10 Great Book and Literacy Organizations to Support on #GivingTuesday

Thanksgiving Week is upon us. What used to be a one-day, all-you-can-eat turkey feast has somehow morphed into the biggest shopping week of the year. After you consume your weight in stuffing and pumpkin pie, you have the privilege of standing in line at 3:00 a.m. to fight the angry (and no longer particularly thankful) masses for a $99 iPhone 6 or a $200 50″ Panasonic LED TV. And just when your retail high is starting to wane, you can spend all day Monday getting your fix with the ridiculous Cyber Monday deals online.

Luckily, in the wake of all this consumerism, there is another, lesser known day during Thanksgiving Week that is more seasonally appropriate: #GivingTuesday. Feeling guilty about elbowing that seven-year-old girl out of the way to get your hands on the last Singing and Talking Elsa and Anna 2-pack at Toys “R” Us? You can make reparations and get back on Santa’s Nice List by participating in this annual day of giving.

images copy 2


#GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. It is also a social-media movement to encourage giving. Unknown copy 3All you have to do is find a way to give–time, money, goods, or services–on December 2, 2014 and then post about it online with the hashtag #GivingTuesday. Encourage your family, friends, company, and other organizations (clubs, sorority/fraternity, etc.) to join you in giving. For more information on #GivingTuesday, you can visit this website.

Continue reading

Fourth of July Creek

61ksW6tCl3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Fourth of July Creek
Smith Henderson
Published May 27, 2014
470 pages (hardcover)

I have an aunt who is a social worker in Montana. She is, without question, one of the kindest, gentlest people I know. And, after reading this book about a social worker in Montana, I now understand that she is actually a saint.

Pete is Fourth of July Creek’s social-worker protagonist, and he lives and works in the middle of nowhere. When we meet Pete, he’s been called to a house by the cops. The mom (“The mother’s a disaster. Most of her disability goes to speed.”) and her teenage son (“A recreational gas huffer” who has “a good run of priors going”) have been fighting so viciously and violently that the neighbors had to call the police. When the officer arrived, he had to cuff them to restrain them from literally trying to kill each other.

Pete arrives at the scene, takes things under control, convinces the police officer to let everyone off with a warning, and immediately goes to find Katie, a little girl the police officer didn’t even know was in the house. He finds Katie shut in her closet, hiding from the cop and the commotion. When she sees him, she runs to him:  Continue reading

The Miniaturist

18498569The Miniaturist
Jessie Burton
Published August 26, 2014
400 pages (hardcover)

When I was a little kid, my mom had a couple of shadow boxes that hung on the wall. The boxes had about twenty separate small compartments, each of which housed a teeny miniature. There was a little rooster, a pair of tiny skis, and a small wooden nativity scene. Each little miniature told a story—it was a keepsake that my mom had picked up to remind her of a special vacation or a person she loved. Apparently, back then (I remember them from the seventies and eighties, but I’m fairly certain my mom had them for many years before that), these shadow boxes were quite popular . . . and the miniature trinkets to fill them could be found in every souvenir shop.

01-11-2001; rgb 19-02-2007

Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house

This obsession with miniatures has a long history. It was a trend well before my time (or my mother’s, for that matter). One of the trendsetters was a young Dutchwoman named Petronella Oortman, who lived in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. Petronella married a rich merchant named Johannes Brandt, and, in 1686, began to commission a miniature version of their home, complete with marble floors, ornate wallcoverings, and furniture. All of the miniatures were exact replicas of the life-sized versions and made completely to scale. They were housed in a cabinet of tortoiseshell and pewter. The miniature house still exists today and is currently displayed at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam. 

The Miniaturist is a novel based on Petronella Oortman’s real-life miniature house. Petronella (called “Nella” in the book) and Johannes and the cabinet house are plucked from real life, but the rest of the book is completely fictionalized.

Continue reading

Dear Committee Members

9780385538138_custom-602374a82f4224961eac956c6c98f1639d5c316a-s99-c85Dear Committee Members
Julie Schumacher
Published August 19, 2014
180 pages (hardcover)

If you were to ask a random person on the street what mental image she conjures when she hears the words “college professor,” her description might be something like this: a beard, wire-rimmed glasses,  a tweed jacket with elbow patches, and graying hair a couple weeks overdue for a haircut. She would likely think of someone who is brilliant, held in high esteem, impressive, and maybe a touch intimidating.

But, if you were to ask me what the words “college professor” call to mind, I’d have a very different response: my family.

My father is a professor. So is my mother. And my stepfather. And my uncle. Hell, even my grandfather and grandmother were professors. My brother likes to say that academia is the family business.

For me, professors aren’t merely bastions of higher learning. They’re normal (well, maybe slightly more eccentric than normal), flawed people . . . who have been held in such high regard for so long that it’s gone to their heads. Continue reading

Wolf in White Van

UnknownWolf in White Van
by John Darnielle
Published September 16, 2014
207 pages (hardcover)

I’m going to do something cruel. I’m going to make a book sound really interesting and try to get you excited about it . . . and then I’m going to dash your hopes and high expectations for it with a little dose of reality. At least I’m warning you up front. I wasn’t so lucky.

Wolf in White Van is the debut novel of singer/songwriter John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats), and it is all about a guy named Sean. Sean is a recluse—but not by choice, by necessity. He suffered an “accident” when he was a senior in high school, which left his face a disgusting mess. Years later, it remains “strange and terrible,” “like tire tread,” “like a shag rug,” “like rope burn scars,” “like a badly paved road,” “like bent wheel spokes pressed into taffy.” It is awful and disfigured and “merits a little staring.”

While he was in the hospital recovering from his accident, he began to create a role-playing game called Trace Italian. Despite the fact that Trace Italian is, in the age of the internet, an “almost unbearably quaint” mail-based game, it is now Sean’s sole means of support aside from his monthly insurance checks.

Here’s how it works: a player signs up for a month-to-month subscription and, in return, receives the game’s explanatory brochure:

Continue reading

One Kick

18774963One Kick
Chelsea Cain
Published August 19, 2014
306 pages (hardcover)

I have a friend who told me a few years ago that I had to watch Revenge. This friend is the only person I know who DVRs soap operas and watches them religiously, so I should have known what I was getting into.

Revenge is, in a word, terrible (I know because I really gave it a shot. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I watched all twenty-six episodes of the first season and one episode of the second season before finally throwing in the towel).

The main character is this chick named Emily who goes to the Hamptons to exact (you guessed it!) revenge on a family of rich assholes who ruined her father’s life and had him sent to prison when Emily was just a little girl. Emily will stop at nothing to get back at these jerks . . . and she has trained her little heart out with martial-arts masters in Japan (obviously), so she can get revenge like a true badass:

Imagine a book that is similar in concept but even worse (and more far-fetched) in execution, and you have One Kick.  Continue reading