Saturday, December 31, 2016

What I Read in 2016

I had a great reading year.  For one thing, I read a LOT, and for another, I read some wonderful books.  I'll start this post with the last few books I completed this year, and then link you to the other Reading Update posts I did.  (And if I finish any more books today, well then, I'll just add them!)

Book #135 of 2016 was The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters.  This is the story of several relationships (mostly lesbian) in World War II in London.  The interesting twist is that the story moves backwards; the first section is set in 1947, the second in 1944, and the third in 1941.

Book #136 was My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.  This was a pretty uneventful book, and yet I couldn't put it down.

Book #137 was All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane, by Amy Elizabeth Smith.  This was so much fun, a travel book slash Jane Austen book.  Smith spends a year traveling in Latin America, setting up Jane Austen discussion groups in each country she visits.  Highly entertaining to Jane Austen loving expat like myself.

Book #138 was Do You See What I See?: Exploring the Christmas of Every Day, by Ross Parsley.  This was a quick Christmas read.

Book #139 was Ordinary People, by Judith Guest.  I thought this one was good.  Now I want to see the movie.

I read book #140 at the beach, and it was my first Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book, and also her first novel, Purple Hibiscus.  This was a gift from my daughter.  Now I'm going to read all her other books as soon as possible.

Book #141 was Writing Day In and Day Out: Living a Practice of Words, by Andi Cumbo-Floyd, a fun read with some useful writing advice included.

Here are the other books I read this year:

Books 1 to 7
Books 8 to 12
Books 13 to 23
Books 24 to 35
Books 36 to 40
Books 41 to 51
Books 52 to 55
Books 56 to 75
Books 76 to 84
Books 85 to 91
Books 92 to 100
Books 101 to 109
Books 110 to 117
Books 118 to 125
Books 126 to 128
Books 129 to 134 (and this post includes three books that I've been rereading this year)

What did you read this year that you particularly enjoyed, and that I should add to my list?  Here's to another year of wonderful books!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Poetry Friday

I've missed three weeks of Poetry Friday, and I really can't miss another one.  I just got back from the beach, where I've been writing, but nothing I'm ready to share.  This poem is really for tomorrow, not today, but the idea of ducking as 2017 heads our way seems prudent. 

Tonight’s December thirty-first,
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark, it's midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year!

Ogden Nash

Here's today's roundup.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Poetry Sunday

I'm up in the early hours of Christmas morning, listening to the loud, discordant music in my neighborhood.  It's not a silent night in my part of the world.  Seems like a perfect time to get caught up on the Poetry Friday roundup that I missed again this week!  Merry Christmas to you!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Poetry Saturday

Another crazy Friday, culminating in my daughter getting home for Christmas break (hooray!), and I missed another Poetry Friday.  But once again, others did better.  Here's the roundup.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Poetry Friday

My students' final writing pieces were due today, plus unexpected chaos happened.  It ended up being a not-so-good day, in fact, and I didn't get a post written.  But fortunately, other people were more successful.  Here's the roundup.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Poetry Friday: The Next Poem

The Next Poem

 by Dana Gioia

How much better it seems now
than when it is finally done–
the unforgettable first line,
the cunning way the stanzas run.

The rhymes soft-spoken and suggestive
are barely audible at first,
an appetite not yet acknowledged
like the inkling of a thirst.

While gradually the form appears
as each line is coaxed aloud–
the architecture of a room
seen from the middle of a crowd.

The music that of common speech
but slanted so that each detail
sounds unexpected as a sharp
inserted in a simple scale.

No jumble box of imagery
dumped glumly in the reader’s lap
or elegantly packaged junk
the unsuspecting must unwrap.

But words that could direct a friend
precisely to an unknown place,
those few unshakeable details
that no confusion can erase.

And the real subject left unspoken
but unmistakable to those
who don’t expect a jungle parrot
in the black and white of prose.

How much better it seems now
than when it is finally written.
How hungrily one waits to feel
the bright lure seized, the old hook


Bridget has the roundup here.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Reading Update (plus three books I keep re-reading)

Book #129 of the year was Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein.  This is riveting World War II spy fiction with twists you won't see coming.

I can't link you to book #130, because it isn't yet published.  Little Flower was written by a friend, Ted Oswald (here's his Amazon author page).  Ted is in my writing group, and he shared the beginning of this book with us a few weeks ago.  We wanted more, so he sent us the manuscript.  The story is set in Calcutta, and, to quote Sister Immaculata, one of the Missionaries of Charity living there, it is "a mystery, simple yet boggling: Of untold Joy wrapped in staggering Sadness; Of Weak Lions and Crafty Lambs; Of Miracles - approximately 141.  I mean, 142; Of Deaths - approximately 5, few natural; Of the Sacred and Profane laying down side by side, often several times a night, always for a pittance."  As soon as this is available, I'll update this post with a link so you can get it, but in the meantime, read some of Ted's other work.  Most of his books are about Haiti, and they are atmospheric and full of the experience he's gained from living in this country.  (Update: You can now buy the book, Little Flower, here, so go buy it!)

Book #131 was Emma: A Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith.  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I can't resist Jane Austen retellings, sequels, and all forms of fan fic.  They are pretty well always a bit of a disappointment, but I can't stop reading them anyway.  This was just okay.

Book #132 was A Watershed Year, by Susan Schoenberger, a touching read about loss and healing.

Book #133 was the third of historical romance novels published by a grad school friend.  Tempting the Earl, by Rachael Miles, contains some of the same characters from the previous two novels, Jilting the Duke and Chasing the Heiress.  All three books have independent-minded, entertaining heroines, and twists and turns galore.  There's a lot going on in these stories, and it's fun to read Miles' author notes at the end detailing some of the research that went into them.  Her blog is also very interesting.

Book #134 was The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano, the story of the friendship of Mattia and Alice, both of whom have suffered trauma in childhood.  None of the characters is very likeable, but somehow I found this book compelling, and the lives of quiet desperation it describes believable.

My reading speed has, of course, slowed down considerably in the fall, now that I am back teaching full time.  Part of the reason I've been reading less is that I have been re-reading some books.  Here are three of them:

Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen, was book #8 of the year.  I reviewed it here.  I received a recommendation for this book in a blog comment, and since I read it that first time, I've probably read it five or six more.  It has been a huge gift to me in the struggles I've faced this year.  Nouwen says that "Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make."  He discusses four words: "taken," "blessed," "broken," and "given," to explain how we can learn to live in the truth of our belovedness and believe that we are beloved by God even when we are rejected by human beings.

How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, by Rob Bell has been another touchstone this year.  I know that Rob Bell is controversial, but there's something about the way he writes that has spoken to me deeply.  It was book #34 of the year, and what I wrote about it then wasn't so much a review as an expression of my intention to re-read it.  I've done that at least three times, plus dipped into it several more without reading the whole thing.  I don't know that there's anything brand new in the book, but for whatever reason, it has kept me going many times when I wanted to stand still.

How to Survive a Shipwreck, by Jonathan Martin, got a bit better treatment from me when I first read it back in October - my review is in this post.  It was book #128 of the year, and I'm only on my second time through it, but I know not the last.  This is so beautifully written and so very accurate in its depiction of what it's like to go through crisis.  Like both of the other re-reads, this book reminds me again and again that the answer to difficult times is to go on, to be in this present moment and do the next thing.

"God can only be known and experienced in this moment - right here, right now," Martin writes.  "If we will attend to this moment, God will attend to us.  Trying to find a way to attend to the moment myself, in that season where every step in every direction felt excruciating, I wrote this prayer as a way of tethering myself to the grace of this moment.  I hope it can help you find the grace in whatever moment you're in right now:  
I do not ask 
for some future bread.
I do not ask
for some lofty thing.
I ask for nothing more,
I ask for nothing less,
than primal provision.
For this, and this - only this.
I do not ask for then.
I do not ask for there.
I do not ask for that.
Only this meal - this moment.
For this day, only
for this, and this - only this."

Friday, November 25, 2016

Poetry Friday: Endings


I talk to my eighth grade students about endings. 
I teach them about Deus ex machina
In ancient drama, a god would often be lowered onto the stage
To deal with complications and make messes turn out okay. 
In their case, this refers to plot devices such as “it was all a dream,”
Or “and then a bomb fell, and everyone blew up.”

No, they say,
Sometimes it is just a dream,
And you wake up and it’s all gone away.
And sometimes everything really does blow up.

I introduce the concept of Chekhov’s gun,
Which says that if there’s a gun hanging on the wall in chapter one
it needs to go off in chapter two or three.

They don’t argue this one.
They’re all for guns going off.

You need to write a story this time, I say,
Where there is a resolution. 
It doesn’t have to be happily ever after,
But you have to wrap things up,
Instead of writing “to be continued”
When you lose interest in your plot. 

No, they tell me, I don’t understand. 
The best endings are “to be continued.” 
On TV it’s always “to be continued,”
There’s always another episode.
Then you know something else is coming. 
It’s not over.

Maybe that’s one of the differences between 14 and 48:
They want another episode,
Excitement and plot twists,
“To be continued.”
I want everybody home safely in time for dinner,
A wedding,
Peace and quiet:
A dénouement.

Of course on this one they’ll get what they want
And I won’t.
The action doesn’t stop.
The characters and settings keep changing.
Until you’re dead,
It’s always “to be continued.”

Ruth, from

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Poetry Friday: Unraveling

This morning I was working on lesson plans on this day off to celebrate the Battle of Vertières, the definitive battle in which the Haitians saw off the French and won their independence.  Next week is Thanksgiving, and I've blogged before on past Poetry Fridays about how I always do odes with my eighth graders for Thanksgiving.  We read Pablo Neruda, and I encourage the kids to write their own odes about things that they love.

I'm very glad Thanksgiving is here; with all the depressing stories in the news, this is an important time to focus on the blessings of life and to thank God for them.  I've posted many of Neruda's odes on this blog, and I'll link them at the end of the post, but today I wanted a new one, so I was looking through my copy of Neruda: Selected Poems, given to me by my daughter (one of my greatest blessings). I found this one, "Ode to the Clothes."  (Here's the whole thing in a different translation from the one I have.)

I've been thinking quite a bit about clothes recently.  I lost a lot of weight in the past year, and most of my clothes are too big for me now.  I have been wearing some oversized things, belting them and feeling ridiculous with the extra fabric, and I have a few clothes that fit my new size perfectly.  I'm hesitant to get rid of the bigger stuff because I am afraid once I do, I'll start gaining weight back.  So I've been contemplating the fate of many garments in my closet, and so far, not doing much about it.

This passage in the poem (Merwin's translation) struck me:

I ask
whether one day
a bullet
from the enemy
will stain you with my blood
and then
you will die with me
or perhaps
it may not be
so dramatic
but simple,
and you will sicken gradually,
with me, with my body
and together
we will enter
the earth.
At the thought of this
every day
I greet you
with reverence, and then
you embrace me and I forget you
because we are one
and will go on facing
the wind together, at night,
the streets or the struggle,
one body,
maybe, maybe, one day motionless.

Thinking of the fate of clothes reminded me of a video my daughter sent me earlier this week.  She watched it in her anthropology class.  It talks about what happens to some clothes (100,000 tonnes a year) thrown away in western countries.  It's called Unravel.  What actually happens to the recycled clothes is saved to the very end of the 14 minute video, but in the meantime we hear from the Indian women who do the work, and it's just fascinating to hear the conclusions they have come to about western people from going through their discarded clothes.  Watch all the way to the end: you'll be glad you did!

Have you felt that things were unraveling, this past week?  I have.  In some strange way, this poem and video gave me hope that new things may be made out of changes, whether welcome or unwelcome, and that in spite of everything, I am surrounded by blessings.

Here are some other Neruda odes I've shared in the past:

"Ode to Laziness" in 2012
"Ode to Broken Things" in 2011
"Ode to a Box of Tea" in 2014
"Ode to Life" last year
"Ode to the Onion" in 2013
"Ode to the Lizard" in 2011
"Ode to the Tomato," in 2013
"Ode to the Present" in 2010
"Ode to Scissors" in 2008

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Poetry Friday

"I think all times are turbulent—it’s just that they’re turbulent in different ways, and for different people. Poets are always swirling around in the maelstrom, whenever there is one, and in a way we know there always is one. Take everything going on, for just one example, in Syria. Poets have been writing about that forever. And our problems in this country, long before they entered the debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton—the poets were writing about what goes on in Flint, and in Detroit. A poem we published a couple of years ago, Jamaal May’s 'There Are Birds Here,' was saying that what the media show us is often the bad side of something, but poets are here to say, 'There’s beauty here, there’s life here, there’s brightness, redemption, love for the landscape here—there’s potential here.'"

Don Share, in this article from the Atlantic, "Why Poetry is Viral in the Aftermath of Trump's Election."

Jama has the roundup here today.  I can't wait to see the beauty, life, brightness, redemption, and love for the landscape that everyone is sharing today!

Friday, November 04, 2016

Poetry Friday

We had conferences today, and somehow I just never got my act together enough to do a Poetry Friday post.  But fortunately many other people did, and here's the roundup

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Reading Update

Book #126 of this year was Wish, by Barbara O'Connor.  My mother sent me a copy of this book, autographed for me by O'Connor.  Getting a book in the mail is such a wonderful thing, and I enjoyed this one very much.  It's about Charlie (short for Charlemagne, an eleven-year-old girl), whose parents can't care for her because her father is in prison and her mother is too depressed.  Despite these bleak circumstances, and Charlie's deep sadness about being shipped to a little town in North Carolina to live with an aunt and uncle she hardly knows, this ends up being a lovely book about friendship and family and making wishes.  I put it on the shelf in my classroom when I was done with it; I think some of my seventh graders will like it, even though the protagonist is quite a bit younger than they are.

Book #127 was Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier.  I didn't like this quite as much as the other two Frazier novels, Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons, but when you're dealing with a writer as remarkable as Frazier, that certainly doesn't mean it's not a good book.  It's just as weird and atmospheric and vivid as the other two books, with complicated, alive characters.  Is Frazier working on another novel?  I sure hope so.

Book #128 was a book that I downloaded myself onto my Kindle, but it felt like another gift in the mail, only this time from God Himself.  "Hey, you should read this," I imagined Him saying. "This guy wrote this book just for you and just for this week." The book is called How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help is on the Way and Love is Already Here, by Jonathan Martin.  Martin quotes Chesterton, James Joyce, Buechner, the Bible, The Runaway Bunny, and more, but his book is wholly original.  He gets crisis (shipwreck) just exactly right.  His writing is poetic and soaked in metaphor, but not over-the-top "let's make a sermon illustration out of this" Christian metaphor.  He writes about Paul's shipwreck in the book of Acts, sea monsters in the book of Job, New Orleans after Katrina, wind and water.  This was one of the most comforting, grace-filled, beautiful books I have read in a long time, and it's one I'll definitely read again.  "If death is not the final word," writes Martin, "and chaos produces creation rather than destroys it, then many of the stories . . . you thought were long over are far from over yet."  This book made me believe that.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Poetry Friday: Magnet Topics

Recently I read the term "magnet topics" for the first time.  (It may have been in a Poetry Friday post.)  Magnet topics are the subjects you keep returning to in your writing, subjects you just can't let go until you explore them in a few more ways.  I've been thinking about my magnet topics, and this past week I sat down to write more about them.  Somehow I ended up with another sonnet, like the one I posted last week.  I don't usually write much with rhyme, but my daughter has been writing sonnets lately, and sometimes we text each other about scansion - I can hardly imagine anything that says "book geek" more than that - and there's something so satisfying about working with those fourteen lines, especially on days when other things in your life aren't quite so contained.

So anyway, here's my sonnet about magnet topics, and yes, Daughter, I have incorporated your advice on the scansion of my first draft.  I also shared this with my writing group (I love saying that - did I mention I'm in a writing group for the first time in my life?), and have used at least one of their suggestions, too.

Magnet Topics

Goodbyes.  I’m left behind, they drive away.
A white beach lined with palms, a field of tea.
Earthquakes, the Odyssey, friends, Saturday,
Tears, reading, teaching, swimming in the sea.

Babies (with fragrant, fuzzy heads) held tight,
Letters received and sent, bright-colored flowers,
Paris and London, homesickness at night,
Planes, trains, long darkened hallways, lonely hours.

Wherever else my far safaris take me,
My magnet topics won’t be left behind,
My same dear loves, which, though they may forsake me,
I’m always coming back to in my mind
And always loving more than strictly wise,
Which brings me back to topic one: goodbyes.

Ruth, from

The wonderful Linda has the roundup this week.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Poetry Friday: Windows

Today in seventh grade we read a poem from the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School about what you can see out the window.  The poem, by Lesléa Newman, is called "After the Blizzard, Outside my Window."  It's a sonnet, describing the "tuxedo cat" and other creatures that can be seen in the snow.  The concluding couplet is: "To think that all of this is mine for free, / The world is so much better than TV!"

No sooner had I finished reading the poem than the kids started protesting.  They have big walls around their houses.  They can't see anything out their windows.  Their parents don't want them at the window because people will see them, and they might get kidnapped.  There are power lines and that's all.  Amused at their vehemence, I put up a topic on the board for their consideration:

After they left, it was my free period, and I was supposed to write quizzes, but instead I wrote my own sonnet.  Here it is:

Why I Can’t Look Out the Window

You say the world is better than TV
And I imagine that you haven’t lied
But when I go out on my balcony
My mother tells me to come back inside.
She worries about kidnapping and such
And anyway, all I can see is wall
Topped with barbed wire, painful to the touch,
And really, there is nothing else at all.

Well, there’s a power line, and there’s a bird
And blue skies way up there, with wispy cloud
But Mom is asking if I haven’t heard.
I’d look some more, but I am not allowed.

I will explore the world once I am able
But while I’m waiting, I’ll make do with cable.

Ruth, from

I shared it with the eighth graders who came in the next period, and talked a little bit about the Great Conversation.  When the seventh graders came back in the afternoon, I shared it with them, too.  You guys, I just love my job. 

Here's a poem I wrote a while ago about the sounds I hear from my house.

And Miss Rumphius has the roundup. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Reading Update

Book #118 of 2016 was Steele Secrets: A Young Adult Ghost Story, by Andi Cumbo-Floyd.  This book tackles the issue of slavery, and in a way which gets personal and draws the reader in, as Mary Steele meets a ghost in a slave cemetery.  Recommended.

Book #119 was A Fatal Grace, the second Chief Inspector Gamache novel by Louise Penny.  So far I'm very much enjoying this series.

Book #120 was The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  While I know I quite enjoyed this while I was reading it, I can honestly remember very little about it. 

I loved Book #121The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman.  This is the story of the painter Camille Pissarro.  More accurately, it's the story of his family, because he himself doesn't show up until about halfway through the book.  Did you know he was from the Caribbean?  Somehow I had missed that detail.  He was born in St. Thomas, and this book is wonderfully evocative of both the Caribbean and Paris, where he eventually goes.  I read this while getting ready for Hurricane Matthew, and the island descriptions were perfect.  I really liked the way Pissarro saw the world, too. 

Pissarro painting

Book #122 was The Lake House, by Kate Morton.  This was entertaining, if a little implausible.

Book #123 was Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown.  This was my third of her books, and I liked it very much.

Book #124 was Sense and Sensibility, by Joanna Trollope.  I've confessed before on this blog what a sucker I am for Austen spinoffs, retellings, and, well, fan-fiction.  Spoiler alert: everything turns out exactly the same as the original.  I like Joanna Trollope's books, and this is fun, but - obviously - the original is better.

Book #125 was Torn Thread, by Anne Isaacs, a harrowing, absorbing Holocaust narrative.  Isaacs got this story from her mother-in-law, and it's a testament to what human beings can survive. 

This post is linked to October's Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Poetry Friday: Blessing for the Brokenhearted

We in Haiti are brokenhearted right now.  When you love, whether it's a person or a place, there's always the risk of a broken heart.  We are so sad to see the suffering in the south of the country brought by Hurricane Matthew.  Here's one article; you can find many more.  And here's something I wrote earlier this week about how it's hitting us here in Port-au-Prince, where Matthew didn't do much damage.

In this poem, Jan Richardson is talking about losing her husband, but there are many ways hearts get broken.

A Blessing for the Brokenhearted
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
– Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Here's the rest.

The incomparable Irene has the roundup today.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

These Days

Lately, my days are lived in a state of double consciousness.  There's the reality of my surroundings, my job, my ordinary life.  And there's the constant awareness that things are not ordinary at all in the south of this country, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.  Maybe it's a triple consciousness, because the destruction that Matthew has left behind is a reminder of the earthquake of 2010, and I have been having regular flashbacks to those days, too. 

Yesterday as I walked in the gate to work, one of the school employees asked me about my daughter, and then I asked him about his family, and he answered, "Bagay yo terrib."  Things are terrible.  This is not something Haitians say.  Even when things are awful, they will say, "Nou la."  We're here.  This man's mother lost her house in the hurricane, and he's worrying all the time about her.

I sat in my classroom grading before school started, and students started arriving.  One scuttled in with her books, looking as though she had a lot on her mind.

"How are you?" I asked.



"Something my mom asked me to do."

"Hope it works out," I told her.

"Me too."  And then she disappeared.  Later in the day I asked her what had happened, and she smiled and said everything had worked out.  So that was just some seventh grade drama, nothing to do with the life-and-death variety playing out down south.

At some point, a friend posted on Facebook that she was going with the truck of relief supplies her organization was sending out.  I sent her a quick message telling her to be careful, and then kept checking all day as she sent little snippets of information, including a visit to the home of a friend who had lost "most of her children" in the earthquake.  She posted a beautiful photo of herself with the grinning family.

Joy and sorrow, ordinary and catastrophic, all mixed together.

Another friend who is in the south posted photos of destruction, and one of a sign on a hospital, warning people not to enter unless they absolutely had to, because there was cholera inside.  Everyone is drinking contaminated water, and many are already sick.

I taught my classes, and graded papers, and talked with friends, and did my regular things.  After school, my writing group met.  We've just recently started getting together, and so far I'm loving it.  We discussed a Frank O'Hara poem.  People shared the work they had brought.  I shared an earthquake poem I wrote this week, about the images that suddenly appear from my memory. 

Back on Facebook later in the evening, I read more about worries about food insecurity, since so many crops and gardens and fruit trees were destroyed.  I looked at people's photos.  They showed passing out supplies, and the cheerful grins of recipients, people who are living without decent shelter or much to eat.

Throughout the day I listened several times to Sara Groves' song "This Cup." 

"This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy.

So take up what we’ve been given
Welcome the edge of our days
Hemmed in by sunrise and sunset
By our youth and by our age
Thank God for our dependence
Here’s to our chasm of need
And how it binds us together
In faith and vulnerability."
(Here are the rest of the lyrics.)
Once again, I have things easy while Haitians struggle with yet another natural disaster, yet another enormous, unfathomable tragedy.   I'm keeping things normal for my students, reading books with them, editing their writing.  I'm meeting with my writing group - what could be more frivolous?  I'm also donating, passing on information on Facebook, asking questions of people around me whose family members are suffering, listening to their answers, sharing their grief.  It's a double consciousness.

Oh yeah, a triple consciousness, because the earthquake is always there.  Today a friend who's in the south now posted that this is worse than the earthquake.  Later she clarified that she's talking about the malnutrition in the future.  Many more people died immediately in the earthquake, those thirty seconds that changed everything in this city, but the hurricane is killing more slowly, killing with cholera and hunger.  
I want to be here, to drink this cup, to live the day as it comes.  This challenging reality.

Lord, have mercy.  Help us in our chasm of need. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

Poetry Friday: Emily Dickinson on a Hurricane

We had two unexpected days off this week as Hurricane Matthew barrelled through Haiti.  Port-au-Prince was not badly hit, but the southern part of the island is a real mess.  We are gradually learning the extent of the mess.

I've lived in Haiti for a long time, and I've had many Poetry Fridays that fell during visits from tropical storms and hurricanes.  But I'd never seen this poem before.  It's not in my Kindle version of Emily Dickinson's poems (which is supposed to be complete!).

I love this poem because, whether Emily intended this or not, for me it touches on the effect of huge events (earthquakes, hurricanes, loss of love in whatever way that happens) on the human heart.  "Calm is but a Wall of unattempted Gauze," we learn, when everything in our lives is shaken.

The heart breaks, and it also enlarges, and lets in new people; and those people are there to stay, no matter what comes later.  The heart dissolves, and convulses; the heart is demolished.  And somehow, in my experience, you never go back to that pre-disaster confidence in the trustworthiness of your own heart.

All the articles on Haiti's hurricane damage refer to the fact that Haiti is still recovering from the earthquake six years ago.  Much as I hate my beloved adopted country being associated with nothing but natural disasters, it's true that we are still recovering, individually and corporately.  And now there's something else to clean up. 


The Heart has narrow Banks
It measures like the Sea
In mighty—unremitting Bass
And Blue Monotony

Till Hurricane bisect
And as itself discerns
Its sufficient Area
The Heart convulsive learns

That Calm is but a Wall
Of unattempted Gauze
An instant's Push demolishes
A Questioning—dissolves.

Violet Nesdoly has today's roundup.

Monday, October 03, 2016


I searched "hurricane" on my blog, and found that I've written here over the years about Irene, Hanna, Tomas, Sandy, Isaac - and lots more that I just called "the hurricane," since at the time it was obvious which one I meant.  Today we are having a day off school, waiting for Matthew.  Some things never change; tropical life means tropical storms.  But Matthew, reportedly, is going to be different.  They say the only storm in recorded history that resembled it was Flora, in 1963, in which an estimated five thousand Haitians died.  Text messages tell us to stock up on food and water and keep our cellphones charged so we can get news of our loved ones.  We're expecting 15-40 inches of rain, winds of 150 miles per hour (with gusts of 185), flooding, mudslides.  And as Victor Hernandez Cruz, of Puerto Rico, reminds us, in his poem "Problems with Hurricanes," everything can become a projectile in such conditions:  "If you are going out / beware of mangoes / And all such beautiful / sweet things."  (Here's the rest of that poem.)  I'm not going out, but staying home and praying for our dear little Haiti.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Poetry Friday: Healing

Today it's two weeks since I had surgery, and I am mostly back to normal.  Not everything was normal when I had the surgery (which is why I had the surgery), so normal is an improvement over the last couple of months.

It always amazes me to watch my body heal.  I remember the only other surgery I ever had, almost twenty years ago now.  At a post-op doctor visit, I complimented the surgeon on the great job he'd done on the incision.  He shrugged and said, "It's not me; you're just a good healer." Now that scar is almost invisible; you really have to know what you're looking for.

Am I a good healer?  Physically, yes, it seems so.  I bounce back pretty fast.  (And I'm so grateful for my normally great health.)  But emotionally, I think I'm kind of a slow healer.  Here's an example: I lost a friend a few years ago, over something that wasn't my fault, and I grieved hard for her, for her family, for our friendship, for about five years.  But now that scar is almost invisible, too.

The other day, I was walking to my classroom, and I saw a crack in the cement beside one of the school buildings.  There was grass growing out of the crack.  These words came to my mind: "I am the grass; let me work."

I can't make healing happen, physically or emotionally, any more than I can make grass grow.  But healing wants to happen, just like grass wants to push through the crack in the concrete, just like life wants to go on.  If I rest and eat right and take my vitamins and let healing come, that mysterious force takes over: healing.  Until the scar is almost invisible.


Carl Sandburg

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

 I posted this poem before back in 2008. (I read it a little differently back then.)

Here's today's roundup.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reflections on Teaching Without a Voice

I have mostly recovered from the surgery I had a couple of weeks ago, but this week I developed a cold and lost my voice.  It's challenging to teach without a voice, but I have managed to make it to Thursday.  In the process, I came to the following conclusions:

1.  I have excellent students.  It's amazing to me how cooperative they have been.  One seventh grader offered to teach the class, and while I didn't take her up on that, I appreciated her concern for me.  I have been putting up slides with instructions to save my voice, and they have, for the most part, rolled with it.  Last year I had an unusually great crop of kids, too, so sometimes I forget this is not always the case.  In fact, there's something about me being quiet that occasionally caused them to be quieter than usual this week, but that didn't work all the time.  (If it did, I'd just whisper from here on out.)

2.  I have done a good job in training my kids on the classroom routines.  My classes have some predictable things, things we do every day.  Sometimes I find myself reminding kids of procedures in April, but this year the students really seem to know what to expect.  They won't let me skip the Word of the Day, at least not without pointing out my mistake to me.  And it feels as though the class momentum keeps moving even when I'm not at my best.

3.  I am not the star in my classroom.  The kids are.  It's not at all a bad thing to hear less of my voice and more of theirs.  They need me to guide, but not to get there for them.  They learn to read by reading, and to write by writing.  Yes, my students need pointers and help from me, an experienced reader and writer, but there are plenty of days when I talk entirely too much.  This week I couldn't do that!

(Here are some of my students doing silent reading today.  I have some much better pictures of the ones who were lying on the floor and reading in comfort, but those show the students' faces, which I don't want to do on the internet without their knowledge and permission.)

4.  On the other hand, I really miss reading aloud.  It's one of my favorite things to do, and I always have a read-aloud going in both 7th and 8th grade.  (Right now we're reading Gary D. Schmidt at both levels: The Wednesday Wars in 7th and Trouble in 8th.)  I'm looking forward to getting back to the books, and judging by the kids' comments this week, so are they!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Poetry Friday: Atlas

This poem seems appropriate for the rotten week I've had.  People try to help, and do help, but there are some things you just have to carry yourself.  Next week will be better...

by Kay Ryan

Extreme exertion
isolates a person
from help,
discovered Atlas.
Once a certain
ratio collapses,
there is so little
others can do:
they can’t
lend a hand
with Brazil
and not stand
on Peru.

I found this at the Poetry Foundation website, and here are more Ryan pieces they have over there.

Here's today's roundup.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reading Update

Book #110 of 2016 was The Secret History, by Donna Tartt.  This is a brilliantly done book, with not a single appealing character in it.  It's about murder; you find that out on the first page, and then spend the rest of the book learning the details.  Shudder.  I somehow couldn't put it down.

Book #111 was Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes.  I had heard a lot about this book, and the movie based on it, so I wanted to read it and see what I thought.  It reads as though it was written to be made into a movie.  Sort of a rom-com with euthanasia.  I didn't really like it, but I also found it pretty forgettable, and a few weeks after finishing it, I'm not able to summon many details about it.

Book #112 was a reread, one of my favorite books ever: The Peacock Spring, by Rumer Godden.  I read this as a teenager and loved the anguished cross-cultural dynamics of it.  I recommended it to my daughter this summer, and after she read it, I reread it, for the first time in many years.  I still love it.

Book #113 was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler.  This was an amazing book, written by the author of The Jane Austen Book Club, which I liked well enough but which was very conventional.  This book, though, was so wildly inventive and unconventional.  The plot is such that you can hardly say anything about it without giving away the story, so I'll just say that it's about love, attachment, siblings, and loss.  It's written in a nonlinear and extremely clever way.  It grabbed my heart and pulled me in completely.  I think it's best read knowing only that much.

Book #114 was Have Mother, Will Travel, by Claire and Mia Fontaine.  This is the true story of a pseudonymous, privileged, psychologically aware mother and daughter and the trips they take together.

Book #115 was Beachcombers, by Nancy Thayer.  It's a story of sisters on Nantucket and their widower father.  Light and airy.

Book #116 was the third of the Passage Trilogy, The City of Mirrors, by Justin Cronin.  I'm really not sure why I liked this trilogy, since it's so very much not my kind of book - post-apocalyptic vampire fiction? - but I did like it. 

Book #117 was The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton.  This is the story of a marriage.  The narrator tells us that in fiction, and in real life, we focus too much on the beginning of a relationship, when the actual story is everything that comes after the beginning.  Although the text I read was borrowed on my Kindle from the library, I found myself underlining passages.  Here's one.  The two people, we are told, "feel a giddy loyalty to what they have built up together: their disputatious, fractious, laughter-filled, silly, beautiful marriage that they love because it is so distinctly and painfully their own."   Here's another: "Compatibility is an achievement of love; it shouldn't be its precondition."  This is a really fascinating book, and someday I'd like to read it again, but right now it's due back at the library. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Poetry Thursday: For My Sub

I am having some surgery tomorrow, and any teacher knows that being out of the classroom is always more trouble than it's worth, with all the list of things you have to set in place for while you're gone.  I've prepared the quizzes and the sub plans and I'm lining up details, and one of the things on my list was to put up a Poetry Friday post early.  This, which I first posted back in 2013, seemed appropriate.

Sonnet for my Sub

 I'm writing down the mysteries of my class
All that I do, and why and how and when
The intricacies of a bathroom pass
Which students you can trust (but even then
You must be on your guard, and watch your back),
And here is the procedure for the roll
And don't let those kids get you off the track,
Make sure you let them think you're in control.

Sub, I've tried to give you foolproof lessons,
Easy instructions, here's how to be me,
And yet I'm (this is such a lame confession)
Not thrilled by interchangeability.

I wish my absence filled the world with sorrow
But failing that, please teach my class tomorrow.

Ruth, from

Here's the roundup.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Poetry Friday: This Week in my Classroom

This was a great week for poetry in my classroom.  In eighth grade, we're reading The Language Inside, by Holly Thompson.  I really enjoy reading this book with my students; there are so many things they can relate to.  The protagonist, Emma, goes through an earthquake, adapting to a new culture, her mother's breast cancer, a confusing relationship with a boy.  She also reads, writes and shares poetry.  For our daily poems this week we read some of Emma's choices: "Introduction to Poetry," by Billy Collins ; "Otherwise," by Jane Kenyon ; "The Legend", by Garrett Hongo ; and "Mermaid Song," by Kim Addonizio.  (In the text of the novel, these poems are referred to but not reproduced in full.)  Such wonderful stuff!

In seventh grade, we're working on memoir, and the poems we read were all about identity.  For three days we read poems from Nancie Atwell's Naming the World, including, on Wednesday, George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From," beloved of English teachers the world over.  There's not usually a writing assignment in my classes where absolutely everyone is writing the same thing at the same time, but the "Where I'm From" is an exception; everybody writes one, and I just love them.  Especially early in seventh grade, when I'm just getting to know my new students.  There are so many heart-tugging moments, such as a conversation with a student who is originally from Syria; when I asked her what she remembered about that country, she waxed lyrical about how peaceful it is, and how you can walk the streets without anybody bothering you.  (Here's the "Where I'm From" poem that I wrote back in 2006.)

Yesterday we read a poem from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.  (If you don't have this one yet, middle school teachers, you have to get it.)  The poem was Mary Quattlebaum's "What I Want to Be."  I love how the poem plays with your expectations.  You think it's going to be about a kid's career aspirations, but the first stanza reads: "I want to be/free to eat lunch/whenever I want."  She goes on to detail exactly what she is going to eat in this far-off, longed-for adulthood.  Mostly not school food.  My students could relate to this poem so well.  I had them write in their notebooks what they were most looking forward to about adulthood, and many of their answers had to do with freedom in just the way this poem does.  My students are looking forward to watching whatever they want on TV, staying up as late as they want to, not having to go to school any more, and yes, eating whatever and whenever they want.  I told them about the time right after my husband and I were first married when we decided to eat brownies and ice cream for dinner because we were grown up and we could!  After our discussion about the poem, we finished up reading Edwidge Danticat's novel, Behind the Mountains, and talked about how adulthood isn't all fun, as we realized how hard Papa in the novel had to work to provide for his family and to bring them to the United States from Haiti. 

I love the way words buoy me up, make me laugh, touch my heart, heal me, crack me open.  I want my students to have as many of that kind of experiences as I can possibly engineer, so that words, beautiful, wonderful words, words that connect them to the lives of people in other places and other times, can do all those things for them, too, not just now, but for the rest of their lives.  That's why I teach.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Poetry Friday: Bathtime

One day in seventh grade this week, in connection with our reading of Behind the Mountains, by Edwidge Danticat, my students were sharing family traditions.  It was a sweet discussion.  One student, whom I had seen crying earlier that week over family issues, talked about a beautiful memory that took my breath away.

As parents, we hope those happy memories outweigh the sad ones in our kids' lives.  All families have plenty of both kinds.  As I think about my own family, I realize that the ordinary everyday moments are often the happiest ones.

In eighth grade this week, we read Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann."  (You can read it here.)  It contains the words: "Poems hide."  I told the class to look around in their lives for places where poems hide, and to illustrate, I pulled up my own list on my laptop and projected it on the screen.  I started the list a few years ago, and had forgotten that one of the first things on it is my son's baby bath, a large blue washtub.  That baby son is now an eighth grader, and he was in that very class that morning.  He was embarrassed, and I quickly took down the list, but it got me thinking.

The combination of both those class discussions resulted in this poem last night.  My son didn't want me to read it to his class, but he gave his permission to post it here.  Hope you enjoy it.


When my son was a baby,
Every morning I would fill up a royal blue washtub
And set it out in the sun.
By noon it would be so hot
I’d have to add cold water to it.
I’d carry him outside and give him a bath.
Oh, we’d have splashy fun together
And then I’d towel him dry
And then nurse him to sleep,
Smelling his still-damp, fragrant head.

So many joyful gifts I didn’t have to deserve:
The tropical sun, free for the taking;
The water, saved from the rain
Or bought in trucks 3,000 gallons at a time
And stored in the cistern,
But as much as I really needed.
Best of all, that little blond boy
Who loved me so much,
So much that he would grin and grin
Until it seemed he would burst like a soap bubble
Every afternoon when I went to get him up from his nap.

Ruth, from

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Poetry Friday: Beannacht

This is a busy day, with a full day of teaching and planning, plus an Open House in the afternoon.  Still, I don't want to let this week pass by without posting for Poetry Friday, and I've chosen to share a poem I read on Monday, the day we dropped our daughter off at the airport for her flight - alone this time - to college for her sophomore year.  That day, at a most appropriate moment, this poem appeared.

by John O'Donohue

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

Here's the rest of it.

I hope this poem fills you with as much happiness as it gave me on a difficult day, and if not, you can maybe find something in the roundup that will.  I see Heidi has an Open House today, too! 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Poetry Friday: Color

I love the color poems in Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Poetry and Color, because they talk about the smell of a color, the sound of it, the emotion of it.  I always share some of these with my seventh graders at the beginning of the year, as we talk about literal and figurative language. Here's one that I'll be sharing next week, since purple is one of our school colors.

What Is Purple?

Time is purple
Just before night
When most people
Turn on the light –
But if you don’t it’s
A beautiful sight.
Asters are purple,
There’s purple ink.
Purple’s more popular
Than you think….
It’s sort of a great
Grandmother to pink.
There are purple shadows
And purple veils,
Some ladies purple
Their fingernails.
There’s purple jam
And purple jell
And a purple bruise
Next day will tell
Where you landed
When you fell.
The purple feeling
Is rather put-out
The purple look is a
Definite pout.
But the purple sound
Is the loveliest thing
It’s a violet opening
In the spring.

Mary O’Neill
(from Hailstones and Halibut Bones)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Reading Update

I went back to work this week, and kids come back next week, so I expect my reading rate to slow down.  This has been the biggest reading year I have had in a while, and I've speculated before on this blog that that may have something to do with several events in my life that I've wanted to escape from.  I generally average about a book a week, and so far this year I have read 109.  Here's the latest nine books:

Book #101 of the year was What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir, by Abigail Thomas.  The library didn't have the Kindle version, but only another funky format that I had to read on my laptop screen.  Even so, I liked it.  It's about a long friendship, a platonic male/female friendship that survives over thirty-five years in spite of all the things that life brings.

Book #102 was Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, by Anthony Doerr.  This is Doerr's book about his time in Rome on a writing fellowship.  I recently read both of Doerr's novels, and I enjoyed this book, too.

Book #103 was The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brené Brown.  This is Brown's book on wholehearted living, and it covers a lot of the ground from her first Ted talk, though obviously in more detail.  Good stuff.


Book #104 was The Odyssey, which my daughter and I read aloud to each other in the Fagles translation.  We enjoyed it immensely.  I wrote some about it here.

Book #105 was Arcadia, by Lauren Groff.  It's about Bit, who grows up in a utopian commune in the 60s.  We get to follow the rest of his life, too, as a grownup.  I really loved this book; it was beautiful and I appreciated the portrayal of long-term relationships.  I didn't grow up in a commune, but I did grow up in a subculture that's different from the mainstream, and as such I could relate to some of the struggles the characters experienced.  (Thankfully, substance abuse isn't one of the struggles I can relate to.)

Book #106 was What She Knew, by Gilly Macmillan, a book about a woman whose eight year old son disappears.  This moves quickly and there's more going on than meets the eye.

Book #107 was No-Man's Lands: One Man's Odyssey Through The Odyssey, by Scott Huler.  I liked this very much, and wrote more about it here.

Book #108 was Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld.  Lizzy and Jane behave in ways and use language that Jane Austen would not approve.  Reality TV is involved.  Why do I read so much Jane Austen fan fiction?  I have no idea, but I just can't resist it.  This was less disappointing than most, I have to say.

Book #109 was Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, by Shauna Niequist.  I had pre-ordered this in February, it came out on Tuesday, and I already read it.  I can relate to a lot of this, and there are things in it that I need to think more about, so I'll probably read it again.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Poetry Friday: My Husband's Hands

My Husband's Hands

Do you remember the first time you kissed me?
First you held my hand
And showed me yours.
You explained the scar,
How it came to be there,
Told me about the car accident
And going over the bridge.
I felt dizzy from holding your hand.

How could I have known then
How I would come to love those hands?
Those hands that cook and compute and write
That play chess and ping pong and basketball
Those hands that pack the car when we go on a trip
And unpack it when we get home,
That load the car with groceries
And unload them into the kitchen,
That make me tea again and again and again.
Sometimes they try to text, with clumsy thumbs.

Those hands always bring me pleasure and never pain.
I can trust those hands.
Those hands hold me, and held our babies,
Gently cupping their heads
As you carried them around proudly.

Do you remember the first time you kissed me?
I thought the kiss was the wonder -
That was what sent me floating back to my dorm.
But what really mattered was those hands.
You were showing me your history, scars and all;
You were giving me your hand
And taking mine as we walked into the future,
Which on that long-ago afternoon we knew not at all.

Ruth, from

Here's the roundup.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Poetry Friday: The Odyssey Again

I've been reading this book:

It's the perfect book for someone who recently read The Odyssey.  Scott Huler recreates the trip Odysseus took, and so this is part reading the Odyssey, part travel narrative, part life lessons - but humorous and not taking himself too seriously.

Huler referred to this poem, and though I had read it before, I'd forgotten about it.

C.P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Here's the rest.

And here's the roundup.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Poetry Friday: The Odyssey

My daughter and I have been reading the Odyssey together this summer,  and we finished it yesterday.  Just as the Iliad is mostly about all the different ways to get killed in battle, the Odyssey, we learned, is mostly about eating sides of meat.  Until the end, that is, when Odysseus kills the suitors and piles up all their corpses - then it becomes about all the different ways to get killed in battle, just like the Iliad.

Seriously, though, we really enjoyed reading this 24-book poem aloud to each other.  I picked a part to share with you, and I think it's appropriate because it's about stories.  Odysseus is constantly telling stories, most of them largely untrue, but here, he's in Alcinous' court, listening to the bard entertaining the dinner guests (as they eat sides of meat), and it turns out the story is about him, even though Alcinous and the other guests don't know who Odysseus is, just that he's a stranger they are taking in.

We read from the Fagles translation, and this is Book 8, lines 559-600.

Stirred now by the Muse, the bard launched out
in a fine blaze of song, starting at just the point
where the main Achaean force, setting their camps afire,
had boarded the oarswept ships and sailed for home
but famed Odysseus' men already crouched in hiding -
in the heart of Troy's assembly - dark in that horse
the Trojans dragged themselves to the city heights.
Now it stood there, looming...
and round its bulk the Trojans sat debating,
clashing, days on end.  Three plans split their ranks:
either to hack open the hollow vault with ruthless bronze
or let it stand - a glorious offering made to pacify the gods -
and that, that final plan, was bound to win the day.
For Troy was fated to perish once the city lodged
inside her walls the monstrous wooden horse
where the prime of Argive power lay in wait
with death and slaughter bearing down on Troy.
And he sang how troops of Achaeans broke from cover,
streaming out of the horse's hollow flanks to plunder Troy -
he sang how left and right they ravaged the steep city,
sang how Odysseus marched right up to Deiphobus' house
like the god of war on attack with diehard Menelaus.
There, he sang, Odysseus fought the grimmest fight
he had ever braved but he won through at last,
thanks to Athena's superhuman power.

That was the song the famous harper sang
but great Odysseus melted into tears,
running down from his eyes to wet his cheeks...
as a woman weeps, her arms flung round her darling husband,
a man who fell in battle, fighting for town and townsmen,
trying to beat the day of doom from home and children.
Seeing the man go down, dying, gasping for breath,
she clings for dear life, screams and shrills -
but the victors, just behind her,
digging spear-butts into her back and shoulders,
drag her off in bondage, yoked to hard labor, pain,
and the most heartbreaking torment wastes her cheeks.
So from Odysseus' eyes ran tears of heartbreak now,
But his weeping went unremarked by all the others;
only Alcinous, sitting close beside him,
noticed his guest's tears.

Incidentally, the bard in this scene is blind, and I wonder if Homer was writing about himself.  That would be kind of meta - Homer the bard writing about Odysseus listening to a bard singing about Odysseus.  Even though both the Iliad and the Odyssey are in many ways very macho, it's always interesting to me how in tune Homer is to the fate of women in war (and what theme could be more modern?).  Homer constantly reminds us that everyone has a story.

Here's today's roundup.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Books to Cheer You Up

Here are some books that cheer me up when I'm sad.  And here are some that Modern Mrs. Darcy recommends.

What do you read when you're feeling down?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Reading Update

Book #92 of this year was Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, an entertaining novel about Hollywood and The Hotel Adequate View on a tiny Italian island.

Book #93 was Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith, by Jen Pollock Michel.  "We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were."

Book #94 was Running from a Crazy Man (and Other Adventures Traveling with Jesus), by Lori Stanley Roeleveld.  Each of these essays ends with an invitation to "Ponder the Perplexities," with no attempt to wrap things up neatly.  "Eloquent prose can't cover a heart of stone.  As inconvenient as it is to have a heart of flesh that bleeds and breaks, the sound it makes reaches the throne of heaven.  That is prayer."

Book #95 was Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, a steampunk retelling of World War One.  I can imagine the concept of this YA title appealing to my students, but the telling of it didn't always hold my interest.

Book #96 was Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley.  Warning: it's about a plane crash.  The crash happens a few pages in, and we spend the rest of the book learning about all the people involved and, ultimately, why it happened.

Book #97 was Cashelmara, by Susan Howatch, a retelling of the story of the Plantagenets, but set in nineteenth century Ireland.  I'm a big Howatch fan, but mostly of her Starbridge novels.  This book has many of the same elements: larger than life characters whom we grow to know deeply, multiple points of view, and endless drama.

Book #98 was another Susan Howatch title, The Rich are Different.

Book #99 was Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier.  I had read this before, but this time I read it aloud to my husband, and we both enjoyed it immensely.  Here's what I wrote about it last time I read it, in 2009: "The opposite of forgettable. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, is the story of Inman, a man coming home from the butchery of the Civil War to Ada, the woman he might love. Both have changed considerably during the years of the war. Inman has seen - and committed - terrible carnage, and Ada, an over-educated young woman, has had to become useful in ways she never anticipated, with the help of Ruby, who shows up to help, demanding that she never have to empty any night-soil jars but her own. To underscore the timeless theme of a man coming home from war, Ada and Ruby read the Odyssey together, but this isn't a book about archetypes but about particularity. Each character has stories to tell, stories of the past before the war, stories of what they have seen during the war, dreams for the future. But one of the most important characters is the landscape. These characters live fully in their surroundings and are aware of the plants and animals and mountains. Ruby is mostly uneducated but knows everything about farming and hunting and every type of tree and flower and herb. And the book is marvelously written - I kept wanting to reread passages or to read them aloud. There's enough action to satisfy the most bloodthirsty middle schooler but there's nothing cartoonish about any of it, and this book is definitely in the grown-up category. Cold Mountain is beautiful, uplifting, tragic, despairing, heartbreaking. Rick Bass is quoted on the back of the jacket as saying, 'It seems even possible to never want to read another book, so wonderful is this one.' I won't go that far, but I do highly recommend it."

This time, this book struck me as being about healing, or at least moving on.  Here's Inman on loss: "You could grieve endlessly for the loss of time and for the damage done therein.  For the dead, and for your own lost self.  But what the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on.  And those old ones knew a thing or two and had some truth to tell, Inman said, for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were.  All your grief hasn't changed a thing.  What you have lost will not be returned to you.  It will always be lost.  You're left with only your scars to mark the void.  All you can choose to do is go on or not.  But if you go on, it's knowing you carry your scars with you."  But it's also just a great, action-packed story, and it's hilarious in places.  Reading it again seven years after the first time, I still highly recommend it.

Last night I finished book #100.  It's been a long time since I read a hundred books in a year, and it's only July.  Books have helped me get through many difficult moments this year, whether by helping me think about my struggles more clearly, or, on many occasions, by simply helping me forget them for a while.  This book was a little bit in both categories. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a world where a flu epidemic has killed 99% of the world's population.  "Twenty years after the end of air travel," we meet the Traveling Symphony, a company of actors and musicians who travel around the ruined United States in horse-drawn caravans performing Shakespeare and various types of music, because "survival is insufficient."  It's about connections, the power of the past, and healing.  "What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty."

I am very thankful for books, and for healing, and for beauty.