Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – December update

Our final meeting of the year was surprisingly well attended, considering how close it was to Christmas. Maybe people were taking a break from the seasonal rush. In any event, we covered a lot of ground, with authors asking each … Continue reading

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – May update

Thanks to the intrepid crowd who braved wet weather – and the aftermath of a small, but efficient, tornado which tore through Connecticut leaving a trail of fallen trees and dark homes behind – to come into the warmth and bright lights of Barnes & Noble in Westport on Wednesday. We had lots to talk about – you can find the highlights below.

61BeyzvWcbLUp first, this Saturday morning, May 19, (but after the Royal Wedding…) Fairfield County Writers’ Studio is offering a master class by best-selling mystery author, publisher and all-around great guy Chris Knopf. Titled: The Secret Life of Successful Mysteries, it’s geared toward mystery writers, but all novelists will benefit from Chris’ expertise. From 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or thereabouts Continue reading

Favorite Poems – Ten of the best

My friend Sally Allen at BoooksInK challenged her readers recently to produce a list of their ten favorite poems. I thought this would be simple, but when it came right down to it, I found it hard to choose. Still, I did, and this post explains my choices, since I notice that I chose them for various reasons that include: if I ever learned one by heart, if it says something about a certain time in my life, if it makes me laugh, if it makes me cry…so many reasons. Anyway here they are:

1.      Some one by Walter de la Mare

This may be the first poem I learned as a little girl. It’s a great poem for kids, because the metre, repetition and rhyme make it easy to remember. And it tells a story with a mystery at its heart. It’s got everything.

2.      The Lady of Shallott by Alfred, Lord Tennysonshalottcircle

This poem I love because it reminds me of my mother, who knew parts of it by heart and would recite it in lieu of a bedtime story. It’s very visual and the parts she remembered were about how the Lady, imprisoned in the Tower of Shallott, becomes desperate. Good stuff.

3.      Morning has broken by Eleanor Farjeon

Who couldn’t like this one? I know it’s a hymn, but it’s also a poem, and it makes me happy to recite it to myself. Or sing it, Or listen to Cat Stevens sing it. All good.

4.      I remember, I remember by Thomas Hood

006_2We had a wonderful cleaning lady who used to teach me poems as I followed her around while she tidied the house. I must have been a pest, but she never complained. This is a very sentimental poem, but it meant something to me when my grandparents’ house by the sea (see left), where I was born and spent my summer holidays, was sold. Mrs Ryder taught me another one but I can only remember the title and the first 4 lines. Harry and the Cake: Run off to school, Harry/Why do you wait?/ Nine o’clock striking/And you will be late.

5.      When icicles hang by the wall by William Shakespeare (from Love’s Labours Lost)

This I learned in high school, and it’s so very evocative of the perishing cold winters we’ve been having recently that I’ve remembered it again. It cheers me (somewhat) to know that winters were hard four hundred years ago, too.

6.      The Conway Stewart by Seamus Heaney

This is a poem about a pen, the brand name – Conway Stewart. I had a fountain pen in high school, because we had to write everything by hand. I think my favorite was a Waterman, because they were also my mother’s favorite, but I went through more than one including Parker and the eponymous Conway Stewart. Hopeless show-off, I used turquoise ink, which if it ever leaked, was a disaster because it wouldn’t wash out, unlike the Royal blue washable used by sensible people.

7.      Granchester by Rupert Brooker brooke

Another sentimental poem. Written just before World War 1, in which the poet died (unsentimentally, of dysentery). Rupert Brooke was beautiful to look at, and I read him at an age when romance was all. The poem ends with the famous lines: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? In the late sixties, British comedian Peter Sellars wrote and performed a fake travelogue: Balham  – Gateway to the South. (Balham was a very boring suburb of London.) The final lines are: Stands the Church clock at ten to three?/And is there honey still for tea? To which a waitress replies: Sorry honey’s off, dear. (Meaning there wasn’t any.) Perhaps you had to be there…

8.      Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

On a much more serious note, this poem, written by Wilfred Owen was a devastating indictment of World War 1. Owen was killed just before the end of this war, and we studied the war poets in High school. The impact on me was extraordinary. When I won a prize for English they asked me which book I’d like and I chose Men Who March Away. At about the same time, the BBC was showing a 26 part series called The Great War. Using archival film footage and interviews with the survivors, they retold the story. As a child in the fifties, my sisters and I would see the veterans sitting in wheelchairs outside the Star and Garter Home in Richmond. My mother would explain that they had been gassed in World War 1 and would have to live there all their lives. I have never been able to look at war with any shred of romanticism since then.

9.      The Lanyard Billy Collins

Back to the cheerful. When I first heard Billy Collins reciting his poem, I was entranced by the deadpan way he managed to capture a relationship between a boy and his mother. It’s funny and serious. Just listen to it.

10.  Mrs Icarus by Carol Ann Duffy

icarus

As for this, it’s only five lines, but it makes me laugh out loud. A pillock, for my American readers, is a fool. Surely I’m too young to be cynical? Helena Bonham Carter reads it with aplomb.

Which are your favorite poems?

Books about books for book-lovers…from Sally Allen

My friend Sally Allen at Hamlet Hub Westport keeps coming out with great posts about books, reading and writing. Here’s last week’s, which I thought was a propos, since it’s time to be thinking about what to get our book-loving friends for Christmas or Hanukkah. here’s the beginning of the article – click on the title to read the rest of it.

Tuesday Tales: 5 Books About Books

What serious book nerd doesn’t love a reading memoir? This is when you read a book about someone else reading books. If this sounds a little postmodern, well, yes. But it’s great!

Besides exponentially expanding your reading list (gulp), books about books provide insight into and create a conversation around how reading matters to different readers, which is just about as fun to talk about as plot and character, setting and mood. The serious book nerd has his or her own ideas, of course, but experiencing the multiple iterations of reading’s value expands the sense of possibility.

How popular is this kind of book? One page at goodreads.com lists—wait for it—418 books about books. I’m going to provide a much shorter list of great books about books, and they were all released this year.

“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan

After art school graduate Clay Jannon loses his job designing logos for a bagel company, he takes a job working the late shift in the titular 24-hour bookstore whose most requested inventory is books written in a mysterious, indecipherable code. As Clay works to uncover the relationship between his quirky customers and their books, he draws on the resources of his friends, wrestles with the limits of technology, and discovers the nature of immortality.

Sloan’s debut novel reads like a delightful mystery (meaning no one is killed), with a cast of imperfect but kind and ethical characters pooling their knowledge and traveling across the country to help Clay discover the secret behind the bookstore’s existence. But what they really find is the meaning of life. If you like to feel good after you finish the last page of a book, you will probably adore this novel.

My favorite read of 2012, it’s a multi-layered story that also has one of the best last lines ever. And did I mention the cover glows in the dark? It’s a metaphor.

Read about her other 4 suggestions here and follow her on Twitter  and Facebook

Twitterature – how to write a novel in 140 characters

A while ago, I mentioned the Guardian’s requests to various novelists to write a novel as a Tweet. I believe I called it Twitfic, but it’s also known as Twitterature and my friend Sally Allen has some great pointers on how to do it yourself. If you can manage it, it’s a great way to get your skill as a writer showcased on Twitter. Sally is the editor/owner of Hamlet Hub Westport, a local online newspaper/magazine, and writes a regular Tuesday column about books. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Here’s the beginning of her piece:

Photo by Anthony Karge

Every sentence tells a micro-story. We have an actor (the subject) who does something (the verb) and then consequences ensue (all the other stuff, like objects and direct objects and all kinds of phrases and clauses). We can be spare in our telling (“Run!”) or embellish the story with details (“As the tornado bore down on us with alarming speed, Bonnie hollered, “Run!”).

This is how I explained the structure of the English sentence to my English-as-a-second-language students back when I was a graduate writing instructor. I thought I was a grammar geek, the kind of grammar geek who finds sentence diagramming relaxing, but my students put me to shame with their awe-inspiring ability to recite the rules of English grammar. I mean, their textbook knowledge was impeccable. So I was rather surprised to discover that knowing the rules did not mean they could implement them (I was young and foolish, I suppose).

To address this, my students and I took things vertical, making lists of all the people, places, and things that could do something (potential subjects), lists of all the actions they might take (potential verbs), lists of everything else going on in that moment (the other stuff). From there, we would painstakingly construct sentences simple and complex (and sometimes compound-complex).

And this was also how we began to think of every sentence as telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and even, possibly, an Aristotelian dramatic arc.

This, by the way, was all before Twitter existed. But Twitter would have been an interesting case study for the study of the sentence—140 characters to do and say something interesting? Quite the fun challenge!

Just about anything you can dream of has a Twitter handle—Salman Rushdie’s tree, Paul Ryan’s bicep, a llama in Easton, cats and dogs all across the country, more inanimate objects that I can possibly account for here.

But for book lovers, the social media site is also exploding with literary diversions. Oh, and also? “Twitterature” is a thing.

So here are 4 ways for book lovers to geek out, literature style, on Twitter:

Read on here

Re-post: 5 Unusual Ways to Experience Books by Sally Allen

Sally Allen is the editor of Westport’s HamletHub  an online newspaper, and blogs about books and literature at Open Salon. She earned a PhD in English education from NYU. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. As a book-lover, a recent article got my attention right away, with it’s new and unusual ideas for ways to enjoy books.

Here it is:

5 Unusual Ways to Experience Books

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been running into fascinating projects that involve experiencing books in unorthodox ways. By ‘unorthodox,’ I mean not sitting down alone and reading quietly in your head but taking the act of reading into a social realm that feels very ’21st Century.’ And not in the kind of way that involves complaining about e-readers and the death of the book/publishing industry/library.

These ideas all offer exciting new ways to experience books that show how relevant reading is today and why it will always matter. Yes, always.

Since they’re all worth sharing, I’m going to do just that! Click on the link to visit the project then meet me in the comments to discuss:

Around the Watery Part of the World in 135 days: The MOBY-DICK Big Read

In an earlier blog post I sang the praises of “Moby Dick,” a novel that wasn’t appreciated in its time but that readers and scholars have been appreciating the crap out of since around the 1920s.

I don’t know that I convinced any of you to read it because—let’s be honest—it’s a really, really long book, a major time commitment. And when you have so many books to catch your eye (and capture your imagination), classics can get relegated to the back of the pile (especially the long ones). It’s kind of like how New Yorkers never quite make it to the Statue of Liberty.

With this project, you can get through “Moby Dick” with a chapter a day, and you don’t actually have to read it! The book is read TO you by a different person each day (Tilda Swinton read Chapter One!). The project began on July 9, but you can still catch up. Melville wrote pretty short chapters.

Moby-Dick Marathon NYC

Here’s another way to experience the American classic without having to sit down and read it for yourself and by yourself: a reading marathon to be held in New York City from Nov. 16 – 18. The website is pretty brief, but here’s what I can tell you: over 100 readers will gather over three days at three independent bookstores in two boroughs.

And also, the celebration marks the 161st birthday of “Moby Dick,” which was first published on Nov. 14, 1851.

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night,” the Board Game for Book Lovers

I’m almost speechless with glee at this idea for making reading social—a board game that asks players to correctly identify famous first lines of books, from novels to mysteries to non-fiction to children’s literature to short stories. You can play as individuals or teams. It sounds hard but deliciously fun!

The Shakespearience

Launched this week in the iBookstore is this interactive e-book of Shakespeare’s works. Embedded in the text are translations into contemporary language as well as well-known performances featuring Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Orson Wells. The e-book also offers production notes, photos, and other fun features from famous stagings of the plays. The three included in today’s launch are Othello, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet.

Reading Parties

Here’s another idea I’m deeply in love with, offered by Book Riot writer Jennifer Paull as an alternative to the traditional book group. What’s the problem with book groups? Maybe that you have to read a book you’re not interested in, or you don’t have time to read the book that’s assigned? This idea takes care of both of these issues.

Instead of picking one book, having everyone read it before the meeting, then getting together to talk about everything but the book that none of you read, make the book group meeting about the act of reading itself.

What does that look like, you ask? Paull suggests setting aside time to read together, as in sitting in a room together and reading. You read the books of your choice, maybe even taking time to read a favorite part out loud to the group, which (incidentally) can be a great way to discover new books to experience in full. Genius!

Do you have a great idea for social reading? Maybe you’ve tried one of these or want to? Tell me all about it in the comments!