It was spring of the first year I taught high school and I was teaching the Great Gatsby. The classroom, in front of the high school, looked out over a graveyard. We had door to the outside, both a comfort and a temptation.
By the time I taught high school, the era of school shootings had started. I often thought through my plan of action in case of an active shooter situation. If we weren’t first, we would have time to barricade the doors, pull heavy furniture across both the interior and exterior doors (which I always kept locked) but we might still have a second method of egress if the shooter was inside. In that way, the door to the graveyard was a comfort.
It was a temptation because I had a daily fantasy about opening the door and releasing my fifth period class, five of whom were in anger management, to the wild. I’m sure the door triggered the same fantasy for them.
Air and Other Stories
Written by Lauren Leja
Review by Jarad Johnson
This is a little novella of stories that has been looking at me and begging to be read since the summer, and inevitably it got passed over for one book or another. Every reader is constantly trudging through a stack of books, a pile that never gets any smaller. In any case, I am glad that I picked it up this afternoon. My first reaction upon reading it is that Leja packs more feeling and emotion into fifty pages than many authors do in a hundred. I kept coming back to the word raw when I sat here trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this little book. I can tell she’s a good writer, because I was immediately drawn into the world she created around these four stories. It was easy and effortless to be in the book, so to speak. I could feel the underlying tension of throughout the book, that of a teenager feeling adrift in the world and craving attention and finding it in strange places. When kids want attention like that, especially when they have absent parents such as in this book, they behave recklessly, and I definitely saw that in the book. (in one instance the main character allows herself to be buried alive, and remarkably survives). We get a glimpse into a mind that is searching for meaning and acceptance, and finding none, decided to create some of its own.
Julie is sharing her favorite genres with us this week, and we have unanimously decided that gardening is in fact a genre (at least on this blog, it is).
Jarad asked to talk about my favorite reading genres this week. I have a question. Are garden catalogs a genre? I’m going with yes.
Actually, I love all sorts of books, but I do tend to gravitate to certain sections of the library or bookstore. As I started to think about what kind of books I like, I also started think about why. Why am I drawn to certain stories above others? What does it say about me? I contemplate the questions what and why below.
Sometimes Jarad and Julie put down books halfway through with no intention of ever finishing them. Most of the time they don't feel bad about it.
I have a guilty secret. I’m an English literature major and I don’t always finish books. There I said it.
Sometimes I just can’t get into a book. Moby Dick and As I Lay Dying fall into this category. The first few chapters are like swimming through jello and....I’m lazy, or weak. Or cowardly. I just don’t go on. I’m willing to admit the entire history of literary criticism is against me here, willing to accept it as a character flaw on my part. But I’m getting old. There’s only so much time for so many books. Sorry Moby Dick, you crazy devil whale...I just don’t have time to swim after you for what must be like, a million pages.
The other reason I don’t finish is a bad habit of reading ahead. (Don’t judge me. It’s like a super power. I CAN SEE THE FUTURE!) 1984 was suffocating me. Depressing me. Depriving me of the will to live with its stark, interior feel...so I peeked ahead just to see if it was worth it. Needless to say, I flung the book under the bed, sadly failing my research paper, but relieved of the symptoms it caused. Am I right or wrong? I don’t know. But there you have it. Confessions of an English major.
Today Jarad is sharing his newest addiction: seeds.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready for spring. I'm ready for gardening and plants, and the end of cold and wet weather. But through the course of the winter, I bought some seeds to start in my garden this year; actually, I bought a lot of them, hence the title of this post. I bought them, five or six (or ten, whoops!) at a time. I bought herbs and perennials, flowers and vegetables, and I tried to get lots of things for bees and pollinators. I have a particular fondness for climbing vines, and I bought four of those. Some of the more interesting ones (to me at least) include a plant called Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, which grows up to eight feet tall, Agastache Navajo Sunset (a vibrant orange variety that attracts bees and butterflies), Saint John's Wort (which will look very appropriate in a cauldron I have), and the herb stinging nettle (which is often regarded as a weed but actually has lots of nutrients in it as well as antihistamine properties, and has been compared to spinach).
Here's some of our most recent reviews in case you missed them!
1. Life in the Garden- Written by Penelope Lively- Review by Jarad Johnson
2. High Static, Dead Lines- Written by Kristen Gallerneaux, Review by Roy Peak
3. A Garment of Shadows- Written by Laurie R. King, Review by Jarad Johnson
Today Jarad is sharing his 5 favorite genres of literature!
General Fiction- I realize that this is a broad category but it's one of the genres I read the most, precisely because it is so diverse and has many different subcategories within it. Some of my favorites from this category are The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Breath, Eyes Memory by Edwidge Danticat.
Fantasy- I've loved this genre for as long as I could read,and it's probably one of the genres I've been reading the longest. Who doesn't love to be distracted and entertained by other worlds,especially with the state of this one? Some of my favorites from this genre include the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien, the Captive Prince trilogy by C.S Pacat, and The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.
Here is a review of the second installment of the Green Creek series. Enjoy and happy reading!
I have to admit, I had some reservations about reading this book. I normally wouldn’t hesitate to read a book about gay werewolves and witches, but I was worried that certain plot points would put me off. Specifically, several key characters were absent for a long stretch of time, and I as worried that the dynamics between them all would change in ways that I didn’t like. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t continue staring at it forever (and I also needed to see what would happen) and within the first 50 pages I realized how stupid my 2-month standoff with this series was because I ended up enjoying it more than the first book, which centered around Joe and Ox and their relationship, and a whole host of other things. It was very good, and I really should review it at some point. This book, however, revolves around Gordo, although the first characters are there. When I read the first book, I quite frankly wasn’t the biggest fan of Gordo, who is the main character of this book and featured prominently in the first one, but after getting so much insight into his character I can say definitively that he is one of my favorite characters in the series. I found him to be rather unlikeable, even standoffish at first, but this installment gives greater insight into why he behaves the way he does.
Jarad and I find ourselves longing for spring, so we're devoting Fridays to gardening. Here's a garden memory.
I have had and loved many gardens, from my first one in Memphis, where my boxer dug up the plum trees and ate half my climbing roses, to the haunted hillbilly house where we didn’t need curtains in spring because the wisteria draped itself in billows from the big oak tree out front. But I had one garden that, if I’m being honest, was hard to love.
It was the garden at our first house in Atlanta. The front yard was a hill that tumbled down and met the road which was an even steeper hill that slid right down to the woods by the river. Once a couple of soda bottles rolled out of the back of the minivan darted right down the driveway, turned the corner and raced right into the woods with me puffing behind them.
This particular house was new, a cookie-cutter house, garage in the front, like all the other houses in the neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses with small back yards and carefully regulated front yards. (I once got a note from the HOA because a disorderly vine slipped through the fence to make a pumpkin on the wrong side). The back yard was small, with a square of concrete just outside the sliding glass doors and a heavy, twelve foot retaining wall forming a solid boundary at the back of the the little plot. That wall was all you could see from the kitchen window. Above it,the narrow area between the retaining wall and my neighbor’s fence was wooded and scrubby. There was nothing much to recommend it as a garden.
Of course, this begs the question. How did I come to choose this house? This garden? The explanation isn’t a rational one, but I’ll try to explain. I was pregnant, tired. I’d seen three- or four-days’ worth of houses and I didn’t have any longer to look. When I walked into the kitchen of the house with the terrible garden, the rain started pouring down outside. For some reason, at that moment, with thunder snapping and the waterfall of rain outside, I felt the house wrap around me like a nest. I watched rivulets of rain pour from the retaining wall, and off the roof, and I knew how a mouse felt when it ran into a blackberry thicket to get away from a cat. I had a sudden feeling that I couldn’t go any farther and at least the house had kept the rain off my head. That moment of gratitude was all it took. We bought the house.
When I moved in, I realized my mistake. In the hot Atlanta sun, the timber retaining wall was dreary and blank by comparison, sucking away light. We added a privacy fence and the impression that the backyard was a wooden box was complete. We moved into the house in May and even though my daughter wasn’t born until November, I was already too round and cranky to do much about the blank walls. I planted pots and a few foundation plants, but every time I looked out back I was aggravated by my poor choice.
A few weeks after Essie was born, I decided something had to be done to take the edge off that view. My friend Kathy stayed inside to watch the baby, and I climbed up to the scrub behind that wall and planted a huge row of climbing roses. I dug out the earth and dragged bags of manure up that godawful hill. I planted about a dozen bare root white Meidiland roses to tumble over the wall.
I put in a bird feeder. I planted butterfly bushes all along the sunny side of the privacy fence. I placed more plants on the foundation. I made a bed for wildflowers and chrysanthemums alongside the fence. I planted the obstreperous pumpkins. But everything I did in that garden was to mitigate it, to make it quit hurting my eyes when I looked at it. All my gardening seemed only to make it slightly less awful. I held a grudge against it for promising me something it had never delivered.
That is until one September afternoon, a few years after I moved in. It was the first cool day of September. The kids were occupied, and I took a novel and went out into the little garden. The sun had heated up the timbers on the retaining wall and it threw the warmth back at me. The little peach tree I’d bought for a dollar at a yard sale shaded the book and shaded the small round table where I sat with my white teapot painted in violets. A pot of chrysanthemums next to me smelled like autumn spice. The pumpkin vine climbed around the corner of the fence teasing me with its escape attempts.
A chipmunk popped out of a hole in the retaining wall and nibbled on one of the roses in the white and green waterfall. Butterflies hovered around the purple and yellow buddleia. We were all protected from the eyes of the neighbors and the chilly wind in our tiny little world together. The little backyard was wrapping itself around me, warmth and scent and color, all the things it had promised me. And that is the day that I realized I loved it after all.
I drove through the dark last night and the fog was on the move, like an army of ghosts. It wasn’t a sit down, settling fog, moving in with a steady purpose. It was one of those fogs that swirled itself into a solid cloud that totally obscured the moon soaked farms on either side one minute and broke into solitary wraiths the next, each with a different mournful aspiration, uncertain as to the path down which its hopes might hide. Amusing antics, but I was in no hurry to join their ranks so it was a bit of a harrowing drive. Here’s the road; now it’s gone, a funny joke for the specters of the fog, not so funny for me.
But this morning the joke was on them. It seems last night that the circus of ghostly fog finally exhausted itself and settled in the trees for a bit of a rest after the performance. It was caught napping by the cold and when the sun woke it up this morning it found it had been transformed from a shifting, dancing troupe of performing ghosts into a mere embellishment for the trees, solid, stiff and fixed in place, an embarrassing position for a group of specters. Trees that yesterday were mere skeletons of themselves, that were nothing the eye could settle on, were suddenly bursting like clouds behind the small tacky buildings on the main drag, glittering, white, filled out almost as big as summer with leaves of ice. Tops of houses and even the little strip malls were coated with white. Dead grass as sharp and crystalline as icicles. From behind the concrete walls of the bridge, frosty branches hung over the Elk River as it splashed over the rocks like liquid ice. Everything glittered like Fairyland, iced with frozen ghosts. For a few minutes, it looked as though Walmart and Sonic and that ugly building covered with blue tarp at the end of the street might have wandered into some land of enchantment by mistake, as if they might be the ephemeral, endangered species instead of the trees. I thought maybe the plain and dirty buildings might feel they'd wandered into the wrong realm and disappear in a cloud of confusion. But the sun kept rising and getting stronger and the ghostly cloud began to wake up and pull itself together, ashamed of being caught earthbound. As I write this the cloud of ghosts is lifting itself again and leaving, Walmart and Sonic and Marvin’s and Krystal are sighing with relief to be back in the “real” world, and the ghosts, I assume are going back home or still searching for whatever it is that a flock of ghosts might be searching for.