Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide 2011

What to get for the folks on your holiday list?  Books of course!  I always believe that your favorite book of the year makes a great gift for everyone.  Here are some recommends from my family to yours:

Grayson loved City of Ember. He read it for the second time this year and especially loved the movie it inspired.  This one has a strong female lead, perfect for the YA reader on your list.

Tessa, for some reason, calls all books Ga-Ga books.  She says, "read me this ga ga book or read me ga ga (insert name of book)."  Her favorites have been one based on an Edward Lear poem The Owl and the Pussycat and also a very frothy, syrupy, sweetie book called Pinkalicious.  Both available on-line or at your favorite bookstore.
She likes the part about plenty of money

Tries to eat the cupcakes off the page
My husband Geoff reads only e-books now so I have no idea what he has been reading, but I took some time to ask him what he recommends from this past year.  He suggested Routes of Man: How Roads are Changing the World and the Way we Live.  Geoff says, it puts roads in their proper context and is a harrowing travel memoir.

He also recommends Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, Happier.  This books focuses on the creativity and the people that come together to make a city.  Urban Policy that focuses solely on infrastructure and not the humans that live there wind up as cities with empty buildings.

As for me I have recently dug out a copy of Staying Put: Making Home in a Restless World by Scott Russell Sanders and am writing and thinking about the value of home.  I hope you and yours also are enjoying home and the simple pleasures of the season: music, lights, good food, laughter, and warm company.

I take a few weeks off from my blog at holiday time.  I'll be back in the New Year with plenty of good book recommendations. Happy Holidays to all!

What are your best reads of the past year?  Please recommend them below.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp

Top 10 Things Never to Say to a Homeless Person

10.  You are living in a trailer in a Wal-mart parking lot, how can you call yourself homeless?

9.  How can you be homeless, you have a job?

8.  If you can afford a lap top and a cell phone...

7.  Can't you just crash on someone's couch?

6.  But you are clean and you have a business suit!

5.  How dare you splurge on yourself!

4.  Just call your parents.

3.  Look at the bright side, no bills to worry about.

2.  You shouldn't have a dog.

1.  How can you be homeless, you don't do drugs, do you?

PS Girls Guide is a fresh original memoir which is either about being homeless while in a  relationship gone awry, or the tale of a dysfunctional relationship between a couple who happens to be homeless. I found it to be quite a page turner and I highly recommend it.  I do note--that the story seems sort of young.  My frequent complaint about memoirs of late is they feel like they need to sit in people's minds and hearts for a few more years before they get written.  This whole story happened two years ago. (But I guess when you get a book deal, you get a book deal.)

PPS  I learned that things going viral is not necessarily an accident. Good to know.

PPPS  Wal-mart had one redeeming quality for a few chapters.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The value of paper and a pencil

About twice a month a few friends and I lead a writing circle for women at the Monroe County Jail.  We take lined composition books, pencils, some poetry, and for purposes of a small ritual we do before we start writing, we take a flower. I have been participating in this service to our community for about 5 years now.

Last week, the commander of the jail got angry because he discovered someone snuck in some contraband (rumor has it that it was a lighter), and so he banned everything from coming in--except of course employees and volunteers.  This meant we could hold the writing circle, but we could not bring in the tools that we needed to encourage women to write and tell their stories.  

My co-facilitator brought a sheet of paper with our agenda on it and a poem about hope that we wanted to read to the women.  The guard made us leave that behind.  We went up to the activity room, hands empty.  We did  discover a loop hole in the rule: the commander said that if we already had materials in the jail, we could use those.  When we arrived to conduct the circle, we found we did have some notebooks and at least 15 pencils.  In addition someone gave us a sheaf of lined notebook paper.  We still have kleenex and a little chime to ring and a small smooth stone to pass around the circle.  Our liaison at the jail allowed us to get on her computer in her office so we could find the poem to read aloud to the women. Getting ready for the circle felt a little like a game.

Our circle yesterday was fine and full. We spent 90 minutes writing about hope and that is no small thing for the 13 woman in our group who sometimes feel hopeless.  

As we wrapped up the circle, we asked them all to write for us, so that when we come back in two weeks, they'll have stories and poems to share.  Of course, We realized right away they will have a hard time doing that...they won't have any paper or pencils.  Normally, a writer in our circle would take a full 200 page composition book back to their cell, but if we want to come back again and this restriction has not been lifted, we would need to conserve what paper and pencil we had stored away for as long as we could.

We stared at the dwindling sheaf of paper and made a hasty decision to give each woman 2 or 3 sheets. We made her promise to write. "Use the margins if you have to," we said.   We collected the pencils as they filed out in hope that they could scrounge something to write with on the cell block.  If we let these precious few pencils go, we might not be able to have a writing circle.

Just as they were filing out, I spied a blue pencil box filled with the smallest of pencil stubs.  I opened it up and showed it to the women.  This is what hope looks like.


It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.
It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

~ Lisel Mueller ~