Tag Archives: nonfiction

Reading: The Opposite of Fate, by Amy Tan

The Opposite of FateI am in the midst of getting the house tidied up, as we’re having friends over for dinner tonight – I love the end result of this process of cleaning and tidying, because it means not only a nice clean space in which to entertain, but also a nice clean house for at least a day or two after tonight as well.

That’s a rather rare event so I’m all for celebrating it when it does happen.

It’s funny the efforts we’ll go to for others, when in retrospect, we can see how beneficial it is for ourselves as well. As to why I don’t just keep the house clean on a regular basis, I don’t have a clue. Except that I don’t like cleaning, and it takes the threat of friends seeing the mess in which we live to move me enough to do something about it.

All of which leads me to The Opposite of Fate, by Amy Tan. No, this is not a book about cleaning. It’s a book of musings by Amy Tan on her life and on her writing. And the reason why I’m currently reading this right now is because I’ve spent the morning cleaning up, there’s still a little bit more to do, but I was hungry, and since I found myself eating lunch by myself (my husband is out doing the shopping for tonight’s dinner, and the kids have all gotten their own various versions of lunch), I did what I always do when I’m dining solo: I reached for a book.

I didn’t feel in the mood for fiction, so I decided to dip into The Opposite of Fate. And I’m very glad I did. It’s wonderful so far, and since it’s been a while since I’ve read an Amy Tan novel, it feels good to luxuriate in her words again:

In gathering these pieces for the book, I made a new realization, so obvious that I was stunned I had not seen the pattern a hundred times before. In all of my writings, both fiction and nonfiction, directly or obliquely but always obsessively, I return to questions of fate and its alternatives. I saw that these musings about fate express my idiosyncratic and evolving philosophy, and this in turn is my “voice,” the one that determines the kinds of stories I want to tell, the characters I choose, the details I decide are relevant. In my fictional stories, I have chosen characters who question what they should believe at different moments in their lives, often in times of loss. And while I never intended for the pieces in this current nonfiction book to explain my fiction, they do.

Some Fun in My Mailbox: The Awe-Manac, by Jill Badonsky

The Awe-ManacEvery now and then when I’m shopping online, I get so tempted by books on creativity, and then I go nuts. The other day was one such day, and the end result was a mailbox filled with some really fun books, including this one: The Awe-Manac, by Jill Badonsky.

From the back cover:

Welcome to The Awe-Manac – a playfully practical guide that’s a refreshing twist on the revered Old Farmer’s Almanac. Here you’ll find daily forecasts and directives to help make life more creative, amusing, gratifying, and extraordinary – every day of the year! Through 365 days, you’ll be inspired to think more brilliantly, laugh more often, ignite your creative passion, and simply create a lot more “awe” into daily life.

Brimming with colorful, whimsical art and filled with delightful features like “Soul Vitamins”, “Toast of the Day”, and “Doses of Mirth”, The Awe-Manac treats every day as a source of celebration and inspiration. With the “Aha-phrodisiacs” you’ll be invited to write, doodle, daydream, and discover that spark of creativity and wonder that may be lying dormant. It’s an enchanting, sometimes irreverent, daily “companion” – a perennial guide for finding joy and amusement all-year round.

The Awe-Manac is basically a daybook of creativity, so of course I couldn’t resist opening up to today, August 28. And guess what? It’s a celebration of solitude today! And here’s today’s quote for journaling:

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” – Goethe

I just love that. And of course, today’s quote just happens to be from Goethe (he of the "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." fame), because Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749.

Where to buy The Awe-Manac:: U.S. (Amazon.com) | IndieBound | Canada (Chapters Indigo) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Living at the Library

I just got back from a morning at the library, and enjoyed myself so thoroughly, I’m wondering why I don’t do this more often.

Actually, this time was a first for me. I’m a very efficient user of my library’s hold system, so normally I just dash in to grab a new book on hold, and then out again.

Today, though, I had so many books in my TBR pile at home that I didn’t have any urge to browse through the fiction aisles. I also had a stack of craft books that I wanted to check out (we’re homeschooling our youngest and I’m in charge of Art and Creativity); I’d researched them the night before so it was a matter of finding the exact titles on the shelf.

My intention had been to browse leisurely through the library and then walk home. But I was loaded down with all those kids’ craft books, and feeling rather lazy. My husband was going to be heading out to pick up my daughter from a workshop she attended this morning; I reasoned that I could just hang around the library and on his way back he could pick me up.

So, for the first time ever, I headed to the nonfiction section, and started grabbing various interesting-looking books on art, gardening and home decorating; titles that I never have time to read, and which are always so heavy I never like the idea of lugging them home.

I sat at a table next to big plate glass windows overlooking a ravine, and browsed through all sorts of eye candy – and I had a great time! I feel refreshed (and raring to re-decorate my house) and relaxed. And yes, I need to do this again – I’m thinking once a week would be nice. In fact, sitting there in that lovely corner by the window, I felt like I could live at the library.

What about you? Do you find yourself spending leisurely time at the library? Or are you usually like me, dashing in and out to grab the latest hold?

Rereading: I, Asimov: A Memoir, by Isaac Asimov

I, AsimovYesterday, after reading this review of The God Themselves by Isaac Asimov at Rhapsodyinbooks, I succumbed to a very insistent urge to dig out my copy of I, Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s memoir.

I didn’t actually have to dig it out. I have a bookshelf devoted to favorite authors’ autobiographies. So it was really easy to give in to the urge.

I read a lot of Asimov when I was growing up. I enjoyed his science fiction, but I’ve always been nuts for mysteries, so one of my favorite books was Murder at the ABA; I have always loved witty little footnotes in novels ever since. If you’ve never read Murder at the ABA, and you enjoy mysteries as well as humor, I highly recommend you check your library for a copy. (And now I’m feeling an insistent urge to dig out my copy of Murder at the ABA …)

Asimov influenced me greatly when I was young. He was my favorite science fiction writer. I was an avid short story reader back then, and whenever I had any money on me, I would be off to the store to grab copies of Analog and The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy (and, of course, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine). I wrote scores of short stories during this period in my life, and at least half of them were science fiction.

It’s funny, but these days I very rarely read science fiction.

Anyway, I am now rereading I, Asimov, and enjoying once again the glimpses into this great author’s life.

From the introduction:

In 1977, I wrote my autobiography. Since I was dealing with my favorite subject, I wrote at length and I ended with 640,000 words. Since Doubleday is always overwhelmingly kind to me, they published it all – but in two volumes. The first was In Memory Yet Green (1979), the second In Joy Still Felt (1980). Together, they described the first fifty-seven years of my life in considerable detail.

It had been a quiet life and there was no great excitement in it, so even though I made up for that by what I considered a charming literary style (I never bother with false modesty, as you will quickly discover), the publication was not a world-shaking event. However, some thousands of people found pleasure in reading it, and I am periodically asked if I will continue the tale.

My answer always is: “I have to live it first”

So what I intend to do is describe my whole life as a way of presenting my thoughts and make it an independent autobiography standing on its own feet. I won’t go into the kind of detail I went into in the first two volumes. What I intend to do is to break the book into numerous sections, each dealing with some different phase of my life or some different person who affected me, and follow it as far as necessary – to the very present, if need be.

I trust and hope that, in this way, you will get to know me really well, and who knows, you may even get to like me. I would like that.

And yes, I did like him, the first time I read I, Asimov. Of course, I already knew I would.

Another Book-Buying Binge! (Or, Why I Shouldn’t Go To Costco Anymore)

Yesterday I accidentally indulged in another book-buying binge. Yes, in case you’re wondering, it was totally by accident. I had no intentions of splurging on anything when I entered Costco.

Unfortunately, since it’s summer, the book section at Costco is a dangerous place for a book lover to be. I think the marketing assumption is that in the summer, people buy books to read on the beach or on holidays.

I’m thinking now that those marketing people are geniuses. Either that, or I’m extraordinarily susceptible to marketing ploys. (Okay, so maybe it’s the latter.)

Here’s the stack I came home with:

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And here are the covers:

It Would Be Funny... If It Wasn't My Life, by Lisa DowTailSpin, by Catherine CoulterThe Last Oracle, by James RollinsThe Flying Troutmans, by Miriam ToewsWicked: Witch & Curse, by Nancy Holder and Debbie ViguiéThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg LarssonExit Lines, by Joan BarfootThe Society of S, by Susan HubbardThe Year of Disappearances, by Susan HubbardHow To Be Single, by Liz TuccilloThe Book of God and Physics, by Enrique JovenBrainMatics Logic Puzzles, by H. F. UllmannOne Fifth Avenue, by Candace BushnellDK Encyclopedia of Animals, by DK Publishing

I’m not sure when I’ll have the time to read these. I do, however, feel good knowing I now have them on hand, for whenever the right reading mood strikes.

Want to know something even sadder? Do you see the BrainMatics Logic Puzzles? My husband (who happens to be just as bad when it comes to cookbooks, by the way) happened to slip a copy of this one into the cart, too, thinking I’d enjoy it. So we came home with TWO copies. I’m promising myself I won’t give in to temptation again when we go back to Costco to return the duplicate copy.

Do you go on book-buying binges occasionally? Please say yes!

Incoming! Excuses Begone! by Wayne Dyer

Incoming! is a feature at Ms. Bookish that chronicles new books that have arrived in the Ms. Bookish household. Here’s one of the latest new arrivals:

Excuses Begone!, by Wayne Dyer

Excuses Begone!About the Book:

Within the pages of this transformational book, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer reveals how to change the self-defeating thinking patterns that have prevented you from living at the highest levels of success, happiness, and health. Even though you may know what to think, actually changing those thinking habits that have been with you since childhood might be somewhat challenging.

If I changed, it would create family dramas … I’m too old or too young … I’m far too busy and tired … I can’t afford the things I truly want … It would be very difficult for me to do anything differently … and I’ve always been this way … may all seem to be true, but they’re in fact just excuses. So the business of modifying habituated thinking patterns really comes down to tossing out the same tired old excuses and examining your beliefs in a new and truthful light.

In this groundbreaking work, Wayne presents a compendium of conscious and subconscious crutches employed by virtually everyone, along with ways to cast them aside once and for all. You’ll learn to apply specific questions to any excuse, and then proceed through the steps of a new paradigm. The old, habituated ways of thinking will melt away as you experience the absurdity of hanging on to them.

You’ll ultimately realize that there are no excuses worth defending, ever, even if they’ve always been part of your life – and the joy of releasing them will resonate throughout your very being. When you eliminate the need to explain your shortcomings or failures, you’ll awaken to the life of your dreams.

First line: It’s been said that old habits die hard, implying that it’s next to impossible to change long-standing thought patterns. Yet the book you hold in your hands was created out of a belief that entrenched ways of thinking and acting can indeed be eradicated.

Where I got this book: Bought this at Costco

Why this book?

I believe that our lives are shaped by our beliefs. My life is a reflection of whoever it is I believe I am, and that’s a choice I’m always making, whether I know it or not, in every second of every moment of every day.

It’s been a while since I’ve picked up any of Dyer’s books, but when I saw this one, I decided to get it. Just knowing you have a belief you don’t want doesn’t guarantee that you can let go of it and go on to one you do want. So I’m very interested in reading what Dyer has to say about how to go about releasing an old, unwanted belief, and adopting a belief you really do want to have.

Related Links and other Fun Stuff

Where to buy Excuses Begone!: U.S. (Amazon.com) | IndieBound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Incoming! Grads: Take Charge, by Kathryn Marion

Incoming! is a feature at Ms. Bookish that chronicles new books that have arrived in the Ms. Bookish household. Here’s the latest new arrival:

Grads: Take Charge, by Kathryn Marion

About the Book:

Today’s college grads are entering the workforce right in the middle of the most challenging economy and job market we’ve seen in decades, and entering the “real world” woefully unprepared to deal with all the new responsibilities they will be facing on their own.

Grads need answers, and they want them fast. In this comprehensive, right to the point resource are all the answers they need to guide them …

First line: Everyone wants to land a dream job and be successful at it.

Received from: The author, Kathryn Marion

My initial thoughts:

I don’t normally feature self-published books, but my interest was piqued by this book because over the next few years, my two oldest will be heading off for university. I look at them now and even though they’re both taller than me and have been for a while, they’re still, well, my babies. How on earth are they going to survive out there on their own once they get their degrees and start working for a living?

Grads: Take Charge has an interesting format: it’s mainly written in point form, giving byte-sized nuggets of information. Flipping through the pages, I see lots of practical bits of information. And there’s a section on “Your Life” that tells them how to keep their apartments clean. (Yes, the idea of that made me smile … I’m wondering if either of mine would like to get some real-life practice now?)

Related Links and other Fun Stuff

Where to buy: Take Charge Book Series

Author’s website: Real Solutions Press

Review: Up Till Now, by William Shatner

Up Till NowUsually when I finish reading a memoir or an autobiography, I come away with a sense of connection of sorts with the author, a feeling that I’ve shared in some of the personal details of his or her life. This wasn’t quite the feeling I got with Up Till Now, William Shatner’s autobiography; however, the book is uproariously funny and highly entertaining, with occasional flashes of something deeper.

In Up Till Now, Shatner covers all of his acting career, from his start in theatre in Montreal to his most current role on Boston Legal. Shatner’s in his 70s now, so it’s been a very long career, and for many years, even with all the television parts he was getting, it was very much about working to pay the next lot of bills. Despite this, though, it’s clear that Shatner has enjoyed his career thoroughly.

He adroitly handles various criticisms that have been aimed at him by gently poking fun at himself. For example, on his well-known tendency to pause when he’s saying his lines:

Part of the reason I was becoming better known was what people perceived to be an unusual. Speech. Pattern. Apparently I was becoming known for. Pausing, between words, in. Unusual places. People have commented that it calls attention to the. Words, I’m saying. It provides a different kind of emphasis on a line. I have no idea where that. Came from. Possibly it came from the fact I was working so often in so many different types of plays and television program and movies that at times I did need to hesitate to remember my next words. Possibly, that’s just an assumption, but the reality is that I don’t even hear it. I can mock the idea. I understand people hear me speaking. That way. They’ve even put a name to it, calling it Shatnerian. As in, ah yes, the character spoke with true Shatnerian eloquence.

Shatner only touches on certain things that might have provided more of an insight into who he is. For example, he mentions that many of the Star Trek cast members disliked him, but he really doesn’t seem to know why. About his previous marriages, he admits that he didn’t know how to be married, but he doesn’t explore his relationships much beyond this.

For much of his career, Shatner did not consider himself to be a star, although everyone was always promising to make him a star. It’s apparent that his rise to stardom, through his role of Kirk on Star Trek, came as a complete surprise to him; it wasn’t until he accepted the first invitation to a Star Trek convention that he realized what an impact the series had had on people. To him, Kirk had been just a role, and he was a seasoned television actor who had played many, many roles.

It was impossible to truly grasp what was happening, because nothing like it had ever happened before. A failed television show was becoming a cultural phenomenon. While we were making the series I had often been recognized, but suddenly it started happening all the time and in strange places. People would come up to me in airports and recite ten pages of dialogue word-for-word from a specific episode they loved – and I would have absolutely no concept of what they were doing.

One thing I really took away from the book was the rigor involved in the filming of a television series; despite Shatner’s often very humorous look at his television career, it’s clear that being on a television show isn’t all glamour and roses. It’s hard work – and hard work and a disciplined work ethic is one thing Shatner definitely seems to have.

Stylistically, I could have done without the first chapter of false starts. I didn’t like muddling through any of that, but once all the fun was wrung out of that, the real fun began in earnest. I also didn’t really enjoy the little cliffhangers that occurred, when Shatner would discuss a particular anecdote and then break off right in the middle to go off on a very deliberate tangent. The “commercial breaks”, on the other hand, were quite funny; I couldn’t help but laugh at the plugs for his online store, for example. And the various sections where he pauses to list all the types of Star Trek memorabilia one can buy had me grinning.

He admits near the beginning of the book that he loves to make things up; this colored my perception of the rest of the book somewhat. I was never too sure when he was pulling the reader’s leg …

Mostly, though, there is an exuberance to the writing that made this a very fun book to read. What I came away with most of all was an overall view of Shatner the entertainer. It’s not that there’s no ego involved; in fact, there’s quite a bit of ego involved! But he is, after all, in show business. And while Up Till Now doesn’t illuminate the soul of the man for readers, neither do I think that to be its intention. Up Till Now sets out to entertain us, and it does its job very, very well. I laughed out loud frequently while reading the book, and I was still smiling when I closed the book. Deep and complex? Not at all. But definitely a very fun read.

Related Links and Fun Stuff

Shatner talks about his performance of “Rocket Man” on the Science-Fiction Movie Awards in 1978:

For two decades stories about this performance have been passed down from father to son and rare bootleg copies of the video were passed around. Men boasted of owning a first-generation copy and invited women home to see it. Parodies of my performance have been done on several shows, including Family Guy and Futurama. But now several dozen versions of it can routinely be accessed on the Internet, particularly on YouTube – and with more than a million people a year still mystified by it. And about that, I am not kidding.

Really, how could I resist? I’m not much of a pop culture kind of person, so I for one hadn’t heard about “the best-known performance of the song “Rocket Man” ever done”. Here it is:

Where to buy Up Till Now:

U.S. (Amazon.com)

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Thomas Dunne Books, 2008, hardcover, 342 pages

Review: The Essential Earthman, by Henry Mitchell

The Essential EarthmanThe Essential Earthman, by Henry Mitchell, is one of my favorite books – it’s one I re-read frequently, and at least once between January and May. It’s also a book I’ll never lend, even though at heart I’m really a book lender. But while I might not lend it, I’ve been known to purchase it as a gift for others.

Henry Mitchell wrote the popular “Earthman” column in the Washington Post, until his death in 1993. The Essential Earthman is a compilation of some of his columns, and it’s a real gem of a book.

I discovered this book, and its companion, One Man’s Garden, one cold winter’s evening about five years ago, when my heart and soul were yearning for greenery and blooms. What I had, instead, was a warm fire, a hot mug of tea, and Henry Mitchell’s words … and I fell in love, right there and then. Since that day, I’ve pulled out this book often, to give myself the pleasure of becoming immersed once again in the beauty of Mitchell’s gardens and the lure of his words.

I would have liked to have known Mitchell. Reading his words, I’ve formed a wonderful image of him in my mind: Southern gentleman, kind, a bit curmudgeonly around the edges, generous, passionate about his flowers and his garden, opinionated, with a wonderful and often humorous way with words. I can see him in my mind’s eye as I read and re-read his columns, perfect little gems of essays that effortlessly bring sunshine into my inner life no matter what season it is.

On dahlias:

Dahlia fanciers, who, like all other horticultural fanatics, tend to be somewhat lopsided in their enthusiasms, profess to see great delicacy of shape among dahlia flowers, and to hear them talk you’d think these great, flamboyant daisied had every elegance, every grace. Let us admit it once and be done with it: the dahlia somewhat lacks the charm of the lily of the valley, the dramatic tension of the iris, the fragrance of the nasturtium, and so on. What it does offer is a brazen contentment with its flaunting color, so to speak; and when all is said and done it looks best in a sunny field among the corn and pumpkins. I cannot think of a more vigorous, spectacular, up-and-at-‘em flower for late summer. Regular tigers they are.

On roses:

First, there is no rose in commerce that is totally worthless. I cannot think of anything more distasteful, or really evil, than for some gardener to choose a rose he likes and then read somewhere it is “not worth growing.” Be sure of this: your labor is not in vain no matter what you choose. Any rose that delights you (and one of the most endearing qualities of gardeners, though it makes their gardens worse, is this faculty of being too easily delighted) is a rose you may plant with good conscience, no matter what anybody else thinks of that rose. Second, a number of “great” roses are called great merely because (a) they behave extremely well in rose nurseries, or (b) they are sufficiently death-defiant that even gardeners cannot kill them, or (c) they have some showy feature, usually blatant color or freak size, that endears them to people who can see nothing unless it is inescapably obvious. Third, there are some very wonderful roses that you don’t hear much about. Please keep this firmly in mind. It is as with everything else – the greatest pleasures and the happiest discoveries are not necessarily the first ones you see.

I could go on and on with selections from this book. I myself am not a particularly avid gardener but I love gardens and plants and flowers and grow a bit of green stuff here and there. The non-gardener will find much to love in this book, and I suspect might come away with an urge to send out for seed catalogues. For the gardener? This book is pure bliss. Highly recommended.

Where to buy:

U.S. (Amazon.com)

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994, Trade Paperback, 239 pages

An Embarrassment of Library Riches

It must be some sort of Murphy’s Law applicable to bibliophiles, I think. Work-wise it’s been quiet around here, which is why I’ve been able to keep up with all my reading even through all the renovations around here, instead of being stuck at my desk pounding on deadline after deadline. I always have a stash of books I’ve requested from the library, and during these past few months, my holds have been trickling in.

And now? Well, on Monday I received a veritable flood of assignments and now have three deadlines all falling due next week. Then I received several automated phone messages from the local library, telling me that books I had requested were now on hold for me.

Today I took a break from work and popped over to the library. I needed two bags to hold everything! An embarrassment of riches indeed – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that despite my deadlines, I’ll be able to read most of them. I have three weeks, and I can renew books for two additional three-week periods, provided, of course, that no-one else has put in a request for the titles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll remember to renew any I haven’t read yet online before the due date!

Here’s what I picked up from the library today:

Mystery: Unnatural Fire, by Fidelis Morgan. I think I had this on my list as a result of reading about it at Cathy’s Kittling: Books.

Mystery: Now & Then, by Robert B. Parker. More Spenser!

Mystery/Paranormal: Ghost at Work, by Carolyn Hart. This one wasn’t a request. The library had it in a display, so it’s more of an impulse grab.

Nonfiction: Loch Ness Monsters and Raining Frogs, by Albert Jack. Another one that was on display. Simply couldn’t resist.

Chick Lit: Odd Mom Out, by Jane Porter. By the author of Flirting with Forty, this definitely looks like a good read, although I’m not sure how it ended up on my hold list.

Mystery: In the Woods, by Tana French. I’d heard so much about this book, and I’d like to read it before French’s new novel, The Likeness, comes out in May (in case it’s really good, in which case I’ll have another book to add to my i-want list).

Nonfiction: Himalaya, by Michael Palin. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while; I love travel books, and like Palin’s humor as well.

Memoir: Up Till Now: The Autobiography, by William Shatner. I came across this a while back while on one of my online book-buying sprees; unfortunately, while Amazon has the hardcover version at a bargain price (in anticipation, I think, of the upcoming release of the trade paperback version), Chapters in Canada didn’t. So I checked the library and put myself in the queue for it. I almost picked it as my Audible selection, but the audiobook is abridged, so I thought I’d go for the longer read instead.

Paranormal/Thriller: Blood Sins, by Kay Hooper. I haven’t read Blood Dreams, the first in the Bishop/Special Crimes Unit trilogy, yet, but I’m hoping that it’s the kind of series you can read out of order.

Paranormal/Thriller: Blood Brothers, by Nora Roberts. I haven’t read very many Nora Roberts novels, and this one sounds good. It’s the start of the trilogy, so I may be in for more happy reading with this series …

Young adult/Mystery: Break and Enter, by Norah McClintock. I’ve already raved about this series here.

Children’s fiction: The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken, by Howard Whitehouse. I couldn’t resist typing out the full title. I don’t have a clue how I first came across this book, but I suspect all I had to do was read the title and it was writing itself down on my i-want list.

Fantasy/Erotica: Naughty Paris, by Jina Bacarr. I can’t remember where I came across this title, either, but there it was, on my list of requested books. About a woman living in today’s times, a maverick painter in 1889 and a little bit of black magic and (I gather) a whole lot of sex.

Now, if I could just finish up these deadlines so I can succumb to the lure of this embarrassment of library riches!