Monday, December 29, 2008

The List: 2008

I'm hesitant to post the list of the books I read this year, since technically I have three more days. I am confident that I'll finish listening to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer (even if I have to sit in the car in the garage to finish listening.) I am also almost finished with Clyde Edgerton's latest novel The Bible Salesman. I would have finished it long ago, but since he's the featured author in our spring Writer's Symposium and we'll be using the book in our classes, I wanted to read it more deliberately.

This is the list I have kept this year. I try to write the author and title of everybook I read (or listen to on CD) on my wall calendar. Occasionally, I may forget to jot one down, but at the end of the year, I feel a certain satisfaction, along with the frustration over the ones I haven't read yet. Here goes (with some brief annotation):

Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This one is nonfiction, and it changed the way I shopped for groceries. My favorite story, however, is her account of breeding heirloom turkeys.

Uris, Leon. The Haj. I had read my first Uris novel, Exodus, in about the ninth grade. I still remember staying up late into the night reading. I had to read past the parts describing concentration camps or I would have nightmares. This book is the same part of the world overlapping time periods but with a focus on the Muslim people. It didn't give me much hope for peace in that part of the world, but I learned so much.

McCaig, Donald. Rhett Butler's People. I enjoyed the book, but I had a little of the same feeling I had when I watched First Knight: Wow! These people have the exact same names as the people in one of my favorite stories. They sure don't act the same thought.

Collins, James. Beginner's Greek. This is one I enjoyed yet haven't been able to discuss with anyone else. A young man always dreams of meeting the girl of his dreams on an airplane. He does, but when he gets to his hotel room, her phone number is missing from his pocket.

Gardner, Angela Davis. Plum Wine. A young North Carolina woman teaching English in a Tokyo University* during the Vietnam War era inherits a chest of plum wine from her Japanese neighbor and discovers secrets about the woman's past.

Groff, Lauren. The Monsters of Templeton. Set in a fictionalized version of Cooperstown, NY, a young woman returns to her hometown at the time the corpse of their Nessie cousin floats up in the lake.

Edgerton, Clyde. Killer Diller. Walking Across Egypt has long been my favorite Edgerton book, but I hadn't read this sequel yet. Listening on CD was wonderful. It was laugh-out-loud funny and touching all at the same time. Wesley falls in love.

Grisham, John. Playing for Pizza. I hadn't ready any Grisham in awhile, but this was available on CD at the library. It was nothing like his courtroom dramas, but was a much better book than his Painted House. The scenario--a failing third-string quarterback signing with an Italian pro football team--is entertaining. It also makes me wish to travel to Italy simply for the cuisine.

Allen, Sarah Addison. Garden Spells. This novel set in Asheville, NC, with mention of Hickory, could best be described as magical realism. The characters and their situations are intriguing, although sometimes improbably (more magical than real).

Follett, Ken. World Without End. I've been waiting on this one since I read Pillars of the Earth--and I'll admit that I read it late. I always enjoyed Follett's thrillers too, especially Key to Rebecca, but I couldn't wait to get back to this time period and the next generation of his earlier novel. He did not disappoint me!

Picoult, Jodi. My Sister's Keeper. This was a book club read. I knew lots of people who had read her stories and loved them. This one was heartbreaking and surprising. More than usual, I cast people I knew--in this case, former students--as the book's characters. She has a knack for adding an unexpected twist.

Konigsburg. E. L. Silent to the Bone. This is a YA novel I "read" on CD. A young boy is incapable of speech after an accident that gravely injures his baby sister. Naturally, he is accused of hurting her.

Hollaway, Kris. Monique and the Mango Rains. This nonfiction book is a Peace Corps workers story of her time in Mali working with a young woman trained as a midwife. The book has motivated many to help raise money for cliniques and midwifery training in the region. A moving story.

Young, William P. The Shack. I just read this week that this was one of the top seller for the year. What a shame it wasn't edited better. The story is intriguing, and it has touched many. I think the strong point is her metaphorical representation of the trinity (the Father, a black woman; the Holy Spirit, an Asian woman; and the son, typecast as a Jewish fisherman.) Since I have trouble sometimes visualizing God as something other than a Gandalf-type figure and Jesus as the pretty face in the Renaissance paintings, the book was helpful in that sense. I just wish someone had been attentive to the egregious grammar errors.

Sedaris, David. When You Are Engulfed in Flames. He makes me laugh out loud. Okay, sometimes I groan too. But David Sedaris has mastered the use of tone in the written word. My friend Amber saw him life recently and commented that she had laughed so much her face hurt. I understand.

Adamson, Gil. The Outlander. This is one of my Lemuria First Editions books, and so far I've had no one to discuss the book with me. It's the story of a woman who has killed her husband and is heading west, pursued by his brothers.

Earley, Tony. The Blue Star. This is the sequel to Jim, the Boy, a simple little novel I loved. Earley is a native of Rutherfordton (Ru'f'ton), NC, now teaching at Vanderbilt. He has a way of telling a simple story without being simplistic. His protagonist Jim is young, flawed, and believable. I love the kid.

Patchett, Ann. What Now? I have loved her novels, especially Bel Canto, so when I saw this little book, just perfect for a graduation gift, I read it--and subsequently kept it. I had to buy other copies to give away.

Tyler, Anne. Digging to America. I'd meant to read this one for a long time. Having gone with my best friend Debbie and her family when they traveled to China to adopt Allie, I am always interested in similar stories of international adoption. This one traces the lives of two families whose only connection at first is their adopted daughters. The older generation, particularly the Iranian adoptive father's mother, are strong sympathetic characters.

Miles, Jonathan. Dear American Airline. Anyone who has flown much lately knows it's just not fun anymore--and it's not dependable. In this little book, a man is stuck in the airport missing his the rehearsal dinner, and potential the wedding, of his only daughter, from whom he has been long estranged. He passes the time writing a letter of complaint to the airline--and translating Polish fiction. It works--but don't expect nonstop belly laughs. It's a different kind of funny.

Wallace, Daniel. Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician. By the author of Big Fish, this is a quirky fascinating story with a interesting and odd array of characters.

Jackson, Joshilyn. Between, Georgia. Sometimes an author really can read her works better than anyone else. She knows her (my) South. This one and her next deal with some handicaps in interesting, almost educational ways.

Bergen, Doris L. War and Genocide. I read this because we had chosen to add it to the list of texts for the Holocaust class at the college. Very concise and accessible.

Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I loved this little epistolary novel set just after WWII in England. I knew nothing about the German occupation of the Channel Islands until I read this book. But I enjoyed it for the characters.

Wroblewski, David. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. This is probably my most memorable book of the year. People either love it or don't. I did. I think he makes his dogs as real as Richard Adams' rabbits in Watership Down, but the people remain central. The book broke my heart.

Rash, Ron. Eureka Mill. I went on a poetry binge for a few weeks. I heard Rash read from this and his upcoming novel Serena at CVCC in the spring. This series of poems was influenced by his grandfather, who left the farm to work in the mill. I like that in his poems, as in his fiction, Rash doesn't draw easy lines. This isn't a "mill owner--bad; millworker--downtrodden" dichotomy. Not at all.

Kooser, Ted. Flying at Night. If I'm going to read some recent poetry, Kooser's on my list. I have heard him a couple of times at NCTE. He is so genuine, and his poems touch a common nerve.

Brooks, Geraldine. Year of Wonders. I guess this was my summer of the bubonic plague. Not long after reading World Without End, I happened upon this tale of an English village struck by the plague. This one was fascinating and at times horrifying.

Byer, Kathryn S. Coming to Rest. Kay Byer is our state poet laureate--and she is just a fine human being. She takes her position seriously, encouraging poets and teachers and students. I recommend any of her collections. (I also have a link to her blog on my list.)

Lindsey, Sarah. Primate Behavior. Another NC poet I read duiring my month of heavy poetry reading. (Mind you, I read poetry all the time--just not always whole volumes).

McFee, Michael. Shinemaster. McFee teachers at UNC Chapel Hill, and the week before I met him in a poetry workshop in Winston-Salem, one of his poems was featured on Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac. I love his work.

Rash, Ron. Serena. I felt from the start that this would be Rash's breakout novel. I've loved everything he's written so far, but Southern writers tend to get pegged as regional writers. (Does that happen to writers from other parts of the country? If so, I wonder who's writing novels I'm missing?) In this book, there are allusions to Lady Macbeth, but it's not just another Shakespeare retelling. The story is set in 1929 in NC timber country. What I found interesting was that although Serena is not a nice woman, I still found myself in some way sympathetic. I've read books (recently even) that had protagonists I just couldn't care about. This was not the case. I also found her husband complicated and interesting. Her minor characters--the wronged woman, and the "Greek chorus" of timbermen--are fascinating as well.

Jackson, Joshilyn. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. This is another novel by the author of Gods in Alabama. Again, there are complicated family relationships and no easy answers.

Mortensen, Greg and David Oliver. Three Cups of Tea. Now, after having heard Mortensen speak in San Antonio, I am more than ever intrigued by the dynamics in Afghanistan. I have alos learned that a young adult version of this book has been published, as well as a children's version Listen to the Wind. The book has inspired "Pennies for Peace," the efforts of school children to raise money for schools build through Mortensen's efforts. I suggest reading along with viewing Charlie Wilson's War. Mortensen enlightens viewers on Wilson's frustration voiced in the end of the film.

Garwood, Ken. Replay. I bought this book for about a dollar on because my sister mentioned it. It's a little sci-fi, not usually my genre-of-choice, but I liked the concept: A man dies of a heart attack in his thirties ( I think) and regains consciousness in his college dorm. He relives his life, with full awareness of his previous experiences, making some minor changes, only to drop dead again around the same time, then to start over. The book isn't new, so the terrorism references in one of his life were eerily foreboding.

Packer, Ann. Song Without Words. I had read Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier a few years ago. Similarly, this book deals with people suffering in complicated ways and not always able to express to those closest to them what they are feeling. The book was a little dark, but I enjoyed listening to it.

Gould, Steve. Jumper. I read this book at the insistence of a student. It reminds me a bit of Replay or even of The Time Traveller's Wife, though not as well written. In the story, a teenager who lives with an abusive father discovers an ability to jump to other places he has been. He hones the skill and tries to put wrongs to right, first in his life, then in the world.

Hill, Joe. Heart-Shaped Box. This is definitely not a book I would have picked up to read, but I had seen reviews and it was available at the library's Books on CD section when I needed something for a road trip. It was creepy and terrifying at times. I pictured the protagonist as Kris Kristofferson (which gets me through the book!) I'll admit: I couldn't quit listening. He's an aging rock star obsessed with death who buys a ghost over the Internet and learns that it is the stepfather of a former young groupie who committed suicide after he sent her home.

Pausch, Randy. Last Lecture. I also listened to this on CD. I'd read about the traditional last lecture given by this professor in his forties who knew he was dying. The book is expanded from the lecture but a gift to his children who must grow up without him.

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. I had to try one of these novels, since my neice and all the girls I teach in Sunday school are reading them. I can see, I guess, the attraction, but the comparison to the Harry Potter series is only applicable in sales figures. Rowling's novels will stand the test of time. I don't know about this series.

Berg, Elizabeth. The Art of Mending. I hadn't read any of her novels in awhile, but this was a sad story of a dysfunctional family in denial.

Hoffman, Alice. The Third Angel. The story is told in three overlapping parts. It was billed as the story of three women who loved the wrong men. Maybe, but that's like saying The Old Man and the Sea was about a bad fishing experiences. I think it goes a little deeper than that. The main setting is a London hotel with a ghost, whose story in some way touches all three women in three different decades. She starts in the present, then works back in time.

Draper, Sharon. Forged by Fire. I have a long story about first meeting Draper at an English conference in New Orleans and going on to dinner. Since she's continued to teach and to write. In fact, one day a few years back, I opened the newspaper and saw her picture with the announcement that she'd been named national teacher of the year. This is a young adult novel, a good book especially for boys--and I know teachers are always looking for books boys will read.

Picoult, Jodi. Nineteen Minutes. Our book club decided to read another Picoult book, so I had this one loaded on my Sony eBook for my Washington trip. I accidentally packed the charging cord for my camera, not my book, so I was horrified the whole trip that it would go dead before I finished the book. This one is the story of a school shooting, told from multiple perspectives. I think it would be a good work of fiction to use with a psychology class. Again Picoult throws curve balls at the end of her novels, and this one is no exception.

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle. This was a re-read for me, but since we were reading the book in classes and I had heard Walls speaking at Appalachian State, I was intrigued to read again. Actually, I have a firm rule that when I assign a novel for a class, even if I've read it a dozen times or more, I read what I assign them to read. It keeps me honest and keeps it fresh. This book, nonfiction, amazes me.

Kingsbury, Karen and Gary Smalley. Redemption. I don't read a lot of the Christian fiction. My sister does, as do many friends I know. I decided to try this one when I found the CDs in the libray. I think I'll wait and read more of it when it quits sounding exactly like a romance novel without the sex. It was too predictable and unbelievable--not so much the scenarios as the dialogue. And the names! Eeek! Straight out of soap operas. If I'm missing something better, someone please tell me.

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Wow! If you want a great listening experience, this is it. This book, read by the author, had me going right after something else by Alexie. Someone else please read it so I can talk about it!

Winfield, Jess. My Name Is Will. This is a clever little novel intertwining the life of the real William Shakespeare with that of a grad student, whose mother gave him the first and middle name William Shakespeare, trying to complete his thesis.

Brooks, Geraldine. March. Little Women by Lousia Mae Alcott is one of those books from my childhood that I can't separate from my childhood. It's one of the first novels I remember reading--and re-reading. This novel by Brooks, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is the story of the father of those girls and his experiences as a chaplain during the Civil War. He is at times homelessly naive and idealistic. Her research on the period, the author, her father, and the novel help to weave together a novel worth reading.

Diaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This novel was first recommended by Carol Jago at NCTE in San Antonio. I also noticed that the woman next to me on the plane (also on the way to the conference) was reading it. Her comment--a little too raw for the classroom but a great read. My out-of-town reading group chose it as the January read, so I started--and read quickly on the trip to Alabama. I love a book that weaves different perspectives so well.

That's it: the list so far. When I finish the other two, I'll probably edit and add a postscript. For now, I'd love to see others' lists.
* I stand corrected.

P.S. I finished one more:
Foer, Jonathan Safron. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. This is one of those books I want to recommend to just the right people. Since I listened to it as an audiobook, I must add that the readers were excellent. Sometimes I don't like to have more than one person providing the voices, but in this case, the two provided the voices for Oscar's grandmother and grandfather, both with slight German accents. It was perfect.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers by Dannye Romine Powell, Doris Betts said that character is more important than plot; that's why we can read a story or a book again, despite knowing how it will turn out. The characters call us back like old friends. To be honest, I don't necessarily forget the way plots unravel, but I can read a book time and time again, anxious lest the ending change. I always have to see if Miss Bennett ends up with Mr. Darcy at the end of Pride and Prejudice this time.

Once I was listening to a tape of Dr. Zhivago on a long road trip and I came to the point at the end when Zhivago spies Laura from a train or trolley and tries to catch her--or at least catch her attention. Just before he drops dead in the street, the tape broke. In my mind, there was a distinct possibility that in this latest version, he caught her and lived happily ever after into their golden years.

I've been thinking this week about the parts of books I do remember long after I close the book. All too often, I forget the ending of a book. I'd never be able to pass the kind of test kids take on their Accelerated Reader (AR) books (but that's my soapbox for another day.) Most often I remember the plot details that are most unsettling.

Right now I'm listening to Jonathan Safron Foer's second novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on CD in the car. I picked it up the same week that I saw the movie of his first novel Everything Is Illuminated, one of the most intriguing, funny, touching movies I've seen lately. In this new book, Foer's main character Oscar Schell is a young boy whose father died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Oscar is an odd, intelligent, sad child. The book pulls together his search for the lock that fits a key he finds in his late father's closet and the stories of his grandparents (so far, at least. I'm on tape five).

Without having finished the book, though, I know I'll be most haunted by a section in which his grandfather encourages his grandmother to type her life story. She argues that she can't type and that "my eyesight is crummy." He sets her up in their guest room with his old manual typewriter and she writes for months--at least a thousand pages. When she reaches the present, her husband looks through the stack that has accumulated, sees blank pages, and realizes he removed the ribbon years before. Her eyesight is obviously worse than he thought. But he doesn't tell her the truth about her project.

I don't think I'm giving away anything of the plot by revealing this part of the story, but I know that it's one part that will eat at me for years to come. I carry around a similar true story I find equally disturbing: my friend had her father's love letters to her mother he wrote while serving in WWII. They were in his native tongue, which my friend couldn't read, so she threw them away. I asked why she didn't have someone translate them, and she admitted it hadn't occurred to her.

With most of the books I've read easily accessible for a re-read, I don't worry if I forget much of what I read by the time a year has passed. I can always go back. I do like to revisit the parts of stories that seem so true, so real that they never leave me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Curled up with a Good Book

I know it sounds idyllic--curled up with a book--but I do so with a great sense of relief. I have submitted my semester grades, so now I can give myself permission to recuperate from gall bladder surgery yesterday. Although rest mode is not my natural state, I have found that the body knows when to insist. Yesterday, I fell sound asleep sitting up reading the newspaper.

If I let myself think about it, I might get concerned. I have presents to be wrapped (and even bought) before we leave for Alabama tomorrow to spend an early Christmas with the family there. I have always finished before, and I have great confidence I will do so this year. John was born on December 21st (27 years ago) and I managed to be ready for Christmas then.

At the year's end, I plan to post the list of all the books I read this year. I enjoy taking the time to transcribe the list from the wall calendar where I record them as I finish. But the year's not over yet, and I have some car time this week, so I could finish another book or two before Baby New Year arrives.

I do recommend Uncommon Reader (mentioned in my earlier blog), especially for bibliophiles. It's a slim book, a quick read, but like the Queen, I want to take notes as I read. I see myself so often. I also finished March by Geraldine Brooks. Since I was listening on CD, I listened to the end of the Afterword, and I am glad I did. She finishes with a nice apology to her husband, the Civil War buff. Now I want to re-read Little Women. Brooks put a great deal of research into the novel. In addition to a familiarity with Alcott's novel, she read about Bronson Alcott's life, Emerson, Thoreau, battle accounts, Civil War hospital records, and other works that gave her book an authenticity.

For now, I am ready to start Junot Diaz' s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and to enjoy a cup of tea. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Uncommon Readers

I don't know whether it's a result of happy coincidence or of paying attention, but so often I'll find that two or more books I read simultaneously or consecutively will hit similar themes or ideas. This weekend I began listening to Geraldine Brooks' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel March, the story of the father of Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women. The book will be the Big Read for Hickory in the Spring, and I assume Brooks will be reading during that time. I have a copy of the book, but when I came across the CDs at the library, I couldn't resist, having just finished the Sherman Alexie book I mentioned earlier.

Meanwhile, I just finished reading My Name Is Will by Jess Winfield. It was light (especially for a book about Shakespeare)--a fun read, but not quite scholarly. The author moves back and forth between the story of William Shakespeare, the Elizabethan bard and a young man whose mother named him William Shakespeare (first and middle, not last names). He is struggling to complete (or even to begin) his master's thesis. The subtitle, Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare, explains some of his academic obstacles. The author has had some fun interjecting lines and allusions that most Shakespeare scholars will recognize, although he admits taking some liberties with history, particularly with his time line.

Needing something to read at bedtime, I moved on to Alan Bennett's Uncommon Reader, a fictional account of Queen Elizabeth in which she falls in love with reading. What struck me about both this book and March is the effect that books have on human beings. In March, as a young man, the protagonists ends up spending time at a Virginia plantation, while working as a peddler. The plantation owner is dismissive until he learns young March has books among his wares and invites him into his impressive library. March ends up spending time as a guest for awhile, reminiscent of Odysseus under Circe's power.

In Uncommon Reader, the Queen starts reading for pleasure, evidently for the first time in her life, and her method of selecting books and soliciting book recommendations is familiar to any reader. Although I'm just barely into the book, I love her feigning illness in order to stay in her room and read. Oh! to be Queen for a day.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Heard a Good Book Lately?

I used to be a one-book-at-a-time girl, but for many reasons, I now find that I balance different kinds of books. Of course, I have to be capable of the reading equivalent of multi-tasking because I have to prepare for all the different courses I teach and the reading that comes along with the job.

Now that I have my Sony eBook, I always have one book going there. I load it up (and ideally I charge it up) for travel, and I use it when I walk on the treadmill. The pages are easy to turn and the print size is adjustable.

I also keep a "real book" going all the time. You remember the kind, don't you--printed on real paper and bound together?

Since I have a little bit of a commute every day, I also absolutely must have a book on tape or CD for the car. This week I have listened to Sherman Alexie reading his own book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I'll admit that I haven't read Alexie before, though I've intended too. He comes highly recommended, but I just hadn't gotten to him yet. When I saw this CD set at the library, I grabbed it.

This has been one of those books I have to recommend to other people. Before I even finished it, I was telling everyone about it. Something about Arnold "Junior" Spirit, the Spokane Indian, just fascinated me. The book made me laugh out loud at times, but it also broke my heart. He tells a lot about the situation of Indians on the "res," but he also has such insight in to humans.

I can't wait to find someone else who's read the book because I'm ready to talk about it!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Lit--the Revised Standard Version

I like to ease into the Christmas spirit in my own way. It doesn't happen simply because Steinmart and Target start hanging wreaths and piping in the canned carols; "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" sounds a little goofy when I'm still in short sleeves. I regularly opt out of the Black Friday shopping rush, and reading of the shootings and trampling deaths that occurred this year only confirms my decision.

I prefer a little literary transition into the spirit of the season. Of course, the account in the gospel of Luke serves well, but most of you already know that one. Here are a few more reading suggestions for you:

When I taught high school, I found that some pieces of literature just begged to be read aloud. Since my fondest remembrances of grade school include Mrs. Knott's reading the Little House series to us each day, I have no doubt that hearing a good story doesn't replace the desire to read; it stimulates it. Furthermore, since far too many videos were playing in classrooms up and down the halls, I didn't feel compelled to justify my reading aloud occasionally to students who were perfectly capable of reading to themselves. One story I read every year, usually to every class, is Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory."

Anyone who loves To Kill a Mockingbird enough to do some background reading knows that Truman Capote was the model for Dill, the neighbor who is passed around among relatives. This is his story of Christmases spent with a favorite cousin, much older than he, but always a child. The dialogue and details are Alabama true, and I've never read the story without a big lump in my throat by the time I reached the end.

A few years ago, I discovered a tiny little book Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol by Tom Mula. The author, an actor and playwright himself, had played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. He was bothered that Marley, who takes the time (something of which he in unlimited supply, of course), to give Scrooge a chance for redemption yet did not have the same. This is Mula's attempt to right that wrong.

If you prefer humor to sentiment, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is a good laugh-out-loud Christmas story. I've never seen the stage version, but after reading the book, I feel as if I have.

Last Christmas, my friend Claudia gave me the small book Angela and the Baby Jesus, a story by Frank McCourt of his mother Angela as a child who rescues baby Jesus from the local nativity scene. It's short enough to read (aloud, of course) at a family gathering. Another one Claudia shared with me is Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales.

Of course, you may feel free to read all the different versions of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"--Cajun, Redneck, and such. Whatever it takes, you're still more likely to get into the spirit with a good book, not with a trip to Bath and Body Works or Abercrombie.

I knew as soon as I published this post, I'd have remember other favorites. In this case, Amber Owens' comment reminded me that I'd left off at least a couple of the funniest. She mentioned David Sedaris' "Six to Eight Black Men" (from Dress Your Family... and also on the Live at Carnegie Hall CD), which she call "the best short Christmas story EVER. Best, of course, on the CD in the author's own voice." I realized I had forgotten another of his best, "Santaland Diaries" from Holiday on Ice. Yes, hearing him read his stories is the best way to encounter them, but I honestly believe he has such a skill with developing tone that his voice comes through in print. I first read "Santaland Diaries" while giving an exam. I kept catching myself almost laughing out loud. Heaven knows we need some laughs at the holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Did It--and I Didn't Do It!

November is always such a busy month, and this one has taken the cake. With the Washington, DC, trip with the Holocaust class and the trip to San Antonio, TX, for the English conference, I was over-committed. Then I read about NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. But I heard about it through Poetic Asides, the poetry blog I've been participating on since April's poem-a-day challenge. Robert Lee Brewer, the moderator, issued a new challenge for November: Write a poem a day, working toward a chapbook. He issued prompts each day, and we were off.

Since I've been writing with these people since April, we have begun to feel like we know each other. In addition to writing our own poem drafts daily, we read the others and often comment. I'll admit that a response to one of my poems always made me happy. A lot of my poems had references to music, particularly that of my teen years (when music was great.) I also included some literary allusions, which should come as a surprise to no one who knows me.

I actually started the month trying to undertake both challenges. My novel, however, didn't go the direction I wanted, and then in Washington, I just couldn't keep up with the 1600 plus word limit per day. I finally did something against my nature: I didn't finish. I decided February will be a much better month for a novel; November was just right for poetry.

Now I have a nice little portfolio of poems and a little over a month to tweak them, select my best 10-20, and submit for bragging rights. For the time being, we're back to once-a-week Wednesday prompt, andI'll admit it: I miss the daily challenge.

One thing I know for sure: poetry is alive and well in the world!