My Little Free Library

You might recall that back in December we installed a Little Free Library in front of our house. To say it has been a successful and positive addition to the neighborhood would be an understatement. I love my LFL and really enjoy keeping it stocked and seeing how the neighborhood interacts with it.

I first learned of Little Free Libraries in 2014 and thought, I want one of those! Not only is the concept AMAZEBALLS but my neighborhood could really use some culture and interaction between people. Gah. I thought having one would make our street a better place to live. I thought maybe it would give me a chance to find out that I had something in common with the people around me. Because while we got along well with our next-door neighbors and across-the-street neighbors, there was pretty much no one else there whom we talked to or appeared to have anything in common with — or frankly, ever saw.

The bigger problem was that it wasn’t the right place for us to be living. We’d been there almost 13 years but hadn’t really been happy there for a long time. With no other kids in the area near our kids’ ages, with few adults in the area close to our age, with an hour-long commute each way each day, and with its being the suburbs (not our groove), we decided it would take more than a cute little house full of books to fix things. So we moved, and the LFL project got put off.

Fast forward to now. We live in a home that’s big enough, in the city, close to where we work and go to school, and have lots of neighbors we love with amazing kids who play with our kids. This is, for us, a happier place. So at the end of last year, we put up a Little Free Library, which my husband built.

It’s shaped like a tiny house — painted blue, because that’s one of my favorite colors — and has a roof painted and shaped like an open book. The doorknob is also shaped like a book, which he created on his 3D printer. The whole thing is so charming. And people come by often, sometimes more than once a week.

***

Whenever I see someone stopping at the LFL, I come out to say hello. If I’ve never met them before, I tell them I’m the steward and ask what they like to read. And often they thank me for putting the LFL up and say that it’s been such a great addition to the neighborhood.

That’s all I’ve wanted, really — to make a positive contribution to my community. To get literature into more people’s hands. To make it easy for them to have the occasion to read more books. To put more books in front of people so they say, “Why not?” instead of “Maybe later.” I really think that society is better off when people have more good books to read — and read them.

Countless studies have shown that one of the best ways to cultivate empathy is to read fiction, and lots of it, from a young age. Connecting with a protagonist who isn’t like yourself and caring what happens to that character? That’s empathy. That’s what it looks like, that’s where it can start. And wow, do we ever need more empathy in the world — which sometimes feels like a giant raging dumpster fire, doesn’t it? I admit it’s hard to handle the firehose blast of bad news out there, especially right now. Things are sucking. But as this wonderful post from Heather over at Becoming Cliche reminds us, sometimes in addition to the political activism we engage in, what we have to do to combat the Big Ugly is to cultivate the Small Beautiful, over and over again, in concert with lots of other people, until that Beauty radiates outward and cleanses the rest with its light.

***

I tend to rotate the stock for my LFL about once a week or so. So where do the books come from? A variety of places! Some of them are donated to me by authors and editors who are friends of mine, which is awesome! (By the way, authors who might be reading this, I’m happy to put your book in there if you want to send it to me. Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll get back to you.) I also have approximately more books than should be allowed by law in my own personal collection. And since I’ve been told only one room in our house may be an actual private library, I have to confine my books to what will fit on the shelves lining the walls in there, so…

I’m always acquiring new books, which means I have to let go of some of them from time to time. And whenever I end up with duplicates, the duplicates go to the LFL. And when our kids outgrow their books and want to pass them on? Boom, LFL. And when our library at school withdraws books and gives the withdrawn copies away, I go and reclaim as many as I can and share those with the LFL. And two of my colleagues — actually my kids’ own first-grade teachers — recently cleaned out their classroom libraries and gave me a carload of books for very young readers! (Thank you, Dana and Jenny!!!) Sometimes other colleagues and friends bring me books they’re happy to donate, too.

And one of the appeals of the LFL is that it’s a community project, really: the neighbors add books to it as well. They started doing this immediately. I’m so grateful for that and love it; the whole reason I wanted to start a Little Free Library was for the engagement. I love that the people here love my little book house.

So what’s in it? All kinds of things — lots of genres and lots of categories! I have noticed that children’s books are very popular, so I have them in all age ranges. MG and YA tend to get snapped up. Also most popular is adult fiction in all genres, especially mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy. We have poetry in there, a few plays, some books in other languages, and nonfiction. I have noticed that nonfiction doesn’t move quite as well as other stuff, so when that doesn’t get picked up for really long stretches of time, I tend to take it out and save it for later or sometimes donate it elsewhere. Now and then we even have a magazine or two in there.

Do you have any Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood? Tell us about them in the comments!

 

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Poem-A-Day: Adam Holt

One of my colleagues, another cross-genre writer named Adam Holt, has a new book out. It’s the third in his YA sci-fi series about a boy named Tully Harper who stows away on his dad’s spaceship with his best friend and the girl he has a crush on, and fate-of-the-solar-system level hijinks ensue. It’s a popular series; my daughter is one of his fans. My son scored major brother brownie points by giving her a signed copy of the newest installment, A Cord of Three Strands, for her birthday this month. Admittedly it wasn’t that hard for him to manage it. Adam is his English teacher.

But I mentioned the cross-genre thing. Adam is also a poet, and rather a competent one at that. Enjoy.

***

Hope and Distance Out West

Tired cowboys when the day is done
patch up their flak jackets and then their lives
with calls to their wives, their girlfriends, or both.
To parole officers, pastors, parents,
debt collectors, credit agencies,
or children. Their children. Their sons.

Slack-jawed lines ferry harmonica voices
from Motel Sixes in South Dakota
down the Great Plains
to eager ears in Albuquerque:
“When y’all comin’ home, pop?”
“Soon, son, soon.”
“Did you qualify today? How’d you ride?”
“Almost good enough,” he says.
“What that buzz on the line? What’s that buzz?”
The window unit gurgles.

The cowboy holds a beer to his bruised temple.
“It’s windy on this riverbank. Great sunset.”
“Y’all camped out!” says the boy. “You got a fire going, huh?”
“Soon enough. Get your sleep now, son. Good night.”

An image warms the child in his bed,
of Pop patting his Quarter Horse goodnight
beside a trickle of a stream.
The boy tucks himself under a sheet,
snug like embers in his father’s campfire,
the one he will watch until the smoke subsides.

Back at the Six, the cowboy eases himself
onto a moldy bedspread,
flips through standard cable for a spell
with his good hand,
remembers his own father’s voice
crackling homeward with those same words:
soon, almost good enough, good night.

These words, his father’s words, are now his own,
words that ride many miles but always return home.
They smolder in the ashes of the family they repair.
They make a man a totem a child can bear.

***

Adam Holt is a novelist, singer-songwriter, and poet. He was a featured poet for the

Houston Public Library’s Public Poetry Series, and his work has appeared in publications from Mutabilis Press and SMU’s Liberal Arts Magazine. His debut album — under the name Lone Star Rambler — was released in 2017. The Tully Harper Series, his YA sci-fi series, is a near-future novel meant to inspire young readers’ interest in human space exploration. An avid space advocate, Adam was the crowdfunding consultant on a Kickstarter that raised $500,000 to restore NASA’s Historic Mission Control. He is as an instructor at Writespace and The Kinkaid School. He lives in Houston, Texas. For more info on his work, go to http://adamholtwrites.com.

Poem-A-Day: Justin Jamail

I come from a ridiculously large family. There aren’t very many writers in it, and even fewer poets. Besides me, I’m not sure there are any other academically trained poets in our branch (meaning immediate to five generations, from my great-grandparents’ generation to my children’s) other than my cousin Justin. His first book of poems has just come out — and you should absolutely go out and get a copy now, I’ll wait — and he will even be reading in Houston on May 21st at 7 p.m. at Brazos Bookstore. So, you know, if you’re in the area, come join us. He’ll also be reading in Montclair, New Jersey, on April 25th at 7 p.m. at watchung booksellers.

(And if you’re in my family and reading this and know who else among us is an author of literature of any sort, then hey, please let me know.)

In the meantime, please enjoy this marvelous poem by Justin Jamail. Every time I read it I enjoy it even more. Remind me some time to tell you a bunch of stories about him.

***

The Book of Praise
.                – after Sidq Jaisi

My God! This line has no peer – truly
it is not the beginning of a poem but the rising
of the sun! Such felicity, I am sure, cannot
be humanly acquired – the creation itself
is less astonishing. We must have a new calendar
for who now could do anything with pride
beyond the scope of this monument? Yes, yes,
it is true, and the volta of this sonnet, is it not
like the shaking of the earth? Oh, but our joy
now is equaled by grief for our future selves
who in a few moments must endure the end
and by pity for our ancestors who could not
have known the extent of earthly perfection,
though they deceived themselves and felt glad.

***

photo by Amber Reed

Justin Jamail is the author of the book Exchangeable Bonds and his poems have appeared in Hanging Loose, Ladowich, The Hat, and many other journals. He is the Deputy General Counsel of the Metropolitan Opera. He grew up in Houston and now lives in Montclair, NJ.

Another Place You Can Get Your Virtual Hands on FINIS. (and Even Read It for Free If You Want To)

I’m going to take one short break this morning from posting poems — DON’T WORRY, THERE WILL BE ANOTHER POEM THIS EVENING — to let you know about something new and interesting that has popped up.

Some of you know that I have a book of fiction out there. It’s a novelette, or essentially a short novella. The title is Finis. (and its blurb is below the main part of this post).

Some call it magic realism; some, urban fantasy. Most people call it unusual, and the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been excellent.

Finis. comes in both print and ebook format at Amazon, and the print edition is illustrated by Houston-based artist Lauren Taylor. The ebook edition isn’t illustrated, but it is widely available everywhere ebooks are sold. AND NOW it’s even available at a new online destination called Myth Machine.

What, you might be asking, is that?

Basically, it’s a new start-up designed to better promote books and connect them to fandoms. They’re interested in building the ultimate book-centric comic-con online 24/7/365.

What makes Myth Machine even more interesting is that you’ll find a bunch of authors here who might ordinarily fly under the radar, writing in a variety of genres.

Why, you might also be asking, would I go there for the ebook edition of Finis. when I can get that basically everywhere else too? Well, you can also read Finis. there — in its entirety — FOR FREE. And at the moment, that’s the only place authorized to offer the entire text (book discussion guide in the back and everything) to the public for free. (The benefit of buying the ebook from them is that you can escape their site’s ads, relatively unobtrusive though they are.)

I’ll be honest, Myth Machine is both a new venture and a new type of venture for me. I’m excited to see where it goes, though, and will be interested in how it grows. Let me know what you think.

***

Read on to learn more about Finis.:

Elsa’s family grows more unkind by the week. Her boss, a seven-foot-tall rage demon, has control of everything but his anger. And her cat wants to eat her. Things could be better.

In a world where one’s Animal Affinity is a sign of maturity and worth, Elsa’s inability to demonstrate hers is becoming more than a disappointing nuisance; it’s becoming a danger. She has no confidence she’ll ever conquer her Plainness by “blossoming.” She also fears both the wolf packs that prowl her neighborhood and being stuck in a life plummeting rapidly from lackluster to perilous. Fortunately, she has a cousin and a co-worker who know her better than she knows herself and can see through to what society won’t.

Finis. is the magic realism of our time, a story of finding one’s way to the end of things, of persevering through the dregs of life to discover something more.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR FINIS.:

“It’s not often I get that viscerally emotional on behalf of a fictional character. In a setting of overt fantasy, Angélique Jamail has created some of the most real people I’ve encountered via text in a long time.” – Ari Marmell, author of Hot Lead, Cold Iron and The Widdershins Series

“A silver vein of irony runs through Angélique Jamail’s fantastic Finis. It is a witty tale of conformity, prejudice, and transformation, in a world that is disturbing as much for its familiarity as for its strangeness. In a place where everyone is different, Elsa is the wrong kind of different, and that means facing pity, discrimination, danger, and sharp teeth. Dive into this story, readers, and confront them for yourself; it may just change the way you feel about things…” – Marie Marshall, author of The Everywhen Angels and I am not a fish

 

Poem-A-Day: Book Spine Poetry

My posting today is quite late because tonight I took my AP Gothic Lit. students on a field trip: a ghost tour.

Yes, it was just as interesting as it sounds. No, I was not the tour guide. Yes, there was a lot of history. No, no one ended up possessed. Yes, I did get some really cool pictures of orbs.

In honor of tonight’s generally harmless spookiness, I’m posting a book spine poem from this past year’s Hallowe’en mantel. Ever since my husband built me one a few years ago, I have taken great joy in decorating my mantel for the holidays. The Hallowe’en mantel is, so far, my most elaborate. Because the mantel is in our library (which is another way of saying the-room-which-most-people-would-call-a-living-room-but-we-didn’t-put-the-television-in-there-and-instead-lined-the-walls-with-bookshelves-and-then-filled-them-with-our-books), I always make book spine poems as part of it.

If you’ve never seen a book spine poem, you’re in for a treat. These are a special kind of found poem that should become immediately obvious as soon as you see one.

Please feel free to make your own book spine poems and post pictures of them here in the comments section. That would, in fact, make my day!

 

lost / in the land of men / lonely werewolf girl / one hundred years of solitude

Author Event This Weekend

Hey there.  🙂  For any of you in the Houston-and-surrounding-areas area this weekend, I’ll be appearing on Saturday at BrazCon, which is a book festival and comic con aimed largely at the YA set but really open and friendly to all ages. It’s a free event, happening all day. I’ll be speaking on two panels and signing books, so please come by if you’re around and say hello!

Click on this link to see more about the event, including author and artist lists and a full programming schedule. Spoiler alert: there’s a LOT to see and do here! In addition to a veritable slew of authors (myself included), you’ll find workshops on writing and drawing (with Mark Kistler, no less!), a cosplay contest, anime, video and card gaming, fandom paraphernalia (including, if I understand correctly, Daniel Radcliffe’s wand he used when he played Harry Potter in the films), and Houston’s Quidditch team. Plus Star Wars. And Doctor Who. And more I haven’t listed here. Check out their website for further details.

Sounds pretty fabulous to me. I hope to see you there!

Whom I’ve Been Reading: Marcus Sedgwick

Although my favorite thing to read is a novel, I also love linked collections of short stories. The forgiving nature of a series of discrete narratives doesn’t make me feel guilty when my schoolwork prevents me from reading a novel straight through.

Sometimes these collections are linked by place; there are many of these. Others are linked by characters, such as Justin Cronin’s Mary and O’Neill. By an object: Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Some by concept: Her Infinite Variety by Pamela Rafael Berkman. Sometimes by theme: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer.

And sometimes a collection is linked by all of these.

Printz Award-winning Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick contains seven linked stories which travel backward in time on a remote and unusual island near the top of the world. They explore the themes of love and sacrifice in the myriad ways that love and sacrifice impress themselves on our lives, sometimes obvious and sometimes not. But the writing is never obvious, never predictable. Sedgwick’s work is often, I think, categorized as YA, but even if you don’t usually read in that category, give this one a try.

Eric and Merle are two characters who orbit each other in time, meeting each other in different ways. Sometimes in love, sometimes bound by a family relationship, sometimes tossed together by external forces, their interactions show the breadth of love and sacrifice. The writing is lush without overpowering the reader. The stories are based on an actual historical painting, Midvinterblot, but everything else in the novel comes from Sedgwick’s own imagination.

Honestly, I don’t know what else to say about this book that won’t give too much of the story away. Aside from the writing being enjoyable even down to the level of the sentence, I love the structure, how each story is illuminated by a subsequent one, how the orbit comes around in such a satisfying way, how the island itself is a character, how the names of the characters evolve, how the dragon flowers on the island and the image of the hare anchor the narrative. There is a hint of the fantastical in this book, but I wouldn’t call it fantasy; magic realism is more its purview.

This novel-in-stories accomplishes what the 1994 film Being Human tried to do but couldn’t. Midwinterblood captures two important facets of the immensity of human experience with crystalline clarity. And like a faceted prism, this story reveals a depth of possibility in every interaction, that we are part of something larger than ourselves. That love and sacrifice cannot be contained. It asks the question, is life truly this rich?

And so, it is.