Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perfect Imperfection

July has proved to be a book review month for me. Lots of poolside reading. My latest library pick is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Fifty years of life in the newspaper business (English language edition) in Rome, proves exhilarating, desperate, outrageous, sad, and dramatic.
Each chapter is its own little vignette as we meet the obituary writer, the editor-in-chief, the financial officer, a stringer wanna-be, and more. The personal dramas are intertwined with work, bylines, and egos.
This is a fast, fun read as the world of print gives way to the Internet and uncertainty. Tom Rachman captures the writing and publishing world with a keen sense of humor.
I kept waiting for my chapter to appear.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Savor a Swing Through the Past

It's the Wild West in the publishing world these days with mergers between the big guys, e-publishing issues, questions on brick and mortar establishments (Barnes & Noble vs Borders wars), the power of Amazon, the power of Apple, and discussions on whether people even read anymore.
In Abilene, Texas, a small independent press, Silver Boomer Books, is slowly building a nice collection of anthologies as well as encouraging a talented stable of authors with their Laughing Cactus and Eagle Press imprints.
From the Porch Swing is the latest anthology, and this collection of poems and stories treats the reader to memories of grandparents. One hundred seven authors were chosen from a worldwide submission process (aah, the ease of the internet and email). USA, England, Hungary, South Africa - a World Cup of writers look back fondly on grandparents who shaped their lives.
I'll brag now about my four poems all based on Julia Hughes Crowther, my paternal grandmother. Rainbow (p.88) was inspired by her crocheted afghans. Bouquet (p.125) is about plucking dandelions for her. Grandmothers applaud anything. Brush Your Teeth (p 259) - fascination and fear of her dentures. And finally, Duty Bound (p.270) - the girdle.
The Wild West is slowly being tamed by words - savor the read.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fifty More Years - A Classic Read

July is almost over and I haven't wished this timeless classic a Happy Birthday. Fifty years old this month and still a darn good read. Plus, I think it's okay to link the book to the movie version - Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch and he doesn't let us down.
I've read different columns this month (Time, WSJ, and EW) and they discuss whether To Kill a Mockingbird would have the same success today. There is debate on whether the story would be considered in the YA category (EW 7/2/10 p. 78), and consequently less likely to have been considered for a Pulitzer Prize.
In today's world, would Harper Lee have to prove she's working on another book, plus a blog, and has a "following"? It's easy to play the what if? game.
Let's just appreciate Ms.Lee's gift for words, characters (Scout, Jem, Boo, and Atticus), and her tale of a Southern town roiled by accusations. The book's quiet humor, compassion, and intensity stand the tests of time.
Happy Birthday To Kill a Mockingbird!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sweet Suite Airhogs

Summer interlude from my plethora of July book reviews. This is the seventh inning stretch from serious blogging, and a night out in the Grand Prairie Entertainment District. Sounds fancy and actually it's quite pleasant. Nestled between Lone Star Park (horse races) and Verizon Music Hall, is the Quik Trip Park for Airhogs Baseball. My husband, Ray, is a sports guy and we got a hook-up for a suite. Sweet! The best of both worlds - crowd noise and heat, then step inside to cool air. No Saturday night square dancing, scrabble, or squash for us. Hot date on a hot night - summer baseball.

The mascot arrives in fine style.

Cotton candy dreams - let's spin a tale from my youth. If you wanted to learn how to bat or play catch at the Crowther household, you called out ,"Mom." This was an equal opportunity home. Sports - mom. Spell check, essay re-writes, or a poster board - dad. Here's a quote from my brother, "Never wanted Dad to play catch, because I'd have to wear a color coordinated outfit and not get dirty." He exaggerates ... a bit. My sister's memory, "Dad was inside reading the paper, unless a wiffle ball hit a car. Then he'd appear and give a disapproving "Heyyyy" with pursed lips." She captured the image perfectly. I think David played Little League one year. He wasn't much for team sports. Can't speak for Lori, but I was usually last picked for a neighborhood game. Aah - memories.
The Airhog boys are 0 -12 now. Won't be called up anytime soon for the big show. Nonetheless, I'm sure they have fun and are living their dream. Crowds cheer, root, jeer, and order another beer. The night ends with some fireworks - great view from our suite, and actually there's a breeze at 10:30 pm. Another HOT Saturday night - genre - sports and romance. What a pair!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Christmas in July - Tinsel

Going crazy at the library with a variety of genres. Poetry, Non-fiction, and I'm currently reading South of Broad by Pat Conroy. It's hot and I'm poolside - dip in to the pool and to interesting material. Tinsel, by Hank Stuever, is a look at Christmas in Frisco, Texas. As a journalist, he started his holiday journey in 2006 when times were booming. He finished his Frisco foray in 2008 as the bubble burst. The Christmas retail spirit in America unraveled, and Christmas hopes and dreams were downsized. Yet, he came away with optimism and a sense of family, community, and heart.

At first, I thought this book would be annoying, that he was looking for the most outrageous people to cover and exaggerate and ridicule. I think he originally approached his subjects with a jaundiced eye, wary of being drawn into holiday spirit, and angling for a scoop.

Instead, he introduces us to hard working, enthusiastic families who enjoy Christmas - both the religious and material aspects. As he participates in shopping, decorating, light displays, Black Friday, church activities, and parties, he gains a fresh appreciation for upper middle class suburban America.

Ultimately, this is an interesting read. As someone who enjoys Christmas stuff - decorating, baking, etc - I could empathize with his new found friends and their spirit. I could also laugh with him at much of the craziness. I think Tinsel is a fair representation of Frisco and Christmas. It's a fun book to read in July when the temperatures outside are climbing over one hundred.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Partake of Poetry

The poetry anthology What Have You Lost? , edited by Naomi Shihab Nye (1999), caught my eye at the library. She is a superb poet and has a passion for other poets. Hence her collections. The stunning photographs by Michael Nye enhance the experience. The poems in this book are haunting, thought-provoking, and accessible. Here is one stanza by Chris Pealer, from his poem Devotion (page 20):

"sadness is a moat of dark water
a tangle of briars no one can cross
sadness a habit of sackcloth you wear
in devotion to the god of loss"

I finished his poem and had to close the book for awhile, before returning to read other fantastic material.

After reading the above anthology, I feel humbled by my Fifth Honorable Mention in the National Federation of State Poetry Societies 2010 Contest. But, hey, I received this pretty certificate for She Knew. Now I need to cast my words into the wind to get published.

Ms.Nye, are you looking for new material?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

766 pages of Wow

Mr. Cronin has had superb buzz on his book The Passage, and rightly so. I read rave reviews in Entertainment Weekly, the Dallas Morning News, and the Wall Street Journal, plus Stephen King has the book listed in his summer must reads.

I jumped on the bandwagon, just finished all 766 pages, and I have to say I did not skim, jump ahead, or get bored. I finished it last night with an out loud, "Wow!" and told my husband, Ray, he would love it.

The book blurb says, "It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die. Another to be born." Yikes! Indeed, I don't want to give anything away, but there's an expedition in the jungles of Bolivia that might prolong life. Then again, could be trouble. There's a military experiment that might have gone a teensy bit off track. Uh-oh. There's action, chases, a few treks, and some memorable characters along the way.

And then there's his first sentence, which ropes you in, intrigues, and introduces you to a compelling character who holds the key to everything: Before she became the Girl from Nowhere - the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years - she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.

The Passage is a saga - there's love, fear, doubt, recrimination, and exaltation. Births and deaths abound. There are some scary creatures, and sometimes they are human, or part-human, or part of a dream. This book is enthralling and the writing is damn clean. Descriptions, dialogue, character development - check, check, check.

Trust me. If you really love a great story, this is your must read summer immersion.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Thomas Jefferson went through many rewrites and critiques on his Declaration of Independence. Writers - take heart. Even brilliance has its critics. But today, July 4th, we celebrate his words and the many iterations of the United States of America. We are still dreamers and "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
I enjoyed reading some quotes printed in the WSJ (6/26/10 p.W2) by our Founding Fathers.
Alexander Hamilton on Thomas Jefferson, "He is not scrupulous about the means of success, nor very mindful of truth, and ... he is a contemptible hypocrite."
John Adams on Alexander Hamilton, "The bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar."
Hamilton on Adams,"The man is more mad than I ever thought him, and I shall soon be led to say as wicked as he is mad."
Ben Franklin on John Adams,"He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses."
Adams on Franklin," His whole life has been one continuous insult to good manners and to decency."
Thank goodness for those men and so many others through the years - for freedom of speech and opinion, for being hot and cranky in Philadelphia, and for cranking out the backbone writings of American history.
Happy 234th Independence Day!
(Note - Statue of Liberty picture taken by me late August 2001. We returned home from a NY trip on 9/1/01)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Red Sky at Night

Glorious sky last Thursday evening over Ranger's ballpark in Arlington, Texas. Storms built around the area and there was a huge bolt of lightning, but no delay of game. However, many people in the crowd had no clue that nature was putting on a show.
Ian Kinsler concentrated on his time at bat. The umpire stayed focused. However, all around me, people talked on their cell phones, texted, played app games, and did not watch baseball. More and more, I'm dumbfounded by people's actions.

We were in section 221, not cheap seats. Why would you come to a baseball game and not watch baseball? That is true these days of so many activities. I observe people at restaurants - again, messing with their phones and not actually participating in the meal and all it encompasses. Couples stroll through the arboretum, oblivious to the flowers and each other (unless maybe they are talking to each other on the phone while walking side by side. Curiouser and curiouser a la Lewis Carroll)

As a writer, my words have to compete for attention from so many different outlets. I truly think there is a time for multi-tasking, and then there is a time to relax and soak in a single experience. If you are at a baseball game, watch the game (and yes, it's okay to observe the crowd for future characters in your book). Nibble on a hot dog and try not to drop nacho cheese on your shirt. Revel in the night sky, the crowd roar, organ music, glare of the spotlight, and don't get beaned by a ball. (Get off your phone!)