Weekend Watching and Summer Reading

Weekend Watching Recap

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix)
A 16 year old’s secret letters to her crushes, some years old, get mailed. Including one to her first kiss and one to her neighbor, who her older sister just broke up with. Yikes. A soon-to-be-classic teen romance starring an East Asian protagonist.

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Netflix)
Just after WWII, a London writer begins conversing with a member of a book club on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was under German occupation. The writer travels there to meet the club’s members, including her handsome pen pal, and begins uncovering the mystery of what happened to the book club’s founding member.

3. Crazy Rich Asians (theater)
An NYU economics professor is invited to join her boyfriend on a trip home to Singapore for a friend’s wedding, where she discovers he’s the “crazy rich” Prince Harry of Southeast Asia. And almost no one—from his mother to the bride’s friends to strangers on the street—are happy about him choosing a “commoner”. A modern Cinderella retelling with an all Asian cast.

All three movies are based on books! Speaking of books…

Summer Reading Recap

Furyborn by Claire Legrand
If you don’t like fantasy, this book is my best hope for changing your mind.

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean
A compelling, complex, nuanced love story that begins with a petition for divorce.

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford
A novel about the real journey that inspired at least 3 of Agatha Christie’s novels, including her most famous.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
One of the best Agatha Christie’s I’ve read yet.

Jackaby series by William Ritter
Sherlock meets Grimm-style fairytales in an alternate 19th-century NYC.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
While filming a mockumentary in the Marianas Trench, the crew discovers real (murderous) mermaids.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve written about this book before. Basically, it’s a novel in prose and you need it in your life.

Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr
A short but deep collection of poetry by a best-selling, hilarious memoirist.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’ve read this 4 times in as many years.

Poetry is Saving My Life

Last Wednesday, I read Liz Deere’s exceptional blog post, “Life Savers.” In it, she explains the origins behind a question I’ve heard asked, and liked, for a while now: What is saving your life? I encourage you to go read the post, and the rest of Liz’s work. For Liz, meeting around the table with friends was saving her life. Poetry was saving mine.

Tyler had had a long, rough day. I lay down on the couch with him for a while, until he was soothed and asleep, then slipped away and fetched the book I’d started several days earlier: Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. I bought the book years and years ago. I’ve even given it to others, on all the highest recommendations, without having read it.

At the moment, I’m galloping through my existing library, trying books I’ve had for years, giving them just 20 minutes to capture me or they go in the “to give away” pile. Even books I finish and thoroughly enjoy, I often put into the “to give away” pile. I don’t need them taking up space on my shelves or in the future’s moving truck unless I intend to treasure them for years. And a great many books, though I enjoy them, are not that way. Many were, but I no longer need them as I once did. I want them to go to people who need their stories, who will read and love them as they were meant to be read and loved.

Several nights before as I prepared to take a long, hot bath, I picked Brown Girl Dreaming because it is a memoir in verse and I expected it wouldn’t take me long to finish. I felt almost manic that night, wanting to get things done, get things through, to add to my piles and give one pile away. But I couldn’t go to sleep that way.

One of the many wonders of poetry is that it doesn’t care about your desired pace. In poems, time and rhythm and pacing and focus exists differently, uniquely, almost-but-not-quite rigidly.

Reading a book of poetry, whether done over years or a few hours, is like slipping your head under the meniscus of the ocean. You can surface after each poem or stay under and explore the depths until your lungs burn and your legs feel leaden. But for every moment you are reading, your body moves with foreign resistance and unearned grace. The currents determine how quickly and how well and they are not yours. They don’t listen to you. Someone else has already decided how this will flow. The experience can leave one gasping and disoriented or invigorated and refreshed. I have enough experience with poetry, like swimming, that I’m usually of the latter. Even so, I can put my head up and find the landscape completely changed from what I remember.

When I finished the last poem in Woodson’s collection, I wrote “Mom” on a blue post it and stuck it to the front cover. Then I curled up next to Tyler and let my mind float again through the words and phrases, images and sounds I’d gathered while swimming. And it sustained me long past when he woke.

The following morning I encountered a photo of Mary Karr’s poem, “VI. Wisdom: The Voice of God” from her new collection, Tropic of Squalor. “Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you,” the poem begins, “could be cured with a hot bath”.

Yes, I thought. Brown Girl Dreaming.

A story also surfaced, one I heard Mary Karr tell at a lecture at Georgia Southern when I was still an undergrad there. When Karr was an alcoholic, and when she and her husband were divorcing, she would hear a voice that tried to take care of her. It said things like, “You should make a sandwich.” And when she’d keep listening, it said, “You haven’t eaten all day. You should make a sandwich.” That voice was so kind, so wise, so invested in her well-being that she appreciated it and gradually learned to listen to it. That voice, she told us, she eventually understood as the voice of God.

“VI. Wisdom: The Voice of God” she’d titled the poem. “Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you could be cured with a hot bath…”. And at the end, ”Put down that gun, you need a sandwich.”

The ocean of poetry is as much a gift from God as the air around us, the sandwich that will sustain us. And poetry is saving my life this week.

Poems:
“I Wash the Shirt” by Anna Swir
“Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes
“Bareback Pantoum” by Cecilia Woloch
“This Happened” by C. K. Williams
“Apostrophe to the Apostrophe” by Eric Nelson

Novels and Collections:
Brown Girl Dreaming Jacqueline Woodson
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Teratology by Susannah Nevison
A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Miłosz
On Paying Attention by James A. Autry

6 Factors to Being a Copyeditor

Last week before Bible study, one of the leaders asked everyone to share an interesting fact that “won’t knock anyone’s socks off”. I could make a joke about mediocrity in contemporary church culture, but I shall refrain.

Unfortunately, the tidbit I shared missed the mark: There are hyphens, as I’m sure you know, but there are also two kinds of dashes.

That, apparently, was sock-knocking-off material. And although I hadn’t intended to explain the differences, their reactions necessitated the simplest explanation I could give. (And if you’re dying of curiosity, I’ve included this riveting information at the bottom of this post.)

Which reminded me how unusual the daily details of the publishing world are for most people.

So here are 6 things I’ve learned are important to being a copyeditor.

1. Re-learn to read.
When people read, we’re actually reading each word as a whole. That’s how we can read those those emails and Tumblr posts where evere vewel hes been repleced weth e sengle letter. It’s also how we can read something (like a blog post) a dozen times and not notice a typo. It’s why spelling can be difficult: vacuum and vaccum look quite similar, so conjuring up the image of the correctly spelled word can be hard. Copyeditors must learn to slow down and read not word by word, but letter by letter. We must re-learn to sound out words to help ensure that the spine text says Message to the Gentiles, not Message to the Genitals (yes, that really did happen).

2. You’re going to miss things.
Welcome to humanity, my friend! You might be great at spotting italicized periods that should be in regular font, hyphens that should be en dashes, or too many spaces between words. You might excel at correcting citations or semi-colon usage. But you can’t be excellent at everything. You can’t spot every mistake, even in the areas you’re particularly skilled in. But that’s okay. You’re one cog in the production wheel. Even if the buck stops with you for a particular error, rightly or wrongly, lots of other eyes examined the same material. You’re looking for so many details, it is impossible to find and correct everything.

3. Spell check is your friend, but not your best friend.
As you saw in the above example (Gentiles/Genitals), some mistakes aren’t ones spell check is going to catch because, technically, your typo is a correctly spelled word. Or maybe the word you’re looking at would show up with a red squiggle even if were spelled correctly. In this business, you find yourself second-guessing the spelling of proper names you’ve always been able to spell or that you see often. You carefully compare letters in words like “postexilic” and names like “Ahasuerus”. You know that someone before you might have misspelled that word every single time, or spelled it correctly every time save one. Spell check can definitely help with that, but it’s an algorithm and can only act that way. Still, you’ll also be grateful when spell check alerts you to some glaring mistake, like two O’s in “hope”. The trick is to focus your attention where there isn’t a safety net like spell check, but to remember that the net has holes.

4. You can’t let it affect you.
You’re a professional. You have to keep reading. You may have just read the most beautiful account of a dog’s sacrificial death that’s ever been penned, but you can’t cry over it for the rest of the afternoon. You may have read a deeply convicting devotion, but you can’t stop and dwell on it for half an hour. You have work to do. You have to keep going. You have deadlines and a duty to remain professional. You can’t read a novel like a novel; if you do, you’ll be reading, not copyediting. You can’t read a piece like a consumer, you’re a staffer. Wipe your eyes, take a picture of the question that got you thinking, and move on. The trouble with training yourself in this way is letting things affect you when you’re not on the clock. I’ve walled off part of myself to help me get my work done, and it’s hard not to sit behind the same wall when I’m reading for pleasure, not errors.

5. Reading is a tiny bit ruined.
It’s still fun, of course. But when you’re paid to read in high volume and pick the material apart, it’s hard to slow down and enjoy without the same urges to be critical. It can be hard to let yourself be influenced by what you’re reading. I love to read fiction, particularly YA and mysteries, and am so fortunate that I work in an entirely different genre. It helps separate the work and personal reading in my brain. But I still find myself bothered by a typo or bad line break in my personal reading until I turn the page. I’ve even taken a pencil to my books to mark the problem. I regularly do this with the church bulletin and sermon notes, too. The mistakes bother me until I mark them, but once done my brain can relax and focus.

6. Keep Sharpening Your Skills.
Grammar is boring, even to me. But it’s necessary. Not only to catch errors, but to be able to communicate your changes, or questions, to other editors. (And to know what to Google when you aren’t sure.) The same principle applies to the house stylebook. Basically, this just means that the company you work for has already figured out all the subjective stuff about how all the projects should look—from font size and style to whether to abbreviate books of the Bible and what pronouns, if any, you should use for God. The more you learn by heart, the less you’ll have to look up. Repetition will dull your mind over time, so make an effort to keep learning, and re-learning, as you go.

***

Hyphen = connect words or verses in the Bible
En Dash = indicate a span, like a span of time or chapters of the Bible
Em Dash = set aside a phrase in a similar way to how commas or parentheses might

Spring Reading Recap

Hello dear readers,

Work is really busy, personal life is really busy, and I’m physically tired and emotionally drained. So this week, I’m going to tell you about some of the best books I’ve read this spring.

I’m trying to stress read instead of stress eat, which has significantly contributed to my reading 19 books so far this year. I’ve found that mysteries are most effective at giving my brain a break from wedding details, interpersonal concerns, work problems, and everything else I’m stressed about these days. I keep a book in progress on my phone, on audiobook for my various commutes, and a paperback in my purse. If I get to Tyler’s ten minutes before he does: paperback. If I have to drive downtown for another vendor meeting: audiobook. If Word crashes my work computer for the third time in an hour and has to be rebooted again: eBook.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Perveen Mistry of The Widows of Malabar Hill, set in 1920s Bombay, is my favorite new heroine. I’d preorder the sequel right now if possible. The Sound of Glass was actually a gift to my mom for her birthday, since she’s long preferred mysteries and this one is set in our hometown. She loved it so much, she sent it back with me to read, too, and now I have two more White mysteries waiting on my shelf.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Prior to a failed attempt last November to draft a mystery, I hadn’t read much in this genre. I’d only read two Christie novels before, both in the past two years, and have been wanting to work through her best known and best loved books. I haven’t even seen the TV shows or movie adaptations, so it’s all gloriously new territory for me. In particular, I like to listen to Christie’s works on audiobook so I get to hear the great accents. Murder at the Vicarage is my first with Miss Marple. Death on the Nile is my second with Poirot.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
If the Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman

One of my favorite genres has long been romance. The structure of romance books are familiar and predictable (which is not to say that the stories are). I like seeing how characters are transformed for the better by loving someone else. Alyssa Cole is hardly a new author, but she is to me. I’ve had this book, about a Union spy during the Civil War, since it came out last year and am kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. I bought If the Dress Fits on eBook after I saw that I’d missed a big read-along and discussion of it through WOC in Romance. I could tell from everyone’s reactions that I would adore its sweetness and its heroine, and boy-howdy have I.

The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

When I can’t write prose, I write poetry. When I can’t read novels, I read poetry. When prose weighs me down, poetry is also a good palate cleanser. I’ve had Lovelace’s first collection for ages, widely touted on the bookish circles I run in on Twitter. I bought The Rain in Portugal on a whim during a recent Barnes & Noble trip. Billy Collins is critically touted and widely published, but I discovered him when I noticed the cover and opened to a poem that spoke to me in a familiar way. Lovelace’s follow-up collection, The Witch Doesn’t Burn in this One, is already on my shelf.

Books by Black Women

To honor Black History Month, I decided to intentionally support black women writers. Some of the below books were borrowed, some bought within the past year but only read this month, some preordered or bought but not yet read. I hope you find a book or two that you’ll love in this list. Ask me any questions you want!

Read:
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (Contemporary young adult)
The Big Bed – Bunmi Laditan (Picture book)
Binti – Nnedi Okorafor (Adult Sci-Fi)
Home – Nnedi Okorafor (Adult Sci-Fi)
The Night Masquerade – Nnedi Okorafor (Adult Sci-Fi)
The Wedding Date – Jasmine Guillory (Contemporary adult)
The Last Black Unicorn – Tiffany Haddish (Memoir)

Bought:
The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton (Fantasy young adult)
A Princess in Theory – Alyssa Cole (Contemporary adult romance)
Swing Time – Zadie Smith (Contemporary adult)

Preordered:
Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi (Contemporary young adult)
The Weaver’s Daughter – Sarah E. Ladd (Historical adult romance)
The Proposal – Jasmine Guillory (Contemporary adult)
Dread Nation – Justina Ireland (Historical adult fantasy)
Pride – Ibi Zoboi (Contemporary young adult)

Memories of Being Read To

My mother’s reading voice is still one of my favorites on the planet—yes, including Morgan Freeman’s and Idris Elba’s. She was a stay-at-home mom for 22 years and always emphasized reading to my brother and I. For many years she thought that she read to my brother too much because he didn’t like reading as he grew older, though he’s come back around. But I always recognized the importance of books and her love of them.

I wanted to read long before I could. I remember the process of learning to read and was just precocious enough that I wondered how my reading relationship with my mother was going to change when I didn’t need her to read to me anymore. I love being read to, and was at times frustrated that I couldn’t read myself, but I did so love being read to.

However, my mother still emphasized reading with us by paying a lot of attention to our summer reading and what we were reading at school. She continued to read to us at times, too. The one I remember the best is The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, a summer reading requirement that was one of the first really visceral reading experiences I’d had. And mom made it clear that it was that way for her, too, wrapped up together under the afghan. Her example showed me that reading could just as immersive to adults, defying my previous idea that reading is only fun when you’re a kid. 

My 4th grade teacher, Ms. Harris, was one of the rockstar teachers at my school. At least to the kids. Everybody loved her and everybody looked forward to her class because she made a point to read to her classes every single day. And she was very good at it. Presumably, she still is. Some books were staples of every year’s class, like The BFG by Ronald Dahl and The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald, but she also read The Secret Garden to us and poem after poem in Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic.

Ms. Harris and librarian teamed up to get us excited about the brand new book that was making a lot of waves in the librarian and literary world: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I remember the librarian’s pitch to us during Library Time, as we were all trying to pick out our books for the week. And it didn’t sound all that good to me. I wasn’t really interested in reading about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard. I was much more interested in reading about Dorothy or a young woman named Kate who helped save a train full of people or more Little House books. Only one person in the class took that first available copy of Sorcerer’s Stone home with him. His name is Adam and I have no idea where he is but I cannot think about that book without also thinking of him. Ms. Harris and the librarian chose to counter our overwhelming lack of enthusiasm by making it the next book Ms. Harris read to us. By chapter 3, Sorcerer’s Stone had become our all-time favorite listen, even as we mispronounced most of the names. We would riddle Adam with questions, begging him to tell us what was going to happen next. Blessed soul, he never gave in. He preserved that reading experience for us.

I also can’t think about the early Harry Potter books without thinking about Alex. I’ve written about him before. He had relatives in England who sent him a brand new copy of The Chamber of Secrets when it came out. And we got to start it right after we finished The Sorcerer’s Stone. I remember seeing that colorful paperback cover for the first time in Alex’s hands. And when I think about that book, I don’t picture the cover of the hardcover copy I own and have reread many times; I picture that paperback book in his hands, blue car flying above the Hogwarts Express in the English countryside. I forgot, though, that Ms. Harris read it to us until years later when I was rereading the series ahead of the release of the 4th or 5th book. Professor Sprout house was teaching second years to repot mandrakes. As she instructed them, she indicated that she would give a thumbs-up when it was okay to take their earmuffs off. Ms. Harris’s thumbs would bent back extremely far in an almost double-jointed arc. And as she read that sentence to us, she had turned up her thumb. I read the sentence years later, I could see it in my mind. Her red jumper dress, her red nail polish, her tanned skin, sitting in her butter-colored wooden rocking chair, the arc of her finger under the projection of her voice.

Honestly, I think one of the reasons I love this series so much is because the first two books were read to me. However, I also find it important that The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite Harry Potter book, and one of my favorite books, and it was the first one I read by myself. It was my first step alone down the path of this series.

The last time I was read to corporately, shall we say, was in 8th grade. My 8th grade English teacher Mrs. Walker had also been my 6th grade teacher. I was at a relatively small Arts and Humanities magnet school, so the class hadn’t changed much in the year between. In 6th grade, our favorite book we read and studying that year was Holes by Louis Sachar. By the time we were in 8th grade, the movie was coming out. We talked about how much we loved that book, and somehow we came up with the idea of reading it again. But rather than trying to get copies and add assignments on to our existing load, she offered to read it to us during class. It was glorious. We loved to hear her reading anyway, and we loved her, and we didn’t care that we were supposed to be way too old to be read to.

I’m very grateful to report that I’m still be read to. I’m a regular subscribed to Audible, which has helped me read books I may never have gotten to otherwise, including A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford. I’ve listened to The Martian by Andy Weir three times because I love the narrator so much (I own a paperback copy, too) and my next re-listen will probably be the exceptionally well performed and well written The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater or the Grammy-winning The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher.

My best friend Kayla and I also like to read new children’s books, and occasionally the beloved books of our childhood, to each other. And we have no shame in that. Children’s books are good literature and a really good picture books are enjoyed by adults, too. That’s part of the point.

Kayla and I are further unique in that we also like to read longer works to each other. Kayla’s mind tends to wander with audiobooks, but she can listen to at least short bursts of me reading a novel to her. The first time this happened, I had just finished Kiera Cass’s The Selection. I called her and said something like, “Oh my gosh this is the most amazing book and you’re going to love it! When can you get it?” The answer was, “Not really any time soon,” and I said, “Okay, what if I just read you the first page though?” And that quickly became read the first chapter, one more, then the entire book. I did most of it by Skype, and we proceeded to read a few books to each other that way, including Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Just this past year, Kayla read the opening chapters of Maureen Goo’s I Believe in a Thing Called Love to me at Starbucks one Sunday morning. She then gave the book to me so I could take it home and inhale the rest myself. But I “heard” the words in her voice. And she was right, it is the cutest book ever.

We don’t always have time to do that anymore, and it’s all so much faster just to read a book yourself most of the time, but we still love it. It’s easy to feel loved when someone is reading a book they love to you. 

My current audiobook is A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab.
My next audiobook is The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish.

Buying (and Giving) Picture Books

The last few months have been spent buying and fretting over and giving gifts, and receiving gifts, via a variety of holidays. For me, this is especially so because my mother, my boyfriend, and two very close friends all have early January birthdays.

One of my favorite gifts to give is books. (Few of you are surprised.) But although I don’t always have occasion for this, children’s books are my favorite to give. And I have a lot of thoughts on what goes into a good picture book gift for a child.

I have five main criteria.

1. Is the book performative in some way? Is it fun for parents or other adults to read? (If so, they’ll read it more often.) Fun for the kids to get to learn to read themselves? Press Here, The Book with No Pictures, and the Pete the Cat series are good examples of this.

2. Is it relatively easy to read and to follow along? How many words are on a page? These books are relatively easy to transition children into reading themselves, and include Mother Bruce, recommended to me by Judy Blume (no really), I Want My Hat Back, The Day the Crayons Quit, and the Llama Llama series.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a staple of my gift-giving repertoire. Many people have discovered it in the past few years, which I am all about, but I still find that it’s a book I can give to new parents. Parents didn’t grow up reading it, so even though kids have adored it for almost a decade, new parents are delighted by it and not all have even herd of it. (If this is a second or third child, I assume they know the pigeon.)

3. Is the book diverse in some way? The Last Stop on Market Street teaches empathy in a city setting with diverse characters and is written by a person of color. I like to make sure white families have books with characters who don’t look like their child, as reading diversity teaches empathy. It’s vitally important that children of color see themselves in the stories around them and in their heroes. Furthermore, little boys need to learn that girls’s stories are important by being allowed to read books starring girls. (There’s no such thing as a “girl book” or a “boy book”. They’re just books. Fight me!) And I like to support diverse writers. Other good pictures books meeting this criteria include Jingle Dancer, What to Do with an Idea, and Ada Twist, Scientist.

4. Is it visually beautiful? Journey, Interstellar Cinderella, and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich all make this list. Some have no words, some have lots of words, but all are striking. They encourage children to enjoy art, and provide access to the story even before kids can read for themselves.

5. Is it a stretch book? This is especially true for kids who can read. “Stretch books” are a little more difficult than the child’s ability, and can be a great motivator! I remember a copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas being that way for me growing up. However, because my brother is 3 years older, whatever books he was reading became my stretch books. The more beautiful or fun the book looks, the more enticing!

I’m happy to make book recommendations from babies to teens, so feel free to ask! I have no shame about learning from the Book community of Twitter and reading children’s and young adult books for myself.