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!”

Join Me in Reading for a Cause!

Dear Readers:

This morning, via the Goodreads July newsletter, I learned of a very interesting initiative that involves two of my favorite things – reading and social justice. I invite you to join the Pages for Progress challenge with me in order to support World Education. All you need to do is log pages you’ve read on the Pages4Progress website, and World Education will receive a $1 donation for each page.

I myself will be reading 25 pages per day between now and International Literacy Day on September 8th. I have already honored my pledge today by reading pages 163 to 188 of 10% Happier by Dan Harris (the July selection for the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club). I will be regularly updating my progress on my pledge via my twitter account.

I do hope you will join me in helping the world to read! Please let me know if you do sign up by commenting here or on twitter!

Happy Reading from Jennifer Dines

Poster

 

Author and Activist Michael Patrick MacDonald Visits the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School

I was both surprised and thrilled when my colleague Susan Lovett sent out an e-mail about arranging a visit for author and activist Michael Patrick MacDonald. I jumped in right away to help organize this event for our school, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School.

Years earlier, I had taken Mr.MacDonald’s book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie out of the library and read it cover to cover over the course of a single weekend. The book is a memoir of MacDonald’s early life in South Boston during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the story that unfolds is much more than a personal narrative. All Souls offers a historical narrative with vivid first-hand descriptions of  Boston’s busing era and the influence of notorious criminal “Whitey” Bulger on the Southie neighborhood. The novel is also a spiritual journey of resistance and resilience on the part of young MacDonald, whose bright soul, curiousity, and dedication to his family and community shines through the trauma of living under the effects of poverty, crime, and death. The writing and publication of the book itself is a tribute to MacDonald’s bravery and activism, breaking the unwritten “code of silence” that long prevented the residents of the Southie neighborhood and others like it from reporting and discussing crime, drugs, and deaths plaguing their communities.

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My autographed copy of MacDonald’s first novel

 

During Mr. MacDonald’s visit to our school on Tuesday, the acclaimed author spoke to a group of about fifty of our students, who were specially selected to attend the event based on their commitment to social justice and community leadership. Mr. MacDonald talked about the City of Boston’s Gun Buyback program, and he read a passage from his second novel Easter Rising which discussed the post-traumatic stress he experienced following the deaths of his brothers. The students had many questions to ask Mr. MacDonald, and he thoughtfully answered each and every one of them.

After the presentation, students received copies of All Souls (one young man even brought his own hardback from home) and had the opportunity to have their books signed. The students were overjoyed to talk with a real author, and I saw many students reading their books in the hallways while walking back to class. In fact, I taught a class right after Mr. MacDonald’s visit, and I had to ask students to put their new books away to focus on the lesson – this is the kind of focus issue that I am more than happy to see!

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Students gather around MacDonald to have their books signed.

Two students from Academy 1 smile and show the cover of the book.

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Sixth grade student Rasha shows his beautiful smile as he stands next to Mr. MacDonald.

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7th graders Mikel and Kiajah look on thoughtfully while Mr. MacDonald autographs Kiajah’s copy of All Souls.

Over the course of the week, many teachers reported to me that students were carrying the books in their backpacks and “showing off” the autographed books to students and teachers alike. My colleague Alice Laramore commented that the students were treating the books “like a trophy” of Mr. MacDonald’s visit.  I myself have ordered additional copies to use with my intermediate and advanced ESL classes in the last quarter of the year as part of a unit on argument and persuasion – at the conclusion of the unit, students will produce argument essays about how to best prevent violence in an urban community. Mr. MacDonald sent me some photographs of toy gun buyback programs to inspire our students to perhaps organize their own drive. The note I received from Mr. MacDonald read: Jennifer, please share these images from past buybacks and concurrent toy gun turn-ins organized by middle school aged kids, in case that might inspire some local community organizing in the school with the local community. These toy gun turn ins (in exchange for non violent toys and books donated by businesses like Toys R Us and Publishers like children’s lit Houghton Mifflin) are very fun.  And it’s a great way for teens, pre teens, and the smaller children to feel a sense of voice and agency.

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Photograph of mothers from Charlestown as promotion for Boston’s third gun buyback

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Mr. MacDonald with a young activist and organizer

Mr. MacDonald’s visit was a perfect fit for our school – our building itself is a symbol of triumph over violence, as our school was built by activists on a lot that was once a hub of criminal activity. Formerly named the New Boston Pilot School, the Lilla G. Frederick (LILL-LUH, not LYE-LUH) is itself named for a Grove Hall community organizer.

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

Shutdown 2013: Interview with a Government Librarian

Kara B. (a.k.a. Bollywood Blogger  Filmi Girl) and I have been friends since we attended college together at Berklee back in the early part of the millennium. We were in several bands together, and we have stayed friends for the past decade plus.

Me (l) and Kara B. (r) play in our band Anti-Love Project at Great Scoot in Allston circa 2003.

Me (l) and Kara B. (r) play in our band Anti-Love Project at Great Scott in Allston circa 2003.

Fast forward to 2013.

The Philadelphia Water Ice Factory: Kara B. and I two weeks ago... striking poses at H Street NE DC

The Philadelphia Water Ice Factory: Kara B. and I two weeks ago… striking poses at H Street NE DC

This morning, Kara B. granted me this interview about the effects of the government shutdown on a federal librarian working in our nation’s capital.

Literacy Change: What is your job?
Kara B.: I’m a librarian for the federal government. My job is completely nonpartisan. Tracking down accurate statistics or digging up hard to find articles or recommending background reading on a certain policy topic, I make sure that our patrons get the information that they need to do their jobs.
LC: How does the government shutdown affect you?
KB: I am on unpaid leave with no guarantee that I will receive backpay. That is my biggest concern at the moment: how big a financial hit will I take from this shutdown. And for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees in the same situation–not to mention the hundreds of thousands more forced to work without pay–it’s really insulting to see certain segments of the media play this shutdown off like a joke. Our jobs, our professions, our lives are not being treated with respect.
LC: I understand that you were out and about in D.C. yesterday. What was different from a normal weekday?

KB: There was a very strange mood in the city yesterday. Many employees were required to go into work for a few hours in the morning in order to shutdown their offices and when I went out for a walk around lunch time I saw a lot of aimless looking people in suits. Rush hour on the subway in the evening was eerily quiet.

LC: What do you plan to do with your time during the shutdown?

KB: Because my family and friends are in similar situations, we’re going to try and get through it together. I spent yesterday afternoon having coffee with a furloughed friend from IRS and today my father, who is also furloughed, and I are going on a little day trip to Southern Virginia. I plan to spend as much time away from my computer and the television and the news as possible.

LC: Are there any books you are hoping to read during the shutdown?

KB: Unfortunately I was too busy on Monday to assemble a reading list of work-related books to check out but I may use the time to catch up on the stack of books on my bedside table, which includes:

A Trip to the National Book Festival

On Saturday, my mom, my husband, and I visited the Library of Congress‘s National Book Festival, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This post is a brief photoessay about our wonderful day at the Book Festival.

 

Let's Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.

Let’s Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.

Let's Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.

Let’s Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.
Upon arrival, this wonderful volunteer presented us with our orange bags and the beautiful book festival poster.

Upon arrival, this wonderful volunteer presented us with our orange bags and the beautiful book festival poster.

We added a new member to the Dines-Westervelt Family: The Cat in the Hat!

We added a new member to the Dines-Westervelt Family: The Cat in the Hat!

We also spotted that curious little monkey...Curious George!

We also spotted that curious little monkey…Curious George!

Inside the Pavilion of the States, visitors could learn about authors from each U.S. state and territory.

Inside the Pavilion of the States, visitors could learn about authors from each U.S. state and territory.

The states and territories were arranged by region.

6 Young Man with Map

Visitors could get a map and receive a stamp from each state. This young man, a student in the D.C. public schools, was proud to tell me that he was almost finished!

13 New Mexico Display

Each state had its own display table.

12 Massachusetts

At the Massachusetts Table

At the Hawaiian table, volunteers wore beautiful tropical dresses.

At the Hawaiian table, volunteers wore beautiful tropical dresses.

7 Your Map to Some Great Books

My completed map with stamps from all states and territories

What Book Do You Think Shaped The World? (My Answer: The Odyssey by Homer)

What Book Do You Think Shaped The World? (My Answer: The Odyssey by Homer)

9 What is a Book

What is a Book? I loved reading the responses written by visitors for this display.

I came home with about 40 pounds of teaching resources including a dozen full-size posters, over 500 bookmarks, and at least 30 large state maps. I hope to make the National Book Festival an annual family tradition!