Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Diving Belles : Blog Tour Review

Find it at your local bookseller,
Indiebound or Amazon.
If you visit here regularly, you probably know how much I love short fiction. 

That shiver of surprised illumination that zings up your spine at the last sentence of a stellar short story?  I crave it.

And the first few stories of Lucy Wood's collection did just that.  She's a promising new voice in the tradition of Margaret Atwood's early collections, Angela Carter (if you haven't read her novel Nights at the Circus or her short story collections, you should), and current American short fiction phenom Karen Russell.  And somehow Wood's consistently foreboding tone - a sense of the quiet menace in the everyday - reminds me a bit of Emma Donoghue too. 

What's Diving Belles about?  Well, most of the stories are set in Cornwall (Wood's home), but we're definitely in magic-real territory here: absolutely my favorite flavor...

  • Old lady braving the dangers of descending into the deep in a bottomless diving bell to search for her mer-husband, disappeared lo these twenty or so years?  Done.  And we've got our title story nicely in hand.
  • House spirits chronicling the lives of their home's inhabitants, the humans' arrivals and departures in stark contrast to these creatures' own static, house-bound lives?  Done. Let's call it "Notes from the House Spirits".
  • Twenty-something waitress turning - for the umpteenth time in her life - to stone?  Fine. But before she joins the ring of stone-townspeople atop the seacliff, let's join her for the afternoon as she cheauffers her scatter-brained ex-boyfriend on errands, and statue-fication silently creeps in (and don't let's tell him it's happening again, OK?).  That's the premise for "Countless Stones".
  • And what if your mom - abandoned by dad for a younger woman - took to plastering her eyes each morning with an unguent that opens them to the sight of her green forest-elf lover?  What if you too sampled that goo?  Then you'd be smack dab in the middle "Of Mothers and Little People".
  • And so on.

So who would enjoy Lucy Wood's first collection of short stories, Diving Belles?  Anyone with a taste for making the ordinary fresh again, with a spirit open to spirits, with an interest in the interior voices of characters at once utterly individual and next-door neighbor familiar.  Fans of the harsh coastal beauty of Cornwall and the ancient magic hidden there in every moor and meadow  will find this book's settings especially appealing.

Wondering about Wood's style?  Here's an excerpt.

My thanks to all at TLC Book tours for the opportunity to sample this fledgling effort from a young writer who's destined to entertain us for many years to come.


p.s.  Here's Lucy Wood, reading a section of "Notes from the House Spirits":

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday : Green and Gold Edition

Yup: Back to school we go!  Here's a green and gold summer celebration for all, especially my pals from MOM High (Go, Dragons!) and all my Sea-homeys (Go, Mariners!).


Looking for more celebrations of the moment?  Check out the bounty offered by fellow photographers at

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Journey : Poem In Your Post

When he got up that morning everything was different:
He enjoyed the bright spring day
But he did not realize it exactly, he just enjoyed it.

And walking down the street to the railroad station
Past magnolia trees with dying flowers like old socks
It was a long time since he had breathed so deeply.

Tears filled his eyes and it felt good
But he held them back
Because men didn't walk around crying in that town.

Waiting on the platform at the station
The fear came over him of something terrible about to happen:
The train was late and he recited the alphabet to keep hold.

And in its time it came screeching in
And as it went on making its usual stops,
People coming and going, telephone poles passing,

He hid his head behind a newspaper
No longer able to hold back the sobs, and willed his eyes
To follow the rational weavings of the seat fabric.

He didn't do anything violent as he had imagined.
He cried for a long time, but when he finally quieted down
A place in him that had been closed like a fist was open.

And at the end of the ride he stood up and got off that train:
And through the streets and in all the places he lived in later on
He walked, himself at last, a man among men,
With such radiance that everyone looked up and wondered.

                                                         - Edward Field

Simply read this one through quietly, a few times, until it sinks in. 

If you haven't yet experienced this journey, just wait.  One day you will.


More on contemporary American poet Edward Field on this page at (what an interesting life he's led in his 88 years!) or in this short NPR story (read and listen to it, because the texts are different and complementary, plus sample an excerpt of his memoir of Bohemian life in NYC, The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag...) or on his own website

Here's an excerpt from another instantly accessible poem of his too.  Good stuff, that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday : Hot Vegetable Art Edition

On a hot summer's day when switching the TV on was just far too much effort, I simply sat there and stared at all this natural beauty instead. 

Now the lettuce and basil have sacrificed their beauty for our nourishment.  Better live up to their example of gorgeous self-ness and patience then!


Looking for more images of this week's experiences from fascinating folks all over the world?  Try

Eden's Outcasts : Review In Brief

Get your own copy at Indiebound or Betterworldbooks
and sample Matteson's prose at Amazon.
What's it about?
It's the biography - beautifully written, at that - of Bronson Alcott, poor, basically illiterate farm boy, who rises to such prominence as a philosopher-educator that Emerson and Thoreau become his close friends and he winds up an acquaintance of four U.S. presidents, not to mention practically every notable intellectual of his era.  And, oh yes, he fathers four girls (often leaving them to "do his philosophical thing" elsewhere), one of whom is you-know-who.  She's the fiery spirit in the family, born on her father's 33rd birthday, and brings her passion to bear on an eventful life of her own, chronicled alongside Bronson's in Eden's Outcasts.

My Take:  It's stellar tandem biography of father and daughter (earning the Pulitzer Prize), both of whom lived extraordinary lives alongside virtually all the leading political, intellectual, and literary lights of their day.  Take your time with this one, and you'll find yourself pondering how much America - and especially the opportunities for economically challenged individuals to rise through their own hard work - has changed in the past two centuries.  Depressing in some ways, as the Alcott's could rise as thinkers with international influence simply by casually crossing the paths of famous intellects and political leaders in the course of their daily lives.  Us, now?  Not so much.  The poor cannot get physically close to the powerful and the elite, much less prevail upon them for an hour or two of conversation on the spur of the moment.  However, the Alcotts' idealism and endurance is still inspiring, so much so that I'm ready to try Little Women again!

Who would value reading this book?  Well, fans of Louisa May, of course, and anyone who's interested in the Transcendentalists, the Civil War, the entire 19th century in the United States, or major American authors.  Educators will find this biography particularly interesting, as it reminds us how much times have changed, both for better and for worse.

My Action: Provoked by Bronson Alcott's ever-evolving educational (and other) philosophies, I sat down to hammer out my own current philosophy of education.  I'm finding the endeavor quite heartening in the abstract; I hope it pans out better in the concrete application next month than Bronson's did back in the day.

Thanks, Mom, for loaning me this one and encouraging me to continue when I was trying to speed through it.  Slowing down made all the difference.


FYI: I became a tad obsessed with this book, and featured poems related to it in all these Poem In Your Post entries:  "Thoreau's Flute" by Louisa May Alcott, "Be Kind" by Michael Blumenthal, and Thoreau Couplet worthy of learning by heart.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wild Nights - Wild Nights! : Poem In Your Post

Wild Nights - Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights would be
Our luxury!

Futile - the Winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden -
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor - Tonight -
In Thee!

That's (supposedly) her on the left.

The perfect poem for sultry summer evenings.

Who knew Emily Dickinson could wax so passionate? 

Me.  And now - You. 

May you pine no more but embrace these last nights of summer.


p.s. Bonus: a possible new image of our Emily has recently been discovered.  Awaiting confirmation from the scholars that be.  Me?  I think I'll stick to the daguerreotype that's meant Emily to me for lo these many years.

Ah. Now that's better.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Good Muslim by Tamima Anam : Mom & Me Review

Find it at Indiebound or Betterworldbooks
and/or sample her prose at Amazon.
Here's a new feature for y'all:  Mom and Me.  She's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, Tignanello purses, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books!

Once a month or so, we'll offer up a tandem review/virtual dialogue about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.

We decided to begin this feature with Tahmima Anam's new novel, The Good Muslim, thinking that its focus on mid-to-late 20th century Bangladesh would bring us into an unfamiliar culture through an engaging narrative.  The plan:  Read the book in its entirety, then shoot each other a few questions along with our general reviewish thoughts.  Our mutual thanks to Trish and all at TLC Book Tours for offering this opportunity, and to Tahmima Anam for her worthwhile new novel.

What's It About? The Good Muslim is primarily the story of Maya and Sohail, an idealistic brother and sister who both participated in Bangladesh's war for independence from Pakistan during the early 1970's.  He was a rebel soldier, she a doctor who aided victims of war.  The story traces their shifting relationship after the war and highlights the aftermath of that war's violence: female rape victims shunned by their families, PTSD-afflicted soldiers turning to fundamentalist Islam to cope with their lingering guilt and fear, plus military coups followed by martial law quickly replacing hard-won democracy.

Mom's Take:
I found this book to be engaging from the start. I almost always find stories that take me to a different culture experience appealing. There’s nothing like a good novel to help the reader absorb without having to work at it!

The realities of the wars between neighboring countries all over the world include the horror for the combatants, the effects on families at home, the terror for the women like Pilar and her companions, and the aftermath for all.  Sad though the story is in many ways, many moments struck me as universal. Maya—the independent daughter, Sohail—the independent son, loving one another but not able to understand the other. Religion is comfort for Sohail and his followers but not so much for Maya.  Rehana, the mother, like mothers everywhere wishing the best for her children, hoping that they will enjoy and help one another, suppressing her own needs, helping her neighbors. Zaid, Sohail's little boy, wanting so much to be loved by his father, finding solace with Maya: how many children today must look outside immediate family for sustenance? Class warfare—after being united in war the haves still want to have and the poor continue to strive to be noticed: Maya rises to cause change...

Some of my favorite passages were those with Maya and Rehana and I loved the tenacity of Joy in his love for Maya. I also related to Bangladesh because of my long-standing interest in Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus and his mini-banking system to help the poor of the country.

My take:
Who would find value in this book? Anyone who wants to experience history and a perhaps unfamiliar culture through the lives of original and well-developed characters would find satisfaction in these pages.  It's a story about the aftermath of war, so you can expect to see some quite regrettable actions and references to wartime violence against both men and women.  However, it's done quite tastefully, so mature teens could certainly appreciate the story and learn through this novel.

Both Mom and I thought that this novel was certainly worth our time, and that our newly refined understanding of this period in Bangladesh's history - not to mention the daily life of one family during this time period - sparked our curiosity about the current state of that nation.  I recognize that novelists like Tahmima Anam are probably not setting out to educate us about an entire culture but rather crafting fiction with that cultural foundation, yet when a novel's setting is new or unique to us, the urge to generalize from singular lives to entire cultures is tough to resist!

My Actions:
 This novel reminded me just how lucky I am to live in a time and place of relative plenty and power for women.  In her acknowledgements, author Asam thanks her parents for their example as socially engaged citizens.  Perhaps this novel was written - in part - to give voice to the then-voiceless and to empower people now to stand against religious extremism, institutionalized misogyny, and military dictatorships.  So I'm going to write to my Women for Women International "sister" in Afghanistan.  (Backstory: WfW provides education and assistance to female victims of war.  After my first years sponsoring sisters, I stopped writing because my sisters were illiterate and didn't respond.  I did have one sister who wrote to me after her sponsorship year was over, but I couldn't get back in touch with her. I'm ready to try again.)  PLUS, I will find at least one action to support returning veterans in my own community.

Now come on in and eavesdrop: The Mom and Me Dialogue is on the next page. (Just click "read more" below.)  Warning: Although we won't reveal specific spoiler moments, our conversation led us to discuss some aspects of the entire novel.) 

Then hop over to the other blogs on The Good Muslim's virtual book tour with TLC.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Dream of Cream Edition

Hello, chocolatey goodness: Come to mama.  These gorgeous "Dreams of Cream" were Archy's guilty pleasure in the eponymous chapter from Michael Chabon's upcoming (Sept. 11) novel Telegraph Avenue

Now Neldham's Bakery has changed names, as has this light and lovely cake, now dubbed the Chantilly.  Trust me, though, the dream-creamy deliciousness remains the same.  Unlike Archy, I sampled merely a slice and, like him, enjoyed every subtle, cloudlike bite.

And Taste of Denmark Bakery (owned and operated by a few Neldham's employees) seemed quintessentially Oakland: while we spent about fifteen minutes there winnowing down our selections from their vast variety, we encountered a veritable melting pot of friendly customers and staff speaking four different languages.  And this was mid-afternoon, not the drive-time rush. 

If you're traveling down Telegraph, you should definitely stop in. Mostest favoritest surprise:  The butterscotch chip mini-cookies were to die for.  (So fab that taking a photo for y'all didn't even cross my mind until the little cellophane bag was empty.)  I am decidedly not a cookie person, but I could have eaten the entire bagful.  Luckily, my Dave is a cookie person and saw to it that I shared at least a few.

Intrigued about Chabon's upcoming Telegraph Avenue?  Check out my read-along posts (just click the Blog Archive list of July posts below right and you'll find them all) or hop over to the host site, As The Crowe Flies and Reads.

Feeling looky-looky?  Hop over to the Wordless Wednesday blog hop at Create with Joy.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gic to Har : Poem In Your Post

Gic to Har

It is late at night, cold and damp
The air is filled with tobacco smoke.
My brain is worried and tired.
I pick up the encyclopedia,
The volume GIC to HAR,
It seems I have read everything in it,
So many other nights like this.
I sit staring empty-headed at the article Grosbeak,
Listening to the long rattle and pound
Of freight cars and switch engines in the distance.
Suddenly I remember
Coming home from swimming
In Ten Mile Creek,
Over the long moraine in the early summer evening,
My hair wet, smelling of waterweeds and mud.
I remember a sycamore in front of a ruined farmhouse,
And instantly and clearly the revelation
Of a song of incredible purity and joy,
My first rose-breasted grosbeak,
Facing the low sun, his body
Suffused with light.
I was motionless and cold in the hot evening
Until he flew away, and I went on knowing
In my twelfth year one of the great things
Of my life had happened.
Thirty factories empty their refuse in the creek.
On the parched lawns are starlings, alien and aggressive.
And I am on the other side of the continent
Ten years in an unfriendly city.

                     - Kenneth Rexroth

This venerable poet-translator of the San Francisco Renaissance (his home was often the crash pad/intellectual nexus for the Beats) creates a poem here about an urban intellectual moment that sparks an transcendent pastoral memory.  Summer evenings often harbor magic it seems, particularly of the winged sort. 

Did you ever page through an encyclopedia volume or a dictionary, simply seeking something - anything - new?  And where do you find yourself most often these long, warm days: city or farmhouse?  Indoors or out?  Present or past?


p.s.  For more of Rexroth's biography and a sampling of his translated poems, try .

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Toes of August : Wordless Wednesday

Here they is.

The ultimate summer self-indulgence for working women is taking the time to paint our toes.  Thanks, world, for granting me the time to do so.

And if you'd like to find more profound and certainly more diverse wordless wonders, please do hop by Create With Joy.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thoreau's Flute : Poem In Your Post

We, sighing, said, “Our Pan is dead; 
  His pipe hangs mute beside the river; 
  Around it wistful sunbeams quiver, 
But Music’s airy voice is fled. 
Spring mourns as for untimely frost;       
  The bluebird chants a requiem; 
  The willow-blossom waits for him; 
The Genius of the wood is lost.” 
Then from the flute, untouched by hands, 
  There came a low, harmonious breath:        
  “For such as he there is no death; 
His life the eternal life commands; 
Above man’s aims his nature rose: 
  The wisdom of a just content 
  Made one small spot a continent,        
And turned to poetry Life’s prose. 
“Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild, 
  Swallow and aster, lake and pine, 
  To him grew human or divine,— 
Fit mates for this large-hearted child.        
Such homage Nature ne’er forgets, 
  And yearly on the coverlid 
  ’Neath which her darling lieth hid 
Will write his name in violets. 
“To him no vain regrets belong,       
  Whose soul, that finer instrument, 
  Gave to the world no poor lament, 
But wood-notes ever sweet and strong. 
O lonely friend! he still will be 
  A potent presence, though unseen,—        
  Steadfast, sagacious, and serene: 
Seek not for him,—he is with thee.”

Ah, the last offering from the Eden's Outcasts obsession.  Louisa May Alcott's best poem, honoring the Bard of Concord. 

Would we all could receive the honor of such a tribute, eh?

I read a portion of this poem in Eden's Outcasts, the Pulitzer Prize winning biography by John Matteson, and then found the full poem on  All honor to that website, the first ever to offer a repository for public domain works.  And praise for the site's name too, especially if you grew up on Melville.

If you could write a poem to honor another living human, or one recently gone, for whom would you write?


And look: There's a book about it!

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