:

1.  When I was finished cataloging my gargantuan amount of books, I moved on to other forms of entertainment, namely, DVDs.  Boy, was that pile smaller.  Having grown up (relatively) before the advent of Netflix and other online programming, you’d think I’d have a lot more DVDs.  I have about 10.  And of those 10, it’s safe to say at least 6 were filmed before the sixties.  Audrey Hepburn’s face rules the tiny stack of cases, with a smattering of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Barbara Stanwyck, and even Grace Kelly in there.  As far as the more recently produced films?  I own The Italian Job on DVD.  The new one, not the original.  I like Mark Wahlberg, what can I say?  I’ve got Van Helsing because I liked cheesy vampire movies way before Twilight ever debuted.  I’ve got The Cutting Edge, because it’s about hockey and figure skating, and really, how can you pass up a movie where the main character talks about how much he loves the smell of fresh ice?  Every time I watch that scene, I think, I know exactly what you mean.  I have the 2011 Jane Eyre, because it’s my favorite remake of the dark Gothic romance yet.  And I think that about does it for my ‘modern’ DVDs.  (For those of you wondering, I couldn’t bring the Lord of the Rings DVDs because technically, they don’t belong to me.  Sad face.)

2. There is a reason why my little sidebar is titled “Baking In A Tiny Kitchen”.  It’s because I love to bake.  What I have too little of, is cooking skills.  I can cook, I think.  I just haven’t had to do it very often because my mother likes to cook and has always had dinner at least started by the time I get home from work.  (I know, I know, why would I ever move out and away from that!?)  Mom is a great chef, despite her maternal failure to remember the multiple food preferences and dislikes of every single one of her eight children.  (For instance, although she knows I detest nuts- and trust me, I’ve made my nut abhorrence clear on numerous occasions- she ALWAYS puts slivered almonds into her chicken salad.  Apparently, Dad likes them.  Big whoop.  He’s older, so he should have to sacrifice.)  (And another example, she makes hash-brown casserole a lot, because everyone likes it, but she has to make one side of the pan hash-browns with peppers and onions, and the other side plain hash-browns.  I guess the smaller children don’t like peppers and onions.  What a bunch of weirdos.  She should just put them in the whole thing and pretend they’re candy.)  I’m rambling now, but I thought it was important to point out my mother’s failings.  Everyone else thinks she’s like a saint, or something, I can’t imagine why…  So, cooking.  I get to do it now.  I’m actually excited to cook more often.  I’m not going to lie, I intend on cooking a lot of pasta.  I love pasta…. penne with vodka sauce, shells with olive oil, garlic, and broccoli, kluski and cottage cheese.  Let’s hope my baking skills translate into cooking.

3. I have too few pairs of functional footwear.  My closet holds 1 pair of sneakers: blue Converse that I didn’t even buy, Danny got them for me.  That’s it.  The end.  Everything else is delicate, sparkly, high heeled, or just not really built for anything more than a day at the office or a Sunday Mass or a night on the town.

PS- I’m glad I made this list because I just remembered I left my snow boots at my parents’ house.  That makes TWO pairs of functional footwear that I own!

PS2- If you have any recipe suggestions, feel free to share!

PS3- I might as well write another blog post already with all the things I remembered that I forgot: snow boots, my Gone With The Wind dvd (probably hiding in Angela & Cathy’s room), all my winter scarves (only 4, don’t worry)…

PS4- Anyone interested in more examples of my mother’s egregious cooking behavior, just let me know!  I’ve got stories.

Too Many Too Much

September 11, 2012 § 6 Comments

Some of you may have heard the news:  At the ripe old age of 26, I am moving out of my family home.  I know, I know, I didn’t think I’d move out until I was married, either.  But it’s true, it’s actually happening.  Due to a nice set of circumstances, this whole moving out thing happened pretty quickly.  I’ll be living in a 3 bedroom apartment with Jill and Erica, and I’m not telling you where because this is the internet.  Suffice it to say that my work commute will only be about 5 minutes.  (Wonder of wonders, I won’t have to drive past ANY schools on my way there!)  I’m very excited to live on my own for the first time.  I love to cook, and I’ll get used to doing laundry eventually, right?  Of course the rats will be coming with me as well!

My guys

There are a few things I’ve learned about myself, and just in general, during this whole moving out/moving in process, and part of those things are on this list.  I like to call this list…

Things I Have Too Much/Many Of:

1.  I went up to my attic on Sunday morning before Mass, ready and willing to separate all my books into keep/donate piles.  I don’t have enough room in my bedroom for all my books, so I store most of them in the attic.  I sat down in my pajamas, a well-sugared cup of pumpkin coffee steaming gently on the floor next to me.  The first carton of books was full to bursting.  It took me a good hour and a half to work through that and 3 more cartons, thanks to plenty of five minute distractions where I’d either pick up a book, exclaim with delight, and re-read my favorite part, or run downstairs to tell Mom that I had too many books, I had forgotten about this book, I couldn’t find that book, and- once- that there was a spider on a book.  In the end, I think I set 5 books total in the donate pile.  I can’t help it.  I cherish all my books and am loathe to part with any of them.  I love them all: the fat, bulky books missing their dust jackets with epic tales that sweep across countries inside their dull hard covers.  Or the paperback mysteries from the 1950s with classy heroines who manage to uncover criminals, fall in love, get into car chases, and still wear dresses and heels.  I’ve got GK Chesterton’s sly wit and sneaky brilliance stacked up with CS Lewis’ appealing apologetics; Dickinson and Hopkins and of course Bronte and Austen.  I can’t give any of them up.  So I picked up my (by then tepid) cup of coffee and walked downstairs to see if we had any bigger bookshelves. 

2.  The same Sunday brought me marginally more success when it came time to weed out my clothes.  I have a lot of clothes and I don’t mind admitting that.  My clothing size hasn’t changed since I was about 18 so the fullness of my closet could definitely, in some excuse-sounding but actually pretty honest way, be attributed to about 8 years worth of accumulation.  Simply put, I still wear skirts and blouses now that I wore at my first job at the elementary school eight years ago.  And I still have my sweaters.  Oh boy, do I have my sweaters.  That donate pile held plenty of clothes by the end of my closet emptying session, but nary a sweater could be found in it.  I love my sweaters.  Soft, long, short, brightly colored or simple- essential- black, they spilled out of my closet, a veritable rainbow of toasty warm, wool/polyester delight.  I hugged them all to my chest and promised to transport them without losing a single button.

3.  Shoes.  I have too many.  Way too many.

Do It Again

August 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

– G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy


This quote makes me think of going to Mass.  It’s the same actions over and over and yet I am never bored.  Gosh, I love Chesterton!

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with books at findingsomethingbetter.

%d bloggers like this: