Monday, May 30, 2011

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Greg Mortenson has been in the news lately and not in a good way.  I took Three Cups of Tea off the shelf  to see what all the hub bub was about.

The story was admirable.  The son of missionaries raised in Africa follows his passion for climbing and attempts to summit K2.  He fails in his attempt and finds his way into the local culture as he recovers.  Makes perfect sense, a man raised to give selflessly to others is called to do that in a poor, remote part of the world.

I found the book itself difficult to read.  Small print, with lots of words crammed onto each page.  I'm not the type to dismiss a book because of the way it looks.  I started to read.  My mind jostled through each paragraph to the next.  Mortenson had a co-author and this book really feels if it's being told through his eyes.  Three Cups of Tea is written in third person.  I'm not a snob but for a memoir third person doesn't allow the reader to engage deeply in the story.  I didn't like being on the outside looking in.

It doesn't happen very often, but I gave up.  The story didn't seem real to me, more like a work of fiction.  What I read in the news claims that maybe alot of it isn't.  Do I believe that Mr. Mortenson did a wonderful thing building schools? Yes.    Was the book worth reading?  Probably.  It just wasn't my cup of tea.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Wow!  Cutting for Stone took me on a ride that I never expected.  Twin boys born to a nun who died in childbirth, deserted by their father and raised by loving doctors, Hema and Ghosh.  The novel is filled with rich characters who come to life within its pages.  Shiva and Marion, twins, mirror images of one another both follow different paths in life. 

Sometimes I thought this story dragged on.  The medical terminology and descriptions were often cumbersome for me.  One thing was clear however, the author was precise in his descriptions of surgical procedures along with the history and culture of Ethiopia.  But the brother's walk through a life of love, loss and betrayal was something I couldn't stop reading, something special. 

I am torn however on how to rate this book.  The blood and trauma lingered on too long.  That Marion met everyone he'd known back home in Addis Ababa while studying in the United States seemed a bit contrived.  And that he had an evil streak shown by the things he did after breaking into his estranged father's apartment was out of character. But I cried as the story ended.  The sign of a well written story of real characters is that it can bring the reader's emotions to the surface.  Cutting for Stone did that brilliantly.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writers are the Nicest People

I spent the past few days attending the Creative Writing Institute at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.  I find being on a college campus invigorating, add to that interesting instructors and speakers, throw other writers into the mix and I was over the moon.

The first class I took focused on memoir writing.  I have a couple segments of my life in mind for that.  Being surrounded by other writers of all walks and stages of life, we freely told our personal stories.  And each one was different and fascinating.  My own life seems ordinary in comparison, yet they all assured me that my story was relevant and intriguing. 

My second class dealt with character development.  Many of the memoir students were also in this class.  We talked and read aloud, critiqued each others work no matter how rough.  I received great feedback, best that I've heard in a long time.  I made friends.  Wonderful friends. I learned so much about the craft of writing that I'm sure mine is moving up a few levels.  But I made friends.  Friends that I miss today now that class has ended, energy I long to feel again.

My heart opened up to these fellow writers, their stories, their pain, their joy.  Blessings overwhelmed me knowing I'm meant to be a writer.  Knowing and surrounding myself other wonderful writers boosts me up to accomplish my dreams.  I am one lucky girl, woman, wife, friend, writer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Price of Being Well Read

I've bypassed the steps toward my goal and gone straight to the prize.  I now own a Kindle.  I was supposed to read all those books on my shelf before treating myself to the electronic device, but I got itchy to have one.  Technology of the 21st century seemed to be slipping through my fingers.  If I want to stay on the cutting edge of the publishing world, I needed to have it.  Now!

I'm reading my first book on Kindle and I love it.  I can set the size of the font to what is pleasing to my eyes.  The screen really does look like ink printed on a page.  And the little scale at the bottom tells me the percentage I've read.  I happen to love this feature.  When I read a paper book the first thing I do is look at the number of pages, determine the halfway point and track my progress through the story.  I know.  I'm weird.  The Kindle does all that for me. 

Yesterday I watched Oprah and James Frey of 'A Million Little Pieces' fame.  I got out the Kindle and searched for his books so I could download them.  The USA Today has a wonderful book section and if anything looks interesting, the heck with the bookstore.  I download it.  A friend of mine has her first book coming out in June.  Guess what?  I preordered it on the Kindle.  'Sisters of the Sari' will magically appear on its release date.

Instead of all my books getting dusty on the shelf, I can carry them with me wherever I go.  Amazon makes it easy.  I have no idea how much I'm spending.  I download, they automatically charge the fee to my credit card.  And e-books aren't really much cheaper than the print version, just lighter. 

Never realizing how books bombarded me from so many places before, I don't even need to go to the bookstore anymore.  It used to be my favorite hang out spot. Now I will be even more well read than ever with so many books at my fingertips. I may be spending more on books but with gas at $4 a gallon I might really be saving.  Or at least that's what I'd like to believe.   

Monday, May 9, 2011

An Anniversary of Sorts

I'm not big on celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.  They come around every year like clockwork and the older I get the less exciting they become.  Richard and I got married on  Valentine's Day so we'd have one less date to remember. The stores get all decked out for Valentine's day to remind us it's coming up.  One trip to the grocery store and we're prepared by buying a card and a box of candy hearts.  Plus the date falls in between Christmas and our summer birthdays so our schedule doesn't get cramped or rushed. For twenty four years we've celebrated our wedding anniversary with no muss, no fuss.  Just the way we like it.

This is the month of May.  I have no idea what day in May but last year sometime in May, I stopped drinking.  Cold turkey.  After months of praying, God said 'You're ready' and took away my desire to reach for a glass of wine every night before dinner.  He took away my need to keep drinking until it was time for bed.  I tossed back a bottle of wine every night.  I was sick and tired of being sick and tired until the day my prayers were answered.

Little did I know how rough the road ahead of me would be.  I remember so clearly the months of headaches and nausea and general malaise that came next.  I stopped the alcohol, changed my diet to help with my vertigo and migraine headaches and lost 30 pounds.  I struggled with my weight for years convincing myself I could diet and drink loads of empty calories each day.  The minute I stopped, the pounds literally fell off.

Oh, there are still days I'd like to sit on the patio enjoying the cool spring breeze with a glass of wine, but I don't.  With each passing day, that desire became less and less.  Now I only joke about it when I've had a bad day at work.  There are a couple bad habits, I've yet to overcome, like lounging in front of the television every night when I could be reading or writing or otherwise being more productive.  At least I'm not damaging my mind and body in a destructive manner.  So I can take my time breaking that one.

For one full year I've been alcohol free.  That also means free to live a happy, productive, loving life.  Free from the chain that was holding me back.  Free to be me again.  Happy anniversary!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar Wao was a book that went missing from my collection after we moved two years ago.  About six months ago the book was found, miraculously in a box in the corner of a closet. I didn't realize until I pulled it off the shelf that it had won the Pulitzer Prize.  I imagined that the story was worth waiting for.

I was prepared for all the Spanish.  My sister had warned me after she'd heard Junot Diaz speak in Cleveland.  I've taken some Spanish classes over the years when I lived in South Florida where English often takes a back seat.  I can't speak Spanish but I can figure out most of it on the written page. Or so I thought.

After reading the first ten pages I was ready to quit.  The story is loaded with Spanish slang.  I had difficulty following.  And the footnotes!  Sometimes half the page was a footnote written in tiny print.  I didn't know if I should read it or not.  Mostly I didn't.  I kept going though since I'm always afraid I'm going to miss some brilliance that will make me a better writer.   In this case I'm ecstatic that tenacious streak inside kept me reading.

Oscar Wao is a nerdy, bookworm, sci-fi crazed, fat Dominican who is desperate to get laid.  He's being raised alongside his sister by a wild and crazy single mother.  The family is followed by the curse, the fuku and have been for generations.  There were so many good things about Oscar and his family, I found it impossible not to fall in love with all of them.  Pain and misery followed them everywhere, yet they never gave in to the fuku.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is one wild ride that is well worth the trip.  No wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book is all I  imagined and well worth the wait. It's brilliant. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Magic of Writing by Linda J Falkner

As I've been telling you, my office has moved from the dining room to a bedroom.  As part of that process more forgotten books have emerged in the shuffle.  I'm finding out I have quite the library of reference books about writing.  I've been working at writing for longer than I think, much to my surprise.  I'm better at it than I give myself credit for since each book I uncover serves to revive and polish skills I already know.

The Magic of Writing is short, sweet and to the point.  It's well organized from start to finish with great writing examples for each topic.  The author says to post office hours on my door, the hours I'm devoting to working on my writing.  I think I will.  What I struggle with the most is discipline.  I wonder if I do post hours if it will keep Ginger from coming in while I'm working and begging for biscuits. 

There was no guidance on that in this book, but many other helpful tips.  I'm going to keep The Magic of Writing close at hand.  It's a great little reference book for all of us wannabe writers. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reading While Eating

Richard's been busy rearranging the house.  When we initially moved here two years ago we put my office in the dining room.  We were convinced we would need all the guest rooms for actual guests.  I started complaining that I wanted to close the room off for more privacy and all those expected guests never materialized.

I'm happy.  My office is now in the back bedroom.  I can shut the door and write in peace with few distractions.  Richard is happy.  He's busy decorating the dining room to make it perfect.  The room changes daily so I'm reserving my comments until it's finished.  But there was one thing he did that I couldn't remain silent about.  There are books in the dining room.

"We don't read in the dining room.  We eat in the dining room," I said.

"But I love decorating with books.  They look so grand and stately," he debated.

"I also have an issue with your choice of books." I couldn't keep what was really bugging me in any longer.

Richard randomly pulled books off the bookshelf in the office. Unlike me who groups certain books together and makes sure they are always perfectly straight, he has no personal connection to them.  It's rare he will even read a book, opting for magazines instead.  A book requires extended amounts of concentration.  He's hyper.  Short is best. He picked these books strictly for color and size and their visual appeal.

In the dining room, on the sideboard, he'd placed A Certain Slant of Light which is a young adult, paranormal story next to Secrets which is hard core erotica written by a woman I heard speak at a romance writers meeting.  I couldn't get past those two sitting side by side so don't even ask me what title came next.  It had to be something equally as odd.

One thing I know for sure is that we don't hold seances or have sex in the dining room.  Therefore we also do not read while we're eating.  That makes perfectly logical sense to me.   Now I just have to convince Richard of the same thing.

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