Friday, August 31, 2012

Go Ahead, Confess: You Do It, Too!

True confession: I've done this every time I have looked at this photo.

(Photo credit pending)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Years From Now When You Are Weary 

and worn out, wondering how you'll pay
a bill or make the rent or meet a deadline

set by some thoughtless boss—and kid,
such days will come—remember yourself

at five: hair light from the sun or just from
being young, new lunchbox pasted

with butterflies, how you hung your backpack
on a hook, then wouldn't let me take your picture

on the first day of school, sending me
out of that classroom, to the car, to my job

where a pair of bats flapped in the hallway.
Bats may be just bats, but one darted

into my office, quick as the boxer's head
that bobs and weaves and never gets hit.

It landed and hung from the drapes, upside
down, as you hung in my body for a while.

Bats are not the only flying mammals.
That afternoon in line for the bus, you cried,

so tired you thought you'd fall asleep
and miss your stop. Years from now, child,

in some helpless dusk, remember that fatigue
but how you made it home to me anyway

in the care of a kind farmer—bus driver.
Recall that once I arrived late, your bus

gone, and when I found you, carefully seated
by a coffeepot in a corner of a dim garage

at the school bus lot, you just said, Let's go,
Mama. Don't tell anyone about this.

by Julia Kasdorf

From Poetry in America. © University of Pittsburg Press, 2011.
Courtesy The Writer's Almanac

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book People Unite! Help Children Read!

Who does that look like? Watch the video and become acquainted with a few old friends (and possibly meet a few new ones).

I remember RIF from my own childhood, and I'm glad to see it's still working hard to support reading in youngsters.

I also support organizations that want to provide children with books of their own. There's something special about a book of one's one.

Support reading.
Support children.
Support books.
Support Book People Unite and RIF, and other similar organizations.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nightstand Books: August Reading!

I have a healthy stack o' books on the nightstand. Probably more than I should — but hey, what's new, right?

For those who don't wish to squint at the screen, the books are (from top to bottom):

This is not the order in which they are being read: I am reading The Great Stink with Karen and How to Be a Woman is for my funny bone.

A few of these will have to be postponed after Labor Day, as I need to prep for Fall for the Book Festival. I need to read Amy Waldman's The Submission and Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue before the festival. But we'll see.

What's on your nightstand?

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Best Description of English, Ever!

And don't you forget it!

Pegasus Publishing offers this on a t-shirt, which is an edited quote by James Nicoll:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
I love English!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In the Moment

Some days the pond
wears a glaze of yellow pollen.

Some days it is clean-swept.
The trout leap up, feasting on insects.

A modest size, it sits
like a soup tureen in a surround of white

pine where Rosie, 14 lbs., some sort
of rescued terrier, part bat

(the ears), part anteater (the nose),
shyly paddles in the shallows

for salamanders, frogs
and little painted turtles. She logged

ten years down south in a kennel, secured
in a crate at night. Her heart murmur

will carry her off, no one can say when.
Meanwhile she is rapt in

the moment, our hearts leap up observing.
Dogs live in the moment, pursuing

that brilliant dragonfly called pleasure.
Only we, sunstruck in this azure

day, must drag along the backpacks
of our past, must peer into the bottom muck

of what's to come, scanning the plot
for words that say another year, or not.

by Maxine Kumin

From Where I Live. © Norton, 2012.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Fifty Shades Trilogy

Fifty Shades of Grey cover
It's a top-selling series and the butt of many a joke, called — well, no matter what it is called, it's a phenom. But is the Fifty Shades trilogy good?

And the answer, for me, is yep: it was a fun, rollicking, blue, entertaining ride through a few months in the lives of the fictional (and insatiable) Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey of Portland, Oregon.

While there's plenty of sex going on in excruciating detail — enough, I suppose, to classify this as erotica — author E. L. James tries to make it so much more than that. I can't say she does it with great style and aplomb, but she does know how to weave an exciting, compelling tale.

James is known in the fanfic world for her Twilight adaptations written under the name "Snowqueen Icedragon" — which, in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit I have not read.

I also admit I am not a fan of fanfic, as I've managed to find only the cloying, cheap knock-off near-parody stories that usually teem with the exploration of the unrequited sexual tension between the characters fans want to see getting busy with each other. I'm sure there's good fanfic out there, but I haven't yet found it (and, honestly, I'm not in the market).

I read the series at the recommendation of my friend Melanie, who really enjoyed it. She saw it as much more than the "mommy porn" it was touted as being, and she was right.

The story is simple: boy meets girl, boy wants girl to be his sexual submissive, girl wants boy so she considers her options, girl drunk-dials boy to tell him she wants more, boy wants girl so he considers his options. Oh, and there's lots and lots of sex.

The story is told in first-person by Steele who, as a true heroine, has no idea how attractive she is and how many men want her. Grey is a young megalomaniac multi-billionaire with a painful past. Steele reluctantly interviews Grey for the university magazine run by her flu-ridden roommate. She's all thumbs, Steele, ill at ease and bad at interviewing (she's an English major, not a communications major). In spite of her bumbling and Wal-Mart clothes, Grey warms to her and suggests she participate in some of his recreational activities.

Which she considers. Oh, and she has little experience with men, despite being a ravishing beauty with chestnut hair, blue eyes surrounded by long lashes through which she gazes seductively and longingly, and a plump lower lip she bites often.

And of course she considers it: he's Adonis. A richer-than-God Adonis. A man who works sixty hours a week and has a kinky personal life still has time to become a chiseled god with tousled, grab-able copper hair and smoky gray eyes. His clothes are perfectly tailored, his toys are expensive and people (figuratively) scrape and bow in his presence. He is a control freak and beyond possessive.

Readers may decide they really hate Grey and think Steele an idiot. Those characters give us plenty of opportunities to see them at their worst and at their most unlikeable. Much happens in the short time they like each other, and much of it suggests they're both immature, hot-headed, manipulated and manipulative — and solve everything with sex. The most likeable characters are on the periphery: Taylor and Mrs. Jones, for example.

The story was a little slow until the action started — and then it went full-tilt. The sex is a woman's fantasy, through and through, with a compliant man, a willing woman and plenty of time, energy and resources to do what they want to do when they want to do it. Being as rich as God has its advantages: people let him get away with more than they should. However, James created enough tension between the characters to keep it interesting between the, er, action sequences.

Any similarities between Anastasia and Bella Swan are coincidental. The same goes for Christian and Edward Cullen.

For the record, I found the action sequences explicit, but not all that titillating. After a while, I skimmed over the sex scenes to get back to the story. I mean, sure, he's in his late 20s, but how many times a day can any multi-billionaire sate his lady-love? And how many times a day should said lady-love wish to be sated by a near-predator? Plus, it's tainted by his back-story, which I found as intolerable as Steele did. (Hint: if you hated The Reader, you will have a hard time with this.)

Speaking of Steele: her subconscious and inner goddess were way more involved than necessary, with arched eyebrows, back flips and The Complete Works of Dickens.

There were a few things I would have edited out, or rewritten to save the reader the pain of having to re-read continuously, including (but not limited to) bitten lips, gazing through eyelashes, whispered declarations of possession and love, his obvious state of arousal, almost off-hand demonstrations of wealth, and use of the phrase "Fifty Shades" (or any iteration thereof, including "Fifty," "My Fifty," and "Oh, Fifty."). I cursed James' editor until I discovered it originally was self-published, then I relaxed. Fifty Shades is glossy, mass-produced and popular fanfic. Let go and go along for the ride.

A few recommendations:
  • When you finish Fifty Shades of Grey, be sure to have Fifty Shades Darker on hand.
  • If you need a break, take it after the first few chapters of Fifty Shades Darker, then take another break between Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
  • Start Fifty Shades Freed when you have a lot of time to read because the story is relentless.
  • If you like Christian Grey by the end of the story, and if you want to keep liking him, skip the "Meet Fifty Shades" section. You'll know it when you see it.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Treat a Book: Do You Agree?

I don't agree with all of these practices, but I think it starts a very, very important conversation.

I mean, can you really support drawing a moustache on a book, but not to ward off vampires (especially if they sparkle)?


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Maya Angelou's 2012 Olympics Poem

Maya Angelou reports, "The Olympics Committee ask me to write a poem for the 2008 Olympics and I offer it again for the 2012 Olympians. I commend you all, Americans and winners across the globe for what you do is win the human spirit and therefore we are all winners."

Amazement Awaits

Sheer amazement awaits
Amazement luxuriant in promise
Abundant in wonder
Our beautiful children arrive at this Universal stadium
They have bathed in the waters of the world
And carry the soft silt of the Amazon, the Nile,
The Danube, the Rhine, the Yangtze and the Mississippi
In the palms of their right hands.
A wild tiger nestles in each armpit
And a meadowlark perches on each shoulder.
We, the world audience, stand, arms akimbo,
Longing for the passion of the animal
And the melody of the lark
The tigers passion attend the opening bells,
The birds sing of the amazement which awaits.
The miracle of joy that comes out of the gathering of our best, bringing their best,
Displaying the splendor of their bodies and the radiance of their agile minds to the cosmos.
Encouragement to those other youth caught in the maws of poverty,
Crippled by the terror of ignorance.
They say Brothers and Sisters, Yes, try. Then try harder.
Lunge forward, press eagerly for release.
The amazement which awaits is for you.
We are here at the portal of the world we had wished for
At the lintel of the world we most need.
We are here roaring and singing.
We prove that we can not only make peace, we can bring it with us.
With respect for the world and its people,
We can compete passionately without hatred.
With respect for the world and its people,
We can take pride in the achievement of strangers.
With respect for the world and its people,
We can share openly in the success of friends.
Here then is the Amazement
Against the odds of impending war
In the mouth of bloody greed
Human grace and human spirit can still conquer.
Ah … We discover, we ourselves
Are the Amazement which awaits
We are ourselves Amazement.

by Maya Angelou

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book Lovers Day: Whose Idea Was It? And Why Didn't You Call Me?

Alert: August 9 is Book Lovers Day.

Depending on who you speak to, it's called National Book Lovers Day or World Book Lovers Day. But who cares? Love books every day!

Anyway, Book Things was a great resource when I asked "who," so check out the blog. And share books.

I am a huge sharer of books. I buy them, scatter them around like apple seeds, hand them over to my friends, co-workers — and offer unsolicited suggestions to readers everywhere. (With the latter, I try to be polite and non-obtrusive, and I retreat at the first sign of "get out of my face, I'm shopping here!")

To make up for the 2012 lapse, I shall scatter a few more books into the wind.

And I shall be prepared for 2013!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fragments of Poems by Marilyn Monroe

Brain Pickings recently introduced me to something fantastic: fragments of poems written by Marilyn Monroe. They are included in the book titled Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe.

She's a mythic figure, tragic, fragile, lost too soon. These fragments show a thoughtful, creative artist.

Here are a few fragments:

 I’m finding that sincerity
to be as simple or direct as (possible) I’d like
is often taken for sheer stupidity
but since it is not a sincere world –
it’s very probable that being sincere is stupid.
One probably is stupid to
be sincere since it’s in this world
and no other world that we know
for sure we exist — meaning that –
(since reality exists it
should be must be dealt
should be met and dealt with)
since there is reality to deal with

I guess I have always been
deeply terrified
to really be someone’s
since I know life
one cannot love another,
ever, really

Oh damn I wish that I were
dead — absolutely nonexistent –
gone away from here — from
everywhere but how would I
do it

There is always bridges — the Brooklyn

– no not the Brooklyn Bridge
But I love that bridge (everything is beautiful from there and the air is so clean) walking it seems
even with all those
cars going crazy underneath. So
it would have to be some other bridge
an ugly one and with no view — except
like in particular all bridges — there’s some-
thing about them and besides
never seen an ugly bridge

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern creates magic in her debut novel, The Night Circus. My only regret with this book is that I didn't read it sooner. It was just, just... just.

The circus arrives without warning. Les Cirque des Rêves follows no schedule. One day there's an open, empty field, and the next morning there appears circus tents surrounded by a black metal fence with a gate that states the circus opens after dark. It sits empty and still during daylight hours. But at night... acts and shows that seem other-worldly. The illusions are perfectly wrought, the animals exquisite. Each tent is more fantastic than the last. Each performer is more perfect than imagined. Then, one morning, the field is again empty.

The tale of the circus is told through the relationship of two magicians — and the players who compete in the game.

These friends (nemesis?) have carried on this competition for longer than either of them can remember. Each chooses a person who he thinks is worthy and capable. Each player is marked by the opposing leader, after which the training begins. At some point, the competition begins. There is no quitting, and only one can win. But exactly what that means is lost on the players until it's too late.

Morgenstern creates a fantastic tale that is unequaled in any tale I've yet to read. Her writing is as magical as the stories she tells. The story of the magicians and their competition are woven through the book, interspersed by descriptions of circus attractions.

The story did not go where I expected: I did not see most of it coming, which made it even better.

I wish any description I gave could do the book justice, but I fear that my words are clumsy. Morgenstern language is finely tuned, wonderfully wrought and so, so lovely. I wept as I read the last chapter — I was so glad to have read it, it was perfect to the very last punctuation mark, and I found it flawless and exquisite.

Please, please read this book. Please.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Library Loot: Fragments, Hugo and a Secret
I checked out three library books this week. Each has a specific role in my reading life.  I am very excited!
  • Fragments by Marilyn Monroe. She wrote poetry, or at least fragments of poetry. Why am I surprised that this artist would commit her poetry to paper? Rest assured, Poetry Wednesday will benefit from this.
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabaret by Brian Selznick. I sent it to my friend Marie for her birthday last year, and I haven't read it. I will remedy that before I see her again. I haven't seen the movie — have you? Did you enjoy it? Do I want to see it?
  • Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. My book club read it, but reviews are mixed at best. I haven't consumed it yet, and I may wait to read it until all of the reviews are in.

For the first time this calendar year, I have no materials on hold. I returned Ruby Red earlier this year before I could read it, and you know how I love time travel fiction. I may set it up for hold to pick up in October — thank heavens for delayed reservations so I can plot my library reading!

What did you pick up at the library this week?

Thanks to Linda (Silly Little Mischief), Claire (The Captive Reader) and Mary (The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader ) for establishing the weekly Library Loot. Check out what they're checking out!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympic Poetry
From The Telegraph: The last lines of Tennyson's Ulysses engraved at the Olympic Park


      It little profits that an idle king1,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

      I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades2
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy3.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

 This my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

 There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought
 with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles4,
And see the great Achilles5, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
courtesy Portable Poetry