Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beach Reads! Top Ten Tuesday

What's in a beach book that simply spells summer?  Must-haves:  romance, strong pacing, unusual characters, and a super-summery setting.  These all have 'em, and they're bound to be at your library or used bookstore, so you can stock up!  Want more?  Visit The Broke and the Bookish's blog hop today and you'll find plenty.

1.  I still remember my first trip to Maui.  My travel partner?  Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosely.  We hung out by the pool for long hours, and Easy Rawlins kept me perfect company.

2.  And then there's The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy.  Perfect South Carolina beach setting, riveting plot, way better than the movie, and hefty enough to last much of that weekend at the shore...

3.  Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman.  Again, a Southern shoreline setting, this time in Florida, plus Hoffman's typical uber-readable prose with a touch of magic and more than a smidge of romance.  Actually, almost anything by Alice Hoffman would be a great beach read.

4.  Going Bovine by Libba Bray.  This Printz-winning Y.A. title's gripping, funny, and surprising at every turn, so for those of you who enjoy the occasional dip into time-traveling, slightly-dystopian picaresques, it will make a terrific page-turner for adults and mature teens to share on a lazy summer day at the beach.  It features a teenage male protagonist, so if you're taking 'the boys' to the beach, this one might hold particular appeal...

5.  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston.  For those seeking a gorgeously lyrical American (and feminist) classic (if you read The Color Purple, you'll notice that Walker got a fair bit of her inspiration from this Harlem Renaissance novel) that keeps you gripped from start to finish, this would be the perfect book to read outside under a tree on a steamy summer day.  I first read this novel in summer, and always remember it in that hot, languid context. Read it, and you'll see why. 

6.  A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  This one I recall buying at a used bookstore in Bakersfield, CA, in July.  Every day the thermometer read over 100 degrees, yet this one kept the scorching heat in a backseat with its beautifully drawn characters in a somewhat-generational saga of India in 1970's. 

7.  Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.  This "children's" novel winds up on most of my lists, because of Rushdie's humor and unabashed-glee in language play enlivening contemporary themes, a unique-yet-familiar plot, and memorable characters (Batcheat, Khattam-Shud, and Butt the Hoopoe are three you won't forget).  It's one of those books that absolutely provokes you to read passages aloud to whoever's sunning next to you, you know?  And its strong plot will keep middle-grade readers through adults turning pages.  Plus, in the end, it's an allegory about freedom of speech.  What's not to like?

8 & 9.  Empire Falls by Richard Russo or The Cider House Rules by John Irving.  These two 'family' sagas feature beautifully drawn characters, surprising plot twists, and New England settings that truly capture the time and spirit of the place.  Plus they're long enough to get you through most of a week at the shore...

10. Steps and Exes by Laura Kalpakian.  Set on a fictional island in the San Juans that's ruled by a cast of individualistic, liberated women, this lyrical novel won't change your life, but it will transport you into a place and time apart, full of the sights and sounds of summer and the shear fun of a good story.

Anticipation... This year, my first summer book will be Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  I spent many summers on Martha's Vineyard, where I understand it's set, and I'm eager to 'travel' from my home in northwest Washington state to the easternmost reaches of our country via Brooks's stellar prose.  Thanks again to As The Crowe Flies And Reads for providing me this opportunity to return to one of my favorite places on the planet as soon as June hits the calendar.

I'm looking forward to hopping toward summer today too.  Thanks again to The Broke and the Bookish, and do stop by the hop to find your own mesh bag full of this summer's great reads...


p.s.  I linked all the books to Amazon.com today, because I believe that beach reads should be, above all, page-turners, and the only way to tell if one suits you in that way - if the voice and the characters and the plot suck you in by page three - is to "look inside".  Whenever possible though, I prefer to purchase my books from my local independent bookseller, my local used book stores, or from betterworldbooks.com.  I encourage you to try them first, too!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Help: Nope.

Sure, it's a big ole blockbuster hit.  And I'm looking forward to the movie as much as the next reader:  In fact, I'm hoping it will add the depth and edge that I had hoped for in Kathryn Stockett's runaway bestseller.  But I'm going to have to call this one a lightweight, despite its doorstop physical heft.

Personally, I rather expect to be challenged by any novel about racism in the United States.  Yet, despite its focus on unmasking racist conduct against African American domestic workers by their white employers in Civil Rights Era Mississippi, this book feels tepid to me from page one to page 524.  It could be that I've read too many novels treating thematically related subject matter that are simply much better wrought.  (The reasons are myriad, and most require exposing you to multiple 'spoilers', so hop to the 'read more' link below for just a taste of my style and plot-based concerns and hit this worthwhile external link - warning: mature yet important content there - for far more serious thematic critiques.  OR, if you're thinking of reading The Help, stay here on this page for a more general response.)

Sure, if you're headed on vacation and just looking for a book to pass the time, this one might be fine.  Or, if you've had little exposure to the concerns of the Civil Rights Era, particularly in Mississippi, this will be an "easy listening" historical fiction to get you started, and might possibly pique your interest to read some of the authors I mention at the very end of this post, or do research online, or screen the recent PBS "Freedom Riders" documentary.  If that's what you're looking for, well, still, you could do better, but if you must...
But bottom line: I'm the one.  Overall, I didn't care for it.  I learned nothing, because I already know a fair bit about that time period in the American South.  And a lot of it felt saccharine and borderline stereotypical.  So I'm simply grateful that we had beautiful weather last week when I read it, because sitting outside with a tall glass of iced tea under the beautiful birches made the long, mildly entertaining slog a bit more bearable.


Action:  I'll try to take on Aibileen's habit of generosity, and of offering intentions daily, in writing. She pens her prayers every evening, and - seemingly through this daily practice - stokes her own fundamental grace to become a much sought-after conduit for near-miracles, not to mention a fine writer.  I think I'll strive for gratitude and also follow her example: her prayers are never for her, always for others.  (Once again, any book experience can be at least partially redeemed by reaching for a positive action in response to it...)

For a little longer rant (but negative, I warn you)...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Armchair Update, Action Winner!

Hi friends,

Just a quick update for all of us virtual convention-goers as folks head home from NYC...

The organizers of Armchair BEA deserve a whole passel-o-thanks for offering us all so many new opportunities to meet each other, offer serious - and not-so-serious - thoughts about literature in the cyberspheres, talk shop, and just plain celebrate our love of books and blogging.  And the daily post prompts that the organizers offered us sparked exceptional conversations and gave us ample opportunity to reflect, much to the benefit - I trust - of all involved.

And I'd like to offer up a warm welcome to all who joined ActionReaders.com this week and who commented and/or followed here as we virtual-convened:  What a joy to meet so many warm and talented bloggers.

I don't know about y'all, but I'm so enthused that I'm ready to offer up my time to help organize Armchair BEA next year - ActionReaders.com could provide an easy gathering space for monthly 'virtual BEA happy hours' to catch up with those we 'met' at the convention this week - and I'm going to keep returning to the linkies on the Armchair BEA website so I can continue to visit new book bloggers. 

AND THE WINNER of the book + $20 donation to the charity of her choice on ActionReaders.com is...

Why not go congratulate her over at ActionReaders.com, and check out all the exciting goings-on coming up in June & July?!  Our first bookclub read's all about creativity, and the last day to vote on your choice is today, to come check us out!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Poem In Your Post Blog Hop

In memorium... 

    Oh Captain!  My Captain!

    O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
    The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
    The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
    While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
      But O heart! heart! heart!
        O the bleeding drops of red,
          Where on the deck my Captain lies,
            Fallen cold and dead.

    O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
    Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills,
    For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding,
    For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
      Here Captain! dear father!
        This arm beneath your head!
          It is some dream that on the deck
            You've fallen cold and dead.

    My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
    My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will.
    The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
    From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
      Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
        But I, with mournful tread,
          Walk the deck my Captain lies,
            Fallen cold and dead.

                                       - Walt Whitman, 1865, in honor of Abraham Lincoln

Now it's your turn.  Post any poem you wish and link below - perhaps to memorialize, perhaps to offer solace, perhaps to bring a light to the darkness...

* Bloggers sharing your poems: If you link above, please link back to What She Read in your post on your blog so others can find our hop. 

This hop lasts all weekend now, to make it easier, more leisurely and joyful for us to post and hop.  Stop back every week and any week that you can.  And spread the word: More poems will accrue for you. 


Friday, May 27, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why OR A Dark Week in YA Lit., Part II

Gifted Teen Commits Suicide, Tortures Peers From Beyond The Grave.

That's the headline, and that's the premise of Jay Asher's novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, as many of you probably know:

Hannah Baker kills herself, but creates a set of audiotapes beforehand detailing how thirteen different people contributed to her death.  Then she blackmails the people on the tapes into sending the set along to the rest of the incriminated group by duplicating the set and leaving it with an anonymous "watcher" tasked with ensuring all Hannah's intended listeners indeed pass the tapes along.  If the chain breaks, the watcher will release the tapes to the public.

A rather creepy premise indeed but, like Stolen (reviewed here earlier this week), one that holds a distinct appeal to teens.  Thirteen Reasons Why sizzled like wildfire through the ranks of young women nationwide last year, and I watched it fly from hand to hand in my own school, so I can verify its popularity. 

And like Stolen, it plays on the misapprehensions and emotional confusion so prominent in teenage life.  But unlike Stolen, this novel realistically and grippingly explores the cruelties that teens deal out to each other on a regular basis and serves as a clear cautionary tale for all those who trade on rumor-mongering and bullying.  Its heroine, unlike Gemma in Stolen, is reasonably self-aware and understands her own participation in her demise, though she feels powerless to control her emotions or to stop her downward spiral into depression, isolation, and death.

Despite the harrowing subject matter, I found this to be a worthwhile listening experience, both in substance and in form.  The story here is tautly woven and uncomfortably addictive.  And the audio CDs I listened to featured two engaging actors (Debra Wiseman and Joel Johnstone), perfectly cast as the dual protagonists Hannah herself and Clay, the entirely decent young man who's listening to the tapes and waiting for the moment when she reveals what he has done to deserve inclusion on her list.

If you're going to try Thirteen Reasons Why - and if you're a parent, friend, or mentor of young teens, I suggest you do - the audio version is well worth your time. 

But do be prepared:  This is a trying experience, even though it's quite well paced and well done in every respect.  Even if we're not on the list, we feel the same horror, frustration, and powerlessness that Hannah's listeners do, all thirteen steps of the way.


p.s.  Is anyone else having trouble viewing the Google 'Followers' app. in Explorer?  If so, are they working on it at Blogger or is there a fix?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Armchair BEA: The Six Principles For Cultivating Relationships

Although I joined the book blogging community a scant six months ago, and with the specific purpose of trying out my "read a book, take an action, change your life" experiment in public, I do feel that I've gained experience in this realm speedily indeed, and I'm already immersed in the 'book blogger culture'.

For me, the process of making and sustaining relationships here parallels what I'd do in real life.  The first two principles I follow as my guidance system for everyday living, and although - like most people - I practice them imperfectly, I do practice them consciously, and I become more skillful every day.

* Be genuinely yourself.  This may manifest a tad differently online than in my personal life, because here I hold primarily one role: action-reader. In real life, I must practice to honor and cultivate my true self in the context of friend, partner, daughter, community member, sister, teacher, and many others as well.  Here, I believe it's about creating and maintaining a blogging persona that is always congruent and genuine, even when it may be offering up only one view of my multi-faceted identity.  But in every case, striving to act with integrity toward who I am - even if it's a self that manifests exclusively in cyberspace - comes first, and naturally leads to solid relationships.

* Celebrate by offering gratitude for others' every positive action.  On this blog, and on ActionReaders.com, I consciously set aside time every single day to respond to comments, visit followers' blogs, and write on ActionReaders members' walls, all to offer enthusiasm, support, and gratitude.  And I make every effort to write to authors whose books I've admired or enjoyed, offering my specific thanks for their achievements and the value they bring to my life.  It's an entirely joyful process for me, and one of the most important ways I can change the world without attempting to change other people.  And clearly, it strengthens relationships.

For my final four, I'll reference a slim volume that I've come to rely on to re-establish my own integrity and focus if ever I feel myself straying from my core: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  Although when I first read the book, I didn't expect it to have a particularly profound effect on my conduct, it has.  I suspect that its power lies in the simplicity and universality of the principles: One can use these in every situation, to help guide every choice and action. 

* Be impeccable with your word. Here at WhatSheRead, and also at ActionReaders.com, I strive to commit only to actions I intend to take, and take quickly.  That  means I don't ask for an ARC copy or participate in a blog tour unless I know I will have the time to read and provide a thoughtful, specific review in a timely fashion.  Result: Solid relationships with publishers.  And I don't make comments on others' blogs unless I have something specific and genuine to add to the conversation, even if that means I simply offer my gratitude for specific aspects of their blog - or their character - without referencing details of a particular post.  Again: Solid relationships with other bloggers.

* Don't take anything personally.  That means I let go of attachment to how many followers I have or how often a particular post is visited or how many members have signed up this week at ActionReaders.com.  If I were blogging or creating a ning for personal gain, perhaps I'd be tempted.  And it's not that I don't strive to offer ideas and reviews of value to a large number of people: I do.  And certainly I'm mindful of the need for marketing, especially as ActionReaders grows into a worldwide, world-changing force.  But taking these developments personally wouldn't help me to maintain my enthusiasm, so practicing this principle keeps positive energy flowing through all my actions here on the interwebs.

* Don't make assumptions.  ...about the character of 'the person behind the curtain' of blogs I visit; or that just because we differ in opinion on one book we have little to offer each other; or that if their blog is formatted in an unusual way or isn't easy to navigate on a particular day, it's because they lack technical skills (as many of us know from recent Blogger snafus, this particular assumption just isn't helpful!); or that a publisher won't want to offer me an ARC because my blog's too new; or even that just because I don't see "direct hits" on a post, it's not been visited (as it may well have been if a visitor scrolls through a weeks' posts); or that a blog that has fewer or more followers than I is more or less 'successful' than mine.  All of these are potentially dangerous assumptions that could strain relationships.  So I try hard to avoid them.

* Always do your best.  I review every post five times, at least.  Yes, errors do creep in, but I can let them go, knowing that I have offered my best effort.  And - with the exception of time-sensitive hops like these - I wait at least three days between writing and posting just to make sure I have the emotional distance to edit the final version with clarity and compassion.  If I can't make the time to take this care, I simply don't post.  And, of course, I do my best to keep both of my sites looking clean and professional. 

So there they are, my six principles for cultivating relationships onlineI suspect every one of you visiting today practices them too, and trust that they provide yet another cause for solidarity and celebration among us all.

MFB, (Oh, and that's my bonus 7th principle: Strive to 'fail better' every day.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lounger's CV: A Better-late-than-never Armchair BEA Intro...

Hello again, Armchair BEAers, and welcome back old friends !  Allow me to (re)introduce myself...

Me:  Laurie here at What She Read (budding blogista) and founder-enthusiast-webmaster (looking to share this role!) at ActionReaders.com.  Also to be found in person, part-time, teaching writing & reading at a local high school, drawing, playing guitar, singing, walking, yoga & bodyflow, tending the hens and the ever-evolving  permaculture "yard", cooking, and cultivating friendships with artists, experts, readers, and world-changers of all ages, all over the world.

If you could put one book in the hands of everyone you come in contact with, what would it be and why?  Just the right book for them at that moment, the one that changes their life, offers them endless solace and pleasure, and gets them out there sharing their best stuff with the world.

What book are you looking forward to reading the most in 2011? Whichever one crosses my doorstep today... I've found that the go-with-the-flow, let-the-Universe-provide strategy works exceptionally well for me, so I strive (sometimes imperfectly) not to grasp at any one book.

Do you host any special events or memes on your blog that you would like to share with us (outside of Armchair BEA)? Please explain.  Yes, I host ActionReaders.com, our free social-networking site for readers changing their lives and the world. There'll be a monthly bookgroup, contests, challenges and action-opportunities, an evolving roster of additional features, plus plenty of networking for readers year round.
    Here at WhatSheRead, we just started a weekly Sat.-Sun. "Poem In Your Post" Blog Hop in which bloggers post their own work or interesting poems they've gathered, then we link up and enjoy them all weekend.

Other contact info.:
Goodreads: Laurie ActionReader (friend me!)
Twitter: ActionReader (dormant at the moment, but ready to get busy if you help me!)

Today is also networking day at ArmChair BEA, but because I follow so many blogs and do not wish to preference one over another, I'm going to simply note that most folks who follow book blogs tend to be book bloggers themselves.  So check my "Followers", and if you see a few unfamiliar icons, why not pick some and give them a visit?

MFB, and so glad to have discovered Armchair BEA!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA: Choose Your Own Give-Away!

Go get a piece of the Armchair Action at
You choose, Armchair pals & old friends:

* Find your current must-read at Indiebound.org. ($20 or less) 
If you win the random drawing,
     I'll give it to you via your local independent bookstore AND
     I'll make a $20 donation to the charity of your choice! 

Yes: You choose, and choose again.  That's what ActionReaders is all about: sharing the love of books in a community of readers, while doing some good in our own lives, for the world.* 

* How do you participate in this Give-Away?  Join our tribe of world-changing, life-embracing readers at ActionReaders.com. 
   How?  Go sign on as a member at ActionReaders.com and follow this blog too.
   It's free, it takes less than a minute, and you'll get no spam, just an occasional (say, monthly or so) email when we've got world-changing, book-centric opportunities to offer you.  If we don't think you'll find it of great value for yourself and for the world, we won't email you about it.  And, of course, you can choose to watch what's happening until you're ready to dip in.  No obligation.  No guilt.  Ever. 

And current ActionReaders:  Just send me a message at ActionReaders.com and I'll enter you to win too.  At ActionReaders, as in life, we don't overlook old friends.

So that's the GiveAway.  No special button or logo or strings.  Just an opportunity to enrich your life by joining ActionReaders, plus a chance for just a wee bit more (a book and a contribution).

Enter by midnight on Friday, May 27, to be eligible. 


* And, no, book-actions needn't involve more than a few minutes' time and certainly needn't require a single cent.  The basic premise: finish a book, then do something related to that book.  Imagine the power we'd have to change the world and our own lives if we all just made this simple adjustment to our reading habits...
...and for the poets among you: Drop by on Saturday or Sunday for our weekend Poetry in Your Post Blog Hop!

p.s. Always happy to visit your blog and then follow-for-follow...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Morning Mailbox!

I simply had to join this hop today, because guess what landed in my mailbox this week:

Get it through Indiebound.org, in honor of Ms. Crowe!

My sincerest thanks to Ms. Crowe over at As the Crowe Flies and Reads for scoring me an autographed copy from the marvelous Odyssey Bookshop in Massachusetts.

Publisher's Blurb:
Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.

Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb's Crossing further establishes Brooks's place as one of our most acclaimed novelists.

How did I happen to win this novel by one of my favorite writers (Geraldine Brooks) about one of my favorite places (Martha's Vineyard, where I spent many summers working on my MFA)?

I lucked out.  For her 100th follower celebration, Ms. Crowe randomly selected one of us to win our choice of book, and, well, I won!

Thank you again, Ms. Crowe, and if you're reading this right now and haven't visited her blog, I do suggest you give it a try: She's a fine writer, a discerning reader, and a swell person!

Now, I'm off to see what everyone else is reading on the Mailbox Monday hop, hosted this month by Mari Reads.


p.s.  I've been enjoying many blog hops this month, and just wanted to remind you about our weekend-long "Poem In Your Post" Blog Hop here from Sat. at 12:01 a.m. through Sun. at 11:59 p.m. every week.  # of hoppers varies but the quality is always top notch, so let's make this weekend a big one for poetry!

Romanticizing Stockholm Syndrome OR A Dark Week in Popular Y.A. Fiction: Part I

Remember Go Ask Alice?  That 'diary' novel (?) by Anonymous that you kept hidden from your parents and then passed along to the next girl?  Well, it still gets passed around in exactly the same way.  Early-teenage girls, in particular, find it fascinating. 

And now they've so much more to choose from when they want to subsume themselves in dysfunction and misjudgment and self-pity - a slew, a plethora, an explosion of issue-novels mimicking the dark intensity of that early tell-all novel of drug addiction and self-hatred.  These newer novels, while not necessarily focused on drug abuse, appeal to that same fascination with the most painfully perverse potentials of adolescence.  And they feature characters who are indeed harmed by the actions of their peers, their tormentors, but who also participate in their own pathologies through the misjudgments and self-pity and fascination with their own pain that is so often a focus of the adolescent mind. 

I can see these books' appeal to young women; I remember that fascination well.  And perhaps it's OK for the market to offer books to meet the demand for teenage-woman-as-victim novels spurred by the Twilight phenomenon and perhaps by Laurie Halse Anderson's pre-Twilight, (actually quite worthwhile and non-exploitative) novel Speak .  But personally, I'm having trouble with this trend.

Here's a case in point: Stolen by Lucy Christopher.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop!

It's feeling oh so springy here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, so I'm offering a poem by Kenneth Koch, playful poet (at least in this case) who excelled at playing with abstractions by making them concrete and chasing them around on the page... My hope: You'll smile, and then be moved to read it again - or better yet, to create your own.


One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing—for example, “Although it was a dark rainy day when
   the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and sweet expression on her face
   until the day I perish from the green, effective earth.”
Or, “Will you please close the window, Andrew?”
Or, for example, “Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window sill has changed color
   recently to a light yellow, due to the heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby.”

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, “And! But!”
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the Adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat—
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.

                                 - Kenneth Koch (1925-2002)

Now it's your turn.  Post any poem you wish and link below so we may all stroll through a wild meadow of verse...

* Bloggers sharing your poems: If you link above, please link back to What She Read in your post on your blog so others can find our hop. 

This hop lasts all weekend now, to make it easier, more leisurely and joyful for us to post and hop.  Stop back every week and any week that you can.  And spread the word: More poems will accrue for you. 

Let the joy begin.   And, as always, please support the poets who change us with their art.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday FYI's

Heads up!  Two quick action ideas you head into a fabulous book-filled weekend:

1.  Hop on over to ActionReaders.com (link to right and left - you can't miss it!) and take our 5-second survey:  We're starting an action-reading book club and need you to weigh in on the genre & action category for our first book.  Four choices, just click your favorite and you're done!* We're working to get discounts or free books for our club, and in negotiation with authors of upcoming books as well, so you'll want to get in on this right away! 

While you're there, if you've got 60 seconds more, sign up as a member so we can keep you in the loop on this one - It'll be the perfect chance to test your action-reading wings and participate in a great book discussion as well. 

2. Hop back here on Saturday or Sunday if you love poems: It's our "Poem In Your Post" Blog Hopall weekend long!  In honor of the springtime sunshine and warmer days, you might want to post celebratory poems or nature poems - your own or a favorite one gathered out in the world.  But really, any poem you'd like to share will be fine...

How does it work?  Post a poem, then link here, then hop.  Simple!  It's fun and quick to do, fascinating to participate in - such a variety of excellent poems to be found - and we're gaining momentum, so come join us!


* So far, creative action with a non-fiction book's winning, but inquiry action plus a memoir's running a close second, but the voting will run through May 25, so you still have a chance to make your favorites count! 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three Questions

This (quite) short fiction by Leo Tolstoy is offered here for you, and free.  Take a moment or two to read and ponder it, in honor of Short Story Month.

Riddle me this:  What are YOUR three questions? 
The ones you've spent your whole life pursuing?  
I recently bought the beautiful  version of Tolstoy's story pictured at right to celebrate national Children's Book Week.  The watercolor illustrations will draw in young and old alike, and the shift from a king to a child and from people to animals in this version of Tolstoy's story make it a fine work to read aloud with kids or to page through from time to time as an adult.

The lesson here is a clear one, offered explicitly:  Do something helpful or just plain good for the person (or, as I would adjust it for the 21st century, being) in front of you at this moment.  That is what is best to do and who it is best to do it for because, ultimately, there is no other time but now to make a difference in the world.

I'm going to try it, starting right now, for at least a week.  Maybe for a lifetime. 
Even while I blog hop or work on ActionReaders.com to provide more opportunities for readers to change the world, I'm going to try to do good for whoever is right in front of me at that moment.

And I'm offering it up for the first full week in June as an ActionReader Challenge, both here and at the website, with a number of book give-aways to acknowledge each person's renewed attention to 'loving the one you're with'.  Join us here and there on June 1 (that's just two weeks away!) if you'd like a little extra encouragement to keep this focus as your intention for the first week in June.  (And don't worry: I'll remind you!)

MFB in the present moment,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Major Minors...

This week's Broke and Bookish Blog Hop asks us to offer up our Top 10 Minor Characters with Major Impact...

Lowly Worm in the Richard Scarry books.  He was my generation's version of "Where's Waldo", hiding out in almost every picture, whatever the book's focus.  Love(d) him.

The she-wolf in Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing (the second book in his Border Trilogy).  She is both a complex, resonant symbol and a character in the first part of this novel, which - in my view - could stand alone as a heart-wrenching novella asking all the most damning questions about Americans' relationship with "nature" and the natural world, not to mention "settlers'" relationships with "natives".   Her resonance lingers through the rest of the series and within the psyches of all who read this novel.

Henry's mother in Josh Ritter's new novel, Bright's Passage, coming out in July.  Her courageous decency provides Bright with the example and strength needed to survive and to maintain his own decency in some of the worst possible conditions war and poverty can conjure up. And, yes, I am going to harp on this book every chance I get until I post a full-on review in late June! 

The little kid, Courtney, in Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog.  So beautifully drawn.  Her every gesture registers just right to enchant us without ever waxing coy or cloying.  Want my full review?  Hop here.

Dobby. Need I say more?
Most major minor character of the century! 
(I repeat for emphasis.)

Also, Dobby.

And then there's, of course: Dobby.

Or how about Dobby?

And, to round out our selection: Dobby.

There.  Now I need one more major-minor character.  Suggestions? 


Monday, May 16, 2011

And The Pursuit of Happiness

Shortest. Review. Ever.  
Get it at indiebound.org, betterworldbooks.com.

Get it. (Preferably from the links to your indie bookstore or betterworldbooks.com, but of course it's your dime.  So just get it.)  Savor it.  Return to it any time your spirit seems to sag.

Here's why... And The Pursuit Of Happiness by Maira Kalman, a NYTimes illustrated blog.  Click the link to visit a chapter and you will be charmed.  Utterly.


* Draw a little bit every day.  Use color.  Do the fortnightly creative challenge at Hot Toast & Jam.
* Add more visuals & captions to ActionReaders.com & my blog posts here (already started this one!).
* Write to the publishers of And The Pursuit of Happiness to see if they'll give me a big discount on a class set so I can use this book next year, esp. for American Lit.

Here's a page from the chapter relating to Thomas Jefferson.  Thought you would like the books and the funky pink chair.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday 'Poem In Your Post' Blog Hop!

The Walkers of Hurricanes

I love the people who walk out in hurricanes,
who love the elements we must all join someday
more than the tepid flesh of their own bodies,
who love the wild graffiti the storm strews
over the streets and highways and immaculate yards
more than the pale order of the everyday,
who have tasted before the sweet fragrance
of their deaths, and lived to tell of it.
I love those strange pedestrians - the old
and young and seemingly timid, the mock-fragile ones
of the later years - who have turned off their television sets,
to defy the journalists and pundits and wild hysteria
of the meteorologists and wrapped themselves again
in the worn suitcases of reliable bodies, who have walked
down to the water to watch the wind race over
the storm's flotsam, to contemplate the beautiful confusion
of the gulls surrendering themselves to the crazed air,
to experience once more the calm relinquishment
of their earthly hubris, if for even a moment, as they listen,
now, to the sweet insistence of unearthlier powers,
as they weave through the downed signatures
of willow, horse chestnut, maple and fencepost,
as they walk past the taped windows and closed commerce
of quotidian light and grow grateful once more
for this bountiful life that has just swept them up -
that will sweep them away again with the same hand.

                                     - Michael Blumenthal

Creativity begins with that ecstatic walk out into the wind, and that wind blows through everything, at all times.  I say: Take it on, ride it, let its breath become your breath.  Let the hurricane inhabit you.

Now it's your turn.  Post any poem you wish and link below so we may all stroll through a wild meadow of verse... 

* Bloggers sharing your poems: If you link above, you MUST link back to What She Read in a post on your blog so others can find our hop.  It's common procedure that if you don't collaborate in this way, you could be removed from the Linky list (oh, no!)...

I'm going to shift this to a Weekend 'Poem In Your Post' Blog Hop to make it easier, more leisurely and joyful, for us to post and hop.  Stop back every week and any week that you can.  And spread the word: More poems will accrue for you. 

Let the joy begin.


Please support the poets who change us with their art.  I have long admired Michael Blumenthal, this not-so-well-known but consistently worthy poet.  I trust you can imagine why.  Blumenthal's books - and they are true gems, I assure you - can be found at his website here.  My favorite is his early Against Romance collection, recently reissued and available at Amazon.com.

Searching for a Focus? How about one of these?
*  It's Get Caught Reading Month, so post a poem that got you hooked on poetry, then link it here so we can enjoy it too! (Can you say A.A. Milne or Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss?  Or perhaps a poem from your high school years would suit you best right now...)
*  It's also Creative Beginnings Month, so post a poem that inspires you to create, then link it here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Unfortunately, Not.

Today, Crazy-for-Books.com asks us "Are you going to Book Expo America (BEA) and/or the Book Blogger Convention (BBC) this year?"

Unfortunately, not.  I live on the opposite side of the country, and it would cost at least $1000 for me to make the trip, so there's simply no way.  I wish they would move BEA & BBC around each year like other conferences... Those of us on the West Coast are simply out of luck.

Have fun in NYC, though, all of you who are lucky enough to attend.

Here's my question for y'all:  What book did you read yesterday while waiting for Blogger to come back online!?"  (AND did your post from yesterday get totally wiped out, as mine did?)

Me?  Fed Ex dropped off my ARC copy of Josh Ritter's Bright's Passage, due out in July, and once I opened it, I could not put it down.  AMAZING.  More in a month or so, but in the meanwhile start revving up right now for what is destined to become a modern classic: lyrical yet anchored in the concrete details of a particular life, assured from sentence one in the manner of all truly great storytellers, with a one-of-a-kind prose style and a plot that offers surprise after surprise.  I'm telling y'all:  Look out for this one to rake in awards next year...

And hey, on an entirely different note:  Don't forget to drop by on Sunday for our brand new weekly Poem In Your Post Blog Hop!  Participating's a breeze: Just click here for the scoop.

See you then,

p.s.  Ideas for Sunday...
-  It's Get Caught Reading Month, so post a poem that got you hooked on poetry, then link it here so we can enjoy it too! (Can you say A.A. Milne or Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss?  Or perhaps a poem from your high school years would suit you best right now...)

-  It's also Creative Beginnings Month, so post a poem that inspires you to create, then link it here.

Your own work or someone else's (with appropriate crediting, of course) - either will do just fine: 

It's all about sharing the joy and insight of poems, and the more diverse, the better!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Age Appropriate?

Do you read books that are not intended for your age group?  (Asks Booking Through Thursday's blog hop this week.)

Absolutely.  All the time.  Why wouldn't I??

If you look at my "Reading Now" shelf, you'll almost always see an audiobook that's YA or middle reader or children's literature as well as an adult non-fiction and an adult fiction.  Poetry anthologies, graphic novels, how-to books, professional enrichment books, and just about anything well wrought, I will read.

How about you?  Do you have a great outside-the-box book to recommend?


Quick Heads-Up:  Sunday's our new weekly Poem in Your Post Blog Hop Extravaganza.
Looking for ideas? 
*  This month is Get Caught Reading Month:  Which poem got you hooked on poetry?
*  It's also Creative Beginnings Month:  Share a poem that gets your creative juices flowing!

(The scoop on this hop: Just post a poem - your own poem or a favorite one you've gathered on your reading journeys - and then link and hop!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Plot Against America

Why the frown, Philip?                   Ron's on the right.
Or How Ron Silver Saved Philip Roth.

If you're at all in the market for an alternate history of America from the late '30's through the mid-40's, one in which Charles Lindberg beats FDR to the presidency on an isolationist platform that includes an alliance with Hitler himself, then consider that The Plot Against America also happens to be penned by Pulitzer & National Book Award winning author Philip Roth and read aloud by the late great Ron Silver.

For the last reason alone, this book is entirely worth listening to in audio form.  In fact, while I was reading the text version, at points where the story shifted from the dramatic "showing" of this alternate-history through its effects on the Roth family members & their dynamics to a bogged-down "telling" of fictive political events sans drama, I switched to Silver's performance of the text on CD and his acting alone kept me spellbound. 

So in this very particular way, Ron saved Roth's book for me.

If you don't remember Silver, a few of his credits include a Tony for his performance in David Mamet's Speed the Plow as well as a strong showing in the role of real-life lawyer Alan Derschowitz in the movie Reversal of Fortune about the VonBulow trial.  But his most popularly-known role might be his Emmy-nominated turn as presidential campaign advisor Bruno Gianelli in TV's The West Wing.

And here's a short video in which you can experience for yourself his vocal character - perfect for the Newark-born narrator recalling his youth.  (Here, he plays Bruno, in this intense conversation with Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff reacting as Sam and Toby.)

And Silver was known for his political activism throughout his life.  He started out as a high school teacher and social worker, then graduated over time to co-founding the Creative Coalition (an entertainment industry political organization) to hosting his own XM radio show about politics and scoring a number of honorary positions under President George W. Bush.  )Rumor has it, though, that his last vote was for Obama as he judged each election separately and based his voting on issues rather than party lines.)  So a novel about how world and national politics destroy a local neighborhood and shatter a hardworking, upstanding middle-class family seems a near-perfect fit.

But what about the book?  I'm still contemplating what its impact will be on me, so I'll be brief:  It's well worth the read for its thought provoking glimpses into the way politics often works in America, and for making us re-think this period in history by offering an alternate progression of events, as well as a post-script with factual background info. on all the characters fictionalized here.  Also, when Roth focuses on scenes developing the dynamics and characters of 'his family' - the first person, seven-to-eleven-year-old narrator is named "Philip Roth" as well - the story shines.  He inhabits the young boy quite credibly and the slice-of-life inside view of Newark's Weequahic neighborhood back in the late '30's/early 40's is compelling both dramatically and atmospherically.

Action:  So far, I've invested 2 hours researching Silver and checking details of this time period against what happened in the novel.  It definitely compelled me to make sure I had "the facts" of this time period absolutely straight in terms of domestic politics in the U.S.  (I've co-taught this period in European history quite a few times, so I'm stronger on that aspect of WWII.)  Plus, I've added a number of Silver's films to my Netflix queue and searched out his other audio CD, Roth's American Pastoral, because I don't want to let him go... While I wait on those, I'm digging through all my West Wing DVDs to re-watch the one's that feature Bruno!

MFB, and RIP Ron Silver,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Our Broke and Bookish blog hop for May 10 is: "Top Ten Jerks In Literature (all those jerky guys in books..those who truly WERE *!? ^?! and those who just acted like one but could be quite lovable)."
First, let me say that it'd be way too easy just to list all the villains in the novels I've read, so I'm going to differentiate the term "jerk" as a person with who's rude or mean to others OR who's unthinkingly self-absorbed & obtuse in a way that may even cause harm, but who's not truly evil.  They may be charming in some ways, or even well-intentioned sometimes, but ultimately it's their self-centeredness and disregard for others in favor of themselves that causes most readers to feel vexed, annoyed, or angry with them, even when they're charming.  Dudley Dursley is a jerk, so is Uncle Vernon.  Voldemort is not.  That sort of distinction.

AND I'm only going to mention books that are well worth reading (IMHO), in which jerks enrich the plot, themes, and general enjoyableness of the whole.  So consider these "good jerks" in that regard.

OH, and I'm not going to limit jerks to "guys", for obvious reasons.

So, OK, here's the parade of jerks worth reading about...

1 & 2, with a questionable 3. Harry's uncle and cousin are two decided jerks.  Choose any of the Potter books, read the first chapter (OK, except Deathly Hallows) and you'll see.  And here's the sketchy one: Is Kreacher a jerk?  Or is his behavior the result of repression and therefore excusable?

4 & 5.  And how about the traitorous Aunt Evelyn in Philip Roth's The Plot Against America?  And her collusionist husband, Rabbi Bengelsdorf too.  In Roth's alternate history of the late '30's through early '40's, the two jerks (at first separately, then as a married couple) collaborate with isolationist/Nazi sympathizer President Charles Lindberg (yes, he of the flying fame and the kidnapped baby), the former to feed her all-consuming, solipsistic lust for fame and status, the latter seemingly just for status and perhaps for power and potentially because he actually thinks his participation is the Jews' best hope for survival in the U.S. in this darkened fictive world.  For more on The Plot Against America (and hence the reason these two jerks are still on my mind), check back tomorrow for my review of the audio book (and the actual book - I 'read' them in tandem), masterfully performed by the incomparable Ron Silver.

6. And the judge in The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.  In this novel, set in the mid-to-late 20th century in the Bengal region of India (bordering Tibet), one of our central characters, the judge, alternately bullies and ignores everyone around him, including not only servants and acquaintances but his granddaughter as well, causing a significant amount of the conflict.  He seems insufferable, despite our understanding the origins of his dysfunction, until we notice that he functions not only as a major character, but also, in some ways, as a symbol for India itself.  Then the puzzle of what his actions might imply starts to fascinate, deepening this stellar novel.

7 & 8.  Both Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.  Now I suspect this one will cause controversy for two reasons:  1. Some people will say that Daisy's just a helpless victim, torn between two men.  2.  Other people will say that these characters are so annoyingly jerky that it's not worth reading the novel.  With both of these points, I disagree.  Daisy has choices, and her stance does considerable damage.  The language and ideas in Gatsby make the purposeful jerkiness of some of the characters well worth getting over, and once one reads it with an understanding that the narrator, Nick, is himself a bit of a jerk and not to be trusted, the whole book opens up and becomes quite enjoyable indeed. 

And, because it's National Short Story Month, let's try one of my all-time favorite characters, who just happens to be a jerk:

9. Mrs. Dutta from "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter" by Chitra Divakaruni in Best American Short Stories 1999.  Our recently widowed title character's moved from India to the San Francisco Bay Area to live with her son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren.  As she recounts her life to her best friend back home, she critiques just about every element of American culture she encounters and criticizes her daughter-in-law mercilessly while spoiling her son and grandchildren.  Mean-spirited, myopic, and conniving, Mrs. Dutta may indeed be a jerk, but the stunning beauty of this story is that by the end we are so moved on her behalf that we will never forget her.  Find out why by reading it:  It's one of my all-time favorite short stories.  I use it alongside Tim O'Brien's "Speaking of Courage" because both utilize the compacted framework of a single dawn-to-dusk narrative to such jaw-dropping psychological advantage.

10. And also, there's Jackson Peters in "Jubilation" from Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle. Boyle's trenchant, quick-paced, often darkly hilarious stories often feature somewhat-likable jerks as protagonists - and he usually manages to make us both cringe and empathize with them, bringing us up short a tad when we note that we share quite a few characteristics with these self-absorbed misfits and fools.  In this case, picture a Disney-esque "Celebration"-like Florida town in which everything that can go wrong gradually does go wrong, with the blinkered protagonist doggedly going along for the ride...

Musing on my selections here, one thing comes clear: Thinking about jerks is quite enjoyable, and we've plenty of them to choose from in literature.  Apparently, they're as ubiquitous in modern stories as happily-ever-after endings are scarce.


Bonus Jerk: William Henry Devereaux, Jr. in Straight Man by Richard Russo.  He's an anti-hero for certain, and Russo plays Devereaux's misguided antics for dark comedy here, much as this author does in other works.  Devereaux, an aging English professor caught in - and contributing to - a wildly dysfunctional department, sends his personal life into a tizzy as well through a series of misguided decisions.  Even though many would characterize him as a jerk, most will do so smiling.

Bonus Questions:  Why do jerks so often come in pairs?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Eye-Opener: Quotes to Super-Charge Your Week...

"I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. This makes planning the day difficult." - E.B. White
Here he is: Elwyn Brooks, nicknamed 'Andy'
while he attended Cornell (for its founder, Andrew

E.B. White:  You know him.  Famed New Yorker essayist.  Co-wrote the still handy and mostly still accurate (well, depending on whom you ask) writing guide Elements of Style.  And of course:  Charlotte's Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little.

Please tell me:  Would a regular, super-quick Monday feature with a great author's inspiring and/or hilariously apt quote (plus a brief reminder of her/his contributions to our lives) be of use/interest as you start your week?

MFB in pursuit of adding value (and "/" marks),

p.s. The newest edition of "Strunk & White" features illustrations by Maira Kalman.  I'm just in the middle of her thoroughly engrossing and amazing illustrated memoir/visual essay collection, And the Pursuit of Happiness.  At this point, I would buy anything she created... Stay tuned this week for a (probably gushing) review!

p.p.s.  Considering making this quote my new motto/tag line.  What say ye?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday 'Poem In Your Post' Blog Hop!

A flower for all the moms out there from...
Poppy painting by Zsuzsanna.
The Red Poppy

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

We're just coming to the close of National Wildflower Week, so I chose this short but impactful poem by contemporary poet Louise Gluck.  I admire here how the poet uses personification to muse on consciousness and courage and the relative stature of the poppy and the human; I love a poem that gives me pause.

For biographical info. and to hear Ms. Gluck read this poem aloud, try this link to Poets.org.
And for many another fine flower poem, go to the Poets.org page that features just that:  Poems About Flowers.

Now it's your turn.  Share any poem you wish (doesn't have to be flower-related! Could be something for Mother's Day or the close of Children's Book Week or a poem that's right for this moment for you) and link below so we may all stroll through a wild meadow of verse...

* Bloggers sharing your poems: If you link above, you MUST link back to What She Read in a post on your blog so others can find our hop.  It's common procedure that if you don't collaborate in this way, you could be removed from the Linky list (oh, no!)...

MFB out in the field of flowers,

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What's this Action Readers thing? Part One

You've been asking, so I'll hit a few highlights today, and a few more in future quick-posts!

The BackStory
Well, if you've been reading this blog - even from time to time - you know that I've been trying out this "with every book I read, I take an action" process, and that it's been life-changing for me.  Enthusiast that I am, I figured:  Why keep this to myself when other readers could change their lives and non-readers could love reading if only they learned this simple secret

I wanted to share it with others, so they too could realize how profoundly such a simple, easy shift in how they read could help them improve their own lives and serve the world around them with very little effort.  AND I wanted to meet the sort of readers who would try this too, and learn from them, and help them in return.  That's basically it.

So I created a non-profit ning that anyone can join for free and visit as often as they like to get ideas and support and opportunities to change the world or enrich their lives, one book at a time.  (Talk about action!  For me, this is a biggee!)

First Q & A
The most frequently asked question is: 
           What sort of actions? 
           Won't they take a lot of time and effort?

          All sorts! 
          Creative, crafty, gratitude, service, inquiry, personal growth... Hop up to the Action Ideas page above to find out.  Or look at any of my book reviews - actions are in red, at the bottom of the review.

          No!  They won't take much time and effort (unless you so choose) and, for me and those who've tried it, once you simply set the intention that you'd like to take an action upon completing a book, they almost seem to create themselves.  And it's fun! 

So... More about the site's specific features in a future post, but for now, just click the badge in the upper right (or how about clicking right here!) to hop on over and see our fledgling efforts for yourself - There's no obligation, and we're not selling anything, but it might be the first step to changing your world and enhancing your life, one book at a time.


Wow, would I welcome your questions and comments and encouragement, too...

And there's a challenge on ActionReaders.com this month through which you could earn a $25 gift certificate from betterworldbooks.com, so there's extra incentive, no?

p.s.  The Crazy-for-Books blog hop asks us:  Which book blogger would you most like to meet?  I simply couldn't choose because I'd like to meet so many.  In part, that's why I set up ActionReaders.com - as a place, similar to the book bloggers' ning combined with Goodreads book groups - but with our own special spin - where we have many more options to "talk", group up to discuss a book, and support each other.
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