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Monday, April 30, 2012

Storage Stories

Hey, it smells like books in here!
The picture shows the back of our UHaul as it appeared before we drove it away from Pennsylvania. Chock full of good stuff. We had left it at the self-storage facility for about a year and a half, which was a lot longer than we'd hoped for and certainly longer than I've been separated from my personal library and ancient furniture, ever. How strange do I feel now that it's all in the same place as me? Did the past 18 months really happen? All that psychological strain, did it amount to anything?

Before we left, my husband had time to mention the TV show Storage Wars to the manager as an element in his unique sense of humor. It wasn't so funny when it got real and the manager replied that they'd been lucky and hadn't had an auction there in three years. There but for the grace of God...

A year and half isn't so terribly long, I suppose. A coworker of mine says she once had stuff in storage for three years! I have to doubt that she cared for the items left behind as much as I have cared for mine. To anyone else, it might look like junk, but as I've said before, my stuff is imbued with the story of my life. It hasn't been a bad life by any stretch, but it is a life meant to go on short trips while maintaining a completely furnished home base. My husband and I now hope that we can stay put. The great wandering needs to come to an end.

While we were on the road, I was reminded that wandering is an important part of my family history. When we visited for the day, my grandmother talked about how she took her husband, kids, and just the clothes on their backs and headed from Oklahoma to California in the 1950's, selling off or abandoning what few other possessions they had. California was a truly fresh start.

Now that I have all this stuff, of course it occurs to me that if/when we move again, it could be time to make a radical fresh start like that. But then I remember how Grandma ended her tale. "That was really dumb," she said. They should have at least brought a chair to sit on at their destination. Thanks, Grandma!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Goodreads Giveaways Over!

Thanks so much for all the enthusiasm you displayed for my giveaways on Goodreads!

Sail to Italy and Sail from Italy received 639 entries and there are two lucky winners from the beautiful states of Missouri and Tennessee.

Dusk Before Dawn was requested 451 times (who knew people still liked poetry?) and has been awarded to a loyal reader in exciting New Jersey.

I'll get them in the mail tomorrow. A huge thanks to everyone who put their names in the virtual hat. I hope you enjoy my little books.

Do You Know How To Read?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ode to the American Highway

East to West, a country full of wonders.
At 65 mph we passed them all by
in order to return the UHaul on time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Vaclav and Lena tells the true-to-life story of a pair of first-generation Russian Americans who were born at the time of the fall of the USSR. Vaclav ("You might think I'm Polish because of my name") meets Lena in ESL class, but a play date to Coney Island seals their destiny to be together. Their separation is wrenching, and I was unable to put the book down after that point.

It's a debut at once painfully funny and sadly beautiful. The pain comes from the way the narrator focuses in so close to each character, articulating each subtle emotion and thought with a sophistication level that is totally appropriate to the psychological development of each. The humor comes from the paradoxical distance the narrator keeps from these extreme closeups -- I'm not sure how she does it, but it's expert. The sadness evolves with the story as we learn more about the difficulties of immigrant experience and about Lena's circumstances in particular and the profound human connections and the sacrifices of true love  radiate a beauty seldom seen in twenty-first century literature.

Tanner has a great ear for foreign-inflected English, no doubt culled from her experience as an ESL teacher. The way she juxtaposes the macabre and the transcendent with the everyday floored me. This book is not to be missed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's a Go!

In the face of all the stresses my husband and I currently deal with in our lives, we decided we didn't need one of them to be the continued separation from most of our earthly possessions and physical comfort. When we came to Arizona lo these many months ago, we only took the barest essentials, and accepted donations and bought incredibly cheap items to fill in the gaps. We left most of the trappings of civilization in storage in Pennsylvania, and we've finally committed to plane tickets back there to pick up a U-Haul full of the wonders of a previous life that now seems very long ago indeed.

I've written about being parted from my stuff on this blog. I've also written posts about the absurdities we've had to endure as concerns television and the fact that we've been more or less sleeping on the floor since we got our own apartment. Though I've told Arizonans that most of our stuff is in Pennsylvania, no one is able to comprehend what that really means. For example, the citrus crop has been pretty dismal this year, but someone told me the oranges and tangerines are still good for juicing! Not for us. Our juicer is in Pennsylvania. Or, when I had the flu, I was told to relax on my couch and watch a DVD. I'm incredibly lucky to have a couch at all, but since we left our DVD player in PA, I can only watch DVD's on my computer at the work desk, hardly an area for relaxation. We haven't cooked properly for a year and half for lack of kitchen tools and all the reading I do would be incredibly enhanced by any one of a few chairs we have over there with actual cushioning. I know I'm a lot better off than most of the humans on this planet, but these slight discomforts can add up to one enormous annoyance.

It won't be easy to drive almost all the way across the country in a reasonable amount of time with gas prices what they are, and then fit everything into our small apartment. But it's going to a lot better than paying to keep it locked up 2,500 miles away! And of course I'm thrilled to be reunited with my books -- no more excuse not to look up some factoid I've read before! -- with our juicer, and oh, dear God, with our actual comfortable bed. 

So the gist of this is that I will be blogging quite a bit less in April and won't be able to participate in Six Sentence Sunday. We don't own any devices such that I could blog while in the truck, and by the time we get to an internet connection, I'll be occupied with getting a good night's sleep and planning the next day's route.

By the time I'm back here, I'll be an actual normal person with all the assumed pieces of furniture in my home. Possibly in great big piles I have to dodge around, but in my home. It's almost too wonderful to be true! 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Keeping The Brain Active

I happened onto this week (what a distracting place!) and saw that one of their feature articles reported on a study that concluded that being actively bilingual can stave off dementia for another five years. The article is here.

Everyone knows that practicing a language is one of the best things you can do for your brain, but I am especially comforted by these findings because I've spent most of my life dedicated to becoming fluent in Spanish, which is not a language that was spoken at home. At all, ever. I'm not aware that anyone in my immediate family ever considered the concept of "Spanish" before I came along shouting about it, inspired by who knows what past life experience or divine inspiration.

But then of course another part of me says, "Twenty years of passionate discovery and relentless practice, expensive but joyful travel and the emotional Calvary that is graduate school, plus all the movie-watching, conversation-seeking and music-listening I do in the future, and it only buys me five years at the most?"

This brain of ours is one demanding organ.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

For Fans of English History: The Assassin's Wife

I edited this book, so I'm possibly unreliable, but The Assassin's Wife by new author Moonyeen Blakey is a refreshing, vivid foray into English history that the reader is sure to remember for a long time.

It's told from the point of view of Nan, a woman gifted -- or cursed -- with Second Sight. Nan must navigate the political intricacies of England during the Wars of the Roses as well as demanding late medieval social expectations while defending herself from ghostly visions, dreaming of her true love, and avoiding being arrested as a witch. Her overarching goal in life is to save the boys who appear in her visions trapped and in imminent peril in the Tower of London.

The history is complex, but the storytelling is so clear, the reader is never confused. It's also a long book, taking exactly as long as it needs to in order to tell the story. Over the course of all the pages, the reader becomes more and more attached to the main character and the historical figures she comes into contact with. During editing, I ended up reading a certain scene six or seven times because I was naturally drawn to it. The first time I teared up, which is unusual enough, but I found that each time I reread the scene, it had the same devastating effect on me. Because of its powerful writing, this book won a prize before it was even published. If you like history, and enjoy getting to know your narrator intimately as a friend, you will understand why.

The Assassin's Wife is available now in paperback, Kindle, and epub formats!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet

When asked about her close brush with the Pulitzer Prize at the Tucson Festival of Books, Lydia Millet was ironic and self-effacing. This is only the second Lydia Millet book I've read, but please, people, give this lady a prize! I reviewed this book's predecessor in May last year. In Ghost Lights, the reader enjoys again the inexorable pull of the writing through the richest and most banal details of a life that takes on a much greater meaning than itself by the bittersweet end. This part two follows the husband of a woman who worked for T., the long-suffering protagonist of How The Dead Dream, as he goes to Belize without much hope of recovering T.'s body. The plot twists and surprises are almost as enjoyable as the je ne sais quoi of the writing. How does Millet manage to capture the... whatever it is she captures? At the Book Festival, I learned that there is a third book planned that follows these characters, and I will be sure to pick it up right away.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

SSS: Maybe She's Crazy...

I've been participating in Six Sentence Sunday (follow the link for more mind-blowing excerpts) for an entire year. It's done wonders for my blog in ways I never imagined. Thank you to the organizers and the participants!

These six follow on in Chapter Six of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara several pages after last week's. The seven, their mother, and doña Lambra have agreed to travel to Barbadillo, ostensibly to see if there is any good hunting. We're inside Lambra's head, on the road.

* * *

The second day, as they entered narrow passageways between rocky outcrops shaded by pines, the seven brothers surrounded Lambra on their horses as if they were her personal guard. She looked at the wispy brown hairs moving with the breeze on the back of Gonzalo’s neck and imagined using a shining copper razor to get rid of that ridiculous stubble on his chin, holding the smoothed face in her hands, bringing the round red lips toward hers. No: not even finishing the friendly shave before – accidentally, of course – making a sudden strategic slit under his ear, all the way across to the other ear.
She cleared her throat and said loudly for Gonzalo to hear, “Oh, Justa, do you think there are robbers hiding in these hills? It’s doesn’t matter anyway, with my nephews here to protect me.”
Every one of the brothers grinned, baring white teeth, and sat up a little taller in his saddle. 

* * *

Thanks for stopping by! I have eternal gratitude for those who comment!

I may be taking a short hiatus from SSS in the rest of April, for reasons that I hope will be really great. Stay tuned.