Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 2015 Recap

I think April might be my favorite month, and I certainly had a good one this year. It had its ups and downs, but it's ending right. Plus, I read some good books. Win and win.
I read everything on my list, with the exception for swapping out Eat, Pray, Love for A Working Girl Can't Win for my April re-read. Oh, and I scrapped my plans for The Grapes of Wrath audio because I just didn't need Dust Bowl and Depression at 5:40am.






As I move into May, I'm reading:
Eat, Pray, Love and One Writer's Beginnings are re-reads, and What I Know For Sure is audio. All three are making me very happy, but reading the three of them together is a trifecta. Elizabeth Gilbert is a basket-case on her way to triumph (imagine making a name for yourself by describing the worst year of your life which led into the best); Eudora Welty is sweet and innocent and absolutely without guile; and Oprah, wow is this a woman who knows herself. More on all three later.
Tomorrow I'll share my May reading list.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

American's Favorite Poems, Robert Pinsky & Maggie Dietz (Eds.)

Americans’ Favorite Poems

Robert Pinsky & Maggie Dietz (Eds.)

Category: Poetry
Synopsis: Classic poems introduced by American citizens.
Pages: 311
Date finished: 26 January 2014

Rating: ****

I wanted to get in one poetry book review before April--National Poetry Month--draws to a close. More are in the hopper.
For awhile now I’ve been concerned about the fact that I either don’t remember or have avoided most of the classic poetry taught in high school and college. I feel I have a pretty good handle on the modern stuff, but the old stuff? No interest. That gap seemed wrong, so I decided to force-feed myself some classic poetry. Which only sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I wasn’t exactly sure where to start. I have several poetry textbooks (anthologies, really) from college that I use to look up a poem from time to time, but I did not want to read that much classic poetry. Then I remembered my set of Robert Pinsky collections. When Pinsky was poet laureate (1997-2000)*, he asked Americans to submit their favorite poems and a statement as to why they loved them. This became two collections, Americans’ Favorite Poems and Poems to Read.

What a fabulous idea, right? I hoped the introductions would be helpful for me in identifying with the poems on a more personal level. It’s often easier to like something that someone else is excited about. I decided to give each poem a chance (i.e., I wasn’t allowed to skip a poem because I didn’t like it) and to give myself a break (i.e., I wasn’t going to worry that I still didn’t understand or like a given poem).

Did my approach work? I’m happy to report: yes! In fact, something happened as I got into the book that sort of transformed the project for me. Instead of being drudgery, it became a sort of communion with fellow poetry lovers. I fell in love with the introductions—these weren’t written by MFAs or fellow poets, just average folks, both educated and not. And I was able to appreciate poems I’d long resented. I’ll be honest and say that I still don’t care much for the poetry of, say, T.S. Eliot or Dylan Thomas or Robert Browning or John Donne, but at least I tried again. (And each time I read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” it does make a tiny bit more sense.) And there were so many poems that I was so familiar with from my college classes, and it was fascinating just how many lines had stuck with me all these years. It really was a fascinating journey for me, full of touchstones from bygone days.

Now, to classify these as classic poems is likely erroneous; there were a number of what I’d call modern poets represented. But all the poets included had a certain degree of notoriety among the poetry literate. Again, not the kind of poetry I gravitate toward, but the ones who paved the way for modern poetry.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
For someone wanting to read, re-read, or re-connect with classic poetry, this is a great collection.

*I once met Pinsky, and I believe it was during his reign as poet laureate. He is gorgeous, but he came off as quite pompous. I try not to hold that against him, but that meeting really taught me something about the importance of making a good first impression. I haven’t sought out his poetry since that first meeting. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (bad childhoods)
Click to link!
This week the gals at The Broke and the Bookish are asking for the Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____. I'm filling in the blank with had bad childhoods. 
(I ran out of steam after eight. Frankly, it's not a very happy topic I chose!)
Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) grew up in poverty in Ireland. And Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) grew up in Irish poverty in Brooklyn.

Rick Bragg (All over but the Shoutin') grew up watching his father brutalize his mother. Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle) grew up with an unstable mother in an unstable childhood.

Roald Dahl's Matilda grew up frightfully misunderstood by her parents. Kimberly Rae Miller (Coming Clean) grew up among her hoarder parents' piles of treasures and trash.

 Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) suffered sexual abuse. And Anne Frank (The Diary of a Young Girl) suffered unspeakable tragedy.
I've read all of these stunning books, and they all shine with emotional growth and forgiveness and healing. Everyone here who made it to adulthood turned out okay. And even Anne Frank, who died young and at the hands of hatred, inspired millions.
Which book heroes would you add to the list?


Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Monday! (4/27/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Well, I'm meeting my reading goal of 10 books in April. What a great month it's been. I'm working on May's reading list now, and I think I'll shoot for another 10.
(You're asking: Carrie, wasn't one of my blog goals this year to stop focusing so much on number of books read? Well yes, yes it was. All I can say is, I am what I am.)
Anywho...I finished Between You & Me and A Working Girl Can't Win and The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up last week. I enjoyed Between You & Me which wasn't exactly what I expected, but that's not a bad thing. It's hard to give lessons in grammar and punctuation in a light-hearted way, but Mary Norris does a good job.
A Working Girl Can't Win is a slim volume of poetry that I read when it came out years ago. I wanted to return to it to see if my reactions would have changed any, and I was kind of surprised. Review on this one forthcoming.
And on Saturday evening I finished The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. And I have things to say. But not yet.

This week I'll be re-reading Eat, Pray, Love and One Writer's Beginnings. I could really go for a "change your life" book, and there's no finer example than Eat, Pray, Love. And not long ago I found my copy of One Writer's Beginnings on my bookcase. I read it for a class in college, and I remember absolutely falling in love with it. It's Eudora Welty's memoir, focusing mainly on her childhood, as I remember.
I also finally found a replacement audio book that will play loud enough for me to hear it in the shower. I went to the public library and picked up five books on CD that are on my TBR, and I started Oprah's What I Know for Sure. It's the perfect book for me to listen to in the mornings when the blues threaten to overwhelm me. And no matter what your personal opinions of Oprah are (or the words "journey" and "soul" for that matter) this is a woman who knows herself.

My April recap and May reading list posts will be forthcoming.
Also, I have broken through a bit of my writer's block and begun writing reviews for the (huh-hm) 30 or so books I haven't reviewed yet. I'll start posting them soon.
What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Haters, Joy Suckers, and Church

I’d promised to put up some personal posts this year, and I’ve had this one in the holster for awhile. In the past I’ve posted personal things and they’ve garnered no discussion, and I just felt foolish and more alone than I had before I posted. But the truth is, I built this blog based on the need for connection, and friendship comes from trust, and you just can’t trust someone who doesn’t put out the sad, hard stuff, too. Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who keeps those things pushed way down until the pressure builds and there’s nothing to do but let it all out in a spew of words that must either relieve or frighten those closest to me.

But the truth is, although I can change, I can’t be anyone else. So here’s a glimpse into my heart these days.

I rang in this year under the suffocating blanket of depression. It started last fall and worked its intermittent way up to the full-blown bewilderment of emotional crash. I couldn’t tell you what I thought or why I thought it. The thing about depression is it takes control of you; it thinks and speaks for you. And you’re left to act. But the sadness impairs your desire and strength, and action is nearly impossible. One night I finally broke down and called a Christian Science practitioner (one who heals using prayer), and we turned to God for healing.

The weight was blown away one morning in church. I walked in suffering. I walked out completely healed.

All of that prelude to this statement: My church is what heals me, but it’s also, these days, what breaks me. Our church, which is very small, is in the throes of what those in my faith call animal magnetism, the inability to see past the human to the spiritual. I won’t go into the ugly details or state my case, because frankly, I’m too worn down by the whole situation to choose words for it. I will, however, tell you that people are hating, people are choosing teams and taking sides, people are telling lies and holding them against others, people are letting go of Christ. And there exists the sad truth that every individual at our boardroom table (of which I’m chair) has seriously considered leaving the church. Some still are considering. Some want to close the church to end the pain. The ache of inharmony and hurt feelings is too much for most of us to bear. It makes me so sad. And lately, it’s making me angry. And honestly, I can’t tell you the last time I’ve felt anger.

One of the dictums I live by is “stay clear of haters and joy suckers.” But the question arises, what if those haters and joy suckers are found in your church, and your church needs you in order to move forward? And you need your church in order to move forward? What then?

The truth is, right now when I walk into my church for services, and to lead the board, and to be the Sunday School superintendent, and to be a good wife to my husband who also serves the church, when I walk in on Sunday morning, I don’t feel holy, I feel sad, scared, despised, shamed, exhausted, too tender. I have trouble holding my eyes up during the service. I feel that I’m walking around without any skin on, and any barb or blade will hurt that much more. I feel like my efforts to forgive those who hate me are spoons full of water on a raging fire. Not enough. Never enough.

I know these things are going on in so many churches. It’s why people are leaving in droves. It’s why attendance is down and why some people profess hatred and distrust for organized religion. It’s why I hesitate posting this at all. Will it become fodder for someone who needs church to deny church? A friend recently asked me, “How can you serve in a place that’s so painful to be in?” I said to her what I truly believe (though have trouble holding to): “I believe that God doesn’t put me anywhere where I can’t shine light.”

So, that’s my “currently”. That’s what’s consuming all of my emotional energy. I'm spending as much of my time as possible trying to keep my thought right, my motives pure, and my prayer hoard dry.

And someday, I’ll write a post from the other side.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's Monday! (4/20/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Last week I finished five books (I jumped the gun and included Middlemarch in last week's update). It was a great whirlwind reading week.
I finished Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin's latest. I've heard a lot of chatter about this book not being as good as her Happiness books, but I liked it just fine. Perhaps the subject matter isn't as engaging, though.
I also started and finished The Penderwicks, and it was as good as I expected. It was a simple story, perhaps even predictable, but I loved the characters.
And I finished Garrison Keillor's collection Good Poems: American Places. It was a big book for a poetry book (444 pages), and I enjoyed almost every poem. I marked dozens of them to return to. I'm not much of a Garrison Keillor fan in general, but no one can edit a collection of poetry better than he can. Or perhaps he and I share a Midwestern proclivity to certain kinds of poems. If you're looking for some poetry to read this month, try one of his Good Poems collections.
Lastly, I finished Hammer Head. (I've always kind of wished I knew how to do carpentry, though I think I'd be more interested in furniture building than house building. And by "furniture" I probably mean "bookcases.") I liked it for the first couple dozen pages, but the rest of it just sort of tanked for me. I'm not sure if it was the book or me, but we weren't a good fit. Lots of swearing for one thing.
When I finished Hammer Head, I was looking for a comfort read, so I started Between You & Me, and though I'm only about 25 pages in, I'm hooked. I love books about grammar and words.
I started my audio of The Grapes of Wrath this morning, but I'm not sure I'll stick with it. I'm working through a great deal of sadness right now, and I think it might be best to find a happier book.
What's next? Well, I have two more books on my April reading list, and I hope to get to both of them. I think I'll have to swap out Eat, Pray, Love for a different re-read (maybe that should be my next audio...), and I think it will be A Working Girl Can't Win (poems). I've been wanting to re-read this one. And I also plan to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

What are you reading this week?


Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Finds (4/17/15)

FRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).
So, read any good books lately? I have. Though you wouldn't know it by the lack of reviews around here. I'm sorry. I'm working on it.
Until then, I'm still acquiring and still reading as much as I possibly can. Here is what I've stumbled upon in the last week...

You know by now I love my Michael Perry books. But up until now they've been nonfiction (except for that YA book I've yet to read). But now he's coming out (May 19) with a novel called The Jesus Cow. I'm not particularly taken with the plot, but his writing will engage me no doubt.
A couple months ago I finally watched the movie Philomena starring Dame Judi Dench. I was very impressed with it. I recently caught wind that there's a book telling the son's story, so I'm interested in reading it.
Alphabetical is the biography of the alphabet. I think. (It seems to be a little scattered in its approach which kind of appeals to me.) I love books about books and books about words, so I'll have to check this one out.
I've been reading more poetry during this National Poetry Month than I ever have before. I ran unto some Deborah Garrison poems from her first collection, A Working Girl Can't Win (about being a career woman) that made me look for subsequent books by her. She only has one more: The Second Child (about having children), which I'm now excited to read.
I've never read Maxine Kumin poetry by itself, though her poems show up in every anthology I've ever read. I've decided to buy a good anthology of her old and new poems to study her more in depth, and I've chosen Where I Live which includes poems from 1990-2010.
While looking for Maxine Kumin poetry, I ran across her memoir, The Pawnbroker's Daughter, to be released in July. It's very short (160 pages), which should make for an interesting memoir.

And last but not least, I recently breezed through The Penderwicks, the first in a series of four children's books (the fourth was released a couple weeks ago) about a family of four sisters. I enjoyed the characters so much I want to pick up the others: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, and The Penderwicks in Spring.

What is on your TBR these days?