Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summer Reading List: But Wait! There's More!

Summer reading can be the best reading of the year. Long days, vacation, plenty of sunshine, shade, chlorine, salt water, and ice cubes melting in iced tea. Add books and stir.

Here's a look at what I think I have in store for summer reading. Today. At this very minute. Well, technically, yesterday — I already found two more books today that might have to be jammed into this collection...

Here's a list of what you see:
  1. And the Mountains Echoed
  2. Arcadia
  3. Barn Stripping
  4. Chi Running
  5. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
  6. Discovery of Witches
  7. Faefever
  8. The Family Fang
  9. The Gun Seller
  10. How They Met and Other Stories
  11. The Labrynth  of Dreaming Books
  12. The Language of Flowers
  13. Let the Great World Spin
  14. Life After Life
  15. The Light Between the Oceans
  16. A Lion Among Men
  17. Map of the Sky
  18. The Mysterious Benedictine Society
  19. The Receptionist
  20. Shadow of Night
  21. Smut
  22. Spook
  23. Southern Gods
  24. The Twelve Rooms of the Nile
  25. Unnatural Acts
  26. A Vision of Light
  27. Wolf Hall
This doesn't include the novels I simply must read that will be published this summer (such as the newest Neil Gaiman) or others that appear to be quite tasty but haven't quite fallen into my hands yet (I'm looking at you, Joe Hill).

I know this is ambitious. I have faith. Or I am crazy.

I will donate $5 per book I read to Main Street Child Development Center, and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List.

Also, if you want to join this summer reading club, share your "consumed list" with me. The reader who reads the most books will win a new book of her or his choice, courtesy From One Book Lover. 

Are you in? Let me know!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Hello, Goodbye, Hello

The world of the famous and infamous is rather small, Craig Brown proves in his delightful book Hello, Goodbye, Hello.  It's like Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, only across genres.

The book is a chain of 101 meetings: Truman Capote meets Peggy Lee, Peggy Lee meets Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon meets Elvis Presley...  The book blends from one encounter to the next seamlessly with well-recorded conversations and comments from reliable resources: published accounts, diaries, third-party accounts, all verifiable, all more honest than one would expect.

But is it interesting? Mostly. The author is British, so he takes delight in a couple of politicians whose notoriety is lost on me. I could have skipped over them, but I didn't want to miss a single snarky, surprising encounter. And there are plenty.

The encounters I enjoyed most were between the writers and movie actors. I'll never again see Sir Alec Guiness in the same light — his recollection of James Dean was sweet, startling and more than unsettling. Madonna surprised me; Richard Burton did not. Some of the memories were cruel and petty, and a couple of people recorded conflicting encounters with the same people decades after the original meeting. Brown is honest about which he considers most reliable and why, and I am grateful for his commentary.

The encounters are not in chronological order, which was a little unsettling. Reading about Hollywood in the 1950s then Russia in the early 20th century was unnerving, but part of that was my fault: I was so anxious to read the encounters that I sometimes would rush through the title, where the date was recorded.

Read this fascinating book. The chapters are short, the memories pithy, the behind-the-scene flashes utterly enjoyable. I initially read a library copy, but soon had to order a copy for my own library, just so I could share it with friends and family. (Let me know if you do the same.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Poetry (Original Version)

Last week, we read a very compact poem Marianne Moore pared down from a longer poem of hers by the same name. As promised, here is the longer version. Which do you prefer?


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician--
nor is it valid
to discriminate against 'business documents and

school-books'; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
'literalists of
the imagination'--above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, 'imaginary gardens with real toads in them', shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: The Round House

Secrets are central to The Round House, the latest  novel by Louise Erdrich. Haunting, revealing, educational and profound, Erdrich creates a world on the "rez" where the consequences for actions last generations.

It's not a book I normally would have chosen to read; Native American Indian fiction can be both an amazing experience and a depressing morality tale. However, this story transcended any categorization I or any other readers may want to pin on it.

Secrets play an important role in this book. Secrets are not all clandestine, residing unspoken in the open in a close-knit community. Other are as obscured as the people who keep them. All are revealed to a reliable, likable teenage boy who must decide what to do with the information he receives.

Joe, also known by a rather comical and bizarrely loving nickname, is an incredible narrator. At once 13 years old and a wizened adult, he tells a story that's in present time as much as flashback and flash-forward.

His family suffers a terrible atrocity (which, in the real world, is sadly common for Native American Indians). As his mother recovers, Joe has to learn about the adult world, which is just as confusing — if not more so — than the world of adolescents in which he had been living.

Joe is at once a participant and a witness, showing life on his reservation as he interacts with family, friends, strangers and enemies alike. He discovers the secrets of his people through the mutterings of Mooshum, the mysteries of recovery through a confrontation with Father Travis, the complexities of families that are both the same and wildly different from his own from Linda, the mysterious world of sex from Grandma Ignatius. So much of what he discovers is a secret, private, behind closed doors.

His narration is trustworthy and flawless. He watches with a keen eye and reports with an unflinching bravery his own foibles and those of the world around him. He introduces us to the inner workings of a man-child, sharing his own secrets and how they relate to the people around him.

Erdrich's characters are amazingly rich and full. If I had to choose a best friend, it would be Cappy. I would want an ally like Sonja, a fair but conflicted father like the judge, a teacher like Mooshum. Even characters that are not central to the story are constructed with a keen eye toward authenticity and an ability to avoid the cliché. Joe's story is multi-faceted and ever-shifting, told in relation to others and as an individual.

The reservation itself is a character. I perceived it as flat, hot and dusty, a place that is at once safe as well as the site of deception, violence, weakness and oppression. Often I wonder why people live where they do; Joe never leaves doubt about why he is where he is, the reservation that provides and contains.

Read this book. Stick with it, no matter how treacherous the path. You'll be wizened, relieved and yet sad as you turn the final page, it's that good.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Poetry


I, too, dislike it.
***Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
***it, after all, a place for the genuine.

by Marianne Moore

This is one published version of this poem — the version she preferred. How did it begin its published life? Read the other published version here next week!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Summer Is on the Horizon: Are You Ready to Read?

Okay, readers, it's coming up on one of the best times of the year: summer reading. Yes, that lazy, hazy, crazy time when you sit in the sun and sweat to words — well, whatever words on the page become to you when you read.

Let's do this together.

Declare your intention to read! Choose at least a few of your books before summer begins and let the rest of us know what's on your menu. I'll do the same. E-mail me your list and we'll share.

Then comes the fun part: read.
Read for fun.
Read for relaxation.
Read for edification.
Read just because you can.

At the end of the summer, we'll compare notes: how many did you get to on your list? How many new titles made their way into your hands?

The reader who consumed the most books wins a new-to-them book from a selection of titles.

Now, let's be fair: War and Peace counts for two books, agreed? If you think a book deserves extra weight, say so. Thin tomes — well, let's decide that on the weight of your list.

The reading period will be Memorial Day through the end of summer. This year, let's choose Friday, May 24 through Sunday, September 22. Send me your list any time you're ready. I'll publish mine by the end of May (and we can compare how many books from last year's list are contenders again this year!).

Get your reading caps on, grab your sunblock and iced tea and prepare to read!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Books by Post

Some days, the mail is almost as wonderful as Christmas.

Yesterday was that kind of day.

When I returned to my desk at work after a meeting, I found two packages. The first contained a keyboard/cover for my new computer device. The other was a book: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman.

When I got home, a second package awaited me with two books: The Twelve Terrors of Christmas by John Updike (with drawings by Edward Gorey) and The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer.

This will give me plenty to read for a while. Steadman's book is my book club's next book (and I now can read it in time!). The rest will add to my "summer reading pile." Yes, summer reading: it's right around the corner, you know.

Have you treated yourself lately to a new book? If so, what did you get? Do tell!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Smoke


It was everywhere in my childhood: in restaurants,
on buses or planes. The teacher's lounge looked like
London under fog. My grandmother never stopped

smoking, and walking in her house was like diving
in a dark pond. Adults were dimly lit: they carried
matches in their pockets as if they might need fire

to see. Cigarette machines inhaled quarters and
exhaled rectangles. Women had their own brands,
long and thin; one was named Eve and it was meant

to be smoked in a garden thick with summer flowers.
I'm speaking of moods: an old country store where
my grandfather met friends and everyone spoke

behind a veil of smoke. (My Uncle Bill preferred
fragrant cigars; I can still smell his postal jacket ...)
He had time to tell stories because he took breaks

and there was something to do with his hands.
My mother's bridge club gathered around tables
with ashtrays and secrets which are best revealed

beside fire. Even the fireplaces are gone: inefficient
and messy. We are healthier now and safer! We have
exercise and tests for breast or colon cancer. We have

helmets and car seats and smokeless coffee shops
where coffee has grown frothy and complex. The old
movies are so full of smoke that actors are hard to see

and they are often wrapped in smoking jackets, bent
over a piano or kiss. I miss the places smoke created.
I like the way people sat down for rest or pleasure

and spoke to other people, not phones, and the tiny fire
which is crimson and primitive and warm. How long
ago when humans found this spark of warmth and made

their first circle? What about smoke as words? Or the
pipes of peace? In grade school we learned how it rises
and how it can kill. We were taught to shove towels

under our closed doors: to stop, drop, and roll. We had
a plan to meet our family in the yard, the house behind
us alive with all we cannot put out... 

by Faith Shearin 
from The Empty House. © Word Press, 2008
Courtesy The Writers Almanac

Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich

Do you have a sense of humor?

Do you want to read about monsters?

Do you want an earworm that includes some of the most annoying songs currently on the planet?

Run — don't walk — to your library or bookstore and pick up the ever-delightful Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich.

Now, this isn't a book for ordinary folks. No, you need to have nerves of steel. You will meet the most fearsome monsters on its pages: Phantom of the Opera, werewolves, vampires, mummies, the Hunchback of Notre Dame... diabolical creatures, one and all.


In the hands of Adam Rex, we see them as they truly are. Rex asks important questions: what does the Phantom hear in his head? What does the Hunchback take to work for lunch? What makes Frankenstein go into the village?

That prompts a perfectly reasonable question of our own, readers: why would a presumably sane man create such a haunting book? Find out in this high-quality, special-effects laden video:

Are you still here? Are you not quivering behind your chair in fear? Are you not racing off to pick up this book?

If not: what in heaven's name is wrong with you? I ordered my personal copy within minutes of finishing the first book. I shall raid the change jar once it's filled again to purchase the sequel, Frankenstein Takes the Cake (unless someone purchases it for me, hint hint).

I enjoyed this book immensely and was inspired to try my hand at horror writing. More on that endeavor as it develops. In the meantime, read this and weep — with laughter. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Splash into Poetry Wednesday

National Poetry Month may have ended yesterday, but we don't have to. Enjoy this lovely tidbit as part of your weekly poetry treat.

Turtle Says

On land
I'm a mud soldier
in a homemade helmet,
slowpoking my way along.
I'm told
I creep
like a sleepwlker,
and it's true.
               No matter.
In water,
on the other hand,
I'm a star,
a swooper, a glider,
a leaper, a flyer,
a ballet dancer
in my green tutu.
That's true, too.

Enjoy other poems by Constance Levy from her delightful book, Splash! Poems of Our Watery World (with illustrations by David Soman).