Monday, August 31, 2009

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

I almost missed the treasure of The Year of Fog, simply because the wording on the book cover made it look like the sibling of every other 'chick lit' book I've seen. It had the words "for fans of Jodi Picoult or Jacquelyn Mitchard". Since I have never cared for their books, I nearly passed on this one. I'm so glad I didn't!

This is a really suspenseful story strung around the msytery of the brain's memory capabilities, the symbolism of fog (that softens hard edges but also hides details) and made dazzling by the sparkling gem of San Francisco's scenery and culture. I've been learning about hooks and actions that make a reader keep going and interested in a book. This one had so many perfect examples. Foreshadowing was a big factor. I could not put it down, as it kept moving forward so quickly that it felt like running down a hill, dangerous and hard to control.

I could rave on and on but I most liked how she brought her characters to life with minimal words, just little snippets of descriptions and dialogue that were so telling that it was like reading their biography first. Great read.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Favorite Titles for Toddlers

Forgive me if I am missing author names...

These are some favorites that we can't seem to get enough of, ages 2-4 mostly.

Caterpillar Pillow Fight
Edward the Emu
Martha Speaks (plus others in that series)
I Love My Mama
I Love it When You Smile (McBratney)
On the Night You Were Born
Llama Llama Mad at Mama
Llama Llama Misses Mama
Little Pea
Little Hoot
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)
Baby's Boat
The Big Red Barn (Margaret Wise Brown)
Oops David
No David
David Gets in Trouble
The Deep (Tim Winton)
Hondo and Fabian

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This could work...

The Book Room!
Love it!

Mad Men??

I watched my first episode last night. Having heard non-stop positive chatter about it, I had to see what all the fuss was. I don't get it!

Yes, the clothes are cool. The vintage 'look' is great. The main character is incredibly handsome. The cool nonchalance of it all; the roomy pauses and significant looks. All true. But the story? I don't get it. I couldn't find one.

I'm sure there is more to it, all I got out of it was that the style of it all overshadowed the substance. Philandering husband, catty secretaries, competitive coworkers and a devious boss? That's it? Surely an afternoon soap opera contains the same. Isn't the saying 'form follows function'? This seems all form. Style. Hip, because none of the fan base is old enough to remember the reality that existed apart from the impeccable suits and business trips?

I am so uncool.

Saturday bliss

It's cold and overcast. The boys are all in their pajamas/sweats, laying on the couches watching Star Wars (for the 1902929th time) with the baby. Trying to explain to the 2 year old who Chewy is. They've quietly made lightsabers out of baby toys while they watch. All three, playing quietly while they, blue, and green lightsabers.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Growth of the Soil, Hamsun

I just finished this epic novel last night. Beyond amazing. Hamsun's work is so simple and straightforward, but then it reveals these unexpected complexities that make you pause. His characters are so vivid that I began imagining them as real people that I know. I found myself thinking of Oline while I did dishes, irritated at her big mouth. And any time Barbro entered a scene I groaned out loud. Layers. Just so many layers to these characters that make them real. Inger is so hard to describe that Hamsun's simple description is the only one that makes sense: "a strong woman full of weakness".

The book is basically a love affair with the earth, given the few people in this unbroken part of Norway that makes up the setting. Their lives revolve around earth and sky and seasons. Simple work, simple food. They don't spend time analyzing why they are unhappy or seeking remedy for their bad childhoods. They live forward, moving ahead.

Again, I had to try and control my isolation inclination as I read this. When they finally get other settlers up near Sellenara, inwardly I cringed because I'm thinking, what? Neighbors? Sheesh. Get rid of them! Make them move! And yet these people were happy for the company. I am so anti-social when I think living in the wilds with 8 other people within 10 miles is too much!

This also was a very peaceful book. It had tension and action and sadness and pain, but overall it felt calming and restful to read it and imagine this kind of life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Lost Art of Reading, LA Times article,0,4905017.story

Great article by David L. Ulin that sums up why so few people read these days. The only thing I would add is that many times kids are pushed to read for information rather than pleasure, so it becomes a chore. Few people have been taught to enjoy the journey rather than just the destination.

So what happened? It isn't a failure of desire so much as one of will. Or not will, exactly, but focus: the ability to still my mind long enough to inhabit someone else's world, and to let that someone else inhabit mine. Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves. This is what Conroy was hinting at in his account of adolescence, the way books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.

Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.

...What I'm struggling with is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there is something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it's mostly just a series of disconnected riffs and fragments that add up to the anxiety of the age.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The business of learning to write? Did Hemingway have research texts on how to build a character? Did Hamsun need help with his plot? I think not. But then again, did they have Amazon?

True compulsive procrastinator that I am, I went looking on Amazon for some suggested titles from another blog on better writing skills. I justified it as needing to improve my work, and who could argue with that? I tried and evaded the entire argument by clicking on more. Before I could listen to my rational self my shopping cart had gobbled up:

"Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.)"
"The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life"Noah Lukeman;
"Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life"Anne Lamott;
"The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers"John Gardner
"The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile"Noah Lukeman; "On Writing"Stephen King
"Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)"James Scott Bell

(the messy text was from cut and paste, I was too lazy to retype).

So this begs the question, why? When will I write if I am reading these? Are they going to distract me from my original ideas? I know I need tons of work, just doing my own editing has shown me how my writing needs to be more concise and clear. But I have buyer's remorse, and feel dumb for spending the money and the time. There were actually more in my cart that I weeded out. So much for that. Dumb dumb dumb.

One interesting discovery was Amazon Shorts; Noah Lukeman had a 26 page Short on paragraph sections and breaks. Kind of neat.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Crazy Day

My head is aching. Too many hours at the computer today.
I spent several hours today trying to select excerpts of my "novel" to have edited. I was amazed at how I was able to edit out tons of unnecessary words on my own. One section started at 490 words and I got it to 249. It's hard when you are a wordy birdy! Now it will be edited more by a professional and hopefully become crisper and stronger. It's difficult but at the same time strangely satisfying. It makes my pathetic attempt at writing seem more real. See that? Psycho-babble experts would say that I am always mocking my efforts at writing to hide my fears of rejection, somehow preempting any criticism of it before it ever happens. Maybe. I don't have much confidence in my writing except when I read crap like "P.S. I Love You" by Ahern and realize I can't possibly be THAT bad! That one made my teeth hurt.

I do know that I use certain phrases way too much: such as "way too", "always", "so", "really","anyway", and "she (or he) felt". Must work on that.

Today my oldest son turned 20. Wow. No longer a teenager, though he really hasn't been much of a teenager since he was 16. He grew up too fast, partly due to matters beyond his control and his own personality. It is difficult to learn to treat him as an adult and stop bossing him around, while still maintaining some sort of parental image. He's a good egg though, on the cover of the college course catalog!
Then there was the community college hassle that we endure EVERY semester. Middle child has been going to the local CC since his freshman year, part time. This year he's a high school junior, and all the registration and admission requirements have changed, and there are less courses offered with more students enrolling. So we had a stressful afternoon finding courses that fit his interests, his schedule, and that were still open. Since he's a high school student he has to jump through extra hoops and complete more ridiculous paperwork, even though he's already in their system. It's only half over, tomorrow we go and try and make all this 'official' at the walk-in registration. I deserve a martini at lunch.
Now I have a hot date with Tylenol PM.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The significance of running out of shampoo!

Okay, no significance, right?

BIG DEAL to me. I've spent the last few months, actually well into last year, trying to use up all those items I've stockpiled over the years. Back when I had more disposable income (as in, was not broke!) I would stock up on just about anything if it was on sale. I had one cabinet filled up with all sorts of bottles of personal care goo: shampoos, body washes, scented lotions, bars of soap.

Then there was the cabinet of vitamins, supplements, etc. Three bottles of Motrin and tons of cough medicine in still sticky bottles, all half empty, just making a mess.

So, I dumped what I could and have diligently been using up the rest. For some bizarro reason, which I can't quite ascertain yet, I feel better having less. Not that I'm giving up soap or shampoo, but I just find that the excess was unnecessary and not really comforting. What was I stocking up for? Was Target going to go under? Of course, they tell you to stock up, it is supposed to save money. But I always over-did it, grabbing stuff all the time. Some weird sort of anxiety/hoarding instinct? Did having 20 bars of soap equal security?

Somehow the idea of having an actual need, shampoo, is neat and weird. I've never, ever ran out before. But how much do we buy of anything is an actual need? The purpose of actually needing to go purchase a specific item, how often does that happen?

Now the cabinets are nearly empty, but clean. The open space is soothing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Genius! I'm weeping with jealousy!

So I'm about 40 pages into GROWTH OF THE SOIL by Knut Hamsun and I can barely stand it, it's so good. Thing is, he keeps foreshadowing terrible things happening, and then they don't happen, but instead of feeling all relieved I am actually in agony now knowing something really bad is going to happen. His writing is amazing. There was a good reason for this getting the Nobel Prize in 1920. I liked HUNGER as well, but Tales of Love and Loss, not so much.

The desire to hide and continue reading it appeals to me, but I like the people and the place so much I don't want anything tragic to happen. He has pages and pages just on setting up a house and the little details (we bought a clock! woo hoo!), and somehow it reminds me of being a little girl and reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder's book when she married Allonzo (was that his name??) and it described her kitchen, the bins of flour and sugar and all those tiny details that I adored. Neat and orderly. Simple.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Perfect Day?

What would be the elements of my perfect day? Yours? So many worries would have to be dealt with first, but here's an estimate:

First, most crucial, the kids are healthy and well, located somewhere else, each with their own personal EMT and protector as well as my parents (might as well get everyone out of my hair!).
That leaves an empty house. Empty house is clean (spotlessly!!!!) except for an box filled with two new Tim Winton novels. Kitchen is stocked with AkMak crackers, hummus, yerba mate tea, and a Thai Chicken pizza for later. Weather is warm but not hot. Slight breeze. The scale says "Ideal".

My gorgeous ginger cat Rico is actually friendly and sociable, rather than his usual sullen demeanor. The dogs also went somewhere, so no barking is heard. TIVO has a unseen Law & Order on hold for me, as well as an episode or two of In Treatment, if I need a break from the books. My Internet is screaming fast in case I want to go online.

No, wait! The pizza must be delivered, so that the opportunity exists for Viggo Mortensen to deliver it (he's really getting into the research for a future role as a misunderstood, sociopathic, poet-pesto-pizza driver). He expresses genuine interest in my yard and my as-yet unpublished novel. Actually, it really doesn't matter if his interest is genuine or not, is it? He IS an actor, so I don't care if he's faking it.

I'll end it there, except to add that Cherry Almond Fudge ice cream will be devoured later, and the mail will deliver an acceptance letter and massive advance for my book.

Modern Poetry...STUCK in my head

Is There Life on Mars? ...Sir David Bowie 1972

It's a God awful small affair
To the girl with the mousey hair
But her mummy is yelling, "No!"
And her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is no where to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she's hooked to the silver screen
But the film is a sadd'ning bore
For she's lived it ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Fighting in the dance hall
Oh man!Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man!Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

It's on America's tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
'Cause Lennon's on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns

But the film is a sadd'ning bore
'Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It's about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

Fighting in the dance hall
Oh man!Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man!Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

Sad note: my teen sons only cultural reference to David Bowie was when I mentioned he was in Zoolander. Oh. So, so sad. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this song. It's on continuous loop on Itunes right now. It was in one of my favorite movies "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" by my favorite director Wes Anderson. And honestly, can anyone pull off blue eyeshadow like Bowie???

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Just a Troubled Ant

Why is it that stargazing appears to be the domain of the depressed or the introspective? How often do you hear of a jolly person pondering the rotation of the stars, or imagining all the sights that the Moon above has looked upon down here below?

I sat out an hour tonight, and even saw a shooting star. My glass of wine did nothing to make matters seem more cheerful. Usually looking at beauty or feeling awe is inspiring; somehow the stars above seem to be telling me how ridiculous I am and how meaningless my problems are. That may not be a bad thing.

I spent awhile looking at the Big Dipper, trying to figure out how "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was helpful in any way to escaping slaves. How frightening to put your reliance and future hopes on something so impossibly far.

And yet, it feels like I'm doing the same thing every day. Hoping. Wishing. Imagining changes that may never take place. How many suffering through the Crusades looked at those stars, hoping their loved ones were safe? How many prisoners in Dachua looked up through the ashy skies to the stars and moon? Did they feel awe, beauty, or confusion? Was the sight a comfort and balm or a stab in the heart?