Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bye Bye, July: Wrap Up & Review PLUS Mailbox Monday & It's Monday: What are you reading?

First, a round-up of July Reviews.

Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter (best fiction of the past six months: spare, packed with gorgeous language, epic feel - It's like Cormac McCarthy meets Emily Dickinson meets Tim O'Brien meets Charles Frazier) *****/5
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (allegory of the current U.S. and its economic colonialism - pre- Aug. 2, at least! - focus: Pakistan.  darkly humorous, clever, noir: a real page turner that leaves you thinking - and the title is much more than you think...)  ****/5
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (literary fiction w/a WWII London setting - atmospheric and lovely) ***/5
Favorite Sons by Robin Yocum (crime/mystery set in rural Ohio - Stand by Me meets John Grisham) ***/5
Night Train by Clyde Edgerton (quiet slice-o-life as music meets the dawning of the Civil Rights Movement in rural North Carolina) **/5
Change Anything by Patterson, et. al. (wildly useful audio book for anyone who wants to, well, change anything) ****/5
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie ("children's" story full of whimsical language play; also an allegory about freedom of speech - perfect for September's Banned Books Month) ****/5
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (somewhat disappointing but ambitious new release from a favorite Printz Award winner) ***/5
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp (legendary choreographer dispenses inspiring and practical ideas of making your own life more creative) ****/5
The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard (multi-millionaire teaches aspiring world-changers how to get their expert knowledge, skills, and mission into the hands and hearts of those who need it) ****/5

What a fine and varied month July turned out to be.  The High Summer Readathon and the Roots Read-Along, plus the War & Peace Read-Along I'm hosting here brought focus and depth to my reading life.  I hope yours was equally as fulfilling, both within the books and among the new and old friends gathered to talk about and act upon them.

Now, a taste of the week to come.  (Included: Mailbox Monday and It's Monday: What are you reading?)

In my mailbox and my life, I'm mashing up a mix of professional reading and the ever-present Tolstoy's War & Peace as we ramp up toward the school year.  Not only did they arrive this week, but I'll be starting to read them this week too!

Choice Words by Peter Johnston.  I purchased this one to fine-tune the exact language I use as I speak with students.  I've already skimmed it and feel pretty proud to say that I already use 80-90% of the phrases recommended here to empower students to become self-directed, curious learners and strong citizens who also follow their own bliss.  Looking forward more thoroughly reading the whole book and to working the additional language into my daily lexicon.

Helping Teens Stop Violence, Build Community and Stand for Justice by Allan Creighton and Paul Kivel.  I received this from The Library Thing's give-away program, and I'm inspired just perusing it.

Nothing by Janne Teller.  With the possibility of teaching Lord of the Flies next year (jury's still out, thoughts welcome) plus recently reading Beauty Queens (see linked review above), I sought out newer takes on the themes in LotF.  This one came up many times as a successful young adult book treading similar territory via new paths.  Looking forward to reading it this week.

Expect reviews of the first two books above both here and...
I'll also create a new blog this month, The English Teacher Recommends, as a site for professors and teachers to find both
  • the best of current and classic professional development texts and
  • reviews of novels, non-fiction, anthologies, etc. to use with students (including specific info. professors and teachers might need that general readers wouldn't)
so you'll find all three book reviews there.

If you'd like to be part of the team writing reviews for this new blog, do let me know in the comments below or at actionreaders (at) gmail (dot) com.

Finally, for my own personal fun, and with gratitude to Hachette Audio for the review copy, I'm listening to Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand whenever I drive around town.  It's excellent so far: a perfect summer/beach book about two adult women who were best friends growing up, became estranged, and then reestablish their friendship one summer on Nantucket when one of the friends becomes a suspect in an international financial scandal... Read by two fine actresses, so far, it's simply a well-paced story of two quite believable characters, their lives, and how they rekindle their friendship in quite trying circumstances.
Curious about what other readers found in their mailboxes this week?  Wanna know what they're anxious to start reading?  Do visit Mailbox Monday at Life In The Thumb and It's Monday: What are you reading? at Book Journey.


Chicken George!

So when I said that I had learned everything I ever wanted to know about cock fighting, apparently my voice did not carry back in time to Alex Haley while he was writing Roots.  Because for another 77 pages, that's continued to be the focus of this novel.  Geez.  Enough already.

What else happened?  George, now known as Chicken George, (And suddenly the lightbulb of my youth went off: 'Chicken George!  Chicken George!  I know what he looks like!' Even though I didn't get to see the series back in the day, I do remember the commercials and picture Ben Vereen in the role.  Gotta love Ben Vereen, whatever the role!) gets married to the only girl who won't sleep with him otherwise, the quite likable Matilda.  Her religious strength bolsters all the others on 'slave row' too, although George's philandering and carousing more than upset everybody as well. 

As expected, George eventually replaces Old Mingo as the big chicken cheese, but his attempts to groom his eldest son Virgil (all of six years old) as his apprentice fail miserably.  George also manages to build a creepily personal relationship with his massa-father.  No good can come of this, I suspect.

In the end, George fathers six sons and two daughters and makes a killing at second-tier, informal cock fights, sponsored by his dad, the massa.  Unfortunately, he spends it all and has only $100 of the $3-4000 he made, and that only because it was saved by his very patient wife.

That's about all for now, but here's hoping the whole cock fighting thing is finally behind us.


Tolstoy Clobbered by Big Shiny Thing in Pacific Northwest Sky

Or "How Sunshine Spoiled My High Summer Readathon".

Mid-week I was going strong, buoyed along by a string of gray days.

Then: catastrophe!  72 degrees and sunny with a cool breeze for the past three days in the midst of a decidedly dreary winter-spring-summer-so-far.

The fall-out: 150 pages of Tolstoy's War and Peace (which I'm actually enjoying but takes ever so long to read, what with the umpteen historical figures and battle scenes to be researched, plus passages in French to be read, then double-checked in the footnotes and the big page/small print issue) and Deerskin (which seems marvelous so far, but feels like a book best read on a cold winter snow day).

The unexpected dark horses who galloped into the race with their light-hearted ways:

Beowulf, adapted as a graphic narrative poem by Gareth Hinds
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay, a lively middle reader/YA novel that simply felt sunny.  Thanks again, Enbrethiliel at Shredded Cheddar for the recommendation; review to follow later this week.

So, the page totals =

Blessing of the Animals by Brenda Miller (creative non-fiction, personal essays) =Finished it (the last 100 pages)
Dante's Divine Comedy adapted by Seymour Chwast (graphic novel) =Finished it (127 pages)
The Odyssey adapted by Gareth Hinds (graphic novel) =Finished it (250 pages)
Roots by Alex Haley (novel for Roots Read-Along) = Finished it (the last 217 pages)
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy (novel for War & Peace Read-Along) = Volume III, Part 1, Ch. 1-14 (50 pp.)
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay (middle reader/young adult novel) = Finished it (296 pages)
Beowulf adapted by Gareth Hinds (graphic novel) = Finished it (128 pages)

TOTAL High Summer Readathon Glory = 1168 pages

Many thanks to Michelle at The True Book Addict, and to all the #HSreadathon-ers on Twitter & blogs this week.  Solidarity!

MFB, until next year,

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Poem In Your Post: Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees:  All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea:  I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life.  Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains:  But every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.

  This is my son, mine own Telemachos,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas.  My mariners,
Souls that have tol'd and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads - you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all:  but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes:  the slow moon climbs:  the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

                            - Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1833)

Having read graphic novelizations of both Dante's Divine Comedy (Seymour Chwast adaptation) and The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds adaptation) this week, this stunner - and for some the quintessential dramatic monologue of a poem - floated up from dreams into memory this morning.

I'd only part-memorized it about (gulp) 20 years ago, but I'm now longing to try again.  Perhaps Tennyson's version of the wily one has finally inspired me not to yield.

If you have a poem to share this week, all our visitors would be much obliged.  Post it in a blog entry then link back here iin the comments or simply add the poem directly to the the comments below.  (And/or tell us your memories of Ulysses - in any of his forms - as well...)

(FYI: Something went wonky with the linky so for now we're going old school: put your blogpost URL in the comments...)

MFB, in Ithacas of old and on the wine-dark seas,

p.s. Interested in the background on "Ulysses"?  Try this not-half-bad wikipedia article to begin.
And here are the two graphic texts I read this week...

Check it out here...(scroll
down to see some pages)

Look inside here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday First Sentences & 56: Deerskin by Robin McKinley

The 'book beginning' sets a fairy-tale tone:

   Many years later she remembered how her parents had looked to her when she was a small child:  her father as tall as a tree, and merry and bright and golden, with her beautiful black-haired mother at his side.

And now, skipping forward for the Friday 56:

   The king courted the princess as assiduously as a young lover might; rarely and reluctantly, it seemed, did he release her into another man's arms.

   Wowsa: Now that sentence raises my eyebrows.  What's the context, I'm wondering...

And I'm ready to dig in right now.The plan: to finish this fascinating retelling of the traditional fairytale "Donkeyskin" by French master storyteller Charles Perrault either today or tomorrow.  It'll count for both the High Summer Readathon and the Fairy Tale Challenge: Huzzah for a double score!

Ready to be tempted by more Book Beginnings and Friday 56's?
Go visit them!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Progress & A Poem about Soup-Bliss

High Summer Readathon Progress...

I'm proud to report that I've finished Dante's Divine Comedy, adapted as a graphic novel by the famed artist Seymour Chwast.  His black-and-white illustrations definitely brought a darkly humorous tone to the famed narrative poem.

Also, I read the final essay in a book I've been savoring a sip at a time, local luminary Brenda Miller's Blessing of the Animals.  Now I can head over to our fantastic local bookseller to buy her new collection!

Finally, and my shining accomplishment today:  I finished Roots!!  I'm so grateful to Laura over at Booksnob for hosting the read-along that continues through mid-August.  I feel quite sure that I would never have made it through what's turned out to be a fascinating read without her solid encouragement each week.  And then, of course, there's Michelle to thank for hosting this readathon that nudged me toward the finish line!

Next up:  The Odyssey (in graphic novel form) and 200 pages of War & Peace.  Will I make it?  Fingers crossed.

And here's my Word & Question poem for this month.  It's hosted in July by Salome Ellen over at her blog, so hop on by to sample far better efforts than mine!

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton Review (briefly)

If Southern period novels are your thing,
why not try this one?
To sum up:  The Night Train - prolific North Carolina author Clyde Edgerton's most recent novel, which released on Monday - offers a small slice-o-life in the rural American South just as the Civil Rights Movement's beginning.  And it's got music, and two high school friends - piano player Leroy Lemon and singer-guitarist Dwayne, one black, one white - and racism and folksy humor. Add to those elements many descriptions of the town of Starke, North Carolina (and surrounding hamlets): which building is across from which and which house is to the north of that - as the crow flies (and there are a lot of crows in Starke, and chickens) - what the woods look like, that sort of thing, plus dozens of partially-drawn characters participating in everyday vignettes within a scant 200ish-pages, and you've got yourself a book. 

     If the elements above tend to entice you, then by all means: The Night Train has 'em. 

Want to know what I really thought?  Personally?
(Warning: If you are already a Clyde Edgerton fan - Killer Diller, The Bible Salesman - just go buy the book.  If you choose to read on, don't say I didn't warn you...)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Modern Fairy Tales: Nominations, Please AND The High Summer Readathon

Hi friends,

First off, I'm confessing my commitment to the High Summer Readathon hosted by The True Book Addict. 

And as Michelle, the host, tells me that it's a relaxed affair with a number of optional challenges & give-aways, I'm creating my own commitment:

* Finish Roots, but break up the last few posts for Laura at Booksnob's Roots read-along.
* Read the next (200 page) section of Tolstoy to get ahead on my own War & Peace read-along.
* Read all of Deerskin, in honor of my pal, Dana.
* Finish the second half of Blessing of the Animals, written by local essayist/editor/professor/all around fabulous person, Brenda Miller.
* Read 3 graphic novels: Marvels, The Odyssey, and Dante's Divine Comedy.

Good gracious.  That seems like plenty!

I'm figuring 3-6 hrs./day (at least) of just sitting here reading.  But I gotta come clean:  If the weather gets better, I know enough about life in the Pacific Northwest to just scrap the sittin' and start the strollin' with friends.  And I am for sure committed to my training for the Bellingham Bay Marathon in September.  Without those workouts, I couldn't really consider so much sitting!

It's not to late to join in; perhaps a weekend stay-cation traveling through books?  (Laura at Booksnob hosting a challenge celebrating just that strategy...)


And, in case you missed it yesterday, I just joined the Fairy Tale Challenge over at Tif Talks Books, and I need your help:
     Please tell me your favorite book and/or movie that features a modernized version of a fairy tale. (or even a classic one, if you please)

I'm especially interested in books and films appropriate for teens, as well as non-Western fairy tales, but any and all ideas for stellar books and films are most welcome and appreciated!

Have you reviewed a modern - or even a classic - fairy tale?  Go ahead and leave the link in your comment; I'll be sure to visit.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions: I'm looking forward to catching up on this challenge! 

To begin, I've already got two fine texts in the house: 
Deerskin by Robin McKinley and the DVD version of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather.

What comes next?  It's up to you!

War and Peace Wednesdays: Yay! It's fun again!

Whew.  What a relief. 

In Volume II, Parts 4 and 5, Tolstoy turns up the heat on many relationships, turns on the plot, and turns in a soap-opera-esque, boffo little 130-page section.  So we're back on track.

  • Persevere
  • And look to like-minded readers for support and encouragement.  My thanks to Ingrid at The Blue Bookcase:  Her statement that the final third of War & Peace is by far the best will kept me reading!  Also gratitude to Laura at Booksnob who's reading along, and to my IRL book groupies with whom I'm scheduled to meet next week to discuss the first 1/2 of the chunkster.
In this section it's the soap opera plot that's so infectious, so I'll offer just a breezy summary-with-implied-commentary.

To sum up: Part Four.
    Count Rostov Sr. can't bring himself to actually pay attention to his money, so their family finances decline precipitously, requiring that Nikolai eventually accede to his mother's pleas and take a leave from his much-loved army life (virtually no responsibilities or personal decision making = Nicky's favorite aspects of the military) and returns to OtradnoeHe is of zero help to his family, and doesn't ever acknowledge that his huge gambling debt - paid by his father - is what set them on this road to financial ruin.  It's an "apple doesn't fall far from the tree" section:  Count Elie Rostov, Nikolai's dad, is equally unwilling to acknowledge reality and so continues to spend, spend, spend until he's forced to sell off properties just to meet his expenses.  This can't go on for long, one senses.
     Then:  Wolf hunt.  Really.  Nikolai loves hunting, so he rounds up the umpteen servants and horses and dogs required and joins neighbors on a staged/somewhat controlled hunt.  There was a snipe hunt in Anna Karenina, and in this one: bigger game, more hunters, more dogs, more interpersonal and inter-canine drama.  Me personally: Not big on hunting.  But Tolstoy's vigorous descriptions do cause one to sit up and take note of how passionately Russian aristocrats dedicated themselves to this 'sport'.
     Then Nikolai, falling in love again with Sonya when she dresses up like a man for 'mumming' at Christmas (OK: how many hints do we need about Nikolai??), fights with his mom, who disapproves of the dowry-less match, then returns to the army to escape his family responsibilities.

To sum up: Part Five.
     Old count Rostov takes Natasha and Sonya to Moscow to deal with finances and get away from the dramas in Otradnoe.  Pierre also arrives in Moscow, staying with the increasingly nasty and somewhat senile old Prince Bolkonsky and his plain, increasingly terrified, always beleaguered daughter Marya. 
     Boris is back.  And social climbing to beat the band.  He proposes to Marya's friend Julie, whose family money and position will propel him one step up the social ladder.  Natasha and fam. decide to visit the geezer Bolkonsky to try to win him over so Natasha can marry Prince Andrei soon (she's getting impatient about squandering her youthful fabulousness), and with his blessings.  No dice.  So no dice.  Their visit makes matters much worse.
     Then, at the theater, and then at a party thrown purposefully by his sister Helene to get them together, Natasha gets introduced to the dashing cad Anatole, whose well-perfected wooing and handsome visage enrapture her.  Bye-bye, Andrei; hello, Anatole.
     Sonya tries to prevent this bad situation from getting worse, but Natasha's stupid obstinacy is no match for her quiet cousin's acts and arguments. 
     The whole Kuragin clan is a festering bunch of bad apples, with Anatole possibly the nastiest bite in the barrel. Oh, did I mention that he's already married, but to a peasant (ye olde shotgun wedding), so he doesn't care and doesn't tell anybody about it?  Yes.
     Even though the planned elopement gets foiled and Anatole runs away, Natasha's already sent a letter to Marya rejecting Prince Andrei in favor of the somewhat-currently-more-jerky of her two suitors, 'cause that's just the kind of ditz she is.  Andrei's cool with that, and Pierre attempts to smooth things over with everyone, whereupon he falls in love with Natasha tooThen the comet of 1812 flashes through the sky: It's Pierre's joy!

Yup.  Told y'all: Soap opera.  But with many unexpected plot turns and a lot more fun than the last section, I'll take it.

MFB, with Volume Three (Parts 1 & 2),

p.s. Nifty tip for all War & Peace-ers:  Book Drum now has illuminations (photos, paintings, videos, historical info.) for bookmarked sections of the novel, and there's a quick-n-interesting bio that tells us - among other intriguing tidbits - that nasty ole Count Bolkonsky is modeled after Tolstoy's own grandfather and that Tolstoy's thinking inspired the young Mohandas K. Gandhi.  True.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top Ten Tomes Tackling Tough Topics

'What are your top ten books that tackle tough issues?'

For once, without too much cogitation, here are the first ten titles that sprung to mind when I asked myself this week's question from The Broke and the Bookish's Tuesday Top Ten blog hop meme.  Once a book presented itself to me, I tried to articulate the tough topics on which it might offer its particular perspective.  No doubt, I've not provided a comprehensive accounting of all the issues explored in these books, but at least my first thoughts are a start.

I can also state with confidence that these are gritty enough, surprising enough, and well-written enough to stick with you for your entire life, so they have that in common as well. 

1. Night by Elie Wiesel.  Tough Topics: Genocide, the Holocaust, loyalty vs. survival, cruelty.

2. The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.   Tough topics: coming of age today, poverty, living as a Native American in the contemporary U.S.

3. What Is The What by Dave Eggers.  Tough topics: Genocide, violence in southern Sudan, violence in the U.S., cruelty, survival, transcendence.

4. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.   Tough topics: cruelty, betrayal, the impossibility of truly knowing another person, women's deception/manipulation of other women, men's complicity...

5. The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon by Tom Spanbauer.  Tough topics: racism, incest, the fluidity of sexuality, prostitution, search for identity, you name it... This little-known novel is as edge-y as edge-y gets, as in some extremely 'adult' content.  Be prepared to be stunned, appalled, provoked.

6. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz.   Tough topics: obesity, suicide, family dysfunction, obsession, effects of war.

7. Middle Passage by Charles Johnson.   Tough topics: cruelty, slavery, the Middle Passage and the repercussions of slavery in the U.S.

8.  "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Yes, it's a short story, but it's one that sticks with you.   Tough topics: effects of patriarchal culture, feminism, madness.

9. Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie.   Tough topics: Terrorism, colonialism, how and why individuals choose violent or illegal actions, revenge, family dysfunction.

10. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid Tough topics: U.S. economic colonialism/world dominance, Pakistan's relationship w/the U.S., how a peaceful, tolerant individual becomes radicalized into a desperate fanatic.  The best part: It's not what you think...

This time there are far more men on my list than usual.  Perhaps it's just my mood today?  What are your theories as to why fewer female authors drifted to the top of my "tough topics" list?  (I did think of a few more, but they seemed over-worked in the past few top tens, so I chose not to include them this time in favor of perhaps lesser-known or less-frequently-posted titles.)

For what I'm sure will be a particularly wide-ranging set of offerings today, do stop by The Broke and The Bookish to see what other bloggers choose as their "top ten books tackling tough topics".


AND ON A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT NOTE... I'm taking nominations...

I just joined the Fairy Tale Challenge over at Tif Talks Books, and I need your help:

Please tell me your favorite book and/or movie that features a modernized version of a fairy tale.

I'm especially interested in books and films appropriate for teens and non-Western fairy tales, but any and all ideas for stellar books and films are most welcome and appreciated!

Have you reviewed a modern - or even a classic - fairy tale?  Go ahead and leave the link in your comment; I'll be sure to visit.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions: I'm looking forward to catching up on this challenge! 

To begin, I've already got two fine texts in the house:  Deerskin by Robin McKinley and the DVD version of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather.

Now what comes next?  It's up to you!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Mailbox Monday & It's Monday: What Are You Reading? Bonanza!

Wow, what a week!  Lucky me that these books made their way to my doorstep:

Brenda Miller's essays always hit home for me, in more ways than one.  Not only is this multiple-award-winning writer a local luminary, but she's roughly my age with some similar history as a result.  And her prose is always luminous, swift-moving, and honest to the point of gutsy.  I'm half way through already and, as ever, rationing the chapters so I can keep her voice, her sensibility in my head as long as possible.  Luckily, I hear she's coming out with another collection within the week, so I'll have another volume to look forward to in the near future.

And then there's the ARC of The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton that launches today, and I received on Friday.  I'll finish this Southern fiction of two young men united by their passion for music by week's end, so expect reviews of both Blessing of the Animals and The Night Train a.s.a.p. 

As soon as I finish those two, I'm on to a pair of GORGEOUS graphic novels I bought to use with my 10th grade class.  I'm figuring that these two will inspire us all and can be used by readers who are well below grade level (for whatever reason) as their primary texts:

Even my DH got wide eyed with envy at the artistry in these two!  Aren't they fab?!  Can't wait to fly through them, relishing every minute...

What's in your mailbox this week?

Do tell, and then stop by Mailbox Monday at A Sea of Books and It's Monday: What are you reading? at BookJourney.  Go visit the other bloggers hooked up to the blog hop at A Sea of Books and BookJourney to find out what's hot for book bloggers in the last week of July and which books are helping them speed away the scorching temps. today.


Looking for this week's Roots Read-Along Post?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop: somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

                                               e.e. cummings

This poem, most famous for its concluding line, I re-found in Rosie Alison's new novel, The Very Thought of You.  In that context, it's an oblique but unequivocal declaration of love.  Here, it's just lovely enough for a summer day.  I hope you enjoy it.

Please share a favorite poem with us - either on your own site, linked below and then linked back here or in the comments below - as another gift of summer.

As always, please support the artists who change us with their art, and the groups that support those artists as well - in this case, the source of this poem, The Academy of American Poets website, where you can also print a lovely card featuring an illuminated version of the final stanza above.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Friday First Sentence & 56, plus The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison - Review

This melancholic novel of wartime London and Yorkshire begins three times.  Is this a trend in contemporary fiction?  It occurred in Robin Yocum's Favorite Sons (last week's Friday review) too. 

So here they are from The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison:

May 1964
My dearest,
   Of all the many people we meet in a lifetime, it is strange that so many of us find ourselves in thrall to one particular person.

From Baxter's Guide to the Historic Houses of England (2007)
   Any visitor travelling north from York will pass through a flat vale of farmland before rising steeply onto the wide upland plateau of the North Yorkshire Moors.

London, 31 August 1939
   There was a hint of afternoon sunshine as Anna Sands and her mother, Roberta, stepped off their bus into Kensington High Street.

The first opens a letter from one of our four main characters, Thomas Ashton, to the love of his life.
The second begins the entry describing Ashton Park, the aging mansion that becomes a home for children evacuated from London during WWII, our main setting.
The third opens the narrative by introducing us to our protagonist, Anna, as they take one last shopping trip in preparation for Anna's departure to Ashton Park.

And then from page 56 (see below for a link to that blog hop and one for the book beginnings as well), it's exposition from Thomas's perspective about his family and his childhood growing up at Ashton Park:
At the center of any room stood his parents.  He would never forget his mother in blue-shadowed silk, sweeping into the dining room on his father's arm, truly beautiful.
To sum up: This impressive first novel - shortlisted for the Orange Prize even - traces the lives of Anna and Roberta, as well as Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth Ashton, primarily during the war years.  Moodily atmospheric and increasingly melancholy, we're privy to their inner lives (multiple third person perspective) as those lives intersect and diverge, playing again and again on novelist Alison's title theme.  Inner desires, memories, dreams, and resentments shift and collide with outward actions and appearances, maintaining a tension born partly of the extremities of war and partly of the particular natures of our characters.

My opinion:  If you favor books with this setting, you'll find Alison's descriptions of York and the Ashton mansion evocative, often even magical, in a darkly The Secret Garden sort of way.  As a coming of age tale for Anna, the plot kept my interest and her perspective - all the confusion, delight, and drama of a child's interior life - offered a lovely counterpoint to Thomas's careful reflections and both Elizabeth's and Roberta's yearnings.  As the story of adult relationships slipping into crisis, it also rang true - at least for these particular characters.  Add to their voices and passions Alison's regular excerpts of popular songs of the period and marvelous poems that provide both thematic resonance and plot movement, and you've got yourself a novel.

Now that I describe it, I'm feeling that one could liken the whole book to a sonata of sorts, with multiple voicings in various tones shifting and eliding into one multi-part stream of sound and sense.  If that sounds like an experience you'd favor, then by all means pick up a copy of The Very Thought of You.  (****/5)

Or, if you're ready to enjoy a few more 'Book Beginnings' and 'Friday 56' peeks at at other readers' current books, go ahead and hop to A Few More Pages and Freda's Voice


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Books as Therapy: Yikes.

Here's today's Literary Blog Hop question from The Blue Bookcase:

Discuss Bibliotherapy. Do you believe literature can be a viable form of therapy? Is literary writing more or less therapeutic than pop lit or nonfiction?

To the first question:
Literature as consolation?  Yes.  As a means for the therapist of a bibliophile to offer a 'neutral' platform for discussion of anticipated issues, or to process recent ones?  Yes, and perhaps (respectively).  As an ancillary support among a qualified therapist's treatment options?  Sure.

But as the sole therapy, as therapy itself?  No.

If any of us is truly in crisis, then we need real people with actionable strategies to help us through, and we need 'em now.

Could books help?  Of course.  The right books, offered by a knowledgeable and compassionate friend or mentor or partner or therapist and talked through, could offer solace and guidance as well as any living being. 

But if we truly need therapy, then we need another view of our lives and some wise, compassionate- dispassionate guidance.  If we truly need therapy, then we're at a point where our own choices and resources have led us into unnavigable territories and we need a mentor to help guide us out.

I adore books.  They help me to understand my life, my world, my possibilities.  Sometimes they even help me set my sights on transcending my self.  But if I were ever truly in crisis, then I'd know that my own predilections and my own intellectual and linguistic faculties had failed me.  And I would need much, much more than books.


(To the second question: Whatever helps the individual is what's important.  How others classify the work is a trivial matter when a person is in crisis.)

And don't forget to find out what other bloggers think by visiting The Blue Bookcase and then hopping to their responses.

War & Peace Wednesday: When Is Enough Enough?

This section, Volume 2, Parts 2 & 3, follows the transformations of Pierre and Prince Andrei.  The former becomes a Mason while the latter falls in love.  That's basically it.

To be honest, this section bored me silly, quite contrary to the last sections, which kept me intrigued and excited to continue.  I came to wonder:  When is enough enough?  And when is an abridged version OK? (The latter's a question that arose as I visited new blogs on yesterday's Top 10 Tuesday hop as well.)

(SPOILER PARAGRAPH BELOW, then back to non-spoiler wrap-up...)
Why was I wondering?  Well, it's pretty dull stuff to watch one quirky, spacey, bumbling buffoon turn into an upstanding quasi-religious man and get back together with his beautiful but shallow and boring wife.  Also dull? To watch an annoyingly condescending character vacillate among various equally privileged life paths, then fall in love with a ditz-brained 16 year old (yes, it's the famous Natasha, and I still don't see how she's going to pan out to be an interesting or worthy character, but hope springs...). Sigh.

I can't even bring myself to offer my three-somes this time, because, frankly, nothing stands out.  Sorry friends, but that's just the way I'm seeing it.

But it's quite possibly not how Tolstoy's original readers saw it.  In fact, they saw it in installments, as a serialized novel.  Think Dickens, but with more upper-crusty characters (Dickens meets Austen in St. Petersburg?).  And - as with every single Harry Potter book - traditional plotting/pacing dictates that there must be some slow sections to ramp up for the high-intensity wand-fights with Voldemort.  I'm still feeling a little skittish though, because in Anna Karenina the wand-fights never materialized: no real pay off, intensity-wise.  Oh, plot happened.  But the climax definitely didn't justify all the boring sections.  Fingers crossed that this one'll be more rewarding in the end.

So here's my question:  When a work is sucking down your summer, pulling you under with a sense of obligation sans reward, how many pages must you read before it's OK to say, "My one wild and precious life is more important than having read yet another Tolstoy chunkster?"  What's the point at which you're not wimping out or selling yourself and your writer short, but rather saving you both?  I'll definitely keep going - for now - but this question is truly vexing me, and I'd appreciate your help.

On a positive note:  One more section (Volume 2, books 4 & 5) and we're half way through! 

So for those of you reading along, let's just take a deep breath, dive in again, and get through this together.

MFB, and it's gotta get better from here,

p.s.  For an alternate perspective, you might want to visit Laura at Booksnob who's reading this with us...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Top Ten Books Every Teenager Should Read: The English Teacher Weighs In...

This week's Top 10 from The Broke And The Bookish challenged me mightily, and I want to tell you why: I'm an English teacher (and many other things as well), and the longer I teach, the more I feel that a cavalier answer to this question could be quite damaging.  Why?
  • Although all of us continue developing throughout our lives, teens follow particularly unpredictable and varied paths of psychological and intellectual development.  This broad spectrum of skills and behaviors makes recommending any single tome problematic at best.
  • Each teen comes from a different family, cultural, and religious (or non-religious) background, and these combine to influence readiness for increasingly mature or diverse or challenging content.
  • Many teens are regularly in crisis about one aspect or another of their lives, and while the right book at the right time can offer solace and wisdom or even simply a much-needed temporary escape from their turmoil, even a book "every teen should read" can be an unwelcome catalyst or escalator for intense emotional dramas at this stage in their lives.
All that said, here's what I think every teen - every human being who graduates high school on this planet at this time - should read, and read critically, and think about significantly, and talk with others - preferably non-like-minded others - about, and commit to returning to at least once a decade, preferably more:

1.  The founding documents of her or his country, especially those that set the guiding philosophy, structure, and ethics of his/her government.  Understanding the foundations allows each citizen to support, critique, and even strive to revise the fundamental ideology of that citizen's country.

2.  The foundational texts of all major world religions.  Without understanding, there is zero potential for true dialogue, let alone collaboration or peace.

3.  The major artworks of every major world culture.  Yes, I hold that artworks are texts, and that they're produced in cultural contexts - even when they fight against them - and that great art from every culture inspires awe and transcendence.  It's a gateway to understanding.

4.  The seminal stories (myths, folktales, fairy tales) of major world cultures.  (See above for rationale.)

5.  The most beautiful and powerful poems of major world cultures.  (See above for rationale.)

6.  The great films and plays of major world cultures.  (See above for rationale.)

7.  At least a few of the works - of whatever genre - that his/her parents, siblings, and other relatives treasure.  The teen needn't love these or agree with them, but - again - knowledge may at least lead to understanding.

8.   Twilight.  Kidding.  So kidding.

I know, I'm begging many questions: What's a major world culture?  What's beautiful?  What's powerful?  What's great?  How much analysis is necessary to understand a text? These questions are up for debate, no doubt, and so worth consistently, vigilantly discussing and revisiting and adjusting every year, every month if possible.  Every parent, teacher, and friend of teenagers should be doing that, if we really care about them.

And, I know that minority opinions can be incredibly liberating, often surpassing the dominant ideas in a culture. But I'll wager that the strongest foundation for responsibly championing any idea - minority or otherwise - is understanding the dominant cultural forces.

But beyond the "should reads", and perhaps more importantly, we must help teens determine the "next great read" for each of them, individually.  It's our obligation, I suspect, and not an simple one - be we teachers, parents, friends, siblings - to help teens learn how to make wise choices on their own personal reading paths, and to know when & how to seek out conversation and support when they happen upon a challenging text that they can't quite process on their own. 

I'm sure there's more to add, and I'm hoping you're going to help me out here... So tell me what you think, what you'd include in the above categories, what else I should consider.

Many thanks as always to the provocative and fun prompts offered every Tuesday at The Broke And The Bookish.  If you have a moment or two, do hop over there to see what they - and scores of other bloggers - have to say about this matter.

MFB, humbly,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Plea for World Peace, plus Mailbox Monday

World peace?  Really?  Yes:  Peace through books.  Hop down to the next purple text for the details about how you can help, but in the meantime:

Look at the international titles that landed in my mailbox this week: The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison and Dusk (Po-On) by F. Sionil Jose

This novel, long-listed for Britain's Orange Prize, has already gripped me:  It's a WWII story of London and Yorkshire, of the children evacuated into the countryside to protect them from potential hostilities in London, and of a couple torn asunder by previous war and disease, and by their own unexpressed needs and desires.  I'm already half way through the ARC paperback I received on Friday, and enjoying Alison's prose, characters, and historical insights immensely.  If this novel continues to please, you can bet it'll be my first 4-5 star read in a few weeks: yay!

And then I just received Dusk by Filipino novelist F. Sionil Jose from my public library.  Eight cheers for the Whatcom County Library System and all who support it! I live in an unusually literate place, especially considering our outstanding rural aspects - #1 raspberry grower in the USA, as I can well attest this week, among other things.  We have at least five used bookstores in town, plus one of the best/most notable independent bookstores in the United States, and I'm continually impressed by the bounty of our libraries. 

With regard to Dusk, or Po-On as it was originally titled, I want to thank Enbrethiliel over at Shredded Cheddar for answering my query about the Filipino novels she'd recommend for American teens' reading.  She's a blogger who's exemplary in terms of correspondence and courtesy, not to mention insight, so I encourage y'all to go visit her regularly.

So: World Peace, you said?  Yes, indeed:  Peace through Books.  My premise:  Basic cultural awareness - not to mention appreciation - is the foundation for collaboration and compromise. 

This prompts me to ask y'all to offer up your suggestions for my tenth grade World Literature class next year.  I'm looking for the seminal stories from non-Western cultures and countries, especially.  Because of their predicted future impact on our world economy - and due to the limited time in a yearlong class - I'd especially appreciate your suggestions for teen-worthy texts from China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia.  Of course, if your background boasts keen knowledge of other world cultures, I would be honored to receive your suggestions as well.

PLEASE help me, and more importantly my students, all you well-read book bloggers. Talk about a quick and easy action that can positively impact the future: This is your chance.

And PLEASE stop by here tomorrow when the Top Ten list is "Top 10 Books Every Teenager Should Read".  Trust me when I tell you, I'll have a LOT to say about that!  And it won't be what you expect.  Not at all.


Itchy for the latest enviables, mailbox-wise?  Go visit the other bloggers hooked up to Mailbox Monday at Sea of Books...

Ready for the Roots Read-Along?  Wondering what's happened to Kunta Kinte in the past decade?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop: Famous

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,  
which knew it would inherit the earth  
before anybody said so.  

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds  
watching him from the birdhouse.  

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.  

The idea you carry close to your bosom  
is famous to your bosom.  

The boot is famous to the earth,  
more famous than the dress shoe,  
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it  
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.  

I want to be famous to shuffling men  
who smile while crossing streets,  
sticky children in grocery lines,  
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,  
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,  
but because it never forgot what it could do.

                                            - Naomi Shihab Nye

I first encountered this poem when participating in the National Endowment for the Arts' program Poetry Out Loud with my students.  This is one of three I chose to memorize three years ago and I still carry it around inside me and trot it out from time to time. 

For her biography and more wonderful poems, try her page on  She's truly a writer worth listening to and reading, as she offers many insights about her craft in numerous forums.

How about you?  Have you memorized any poems, or parts of poems?  Which poems would you like to tote around inside you, instead of in your pocket, even if you haven't quite found the time to memorize them yet?  Alternative:  Any poem you wrote or enjoyed reading is fair game for your post, so don't be shy!

Post your link here any time this weekend, then make sure to link back to this post so that your followers and visitors can find our hop! 

As always, please support the poets who change us with their art.

See you next week, and happy hopping!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Friday First Sentence & 56: Favorite Sons by Robin Yocum Review

Get it at

My entire professional career has been spent prying secrets out of the accused. (vii)

Petey Sanchez was a troubled human being, a stewpot of mental, emotional, and psychological problems manifested in the body of a wild-eyed seventeen-year-old, who cursed and made screeching bird noises as he rode around town on a lime green spider bike with fluorescent pink streamers flying out from the handlebars. (2)

For those who decry the death penalty and believe that all human life is sacred, allow me to introduce you to Richard Terrance Buchanan Junior, who for two decades was arguably the most feared man in Akron, Ohio. (108)

So begin the first and second parts of the new novel Favorite Sons by Robin Yocum.  Solid and promising prose here, without a doubt, and from a first-time novelist at that.  I'm looking forward to a long and prosperous career for Yocum in years to come.  His fledgling effort feels like a mash-up of Stand By Me and a John Grisham novel, so for you legal/crime drama and psychological thriller fans, he's a writer to watch.

To sum up:  Favorite Sons is both a psychological exploration of how one split-second decision in 1971 rural Ohio transforms the adult lives of local prosecutor and soon-to-be Ohio State Attorney General Hutchinson Van Buren and three of his boyhood pals, and a present-day mystery/crime drama linked to a thirty-year-old crime.

My opinion:  Such an ability to create atmosphere Robin Yocum displays.  The first part of this novel, set in rural Crystalton, Ohio, completely transported me back to my own childhood, although I lived far from the Midwest.  And Yocum also has a gift for inhabiting an early-teen sensibility that - wherever and whenever you grew up - will feel entirely, viscerally familiar.  Beautiful work here on that score, and hence my earlier allusion to Stephen King's stellar novella The Body, turned modern classic movie, Stand By Me.

To see what I mean about Yocum's ability to bring a reader right back in time and to find out what I thought of the second part of Favorite Sons just keep reading.  You'll find my Friday 56 there too...

Or, if you're ready to enjoy a few more 'Book Beginnings' and 'Friday 56' peeks at at other readers' current books, go ahead and hop to A Few More Pages and Freda's Voice.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

War and Peace Wednesdays: So Far, Way Better Than Anna Karenina!

That's my opinion, and I'm stickin' to it!  Although I'm only 1/4 of the way through at page 346 in my edition, I'm finding War & Peace so much more interesting and entertaining in every way than Anna.

I wonder if reading the latter chunkster last summer primed the literary pump here, or if War and Peace would have struck me as this enjoyable if I'd read it a year ago instead.  Surprisingly, I'm still engaged by the dual foci of the sociology/psychology of the men when they're actively engaged in military maneuvering and battles versus the subtle and substantive domestic dramas of the families (and the same men) at home.

This section breezed by, relatively speaking for such a literally and figuratively hefty work, with unexpected plot turns and character developments galore.

And for Three Tempting Threesomes in this section of War & Peace... (possible spoilers, but good stuff!)

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm Dying To Meet You!


Today's Top 10 Tuesday from The Broke and The Bookish asks me to select my top 10 "writers I'd DIE to meet", but that forces me to narrow down my field of wanna-meets to too few for my expansive mood.  So I'm going with a "truly dead" list and a "still in the corporeal sphere" one.  Indulge me, and then tell me whom I've missed and your absolute must-meet in each category!

 The Truly "To Die For" List
  • Jane Austen: In hopes that a conversation with her would help me understand what all the fuss is about.
  • James Joyce: My first literary love, and perhaps he'd take me on a tour of Dublin.
  • Zora Neale Hurston: As both a writer and a social anthropologist/folklorist, she'd have so much to teach me.
  • William Shakespeare:  Just exactly who are you, anyway, and do you converse as eloquently and entertainingly as you pen?
  • Lao Tse:  And who are you as well (are you multiple people)? And what did # 27 in the Tao Te Ching mean anyway?
  • Rumi:  Please show me how you compose those spiritually transcendent play-for-mortal-stakes verses, and please introduce me to Shams as well.
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay:  Let's just pal around for a few days, wild spirit-sprite of your age!
  • Kahlil Gibran:  One long stroll as he recites his poetry to me and a gathering gaggle of fans.  We all pause in a garden and he makes a drawing to bring back with me...
  • Samuel Beckett: Just meandering in circles as he spins out comic profundities punctuated by the occasional piercing glance.
  • Emily Dickinson: Kindred spirits, we'd likely just sit in her big back yard, sipping tea and silently, companionably taking in the day. Much madness not to ask her to parse a single poem, but divinest sense as well.

The "With Any Luck, Someday" List
  • Thich Nhat Hanh - Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author of over 25 books of prose and poetry, all of which bring solace and offer compassionate, practical wisdom (start with Peace Is Every Step)
  • Fareed Zakaria - Indian-American journalist and commentator on world events (NewsweekTime, Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN), whose best-selling The Post American World, Release 2.0 is at the top of my TBR pile
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Nobel-winning novelist and journalist from Colombia, writer of two of my favorite fictions ever: Love In The Time of Cholera and "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" (Yes, he's old and reportedly infirm, but still...)
  • Louise Erdrich - Native American novelist who treads Garcia Marquez's path by setting many of her novels in the same physical area and populating them with some of the same characters or their relatives, weaving a rich world over time and texts.  Try Tracks, her first novel, and if you like it, jump over to The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse to see entirely new sides of some of the same characters and note Erdrich's evolution as a writer..
  • Elie Wiesel - professor, scholar, novelist, Holocaust survivor.  Begin with Night.
  • Francine Prose - her Reading Like A Writer is a must for all of us.  And her darkly comic novel of ideas, A Changed Man, features a character curiously similar to Elie Wiesel (or Simon Wiesenthal...)
  • Salman Rushdie - Indian-born British novelist, essayist, children's book writer.  Try Haroun & The Sea of Stories (for kids and adults, my review linked) or Shalimar The Clown (definitely for adults, despite the title).
  • Margaret Atwood - Canadian fiction writer, essayist, activist.  Her short story collection Bluebeard's Egg got me started, and The Robber Bride and Cat's Eye got me hooked.  Many of my students began with Oryx and Crake and are now moving archaeologically through her earlier works...
  • Maile Meloy - American fiction writer, esp. Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It (review linked) soon to release her first Y.A. novel, The Apothecary
  • Stephen Sondheim (a composer/lyricist for good measure) - West Side Story, On The Town, and Sunday In The Park With George, to name a few...
  • Ooh!  And Harper Lee.  She'll be immediately won over and take me into her confidence, offering me editorship of her second - and only unpublished - novel.  Wouldn't that be the ultimate readerly coup??  What if her conversation's as stellar as her writing?  And we could all find out what she's been up to all these years since To Kill A Mockingbird!
MFB in a happy fantasy,

Now tell me who you'd pick, and go visit everybody's choices through The Broke and the Bookish's Top 10 Tuesday blog hop!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...