Best of 2014

I’ve never done a best-of-the-year list before, but I love reading them, and I’ve consumed a lot of really good stories this year. So here’s a list of my favorite things of the year.

Favorite Books Read

As of today, December 20, I’ve read 96 books towards my goal of 100 for the year. Eleven days to read 4 more books? No problem! But of those 96, some were fun, some were mediocre, and some were so shockingly wonderful.

woolWool by Hugh Howey

I honestly don’t know if I have enough words to praise this book! My friend Micah told me a couple of years ago to read it, and since then, two other highly respected book friends have recommended it to me, and I finally got around to it a few weeks ago (and have since read the second book in the trilogy). Howey self-published Wool several years ago, and it gained ground quickly, for good reason.

In the first novel, we’re introduced to the residents of a silo, which is a self-contained civilization. There’s a distinct class system, perfectly delineated by the levels of the silo, and everything seems to run as it should. But in the very first chapter of the book, we’re introduced to a sheriff who elects to go to a “cleaning,” in which he is put into a kind of biohazard suit and sent outside the silo to clean the windows…and then to die. Through his perspective, we learn that all is not well within the silo, but this main character is gone before he really gets to narrate any of the story. In the aftermath of his cleaning, the mayor and deputy must appoint a new sheriff, and I won’t tell you anymore because that would strip away all the joy you’ll get in reading this thought-provoking, fascinating dystopian series. The second book, Shift, isn’t as strong as the first one was, but I’m nonetheless eagerly looking forward to the conclusion to the story, Dust.

fangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Everyone loves Rainbow Rowell. With Eleanor & Park, she (deservedly) made a huge name for herself in the YA world. And as wonderful as Eleanor & Park is, her second YA novel Fangirl is far and above my favorite of all the books she’s written (and I’ve read them all this year!). Fangirl, in fact, is the only book I actually read twice this year, and I’m already itching to read it again.

Fangirl is the book I needed long ago, and probably still need now. Cath is beginning her freshman year at college and trying to balance a class load (including a Serious Writing Class) and writing Harry Potter-esque fanfiction. She struggles to maintain her relationship with her twin sister and her father, but she also struggles to define who she is and what she wants. And there’s a great guy named Levi who loves Cath because of her geeky, fangirl ways, and my gosh, doesn’t every fangirl dream of that?

A lot of my less-geeky friends didn’t enjoy Fangirl as much because Rowell blends the story of Cath with excerpts from the fictional Simon Snow stories as well as excerpts from Cath’s fanfiction. It’s such a great love story–both between Cath and Levi as well as for Cath and the worlds of fiction that she loves so much.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I wrote about this in my last blog post about Interstellar, so I won’t summarize or reflect here. But this science fiction novel about Jesuits traveling to space in search of extraterrestrial life is one of the most profoundly moving explorations of faith I’ve ever encountered in fiction. I love it when science fiction, which is often overlooked as being trivial or unworthy, can so accurately depict issues of the human condition. This is a heavy book to read, but it’s a book that has never left me, that I’ll carry with me always.

hawkeyeThe Hawkeye comics by Matt Fraction

I LOVE HAWKEYE. I loved Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of him in The Avengers, obviously, but Matt Fraction has done incredible things with Marvel Now’s Hawkeye series. I bought a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, which allows me access to comics on my tablet, and I burned through all the Hawkeye comics available very quickly. They are funny and moving and just so wonderful. And the best thing about them is that the Hawkeye name is shared–by both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, who is part of the Young Avengers. The fact that both a male and female can share the name and the responsibility of working with the Avengers is wonderful. There is just so much right about these stories, and the artwork, relying on lots of purple illustrations, is beautiful!

Favorite Movies Watched

grootbabyFavorite Superhero Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy

I mean, really. I saw this four times (as many times as I watched The Avengers in theaters) and had to talk myself out of seeing it at least a dozen more times. It’s funny. And snarky. And super weird and sci-fi. With a great soundtrack. And Chris Pratt. And Groot. My gracious, I love this movie. And as much as I loved X-Men: Days of Future Past and Captain America: Winter Soldier (which were both better than their predecessors), Guardians was definitely my favorite superhero movie released this year.

And everyone needs more dancing baby Groot in her life.

snowpiercerFavorite Dystopian Film: Snowpiercer

All the survivors of the world after a major climate disaster are placed upon a train that continually travels and sustains the life on board. Eighteen years have passed since the disaster, and Chris Evans leads a revolution that reveals the class struggles on board the train. He begins his fight at the end of the train, where he works and lives with all the other lower-class people who must help to power the train. He fights his way through all the classes on board to the very front, where he confronts the leader of the train, played by Ed Harris. It’s violent and gripping and highly revelatory of Marxist class struggles: everything that I look for in a dystopian film. I can’t believe how good this movie is.

grand budapestFavorite Comedy: The Grand Budapest Hotel

To be fair, I don’t watch a lot of comedies, so this one was by far the easiest pick. But this was also one of my favorite movies of the whole year. It’s the first Wes Anderson movie I’ve ever watched (please don’t stone me–I’m a fan now and I’ll make up for it, I promise!), and I laughed out loud through the whole thing. Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H and Zero Moustafa as his Lobby Boy are just the kind of weird characters I wish I could find at hotels. (And the supporting cast: Tilda Swinton and Adrian Brody and Owen Wilson and all the other Wes Anderson regulars!) They fight off Nazis and steal artwork and have grand adventures, and this movie is just so wonderful and wacky and fabulous and lovely.

Favorite Classic Movie that I Should Have Watched Years Ago: 2001: A Space Odyssey2001

I really have no excuse. I’ve even owned this for two or three years. But after Interstellar, which relies heavily on imagery that reflects 2001: A Space Odyssey, I finally watched it–and loved it, of course. The monoliths and Hal 9000 and Dave the Astronaut–it’s such a pivotal, important sci-fi story, and I was riveted through the whole movie. The imagery of space travel is lovely, and the cinematography is astonishing. I mean, the scene of Frank running onboard the round spacecraft! It’s so good! I’m glad I finally watched it, if only to understand jokes about getting shoved out of an airlock.

Favorite Movie About Space: Interstellar

I love Matthew McConaughey. And time travel. And black holes. And this movie.

Favorite Animated MovieThe Lego Movie

An everyman named Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) is summoned to save the world from a terrible dictator. It’s a dystopian movie! And it’s funny! And cute! And, yes, it might have some feminist issues, but I had a lot of fun watching this. And Lego Batman is delightful.

‘Mastery of small, telling gestures’: Tom Hardy as a man who goes awol in Locke.Favorite Movie Starring Tom Hardy: Locke

It was hard to choose between this one and The Drop, but ultimately, Locke has to win on the sheer basis that Tom Hardy is THE ONLY PERSON IN THE MOVIE. I mean, sure, we get the voices on the other end of the phone, but the movie is literally just Tom Hardy driving from one place to another, trying to solve a crisis at work, take responsibility for a personal problem that he has, and fix his family life. It’s hard to watch, and Tom Hardy is stellar at telling a story using his voice and facial expressions and reactions to the people on the phone. I was riveted by a movie that literally involves one guy driving down the road the whole time. Tom Hardy is a freaking genius actor, and I wish more people realized that. (Also, he’s beautiful. There’s that.)

In 2014, I saw almost as many movies as the number of books I read. And, honestly, I saw more great movies than read great books. I read books that disappointed me, or angered me, or were just intended to be light, fluffy reads. But with films, I’m drawn to superhero films, sure, but also well-made dramas and insightful, if violent, movies. And there were so many great films that I watched this year that I had a hard time narrowing it down to just these 6. I’m very eager to see what my reading/viewing habits look like in 2015.

As for reading, I found this great reading challenge on Tumblr this morning that I’m going to try. I’m thinking about revising it for a movie-watching challenge, too, for the first time, so stay tuned for that!

reading challenge

On to 2015! 

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SLJ List of Top 100 Children’s Books

This week, I found School Library Journal’s blog that compiled a list of the top 100 children’s books, as suggested by teachers and students.

With as much children’s and young adult literature that I’ve read, I’m surprised to find I’ve only read 43 of the 100. That’s 57 I have left to read! Many of them are classic examples of children’s literature, but there are a few more contemporary ones mixed in (for example, most of the Harry Potters are on the list).

So…as if I need another reading goal, I’ve decided to try for reading at least 20 of these this summer.

[Side note: this will help in my other goal of reading 100 previously unread books this year. As of yesterday, when I finished by 50th previously unread book of the year, I’m halfway through! These 20 will get me closer.]

The 57 books I have to choose from:

5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg

8. The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett (which I own and have started several times, though never completed. This should definitely be one of the 20.)

10. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster.

12. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (my bookmark is about halfway through…I need to finish…also one of the 20)

16. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

17. Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

18. Matilda, Roald Dahl

21. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Rick Riodan

23. Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

26. Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

27. A Little Princess, Francis Hodgson Burnett

29. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (yeah, I know…also one of the 20)

30. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper

31. Half Magic, Edward Eager

32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien

37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred Taylor

39. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

42. Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

45. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

47. Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

48. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall

49. Frindle, Andrew Clements

51. The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright

52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

53. Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

55. The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson

58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken

59. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke

60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

62. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew), Caroline Keene

63. Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

65. Ballet Shoes, Noah Streetfield

67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, Bruce Coville

69. The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart

70. Betsy Tacy, Maud Hart Lovelace

72. My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannett

73. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George

74. The Borrowers, Mary Norton

76. Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse

77. City of Ember, Jeane DuPrau

78. Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes

79. All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor

80. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (I’ve heard mixed reviews on this, but I’m still eager to read it. This will probably be one of the 20 as well.)

81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

82. The Book of  Three, Lloyd Alexander

83. The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner

84. Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge

85. On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder

88. The High King, Lloyd Alexander

92. Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine

93. Caddie Woodlawn, C. R. Brink

94. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

96. The Witches, Roald Dahl

97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

98. Children of Green Knowe, L. M. Boston

99. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks

Some of these I don’t even recognize, and a lot of others I know as being older books. There aren’t as many recently published on here as I would like, and there are some that I’m shocked were left off (what about The Book Thief or The Devil’s Arithmetic?)

So…my goal is to read at least 20 of these by the end of the summer, though I suspect I could get through a lot more than that. Then, after I’ve read most of the books on this list, I’ll make my own list (of less than 100 probably) of books that I think should absolutely be read and why.

So, readers, now that you’ve made it through this lengthy list, where should I start? What books on this list of ones I haven’t encountered yet do I absolutely need to include in the 20 I’m going to read this summer?

My Favorite Caribbean Books

As you probably know if you follow this blog or know me in real life, I’m finishing up my first semester of grad school at Gardner-Webb (and my fourth semester overall) in just a few days. I’ve just completed one of two final papers that are due on Thursday in my class on Caribbean women’s writing; this one is my theory of Caribbean writing. I really enjoyed writing the paper as it’s caused me to review most of the books I’ve read this semester. Early in the semester, I reviewed some of the ones I read, but I haven’t done that as of late, so I decided to just make a post of my favorite books from this semester.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

This was the only Caribbean book I’d ever read before taking this course. The first time I read it, I didn’t appreciate it very much, and I was mostly just frustrated that it seemed to be attacking Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books of all time. After studying it in a world lit class almost two years ago and again this semester, however, I actually really like the book. Jean Rhys wrote this book in thee 1960s, as a re-writing of Jane Eyre from Rochester’s wife Bertha’s perspective. In Rhys’ story, Bertha is really Antoinette, a white Creole living in the Dominican, who is married off to Rochester (who is actually unnamed in this story). This book is a quintessential postcolonial novel and one of the first novels out of the Caribbean to achieve wide critical acclaim. It’s a quick read (just a little over 100 pages) and a great introduction to Caribbean literature.

Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez

This book is one of the most recently published book we read in class–it’s only been out since 2006. This book is another retelling–this time of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I haven’t actually read this play, so some of the connections were lost on me; however, this book is spectacular even without prior literary knowledge. I had a hard time putting it down (though some parts are difficult to read), and I really enjoyed the read (probably because it’s one of the only books in the class that has a truly happy ending). The book is the story of Dr. Gardner (a.k.a. Prospero) who flees his native England to avoid scandal and takes over an estate on the island of Chacachacare off the coast of Trinidad. His daughter Virginia, who was three at the time they leave England, grows up on the island and becomes more Caribbean than English. She also falls in love with a Caribbean boy named Carlos, whom her father highly disapproves of. He attempts to separate them at all cost.

This book isn’t just a romance novel. It’s incredibly well-written, with beautiful descriptions of the land and insightful portrayals of the characters. Nunez is brilliant at showing versus telling, and the book serves as both a novel to be critically acclaimed and to enjoy. Furthermore, I fell in love with the island of Chacachacare (which actually exists) so much so that I added visiting the island to The List.

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

This is the book I chose to read for my final project for my class. This is a collection of nine short stories and an epilogue. Danticat is Haitian, and all the stories either take place in Haiti or in the lives of Haitian immigrants to the United States. It’s honestly one of the most moving pieces of literature I’ve ever read, and the one on this list that I recommend most highly. For a full review, see this post.

Crossing the Mangrove by Maryse Conde

Yet another incredible book that I could hardly put down. This is the story of Francis Sancher, whose body is found in the marsh at the beginning of the novel. Through a series of vignettes told from sixteen different characters’ perspective, we as readers begin to understand the intricacies of life in the village of Riviere au Sel. Each character talks about his or her experiences with Francis (some of the women are in love with him, some of the men loathe him, others are indifferent but have some story to tell, etc.). We end up learning about the characters themselves in their reactions to Francis, and we also learn that Francis was an enigma, and we never could fully understand his story.

From the beginning, Conde’s narrative style reminded me so much of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, particularly his story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” In both GGM’s story and Conde’s book, a dead man acts as a catalyst for change in a small Caribbean village. However, Conde’s story, because of its length, is a great example of characterization, and I’m frankly amazed at Conde’s ability to give voice to so many distinct people. It’s brilliant.

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

In this memoir, Danticat proves that she is just as adept at nonfiction as short stories. This book, published just three years ago, is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Danticat tells the stories of her father and her uncle. As a child, Danticat’s parents immigrated to New York, leaving her and her younger brother in Haiti to be raised by her father’s brother Joseph. As a result, Danticat essentially has two fathers, which both her father and uncle recognize. As an adult, Danticat watches her father’s decline in health around the same time that her uncle flees Haiti, seeking asylum in the U.S. Because of a ton of political reasons that angered me as I read the book, her uncle is declined the asylum he seeks; he is also treated horribly in a detainment center. Danticat tells this story in a way that celebrates the lives of her two fathers while revealing the injustice of society in both Haiti and America. It’s truly an excellent read.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Note: there are spoilers in this summary; however, if you were to read the back of the book, you’d find out the info anyway, as I did.

Alvarez, like Danticat, is a Caribbean writer who has actually achieved a great deal of popularity in the United States. This book is another excellent work. Alvarez tells the story of the Mirabal sisters, who lived in the Dominican Republic under Generalissimo Trujillo’s dictatorship. She fictionalizes their story, imagining their childhood and the decisions they made to join the revolution against Trujillo. Two of the four sisters were imprisoned themselves, and their husbands, plus their sister Patrice’s husband, were also imprisoned. Trujillo intentionally moved the men to a prison farther away from the sister, knowing they would have to travel down a danger pass to visit their husbands. One night, just a few months before Trujillo is overthrown and killed, he has the Mirabal sisters ambushed and executed.

The Mirabal sisters–known as Las Mariposas, or “the butterflies”–are revolutionaries, but they’re also sisters, and Alvarez very aptly writes to reveal the numerous, sometimes contradictory, roles they play.

The hardest part about reading this book was knowing the ending, knowing that three of the sisters would die. Each sister has one chapter in each of the three sections of the book in which she tells her story, but the story begins and ends with Dede, the surviving Mirabal sister. From the beginning, the reader knows that three of the protagonists are going to die. It’s really difficult to get so attached to a character, knowing that she won’t make it to the end of the book. It’s even harder when you get attached to three characters. Nonetheless, this is an incredibly evocative story, and yet another one that I highly recommend.

Child Heroes

Today, CNN had a link to an article on Techland about the best child heroes featured in films. It’s a great list (and I’m so stoked that they included Dumbledore’s Army rather than just Harry himself).

A lot of those heroes, I’ve noticed, originally appeared in works of literature: the DA, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, the Pevensies. So I decided to make a list of my favorite literary heroes who happen to be under the age of 18. I’m putting them in alphabetical order because deciding which one is most important would require too much decision making. 🙂

Anne Shirley: the hero of quite possibly my favorite literature series, Anne of Green Gables saves Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and the whole town of Avonlea from dissolving into a bored, lonely life.

The Boy: Cormac McCarthy’s unnamed character in The Road. He carries the fire–and the hope for a future.

Jack: the young bard in Nancy Farmer’s The Sea of Trolls. Jack battles ogres and Vikings and all sorts of fierce, mythical or historical figures in order to get himself and his sister Lucy back home.

Jonas: the Receiver of Memories in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. He lets the memories escape and reveals the true essence of humanity to a people who have only known conformity.

Leisel Meminger: the protagonist of The Book Thief; she holds onto hope throughout all of WWII that peace is coming and that knowledge and a future are worth fighting for.

Lucy Pevensie: sure, the Pevensies were all mentioned in Techland’s list, and they’re all worth of hero titles. But without Lucy, the Pevensies never would have found Narnia, much less become kings and queens.

Meg Murry: her love is the secret for moving through that wrinkle in time and getting her father, Cal, Charles Wallace, and herself back home.

Stargirl: the hero of two Jerry Spinelli books. Stargirl is unique (and even strange) in a town full of average high school students. But she enchants them, and falls in love with one of them, and changes their lives, even though they reject her in the end.

Todd & Viola: the protagonists of Patrick Ness’ brilliant Chaos Walking trilogy (of which only the first two books, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, have been released). These two thirteen-year-olds fight an army of truly evil men who not only physically control every town they conquer, but who also control the thoughts of every person they rule. I’ll find out in September, when the final book Monsters of Men is released, how Todd and Viola’s story ends.

Winnie Foster: from Natalie Babbitt’s beautiful novel Tuck Everlasting. She doesn’t drink the water.

This is in no way a complete list. These are just the first ten who came to mind, and you should know by now that I do like my lists in groups of five or ten. 🙂

Resolutions/Suggestions/Goals

So last night, six days into the new year, I sat down and decided on five things I want to do this year.

1. Don’t check my email before I go to work each morning (unless I’m expecting a vital email about weather advisories or something). Now that I have a functioning laptop again, I can feel that addiction to the internet resurfacing. I don’t always need to know what’s going on in the virtual lives of everyone I’ve ever met. I can wait until I get to work, when I check my work email, to check my personal email and Facebook page as well. I’ll be less inclined (hopefully) to waste precious minutes reading status updates. Plus, I might be on time for work every day.

2. Read 100 books I’ve never read before. Last year, I read 100 books. Well more than half of those were first-time reads, but I want to push myself even farther this year. Re-reads are great, but I have so many books that I’ve been intending to read for years.

3. Devote at least one hour a week to scrapbooking or crocheting. Two activities that I love–and they both tend not to happen when I’m super-busy. If I pledge to be crafty at least once a week, then I know for sure I’ll have a little bit of stress-free time.

4. Help my parents clean and organize their house. I had a great time organizing and hanging out with my parents over Christmas. And they really appreciated my help and encouragement. I tentatively plan to go home every few weeks and help them tackle some new section of the house.

5. Mark at least 12 things off The List this year. That’s an average of one per month, though I’m ahead of the game with two marked off already. Potential items to mark off: #9: Write a travel guide (or blog); #60: St. Simon’s Island Lighthouse; #66: The Greenville Zoo; #81: The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum; #92: Andalusia; #93: riverboat down the Mississippi. And who knows what else I’ll add and mark off this year?

Call ’em resolutions. Call ’em suggestions. Call ’em goals. Call ’em whatever you want. Most of these are things I would do anyway (or at least plan to). But I’ve discovered I’m much more accountable to a written list.

Any suggestions for more resolutions I should make?

Get excited.

A list of things that I’m super excited about right now:

1) I applied to the M.A. in English program at Gardner-Webb University…to start in January (hopefully, with Coa!). It seems like such a sudden change, but I’ve known for months now that the M.A.T. program isn’t right for me. I don’t want to teach high school, and the student teaching and certification progress to do that would be a waste of my time and energy. With the M.A., I can take just English classes (yay!), write a thesis, begin teaching full-time at the college level (hopefully!), and eventually decide where and in what concentration to get my Ph.D. I applied to G-W last week, and I’m working on getting the rest of my documentation in. Then, I’ll work on financial aid. With the peace I feel about this decision, I’ll be shocked if everything doesn’t work out perfectly.

2) Next week is Thanksgiving Break! It’s going to be wonderful to have a few days off from work and school. I’m going to Sullivan’s Island with Chris on Wednesday (and eating at Poe’s Tavern!); Thursday is Thanksgiving Day with my family; Friday, my family is going shopping in Charleston; and Sunday is a surprise for my mom (that you’ll all hear about soon)!

3) On Tuesday, I got my tickets to see Switchfoot at the Orange Peel on December 4! They’ll be playing the entire Hello Hurricane album from start to finish, plus some “old favorites” and “a few surprises”! YAY!

4) The end of the semester fast approaches. I’m finishing up final projects, grading my students’ final essays, and looking to Dec. 7 with mixed feelings. I’ll give my last final exam that day and take my last final exam at Converse. On that day, I’ll officially finish my first semester of teaching college English, which has been marvelous and challenging, and I’ll also officially end my academic career at Converse after a year and a half. I’ll definitely miss my very first students, and I’ll also probably miss the people and experiences I’ve had at Converse. But, alas, life continues on.

5) This morning, Michele, Harvin, and I had a discussion about Christmas. Right now, we’re planning a little trip. We’ll all drive up to Pennsylvania the weekend before Christmas, stay a few days, take a day-trip into New York City, and then we’ll leave Michele up there for Christmas with her family while we drive back home in time to get back to our families for Christmas. It looks like I’ll be heading back up north for the second time this year! I’ll see new states, and I’ll be in NYC at Christmastime! It’s gonna be amazing, and I hope we can make it work.

So there we are. Changes, adventures, life. 🙂

Beauty and Truth, part 3

One year ago today, I started this blog. Happy anniversary to me! This is my 83rd post, which averages to about one every 4.5 days. Not bad at all. 🙂

My very first post was a memoir I wrote about a year and a half ago–an exploration on beauty–or the lack thereof–in my life. Interestingly enough, that subject is something that still intrigues and perplexes me. A year later, it still weighs on my mind often.

A few weeks ago, I assigned my students the chapter on Beauty from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature. Before I visited Massachusetts a few months ago, my opinion of Emerson was very different. I respected him for his influence on American literature, but I didn’t really appreciate him for his own literary worthiness. That’s changed so much in just three months. I’ve read Nature in its entirety once and my favorite sections many times since. My copy of Selected Essays, Lectures, and Poems, bought at the Emerson House in Concord, MA, is battered and worn already. Purple highlighter marks a plethora of worthy passages. Emerson’s ideas are constantly running through my mind.

Some of my favorite excerpts:

To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again. The heavens change every moment, and reflect their glory or gloom on the plains beneath.

The world thus exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty. [ . . . ] Truth, and goodness, and beauty, are but different faces of the same All.

When I assigned the chapter to my students, most of them balked at reading Emerson. He uses big words, they complained. Their eyes examined me skeptically as I raved over his genius. But when I gave them a writing assignment and had them give me a definition of Beauty, I received so many insightful definitions. And while they perhaps didn’t enjoy Emerson as I do now, their writing was proof that they were thinking about beauty outside of just my classroom. And they were incredible insightful.

After reading Emerson, many of them listed things in nature as being beautiful: sunsets, the ocean, rainy days. Others talked about beautiful people or love or gave a literal definition. But I also had each of them make a list of things they find beautiful, and as a good writing instructor, I made one in my journal as well, which I’ll  include here.

So what is Beauty? Have I decided? I think so. Beauty is Truth. Beauty is anything that makes me realize how powerful God is, how excellent his creation is, and how valuable my life is as a result. So here’s a very short list of beauty in my life:

1. Mornings on Camp Creek Road on my way to work, which the trees make a canopy over the road, and the Blue Ridge Mountains are enveloped in fog
2. Switchfoot’s Learning to Breathe; the Civil Twilight album; The Earth is Not a Cold, Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky. Plus, a whole lot more incredible music
3. Driving down a long stretch of road
4. Everything about autumn–the weather, the colors, the scents
5. Renewal and rebirth in spring
6. The ocean at night, stretching to the horizon to meet a sky full of stars
7. Being surrounded by my family at Radius
8. My bulletin board, filled with memories of adventures my best friends and I have had
9. The smell of coffee brewing
10. LOVE
11. Stacks of books
12. The color purple–not the book, which I haven’t read–just things that are purple 🙂
13. Edward Hopper paintings
14. Great works of literature
15. Long, colorful scarves
16. Christmas lights
17. Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s house in Flat Rock, NC
18. The Concord River flowing past the Old Manse and under the North Bridge in Massachusetts
19. Redbirds
20. Lighthouses

I could go on forever, but twenty is enough for now.

Happy Halloween!