RIP III: The List

Finally, the choices for RIP III reading are made! I debated this one many times over, and read some of the marvelous pools that other participants were posting over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Should I go modern or Victorian, mystery or horror, new author or familiar friend?

I've decided to stick with my leanings toward the Gothic genre and toward literary discoveries that span the centuries.

1. M.R. James, Casting the Runes and other Ghost Stories. This author is considered a master of the ghostly Gothic tale, and I've never read him. So cheers to things that traditionally go bump in the night!

2. Davis Grubb, The Night of the Hunter. First published in 1932, this novel is best-known for being adapted into a creepy Noir film starring Robert Mitchum. It's about a psychopath preacher who stalks two orphaned children. Quintessential American Gothic. Let's see if this thriller is worth reviving.

3. Kingsley Amis, The Green Man. The idea of this book intrigues me: an English country pub run by an alcoholic philanderer is haunted by a Faustian ghost. Plus, I've never read Kingsley Amis. Plus, this book is apparently out of print. This is still in the supernatural realm, a la the M.R. James, book, but I'm skating on the fact that this is a contemporary novel versus a Victorian selection of short stories to amend the categorization that Peril the II requires. I hope Carl V. approves.

Happy reading everyone.


RIP III...It's heeeerree!

Alright, just when I figured there was no gas left in this old bag, Carl V. announced the RIP III Challenge!

It starts Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 31. If you haven't ever participated, give it a shot -- you won't believe how much fun it is.

I am joining Peril the Second, aiming for 3 books.

Now comes the fun part: Deciding which books I'll read!!! What are you all reading?

Side note: Just wanted to record some of the books I've finished the past few months.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale
The Black Death: A Personal History, John Hatcher
Nixonland, Rick Perlstein
Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, Hayden Herrera
Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, David M. Kennedy


Best Cougar Flicks

Okay, I'm tired and out of gas. So, it's time for a Netflix list of my favorite Cougar Flicks of all time (at least, of the ones I have seen). This is chick flicks for the ages, the middle ages that is. Maybe some other nominees will bring the list to 10...

6. Mamma Mia! Very dumb, but so much fun. I want to party with those girls and guys. In sequins and platform shoes, too. Is there nothing Meryl can't do? And more of Julie Walters and Colin Firth, pleeeeaaase.

5. Thelma & Louise. You never grow out of wanting to drive a great car and be an outlaw. Especially if Brad Pitt is hitchiking. What a great road trip! Except when they shot that guy. Oh, and when they drive off the edge of the Grand Canyon. But it is all quite possibly worth being able to blow up a lewd driver's truck in the desert.

4. Educating Rita. An English Housewife breaks the mold and tries to better herslef by going to school. Julie Walters will break your heart while you laugh. See this with Mamma Mia to see how this good Walters is.

3. Shirley Valentine. Greece must be getting lots of Cougar touristas what with this film and Mamma Mia. In a nutshell, stodgy English Housewife talks to Wall as her friend because Wall is much more companionable than her surly hubby, whom she serves egg and chips. This grim existence is suddenly drenched in sunshine when said Housewife gets a trip to Greece and finds plenty of adventure. Note to self: Find reliable Greece travel agent and book tour for 50th birthday.

2. Enchanted April. If Greece isn't your thing, why not rent an Italian villa? Let the Mediterranean sun go to your head. You'll emerged transformed with a whole new set of good buddies and possibly a new lease on your sex life.

1. Out of Africa. The original Cougar Flick, still ranks tops for love, loss, adventure, and Meryl Streep. And a warm climate and a woman with a gun. This time the love interest is Robert Redford, aged but mellow like a fine Porterhouse steak. A blond Porterhouse steak.


Thoughts to share

Communicating or expressing creativity requires an every-day-warriorship-courage. It is so vulnerable. It is bold to create despite the wave of critics and naysayers, the avalanche of "shoulds" and comparisons. The haters are always out there hatin' so loudly. To express anyway takes guts. Just to create, just to communicate is somehow so innocent and so bold. It requires a tolerance for allowing our art of Self to be seen in ways we may not like. But in our warrior-heart, we have room to do that. There we can find we are living for something more important than other people's approval or understanding. We are expressing things for goodness sake and that is enough. Our art can be set free into the world as it is. It (and we) can be like a mirror accommodating whatever projections are set upon it without losing anything, without falling into confusion. That is a heroism that is rarely noted, but makes the difference between a life of suffering and a life of satisfaction.

From Joy, Sorrow and Everyday Warriorship
By Tröma Rigtsal Rinpoche



Well, at the risk of losing readership and blog cred, I am withdrawing the kitten claws and forgoing the blog for a while.

My attention and energy need to be elsewhere for a while.

Hopefully, I'll be back, better than ever. Til then, happy blogging to you all!


Calling all writers


Calling all writers: would-be, wannabe, published, unpublished!

To help us all keep motivated, I hereby start the 'Fess Up Friday at The Literate Kitten. Here's how it will work:

Every Friday I will post my own 'Fess Up Friday, confessing what I did (or did not do) to achieve my writing goals for the week. You will see that, with me, reading, blogging, journaling -- just about anything counts. (Betcha I'll even find a way to make watching So You Think You Can Dance part of my writing goals.)

If you'd like to participate, just sign your link below. You can always comment on my blog or post a 'Fess Up Friday of your own.


'Fess Up Friday: Bombing Out and Confessing Ad Nauseum

Another week, another fizzle in the writing department.

I could produce a veritable tsunami wave of excuses, but the bottom line is: Didn't write. Thought of writing. Still didn't write. Read a little. Ran around a lot. In tight, little, nonconcentric circles.

I've got to face facts: My life is a bit of a runaway train right now. Not conducive to the meditative, introspective act of fiction writing.

It is humbling for me to see, plainly, how much more structure and organization my life requires, if I want to accomplish what I want to accomplish at work, at love, spiritually, creatively.

But, I vow to rise to the challenge! Hope all others are experiencing more satisfaction and success in their literary endeavors. I think at this point I will be quite happy if and when I can finish reading just one of my many bedside books!


'Fess Up Friday: Eh

A frustrating week all around. But, for the purposes of this blog, managed a short session of writing.

The universe is pounding me with learning the lesson of managing long-term projects, though. Three major projects I am currently working on:

Building a new website
Developing a marketing communications plan
Buying a home

I should have much sharper organizational skills by the end of it all, which should help with being able to take on a Novel with more success than I have had.


Monday musing

From Martha Graham, dancer/choreographer:
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You only have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

From Sarah, a mystery writer (from the book Claiming Your Creative Self by Ellen Clegg):

Sarah counts every moment when she's thinking about her novel as writing time, but she distinguishes between the thinking time and the actual process of stringing together words at the computer. The computer time is sacrosanct, and claiming it involves a regular act of intentional will that many...do not allow themselves....These days Sarah feels comfortable with her own idiosyncratic ways of working. It's natural for her to be thinking of sixteen things at once, including the plot of her novel, what the kids are saying the back seat of the car, and what kind of plan she wants to put in the garden. It's equally natural for her to walk to her studio, sit down at the computer, clear her mind of everything, and bring 100 percent concentration to her writing.


"Fess Up Friday: Blurbing

I have never felt so unsettled and unfocused and tried to write fiction! It is like drinking a gallon of coffee, hopping on a stationery bicycle, and trying to pedal and compose. Jee-ayng-llling. Still, I managed to type about 10 minutes worth of something that may purport to be the first chapter. It's something, and the good related news is that I have made even more progress on getting a grip on the personal environs and my work schedule and job. I'm definitely not waiting for life to be perfect to be able to write, but I do need some more calm and centeredness to really produce.

In the meantime, other 'Fessers provide much inspiration and knowlege. (I'm working on a way to set up a better system so we can track each others' progress...just give me a little time...)

This is from Ms. Litlove, who brings the perspective of being an academic writer and a fiction writer:

Fiction is the place where readers explore all kinds of powerful dimensions of experience but they need to be held by the writer while they do so. There are lots of ways to hold the reader – the desire to know what happens next, the sheer beauty of an author’s prose, the clever use of metaphor to talk about difficult things in indirect ways, the promise of meaning and closure. But when it goes wrong, I think, it’s because something has bled out of the author’s mind that is raw in a threatening way, or depressing or a bit desperate. And after all, that’s why creative writing is so damn hard; it requires mastery and discipline way beyond the normal levels.

And the dear Smithereens is making progress! Despite what she calls "cheating." I call it getting on a schedule (and I will cheat by stealing her work habits):

I write mostly on Thursdays and Fridays, when I know I’ll be reporting soon. It feels as if I’m back to that university stage where I gave all my essays at the last possible moment. Oh, I’d thought I’d gotten beyond that stage and matured somehow. Guess not.

I don't know...writing to a deadline is as good as anything else, if it gets you going...

Toujours Jacques has been considering starting a private, writing-dedicated blog:

I’m seriously considering starting another blog, maybe private for now–I’m not sure. I want a space to write daily–mostly about Iris Murdoch, but also about writing itself. I know many of you have a second blog where you focus on your writing or your writing process.

I'll be interested in seeing if that works for you, TJ.

Okay, let's brace up. We have another chance to unfurl some glorious ribbons of mellifluous prosody this week....


'Fessing Up, Part 2

This is an addendum to my pathetic 'Fess Up from last week. Excellent and inspirational advice from mischief mari:

And speaking of house-cleaning: this afternoon I started clearing up some of the clutter in my tiny little corner of our home office. I came across some writing journals that I kept at the suggestion of a producer who snored through a very cruddy draft of my screenplay. One was a personal diary, really, of my thoughts on writing: my fears, my hopes, my frustrations. The other journal was more like a log of ideas - unique ideas or thoughts that I could put into the next draft. While I kept these two journals, I didn’t touch my screenplay. Initially, I felt even more lost because I was in such a hurry to finish my screenplay, make it into a movie and become ridiculously famous for it. But, you see, those thoughts have nothing to do with writing a good story; they’re all about the dreams of making it in Hollywood. The journals, however, saved me. I took time away from my story, confronted my writing anxieties, and found a few really wonderful ideas that I put into the next draft.

Eventually I got back to the screenplay and produced one of my best works ever. I held several readings with some really great actors and took some other steps toward making it into a film. My lawyer got the script to a few production companies including one headed by an A-list actor. Unfortunately, as often happens in the film industry, the project hit some snags that brought the whole production to a halt, and though I’m not sure whether I want to start this particular project up again, the journal exercise was one of the best things I could have possibly done for myself. I hope this suggestion might be helpful to other writers, no matter what form of writing they are pursuing.

I especially liked this, since I've spent a lot of my time the past few weeks cleaning, purging, and decluttering. I know the work will pay off, but it's frustrating to have little actual output (vis a vis writing) to show for it. This post made me feel a whole lot better. Thanks, MM!


'Fess Up Friday: Oops

OKay, this was a crazy week, and I lost my momentum.

I started having doubts about my mystery idea. Sort of being shot down before I even start. But I'm going to forge ahead anyway. I guess I just have to blow through all these writer's blocks and get down to serious business.

I will add some other 'Fesser's tips a bit later...hope everyone is having a great week.


Monday musing

Thought of the day:

Persistence is fertile; resistance is futile.


'Fess Up Friday: Progress!

Week 3 of FUF (see May 4 post), and I finally have some good progress to report!

This week, I met with a fellow writer for tea. It was such a relief and delight to talk about writing with a serious writer! I think that was the inspiration I need to tackle the Mystery Novel. (I have 2 novels going on, one literary mainstream and now the mystery.)

I completed the following tasks:

*named my characters
*decided on the murder mystery and setting
*wrote some dialogue and characterization
*started an outline

What I've learned? When you're uninspired, burned out, or not sure where to start, talk to a fellow writer or group of serious writers. You catch the fever.

Lots of great stuff from FUFers too, this week, but today's tip comes from Dark Orpheus:

Neil Gaiman, offering his opinion on actually getting your first draft written:

As for thinking time versus writing time, well, that's up to you. But -- and I wish it were otherwise -- books don't get written by thinking about them, they get written by writing them. And that's when you make discoveries about what you're writing. That's when you get the happy accidents.

Happy writing everyone!


Outrageous prediction

I have six minutes to kill before a webinar, so I thought I'd post my Thursday thoughts on the presidential election. I am going out on a limb with a rather out-there prediction.

I'm reading David Kennedy'as "Freedom from Fear" book about the Great Depression (and WW2), and I am amazed at some of the parallels between the first 30 years of the 20th century and the last 30:

* Predominantly Republican rule, with a "laissez faire," no regulations, decentralized government approach

* Significant infighting in the Democratic party, particuluarly in the runup that led to Hoover's election (hence my upcoming prediction)

* Significant problems in the farming markets, sudden and dramatic shift in inventory and demand in manufacturing

* Abuse in the unregulated banking and stock markets

Perhaps this is a stretch, but FDR contracted polio in 1921 -- which effectively removed him from the mudslinging among the Democrats, so that he was able to emerge in the '30s as a new, promising candidate, when people were finally more open to change. (Shades of John Edwards...?)

Anyway, my prediction if history repeats itself: Americans are traditionally loathe to have government intervention, and the majority (I fear) are still loathe to embracing the change of a black man or white woman in charge. Clinton and Obama have divided the party, and neither has emerged as a uniter. Things still aren't bad enough for people to squeal. It's very close, what with people losing homes and the alarming price escalations of fuel and food. But, I'm betting on the rural, conservative, Libertarian mindset to balk at the thought of universal health care, and still be suspicious of change in the form of race or gender, without sufficient cause.

So, I predict John McCain will win. I predict it will end the GOP stranglehold, as conditions deteriorate and McCain delivers more of the same in terms of no taxes, no government oversight, no market regulation. And then I predict people will be ready to start really being able to consider embracing more "radical" ideas. (Radical for Americans, anyway!)


'Fess Up Friday: Falling Short

I hope my 'Fess Up Friday (see May 4 post) isn't going to be a series of lame and somewhat masochistic reports of inactivity. But Week 2 is certainly no poster child for Successful Authorship.

1. Last Sat. I met a friend at a mystery bookstore for a signing and reading of two local writers I'm very interested in. The event, however, was cancelled. I did manage to find a lovely collection of James Cain novels and an Inspector Maigret paperback. But not meeting one writer in particular, Domenic Stanberry, was very disappointing.

2. I managed to open my draft of my novel. It was like a vampire hunter opening Dracula's crypt -- the light burned my eyes. Had to back away.

Here is a writing tip for everyone else who can maybe actually benefit from it. Courtesy of BlogLily's Writing Stats, which is fabulously inspirational:

Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.

Oh, and I'm adding this from Yogamum. There are some FABULOUS'Fess Up posts out there, everyone. I'm so glad...they are really going to help me, for one.

Today’s exercise is this: in five minutes, write as many beginnings as you can that have to do with food. Write one, two, eleven, whatever you can do. Again, by a “beginning” I mean anything from a sentence fragment to three full sentences, but no more than that per beginning.


6 Literary Quirks

Thanks to Snacky Wombat, I've been tagged for this meme. 6 Boring Quirks About Me.

Now, you don't REALLY want to hear BORING quirks about me, do you? If I were you, I'd want to hear JUICY SCINTILLATING quirks. However, I'm not going to give you either. I'm going to change up the rules just a touch and go with 6 Literary Quirks About Me. Just so it's all in the family.

1. I'm an education junky. If I could go to school for the rest of my life, I would. I would earn more MAs 'cos they are more fun than BAs or PhDs.

2. I can't seem to finish a Faulkner novel all the way through. Think I finished As I Lay Dying maybe in high school. But I tend to start and stop. I get all lost, as if I'm sleepwalking or something. Love his short stories, though.

3. I can't get into chick lit. I'm a chick, I like lit. But can't seem to stand the combo between book covers. I think it has something to do with the cover design: hot pink titles with excessive curlicue typefaces and cute graphic drawings of cartoon chicks running around frantically shopping or solving murders or clubbing their boyfriends into submission or whatnot. What would they have done with Jane Eyre, do you think?

4. I do most of my reading in bed, before going to sleep. I don't think it helps my insomnia. But I have gotten through two volumes of Proust that way.

5. I have trouble marking pages. Maybe it's a leftover from my Catholic schoolgirl days, but I feel as if I'm vandalizing a book if I mark in ink or highlighter or even pencil. No, no: Desecration is more like it.

6. But I love reading notes from previous readers. Margin notes, dedications, anything marked up by previous owners or readers of the book make me happy. I like feeling a literary link with someone I don't even know.

Here are the rules for this meme:

Tell about six unspectacular quirks of yours (literary, if you so choose)
Link the person who tagged you - that'd be Snacky, and by all means visit minus the spine and lurk.
Mention the rules in your blog
Tag six following bloggers by linking them
Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged

Uh, I am tagging the first six people who see this. You know who you are.



I don't know about you, but accumulation is a major problem of mine. I am not even the type of person who measures life by material goods. Who cares what kind of car you drive or how many designer purses you have? Tell me how many stories you've written or animals you've cared for or places you've traveled or people you've helped, and I'm in.

Nevertheless, I find myself gathering weight around me like a bedroom floor gathers dust bunnies. From literal weight in fleshy pounds to hundreds of books to gew-gaws and knick-knacks, I'm a human flea market.

My life has reached a tipping point of late in the clutter department. I am having trouble focusing on reading and writing because I am so distracted by junk. So, I've been working on decluttering.

All of which points to my sharing this newly found resource with you: Freecyle.

Here's a description of what Freecyle is: The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,355 groups with 5,062,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free.

Isn't that cool?

Share your tips on how to declutter! The best tip will get a FREE book!!!! (Hey, I think I'm starting to get the hang of this decluttering thing!)


Green versus new

President George Bush gave a high school commencement speech in a town devastated a year ago by a tornado. He said of Greensburg, Kansas: "This community is dedicated to putting the 'green' in Greensburg."

Too bad Bush wasn't as interested in putting the 'new' back in New Orleans.


'Fess Up Friday: Beginnings

'Fess Up Fridays are intended to be a way for me and other struggling writers to post our weekly efforts toward writing, be they nonexistent, miniscule, or breathtaking breakthroughs. I'm hoping this will keep writing top of mind for me and others, and inch us closer to meeting our writing goals.

Having blathered all of that, this week's report is full of vigorous toeing of waters: Exhausting but you don't actually get immersed.

1. Reading. I started two new mysteries, The English School of Murder by Ruth Dudley Edwards and The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. And I bought Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden, a how-to on writing murder mysteries. This is all to learn about the craft, get inspired, get ideas. So far, I'm learning more about what I do NOT want to do.

2. Clip file. I started a clip file for news items, author interviews,book reviews -- anything essentially that catches my interest as possible plots or characters. I found this great interview of Cara Black, which gives me some insight on how one writer, at least, approaches her material.

3. Working space. A friend of mine, in an hour, whisked about my sun room to create a working space for me (I've only lived there five years!). And I set up Airport so my computer doesn't have to remain tethered to a dark corner of my apartment, where the cable umbilical is.

So, there you have it! Next week I will write something, if if only for 10 minutes.

Hope the other 'Fessers in the club have inspiring reports.

The best writing tip of all: Sit.


The Reading...and the Writing...Games

Can you believe April is just about over? Time passes so quickly; I find this concept very difficult to accept and grasp. We are only here 90 years or so, and man, we have to cram in a lot of living in between jobs, shampooing and conditioning the hair, cleaning dustbunnies from under the bed, and chopping vegetables.

Not a great segue, but this does lead me willy-nilly to my book reading. I managed to avoid Colette's Pure and Impure for my March Dangerous Read. It wasn't that it was too dangerous; the prose was more like Virgina Woolf lite, and the first dozen pages or so melted in my brain like so much English toffee. So, I put that down and took refuge in rereading a biography of Dian Fossey and an account of the Titanic sinking (nothing like other people's misfortunes to get you over feeling angry about having to wait for the cable guy on Saturday).

Picked up a silly book. The title got me: Bookmarked to Die. I knew it had to be bibliocentric, and sure enough, the protaganist is a librarian, Helma Zukas. She was a bit too priggish for my tastes, and the story was basic -- two local authors are murdered, the Police Chief (who happens to be Helma's beau) is mad at her so she must regain his trust by solving the mystery. Or something like that. It was silly fun, easy to read, and not too offensive. I figured it would be a good basic book to look at for writing mysteries.

Next up is what portends to be a more literary take on a crime novel, Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files. I'd really like to find some more noir, too, a la James Cain. Love that hardboiled grit.

Re the writing schedule: I'm keeping it simple and doable. 3 times a week during lunch or after work, 1 hour on weekends. I have my best energy and focus mid-day, and that's when I usually exercise. Now will balance that with writing. It's got to be part of the day; otherwise, will just slip off the radar.

I joined the organization Sisters in Crime, too. A few weeks ago I went to a luncheon they hosted in San Francisco, and the people were great. (Much more laid-back than the usual egomaniacal lit-uh-awry stiffs I typically meet at writing events.) They have a good local chapter. I'm hoping that the networking and events will keep me motivated, too.

Anyone out there who wants to commiserate over or share writing experiences, feel free to email me or post here.


Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, Andi is giving away a copy of The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming. Please hurry to her site to enter -- the drawing will be held Friday, April 25th at 8am eastern!

Other eco-related books to check out: Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet and Diet for a New America.

I wonder what is going to happen in light of the current food crisis. What with this, our mortgage crisis, global warming, and mounting fuel prices, you'd think our country would get a clue that the current way of life is not sustainable.

Any other Earth Day-related books that you'd like to list?


What students are reading

UC Berkeley surveyed what students have been reading over a 20-year period, and the results are interesting. The top books are: 1987 - The Color Purple, 1997 - The Fountainhead, and 2007 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Ayn Rand's book was actually #2 in 1987 and has disappeared from 2007's top 10, a list which is rife with J.K. Rowling titles. Fortunately, some oldies-but-goodies have consistently made the grade, including Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The article summarizes the findings this way:

What conclusions can we draw from these admittedly unscientific surveys? Student do manage to read for enjoyment, and they read widely. Best seller lists (and Oprah?) influence their reading, but clearly they have strong wills of their own. Can we explain Madame Bovary, Our Man in Havana, All Quiet on the Western Front, Great Expectations, and The Screwtape Letters as recreational reading among college students? No, but we can be thankful.

Amen to that!


It's Friday. There. I've said it.

How many of you will stop reading once I write these words: I have nothing to say?

I suppose what I should write is: I have nothing to say about books, which I am reading or otherwise.

I just haven't been able to focus on reading as of late, particularly fiction. I want a book to grab me by the throat and haul me in, and then I think, no, what I REALLY want is to WRITE a book that grabs others by the throats and hauls them in. And by extension I want to READ such a book so I can get INSPIRED to WRITE such a book.

Circular logic. It's a bitch.

Oh, and this from Litlove. Another take on the Big D.

The depressed, it seems, dream a great deal more than the contented, with the result that they wake in the morning feeling exhausted and so perpetuate a cycle of depression. The situation arises when something happens that impacts on a person’s ability to get their basic needs met. Those who have a pessimistic or introspective disposition then tend to worry about their difficulties, ‘misusing their imagination’ as the authors put it (and the imagination is understood as a powerful tool that can do a great deal of harm when put to the wrong use) and allowing emotionally arousing thoughts to go round and round their heads. The result is ‘catastrophic thinking’, the ability to see the situation only as black or white, which in turn triggers the fight or flight responses, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream that simply make the situation much worse. At night, the mind attempts to deal with this influx of bad feeling by dreaming, distorting the amount of REM sleep (dream sleep) that the individual has. Too much REM sleep means not enough stage 4 sleep, the point where we heal our bodies and enjoy full, blissful rest. The poor individual wakes feeling exhausted and without motivation, and then, convinced it is not normal to feel this way, start to believe they are flawed and freakish. And so it goes on. Isn’t that interesting? I found that most credible and sensible. The problem, then, can be traced back to the (non) fulfillment of those basic needs that sets the worry off in the first place. The authors suggest that the route back to health is to figure out which need is not being met and to do something about it, as far as is possible. Here, for your information, is a very neat list of the basic needs:

Physical needs include a wholesome diet, exercise, good air to breathe and clean water to drink. Emotional needs include the need for security, to feel one has some control over events, to give and receive attention, to be emotionally connected to others, to have intimate closeness to at least one other person, to have status within one’s family and peer groups, to feel autonomous and competent, and to be ‘stretched’ in what we do (because being physically and/or mentally stretched is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives – a healthy brain is a busy problem-solving brain).

I like the neat list of basic needs. Just another thing to shoot for.

And, tomorrow: I'm going to tackle My Writing Schedule. Enough is enough. Wish me luck.


William Styron on Libraries

It is National Library Week, folks, and I'm paying a visit tonight. To get into the mood, here is a quote from William Styron's new book of essays. He waxes poetic on the Duke Library, but it could be AnyLibrary USA:

“I read everything I could lay my hands on. Even today I can recall the slightly blind and bloodshot perception I had of the vaulted Gothic reading room, overheated, the smell of glue and sweat and stale documents, winter coughs, whispers, the clock ticking toward midnight as I raised my eyes over the edge of ‘Crime and Punishment.’ The library became my hangout, my private club, my sanctuary, the place of my salvation; during the many months I was at Duke, I felt that when I was reading in the library I was sheltered from the world and from the evil winds of the future; no harm could come to me there.”

Ah, yes.

For more on Styron's new book, click here.


A poem for Friday

Ignatz Oasis
by Monica Youn

When you have left me
the sky drains of color

like the skin of a tightening fist.

The sun begins
its gold prowl

swatting at tinsel streamers
on the electric fan.

Crouching I hide
in the coolness I had stolen

from the brass rods of your bed.

Ooh, I like it.

For more, visit Guerinca.


Links and more links

Just links today; still trying to play catch up with life!

Great observations on the writing life here. (via Maud Newton)

News on the Pulitzer Prizes here. Awesome that Bob Dylan and Robert Hass are both winners. Junot Diaz won for fiction. Has anyone read Diaz? Comments?

World Literature Forum -- check it out.


Book banning in schools

It seems as if one school decided to hide behind rules and regulations to suspend a teacher who taught a "banned book" to her class.

Suspended, not fired, for a year and a half. No pay. Oh, thank you merciful School Board! (I think the teacher eventually resigned with a settlement.)

The banned book in question? The Freedom Writers' Diary.

The administrators reportedly objected to use of "racial slurs and sexually explicit content." While I understand teachers have to follow some rules and need to be mindful of many social issues, doesn't the positive of the book outweigh the liabilities? The students in question are high schoolars, and are probably painfully aware of violence, racism, and other social ills the book is trying to expose and challenge.

I really think our K-12 teachers are too impeded by rules and regulations. Are we dumbing down education, failing to challenge our students, and cheating them of the benefits of a true education: learning to think for oneself?

Any thoughts? Other than, like me, you'll keep your eye peeled for a copy of this book in the bargain bins.


Books saved me this week

Hi, everyone,

Just wanted to share how two book-related incidents this week really helped me over a tough patch:

1) Bookmarks magazine. My first copy arrived, and right before bed, at the end of a trying and exhausting day, in lieu of my regular reading, I leafed through the copy. Wow! Where have I been all this time?? And I know I found this from one of the blogs I regularly read. I am not sure whose, but I suspect Iliana at Bookgirl's Nightstand. Whoever the blogger was (or bloggers were), many thanks! I'm addicted. And, for others whose interest is piqued, click here to reach the Bookmarks homepage.

2) Awhile back, when I was undergoing some stress (seems to be a recurring theme, alas), a blogger recommended the book, Full Catastrophe Living. (I believe the blogger in question is the wonderful Litlove.) At any rate, I bought it and looked at it, and somehow, it got buried in the pile by my nightstand. Well, two days ago, I had a "dark night of the soul" kind of experience -- you know, like eating broccoli: you don't like it but it's good for you. I woke up in the middle of the night and needed comfort from a book. Lo and behold, I saw the book's spine at the bottom of a huge pile, winking at me, and I pulled it out. Well, it was the right words at the right time. I heartily recommend this book for anyone who suffers from chronic pain, stress, or is undergoing any stormy period. Even if you don't read it right away, you can always pull it from your shelf when you need it.

Happy Easter and Happy Spring to all! (P.S. Check out Amazon.com -- apparently, they sold out of kindle!)


Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge

Danger: The Uppercrust Factor and the Mini-Series Mystique

Rating: 4.5 dynamite sticks out of 5

Plot in a nutshell: The novel chronicles the journeys of Charles Ryder, an Oxford student, once he is befriended by Sebastian, the younger son of an aristocratic family. Sebastian takes Charles to his family's palatial home, Brideshead Castle, where Charles eventually meets the rest of the Marchmain family.

As the story unfolds, Sebastian becomes more distant, troubled, and even derelict with his retreat into alcoholism. Charles also drifts away from the Marchmains, but also finds himself returning to Brideshead and the Marchmain family over the years. In the second book, Charles even becomes involved with one of the sisters.

According to Wikipedia, Waugh desired that the book should be about the "operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters." While religion (Catholicism in particular) is a motif, it did not speak to me as strongly as the idea of what binds people together or forces them apart. It can be a religion or set of ideologies (including aristocracy) and it can also be character, such as someone suffering from alcoholism, or it can be love.

What I liked: The characters were subtly drawn and very complex. The passages between Charles and his father (and cousin) were witty, cutting, and completely original -- albeit not a major part of the plot. Here's a passage where Charles' cousin dispense advice about survival at Oxford:

". . . You're reading History? A perfectly respectable school. The very worst is English Literature and the next worst is Modern Greats. You want either a first or a fourth. There is no value in anything between. Time spent on a good second is time thrown away. You should go to the best lectures - Arkwright on Demosthenes for instance - irrespective of whether they are in your school or not. . . . Clothes. Dress as you do in a country house. Never wear a tweed coat and flannel trousers - always a suit. And go to a London tailor; you get better cut and longer credit. . . . Clubs. Join the Carlton now and the Grid at the beginning of your second year. If you want to run for the Union - and it's not a bad thing to do - make your reputation outside first, at the Canning or the Chatham, and begin by speaking on the paper. . . . Keep clear of Boar's Hill . . ." The sky over the opposing gables glowed and then darkened; I put more coal on the fire and turned on the light, revealing in their respectability his London-made plus fours and his Leander tie. . . . "Don't treat dons like schoolmasters; treat them as you would the vicar at home. . . . You'll find you spend half your second year shaking off the undesirable friends you made in your first. . . . Beware of the Anglo-Catholics - they're all sodomites with unpleasant accents. In fact, steer clear of all the religious groups; they do nothing but harm. . . ."

I mean, this is a character we never see again -- yet how much richness is dispensed with this passage about Charles' family, about the milieu he is now operating in having joined Oxford, and about general snobs like the cousin. And the wit is ever-present. (Come on, you did SMILE at the reference about English Lit, didn't you?)

And I adored the prose. Waugh wastes little in terms of characterization and phrasing; he cuts through the bull in the most erudite manner and with fine and layered observation. Here's another early passage, where Charles recounts how he decorated his college rooms -- which the character equates with his own passage of youth. Note how he not only provides clues about this character in the present, but also through that, sheds more light on the character during his youth. Just as in the passage above, the details are all so carefully chosen; however, the prose flows so beautifully in tone and manner that the details never seem overly laden with portent or overdone. And, finally, the last sentence propels the reader neatly into the plot:

It is easy, retrospectively, to endow one's youth with a false precocity or a false innocence; to tamper with the dates marking one's stature on the edge of the door. I should like to think - indeed I sometimes do think - that I decorated those rooms with Morris stuffs and Arundel prints and that my shelves were filled with seventeenth-century folios and French novels of the second empire in Russia-leather and watered-silk. But this was not the truth. On my first afternoon I proudly hung a reproduction of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" over the fire and set up a screen, painted by Roger Fry with a Provençal landscape, which I had bought inexpensively when the Omega workshops were sold up. I displayed also a poster by McKnight Kauffer and Rhyme Sheets from the Poetry Bookshop, and, most painful to recall, a porcelain figure of Polly Peachum which stood between black tapers on the chimney-piece. My books were meagre and commonplace - Roger Fry's Vision and Design; the Medici Press edition of A Shropshire Lad; Eminent Victorians; some volumes of Georgian Poetry; Sinister Street; and South Wind - and my earliest friends fitted well into this background; they were Collins, a Wykehamist, an embryo don, a man of solid reading and childlike humour, and a small circle of college intellectuals, who maintained a middle course of culture between the flamboyant "æsthetes" and the proletarian scholars who scrambled fiercely for facts in the lodging houses of the Iffley Road and Wellington Square. It was by this circle that I found myself adopted during my first term; they provided the kind of company I had enjoyed in the sixth form at school, for which the sixth form had prepared me; but even in the earliest days, when the whole business of living at Oxford, with rooms of my own and my own cheque book, was a source of excitement, I felt at heart that this was not all that Oxford had to offer.

How many authors cover this much territory in so few paragraphs, much less sustain it for an entire novel? Awesome. Never had a word been so apropos.

What I didn't like: Oh, so unfortunately, the second book simply did not hold up to the skill of the first (in my humble opinion). The plot seemed rushed, as if Waugh had to meet a deadline. He didn't spin out the fine and intricate web of character and theme; rather, he seemed to just employ plot devices, one, two, three, as if he was channeling Dickens on a bad day.

Still, I'm so very very glad I blasted through my intimidation of Waugh and tales of aristocrats, which tend to make me feel deflated and petty-bourgeois, and the fact that the book cover was adorned with photos from the miniseries (should I just watch the miniseries, my inner sloth suggests) starring Jeremy Irons (more British upper-crustedness).


Twoferone memes

I got tagged by Minus the Spine and LitLove for two memes, so, without further ado, here they are. Happy Friday!

Five Kind Things Meme

The rules:

1. List five kind things you do for yourself.

2.List five kind things you do for your closest friend, partner or child.

3.List five kind things you have done for a stranger.

4. Have fun!

5. Tag five people.

Five Kind Things I Do For Myself
1. Read. Well, duh. But reading does so many things for me: Entertains, enlightens, informs. And keeps my brain well-oiled.

2. Blog breaks. Okay, I take blog breaks at work. When I'm at my wits' end or otherwise need a breath of fresh air, I post or peruse my blogroll.

3. Hang with my kitties. When my cats sprawl on top of me as I watch TV or read, I think they soak up all angst.

4. Go to Buddhist meditations and lectures. I just started this in earnest, as what I have been going through with my parents finally pried open my completely locked spiritual door. Catholicism hasn't worked for me since second grade, and I want and need some sort of spiritual grounding. Buddhism gives me peace.

5. Call my friends. I am not a big one on reaching out (who wants to bother other people?), but my friends are always there for me. That has been a big comfort.

Five Kind Things I Do For My Good Friends

1. Listen to them. At least, I hope I do. I make every effort, and even that is not enough. Listening to someone is the best you can do, and it's the hardest oftentimes.

2. Encourage them. I am not really great at giving them my time, but I do have lots of energy and ideas for when they hit their walls.

3. Loan them money. I'm not rich, and I'm certainly not philanthropic, but I don't hesitate when my friends need to borrow. And I'm not a nag about payback (I don't keep very good track, but the kind of people who are my friends are very scrupulous about paying back.) I think this is not only because it helps my friends and I'm not a money-grubber, but also because it's a way to give and I'm not good about giving time.

4. Don't hold grudges. If you've ever been close to grudge-holders, well, you know that this is the gift that keeps on giving.

5. Make them laugh. I don't think anyone can do this enough, and I need to work harder at this, but we do have fun and laugh, my friends and I.

Five Kind Things I Have Done For Strangers
1. Give money. That's pretty easy.

2. Give directions and even help them to their destination, if I can. (I'm not great at directions myself, so this is a trick.)

3. Compliment them. Sometimes, if someone looks like they could use a boost or even when they can't, a nice word goes a long way.

4. Give them advice. Sometimes friends have asked me to help their friends, and usually it involves writing or careers.

5. Let them have the seat.

Three things I had to Learn the Hard Way
1. "You can't get crucified for what you don't say." Still learning that one.

2. "Don't sleep with a man on the first date." Still learning that one.

3. "Mud too thick doesn't stick." An old Polish saying, which I think relates to peasants and hut-building. Nevertheless, it means when people get intimate too fast, it usually falls apart or doesn't last. This relates to point #2 very well. Still learning this one.

Tag (take your pick of the meme): Dorothy W., Iliana, Verbivore, Minus Spine (for the 5 Things), and Dark Orpheus.


Wednesday odds and ends

Book news: Finished Fred Vargas' Seeking Whom He May Devour. Sigh. Not as great as I'd expected...the characters weren't terribly interesting, and the author (who is a woman) kept making very sexist type of comments, in lieu of characterization. (i.e. One of the main characters kept referring to a murder victim as "the old bag.") I'm very hard to please when it comes to mysteries. I also suspect I read the wrong Vargas book. (Check out Smithereens' views on Vargas for a more balanced account of Vargas. Check out Smithereens' views for much good reading, if you haven't visited there!) I shall move on to Jacqueline Winspear's Birds of a Feather and start scrabbling around for Agatha Christie and PD James (is there a contemporary equivalent to these writers?). I'm really trying to bone up on mystery writing, as I'd like to dash one off under a pseudonym. "She says cheerily, her positive tones belying her delusions...."

On a more positive note, LOVED Sylvia Beach's memoir Shakespeare & Co., all about her literary bookstore. It's very light, full of anecdotes that never get too revealing (about her or the people she's informing us about) versus gossip or true revelations. I get the feeling she was trying to be discreet and diplomatic versus being a tell-all. Still, if you are a modern lit lover, this is a great read. She mentions several authors I would like to look up: Valery Larbaud, Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, Bryher, and Mary Butts, among others.

Library travails: I finally got my library card! This is what happened: I returned the books to the outside deposit, which apparently was a mistake, since they were returned to the stacks without any record. I actually hunted two of them down, to prove I did indeed return the books (the librarian was looking at me askance. I don't think he believed someone who had books checked out from 11 years prior would a) find them and b) return them.) At this point, it was more about restoring credibility than getting a library card. Happily, the librarian appreciated my efforts, charged me $11 for a back fine and for a new card (a bargain, if you ask me), and issued me my new license. Which I will use very judiciously, I assure you.

For anyone dealing with seniors: As some of you bloggers may have issues with your elderly parents, here's a link to Jitterbug, a phone service especially for seniors. I am sending one to my mom and dad. My dad is going home, but he is not well enough to care for himself, and my mom (I fear) is in early Alzheimers or dementia. Her behavior has gone beyond mere stress from my dad's situation, unfortunately. This phone may be a literal lifeline. Hope it may help some of you, if you need it.


Friday notes

Just a note to say my dad is being released home next week. This is good news, of course, although there is a long road ahead for him, my mom, and my whole family.

Breathing hopeful breaths and staying positive. Thanks again to everyone who sent their good wishes!


Thoughts for Thursday - What your books say about you ... and a link

Following up on yesterday's post...what does your big pile of books say about you? Pay attention to not only how they are ordered or displayed, but how many do you have? What are the titles? Which titles do you read and which do you buy (maybe guiltily) with the best of intentions but somehow never manage to crack open?

These are the questions that can reveal what your books have to say about you.

I took a brief look around, and this is what I discovered: My books, once arranged by broad subject (nonfiction, history, biography, writing and reference, fiction, short stories) are a bit more in disarray since I moved five years ago. I never quite recovered! I didn't really think about that until now. Five years, and I only moved from the bottom floor to the top floor, but I just haven't regained my footing - guess I need to devote a few solid vacation days to serious household organization.

Judging from the sheer number and how much space I devote to them, my books say that reading is very important to me. Not only "reading" in general, but literature in particular: My fiction titles include many classics, a wide breadth of short stories, great geographical representations from Russia and Spain to America and England, and a smattering of contemporary fiction of generally the highest caliber. Combined with my series of "how-to-write" books, I'd say this makes me a writer, dammit.

I also am a person very interested in current events and history. I may be reincarnated from Tudor England or Revolutionary Russia. I dip in and out of the spiritual realm (particulary Buddhism) and have shunted the few relationship books (even a Dr. Phil book, heaven help me) into the darkest recesses of my closets. (I don't think I like what my books have to say about me in THAT regard.)

Generally, I like what my books have to say about me. I'm endlessly curious and a perpetual student. And that's okay in my book.

Looking for that special gift?

A friend of mine offers lovely, personalized messages (perfect for sharing your favorite literary quote with a special someone)...check out her website.


Your books and what they may say about you

Borrowing a page from Dorothy W., I read this article debating the etiquette of having unread books on your shelves.

The author cites Ezra Klein from the American Prospect as saying:

"Bookshelves are not for displaying books you’ve read. Those books go in your office, or near your bed, or on your Facebook profile. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be."

Now, I think it's a bit pompous to purposely dislay books you've read in your office (uh, don't have much room in a cubicle for THAT) or bedstand (isn't that where you keep books you are reading?) -- and I don't much care for boasting via Facebook or on a blog as much as I do recording it for yourself and for the possible reading pleasure of other bookworms.

But I do like the idea that books on your shelves convey the type of person you would like to be. Take a look at your own stacks tonight -- what kind of person do you want to be? I will do the same and report tomorrow.

Oh, and here's a takeaway from that article for you, a quote from Francis Bacon, which beautifully encapsulates my feelings about owning and hording hundreds of books:

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”


Brideshead Revisted (and Library Revisited)

Heading into a very busy time at work -- and before I do, wanted to mention that I finished Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The only other Waugh book I've read was The Loved One (very long ago), but this book seemed intimidating to me, and I thought it would be a good choice for My Year of Reading Dangerously. I really enjoyed it! I want to post some passages later this week, but for now, I will say the descriptions, characterizations, plot, theme -- all subtle, beautifully observed, and complex. The second book fell apart a little for me: Seemed too hurried and unbelievable, and didn't hold up as well against the first book which was stunning.

About the library book snafu: Well, although I turned the books in, they don't have a record of them! So, I still can't get my library card. I must admit, I feel like I deserve this one! I am supposed to call the Library Supervisors. I feel like I'm being sent to the prinicpal's office! (Bloglily, you indeed have all my sympathies!)

Now, off to big-time web updates...Cheerio!


Daily Lit

I am sure I am among the last to know about this: Daily Lit.

They email you a page of a book a day. Some are free!

I picked a shortish Agatha Christie to start. I am not sure how I'll like the experience of reading via email, but I am willing to try.


Mitford Letters, Book Sale & A Borrower's Tale

I am a little frantic today. No time to write the hilarious post that came to me at about 3 in the morning about the "Three Thangs I Learned the Hard Way" challenge that Snacky Wombat tagged me on.

So, I share some fun stuff:

The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters. Doesn't that sound like a fabulous collection? BoldType has links to myriad reviews. (Oh, and if you haven't already done so, sign up for BoldType. It's a nifty little e-newsletter.)

NYRB Moving Sale. It's your chance to get a huge discount on some great titles.

"How A Recovering Bookaholic Recovered Borrowed Books: A Tale of Literary Redemption," by LK: Once upon a time, depending on how you look at it, a Recovering Bookaholic Kitten took the first step in giving up to a Higher Power: She marched virtuously to her local library, intent on getting a library card just in time to close up Library Lovers Month. She presented her neatly printed application and proper ID, only to be told by the librarian that she had four books outstanding...since 1997! Ms. Kitten didn't even remember setting foot in the library in 1997, much less checking out (and not returning) four books. She ducked her head, and disguising her tucked-tail between the legs as a daring fashion accessory, slinked out with great consternation and even sheepishness (which is difficult for a kitten to pull off). As soon as she returned to her lair, the kitten somehow managed to locate the outlaw books. Within 10 minutes. It was like she had a homing radar. This kitten has about 600 books all told), on six bookshelves, in absolutely no order. Our heroine triumphantly deposited the quad and tonight will return to the scene of the crime to get her library card. After all, she is a taxpayer. And it is amnesty week. (In reparation, she plans to donate a slew of books. This may divert some of the bad book karma to Barnes & Noble.) We hope she and future borrowed books may co-exist happily together. The end.


Blogger belched

I think Blogger had indigestion this weekend; my 3 most recent posts seem to have been passed.

Ah, well. Nothing lasts.


Your brain on books

From Laura Miller, in a Salon book review of Susan Jacoby's new book, The Age of American Unreason:

"I believe that reading fosters a particular mental stamina, discipline, creativity and flexibility that can't be acquired from other media. In a future dominated by complex social systems, technology and science, only people who can think in this fashion will have enough understanding of how the world works to actually run it. And to remain truly democratic, America should be made up of citizens who are able to think that way."


"As Jacoby astutely points out, reading does not "constitute a continuous invasion of individual thought and consciousness ... printed works do not take up mental space simply by virtue of being there; attention must be paid or their content, whether simple or complex, can never be truly assimilated." Unless you make a point of turning off the TV and putting the computer to sleep, they can easily fill up your day and mind, gradually atrophying the mental muscles uniquely exercised by reading. Abstaining, for many people, turns out to be as easy as bypassing a cupboard stocked with chips and cookies and snacking on carrot sticks instead. To hope that the American public will pick the nutritious but difficult over the easy and tasty is to bet on a losing horse."

Related links:
Twilight of the Books, New Yorker
Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading, Harpers (by Ursula K. LeGuin; subscription required)
How Reading is Being Reimagined, Chronicle of Higher Eduation


From "Living Without Regret"

Happy Friday, everyone! Thanks again for all of your good thoughts and energy -- it means a lot. My dad is now out of the hospital and back into a rehab center. I think it will be more of the same for a while. Meantime, my mom is pretty much in meltdown. She is not visiting my dad, she lashes out verbally at everyone, and she is sinking into paranoia. Very difficult situation.

In the midst of all the struggle, there is reading. I am so grateful to have it in my life! (And you too, dear bloggers!) I am so grateful that people who have gone before me were courageous and strong and generous enough to put their words on paper.

Here are some excerpts from a painful yet helpful book, Living Without Regret: Growing Old in Light of Tibetan Buddhism by Arnaud Maitland. What makes this painful is the book's genesis: Maitland wrote it as a way to come to terms with his beloved mother's descent into Alzheimer's. He offers the wisdom of his own Buddhist practice as a way to readers to cope with the aging process (and life in general).

We can foster an attentive and interested mind by asking ourselves neutral questions, free from hidden prejudices or emotions: “How can I do my work better?” “Is there something we still need?” “What would benefit (the situation/person)?” Neutral questions like “what,” “why not,” and “how else” awaken awareness.


The capacity for compassion is inherent in every human being, but it lies beyond the domain of the I. In the same way as egocentrism is a feature of the small mind, compassion is characteristic of the great mind. When we practice compassion, the boundary between self and others begins to dissolve, and the grip of I relaxes. We feel clear and at ease.


Change is the dominant flavor of reality. What if we could take taste change as if it were a delicacy? No longer would be have to cling to the illusion that ignoring time lets us hold it at bay. We could let go of the need for control, knowing that it serves only to mask fear of the uncertainty inherent in change. Instead, rejoicing in the fact that nothing is fixed, we could allow ourselves to yield to transformation. Change offers wonderment and vitality. Since everything is open, things can always improve: we can take refuge in that knowledge. Time is our partner and our teacher.


Happy Valentine's Day!

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me

Emily Dickinson


Thoughts for Thursday - It's Thursday?

Oh, my, February is lurching by, and I'm struggling. Earlier this week, my father was readmitted to the hospital; he is weak and in ICU but most likely will go back to the skilled nursing facility in a few days. My poor dad! He must feel like a punching bag, what with all the moving and PT and tests and IVs.

This, plus the latest learning cycle on my relatively new job, has rendered my brain matter into kibble.

With a mind of mush, I'm in the pick-up-put-down mode of reading. Having picked up and put down several other books, including Chabon's Yiddish Policement's Union (fantastic writing, but too difficult for kibble-head), I decided to focus on books that I can read in chunks. And I'm trying to find books to make myself understand or come to terms with old age. Happily, there are books just made for that purpose! I'm delving into:

At Seventy: A Journal by May Sarton. She gives a special spin to the mundane and makes 70 look enviable.

Living Without Regret: Growing Old in the Light of Tibetan Buddhism by Arnaud Maitland. I'm 3/4 of the way through. This is great stuff. I will share some pearls of wisdom soon.

The Gentleman from San Francisco by Ivan Bunin. Short stories are great for short spurts of reading. I have been meaning to dip my toes into this one. Will also focus on the reading at A Curious Singularity.

Was it only last year I read my second volume of Proust, plus Henry James and Cervantes and Hugo? Wistful sigh.



Tomorrow is Super Duper mcWhopper Tuesday in California and the states. And I don't know who I'm voting for in the presidential primary. I formerly was an Edwards supporter -- I can't resist those populist messages. Now that he has dropped out, I don't know which Democrat to support (it goes without saying that I've never voted Republican, and I would never vote for John "Stay in Iraq for 100 Years" McCain). But between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton -- geez I don't know.

But, I will get out the vote. I have 24 hours to figure it out!


Thoughts for Thursday - none!

I have been wanting to post here, but find my mind is not cooperating. This is usually when I go for the "tried and true" :: A List.

This time, I am listing my top "survivor" story categories. I like stories of people overcoming hardships, disasters, war. It gives me courage to face my own troubles, and it gives me great faith of the human spirit in the face of adversity. I tend to revisit these types of books when I'm dangerously close to feeling sorry for myself.

So, here's my list, definitely not definitive -- add your own! I'm always looking for new survivor stories!


1. WAR STORIES: The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank, Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski, and Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov. I probably have more of these kinds of books than any -- could there have been any more suffering than what people went through during the two World Wars? Man's inhumanity to man, especially in light of technological developments, is disturbing and horrifying and depressing. But, as these books show, some men truly rise above it. The abilities of these writers to overcome the unthinkable, through their lives and through their writing, are neverending lessons in courage.

2.DISASTERS AT SEA: Titanic by Wyn Craig Wade and The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. I guess it's one of the most terrifying scenarios humans can imagine: Being stranded at sea. Titanic is endlessly interesting, because it is so unbelievable. Unsinkable ship strikes iceberg, sinks in less than 2 hours and kills thousands, including many captains of industry. The Perfect Storm is compelling because of the way Junger tells the story; swordfishing never was so fascinating.

3. TRIAL BY ICE (3-way tie) Ordeal by Hunger, George R. Stewart, Alive!by Piers Paul Read, and Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I guess the moral of these tales is don't get caught in the snow. Seriously, the first two books, which I've read multiple times, are harrowing but really amaze me in terms of what humans are capable of when it comes to survival. Into Thin Air is more of a cautionary tale rather than a survival story, but it has its elements of heroism and endurance as well.

4. FAMILY MATTERS: Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, A Shot in the Heart by Mikhail Gilmore, The Roosevelt Women by Betty Boyd Caroli, Nicholoas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie, Cheaper by the Dozen by Ernestine Gilbreth, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I'm sure there's more, but I'll stop here. These tales range from tales of complete dysfunction (Shot in the Heart) to healthy families pulling together in times of trouble (Cheaper by the Dozen)to crumbling dynasties (Nicholas and Alexandra. Nothing like reading about another family's dysfunctions to make you feel all smug inside! (Just kidding.)


World Lit Resource

Here's a terrific list of World Lit resources from Eva at A Striped Armchair.

Thank you, Eva!

Just a quick note: Got back from the 3-day flyback to my home to visit father and family. Very productive. I'm exhausted! Dad is making progress, but most likely will need to remain in some sort of skilled nursing care. Tough to get him and mom to grasp that. But, it's really a day at a time at this point...

Thanks again to everyone for their good wishes.

We'll be back to book blogging soon, I hope. Will I be glad when my brain can handle Proust again!


Any very rare men out there?

Your Personality is Very Rare (INFP)

Your personality type is dreamy, romantic, elegant, and expressive.

Only about 5% of all people have your personality, including 6% of all women and 4% of all men

You are Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving.

Thanks to SFP at Pages Turned!

Austen Power! On Masterpiece Theatre

Time to lighten things up.

Have you seen this? PBS is running a Jane-a-thon, featuring ALL of their Jane Austen adaptations this month. Okay, it's too late to see Persuasion, but there is plenty of good programming left.

This is a fun site -- check out the men of Austen and the newsletter sign-up.


A loss for words

I've been wondering what to post here. It's only proper Netiquette, in my view, to follow up on my last blog post; I couldn't brush off a reply anymore than I could refuse to answer a sympathy card. I just am not clear about what to say.

I can and will thank everyone for their prayers and good wishes. Somehow, I feel there are many unseen hands strung all over the world for me, like invisible prayer flags. So comforting.

Beyond that, the news is uncertain. My father is in a skilled care facility (read: nursing home), where he will receive physical therapy to see how much mobility can be restored to him. At any moment, but no later than the next three weeks, he will need to be moved...somewhere. He will need care, and my mother can no longer help him by herself at home. His care may suck up every vestige of their combined savings, which would leave mother in the lurch for the rest of her life. It is not clear how long he will live. With skilled care, he could live another year or two. Or his heart could fail tonight.

I'm flying home to do what I can. My main goal is to say goodbye to my father.

Needless to say, most of my planned reading has screeched to a halt. I did find a book that provides some solace: Living without Regret.

I also find a measure of comfort in reading about how other people overcame difficulties in their lives: Isak Dinesen's bio by Judith Thurman and Maxim Gorky's memoir about his childhood are good company in this respect.

Thanks again, dear readers, for your thoughts. My life is teeter-tottering right now, but at some point it will tip upright and steady again. Words seem useless bits of flotsam right now, torn paper tossed into a wind.


Tough times

Dear Blogfellows,

I am having a bit of a time, I'm afraid. My father is very ill, and the family situation is rough. Blogging may be sporadic and fitful.

Please send positive thoughts and prayers our way.


A look back...and a look ahead

Happy 2008, everybody. I don't know about you, but I'm very glad the holidays are over and done with for another year. Frankly, 2007 was stressful. I switched jobs, for one thing -- and as I reread my journal, I realized that the year as a whole was riddled with anxiety. I took a major trip to Spain and Morocco -- a stress, yes, but a positive one. (Although getting traveler's sickness added a debit on the negative stress side.)

I thought I'd take a look back for myself at what I read this year. Although I lost my list when I had that Blogger sidebar snafu, I've recreated a fair proximation, give or take a few books. I am really impressed at what I managed to read in 2007, both in quantity and quality. One of my "reading resolutions" last New Year's Day was to read nightly -- and to read more classics. I can rightly say 'Mission Accomplished' on both counts. (Sans the aircraft carrier, of course.)

As for 2008, I have joined the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge which, with Carl V.'s RIP Challenge, will probably be the most I will be able to manage. I'm straggling through Don Delillo's Underworld (I'm not finding the characters or story very interesting or progressing, but he's one of my "challenging" contemporary authors to read) -- as soon as I'm done (if I ever am!) I'm starting in on the third Proust volume, The Guermantes Way.

Below is my list of Books Read in 2007. Boldfaced titles are the ones I enjoyed and remembered most. The only "classic" that I did not enjoy was I Am Legend. I did not boldface Trilby -- it wasn't horrible; simply not in the same league as the others. All the rest were superb -- there is a reason they call them classics! Other thoughts on Reading in 2007:

* Joyous discoveries: Dracula -- a complete revelation. I didn't expect to enjoy this one as much as did. Runner-up: Hunchback of Notre Dame. I really struggled with the long detailed passages that took me out of the story. But the ending pulled everything together marvelously -- it took my breath away. Not many contemporary writers do that, you know!
* Authors to read more of: I just finished Murakami's After Dark -- it blew me away. I can't wait to read more of him. Alas, I cannot get my hands on my copy of Kafka on the Shore. Runner-up: Falling Man by Don DeLillo. I was intrigued by the fact that many DeLillo fans didn't like this book, and I admired it a lot. It seems that this book is not representative of his writing. So, it's time to read more...
* Best nonfiction: American Bloomsbury was a delight to read. On the other end of the spectrum, Imperial Life in Emerald City was disturbing to read...but worthwhile nevertheless.

As for this year, I just have one resolution to fulfill: Must*renew*library*card.

Cheers to reading great in '08!

Books read in 2007

Classic fiction

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, Marcel Proust
Trilby, George Du Maurier
Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
Dracula, Bram Stoker
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Persuasion, Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
Love in Excess, Eliza Haywood
Don Quixote, Book 1, Cervantes
Voyage in the Dark, Jean Rhys
The Subterraneans, Jack Kerouac
Miss Lonelyhearts, Nathanael West

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas

Modern/contemporary fiction
My Uncle Napoleon, Iraj Pezeshkzad, Azar Nafisi, and Dick Davis
Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood
Falling Man, Don Delillo

Slow Man, JM Coetzee
Memoirs of a Muse by Laura Vapynar
After Dark, Haruki Murakami
Windows on the World, Frederic Beigbeder
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Assassin’s Gate, George Packer
Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran

A Strange Piece of Paradise, Terri Jentz
Jane Austen, Claire Tomalin
The Beautiful Cigar Girl, Daniel Tashower
9/11 Commission Report
Sleeping Where I Fall, Peter Coyote
Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire by Morris Berman
The London Scene: Six Essays by Virginia Woolf

The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant
American Bloomsbury, Susan Cheever
Ghost Hunters, Deborah Blum
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown