Books Read in October

Happy Halloween!!

“Bill Moyers Journal- the Conversation Continues” by Bill Moyers

As the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville came off the boat in New York in 1831 to begin his famous tour of the fledgling America, he was greeted with tumult.

Through a series of engaging and though-provoking interviews with some of the greatest thinkers of our time, Bill Moyers explores the current tumult we find ourselves in the middle of. He speaks with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, political views including Jon Stewart, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodall and a host of others. The interviews covered everything from politics to poetry, from healthcare to race and they opened my mind to new ideas. At times it was overwhelming to read of all the tough, tough issues we face that seem, at times, insurmountable. But then you read of people who are making a difference and that feeling of being overwhelmed gives way to hope which is exactly what we need. Hope that leads to action that makes a difference.

What I learned: That to address any problem nationwide means that the first issue that needs to be fixed is getting big money out of politics.

“Neighborhood Watch” a novel by Cammie McGovern

Violence in the suburbs is not accompanied by the sounds we associate it within cities.

Betsy Treading, a librarian, is released from prison after serving twelve years when DNA proof reveals that she could not have been the one to bludgeon her neighbor to death. Betsy returns to her old neighborhood wanting to not only create a life for herself but to also uncover the truth of who killed Linda Sue Murphy. We meet the odd assortment of neighbors, one of whom  may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of that night, a night that is clouded by Betsy’s unreliable memory.

 What I learned: That it is important in plot to raise as many questions as you answer as the narrative unfolds.

“Where She Went” a YA novel by Gayle Foreman

Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It’s just one day, one twenty-four hour period to get yourself through.

If you haven’t read Foreman’s “If I Stay” I have two things to say: 1. Go read it. and 2. Spoiler alert ahead.

Okay, so “Where She Went” picks up after ‘If I Stay Ends.”  It tells the story from Adam’s point of view three years after his girlfriend Mia barely survived a car crash that killed the rest of her family. The first novel was much more ephemeral as it took place from the point of view of Mia in a coma, straddling two worlds while she decided if she should stay or not.  She decided to stay and now we hear from her boyfriend Adam who is now a rock star, pretty disillusioned with fame and the whole business of music. He runs into Mia who is still playing the cello with the same passion he remembered and they spend a brief day together, attempting to piece together their past and perhaps, their future.

What I learned: That weaving snippets of lyrics can really reveal a character and would be quite fun to write.

“The Twelfth Insight” a novel by James Redfield

I turned onto the freeway and hit cruise control, trying to ease up a bit.

Told in the form of a modern parable, Redfield  brings his unique spiritual perspective to the areas of political corruption, financial instability and global religious tensions. Sound familiar? I think that’s why I was drawn to it when I saw it on the new-books shelf at the library. I had read his earlier works but nothing recent.  The key to moving beyond our current conflicts lies in the power of synchronicity and aligning ourselves with our spiritual purpose. It is fiction but the issues are real and he believes his solutions to those conflicts are real. At times it felt a little too New Agey for me but I certainly admire his passion in getting out the message he believes will help  our world.

What I learned: That it is essential to write from your passion.

“The Uncoupling” a novel by Meg Wolitzer

People like to warn you that by the time you reach the middle of your life, passion will begin to feel like a meal eaten long ago, which you remember with great tenderness.

A new drama teacher arrives and chooses to produce “Lysistrata” for the school play, a comedy in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war. This sets in motion an odd spell that seems to envelop the town, affecting both students and adults. We are offered rare glimpses into the inner workings of relationships before the spell then afterwards as girls and women turn away from their men.  It was really spellbinding read, which seems appropriate.

 What I learned: That it would be an interesting exercise to take an old play or story and find a way to bring it into the modern world as Wolitzer did. It seemed as though she had great fun writing it.

One Hundred Names for Love- A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing” by Diane Ackerman

 Trailing plastic tubes, Paul made his way across the room, steeped in twilight, and I was struck by how the body sometimes looks like the sea creature it is, a jellyfish with long tentacles, not really a fish at all but a gelatinous animal full of hidden symmetries, as well as lagoons and sewers, and lots of spongy and stringy bits.

I loved loved loved this book. Her writing is just exquisite.  It’s a love story on so many levels: between husband and wife; caregiver and patient; between language and a debilitating stroke; between creativity and passion. After a devastating stroke that destroys his language centers (unthinkable to a writer and his writer wife) Diane Ackerman and Paul West embark on a journey of healing. Branching away from conventional therapy, Ackerman designs a program that involves flooding her husband with language for many, many hours a day, even if it’s just having long conversations while floating in a pool. When she asks him if he is interested in writing the first aphasiac novel or memoir, she sees a light in his eyes again. The results are astounding and should give hope to stroke patients and their caregivers everywhere.

What I learned: That having a passion for something, anything is crucial to living a full life and critical for healing a broken one whether broken from a physical ailment or an emotional one.

 “This Beautiful Life” a novel by Helen Schulman

Her mouth filled the screen. Purple lip gloss, clear braces.

In this age of instant technology, every parent and teen and pre-teen should read this book. After fifteen-year-old Jake is sent an unsolicited, sexually explicit video from a local girl. he forwards it to his best friend. Soon it is splashed across the web, around the world. What should the consequences be and for whom? The girl who made and sent it? Or the boy who forwarded it? or the many people who took it from there? The novel raises issues of privacy, ethics, morals and parenting in the modern age. Couldn’t put it down.

What I learned: Schulman does a great job of weaving in currents scenes with the thoughts of the characters. We get to know each one deeply through both their thoughts and actions.

“Fiction Ruined My Family” a memoir by Jeanne Darst

Writers talk a lot about how tough they have it – what with the excessive drinking and three-hour workday and philandering and constant borrowing of money from people they-re so much better than.

Darst is the youngest of four girls. Their mother is an alcoholic-depressive and their dad is an alcoholic- wanna-be –writer. Darst seems to be the only one of her siblings to inherit the drinking problem as well as the writing one. She struggles with both, wondering if you can have one without the other. The writing is honest and, at times, laugh out loud funny.

What I learned: That it is possible to portray family with humor and honesty, revealing both their beauty and flaws if viewed through the prism of compassion.






Quotable Tuesday

“Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.”

– Breand Ueland

I adore Brenda Ueland. Her book, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit , helped prop me up when I was just beginning to write, still wobbly with all I did not know. But this partular quote… I don’t know if I completely agree. Writing is hard. Isn’t it? At least parts of it are hard. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many books on writer’s block. You don’t hear of surgeon’s block or mother’s block. No.They have a job and they do it. But writing, Writing is different. Isn’t it? I don’t know. Maybe she is right. Maybe what’s hard is exactly what she says at the end. Maybe I am making it hard with my “anxious vanity and fear of failure.” That is not out of the realm of possibility. I have been known to mess with my own mind before. Maybe it’s time to put the fun back in writing. Curiosity. Or zest as Ray Bradbury suggests. There are certainly worse qualities to bring to the page.

An Award? For Me?

Many thanks to the ever-inspiring Liz over at The Writing Reader for bestowing upon me my first ever blogging award, The Versatile Blogger! According to the rules, I am to thank the giver of the award and link back to her (check) then list seven things about myself then pass the award onto fifteen other blogs. So… here goes…

1. I’m a book junkie. It’s true. We are actually running out of space for my books. I covet truly inspired bookshelves. My dream is to have floor-to-ceiling shelves in at least one room.

2. My favorite dinner to get at a restaurant is crabcakes.

3. I love the smell of coffee but not so much the taste. The only time I drink it is after a lovely meal with dessert (preferably chocolate).

4. I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who really gets into Halloween. Those people always seem like so much fun. I just need to loosen up and not be afraid of looking silly. After all, it’s just Halloween.

5. Left on my own, I’d naturally sleep about nine hours.

6. I’m finding it hard to fathom that I have two girls in high school this year.

7. I actually enjoy solving algebra equations. Weird, I know…

And here are the fifteen recently discovered blogs:

1. Catching Days

2. The World Crafter’s Inkspot

3. Fi’s Magical Writing Haven

4. The View from My Mountaintop

5. Writer Musings

6. The Ole Master Plan

7. A Day Without Sushi

8. One Sister’s Rant

9. This Is Not a Mommy Blog

10. Carpe Keyboard

11. Dawn Brazil’s Brilliant Babbles About Books

12. Seeking the Write Life

13. Bookstack

14. scribbleflowers

15. Business and Creative Womens Forum





Books Read in September

“My Stroke of Insight- A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

Every brain has a story and this is mine.

This is the second time I have read this amazing book. This time I kept a pen with me to underline and mark as I read. I’ve always said that if  I could have another path or a do-over, I would want to go into brain science. The brain is absolutely fascinating and after reading this book I find it even more compelling. Taylor, a brain scientist, has a stroke at the age of 37. Because of her expertise she views her stroke through the prism of not only the patient but the scientist giving us an amazing full picture of what she and brain endured the morning of the stroke and the years afterward. The first couple of chapters delve into the simple science of the brain. If that doesn’t engage you, do not let it stop you from skipping ahead and reading this book. It is well worth it. She combines science with her personal experience as a stroke survivor and glimpses into a particular inner peace or bliss she experienced and how we can all access that part of our brains without having to endure the tragedy of a stroke.

What I learned: That the plasticity of the brain is astounding and that you can re-learn and learn new skills eight years after a stroke.

 “The Architecture of the Novel” by Jane Vandenburgh

The joke in my family is that on any car ride through even the most implausible town or countryside, I’ve always felt the need to stop the car.

With a forward by Anne Lamott, how could I not read this book? It is divided into two parts. Part One delves into plot (or what she also refers to as Architecture), story, and narrative time. Part Two is a glossary of “the tools and concepts I’ve found useful and necessary in thinking about the longer narrative”. I underlined something on the majority of pages. This is not a quick fix writing book. She manages to reveal the mysteries of the novel writing process while still acknowledging the mystery. Her advice manages to be both intuitive (“You allow the scenes from your story, the story that has been bumping you and nudging against you as if it’s emerging out of darkness, to itself begin to control the writing process.”)  as well as pragmatic (“What it means is you need to go find your characters in their next active situation.”).

 What I learned: That the story you are writing is your best teacher.

 “I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections” by Nora Ephron

I have been forgetting things for years – at least since I was in my thirties.

She is funny. That’s a fact. Funny and insightful which is a charming combination. I laughed out loud so many times but couldn’t underline anything as it was a library copy.  But here are a few of my faves:

“…it’s so easy to tell people they have spinach in their teeth. All you have to do is say, ‘You have spinach in your teeth.’”

Some of her “Twenty-five things People Have a Shocking Capacity to be Surprised by Over and Over Again:

Almost all books that are published as memoirs were initially written as novels, and then the agent/editor said, This might work better as a memoir.

There is no explaining the stock market but people try.

You can never know the truth of anyone’s marriage, including your own.”

You’ll just have to go out and read it yourself. Really. Go. Now.

What I Learned: That she almost gave up writing one of my favorite movies. No, I am not going to tell you what it is. Go read the book:)

“The Emperor’s Children” a novel by Claire Messud

Darling! Welcome! And you must be Danielle?

I haven’t sunk into a thick novel, losing myself in its characters and their stories in a while. I did with this one. At the heart of the novel are three friends from Brown (Marina, Danielle and Julius) who have stayed close as they hit their thirties, each still finding and creating a path for the kind of life they envision for themselves. The chapters alternate between the friends’ points-of-view as well as that of Marina’s famous journalist father, Murray and his nephew, Frederick “Bootie” Tubb, who enters their lives unexpectedly and whose decisions alter the trajectory of their evolving paths. The backdrop is New York City in the months leading up to September 11 and the aftermath. I was completely absorbed in their stories. They intersected beautifully, each causing ripples in the others’ lives.

 What I learned: The necessity of cause and effect. A character makes this decision then this happens, over and over again in the case of a novel.

“I Knew You’d Be Lovely” stories by Alethea Black

Earlier that evening, under the pale streetlamps, Bradley had sat on a park bench and watched a row of trees carefully gathering snow.

I knew that this collection would be lovely and I was right. The stories are also smart with an edge. They are exactly the kind of stories I hope to write, that I hope I am writing. She manipulates time beautifully, leaving the stories rich and with the depth of a novel at times.  At the end of the collection she writes a brief background on the writing of each story, revealing where the idea come from, how long it took to write, what, if anything, came from real life. I love getting a peek behind the curtain like that. Now I will patiently (or not so patiently) wait for her next book. Meanwhile, this one will live on  my permanent bookshelf.

What I learned: That an incredibly brief line that nods to the future can add such depth to a short story.