Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Would You Do? The Five Best Books. Period.

Your challenge:  You've got to choose just 5 great works of world literature to pass on to the next generation of young people. 

What would you pick?  Which ones would you offer to teens to inspire the next generation of global readers??
The must-read novels, poetry, truly literary non-fiction, drama, etc. from non-Western writers (or at least, for the purposes of this question today, non-American and non-British)... What are the top five you'd want to shape the future?
And for the purposes of this question, works that might be appropriate for - say - high school students, 10th graders to be exact...

Please help me create an inspiring reading list for my students next year - and for me this summer - by suggesting your favorites!  Classics to contemporary from all over the globe, as many as you want to enthuse about today.

With gratitude for your help in answering this pressing question for me, and - as always - MFB,

p.s.  I'm making some adjustments to my weekly features here at What She Read and, realizing the wealth of expertise and good taste I have in those of you who so kindly and regularly visit here, I want to share those riches in turn.  So I'm going to try a "What Should I Do? Wednesday" meme with reading-related dilemmas:  Please respond today in the comments below, and if y'all take to this meme, I'll start putting a linky in next week.  And I'd be happy to post your reading dilemmas/questions too!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Roots Read-Along Part I

Come join the read-along so we can all help
each other get the most out of this American

I'm happy to be participating in this Roots read-along for many reasons: I respect blogger Laura over at Booksnob and I'm interested to see what action(s) we'll all take in response to this "Saga of an American Family".  The book's place in history is undeniable, so it's perfectly appropriate that I refresh my acquaintance with its take on Gambian and African American history as I prepare to teach a World Literature class to primarily American 10th graders.

Unfortunately, despite all these compelling reasons to read it, this book's been a tough slog so far, more social anthropology text in narrative form than an actual story told to entertain, inform, and engage.

Yes, the first 148 pages or so do provide us with many details of the customs and tribal structures and rituals of the Mandinka tribe of The Gambia in the mid 1700's.  And some descriptions of the terrain and climate afford readers an occasional (somewhat vague) sensory glimpse of the flora and fauna and seasonal patterns.  But events in the first 32 chapters as young Kunta Kinte, eldest of four brothers, grows up into his early teens seem somewhat transparent fronts for conveying Haley's anthropological research.

And I'm somehow suspecting that I've read this all before, now that I'm about 1/4 of the way through.  I know I wasn't allowed to watch the TV mini-series because it was on too late at night and contained too much violence, as I recall, yet it all seems familiar.  Maybe that's why this book hasn't wowed me so far: The second time around, however far from the first, just can't seem to charm.

But events are escalating in chapters 33 and 34:  In the latest two chapters, Kunta's just been abducted by the toubobs (white slave traders), beaten severely and repeatedly, and thrown into the hold of the ship that will carry him to America, and these events have certainly upped the violent action and graphic physical details, so perhaps this horrific turn of events for Kunta will kick-start the story itself after the 148 pages of exposition. 

I'm off to read a bit more about the controversies surrounding this book, and hopeful that the rest of the story will pick up as well.


Monday, June 27, 2011

'War and Peace' and a Poem about New Zealand


They always say ‘retrace your steps’,
‘Click your heels three times: There’s no place like home,’
‘Where do you last remember them?’

But what if you’re far from the familiar, not in but out,
if they’re not to be found on the carpet
beneath a pile of half-folded laundry,
in the kitchen in the fridge in the vegetable bin with the broccoli,
still in the ignition, with the doors locked?

And what if your steps are slides
against the current, pushing past fear
into a coastline not as civilized as soap,
but lethal, dark, peopled with voices
not yet heard by men?

Then, if you are Kupe, what they say
will not do.
To find your keys, look up.
They’re in the clouds.

I wrote this for the "Word and Question" monthly challenge at Shredded Cheddar.  You submit a word and a question, then the host mixes and matches the words and questions at random and sends you a new word & question, from which you create a poem.   Many thanks to Enbrethiliel for organizing this monthly play-for-mortal-stakes: Talk about a creativity-booster!

My word was Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand which translates roughly as 'land of the long, white clouds') and my question was, "Where are my keys?"  It took me three tries to get here:  first a villanelle that turned out lifeless and static, then a haiku that just didn't say enough, and then finally this free verse, which seems closer to the mark. 

What's the poem about?  Well, I researched Aotearoa and found the legend of Kupe, original explorer of Aotearoa, who used the clouds as guides and whose canoe was named after clouds as well.  I decided that he could ask the question, and I would offer the answer.  I think that the shift to something decent came when I decided to free up the form (more like Kupe's exploration), and to directly address the disjunct between the contemporary question and the mythic word.

War & Peace Summer Read-Along (6/24/11-8/22/11)
And now, on a completely different note:  Details for the War & Peace Summer Read-Along.
Let's try talking about it weekly, on Mondays, starting a week from today.  I'll make that section shorter so you can go get the book. Just "sign up" in the comments; I'm working on a button...

7/6: Book One, Parts 1 & 2
7/13: Book One, Part 3 and Book Two, Part 1
7/20: Book Two, Parts 2 & 3
7/27: Book Two, Parts 4 & 5
8/3: Book Three, Parts 1 & 2
8/10:  Book Three, Part 3 and Book Four, Parts 1 & 2 
8/17:  Book Four, Parts 3 & 4
8/24:  Epilogue & Whole Book Discussion

FYI:  No pressure.  If you jump in late or if nobody wants to read-along right now, that's actually fine because I'm reading it for my book group anyway - we're breaking it into two discussions, 1/month, but if you decide you want to read it with me, that'd be swell.   I'll just post a few thoughts on each Monday, trying to avoid spoilers.  Maybe my musings will pique your interest...


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Weekend Poem In Your Post Blog Hop! "One Art"

This week you get a wonderful villanelle from Elizabeth Bishop.  I've been working on one wildly imperfect villanelle myself, and pretty sure the process will have to be its own reward; the form is wonderful to work as a puzzle, but wow is it difficult to do well.  Chalk one up to The Creative Habit's impact on me: stretching through complexity toward insight.  It makes Bishop's success here even more awe-inspiring.

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

                                    - Elizabeth Bishop

Isn't that wonderful? 

Now it's time for you to share your favorite intricately-shaped poem or one about losing or winning or trying.  Or whatever poem you like.  Simply put a poem in your post or leave one in the comments here any time this weekend...

Please make sure to link back to this poetry blog hop if you post on your blog.  That way the other poetry-posters might connect with readers on your own blog.

And please do support the poets who change us with their art. is a great place to start.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Read-Alongs for Summer: Get the Word Out!

Summer Staycation/Books From Your Own Backyard
on 7/10-8/25.
Our local libraries and schools offer read-alongs for kids, with prizes and gatherings to talk books.

But what about us adults?  It's DIY Summer Book Blog Read-Alongs to the rescue!

Summer Book Blog Read-Alongs (with their first lines to get you interested, and for First Line Friday over at A Few More Pages)

The Creative Habit (by Twyla Tharp) Read-Along at (6/19-7/9) Prizes, challenges. 
First Line: "I walk into a large white room."  This is actually a wonderful book (see our discussion over at, as Tharp mixes the concrete and the visual of her stellar career as a choreographer with examples from literature and all the arts to help us all wrap  more creativity into our daily lives.

Summer Staycation Read-Along (local author, local action) Read-Along over at (7/10-8/25). Prizes, challenges.  First lines will vary. ;-)

* War and Peace Summer Read-Along.  Here at What She Read.  (6/24 - 8/24/11)  Details on Monday!  (informal, w/weekly blog posts here...)
First Line: "Eh bien, mon prince, Genes et Lucques ne sont plus que des apanages, des family estates de la famille Buonaparte." (Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Bonapartes.)  Yep, we'll need each others' support to move through this classic!  My IRL book group is reading it this summer, so I thought, "Why not offer a read-along to all those who haven't yet tackled this long-but-reportedly worthwhile tome?"

Roots (by Alex Haley) Read-Along at BookSnob (6/20-8/25)
First Line:  "Early in the spring of 1750, in the village of Juffure, four days upriver from the coast of The Gambia, West Africa, a manchild was born to Omoro and Binta Kinte." Haley's style is present in this first line: straight forward description and narration, focused on events and settings more than character development, but still offering a dimensional protagonist in the hero born above: Kunta Kinte.

Ready to step up and stage your own read-along?  Can you add an action idea or two for your readers?  (Quick prompts above on the Action Ideas tab.)

Great!  Just tell me (and all those visiting here) about it in the comments below, and I'll create a page to connect readers to read-alongs, both here and at  Plus, I'll feature 1-2 read-alongs/week here and there, if they have action elements.

Now's a perfect time to build community and shift our own lives toward our wildest dreams, one book at a time.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Three-fer Thursday: Young, Younger, Youngest

Get it at
Young Adult:  Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist
To sum up: This is David Levithan's first collaborative novel.  He wrote Nick while Rachel Cohn wrote Nora, two high school seniors on the loose for one long in Manhattan.  They start out at punk clubs and end up in love at the Marriott Marquis.  Nuff said on plot, because it's not really about plot.
My Opinion...
It's about voices and a slice-o-life of this time period and place.  Also about sex and drugs and rock-n-roll(although both protagonists are "straight-edge": no alcohol or other intoxicants).  I loved the trip back to my favorite city on earth, and all the wit and music.  Didn't love the "let's have sex after meeting each other four hours ago and fighting half the time: how romantic!" part.  Also, it pales by comparison to Will Grayson, Will Grayson; I think that Cohn's considerably darker, whinier tone didn't stand up to Levithan's as well as John Green's did.  Perhaps I shouldn't have read Nick and Nora so quickly after that wonderful YA novel.
***/5 for impact and style, and definitely a PG-13/R for sex and language.  The plot's your typical romance with no particularly unique twists.

Get it at
 Younger still (middle grade/elementary reader): The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
To sum up:  Hugo's an orphan who lives in the secret passageways of a 1931 Paris train station, occupying himself by winding the clocks in his dead uncle's stead.  One day, he has a run-in with the station's toy store owner, leading to a series of unusual events, two strong friendships, and a mysterious automaton who holds the clue to the toy-maker's past and Hugo's future.
My opinion...
Wonderful illustrations and steampunkish devices are by far the highlights here.  The plot is interesting, but the writing, alas, is not.  In fact, I found myself skipping the prose and just moving through the illustrated sections which truly shine here in their storyboard-esque black-and-white intensity.
***/5 for the intense charcoal (?) illustrations and the period details, and for piquing one's interest in the silent filmmaker Georges Melies.  (My action was to check out some of his films on YouTube, especially his "A Trip to the Moon", noted as the first science fiction film, and to research his life.)

Get it at
Youngest: The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle (yes, the Roddy Doyle!)
To sum up:  If you're an adult who's mean to a kid, beware the Giggler Treatment!  It involves poo...  Nuff said.
My opinion...
Young kids will LOVE this one as a read-aloud, with all its silly subversiveness and lightly scatological humor.  My guess is that adults will enjoy it too as Doyle strikes the perfect balance between fun and family here. Talking dogs, chameleon-like pixies, and a sage in nappies round out the cast, so do go find it at the library. Your kids will thank me!
****/5 For laugh-out-loud silliness on nearly every page plus plenty of hilarious black-and-white illustrations. Could be a read-aloud for youngsters or a quick read-alone for elementary-age kids, depending on their reading level.

p.s. Actions:  Going to look for the actual playlist of all the songs in Nick and Nora's.  Did research on Georges Melies and watched some of his films. Scooped poop.  No kidding: We don't have a dog right now, but our neighbor's dogs favor our front lawn.  What we won't do for peace in The Polyp. (The Polyp = our neighbor Mark's nickname for the dogleg-off-a-dogleg we live on.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: The Map of Time by Felix Palma (briefly)

To read an excerpt and get more info.
visit TMoT's homepage.
I thought my first foray into the world of Steampunk would be FABULOUS, based on The Map of Time's gorgeously mysterious (and shiny) cover, its cred as a bestselling novel in Spain, and - to be honest - its hyperbolic hype: even in the hepped-up language of new-novel press kits, this baby took home the prize in gushy superlatives.

Shows how much I know!

To sum up:  This humongous potboiler, which arrives on bookshelves June 28, features three intertwined sections through which we adventure back and forth in time (maybe), leaving from Victorian London and its environs and sharing three journeys with an army of minor characters.  Stringing the three separate narratives together we have H.G. Wells - the only major character who recurs substantially throughout.  The first section's a time traveling back-to-the-future tale in which a wealthy, indolent aristocrat attempts to save his prostitute-lover from becoming Jack the Ripper's final victim.  The second's a romance across time and social class.  And the third's a Map of Time mystery-thriller in which Wells sets out to save some of the great literary works of his time.

My opinion:
I will say that I thought the second and third parts were at least pass-the-time worthy, although the first 300+ page section had me slogging along with too many thinly-drawn and unlikeable characters leading to a plot that, while reasonably event-heavy, didn't maintain my interest.  For me, the uninteresting and unlikeable protagonist of the first section contributed to my boredom.  Perhaps the author was attempting to ironically portray a literary 'type' in his broodingly Byron-esque Romantic hero and to mimic Dickensian tendencies to populate his novels abundantly, but for me the latter choice detracted from the section's focus, pacing, and momentum, while the former choice repelled me from interest in the narrative whatsoever.

The second section featured the only major female character in the whole book, crafted perhaps as an ironic nod to an Elizabeth Bennett Austen-esque archetype while its hunky-earnest-yet-poverty-stricken male lead offered a second pass at Palma's recurring theme of class-crossed romance.  This romantic hero's dual roles as actor/time-travelling-savior-of-humanity added to the author's exploration of appearances vs. reality here as well.  This section at least held my attention, as did the third part, which focused more heavily on HG Wells as a character, and even explored multiple Wellses in multiple time periods attempting to solve crimes against literature and history.

All in all:  Steampunkers and lovers of speculative fiction might find this one fun because it is indeed rife with Victoriana and time-travel musings, but for "just regular readers": You'll need a (steam)boatload of time - and possibly patience - for this one...


Actions: Honestly, I felt compelled to read this entire novel because I received it as an ARC copy and my ethics demanded that I follow through on my implied agreement to review it fairly. 
     The only way to prevent future instances of spending 12+ hours of my life doggedly slogging through a book that just isn't for me is to be much more selective in what I accept for review.  In the month since I completed The Map of Time, I have shifted my habits from grasping at the next shiny new book available for review to selecting carefully from the many wonderful possibilities out there in the book blogging world. 
And when I sample new genres, from now on I will do so with library books and on the recommendation of trusted reviewers.  I would have done well to consult vvb3reads for her expert opinions on steampunk books - not to mention her knowledge of all the related -punk genres - rather than committing to an unknown!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Top 10 Reasons I Love Being a Bookish Blogger

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, Broke and Bookish, and THANK YOU for creating and hosting all these wonderful Top Ten Tuesday blog hops!

Here are just a few of the reasons I love being a bookish blogger...

1. Meeting kindred spirits and brilliant beings from around the world when we connect through books.

2. Tracking my own personal action-reading journey of transformation and social change, then finding so many interested and supportive people from around the world.

3. Spreading the bookish life- and community- transformation by founding our fledgling ning with a group of the aforementioned fabulous folks.  Join us!

4.  Honing my writing skills while letting go of the need to be perfect; learning to strive for excellence, to adjust my voice and form to engage readers (I hope!).

5.  Meeting authors and editors and booksellers through our virtual community of bloggers.

6.  Sharing great reads - and great audio books - with people of all ages and interests.

7.  Arriving home to see a new and highly-anticipated ARC on my doorstep:  bliss!

8.  Changing the world, one book at a time.

9.  Improving my layout abilities and versatility when it comes to creating a clean, well-lighted blog, an easy-to-navigate and fun-to-visit virtual community at ActionReaders, and a useful collection at Goodreads. (not to mention getting plenty of practice crafting hyphenated modifiers ;-)

10.  Stepping out into the wider virtual world when I recently started posting some of my reviews at Amazon and Goodreads, while interacting with folks and developing friendships with visitors not only here and at ActionReaders, but also at the Book Blogs ning.

There are plenty more reasons where those came from, and let's just say that the implied number 11, or number 1 really, is YOU! 

MFB, with gratitude once again to The Broke and the Bookish, which you should go visit right now!

p.s.  Our question for discussion over at ActionReaders this week is "What habits do you have that help you to be more creative?"  OR "What creativity-building habits/rituals are you ready to try?" 
     Join us in the conversation or post to your own blog and then post the link in our The Creative Habit Book Group at   (You can jump in now, even if you haven't read the book yet - the more, the merrier!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Steampunk Virgin: Hugo Cabret & The Map of Time

Wherein we attempt to define the genre "steampunk" and "gaslamp fantasy", compelled by the fact that we've stumbled upon three steampunk-esque novels in one week, having never encountered one before...

That sort of 'coincidence', a confluence of unlikely but somehow seemingly predestined occurrences as if time converged on itself?  That's the sort of thing that steampunk and gaslamp fantasy seem to have plenty of. 

The novels?  The Map of Time by Felix Palma (a decidedly adult, 610 page novel-in-three-parts, translated from the Spanish, that arrives on June 28 - check out my review on Wednesday 6/22), The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (an inventive, illustrated children's novel from 2007), and the first two books of the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III (the modern classic of graphic novels, and perhaps not entirely steampunk, but arguably so. Test it out against my definitions below).

What do they have in common?
* set in19th-early 20th Century Europe (all three novels)
* fantastic or supernatural or sci-fi elements (all three novels)
* steam engines and machines feature prominently (in TMoT & TIoHC)
* historic and literary figures from this era as characters (H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and Henry James in TMoT; early French silent film maker Georges Melies in TIoHC)
* automata and other robots feature prominently (in TMoT & TIoHC)

So, steampunk features most of these elements, and can also include elements of speculative fiction and alternate history, which all three novels included as well.  Gaslamp fantasy focuses less on the science-related aspects of automata and steam-powered machinery and adds more elements of fantasy while maintaining steampunk's Victorian era settings. 

Truth be told, I'm hoping you steampunk fans out there can help me here:  Now that I'm a bit better schooled in these genres, I surmise that The Map of Time is more of a gaslamp romance/steampunk hybrid, Hugo Cabret is a gaslamp fantasy for children, and the Sandman series is fantasy that sometimes borrows elements of Victoriana.  Do you aficionados of these genres agree?

Seems to me that any of these genres would be fun to explore on a rainy evening (Victoriana often enshrouded in mist, drizzle, darkest night and so forth) or even on a sunny summer day at the beach (fast plotting, violence, horror, mystery, romance, sci-fi, and sex seemingly feature high in some of the more recent contributions to the genre).  

Who out there will recommend our next steampunk beach reads for summer break?


FYI:  Want more detail on these genres and their variants?  You might want to start at the blog of vvb3reads, with her section on steampunk and its relatives.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Poem in Your Post Blog Hop - "To My Twenties"

To My Twenties

How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman—
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another—and water!
I’m still very impressed by you. Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone? Oh in what lucky fellow,
Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend,
X— N—, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living. I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren’t a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

                           - Kenneth Koch

SO wonderful.  All you creativity-boosting folks:  Why not try your own hand at a poem or a letter written directly to a decade - or even a year - in your life, as if it were a person?

Whether or not you're in the mood to create, please go ahead and post a poem, then link back here so we can all enjoy them!

Have a splendid summery weekend, all!


p.s.  No blog or website?  Post a poem in the comments here!

p.p.s. Join us for more creative shenanigans and a great book discussion at!

Friday, June 17, 2011

What's In Your TBR pile?

Our Crazy-for-Books blog hop for today asks "How many books are in our TBR pile right now?" 

I have 3 TBR (to be read) piles and 2 shelves! 
Pile 1 = 6 books - a variety of ARCs, novels, and creativity-related books
Pile 2 = one huge World Literature textbook plus three novels and a non-fiction self-help book = 5 books
Pile 3 = 5 books, all professional  development
Shelf 1 = 26 books, mostly novels
Shelf 2 = 41 books, novels, short fiction, books about writing
     And if the books on hold waiting at the library count too, then that's 3 more books in another 'pile'!

Check my math: a quick tally says 86 books at the moment, and more in the mailbox on Monday, I'm sure...

Given that tally, I think it's time to wrap up the ones I'm on and get through one or two more this weekend.  The first will be Caleb's Crossing, the new novel from Geraldine Brooks.

What's at the top of your TBR? 


And you're warmly invited to join me in a read-along and a hop this week!

1.  Read-along & Discussion & Fun Ideas for getting more creativity into your life:  The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe at!  (We'll start discussing ch. 1-4 this week.  It's already upping my own creativity; can't wait to hear what y'all are doing too!  And - hey - if you don't have the book yet, come join us anyway - the more, the merrier!)

2.  Weekend Poem In Your Post blog hop here tomorrow and Sunday.  Share a wonderful poem and spread the word-love...

3.  Keep hopping with the Crazy for Books hop right away!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sold by Patricia McCormick (briefly)

Get it from
A young adult issue novel about sexual trafficking between hill towns in the Nepalese Himalayas and Calcutta, India.

To sum up:  Lyrically written as a series of short vignettes voiced by Lakshmi, a thirteen year old girl living in a hut on a Himalayan hillside, who is sold into slavery by her stepfather.  She endures many torments in a brothel, including of course daily rapings by her madame's customers, as well as plenty of brutal treatment by her captors and fellow slaves.  Eventually, through acts of kindness by a young, also rural-born tea vendor, friends among her fellow prostitutes, and two American advocates, she is rescued from her awful plight.

Who would benefit from reading this novel?  Teens and adults who are ready for the content (occasional - and thematically, psychologically necessary - descriptions of Lakshmi's rapes are tastefully done but strategically explicit at times) and are comfortable with a quietly lyrical voice and moderate pacing.  Readers who have not encountered this ongoing issue before and are looking for a first-person perspective based on Patricia McCormick's (author of the widely popular Cut and other YA issue novels) research will find it an engaging and thought-provoking introduction to this serious problem.


Action:  I'm going to request a lit. circle/reading group set for next year's world lit. class, because I've seen quite a few students with this book already, and feel it would be a worthwhile and relatively easy read for students who can handle the content.  This novel was a National Book Award finalist for 2007, so that too will help me justify it as a selection. 
And I will, of course, research the organizations that are working to stop sexual trafficking (and all human trafficking, for that matter), so that I can help students find ways to make a positive difference on this issue.

p.s. The girl on the cover, though lovely, looks about 7 years old.  Lakshmi is 13.  This likely turns some teen readers off as they don't like to carry around books that look like they're meant for elementary school kids.  It's too bad - even if the cover photo is actually of a 13 year old girl, images count in our society and that one isn't helping get this book into the hands of its intended readers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Wore The Ocean In The Shape Of A Girl by Kelle Groom - Review

Get it at or your
local independent bookseller.
Where to begin?  Perhaps with the title.  It points not only to this memoir's dual settings of Florida and Massachusetts, but also to Groom's associative, imagistic, and lyrical style.

So what's it about?  Kelle's hard-drinking lifestyle leads her in and out of rehab during her late teens through her mid-twenties, and in the midst of her raging alcoholism, she gives birth to a son, Tommy, who is immediately adopted by her aunt and uncle.  When Tommy dies just a bit more than a year later, Kelle is bereft, and seemingly emotionally riven.  This memoir - which, again, leaps back and forth in time and place, very much in the manner of a waking dream - traces her struggles with alcoholism and rudderlessness, as well as her recurring attempts to process Tommy's death and to reconnect with his adoptive parents.

My thoughts, opinions:
In this memoir, style marries inextricably with substance.  Groom brings us so close in to her psyche and to her thoughts, strung together from image to image, event to non-contiguous event, that we feel we almost are her, and intensely present within her for the unpredictable shift of emotions that we all experience from moment to moment, but often don't record so literally, so unfiltered.  It's rare to find a narrator taking this risky and intimate stance, and it pays off here with an intensity of experience I've not encountered in a long time.

As I read, I was reminded of that unmoored feeling of adolescence, when you're experiencing moments - sometimes transcendent, but often dangerous too, as your judgment waxes and wanes, your risk-taking ebbs and flows - but you have few labels for what's happening in your head, and perhaps don't even need those labels.  Image melts into image, moment into moment into memory and back.  That's the feel of this gritty, emotionally challenging - even draining - yet luminous memoir from prize-winning poet Kelle Groom.

Here's a sample of her prose: (Setting: 2009, almost 30 years after the death of her son.  Situation: She's visiting Cape Cod to see her aunt and uncle - the boy's adoptive parents - for the first time since Tommy died.)
But they're confused.  I can see they're wondering why would I come here and keep it a secret from my parents, ask them not to mention it?  They are uneasy, our conversation triple-spaced.  Leaning into the island, faces turned toward me, elbows on granite - we make a tableau.  She's lily-like.  His eyes are magnified, underwater.  Oh, I am a wrong number.  Even making conversation with cashiers in the grocery store exhausts me, and I'm here with almost no notice, sitting in a kitchen with people who barely know me.  Here for days and days.  Everything feels off.  A child would be welcome here - a child would fit in.  But I am too old for this house.  I know why people choose the endless time after death, that quiet, but it's always terrible when someone stops singing.  The three of us create some kind of hum.  Invisible bees circle us, raising the hair on my arms.  I've changed my mind.  I want to retract everything, reverse my trip, go back over the bridge, get back to my quiet duplex with the ocean outside.  Nobody asking me questions.  Mark says "Why don't you call your father and wish him a Happy Thanksgiving? (188)
So you get a sense of how close-in and metaphor/image-rich the prose is...

Who would benefit by or be a natural fit for this brand-new book? People who gravitate toward memoirs with intense emotional issues at their core, poets and writers, people who would enjoy visiting the settings of Florida beach towns and Massachusetts industrial towns (they're not the focus, but these settings do play an substantive role in Groom's explorations and development).


Action:  I'm going to take a long walk by the ocean here just as soon as we get some sun.  And I'm going to look for seals and solace, in honor of Groom.  Also, for "Get Creative" month at ActionReaders, I might play around a tad with her prose style, write some parallel passages to see how it suits me...

FYI: Kelle Groom is on book tour right now, with time in FL today through next Tuesday, and Brooklyn, NY on the 22nd.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Awww...Shucks." Top Ten heart-warming moments...

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday Blog Hop from The Broke and the Bookish, we're gathering those beautiful book-moments when our hearts are so filled that we're simultaneously crying and grinning from ear to ear. 

Of course, many of the best heartwarming moments happen at the apex of a whole book's major conflict, at its climax, or as that climax is resolving.  So they're bound to be spoilers.  To help out those who might want to read these stellar books in the future, here are their titles, authors, and genres, up-front, in order.  Just hop around to the ones you've already read, yes?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. (YA fiction)
The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin. (fantasy)
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. (children's)
Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss. (You know it!)
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (fiction - a true gem of American fiction)
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (young adult fantasy)
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare (classic comedy - play)
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (fantasy)
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (children's)

OK then, ready or not, prepare to be moved! (Not in rank order; they're all pretty moving...)

1. The finale of Tiny Cooper's musical in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. (Check out yesterday's review below!)

2. The moment when Mundo Cani Dog, ultimate sadsack and fearful whiner, decides to offer his own life to save his imperfect world from the evil Wyrm in The Book of The Dun Cow.

3. When Winn Dixie runs away in a massive thunderstorm, and then gets found under Gloria Dump's chair.

4. When Horton saves the Whos.

5. That moment when Atticus finally realizes just who killed Bob Ewell, and then Scout walks Boo home while Atticus watches over Jem all night.  Just so gorgeous, no matter how many times you read it.

6. All those scenes in which Dobby attempts to help his Harry Potter and then berates himself and bangs his head on the wall for messing up. (My friends say it's because I was brought up Catholic...;-)

7. When the mechanicals, the clowns, Bottom and Quince and Flute and Snout and Snug and Starveling, actually put on a hilariously crowd-pleasing performance and in the end win over their social 'betters' through earnestness, hard work, and heart.

8. When Tristran and the Star save each other in Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

9. "Some Pig" and the very last paragraph in Charlotte's Web.  If you do not cry every time you read that book, well, then you might just be (temporarily) immune to the "aww shucks" moment!

So that's nine, and since I don't read all that much romance or fantasy these days, I'm having trouble coming up with a tenth adult title here. Will you offer me your favorite "aww shucks" book in the comments so I have plenty to choose from as I pile up my TBRs for the summer?  Thanks!


Now stroll on over to The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday hop to find new books to awww over this summer: I know I will!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (briefly): Go Read It, Go Read It

Get it at Indiebound or your public library.
In a nutshell: My favorite YA novel of the year.  And I want you all to read it.

To sum up:  Two Will Graysons live in the metro-Chicago area.  Both are in high school.  One is straight, with a larger-than-life gay best friend.  The other is clinically depressed and 'in the closet', but ready to come out.  They all meet through a series of unfortunate events one night in Chicago, and all three characters' lives are changed by their encounter.

What's to like? 
     The dueling voices of the two Will Graysons (Wills Grayson?), one written by John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines), the other by David Levithan (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, The Lover's Dictionary) are each energetic, singular, witty, and entirely real.   And Tiny Cooper, one of the Will's best friend, is an unforgettably joyous, bossy, creative, loving, careless giant of a character.  All three evolve over the course of the narrative, and even the supporting characters are quirky, flawed, and yet sympathetically drawn.
     It's quick paced, and the plot, though in some ways traditional, is in no way predictable from page to page.  And besides, it's such a fun ride that you get swept up in the action.  It's a fast read, and quite satisfying.
     Plus there's insight here about human nature and the way some young guys think that was actually new to me, even after all these years working with teens. 

So just go read it, OK?

A caution:  If you are at all concerned about swearing and frank sexuality, then you will definitely be put off by this book.  However, despite my concerns about gratuitous sex and coarse language in many current YA fictions, in Will Grayson, Will Grayson these are not tacked-on to sell books, but rather organic to the characters and necessary for the story.  On the other hand, I could never ever teach this book as a whole-class read in a high school setting.  At least not this decade...

That doesn't mean I won't go on recommending it to adults and teens who are ready to take on this material, beautifully treated.  In fact, it would be a fantastic book to read and discuss with one's own teenager or teenage friend.


Action: I've been loudly recommending this to everyone I know, and I passed along my copy already.  I vow to convince at least five more people to read this book.  If you're convinced and would be willing to give it a go, please let me know in the comment section so I can track my progress.  It would make a quick summer beach read too...

AND, since I've read quite a few John Green books but no David Levithans, I'm starting with Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, then moving on to The Lover's Dictionary.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Poem In Your Post Weekend Blog Hop!

This month, I'll offer poems to light a creative spark.
Last week, we learned that you can write a poem about just about anything: So why not? This week, we receive encouragement to create our lives anew every day by going where we have to go...

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

This beautiful villanelle by Theodor Roethke is one of my all-time favorites, and I hope it will become one of yours too.  And I love how the synesthetic elements encourage us to hear what we see and dance what we write...

Action Inspiration. How about this, if you have a few moments to create:  Try your hand at a villanelle.
   It's curious, but the puzzle-like aspects of the structure bring out wildly beautiful and exotic imagery and surprising phrasing in poets of all ages... But - in my experience - perfection is the enemy of excellence with this form, meaning that you have to think of it as play and offer yourself to the possibilities of the process without expecting genius.  If it happens, it happens.  If not, let the creative moments you spend in the poem be the blessing itself.

Join us, won't you, in sharing a poem that inspires or incites you to look at the world in a new way: the very most basic element of creativity.  Your own poem would be fabulous, but any thing of beauty or humor or insight or inspiration will enrich us all.  And you must link back here, right?  So that everyone can find all the poems of the day...

And you're warmly invited to join us at as well, where we're reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe.  So far, it's a terrific read, chock full of practical, inspiring action ideas for taking your creativity to the next level, no matter what your life's work might be.  You can find the book at most libraries and certainly at local booksellers and online stores. We'll start our discussions on June 19 and keep talking through July 9.  And if you do take action to enhance your creativity  while you're with us, you could receive a wonderful prize in addition to the natural life-enhancement of talking about a great book with fine people.

MFB, creatively,

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Defense of Food (briefly): Audio Book Week Review

Get it at
This relatively recent "eater's manifesto" from Michael Pollan (author of The Botany of Desire & The Omnivore's Dilemma) focuses on a clear, simple, commonsensical directive for improving our health via our diet:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

That's his thesis, and it makes perfect sense to me.  In fact, I've done so much reading about health and nutrition and diet that little of the content here strikes me as new.

If, however, you're not all that familiar with the often contradictory prescriptions offered by food researchers and nutritionists as the 20th century evolved or if you'd like an update on the perils and drawbacks of nutrition research or if you want to explore the effects of eating primarily processed and "fortified" food-products, then I suggest you give this book a try.  You may find it imperfectly argued, but Pollan's style is as elegantly energetic and persuasive as ever, yet quite instantly accessible and even conversational in tone, so it'll make for a pleasant and thought-provoking listening experience, I'd suspect.

Athough the performer of this audio book, Scott Brick, does a competent job, I suppose, I'd much rather hear Pollan himself, as his voice is pleasant and his tone conveys both intelligence and a non-combativeness toward readers who might not share his views. 

If, like me, you don't need any convincing to do your best to eat a primarily vegetarian diet and to cook foods from their natural states as much as possible and to attempt moderation in all things, then perhaps you should try one of his other excellent books (linked in the first sentence) or head over to Pollan's website to read some of his NYTimes columns, so often focused on the themes evoked during In Defense of Food.


My Action:  I will rededicate myself to Pollan's three rules.  They mesh well with my current South Beach Diet eating plan that I've been using for more than a month, so I'll let this audiobook re-focus me to adjust for the natural slippage that occurs when what you know you should eat slams into all the goodies tempting you in the grocery aisles and restaurants of your daily travels.

And don't forget to visit Devourer of Books for the grand finale of Audio Book Week (memes, reviews, giveaways): The recommendations there are stellar, so if you audio-read or tandem-read, it's a great way to find your next best book.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Best of the Best: Audio Books to Get You Hooked

So many more to note, but if you start here, you won't stop!

Children's (but so enchanting for adults as well)
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, performed by Cherry Jones
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, performed by Graeme Malcolm
(Why two Kate DiCamillo's?  They're both quite different but equally perfect for audio: beautifully turned phrases and sheer joy in the sound of language abounds.)

Middle Readers/Young Adults
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, performed by Jim Dale
Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin, performed by Tom Parks
The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, read by Kaye Gibbons
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, performed by Joel Johntone and Debra Wiseman

Short Stories
All the Selected Shorts collections from NPR.  Special mentions: Alec Baldwin reading Tim O'Brien's "Speaking of Courage", Joel Grey reading Ha Jin's "Saboteur", and Jane Curtin reading Gail Godwin's "St. George".
Go get any of these from the library and seek your own favorites: They are truly stellar.

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie, performed by Aasif Mandvi
Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie, performed by Sherman Alexie
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, performed by Sissie Spacek
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, performed by Jeff Woodman, Barbara Caruso, and Richard Ferrone

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, performed by Charles Kahlenberg
The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard, performed by Brendon Burchard

MFB, and happy listening!

p.s. Now hop on over to Devourer of Books for excellent tips on getting started with audio books!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

AudioBook Mid-Week Meme...

Our host Jen at Devourer of Books offers us this quick set of prompts about audio books so we can get to know each other's tastes in audio books, and perhaps find a new title or two.

Current/most recent audiobook: I'm in the middle of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, with The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris soon to follow, and two YA audiobooks in my library queue.

Impressions: I always enjoy Pollan's breezy style and engaging "new journalism", and he often writes about food related matters, notably in his recent The Omnivore's Dilemma.  So far, this one's focused on the history of "nutritionism", pulling the curtain back to reveal how 'nutrition science' isn't very reliable at all.  I'm enjoying it, but I wish Pollan himself were narrating, because I've heard him speak multiple times and I'm sure he'd be quite good.  More on Friday when I hope to post a review.

Current favorite audiobook: Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.  This book's content is useful for anyone: Why some ideas stick and others don't, and how to make your own ideas memorable.  They walk their talk, so the content's interesting from beginning to end, and the narrator, Charles Kahlenberg, conveys it beautifully.  (This book's another of my 'tandem reads' - not only do I listen to the CDs, but I've also reread the text multiple times.)

One narrator who always makes you choose audio over print: Richard Poe.  I don't know what he's been up to lately, but I got hooked when he read Jane Smiley's Good Faith.  What a gorgeous timbre to his voice, plus a wit and intelligence behind it that makes you want to 'read' on.

Genre you most often choose to listen to: YA and children's lit.  Even if I can't bear one of these books as I read it, I can almost always get through it on audio, and while multi-tasking (driving).  As a teacher, I often need to read YA and middle-reader texts that I otherwise would not choose.

If given the choice, you will always choose audio when: It's children's or YA or I want to 'tandem read' a lengthy book - to compress the amount of time it takes by listening in the car, then reading when I get home.

If given the choice, you will always choose print when: It's a complex non-fiction like the one I reviewed part of today.  In that case, I like to mark up the text and flip back and forth.  Also, if I'm reading for book group, I want the hard copy so I can "sticky it" for reference during our discussions.

How about you?  Even if you haven't participated in Audio Book Week, you can still join in this meme, or even write your responses to some of the questions in the comments here. 


p.s. If you're new to the blogosphere, a "meme" in this context translates to a prompt or set of prompts offered by one blog for a blog hop.  Bloggers respond to the prompt on their own site, then link at the central site to find out what others think and to 'meet' new bloggers.

All Things Shining - Audio Book Week Review

So then: There are some genres that just don't work so well in audio form.  Philosophical argument, even 'dumbed down' for the masses, is apparently one of those genres. 

To sum up: In the first half of All Things Shining, professors Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley and Sean Dorrance Kelly of Harvard attempt to assemble a case:
     1.  We live in a nihilistic age in which nobody knows how to create meaning in a lastingly satisfying way, and thus life seems quite bleak.  People get depressed. 
     2. There is no way to find deeply satisfying meaning in daily life without some sort of moment to moment transcendence.  But even the occasional "shining" moments in day to day life do not provide enough lasting joy or meaning to help us transcend our nihilistic ennui.
     3. However, if we could live the meaning-filled lives of the Ancient Greeks, in which belief in gods supported their conception of every moment as imbued with passionate intensity (a whole lotta 'shine'), then we could find truly satisfying meaning and not have to stumble around depressed and rudderless, shallowly grasping at distractions or addictions or power or money to take our minds off our ennui.

These two authors are Western philosophy experts, and thus one anticipates quite credible and lively analysis.  And they reference works as various as Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (seriously? and they borrow the content of her TED talk too), Infinite Jest and The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, Macbeth & Hamlet, The Iliad, and Moby Dick (to name just a high-profile handful of the works sampled here) as they attempt to support their case.  Promising, no?  One hopes to receive both the promised tour of the major works of Western literature and philosophy and a quickened understanding of how one might connect them productively if not transformationally to one's own life.  But...

I found the tone (and perhaps this is partly the writers and partly the style of the performance) overly light and a tad patronizing, and some of their analysis unconvincingly shallow or skewed; if you're a listener who's already familiar with the texts they reference, the writers' case actually breaks down a bit as they seem to stretch interpretations and under-support some claims in order to touch on such a wide variety of examples.

And listening (rather than reading) makes returning to sentences or ideas one questions a bit of a hurdle:  This sort of complex and extended analysis would bear much flipping of pages if one were reading the text version, so the more temporally linear form of audio book doesn't seem to work quite as well here as it does for straight narrative or relatively straightforward non-fiction.

So here's the truth, in fairness to the authors: I need to give this book a chance. And that means I need to get the text and mark it up, argue in the margins, and take notes so that I can thoroughly examine the writers' ideas and analysis.  I'm going to shelve the latter half of the audio book until I can listen to it in tandem with reading the text.

If you're contemplating the audio of All Things Shining, I say:  Do the tandem read.  You'll be better off.


Who'd Enjoy This Especially:
Perhaps those only vaguely familiar with the great works of literature and philosophy in the Western world would find this book a welcome refresher w/opinionated commentary about how they pertain to modern life.  In fact, I suspect that's the authors' primary intended audience.
In addition, if you use the text form along with the audio for a tandem read, I think that folks who know these works reasonably well and love a good argument will like it too, because they'll be arguing with the authors all the way along!

Action: Go out and get the book from the library, then persist.

FYI, all you feminists: Few female writers are included here, at least in the first half of the book, I suppose because not all that many are included in the traditional "dead white male" canon of the West.  Sigh.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt : Audio Book Week Review

Have you ever 'read tandem'? 

You know:  You listened to an audio while you read the text version of a book, alternating between the text and the audio?  My first 'tandem read' was Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, and I've used the tandem read strategy as a regular practice ever since, especially when devouring young adult books.  However you might have answered this question though, I suggest it's time to try the audio/text strategy (again?) with Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, performed by Lincoln Hoppe.

This new novel from Newbery and Printz honor winner Gary Schmidt balances intense pathos with light, easygoing humor, sympathetic and original characters, important and serious issues, and well-integrated symbolism to produce what, in the end, is an exceptional YA/middle-reader fiction.

To sum up:  We follow the beleaguered almost-eighth-grader Doug Swieteck as his abusive father packs him up, along with his bullying older brother Christopher and their passive, long-suffering mom, and moves them from populous Long Island to small-town "Marysville" in upstate New York.  To find out how Doug - a minor character in Schmidt's award-winning The Wednesday Wars - copes imperfectly but admirably with the effects of his dad's abuse (and I've rarely felt the sort of rage Schmidt evokes through this adult antagonist's habitual sociopathic verbal abuse and horrible misuses of parental authority, not to mention his "quick hands") and the trials of weaving a new web of relationships in a small town summer, all without the aid of his idol, baseball great Joe Pepitone, is the reason we take this journeyAnd a rewarding one it is.  (And what an wonderfully sonorous name to provoke a smile every time you say it:  Joe Pepitone.  Go ahead: give it a go; you'll see.  I actually had to check that he was a real Yankee and is a real person!)

I don't want to give away too much more of the plot in this period piece (set in the Vietnam War era) and coming-of-age tale, except to say that Doug's development as he becomes an artist and a young adult while earning the respect of this small community is both heartening and richly rewarding.  And did I mention that a series of Audubon prints focus both the narrative and much of its symbolic/thematic resonance?  Schmidt's work here is ambitious for a middle-reader/young adult novel, and - in my opinion - he succeeds in crafting a novel well out of the ordinary.

But I'll say this:  After reading about a third of the book, I considered putting it downAnd then the audio CDs came in at the library, and once I could hear the rhythms of Doug's language through the adult performer Lincoln Hoppe's interpretation, I got inspired to keep reading.  In this case, it's vital to have the text in hand though, as each chapter is focused by an Audubon print that's pivotal to understanding some of the content and certainly the thematic resonances of the chapter.


Who'd Enjoy This Especially:
Coming of Age novel fans, baseball lovers, folks who enjoy a strong, unique voice in first person protagonists, bird lovers, visual artists, middle- and high- school teachers looking for 'the next great book' for struggling readers and/or boys who just aren't that into reading, and young people wondering about what it's like to grow up with an abusive parent or to grow up in the Vietnam War era.

Action: I'm following in Dougie's footsteps by copying an Audubon print (way, way imperfectly, I'm sure).  Shout out to all the Action Readers getting their creative on this month!  Join us if you wanna at!

And a moment of gratitude: I want to thank the poet and children's book writer Irene Latham for recommending this book.  When I saw  her rave review, I immediately put both text and CDs on hold at the library.  She's a fine writer in her own right (review of Leaving Gee's Bend here) and I trust her judgement.  In this case, I'm so glad that I did.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...