Monday, January 25, 2010

News Year's Resolutions Follow-Up, Part 1

It's been nearly a month since the beginning of the year.  How are your New Year's resolutions coming along?

Let me tell you how my crazy declarations are maturing.

I want to read more.
Well, I'm not yet reading less, despite a sinus infection — I have read two books so far this month. (I read one twice, so does that count as three books?)

I am finalizing my Fill in the Gaps list to choose the 100 books I pledge to read in the next five years.  I estimate at least half of the books on my proposed list are in my house right now.  I am looking for recommendations on which H.P. Lovecraft book (or two) to put on my list, in case you can offer a title or two.  Actually, I will take any recommendations you can offer, and I'll publish my list soon for your perusal.

I want to listen to music more.
David and I both have been turning on the iPod when we are home, so music has been echoing through Chez Cohen pretty steadily.  I have heard more Eric Clapton than any person alive should.  Him, and Al Dimeola.  I jest.  We've also heard more Once More, With Feeling and Betty.  Imagine Pete Fountain following a little Buffy.  (Go ahead, I'll wait.) (Cool, huh?) I imagine we'll listen to the iPod for hours as we drive to North Carolina later this month.

I also have switched my radio stations from NPR-only to a few music ones.  I surf until I find a melody I like, no matter the language or style.  It's kind of fun.  Sorry, Kojo, I gotta mix it up.

I want to listen to more music.
I downloaded "Don't Cha" the Pussycat Dolls a couple of weeks ago, and watched in amusement as David whistled it for a week.  I'm sure he's cooking up some revenge, though I don't mind humming a song for forever. It's the people around me who crack first.

Today, I flipped the radio to the local pop music station.  I wasn't really enjoying it at first, then realized it was the traffic and my own response to it that spoiled it for me.  On the way home, I just relaxed and found myself bobbing to "TiK ToK" by Ke$ha.  I didn't condone the behavior of the song narrator who was intoxicated with an air of carelessness that concerned me, but the beat was impossible to ignore. I also heard "You Belong With Me" by Taylor Swift —I think it was my first exposure to her, and it was quite a sweet song.

Then there was Kelly Clarkson, who seems to be all over the radio, on pretty much every station I've hit.  I'm not sure if I like that, let alone her getting away with such sloppy lyrics.  "Sucks"? Can't you do any better, Ms. Clarkson?

I want to write more letters.
I want to run faster.
I did neither of these, but with my clean bill of health, I'm bound to start at least one soon.  Maybe tonight.  You never know.

How about you?  How are your resolutions coming along?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Poe Fact Involving a Cat

Today is Edgar Allen Poe's birthday.  Here is a sad but lovely fact about the acclaimed author, courtesy of The Writer's Almanac:

In 1836, Poe married his 14-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm.  She was sick with tuberculosis, and they had no money to pay for heat so Poe trained their cat to sit on her lap to keep her warm.

I knew there was at least one extra-special reason for liking Poe. And cats.

Click here to read "The Black Cat," a short story published by Poe in 1845, courtesy of Poe Stories.

And here is a poem penned by Henry Beard, author of French for Cats:

The End of the Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe's Cat


by Henry Beard

On a night quite unenchanting, when the rain was downward slanting,

I awakened to the ranting of the man I catch mice for.

Tipsy and a bit unshaven, in a tone I found quite craven,

Poe was talking to a Raven perched above the chamber door.

"Raven's very tasty," thought I, as I tiptoed o'er the floor,

"There is nothing I like more."

Soft upon the rug I treaded, calm and careful as I headed

Toward his roost atop that dreaded bust of Pallas I deplore.

While the bard and birdie chattered, I made sure that nothing clattered,
or snapped, or fell, or shattered, as I crossed the corridor;

For his house is crammed with trinkets, curios and weird decor--

Bric-a-brac and junk galore.

Still the Raven never fluttered, standing stock-still as he uttered,

In a voice that shrieked and sputtered, his two cents' worth--
While this dirge the birdbrain kept up, oh, so silently I crept up,

Then I crouched and quickly leapt up, pouncing on the feathered

Soon he was a heap of plumage, and a little blood and gore--

Only this and not much more.

"Oooo!" my pickled poet cried out, "Pussycat, it's time I dried out!

Never sat I in my hideout talking to a bird before;

How I've wallowed in self-pity, while my gallant, valiant kitty

Put an end to that damned ditty"--then I heard him start to snore,

Back atop the door I clambered, eyed that statue I abhor,

Jumped--and smashed it on the floor.

(courtesy Star Walk.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Challenge: Filling in the Gaps in Our Reading

Everyone has books they have meant to read and never have gotten around to read. Everyone has books they managed to avoid reading in school, the classics we were supposed to read because they were good for us in some way. (We didn't buy that logic on every single so-called "classic," did we?)

How about the books everyone else has seemed to read, or the books you have eyed on the shelves, wishing you could find the time to read?

How would you like to get them read?

Take the Fill in the Gaps Challenge: make a list of 100 books you want to read, for whatever reasons (and you don't even have to tell anyone why). Now, make a promise to yourself that you will read them during the course of the next five years.

Don't laugh. Better, don't hyperventilate. In your heart of hearts, you know you can accomplish reading 20 books a year, if you really set your mind to it. On average, you could spend two and a half weeks to finish each one. That's an average, of course. Each book is different, and some will go more quickly than others.

How long do you think it will take you to read Dracula? Gone With the Wind? Madame Bovary? Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell? Probably less time than you think.

If you're not sure what books you want to put on your list, visit the Fill in the Gaps Web site for ideas. Stroll through your local library and talk to the librarians. One librarian in particular has created her own collection of lists: Nancy Pearl and Book Lust.

Talk to booksellers and see what they like; they have access to thousands of titles, so their choices could be interesting. Emily at My Borders turned me onto Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, and I am forever grateful.

Your local library probably has a few list of award-winners and bestsellers. My friend Carole has pledged to read every Pulitzer Prize winner, and she already has made great headway in the past year. Go international with the Nobel Prize. What kind of books do you prefer? If you're a fan of horror novels, check out the Bram Stoker Award winners. If you like mysteries, check out the Edgar Awards. Consider a Newbery Award winner, no matter your age. Here's an idea: if you want to be different, choose a runner-up — if they were good enough to be nominated, they were good enough to win, right? Find a new favorite author.

If you run out of ideas, visit the Fill in the Gaps Web site to see what other people have put on their lists.

Remember, this doesn't have to stunt your other reading of current bestsellers, textbooks or other "must-reads" already in your life. Pepper your reading time with these gap-fillers. Here are a few ideas of how to incorporate reading into your daily life:

  • Leave books around the house so you can pick up a book while the pasta is boiling.
  • Designate one or two nights after work and school "pleasure reading nights" for the entire family.
  • Turn off the TV and TiVo/DVR your shows one or two nights a week.
  • Read for 30 minutes before bed.
  • Designate your gap books for reading aloud with the family — if they're appropriate: The Wind in the Willows may an easy book to share, whereas Silence of the Lambs or Lolita might not be as popular choice. (Or maybe it is: who's to say what works for you?)

I will post my list soon, and I will keep you abreast of how the list is going on this blog as well as my other blog, From One Book Lover. You do the same with me. Let's show each other just how easy it is to read what you've always wanted to read.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Guinea Pig With a Life Lesson

Guinea Pig

As if your cancer weren't enough,
the guinea pig is dying.
The kids brought him to me
wrapped in a bath towel
‘Do something, Mom.
Save his life.'

I'm a good mom.
I took time from work,
drove him to the vet,
paid $77.00 for his antibiotics.

Now, after the kids rush off to school,
you and I sit on the bed.
I hold the guinea pig, since he bites.
You fill the syringe.
We administer the foul smelling medicine,
hoping the little fellow will live.

admitting to each other:
if he doesn't,
it'll be good practice.

by Julie Cadwallader-Staub

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

As a rule, I do not cotton to "new year's resolutions." I mean, January 1 or 2 is as a good a time as any to start something new, but why the pressure as you hang a new calendar on the wall?

Additionally, most resolutions are "good for you," something a person hasn't started for one "good" reason or another — a reason that can as easily color the person's future as it did her/his past "future."

Finally, most resolutions are a little pie-in-the-sky.  Nothing short of a taffy pull will make me 5-foot-8, and even Miss America Wannabees don't weigh what their bios claim.  If I want to look like someone else who's tall and svelte, I can resolute all I want — and when I don't achieve it, I can simply chalk it up to my inability to keep a resolution, then settle back on the couch with Cisco and a bag of Cheetos.  Oh, well, it was just a New Year's resolution.

Between hype and ambivalence, I think it's safe to say a resolution is easily doomed, doomed, doomed.

Therefore, I'll give the whole resolution thing a shot.  (I always root for the underdog.)

The first thing I'll do is read more.  In 2009, I read only 40 books.  At that rate, I'll never finish everything in my library — and I've got some good books waiting for me.  If I don't work on it, I'll never get to all of the great tomes I eye every day.  (Another advantage of the printed book: perusing their spines as they line the library.)

The second thing I want to do is write more letters.  I love writing about everything and nothing in a conversation on the page, and the occasional non sequitur amuses me.  I like Facebook and Twitter, but a letter is like a surprise gift.  I would use homemade stationery for the letters I sent to my grandmother.  (As her eyesight deteriorated, I simply used larger fonts.)  Send me your address and we can start a written correspondence.  I'd like that.

David's and my new iPod will help with another resolution: to listen to music more.  We have hundreds of CDs between us, but rarely have we play them because the 5-disc player required selection, loading, unloading and more selection.  With the mega-iPod, now all of our music is available to play with a few clicks of a dial.  Set it on "shuffle," and we hear a little of everything (and subject the family to "deep in the vault" songs, like Jingle Cats — go ahead, listen to a snippet or two).

While I am at it, I want to listen to more music.  Every time I climb into the car with Nikki, I hear her music.  It hearkens back to the music I listened to once, the lively, culturally pertinent pop music of my youth.  I loved that, and some of today's pop music gets me listening (and, yes, dancing in my car seat).  I need to listen to more music — which means I need to find a good pop radio station.  (I've heard classic rock all my life, so I'm looking for something new.)  I'll take suggestions: and remember, the Internet makes most radio stations within our reach.

I want to run faster.  I am not a snail, but I know I could be better.  I might not get back to my high school heyday of a 7-minute mile (hey, don't laugh! I won some exciting races with that speed!), but I'd like to take less time doing what I do.  I'm sure there are ways to do that, like just moving my feet faster, but we'll see.

These ideas will keep me busy for now.  Plus, if I actually achieve one or two of them, I have a chance of trying the whole "resolution" thing again.

A few people at Borders have announced their resolutions.  What are yours?