Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's National Poetry Month: Let the Fun Begin

Anyone who knows me well knows I get a kick out of National Poetry Month. I'll admit that, like Black History Month or Women's History Month or Men's Health Month--or any of those other celebrations--a month isn't long enough. Not really. But it's a great opportunity to introduce--or reintroduce--poetry to those who may not consider themselves fans, while those of us who love poetry can revel in an exces.. With that purpose in mind, I plan to read poetry voraciously this month and to report on what I read. I will also be looking for chances to hear poet's read their works, starting tonight at Caldwell Community College in Hudson, NC, where NC Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bower will be reading and tomorrow at noon when she'll be joined on campus by her predecessor in the post, Kathryn Stripling Byer. If you need other ideas for celebrating the month, check out my guest post at Poetic Asides. I invite your ideas and reading suggestions as well. Check back through the month for fun links too.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Listening...Nick Hornby's Slam

My options for audio are so much narrower than my other reading choices. I go through the libraries, book stores, Ollie's, Tuesday Mornings, anywhere I might get an audiobook for no more than the regular price of a book. I was pleased to discover that Cracker Barrel (which has a great borrowing program at a minimal cost) has finally upgraded to CD and unabridged books.

On my recent trip to Nashville, I made a special stop at the bookstore in the Tanger Outlet where I'd scored some really good ones for under ten bucks last year. I picked up Nick Hornby's Slam, among others. After having enjoyed Juliet, Naked, I thought this one might be fun too.

Although the protagonist is a teenager turning from fifteen to sixteen, I wouldn't exactly all this a YA novel. At first I wasn't sure if I'd get into the story abouta skater (because only a dweeb would call himself a skateboarder) who talks to his Tony Hawk poster. And TH answers him--or at least seems to. The answers come directly from the (only) famous skateboarder's autobiography

Sam was born when his own mother was 16. So when he learns on his own sixteenth birthday that his girlfriend Alicia is pregnant, he has a lot to discuss with Tony Hawk. Maybe I am a sucker for a British accent (It does make the story more interesting. I don't know why), but I found myself becoming more and more engrossed in the story, which was funny, sad, touching, and thought-provoking. The difference in age and social class between Sam's mom and Alicia's parents adds to the conflict--and at times, the humor.

The author--or Hawk--sends Sam on a couple of time travels into the near future (where he doesn't know his own son's name)--the source of much tension and discomfort--but cleverly handled.

The book might be great extracurricular reading for a high school abstinence-based sex ed course (since Sam decides he'll probably NEVER be interested in sex again, once he's made one big life-changing mistake). I don't expect to see the book on the Accelerated Reader list at the local middle school any time soon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Amazing Flexible Booklist

I've never made a to-read short list that I've followed exactly. Something always gets in the way--such as another book. But since I am determined to make a tentative list, I've been perusing my shelves, my eReader, and my notes from conferences and from friends.

Some of the books on my list--and my shelf--come directly from my Lemuria First Editions Club, books that arrive on my doorstep every month, signed by the authors, almost like magic. Some I knew about before they arrived; almost certainly, though, I hear about them soon. They have a knack for picking books down in Jackson, Mississippi. From those shelves, I'm planning first to read these:

Madison Smartt Bell's Devil's Dream (about Nathan Bedford Forrest)
Siobhan Fallon's You Know When the Men Are Gone (military wives waiting at Ft. Hood)
Joseph O'Conner, Ghost Light
Amy Greene, Bloodroot
Sonny Brewer, ed. Don't Quit Your Day Job

Others on the shelves calling my name:
Firoozeh Dumas, Funny in Farsi (I heard the author speak in Orlando and can't wait for this one.)
Marcus Zusak, I Am the Messenger (by the author of Book Thief)
Dava Sobel, Longitude
Rick Bragg, All Over but the Shoutin' (yes, I confess I haven't read it yet!)
Emma Donoghue, Room
Nancy Horn, Loving Frank
Alice I Have Been,
Gary Shtenygart, Super Sad True Love Story (from Carol Jago's list)
Dave Eggers, Zeitoun
Nancy Mitford, Savage Beauty (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
John McPhee, Silk Parachute

This last I chose when I heard the title mentioned on Writers Almanac. McPhee, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, wrote a beautiful, quirky piece about his mother near Mother's Day several years ago. It struck me enough that I wrote him, and he replied with a lovely handwritten note. I am trusting that the silk parachute in the title is a reference to that same lovely essay. I still have it torn from the magazine and filed in office with other essays that I've particularly loved. I can't wait to see what else he's included.

I may have to add Sarah's Key, since several people have recommended it, and my sister Amy insists I must read The Book of Secrets. Now all I need is more time to read.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prioritzing Reading

First, just a thought: Would more young people read books if they felt guilty for taking the time away from other things? I know that some days i have so many pressing responsibilities (and competing hobbies) that time spent between the covers of a good book feel like a genuine guilty pleasure. But I keep reading.

Right now, I need help arranging my "to read" pile. It shifts like the line at the grocery checkout, everyone jockeying for the shortest path to the fromt of the line. I am reading Cleopatra: A Life, the Pulitzer-prize winner, because it's a book club choice, but I'm overwhelmed trying to decide what next.

Since I feed my need to read regularly--okay, excessively--I NEVER run out of books to read. Between bookstores, English conferences, and generous friends, I will never ever run out of something to read. (And right now the latest Oxford American sits on my nightstand. Ahhh!)

Before I throw out my choices in a post (coming soon to a computer screen near you), I'd love to hear others' recommendations for the next "must read."

Monday, March 7, 2011

When the Future Meets the Present

How timely that I've found myself reading my way through Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games series as dictatorships and autocratic governments are under revolt overseas. Panem, the setting for the three novels (including the second and third, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay), is a futuristic American, twelve--or thirteen--districts ruled by The Capitol, which requires each district to send "tributes" to participate in a battle royal each year.

As the second book ends and the third begins, a revolution is underway, but District 13, the new alternate government seems in many ways as controlling as the old one they seek to supplant. After watching Mubarek's government toppled, and seeing Qaddafi (choose your own spelling) under attack, I realize how far removed we are from our revolution, so much so that we have a hard time identifying with rebels so intent on change they are willing to risk their lives and homes.

The trilogy's protagonist, seventeen-year-old Catniss Everdeen seems an unlikely figure for the rebellion, but in so many of the recent protests and attempts, the faces on our television screens are young. The third novel in the series gives an interesting look at how media can manipulate images for good or for evil, alternately rewarding and punishing independent thinkers. Not feeling completely comfortable myself in futuristic tales, I was relieved when a glamorized, made-for-TV version of the unlikely hero was scrapped for a natural girl. Now as I wend my way through the last book in a series (my second series in a month--and the only one besides Harry Potter in years), I'm wondering how many other parallels I'll see between her world and mine--or what my world is becoming.