#tbt, Part 3: Halloween Edition!

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Here I am, all dolled up in my very first Halloween costume:

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If this picture is any indication, I wasn’t all that into Halloween that year (you wouldn’t be, either, if your introduction to Halloween included that horrifyingly scary Mickey Mouse costume).

But, as I got a little older, I became a huge fan of Halloween.

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You Are Not a Stranger Here

Adam HaslettYou Are Not a Stranger Here
Adam Haslett
© 2002

Adam Haslett makes one thing very clear: if you think your life is rough, rest assured–it could be way, way worse.

In his collection of short stories, You Are Not a Stranger Here, his characters’ lives are miserable and tragic and sad.  One dude is dying of AIDS.  A high-school kid’s dad dies in a car crash only weeks after his mom has committed suicide.  A young kid feels helpless and desperate after foreseeing someone’s death.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  In addition, many of his characters are dealing with severe mental illness.  Schizophrenia, mania, and depression all play major roles in stories. Continue reading

The Mysterious Benedict Society

1a51af785d26f8d5a080d0be0252fe60The Mysterious Benedict Society
By Trenton Lee Stewart
Illustrations by Carson Ellis
© 2007

When eleven-year-old orphan Reynie Muldoon reads the following question in a newspaper ad, he believes it was written specifically for him:

“ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD LOOKING FOR SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES?”

He decides to answer the ad and, thus, submits himself to a number of tricky tests.  Some of the tests are traditional pen-and-paper tests, others are very nonconventional (Reynie doesn’t know that some of the challenges he overcomes are actually character assessments).

It’s survival of the fittest, and, after each test, nearly all of the children are sent home for failing to pass.  But, at the end of the test day, Reynie and a few other children are left standing. Continue reading

Born Round

6a00d83451b42169e20120a6210039970c-piBorn Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater
Frank Bruni
© 2009

My mom likes to tell the story of my first childhood foray into “real” food.  She was feeding my brother and me lunch.  I was a wee (six or eight months, my mom now guesses), sitting in my high chair.  My brother was four, sitting at the table.  She gave him a peanut-butter sandwich—made, as always, with crunchy peanut butter.  Meanwhile, she was getting ready to feed me baby food (which she made herself back before the Béaba existed and it became the trendy, hipster-mom thing to do).

But I had a different agenda.  Apparently, I had decided that I’d had enough baby food.  Despite the fact that I had no teeth, I wanted that crunchy PB & J.  So, I did what any spoiled brat would do.  I stole my brother’s sandwich.  And I gummed it delightedly (Yes, I ate peanut butter before I was two.  I also learned to ride a bike without wearing a helmet.  These were dangerous times).  If the rest of the fam was going to eat delicious foods, then I would, too.

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Nocturnes

c23112Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
Kazuo Ishiguro
© 2009

I’m sure you won’t be too surprised to find out that I keep a collection of short stories in my husband’s car.  If we’re stuck in traffic, I’ll pull it out and read a story aloud to him (my brother-in-law, Sweater, will be happy to know that the collection that currently lives in the car is one of Sedaris’s).

If we’re headed on a long road trip, I usually download a short-story collection onto my iPad, so I can read them aloud as he’s driving.  I am not a fan of driving, and he is not a fan of reading, so it works out well.

Short-story collections are a good choice for our road trips for two reasons: Continue reading

Never Fall Down

Never Fall Down
Patricia McCormick
© 2012

This is Arn Chorn-Pond:

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Arn is a Cambodian-American human-rights activist.  He is the founder of Cambodian Living Arts, a nonprofit that honors and supports Cambodian traditional arts, which were in danger of being lost as a result of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot) regime. Continue reading

Why Is It So Hard to Find a Good Wedding Reading?

I’m back from my sabbatical!  First and foremost, I must extend a massive thank you to my guest bloggers, Lindsay, Cleo, Leigh, and Sergio, for contributing to the Favorites Series while I was gone.  If you missed any of their guest posts, I have created a new page for the Favorites Series, and you can read them here.  As always, if you’re interested in participating in the Favorites Series, feel free to contact me.

As some of you know, I took a break from the blog while my husband and I were doing some traveling in España!  Spain was not a random vacation choice.  We had a great excuse to go: one of my best friends got hitched in Seville.

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A little background: the bride, Kellie, and I have been friends for over a decade.  We were roommates at an uber-dorky summer program at Georgetown during the summer of 2000, and we were inseparable.  Despite living hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of miles apart, we have remained great friends ever since.

Kellie is smart, she is hilarious, she is spontaneous, she is kind.  And, above all else, she is one of the most fun and fun-loving people I know.

As it turns out, she is also very trusting.  She proved this when she did something very foolish: she asked me to do a reading at her wedding . . . but she gave me absolutely no parameters.  She knew this had the potential to be disastrous; she admitted that she was kind of terrified that I would read the grossly inappropriate lyrics to DMX’s “Party Up,” which was our clubbing hype-song/anthem during the summer we met. Continue reading

Hooked On Books

securedownloadFavorites Series guest blogger Sergio Aguirre lives in Washington, DC, works on Capitol Hill, but wishes he wrote for Grantland. He worked for Bryan Skeen in Atlanta, GA, from 2001-2002 at Fox Sports South.

I read Christi’s post about Bryan not reading books.  I knew this about him.  I’m not sure I totally buy that he doesn’t have a favorite book though.  Bryan is really smart.  He went to school.  They make you read books in school, and to pass from grade-to-grade, they test you on things like knowledge of books that you have read.  So I’m guessing that he liked one of those books more than all the others.  But I guess that’s beside the point.  He doesn’t read books anymore, and Christi devours them.  It’s a gulf in an otherwise obnoxiously perfect relationship.  Two quick asides: 1) Before I met my wife, I looked up to Christi and Bryan’s relationship and always wanted my marriage to look like theirs – so I vouch for all the coupley stuff Christi put in her Favorites post; and 2) my wife (then girlfriend) and I decided to read each other’s favorite books while we were dating as a way to get to know each other better.  Hers was The Red Tent, a biblical story re-told with female narration from one of the women in the story.  Mine was All the King’s Men. Continue reading

Shorts: Review of Short Story Collections by Holly Goddard Jones, Junot Díaz, and Alice Mattison

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Favorites Series guest blogger Leigh Johnson is an assistant professor of literature at Marymount University in Arlington, VA. She blogs at academicleigh.wordpress.com, but mostly about her two boys, ages 4 & 3.

So few people list a short story collection among the books they’re willing to read; after all, the payoff seems less satisfactory than the longer, meatier novel. However, when thinking about a favorite book I know you should read, I found myself turning to short story collections. Like Christi, I don’t have a favorite book, and my memory of plots has gotten so bad, I can only remember the emotional hangover from a book. Here are short reviews of my favorite short story collections. Each of the stories stands alone, but becomes richer when read in the context of the larger collection. Continue reading