A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

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Another Book Already?!

Yeah, I usually have a couple books going at once!

One of my husband’s favorite movies is Omega Man and when we saw I Am Legend, we both looked at each other…

“Wait a minute. This movie is familiar.” We looked it up via the blessed web and found out they are both based on the same book, so I added it to my wish list. That was years ago and I’m finally getting to reading it.

Strange that I’m deciding to pick it up now.

A quick bit of research on the book, I found that it was written in 1954, inspiring movies like “Night of the Living Dead,” a personal favorite. I also read that none of the movies follow the book close enough that the author wanted his name on them, so I’m excited to read the differences.

I’m about a hundred pages in and I’m loving it. For an end of the world by virus that mutates humans into vampires, it’s a fun, light read. Since it was written in the 50’s, of course it has references to ending some war with a nuclear bomb. Is that what made the virus?!

I’ve always been a huge fan of zombies, vampires, and end of the world stories, both in books and film. The causes change within each era but the how people deal with the disasters, government reactions, how they try to avoid it, and deal with each other is eerily familiar.

Looking around me now, watching the news, reading the papers, and scanning social media, it makes it a little more upsetting. Little did I know how real those stories could be and how helpful they’d become in dealing with my own world. No, I don’t think this is the end of the world, but it’s fascinating how predictable masses of people can be and it’s all right there in the stories.

Life imitates art or vice versa?

New Read – “A Literary Education”

Some of My Friends

It happened again. I forgot why I put this book on my wishlist. I need a better system. Or do I? Does it really matter where I got the recommendation? I suppose not. I’ve learned to trust my list. It’s there for a reason, so I buy them when I can.

As I sat down to read, I remembered; my mother-in-law had recently shared an article with me that she thought I’d enjoy. We’ve lived together for 18 years and the woman knows me well. She had pulled it out of a magazine and brought it over to me, old school sharing. There is something awesome about that. I have it still sitting on my desk. What do I do with it now? Share it with someone else maybe? By mail? Before the internet, I had a folder of pulled articles like that, some photo-copied and sent from friends and relatives.

“A distinction needs to be made between solitude and loneliness. One chooses solitude, one is afflicted by loneliness.” Alone Again (Unnaturally) by Joseph Epstein – National Review

My favorite line from that article was, “Proust notes that books have over friends that you can call upon them only when you wish and dismiss them at your discretion. Proust also felt that reading could be an aid to solitude, especially to the indolent mind that is unable to think in solitude but requires rubbing up against, through the stimulus of reading, a finer mind than itself.”

Long before all this “social distancing” stuff, I always had a hard time navigating the social world. The past six months has made that much worse. I feel like I simply don’t fit in, not for any specific reason, just in my head more than anything else. But yet I crave conversation, that back and forth with another thinking human. On a weekly basis I cycle through, “I need solitude to think. Thank you, world!” to “But I want to sit in a coffee shop with friends or join a writer’s group!” to “Screw it. People suck!” Books have been my compromise, the “rubbing up against” that I need to spark my own thinking. Books ask for so little in return and they never get in my way, despite how my family feels about the bookcases.

Reading the article, I suddenly felt less lonely and far more secure in my solitude. I immediately went online to look for the author. Maybe he has a website. What else has he written? I love the internet, and especially Amazon, but I found myself longing for a well-stocked bookstore where I could thumb through and pick out the book I liked best, maybe get a cup of coffee and talk to a person…there I go again. I picked this one mostly because of its title. “A Literary Education” is what I’ve been working on for the past ten years.

Do you read the introductions to books? For fiction, I don’t want someone else’s thoughts to color my reaction to a story. Sometimes, I’ll go back and read it though. For non-fiction, or collections, I generally do read them…unless it’s boring!

Last Friday, I really wanted to chill and read my new book, so I went around the house looking for a spot. I’m easily distracted, so I need a very quiet space to read and that is hard to find in the afternoon in a small house with four adults. My husband was still working in our room. My younger son was in his room working on his college classes. And my older son was doing some research on the computer in the livingroom. The perfect scenario!

I gathered my book, glasses, notebook, and a cup of tea and settled myself into my favorite spot on the couch. It was glorious. Right from the start I knew I had the perfect book in my hands.

“Initially my essay collections were divided between what I thought of as literary essays and familiar essays; the former were essays about other writers, the latter about the world at large, or at least those things in it that captured my fancy at the time.”

…drops pencil…what the…other people write about these things?!

There are times when I wonder what the point of my blog is. Ok…I’ll admit…most times I feel that way. But then I come around to, I write about what I like to write about, what I find interesting, and because it makes me happy. I don’t look for and write to a specific audience. I write my point of view, my opinions, my thinking, in the hope that someone out there might want to hear it.

I kept reading for over an hour, smiling and nodding, tearing up and underlining pieces that spoke directly to my poor little writer heart. When my time was up, I marked my place, closed the book, and went off to get dinner started feeling on top of the world. I’d found encouragement to keep working, keep reading, and to keep writing and I wasn’t even looking for it.

Once again, my “follow the trail wherever it leads” way of living has paid off big time. I can’t wait to read more of these essays. And the world will be reading mine as well. I’m not lonely, I’m in solitude, quietly working away in the background building worlds to share.

Mind Over Mood

Confession: I love self-help books and videos, especially workbooks.

I started reading this yesterday afternoon in the hopes of getting some help for myself. I’ve taken anti-depressants in the past, had some small semblance of counseling, but in the long run nothing helped but time. Stresses change, kids grow up, relocation; time changes the situations but not my thinking. For a long time, I honestly thought I had changed. I had cured myself, all I needed was some time and space to breathe.

But here we are. And I’m not ok. I don’t deal with stress well at all and I can easily spiral out of control, creating a vortex of depressive thoughts that spin into a storm of angry chaos, destroying everything around me, leaving behind only those strong enough to weather the storm. It’s not fun for me and it’s hardly fair to my friends and family. Something needs to change.

I learned about cognitive behavior therapy years ago and only recently felt pulled toward trying it. Yes, I know…I should probably talk to a therapist too, but if you know me at all you’ll know that just won’t work. I’m a “do it myself” kind of girl! Besides, all they are going to do is say what’s in these books and I can read in the comfort of my own home. They’d also ask questions…which is why this book is awesome. It’s a workbook!

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be spending thirty minutes a day in this book. I intend to read and then sit reflectively with the workbook pages alone.

Yesterday when I pulled the book off the shelf, I flipped it open and found the first chapter is called, “Understanding Your Problems.” I laughed and showed my son as he walked by. That’s when we both laughed. “You’re going to be in that chapter a long time, Mom.”

The fact that my sons are open about reminding me how crazy and confused I am, leads me to believe I can be saved. I may be a bit “touched in the head” but they love me.

I’ll be posting about my progress as I go. Maybe this book will help you, too!

Thirteen Books!

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For a while now, I’ve been attempting to post about every book I read but I think I’m changing my plan. I have a backlog and it’s disrupting my peace. The picture you see above is my current pile of already read books waiting to be summed up. When anything starts to pile up, my anxiety starts to build and that’s when I shut down and discontinue my practice. Homework, email, laundry, diet plans: that overwhelm feeling grates on my nerves and colors everything else I attempt to do. I’ve found that it’s much better for me to pick and choose my battles. I can’t just throw out the clothes or the dishes instead of washing them when they pile up, but I can delete all the emails, drop the class, or walk away from the diet, so I do.

So here we are with a pile of books on the corner of my desk, waiting to be reviewed and blogged about. Every day I see them and walk by. Every day I pick up the top one, thumb through it, look at the rest of the pile, and walk away. I can’t even sit at my computer and write about something else, because those books are looking at me in the accusatory way that makes me start to sweat every time I see them.

This morning, I walked by and thought, “My that pile looks so pretty like that. I should take a picture.” As I did, I had an epiphany. Why not post about that pile? Maybe pull one thing from each book to write about, give them closure so to speak, and then file them away on my bookshelf? And that is exactly what I’m doing right now.

This may be a bit long and boring but it has to be done. My reader heart needs closure on these. Feel free to scroll through and find a title that catches your eye! I will allow it…this time!

“Following Muhammad – Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World” by Carl W. Ernst

This book was suggested reading from another book I read about religious literacy and it was an excellent read. I highly recommend it for everyone. It really helped me understand Islam, its history, its diversity, and cleared up a lot of misunderstandings for me. It’s also not a long, boring, overly detailed read. It’s just an overview, something to get you started on the path to understanding and tolerance. Go get this book right now.

“The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California” by Curt Gentry

A friend sent me this book, with a few others, after our last big earthquake. He thought I’d like it and he was so right! It’s historical fiction, written as if the “Big One” hit and all of California was dumped into the sea, disappearing forever. It’s so easy to read and a great story. Most of the book highlights California history in the first half of the 20th century. What would the rest of the country miss if California disappeared? I couldn’t put it down and ended up adding a few other California History books to my reading list.

“Writing as a Path to Awakening” by Albert Flynn DeSilver

This one was a little too “woke” for me, but not a waste of time. I found some inspiration. Little things like “we are meaning-making machines” made me smile. I wrote that one down and posted in on my “writing altar” along with “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes process, and with consistent attention, proficiency, and eventually, with further devotion, mastery.”

“The Best American Essays – 2018” edited by Hilton Als

I love a good essay! These would have been better if fewer of them were about how much Trump has ruined their lives. There were some great ones though. I love hearing people’s perspectives and experiences.

“Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them” by Francine Prose

“Hey! That’s me!” That’s what I thought when I saw the title on Amazon and clicked BUY. It was a bad idea though because…well…it added a couple dozen books to my reading list! Ha! It is full of great examples of narration, character, and dialogue, among other things. Reading it is like talking to a fellow book lover!

“The Man Who Quit Money” by Mark Sundeen

I read this under duress. It was assigned to my son by a college English Composition teacher last year and there has been much debate about its content, premise, and subject, but…no one had actually read it all. I decided I would. “In 2000, Daniel Suelo gave away his life savings. And began to live.” It was hard to read. I kept thinking, he’s not living with less or living without or “off the land,” he’s only living off others. He stays with friends, dumpster dives, and uses the internet at the library. I honestly don’t think he was any happier living that way than if he had just focused on being more conservative in how he lives, using less, etc. The only reason he could live the way he did was because most people don’t. Most people have more than they need, throw away excess, underuse what they have, so he has those resources. There was a lot to think about though and I appreciated his journey.

“Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney

So, what do I think when I read that title? “James and the Giant Peach” of course! I hear the centipede singing it every time I read those words. I hear there was a movie of this very book. I know…I’m so lost. Anyway, book was…interesting. Pretty darn sad. And deep at the end. Wow.

Two things I took away from it that were awesome. First of all, he works in a magazine’s “Department of Factual Verification.” I can’t imagine doing this job before the internet! Every article they buy from a writer must be “fact checked” by a third party before printing. They have to call places and look things up in the encyclopedia, libraries, and other publications. It’s a huge amount of work. The magazine has a reputation to protect. They can’t just pull an article off the internet if it turns out to be false like they do now. Once it’s in print, it’s there forever! Wow.

The other thing was this quote, “…what you are left with is a premonition of the way your life will fade behind you, like a book you have read too quickly, leaving a dwindling trail of images and emotions, until all you can remember is a name.” Ouch.

“Carrie” by Stephen King

This book has a back story too. It’s one of the scariest movies I ever saw, mostly because I saw it when I was around six years old! Before you go calling my mom a monster, little kids are supposed fall asleep late at night and my brother and I were safely tucked away and sound asleep in the back seat of our car in our feet pajamas when the movie started. You just gotta love drive-ins! My parents were watching the movie in the front seat and at the end of the movie, there I was with my head poked between the seats, eyes wide. I had nightmares for years! We were all traumatized!

Something I noticed when I finished the book…Carrie is just Frozen with a much more horrifying ending. Small girl with latent powers the adults can’t deal with so they lock her away until she becomes an adolescent, at which point her powers are too much for anyone to deal with including the girl.

“How to do Nothing – Resisting the Attention Economy” by Jenny Odell

Another great book with some amazing insight into stepping out of the world for a bit and changing your focus. I just wish it could have been done in a more positive way, without adding “the world is ending because Trump is president” bologna. The world is just as messed up as it always was. The internet isn’t destroying us. Facebook is not the great Satan. Please. Just stop. I also wish it had more examples and ideas of “how” instead of so much “why.”

“Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor

Ok. This…was strange. I never got the point of the story. Didn’t really care about the characters. The whole book was odd. Maybe I missed the point? While I did finish the book, desperately hoping for meaning, it did start a series of DNF’s (did not finish) in August.

“Beyond Good and Evil” by Friedrich Nietzsche

DNF. That’s what they write by your name if you start a race but don’t finish. Maybe your bike broke down or (Lord forbid) you crashed and didn’t get back on the bike, but you never crossed the finish line.

This book I did not finish. I just couldn’t read it. Several pages in and I had no idea what he was trying to say and no patience to have every page explained. I’m not sure if it’s the translation or what. I enjoy Nietzsche’s philosophy, so I was disappointed that I couldn’t read it for myself. Maybe I’ll find about book that explains it better? Or…maybe…take a class?

“Revolution at Berkeley” by Miller and Gilmore

Another DNF. A collection of articles about the protest at Berkeley in the 60’s. Fascinating read, mostly because the articles are from that time, not ours, but I gave up reading about a third of the way through. I had enough information and just wasn’t interested the subject anymore.

“Night Shift” by Stephen King

On a bit of a Stephen King jag lately. I have two more on my “to read” shelf! This guy really knows how to entertain through horror. My husband walked into the room while I was reading this and I about jumped out of my skin!

So, there you have it! Thirteen books! Phew…I’m exhausted!

Adventure Story

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“Wind, Sand and Stars” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

This book…wow…the imagery he brings up through his words is amazing. Every page is filled with beauty. And it’s a true story. I have never given much of a thought about Africa or the Middle East before our own time, much less about how mail would get across the desert in those areas! And now, well, I’m enchanted. A technology was invented that changed the world, airplanes. Suddenly, there was a way to communicate with people across vast distances in a fraction of the time it used to take. And there were people that were unhappy about it. Imagine that!

He describes amazing scenes and adventures, some that didn’t end well, with an insight to human nature that we can all use a dose of today. Imagine the risk of flying those old airplanes across the desert just to get a letter or other document to a relative or business partner? Makes posting to social media seem like child’s play, but imagine the impact it can have compared to that one letter!

I never even knew this book existed until I heard another author mention it as his favorite book as a child, one he has read over and over again. Ahh…that…reading one book over and over. I’ve never done it. I sometimes wonder if, in my quest for more information, more story, I miss the deeper meaning and joy of really knowing one small piece of the world. I probably do.

Sometimes I feel like a collector. At the moment, I’m collecting books like there’s no tomorrow. What if there isn’t? What if the time comes when I can buy no more for some reason or another, and all I have is what I’ve already collected? That will be the time to start re-reading!


 “Numerous, nevertheless, are the moralists who have attacked the machine as the source of all the ills we bear, who, creating a fictitious dichotomy, have denounced the mechanical civilization as the enemy of the spiritual civilization.”

Funny to think a book written in 1939 would have the same complaints we have today. When I hear people complain that the technology we have today is the end of the civilization, I wonder if they’ve ever read anything older than 20 years.


“What are the hundred years of the history of the machine compared with the two hundred thousand years of the history of man? It was only yesterday that we began to pitch our camp in this country of laboratories and power stations, that we took possession of this new, this still unfinished, house we live in. Everything around us is new and different – our concerns, our working habits, our relations with one another.

“Our very psychology has been shaken to its foundations, to its most secret recesses. Our notions of separation, absence, distance, return, are reflections of a new set of realities, though the words themselves remain unchanged. To grasp the meaning of the world today we use a language created to express the world of yesterday.”

How’s that? How much more has changed in 100 years, more than any other century of the past? We’ve created a technology that will change everything yet again. Yes, things seem insane and upside down. It will be ugly for awhile. Evolution isn’t pretty and it doesn’t always end well. But it’s happening and the only way to deal with it is to ride the wave and see where it goes.


“Every doctrine swears that it can breed men, but none can tell us in advance what sort of men it will breed. Men are not cattle to be fattened for market.”

That’s what I think schools are doing, fattening cattle for market. In the past we could know what the market will be one from one generation to the next. We’d need farmers, businessmen, explorers, etc. There were jobs we needed to fill that were predictable. And to do those jobs there was a set amount of information, education that each would need. Life has changed so much that that has become increasingly untrue. I think it started just before the author’s time and has steadily increased in the number of changes until now and beyond. We’re better off teaching our children basic skills like communication and how to stay flexible and alert, than a set of rules and dictations as we have in the past. Right now, anything can happen and we need to be ready to move one way or another. Those that can’t, won’t survive.


And this sweet reminder to write!

“Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world.”


“For man’s greatness does not reside merely in the destiny of the species: each individual is an empire.” I don’t think we respect the individual as much as we should. We tend to act like hive mates and treat the hive as supreme. It’s limiting. Each of us holds a world in our heads and hearts. Each of us has something to add to the world, no matter how young or old, rich or poor, brilliant or dull. “Interdependent” that’s the word I love. We are each our own sovereign world, capable of taking care of ourselves, but when we work together we become so much more. It’s the same with people as it is when nations and cultures. If we could only see that and stop trying to force each other to bend to each other’s will.

“Each shell that fell upon Madrid fortified something in the town. It persuaded the hesitant neutral to plump for the defenders. A dead child weighs heavily in the balance when it is one’s own. It was clear to me that a bombardment did not disperse – it unified. Horror causes men to clench their fists, and in horror men join together.”

How, after all these years of war, can we not see this today? Do we really think we are doing any good in the world when we commit violence against another?


And the last…

“To come to man’s estate it is not necessary to get oneself killed round Madrid, or to fly mail planes, or to struggle wearily in the snows out of respect for the dignity of life. The man who can see the miraculous in a poem, who can take joy from music, who can break his bread with comrades, opens his window to the same refreshing sea. He too learns a language of men.

But too many men are left unawakened.”

It can be easy to read true stories of adventure and start to think that the only way to really live is be out there living through disasters, that they only way to learn to live through struggle is to struggle yourself, that the only way to respect life is by losing parts of it, but that’s not true. Humans have an amazing ability to communicate over generations. It’s what sets us apart from any other animal. It’s what I believe is the “image of God” in us. We communicate through all types of medium, the written word, music, paint, and technology. Open yourself up to it. Read, experience, and create. Wake up to the world around you!

The Death of Expertise – Book Review

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This was a difficult book for me to read objectively. It’s condescending tone and elitism bugs me to my core, but he does have some good points. With the invention of the internet we suddenly have the world at our fingertips. Not only can we access all the great thinkers and the experts in any field, we can also read all the alternatives as well. We can get a second, third, and fourth opinion about anything we like. We don’t even have to search for answers at all. We can simply go to a social media platform and ask a question. Within minutes we can have the opinion of thousands of people to sift through. The key word here is “opinions.”

There are things we don’t need an expert for, things social media are amazing at. Finding a good place to eat in your area, what stores have the best prices, and where to find a good mechanic, are all excellent uses for the internet. Whether or not you should vaccinate your kids, the legal ways to evict a tenant, or how to pay your taxes, are probably best answered by an expert, not just someone who’s done it before or read an article about it.

The trouble for me has been trust. Who can I trust these days? Just because someone is an expert in something doesn’t necessarily mean I can trust his opinion regarding my personal choices. I’d love to have several professionals I can trust, ones that offer their professional opinions, listen to my own preferences, and respect my choices. But that doesn’t seem to be available. What I generally get is a person who treats me as an ignorant and willful child that they must protect, one that can’t possibly make intelligent decisions for herself with the information they present. It makes it hard for a person to take their expert opinion seriously, which I so desperately need sometimes.

When I was able to put aside the “better than you” tone, which I’m sure was not intended and only my immature interpretation, the book had some wonderful points. He brought up where he believes things have gone wrong through higher education, the overwhelm of conflicting information, the loss of the art of conversation, problems with journalism, etc. There seems to be a balance missing these days and it’s starting to have serious negative effects.

The truth is that we do need experts. It’s so much more efficient if we all take care of our own immediate needs, take responsibility for own lives and choices, AND rely on experts when we come up against unfamiliar territory. There should be someone I can trust with my medical needs, my legal needs, and yes, my political needs. I should be able to trust that someone that has spent their lives studying and working in politics would know more about what do in the middle east. I should be able to trust that the person that studied medicine would know what’s best for my condition. But I should also be well versed enough in critical thinking to know when the so-called “expert” is bullshitting.

The book is worth your time. I’m not sure I agree with a lot of what he presents, but I do believe something has gone terribly wrong and I think he has some good points about where we may have taken a wrong turn. I don’t necessarily agree with the solutions he implies. The answer is never going to be “control things with government regulation” in my “non-expert” opinion. The answer lies in a much more complicated direction, allowing people to make their own mistakes, not tread on other people’s rights, and encourage people to think critically and solve their own problems.

Bad TV. Great Book. Surprise!

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How many times have you read a book and then found out it would be a movie or tv series? Just about everyone that reads has had that experience and it’s rarely positive, right? We automatically anticipate that the movie will not measure up, even though we secretly hope that it will. How can it? Not only can a book’s several plot lines and depth of characters not easily be condensed into two or three hours, but we each conjure up our own visions of those characters and scenes that just don’t seem to compare when presented to us in visual form from someone else’s imagination.

Long, complicated books are being turned into some pretty decent limited series programs on things like Netflix and Amazon though. I’ve seeen several amazing shows that follow a book or series of books very closely and I’ve loved them. I do wish some of the historical fiction they are creating right now would focus more on the historical aspects and less of the sensationalism of graphic sex and violence, but I digress.

A few years ago, we started watching “Under the Dome” in the evenings and were sucked into the story. It’s an intriguing idea. A whole town cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome, like a giant glass jar was dropped over the top of it. What would happen? What would the world outside do? What would the trapped people do? And where in the world did it come from? This was why I kept watching, only to be completely disappointed by the end of the series, prompting the whole family to look around in disappointment when we realized it was over. It was like they only half tried to make a story.

And then I found out that it was based on a book by Stephen King, one of my very favorite authors. I hadn’t read anything new from him since I was in college. Was he really writing books this bad? Or did the tv producers ruin it? I couldn’t imagine a famous author letting someone do that to his story? Crazy part…I was so disappointed in the show that I just forgot all about it.

Fast forward a few years later and I’m at Barnes & Noble looking for fiction and I stumble across “Under the Dome” by Stephen King. It’s a fat book, of course! On the front cover was the review, “Seven words: The best yet from the best ever. – Lee Child.” Not from what I saw on TV! Well, I love him, so I gave him a chance to redeem himself.

While not the best book I’ve read by King, I still enjoyed the story very much. It was classic. Several storylines, several characters going through a bunch of typical things, with clues to the bigger story all along the way, leading to the thing that ties it all together. I loved it. At the end of each hour of reading, I could feel the air getting more and more stale, the slow building urgency of the whole town and every resident’s different reaction to the event. How in the world does he do that?!

Don’t worry. I won’t give away the ending! Let’s just say that it seems to me that the TV show wasn’t even trying to portray the big picture, the “lesson” we are supposed to learn from all this. It was a huge let down. And I’m not sure how anyone could have liked that show at all, unless just going through the motions of life, not trying to figure out the whys and hows is how they live their life and like to watch the same on TV. I know. It’s harsh. But damn. Really? Did anyone that wrote the show read the book? Or did they get the Cliff’s Notes version and go from there?

A classic example of “the book is better” and these days there really is no excuse for that other than laziness, in my oh so humble opinion. If you watched the TV show and want answers to all your questions, read the book. They’re in there. And it’s worth your time!

Nearly 24 Glorious Hours!

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Yes! I keep track! 771 pages and nearly 24 hours!

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt was a book I picked up on a book buying binge at Barnes & Noble a few months ago. It’s my favorite way to buy fiction, in person at bookstore! No reviews, no suggestions, just pure infatuation with a good cover. I go in to intentionally succumb to mass marketing. It’s an indulgence.

Why did I choose this book? One reason…well…maybe two. The cover, the ripped away piece revealing the bird, pulled my eye. And then Stephen King called it “A triumph.” How can I resist?

In my book notes, at the end of all those 771 words, all I wrote was, “Deep. Wow” The ending must have been impressive, although I can’t remember a lick of it without thumbing through it a bit and getting some reminders. And when I do thumb through and look at my notes…there it is… Some people may be appalled, but I’m glad I write in my books!

I both loved and hated this book at the same time. Typical, right? At first I was drawn into the story, mostly because of its intensity. She has a serious way with words. You can feel every scene. It’s very emotional. But then, I started to wonder where in the world the story was going. Would it ever end? What was the point of all these details? There better be some huge surprise at the end that wraps up all these little pieces and makes me want to read it all over again to catch them in action! I was not disappointed.

Some things I truly hated. There was a negative description of homeschoolers that triggered me to anger. I almost put the book down right there. How can I trust someone with my heart that so easily stereotyped my own education choice? That’s what we do when we read fiction, trust a stranger with our heart. It’s a relationship like any other, one we do not fool ourselves about. We know it’s a tryst, a few hours of adventure and it will be over, to be remembered forever and maybe returned to from time to time, if it proves itself to be exciting or fulfilling enough. I decided to love her anyway. I know my heart is pretty resilient. It will heal if broken and we’ll have our memories to look back on. I had to know how it all ends!

Hobie was one of my favorite characters. He repairs antique furniture and at first I thought that was completely irrelevant. Sweet and pretty, yes, but probably irrelevant. You’d think I’d have learned by now that nothing in fiction is irrelevant! She goes into so many details about how he repairs things and why, what pieces are worth saving and for what reasons, how they became damaged in the first place and how it could have been avoided. Different pieces, different eras, different kinds of wood, all take a different touch. Humans are very similar. Each of us has a reason for being here. We’re all damaged in different ways, by different usage. And we’re all savable for one purpose or another. Just beautiful.

And then there was this, “Even though a copy Proust was able to re-dream that image, re-shape reality with it, pull something all his own from it into the world. Because – the line of beauty is the line of beauty. It doesn’t matter if it’s been through the Xerox machine a hundred times.”

We are all copies. Not one of us is an original. But each time we go out in the world in our own way, whether just living, creating, or dreaming, we re-create that “line of beauty” for the world. Like an image of an image of an image, we are a link in the chain into the future. Don’t break that chain. Go out into the world, either in person or virtually, and share your joy so that someone else sees it and reflects it further.

“…good doesn’t always follow from good deeds, nor bad deeds result from bad, does it? Even the wise and good cannot see the end of all actions.”

“Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions – ? Where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions – ? Maybe sometimes  – the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?”

“As long as I am acting out of love I feel I am doing best I know how. But you – wrapped up in judgement, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’”

It’s been a long standing idea of mine that all of us are doing the best we can with the information we have at the moment we made the decision. There are no perfect answers. There are no perfect decisions. If we live looking back, we’ll never see what’s right in front of us. Don’t miss your life by looking backwards or by looking too far into the future. You’re life is right now.

And from the very beginning of the book…which seals the deal on reading the whole thing again, and soon, “Whenever you see flies or insects in a still life – a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple – the painter is giving you a secret message. He’s telling you that living things don’t last – it’s all temporary. Death in life. That’s why they are called natures mortes. Maybe you don’t see it at first with all the beauty and bloom, the little speck of rot. But if you look closer – there it is.”

I had underlined it right there on page 24. It gave me chills then, but not for the same reason it did just now, after 747 more pages and a month of reflection. That’s what makes life worth living, the fact that it is only temporary. Live it right now. Don’t wait. And don’t despair, because when one joy ends, another begins. No regrets, just love.

I’ve added her two other novels to my reading list!

Journaling = Peace of Mind

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“Breathing In Breathing Out: Keeping a Writers Notebook” by Ralph Fletcher is one of those short and sweet books filled with goodies to collect throughout. It only took me about two and half hours to read through it, but I think I’ll leave it on my “working” books shelf to thumb through when I’m feeling down about writing!

Do you keep a notebook of ideas or a journal? I’ve been keeping journals since I was in my teens and I love looking back on them. I have them in a plastic bin in my laundry/storage room and frequently dig into it while I’m waiting for the washer or dryer to finish just to see where I’ve been. I haven’t always kept daily journals. The farther back they go, the more sporadic the entries. Some journal entries are love letters, some are lists, some are just rants. Most of them are simply my day to day life. There are whole years missing from my early 20’s, probably things I don’t want to remember anyway. And sometimes I wish that I had written more details. There are things I know were going on, but I neglected to write about them. Why? I guess didn’t think I’d ever forget the big things, but the older I get, the more details I want to be reminded of. That’s why I put more in my journals now and, besides, I have more time to write. Funny how that works!

It’s a short book but swear I could write something about every page in it! It will have to suffice to quote a couple of sweet things that resonated with me most.

“A notebook can be a clearing in the forest of your life, a place where you can be alone and content as you play with outrage and wonder, details and gossip, language and dreams, plots and subplots, perceptions and small epiphanies.”

Oh my, YES! In my journal, I can say anything I want no matter how awful. No one gets hurt, no one can be offended or put off. It’s just me yelling out into emptiness but better because I can revisit those dark places and see how far I’ve come. It’s a visual reminder that I am making progress, that I am not always in the darkness. It comforts me. I should write a disclaimer on the cover of each one, “To those that may read this after I am dead and gone: Please remember this is raw material you are delving into. Be kind to my memory.”

“Anyone who writes has a real life and a textual life.”

Didn’t I just mention something like this last week? I’m sure I did. My real life is much different than my textual life, but in many ways similar. I think my textual life is only MORE of my real life. It’s reality, the day to day, along with the inner thoughts and reactions that I don’t allow everyone around me to see. Much like the book is more than the movie!

“I may reread in a brisk, random way, skimming without any precise purpose, my eyes chancing on this line or that image. This kind of rereading often gets me in the mood to write.”

That happens all the time. When I make the time to write, have a scheduled couple of hours every morning set aside whether I write anything or not, I tend to write more. When I sit down with nothing on my mind, I can thumb through my journal and find the images that spark the words.

“Writing a novel is like driving at a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

I’m not writing a novel, but I feel this so deeply right now. Our whole life is like that. We take one step at a time and then take another look around for the direction we should go.

The question isn’t, “Should I keep a journal?” It’s really, “How should I keep a journal?” Handwritten or on the computer? Fancy hardcover journal or Walmart notebook? Pretty colored pens or pencil? Word, drawings, or both? Even if you’re not a writer, this book will make you want to start a journal and keep up with it!

Wandering Down the Road…

This time in music!

“Paul Simon: the life” by Robert Hilburn was one of the few books I’ve started to read but did not finish. I stopped reading about 2/3 of the way through, not because it wasn’t good but because I just lost interest in the story and I have too many other books to read.

Everyone loves Simon & Garfunkel music. I grew up hearing it on the radio and my Mom had a few vinyl albums that my brother and I would play occasionally. I had a vague memory that they broke up and Paul Simon had a solo career. Chevy Chase in the music video for “You Can Call Me Al” was about all I knew about Paul Simon in my teens since MTV was a big thing to me back then. That’s the last I really thought about him until my sons started playing Simon & Garfunkel albums.

I’m not sure how they came across it but suddenly their first albums started showing up on our MP3 player in the truck. It was probably my husband’s idea. When the boys started learning to play guitar, those were some of the first songs they learned to play. It made for a very peaceful house. When you’re learning you tend to play the same parts over and over again. Everyone has those cringing moments when their kids pick up new instruments and have to practice. I missed out on that feeling. I never minded how much they sat and played, alone or together. I never needed a radio!

The only solo album I knew of was Graceland. We picked it up at the music store one day on a whim and I loved every minute of it right from the start and still play it often. Paul Simon doesn’t make a bad song.

So when I saw this book laying on the biography table at the book store a few months ago, even though I had my allotted number of books already in my arms, I picked it up. I love biographies of famous people and I’d love to know more about Paul Simon. I wasn’t disappointed.

Reading about his early life, how he got started, his relationship with Art Garfunkel, it was all fascinating. Famous musicians acting like real people, like everyone else in the world. I think I liked it most because I could hear the songs from the albums in my head as I read. The stories behind the songs, what was going on in his life and the world that inspired them, it all merged together with the music in my head.

Something that really resonated with me, especially right now, was that he never set out to write a song about a specific thing, he wrote what was in his heart. He didn’t think, “You know..wow..that seems really important. I think I’ll write a song about it.” He just felt lyrics and poured them out, then wrote the music to match it. I loved how he brought little things he noticed into the songs. He is an artist.

I was also fascinated reading about record promotion and deals, how songs got on the radio, and how they became popular. It reminds me that we need to keep creating our art. That people know it, love it, and buy it isn’t the point at all. There’s so much beauty out there. We can’t see or hear it all. What comes to our attention isn’t the best of the best, it’s just what one record company thinks it can make money on. It’s one producer’s vision of great. The artist? Well there are millions of us out there making tons and tons of wonderful art.

Something that I’ve always wondered is why famous people tend to have so many problems. Paul Simon was no stranger to pain and suffering, mostly, it seems, brought on by his own actions. Everyone wants to be seen and heard. We spend our lives making a space for ourselves. Some of us do it in quiet ways. Some of us want to be in the limelight. We all want recognition for our efforts. Those of us that crave the limelight though…when we get it, many times it does terrible things to us. It feeds a monster and we spend our lives fighting it, knowing in our hearts that we invited the trouble. Paul Simon, from this book, seems to have fought that fight too. Once we have the fame, we want more. It’s an addiction that we self-medicate to maintain if we need to.

The truth is, even if no one had heard of Paul Simon, even if only his friends and family and the local bar had only heard his songs, he’d still be brilliant. His art is there pouring out of him, regardless of record sales and awards. The fame and the money seem to cause the problems. Or do they exaggerate the problems we already have?

I loved this bit too, speaking of his mother and how she responded to his teachers saying he was a bit of a dreamer and needed to pay more attention in class, ““I think she understood that the ones who are looking out the window are sometimes your best students, not the ones who always raise their hand and want attention,” Paul said. “I always thought that was embarrassing. I wanted attention, too, but I didn’t want to be seen as wanting it. I wanted it to come naturally, by doing something that warranted it, rather than me manipulating people to look at me.” … He wasn’t interested in being a showman; all he cared about was playing the music.”

This is how I feel about writing and the marketing crap I’m encourage to do on social media. I’d rather be quietly writing away and producing better and better posts, than creating sharable content. I don’t want to sit there with my hand up, jumping out of my seat. “Pick me! Pick me!” I want people to be interested in my art because of its qualities, not because of my marketing skills.

Another wonderful book finished and sitting in my collection! I love reading so many different kinds of books for no other reason than they look interesting. You never know what little bits you’ll find to help you on your own journey. It doesn’t matter what kind of book it is or what the subject matter is. Fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, biography, history, self-help, it really doesn’t make a difference. Every book I pick up has something in it I need and I never know what it is until I read it.

Sometimes I think I should curate my reading list a bit better, maybe put some effort into deciding which books to read and when. There is only so much time in a day and so many books out there. I can’t read them all, so maybe being a bit more picky would be more efficient. But then how do I even start to decide? That process seems so time consuming and my current system has served me well already. So I continue on my way, picking up and reading whatever comes across my path. I do have one rule about reading though. I have to like it. If I’m not liking it, if it’s not holding my interest, I move on, even if I bought it new. Books you don’t enjoy are the ultimate waste of time!

This book…it was enjoyable, very much so, but it was no longer serving me. I got what I needed. I was full, so I left the table.

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