Monday, September 12, 2016

Summer Reading Winding Down — Or Is It?

Well, summer readers, how goes your reading list?

Personally, mine has gone as cattywampus as possible (which should not surprise anyone who reads this blog with any regularity). I make a list, I ignore the list, and summer just keeps spinning out of control.

Let me count how many from my published reading list I have consumed since Memorial Day weekend.

Six.

I have, in the past three and a half months, read six out of 35 of the books I planned to read. Oh, I've read 30 books, but I haven't read but a few I planned to read.

Why? Well, blame authors who place tasty morsels in my path that distract me. They're good "distractions," I assure you. One of them was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which you want to read. Well, "want" is a tricky concept. You  will be glad to have read it when it's been read, but it won't make you feel as giddy as, say, Ghostly Echoes. Or Farewell, Dorothy Parker. It is an important and great read, so don't miss it. Just know you're getting into something bigger than words.

When you read a book about a Broadway musical, such as In the Heights, have the soundtrack queued up, even if it's playing in your head, so you can listen to it in real time (not brain time).

I will finish another two books on my reading list before the weekend of the autumnal equinox — but my average won't get much higher. I am at peace with that, if only because lists are just guidelines, not contracts.

How is your summer reading going?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: The Bookseller

An independent single career woman in Denver during the Cuban Missile Crisis doesn't stand a chance in Cynthia Swanson's novel The BooksellerPerhaps I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish the novel last night, but — man, I feel a little cheated by the story's resolution.

The premise of the story is intriguing. Kitty, a 30-something bookshop owner living in Denver in 1963, begins dreaming about a fictional life with a husband and children. It's a far cry from her current life in a cheerful duplex with Aslan the cat and her struggling bookstore she runs with her childhood friend Frieda.

 The dreams are vivid and appear to have an actual (albeit tenuous) connection to her waking hours. Most importantly, her dreams are perfect. Her husband is handsome, loving and supportive. Her children are charming, well-behaved and beautiful. Her home is custom-built, her wardrobe just-so. She is not disappointed when she goes to the Denver of her dreams.

At first.

The more time she spends, the more she wonders which world is real. Is she Katharyn, wife and mother, or is she Kitty, single gal and entrepreneur? Both worlds have their charm and pitfalls. Which will she choose?

For me, the stumbling point of this tale was the introduction of a character with a very modernly recognized ailment. The symptoms are extreme and the character is almost a caricature. There are other era-appropriate elements, such as smoking cigarettes in public places, large cars without car seats (but, inexplicably, seat belts in constant use), lots of liquor and intoxicated behavior, treatment of women like fragile dolls (if they're of means) and workhorses (if they're not). If the author's intention was to place it in time, Swanson did a thorough job. And yet it felt out of place.

The trigger for this dream confusion, when it's revealed, is almost a let-down. Granted, Swanson tries rather hard to build her case, that a woman who is living such a life based on certain decisions must reconcile her life with her dreams, and vice versa. Yet it feels artificial, as if the author herself is reprimanding Katharyn for those very decisions.

The characters are real, but they're not. Readers will feel a tug: just as they start to solidify, the characters shift. Yes, Kitty/Katharyn is herself confused, and readers must be in the moment to experience The Big Reveal. Yet the author keeps us all off-kilter and uncomfortable too long.

In the end, I can't say I would recommend this book. It's not a bad book, and Swanson is a good writer. Yet the ending was formulaic and disappointing, a let-down after the long road of reading about two very different and valuable lives.

If you have read it, do you agree with this assessment? Let me know!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August: Let's Get Reading!

It's August. Let's get reading!


Looking for a good book? E-mail me for suggestions, or pick a title or two from my summer reading list:

  • Hamilton: The Revolution
  • Wolf Hall
  • Bone Season
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits
  • The Gun Seller
  • Wolf Hall
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  • The Sixth Extinction
  • Revival
  • Bellman and Black
See you in September — let's compare our reading list successes then!

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!