WWW Wednesday (February 28, 2018)

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking On A World of Words.  Give her blog a look and join the discussion!img_1384-0

Two things to start off my WWW Wednesday:

  1. I saw “Black Panther” on Saturday and it was SO AWESOME. I’m not normally a superhero movie person, but this one is a must-see. Funny, moving, full of big ideas and questions. Terrific cast. I just loved it.
  2. Dammit, there are sexual impropriety allegations surfacing about Sherman Alexie. I am SO SO disappointed. He is one of my favorite writers. This sucks. I’m still processing what to do with my admiration for his writing.


I’ve been reading a lot lately, but just not really feeling like writing about reading. I don’t know, I get in these moods sometimes, and then in a week or two I emerge and write two posts a week.


Let’s talk about books, shall we?

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


51hi92m66BLSwing Time by Zadie Smith. This is my book group book for February (we meet next month.) At about the 80-85 page mark, I got really bored. If it wasn’t for book group, I might have abandoned it. But I continued, and I’m glad I did. I’m halfway through now, and it’s gotten a lot more interesting. I am pretty sure it won’t be one of my favorite books ever, but it should provide a lot to talk about. Smith is ambitious, I’ll give her that, and she is a lovely writer on a sentence level. I’m just not sure about her focus. This book sort of meanders around, and it does skip back and forth among time periods, which isn’t a deal breaker for me, but something about the way she’s doing it is a bit jarring. Our narrator is unnamed, a mixed-race brown woman growing up in London in the first part of the story. The first part focuses on her friendship with Tracey, another brown girl who also takes dance lessons, although Tracey is more naturally talented than our narrator. As the book progresses, it focuses more on the narrator’s relationship with her employer, a mega-famous international pop star named Aimee, who reminds me of Madonna. Aimee wants to build a school for girls in Africa, and that’s where I am in the book. There’s a lot going on here with race and privilege and friendship and family dysfunction. It’s pretty good, but I’m still reserving judgement.lamott-hallelujah

I also just started listening to the audio book of Hallejuah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott. Read by the author. I love her. I know I’m going to enjoy this.

Recently Finished:

34203744The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. I LOVED this book. It was on the lighter side without being stupid, a quality in books that I esteem SO highly. It was like a really smart rom-com movie only with the added bonus of being about music and the power of music to save people’s lives and bring people together. It’s one of those books that I just want to swoon and sigh over. If you need something that is a feel-good read, this is the book for you. This is my first Rachel Joyce book, but I’m going to have to investigate her other books now for sure!

Up Next (always subject to change:)

March is Reading Ireland Month, co-hosted by Cathy at 746 Books, so I’ll be reading Jennifer Johnston’s How Many Miles to Babylon? and possibly Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. Both authors are new to me. I’ve also still got Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass checked out and haven’t even started it yet. I need to get going with my Classics Club list and I think I’m going to choose a mystery to start, possibly Strangers on a Train or The Thin Man.

Have you read any of the books I’ve listed? Have you seen “Black Panther” yet? What do you do when one of your favorite authors is revealed to be a (pardon my language) shithead? I hope you’re all having a good week and are enjoying your books! Tell me something good! 




The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

As many of you have written before, it can feel daunting to write about a Five-Star Read. The sense of wanting to do a book justice is palpable. Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite writers, despite having previously read only one of this books (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It’s one of my favorite books ever. I’ve listened to it and read it with my eyes, and I highly recommend both experiences.) I came to love him through listening to his podcast with fellow author Jess Walter – A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment. It’s on (maybe?) permanent hiatus but you can still listen to the episodes wherever you find podcasts. The two authors are good friends and just have a marvelous time together discussing books, basketball, the writing process, and interviewing authors. But I digress.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven is a collection of short stories, published in 1993. I managed to space my reading out over nearly a month, just reading one story a day. Previously my short story collection habit was to blow through the collection like a novel, often becoming bored and restless near the end. But reading one story a day was a nice little break from my other reading, and it gave me time to sit with the story and think about it. I’m indebted to Buried in Print for inspiring me to approach short stories differently.

81bZLWAAi0LThese stories have a typically Alexie-like tone, a mixture of sadness and humor, a wry, understated humor. They often contain magical elements, dreams, visions. They are about broken families, life on and off the Spokane Indian Reservation (Alexie uses the term Indian throughout, not Native American.) They are about drunkenness, losing and finding love, powwows, friendships, basketball, quests, stories.

Uncle Moses gave no thought to his passing on most days. Instead, he usually finished his sandwich, held the last bite of bread and meat in his mouth like the last word of a good story.

“Ya-hey,” he called out to the movement of air, the unseen. A summer before, Uncle Moses listened to his nephew, John-John, talking a story. John-John was back from college and told Moses that 99 percent of the matter in the universe is invisible to the human eye. Ever since, Moses made sure to greet what he could not see.     

91AYFwSXGoL._SY679_This was a strong collection, with hardly any clunkers. One of my favorite stories was “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” the bones of which formed the movie Smoke Signals. Alexie wrote the screenplay for it, which I didn’t know back when I saw it in 1998. (I watched it again last week, and it was still good. It’s a bit more comedic than the stories here, but still worth a watch.) Anyway, the gist of the story is that Victor’s father, who had left the family long ago and moved to Phoenix, has died. Victor wants to go get his ashes and a little money his dad left him but doesn’t have the money for the trip. Thomas Builds-the-Fire is another Indian on the reservation who grew up with Victor. They were friends for a time, but as they grew older, Thomas started having visions and his stories started weirding people out. He was a “storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to.”  He offers Victor the money to collect his father’s ashes, but in return wants to accompany him on the trip.

“Victor, I’m sorry about your father,” Thomas said.

“How did you know about it?” Victor asked.

“I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight. Also, your mother was just in here crying.”

It’s a quietly beautiful story about Victor learning to see the father who left him in a little bit of a different light, through a story that Thomas tells him. It’s a story about two former friends making peace with one another but not quite becoming friends again.

“Wait,” Thomas yelled suddenly from his porch. “I just got to ask one favor.”

Victor stopped the pickup, leaned out the window, and shouted back. “What do you want?”

“Just one time when I’m telling a story somewhere, why don’t you stop and listen?” Thomas asked.

“Just once?”

“Just once.” 

Victor waved him arms to let him know that the deal was good. It was a fair trade, and that was all Victor has ever wanted from his whole life. So Victor drove his father’s pickup toward home while Thomas went into his house, closed the door behind him, and heard a new story come to him in the silence afterwards.

Alexie’s writing is simple in style but complicated and hefty in substance. I love reading a story where things aren’t tied up neatly in a bow, but instead feel like a mixed bag of emotions. Those kinds of stories ring true, feel like life. I am so glad I finally read this (one of my own books – yay!) I want to read everything Alexie has written and will write in the future. He’s a storyteller worth savoring.

Have you read this, or any other of Alexie’s works? Have you seen the movie Smoke Signals? Talk to me in the comments!

WWW Wednesday (Feb. 14, 2018)

Happy Valentine’s Day (whatever that means to you!) There are all kinds of love and hopefully, whether you’re in a relationship or not, you are cultivating some self-love with your awesome rock-star self today! It’s been a while since I’ve done a WWW Wednesday.

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking On A World of Words.  Give her blog a look and join the discussion!

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


6969Emma by Jane Austen. This is a reread for me. I last read it in 2009, so Goodreads tells me, although if you’d asked me I would have said it was even longer ago than that. I am LOVING IT. It’s so readable and entertaining. I’m practically love-hating Emma herself as a character, she’s deliciously AWFUL, so snobby and delusional. I’m about halfway through. I plan to re-watch the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow after I finish reading the novel. It’s been ages since I saw it.



Recently Finished:

81bZLWAAi0LThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. Oh my goodness. So good. I managed to not race through a short story collection for the first time ever! I read one story a day (mostly) and gave myself time to think about them. This collection is beautiful and sad and funny and magical. Review to come, hopefully this weekend (I’m behind on reviews as always!)

91YQ4r2Y2nLThe Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman. This was my book group read for January. It was a reread for me, also last read in 2009 (weird!) It’s really really good, solidly page-turning historical fiction, written in the 1960’s by a locally famous southern writer. It’s set in the decades after the Civil War, in a small North Carolina mountain area. The main character, Lyddie, is awesome – she reminds me a lot of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. She has a similar determination to live life fully and enjoy being alive even in the face of hardships and struggle. Review to come soon!

Coming Next: (As always, this is subject to change!)

My book group read for February is Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, a book that’s been on my TBR since it came out. I’ve heard mixed reviews but I don’t mind – those are often the best kinds of book group picks for discussion. I’ve also got The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce checked out from the library, and it’s got holds on it so I’ve got to read it soon. I’ve never read anything by her before. Last, I ordered the next book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass. I was reading those last summer and then got distracted and derailed from the series. But now I want to continue!

Have you read any of these? What are you currently reading? Let’s chat!


Joining The Classics Club!

For a while now I’ve been entertaining the notion of joining The Classics Club, since so many bloggers I follow are a part of it and I do enjoy and want to read more classic literature. Since I’ve realized that, as an Obliger (Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies,) I need to have outer accountability to meet inner expectations, I thought this would be the perfect little nudge I need to get me reading all those novels I’ve been “meaning to read” forever.

The (short version) rules of the Club are this:

  • – choose 50+ classics
  • – list them at your blog
  • – choose a reading completion goal date up to five years in the future and note that date on your classics list of 50+ titles
  • – write about each title on your list as you finish reading it, and link it to your main list

So by February 8, 2023, I hope to have read the following books (but I reserve the right to add and drop titles along the way:)

Gather Together in My Name – Maya Angelou

The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim

Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon – Jane Austen

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

The Long-Winded Lady: Notes From the New Yorker – Maeve Brennan

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

Jane Eyre -Charlotte Brontë (reread)

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Nicholas Nickleby – Charles Dickens

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Adam Bede – George Eliot

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Love Medicine – Louise Erdrich

Howard’s End – E.M. Forster

North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

Nightingale Wood – Stella Gibbons

The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett

Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith

Jonah’s Gourd Vine – Zora Neale Hurston

The Bird’s Nest – Shirley Jackson

Life Among the Savages – Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson

Quicksand – Nella Larsen

West With the Night – Beryl Markham

The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery

The Gowk Storm – Nancy Morrison (thanks Fiction Fan!)

Beloved – Toni Morrison (reread)

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannery O’Connor

1984 – George Orwell

The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy

Less Than Angels – Barbara Pym

Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym

The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko (reread)

Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Warden – Anthony Trollope

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Stoner – John Williams

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf (reread)

Native Son – Richard Wright

So that’s 51 books, mostly novels, three memoirs (Angelou, Jackson, and Markham) two books of short stories (Jackson, O’Connor,) one book of essays (Brennan.) A few rereads, but it’s been at least ten-twenty+ years since I’ve read some of them. I am excited to dig in to these. Some I have been meaning to read for years, others I just learned about in the last year from fellow bloggers! Some of these I don’t know how I’ve escaped reading in school before now (1984, I’m looking at you!)

Have you read any of these? Any you’re particularly attached to or perhaps despise? Let me know in the comments!

Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton (Lacey Flint series #2)

Jesus, what was I thinking? I had no idea how to be an undercover officer. SO10 trained its officers rigorously. The programme was tough and not everyone who applied made it through. Whilst it wasn’t unusual for run-of-the-mill detectives to go undercover, they were rarely sent into situations that lasted any amount of time. Besides, I’d joined the Met to work on serious crimes against women. If I spent the next few months off the grid, I could miss the chance to transfer to one of the specialist units. Why had I agreed?

Like I needed the answer to that one. I was doing it for Joesbury.

13120860Here is a mystery series on which I have become good and hooked. S.J. Bolton knows how to write a page-turner. Dead Scared is set in the academic world of Cambridge, where an alarming trend of grisly apparent suicides and suicide attempts has set the University on edge. Most of the victims are attractive young women, and DC Lacey Flint is recruited to pose undercover as a student. The police think that perhaps someone is encouraging these vulnerable young women to end their lives, perhaps on an online chat room. What Flint uncovers is much darker than she ever imagined.

As with the first in the series, Now You See Me, Bolton includes some nice misdirection; I was sure that a certain character, to whom Lacey feels attracted, had something to do with the deaths. There is also an interesting secondary character, a professor named Dr. Evie Oliver, head of student counseling, who forms a bond with Lacey and is the only person on campus who knows that she is a detective. She’s treated some of the young women involved and feels a great interest in the investigation.  While Lacey is trying to settle into the routines of academic life, including a frightening episode of hazing (which actually disturbed me a great deal) involving a bucket of water on a cold night, Dr. Oliver is dealing with creepy things going on in her university-owned home. Pinecones (which hold significance for her) being left in a neat line in her driveway and in a pile on her dining room table, a wind-up “bone-man” going off in an upstairs closet, threatening message left in the steam of her bathroom mirror. But the police, for various reasons, don’t seem to exactly believe her. Things get scary for Lacey as well, as she deals with her feelings of inadequacy in the academic environment and starts having some vivid, terrifying dreams that feel all too real.

There is a tremendous sense of menace throughout this novel. While reading at night, I had to put the book down in a few places and wait to read it the next day in the safety and bright lights of my workplace break room! And I will warn you, the apparent suicides and attempts are very dark and gruesome. I normally don’t really go for stuff like that, but this series is so well-written and the relationship between the two main detectives, Lacey and DI Mark Joesbury, is so full of complicated and repressed attraction that I can’t help but be drawn in. I would say that if you’d not read the first in the series, you could still jump in with this one and be fine; there’s just enough allusion to the backstory that you’d feel up to speed and the plot is so engrossing you wouldn’t care. If you like British mysteries and can tolerate darker plot lines, I recommend you give these a try.

40 For 40 Update: Rediscovering Poetry

Last year I wrote about wanting to commemorate my 40th birthday with a list of challenges that I wanted to pursue in 2017. Well, as of today, I’ve completed 19 of them. Almost half! I’m pleased but not satisfied. I’ve decided to continue trying to complete the list, as I won’t stop being 40 until May. And even then, if I haven’t finished them all, I’ll keep trying. As Naomi remarked on my blog when I was fretting about not reaching my reading goals, goals are for striving for, not necessarily to reach.

img_1526The first item I attempted this year was an utter success: Read poetry every day for one week for at least 15 minutes. Friends, it has reawakened my love of poetry. I’ve always loved poetry, ever since I was eight or nine and entered a poetry contest at my school and won a prize (a gift certificate to a local bookstore! And they displayed my poem!) I wrote poetry all throughout middle and high school, into college and beyond. But somewhere in my late 20’s I just stopped writing. I stopped believing I had anything valuable or original to say. And before too long, I stopped reading it too. With the exception of Mary Oliver. For me, her New And Selected Poems is practically a sacred text, and I keep it by my bed and dip into it often.

Every day that week I read some from Oliver, and then I would visit poets.org and poetryfoundation.orgfor some new poetic inspiration. If you have any interest at all in expanding your knowledge of poetry, I highly encourage you to visit these sites. I found some interesting poets that were new to me, like Maggie Smith. Here is her poem “Good Bones.”

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
And by Natasha Tretheway, “Theories of Time and Space.”

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

On both websites you can listen to poets read their work. What a cool resource! (Even as I wrote this, I stopped to visit the sites and listened to a terrific poem: “original (sin)” by Alison C. Rollins.

Anyway, I am so glad that I chose this task as my first of the new year. I currently have five books of poetry checked out as we speak! Poetry is something that I feel is open and should be open to everyone, and it’s a damn shame that it doesn’t occupy a larger space in our cultural dialogue and awareness. I think people have false impressions of poetry as too elitist, or too difficult, or too pretentious. For me it is an essential art form that speaks to our shared humanity and deals with both the big questions and seemingly mundane incidents of ordinary life. I love feeling connected to poetry again. I hope and plan to continue reading more of it throughout the year! Who knows, maybe it will spark some new writing from me too.

Passing by Nella Larsen

The trouble with Clare was, not only that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but that she wanted to nibble at the cakes of other folk as well.

349929I’m not sure I’ve read a novel of 114 pages that contains more ideas, more things to talk about and consider than Nella Larsen’s 1929 classic, Passing. As much as it is a story about race in America in the 1920’s, it is also about friendship, marriage, class, and motherhood. The awakening of a childhood friendship between two light-skinned African American women sets both on a collision course with unnerving and surprising results.

Catlike. Certainly that was the word which best described Clare Kendry, if any single word could describe her. Sometimes she was hard and apparently without any feeling at all; sometimes she was affectionate and rashly impulsive. And there was about her an amazing soft malice, hidden well away until provoked. 

Passing opens with Irene Redfield receiving a letter from Clare that instantly takes her back to a chance meeting in Chicago two years prior. There Irene became reacquainted with Clare at a hotel rooftop restaurant, in a not very comfortable conversation where Clare, the granddaughter of a white man, nonchalantly told Irene that she’d been passing for white.

“You know, ‘Rene, I’ve often wondered why more coloured girls, girls like you and Margaret Hammer and Esther Dawson and – oh, lots of others – never ‘passed’ over. It’s such a frightfully easy thing to do. If one’s the type, all that’s needed is a little nerve.”

Irene, who is strangely under Clare’s spell, yet finds what she’s doing “dangerous” and “abhorrent,” decides after the meeting that she doesn’t want anything more to do with Clare. But Clare persuades her to come by before she leaves town. There she finds another old acquaintance, Gertrude, who is also passing, but with the distinction that her husband knows of her true heritage. Clare, we find out, is hiding her racial background from her husband, John “Jack” Bellew. Bellew is a repulsive loud-mouthed bigot, totally unaware that he’s married to a mixed-race woman. He goes so far as to call her “Nig” because she has gotten darker as their marriage has progressed. The whole conversation with Jack and Gertrude is most uncomfortable for both the characters and the reader. After the meeting, Irene receives a conciliatory note from Clare, but she never thinks that she and Clare will meet again.

But they do indeed meet again, as Clare can’t help herself but reach out to the African American community she misses desperately. Irene, herself preoccupied with her duties and the stability of being a mother and wife, reluctantly lets Clare in to her social circle in Harlem. We learn that Irene and her husband Brian are on shaky ground in their relationship, and Irene is increasingly mad to hang on to her marriage and family.

It was only that she wanted him to be happy, resenting, however, his inability to be so with things as they were, and never acknowledging that though she did want him to be happy, it was only in her own way and by some plan of hers for him they she truly desired him to be so. 

I don’t want to spoil anything else in this slim, yet jam-packed classic. Clare and Irene are opposites in temperament and lifestyle, and yet they orbit one another as if magnetically attracted to each other. There are consequences that are compelling and almost shocking, with an ending that leaves the reader pondering what actually happened. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Larsen writes beautifully and thoughtfully about the racial intricacies of 1920’s New York City; there’s a great scene between Irene and Brian where they fundamentally disagree about what to tell their sons about the racial realities they’ll face as they grow up. She also writes about a marriage on rocky ground, and portrays Irene as a sympathetic yet not warm-and-fuzzy character. She’s someone I felt like I understood but didn’t particularly like (which is fine, I don’t have to like characters to find them compelling.) In the end I found myself questioning Irene’s reliability as a narrator. There is plenty to discuss and this would make an excellent choice for a book group!

I’m looking forward to reading Larsen’s other work, Quicksand, which Melanie at GTL tells me she prefers to Passing. And she’s written some short stories I’d like to check out as well. I highly recommend this to those who are looking for a classic novel that’s not too long but full of emotion, plot, and beautiful writing!

(With much thanks to Fiction Fan for inspiring me to read this novel. You can read her stellar review here.)