Tag Archives: literature

Almost Done!!!

I only have 48 more pages of the book I have been whining about for a few weeks now.  The Husband asked why I haven’t just given up yet.  Does he not know me?  Does he not understand that I MUST finish this book?

all the books48 more pages.  I am going to try to finish Monday night.  That is my goal…

48 more pages….


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Book Hoarder or Bibliophile?

I have always loved reading.  For my birthday and Christmas (and any other holiday that involves gift giving), I usually end up with at least one or two books.  My husband learned quickly that while flowers are pretty and nice, books are even better.


Over the past week, between birthday gifts and a REALLY good sale at BarnesandNoble.com, I have added a whopping total of 12 new books to the “to-read” pile.  While I may have been a bit over-zealous in my birthday shopping, I really am more than excited to get into these books (if I EVER finish Sense and Sensibility).  They range from YA to Nonfiction; Crime to Vampires; Classics to Pop Culture phenomenons.

As I look at the list, I realize that those books are 12 more books closer to my goal I set at the beginning of the year.  Goodreads.com has an annual reading challenge.  It’s nothing truly competitive.  It’s more just for people to set personal reading goals for themselves.  This year, I pledged I would read 100 books.  I know that sounds a bit outlandish, but I figured what the hell, aim for the stars.  I am nowhere near that goal but I’m going to keep trying to hit it, after all I have five months left.

These new books will hopefully help me get a little closer to that goal but in all honesty, I don’t really care if I hit the goal.  There are just so many books and not enough time!

reading quote

That being said, I have to wonder if I have a problem.  Am I a book hoarder?  I cannot ever bring myself to give away a book I buy.  I once saw an interview with Neil Gaiman and proudly showed the interviewer his basement in which he had every single book he had ever read.  I felt like I had found a kindred spirit.  When I read a book, it’s like it’s part of me and I can’t just give it away.  I want to keep it.  I may want to re-read it some day and see if I find a new meaning in the words.  It happens, you know.  Take a book like the Fountainhead.  I read it my sophomore year in high school.  I hated every minute of it.  It was haughty and seemed to really push away what I thought I knew at that point.  Then I reread it after I left College #1 because I remember someone saying that they re-read it and enjoyed it the second time around.  I was at a crossroads and thought maybe now was the time to pick it up again.  As I read it for the second time, I started to understand different things in the book.  It had new meanings in different places.  It held new insights to life, whether it meant to or not.  I haven’t picked that one up in a while but I’m sure in a few more years, I may consider tackling it for a third time.

oscar wilde quote

But keeping all these books I have read over the years can take up space I don’t have.  Yes, there are Kindles, Nooks, iPads, e-readers but honestly, they are not the same.  They don’t have beautiful cover art.  They don’t have bindings that can be organized alphabetically by author and then chronologically by title, after being sorted by genre of course!  They are great space savers but, I feel like something is lost in their cold electronic fonts.  Does that stop me from filling mine up?  No.  It just lets me hide my books a little better.

I posted something to my FB wall today stating that I might have to admit a book hoarding problem and I was quickly answered with the idea that I was a bibliophile.


Call it what you will: Book hoarder, bibliophile, book collector.   I just know that nothing makes me happier than knowing I have worlds waiting for me (well, my kid might make me happier than that, but a good book is a close second).  I suppose I need to get started on that pile…after I finish that other book…


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Why Do I Torture Myself?

I read a lot.  I read pretty much anything you put in front of me.  I do tend to get on a roll with certain genres from time to time, most recently my addiction to YA dystopian fantasy, but then I try to read something a little more challenging or scholarly.

I had Sense and Sensibility in the pile for years now. I kept shuffling other books ahead of it, telling myself I wasn’t quite ready to take it on just yet.  I would make excuses like “Oh the movie of that book is coming out in a few months” or “Well someone gave me this one as a gift, I should read it so I can tell them that I liked it for x,y, and z.”  Well a few months ago, I realized that I had played this game for far too long.  I picked up the novel by Jane Austen and began my very first Jane Austen novel.

Being an English major, you are subjected to many different genres and many different periods of literature.  As you go through your education, you come to find things out about yourself, like which of these genres and periods you like and those that you really have to drudge through to the end.  However, oddly enough, as an English major, I never read any of Jane Austen’s works.  I read other Victorian and Romantic writers.  Dickens is one of my favorites.  Mary Shelley was pretty darn good too.  I have come to learn that I have a very hard time getting through the Victorian/Romantic works of Jane Austin.

Once I start a book, I am stubborn and must finish it.  I feel that if I do not finish it, I have no real reason as to why I didn’t like it.  At least if I finish it, I can say I didn’t like it because the main character was a wimp or because the ending was too contrived.  Sometimes, I have finished a book I thought I didn’t like only to find that the last few chapters did have a bit of a silver lining to an otherwise grey cloud of a three hundred pages.  It’s a labor of love in a sense.  I love the fact that someone took the time to pour these words onto a page and allowed me to read what was rattling around in his or her head.  I feel I owe it to them to finish the book, no matter how difficult I may find it.

Sense and Sensibility has been taking me an insane amount of time to finish.  I am sad to say I don’t find it to be a book I can just pick up and blow through.  I have seen the movie.  I remember Emma Thompson playing Elinor, the eldest of the Dashwood girls; Kate Winslet playing the overly dramatic Marianne; Hugh Grant  as Edward Ferras; and Alan Rickman playing Col. Brandon.  It was a very good movie.  The book, however, does not flow for me the way the movie does and before you all hang me and take away my Voracious Reader card, hear me out for a minute.

sense and sensibility

The story starts out well enough.  Mother and her three daughters find themselves needing a new place to call home after their father dies and, because of the laws of the land, his son from his first wife, inherits everything.  The son doesn’t want to do wrong by them but his greedy and somewhat trollish wife insists that he owes his half-sisters nothing.  Off they go to their new cottage and begin life anew in the country.  Nothing too hard there.

Then we find ourselves with the Dashwoods at Barton.  So begins the line of new characters who come and go but don’t make a lasting enough impression to remember their names.  They are all so similar!  Col. Brandon stands out but only because he is made out to be pitiful and hopelessly in love with one of the girls.  Edward Farras is also pretty memorable as is Willoughby but everyone else is almost filler, just promoting how eligible these young women are and how tough it is to break into social circles of the English countryside.

The only thing that seems to drive the characters is just the need to keep busy during the day.  There is no real motivation for any of them. It is as if this book is just a “day in the life” kind of book that shows life at the time.  Now, I do NOT in any way, shape, or form pretend to be an Austen scholar and if you are one, then I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  I am not trying to be mean.  I just don’t get it.

Now, I’ll admit, I haven’t finished it yet.  So, maybe I’ll feel differently in the end. I just feel I owe it to myself to read at least one Jane Austen book.  I have Pride and Prejudice in the pile too. I just hoped that it would be sweeping and epic like Jane Eyre – one of my top five favorite books of all time.  So far though, I haven’t felt a connection to any of them.  Again, I haven’t finished yet, but I had to get all that off my chest.  After all, it’s taken me a month to just get through Volume I.  I promised myself that I would not read any other books until I finished this one.  For my birthday, I received six new books.  All of them books I very much wanted to read.

They are calling me…Must finish Sense and Sensibility.

Must finish.

Must finish.

Must be Sensible.

Must finish book…


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Book Review: The City of Bones

I like YA fiction.  I love it.  I really do enjoy it.  For some reason, they capture this amazing fantasy world that is just pure entertainment.  I have yet to find a YA series that I didn’t really like.   Don’t judge.

Most recently, I have discovered the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.  By discovered, I really mean I have devoured it.  I read all five books in a matter of five days.  I will start (big surprise) with the first book.

city of bones

Clarissa Fray is a normal teenager living in New York.  Along with her best friend, Simon, who like many American teenagers, is in a band with an ever changing name, Clary lives a typical, normal, and average life.  They have been best friends since childhood and it is no surprise that they are together on the night when Clary’s life changes forever.

In a seedy New York club called Pandemonium, Clary sees a beautiful group of teenagers attack a person and discovers a whole new part of the world in which she lives.

All of our fables are true.  Vampires, Werewolves, Fair Folk, Warlocks, Angels, and Demons.  And then there are Shadowhunters.  Jace Wayland is the epitome of a Shadowhunter – arrogant, deadly, and in Clary’s eyes, electric.

Something, however, is not quite right and after Clary’s mother is abducted and Clary herself is attacked by a demon, she knows that there is something deeper going on in the city that she thought she knew.  Her life is turned upside down as she finds truths in the Institute, a Shadowhunter embassy of sorts.

The plot is somewhat predictable but overall, it was ridiculously entertaining.  As Clary discovers herself and the Institute, I found myself enjoying the ride, discovering the world with her.  I could easily slip into her shoes and understand how she felt as everything was turned upside down.

Clare’s writing style is fantastic.  It moves at a very good pace with very few slow spots (which can sometimes happen with YA) and I found myself more than willing to pick up the second book…and the third, fourth, and fifth…

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Books I Haven’t Read but Probably Should

There are books that everyone reads in high school. Or at least there are books most everyone reads in high school. Recently, I realized that I have not read quite a few of the “classic” works of American literature.


It surprised me to see how many of the books on the list of and on school curricula that I have never read. I have seen the movies, but we all know that they typically pale in comparison to the books.


Over the next few months, I have decided that I am going to rectify this problem, starting with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, you read that correctly. I have never read that book. Not in High School. Not in college. Odd for someone who was an English major, isn’t it?


The other books only list include e Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22, Pride and Prejudice, and Brave New World (just to name a few).

I am looking forward to it, even if it seems like a daunting task to tackle some of these classics. I feel kind of like a fraud for not having ever read them and the countless others that are on this list and the summer reading lists of many students.  I want to really work through the 100 greatest novels of all time (most of those books are on the list) and over the next few weeks, I think I can begin to put a dent in that list and add to the list of ones I have already read.

What book have you never read but think it might be time to take a stab at?

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The Graveyard Book – A Tale of Life

So my Goodreads.com goal is to read 100 books in 2013.  While I have three other books currently going, I finally finished the first one.  According to the counter, I’m seven books behind.  I think I can do this.  Book number 2 is almost done!

This morning I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

The graveyard book

“There was a hand in the dark and it held a knife.”  So begins the tale of Nobody Owens, a young baby boy who narrowly escapes murder.  The rest of his family is not so fortunate and little Nobody wanders into the graveyard where is he is happily protected by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a pair of childless ghosts who live in the graveyard near the scene of the murders.

After being granted the protection of the graveyard, Nobody, or Bod as he is called, learns the ways of the graveyard.  He learns how the ghosts move and learns of the darker things that lurk in the graveyard.   Growing up under the watchful eye of Silas, his guardian, Bod learns that outside the graveyard, there are still things lurking and waiting to end his life.

Gaiman’s hero must come of age in a world that is unlike any other child, having parents that no one else can see, and never leaving the security of the graveyard. However, Bod is able to find love and friendship in many places – a witch in the Potter’s field, a young (living) girl who came to play in the graveyard, and even in the mysterious Sleer who guard the treasures for their master’s return.

With a rather obvious nod to Kipling’s The Jungle Book, this story is endearing and adventurous as young Bod discovers what it means to be human and what it truly means to be alive.  At one point, Bod finds himself alone in the graveyard, and odd thing for Bod because he has always had someone in the graveyard to talk to.  With no one there to watch him, Bod wanders outside the gate down to the Old Town.

"Bod was a quiet child with sober grey eyes and a mop of tousled, mouse-colored hair.  He was, for the most part, obedient."  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

“Bod was a quiet child with sober grey eyes and a mop of tousled, mouse-colored hair. He was, for the most part, obedient.The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

“Bod had never walked anywhere as a sightseer before. He had forgotten the prohibitions on leaving the graveyard, forgotten that tonight in the graveyard on the hill the dead were no longer in their places; all that he thought of was the Old Town , and he trotted through it down to the municipal gardens in front of the Old Town Hall (which was now a museum and a tourist information center, the town hall itself having moved into much more imposing, if newer and duller, offices halfway across the city)…Bod listened to the music, entranced.  There were people trickling into the square, in ones and twos, in familiars or alone.  He had never seen so many living people at one time.  There must have been hundreds of them, all of them breathing, each of them as alive as he was, each with a white flower.”

Gaiman’s style is wonderful for setting the scene with wonderfully vivid descriptions including the smallest of details that, in real life, we as people would notice but so often are not included in books.  I once read somewhere that someone (I honestly forget where or who) once said how much they love when writers write things like colds into their stories because how often do you hear about a character sneezing or taking a dose of Tylenol.  These are the details that Gaiman works in effortlessly that gives the reader an amazing sense of setting and character.  The narrator provides little asides that help the reader get a true sense of the town, the modern life that has taken over the Old Town and how it has transformed the town from what Bod has learned about from the citizens of the graveyard. It is new and exciting to him and the rest of the evening in the Old Town plays out in a way Bod could only dream of.

While at times I wish there had been more adventures or more mischief for Bod to get into with the Ghosts, I had to remind myself that this novel was geared toward a slightly younger crowd.  I must admit that it didn’t bother me.  It was still a fantastic tale where ghosts, ghouls, the undead, werewolves, and jacks-of-all-trades come together and help shape Nobody.

If you are looking for a quick read and one that is going to leave you feeling uplifted in a macabre kind of way, then I would recommend this book.  If you are going to buy it in paperback, I would recommend the version I linked to above because at the end, there are some great extras including an interview with Gaiman about the book which was a great little treat for those of us who love to hear the author talk about the hows and whys of a book.

Also, a special treat for those who are Toriphiles, there is the nod to her (the two have been friends for quite some time and I even was at a concert that Neil was at so Tori sang “Tear in Your Hand” and waved to Neil.  I love when things like that happen at concerts!) at the end where he does quote “Graveyard.”  Here’s a great live version of it (followed by Snow Cherries From France) and after reading the book,  it was a beautiful tie in!

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Friday’s Library Picks

Today was the Pre-School Story hour at the Mashpee Public Library.  This is the story hour for the 3+ year old children.  It’s by far one of the best story hours we have been too.  The Daughter loves it because not only does she get to see some of her friends from pre-school, but also because she is able to hear new stories, sing a song or two, and then make a fun craft to bring home.

Today’s stories were fall themed and featured the animal so many of us associate with fall: Squirrels.

The first of three stories was

Look Both Ways: A Cautionary Tale

The story was a cute rhyme that told the tale of a little squirrel who, in his haste, did not stop to look both ways.  No, he did not meet an untimely and messy demise, but he did learn the importance of stopping before crossing the road.  This one was perfect because recently, the Daughter and I have been working on looking both ways and being safe in parking lots.  It was a cute little tale that hammered home the message of street safety.  Remember folks, when you see a ball roll into the street, there is most likely a child right behind it!

The second story was a great positive tale of how to turn a bad situation into a positive situation.  A tale that accentuated the notion that everything happens for a reason.

A Good Day

I think when the Daughter gets a little older, we will revisit this one when she can get a better understanding of the underlying message to this one.  It was cute, though.

The librarian’s third selection was a very nicely illustrated book.  I’m a sucker for well illustrated children’s books.  The art in children’s illustrations are amazing.  A comment on a recent blog post I wrote had me thinking about how fantastic some of the artwork in children’s books is.  But I digress…

The last tale of the story hour was:

The Busy Little Squirrel

The repetition of why this busy little squirrel could not stop to enjoy the day with all the other animals really got the children engaged.  They eagerly waited for the moment to answer and then when it got to the end, they were surprised to find out why the squirrel had been so busy.

After the Daughter created her own squirrel with a very bushy tail made out of grass that grows in the salt marsh, we went to find our own books to bring home.  After reading all of them tonight for bedtime, I have to say this week was a good selection of books.

1) Skippyjon Jones in Mummy Trouble – We have recently been on a huge Skippyjon Jones kick.  We recently took out the first book in this delightful series.  I love reading aloud to my daughter so when this little Siamese kitten decided that he was really a chihuahua, I found the voices for this story to be too much to resist.  Poquito Tito is my favorite to be honest.

2) Necks Out for Adventure – The illustrations in this one were the main reason why I picked this book off the shelf.  Following the story of Edwin Wigglskin and his thirst for adventure, this tale teaches the importance of not being afraid to be yourself and sticking your neck out there.  Though, I don’t know that my daughter will ever eat little neck clams again, let alone go clamming with the family again.

3) And Here’s to You! – A celebration of life and how wonderful the world truly is.  A story that definitely ends with a hug and a kiss.

4) Oh No, Gotta Go! – I picked this one because it was bilingual.  My sister-in-law is Mexican and all of her family still lives there and when we went last year for the wedding, I realized that maybe I should have taken Spanish instead of 8 years of French.  So, every chance I get to expose my daughter to Spanish (we’re going to start with this one), I do.  This book was great because it didn’t translate all the words, but rather left them as context clues in the story.  The daughter understood all but one word which was good in my opinion!

5) Is Anybody Up? – This was a sweet tale of how even when we feel alone, there are people all over the world who are doing the same thing and are just like us, even if they speak a different language or are in a different place.  A sweet story.

So, those are the five Library picks for this week.  Have you read any of the above books?  What did you think?


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Influenced by Greatness: Writers Who Make Me Strive for Something Worth Reading

Most everyone has a favorite author or at least a favorite book.  Some like Stephen King and refer to him as the master of horror.  Some like Jodi Picoult and her stories of life and love and how the two are nothing without each other.  Authors really have an amazing task when it comes to putting words together into stories.  They have to create characters and voices that connect with people on so many different levels.  It’s no easy task and only true masters of the craft (aka those who just practice their craft a lot) can create voices that help shape the dreams of simple bloggers into becoming published writers.

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge has me thinking about my favorite authors and how they shaped me into the bookworm and aspiring published writer that I am today.  The list of authors who have influenced me is long but each one left me with something, a trick or a style or a voice, that has helped me work on shaping my own unique style.

Sharing this list should be fun because there are so many great authors out there, the list is never truly complete.  I’m going to go with my top five (in no particular order) for the sake of keeping this post from becoming a novel in and of itself.

1) Dr. Seuss

His rhyming skills legend.

His lessons are gold,

He teaches you things

In ways that are bold.

Your words were made up

And characters deep,

I raise up my cup

And salute your great feats!

(I also apologize at my poor attempt to rhyme.  I hope you are not rolling in your grave, Dr. Seuss.)

“All those Nupboards in the Cupboards they’re good fun to have about. But that Nooth gush on my tooth brush…..Him I could do without.”
Dr. Seuss, There’s a Wocket in My Pocket!

2) Kurt Vonnegut

Cat’s Cradle was the first Vonnegut book I read.  I couldn’t put it down.  It was amazing.  I had never read a book that was written like that.  More made up words, subtle sarcasm written (sometimes) between the lines, and characters who just said what they thought.  There were no niceties, no flowery descriptions that went on for pages.  I remember then devouring Slaughterhouse Five and finding it fascinating: the tragedy of Dresden, the time-traveling aliens, life, death.  “So it goes.”  The way his protagonists saw the world, the way he saw the world, I felt like he had given me new eyes.  My task was to now try to give that vision a voice.  God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

“Americans… are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves…. It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

3) Ernest Hemingway

From the first time The Old Man and The Sea was assigned to me to the last time I re-read A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, I cannot express how much I love this man’s ability to create such amazing dialogue.  The words just flow like you’re listening to the conversation rather than reading it.  Writing dialogue like that is something I have always wanted to be able to do. I know he was jaded but, that is why his dialogue was so fantastic.  He took what he heard and saw, the things that made him jaded as well as made him feel alive, and put those conversations down.  It can be an inner monologue or a conversation had in a jeep – wherever the words are coming from, they are the center of the story. The conversation between the characters is the most important thing he created.  I find that when I write, I focus on that dialogue.  I want it to be an integral part of any story.  I think that it’s the best way to find out about a character.  Yes, getting inside their head is fun but in real life, we only know what’s going on inside our own head.  Reading good dialogue written in the third person point of view is like you’re listening in on a conversation at a table next to you in a restaurant.

“I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.” Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. . . . Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. . . . There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the
felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the
girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun
and the country was brown and dry.
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
” I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have
doesn’t prove anything.”
The girl looked at the bead curtain. “They’ve painted something on it,”
she said. “What does it say?”
“Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.”
“Could we try it?”
The man called “Listen” through the curtain. The woman came out
from the bar.
“Four reales.”
“We want two Anis del Toro.”
“With water?”
“Do you want it with water?”
” I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?”
“It’s all right.”

– Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants


4) Shirley Jackson

To this day, The Lottery is one of the most haunting stories I have ever read.  Even when I re-read it, despite knowing the ending (which I will not give away for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading it), I still find myself in awe of the twists and turns this plot takes its reader on.  There is something to be said about a good plot twist.  Shirley Jackson wrote one of my most favorite plot twists of all time.  I compare most of them to this one story.  Even in the Haunting of Hill House, the characters not only find themselves in a ghost story, they find themselves looking inward.  I really just love a good story and she is fantastic at proving just that.  I can only hope that someday I will have one of those great twists in something I write.

“She had taken to wondering lately, during these swift-counted years, what had been done with all those wasted summer days; how could she have spent them so wantonly? I am foolish, she told herself early every summer, I am very foolish; I am grown up now and know the values of things. Nothing is ever really wasted, she believed sensibly, even one’s childhood, and then each year, one summer morning, the warm wind would come down the city street where she walked and she would be touched with the little cold thought: I have let more time go by.”
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House



5) Flannery O’Connor

A good man may be hard to find, but a good writer is even more elusive.  Flannery O’Connor’s short stories present a world where the South is home to many moral and right characters.  Opposite those characters are the  morally corrupted and just completely disturbed people.  A lot of her works involved a personal transformation, mainly influenced by her deep Catholic beliefs and the notion that God is everywhere.  O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find is the first story I remember reading that introduced me to foreshadowing.  It was known as her forte and I love finding little clues in everything I read now thanks to her. She also had a wonderful sense of irony and it made the stories so much more rich in their meanings.

“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place.

Nothing outside you can give you any place,” he said. “You needn’t look at the sky because it’s not going to open up and show no place behind it. You needn’t to search for any hole in the ground to look through into somewhere else. You can’t go neither forwards nor backwards into your daddy’s time nor your children’s if you have them. In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got. If there was any Fall, look there, if there was any Redemption, look there, and if you expect any Judgment, look there, because they all three will have to be in your time and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?”
Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
If you want to talk about your favorite authors and how they influenced your voice and your writing, why not check out this fun challenge.  If anything, it’s an interesting thing to think about if you enjoy writing or if you enjoy reading.  Why do you enjoy an author?  What is it about their stories that keeps you reading on?  What would you like to see in your writing?  Writers are readers and readers learn from other writers.  I know that these writers have taught me so much about the trade and done so by giving me some of the best stories I have ever read.  Who has taught you?


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Book Review: Where Rivers Change Direction

We have a bookshelf in our break room at work that is used as our book swap area.  People bring in all kinds of books: fantasy, thrillers, romance, self-help.  Being the book lover that I am, I can’t help but checking the bookshelf every Monday to see if there are any new titles.

In the past I have picked up some gems like Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and The Best American Short Stories 1991.

Most recently, I picked up a book that had an interesting title: Where Rivers Change Direction.  The title had enough meaning to make me use my tried and true book test.  After reading the back cover, I will read the first and the last sentence of a book just to see if both hook me.  I do not read anything more.  Just the very first and the very last sentence.

I can hear you gasping where you are reading this.

No, reading the last sentence doesn’t ruin a book.  I like to see if the first sentence grabs me.  Then I read the last sentence and if the two are interesting enough for me to ask “How did we start with that sentence and end with this one?” then I read it.  Sometimes the last sentence is just one word.  To be honest, I’ve yet to be let down by my little test.

That being said, the first sentence of this book is “When I was a boy my father had horses, over a hundred of them, some of them rank, and I sat them well.”  The last sentence of the book is “The fear that I have lived a careless life sweeps some nights over me with liquid flame  – hot as the fires that clear these ditches for their clean water.”  What brought that fear about?  What did his father do with the horses?  These questions instantly flood my mind.  I wanted to dive into Spragg’s world and discover what I could.

The book is an autobiographical memoir of his life on one of the oldest dude ranches in Wyoming just outside of Yellowstone Park.  Each chapter is an essay that moves through the author’s life and highlights the way life in the vastness of the Wyoming country.

Crossed Sabres Ranch

The essays are beautifully crafted, bringing the reader back into the author’s memories.  Each of the ranch hands are introduced in a way that you can easily understand why they still live in Spragg’s memory.  The descriptions of events at the ranch that hosted many people who came only for a week to play cowboy were wonderfully described in a way that I felt I was with Spragg as he rode his horses down the trails.

As he grew up, the essays took on a different tone, that of a young boy becoming a man.  His view changed, but his heart never really did.  Through each essay, you saw him deal with the reality of life yet hold on to the tenderness of his youth just more hidden than before because he understood more.

I have always held a romantic view of the American West.  The greatness of the land and the rugged wildness of it always called to me.  Maybe I was a ranch hand in a past life and reading this memoir allowed me to reconnect to that time when life was simpler in so many ways yet still forged strong people.

This book just confirmed the fact that I need to go on a dude ranch vacation before I die.  Even if they see me as a silly tourist playing cowgirl, I don’t care.  The idea of just being out in the open on a horse riding through the mountains and valleys is something that just seems so freeing and wonderful.

I also can see the value of having children read this book.  It’s the perfect coming of age story that really shows the struggles a child goes through on the path to becoming an adult.  The pains of first loves, spending one-on-one time with a parent, first jobs, dealing with loss are all artfully told in a way that allows the reader to immerse him or herself into the story and completely be able to relate.  The book also allows you to re-read it again in a few years and pick up entirely new meaning from the collection of memories.  If I ever become a teacher, I would like to think that I would include this in the reading list just for the sheer fact that it’s a beautiful memoir.

So, if you are looking for something different to read and something that will spark your imagination and probably increase your wanderlust, pick up Mark Spragg’s Where Rivers Change Direction.  You won’t regret it.

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