I love hanging out with educators. Just being around them makes me feel smarter, like I’m accidentally learning things with no effort. I asked a handful of my educator friends what their number one priority is for summer reading this year. Warning: if you keep reading this post you’re going to spend your entire summer with your nose in a book.
Ashlee M.: How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. It’s all about the resurgence of research into psilocybin and LSD as medicines to treat a range of mental health disorders. FUNGI are the origin of both compounds. Need I say more?
Laura K.: I think Where the Red Fern Grows is an absolute must-read for children and adults alike. It showcases the love between a boy and his dogs and the hardships of a particular era in American history. Just remember to have a box of Kleenex ready for the end. I bawled like a baby!!!
Nola N.: My number one for the summer is Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi. I just bought it and can’t wait to dive in. It’s a west African inspired story of reclaiming magic from a leader hell-bent on destroying it forever. With a strong female main character and who fights for hope for her people, it’s a YA epic that would make a great summer read!
Another one would be Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Another great story of struggle, hope, and survival of a young Lithuanian girl in a Siberian work camp. It’s been out a while, but will be a movie soon titled Ashes in the Snow. Children of Blood and Bone is also in the works for becoming a film. Read the book first. Always read the book first.
Mary H.: Varina! Its historical fiction set in the civil war era. Its about the wife of the confederate president. I’m a double major, theatre and history. Its my nerd heaven.
Amanda M.: I was recently reading a list of the greatest literary villains and I was intrigued by the book, Kindred by Octavia Butler. The story line seems to combine science and history with a strong female protagonist. I usually read more mystery novels so I want to broaden my horizons more. Plus I want to read more from African American authors.
Sue F.: Lots of books on my list, but very much looking forward to The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck. A novel about 3 German women and their children, the families of German officers involved in attempt to assassinate Hitler. Set at end of WWII.
Sue W.: I am looking forward to reading 2 novels by Tatiana de Rosnay: A Secret Kept and A Paris Affair. Over the school year, I read her novels Sarah’s Key and The House I Loved.
Laura Ellen S.: I’m so excited to read Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, that I’m violating my rule of never paying more than $9.99 for an ebook, so I can start reading it on its release day, June 26. Straight up horror fiction never really scares me, but Tremblay’s stories terrify me. He writes a mystery/horror fusion, with lots of layers for the careful reader.
Matt C.: I have two books I am personally looking forward to reading this summer: an early summer release and a late summer release. In late May, Julie Mulhern started a new series with Fields Guide to Abduction. Julie has mastered walking the tight rope between cozy mystery and thriller, and I just can’t think of a better summer read than a cozy thriller. In August, David Joy releases a third novel, The Line That Held Us. David is a friend and one of my favorite writers working right now. He is, in my opinion, the best in the business at telling the stories of rural America. He is telling stories that need to be told, and he does it as well as anyone.
I remember going to conferences and wishing that I could be one of the authors whom attendees were there to see. I wanted to stand in front of a room of writers and talk about the struggles and rewards, the publishing industry that is sometimes moves like a glacier and sometimes like a roller coaster.
Then I was invited to be the afternoon keynote speaker at the Arkansas Writers Conference. I said “yes” even though my anxiety was screaming “HELL NO!” I’ve led workshops and given very short talks, but a 45-minute keynote speech was new terrain for me.
After doing absolutely nothing about it for a couple of months other than some occasional pacing and nail-biting, I finally started preparing. I was on a read, write, repeat schedule for several days. I sought advice from friends and watched YouTube videos of other writers speaking.
I wrote my speech as honestly as possible, touching on the simultaneous terror and joy of my position. Following the advice of friends who have gone before me, I did my best to be honest and authentic.
In the days leading up to the conference, my anxiety level grew to a fever pitch. But here’s the thing: it was totally fine, even enjoyable. A friend told me to remember that the crowd would want me to succeed, and I could feel that vibe from them. My cousin was there for support, which was a giant help. And originally I was worried about toiling the morning away with my nerves getting worse while waiting for my 1:30 time slot. But instead I was able to meet some attendees and sell a few books before I took my turn at the podium. Every person I met was incredibly kind.
Like so many other times in my life, I worried for nothing. It went great, but even if it hadn’t, I would have had something to write about. And really that’s the most important thing.
I’ve made my feelings clear about skirt and pants combinations. But tonight I had to reframe my thinking.
I was flipping through Instagram when I saw an ad for something called the Sassiest Pants. And sweet honey nuts are they SASSY!
I seriously didn’t know how to feel. My clothing belief system was completely shaken. Because this skirt/pants combination is AHMAZING. Maybe because the pants portion is capri-length, and maybe because the skirt matches this length, it seemed like I should own this clothing item. It’s advertised as both stretchy AND wrinkle-resistant, two of my favorite things!
The other combinations I’ve seen are long pants/tiny skirt and long pants/long skirt. Those all suck. Maybe this was a continuation of my skort affection, just capri-length. Maybe I was overthinking it. But probably not because to be honest my mind was FREAKING BLOWN by the Sassiest Pants.
After searching my soul I realized that I could let go of my skirt/pants combination-aversion for these, the sassiest of all the pants. I can change and evolve just like fashion and just like pants. I enjoyed my brief moment of triumph before learning that the Sassiest Pants are on pre-order like a GD video game. They’re not available until August, and even then not in my size.
I’ve learned a lot tonight, both about my clothing standards and the perils of clicking Instagram ads. Goodnight, my friends. May all your pants be sassy.
Update: a couple of people were kind enough to reblog this post for me, so the contest deadline has been extended to 11:59 tonight (Saturday, April 28). Happy writing!
I found this photograph on neatorama.com. It’s by a photographer named Alena Beljakova. The artist obviously had her own vision when it comes to what this photograph means. But what does it mean to you?
Write a story in 100 words or less and add it to the comments below for a chance to win a free autographed copy of KRICKET or ON THE BRICKS (your choice). I’ll have a couple of guest judges so you guys won’t have to worry about me playing favorites or accepting bribes (I’ll totally accept bribes).
The contest closes on Friday, April 27. Get on it!
VESTS: Why do we need a garment that only warms the torso? If your torso needs an extra layer of warmth, your arms do, too. And I’m not talking about vests that are only for decor like we wore in the 1980’s, because we all know that over-sized vests were the shit. I’m talking about puffy vests. And I’ve tried. A good friend of mine loves vests. She swears that they’re great for when you’re running errands and don’t want to be weighed down by a coat. I get that. But that’s when you forgo the coat for a hoodie, right? #nevervests
OPEN-TOED BOOTS: Again, are we cold or warm here, people? If it’s cold enough to wear freakin’ shoebooties, your toes should be covered. And you can’t wear socks if you’re wearing open-toed shoes. So that means you can’t wear socks with these boots and what kind of sociopath doesn’t wear socks with boots?
If you need your knees covered by boots, then how are your toes warm, PATRICIA?
SHORT-SLEEVED OR SLEEVELESS TURTLENECKS: For the love of all that is holy, why do these exist? If I put my personal hatred of turtlenecks (wearing one is like being slowly choked to death by tiny polycotton demon hands) aside, I can understand a short-sleeved or sleeveless turtleneck as something to wear under a jacket or cardigan. But I’ve seen way too many women wearing them as a stand-alone garment. If your neck is cold, then your arms should be in need of covering as well.
And what’s up with the woman in this photograph? It’s cold enough for a turtleneck but but her stomach is fine with being left in the breeze? Whatevs, JANICE.
SKIRT AND PANTS COMBOS: It’s like we’ve gotten too lazy to put leggings and a skirt on separately, the way God intended. A good friend of mine who is extremely fashionable defended this article of clothing to me when it was first a thing a decade or so ago. And it looked good on her, but she’s one of those people who can wear anything so her opinion doesn’t count because she might not be human. It can’t be both pants and a skirt at the same time.
However, I’ve come around on the idea of skorts, which are skirts with shorts attached beneath. But the shorts don’t show unless you’re being unladylike and since I’m often unladylike it’s nice to have shorts covering my drawers.
CULOTTES: Again, it can’t be both pants and a skirt. Stop trying, DENISE.
Hmm. Maybe I have sensory issues?
Cheryl L. Reed’s Poison Girls is a gripping tale that often reads like creative nonfiction. And for good reason. Reed drew the story from her own experiences covering a group of young girls using crack cocaine in Dayton in the 1990’s.
Poison Girls is set in the Chicago South Side in 2008 where teenage girls are dying from fentanyl-laced heroin which is called “poison”. An ambitious crime reporter named Natalie is determined to get to the bottom of the deaths. She navigates the world where affluent teens and hardened drug-dealers coexist, and gets too close to a teenage girl who awakens Natalie’s maternal instincts.
The story is woven together with intricate threads of politics, racism, religion, and classism, all set against the backdrop of the shrinking newspaper industry. Natalie risks her career, freedom, and even her life to get to the bottom of the epidemic. And the longer it takes, the higher the body count.
Poison Girls is a captivating thriller, and a great reminder that journalists are often on the front lines of society’s problems when most of us stay away and still feel justified in forming judgments.
Even if you’ve never heard of the improv duo TJ and Dave, you know TJ and Dave. TJ Jagodowski is the fair-haired guy in the Sonic commercials. TJ’s had several movie roles, including a small role in Stranger Than Fiction. Dave Pasquesi is that guy who looks a lot like Adrien Brody. He’s also had a lot of movie roles, as well as roles on Strangers With Candy and Veep. Trust Us, This Is All Made Up (2009) explores the pair’s unconventional partnership and methods.
Honestly, the beginning kind of drags if you’re not familiar with their improvisation show. The focus in the first twenty or so minutes is on their pre-show rituals, such as walking the streets separately (TJ would prefer that they were together, but Dave insists they have different people-watching experiences) to look for material and inspiration. For the first half hour, I was convinced that Dave is in love with TJ. He looks at him frequently all wide-eyed like he really wants to make out. I realized by the end of the show that it’s probably more of a platonic crush, a professional admiration that crosses over to personal mega-fondness.
The doc moves on to a performance at the Barrow Street Theater in New York. These guys are amazing. My slight boredom subsided as soon as the improv started. It’s just the two “Second City” veterans with no props except for three wooden chairs. This particular performance centers on corporate softball team angst. Magic emerges from the mundane. There are seven characters and two different settings, and they jump from character to character seamlessly. Sometimes they even switch roles with each other. TJ and Dave both have a fantastic ability to move from tangent to tangent without forgetting the original plot or the traits of each character.
After the show, the two discuss their characters and plot, analyzing the transitions and audience response. After watching the improv, I found this part of the documentary extremely engaging. Although the show is only an hour long, their characters, as TJ puts it, go on. They feel that the show is already in progress, they just pick it up somewhere and then leave it again. Their artistry isn’t truly understood until the end of the doc, until we see how much the process and the story mean to the duo.
They’ve been working together for about sixteen years, and their bromance has blossomed into a moving work of art. Their willingness to surrender to the subliminal power that directs their art yields unbelievably successful results. Each show is a unique viewing experience. TJ and Dave are as excited as the audience is to see what happens. They are merely players, showing a story in progress.
I happened upon Ingrid Goes West while I was on Hulu searching for a new episode of The Path. I clicked play when I saw that it stars Aubrey Plaza and O’Shea Jackson Jr., two actors I will watch in anything.
Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid Thorburn, an unhinged young woman who doesn’t know how to be the least bit chill when it comes to friendship. After behaving like a lunatic at a wedding reception, she is institutionalized and medicated before being released back into the world.
Ingrid becomes obsessed with a beautiful and glamorous Instagram star named Taylor Sloane, played perfectly by Elizabeth Olsen. Ingrid moves to California to befriend her, and alters her style to mimic the young woman.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s new landlord and potential love interest. He’s an aspiring screenwriter who is way too into Batman. He’s incredibly kind to Ingrid, as well as handsome and charming. He provides balance and relief when Ingrid’s instability is almost too hard to watch.
This movie puts a lot of focus on how much of our lives we live on social media for all to see, and the falsehoods we promote about ourselves. And also the danger we put ourselves in by exposing the details of our daily lives.
The esthetics of the film made me believe initially that it would be more a comedy, wherein our heroine recognizes the error of her ways, gets back on her meds, and lives happily ever after with the landlord who is out of her league considering her erratic behavior. This story isn’t so fun and breezy, and the path to Ingrid’s self-discovery is painful and sad. Ingrid’s mental illness is neither glamorized nor minimalized.
The supporting cast is incredible. Billy Magnussen (Nathan in the FX series Get Shorty) as Nicky Sloane, Taylor’s drug-addicted narcissistic brother, steals every scene he’s in. Wyatt Russell is Ezra, Taylor’s tortured artist husband whose complicated feelings for his wife are made easy to understand through his words and expressions.
Watch this movie. Just keep your Prozac handy.