The Little Tragedy presents some big existential questions. And delivers them in a fast-paced narrative that I couldn’t put down.
Ever worry about the state of the world we’re passing along to our children?
Yeah. Me, too.
Which is why The Little Tragedy, by Jeff Haws, freaked me the hell out. Seriously.
It’s science-fictiony and dystopian–and probable enough to be deeply disruptive. This novel managed to make me pick apart and analyze the reasons I chose to have a child, my believes about the sanctity of life (and what actually constitutes life), and whether only having a limited amount of time with my child would change my choice to bring her into the world.
On top of all those existential questions, destiny also plays a significant role in this novel. Can we escape our destiny (either through denial or foolish choices)? To what extent do universal work to ensure we fulfill our destiny? And (probably my favorite) do we ever truly understand our importance in the world?
Haws writes multi-dimensional, believable characters. He creates the kind of scenarios that play out in the world every day–ones that have no clear hero or villain. Just folks acting shockingly human.
Toward the end, the narrative becomes incredibly fast-paced. I skim-read because I needed to know what happened. Like RIGHT THEN.
I was left with some unanswered questions. But it’s impressive that Haws created a novel that made me want to know MORE about the fictional world he created. I like being left with a few questions nagging at my mind. Because that’s the sign of a story that just won’t let go.
WTacualF do folks mean when they tell me to “get organized”?!? Shouldn’t this organization stuff come with an instruction manual or something?
Know what my 4th grade teacher said about me? That I needed to be more organized. What a weird thing to say about a 9 year old. Or, more to the point, what a confusing thing to say with no further instruction on the matter. She might as well have told me to make my freckles disappear. Because I was just as likely to do that as to get more organized out of the blue.
As I made my way toward adulthood, my mom hopped on the organizational bandwagon, too. She and my father bought me a very professional looking bonded leather planner with my initials engraved on a gold nameplate in the bottom right hand corner (90s chic, for sure). But I had no idea how to use the damn thing. I’m sure I made an attempt. I’ve always made (half-hearted) attempts to “be more organized”–for real, what does that mean?!?–to satisfy the people around me. But it never sticks.
Simon really wants me to use the calendar on my phone. (No.)He’s been butting his head against that wall for years. Poor guy.
But so constant is the organization refrain that it’s seeped into my self-narrative. I am unorganized, I think. I should get a planner. So I do. And I used it for approximately one week. Same thing with blocking time on my calendar. One week is the lifespan of my organizational endeavors.
But, y’all… New Year, New Me! I know, I know. I just told you that it’s hopeless, this quest for organization that’s been happening since I was 9. But 2 things happened recently that caused an epiphany of sorts:
Simon got all geeked out about Michael Hyatt, who’s apparently some sort of organizational & leadership guru. Or something. You know this stuff makes me roll my eyes (interiorly, of course. Outward eye rolling is just rude). But Simon was so excited about goal setting and organizing and blah blah blah that somehow I agreed to watch some videos about a planner Simon is using in 2019. And–lo & behold–they made sense. Things like breaking down projects into smaller goals (wait… what?!? Is that what people have been asking me to do all along? Because NO ONE SAID THAT.) and checking in frequently to make sure daily activities are moving me toward a weekly goal, that supports a monthly goal, that supports… you guessed it… an ANNUAL GOAL. Well, shit. I could’ve been getting more stuff done ALL ALONG, if I’d known this crazy alchemy for productivity!
My best friend got me a planner for the new year. She handed it to me and said (and I quote), “Because you’ve got a lot of big goals this year, and you don’t always remember things as well as you think you do.” This is obviously the Universe conspiring to make shit happen. Because, although I am resistant to taking direction from most people, my BFF gets Platinum Status in being able to gently direct (read: boss me around) in a way I can actually hear.
So, where does that leave me for 2019? Well, right now, with annual goals, goals for January, and weekly goals written out in my rad planner in pink pen… and possibly a roadmap to opening this bookstore I’ve been talking about and finally publishing that middle grades novel I wrote almost 2 years ago.
But, mostly, it leaves me with more faith that the Universe is working together for my good. Because it seems like the entire UNIVERSE is conspiring get me organized. And who am I to back-talk the Universe?
I, Robot. It’s about adverbs & adjectives. I mean, it’s about robots. It’s sci-fi with interesting ethical dilemmas. After you get through the adjectives.
Recently, a friendly stranger proffered boxes of sci-fi and fantasy books to fuel my used bookstore dreams. I know enough to admit what I don’t know. And I don’t, at all, know sci-fi. I told my super-rad benefactor this. “No experience with sci-fi at all?” he asked, quizzically. “Well, I did love Battlestar Gallactica… the TV series,” I offered sheepishly. “Oh,” he responded with relief. “You’ll be fine then. Start with Asimov.”
So I did.
I pickedI, Robot for the most basic of reasons: it sounded familiar. My copy (a 1983 edition) features a little girl & a pretty dang benign looking robot on the cover. Cool. I’m fascinated by the concept of robots actually developing feelings—evolving into them. Because can they be feelings, if they’re programmed “experiences”? And how the hell is the robot supposed to know what’s up?
I’m sure there are technical, sci-fi-y ways to describe this conundrum. Of course, I don’t know them.
But I do knowthat I could barely FIND the robots in the book for all the adjectives and adverbs Asimov through at me continuously. So many, many words to describe, well, not too much.
The book took me weeks to complete. Weeeeeeeks. But I learned the 3 Laws of Robotics, which tie the stories about nanny robots, mind reading robots, self-righteous robots, playful & clever robots, and machines together. And, ultimately, I was left with some weighty ethical & philosophical questions about free-will versus the greater good.
So many books! Why? Because literacy is everything. Think I’m exaggerating? Nope. Wait ’til you see the statistics. Oh, and also, because bookstores require A LOT of books.
I’ve had this crazy love affair with books since I was a kid. I like being around them, holding them, scouring the back cover for my next adventure. I get sucked in by real outstanding cover art. And, yeah, I’ll totally pass on a book with a lackluster cover. Because I want the whole experience. I want to catch a glimpse of the book laying on the table and not be able to resist picking it up—just for a minute—just to read a page or two.
I’ve been lucky with reading. It came easily to me, and right away I was able to find books I adored, ones where I saw myself in the characters. They made me dream bigger than my suburban reality. They made me want to know more, be more, do more. I had constant accrsss to books. I had books that were given to me, books I bought at the Scholastic Book Fair with quarters scraped together from my allowance, and a precariously leaning pile of books I’d dragged home from the library.
Not all kids are as lucky.
Representation is still a big hurdle in literature, although publishers—especially publishers of children’s books—are making a concerted effort to include more diverse protagonists (children of color, protagonists from various ethnicities, differently abled children, LGBTQ protagonists). But for those books to make a difference, children have to be able to access them. The need to appear in abundance on booksellers shelves, in Little Free Libraries across the land, in traditional and school libraries, and in used bookstores.
And books, all kinds of books, need to make there way into the homes of kids. And not based along class lines. ALL kids. All kids need to have a go-to library of books they love that they can read over and over again. Why? Check out the findings of a study done by the Australian National University: “Growing up with few books in the home resulted in below average literacy levels. Being surrounded by 80 books boosted the levels to average, and literacy continued to improve until libraries reached about 350 books, at which point the literacy rates leveled off.”
As I was checking out of Value Village today with an entire cart of books, the rad young man boxing the books up for me said, “Man. You REALLY like books.” I laughed. As he loaded them into the box, he kept pausing at the kids’ titles: “Hey! I read the Boxcar Children when I was in school. I loved those books.” After he’d done this multiple times, he said, “Does your kid like to read?” I affirmed that she is pretty hyped about books right now. “Good” he nodded. “Tell her to keep it up. Reading is important.” Indeed.
“I’m thinking of opening a bookstore,” I blurted in his general direction. He gave the box of books a bit of side-eye. “Okay, okay. I’m guess I’m a little more committed to the idea than just ‘thinking about it.’”
“It’s a good idea,” he said. “Get people things to read.”
Yep. That’s it right there: I want to get people things to read. Books they are passionate about. If people believe they don’t like to read, maybe it’s just that no one has ever put a book in their hands that opened up some part of the world for them. A book that exploded their imagination. A book that spoke to them. And that’s crucial because reading makes us see outside our own small worlds. Makes us more empathetic. Reading just flat out makes us better.
Everyone should have access to books. In their home. Books they can afford. Books of their very own.
That’s my dream: to open up a used book store that has something that will spark (or reignite) a love of reading in every single customer that walks through the door. I believe it’s possible.
Besides. what else am I going to do with all these books?!
Be part of the building of the dream: What is the very first book you’d look for if you walked into a used bookstore?
Want to know more about literacy? Check out these resources: