Drop-Dead Easy Knits Giveaway: We have a Winner!

wiinnerThanks to all who entered my giveaway contest. It was fun to see what favorites rose to the top. I think there are going to be a lot of Drop-Dead Easy Knits projects being cast on soon! And the winner is…

 

Kitty! Check your email for my request to get your address!

 

A Book Review and Giveaway: Drop-Dead Easy Knits

drop-dead-easyIn less than five words, my review goes something like this:

You need this book.

Ok, so you probably know that Gale and I teach together regularly, and I’m pals with the book’s two other co-authors Kirsten and MaryLou, too (I like to surround myself with smart, talented people!), so you might think there is no way I can give an unbiased review of Drop-Dead Easy Knits. I’m going to be honest with you, people.

The patterns are insta-classics!

The quality and timelessness of the patterns reminds me of some of my favorite knitting books: Weekend Knitting and Last Minute Knitted Gifts come to mind. Books I turn to again and again, not only for the great patterns, but because the books themselves are beautiful.

That’s the deal with Drop-Dead Easy Knits: wearable patterns you can knit while slightly distracted by photo by Gale Zuckerfriends or food or wine or movies…what the Mason-Dixon duo have dubbed #knittingbelowonesSkillLevel, with brilliant warnings when you have to pay attention. Gale shot the gorgeous images, and the writing is funny, smart, and just plain companionable. Which makes sense. The book idea grew out of conversation when the authors were hanging out together, well, knitting!

I’m lucky enough to have two copies in my possession, and I want to share. If you’d like to win a copy, here’s what you do:

  1. Hop over to the Ravelry book page and add it to your favorites.
  2. Peruse the patterns and “favorite” your top three.
  3. Come back here (I’ll be waiting) and tell me in the comments what you can’t wait to knit from the book.

The contest will close at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, September 26. One lucky winner will get their own copy!

I’ve got a Camurac Cardigan in progress (just finishing work left to do…hoping to wear it at Rhinebeck), and tomorrow I’m picking up yarn to make the Keynote Pullover and Glama Wrap. What’s on your list?

Book Review and Give Away

One of my favorite spaces online is Crystal Moody’s Year of Creative Habits. Crystal’s posts are thoughtful, educational, inspiring. Her FaceBook group is one of only a few in which I find myself actively participating–she’s created an encouraging space for fellow creative folks.

A few months back, Crystal sent me an extra copy of Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that will Bring Purpose to Your Life. I read it as I ate breakfast each morning–it’s easy enough to pick up and put down when you want something to read for a short while. I found myself inspired by the variety of quests he shares, his own included. The book is less of a blueprint (because your quest won’t be the same as the quests in the book), and more of an encouragement to live the damn life you crave, even if that means doing something a bit off the map.

I’m a woman who loves a project. I enjoy testing my ability to do something for a sustained period, to challenge what I think I can do and push through to what I can actually do. Guillebeau’s book reminded me: do that more.

To build on the creative spirit and generosity that prompted Crystal to send me the book, I’d like to pass it along to one of you, my dear readers, with the condition that after you read it, you do the same.

If you’re interested, leave a comment telling me about a quest you’ve undertaken or long to undertake. Next Wednesday I’ll randomly pick a name and mail the book to you next Friday.

ETA: Kym is the book winner! Thanks to all who left comments–your quests are terrific!

Sophie’s House of Cards: a Review and Contest

This summer Sharon Oard Warner emailed to see if I’d be interested in reading an advance copy of her new novel Sophie’s House of Cards. I’ve known Sharon since 2003 when I took a workshop with her at Iowa’s summer writing festival. She’s responsible for my decision to go to graduate school and for my eventual move to New Mexico. I’m fortunate to have studied with her, and I remain grateful for her guidance as my dissertation chair.

So, yeah, when Sharon, a wonderful teacher and even more terrific human, asks anything of me, I say “yes”!

It doesn’t hurt that I love her writing. She doesn’t shy away from hard ideas, and she is a writer to study if you’re interested in a model for crafting flawed characters that resonate with the reader.

I just posted my review on GoodReads, which I’ll add here in case you don’t feel like clicking:

In her second novel Sophie’s House of Cards, Sharon Oard Warner tackles tough questions, just as she has in her debut novel Deep in the Heart: How do we allow loved ones to live their lives as they feel is right, even when we disagree? How do we handle betrayal? What does it mean to be a family?

As in her first novel, the characters in Sophie’s House of Cards are individuals, depicted with authority, leaving the reader confident that they had rich, complex lives before the story opens, and will continue to do so long after the book ends. Even minor characters in the novel are three-dimensional and might warrant having their stories told, too.

The story follows three women as they grow to understand how their lives entwine through love and betrayal. Warner renders not only the women with care and precision, but also the men who complete and complicate ideas about love, betrayal, and family.

Set in New Mexico, the novel brims with details that let the reader almost smell pinon wood in the kiva and Hatch chile peppers being roasted. The narrative structure—a tarot card reading—adds layers of meaning to the story, reminding the reader that even if fortune and destiny are at play in our lives, we can’t help but to be flawed. Warner allows us to see the beauty in our flaws, which may be the greatest gift of the novel.

Want to read the novel? Of course you do! Lucky for you, there’s a give away contest going on right now. Hop on over for your chance to win a copy of Sophie’s House of Cards and a set of tarot cards! Don’t want to put yourself in the hands of Fortune? Order your copy here.

Emma Jean: a Review

EJLet me start by saying I’ve studied with Charlotte Rains Dixon and think highly of her. Perhaps our relationship will color my review, but I’m going to imagine it won’t.

Notice the photo: it was a Sunday night, my favorite night for a long bubbly soak. Notice the book: Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior. I’m here to tell you that a soak (or a blanket on the beach, or a cozy chair by the fire) is the perfect setting for reading this delightful novel. I want, in fact, to call it a romance novel, because I believe it is. Not a romance between a couple, although there is that in spades, but a romance between the heroine and herself. She faces the truth that her life is not what she imagined it to be, and she struggles with that truth until she reaches an understanding of what it is she actually wants from life and how close she is to having that authentic experience she craves. And learns to love herself and her life in a new way during her journey.

Dixon writes with a voice that is fun to read, and Emma Jean is so flawed as a person that I can’t help but adore her. Here’s an excerpt from my GoodReads review:

 I want to crawl into the pages of the novel and be the friend she’s desperate to find. Emma Jean is a seeker. She’s seeking love, happiness, enlightenment, recognition, connection. She’s seeking to understand what it means to be a 48-year-old woman who no longer recognizes her life. Having found my own life unrecognizable at times, I related to her.

While at times the pace feels rushed, I never once believed the author was not in control. In fact, after finishing the book, it occurred to me that the pacing changes reflect Emma Jean’s own changes in thinking…the moments when she feels a bit wild with trying so hard to understand, and the moments when she sinks into what life has handed her.

I could not put the book down as I read the last 100 pages. I confess to my own bad behavior in ignoring the world for an afternoon so I could see what would become of Emma Jean.

Want to know?

She becomes even more endearing.

I’ll say it again.

I adore Emma Jean. Her gumption, her hope, her vulnerability.

You probably will, too.

Charlotte Rains Dixon will make a guest appearance at PoMo Golightly soon. In the meantime, give yourself a few hours of pleasure and spend it with Emma Jean!

A Checklist, Some Meth, a Ghost, and a Dozen Eggs

Ahh, winter break. That delightful time of year when I gorge on random reading. I start back to teaching tomorrow, and before I get bogged down in reading for my classes, I want to share the fun books I’ve been savoring.  Well, the first isn’t so much fun as interesting. The rest are fun in a sad sort of way. Ahem.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande was loaned to me by a colleague. The author makes an argument for the simple tool long used in aviation: a checklist. He applies using checklists to the medical profession, and I was astounded by the results. Rae of Rae Would Rip (okay, she doesn’t actually write said blog, but she should, and I like to pretend she does) is a health care professional, and she confirmed the results shared in the book. While the concept is simple and elegant, the book could be an article and remain persuasive. I’m considering how I can use this in my life and with my students.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell is an excellent read. I saw the movie last year, and it was one of my favorites of the year. The novel is short, but the heroine remains with you for a long time. She is everything I’d want my daughter to admire, as opposed to some of the, how shall I say it?, more reliant-on-others heroines that are so popular. Ree is gutsy and determined without being a cliche. Woodrell’s prose is engrossing, despite a few over-written passages. I especially admire his development of the community; as awful as a meth-producing community may be, Woodrell makes the reader believe in the hierarchy and caring (of sorts) among the group. Why read it if the movie is so good? Ree’s character is more fully developed in the novel. A great book to read with older kids, too.

Certainly you’ve read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, right? If your high school or college English teachers didn’t thrill you with it, the link is to a full-text pdf of the story. It’s a classic. But I didn’t connect the short story to The Haunting of Hill House when I grabbed it from the town library. Only after Mona mentioned how much she enjoyed Shirley Jackson did I piece it together. Jackson’s symbolism speaks to a post World War II world and remains spooky and relevant. So, the novel. It’s the story of a group of disparate folks who gather at Hill House, a big mess of a mansion, to see if they can get in touch with any supernatural activity going on there. The novel is third person, closest to Eleanor, an early-30s unmarried woman who has spent most of her life timid and caring for others. Oh, boy! Does it all unravel once they’re in the mansion. Don’t read this one if you’re home alone!

Last night, while I silently bemoaned the football that was preventing my Sunday-night Downton Abbey fix, I finished David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Benioff is a screen writer (read the interview linked in the last sentence. He’s done some cool work!), which I wasn’t surprised to learn after I finished the novel. It’s a cinematic reading experience, with a just-right amount of detail. Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the two forms most story takes: a stranger came to town or a (wo)man went on a journey. Randomly selecting this novel from my library’s bookshelves seems fortuitous in light of my recent thoughts. City of Thieves is set in WWII Russia. Two men, unlikely candidates for friendship, get thrown together to undertake a quest, the failure of which would result in their certain starvation. This is a first-person narrative with the narrative device of the protagonist’s grandson, David, asking about life during WWII. The narrative device may be the novel’s only mis-step, but a minor one at that. The writing is sharp and humorous, making the awful moments more cutting. I may read this with my students the next time I teach my war-themed composition class.

What are you reading this week?

Selecting Book Club Reads

My book club met in late December to select the books for 2012’s meetings. When the first group began a few years ago, we’d just email each other with a book title and meet at some point after we’d all read it. All, by the way, was three.

The group is much bigger now, and while we only have four to six people at most meetings, we clearly need better organization. After asking for ideas about best practices for an organized book group, we decided to select a year’s worth of books at one time, and to schedule the meeting dates. Since schedules fluctuate, we’re pretty easy about changing a date if needed, but we only had to do that a few times last year.

Since we have a private Facebook group, communication is easy. Neal is the only member not on FB, and I just give him whatever information he needs. A few weeks before we were to select books, I posted a bunch of lists. Since I’m militant about NOT reading crap, the lists are a useful jumping point. Here are some that I posted:

Like most artwork lists, these are somewhat arbitrary, but they do help.

This year, I was asked to give “homework”: I assigned a list to a few group members, who each selected 3-5 books to bring to the group. At our meeting, everyone explains why they selected their books, and if anyone has read them, s/he adds feedback. After the book presentations, there’s a shuffling sort of time when we eliminate books or make firm claims that some books MUST be on the list. Is everyone happy with the list? Probably not, but at least we’ve all had a chance to participate in the selections.

After that, we set dates. The person who presents the book is responsible for arranging the location and time of the meeting. We’ve had some fun choices: we met at an Ethiopian restaurant when we discussed Cutting for Stone, and an Indian restaurant for White Teeth.  I take everyone’s month requests into consideration (“my book is set in the south; give me a hot month”; “I don’t want to commit to a Friday”; “Friday is best, so I can Skype” [our overseas member, Sara] “No cold months for me”…you get the idea) and match books to a date. I love working out that little piece of the puzzle.

Curious about our 2012 list?

  • February: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  • March:Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • April: Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
  • May: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • June: Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
  • July: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • August: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  •  September: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
  • October: At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
  • December: Radical Son by David Horowitz

Are you in a book club? How does your group select its books?

 

 

 

Let the Great World Spin

After breakfast, I spent time sharpening a set of colored pencils. I’m making a daily sketch of each of my 52/52 outfits, which of course makes a good excuse for fresh art supplies. As I twirled each pencil around and around in the sharpener, aiming for the crispest point imaginable, I also turned my first finished book of 2012 around and around in my head.

Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin won the 2009 National Book Award. I read it for my book club’s January discussion, and it may be one of my favorite books our group has read.

The novel is set in New York City in 1974, at the time of the infamous tight rope walk across the Twin Towers. Every time I think the scar from 9/11 is fading, it rips open anew, which is what happened when I read this beautifully-crafted novel. McCann employs a large cast of characters who are entwined in each others’ lives, sometimes in surprising ways. Each character has a unique voice and personality–there is no lumping together of prostitutes, for instance, although that would be easy for any writer to do. While I am still puzzling out the choices of point-of-view shifts (between third and first), I’m confident that when I create a chart to analyze these changes (oh, yes, I shall be creating a chart; how else will I understand?), I’ll find clarification that resonates with the novel’s theme.

Foremost, though, is McCann’s use of language. He is subtle in his writing, yet over and over, he selects words that keep the Towers in front of the reader. Central image prevails, and this novel is an excellent reminder of how it may be effectively used.

This is a novel written by an author who deeply loves his characters. While bad, even horrific, things happen to some of them, he writes with love and understanding of human frailty. This book may tear at the 9/11 scar, but it also soothes the pain.

What have you read lately with language that you admire?

On Reading, Book Clubs, and Reviews

I know many avid readers, both in person and virtually. I’m an English professor, after all, with three degrees that center around English, literature, and writing. It is not surprising that most of my friends like to read, too. Frankly, a person who “lacks time to read” or dislikes reading loses my respect. Perhaps it is unfair of me, but this is one of my truths.

Among my pleasures in this too-brief life is not only to read, but to discuss what I’ve read. I started a reading group after I finished my BA, worried about losing the intellectual conversations I’d grown to love. We focused on reading classics, determined to fill our reading gaps. My mind stretched, my reading improved, my joy in books grew.

When I left New York for New Mexico, I was sad to give up my monthly reading group. Graduate school meant little time to organize a reading group, although I managed to do plenty of reading. Classroom discussions kept me from missing my New York group too much, and I learned what had been an elusive skill for me: reading like a writer.*

This skill changed my life. It meant that I could dig into any text like a mechanic into the engine of a vintage car. I could tinker and analyze and map and chart and learn.

I don’t turn off this skill. I relish it. It informs all of my reading, even my blog and newspaper reading.

Two years ago, missing graduate school discussions and my New York book group, I started a new group. We’ve read a variety of books, mostly novels, and had some fun conversations. Recently, a member of my club said that I like to “rip books apart,” and while I’m not sure how to take that comment, I do go to our meetings with the intention of tinkering with the book, of taking a wrench to it, seeing how it works, and why it does or does not work well. I am critical in my reading, but I am critical because I want to write better; I want to know how to help others write better. I am compelled to articulate my reactions to a book.

It occurred to me that while I read for entertainment, that is not my primary reason to read. I enjoy good stories, whether comic or tragic, but I crave beautiful writing. I want to linger in a sentence, wonder at a word choice. I want characters to gut me with the decisions they must make. I want to learn how to be a better human, more human, even. I want to be haunted by a book’s ideas. Perhaps that is simply what we readers consider entertainment?

So why has all of this been on my mind today? Well, for one thing, my club (The Tobacco Valley Inklings, no less) selected our 2012 books last week, and I’m really excited about the list. For another thing, last night I completed our January book, and I decided I should bring book reviews back to the blog. It’s been a long time since I’ve shared my reviews here, and I enjoy comments with your thoughts on a book or telling me what you’re reading.

There you have it. I’m committing to blog book reviews again, and I can’t wait to write about the first book I finished in 2012. This leads me to the question: what do you like in a book review?

 

*I learned this in a class with Dan Mueller about central image while reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Francine Prose’s book is a good substitute for such a class.

 

I’ll be ever’where…

A few years ago I started a book club with a two friends from my high school days. Frankly, they are two of the smartest people I know, and I wanted an excuse to hang out with them. Also, I dream of a Finnegans Wake reading group to replace my Ulysses group, and I had high hopes I could lure my pals into it. So far, that hasn’t happened, but the reading group, the Tobacco Valley Inklings, has grown in membership and provides a delightful way to meet up and have intellectual conversations with friends.

A few moments ago, I finished our current selection, The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read it at least two other times, and I always enjoyed it. This reading, though, in times when the nation is under duress again, gutted me. I often play around in my mind, creating lists of those books I feel qualify on a list of Great American Novels. There is no doubt that this is one.

One passage, in particular, made me weep, and I feel compelled to share it here. For context, the lines are Tom’s as he explains to Ma why, even if he dies, she does not need to feel he is gone.

“I’ll be ever’where-wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ –I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build–why, I’ll be there. See?” (419)