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same old same old4Read a book. Discuss the book. Read a book. Discuss the book. Read a bo … yeah, yeah.

Sometimes it's…monotonous.

The other day, I received an intriguing email, asking about ideas for books and related activities for a book group.

Here're a few I came up with; if you've got others, please feel free to share them with us.


 1. Sourdough by Robin Sloan: discuss the book, then…

…bake sourdough loaves using live culture. Or bake the bread first… then discuss the book AFTER you pop the bread in the oven.


2. Lab Girl by Hope Jaren or
    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: discuss the book, then…

…set up a potting table with pots, potting soil, spades, etc., and have members plant individual tree saplings or some sort of outdoor plant (everyone could even name their plant for a favorite novel or character: Anatomy of a Miracle, H is for Hyacynth; The Secret Life of Violet Grant; Upstart Lizzie Bennet).


3. American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee: discuss the book then…

…watch a National Geographic wolf documentary on YouTube: She Wolf is good (the wolf featured in the film is the same female wolf ,"0-6," featured in the book); Living with Wolves: Jim and Jamie Dutcher is good, too.


4. Last Days of Night by Graham Moore: discuss the book, then…

…watch PBS's American Experience: Tesla or BBC's Nikola Tesla. OR...make an easy electric motor (see instructions on YouTube or... invite a physics teacher to demonstrate how one is made. They're so cool: my husband made one for me years and years ago!)


5.  Bel Canto by Ann Patchet: discuss the book, then…

…listen to recordings, or watch videos, of Renee Flemming (on whom Patchet based her book; they're friends) OR...invite a singer/voice teacher to demonstrate operatic techniques: opera singers NEVER use mikes (unlike Broadway singers) yet even their softest notes can be heard in a 2,500 seat concert hall—an astonishing feat requiring years of study.


6. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: discuss the book, then…

…set up a one-night "bookshop": members bring anywhere from, say, 3 to 5 books to exchange with others OR consider setting up a "Little Free Library" somewhere OR, like Monsieur Perdu, have members bring one book and talk about how that particular book helped them cope with a difficult problem or period in their lives.

 

 

chiller thrillers 350pxRecognize any of the phrases to the left? How could you not?

They're taken verbatim from reviews of thrillers and mystery novels. They're repeated over and over in book cover blurbs and ads.

Let's face it: there're only so many ways to say "exciting" before running out of words. OK, we do have more words, but they're just variations on the same thing.

I've come to realize that I don't enjoy heart-thumpers (Hey, another word!). I don't like being on the edge of my seat for 384 pages. I don't like reading in PANIC MODE.

So Dear Reader, guess what? I skip ahead … to the last couple of pages. I need to see if my favorites make it through intact, and then I can settle back and enjoy the ride. After all, isn't that the point of reading. (Yeah, here comes the preachy part. You knew I would.)

I like reading for pleasure—not thrills. I like to savor the WORDS, their nuances and intricacies, the rhythm of their sentences. I like the complexities and richness of CHARACTERS. People in real life aren't cardboard cut-outs; we're not divided up into good guys vs. psychopaths. Mostly, I like to be asked to think, to be challenged with IDEAS about how people live in a troubled world.

Right, I'm perfect … I know. But seriously: I LOVE a good thriller—every now and then—just not a steady diet. And many of them are wonderfully written. But it strikes me that since Gone Girl, thrillers have been flooding the market. It's like the publishing industry has gone mad.

Worse, even writers of "literary fiction" are adding touches of thrillerdom to jazz up their plots and, I guess, juice up their sales. Oh, well. 'Nuf said.


grammar policeThey're off their game … unless maybe they've already thrown in the towel — because sometimes it feels like nobody's out there doing the dirty work, pulling in the perps. I'm talking about the Grammar Police.

Celebrities, politicians, pundits, authors, even the vaulted New York Times — all of them — are getting away with grammatical homicide.

This one came in today. It's subtle all right, but indicative of a downward slide into lawlessness. I count 2 "lock-em-ups" right off the bat. So let's read it and unpack it.

There's people that have been trying to line up for the opportunity.

 

1. THERE'S people
Oops: "people" is plural, so we say, "There are people" or "There're people." We don't say, "There is people" or "There's people."

  1. There're books in the library. — There's a book on the table.
  2. There're mice in the field. — There's a mouse in the house.
  3. There're lots of people. — There's a lot of people.


2. There's people THAT
Oops again: "people" are, well … people, and we use who when referring to homo sapiens. "That" or "which" refers to things.

  1. The person who gave me the book is my aunt.
  2. The aunt who gave me the book is my favorite.
  3. The people who read the book loved it.
  4. The ones who loved the book are my friends.

 



Both of these are common crimes. Pay attention and you'll start noticing how often you hear "there's" instead of "there're" … and "that" instead of "who."

Okay, then. Let's have another go at the sentence:

There're people who have been trying to line up for the opportunity.


Even better is this (try to avoid starting a sentence with "there"):

People have been trying to line up for the opportunity.


Let's face it, though: does any of it really matter? For me, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard, but in the larger scope of things … I'm not sure it does matter.

*Oops! Here's another one just in: "There’s help-wanted ads everywhere." —1/11/2018



books broken heartDear Reader. Maybe it's about time for this post. Like you, I bet, I've been distressed — no, horrified — by the divisiveness and ugliness pervading our public discourse.

We've turned against one another: liberals and conservatives, globalists and populists, blacks and whites, men and women, religious and nonreligious, elites and … well, pretty much everyone else.

But here's the good news. We have BOOKS. Novels, especially, are sources of refuge — with the power to heal, to bind wounds and the wounded.

Through book clubs—with our books—we come together to share the love of story. We visit different cultures and are exposed to different ideas. We grow our empathy. We locate ourselves, for a time, in a wider world. We understand — because we are well read — that change is inevitable. But we also understand that there are lasting values which must be protected, always.

Those "lasting values," though, can get us into trouble; how we define them differs, which makes them easy to politicize. You could say the idea of values is what divides us.

But there ARE lasting values, ones we can all agree on. First and foremost is KINDNESS, and we can find it in literature. Many of our favorite books are those in which kindness is found in unexpected places, in which an open, generous spirit prevails over cruelty and selfishness, anger and fear.

A second is belief in the DIGNITY of every individual. That's a hard one. It's much easier to play the lowest card in the deck and resort to name-calling — I know, I've done it. Yes, shamefully, I've indulged in vitriol.

Yet literature is rife with the acknowledgement of human worth — that individuals, no matter how vile or how degraded, possess an inner core of dignity.



winston blog4Stepping away from books, let's talk about something more PRIMAL that helps us overcome our differences.

If you haven't already guessed from the photo to the left—it's our pets.

While visiting my daughter, I enjoy spending time at an off-leash dog park. Not only is there a wide variety of dogs, but their owners are a fairly diverse group as well.

Yet the moment
one of our dogs shows aggression, we're quick to apologize and to rein in its bad behavior. Surprisingly, the other dog owners are equally quick to accept an apology. Animals, like books, tap into some deep well of GRACIOUSNESS within us.

One of those times, the political chatter one had been particularly caustic. (When hasn't it?) So it was of note that, as we sat watching our 4-legged creatures, we 2-legged ones were exhibiting the BEST OF OURSELVES. I wanted to hold onto that and carry it with me.

Moral to this blog post: GET A PET AND READ A BOOK. Let's make the world a better place. End of sermon.

writing top of my lungsBy Kathy Aspden, Author *
Here’s the thing I love about screenwriting – it’s about using the fewest words to create the largest picture.

There’s a wonderful economy in the language of films. You’re given two hours at best – which translates into 120 pages of script, one page per minute.

I’ve had table readings of my scripts – no action included – and have been surprised to find that it really is one minute per page.

So here’s your mission:  Write a scene that doesn’t include the character’s thoughts, desires and complex histories, but somehow conveys a character’s thoughts, desires and complex histories. It’s like a puzzle.

Add to that the fact that somebody important who’s reading your script does not want you to direct them. It sounds confusing, doesn’t it? It is.



RENNIE
I was wrong. You can tear up my contract and keep the money. I’ll take my chances on the outside.



This is a line from my screenplay, A PERFECT WORLD – a dystopic society in 2046 where America is bankrupt from taking care of the sick.

All illness has been traced to HPAS - Hybrid Procreation Autoimmune Syndrome – caused by the cross-pollination of people breeding outside their race of origin: The American Melting Pot. The government has decided it’s time to fix the problem before humanity is too sick to survive.

What if medicine suddenly became illegal and the sick were encouraged to die while America cultivated a new race
?

Now picture my dilemma as the screenwriter. Exclamation points are frowned upon. Italics aren’t allowed. Underlined words are not encouraged unless absolutely necessary. Using all caps (ala Christian Gray style) is a complete no-no.

And yet my character, Rennie, is a woman in a government run clinic, who is thirteen-weeks pregnant with a genetically viable child, produced through a government sanctioned union, and she wants out.

She wants out at the top of her lungs. She wants out in spite of the fact that she has signed a contract. She wants out even though she knows that medical care outside of the facility has been deemed illegal.

SHE WANTS OUT!!

But it’s not my call as a writer to do the director’s job (or so they say). So I write the words and hope he/she gets it. Or more likely, I hope the twelve-year-old he/she intern assistant to the producer gets it.

It’s all good, though, as long as YOU get it.


* Kathy Aspden is the author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman, as well as a book reviewer for LitLovers.

doll purseBy Kathy Aspden, Author *
Writing is a lot like making a baby. Sometimes, it takes everything to get to the point of conception, and sometimes you don’t even remember having sex that night, but somehow a baby was conceived. Either way it all begins with a tiny seed that is planted in your heart (or your brain if that’s how you’re wired).

Even before conception, the image of your child is already materializing: "He’ll have my eyes, my husband’s lips, and hopefully not Uncle John’s nose…" In anticipation, a parent is creating a composite baby in their mind. It’s the same for writers. We envision different blends of traits, strengths and weaknesses for our characters.

"Composite Character" is a term I was certain I had invented, right up until I looked it up on Wikipedia. What I found was that I had been intuitively using a process that many writers and filmmakers have done forever - take two or more people from real life or experiences or even history, and meld them into one quirky, interesting person with the capability of being both deeply flawed (as most great characters are) and relatable. It was another case of my inventing something that somebody else had already invented (insert travel hammock, swinging screen door for sliders, the instant ballerina-bun maker).

The strange thing is that I can’t tell if my characters begin to remind me of someone who then creeps into my head as I write, or if there is already a person in my head whose traits have crept into my character. Anyone who knows me may have guessed that there’s probably more people in my head than is considered healthy. Whatever the reason, my characters tend to take on a lot of personality traits – like snowballs down a mountainside — as their stories progress.

I'm more aware of it when I'm writing screenplays. It's easier to have an actor to visualize as the script unfolds. And why wouldn’t an actress like Julianna Moore (with a little Diane Keaton thrown in) want to play the part of Grace Mitchell, a forty-nine-year-old author who has just written a successful self-help book decrying America’s obsession with youth, but stands to lose everything when she finds herself pregnant by a thirty-eight-year-old plastic surgeon? Great plot, right? (An Inconvenient Miracle is available for option if you happen to be a successful movie producer).

Anyway, back to these mixed-up characters of mine. What I came to realize was that my psychiatrist had been wrong; the voices in my head were a good thing. Working with the public, being part of a large family, inheriting a natural love of human interaction from both my mother and my father gave me a lifetime’s worth of crazy, loveable parts and pieces to choose from when writing. This mental/multi-tasking/ADD portion of my brain was finally paying off! On top of that, I found a great app that allowed me to see my combos by physically blending people.

Here’s my JulianneDianeKeatonMoore blend.

P.S. I also invented the first Transformer, the epitome of the composite character — a doll head that turned into a change purse. I didn’t call it a Transformer. I called it a Doll-head Purse.

* Kathy Aspden is the author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman, as well as a book reviewer for LitLovers.

cursive writingCursive Cramp
By Kathy Aspeden, Author
*

A few years ago
I took a creative writing class from Professor Patricia McGraw. It was a three-credit course designed for advanced writers.

Absolutely, I wanted to get the most out of the class.

But I also wanted to get an "A" (grade-seeker — a horrible trait leftover from not having achieved anything athletic in my childhood years). That meant doing all the homework, even the things I found redundant or repetitive. Everything.

Professor McGraw was a huge fan of cursive. She said it got our creative juices flowing to engage our hands in what is quickly becoming a medieval practice. Four handwritten lined-notebook pages a night. Ugh!

It was agony for me. I have terrible, scratchy handwriting. My hands do not form circles. I can’t get anything on my body to make a circle. Ankle rolls during yoga, hula hoop hips, all of it is difficult.

I’m not graceful, I’m purposeful. I can hand-draw a window opening without a level. I’m the chick that does all the cut-in for family painting project.

I don’t create circles or graceful arcs. Cursive is filled with pretty swirls of circles!

Can you imagine getting a mediocre grade because of a simple thing like cursive? It felt positively elementary-schoolish — until I got the hang of it. Yes, like most people my brain works faster than my hands. I had to relax my thoughts, which turned out to allow more time for different, additional thoughts. Who knew?

When I realized that Professor McGraw wasn’t looking at the content, I still felt an obligation to do the task justice. One day I wrote four entire pages of potential book titles that all flowed into one another. "The Life We Made – Making The Pie – A Pie in Your Eye – The Eyes Have It – It Happened in the Park – Park Plaza Promise - Promise You’re Not a Psycho – Psycho is Another Name for Different – A Different Desire…"

Once I wrote a grocery list from when I was a kid, "Chef-Boy-Ardee Raviolis, Captain Crunch Cereal, Frosted Pop Tarts, Tang – the choice of astronauts…" You get the picture.

Before class we’d compare notes about how ridiculous our journals were. One guy wrote everything the NHL Hockey commentator said. Another recorded all the commercials while she power-watched back-to-back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Still another student detailed every move her cat made — adding extremely funny dialogue in between actions.

We thought we were beating the system, but we had to admit that something was happening. Ideas were being triggered by the action of writing by hand.

Today, cursive is making a comeback.

I recently saw a news show about the Campaign for Cursive’s 2017 contest winners. It was filled with kids who were treating the learning of cursive like a language or an archeological dig. They were cursive powerhouses, proud to have mastered a language that many of their friends didn’t know existed.

I’ll leave you with a great link to Johanna Silver’s 9 Incredible Ways Writing by Hand Benefits Our Bodies and Brains, as well as a look back at all the hoopla New York Yankees star, Alex Rodriquez, generated with his handwritten apology to the fans of baseball.

Kathy Aspden, is the author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman, as well as a book reviewer for LitLovers.

cursive note

trash the m2Don’t do math (can’t). But do do grammar. (Notice I violated grammar here because I can. I'm so good…the grammar police always give me a pass.)

I believe in grammar—its rules for clarity of expression—so others can make sense of what we try to say.

Nonetheless, there is one grammatical rule that needs to go: the "m" in the objective case of the pronoun "who" … that would be "whom."

That m is a nasty, pretentious little hold over from the days when Latin was the sine qua non (see "bees knees") of language.

It's along the same lines as that other silly rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition. And we all know what THAT led to: Winston's famous quip, "this is something up with which I will not put").

 

WHO WHOM—The test

THIS?     —    Give the award to  WHOEVER   deserves it.
Or this?  —    Give the award to WHOMEVER  deserves it.

THIS?    —   Give the award to those  WHO  you think deserve it.
Or this?  —  Give the award to those  WHOM  you think deserve it.

The who / whom imbroglio is overrated.  Clarity can be achieved perfectly well without that niggling little letter.  Who? Whom? Does it matter? We get the point.

 

The answers
Read at your own peril.

Answer:  Give the award to WHOEVER deserves it. 
“Whomever” is not the prepositional object of  “to.”  Rather, WHOEVER  is the subject of a dependent clause, “whoever deserves it.”  The entire clause is the prepositional object.  Phew!

Answer:  Give the award to those WHO you think deserve it. 
“Whom” is not the object of  “you think…whom.”   “You think” is parenthetical…you can remove it altogether. So the “who” becomes a relative pronoun for “those” and the subject of the relative clause “who deserve it.”

 

See what I mean? So much ink spilled over a measly m! The rules of grammar, in this particular case, are uselessly arcane—like trying to figure out the oyster fork from the fish fork from the salad fork from the dessert fork…at an Edith Wharton dinner party. 

So here’s my personal campaign for a better world: I say we trash the m in whom!

whole foods1Austin, Texas: June 19, 2017 -- In a surprise move today, Whole Foods and Amazon announced the takeover of LitLovers.

The acquisition came only days after the organic food chain was bought by Amazon.

"LitLovers fits perfectly in our shopping cart," said Biff Jezos, founder and head of Amazon. "After buying The Washington Post, then Whole Foods, LitLovers makes strategic sense." 

Wall Street positively crowed. "It's the ideal combination of vertical integration and economies of scale," said Janie Diamond, head of P.J. Morgan.

When asked if it was a friendly or hostile takeover, Molly Lundquist of LitLovers said, "Biff Jeszos and I are great friends. We both know what its like to start your own business. Besides, there's nothing hostile about $3.5 billion in the bank."

Alongside books, LitLovers will be adding a new line of pre-cut fruits and vegetables. "We've known for a long time that reading leads to weight gain," Ms. Lundquist said. "I've got some first hand knowledge in that area."

"Now we're offering a chance to replace those bags of chips and pints of ice cream with healthy foods. It's a winning synergy."


Sarabelle Korteks, special to City Examiner
and LitLovers




goth gothic1aWhat's an ancient German tribe have in common with medieval church architecture?

And what do flying buttresses have to do with horror fiction?

Finally, what's any of it got to do with black lipstick and body piercing?

Goth. Gothic. What do those terms mean, and how are they related? So let's find out.

The 1st piece of the puzzle starts with the GOTHS, a Germanic tribe mentioned by the Greeks way back in the 4th century B.C. We know them, of course, as the group that sacked Rome 700 years later, in 410 A.D.

For the 2nd clue, skip ahead to the 11th and 12th centuries, long after the fall of Rome, when a new form of architecture — featuring pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, and flying buttresses — sprung up in Western Europe. That design led to the great medieval castles and cathedrals.

goth gothic1bAlthough today we refer to the style as GOTHIC, at the time it was called "French Work" because of its origin in France.

But now jump to 1453 and the fall of the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire to the Ottomans. Driven out by the collapse of Constantinople, Greek scholars fled to the West, carrying with them the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Widely read throughout Europe, the classical writings were a revelation, sparking a rebirth — which we now call the Renaissance — in all branches of culture, including architecture. The classical Greco-Roman style, with its columns and domes and elegant proportions, became all the rage.

What about those glorious cathedrals and castles? Not so glorious. Seen as old and fusty, they came to be associated with a dark, barbarous past. From "barbarous" it was a short leap in imagination and linguistics to the "barbarians" who destroyed the classical world of Rome — the Goths. So that's how we got to GOTHIC architecture.

goth gothic2The 3rd clue takes us to 1764, when Horace Walpole published The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. The novel — set in a dark, foreboding castle, complete with dungeons, secret pathways, mysterious supernatural elements, and a damsel in distress — was wildly successful, spawning an all new horror genre.

Over the years, similar types of works followed: Frankenstein, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dracula, Fall of the House of Usher, and Phantom of the Opera are among the best known. All feature dark eerie settings — sinister castles, abbeys, monasteries, or old manses — that brought to mind the heavy, medieval architecture by then known as Gothic. And so we arrive at the GOTHIC novel.

Gradually, the emphasis of Gothic fiction shifted away from the dreary settings to the creatures at the heart of the stories — monsters, ghosts, ghouls, and vampires — or to the dark, brooding, sometimes villainous, human characters.

The 4th and final piece of the puzzle came in 1979, the year the post-punk band Bauhaus released "Bela Lugoi's Dead." The song refers to the 1931 film Dracula and its Hungarian star, Bela Lugosi. Bauhaus and other post-punk bands are credited with inspiring an underground cultural aesthetic — black clothing, nails, lips, and eyeliner — reminiscent of Gothic fiction. It's GOTH, man.

So here we are: we've gone from the GOTHS to GOTHIC to GOTHIC to GOTH. And it took only 2,300 years.

NEXT UP? We'll talk about the Gothic novel in the 21st Century. Stay tuned.


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