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Now Reading: November 2016

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Blog_Now Reading_Heather Vrattos_for WebsiteWith the temperature dropping, November can be the perfect month to curl up by a fire and escape into a good book. That being said, books may not be the most traditional Thanksgiving fodder, but I always try to sneak one in during the time I have to myself. While I love cooking, baking, and even grocery shopping for the all important mains and sides that come with a Thanksgiving meal, I also love to swap out the madness of Black Friday sales for a good book. This month, some of us at Literary Mama have a few nontraditional suggestions for you if you're looking for a book to read during what is usually a hectic time of the year. While preparing for my Thanksgiving meal, I recently finished Jon Ronson's audiobook, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. I found it to be both an interesting and soothing listen. Having Ronson's melodic narration in my ears aided me through the busy grocery stores, traffic jams, and even while cooking. I could listen to him read the phone book, though his well-researched text is far more interesting in its analysis of public shaming. He delves into our current landscape, describing how social media has enabled a larger magnitude of shame. Ronson reports on the stories of those whose lives have been ruined over plagiarism or an irresponsible tweet, but he doesn't stop there. He talks about what happens after the shaming, after the public has moved on to the next viral shaming victim. While he doesn't dismiss the actions or words of the shamed, he does shed light on how a gang mentality may not be the answer.

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-editor, is celebrating National Picture Book Month with her book choice. She shares, "Even though my kids are too big to sit on my lap, I still enjoy picture books. I'd like to recommend a recent favorite, Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. Kaneko, a literary mama born in Japan in 1903, was raised in a bookstore managed by her widowed mother. Surrounded by stories, Kaneko developed a love of literature. She began publishing her own poetry in magazines for children when she was just 20 years old. Her life took a tragic turn, however, when she married a bookstore clerk. He turned out to be a faithless husband, and gave Misuzu an STD shortly after the birth of her beloved daughter. Unable to care for her child, and almost certain to lose custody if she left her husband, she committed suicide. Tragedy aside, this is a wonderful introduction to one of Japan's most beloved poets with appeal for both children and adults. The first part of the book introduces Misuzu Kaneko's short, tragic, but nonetheless productive life in winsome prose interspersed with verse in translation. A snippet: 'Misuzu was a thoughtful child, and she had many questions: What does it feel like to be snow? What good is dirt? Where do stars go in the daytime?' This is followed by a selection of Kaneko's poems in both English and Japanese, all beautifully illustrated by Japanese artist Toshikado Hajiri. The book itself is gorgeous. Even the endpapers are richly textured. It's a very special volume about a poet whose timeless verses continue to resonate, and who deserves to be widely known, and always remembered."

Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani writes, "I've been absorbed by Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel this month. Stuck in a writing dead-end, Smiley sets out to read 100 novels, in the course of which she distills some essence of what the novel is, what it does, and how to write one. From Boccaccio to Egan, Defoe to Kundera, Smiley's reading encompasses the breadth and depth of novel-writing from its earliest beginnings. The book, whose title is borrowed from Wallace Stevens's poem, '13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,' is divided into 13 chapters, including a synopsis of each of the 100 books. In chapter eight, 'The Novel And History,' Smiley suggests that the novel does not just document social change, it creates it. She writes, 'The novel has gotten us from the manners and mores of fourteenth century Florence to those of twenty-first-century California…not by argument, but by proposing simple, understandable choices about common dilemmas.' Watching characters struggle with their choices engenders sympathy in the reader, sympathies that can be applied, by extension, to society. 'The nature of the novel as entertainment encouraged, or you might say trained, average readers to think in new ways about themselves and their circumstances. By taking up current concerns and portraying and commenting upon them, the novel made them present and important to readers who might not otherwise have had the education or the connections to take a larger view of their lives.' Reading novels, Smiley says, can be subversive. 'But for the novel,' she writes, 'the insurrection in all cases does not lie with the idea that a different ruling group will be substituted for the old one; it lies with the idea that individuals will be freed from the most onerous impositions of rule itself and allowed to identify themselves and act on their own identities.' Smiley's fervent hope, having found that 'reading novels molds the mind in several significant ways, ways that other forms of literature do not,' is for world leaders to readPride and Prejudice or As I Lay Dying. I can't help but agree."

Poetry Editorial Assistant Juli Anna J. Herndon has been enjoying the lady-centric comic series Lumberjanes. She states, "I am currently making my way through the comics, which are absolutely delightful. Written for middle-grade and young teen readers, the series takes place at a progressive Girl Scout-style summer camp and follows five bunkmates/best friends as they get tangled up in various supernatural adventures. The artwork strikes the perfect balance between classic comic art and a more modern cartoon aesthetic, and the creators have done an excellent job of being inclusive of many races, body types, and gender expressions. Mostly, these stories are top-notch adventures: sneaking into the camp leader's cabin, stealing a magical bow from a gang of yetis, journeying through a series of Indiana Jones-style booby traps and riddles. But the real strength of this comic are in its details and humor. In lieu of swearing, the characters shout the names of feminist theorists and icons ('Holy bell hooks!' and 'Oh my Phyllis Wheatley!'). Rosie, the Lumberjane camp leader, is almost never seen without some kind of bladed tool in her hand—except in the scenes where she is knitting cozies for her axe handles. The supernatural monsters the girls are often pitted against have their soft sides, too; the yetis think humans are 'super gross,' and the possessed rival boys camp just wants to make tea and cookies. It is so refreshing to see the teenage-buddies-going-on-adventures-in-the-wilderness genre reimagined with girls at its heart. The fact that the characters never have to apologize for the fact that they don’t fit into the average female mold and can just kick booty without having to explain themselves is shockingly rare in stories for this age range. Overall, I wish that Lumberjanes had been around in my adolescence, and I am so glad that it exists for our current generation of girls."

For more reading suggestions, follow us on Goodreads. Did you take time out of your hectic holiday to snuggle up with a good book? Share it with us in the comments below, or tweet us @LiteraryMama

Abigail Lalonde lives in Philadelphia with her husband, daughter, and three cats. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Sanitarium MagazinePretty Owl Poetry, Crack the Spine, and Memoir Mixtapes. She writes about books and writing on her website.

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Heather Vrattos is pursuing an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Center of Photography. She is the mother of three boys, and lives in New York City.

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