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You have to read to understand

Spoiler alert: This post reveals plot secrets from The Fault in our Stars.

Last night I lost someone dear to me. He was young, not yet 18 but cancer doesn’t always care for age, or for charm or for a life worth living. I spent only a week or so getting to know him, growing to love him. His name was Augustus Waters, a boy fashioned from runaway words and grand gestures, who taught me that there can be an infinity of life in only a few breaths of time, to see the vigorous green of grass, the beauty of a blind man tossing eggs at an ex-girlfriends car, and that the loss of limb doesn’t mean you lose the sparkle in your eyes.

I admit I never actually met Augustus. I only got to know him in my head, a voyeur on a life I wasn’t really a part of, eavesdropping on private conversations and inner thoughts. But I loved him, because really, you don’t have to meet someone for their story to touch or move or change you.

Today, I still think about Augustus because he was so special, but I have new lives to distract me. Lenke and Josef, who met and married before WWII, lost each other and have somehow, through the unexplainable beauty of the universe re-found themselves in the golden years of life.

I am just getting to know them, but soon, they will be rounded out and real enough to hug. I will learn their full story, and I will cherish them as I have Augustus and so many others. Because each book I read is a secret window into another world, with some fascinating people but often with ordinary ones, but always ones who capture my affection and my imagination.

I don’t know where I’d be without the comfort and joy of books. They are a gift in my life that sheltered me when I was young from the shouting in my house and the noises in my head. From the first, my palette was insatiable. Truly, I cannot be without a book. It makes me edgy, not to have a place I can run to and hide or fly or laugh or cry.

I open a book and I open my life. So thank you Madeline L’Engle , Judy Blume, Jonathon Tropper, Herman Hesse, Ayn Rand, Larry McMurtry, Jean M. Auel, V.C. Andrews, Sydney Sheldon, James Michener, Ken Follett, Jane Austen, John Green and so so so many others for creating stories and lives that inspire and engage me; for lifting me up and bringing me down just when I needed them, for making me see the world through someone else’s eyes, challenge my mind and grow my heart.

I know the sun will rise and fall on every life someday. We are just breaths of air, but pages are breaths filled with cinnamon and spice that draw you in and make you want to take their face in your hands and kiss them, whether on each cheek or full on the mouth.

Even when I turn that final page, I carry you all with me.

Augustus has died. Long live Augustus.

fault in stars

A review of books and parenting

Okay, so I’m a week or two, or three, over deadline, but the last challenge in the 31 days to a Better Blog over at Yeah Write was to write a review. Even though I’ve never written a review, I’ve recently read some pretty good books, so I figured, why not? And because I’m quite the multi-tasker, I thought I’d try a double review, of both books and my parenting skills.

How do those things tie together you wonder? Let me introduce you to my rating system.

1 star – I’m making fresh dinners, playing ball with the kids on the lawn, going bike riding, etc… Book? What book? Oh, right… that thing in my bag getting covered in cookie crumbs and marks from loose crayons.

2 stars – Kids and I are running and playing. The book comes out randomly while waiting for kids to finish up whatever they are doing. Still rather watch Housewives.

3 stars – I’m reading while pretending to watch kids play on lawn. Here’s an iTouch, kid, now go away. We’re out for pizza dinner, where I read and ignore their antics, oblivious to any dirty looks.

4 stars – Hiding in bathroom to finish chapter. Will fix your boo boo after I finish my page. Here’s some scissors, go play outside. How annoying, you want to eat? Fine. Humph! Sure watch TV all night. Just don’t bother me, I’m reading.

Now that you know the system, here’s a review of the last four books I’ve read.

I just finished Plan B by Jonathan Tropper. Tropper wrote, This is where I leave you, one of my favorite reads, certainly of last year – or it may have been the year before that, who could tell with how fast these years fly. It may even make my all-time top 10, although I’d really have to give that some more thought. Anyway, total Tropper voice in a likable ensemble, only he’s 30 years-old and having an identity crisis… Who am i? What am I doing with my life? Whine, whine. Filled with fun, 80’s references and easy to read, but lacking the depth, heartbreak and hilarity of This is where I leave you. Plan B gets a B –  2 ½ stars.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I picked this book up because I read somewhere that Anne Lamott recommended it. And truly, since reading Bird By Bird decades back, I will read whatever Anne writes and I will read whatever Anne recommends. I still fondly recall being so inspired by that book, I’d run to my desk early to ignore my work and write. Ah, those were the days.

Me Before You is the story of a quadriplegic who wants to die and his caretaker who has no life. Sounds depressing, but it’s actually not heavy handed and I was completely sucked in. So sucked in that for the three nights it took me to finish, my kids had cereal and milk and apples for dinner. Which is way better than when I was reading the Hunger Games, because no one ate during the 18 hours it took me to finish that book. Me Before You – 3 1/2 stars.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight is about a mother trying to piece together the details surrounding her daughter’s unexpected death by retracing her last days on social media. Once I started, I was hooked. Reminiscent of Gone Girl in the suspenseful pacing, and changing perspectives, just not as psychotic or as good. A great summer read, even after summer. Solid 3 stars.

Starring Jules by Beth Ain. Yep, it’s a children’s book. This charming story about a feisty 2nd grader preparing for an audition for a mouthwash commercial completely captures youth in all its nervous hopefulness. From navigating friendship to conquering your fears, Jules voice is so truly, precociously eight, you can’t help but love her and root for her. What made this book even better was that I could enjoy it with my kids, so I couldn’t ignore them at all, thus placing its rating completely off the charts.

So what I’ve learned here is that unless you’re reading together, good books mean bad parenting. But that hasn’t deterred me. Hopefully, my kids will see how much I love books, then someday they will ignore their own children. A parent can only hope. books