Short Blog for a Short Book

short blog short book
Last week I blogged about Susan Hankla as a teacher. But thinking about Susan, and about the RTD article about her as a poet that prompted that blog, I decided to explore her writing. Besides ordering Clinch River, I also acquired a copy of this 1979 chapbook.

 

There are eight poems in this chapbook:

 

  1. “The Air Is Getting Thin”
  2. “Lost Glove”
  3. “Burning Your Letters”
  4. “Hours”
  5. “Pleasing Mrs. Faris”
  6. “Three Foolish Things”
  7. “A Larger Pain”
  8. “Running Home”
Each poem includes rich images, unexpected transitions, and surprising endings. You can read this book in minutes. Or hours. Or over days. But if you can get access, do read it.

 

Only 350 copies were printed, so there aren’t that many copies floating around—which is unfortunate.

 

Good luck in your quest!

Consider Personal Symbols

I recently read The Thorn Chronicles by Kimberly Loth. This is a 4-book series for an early teen audience.
thorn chronicles
[Source: Goodreads]
It’s a fairly familiar plot line of good versus evil, with an eventual twist of trying to mediate and balance those forces. (Frankly, the books could use a good edit to catch repetitions, omitted words and using the almost-right word, e.g. viscous when the context suggests the right word was vicious.) I’m writing about it because within this series, the two major women characters had symbolic plant connections.

 

The series opens with Naomi, a sixteen-year-old girl, running away from an abusive home. While at home, Naomi gathered strength and peace working in the rose garden her grandmother started. Each chapter begins with a rose the name of which ties to the content of the chapter.

 

The characters age slowly, but they do age. Their save-the-world challenges are so big-stage that the reader (I, at least) must readjust when there is a reference to going to school, being suspended for a week, etc.

 

I’ve read that YA fiction features protagonists who are 3 to 5 years older than the target audience. Perhaps that’s the reason for the shift in the second two books.

 

secrets kimberly loth
[Source: Goodreads]
In the third book, the focus shifts to the POV of a younger protege of Naomi’s. She was 12 or 13 when Naomi befriended her, and is now 15 or 16. The plant symbolism shifts to cacti. Each chapter starts with cactus facts, names, and/or descriptions.

 

lies kimberly loth
[Source: Goodreads]
In the latest book of the series, both women are prominent. Each chapter begins with a plant epigram, either rose or cactus, signaling POV.

 

The point here is that having signature symbols can ease transitions between/among POVs. It needn’t be plants. It could be pets. It could be something astrological, or mineral elements, or whatever your imagination suggests.

 

Bottom line: Consider some symbolic representation for your protagonist and/or other major characters.

Creative Nonfiction = Literary Nonfiction = Narrative Nonfiction

naked drunk writing adair lara
I bought this book recently because I’ve enrolled in Creative Nonfiction, a class that begins later this month at the VMFA Studio School. I haven’t taken a writing class in years, but why not?

 

Once upon a time I took a class with a title something like “Writing Memoir Using Fiction Techniques.” It was a great class. And now there is a whole genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives written to entertain. There’s quite a good Wikipedia essay about it, and/or you can check out www.creativenonfiction.org.

 

Once I started thinking about it, I realized how much of my pleasure reading is some version of creative nonfiction.

 

Dean King is a Richmond writer who is a master of the form. He brings history to life, whether he’s writing about a shipwreck off the coast of Africa in 1815 or the legendary American Hatfields and McCoys.

 

Three of my other favorites are Bill Bryson, Charles Panati, and Mary Roach.

 

Charles panati books
Each is an educator in his or her own fashion. Panati gathers fascinating bits and pieces, often organized around quirky themes.

 

mary roach books
Mary Roach researches current themes and issues, including their historical roots and cross-cultural connections. And she’s humorous!

 

bill bryson books
Bill Bryson varies between historical research (e.g., Mother Tongue) and personal experience (e.g., A Walk in the Woods).

 

And then there are the personal adventure stories. The first of these I read was Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille about living alone in the Adirondacks, isolated by winter.
woodswoman anne lebastille
The next creative nonfiction book on my agenda will probably be Wild (2013) by Cheryl Strayed. Obviously, I don’t jump on the lists of just published books! But I expect a thrilling read.
wild cheryl strayed
Bottom line: Creative nonfiction can be as varied as fiction. And why not try writing a genre I so enjoy reading? I’ll keep you posted.

Read This Book!

meatballs people gary sotomeatballs people gary soto
It’s a fast, pithy read. The book is small enough to carry virtually anywhere: 6” x 4” x 3/8” and 141 pp. and every one of those pages has a lot of white space.

 

read book meatballs people gary soto
According to Soto, “[Proverbs] don’t take effort to read. They are not riddles or cagey games, but do require an ‘aha’ moment.” Here are some of his proverbs I especially like.

 

If you plant a garden
Get ready to weed
 
You become corrupt
In increments
 
In love with his baritone voice
The politician
Believes what he says
 
A backbone
Is more useful
Than a wishbone
 
As Soto so aptly observed in his preface to this book, “Also, proverbs, in all languages and over the centuries, are quips that speak of our human nature.”

 

Gary Soto is of Mexican-American heritage. His work has taken him from the fields of the San Joaquin Valley to his literary life in Berkeley, California. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley and at University of California, Riverside. You can read about his awards and achievements in Wikipedia and visit his website at garysoto.com.

 

gary soto 2001 national book festival
Gary Soto’s literary oeuvre is as varied as it is extensive, including 14 poetry collections, 21 books for children/young adults, a series of children’s picture books in Spanish and English featuring a cat named Chato, 8 memoirs, 1 play, 2 films, and 4 edited volumes.

 

gary soto meatballs people
Meatballs for the People: Proverbs to Chew On (Red Hen Press, 2017) can be found in the poetry section.

 

“You can always spot bright people. They are reading a book.” Gary Soto.

Top Literary Posts About 2017

top literary posts 2017

It’s the end of the year, which means everyone is posting their “Top ___ of 2017” lists. Among them, of course, are the lists for readers. After seeing these posts left and right, I’ve collected a few to make a masterpost. Enjoy!

And, as an added bonus:

Whatever your “reading about reading” preference, make it a goal to make 2018 a great year for reading!

Wanted: A Book You Can Put Down

It’s almost a truism that “I couldn’t put it down” is about as high praise as a book can get. And yet, it might not always be the highest recommendation!

 

wanted book can put sinco christy esmahan
Right now, I’m reading Sinco: A Love Story Set in Spain, the second book in the Cantabria American School series. Bueno, the first book in the series, was part of my reading for Spain. I wrote about it after I returned.
 
[Source: Amazon]
But back to Sinco. The characters remain the same as in Bueno, with all their individual concerns, fears, and grudges. Some characters are brought to new prominence, others have faded a bit, but the point is, it is a smooth continuation of the plight of struggling young first-time private school director Harvey Jones.

 

His nemises at the school have nicknamed him Sinco because when Jones is pronounced in the Spanish way, it becomes Sin Cojones. These enemies are becoming ever more vindictive and plotting.

 

The book is funny, full of human foibles, and steeped in Spanish culture. It’s a good read.

 

And I can put it down at any time! Indeed, I’ve done so several times times recently. And this is a good thing! This is a hectic time for me—as for many—so I treasure a book I can pick up for a few minutes or an hour, put aside, and not struggle to get back into the story when I pick it up again.

 

For your holiday reading pleasure, I recommend Sinco, a book you can put down!

Thankful for Books—

—AND THE ABILITY AND TIME TO READ THEM!  Although the book mentioned here are Thanksgiving themed, they are good reads any time.

 

Thankful for books thanksgiving turkey
Murder and mayhem. Janet Evanovich has three Thanksgiving themed mysteries: Thanksgiving, Foul Play, and The Grand Finale. Apparently Evanovich knows the potential of holidays for drama!

 

Also, Thanksgiving Angels: A Mercy Allcutt Mystery by Alice Duncan.

 

For more options, click here!
thankful for books thanksgiving
Otherwise, here are some suggestions from Goodreads readers.
  • Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch
  • The Ghost at the Table: A Novel by Susanne Berne
  • The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
  • A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
  • Thanksgiving by Michael Dibdin
  • A Thanksgiving Miracle by Wells Earl Draughon
  • The Thanksgiving Virgin by Charles Haas

 

 

thankful for books turkey
 Classics
  • An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
thankful for books silver turkey
BOTTOM LINE: Be thankful for online searches, for you can find Thanksgiving books for all ages and genres!
 
thankful for books happy thanksgiving

Books, Travel, Life is Good!

spain book
In a few days I am leaving for Portugal and Spain. For the modern traveler setting off on such an excursion, the expected reading is likely to be a travel guide. In that type of book, I highly recommend the Lonely Planet guides. They are clear, accurate, and comprehensive.

 

virginia is for mysteries vivian lawry
But those are not the only books people turn to for travel guidance. At one point, Virginia Is For Mysteries was ranked #3 in the Amazon list of travel and tourism—presumably because each story was set in a different Virginia location. People at book signings have said they actually used the book to decide where to go on vacations. One woman said she and her friend were in the process of visiting all the places written about!

 

charlaine harris malice domestic mystery most historical
A similar volume is likely to appeal to the armchair traveler. My story in this volume is set in Civil War Richmond, but other authors chronicle death and destruction from Puritan Massachusetts to post-WWII settings, and from Buffalo to Wales.

 

bill bryson books
Although not always writing of travel, when he does, Bill Bryson is one of my favorites. He has a slanted view that appeals to me, along with rich detail, humor, and a fresh take on familiar places.
Perhaps you read Blue Highways when it first came out in 1981. It was a bestseller. And it has staying power, for it was reissued in 2012! William Least Heat Moon traveled what one might call secondary roads or scenic byways—the ones shown on road maps as blue lines. He has an amazing voice for taking one off the interstate!

 

Bottom line: Travel reading is good, and travel is made even better by reading!

For Readers Who Love a Good Series

alexander mccall smith the woman who walked in sunshine
 
Here’s a name you should know: Alexander McCall Smith. He is a British author—a prolific British author—born in Zimbabwe, best known for his #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. The series features Precious Ramotswe and contains 17 books to date, all set in Botswana. Some of these were presented on HBO.

 

My sister-in-law lived in this area of Africa for seven years, and she said the depictions are absolutely authentic. But McCall is so much more than one series! His writing is excellent, his characters grab your heart, he uses lots of humor, and he’s an all-around feel-good read!

 

alexander mccall smith the bertie project
Set in Edinburgh, the 44 Scotland Street series contains 11 novels, with wonderful people portraits and gentle satire. Bertie is the center of it all.

 

alexander mccall smith a distant view of everything
Also set in Edinburgh, The Sunday Philosophy Club series, featuring Isobel Dalhousie, contains 14 books. Isobel is a professional philosopher and amateur sleuth. USA TODAY said “Isobel is a force to be reckoned with.” NEWSWEEK said, “Remarkable. . . [Isobel] is such good copany, it’s hard to believe she is fictional.”

 

alexander mccall smith unusual uses for olive oil
Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld is the somewhat bumbling academic sleuth in the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series. Only 4 books to date, but we can hope for more. I don’t know what McCall’s experiences are with his setting in Germany, but he certainly nailed the academic politics and atmosphere!

 

alexander mccall smith corduroy mansions
So far there are 3 books in the Corduroy Mansions series. The location is Pimlico; the cast of characters are the residents of Corduroy Mansions, plus McCall Smith’s first canine star, Freddie de la Hay.

 

alexander mccall smith the great cake mystery
McCall Smith has written 5 books in two series for children: School Ship Tobermory Children’s Series and the Precious Children’s Series/Precious Ramotswe Mysteries for Young Readers.

 

dream angus alexander mccall smith
[Source: Amazon]
As if all of that were not enough, Alexander McCall Smith has published 11 stand-alone books, set in various times and places. For example, Dream Angus is set in twentieth-century Scotland. Dream Angus comes at night bestowing dreams. He’s also the god of love, youth and beauty. Magical realism, anyone?

 

TWO REASONS TO READ ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH: 1) If you like series, you can stick with him for a long time, and 2) if you are a writer, skip hither and yon among his offerings to sample one writer’s diversity.

Horror and Haints for Halloween Reading

pumpkin decoration
With less than a week till Halloween, it’s the perfect time to read about ghoulies, beasties, and things that go bump in the night. Although there are religious bits here and there—Allhallowtide being the time in the liturgical year when three-day observances remember the dead, including the hallows (saints), martyrs, and faithful departed—most of us don’t think first of saints and martyrs. After pumpkins, it seems to be a time for witches, ghosts, zombies, and the undead.

witch book raymond buckland
Well, it’s time to stop thinking of witches as the Wicked Witch of the West. This is a non-fiction reference book that provides all sorts of information about witches. And lots of other interesting info as well, organized alphabetically.

 

For example, under garlic, it says, “In folklore, thought to be a deterrent to vampire attack and also to witchcraft and the evil eye.” It’s supposed to protect against plague. Roman soldiers ate it for strength and courage.  But it’s also supposed to have grown in Satan’s footprint when he left Paradise.
down there huysmans
And speaking of Satan, check out the old novel Down There (La Bas): A Study in Satanism, first published in serial form in 1891, but there is a gripping translation published in 1958.

 

vampires burial death
Interest in vampires waxes and wanes. For an effective blend of folklore and reality, see Paul Barber’s book. Among other questions that surround this book is, “What are the most efficient ways of getting rid of an unwanted body?”

 

food for dead michael bell
Michael E. Bell followed the trail of New England’s vampires. In it you can find ghostly tales, glowing corpses, rearranged bones, and more.

 

great big book horrible things
If you want reality rather than folklore, consider atrocities. Many people hear the word “atrocity” and think the Holocaust, Auschwitz, and Birkenau. But this book outlines scores of atrocities associated with war and political upheaval. Read them and weep.

 

book dead lloyd mitchinson
War atrocities are truly horrible. If you want a lighter look at things, Check out Lloyd & Mitchinson, who set out to sketch lives of the justly famous and the undeservedly obscure. Expect some humor here!
complete stories poems edgar allen poe
If reality is too painful, and folklore raises troubling questions about the unknown, there’s always fiction!  Edgar Allan Poe is Halloween reading at its best. He may be more suspense than horror, but “The Tell-tale Heart” and “Fall of the House of Usher” are enough to make anyone wakeful. And being short stories, his works come in easily manageable bites.

 

salems lot stephen king
[Photo credit: StephenKing.com]
night shift stephen king
[Photo credit: Too Much Horror Fiction]
For a contemporary novelist, think Stephen King. He writes horror and supernatural stories. His other works of suspense, science fiction, and fantasy are still good Halloween reads. (As happens so often with prolific writers, his more recent books are a bit formulaic, so go with the earlier ones.)

 

creepy skeleton woods
When it comes to Halloween reading, there’s something for everyone!