Back in March I wrote this post in which I waxed rhapsodic about a new literary find, The Sun magazine, which is published out of North Carolina.
This week I introduced one of its sections to my writing group. It’s called “Readers Write” and has, I believe, been a feature of the ad-free magazine since early in the publication’s almost-40-year history. Each month, readers write their true, anecdote-based reflections on a given theme and a wide-ranging selection is chosen for publication. It’s usually the first section I flip to, and I try (usually unsuccessfully!) to ration out the pieces so I can stretch out the reading pleasure until my next issue arrives. Here’s a sample of the current issue’s “Readers Write” section (you can get a taste of the magazine’s essays, fiction and poetry, too, while you’re visiting the site).
After my writing group read through some of the selections in my back issues, we looked at the upcoming themes, and each picked one with a view to possibly submitting a piece to the magazine. We only wrote for 10 or 15 minutes, but made a great start on our stories!
I learned a few things at last weekend’s Creative Nonfiction Collective conference in Banff.
1. There are over a million ‘mommy blogs’ in the U.S.
2. If you see an animal grazing in someone’s front yard, it is not (1) the household horse, (2) an escaped cow, or (3) a de-antlered moose (all the options I entertained, in that order, but (4) an elk.
3. Even if you’re sure you ‘can’t draw,’ a graphic narrative may still be within your reach.
I learned about my elk mistake from my Aunt Mary in Merritt, who scrutinized my fuzzy cell phone photo and set me straight. But the revelation about drawing came from keynote speaker Sarah Leavitt, whose graphic memoir, Tangles, was published by Freehand Books in 2010 and has since racked up glowing reviews and a host of nominations and awards.
Sarah’s book gives us a window into her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease and the ripple effect it had on the family. The observations are unflinching; punches are not pulled when she shows us the actions and reactions of her relatives and herself. But the book radiates compassion, too. It’s an eye opener for readers who have not had close encounters with this tragic condition, and I expect it’s proving a poignant touchstone for those who have.
Sarah’s drawing style is not sophisticated; her level of expertise is probably within reach of many people who are erroneously convinced that they ‘can’t draw.’ While I still don’t see a graphic novel in my own future, listening to her presentation inspired me to broaden my view of what is ‘writing’ and to realize the many and varied ways that words and pictures (be they drawings, photos or other graphics) can work together to communicate a story.
Or perhaps the phrase ‘work together’ is too intimidating for people like me. Perhaps we can say ‘play together,’ and give ourselves permission to experiment, to get out the old holiday snaps or the drawing pencil, to reach for the scissors and do some real cut-and-pasting.
If you do a google image search on the term ‘graphic narrative’, you’ll be presented with thousands of examples that might serve to inspire you. Or you can check out the arts section of the National Post newspaper, which features an excerpt from a new graphic work every Tuesday through Thursday. Better yet, just get started and dance to your own drummer. (The result of your effort, however untutored-looking , can always be given to your mom or BFF on Mother’s Day… they have to love everything you do!)Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, On Books | Comments (2)
I nearly forgot I said I’d write about my Kindle, having had the chance to take it for it’s first true test ride on a cross-Atlantic journey.
Now, right there, I’m telling you something about me and e-readers. I don’t, personally, have a great deal of use for an e-reader while comfortably at home in my own space. A book will do just fine for me in those circumstances. I’m used to books, I have no complaints about books, books, in their current form, have stood the test of time for many, many, many years, etc. etc.
Having said that, my home is not large but definitely larger than some and I have been fortunate to be able to sneak a large number of bookshelves into it without my husband protesting (thanks honey!) so would I find an e-reader useful in a home setting if I had a micro-home with no-so-many bookshelves? Quite possibly yes.
I, for example, am all for completely eliminating our CD collection. Why do we need space-consuming, dust-collecting piles of disks in plastic cases, I want to know, when all our music fits on tiny, little electronic thingies? My husband does not feel the same way. He would also probably break in here to tell you I somehow managed to lose my tiny little electronic music-containing thingy (iPod Nano) three days before we left for Wales and it hasn’t been seen again since.
(I have cleaned the house, top to bottom, many times since then and no sign of the iPod. So, there; a limitation of electronic filing – much easier to misplace than stacks of books and / or CDs – I admit it).
Anyway, back to the Kindle. First, functionality. Well, it’s just fine. I have no huge complaints. The screen is beautifully easy to read (and I am lucky to have a huge screen as I have the 10 inch Kindle; roughly the size of an iPad). It is tasteful and quiet and my case is beautiful; I really do think cases make a big difference with e-readers as, unlike with real books, they’re the only way to tell one person’s e-reader from another.
The Kindle store is great, although I will say I tend to shop from my laptop rather than straight from the Kindle. It’s much easier to sort and I’m a big sorter. Here are my criteria: first I select literary fiction. Then I select “Price low to high” – this gives me several pages of free books. Then I can be even more selective if I like. One thing that’s useful is to then select books with four or five star reviews.
In this way I chose Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The White People, Jack London’s Children of the Frost and The Great Gatsby for my trip to the UK. All three combined cost me a grand total of $0.99 (Gatsby did it; the other two were free). I adored The White People and finished it before we had even cleared Newfoundland. I found Children of the Frost very interesting and I dipped my toes back into Gatsby but, sadly (see last week’s post) was not sucked into Nick and Gatsby’s world as I had hoped to be. Still, all in all, a very good selection of reads.
And, the nice thing about the Kindle is that there those stories sit, my spot carefully preserved, for whenever I chose to turn the thing on again.
Which, granted, probably won’t be for a while because, all in all, the Kindle remains for me mostly something I see as a valuable travel tool. A great thing to bring on any kind of trip where you’re already taking way too much stuff and the last thing you need is seven more paperbacks. It really significantly cut down on the bulk and heft of my carry-on and it also meant I wasn’t leaving books scattered around my in-laws’ house. It is neat, tidy, compact and fantastic for camping, a trip to the cottage, a plane ride, etc.
Could I still live without my Kindle? Definitely. Would I give it away? Definitely not. It’s great for what it is.
I also have to say from what I’ve heard / read / seen of other e-readers, I do believe the Kindle is a true reader’s e-reader. My husband absolutely doesn’t see the point of it. He sees that great big screen and the little keyboard and the fact that I have a constant, free, wireless connection and his fingers itch to surf the web, get some apps, etc. He can’t understand the point of something that really, when all’s said and done, is just for reading.
But it is and I think that’s great and if you think that sounds great too then you just might want to plan a Kindle into your future.
Thoughts? Questions? E-reader comparisons? I’d love to hear them…Filed under From Tudor, On Books, On Life, Uncategorized | Comments Off
A few weeks ago I promised to make amends for my sacrilege of denouncing books I don’t love by talking up some books I really, really have loved lately. So here goes.
At first I was feeling a bit stuck with this post. Because, you see, I don’t demolish books like I used to. I am much pickier and my attention is much harder to hold. These days I rarely find a book “unputdownable” and would describe very few I’ve read lately as “page-turners”.
I’m not happy about this. I miss that feeling of being gripped in a story. Mind you, I’m more productive and a more attentive wife and mother because of it but it would be nice to feel I could get lost in a book.
What’s the cause for this? Is it me or is it the books around me? I think, to be fair, I have to say it’s mostly me. Maybe by having less time my standards have risen much too high. Or, maybe because I spend most of my “extra” time trying to craft my own novel and not fall into the various writerly pitfalls I’m all too aware are out there, I’ve become unforgiving and difficult to please.
Possibly it’s because I can get lost in a story anytime I like – the story I’m in the middle of writing – that I can’t connect as deeply with any other story. It’s probably a combination of all these things.
Also, to take some of the heat off me, there have been some spectacular disappointments lately in books I was really keen to read. Case in point – there’s a certain witty, quick Irish writer who straddles the line nicely between chick-lit and meaningful literature, whose work I have always loved and devoured. I saw her newest book at Heathrow and picked it up to read on the flight home. I did get through it – all 685ish pages of it – but had I not been confined to a plane seat I wouldn’t have.
It was poor, flat and didn’t hang together. There were too many characters and I didn’t care much for any of them. Coincidences (unlikely ones) abounded and the semi-cutesy / semi-spiritual theme which was supposed to underlie the whole book was never fully developed and not even referred back to for long stretches at a time (we’re talking 100 pages+).
The most telling thing about this reading experience is when the plane touched down I had three pages (literally, three pages) left to read and I haven’t read them yet. I don’t think I ever will.
I guess what I’m saying is I’ve lost a little faith in some of my long-loved and admired go-to writers and I find myself floundering a bit.
So far this doesn’t sound much like a post extolling the virtues of new books so time to move on.
Because a quick glance over my finances in the last year or so would still see a significant (some might say ridiculous) amount of money being spent on books. The catch is, these aren’t books for me. No, I’m investing in making readers of my boys.
And it’s working. Rick Riordan kickstarted it with Percy Jackson and his ilk and that was great. I have to give a nod to Captain Underpants and it’s not even the reluctant nod I once thought it would be.
Graphic novels are fantastic, especially the Graphics Myths & Legends series I discovered just in time for our trip to the UK. These books are hard to come by / ridiculously expensive in Canada but I ordered 12 to be delivered to my in-laws’ house in Wales for 70 UKP. I know; still a chunk of money, but my older son had his nose buried in them all week and they made the trip home with us.
While in Waterstones (the Chapters of the UK if Chapters was less superstorish and more main streetish) my boys discovered Beast Quest and I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I found out there were more than 50 books in the series, they’re easily available in Canada and they’ve been translated into French (finally; my endless hunt for interesting French “lecture” books to be read as homework is over – or at least temporarily suspended). They’re both zipping through these books and – true test – they run around the house playing Beast Quest together; the first time ever Star Wars has been put on the back burner.
I’m also getting a guilty pleasure boost myself by reading the Hardy Boys to the boys each morning before school. I always liked the Boys better than Nancy Drew (although I did enjoy Nancy) and I love hearing my voice plow through the stilted and dated language; I sound like such a stick-in-the mud!
As for myself, well a couple of books did enchant me last year. One was multi-award winning “Greener Grass” by Ottawa’s own Caroline Pignat – a real charmer of a read and the other is Kathy Stinson’s “Becoming Ruby“. You may know Kathy for “Red is Best” but, believe me, she does literature for young adults (and young-at-heart adults) just as well.
So, that’s a very long and convoluted way of saying, yes, I’ve loved some new books lately.
How about you?Filed under From Tudor, On Books, Uncategorized | Comments (2)
Okay, I know living ‘off the grid’ generally means going without electricity and phone and essentials of that nature, and I can’t say that I was doing that on my recent holiday in Colorado.
But I was living without benefit of internet for most of that time, and that brings with it withdrawal symptoms of its own. Specifically it meant that I couldn’t post to our blog (thanks for carrying on a one-sided conversation for a while there, Tudor!) and it was odd not to be able to google on demand (but quite restful, too.)
One of the benefits of living off the web, though, was the reading time that it freed up. While in Telluride, I visited the local bookstore with a view to seeing what I could discover in the way of literary journals not often seen in Canada.
On spec I picked up a copy of The Sun, an ad-free magazine that’s been published by the same man for over three decades. (For an inspiring story of his perseverance and the magazine’s resulting success, click here.)
It’s the only lit mag I’ve read cover to cover, and after I did that I went to the local library, checked out their back issues and read those, too. I read all the short stories (I rarely do that with my New Yorker subscription), got drawn into interviews I didn’t know I’d be interested in, and wolfed down each issue’s short, themed contributions from readers.
I’d never heard of the magazine before, but now I can see why it has a loyal following of over 70,000 subscribers (plus one, as of this morning!) It pays its contributors, puts out an issue every month, and does so without benefit of advertisers. What can the rest of the publishing world learn from founder and editor Sy Safransky? For starters, perhaps, the importance of readability; a quality that many journals sacrifice in favour of being ‘edgy.’
I know there’s a time and a place to push the envelope. But my money, literally, is on the power of a well-told story.Filed under From Peggy, On Books, Sites We Like, The Publishing Industry | Comments Off
For much of the past year, I’ve been a member of the Creative Nonfiction Collective of Canada. It’s a lively group of committed writers who are engaged by the genre and enjoy exploring the possibilities it offers.
I was immediately won over to the group when I discovered amongst its membership Susan Olding, whose book of essays, Pathologies, I’d just finished reading and loving. Since then I’ve booked other members as speakers for my local writers’ society and got to ‘know’ many more of them by lurking on the discussion board (which is open to non-members, as well).
But coming on the April 29 weekend is the collective’s annual retreat at the Banff Centre for the Arts, which will give me the chance to put a face to some names and to benefit from the buzz that always come when a group of writers pools its energy.
Keynote speaker is Karen Connelly, and the full program is offered here. The conference is actually FREE with an annual $35 CNFC membership; costs are for the facilities and meal package. I’m delighted to be taking advantage of the Banff Centre’s $99/night room rate to tack on a short pre- and post-conference writing retreat of my own.
So if you fancy an excuse to meet some like-minded souls and carve out some writing time of your own, consider this an invitation to the Rockies!Filed under Contests, Markets & Events, From Peggy, Inspiration, On Books, Organizing our Writing Lives | Comments Off
How many people know exactly what I mean just from the title of this post alone? I suspect for many of you I don’t even need to write anything more.
However, this is a writing blog about writing so I guess I should throw in a few words.
Let’s start with “should”. How’s that for a word to get you thinking and, probably, squirming. When I say “should” what pops into your mind? Things like “sleep more” and “exercise more”. Possibly “eat better”, could be “read more” and that leads to the topic of this post “join a book club”.
I’ve felt it myself, the “should” of the book club. It would be stimulating. It would expand my mind. It would take me out of my comfort zone. It would be sociable.
And there’s the undeniable fact that I dug studying English Lit. big time. I adored getting the following year’s reading list at the end of the previous school year and reading all the books over the summer and then discussing and dissecting and debating them in class with other smart people and sometimes having those discussions spill out of class and into a small hole-in-the-wall bar type of establishment in the student ghetto with a pitcher of cheap beer on the table and feeling my toes curl with pleasure that this was exactly what university was supposed to be about.
Ah, yes. But that is no longer my life. Gone are the days when I am able to push myself through Tristram Shandy just because I should and it’s classic literature and, anyway, I can prop it up in front of me on the treadmill and have reading it be slightly, infinitesimally, less boring than staring at my own reflection in the mirror for half-an-hour and so eventually get through it.
The current me in my current life will not be re-reading that particular literary classic.
And so we come to the book club. As much as it sounds like just the thing for a writerly type of person like myself to do, I haven’t and here are some reasons why:
Because I don’t have nearly enough time to read all the books I really want to and so reading books that bore or disturb me seems like a poor use of what reading time I do have. I’ve recently had friends tell me they’ve read The Slap and We Need to Talk About Kevin for their book clubs and, in both cases, spent the entire time they were reading feeling creeped out and uncomfortable. I don’t think I can do that.
Because I find it hard to leave my house after dark, especially in the winter and am so pathetic in this way that I have recently changed riding stables just so I can ride at a barn a 10-minute drive from my house. No concern for quality of horses or coaching – just proximity (and, maybe, a little tiny bit that the barn and arena are heated but I’d rather not admit that because it shows me up for the lightweight I am).
Because I have a hard enough time hosting a birthday party for each of my children once a year let alone inviting several adults into my home for a quality social gathering.
I’m thinking for a book club to work for me it would have to conform to a couple of rules. One would be that we would read only classics. I think I could force myself to read a book I wouldn’t normally choose if it had some time-honoured merit to it (with the exception, of course, of Tristram Shandy. And Heart of Darkness. I once dropped a course after finding out Heart of Darkness was on the reading list.)
The other requirement would be that the book club be virtual. No leaving my cocoon at night after dark. No spilling of red wine on my living room carpet. I could handle that.
So now that I’ve revealed myself as an anti-social and somewhat lazy individual, what do the rest of you think about book clubs. Do you belong? Do you wish you did? Do you belong and wish you didn’t?Filed under From Tudor, On Books, On Life | Comment (1)
Having finished Augusten Burroughs’ somewhat gritty Running With Scissors memoir, I am seeking to restore some mental equilibrium by taking up Defining the World by Henry Hitchings. It’s an account of the making of Samuel Johnson’s opus dictionary; the first of the English language and a magnificent literary achievement in its own right.
I am looking forward to learning more about this infamous lexicographer, but in the meantime I have already been cheered by this first-chapter revelation:
“Although a tirelessly productive author, Johnson considered himself disgracefully lazy – believing that only Presto, a dog belonging to his friend Hester Thrale, might truly be thought lazier. His diaries are full of self-recrimination: assurances that he will work harder, along with detailed schedules to ensure that he will do so.”
Hands up if you see yourself in this statement! It’s reassuring to hear that self-flagellation was alive in well in Johnson’s day as well as ours. I love the ‘detailed schedules’ comment – the saving grace/nemesis of many a frustrated artist!
Reading about the history of the dictionary reminded me that a month or so ago I officially ‘adopted’ certain endangered words in order that they not be archived by the folks responsible for maintaining the Oxford English Dictionary.
To my great shame, I have forgotten to feed and water said words for many weeks. The idea is that people use the words in their everyday life so as to bring them back into general usage. So, this snollygoster (a shrewd, unprincipled person) better leave her nidifice (nest) and get cracking, or she’ll risk theomany (the fury of God) for sure!
If you’d like to do your part to further Samuel Johnson’s work as a celebrator of the English language, adopt your own words from the (very engaging) Save the Words site. As you’ll see, it’s like visiting puppies in the pound – you have to be pretty firm in your resolve, or you’ll end up wanting to bring them all home with you!Filed under From Peggy, Language & Usage, On Books, Sites We Like | Comments Off
Last week at this time I referred to a line in Great Expectations that reminded me of the wise writing adage “one plus one equals a half.”
This week my reading gave me another gift: an example of exactly what William Stein meant by the expression.
For years I’ve seen Augusten Burroughs books on the shelf and paid them little heed. But having heard many good things about them, I bought his memoir Dry at a library book sale. I loved the story and the exquisite details he used to tell it. So I ran out and found his first memoir, Running with Scissors.
It’s also an amazing read, but not quite as polished as Dry (though it feels cheeky to say so, given it was on the New York Times bestseller list for four consecutive years).
I didn’t approach it as a critical reader, but as someone happy to be carried away by the narrative. All the same, a paragraph on page six leapt out at me – the aforementioned “1+1= 1/2″ example.
“My mother is from Cairo, Georgia,” he writes. “This makes everything she says sound like it went through a curling iron.” Isn’t that a wonderful image? It immediately made my toes tingle.
But then he continues: “Other people sound flat to my ear; their words just hang in the air. But when my mother says something, the ends curl.”
To me, this over-exposition deflated the power of his initial statement. We get it already! I wanted to shout into the book.
You want to leave your readers with the tingly toes, not the exasperated sigh. “Leave them wanting more” doesn’t just apply to show biz, but the world between the covers as well.Filed under From Peggy, Language & Usage, Memoir, On Books, Tips on technique | Comments Off
I’m one of those people who can’t quite bring herself to shell out big bucks, or even medium bucks, for an e-book. While there may be some titles that I don’t mind owning in digital form, I still want the vast majority of my books to be tangible, caress-able, and lend-able.
So I’m using my new iPad (thank you, family!) to catch up on public domain classics that I’ve always meant to read or re-read. Right now I’m enjoying Great Expectations and constantly marvelling at the freshness of Dickens’ imagery and humour and human understanding.
A few days ago I came across one of my favourite pieces of writing advice, nestled in a conversation between Pip and his kind brother-in-law Joe. In response to a statement made by Joe, narrator Pip says “Joe felt, as I did, that he had made a point there, and he pulled hard at his pipe to keep himself from weakening it by repetition.”
Years ago, I first read this sentiment in Stein on Writing, in which William Stein insists that “one plus one equals a half.” He’s right. Sometimes we don’t trust ourselves to adequately convey a nuance in our story, or we don’t trust our readers to ‘get it.’ So we hammer the point home with a further explanation or expansion… and suddenly, what was once a tantalizing or delicate or artful reference becomes plodding and tedious. The power of your original statement or allusion deflates like a tired balloon.
You can catch these overstatements with a careful re-read, or, even better, through reading aloud to yourself or a trusted listener. If you feel a paragraph start to bog or sag, check it for unnecessary repetitions. If you’ve already said “Mo looked like he’d dressed himself in whatever clothes might have been poking their limbs out of his laundry hamper that morning,” leave it at that and don’t follow up with “He didn’t care much for his appearance.” We get it!
Thanks, Pip, for the reminder. We may not be able to ‘pull hard at our pipe’ to keep from repeating ourselves, but we’ll do our best anyway!Filed under From Peggy, Language & Usage, On Books, Tips and Tricks, Tips on technique | Comments (2)