Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: cats and you and me

cats and you and me

the Egyptians loved the cat
were often entombed with it
instead of with the child
and never with the dog.

and now
good people with
the souls of cats
are very few

yet here and now many
fine cats
with great style
lounge about
in the alleys of
the universe.

our argument tonight
whatever it was
no matter
how unhappy
it made us

remember that
there is a
adjusting to the
space of itself
with a calm
and delightful

in other words
magic persists with
or without us
no matter how
we may try to
destroy it

and I would
destroy the last chance for
that this might always

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: Let America Be America Again

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again. 
Let it be the dream it used to be. 
Let it be the pioneer on the plain 
Seeking a home where he himself is free. 
(America never was America to me.) 
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed-- 
Let it be that great strong land of love 
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme 
That any man be crushed by one above. 
(It never was America to me.) 
O, let my land be a land where Liberty 
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, 
But opportunity is real, and life is free, 
Equality is in the air we breathe. 
(There's never been equality for me, 
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.") 
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars? 
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, 
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars. 
I am the red man driven from the land, 
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-- 
And finding only the same old stupid plan 
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. 
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, 
Tangled in that ancient endless chain 
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! 
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! 
Of work the men! Of take the pay! 
Of owning everything for one's own greed! 
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. 
I am the worker sold to the machine. 
I am the Negro, servant to you all. 
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean-- 
Hungry yet today despite the dream. 
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers! 
I am the man who never got ahead, 
The poorest worker bartered through the years. 
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream 
In the Old World while still a serf of kings, 
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, 
That even yet its mighty daring sings 
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned 
That's made America the land it has become. 
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas 
In search of what I meant to be my home-- 
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore, 
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea, 
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came 
To build a "homeland of the free." 
The free? 
Who said the free? Not me? 
Surely not me? The millions on relief today? 
The millions shot down when we strike? 
The millions who have nothing for our pay? 
For all the dreams we've dreamed 
And all the songs we've sung 
And all the hopes we've held 
And all the flags we've hung, 
The millions who have nothing for our pay-- 
Except the dream that's almost dead today. 
O, let America be America again-- 
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free. 
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America, 
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, 
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, 
Must bring back our mighty dream again. 
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose-- 
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives, 
We must take back our land again, 
O, yes, 
I say it plain, 
America never was America to me, 
And yet I swear this oath-- 
America will be! 
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, 
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, 
We, the people, must redeem 
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. 
The mountains and the endless plain-- 
All, all the stretch of these great green states-- 
And make America again!

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reading Important Tomes: The Weighty Books List

Carole and I have taken on Weighty Books, and I think it's going to be fun.

We are members of a book club whose members chat about books online and meets for brunch a few times a year. Each club member chooses a book in turn. This group has helped me read more than a few books I wouldn't otherwise have read, and I've also chosen some good books myself for the club. (I've also chosen a few less-than-successful books, too, but I'm okay with that. You never know until you try, right?)

At a book club conference Carole and I attended in September, Carole had a great idea: read Weighty Books. These are books we always intended to read but, for some reason or another, didn't. At a certain point in life (namely, after college), there are fewer reasons or opportunities to read such books. Don Quixote? Crime and Punishment? Not always at the top of the must-read pile in our everyday world — and yet they are valuable reads.

Weighty books deserve time and attention, so how does a reader squeeze them in with so many other important, valuable or fun books on our shelves? Easy: by trying to bite off as much as we can chew.

Carole and I decided to choose two such books a year (along with, possibly, a related book or two). We made one very important rule: if it's not enjoyable, put it down. Maybe return to it another time, maybe not. No matter what any teacher might have said, not every book deserves to be read.

We chose the following traditional and modern classics for our Weighty Book List:
  • Anna Karenina 
  • Arabian Nights 
  • The Decameron 
  • Divine Comedy
  • Don Quixote 
  • The Human Stain 
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past) 
  • Little Dorrit 
  • Midnight's Children 
  • Moll Flanders 
  • The Monk 
  • Norwegian Wood 
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Picture of Dorian Gray 
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker 
  • Portrait of a Lady 
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 
  • Tobacco Road 
  • Woman in White 
  • A book by Alexandre Dumas (to be decided)

We had planned to start with Divine Comedy because it inspired so many books on our list (and we both read Dan Brown's related thriller this past summer).

However, a trip to the library introduced an unexpected surprise: The American Decameron by Mark Dunn, a favorite author. When Carole received two copies of Dunn's book for Christmas (one of which she generously shared with me), we re-arranged the list accordingly.

Next on the list: Tobacco Road and Anna Karenina. Probably in that order. Probably. I'll let you know.

Do you have a Weighty Book List, or a list of classic books you want to read? What is it? Let me know.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: El Beso

El Beso

Twilight--and you 
Quiet--the stars; 
Snare of the shine of your teeth, 
Your provocative laughter, 
The gloom of your hair; 
Lure of you, eye and lip; 
Yearning, yearning, 
Languor, surrender; 
Your mouth, 
And madness, madness, 
Tremulous, breathless, flaming, 
The space of a sigh; 
Then awakening--remembrance, 
Pain, regret--your sobbing; 
And again, quiet--the stars, 
Twilight--and you.
by Angelina Weld Grimké

Monday, January 13, 2014

Is There a Jar Big Enough?

Book Riot blogger Rachel came up with a great way to plow through her To Be Read book stack: the Jar.

In this jar are the titles of all of the books you wish to read.

When the time comes to start a new book, you reach into the Jar and voilá! Your choice is made for you.

I like to think I can meet my book choosing needs, but I suspect that's not the case. I have an autographed copy of The Poisoner's Handbook that I've been meaning to read, and now PBS American Experience is featuring the book.

I also have the same plan for Wild and The End of Your Life Book Club, whose authors I met last year and whose books I am ready to read.

And yet none of those books are on my nightstand yet this month.

Will a jar help me get to all of the books I want to read, or am I just kidding myself? Would a jar help you? Will a jar help anyone with a serious book addiction?

Do I need to stop asking questions and start reading? I think we have a winner....

Monday, January 6, 2014

Summer Reading: Reflecting on Success

Sand may have given way to snow, but don't let that stop you from thinking about your 2013 summer reading list! 

Did you get to all of the titles on your list, or did you take advantage of the sun and fun and — what am I thinking? Reading in the sun is fun!

Anyway, two fellow readers chimed in with their reading lists, and they were impressive! Karen and Stephanie were up to the challenge of Summer Reading and, between them, read 22 books. 

Karen and I were supposed to read Under the Dome together, but it was too gritty for me. Karen, on the other hand, sailed through and added a few other amazing titles to her list, including:
  1. Next 
  2. Sepulchre
  3. The Dead Zone
  4. Heart of the Sea
  5. Wuthering Heights
  6. Rose Madder
  7. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
  8. The Lost World
  9. Midnight Bayou
  10. Under the Dome
  11. Pirate Latitudes
She powered through a couple of powerhouse authors — Stephen King and Michael Crichton — and added a few other interesting writers to her list. A couple on her read-list are on my to-read list. Maybe I should power through them, too.

Stephanie, a novelist herself, read a couple of my faves, a few of which I've heard amazing reviews and at least one classic:
  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  2. Late Rapturous
  3. Blue Moon
  4. Catching Fire
  5. The Orphan Master’s Son
  6. The Green Metropolis
  7. The Light Between Oceans
  8. The Round House
  9. War Brides
  10. The World According to Monsanto  
  11. The Great Gatsby
She has inspired me to try, try again with The Light Between the Oceans, which just got too tense for me to finish. She also gave me the courage to try The Orphan Master's Son, which I heard from multiple readers was gorgeous but "hard to read."

Both readers will receive a book they select for themselves — because, obviously, they didn't get enough...
I read a few during summer 2013; if you're really curious, you can find out which ones in the blog entry Summer Reading, Fondly Remembered. Personally, I'd wait to see what intrigues me enough this coming summer... but re-reads are cool, too.

So, plunk on your thinking cap and get ready. Summer Reading Club is for all books read between Memorial Day and the autumnal equinox. This year, let's make it Friday, May 23 through Tuesday, September 23. 
Don't worry, I will remind you. I'll even give you a sneak peek at my list when I finalize it. I hope you do the same for me: e-mail it to me in May and I'll share with the rest of the class.

So, settle in with a good cuppa and a bright light. Stay warm, my friends and fellow readers, until summer arrives. Until then, tell me: what are you reading?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Review: House of Silk

When you get your hands on The House of Silk — and trust me, you want to! — plan to do nothing for the next few days but read. Anthony Horowitz's novel is a rip-roaring, non-stop adventure with shocks and surprises on every page.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson may be the rage thanks to the BBC, but this book will do its part to boost his popularity.

The premise is intriguing: Watson recorded the details of a case so shocking, so awful, that it had to be kept sealed and hidden for a century after it occurred.

The story is simple — well, as simple as Holmes can permit. Holmes is approached by an art dealer who feels threatened by a figure stalking his home after he recently returned from American on a work-related matter. Is it the man from America come to seek revenge? Before we can answer that question, there is death, violence and a silk ribbon wrapped around the wrist of a street urchin. Thus they enter the House of Silk — something so diabolical, so secret that even those who know don't know but to know they shouldn't know, and neither should Sherlock.

And what a story. Horowitz has a way of hinting at the future while remaining grounded in the story's present. He introduces a few Baker Street regulars in a way that offers a possibly new way to view them. He weaves intrigue into every encounter, making the reader's guesses all that more fun when they see how wrong, or how right, they are.

The characters are well-presented, the story taut with suspense and intrigue, the writing concise but rich in detail and precise language.

In the end, it maintains the myth but helps reveal just enough of the man that is Sherlock Holmes (and Watson) to earn its authorization from the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It's new but not too new, it's old hat but in a warm and familiar way, and it is indeed shocking and awful a story that could only be told in today's world.

Walk through London and its suburbs during the waning years of the 19th century with two trusted characters and learn about the town, its people and its history. It's rooted in its time and place, but surprisingly modern, with the rich language of its time trimmed just enough to fit on both the pages of today and yesterday.
I recommend this book, but only if you're ready to read into the wee hours of the night, then pick it up first thing in the morning, and stay in its pages until long after you've finished reading it. It's that good.