Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday on Tuesday, and some catching up

I scheduled yesterday's entry a few days earlier, fully intending to add my quote before it got posted. But I forgot. So here is the quote, again from Olive Kitteridge (I highly recommend this book, BTW):

...had figured something out too late, and that must be the way of life, to get something figured out when it was too late.

The Piano Player, from Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
Now to some other business. First, Cybils 2009 is up and running. The panelists are in place and nominations are open. Last year's Cybils introduced me to some books I would otherwise have not read and I look forward to this year's nominees.

You can post this handy dandy button on your blog to help publicize it.

Here's another event worth publicizing: the Genre Wars! It's a writing contest run by the fab three at The Literary Lab. If you have some short stories in your drawers, or if you've never written a short story before, you may consider using this as a starting point. Who knows, you may find out hat you were born to write short stories.

And of course, handy dandy button.

Another event, this one to take place in November. Yes, of course you knew about NaNoWritMo. I haven't ever taken the plunge but the people I know who've done it once keep doing it again. So maybe the act of churning out a novel in a month is worthwhile, or at least addictive.

The ALA reminds us to celebrate the freedom of reading during Banned Books Week. I reckon I should celebrate it every day, but I appreciate the focused efforts to raise awareness. Words that float around in head as I look at the lists of banned books: fear, disbelief, prejudice, responsibility, and of course, freedom.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Here are the quotes from last week's Grab-A-Line Monday:

MG Higgins offered this: (and it's in gold because that's the color of the pen she used to jot this down specifically for this post.)

From When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead:

"Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop feeling mean."

Tanita Davis introduced me to a new sleuth from Georgette Heyer's They Found Him Dead. So this was longer than one line: but who cares? Great quotes, people, that's what I want!

"Well, I wanted to know. Besides, you're wasting your time, anyway. I told you the gat wasn't here, only you wouldn't listen. I looked for it myself, ages ago, because I thought probably the murderer would be pretty likely to hide it amongst the bushes. Well, he didn't, and I don't think it's in the bushes on the other side of the drive either. I haven't actually combed them, but I've got a theory about it. I'll tell you what it is, if you like."

Turns out Georgette Heyer is a fav author of Nandini, who shared this from Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.

"The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny, for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast?"

Davin Malasarn said he's reading Olive Kitteridge, the book I took my quote from, and I am waiting to hear what he has to say after he finishes.

It seems appropriate to end with another colorful quote, contributed by Coco, this time from Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote

'Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl's complexion.'

So, what caught you this week? (Color references optional.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'm Ba-ack

It's been a good experience, taking the unplugged week. Thanks, BJ!

With all that extra time, I made crepes and muffins with the kids, cooked meals from scratch, tidied up the pantry so opening the door no longer causes boxes to fall on my head, dealt with some family issues, finished reading two books and started two new ones (The Sea and Breathe My Name, recommendations I got from my evil ploy.) And wrote, of course. I revised four scenes and wrote two new ones for my novel-in-progress.

*pat self on back*

All that goal-achieving, so good for the ego, so good for the soul, so good for the taste buds, but I find that I miss the interaction with my fellow bloggers. I miss being part of a vibrant community. Yes, I miss YOU.

So now I'm back and ready to jump into the next controversy or empathize with my fellow writers experiencing the woes of revision and rejections.

*Pushes up sleeves, rubs hands in anticipation*

And oh, don't forget tomorrow's Grab-A-Line Monday!

Monday, September 21, 2009


Unplugged week sounds like a great idea.

See you next week.

Grab-A-Line Monday

For this second post in Grab-A-Line Monday, I am offering this:

She remembered what hope was, and this was it. That inner churning that moves you forward, plows you through life the way the boats below plowed the shiny water, the way the plane was plowing forward to a place new, and where she was needed.

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout

In case you missed last week's inaugural post, here are the quotes contributed by my wonderful cyber-pals:

"The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him, "Wild thing,"

Maurice Sendak

"I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others--young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 3

There was another silence, while Marjorie considered whether or not convincing her mother was worth the trouble. People over forty can seldom be permanently convinced of anything. At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.

Having decided this, Marjorie said good night.

- Bernice Bobs Her Hair, F. Scott Fitzgerald

[Hey Tanita: just so you know, I went out and bought a short stories collection just to get to Bernice.]

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.
Proverbs 23:12

"There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name."

First line of Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

But with this February sun, see, the light's absolutely pure and makes the colors of the sky and the tree limbs and the bricks on these suburban houses so clean that just looking at them is like inhaling purified air.

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

"I wish it need not have happened in my time, "says Frodo.

"So do I," says Gandalf. "And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with that time that is given to us."

J.R.R. Tolkien

What caught you this week?

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Trio of Middle Grade Novels Part III

When You Read Me

by Rebecca Stead

Warning: if you haven't read the book, you should skip the section between the red lines

Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
(Consider yourselves warned)


When I described my time travel experience on my dentist's chair, I asked casually whether any of you would like to chime in and tell me what you thought of this book. I had no takers , so I'll start the conversation, and hopefully I can provoke some reaction from those of you who have read it. (MG? You said you've read it...)

Throughout the book, Miranda wonders about cryptic notes and missing shoes. I
kept trying to figure how the mysteries could be solved within the physical rules that govern our world--I thought the strong presence of A Wrinkle in Time was merely a motif--and kept coming up empty. When I found out that time travel was involved, I suddenly understood all the foreshadowing and clues, if you can call them that. Normally I'd feel cheated or annoyed when I find out a book sets out on a premise that it violates, but I didn't with this one. Thrown off, and disconcerted for a few minutes, yes, but then I went right back to reading.

Any of you had that feeling reading this book?

Now that the question is off my chest, I will move on on to other elements of the book.

Oh, one more thing: no, the resident 8-year old hasn't read it yet because she's still impressionable with a boundless imagination, and I worry the the time-travel issue may be disturbing, not in a scary-monster type of way, but in a "if that is possible, then whoa, what I know about my world can be all false and now I don't know what is real and what is not" kind of way. For older kids, the idea behind this book will be very cool and may open their eyes for all sorts of outlandish possibilities, but this mom to this particular MG reader is asking her child to wait. So sorry, folks, no professional opinions here!


No more spoiler beyond this point.

12-year old Miranda's best friend, Sal, doesn't want to spend time with her anymore, and she blames it on the punch Sal received from a boy on the street one day. More weird things happen: notes that don't make sense appear in her jacket and backpack; shoes and keys disappear. Bewildered and scared and sad, Miranda continues on with her life, helping her mom prepare for a TV quiz, getting an unpaid job at the sandwich place, and finding new friends.

A collection of unusual events and people: a poster on hiccups, a dentist office connected to the school, a new boy who talks about mind-bending stuff like time travel, a laughing man who kicks the air and yells at the street corner, two dollar bills, and a girl who peels off the cheese from her pizza come together in this quirky story.

Quirkiness can be great, or it can be grating. This one is the former. Maybe it's not just the quirkiness, but the underlying compassion of the book that makes me feel warm and tender and hopeful. The characters may have flaws or have made mistakes or seem reprehensible in some way, but the author paints each one with a quiet respect that helps readers see their own prejudices.

8-year old hasn't read it, but her mom really likes it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Trio of Middle Grade Novles Part II

Solving Zoe
by Barbara Dee

"Mom, you have GOT to read this!" My daughter punches the air with the book for emphasis. "Barbara Dee is SUCH a good writer." What would I give to be eight and feel like I can tell when someone is SUCH a good writer...sigh.

This book deals with issues familiar to many middle graders: a sense of belonging, friendship, fitting in. Zoe feels unremarkable in her surroundings, being related to a star-performer sister and a math-genius brother and attending a progressive school for the gifted. She is not bothered by her own ordinary existence until her world is rocked by two people's actions: her best friend's apparent desire to leave their cozy little circle and the appearance of a boy who scribbles and acts weird.

The interactions Zoe has with the best-friend-becoming-difficult-to-understand and the difficult-to-understand-boy-becoming-a-friend leaves her confused and sad and annoyed at different times. A new after-school job tending lizards, an unexpected two-weeks suspension from school, and lots of thinking later, Zoe comes to terms with what the inevitability happenings of life: that people change, that people will seem strange until you get a glimpse of what else shapes their lives, that people will misunderstand you, and that sometimes you need someone else to point out the truth about yourself.

As a writer,
I am also impressed by how the essence of the book is contained in the opening chapter, without any sense of events or writing being forced to achieve this. I read the beginning chapter twice just to absorb how she does it.

The eight-year old is right. Barbara Dee is a good, and I'll add, very, very good writer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Trio of Middle Grade Novels Part 1

Recently I read three middle grade novels that are quite different, in terms of targeted audience--
Umbrella Summer is directed toward the younger end of the spectrum, Solving Zoe right in the middle, and When you Reach Me can be just as easily classified as early YA--and writing styles. But all of them are well-written, and each tackles issues that middle graders face with sensitivity.

Umbrella Summer

by Lisa Graf

Ten year old Annie lost her older brother to a highly uncommon disease. She responds by taking extra, extra precautions in her daily life and educating herself about diseases and everyday dangers. Her father is distracted and seems to have forgotten the rituals he used to share with Annie. Her mother is exasperated by Annie's insistence on looking at her world through her fearful, though not pessimistic, lenses. Lisa Graf does a nice job of showing us Annie's frame of mind right from the beginning, the way she carefully considers her helmet-wearing and bandaids and possible diseases that are lurking.

The best thing about this book is that despite it being about Annie's fear, this is still a sunny book. The reader doesn't feel weighed down with her worries, instead, the feeling evoked is one of gentle understanding.

Since the targeted audience is the younger middle-grade reader, which can be as young as a fluent reader of 6, the author includes many details of Annie's worries and the way she awaits the dangers that lurks everywhere. Older readers will get Annie's attitude with fewer details. For my personal taste, I wish the mother would show more of a renewed understanding of her daughter's predicament. She is almost always trying to change Annie's thinking and actions without much explanation or a show of understanding. If I were a young reader, I might get exasperated as she is toward Annie.

Annie is a character you will root for. She takes things in stride, she does what she needs to do to make up for her mistakes, she is forgiving and filled with hope.

Tomorrow: Solving Zoe by Barbara Dee

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My evil ploy

Grab-A-Line Monday started off yesterday with some great quotes! Thanks to those who participated. Made my day. Truly.

I am looking forward to next Monday! Remember: this week when you read something that stops you in your track, jot it down and share it here next week.

And now onto the business at hand.

In my earlier post on why we put books down, I asked these questions: what favorite books have you discovered on your own, and which much-heralded books have lived up to expectations.

Little did you know (confession: little did I know either) it was a way to get book recommendations. So I am going to check out the books you mentioned that I haven't read. So far, these are the ones I've hunted down:

I am going to start on them as soon as I finish the three really good books I'm currently reading:

Kathryn Stockett's The Help
Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge
Gary Schmidt's Wednesday Wars

{Consider this my contribution to the book-recommendation pool, although I suspect most of you have already read these ones.]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday: The Inaugural post

Quick, grab a book from your bookshelf and find a memorable sentence. Or if you have one that you carry around in your mind, even better. Here's one that struck me the first time I read it and continued to occupy my mind:

In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.

Flannery O'Connor
in A Good Man Is Hard To Find

If you've missed my multicolored, super-hyper announcement of a new feature on my blog, here is a recap:

Grab-A-Line Monday is the place to share sentences that stopped you in your tracks, or made you spew coffee or have stayed with you for years for other reasons. The moments when I read those sentences I count among the best in life. Since there are more books than any one of us can finish in a life time, I hope that this will become a place where we can share our treasures.

So I'd love it love it love it if you would grab a line and put it in the comments. And if it turns out you like the idea, please blog about it and share the word. Let's celebrate excellent writing and memorable moments!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday: An announcement

Have you been bowled over or gobsmacked or stunned or awed or amazed by a sentence? Isn't that the most OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD feeling?

I thought I'd start a new tradition here at my blog, with the uber-catchy title of

Grab-A-Line Monday

Each Monday I'll post a sentence that made me glad I love reading.

And what's more, if you call now, I'll send you a set of ginsu knives free, absolutely
free. Wait. Wrong channel.

Let's try that again. And what's more, I'd like to invite you to join me by posting a sentence that made you stop and think and wonder. And if you want to link it to your blog and invite your readers to join in, we'd all have a blast.

Celebrate language!
Celebrate communication!
Celebrate expression!

Celebrate writers!

[I promise I will not bombard you with the over-abundance of exclamation points and centering and colors and all-capss after this post. Unless, of course, I am so overwhelmed by the responses that I absolutely must jump up and down and yell and dance.]

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why we put books down

From the comments in my recent post on books I couldn't finish, I am, first of all, glad that I am in good company. The consensus seems to be:

  • life is too short, we want to read books that mean something to us;
  • these books didn't live up to expectations that came with recommendations or reviews or other reasons that made us keen on reading them.
I wonder if we had picked up books without such expectations, would we have gone farther? But then of course, we'd have to assume that it is possible not to be affected by what we've heard about the books.

Before the days of accessible reviews, I used to browse libraries and bookstores and would pick up whatever book that looked interesting. I've come across quite a few books that I ended up liking a lot. Two books I remember are Child of My Heart by Alice Mc
Dermott and Dream Me Home Safely, edited by Susan Richards Shreve.

It was a great feeling, this discovering something for myself. Having said that, I've also had books that lived up to their high expectations: What Was Lost; Lovely Bones, Penderwicks.

On an aside, usually I watch movies with some idea of what they're about, except when I saw The Crying Game. Yes, I was one of the twelve people in America totally surprised by The Twist.

Anyway, back to books. How do expectations play in your reading? Do you have books that you discovered purely on your own and love? What about It Books that didn't disappoint? Do share.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

MG and YA books I read this summer

Even though I couldn't finish several books lately, I've managed to complete quite a few middle-grade and young adult novels this summer. Here are the ones I read between Memorial Day and Labor Day:

Middle Grade:
  • Gregor the Overlander books 1-6 by Suzanne Collins
  • Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graf
  • Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
  • Solving Zoe by Barbara Dee

Young Adult:
  • Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher
  • Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Shift by Jeniffer Bradbury
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson

[I mentioned in the comments yesterday that I would have a post about what some of you have said but don't have time to write it yet. This one was written a few days back and scheduled for today. See you tomorrow.]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Books I couldn't finish

Yesterday I confessed to putting aside a book I started but couldn't finish. As recent as two years ago, that would have been unusual for me; I used to finish every book, even one that I was tempted to throw at the wall multiple times. But giving up half way has become a more common occurrence these days. I don't know if it's a trend for me or if I'm becoming intolerant and critical in my old age.

Here are some reasons for the few books I put down midway recently:

Book 1
Gorgeous, lyrical writing that leaves me contented just to bask in the language. The story unfolds slowly, breaking my heart bit by bit. I couldn't finish because some of the descriptions come too close to home, not necessarily in the actual events but in the characters' emotions. Will pick it up again when I'm feeling more robust.

Book 2
International bestseller. Cool protagonist. Supposedly an intricate mystery but my mind wandered repeatedly.

Book 3
Also internationally well-received. Narrator has a way of describing his setting and social situations in a way I can relate to even though the actual cultural setting is foreign to me. But as I read, I discovered that I liked the narrator less and less. It's not that I don't like flawed characters; I love 'em because they're real. But for me to go along for the ride, I need to find at least some little bit of the character that I, if not like, then at least understand or can somehow relate to. Maybe if I can get over that particular prejudice I have against the narrator, I may read it again because I do like the writing and am intrigued so far by his view of the social/human condition.

Your turn.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Experiment halted

First, I got distracted by my critical mind intruding into my reading.
I tried to push it aside, not always successfully.
After a while, I decided to give in. Last week, I started experiment to read with a pencil.
Wondered how it would work
Doubted it would work.
It didn't work.

Most likely reason? Tricia is right; I pulled out the pencil initially because I noticed so much of the craft side of things in the book. Not surprising. This is
not the type of book I normally read; I picked it up primarily because it's quite a "hot" book right now. The language is very descriptive, florid, and has a feeling of being translated. My critical mind was alerted, and when I gave in to it, it just took over. I found myself avoiding the book repeatedly, and when I did pick it up, I wasn't keen on it.

Would I have not enjoyed the book even if I hadn't subjected it to the experiment? I don't know.

Would the experiment have worked had I chosen a different sort of book? I don't know.

I am back to square one: I still don't know what to do with the intruding analytical mind. I'll have to try something else. In the mean time, I have at least two books waiting for me to read and enjoy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day thanks...

to all those I know whose labors enrich my life:
  • my husband, who affords me the luxury of pursuing my financially-challenged passions
  • my parents, who filled my childhood home with art and music and books
  • my children's teachers, who nurture the growth of my precious ones
  • my writer friends, who share generously of their time and experiences

You rock!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reading with a pencil

It was great to get the feedback from yesterday's post. Dialoguing with other writers and bloggers is so much more interesting than just me saying my thing to the great silence of cyberspace.

So the topic: reading critically. I am starting an experiment in which I jot down thoughts that occur to me when I read a book, positive and negative.

Several people commented on how they cannot read like this, and I actually don't know how long I can do this either. And those of you who do read with a pencil tend to focus on the positive. I find that I learn as much from what doesn't work, as what does, so I do both. I hope I'm not being unnecessarily judgmental.

Last night, I was pondering how long I can sustain this exercise; It does seem an unnatural thing to do. But then, maybe it is somewhat natural. After all, I started this experiment because my critical mind kept intruding when I tried to read. Sometimes I can shush it up, but other times it is just such a distraction I can't enjoy the reading.

That was the original reason for me to read this way: to find out what happens if I give in to my critical thinking and not try to push it away. Kinda like if you let your kids have a little bit of ice-cream sometimes so they won't feel deprived and pester you all the time.

Lady Glamis brought up another good point, and that is when a book is published, it has gone through the eyes of the author, the author's early readers, agent, and editor. We should read and enjoy, not read and nitpick. (I am not talking about celebrity books here; just the real books written by real blood, sweat and tears authors.)

A book has to have achieved a high standard to be published, very high standard. But "good" doesn't mean the same to everyone. I used to wonder why there were things in published books that were not very good, and thought that I needed to adjust my own thinking. I still think that my thinking needs adjustment and tweaking--all the time, as long as I am writing and learning--but I also believe that I have put in a lot of work and now have at least some ideas of what works. So when I do see something that doesn't, I take note. Not to be disrespectful to the author, or to feel smug in that I-know-better-than-you-even-though-you-are-published-and-I-am-not manner, or to gripe about how some authors can get away with drivel, but to learn. I know I make enough mistakes for a whole village of writers, but I see no reason why I can't learn from other people's mistakes, even when they don't consider them mistakes.

So, thanks for your comments. Keep them coming. And I will keep you posted on how this book is going.

And oh Cheryl, I am going to let people guess the title. It's not an obscure book. Recent. Well-received.

First person to guess gets a free book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Joining 'em

This week I'm exploring the relationship between studying and enjoying an art form.

On Monday I asked the question:
If study can make us lose our enjoyment of the art we love, is it still worth it? Everyone who commented think it is. I do too.

Yesterday I asked if there are ways we can manage our critical thinking better so it doesn't interfere with our enjoyment.

Today I want to take a different direction. I have decided to read one of my current books [a book that I am currently reading] by engaging my analytical and critical mind. I'll be making notes in the margins with the thoughts that occur as I read.

In other words, since I can't beat 'em, I'm going to try joining 'em. It's an experiment. I'll see how far I get and how much I learn and most important of all, if it completely destroys the reading process for me.

So here are some notes I've jotted down in the margins so far:

Her father's nervous voice. Her mother's anxious face. I hope the show-don't-tell police doesn't show up here. This works, in context.

...thought she looked ...much older than her thirty years. I don't think a young girl would think a thought like this. Sounds more like the author telling me the age of the mother and that she is tired and worn out.

Two new characters introduced, and not knowing their relationships to the narrator for three paragraphs--in which we hear about someone's mother, and detailed characteristics of a place--is too long for me. Especially when the place names are foreign and I have to work hard to keep them straight in my head, all the while not knowing who these people are whom I see lolling or oozing sex appeal.

Clever use of cultural references to let us know the time period.

Oh no, not catching her own reflection in the mirror and seeing a woman who stared back at her who is [fill in description.]

More next time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Won A Fun Pun Contest

Can you guess the title of this cute drawing?

I did! And it totally made my day!

Check out the creative mind of MG Higgins, who not only writes but draws and has a fabulous sense of humor.

It's worth it. Now what do we do?

In yesterday's post, I wrote about how years of studying music has ruined the leisurely, unadulterated enjoyment of music for me. On the other hand, it has also allowed me to recognized gem moments that I otherwise won't have the heightened awareness to spot. From the comments, the consensus is yes, it's worth it.

All we have to do, is somehow deal with the critical mind.

Million dollar question: how? whack it on its head every time it surfaces? Yell "lalalalalalala" so we won't hear it? Trick it to go to someone else's brain?

I like how Tanita put it:

"But some study has to be put into learning to disengage the critical, too."

Study: that's a strong, active verb. I wonder if there are standard procedures that psychologists or other people studying the brain or learning have come up with ways to help us develop the ability to turn off the critical mind. Right now, thinking about how not to think critically is akin to remembering to forget: the very act of trying to do something defeats itself.

I would love to hear your thoughts.