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By Jill Greenwood

This wasn’t the post I had intended, not even by a long shot. I had intended to write about how sometimes your plans don’t work out the way that you intend and you deviate from the path that you have chosen for yourself. You know, the one where you wind up sleeping with your friend in the middle of a field and find yourself the mother of two exceptionally wonderful albeit unplanned daughters nine months later and then get married. Happens to everyone, right? But no . . . that is not today’s post. Today is a love song to reading and choosing whatever the hell you want to read.

Yesterday, Maurice Sendak died at the age of 83. If you’ve been living under a rock, then you might not know that he was the author and illustrator of countless children’s books, including my own favorite Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a slim volume, one that most people overlook for its power and message. It’s also a book that was frowned upon in my house when I was little. My mother hated the book for one simple reason: Max. Because Max told his mother to “hush” after being sent to his room, my mom viewed him as a brat and didn’t want us reading the book. Probably because it was so taboo and forbidden and something that was frowned upon, it quickly became the book I would read and read again.

Books are like that. If you aren’t supposed to read them – if someone told you that it was bad or forbidden, you tend to gravitate towards it. Happens all the time. On a diet? Bet those Oreos look pretty fucking good right now. Gave up wine for Lent? God, would I kill for a glass of Merlot. This book is off limits? Sounds intriguing . . . where can I get a copy? Books have always been like that for me. If it seems like everyone else is enjoying it, I probably won’t even look sideways at it. Water for Elephants never really piqued my interest. John Grisham . . . tried him once. Anything by Jodi Picoult looked odd to me.

So now that E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is all over the best seller charts, I just can’t bring myself to do it. And it seems like I should be all over it, right? Erotica on the best seller list. S & M. Completely taboo and forbidden. Problem is . . . the writing is clunky and schlocky, so I can’t read it. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve read the samples (hell, I even downloaded the sample from iBooks because it’s bigger), looked at the excerpts online, looked at interviews with the author, and I just can’t bring myself to be interested in it. So what do I read? Probably not what you expect a 42-year-old to read. Maybe it’s because I teach 7th grade, but I tend to read what my students are reading. Part of it is to stay up on current trends and to have an actual conversation about the books they are reading. Part of it is the quality of writing. There isn’t a lot of pyscho-babble bullshit in the books that I read. Sure, there’s subtext galore, but there’s not a lot of “oh, I’m finding myself after being this or that for the past 30 years” when your protagonist is 16-years-old. But the biggest part? I kinda like the romantic bits a whole lot better not for what they include but for what they lack . . . my imagination is as twisted as it needs to be, so I don’t need anyone else telling me about the “turgid member pulsating beneath his wet towel.” Thanks but I can do better than that with a migraine. Reading what I wanted has always been a part of me. Trust me . . . a lot of what I read is pure crap (chick lit . . . love it! Jane Austen . . . can’t get enough. Any variation on Jane Austen . . . sign me up. Best seller lists? Ehhh . . . fuck it). I guess that’s why if a kid is reading a magazine on how to beat their favorite game, I’m pretty okay with it since they are reading – but pick up a book every once in a while to get some practice on plot for god’s sake. I am a teacher after all.

The first book that I bought when I found out I was pregnant was Where the Wild Things Are, and I read it to the Girls all the time. There aren’t many words, and it takes all of five minutes to read. The pictures are typical of Sendak – dark and weird and never afraid to let a kid let her imagination run wild. But the thing that I always admired about the book was the one thing my mother never got: when Max got tired of having wild rumpuses and being king of the Wild Things, he came back to his room and a dinner that was still hot . . . all because a mother allowed him to let his imagination run wild.

How does your imagination run wild? Anything that would boggle my mind? Or do you just have a book to suggest for me? I am trying to read more fiction adult oriented books (yup . . . I’ve got a thing for non-fiction, too) so suggest away.

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  1. May 9, 2012

    my sister and i were raised on maurice sendak. no books were off limits in our house (i remember getting nancy drew books from a grandparent as gifts when i was in grade school. my mom would read those and i would read her stephen king novels instead). one was johnny is still a favorite of mine. it’s a love i’ve passed on to henry and bea. she quotes in the night kitchen when she’s cooking and they both love the really rosie movie. mr. sendak was pure genius. i was lucky enough to meet him and shake his hand for a brief moment in the late nineties when he put on a production of where the wild things are in conjunction with
    the savannah college of art and design.

    i’m like you, i tend to navigate away from bestseller lists. i think it stems from working in bookstores for so many years. most of them never appealed to me and if it was part of oprah’s book club – forget it, i’ll pass (though she did choose a few good ones that i had read before they were on her list). the last fiction i read was the hunger games, i was late to that game. i’m always on the look out for good fiction, i tend to read more non-fiction, too. right now it’s consisting of technical books about photography and lightroom. or in other words, books that put me to sleep.

    • Jill #
      May 9, 2012

      I loved The Hunger Games and read them on the recommendation of a student, who begged me to read them. Best nonfiction I’ve read is by Simon Winchester (Krakatoa, The Professor and the Madman), but I would love to have the time to finish The Devil and the White City . . . perhaps this summer :)

      • May 9, 2012

        i LOVE the professor and the madman. i loaned that book out about 12 yrs ago or so and never got it back. i keep meaning to reread it. i think i’m adding that to my kindle tonight! i haven’t read his other books, i’ll look into those. thanks!

      • Jill #
        May 9, 2012

        Krakatoa took a while to get into, but it was compelling once I got there.

  2. May 9, 2012

    I used to adore reading, and Maurice Sendak was one of my favorite. I still like to read, but I’ve gotten SO picky about books. The usual bestseller/Oprah books don’t generally appeal to me either, and I exhausted a lot of the classics when I was younger. I usually enjoy whatever my kids are reading (we all hate the Twilight books with a passion and all adore the Tamora Pierce books). A few grown-up books that I’ve found in the last few years that I’ve really enjoyed are Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and the occasional Barbara Kingsolver, although too much of her gets to me. And I like Laurie King’s books that are spin-offs of the Sherlock Holmes stories. See — I’m kind of all over the place.

    • Jill #
      May 9, 2012

      Being all over the place is awesome! I love finding new books to read (never heard of Tamora Pierce before . . . might have to try it). And I’ll admit to reading all the Twilight books (because I wanted to know what the fuck they were all about) and instantly regretted it. I added up the pages and then subtracted out the amount that I perceived to be “good” and I was pissed that I wasted all that time. Brideshead Revisited is one of the books I have been ready to read for a while, but I just haven’t.

      • May 9, 2012

        That’s exactly it about the Twilight books. They all could have fit into one decent book, but spread out like that, they were just a waste of time. Plus we’re BIG Buffy fans in my family, which make the Twilight books seem even more pathetic. We need the “And then Buffy staked Edward. The End” bumper sticker.

  3. May 9, 2012

    My mom helped my kindergarten class put on a production of Where the Wild Things Are, so I hold it in high regard, as part of my childhood.

    My own reading tastes are eclectic, but tend towards genre (fantasy and mystery). I generally tend to stay away from what everyone else is reading, with a few exceptions (I did read The Hunger Games, right before seeing the movie, then devoured the next two books). Haven’t read/ seen Harry Potter, but loved loved loved LotR (the books years before the movie). I’m trying to slog my way through The Hobbit now, but eep. Not as good.

    I tend towards series over stand alones and I’m a huge Urban Fantasy reader. I just picked up one of the Laurie King spinoff Sherlock books, I’m hoping I like it. The last new series I picked up was the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne and I can’t wait for the next one!

    One of my friends actually read all of 50 Shades of Grey and HATED it. I have no idea why she finished it, but there you go. Just cause it’s got sex in it, doesn’t make it well written. Or even fun. Or even, dare I say, sexy.

    • Jill #
      May 9, 2012

      You’re the second person to recommend the Laurie King books . . . must add that to my list. And my fear is that I’ll give into 50 Shades (like Twilight which sucked ass, in my opinion) and hate every second of them. I haven’t read the LotR books (something puts me off them), but my daughter is reading them right now. The current series that I’m reading (YA, of course) is the Mortal Instruments series . . . fantasy romance but pretty well written. And the Hunger Games? It’s good for a reread at least once a quarter.

  4. kate #
    May 9, 2012

    I used to devour books…and now, if it doesn’t hook me within the first couple of chapters, I’m done. I think the internet has really indulged my tendency to flip around from subject to subject, so sitting down with a book feels like too much time spent with my brain in one place Also, I have a toddler, so if it can’t be read quickly, there are just too many interruptions. Having said that, when I do read, it’s non-fiction. Anything by Paul Theroux is a favorite and I can go back and read him again and again (Great Railway Bazaar is fantastic – funny and honest and frankly, makes me want to climb on the nearest train and just keep going). My partner teaches a 5/6 grade BED class, and is always reading what they’re reading – she also thinks it’s generally far better stuff than what’s on offer for adults.

    • Jill #
      May 9, 2012

      And here I thought I was the only one to give up on books ;) I heard an interview once that said give it a page per year old that you are, and if the book doesn’t keep you interest, chuck it. My daughter thought I was being daft, but I have too many books and so little time. I hear you on the Internet thing. I download so many samples now on my Nook before I read an actual book that I sometimes can’t keep them straight. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated . . . some of my 7th graders read below grade level and I’m always on the lookout for good books (especially for the boys).

  5. lifeineden #
    May 9, 2012

    Being in the Sciences I recently (ok, recently means in the last 2 years because I too read little fiction anymore) read “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova and really liked it. Some what scarey as it is about a woman who has early onset Alzheimers, but so well written and a quick read (also important to me as a mom of little little people). She has a new one out too called Left Behind or something. Also really liked Sarah’s Key, about a modern woman learning about family ties to the holocaust.

    I’m wanting to read the Hunger Games still, need to borrow it from the neighbor. Have read a lot of technical and parenting books lately, but really want to read some other non-fiction for some really needed brain stimulation.

    Mr. Sendak will truly be missed.

    • lifeineden #
      May 9, 2012

      OH — and I too used to always finish a book, even when I hated it. No more. Like you said, not enough time.

    • Jill #
      May 10, 2012

      The technical books were one thing that I was really happy to let go of, but I still have all my old school books.

      I was kinda late to the Hunger Games but thoroughly enjoyed them all . . . reread them about three times and they grow better each time.

  6. May 9, 2012

    You’d think I’d be a hoarder after losing the signed copy of “Where the Wild Things Are”. Someday we’ll find it. And the Buddha.

    • Jill #
      May 10, 2012

      I still can’t believe that you had the book . . . and “misplaced” it. That is just plain wrong.

      • May 13, 2012

        I was 6. I expected my parents to watch after good shit.

  7. May 9, 2012

    I’ve loved his books for the reasons you mention, long before I had the words to explain why. I know you spend a lot of time in Philadelphia. Have you ever been to the Rosenbach library museum? Sendak was a trustee and they have a huge collection – maybe more than anywhere else.

    I will proudly throw myself into this contrarian reader club. I’m voracious, but please please don’t ever invite me to a book club. I’m certain that in one of the circles of hell you’re forced to read books, chosen by committee, to a schedule. Just the thought of it gives me hives.

    • Jill #
      May 10, 2012

      I will have to check it out or at least point the Girls there. Totally bad at book clubs . . . I’ve tried and tried and tried, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t necessarily agree with other people’s interpretations about the books, but nobody likes to hear what they are. Whatevs . . . just leave me alone to read.

  8. Becky #
    May 10, 2012

    when i get out of school will you promise to make me a book list? I’m woefully out of touch with what’s out there and I miss reading. a lot. don’t worry, you’ve got several years to start compiling it for me.

    • Jill #
      May 10, 2012

      Done . . . but be prepared for a heavy dose of adolescent clap-trap. I still remember the conversation at the bar about Flowers in the Attic and how you asked if kids still read it and I responded that kids weren’t really into incest. And fuck me if the book I was raving about had the two main characters some out as siblings for three books (but they weren’t . . . phew).

      • May 13, 2012

        Can you believe my daughter’s high school has the Flowers in the Attic books on a revolving rack? Not only were those books disturbing, but they certainly were not good enough to have lasted long enough to be on my daughter’s libraries’ shelves. I found that pretty weird. The library’s awful in general though.

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