Friday, June 29, 2012

Perspective: Groceries or Reading?

A show of hands: who's eaten anything at hand rather than put a book down to figure out dinner?
I rest my case.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Reading List (Warning: Ambition Level is Off the Charts!)

For the 12 weeks in summer, I chose 18 books for my list. See below.

For those who crying out, "What in the — Chris, no one can read all of those titles!" I offer them to you, from the top (but not necessarily in the order in which I will read them):

But wait: I have two on my Kindle to add to the list!

Counting Fifty Shades of Grey, which is on my nightstand, that brings the total to an even 20.

And that's just my list now.

Wait until I get going. I suspect there may be a swap-out based on a few discussions I've had. I also have to get The Hobbit re-read and Les Misérables read by the end of the year, which means I may have to begin them sometime this summer.

Without realizing it, nearly half are parts of series. I have separated them out so I myself can marvel at the cleverness of these writers sucking me in for multiple books.

For every book I read between now and the autumnal equinox, I will donate $5 to the Main Street Child Development Center. Also, I will choose three books to donate to the Fairfax County Regional Library (based on the library's Amazon wish list).

I give myself permission to discard any book that does not hold my interest. I give myself permission to swap out one book for another.

And I invite you to join me. Karen and Stacy our resident haiku-ers, have weighed in with hefty lists (see the comments of this blog). How about you?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Meet Condescending Literary Dog

See more of him on I Can Has Cheezburger.

(Okay, I admit: the misspellings and grammar on the site drive me crazy, but look at this dog!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

To David, On the Occasion of Our Anniversary

To My Dear and Loving Husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;     
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.

by Anne Bradstreet

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Our Own Summer Reading Program: Read and Share

There's something carefree about reading during the summer.

Even when I took summer school classes (for fun!), I always had extra time to read. In fact, many of the classes I took included reading lists that somehow seemed less daunting because the books could be read under a tree, on the beach, in a hammock.

I could tackle hefty books in the bright summer sunlight. I could breeze through light fare on the windswept beach of the Pacific Ocean of my childhood. There was nothing too huge that couldn't be faced in the summer.

One excellent source of summer reading lists was my local library. There was always a reading competition, an incentive to read more, the most, the best. Not to brag, but one year I read more books than any other kid in the library. The librarians ran out of prizes — which was even better because reading was its own reward.

But as I left school and found myself in the workaday world, I found fewer and fewer reading programs. Libraries used to offer reading recommendations, but recent budget cuts have reduced staff time and programs. Now, only children are encouraged to read, and rewarded for reading.

I am going to change that.

With Chris' Summer Reading Challenge, I encourage everyone to read as much as they can finish. Spend long summer days lounging with a book and a cold drink. I want people to be so immersed in their books they forget about lunch.

What's the reward? Give it back.

For every book read, I want readers to pledge to donate to their library or literacy program of their choice. Choose cash (a buck a book, or the cost of all books read, or even a copy of the books themselves). Find out how your library or literacy program prefers its donations. Remember: volunteer hours are an excellent way to give back, whether it's to the library or the organization of your choice.

For me, the summer solstice begins at 7:09 pm June 20. Within a week of the official start of summer, I will publish my reading list for the summer and who will benefit from my reading.

So, who's in?

In the comments below, include your reading list and your beneficiary, and how you hope to share your love of reading.

Or drop me a line and I'll share (if you let me) or respond (if it stays between us).

Let's make this a summer to remember!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: The Odds: A Love Story

I wanted to like The Odds: A Love Story, the latest slender novel by one of my favorite authors. And yet — Stewart O'Nan killed the entire novel for me with the last line.

The book itsef was not entirely trouble-free. For such a small tome, the build-up was rather lengthy. I liked the detail, but I didn't like the characters. I really disliked Marion, who seemed rather shrewish and unforgiving (considering her own story). I thought Art was a little too groveling, but I suppose that made sense, in context.

While the relationship was the story, the gambling aspect was a mystery through most of the novel. I don't gamble, not even pretend Monte Carlo Night, so I needed more guidance. Art seemed to think he knew what he was doing, but I didn't. Again, not until the end was there any detail on how in the world two very grounded people thought they would succeed at such a, pardon the pun, gamble.

I have adored a couple of his past novels, repeatedly recommending them to every reader I know. I was moved and amazed by the first of his novels I read, The Good Wife. I thoroughly enjoyed Songs for the Missing. I was utterly charmed and transfixed by Last Night at the Lobster.

And yet, I was not so moved by The Odds.

Please, read O'Nan's novels, even this one — and tell me if you think I'm wrong.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How a Book is Born, Flowchart Edition

Because everything needs a simple, easy-to-read flowchart, Mariah Bear illustrated for us simple humans how a books is born.

HuffPost Books via Facebook

Thanks to HuffPost Books and the artist Mariah Bear.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Letter Home                                                                      

--New Orleans, November 1910

Four weeks have passed since I left, and still 
I must write to you of no work. I've worn down 
the soles and walked through the tightness 
of my new shoes calling upon the merchants, 
their offices bustling. All the while I kept thinking 
my plain English and good writing would secure 
for me some modest position Though I dress each day 
in my best, hands covered with the lace gloves 
you crocheted--no one needs a girl. How flat 
the word sounds, and heavy. My purse thins. 
I spend foolishly to make an appearance of quiet 
industry, to mask the desperation that tightens 
my throat. I sit watching-- 

though I pretend not to notice--the dark maids
ambling by with their white charges. Do I deceive 
anyone? Were they to see my hands, brown 
as your dear face, they'd know I'm not quite 
what I pretend to be. I walk these streets 
a white woman, or so I think, until I catch the eyes 
of some stranger upon me, and I must lower mine, 
a negress again. There are enough things here 
to remind me who I am. Mules lumbering through 
the crowded streets send me into reverie, their footfall 
the sound of a pointer and chalk hitting the blackboard 
at school, only louder. Then there are women, clicking 
their tongues in conversation, carrying their loads 
on their heads. Their husky voices, the wash pots 
and irons of the laundresses call to me.

I thought not to do the work I once did, back bending 
and domestic; my schooling a gift--even those half days
at picking time, listening to Miss J--. How 
I'd come to know words, the recitations I practiced 
to sound like her, lilting, my sentences curling up
or trailing off at the ends. I read my books until
I nearly broke their spines, and in the cotton field,
I repeated whole sections I'd learned by heart,
spelling each word in my head to make a picture
I could see, as well as a weight I could feel
in my mouth. So now, even as I write this
and think of you at home, Goodbye

is the waving map of your palm, is 
a stone on my tongue.

by Natasha Trethewey, the country's new Poet Laureate
Courtesy poets.org

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: The Leftovers

In the past year or so, there have been multiple reports of the coming Rapture, where God in Heaven will collect His righteous to his bosom, leaving behind the unworthy. For the True Believer, it is Gospel, literally: God will call home his chosen.

How would our lives, our beliefs, change if the chosen are not who we expect?

The prologue of Tom Perrotta's new novel, The Leftovers, sets up his story: one day, in the middle of October, millions of people disappear without a trace. Millions. Vanish instantly: one moment you're watching television on the couch with your wife, then in a blink of the eye it's just you.

Your promiscuous sister, your cruel mother, the Hindu librarian — all gone. However, your minister is still here.  Ditto the Pope (and many other religious leaders of note). In short, many people who "deserve" to be gone are wandering around asking the same question: What the...?

The Leftovers takes a secular look at the aftermath of this event from the perspective of residents of a small Midwestern town. The story takes place a couple of years after what people are calling the Sudden Departure, so the public has had time to re-start their lives, such as they are. However, Perrotta doesn't leave us in the dark: he fill in the details of the time between, catching us up just enough to where the present makes sense in context.

One of the elements I liked about the novel was the ambiguity. Unlike some novels with the Omnipotent Narrator who offers a deep understanding of the situation, we know only what the characters know. No one can speak with authority: was it the Christian Rapture?  One book series answers that with great authority (and I stopped reading after one of the characters lamented that her women's health services office didn't have any abortions to perform). This one doesn't have answers, which empowers readers.

The story is only as strong as its weakest character, and readers find no weakness in those created from Perrotta's mind.  There's the mayor, trying to keep the town together while his family slowly unravels. There's the woman renown for being the only "survivor." The local preacher isn't the man he used to be, and his newsletter proves it time and again.  Crime touches this fragile town, but only the Guilty Remnants, a self-appointed group of silent smokers whose role is to remind. Then there's Holy Wayne, who simply seeks to heal — and, of course, things never remain simple.

Tom Perrotta's novels end, but the stories don't. I mean, there is resolution, but only just enough. I always get the feeling that Perrotta's characters are continuing the story even after I turn the last page, and I like that.

I recommend this book, and I hope it stimulates some interesting conversations.

Friday, June 8, 2012

When a Bookstore is a Church

From Buzzfeed:

Completed in 2007 by Merkx + Girod Architecten, the Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore in Maastricht in the Netherlands is an incredible church conversion that was originally consecrated in 1294.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury: a Great Writer, a Gracious Man

Ray Bradbury died Tuesday, and I am still trying to come to terms with it.

I know it sounds crazy: it's not like we were friends, right? But we were.

First of all, I am convinced he wrote for me. I was a voracious reader from an early age, and I knew Mr. Bradbury's books were meant for me. He was a space guy, which wasn't exactly my cuppa, but I trusted him — and where he took me was worth the price of admission.

Second of all, his vision was great. His scope was vast, his ideas were expansive — and yet, his stories were personal. Stuff didn't just happen, but happened to someone not unlike me. Okay, so the likelihood I would go to Mars as a child was unlikely, but it's what happened there that was personal. A Sound of Thunder resonated with me for decades after I read it, and I purchased a complete set of his short stories just so I could have it. I am a fan of time travel, and his single image of a butterfly made me ponder the responsibilities and dangers my entire life.

Finally, he was a generous man even to a young, wet-behind-the-ears feature writer.

When I was a cub reporter, I wrote about one of the best bookstores on the planet: the now-defunct Acres of Books in downtown Long Beach, California. My friend Vicky was claustrophobic when we walked in, shelves towering above us, sometimes touching low ceilings, sometimes just rising as far as physics would allow. Shoppers turned sideways when walking through the stacks, and if you passed someone in the aisle, you became very, very close friends. (I think in some countries, people would have become engaged after that contact.)

And yet I was in that bookstore every chance I got. I picked up old, brown-edged copies of paperback novels for a dime for my literature classes. (Wuthering Heights finally met its demise thirty years after I purchased it, page by page, on a Delaware beach.) I wanted to be a literature major, but my dad convinced me I'd find a better job and make better money as a journalist. I graduated one class short of a double-major, my bookshelves stocked with classic novels and classic feminist literature, all from Acres of Books.

At my first reporting job, I was able to write a weekend magazine on anything I wanted. The pay was abysmal, but I was able to write about teddy bears, Cats the musical, Chinese New Year — and Acres of Books. I had read that Mr. Bradbury was a fan of Acres of Books, having been seen in the stacks often, so I figured I'd give it a shot and see if he'd talk with me. I was nobody at a small community newspaper, but I learned that people love and trust their newspaper. Mr. Bradbury was no different. He also respected writers and loved his bookstore, and I got an interview.

I spent an hour chatting with him. I relied on a recording device attached to my phone's headset to capture the majority of the interview. However, I am a note-taker, not a doodler, so my notes still were pretty detailed. And yet — I was completely immersed in our conversation. He was gracious and generous, witty and anecdotal. He thanked me for talking with him. He. Thanked. Me.

I grew up in Los Angeles. "Stars" were a dime a dozen: movie actors, singers, people on the big screen and stage. I was in the media and took full advantage of the entertainment industry's Los Angeles offerings. I sat behind John Cusack at a movie premiere. (Yes, he was as cute as I thought he would be.) I met the Judds. I shared birthday cake with Waylon Jennings. (I don't think he ate any, but Vicky took a piece of Waylon Jenning's birthday cake home to her mom.) I interviewed Big Names. It was fun.

However, the people who left me feeling like a giddy schoolgirl were writers. In my poetry writing program, I had to try to get over that, but I never really did; I just got better at functioning while star-struck. These people wrote. I know it's hard and fun and amazing and addicting.

And Ray Bradbury thanked me for talking with him.

Some day, if I'm in the same position, I hope I have the grace and humility to know what that means to a cub reporter. I hope I can be as enthusiastic about my subject, suck them in with me, bathe them in the glory I feel — then thank them for coming along with me.

Mr. Bradbury will be missed, and not just by the aging reader who picks up his stories to travel back to her childhood and who chose a particular edition of A Princess of Mars because the great writer penned the introduction. He will be missed by the cub reporter who loved him then and loves him now, still, and will love him long after she has passed on that love of Ray Bradbury to her grandchildren.

Oh, and go to the library. It's what Mr. Bradbury would have wanted. I'll see you there.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

artwork copyrighted by blog editor

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" -
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more."

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never - nevermore'."

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore:
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting -
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

by Edgar Allen Poe
(courtesy Famous Poets and Poems)
Read in the video above by James Earl Jones, accompanied by Midnight Sonata

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife is an exquisite tale unfurled by a master storyteller.

So, why didn't I like it?

Well, that's not completely accurate: I like many of the characters and many of the stories were fascinating. I just did not understand why the novel was written.

Natalie, a young doctor in a war-ravaged Eastern European country, is on her way to an orphanage to vaccinate its occupants when she discovers her physician-grandfather, a cancer patient, has died in a town near the orphanage. How did he die? Why was he in that town?

Natalia tells her tale, and her grandfather's tale, and their tale together. She also tells the tale of the war-torn country in which she lives. The tales are interesting, compelling — but do not cohere into a particular story. I enjoyed reading it, right up to the end, when I came to the last page and thought, "Why did I read this?"

I don't mind a novel where there is no clear ending. I don't mind when the story continues after the final page. However, I want resolution to the tale. When I pick up a book, I want a reason to read it. I don't want lovely words arranged in a pleasing way, but with no purpose.

That is what Tea Obreht gave me: a novel with no raison d'etre.

Did you read it? Do you agree? Or just how wrong do you think I am?

Friday, June 1, 2012

What's on My Nightstand, June 2012

I've cleared off my nightstand lately, finishing a few books that were lurking and keeping a few in rotation. Here's the current lineup.

First of all, I need a little book junk food, and I think Moning will fit the bill.

Second, I want to finish The God of Small Things — just because.

Then there's The Hunger Games. I can't wait to discuss this with Valerie.

I am really excited to start The Illumination. I liked Kevin Brockmeier's novel The Brief History of the Dead, and I hope this one lives up to my expectations.

The biggest surprise on this list, however, is at the top of the stack: an e-book.

I could tell you it's a free copy of Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars. I could tell you I checked out the paperback twice from the library and ran out of time on both attempts to read it. I could tell you a lot of things that make me sound defensive, but I won't. I'm trying out an e-book a way that makes me comfortable. So far, so good: I read 18 percent of it today. (Yeah, that will take some getting used to... I mean, what do I do with my bookmarks?)

I like the book-like Kindle Fire cover, though. Reminds me what it's all about.

What's on your nightstand?