Sunday, January 20, 2013

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do by Kim Stafford

A few weeks ago I expressed my love and appreciation for this book on the elegant art of listening.  I was so impressed by the author's love of words and writing that I thought I would check out his new memoir  100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared.  It was not readily available at the bookstore, so I asked my public library if they would order it, and it showed up in about two weeks.  (Love the public library!)

This is such a fine and exceptional book that I can't stop thinking about it.  Stafford makes everything seem effortless yet profound. His writing is smooth and creamy and makes me want to eat it at every meal.  He is writing about his beloved brother who committed suicide 20 years earlier.  Mr Stafford remembers his brother in a series of stories from their youth together, their short adulthood together and the aftermath of living with such a tragic end to someone you loved.

Every week I sit in the company of great writers who pour their hearts out in short poems, and memoirs of their lives.  Word upon word, each writer is building a series of stories and vignettes not unlike these.  I loved this work.  All the stories individually and as a collective quilt of stories, were without question true and beautiful: honesty that cut to the bone of life.  My fellow writers and I can and do easily write this beautifully and could piece our pieces together to form a grand story, but something about the way he did it seemed profound and unreachable.  He has left something tugging at my heart. Writing that is worth emulating in its candor and vulnerability.

God Bless my library for buying this for me, but  I will have to buy my own copy.  There are many writing lessons to be learned here.

For my reader that lives in Portland. This man runs the Northwest Writing Institute.  You should check it out and take a class from him.  Better yet, I'll come visit and we can both take a course from him.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

A fascinating memoir about life in an Hasidic Jewish sect from Brooklyn, New York.  Deborah Feldman is born to an Hasidic couple who for a variety of reasons do not raise their daughter.  Instead, she is raised by her ultra conservative grandparents, and at age 17 is married to a man she has met only briefly.  Deborah tells about the orthodox rituals and rites that she must obey to be a good daughter and wife.  Throughout her life Deborah feels like she does not quite fit in and shortly after the girth of her son manages to start college and eventually gain the skills, means and courage to divorce her husband and leave the sect with her child.

For such a young writer, she astutely wrote and depicted her humiliating oppression as a girl and young woman. I raced to read to find out how she would escape her circumstances.  In the meantime, I noted lots of intriguing details like how she had to sneak books to read because they were forbidden and how sad she was when her husband forced her to throw all her books away, claiming they were the cause of their unconsummated marriage.  I will remember her description of the ritual baths women are supposed to take to purify themselves every month.  Her rendering of events was clear and unsentimental, but vivid.  All she needed to do was describe what was happening-no editorial necessary. 

The drawback to this fine fine piece was that after such a great build up to leaving her home and family, she leaves many many posed and provocative questions unanswered.  She says that she would never be allowed to leave her son, yet she is able to leave with her son.  She writes briefly of a mother that abandons her and in the prologue we know she has re-established contact with her, but we never see how her mother figures into her liberation.  We never know how her husband and family reacts when she leaves.  She escapes to a new apartment--with a bed, but we don't know how she got that.  One assumes that writing of these customs and rituals has left her permanently shunned, yet she does not mention the aftermath at all. (On her blog she writes of death threats from her grandparents.)

At the end she does spend a great deal of time discussing how much she values her freedom and how much she loves making her own decisions.  I assume that the above questions may be answered in her next book, which is due out in 2013.

Still, it is a lovely story, full of surprises and honesty and insight.  I loved it all and await the next chapter. It works well like the Jeannette Walls memoir Glass Castles.  Get it from the library or your local bookstore. There may be a wait at the library.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What books would you buy?

When I was a child my parents would remind us, "Don't forget to talk to strangers." How could we be helped if we got lost, or were hurt? And how else could we be citizens of the world? Our millions of intricate moves may be as direct and simple as making songs and learning from strangers.  ~ Kim Stafford

A good friend tuned me in to a slim book book by poet Kim Stafford.  The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's Craft spoke to me on many levels.  There were a million passages to quote and use and copy in my work with women and storytelling.  It is a useful book that promotes at its core--listening for words and stories and life.  There were many chapters and ideas that took my writer's breath away. I feel certain I will return to it.

The punchline is that it is a library book, and I cannot write in (or for that matter keep) a library book.  Do you? Written in 2003, it is largely unavailable except on Amazon. I am certain to place an order for this book so that I can remind myself how to be a good listener of the muse that brings us story.

The various essays include writing exercises, stories about the writer's life (including a magical moment where Dick Cheney is the poet's muse), advice about how to listen and find story in everything, and a chapter on where to write.  (We devote a lot of conversation about ideal locations and conditions for writing in my writer's group.) He addresses fiction, non fiction and everything in between.  It felt like the most random, yet eloquent and useful how to write book that I have ever come across.

You'll need to order this one on Amazon as well unless you are lucky enough to have it at your local library.

If you want to begin your writing practice in this new year--I recommend starting here.