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Showing posts from January, 2013

A Month of Letters: Is Your Postage Ready?

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February is tomorrow: are you ready?

More importantly, is your postage ready?

It appears the U.S. Postal Service is increasing the cost of mailing a letter by one cent. (Find out more here.) That means I'll be the person at the post office purchasing another pack of penny postage. Sigh.

Be that as it may, consider accepting the challenge: write and mail at least one piece of correspondence every day in February the U.S. Postal Service delivers mail. That's about two dozen letters, cards, postcards, photo postcards — can you dig it?

I'll be more than glad to exchange a letter or two with you in February (or beyond). E-mail me your address and we'll write to each other. If we wrote to each other before, send me your address again.

Write back atcha!

Poetry Wednesday: The Raven, 168 Years Old Yesterday

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First published on January 29, 1845
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 visi…

Get Ready: 'Month of Letters' Begins February 1

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When was the last time you wrote a letter?

If you can't answer that question, consider joining me for A Month of Letters.

It's easy: send 23 letters in February. Okay, so it sounds daunting, but it really isn't. Send one letter every day there is postal service. Write back to everyone who writes to you.

Find those lovely notecards you were given that year for Christmas and use those. Drop a note in a friend's birthday card. Send a postcard. Print a few photographs and send them to someone who hasn't seen them. (And yes, you know at least one person who hasn't seen them.)

There are plenty of ways to participate. Give it a shot. You'll be glad you did.

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

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I love India.

Wait, let me clarify: I love what I know about India. I am sure I don't know enough about it, but some cultural elements fascinate me: Bollywood, daal, saris, Hinduism, bustling cities.

Each of these is a single idea — and Katherine Boo has replaced "ideas" with realities: real people, real situations, real dilemmas.

In Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo reveals the private lives of some of the residents of Annawadi, a "slum" near the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

It may be my own shortcoming, but the word slum connotes in my mind a certain surrender, as though people have resigned themselves to the inevitable. Those who live in Annawadi are a diverse lot, Hindu and Muslim, and some have seen the undercity as a way to make their mark, or to gain control. For others, it's a temporary place until they find their niche in the city. Others expect to use the system that has promised t…

Fun Friday: Don't Mess With a Librarian

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Poetry Wednesday: El Florida Room

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Richard Blanco was chosen as the inaugural poet to write the poem for this year's Presidential and Vice Presidential inauguration. Click here to watch him read the poem at the celebration, and enjoy an older poem of his below.

El Florida Room


Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view 
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up
against the windows, the tepid breeze 
laden with the brown-sugar scent 
of loquats drifting in from the yard. 


Not a sunroom, but where the sun 
both rose and set, all day the shadows 
of banana trees fan-dancing across
the floor, and if it rained, it rained
the loudest, like marbles plunking 
across the roof under constant threat 
of coconuts ready to fall from the sky.
Not a sitting room, but El Florida where 
I sat alone for hours with butterflies
frozen on the polyester curtains
and faces of LladrĂ³ figurines: sad angels,
clowns, and princesses with eyes glazed 
blue and gray, gazing from b…

When to Put Down a Book, the 'On the Beach' edition

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Readers have two very important decisions to make: what books to read and what books to stop reading. What compels us to do either?

I used to read anything because I love books. I would drudge through the worst book because I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. What if it got good and I didn't know it?

Then I picked up Water for Elephants. It had sat on my shelf for a year as I hemmed and hawed. "It's a tough read for animal lovers," I heard. "I don't know if you can finish it."

Then I read the first page. And kept reading. When I came up for air — thankfully at a decent hour of the evening — I called my friend Carole. She got no further than "Hel—"

"Oh, Carole, why didn't you tell me?"

I could feel her smile emanating from the other end of the phone. "I did."

That night, I made myself a promise: if a book didn't grab me, I would give myself permission to set it aside, possibly forever. I also woul…

Fun Friday: Gorey was Right

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Poetry Wednesday: The Second Life of Christmas Trees

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The Second Life of Christmas Trees
In frozen January, my friends and I
would drag discarded Christmas trees
from the sidewalks of our shivering town
to an empty lot. One match and fire
raced down a dry sprig like a spurt of life.
A puff of wind and the pile ignited,
flamed above our heads. Silk waves.
Spice of pitch and balsam in our nostrils.

We stood in a ring around the body of the fire—
drawn close as each boy dared,
our faces stinging from the heat and cold,
lash of that wild star burst on a winter night.

by Mark Perlberg
From The Impossible Toystore. © Louisiana State University Press, 2000. Courtesy of The Writer's Almanac

Reading Stack: Library Loot and More

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On Monday, I had one stack of books:

The e-reader was responsible for my first two pieces of library loot: Wild by Cheryl Strayed and On the Beach by Neville Shute. A friend had told me Wild was a great read, but I might find it a little difficult. On The Beach, a post-apocayptic novel published in 1957 included on a Web list of "interesting books."

I was excited and determined. I had chosen for my book club A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I had purchased months ago at the last library book sale. A Lion Among Men and The Gun Seller were gifts I had received much too long ago and had to be read tout de suite.

A Map of the Sky was a pleasant surprise from a last-minute stop at Barnes and Noble. Chi Running was a Goodwill find that would help me keep running from hurting as much as it has lately.

By Tuesday, my stack had changed:

The first two e-books didn't last long. I lost patience with Shute, whose writing was dispassionate to the point of apathy, as he fell in love…

Fun Friday: Give Books an Inch...

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Send books to war: they'll conquer friend and foe alike!

Poetry Wednesday: The Year

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The Year 
What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox courtesy poets.org

Reading: Choose Your Media

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Is the question of what you're reading as important as how you're reading?

Publishers and naysayers are whipping up a frenzy, comparing print books to parchment and printers to scribes. Paper is old-fashioned and print readers are out of touch with the times, they want to tell us.

Readers know better.

Naysayers need to let it go. There's a benefit to both e-readers and the printed book.

I have both and enjoy both. Some books I have in both formats, including some classics like A Christmas Carol and recently published books such as Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Then there are the inexpensive e-books that sounded too good to pass up, like Gregor the Overlander (by The Hunger Games author Susan Collins) and Random Harvest by James Hilton (author of Lost Horizons and Goodbye, Mr. Chips). With one click, I owned fascinating reads I could carry with me in my purse.

Also, there's the magazine advantage.  I can read The New Yorker anywhere now, and pret…

New Year's Resolution: Books Can Get You Off the Couch

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Whatever works.

Review: The Great Stink

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London sewer. How exciting can a novel about that be?

Pretty exciting, it turns out.

First of all, there's the subtitle: A novel of corruption and murder beneath the streets of Victorian London.

Then there's the romance: a returned Army vet has a chance to affect one of the biggest infrastructure projects in London history — only murder gets in the way.

Then there's Lady.

William May survived the horrors of Crimea to return to his family only to experience more hor—

Okay, it was Lady that kept me reading. I even broke my own rule of reading ahead (skimming, really) to make sure I could continue reading. You see, I loved Lady almost as much as Tom did.

And that is how I knew I liked this book: I was too tense about one of its characters. Plus, it's about government: how much more cool could it be?

The other storylines were compelling, too: May's all-too-real experiences with war that caused him such pain, to return to his family a broken man hanging on by an unra…

Poetry Wednesday: The Passing of the Year

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Because sometimes you just can't wait until Wednesday...

The Passing of the Year 

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
     My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
     And wait to feel the old year go.
I dedicate to solemn thought
     Amid my too-unthinking days,
This sober moment, sadly fraught
     With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time
     You stand to bow your last adieu;
A moment, and the prompter's chime
     Will ring the curtain down on you.
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
     You falter as a Sage in pain;
Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,
     And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
     Let us all read, whate'er the cost:
O Maiden! why that bitter tear?
     Is it for dear one you have lost?
Is it for fond illusion gone?
     For trusted lover proved untrue?
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
     What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right
     So s…