Since I loved it, I will tell you this

A month ago, I mentioned I was reading two story collections, one old, one new. I told you about the old one and promised to tell you about the second collection the next week. Then, I decided I should finish the book first, and life kept getting in my way, so I didn’t finish the last story until a few days ago. Technically, I don’t review books. I’m not schooled in dissecting and analyzing. I can only give you my opinion, tell you that I like a book or not, and maybe share a bit of why.

So, what’s my opinion of this book? Look at that photo of assorted truffles. Can’t you practically taste their rich, creamy, sweet, elegant, lusciousness? Well that, dear friends, is the chocolate equivalent of Robin Black’s debut If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This. The book consists of ten stories, each one a different flavor, each marvelous—like truffles.

I’ll share a quote from the inside jacket flap: “Brilliant, hopeful, and fearlessly honest, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This illuminates the truths of human relationships, truths we come to recognize in these characters and in ourselves.” That’s not hype; that’s truth. From the opening pages, I knew these stories were masterfully written. Robin Black not only starts us with a unique situation: a father taking his daughter to meet her first seeing-eye dog, but she complicates it with the unexpected: as he drives along trying to pay attention to his daughter’s chatter, his mind wanders to visualizing his mistress as she seduced him the night before.

Always, she delights with language:

“A streetlight comes on. Clara waits to see how long it will take another to join it. A minute passes, two minutes. Nothing. They must have different levels of sensitivity, she thinks. They must believe different things about what darkness is.”

And this:

“Her body, no longer thin, no longer seemed striving to be thin and had acquired a relaxed, logical quality, as though the wide hips and general sense of plenty were the obvious right choices.”

And this:

“The truth was, he wasn’t sure he would ever like anyone again. He seemed to have lost the thread of how affections worked.”

I read these stories as a reader, and they enthralled me. I read them as a writer, and they amazed and inspired me. I read them as an editor, and never picked up my red pencil—and, for me, that rarely happens.

Keeping with my truffle analogy, it’s probable best that it took me awhile to finish the book. As with all fine chocolate, it’s best savored slowly.

If you’d like to know more about the author, read Cynthia Newberry Martin’s blog post A Day in the Life of Robin Black. You might also like to read her review of the book and visit Robin Black’s website.

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Leave Your Sleep … and write a poem

In perfect timing for my Creativity Workshop goal this week, I’ve been listening to Natalie Merchant’s newest recording Leave Your Sleep. I have to thank Cynthia Newberry Martin’s lovely post on this 2-cd with accompanying 80-page book for incentive to purchase this.

Natalie’s latest work was seven years in the making. Inspired by poems she read to her daughter, Natalie wrote music and lyrics to twenty-six poems and nursery rhymes in musical styles as varied as Celtic, pop, jazz, bluegrass, reggae, chamber orchestra, R&B, Chinese folk, Balkan, and others. Listening is an amazing adventure.

Some of the 19th and 20th century poets she honored are: E. E. Cummings, Laurence Alma-Tadema, Robert Louis Stephenson, Nathalia Crane, Ogden Nash, and Lydia Huntley Sigourney. A multitude of musical talents accompanied her, as varied as Wynton Marsalis, The Memphis Boys, Hazmat Modine, and Joseph Fire Crow. Recorded in live ensemble, this work is an aural feast.

I’m almost as new to poetry reading as I am poetry writing and must confess I hadn’t heard of most of the poets represented in Leave Your Sleep. But through reading the works of new poet friends (as well as my published poet d-in-l Sarah Chavez) my mental wall is crumbling. This is why I chose to write four poems as one of my workshop goals. I’d like to fell that wall once and for all.

Please enjoy this performance video and visit Natalie Merchant’s site for more videos and to read the poems she selected for this work. Cynthia also has a great interview video in her post.


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Untying the knots

“There are stories inside of me, hardened into tight little knots. Call them anything: Sanskrit samskaras, disturbances in the field, sediment scraped from the depths. They are at the core of all the other stories that are easier to tell.”

Photo: Author: Lorin Klaris; Book: Len Lagrua

Though I don’t know why, it’s usually Spring that renews my spiritual quest, so it’s fitting that I am reading a book by Dani Shapiro titled Devotion: A Memoir. This book will lead me into my annual journey. As I prefer to savor this one, I’ve read only up to page 35, yet this beautifully written work has brought me to tears more than once.

I’ve not cried because of what she wrote so much as for the memories her words evoke. In the cover blurbs, her book is described as “wry” and “funny” so it’s not meant to depress, though I doubt anyone could read it and not find it’s relation to events of their own life.

I applaud Shapiro’s courage, her honesty, in writing such a memoir and appreciate writers like her who share their stories to make me feel as though she has told some of my own for me. I could not—nor, I suspect, will I ever be able to—do that. At this point, I cannot separate my story from those of others in my life, and I don’t feel I have the right to tell anyone else’s story. The best I can do is write fiction, and hope that bits of the “tight little knots” inside me work themselves loose.

I also have to thank Cynthia Newberry Martin whose beautiful post on this book made me want to read it, when you go there be sure to click to watch Dani’s book trailer.

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Mind Puke

Here I sit, speechless … or would that be textless? My mind is blank. Or rather, not blank, but stuffed so full, I can’t sort out a thought without pulling a dozen more with it. I think I’m going to just settle for one of those stream-of-consciousness posts that Judy and Tricia tried, but I’ll be a rebel and not time mine. Warning: this could go on for days.

As I write this, the Super Bowl is on TV and my husband is watching it, but I’m not. Does that make me un-American? I got into watching Australian football once, and rugby another time, but except when one of my family members played, I’ve never watched football. I don’t like that you can’t see the players’ faces. It’s too impersonal. And even though one of these teams is from my home town, I couldn’t care less who wins. (Kasie would be proud that I didn’t say I could care less. :-)) So, until I started writing this, I was reading my first novel by Abigail Thomas and I think she’s going to be one of my favorite “new” authors. The book I have now is “An Actual Life” and is written in such a pure and true character voice that I’m just amazed. I thank Cynthia for introducing me to her with this interview.  I think a lot about character voice because I tried writing my novel in three different voices. Whether it worked or not is yet to be seen. Boy, Pizza Hut bought a boatload of ad time on the Super Bowl. I’m low-carbing, trying to take off the weight I gained writing the aforementioned novel, so pizza for me would just be the toppings. I’m weaning myself off Coke by drinking Coke Zero. I hate diet drinks, which means I’ll end up dropping soda altogether. Eating healthy is not necessarily fun. And at my age, fun is paramount, so dieting is torture.Torture is something I cannot abide to see, hear, or read about. I think this stems from a past life experience—I hope as the tortured, not as the torturer, but then, if I’ve learned anything from Lost it’s that we’re all capable of being the torturer. And speaking of … who is Sayid now, anyway? If you have no idea what that means, you’re not a Lost fan and I feel sorry for you. You do watch Mad Men, at least, right? All writers should.

Okay, that’s enough of my mind puke. Oh, that reminds me; I caught a few minutes of Dirty Jobs yesterday and watched snakes being “puked.” A biology researcher’s life is … um … interesting. And that’s it, I’m gone. Go on back to your lives now.


Armed and bewildered …

During the second year of my marriage, I lived in Germany courtesy of the U.S. Army. We lived off-base, though, on the third floor of a German couple’s home. I do not speak German. I regularly encountered people who didn’t speak English. (Imagine that!) I dwelled in a fairly constant state of bewilderment … and fear that I would miss or misinterpret something. Now, I have the same feelings for a completely different reason.

Bad Hersfeld, my how you've grown!

Recently, Cynthia Newberry Martin blogged a five-part series on Reading Like a Writer. She ended by taking apart Alice Munro’s short story Dimensions. I read the story, but for the most part, I left the dissection up to Cynthia. She answered the question posed on the mechanics of the story and then, offered some excellent insights. Since she didn’t propose we deeply analyze the story, it’s not so much that I couldn’t answer most of the questions she posed for myself. It’s just that this kind of reading is a foreign land to me. I don’t really understand the language.

I’m used to reading fiction for escape. That’s not to say I never learn as I read. But as I read, I’m concerned with what the writing says to me, not whether that’s what the author meant for me to hear. Yet, as a writer, I often take a novel I enjoyed reading and study the writing for particular aspects. So, theoretically, I could take a story apart. But my mind rebels at the thought. With fingers in its ears, it sings la-la-la-la-la.

However, this is my year of living dangerously, so with a few other writers, I will attempt a similar exercise with a short story by Flannery O’Connor titled “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

Cover me, I’m going in.