Sunday Salon: Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage

About once a year, I re-read the book Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi. I originally read it when it first came out, and I remember being curled up on the bed in my dorm room on a cold, grey, San Francisco morning, drinking hot tea and living vicariously on Aebi’s solo voyage around the world. At the time she made the voyage, she was just a couple of years older than I was. At the time I read it, I was the same age she was in the book.

It’s a cold, grey Texas Sunday, and even though I have a thousand things I should be doing, I can’t help but want to escape into this book. It’s technically a memoir, but it’s such a great story that it reads like a novel, and whenever I return to its pages, I’m also sailing along with Tania on her sailboat the Varuna with her cat Dinghy (and later Tarzoon), as she discovers life and love and learns about celestial navigation and engine maintenance.

I’ve made this journey many, many times with Tania over the last twenty or so years, and every time, I find something new in her story, or it evokes something new in my head.

And of course, with each reading, my fantasy of living aboard a sailboat for several months is rekindled.

Except, of course, that I don’t really want to live that basically. I mean, I am the woman who hates camping, and thinks “roughing it” is a hotel that doesn’t have room service or free wifi.

Even so, it’s nice to relive Tania’s Maiden Voyage from time to time.

Just as it’s nice to relive any favorite dream, and enjoy the wishing as much, or more, as you would the fact of what you’re wishing for.

The Sunday Salon: Catching Up

Reading in the Bath

I spent much of December not blogging because I was wrapped up in an intense work project that had me wanting to avoid the keyboard when I wasn’t working, so instead of writing for myself when I was done writing for other people, I did what I’ve always done: escape into books.

In December my escape books were fluffier than usual.

I began with Judi Fennel’s delightful romp I Dream of Genies, which includes an homage to Barbara Eden, and a re-imagining of every classic djinni trope out there. Romance, yes, but with a goodly amount of humor.

Then I re-read the first eight novels in Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series. Okay, technically it was the first seven and a not-quite prequel, but still. Books eight and nine will be in my hands on Wednesday, but I’m saving them for when Fuzzy is in Boca again.

I succumbed to the lure of free and inexpensive Kindle material with Joseph Bottom’s collection of Dakota Christmas vignettes, which was a lovely read, even though some of it was pretty dark, and then moved west, and a little south, and read a Harlequin novel (remember, it was FREE) called Colorado Christmas which made me wistful for the Christmases I spent in Georgetown, CO, and for the Georgetown Loop.

Finally, I picked up Julie Andrews’ memoir Home which was really interesting. We know her voice, but in this book, we get to see different sides of her.

And now, I’m caught up, sort of. I have a dual-stack of books going – those I started last year and didn’t finish (The Paris Wife, anyone?) for whatever reason, and those I haven’t even begun, but are speaking to me. I split them between Kindle and paper – I like paperbacks for reading in the bath – and will be working through them as fast as possible.

The Sunday Salon: A Tale of Three Lauras

Over the last week or so, I’ve been living on the prairie. Not the North Texas prairie that is still crusty with drought, despite recent and forthcoming rain, though of course, technically our city IS on the prairie, but the prairie as brought to life by Laura Ingalls Wilder and two of her modern fans.

The Long Winter

I grew up reading the Little House… books, and re-read them when I moved to South Dakota to marry Fuzzy in 1995. They have new dimension when your husband is from a town just half an hour from the real Little Town on the Prairie, and your new niece and nephews attend Laura Wilder Elementary School!

I read The Long Winter last winter (and early Spring) after we returned home from a trip to Iowa in early February (for a family funeral) and after I found the amazing blog/website Beyond Little House. The members of that site were in the middle of a read-along of that book, and I wanted to participate, but was so busy…and then life exploded in other ways.

During the intervening years, I’ve visited a few of the home sites (De Smet, many times, Plum Creek, Walnut Grove, keep meaning to visit Independence, but never have), read a good portion of the published literature about Mrs. A. J. Wilder, and considered a Laura project of my own.

That consideration has been sparked, recently, by two new(ish) Laura-related books by fans who are roughly my age.

The Wilder Life

The first I encountered is a humorous memoir by Wendy McClure. It’s called The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, and it’s about the author’s journeys to the various homesites, and her attempts to bring a bit of “Laura World,” as she calls it, into her own world. (It’s at this point that I must confess: My mother used to make sunbonnets for me, I dressed as Laura for Halloween, 1977, and I have boiled syrup to pour over snow, but I have never considered buying a churn and making my own butter.)

McClure’s book resonated with me for another reason – her partner’s name (at least, the one in the book) is the same as Fuzzy’s real name.

Unlike McClure, however, I loved the television show. Oh, I knew it wasn’t accurate, but just as I’ve often said of the Harry Potter movies, that show was what might have resulted had the real Laura sold her story to the media herself. Also? It was fun to watch. My friend Jill would come over on Monday nights and we’d do our homework while waiting to see if Laura and Almanzo would finally kiss.

I was, however, a fan of the books first, and there were times in Colorado when there were three feet of snow on the ground and school was closed for days because the buses couldn’t get over the pass that I had the barest glimpse of what that Long Winter might have been like. (After my first real winter in South Dakota, I realized that Colorado winters were mild by comparison. I also realized that as much as I might like to imagine living on the prairie in a claim shanty, I’m a modern woman, and I am DONE with serious winter.)

My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself

I devoured McClure’s book and wanted more. Coincidentally, I was led to my other Laura-book of this week, another memoir, by a woman just two years older than I am. Her name is Kelly Kathleen Ferguson, and her book – which I read in one day, and finished while soaking in a tub of lavender-scented bubbles – is My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself.

Ferguson is a bit wilder than McClure, in that – on a mission of self discovery – she donned a prairie dress, and wore it on a two week marathon visit to all of the midwestern homesites of the Ingalls and Wilder clans. Her book is also funny, candid, and, at times, poignant, and as I read it I almost – ALMOST – wanted to be single again, so I could just uproot myself and move to another city and write.

Her description of her time at Prairie Manor, specifically, made me want to go back to Dakota and spend the night there, even though I HATE the prairie in summer. I was even ThisClose to calling Fuzzy’s family and asking if we could drive up and crash their Thanksgiving, just so we could drive a few miles on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway during the trip.

But that’s the beauty of books – they allow you to live vicariously through another person, and then, put them down having learned something about yourself as well as something about the author.

I enjoyed both of the books I read this week, and have arranged to interview Ms. Ferguson for All Things Girl. I’ve also started a fresh re-reading of all the Little House books, because even if I don’t do anything with it, I have to write the Laura-related story that has been perking in my brain for the last 16 years.

And if I’m sort of wishing I could have a Christmas party where we all get a tin cup, a penny, and a stick of candy, in a room decorated by paper chains and popcorn strings, well, I know of at least two women who probably have the same kind-of wish.

The Sunday Salon: Monster Mash?

Illustration from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

When we think of monsters – not monstrous people or monstrous acts – but Hollywood-style monsters, two of the first that come to mine have to be Frankenstein and Dracula.

Two years ago, as part of an English/Literature tutorial for a friend’s son, we studied Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and noted the differences in the way the character was written and the way he’s appeared since. For example: Dracula can walk about during the day, but his powers are limited to that of an ordinary person; his powers include the ability to take the forms of bat or wolf, fog, or elemental dust.

Then, too, there’s the ending – or rather, the ending of the Count, not quite the ending of the novel:

By this time the gypsies, seeing themselves covered by the Winchesters, and at the mercy of Lord Godalming and Dr. Seward, had given in and made no further resistance. The sun was almost down on the mountain tops, and the shadows of the whole group fell upon the snow. I saw the Count lying within the box upon the earth, some of which the rude falling from the cart had scattered over him. He was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glared with the horrible vindictive look which I knew so well.

As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.

But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat. Whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart.

It was like a miracle, but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.

I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there.

The Castle of Dracula now stood out against the red sky, and every stone of its broken battlements was articulated against the light of the setting sun.

More than one more modern author, among them Fred Saberhagen, has looked at this death scene, and noted that since 1) You can’t kill a vampire with a knife, and 2) Dracula crumbled into dust, he was not actually killed at the end of the novel. A novel, which by the way, he appears on only 58 pages of. The rest of the 200+ pages are spent talking about him, his powers, his deeds, and everyone else’s life. Like the shark in Jaws, Dracula-the-character is scariest when we don’t actually see him.

But Dracula was a past project.

For the last month, I’ve been reading mysteries, partly because I love them, but partly because it’s autumn, and I think mysteries go well with lengthening shadows and crisper evenings, but the book I began this morning takes me back into classic monster fare.

It’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, I’ve never actually read. I remember seeing Boris Karloff as the Monster in the old movie, and being chilled at the scene with the little girl, the Monster, and the flower. I remember reading riffs on Frankenstein, and of course I know that Rocky Horror for all its silliness is still derivative of Shelley’s work.

So as the nights lengthen further, the weather grows cooler even where I live, in Texas, and the shadows turn into puppet creatures beckoning us to explore the dark and deep parts of our psyches, I’m about to take a break from conventional mysteries and thrillers, leave the comfort of cozy novels, and begin reading Frankenstein.

The Sunday

Sunday Salon: Bookless?

The Sunday

September is nearly over, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t finished reading a single book. As is my custom, I have several started, but nothing is capturing my attention. I could blame work, or the weather, or any number of other things, but the reality is that I just haven’t been able to fall into anything I’m reading.

I have this urge to invite people over just to read plays or short stories and discuss them. Not books. I have no patience for book clubs and book groups, because I read too quickly (most of the time), and by the time everyone else has finished the book, I’ve read five others. I was this way in school, too, which made literature classes difficult for me. I wish it had occurred to me to ask for the exam work as soon as I finished reading a book; it never did.

And so, this blog lies empty-ish, and I skipped posting anything to Sunday Salon last week, and I want to read, I do, but my brain won’t engage.

On the other hand, I’ve written twelve pages of a story I’m working on for fun, and five of my novel, so the month hasn’t been completely useless.

Sunday Salon: Re-discovery

The Sunday

Have you ever bought or borrowed a book, either because it looked interesting, or because a friend recommended it, and then found that you’ve actually read it before?

That happened to me recently. I was exchanging emails and blog comments with my friend Becca, because I’d mentioned that one of my favorite books to re-read was Bread Alone. She suggested I might like The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass. Later that weekend, I bought a copy at the local used bookstore, in hardcover, for under $5.

That evening in the bubble bath, I cracked open the book, only to find the opening pages eerily familiar. Sure, there’d been a sense of deja vu when I’d looked at the cover in the store, but I’d just assumed I’d seen similar cover art. Nevertheless, I began reading the book anew.

And the thing is, I don’t mind this sort of rediscovery. I remember that I’d enjoyed the book the first time I’d read it, but I read very quickly, so there are times when, depending on my mood in the moment, certain things catch my attention differently. Example: When I was little, and read Little Women for the first time, the part that I cried through was when Beth died. When I read it again as a young adult, who’d had some experience with love and relationships, I was moved by the scene where Jo refuses Laurie, because on one level, we want these two brash kids to be together, but anyone who’s had a best friend of the opposite gender knows that those relationships never work when they cross into romance.

The Whole World Over, then, is going to remain my “bathtub book” for the next couple of weeks. I know the story well enough that I don’t need to race through it to see what happens, but that doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate a slow, savoring read of it while I soak in lavender-scented bath bubbles.

What about you? Do you ever “re-discover” a book? Do you embrace the situation, or feel cheated out of a new story?

The Sunday Salon: Shifting Seasons

The Sunday

Labor Day weekend doesn’t really have a lot of significance when you work from home as a writer. My “office” is the Internet, which never closes, and there are weeks when I choose to work Saturday and Sunday and skip Monday and Tuesday, and other weeks when I work a more conventional schedule. It depends on deadlines and whether or not I’m feeling at all creative.

Naked Heat

In the part of Texas where I live, Labor Day weekend doesn’t bring much of a temperature change, either. Sure, the days of being able to swim instead of sweat for exercise are dwindling, and the nights are getting a little cooler, but summer often lingers into October here, at least, if you go by the thermometer.

Long years of conditioning, however, have marked this weekend as the time when I shift my reading away from summer “beach” books (and I mean that literally – last year I read all of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket novels; this year I still have Summer Rental and Maine to finish) to other types of books.

For some reason, I read a lot of mysteries in the fall. Maybe it’s because the falling leaves and cooling days lend a touch of unpredictability to my mood, or maybe it’s because the earlier sunsets and lingering darkness in the morning are sort of murky and shadowy.

Already in the last week or so, I finish last year’s “Castle” tie-in Naked Heat, and I’m half-way through Cleo Coyle’s latest coffeehouse mystery, Murder by Mocha.

Murder by Mocha

I’ll read other stuff of course, but for me, fall is Mystery Season.

What about you? Does your reading shift with the calendar, or do you simply read whatever your mood calls for?

The Sunday Salon: Free Kindle-ing

The Sunday

It was roughly a year ago that I received my Kindle e-reader as a birthday present from my aunt. I fell in love with it almost immediately, although I confess that the ability to have a new book in just a few seconds means that I spend far more on ebooks than I ever did on physical ones, especially since I still buy paperbacks to read in the bath!

Soon after I received my Kindle, I was introduced to, a website that compiles new releases, price changes, and even free books for ereaders, and helpfully shoots you a daily email message with links to them.

Now, some of the free books are obviously free because they’re self-published (which that doesn’t mean they’re BAD, though it often means they’re either explicit sexual or explicitly Christian), but others are the first books in established series that are free to garner new audiences, or free because they’re backlisted, or free because they’re previews…

Blue, Lou Aronica

The thing is I’ve discovered some amazing work that people are literally giving away for free. The week before my nephew died, I downloaded a free book called Blue, by Lou Aronica, which was about a divorced father trying to maintain a relationship with his teenaged daughter, while she struggled with a relapse of cancer. It sounds really sad, and I guess parts of it are, but it was also a lovely fantasy, a brilliant father-daughter piece, and actually, I found it to be full of healing and hope.

I didn’t review it, because – well, I didn’t review anything, or maintain any of my blogs, really, between April and August. But I thought it was a great read, and I heartily recommend it.

Then, last week, as part of my self-indulgent birthday week of reading as much as possible, I downloaded a free copy of Megan Foster’s award-reading novel Megan’s Way. I finished it on Thursday or Friday, and tweeted about it, and ended up in a brief chat with the author. It, too, was a lovely book with a really beautiful parent-child relationship at its heart – this time with the title character – Megan – and her teen daughter Olivia.

Megan's Way, Melissa Foster

More magical realism than true fantasy, this was exactly the book I needed to read at the time that I downloaded it, and I loved it so much that I’m eager to read more of Foster’s work. Look for the review of Megan’s Way here on this blog in the next day or so (I meant to get it done over the weekend but life conspired against me).

These are just two examples of books I’ve read for free (or very little money) via my Kindle. Do I still love cracking open a paperback, or going to a reading and buying a signed copy? Of course! But I love being able to have a portable library as well.

My only dislike of my Kindle – and the technology in general – is that not EVERY book is lendable. After all, every hardcover and paperback is.

The Sunday Salon: Ice Cream as a Feminist Statement and Other Self-Help Suppositions

The Sunday

On my birthday in 2010, a good friend gifted me with a book from my Amazon Wishlish: Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a Smartmouth Goddess, by Susan Jane Gilman. I’d recently read her memoir of being one of the first Americans to travel in China when she was young, and wanted to read more of her stuff.

As sometimes happens when you have a to-be-read pile that reaches epic heights, and have to get the to-be-reviewed books read first, Kiss My Tiara kept getting shoved to the bottom of the pile. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I had both the time and the mood to read it, and I’m glad I did, because while a lot of it doesn’t apply to me, a lot of it does.

Even better, unlike most self-help books, Kiss My Tiara is funny. I’m an improvisational comedian when I’m not writing or blogging, so the use of humor in this book (which is what drew me to it initially) really worked to keep me interested. Engaged even.

One passage that really made me giggle – and then made me think – was her suggestion that we women use our PMS bitchiness to get things done. “I mean,” she writes, “why harangue our loved ones when we can harangue our legislators. After all, it’s what we pay them for. It’s their job to listen to our concerns.” And so, she says (helpfully providing phone numbers) when your hormones make you want to kill your spouse or partner because he/she had the nerve to breathe too loudly (or whatever) instead of picking a fight, you should call Congress, and demand that your representatives actually represent YOU, or avail yourself of the White House complaint line.

And then there’s the bit about ice cream:

Ice cream is non-patriarchal. Ice cream, frozen yogurt, milk shakes – every dairy product we can think of is the exclusive product of females. So, okay, they’re cows. But eating this stuff can be a political act that neatly unites feminist principles with a love of animals. It can be a way of showing support for our bovine sisters! Fuck the vegans, I say. Anyone who doesn’t eat ice cream for purely “ethical” reasons is a killjoy and a moron and not to be trusted. Pro-ice cream is pro-woman, Baby!

Best. Self-help book. EVER!!!

But speaking of self-help, recently for All Things Girl, I had the opportunity to review two recent spiritual self-help books, and interview their authors. One is called The Enlightened Mom and it’s an amazing book about how mothers, and indeed ALL women, should embrace self-love in order to model loving kindness for their families. It basically boils down to “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy,” but it’s written in a really positive way, and as a Unitarian Universalist, the Christian elements felt appropriate and not off-putting, which is good, because even spiritual life guides should be supportive, not preachy. (Also, the Author, Terri Amos-Britt, is one of the most delightful, smart, wise, interesting women I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with.)

The other book, which also has a spiritual element was Dr. Carmen Harra’s book Wholiness, which teaches us how we have to unite to save the world. She talks a bit about 2012, and how it’s not the end of the world, but the end of a cycle, and how endings and beginnings have power. (She’s actually our “cover girl” for our last issue of the year.)

If this sounds like a whole lot of self-help, well it is, and no, it’s not really my preferred reading genre, but sometimes the universe sends things your way, and the best thing to do is accept them, explore them, and take the advice that applies, while not stressing over the bits that don’t.

Happy Sunday.

The Sunday Salon: Struggling to Read

In the last week, I’ve written a novel’s worth of articles, supervised (and tried to help) while my husband and friends moved some furniture around inside, and also into, our house, helped a friend pack to move half way across the country, picked up a cake for another friend’s birthday, managed to shatter the glass of my iPhone when my dog knocked it from my hands, and I’m also rehearsing a song for church. If there was a way to get a roadside assistance plan for my brain, I totally would.

While this has been going on, I’ve noticed that reading has become a struggle. Either I’m too tired, or too hyper, or I just don’t have time. I posted a few days ago that I was not in a reading mood at all, but that’s not true. I want to get lost in a book, and am in the middle of three now (up from two), but I’m not connecting to anything. It’s like, I only have the mental capacity to hum Christmas tunes and watch cheesy movies on Fa-la-la-la-Lifetime.

I know this mood won’t hold, but I was really hoping to manage to complete 104 books this year, and I’m short of that goal.

So, I wonder – what does everyone else do when reading becomes a struggle when it never was before?