Monday, May 31, 2010

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

To all my fellow wanna be writers.  Listen up.  You need to read this book.

At one time a few years ago when I was feeling especially down in the dumps about my writing career, my dear friend April suggested this book.  April does not happen to be a writer so I couldn't even begin to guess how this book appeared on her own personal radar screen.  I bought it and it sat on the shelf waiting for the perfect time to enter my life. 

Anne Lamott is funny, witty and boy, can she put the writing life into perspective!  And in a way I can understand.  She relates the trials and tribulations of being a writer to ordinary life.  She talks about her son and how to dig deep into your soul to capture the innocence of a child.  She wrote about the death of her father and how some people thought there was too much joy and laughter in her writing about that time in her life.  She wrote about her students and how young writers all believe publishing will lead them to a life of fame and fortune.   

Anne Lamott hit the nail on the head for me over and over and over again.  I know I'm not alone in my struggle to publish.  In her own silly and sarcastic voice she lays out a wonderful plan for a writing life.  I feel more energetic and on track than I have in ages, because Anne made me laugh and cry and feel life deep down in my soul.  Bird By Bird is a fun and entertaining read. 

I rate this book 5 out of 5 and it's staying on the shelf.  While reading it I often felt the need to highlight some of it.  Highlighting seriously goes against the grain of my rules on how to treat a book.  Just like bending page corners.  But Bird By Bird is going to be a wonderful reference book for me so I just might break down and put removable tabs on the important pages.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hot Time at the Ol' Bookstore Tonight

"Hey, Linda.  Wanna go to the bookstore with me?"  Richard asked.
"You're asking me?  That's a switch." I answered.

Richard is not much of a book reader.  Magazines are more his style.  Short. Sweet. And to the point.  He knows how I love my books and I think he likes being around them too.  He just doesn't read them.
I love to have company on my treks to the store.  It keeps me from buying anything.  I'm a closet addict.  I don't want anyone to know.  I can act like it's no big deal while my insides are being ripped apart.  I can look and drool and look some more and never pick up a new title as long as I'm not alone.

"Show me that Chicken Soup book while we're there, OK?"

Not being a reader, Richard wasn't familiar with the Chicken Soup series.  One of my stories had recently been accepted by Chicken Soup for the Soul.  I was on cloud nine and Richard would be too once he held it in his hands for real.

Once in the store I went to the Chicken Soup section and picked a few titles that I thought would interest Richard.  I took them over to where he was sitting reading some interior design magazines.
"Wow.  I'm impressed," as he flipped through one of the books.  "Show me where these are."

We walked across the bookstore.  Chicken Soup titles had an entire shelf all to themselves.  Now he was really impressed.
"I'm proud of you," he said as he patted me on the back.  "Are you ready to go?"

We headed toward the front door.  "Whoa.  Wait a minute.  What's this?"  Richard made a sudden stop in a section labeled 'Sexuality'.  He pulled a book off the shelf titled 'How to Give Great Oral Sex'.
"You never told me they sold stuff like this here," his eyes glued to the pages of the book. It was a picture book.

"They have ten different versions of the Karma Sutra.  Which one do you want?" I asked.
"Karma Sutra.  That's old," he replied still never lifting his gaze from the page.

Finally he put the exotic book back in it's place.  "I'm done reading magazines.  I'm going to hang out here more often." He paused to see what else looked interesting.

"Good.  Now I don't have to be tempted by coming here alone."  I gave him a hug since my arms were empty.  "Let's go home."

"What are we going to do when we get there?" he asked with a wink and a twinkle in his eye.  "Read a book?"

"Let's go home and find out." I answered.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Sometimes a love story has the ability to touch my heart in a very special way.  Henry and Keiko did just that.

After Pearl Harbor, Henry who is Chinese meets Keiko of Japanese heritage while both are on scholarshipping (as Henry's father calls it) at an all white school.  Japanese families were being rounded up and set to internment camps.  Henry's father forced him to wear a button, 'I am Chinese' for protection.  Keiko's family accepts Henry for his kindness in their time of need.  Henry's father refuses to even speak to Henry after he discovers Henry is associating with a Japanese girl.  He is Chinese and hates what the Japanese have done to his beloved country.

The author does an excellent job of moving the story from 1942 to 1986 and back again.  Henry's wife has died and he struggles to find his place in life.  He can't let go of the thought of Keiko and a long lost record of their song.  Henry is guy who has lived in the same neighborhood all his life.  His friend Sheldon, has been his guide through life since Henry was ten.  Sheldon is able to die peacefully once Henry finds the long lost record that leads him to Keiko.

I love stories the evoke emotion.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is full of love, hate, and prejudice.  Henry and Keiko had a love that was able to stand the test of time against all odds.  What a wonderful story that left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I rate this story 5 out of 5.  I loved it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a very popular writer.  My niece will read only her novels.  I'd never read any of them and I figured I should give her a try.  Not knowing anything about her writing, I simply picked one.  The Tenth Circle.

I was surprised when I saw comic book pages scattered throughout.  What did I get myself into here?  Daniel Stone was the stay at home Dad slash comic book illustrator while Laura taught Dante at the local university.  Trixie, their daughter was a typical teenager experimenting with sex and alcohol.  I fully understand how a family can get caught up in a situation like this.  But the author took this family far beyond the extreme.  I could feel each characters pain and rage.  These were intelligent, educated  people.  Some of their actions were not believable.

The story was well written, interesting to read, a real page turner.  For me there were a few missing links.  We didn't know what Seth wanted to tell Laura until one sentence sneaked in the last ten pages.  I never got the connection of why Trixie went to Alaska and how her parents knew to follow her.  The whole premise of Daniel's upbringing in Alaska and why it changed him was vague.

I rate this book 3 out of 5.  I got it from Paperback Swap and fully intended to list it again until I realized this is an autographed copy.  I have a special section on my shelf for those volumes.  There The Tenth Circle will find its home.

The Bottom of the Barrel

Richard wanted to go to the bookstore yesterday.  He likes to sit and read the magazines.  Today however he wanted to look at travel books on Florida to plan a trip to see his favorite baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays.  It took all of a nano second for me to say "Let's go.  I'll drive."

I know that I'm an easy target for marketers.  I want to buy every get rich quick system and amazing time saving cooker I see on television.  I have over time learned to show some restraint.  Same is true for the bookstore.  I'm learning how to show some restraint.

I decided that I should look at the books on the bottom shelf.  I never seem to browse below eye level for my reading treasures.  I know I'm the marketers dream.  There must be something down there worth reading that I've missed.  I crouched down.  No covers here grab me.  I moved to another shelf.

John Steinbeck.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  He's my favorite.  The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men.  All favorites.  All classics.  I didn't need to buy them though.  I have them already.  His son did write a book recently.  That might be worth reading but it wasn't on the shelf.  I moved along.

Carl Hiassen.  His titles filled an entire shelf.  He's the master of character development.  His stories are funny and quirky and I love to write in a similar sarcastic fashion.  But I'm not much of a serial reader.  I've read a few.  That's enough for me for now.

What did I learn about the bottom shelf?  Unless you're an author who's been around the block a few times, it's a curse.  If you're established with a following, readers will come looking for you regardless of where you are.  But I think I'll spend more time at the bottom shelf.  As a writer I should aspire to be on the bottom shelf.  There's alot of good company down there.  And for the record.  I left the store empty handed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

My heart be still.  Oh, Edgar.  When I first opened this book, I had no idea where this story would take me.  Yes, I'd heard about the dogs and a mute boy.  I looked at the 560 page novel and wondered how far an author could go with that as his premise.  He can go practically to the moon and back again and never once lose his grip on the reader.

This is a beautifully written, emotional tale full of love, evil and a splash of fantasy.  I love books that tap into my emotions, that make me think and feel.  I smelled the barn and felt the lick of the dogs on my face.  Edgar's pain as he tried to save his father tore at my heart.  I hiked through the woods beside him with wet clothes clinging to my body.  I was hungry when Edgar broke into cabins to find food after days without anything to eat.

The one very big unanswered question for me in the book was Claude.  Why did he feel the need to have this poison?  Why did he have to kill Gar?  The only insight we had into that was Trudy saying she never knew what came between her husband and his brother.  Claude went halfway around the world to get the poison but he didn't use it for close to thirty years.

I rate The Story of Edgar Sawtelle a 4 out of 5.  It's a wonderfully written story that grabs a reader by the heart and never lets go.  I was left with a broken heart, but I felt unsatisfied at the end.  That's the only thing keeping this book from my perfect rating.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Breakthrough of Sorts

To my followers it may appear that I've been reading at a frenetic pace lately.  Well maybe I have.  That list seems oh so long and frankly I'm a person who likes to finish things.  Lately I've discovered too many unfinished projects on my desk.  I feel buried when that happens.  I don't like feeling buried.

I've had several breakthroughs of sorts in the past couple weeks.  A friend mentioned that she kept a list of books she wanted to read in her purse.  When she was ready to get a new book, she knew exactly what to buy.  I've now done the same.  I started a list of books that call to me while I'm in the bookstore.  They'll still be there the next time I visit and might even be in paperback by then.  This method seems to have taken the urgency out of buying a book when I see it.  I've been to several bookstores since I started doing this and have been able to resist by just by jotting down a note.

I've also been looking for new avenues to recycle the books that I want to pass along.  I love to give books to people who don't have the resources to have new books.  Sure there is always the library but there is something about reading a book that has been read with love and comes with a built in recommendation.  And sometimes it's about having something to read be accessible, within reach like already being on the living room shelf.  I send books to my niece, my step-daughter, a high school teacher who keeps a library in her classroom.  Now I'm adding our troops to my list.  There are several organizations online that need volunteers to send books and supplies to soldiers overseas.  I'm signing up.

The real breakthrough is that when I find a good book, I fall in love with it.  As a writer I want to write like that.  As a reader I want to laugh, cry, get mad and feel emotion.  That's what makes a good book.  It will be something totally different for you.  What you love, I may think is tasteless.  What I love, you may think is boring.  No matter what, it made both of us think.  That's the beauty of the written word.  

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Your Life is Your Message by Eknath Easwaran

I purchased this book several years ago after my yoga teacher began reading passages from it.  I left it on the shelf too long.

The knowledge of how to live a more peaceful and fulfilling life is jam packed into this little book.  The author tells many anecdotes about his own experiences and shows us how to live with love, peace and harmony.  He also shows us how to leave the world a better place than when we found it.  We are all one.

You may think that this book is slanted to one particular religion.  It is not.  The author encompasses many practices and religions throughout the book.  I learned so much about my own spiritual path as I read this.  Your life truly is your message.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 for all of you that are searching for meaning in your life.  This is a wonderful place to find peace, love and guidance.  It's a reference book I will go back to again and again. A special place on my bookshelf has already been reserved for it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein

Dog lovers!  Listen up!  Move over Marley.  Here comes Enzo.  Enzo melted my heart on page one.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is told through the eyes of Enzo, the mixed breed mutt loved by Denny Swift.  He was loved by Eve, Denny's wife and again by Zoe their daughter when she arrived on the scene.  Denny loved cars and racing.  He and Enzo would watch races on TV.  Enzo had quite the repertoire of television shows since Denny left the TV on for him during the day.  He observed and made notes of all his human's actions and emotions.

He tries to comfort Eve through her illness and play gently with Zoe.  He hates Eve's parents, the Evil Twins.  Enzo knew exactly how to get under their skin at just the right moment.  The night he ate a pepper just to aggravate Maxwell was priceless.  They tried to rip Denny's family apart.

I cried the night Eve dressed up in a ball gown to celebrate her final day of life.  I felt joy for Enzo and Denny as they raced at full speed around an empty track.  I hated Trish and Maxwell for their selfish acts against Denny.  Whatever Enzo felt, I felt.

This is a wonderful story and expertly written through the eyes of a dog.  For all of us with dogs who wonder what they're thinking, this book explains it.  I rate this book 5 out of 5.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

This book has been sitting peacefully on the shelf for a couple years.  I really wasn't aware of its importance as a literary classic.  Florida, hurricane and love story was all I needed to take it home.  Lately it's been sitting on the coffee table as decoration.  That's how pretty the cover is.  I kept thinking it had been there long enough but never picked it up.  About a week ago Ginger decided she wasn't getting enough attention.  She climbed on the table and nabbed the book.   I guess she thought it had been there long enough too.  The beautiful cover now has more than a few teeth marks but I retrieved it before she started ripping out pages.

The dialect in The Help was flat and not real.  I felt the dialect in Same Kind of Different As Me was very good and believable.  It was only used in the chapters that were written in Denver's voice so it worked well.  In Their Eyes Were Watching God the dialect is perfection.  It's written so that I can hear the characters talking to me.  The only problem is there is so much dialog the book is very difficult to read.  It bogs down the story line.

As for the story line, there wasn't much of one.  Life in Florida in the early twentieth century was rough.  Janie's life in Eatonville was comfortable compared to others.  She was looking for love.  I don't believe she ever found it.  Tea Cake was no prize, always playing tricks on her and gambling with her money.  Nothing really unexpected or exciting happened until the last 40 pages.  Up until then she combed her hair and worked in her husband's store.  Then they were uprooted by a hurricane, Tea Cake was bitten by a rabid dog, they walked to Palm Beach and back again, and moved back into a cabin that miraculously hadn't washed away.  Janie killed Tea Cake, was put on trial, acquitted and moved back to Orlando to her home she'd left behind years ago.  All in the blink of an eye.

At the end was some information on the life of Zora Neale Hurston.  What I read in those few paragraphs made for far more interesting reading about her life that all of Their Eyes Were Watching God.  I rate this book 2 out of 5.  I'll pass it along to someone who won't mind the teeth marks.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How Can I Dig Out from Under?

I keep a log of the unread books, carefully highlighting and logging in review dates of those I finally got around to reading.   I've read twelve books since the beginning of the year.  Only twelve!

The list is still long and daunting.  Yes, I can do the math. Seventy-six minus twelve leaves sixty-four.  It's really more than that though.  Remember when I did all that purging of stuff?  I found more books to read.  I know you're all sick of hearing about the trips I make to bookstores.  Sometimes I leave empty handed.  Sometimes I don't.  And then there's those two books that I'd really like to read yet they've been missing since the move to our new home more than a year ago.   I have been able to resist the temptation to purchase them again, confident they'll soon turn up.  

I know I have some heavy duty, long and fat books coming up such as World Without End, David Copperfield, The Tenth Circle and Honolulu.  Plus I'm intermittently reading a book on how to deal with headaches which may be related to my vertigo.  I beginning to wonder if I will ever dig out from under and get a new Kindle.

I tried to think of ways to speed things up.  First is giving up when the book doesn't hook me right off the bat.  I can't do that. At least not yet.  I might miss something, like the key to my finding my own writing success.  Second, I can outright stop visiting any store that sells books.  That would rule out Walmart.  How would I eat?   Wait!  I've got the answer.  Cliff Notes!!  Do you think I can buy Cliff Notes for The Street Lawyer by John Grisham?  Doubtful.  But maybe I've found my niche.  I'll write the slimmed down version of all those New York Times Bestsellers that we can never find the time to finish.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...