Saturday, April 25, 2015

Happy Readathon!

My stack

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is underway!  I wish you all good books, comfy places to read, and yummy snacks.

Since I'm turning into a pumpkin at noon, I thought I'd jump in and participate in the opening meme.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? New England! Connecticut.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I always enjoy dipping into The Selected Letters of Willa Cather. Looking forward to finally getting started on Fram by Steve Himmer.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Walnuts and bananas with some powered cocoa nibs sprinkled on top. It is like a banana split without the ice cream.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I love musical theater! And that's the reason why I only have four hours to read today. We're heading to Manhattan for a show as soon as my wife gets off work this afternoon.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? Last spring was my first readathon and I loved it. I read for about 19 hours. If I were able to attempt the whole 24 hours today I'd incorporate an audiobook and walk on the treadmill or outside while listening to get my blood pumping. My body felt stiff and yucky by the early morning hours on Sunday.

Happy reading everyone! I look forward to checking in on folks throughout the day as much as I'm able.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Cigarettes after Sex: National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month and I haven’t given poetry much thought this month. In years past I atleast thought about reading poetry, but this year I wasn’t even tempted. Not even when the Willa Cather Association posted encouragement on their Facebook page to read some of Cather’s poems.
Yesterday I listen to Michael Kindness interview Lynee Martin on Books on the Nightstand. Martin is an Associate Publisher and the Director of Publicity at Riverhead Books. In 2013 she was the Artist-in-Residence in Antarctica. Her new book of poetry, We Mammals in Hospitable Times, grew out of that experience. The interview and the poems Martin shared on it nudged me towards trying some poetry again.
Unlike Michael, I didn’t have a traumatic poetry experience in high school. None that I can remember, anyway. 
Mr Antus was my high school English teacher. He was a Vietnam veteran and looked like a scrawnier version of Waylon Jennings, complete with the ever-present leather vest that seemed to be part of his body. He was the most passionate teacher I had up to that point in my rather dreary educational experience. It’s been thirty years or so since I sat in his classroom, but I can vividly picture him literally twirling through the rows of desks while he reads a passage from some now forgotten book aloud. Another time he threw a desk across the room. I was rarely bored in Mr Antus’s classroom.
The only poem I recall from my high school days was one about a couple sharing a cigarette after sex. Mr Antus gave an inspired reading of the poem and then broke it down and explained the imagery of how the cigarette’s ember represents the couple’s relationship: it burned bright and faded, then burned bright and faded again, eventually to be completely burned out and turned into ash.
I loved that Mr Antus read that poem to a group of horny teenagers and wish I could remember something else about the poem to track it down. He may have been sad about the end of the passion, but we were riveted on that hot, glowing ember. His teaching of this poem made me feel mature. No one, in my experience up to that time, talked about the emotional side of sex. This was the early 80s when sex definitely wasn’t discussed in the classroom, even if there were girls with swollen bellies walking the school hallways.
Waylon Jennings
I didn’t know much about Mr Antus outside of the classroom. I know he lost a few toes due to a lawnmower accident as a kid. Part of his duty in Vietnam was to type up the letters that COs wrote home to the next of kin of soldiers killed in action.
Looking back, it is little wonder that when I told him I joined the Marines he looked at me for a few seconds, then turned and walked away without saying a word. It hurt me deeply at the time. I never saw Mr Antus again. 
He died a several years ago, just before I tried to find him to reconnect. I’m happy for the vivid memories I have of him in his long-sleeved button down faded cotton shirt and leather vest, shaggy black hair fluttering around his face as he moved through the room reading to us. And even though he was reading to room full of teens, I always felt like he was reading to me.
I had some bloodless encounters with poetry in college, but it wasn’t until graduate school that I came across a poet or two that I enjoyed reading on my own. Emily Dickinson and Adrienne Rich stand out from that time period.
Listening to Michael talk with Jynne Martin yesterday made me willing to seek out some new poets, contemporary poets or poets of old, who speak to me. I’m off to R.J. Julia’s 25th Anniversary Party today, so we’ll see what I find.

[Author’s note: although I didn’t have a traumatic poetry experience in high school, Mr Antus led us through a painful reading of The Old Man and the Sea. It felt like we spent triple the amount of time on that thin story than we did on Great Expectations. It was one of the the things I wanted to ask him about had we been able to talk again.]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon is April 25th!

Last year was the first time I participated in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon and I had a blast! In years past I always heard about it after the fact, which just goes to prove that shelling out moola for a smartphone continues to be worth it as I'm definitely more connected to the world of online bibliophiles with it. (Let's not talk about how I just smashed the screen of said phone about an hour ago.)

For those of you who haven't heard about it, Dewey's 24 Hour Read-at-thon is just what it sounds like: readers read for 24 hours (or whatever time they have that day). This year's date is April 25th. Visit the blog  at for more info--there's an FAQ, start times, links to various social media sites--and to sign up. You do not need a blog to participate.

Due to previously made plans in the Big Apple that weekend, I'll only be able to read about 4 hours this time around. One of those hours we be dedicated to being a cheerleader, which is an awesome way to meet new (to me) bloggers and see what (and how) everyone is reading.

Not sure yet what I'll read, but I'm currently considering these three:

1. The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century, edited by Otto Penzler. My mom got me this for Christmas. I'm learning towards choosing a few of the stories by writers I've never heard of before like Rodrigues Ottolengui.

2. Fram by Steve Himmer. I'm planning to get this one read before meeting the author next month at BooktopiaVT

3. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey: My mystery book club's pick for May.

Are you participating? Know what you want to read yet?

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Winter Family 14-Hour Giveaway (OVER)

I was intrigued when a copy of The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman arrived in my mailbox. I like westerns, was in between books, and started reading this one as soon as I got it out of the packaging.

It grabbed me with its 19th century setting and held me with its intriguing characters, but I eventually had to stop reading due to its violence. I usually don't mind violence in books, but this was just too unrelenting and vicious for my current frame of mind. It bummed me out to stop reading because I was enjoying the vividness of Jackman's noir-western style.
From the publisher:

Tracing a group of ruthless outlaws from its genesis during the American Civil War all the way to a final bloody stand in the Oklahoma territories, The Winter Family is a hyperkinetic Western noir that reads like a full-on assault to the senses.

Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America's harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery.

From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there's a hypnotic logic to Winter's grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage. With its haunting, hard-edged style, The Winter Family is a feverishly paced meditation on human nature and the dark contradictions of progress.
If you like dark books, westerns, and/or 19th century history (and maybe horror) you should definitely check out The Winter Family (if you don't mind violence, of course).

The former bookseller in me feels oddly compelled to get this book in the hands of someone who wants to read it, so I'm running a 14-hour enter-to-win giveaway for the book, from 7 pm on 4/13 to 9 am on 4/14, EST. SIMPLY LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW IF YOU WANT TO BE ENTERED TO WIN. The mailing is on my own dime, so U.S. residents only please.

Goodreads link: The Winter Family
Author: Clifford Jackman
Publisher: Doubleday/Random House, April 14, 2015
Source: unsolicited review copy received from publisher.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Library News: Let's take the "Cut" out of Connecticut when it comes to library funding

When I lived in Illinois I had four library cards in my wallet, five if you count my Loyola University alumna card which gives me library borrowing privileges. Other cards were from The Brookfield Public Library (where I lived), The Chicago Public Library (which I frequented), The College of DuPage Library (where I worked years ago), and The Elmhurst Public Library (where I worked before moving to CT).

I've lived in Connecticut for a little over a year now. My partner and I first started exploring the Connecticut Shoreline as a place to live in April 2011. I wrote about first visits to both Branford's Blackstone Library and the Guilford Free Library (which is now my home library) years before we moved here. These are beautiful libraries, but what helped us feel comfortable in our decision to move to CT wasn't the physical beauty of the libraries, but the library system itself.

No joke. We both grew up in families that valued their local public library and continued to be regular library users as adults. We appreciated the vast inter-library loan system and library consortiums in Illinois.

Just weeks ago I was proud that Governor Malloy made Connecticut the first state to boycott official travel to Indiana due to its new discriminatory law. Yesterday, however, I was disheartened to learn that Governor Malloy is proposing cuts to Connecticut's library system. And not just budget cuts that trim things here and there, but cuts that wipe out entire programs.

I currently have one library card in my wallet which was issued in my town's library, but that can be used at any public library in Connecticut. I can also log into my account on my library's website and request books from any library. For now, anyway.

If you're a Connecticut resident and care about libraries, visit the Connecticut Library Association's website to learn more about the proposed cuts and, if you're so inclined, fill out a simple take action form to send a letter to the governor and other representatives.

Below is the letter I sent to the Governor and other representatives this evening. It's a mash-up of content provided by the CT Library Association and my own words:
My wife and I moved from Illinois to Connecticut in December 2013. We didn't move here for jobs or family or school, but because we wanted to live on the eastern seaboard.

One of the important resources we checked into before moving was the quality of the library system. We were thrilled to see that it was a system like the one we enjoyed in Illinois, one that shared resources among libraries which is critical in this day and age of tight budgets and limited shelf space. When libraries cannot share resources citizens suffer, and usually the most vulnerable among us get hit the hardest.

Zeroing out funding for Connecticard, Cooperating Library Service Units and Grants to Public Libraries as well as eliminating their enabling statutes will create chaos where none presently exists.

These cuts mean Connecticut residents will no longer be able to borrow from any public library across the state, coordinated purchasing of books and other library materials will vanish and library programs and services in urban areas where our public libraries already struggle will be cut.

Restoring these programs will save taxpayer dollars. Putting $2M in the budget for CT's libraries ($1.25M for Connecticard, $500,000 for Cooperating Library Service Units and $250,000 for Grants to Public Libraries) will save CT's taxpayers over $75M annually.

I know there are many hard decisions to be made concerning the budget, but please don't dismantle the excellent library system that's already in place. A vibrant library system is one of the best services a state can provide for both a happy present and a brighter future for its citizens.
There is a rally scheduled for Wednesday 4/15/15 from 12p-1pm in Hartford:

Thanks for reading!  Have you fought against library budget cuts in your state? What worked?
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