My local library has started a new category on its blog, #toread. Here’s mine:

Can't wait to dig in.

Can’t wait to dig in.

From the bottom up, here’s why these titles wound up with me:

Both The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan and A Land We Can Share (subtitled Teaching Literacy to Students with Autism) were chosen so I can help my son’s reading improve. Rules is also autism-related, an award-winning middle grade book written from the POV of a sister of a boy with autism. It might help with my daughter someday.

On Immunity is actually already read (my review here.) My community experienced an outbreak of pertussis last year, and more isolated cases of measles. As a staunchly pro-vaccination parent yet personally disinclined to invite conflict, I’ve been struggling with how vocal to be on this matter of public health. Reading Biss’ book (and recommending it) is a first step.

The Second Chance Key is part of my effort to read more self-pubbed authors. Jacque Burke is the wonderful ML (municipal liaison) of my NaNoWriMo area and this is her debut novel. The next two are also by authors with northern Michigan connections. Nuts to You is the latest by Newbery Medal winner Lynne Rae Perkins (President Obama also picked it up recently) and Field Notes for the Earthbound is a much-acclaimed, first full-length work by John Mauk, a former colleague at Northwestern Michigan College. I’m lucky to have all three of these signed by their authors.

Topping it all off is a coming-of-age classic that I’ve stopped and started a few times, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Maybe this will be the year.

What’s on your #toread list?

Squinting for signals

Jeans and shirts with collars.

A silent ceiling fan.

An orange swim suit.

As the new year gets fully underway this week, I fixate on what I’m interpreting as this trio of signals from my son, sent as 2014 waned. Like many autistic children, he is rigid about his routines. Also like many of his peers, he has sensory issues, primarily auditory (in other words, he holds his hands over his ears a lot, and wears his hood up nearly always.)

Put the rigidity and the sensitivity together and what we’ve seen is 1) a wardrobe that consists almost entirely of sweatpants and T-shirts, 2) a habit of running his bedroom ceiling fan every single night, winter or summer, and 3) insistence on wearing the same blue bathing suit for at least the last three years.

So a few months ago, when he came out wearing jeans one morning, it was a jolt. They were a good inch short on him, since we haven’t bought any in so long. He’s not adept with snaps or buttons (a chicken-and-egg situation, no question) but he persevered and got them on. He’s since chosen jeans on at least two other days, as well as collared shirts, including one that had hung in his closet untouched for more than a year.

Then, on more than one night in the last two months, he’s elected to leave his fan off at bedtime. I don’t know whether he likes the white noise or the breeze, but deciding he could do without it was even more stunning than the jeans.

The topper is the swim suit. He’s worn the same blue suit from Target since around 2011. We swim twice a week. The elastic is entirely gone. Where it once hit below his knee, it’s now mid-thigh. Still, he rejected any suggestion he wear his other, orange suit until these last two months, when, like the jeans, he pulled it out of his drawer on his own.

A while back I read Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise, in which he discusses how hard it is to discern true signals in the noisy environment of 21st century Western society. Silver’s a sports-turned-political-turned-back-to sports prognosticator, but I found his ideas fit my parenting experience, too. With one typical child and one not, the development path of each amounts to noise for the other. And despite the statistics that show autism prevalence rising, my husband and I still feel like isolated blips, the first in both our families to face this diagnosis in particular and a developmental disorder in general. We’ve met fellow parents through a support group and our own forays, online and in person, but partly due to the spectrum nature of autism, there isn’t a specific set of signals to watch for. I remember a conversation with my brother a few years ago in which he raised this rhetorical question: How do you even know what’s important to pay attention to?

On the face of it, it sounds ridiculous to say that jeans, a ceiling fan and an orange bathing suit are worth paying attention to. But layering them, one on top of the other, in a relatively short time frame, shows definite deviation from pattern, aka routine. Since routine is so important to my son, deviation, especially self-selected, seems like it must signal something. Yet my own hopes and fears could be so much noise too, augmenting those isolated deviations into more than they’re worth, using the artificial device of the new year as an omen.

Signal or noise? I can only keep my antenna tuned. My new year’s resolution is to remain content and hopeful with either answer.

- The letter J brought to you by Daily Drop Cap. 


Lit fic and manga and self-pubbed, oh my!

If one aspires to be a writer, one must first be a reader. Plain and simple. Below are the books I read in 2014. Looking at the list, it’s easy to see where some choices came from, and interesting to ruminate on other trends that only surface in the aggregate, and how they might eventually inform my own writing:

So many books...

So many books. These are the ones I made time for in 2014.

First, I deliberately stepped outside my contemporary fiction comfort zone. Just as trying different cuisines diversifies one’s palate, different genres enrich an author. To that end I read:

  • Science fiction (Wool)
  • YA (The Fault in Our Stars, Someone Please Tell Me Who I Am, plus a thick stripe in Orphan Train.)
  • My first-ever manga/graphic novel (Into the Light)
  • Memoir – while not exactly a genre, it’s is a category I don’t read often. (On Writing, The Reason I Jump, Glitter and Glue, and The Dirty Life)

Second, I read books with a strong sense of place. Plot, character and setting are the three pillars of story, and setting is by far my weakest. Among the places that stayed with me this year:

  • Loud, crowded New Jersey apartments and neighborhoods, home to displaced Dominicans in Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her
  • Refugee camps Across the Mekong River, where Elaine Russell’s Hmong characters first find dubious sanctuary, and then the American suburbs where they strive to recreate their culture
  • Barren, frigid Alaskan tundra speckled with isolated Native villages, setting of Don Rearden’s The Raven’s Gift
  • Howard Norman’s so-real-I-could-taste-the-saltwater scenes of coastal Newfoundland in The Bird Artist.

Third, books about autism: After creating my Autism Reads list in April, I read Someone Please Tell Me Who I Am, Into the Light, A Special Love and The Reason I Jump. I expect this tilt will continue throughout my reading life, and it’s wonderful to see the subject presented in ways that will appeal to so many diverse readers. (These four titles alone represent YA, graphic novel/manga, fiction and memoir.)

Fourth, books with southeast Asian settings: Five of the 22 (The Namesake, the Lowland, Crazy Rich Asians, Across the Mekong River, and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats) are set predominantly in southeast Asia. (Two more, The Reason I Jump and Into the Light, are set in Japan.) That wasn’t deliberate, but it makes me speculate how I might incorporate that influence someday.

Fifth, nearly equal numbers of male and female authors. The works themselves are even at 11 each, but since Jhumpa Lahiri is represented twice, it works out to 11 men and ten women. I’ll strive for that balance again in 2015. Once I heard Jeffrey Eugenides (who mastered a hermaphrodite character) say that authors needed to be equally versatile at writing male and female characters. Reading authors of both genders is the best way to learn how.

Finally, few self-pubbed…alas. Just three of the 22. Both Across the Mekong River and A Special Love are self-published, and Wool was originally.One of my 2015 reading resolutions is to seek out and discover more of these overlooked gems, like The Leaving of Things. It’s a debut novel by fellow Lake Union author Jay Antani, who first self-pubbed before getting picked up by the Amazon imprint, like me. I’ll finish by the end of the week, and my 2015 list will be off and running.

What was your favorite read of 2014? Any reading resolutions for the new year?

- The letter I brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.