Friday, April 29, 2011

The Friday 56: Mom


I haven't done The Friday 56, hosted by Freda's Voice, in quite a long time.

Here are the rules:
  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56.
  • Select a sentence or two to post.
  • No linky this week, so just leave a comment or link on the host's blog.

I chose to highlight a few lines from the book Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, introduced and edited by Dave Isay. When I received this book from TLC, I had no idea what StoryCorps was all about.

In the book's introduction, I learned that StoryCorps began in 2003 in Grand Central Terminal in NYC. StoryCorps has conducted nearly 30,000 interviews with more than 50,000 people across the United States. It's a collection of diverse voices who interview each other and tell their individual stories. I realized that I have another StoryCorps book on my shelf, not yet read, Listening Is An Act Of Love. Without further ado, here is my "56" from Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps:

Jennifer
: I wasn't your shadow anymore. That was the beginning of my independence.

Diane
: Hallelujah!

Please stay tuned for my review of this book, which will include a giveaway.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #24: The Note Project Giveaway Winner, and a Question

Please congratulate Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania, the randomly selected winner of a Note Project Starter Kit, compliments of the O'Marys. Zibilee has a prolific book blog and posts thoughtful, detailed reviews on a wide variety of books, so be sure to visit her blog. I think she'll enjoy the kit, which includes a hardback edition of The Note by Mike O'Mary, a DVD video based on the book, and a set of three premium-quality thank you cards.

It's not too late to visit the Note Project and make a pledge to write a note of thanks. (I'm feeling kind of guilty. Although I made a pledge two weeks ago on the Note Project to write a thank you card to someone, I haven't done so yet. I've considered a few possibilities, but haven't made a decision. I am ruminating. I am vacillating. I am being indecisive, which is not really like me. Should I thank the Eagle Scout Troop who put bag dispensers for dog waste throughout a local park? Should I thank a teacher? Should I thank a relative? Should I thank a friend? Or should I go on a thank you binge and write several cards?) As I mentioned in my other post on this subject, the Note Project will donate to at least 12 literacy projects in 12 countries in 12 months, through GlobalGiving and GlobalGivingUK, so it has another important dimension to it.

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Followers
Followers

Is a book blog a social network? I raised this question recently, casually, in a follow-up comment to a post. As I've stated before, I was reluctant to put a Followers gadget on this blog, and didn't add one until after I'd been blogging for over a year (and had but a handful of followers). I felt that a book blog was not a social network, was not a test or measure of popularity, but I did eventually add the Followers gadget to my site because I saw it on numerous other blogs, and I thought it would give my blog a degree of credibility, at least in appearance. After all, if a blog has followers--who really should be called members or friends--it must have some value. I also felt that it might help build community and loyalty, evolving, difficult-to-define concepts in a virtual world. What are your thoughts about this? I'm very interested in hearing what you think about this topic, and welcome your comments.

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Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Hop and a Giveaway

I can't resist saying "hoppy Easter"! Hosted by Jennifer from Crazy-for-Books, this brilliant BOOK PARTY lasts from April 22 until April 25. It's a fun way for book bloggers to socialize, connect with other book lovers, and discover new book blogs.

Each week, Jennifer presents a question from another blogger. This week's question is from Christina from The Paperback Princesses: If you find a book you love, do you hunt down other books by the same author?

I certainly do. If I love a book, if I truly love the style or content or characters of a book, I will look for other books by that same author. This started many years ago, when I first read J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and then Franny and Zooey, and continues to this day.

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In celebration of having more than 500 followers, I'm hosting a giveaway for a $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com. Because I have readers around the world, my giveaway is international.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, May 2. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, May 3. Good luck!

If you're a Hop participant and would like me to stop by your blog, please let me know. If you're entering the giveaway please indicate that in your comment. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #23: A Book Winner, and Dorothy Parker Quotes

First things first. The winner of Dancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler is dogboi. Congratulations! I hope you'll enjoy the book as much as I did.

If you didn't win this time, don't despair! There are many other giveaways listed on the right side of this blog, so why not try your luck again?






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By chance, I stumbled upon this quote, which appealed to my snarky side:
"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."
I had just discovered an inimitable writer.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), American author, poet, and satirist, was a legendary figure in the New York literary scene, who wrote sketches and short stories. Many of them were published in The New Yorker, and her column, 'Constant Reader', was very popular.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


~Dorothy Parker Quotes~
"Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves."

"I've never been a millionaire but I just know I'd be darling at it."

"The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue."

"The cure for boredom is curiosity.
There is no cure for curiosity."

I didn't know she was responsible for these pithy sayings:

"Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone."
"Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses."


On Mel's blog, The Reading Life, I found some links for online short stories by Dorothy Parker. I enjoyed reading A Telephone Call, which showcases her talents as a writer of short fiction.

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Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

For another Really Random Tuesday post, please visit Raimy-rawr's blog, Readaraptor!.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Eclectic Reading

Although it's been ages since I last did Mailbox Monday, I'm only going to mention my most recent acquisitions. Here are the latest books that I received in the mail.



As you can tell, I have some eclectic reading in store. Please stay tuned for my reviews.


During the month of April, Amy from Passages to the Past is hosting Mailbox Monday, a meme created by Marcia from The Printed Page (now called A girl and her books). What new books have you recently added to your shelves?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #22: Giving Thanks: The Note Project Giveaway

I haven't forgotten my promise. In appreciation of having reached my goal of 500(+!) followers, I'll be hosting an international giveaway soon, so please stay tuned. Of course, this giveaway will relate to books in some fashion. Thank you, faithful followers and steadfast readers, for showing your support, for including me in your blogrolls, and for sharing your enthusiasm for books and reading.

In the meantime, I do have a wonderful giveaway to offer, compliments of Mike O'Mary, publisher of Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera, a candid, powerful memoir that I read last autumn. Mike has written a book called The Note, published in 2009. In the book, Mike receives a note that touches him deeply.
"Every note you send matters more than you can imagine."
~The Note, Mike O'Mary

A simple, heartfelt note of gratitude led to Mike's book, and to the creation of the Note Project. The Note Project is about expressing appreciation, and will attempt to collect 1 million pledges for thank you notes. You can participate in the Note Project by pledging to send a sincere note of appreciation to someone who has made a difference in your life.

In the thanks department, I think I'm pretty well caught up myself (although I'm not such a goody two-shoes that I don't owe a couple of folks thank you notes). I try to remember to send out hand-written thank you cards to people when I receive gifts, and in this electronic age, I savor the art of writing them with a pen. It's become second nature to me to compose notes of appreciation, and I visited the Note Project as soon as I heard about it and pledged to write a note. I was thrilled to discover that the Note Project will donate to at least 12 literacy projects in 12 countries in 12 months, through GlobalGiving and GlobalGivingUK! Please stop by the website when you have a few moments for more details, and to make a pledge (it doesn't cost anything).

Something else to be thankful for! Kathleen and Mike O'Mary are generously donating a Note Project Starter Kit as a giveaway. The kit includes: 1) a hardback edition of The Note, 2) a DVD video based on the book, and 3) a set of three premium-quality thank you cards.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, go to the Note Project and pledge to write a note. Then return here and indicate that you've done so in your comments.
  • For another giveaway entry, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, April 25. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, April 26. This is a worldwide giveaway. Good luck!



Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant (the "Thank You" Song)

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Please congratulate Melanie L., who has won a paperback copy of The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. Thanks to everyone who took the time to participate in this giveaway. If you didn't win this time, there's an assortment of giveaways listed on the right side of this blog. If you're entering the giveaway for the Note Project Starter Kit, be sure to leave a comment at the conclusion of this post.





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Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

For other Really Random Tuesday posts, please visit Vivienne's blog, Serendipity, Kim's blog, Page after Page, and Avis' blog, she reads and reads. I appreciate that these lovely ladies do this meme at least as often as I do, and I hope that others will join in, too.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, April 8, 2011

A Conversation with Anene Tressler















1) Welcome, Anene!  I absolutely loved reading your debut novel, Dancing with Gravity. It's freshness, originality, and intelligence are extraordinary.  Please tell us about your background and the inspiration behind your book.  Why did you choose a priest, Father Samuel Whiting, as the protagonist?

AT: Oh Susan, thank you! I’ m thrilled that you enjoyed my book. And what’ s more, your questions show a really thorough and sensitive reading of the text...for which I am very grateful. Thank you for the attention and effort you’ve put into my review. As for my own background: It certainly informs the book. My family moved around a good deal as I was growing up. And while my own childhood was nothing like the one that Whiting experienced, the idea of frequent relocation found its way into his story. I am also an RN by background, and worked some ten years in a hospital setting (so that was also very familiar to me). As for making Whiting a priest: While I was studying for my MA in creative writing, I wrote a short story with Whiting as the central character. He really needed to be a priest in that story (he was called to officiate at a memorial service). But I fell so in love with him as a character that I wanted to place him in a novel. Although he is an individual and certainly not a stand-in for all priests, I wanted/needed him to be literally unavailable for certain life choices because of his calling. His identity as a priest made that automatic. As an aside, I’ve just received a review on Amazon from a Methodist minister who writes that she also identified with Whiting because, as a minister, she must function as “ an outsider” (her term) and cannot enter relationships in the same way that many of us take for granted.


2) Along similar lines, what gave you the idea for the Little Flower Circus in the book, and in having Father Whiting bless the circus and have increasing interaction with the circus and its performers?

AT: I've always been intrigued by the circus. It requires so much athletic ability and showmanship. The costumes are often very beautiful and exotic. And the lifestyle of the performers is so unlike what most of us ever experience. Circus people are “ set apart” as Whiting himself is. And since his mother was also an entertainer, he would have had a visceral reaction to the circus. It would have been both appealing and may also have evoked a certain longing. We have a St. Louis circus, called Circus Flora. Some years ago, my husband and I both spent a few summer months volunteering as ushers and general hangers-on. I took notes. I listened. I watched. I found a life that seemed at once inside and outside the community. They (circuses) have their own communities, much like portable small towns.

As for the blessing: Catholic parishes (at least here in St. Louis) often offer a blessing of the animals on Oct. 4th each year (the day of St. Francis). And it’ s not uncommon for a priest to bless a new home. So the idea of a blessing seemed the perfect way for Fr. Whiting to get involved. Then too, Whiting is a Pastoral Care provider...so it would be an easy fit for him to stay involved with the circus after the blessing, in order to minister to the spiritual needs of the circus troupe.


3) Although Father Whiting is devoted to his mother--he calls and visits her regularly--their relationship is strained. He has other relationships that are also not quite right, with his secretary, Carla, and his friendship with his longtime friend, Jerry, who has cancer. Whiting acknowledges that he struggles in his relationships and even considers the possibility that he may be autistic (to an extent). But I have felt that way myself at times, that my relationships are draining and/or puzzling. Aren't many human relationships inherently difficult, especially to a sensitive person?

AT: Exactly! Relationships are difficult. And they are a challenge to Whiting just as they are trying to all of us. But on top of that, he’ s a shy man. He’ s painfully aware of his loneliness...and he lacks the life experience that many people his age would naturally have had. That is a common burden for most priests (Catholic) to accommodate as they try to serve their communities. Another note: I ended up taking that reference to autism out of the book just before it went to press. I revised some dates in my novel to better capture the period of upheaval in Central America, and so the reference didn’t work. (I was actually citing the memoir of a real-life person, Temple Grandin, who wrote a book about her autism. With the new dates, I couldn’t use the reference, because Grandin hadn’t yet written her book.)


4) Father Whiting develops a fierce crush on Sarah James, who is working alongside him on the circus project. The experience brings him to life and he feels alive rather than "asleep in his own life". How did you go about developing this aspect of the story?

AT: Whiting is lonely. He lacks life experience and is therefore vulnerable to Sarah’s attention. He is heading towards a perfect tempest. Again, this is his very particular reaction to the situation. (For example, I’ m sure that if Jerry Stemple had been in Whiting’ s position, he would have had a very different reaction to Sarah.) Whiting’ s relationship with Sarah serves as his motivation for much of his interaction with the circus, but it also helps reveal the complexity of his personality. Whiting progresses from a cordial work relationship to a raging crush...then a deep hurt...and, ultimately, wisdom.


5) Although your book is written in the third person, it is about the innermost thoughts of Father Whiting. He is a very sensitive man. I think I may call him a highly sensitive person (HSP), a term I read about many years ago. As I remember, an HSP may fall in love more easily than a "regular" person. What do you think about this idea?

AT: I hadn’t heard that idea about highly sensitive people falling in love more easily. It’ s intriguing. But that reminds me of an anecdote I heard years ago (although I can’t recall the source). Supposedly, if a person is deeply, madly in love, their brain waves look very much like those of someone suffering a mental illness such as schizophrenia. Again, I have no idea whether that’ s true, but love—in all its forms—is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.

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Thank you for answering my questions about your book, Anene. Next are a few questions about writing, a photo, and because I cannot resist, a single question about music.

6) After you had the basic idea for your book, how long did it take you to write Dancing with Gravity, from start to finish? Are you a disciplined writer?

AT: I feel as though I’m living that refrain in the Beatles’ Paperback Writer: “ Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?/ It took me years to write, will you take a look?” I’ve been working on this book for years. Literally. But there were VERY LONG periods of time—many months at a stretch—when I didn’t touch it. So no, I have not been a disciplined writer of my own work. In part, that may be because I make my living as a freelance writer. And I am very disciplined about that. In part, that was pragmatic: I needed to earn a living. And client work resulted in a check, while fiction might not. But I think part of my behavior was also due to fear. I’ m exposing myself and what matters to me in my own creative work. That kind of risk and resulting vulnerability can be tough....and painful. The photographer Ansel Adams used to take portraits of school children to support his own work and he spoke about the difference between work that comes from the outside (client work) and work that comes from the inside (your own). You approach the client work with integrity. You want to do it well. But it’s not the same. Work I do for clients belongs to them...and I take their direction in making it just right. This book is mine. It’s a completely different universe.


The author's writing space looks inviting and organized.


7) Usually I ask authors to share some writing advice, but today I ask you this question with a twist. What was the worst writing-related advice that anyone gave you?

AT: The VERY WORST advice I ever received (and as you may note by my capitalized words— it makes me angry still) is the kind of precious and self-satisfied advice that a writer once gave me when I asked for encouragement: “ It’ s not a question of whether you “ can” write (read: have the talent to write) but whether you MUST write.” I mean really, what does that mean? It’s an absurd comment. Breathing. Food and water. Shelter. Those are essential. But writing is not in that category. Worse, that type of comment is designed to exclude. To keep an aspiring writer out of “the club". Well…ignore them. Ignore anyone and everyone who wants to get in the way. If writing matters to you, then write. It’ s hard work. There are no guarantees. And in that, it seems very much like life.


8) Your book is funny, sincere, and offbeat. If Dancing with Gravity were made into a movie, what would you include on the soundtrack?

AT: Oh Susan...what a surprising question....I love it! Well...let me first direct you to the book trailer, which has a combination of more traditional circus music as well as a bed of music—in several different styles—that supports the text.





I can't take credit for those selections, but I like them.
I'm also delighted that the range of emotions I tried to convey in the book came through to you as a reader. In a perfect world, the music in a film would underscore the action and support the overall tone of the film the director envisioned. And because of the range of events and settings in the novel, I think the opportunities for visual and musical interpretations could be stunning and wide-ranging—with or without lyrics. Imagine the fanfare and drama of musical possibilities with the circus performance, or something a little unsettling and lonely under Whiting's drive to the Motherhouse in the fog to say Mass. Think what music might underscore the night of the fireflies or the scene after the storm when the circus men are trying to calm the horses. When I think of music I might associate with Fr. Whiting, my mind turns to the bittersweet. There was a little film called Once a few years back. It had the loveliest songs. There's one called "Falling Slowly" that feels right for Whiting. But actually, now that I think of it, there are several songs from that film that have the tone and lyrics that would be wonderful. And we haven't even talked Bob Dylan. He has a song, "What Was It You Wanted?" that always makes me think of Nikolai. But before I float away on fantasies of the red carpet, I suggest we make a pact: if anyone ever makes a film from Dancing With Gravity, let's both go to the world premier! (See...I REALLY am getting carried away with this dream!)

(Me, too, Anene! I'd love to attend the premier. And may I suggest a great-sounding song from the 1970s, Tight Rope by Leon Russell, which I think would fit the film perfectly?)




9) Please tell us about your next writing project.

AT: If you had asked me this question the day after I turned in my manuscript to my publisher, I’d have told you that my fantasy is to be Harper Lee: Write one book that becomes a classic and never write again. But my memory about the demands of writing a novel is short. So I am planning another work. I have several things I’m considering...and I’ve been keeping ideas in a notebook. I’ve given myself the artificial date of June 1st as a starting date for the new work (which makes this sound very much like my annual New Year’s Resolutions). But one thing I’ve promised myself: I WILL write every day. Because the best advice I can give myself, having lived through the way I did things in Dancing With Gravity is this: a novel is big. It’ s more complicated than I thought. And it takes a lot of organization and energy. Writing it, putting it away for months, and then trying to go back to it, is a very tough route to take. I don’t advise it. And I promised myself I wouldn’t put myself through that sort of unnecessary torture again.

Thank you very much, Anene. It was a pleasure to read your first novel and to get to know you through this interview.

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Please visit the Anene Tressler's blog for additional information, or my review. Your comments are welcomed. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dancing with Gravity: Review and Giveaway

'Father, I want you to take on a special, temporary assignment. I want you to bless the circus.'
~Dancing with Gravity, Anene Tressler

Usually I am not at a loss for words, but I'm not sure what to say about this book, Dancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler, published in 2010. I decided to read it because it was listed as literary fiction (whatever that means; I assumed it was better than your average, "non-literary" book). But a debut novel about a priest didn't sound particularly scintillating. And there's a circus in the story, the Little Flower Circus--oh, really? Kind of like Sister Wendy and painting, I supposed (incongruous perhaps, yet worthwhile), but not on my must-read list by any means.

But something happened, during the first chapter, luckily. I recalled numerous clichés I'd heard to describe books, such as:

"It engaged me."

"I stayed up half the night reading."

"I couldn't put it down."

These clichés became something meaningful in this case. It was engaging. I stayed up late reading. I couldn't put it down. In short, I absolutely adored this book, which is set in St. Louis. I loved reading the innermost thoughts of Father Samuel Whiting, the shy, sensitive, and surprisingly sensuous main character in the story.

" 'The piercing arrows of love.' Even as he said these words, Whiting realized how strange they must sound to Mother Frances. His response was a mystery even to him. But he wasn't embarrassed. Instead, he experienced an almost physical sensation of being caressed. He half closed his eyes and gave himself over to it."
~Dancing with Gravity, Anene Tressler

I felt for Father Whiting, who dreads Carla, the secretary of Pastoral Care, and falls for another co-worker, Sarah James. I rooted for and identified with him. In fact, I became him, to the extent that that's possible, for the duration of the book. I'm not sure how the author did it (her exquisite writing helped), but she temporarily transformed me into a circus-loving priest.

Cast aside the book you're reading (but not really enjoying), and pick up Dancing with Gravity instead. Even if it's not what you'd planned on reading, one thing's for certain: it's truly spectacular!

Here's a chance to win a copy of this book. Blank Slate Press, the publisher, is offering a copy of Dancing with Gravity as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only, or a .pdf copy to anywhere!).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, April 18. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, April 19. Good luck!


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me an advanced reading copy of this book. (I've taken slight liberties in this post by including two quotes from my copy of the book.) For more reviews please visit the other stops on TLC's Dancing with Gravity book tour. For further insight into the book, please stay tuned for my upcoming interview with the award-winning author, Anene Tressler.

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