Sunday, August 31, 2008

Accuracy

It's unanimous. Respondent to the latest poll all cast the same vote: they regard some blogs as accurate sources of information. Blogs are obviously not as "objective" as journalistic articles (though they, too, may be biased). As for this blog, I try to present accurate information regarding books and authors, and do research as needed. I revise and edit information that needs to be updated or corrected, because I care that the facts presented in this blog, which also contains my own stories and commentary, are as accurate as possible.

Some words of wisdom from Mma. Makutsi about accuracy from chapter eight of the book I'm nearly done reading, The Kalahari Typing School for Men:

"Do you see that?" she said to the elder apprentice, whom Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni had instructed to help her in the task of fetching the typewriters. "That motto on the notice board up there? Be accurate. That's the motto of the college."
"Yes," said the apprentice. "That's a good motto. You don't want to be inaccurate if you are a typist. Otherwise you have to do everything twice. That would be no good."
Mma. Makutsi looked at him sideways. "A good motto for every walk of life, would you not think?"
~The Kalahari Typing School for Men, Alexander McCall Smith

Saturday, August 30, 2008

More about Writing and Reading

Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett arrived very quickly in the mail, and I've already picked up a few good ideas to put into practice. DeMarco-Barrett acknowledges all the demands on our time and says that even a mere 15 minutes of writing a day can change the daydream of being a writer into reality, slowly but surely. The author of this inspiring book offers a lot of encouraging words, tips, and sage advice for those who want to build a writing career, one word at a time. I read a few chapters last night before returning to the fiction I'm currently reading, The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith. I don't want to reveal too much about The Kalahari Typing School for Men (although the title obviously says a lot) but will say that it's a book filled with beauty and humor. One of things I most enjoy about reading this book (and the others in the series) is that Alexander McCall Smith shows his respect and admiration for women, while at the same time poking fun at his own sex. I'd guess that most of his fans are female, although I could be wrong. He also cares very much about the way people treat each other, about the old Botswana values where people care about the happiness of others. I find this passage particularly beautiful; it describes Mma Ramotswe's reflections after a phone call to the prison office:

"They said farewell, and Mma. Ramotswe put down the telephone with a smile. In spite of everything, in spite of all the change, with all the confusion and uncertainty which it brought; in spite of the casual disregard with which people were increasingly treating one another these days, there were still people who spoke to others with the proper courtesy, who treated others whom they did not know, in the way which was proper according to the standards of the old Botswana morality. And whenever that happened, whenever one encountered such behaviour, one was reminded that all was by no means lost."
~ The Kalahari Typing School for Men, Alexander McCall Smith

I'm nearing the end of this book, but will not mourn as I look forward to the continuation of the adventures of Mma Ramotswe and the rest of the cast of characters in the next book in the series, The Full Cupboard of Life.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back to School: Reading, Writing, and Blogging

No surprise, I'm enjoying The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith. Mma Ramotswe and her entourage are such pleasant company. Their antics and adventures are simply wonderful! Maybe I sound like a real dork when I say that but these stories are just so much fun to read. I brought the book in my car yesterday afternoon to read there while I waited for my daughter after school. I arrived at school early to ensure myself a parking spot so I had a good half hour or so to read. It was a great use of time--I kept myself entertained with a book instead of waiting impatiently, or stressing out over the lack of last-minute parking. I'll try to get to school early to get a good spot and wait and read whenever possible. Although yesterday was stiflingly hot and humid out, I didn't notice it too much in the car, as I was thoroughly engaged in the story. This pastime will be even nicer once the weather cools off.

I am on a quest of sorts, for writing tools. Yesterday I unearthed The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel from my son's cluttered room (it was a gift I gave him but he'll never look at it), and I recently ordered a book called Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett to help keep the ideas flowing, and since I compose mostly at the computer, to keep my fingers "on fire" at the keyboard. Many writers say reading a lot of books helps your writing, which I already do. (I should keep a list of everything I read but that seems too "organized". I guess in a way this blog IS my reading list anyway. I have a new account on Shelfari which features my summer reading, though unfortunately I did not know how to title the list as such. I thought about putting my shelf on this blog, but it didn't fit well.) I read some other blogs but try NOT to get too influenced by the ways and styles of others. Interestingly, when I do read other lit blogs I find, fairly often, that we are talking about the same themes, although each in our own way.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

It's back to school for the kids and hopefully it'll be back to more reading and blogging for me!

I'm looking forward to spending time once again in the company of Mma Ramotswe and the cast of characters in the fourth book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith. My book arrived in the mail today and I 'm eager to begin reading it. While I don't judge books by their covers--literally--I must say that these books are lovely to look at. I wish I had a decent picture of the inside cover to post. The book designer(s) use African geometric designs and contrasting colors to enhance the visual experience of these books. They are wonderful outside and inside.

Many of us think of Africa as being very poor, people starving everywhere, horribly afflicted by AIDS. While Africa does suffer greatly from poverty and an AIDS epidemic, that is only part of the picture. Alexander McCall Smith shows us another side of Africa, where people own small businesses and actually enjoy life. Far from starving, Mma Ramotswe is "traditionally built". She has her own detective agency in Botswana and forges a unique career in this series of books. An outstanding detective, Mma Ramotswe also helps her secretary in many ways (I won't spoil it by telling you too much) and is the type of employer we'd all like to work for, one who truly cares about people and their success, not just her own well-being.

If you don't hear from me for a few days, you can be pretty sure I'm happily continuing my African adventure with The Kalahari Typing School for Men.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

All in Together Girls: Artful Short Fiction

I'm a glutton. Instead of reading one story in All In Together Girls and then stopping to digest it before reading the next one, I'm reading them straight through, voraciously, without pausing to reflect on what's happened in any particular story. I should slow down, will slow down, and savor each one. They are quite engaging--stories about youth and self-discovery and relationships and all that good stuff. The author, Kate Sutherland, writes with an honest voice and doesn't sugarcoat emotions. She's also a law professor. That floors me! I'm reminded of Alexander McCall Smith, the very prolific author of over sixty books--he's also a law professor. (Is there a connection here? How do these two different types of writing--legal and creative--complement each other?)

Published as a collection of short fiction in 2007, All in Together Girls tells fourteen different stories and rapidly draws us into different worlds. Kate Sutherland brings the characters to life for us--children, teenagers, and adults--and we feel the pain and triumph of various human struggles. Short story writing is an extremely creative form of creative writing, which presents unique challenges to writers because of the length of the stories--everyone and everything needs to be "accelerated", in a sense. Kate Sutherland proves she's up to the challenge, and is on a par with women such as Doris Lessing, Alice Munro, and Eudora Welty. The cliché, "good things come in small packages" proves true here; through her short stories she paints memorable portraits of everyday people in All in Together Girls. You can sample two of her stories, Cool and Aerial View of a Dinner Party, on Kate's Book Blog.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Books in the Mail

My literary adventures continue in earnest. Though I'm still reading (and rereading) Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, which really requires much study and thought, I've finished my "lighter reading", Morality for Beautiful Girls, another heart warming book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. The New York Times Book Review calls Mma Ramotswe "the Miss Marple of Botswana" and her sundry adventures always manage to bring a smile to my face. I'll begin the next one soon, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, possibly tonight, if it appears in this afternoon's mail. I've been getting books in the mail almost every day for the past week, from Amazon marketplace sellers--they've really come through! The books have been arriving faster than I had even hoped, and are in fine condition. If The Kalahari Typing School for Men doesn't arrive today I may start All In Together Girls, a book of short stories by Canadian author Kate Sutherland.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Room of One's Own ~ Women and Poetry


"Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one's own."
- A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf

In her essay, A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf offers this conclusion after she surveys history and finds that women are the subjects of poetry but not the authors. Very few women could achieve the "incandescent mind" of an artist such as Shakespeare, according to Virginia Woolf, because of their poverty and society's restrictions. She reflects upon the scarcity of women poets throughout the ages and in particular in Elizabethan England:

"For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet."
~A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf

In a previous post called The New Dress, I stated that Virginia Woolf believed women were best suited to write fiction from their sitting-rooms, because their lives didn't lead to the opportunity to create poetry. In A Room of One's Own, she elaborates eloquently with encouraging words:

"I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee's life of the poet. She died young--alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh."
- A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf

As a writer Virginia Woolf was keenly aware of the constraints on women--her notebook attests to this struggle--as they sought both financial and creative freedom, and she felt the need to entreat her audience, initially young college women, to write not only fiction but poetry (as well as criticism and scholarly works). As a feminist of the early 1900's, Virginia Woolf's epic essay encourages women to express themselves through art and achievement, and to become a vital part of history.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Room of One's Own


"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."
~Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

I'm rereading Virginia Woolf's very intense A Room of One's Own, which is actually a long essay she wrote "with ardour and conviction" on the the topic of women and fiction, that she prepared when asked to speak about this subject at women's colleges. A Room of One's Own was published in 1929, when young women were still discouraged from attending college (due to genuine fear that a good education would make women unfit for marriage and motherhood), and although it's not angry in tone the essay reflects a society in which severe limitations were put on women and their achievements. Virginia Woolf speaks about the creative process that lead to her talks, of her notebook in which she recorded a multitude of ideas, thoughts, and mental meanderings, and writes about the train of thought that led to her conclusion, that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". In A Room of One's Own Virginia Woolf grapples with what is exactly meant by women and fiction (not a simple matter), and demonstrates and expresses the complexity of her thought in her trademark stream-of-consciousness writing. Defying conventions of the time, she talks about the actual food served at the luncheon party, of the soles and partridges and potatoes, and of the importance of food to the artist in a more general sense. She discusses numerous things in this full, layered essay of her thoughts, among them a sense of loss due to the war which began in August of 1914, that changed the underlying current of life--previously filled with music and poetry, with romance--and of the special difficulties women artists face (still relevant today!). Her message is simple (though the means is not), that women must have money (a fixed income) and a room of their own (privacy) in order to have the freedom to create, luxuries that men may take for granted. She imagines Shakespeare's "sister", equal in talent and genius, but because of her sex, never writes a word, never expresses her genius, never lives to old age because she takes her own life in quiet desperation. Her essay is meant to encourage young women, to inspire them to create, as she's sympathetic to their plight. In A Room of One's Own,Virginia Woolf wants the limitations removed, and for women to have the same intellectual freedom that men have had for centuries, so that they, too, may express their genius.

As mentioned in a previous post, you can read A Room of One's Own online at eBooks@Adelaide.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Collections

Okay, I 'll admit it--I'm smitten. I've fallen in love with Africa, the Africa that is portrayed in Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the nation of Botswana. Today I ordered all six of the remaining books of the series I've yet to read from amazon marketplace sellers, plus the first book (which I had borrowed and need to complete my set). I spent between 1 cent and $8.99 per book (plus shipping, of course), with an average cost of $5 per book (including shipping), so I'm not upset about the cost. My book set will be mismatched: some new, some used (but in good condition), some paperback, some hardcover. Interestingly, the hardcovers were less expensive than the paperbacks! I'll house them together as a collection, in a pretty basket or crate of some sort, and will read them in proper order. I'll share these books with my daughters eventually, and vow to not watch the TV series until after I've read the books. I'm collecting these books not "for show" but because I 'll read and hopefully reread and encourage others to enjoy them.

In general, my books are not terribly organized but maybe it's time to change that. I keep books by the same author together, but there's a definite randomness to the shelves and stacks overall. (Don't ask about the kids' bookcases--they're a mess, overcrowded and haphazard!) Do you have any favorite collections of books? How do you keep them organized?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tears of the Giraffe

No doubt about it, Mma Ramotswe is an astute woman, with "old Botswana values", according to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni; in his eyes, she is "one of the very best women in Botswana". As I read Tears of the Giraffe, I see why her husband-to-be admires her so much--she's intelligent, diplomatic, and independent. In her thoughts, Mma Ramotswe is displeased with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's surly, sloppy maid, and grapples with the new case of a son who's been missing for ten years, a "stale enquiry" she almost wishes she did not agree to work on (but does out of compassion). She also thinks about larger issues, of the boundless dignity and kindness of Nelson Mandela , who extends forgiveness even towards those who imprisoned him for 27 years.

Tears of the Giraffe captures the beauty of Africa, of the endless, luminous sky, red-brown earth, acacia trees, and brilliant, blazing sun. I hope to watch the TV series in the future, and picture scenes of Mma Ramotswe driving her tiny white van along the dusty roads of Botswana and other parts of Africa.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series

What do you do when the housekeeper's a slob, and you want to live in your own tidy house on Zebra Drive after marriage? These are the immediate obstacles Mma Ramotswe faces in Tears of the Giraffe, which I've just started reading. It's another sweet book by the very prolific Alexander McCall Smith. I'd like to sit down and read it while sipping some iced red tea on this scorching summer day. Tears of the Giraffe is the second in Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I may read the entire list!
  1. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (1998)
  2. Tears of the Giraffe (2000)
  3. Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001)
  4. The Kalahari Typing School for Men (2002)
  5. The Full Cupboard of Life (2003)
  6. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (2004)
  7. Blue Shoes and Happiness (2006)
  8. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (2007)
  9. The Miracle at Speedy Motors (2008)
A TV series of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books debuted on Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008; co-produced by the BBC and HBO and filmed on location in Botswana, it's the first major film or television production filmed there. The photo above, from Wikipedia, shows the leading actors (left to right) Anika Noni Rose as Mma Makutsi, Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe, and Lucian Msamati as Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.

Friday, August 8, 2008

More Works by Virginia Woolf

"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
~
A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf


I'm in the mood to read more works by Virginia Woolf. Today I ordered A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf from Amazon. While I wanted a copy of the book to read and for my library, you can also read the web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide (and thousands of other books may be read for free at Project Gutenberg!). I read A Room of One's Own in high school, and want to reread it. I think I understood it at the time but feel as if I'll get much more out of it now that I'm older (and hopefully wiser). I've already talked about Virginia Woolf a bit in June posts, mostly in relation to her story The New Dress (also published online by eBooks@Adelaide), and will write about A Room of One's Own and Woolf's thoughts (as well as my own) in the not too distant future.

(First edition cover pictured above.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sparks Notes

Sunday night I saw the movie A Walk to Remember with Mandy Moore and Shane West, a movie I was interested in seeing that I just happened to find on sale at the supermarket early Sunday morning. I read the book a few years ago so I don't remember every detail from the book, but I don't think the movie followed the book all that closely. An important difference between the book and the movie is that the book takes place in the 1950's, whereas the movie is supposed to be the 1990's. At certain moments, I had to fight back the tears. (I may see it again more privately and allow myself to cry freely.) The leads are excellent in their roles. While watching A Walk to Remember I thought maybe Nicholas Sparks' brother, Micah, played the part of the cardiologist, but it turned out to be David Lee Smith when I checked the credits. (Does Sparks ever cast family members in his films? Or friends? Or fans? Heck, I'd settle for a walk-on part.) I really enjoyed seeing the lush landscape of North Carolina, after hearing descriptions in the books of Nicholas Sparks. All the wild storms in North Carolina create such beautiful settings--no wonder all these romances take place!

I'm almost done reading The Rescue, and should finish it today.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

It was Saturday morning. I didn't have to get up early, and without that much to do until later in the day, I thought, why not stay in bed and read The Rescue for 45 minutes or so? Guilt sets in. I should get up, help the kids get breakfast (although they're old enough to get their own breakfasts). My husband brings a cup of tea to my bedside. This is getting good. Could I possibly skip a shower, and make the time up in this manner? No, I need to take one, but I have time. Time to read and shower. It's early enough. The chores can wait. I can stay in bed and read. I can (and did!) enjoy this, although with a bit of guilt. As I read, I got to the start of this romance, the part where the characters, Denise and Taylor, begin to fall for each other, which is always the best part, full of possibility and newness. So, as my youngest daughter asks if she can make herself ramen for breakfast, I shout, "Sure, honey, don't burn yourself! Or have a brownie. With some milk, of course!" She chooses the ramen, and doesn't mind in the least. I don't mind either. From the bed, where I read, propped up by pillows, sipping my tea, the ramen smells delicious. So I'm not the perfect mother. I suggested brownies for breakfast, instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to make the kids a healthy breakfast (I'll make them a nice lunch!). At least they're learning to take care of themselves. It's pretty nice not having to get up right away for a change, to linger in bed and read, because I wanted to find out what happens in the story and know that later today I'll be too busy.

Friday, August 1, 2008

More Book Talk


Today I finished Bloomability, another charming book by Sharon Creech, and just in time, too, as The Rescue arrived in my mailbox this afternoon, neatly packaged by an Amazon.com marketplace seller. Tonight I hope to begin The Rescue, the remaining published book by Nicholas Sparks that I haven't yet read (unless I've mistakenly missed one). This one's sure to be a dud. Just kidding, of course! I wanted to see if you were paying attention, and hopefully made you laugh. I don't doubt that The Rescue will be as engrossing as all the rest of Sparks' books. Of course, you may not care for romances, but obviously I do. (Preferences in reading are so personal. I'm curious in this regard, perhaps even nosy, and like to to learn what other people read, and things related to reading, which is why I've had various surveys in this blog. If you've participated in these polls, including the current one, thank you. I appreciate your input and am open to ideas for future surveys, and of course general comments.) In late September, you know I 'll be on the lookout for Sparks' brand new book, The Lucky One.

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents,
in exchange for my honest reviews.