"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=========

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Poetry calls out to me. Is it also calling out to you?

Recently I stopped by my public library to pick up a book on hold or to drop off an overdue book. While there I decided to peruse their poetry section. I'd never done this before because when I was the librarian of a high school library there were plenty of poetry volumes to keep me busy reading for years. While looking through the public collection I was struck by how most of their books of poetry were aimed at kids. What? Don't adults like poetry anymore? They didn't even have any of those huge anthologies which I thought were requirements for libraries to have on their shelves. Anyway, I did find three volumes which interested me enough to check them out. Below are highlights from these books. 

1. BookSpeak! by Laura Purdie Salas is a cute, children's illustrated volume of poetry all about books and reading. Each poem is about some part of the book: the table of contents, the introduction, the middle of the book, the index...you get the idea. The whole book is so precious and for a teacher or an elementary librarian it would be perfect to pique reading interest in their young charges. Example:

Calling All Readers

I'll tell you a story,
I'll spin you a rhyme,
I'll spill some ideas---
and we'll travel through time.

Put down the controller.
Switch off the TV.
Abandon the mouse and
just hang out with me.

I promise adventure.
Come on, take a look!
On a day like today,
there's no friend like a book.

2. The Ordering of Love by Madeleine L'Engle is a complete collection of all the poetry ever published by this beloved author of A Wrinkle in Time. Though I have not read the whole book, the poems have a decidedly religious nature to them, deep in symbolism or drawing on religious metaphors which I think would go largely unappreciated without being fairly familiar with the Bible stories and scriptures. In the poem, "Who Shoved Me Out Into the Night?", I found myself thinking of Psalm 91 where God promises to send his angels to protect us and that He will hold us in the pinions of wings, safe from harm. It also reminds me of the Chronicles of Narnia, where Jesus is represented by a lion, Aslan. After the set up of fear of the unknown, noises in the night, the poet encounters a lamb, which morphs into a lion.

...This is not hell, nor say I damn.
I know not who nor why I am
But I am walking with a lamb
     And all the tears that ever were
     Are gently dried on his soft fur.

...The lamb has turned to lion, wild,
With nothing tender, gentle, mild,
Yet once again I am a child,
     A babe newborn, a fresh creation,
      Flooded with joy, swept by elation...

In another poem, "How Very Odd It Seems, O Lord" L'Engle grapples with the concept to going to church or mass in churches away from home where she meets people from all stripes of life. All flawed individuals like herself. All seeking comfort and guidance from the Divine One, asking to be blessed. This poem seems particularly appropriate today when we are confronted with a President who wants to divide us and make us think of other people as wrong or less-than. L'Engle pointedly pokes a stick at that kind of thinking. Here is the conclusion of this poem:

...I share communion with the halt.
The lame, the blind, oppressed, depressed.
We have, it seems, a common fault
In coming to you to be blessed.

And my fit friends, intelligent,
Heap on my shoulders a strange guilt.
Are only fools and sinners meant
To come unto you to be filled?

3. Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets because his poems are so accessible. One doesn't need to have a MFA to understand his poems. I always get the idea when I read Collins that he is an accidental poet. It is as if he has to write down a poem or two every few days to survive, so he writes about whatever pops into his mind. The poems themselves aren't really stream-of-consciousness but the ideas for them seem to be. The first poem in The Trouble with Poetry, is a tease. In "You, Reader", Collins brags that he wrote down a poem that you or I should have, but he got to it first.

I wonder how you are going to feel
When you find out
that I wrote this instead of you, ...

Collins makes me laugh, too. He muses in the poem which is also the title of the book, "The Trouble With Poetry", that the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry. Isn't that the point? No wonder Collins was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-3. He is a good ambassador for poetry.

...Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry.

My favorite poem in this volume is "The Flock". Collins had read somewhere that it took 300 sheep skins to make the first Gutenberg Bible. In this poem, with an oblique reference to the 23rd Psalm, he imagines the sheep all milling around in the a pen. They are all squeezed together, all so similar one cannot tell them apart, so it would be difficult to know...

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is our shepherd,
one of the things they already knew.

Collins is one of the few poets, no wait, the only poet I have paid money to go and listen to. In this clip, you will find out what a wonderful experience it was listening to Collins reading his own poems. His humor is so dry and his poems invite me in. I can relate to them. The first poem he reads is called "The Lanyard", which pokes fun at childhood pursuits and reminds me of days when I, too, constructed lanyards to give away as gifts.

Every time I write a blog post about poetry I get comments from my readers that they don't "get" poetry and don't enjoy reading it. I wonder if it is a selection problem or a reading problem. I don't like reading poems which were written in past centuries in what seems like an archaic language, either. Unless I have help from someone else like Roger Housden in his Ten Poems series, I avoid those types of poems, too. In addition, I find that I cannot read poetry as I would a novel. I usually only read three or four poems in one sitting and then I need to sit and ponder a while. That is especially true when I am reading from a volume of poetry which seems to contain a lot of symbolism or religious references like The Ordering of Love. I have been reading this book for four weeks already and I'm only 1/3rd of the way through it. I may keep going, or I may set it aside for a while. No hurry. I am still savoring those poems which I have read and I don't want to race along and miss the good ones. Which reminds me. When I read a volume of poems, I never like them all. In fact, I often like just a few of the poems, but I like them so much, it makes the whole experience worthwhile.

Want to get started reading poetry? I recommend that you give books by poets Billy Collins or Mary Oliver a try. Both of these poets are living today and make poetry available to the common man. Or give one of Roger Housden's "Ten Poems" books a try. Housden not only highlights ten poems in each volume but talks about them and what different references mean. It is really his books which opened up poetry for me. I recommend them highly. In Collins, The Trouble With Poetry, one of his poems, "The Introduction" makes fun of poems which need explanations or prior knowledge to understand. That would probably be a great place to start.

Add a little poetry into your life today and see where it takes you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sunday Salon, two days late. Photo heavy.

This past week we did a lot of activities which involved taking photos. I hope you enjoy my past week in pictures!
We can't see a thing as we smile for the camera because the eclipse glasses only allow us to see the sun, nothing else.

Weather: Hot.

Solar eclipse: We didn't travel to the zone of totality but we did select a beautiful viewing location---Sunrise Visitor Center on Mt. Rainier at 6400 ft.
View of Mt. Rainier right at sunrise from Sunrise Visitor Center

Viewing the eclipse with my funky glasses in a gorgeous setting.
Northwest Trek: Our daughter is returning to New York today so we spent the last week cramming in doing things she wanted to do while here. We headed out to a favorite location---NW Trek, an animal reserve not far from our house. The animals are all found in the wild in our state and the majority of them are given free range to wander around. That means we often don't see them all but this time we did. We saw American bison, Roosevelt elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, caribou, black tail deer, and moose in the free range area. We saw all the other animals in their enclosures.
Bald Eagle. It is at NW Trek because it was injured and couldn't survive in the wild any longer

River otters. They played with each other non-stop as we watched

Mountain goat
Female bighorn sheep in very dry free range area

There are six moose in the park now, we saw three of them

Bighorn sheep on duty

An American icon, an American bison. The males are very active right now as it is mating season.

The Chihuly Museum at the Seattle Center: Gorgeous. We got up early to be the first people to enter the museum to enjoy the glass art and artifacts collected by Dale Chihuly, a local artist. Can you believe how gorgeous the displays are?

Mille fiori

Glass in boats

The museum is located at the feet of the Space Needle allowing us to take this cool shot

Don capturing the best shot

The majority of the glass is inside, but there is also a whole garden of flowers and glass. Stunning.

Chihuly has collected Pendleton blankets in Native American designs

He designed glass in the style of Native baskets. They were my favorites.
You cannot believe how wonderful this museum is until you go see it for yourself.

Playing around with a sketch program on my phone:
technology is so fun. I created these graphic designs out of photos I had on my phone.
Colored pencil of Don and I at Whistler earlier this summer

The girls at Rita's baby shower a few weeks ago. The baby is due in a few weeks. We are on the countdown.

Rita and I mugging for the camera sometime last year.
60 for my 60th: Three more events in the past few weeks have added to my list of visits with friends which I am adding to my list of 60 visits for my 60th year. Thanks for the coffee date, Terri; for the the fun conversation and appetizers at Mama Stortini's restaurant with Nancy and Emily; and dinner at our house Gary and Mary.

Books: With all this gallivanting around the area is it any wonder I didn't get much read this past week?  I did finish one book, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson and I'm still working on one audiobook, Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. It is the story about a nightmare situation at a hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I just read something yesterday about a similar situation in Houston from Hurricane Harvey. (36%)

Book Club: Book club was at my house on Wednesday. I am not sure about the exact date, but I think we have been meeting for over ten years. Pretty remarkable in this day of impermanence. Here is a link to my post about the book, Our Souls at Night.

Hope you have a lovely last few days of summer.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Our Souls at Night---book club discussion

Yesterday our book club met at my house to discuss Kent Haruf's last book, Our Souls at Night. Attendance at the meeting was way down, only four gals attended, but we had a spirited discussion over this short, gem of a book.

In summary:  Addie and Louis, both in their seventies with dead spouses and long-time friends, decide to spend their nights together for companionship and comfort. Nights are the worst for loneliness. They live in a small town and it doesn't take long for the gossips in town to start talking. Addie and Louis decided before they started the sleeping arrangement that they weren't going to sneak around and act guilty, so they ignore or tell off their detractors. Both of their grown children weigh in, as well, being unhappy that their parents are behaving in this manner. But both Addie and Louis find comfort in the new arrangement and are able, finally, to reveal parts of themselves which they have hidden or felt guilt about for years through their night talks. Part of the way through the summer, Addie's grandson, Jamie, comes to live with her. Louis helps her with the boy and they spend precious moments together with him. But the detractors do not let up and soon Addie can not stand the pressure. The book ends on a sad but possibly hopeful note.

About Kent Haruf: The author, made famous for his Plainsong Trilogy set in rural Colorado, received a terminal lung disease diagnosis before he embarked on writing Our Souls at Night. Instead of sitting around waiting to die, he went out to his writing shed and tried to write a short chapter every day. He liked to type with his eyes shut so he could imagine his characters and the setting better. He created a quiet, moving story with few words using this technique. Haruf didn't get published until he was in his forties. Up to that point he was a high school English teacher. He later went on to teach writing at the college level, helping other prospective writers with writing tips he learned along the way. He would tell them to not let the pilot-light of talent they have go out. Their talent needed to be tended every day, with persistence. Read this obituary to find out more about this author.

Discussion questions: It is possible to find book club discussion questions for almost all books today, but often the questions that are offered do not go very deep or generate thoughtful discussions. Here are the KnopfDoubleday discussion questions. We used many of their questions. In addition, we grappled with others of our own making.

  1. What did you like/dislike about the book? Everyone liked the book a lot and for different reasons. We discussed those reasons. One gal, whose husband died a few years ago, said she could really relate to the reasons that Addie and Louis got together and the awkwardness that accompanied the beginnings of their arrangement. Several of us talked about liking the way that Addie and Louis treated the boy, Jamie. Three scenes stuck out in our minds: camping, getting the dog, and teaching him to play catch. One gal did identify one thing about the book which bothered her---no quotations around the dialogue. But because the book was heavy on dialogue, it wasn't a big distraction.
  2. What were the themes of the book? We were able to identify lots of themes---the need for physical touch at every age; life in a small town; treatment of the elderly; family issues; issues related to grief and guilt. I felt that the last theme, grief and guilt, played into so many of the actions of our characters. As the relationship between Addie and Louis deepened they were able to shed some of their guilt for events that happened earlier in their lives, but then we saw their children come back and attempt to throw that guilt right back on them. Family dynamics, especially around finances, factored into our discussion heavily.
  3. Compare Kent Haruf's writing style to other authors. What did you think of his writing? None of us are big know-it-alls about literary styles and writing but we all appreciated the shortness of the book and the spare use of description. I thought that perhaps Haruf could be compared to Hemingway, who famously worked at being concise and spare in his writing. In his last interview, Haruf said, "I think I have written as close to bone as I could."
  4. Talk about the beginning and the ending of the book. How do they help the reader imagine the story 'before and after' the confines of the book? We noted that the first sentence started with the "And", which we've never noticed before in any books. Starting with "And" forces the reader to think about what happened before the print on the first page. What a very clever technique. None of us liked the ending. In fact, when my husband and I listened to the audiobook together, he rated the book as a 'two' due to the ending. None of us were as harsh as Don was about the ending, but we decided that the ending gave us something to think about. We could imagine where the story went from there. It gave our brains room to imagine several alternative endings, which, in my books anyway, is a good way to end a story.
  5. Kent Haruf was a high school teacher in his early life. He and his wife were friends in high school before marrying other people and having their families. When they got together late in life, one of their favorite things to do together was to talk in bed at night. How do these two things affect how you like the book? The author? Since we all worked at a high school (that is how we formed our book club, we all worked at the same high school), it was fun to think of Haruf as one of us. Though the story wasn't autobiographical, it was easy to read because Haruf put things he knew into the story. It was obvious that he loved his characters and cared what happened to them...so we did, too.
Books often improve in my estimation after a good, spirited discussion over them. This was the case with Our Souls at Night. Listening to others talk about what they liked about the book helped me to identify what I liked about it. That is the beauty of book clubs--- First, that one is forced to read a book they wouldn't have selected otherwise, and then, knowing that it will be discussed, it forces the reader to pay attention to details beyond the obvious.

Print: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, Knopf Publishing, 2015.
I listened to the Audiobook version, by Random House Audio, read by Mark Bramhall, who did a wonderful job with his old-west sounding voice.

Book Beginnings: 

"And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark."

Comment: I think it is a very interesting literary technique to start a book with the word AND. It invites the reader to think about what might have happened before the stuff in the book happened.

(Book Beginnings is hosted every Friday by Rose City Reader. Join in the fun. Grab your current read and share the first line! Tell us what you think of the quote in the comments below!)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TTT: Back-to-school books

Top Ten Tuesday: Novels which contain memorable scenes in a school.

This will be my first time in 55 years in which I will not be going back-to-school as either a student or a teacher.  I know I will miss it. Today I am highlighting books that contain at least one memorable scene in a classroom or somewhere on the school grounds.

1. Simon v the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Simon is "outed" at school because he inadvertently left his email open on a school computer and another student found his email which left no doubt to his sexuality. Luckily he has friends at school who accept him for who he is. (c. 2015)

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Scout is eager to attend school but on the very first day she annoys the teacher because she already knows how to read. Then the teacher goes on to shame a boy who doesn't have any lunch or money for food. One of the magical things about this classic book is how the author captures the world as viewed through the eyes of a child. (c. 1960)

3. Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung
Lucy is Asian-Australian. Her parents work hard but don't have enough money to pay for the elite girl's school they want her to attend. Lucy is offered a scholarship to attend the school but is often treated as the "scholarship girl" or a second-class student, or worse, as the representative of all Asian people. (c. 2014)

4. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Hermione Winters is the captain of the cheer squad at school. During camp the summer before her senior year, she is raped. The whole school finds about it and her year doesn't turn out the way she wants or expected but throughout the ordeal she is never abandoned by her best friend. (c. 2016)

5. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
The story begins in the school's bell tower where two students coincidentally have gone to kill themselves, instead they save each other. They then go on to form a relationship because of a class project to explore something special about the state of Indiana. (c. 2015)

6. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Miles is a new student in the Culver Creek Boarding School where he makes friends with a fun bunch of students who love to play pranks. Among the friends he meets Alaska Young who steals his heart. (c. 2006)

7. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor and Park begin a friendship by sitting next to each other on the school bus. In the beginning they mainly just share music, but soon a relationship blooms out of the friendship of these two misfits. (c. 2013)

8. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
Ethan and his friends attend an arts academy which has been hijacked by a reality TV show. In an effort to get their school back, the students start publishing an underground newspaper which contains a long poem to protest the TV show. (c. 2014)

9. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
In a memorable and horrifying scene Emily's boyfriend kills himself in the school library. Guilt-ridden, Emily is finally sent to attend school in Amherst, Massachusetts at a boarding school near where Emily Dickinson lived. Here she gets help from a few quirky new friends and the famous poet herself. (c. 2014)

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Early in the book, Amy, the youngest of the four sisters, goes to school and gets in trouble over a situation with limes. Marmie gets so angry over the way the teacher handles it that she pulls Amy out of school to home-school her. (c. 1868)

11. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Many of the scenes in this marvelous series take place in the small school which Anne attends. She meets most of her friends at school. (c. 1908)

12. The Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler
The students are naughty until the teacher from the black lagoon substitutes for their teacher. When the real teacher returns the students are well-mannered. Illustrated children's book. (c. 1989)

Can you think of any books which contain memorable scenes that take place in a school?

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Eclipse Experience

Today was the day! Eclipse USA!
We decided to not brave the bad traffic and stayed closer to home to view a 94% eclipse.
But we wanted to do something special so we planned to view the eclipse from Mt. Rainier.

We got up very early and drove to the Sunrise Gate at Rainier National Park, a two hour drive. Sunrise is on the East side of the mountain.

We arrived in time to view first light and sunrise. En route we startled two female elk on the road up the mountain and had to drive super slow because driving the switchbacks in the dark were difficult to navigate.
Mt. Rainier at first light
Sunrise at first light over the Eastern skies


Don enjoying the beauty of Sunrise Lake.
Right where he was standing were very prominent elk tracks.

Mt. Rainier after sunrise

The eclipse has begun. Carly is sporting her special eclipse glasses with the mountain in the background.

You can't see a thing with the special glasses on except the sun. It really is amazing.

Even though we were at 6400 ft, it was a warm day.
About midpoint of the eclipse, when only a sliver of the sun showed, the temperature dropped 8 degrees in about 15 minutes, from 72 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

We made ourselves comfy in camp chairs. It was a very collegial event with all the folks we met nearby. The Park Rangers also did special programs at the lodge.
When we got tired of looking at the sun with our glasses. We could view the eclipse with the special viewer Carly made with a cereal box.

This is what the eclipse looked like in the box. It was almost complete at this point.

And this is what the sun looked like with only a few minutes left of the eclipse. 
Carly took this photo through her Solar Eclipse glasses.

We may not have seen a total eclipse of the sun but we doubt that few people viewed the eclipse from such a lovely setting.

And this is our Eclipse USA story.