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Breathing Space

Updated: 2016-03-02T09:56:33.966-06:00


A Great Quote


I love this quote from Jack Kerouac: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars... ” I saw it when I escorted young adult author Rosemary Clement-Moore to visit a classroom at my school today after a whole school assembly. She was great! She talked to the students about Gothic novels and about writing. Her visit was a big success. I recommend her most recent book Texas Gothic to anyone who likes ghost stories and a little teen romance.

Back to the quote, I really do love it--so much that I put it in my right sidebar. (This quote reminds me of Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night," one of my favorite poems.) I want to be one of the mad people even though I'm not sure about the "mad to be saved" meaning. Really, though, I'm too self-conscious to be one of the mad ones. I wish it weren't true, but I know that it is. Don't get me wrong. I love life and try to live it to the fullest in my own little ways, but I do spend a great deal of time worrying about what other people think and second guessing myself. Sometimes I do talk madly, but I often end up saying something that doesn't make sense or worrying that I've said something to offend someone listening.

Okay, I thought I was going to write more, but then I updated my iPhone to OS5 and got to caught up in Criminal Minds. Now, I've lost all motivation to write. The show is just about over. Guess it's time to go to bed and read for a while. Later.

An Off Task Discovery


So, I'm sitting in a staff development session about research tips, which should have been a good choice for me to make. HOWEVER, this session was originally created for 4th grade teachers doing a certain project in their classes. The session's description was very general with no mention of grade levels. The district tech person teaching this session was very upset when she realized last night/this morning that the participants are two first grade teachers, one middle school GT teacher, and one junior high librarian (me). I feel sorry for her, and she's trying very hard to fit her presentation to our needs, but I'm really having a hard time staying on task--honestly, though, I generally have a hard time staying on task anyway.

So here's one thing that I've been doing: I checked out this article from School Library Journal that I saw a tweet about this morning: Cool Tools: Visual presentations make it easier for students to tackle data and difficult text. One of the sites mentioned in the article was, which is a word cloud creator. It's cool! I might like it better than Each word in the cloud becomes a search term when you click the word, and you can filter common words, which I did. Click here to what I made using the URL from this blog. I tried to place the cloud here, but I couldn't figure out how to make it fit the space.

The Grapes of Wrath


My Grapes of Wrath post must be delayed. I'm not quite finished with the book yet. I have just over 100 pages left to read. I'll finish it tonight or in the morning and have my post up tomorrow afternoon or Sunday morning. Sorry for the delay.

Good Food, Books, and Art - My Perfect Summer Day


Today was an absolutely lovely example of what summer vacation should be.First, a quick overview then I'll fill in some details. I slept until almost 7:15, had a couple of cups of good coffee and a quick breakfast while checking Facebook & Twitter and reading part of a short story. I walked for an hour while listening to Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Thanks to Audiobook Community for the free download). I had a leisurely lunch from H-town StrEATs at Inversion Coffee House, reading Victor LaValle's Big Machine while I ate. Then I went to The Menil Collection. I haven't been there in a while and wanted to see the Civil Rights era photographs on display. Of course, I can't go there without strolling through the surrealist and modern art rooms, even though I've seen most of the work in those rooms before. Since Cy Twombly died earlier this week, I thought I should finally visit the Cy Twombly gallery while I was at the Menil. Afterward, I stopped briefly at Half Priced Books, looking for a small, cheap volume of Rilke poems, which I didn't find but found something else very interesting. Then I needed to get a prescription filled and decided not to sit around and wait for it to be filled. Instead, I used the wait time as an excuse to check out Sweet Tea Cafe & Tea Bar, where I had a delicious piece of red velvet cake and some iced tea and did a bit more reading of Big Machine. After that, I picked up the prescription and came home to spend the evening blogging, reading or maybe watching a Midsomer Murders episode since I have the house to myself tonight.Now for some details. About Shiver, it's a werewolf story, and I really don't do fantasy/horror novels, but since the audiobook was available as a free download and the book was fairly popular with some of my students last school year, I decided to give it a try. Each of the 9 parts is just over an hour long, the perfect amount of time for me to walk my three plus miles around the neighborhood. The writing is pretty good; the story is interesting, and, most importantly, the readers are not annoying to listen to. I'm no audiobook connoisseur, but I've had some bad experiences with audiobooks before. Shiver is basically a teen romance, and it's not bad, even the sometimes cheesy lyrics that Sam creates in his head seem appropriate to his character. The World was Watching, the Civil Rights photographs exhibit, are part of a program that includes a lecture and the screening of films and television footage from the era and more photographs on display at The Gregory School. (I haven't seen those photos yet, but I plan to go very soon.) Some of the photos at The Menil actually were so powerful that they brought tears to my eyes. I made a few notes about some of the people and places in the photos. Even though I feel pretty well-educated about the Civil Rights movement, there were some people and places in the photos that I don't think I've ever heard of. I'll do some research later to learn more about them.The Cy Twombly Gallery contains a permanent exhibition of his works. I really like much abstract and modern art, but some of his scribbling really just looks like a child's scribbling. There were a couple of series of paintings that I found rather interesting though. One had something to do with roses, but it was like the roses were bleeding or disintegrating. I should've made a note of the words on the painting, but I didn't and can't find them online right now. Another series related to lines from a Rilke poem. I think it's called A Painting in 9 Parts, and these are, I think, Rilke's lines: and in the pond/broken off from the sky/my feeling sinks/as if standing on fishes--I can't decide if these lines are hopelessly sad or not. The paintings have lots of dark greens and black in them. I've never read any Rilke, unless I read some in a long ago literature class, but after leaving the Menil, I stopped at Half Priced today looking for some. More about that later. As [...]

Bloomsday 2011


I saw a tweet earlier today and thought that I had missed Bloomsday, but I googled it and found that it's tomorrow, June 16. Yea! I will celebrate it by starting my reading of Ulysses by James Joyce. I still have a ways to go with Drood, which I wanted to finish this week, but I will interrupt it for a day. If I didn't have to work tomorrow, I might spend the whole day reading, and I could start the day with my a story from Dubliners for my daily short story.

Speaking of those short stories, yesterday I read George Saunders' "Home." It is in the New Yorker's summer fiction issue. I saw Saunders read once, and I thought I would like his work. I bought a copy of his CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. If I remember correctly, they were okay stories, but I felt like either they or I was missing something. I felt the same way about "Home." Today, I read another Murakami story (I've read several of his this summer) from The Elephant Vanishes, and I found it funny and thought provoking, but I'm still not sure that I'm seeing the greatness that his fans proclaim. I definitely think I would like to read one of his novels some time soon.

I know it's early but it's time for bed now. I have to teach a blogging workshop tomorrow morning. Later.

Biking and Books


This is my 3rd post in a week! Can't remember the last time that happened, if it ever did.I just returned from my second bike ride of the week. I'm not doing a very good job of biking more than driving, but I'm glad that I didn't give in to my laziness this morning. I rode farther than I did on Monday, but I still didn't make it to the library. Road construction caused me to rethink that destination.Honestly, it wasn't just road construction. Most of my time on the bike, so far, I feel old and awkward and even more self-conscious than normal. I'm really worried about embarrassing myself by looking like I don't know how to ride a bike, and I'm not young enough or old enough for that to be cute. I can't imagine learning to ride a bike for the first time as an adult. Luckily, children don't worry as much about embarrassing themselves with a fall. They might be afraid they'll hurt themselves, but they know those kinds of hurts heal. They can't wait for the training wheels to come off and mommy or daddy to step away and let them be free. There are moments, though, when I've felt good riding the bike. There really is something freeing in it, something like flying would feel, I think, something like driving very fast does feel. I have a friend who likes to jump out of planes, maybe the feeling of freedom is the draw for him. I thought I might segue to books from this feeling of freedom, but now, I see how cheesy that would have been. I'll just start a new paragraph and a new subject instead.I started my third Summer of Short Stories (or #shortstorydaily as I'm calling it on Twitter). I've read two stories from Haruki Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes and one from A.S. Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories. So far, my favorite is Murakami's "The Second Bakery Attack." It's about a newlywed couple who wake up starving one night and have nothing at home to eat. While they are drinking beer to try to quash their hunger, the husband tells the wife about the time he and a college chum held up a bakery for bread (the eating kind not the spending kind). They got bread but not in the way they had planned. The wife decides that the botched hold up has cursed her husband and caused their extreme hunger pangs. The only way to break the curse is to attack a second bakery. The story is quite funny with some truly unexpected details.In addition to the short stories, I'm reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, my book club's current selection. I've never read any of her writing before, but I know she is much loved by literary critics, and I can see why. I'm responsible for this selection, and I'm so happy to be enjoying it. My last selection, Sag Harbor by Colson Whithead, fell flat. Most liked moments in the book but thought the book didn't hold together as a novel very well. I think Sunday's discussion of A Visit from the Goon Squad will be much different, if more than one or two of us has read the book, which seems to be a problem lately. I actually think that her novel is very similar to Sag Harbor in structure, but I'm finding hers more successful in creating a whole. I have more to say on this, but I'm going to save it for book club discussion and a later blog post. Now, I need to do some housekeeping. Later![...]

Poetry Writing Workshop Blues


Today was the first meeting of the Teachers as Writers Poetry Workshop that I'm attending this summer at Inprint. I've done several of these since 2004, including a short story one last summer which I really enjoyed. The class was full--15 participants, three of whom were also in the short story with me. Some of them are kind of scary. One has an MFA in poetry and has published a chapbook. One just graduated from undergrad with an emphasis in creative writing before teaching this past school year. One is using the class as a way to get back into writing before applying to an MFA program. Even some of the others who are "just" teachers seemed especially talented when they read their bad poems, which we wrote as a writing exercise. I'm not sure that I ever felt this intimidated on day 1 of a workshop.

As part of a writing exercise, we had to brainstorm some first lines of poems, and then we had to share the most interesting one and tell why we selected that one to share. Once we had our say, others could say where they would go with that first line, and then we had to give the first line to one of the others to write the poem. I was first to give, but I ended up getting the last person's poem, and not for lack of trying either. So here's the first line of my poem:
  • You with the teeth that balloon like porcelain scrotums--this poetry is not for you
What the hell am I supposed to do with that line? The person who created this line said that he was thinking about the two conflicting approaches (not sure if that's the right word or not) to poetry, one that poetry should be rather academic and not easy to understand by just anyone and the other that poetry should be written so that anyone can enjoy it and find meaning in it (Billy Collins is often cited as taking this approach to poetry). Even knowing what he was thinking, I still don't have a clue where this line will take me. At least I don't have to have the poem that comes from this line workshopped. I can choose to submit another poem for that next week, but I am expected to write this poem.

I should probably get to work on one of those poems now, but first, I need to do some work-ish type things. Later.

Summer Vacation Plans: Reading & Not Reading


Summer vacation is here! And I'm going to be doing this all summer. I got a bike for my birthday in December, and I have a goal to ride it more than I drive my car this summer. Despite the predictions of record heat and little rain for most of the summer, I'm very excited about riding around the neighborhood. (For those of you who recognize Jessica Fletcher, I am not hoping to run across any dead bodies on my rides.)I have lots of other ideas for filling all my free time too. Maybe too many plans. I've been feeling very stressed lately. The end of the school year can do that to me. But I don't want my summer vacation to stress me out, so I'm not making many promises. I'm definitely taking a poetry writing workshop this summer through Inprint. I've taken several of Inprint's workshops, including a short story writing workshop last summer. I was hoping that short story would be offered again, but poetry and memoir were my choices. I chose poetry. I've done them both before and enjoyed the poetry writing more than memoir.It won't surprise anyone who knows me to know that I have reading ideas/plans for the summer. I want to read the following: Ulysses by James Joyce - I like to read a big book in the summer, and I recently decided Ulysses would be it. I probably won't start it for a week or so, but I will get to it this summer.A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - This is our current book club selection, my choice, and I have less than a week to read it. I read the first chapter right after we picked it in May, but I let Valerie have it first because I was reading a young adult book that I wanted to finish first. We usually can get one copy from a library, so we don't have to buy two copies, but this book is popular right now. We couldn't find it at Half Priced Books, and our library holds never came in. Our second copy should be delivered tomorrow. I'll put other books aside so I can read it by Sunday.Summer of Short Stories 3 - For the third summer in a row, I plan to read one short story each day. I think I need a better name for this personal reading challenge; I've decided to call it Short Story Daily. I try to blog about them but don't always get around to it, but I'm pretty good about tweeting about the stories as I finish them. I'm going to start today with a Murakami story from The Elephant Vanishes, which was loaned to me by my new-ish friend Eddy. I've never read any Murakami but feel like I should. Hopefully, these stories are a good place to start. I need to finish the previous book club selection Fortune Cookie Chronicles & Drood, which I've been reading non-stop for the last week. It's a big book, 700+ pages, but a fast read. I want to read some young adult books this summer too. I usually bring a bunch home and only read one or two. We'll see how it goes. In addition to reading, I do have some other ideas for filling my summer vacation hours. I want to catalog all our books into librarything. We have lots of books! I also want to make Valerie a Christmas stocking like my grandmother used to make. I'll use mine as a pattern/model. I think this was on my last summer project list, but I was lazy and didn't do it. I hope to not be as lazy this summer.Well, I guess I better decide where I'm riding my bike to this morning if I'm going to go for a bike ride. I have a book on hold at the neighborhood branch of the public library. Maybe I'll go get it. Later! [...]

Recent reading & a book giveaway goal


I finally finished The Finkler Question last night. I should have finished it by April 10, but like everyone else in book club, I didn't. Four of the seven of us met that night. Only three of us had started the book. I'm really not sure what I think about the book. I think I took too long to read it. If I had finished it on time, I think I would have had a lot to say about it. I generally like satire and thought the book was very funny in places, but for me it kind of fizzled in the end.The book is only about 300 pages. So what took me so long? Lots of things got in the way, especially my reading of The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I read for The Classics Circuit's Lost Generation Tour. I'm still thinking about that book often. The portrait of these two people who at first glance seem to be determined to make their own way, Gloria especially, but then just float along waiting for Anthony's inheritance to give them the impetus to act. I wouldn't even say they are treading water. Treading water indicates action and these two are reactors not actors. All the money in the world wouldn't save them from themselves either. I'm not sure that I'm making sense, but I found this book very affecting.April was very busy at work with implementing a new library automation system, going to state library association annual conference, and teaching students how to make book trailers. May looks to be just as busy. Last year, I gave away over 200 books to students to take home for summer reading. This year, I hope to give away over 300 books, and I would love to give all 575 students at my school a book for summer reading, but I think that goal might be out of reach for this year. To reach my immediate goal of 300+ books, I have decided that I must have one more book fair. Next week, I'll be giving my summer reading presentations to all the reading classes over a period of 4 days. Then the week after that is book fair plus I have to do my end of year inventory. May is going to be jam-packed, but it will fly by and bring me to summer vacation faster.Before I sign off, I can't forget to mention what young adult titles I've been reading lately. I'm almost finished with an advanced copy of Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore. I usually don't like ghost stories, but I'm enjoying this one set in the Texas Hill Country. It hits bookstores in July. I've also started two other books, an advanced copy of Libba Bray's Beauty Queens (it'll be out later this month)--I love the cover!--which I've found very funny so far, and Cathy Ostlere's Karma, a historical fiction verse novel about a Canadian Indian teenage girl who returns to India with her father at the time of the assassination of Indira Ghandi. I've always been fascinated with Indira Ghandi and her legacy. I haven't read much of the book so far, and I'm not a big fan of verse novels, but so far, I am enjoying this one.Now it's time to go to bed and read for a while. Later.[...]

The Beautiful and Damned - post in progress


If you came here looking for this post yesterday, I apologize for the delay. I finished reading The Beautiful and Damned Friday night, but I have not had a moment to write up my response until now. I went to East Texas yesterday to celebrate the 30th wedding anniversary of my older brother and his wife. It's hard to believe that they have been married for 30 years; it makes me feel really old and really good.

The Beautful and Damned is not a story about a happy marriage. Anthony Patch is the grandson of the very wealthy Adam Patch, an industrialist who becomes a rabid reformer in his old age. Anthony is beyond reform, a proud member of the idle rich. While he is a graduate of Harvard, he has no ambition for anything except the wait for a hefty inheritance. Gloria is a great dancer who is beautiful and fun from a rather wealthy family. Gloria's only goal in life is to enjoy it--carpe diem. Once they are married, living on Anthony's yearly allowance left to him by his parents, Anthony and Gloria set about the business of partying all the time. Even when times are bad and money is tight, they party. Eventually, Adam dies and doesn't leave them anything, and Anthony contests the will, which seems to be a neverending process and puts them in dire financial straits.

I'm not sure that I can say that I enjoyed this book, but I was completely captivated by the telling of the story despite unlikeable characters. I wanted to like Gloria especially. At first, I thought she was a spunky, free-spirited woman who was not content to behave as society expected. Then I realized that she is just a selfish beauty queen who always has to be the center of attention. Anthony is no better, talk about feckless. He only cared about being rich so that he didn't have to do anything except appear to be the kind of person he wanted to be. At times, I wondered why one or both of them didn't commit suicide and/or kill the other one.

I can't quite decide what Fitzgerald was trying to show with this story. On the one hand, I would say that he was making a case against the idle rich, but Anthony wins in the end, even though he can't enjoy his winnings. I definitely think he's trying to say something about the idea that living without a purpose is a hollow way to live, but the examples of people living with a purpose, the rabid reformer Adam Patch, Anthony's friend Richard Campbell (Gloria's cousin) and eventually his other friend Maury Noble, are just as unlikeable as Anthony and Gloria.

I have more to say, but I have to go to bed now. I'll try to update this tomorrow evening before I go to the NCAA championship game or Tuesday evening. Later.

Decisions, Decisions


I started to type this post yesterday afternoon, but I quickly decided that I would rather be reading than writing, so I stopped writing and read until time to get ready for last night's book club reading.The decision in the post's title refers to choosing between Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned and Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. I signed on to do a post for another Classics Circuit tour: The Lost Generation Tour. I've always been a fan of both Fitzgerald and Hemingway (a bigger one of Fitzgerald), but I've not read all of their work. When I signed up to be part of this tour, I said I would read one of these works, thinking I would end up choosing whichever one wasn't being done by another blogger. Yesterday, I looked at the tour schedule and saw that someone else is doing both of the books. No help!So I started to type a blog post, thinking that I would write myself into a decision. As you already know, I went to read instead. The plan was to read a chapter or two of each to see which one drew me in the fastest. One problem with this plan: the first chapter of Fitzgerald's book is about 30 pages long whereas Hemingway's is 2 pages. Before I finished the first chapter of the Fitzgerald book, I decided that it will be my Classics Circuit read, but I might read and post about both books if I can find the time. After all, I am on Spring Break this week and have no plans for anything other than reading, writing, and riding my birthday bike.Another decision. Previously, I posted about trying to decide what big book to read next. I decided to read Drood, mainly because I was reminded that it had been a birthday present from Valerie. (I think I should read the books she gives me within at least two years of the giving.) Unfortunately, I haven't read much so far, just over 100 pages, but I have enjoyed the voice of Wilkie Collins as the narrator. I have no idea how factual the character of Collins or Charles Dickens is in thoughts, actions or mannerisms. I have listened to part of Collins' The Woman in White and read and enjoyed a few Dickens books, but I'm not an obsessive fan of either, so historical accuracy won't play into my enjoyment of the book. The book is all about plot, or so it seems, and I was thinking that I might stop reading it and pick another of the big books because I desired something more than a plot-based book. However, now that I've started The Beautiful and Damned, I think I'll keep reading Drood. As a matter of fact, today looks to be a rainy, gloomy day, a day that befits the reading of a book like Drood. I think I'll go read for a while now. Later.[...]

What should I read next?


I spent most of this beautiful day, sitting in the backyard finishing my reading of The Privileges by Jonathan Dee. I really didn't like the book. I kept thinking that maybe I just couldn't like a book about wealthy people who, for the most part, had no real struggles, and when the did have struggles, they bought their way out of them. But I know that's not true, I've read and enjoyed books about ultra-wealthy people before, but Dee's depiction of the Moreys never engaged me enough to become sympathetic to any of the characters. Even when I finally thought something exciting/interesting would happen, I would be disappointed with a too easy, too fast resolution to the conflict--money really does buy everything for these people. Although I thought the writing was good, it wasn't so good that I wanted to keep reading. I finished the book because I have a difficult time not finishing books and because it was a book club selection. We met tonight to discuss the book, and I wasn't the only one who didn't like it. Only a couple of members liked the book, but neither of them loved it.After we finished discussing The Privileges, we picked out our next read from a list of four books, one of which was immediately eliminated because a member had already read it. We settled on a The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'm not very excited about the choice; I would've preferred The Lotus Eaters. The other choice was The Glass Castle, which every other book club in the world as probably already read. I really dislike memoirs even though I recently read and loved Just Kids, so I was just glad that everyone else didn't want to read it. Surprisingly, no one even named it as one of their top two choices.Before I start the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I am going to start a new big book. To me a big book is any book with more than 500 pages. I've narrowed my choices down to these six books, all of which I have owned for some time now:2666 by Roberto Bolano, 912 pagesInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, 1104 pagesLight in August by William Faulkner, 512 pagesNative Son by Richard Wright, 544 pagesTree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, 720 pagesDrood by Dan Simmons, 976 pagesWhich one should I read next?[...]

My Bookprint


In the course of preparing for my upcoming book fair, I came across Scholastic's You Are What You Read site today. One of the things you can do on this site is share your bookprint, the five books that most influenced you. I always have a problem with these kinds of lists. Just the other day, a student asked me to name my favorite book of all time, and I really couldn't answer the question quickly or easily. I have read and loved so many books, and I have difficulty articulating how the books that I've loved have influenced me. But I do like the idea of identifying my bookprint, so I'm going to try to pick the 5 books that influenced me the most. Here is my initial list, in no particular order. The Autobiography of Malcolm X - I feel like I learned much American history from this book, history that I was never taught in school. This book changed my way of thinking about mainstream perceptions and depictions of people who live outside the mainstream. (Does that even make sense?)Beloved by Toni Morrison - I have read this book so many times, first as a reader then as a grad student and then as a teacher. I love the use of language and the way Morrison starts in the middle and fills in the blanks as the story progresses. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - Another book that I've read multiple times. This is my all-time favorite dystopia. I love how Atwood depicts the possible outcomes of extreme religious right ideals. Every time I read a YA dystopia, I see the influence of The Handmaid's Tale in it, even if the book has nothing to do with religion or abortion.Superior Women by Alice Adams - I keep telling myself that I should reread this book to see if it's as great as I remember it. I think this was probably the first novel that I read that I would classify as feminist. As I recall, the women in this book, one of them in particular (can't remember which one right now), were determined to be more than just wives and mothers. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor - I've read this book two or three times. I love Naylor's story of these women who are from different generations and different socioeconomic status but who all have to deal with not just racial prejudice but also gender bias and bias among themselves. For now, I'm going to let this list simmer. Because even as I was making the list, I was thinking of other books that I might include. Notice there are no children's books on the list. I can't really remember ever not being a reader, but I never had a favorite kids book, a book that I read multiple times like I see so many kids doing.What is your bookprint? Can you name the five books that influenced you the most?[...]

Lysistrata - Better late than never, I hope.


Dang it! I just realized that my Classics Circuit Ancient Greek Classics post was supposed to be posted on Sunday. All this time, I thought that I had been assigned to post on January 31. Well, I hope this post is worth the wait, if anyone comes back to read it a day later.For this tour, I wanted to read something new, so I chose Lysistrata by Aristophanes. I was a high school English teacher for fifteen years, and I taught some of the tragedies several times. I was familiar with the premise of Lysistrata, but I had never read it or seen it acted on the stage (and I'm not sure that I'd want to now). I thought that I had the play in an old Norton Anthology or other literature textbook, but I couldn't find it. Rather than purchase a copy or check one out from the library, I decided to read the book on my computer and iPhone for free. I got the book from Project Gutenberg, which means there were few footnotes and only a brief but interesting introduction/commentary. One of the things that I like about Shakespeare's comedies (and even some of his tragedies) is his use of sexual innuendo and bawdy jokes. Yes, sometimes the puns are groan inducing, but they are generally so well-placed that I can't help but laugh a little. I don't know if some of Aristophanes' skill with humor is lost in this translation or not, but the phallic humor wore on me. The play's premise is that the men of Greece spend too much time away from home, at war with one another. Lysistrata hatches a plan to bring about peace. She convinces all the women to refrain from having sex until the men agree to sign a peace treaty. Of course, the women resist her arguments at first but eventually agree. The women take control of the citadel and threaten to take over the treasury before the men begin to rebel. Lysistrata's plan works but not before some of the women threaten to give up and the men threaten to beat and even burn the women out of the building. As I've already said the play is full of phallic jokes, obvious and sophomoric, jokes that only the prudest wouldn't see coming. For example, the men take a stand, a naked stand, against the women: "Let each one wag / As youthfully as he can, / And if he has the cause at heart / Rise at least a span." And later, when the Spartan and Athenian men are about to agree to a peace treaty, the Chorus chimes in with "The situation swells to greater tension / Something will explode soon." Ha! Ha! (To be completely honest, I did laugh at some of the dirty jokes in the first few pages of the play, but after a while, I just got tired of them.) As a feminist, I feel like I should like this play. I'm sure it has a lot to say about gender and power, but I thought it was so obvious and simplistic that I couldn't really get engaged in the story or the characters. If I were teaching this play, I would research the status of women in ancient Greece, and I would probably find my way to liking it. I didn't do any research before or after I read it, and I didn't read the other Classics Circuit Ancient Greeks post on the play because I didn't want to have other people's ideas in my head when I read the play for the first time. Maybe I'll come back and update this post after reading the other post on this play. For now, though, I'm done. Later.[...]

Lysistrata post coming later today


(image) Today is my turn for The Classics Circuit's Ancient Greek Classics tour. Instead of finishing reading and typing up my post yesterday, I finished reading Patti Smith's Just Kids, a great book which I will post about after I post about Lysistrata. I will make time to finish reading and type up the post at work today, but I won't be able to upload the post until I get home from work.

Have a good Monday!

My Year of Reading - A List


Oh, how the time does fly! I can't believe it's been almost three months since my last blog post. It's not like I haven't been reading interesting books or haven't had interesting ideas for blog posts. I just haven't been making the time for writing, and I have no excuses for it except laziness and procrastination. Reading is about the only thing that I don't procrastinate in doing.I read 46 books this year plus half of two others. I could only bear half of American Gods, and I'm halfway finished with Middlemarch, which I will finish in the next week or so. My list is below.Book club selectionsLoving Frank by Nancy HoranMotherless Brooklyn by Jonathan LethemMonster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario SpeziThe Hour Between by Sebastian StuartLess Than Zero by Bret Easton EllisThe God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyCutting for Stone by Abraham VergheseNever Let Me Go by Kazuo IshiguroSag Harbor by Colson Whitehead Where Men Win Glory by Jon KrakauerOther books I chose to read: The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black The Likeness by Tana FrenchA Mercy by Toni Morrison Diamond Dust & Other Stories by Anita Desai Innocent Blood by P.D. James Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood American Gods by Neil Gaiman (only read 1/2)Middlemarch by George Eliot (still reading, half finished)Kids/young adult books:Matched by Ally CondieJumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan HydeNothing by Janne TellerTrue Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AviThe Eternal Smile: Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk KimBurnout by Rebecca DonnerSweet Treats & Secret Crushes by Lisa GreenwaldOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-GarciaKendra by Coe BoothYou by Charles BenoitForge by Laurie Halse AndersonPedro and Me by Judd WinickRose Sees Red by Cecil CastelucciMockingjay by Suzanne CollinsOut of Mind by Sharon DraperBamboo People by Mitali PerkinsOn Pointe by Lorie Ann GroverLiar by Justine LarbalestierWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David LevithanDebbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan BrothersAll the Broken Pieces by Ann BurgThirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherRuined: A Ghost Story by Paula MorrisThirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick CarmanThe War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin HicksThe Storm in the Barn by Matt PhelanFancy White Trash by Marjetta GeerlingUnderstanding the Holy Land by Mitch FrankWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadHopefully, I'll find the time this week to blog about which were my most favorite and least favorite reads as well as my reading plans for the new year. For now, though, I'm going to bed to continue my reading of Middlemarch, which I'm thoroughly enjoying. Later.[...]

A Beautiful Day! (and a few words about reading)


Geez! The time really does get away from me. I can't believe that it's been almost a month since I've posted anything here. I've been doing lots of reading but not much writing about it. Before I start going on about the books that I've read recently, I have to share what a beautiful day it was here in Houston. Check out these photos from the day. Valerie and I went to the final Astros game of the season, something that has become a kind of tradition for us. Before the game, we decided to eat at Market Square, a recently re-opened park in downtown. It was a perfect day to eat outside and a perfect day for the roof to be open at Minute Maid. To top it off, the Astros ended the season with a win against the Cubs. Yea!! After the game, I cooked vegetable soup (well, Valerie did add some seasonings, but I did all the peeling and chopping) and baked cornbread. Both were delicious! And we have leftovers for lunch tomorrow and there was enough to freeze too. A satisfying ending to another good weekend in my good life. :-)Now for those few words about reading. I think that after having read so much this summer that I kind of lost momentum once I started back to work. I have actually read more YA books in the past two months than adult books. But one reason for that was that my book club picked Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, a very long book, to read for our September meeting. I had to put almost everything else on the back burner for a few weeks to get it read, and I still didn't have it quite finished in time for our meeting. I have finished it since then, however. The novel is narrated by Marion, a twin whose mother died in childbirth. His mother was a nun from India and his father a doctor from England, both of whom were working in a hospital in Ethiopia at the time of the birth. I really enjoyed most of the book, and I thought the book had enough great characters for several books. BUT I was a bit annoyed by the first person omniscient point of view. At times, I read the book as if Marion was relating what had been told to him and could accept that the teller(s) were able to remember their exact thoughts as well as feelings, but other times, especially late in the story when Marion is in a coma, I just couldn't accept his omniscience. In the end, though, I really did like the story that Verghese told. After their father abandons them and the hospital, Marion and his twin brother Shiva are adopted by two other Indian doctors and have a rather idyllic childhood despite the poverty and political struggles that occur in their adopted country of Ethiopia. Both of the twins become doctors. Reading this book, I started thinking about other books that I have read about doctors. I really couldn't come up with a very long list. Then I came across a post about five books of doctors novels on A Commonplace Blog. I had only read one of them, Waiting by Ha Jin, but the post included a link to Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database, which contains a very extensive, annotated list of books. Thanks to this list, I was able to add a few more. Here's my list of doctor novels:Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham.Coma by Robin Cook. I know this is not great literature, but I think this might be one of the non-classic adult book that I read. My mom loved popular fiction thrillers, and I'm fairly certain that I got this book from her when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school.Cider House Rules by John Irving. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Tender is the Night by F. Scott FitzgeraldLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia MarquezFrankenstein by Mary Shelley Dr. Jekyl[...]

Who am I kidding?


In the past several years, I've started four writing workshops and finished three, poetry, personal essay, and short story. The short story one, I took this summer. I mostly thought my story sucked, but I didn't think it was the worst one of the group, and I did think that it held promise. Despite that feeling, I haven't even tried to revise it or really tried to write another one since. I have had some ideas about possible plot elements and characters that I've jotted down here and there, but I just haven't made the time to really do anything about any of them.

Things I know
I have to decide that I'm going to be a writer and make time to write. I used to stay up late and blog a lot, but now that I try to go to bed early, I don't blog nearly as much.

I waste way too much time on the computer playing card games while I half watch TV.

I can make all the plans that I want to, but the chances of me carrying them out are very slim.

Of course, I know a lot more about a lot of other things, but I won't bore you with more.

(I started this post early this morning, and I'm finishing it after dinner while I get caught up on Project Runway.)

How can I make my writing work? ;-)
I think I have to create a schedule to make myself find time to write. Last May, when I first started getting up at thirty minutes earlier, at 5:00 every morning , I thought I might have time to write each morning. I don't know what I was thinking because I'm not a morning person, never really have been. I don't really have a regular lunch time or conference period time at work, so writing at work on a regular basis. So the only time left is at night. Thanks to Valerie, I now go to bed much earlier than I used to. I sleep better and more and really feel better most mornings even though I do miss staying up late sometimes. So where does that leave me? I could write from 7:00-8:00 or 8:00-9:00 or 7:00-9:00. Should I start with an hour and add a second hour after a while?

It's funny how I can find all kinds of time to read, but I can't find time to write. I have to make a decision and establish a schedule and make it a habit or give up on the idea all together. For now, though, it's time for bed. Later.

"Every individual existence revolves around mystery..."


I've been very lax about my daily reading of short stories this summer, but I'm going to try to be better during the second half of my summer vacation. I can't believe it's already half over! I'm feeling the need to get things done for the next four weeks, things that I had planned to do this summer. One of those things was to read a short story every day and tweet/blog about it.

This morning I read Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog." I'm not sure if I've ever read any of Chekhov's stories or plays before. In addition to being a constant reader, I majored in English as an undergrad and almost completed a masters in literature, so you would think that I had read something of his, but I can't remember ever doing so. My point is I've never studied Chekhov. I have read other Russian writers, and I thought this story pretty typical of nineteenth century Russian literature. (Please, correct me if I'm wrong.)

I enjoyed reading this story, but I wasn't surprised by its outcome. I did, however, find a statement in it that I really liked. Gurov, the main character, is a philanderer, and at one point he thinks "every individual existence revolves around mystery..." I think that a lot of people might disagree with this statement, or at least might be upset by the thought of it as a reality. However, I'm not sure if anyone can ever really know everything about another individual. We all have secrets of some kind, right? Some people like to claim that what you see is what you get, but I'm not sure that is even possible. Don't we all live a persona that we've created whether consciously or unconsciously? What do you think?

I'm going to ponder on this for a while and maybe I'll write more about it later. For now, I need to get some other things done. Later.

Giving up on American Gods (#1b1t)


I really don't like to give up on books, but I think I have to give up on this one. I'm not a fantasy fan per se, but I'm not sure that's the problem. I feel like the book is not that well written and it's all pretty obvious. I only chose this book because I wanted to participate in One Book One Twitter. However, ss soon as I saw many of the tweets about the book, I was reminded of why I don't read popular fiction very much. I am an admitted book snob and have no time for obvious questions/comments, but I'm not so horrid a snob as to post snarky comments, at least. Although that might have made my reading of this book more fun. ;-)I have given American Gods a real chance. I have read seven chapters, so I'm not giving up without a fight. I liked the first chapter and was completely surprised by the grotesque ending of that chapter, so I thought that this book was going to be very interesting and fast paced, but I think the book went down from there. Despite it being a fantasy, there's nothing really new here. Sure, I'm not familiar with all the gods presented, but I am too familiar with some of the motifs and symbols. (Are symbols and motifs the same things? I can't remember right now.) Black birds, gangster type men in black limos with tinted windows, light vs. dark, ambiguously good guys vs. bad guys, etc. Even most of the commentary about American society seems tired.I think the last straw was the scene where Shadow is grabbed by some men in a black truck in a restaurant parking lot and then he's in what seems like an interrogation room being questioned about the gods. The two men, Mr. Wood and Mr. Stone, doing the questioning are wearing dark suits and have dark hair and shiny shoes. This scene just seemed and felt a little too Men in Black to me, and I've never even seen the whole movie. I did finish that chapter and read one more, but now I think that might be as far as I care to go with this book.I'm kind of sad about giving up on this book because so many people, including friends of mine, really admire Gaiman's work, and I want to share in that admiration. So, I'm not giving up on the author completely. I'll try at least one of his other books before I give up on him altogether. And maybe I'll read another chapter of American Gods here and there and eventually finish it. I haven't removed the book to the bookshelf yet or even removed the bookmark from it, but I haven't picked it up to read in several days. I have read other things this week instead. I started three different books Footnotes in Gaza, Never Let Me Go, and Middlemarch. I'll probably finish at least two of those next week. So for now, I'll say goodbye to American Gods and One Book One Twitter. Later.[...]

Toni Morrison made me cry


When I finished reading A Mercy this morning, all I could think was "WOW!" I got up from the dining room table and walked into the living room to get my phone so I could tweet that "WOW!" As I was typing out the tweet, I just started sobbing. I mean crying really hard. I cried for at least five minutes before I could get myself under control. I haven't had that kind of visceral reaction to a book in a very long time.I love Morrison's work. She is one of my two favorite authors, but I was still stunned by the beauty and sadness of this short novel. How could she say so much in less than 200 pages? I'm a relatively slow reader, but I read this book very fast, starting it yesterday afternoon. It's a real page turner. She interweaves several stories in this novel about a small group of slaves and their owners in seventeenth century America. There is one central thread that holds the stories together, but I never felt impatient when it was interrupted to tell one of the other story lines.This novel is on its surface a story about slavery, but its also an indictment of religiosity. Both the Papists and the Protestants are shown to perpetuate not just the use of slaves but the racism that allowed it to exist. In addition, the novel is about identity, jealousy, and cruelty, which is too/most often the result of jealousy, I think.I just kept wondering how people could be so cruel to other people. How does a group of people ever come to believe that they are automatically superior to another group of people and that the proof of their superiority is in the color of their skin? Even the benevolent wife of the benevolent slave owner becomes cruel in the end, which reminded me of Frederick Douglass's Narrative and his descriptions of the dehumanizing effect of slavery on the slave owner. Morrison touches on this idea in Beloved also.At one point in the novel, someone says or thinks something like "we don't shape the world; the world shapes us." If that's true, then what kind of sad, cruel world do we live in? I'm not trying to be a Pollyanna here. Are humans inherently cruel? I don't understand why someone would ever be cruel to another human being, and I know that I've been guilty of cruelty at some point, probably more than one, in my life. Whether my cruelty was consciously intended or not doesn't change the fact that it happened. Whether I felt my actions provoked or reasonable doesn't change anything either. Maybe that knowledge is one reason this book affected me so.I've read most of Morrison's works more than once, and I feel like I should read this one again very soon. I wish that I was still teaching AP Literature because my students would be reading this book in the upcoming school year. Now, I'm going to go to bed and read, but I'm not sure what I'll read because I think that no matter what I read tonight, it'll be a disappointing after having just read A Mercy. Later.[...]

Summer of Short Stories 2


I started this repeat project kind of late, but I'm planning to read one short story each day for the rest of my summer vacation and tweet and/or blog about the stories. I will at least tweetthe author and title of each one. Last summer, I read several whole books of short stories and some other random ones, which is my plan for this summer too. I started reading Anita Desai's Diamond Dust last week, but I wasn't sure then if I was going to repeat the daily reading and didn't keep it up all week. This week, I decided that I had enjoyed the reading and the structure of doing it last summer and should do it again. I've never read any of Desai's work before this book. I have read her daughter's Booker Prize winning, The Inheritance of Loss, and I bought Diamond Dust when I attended a reading by both authors a couple of years ago. Today, I read the fifth of the nine stories in this book, "The Man Who Saw Himself Drown." I'm not sure I completely understood the story. The story started out with a third person narrator, detailing the movements of an older man on a business trip. After dinner one evening, he goes for a walk and eventually sees a drowned man being pulled out of the river. It's him. Most of the rest of the story is told from the drowned man's spirit's(?) point of view. At first the man doesn't believe he has really died. I can't decide if this story is just a bittersweet story about death or if it's a story about the connection or disconnection between body and spirit. I'm not a very spiritual person, and I think that might be hindering my perception of this story. I guess I'll just have to keep thinking about it for a while.I am enjoying Desai's writing. In this story I was really struck by a couple of passages, one of which I think might hold the key to the story. But first, this one from the beginning of the story when the man enters his hotel room: "He tossed his briefcase into the armchair--there, now the room knew someone had entered it and made it his own--went into the bathroom to wash." I love the idea that a hotel room is always waiting for life--it only lives when it's inhabited. Kind of makes me feel sad for hotel rooms. :-) And I guess in a sense hotel rooms are kind of sad, temporary dwellings. Maybe Desai is comparing the hotel room to a body inhabited by a spirit. Hmmm.The key passage in the story, I think, is this one from the end of the story after the man has accepted his death: It seemed to me that by dying my double had not gifted me with possibility, only robbed me of all desire for one: by arriving at death, life had been closed to me. At his cremation, that was also reduced to ash.Maybe the story is about the death of the spirit and how once it dies a body can't go on living. At the beginning of the story, the man was exhausted with his life, his work life at least, but maybe that was the beginning of the death of his spirit. I don't know. Maybe I'm trying to hard. Maybe I should just enjoy the story and let it's meaning percolate in my brain whether I ever come back to it or not. I'm going to go read something else now. Later.[...]

Summer reading plans


Not surprisingly, I've missed at least a month of Monday missives. I could give some excuses about moving, end-of-school-year stress, and even having a bad sinus infection this week, but they would just be excuses. I've thought about blogging lots of times, but I've just been lazy about doing it. Once again, I'll make a vow to try to post more regularly. I don't work in the summer, so I should have plenty of time for blogging. So even though I'm half way through the second week of my summer vacation, I thought I would lay out my reading plans. I finished Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson today. If I hadn't been sick for the past few days, I probably would've finished it faster. I'll write more about it later, but I need to let my thoughts gel for a while.I am currently reading Innocent Blood, one of P.D. James's older books, and Diamond Dust, a book of short stories by Anita Desai. Before the summer started, I intended to have a second Summer of Short Stories, and I even read one on each of the first two days of my summer vacation, but I didn't tweet or blog about them. Maybe I'll kickstart that project tomorrow. In addition to these books, I started a few books at work before the school year ended: Paradise Lost, which I was trying to read along with Rebecca Reads' Milton in May;American Gods by Neil Gaimann, the One Book One Twitter selection;Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a young adult book by John Greene and David Levithan.I plan to finish all three of these, and read many more, including some/all of the following:Alice Munro's most recent book of short stories Too Much HappinessChimimanda Ngozie Adichie's The Thing Around Your NeckBret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, which I'll be re-reading for my book club, having read it a very long time ago when I was youngJoe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza, a graphic nonfiction bookKazuo's Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I've had for a long timeAt least one big book: Drood by Dan Simmons, 2666 by Roberto Bolano, or Middlemarch by George EliotI also brought home several young adult books to read this summer, but I won't list them now. All this writing about books makes me want to go read. Later.[...]

Breaking the Fast - The Monday Missive


The plan was to not buy books, except for book club books, before May 25, the release date for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Aside from the book club exceptions, I've actually kept my fast very well until tonight. But the fast breaking is really not my fault. Rebecca Reads is doing a Milton in May read along featuring Paradise Lost. I've never read Paradise Lost, despite having a BA in English and almost having a MA in Literature (I did all the course work but never wrote the thesis), and I've always felt like I should have read it. So I couldn't resist the temptation to join the read along. Plus I thought that surely either Valerie or I had an old copy of Paradise Lost on our bookshelves, but all I could find were some excerpts in a couple of anthologies. Not to be deterred in my quest for enlightenment, I decided that buying a copy, especially one from Half Price Books, was a valid exception to the book buying fast. A read along selection is almost like a book selection, right?If I had stopped with one book, I wouldn't have felt as bad, but I decided to buy another book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This book wasn't just a splurge though. I discovered One Book, One Twitter on Friday or Saturday, and I decided to join in when I saw what book had been selected. I have a reader friend in real life who loves Gaiman's work. Last year, when it was my turn to make the book club selection list, I asked her to recommend a Gaiman book for me to include. Guess what book she suggested--American Gods! How could I resist taking part in One Book, One Twitter? Besides it's almost like being in a book club, so it's not like I just blatantly violated my fast, right? It's a good thing that I have all summer for the Gaiman book because I still need to finish The Year of the Flood and read the next book club selection, The Hour Between by June 13. I also want to read at least one more YA book before school is out for summer vacation--only 22 days left! And, oh yeah, Valerie and I are moving into our house on the 15th. In the meantime, we have to paint the master bedroom, give the entire house a good cleaning, and hang some window treatments. Whew! I think I have to go to bed now and read myself to sleep. Later![...]

A Missed Missive & Some Reading/Book Notes


This house is the reason that I failed to post my Monday Missive last night. Valerie and I closed on this house late yesterday afternoon, the first home purchase for both of us. It needs a bit of work, mostly cosmetic, thank goodness. Still, I'm very excited if a bit daunted by the reality of owning a home. It's going to be quite a change. I've lived in apartments for the past eighteen years, and I hope that I can handle being responsible for maintenance and upkeep. Plus I'm not much of a DIY-er. I never even painted a wall in any of the apartments that I've lived in, but I'm going to have to learn how to paint soon, very soon.After the closing, we spent some time at the house making plans and noticing things like the weird placement of light switches that we hadn't paid attention to previously. Then we went to toast our purchase on the rooftop patio of our friend's Midtown townhouse. The weather has been so perfect lately, last night included, that I'm not sure what I enjoyed more, the satisfaction of being a co-homeowner, the champagne, the company, or the location and the view. It's not a rooftop patio with a view of downtown, but our house does have a good sized backyard and a small patio that Valerie and I are going to improve and enjoy as often as possible.Enough about the house, let's talk about books. I'm still reading The Year of the Flood, but my reading time has been too sporadic lately. I don't feel like I've been able to focus on the story enough to become really engaged with it. I'm hoping that I can find some quality reading time later this week and this weekend. Of course, I have other books waiting to be read. Killing time before our closing appointment, we picked up copies of our book club's next selection, The Hour Between by Sebastian Stuart. I don't think I had ever heard of this book before seeing it on the list for book club. Blurbs on the cover compare it to A Separate Peace, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Catcher in the Rye, all of which I like, so I'm looking forward to reading it.At work today, I started reading All the Broken Pieces, a novel in verse by Ann E. Burg. I'm not sure why I picked it up; it wasn't one of the ten books that I have stacked on my desk to read. Maybe I'm trying to make amends for not celebrating National Poetry Month like I have in the past. Maybe I just wanted something that I could read fast. I spent most of the day giving teachers twenty-minute breaks from TAKS administration, but for two consecutive twenty-minute periods, I got to be the bathroom monitor, which gave me some reading time. I got about half way through the book. The poems tell the story of teenager Matt Pin, the son of a Vietnamese woman and an American soldier, who was airlifted out of Vietnam during the war and adopted by an American couple. I'm not a big fan of novels in verse, but I am finding some of Burg's poetry to be quite beautiful. I wish I hadn't left the book at work so that I could quote some of it here. I'll post more about this book when I'm finished, and I'll include quotes in that post.Okay, I think that I'll go to bed now and read The Year of the Flood for a while. Later.[...]