Home of the Brave is a novel refreshingly written in verse. My son's fifth grade class read it and he came home and said, “Mama, I think you should reHome of the Brave is a novel refreshingly written in verse. My son's fifth grade class read it and he came home and said, “Mama, I think you should read this book. I think you’ll like it.” He’s never wrong with his recommendations--he recognizes beautiful imagery and metaphor when he sees it. I often think if he's not a writer, he will certainly become an editor or a book reviewer. The kid's got a good eye for great literature! Once again he nailed it. I loved this book. It’s about a 10-year-old boy from a refugee camp in the Sudan who gets sent to live with family in Minnesota after his father and brother are killed and his mother goes missing. When he arrives on the “floating boat” as he calls the plane, the snow and the leafless “not-dead trees” stun him. He makes the driver stop in a field because he sees a cow, the first thing that looks like home. Cattle are life where he comes from, so his relationship with the cow becomes his lifeline to his past and the hope that his mother will be found and he will see her again. I highly recommend this book, especially for parent-child read togethers....more
I think I picked up this book today because I know I'm on the verge of something. My husband (a teacher) and son (a fifth grader) will both be back toI think I picked up this book today because I know I'm on the verge of something. My husband (a teacher) and son (a fifth grader) will both be back to school tomorrow and it occurs to me tomorrow will be, really, the first day of my post-MFA life. (I graduated last month.) I will once again have the house to myself but no packet deadlines and no upcoming residency. I do have a nearly completed novel revision well underway and more projects on my plate. But still I can feel this edginess: will I succumb to the "real life" pressures I held at bay during my MFA studies? These are the same pressures that pretty much doused my creative writing before I decided to seek the MFA and get refocused.
I have many support mechanisms in place: my own deadlines, writing partners, applications out to artists' colonies. But I think what I needed the most I found toward the end of Dani Shapiro's excellent book of observations on the writing life. The section is called "Steward." I will keep pieces from it on my desk always:
"I need to live by certain rules in order to protect my writing life."
"But I took care of my family and my book got written. That was all I could manage." --Very much where I am right now: hanging on by threads, weaving this novel to completion.
And this wonderful set of marching orders she quotes from the poet Jane Kenyon:
Be a good steward to your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.
This is what I needed to hear. To Ms. Shapiro I say: Will do! Thank you. ...more
This is an interesting book and I'm a big believer in the importance of play in our work and in our lives. I felt I had to dig too much, though, to geThis is an interesting book and I'm a big believer in the importance of play in our work and in our lives. I felt I had to dig too much, though, to get to the heart of the book. The author spends a lot of time talking about the history of the concept of play rather than talking about play itself. I found myself just slogging through those parts. But there are many nuggets of inspiring, uplifting prose that will make you rethink how seriously you show up in the world....more
I'm reviewing this book for Mid-American Review but for now I'll say there’s an eloquent vulnerability to Bair’s writing as she feels her way throughI'm reviewing this book for Mid-American Review but for now I'll say there’s an eloquent vulnerability to Bair’s writing as she feels her way through a narrative that takes her into unexpected territory. An intriguing read....more
I would recommend this book for any writer, Christian or not, because of the bold but humble clarity and intelligence Bret Lott brings to the subjectI would recommend this book for any writer, Christian or not, because of the bold but humble clarity and intelligence Bret Lott brings to the subject of writing. He invites us to think not only of technique (the chapter "On Precision" is a must read) but why it matters that we think so deeply about all this in the first place--we are hoping to create art. We hope to create art that lives beyond us, (see the chapter "Humble Flannery") that we hope says something more than we think it does simply because we found the right words and put them in the right places. This book is for writers who want to understand the big picture of what it is we do.
In the second part of the book Lott writes a long-form essay on the death of his father--well, actually his journey of processing the death of his father--and in this work he brings to bear all of what he's been discussing in the first part of the book. You get to witness Lott on the high wire, struggling to be precise (and knowing at times he is failing), seeking to be humble, recognizing he's speaking to an audience far beyond him. You're not just reading the essay--you're watching him write it. I found this book to be helpful, engaging, and absolutely worthwhile.
Full disclosure: Bret Lott has been my advisor in this, my final semester before graduating with my MFA, at Vermont College of Fine Arts. But I read this book (and also his "Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer's Life") because I wanted to, because I had the sense that, for all our conversations on my work, he had much, much more to say about writing than we could cover in a few months. I wanted to soak up more of his thoughts and was happy to be able to do that by reading these books. ...more
I enjoyed Ueland's voice, humor, and the persistence with which she insists a writer can write well if she remains true to herself. She presents severI enjoyed Ueland's voice, humor, and the persistence with which she insists a writer can write well if she remains true to herself. She presents several writing samples from her own students and, despite the fact that this book was written in the 1930s, I found the examples helpful and enlightening. I'm sure I'll read this book multiple times in the years to come....more
The text for this book comes from a prayer journal that Flannery O'Connor kept in one of those basic composition notebooks (the kind with the marbledThe text for this book comes from a prayer journal that Flannery O'Connor kept in one of those basic composition notebooks (the kind with the marbled black and white cover) while she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1947 and 1948. The journal is brief but striking and powerful because we get to witness O'Connor's straightforward attempt to engage, at times unsuccessfully, with her spiritual life. I especially appreciated how much this journey involved her thinking about her writing life. I'm sure this sentiment will hit home with many writers: "Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work. I have the feeling of discouragement that is. I realize I don't know what I realize. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted."
O'Connor was discouraged, but the feeling so obviously did not keep her from writing. If anything, she wanted the help and inspiration to keep going. I found something hopeful about that. I think in both writing and spirituality, we tend to look from afar at a successful person such as O'Connor and feel that her faith and her talent came to her easily. This journal shows that neither faith nor writing came lightly to O'Connor--both required great focus, thought, and work from her. It is a challenge, but a hopeful one, for me to accept that it's necessary--and possible--to engage my spirituality and writing on the same level as she has. I have no idea what the results could be, but for now it's enough to see the example of someone else's journey, and to know such a path exists. If I just keep walking I'll find my way....more
What is "Quotidiana?" It's a word--and a beautiful one at that--meaning "everyday life." And that's what Patrick Madden delivers in this intriguing coWhat is "Quotidiana?" It's a word--and a beautiful one at that--meaning "everyday life." And that's what Patrick Madden delivers in this intriguing collection of essays--a slice of his experience of everyday life. This slice can be as simple as noticing his baby girl's first laugh and the joy of singing with his father, or it can be as complex as a series of mathematical formulas which Madden fearlessly lays out on the pages and discusses in full. I never knew what to expect, essay to essay, and I found that refreshing. My favorite piece was "Panis Angelicus" in which Madden manages to track down, through relatives he'd never met before, an old recording of his grandmother singing. This essay radiates love and meaning and it feels like the author still carries the emotions of this piece within him. It's that real.
In the interest of disclosure, I'm an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and Patrick Madden is my advisor for the semester I'm just completing. He didn't ask me to read or review "Quotidiana," but I sought it out on my own because in working with him I've come to appreciate how much he is a knowledgable and skilled master of the essay form. I wanted to see how his skills manifest on the page and I was not disappointed. He pushes the limits of the essay because he is not just telling stories--he is seeking to make connections, and many of them are unexpected. I'm blown away, for instance, by the number of plausible ways the rock band Rush gets mentioned in the flow of Madden's prose! I liked accompanying Madden as he expertly ran down the essence of various thoughts and inspirations. I felt it was very much a journey well worth taking....more
This collection of essays is well written and exhaustingly honest. Nancy Mairs is fearless in discussing her frustrations with her body "crippled" witThis collection of essays is well written and exhaustingly honest. Nancy Mairs is fearless in discussing her frustrations with her body "crippled" with multiple sclerosis, the foster son she was anxious to get out of the house when he turned 18, and the tangled intertwining of her mental health with her relationships with men. I admired all this as I began the book, but by the end I found it tiring as Mairs turns over the details of her memory in a repetitive, interior way that loses connection with the reader. I grew impatient with the text and was eager to finish the book and be done with it. The last sentences are: "This place is real. I can live here. Come by, and I'll make you a cup of almond tea." By this time Mairs has said more than once how much she dislikes being around people. It's weird to read her invitation when the sentiment is just not genuine. ...more