Monday, October 19, 2009

A necessary cocooning

I had hoped that I wouldn't need to write this post. But here it is: I will be taking an extended hiatus from blogging.

My husband was diagnosed with cancer in July. The tumor in his femur was most likely caused by the radiation he received for his last cancer fifteen years ago.

When our lives first spun into this crazy orbit, we held onto a few things that hadn't changed,
that we could control. Participating in blogosphere was one of those things for me. Here, I was not just someone whose life was affected by cancer. Here, I've continued to be an aspiring author and book lover. Here, I've stayed sane.

I no longer have the energy to maintain my blog. So much of what's going on in my mind and emotions is pulling me toward somewhere else; somewhere still and private. I need to cocoon myself.

Over the next few months I won't be able to go along with your journeys and listen to your thoughts or discuss issues on writing and publishing. I will miss you and I wish you writing and living that makes you proud.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Indigo Notbook Launch

Celebrating author Laura Resau's third novel,
Indigo Notebook, at the launch party on Friday night.

The party was a festive event, enlivened not only by the Ecuadorian dances (This book takes place in Ecuador) but also by the sounds of children's laughter. Laura's little toddler ran up to her during her reading, just as she was describing her journey in writing this book, which the little guy played a big role. It was a perfect moment, completely spontaneous and heart-warming.

If you haven't yet read Laura's books, I'd highly recommend them. They are written with a big heart and lyrical language.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Which ones would you choose?

Since my evil ploy to get book recommendations worked so well, I've been asking friends for more suggestions. I started with the question, "Which book must I read before I die?" and then tempered it to; "what is your favorite book?" to "Say, read any good books lately?"

Here are some suggestions I've received, in no particular order:
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky: Brothers Karamazov
  • Herman Melville: Moby Dick
  • Arthur Phillips: Prague
  • Alice Hoffman: Skylight Confessions
  • Willa Cather: any work
  • Wallace Stegner: Angle of Repose
  • Alan Bennett: Uncommon Reader
  • David Lodge: Changing Places
  • Mary Ann Shafer: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Hanif Kureishi: Buddha of Suburbia
  • Elizabeth Gilbert: Pilgrims

Which ones have you read? Which ones do you love? What other books do you recommend?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Story of a Girl

The National Book Award finalists are announced. In honor of this event, I'm reviewing a past finalist, Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl.

When a book is a finalist in a prestigious award, recommended by a friend, and endorsed by Chris Crutcher, I read it.

And I can most definitely understand the high praises.

A memorable book has to have all the usual suspects: believable characters, interesting dilemmas, unexpected plot twists, and convincing resolutions. But even when these are in place, a book can still be easily forgotten. Something else has to tie them all together into a satisfying whole. Just what that something is, is where craft leaves off and art takes over.

For me, part of the magic of this book is that it unfolds organically. This is not the first word that comes to mind when I read, but that's the one I keep coming back to. The story and plot twists and conflicts and characters are not separate entities that are just joined, their seams sanded and polished. They grow and develop by influencing and being influenced by one another. There are no events forced onto the story to create a climax. There are no characters thrown in just to produce conflict. Everything grows out of the characters in their particular set of circumstances.

The difference between this book and one written in strict adherence to writing rules is the difference between a conscientious student who lists out five ways to eradicate illiteracy in inner city children and an experienced teacher who live among these children, talking to them and their parents, and looking at the problem from their eyes.

While there may be one single defining moment that incites all of the events that happen in this book, but there isn't one single defining moment when they are all solved. The shifts in their lives and perception are significant but not monumental.

It's not a flashy book. It does not set out to solve the biggest problem among teenage girls. It doesn't provide catchy one-liners to live on. It's a unassuming book, as the title suggests; it's just a story about a girl. Yet it touched my heart without a single manipulative moment. It's a book that made me forget I'm a writer. It's a book that reminded me I am a human being.

[addendum to the original post: Sara Zarr is being interviewed today over at Cynsations. She talks about her new book, Once Was Lost.]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


We're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but nobody says anything about not admiring it. The cover designer, Christopher Stengel, worked magic. The monochromatic colors are cool and beautiful and mysterious and subtle. The red dot, of course, just pops. Stunning. See it in real life; this picture doesn't do it justice.

Shiver captures the intensity of first love perfectly; the longing, the breathlessness, and the giddiness. Nothing is more essential and no obstacle too great for this love. This powerful current that drives the two characters pulsates on every page.

The opening chapter does everything a first chapter should: sets the tone for the book, introduces the main character, plunges us into action and conflict. It is also dramatic; I mean, a girl describing herself being attacked by wolves? What's there to stop us from reading on?

Of all the characters in the book, I found Isobel the most varied and dynamic. She is introduced briefly at the beginning, and over the course of the book, her role becomes more important and her character more sharply drawn. In contrast to her, Grace seems to possess traits that occasionally don't jive, at least in my mind, When we're in her head, she seems to be serious and sensitive and passionate and introverted. But when she is interacting with others, her witty quips seem out of place. A serious and sensitive and passionate and introverted person can be witty, of course, but she seems to come up with these clever remarks abruptly, in the middle of a quiet rumination. Or maybe these remarks jump out at me because they are so similar to those of Sam.

The story contains multiple threads that eventually intersect. Every once in a while, I feel as if a thread has been dropped too abruptly. For example, the chapters leading up to Sam's meeting with Beck were well done; we get a deeper understanding of their relationship and can empathize with Sam when he finally meets up with Beck again. But right after the meeting and the resulting confusion and heartbreak, Sam doesn't mention or even think about Beck again. Their eventual reunion is tender, although I'm not sure Beck's explanation for why he did the thing that made Sam mad is a very convincing one.

I can easily imagine myself as a teen devouring this book and dreaming of having the relationship between Grace and Sam. The sensitive young man who reads poetry and composes love songs and make scrambled eggs and who brings his girlfriend to the bookstore to read Rilke to her? Where was that young man when I was 17 and in love?

So do you think the success of Shiver will spawn a slew of copycat werewolf love stories?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

Come one, come all, folks, grab a line and pull up a seat!

Last week we had two quotes from kidlit favs, and two from the classics/soon to be classics. Oh, and there was one not-quite-quote.

Tanita waited a whole week to post on last weeks GALM:

I debated joining yearbook, too, but decided I didn't want to join a club whose sole purpose was to memorialize the awkwardness of our lives, and joined the Volunteer Society and the French Club instead."

-Sheba Karim, Skunk Girl

Nandini didn't even have to tell us which character said the following:
"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he began. ....... "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses ... I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death--if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach"

Lady Glamis asked this question from Crime and Punishment:

"What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind-then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it's all as it should be."

- Fyodor Dostoevsky

And Annie Louden gave us these lines from Gilead

Their grim old crooked-tailed mother found us baptizing away by the creek and began carrying her babies off by the napes of their necks, one and then another. We lost track of which was which, but we were fairly sure that some of the creatures had been borne away still in the darkness of paganism, and that worried us a good deal.

Marilynne Robinson

The not-quite-quote was a great simile about a woman who fell on the floor crying supplied by Davin who insisted that we had to be there.

Mine is more than one line. But the passage describes something that most of us have experienced in such a recognizable way. This scene takes place at a doctor's office when he is about to talk to the patient and her husband about the disease and diagnosis:

At least he put down his pen but still was disinclined to speak, giving the earnest impression of not knowing where to begin or how. There was something studied about this hesitancy, something theartical. Again, I understand. A doctor musit be as good an actor as physicians.

John Banville, THE SEA

What caught you this week?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's Megan Rebekah's fault

She wrote about what to wear when she gets a publishing deal, which got me thinking about what to wear for those special publishing moments:

For an evening affair, An LBD with these shoes:

For day time events, these babies with a chocolate brown and pink outfit:

They're both from Anthropologie, for those of you who like such things as cute shoes and slightly funky outfits that don't really go that much on sale.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Poetry Friday

I haven't participated in a while. Today I want to share this by Emily Dickinson:

They say that "Time Assuages"

Here are two lines from this short poem:

An actual suffering strengthens
As Sinews do, with age—

Anastasia Suen is hosting Poetry Friday this week at Picture Book of the Day

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Juggling on their minds

Want to evoke indignation and annoyance? Just say to a random group of people, "Oh my life is so insanely busy." I guarantee that you'll have quite a few people who will either trump your assertion
or roll their eyes, clearly communicating a sulky and maybe haughty you-think-mine-isn't?

So anyway, I don't think my life is busier than most people's but right now I'm feeling the insanity of it and trying very hard to stay on top of things. Interestingly enough, at least three blog posts this week are about this very topic.

Chris Richman, an agent with the new agency Upstart Crow Literary Agency talks about priorities. Sarah Aronson at the Tollbooth focuses on balance in general, and balance between writing and kids.

So while you check out their words of wisdom, I will go deal with my currently not very balanced life. But as long as it includes my family, food, books, laughter, and some form of beauty, I'll call it good.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Grab-A-Line Monday

is my offering this week: fragile I feel....Like a piece of fine glass that has just been thumped, I'm vibrating, waiting for just the right frequency that will shatter me to pieces.

by R. A. Nelson

These are the offerings from last week's Grab-A-Line Monday:

Annie Louden shared this:
"He only loved his love for me and the pictures he was drawing. He loved those two. He loved the feeling he was having. I was a mere accessory to the feeling.

-Charles Baxter, THE FEAST OF LOVE

And Solving Sherrie, being the rock star that she is, offered a line from a song by Gin Blossoms.

"She had nothing left to say, so she said she loved me. And I stood there grateful for the lie."

Tanita remembered the colorful quotes from the week before and offered this saffron-colored line:
Deep down I'm not all that cynical, or hard or mean-- more soft-centered and especially vulnerable (or gullible, if you like) to first impressions; so I was a bit overwhelmed when I stepped into that Air India plane and was immediately transported to another planet. - Indian Summer, Pratima Mitchell

MG Higgins read Umbrella Summer after reading my review (I am glad you liked it!) and liked this line:

"I wished there was a way to keep that in a bottle, that one moment of wonderful perfect, so I could open it up whenever I needed to get a good whiff.

Shelley the story queen probably loves speaking this line to her young audience:
"Kidnapping children is not a good idea. All the same, sometimes it has to be done."


Nandini explained that this line needed context to be funny, which I didn't understand:
"Greetings, Ancient Uncle," he panted, "you have a very fast bullock."


What caught you this week?

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Passage to Savor

I picked up The Sea by John Banville, based on Davin's recommendation. Here is the first passage:

They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far end of the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted a relaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue malignantly agleam. They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds. The waves were depositing a fringe of a soiled yellow foam along the waterline. No sail marred the high horizon. I would not swim, no never again.

I read and re-read it a few times, and maybe I'll manage to herd my thoughts into something that resembles coherent ideas sometime next week. In the mean time, enjoy!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fat bullocks, no, what was that again?

Nandini provided a line for this week's Grab-A-Line Monday. She said it was funny if read in context.

I read it and thought, no, the line is funny all on its own. I mean, fast buttocks? C'mon! It don't need no context.


The word was

b u l l o c k s

with the letter "l"

and not "t."

And then I was all that's too funny and you can call me fast buttocks for a week.

But in my haste, I didn't check that I'd typed "fat" instead of "fast."

Don't know if that qualifies as Freudian.

Moral of the story:
  1. all those carefully crossed ts should be read
  2. typing has to be checked
  3. slips should be embraced
You can all call me fast bullocks or fast buttocks, and okay, even the other one. But only for a week.