Category Archives: Books

Getting run over by The 57 Bus

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Many of the books I read are written for young adults. These include lots of realistic fiction, some fantasy and adventure titles, as well as the occasional nonfiction title. A new box of books arrived the other day in my library – something which still excites even after more than two decades on the job, and I helped myself to a couple of new titles, including The 57 Bus a nonfiction book by Dashka Slater.

You know when you’re reading a book and you find yourself thinking and even talking about it? Well, this is that kind of book. Slater deftly tells the story of two very different teenagers who ride the same city bus for a life changing 8 minutes. She tells the story in brief chapters, a technique I found very effective and one that helps makes the facts related more easily digested. One afternoon on the bus an event occurs during that shared ride which impacts both of their lives, an event which began as a simple prank yet grew to become an incident defined by some as a hate crime.

Oakland, California is a diverse city of 400,000 residents with a wide range of economic levels represented. It has, at times, been cited as the most violent city in America with gangs and guns present in many neighborhoods of the city’s nearly 80 square miles. Oakland was the home of both Sasha and Richard.

Sasha, a teenager who identifies as agender and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, is an intelligent young person with a supportive family and a solid group of friends They (the pronoun they use for themself) attend an alternative high school, wear garments that are typical for both males and females, and are committed to living a life which feels reflective on the exterior of what they are experiencing on the inside.

Richard is a black teenager being raised by his young mom and stepfather in a stable family in a struggling neighborhood. Although he gets into some legal trouble as a juvenile, he is essentially a typical, unmotivated high school boy in an urban school district. The reckless act Richard commits against Sasha is unspeakably horrific, yet not premeditated or truly intended and he in many ways ends up just as scarred as they do.

Reading about the encounter between Sasha and Richard left me breathless and with an aching heart. This is a powerful story that will stay with readers. Read this.

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Filed under Books, News, Recommendations, Uncategorized

What William Kennedy gave me on his 90th birthday

Tuesday night I was lucky enough to join an already in progress festive event down at Cafe Capriccio. Gathered together to celebrate Albany’s literary native son William Kennedy’s birthday were dozens of family members, friends and colleagues. I arrived as speakers began to share their thoughts, memories and best wishes and it was remarkable. The evening’s host, New York State Writers Institute director, Paul Grondahl, invited those present to share their own words in Bill’s honor and for a brief second I considered accepting the offer. It probably would have taken 2 more glasses of wine to get me to speak publicly, but the thoughts that were prompted can just as easily be shared here.

Albany has a modern literary tradition thanks to William Kennedy. His characters populate the streets and the imagination of a city which has been maligned and misrepresented for decades, if not centuries. The stories he has told portray a city filled with residents, frequently Irish American, living hardscrabble lives, corrupt, violent and often tragically funny. The struggles of his characters are familiar and universal, yet because they take place in Albany, N.Y., they are our stories. We own them, just like William Kennedy belongs to us, and despite the less than stellar reputations possessed by so many of his characters, we embrace them.

Because of William Kennedy, and his vision in founding the New York State Writer’s Institute, acclaimed authors have visited our area and shared their craft with audiences at no cost to attendees.  As an undergraduate, I was thrilled to listen to Allen Ginsberg and Joyce Carol Oates read from their work. More recently, an in-depth symposium focused on telling the truth in a post-truth era brought heavyweight journalists to our area for a weekend of timely and interesting events.  None of these experiences would have been available without the NYSWI and we as a city are indebted to Bill Kennedy for the opportunities to hear and learn from literary luminaries and embattled professional journalists.

The third gift I received that night was less tangible than the others and I don’t know if I have the words to describe it. The best I can come up with is it was a combined sense of pride, belonging and possibility. As the child of an Irishman I never met, I’ve sought out Irish culture and traditions for as long as I can remember. Witnessing a roomful of people singing a rousing chorus of Molly Malone (and joining in!) fed my soul as delightfully as Jim Rua’s always-prepared-with-love meals feed my belly. The thrill and privilege of being present at such an incredibly special event is something I will never forget. While I don’t imagine ever writing a book, the fact that Ironweed wasn’t published until Bill Kennedy was 55, and that I was present at his 90th birthday party, reminds me that just about anything is possible.

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Filed under Albany, Books, Events, favorites, Irish, Local, Observations, Restaurants, upstate New York

Time is short

I’ve been so busy doing things and going places that I haven’t had a moment to chronicle any of it. It’s kind of getting me frustrated, but that’s how I typically react to not having what I want – in this case more time. I’ve made some notes and I swear I’m going to carve out some time over Thanksgiving break (See what I did there? Carve??) to share things that I’ve seen (an 80s band, some television and a couple of movies), a couple of books that I’ve recently read, some delicious things I’ve enjoyed eating and drinking, a week focused on health maintenance, and a couple of Albany experiences that I was lucky enough to take in. Stay tuned.

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Filed under Albany, art, birthdays, Books, breakfast, Coffee, concerts, Cooking, Dinner, Eating, Events, family, favorites, Food, house, Local, medical, Movies, Music, Observations, Recommendations, Restaurants, road trips

13 Reasons Why (I struggle with suicide)

About 30 years ago a friend of mine committed suicide. His name was John and he was sweet with a mop of messy hair and jeans that sagged years before it became the trend. He had a kind and strong heart, along with a sense of responsibility that once found him driving behind his cousin and me one night after we had all been out far too late, just to make sure we got home safely. I’ll never forget him.

It never fails to make me sad when I think of him. So much living has happened since that day he took his life with a gun, living that he has missed. It would have gotten better, I think. The disagreement or sadness that caused him to believe his only option was to depart would have become less overwhelming. I just know it.

Since that first suicide there have been others, none however to anyone I was closer to than John. The distance between me and those other, more recently lost souls only provided a single buffer – I was exempt somehow from the guilt of feeling as if I could have done something to prevent the ultimate outcome. That being said, there’s no escape from witnessing the pain of those who are left behind and that’s my biggest issue with suicide – the neverending question of what we survivors could have done to convince that person not to end their life.

After having read the book years ago, I’ve been watching the Netflix series that folks have been talking about, 13 Reasons Why. I binged out on a number of episodes, although my attention sometimes wanders. I think the characters are a little too self aware for high school kids and the tattoos and drugs seem unrealistic. I have, though, been impressed with some of the acting and the creative way the plot and characters were developed to provide material for 13 episodes. The music is pretty good, too.

Regardless of the presentation of the material, the take away for me is this: the pain of the person who takes their own life ends with their last breath. That’s the moment for those of us remaining, when it just begins. Our lives are not better without them, but they continue. We miss them eternally and their absence is a void we’ll never fill.

Even thirteen reasons will never be enough.

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Filed under Books, girlhood, Observations, television

Packing – 2 hits and a miss

A couple of weeks before my trip I splurged on a pair of pricey slippers. When I say “pricey,” I’m talking like more expensive than most of the shoes in my closet, not including Frye’s and running shoes. Yes, they were a bit of an indulgence for sure.

When they first came in the mail I didn’t know if I was going to keep them. They were a little tight and I wasn’t sure if I could justify the price unless they were absolutely perfectly comfortable. I gave them a couple of days of wear around the house, they began to conform to the shape of my foot and the rest is history – $90 Ugg slippers are my new favorite way to say home.

When it comes to reading, I’m old school. I still like a print book even when it is ridiculously heavy.* After wanting to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for more than a year, I finally got my hands on a copy (Thanks, Maria!), and I couldn’t have picked a better book for this trip. I’m nearly to the halfway point of the story and the novel is as good as I had imagined it to be.

What I somehow missed in my packing was tweezers. I think I erred when I started mixing around with my toiletries bags, believing that I had a pair always at the ready for the errant hair in my make-up bag, which I do. Unfortunately, though, I neglected to bring that particular bag opting for a smaller one. I’ll be stopping in an Apotheke today to rectify the situation. There’s a stray brow hair that making me crazy!

What are your musts when packing? What’s the worst thing you ever forgot to bring on a trip?

*I stashed it in Q’s luggage. Hey – his was lighter!

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Filed under Books, Europe, favorites, Germany, travel, vacation

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day – John David Anderson

Reading is the least expensive vacation I’ve ever had.  Sometimes I go to the future and other times to the past, but the destination isn’t the important part to me usually. It’s just getting away from now.  At a time when I sometimes feel physically assaulted by the daily news, a low budget escape is exactly what I’m looking for in a book, even when the book’s conclusion is not the one for which a reader would be hoping. Hey, after November 8, 2016, I’m kind of used to that anyway.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot of this YA title, but it’s essentially the story of 3 boys and the teacher who taught them far more than they ever expected.  It’s at times outrageously funny and heartbreakingly sad, but most of all it’s a book that reads as real. If you’re lucky, you once had a Ms. Bixby in your life. My favorite quotes are below.

Ms. Bixby sighs the Teacher Sigh. The one they must give you as you walk out the door with your teaching degree.  Equal parts exasperation, disappointment, and longing for summer vacation.

When I suggested she brush up on her astronomy, she seemed offended, saying that she probably knew things that I didn’t.  I told her that was highly unlikely. Then she asked me who the lead singer of Led Zeppelin was. I told her zeppelins could not be made of lead due to the obvious weight issues.  She said “Case closed.”

Change is the only constant.

Topher is a constant, like pi or radical two.

The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.

You can’t always pinpoint the moment everything changes.  Most of the time it’s gradual, like grass growing or fog settling or your armpits starting to smell by midafternoon.

There’s a difference between the truth and the whole truth.  That’s why they give that big spiel in court, when they make you place your hand on the Bible and promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Because they know if they don’t, people will try and sneak around it. They will leave out the details, skip over the incriminating stuff. Keep the worst parts to themselves.

You have to slay the dragon to be the hero. Not easy to do, but at least you know what you’re dealing with. Dragons are easy to spot…but there are no such things as dragons. It’s never that clearcut. Sometimes the thing you’re fighting against is hiding from you. It’s tucked away. Buried deep where you can’t see it. In fact, for a long time, you might not even know it’s there.

You know how, in movies, everything comes around full circle and you’re back where you started? Turns out life isn’t like the movies. Life doesn’t come all the way back around again. It’s not a straight line either. It angles and curves, shoots off a little, twists and turns, but it never gets right back to the place it started. Not that you would want it to. Then you wouldn’t feel like you had gotten anywhere.

Live every day as if it were your last. The truth is – the whole truth is – that it’s not your last day that matters most. It’s the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on…They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest.

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Living the dystopian dream

As a young adult librarian I read a lot of books. I have to – it’s my job. When I’m not reading books, often I’m talking about them as I try to get kids excited about different titles. In recent years, some of the most popular fiction books have been kind of dark and usually part of a trilogy. Think Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, all set in a bleak future which I can’t imagine any of us would want to live in. Kids love them.

In the past week I’ve heard a lot of words that are reminiscent of that particular genre of books. Words like Resistance, Protest, Chaos, Rebellion, Corruption and Power. I’m not suggesting that we’ve arrived in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian society, but I’m saying that, to me, the similarities are undeniable.  Our government is actively and aggressively shutting down and drowning out voices that refute their party line. We’re being spoon fed official falsehoods and government agencies are being muzzled for sharing scientific truths. I’ve never been more fearful of our country’s leadership and international representation.

These words, written by George Orwell in a letter in 1944, have never been more relevant –

“…the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible führer.”

The number one selling book right now on Amazon is 1984. There’s an excellent essay in the New York Times about why this book, written in 1948, is a must read for 2017.

Has anyone seen Katniss?

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