Monday, July 11, 2016

U.S. Poet Laureate: @ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem



@ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem

RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
                       officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
                       Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
                       their families. And to all those injured.
 
                                               Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing

Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
                                                            what happened in Afghanistan

                                                  what
                flames burned inside

(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas )

This could be the first step
          in the new evaluation of our society    This could be
                the first step of all of our lives

by Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, July 8, 2016Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herreracourtesy philly.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Poetry Wednesday: Wilfred Owen, Graphically Rendered



Wilfred Owen: Dulce Et Decorum Est,
Graphically Represented


One century ago, the world was stunned and wounded by The Great War.

Poet Wilfred Owen, a casualty of the war himself, tried to tell us the cost. here is one of his most well-known poems rendered graphically by Nathan Gelgud.

courtesy Signature

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day: Our Diversity Is Our Strength

Independence Day, celebrated on July 4 in the United States, is an exciting day, one whose origin is all but forgotten — or, perhaps, ignored.

In the late eighteenth century, a group of immigrants occupied a country under the control of a monarch across the ocean. Rather than live as subjects of the English crown, the people of the nation rose up and claimed independence from the crown.

Who were these people? French, English, Irish, Scottish, African — in a word, immigrants. Some came for personal safety and security, some came for financial reasons.

We celebrate still, two and a half centuries later. Yet let's always remember what made us great: our diversity, which, when harnessed, exuded a power too great for even a king.

When we stand together, we are too mighty a force to be defeated. Do not let anyone, within or without, divide us and dilute our greatness and power.

Click on the video below for a reading of the Declaration of Independence, courtesy of Max McLean.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Library Loot: Magic and Mystery

I am sorry to admit, my last Library Loot was less than thrilling. The short-story collection featured love scenes more reminiscent of Fifty Shades of Gray than Gone With the Wind.

Tails of Love, indeed.

So, I approached the Vacations from Hell with great caution. (So far, so good.) I think I already read Sir Terry's book — I am a fan of Discworld's witches — so I may have to read it (again?) to be sure.

Interestingly enough, neither of those delightful paperbacks were among those that took me to the library in the first place.

I met Victor LaValle through his most recent story that hearkens to H.P. Lovecraft without the racism. (I am embarrassed to say that I hadn't paid close attention to anything but Cthulu— who is even scarier when portrayed by modern artists as something that stands thigh-high in the deepest oceans.) (How Cthulu fits below passing ships is entirely beyond me). Anyway, I found The Ballad of Black Tom, LaValle's latest novella, intriguing, so I figured I'd give his award-winning novel a try.

Family Life sounds amazing, frightening and overwhelming. Which isn't exactly what I want to try to cram in with a couple of books about witches, not to mention other books on my nightstand (including Evicted and The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu) — but when one doesn't manage her library hold schedule well, such bunching will happen.

I'm kind of excited. What have you checked out from the library lately?

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!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Library Loot: Critters, Book Mystery and Love Medicine

Lately, I've been spending more time at the library website than actually inside the building. Yes, I've discovered the thrill of audiobooks and e-books downloaded to my very own Kindle. It's like a miracle: a click or two and I have free loot on my machine!

Well, this Friday, I stopped by the library and discovered a couple of honest to goodness paper books I simply had to take home, starting with the first of a "bibliophile mystery" series, followed by more than one about animals (shocker) and a National Book Award winner.

I probably will not read them all — I think I'm more in the mood for short stories these days — but we shall see. My lending period is three weeks, and a lot can happen in that short period of time.

I still have my summer reading list to plow through — and yes, I already have gone off the list for my latest read, but what a great novel! I'll review that one soon, but here's a hint: World War I, Spanish influenza and San Diego spiritualists.

So, what's in your reading pile, and what gems have you picked up from the library lately?

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!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Summer Reading Club: The List

Summer means reading — and summer reading club! 

As a child, I loved joining the local library's summer book club the first day of summer break, reading the requisite number of books and more, and visiting the library as often as I could get there (I lived within walking distance, ands it was the 1970s, so it was often).

Well, let this be your annual summer reading club for those of us who do not have one anymore. Read for the sheer joy of it — and perhaps win a free book!

Visit your library (public or private), your local bookstores and thrift shops, yard sales and online book suppliers, friends and family, and choose what books look like they need to be read this summer.

So here's what I hope to consume this summer between the Memorial Day weekend and the first weekend in autumn. This year, that date is Friday, May 27 through Sunday, September 25.

If past years serve as guides, I shall carefully create a list, pondering my own library and my published library wish list, check out what is scheduled for publication — then eschew most of these titles for whatever strikes my fancy as the summer progresses. I'll express surprise, as will you, and we'll laugh at my foibles. Good times.


Now, the summer has unofficially begun with Memorial Day, a solemn occasion to remember why we have the freedom and opportunity to exercise our rights and privileges as Americans. Please, take a moment to remember the true reason for the day.

Review your bookshelves or nightstand to decide what to put on your summer reading list. Here is mine, in no particular order:

  1. Hamilton: The Revolution
  2. In the Heights: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical
  3. Evicted
  4. Crenshaw
  5. Dark Money
  6. Between the World and Me
  7. The Portable Dorothy Parker
  8. Farewell, Dorothy Parker
  9. Fates and Furies
  10. Map of the Sky
  11. The Map of Chaos
  12. Ready Player One
  13. The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books
  14. Me Before You
  15. The Descent
  16. The Bookseller
  17. At the Water's Edge
  18. When Breath Becomes Air
  19. The Glass Sentence
  20. Wicked
  21. Son of a Witch
  22. A Lion Among Men
  23. Out of Oz 
  24. Bone Season
  25. The Gun Seller
  26. Wolf Hall
  27. The Lowland
  28. And the Mountains Echoed
  29. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  30. The Sixth Extinction
  31. Revival
  32. Bellman and Black
  33. Just Mercy
  34. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits
  35. Redeployment

This is a working list, so I suspect it will change. I shall come across another delectable morsel, possibly this afternoon, and I shall have to include it.




Join the Summer Reading Club and put yourself in the running for a new book. Read as much as you wish from May 22 through September 27, and if you read the most book, you will win a book of your own. 

To join the club, just send me an e-mail or leave a message below. Then, at the end of the summer reading period, send me a message or include your reading list in a blog message. If you read the most, congratulations! If not, you still are a winner because you spent your summer reading.

I've already had a few e-mails from eager readers, and I can't wait to read your list!

I make sure summer reading is beneficial to my community. As I have done in years past, I will  donate $5 per book I read to Main Street Child Development Center (minimum $150) (I know, no sweat, right?), and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List


Hopefully, reading club members also will find a way to help their communities through their reading, or to help share the love of reading with their communities. It's not a requirement, of course, but it certainly is a worthy effort. It doesn't have to be financial support, either — think of what the community wants and needs. Every reader can determine what is within her or his power to bestow.

Even if you don't join the reading club, I still would love to know: what's on your summer reading list? Tell me!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: NOS4A2

I love a good horror story, and Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is a good horror story.  In fact, it was a great horror story. It had true fear and horror, great characters and a fascinating storyline.

I read it on three platforms — audio, e-book and print book — and it was great in each. In fact, I would strongly recommend giving Kate Mulgrew's audio performance a try, no matter your stance on audiobooks.

However, it was relentless enough, and long enough, to make me beg for sweet release by the end.

Plus, I can never stomach how the King men kill animals in their novels. (Seriously, guys, just stop it. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Even when it makes total sense and makes the story more poignant, resist the urge. Thank you.)

Okay, back to the topic at hand. I started the book a couple of times since its publication in 2013. I got as far as the prologue, maybe a couple of pages into the body of the book, and put it down. It was weird and fascinating, but it didn't snag me. Why the nurse? Why this kid? Lots of portended creepiness, but nothing concrete.

Then I let Kate Mulgrew pull me in with that throaty voice I've loved since "Ryan's Hope." Her portrayal of the characters was sincere and gripping. (A couple of them sounded more like Minnesota hicks than I would have imagined them to, like Lou, but it fit their personas.) Because I was switching between platforms, I never heard her read Maggie Leigh, for which I am grateful.

I loved Maggie. I found her flawed and tragic, and the progression of her story was poignant and gorgeous. I would love to read a book in which Maggie is the central character.

I think.

I am still processing how brittle and flawed Hill makes his female characters, and what the male characters of his story have to contribute to the definition and capabilities of the females. I think every character has a chance at redemption — well, nearly every one — and most work hard to become more of who and what they are. It's a lovely progression, even for the people who appear to be villains. (Not all "villains" actually are villainous, after all. Some are just incapable of being more than their weaknesses.)

As much as I enjoyed the story, Hill has taken on the mantle of writing the horrific joy out of a scene by stuffing it full of superfluous information, buffoonish characters and ridiculous situations. I stopped reading Stephen King for a while for that same reason, and now still approach his work with the same caution. I am sorry to do the same thing with Hill.

I am about to discuss details of the storyline, so if you have not read the book, beware spoilers.

Okay, you've been warned.

Proceed with caution, or skip the following bulleted paragraphs.
    • Hill belabored the haunted telephones that drove Vic to destruction and institutionalization. It didn't spiral, but dragged. Snipped a little, the scene could have been even scarier and more haunting — but instead, readers wove through the longest streets in Denver with a woman in underwear that, inexplicably, no one seemed to see.
    • Hill handled Charlie Manx's autopsy scene with an unexpected level of clumsiness. The security guard was totally ridiculous, a sex-crazed stupid kid who was even more useless than Barney Fife. The senseless buffoon felt superfluous and distracted from the horror of the situation. 
    • How did a dead man and a masked psychopath in a huge vintage car move in across the street from Linda McQueen's house without detection? In every neighborhood in which I have lived, everyone knew everyone else's business. Even if I wasn't in the know about, say, the Brown family, Mrs. Herrera was, and she told us. Major loss didn't distract us from each other, so Linda's death should not have created such a vacuum of observation.
    • Finally, the ending was way too weird. No municipality would have allowed Sleigh House to remain standing (such as it was) after all of these years, thanks to back taxes, death and human heebie-jeebies. Children who have not aged in centuries would be hard for anyone to accept, even an open-minded fibbie. I loved that Lou had to break the spell, but if NOS4A2 was the key to Manx's power, why in the world didn't Manx's power end when NOS4A2 did?


    Thus endeth the spoilers.

    I don't know if I can recommend this book. Have you read it? Would you recommend it? Why?