Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Novel Update...and Chekhov

I'm well into my revisions...and slowly but surely making progress on the WIP. My goal this week: 5 solid pages a day. I'm a third of the way through, and the earlier work was, admittedly, the more polished third, so the rest of round two will be something of an uphill climb. If I think about the whole journey I'll get terrified and quit. Right now it's a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, or in this case, one word after the next. I have to remember my own advice: it doesn't have to be perfect. Yet.

I subscribe to the often-wonderful Writer's Almanac, and found a great quote for today. If you want to subscribe to daily poems, historical notes, and noted author's birthday's, click here.

Today is Anton Chekhov's birthday. Known by some as the father of the short story, Chekov says: "Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out."

I find this humorous, and often true. In the vein of not letting daily living wear me out, I'm back in my best routine of pray, read, write, family time, knit and exercise. Plus healthy doses of bubble baths, dark chocolate and naps. Sounds simple, but it keeps me sane.

What keeps your cookies cool? Tips for habitually healthy living? Do share...


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

He Said, She Said...Best Books of 2007

Welcome to the third annual Best Books for the blog, where Kern and I list out our favorite reads of the year. Actually, because Kern is more organized he writes his list first and I respond.For clarification, these are books we read in this year and don't necessarily respond to pub dates.

Here goes...

Kern says:
10. Psycho, Robert Bloch – The original from which Hitchcock adapted his screenplay. It was a short read, but very tense. The movie is better in this case, but I enjoyed the book almost as much.
Britta says:
This is on my to-be-read stack. For a classic intense read you might try the psychological ghost story Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I read this on my own after picking up some James in class, and it's my favorite so far. The terrorized nanny and the is-it-or-isn't-it haunted house with creepily adult children set the mark for today's current supernatural thrillers, complete with undercurrents of sexuality and repression. Not bad for a serialized story first published in 1898.

Kern says:
9. Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon – Grady Tripp is a pot smoking English professor/ writer in a small Pennsylvania town. The writing stands out, and is hysterical at times.
Britta says:

It's hysterical throughout. Chabon's writing shimmers, his characters are exciting and weird, and the way he weaves what seems like inconsequential clues (the pet snake!) into climactic turning points is sheer genius.

Kern says:
8. The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz – A memoir about an escape from a Siberian prison camp, and the ensuing walk to the Indian Ocean after WW2. A fascinating story that holds up to scrutiny. Toward the end of the story, there is a short reference to a Bigfoot creature they spotted in the Himalayas. Yeti or not, the story is an incredible tale of endurance.
Britta says:
I don't know why Kern loves the survivor tales so much, but he does. Maybe the chance at spotting Bigfoot? I'd suggest Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love which is a story about a freelance writer from Manhattan learning to navigate life after divorce by spending a year submerged in foreign cultures.

Kern says:
7. The 64$ Tomato, William Alexander. This is the story of an organic gardener in New York, and his battles with gardening. Having tried unsuccessfully many years to raise a tomato myself, I was drawn to the title. Of course in the end, the author calculates what it has cost to go organic. Very funny read, especially for the gardener.
Britta says:
I don't garden, but Kern's laughter as he devoured this book makes me want to read it. If reading about food is your thing, try Jhumpa Lahiri's gorgeous books: Interpreter of Maladies (short stories) and The Namesake. She uses food symbology in her stories of the Indian immigrant experience, as filtered through generational families struggling with identity and place in American society. If the opening page of Namesake doesn't make you want to snack on Indian food, you have no tastebuds.

Kern says:
6. The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster. Nathan Glass, retired and estranged from his family returns to his childhood neighborhood in Brooklyn. A great cast of characters.
Britta says:
I read this one and while it was enjoyable, for a top-ten cast of characters I'd recommend E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-Winner The Shipping News. Love Quoyle, love the aunt, love the villagers. Made me want to learn to fish and live in Newfoundland.

Kern says:
5. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson. A memoir of his childhood in 1950’s Des Moines.
Britta says:Hysterical. I enjoyed this book so much I bought it for my parents who grew up in the 50s. Whether you're of that generation or not, you'll appreciate Bryson's wry humor and a classic coming-of-age tale from times past. Bryson's childhood desperation to get into the carnival to see the scantily-clad freakshows captures longing, adolescent hormones, and small-town dynamics all in one colorful and gut-funny scene.

Kern says:
4. Bitter Blood, Jerry Bledsoe. True crime narrative covering two southern families. Vitamin C anyone?
Britta says:
Isn't he cute? If it's not survival stories of people eating people, it's crime narratives. After last year's nightmare inducing foray into Kern's serial killer bedside reading, I took a sabbatical from true crime in 2007. For an excellent fictional crime tale, I'd recommend Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn. A killer twist at the end from unlikely characters, plus her lead detective is Case History's shlumpy and likable Jackson Brodie.

Kern says:
3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. His post apocalyptic story about a father and son making their way to the coast. Chilled me to the bone. Don’t throw away your canned goods!
Britta says:
I shouldn't count this, because I technically read it in 2008, but I'm gonna. Unforgettable, worthy of the hype, and as a student of writing, I'm in awe of his spare and powerful style. If you start this book, you won't stop, and you won't ever forget it.

Kern says:
2. The World According to Garp, John Irving. Irving is without doubt the Great American Novelist. The story of TS Garp is unforgettable.
Britta says:
I Heart John Irving. He shames me with his writing, and I love him for it. I haven't read Garp, but it's on my list. For another twisty tale of dysfunctional families, try Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I was assigned to read this for class, or else I'd never have picked it up--it's a graphic novel, which I used to think was a euphemism for Really Long Comic Book. A disclaimer: Fun Home IS graphic, in tone and subject matter (who knew cartoons could be so...explicit?), but its setup of a young girl grappling with identity as she grows up in a funeral home setting is poignant, at times laugh-out-loud funny, and utterly real. I wept at the last image.

Kern says:
1. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen. Alfred and Enid Lambert, and their dysfunctional descendants. What a story. The chapter on the cruise ship stands alone. What’s that on the couch?
Britta says:
Evermore labeled as the man who shunned Oprah, Franzen lives up to his own hype with this book. I laughed, I cried, I feel like Alfred and Enid are family members and I miss them. Like Chabon and Irving, Franzen knows what he's doing when it comes to crafting fiction. While his character's exploits are at times larger than life, their frailties in the smallest moments...a father in a nursing home, a prodigal son arriving home, a marriage strained into silence...are heartbreakingly real.

Other books from 2007 I'd recommend (see earlier posts on the blog for more descriptions):

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
Yiddish Policeman's Detective Union by Michael Chabon
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Thereafter Johnnie by Carolivia Herron

Disagree with our choices or have books you want to add? Comments welcome! Let us know...what did we miss???

Monday, January 14, 2008

Britta Knits!

Though I am in mourning today for the devastating end to the Cowboy's season, I do have some happy news to report. I've updated my website to include a new Britta Knits section in the photo album where I'm displaying my current obsesssion with the art of knitting.

For a teaser, this is a pic of a recent knit-then-felt project that I like to call "Hello, I'm a Tree Hugger Yoga Mat Carrier." More details on the site...

Have a hobby? A current obsession? Do tell...

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Project Runway Moment

From last night's episode,
"Is this a skirt? It looks like a coffee filter. Or a maxi pad."
-- Tim Gunn, to designer Sweet Pea,
at which point she collapses into her work station.
Seriously, if you have it TiVo'd, go back and look. Tim's eviscerating analogies are worth the revisit, but Sweet Pea's silent devastation comes across as a soft crumple, very dignified. What else can you do in the face of an ever-correct Tim?

Props to Elisa, the Dallas area car-wreck survivor and spit-marking free spirit, for exiting the show with her kooky/classy integrity intact.

Who's next? And who should be in the final three???

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Favorite Things

Happy New Year! To ring in 2008, I thought I'd list out a few of my favorite things...in no particular order.

Reef sandals. My sister-in-law bought me a new pair for Christmas in a funky metallic shade. I wear them year round, whenever it's warm enough that my toes don't freeze off.

Dark chocolate. Of which we now have a plethora thanks to thoughtful family and friends. My neice sent me dark chocolate covered cherries from Trader Joe's (one of my favorite stores.) These candies rock because 1) they're dark chocolate 2) they have the cherries but without all the syrupy goo.

Juno. Caught it over the holiday, and it's hands down my favorite film of the year. The dialogue is fantastic, thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Diablo Cody, and the lead characters riffs are major quote-worthy. But my favorite line is delivered by Jennifer Garner with nuanced shades of grief and loathing: "Your shirt is stupid."

Knitting accessories. Santa brought me tiny silver scissors and a handy retractable tape measure. Yes, I realize that makes me supercool.

Christmas cantatas. We have a couple at my church who sing a hymn a cappela every Christmas Eve, and it makes me cry every year. They're truly gifted, and the sight of them singing together, those complex incredible notes, makes me think God must be smiling, right at that moment.

Yoga. I've been away from it for a while, but I'm busting out the Rodney Yee tape today. Because I know if I hit my gym class without warming up, I'll be face planted in child's pose the entire hour.

The Cowboys. In spite of a dismal December, I'm thankful for the most exciting season since the 90s. Whatever happens in playoffs, I'll say I'm thrilled with what Wade and the Boys have accomplished.

Resolutions. And not just for January. I like the reminder, of course, that as human beings we always have the option to set our minds and hearts on becoming better people. In that vein, I'd like to share one of my favorite prayers, by Francis of Assisi (I was reminded of it in a Dear Abby column, of all things. But come on, who doesn't love Abby?)

So here it is, the prayer of St. Francis, and may it be a blessing for all that is good in 2008:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Care to share? What are a few of your favorite things? (And can you read that without hearing Julie Andrews singing in the background?)