Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Deer Harvest Edition

The few.  The proud.  The survivors.
Pretty and precious.
Yesterday cherries, blueberries, and raspberries overwhelmed our trees and bushes.  But they weren't quite ripened to perfection so we let them rest, with plans to harvest today.  Then, the deer - with their impeccable timing - came through last night and decimated almost all of everything.  Sigh.

Needless to say, this morning's chores got rearranged and 'picking the survivors, then hitting every plant with the deer spray' miraculously rose to the top of the list. 

Lesson learned.

AND:  "Rabbit!"  It's the first day of August!  (Anybody out there remember this from childhood?)


Go ahead: Spend just a few moments celebrating summer via photos by hopping over to...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon : Review

Reserve your copy at indiebound.org.
And final post for the pre-publication read-along ably wrangled by E. at As The Crowe Flies and Reads.

First and foremost: I offer my thanks one final time to E. and all the read-along bloggers for encouraging me through this novel with their widely varied, thoughtful, and often hilarious commentary.  The experience - all parts of it - has been one of the particular blessings of this summer.

Read-Alongers: I'm going to offer a few thoughts after my general review of Telegraph Avenue below.  Please click the link at the bottom of the post to respond to my specific responses to the "Brokeland" chapter, as I have truly valued your comments along the way and would love to know whether you agree with me or not.

Next, to the text.  I'll try for summative comments in the review below, rather than a response to the last chapter alone, as such an endeavor would needs be full of uber-spoilers, and I think that many who visit this blog would appreciate the finer aspects of Telegraph Avenue.

The Review
What's it all about?
Essentially, Telegraph Avenue is the story of Archy Stallings, floundering part-owner of Brokeland Records on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, CA, and all those who contribute to the web of relationships in his life.  It's also the story of his teenage son, Titus, and his partner Nate's son, Julie.  In the end, the issues of race and gender in the United States and how they continue to morph from generation to generation form the central themes of the novel.  Finally, motifs of jazz music, film, pop-culture, and the homogenization of all three weave their way through this story.  Oh, and then there's the nearly unavoidable motif (in any contemporary novel written about the U.S.) of The American Dream and its (lack of?) viability today.

What makes this novel unique?
Setting plays a major role, as does pop culture from the '70's through today.  And here Chabon inhabits characters of many backgrounds and gender identifications, all from a pretty close third person stance (I say it's free indirect discourse with occasional authorial rather than narrator's intrusions, but others on this read-along disagree), which is quite ambitious for a writer and interesting to process for readers.  Chabon's flexing his style-muscles here too, so expect a hefty dose of simile and metaphor, plus leaps in narrative timeline within the multi-character third person narration.  Also - and this was a major plus for me - it's funny. Often.

Who would particularly enjoy it?
  • A major plus in this novel is Chabon's successful creation of a richly populated fictional world, so if you enjoy immersing yourself entirely in a novel, this one won't disappoint! Characterization drives plot, so if that's your cup of tea, this will be too. 
  • If you enjoy music, and particularly - though not necessarily - jazz, this book will hold particular appeal, as it will if you lived through the '70's and thus connect easily with many of the images and pop culture references.
  • If you liked any of Chabon's earlier novels, I suspect that this one will please you somewhat too.
  • If  you've pondered questions of race, father-son relationships, the viability of living your dream in the U.S. today, and what - exactly - love is, then this novel will offer you another chance to explore these issues.
  • If you enjoy layered comedy, you'll appreciate this novel even more.
  • For more detailed kudos with examples, hop to my previous post about Telegraph Avenue.
Any "cautions" with regard to content and/or style?
Telegraph Avenue requires a mature reader.  I'm not talking about age, but rather experience and sensibility.  Why, what do I mean?  I mean that you have to persist through the first chapter's exposition to get to "the good stuff" when the plot kicks in during chapter two.  You have to endure sometimes oddly incongruous yet interesting metaphors and similes and accept that pondering them will be part of the experience.  You must accept the gamut in terms of language and characters' behaviors, some of which you might not use or engage in yourself.  And if a good laugh is low on your interest barometer, well, maybe you should lighten up a bit and then pick up Telegraph Avenue.

The Nitty Gritty about "Brokeland"
Read-Alongers and anyone who won't mind potential spoilers, keep reading!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Be Kind : Poem In Your Post

Be Kind

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind—but
because it's good for the soul, and,
what's more, for others, it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness  and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet  wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there's
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one,  so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust's certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

                                                - Michael Blumenthal

Once again, Eden's Outcasts prompts my choice.  Bronson Alcott was a noted Transcendentalist philosopher and conversationalist who consorted with - among others - Emerson, Thoreau, and even Henry James Sr.  So it seemed apropos to choose a poem directly espousing a particular philosophical point of view, and one referencing the venerable James (Jr., I suspect).

I've long admired Michael Blumenthal's poems, and you will too if you check out his page on poets.org or on The Poetry Foundation/Poetry Magazine website.

Which poem(s) moved you this week?  Share them here, and I'll be sure to respond!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Random Placement : Romantic Beach Read for Armchair Travelers

I enjoyed this novel.  I truly did.  It's light and romantic with a socially conscious twist and a smidgen of mystery thrown in for good measure.  And it absolutely qualifies as a "solid read with a strong female lead" (see my "posts by topic" list in the right-hand column or click on the label at the bottom of this post for more of these), so I'm even more appreciative of Lindsay McFerrin Bates's efforts on her very first novel. 

What's it about?
What do "Untouchables" in India have to do with a single mom in NYC and a beautiful British businessman?  Once you pick up Random Placement, you'll join the rest of us readers in racing through this fluidly-wrought novel to find the answer.  And you'll travel from NYC to Maine to London to Hyderabad in Andrha Pradesh to sleuth out the mystery linking Holly, the Dalit ("Untouchable") Jogini girl Anjali, and Sam.

Can you offer me a sample of her prose style?
Sure.  Sample part of the opener when you "Look Inside":  Random Placement (on Amazon).  I found Bates's prose fluid, the pacing appropriately swift.

Who would particularly enjoy this novel?
Personally, I rarely read romances, and this novel seems fundamentally of that genre, yet I enjoyed this one.  It's a true page-turner, simply flies along.  And, even though most of the main characters are adults, it's definitely PG-rated and so could be read by adolescents and adults alike.  Anyone who enjoys vivid descriptions of some of the world's great cities - in other words, anyone who loves to (armchair) travel - would likely devour this romantic mystery.

How can I get my hands on a copy?
Random Placement is available in Kindle form only, but those Kindle-less souls (like me) who do have computers or tablets can simply download the Kindle app., which worked well on my iPad.  Get Random Placement via this link (no, I am not an Amazon affiliate).  At $2.99 it's a bargain perfect to while away the hours on your next plane flight or to cheer you on one of those 2 a.m. wake-ups.

My ActionReader action:  I did some research on Hyderabad/Andra Pradesh, and hereby vow to include at least two works (probably short stories) by authors from India in my curriculum next year.  And should Ms. McFerrin Bates produce another novel, I'll be sure to pick it up!

My thanks to the author, who read my earlier post on the much grittier recent release Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, and asked if I might be interested in sampling her first novel.  I was, and I'm happy that I did.

MFB, internationally,

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read Along : "A Bird of Wide Experience" & "Return to Forever"

Reserve your copy through your local
bookseller or Indiebound.org .

When I was growing up, my tenth grade English teacher, Ms. Nitkin, explained to us students of American Literature that what distinguishes a novel from a novella or a short story is that a novelist creates an entire world, one we feel we're entering each time we crack the cover.  Few novelists take the time to do that these days, it seems, opting instead for character- and plot- driven narratives that may grip us with their pacing, their trajectory, or their psychological insights, but don't actually create fully faceted worlds with richly specific atmospheres for us to inhabit.  Chabon does in Telegraph Avenue, and in my book that's an achievement to celebrate. 

This week, I found myself staring down my (typical) multiple reads, hopping over Transcendentalist New England (the Pulitzer-winning Alcott bio, Eden's Outcasts), contemporary NM/LA/Midwest/reality TV (the newer and thus far slight Gruen novel Ape House), and 1980's Bangladesh (Tahmima Anam's The Good Muslim), landing squarely in Brokeland territory every time.  For a reader who found the first 100+ pages more than a tad annoying in many respects, that's a triumph of the author's craft and the collective pull of this read-along community over my own capriciously critical proclivities. 

To the specifics:
  • I took one look at the form of "A Bird of Wide Experience" and thought, "Please.  No.  Not another and even more obvious flexing of Chabon's Style muscles."  But I took a deep breath, dug in, and found that section to be a fluid read despite the mannered choice of writing it in a single sentence.  Jury's still out on whether, as a part of the whole in which no other segment is crafted in this way, it works.  (I do get that, as a set piece, the shape's meant to in some way support the bird's eye view, on multiple levels.  I just need to reread it after I've finished the novel to see whether I think it succeeds as an integrated chapter.)  In any case, I was sad to see Fifty-Eight go, and it did call to mind a relatively recent climb up the stairs on Telegraph Hill in SF (not to be confused with our title street in Oakland), as the famous parrots flitted about, screeching, overhead.  And there were flocks of wild parrots in Palo Alto/Redwood City too, now that I come to think about it.  They were all green and smallish, so despite the mild climate, I don't know how a big African Grey like Fifty-Eight would fare in the urban landscape... I guess we'll find out.
  •  I learned a word which could have been applied to my circumstances nearly every day of my life, and I'm grateful to Mr. Chabon for it:  trepverter.  It means "thinking of a clever comeback or witty remark when it is too late."  Aviva recognizes that, because she's a cautious communicator, she often catches herself in moments of trepverter.  As a teacher, for me each day is filled with opportunities to offer just the right observation, ask just the right question, or pipe up with a bon mot or a humorous but non-harming remark to lighten the journey.  I do a decent job of it, if I do say so myself, but every day I drive home thinking of how I could have done better.  And who among us hasn't "trepverter-ed", probably within the past week?  Note to self:  trepverter would be a sparky idea around which to build some writing exercises too, both of the autobiographical and the fictional sort.  Might even be worthy of a poem: How would that concept influence both form and content? 
  • Too many laugh-out-loud moments to count.  I especially admire comedy that works on multiple levels, and here character-driven comedy is supported by linguistic comedy within situations that offer both humor and pathos.  Well played, Mr. Chabon.
  • I appreciate the way that Chabon continues to build nuances into the motif of apology in this section.  Most of the main characters have plenty of cause to both offer and receive apologies, and an American novel with race as foundational element pretty well must address the issues of apologies and reparations. Chabon highlights the complexities of the act of apology without - IMHO - waxing too didactic or taking sides in any heavy-handed way, and his treatment of this motif truly made me ponder.
  • Lest anyone think I'm responding with unqualified raves for this novel, please know that I've saved all my critiques in a private file.  I do not think that Telegraph Avenue is a perfect piece of writing, especially style-wise.  However, I'd still recommend it.  (Is that too critical, yet sans support?  If you think so, let me know and I'll offer up some thoughts on the many moments when stylistic choices jarred me out of the narrative and/or out of the fictional world.)
I've bookmarked many additional passages in this section, so I could gabble on quite a bit longer, but I'd rather see what the rest of the the read-alongers have to say, and then jump right back into the world of Telegraph Avenue

MFB, as we careen down the home stretch,

p.s. Please, y'all, whether you've stopped by this read-along for the first time today or whether you've been following from the beginning (Post 1Post 2, Post 3), do check out the varied, trenchant, and often funny responses from the other read-along participants, whose posts are linked at host As The Crowe Flies and ReadsAnd buy the book.  Despite my concerns, I know that it will linger in my memory for a long time, and suspect you'll find it worthy as well.

p.s.s. Telegraph Avenue Film School continued with The Band WagonUm.  Seemed like a decidedly second rate Singin' In The Rain to me. I can't tell how this would be a Tarantino influence, but perhaps one of you out there has more than just a passing knowledge of his films and you could fill us all in...  Here was the one fun moment in an otherwise dull film:

Yup.  That's the best there was.  Consider yourselves spared.

Next up?  The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with Clint Eastwood. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thoreau Couplet : Poem In Your Post

My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.

And so, I go.  Perhaps you'll memorize this worthwhile couplet, then take it along with you as you seize this summer day.

MFB, Transcendentally,

p.s.  I've been trolling the poems of Thoreau, Emerson, Robert Browning, and Louisa May Alcott while reading Eden's Outcasts, the Pulitzer-winning biography of LMA and her father, Bronson.  Much to ponder therein, and I'll share in an upcoming review.

If you've a poem to share today, offer it up in the comments below or link to your blogpost.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What I Did : Blog Tour Review

Find it at indiebound or Amazon.

If you've read Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime or Matt Haig's The Dead Fathers' Club or Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and you found Christopher or Philip or Oskar fascinating, you'll likely find What I Did, with its six-year-old protagonist Billy, equally intriguing. This new novel by British-American Christopher Wakling promises a stellar read for fans of close first-person perspective and for those who enjoy inhabiting the mind of a singularly unusual child. 

Because voice is the primary element here, I'll offer a longish excerpt from the introduction. Here's how Billy begins:
This is the first bit and shall I tell you why?  Okay I will.  It is to make you read the rest.
Don't worry, it isn't a trailer.  Trailers are the first bits before films which are actually really adverts and Dad says adverts are where they try to get you to buy something probably don't want.  Then again Mum says maybe you do.  I often want it.
          You want this story.  It has already started...
When you're watching a trailer it won't even be before the right film!  That's great, I love that it looks fantastic, let's watch that.  No, we can't.  It's not here.  That is called frustrating.
Dad says they put all the best bits of a film in the trailer to reduce you to watching it, and that quite often the rest of the film isn't up to much, but he is wrong.  They don't put the best bits in there, not always.  There's no bit where Luke actually blows up the Death Star in the trailer for Star Wars but they do have light savers which are magnificent.
Sadly there are no light savers in this story.  It is all real.  It is about a terrible thing which happens to me.  But watch out because the thing you think is the terrible thing isn't really it.  Other things come later and they're worse.  I'm not going to tell you what they are yet because now isn't the time.  That is called suspension.
I also have to warn you that nobody is bad or good here, or rather everyone is a bit bad and a bit good and the bad and good moluscules get mixed up against each other and produce terrible chemical reactions.
Did you know cheetahs cannot retract their claws?
Here is the real beginning.

His website's christopherwakling.com.

As you can see, the humor of this novel emerges from Billy's at once precocious and impulsive character and his free-associating voice.  Plus, Billy's an enormous fan of David Attenborough's nature videos, and his naively humorous yet often trenchant comparisons of human behavior to that of predators and prey add a dimension that enriches his internal monologue.  This novel is chock-full of hilarious malapropisms and aural/oral linguistic confusions as well, so those of us who embrace both the complexity and the absurdity of the English language will find laugh-out-loud passages on nearly every page.  (I learned that misheard and thus misunderstood words or expressions may also be called "oronyms" thanks to Isabel Costello, who also offers a thoughtful response to What I Did.)  If you're looking for more hilarious samples of Billy's worldview, complete with "Billy"-drawn illustrations, hop over to Wakling's website and "Billy's Blog".

But don't think that this book is just one gag after another: far from it.  In fact, it's also a harrowing tale of partial understandings, of multiple truths, of missed opportunities, and of unfortunate choices when they count the most. 

Dramatic irony fuels narrative tension here: we as readers understand far more than Billy does; his self-absorbed blunders and willfulness - worsening an already bad situation - make us cringe with concern.  And, clearly, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree:  Billy's dad follows the same pattern as he reacts to an unfulfilling job situation and to Billy's constant drama.  The novel's major conflict - and one that aggravates tensions between Billy's Mum and Dad as well - is initiated when a nosy pedestrian reports Billy's dad to Social Services for (what most readers will see as regrettably yet understandably) spanking him after he ignores repeated warnings and runs out into a busy street.  And because Billy's one of the most accident prone/ADHD six-year-olds ever, his continued impulsive actions lead to a number of additional personal injuries, exacerbating misunderstandings with the "ChildSafe" social services team investigating the family.  How Mum, Dad, Grandma Lynne, and Billy respond to "Butterfly" and "Giraffe" from "ChildSafe" provides the central conflict in the narrative, with plenty of tense moments among Billy's family members emerging in response to this crisis.

The novel's most salient strength - Wakling's Billy - may also be its liability for some readers:  What I Did takes place over just a few days, and - to be honest - whatever tension could be developed between the inciting incident and the intense final forty pages is undermined by Billy's incessant digressions and by his realistic focus on the present moment coupled with his ignorance about his own plight.  Thus, the tension that mounts among the other characters related to the main plot is experienced obliquely.  Personally, I enjoyed the entire novel, but I did want to offer a heads-up to those who prefer more intensely single-plot-driven works.

On the whole though, I found much to appreciate here, and recommend this novel.  I would think that my IRL book group would find plenty of fodder for discussion in What I Did,  as it's mostly young moms for whom the central issues of raising a child would hit quite close to home.  I suspect that many book groups would enjoy it too, regardless of the life circumstances of their members.

Many thanks to TLC tours and to Mr. Wakling's publishers, HarperCollins, for offering me the opportunity to be part of this blog tour.  To enjoy others' responses to What I Did, simply follow the schedule for the rest of this tour.


My action:  I'm going to review the developmental psychology of six-year-olds, because I've never raised one and often found myself wondering, "Are six-year-olds normally this willful?  This out-of-control?  Do they tend to pee their pants a lot? Is this kid some sort of autistic-savant?"  And then there's Billy's cousin Lizzy: she's three years old and not yet speaking at all.  Where is her silence on the spectrum of language acquisition?  Clearly, I need a review!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read-Along : "The Church of Vinyl" Edition

Reserve your copy at indiebound.org!

Well huzzah and praise Buddha, Chabon's finally hitting his stride.  After a first chapter stuck in first gear, weighed down by a freightload of expository and stylistic baggage, "The Church of Vinyl" slams on the gas and takes off into a full-fledged, multi-faceted plot while deepening our understanding of independent record store owners Nat and Archy, as well as Archy's pregnant midwife wife, Gwen. We're even treated to a few pages inside the venerable dome of Mr. Randall "Cochise" Jones, the Hammond-genius jazzman who's both wise and eccentric in equal measures.  Now Chabon's focusing on just a few core characters rather than bopping around among a crowded cast as he did in the first section: Again, huzzah.  And his authorial stylings seem far less obtrusive than they were in "Dream of Cream": More matter with less self-conscious art.  Yay.

There is much to applaud in this chapter, so in the interest of time - and with the hope that those not participating in this read-along will purchase the novel when it debuts in September - here's a trio of passages that raised an appreciative smile:
  • Of the oily yet powerful councilman Chan Flowers, funeral chapel owner, erstwhile best friend of Blackspoitation star Luther Stallings, and ominous presence in the Brokeland neighborhood:  "A smile opened, thin as a paper cut, at the bottom of Flowers's face."  (So much shown, so much characterization implied, so economically.)
  • I just kept chuckling and shaking my head during Nat's first COCHISE neighborhood meeting. It seemed painfully realistic (given Nat's email list) that 90% of his crowd turned out to be white Berkeley-esque types, that he had to "bribe" Singletary to be there, and that he forgot to tell Archy about the meeting.  The "Juddhists" among the aging hippies in attendance codged a particularly broad smile too as I thought, "If such a New Agey hybrid religion exists, it would have to be born in Berkeley."  Then I looked it up.  It's real, sort of, and the term was supposedly coined in 2005 at Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace Today" retreat at Stonehill College in Massachusetts.  Then I found this light-hearted thread with "Juddhist" sayings: Zen Juddhism.  It made me wonder if Chabon himself might have found this religious hybrid personally appealing.  Enjoy.
  • And here's a lovely extended analogy that also feels organically right. It's Aviva Jaffe reflecting on the impeccable manners of teenage, Texas-bred houseguest, Titus Joyner:
She had to admit that she loved the "sirs" and "ma'ams" that aflowed from his lips so readily, drawled out like pats of butter smeared across a biscuit.  She remembered hiking in Yosemite with Nat and Julie a few summers back.  Climbing to the top of the Mist Trail up a preposterous stairway of stones proposed, cut, hauled, and fixed immovably into place, proof against time and earthquakes, under the auspices of the WPA.  She remembered feeling grateful to those long-dead men, the planners and the workers, for their foresight, their labor,  the heroic absurdity of that granite stair.  That was how she felt, whenever he would "ma'am" her, toward the dead grandmother of this boy.

What?  I'm Not The Only Reader In The Blogospheres?  To find out if other book bloggers shared my enthusiasm for the second chapter in Telegraph Avenue and to enjoy their trenchant, humorous, and thought-provoking commentary, just hop to the linky-list over at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads).  Last week's "conversations" provided a wonderfully welcome diversity of perspectives on this novel, and I trust that the same will be true today.

A Prediction and a Question for Read-Alongers:  Call me crazy, and I've been wrong once already, but I'm guessing that "A Bird of Wide Experience" is Fifty-Eight, and I was indeed wondering what would become of him.  Will Titus take him on?  Will Archy?

MFB in The Church of Vinyl,

Report from Film School:  We Netflixed the 1973 Coffy, Pam Grier's first film, from the list of Kill Bill influences in "Dream of Cream".  Well.  Now I have a new reference point for many action films today, and I can certainly see how it might be a Tarantino influence.  Not exactly deep or well-acted, but plenty of violence and sexiness and funky music.  In the "Coincidence? I think not." realm, when we finished watching Coffy, Cat Woman starring Halle Berry was just finishing on TV, and the parallels in both the action and the characters were too many to ignore.  Then on came Hustle and Flow.  I loved that film the first time around, but saw so much more cinematic history behind it after watching the '70's flick. So thanks to E. at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads) for hosting this read-along and to Michael Chabon for piquing my interest in Blacksploitation films, which in turn led to a fully fulfilling 'night at the movies'.  Next in the queue from the Kill Bill syllabus: Vincent Minelli's 1953 musical The Bandwagon.  I'm intrigued to see what that film might have contributed to Tarantino's choices.

TA Pilgrimage Update: I've been planning my Telegraph Avenue trip via Google Earth maps.  Even though I've visited the Berkeley end more than once, I had a completely inaccurate mental picture of what the Neldham's/Brokeland Records neighborhood looks like.  The bakery actually closed and was re-opened by its workers as Taste of Denmark.  You can bet that'll be stop number one!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Leaving Things Unfinished : Poem In Your Post

As the black wings close in on you,
their circling shadows blighting the sand,
and your limp legs buckle, far
from that shimmering oasis
on the horizon,

as you face the implacable,
hoping for one more lucky reprieve
which you feel in your quivering heart
will arrive a moment too late,

even after the first white pill,
you will not surrender,
for back there somewhere,
safe from the hovering vultures,
is that sketchy
grand design, that revolution
on the drawing board—no,

all these years you've resisted
that sleek seducer, Completion—and now,
as the mask snugs over your face, you feel
your legs go young again, heading out
for the shimmering palm trees
they will never reach,
and you suck in great welcome gulps
of the endlessly possible.

                                      - Philip Appleman

A friend of mine had brain surgery this week.  It was postponed for four hours, and then took six hours to complete.  When she awoke, she encountered unexpected complications: paralysis of one arm, serious seepage at the site of the sutures.

She's been in ICU for days, cautioned not to move lest she worsen her state. 

Yesterday, after some smart maneuvers by her ICU professionals, she was able to move the fingers of her previously paralyzed hand, and the seepage slowed.  She's not entirely out of the woods, but she's on the path.

She's a writer and a musician.  I hope that when she's allowed to raise her head, she'll read this poem and it will speak to her experience.  I find it rather beautiful and offer it as a token toward the gods to conjure her continued recovery.


p.s.  Thanks to Bill Moyers's website, where he recommended a number of poetry books.  I hopped to his interview with Appleman, and enjoyed the five poems read aloud during the original broadcast.  From there, I went to Appleman's page on Poets.org, and found three stellar offerings.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read-Along: Dream of Cream Edition

Order your advanced copy here at Indiebound.

Welcome to the second installment in our Telegraph Avenue read-along hosted by the fabulous E. Crowe at As the Crowe Flies and Reads.  If you're a Michael Chabon fan, or if you think you might enjoy a novel based in late 2000's and 1970's Oakland, CA (hence the title), I hope you'll drop by each Tuesday in July to follow me and our gaggle of fellow bloggers as we sample this promising new offering.  You'll find my first post in the series here.

Note: This installment won't contain any plot or character spoilers, but does include both kudos and questions about the first section of this novel, which is titled "Dream of Cream".

So.  Here it is, with apologies for formatting quirks as I'm traveling and using unfamiliar computers & browsers:

Well.  Hmmmm.  I'm feeling quite ambivalent about my experience with this novel so far.

Thumbs up right now for:
* The sections in which character and conflict drive the writing.  Those were utterly engaging.  The section related to childbirth was particularly engrossing for me (vague to avoid spoilers).
* A unique time period to revisit (however wee we were when the '70's hit the scene).
* Jazz and film as indispensable elements of the mise en scene/zeitgeist of the novel.
* Occasional "ah ha" insights into human nature that coaxed a nod of agreement or illumination.
* Moments of much-appreciated humor.
* Vivid evocations of Telegraph Avenue itself.  Setting seems to be emerging as a character, as one might predict from the title.
* I enjoyed the section that contained the chapter title reference, and I'm hoping that the Dream of Cream is a real thing (vague to avoid spoilers) so I can enjoy it for myself at the end of the month when I'll be in the Bay Area! And, all you blog-alongers, I was way off on my guess about what the chapter title refers to, wasn't I?  

Thumbs reserving judgment:
* The execution of some stylistic elements and narrative choices jarred me out of the fictional world on a regular basis.  I'm hoping that as I grow more accustomed to Mr. Chabon's patterns in this novel, these elements will integrate into the flow of the story more gracefully for me.  If others in our read-along are comfortable with more detail on this, I'd be happy to elaborate, but I'll wait for the A-OK from Ms. Crowe before I critique!

I do want to express that I'm pleased to have committed to this read-along with the fabulous E. Crowe of As the Crowe Flies and Reads.  In my previous experience with such cyber-conversations, my commitment to the group has led to perseverance through novels that, in the end, were some of the most rewarding reading experiences of the past few years.  I trust that this one will turn out to be equally valuable, and can't wait to hop on over to the other bloggers on this read-along to see what they're thinking about Telegraph Avenue today!


p.s.  My Action Reader action is to view at least two of the films on the "Kill Bill" syllabus for the community education course in which young Julie Jaffe meets Titus Joyner.  (These two being my favorite characters in the novel so far.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace :Poem in Your Post

Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace
At dawn the panther of the heavens peers over the edge of the world.   
She hears the stars gossip with the sun, sees the moon washing her lean   
darkness with water electrified by prayers. All over the world there are those   
who can't sleep, those who never awaken.   

My granddaughter sleeps on the breast of her mother with milk on   
her mouth. A fly contemplates the sweetness of lactose.

Her father is wrapped in the blanket of nightmares. For safety he   
approaches the red hills near Thoreau. They recognize him and sing for   

Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet dis-   
guised as a young mother who is looking for a job. She appears at the   
door of my dreams and we put the house back together.   

Panther watches as human and animal souls are lifted to the heavens by   
rain clouds to partake of songs of beautiful thunder.   

Others are led by deer and antelope in the wistful hours to the vil-   
lages of their ancestors. There they eat cornmeal cooked with berries   
that stain their lips with purple while the tree of life flickers in the sun.   

It's October, though the season before dawn is always winter. On the   
city streets of this desert town lit by chemical yellow travelers   
search for home.   

Some have been drinking and intimate with strangers. Others are   
escapees from the night shift, sip lukewarm coffee, shift gears to the   
other side of darkness.   

One woman stops at a red light, turns over a worn tape to the last   
chorus of a whispery blues. She has decided to live another day.   

The stars take notice, as do the half-asleep flowers, prickly pear and   
chinaberry tree who drink exhaust into their roots, into the earth.   

She guns the light to home where her children are asleep and may   
never know she ever left. That their fate took a turn in the land of   
nightmares toward the sun may be untouchable knowledge.   

It is a sweet sound.   

The panther relative yawns and puts her head between her paws.   
She dreams of the house of panthers and the seven steps to grace.   

                                                - Joy Harjo
Yup.  I'm sitting pretty in Albuquerque today, and chose this New Mexico poet for today's post.  She's also a musician, songwriter, social activist, and professor.  She even has a blog, so check out her prose style there.  And visit her Poetry Foundation  page to find more of her gorgeous poems.
MFB in The Land of Enchantment,

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read-Along : What Luck!

Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes your friends make your luck for you.

Why not reserve your copy early through
your local independent bookseller at
I got lucky.  And a blogista-pal went out on a limb to help me out.  I couldn't be happier.

I'm going to read Michael Chabon's upcoming novel Telegraph Avenue, along with our fabulous host Emily at As The Crowe Flies and Reads plus a gaggle (a business? a clump?) of stellar bloggers for a July read-along!

Plus, by happy coincidence, I'll be trodding the titular Telegraph Ave. in Oakland/Berkeley just as our read-along wraps up, so my action step will be quite literal this time. That means fictional experience meets real life, inward meets outward travel: nifty, eh?

I've read and enjoyed a number of Chabon's books; his popular Wonder Boys and young adult read Summerland, which I listened to on CD, have endured as favorites in my memory.  And I've explored Telegraph Avenue itself more than once in my day, so the locale appeals to me as well.  I too grew up in the '70's so many of the pop culture references should hit home as well.  So what's not to like about this unique opportunity to preview an accomplished author's latest?
I hope you'll stop by each Tuesday in July (and then blog-hop along with us) to check out the latest installments in what promises to be a thought-provoking discussion of this major novel, due out on shelves September 11, 2012.

Rockin' the MFB, '70's-style,

p.s.  The first section is titled "Dream of Cream".  What's your best guess on what it will refer to?  I'm putting my money on that fabulous '60's rock group where Clapton landed after The Yardbirds.  Wagers, anyone?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Group Books : Best American Short Stories 2011

Find it at Amazon or Indiebound.

It's pretty dark down there.  But groping through the darkness and into the light together can be just the challenge to ignite a stellar book group conversation.

In fact, that's what just happened when our local book group got together over appetizers and The Best American Short Stories 2011.  Although we all agreed that this was a rather bleak collection - with occasional and welcome rays of light - we had so much to talk about (twenty stories, to be exact) and the content was so diverse that our conversation soared. 

Our favorites in this collection included Irish writer Claire Keegan's gentle, affecting "Foster", the tale of a poor young girl sent to spend a summer with a couple who've recently lost their own young son; George Saunders' speculative "Escape from Spiderhead" (think "Harrison Bergeron" set in a human testing lab for psycho-active drugs); "To The Measures Fall" by Richard Powers, a piece about how one's shifting responses to the same novel over the course of one's life reveal more about who we are than about the story itself; and Caitlin Horrocks's "The Sleep", which intrigued the English teachers in our group with its third person plural perspective and provided plenty of grist for the conversational mill with its core premise: a town so depressing in winter that its citizens begin to hybernate from Thanksgiving through Easter.

And then there were the stories that stymied one or all ("Gurov in Manhattan" in particular); these, in fact, led to some of the most animated and thought-provoking discussions of all.

Even with its somewhat sobering overall tone, I would heartily recommend this collection - or others in this series - to book groups.  Most of our members noted with enthusiasm how much they enjoyed exploring this genre, one they don't usually indulge in, but we all agreed that the best way to read a grouping like this is to ration: read one per day and let it "sink in", percolate through your consciousness a bit, before moving on to the next.

I give this a five-star rating for book groups who welcome a diversity of opinions to match varied but high quality content.


p.s.  My action on this one is actually creating this review and posting it on Goodreads and Amazon, because I hadn't planned to do so yet I do believe that other book groups will enjoy it.

And for, It's Monday, What Are You Reading blog hop at Book Journey, right now I'm 3/4 of the way through the light and fluid international romance Random Placement (I realized too late that it would be a terrific read for a plane trip, so I forced myself to stop until tomorrow's trip to ABQ), re-reading sections of Danny Dreyer's Chi Running for my second week of C25K training, and starting Michael Chabon's latest Telegraph Avenue for the read-along at As The Crowe Flies and Reads that begins tomorrow.
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