Monday, April 21, 2014

Incendiary Girls : A What She Read Review

Do get yourself a copy and then pass it around:
you won't be disappointed!
Find it at your local bookseller,
via this Amazon link (sample the stories there too)
or via this Indiebound link.
Let me begin by telling you that I've already recommended Incendiary Girls to friends who appreciate the particular gratification of reading a beautifully wrought short story, and that I have two in the queue to borrow my copy, if and when I choose to part with it.

And for those of you who favor a healthy dose of magic with your realism - as I do - Kodi Scheer's first collection is a must-read.

It's been a swell month for the contemporary American short story at my house, as my Dave and I listened to George Saunders read his collection Tenth of December late in March, then I picked up Karen Russell's Vampires in the Lemon Grove from our amazing "little library" branch's "Happy Go Lucky" shelf (all current best-selling or critically acclaimed paperbacks, two week loans, no holds, no renewals - just happy book luck), and then Incendiary Girls rose to the top of my TBR-for-book-tours pile.

Truth:  Kodi Scheer's stories stand up easily to the works of her two oft-lauded, more experienced, and certainly better-known contemporaries.  In fact, I thought that Incendiary Girls compared favorably to Russell's latest.  Why?  Scheer offers readers equally intriguing and imaginative premises but with consistent depth of character and humor to balance sometimes bleak scenarios. Russell, not so much, on both counts.

Specifics, you say?  Scheer writes in the tradition of contemporary magical realists:  we enter the entirely ordinary worlds of everyday people and occasionally "magical" occurrences simply slip in.  Protagonists generally accept such unusual events - a divorced doctor-mom suspects that her own mother has been  reincarnated into her daughter's horse ("Fundamental Laws of Nature") or a National Guardsman's obsessive-compulsive wife discovers his ear in their laundry hamper while he is still serving in the Gulf ("No Monsters Here") - and react to them as they would any more "realistic" unusual event. We readers stay closely aligned with these protagonists, and - exhibiting an artistic restraint that does this young author great credit - neither we nor they spend much time pondering why such events happen or even what they might mean symbolically.  Instead, we readers receive the gift of pondering for ourselves how the "magical" elements and characters' responses  resonate thematically and symbolically.  I love this sort of stuff, and detest writers who insist on over-explaining, so Scheer's work engaged me completely.

Eleven stories total offer diverse themes and levels of intensity; Ms. Scheer's fictional territory most- times includes anatomical and/or medical details that might be daunting for some readers, and she certainly doesn't shy away from the darker side of human nature, but - as I noted earlier - she nearly always balances intensity with lightness.  I'd especially recommend these stories to fans of Margaret Atwood's and Francine Prose's earlier magical-realistic collections, and to those who remember fondly Richard Selzer's work and the fictions or personal essays of other doctor-writers.

Two thumbs up from me for this new collection, with gratitude to the folks at TLC Book Tours for alerting me to the promise of Incendiary Girls.  Use the TLC link to sample other book lovers' responses to Incendiary Girls.

You can bet I'll be on the lookout for Kodi Scheer's future work as well.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Shine : Poem In Your Post


Riches, a little dollop of your shine
is everything I need to make my day:
cheek of polished apple, wink of wine,
forehead semaphore along my way;
or torque of body gilded in the spray,
toothy, tonguey, stretched-saliva grin,
melon water sliding off a chin,
eyelash droplet where a sunbeam plays.
Slick of foam that glistens on the rim,
coffee cream curl, baby oil spill, oh, 
and gabardine lap-luster, zipper shimmer,
moiré patent-leather afterglow:
I hoard it, all the gold that makes you mine
(like finger ink spot, gaudy brilliantine).

                             - Jonathan Galassi

Gratitude again to Knopf for this lovely sonnet.  What sensory experiences do you need to make your day?  

Me?  Birds.  Wings.  Flight.  And the helicopter tail-wag of a singular chihuahua.   So it's all about exuberant air for me.  Still, I can appreciate the glimmer-glamour of "Shine".


p.s. Use the links to find out more about the poet Jonathan Galassi.  And do - if you have the power - support Knopf for supporting poets.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sight : Poem In Your Post


a single cell 
found that it was full of light 
and for the first time there was seeing 

I was a bird 
I could see where the stars had turned 
and I set out on my journey 

in the head of a mountain goat 
I could see across a valley 
under the shining trees something moving 

in the green sea 
I saw two sides of the water 
and swam between them 

look at you 
in the first light of the morning 
for as long as I can

                      - W.S. Merwin

Learn more about prolific and oft-lauded poet-translator W.S. Merwin here.  Get a poem a day from Knopf throughout the month of April by checking the appropriate newsletter in the bar on the left side of their Poem-a-Day Page (with gratitude to a large publishing house that still celebrates poetry).  

MFB, briefly,

Saturday, April 5, 2014

This Day : Poem In Your Post

This is not a day for asking questions,
not a day on any calendar.
This day is conscious of itself.
This day is a lover, bread and gentleness.

                              - Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

More poems by Mawlana Jalal Ad-din Mohammed Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and Shahram Shiva.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ask Me : Poem In Your Post

Some time when the river is ice ask me                                     
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say. 
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

                                             - William Stafford

We are just a smackerel's-scooch away from National Poetry Month and I am so ready.   Please, Nature: up with the flowers, up with the sunshine and the baby birdies and the warm afternoons on the front porch perusing poems. 

This year, I'm following fate:  the confluence of reading a novel about Rumi & Shams and the dawn of my favorite annual word-fest will inspire this month's Poem In Your Post selections.  So expect a month-long series focused on moments when the numinous meets the undeniably solid, poems focusing our gaze on the ecstatic in the everyday.   In other terms:  pull up your "I welcome the cryptic" pants and get ready to ponder the mysteries.

I suspect that - had he met Rumi and Shams - William Stafford would have given the ancients a run for their money in many ways, and all would have enjoyed the exchange.  Ah, the limits of perceived time...

So enjoy today's offering, live each moment in joy, and get ready to gyre and gimble in the wabe.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Poet's Progress : Poem In Your Post

Poet's Progress

           for Sandra Cisneros

I haven't been
much of anywhere,
books my only voyage,
crossed no bodies
of water, seen anything
other than trees change,
birds take shape - like the rare
Bee Hummingbird that once hovered
over the promise of salsa
in my garden: a fur feathered
vision from Cuba in Boulder,
a wetback, stowaway, refugee,
farther from home than me.
Now, snow spatters its foreign
starch across the lawn gone
crisp with freeze.  I know
nothing tropical survives 
long in this season.  I pull
the last leeks from the frozen
earth, smell their slender
tubercular lives, stand
in the sleet whiteout 
of December:  roots
drawn in, threads of relatives
expand while solitude, the core,
that slick-headed fist of self, is 
cool as my dog's nose and pungent
with resistance.  Now when
the red-bellied woodpecker
calls his response to a California
owl, now, when the wound
transformer in the womb
slackens, and I wait
for potential: all
the lives I have
yet to name,
all my life
I have willed into being
alive and brittle with the icy
past.  And it's enough now,
listening, counting the unknown
arachnids and hormigas
who share my love of less
sweeping.  For this is what
I wanted, come to, left
alone with anything
but the girlhood horrors,
the touching, the hungry
leaden meltdown of the hours.
Or the future - a round negation,
black suction of the heart's 
conception.  Save me
from a stupid life!  I prayed.
Leave me anything but
a stupid life.
And that's poetry.  

                       - Lorna Dee Cervantes

Sometimes, rather than leading me into a reflection of my life, a poet lifts me out of my own time, place, and experience and sets me down intimately into another.  

I haven't lived what Cervantes is alluding to here, but I am transported into her (or her speaker's) consciousness long enough to experience these moments from within her awareness.  

For a short space of time, it's December in Boulder, and I haven't traveled, and I've seen a Bee Hummingbird, shared spaces with spiders, and prayed for a future that is, at least, not stupid. 

And now I'm returned to the present moment, sitting on my sofa in grey mid-March, looking out at my one black hen under her lichen-riddled plum tree as it reaches through the back fence, just about to burst into bloom.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Rosie Project : What She Read Review


What a joy this little novel is, from start to finish.  Funny and smart and a welcome reprieve from my string of worthy but mighty bleak books of late.

It started as an award-winning screenplay by Graeme Simsion, who turned it into a book which earned him million-dollar bids from U.S. and British publishers after hitting the bestseller lists in Australia.  The Rosie Project is now an international bestseller and a movie-in-the-making. Incredible.

It's a light romantic romp led by narrator-protagonist Don Tillman, whose brilliance as a genetics professor doesn't quite sync up with his (lack of) interpersonal skills.  Readers will quickly infer that Don's internal monologue and external actions point toward some level of Asperger's, yet Don seems entirely unaware that he is "suffering from a syndrome".  And it's the tension between Don's infrequent moments of incisive self-awareness and his frequent misunderstanding of social situations that fuel plenty of the plot here.   Pepper Don's days with a cast of diverse - and often also eccentric - supporting characters then focus Don's considerable determination and gift for logical planning upon "The Wife Project" and you've got yourself a story that provokes grin after grin.

To enjoy this novel fully, you must accept the rom-com structure, knowing that - however unlikely - all will work out well in the end and you must feel comfortable with the idea that each human being is a specific person, not simply a "syndrome".  Simsion made a wise choice in voicing this novel from Don's perspective, as it helps us readers to laugh with rather than at the protagonist.  If you can do that, you will find much to enjoy about The Rosie Project.

Don's voice, his perspective, and his journey kept me swiftly turning the pages through the first third of this novel and then rationing chapters when the beautifully voiced audiobook from the library arrived:  I simply wanted to savor the lightness of this novel during these darker days.  And I hereby encourage you to do the same.

MFB with a smile on my face,

p.s.  I should confess that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon are two of my all-time favorite tandem (print alternating with audiobook) "reads" of all time, so perhaps I have a particular fascination with listening in on the lives of brilliant, decent, yet socially atypical protagonists.
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