Monday, January 31, 2011

Confessional: I Write in My Books

My relationship with books is a complicated one, I'll admit, but I have never been squeamish about writing in books. As a student, I'll admit, I often doodled to harness my attention at least to the page, not the clock. As a notetaker, though, I realized that writing in the margins cut out a step in studying; instead of flipping back and forth from textbook to notes, I could look at one place.

Highlighting, by the way, does not satisfy my notetaking needs. Yellow highlighter marks seem to say, "I'll read this later." I prefer instead notes and underlining with a very sharp no. 2 pencil. Very straight lines.

No longer a student myself, I nonetheless read (and reread and reread) the texts I assign my students. My marginal notes and the odd assortment of symbols I have developed help me to zero in on the passages I find most significant.

Honestly, though, I write in almost all of my books, even--especially--the ones I read for pleasure. Now if I'm reading one from my collection of signed first editions (and--gasp--yes! I do read them), I abstain. I use psot-it notes instead. Most of my books, though, are replete with wispy little marks--questions, quotes, symbols, foreshadowing, shifts. Often, when reading a book again after a few years, I'll flip to the inside back cover and find the same passage referenced from before.

I construct family trees and character lists as I read. I make notes of topics I want to discuss with my book club or with other reading friends. I love my well-worn books not inspite of the marks but, at least in part, because of them.

This week, I recived a link to a blogger at "Slow Reads" that echoed my feelings about "How to Write in a Book," (despite cultural prejudices against such) and offered some good suggestions for how and why to do so. I hope you enjoy.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Truth in Fiction: Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed

After finishing The Girl Who Played with Fire, while waiting for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the final novel in Steig Larrson's trilogy, I picked up Wally Lamb's novel The Hour I First Believed. Larrsen's novels are certainly products of a lively imagination, and Lisbeth Salander's escapades in particular may stress the bounds of credibility.

Lamb's book, by contrast, is obviously the result of some meticulous research of the recent and past history. Somehow I had bypassed this book, even though I had enjoyed the two others he had written that I had read before. I had no idea as I began the book that the protagonist Caelum Quirk is an English teacher, nor that the pivotal event of the novel is the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999.

If Lamb had made up the story it might have seemed as inconceivable as Larrson's plots and Salander's shenanigans. But it is true. Quirk and his wife Maureen, a school nurse who hid in the library on that tragic day, are fictional, but so many of the specific events that unfold are not.

The school shootings occur early in the novel, though. The couple return to their native Connecticut after the tragedy, where Mrs. Quirk suffers from PTSD. Lamb also incorporates details about Katrina, the Iraq War, and even the Civil War and such important historical characters as Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, discovered in the pages of the letters and diary entries of his female ancestors. He also tackles a wide range of controversial issues--the Iraq War, prison reform, alcoholism and drug abuse, and dysfunctional family relationships.

I might have enjoyed the novel just as much if Quirk had taught math or science, but the perspective of an English teacher, along with the references to literature, composition, mythological archetypes, and academia in general, rang true.

As I escape back to Stockholm and resume my willing suspension of disbelief, I continued to be haunted by Caelum Quirk's long journey toward what he recognizes as "the hour I first believed."


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This Time the Book Is Mine

I've had lots of opportunities to share other people's books here, but finally, I have one of my own. Let the Lady Speak is a chapbook (a small collection of poems, for those who wonder) containing the poems that won the November [2009] Chapbook Challenge on Poetic Asides.

I've been writing with hundreds of other poets on Robert Lee Brewer's site for about three years now, and I have not only been motivated to write more, but I've built some solid friendships with other poets all over the country--and the world.

The collection's theme let me speak through the voices of lots of other women--historical and literary, as well as those in my own life and my own family. The cover shot--a photograph of my mother and me on the day I was born--inspired the first poem in the chapbook.

I've tried out my technology skills and added a shopping cart button right here on the blog, so you can order. My first printing was small, and I have just a few left, but the next printing is in the works. I look forward to feedback from my own readers.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Series Reading

I'm always reluctant to begin reading the first book in a series, knowing that I am, first of all, likely to find myself committed for the duration. Because I enjoy reading a variety of literature, the idea of sticking with a series to it's conclusion can feel a bit confining. Sometimes I just stumble into series. For example, I read the first Harry Potter book when it was the only book. Somehow, on a friend's recommendation, I read it even though I didn't consider fantasy my usual genre.

After that, I was hooked. I read Ken Haruff's second book Eventide before I even knew he had a first book Plainsong, so I had to read them out of order. I didn't lose anything in the process, but I'll admit I sometimes wanted to read the second book again.

I read the first Twilight to see what the hoopla was all about. That was enough for me. I didn't need to keep going, even though some friends whose reading choices I respect couldn't wait to read them all. Now right at the turn of the new year, I find myself caught up not just in one but two series. First, I had read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I hadn't started the second book because I was advised to wait until the third book came out because, I was guaranteed, I would want Togo right to it. Then The Girl Who Played with Fire appeared on CDs at the local library, and I set out listening to the 15-disk set. I finished today, and I can't get the third one soon enough. I do think I'll go audio again.

The. The title Hunger Games kept popping up in recommendations, so I decided to check it out. Promoted as a Young Adult novel and set in the future, the book had a female protagonist forced to compete in the Hunger Games, a sort of futuristic cross between Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" and Survivor. The author Suzanne Collins makes no attempt to tie up loose ends. I feel strongly compelled to keep reading simply because I want to know what happens next.

Without meaning to do so, I've let outside forces preempt my reading list.

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Location:2nd St Ln NW,Hickory,United States


Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Reading List

I thought I'd take a lesson from the alleged BBC list of books that made the Facebook rounds with the challenging (infuriating) claim that most people hadn't read them. As usual, I'm posting the list of books I read this past year, and this time I'd like you to do something similar to the BBC note: Delete all on my list but the ones you've read and post either in comments to my blog or post in a Facebook note (and tag me). I'd like to know which ones you liked best, etc. While you're at it, feel free to let me know some good books I missed.

(I realize now that I've not listed all the poetry collections and chapbooks I've read this year. That may be a separate post.)

Books I read in 2010:
Annie Proulx, Close Range
Victoria Vinton, The Jungle Law
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
Gin Phillips, The Well and the Mine
Don DeLillo, The Falling Man
Phillipa Gregory, The Virgin Lover
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest
Ron Rash, Serena
David Small, Stitches
Michael Connelly, The Scarecrow
Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
Billie Letts, Made in the USA
Barbara Kingsolver, Lacuna
Anita Shreve, A Change of Altitude
Anna Quindlen, Every Last One
Joanne Proulx, Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet
Francine Prose, Anne Frank
William Kamkwanba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Celia Rivenbark, You Can't Drink All Day if you Don't Start in the Morning
Gary D. Schmidt, The Wednesday Wars
Elizabeth Kostova, The Swan Thieves
Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil
Mary McDonagh Murphy, Scout, Atticus and Boo
Irene Latham, Leaving Gee's Bend
Benjamin Black, The Silver Swan
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Year
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows
Edward Dolnick, The Forger's Spell
Edward Bloor, Tangerine
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
Amy Bloom, Where the God of Love Hangs Out
Ron Koertge, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs
Stacy Morrison, Falling Apart in One Piece
Charles Portis, True Grit
Greg Iles, The Devil's Punchbowl
Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird
Cathy Smith Bower, The Candle I Hold Up to See You
---. Book of Minutes
Adam Ross, Mr. Peanut
yoke Ogawa, The Housekeeper and the Professor
Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why
Rebecca Wells, Ya-Yas in Bloom
Neely Tucker, Love in the Driest Season
Janet Evanovich, Finger Licking Fifteen
Louis Sachar, The Card Turner
Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
James Frey, A Million Little Pieces
Pat Conroy, My Reading Life
Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked
Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed
Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone
Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games

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Location:Dateline: Hickory, NC