Wednesday, December 22, 2010

book review

Matt and I read this book aloud to each other in less than a week. So immersing is this account of dogsledding and running the Iditarod that any chance we got, we'd say "how about another chapter?" The prologue and the first chapter reveal the danger and the majesty of dog sledding--of being outside in areas of the woods and wilderness that a person would not otherwise see, in all weather. It is clear that Paulsen is revealing his soul here, and reading (or listening), I feel as though I have glimpsed the awesome world of snow in his writing. Yet, the prologue and opening chapter are also misleading, because they lack one other aspect of the book that kept us turning the pages: Paulsen's fantastic sense of humor. The rest of the chapters had us laughing out loud as he chronicles his "appauling ignorance" in the world of running dogs. He sets himself up as the constant--and comic--beginner, and through his fumbles we see just how hard it is to do this right. It is not a good idea, for example, to hook half a dozen raring-to-go, half-wild huskies up to a bicycle. Or a light sled. They will run wild and drag you through the woods and swamp and you might hug every other tree in Northern Minnesota--all that before you lose the team and have to try to find them again. Running at night in the summer, prepare for your dogs to find and try to eat every skunk in the forest. And there are a lot of them. I feel like I have a sense of what it means to run the Iditarod--enough to know how little I know, and that I would never, myself, dream of going near it. A highly recommended read. We're giving two copies as Christmas presents.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

hope plant

This summer I picked up a huge plant with trumpet-shaped purple flowers from a table of free plants someone had put out. I kept it with my other ones, set it on the bedroom window sill where it got lots of sun. Over the course of the semester, I watched its big floppy leaves turn brown and crinkly around the edges. Then the flowers started to shrivel, leaving these sad-looking brown stalks left. I decided to get rid of it.

I felt bad throwing out a living thing. I would have left it for someone to talk, but it's December, and so last week I trudged out into the snow and set it out by the dumpster. Just perhaps, someone would see it and take it before it died, and then I wouldn't be killing it. I walked away, and almost made it to the door I turned around. It was crying. I brought it back inside.

I trimmed off all the ugly brown stems and the large, dying leaves. Underneath were tiny fuzzy new leaves unfurling. I fed it coffee grounds, set it away from the sunlight. In the past week, those new leaves have grown 3 inches, and a new flower, fuzzy stemmed, is just about to uncurl. It's my hope plant. Everyday I watch it grow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

a literary facebook!

Check out this article announcing the unveiling of, a space for teens with literary leanings to read and write fiction. Certainly, this is appealing to writers of YA as well...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

a message of peace

This morning in church I learned of an interesting example of peace that I'm going to be carrying around in my head this week. In 1944 German prisoners of war who were working on farms in Algona, Iowa--which in itself I find interesting, as I don't think of POWs really being in this country--put their downtime into sculpting an extensive nativity scene. The pieces are half of life-size. When they were able to go home, they left the nativity scene to the town, and a church keeps it up and open to the public to this day. When we talk of enemies at war, we don't think of them as people, let alone as worshipers of God, and certainly not as givers of gifts that remind us of peace. Wishing you all shalom this second week of advent.

Read more about the nativity scene here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Some of my students are reading a fascinating book by Asne Seierstad called The Bookseller of Kabul. Set in Kabul, Afghanistan, the book follows each of the family members of a man who has sold books throughout Afghanistan's changing regimes, many of which have rewritten their country's history and banned new sets of books. Fascinating as his story is, the book devotes its time to his family, focusing increasingly at the harsh lives the women in the family lead. (My students often comment on the author's decision not to include herself in the story, though she clearly makes her opinions known through her organization and choice of events--I love inviting students to consider the choices the writer makes in creating a book.) One memorable chapter describes preparation for a wedding, in which the author describes trying to follow two of the women of the family (dressed in burkas) through a crowded market filled with burkas. The descriptions of the following wedding shares some notable resemblances to this Uzbec wedding in Tajikastan that my friend Bethany Gustafson photo-documents here. For example, the bride must not smile, else it will be thought that she is happy to lead her parents' home.

Coming soon: a review of Gary Paulsen's Winter Dance.