Friday, January 23, 2015

The Wisdom of A. J. Fikry

I am completely and utterly ENCHANTED by our February pick for book club:  The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.  Redemption, transformation, humor--it's all here.  More on this book later.  But for now I would like to quote A. J. Fikry:

People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love.  You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?

Would you be able to answer this question?  What is it?  Are there different books for different stages of your life?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

showing up

Do you practice yoga, or have you ever been to a yoga class before?  If so, you may be familiar with the intimate environment that creates, especially in a popular class.  There you are, doing a downward dog, and staring at someone's crotch.  Or smelling something a little "off".  Because it can get hot in there and sometimes people don't wear deodorant!  Or worse, they have different hygiene practices than you do.  Burp, fart, cough, sneeze--there's no loud music drowning out those sounds. 

Glennon Doyle Melton writes about the "smelly coughy guy" in her yoga class in her book Carry On, Warrior (and found on her blog which I linked to here--scroll down to read it).  

I had to laugh because there's one who shows up occasionally in the class I go to as well, and he has a similar nick name.  I've never been close enough to him to smell him, but my friends swear he is "ripe"--a mixture of b.o., pot and sex. 

Which leads me to another point, and the main point I want to make about this book.  Glennon talks a lot about "showing up".  Showing up to face hard things--in your marriage, in your work, in your relationships.  The main theme of her witty and powerful collection of essays is to stop pretending that these things aren't hard.  She also advocates constant and generous forgiveness, which for me is hard to do.

I've been reading Momastery for years, usually just sporadically.  She can be a bit over the top for me.  But I love the idea of showing up.  Good things happen when you do.  This yoga class I take, for example.  I have been going every Thursday and meet up with 3 other friends at class.  We then go to a coffee shop afterwards "for tea".  We aren't always there in 100% attendance, but we try, and some new and very nice friendships have been forged for which I am very grateful.  It's probably my favorite day of the week.  The class itself is fabulous and the teacher even more so.  All around win-win.

The other day I was talking to my husband about something that had hurt my feelings, but rather than just get mad and hold a grudge I was going to cut this person some slack.  "You rarely cut people slack," he said.  Yikes.  I am going to make a concerted effort to be more gentle with people, and myself.  What a lovely collection of essays to inspire anyone to take up this charge.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

vacation books

Happy Belated New Year!  We recently returned from a week in Cancun with the family at an all-inclusive resort called Royal Haciendas.  The weather was perfect, the ocean felt great, and there were plenty of Tecates consumed. 

As usual, my people don't like to do much when they are at the beach except for sit around and read.  I managed to get my son out for some kayaking, but that was it.  There was no interest in walking to Playa del Carmen or playing beach volleyball.  My kids were too old for the "Kids Club".  They didn't want to play in the game room either.  We did take a day trip over to Tulum, which was very interesting, but other than that we were doing this:

hammock reading/napping
beach reading
Sophie reading at the pool; Jack ordering virgin daiquiris

Jack tore through the books my sister gave him for Christmas by Michael and Jeff Shaara (father/son dynamic writer duo) on the topic of the Civil War.


He proclaimed The Killer Angels was the best book he ever read.  But he has a peculiar interest in the topic that borders on the obsessive.  He and my father have watched Jeff's documentary called Gods and Generals together, which sparked his interest in the novels.  
Sophie reread The Glass Castle (her favorite book?  about a crazy mother????) and finished one she had previously started by the current darling of the teenage lit world--John Green --called Paper Towns.  I gave it to her last year.  She's a slow reader, but usually finishes what she starts.  It's being made into a movie that sounds pretty good. 
She passed it on to me mid-trip, and I thought it was pretty good, though not as wonderful as The Fault In Our Stars.  He does have an uncanny knack for capturing the voice of adolescents, though I always find their wit to be a little mature. 

A coming of age novel, Paper Towns is the story of a boy named Quentin Jacobsen and the adventure he is drawn into by his childhood friend and secret love Margo Roth Spiegelman. As children, Quentin and Margo discovered a dead man's body; an event that binds them in ways they do not realize. As they grow up however, they grow apart.  Eventually Margo runs away and Quentin and his friends go on a wild goose chase/road trip trying to find her.  At the end Q and Margo realize that though they have a real connection and attraction to each other, their values will force them to pursue different paths.  I highly recommend it for any high schooler who liked TFIOS.  I didn't like Looking for Alaska at all, inappropriate scenes (casual sex, profanity, suicide), a dearth of characters with substance and values, but Paper Towns doesn't go to too many dark places.  There is sex, but it doesn't seem gratuitous.  The characters are smart and loyal.  It is more focused on the mystery of Margo and weaves together clues that might inspire a reader to find out what Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was really all about.  A nice benefit!
There's nothing to write home about where Rob is concerned.  When he is at the beach he reads only pulp fiction.  He had a Jack Reacher novel with him.  I read a collection of essays published by Garden and Gun called Good Dog that was a Christmas present from a sweet friend.  It was inscribed by one of the essayists, Beth Macy.  She's a local author who just hit the big time with her non-fiction book Factory Man.  She's also down to earth, funny, approachable, and charming and I see her on the trails walking her good dog from time to time. 
Of course a lot of the stories made me cry, so it wasn't the best beach book choice.  I brought along Boys in the Boat but didn't touch it.  There were other things to do like hang with the family!  It was a fun vacation.  I wouldn't choose to do an all inclusive with just the 4 of us, but with a big group spanning 3 generations it worked out well.

can't figure out this formatting problem.  sorry!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The sweetness of dogs

So yesterday I was feeling all down on myself.  My negative self talk loop was running without stop, and it was loud, loud, loud.  It didn't help that it was in the 30s and drizzling all day.  So I did what I usually do when I am feeling the blues and made a cup of chamomile tea and took to the bed for a nap, which, in my house, is an invitation for the dog to come join me.  He gave me 30 minutes to nap and then started standing on me.  Why?  Because it was 3 pm and he hadn't had his god given trail run yet. 

You hate to disappoint a dog.  I looked at his cute little face and knew I had to lace up those running shoes and throw on some fleece. 

And off we went!  I remembered my mother saying that dogs "make you seek out beautiful places".  I would add that dogs make you BUCK UP.  And let me tell you I felt so much better when we were outside in the damp, cold air, feeling sad but alive.   And I was thankful I put my big girl panties on, so to speak, and dealt with it.
a happier walk at Thanksgiving!

A few days ago I sent an email to my dog loving friends with a poem by Mary Oliver in it.  The poetry collection, Dog Songs, was given to my children by their grandmother.  It came last week, unwrapped, so I have no idea if it is a Christmas present or not, but there is a nice inscription inside.

I repeat it here, because I love it and believe that it is so true.  And thank god someone thinks I am as just as wonderful as the perfect moon when I am feeling just the opposite.  

The Sweetness of Dogs
 by Mary Oliver

What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. Full tonight.
So we go

and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota
pondering heaven. Thus we sit,

I thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! How rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into
my face. As though I were
his perfect moon.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sticking it to the man, and other essays

Plugged by David Sedaris, this book was indeed all that it was cracked up to be.  I finished this about a month ago, and still think about some of her words from time to time.  The essays collected here intersect in surprising ways.  Largely, they are about overcoming insurmountable odds:  writing a book, passing a police academy test, opening an independent bookstore, going through a divorce.  There are the less obvious:  standing up for the right to read in the face of censorship, tending a dying grandmother, burying a dog, surviving a book tour.

I loved the essay about opening a book store in Tennessee.  My girlfriend visited it recently and said it was fabulous. It really makes me sad that our 2 independent bookstores in Roanoke have closed.  I have to shop at Barnes and Noble or her arch nemesis:  Amazon.   Here's a quote from "The Bookstore Strikes Back". 

And maybe it's working because I'm an author, and maybe it's working because Karen works like life depends on this bookstore, or because we have a particularly brilliant staff, or because Nashville is a city that is particularly sympathetic to all things independent.  Maybe we just got lucky.  But my luck has made me believe that changing he course of the corporate world is possible.  Amazon doesn't get to make all the decisions; the people can make them by how and where they spend their money.  If what a bookstore offers matters to you, than shop at a bookstore.  If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book.  This is how we change the world:  we grab hold of it.  We change ourselves.

 Other good essays were the ones about her dogs.  Patchett is childless, by choice, and her dogs are fiercely loved.  From  "Dog Without End":

Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half.  It's everything in between we live for.

All in all, these essays are worth reading, if not for the sheer beauty of her language but for the universal themes and the "how to" feel of the whole book.  A reader learns what it's like to qualify to be a Los Angeles Police officer, drive a Winnebago, weather a painful divorce, care for an aging relative, care for an aging dog, hide out in the Bel Air Hotel, start a book store, love a nun. And of crouse -- why you marry someone you said you wouldn't.

Here's an NPR interview with Ann Patchett in case you are interested!  I have to admit I was never captured by her novels (Bel Canto, State of Wonder), but these essays -- wow!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nothing Gold Can Stay


It was a balmy 60 degrees plus here in Virginia.  My 11 year old son and I walked the dog after school up on the trails together.  We were wearing t-shirts.  The sun was beginning to set.  He reached for my hand to hold.  If there is a moment in life I want to hold onto, this was it.


Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

jack and his sister, one week ago

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Want to know what to read?  Pay attention to the National Book Awards.  Any finalist or author/poet on the long list is worth exploring.  Here are the winners of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young adult.  

The star of the evening was Ursula Le Guin.  She received an honorary award and then brought down the house with a radical speech.  Here is a description of her career:

In recognition of her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the Foundation’s twenty-seventh award recipient.
For more than forty years, Le Guin has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction. Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.
“Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world,” said Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”


Here is her bad ass acceptance speech.  The idea that such radical women are still shaking up the world makes me so happy. 

I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Please do give a listen.  I've got it all loaded up for you to do so.   It's quite moving, and a strong reminder of the power of art.