Book Confessions…

September 19, 2012 § 17 Comments

I want to read but it’s just not something you do in the middle of the day at your desk.
I want to read but instead decide to sleep on the plane.
I want to read but waiting ’til bedtime (11-ish) just doesn’t work out always when Morpheus comes flapping around doing his go-to-sleep-now thing.
I want to read but sometimes it’s just not polite, even if the conversation is boring, to pick up a book and begin.

I crave reading like I crave chocolate, or quiet time or a ride in the countryside.

Instead of reading right now, though, I’ll herein spill some book truths, confessions if you will..and you might want to pipe up on some of it..

FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen. More than 15 months since I started it, I still haven’t finished it. The suburban angst and the “drifting”around of characters is disturbing (and truthful) to me and not the escapism I’m likely to seek after a 10-hour work day.
But the writing is fabulous, full of writing language and human insight.
Plus, Franzen is from here, from Webster Groves.
Plus, I have it on my Nook.

I am only now reading THE BOOK THIEF.
I am reading it because I think I should. (I wrote that line 4 days ago.) But now, more than halfway through it, I’m liking it. There is some sharp and excellent writing in it.
It’s not (just) for young adults.

I am only 4 pages in to THE HUNGER GAMES. I am not yet addicted. I haven’t touched it in four months. I thought I’d be done with it by now, talking about it at the water cooler, yapping about the movie, but no. It’s still hovering near the TBR stack. Along with its two successors. Blech.

As for some of the hefty classics including  ANNA KARENINA, EAST OF EDEN, CUTTING FOR STONE, MIDDLESEX, HUCKLEBERRY FINN, DANTE’S INFERNO, THE ODYSSEY, ULYSSES, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, IN COLD BLOOD, and ON THE ROAD to name a few, I haven’t read ém and I don’t know if I will. Maybe with the change of the season… Though I’d say my heart’s not in reading them, I realize I might fall in love with them. That’s nice, to be on the precipice of (book) love, non?

I am hellbent to read the books that are in the house. However, I find my buy-books addiction leaking into the purchase of magazines instead. My habit has morphed.

The bottom line, though: if I’m reading, I’m not writing.

“weather in a word…”

May 3, 2012 § 9 Comments

On the last day of our Gulf vacay, this sign was just outside a lunch cafe.

Funny how even a grey weather day on a vacay stint just doesn’t matter. 
You have, by now, relearned livingwithin Nature, embraced by it, wrapped up in the balm of walking around in the air, have learned how to be beyond the office walls, and you’ve rediscovered the relativity of time without a clock, including all the things you can do or not do within a day that doesn’t involve desks, meetings or email.

In fact, you’re likely to tilt your head skyward, close your eyes, open your mouth and taste the rain. 



Books read on vacay: 
Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani.  I like her books (see her THE SHOEMAKER’S WIFE on the bestseller list!) for their mix of Italian language, growing up Italian in NYC and the occasional inclusion of fictional relatives in Italy. It recalls hours and hours at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table in Brooklyn.
The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell  is a decent read with inspirational value, some strong recommendations and one or two esoteric exercises.  Yes, read it. Even if you’re not a writer. But if you’re reading this, you  probably are.
And then there are the magazines but much reading time was replaced by “friend” time because we holidayed with best friends and I cannot tell you how luxurious it is to drop in (a few floors down) for coffee with a BFF at the beginning of a day.

Do we not have something of the same luxury wtih our blog friends? Indeed!

The “Archer”…caught red-handed and up to no good

March 15, 2012 § 5 Comments

Archie, the name for ALL the  squirrels that live here on Lochcrest  is up to no good. Though any one of the at least three of them that live in our very immediate environs knows full well that getting on the bird feeder is impossible, nonetheless there is great sport in eternally trying to win the platform of the feeder, even if it means skinnying up the pole and finding oneself inside the black tube and STILL unable to get to the feeder. As for the BBQ approach, beware of the grill’s summer face and keep in mind that it is kept – aha! – just out of “leap” distance.

And so, in the spirit of squirrels (and yes, I know they’re rodents, or, rats with furry tails) but I prefer the Beatrix Potter perspective, I recommend a look back and a quick read of SQUIRREL NUTKIN. Lovely, eh?

Stacking the TBR stack…

August 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Poets & Writers is one of my favorite writing mags. It’s a support system, an info ship passing across my mental scape, a collection of well pointed essays on the writing scene, a flash of what we can be and/or apire to on the page, a summary of what’s new, what’s right/write, what’s deeper than puffery, what to look at…

And reading from cover to cover, the temptation to write down (nearly) every book that is discussed or mentioned in writer bios as their accomplishments turns one’s head from thoughts of writing to a compulsion to read….ah, the passive side of writing, the sina qua non of mentors, the thrilling read to fill the gaps when one is dancing around one’s desk, eyeing a manuscript in process and getting ready to approach it. At such times, it’s grand to have P&W there, cheering one on, pushing sweetly from the content of its pages.

Here are some of the books mentioned, referred to and/or touted in the May/June issue…cuz I’m often one behind…and I think they belong on (my) TBR stack (and check out some of the links for photos, actual stories by refernced authors to read, some wonderful “author” blogs and the grand old etcetera , as ee cummings would say):

SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell – novel – it comes off the her short story “Big Ava” in her short story collection called “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Rasied by Wolves.” I raved about this story a few years ago. Just. such. excellent. writing. And…bizarre but excellent story.
THE WILDING by Benjamin Percy – novel
REFRESH, REFRESH – Benjamin Percy –  stories
THE LANGUAGE OF ELK – Benjamin Percy – stories
THE WORLD BENEATH by Aaron Gwyn – novel
DOG ON THE CROSS  by Aaron Gwyn – short stories
BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy  – novel
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim  O’Brien – novel
The above “grouped”works will have some violence in them but done with taste and class (sounds crazy, but it’s true), as in, not showing the reader everything that happens, only inferring it. These were used in an article on how to use violence effectively (if you are including it in your writing. Right – it sounds bizarre but it was a damn fine article and a lot of  this country’s fave writers use violence in their writing, actually.)

THE END OF BEING KNOWN by Michael Klein –  memoir – he’s a poet so I suspect his memoirs, and he has TWO of them already (see just below) are likely well painted.
TRACK CONDITIONS by Michael Klein – another memoir

THE SUMMER WITHOUT MEN by Siri Hustvedt – novel – this author is a student of the Brain and its various functions, quirks and amazingness.  Curious. Worth giving it a whirl, methinks.

SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones – novel – she has some significant writing freinds, including Judy Blume. Look for her blog:

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS by Laura Maylene Walter – short stories (coming soon)
TEN THOUSAND SAINTS by Eleanor Henderson – novel
AMERICAN WEATHER by Charles McLeod – novel

Oh, there are more mentioned within the magazine’s pages.
And in a very wrapped-up, intense meeting today, another bookaholic who happens to be from the West Coast leaned over to ask if I’d read Kingsolver’s The Lacuna. Well, no, I haven’t. But the seed  has been planted and I can barely wait to get to the library, hoping to cheat having to stack another book on the TBR stack. Yeah, sure.

flying…(time that is)

May 25, 2011 § 15 Comments

The month of May so far…

Three birthdays (best friend, hubs and Mom)

Graduation (Snarl is so smart – yay!!!!!!!!!!)

First time at a B&B (gorgeous. The Yates House in Rocheport.)

Work (integration with co that has acquired us)

Yardwork (Tons to do to “open” up the place for summer: mulching, trimming, weed whacking, mowing, sweeping, edging, planting…you get the idea)

BBQing (yay – we can be outdoors and the last thing anyone wants to do is open up a laptop)

Checking the schedules and calendars to see where/what we should be doing)

Reading? very little. Various magazines. Franzen’s FREEDOM. (geez, he’s minimalistically “dark” but he can really write and nail characters so I plow on.)

Writing? Um, nearly none. Journal is suffering from separation anxiety.

Call this wee bit forward motion. Some pictures next time.


Read books about one’s career. There are things to be learned, or savored, or “aha”ed.
The best thing about outdoors is that wonderful scent/smell. How delightful to smell fresh air!
You should not use A/C to the point where you are sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket.
Dogs need at least semi-annual grooming. Your dog will allow strangers to clip their nails but not you,  so much.
Work will constantly test you. Detox, let it go, on your way home. Upon arrival at home, do NOT immediately attempt to make dinner. Change clothes, have a conversation with hubs. Then, cook simply.
If you know you’re going to fall asleep watching TV at night, then watch it in the bedroom.
A hard rain will wash your car for you.
Umbrellas are useless in sideways rain.
There is such a thing as too many meetings.
There’s magic in a smile.

the power of the gift book…an entry on books whilst I stall on doing the writing I should be doing!

February 13, 2011 § 6 Comments

Writing Lesson:
You’ve written something. It’s not bad. You’re ok with it. But it doesn’t work as you thought it might. It falls flat somehow.  That’s what you think, and you’re the author! Uh oh. So what’s a reader going to think? Readers do not cut an author any slack.
 Advice: Rewrite it from a completely different point of view. If you told it from the Mom’s point of view, rewrite it from the kid’s point of view. If you told it from omniscent third person, change it and tell it in 1st person. (If you don’t know what I mean by point of view, read FOREST FOR THE TREES by Betsy Lerner or fall back on Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE. A tired reference, perhaps, but there’s an illustrated version and overall, the book is quick and to the point if you want  instant explanations.)

What? Really? Rewrite?  you ask. Geez, that’s a lot of work.
Yes, that’s correct. It’s a lot of work. Good writing doesn’t just fall on the page. It takes work, craft, finesse. It also takes guts and instinct.
Make that piece turn into something worthwhile, something more than a tried-and-failed attempt.
Work it.
Point of view can be the difference between “major hit”  and “complete miss.” Consider McInerney’s BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY told in the second person – the first novel to do that and pull it off.
If you’re really stuck, it’s very cool, very in, to tell the story from an animal’s point of view, typically a dog. Dogs lend major interest  to all writing. (You know the “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” rule, right?)

Book review, sort of:
We have all, at times, experienced someone asking “Have you read such and such a book? No? Oh, you must. You have to read it. You’ll love/hate it. ”

Sometimes, that person wants to know what you think of it, might possibly be up for a discussion of it if  you’ve read it.
But just as often, no, they’re not. Your quick conversation is more like a USA today pie-chart survey. Have you read it? Did you like it – yes? no? And then that’s it. The conversation moves on to other things.

Ah, but with bookreading friends and family (and bloggers!) you dig deeper than the pop trash measure of whether the book is popular or not.
And you know that person better for what he/she reads, don’t read and will comment on. (And face it, we like to know one another. It’s a human thing.)

Yes, you can get to know someone better because of the books they share with you.
And that’s one of the many beauties of booksharing.

And so it is with my Mom. After several decades of her living back East, she moved here to STL nearly three years ago. So we see each other on a regular schedule (sometimes daily, sometimes weekly), rather than twice a year.
And we are learning all kinds of things from one another, not the least of which is our reading tastes.
Yes, we take a journaling class together and bit by bit, I’m learning more, but still…

Anyway, several blog entries ago, I mentioned that Mom gave me Bryson’s A WALK IN THE WOODS. It’s a book I would have called a “someday” book – someday I would get to it, someday borrow it from the library or maybe someday buy it.

But at Xmas, there it was under the tree, labeled for me.
I was the immediate owner of a book by someone I hadn’t read yet (which many booklovers will know is a thrill, just as finding a new book by a favorite author is a thrill. (you can’t lose with us booklovers!).

What made this book gift “sweeter” was that Mom had shopped for it. She went through the store looking for something I might like, hadn’t read, hadn’t experienced. (How could she know?) And as well, she apparently engaged the help of a sales person and they discussed possibilities. (She told me all this later, as I was oohing and aahing over the book.)

I believe one of the reasons I love that book so much is because Mom gave it to me. She had a choice of thousands of titles in the store and she chose this one. And with that choice, that gesture, I got to know her even better.

It’s true.  You know people better by what they choose for you. The reason they choose a book for you is as compelling as the gift itself.
It’s always been true, but for me, who has always read fiction, this is an eye-opener when someone gives me something “other,” something different than my normal reading.

And so when Mom fell in love with the book THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, I wondered why.
I hadn’t read it.
She didn’t go into smarmy detail; at the book’s mention, she would only cross her arms over her chest and shake her head side to side, smiling, and say she just loved the book.

Note that she has expansive reading interests, leaves no reading stone unturned, except perhaps poetry (but she loves writing poetry! go figure) and she’s a wonderful barometer for the merit of any book.  This one grabbed her. As an active member of the book club at Kirkwood Library that meets every six weeks, she handed back the library’s copy and went out and bought a copy, to keep.

A few weeks ago, she loaned it to me. “Read it,” she said.
I picked it up and read the first pages and had to put it down. A dog is the narrator and he’s dying. I don’t do well with dying dogs.  I would tell you that I still haven’t gotten over Bear, our beloved “big” dog who died almost two years ago. And now our beagle, “the beag,” is nearly 17 and hobbling around in senior dimensia. He’s at my feet now.

Anyway, Mom mentioned that after the first chapter, I’d be ok. “Read it,” she said again last week.
So I swooped down on it this week, while HM was away on a biz trip.
Lucky we had lots of tissues in the house following the cold virus that swept through here.
Book reading lesson: It’s ok to cry when reading a book.  Thank goodness.

I availed myself of tissues off and on during the entire read. I would not have chosen this book to read on my own. But I kept going because I wanted to see what captured my Mom about this book; I wanted to know that more than I wanted to know what would happen in the story. 

And having finished it this morning, I am as caught up in pondering why Mom liked it, why it spoke to her, as I am in the thank-goodness-for-the-ending that it offered stage.

And I know why.
There was no subterfuge in the book. It is straight out about endurance. About “man-ing up.” About loyalty. About drive. About good guys and bad people. About being in the moment.
Was it corny, sentimental?
No, the dog’ narration saved it from being that, once the reader adjusts to the dog-writing construct.
And you will look at your dog a little differently after reading it.

Yes, it’s about knowing the right path and sticking to it.
And that’s Mom’s story;  she has always been able to move forward, with that unique combo of pioneer spirit and anglo stiff upper lip plus the softness and gentility that unites a family.

Ah, but hers is another story.

“Scuse me while I take the Ole Beag for a walk.

Huck, at the doorway, deciding whether he will come outdoors or not

deep down, it’s always books…

January 19, 2011 § 17 Comments

Some days, there is no writing.
You want it, you want to write and you have everything you need, including a little time.
And yet, there’s nothing for it.
Theres’ ink in the pen but  it just isn’t happening.
You don’t panic. It’s not “block.” It just isn’t anything. That’s ok.

So, hooked on the book thing nonetheless, you retire to the “studio” to try out the camera on its manual setting. Maybe in this muse-bereft moment you can forsake the camera’s “auto” setting and try something new. Shake things up a little.

(photo taken of book “Santa Diaries” in basement using special lightbox from HM)

Writing Lesson:

Even when you don’t write, at least hang around the book barnyard.

Recommended Read:
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani.
Truth? I haven’t read this book yet. I’m finishing a mystery I’ll tell you about later. But Nor is reading, say it’s a combo of SATC and the movie “Moonstruck” but more emphasis on Moonstruck, and she loves it. Good enough for me! I seem to be in a read-for-entertainment-mode lately.

Coming clean…

August 29, 2010 § 10 Comments

 When we vacationed in WDC in July, I was always last out of our room.  HM was working; I was vacationing.

I knew of course that Housekeeping would be showing up during the morning hours to do those things which I should do every morning in my own home (and don’t always, more like occasionally) such as dusting, cleaning the bathroom, arranging towels, making the bed so smoothly you could bounce a quarter off the sheets (ok, I always do that), and in this hotel,  Housekeeping’s visit also included setting out mineral waters, fresh stationery and more L’Occitane gels and lotions, filling the ice bucket, cleanin the wet bar, hanging up the fleecey robes, arranging our shoes just so, opening the drapes and sheers just so, leaving the newspapers, and polishing every single thing, ultimately leaving the place looking like a photo shoot for a getaway resort.

So before leaving the room, I would wonder how much picking up should I do, prior to Housekeeping’s arrival? What did our room tell about us, and did they discuss guests and their habits, terrible, funny or otherwise? I would not wish to have HM and I discussed over the break table in the staff room. Ugh. Of course, I’d never know.  

Better, however, to err on the side of bland or boring, in that our room would be tidy.  And not offer any details of our lives to be “read aloud” during any Housekeeping chatter.

So I would fluff the pillows and set the blankets straight on the bed. I collected our empty water bottles and tossed them in the recycling bag provided. I straightened the towels on their racks. I hung up any clothes, put away jewelry or bits of things you collect when you travel like ticket stubs, maps,  etc. plus stuff HM collected from the conference each day which I organized and put in his business briefcase. 

I tidied our morning newspapers, saving them for him to read upon his return. (He is not an early riser and gets up in time only to get ready and leave for the day, not to linger over coffee and the paper!) I tell you this here, but did not want the housekeeping staff to have any tales to tell!

In truth, in smaller rooms, I cannot bear a mess, either. So, I’d sweep through, an eye out for things we might have left on the dresser or bathroom vanity. It’s easy to be tidy  in small rooms. I like it. It’s controllable.

But what about the stack  of books and magazines I had brought along? The magazines were getting toseed as I read them. The two books were light enough, but might have given the impression that I was staying for one month rather than one week. But you can’t go light on books; what if you did finish one at say, 1 a.m. and had nothing next to read? 

And then, did the book and magazine titles tell too much about me/us? Pooh. I took the stack and set it on the deep window sill just behind the drapes, near the wing chair. I would set a bottle of mineral water there, too, for later, and hoping they would give me another to replace it.  Mineral water (bottled water, that is) is a luxury when you travel. You can take it with you, out and about; you can chug it in your room if you’re not familiar or fond of the tap water taste in a different city. And at home, we don’t buy it.

And they always did give me another one.. Whether they saw the one I tucked away with my books, I don’t know.

They took care of things; I started to look forward to it, but did not become lax in my pre-clean prior to their arrival.
Oddly, I noted how much I enjoy cleaning, picking up, taking care of silly small things  – like cleaning our hairbrushes, tidying drawers, I even ironed while there! – all the things that make things “nice” but get looked over when the household is running out the door to work every morning. 

I had no idea what Housekeeping sees on a daily basis. It occurred to me that they must witness the stuff of novels. Is there a “cleaning woman” mystery series? there must be.

About a week after getting home from WDC, on one of my “shopping” tours of the library, I spied a book about writing that I had never seen. It is Nancy Peacock’s A BROOM OF HER OWN.

It’s a series of essays, about her life as a writer. Although she was a published author, with two books, life kept driving her back to a housecleaning gig to sustain herself.  ( A hard truth.)
And out of that, at the encouragement of her agent (or editor, I forget which)  came this book of essays. Each is a story, though.
Although it’s a book about writing and the writing life, it’s is certainly a book about life. It’s a book for everyone, especially those who love to read, to see how it works, this writing thing, and to see how it dovetails constantly with “being there,” being in the thick of real life.

Peacock talks of the people she’s cleaned for, what she sees or knows, how she puts her writing together through all of it, how she befriends some clients, leaves others. Through it all, she has her feet on the ground and her ear always listening to her writer’s heart.

I gotta recommend it. It’s a skinny book that is rich rich rich with humor, mercy, compassion, and it also illuminates the creative drive. 

In retrospect, I suspect my hotel housekeepers would have labeled us as “vanilla.”
That would be perfectly fine with me.

Lunch hour…Monday

August 23, 2010 § 12 Comments

Strong coffee.
Strong bracelet: this one has a twist: it says “Write strong.”
Strong writing on magazine page.

Here’s to lunch hours far from the madding crowd, and when not writing, reading.
(OK, this is as far “away” from the crowd as I can get during the work week.)

Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver…

August 19, 2010 § 7 Comments

I cruise the bookshelves like a hound on the scent of not bones, but a book!
A book about writing. Not just writing, but about writing.
And this little tome pops out, its title stopping me in mid-scan.
it’s a surprise, more than I hoped for.
It’s a lovely little book.

Because, you see, I belive in many things about books about writing and here are two of them: 

     1) There is something, even only ONE thing in every writing book that somehow resonates.
     2) Certain writing books, especially one you’d never heard of,  fall into your lap at just the right moment.

Any writer’s writing can always use a spike, a switch away from a form or format always used, a reminder of how to make things work and no, it’s not all instinctive.

And so Mary Oliver’s THE POETRY HANDBOOK stuck its little binding out, stepped away from its peers on the shelf, and waited for me to choose it. I saw the word “handbook” which also gave me pause, then the word “poetry” and I know I need tons of poetry in my life – who doesn’t? –  and then I saw the author’s name – Mary Oliver.  

HM gave me a collection of Oliver’s poems last year.  Then as synchronicity would have it, I was runnning into mentions of her, her poems, and  Oliver discussions  everywhere and one of Snarl’s girlfriends said (often) how much she liked Mary Oliver, whether to endear herself or not, and OK, yeah, I’m exagerrating – but overall, it’s true. One day you’ve never heard of an awesome writer, the next day, bingo, the writer is referenced everywhere.

I recommend the book. It’s as spare as a contemporary poem. Favorite chapters include Getting Ready, Imitation, Sound, More Devices of Sound, The Line, Verse that is Free,  Revision, and Workshops and Solitude. 

Oliver says cool stuff, explains the  “poetic” difference between a rock and a stone (it has to do with hard edges and soft round sounds), discusses hard and soft sounds, fricatives, dipthongs, onomatopeia, mutes, longs and  shapes – so much about sound (and you think you know all this but really, you haven’t heard the half of it  in years) and her clear putting forth about something as small as the difference in the flick of a sound as opposed to the drawing out of a sound can potentially pump up the writing, at least pump your “word awareness.”

Geez, I love this stuff.

She reiterates something which for me, as a mere reader of poetry, always flummoxes –  the “turning of the line.”  “This subject is one that every poet deals with throughout his or her working life. And gladly, too, for every turning is a meaningful decision…”  Glad to hear her pronounce that. I have read some poetry, rather cavalierly I confess, and wondered ‘what the heck? Are the line breaks really doing something here?’   (ah, such a novice. Don’t mean to curl the hair of the poets; only that I am a neophyte and this book is helping to un-neophyte me.) Oliver goes on to disuc the power of hte line by examining a metric line, with its ‘feet’ and ‘stresses.’ You have likely rubbed more than shoulders with that gladsome iambic pentameter found in Milton, Frost, Shakespeare, ad classicum.

Ok, I’ll stop dishing on the particulars (though have only touched the top of the deep water that is poetry) at the risk of otherwise sounding like David Foster Wallace in that book on mathmatics that I mentioned several blogs ago, one that lost me, quickly, dropping me admist my geometric brain as opposed to his out-there-in-the-universe math knowledge….perhaps Oliver sounds like that to a non-reader/writer – I dunno.

but geez, i love this little book.
And hope it illuminates, elucidates and inspires those who put pen to paper, whether prose-ists or poets.

What she says: “Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves… But the desire to make a poem, and the world’s willingness to receive it – indeed the world’s need of it – these never pass.”

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