NaNoReMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Write-ins are happening all over the place, including the library. And some people even go a step further: they become published authors as a result of their hard work and dedication to the craft of writing. How cool is that? One year my husband and I decided that we would each write a novel during NaNoWriMo. While we would be writing vastly different stories and not exactly collaborating, we wrote side-by-side in the same room and bounced ideas and grammar conundrums off of each other. Neither one of us finished our novels, but we had a lot of fun and learned more about each other as a result. Which, let me tell you, after being together for almost half your lives is something special indeed!

But this isn’t a post about NaNoWriMo. This is about a new moniker I am giving November: NaNoReMo, which stands for National Novel Reading Month. Reading books out loud together is something my husband and I have done on multiple occasions. Sharing an experience with someone can definitely bring you closer together, and sharing the experience and enjoyment of a book together is one of my top things for us to do as a couple. It’s free, doesn’t take much time, and can sometimes even be done while doing otherwise mundane or boring tasks. I’m going to share with you a few of our favorite books that we have read together, which will hopefully spark your own imagination and enthusiasm!

1-dad-is-fat

The time we read to each other: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
One of the best things about reading a Jim Gaffigan book is when you can get your hands on an audio recording of it and hear him read it to you. As huge fans of Jimbo, we were tempted to go that route. But instead we decided it would be fun to try reading each other alternating chapters. You read chapter 1, I’ll read chapter 2. One of the best things about this method was sometimes one or the other of us would be sleepy and not be up for reading that night. That’s okay; the other person was ready with the bedtime story. I might be sharing too much of myself here, but there is nothing I love hearing more than the sound of my husband’s voice. When he would read to me, I could feel the stress of the day melt away and if I was awake enough I’d be laughing right along with him as he read. I don’t know if he feels the same way about my voice, but I definitely returned the favor. It was a great balance and the fact that the book’s content was about an experience we haven’t yet shared, parenthood, made the experience educational as well.

2-ready-player-oneThe time we listened to an audiobook instead of watching TV: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
When Ready Player One first came out it didn’t even become a tiny blip on my radar. It’s the worst-kept secret that I detest dystopian novels, and this promised to fit the bill. But then the library acquired the audiobook and I saw that it was read by Wil Wheaton. After a quick fangirl dance of joy I promptly checked it out. On the drive home from work that night I listened to the beginning of the story, and over the next couple of weeks I finished the first few discs on my commute. It was a great way to pass the time while fighting rush hour traffic, but I had a better idea. I knew this story would appeal to my husband, so that night I brought the whole set into the house, set up some equipment, and started from the beginning. We were both riveted, and over the next several days we skipped the usual evening television programming in favor of listening to Wesley Crusher relate the story of Wade Watts and his journey into the OASIS system in search of James Halliday’s three keys and, hopefully, his ticket out of poverty.

3-the-martianThe time we read the same book back-to-back: The Martian by Andy Weir
This was another not-on-my-radar book that I almost missed. A few months before the Matt Damon movie was to be released in theaters, my husband read a story about the movie and knew he wanted to see the movie but read the book first. He devoured the book. I mean, he’s a quick reader anyway compared to my reading speed, but in this case he actually lost sleep in favor of finding out if astronaut Mark Watney, who was stranded on Mars for several years, ever made it back to Earth or not. He then began his campaign to get me to read it, too. Our reading tastes don’t often overlap so we aren’t in the habit of pestering each other to read a book we enjoyed. But this was different. He warned me about some technical jargon and heavy use of math (what does that say about me, that I need a math trigger warning?) but said the humor and writing style would win me over, and the suspense would keep me up as well. While I admit that I started reading the book in a thinly-veiled attempt to shut him up, the joke was on me. I absolutely loved it, and consider myself fortunate to have read the book before seeing the movie. Through no real effort my brain read the book in Matt Damon‘s voice.

4-romeo-and-or-julietThe time we will take turns choosing how the book goes: Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North
So I don’t know about you, but my Octobers are always super-busy, very stressful, and as a result I always get sick. This year was no exception. It was such a struggle to get through the month that November has so far been a kind of recuperation period. That’s all ending this Veterans Day when both my husband and I will finally have some quality time together. We’ve planned to read this book by Ryan North, aka one of the funniest guys in comics today, aka the crazy mad awesome genius behind The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series for Marvel. He has reworked Shakespeare so that the reader gets to choose the ending. That’s right; it’s a choose your own adventure for adults, and it has been sitting on our shelf at home for months collecting dust, waiting for its turn in the TBR. Our plan is for one of us to read while the other one drives; that is to say if I’m reading, he’s telling me which choice he wants as we go along. I really can’t wait for this one, as it’s another new type of book that is sure to help rejuvenate our spirits before we plan to travel back home for the holidays (stress x 1000).

So there you have it. Whether you’ve been married for decades or just swiped right, I urge you to file this one away in your relationship database. Let’s make America read again!

To Read or Not to Read [Shakespeare]

It’s Month Five of 2014 and I’m still clawing my way through my Reading Resolutions. That’s right—I haven’t quit yet! As a result, I’m pretty sure this is the longest I’ve ever followed through with resolutions I’ve made. Hooray! Anyway, this month I tackle reconciling my past. Sounds scintillating, right? Here’s a recap for those of you just joining us, or those of you who may not remember them all (I have to look them up constantly, and it’s my list after all):

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past (see below)
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

This will surprise no one who had to suffer through countless English classes with me in school, but I’ve never held a fondness for Shakespeare. It’s true, and this knowledge cuts through the heart of my English-major boss. However, as she is responsible for buying the Dewey 800s (Shakespeare’s home) I’ve discovered some of the more unique Shakespeare related titles she has ordered. Because of this, I’m learning to love Mr. William and think you will, too.

bricks

Who doesn’t love LEGO? I grew up playing more with LEGOs than I did Barbies. Luckily, the authors of the Brick Shakespeare series know how to hook the LEGO generation (but please don’t call them hookers). One book covers the comedies, and one covers the tragedies. I’ve always consider them all tragedies because I tragically could not get into anything The Bard composed. These books changed everything! Each scene is adorably illustrated with LEGO pieces and the dialogue is typed verbatim. So, sadly, you do still have to do a bit of translation. But in the end it’s totally worth it. Watch Shakespeare’s words written hundreds of years ago come to life with children’s toys! The next generation has a shot at loving and understanding Shakespeare, thanks to these brilliant books.

reducedTouted by the New York Times as “intellectual vaudeville” The Reduced Shakespeare Company performed the longest-running comedy in London with “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).” RSC’s two managing partners, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, then wrote a book on the topic. Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impared [Abridged] is told in an engaging style sure to grab anyone’s attention. Not only are each of The Bard’s works broken down and summarized in plain English, there’s also a healthy dose of humor sprinkled on top. And, to make this truly educational and thought-provoking, the authors have included essay questions at the end of each piece. Consider the following essay questions:

Was one of your siblings considered the family’s “problem child?” Did they get this label simply because they were not as funny as they should have been? (Triolus and Cressida)

In this play a baby is abandoned on the shores of Bohemia, a country with no coastline. Make up some smart-ass essay question about the “genius” of Shakespeare’s knowledge of geography and then answer it. (The Winter’s Tale)

There are also an assortment of pop quizzes scattered throughout to keep you on your (mental) toes:

Pop Quiz, Hotshot: Which famous sexual come-on originated in “Venus and Adonis?”
A. “Let’s get it on.”
B. “I’ll smother thee with kisses.”
C. “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire / What’s your desire?”
D. “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.”
(Answer: B)

insultedShakespeareThese books are all about making stuff that was written many hundreds of years ago relevant to today’s idiot children like me. If I still haven’t hooked you, this next title will do the trick. Shakespeare Insult Generator, compiled and introduced by Barry Kraft, has been all over the interwebs this publishing season. In fact, I’ve kind of been hoping to see it in a future Quarterly shipment from Book Riot. But I digress. I consider this book to not only be required reading for everyone struggling with Shakespeare, but I’d like to see it have a permanent home on every English major’s desk (do you hear that, boss lady?). This ingenious spiral-bound book dares you to “put dullards and miscreants in their place.” You can mix and match three horizontal pages at a time to create one of over 150,000 combinations of Shakespearian insults. Flip each word over and you’ll get the definition so you can be duly informed of just what you’re calling someone.

So don’t be a hater. Join me in welcoming The Bard into your life. With the right tools at your side, you can prepare to become a Shakespearian scholar at your next dinner party. It’s like I always say: wow them with whimsy.

Live, but Not in Person

There is always something slightly dangerous and exciting about watching a live performance. First of all there is the rather perverse thrill you get contemplating the possibility that something could go terribly wrong: a flubbed line or a note off-key perhaps. On the more positive side, performances seem to have more impact when they take place just a few yards away. It is an experience that just can’t be captured when viewed on a television set in the comfort of your own home.

Admittedly, though, there are some big drawbacks. Live performances can be a pain in the butt to get to. Scheduling times, dates, and places are not only annoying but can sometimes be downright impossible to coordinate. Live performances also can’t be stored and played again for your convenience. Finally, price can also be a significant obstacle: a concert ticket is way more expensive than a DVD rental after all.

Luckily I’ve recently stumbled upon a happy compromise: Broadcasts of live performances. The performances are live, for the most part, and broadcast to a theater near you. Here are few upcoming examples.

RiffTrax Live: Starship Troopers
starshiptrooperssideThe concept is simple. Some films deserve to be heckled. Average hecklers aren’t very creative though (“This movie sucks!” gets old pretty fast) so it is best to leave it to the experts. The RiffTrax team, with their Mystery Science Theater 3000 credentials, is more than up to the task and on August 15th you can watch them take down Starship Troopers in real-time. If you haven’t heard of Starship Troopers, the library (wisely perhaps) does not have the film but does own the book, you are in for an experience.  The plot is easily summed up as, literally, a bug hunt. Somewhere Bill Paxton is smiling.

If you would like to see something considered a little more cultured you are in luck. This fall the National Theatre will be presenting several live broadcasts of plays via their National Theatre Live project. We are lucky to have several locations in the area that will be participating, including SIFF. Here are three plays that look especially interesting:

macbeth

Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston
I don’t really need to sell you on this one do I? Even if you aren’t a big Shakespeare fan, this play has enough murder, madness and existential despair to keep you on the edge of your seat.  And that Lady Macbeth, oh my. This production has been receiving outstanding reviews and is performed in a deconsecrated Manchester church to add to the ominous ambiance. Branagh is known for many roles but his recent turn in the BBC version of Wallander is excellent. Kingston is a seasoned actress who is more recently known for her work on Dr. Who.

othello

Othello with Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear
More Shakespeare I know, but Othello has always been a favorite. I mean really, what the heck is Iago’s problem? I still don’t know for sure, but trying to figure out why he is so hell-bent on destroying his former comrade-in-arms is half the fun. Instead of 16th century Venice, this production is set in modern-day London and has been receiving rave reviews. Both Lester and Kinnear have done work you may be familiar with, and are veteran stage actors that should not disappoint.

Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller
FrankensteinsideThis play adaptation, by Nick Dear, of Mary Shelley’s classic book is not currently on stage (it was originally performed in 2011) but will be shown again this fall as an ‘encore’ performance. In addition to positive reviews, this production has an interesting hook: the two lead actors alternate between the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation every other performance. Add to this the fact that Danny Boyle is the director and it becomes a production that is hard to resist. Interestingly, both actors are currently involved in television reboots of the Sherlock Holmes character: Sherlock in the UK  for Cumberbatch and Elementary in the US for Miller.

So don’t let the inconveniences of mere time and space prevent you from enjoying a live performance. Now if someone would just invent a transporter or a TARDIS.

Richard