Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Weekend Writer: We Need To Constantly Be Educating Ourselves

Earlier this month, Jane Friedman's blog carried a post by Brooke Warner, publisher of SheWritesPress and SparkPress called We All Need To Be Defended Against Predatory Publishing Practices. In it, she describes what to look for in hybrid publishers versus companies that are trying to simply sell what I think of as printing services. Both types of company involve authors putting up some money. But a legitimate hybrid should have standards regarding what they accept for publication and offer distribution/marketing. A company that calls itself a publisher but doesn't do those two thinks is, as I said, pretty much just a printer that hands you back a product that you then wonder what to do with.

I have at least two acquaintances who have published with SheWritesPress. I can't speak about their experiences, but I can tell you I saw one of their books on a display table in a very nice independent bookstore in Michigan a few years ago. Since the author was in Massachusetts, my guess is that that placement was something the publisher had a hand in.

This whole thing reminded me of why I started the Weekend Writer feature of this blog back in 2013. As part of my 20th anniversary observance, I'm going to reprint the original post explaining what upset me enough to start adding material specifically for writers to the blog. Notice that my plan was to do Weekend Writer posts on Saturdays. That was before I realized that I am chaos. I'm happy to get one up anywhere during a 48-hour weekend.

Saturday, February 16, 2013 Introducing The Weekend Writer

I have written about writing process here, but usually I'm whining. I've frequently written about plotting. I've written about publishing and e-publishing. But I've never been one of those writers who actually writes Advice for Writers or maintains that kind of information at her website. For one thing, reading about writing can be boring as Hell, and I wasn't confident that I could do anything about that problem. For another, many writers are already doing that at their websites, and I had no reason to believe I could do it any better. For still another, I've never thought that I have all that much to offer. And, finally, I thought this blog is probably read mostly by other writers, litbloggers, and my computer guy, none of whom are looking for writing advice.

However, earlier this week a friend from long ago contacted me to, indeed, ask for some publishing advice. She had written a story, found a publisher on-line, and contacted it, evidently giving someone there her telephone number. This was a self-publishing company with a "Not Recommended" rating at Preditors & Editors. What sounds like a salesperson called her, offering her a deal if she signed a contract by the end of the week. After that, the price would go up several hundred dollars. She was considering borrowing money to take advantage of the offer.

I am still upset about this.

There are so many people out in the world who want to be writers and have no idea how to even begin. Writing words on a piece of paper is the least of it. There's the whole issue of how to write and what is good writing and how do you know if you're even approaching good? Publishing is a whole other thing that should come long down the road.

Writing is becoming very professionalized. That's not a bad thing. Studying/training in your field in order to learn all the things discussed in the last paragraph--a very, very good thing, in fact. But I don't think a lot of people outside the writing world realize that you ought to actually know something and go out and learn it before you even try to publish whatever it is you think you've written. Some people would argue that a lot of people within the writing world don't know it. But one of the issues with training for a life as a writer is how? Must you go to college and graduate school? Can you get what you need from reading books? Going to conferences?

And a lot of the training is expensive. Going to college and, possibly, getting an MFA, for those who do it, costs some serious change. Conferences, retreats, workshops, professional memberships--not cheap. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that I come from a rural, poor background. The idea that a writing career could be out of the reach of people like myself because of its cost, just as so many other careers are, is disturbing for me.

I'm not one of those all-dreams-can-come-true types. I'm a use-objectives-to-work-toward-goals type. That requires knowledge. Who can tell what a dream requires?

I still think I probably have limited help to offer and there are probably few inexperienced writers reading this blog. Nonetheless, I'm going to try to become a little more organized with my process and publishing posts, focusing them on Saturdays so that someone interested in just that type of information can stop by here one day of the week to get it. A lot of these posts will involve links to other writers and bloggers who are writing for writers, so that I can, at a minimum, direct readers to help. I may try to get other writers to add information in the comments. I may try to find a way to organize The Weekend Writer posts so that readers  can find them all easily in one spot. I may try to get Computer Guy to make me a The Weekend Writer button.

Yeah. I'd like a button.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: The Postcard Form As A Way Of Thinking About Managing Writing Time

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to take a workshop through the Off Campus Writers' Workshop called The Postcard: An Introduction To Writing Masterfully Short Essays And Fiction. The postcard literary form is a type of flash fiction, often described as being no more than 500 words. However, the workshop leader, Micah Fields, said something I thought could be applied to any kind of writing.

He said writers often think of their writing sessions as being part of something longer, something big. They can be setting themselves up for failure. Not completing whatever big thing they had in mind is...well, at least some form of failure.

But with postcard writing, you're thinking small. Instead of one big success, assuming you get to the end of that big thing I mentioned in the last paragraph, you can have many small successes. And perhaps they can all be pieced together into something big.

Small Units Of Time Vs. Small Pieces Of Work

I've often written here about taking advantage of small 90-minute, 45-minute, and even 20-minute units of time when we just don't have a week, a weekend, or even a full-day to work. 

But I've said less, if anything at all, about breaking big work into small work. Not just chapters and scenes, but really small pieces. Like dialogue and descriptions and transitions. Try making those part of your planning, especially during periods when writing time is hard to come by, and see how much you're able to get done.

Thinking Small

I'm interested in postcard writing and flash for the sake of those forms. But thinking about writing small could mean getting to something big, too.  

Thursday, May 05, 2022

New Humor Writing. You Thinking Of Joining A Church? Let Me Help You With That.

Anna Earl @ Unsplash
I have a new humor piece up at The Haven. Your Guide To Finding The Perfect Church: By a regular church goer will not help you in your search for spiritual guidance, unless you are fond of coffee. Which, by the way, I am not. But I did run the coffee hour at our church for several months during a two-year period. Gail running coffee hour was not a draw.

This is an interesting piece, because it began life twenty years ago as an essay written for the one graduate course I've taken. It was not a humor piece but a wry, David Sedaris-type essay, with very little about coffee. Well, maybe this is interesting if you're a writer. A writer who writes both essays and humor.

If I ever become an accomplished humor writer, I might use this humor piece and the original essay as some kind of model to explain the difference between the two types of writing. I don't expect that to be happening any time soon. But I can wait.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Remember Podcasts In The Kitchen?

Recently I read an article on the popularity of podcasts. It reminded me that I listened to them back, it appears, in 2016. I listened to podcasts while I was binge cooking on weekends. I eventually got tired of them.

  • I wasn't interested in just sitting and listening to a podcast, and it was difficult to concentrate on them while doing something else. For instance, baking for three hours.
  • I also found a lot of them back then more interesting in concept than in execution. 
  • Hosts often thought they could say anything and it would be entertaining. They were wrong.
Dipping into the archives, I found 10 podcast and cooking posts over a year period from November 1, 2015 through October 16, 2016. As part of my 20th anniversary observance, I'm rerunning one that pretty much expresses what happened for me with podcasts. It discusses a podcast I liked and that still exists. (Not all the podcasts I listened to back then do. Hmm. Do they come and go like blogs?) 

At the end of the post, you'll see a reference to a blog called Beth Fish Reads and a round-up of cooking posts from other bloggers she did called Weekend Cooking. Beth Fish Reads still exists, focusing on food-related books and cooking. The Weekend Cooking round-up is now hosted at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. The Children's War, which I also mention at the end of this post, also still exists.  

Today is Saturday. I do have some cooking to do. I'll try listening to The Memory Palace to see how that goes these days.

Sunday, May 22, 2016 Another Cooking Binge, Another Podcast: "The Memory Palace"

Podcasts Losing Their Attraction For Me

Last week I was just about ready to throw in the towel with podcasts. I'd been interested in listening to them while working in the kitchen as a way to take in work-related material while doing an unnecessary creative act. I did pick up some good information, particularly on content marketing, but I was trying and discarding a lot of podcasts. Things I liked the first time I listened to them got old fast when I tried them again. When pods involved more than one personality, the ratio of chitchat to important content was often pretty high. I guess you can tell you're an introvert when you can't even take listening to others having a good time.

Big Cooking Binge
But I really like something going on sound-wise when I'm working in the house. Music is a definite option. Nonetheless, last weekend, I was embarking on a big cooking binge and thought I'd take another quick look on-line. Somehow, I stumbled upon The Memory Palace.

All About The Story

The Memory Palace's creator, Nate DiMeo, describes his podcast as "a storytelling podcast and public radio segment about the past." He takes isolated historical events and creates a written narrative about them. If you go back to the early days of the podcast, the story is often just an account of something that happened. But eventually his pieces began to include something on the event's significance. For instance, in his story about nineteenth century singer Jenny Lind, he talks about a major difference between her time and ours. In her day, before sound could be recorded, before recording sound was even thought of, you could only hear music during a performance. In many cases, you would never have another opportunity to hear a singer. Did people even give that a thought? Or was it just a normal part of life?

The significance part of these stories is important. History isn't just a list of facts. It means something. And in terms of The Memory Palace being a storytelling podcast, meaning is huge. Many times without including an understanding of a real event, all a storyteller/writer is doing is passing on a list of things that happened. What does it all mean, Mr. Natural? brings a piece of writing to another level.

Another thing that's neat about these podcasts is they're short. So far, I don't think I've listened to one that's more than fifteen minutes. DiMeo is "interested in keeping things small because I was interested in the smallness of those things" (the historical "moments" he finds) "and the way they added up to a larger picture."

These short podcasts are like flash nonfiction. They are intense and complete. They give listeners an opportunity to see how someone finds meaning in an event in  a quick, concise way. They have the potential, I think, to become a painless model for looking for and finding stories.

Hope I still like them in a few weeks.

I heard about Weekend Cooking through blogging buddy Alex Waugh of The Children's War.  I most definitely cook on the weekend, and it is often somehow connected to writing or reading, as is most things in my life. So this weekend I am taking my first shot at joining the weekend cook/book people at Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Maybe It's Not Them, It's Me

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication Date: May 10, 2022

By the time I read my NetGalley ARC of Dear Friends by Lisa Greenwald, I'd forgotten how I found out about it or why I was interested. That kind of thing happens to me rather frequently and often leads to some very positive reading experiences. This was one of them.

Dear Friends begins with protagonist Leni confronting friend problems. She is really, really into best friends and when things go awry with her summer best friend as well as her all around best friend, she is shaken. My first thought was, Oh, this is going to be another one of those books about learning how to accept that relationships change. So true, so true, but I feel I've read enough of those.

But, no! As Leni starts to think about these situations, she realizes that a number of her friends are, indeed, former friends. Is this a pattern? What is going on here? So she sets out to investigate these former relationships and try to determine what happened. 

Leni is a bit of a girly girl, interested in traditional girl friendship things, and I could have found her difficult to take as a character. However, her recognition that looking at her past relationships and contacting former friends could have a positive impact on her future gave her depth and made her a much more sophisticated character.

Some might argue that the book becomes a little teachy with what Leni realizes a person, herself included, needs to do in order to be a good friend. However, what she learns and expresses is valuable and a little different from other friend books I've read, which are often about avoiding toxic relationshiops. In this case, Leni is coming to terms with the idea that maybe it isn't her friends, it's her. 

The book certainly made this adult reader dwell a little bit on whether or not she's making time for other people. Not enough to do anything about it, but still.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Chaos Involving Time, Place, And Money

Last week's TMT post was about my  favorite subject recently, writing in chaos, becoming one with the chaos. While writing it, I was reminded of an article I read a few months ago at Literary HubThe Heartbreaking Ingenuity of the Mother-Writer by Olivia Campbell.

Campbell is writing about women who are actually working as writers while functioning as the primary caregiver for children, not women who get most of their income from other jobs. Caregiving is just plain chaotic, and these women are writing while living with the chaos. They end up having to do what we've talked about here many times. They use small pieces of time to write, because the demands of their lives are such that they don't have big chunks to work with. While it would be terrific to have a month, a week, a weekend or even half a day to write, you can also write with little units of time spread over a long period.

Campbell's mother-writers deal with another level of chaos, of course, in that they often can't work in the same place all the time. It's not unusual for them to have to move around, writing in cars or at child events or in odd spots in their own homes. 

Time is one thing, place is another. Using whatever 20-minute, 45-minute, 90-minute unit of time you can grab when you can sit down at the same desk each time you grab it is very different from using those same amounts of time while in a room with people watching TV or at the lake while someone's having a swimming lesson. I can remember bringing some pages with me to a nursing home to revise and some reading with me when I was going to help out with some childcare in someone else's home. I ended up bringing it all back to my place. Years ago, before the splendor of the iPhone that is in my pocket right now, I bought a small tape recorder to carry with me in the car, so I could record ideas and plans for projects I was working on. I used it a couple of times and think I threw it away this past year.

I'm not touching the whole place thing here at OC

I Will Touch Money, Though

One of the things Campbell writes about is the fantasy that writers, particularly men, work in seclusion at big desks. I am going to argue that if this exists anywhere it is probably just for the most successful writers, male or female. The situation you see for Tom in Home Economics, who I think in one episode was working at a desk in a room with a crib, is probably much more the case for the majority of writers. 

Success and the money it brings is where things become tricky for writers, particularly mother-writers. As Campbell pointed out in an example from her own life, you need a certain amount of writing income to pay for child care so you have more time to write more so you can make more money. This becomes even more frustrating since writers have to spend an enormous amount of time on work that may never generate any income at all. Some of us are giving a lot of work away trying to develop a reputation that editors and publishers will be interested in, which could generate income in the future but there's nothing there to pay for childcare now.

Virginia Woolf is often quoted as saying that in order to write, women need a room of their own. But she didn't just say they needed a room of their own. She said they needed a room of their own and five hundred pounds a year. 

It's the lack of money--from either writing income or family--that has such an impact on mother-writers. It's what leaves them in chaos and working with little units of time.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: The Chaos Theory Of Time Management

I think from now on the bulk of my time management efforts are going to revolve around living with chaos. We are all a moment away from a time-consuming crisis, another illness (our own or someone else's), a breakdown, or storm damage; we are all a moment away from having today, tomorrow, or most of this week--hell, most of next month--totally consumed with something unrelated to what we had planned. 

You can be broken by chaos or you can roll with it. I'm still working on rolling with it.

A Case Study Using Set Aside Time, The Unit System, And Beginning Again

The case study, of course, involves me, as so many of my case studies do. For the past two months, I've been functioning as back up child care during a period involving a change in school schedules as well as one of those family illnesses that circulates around a couple of weeks and takes the regular child care provider out of commission, as well. 

Set-aside Time. My first step in dealing with this was to treat the period while I was going to be doing this particular part-time job as a set-aside time, like the May Days program I do with a Facebook group or National Novel Writing Month, when people set-aside the month of November to try to write the first draft of a book. During the time I was going to be committing a lot of time to family assistance, I would shift how I work. I wouldn't try to complete any particular work task. Instead, I would try to do something every day. 

This period started at the beginning of March, the beginning of a month, and the beginning of a time period is significant. It's easy to feel excited about starting something new then. 

Unit System. The second step in dealing with this situation was to accept that I didn't need huge periods of time in order to do something. I didn't need the whole month, a whole week, a retreat, a weekend, a day. In fact, there's a great deal of evidence that working over long periods of time actually decreases the quality of work. That's the argument for breaking your time into units or segments. 

The point being, having only a short period of time to work most days isn't a reason to give into the what-the-hell effect . Do something. Do anything.

During the month of March, I maintained a folder in my word processing program and every day I had to put something into that I had done. It could be reading a NetGalley ARC, which will become a blog post here. It could be working on one of several humor pieces I have in progress. It could be research. It could be working on a chapter.

Working like that during the month of March I was able to get a chapter started in the never-ending book I'm working on, finish revising a humorous essay into a humor piece, format it, and submit it, revise a story from years back and submit that, and submit a manuscript to an agent. 

It wasn't orderly, but I did something and moved forward. All the submissions have already been rejected, but one was a good rejection. A great rejection with feedback and the offer to look at a revision. This is a very positive outcome, and it came during a period when I wasn't working at my best.

Unfortunately, the end of time periods are just as important as the beginnings. When the end of March came, I couldn't maintain that daily work load, as minor as it was, because my set-aside time was over. Done.

Begin Again. And that is when beginning again comes into play. The end is in sight with the childcare situation. Gail shouldn't be twisting little minds much longer. I have a couple of days this week to get back on my feet and prepare for my more normal schedule next week. And then after that comes this year's May Days Facebook initiative, which I've found helpful for dealing with chaos in the past. What happened in March and most of April is in the past. It's behind me. I am beginning again.

Now, of course, that's only one possible future timeline, because remember my first paragraph--we are one call or text from chaos. But if I don't begin again next week, I'll try to use the May Days program to get back on task with a daily writing chore. That's a plan! 

Either way, I will begin again. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Julia Child Is Everywhere This Spring

Julia Child is having a moment, due to the pretty terrific Julia showing on HBO Max right now.

It looks like pie, but it's cake!
Speaking of which, for Easter I made a gluten free version of the Queen of Sheba cake she makes in the first episode. Except for the no gluten and baking it in a pie plate instead of a spring form pan and using vegan margarine instead of butter, it was just like Julia's.

And speaking of Julia Child, over the last couple of weeks while watching the show about her, which has inspired many, many articles on-line, many of which I have read, I have been thinking about a lovely 2012 picture book by Susanna Reich about Child's cat, Minette. So, as part of my Original Content anniversary observance, I am republishing my post about it. It appears to be available as an e-book. I believe I still have my hard copy.

Friday, May 04, 2012 Blog Tour: "Minette's Feast" As Creative Nonfiction

If you're looking for Day Five of the Minette's Feast Blog Tour, you're in the right spot.

Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates,  is a lovely picture book with a Parisian setting and a charming story. A woman living in Paris and studying French cuisine adopts a cat, Minette, that far prefers the results of her own food prep—hunting for birds and mice—to the cassouletssouffl├ęs, and pates her owner makes. She is finally won over, at least temporarily, by the leftovers from a dish that had taken three days to marinate.

The descriptions and illustrations of home, cooking, and food, food, food give Minette’s Feast the potential to become a comfort book, so it doesn’t matter that many young readers won’t know who the woman referred to in the book’s subtitle —“The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat”—is. Furthermore, Minette holds her own as a character. She does, after all, turn up her nose at meals prepared by a student at “Le Cordon Bleu, the famous cooking school.” Whether or not she will be won over to fine human food provides the narrative drive for this sweet piece of creative nonfiction.

That is what Minette’s Feast seems to be to me—creative nonfiction for kids. Creative nonfiction, as I first saw it defined years ago, is nonfiction that reads like fiction. It is written using  “elements borrowed from fiction to tell true stories,” as nonfiction children’s writer Melissa Stewart wrote earlier this year.  Descriptive language (“Julia and Paul were charmed by Minette’s delicate whiskers, her superior nose, and her quick little paws.”), dialogue (“Une maison sans chat, c’est la vie sans soleil!”), and the use of scenes (“And every time they went out for a walk, they enjoyed a fine, fine meal. They nibbled croissants in cafes where cats curled on chairs…”) are all examples of writing elements usually associated with fiction that a writer of creative nonfiction may choose to use.

In fact, in Lee Gutkind's collection of essays by writers of creative nonfiction, Keep It Real, scenes are described as the building blocks of creative nonfiction. They then need to be placed in some kind of order, or frame. In the case of Minette's Feast, Susannah Reich uses a traditional story frame to organize her scenes. A story is an account or retelling of something that happened told in a way that expresses meaning. That's why a beginning, middle, and end are so important to stories. We see the world of the story in the beginning, then a change or disturbance to that world in the middle, and the result of that change or disturbance in the end. We see what happenedMinette's Feast does read like a story--it's an account with a beginning, middle, and end of something that happened to Julia Child or to her cat, depending on which character you prefer to see as the protagonist. We also understand its meaning. This cat wouldn't eat Julia Child's cooking, for crying out loud!

Complete little stories turn up in all our lives (the story of how our parents met, the story of how we wrecked our new bikes, the story of how we came to settle into a career), but they aren’t always easily recognizable. And they don’t necessarily have any great significance or meaning beyond what happened to us. Creative nonfiction writers who choose to use a story frame have to recognize the potential for story while they are doing their research.  In her author’s note to Minette’s Feast, Susanna tells of having wanted to write about Julia Child for children “but I could never figure out how to make the story interesting to children.” She read Child’s memoir, My Life in France, “and discovered Minette, who inspired Julia’s lifelong love of cats. As a cat lover myself, I knew I had finally found my story.” 

Susannah’s story was actually Julia and Minette’s story. Through the use of creative nonfiction techniques, Susannah turned it into Minette’s Feast.

The Minette's Feast Blog Tour continues on Sunday at Great Kid Books. The earlier tour stops were:


Books Together

Tales from the Rushmore Kid

The Fourth Musketeer

After Sunday, the tour continues on Monday at Shelf-employed and Tuesday at ReaderKidZ 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Environmental Book Club

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication Date: May 3, 2022

A World Full of Nature Stories 50 Folktales and Legends  by Angela McAllister with illustrations by Hannah Bess Ross is a lovely collection of folktales and legends from around the world that, as the title says, feature nature. They are often creation stories relating to some natural feature or event. Arguably they are not nature stories so much as they are stories trying to explain nature from the standpoint of people who had no understanding of natural science. 

What makes them attractive for American readers, in particular, is that many of them are unfamiliar to us. They are new and novel. At the same time, though, it appears that foolish kings and jealous, nasty siblings are common all over the world, as are the rewards of good character.

As a child, I was a fan of a couple of books of short pieces to be read over a long period of time. For that reason, I can see A World Full of Nature Stories getting a lot of use in a home library. Elementary and middle school librarians in schools with units on folk tales and legends or foreign countries should really consider this, too. 

I read an e-arc but what I saw suggests that, in addition to its fine content, this is a beautiful looking book.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Some Virtual Opportunities For April

Books of Wonder still has a great many virtual author visits scheduled. Other bookstores, not so much. There's a definite shift back to live visits, which may be good for host bookstores. Readers attending virtual author talks may be buying their books anywhere or not at all. But when the end of virtual opportunities arrives, as it probably will, it will make the world seem smaller for readers, with fewer opportunities.

As usual, if I stumble upon anymore appearances this month, I'll post them here.

April 9 Carrie Tillotson and Estrela Lourenco, The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, Acton, Massachusetts 11:00 AM ET

April 19 Zibby Owens, Kerry Docherty, Karyn Parsons, Holly Hatam, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut 7:00 PM ET

April 25 Brady Smith, Blue Willow Bookshop, West Houston, Texas 5:00 PM CT

April 26 Cameron Chittock and Amanda Castillo, The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, Acton, Massachusetts 7:00 PM ET

Thursday, March 31, 2022

A Book That I Do Recall Reading

Here is the last of the three reposts from 2008 about Pierre Bayard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read. I know you've been waiting for it.

You'll  note in this post that I saw Bayard writes that we're going to forget a lot that we read. Vrai, vrai. The interesting thing about How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is that I haven't forgotten it. I don't recall every word, of course. Reading these posts was a nice refresher. But the book, itself, and Bayard's point about how we often have knowledge of books we haven't read because of the significance of the books for our culture has definitely stuck with me.

Friday, June 27, 2008 In Which We Talk About Different Ways Of Not Reading

Pierre Bayard describes in How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read four ways of not reading books:

Books You Don't Know: I don't recall a whole lot about this section. At this point, I was still wondering if Bayard was joking.

Books You Have Skimmed: I have to admit, I've had to do this many times. There are a lot of books out there that I feel I should be familiar with but find really dreadful. So once I decide that I'm too old to be wasting valuable hours of my life reading this dribble, I start skimming so that I have a feel for the work. Seriously, I think it's much better to have a feel for a book then to have no knowledge of it at all. As it turns out, Bayard agrees with me.

Books You Have Heard Of: Reading reviews, articles, and blog posts about books can give you a handle on the books' place in the booky scheme of things, or the collective library, as Bayard calls it.

Books You Have Forgotten: Sadly, we're going to forget a lot of what we read.

You know the way of not reading that Bayard doesn't cover in his book? Books you have read and not understood. Sophie's World comes immediately to my mind. Perhaps Bayard, being a French intellectual and all, has never experienced this kind of not reading.

Monday, March 28, 2022

How Does A Book Relate To The Rest Of The World?

Below is part-two of the three-part arc from 2008 on Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read that I'm republishing during my twentieth anniversary year. 

If I had all the time in the world, I'd read Bayard's book Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? The Mystery Behind the Agatha Christie Mystery I don't mean to brag, but I recall figuring out who the killer was in that book by the time I got to page three. And that was before I learned why the book is famous.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 In Which We Talk About Our Collective Library

When Pierre Bayard talks about
 not reading, he's not talking about reading in the sense of an enjoyable experience, becoming one with a character, or any of that good stuff. He's talking about acquiring knowledge about how a book relates to the rest of the world. 

Societies, Bayard suggests, maintain what he calls a "collective library," meaning a virtual collection of books that the culture is familiar with. (You know, the way most Americans are familiar with characters from The Wizard of Oz without having read the book or maybe even having seen the movie.) One of his points is that sometimes a book is more significant for its relationship to other books in the collective library than it is for its own content. If individuals understand or at least know about the book's significance, they can talk about the book in that way. And it would be very legitimate for them to do so. 

Imagine, if you will, that it is the year 2057. A turn-of-the-century series of children's books about a kid named Harry Potter is oh, so yesterday. No one reads them, but everyone knows about Harry because of all kinds of literary references, movie references, maybe some song references. Harry Potter, though not read, is part of the collective library.

Say you are a graduate student in the year 2057, and you wouldn't read any of the Harry Potter books on a bet. But you are aware that the appearance of Harry Potter in the 1990s brought masses of adult readers to children's literature, encouraged serial novels, knocked problem novels off their pedestal in kidlit, and popularized fantasy. Knowing the significance of the series in relation to other books is arguably as important as anything in the books and certainly gives you something to discuss if Harry P. comes up when you're trapped in your advisor's office. In fact, there are probably many books we should know something about even if we haven't read them.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Book About Reading I Did Like

My last dip into the Original Content archive resulted in a repost on a book about reading that I really didn't enjoy reading. Today, as part of my continuing observance of my blog's twentieth anniversary, I'm starting republishing a three-post arc from 2008 on  Pierre Bayard's How ToTalk About Books You Haven't Read. This was a book on reading that I did like.

Once again, there are some dead links in the following post. There are live ones in the above paragraph.

Monday, June 23, 2008 In Which We Begin To Talk About A Book We've Read

Pierre Bayard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read isn't really about faking itAu contraire. It's very much about reading. In fact, it's a far more interesting and heartfelt discussion of reading than the "classic" How to Read a Book, which I'm guessing has destroyed the will to read in generations of Americans.

Bayard's tone is often slightly tongue-in-cheek, particularly in the early chapters. In fact, for a while I wondered if he was making up a couple of the authorities he cited early on. But, no, there really was a Robert Musil and a Paul Valery. And I've just admitted I'd never heard of them. Yikes.

But I am talking about them.

One of the many interesting things about this book called How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read is that each chapter includes a discussion of an author or a work that Bayard, if all his footnotes are to be believed, has read. All the books he discusses, either nonfiction or fiction, included a discussion of avoiding reading or a character who is in some kind of situation in which he can be said to have to talk about books he hasn't read. Bayard does more than use this material to support his own arguments. He makes these books sound interesting.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

How To Read....ZZZZZZZZZ

I recently read an article I can no longer find about reading. It mentioned a book on reading that I recall burning. I also did a blog post about it. As part of my blog anniversary observance, I'm going to republish that post. Later, I'll rerun some on a book about reading that I liked much better. 

I'm aware that a couple of the links in this post go nowhere. It's fourteen years old. What can we expect?

Sunday, June o4, 2006 I Give Up

I have been broken.

Last summer I began reading How to Read a Book, The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. I've read 238 of its 346 pages (not counting the reading list and exercises and tests at the end). I've decided to throw in the towel because life is just too short.

Clearly, intelligent reading is beyond me.

One of the things the authors suggest readers do is write in their books. I'm totally with them there. In the front of my copy of How to Read a Book I wrote out the fifteen (that's 15) steps to reading a book. In addition, I wrote out the four questions to ask about a book, the four ways to look at words, and the four ways to look at facts. (My notes also say these are also the four aspects of encyclopdias.) The last 100 pages must have had more lists, but since I can't remember the ones I wrote down it seems unlikely that I would have gained anything from reading and writing down the rest of them.

I found How to Read a Book repetitive. It also used long analogies that increased the verbiage.

Quite honestly, I only remember those points because I wrote them down along with all my lists.

How to Read a Book was originally written in 1940 and the last copyright date is 1972. It's very dated, and not just because the authors keep referring to readers as "men."

My own faithful readers (the ones who are still with me since yesterday) will recall that I just wrote about the large number of books being published today. Far, far, more books are being published now then when How to Read a Book was being written or even when it was being revised. While many of the individual steps Adler and Van Doren suggest are worthwhile, it just isn't practical for readers to keep a couple of dozen tasks in mind while trying to keep up with today's load of reading.

At one point, Adler and Van Doren suggest which steps to keep in mind while reading a book for the first time. Other steps are saved for subsequent readings.

Subsequent readings????

Okay, sure, researchers planning to write a scholarly work better read their texts more than once. But the rest of us? Let's face facts. It's just not going to happen.

It's very possible that I could use some advice on how to read a book. I couldn't get through this one, after all. But I need that advice to be readable and practical and relevant to the situation I find myself in--"so many books and so little time." That appears to be a much different situation from the one that existed when Adler and Van Doren were writing their book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Uni The Unicorn Is A Thing

Once again, my writers' group colleagues are being all creative. At Christmas one of them made several pocket pillows for children in her family. Basically, they are pillows with a pocket for carrying things, primarily books. I thought, Hey, I can do that. I should be able to do that. Can I do that? 

It turns out, I can. In two and a half months, I've made one pocket pillow, purchased three more pillow forms, and material for one more pillow. If you do the math, you might be able to figure out that I plan to make four pillows. And I want to have them done by the end of the summer. That's another five and a half months. In two and a half months, I've only made one. If you do the math, well...don't.

Why Are You Telling Us About This, Gail? Oh! A Book Connection!

Anyway, the first pillow was for a very young woman who is  fond of unicorns. Being an extremely open-minded person who doesn't impose her will on others, I went looking on-line for unicorn fabric instead of using some of the little girl scientist fabric I'd bought just to have on hand, for sewing emergencies, I guess. I found some material at my go-to-fabric spot, and it was called Uni the Unicorn. What's more, the site had other Uni the Unicorn fabric that coordinated with the first item I wanted. So I bought a yard of three different types.

Thus I knew I was buying Uni the Unicorn material, I just didn't know what it meant until I was pressing it after washing it. (Always wash your material before sewing, people.) That's when I noticed that the border was stamped with a 2020 copyright "Estate of Amy Krouse Rosenthal Art/Illustrations c 2020 Brigette Barrager" Also "Published by Random House Children's Books."

Well, it didn't take much sleuthing to find that Uni the Unicorn is a character in  a series of books written by the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Brigette Barrager 

I got very excited when I found out about this, because that meant my pocket pillow was going in my blog!

The Results

The pocket pillow wasn't that difficult or time-consuming to make, once I had a Saturday to do it. Finding the material, the pillow form, and iron-on interfacing actually took more effort.

I'm including two books with each of these pillow gifts. For this one I chose A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni, because I'd read it with another family member and liked it.

I also took a look at the first Uni the Unicorn book. Though I'm not a fan of those fantasy creatures, this story had a twist I liked, so that book will be part of this gift, as well.

I have the material for the next pillow (theme--cats) and am still looking for rainbow material for the third one. Don't have a clue what the fourth pillow theme will be.

If it's related to a book, you'll hear about it.

Monday, March 14, 2022

An Incredible YA Historical Novel

I finished reading A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia a week or two ago. Williams-Garcia is the author of a number of books for young people, but the one I'm familiar with is One Crazy Summer, which I described as "fantastic." A Sitting in St. James and One Crazy Summer are very different, though. One Crazy Summer is middle grade historical fiction set in California in 1968. A Sitting in St. James is YA historical fiction set in the antebellum south with mature content and a sophisticated writing style that never lets the reader go. One Crazy Summer I recall including humor. A Sitting in St. James has some dry humor but at a couple of points while reading it early on I remember thinking, This is a horror story. Though it's the kind of horror that's real. 

As I said, A Sitting in St. James is YA, and it does involve three main YA characters, one the son of the owner of a down-at-the-heels plantation, one his enslaved, and acknowledged, half sister, and one the slave who serves the plantation's elderly matriarch. How they will live their lives, either within the family/plantation or by separating from it, is a classic YA situation. 

However, there are two adult characters in this book who have an impact on all around them, and they are hugely important. Sylvie, the elderly wife of the original plantation owner, is obsessed with her past in France, when she knew the royal family. Her son, Lucien, is pretty much a monster. And, yet, what an amazing character. A monsterish character,

Some interesting points:

  • No one is happy here, slave owner or slave. You'd think that the horrible things Sylvie and Lucien do would support lives that give them satisfaction, because, otherwise, why do them? But, no, they are both miserable. Which, perhaps, may be the point. They're miserable and spread the misery.
  • The attitude of the white characters toward the black goes beyond thought or logic. It just is. A gay character, whose life would be ruined if he's found out, might be expected to feel some compassion for others who live under repression. Nope. Doesn't have a clue. The lovely young  woman who is just a beacon of goodness knows how to put a black woman in her place and does so.
  • White children grow up with their fathers' black children. They're aware they are half-siblings and grow up as half-siblings. They think nothing of the fact that their half-siblings are slaves and they're not. Or that their fathers cheated on their mothers. Or that their fathers, in all likelihood, raped their half-siblings' mothers. 
  • Williams-Garcia shifts point of view in this book, without the cliched YA device of making different chapters from different points of view with the POV character's name on the first page to make sure everyone understands what's happening. This is something that I haven't seen a lot of in the last few decades, and I thought it was even discouraged in the publishing world. It works very well here. (Everina Maxwell does it in Winter's Orbit, too. Striking to have seen it twice recently in such different books.)
Williams-Garcia has created an incredible, justifiably disturbing world in which she tells a mesmerizing story about a plantation family's downfall and its impact on the next generation. The Guilbert family crashes not because of the Civil War foreshadowed in A Sitting in St. James, but because of who they are.

This should be a terrific crossover book for adult readers.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

A Repost About Women's Work For Women's History Month


Well, I had hoped to generate some new material for Women's History Month, but that's not going to
to happen. So I decided this is the perfect time to do a little blog anniversary observance and reach into the archives for a post. Turns out, I've only been doing Women's History Month posts since 2017. I particularly like this one, in which I mention a favorite book and go on a favorite rant.

NOTE: The book giveaway mentioned in the original post is long over. I didn't edit out the first reference to it, because I wanted to keep the intro about Fancy Party Gowns and Ann Cole Lowe. 

And, yes, I am aware that today is also International Women's Day.

Wednesday, March 8 2017 Women's Work And A Book, Maybe For You

I have another copy of Fancy Party Gowns by Deborah Blumenthal with illustrations by Laura Freeman to give away, and I'm going to offer it in honor of Women's History MonthFancy Party Gowns is about Ann Cole Lowe, a mid-twentieth century African American dress designer who designed for wealthy white women. She was quite popular with them. Lowe has great significance in the history of her field.

Her field involves sewing, traditional women's work.

During Women's History Month I'm seeing all kinds of terrific material about women in science, the military, and technology. I'm seeing reports on women explorers and inventors.

 Ann Cole Lowe made clothes.

And that's very important in terms of women's history, because Lowe wasn't the only woman who sewed over these last few hundred and maybe thousand years. Yes, she sewed particularly well, but in terms of women's history, as I said, in my mind, she represents something. She represents traditional women's work. In a big, spectacular way.

The Significance of Traditional Women's Work

Women kept humanity going with the traditional work they did to keep families functioning, to keep family members alive. They still do.

When I was in college, I heard about a women's history library at what was then Radcliffe College. (The library is now the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.) There were thousands of cookbooks there. Twenty thousand, it turns out, a fifth of the collection's 100,000 books. My first response when I learned about this was to get all holier-than-thou college student. Who did those private college people think they were, pigeonholing women as cooks?
From my kitchen bookshelf

But somewhere along the line, I learned that cookbooks in days of old weren't just lists of ingredients and how to mix them together.  The American Frugal Housewife by Mrs. Child, originally published in 1832, describes how to corn meat and includes a section on "remedies." "A rind of pork bound upon a wound," for instance, will prevent the lock-jaw, in case you ever need to know that. Even a twentieth century cookbook like Good Housekeeping's Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries, originally published 1922,  includes a year's worth of menus, three per day, and a section of household tips.

Cookbooks used to describe how people lived. They described what women did in particular times. When I realized that, I became more interested in cooking, as women's work, and in women's work, in general.

Yes, historically women have been ignored for their work and contributions to NASA, paleontology, medical research, everything. But they've been ignored and even belittled for the work that was considered "their place," as well. How important was traditional women's work in, say, the American West or any frontier? I've read that the loss of a wife in those areas and times was a greater catastrophe than the loss of a husband. At least a woman with some money could hire a man to help with farm work. And, what's more, many women shared their husband's work on farms/ranches. They could at least milk a cow, take care of chickens and a garden and maybe do much more, if their husbands died.  But where was a man with children to raise, feed, dress, on top of his traditional work going to get help, if his wife died? What was the likelihood that a man could do much of women's work, the way many women could do theirs? We hear about mail-order wives; we don't hear about mail-order husbands.