Ferrante Night Fever at I Am Books

Dear Reader:

Last Thursday, November 3, 2016  was one of the best evenings of my life. I attended the Ferrante Night Fever party at I AM Books, a charming little bookstore in the North End (Boston’s Little Italy) that carries titles written by Italian and Italian American authors. It was a wonderful coincidence that last Thursday was also my 35th birthday, and the occasion was thoroughly enhanced by this particular celebration of my very favorite author – Elena Ferrante.

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All Saints Way in Boston’s Catholic North End

If you are not familiar with Elena Ferrante and her work, here is a quick Ferrante 101:

  • Elena Ferrante is a pen name, a pseudonym. No one knows the true identity of Ms. Ferrante. Through interviews, Ms. Ferrante claims that she does not want celebrity because she wants more time for her writing, rather than traveling and doing readings.
  • Ms. Ferrante is incredibly popular in Italy, but it has only been in the last few years that she has become well-known in the American market.
  • Elena Ferrante’s most popular works are a series of 4 books known as the Neapolitan Novels. These books focus on the lives of two women, Lenú and Lila,  who have grown up together and whose lives are entangled, even during periods when they do not talk or see one another. These novels are narrated by Lenú, and, despite Lenú’s achievements as a scholar, she always feels inferior to the uneducated yet brilliant and aggressive Lila.
  • All of Ferrante’s novels focus on the lives of women, and they are considered by many readers to be extremely dark.
  • Fans of Ms. Ferrante are livid that an Italian journalist has recently tried to expose Ms. Ferrante’s identity. They feel it is an invasion of her privacy, and they want to protect her from unwanted attention.

I have to say that, at the Ferrante Night Fever party (which, by the way, was completely free of charge), everyone was made to feel like a guest of honor. We were treated to a feast of Italian food – arancini,  meatballs, and amushroom stuffing – as well as  cream-filled pastry horns for dessert.

The crowd of mostly women gathered to celebrate the  release of Ferrante’s Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey in its English translation. Unlike her other books, which are novels or novellas, Frantumaglia is a treasury of letters, essays, and interviews that reveal Ms. Ferrante’s writing process. As a writer myself, this book particularly interests me, as I feel it will provide insights to inspire my own process.

I am saving my copy for a Thanksgiving Break read-through, and I look forward to finishing it all in one go. I was on maternity leave when I read Ferrante’s other works (and I have read all of them), and it was wonderful to move through them all in one go. Our family has no firm plans for Thanksgiving, which gives me the gift of time to dedicate to this book.

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My copy of Frantumaglia

At the event, a wonderful Italian journalist (whose name I unfortunately did not catch) not only brought us wine, but he also facilitated an engaging discussion of Ferrante’s work. A key wondering that arose was why Ms. Ferrante’s work was so popular with Americans. One women from Naples suggested that Americans have a love affair with Italy, and many at the gathering agreed. I think this is true about Americans, but for myself, I wouldn’t say I have an infatuation with Italy. For me, the novels stand alone because they are revealing of how women interact and how a female writer and scholar perceives herself, her relationships, and the world. I am particularly interested in the way Ms. Ferrante’s characters separate themselves from their families and feel criticized because of it in order to accomplish scholarly work or inventions.

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With my dear friend and fellow educator Ms. Gro

As an educator, I connect very strongly with the theme of education and applied  intelligence as a means of gaining freedom from violence and poverty in Ferrante’s work. The Neapolitan novels begin in the extremely raw Naples of the 1950’s. Men beat their wives in public. Women stay indoors nearly all the time. Babies are thrown out of windows. And yet silence is preserved, especially amongst women. Yet Lenú finds success in school, reads vigorously, and she convinces her family to permit her to continue through high school. In contrast, Lila is forced to leave school after the 5th grade to work in her family’s shoe store. Still, Lenú feels she is the inferior “white swan”, technically perfect but she will never rise to the styling of Lila’s “black swan”. Lila is able to invent a famous style of shoe, create a brilliant work of photography, learn computer engineering, and eventually run a successful business with seemingly little effort. Lenú feels clumsy as she joins in intellectual circles with those who have had a far more privileged upbringing than herself. She devotes herself to her writing, and she becomes a successful scholar and writer. Yet Lenú has to make incredible efforts with all she does, and Lila’s achievements are always in the front of her mind.

The Ferrante Night Fever gathering was the first time I had ever attended an book club-style discussion. My reading and writing life is something very personal. While I feel comfortable writing about it, I am far less confident in discussing my ideas with others. This event made me realize how a thorough discussion can aide my understanding of and deepen my connection to literature. I was shy at first, but then loosened up, especially because my dear friend Ms. Gro was with me, and she is the life of any party. I left feeling that it had been the perfect evening…and a perfect birthday celebration.

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End of the Evening Smiling Selfie with my Ferrante Fever button

I AM Books is the country’s first Italian American Bookstore. It is located at 189 North Street in Boston’s North End. It is open seven days per week. Website: iambooksboston.com

One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty Nine Pages

Do you remember way back in July when I promised to read 25 pages a day for pages4progress? I did it! Well, I actually did a little more. Between July 13th and September 7th, I read 1739 pages – an average of 29.9 pages per day.

My Reading Ritual: Coffee, Post-Its, and Brookine Booksmith Bookmark on My IKEA Bird Tray

My Reading Ritual: Coffee, Stickies, Pen, and Brookline Booksmith Bookmark on My IKEA Bird Tray

Books I Finished During This Challenge

10% Happier by Dan Harris (non-fiction): A news reporter commits to a meditation practice.*

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff (non-fiction): A family struggles to comprehend a teenage son’s addictions to heroin, crystal meth, and alcohol.

The Clue in the Crumbing Wall by Carolyn Keene (YA fiction): Teenage sleuth Nancy Drew searches for a missing dancer who is also the heir to an estate.

Con Cariño, Amalia by Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta (Spanish intermediate fiction): A sixth grade girl deals with both her grandmother’s death and her best friend’s out-of-town move.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (realistic fiction): A woman verges on madness after her husband leaves her.

Silent Dancing: Partial Rememberances of a Puerto Rican Childhood by Judith Ortiz Cofer (autobiographical sketches): Through poetry and prose, Ortiz Cofer recants her childhood in Puerto Rico and New Jersey.

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (professional): A veteran teacher shares techniques for increasing student engagement.*

The Year of Our Revolution by Judith Ortiz Cofer (YA realistic fiction): A Puerto Rican woman living in New Jersey comes of age during the 1960s.

Books I Had to Return to the Library Before Finishing (And Have Re-Requested)

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (autobiography): A young Pakistani girl risks her life for her education.

Trout Fishing in America/The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster/ In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan (fiction, fiction, poetry): Through short tales and poetry, Brautigan captures American life in the 1960s.

The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square by Ned Sublette (non-fiction): This book provides a historical account of New Orleans from colonization through the Louisiana purchase.**

Books I Own But Did Not Finish Because I Was Trying to Complete the Library Books I Had Out

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (realistic fiction): A Mexican-American woman narrates her family’s history.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (fiction): A young boy with a skeletal facial difference begins middle school.

*Read as a Talks for Teachers Summer Book Club Reading Selection

**Inspired me to make Shrimp Gumbo

Sofia: "Mommy - Count Me In for Next Year's Challenge!" Mommy: "Ok - I will!"

Sofia: “Mommy – Count Me In for Next Year’s Challenge!” Mommy: “Ok – I will!”

Goals for Summer: Talks with Teachers May Challenge Week #2

The theme for this week’s Talks with Teachers May Challenge is restoration, which is quite a natural fit for teachers approaching summer vacation. Our project for the week is to share a list of 10 or more goals for the summer.

Although I have completed seven years of teaching, this upcoming summer will be my first “summer off” from any formal  teaching or professional development activities. Following my first three years of teaching, I served as a volunteer teacher in the Dominican Republic. Following my fourth and fifth year of teaching, I worked in Boston Public Schools’ summer school programs, and last summer, I completed the required practicum for my reading specialist license at  MGH’s Speech, Language, and Literacy Center.

This summer, however, my primary focus will be on my health and my family with professional goals of secondary importance. Additionally, as I will not return to work from my maternity leave until January, the timeline for my goals extends into the fall.

My Summer and Fall Goals

Family

1. Establish a reading routine with my daughters.

My twin daughters, Sofia and Francine, are due on June 16th. It is really important for me to establish a reading routine with them from infancy. I have already begun to read to them every time that I am riding in the car with my husband driving. We also read to them at night before we go to sleep. Thanks to my teacher friends, my daughters already have a small library of books (in both English and Spanish) to enjoy! I am really looking forward to sharing my love of reading with my daughters.

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Sofia and Francine’s Little Library Space: the bottom two shelves of one of our bookshelves

2. Create a playlist of Spanish songs for my daughters.

I love listening to music in Spanish. I listen to mainly reggaetone and bachata, however, which I think is better for dancing than a sing-along. I would like to take the time to find some mid to slow tempo music in Spanish to sing along with for Sofia and Francine. (Please comment if you have any ideas!)

3. Take my daughters to the Curious George Room at the Cambridge Public Library.

Recently my colleague Paula Leoni sent me photographs of this delightful children’s reading space at the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch. I definitely want to spend an afternoon there with Sofia and Francine, and I would love to get their pictures in front of the beautiful Curious George murals. Apparently, there are quite a variety of activities, including lapsits and concerts, there as well.

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

4. Bring the girls to the Infant and Toddler Storytime at our local branch of the Boston Public Library.

BPL Roslindale is our local branch of the Boston Public Library, only a short walk from our house. I am looking forward to taking Sofia and Francine to the infant and toddler storytime offered on Tuesday mornings.

Health

5. Take long walks again.

Recently, for longer outings, my husband and I have had to rent a wheelchair for me from a local medical supply store. This is so frustrating as I normally take walks of three to eight miles around Boston when the weather is nice. But lately, I really can’t go more than twenty minutes due to either my lungs or my legs. I really look forward to taking many walks this summer, as I usually do!

6. Connect back into my running.

The most difficult part of my pregnancy, both mentally and physically, was having to give up running. Running has been a big part of my life since 2009, when I completed my first 5K race. I am by no means a very fast runner, but I absolutely love putting on my headphones and going for a long run. It just clears my mind and body of all stress, and I often get my best ideas when running. Running often allows me to clearly think through large tasks or just to be creative inside my own mind. I completed a half-marathon in October of 2012, and I hope to eventually run a marathon, but my post-pregnancy goal is to complete a 5K by the end of September.

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Runner’s High: Feeling Great After a Race in Salem, MA in Spring 2013 (Portrait with Whale Mural)

 

Professional Life

7. Find a meaningful 1-credit education class.

I am one credit shy of receiving a higher salary, so I hope to find a 1-credit education class that I can take online. Boston Public Schools History Coach Sharon Ennis suggested  Facing History courses, but unfortunately the online courses offered take place in June, too close to my due date. I think I would prefer to take an online course in adolescent literature if I can find one. (Again, please comment below with any suggestions).

8. Work through Teacherpreneurs

I recently purchased the book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave. From just skimming the pages, the book seems to be a combination of a text book as well as a book that encourages discussion and reflection on the role of a teacher leader. I am at a point in my career where I really want to think about my next moves as an educator, and I think this book with help me to unpack my career desires.

9. Participate in the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club. 

I just today signed up for the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club, which is a completely free online book club for teachers in which we will read three books. In June, the selection will be a novel; I voted for Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been on my Goodreads to-read list for quite some time. A non-fiction selection will be chosen for July, followed by a back-to-school professional book in August.

10. Figure out how to participate in a Twitter chat.

I see great chats for educators advertised on Twitter all the time, and I just need to sit down and figure out how to navigate them. (Once again, please comment with any assistance!)

 

Dines Family Book Club October Selection: Bad Land

Bad Land:  An American Romance by Jonathan Rahan

Ginger poses with Bad Land in the Dines Dining Room.

Ginger poses with Bad Land in the Dines Dining Room.

My Review from My Goodreads.com Account

This book mirrors the landscape it describes: slow, meandering, and seemingly endless. Although the tragedy of the Montana homesteaders is worthy of a place in American history, the author fails to make the personal connections between the reader and the subject of the book. Raban interviews many different people along the Montana plains, but his writing fails to make the reader feel as if he or she knows the people. It seems more like listening to snippets of a public radio broadcast than making connections with human subjects. The book gives the impression of an overzealous Brit exploring the wildness of the American West in a cheesy PBS documentary, yet, to Americans, it is the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder minus the compellingly simple narrative arcs. Raban meanders through the “Bad Land” of Montana, and every inch seems miserable and gray.

Post-Reading Discussion Questions 

by Jennifer and David Dines

1. Compare the effects of the Homestead Act on the railroad industry to its effects on individual homesteaders.

2. How did personal pride and independence influence homesteaders?

3. What is the role of faith in American invention?

4. How does the Wollaston family’s lifestyle contrast with the environment in which they live?

5. How did the homesteaders’ view of themselves differ from the government’s view of the homesteaders?

6. How did advertising serve as a catalyst for the settlement of the railway?

7. What is the role of debt in middle class American adulthood?

8. How are the grasshopper plagues a metaphor for the homesteaders themselves?

9. In what way is self-sufficiency threatening to organized government?

10. Did the homesteaders realize the extent of their effect on Boston and New York-based investors?

Index Card found in the used copy of the book purchased at Brookline Booksmith

Index Card found in the used copy of the book purchased at Brookline Booksmith

Dines Family Book Club September Selection: The Devil in the White City

Welcome to the first monthly installment of the Dines Family Book Club! My husband David and I often buy two copies of the same book, and we read them together and talk about them. Even through we are not part of a more formal book club, we enjoy having our book chats at home. I thought it would be perfect to share some of our selections with readers of this blog along with discussion questions. Enjoy!

September

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

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Pepper Dines elegantly displays the Dines Family Book Club’s September selection.

My Review from my Goodreads.com Account

A fantastic cocktail of American macabre beauty with a twist that “only Poe could have imagined”. A well-researched book that allows the reader to time travel through the dichotomy of good and evil in the White City and its dark shadow.

Post-Reading Discussion Questions

by Jennifer and David Dines

1. Why did Holmes feel the need to appeal to the public?

2. Why would parents allow their daughters to travel alone to Chicago? What social change made that possible? Was the crime rate in Chicago publicized? Would non-Chicago papers carry those stories?

3. Did Holmes’ victims have a particular psychological profile?

4. Who burned down Holmes’ building?

5. Why did people comply with Holmes’ wishes?

6. Could Holmes be the Devil?

7. Is it wrong to put human beings on display?

8. What is the danger in the desire to curate? How are Holmes and the fair’s planners curators?

9. How does the White City contrast the city of Chicago?

10. What are the connections between Holmes and the fair aside from physical proximity?