Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: In Spite of Everything, the Stars




In Spite of Everything, the Stars
Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor's expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler's plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city.

And that's why drunks leaning up
against abandoned buildings, women
hurrying home on deserted side streets,
policemen turning blind corners, and
even thieves stepping from alleys
all stare up at once. Why else do
sleepwalkers move toward the windows,
or old men drag flimsy lawn chairs
onto fire escapes, or hardened criminals
press sad foreheads to steel bars?
Because the night is alive with lamps!
That's why in dark houses all over the city
dreams stir in the pillows, a million
plumes of breath rise into the sky. 



 from Wild Gratitude
Courtesy of The Writer's Almanac 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Life After Life

If you're off by one degree and don't correct your course, the gap between where you are and where you want to be grows wider with every step. Kate Atkinson measures each step of Ursula's existence in Life After Life, and we see what happens if she alters it by as little as a single step.

At first, the return to her birth appeared relentless, and I feared it would be the same story with a different ending each time. Thankfully, that was not the case. The plot complications begin to vary in very interesting ways.

Ursula is born on a snowy winter day in 1910. The weather prevents the midwife from arriving, and the doctor arrives too late: the cord was around the baby's neck and she did not live. Had the doctor been there with a pair or surgical scissors....

The scene changes. Snow is still falling but the doctor manages to hitch a ride through the snowy fields from a local farmer and, when delivering the baby, quickly removes the cord. The child lives. However, a trip to the ocean a few years later provides a new ending to Ursula's story.

The scene begins again, only there's a new character and a new outcome. Sometimes the details of the story remain the same until the plot complication. Other times, there's more than a single twist in the story.

What becomes most interesting is Ursula: she is the same, but not exactly the same. Each iteration of her life becomes an opportunity to review and reveal different aspects of Ursula's life, and the lives of those around her. Even "minor" characters evolve in slightly different ways. For some, their path was the same and only Ursula was different.

Each life Ursula lived was plausible. Each path she took made sense, each choice was understandable. There were a few surprises Atkinson slipped in that made me cheer out loud — and every tragedy, every loss, every misstep was carefully rendered within the story's structure.

I highly recommend this book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (And if you already read it, let me know what you thought.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri



For my husband David, in celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary.

Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri

The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone. 



by Mona Van Duyn
Courtesy all poetry

Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri

  by Mona Van Duyn
The quake last night was nothing personal, 
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders, 
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors 
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel, 
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me. 
One small, sensuous catastrophe 
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course 
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross, 
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell 
to planets, nearing the universal roll, 
in our conceit even comprehending the sun, 
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16323#sthash.NXr6crDF.dpuf

Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri

  by Mona Van Duyn
The quake last night was nothing personal, 
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders, 
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors 
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel, 
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me. 
One small, sensuous catastrophe 
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course 
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross, 
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell 
to planets, nearing the universal roll, 
in our conceit even comprehending the sun, 
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16323#sthash.NXr6crDF.dpuf

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Tiny Beautiful Things

Sometimes I meet the most interesting people in the pages of a book. Often, they are well-written characters. Lately, however, they're the authors themselves.

I first "met" Cheryl Strayed in the first chapters of her memoir, Wild. When she began howling in the hospital, I had to stop: her loss was too, too real.

It was with great delight I let Brain Pickings guide me to her book tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar.

I enjoy reading advice columns, usually because I pretend my advice would be that erudite, witty and accurate. I could guide and cure legions of people. No, really, I could.

Then I met someone who really could. Strayed's advice was loving, kind and direct. She really cared about the people whose lives she entered by invitation. She had experiences that would fell a normal human being, and yet she managed to not only survive, but thrive — and retain her humanity and sympathy.

She chose a wide variety of letters for this book. The writers of these letters are in pain and in need of a voice in the wilderness calling them back to themselves, and her voice is at once steely and velvet.

She peppers her responses with endearments like "sweet pea." She uses these words in a way that seems natural and genuine.  Some people bristle at the use of "hon" by strangers, but in one sentence, Strayed goes from "stranger" to "the person holding your hand and really listening." In her hands, "sweet pea" is an embrace by words.

Strayed doesn't flinch when she reads or responds. She admits (and sometimes alludes to) experiences and behavior that makes me wonder how she managed to make it to the other side. She's not unscathed, but she's a survivor — and if she can do it, so can you. She knows enough people who didn't survive, and she appears to understand and accept that.

I read advice I want to give nearly everyone I know, including myself. I want to give this book to my friends who have lived through it, who are living through it, who appreciate wonderful writing and tenderness.

So, if you receive this for your birthday from me, don't worry: I am not trying to "tell you something," but share the words of someone I would trust with my deepest secrets and who could make me feel like I just might make it, even from where I stand. Or maybe I am: and if you read it from her, you might believe it, too.

I strongly advise you read this book. Find it at your public library, if you're not sure — then pick up your own copy to dog-ear and re-read as needed. I like Strayed and I like her writing, and I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: James Earl Jones Reads Walt Whitman



Image from SoundCloud website
Click here to go to Brain Pickings, where, as Maria Popova writes:
In this exquisite reading from New York’s 92Y, the great James Earl Jones brings his formidable dramatic prowess to sections 6, 7, 17, 18, and 19, breathing explosive new life into Whitman’s timeless verses.

 "Song of Myself" begins grandly, sweepingly and famously:

I celebrate myself;
And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

Read the entire poem here, courtesy of About.com.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Library Loot: Crichton, Taoism, Idiots — Oh, My!

More often than not, my library use defines my interest of the moment. So, class, what am I checking out these days?

First, there's Michael Crichton. Karen and I are reading Next together, and I like Richard Preston.

Then there's Taoism, which I find fascinating. I've read most of the Tao Te Ching and all of The Tao of Pooh. Is it applicable to my way of life right about now? One way to find out.

Finally, weirdly enough, I'm less insulted by being called an "idiot" than "dummy," so I go for that line of instructional books. No, seriously, I like the way they're written and formatted (not to mention I'm more of a fan of orange than yellow). If you want a good overview, go to the Idiots, I always say.

I may not finish all of these books immediately (aside from Next). (I can handle only one Crichton at a time, and the novels have to be properly spaced to avoid author fatigue.)

However, they're not long for this reader. No need to keep any of these (possible) gems out of the hands of other like-minded souls, right?

So, what have you checked out lately?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Recommendations for Young Readers

My young friends Alex and Philip have begun their summer vacation — which, for me, always meant books. Scads and piles and armfuls of books. I'd go to the library a couple of times a week to return the ones I had inhaled and come home with more.

It was a gorgeous week in Los Angeles when, as a fourth grader, I holed myself up in my room and read the the entire Chronicles of Narnia. (It was five days, really.) I still remember shivering from the cold of the eternal winter and the White Witch.

But this is today. What do — no, should — the kids of today read? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here are a few suggestions. (People of an age may recognize a title or two.)

Up the Down Staircase — a New York City high school teacher new to the education system experiences life in a big-city high school.

The Graveyard Book — A toddler wanders into a graveyard one tumultuous night and is raised by its residents.

To Kill a Mockingbird — This classic page-turner is one of my personal favorites. Read the book before you see the movie, if you can, if only so you can experience the amazing world of Scout Finch twice.

Anything by H.P. Lovecraft, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Connie Willis... Read your favorite movie. (Lord of the Rings, anyone?)

Last night, David was thumbing through his Dean Koontz collection to see how much sex was depicted in those books. I chuckled. "I used to read it anyway, even if I didn't understand it," I confessed. "I'd be more worried about gratuitous violence."

So, maybe skip The Strain? (No, on second thought, don't skip it.) Too much swearing? Must be Stephen King — but don't let that stop you, either, not really. Just stop if the writing is too bad — and you alone can decide what that means to you.

Or, you know what? Read a "bad" book if you want to. It's summer.

Don't limit yourself. Go straight from Encyclopedia Brown to Alexandre Dumas to Helter Skelter to Auntie Mame. You'll live. Read what engages you, skip the rest.

Don't let book classifications scare you off, either. Books are written cross-genre, but publishers have to figure out how to market them. So what if it's written for "teens" — it may very well be up your alley anyway. "Classics" are classic for a reason: they're often really, really good. Dumas and Dickens, Doyle and Austen, Stevenson and Wells are fabulous reads, even on the beach. Especially on the beach. Who do you think came up with the idea of the melodrama or swashbuckler?

Enjoy the summer,  and enjoy your books!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Body & Isn't





BODY & ISN'T


I have a hard time making my mind take place.
Every input adjusts the chemistry—water, peppermint stick, analogue.
Kisses are circles. With eyes closed, every taste buds almond orange.
Ceiling defines the segment; door, the vector. Exits & entrances.
My location’s ribcage is beneath the changing spectrum’s breast.
Heft of a wet peony, white & pink, drips its honey south.
Conducted back, your body accelerates—biology of a taxi ride.
Kept kempt, migraines at bay, tidy nails, & sneezes away.
Sex through collisions—bridges jumped & limbs tangled.
Or the chromatic staff arranging the spheres’ accidental spills.
Frets & intonations strung across a tempered series of knots,
Strung through the loops of our virtual displacement.
But it isn’t wings or hooks or hooves or horns or see-through or white.
Whether afloat in a boat or aloft in a plane. The way maps affect time.
For a second I think I feel the fleeting texture of your skin.
Lumbar & sacral nerves descend to exits beyond the end of the cord.
Keep the blood in at all costs, even when the wind crackles its cells.
The coming of electricity, half next time & half this:
My five. My unending ache at the absence of you.
by Bruce Covey
from Glass Is Really A Liquid

courtesy Poetry Foundation  (check out the app!)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Send Your Haiku to Mars!

From the NPR website:
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of the red planet Mars in 2007, when it was just 55 million miles away.

Got a haiku? Send it to Mars!

NPR is holding a contest, and the winning haiku is sent to Mars.

The only rules are:
  • You must be a resident of Planet Earth.
  • You must be 18 years old to create a login profile at NPR to submit. (So kids, get help from your parents or teachers.)

Want to know more? Read the article on NPR!

But hurry: the deadline is July 1.