Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your List

For the reader and literature fan:

People are abuzz over the new Raymond Carver biography written by Carol Sklenicka. Carver is considered the father of the modern short story. His biographer has shed some fascinating light on his writing and on the editor who made him famous. An avid fiction reader would enjoy a collection of Carver stories and this biography. Read all about it in this great interview by writer and IU Journalism professor emeritus Carol Polsgrove and in this NY Times article.

For your favorite feminist:

The New York Times op ed columnist Gail Collin's new book: When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present looks like a fascinating modern history of people and events that happened just before I came of age. Our aunts and mothers and grandmothers fought battles to end sexual discrimination in the workplace, to be able to have their credit cards in their own names, or to be payed equitably with their male counterparts. This book should be must read for all of us. It is on my Christmas wishlist and I am 15th in line to get it from the library. Thanks for the recommend Marsha!

For those who like their narrative in graphic form:

American Widow looked like a compelling memoir of a pregnant woman who kissed her husband good-bye on September 11, 2001, as he left for his first day on the job with Cantor-Fitzgerald, and never saw him again. I ordered it in hardback from Amazon.com without looking at the fine print. The book is beautiful, but surprised me when it turned out to be a graphic novel. Alissa Torres's story is told frame by frame with speech bubbles and handwritten voice over narration. Not my favorite read of the year, but it may have been that I did not appreciate the format. You may have someone on your gift list that does and it is a unique way to tell the sad and tragic tale.

If you want to send a taste of Bloomington, Indiana to someone:

My favorite local book this year was Susan Brackney's lovely little story of beekeeping which I reviewed a bit earlier this year. She got a mention on an Oprah website as well. How about sending this fine book to friends along with some Southern Indiana honey?

And of course there's this little gem which includes many of my favorite writers in Bloomington. Get it on Amazon.com.

For the tween girl on your list:

Before you let your tween break open the covers of the latest vampire romance, give her this great story of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet loves to spy and makes honest observations about her friends in her writer's notebook. She wants to be a writer when she grows up. Harriet inspired me to
start a journal at age 11. She will always be a very important character to me.

Add a beautiful p
en and a nice handmade journal to the gift. Tell her that in the olden days, when we wrote our secrets and thoughts, they were kept private and not broadcast over the internetz for everyone to read and talk about.

For the transformational leader on your list:

Women Writing for (a) Change is a grassroots movement that uses writing
as a tool to craft a more conscious life. Started by feminist, leader, and former English teacher
Mary Pierce Brosmer, the school has spun off 8 affiliate schools, dozens of teachers, and
programs that give voice to young women and girls, men, incarcerated women, and anyone who
has lost their voice. I'm a believer. When you give this book to anyone include a candle
and an invitation to a writing sampler class like this one.

A delightful choice for your mother or great aunt:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer is doing the go around at book groups this year. This clever piece of historical fiction and epistolary novel will be beloved by your grandmother, so if you need to buy her a gift look no further. The history of the Channel Islands during WWII is not very well known so the setting and place and time is fascinating to learn about. It's set in the past where we accomplished everything by writing letters, and I know grandmothers love to read and write letters and talk about the era before we were all facebooking and texting and communicating via the internet. It is also just a clever, albeit a tad predictable, tale of a woman who finds her true community in this odd little place in history.

A Copy of this in Everyone's Stocking:

On January 20th, 2009 Elizabeth Alexander made history by being the 4th person to write and read a poem in honor of a presidential inauguration. I fear that given the way people rushed off after President Obama's oath and inaugural speech many did not hear this woman's very beautiful tribute to a very important day in history. Praise Song for the Day is available as a chapbook from Graywolf press. It would make a nice addition to a stocking this holiday. I have read and re-read and written about this lovely poem. I am putting it on my list as well.

Esmerelda is going to take a few days off to get ready for the holidays and read some more. She will post again about great reads after January 1st. May your holidays be filled with poetry and good good stories.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway

As many of you know I like cemeteries and funeral homes and obituaries. I am not all that morbid, I have simply discovered that the things that represent the end of life often have the most powerful stories contained within them.

When I picked up this book with a cursory glance at the back cover, it seemed to be about a young woman's coming of age as she worked at a small town mortuary and drove a hearse. About three quarters of the way through the book, while very compelling, I realized that this was more about a young woman's survival at the hands of abusive and neglectful parents. Although there was a thin thread running throughout this memoir about her friendship with the family who owned the mortuary and how she spent weekends driving a hearse to pick up bodies, the book really did not focus on that at all. It seemed a little like a bait and switch. What drew me to the book was not what kept me reading.

The beauty of this novel was that as more of Monica's life unfolded and the more you learned about her childhood of horrors, the more you realize on how many levels the family was and is Driving with Dead People. You realize that even though the thread of her job and the antics at a mortuary are only small stories in her memoir, they represent the happiest times of her life.

The writing is very compelling. It took me a few days to get into it, but overall, it reads very quickly and you will really root for the narrator and her sister. They are the true survivors and have managed to make it through the storm.

This book will remind readers of the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Their style and storytelling abilities are quite similar.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A fine first novel

Thanks to the recommendation of a friend and fellow reader (thanks M.) , I decided to check out The Outlander by Gil Adamson. Ms. Adamson is a poet by trade, so I figured that her prose would be magical. I find most poets know how to string words of prose together better than any writer. They have a real sense of rhythm and timing and cadence.

A widow is on the run from some menacing brothers after committing a crime. She manages to elude them and have some great adventures and find peace and contentment in a mining camp. She falls in love, makes great friends, and contemplates her sad childhood and even sadder marriage.

M summed my feelings for the book best when she said, "you just feel as though you want to keep following her on her adventure." You want to know what happens next. How will the widow escape? Will her true love find her? What lies in wait for her and the dwarf (yes, there is even a dwarf) as they head further west into the Yukon?

This is a perfect escapist read. A page turner and adventure about a strong woman and a very different time. Oh, and Ms Adamson's prose is like poetry. Every page feels perfectly narrated and perfectly told.

I don't read much fiction anymore, but I am very glad I took the time out for this one. It will stay with me for a long long time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our book has arrived!

I raced to the Poplar Grove school house last Sunday to be one of the first people to see the book that we have put together celebrating 5 years of Women Writing for (a) Change in Bloomington. Women with Wings features many women from the Bloomington School and from the circles we hold at the Monroe County Corrections Center for incarcerated women.

One of the exciting things for me was how much a labor of our community the book became. In addition to all the contributions by all the fabulous writers and getting the opportunity to work with Lauren (my co-editor) and Beth (the owner of the school who gave gracious blessings to our project), our cover designer and cover artist were both writers from the community. Thanks to Kim Evans and Yvonne Wittmann! Rebekah, Wednesday night writer, helped us with the books and accounting. The publishers, Paul and Dee Burt from Pen and Publish, helped us bring this book to reality. The day it was set to arrive from the printers fellow writers Kim and Greta tag teamed staying at the schoolhouse to make sure UPS didn't send it back to the warehouse. David and Joan Foor White from New Leaf; New Life very generously donated money so that each women from the corrections center who had a piece in the book could have one of her own . Deb Morrow, also from New Leaf; New Life, helped me track down all the women from the jail so that I could write them and thank them for their contribution and send them the book. Rachael, of Rachel's cafe, is catering a fabulous party for us in celebration of our 5th anniversary. Beth's husband Dan is going to play piano for us at the party. Friends are stepping forward to buy books. The list of support in this town is endless.
I feel so proud to be part of such an amazing community where writing and arts are part of everyone's life and where people care for each other and hold each other up to celebrate. Thanks Bloomington. Thanks Women Writing for (a) Change. Happy 5th Birthday to the Bloomington School. I look forward to many more years of writing in community with some of the finest women and men I know.
Please drop me a line if you would like to purchase a book. They are $15 plus tax and any money we make over and above the cost of the book will help us pay for scholarships for girls and women.
Write me at: amy@womenwritingbloomington.com