Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poetry Bombs and So Can You! (poem in your post for Aug. 27-28)

Thanks to a fellow book blogger, I'm reminded of how much fun stealth poetry sharing can be.  I've actually done this for Poem In Your Pocket Day: Printed up a bunch of pocket poems and stashed them in shirt pockets in stores, on shelves at the grocery, etc. 


This week, I'm going to pop a potent one in some pockets. It's also a poem I've learned by heart, and one of my all-time favorites for contemplation

The Gods Are Not Large

But perhaps
the heart
does not want
to be understood.
Your shadow
falls on its pond
and the small fish
hurry away.
They have
their own lives
which they love.

And if to you
it is anger,
to them
it is simply life:
their mouths
open and close,
their gills,
they are fed,
they breathe.

The gods
are not large,
outside us.
They are the fish
going on
with their own

                     - Jane Hirshfield

What will you do to multiply the bounty?  Which poem will you pop stealthily into pockets?  Let us know in your post (then please link back here to spread the joy), or tell us all about it right here in the comments...

Let's spread the word love, shall we?  Who's it hurting??


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Beginnings & Friday 56: Ghellow Road by T.H. Waters (with chickens)

Find out about Ghellow Road here.
Book beginnings:

I was born in the arms of the City of Lakes.  It was not a big city like New York or L.A.; not a city that had yet learned to swallow you whole.

And from page 56:

Home.  I was home at last.  I wasn't sure if I would ever see this place again.  My room was exactly as I had left it, furnished in the gold-gilded bedroom set that Daddy had bought at Sears especially for my 7th birthday.

So we can see how straightforward yet peppered with detail and figurative turns this Minnesota memoir will likely be, from a scant few lines.  I'm looking forward to a Labor Day weekend with Ms. Waters's new 'novel' in hand.

If you're ready to take a peek at more fabulous sentences and perhaps find your next blazing TBR, check out Book Beginnings for more tantalizing openers and at Freda's Voice for the Friday 56 .

Finally, for the Crazy for Books blog hop today, we're asked to offer up a personal little tidbit by responding to the question "Do you have any pets?"

Blackie & Mrs. Dutta.

Why, yes; yes, I do.  My two laying hens (who no longer perform their main utilitarian duties) are currently thriving in their late middle age.  They still make excellent deer-alarms and have lately learned to sing back-up on Neil Young's "Beautiful Bluebird" (harmonica solos bring out their vocal best).  From time to time 'the girls' also see fit to let us know - in no uncertain terms - that the sky is definitely, definitely, definitely falling.  We try to construe this strident hiccup in their otherwise quiet nature as a source of mild amusement.  We hope the neighbors are doing the same.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Helping Teens Stop Violence, Build Community, and Stand for Justice (review)

by Allan Creighton and Paul Kivel.

What it is:  A 200ish page compilation of consciousness-raising activities for teens, focused on the power hierarchies and some of the "isms" political and economic systems in the U.S. might seem to support: adultism, sexism and heterosexism, racism, and able-ism (this last one focused on systemic discrimination against those with 'disabilities'), to name a few.  Also offered: chapters with activities related to Christian hegemony, anti-immigrant oppression, and environmental justice.

What it isn't, that I assumed - from the title - it would be: A practical system for helping teens move from awareness to action.  In fact, there wasn't more than 20 pages' worth of content related to what teens can do to build community (and that's a generous estimate), unless you count whatever community is built naturally among participants in the no-doubt thought-provoking but also emotionally risky activities that form the bulk of the book.  

I do appreciate the opportunities this book provided for sometimes-uncomfortable personal reflection on my role as a part of an educational system that has - in the past and to some degree in the present - tended to reinforce cultural norms.  Heightened awareness of one's cultural framework/worldview, and the degree to which one's personal ethics or morals depart from or coincide with them is - in my view - an outcome worth applauding, and so I suspect that the activities herein could prove enlightening, sometimes surprising, and perhaps even life-changing for teens. 

But here's something else I know: The activities herein - if they're actually to shift individuals' consciousnesses, and then their actions - require students to offer up their emotions and experiences in ways that almost surely would cross some privacy lines not often even tiptoed toward in public school settings.  Perhaps as part of a voluntary after school program, or embedded within one of our existing service or support clubs, one could use these activities, but that would impact only a small number of students, and ones already predisposed - for the most part - toward the aims of the book.   And one might perhaps embed some of the activities in content areas when appropriate for the objectives and outcomes involved.  But that would certainly dilute the impact of the full curriculum offered herein.

On the other hand, for private citizens working with youth and families who are fully aware of the intimate emotional nature of the conversations that may proceed from examining what are sometimes taboo and often uncomfortable societal biases, this book will provide plenty of time-tested activities and general guidance.  If you're looking for activities to facilitate conversations with your own children or if you're an experienced facilitator working with a community group toward peace and justice, this would be a terrific book to read as you begin your liberation journey. 

Finally, and oddly, I found no proof or research offered that this book's twenty-years-tested methods to encourage resistance and alliance (Creighton & Kivel's top two strategies for teens) impact students' future decisions or actions, only implication and hope.  Perhaps I just missed it, or it's provided in the authors' other book, Making the Peace, but I would want to know that I could expect some concrete shifts in at least some participants' actions if I were to take on the emotional, political, and even - given my role as a teacher - professional & economic risks inherent in using these methods.

MFB, with worthy content that just doesn't suit my situation,

I'm grateful to have received the 20th anniversary edition through Library Thing's early reviewer program.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beautiful (repost of my review for The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok, in honor of its paperback release & blog tour)

The link above offers a "look inside".
Try a taste of Bartok's prose: you'll want more...
Mira Bartok's memoir The Memory Palace is simply that.  Poetic prose meets the fascinatingly sad story of life with her schizophrenic yet brilliant mother, Norma.

The true tale begins when both Mira and her sister Natalia (both of whom changed their names so that their mother could not track them down) return to their eighty-year-old mother's side after decades apart to attend to her as she dies, destitute, of stomach cancer.  From there, we return to Myra's early years and to her own memory palace - that visual-poetic mnemonic first taught by Matteo Ricci in 1596 - moving with her from room to room, and from each traumatic experience to each violent catastrophe in her young life.

But what makes this memoir so much richer than - say - The Glass Castle, with which one might immediately note surface similarities, is art.  And music.  And science.  And musings on memory itself.  And the solace of the natural world, however subtle and quotidian.  Woven into the intense psycho-drama of a family that's clearly been dysfunctional for generations - Mira's grandfather's violent, belligerent outbursts certainly seem father to her mother's psychosis - is an homage to the saving grace of the inquisitive mind, the soul that cannot but open to appreciate the world's day to day wonders.

Illustrations and beautifully apt quotations deepen the resonance of each chapter, and Ms. Bartok's fluid - often luminous - and sensorily detailed prose hold the reader spellbound throughout.  Norma's diary entries are tucked in the interstices between chapters - much as she herself cultivated a habit of tucking pictures behind pictures behind prose in her books and found objects - anchoring Mira's memories with evidence of both her mother's mental illness and her intellectual intensity.  Even when details seem perhaps pedestrian, they offer illumination of Mira's inner world, so allied with each blade of grass, each sparrow she sketches, that one begins to understand their life-saving importance.  This element of 'noticing as salvation', threaded throughout, helps us to see the omnipresence of cause for hope, the possibility of wholeness even in the midst of a particularly horrific childhood.  And Bartok doesn't have to preach: she shows us that life is indeed in the details.

I highly recommend this uniquely rich and gripping memoir to all who love art and science and music and the natural world.  You will find a kindred spirit here, and you will look at the drab details of your own world with renewed wonder, and at those you pass on the street, muttering to themselves, disheveled, ranting, with renewed compassion.

1. I am moved to find out what happens now to a child whose mother is mentally ill and whose father is absent.  And what happens to the person struggling with mental illness.  Time for inquiry, in keeping with Mira's questing spirit.
2.  I will draw a while today:  this habit of practice, of noticing saves Mira, who eventually becomes a professional artist, and I will see if it can buoy me too.
3.  I will plan to visit at least three art museums on my upcoming trips.  Mira shares not only a love of music - and a talent for piano - with her mother, but also a deep passion for the visual arts.
4.  I simply must spend some time on Bartok's blog and website: intricately inviting, just as the book is.

Just the Jist List
Title: The Memory Palace
Author: Mira Bartok
Genre(s): memoir
Book's Website: (a beautiful site, enriched by animated drawings by the author, and offering a snippet of the text as well - once you read her prose, you'll be hooked!)
Author's Website: (a terrific funding resource for writers & artists!)
Year Published: 2011
Pages: 302
When was it read? January 25-26, 2011
Perfect Matches: poets, artists, musicians, naturalists, and anyone interested in the science of memory and mental illness.  Anyone who has been searching for a truly fine memoir.
Perfect Timing: winter birds flitting about in gray trees, a cozy snowed-in or rained-on day, a week of evening hours at your disposal - this is one to savor, not gulp
Perfect NOT: not comfortable with dysfunction, violence, mental illness.  There is plenty of adult content here, but treated with respect
Content Fab Scale (1-5): *****
Why? This is more than mere memoir - It is also an exploration on how the arts and sciences make a chaotic, often terrifying, life worth living.  It's also a study on the vagaries of memory.  A truly rich work.
Action Fab Scale (1-5): *****
Why? Plenty could be researched here, from schizophrenia to the Art Institute of Chicago to Cleveland to head trauma to Bartok to the Vietnam war to ...
# Yellow Stickies: 47
Why? SO much intriguing information, so many thought provoking ideas, and quite a few lovely turns of phrase
Get it:  (again, I'm not an affiliate; just offering an easy way to access this exceptional book)


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Down Ghellow Road with a Wunderkind, Running Like a Mother.

Or: A particularly propitious haul in this week's mailbox, thanks to the generosity of a promising first-time author and a stand-out publisher (respectively), and to the utter fabulousness of our "little library" branch, featuring a small-but-mighty selection, computer access & free wi-fi for those who couldn't otherwise afford it, and an on-site coffeehouse/bakery to boot. 

WhereOn Ghellow Road in Minnesota with literary diarist T.H. Waters.  She's reshaped a challenging childhood into a work of art that I'm eager to read.

With? Bulgarian-born award-winning concert-pianist and memoirist, former Buddhist monk, and current Parisian, Nikolai Grozni.  I figure, why not travel with a fascinating Wunderkind?  And why not go back to the future? This title releases on Sept. 6, and I'll be blog-touring it on the 13th.

How?  Run(ning) Like a Mother.
No, I'm not a mother, but I am a budding (translation: way, way beginning) runner.  This new how-to from two veteran outdoor/sports/features writers offers a perfect nightstand read: light-hearted yet practical and particular, promising dreams of a superhero self. 
And this team puts their sneakers where their pens are (??): On their website, they're offering training tips and sponsoring races to get all of us up and running, plus it's a place for conversation and inspiration too, in an understated, not too self-promotional sorta way.

Gotta go run-n-read!


For more enticing mailbox finds, join the bloggers at Life in the Thumb for Mailbox Monday.

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand: Audiophile Review (briefly)

Get it - and give a free book to kids in need - at

Thumbs up for this consistently engaging summer page-turner.  Sure, it's chick lit., the story of two childhood friends who help each other overcome their midlife challenges, then open to refreshed relationships and reinvigorated prospects.  But it's perfect for summer: set on a beautifully secluded Nantucket beach in an architect's stunning but understated home, plotted around the fall-out from a Bernie-Madoff-esque scandal, and offering us alternating glimpses into the interior lives of both Meredith, the lovely but gullible wife of the Ponzi schemer, and her recently widowed, previously estranged pal Connie. 

As we travel with these two women over twelve hours of well-acted audio, we discover how Meredith's crisis returns them both to a friendship well worth saving, and how the island itself helps heal both women and return them to more than one variety of true love.

It's just what you'd want at a beach on the Vineyard or on a long plane trip or on your bedside table each night: emotions rich and varied enough to keep you turning pages (or popping in CDs), characters dynamic and dimensional enough to feel true, and a story that feels dependable rather than predictable. 

I'd definitely recommend this book for a light but emotionally satisfying summer read, and the audio version made many hot summer car trips fly by.  I hope you'll consider picking up a copy yourself.


n.b.: My thanks to the folks at Hachette Audio, who provided this audiobook in exchange for my honest review.  I can't wait to see what they put on offer next!

My Actions:  I'm going to spend an afternoon at the beach this week, something I've rarely indulged in these past few years.  Don't know why, exactly, but this book has certainly encouraged me to take advantage of the free, natural healing sand and sun can provide. 

This novel reminded me to keep a sharp eye on my investments; it's time for a financial check-up.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Poem In Your Post: Carpe Diem

The Latin phrase carpe diem originated in the "Odes," a long series of poems composed by the Roman poet Horace in 65 B.C.E., in which he writes:
Scale back your long hopes

to a short period. While we
speak, time is envious and

is running away from us.
Seize the day, trusting
little in the future.*
The Horace excerpt got me to thinking, searching, as did this past glorious week of light breezes, 70's temps., and plenty of sunshine:

Poetry provides a vehicle for the present moment perhaps better than any other verbal container.  What's your favorite poem that celebrates the here and now, either directly or by serving up imagery that keeps us right smack dab in the moment?  Add it into our comments or pop it in a post and link up here.  Be sure to note this post in your own too so that others can find our hop.


Here's one of my favorites on this theme... And you don't have to believe in a supreme being to sense the speaker's delight in the present moment...

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
                                        - e.e. cummings

* With gratitude, as usual, to for a thoughtful discussion of this topic.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Beginnings and Friday 56: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

This one's coming out on October 4, and I feel lucky to have it on hand because Hoffman's one of those authors I know I can count on for an entertaining read voiced by a master storyteller.

The Opener...
We came like doves across the desert.  In a time when there was nothing but death, we were grateful for anything, and most grateful of all when we awoke to another day.
See what I mean about the clean cadences, the repetition so reminiscent of oral traditions?  And page fifty-six offers us more of this straight-forward yet graceful prose, couched in old-world diction reminiscent of stories passed down over centuries:
People said there were trees filled with beautiful fruit, but once plucked the fruit turned to smoke and ash in your hand.  In the daylight hours our every breath burned.
What's the context for these intriguing sentences?  Here's the publisher's blurb.

The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel.

In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.

The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece.

I probably won't get to The Dovekeepers until I close the cover on War & Peace, so I'll be able to review it just in time for its publication on October 4.  I included it today because it's at the top of my TBR pile, staring up at me each day when I sit down to read.  You can pre-order it at Amazon or Indiebound today.

If you're ready to take a peek at more fabulous sentences and perhaps find your next blazing TBR, check out Book Beginnings for more tantalizing openers and at Freda's Voice for the Friday 56 .


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

War & Peace Wednesday: FAIL.

Time for a reality check, my friends. 

Unexpected professional responsibilities (a 3 day training in Seattle plus 2 full days of prep for classes, dealing with snafus getting my files and furniture set up in my new room, and crafting curriculum with colleagues) plus a spate of extraordinarily fine, sunny weather in what has been an unusually gray and dreary summer conspired to keep Tolstoy at bay. 

Here it is:  I have not done the reading.  And it's not just the external influences that have slowed me down.  It's the novel itself.  But it's not how you'd imagine.

It's because I'm loving this book.  Truly loving it.  Seems paradoxical, but all you readers know exactly what I'm talking about.  When you come to feel that the characters in the book are an integral part of your life, you don't want to rush through the text just to meet a deadline.  Instead, you want to savor every moment.  So rich, so thought provoking, and so current is War & Peace, despite its focus in Russia during the Napoleonic wars, that I don't want to sacrifice my reading experience to expediency.

Can you remember back to the books you loved so much that you were willing to defy your own predetermined pace just to keep experiencing them on their own terms, for as long as possible? 

Which books were they?  I wrote about a few of mine yesterday for the Broke and the Bookish's ''reader's choice" Top Ten Tuesday, and I hope to read any of the ones you adored that I haven't yet experienced.

So while I'm waiting on a rainy day to get back to War & Peace, what savor-worthy story should I add to my TBR list?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top Ten Books I Never Wanted To End

For today's 'blogger's choice' Top Ten with The Broke and The Bookish, it took me all day to decide.Here's what I came to:

My Top Ten Savor-Worthy, Never Wanted It To End books of all time...

1.  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston.  Such gorgeous, luminous, lyrical prose in service to a female protagonist who embodies the transcendent, unapologetic quest to follow one's own bliss.  This might be my own personal favorite novel of all time.  Hurston was way ahead of her time, and a sometimes underappreciated force at the first flowering of the Harlem Renaissance.

2.  The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich.  Many of this brilliant, contemporary Native American author's novels center around the characters who inhabit a particular area of North Dakota over the course of a century or so.  This particular novel returns us to many of our favorites yet transcends all the others, in my view.  I started slowing my pace less than halfway through, savoring every gorgeous sentence, every moment.

3.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  I'm still a third of the way to the end, and I can't help myself: It's so fine in every respect, and the characters are so well known to me, so intimately known, and yet so believably developing as they live, that I truly want to savor each chapter, to think upon it, to take it in and sleep on it.

4.  To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I've taught it for 8 years running, from 2-4 classes each year, so trust me: if it were possible to tire of this novel, I'd be tired.  But it is not possible.  The more times you read it, the more apt you will be to simply weep at the beauty of the prose and the pathos engendered by the content.  Simply a modern masterpiece.

5.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling.  I vividly remember travelling with my Dave to Bakersfield and back, reading it aloud all the way.  And yet, when we returned home mid-afternoon, we'd quite a few chapters to go.  Did we unpack after our trip?  Did we go out to grocery shop after two weeks away?  No.  We grabbed big glasses of ice water and pulled our chairs onto our back porch in the woods overlooking the lake and read through the afternoon, through dinner, and into the dusk when we could barely make out the prose upon the page.  And we finished the book, both hoarse, both exhausted and enthralled, as the first stars emerged above the doug firs in the night sky.  If we could, we would have continued on 'til morning.

6. Recently, Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter.  An American classic that emerged just this summer.  Such gorgeous prose, and such a uniquely surreal vision within a gritty set of circumstances I haven't read in a long time.  I truly could have walked with Henry Bright and his angel through five hundred more pages, five decades on the clock...

7.  David Sedaris's books.  I love to laugh almost more than I love to read, and Sedaris comes through nearly every time in his collections.  And once you get his voice into your head, you can't help but hear him 'read aloud' as you pore over his prose.  Me Talk Pretty One Day is a fine place to start with Sedaris.  Or try his hilarious reading of 'The Stadium Pal' on Letterman:  5 minutes of laughing yourself increasingly silly. (warning - adult content, but light-heartedly hilarious)

8.  Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim.  His exquisitely acute and hilariously hyper-critical musing on his own musicals and his rivals as well induced a miserly streak: I've been rationing one chapter, one play per month for many months now, and I'm not finished yet!

9.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.  Two literary novels that should keep anyone enthralled and leave them with a strong feeling of having encountered a gorgeously well structured whole, yet wanting even more.

10.  What's yours?  If you couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end, I'm pretty sure I should read it!


p.s. For more great blogger's choice top ten's, visit The Broke and the Bookish today!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hurt Go Happy: A YA Project Nim?

Get it at Betterworldbooks where a
book-for-book donation program
just began.  Score one for yourself,
then they give one for literacy.
Take one part child abuse, another part the challenges of growing up deaf in a hearing family, another part animal rights.  Add a dose of middle school drama and a peppering of overprotective parenting bordering on the pathological.  Blend with a kindly old mentor, a coastal rain forest, and a young chimp named Sukari. 

Take it all on a road trip for a coming-of-age story that's also an issue novel and you get Hurt Go Happy.

Our protagonist Joey's a sympathetic and unique teen, coping with daily challenges while secretly trying to learn ASL so she can move beyond the isolation enforced by her guilt-ridden mother.  Our antagonists are many and believable - no super villains, but rather a realistic series of earthly humans making questionable choices with which Joey must contend.  And she's got her share of allies too: again, perfectly imperfect for this contemporary tale.

Plus our author's done her research:  We experience realistic great ape behaviors, learn of their plight in research facilities, and come to understand the challenges of caring for them humanely, and we learn a bit of American Sign Language - with its spacial syntax and often poetic precision - along the way. 

If you or a teen in your life is interested in what it means to be human, what we share with the great apes, and what homo sapiens sometimes do to our physically powerful but politically near-powerless kin, then steer them over to this potentially eye-opening and certainly thought-provoking YA novel. 

My Action: I'm going to round up a crew of people to go see the new documentary Project Nim when it hits my town the week of September 8, then double check that I am not personally consuming any goods or services tested on animals. (I'm pretty vigilant about this, but it's easy for a new product to sneak through...)

I hope y'all will check out the website and consider attending your local showing too.


p.s. Shout out to writer Ms. Rorby who's now an Action Reader!  Welcome, and thank you for using your writing to help young people - and adults as well - take a look at serious moral issues often hidden from view.   Thanks as well for including a section at the back of the novel that makes it easier for those moved by the story of Sukari and Joey to take action on behalf of great apes.

Roots - Final Post

I will keep this short and sweet:

I enjoyed reading Roots even more than I initially thought I would, and I feel proud to have persevered through its 688 small-print pages, especially during the beautiful days of summer.  Never will I forget Kunta Kinte and his descendants, and I'm grateful to Alex Haley for putting this generational story into written form.

If you're a dedicated reader and you haven't yet tried it, I commend this book to you as a powerful artifact of U.S. history. 

Finally, I want to thank Laura at Booksnob for hosting this read-along.  I certainly would not have done it without her.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Poem In Your Post: "Gratitude to Old Teachers"

Gratitude to Old Teachers

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

Water that once could take no human weight -
We were students then - holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

-          Robert Bly

This week and last I spent many hours and days back at school, preparing already for the school year that officially begins in four more weeks.  And I'll be spending 20 hours each week, minimum, continuing to prepare.  In light of this reality, of summer's end and the end of a year spent returning to myself, I felt I needed a source of encouragement, words to remind me that I possess the strength to carry what I've become back into my teaching life. 
Then I thought of this Bly poem.

Do you have a poem to offer us today, one that serves you at this moment?  Either post it in the comments or post in on your blog and link to the post.

May you continue to enjoy the beauty of summer and the honor of work that is of use in the world.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings & Friday 56: Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

This 2006 novel by YA writer Rorby's been lauded by quite a few bloggers in the past few days, so it's one of the two books closest at hand.
The vibration of someone moving through the house woke Joey.  She opened her eyes with a start, her heart racing.  The room was pitch black, but it was getting light outside.  She could see the dim outline of the deck beyond her sliding glass doors and the redwood tree that grew beside it.  It's just Ray.  Her heart slowed.
From page 56:
In the winter, she kept a small brown tarp hidden in the dry center of the hollow.  Joey bent to retrieve it and felt the hair on her neck prickle.  She whirled around, her heart racing, but as usual there was no one there.  Sometimes silence gave her the creeps, especially in the dim light with anger in the air.
Well, one can immediately note that this novel will likely offer action and suspense, and that character and plot will likely trump the stylistic elements here.  Typical enough of current Y.A. fiction.  No worries.

And the issue of inter-species communication still intrigues me (Joey is deaf but not allowed to learn sign, yet when she makes friends with a biologist and his chimpanzee subject Sukari, she secretly begins to communicate with the ape using ASL) still intrigues me, so I'll be gobbling this one up this weekend before heading to the movie theater on Sunday for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

But before all that, I'm going to visit the folks at Book Beginnings for more tantalizing openers and at Freda's Voice for the Friday 56 , trolling for new books to add to my TBR list.  Hope you will too.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

War & Peace Wednesday: The Politics of War (and Peace)

Welcome back from our mid-summer break, War & Peace read-alongers.

If you're new to our featured read-along, here's what you need to know:  We took on the ultimate Tolstoy chunkster in July and are now officially past the half-way mark.

By the end of August, we'll be able to say that we are among the few, the proud, the War & Peace-ers.

Here's the upcoming schedule (also accessible on the Read-Alongs tab above):
8/17:  Book Three, Part 3 and Book Four, Parts 1 & 2
8/22:  Book Four, Parts 3 & 4
8/29: Epilogue & Whole Book Discussion

Today's post features Volume Three, Books One and Two.  No spoilers this time, but rather some general reflections on the merits of this particular chunkster....

   So, at this point one feels as though the major characters are simply a part of one's own life, and one actually looks forward to experiencing their shifting perspectives and personal development.  I'd say that's one of Tolstoy's strengths in War and Peace, as opposed to Anna Karenina: All of the major characters are dynamic as they keep shifting, learning, and changing quite realistically over the course of the novel, so even if they're not entirely sympathetic, they're entirely 'real' to us. What an achievement, when you think of it: These characters - Prince Andrei, Nicolai Rostov, Pierre, and even (drat it!) Natasha Rostov - shift not only their psychological stances but also their deeper philosophies as a result of their life experiences and - with all this novel's length - we trace their personal evolution beside them. 

   This aspect of War and Peace is truly quite enthralling and, having wished I'd never spent all those hours slogging through Anna Karenina, I did not expect it from Tolstoy.  As you can imagine, knowing that the enormous investment of time will be immediately rewarding page by page makes facing the sheer heft of this small-print, 1200+ page tome more than bearable.  And I already anticipate my own typical action when faced with the waning pages of a novel that creates a world - as War and Peace indubitably does - and offers characters who feel like friends, neighbors, colleagues: I'll be slowing down my pace to make the end of this one last.

    This time around, I'm not going to offer a plot summary, just a brief synopsis focused on theme
    More Napoleonic wars ensue, and the focus in these volumes offers us nuanced scenes of the politics among heads of state, local aristocrats and businesspeople, plus reflections on war as a recurring, seemingly inevitable aspect of human social behavior.  The war focus is balanced, of course, by the static - or predictably recurring - nature of life among the peace-ers: those left behind at home.     
    Military service as a refuge from one's personal responsibilities back at home is a recurring theme as well, making us question our assumption that those who enlist do so as patriots or courageous idealists or self-sacrificing heroes for the community, and offering an alternative motive, especially for those characters who come from privilege and can thus pick their positions within the military: It's a way to escape the decision-making of their peacetime lives and perhaps earn glory among men along the way.

  Here's to an increasingly rich and enjoyable journey into past, fictional lives, yet with thought-provoking implications for our current real ones.

Shout out to Laura at Booksnob blog, who's also posting about her War & Peace reading experiences.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill : New Book Review & Blog Tour

Gothic ghost story.  Murder mystery.  Meditation on motherhood.  Historical fiction.  Epistolary novel.  Upstairs/Downstairs-esque class-based soap opera. The Butterfly Cabinet treads the borders of these genres, or perhaps encompasses them all.

I admire the sure and often striking prose here- the language through which McGill inhabits and reveals her characters- and the courage of this author's fiercely questioning gaze.  This is a writer unafraid to broach the uncomfortable subject, to push through taboos to unlock universally human truths.  But be advised: This is not easy psychological territory for writer or reader. 

If you open The Butterfly Cabinet, be prepared to confront death, cruelty in many forms, and the lineages of dysfunction that sometimes seem inescapable.  And be prepared to recall and to ponder the moments in which just a few moments' - or minutes', or hours' - inattention to your responsibilities might have destroyed your future and your own inner balance for the rest of your life, and perhaps for generations beyond.

Can you ever fully escape your childhood?  Is death actually the end?  Can guilt deform an entire lifetime of experiences, hobble you forever, even if your transgression seems ever so slight?  And passion: Do we ever indulge it without penalty, really?  If your parents, if your society shape your actions or distort your true nature, can you be held entirely responsible for the repercussions of your pathologies?

Not your typical set of questions for a summer read to pursue, but they're just a few pieces of the puzzle offered in this novel based on true events in Northern Ireland circa 1880-1968.  A mother is accused of murdering her four-year-old daughter.  But because this book is crafted so subtly - one set of letters in the "present" of the late 1960's offering counterpoint of fact and interpretation to a set of diary entries from the late 1880's - and because its pacing and tension derive from the mysteries so carefully and incrementally revealed from the first page all the way through the last, offering plot beyond these basics will diminish your experience, friends, so I won't do it.

I'll need a few more days - at least - to ponder the questions this novel forces readers to consider.  To my mind, to produce a work that makes seasoned readers question their own assumptions about what is right vs. what is fair vs. what is natural is triumph enough for a first-time novelist.  I will certainly read Ms. McGill's future works, and, when you are ready for a serious and haunting novel written in rather stunning prose, I suggest you start, as I did, with The Butterfly Cabinet.


p.s. I offered a sample of her prose on Friday.  Check it out here.

I should thank the folks at FreePress, who provided me with a copy to read for review today.  For alternate opinions of The Butterfly Cabinet, head over to the FreePress group on Book Blogs Ning.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Roots Read-Along (second to last section)

Well, Tom is definitely my favorite protagonist so far in this generational saga.  Solid, honest, circumspect, decent, and wildly talented as an artisan-blacksmith, he's got all the qualities his dad Chicken George lacks, and none of the arrogance of Kunta Kinte either.  Yet he's still a man's man, so to speak.  I admire his single-minded pursuit of a useful yet artful modality, and his consistency: two qualities I would like to embody, but sadly don't.

And in this section, with Chicken George in England training a wealthy landowner's birds because he and Massa Lea bet the farm (literally) on a single high-stakes fight and lost, we focus on the remaining family members, sold to newbie slave owners, the Murrays.  As city folk, the Murrays quickly leave it to our focal family to productively farm their inherited plantation, and they support Tom in his rise to become the most prominent blacksmith in the area.

With Tom now married to the beautiful, vibrant, and multi-faceted Irene, and with most of 'Tilda's children all grown up, Chicken George returns to Massa Lea's plantation, learns his family's fate from old and now foggy Miss Matizy, gets Mass Lea drunk, grabs his own "freedom paper" - promised to him just before he was shipped off to England - and rides break-neck to the Murray homestead where he's greeted warmly by his family.

What'll happen next?  I'm a little concerned about 8-months-pregnant Irene, who seems just too good to survive childbirth, based on all the precedents set in this semi-fictional world so far, and I wonder how swiftly we'll move through the Civil War, which is close upon us now.

Want to know how others responded to this enjoyable section?  Hop over to the Roots Readalong at Booksnob...


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Planet of the Apes In My Mailbox

What are the odds?  Two chimp-focused novels and an audiobook arrived this week, just in time for the Apes invasion of our movie theaters.  Coincidence?  You decide...

Hit the link left to sample it
The first is a Y.A. fiction: Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby. I've read raves of this novel from trusted book bloggers (if this was you, let me know in the comments and I'll link you here and when I review it!), and as I've harbored a lifelong fascination with great apes and have studied American Sign Language intensively, the convergence of these two aspects of the book have me chomping at the bit to get started on this one!  Plus, a straight-up 5 stars on  When does that ever happen??

'Look inside' by hitting the link
at right.
The second is Lucy by Laurence Gonzales.  Stranger still: I just got a library notice that the book on CD has arrived on my holds shelf.  Yes, I asked for it, but that was weeks ago and from the long queue I assumed I'd receive it come September...  This one's a biotechnical thriller following a part-ape, part-human protagonist named - I'm guessing - for the famous fossil that links both her lineages.

Now, if I can finish the truly haunting Irish ghost story/psychological mystery-thriller The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill for tomorrow's FreePress blog tour and get 150 fat pages of Tolstoy under my belt for War & Peace Wednesday, I'll start these two promising novels on one of my favorite topics: those non-human beings who may well be the closest thing to animal siblings we'll ever come across.

Will I take a trip to the cinema down the street to enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes?  When so many tempting books sit waiting on my coffee table?  Well, wheresoe'er goeth James Franco, there go I. 


For more book-envy and up-to-the-minute book bloggers' status, I suggest you try the links at Mailbox Monday, hosted by Life In The Thumb.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop: The Lake Isle of Innisfree Meets Lake Whatcom

The Lake Isle of Innisfree 
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

                                              - William Butler Yeats

My favorite poem ever.  I hear it in the deep heart's core. 

What's your poem of solace, your favorite place poem?  Share it with us by posting on your blog and linking here, or add your poem to the comments below.

May you find your home.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Beginnings & Friday 56: The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

This one was just released by FreePress and I'll be highlighting my review of this new novel by Irish writer Bernie McGill on August 9 for its big blog tour, but since it's sitting here tempting me, I'll tempt you too with these teasers...

Book Beginning:
   Anna.  You're the spit of your mother standing there - Florence, God rest her - and you have the light of her sharp wit in your eyes.  Give me your hand till I see you better.  There's not much change on you, apart from what we both know.  Ah, you needn't look at me like that.  Sure, why else would you be here?  I know by the face of you there's a baby on the way, even if you're not showing.  It's an odd thing, isn't it, the way the past has no interest for the young till it comes galloping up on the back of the future.  And then they can't get enough of it, peering after it, asking it where it's been.  I suppose that's always been the way.  I suppose we're one of us interested in the stories of our people till we have children of our own to tell them to.
Mesmerizing voice, no?  With such subtly different turns of phrase from my own stock here in the U.S.  I think I'll go sit down and start reading this just as soon as I complete this post!

And, let's see, what's on page 56...
Alphie's parents were known throughout the parish for their bickering, but they had survived together for fifty-two years, when famously, old man McGlinchy fell into the harbor full of drink and never came out of it.  The McGlinchys could agree about nothing.  They were like two magnets, wanting to be together and pushing each other away.  Peig finally agreed to marry the man we all knew as Alphie, and on their wedding day, when his birth certificate was produced, found she was to be Mrs. Alphabet McGlinchy.  It turned out that his mother and father couldn't even agree on a name for their son and had settled on the one word that covered every letter.  "Alphabet" was all the men would call him after that.  I suppose that should have been a warning sing.  No one should marry a man they believe to be named one thing and discover to be named something entirely different.
So then, come visit me on the blog tour on Tuesday to find out whether or not this tempting new novel turns out to be as fine as it feels at just a glance...

Now go visit the folks at Book Beginnings for more tantalizing openers and at Freda's Voice for the Friday 56!


p.s.  Poem In Your Post Blog Hop is hosted here on weekends.  Drop by tomorrow and Sunday to sample a wonderful poem and to link up to your own favorites, whether authored by you or by a poet you admire...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For Your TBR Pile: Two compelling contemporary YA novels Tall Story by Candy Gourlay and Nothing by Janne Teller

These two impressed me immensely, and I recommend them to you as quick reads that also offer depth and confident writing that's sometimes lacking in YA novels.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
To sum up: 
    16-year-old giant Bernardo lives in the tiny village of San Andres on the island of Montalban in the Philippines.  His mom, his budding 13-year-old basketball-star sister Andi, and his step-dad William live in London.  But why is he a giant and is he also a god?  What will happen when he finally leaves San Andres to reunite with his family in London?  Will his village crumble without his magical intervention?  Will Andi survive the humiliation of this giant - long on sweetness, short on English speaking skills and modern urban life - in her midst as she tries to carve out a place for herself on the basketball court and among the teens at her new school?
My opinion: 
    The magical realism-ish elements of this story completely won me over, as did Courlay's clean and often lightly humorous writing style, her characters' fundamental decency despite all their flaws, and her ability to present current teen problems in a believable yet relatively optimistic light without devolving into the trite or maudlin or stereotypical.  Although this book could be read by middle graders (based on both content and reading level), I actually think teens and adults will enjoy it as well.  I'm grateful to Enbrethiliel at Shredded Cheddar for suggesting it.

Nothing by Janne Teller, tr. Martin Aitken
To sum up: 
    On the first day of school of their 7th form year in their nearly-posh hamlet of Taering, Denmark, Pierre Anthon declares that life has no meaning, leaves school, and sits in a plum tree.  His peers can't stand the idea that their lives will amount to nothing, philosophically speaking, nor do they appreciate being pummeled with plums every time they pass by.  So they decide to prove to Pierre that he's wrong by building a 'heap of meaning' in an abandoned sawmill.                     
    Unfortunately, no one's all that anxious to contribute an object of true personal meaning for themselves, so they begin to choose each others' objects and to require increasingly meaningful but risky-dangerous contributions to the pile.  Will adults intervene before it's too late?  Will the young teens find it within themselves to shut down their hurtful meaning-making project?  Therein lies the story.
My opinion:
    And this one's quite the antithesis of Tall Story.  It's creepy and sometimes even difficult to connect with - at least early in the novel.  In my opinion, although it's been labeled a children's book in its home country of Denmark, elementary age children aren't an ideal target audience - this book is simply too darkly realistic on the one hand and possibly too philosophical in the end, plus not that involving character-wise without some patience. 
   I would, however, recommend it strongly to mature late-middle readers and teens, with adult support, as it's so rich with reasonably complex symbolism and black humor descending into the seriously macabre, and so believably explores the darker side of thirteen-fourteen year olds - not quite beyond childhood, not always understanding the world or themselves, but playing at it all the while for their peers (and parents) and capable of extreme cruelty and/or stupidity at key moments in otherwise stable lives - that it's truly compelling.   
   This first "children's" novel by an award winning Danish novelist was recommended as an alternate to the modern classic Lord of the Flies, and one can easily see why, as peer pressure and desire for personal power escalate here well beyond what the characters themselves might have predicted if they had been predisposed to predict.  So although this might be categorized as a near-allegory, it's simply taking natural, believable tendencies to extremes worth exploring in discussion with the teen(s) in your life.   Plus, in the end, it's also an exploration of meaning itself and how we all find it, create it, and lose it again, a topic well worth considering for adults too.

MFB, on the continuing quest to find more excellent world lit. for young adults,

My action: I'm going to make sure we get copies of these for our school library, and will advocate for purchasing a lit. circle set of Tall Story, plus a class set of Nothing for our 10th grade classes as a complement to Lord of the Flies.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Top Ten Bookish Trends I'd Like to See More Of/Less Of...

In 'Laurie's Kingdom of a Better Tomorrow' there shall be...

1. A little less conversation, a little more action.  I'm taking my cue from Elvis here: I LOVE the conversations I'm privileged to engage in with readers from all over the world, but I cannot even begin to imagine the untapped power in all of us readers to change the world for the better.  That's why I'm doing everything in my power to make it easy for all of us to make just a slight shift:  just a little less talk, just a little more ActionReaders  .

2. Fewer dystopian novels, more novels that lead our imaginations toward complex, realistic, alternate futures and inspire us to create better ones.  Yes, I know: disaster sells.  Moderately uncomfortable realities or potential disasters that could possibly be averted don't.  But I so want to conjure and support that next JK Rowling with a twist, that next writer who could make the real issues of our future into a story that's exciting, that breeds heroes like Harry and Hermione, that raises our own ambitions to serve humanity through courage and perseverance.  If you know this person, this writer who could help us explore fictional realities to find real-world possibilities, do let me know.  Perhaps she/he will be our next ActionReaders cause.

3. Fewer surfacey paranormal romance novels, more novels that conjure alternate ways of being and help us learn to truly empathize with 'the other'.

4. Fewer gratuitous explicit sex scenes in Y.A. novels, more Y.A. novels that treat sex not as a tactic thrown in to sell books, but as a complex and intensely psychologically affecting one for teens.  Why?  Primarily because I respect the teens I know, the teens I teach.  And I won't teach books that throw in sex - or violence or anything else - simply to titillate or to sell books.  And I may have to fight just to teach the ones that address teens' sexuality realistically and respectfully, so I need real writerly integrity as the foundation for my cases. .

5. A little less cheesy chick lit, a few more well-written, substantive books with strong female leads.

6. Fewer comic books, more beautifully crafted graphic novels.  Persepolis, Gryphon & Sabine, The Arrival: give me more of these.

7. Fewer dime-a-dozen, cheese whiz, supermarket thrillers from Patterson, Preston & Child, all those Nordic coat-tail riders, more substantive novels and non-fiction in mass-market paperbacks.

There: Even though it looks like seven items, it's more like fourteen, so I'm done. 

What would you add, friend?  And what do you have to say about my strong opinions?

Weigh in here and at The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday, where you can find scores of other book bloggers' hopes and dreams for the readerly future.

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