Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: The Public Library

What a fabulous coffee-table book! The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson is both a tribute to the wonderful world of public libraries and an argument for their preservation and appreciation. I loved the stunning photos and the interesting accompanying essays. The entire time I was perusing this book, I was thinking about how much this book would appeal to my friend, Amy (a fellow blogger and writer who happens to be a proud librarian and staunch defender of the public library).

Pair beautiful photography with earnest writing about the importance of books and libraries and you've got quite a hit, in my opinion. Robert Dawson, over a span of eighteen years, toured the United States accumulating a wide collection of photos of public libraries. In these photos he captures the essence of the beauty of general access to literature. The photos include big and small, rich and poor, elegant and dingy public libraries across our nation.

The essays (by authors like Anne Lamott and Amy Tan) were equally inspiring. I especially loved the spunky essay, "How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life," written by Barbara Kingsolver (despite the final few paragraphs where she railed on about evolution and the dreadful consequences of the horrid people who believe in "Special Creation" - her premise about the pitfalls of censorship was valid). It presented a true, oft-experienced, lesson on how reading can make a significant difference in a person's life. I also loved the letters sent by Isaac Asimov, Dr. Seuss, and E.B. White to the children of the library in Troy, Michigan.

When I came upon photos of libraries in El Paso, Texas, and Key West, Florida, I wondered to myself whether my relatives who have lived in those locations ever frequented those edifaces and how often (surely they don't go to the library as frequently as I do, but what a shame if they ignored them altogether). The photos made me want to visit various libraries, the way Bob Hostetler visits various churches in his Desperate Pastor blog. Libraries are a certain kind of sanctuary to me.

While I checked this book out from my public library (a place I am so tremendously grateful for, despite having to pay almost a hundred dollars yearly for the privilege of its use since I live in another town, where we have no town library), it is a book I would happily own and place on my own coffee table. That is, if I had a coffee table. Alas, I don't. Instead, I present it here with a recommendation to seek out your nearest public library and see if they carry a copy of this fine book. If you love books and libraries, you may just run out and buy it for yourself.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees was a different sort of book for writers. Written by an editor, Betsy Lerner, it addresses the temperaments and propensities of writers. It isn't a how-to book. It is more of a reflective book about what writers go through and what editors think of the writing process. I thought it was very refreshing. Thank you, Sheila of The Deliberate Reader, for bringing this book to my attention.

The thing I gained most from this book was encouragement. Writers often get to the point where they want to just give up because their work isn't gaining the audience they desire.  Lerner writes at the outset, "It is my deepest hope that this book will offer helpful advice to beginning writers, but even more that it will inspire the late bloomers, those who have worked in fits and starts over the years but have never just quit or given up the dream completely. This is also a book for people who sometimes believe the worst about themselves when it comes to their writing..." Those words hit me square in the head.

I think self-doubt and rejection are the hardest aspects of writing that writers have to deal with. The author quotes another editor, Ted Solotaroff, who writes this apt analogy in his essay, "Writing in the Cold":

"Rejection along with uncertainty are as much a part of the writer's life as snow and cold are of an Eskimo's: they are conditions one has not only to learn to live with but also learn to make use of .... The gifted young writer has to learn that his main task is to persist."

For me, this was just the encouragement I needed to hear as I approach another Nanowrimo in November. I have no idea what I'm going to write about, but I know that I am going to attempt to shift out of my comfortable mode (writing young adult novels) into something which may stretch me but also may provide a wider door to publication (writing women's fiction). I have enough self-doubt to sink a ship. I go back and forth over the question of whether I should just give up on this dream or relegate it to the back burner and seek out employment instead of pouring myself into writing which never yields much in the way of results. Even when I give my novels away to others to read and provide feedback, I seem to wait months before I hear a word back (not an encouraging sign, but my husband asserts that it could be just a matter of the other person not having time to read it yet).

As Lerner forcefully asserts: "the only person whose rejection really counts is your own. No matter how many people return your work, the only one who can send you packing is yourself."

So if you are a writer plagued with self-doubt and ready to throw in the towel. Don't give up yet. Read this book about what editors are looking for and how editors perceive a writer. Read it for wisdom. Read it for encouragement. Read it as a lifeline when you think you might sink into the abyss.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Amazing Typewriter Artist

Happened upon a story of Paul Smith, a man with cerebral palsy who made amazing art using a typewriter:

Here's a video about his story:

If you'd rather read about him than watch the video, you can follow this link to a site called Hoax-Slayer, where the story is verified. Apparently, the artist has since died, but left behind quite an assortment of masterpieces. For more art by this artist, visit his website.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: The Selection

This book, The Selection, by Kiera Cass, was our young adult book club pick for the month of September. I loved it! It was a delightful and engrossing read. A perfect blend of romance and suspense. I fully intend to seek out the sequels, The Elite and The One. I did note also that there are two other novellas associated with the series, telling stories from other viewpoints. I'm guessing I will eat them all up.

In The Selection, we meet the musical performer, America Singer (not crazy about the name, but it grew on me), who is a Five in the caste system of her society. She is in love with Aspen, a Six, and therefore cannot admit to this relationship for fear of her family's response. While she is perfectly happy to step down into the life of the servant caste group, Aspen encourages her to submit her name for the upcoming Selection, a sort of pageant intended to provide the Prince with a suitable bride from among the people. He knows there will be monetary gains for her family and that by entering he will not feel guilty for holding her back from such an opportunity. She, however, looks upon it as a pointless gesture, since she is sure she will not be selected to be one of the thirty-five contestants.

Before the selection decisions can even be announced, Aspen breaks up with America because he is concerned about the possibilities of the draft and is also feeling guilty for not being able to provide for her as well as he would like. Thus, when America's name is called, she willingly flees to get away from the heartache of being around Aspen when he has pushed her aside. Still, she cannot enter into the games with her whole heart because, of course, her heart is divided.

I fell in love with the main character. She is gutsy and brave, honest and loyal, beautiful and humble. Page by page fell away and I couldn't get enough of the story. It is just such a sweet, lighthearted story. Even though it is a common theme of a girl's wish to become a princess, it is told in a new and fresh way (for starters, America is the only one there who doesn't hope to win the competition). The writing was seamless and the characters vivid and true. The plot draws you in and makes you want to come back for book two to discover who the Prince chooses and even, who America decides to choose for herself. I simply really enjoyed this book. If you're looking for a deep read or something thought-provoking, this won't fit the bill, but for a simple, sweet romance, it hits the spot.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: Emma's Wish

There are any number of ways for a writer to get the creative juices flowing. Back when I belonged to a writer's group in Illinois, we had a member who always used props to motivate and guide her writing. She crafted little stories for her grandchildren from the stepping stones of little characters and knick-knacks she could tangibly touch. Another member of my writer's group, Anne Peterson, took her inspiration for this beautiful little children's book, Emma's Wish, (aimed at ages 8-12) from the illustrations provided by her artistic daughter, Jessica. Working from the art, Anne has crafted a simple little story that tugs at the heart strings and opens eyes to a world unseen.

I cannot rave enough about the hauntingly beautiful illustrations in this book. I read the book in digital format, but would have loved to have had the actual illustrations in hand while reading this simple tale. The story showcases the art in a beautiful way and the art is magnificent!

Emma's story engages all of the senses. It is the tale of a young girl who meets a difficult challenge and mystically receives encouragement from the moon. I love how the color bursts into the illustrations after Emma's crisis. It is as if she is given a new, more glorious way of seeing. This touching tale will encourage all readers, young and old.

The book launches today (with a one day sale in Kindle format for only 99 cents). If you are looking for a children's book with outstanding art, look no further. Here is a trailer promoting the book (gives you a good feel for the illustrations in the book):

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cautionary Tale: Don't Play With a Ball on a Treadmill

I thought about titling this Trevor and the Terrible, Horrible, Not-so-Good Day. He was already having a rough time because he had to eat a lunch he didn't like (perish the thought). Then, he tried to invite two different friends over to play, but both of them were not at home or not available. After complaining about the day, he went off to the guest room with his rubber 4-Square ball, bouncing away (the only safe room for such an activity).

Apparently, he turned the treadmill on and began rolling the ball against the motion of the treadmill. Somehow, the ball got wedged between the treadmill and the floor and Trevor says that he tried to get it out and, in doing so, managed to get his own hand wedged between the running treadmill and the floor. He had to yank to pull it out. He quietly ran to the bathroom and we heard sobbing. The first thing he did was begin to apologize for getting hurt (as if we would be upset with him for getting hurt). The first thing I did?  FREAK OUT!

I am not a smooth operator in the midst of crisis. No, I crumble into a shrieking mess. I took one look at the wound and screamed "Oh, no, Trevor! Oh no!" John took a brief look at it and thought that he had rubbed the skin off clear down to the bone (because of the white bits we could see - we didn't realize that these were just areas of deeper skin layers). At this point, he did begin screaming and begging for the pain to go away.

Looking back, I can see how my own reaction only compounds the moment. It wasn't as bad as I made it out to be. It is bad, but it is just equivalent to a deep carpet burn (so says the doctor who looked at it at the emergency room). I felt like the workers at the emergency room felt it didn't warrant a trip to the ER. Still, I was thankful for a nurse to numb the area before digging out any dirt (that would have been quite a procedure if I had tried to handle it on my own with a screaming boy).
(This photo is from today. Yesterday, it was quite a bit more raw-looking. Amazing how the body quickly begins to heal itself!)

Hopefully, he's learned his lesson. No balls on treadmills. No hands near the moving parts of a treadmill. Ever.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Review: At Home

I'm a long-time fan of Bill Bryson's writings. He's often hilarious, and when he's not being funny, he's just downright interesting. While this book wasn't one of his humorous contributions, it was delightfully intriguing. He covers such a gamut of topics that it is hard to believe it is all pulled together around the theme of such an elemental framework as the home. At times, it felt like he was following rabbit trails, but even the rabbit trails were historically interesting (although many Amazon reviewers gave it low marks for historical inaccuracies so I'm not sure all of it can be taken as fact). For anecdotal history buffs, this is a must-read.

As the back cover proclaims:

"The bathroom provides the occasion for the history of hygiene, the bedroom for an account of sex, death, and sleep, the kitchen for a discussion of nutrition and the spice trade, and so on, showing how each has figured in the evolution of private life. From architecture to electricity, from food preservation to epidemics, from the telephone to the Eiffel Tower, from crinolines to toilets - and the brilliant, creative, and often eccentric talents behind them - Bryson demonstrates that whatever happens in the world ends up in our houses."

My favorite bits were the stories of engineers who changed the world by solving various problems, including the fascinating one of sewage (full of stories of horrifying deaths, like the individuals who went down on a sinking cruise ship and were overwhelmed by toxic gaseous sewage). I also enjoyed the tales about mice and rats and other creatures which disturb our domestic domains. Every little tidbit is presented with such flair that it all swirls together into one highly interesting tale of the history of the development of aspects of our homes. It is a book I will gladly turn to again as there is no way my brain will manage to contain all the fascinating details presented in this tome (and it is a tome - in audio form, it was 13 compact discs long, at a total of 16 hours and 33 minutes).