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Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

Books Read in September

“A Prayer for Owen Meany” a novel by John Irving
Okay, so I came a little late to this particular party. This novel has been on my to-be-read list for years and years. Both of my sisters have raved about it for years and years. And I’ve tried to read it for, you guessed it, years and years. But I could never quite get into it. Could never get past the first fifty pages or so. Determined to read it, I suggested it for my book club and had the entire summer to read it. Turns out I didn’t need the entire summer. Turns out I can’t figure out why I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages. I was hooked from that fabulous first sentence: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” I mean, what a great first sentence. Irving even says, “ I may one day write a better first sentence to a novel than that of “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, but I doubt it.” The entire noel is encapsulated in those few words and they reel the reader in. Who doesn’t want to know about this small boy with the wrecked voice who killed this boy’s mother and made him believe in God? Owen Meany is one of the most captivating characters I have ever had to pleasure to encounter. Lesson? Never give up on a book.

“Paper Towns”
a YA novel by John Green
I fell in love with his previous two books. This is his latest. Just as I was able to get a library copy, the paperback edition came out. While I enjoyed it, I wasn’t quite as enamored as with his other novels. There was still a truly engaging voice and some laugh out loud lines like: “Talking to a drunk person was like talking to an extremely happy, severely brain-damaged three-year-old.” But the popular girl with mysterious deep angst just didn’t ring true this time for me. I liked it but am okay with not owning my own copy.

“The Glen Rock Book of the Dead” a memoir by Marion Winik
I ordered this little gem after it was recommended by Heather Sellers for a writing class I took with her. It is barely a hundred pages but each page is powerful. It is a series of portraits of people Winik has known who have died over the years from the eye doctor to the counselor to the nurse. Each portrait is tender and raw and each one pierces your heart leaving you a little breathless. It left me reeling with ideas of my own portraits and how to write about people in such a way that they as well as you are revealed. Riveting.

“Miles from Nowhere” a YA novel by Nami Mun
Joon is thirteen, her father has left, her mother has retreated to a place that Joon can’t reach so she sets off on her own out into the world of NYC in the 1980’s. It is not a pretty journey. Mun’s prose is raw yet poetic as we follow Joon from a shelter to strip clubs through addiction to a place fragile place of hope, I found myself underlining sentences like: “The dress tongued the floor behind her as she walked up to Lana…”

“Livability” stories by Jon Raymond
The last story in this collection, “Train Choir” is the basis of the movie “Wendy and Lucy” with Michelle Williams. Amazing but sad story. Not sure I cold watch it as a movie. All of the stories feature characters who struggle against the inertia of their own lives whether it’s a man who invites the Mexican landscapers he hired for the day to a feast he’s prepared or a recent widower. We are allowed such emotional access that we want to look away but like passing an accident it is hard to shift our gaze. And that is Raymond’s strength as a writer, he doesn’t avert his gaze nor does he wallow in what he sees.

“Normal People Don’t Live Like This” a novel in stories by Dylan Landis
I read a review of this in More magazine and had to get it the day it came out as it is similar to a novel in stories I have been working on for years now. Both feature an adolescent girl growing up in the seventies. I learned something about structuring a novel in stories. Every story doesn’t revolve around Leah. The stories follow Leah Levinson and the dark world of girls’ lives murky with secrets and sexuality. Beautiful and hypnotic.

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Books Read in August

“Certain Girls” a novel by Jennifer Weiner
When I was a kid, our small-town paper published wedding announcements, with descriptions of the ceremonies and dresses and pictures of the brides.

We meet Cannie Shapiro again after her debut novel, loosely (or maybe not) based on her life became a huge success. That success sent her scurrying out of the limelight and into a quiet life as mother to Joy, wife to Peter and the writer of science fiction books under a pseudonym.  The chapters alternate between Cannie and Joy as they attempt to navigate the natural pulling away between mother and teenage daughter. Joy, feeling her mother is hiding a huge part of her life, sets out to discover what she is hiding. As the mother of two teenage daughters, I was surprised to find myself with a lot of empathy for Joy. Cannie’s overprotectiveness felt stifling and I didn’t always get where it came from. I won’t spoil the ending but when I got near the end I was so surprised (and maybe a little annoyed) by what happened. But it kept me up past midnight so I could finish it and when I did I realized that it had to happen.

“The Slippery Year- A Meditation on Happily Ever After” a memoir by Melanie Gideon
One day when I was sitting in the carpool line waiting to pick up my son from school, it occurred to me that I had been sleepwalking through my life.

Okay, so I think she wrote my memoir. So many similarities: we are both 44, married for 20 years, moms, on a quest for a new mattress. (Like her, I was considering the tempurpedic but now, not much) Like her, I also have this low-grade (sometimes not so low) anxiety that thrums beneath the surface of my really blessed life. I keep waiting for the Bad thing to happen. We also have the same relationship to camping, liking it in theory more than in reality. She explores the angst of letting her nine-year-old son go to camp. This summer I have had to let my 15 year-old-daughter go several hundred miles away as a mother’s helper for six and half weeks. I think a good book reminds us that we are not alone even in our darkest most neurotic hours, and Gideon does precisely that.

“Home Safe” a novel by Elizabeth Berg
One Saturday when she was nine years old, Helen Ames went into the basement, sat at the card table her mother used for folding laundry, and began writing.

Yes, I am always a sucker for a book about writing. I devoured this one in less than twenty-four hours. Berg is always immensely readable. It’s like she’s dropped by for a brief visit to fill you in on what’s been happening to some people she knows. In this case, it’s the life of Helen Ames who has been recently widowed. In the midst of her grief she finds herself unable to write and extremely dependent on her twenty-seven year-old daughter, Tessa. When she makes the shocking discovery that her husband withdrew most of their retirement saving shortly before he died without her knowledge, everything she thought she knew about herself, her husband and her marriage is up for grabs.

“The Lair’s Club” a memoir by Mary Karr
My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark.

How did I not read this before now? I’ve heard about it. I’ve seen it. It blew me away. Karr does this tricky thing with memory and tense that absolutely works. Most of the memoir is told in past tense except when we are in the midst of some harrowing memory then it is in present and we are right there with her as she tries to piece it together. This is also one of the few memoirs I’ve read that talks so openly about memory, admitting that it’s often unreliable, letting the reader know that she is struggling to remember what she remembers but is quick to point out hat perhaps her sister might see it another way, polar opposite of what she just wrote. As dark as the story is, it is also laugh out loud funny. It is never maudlin or melodramatic. The tension is pitch perfect, taut all the way through. Amazing, truly.

“My Stroke of Insight- a Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.
Every brain has a story and this is mine.

My sister showed me this clip and I knew immediately that I had to read Taylor’s book. I borrowed it from the library but now realize that I will have to buy my own copy to refer to again and again as well as be able to underline passages that speak to me. Jill Bolte Taylor was a thirty-seven-year-old brain scientist when she experienced a massive stroke that obliterated her left brain on December 10, 1996. It took eight years to fully recover but as you will read, what does recover truly mean? She explores and explains what happened to her brain during the stroke and subsequent recovery in terms that are not only easy to understand but also fascinating. I joked that if I had a do-over I would seriously consider going into brain research. She shares the insight she had about how we can all access a true inner peace, feel at one with the universe and how we always have a choice about how we respond to any situation. Did you know that an emotion such as anger takes 90 seconds to physiologically course through your body? After ninety seconds, it’s done. If you are still angry, you are choosing to stay angry. This is a book that everyone should read. It’s invaluable to those who may know somebody who has had a stroke but also to any person wishing to have more insight to this beautiful creation we house in our head called a brain.

I also read some great short stories from the current issue of “The Missouri Review” as well as “The Atlantic Fiction 2009”. I am eagerly waiting for the BASS 2009, edited this year by Alice Sebold.

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“Why I’m Like This” true stories by Cynthia Kaplan
There was always one girl at camp whom everyone hated.

Kaplan has been described as a cross between David Sedaris and Anna Quindlen. Her true stories delve into a therapist from hell, bizarre grandmothers and the rest of her family and friends. The book is both hilarious and heart-breaking.

“If I Stay” a YA novel by Gayle Forman
Everything thinks it was because of the snow.

This is Mia’s story, recounted after a devastating accident. She is not dead, yet. She is able to observe what is going on around her, see her family and friends gathering at her bedside, at the hospital. Woven in are bits of her life, before the accident and the realization that she has the ultimate decision to make. A fast, engrossing read.

“Matrimony” a novel by Joshua Henkin
Out! Out! Out!” The first words Julian Wainwright ever spoke, according to his father, Richard Wainwright III, graduate of Yale and grand lubricator of the economic machinery, and Julian’s mother, Constance Wainwright, Wellesley graduate and descendant of a long family of Pennsylvania Republicans.

I’ve always loved learning what goes on behind the scenes. This novel gives us access to a marriage as well as the writing life. We follow Julian from his days at Graymont College, where students could receive comments instead of grades from the professors, to a post-college life that involves his college love, Mia, and Carter with whom he has a strong but strained friendship. One of the things I really admired about this book is Henkin’s skill at creating scenes that move seamlessly in and out of the past and present. An absorbing portrait of a marriage and a creative life, both of which I found rich and textured.

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.

Shaffer spent twenty years writing this book. Once it was accepted for publication she was too ill to finish the revisions so she asked her niece, Barrows to do it for her.  The novel is told in letters from various characters and reveals the story of the German Occupation of the island of Guernsey. It’s a charming tale the shines a light on an obscure (to me anyway) piece of WWII history.

“Florida” a novel by Christine Schutt
She was on her knees and rubbing her back against parts of the house and backing into corners and sliding our from under curtains, rump polishing the floor, and she was saying, “Sit with me, Alice.”

A powerful novel of a mother and daughter told in sparse but precise and intense vignettes. It almost reads like a prose poem.

“The Next Thing on My List” a novel by Jill Smolinski
Next on the list: kiss a stranger.

So starts June Parker’s mission to complete the to-do list of Marissa, a passenger who is killed in a car accident while June was giving her a ride home. The tasks range from the mundane (eat ice cream in public) to the profound (change someone’s life). It’s a quick, delightful read that got me thinking about my own list of things I want to do in my life.

“The Wednesday Sisters” a novel by Meg Waite Clayton
The Wednesday Sisters look like the kind of women who might meet at those fancy coffee shops on University– we do look that way– but we’re not one bit  fancy, and we’re not sisters, either.

The open notebook filled with writing on the cover is what drew me in. I’m a sucker for any book that features writing or writers. This particular book features five women who meet as young mothers in the late sixties and form a writing group. We follow them through their personal creative struggles, relationships, medical issues as well as the changing world around them.

“Real Life & Liars” a novel by Kristina Riggle
My tea tastes so fresh and this joint is so fine, I might melt right into the red velvet cushion and run down the walls into a silvery pool on the floor.

Once I was able to get past the fact that this was written by somebody I actually know, I slipped right into the Zielinski’s family life. One thing I appreciated as a writer is how the novel is focused on one particular weekend, a 35th anniversary party. It made me consider the structure of some of my longer projects. Also, the chapters are told in alternating points of view: the mother is in first person while the three adult children are in third. I also enjoyed reading a story that takes place in a setting I am familiar with- northern Michigan. An engaging story of family and how we continue to bump up against each other throughout our lives.

“Do Not Deny Me” short stories by Jean Thompson
The heat in Penrose’s office had not worked properly all fall.

Jean Thompson is one of my favorite short story writers. Her collection “ Who Do You Love” is on my permanent writer’s bookshelf. This latest one will also occupy a space there. Some of the perfectly drawn characters we encounter are a young woman whose boyfriend unexpectedly dies, a couple in dire financial straits and a man trapped by his stroke. This is a book I will read again and again, this time with a pen in hand.

“The Angel’s Game” a novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story.

Yes, it is another story featuring a writer but so much more happens in this intricate world he has created in these 532 pages. We are drawn into the world of publishing, art versus commercial, mysterious benefactors whose motives are questionable to say the least, love triangles, murders, arson, theft, police corruption, magic. This book has it all. The plot is as ornate and intricate as the intriguing city of Barcelona where the novel is set. If you’re looking for a lush story to sink into and lose yourself, then this is it.

Plus you get little gems of writing advice: “Routine is the housekeeper of inspiration. Only forty-eight hours after the establishment of the new regime, I discovered that I was beginning to recover the discipline of my most productive years. The hours of being locked up in the study crystallized into pages and more pages in which, not without some anxiety, I began to see the work taking shape, reaching the point at which it stopped being an idea and became a reality.”

“Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It” stories by Maile Meloy
Chet Morgan grew up in Logan, Montana, at a time when kids weren’t supposed to get polio anymore.

I strive to write stories as vast and precise as these.  Each one feels staggeringly unique even as they explore familiar themes of grief, yearning, fraternal rivalry. I could not put this book down. It was like eating potato chips– just one more. Okay, one more.  And I was so disappointed when I read the last one. I would love to take a writing workshop with her but in the meantime her stories have so much to teach me.

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Books Read in April

“No One You Know” a novel by Michelle Richmond
When I found him at last, I had long ago given up the search.

This reminded me a lot of her other novel, “A Year of Fog”. Both focus on a woman involved in some mysterious crime that goes unsolved for years. The previous novel involved a missing child, this one revolves around a sibling’s death. I noticed similarities in the structure as well. The way relevant scenes from the past inform the current mystery. Also, the way several interesting subjects are woven into the story. This story includes the beauty of mathematics, the role of story in our lives, the art of being a cupola. It’s made me think about certain subjects I am passionate about and/or curious about that I can weave into my own stories.

I particularly enjoyed this passage:

“We live our lives by way of story. Over time we connect thousands upon thousands of small narratives by which to process and remember our days, and those mini-narratives add up to the bigger story, the way we see ourselves in the world.”

“Time of My Life” a novel by Allison Winn Scotch
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

I am always intrigued by stories about the road not taken. I love the movie “Sliding Doors.” Carol Anshaw’s novel “Aquamarine” explores a similar theme. In “Time of My Life” Jillian Westerfield  can’t stop asking herself “What if” even though she as a seemingly lovely life, home, husband and daughter. She wakes up one morning, seven years in the past. She looks as she did then but has the memories and knowledge of who she is now. Determined to create the life she had been wishing for she soon begins making choices that have unforeseen consequences causing a ripple affect in both her past and present lives. A very enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

“The Echo Maker”
a novel by Richard Powers
Cranes keep landing as night falls. Ribbons of them roll down, slack against the sky. They float in from all compass points, in kettles of a dozen, dropping with the dusk. Scores of Grus canadensis settle on the thawing river. They gather on the island flats, grazing, beating their wings, trumpeting the advance wave of a mass evacuation. More birds land by the minute, the air red with calls.

Don’t you love that last phrase? The air red with calls. It’s perfect. I know exactly what he means. There is much to admire in this book: the beautiful descriptions, the fascinating research on the brain and all the ways it can go wrong, the mysterious nature of Mark’s disease in which he recognizes his sister but does not believe that she actually is his sister. This happens after a mysterious car accident on a deserted road. His sister comes to care for him, giving up basically her entire life. I had high hopes for this book. The back flap copy sounded promising. That first paragraph took my breath away. It’s a National Book Award winner. I even recommended it for my book club. And because I did I managed to finish it. But it took me the entire month to read. I made the mistake of thinking I could read it during our long car ride back east and this book required deep concentration and that wasn’t gonna happen in the car with my family. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was. It felt like there were so many characters and situations going on that I didn’t know which one to care about most and therefore really didn’t care about any of them very much. There wasn’t an urgent question I found myself dying to know. Still, much to admire. The way the cranes are used as a motif throughout is beautiful. And some of the descriptive passages are exquisite.

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Books Read in March

“A Mercy” a novel by Toni Morrison
Don’t be afraid. My telling can’t hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark – weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more– but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth.

A slender novel that packs a powerful punch. Each chapter alternates between different characters and each voice is unique and distinguishable from the others. The story takes placer in the 1680’s when slavery was just beginning. Florens is the only character who tells her own story of looking for love after being handed over to Jacob as partial payment for a bad debt. The novel tackles slavery, religion, prejudice, smallpox but the at the heart of the story is a mother who does what she has to in order to save her daughter, Florens, and a daughter who may never recover from that deed.

“The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Small Acts of Liberation” stories by Elizabeth Berg
I began at Dunkin’ Donuts. I hadn’t gone there since I started Weight Watchers a year ago because I had to lose weight; my doctor made me go.

In spite of the light-hearted title, these stories are anything but. They dive deep into the food and body obsession most girls and women experience at some point if not most points in their lives. The characters range from young girls to middle-aged women to old women nearing the end all struggling with choices they’ve made, food and otherwise.

“The Man of My Dreams” a novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
Julia Roberts is getting married.

I love the way this novel is structured. Each chapter reads like its own complete story. It gave me so many ideas for my own book that I had to go out and buy my own copy instead of relying on the library copy I had. While I was there I picked up her two other novels as well. She just gets inside Hannah’s head in a way I wish I could get into my own character. I’ll be reading it again with pen in hand.

“Now You See Him” a novel by Eli Gottlieb
At this late date, would it be fair to say that people, after a fashion, have come to doubt the building blocks of life itself?

Two things drew me to this book. First I had read one of his stories in BASS and loved it. Second, two of the characters are writers and we all know I love reading about characters who are writers. It was in the mystery section of the library but I’d have to say it is a literary mystery, meaning it didn’t feel like a genre story. The characters had too much depth. I think of mysteries as being motivated by plot. This story is motivated by characters. Deeply flawed, struggling characters. So it has the best of both: characters I cared about and enough happening that it kept me quickly turning the pages to find out what happens next.

“Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury
Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them.

I know I’ve owned this little gem of a book at some point but can no longer find my copy so I borrowed it from the library, once again restraining myself from underling in it.

The entire book is filled with zest and gusto. It oozes off each and every page. And it has me wondering if maybe I am not writing what I should be writing. It should be more fun and normally I hate the word “should” but really, shouldn’t it? I mean, I am not making a living at it so if I am going to spend my time doing something, it should at least be fun. Or maybe I am confusing fun with joy. I love getting lost in a story. I love finding the story buried beneath pages of scribbles. I love discovering the perfect word or sentence. All that brings me joy.

I love what he says about plot:

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. that is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.”

The main thing I got from this is that he enjoys the process of writing. Not just enjoys but revels in it. He would sit down to write for the day and have no idea what he was going to write so he’d just start typing words. Free associating until that thing, that kernel emerged and he was off and running. Or writing.

I’ll definitely have to find my old copy or go out and buy a new one. This goes back to the library today and I already miss its energy.

“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” a memoir by Haruki Murakami
I’m on Kauai, in Hawaii, today, Friday, August 5, 2005. It’s unbelievably clear and sunny, not a cloud in the sky.

Running and writing are the two threads woven tightly throughout Murakami’s life. One balances the other. One feeds the other. He says that beyond talent, the two most important qualities a writer needs are focus and endurance both of which he learns over and over again through his training for marathons, ultramarathons and triathalons. He writes:

“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life_ and for me, for writing as well.”

He continually sets goals for both his writing and running whether it is to finish a novel in a certain amount of time or to never walk in a marathon. His dedication is inspiring. I felt an urge to underline so much of this book but since it’s a library copy, I restrained myself. But I will be buying my own copy where it will go on the shelf of books I go to again and again for motivation.

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Books Read in December

“Breakfast of Champions” a novel by Kurt Vonnegut
I think this is the first novel I’ve read by him unless I read “Slaughterhouse-Five” in high school. Wasn’t that one all the reading lists? This was my latest book club pick. The first night  picked it up I read about thirty pages. When I got back to a few days later I couldn’t pick up the thread of the story so I flipped back a few pages. Still couldn’t. A few more. Nope. I had to start over. I found myself trying too hard to figure it out. It felt like one of those pictures that you’re supposed to relax and look through somehow and this amazing 3-D image will be revealed. Well. I can never ever see them. Ever. But with this book I kind of relaxed my focus and just settled in for the ride and that worked. At our book club the consensus was fairly unanimous. Quirky. Weird. Hard to follow. But once we started talking, a new perspective and appreciation emerged. I’ll never be a die-hard fan but I like reading books that pull me out of my comfort zone. It’s good for me the writer, me the reader and me the person.

“Iodine” a novel by Haven Kimmel
Dark, disturbing, gothic, rich with archetypes and psychology. This was not an easy read. There are so many layers to Trace Covington’s personality. What was real and what imagined became a very fine, blurry line. The novel explores a young woman’s brutal and bizarre childhood as it is revealed in bits and pieces of dreams and journal entries. She is a brilliant student, which helps hide the fact that she is seriously disturbed emotionally and possibly mentally. When she falls in love with her literature professor their love story seems to help sew the fragments of herself together until his secrets emerge, causing her to confront her own. I wasn’t always clear about what was imagined and what truly happened but I also wasn’t bothered that I didn’t always know either. The voice, as well as the story itself is incredibly hypnotizing.

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” a novel by David Wroblewski
I have to admit that this book didn’t make it onto my to-be read list even after all the hype over the summer, and even after Oprah picked it as her latest selection.  Part of it was petty jealousy that a first time author who spent ten years writing this book was graced by the Oprah Midas touch. Another part was that a book about dogs didn’t exactly appeal to me. I like dogs. I like cats. But I don’t feel that magical connection to them like some people. Then my book club selected it to read so I succumbed and bought it. I had a hard time getting into it. Maybe I was distracted but I didn’t feel a pull to pick up and continue reading it. Finally two people from my book club said they had read it over the summer and they couldn’t put it down. So I started over and they were right. He tells a great story. One of the things I admire most is his sense of place: the woods, the barn, the seasons. The chapters from the point of view of the dog were not gimmicky as I feared. And Edgar is such a unique character: a mute boy with this special connection to dogs. I found the information of breeding dogs actually quite interesting. The book is over five hundred pages and part of me feels that he shoe-horned everything he might ever want to possibly write about someday into this one book. Then. Then I get to the end. Now I won’t spoil it but I will say that I had to read it twice to make sure what I thought happened is what actually happened. And I think it is. And I was disappointed. And a little annoyed. After all that. Really? That’s how it had to end? I’m really curious to hear what he has to say about the ending. Maybe it will help me see it a new light. Maybe not.

“The Penderwicks on Gardam street” a YA novel by Jeanne Birdsall
I read this for our mother/daughter book club, which meets tonight. My daughter is in the living room trying to finish it before we leave; she got caught up in another book this month. It was a quick, cleansing read. Exactly the kind of book I would’ve been drawn to as a kid: a family of four daughters each with their own interest and talent whether it’s animals, writing or science. The only problem I had was that I figured out very, very early on how it was going to play out and I was right.

“The Year of Fog” a novel by Michelle Richmond
This was a mesmerizing story. A story I couldn’t put down. It’s the story of a six year-old who goes missing on a foggy beach in San Francisco. It’s the story of the search for her, of the guilt that Abby Mason, the girl’s father’s fiancée feels every single minute of every dingle day that passes and the girl is not found.

I love the way Richmond weaves this incredible story with information and history of memory and photography.

Memory is not unlike a photograph with multiple exposures. One event is layered on top of another, so that it is impossible to distinguish between the details of the two. The older we get, the more multiple-exposure memories we have. Temporal relationships become elastic. As the years progress and we experience more and more, the mini-narratives that make up our lives are distorted, corrupted, so that every one of us is left with a false history, a self-created fiction about the lives we have led.

I admire the pace of this well- plotted novel that seems to emanate from the characters and not a plot driven outline the author had in mind all along. I learned that it’s not only important to have a burning question that leads the reader to turn each and every page such as will the little girl be found but it’s just as important to have questions beneath questions: what happens if she is found? What happens if she isn’t?

“A Better Angel” short stories by Chris Adrian
This may be my surprise favorite book of the year. I found it on the new books shelf of our local library. Hadn’t heard anything about it but liked the cover: a collaged angel illustration. The stories are stunning. Once I got to the third (chilling) story I realized I had heard of him. The story, “Stab” was in the “Best American Mystery Stories”. The stories blend some amazing writing with medical mysteries as well as spiritual ones. Echoes of 9-11 reverberate throughout the collection in odd and uniquely compelling ways. The author is a pediatrician as well as a divinity student (not to mention a successful writer). The main thing I am taking away from this collection is to really just delve into what you find fascinating about the world you live in and slice it open to share it in your writing. The things that fascinate Adrian appear in the stories over and over: children, illness, 9-11, regret, death, mourning. I’ll have to go out and buy a copy since this is going on my permanent bookshelf. (Oh and two of the stories got honorable mentions in 2007 BASS edited by Stephen King.)

“Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him” a novel by Danielle Ganek
First of all- great title. It is actually the title of a painting that becomes the center of a bidding war after the fifty-something, “emerging” artist is run over by a cab on the night of his opening. Mia, the gallerina finds herself at the center of all the hubbub surrounding his death and sudden fame as an artist. This was a fun romp through a world unknown to me- the New York and International art scene- as Mia sheds one artistic identify and finds her true one as well as her true love.

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Morning pages everyday day for week 3? Check. It surprised me that for several days almost the entire three pages were filled with reflections on the election and the economy.

Artist Date? Check. I volunteered at the local Obama headquarters. I did some data entry, inputting info from phone calls. I consider this an artist date since it is something new to me. It pushed me out of my comfort zone. Although I did find myself seeing this “date” as just one more thing to check off my to-do list.

Now I’m at the dreaded week 4 of the program. Dreaded because this is reading deprivation week. Yep. That’s right. No reading. Here is what she has to say about it:

“For artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.”

It makes sense. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve posted similar thoughts in this blog about my own relationship to reading. I can definitely see the power behind not reading for a week. But I hate the idea of it. I found myself busily devouring several books last night, like a squirrel hoarding for a long bleak winter. And tomorrow I am going to Grand Rapids to see the Richard Avedon exhibit for my artist date but I always take a book with me everywhere I go. Everywhere. What will I do with any unexpected pockets of time? I guess that’s the whole point of this week. To try something different like actually interacting with my environment instead of burying my nose in a book.

I did not write on my story every day. Actually, only three days. I’m beginning to wonder if I am writing the kind of stories I want to write or if they are the kind of stories I think I should write. And how can you spot the difference? This week’s writing intention is to be more playful. If I don’t know what happens next then just play with a prompt, write a memory, write from a different point of view. Not writing is not going to get me any closer to finishing the story.

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