Multiple Reading Personalities: What I Have Learned

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I read a lot. I read for many reasons, and many different types of materials. Sometimes I read things I have to read, but more often I read things I want to read. Yet, if you ask me the question … Continue reading

Book Endings

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There’s a trend to books lately that I find troublesome. We live in a world where series are king. For the world of publishing, the idea of producing one book that asks–or practically demands–further purchases from its fans as the … Continue reading

Reading Recommendations

For a short time as I ventured deeper into the world of writing, I thought I would write book reviews as a way of building a larger audience.

That didn’t last long for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important reason, in my opinion, is that reviews tend to either crush the breath out of someone or make their heads swell so much they stop trying to improve. Reviews don’t help, except when it comes to book sales.

Another reason, closely related to the “crush or swell” possibility, is the fact that I am actually starting to form relationships (virtual and in person) with many writers–all of whom have ventured into a scary and emotional journey. Many of them have decided to go the route of self-publishing, which is fraught with its own pitfalls and challenges. Who hasn’t read a book or two or a dozen that was published before it was ready, by an author who simply wanted to bypass a (sometimes much-needed) editorial process? This doesn’t mean all self-published authors are like this–but the true gems and fabulous works often get lost in a deluge of mediocrity. Sadly, some of that mediocre work has come from author’s whom I have established relationships with. Do I want to be the one that crushes their dreams when my own is in such a fragile state of impossibility? Not on your life.

As a theatre director I’ve received reviews, good and bad, sometimes for the same show. As is true to my self-doubting nature, I always tend to focus on the negative reviews. Why didn’t he get it? What could I have done? How could I fix it? Should I give up directing altogether? Yada, yada, yada. . . .

I Stand Before You Naked  directed by me at the University of Hawaii. One critic complained because the women didn't actually get naked--he completely missed the point.

I Stand Before You Naked directed by me at the University of Hawaii. One critic complained because the women didn’t actually get naked–he completely missed the point.

The thing about reviews is that it is just one person’s opinion. One person, who may not like the genre, or may be in a crappy mood. One person who might prefer writers who use short choppy sentences over languid flowing language. One person, who may always prefer dominating male characters over strong female characters. One person, who . . . well you get my point.

Everyone is an individual, with individual tastes.I can tell you what I like or dislike about a book, a play, or a movie but that doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to you. Case in point, a couple of weeks ago I took my daughter to see Epic, a movie which–for the most part–got bad reviews in terms of story but excellent reviews in terms of animation. Let’s just say those reviews weren’t written by ten-year-old girls, the audience that really counts.

“Can we  get the video?” she asked as we left the movie theatre–a question she reserves for movies she will watch over and over again.

While I do feel I have a critical eye for good writing, for what makes a story flow and character strong, I would prefer to use that eye in a constructive way. If asked, I’m happy to give feedback on drafts of things (and hey, maybe someday I could actually make a living doing that, who knows?). Giving constructive criticism to help strengthen a work so it can succeed feels much better than destroying a person’s dream when it’s already too late.

I no longer want to write reviews.

I enjoy recommending books to people. Books I loved for all kinds of reasons. Books that made me think even if I didn’t love them. Books I may not have enjoyed, but that suit another person’s taste. Books that I think everyone should read. And now, added to the list, books written by friends that deserve to see wide audiences. However, I prefer to recommend books to people because I know the people–I know what interests them and what they might like. I will give caveats if I found a book poorly written or something bothered me, but still recommend a book if I think the story or topic will interest someone.

There are a few people whose recommendations to me I trust completely. I will read anything they suggest. We don’t always agree on books, and we have some different interests when it comes to reading but I have implicit faith that their recommendations will be interesting, thoughtful, well-written, excellent storytelling and challenging in some way. What more could you ask for in a book?. What more could you ask for in a friend? One of these trustworthy souls (occasionally) blogs over at Schmidtty First Drafts and is a font of information about literature, pop culture and other fascinating things. If she suggests something, I take note.

All of this is a rather long-winded way of saying that I try to take recommendations seriously and will not just recommend any book without being sure it will appeal to the people who might ask for my opinion. It’s about respect . . . for my fellow writers as well as my fellow readers. Why should anyone trust my opinion if I know nothing about them and their reading interests/habits? Would I trust theirs?

With all that, I now want to recommend some books.

For Lovers of Mystery

Read Desired to Death by J. M. Maison, aka my blogging buddy, Julia Monroe Martin. This is a delightful summer read (actually any time you feel like a little mystery). Miss Marple meets Jessica Fletcher, meets modern woman facing a big change in her life as murder and mayhem make their way into her cozy little home in Maine. Julia is a fabulous writer and I truly enjoyed this book. The book description:

The empty nest can be murder! Just ask stay-at-home mom Maggie True whose daughter has just left for college—leaving Maggie with a burning question for her husband Joe: “Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

Never in her wildest dreams does small-town Maggie imagine the answer will come in the form of a middle-of-the-night call for help from an estranged friend who has just been arrested for the lurid murder of a much-younger lover: A.J. Traverso, AKA Tattoo Boy—a sexy kickboxing instructor who had captured the fancy of all the women in Halfway Bay, Maine.

But solving this mystery will be no walk in the dog park. For below the surface of her sleepy coastal town, resides a dark world of secret lusts and desires that Maggie has never imagined. And when an anonymous tip to the police suggests that happily-married Maggie was involved with A.J. Traverso, the investigation becomes more than just a curiosity. For Maggie True, the solution to the mystery of what to do with the rest of her life—and the identity of the cold-blooded killer—might be closer than she thinks…

For anyone who has ever faced a life transition and wondered “What next?” Desired to Death answers with an irresistible mix of suspense and intrigue, humor and heart.

For Lovers of Creepiness

 I have known Craig O’Connor for more  years than I care to count. (Let’s just say there are pictures of us in a high school musical production of Guys and Dolls). I didn’t know he would grow up to be a screenwriter and an author. He has begun sharing his book Memorial Tales (2012) in installments on his blog, and can I just say . . . creepy stuff! I love creepy stuff, but I only recommend this for those of you who enjoy a little trip to the dark side. Wander over and check it out.

 

 

For Lovers of YA

“1 Concert
2,000 Miles
3 Ex-Best Friends”

I took a workshop with Hilary Weisman Graham at the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in May, and bought her book then. This is a fun road trip/coming of age/friendship contemporary young adult novel. Graham also had an interesting approach to publicity for her own work, which involved creating a fake band and videos to go with the songs she wrote for the book. This is a fun read by a really interesting woman.

There you have it folks, some recommendations. Once in a while I may make more, once I get to know you better, of course. ;)

When do you recommend books? What kinds of books do you recommend? Do you pay attention to reviews?

The Power of Timeless Words

I just read an amazing book.

It contains words, as books usually do, and offers clarity that can speak to people from any generation, especially women but I think the lessons apply to both sexes. It contains poetry, imagery, honesty, insight, and peace.

While I bought the Kindle version, I wish I owned a hard copy. I want to write notes in pencil in the margin, dog ear pages, and read it over and over again. I know, some of you are wincing at the thought of the desecration of the pristine pages, but I don’t see it as that. I would see it as revisiting an old friend for advice, learning from its wisdom, and giving it the sheen of a well-loved treasure.

What is this book? Perhaps some of you are thinking I stumbled my way into reading the Bible. No, despite my many attempts at reading that story, I have never really found comfort in its pages or lost myself to the beauty of its verse (except a few sections here and there). I have never found wisdom from its messages. I could never really find myself in those pages

You would think that this book, written at a time when the traditional place for women was in the home (1955) would have very little to say to me as I struggle to find my place in the world. But the opposite is true, as this book exemplifies how little some things have changed, and how much we still have to learn. I find myself in almost every chapter, as she explores the challenges of relationships and the lessons of life learned as a woman, a mother, a wife, and a member of a community.

What is this amazing book, you ask? How did I find it? Well, at the wonderful meeting I attended the other day, I learned that this book, written by a Smithie, had been given to high school juniors as a book award. Dean Walters read a passage from it, as she began to talk:

“Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. How revolutionary that sounds and impossible of attainment. [. . . ]

[. . .] The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone.

[. . .] What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it–like a secret vice!” ( 42-43)

This passage, which I’ve shortened here, trilled to the person who wrote just a few days ago “The Art of Being Alone, Still Learning”.  I knew I had to read this marvelous book.

Why does this book speak to me so clearly? Because her writing and the metaphor she uses seems timeless. Because even though she was writing from a time and a place very different from ours, everything she says seems applicable today. Here are a few more passages of Lindbergh’s that I highlighted as I read:

“What is the shape of my life?

The shape of my life today starts with a  family. I have a husband, five children and a home just beyond the suburbs of New York. I have also a craft, writing, and therefore work I want to pursue. The shape of my life is, of course, determined by many other things; my background and childhood, my mind and its education, my conscience and its pressures, my hear and its desires. I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.

But I want first of all–in fact, as an end to these other desires–to be at peace with myself.”  (16-17)

“We must re-learn to be alone.
It is a difficult lesson to learn today–to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week.” (36)

Seashells.

“When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to.” (100) 

“A new consciousness of the dignity and rights of an individual, regardless of race, creed, class or sex. A new consciousness and questioning of  the materialistic values of the Western world. A new consciousness of our place in the universe, and a new awareness of the inter-relatedness of all life on our planet.” (128)

“For the enormous problems that face the world today, in both the private and public sphere, cannot be solved by women–or by men–alone. They can only be surmounted by men and women side by side.” (130)

 

I’ve said it before, words have power. The power of Lindbergh’s words lie in the fact that her word reach across time and difference to speak to the questions, concerns and challenges that we all face at different times in our lives. I would love to know that my words have that power, but for now all I can do is keep writing from the heart.

I finished a book today, and I am glad I did.

The History of My Life in Books

Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade, Newtown...

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Some friends and I recently signed up for http://www.shelfari.com/ a website dedicated to books. It was our chance to share our passion for reading, and to create a virtual book group for more reading and discussion.

This could be a good or bad thing. Good, because I will be able to have interesting discussions about books and discover new books to read. Bad, because I can already feel the pull of another technological addiction that will distract me from accomplishing other tasks.

However, I have begun my lists of books read, or books I hope to read. I have watched in amazement as my friends’ lists leap into the thousands. I know that I too have probably read that many books, but I have had trouble remembering what I’ve read or finding books. Plus I need more time to dedicate to plumping up my lists.

But how, I asked myself, do I recall every book I’ve ever read?

As I am sitting in the car on the endless drive back home, I’ve been pondering this question. A moment ago it hit me—the books I read tell the story of my life. All I need to do to find the titles is drift back into time and label the periods of my life. If I search through my interests at a given period, I will find all the books I’ve ever read.

There are the books I turn to for comfort. These include books I re-read almost every year, from a variety of genres. The list includes Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Austen, books by Maeve Binchy, and recently The Lord of the Rings among others. Some of the books in this list are ones that II read as a child and am now introducing to my daughter, or books that she is introducing to me.

There are the books that represent my academic degrees and my love of learning. The topics under this section cover numerous fields: English Literature, Western Theater, Japanese theater, Non-Western Theater children’s theater, puppetry and a smattering of history, sociology, psychology, humanities and theory. This collection includes books that I picked up out of interest, or because I read something that intrigued me.

There are the books that represent my desire to write, ranging from how to writing books, books on creativity, young adult and children’s novels.

There are books exploring culture from many perspectives. I have children’s stories and fables from around the world. This includes books from my time in Japan, on Japanese culture, stories, and language (some actually in Japanese).

There are books about various research projects that I have started, if not finished. Some of them have turned into articles or papers, some sit waiting for me to pick up and start again. The topics include: women writers, interesting women in history, perfectionism, honors programming, overcoming stage fright and bullying.

There are books that represent my search for identity or my desire to reinvent myself and start over. These include books on spirituality and psychology, self help and memoirs.

There are books from lists. Some of the lists include books that I read because I had to, not because I wanted to. There are books from the list of recommended reading for people going to college that I decided I had to conquer when I was in high school. I don’t think I succeeded. There are books from Oprah’s Book Club that I used to read because I thought they must be good. I found many of them depressing so I stopped reading from that list.

There are books that I read and hated, because I believed that I should give them a chance and read them through, or because once I started I felt like I had to finish. There are books that I started and never finished as I finally gave myself permission to stop reading things I didn’t like. Nobody would arrest me for putting down a book midway.

There are books I’ve read for fun, or for guilty pleasure. Some caught my eye in the bookstore, most of them representing whatever I was feeling in my life at the moment. These include books that I read for the beauty of the language, or because the cover art was interesting. Or books I read on lazy vacation days when I simply feel like reading.

There are books from various book groups which represent a mixture of my own interests and the interests of other intelligent women. There are books I read when I have no time to read.

There are books that reflect my working life, or the working life I hope to create. There consist of books that I use as resources for classes, including picture books, Shel Silverstein, and books on teaching. There are books I read as I developed my skills at teaching College Composition classes. This doesn’t even include all the journal articles, or unpublished manuscripts I’ve read at the request of someone at work.

There are books on the paranormal, because of my fascination with that topic.

There are books on Judaism and the Holocaust (that just reminded me of one interesting book called The Jews and the Japanese which merged two of my interests). There are books about culture, travel, and food. There are books by women writers both for and about women.

I must not forget the list of books I plan to read, or hope to read in the future.

This list keeps growing as I type it. I think that I will learn much about my own story by creating this bookish history.

Billions of words. Millions of pages. Each one adds to the story of Lisa, as it is reflected through books.

I am excited to see what my future story becomes, as it is revealed by the books I choose to read.

How about you? What is the history of your life in books? What does your reading material say about you?

What is Racism? I Simply Don’t Understand

 

August Wilson Side Door Mural On The Iroquois ...

Image by takomabibelot via Flickr

 

I was all excited to teach my theatre appreciation class. I had chosen a play for the class to read as an example of how a playwright will use his/her own experiences as well as historical and social contexts to write a play. I chose the Tony Award-nominated Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson. I gave them some background on August Wilson, his inspirations for the play, and some historical facts about the time period. I thought that was all good.

We re reading it out loud, and we come to the n-word. I apologized in advance, acknowledging the word, but reminding them of the historical context. A black student (the class is only 6 people, two blacks, one Hispanic) stopped our reading and said, “I’m uncomfortable reading this. You could have chosen a different play knowing there were black students in the class.” (Note, the older black woman was not in class today). I was shocked. I apologized and stopped the reading, asking them to read it at home. I explained my reasons behind the choice, but it didn’t matter.

I didn’t say this to him, but I kept thinking, “You are objecting to a play by a prominent black playwright about the black experience because it contains the n-word?”

Am I supposed to pick plays only written by dead white men then? I can’t do that.

Was my choice a racist choice? I did choose the play with those students in mind, because I believe that its important to see that plays aren’t just written by white men. I always chose culturally diverse plays. Is that choice racist because I am choosing things outside my own culture? If that is true, then should I only choose plays written by white, Jewish women? It’s possible to do that, but my options become very limited.

Please help me understand.