Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

Vacationing in New York City-Part One


Earlier in June, my daughter, grandson, and I went to NYC for ten days.  We had no particular plans, stayed about three blocks from the East River in Midtown, conveniently only a couple of blocks from the subway so going up and down Manhattan was easy.  We did not do a lot of the usual touristy things.  Mostly we wandered around, exploring.

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This is a view from the hotel room on the 18th floor.  Yes, there are people living in some of these buildings, complete with patios, patio furniture, and in some cases plants.

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The first evening we traveled way downtown, got off the subway at Spring Street, and walked to a soba noodle place which had many vegetarian options–my grandson is vegetarian. We liked it so much we intended to go back but somehow never accomplished that. I would recommend this place for those who like Korean, Japanese, etc. food.  Sadly, I do not recall the name.

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The next day we went downtown again and did something touristy, had lunch in Little Italy.  We had no idea which restaurant to pick so picked this one:  Caffe Napoli.  My grandson liked their cheese ravioli with marinara sauce so much, he ate two entire platefuls.  I had the beet salad.  I am not a bread eater normally but liked theirs so much with the olive oil and herbs that I could not stop eating it. This place was a hit for us so we went back in the evening several days later.

After lunch we took a very long walk through Soho over to Washington Square Park. We spent quite a lot of time there people watching.

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If you have heard of the college, New York University (NYU), and have never been there, you might be surprised to discover it does not have a campus in the usual sense.  Its “campus” is comprised of buildings around and near this park.

Twice we ate at a place close to the hotel:  Clinton Hall at 230 East 51st Street.  They have good veggie burgers and a giant salad served in a huge beer stein, among a variety of options.  They also provide all sorts of games you can play while waiting on food, etc. I would not recommend this place near or on the weekend, however, unless you like loud.  It is a very popular hangout for young, professional people and was so noisy then that we could not even talk to each other without shouting.

One touristy thing we did was take the subway uptown to Central Park and eat lunch at Tavern On the Green.  The salmon patty was excellent.  It was a sunny day, the guests seemed happy except for one man who demanded to be seated in a part of the restaurant that was closed.  He did not succeed. The meal was good, the atmosphere sunny and pleasant. It was relaxing and fun.

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Three times we went uptown to the Barnes and Nobles on 86th Street. We also visited the one at 555 Fifth Avenue.  We are book people, and it seems we end up at book stores everywhere we travel.  My grandson had to stop buying books because of concerns about luggage being over the weight limit. The most unique bookstore we visited is Kinokuniya just across from Bryant Park.  I highly recommend this place.  Not only do they have all sorts of books both in English and Japanese, but they also sell various Japanese art items some of which are very beautiful.  I had to seriously restrain myself. My daughter and I sat in their cafe, I drank matcha latte, and we watched the activities across the street in Bryant Park while grandson explored the huge graphic novel area.

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You’re Gonna Eat That?!


This is the title of my newest book which currently resides at the designers for formatting, placing the photos in the correct place and position, making sure everything is just right.  The subtitle is:  Adventures with Food, Family, and Friends.  It includes family and travel stories, adventures, poems, and recipes. Here are a couple of food photos which will be in the book with recipes.

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Every Sunday until publication, I will post an update as to progress.  My goal is to have it available for purchase for Christmas presents for those who love food adventures.

 

Afternoon at the Library


Usually at the library I checkout and return books. Because my grandson is taking art classes at a nearby college for three hours in the afternoons, I go to read and observe.  The same older men show up everyday.  Some, acquaintances or friends, quietly chat. They look scruffy with dirty, stringy hair.  Are they homeless?  Does the library provide an air conditioned refuge?  They read, look at magazines.

One man in a tan Alaska cap takes notes from a large book.  He appears well groomed, clean, with a sculpted, small beard. Another alternates reading and checking his cell phone.  At a separate round oak table a man sits in a dark heavy coat–it said 102 on my car temperature gage when I arrived.  He never looks up, concentrates on the black laptop in front of him. The white earbuds stand out against his heavy dark beard.  His fingernails are dirty.  A white haired man approaches the round table I occupy and asks if he can sit there.  I reply, “Sure.”  His dark skin shows the heavy creases of outside work and age.  His fingernails are clean. He focuses on filling out an application for a commercial driver’s license.

In the several days I have stayed here to read and wait, I have seen only one woman where they allow adults to sit.  Do these men, day after day, come here because they have no place else to go?

Jen Payne’s New Book


Evidence of Flossing, WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND provides an unexpected metaphor for individual life, culture, and so much more. Nearly all the poems are accompanied with a photograph, often of trash in which lays a dental flosser (yes, one of those instruments with which you floss your teeth) with date and location.  Flossing is supposed to prevent anything from being left behind.  Hence, the title brings up an unusual play on words.

The first section Damage contains more than 20 poems which are a lament about much of modern life–mass shootings, the demise of wildlife, unpleasant changes.  One poem asks the question:  “Would God floss?”  In the second section, Contact, the poems focus on the natural world, walks in the city, the woods, beaches.  The third section, Connection, emphasizes the interconnectedness of everything, especially the relationships between humans and animals and nature.  There are poems about frogs, storms, birds.  One called Evidence of Fairies makes the reader feel the magic of old growth forests with moss and ancient trees.  In the footnote to another poem she discusses the fact that wolf spiders actually create songs to lure lovers. Then, toward the end, the Alice poems appear,  Alice as in “Alice in Wonderland”.  In my favorite poem Payne relates her encounter with a stranger picking oyster mushrooms near a path in the woods.

After reading the poems and comments in this book, I will never view flossing the same way again.  Will I find dental flossers now, something I never even previously thought about?  I use those long strings of floss not flossers.  Apparently the poems and flosser photos affected enough people that some sent Payne photos of flossers they saw here and there on the ground, some of which she has included in the book.

Even if I find no flossers, now I will certainly give a lot more thought to what I and others leave behind.

 

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About the author:  Jennifer Payne is the owner of Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company in Connecticut. She belongs to the Arts Council of Greater New Haven as well as several other arts and poetry organizations.  Her work has been featured in various publications, including The Aurorean, Six Sentences, and the Story Circle Network.  You can read some of her writing on her blog Random Acts of Writing.

 

 

No Offense by Esther Nelson


This blog will be of special interest to university professors and anyone who teachers in a college or public school at a higher level or those concerned about the state and future of education.

What a pleasant surprise to become acquainted with Samar Habib when she appeared on my newsfeed the other day.  According to her biography, she “is a writer, researcher and scholar” as well as “[a] tireless advocate of human rights.” She is also “an expert of international standing on Gender and Sexuality in the Arab world, with unparalleled publications on same-sex love and desire among women and the juncture of Islam and homosexuality.”  The Ted Talk I stumbled upon, titled “Let the Scholar Speak, Even if it Scares You,” explores the modern university’s difficulty navigating that murky space between academic freedom (based on scholarship and inquiry) and giving offense (based on fear of decimating a student’s belief system).

Samar is Palestinian, raised in a secular, but nominally Christian, household.  Initially, her research focused on the study of sex and gender in the Arab world and gradually incorporated the more specific…

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Predetermined?


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Today at the bookstore browsing, I picked up a book nestled among the magazines.

 

This question appeared on page 41:  “If you were given a book on the story of your life,

would you read the end?”

 

I asked my grandson.  He immediately said, “No!”

 

I wonder.

 

Remain unsure.

 

If I read it, could I change it?

 

Are lives predetermined, choiceless?

 

Are we unwittingly predetermined and just victims?

 

If I read it, could I change it?

 

Eat something different,

sing a varied song,

laugh more,

spend more time with sunsets, sunrises,

read less, more,

love someone new,

say words now lost,

write a contrary story,

choose an opposing path,

challenge?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Motherhood of God by Mary Sharratt


The first woman to write a book in English–in the 1300s.

Doing a recent talk on pioneering woman writers, I like to do the Before Jane Austen test with my audience. Who can name a single woman writer in the English language before Jane Austen? Alas, because woman have been written out of history to such a large extent, most people come up blank. Then we talk about pioneering Renaissance authors, such as Aemilia Bassano Lanier, the subject of my recent novel, THE DARK LADY’S MASK, or her mentor, Anne Locke, the first person of either sex to write a sonnet sequence in the English language.

But my next question takes us even further back into history. Who was the first woman to write a book in English?

The answer is Julian of Norwich, who wrote Revelations of Divine Love.

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Bedtime Reading


 

A habit I acquired years ago, perhaps even during my childhood, is reading just before I go to sleep.  Picking the right books remains key unless you want to stay up half the night either reading or thinking about something horrifying or depressing you’ve read. Lately, my reading has not been conducive to sweet dreams.  Earlier this week I finished Among the Ruins, an Iranian mystery of sorts, by Ausma Zehanat Khan.  It’s fiction but one of the characters writes letters from prison which are anything but cheery.  Now I am reading the Pulitzer Prize winner, The Return.  Since Hisham Matar never saw his father again after he was captured and hauled off to a Libyan prison, sleep inducing it is not.  Last night I decided perhaps for bedtime I needed to find something not exactly boring but somewhat less stimulating.  It may take me all summer given that The Silk Roads, A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan is 505 pages.  If I get bored with that, I can go back to two books I reread off and on and save for bedtime reading, When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams and Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, Selected Works translated by Edith Grossman.  Both inspire reflection and contemplation.  For those who do not know Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, she lived in Mexico in the 1600s.  She became famous for her intellectual capacity, her poetry, and was referred to as “the Phoenix of Mexico” when women rarely rose to such heights.

What are you reading this summer?