Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In Honor of National Poetry Day and Poetry Wednesday: Billy Collins





The Order of the Day 


A morning after a week of rain
and the sun shot down through the branches
into the tall, bare windows.

The brindled cat rolled over on his back,
and I could hear you in the kitchen
grinding coffee beans into a powder.

Everything seemed especially vivid
because I knew we were all going to die,
first the cat, then you, then me,

then somewhat later the liquefied sun
was the order I was envisioning.
But then again, you never really know.

The cat had a fiercely healthy look,
his coat so bristling and electric
I wondered what you had been feeding him
and what you had been feeding me

as I turned a corner
and beheld you out there on the sunny deck

lost in exercise, running in place,
knees lifted high, skin glistening-
and that toothy, immortal-looking smile of yours.


courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Poetry Wednesday: A Small-Sized Mystery



A Small-Sized Mystery

Leave a door open long enough,
a cat will enter.
Leave food, it will stay.
Soon, on cold nights,
you’ll be saying “excuse me”
if you want to get out of your chair.
But one thing you’ll never hear from a cat
is “excuse me.”
Nor Einstein’s famous theorem.
Nor “The quality of mercy is not strained.”
In the dictionary of Cat, mercy is missing.
In this world where much is missing,
a cat fills only a cat-sized hole.
Yet your whole body turns toward it
again and again because it is there.


by Jane Hirshfield
courtesy The Writer's Almanac

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Difference a Month Makes: Conclave in 2017

What a difference a few months make. Conclave was released in November 2016, before the political and cultural turmoil of the Trump presidency. I finished this book weeks into the tenure of the new U.S. President, and the politics of the Catholic Conclave struck me completely differently than they would have a scant month before.

Conclave sounded like such a great read: suspenseful, intriguing, and just fluff 'n trash enough to feed a craving. When I saw it on sale as I just happened to be strolling past the display, I thought it was kismet.

Imagine my surprise at finding myself bored early in the story.

A snap of excitement occurred as the story began with the death of the Pope (hopefully no spoiler alert was needed). Then author Robert Harris introduced so much expository information that was, frankly, tedious.

Harris takes readers inside the otherwise closed doors of this select society. Cardinal Jacopo Lomeli, Dean of the College of Cardinals, is riddled with guilt and susceptible to suspicion, and it is he whose tasks are conducted with mind-numbing detail.

To be fair, it's an accurate revelation of the tedium behind the beauty. The author faithfully shared details, facts, history, and trivia early in the book that, alas, dragged the momentum of the story to a crawl.While that may have been the point, I would have preferred a more balanced tapestry.

Thankfully, Harris softballed a few clues to reward faithful readers, starting with an unexpected range of international representation and a surprise contestant who slipped into the Conclave as the doors were closing to the world. (Well, almost closing: Lomeli stayed abreast of literally everything inside and outside of the Conclave, which seemed disingenuous to the spirit of the proceedings.)

The intrigue finally got intriguing as we met the international Conclave, the lead contenders of whom, in turn, revealed how they were less deserving than the next. These are the people with power in the Catholic Church: older, wealthy (mostly white) men with naked ambition they unsuccessfully concealed with faltering piety. Each had a sin ripe for exposure, and each was surprisingly similar to the rest (individual sensational sin aside). Each clique was power-hungry and clamoring for their seat at the right hand of the Father. No one was spared. Well, almost no one.

Only one character stood out, in the end: the perfect divergence from the parade of flawed men who all thought they deserved The Prize. That character, that antidote to Power, is the entire reason people should read this book.

The author completely lost me when he introduced the explosive ending that occurred outside the Conclave. Perhaps it was realistic, perhaps it was suitable for the world stage, but I am weary of what feels like the fallback position of every writer drawing "evil" with the same splotchy, faulty pen. Also, I was surprised the invisibility of women, except in certain circumstances, usually of servitude to the men — which may indicate more about the church than the author, but still struck me as antediluvian, even in context.

I cannot describe it with the same breathless praise of other critics whose reviews were published when the book was first published in November 2016. Perhaps that alone is praise enough: that the landscape in which I find myself is as merciless as the fictional world of power-hungry, flawed Catholic cardinals in Conclave.

Despite its flaws — maybe even because of them — I would recommend this book, if only to discuss it with other readers who may have a different perception than I.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Polar Reading 2017: Conversation Begins March 6

Well, for some of us, this winter hasn't really been all that "polar." For the rest of us: have you dug out yet?

No matter your frost level, there's still time to catch up on this year's Polar Book Club selectionThe Bookman's Tale. I have been slowly savoring it, and it's coming along nicely.

If you haven't started it yet, maybe this description of Charlie Lovett's will tickle your fancy:

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. 
But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins. 
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

All you have to do to join the club is pick up the book and start reading! 

Okay, two things: get the book (from the library, bookstore, thrift store with a book section — or share with a friend) and email me so we can coordinate our discussion.

Right now, the schedule is to finish the book by March 5, so the conversation can begin the following day. (Give yourself a chance to savor the book, give it some thought, maybe even re-read it.)

The conversation will be relaxed and friendly. We all are book lovers who read the same book, and we want to know what others thought of it.

However, the conversation is better when readers offer details and examples of why they hated something, or how a particular character development changed the whole tenor of the story. Or, you know, whether you think William Shakespeare was really another writer using s pseudonym.



So, are you in? Let me know!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poetry: Lucky












Lucky

All this time,
the life you were
supposed to live
has been rising around you
like the walls of a house
designed with warm
harmonious lines.
As if you had actually
planned it that way.
As if you had
stacked up bricks
at random,
and built by mistake
a lucky star.

by Kirsten Dierking 

From Northern Oracle. © Spout Press, 2007.  
Courtesy of The Writer's Almanac. (Listen Online)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Inquiry: Do you Recommend Books, Share Books?

A few days ago, my girl Valerie asked me if I had heard about/read/owned a few books.

And my response was:
What are you looking for, my pretty?
To be fair, many of them I had read, owned, and would recommend. For example, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Everything I Never Told You are two I am thrilled to recommend. I've heard good things about Room, but I just cannot safely approach it. I started Wild, but I couldn't get too far because it hit too close to home. I enjoyed the perspective of Americanah, but I gave away my copy a week before Valerie mentioned it.

So, I grabbed the handful of Jodi Picoult novels I had been collecting for her, tossed in a few others I really wanted to share with her (including one I had purchased an extra copy of, just in case), and high-tailed it over to her place before she could change her mind.

Oh, and on the top of the stack was the copy of Room from my library. I truly hope Valerie reads Room right away, for my sake. To be fair, I have had the book since the days of Borders because it was so well-received by the reading community. I worry that it may be hard to read for the mother of two small children. I'm the grandmother of four small children and I didn't have the courage. I had strangers offer me encouragement, and I still wasn't brave enough. Let's hope Valerie's courage will buoy my reading of that well-received book.

To be fair, I am a dangerous person to ask about a book. As soon as my friend Melanie uttered the phrase "looking for a good book," I was off to the races.
This would have accommodated
the Children's Classics delivery. Part one.

She got books. Her sons got books. I'm sure there were a couple in there for the dogs. I included classics, new releases, and a variety of genres.

I gave her so many books, she brought them back in stages. I had forgotten which books I shared with her. However, her rule was, "If it didn't belong to me or the boys, it must be Chris'." (For the record, she was right.)

When Melanie ventured into the world of audiobooks, I was at a loss. I knew nothing about them: how to listen to them, how to buy them, where to buy them, how to share them, how to find recommendations and ratings, and how to give them as gifts.

Oh, don't worry, I figured it out in no time, and Melanie has been subject to unsolicited audiobooks from time to time. (I warn her beforehand in case she needs to wave me off the carrier deck.)

This has renewed my interest in book hunting. As a book lover and avid, er, collector, I like to peruse every new and used resource I can find. Alas, lately the quest has bored me. My collection is so ample that if I don't currently own it, I've read it and given it away. Now, however, the hunt is not only for a book or two I might enjoy, but for others and their reading interests.

When someone asks for a recommendation, or wonders aloud if you have or can recommend a book, how do you respond? Are you enthusiastic, or do you approach the topic with caution? Do you keep extras of some books around so you can hand them out as needed? (Please tell me I'm not the only one who does that...)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How Facebook Works: Hide, Unfollow, Stay Friends

Facebook is the social media people love to hate these days: you love your sister's photos of her vacation to the Poconos, but you hate the Puppy Bowl videos that clog your feed.

So, how do you stop seeing stuff in your feed that you don't want to see but still stay friends with, say, Mom or Karen or Uncle Phil? 

Facebook has given users the magic arrow to control the news feed. 

To the right of the friend's name is a V-shaped arrow. If you click on it, you see a drop-down menu:



If the post was originated by the friend, you will have the these options:



If you don't like what you see, hide the post.

If you never like what you see from that person, unfollow that person. They will be none the wiser. 

Now, what happens if someone shares something originally published by another source, and you don't like it? Again, use the magic arrow:


Now, you have more choices:


Check out that a third option: hide all from that third party. Rest assured, no more unwanted Puppy Bowl videos will litter your feed.

Now, you could try viewing only the information you want (such as the photos from your sister's vacation). You also could unfriend those whose feeds disturb or upset you.

If, however, you do not wish to exercise those options, consider controlling your feed using the tools Facebook has provided. It's quick and easy, and taking that action may make your Facebook experience more pleasant.