"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, April 21, 2017

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World

Here We Are: 44 Voices Right, Draw, and Speak About Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen is a new book in my library. It is a fairly slim volume of essays written by a variety of authors on the topic of feminism. It is one of those books that is important and should be widely read but will likely languish on the shelves ignored by students who would benefit greatly from reading it.

Feminism is one of those terms or concepts which is hard to define. Here is what the dictionary says about the term:

Definition of feminism

  1. 1:  the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
  2. 2:  organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests
Many people have co-oped the term and turned it into an almost-swear-word. Many people have grabbed onto the term and attached it to angry women demanding equality with a fist. Some have even coined the term and use it for a radical feminist: feminazi. All of this makes the term "feminist" out to be an ugly thing. This book strives to correct the record.

Each person who contributes to this book elaborates about some aspect of feminism or how they grew into their current beliefs on the topic. Some of the authors include reading and listening lists. Others, the illustrators among them, tell their story with pictures or comics. It really is a delightful collection.

My favorite essay was actually written by a male author, Daniel Jose Older, "Many Stories, Many Roads." Most of the authors are female and I was a little worried that without a male perspective this book would not be as valid. He says he thinks the feminism has suffered from "gate-keeping and line drawing"--- people oppressing others, "acting like overzealous bouncers, keeping so many dancers out of that big beautiful room" (186). To allow as many people into the big room, he says, requires that we look at "our patriarchal gender norms, the rules that tell us how to fit into pre-assigned boxes labeled 'men' and 'woman,' having nothing to do with with and everything to do with power" (189).

Included in the collection is the poem "Somewhere in Amercia" by Zariya Allen. Watch the video below where Zariya and her friends perform it. It is a powerful message of what we teach our children about priorities. Catching in the Rye is more dangerous than a gun because it uses a swear word. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings isn't taught because of rape. "We are taught that just because something happens doesn't mean you are to talk about it" (89). Schools give out awards for best attendance but don't reward students who work the late shift at the fast food restaurant just to help the family make ends meet. Instead of leaning math and social studies in school, students learn to keep quiet, keep their head down, keep eyes on their papers. The poem  really shows a heartbreaking reality to our lives in America.  Watch the video.

 Why should students read Here We Are? Because everyone needs to know they are included in the "big room" as Older calls it. Students need to know that they are not alone, that others have also struggled with the ugly aspects of our society/school culture. If a person is a feminist, they are also pro-people, all people. I recommend that everyone read this book, or at least several of the essays. It is time we start shifting our definitions of what it means to be a feminist.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Friday Quotes: When We Collided

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: When We Collided by Emery Lord

Book Beginnings:
I knew I was in love with Verona Cove on the first day, but waited until the seventh day to commit.

Friday 56:
Vivi just laughs. 'Manna is the food they eat in heaven. And stinky cheese is delicious cheese; you just don't realize that until you are older. Trust me, though. Someday, you'll eat this salad again and realize, holy moly, it's sprinkled with magic.'

Comments: The story is about mental illness. One of the main characters, Vivi, has stopped taking her medicine which keeps the symptoms of her bipolar disease in check. When I was in college one of my sorority sisters did the same thing and she went for the highest high for weeks of frantic activity and creativity and then CRASH. I am wondering when this will happen in this book.

I Sing the Body Eclectic AND The Book of Hours

April is National Poetry Month. I've completed two poetry collections recently and, as per usual, my head is swirling around in verse. Recently a visitor to my blog commented that she didn't really read poetry because she doesn't understand it. The thought that went through my head in response to her comment was, I bet she hasn't found her poetic muse. Certainly, I continued my internal discourse, if she would just read some Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, her poetry gene would click on and the whole world of poetry would be open to her.  I didn't say any of this is an actual comment to the gal. I just thought it because, though I appreciate poetry a lot more now than when I was younger, I certainly can relate to reading poetry and being left flat. Some poetry is so dense or obscure, it is hard to figure out what the poet is saying.

That is a little of how I felt when I read The Book of Hours by Kevin Young.  This book was placed on my TBR list last year some time and I really was looking forward to digging in to it. The poet, Kevin Young, had lost his father to a tragic accident and this poetry was written in response to his grief. I felt sure that I'd be able to relate perfectly to his poems since I just lost my beloved father-in-law and continue having bouts of raw grief. Another section was about the birth of his first son. As you know, we will be grandparents soon. Two points of similarity would certainly make this a collection of poems for me. In addition, Young's poems are all written in short couplets/triplets. For example in his poem "Obsequies" these lines speak loudly, "At Night I Count / not the stars / but the dark." And in this poem, grief which is so raw it hurts, this simple two line poem we see grief laid bare: "In the night I brush / my teeth with razors." This is palpable grief I can relate to, but most of the other poems didn't speak to me, or dare I say, I didn't "get." (Ah, that is where the blog comment fits in.) But the poems about the pregnancy, delivery, the baby did speak to me. In one poem titled "Ultrasound" the couple discover the baby is boy and see the child, in black and white, move his thumb up as if he wants to hitch a ride out of there. Hey, our daughter just found out she is having a boy, too. Poetry, at its best, gives me words to shape my feelings. I wouldn't put The Book of Hours on my top or favorite poetry books list, but it certainly does give the reader the words to shape the joys and the pains of living.

In the second volume of poetry, which I just finished reading last night in bed, I Sing the Body Eclectic, the editor, Patrice Vecchione, selected poems about the body. And just like the title says, the selections are very eclectic. Some of the poems usher me straight down memory lane like "Cobwebs" by Melinda Goodwin. The poem is about a memory of a time when a young girl goes through her mother's things, trying on shoes and clothes, the scents of the underthings in drawers, looking at herself in a mirror from the Fuller Brush man. As I read this poem my childhood came zooming forward. I used to do the same thing. I'd go through my mother's things, trying things on, smelling her perfume, combing my hair with her brush purchased by, you guessed it, the Fuller Brush man. In another poem, "Pastel Dresses" the poet Stephen Dobyns is trying to recall a memory of a dance when a girl had on such a lovely dress. He remembers the feel of his hand on her back and the stiff fabric but he can't remember her name or her eye colors. In the end he muses, "How can we not love / this world for what it gives us? How / can we not hate it for what it takes away?"  I'm in that time-warp more often these days. Remembering minute delays clearly and forgetting important ones. These poets have given voice to my life!

I've always found the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to be a bit inaccessible until I read his poem here "Your Laughter".  It opens with these marvelous lines, "Take bread away from me, if you wish, / take air away, but / do not take from me your laughter." I want to read this poem over and over because isn't it true? The qualities we love in another person become a source of nourishment to us. Another poem by Neruda, this one titled "Semen" and one by Erin Belieu, "Erections" made me laugh. If students only knew what poems were contained in these volumes so quietly sitting on the library shelves, they would be checked out all the time!

In the poem, which is written in a prose-style, by Gary Young called, "He Wheeled a Corpse", I sat dumbfounded after I read it. So I reread it. Then I read it, again. Can this be true? And what does it mean? Do bones really glow when the body is cremated?
He wheeled a corpse in the narrow furnace, and said, there's
something I want to show you. He lit the gas, and the head rose
from the table, the arms flew open and the body sat there for a
moment in the fire. The flesh peeled away from the bones, and
the bones snapped and burned with a fierce blue flame. When the
oven had cooled and the door was opened, the ashes and bits of
bone threw off a pale, opalescent light. That light, he said, is what
I wanted you to see.
---Gary Young
Artwork by Gary Young
Sometime poems just make me stop and think. Other times they make me think new thoughts. That would be when I read my favorite poem in the collection, "Giving Blood" by Sherman Alexie. Fortunately for the reader, Vecchione has provided short biographies of all the poets included in this collection. To understand "Giving Blood" one has to know that Sherman Alexie is a Native American. The poem seems to start in modern times, with a blood donation and those pesky questions donors are asked. The poem seemed silly and funny. But the reader soon realizes this poem is really about the history of the American Indians and how much blood they have shed over the years. In the final lines, as if I were struck between the eyes with a hard blow, my vision shifted,
...sorry Mr. Crazy Horse
but we've already taken too much of your blood and you
     won't be eligible
to donate for another generation or two
So why do I continue to read poetry? Why do I wade my way through volumes of poems when I don't understand most of them? Because, sometimes I find a diamond in the rough; some phrases or whole poems which rock my world. They may make me smile and recall happy memories, they may speak the words that seem to be my life, or it may, like "Giving Blood" give me a whole new perspective or point of view to consider.

If you, like my blogging friend, feel befuddled by poetry, I suggest you start with an easy anthology like The Body Eclectic, or one where the editor offers insights to assist the reader. Happy reading.

Monday, April 17, 2017

TTT: Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book

Top Ten Nine Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book

1. If the book is written by John Green. He could write a cookbook and I'd read it cover to cover.

2. If it is a YA book with 4 or more starred reviews. I am always trying to figure out which book is going to be a Printz winner when award season rolls around. Starred reviews by publications like Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, etc, don't necessarily predict the winners but it is a place to start when making reading decisions.

3. The Pulitzer Prize for literature winner. With a few exceptions I find the Pulitzer Prize for Literature winners to be some of the best books I've ever read. The 2017 award was just announced, so now I want to read its winner: Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

4. As soon as Mary Oliver publishes a new volume of poetry, I must read it. Her poems are like vitamins to me---necessary for life.

5. Youth Media Award Winners. In January the American Library Association announces the winners of a dozen or more YA book awards: Printz-best YA of the year; Morris-best debut YA author; Pura Belpre-best book authored by Latino author; Coretta Scott King Award-best book authored by African American author; Schneider Family Book Award-YA book which positively shows life with disability; Stonewall Award- a LGBT-themed YA book; Alex Award-adult book with cross-over appeal for teens; and others. I even host a challenge to encourage others to read all the YMA books

6. If the book is written by Barbara Kingsolver. I've read her novels, her essays, and her poetry. I've also read articles in magazine by her. She is a fabulous writer.

7. If Nancy Pearl, a contributor to PBS, makes a book recommendation, I always want to read those books, though I often don't get to them. She has a way of describing books in such compelling terms.

8. If someone I know tells me they really enjoyed an audiobook I automatically want to listen to that book. I am always looking around for well-done audiobooks. By the way, I am listening to one right now, The Hate U Give.

9. If Roger Housden would publish another 10-poems volume, I'd buy it and pay full price! I got interested in poetry because of Housden's little volumes which not only include just ten poems but Housden explains aspects of the poem which really brings it to life. If you want to check one out start with his first, Ten Poems to Change Your Life.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Salon, Easter

Photo credit: James Clarke, used with permission.
Happy Easter!

Weather: It was warm today, in the mid 60s. Days like today make it seem like we may have a real spring after all.

Easter: Today we worshiped at our church and then raced home to make an Easter dinner for a small party, us, Dan/Rita, and Dan's parents, Rick and Nancy. We made stuffed Cornish game hens, which took way longer to cook than we thought, green bean casserole, rolls, fruit salad, and, for dessert, rhubarb-custard pie. The fruit salad was good, the Cornish game hens were not very special, the green bean bake was unremarkable,  the rolls didn't rise very well, but the pie was spectacular. By far the shining star of the meal!  Thanks Rick, you make wonderful pie!

Photo: Isn't the above photo beautiful. It was taken by a high school friend of mine yesterday at University of Washington. The campus has lots of flowering trees which are all in bloom right now. Thanks for sharing your gift James!

Listening to: the 70s channel on the Music Choice station on the TV. Currently playing, "Sister Golden Hair" by the group America. I was wild for this group when I was in high school. Once my friends and I went to their concert and I stood on a chair and screamed. I was crazed. Other tunes, which have also been walks down memory lane, "Saturday Night Fever" by the Bee-Gees, "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas; and "Cracklin' Rosie" by Neil Diamond.

Books completed this week:

  • Art Deco: The Golden Age of Graphic Art and Illustration by Michael Robinson---sometimes my inner nerd emerges and I just consume a book which wasn't even on the radar the day before. We saw a few Art Deco buildings in New York so suddenly I was interested.
  • Tales of the South Pacific  by James Michener---my Classics Club spin book. This was not my favorite book by Michener or in general.
  • A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman--- an upcoming book club selection. This book really grew on me as I read it (listened to it.)
  • The Book of Hours: Poems by Kevin Young---I can't remember why I had this poetry book on my TBR pile but I finally turned my attention to it this week. Often people tell me they don't "get" poetry and I think, why not? Well, after reading this volume of poems I can now say, with a few exceptions, I didn't "get" most of the poems.
  • Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen--- 44 voices write, draw, and speak about feminism. I think this is an important book and I hope it finds its way into a lot of students' hands.
Currently reading:
  • The Body Eclectic: An Anthology of Poems edited by Patrice Vecchione--- I selected it because of the title. Ha! Print. 25%
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord---this is the last book for my Read the YMA Award books. Print. 10%
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas--- the most talked about YA book right now. Theme: Black Lives Matter. Audio. 8%.

Oh: Cat Stevens is playing right now, "Wild World". I am enjoying my walk down memory lane.
Osinbajo, a bishop in Nigeria, speaking with journalists today shortly after the Easter Sunday Service at the Aso Villa Chapel, Abuja, said: “(Easter) is a message of love of Jesus Christ to all mankind. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever that believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. “It is a message for love for all. There is no tribe, no religion; regardless of faith, Jesus loves us. This is how we should relate with ourselves. It is a pure love and I think that is what everyone should bear in mind at this time”.  Read more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/04/jesus-characteristics-around-criminals-osinbajo/

I hope you have a fantastic week.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Classics Club Spin Book---Review of Tales of the South Pacific

Another Classics Club Spin book completed! This one was Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener.

James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific after his experiences in World War II in the Pacific theater. It was published in 1947 and won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for literature. Michener was 40 years old when this book, his first, was published and he never looked back, eventually publishing over 25 books. This book was short (384 pages) compared to his other books, many weighing in at over 1000 pages. This book was adapted as a Broadway musical, South Pacific, in 1949 and in 1958 it was made into a movie.

Michener was called to active duty during World War II in the US Navy and spent the war as a historian, eventually making trips all over the South Pacific, and visiting many islands. He thinks one of the reasons he was allowed to move around so much was because his base commanders mistakenly thought he was related to Admiral Marc Mitscher. Later in his life Michener said this about his war time experiences,
"Many of the fondest memories of my travels stem back to my years of military service in the New Hebrides -- (now Vanuatu) -- during the Pacific War years of the early 1940s...While those beautiful islands have changed much with progress in the ensuing years, I know from subsequent visits that the friendliness of the peoples, their infectious smiles and their open-heartedness will remain forever one of life's treasures."
Tales of the South Pacific is a collection of short stories with an unnamed narrator who tells the stories collected from many of Michener's experiences and who plays witness to the happenings on many islands. Many people, reflecting back on the quality of this book compared to his subsequent works, think that he won the Pulitzer Prize for this book because of the post-war sentiment and patriotism, not because the books was a shining example of excellent writing. Most of the stories focused on how the American soldiers, sailors, and airmen spent their time when they weren't making war. Many of the characters in the stories did not have exemplary behaviors, several displaying blatant racism, and while others mentioned rape as if it were just an expected behavior. Few of the stories dealt with actual battles but the ones that did were my favorite. It is horrifying to think how many lives were lost over those little chucks of land in the Pacific.

One takeaway from Tales of the South Pacific was how much time was spent waiting by most of the military personnel. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I had no idea how much time was spent waiting for action. Soldiers asked to be transferred north so they could participate in some battle. Fighting was preferable to the boredom of waiting. In the story, "Dry Rot", one character begged to be reassigned and his commanding officer reminded him that somebody had to wait around on the island to gas up the planes. Why not him? In another story, "Fo' Dolla" an officer gets involved with a Tonkinese girl and ends up becoming completely obsessed with her, even though he would not marry her because he views her as below him racially. He had way too much time on his hands to get so involved with a local girl. I am fairly sure that Michener himself must have experienced the endless waiting, waiting, waiting, since it was such a prominent theme in most of the stories.
“I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.” ― James A. MichenerTales of the South Pacific
The quote above is the opening line of the first story in the Tales of the South Pacific. The reason the narrator can't tell you about the loveliness and the waiting is because of the second paragraph, where we learn  "about the old Tonkinese woman who used to sell human heads." There were lots of surprising tidbits like this thrown into each story which kept me going and made the reading experience passable.

If I had to grade the book and my reading experience I'd give it a "C" and it is unlikely I will ever recommend that anyone read this book in the future. There were just too many problems with it that can't be overlooked.

Now I am off to see if I can a copy of the movie South Pacific to see how closely it follows the book. I watched it years ago and can't remember.

Here is one of the famous numbers from the South Pacific musical, "Bali Hai":


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Found Poem Assignment

April is National Poetry Month
My worksheets for the found poem project
Today I am jumping on the idea to combine poetry and politics by creating a found poem from the words of our president. The idea is part of the PEN America/Writers Resist movement, using my writing voice in combination with other writers"in a collective stand to defend free expression, reject hatred, and uphold truth in the face of lies and misinformation." I stumbled upon this idea from Keri at Friday Poetry and Laura Shovan. Check out their sites for much better examples than mine.
Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage) by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning.
My found poem is from the remarks by President Trump at a Black History Month gathering. All of the words were taken from the transcript of that meeting and they are in the correct order but I removed a lot of the words in between. Even though the poem seems to wander into uncharted and random territory, the meeting really did seem to dissolve into just random comments, totally unrelated to Black History Month. In a strange way the process of creating this poem was cathartic for me. I recommend it. Take a transcript from a speech made by any politician, preferably one that was delivered ad hoc, not written ahead of time, and see what you can pull out. Here's what I created from his words---

Black History Month
This is our little get-together. 
During this month, we honor the tremendous
     history of THE African-Americans
Throughout our country---
Throughout the world,
They're incredible people.
Frederick Douglass is an example
And is being recognized more and more.
Big impact!
(I don't like fake news.)
We need more jobs.
We're going to make it safe---
Much better than it is right now.
Right now it is terrible.
(I don't like fake news.)
This is a great group.
I want to thank my television star---
But I don't want to destroy her reputation.
Not quite, right?
(I don't like fake news.)
Why don't we start with you?
Go ahead.
That's a great idea---
Because Chicago is totally out of control.
And it is---I mean,
a lot of the media is actually the opposition party.
So it it a very sad situation.
(I don't like fake news.)
It's almost like, in the meantime, we won.
And we love the coal miners.
That's good stuff.
Thank you.

(Words by Donald Trump, from his Black History Month breakfast.)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books (2)

Top Ten Tuesday: Most unique books I've read recently (since April 2014)

1. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
This raunchy, bizarre, smart and compelling sci-fi novel defies description – it's best to go into it with an open mind and allow yourself to be first drawn in, then blown away. ---Rolling Stone
2.  How to Tell Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman
If your cat is kneading you, that's not a sign of affection. Your cat is actually checking your internal organs for weakness. If your cat brings you a dead animal, this isn't a gift. It's a warning. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is an offering of cat comics, facts, and instructional guides from the creative wonderland at TheOatmeal.com.-Gooreads
3. The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith
The author of Printz Honor book Grasshopper Jungle returns with another genre-bending literary exploration of the absurd. Once again blending multiple story strands that transcend time and place, Grasshopper Jungle author Andrew Smith tells the story of 15-year-old Ariel, a refugee from the Middle East who is the sole survivor of an attack on his small village. Now living with an adoptive family in Sunday, West Virginia, Ariel's story of his summer at a boys' camp for tech detox is juxtaposed against those of a schizophrenic bomber and the diaries of a failed arctic expedition from the late nineteenth century. Oh, and there’s also a depressed bionic reincarnated crow. -Amazon.com
4.  Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Ishmael is a half ton silverback gorilla. He is a student of ecology, life, freedom, and the human condition. He is also a teacher. He teaches that which all humans need to learn -- must learn -- if our species, and the rest of life on Earth as we know it, is to survive.- Ishmael.com
5.   The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Díaz finds a miraculous balance. He cuts his barn-burning comic-book plots (escape, ruin, redemption) with honest, messy realism, and his narrator speaks in a dazzling hash of Spanish, English, slang, literary flourishes, and pure virginal dorkiness. —New York Magazine
6.  March: Book Three by John Lewis
"An incredible accomplishment. It is the history of John Lewis, the civil rights movement and his role in it... a book that explains -- more deeply than anything else I've ever read -- the methods and the moral foundations of the civil rights movement, how civil rights activists did what they did and won what they won, and how they had the strength to do it in the most difficult circumstances imaginable." -- Rachel Maddow
"The closest American peer to Maus has arrived." -- The Washington Post
7.  Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
An enchantingly twisted modern fairy tale, perfect for those who prefer Grimm to Disney. Inventive, darkly magical, and beautifully written, it will stay with me for a long time.― Kendare Blake
8.  My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand
The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.---Goodreads
9.   Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North
Romeo loves Juliet. Or Rosaline. And Juliet loves Romeo. Or Viola. Or Orlando. It's Shakespeare as you've never played him before.  In this choose-your-own-path version of Romeo and Juliet, you choose where the story goes every time you read!---Amazon.com
10. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
'America's funniest science writer' (Washington Post) Mary Roach explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war.---Amazon.com

Peek below the line to look at the books I had on the list the last time TTT did this topic:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunday Salon---Spring Break report

Part of the NYC skyline
Weather: Overcast but not raining. There were a few moments of clearing today. The street trees are almost done blooming. Spring is here.

Part of the World Trade Center memorial. Roses are placed on the names of victims on their birthdays.
Spring Break in New York: last Sunday night we climbed aboard an airplane for a red-eye flight to New York. We flew through the night and I slept very little. We arrived at 7 AM, EDT. Our goal for the day was to make our way to Yonkers and Carly by 5 PM so we obviously were not in a hurry, which was good since our plans went awry almost immediately. As we rode a train leaving New Jersey we were detained because a train in front of us derailed. We had to jump over to the PATH train which travels to the World Trade Center. We decided to take the detour, even though we were dragging our bags behind us. This was our first visit to the site of the WTC since the completion of the memorial. We decided against going in the museum. (See note above about dragging our bags.) It was a touching experience. We also stopped in St. Paul's chapel across from the WTC and had a serendipitous moment since a Baroque ensemble was rehearsing with original instruments which included a lute and a oboe d'amore or a shawm (we couldn't tell which it was.) Next, we found a French Pastry shop and took our time over a ham and cheese croissant and a cafe latte. We caught the local #2 subway to get us close to Yonkers and finally Ubered our way for the last leg. We had enough time to take a short nap before our reunion with Carly. We closed out our first day in New York at Gianna's Restaurant in Yonkers, a wonderful spot we discovered  in August when we were in the state helping Carly move in.
Carly and Don contemplate a Renoir at the MET
Day two: Carly doesn't have classes on Tuesdays and every other Friday. So we all got up early and hightailed it into NYC to get in line for rush tickets at a Broadway theater. Carly is already good at navigating her way on the transit systems of New York. We took a train from Yonkers to Grand Central Station and then a subway shuttle to Times Square. We stood in line for about an hour but got rush tickets to see Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, starring Josh Groban. After purchasing tickets we had a lot of time to kill so we found our way to the Natural History Museum but couldn't believe how long the line was to get in so decided to march across Central Park and go to the Metropolitan Art Museum (MET) instead. After many hours and very sore feet we consulted the map and realized we had seen about 2% of what there was to see. We will have to go back some day, several times. After a quick dinner at Black Tap which specializes in Crazy Shakes we made our way back to the theater for a fabulous, mind-blowing theater experience. What a day!
Before the musical: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
Day three: Don and I made our way into the city early again hoping for another set of rush tickets. Quickly, however, we missed Carly's skill at navigating the transit system. We marched off the train in the wrong direction, dumped out into a part of town we didn't recognize, got lost walking around trying to find our way back. Our mishaps with the train and subway system continued throughout the day. We did find our way to the theater in time to get rush tickets for a matinee of Beautiful: the Carole King Story. Between getting the tickets and the show we made our way downtown, with another subway flub, to the Strand Bookstore. Though I enjoyed it, I hate to tell you this New York, Powell's Bookstore in Portland is bigger and better. Ha! Back to the matinee, we had a big laugh because it looked like the average age of the attendees was 70 years. The show was fabulous. We both loved Carole King so much when we were in secondary school. She has had an incredible career. We made another train choice goof-up but finally got on the right train and found our way back to Yonkers.
Don riding the bomb from Dr. Stranglove at the Alamo Drafthouse cinema

Day four: Our feet were too sore to make another trip into the city so we stuck around Yonkers for the day. Carly gave us a tour of Sarah Lawrence College where she is attending graduate school. It was good to see the spots where she hangs out during the day. We can now picture her life in New York more fully. That evening we went to see the movie, Logan, at the Yonkers Alamo Drafthouse cinema. The cinema has a new and funky concept where you can order food from a menu and it is delivered to your seat. They also have a great selection of draft brews and ciders. Logan wasn't my style for a movie selection but the experience was lots of fun.
At Rockefeller Plaza
Day five: After a late start we made our way back to New York City for another shot at a Broadway show with Carly. This time we planned on buying our tickets from TKTS so we had no idea what show tickets would be available. Times Square was just crawling with people, the TKTS line was so long, and it was windy and cold. Through an incredibly lucky event we were allowed to skip and go to the head of the line and we got discounted tickets to Amelie, a new musical on Broadway.  Once again after getting the tickets we had to kill some time before the show. We started with an early dinner at Juniors, home of the world famous cheesecake and delicious Reuben sandwiches. Yum. After dinner we had to keep warm somehow so we took a self-guided walking tour of Times Square and Rockefeller Center, spending a bit of time thawing out in two different churches, including St. Patrick's Cathedral. We loved the show, Amelie, which just officially opened this week, even though we were sitting in the front row!
Inside St. Patrick's cathedral
Day six: After a morning of shopping and helping Carly decorate her apartment we made our way to New Jersey to visit our friends Carol and Ken. What a fun visit. I'm counting it as one of my 60 for my 60th events. We've known Ken forever and Carol since they got married 34 years ago. We love you guys! Their son, Kevin, joined us for dinner. It is so fun to see our children grow into adults.
Waiting for the musical Amelie to begin. Me in the spotlight.

Day seven: our flight left Newark Airport at 6:45 AM, with the time change we were home by 9:30 AM. We stopped off at a favorite breakfast restaurant on my way back from the airport, The Sunbreak Cafe. I napped for a few hours while Don watched golf on TV. Now tomorrow we head back to work.

It shouldn't surprise you that I didn't get much reading done, but I did finish Upstream by Mary Oliver. Check out the my review by clicking the hyperlink. I also made progress on my spin book, Tales from the South Pacific. I'm at 83%.

Speaking of Josh Groban: Have you heard his single from Beauty and the Beast? Check it out.

What a week!

Upstream by Mary Oliver

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver is a collection of essays by one of my favorite poets. Some of the essays are short, paragraph-long reflections and observations, while others are longer, more in depth essays on a variety of topics.  The book is divided into five sections. The first section contains essays on nature and reading and writing. Most give the reader an opportunity to pause and reflect.  As she looks back on her childhood and past years she is struck by many blessings.
I quickly found for myself two such blessings--- the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanish from a difficult place... And this is what I learned: that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within otherness--- the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books --- can redignify the worst- stung heart (14). 
I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too (16).
Oliver hands out little quips of advice in this section, also:
You must not ever stop being whimsical./// And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life (19).
She also mentions several times how much she appreciates form and structure, not only in nature but in literature. Perhaps that is why I enjoy Oliver's poems so much--- she follows and uses an understandable structure when she writes.

Section two essays focus on Oliver's observations of nature. Here she talks about daily walks where she notices animals and birds. Section three contains four literary analysis essays.  The first is about Ralph Waldo Emerson and, by extension, his famous book, Nature. I've not read Emerson but after reading this essay I want to give him a try. I love what Oliver has to say about him as a man and a writer.
The best use of literature bends not toward the narrow and the absolute but to the extravagant and the possible. Answers are not part of it; rather, it is the opinions, the rhapsodic persuasions, the engrafted logics, the clues that are to the mind of the reader the possible keys to his own self-quarrels, his own predicament. This is the crux of Emerson, who does not advance straight ahead but wanders to all sides of an issue; who delivers suggestions with a kindly gesture--- who opens doors and tells us to look for things ourselves. The one thing he is adamant about is that we should look--- we must look...(68-9).
Her essay on Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass was of special interest to me since I just read it. I wish I had the opportunity to study Leaves of Grass under the tutelage of an instructor who understands its complexities but I will suffice with a few notes from Oliver here on the greatness of this volume of poetry.
Of all American poems, the 1855  Leaves of Grass is the most probable of effect upon the individual sensibility. It wants no less. We study it as literature, but like all great literature it has a deeper design: it would be a book for men to live by. It is obsessively affirmative...It offers a way to live, in the religious sense, that is intelligent and emotive and rich, and dependent only on the individual--- no politics, no liturgy, no down payment. Just attention, sympathy, empathy...Brawn and spirit, we are built of light, and God is within us. This is the message of his long, honeyed harangue (107-8).
This section also contains essays on Edgar Allan Poe and on the poet Wordsworth. Both essays shed light on the writings and lives of these great writers.

Sections four and five contain essays on a variety of subjects: building a small house with her own hands, a bear's visit to town, more observations on nature, and a tribute to her hometown. My favorite from these sections is a reflection Oliver offers at the end of the essay on owls. She knows there is an owls nest someplace and she walks all over looking for it.
And I walk on, over the shoulder of summer and down across the red-dappled fall; and when, it's late winter again, out through the far woodlands of the Province Lands, maybe another few hundred miles, looking for the owl's nest, yes of course, and looking at everything else along the way (139).
Mary Oliver reminds us in Upstream that it is not attainment of the destination but the journey that holds the magic, but we must stop and take note as we travel on. She encourages us "to discover awe and wonder in life's smallest corners" (book jacket).

All quotes from print edition of Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver, Penguin Press, New York, 2016.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sunday Salon---April 2nd---Poetry edition

April is National Poetry month. This Sunday Salon is dedicated to poetry and beauty and simplicity it brings into my life.
Hello Lilian Willow, and Noah, the oak tree I have hugged and kissed every first day of spring for the last thirty years. And in reply its thousand of leaves tremble! What a life is ours! Doesn’t anybody in the world anymore want to get up in the middle of the night and sing?---Mary Oliver, "Upstream".
Weather: Sunny, with blue skies, for the moment, a respite from the nearly continual rain. I know the feeling that Mary Oliver, my favorite poet, expresses about wanting to celebrate nature when it seems like everyone else just wants to focus on themselves.
The whole wing of the airport hushed...tilting our heads up.---Ellen Bass, "Gate C22".
Heading to New York for Spring Break: Tonight we are taking the red-eye from Sea-Tac to Newark, heading to New York to see our daughter.  The poem, "Gate C22" by Ellen Bass is a favorite poem and it is so irresistible. It tells the story of a couple who reunite at the airport and "kiss and kiss and kiss," so much so that everyone quiets down in the terminal watching the holy reunion. We obviously won't kiss and kiss Carly, but we will likely hug and hug, another happy reunion.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice
---Mary Oliver, "The Journey"
Still conflicted about retirement this year: No one is telling me I HAVE to retire but a lot of people are telling me I should. I STILL don't know what I want to do, which is really an answer in itself. I love Mary Oliver's poem, "The Journey", which advises the reader to heed the inner voices. I am trying to listen to these.

I sing the body electric,... 
The exquisite realization of health; 
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, 
O I say now these are the soul!---Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric"

Ah-h-h---I had a pedicure yesterday and it felt so good. Everything about it, especially the hot wax and the leg massage, was invigorating. The thought ran through my head that this must have been what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote the poem, "I Sing the Body Electric", since every nerve cell seemed to be stimulated and calmed at the same time. It felt like a celebration of my body.

The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?---Psalm 27:1

Lenten exercise: This year for Lent I decided to pray a Psalm every day. Lest you think I am either amazing or bragging, I am six days behind my schedule. So I am definitely not amazing. It has been harder than I thought it would be because it seems like many of the psalms, many more than I thought before I started, are variations on, "See those guys over there? They are my enemies. Go get 'em God." That is not exactly what I think of when I think of prayer. The psalm I prayed today, Psalm 27, was a good one which spoke to me of comfort and protection.

Last Night as I was sleeping, 
I dreamt---marvelous error!---
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart...Antonio Machado, "Last Night As I Was Dreaming"

Lenten theme: The theme of the sermon series at our church these weeks leading up to Easter have been about the elements: water, fire, earth, and wind. Gary, our pastor, has got us searching out references in the Bible on the elements and how they were used to explain concepts to the people living during those days. Today's theme was fire. It might be a stretch, but I adore this poem by Antonio Machado, and it seemed to match today's theme of fire.

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books, 
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,,, 
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter, 
such and so many blinding bright lights,, ,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

---Dylan Thomas, "Notes on the Art of Poetry"

Books completed this week (Does it surprise you I found a poem about reading? Ha!)

  • Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow---I read this after I came upon it during inventory in the library. It is really a fascinating story. Print.
  • All Better Now by Mary Wing Smith---a memoir about a girl whose life was saved by a car accident because it helped doctors discover a huge brain tumor. I also bumped into this book during inventory. Print.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi---a book club selection that I finished late. Very good. Click the hyperlink for my review. Audio.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo---I've been dawdling thorugh this book since February. The story of a transgender youth. I read it for my Read All YMA challenge. It won the Schneider Family Book Award this past year. Print.
Currently reading:
  • Upstream: Essays by Mary Oliver---love it. She is just sharing little thoughts on her life and inspirations for her poetry.  10%, Print.
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman---this popular book is for an upcoming book club. One gal suggested it because everyone in her other club loved it. While another club member who had read it said she didn't care for it. I am somewhere in the middle, neutral. 50%, audio.
  • Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener---my Classics Club Spin book. 35%, print. 
I keep collecting books I know
I’ll never, never read;
My wife and daughter tell me so,

And yet I never heed.---Robert William Service, "Book Lover"

Purging my TBR pile. This week I spent a little bit of time purging book titles off my Goodreads To-Read list. Every time someone mentions a book they like and think I should read I add the title to this list. It was up to over 65 titles, many added as long ago as 2011. Many I couldn't remember why I added or who suggested I might like the book. I purge the list down to 50 titles, which is still a lot. And I made a little pledge to myself that I am not "allowed" new titles without either reading a book off the list, or purging another title. We'll see how long that lasts. When I found this poem, "Book Lover" by Robert William Service, I could totally relate to buying books I know I will never read. Oh dear.

Let me conclude this blog post with one more question by Mary Oliver, from "The Summer Day". I hope you have a answer for yourself. Enjoy reading some poetry this month!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Back in 2009 the Obama family, for a family vacation, visited Accra, Ghana. I remember seeing footage of their visit on the nightly news. I was surprised to learn that there was an old castle in Ghana called Cape Coast Castle. It was at that spot more than 250 years earlier where slave traders set up shop and began the horrifying business of trafficking in human lives. On the compound which held the castle, there was also a dungeon which could hold over 200 prisoners at a time for weeks/months until their were forced aboard ships bound for America and the Caribbean. The Obamas wanted to see Cape Coast Castle with their own eyes because Michelle was a descendant of slaves. Obama said it reminded him of the Nazi concentration camps and he was saddened to recognize how some humans have a capacity to commit great evil.

Homegoing is a historical novel set in the Gold Coast of Africa (now Ghana) starting in the eighteenth century up to the present day. Each of its fourteen chapters are stories about the descendants of two half sisters, Effie and Esi. Effie is married off to a slaver who lives in the castle, in opulence she didn't even know existed prior to moving in. Her son is educated in England and returns to Ghana to continue in the "family business." Meanwhile, her half sister, Esi, is held in the dungeon just yards away which is so crowded when one woman urinates it trickles down both prisoners' legs. Each subsequent chapter is told from the point of view from one of the descendants of these two women. Effie's descendants lived in Africa and even after seven generations were able to trace their lineage back to her. Esi's descendants lived in America. Many were slaves or enslaved by racism and inequality. Esi's family didn't remember her. Both girls were given a special pendant from their mother, but Esi lost hers in the dungeons under Cape Coast Castle.

All fourteen stories, for this book really is a collection of short stories, coalesces into a moving and phenomenal whole at the end of the novel when two characters, one from each branch, meet and make their way back to Africa. The term "homegoing" traditionally referred to slave funerals. It was believed that the dead slave's soul would return the to land from which he/she was stolen. The Urban Dictionary defines it as a cerebration of one's life. This is separate and distinct event from a funeral. As the novel comes to its conclusion, readers are given a clear sense of the importance of homegoing. We cannot really know ourselves if we do not know our roots.

The book is remarkable. When I was in the middle of it I kept thinking I couldn't bear it to listen any longer because the stories were so bleak and depressing, such horrors were inflicted on so many people. But I was assured by EVERYONE who had read the book that I must just stick with it. Once all the fourteen stories were stitched together and I was able to see the whole story together the novel almost burst forth with flames. It is that amazing and powerful. Yes, I listened to the audiobook, read by Dominic Hoffman who lent his lovely African accent to the work. It was also amazing.

I really recommend that you read the author interview done for Barnes and Noble Book Reviews called Who Stays and Who Is Taken: Yaa Gyasi on "Homegoing." Gyasi has a remarkable story herself and this interview broadened both my interest in the book and the stories within the story. At one point in the interview she was asked about what made her uncomfortable with the story and this is part of her response:
I felt, again, if I was going to tell this story, I couldn’t just avoid talking about the parts of it that make me uncomfortable. So I felt like I really needed to take a look at the ways in which Ghanaians were complicit in the slave trade, not in a way to put blame on anyone, but to tell a more fully-rounded story than the one that we usually hear.
This was certainly new information for me to digest. So much of the story of slavery is told from the point of view of what happened once the slaves reached American soil. I've never read anything about what happened from the African side of the ocean, how the members of different tribes preyed on  people from other tribes, essentially selling their countrymen/women into slavery. There is a very dark history on both sides of the Atlantic.

When asked what she hopes people will take away from her novel, Gyasi said,
I think the thing that I most wanted this novel to do was to show that people who are caught in these really difficult, traumatic situations, things like slavery, things like the Holocaust — It happened to individuals who are just like us, people with hopes and dreams and fears just like we have, not to a nameless, faceless mass. 
 I really appreciate how personal all the stories of each of the fourteen individuals were. I could clearly picture the lives, the triumphs and the horrors of each generation. Gyasi should be applauded for bringing history to life in this remarkable way.

This is a tough novel. I usually review YA novels on this blog, but I would not recommend this book to any but the most mature and strongest teen readers. It was well worth the effort it took to read it but I do not think the average teen is willing to work as hard as is required to get the full benefit from this book. I'd love to be proven wrong, however. Please let me know if you are a teen who read and appreciated this book.

Format: Audible.com

Stars: 4.5/5

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Recommendations for Spring Break reading...

Today I sent out an email to my staff with suggested books and topics for Spring Break reading. Here is that email:

Hey folks, it is that time to start thinking about the vacation ahead and for me that always involves deciding what I will read on the plane/next to the pool/ in my own backyard (depending on my plans.) Consider checking out a book or two from the GKHS library. Here are a few suggestions:

Like something lighthearted?
We have a lot of books by Harlan Coban, John Grisham, Tom Clancey, Jodi Picoult, Michael Crichton, Nicholas Sparks

Want to read what the kids are reading? Here are a few titles of books our teens are reading:
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K Johnston
  • The Memory Book by Lara Avery
  • Character, Driven by David Lubar
Prefer nonfiction? I suggest---
  • -The Shift: one nurse, twelve hours, four patients by Theresa Brown
  • -When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanathi
  • -How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig
  • -Hidden Figures: the American dream and the untold story of Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race by Margot Shetterly
  • -Grunt: the curious science of humans at war by Mary Roach (Pierce Reads 2017! book)
  • -Radioactive: how Irene Curie and Lise Meitner revolutionized science and changed the world by Winifred Conkling
Want to read a new book and be the first to tell me what you think?
  • The Art of Secrets by James Klise (mystery)
  • The Sky Between You and Me by Catherine Alene (written in verse)
  • Caravaggio: painter on the run by Marissa Moss (historical fiction)
  • City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie Anderson (set in Kenya)
  • One by Sarah Crossan (conjoined twins)

Like historical fiction? Me, too, so I suggest:
  • -The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (1200, France, Inquisition)
  • -The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (Fractured history of WWII in America...it reminds me of what is happening today in our country)
  • -Serena by Ron Rash (before environmentalism; timber barons, 1920s)
  • -Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (memoir of the author growing up during Civil Rights era)
  • -March, Books 1-3 by John Lewis (a three book set of graphic biographies about the life of an American hero and icon, John Lewis)
  • -Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang (a two-book graphic book about the boxer rebellion in China)
  • -My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, et al (a fractured history of Lady Jane Gray, queen of England for 9 days; very funny)
Adult books with crossover appeal for teens:
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Shattered Sea series (Half a King, Half the World) by Joe Abercrombie)
  • Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls (a true-life novel)
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (set in Barcelona, translated from Spanish)
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
Anne suggests (I like quirky books, so beware)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  • I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly
  • The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Boys is #1)
Want something to read on your iPad? We have a few eBooks (all YA titles). Here are the steps to find them and check them out:
Go to the GKHS Library home page
Login (top right corner)
Click Catalog tab
Click on Destiny Discover listed on left side column
In Search bar, type eBooks.
See all eBooks
Check out the titles you want to read.
Download Follett Brytewave K-12 Edition from Self Service (Free) as your reader.
Enjoy book!
(My favorites on the list are: The Unlikely Hero of Room 13-B; We are the Ants; All the Bright Places)

Want to know how to get a ebook or audiobook from the Pierce County Library? I have a bookmark with directions. All you need is your library card and you can shop from your iPad or computer. Drop in or send up a student for the bookmark. Or just head over to their website, you should be able to figure it out. http://www.piercecountylibrary.org

Still nothing sounds good to you? Come in and I will help you find something.

Happy Spring Break. Happy reading.
-Your beloved (ha!) librarian, Anne