Must Reads: For anyone who learned about love the hard way

Uses for Boys

I’ve always loved YA fiction. It is smart, it is complex, and it is heartbreaking. Uses for Boys is all three.

This page-turner took me less than two days to read, and in that time, I found myself hoping the protagonist, Anna, wouldn’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. But like a real human being, she does. With no father to speak of and a once-loving mom who now makes herself scarce, Anna is forced to navigate much of her childhood and teen years on her own. She seeks comfort in all the wrong places, mistaking sex for love and being punished for it as a result. Uses for Boys is a raw and real book that deals with abandonment and abuse, and it highlights the story of the kind of person society tends to shame by victim-blaming.

I did a Q&A with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt about some of the most important themes and moments from the book.

And her responses were so thoughtful that I’m really excited to share them with you now. Check out our Q&A below.

Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Uses for Boys author Erica Lorraine Scheidt (Photo by Marnie Webb)

WTH: Anna’s a tragic character who can’t seem to help but make the same mistakes over and over. Why was her story so important for you to tell?

ELS: I was writing into the question of how we make our way in the world. I started thinking about a teenage girl for whom sex was a salve to loneliness. And I was curious—why is it so easy for a girl to get sexual attention, but so difficult to get other kinds of attention? I thought, and I still think, that Anna’s story is important, because we are all lonely, we all have to learn how to be in the world. Anna just had to learn out loud, with little support or direction.

Some of the sex scenes are pretty detailed for a YA novel. How did you tread the line between being realistic and not romanticizing it too much?

I started out interested in what it meant that Anna learned about sex in the moment, from her partners, and not from frank, respectful conversations with caring adults. I was specifically interested in all the mistakes she made—and even when intimacy was surprising or tender or fun for Anna, it never occurred to me that it was romanticized. I think because because her experiences were also awkward or hurtful or confusing at times.

I did know, even when writing the earliest drafts, that the book was more explicit than many YA novels. But I feel strongly that we have to have safe ways to talk about sex and sexual situations—and fiction is one of those safe ways. We need to have more than fade to black and everything works out—because how do young men and women learn to navigate consent and pleasure without having some models for what works and what doesn’t work?

One thing I found interesting and refreshing about your book is how it depicts the abortion. While it is a fragile and challenging situation, the abortion is not nearly as dramatic or traumatic as it’s so often made out to be. It was a big moment in Anna’s life, but it wasn’t a defining moment. Did you take this approach on purpose, and if so, why?

I saw the abortion as one of the few times in Anna’s young life that adults were looking out for her physical and emotional wellbeing. And I loved the idea that Anna noticed these strong, caring women in the clinic and wondered what they had, why they were different than the other women in her life. I worked in an abortion clinic when I was 18, and I was so impressed by the women who worked there—kind, strong, generous, knowledgable women who were committed to serving others. It made a profound impression on me.

Anna’s mom’s absence throughout the book is such a presence, ironically. The whole time I was reading, I wanted to know how she justified spending so much time away from her daughter. What don’t readers know about her that you do?

I’m fascinated by villains. And the idea that the villain of your story can always justify his or her actions. Anna’s mom thought she was providing for her daughter by seeking financial security. I also suspect that Anna’s mom didn’t know how to make a different kind of home for Anna. I have a lot of hope for Anna, but I also have hope that her mom will change and grow.

Your website says you’re working on a new novel. Is there anything you can share about that?

Yes, only to say that it’s been difficult. And I won’t know until it’s finished, but the project seems to be taking a new turn and I’m very excited about it.

 

Thanks to Erica for sharing her thoughts and insight. Pick up a copy of Uses for Boys here or at your local bookstore. Follow Erica Lorraine Scheidt on Twitter here.

Must Reads: For anyone who thinks they can have it all

Tanya Selvaratnam

Photo by Naomi White

Last month, I read what has easily become my new favorite non-fiction book.

The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam is the perfect combination of smarts and heart. What business does someone like me, who still shudders at the thought of having a child any time soon, have reading a book about motherhood? Ah, well, lots, actually. The information and message in this book pertain to anyone who might want to become a parent some day.

The book addresses the harmful myth that we can “have it all” and make babies when it’s most convenient—like say, after we’ve established a career and settled comfortably into adulthood. Selvaratnam packs a lot of stats and research about fertility into her book. Did you know 10 percent of the world’s population experiences fertility issues, which affect all people (rich/poor, black/white, male/female) equally? And that the initial drop in fertility among women happens as early as 25 to 29 years old? Which is not to say you should be freaking out if you are 30 or older—but you should be empowering yourself with the knowledge of such facts.

The Big Lie is not all statistics and percentages, though.

What surprised me most about it is how much Selvaratnam’s personal story with three miscarriages and a cancer discovery humanized everything I was learning throughout the book. She really gets vulnerable here, and I found myself teary-eyed and cheering Selvaratnam on along the way. That’s what really set this book apart for me.

Though I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, I think anyone who has read it (whether they agreed with it or not) is likely to enjoy The Big Lie. It touches on similar issues, but comes from a generally more relatable perspective—as in, the COO of Facebook didn’t write it.

The Big Lie

I had the chance to do a Q&A with Selvaratnam over at Neon Tommy, and she shared some wise and thoughtful words. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“When someone says feminism is no longer necessary, I think, Tell that to the mother raising five kids who can’t get paid as much as a man to do the same job; tell that to the woman who is treated as the aggressor when she is raped; tell that to the girl who isn’t allowed to learn how to read. It’s a Big Lie that we don’t need feminism.”

We also talked about Millennials having a harder time than earlier generations to afford children, as well as the importance of having conversations with our partners and doctors about our eventual plans for children. Tanya also had some fantastic book recommendations for anyone interested in these topics. You can read our conversation (and find out what the “big lie” is) here.

The Big Lie has already gotten a lot of attention from the press, and I hope it becomes one of those books you see popping up all over the blogosphere. Check it out for yourself, and let me know what you think!

Found in L.A.: The Last Bookstore

Last Bookstore

Want to know about the time I felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when she discovers the castle’s library? Visiting The Last Bookstore in downtown L.A. was kind of like that.

If you love books, this is a book lover’s heaven. And if you don’t—though I’m not sure how that’s possible—The Last Bookstore will make you love books.

Last Bookstore

Last Bookstore

Last Bookstore

This magical place was named with irony in mind, but as the number of book stores continues to diminish, well, just about everywhere, this really is one of the few that seems to be thriving. And as soon as you walk in, it’s easy to see why. The 10,000 square foot space is the largest-selling independent book store in California, selling new and used books and records. It’s easy to get lost. (I totally forgot about the parking meter, which I let expire while I browsed.)

records

labyrinth

Last Bookstore

Upstairs is what’s called the “Labyrinth,” where there are more than 100,000 used books for just a dollar each. THAT’S RIGHT, FOLKS. You can really get your reading on here. If you’re into bookshelf porn, this is the place to visit. The Labyrinth really lives up to its name, too. I couldn’t believe how expansive it was. Every time you think you’ve reached the end of the books, there’s another hidden corner to turn. And what better place for a bibliophile to get lost?

Last Bookstore tunnel

book tunnel

books and light

The Last Bookstore also commissioned several artists for funky, permanent installments, which really add so much to the whimsy of the place. Can you imagine how especially fun this would be to explore as a kid? You could turn any child into an avid reader by bringing them here.

art installment

art installment

old cameras

books organized by color

There are also lots of events at the Last Bookstore, like readings and open mics. Apparently, you can even get married there. (Would be well-suited for a couple of book-lovers, no?) I can’t wait to go back.

Would anyone else like to spend his or her whole day at The Last Bookstore? Angelenos, where should I visit next?

wittycassiehere Instagram

The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with book-loving librarian Shannon McNeill

Anyone who appreciates books and the people who write them will love this interview with someone whose job it is to share them. Librarian Shannon McNeill is here to give you a little insight as to what it’s like in her world of books in this week’s interview.

Shannon McNeill

Shannon McNeill had what Oprah calls an aha! moment. It happened like this: One day, she woke up and realized she wanted to be a librarian. But she started out as a teacher. After graduating college, Shannon taught preschool for a year, and later earned her certificate in English as a Foreign Language. With that, she spent a year in Greece and taught English—it was the best year of her life. It was after Shannon moved back home and spent three years teaching at a Montessori School when she had the realization that teaching wasn’t quite for her. When she decided to become a librarian, Shannon began volunteering at her local library, applied to get her Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS), and landed a job almost immediately upon graduating.

Working as the Assistant Director in a small Pittsburgh library, Shannon maintains the book collection and purchases books for adults and children. She hosts and plans programs including children’s story times, the book club, and visits to local schools. This is clearly the fun part for her. The enthusiasm and energy Shannon brings to the job is infectious. You can find her on Twitter and at her blog, A Librarian’s Lists & Letters.

Welcome, Shannon!

Book lovers have this way of pinpointing exactly what it was that sparked an interest in reading—what was the catalyst for you?

I actually don’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t love books. My mother tells stories  of her walking me to the local library twice a day when I was younger. And though I don’t actually remember this happening, I vividly remember that library. I remember always reading and I kind of remember always knowing how to read. We always had books in our house, I always got books as presents, and the hardest decision growing up was choosing which book I was going to order from the Scholastic catalog on a very meager budget.

Did you always love spending time in the library growing up? What kinds of books and genres did you like to read?

I definitely loved spending time at the library when I was a very young girl. The first neighborhood I grew up in had a library just a block away from our house. But we moved when I was just about to start the first grade to a town without a library. I remember being crushed, but I learned to rely on my school library.

And when I was in middle and high school, I never used the library. I think it’s a time that most students fall out of the habit and I think something librarians are always trying to fix. In college, I only used the library for assignments, but I finally found my way back to libraries as a young adult. And when I did, it just fit.

library

What is the library like where you work? Is it an integral part of the community, or is it something you have to actively work toward making sure it stays running?

My library is a medium-sized library in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a great place to be a librarian because we have a huge library system that allows all of these local neighborhood libraries to be connected through a consortium. You get the benefit of having a true community library that really allows you to become an important place in the community, but you get the benefit of a large system and endless books and resources.

Describe some of the day-to-day tasks you do as an Assistant Director. I’m particularly interested in the book purchasing process (how do you make your selections?) and program planning.

Because I work in a smaller library, my role as Assistant Director really means I do a little of everything. I host all of our story times, plan programs for children and adults, take care of tech questions, perform reader’s advisory and reference, and I share the ordering responsibilities with our Director.

In terms of making purchasing decisions, I always keep the patrons in mind. So much of what I order is best-selling material (authors like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich), but it’s also about finding interesting and informative material. One of my favorite things to do is find quirky reads, music, DVDs, etc. that I know other libraries might not have the budget to purchase. I’m always thinking about my own community first, but because we share materials with the greater Pittsburgh area, I find that material that has larger appeal is harder to find. It’s like a puzzle I’m creating and solving each month.

I don’t worry about censoring material because as long as I am following my library’s purchasing policies, the material that I buy will find its proper place within our collection. Instead, my biggest worry is always buget. Sometimes I want to buy ALL of the books, but have to scale back and weigh my priorities.

You seem to especially love planning programs for children. In what ways is interacting with these kids rewarding?

Well, I was a teacher for five years before I went back to school for my MLIS and became a librarian, so I have always enjoyed working with children. For me, the reward in working with children is just to see how excited they are about learning. Children just want soak up as much information as they can, and they have such a love of reading, it’s impossible not to find joy in hosting a storytime or other program.

Plus, how can you not love a bunch of preschoolers shouting your name and telling you how much they love the library? 

It may seem obvious to some, but why is instilling a love for reading in children so important? Have you witnessed any transformations (big or small) in the children you meet when they find a story that resonates with them?

Instilling a love of reading at an early age is a gateway to success. It gives children so much, including self-esteem and awareness. But really, it helps to make life-long learners. It’s the first step in showing children that they have a world of discovery out there and that they have the tools to figure it all out.

As for transformations, I think I see them every week. They are happening around us all of the time, and I’m just thankful that I get to play a part in helping children learn. It never stops warming my heart to have a child come running to me to talk about their newest favorite book, or to tell me about their latest achievement, or to ask me to choose something special for them. Those are all little transformations and if we don’t pay attention to them, we miss out.

What is your take on the hard copy vs. digital book debate? Is there any right or wrong way to enjoy a good book? And does technology affect the library system negatively?

There is absolutely no wrong way to enjoy a good book. If you are reading something that makes you happy, no matter the format, that’s what matters. I want to help people discover the books that speak to them, and if they read them on an eReader or on paper, it doesn’t really matter. Sure, the world of publishing is changing, but if anything, I think it’s made libraries more relevant. Chances are your library has free eBooks for you to borrow and my library even offers digital subscriptions to magazines. We’re the place people go to for questions about iPads and Kindles and everything in between. Librarians are tech-savvy. We manage to be on top of trends and respectful of traditional methods, too. Really, I don’t think there is much in terms of technology that a good library couldn’t tackle and for those reasons, I don’t think we’ll be disappearing into the dark anytime soon.

On a similar note, said e-readers, along with academic search engines, make it easy for readers and students to not have to make a trip to the library. Why is the brick-and-mortar “search engine” still needed?

The library is more than just a book depository. It houses informed professionals that can help locate things that even Google can’t manage to find. It’s a place where people can come for free education and entertainment. It’s a place where people go when they need someone to talk to. It’s a community center that hosts speakers and teaches skills. It’s a place to find employment help and someone to show you how to build a resume. It’s where you can send a fax, scan documents, and make copies all for very little money. It’s a place that lets you read newspapers and magazines for all day long for no cost. It’s a warm place to find shelter in the winter and a cool place to relax in the summer. It’s where anyone can go and not be judged for needing assistance. The library is more than just books and computers. It’s whatever is needed, for each unique person who walks in the door, each and every day.

library

Clearly you love your job, but are there aspects of it that are tough? Monotonous?

Of course, just like any job librarians have their rough days. I do love my job very much, but sometimes I am so busy it’s hard to come up for air and breathe. It’s not always dealing with demanding or rude patrons. I’ve been yelled at, cursed at, and I’ve even had tennis balls thrown at me. And on those days, of course the job is tough. But more often than not, people are good, caring, and kind and that makes up for the small amount of people who are unreasonable or hurtful.

Would you say that library work is your calling? Would you ever want to pursue other paths?

I woke up one day and knew that I was meant to be a librarian. I was feeling lost and lonely in my life, and something had to change, but it took me awhile before I realized that librarian was a profession that I could actually do. And since then, I haven’t looked back. At this point in my life, I am absolutely certain, with every fiber of my being, that I am supposed to be a librarian. Will I think the same in ten years? I don’t really know. I’ve learned that life doesn’t always happen the way you think it will and to just accept the way it may twist and turn. I’m just thankful that I am happy being a librarian now.

I ask every interviewee this question, but it’s especially fitting for you: What books would you recommend to others?

Oh, I always find this so hard to answer. A librarian takes her recommendations very seriously and knows that each reader is different so there can be no blanket answer. I always write a list of my most favorite books I read each year on my blog, and I keep a pretty extensive Goodreads record of what I’m reading, too.

But if you really want to know, I’m recommending Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple to just about everyone these days. It’s snarky, witty satire at its finest. But it also has depth and and heart. A fantastic mother-daughter coming-of-age tale that not enough people are reading.

And for children? One of my all-time favorites is A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead. It’s a Newbery winner and just an adorable tale of a sick zoo keeper and his animal friends. I’m also a huge fan of Jon Klassen. I’d highly recommend anything he’s written and/or illustrated for any level.

 

Thanks so much for sharing your insight and expertise, Shannon! It’s encouraging to read about your thriving library and the kids who relish in it. Have a question or compliment for Shannon? Leave it in the comments! For more of The “Lucky” Ones interview series, click here.

photo credit: annais via photopin cc and Ozyman via photopin cc