Blogs: Adults

Man has always dreamed of flight . . . okay, maybe that’s a cliché, but perhaps it’s because flying is now cramped coach seating, $3 bottled water, and endless TSA lines. It’s easy to forget romance that was once associated with travel by air. Airplanes were symbols of modernity and often a source of wonder and deep emotional connections. While there are plenty of memoirs by pilots about the adventure of flying, there are also those that go beyond the technology and excitement and speak of flying as an emotional, transcendent experience. Perhaps best known for this kind of writing is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but I want to highlight some other equally enticing choices.

The Spirit of St. Louis book jacketCharles Lindberg’s The Spirit of St. Louis and his wife’s North to the Orient both describe flights of exploration. The first is about Charles’ solo flight from New York to Paris and allows the reader to experience the solitude of flying across the Atlantic. He reflects on life and the nature of flight. He writes, “There are periods when it seems I’m flying through all space, through all eternity” as he battles sleep, space, and time. His wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wrote her own account of flying with Charles in North to the Orient. She provides her own personal insight into the wonder of flying, but because she isn’t the pilot, she solely focused on the sensation of flying rather than the practice of piloting. The feeling of altitude, rushing wind, and speed is strikingly real.


A Bell P-39 Airacobra Whereas the Lindberghs captured the awe of flight, Edwards Park speaks of the relationship between man and machine in Nanette. Parks was a WWII fighter pilot and Nanette was his first fighter, a P-39 Airacobra. He writes, “the Airacobra was lazy and slovenly and given to vicious fits of temper. It was a sexy machine, and rotten. Nanette was like that, and I was a little queer for her.” Much more profane than the other books here (Park was a fighter pilot after all), he nevertheless makes very clear the personal connection one could have with an airplane. To him, Nanette had a soul, a personality, and an agenda that did not always match his own, and for that he loved her.North to the Orient book jacket

Anne Morrow Lindberg captured something of what draws me to these books in North to the Orient. “It is not in the flying alone, nor in the places alone, nor alone in time; but in a peculiar blending of all three, which resulted in a quality of magic—a quality that belongs to fairy tales.” Flying akin to magic, hmmm. . . I would have liked to experience that.

Listening to my genius nephew plan an outing with his friends  (all NW born & bred):
Them: “Yeah a hike, let’s not waste such great weather!”  (60 degrees, partly cloudy?!)
Me: a desert child- freezing and feeling like a fish out of water. Then I remembered that according to science, a fish out of water was the first step on the evolutionary bridge to humanity. Hm-m-mn.  So welcome to my fish out of water favorites.

Fresh Off the Boat book jacketEddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat, is by the proprietor of Baohaus-the hot East Village hangout where, as stated on the book cover, “foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food”. Jay Caspian Kang wraps it up nicely: “(He takes) the archetypes of the immigrant experience-food, family, and capitalism-and infuse(s) them with a new energy…” If you want a howl-out–loud memoir from a Chinese-speaking, hip-hop loving kid who grew up in Florida and landed in NYC, this is it.

And now for your viewing and listening pleasure: Joyful Noise starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. Randy, failed NYC hipster, has no place to run but Pacashau, Georgia. Hiding out with his country-music loving grandma exposes him to A Joyful Noise-a win or go home gospel singing competition that is not long on brotherly love. As one MCL commenter noted, the storyline can be seen as predictable. OR, one might remember that first beings told stories around the campfire to entertain and pass on knowledge. Knowledge, my chirrens, needs to be replicable or it ain’t science. What’s it all about in the end except for the music? The Queen and Miz Dolly do deliver, along with a cast of talented others (shoutout to Andy Karl [Caleb]-scene stealer)!

So remember all you fish out of water: you’re needed for the evolution of the race because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, “We had better learn to hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.”

There are lots of good reasons to listen to audiobooks: They can get us through tasks that don’t require much brain power (exercise or folding laundry), they can allow us to read when our hands and eyes are busy (commuting), or they can provide new literary options for those whose comprehension might be beyond their reading skills (second language learners or younger readers).

Dreamers of the Day CD coverThese are all very well and good, but they really don’t have much to do with a story itself. One of the things I enjoy most about audiobooks is the opportunity to get inside someone else’s head. You could argue that this is the role of literature to begin with (unless you only like reading about people exactly like you!), but audiobooks offer a unique perspective: When I listen to a narrator read the story of a person who’s not like me, their authentic voice cuts through the white baby-boomer female that colors everything I read and allows me to really get that person. It could be an African American Iraq War vet trying to makThe Last Werewolf CD covere it as a P.I, a 14-year boy with impulse issues, an Ohio spinster on the fringes of post-World War I Middle East history, a werewolf with a serious case of ennui, or two people stuck in a very bad marriage.

For a good listen that might step beyond your experiences, try The Cut by George Pelecanos, narrated by Dion Graham; Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, narrated by Nick Podehl; Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell, narrated by Ann Marie Lee; The Last Werewolf by Ian Duncan, narrated by Robin Sachs, or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, narrated by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne.

What worlds unlike yours have you explored with the aid of a fine narrator?

cover image of sandra cisneros books

As a child, I spent a lot of time with animals. My family had dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, lizards, assorted tropical birds, and even a herd of 13 goats. Moose visited the yard once or twice a week, and when the snow was deep sometimes ermine (those little weaselly-looking white critters with the black-tipped tails) peeked in our windows. To while away the dark winter nights we would check out a film projector from the local library, tack a white sheet up on the wall of the log cabin, and watch films (on reels!) of wildebeests stampeding across Africa, bears fishing in Canada, warthogs wallowing in the mud… somewhere far warmer than where we were. To this day, I can’t resist checking out lavish books of animal photography, big expensive books that would be awkward to own but that are a treat to look at for a few weeks.

Across the Ravaged Land book jacketAcross the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt. is my favorite of these. When it arrived on hold, I was shocked by its size. Opening it revealed majestic and ominous black and white photos of elephants, lions, hyenas, and other African wildlife, created without a telephoto lens or digital camera. Apparently Brandt is gutsy enough to walk right up to a hyena to take its portrait. Especially striking are the eerie shots of animals whose every last feather and hoof have been preserved by the mineral waters of a natron lake, including a bat perched among thorns that looks like it belongs on the cover of some long lost apocalyptic folk album. But the heart of the book is with the elephants, so monumental and solemn - fittingly so, since some were killed by poachers not long after their portraits were taken. A beautiful but sometimes bleak book, well worth a look.

Calico Pie,

The little Birds fly

Down to the calico tree,

Their wings were blue

And they sang 'Tilly-loo!'

Till away they flew,—

And they never came back to me!

They never came back!                                                                                                   

They never came back!

They never came back to me!

A couple of years ago I was a school librarian desperately trying to encourage poetry reading and appreciation among students kindergarten-eighth grade. I was succeeding to a certain degree, but one afternoon I was sitting at my desk wondering if I ever would be able to get through the barrage of Disney princesses and  Lego warriors to the just plain silliness of Edward Lear.  

Among the things  I tried with my students:

  • Reading out loud in unison
  • Memorizing
  • Colouring a picture with the words
  • Clapping the rthymn
  • Encouraging students  to write their own silly ryhmes

The response was lukewarm and after my last class left I sat there wanting to cry from frustration thinking that such poems would be lost to the newer generations forever.  Lucky for me I did what I often do when upset - listened to music.  Suddenly I heard from my computer where Pandora had been merrily playing away - Calico Pie, Little Bird fly….WHAT?  HOW? The very poem I had just read to the  first graders. The tune was peppy and clean.  I was so happy  I felt like dancing. The voice sounded familiar. Was it Natalie Merchant? Yes, Yes it was.  When given the option to listen to the whole album, I hit  'enter' so enthusiastically that my keyboard almost  bounced off the the desk .Natalie Merchant Leave your sleep

The rest of the afternoon passed  in a dream, poem after poem set to music and sung with Natalie Merchant’s unique personal style.  One poem was  new: "Bleezers Ice Cream", by Jack Prelutsky, but most were classics; " Maggie and Milly and Molly and me"- by e.e. cummings and "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" by Gerald Manley Hopkins.

Other verses like "The King of China’s Daughter" and "The Man in the Wilderness" were so well-worn into my memory that I couldn’t remember where I had first heard them. When I consulted Natalie Merchant’s website I found that she and I were worried about the same thing: how to give children a sense of poetry, a sense that past things should be remembered. Natalie wanted her young daughter to know poetry at an early age. So she composed music for a selection of her favorite poems. She looked up the background of each poet  and added it to the package.  The result is Leave Your Sleep, a beautiful collection of readable, singable poems. I have been singing them ever since. I am no longer a school librarian but I know that many of my students memorized poems through her music and I am inspired to know that there are still those who are using their talents to keep poetry alive.

The House of Special Purpose book jacketIn a tiny Russian village of Kashen, seventeen year-old Georgy Jachmenev steps in front of a bullet meant for the Tsar’s uncle. As a reward for his bravery, Georgy is offered a job working for Tsar Nicholas and his family as the personal bodyguard to young Alexei Romanov. Georgy excels at his job and becomes part of the Tsar’s inner circle. But when Georgy meets and falls in love with the Tsar’s youngest daughter Anastasia, his life is changed forever. Flash forward to 1981, when an aging Georgy is retired, living in London and caring for his cancer-stricken wife Zoya. Told in alternating chapters, these two worlds travel toward their inevitable meeting. Readers get a bird’s eye view of life in imperial Russia, from the glitz and glamour of life in the Winter Palace to the evil influence of the legendary Rasputin and finally to the sad fate of the Romanov family at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

As with many of his other fascinating novels, including Crippen, The Absolutist and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne has once again made history accessible and timeless. In The House of Special Purpose, he takes a much-examined story and makes it fresh and inviting. It is a story of love across sixty-five years of history, and a testament to the power of accident and determination to control our lives.

Ahhh riot grrrl , be still my heart. I have fond memories of you.  When I was fresh out of college with my women's studies certificate I got to witness and participate in the rise and fall of your movement.  

One of the most memorable days of my life (besides my wedding day) was when I did a poetry reading for 150 Canadian teens at a Vancouver Riot Grrrl concert in 1992.  I was the only poet on the bill. I was told by an organizer at the event that most of the audience probably hadn’t heard a poet before.  

I was shaking in my shoes when I started with these words:

Spoon Fed Our Daily Dose of Violence

You may wonder but may not care about my primal deep weep.

Or my cautious unspeaking nature.

Sure the words can be spelled or spilled upon the page but when real things are said I stutter.

I feel people shy and not so afraid of death.

They responded with screams and applause after this first poem.  As a poet I felt like a punk rock star for a moment.

Riot Grrrl was a grassroots feminist movement in the punk scene.  Riot grrrls were fighting against mainstream misogyny and subcultural sexism evident in punk rock shows and culture.  They fought the good fight and their efforts still echo in our contemporary culture.  Publishers and record labels have been collecting, reprinting and producing books, videos and music from this prolific movement.  I created this list in honor of these cultural “sheroes.”


 

cover image for ballisticsI avoided his poetry for years, the way one avoids eye contact in a lift. Imagining it to be all about horses, I ignored the ravings—sane as they turned out to be. Perhaps it was his Poet Laureate status, or maybe just his popularity in general. I don’t remember now what compelled me to pick up that first book of his poetry. It was on display  (oh those evil displays) and it was his newest publication at the time. I really wanted to hate him, but then I read the poems and I didn’t. The language he uses elevates the ordinary everyday and mundane into an appreciative art.  It was accessible and relational. It made me rethink the small moments in life and wonder if they could ever be captured in just such a simple manner.

I started with Ballistics, but I don’t believe it matters which one you pick up to begin. Just begin.

When would you like to have lived? I sometimes wonder what I would be doing if I lived in a different time. What would my life be like? The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer has helped me learn about life in England during the reign of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603.

book jacket for Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan EnglandThis is a prosperous time in England. Towns and cities are growing. London’s population hits 200,000 by the end of Elizabeth’s reign. While I am visiting London, I would want to see Shakespeare's latest play. Many customs are very different. Even the Queen likes a good bear baiting. This is a much rougher time. Some things have changed more than others. Lawyers were just as skilled then as now, but doctors are much better in the 21st century. If I were sick in Elizabeth’s time, I would probably do better if I called a priest instead of a doctor. I also need to remember to pay heed to my social betters as this is a very class-conscious time.

There is lots of beer. It is safer than the water. I will be drinking about a gallon a day. Unless I am a gentleman, I won’t be able to afford wine. A strong nose and lots of perfume are helpful as there are many noxious smells. The growing populations only add to the problem. The Elizabethan people don’t enjoy the stink, but there often is nothing they can do.

Does Elizabethan England sound interesting? Why not take a trip back and see if it is for you.

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