Thursday, April 29, 2010

Did ABC comedies pay tribute to Harper Lee?

Last night on the ABC comedy The Middle, starring Patricia Heaton, youngest son Brick watched over an unhatched egg, brought it with him everywhere, covered it with a blanket at night, etc. He named the egg "Scout" before the baby chick even hatched.

The Middle is followed by Modern Family. In last night's episode, Phil's dad comes to visit in this super-huge RV, and brings Phil and family a dog. The dog's name was Scout. Kyle noticed the name was the same as Brick's baby chick and told us, but of course I was focused on the show and didn't hear him. A couple minutes later, I realized it was the same name and said something, then found out that Kyle had beaten me to the punch.

So, I was vacuuming the living room a little while ago and my mind was wandering. I remembered reading on Twitter not too long ago that it was Harper Lee's birthday.

Wait ... Harper Lee's birthday ... Scout ... and then another Scout ... Is this too coincidental??? So I looked on LibraryThing (check this page, scroll down to Common Knowledge section) and verified that yesterday was Harper Lee's birthday. We don't watch Cougar Town so I don't know if there was a Scout in there, too, but I'd just be really surprised if it was coincidental.

Ms. Harper Lee, how deeply your story has touched our lives and hearts, and our very culture. How wonderful that it continues to move and inspire us, fifty years later.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

FreeVerse: "Anchor" by Rae Armantrout & mini-review


"Widely expected,
if you will,

Things I'd say,
am saying,

to persons no longer

Yards away trim junipers
make their customary

"Oh, no thank you"
to any of it.

If you watch me
from increasing distance,

I am writing this

This poem is from the collection that just won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Versed by Rae Armantrout. I was lucky enough to find it in the TSCPL catalog on the day the awards were announced, and checked it out the same afternoon. I have to admit, my first impression as I read through the early part of the book was, This really isn't my cup of tea.

I think a big part of my reaction to the book is simply that the style is quite different from what I usually read. The poems aren't long, and usually that's a plus, but many of them look similar to "Anchor," in that the lines are short, and the stanzas are short, and the poems themselves are short -- it's like, Where the heck is the poem? It's like a tree in winter, not just slim, but really bare. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but that I'm not accustomed to reading that style of poem throughout a whole volume.

Another thing that threw me off: a lot of the poems -- again, see the example above -- have no ending mark of punctuation. There are periods or other marks to show the end of sentences throughout the poem, but then at the end, there's nothing, so it's like the poem just drops off the ledge or something. I love my punctuation, and that kind of thing is hard for me to adjust to. They aren't all like that, some of them do end in periods, but many do not.

I liked the second half of the book better than the first half. Then a funny thing happened: after finishing the book, I skimmed back through some of the poems from the first half of the book, and found some that I liked better on revisiting them. So, I'm quite glad I got the chance to read this one when I did, and I think it stretched my poetic mind a bit. "Anchor" is from the second half of the book, and it's one of just a few that I liked a lot on first reading.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing

I received The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, and I'm so so grateful that I did. Thank you to LT and to the publisher, Bloomsbury, for the opportunity to read and review this book.

As I read the book, I marked the Table of Contents to indicate poems I particularly liked, or which echoed and articulated my own experiences of grief. Initially, I thought I might quote from a few of them in my review. But now I find I cannot choose, as I've marked about 80 poems. I also noted a handful of what I considered "classic" poems on grief, many of which have been widely anthologized already but surely belong here as well, including "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas, "Funeral Blues" by W. H. Auden, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost, "After great pain, a formal feeling comes --" by Emily Dickinson, and "Elegy for Jane" by Theodore Roethke.

I was very impressed with the strength of the whole collection. Although I didn't love every poem (and with an anthology, it's likely no one does except the editor), my reactions are a reflection of my own tastes, not upon the quality of the poems. There really is "something for everyone," or at least for everyone familiar with grief, in this amazing collection. The editor, Kevin Young, is to be commended for bringing a great variety of voices and styles together to form a cohesive volume.

Having lost both of my own parents, my father-in-law, and both of my grandfathers -- and three of these five losses within the past two years -- The Art of Losing isn't merely a book I won through LibraryThing; it truly feels like a gift, one I will cherish for many years, and share with others who might find comfort within its pages.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mailbox Monday, April 19 (Of course I needed more books!)

This is my first Mailbox Monday post. I don’t get LOTS of books in the mail, and rarely more than one or two at a time. (And of course, I began this year planning to buy FEWER books … but please don’t ask how that’s been working out for me, that’s another story.) But a couple weeks ago, Better World Books had one of their Bargain Bin sales: selected titles priced at Five Books for Fifteen Dollars. I’ve ordered from them a few times in the past, but I don’t think I’d ever done the five for $15 deal before, and I suddenly thought, “I gotta check this out!” It took a little while to decide upon five books – okay, it took a longer time than it should have, and I could have been doing something more productive for 80% of that time – but I’m really happy with my choices.

When the package arrived on Saturday, here’s what it contained: Look at Me by Jennifer Egan – I just listened to The Keep on audio and really got into the second half of it and some of the twists, wanted to try another by her; The Only Problem by Muriel Spark, whom I like very much; Kissing the Bread, a large volume of “new and selected poems” by Sandra Gilbert, a well-known literary critic and perhaps lesser-known poet – I got one of her poetry books from the library a year or so ago and was quite impressed; The Death of Literature by Alvin Kernan, one of those criticism titles that had been on my “watch list” for a while; and A Dream of Mind, by a poet I’d like to know better, C. K. Williams.

The sixth book in the pile didn’t come by mail, but since it was also a weekend acquisition, I added it to the stack. It’s The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster, another of those writers I haven’t read yet but really want to. I was at Barnes & Noble yesterday to get a Lightwedge book light for my mother-in-law (with my membership and an extra coupon), and I browsed the bargain books, finding the Auster in hardcover for $5.98 – member price was $5.38, thanks very much. While in the store, I also took a few moments to examine copies of two books winning rave reviews these days: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and Matterhorn, a debut novel thirty years in the making by decorated Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes.

OH, I ALMOST FORGOT: I also got to play with Barnes & Noble’s nook e-reader!!! I walked into the store, and they have a nook booth set up just a few feet inside the door, it was SO GREAT!!! I walked away, then came back, and began by saying, “I have over 400 books at home that I haven’t read yet, so there’s no way I’m going to buy one of these, but can I just look at it for a few minutes?” And the two women were really cool about it. The navigation wasn’t the most intuitive – maybe I’m too used to my iPod Touch – but I’d certainly be open to looking at it again more closely. ;-)

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. Head on over there to see what other bookish goodies came into book bloggers’ homes this past week, and be ready to add to your wishlist!

Friday, April 16, 2010

What I'm reading (still), and what's On Deck

Small confession: this post is more for my benefit than for anyone else, and I apologize. I have a pile of books that I really need to get to soon, and I'm putting the list down here as an extended "note to self," so that I won't get sidetracked by something that looks good but can wait a little longer.

My currently reading titles are the same as they were last Saturday for the Read-a-Thon: King Dork by Frank Portman, which I am LOVING and hope to finish this weekend (depending on how many games Ryan plays in the pre-season baseball tournament tomorrow and Sunday, eek); The Art of Losing, the poetry collection I got from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, that's more than half read; and Zadie's Smith's On Beauty on audio. Three completely different books, and they're all great.

Then, I have four more books, none on audio at this point. Top two priorities are next month's selection for my book group, and another LT Early Reviewers book. The book group choice was made when I wasn't there, since Kyle had a music program at school, but it's perfect timing for me: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D Salinger. Why is it perfect? Because the narrator in King Dork talks about Salinger's book A LOT -- though not in a good way -- and one of the first big events that gets the action rolling is when he finds his late father's copy of the book. I read Catcher in my teens, but have never reread it, and I'm excited to reacquaint myself with it after enjoying Portman's book.

The other Early Reviewers book is called The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald, edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. It sounded like the kind of thing that appeals to me -- a writer talking about writing and memory, traversing the ground between memoir and literary criticism, exploring the writing process, and the effect of memory upon it. (At least this is what I'm expecting I'll find in there.) So, that kind of stuff interests me, and I requested it. I was surprised to find out I'd actually won it, though, after winning the poetry book the previous month -- and I thought, Oh God, I've never even read anything by Sebald! I recognized his name, I'm pretty sure at least one of his books (maybe more) is included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and clearly I was interested enough to request it, but man, I was wishing I'd had some exposure to the guy's work.

The last two were impulse check-outs from the library, so not critical, but there IS a time factor involved if I want to read at least SOME of each book. When the Pulitzers were announced earlier this week, I saw that the winner for poetry was Versed by Rae Armantrout. I KNEW I'd seen it somewhere, recently, and immediately I thought, "I wonder if they have it at the library." They did, and it was checked in, and I decided I'd head over right after work and get it if it was still checked in -- and it was, so I did. I still don't recall where I saw it, and that bugs me a little, but that's okay. My other check-out is also poetry, A Worldly Country by John Ashbery, one of his books I hadn't heard of before, and not far from the other one on the shelf, so I grabbed it. Since they're both poetry, I should be able to at least dip into both of them in the next two weeks, get a feel for them, before I need to return them.

Whew, I think that's everything! Time to close, get ready for bed, and probably read some more King Dork before I fall asleep. I don't write too many reviews, but I think I'll review this one; it's too entertaining not to share. :-)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A learning experience: Wrap-up of my first Read-a-Thon

My first 24 Hour Read-a-Thon is done, and I'm sorry to say this top part is gonna be a mess because it's Sunday night and I need to get ready for bed -- back to work tomorrow! I did answer the questions for the "End of Event meme" already (below), so hopefully the bottom part of the blog is more orderly. :-)

The Q&A covers a lot of what I might want to say. Additional notes: I read a pitiful 204 pages (approximately), though the 75 or so pages from On Beauty correspond to a full-size hardcover. (I own the hardcover but am listening to the audio; I just looked at the pages closest to where I started listening on Saturday and where I ended.) In a way, I'm disappointed that I didn't get more read, but mostly I feel like it's my own fault, so I'm disappointed in myself. As I say in the title, though, it was a learning experience; I'm not going to beat myself up about it, and I REALLY ENJOYED the time I was able to spend reading. (No, I didn't track time spent reading, didn't even try.)

One cool thing: last night around 10pm, I sat in the living room with my two boys, and all three of us were reading. A few minutes after we all started, my husband -- YES, my husband, who has been unemployed for six months and STILL hasn't read the one book I told him he really should read since he has all this extra time, To Kill a Mockingbird -- EVEN MY HUSBAND came down to the living room with a basketball book and sat down and read for a while. This "whole family reading" happens so rarely, I can't say the last time it might have happened before last night. After a couple chaotic hours in the evening, it was wonderful and peaceful, even if it was only 20 minutes or half an hour. There's some hope for my boys yet!

Now I'm thinking I'm forgetting something ... and darn it, just when I was thinking my husband can be so great (see above), he comes down and says, "You really have to just stop and turn off the laptop now and get to bed." ARGH!! Whatever I was thinking of saying must remain forgotten and unsaid --- but I've covered enough, you get the picture.

End of Event Meme Questions

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Most of the times when I wasn't actually reading. Part of the evening was very stressful, after husband and sons got home from baseball practice and we all took turns being in foul moods. :-(
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
One of my books was King Dork, a YA novel by Frank Portman, and it made me laugh out loud multiple times. One I read a few weeks ago that would be great for the Read-a-Thon is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Not really, things seemed to go along pretty swimmingly from what I could see. But one observation: you can never have too many cheerleaders! ;-)
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
This was my first one, so I don't have anything to compare it to. One good idea: on my cheerleading team, the head cheerleader assigned a group of cheerleaders to cheer for readers whose names began with the same letter. I was one of the handful of cheerleaders assigned to readers in the "M" group. It was VERY helpful to have a small subset of readers to focus on.
5. How many books did you read?
I read parts of two novels, sadly I didn't finish either one.
6. What were the names of the books you read?
In addition to King Dork, I listened to the audiobook of On Beauty by Zadie Smith.
7. Which book did you enjoy most?
I'm really enjoying both of them, but I have to give the edge to Zadie Smith.
8. Which did you enjoy least?
See # 7.
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
Granted it was my first time, but I found that cheering can take longer and be more "involved" than one might think.
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
If my schedule allows in the fall and/or next year, I really hope to participate in the Read-a-Thon again. At least for my next one, I'd probably focus on reading, and not sign up to be a cheerleader -- just hop around some of the blogs and leave comments "unofficially" without COMMITTING to cheer, and of course do some tweeting, which wasn't as stressful for me. ;-)

Finally, I am truly thrilled that this event exists and is so popular with book bloggers, because it makes me very happy to know that others value books and reading as much as I do. Thank you a thousand times to the organizers, cheerleaders, mini-challenge hosts, and everyone involved, for making time to READ, and to share and promote our devotion to books and reading. YAY, TEAM READ-A-THON!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quick notes before I start Read-a-Thon

My tea is steeping, and as soon as I get my breakfast ready, I'm going to start reading King Dork by Frank Portman. I am slightly bummed because I forgot my poetry anthology, The Art of Losing, at work yesterday, so won't be reading any of that one today. :-( I left early because we were going to the KC Royals game last night, and wanted to get an early start out of town. When I was collecting all my stuff to get out of there, I was carrying my coat but not my book. But, heaven knows I have plenty of other poetry books here at home, so I can get some poetry in today if my mood requires it.

We didn't get home from KC till just after midnight, and I didn't get to sleep till after 1am, so I knew I wouldn't be up to start at my time zone's official start time of 7am. I was okay with that -- part of the reason I agreed to go to the game was because I could then claim more time for myself and my reading today, when we don't have other plans. ;-) So it's about 820am now, and I'm a little tired, and I have a bit of allergy-related stuffy-head headache. But my head will feel better as I get moving, and when I've started having breakfast, and of course when I start READING.

A couple cheerleaders have already left me comments today on my last blog post, and their encouragement and enthusiasm is MUCH appreciated on this sleepy morning!!! I'll get my laptop set up later so I can spread the reading love, too. Thank you, Cheerleaders!!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


This Saturday, April 10, is the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, a very popular event in the book blogging community. I realize I’m not technically a book blogger, but I’ve learned some names, I read some of the blogs, I follow a handful of bloggers on Twitter, and if people want to set aside 24 hours to read books, read blogs about books, write blogs about reading books – okay, seriously, this sounds to me like a day in paradise, right?!?!? I’ll get a Heath Mocha Frappe (previously Frost), my pile of books, and my laptop, and it will be perfect.

I also took the plunge last night and signed up to be a cheerleader during the event. I only committed myself for one hour, since I’ve never done the Read-a-Thon as a reader or as a cheerleader, and I want to spend as much time reading as I possibly can. But as a cheerleader, I get to visit the blogs of other Read-a-Thon participants, and leave them encouraging comments, and support them in their efforts to read as much as they can. (I think very few people do the WHOLE 24 hour experience: naps are allowed, and everyone knows we all have other responsibilities, schedule conflicts, etc.) I found out this morning that I’ve been assigned to Team Shelley. At first I thought, I wonder who Shelley is? Then I found out there are four teams, all with poetic names: Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth. Each team is assigned to visit a set of participating readers, and they determine the groups by bloggers' names – so Team Keats cheers for readers whose names start with A through C, Team Byron is D through J, etc., and there’s an alphabetical list of readers so you know whom to visit. You can also cheer using Twitter, and the #readathon hashtag – I predict LOTS of cheerleaders will be tweeting! The head cheerleader for my team is a blogger I’d never heard of (and NOT named Shelley, har har), and I’m sure a lot of the other cheerleaders and readers will be new to me, too. I’m excited to see a lot of new blogs and feel like part of the community, so I think it will be really fun for me, as well as a way to support and encourage other Read-a-Thon participants. :-)

And finally, what the heck am I going to read??? Well, I think I can do a fair amount of housework on Saturday while listening to my current audiobook, On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Since I just started it last weekend, there’s no fear that I’ll finish it, and since I’m enjoying it so far, I expect it will be a good companion for however long I end up cleaning. My current print book is a poetry anthology called The Art of Losing; I’m on page 114, and the last poem is on page 292, so I’m somewhere between a third of the way and halfway through. I anticipate reading some of that on Saturday, but I’m also thinking of things I’ve heard are “good” to read during the Read-a-Thon: lighter fiction, humor, mysteries, thrillers and other page-turners, basically the kind of books where you enjoy the story and get caught up in it and don’t realize that you’ve been reading for three hours and barely looked up from the page. My guilty pleasure book from last fall, Austenland by Shannon Hale, would have been an AWESOME choice for the Read-a-Thon. Also, one of my recent reads, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, would have been great as well.

Looking at my bookshelves a few days ago, King Dork by Frank Portman caught my attention. It’s technically YA, but got a great review in Entertainment Weekly when it was first published, and plus one of my fellow transportation librarians, Kendra, is a Frank Portman fan, and since Kendra is cool, then Frank Portman and his book are probably cool too, “Dork” notwithstanding. And if I do like that one and actually finish it, then I don’t know what I’d pick up next. It will be a great adventure just to get that far! Yes, I think it will be a wonderful day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reading notes: My growing list of unfinished books

As you might recall, I struggled to get through Thackeray's Vanity Fair. I'd put it aside to read a book for another commitment, I'd read parts in paperback and some of it on my iPod, I was up and down with it for weeks -- and when I finally finished it, I was so happy! I'm almost embarrassed to say that, soon after that, I checked out a 2-disc DVD version of Vanity Fair from the library (not the Reese Witherspoon one, but an earlier production by A&E), watched it during several treadmill sessions, and enjoyed it very much. I might have enjoyed the book more if I'd seen a movie version first, and could keep better track of who was who, and who was where. Anyway, it's ironic that after taking so long to finish the damn book, I still wasn't ready to let the story go.

There have been a few other times lately when I thought I'd get into a book and found myself mistaken. First, one of the books I wrote about in this post, called Genuine Happiness: Meditation as the Path to Fulfillment. I started reading it within just a few days of buying it, and it started out much as I expected. But as I read, I couldn't help thinking, "24 minutes, twice a day, every this house, and with these kids around here???" So yeah, I haven't quite gotten back to that one yet.

In that same blog post, I mentioned that I bought Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko because it was my book group's choice for our April meeting. I started reading it, but found it wasn't grabbing me too quickly. Then, I found out that one of the boys will be having a musical program at school that same night. No offense to Leslie, but since I knew I wasn't going to make the meeting and I hadn't fallen in love with the book yet, I lent it to another member so he could read it before the discussion. This one isn't abandoned, but merely delayed.

This past weekend, though, I did abandon a book, and I feel quite good about my decision. One of those novels that sounded interesting, got decent reviews, sat on my watch list for a while, and then I found an old library copy on sale at the Booktique a couple years ago and instantly bought it. (I had put this comment in my LibraryThing catalog: "Groundhog Day bargain!" That almost made me want to keep it.) After deciding I wasn't going to read Ceremony right now, I went to one of my bookcases and pulled out Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart. It wasn't a difficult read, parts of the story were interesting, and for a while I was willing to follow the main character, Misha, wherever Shteyngart decided to send him. (One recurring joke that I loved: while Misha is stuck in Russia, his girlfriend is back in New York and starts a relationship with a professor who Misha used to know and now doesn't like. It's supposed to be based on the author, and his name is something like Jerry Shteynfarb -- yet that also reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld, so it just cracked me up on two different levels.)

I read about 100 pages of the book, then started thinking, "Am I enjoying this enough to continue?" I started listening to my next audiobook on Saturday, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, and though I only got partway into disc two, I felt it was much more on my wavelength than Absurdistan was. I had read to about page 140, and decided I didn't like it enough to finish it. I brought it back to the Booktique today, and I have no regrets. It's not a bad book, but it just wasn't for me. I started my newest LibraryThing Early Reviewers book last night, a poetry anthology, and I already love it. I feel I'm back to where I should be.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Belated post-Patty Griffin show post

FINALLY posting about the Patty Griffin concert that Jeff and I were lucky enough to attend exactly one week ago, in Lawrence, Kansas. Patty was amazing. Her voice in concert is fantastic, very much like what you hear on her CDs. The "second billed artist," not really an opening act because he played most of the songs with Patty and her band, was singer and guitarist Buddy Miller. I wasn't familiar with him except from his backing vocals on some of Patty's songs, and he was excellent as well.

One thing that was different, and totally cool, was that after Buddy sang one song by himself, all of the sudden, Patty and two of the backing musicians came out, and she sang with Buddy on every song, then she and the other two guys left the stage and Buddy did one last song by himself. (I remember the last one was "All My Tears," an old gospel / bluegrass traditional song. His wife, Julie Miller, sings that one on the Songcatcher soundtrack album.) Then pretty soon, Patty and her band came out, and while she also sang a few songs by herself with just her guitar, most of the time, Buddy Miller was right there with the rest of Patty's band, playing guitar and singing backup. So it wasn't like "opening act / headliner," but like first and second billed acts who really like each other and like working together, with genuine mutual respect and appreciation of one another's talents.

During the second half of the show, I suddenly had this feeling that everyone in Liberty Hall, seeing and hearing Patty Griffin and her talented band, were the luckiest people in the world -- that there was literally no better place to be at that time, on the whole planet, than at the Patty Griffin concert. Even though we were in the very last row in the balcony, and couldn't see as well as I had hoped, still it was a fairly intimate venue, and the music was...everything. It was everything good and beautiful in the world, wrapped into about two and a half hours.

Quick rundown of what Patty sang. As I told Jeff, "nothing from the first or third albums," which surprised me slightly, but I knew the focus would be the newest album, and the other selections all fit really well with the mostly gospel tone of the new album. From that album, Downtown Church, I think she sang everything except "Virgen de Guadalupe" (the Spanish song), and "All Creatures of Our God and King" (my least favorite from the new album, so I was cool with that). She sang "Standing" quite early in the show, from Impossible Dream, and later sang "Love Throw a Line." One of the songs she sang on her own was "Mary" from the album Flaming Red; THAT was the song that made me cry. From Children Running Through, she sang the wonderful "Heavenly Day," as well as "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)." Finally, two songs I didn't know: "I Do Believe," which she said she recorded for an upcoming Waylon Jennings tribute album and would have put on the new record if she'd known it, and an old song of hers called "Little God" that never made it onto an album. I don't know how I felt about that last one, but the Waylon Jennings cover was awesome, another one that she sang with just her guitar.

I will close by saying that Jeff was a wonderful date. :-)

Here, I'll try to embed two videos from YouTube, one of "Heavenly Day," and one of a performance with Natalie Maines of the song "Mary" -- that one from the second album, that made me cry. That Patty, she is the best.