Monday, January 30, 2012

It's Monday: What are you reading?


And that's why I need your help.  I need your recommendations for medium-to-short, highly readable fictions that are still rich enough in ideas, characterization, and writing style to be worth the time.

Why?  I'm completely overwhelmed right now, but I do crave a great read to take me away from pressing stressors each day.

So, please:  Which of your favorite books fit the bill?

MFB, with gratitude for whatever recommendations you can provide,

p.s.  I'm posting this in conjunction with the regular It's Monday:  What are you reading?  blog hop over at Book Journey.  I always enjoy it, and hope you will too.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Poem In Your Post: Monet Refuses the Operation

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

                              - Lisel Mueller

A student performed this poem this week in our classroom Poetry Out Loud competition and blew us all away.  I hope you too can feel the evanescent beauty in the glide and shift of Mueller's concrete yet also impressionistic imagining of this conversation between an artistic and a more concrete worldview.

Which poems captured your fancy this week?  Share them with us in the comments (or link to your poem-related blogpost).


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Poem In Your Post: Snow Day

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,   
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,   
and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost   
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,   
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,   
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,   
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.   
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,   
as glad as anyone to hear the news

that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,   
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,   
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—

the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School   
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.

So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,   
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,   
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.

And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,   
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.
                         - Billy Collins

This week we had not one but four (4!) snow days, so I smiled at the speaker's assertion that he is "a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow".  I've made vivid contact with its grandiose silences this week.

What did your week hold?  Did great Nature assert herself?  Have you encountered a poem that enriched your experience this week? 

Please do share your responses and poems in the comments below or with a link to your own blogpost.

Here's to the unexpected and to winter's beauty.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Abundance of Katherines Review, or How I Love Thee, JG.

Let me count the ways.

Reason I:  Always the awesome first sentence.
This guy.  He writes books.
Case in point:  "The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath."

Reason II:  Unapologetically smart.
Case in point: Colin's speech and thinking are peppered with oddball factoids from history, the arts, literature, mathematics, philosophy, etc.  And that means we, the readers, get smarter - or at least reminded to exercise our smarts - too.

Reason III:  Funny as fug.  (I loves me some language play, I does.)
Case in point:  See above fug (which is a nod to Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, who - upon being told that he simply could not publish a novel with so many f-bombs in it, changed them all to their sound-akins and thereby launched one of the best sellers of its time), the recurrent use of "sitzpinkler" (you go look it up, 'cause I'm not telling), the main setting of "Gutshot, Tennessee", and too many other language-gags to count.

Reason IV: Funny as a "Friends" episode too, only deeper.
Case in point:  Situation comedy galore.  Two urban yutes, one a geeky, skinny dumpee, one a hirsute and rotund Lebanese Muslim, road-trip to the above-mentioned Gutshot, where they chance to meet a fetchingly no-nonsense young heiress to a tampon-string fortune, move into her mom's pink mansion, and get into all sorts of shenanigans as they get down to it with the colorful denizens of Gutshot.  Think wild pig hunts, jealous ex-football star boyfriends caught cheating in the graveyard, ''Hassan and the hornets' nest'.  That sort of situation comedy.

And the book you're referring to
would be???

Reason V:  More complex, more realistically rich in characterization than just about anyone writing Y.A. today.
Case in point:  Hassan, the hilarious sidekick, is conflicted - but not dwelling on it - because he loves his family and his faith and wants to honor them, but can't seem to get off his butt to do anything in life.  Colin's parents, though loving and laid back in most ways, may be too academic for their son's good, setting their child "markers" for achievement that keep him obsessed with his "prodigy, but not genius"  prospects (dim, by his reckoning).  That, and always being the 'dumpee' in a string of nineteen relationships with girls named Katherine, have him understandably depressed about his future and his very identity.  And that's just the tip of their proverbial icebergs.

Reason VI:  Unashamed of philosophy, and unabashedly a champion of learning.
Case in point:  See above, and note that Green's protagonists - here, in An Abundance of Katherines, in particular - are always smart and decent at the core, so they can carry musings about their place in the world and the world's place in the universe and humans' place in it all quite gracefully and naturally, offering adults and mature teens alike the opportunity to ponder "the big questions" with them.  Plus, Green manages to naturally weave in all sorts of fascinatingly quirky facts that actually add depth and interest rather than distracting from or conspicuously padding the work thematically (as can be true of lesser Y.A. writers' attempts to 'academically enrich' their work).

Reason VII:  World's Greatest Ear for Dialogue.
Case in point:  You must simply take my word for it (only for the span of this sentence though), as Green's dialogue is so integral to plot and characterization that I can find nary a short "set piece" that would offer a lucidly fair glimpse into his verbal gifts.  So how 'bout this: please oh please hop over to Amazon to read a snippetYou will grin and love it, trust me.

And if all that is not enough for you (AND IT OUGHTA BE), check out John Green's adorable vlogpost on his site.  If that doesn't get you, I don't know what's to do.

So, CALL ME, John Green.  And, gentle readers, go devour An Abundance of Katherines


p.s.  Cage match:  Cinder V. An Abundance of KatherinesKatherines, round one, in a knock-out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SNOW DAY!!! And I've got one question for you.

What is the absolute best book to cuddle up with next to a warm fire as the snow falls and the scent of hot chocolate wafts through the air?
  • A beloved story from your childhood? 
  • An all-day potboiler, sure to enchant with steamy romance on a tropical isle? 
  • Poems to read aloud to your kids or loved one(s)? 
  • A collection of short stories or essays for 'intervals' between sledding and snowman-making sessions?
  • A book about snow itself? 

Tell me! (in the comments)


(Me personally?  On this day, between lesson planning and stacks of student essays and the requisite snow-play sessions, I'm finishing the utterly engaging Prinz Honor novel An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.  If I kick that one, I'll go on to the rest of Dracula.  Basically, I just kept reading what I was already reading...  I'm not certain if that was the right strategy for the perfect snow day, though!)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In My 'Mailbox': 'Classics' for Classes - Which one's your favorite?

My 'mailbox' - my bookbag, actually - is brim-full of potential novels for my tenth grade class, on loan from our school book room.  I've read them all before, of course, but this weekend and next are devoted to re-reading each one as I confirm my choices for next semester. 

Take a look at my potential picks:

Rather a dark lot, no?  But boasting plenty to compel and to question...

Do you recall reading these in high school or thereafter?  Which ones stuck with you and which meandered off into some distant corner of your memory?

And, just out of curiosity, which of these novels would you choose to (re)read yourself?

If you could read only one of these with a group of teens right now, which one of these books would you recommend?

Of course, I harbor my own predilections about which are the most teachable and the best fits for my students' needs, but I'm also quite curious about your views... Who knows, I might just be swayed if you champion one of these venerable tomes!

Now find out what other reader-writers are perusing this week by visiting the hop over at The Story Siren's In My Mailbox!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

To Be Of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

                                 Marge Piercy

This one's an old favorite of an old friend, and beloved of me as well.

As the year turns from dark toward light, which words speak for you? 

Leave us the blessing of a poem in your own post (leave the link here) or in the comments below.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

ReWrite Your Own Story for the New Year: A Princess and Her Garden

You can look inside at Amazon.

If you're ready to dig a little deeper than traditional resolutions this year, consider rewriting your own story by journaling through this 'fable of awakening and arrival'. 

In the first section of this worthwhile and quick read, the mother-daughter team of psychotherapist/personal coach Patricia R. Adson and executive coach Jennifer  E. Van Homer bring us a beautifully illustrated fable of a young girl who lives in a world where each person has his or her garden.  Who cultivates each garden and why constitutes the psycho-symbolism in this tale of personal development in a patriarchal culture.

At first read, this fable may seem almost too obvious, but in truth it offers quite rich fodder for contemplation, if one feels ready to reflect deeply on one's own life's progression.  And that's what the second section of the book offers us: A guided journal stepping ourselves into the role of the princess as she walks through her life journey. 

Not for women alone, although I suspect that there might be a psychological barrier for some men when asked to put themselves into the role of "princess", I recommend this to anyone looking to delve deep during these dark days.  If you follow this path, you might well enjoy a spring renaissance far richer than you've experienced in many a year. 

Recommended for seekers, for anyone in transition, and even for book groups ready to seriously deepen their mutual friendships by exploring their individual pasts.

Beautiful illustrations by Barbara Beshoar kept me returning to the fable too. 

MFB, with new insight into my past and current gardens,

I want to extend my gratitude to Ms. Adson, her publishers The Center for Applications of Psychological Type, and "PR by the Book" for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Last Werewolf: Review

Sample his stellar prose here (Amazon's
'look inside' feature).
Back in the day, when I lived on a Sioux reservation, "moon time" referred to the days when a woman retired to a special space, ate off special dishes, enjoyed conversation with other women, and simply relaxed and reflected on life until her period ended.  It was a time to honor her connection to the creative and to nature's own cycles, or so it seemed.

"Moon time" for The Last Werewolf is something entirely different.  In fact, it's every bit "The Curse".

Bottom line on this book:  It's one rip-roaring, every-time-a-bull's-eye, can't-put-it-down, gasping and guffawing within the same minute sort of book.  And those don't come around very often.

I admired this novel, one of the tautest suspense/thriller novels I've read in years (yeh, James Patterson, Messrs. Preston and Child, all you trendy Nordic types: this guy Glen Duncan schooled you, and then some) and yet also one of the most existentially intriguing:

What would you do if you knew you'd live pretty much forever, but every time the moon reached its fullest, you'd kill another person, and you couldn't help but - in some wulfy ways - enjoy it?  And what if the nature of your transformation kept you perennially young and - shall we say? - virile (and then some)?  And if you were the last werewolf, the only one left, what then?

And then, what if you liked to read?  What if your life wasn't all about waiting for the wulf, but if in your free time between moons you tried your best to atone for your (albeit uncontrollable) actions by doing good in the world, by seeking answers to the most profoundly perplexing questions of human nature?  And what if you remembered not only every detail of your own life, but most of the details of most of the lives of all of your victims?  What then?

Pretty heady stuff, and altogether enthralling for me.  To be sure, if Duncan wasn't such a stellar prose stylist, conjuring grin after grin at his smart constructions, perfect pacing, and sly allusions, I might not have fallen under The Last Werewolf's spell.  But I fell.  Indeed I did.

HOWEVER.  This book won't be for everyone: as one blogger pal noted, the sex scenes especially can feel, at times, egregious.  And graphic.  And there's violence too, but for me that worked in its context. (If you've read What She Read for long, you'll know that I'm not inclined to enjoy any sort of violence.  Here though, it served purposes psychological and thematic and wasn't quite as graphic as the sex, so I could accept it on its own terms.)

So, if you can handle the sometimes overly-explicit moments (the sex or the violence, depending on your mood or preferences), or if you can swallow them whole, The Last Werewolf is one satisfying story.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Poem In Your Post: "Ego"

I just didn’t get it—
even with the teacher holding an orange (the earth) in one hand
and a lemon (the moon) in the other,
her favorite student (the sun) standing behind her with a flashlight.
I just couldn’t grasp it—
this whole citrus universe, these bumpy planets revolving so slowly
no one could even see themselves moving.
I used to think if I could only concentrate hard enough
I could be the one person to feel what no one else could,
sense a small tug from the ground, a sky shift, the earth changing gears.
Even though I was only one mini-speck on a speck,
even though I was merely a pinprick in one goosebump on the orange,
I was sure then I was the most specially perceptive, perceptively sensitive.
I was sure then my mother was the only mother to snap,
“The world doesn’t revolve around you!”
The earth was fragile and mostly water,
just the way the orange was mostly water if you peeled it,
just the way I was mostly water if you peeled me.
Looking back on that third grade science demonstration,
I can understand why some people gave up on fame or religion or cures—
especially people who have an understanding
of the excruciating crawl of the world,
who have a well-developed sense of spatial reasoning
and the tininess that it is to be one of us.
But not me—even now I wouldn’t mind being god, the force
who spins the planets the way I spin a globe, a basketball, a yoyo.
I wouldn’t mind being that teacher who chooses the fruit,
or that favorite kid who gives the moon its glow.      

                                      - by Denise Duhamel

Another fabulous poem from the Poetry Out Loud website.  Go check it out!   Poetry Out Loud.

What poem landed in your life this week?  Share it - or link to it, if you wish, in the comments.  Promise to visit you and your poem.


Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 Challenges. Dig 'em and join me.

Which ones?

1.  Our Pay It Sideways Challenge right here at What She Read.  You're welcome to jump on board whenever you like.  It's simple.  Each month, read one book recommended by a fellow blogger.  Then give them a quick write-up/shout-out when you review the book so others can sample their stellar stylings.  Spread the love, peoples.
     I've got 6 spots of 12 filled on my list so far.  Want to be the next featured blogger?  Lead me to a personal favorite book of yours that I haven't yet reviewed but would likely love to sample.  (Post your link in the comments:  I'll visit!)

2.  My IRL book group's Southern Hemisphere Challenge. We're reading one fiction and one non-fiction from each Southern Hemi. continent over the year, plus some additional Southern tomes.  So much fun so far!  My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel (Chile), My Invented Country by Isabel Allende (also Chile), The Secret River by Kate Grenville (Australia), and Carpentaria by Alexis Wright (also Australia).

3.  The Pulitzer Prize Challenge over at Booksnob.  I'm not going to push too hard on this one, as I've read most of the fiction Pulitzers of the past 30 years, but I'll read as many non-fictions and dramas and poetry collections as I can.  My bar: they must be available at my public library.

.5  I'm shooting for 52 books read this year, not counting books on CD or playaways or podcasts, and tracking them on  That's half what I accomplished last year, but now that I'm teaching English again, I spend at least 10-15 hours/week reading student work, so that seriously cuts into book time!

How are you challenging yourself this year?  I'd love to know what you've concocted for yourself... Tell me all about it.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

So: Cinder.

Wicked stepsister.  Check.
Dead dad.  Check (we think).
Prince Charming.  Check.
Persecuted heroine who just doesn't fit in.  Check.
Wicked stepmother.  Check.  And double-check.

Add:  Moon people terrorizing earthlings with their psychic powers and magicked beauty and ruthlessness. 
Add: Cyborgs and androids and plagues: Oh, my!

This fledgling effort by twenty-something writer Marissa Meyer offers reasonably quick pacing and many not-entirely-expected plot twists, so it kept me interested most of the time.

What it doesn't boast is strong sentence-level writing (translation: not a single beautiful or surprising turn of phrase to be had, so typical of so much Y.A. nowadays - and, yes: back in the day it was better).  I won't quote from the serviceable but mediocre prose - you've seen enough of it by now, I'm sure - but I will share another concern I felt about this novel, even as I closed the cover on its last page:

Cinder's a cypher (in addition to being a cyborg), rather akin to Bella in the Twilight series:  Beyond a certain basic spunkiness, she's defined primarily by how she reacts to others' actions, even though her perspective is the dominant one in this fantasy/sci-fi hybrid.  And she - I suppose, in true teen fashion - often has no idea why she thinks, feels, or acts as she does.  Perhaps this allows more readers to project themselves onto her and thus stay engaged with this plot-driven novel, but I always want to "have it all" where stories are concerned and prefer my protagonists both psychologically dimensional and dynamic.

On the bright side, I think that many young teens will find this futuristic fantasy set in "New Beijing" enjoyable because Ms. Meyer sets up her heroine as the victim on many levels, thus readers will empathize not only with Cinder's lack of self-reflection and self-knowledge but also with her status as "other".  In contrast, equally young Prince Kai seems thoughtful, balanced, dimensional, and deliberate, at least when it counts plausibility-wise.  He's a heartthrob too, and I'm guessing that girls - clearly the audience for Cinder - will dream quite a few little dreams of him as they await the next two installments of this series.

A final gripe, a final grin:
a.  This book in no way stands on its own.  It simply ends only about half way through the Cinderella story plot.  Frustrating when a novel doesn't at least offer closure within one story-arch.

b.  The cover's pretty rad, though, eh?

MFB, as you can't judge a book by...

AND I would probably pick up the next installment just to see what happens to poor "between a rock and a hard place" Prince Kai.  So there.

Monday, January 2, 2012

To Blog or Not To Blog: Channeling Hamlet in 2012

Should I post more frequently or less?

Should I read-and-review more or contribute to more memes?

Structure my reading-n-hopping with challenges or follow my fancy from book to book?

Keep with the "action reading" focus or wander into new territory?

Focus on my own prose stylings or add more excerpts from the authors I read?

Post four times a week like clockwork or write when the muse strikes?


Methinks I think too much (to amalgamate both the Bard and Robyn's excellent blog).

In fact, I just hopped over to You Think Too Much for a leisurely stroll through three though-provoking posts: Now there is a blog I can learn from.  Her musings are, in fact, essays in blogpost form that feature her earnest and engaging voice plus thought-provoking thematic content that may meander a tad, but always in the best possible ways and with an ultimately cohesive result.  She's moved beyond mere book blogging into the realm of the ponderer-for-mortal-stakes.

That's how I too wrote when I began this blog, and I feel (I fear?) I've strayed into the more pedestrian, caught the fever to keep posting, regardless of the depth (or lack thereof) of the post. 

Now I say to myself:  Go back to the beginning.  That's what Vizzini said too, and that's what I'm going to do.

So thanks, Robyn.  Thanks, Inigo.  Thanks, Hamlet.  You've helped me move through my muddle and into some clarity for the new year.

What bookish and bloggery questions are you asking yourself this New Year's?  Have you "by indirections found directions out"?  Or did you start anew with ease, quickly cutting to the chase to focus yourself this season?

Advice, anyone?

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