Exam #1: Are You Ready to Think about Considering Preparing to Begin Studying ?

1. What is the format of Exam #1? Is it Essay? Matching? Multiple Choice? Maps? All of the above?
2. What % of your grade is Exam #1?
3. How much class $ can you put towards Exam #1?
4. Where are all the questions for Exam #1 posted?
5. Explain your game plan for studying for this exam.

1 - Exam #1 is all free-response questions requiring answers from one to five sentences long.
2 - Exam #1 is 10% of your course grade. That might not sound like much, but remember also that Exam #1 is an indicator of the quality of your effort, attendance, note-taking, preparation and critical thinking. Scoring poorly on this exam is an indicator that something isn't "working" and needs to be adjusted ASAP.
3 - You don't know how much class money you can put towards the exam? Definitely bring that up in class before you plan on buying out of too much of the exam!
4 - There is no magic site with all the questions posted. I have found that when I give students too many specific questions they memorize the answer instead of working through learning the material. Use the terms/phrases/quotes posted at the beginning of lecture as your study guide. That's why you come to class early. Did you think you were just supposed to be there to hear stories about hamsters and etc?
5 -  Please have a game plan. Don't let it be "look over my notes one time on the morning before the exam."  
One last thing. Your grade doesn't affect the Super Bowl. Please don't let the Super Bowl affect your grade.

32 Books: Chapter 15: Book #12: Amazing Smart Cool

I wake up at 3:30am, wide wide awake like it’s noon and the sun is shining on my face.  At first I try to go back to sleep but then I watch all three episodes of Girls from this season and remember why I love it.  I look for a new show of Shameless, but no, not yet. 

At 5am I turn towards the next book on my pile. I was about to start a different book, one I’d seen in stores and heard of; one that my daughter proclaimed she’d read and loved. But I make a last minute switch in the line up.  My last two books had been translated from French and taken me through the world. I wasn’t ready to settle back into English and America, so I chose the book translated from Japanese. 

The author catches my attention with the opening paragraph like a bell ringing at a tea ceremony. I fall mesmerized into story after story of love, loss, and horror and haunting. It’s sooooo good.

This book is not an easy read.  Every name was a challenge to remember, every place a new point in the universe that recalled nothing familiar in my world. If I thought I’d be taking a rigorous exam on this book there is no way I could have finished it in less than three days.

Many years ago – seriously, I might have been in elementary school – I saw a show on speed-reading that said if you could hear your own voice narrating the words in your head you are reading too slowly.  So instead of pronouncing crazy places in exotic books, I just see them as a symbol, remember them and move to the next paragraph.

About halfway through the book my eyes burn and I get a great idea. Any other day I’d have to be getting the kids up, running in circles for hours. Today I have a choice, and I choose to pull a thick comforter over my head and fall into a dreamless sleep.

My son wakes me up with a loud MOM! in my face.  I get the impression he had set off on a hunt for me and that moment was the end of his game. He won, I lost. Yay.

I make myself a bagel and coffee  (and nothing for him because he woke me up, thank you very much) and fall back into Book #12.

Each chapter holds my attention then fades into gray like an episode of Twilight Zone. Every story on its own is perfect and enough, but strung together they hold me breathless.

I race towards the end to see how the author strings together people across times and lives, pulling them together like a drawstring.

It turns out this isn’t THAT kind of book. There is no moment where it comes together. This isn’t Cloud Atlas or Forrest Gump or anything that simple.

The last spooky amazing smart cool ghost story ends simply and as I finish I realize the entire book feels like one big Zen koan story. This author wrote for a  smart, creative and reflective audience, one that lets stories grow in their imaginations like bamboo.

I loved it. 

32 Books: Chapter 14: Coming Up for Air

Today I finished Book #12 and sat numbly until I created a self-diagnosis of mental jetlag after visiting sky castles of stories in the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus whatever century Hunger Games is set in. 

 I know where I am (Tallahassee) and what I do (drive, laundry, sweep the floor, grade, mascara, dishes, lecture, write, be nice to people) but adding 4 and 5 hours of reading a day on top of all that is making my brains feel a little like mashed potatoes. 

Cold mashed potatoes.  Awesome. 

Book #11 deserved a week of it's own, a honeymoon to sink into my mind and breathe spirit into my thoughts.  After reading that book I sit differently, breathe differently, listen differently.  I am awakened, changed, inspired, awed, and thankful. The story was as subtle as a breeze, as profound as silence, and as graceful, transient and forgiving as a butterfly.

It’s too cold to go for an ACTUAL run outside, but reading all these books day after day after day I feel like a marathon runner passing by and through these sky castles of book shaped stories, not sitting down in any and making myself too comfortable.  

Staying in one sky castle of a story wouldn't be fair.  I know I keep calling this project “32 Books My College Students Assigned Me” but my first-draft count of 32 books didn’t include the books sent as pdfs and iBooks and ebooks and the one that a student had to have his Mom ship from overseas. 
In reality I have closer to 40 books to read and contemplate and write about.

 Meanwhile my current students and former students and colleagues and former history teachers keep suggesting more books for me and I don’t know what to do.

Accept them all and let this project grow to 50 books? 75?

 Or say enough, no more?!

 What do you do when the universe tries to shower you with blessings?

 Ask it to stop until you can go shopping for a cute monogrammed backpack to catch them in? Or improvise? 

I think I’d do the latter. It’s more fun.

Writing about this adventure (remember, I told my students I could read ALL these books AND write a book) takes my attention too, but I said I would, so here I am, doing it.

For some reason – maybe from the wisdom in the books I’m reading?? – waves of compassion roll over me.

I wonder how my students feel when they have to work all day, read 50 pages of a textbook that covers a topic they aren’t interested in, do math homework, write an essay, mop the floor, read 20 more pages and take an online quiz while taking their kids to Target, Publix, movies and the mall.
I think my job – my race – this semester is easier; every one of this books is a place worth exploring, hours worth investing.  And I don’t have to do it again next semester if I don’t want to. That alone makes me savor every bit of Book #13.

But before I read another page of the very good, very very very good Book 13, I have more writing to do because I haven’t told you about Book #12 yet, the one I started at 5am which dropped me in the (very haunted, very real) world of 18th century Japan.

32 Books: Chapter 13: Book #11: The Book that did NOT Make Me Happy.

This adventure of having students assign me books this semester has brought me wisdom and treasure from corners of the human imagination I could not have imagined and would not have found on my own. 

I've been out of graduate school since the 1990s and so its been a very long time since people have assigned me books and expected me to read the book in a timely manner and report back.

For the past 20-odd years I've been assigning myself books. I know what I like.  I know what I won't read and can't finish.

Example #1: Harry Potter books -- all, yes, definitely.

Example #2: The last book of 50 Shades of porn series. No.  I couldn't take reading another word about this helpless codependent nubile girl in love with a flawed billionaire who basically can't get close to her without her agreeing to let him beat her. Even if you gave me this book for free, I don't think I'd read it. It just isn't the way I want to spend my free time.

Example #3: Every and anything by Irish writer Marian Keyes.  Yes. I've been hooked since Rachel's Holiday (1997), a book about a "holiday" in rehab.  Every single one of the rest of her books (even the memoir that has an extensive discussion on foundation samples) is smart and valuable.

Example #4: The last book of the series that starts with Divergent.  I tried. I tried and tried again but this series leaves me so cold that as people die I don't cry, I don't care, and sometimes I just don't notice. Thumbs down. Maybe the movies will be better than the books.

Example #5   Anything and everything by Isabel Allende, Mirta Ojito, Margaret George, Phillipa Gregory, Wally Lamb, Toni Morrison,  and Margaret Atwood.

Example #6: Cookbooks. No. I don't understand. Pictures of food, but no food? I buy a book and you tell ME to buy more things, and then you want me to work? I don't get it. No thanks.

Example #7: Book #11. I would by 100 copies of this book and give it away to the next 100 people I see.

Book #11 did not make me happy.

 I need to be clear about that. I finished this book hours ago and I'm still not smiling.

This morning I ran early to breakfast so I could have a window of time to start the book. It was so good that my coffee grew cold as I sat motionless for almost 45 minutes.

The author of this book was used by the universe like a tree is used on a funeral pyre.  This (sad? happy? brilliant? tragic? beautiful?) story came through him, changed him, and warms everyone who reads it.

When I came home from breakfast (with donuts and croissants, for the record, because the record matters) I was halfway through this 100-ish page book, and crazy to finish it.

 My kids wanted to know when we would go here and get that, and return this, and fix that, and do the five other things I promised I would do today.

My tone with them wasn't kind.

 I **have** to finish this. This author had a horrible stroke and was left so immobilized he could only wink his left eye. He dictated the story by winking out a code to his transcriber. Every letter, every word in this story is sacred.

They get it. I'm an introvert. When I feel big things and think big thoughts, I need to be alone to turn inwards and process them bit by bit until I'm ready to talk.

I can't stand anyone talking to me while I follow this author through Paris  through his final stories as he ties up his life and looks (tragically? heroically? beautifully?) forward to being freed from the prison of his body.

Although I told the kids I'd be done reading at 1pm, I finished the book at 12:30 and sat in silence and sort out the rainbow of thoughts that paraded through my imagination after finishing  this delicious work of art.

32 Books: Chapter 12: Book #10: Sometimes Happiness is not knowing the whole story.

Book #10 was supposed to be a yellow book with a butterfly on the cover, but in my hurry to get somewhere (and be there first, and happily wait with a book) I left it at home on the dining room table right next to my laptop  

So I reached into the blue bag of books that I now carry everywhere with me and pull out the thinnest book.

 I really want to read that butterfly-looking book, so I'm thinking this thin book will be a quick read; surely I can read these 150 pages before dinner and then knock another book out after that.  Ooh, it's translated from French. Bonus.

Two pages into the book I realize this isn't a book that can be skimmed. 

This book is as engaging and wise as books like  The Alchemist (Coehlo), and Illusions (Bach) and ten feet deeper than anything I've read from Dr. Wayne Dyer.

The narrative is bare, direct, vivid, and every single word matters to what comes next. This writer knew exactly what he wanted to say and how he wanted to take readers on this journey across the world with a man on a mindful pilgrimage to understand happiness. 

Along the way way, the man writes out the lessons he learns as they unfold.

Twenty pages into the book I grab my folder (the one my son DIDN"T puke on! Yay!) and write "I love this book, it's smart."

This is the first book I've read that I had to (wanted to!) take notes from and create a list of quotes.

I have only one problem.

Twice on his journey the man meets lovely women with whom he connects deeply and "does what people in love do" but then doesn't explain it. 

What? What? I want to know!  Tell me!!! 

Oh well. To quote this book, "Lesson #5: Sometimes Happiness is not knowing the whole story."

32 Books: Chapter 11: Book #9: The Dirtiest One Yet

When a student handed me this book I immediately liked it.

 It was the right color, with the right image on the cover, and the title was just crazy enough to make me think the author would tell colorful stories.

When I was reading another book, one I said I loved, people texted and emailed and facebooked me to ask if it was THIS book.

No, no it wasn't, but after 4 people thought THIS book would be a good one for me I moved it up on my list from "After all the books by Nicolas Sparks and John Grisham" to "Before all the books by Nicolas Sparks and John Grisham."

This was the RIGHT book for me.

If you read Marvin's Book, you probably know the story about the Potty Soldiers with Tails.

 This book opens with a story equally crazy, equally funny. Before I start the second chapter I'm in love with the world this author remembers, the one he walks us through week by week and room by room.

 Book #9 holds my attention hour after hour. Somehow I put chicken in the oven and boil some whatever to go with it. I don't remember, I don't care, I can't put this book down, I don't want to walk away from this adventure.

Then I hit the dirty part. This book has two graphic sex scenes (neither of which involves a woman ....) more than the first 9 books I read combined.  After reading so many G and PG books, I love love loved the start intimate honest perspective the author shared.

 I wasn't ready for that, I don't know what to think about it; I can't tell if it is consensual or rape, if it is harmful or if is love, and neither can the author.

 I care so much about the narrator I can't leave him there, so young and vulnerable.

After 200 pages I don't want to read any more because I don't want the book to end, but I can't stop reading.

When I finish the book Zack asks for help with his homework and I can't help him. I can't think, I've read so much, I've been so many places across so many centuries I just need to sleep a little and let all these stories seep into my soul.

32 Books My College Students Assigned Me: Chapter 10: Book #8 - Grief, Mercy, Joy

I bring a stack of four books to my Tuesday/Thursday afternoon class. I see this class so much less than I see my MWF classes, so I try harder to connect with them.

After getting the first slide up so everyone can copy what they need to copy before lecture, I read the books out to the class.

A bunch of students who appear to be intelligent, warm and good people tell me to read a certain book. No one comments on the other 3. I take that as a sign and dive into Book #8 while waiting in my first round of carpickup at the elementary school.

I spend more time dropping kids off and picking kids up than I do actually teaching college, and I know this part of my life is passing, so I try to make the most of it.

The cover doesn't look like a book I'd buy.
From the Title, I'm expecting a teenage slasher book, where people go somewhere and then someone murders them all.

I quickly find out from the tone and the topic how wrong I am.

I'm transfixed. The author pulls me in page by page. I barely make dinner, barely notice my kids.

This book is amazing. It grabs you at the beginning, puts its arm around you, and walks you down a steep narrow path of pain, grief, forgiveness, mercy and joy.

I cried my way through the last chapters, but it was a different cry than the other books.

This isn't a romantic love story; it's a love story for anyone who has faced tragedy and lived with overwhelming sadness and hoped for some sort of sign, some sort of redemption.

When the book ends I stayed still on the sofa and stared at the ceiling, absorbing every bit of the lesson this books teaches. 

If I could, I would wait another week, another month before reading another book. This book is so good it needs to be savored and processed.

This is the kind of book you read, talk about, pass on, and then buy 10 copies of so you can give it as gifts to people who just know will read this story and find peace. 

It's exhausting and exhilarating and the view from the end of the book feels like standing on the top of a mountain on a clear warm night and staring at the Milky Way.

The next day I go to my MWF classes and ask who has read Book 8.  Several students raise their hands then look at me like they can't believe I read it and loved it.

I tell them I agree and that I'd like to wait awhile before reading another book BUT I hear Book #9 is soooo good, so I think I'm going to just keep reading.

A student raises his hand in the back. 

It's before lecture, so raising hands isn't needed, but I appreciate his formality.

HOW are you reading all these books this quickly?

I smile. 100 pages an hour means a 400 page book in 4 hours. And I told myself if I hate a book I'd put it down, but every book I've been assigned has been so good, I feel like this is Christmas and my Birthday and I'm tearing through a pile of the most thoughtful precious gifts ever.

He's happy with my answer.

We go on to liberate Panama from Columbia, negotiate and build the Panama Canal and pay canalimony.

After class I go to my office and read a few pages of Book #9. The author is so shockingly irreverently funny I can't help but laugh so loudly a colleague comes to my door to see what's going on and if I'm OK.

I'm Ok. I'm OK. I read her the passage where the author says his mom was crazy, but not "paint the kitchen red" crazy; his mom was "make toothpaste sandwiches and believed she was God" crazy.

Satisfied I'm not losing my mind, she goes off to class and off to her world, but I spend the rest of my day peeking into the candid colorful world of Book #9.

32 Books My College Students Assigned Me: Chapter 9: Book #7: Why We Broke Up

I wake up on Monday morning early and without an alarm, ready to read Book #7.

Over the past years I've had many students ask me if I'd read it and I told each one  with a bright smile, NO, I saw the movie, it was horrifyingly violent and I hoped they'd all die so I wouldn't have to watch a horrifyingly violent sequel.

And each student said in response, the book is so much better.

They were all right.

Two pages into the book I can't put it down.

Seventy pages later I'm wondering how I could maybe assign this book in class.

Then I remember. I don't know how or why I forgot, but now, I remember it so clearly.

Zoe read this book in elementary school, and came home crying.

She cried all night one night and the next day and the next unconsolably waiting "Oh Mom she DIED, it's as if PRIM died, but oh MOM she's DEAD.. I'm so sad, so sad, I can't believe she's dead....."

Maybe I was busy grading?
Maybe I was binge-watching Grey's Anatomy?
Was that the year I discovered Gordon Ramsey?

Whatever was going on in my world, I didn't really understand how great this book must be to have moved my daughter so profoundly.

Today I asked her if she remembers what I did when she was crying.

You were nice, at first, but you didn't understand.

I agree. I didn't understand how powerfully moving a book could be, I didn't understand you were reading a book THIS good. How could I have not begged you to lend it to me next?

She nods.

You kinda broke up with me when I didn't seem to care about what you were reading.

She nods and says nothing.

So I ask her if she can lend me her copy of Finding Alaska, and we hug it out before I get back to the last pages of Book #7.

 I know how this book ends (thanks, movie, thanks for ruining that!) but the writing is so good that I can forget the movie and settle into this dystopian anti-princess tale.

32 Books My College Students Assigned Me: Book #6:Oh no, this is THAT book.

On Friday between classes when I was packing a stack of books to bring home and read, I was inspired by the awesomeness of Book #1 to select books I knew were from the Florida-Georgia Border.

 Book #2 is not a history narrative or a memoir or anything geographically relevant. Book #3 is sit in middle America. 

Books #1, 4, 5, and 6 are take the reader through the US's southern frontier, a place as violent and exciting as the "Wild West" depicted in so many AMC films.

A student offered me a choice of two book: one by a Victorian-era British author, the other by a celebrated American. 

I'd been assigned both books in college, way back in the ancient 1980s.

 I  pluck the American author's book from the student and handing her a piece of class money. I'm not excited to read it, but I don't dread it. The cover and title reveal nothing, and the story castle hidden between the pages seems far away and hazy to me, like I'm trying to focus after rubbing itchy eyes too hard. 

I started reading (re-reading?) Book #6 early Sunday morning.  Ten minutes into reading it, a bright rainbow shines outside my window. I try to take a picture with my iPhone but it is cold and no picture can capture what it feels like to laugh at a wet cold surprise rainbow on a January morning.

The first pages of the book are very very familiar.  I stop reading and offer to make bacon for the six children sprawled across my living room, waking up from a long night of giggling and whatever they did so quietly it didn't bother me at all.

"Make the GOOD bacon!" both my kids call out to me and I balk back, "Is there BAD bacon?" 

The other kids laugh and I occupy myself frying strip after strip, keeping the pan from getting too hot, too cold.  


I leave the bacon on the counter and go back to the book without announcing a thing.

If they're hungry, they'll make their way.  

I curl back up with the book and then something in the story turns and  book goes back off through history and time, taking the reader through 25 years of this woman's life in frontier Florida.  

Meanwhile, a parade of kids go by me, called by the smell of bacon. They drink water and milk and orange juice and if they ask me any questions I couldn't hear them because I was lost in this story.

After 100 pages I shake myself out of the book and announce to the kids, "I thought I read this, but if I'd read this I'm sure I'd assign it in class! But I don't assign it! I'm losing my mind!"

Zack comes close to me and inspects the book. "You have this book. It's blue."

"It's blue," I agree. 

And knowing who I used to be when I was assigned the book, it probably has notes all over it preparing myself for some debate or to make some point. I was all about putting the story in context, analyzing the means of oppression, looking for symbols embedded in the narrative.

I had no idea (or maybe when I read it I wasn't in a place to notice or a place to care) that this was a LOVE story, a coming-of-age, growing into a full person making hard choices at hard times LOVE story. 

Four hours later I'm still transfixed by the story. 

A hurricane looms. They don't evacuate. 

Oh no. Oh no, this is THAT book.

I put the book down and pace by the sofa. I want to do something else, anything else. 

If this is the book I suddenly remember it to be, it's as sad as Old Yeller.  

No, worse, as sad as Old Yeller meets Hurricane Katrina.

 I want a break, I want to watch Gordon Ramsey yell at someone, but I can't put the book down. 

 I sit like a statue until I turn the last page. I love this character so much I want to read another book and another and if she ever dies I want to read books with her voice narrating things from heaven.

 If you like The Color Purple,  The Grapes of Wrath, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Help or To Kill a Mockingbird, I think you'll like this.

 If you read this book many years ago, before you could connect to a 40 year old woman narrator, read it again. There is wisdom and history  treasure shining from these pages.

32 Books: Chapter 7: Book #5: Is There a Nice Way to Ask?

 When I asked my students to bring me a good book, I honestly didn’t expect this one. Really. It’s a good book. 

I bought it for myself, paid full price for a hardback copy fresh off that press at a real bookstore back when people regularly did such things, then read every word of every page of this memoir written by an Ivy League professor.

I know why I bought and read the book.  

 I read the author’s first book, loved it, and enjoyed this one just as much. I’m 99% sure my copy of this book is in a box in the garage, but if it isn’t there I either lent it to a student or it’s on the third shelf in my office, next to a huge book by Hugh Thomas.

When the student handed this book to me after class I didn’t pay her any class money because she (again) arrived late and therefore owed me money. Maybe that's why I got this weird feeling, maybe I judge late students too harshly. 
I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t expect THIS book from THIS student, but I’m just honestly telling you the truth.  

If my student really did read this book, I see her in a different light. Maybe she’s more like me than she appears, maybe comes from people who are new to America, maybe that’s why she read this book.

I make a silent promise to ask the student in class, in a nice way, if she really read the book.  

Is there a nice way to do that?

If she did, she’s going to understand this class on a different level because she’s walked through a first hand account of several major things I’ll be covering during the Cold War.

If she didn’t read the book, that’s OK, I’m still thankful for the hours I spent today with this smart book written by a great historian and author.

I turn my attention to the last book I've brought home to read and write about on  this long MLK weekend. 

32 Books: Chapter 6: Anywhere Else, Any Other Time

I get up before my alarm goes on Saturday morning, make one perfect cup of coffee  and re-start book #4.

It opens somewhere familiar. I like this. I’ve never been to New York or California or Peru or a gazillion other places, but I’ve visited them in books and tried to understand the landscape. This book is set somewhere I know so well I feel the salty breeze on my cheeks and imagine the tropical moon and stars exactly where they should be on the balmy night the book opens.

This is the book I’d started earlier, the one that opens with words that fire out in a percussive rhythm so catchy I can only compare it to a Lorde song. The first page slips into the second and the third and I am enchanted by this writers voice but then I realize how intimately familiar I am with this story.

 I know what’s going to happen. And then what happens after that.

Dammit. They really did make the series based on this book. 

I read three more chapters quickly while sipping my coffee and head off to the most important part of my day.


It’s been over a year since one of my students left for war and asked me to keep an eye out for his Mom.  No problem. I took her to breakfast, and since then we go to breakfast every two weeks. 

Most of the time we order the same things. Sometimes I think I’m going to change but I don’t. I like what I like. 

For an hour every two weeks we both get hot food and one person’s undivided attention.  We supported each other while he was gone, and we’re supporting each other now that he’s back. Plus there are grits and hash browns involved. It’s an awesome arrangement.

While cutting her eggs into neat squares she leans towards me and says “He might go back. He thinks he wants to.”

I sit quiet and let this sink in.While he was there he wanted to be here. But now he wants to go? I wonder how hard it is for soldiers to come back from war and  shrink themselves down to fit under florescent lights in big box stores.  

It must feel like busy work, detention, time out. 

Or maybe it’s a relief. I don’t know.

She continues, if he volunteers, he knows where he’s going and when and with what unit. If he doesn’t, then they can send him where and when they want.

She tells me where.

I take it in for one beat, two beats.

 A younger me would have flipped a plate and shouted ARE YOU NUTS? THERE? NOW? HELL NO!! ANYWHERE ELSE ANY OTHER TIME!! NO NO NO!

But I’m a grown up now. I have to play by certain rules and also get my oil changed regularly. 

He wants to go? I ask.

She nods and takes a deep inhaling breath of silence.

I nod back.

Well this is a surprise, it really is.

She nods back and we nod together for a moment, breathing, exhaling, eating eggs and silently agreeing to not throw plates.

After I take her home, I settle back into book #4 and I want to really like it, I want to be delighted by it, but it’s all so familiar that I almost can’t bear it.

This must be what a student feels like when they take a class that covers material they already had.

 I imagine them looking at the professor with a scowl and  thinking hurry up, say something I don’t know, then disappearing into Instagram until the class seems worth joining again.

Unlike books 1, 2, and 3, I can’t wait to put book #4 down.

It wasn’t the book, it was me. I wanted to jot down everything I’d been thinking and write first drafts of chapters and get rolling on the REST of  project I told my students I would do, which is to not only read all the books they give me but also WRITE a book as well. If I can do this while juggling work and kids, they can do what I ask them to do. I don’t have any more hours in the day than anyone else. 

But I have a secret. I love writing so words and stories and chapters come hard and fast to me. 

If I’d promised my students I’d run a marathon, we’d be in a different game here entirely. I’d need new shoes, a new hoodie (Grape? Lime green?) with an iphone pocket, and after spending a day or a week or whatever taking my time buying those, I’d probably find fifteen more obstacles after that to even beginning to talk about starting.

Before my daughter wakes I’m on my computer.
 Chapter 1 done.
Chapter 2 done, Chapter 3 done. 

I hope she reads these chapters, especially now that we are more deeply bonded forever since I’ve read a book she likes.

I’m ankle deep in Chapter 4 when Zoe wakes up and plops herself down next to me on the sofa.

Good morning. I lean over to kiss her but she shrinks away.

You’re writing a book. I hate it when you write books.

I do the thing where I keep a nice smile face and don’t say anything but push record in my head so I can play this scene back over and over.

She continues. You’re all happy and typing away over there. Just last week you said you must be easier to live with when you’re not writing a book. And I agreed. We’ve been through this Mom.



And I want Chikfila.

There’s room in the world for me to write books and Chikfila to exist.

Whatever, she says.

Whatever, I say back, and keep typing away until I’m happy with the first drafts of Chapters 4 and 5.

My kids play with other kids and a pocket of time opens up to finish Book #4.  The words pop like fireworks, making me laugh at horrible horrible thought and things. 

I love it, and if you read it I think you'll love it too.

The book that opened with the main character talking to and about the moon closed with him talking to the moon. It comes together into a satisfyingly delicious tale.

I don’t know what to do with myself, so I look outside.

It’s a full moon, just like in the book, but thanks to this author I see the moon a little bit differently.


32 Books: Chapter 5: Everyone Was Right

It takes almost no time to  fall in love with every deliberately carved intricately beautifully flawed character in Book #3.

Before I finish the first chapter a little bell of longing rings in my stomach. 

I wished I could share this book with my daughter.

The only book I’ve asked her to read was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I checked it out when I was 8, and have read it 1,000 times since.

Zoe didn’t find the book an attractive alternative to some pretty little bitches or whatever series she was reading. 

Since then, I’ve left her alone when it comes to books and authors and all that.

She reads a lot, I read a lot, but we don’t cross book-paths, not since our Barney days together.

And anyway, what kind of mother could ask her daughter to willingly walk into THIS story, knowing it would make her cry?

I didn’t mention the book to her or to my Mom or anyone else who could distract me from doing anything but reading it and reading it and it only just kept getting smarter and more beautifully awesomely delightful.

Halfway through the book I couldn’t take it anymore, so I called out to my daughter who was just on the other side of the room, supervising her brother’s attempt at creating an indoor weapons firing range for himself with Christmas ornaments and such.

Zoe, this book is a book about a girl who deeply loves a book. And I love books and I love THIS book Zoe. It’s SO good!

Zoe stands up and covers her hand with her mouth.

Mom, WHAT are you reading?

I hold up the book.

My daughter steps closer and reads the title.

You’re reading THAT book? OH MOM…. She backs away, eyes wide in shock, hand still covering her mouth.   That’s the book with Augustus, right? RIGHT MOM??

I nod. This is my NEW favorite book and my NEW favorite author.

I am sure of this already, not even knowing yet how the book will end and what pain will demand to be felt in exchange for a book shaped field trip to this particular castle in the sky.

Mom, he’s MY favorite author. I’ve read everything by him. You gave me one of his books for my birthday, it’s in my room. Hold the book up I need a picture for my friends.

 I  do as I’m told, then sit quietly while she send it to her friends.

You can totally take us when it opens, it’s coming out as a film, you know that, right?

I nod my head.

This book is soooo good. The movie has to be good, it has to be or we will cry and throw tomatoes at the screen and never be happy again.

Zoe leans over the sofa and hugs my head. I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but you’re going to cry.

She stands there over me and so I keep looking at her, waiting for her to finish what she’s going to say.

READ IT! NOW! She commands and backs away, falling into the cavernous invisible rooms full of friends that hive together inside her phone.

A new train of thought crinkles across my mind.

My daughter has been reading sophisticated powerful literature while I’ve been watching Real Housewives, American Horror Story and TeenMom. 


If this book made my daughter cry – and it must have, I just know it must have - she never discussed it with me.

Wait. Maybe she did.

If she did, I didn’t pay enough attention, I didn’t’ really hear her.

Knowing that she’s read this book makes me see her in a different light. 

 Before I read another page I tweet my student, “Thank you, you’ve given me so much more than a book.”

After that, I delete Twitter and Facebook from my phone, hugged a pillow to my chest and finished the book before 8pm.

They were all right.

I cried.