Tag Archives: Reading

“Then M. in his plane was just on his way:” RIP Maurice Sendak

Like every Sendak story, “Where the Wild Things Are” explores his preoccupations, chief among which are the vicissitudes of his own childhood, and the temerity and fragility of children in general. His narrative is almost always about a child in danger whose best defense is imagination.

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I love reading Maurice Sendak books with my girls. The transgression, the danger, the nudity. Continue reading

Off balance

Since giving birth to Dorothy 5 years ago, I have done every possible combination of staying at home and working. I worked full time for the first year of her life, lost my job unexpectedly and stayed home for the next 7 months, then went back to work part time as an adjunct prof, teaching 2 or 3 classes during fall and winter semesters and staying at home during the summers. I had 6 weeks of paid maternity leave after D was born, I was unemployed when Lucy was born, and we planned Margeaux’s birth for summer so that I wouldn’t have to take fall or winter semester off. I have had very little structural support in the way of maternity leave or formal child care; we rely on friends, family, and a couple trusted baby sitters to care for the girls when T and I are working.

I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that adjunct teaching doesn’t pay particularly well. I value the opportunity to teach regardless of the pay because I love to be in the classroom, writing on the board, talking about books and ideas that transformed me; because I love the moment when a student realizes something about herself and her place in the world for the first time; because teaching gives me a reason to keep reading new books and a community to talk about those books with; because my colleagues are smart and funny and thoughtful and kind; because my students are often all those things too.

In addition to trying to work my way through what seems to be an endless number of essays and reading prep self-evaluation worksheets this week, T and I are also trying to figure out what our fall schedule will look like. This schedule involves full day kindergarten 5 days a week, half day preschool 4 days a week, me working 3-4 days per week, T working 5-6 days per week (but his schedule and days off vary each week because he’s in retail), ballet on Fridays, and Margeaux, who snuggles and plays full time.

The practical choice right now would be for me to stay home, or to only teach night classes so I could cut my on campus hours to the bare minimum and do all the driving to school and ballet. I could possibly SAHM full time, or easily SAHM by day, adjunct by night: keep up with the laundry and dishes, sign the permission slips, cook healthy meals, have a few hours with Margeaux each day while the girls are at school. We would certainly save money in gas and food. The household would run more smoothly. I would have more time with the girls. We would eat better. I could use our moms and babysitters to cover a few hours here and there while I went to the Valentines party or the pumpkin farm or got my hair cut.

Financially, there is very little to gain from teaching days instead of evenings; to any outsider, SAHM by day, adjunct by night probably looks ideal. So why did I sign on for a full schedule for fall, teaching 3 classes? Why bring on the childcare stress, the driving, the frustrated students who email me and don’t understand why I don’t respond immediately when I am at home on my off days, making macaroni and cheese and folding mountains of leggings and Hello, Kitty underpants? Why cobble together a childcare patchwork of grandmothers and babysitters on a week by week basis that will leave me stressed and exhausted as I struggle to keep up with driving and Halloween parties and prepping and grading and maintaining an on campus presence so my colleagues know who I am if the interview for that elusive full time position ever comes around?

One reason is that I am afraid if I opt out of the standard academic work day, if I no longer see my colleagues on a regular basis, I will cease to be thought of as a viable candidate for a full time job, should that job ever exist.  Out of sight, out of mind. The quality of my teaching wouldn’t change, but if a 3 page essay jams in the copy machine and no one is there to replace the toner…. Or something.

I share an office with approximately 8 other part time faculty, which means that outside of my allotted 3 hours per week, I work in a lounge. And while this set up isn’t ideal, I have grown to appreciate certain aspects of the arrangement: I am in the middle of the hall. Want to go to the bathroom? You walk past me. Want to make a photocopy? You walk past me.  My presence in the lounge is a clear and obvious reminder that I work here and I want to continue to do so.

But beyond the desire to maintain a physical presence, I value the interaction I have with my colleagues. One of the hardest things for me about being a SAHM is the isolation, the long hours, the endless housework.  I find myself crawling under the table and picking up the Polly Pocket boots for the 200th time and wishing a trap door would open that would drop me into an alternate universe with money trees and robot housekeepers and an awesome playgroup full of moms who are sassy and spunky and feminist and okay with drinking wine roundabout 4 pm. Coming to work means the opportunity to talk to people I like and respect. I value this community. I like having the opportunity to talk through a new ad I’m thinking about analyzing in class, or find out what new book someone is using in the Life Journey class, or share how I used that theatre of the oppressed power game. Coming to work in the evening, arriving to a mostly empty building, might pay the same amount of dollars. But the entire experience would change for me in a way that I find hard to accept.

Even though it would simplify the laundry and the driving and the cooking. Even though it might mean more time with the girls.

Here’s the thing: I am good at my job, and I find it fulfilling and challenging, and I don’t want to give it up, or do it on lesser terms, even if doing so would simplify my kids’ routines and commutes.  Is that selfish?

But also: I am a good mom, and I find it fulfilling and challenging. So why am I so certain that being a SAHM is the wrong choice for me, when practically it’s so obviously the right choice?

And for the record: although I don’t find it fulfilling, T and I have learned to manage the housework with enough success that we don’t usually run out of clean underwear or spoons or milk.

So shouldn’t all that add up to something pretty close to domestic bliss, the perfect balance? Work 3 days a week, home 4 days, clean spoons and chocolate milk for everyone? Why is it such a struggle? Is it the identity push pull, the sense that I really should choose one or the other and immerse myself? Is it fear that I must be selling someone short—my kids, my students, my professional identity? If the goal is work/life balance, I have that. I don’t have Friedan’s problem with no name; I have some weird new hybrid problem. It probably has 3 names, or a hyphenated name, or it goes by some nickname unrelated to its given name. Whatever you want to call it, today I feel like it’s got me beat.

(Chat) Hunger Games: Powerful Feminist Fiction With Love as Its Centerpiece, and other YA recs

Last week, we chatted about YA fiction of our youth, waxing nostalgic about the BSC, the Hunky Dory Dairy, and other books we read under the desk during math class. For this week, we decided to focus on contemporary YA fiction, and Jen read Hunger Games (and then Catching Fire, immediately, within hours) for the first time. With a few exceptions, we are over the moon for the trilogy, its heroine, and Suzanne Collins’ political stance(s) in the novels. Read on as we connect the Hunger Games to Trayvon Martin; contrast our fearless and complex heroine, Katniss, with the blah Bella Swan; and speculate about endings for the series (since Jen hasn’t finished it yet).


Lauren: Hi!

Jennifer: Hi! I just finished the second Hunger Games book.

Lauren: LOL


I knew you would be hooked.

2:59 PM Although book 2 does end in a bit of a rush.

Jennifer: Yes. I will probably have to stay up till 2 am again reading book 3 and then I will hate myself a little for not being able to slow down and enjoy it.

Lauren: I read them in about 4 days.

Then I called my sister, who bought them and read them in about 4 days.

3:00 PM As soon as my student returns HG, I will reread them, probably more slowly.

In a way, I was glad I rushed, because I know I’ll catch more details this time around and enjoy it almost as much as I did the first run through.

3:01 PM Jennifer: I will definitely teach them in the fall, and read them more slowly with my students.

3:02 PM Lauren: Yes, I have a book club reading them in one class (college level) this semester and I’ll teach it in my developmental reading class at the community college this fall.

3:03 PM Jennifer: So, can we talk about how much we love Katniss?

3:04 PM Lauren: So much.

Jennifer: So much.

Lauren: I was just reading a review of the movie that waxes rhapsodic about Katniss as a feminist heroine and I was like YES. YES. YES to all of this.

3:05 PM Jennifer: And I admit I was worried about her character getting swept up in the romance/love triangle angle. But instead I feel like that ended up deepening her as a character: we see her flaws, and she sees her flaws.

3:06 PM Lauren: Yes.

Collins really walks the line with that set up, and sometimes veers a little too close to Twilight dramaz, but mostly I think it’s a mature exploration of the way your feelings change as you go through serious shit.

3:07 PM And, you see how people change really quickly when the reach near-adulthood. I appreciate that Katniss, Gale, and Peeta change over the course of the trilogy in ways that resonate with my memories of that 16-20 span.

3:08 PM Jennifer: Yes. And her personal life is so deeply intertwined with these larger political issues and forces she can’t control and doesn’t fully understand, but her recognition and comprehension is clearly growing, and it changes her sense of self, and her priorities.

I haven’t read the last book yet, but I feel like she will end up with Peeta.

3:09 PM Lauren: Yes. I love the way the personal becomes radical in these books. There’s another YA dystopian trilogy — Matched — that is similar.

Well, I won’t give anything away! But I’ll be interested to hear what you think when you’re done.

A lot of people are anti-Peeta!

My students are always like “She should be with Gale!”

But I like Peeta a lot.

3:11 PM Jennifer: I actually think they are both interesting and compelling. And I like that it’s not clear who we are meant to be rooting for as readers.

Lauren: Definitely.

3:12 PM I think because we align with Katniss so strongly, Gale is really appealing because he is very like her.

He’s strong in similar ways, and she relies on him and trusts him, so we do, too.

Peeta’s strengths as a character are very different, and he’s not as physical as Gale

3:13 PM I think there’s some blowback for that, because he may come across as weak and therefore not as masculine/desirable. (In a stereotypical way, that is.)

3:15 PM Jennifer: Right. He’s a baker and a painter- traditionally feminine. And he has a disability, though he never seems to fall into any of the disabled character tropes: no pity party, no bitterness, no supercrip narrative of overcoming all odds. He just has a disability.

Lauren: Tiger Beatdown had an awesome discussion about this on their blog recently.

Jennifer: It strikes me as incredibly rare.

3:16 PM Lauren: They were disappointed — RIGHTLY — that they play down Peeta’s leg injury in the film. Which I didn’t recognize when I saw it, but is really true, and is the one thing about the movie that disappointed me. (That’s my only spoiler, I swear!)

3:17 PM Jennifer: It’s okay! I haven’t seen the movie yet. Does he not get a prosthetic leg?

Lauren: At the end, he’s injured, but it seems to heal up with some magic goo that Haymitch sends.

They dramatically compress the whole cave storyline.

3:18 PM Jennifer: I glanced over the Tiger Beatdown piece when it went up, but I hadn’t read the book, so it didn’t fully register.

Oh…. so they leave it open for him to keep his leg in the second film. Bummer.

Lauren: Yep.

3:19 PM I guess it’s impossible to make the films as awesome as the books.

ANYWAY: what else do we love??

3:20 PM Jennifer: I love that Katniss hunts, and I love that she’s so…. I’m struggling to articulate this. Embodied?

Lauren: Totally!

Jennifer: She lives IN her body. She knows her strengths and her limits.

3:21 PM Lauren: And, the book hints at sexual pleasure as rooted in her body

She’s not worried about what she looks like when she’s making out with Peeta — not even what the cameras are seeing, much. It’s fairly radical.

3:22 PM Jennifer: Yes. And even though the emphasis on superficiality and appearances in the Capitol is obviously characterized as negative, it doesn’t read to me as an indictment of femininity.

3:23 PM Lauren: No, it applies equally to men and women and seems more aligned with capitalism/excess than it does with gender.

Jennifer: Sometimes I think when we get a character who is a physically strong women, we also get a really heavy handed rejection of the stereotypical feminine. But yeah, the emphasis is really different here.

3:24 PM Especially because Cinna is a man, and he’s the one crafting her appearances.

Lauren: Right: although Katniss is certain that she will never have children, it’s not because she looks down on motherhood or whatever: it’s rooted, in a way, in her protectiveness of children. It’s a very strong nurturing that we get in Katniss.

3:25 PM Jennifer: And Prim and her mother have a more traditionally feminine gift for healing, but they’re also portrayed as having physical and emotional strength.

Lauren: A lot of people assumed that Cinna was gay. I don’t know if it ever becomes clear in the books (my memory is dimming!) but in the film he’s not at all stereotyped in terms of sexuality. He’s just a really grounding force in Katniss’s experience.

3:26 PM Jennifer: He’s powerful.

Lauren: Even little Rue has some skills and is not portrayed as some kind of, oh, Bambi or damsel in distress.

3:27 PM Girl gets an 8! That’s not bad!

Jennifer: Yes. There’s a tremendous range of skills and strengths, and they don’t seem to attach to stereotypical ideas about gender. And the framework of the games itself isn’t gendered: everybody’s in the same arena.

3:28 PM Lauren: Class seems to be a much more central construct in the world of Panem — it forges alliances across gender and race lines.

Which is totally awesome. I mean, in the book, you can tell that Katniss and everyone else are Seriously Hungry

It’s the HUNGER games because these people have been starved half to death.

And that is the root of rebellion.

3:29 PM Jennifer: Right. ‘It must be very fragile, if can be undone with a handful of berries’ is pretty much classical Marxism.

And yet people don’t seem freaked out that these books are going to make kids Socialist?

3:30 PM Lauren: Haha

I did find some sites that said “this is feminist commie death porn” or something like that

3:31 PM Jennifer: Focus on the Family actually has a pretty good set of discussion questions. And they point out that the nudity tends to emphasize Katniss’ treatment as an object. Which is basically a feminist insight.

Lauren: That is a feminist insight. Interesting!

3:32 PM I saw the film within a few days of the Trayvon Martin case getting national attention. And I was really struck by the connection between that reality and the Games, in that, you know, we already live in a world where our system is predicated on the exploitation and killing of children.

3:33 PM I mean, the construct of the Games is shocking, but so many people have pointed out how we expect and accept the killing of certain kinds of children as an aspect of modern society.

(Which is one more reason I cried the whole time I watched it!)

3:34 PM Jennifer: Yes, to all that. Yes, yes, yes.

3:35 PM Lauren: I don’t know if it’s necessarily feminist but it seems like the power of love is so central to the HG — the fear of children being killed keeps society in check, and the anger at children being killed leads to the uprising.

3:36 PM Jennifer: And there’s this incredibly layered sense of love: motherlove, love for family and kin, love for place and land, romantic love, friendship, intimacy…

Lauren: Exactly

3:37 PM It’s powerful and complex, which is tremendously moving.

Jennifer: One of the reasons I think Katniss is so powerful as a character is that she’s riding waves of these different, powerful, experiences of love and identification, and they move her in competing directions.

3:38 PM She loves Peeta AND Gale AND Rue AND Prim, and that’s not supposed to be possible.

Lauren: Yes.

And it doesn’t all come together neatly for her, either.

And there’s a LOT at stake!

Jennifer: It can’t. Life doesn’t.

3:39 PM Lauren: For this reason I think you will find the conclusion of the trilogy truly poignant (like me). But I won’t spoil it!! 🙂

3:40 PM Jennifer: Only in Twilight does it all come together neatly, in which you can marry your vampire love and be a vampire and have a baby and your former best friend/werewolf love can imprint on that baby and you can all live happily ever after. (Salon has a great comparison of Bella and Katniss here.)

Lauren: Ugh, don’t get me started on Twilight.

Collins refuses to tie things up neatly for Katniss

Jennifer: I mean, I’m assuming Gale and Peeta and Prim and Katniss don’t all move in together in some cottage in the woods after the rebellion successfully overthrows the Capitol.

3:41 PM Lauren: That means she experiences true love and true pain, and that is powerful.

Yes, Gale turns into a dog and then they go hunting together and Peeta bakes bread.

Prim marries Peeta and….

Katniss ends up with Haymitch!

(Just trying to complicate things for you.)

Jennifer: I love those endings.

3:43 PM Okay. So we love the emotional complexity, the centrality of love, Katniss as an embodied feminist heroine, and the fact that these books may be turning kids into Socialists but nobody is freaking out about that.

What have we missed?

Lauren: Well, the plot itself is pretty stinking awesome.

The action is compelling. It’s a great transformation of your average death match scenario.

Jennifer: YES, and let us not forget the critique of reality tv!

3:44 PM Lauren: I’m thinking of other movies that are similar, like Running Man or Death Race (which have you seen it? it’s not feminist but it is awesome!) but in those, the death match is between criminals and criminals have no rights so it’s ok to cheer them on as they kill each other.

Making the death match between children is a fabulous twist.

3:45 PM YES I love the reality tv angle. I love the PR nature, and how Katniss feels pressed to conform to femininity so SHE DOESN’T DIE which is pretty high stakes.

3:46 PM Jennifer: But also, it’s so clear that femininity is a construct, and that actually complying with femininity (weakness) would be deadly. SHE CAN’T WIN EITHER WAY!

Lauren: Exactly.

Jennifer: So powerfully feminist.

Lauren: In the film

Jennifer Lawrence perfectly captures the performance angle

3:47 PM When she’s doing the whole Katniss-smiling-and-waving thing but her eyes never smile

They’re in that wide, school photo kind of false happy position and it’s so clear that she is conflicted and uncomfortable. But of course the audience isn’t tuned into that.

I mean the audience of the show within the film.

3:48 PM Jennifer: I can’t wait to see the film.

Lauren: I suggest you go tomorrow 🙂

3:49 PM Jennifer: So, it seems pretty obvious that this is not the YA of our youth. Even the hard hitting diabetes books aren’t on this level.

Lauren: Totally!

The YA dystopian genre is really booming right now, which is really interesting.

3:50 PM I find it fascinating to compare/contrast the author interpretations of the future and visions for different forms of government, different relationships with technology/consumerism, etc.

3:51 PM Jennifer: I’m not as familiar with the genre, but it strikes me as far more political than what would have been considered edgy books/issues when we were reading YA.

Lauren: Definitely

There sure is a lot more death.

Jennifer: I remember edgy mostly dealing with interpersonal issues: drugs, alcohol, family violence, maybe poverty. And always individualized.

3:52 PM Lauren: And a lot of unease about the relationship between people and the gov’t, super Foucauldian questions about what is normal/healthy and what is aberrent, political questions about moreality and ruling, etc.

RIGHT — ohhh, divorce! Pregnancy!

3:53 PM A lot of these new books focus on a female protagonist, which is cool.

3:54 PM Matched is one, that series is more cerebral and romantic but really interesting, I thought.

3:55 PM Jennifer: I was completely amazed by how obvious the political questions are and by how clear the feminism is in Hunger Games and yet it never felt heavy handed to me. If these other series are comparable, I’m totally going back to reading YA.

Lauren: Divergent is another series with a female protagonist that everyone swears is as good as Hunger Games — and in terms of action it is pretty good — but I didn’t think it was nearly as moving or deep as HG.

Yes to what you said — this is why I think HG will be a great teaching tool.

3:56 PM Feed by MT Anderson features a male protagonist and takes consumerism and social media to a terrifyingly possible and absurd conclusion.

I just heard about a series called Shipwrecked that I want to check out, too. (sic — it’s called Ship Breaker)

3:57 PM Jennifer: Awesome. I will have to check these out after I finish the third book. In which I am certain Peeta will marry Prim and Katniss’ mom will marry Haymitch and Katniss will marry Cinna, who be miraculously alive.

3:58 PM Lauren: Right, Cinna comes back as a hologram created by a rogue gamemaker, just like Yoda.

Jennifer: who is. sorry. terrible grammar there.

YES! Or Rue could come back and Katniss could come out.

Lauren: YES!

3:59 PM Well, none of those things happen, but I think you will be proud/pleased of the end of the series anyway.

I found the 3rd book pretty satisfying.

Jennifer: I would read it right now if I didn’t have children to feed and essays to grade.

4:00 PM Lauren: For realz.

That was definitely a series I was reading at stoplights!

4:01 PM Jennifer: Let’s see if we can interview Suzanne Collins for the blog.

Lauren: I’m sure she’s totally into interviews with fledgling feminist mom bloggers.

I’ll have my agent call her agent.

Jennifer: I’ll have my people call her people.

Lauren: We’ll do lunch.

Jennifer: My people are a 5 and a 3 year old wearing princess dresses and demanding pink milk.

4:02 PM Lauren: Ha! Sound like Capitol folk ;).

Mine are grubbier and just as demanding.

Jennifer: Yup. Maybe I’ll get them Katniss dolls for Christmas this year.

Lauren: SRSLY. Be like Katniss! PLEASE!

4:03 PM Jennifer: I can’t give them bows and arrows or I’ll have a mini Hunger Games in my living room.

Lauren: Haha, yes — that kind of intense sisterly love isn’t always in abundance, is it?

4:04 PM Jennifer: It’s always intense between them- but they can go from hugging to hair pulling at the drop of a sparkly princess crown.

Lauren: Same with my 4yo/2yo.

Jennifer: Sounds like another chat: how do we teach them to love each other Prim and Katniss style?

Lauren: We should definitely do a chat about sisters.

4:05 PM Jennifer: You’re on. Right now I should feed these sisters, before there’s a District 8 style rebellion.

Lauren: OK, I will get this posted tomorrow in our continuing post-stravaganza. (Join our awesome giveaway!!)

Jennifer: AWESOME. 4k here we come!

4:06 PM Lauren: We’re almost halfway there, yeah!


Jennifer: TTYL!

If you’re hungry for more analysis of Katniss and the HG Trilogy, check out these fantastic articles and sites:

Hunger Games Tweets — Brings together all the commentary about racist responses to the casting of African Americans in the film. We didn’t get into this because it’s been done brilliantly by folks at Racialicious, Jezebel, etc.

NYT review of the movie and commentary about Katniss as a feminist warrior and “American Adam” archetype, both insightful.

Intriguing commentary about Katniss as a new female superhero, whose feminine characteristics give her power.

Another feminist blog also loves the movie.

Sexy Feminist debates whether or not Katniss is a feminist heroine.

And check out this BRILLIANT Hunger Games/Mad Men MASHUP at Bitch Magazine!!

What did you think about the books and movie?

YA Lit of Yesteryear

This week, Jen and I chatted about YA literature we loved in our youth, mostly late 80s and early 90s. Next week, we’ll discuss contemporary YA lit, with a special focus on HUNGER GAMES!!!!! WHICH JEN HASN’T READ BEFORE!!! OK I’m too excited.

We discovered this fantastic blog that reads/reviews novels and series that we read as kids, so if you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia, check out Nikki’s blog. She has it all broken down by category. Fantastic. This blog is also about awful series from the 80s (featuring one of my faves from youth, The Gymnasts!) and she’s just started back up, so that’s cool.

For snarky fun about the BSC, check this out:

OK, let’s get our nostalgia on!

Lauren: Are you ready to chat?

2:17 PM Jennifer: Yes! Can we talk about The Hunky Dory Dairy, in which a girl tries to marry her mother off to an Amish ghost?

Lauren: WTF. We can talk about that as I add it to my Goodreads “to read” list

2:18 PM Jennifer: I think he was actually from the past, but my tween mind conflated that with the present-day Amish.

Lauren: That sounds really hot.

Sexy Amish ghost is definitely the kind of thing I’d form a crush around.

2:19 PM Jennifer: The girl and her mom were able to travel back in time on a milk truck. It was awesome.

Lauren: That sounds fantastic.

Jennifer: Tweens of today are missing out!

Lauren: It’s all vampires these days, gross.

Jennifer: We had Goosebumps. More ghosts, fewer vampires.

2:20 PM Lauren: Totally: Fear Street and Christopher Pike books were all about serial killers and ghosts, but I don’t remember vampires being a big deal.

Jennifer: The Bunnicula series was about vampire bunnies, right?

Lauren: YES.

2:21 PM I was just reading recaps of those books.

We actually read that book as a class when I was in 3rd grade. But Bunnicula was a vegan-pire. He needed vegetable juice.

2:22 PM Jennifer: Right. I remember the cover being orange, with a picture of a bunny and a white vegetable-maybe a stalk of celery? The juice had been sucked out of it.

 Lauren: Yes. I also had one of the sequels, Howliday Inn, which I liked quite a bit.

Jennifer: Right. We had that one too.

2:23 PM Lauren: I don’t know if those qualify as “YA” lit but they were very good.

Jennifer: I think I read those around the same time as the Baby Sitters Club, but before the Sweet Valley Twins.

Lauren: We should maybe do something scandalous and name years here

Jennifer: I was not allowed to read Sweet Valley High, and so I read them on the playground in sixth grade.

2:24 PM Lauren: Because as I was making notes for this, I realized that I read “YA” lit for a fairly limited amount of time before I started taking smartass AP lit classes in HS and didn’t read for fun anymore

And I wonder if our years overlap that much or what ages we considered ourselves reading “YA” lit.

Jennifer: Oh, yikes. I can work backwards from my high school grad to my YA years…

2:25 PM Lauren: I was never forbidden to read books, but I probably should have been because SVH was a) awful and b) full of adult shit that was not appropriate for a 4th grader to read.

Jennifer: I believe I was reading SVH secretly on the playground in approximately 1988.

Lauren: I started reading YA-ish stuff around 4th grade (which for me was ’89) with my biggest reading years being 5th and 6th grade. Tapered off in early HS, around ’95.

2:26 PM Jennifer: I remember a particularly scandalous scene involving one of the Wakefield twins making out with a boy in a pool.

Lauren: I know someone had a boyfriend who wasn’t in HS and there was some shady shit, I think he was on drugs.

Do you remember Enid, Elizabeth’s BFF? WTF kind of name is Enid?

Didn’t she end up paralyzed or something?

2:27 PM Jennifer: I don’t remember Enid. Or drugs. But I had to read quickly and in short increments, so I sometimes had to just read the sections other girls marked off as “good”.

Lauren: Nice!

2:28 PM I didn’t get into SVH deeply, I think it was just too beyond me at that age.

It might as well have been based on Mars, it was so unrelated to my quotidian existence in Peoria IL.

BUT, I DO remember hiding the fact that I read the Children in the Attic series. (sic — should be Flowers in the Attic)

2:29 PM Jennifer: Right. Most YA felt like that to me. The BSC was an exception, which may be why I read them so avidly.

Lauren: Because that stuff? Was TWISTED. And I knew my parents would not be cool with that content. I interlibrary loaned those books and seriously thought the librarians would not let me check them out.

Jennifer: Nobody I knew was allowed to read the Children in the Attic books, so nobody had copies to circulate on the playground.

And my mom took me to the library.

Lauren: Wow, draconian censorship in Michigan!!

My Mom took me to the library but paid ZERO attention to what I did or read.

2:30 PM Jennifer: I did read a lot of sunfire romances, which my mom didn’t approve of but also didn’t forbid.

Lauren: Which is why I could read about incestuous sex and allllll kinds of other things that made me feel funny.

Haha. I went through a romance novel phase in 8th grade.

I can remember the first one I read REALLY clearly, I kind of loved it.

It was a completely typical Harlequin romance but I remember it in detail.

2:31 PM Jennifer: The Sunfire series was actually written for YA readers. Historical romance fiction. I remember one about a Pilgrim girl who came over on the Mayflower.

 Lauren: Oooo. I hated historical fiction, but continue.

Jennifer: She fell in love with someone inappropriate, of course. A pastor’s son? A Native American? I don’t remember.

Lauren: Hot.

2:32 PM Jennifer: Right? I recognize the romance novel tropes now, but it was all news to me then.

Lauren: Completely.

Now that we’re talking, I realize how much of my YA reading activities had to do with finding and then hiding books that would tell me secrets about sex.

The BSC was obviously not in this category.

2:33 PM I remember reading a book about a teen pregnancy and being like !! (Someone to Love Me by Jeanette Eyerly) and one that had a (SHHHH!) gay person (Crazy Vanilla by something something).

Jennifer: But isn’t that how everything about adolescence is? Simultaneously trying to hold on to childhood and fast forward to adulthood?

Lauren: Right

2:34 PM Jennifer: Oh! I remember my first book with a lesbian character. Annie on my mind?

Lauren: Juxtaposing Ramona Quimby with Sweet Valley and making it work somehow.


2:36 PM Jennifer: YES. I can see the cover clearly in my mind. Weird how the cover art stays with me for so many of these books.

Lauren: I can remember weird flashes of images from the books but not always the covers.

Probably because I sped-read through them so often.

2:37 PM I know I’ve read every Nancy Drew — or at least every one written until about 1991 — even the shitty newer ones.

 Jennifer: I read alot of Nancy Drew. Also Trixie Belden.

Lauren: Totally!

I got all my friends hooked on Trixie Belden in 4th grade.

Jennifer: And some of the newer Nancy Drew meets the Hardy Boys.

2:38 PM Lauren: Yes. I ended up getting irritated with those books, ultimately.

Mostly because the personalities of all the characters were expressed entirely through their wardrobes, and their wardrobes were absurd.

Jennifer: Wardrobes and cars. What more could you possibly need to know?

2:39 PM Lauren: Yes, the cars.

And Nancy’s weird rel with her Dad, and was she seriously 18 the whole time?

Jennifer: Totally unrelatable for me. Did you ever read a book that made you want to change your name?

I desperately wanted to be Anastasia, like Anastasia Krupnik.

2:40 PM Lauren: Natasha was a name I loved.

A lot of my play at that age — 4th/5th/6th grade — involved using a “fake name”

I think my first fake name was Victoria.

Jennifer: I may have even vowed to name my daughter Anastasia. Sorry, 11 year old self. That promise had to be broken.

2:41 PM Lauren: I remember a fondness for the name Acacia

which is a kind of tree. In 4th grade I actually asked for and received a baby name book for Christmas.

So I got a lot of strange inspiration from that.

Jennifer: I named a tree in my parents yard Algernon, after Flowers for Algernon.

Lauren: Awww.

I read that for school in 8th grade.

2:42 PM So, clearly a defining feature of YA fic in the late 80s: WEIRD NAMES.

Jennifer: Also: I felt like a lot of YA characters has intense relationships with their moms that didn’t seem like my real life at all.

2:43 PM Lauren: Interesting.

Jennifer: The Hunky Dory Dairy, The Great Mom Swap, You Shouldn’t Have to Say Goodbye (the mom dies of cancer in that one).

2:44 PM Even the girls in the BSC seemed to have a level of friendship and understanding with their moms.

Lauren: Funny, I keep thinking of books where the Moms are absent or checked out in some way… Ramona Quimby‘s Mom works, several of the Moms in Willo Davis Roberts books (Don’t Hurt Laurie, Megan’s Island, etc) are absent or messed up…

  Maybe we were seeking out opposites?

I was pretty chummy with my Mom, at least she was around a lot and I trusted her.

2:45 PM I didn’t confide in her about my crushes or like, get mani-pedis together, though.

Jennifer: Right. My mom was definitely not a confidante.

2:46 PM Lauren: Clearly not with her anti-SVH policies.

Jennifer: And even though she took us to the library and sometimes set limits on books, I don’t remember talking to her very much abotu what I was reading.

Lauren: Yeah…

My sister, Mom, and I all swapped books together, like mystery series we all liked (Charlotte MacLeod books, Cat Who mysteries)

2:47 PM but we didn’t talk about them a lot.

My sis and I did, but not with Mom for whatever reason, even though we were all burning through the same series.

Jennifer: Huh. My mom and I swap books as adults, but that didn’t start till I was in college. Maybe even grad school.

2:48 PM Lauren: We still get each other books. A few years ago, my sis and I read the same mystery series by Louise Penny

and got all huffy when my Mom said she didn’t like them. We were like WTF you are nuts.

But it isn’t all book clubby. Although now my sis and I buy each other books so we have someone to talk to about them like, ahem, Hunger Games.

2:49 PM Jennifer: I LOVE to talk about books now (it’s why I became a professor!). But as a kid and a teen, I thought of reading as a really solitary space. Books were a buffer between me and a world that DIDN’T UNDERSTAND.

Lauren: YES

So true

2:50 PM My heaviest reading years were my most miserable: 5th and 6th grade.

I read all the time: on the bus to and from school, under my desk DURING school, at the dinner table, when I woke up, when I went to bed, etc etc.

Jennifer: Yes. I read constantly. Every available second. And I read some books over and over.

2:51 PM Lauren: Definitely.

I would check out stacks of books, like 20, and get through all of them.

Jennifer: I was limited to 10 a week from the library.

Lauren: Did you like fantasy lit?

Jennifer: I read Madeline L’Engle’s books over and over.

2:52 PM A Wrinkle in Time, of course, but also the series about the Austin family.

Lauren: I got through the first 3 but when Meg grows up, I get disinterested.

2:53 PM I actually reread those last summer and experienced the same loss of focus in Swiftly Tilting Planet, so I moved on.

2:54 PM Jennifer: It’s funny how my memories of them are so hazy, (dolphins? starfish? wasn’t one of them a marine biologist? did they travel to other planets? a couple of them were psychic?), but I vividly remember how intense the experience of reading them was.

Lauren: Yes to everything you just said.

My sister loved those books.

Jennifer: I think I loved them for the same reason I loved Dirty Dancing: smart girl AND love AND sex.

Lauren: She always finished series that I never got through, like every Anne McCaffrey book ever written, the Austin stories, Chronicles of Narnia.

Jennifer: Although Dirty Dancing didn’t have the dolphin angle.

2:55 PM Lauren: YES I remember the sex stuff too and loving how adult she treated her readers about it.

Jennifer: Oh, I loved Chronicle of Narnia too.

Lauren: I only got through book 3.

Apparently I have a short attention span! 😉

Jennifer: Ha!

Lauren: I also fizzed out on Anne of Green Gables books after book 4.

Jennifer: I wanted to be Anne of Green Gables.

2:56 PM Lauren: After she married Gilbert I was like, borrring! And I knew one of her kids died and that made me too sad so I just avoided it.

Jennifer: Actually, I wanted to be most of the characters I read about. And I actively sought out books about death, even though I would cry uncontrollably while reading them.

Lauren: Awww!! ❤

I identified really strongly with characters, too.

2:57 PM In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons I had to STOP reading fantasy novels.

I went through this really intense phase in 8th grade

Where I was obsessed with The Three Musketeers.

I mean, I wrote fanfic novels based on it, and only listened to classical music (?) and convinced myself I’d been born in the wrong century.

2:58 PM Jennifer: Did you know there is BSC fanfic? It’s disturbing.

Lauren: And it just got so depressing to think about how none of that stuff would ever happen to me — I couldn’t go back in time, and I couldn’t become a wizard or talk to dragons. My life would never be that cool. So I just had to quit.

BSC fanfic?? The books themselves are practically fanfic, how is that even possible?

Please tell me it isn’t slash fanfic.

Jennifer: Yes. It is slash fanfic. * see clarification at bottom of post

Lauren: NO.

2:59 PM I.


Jennifer: YES.


Jennifer: That was my feeling as well.


Jennifer: I can’t stop you. But you’ll regret it.


3:00 PM Lauren: Noooooo

Jennifer: I remember reading books like The Egypt Game and wishing desperately I had some special secret power that nobody around me knew about. But yeah, on some level I knew it wasn’t true.

Are you reading BSC fanfic right now?

Because I warned you.

Lauren: “stacey comes back to stoneybrook, but charlotte johannsen doesn’t need a babysitter anymore.”

Jennifer: STOP.

3:01 PM Lauren: Ugh, at some point all fanfic just becomes a Penthouse story with recognizable names.

Jennifer: Right?

3:02 PM Lauren: Weird, I can’t imagine liking BSC enough to Go There.

Jennifer: And the tween/teen emotional stuff I connect to those books is already intense.

I don’t want to add adult layers to that.

Lauren: Yeah. That just feels wrong.

3:03 PM Jennifer: Although maybe that’s the appeal, reworking those emotional experiences?

Lauren: I suppose so…

It’s weird because I should have been a fanfic-er.

I was completely wired for that.

But I ended up, once the internet happened, getting really annoyed with the ways people changed characters and narratives.

3:04 PM I felt like it violated the author’s intention and that was Not Right to me. Maybe I’d been brainwashed too much by AP lit courses or something.

Jennifer: Maybe you’re a memoir-ist at heart?

Lauren: I got into a really heated argument on a Labyrinth fan list about some fanfic and was like fuck all y’all!

Jennifer: Ha!

Lauren: Maybe that’s where I started seeing myself more as an interpreter of texts than a creator of them.

3:05 PM Jennifer: I didn’t have a computer or internet access till college. I’m that old.

Lauren: That’s awesome,

We got the internet during my senior year in HS.

3:06 PM That’s when I connected all these weird worlds of people who liked the same stuff as me, including Labyrinth, and ya know, bands :).

Jennifer: Yes!

3:07 PM Huh. It seems like YA lit should have less importance in the Internet Age or whatever we call the present.

But that doesn’t seem to be true: YA books have gotten more intense.

Lauren: Definitely

I read a lot of YA lit and since most of my students, for now anyway, are just out of HS I see a lot if it.

3:08 PM I guess part of it is that YA lit has to be more “realistic” and inclusive and diverse and incorporate harder realities.

So that’s cool, writers like Chris Crutcher and Walter Dean Myers do good things.

3:09 PM Jennifer: I’ve taught Sherman Alexie’s YA book (you have too, I think). And I used a YA book about the Triangle fire in my gender studies class this semester.

It’s hard for me to imagine teaching the YA stuff from my youth, though I guess some of those books were hard hitting too.

Lauren: Oh my god, this BSC fanfic has them becoming basically a babysitter/prostitute club.

“Great idea” Kristy exclaimed.


3:10 PM Lauren: OK, OK!

YES I absolutely love Absolutely True Diary!

But some of the books I love seem really tame.

At the same time

I really enjoyed YA books of the 50s, even though they were really tame, when I was a kid.

So maybe our books will seem dated but still have an appeal.

3:11 PM I liked Beanie Malone books and I remember a series called Sue Barton Student Nurse or something.

 Jennifer: I guess Judy Blume is timeless.

Are You there God It’s Me Margaret and all.

Lauren: For sure.

3:12 PM Jennifer: Bridge to Terabithia stands the test of time.

Lauren: I never read that

because I knew it was sad!!

Jennifer: But The Against Taffy Sinclair Club? Probably not.

Again: I sought out books about death.

Lauren: That’s so awesome. I avoided death books like, ya know, the plague.

I don’t think the BSC will thrive in the future.

Mostly because no cell phones?

3:13 PM Jennifer: Also, the bad fashion choices.

Also, Stacy’s diabetes.

The BSC attempts to be hard hitting = diabetes.

Lauren: I loved books about diabetes!

3:14 PM There was a great book called Sugar Isn’t Everything that was all about diabetes

I based my 6th grade science fair presentation on it and got honorable mention.

Jennifer: Not intense enough for today’s youth. Now it’s all eating disorders and self harm.

3:15 PM Lauren: Right

Jennifer: Which is maybe a good connection to next week’s chat!

Lauren: A whole book about asthma would be boring.


Are you excited about Hunger GameS?

Jennifer: YES.

Lauren: I have to admit I am jealous because I know you are going to be hooked.  I have lost my copy and don’t know what to do!

Jennifer: I have it on my iPad. I better not lose that.

3:16 PM Lauren: haha

Jennifer: I have to go teach my class now. But I am excited for next week’s chat!

Lauren: OK! Me too!


Jennifer: TTYL!

What were your fave books as a kid? What series did you love? What themes or issues did you explore or work out through your reading choices? We’d love to hear your comments below (and get book recommendations!).

* In this conversation, I use the term “slash fanfic” incorrectly: “slash fanfic” is specific to fanfic that creates a romantic situation between two characters of the same sex, and I was using it in a more general way to indicate fanfic that was sexually explicit. That was inaccurate. I certainly have no problem with same-sex romances in fanfic or in real life, but DO have misgivings about “mature” fanfic featuring characters I loved in my pre-adolescent time, especially really, really bad fanfic that is less erotic than it is pornographic. I’ll never see Mr. Prezioso the same way.

Reading Adrienne Rich in Oklahoma with a bunch of boys

Reading Adrienne Rich was such an incendiary experience for me that I actually contemplated burning my copy of Diving Into The Wreck when we were finished with it. My friend/roommate/fellow-English-major-cum-feminist was aghast, and I realized she was right. So, my copy of Diving remained intact, though I don’t know where it is anymore. 

My sophomore year in college was epic. I was coming off a fatally fucked up relationship and had decided to do everything different that year. I walked over a mile to school on the first day of that fall semester and surfed into class on an endorphin high. I’d decided to join the women’s rugby team and be social with someone other than my former boyfriend, who’d fled the confines of our relationship to the snowy north. We read Diving Into the Wreck in Mr. Frank’s 2313 course in the English Department at the University of Oklahoma: the first required course for English majors, which schooled us in close reading analysis. It was a room full of college sophomores from a red state – I mean a deep red state; our school color was crimson – who’d idly thought we’d like to continue talking about Wordsworth and Shakespeare rather than train as accountants or engineers. We’d checked a box next to English as our major and declared war with ourselves, unknowingly, because Frank was a bit of a gatekeeper. He insisted that English majors question everything, and do so with perfect grammar. The class was full of boys, and we crammed into a seminar room the size of a tinder box: a handful of us brave enough to sit around the oak table where Frank sat at the head, the rest of the group ringing us in desks shoved against the wall, stacked in the corner.

He broke us in with Hemingway’s short stories. Each week, we wrote an intensive close reading analysis: papers that were two or three pages long, single spaced, which Frank returned covered in meticulous corrections and commentary in blue ink. He’d select one or two to read aloud as examples. We learned about synecdoche and metonymy and to never, ever “violate the chronology” of a text. He chastened me for depending too much on the dash for emphasis; when I switched to semi-colons, he advised me to actually learn how to use them before abusing them. On a friend’s essay, he drew a line under the third paragraph and next to it he wrote, “I stopped reading here.” So before we even got to Rich’s mindblowing stuff, we were poised unsteadily; shaken. Because, we’d thought we were really smart and this would be fine, and we were wrong. We had a lot to learn and a long way to go. Some people saw this as an occasion to dig in and get serious; some started seeing Frank as the devil incarnate. For me, Frank was hands down, the best teacher I had in college: the smartest, craziest, most intense, and most desperate that we actually learn. The guy was basically losing his mind trying to get a bunch of idiots to think critically. He fought the good fight, sometimes putting his purple plastic coin purse on his head to diffuse tension; sometimes pounding his fist on the table, his face red and eyes ablaze, just pissed at us.

This is supposed to be about Adrienne Rich, and it is. We read Diving into the Wreck next. I hung out with a bunch of guys in that class. We were supposed to be friends, or a study group, or something, but mostly we got together and complained about Frank’s class. Initially, we agreed he was a genius, but as the semester wore on, there was less consensus on anything beyond the certainty that he was going to have a breakdown. I was a naïve co-ed and knew nothing about feminism – real feminism, anyway – until I read Adrienne Rich. Starting my feminist education with Rich was baptism by fire: her work is polemical, striking at the foundations of cultural institutions like marriage and motherhood. I don’t remember her WORDS so much as her IDEAS, although rereading “Diving Into the Wreck” I remember spending hours trying to make sense of the knife, the camera, the book of myths; “I go down.”

Reading Rich in a closeknit group of men with something to prove was, ya know, REALLY WEIRD. I was thrilled to be one of the guys, thrilled to drink Minnesota Spew out of cans and smoke clove cigarettes on the porch, talking about poetry and cinema with other smart people. God, I’d been waiting my whole life for that. But it was uncomfortable. The more we dug into Rich’s radical concepts of gender as social construct, of women as powerful, of society as essentially, profoundly sexist, the more I turned the mirror to myself and asked unsettling questions about my relationships with and to men. I’d accepted some pretty awful treatment from my first boyfriend, and had spent most of my life seeking the approval of men. I recognized myself, and hated myself, in her words. I thought she is right, and in class I spoke up quite a bit, but I also wanted those guys to like me! I wanted them to be my pals! I wanted to date one or all of them! But our gatherings evolved increasingly into pseudo-debates about gender and sex acted out primarily through pissing contests between a few of the guys over who could tell the most offensively racist or sexist joke. Most of the jokes involved turning any conversation into an opportunity to use the punchline “Baby, why you gotta make me hurt you?”

Damn me and my penchant for funny, charismatic men: I had a huge crush on one of the worst offenders in the group. The cognitive dissonance generated by aggressively pursuing this guy and reading Rich at the same time is almost impossible to describe. We hung out some and made out some, but it didn’t really go anywhere. The next semester, I spent an insane amount of money buying a special edition of Army of Darkness as a Valentine’s Day gift; only later would I discover he had another girl in his apartment when I gave it to him. I thought I could wear him down by being his version of awesome, which meant eschewing the protofeminist within and swearing, loudly and in front of people, that if I had a chance I would definitely fuck Britney Spears.

Another confession: Mr. Frank once chewed me out for calling Adrienne Rich a “chick.”

Yes. I did that.

But in the spring, after the class had wrapped up (we finished the semester with an analysis of Vertigo using Berger’s Ways of Seeing), the shine was fading from this social group. One of our members wrote an hilarious send-up of the class that he titled Frank Club, in which Frank had us do a close reading of “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?” We were each lampooned for our classroom quirks: Brian for always wearing a baseball cap; me for always having something to say; Matthew for taking the conversation in a twisted direction that no one could follow; and the rest of the guys (including my Crush) simply figured out a way to turn it into “Baby, why you gotta make me hurt you?” (This was a brilliant piece of satire and I wish I could reread it.)

I remember a party in early March at our friend James’s house. My Crush showed up and spent the entire time kung fu fighting with this other guy who I thought was a completely phony, pretentious jackass. And for the first time I really looked at him and asked myself how he was different from the jackass. Most of our parties, I’d realized, were really just an exercise in performances of masculinity, and this elaborate sparring was about as close to a literal cock fight as I’d ever seen. And that just no longer impressed me in any way. What was I really interested in, beyond his admittedly extremely good looks?

The next week, I wrote an essay for my Interpersonal Communications class. I had to compare and contrast two relationships in my life. I wrote about my Crush and my Friend, both guys from Frank Club. When I got the paper back, my teacher had simply written, WHAT ARE YOU GETTING OUT OF THIS RELATIONSHIP? next to the section on my Crush.

I thought about all these guys I’d been hanging out with and my extremely bad taste in men in the past and wondered why I was so attracted to charismatic dudes who were easily threatened by a powerful and smart lady. I decided to make a change, and try dating someone nice. Someone who seemed respectful and was a good listener rather than a good talker. Someone who might be threatened by Rich, but didn’t reject her outright. I picked Friend, a boy with a quiet presence, a person I always found myself looking for at parties and always happy to see. Plus, he smoked and god, it was sexy.

I invited Friend over to watch Temptation Island and waited for him to work up the guts to kiss me. It took approximately five hours. Finally, his heart pounding and palms sweaty, he kissed me: a long, soft, lovely first kiss just after midnight on March 29th. In about a month, we were making out to The Bends in his dorm room while the pear trees bloomed, and by the end of the semester, we were In Love. We got married three years later. (Happy kiss-iversary, Brian.)

It’s funny to me that so much about my Adrienne Rich story has to do with my relationships with and to white dudes, but that’s the truth. I started to expect better from the people around me, stopped changing myself to please men, and recognized myself as a smart and powerful person. Pretty soon I was reading Friedan and telling Brian that my worst nightmare would be living in the suburbs with a minivan (how I went from that to, ya know, living in the suburbs with a Camry is a whole other story). I ended up writing a feminist analysis of Anne Sexton’s poetry as an Honors thesis, directed by Mr. Frank. He also encouraged me to go to grad school in American Studies (oh well, can’t win ‘em all).

Rich planted the seeds of feminism in my fertile and doubting mind, and I started making better choices. My whole me was shaped by reading her work and for that, I am grateful.