Friday, December 31, 2010

Tiptoe through the tombstones with Bod

Action First:  I'll drive over to Bayview Cemetary in a few minutes and take a stroll in honor of Neil Gaiman and his Graveyard Book.  He and Bod and Silas and Scarlett and Liza and the Owenses make the graveyard seem so inviting that I simply must make a pilgrimage.  I'll bring my journal to wander and write, Gaiman-wise - long-hand first - then come home and adjust as I type.  Yes, that feels like the thing to do.  Makes me nostalgic for the ole Grove in New Haven where as "intermediate" students at Ridge Hill Elementary we regularly took field trips to do grave rubbings.  (Hmm. Upon reflection, I suppose children's fascination with cemetaries wasn't lost on our teachers after all.)  Ta for now.  Back once I've communed with the tombs...

Ah.  That was refreshing.  (Slightly snow-covered stones, crispish day, fresh air stroll, crunchy graveyard gravel beneath my Converse, pacific bay views)

The Review:
'The Critically-Acclaimed and Award-Winning Author' Neil Gaiman spent 20 years considering and then creating this book, and lucky for kids he did.  It's Roald Dahl meets Coraline meets Kipling, and just the sort of dark adventure that the young thirst for so often.  Coming of age story?  Yes.  Series of linked short fictions?  Yes.  Paranormal adventure/fantasy novel?  Yes.  Period(s) piece?  Sorta.

And while reading TGB I felt vaguely deja vu-ish in a literary way, as it sports so many "Gaimanish" devices recalled from my recent reading of Good Omens,yet polished up in a much more sophisticated manner, to my mind.  Time + practice improves craft.  Whoda thunk? 

Familiar stand-bys from the mind of Mr. Gaiman:  The witch at the dunking stool: Pepper's little sister in GO, & then Liza here as well.  The otherworldly guardians of the good:  Aziraphale & Silas.  Otherworldly evils: The archdukes of hell, Hastur & Ligur, & the Jacks & the ghouls.  Comparatively long, involved penultimate chapter: "Saturday" & "Everyman Jack".  Scarlett (War) & Scarlett (Girl).  One could continue, but one won't.

Decided differences between GO & TGB:  This one - although funny in places and amusing on a regular basis - is less a heady laughfest-of-ideas and more a serious childrens' book with lighter moments.  And plotwise, the "Everyman Jack" chapter brings TGB to a thrillingly taught climax where "Saturday" meandered.

Worth reading, story by story, and as a whole?  I say, yes.  Worth reading by the kid in your life?  Absolutely.

Inspired "Bonus Action":  This book fired me up to go out and write/draw a young person's story of my own.  It's been years since I've waxed so inspired to write a fiction.  So, whatever the reading experience, that makes this an super-fine book to me.  Iphy, here I come!  And I just watched an (as always) fascinating Charlie Rose interview w/Salman Rushdie about his new (children's) book, Luka and the Fire of Life:  doubly inspired now to write a new tale of a child (let's try a female for a change, eh, gents?) saving a parent...

The Summary.(via Gaiman's home page - and he's uber-involved in social media - blog's right there, links, etc. mousecircus link is for his children's books)

The clip.  In this case, a significant bit of it, via the Harper Collins home...

MFB in a graveyard,

Also worth checking out:  Colbert & Gaiman. Clever vs. Clever.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


My action on this one is to write a thank you letter to Maile Meloy

Her short fiction collection broke my "meh." streak with a breath of clarity.  For that I feel quite grateful, and quite sated with literary nourishment for at least a day or two. 

I've long held the short story as perhaps my favorite form.  When well-wrought, each tale's impact offers a moment of quick, quiet transcendence.  Meloy makes that happen every time. 

Her stories are "small" and contemporary, focusing on one or two nuanced characters who face conflicting yet simultaneous emotions.  Nary a misstep here, yet few of these stories offer neatly tidied outcomes:  like life, only well-honed and compacted to offer high entertainment as well.

A telling contrast, my last book and this.  Both writers strive to offer everyday living distilled to create a heightened experience of quotidian passions.  But only Meloy succeeds for me.

Action reflection:  It's tough to tease just one action from a collection of distinct tales.  Luckily, however, offering gratitude to a stranger counts.

So I'll write to her, and put another of her books in my 2011 queue.


p.s.  For the official blurb on the book, click it, or go to Maile Meloy's web page.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


D'ya ever wonder why, in the name of all that is psychologically stable, you kept on reading a book when it dragged you ploddingly into realms of (sometimes not-so) quiet desperation? 

I don't usually wonder that.

A Thousand Acres?  Not perfect, but enjoyable.  The House of Sand and Fog?  Fabulous. (Devoured in one sitting, breathless, crying, katharsis.  "Mmmmm... Please sir, may I have some more?")  The Inheritance of LossShalimar the ClownAntigone?  Bring it. 

In fact, for Xmas I asked Santa for an "I Heart Hamlet" T-shirt.  He managed a soot-stained program from the Joe Papp production of Othello in Central Park.  I wept happy tears.

And this love of tragedy isn't an artifact of age either.  Back in high school and college, I dug the stuff.  First course, first year at Brown? Ancient Greek Drama: Best. Course. Ever.  And nary an Aristophanes in sight.  All tragedy, all the time. 

So why was the meandering bleakness of The God of Animals so difficult to endure, I ask myself?  Perhaps because what we often label tragic events aren't actually the stuff of tragedy.  

There's a difference between what's tragic and what's merely depressing or downright sad.  The former has something to do with emotional engagement with a single character who commands a certain degree of gravitas, and an intensity of pacing - that snowballing toward the final horror that feels inevitable yet preventable at once - leading to katharsis. And this novel simply didn't have a classically tragic structure to support it.  For me, that lack of solid structure made the difference between a satisfying read and a rather taxing one.
So what is this novel, at least for this reader?  It's one slowly grating downward spiral with a cast of characters who are either clueless or twisted or just plain mean.  Or naively confused or oversexed or abused or adulterous.  Or most of the above. 

Or horses. 

Did I mention that The God of Animals is a horse book?  About a little girl whose mom self-meds one serioiusly clinical case of depression by staying in bed 24/7 and whose entirely obtuse yet hunky dad, upon losing his elder daughter to a rodeo star, displaces his abandonment rage onto female horses and his younger daughter, our protagonist/narrator?  Well, it is.  And things go from that to worse, in a quiet, quotidian sort of way, until there's a blip of possibility, and then - oops!  nope! - it's back to random accidents and uncomfortable adult-child relationships.

Other readers who found this novel more engaging than I almost unanimously note that protagonist Alice's interior monologue rings true for them, offering the ambivalence and confusion and passion of early adolescence with unsparing accuracy.  On this, I concur.  But I suppose I've read so many books (both novels and memoirs) with similar truthiness that this quality alone didn't win me over.

A brief ray of tepid sunshine:  Aryn Kyle's a youngish writer whose prose moves along confidently.  A stronger novel may well lurk in her future.  And she's certainly not hurting now reputation-wise, as this novel garnered plenty of attention when it was released.  I wish her, as I wish you all and I wish myself on this fine evening in the Pacific Northwest,

More fail better.

* Only. Great. Books.  That's my mantra now, and for 2011.  I will be asking expert readers - English teachers and bibliophiles, not book-sellers and publishers out to create a phenom, and certainly not random readers on virtual bookshelves - for their top 10's and I'll curate their lists for us all.  Because even with Amazon and goodreads and literary awards and such, there's no even-close-to-reliable way to find great - or at least very good - books, and there aughta be.  I'm on it!  (And this could be quite a project!)

* May research the psycho-social roots of this re-emerging (Coinage du jour: remerging. Like it?) 'girlie, gritty horse fiction' genre.  Many parallels here to the Jane Smiley's The Georges & the Jewels that I just read last month... Why so few/no realistic boy-based horse fictions lately?  (OK, so maybe Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses - and the rest of his Border Trilogy - pretty much slew all late 20th/early 21st century contenders?)

* In fact, must redeem horse fiction in own mind by rereading the first section of McCarthy's The Crossing (now there's a tragic novella that will haunt you, in a good way).

* And must reread Joy Harjo's stunning poem "She Had Some Horses" to reset the power of horse-as-symbol in my literary mindset.  If you haven't read it, you must.  Go do so now...

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea—“

But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet—
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

                - Denise Levertov

(Candles in Babylon)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Life As We Knew It

What do you do once you've lived through the end of the world? 

You write a book review. 

This one will be short and sweet.  In Susan Beth Pfeffer's belletristic YA novel, sixteen year old diarist Miranda Evans and her family survive volcanoes, blizzards, a deadly flu epidemic, and near-starvation, outliving nearly all their neighbors and presumably their extended family as well.  Premise:  An asteroid hits the moon, knocking it closer to the earth and setting off a series of natural disasters that pretty well wipe out most of the humans on the planet, and presumably most other terrestrial species as well.  It's a survival story, pure and simple, and the interest for readers - especially young ones - will lie in how Miranda and her family deal with an increasingly less "convenient" lifestyle and how they slowly become more resourceful, determined, and cohesive in the face of catastrophe after catastrophe.

Pfeffer's prose moves along smoothly, with evenhanded pacing and short chapters keeping the action at the fore, although one must consciously suspend disbelief that a 16 year old is describing these calamitous events with such seamless clarity, on a series of makeshift diary pages, and on the very day they're happening.  And of course, character development takes a back seat to such a stimulating plot, although events do eventually conspire to force both Miranda and her younger brother, Jonny, to mature while the crisis brings out the best in the relatively static characters of Miranda's mom and her older brother, Matt. 

I think that's almost enough said about the book.  Except to say that I chose it because it was noted over and over again by local teens as a favorite novel and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  AND that as I web-surfed to provide you with links for this post, I discovered that Pfeffer's produced two additional "Moon Crash" books since 2006, one set concurrently but in NYC rather than Pennsylvania, and the other a sequel uniting the protagonists of both novels, to be published in paperback this spring.  Now why'd she have to go and write a series?  Guess I've got two of my January reads lined up, as apparently I have grown fond of this plucky family after all...

Action:  Hoo, dogies.  It's just gotta be about canned goods. 
See, the family here survives mainly due to mom's quick decision to go shopping the day after the moon-shift and buy all the non-perishables she and her kids can get their hands on.  Her insistence on preparedness and frugality keeps them alive for much of the book.

So:  1.  I'll take a load of canned goods/non-perishables to the food bank.  (Baby, it's cold outside, snowing even.)  2.  I'll check our emergency preparedness kits and update them. (And maybe even our fire extinguishers too...)  A little for the world, a little for us.  And practical.


(MFB was definitely the Evans family's motto too, and it served them well.)  What's MFB?  It's More 'Fail Better'.  See my 'pinecone turkeys' blogpost from 11/24/10.  (With a tip of the ill-fitting hat to Samuel Beckett.)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Good Omens: Not bad.

But what's all the fuss?

Even the writers wonder the same thing in their commentary for the anniversary edition.  They seem dumb-founded by this sci-fi-ish novel's cult following, as - in truth - am I. 

Oh, I get fans' enjoyment of Pratchett & Gaiman's sense(s?) of humor, and I too found their musings on human nature thought-provoking, but I much prefer Gaiman's more recent works like Anansi Boys and Stardust, and this novel's plot- and character-development left me wondering... 

In particular, during the lengthy penultimate "Saturday" chapter, when I should have been flipping the pages relentlessly with breath held and eyes wide open as we careened toward the book's climax, instead I wound up skimming and flipping pages just hoping for some decisive forward plot movement as we bopped around among various plot threads in a stop-start-stall  motion.  And then there's the issue of character development, even for what you might call the dual protagonists, angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley.  To me, that issue loomed large:  Many of the characters seemed merely allegorical devices and vehicles for one-liners for most of the book, so, for me, keeping engaged on a psychological/emotional level grew challenging.

On the other hand, I did laugh out loud many times and smile often, so if diversion's what you're looking for at the moment, then most of this book will serve you well.

What's it about?  Too much to tell, really... Good and Evil and Armageddon and the stupid, cruel, violent, generous, decent things humans do.  Human nature and the nature of the world.

And when this book falls into the hands of its perfectly right reader, a rabid dogged fan is born.  It's happened to over one million people, and it could happen to you.

In the end, Good Omens is another solid read for anyone who likes to think, holds an open mind - esp. about religion - and enjoys a good laugh.


What's my action?  Magic.  See "Gnomens" post, and stay tuned for "December Story" (dropping about Jan. 1 or 2) to see what happened...

FYI for Listening Learners:  For a leg up on the first 100 pages or so, which can seem dauntingly peppered with characters, settings, and - for us Americans, sometimes obscure - references to many things British, get the CD on tape or downloadi the audiofile.  The reader, Martin Jarvis, thoroughly 'gets' every word, inflection, and innuendo, so he's well worth listening to to get your footing.  And if you listen in the car and then read at home, you'll speed through Good Omens at the same pace as it proceeds... One week's adventure to save or slay the world as we know it.

FYI:  In my experience, this book's legion of fans is primarily adolescents, so I'm attaching two quotes that may justify their passion.  It's Adam Young, the unwitting eleven-year-old Anti-Christ from bucolic Tadfield, England, expressing his disdain for the world the grown-ups have left him:

"You grow up readin' about pirates and cowboys and spacemen and stuff, and jus' when you think the world's all full of amazin' things, they tell you it's really all dead whales and chopped-down forests and nuclear waste hangin' about for millions of years. 'Snot worth growin' up for,  if you ask my opinion." (204)

And Crowley musing that demons get a bad rap:

"There were people who called themselves Satanists who made Crowley squirm.  It wasn't just the things they did, it was the way they blamed it all on Hell.  They'd come up with some stomach-churning idea that no demon could have thought of in a thousand years, some dark and mindless unpleasantness that only a fully functioning human brain could conceive, then shout "The Devil Made Me Do It" and get the sympathy of the court when the whole point was that the Devil hardly ever made anyone do anything.  He didn't have to.  That was what some humans found hard to understand.  Hell wasn't a major reservoir of evil, any more than Heaven, in Crowley's opinion, was a fountain of goodness; they were just sides in the great cosmic chess game.  Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind." (76-77)

Never mind that the entire last third of the novel negates this last assertion, it's this sort of pronouncement that teenagers - and students of the human condition of all ages - applaud.

Monday, December 20, 2010

i live in the present and apparently i already know how it works...

If you know little about the internet, e-readers, social networking, cell phones & their apps, and video games, you will likely find this book's content new and interesting.  If you also know little about the science of learning and recent developments in our understanding of how the brain adapts, then the info. here will seem even more intriguing (if you keep in mind that the author's actually making an argument here so he's quite selective in the research he's chosen to include and how he interprets its import).  If you believe, as tech writer Nick Bilton seems to, that technology is inherently neutral at worst and in fact "good" in most cases, and that people who express concerns about some of the potentially negative impacts of technology are - in many cases - just "hand-wringing" (one of his favorite condescensions) Luddites, then you will likely find an ally.

If, however, you rather expected a New York Times reporter to present thoroughly compelling, logical cases to support his personal views or to acknowledge that both recent research and personal experience may tend to support some social commentators' concern about how technologies may be impairing concentration and problem solving while increasing impulsivity in the "digital native" generations, you might be disappointed in i live in the future & here's how it works.  And ditto if you aren't a technophobe and have kept abreast of the developments in technology over the past decade or so, as much - though by no means all - of the content will already be familiar.

* Easy to read/skim.  Fluid writing, no doubt. 
* Bilton is, after all, a prominent tech reporter/blogger, and he's amassed enough interesting detail that you're bound to find at least a few sections - or even whole chapters - thought-provoking.  For instance, I found chapters 3 ("your cognitive road map: anchoring communities") and 4 ("suggestions and swarms: trusting computers and humans") personally relevant to some projects of my own and I enjoyed some of his corporate case studies.
* A particularly potent point for me:  Bilton predicts that the future success of many content-based high tech businesses may not be as dependent upon the quality of the information offered as upon the consumer's perception that the content is ultra-new/timely and tailored directly to his/her immediate needs.  While this narrowing toward a world of "me economics" that Bilton hypothesizes rather terrifies me in its implications (a world where we're all connected, but nobody cares unless there's something in it for them), when I bop around the interwebs I find it hard to deny, and well worth remembering as I create web content.

Bottom line for me: 
Bilton's patronizing attitude toward anyone who has concerns about the merits of some technologies is palpable throughout this book, and his "arguments" sometimes veer from addressing the actual concerns of detractors into tangential cases for technological benefits not at issue.  However, I found his writing style engaging and some of his insider info. both interesting and useful. 


** My actions for this book:  I've adjusted some of my projects for this year to be more timely, interactive, and web-video-based in order to balance my penchant for creating texts.  AND I'm only going to focus on content that connects people to the world in ways that will inspire empathy rather than solipsism.

FYI: The review on the Amazon link (click the cover image) provides an alternate, and perhaps welcome, perspective to mine.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lorax in a little red hat

Gnomes by Rien Poorvliet and Will Nuyen: This modern classic offers beautifully conceived and executed illustrations matched with straightforward, pseudo-scientific descriptions of gnomes' every aspect.  It's more than a tad dated at this point, but pleasant to look at (especially when one immerses one's entire head in double-page panoramic illustrations) for an hour or so. (faint praise, aye.)

One suspects that many elements here mirror or support the social values of Dutch illustrator Poorvliet and writer Huygen, and that's just fine, but for a modern audience, the glorification of gender stereotypes detracts from the whole magical vibe considerably.

It's also a little risque and violent at points for a book whose cover screams, "I'M HARMLESSLY CUTE!".
A snotgurgle about to grind up a gnome.  Scary!
Not that I'm entirely against these elements if the reader's age-appropriate; I'm just sayin'. 

And with that: 'Nuff critical stuff said. 

Here's a brief snippet from the somewhat heavy-handedly moralistic closing, so you get a sense of the prose style (or lack thereof). Tomte Haroldson, the writers' "informant", speaks directly to them/us in order to share a parting reflection on Gnome society's view of human folly:

"Man runs wildly about in the world of today and lives almost always at nature's expense...We have our instinct and intellect in proper balance; you have subordinated your instinct to your intellect...And that's why we (together) must proceed in three ways: the restoration of instinct, the restoration of balance in nature, and less striving for power...all the other evils on earth stem from the craving for power."

Tomte's criticisms seem reasonable enough. 

Now if only I had the magical powers of imaginary beings, perhaps I'd be able to persuade other humans to follow his advice.  And if only I had the resource requirements of somebody 15 centimeters high, I'd be able to live as lightly on the land as he...

Note to self: Must redouble efforts to reform worldview in light of "magic"; how else can self hope to follow ole gnomey's advice? 

In the meanwhile, MFB.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Tao of Crutcher

Chris Crutcher's YA novel, set in Spokane about a decade ago, still ranks right up there with the very best fiction for young people.  Drawing on his background as a family therapist and a child protection specialist, Crutcher gets everything about teenagers just right, without ever seeming forced or patronizing.  And the protagonist here, T.J. Jones, immediately captures both our attention and our admiration without ever coming across as too perfect.  In fact, T.J.'s quick temper, the product of abuse in his toddler years, acts as a realistic catalyst for some of the action in Whale Talk, which centers around the ragtag swim team he and his English teacher pull together in a sports-dominated high school, as well as the racism T.J. regularly deals with as one of the few mixed-raced people in his town. 

If you haven't read much realistic YA fiction and you're a stickler for a strong read, I suggest starting here.  You'll see all the typical tropes and themes of the genre done as well as they can be done, given their inherent limitations.  Crutcher is always pitch-perfect where many other solid writers strike a cheesy chord, and while you'll see every aspect of typical teenage life here - even some that many adults would rather not know about - you'll also catch a glimpse of the true, often-understated heroism that teenagers are also fully capable of. 

I don't want to give too much more away, so I'll just say: Whale Talk is a quick and gripping read, so if you're traveling this season, it might be just the thing to make a long plane ride fly by.


p.s. My action?  Humbled by the work ethic of the swimmers in Whale Talk, I have taken a personal vow to re-double my own "practices", hitting weights and additional strength on the days I don't do my bodyflow class.  That means working out 7 days a week.  If they can do it, I can try!  AND I will also make it a point to notice those people who often go unnoticed this week, to offer them my mindfully curious gaze.  If I make both these steps into habits, just imagine the positive impact I could have on my own wellbeing and others' too...
As always, I'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
Though we could fool each other, we should consider-
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep,
the signals we give - yes or no, or maybe -
Should be clear; the darkness around us is deep.

                                 - William Stafford

I've been rereading this poem again and again, fascinated and convinced.  Of what, I know not.

Might we puzzle this out together?  Interesting that - or at least as it seems to me - much of this poem might be read multiple ways, yet his final urging is to be clear.  Or does he mean "should" not as a directive but as a wish counter to experience, as in "it should be this way, yet it isn't"?  The darkness within us is deep?

Ah, those first few reads are the falling in love bit:  the vigilant awareness of the other, noting every turn and glance, parsing the signals, making the leap toward a hoped-for truth, landing in uncertainty, letting time pass, returning to clues, a letter under the desk , a quick unnecessary smile, then misreading the cues, then stumbling upon a long electric gaze, then puzzling again.  Joy of the chase.


And I'm serious:  What do you make of this poem?  Tell me.

Friday, December 10, 2010


What do you get when you read Gnomes & Good Omens at the same time?

                                         This guy.

And magic.

So that's my action for the next two weeks (at least):  Practice seeing the world as governed not by action-reaction in the visible realm, but by magic.  That's it.  Every day, every hour, stop and look around and imagine that whatever's going on was created by all of us beings (sentient and non-sentient alike perhaps) AND ALSO by somewhat (usually) benevolent beings or forces. 

I wonder what living in that mindset will do.  And don't worry: I'll let you know.


p.s.  I know, I know:  Where's the wit?  I'm finding that earnestness plus wit is a tough combo for me to muster:  I'm either rushing headlong into the silly or mindfully stepping through the sincere.  "More Fail Better" = my mantra.  If you see MFB in future posts, that's what I'm talking about.

p.p.s.  More on why both books are well worth just about anybody's time (if they're open-minded about religion and enjoy both a rip-roaring laughfest and a gently smile-inducing feast for the eyes) later in the month.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Made A Difference.

Are you a teacher?  Writer?  Entrepreneur? Businessperson?  Reporter?  Community organizer?  Politician?  Earth mover and world shaker?  Parent?  Child?

Do you want people to remember what you're telling them? 

Then take a few moments to indulge in this breezily written and award-winning book that follows its own formula: 

To make your ideas stick, you must...

Keep it Simple yet
grab attention with the Unexpected.
Stay Concrete yet Credible.
Add dimension and stickiness with Emotion,
and wrap it all up in a Story.

Then your ideas will be stickily SUCCESs-full.

And these authors walk their talk:  They use all the SUCCESs principles to craft every chapter in this book.

My Actions: 

First, I wrote my November Story as a narrative (I wouldn't have otherwise), which was an Unexpected form for anybody who's been reading my blog thusfar.  And I kept the plotline Simple while attempting to generate at least a little Emotion in the reader by exaggerating character traits and the conflict.  Then I added the Concrete list to increase Credibility and create stronger emotional pay-off.  I'm not saying it's a masterpiece, but it's stickier than it would have been had I simply posted a reflection or just the list. 

Then, I began using the SUCCESs principles to enhance the stickiness of my marketing and business plans (stay tuned for your opportunity to benefit!) AND I passed the book on to my Dave, who's also reading and using it.

Finally, I attended a gathering today about the battle over extending tax cuts for the rich, and I shared both the principles and a pertinent excerpt with many of the folks there as well. 

And in this case, the actions came entirely effortlessly.  This book has legs! 


Here's the authors' website for a taste of what they're talking about: 
Made to Stick.

Buy Made To Stick on Amazon

TEACHERS:  Talk to me about this.  I think the principles could help all of us trouble-shoot our lessons: they're worth revisiting on a weekly basis at minimum. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Illiterate

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand,
And you might think that this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And his is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what is says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have left the farm to him, or
his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

The more often I read this sonnet by William Meredith, the more exquisite it seems.  I memorized the poem last year for Poetry Out Loud! and still it takes my breath away.  The simile is so rich and apt and closely developed that you almost forget that this is about someone touching someone - or something - they adore. 

The sonnet dead?  Fie!

I do wish Meredith were still around so I could thank him.


Friday, December 3, 2010

What if Holden Caulfield Wrote the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

It'd pretty much be this. 

Only if Holden became a lot less annoying after the first fifty pages and got a terminal disease and had to save the world rather than just walk around Manhattan for a few days.  Which could only be an improvement. (Sorry, Catcher fans:  You've met the uber-Holden-hater.  Well, hate's maybe too strong a word.  Detester?  "Why did I waste my time on this book"-er?  "How in the world did this become 'an American classic'"-er?)

Anyhoo.  Two hip hip hoorah's for the breezy, often laugh-out-loud silly cross-country, cross-dimensional, darkly mind-bending Going Bovine by Libba Bray.  Can you say Twenty-First Century Picaresque?

Its 'hero' is a sixteen year old slacker with Mad Cow named Cameron Smith.  His sidekicks: Gonzo the dwarf (maybe his Marvin?) and Balder the Norse god/garden gnome. His mentor:  a punk angel named Dulcie.  His trek: from his smalltown Texas home to DisneyWorld via New Orleans and the eleventh dimension.  His task:  Rid the world of the Wizard of Reckoning and his Fire Giants plus save Dr. X and thus save his own life. (prions and black holes and snow globes have something to do with it)  It's the monomyth for sure, the ole Hero's Adventure, but with decidedly modern twists, and with allusions to Cervantes and Star Wars and Norse myth sprinkled in for good measure.  But plenty sassy and utterly engaging.  Flawed?  Absolutely.  But the most rollicking read of the year.

And it's one of those books that goes this way: 

First, you're a little skeptical of the mannered "teenager-speak" in the protagonist's voice and the gratuitous references to masturbation, but ...

Then the plot kicks in and the forced, clipped speech eases off, as does the protagonist's initially self-involved, sarcastic, entirely unappealing personality.  (I mean, I get what she's striving for: underdog, anti-hero, rudderless young'un who'll find his higher self on the journey - but it's just too blatantly annoying at first.) I'd say it's a lucky thing for readers that Bray shifts to her strong suits: impeccable pacing and an often satirically infused plotline w/the funny just flying, deepened by lots of apt pop references and literary allusions. So...

Then you start flipping the pages as fast as you can because it's actually compelling and smile-inducing and rich.

And then you simply have to slow down because you can't stop laughing.

Then you ease up to pace yourself because you want to savor this book for many days, not just a few hours.

And then you're annoyed again by more gratuitous sex and drunken shenanigans, but then it's back to the plot and you're off to the races again.

This novel brought me back to my first Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman reads, that serene push-pull of the generously light-hearted yet darkly resonant novel. 


p.s.  My actions: 
  I'm going to work on my wit.  Bray's most memorable stylistic strength in this novel is her ability to mix a classic storyline with a contemporary sense of humor that draws on the rhythms and register of everyday speech.  Although my blogs aren't likely to approach the mythic any time soon, I can certainly work in or work from or work out a voice with more of a comic kick.  At least at times.  If the moment strikes.  Or the muses. 


  And I'm going to refresh my understanding of Norse mythology.  It's been so long since I studied that subject that I'd forgotten about Yggdrasil.  I'm going to the library today anyway, so I'll find a book and see where it leads me.

   Or maybe I'm moved to make a Balderish garden gnome.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November Story.

       Once upon a time there was a ravenous reader.  She lived in a beautiful city by the sea, but the city was far, far from the hustle and bustle of the rest of her world.  The reader dove headlong into new realms whenever she opened a book, but when she'd resurface, she found herself back in her beautiful city, and just as far from her world as she had been a book ago.  After a time, this troubled the reader. 

    She wanted to live a life well spent, a life that touched her world.  And in her fanciful reader's heart, she imagined that her life would make her a hero of the monomyth:  She would journey forth, attract some steady sidekicks, venture with them into worlds challenging and unknown, and then return, changed, bringing back boons to elevate her city and her world.  

   But every moment she spent inside a book was a moment spent outside her world.

     So what's the rub? The reader simply couldn't give up reading, but time was running short.  She was half way through her hero's life, and she'd barely stepped upon the path. 

     It was time to make every moment count.

        The ravenous reader pondered and pondered.  She liked to think of herself as eternally well-intentioned, but she was essentially lazy at heart.  She wanted to do as little as possible.  'Baby steps' was her borrowed mantra, one she held fast to in good times and in bad.  But could it serve her in this new pickle? 

     So she pondered and she pondered and she pondered again, and she hadn't pondered all that long when she hit upon what could be called a plan.  It was simple enough really:  Every time she climbed back out of a book, she would take a step or two on a new path of the book's own making.  Wherever it pointed her, she would wend.

    And so, step after step, she journeyed forth.  And in just one lazy month she found that she had

  • Struck up a friendship with a champion pigeon racer.
  • Fed a bunch of juncos in a blizzard (and chickadees and finches and sparrows and wrens and varied thrushes and and towhees and Stellar's jays and squirrels) who now visit her every day. (Tip for would-be heroes: Good food's always a bonding thing, especially in a snowstorm.)
  • Started a to celebrate play and beauty in cyberspace and to offer the world reasons to be grateful.
  • Started to Twitter (finally!) - the better to spread the joy. 
  • Made her first google map to trace the steps she took within books.
  • Changed up her food to favor more compassionate consumption.
  • Made at least 40 people she doesn't know smile.
  • Made two pinecone turkeys and a Thanksgiving centerpiece, all out of salvaged materials.
  • Reconnected with a friend and colleague who found her again on this blog.
  • Thanked a brother, a mother, a cousin, a father, and a whole lot of folks all over the country.
  • Started telling stories again.
  • Asked three "critical friends" for help. (Perhaps the scariest step of the month, because it tested the premise that her friends would be willing and able to offer their time and expertise to help her. So far, so good.  Mentors and pals for the journey: check!)
  • Remembered that action begets action, step follows step.  She knew this already, but she had forgotten how swiftly the Universe itself steps in. 
  • Figured out that changing her own life for the better is also changing the real world.
And if she had added the steps that she took that followed on steps that she took for each book, her list would be longer than Santa's today. 

Now, December's dawning.  The ravenous reader's surveying her progress on the path, taking a deep breath, and striding on.
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