8 things I learned in May

1. The man who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth also wrote The Hello Goodbye Window.

Silas’s kindergarten class did a Caldecott deep dive this spring, so we’ve been buried in Caldecott books around here, at his request. I’m very familiar with both the 1988 modern classic and the 2005 Caldecott winner, but I never put together that Juster wrote both. The fact that they’re so very different certainly didn’t help!

2. How to read literature like a professor.

When I posted about the 8 uncomfortable lines I want to cut from the books I’m reading these days, a reader introduced me to the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor. The book covers about twenty different literary devices and examines how immersion into water illustrates a character’s “baptism” into a new way of thinking, how a death represents not an actual death but a character’s entry into a new stage or experience, and sex is frequently about exercising power. I’m intrigued, and am patiently waiting for my copy to arrive.

3. Amor Towles finally has a new book coming out!

I loved Rules of Civility and have been impatiently searching for news on what Towles is up to these days since I read it in 2012. He finally has a new book coming out: it’s called A Gentleman in Moscow, it’s about a man who is sentenced to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel, and it’s coming September 6. I can’t wait.

4. All about the Alex Awards. 

The American Library Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association annually give Alex Awards to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12-18. A handful of current and previous winners include Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Martian by Andy Weir, and Humans Of New York: Stories.

5. Customer service is alive and well. 

In some places, at least. I recently had a banking problem so I called their 1-800 number—and a real live human answered on the first ring. I thought I had the wrong number! She took care of my problem, told me to call anytime, and said that while she mostly spends her days solving customers’ issues, she occasionally just chats with her customers and their friends—when her customers ring her up in front of an audience to prove an actual human mans their bank’s customer service line.

6. The Duchess of Cambridge and I do not have the same style.

Or body. (Shocking, I know.) Kate is well-known for wearing belts with everything. Case in point: I’ve had a belted jacket for two years and until this spring I’d probably worn it three times, and been uncomfortable in it every time. A month ago I took the belt out—and I’ve been wearing it nonstop ever since.

When it comes to these two questions to refine your personal style, I am obviously not a “structure” person. (My other answer: matte.)

7. The story behind Stacy London’s grey streak.

I love a good episode of What Not to Wear (usually a partial episode, in a hotel room, on vacation) and have always admired Stacy London’s classy style. I just assumed that her distinctive grey streak was a style choice and nothing more. Nope. I learned on the HopeWriters podcast (episode 4) that the distinctive grey streak is a souvenir from a childhood illness.

And while she didn’t get that streak on purpose, she’s fiercely protective of it. In all her contracts—even the shampoo ones—it’s written in that nobody messes with the streak.

8. How to save big on my daughters’ favorite pens. 

I taught a class on how to bullet journal a few weeks ago at my local library’s How To Festival. My session was so fun, and—as in all good lessons—I learned a few things myself. Like I can buy my girls’ favorite gelly roll pens at JoAnn Fabrics, right by the Trader Joe’s we frequent, with a 40% (or, if we’re lucky 50%)-off coupon.

Online prices are quite good but if we’re in a hurry (because these are our go-to birthday gift) it’s so nice to know I can get them locally for cheap.

Joining in with Emily Freeman to share what I learned in May.


Leave A Comment
  1. Lauren says:

    I listened to a Stacy London long form interview on Lewis Howes’s School of Greatness podcast I had no idea I would have loved it so much!

  2. Oh, The Phantom Tollbooth! My all-time favorite middle grade. I’ve probably read it 30 times (on my own, with students, and with my boys). An annotated version was published for its fiftieth anniversary a few years back, and I desperately want a copy.

    My own weathered paperback has been signed by both Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer (Feiffer came through the DC area when I lived there, and when I learned Juster was speaking at a writing conference my friend was attending, I mailed it to her, and she graciously got it signed). An absolute treasure.

  3. Beth says:

    Serious question: Where do you bank? I’m looking to swop, and customer service is huge if not number 1 on my list of what I want.

  4. Adriana says:

    Buy JoAnn’s Calender in Dec/Jan for their very best coupons. You can use the coupon designated for each month along with other coupons, sales, and clearance items. I bought 2 calendars & gave one to a friend from my sewing group!

  5. Marsi says:

    Make that 9 things you learned in May: The Phantom Tollbooth was written in 1961, not 1988. ? I read it many times as a child in the mid-1970s.

  6. Leigh Kramer says:

    I knew Stacy London was protective of her gray streak- which I much admired- but I had no idea it came from a childhood illness. I’m going to have to listen to that!

  7. SoCalLynn says:

    REf:#2. I have read that book and I did find it very interesting. However, I once went to an event where Amy Tan, the fabulous author of the Joy Luck Club and other wonderful novels, was the main speaker and I will never forget what she said. To paraphrase her story: She was waiting at an airport and had some time to kill so she went to the book store. There was a rack of Cliff Notes guides and there was one for Joy Luck Club so she decided to to glance through it. She was reading the part about symbols and motifs, themes, etc. and she became fascinated, saying to herself, Wow, so that’s what I meant! Oh, that’s what that symbolizes. Long story short, she said sometimes a story is just a good story, and sometimes authors just mean to tell a good story without all the hidden or underlying meanings that professors and critics assign to them. So just enjoy! It sure took a heavy weight off my shoulders.

  8. Mary says:

    I have been a literature professor (and have read the book with similar title), and I can tell you that in many cases sex is just about sex and garnering more book sales.

  9. Laura says:

    Any idea why Eve in Hollywood was taken off Amazon (and seemingly everywhere else)? I’ve wanted to read Towles’ follow up to Rules of Civility, but it seems to have vanished from the Internet.

  10. Rissie says:

    Norton Juster also wrote “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics.” I read it to my geometry students every year!

  11. My childhood bears fond memories of watching What Not To Wear with my mom, and I remember grossly mislabeling Stacey London as a woman 2 decades her senior. All because of that streak. Now I’m older and able to understand that gray hair and elder status are not synonymous. Always loved her!

  12. Tracy Tobias says:

    I’m intrigued by your Library’s How To Festival. Can you elaborate? I love that idea. I might like to organize one in our parenting program or get our Friends of the Library to do one. If you already wrote about it, just direct me to that post. Thank you!

  13. Yvonne says:

    I mistakenly unsubscribed to your newsletter, I just wanted to unsubscribe to the daily kindle deals. I have tried to subscribe to your newsletter again but I got a message that it cannot automatically subscribe again. Help! How do I subscribe again?

  14. Susan says:

    I just purchased How to Read Lit Like a Professor for my son. It is required summer reading for his AP English 4 class. I’ll have to read it when he’s done!

  15. Sandra J says:

    Hi! I just ordered your “Summer Reading Guide” yesterday, so I was thrilled to be your neighbor today at Emily’s Link Up. I love that Stacy London protects her grey ‘streak’ – isn’t it great to celebrate our quirks!

  16. Melody says:

    Aw yes – Gelly Roll Pens would be a great go-to bday gift! I love this idea. I believe I’ll be adding this to my “things learned in June” list next month. Ha! Thanks for the great idea.

  17. Barbara Riley says:

    Pretty sure Phantom Tollbooth was written earlier, as I was born in ’61 and had the book as a child. A childhood favorite, for sure.

  18. Kate says:

    I LOVED Bellweather Rhapsody! It stuck with me for a long time, especially because it broke my longest book slump ever. Now I need to go and read it again!

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