Do we read to find friends?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013 09:28

claire-messud-photo2Mention worthy:  Publishers Weekly (PW) posed a question to Claire Messud in a recent interview that roused a remarkable response. So remarkable, it's worth reporting on here.

The question concerned the heroine in Messud's new book, The Woman Upstairs.

PW said: "I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim."

Messud Responds . . .

For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert?

Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath?
...Saleem Sinai?
...Hamlet?
...Krapp?
...Oedipus?
...Oscar Wao?
...Antigone?
...Raskolnikov?
...Any of the characters in The Corrections?
...Any of the characters in Infinite Jest?
...Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written?
...Or Martin Amis?
...Or Orhan Pamuk?
...Or Alice Munro, for that matter?"

If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?"


Don't Mess with Messud!—was how PW responded to Messud's response. It's comment had clearly "rankled" the author, PW admitted, BUT...it gave Messud a chance to "show her chops. We're so glad we had that conversation," ended PW graciously.

Messud is the author of the 2006 The Emperor's Children (see reading guide here; see LitLovers review here), as well as this most recent 2013 novel, The Woman Upstairs.

For book clubs to consider:
1. Do we read to find friends?
2. How important is it to like the characters in the books?
3. Do we feel let down when we dislike them?
4. Talk about some of the books you've read and whether or not your enjoyment of them—or disappointment in them—had to do with the likability of the characters.


 

Just ♥ Words—semicolons (part 2)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013 10:42

semiramis-happyLook at Semiramis now. She's much happier because you're making progress in your mastery of the semicolon.

For a refresher scroll down to the previous post. Remember: the gist of the semicolon is that it connects two sentences without using conjunctions (and, but, or, so, for nor, yet).

Final lesson: this time we use semicolons with conjunctions—words like however, therefore, and nonetheless. They're called adverbial conjunctions.


—Semicolons & ADVERBIAL Conjunctions—

Why use a semicolon?
Remember: a semicolon connects two related sentences.
semicolon-aThink of it as a combination of a period and a comma. Notice the mark has one of each—top & bottom.  semicolon-arrowb

What's a conjunction?
A conjunction is a word that "conjoins," or links, two full sentences. Regular conjunctions—and, but, so, for or, nor, yet—require a COMMA before the conjunction.

Example: The dog barked , and the cat hissed.
Example: The dog barked , but the cat stood its ground.
Example: The dog barked , so the cat ran.

What's an adverbial conjunction?
Like regular conjunctions, adverbial conjunctions link two full sentences—but with a SEMICOLON before and a COMMA after. They're "adverbs" in that they describe precisely how the 2nd sentence relates to the 1st—the same way adverbs describe verbs.

semicolon-adv-conj
Some common adverbial conjuctions

also however nevertheless
anyway indeed nonetheless
consequently instead now
finally likewise otherwise
further meanwhile then
furthermore moreover therefore


Examples—

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; however , she decided to go anyway.

The adverbial conjunction "however" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is in OPPOSITION to the first part. You could also use...nevertheless or nonetheless or still.

__________

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; therefore , she decided not to go.

The adverbial conjunction "therefore" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is a CONSEQUENCE of the 1st part. You could also use...as a result or consequently.

__________

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; furthermore , she didn't feel well.

The adverbial conjunction "furthermore" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is an ADDITION to the 1st part. You could also use...also or moreover.

__________

It was too cold to enjoy the game ; instead , she went to the library.

The adverbial conjunction "instead" indicates that the 2nd part of the sentence is an ALTERNATIVE to the 1st part. You could also use...rather.


CAUTION
Don't confuse adverbial conjunctions when they're used as strict ADVERBS. Notice that in the following sentences they're offset by COMMAS. There's not a semicolon in sight.

It was too cold, however, for the game.
However, it was too cold for the game.

"However" functions as an ADVERB—not an adverbial conjunction—because there is only one sentence here (S + V): "It was"...

__________


She did not, therefore, want to go to the game.
Therefore, she did not want to go to the game.

"Therefore" functions as an ADVERB—not an adverbial conjunction—because there is only one sentence here (S + V): "She did (not) want"...

__________

Furthermore, she did not feel well.

"Furthermore" functions as an ADVERB—not an adverbial conjunction—because there is only one sentence here (S + V): "She did (not) feel"...


 

Just ♥ Words—semicolons (part 1)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013 10:06

semiramis6People! What is wrong with you? Never have so many understood so little about a squiggle on a page.

Meet Semiramis, warrior princess of Assyria, ruler of the semicolon. She is here to help you...and you will not refuse her.

Do not panic. With a little help, you can master the semicolon in no time. And you, too, can bear the title, Semiramis of Semicolons. (Costume and spear included.)



     —Semicolons—

Why use a semicolon?
A semicolon connects two sentences.
semicolon-aThink of it as a combination of a period and a comma. Notice the mark has one of each—top & bottom.  semicolon-arrowb

Why not use a comma?
It's 90-pound weakling. The comma is far too weak semicol-comma4 it can't hold two sentences together. semi-colon-no-no5 semicolon-nono-arrow
If you use one, you've got yourself a nasty little comma splice.

Why not use a period?
You can. Use a period to end the first sentence. Then start the second sentence.

The comma is too weak It can't hold two sentences together.

When do you use a semicolon?
Sometimes you want to link ideas—two sentences that are related to one another. In that case you can use a semicolon.

The comma is too weak ; it can't hold two sentences together.
A semicolon is strong ; it can hold two sentences together.

What is a sentence?
A sentence is a complete thought. A period signals the end of that thought. A semicolon can extend the thought—by linking it to another complete but related thought.

semicolon-sv7
Remember
You must have two complete sentences in order to use the semicolon —  S + V on the left  ;   S + V on the right.


Example—you have two (related) ideas...
Use 2 sentences —> with a period:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game . She decided not to go.

Use 1 sentence —> with a semicolon:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game ; she decided not to go.
                                             ________________

Example—you have two (related) ideas...
Use 2 sentences —> with a period:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game . However, she decided to go anyway.

Use 1 sentence —> with a semicolon:
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game ; however, she decided to go anyway.


You don't
have to use a semicolon to combine two sentences. You can also use a basic conjunction — and, but, so, for, or, not, yet — always (always, always) with a comma.
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game , so she decided not to go.
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game , but she decided to go anyway.
    • It was too cold to enjoy the game , and she didn't want to go anyway.

 

Movie Time—Cool book trailers

Monday, 25 February 2013 11:28

film-strip1Book marketers have given in...or smartened up. Either way, they've taken a page from the movie folks and now create film trailers to promote new books. Some of the trailers are pretty ho-hum. But we've found a couple that are ho-ho-hilarious. Really funny.

The first is Teddy Wayne's The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. Wayne is a wonderful comic writer, a terrific satirist, who in this book sets his sights on the commercialization of an 11-year-old rock star sensation, a la Justin Bieber. A child prodigy, Jonny is there for the taking: his life is commodified by just about everyone, including his own mother.

Here's the Video Trailer.
Here's our Reading Guide.

jonny-valentine1


Second up,
is John Kenney's novel Truth in Advertising. Again, like Teddy Wayne's, this is a comic novel: a sardonic take on the advertising world of New York. Finbar Dolan, the book's hero (not a River Elf), carries around a lot of angst—about the job, his family, and his love life. He sweats the big stuff.

Here's the Video Trailer.
Here's our Reading Guide.

truth-in-advert
Have fun with these. The more you watch them, the funnier they are. If your book's trailer is any good, play it at the book club meeting—it's a great way to break off socializing and signal the beginning of the discussion.

 

Just ♥ Words—heteronyms

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 10:57

deer-2It's no secret English is tough to learn. Some of it has to do with homophones and heterophones We've had fun before with words that sound alike but have different spellings and meaningshomophones, like bare and bear.

This time we've got heterophones*—words that look alike but have diffferent pronounciations and meanings.



Don't You Just ♥ Words?
     —Heterophones—

  1. Clara wound a bandage around his wound.

  2. Every number makes my mind grow number.

  3. The dump is full. Sorry, we must refuse your refuse.

  4. Don't desert me in the desert.

  5. Startled, the dove dove into the bushes.

  6. It's ugly, but I don't object to the object.

  7. No time like the present to present a good idea.

  8. The oarsmen had a row about how to row.

  9. She was too close to close the door.

  10. A handsome buck does like his does.
There are lots of double words with different meanings. Some are spelled alike but sound differently (desert/desert) ... others sound alike but are spelled differently (ore/oar/or). Try a few on your own. It's a fun game for book clubs...or any wordsmiths.

*Heterophones can also be called heteronyms.

 

Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age?—Part 3

Tuesday, 22 January 2013 15:28

librarianI've written twice* before about what's to become of libraries in the digital age. A widely emailed New York Times article should give heart to all of us who have worried about their fate. Here's the gist...

A Pew Survey found recently that the percentage of those who believe book borrowing is a "very important" library service (80%) is about the same as those who believe computer access is a "very important" library service (77%). As it happens, libraries have been meeting the challenge of the digital age all along:
In the past generation, public libraries have reinvented themselves to become technology hubs in order to help their communities access information in all its new form.
                               —Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew Research Center
It's possible to have too much information. Back in the dark ages, when the web was in its infancy, a friend of mine quipped that it needed a good librarian to get the stuff organized. This was a few years before Google. Today, the web clocks in at nearly 15 billion web pages, and it's still growing at a mind-boggling rate. Google or no Google, we have digital overload.

All of which makes an "information manager" more important than ever—specialists who know how to search, locate, categorize, and vet information. And guess who does that really, really well? Librarians.

What's more, librarians share their skills. Every major library now offers its patrons—not just access to digital equipment—but courses in how to use it...and how to maneuver the vast information galaxy.

So 100 years from now, even if we find their shelves bereft of the printed book, libraries and librarians will be more important than ever—as communal centers of knowledge. We'll still need them—so we better damn well make sure they're around! A warning to us all: we need to keep a close watch on our municipal budgets.

* See Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age—Part 1 and Part 2.


 

Book Club Blues—spicing up a tired club

Thursday, 10 January 2013 11:19

bcblues boring-club-1Dullsville. Has your club run out of gas? Stuck in a rut—doing the same-old, same-old? Take a look at a letter from our mailbag.


I have been a member of a book club for 12 years. Several of us have been talking and feel the group has become "stale." We've been doing the same thing year after year—and no one has any new ideas. Any suggestions on how we could shake things up?


Shaking things up often means forgetting about the book and stepping out of the pages. Or it might mean talking about books in a different way. Here are several ideas which any club could try, tired or not.
  1. Come as You Are
    Like a come-as-you-are party, each member talks (briefly) about the book s/he's reading at the moment. (Don't assign a book for that month.) Or identify a unifying theme—families, coming of age, mystery, historical, etc.—and have members find their own books based on the theme to share with the group (for ideas see our LitPicks monthly book reviews: click on Browse by Theme).

  2. Film Nightmovie-camera
    Devote a meeting to movies & popcorn. Have members bring their favorite film-adaptations and play a clip. If everyone shows up with The Help ... have each member pick out a favorite scene. Or watch a single movie in its entirety...and compare it with the book.

  3. Read To the Elderly
    Make arrangements with a local nursing home to read to patients. Go as a group and fan out, each reading to someone different. Find light-hearted books like Irma Bombeck with short, humorous chapters. Even for stroke patients with little comprehension, the stimulation of hearing someone's voice can be helpful.

  4. Auteur! Auteur!
    Write a book together. One of our Featured LitClubs started a "chain book"—each member built on a chapter from the previous writer. Be as silly or as irreverent as you want. Come up with a romance...a mystery...sci-fi...or combine a number of genres and see what comes out!

  5. rice-bowlInternational Night
    Dispense with reading for a month and host a dinner to which members bring dishes from the different countries (or regions) represented in the books you've read over the years. Members might bring artifacts...music...photos...or some representation of the culture.

  6. Costumes
    Have one meeting in which everyone comes dressed as a favorite character from any of the books you've read—or perhaps carrying some representative object. Members try to guess the identities of each other's characters...or not.

  7. A Night On the Town
    See a film or stage play together. Visit a bookstore or spend an evening at a library prowling the stacks together. Attend a lecture if there's a locally sponsored author series. Just break the routine...and GET OUT of the house!

  8. Arts & Crafts
    Perhaps there's a book which has some tie-in with an A&C project you could do together—origami cranes, for instance, for The Echo Maker. Or work together on a club scrapbook, each taking a page for one of the books you've read...or a specific year...or club event. There's nothing more fun than sitting around a table working together as a group.

  9. Games & Icebreakers
    Do check out our literary games page...and check out some of our featured book clubs to see what they've done. Lots of good ideas.

 For any group that's gone a little flat, my advice is to take a break from reading every now and then. Do something completely different.

 

The Help—the real deal

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 08:42

maid-narratives-bookArt imitating life ... imitating art. A new nonfiction book by three academics gives credence to The Help, Kathryn Stockett's novel of black domestics in white families during the South's Jim Crow era.

The real maids interviewed for The Maid Narratives encountered much the same treatment we all read about in the fictional version—separate entrances, toilet facilities, and dining areas.

Yet co-author Katherine van Wormer found much that surprised her: stories that were more positive than expected, a sense of forgiveness, and lack of bitterness.

A few deep bonds were forged between black maids and their white employers. "Love can cross over color-lines," says co-author Charletta Sudduth, whose own mother was a domestic and interviewed for the book:

I think that a lot of women—black and white women—shared a relationship that was genuine and true. They found ways to help each other, found ways to cry with each other, found ways to laugh.
Nonetheless, it was still a one-way racial street. As co-author van Wormer points out:
The whites thought of the maids as members of the family. The blacks didn’t see it that way. They had their own families, and the white people didn’t pay any attention to that.
The Maid Narratives was in research stage when The Help came out. Rather than feeling dismay at having been beaten to the punch, the book's authors saw only benefits. The huge publicity surrounding Stockett's best seller convinced many former maids to come forward and tell their own stories.

"For many of the women," says third co-author David Jackson, "this was the first time they could talk about it and begin to heal. It was therapeutic."

 

 

Classy Literacy Project

Friday, 16 November 2012 12:18

classic-coup-logo6Take a look at these cool t-shirts by Classic Coup, a literacy project started by devoted teacher and avid reader, Cindy McCain in Nashville. For Each T-shirt sold, money is donated to schools and orphanages in Ecuador, where Cindy taught this past summer (2012).

Lots more where these come from. So head over to her Classic Coup Blog and her Classic Coup Store...and buy t-shirts for all your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. Spend some time learning more about what she and her students are doing to make the world a better place for those who need it most.

t-shirts2t-shirts3

 

Book Clubs — Pinterest, the new best thing

Sunday, 21 October 2012 10:49

pinterest-logo-4One more addiction—this one's not on a plate or in a bottle but online. Pinterest: more fun than any one person should be allowed to have, but it's a great tool for book clubs. Move over, Facebook.

Pinterest
is a social media site—it's an online "bulletin board" where you "pin" your favorite images from anywhere on the web, especially from other Pinterest users. Or you can pin images and photos you've already downloaded onto your computer. Pinterest does all the formatting for you. It's simple easy and devilishly clever.

Below is what a "bulletin board" looks like—a snapshot of LitLovers' board on Pinterest. Be sure to visit our real page—"Everthing Books" — to see the complete board. The Pinterest button on LitLovers home page (left-hand colum) will also take you there.


pinterest-main
Why would book clubs use Pinterest? Because it's a great way to keep everyone up-to-date and to maintain a visual record of club activities. Your club can have its own page—and you can have as many "bulletin boards" on your club page as you want. You can add everything related to your book club...
  • Add a "bulletin board" for the books you're reading—there's a space for captions (say, for titles or meeting date and locale).
  • Add comments about each book. Any member can comment; it's just like Facebook.
  • Add as many boards as you want—on the same page. Add a 2nd board for potential book ideas, a 3rd for club photos, and 4th for book-related recipes. Anything.
  • Add boards for every member—on the same Pinterest page as your book club. Members can use their individual boards to "pin" everything...from the books they're reading on their own, to book-related gifts or personal photos.

Take a look at a snapshot of a standard Pinterest page. You click on the empty gray boxes to add a new "bulletin board" and a title for your board. Then pin away.

pinterest-wide

It looks more complicated than it is. Believe me... if I can do it, you can do it. Head to the Pinterest Help page to get started. You'll find it under "About" in the upper-right corner. Follow the directions as best you can*...and "pin" to your heart's content.

Be warned, however. Once you get on Pinterest, you'll complsively click all over the place. You may not be able to get off.

* Call on a young person if you get stuck. They know everything.



 

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