Thursday, May 29, 2014

Begin Your Summer Reading With a Book About One Grand Summer

Bill Bryson is right. The summer of 1927 was an amazing year. in One Summer: America, 1927,  he convinces his readers in his usual engaging, fascinating and conversational way.

Lindbergh? Check. Babe Ruth? Check. Clara Bow, Jack Dempsey, Sacco and Vanzetti? Check, check and double check. He has them all, plus storms and floods, Hoover and Coolidge, a few extra aviators, race relations, gangsters, Prohibition, Broadway musicals and Mount Rushmore.

In no time, you're wishing you lived in 1927 (albeit the safer, wealthier lifestyle). (Hint: it wasn't as a baseball player.)

Bryson does not skate across the top of his topics. He makes sure you understand clearly why aviation was in its heyday in the United States. He is clear about how Prohibition became, remained, then finally was defeated as law. He does it not only with the Roosevelts, Coolidges, Lindberghs and Capones, but also with the individuals with whom you may not be as familiar: Philo Farnsworth, Bill Tilden, Wilson B. Hickox, Robert G. Elliott, Mabel Willebrandt. There were people famous and infamous in their day, people who had the misfortune of becoming a celebrity — or at least renown — in public, unfortunate ways.

As a reader, his chapter near the end about what writers were famous and what books and authors, now famous, were regarded with disdain. I am grateful he agrees with me about Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose books I wanted to like but just couldn't see the attraction. (Much like Anne Rice, Burroughs can concoct a great story, but can't write his way out of a paper bag.)

This fascinating read, complete with photos, ties up all loose ends. Those who were a part of 1927 didn't just vanish at the end of the year and Bryson makes sure you know how those stories ended, starting with Ruth Snyder or Judd Gray).

I love the engaging, inviting way Bryson writes. He makes me wish I was on the field with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth on July 4, 1939 so I could know what Ruth said to his old friend. We feel Lindbergh's shock and discomfort at his endless parades and speeches and we're as confounded as the media at Coolidge's August 2 news conference.

Spend a few months in 1927 with Bryson. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: The Man He Killed

The Man He Killed

Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —

Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.

Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.

by Thomas Hardy
Courtesy Everyman's Library

Monday, May 26, 2014

Start Your Books: It's Summer Reading Time!

Without further ado, here's what my Reading Wish List for the summer, in no particular order:

  1. All Souls trilogy
  2. Tobacco Road
  3. Wild
  4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  5. The Sixth Extinction
  6. Divergent trilogy
  7. Map of the Sky
  8. Peyton Place
  9. The Gods of Manhattan
  10. Golem and the Jinni
  11. Bellman and Black
  12. True Grit
  13. The Hangman's Daughter
  14. NOS4A2
  15. And the Mountain Echoed
  16. Shadowfever
  17. The Goldfinch
  18. The Lowland
  19. 11/22/63
  20. I am Malala
  21. Everything Changes
  22. Far From the Tree
  23. Dangerous Women
  24. 168 Hours in a Day
  25. The Decameron
  26. The Heptameron
  27. The Gun Seller
  28. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
  29. The Eye of Zoltar
  30. Lost Cat
  31. Bellman and Black
  32. The Fault in Our Stars
  33. Cloud Atlas
  34. The Mysterious Benedict Society
  35. A Penny Vincenzi novel
  36. The Family Fang
  37. Arcadia
  38. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
  39. Poisoner's Handbook
  40. Winter's Tale

Oh, good heavens, that's an ambitious list of 44 books, and it doesn't include most of what has collected on my nightstand recently. I may not get to all of them between Memorial Day and the autumnal equinox, but I'm willing to try!

And here's how I'm going to handle order: a book jar. Yes, you heard me right: I'm resorting to the book jar. I think. Well, I also will give myself permission to walk into my library and ask myself: what sounds good right now? If it's not on the list, so be it.

As I have done in years past, I will again donate $5 per book I read to Main Street Child Development Center, and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List.

Last year I read 27 books. Do you think I can beat that record? How about you: what's on your list?

If you want to get in on this "big kids'" Summer Book Club, send me your reading list as soon as you can (or post it in the comments below), then share your "consumed list" with me at summer's end. The reader who consumes the most books will win a new book of her or his choice, courtesy From One Book Lover. (And when we count our books, we'll be fair: I suspect most readers will balance their list between both modest and substantial volumes)

Are you in? What are you going to read? Do you have suggestions for my reading list?  Tell me!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Summer Reading: Join the Club!

Now is the time to start thinking about summer reading — and the Summer Reading Club!

Oh, I'm sure you have been pondering your bookish possibilities, sorting the stacks in your head when you look at your shelves (or those in your local library). However, now it's time to get serious.

Some books cry out to be read in the sunshine. Others are more subtle, encouraging you consider the possibilities.

Some you've been saving for this very purpose. Maybe it's a trilogy that the author finally finished (or has announced the publication date of the final book in the series). You knew it would be in July, so you planned your Independence Day weekend accordingly.

There's the one that is set in winter. You tried to start it last December, but the chill was too biting. Skip the parka, bask in the sun.

Some books are safe only in the sunshine. (Yes, that one.)

So, start stacking them up: we have less than a week before the frenzy begins.

If you own them already, find a table or shelf on which you can stack your booty to remain inspired and motivated.

If you'll borrow any or all of them from the library, start timing your reservations now. (Some libraries allow you to schedule your loans; ask your librarian if you are not sure.)

Does your library system have an "instant gratification" section with hot bestsellers? Scope it out and see if your books are quickly snagged.

If you plan to buy them, make sure your local bookstore has them, or can order them. Don't wait until the last minute just to discover that you have to wait that much longer.

When you've made your list, join this special Summer Reading Club! It's like the library-sponsored ones of your youth, only with less pizza (or not). What does it take to join? Enhusiasm! Send me your list and I will share it with the rest of the group. At the end of the season, we'll count up the books we've read. The one who reads the most wins a new book.

The reading period is from Memorial Day through the end of summer. This year, let's choose Friday, May 23 through Sunday, September 28. Send me your list any time you're ready. I'll publish mine by the end of May (and we can compare how many books from last year's list are contenders again this year!).

Ready? Set... Go get your books!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: Translator’s Confession, 3 a.m.

Translator’s Confession, 3 a.m.

Dear C, I dropped

your sentence in hot water.

I talked to the boil. I said Here

is my thumb for you to burn.

Here is the soft heart

of my hand and my arm and

the nape of my wreck.

I said vapor, just take me.

I’m done burning

with these pages. Being invisible

doesn’t mean a person

won’t blister, doesn’t mean

the blisters won’t fill

with pockets of water

or when lanced the rawest flesh

won’t emerge. First the word

then the murky leak

begins—what another mind

may scrape against

but never skin.

By Idra Novey


About this Poem: 

“I wrote this poem as a way to settle some unfinished business I had with Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian writer whose work I’d been reading intensely for nearly a decade and whose novel I’d recently translated. As is the nature of unfinished business, once I wrote one letter to her, I needed to write another, and on it went for some time.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Birthday, A Poem

Today is a holiday: it's my husband David's birthday. It truly is a great day!

A Birthday

My heart is like a singing bird

                  Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;

My heart is like an apple-tree

                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;

My heart is like a rainbow shell

                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;

My heart is gladder than all these

                  Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;

                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;

Carve it in doves and pomegranates,

                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;

Work it in gold and silver grapes,

                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;

Because the birthday of my life

                  Is come, my love is come to me. 

- by Christina Rossetti 
Courtesy The Poetry Foundation

A Birthday

  by Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird   
  Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;   
My heart is like an apple-tree   
  Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;   
My heart is like a rainbow shell 
  That paddles in a halcyon sea;   
My heart is gladder than all these,   
  Because my love is come to me.   
Raise me a daïs of silk and down;   
  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,   
  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;   
Work it in gold and silver grapes,   
  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;   
Because the birthday of my life
  Is come, my love is come to me.
- See more at:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Grief Puppet — Poetry Wednesday

Grief Puppet


In the nearby plaza, musicians would often gather.

The eternal flame was fueled by propane tank.

An old man sold chive dumplings from a rolling cart,

while another grilled skewers of paprika beef.

Male turtledoves would puff their breasts, woo-ing,

and for a few coins, we each bought an hour with

the grief puppet. It had two eyes, enough teeth,

a black tangle of something like hair or fur,

a flexible spine that ran the length of your arm.

Flick your wrist, and at the end of long rods

it raised its hands as if conducting the weather.

Tilt the other wrist, and it nodded. No effort

was ever lost on its waiting face. It never

needed a nap or was too hungry to think straight.

You could have your conversation over and over,

past dusk when old men doused their charcoal,

into rising day when they warmed their skillets.

The puppet only asked what we could answer.

Some towns had their wall, others their well;

we never gave the stupid thing a name, nor

asked the name of the woman who took our coins.

But later, we could all remember that dank felt,

and how the last of grief’s flock lifted from our chests.

by Sandra Beasley


Thursday, May 1, 2014

One for the Road: Lullaby For The Cat — National Poetry Month

One for the road!

Lullaby For The Cat

Minnow, go to sleep and dream,

Close your great big eyes;

Round your bed Events prepare

The pleasantest surprise.

Darling Minnow, drop that frown,

Just cooperate,

Not a kitten shall be drowned

In the Marxist State.

Joy and Love will both be yours,

Minnow, don't be glum.

Happy days are coming soon--

Sleep, and let them come...

by Elizabeth Bishop