Sunday, August 29, 2010

The List

After writing each book review, I take a look at my list.  My list is an excel spreadsheet of all the books I set out to read as part of this project.  In alphabetical order.

As I read each book I carefully log the date and the rating and who I sent the book to by highlighting the row in a bright blue.  I chose blue because blue is the color of the throat chakra for communication. I'm a writer, a reader, and I have to open myself up to communication in all possible ways.

My method of book selection up until now has been to draw the titles out of a hat.  That way all the books have a fair shake at being read and are not subject to my mood of the moment.  I've learned that many of the books on my shelf appealed to me for a nanosecond when I absolutely had to have them, and that feeling faded quite quickly the minute I took them home.

There is another interesting side to me.  I'm a Certified Public Accountant.  I like order.  Looking at my spreadsheet with a mumbo jumbo of white rows mixed with blue is making me nuts.  Five white rows, one blue, two white, three blue.  Instead of the luck of the draw, I'm now setting out to fill in the blocks of white rows sandwiched in between two blue rows.  I want to visualize larger chunks of blue so that I'll feel like I'm accomplishing more.  Right now I'm reading The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer.  It landed in between The Tenth Circle and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Oh crap!  While looking more closely at my list, I see that I've written 'There' instead of 'Their'.  Now I'll have to re-sort the list, creating new blocks for me to deal with.  That's OK I guess.  I just had my head all wrapped around the other way.

So much for all that order I wanted out of my orderly accountant mind.   I messed up.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Write Like Hemingway by R. Andrew Wilson, PhD

Richard is always telling me that I need to get on a schedule like Hemingway.  Get up early, write, go fishing and then drink all night.  The drinking part is now out, and drinking anything liquid after 6 pm is also out of the question ever since I passed the big 5- 0.  Hemingway would pop out of bed  every morning and do it all over again.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature with that kind of discipline.  How did Richard, who never reads a book, know this about Hemingway?  I have no clue, but according to this book, he's right.  That's exactly what Hemingway did every day.

So in a moment of weakness, I had to buy this book when I spotted it in the bookstore.  I'm glad I did.  I'm not a big Hemingway fan as a reader, but he is certainly a master of the craft.  The author explains in great detail how Hemingway as a minimalist pared down his sentences to the essentials.  He could brilliantly set the scene and create strong, real characters within it.  He was an expert at dialogue, often foregoing the tags that the rest of us cling to in our storytelling.

As a writer, this book is pure gold.  I even got out the highlighter and noted passages that I want to remember when I'm working on my own pieces.  And trust me, marking up a book goes against everything I know and feel when it comes to a book.  Books need to be cherished and left in a pure and pristine condition by one reader for the next.  Bent corners annoy me as do notes in the margin.  Write Like Hemingway however, compelled me to go against the grain. It is a reference book I will treasure all of my writing life.  I learned so much and I know there is so much more for me inside this gem of a book.

It's a five!  It's a keeper!  It's a treasure!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex sat on my shelf for years mainly because I knew that the story revolved around a hermaphrodite.  I thought it would be full of kinky sex and I really didn't think I'd be into that too much.  Middlesex was an easy book to ignore since its cover is missing.  It came to me that way from my sister.  Her dog must have  picked it off the shelf and done the damage.  I couldn't blame a coverless book on Ginger this time.  So it remained on the shelf incognito for a very long time.

I loved this book!  I loved everything about it.  The characters are rich, the story comedic, set against a backdrop of Detroit in the 20th century.   Desdemona and Lefty come to America on a dream and a prayer.  Their lives as immigrants making a life in the Motor City is full of ups and downs.  The lives of their children Milton and Zoe emulate those of second generation Americans who are bound and determined to be only American and leave the old country ways behind. 

And then there's Calliope who narrates.  We learn the family's story through her or is it his eyes? When Callie tells the story her voice is distinctly different from when the male voice Cal is narrating.  The author did a masterful job writing this character's voice.  Callie, as a teenager, tells us of Desdemona taking to her bed, permanently.  Then Callie and Cal's story really gets interesting.  I thought the author had forgotten to resolve Desdemona.  I kept flipping back thinking I'd missed something.  But I couldn't have.  Long gone are my days of drinking, reading a book before bed and then having to reread the same part again the next day because I couldn't remember what had happened.

I was ready to reduced my rating to a four from a five all because of Desdemona.  And then, suddenly and without warning, the author explains where she's been and why.  Desdemona, the keeper of the family secret kept it no more.  It was a wonderful ending to a brilliant story.  Middlesex won my reading heart and my writing mind, earning a rating of five out of five.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Better Than a Sleeping Pill

I'm at this very moment sitting in a big cozy chair at the bookstore.  I came here to try to write my memoir.  Sitting at home where the story contained in my memoir has unfolded, was just not doing it for me today.  I thought if I surrounded myself with words, I'd find some inspiration.  Not much luck in that regard, but I am writing a blog post.  So at least I'm writing.

There are other people here, curled up in the gray leather chairs doing what else, but reading a book.  Bookstores have turned into personal libraries and coffee houses.  If people feel right at home, it stands to reason they would not only read books while here but take a little nap while they're at it.

Across from me sits a middle aged woman with three pink children's books in her lap.  She holds one open resting it on her stomach, the pop up of Cinderella's castle less than an inch from her nose. Soon the book begins to float up and down along with her breathing. Then it snaps down only to be caught and returned to eye level.  This happens over and over again.  Her eyes remain closed through the entire routine.  A man comes over, sitting down next to her and touches her on the arm.  It must be her husband.  Her eyes never open.  He wedges himself in the seat resting his reading material on the arm of the chair.  He sits upright.  I look at him closely.  He too, is sound asleep within seconds of arriving.

I moved to this seating area earlier because the snoring man next to me really wasn't helping me to write.  At least these two weren't making any noise.

No matter what time of day or night, no matter where you may find yourself, there's nothing like reading a good book to calm the nerves and relax the body.  Ooops.  I dozed off for a minute myself.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dear Writer's Digest

In yesterday's mail the Writer's Digest Big Ten issue arrived.  I immediately sat down to read it.  And I am still on cloud nine!

I'm feeling so connected as a writer.  Not because I've just returned from the amazing Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon but because I'm reading a magazine and I 'know' people in it.

Let's first look at the panel of Ten Writing  Experts.  Steve Almond's Candyfreak is sitting on my shelf.  I bought if as research for a book I'm writing set in a candy factory.  Earlier this summer I had a wonderful experience at the Florida Institute of Technology's Creative Writing Seminar.  John Dufresne was my teacher.  I crossed paths with N.M.Kelby at the Miami Book Fair in 2007.  My friend, Georgia has an autographed copy of Whale Season when they both discovered a connection to Boston University.  And Donald Maass gave a wonderful talk at the first meeting of the women's fiction chapter of Romance Writers of America at their recent conference.  I was lucky enough to be a part of it.

I intently soaked up all their comments.  Turning the page I see Chuck Palahniuk.  I saw him in Portland.   Then appears I topic I really need help with, productivity.  It's written by Sage Cohen.  Reinforcement is powerful.  I took Sage's class while I was in Portland too.

Now I haven't met Mary Higgins Clark or Sherman Alexie yet but I'm positive my writing circles are growing at a fast pace.  I'm on my way.  I'm connected.  I'm a writer.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Perfect Book

After my last book review, my sister, Martha sent me an email asking what it would take for a book to receive five stars.  I had to think about that for a few minutes.

In my attempt to find a good book, I admit my vision is becoming blurred.  You see, I'm also attempting to write a good book.  In order to become a great writer, a person also has to become a great reader. I've always been interested in a variety of novelists and stories, never sticking to one or two specific genres and authors.  I think you all know by now that those book covers call to me.  Since covers come in an array of shapes, sizes and colors, reading a single genres is never going to happen for me.  Variety is my spice of life.

When a reader becomes a writer, reading takes on a life of its own.  It's not that I no longer enjoy  the pure and simple enjoyment of curling up with a good book, I do.  It's my passion. It's simply that I read with a different eye.   I examine the layout, the sentence structure and the characters with a fine tooth comb.  If I love a scene I'll read it again.  If I don't understand a character's speech pattern, I'll read it until I do.  Let's just say I dissect the story down to its bare bones.

What do I need to find to rate it a perfect five stars?  A story and characters that I can fall in love with, that make me laugh, cry and get angry.  A story that grabs my heart so much that I can't let it go.  A book that finds a permanent place on my bookshelf.  It's not to say that four stars is not a book worth reading.  A four star is a really great and wonderful book.  Three stars means it's really not my taste, a good story just not my cup of tea.  Any book that receives two stars was plain and simple too much of a slog for me.   I don't think I've given anything only one star.  I'm too nice a person.

As a writer I understand all the hard work that goes into writing a novel, even what I consider a bad one.    The books I think are good you might detest.  So don't put too much stock in my rating system.  As hard as I try to give you an unbiased view, it's impossible.  We are all on our own personal quest for the perfect book.  I'll keep reading and reviewing until I find mine. 

I think I'll be able to keep blogging for a very long time indeed.        

Friday, August 13, 2010

There's No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern

My sister, Martha recommended this title for me.  She knows I like those magical, mystical, heart warming tales.  There's No Place Like Here is loosely based on the Wizard of Oz, my all time favorite.  There is even a pair of ruby slippers on the cover.

Sandy Shortt is a tall, slender, brunette who can't stand it when things go missing.  As a child she drove her parents crazy when so much as a sock became lost in the laundry.  When her childhood rival Jenny-May Butler disappears Sandy starts down the path to find all things missing.

There's No Place Like Here is full of rich characters and imaginative settings, expertly woven together.  Sandy had an extraordinary journey after falling and hitting her head.  While Jack, who begins a search for Sandy after she misses their appointment, finds his own missing brother along the way.  I loved this story of finding what's really important in life.

I rate There's No Place Like Here a 4 out of 5. I'll probably read Cecelia Ahern again.  She writes with a magical gift.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Power of Love

I'm in Portland, Oregon, sitting in the living room of my dear friend, Samantha typing this posting.  I've spent the past three days at the Willamette Writers Conference having the time of my life.  Why do I come all the way to Oregon, you might ask.  Aside from the fact that Portland is as opposite as Florida, as is possible, the answer is quite simple.

Over a year ago, I set down a new path in my life.  I'd heard about a transatlantic writing cruise and signed on.  I spent two wonderful weeks at sea learning, writing and traveling on the ocean blue.  A perfect combination.

I, being the lone Floridian in the writing class easily became fast friends with all the Oregonians.  It was as if we'd known each other all our lives.  Now once a year I travel 3000 miles to recharge, refresh and energize.  My good friend and mentor, Samantha opened her guest room to me.   My teacher, Cynthia smiled from ear to ear as she reached out to hug me.  Each time I ran into another 'waver' as we call ourselves, Inez, or Billie or Nan and the mother daughter team of Valleta and Kristy, we'd tremble with excitement in anticipation of the big warm hug we each wrapped around the other.

People I'd met by chance, by fate, by design.  The power of their love, their strength and encouragement will stay with me, warming my heart, lifting me up when I feel down, patting me on the back for a whole year until I can hear their voices, give them a hug and feel their love once again.  

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Spring Tides by Jacques Poulin

Sometimes I have to actually read a book to understand why it is even on my shelf to begin with.  I bought Spring Tides in 2007 at the Miami Book Fair.  My friend Angie and I rode the Tri Rail train from Delray Beach to Miami just to go to the book fair.  We spent the afternoon touching all different kinds of books from small presses to best sellers to children's titles to antique wonders.

Spring Tides has the most beautiful cover which to me gives absolutely no insight to the story within.  It is the story of a comic strip translator whose boss sends him to a small, secluded island to work and be happy.  The boss comes every Saturday in his helicopter to pick up the translator's work and drop off provisions and groceries.

First the boss literally drops Marie on the island to make the translator happy.  Then the boss's wife who is called Featherhead because she appears hungover wearing a feather boa arrives on the island with her chihuahua in tow.  Later the Author and the Professor take up residence.  The boss brings another cat, The Ordinary Man and the Organizer all in the name of being happy.  Each new character arrives with the next spring tide.  All the translator really needs to be happy however, is The Prince.  The Prince is the tennis ball machine who challenges him to a match on a regular basis.

Jacques Poulin is a Canadian novelist.  I tell people I'm half Canadian.  My grandmother was born in Canada.  I have several Canadian friends and I love reading Canadian novelists.  I'm sure I didn't know who Mr. Poulin was at the time I purchased this book.  Spring Tides called to me, eh?  It's a funny tale that made me laugh.  I don't want to ruin it, but when I got to the end, I just didn't get it.  Just because I'm half Canadian doesn't mean I understand Canadian humor.  It's kind of like the 'eh'.  My friends use the 'eh' often and it sounds so charming coming from a Canadian.  Coming from my stiff American tongue, 'eh' loses all its appeal.

I'm going to give Spring Tides to my friend Inez.  She's Canadian, loves cats and making up nicknames for people.  The entire time I was reading this book I was thinking about her.  So it's meant for Nezzie.  I rate this book 4 out of 5.  Spring Tides is fun, quirky light reading that helped me to learn something new  about my roots.

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

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