Saturday, June 16, 2018

How to Read Poetry Like a Professor

How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to VerseHow to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse by Thomas C. Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like to read poetry, but if you didn't I think this would be an excellent step toward fixing that problem. Foster is solid in his information, but casual in his approach and very aware of the objections that may arise in his reader as he explains the mechanics of poetry. It is covering the same material I learned in college from Perrine's Sound and Sense, but is shorter and less academic. I also found it funny (could just be me though).
"We need to be clear here that Old English doesn't mean Shakespeare (Early Modern English) and it doesn't even mean Chaucer (Middle English). Nope, we're talking about Anglo-Saxon before the Norman conquest brought a lot of French elements and made the language sound less like gargling." (p. 58)
I am adding another of Foster's books, How to Read Novels Like a Professor, to my TBR list as well as 2 books from his bibliography: Mary Oliver's Poetry Handbook and Preoccupations: Selected Prose by Seamus Heaney.

I am counting this book toward the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Practicing History

Practicing HistoryPracticing History 
by Barbara W. Tuchman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a bit of a hodge-podge as it includes essays on how to be an historian as well as essays about various historical issues. All of it is fascinating. Tuchman's style is clear and concise, but elegant in the choice of language. It is also filled with asides, many of them rather sharp, on the events being discussed.
"'One threat' to leave France to face Germany alone might have brought Clemenceau 'to compromise' (which suggests a capacious ignorance of the Tiger)." --from a review of a book on Woodrow Wilson, p. 155
I love the phrase 'capacious ignorance'. The essays on Israel, written at a point when its future existence was by no means certain, gave me a new perspective on the current state. The final section of the book is brief pieces, some articles and some speeches, that are contemporaneous with the events they discuss (the Vietnam war and the Nixon administration mostly). I was struck by the fact that many of her concerns about the direction American government was headed, have been borne out in the years since. 

As a resource on how to write history and biography there is a lot of useful information here.
"The problem is how and what to select out of all that happened without, by the very process of selection, giving an over- or under-emphasis which violates truth. One cannot put in everything: The result would be a shapeless mass. The job is to achieve a narrative line without straying from the essential facts or leaving out any essential facts and without twisting the material to suit one's convenience. To do so is a temptation, but if you do it with history you invariably get tripped up by later events." -from "The Historian as Artist" p. 49
The essays are also peppered with inspiration on life in general.
"Since life is only fun when you attempt something a little beyond your reach, I will proceed..." - from an address to the US Army War College on Generalship, p. 276
 I am counting this book toward the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Undermajordomo Minor

Undermajordomo MinorUndermajordomo Minor
by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"In actuality they were neither of them old men; their arms were still wiry with muscle, their backs straight and strong, and yet they had surpassed the mean, the center mark of their lives, and were both aware of an overall dimming." (p. 262)
As with his earlier novel, The Sisters Brothers, I really liked the style of this book. There is a dry wit to the narration that appealed to me. The story of Lucien Minor's life was interesting, but I felt like the characters in the castle, who were the subject of much of the story, were not developed enough.
This is my 13th book for the Canadian Book Challenge.

Thursday, May 24, 2018


When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect TimingWhen: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard Daniel Pink on the radio and thought his ideas about the importance of not just what you do but when you do it were interesting. The book includes lots of insights about how timing affects what we do and how we could do it better. nappuccinos are a brilliant idea that I can't wait to be able to try out and I will be paying attention to mid-points going forward. There were also quite a few bits that were funny. Social science rarely includes laughs, but it should. This is a book that I will want to re-read because I suspect I will get different things from it each time I read it.
This book counts toward the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Robber Bridegroom

The Robber BridegroomThe Robber Bridegroom
by Eudora Welty

This is a fairy tale set in the American south by a master of Southern fiction. It was well-reviewed by the NYT when it came out in 1942 and I was inspired to read it after having read Atwood's The Robber Bride. The original tale is in the Brothers Grimm collection, and a variant of it is retold in Neil Gaiman's "The White Road." Welty's tale has the tempo and language of a classic fairy tale and blends in myths and legends from 18th century Mississippi.
This is one of my Classics Club titles and counts toward the Back to the Classics Challenge as a classic by an author who is new to me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Lisa's Review: A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky by Amanda LindhoutSara Corbett

My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

A House in the Sky is a beautifully written memoir by Amanda Lindhout. She grew up in Alberta in a not very fortunate family situation. As a child, she grew a sense of adventure, and escaped her home life by reading through any National Geographic she could get her hands on.

As a young adult, she worked to save money to travel to the places she had read and dreamed about, eventually dabbling into becoming a reporter. In 2008 Amanda traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia to cover stories about life there among all of the fighting. On her 4th day, she was abducted and held for 15 months.

I loved many things about this book. First being the description of the pure sense of adventure she had. I like to think that I love to travel, but was in awe of the places that Amanda  traveled to. Second, the courage and attitude she exhibits throughout her time in captivity. And third, the style of writing, and telling of her story was just beautifully written. I was captivated at the beginning all the way through to the end.       

Here are a few of my favorite passages...

I unearthed an old issue I had as a kid, with a story about a slab-like magical plateau somewhere in Venezuela called Roraima, covered in quartz crystals and drifting above the clouds. The names alone seemed delicious and made up. They ran through my mind like poetry as I walked home, erasing the blunt syllables of the place I lived, the places I came from. p. 27

For five months, we'd sat with Roraima on our coffee table in our little apartment in Calgary, its pie-wedge shape occupying the pages of our most treasured issue of National Geographic. And now the looking glass had flipped. We were like fantasy characters climbing around a picture that had gone three-dimensional. p. 35

I'd like to say I'd hesitated before heading into Somalia, but I didn't. If anything, my experiences had taught me that while terror and strife hogged the international headlines, there was always - really truly always - something more hopeful and humane running alongside it. p. 105

This is my eighth book read for the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of ClutterThe Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“I often ask myself, Will anyone I know be happier if I save this?” ― Margareta MagnussonThe Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
This was a charming book. It was lovely, and a little sad, to spend a few hours reading Margareta Magnusson's stories of her things and her death cleaning experiences. Full of good advice and just a little guilt (what my mother would call "sitting in the dark"). I did learn that in Stockholm on my Mom's birthday there is a big annual book sale.
This book counts toward the What's in a Name Challenge as it has a nationality in the title and ththe 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Reckless Daughter

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni MitchellReckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
by David Yaffe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think that Joni Mitchell's Blue is the best album ever, so I was very interested to learn more about her. This book was a sympathetic biography, Yaffe is clearly a fan, but it was thoroughly researched and seemed to show Mitchell in an objective way. I'm not musical and I was a bit lost in some of the parts about chord progressions and tunings, but they were fairly brief and sprinkled through the book rather than all in one long incomprehensible section. My favorite part of the book were the stories about how, when, and because of whom she came to write various songs. I read this during April, which is National Poetry Month, which seems fitting as Mitchell was definitely a poet.
Camille "Paglia had included Join in a collection called Break, Blow, Burn, an anthology of what she considered to be the forty-three greatest poems in English, beginning with a Shakespeare sonnet and ending with 'Woodstock'." (p. 356)
This title counts toward 2 of my reading challenges, the Canadian Book Challenge and the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Readathon Wrap-up

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
Midnight to 1am. I read a sentence dozed off, then read the same sentence and dozed off again. That was the end for me. I set the alarm for 6:30 and read a little more then, but fell asleep before a lot of progress was made. 
2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!

-Finished Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe 
- Finished I Feel Better Now by Margaret Fishback 
- Finished Murder and Mendelssohn: A Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood
- Read most of An Academic Question by Barbara Pym
3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?

A slim volume of poetry was a great thing to read mid-readathon. I would definitely recommend that -- most books of poetry are less than 200 pages (not the collected works, but the individual books). Jane Kenyon, Edna St. Vincent Millay, LR Berger, Ted Kooser, Margaret Fishback, and Robert Frost would be among my recommendations, but any poet that appeals to you is the one you should choose. 
4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile?

I loved the scavenger hunt -- definitely do that again. I also liked having the mini-challenges open the whole time and linked on one page. It made it easy to find one I was interested in when I needed a break and not to miss a cool one when I was focused on reading. I completed a couple of them and read the entries for several others. 
5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? 

Very likely. It totally depends on the date and what commitments I have that day. 
Even though I didn't read the whole 24 hours--I knew I wouldn't--it was great to spend a day focused on reading. Total pages read: 799. The planning was fun too. Thanks to the organizers and every one who pitches in to make this huge event happen!
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